Tag Archives: sex ed

News Roundup: Mid-November 2013

It’s November. That means many cold, gray, rainy days. But lots of interesting reading has helped keep me warm when it’s miserable outside. This month’s News Roundup includes some juicy stuff related to Ukraine (my country of Peace Corps service), classical music and success, the importance of libraries, sex and healthcare, and cycling. Read on, follow the links for the full articles, and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Ukraine & Eastern Europe

  • A few weeks ago, the New York Times Travel section featured a lovely piece, “Lviv’s, and a Family’s, Stories in Architecture.”  L’viv, the unofficial capital of western Ukraine, has a fascinating history, having been variously controlled and inhabited by different ethnic and religious groups. The article does a wonderful job of reading L’viv’s history through its architecture, as evidenced by this excerpt (it really is a beautiful city and worth visiting):

A short walk through the city’s historic center would take me past buildings that reflect contributions of its Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Armenian and German communities, all of which had roots going back to the late Middle Ages. I saw churches from the many different denominations that shaped this city’s skyline: a squat Armenian cathedral from the 14th century with a jumble of intersecting roofs; a huge 17th-century Baroque church built by the Jesuits and modeled on the Church of the Gesù in Rome; Ukrainian Orthodox three-dome churches.

  • Here’s another interesting article on L’viv, from Germany’s Die Zeit, “Flucht vor dem Kopfsteinpflaster” (“Escape from the cobblestones”). Apparently L’viv has proclaimed itself the cycling capital of Ukraine. The author discovers that’s not saying much, but there is one man who has a dream to create over 250km of bike lanes in Ukraine by 2020. Having been to L’viv a few times, I can say they have a long way to go, but it’s not impossible to try and make cycling in the city more popular. Good for them.
  • Speaking of Ukraine, the first Sunday in October was Teachers’ Day, for which Ukrainian schools go all-out. I’ve written before about my experiences of Teachers’ Day in Ukraine. The Oxford University Press blog also has a nice article about it, “Celebrating World Teachers’ Day,” that talks about the importance of teachers and teaching literacy.
  • “Comparing The United States to Ukraine” is a fascinating look at the two countries; the former of which I am a native, the latter where I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Ukrainians used to ask me, “what you do like better, Ukraine or the US?” — this comparison really shows the plusses and minuses for both countries; in many ways they’re hard to compare. (Thanks to fellow Sniatyns’kyy Rayon PCV Sarah for bringing this to my attention.)
  • “The Russia Left Behind” is a moving look at the slow decline of small Russian villages along the road from St. Petersburg to Moscow. It’s also a great piece of multimedia journalism, with videos, slide shows, and maps as you travel the route along with the authors.
  • This BuzzFeed list, “17 Bizarre Foods Every Russian Grew Up With,” is great because I know many of the foods from Ukraine. The only food I’m not familiar with is #13 (kishka). My favorites are #15 (vinaigrette) and #2 (“fur coat” salad, which actually grows on you despite how weird it sounds). Salo (#7) and kholodets (#6): not so much!

Music

  • “21 of the best insults in classical music” is just a good piece of fun — I found most of these completely hilarious.
  • In more serious music news, “Is Music the Key to Success?” is a great piece from the NY Times. The author cites a bunch of famous and successful people who studied music at some point in their lives. Having studied a bit of music myself, I can agree about “[T]he qualities…high achievers say music has sharpened: collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideasMusic may not make you a genius, or rich, or even a better person. But it helps train you to think differently, to process different points of view — and most important, to take pleasure in listening.”

Humanities

  • And the humanities debate continues…This month, the NY Times featured a set of letters from education professionals around the country on the “Role of Humanities, in School and Life.” I was pleased to see that the President of my alma mater (Oberlin College), Marvin Krislov, contributed a letter in which he said:

I have seen how studying English, history, art and languages gives our students entree into cultures and callings. By connecting diverse ideas and themes across academic disciplines, humanities students learn to better reason and analyze, and to communicate their knowledge, creativity and ideas.

[W]e have an obligation to read for pleasure…If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. […]

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. […]

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language…we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

Sex & Healthcare

  • Here’s a fascinating Guardian article on “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?” The author cites some alarming statistics and notes that, “Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by…disapproval.” The entire article is worth reading.
  • Along similar lines, also from The Guardian: “Why young women are going off the pill and onto contraception voodoo.” This is so scary! Please, ladies (and gents), use real, scientifically-proven birth control. No, the pull-out method is not a reliable form of contraception. I leave you with a somewhat stocking excerpt:

[M]ore than half of the unintended pregnancies in the US occur among the 10.7% of women who use no contraceptive method at all…This finding comes only a few months after a study carried out by…Dr Annie Dude at Duke University. Dr Dude’s findings revealed that 31% of young women in America aged between 15 and 24 had relied on the pull-out method at least once. Unsurprisingly, these women were 7.5% more likely to rely on emergency contraception than others and…of those who relied on the pull-out method, 21% had become pregnant. Apparently, these women had never heard the old joke: you know what you call a couple who use the rhythm and pull-out methods? Parents.

