the twit


    in rare moments of rage

    few things piss me off more than abstinence only sex education. this of course means that as a public high school teacher in mississippi i would occasionally leap into a fit of rage when faced with stuff like the following:

    (1) explaining to a student where her uterus was and how ovulation works
    (2) explaining to a student that HIV/AIDS is not created by the mere fact of two men engaging in intercourse
    (3) explaining to a student that it is not true that condoms break most of the time
    (4) explaining to a student that HIV/AIDS is not passed through tears, sweat, and/or saliva

    at the very least, conversations like this push the boundaries of propriety. and yet, when three students carry to term during my two years in the classroom, and with knowledge that many more have children at home and no services or support to speak of for these women-- i quickly stop caring about what is or is not appropriate in the face of absurd and dangerous faith-cum-policy.

    pun intended.

    also, it always kills me to realize that i went to an all-boys catholic high school and had very comprehensive sex education. of course, sometime afterwards we would walk wide-eyed over to theology class for our daily allowance of guilt, but still...

    jesuits: 1
    bush administration: 0

    oh, we also learned about evolution.

    jesuits: 2
    bush administration: 0

    from "Of condoms, Clinton, Obama and McCain," by Rahul K. Parikh, M.D., in, March 24, 2008
    As a pediatrician, doing my job well means I talk with teens about their sex lives... That means I'm testing them for sexually transmitted diseases, performing pelvic exams to make sure they don't have signs that can lead to cervical cancer later, and discussing and prescribing contraception -- abstinence, condoms, Plan B and birth control pills.

    This kind of comprehensive approach to teen sex has been successful. Teens have been waiting longer to have sex, and teen pregnancy rates dropped by almost 30 percent between 1990 and 2000. If they are sexually active, teenage girls have reported having fewer partners and are more likely to use some form of contraception than in the past.

    ... Since 2000, teens have faced a rise in abstinence-only education, hurdles to obtaining Plan B emergency contraception and a hike in the price of birth control pills.

    ... Shortly after President Bush took office, he began pushing abstinence-only sex education, where teens learn that the only way to prevent STDs and pregnancy is to wait to have sex until they're married. If or when abstinence proponents do mention contraceptives, they greatly exaggerate their failure rates to scare teens into believing they are useless. Funding for abstinence programs has grown to around $180 million annually.

    ... According to the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the nation's largest study of teen behavior, kids who took abstinence vows kept them for just a little over one year. Worse, pledgers who failed at abstinence were less likely to use contraception when they had sex. Further, the study shows that in the past six years, the prevalence of STDs has been similar between pledgers and nonpledgers.

    ...there was last summer's revelation that the price of oral contraceptives was going up for college students. Traditionally, Big Pharma has given campuses a break on the price of birth control pills. But the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act put an end to that, as the government cut drug reimbursements to pharmacies. Suddenly, an $8 to $12 charge for a month's worth of birth control spiked to between $30 and $50. That priced out a whole lot of young women from protecting themselves.

    While a dreamy religious conservative might argue that the spike will also price teenage girls out of having sex, think again. Most first-person reports tell us that women's sex lives haven't changed. Now, however, they're having riskier sex, relying only on condoms or depending on Plan B as birth control, taking it after each episode of intercourse, something it's not approved for.

    ...There has been nearly a decade of disconnect between Washington and young women. If you have any doubts about the consequences, consider that the teen pregnancy rate recently rose for the first time in 15 years. That prompts the question: Who's going to stand up for teens over the next 10 years?


    noticed: mississippi goddamn

    the name of this tune is mississippi goddamn
    and i mean every word of it

    ~ nina simone

    from "Communism is not Biblical," by David Thigpen, in The Daily Mississippian, March 19, 2008
    The problem of meeting with communist leaders for most political candidates is that they themselves are not communist, but if you are a communist, then what is the controversy in meeting with a communist leader?

    The answer is that there isn't any for Obama, because he is a communist.
    yes. this was actually printed in an opinion piece in the actual ole miss newspaper. with writing like this, who needs satire?


    more adventures in rhetoric


    i take severe issue with any position that posits "one _____ at a time" as a model or objective for change. "something something something Mississippi one child at a time" is an overly common tag line for education-related groups and organizations, and (i think) used to be in heavy use by the Mississippi Teacher Corps-- though a glance through the new website now brings up much more palatable fare: from the feel-good “Be the change you wish to see in the world” of ghandi to the historically poignant "How can a country like this allow it? Maybe they just don’t know” of bobby kennedy.

    in any case, i can't get over a few pitfalls that are assumed within a "one ____ at a time" outlook. first, you run the risk of contextualizing progress within the framework of success stories, which are by definition only visible/notable within a broad structure of failure, and as such couldn't be considered "successful" if these preconditions were somehow mitigated-- and, you know, it weren't a heart-warming surprise to run into a phd candidate who went to public school in the delta; it were just a natural consequence of things like equal opportunity, talent, and hard work (and mississippi--as any population of human beings--is full of the latter two). second, hinging one's contributions to the coattails of success stories is often causally misleading; when the pipelines of economic, educational, political, and social progress are severely absent from an environment, "success" is clearly less a consequence of any common vector within that environment, and more a natural outlier of a population. that is, no matter how much you oppress, uneducate, disenfranchise, impoverish, etc. there will always be a frederick douglass or a fannie lou hamer-- individuals whose achievements may very well have be built in resistance to an environment or despite an environment, but for which the typical channels of authority and resource distribution in an environment have little claim.

    that being said, of course every once in a while a kid will come out of jim hill high school who gets into brown or stanford or whatever, but the mere instance of an outlier passing through a school's hallways does not a productive environment make. sure enough, we've all appropriately wept when this or that president or neurosurgeon thanks his or her third grade reading teacher for believing in him or her and that's why education's important, but underneath the kleenex haunts things like teacher attrition, false bootstraps nostalgia, and/or the fact that one teacher in one school building somewhere taught a successful person how to read does not redeem american education; how many of mrs. so-and-so's pumpkins are in parchman?(note, i am not dismissing mrs. so-and-so's impact on president whatever, i'm just saying that we can't look at mrs. so-and-so or dr. human-interest-story and honestly be convinced that our approach to education works. "one _____ at a time," like "it takes a village" or "it starts in the home," is excellent fodder for anecdote, narrative, and memoir, but is awful for--excuse me mr. ghandi-- being change.)

    what is more, even if you could create a model that produces consistent, albiet one-at-a-time gain--this is at best a thumb-in-the-dike, and at worst another mode of denying the cracks in the levee. for all the good they produce, even the relatively large-yield charter reform efforts like KIPP are ultimately limited by their own measures of quality control (the whole KIPP network includes 14,000 students; there are 150,000 public school students in the state of mississippi, which ranks 31st in the US in terms or population). for all the success stories of students that got in to an excellent school by way of lottery, there are countless others who never made it off the waiting list (thus the retention of the success story element). so, in the event that the KIPP people (or next cycle's silver bullet analogues) offer little in the way of deep, structural reform--we're just doing a better job helping people swim upstream. which is fine, i guess. i'm just more interested in whether or not we can think about changing course. (how's that for mixing metaphors?)


    last evening, a student of mine called to tell me that she was accepted to smith college with a half-tuition scholarship. she is a wonderful, honest, determined, brilliant young woman who deserves all the accolades she receives. i taught her math in her 10th grade, still moderate an after school program she's a leader in, and wrote her a college recommendation letter; robbie taught her english for the past two years and moderates that same program; margaret assisted her substantailly through the college application process; jake was her teacher in an SAT prep course; and on and on.

    i will admit, my skepticism aside, one child at a time certainly feels--as i look back at this student's past three years-- both exhausting and rewarding.

    no cure for the libidinous like a rationale

    a day too long in the sun has reminded
    me there's some coffee in this cream.

    it's warming up quite a bit down here in pastoral oxford, mississippi.

    flowers are there that once weren't there;
    everywhere cars are yellow-green with the landscape's hopeful ejaculate.

    i ran yesterday for 45 minutes at an unnecessary pace.

    from "In Most Species, Faithfulness Is a Fantasy," by natalie angier, in the NYTimes, march 18, 2009:

    It’s been done by many other creatures, tens of thousands of other species, by male and female representatives of every taxonomic twig on the great tree of life. Sexual promiscuity is rampant throughout nature, and true faithfulness a fond fantasy. Oh, there are plenty of animals in which males and females team up to raise young, as we do, that form “pair bonds” of impressive endurance and apparent mutual affection, spending hours reaffirming their partnership by snuggling together like prairie voles or singing hooty, doo-wop love songs like gibbons, or dancing goofily like blue-footed boobies.


    Even the “oldest profession” old news. Nonhuman beings have been shown to pay for sex, too. Reporting in the journal Animal Behaviour, researchers from Adam Mickiewicz University and the University of South Bohemia described transactions among great grey shrikes, elegant raptorlike birds with silver capes, white bellies and black tails that, like 90 percent of bird species, form pair bonds to breed. A male shrike provisions his mate with so-called nuptial gifts: rodents, lizards, small birds or large insects that he impales on sticks. But when the male shrike hankers after extracurricular sex, he will offer a would-be mistress an even bigger kebab than the ones he gives to his wife — for the richer the offering, the researchers found, the greater the chance that the female will agree to a fly-by-night fling.


    Commonplace though adultery may be, and as avidly as animals engage in it when given the opportunity, nobody seems to approve of it in others, and humans are hardly the only species that will rise up in outrage against wantonness real or perceived. Most female baboons have lost half an ear here, a swatch of pelt there, to the jealous fury of their much larger and toothier mates. Among scarab beetles, males and females generally pair up to start a family, jointly gathering dung and rolling and patting it into the rich brood balls in which the female deposits her fertilized eggs. The male may on occasion try to attract an extra female or two — but he does so at his peril. In one experiment with postmatrimonial scarabs, the female beetle was kept tethered in the vicinity of her mate, who quickly seized the opportunity to pheromonally broadcast for fresh faces. Upon being released from bondage, the female dashed over and knocked the male flat on his back. “She’d roll him right into the ball of dung,” Dr. Barash said, “which seemed altogether appropriate.”