  • In the US, the “Obamacare” debate and issues continue. I don’t know why so many people need convincing that it is important for everyone to have healthcare access. Nicholas Kristof, in “This is Why We Need Obamacare,” says it better than I can: “While some Americans get superb care, tens of millions without insurance get marginal care. That’s one reason life expectancy is relatively low in America, and child mortality is twice as high as in some European countries. Now that’s a scandal.”

Cycling

[T]here is something undeniably screwy about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene. When two cars crash, everybody agrees that one of the two drivers may well be to blame; cops consider it their job to gather evidence toward that determination. But when a car hits a bike, it’s like there’s a collective cultural impulse to say, “Oh, well, accidents happen.” If your 13-year-old daughter bikes to school tomorrow inside a freshly painted bike lane, and a driver runs a stop sign and kills her and then says to the cop, “Gee, I so totally did not mean to do that,” that will most likely be good enough.

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the sex education I wish I’d had

the sex education I wish I’d had.

I wish there was an incredibly detailed class on entire reproductive system and it was mandatory learning for every single person on the planet, because then maybe there wouldn’t be so many middle-aged middle-class men making bizarre statements about the things my womb can and can’t do.

Everyone should read this. I had decent sex ed in school but know that so many schools lack any kind of health/sex ed. And that is sad. This is a great piece outlining what every single school (and parent, for that matter) should address.

News Roundup: August Edition

I’m headed back to the UK this week and thought I’d post a news roundup so you can see what I’ve been reading and thinking about over the past month while in the States. In this month’s edition, we have some humor, some good advice, international news, thoughts on teaching, and more. Enjoy, and please leave a comment below if anything particularly grabs your attention!

Just for Fun

  • My hometown, Rochester, NY, is well-known as the home of Kodak and Xerox. Cameras and copiers are great, but the hidden gem that originated in Rochester is really Wegmans. Rather than waxing poetic about it myself, let me point you to this BuzzFeed list which pretty much sums up the awesomeness of this more-than-just supermarket.
  • Any runners out there will appreciate this “article” from Runners World, titled “The 25 worst questions to ask a runner.” I’ve certainly been asked a few of them over the years I’ve been running…

Athletics

  • A handful of studies have popped up recently on strength training for runners, and what kind will best help running economy. “How Strength Training Ups Masters Marathoners’ Economy” is a nice overview of a study finding that high weight/low repetition strength training, even for long distance runners, can improve running economy. Though the study was done with masters, I think it’s safe to say the same would be found in younger runners; this refutes previous beliefs in the running community that distance athletes should do low weight/high rep strength work so as not to get “bulky.”

English Majors & Being a Teacher

  • “The Ideal English Major” is a great piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education on why it still matters to be a humanities major, especially an English major, and what we English majors are really like. Here’s a sampling, though I recommend you read the whole article:

English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are.

[…] Love for language, hunger for life, openness and a quest for truth: Those are the qualities of my English major in the ideal form. But of course now we’re talking about more than a mere academic major. We’re talking about a way of life. We’re talking about a way of living that places inquiry into how to live in the world—what to be, how to act, how to move through time—at its center.

What we’re talking about is a path to becoming a human being, or at least a better sort of human being than one was at the start. An English major? To me an English major is someone who has decided, against all kinds of pious, prudent advice and all kinds of fears and resistances, to major, quite simply, in becoming a person. Once you’ve passed that particular course of study—or at least made some significant progress on your way—then maybe you’re ready to take up something else.

  • On a semi-related note to being an English major, here’s a great essay on teaching, summed up by its title, “The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do.” In the US, it is sad that many people still choose teaching as sort of a back-up plan, as in “well, I can always teach.” Teachers are not respected enough in the States, and people think it’s easy (newsflash: it’s not) so often choose education as a career path if nothing else comes along. That’s one of many reasons the US’s rankings in education are so poor compared to places like Finland, which has rigorous standards for becoming a teacher. I’m not saying all teachers in the US do it because they think it’s easy or the only thing; on the contrary, I know many amazing, inspiring teachers who are doing it because that’s what they love to do. My ramblings aside, here’s an excerpt from the article; read the rest if you have a chance:

Inspiring kids can be downright damned near close to impossible sometimes. And… it’s downright damned near close to impossible to measure. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams.

Maybe that’s why teachers get so little respect. It’s hard to respect a skill that is so hard to quantify.

So, maybe you just have to take our word for it. The next time you walk into a classroom, and you see the teacher calmly presiding over a room full of kids, all actively engaged in the lesson, realize that it’s not because the job is easy. It’s because we make it look easy. And because we work our asses off to make it look easy.

Advice

  • Author George Saunders gave the Syracuse University convocation speech earlier this year. The NY Times Magazine‘s blog, The 6th Floor, posted his speech, which everyone, graduate or non, should read. This is my favorite part:

Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder?

  • Here’s a great piece from a father to a daughter, called “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex.” It’s empowering and honest and wonderful. Here’s a taste: “…I won’t tell you sex is bad, or that you’re bad for wanting it, or that other people are bad from wanting it from you if you’re willing to give it. I refuse to perpetuate, even through the plausible deniability of humor, the idea that the people my daughter is attracted to are my enemy.”

International

  • “Through the Eyes of the Maasai” is a beautiful piece from the NY Times Travel section, giving insight into the lives and society of the Maasai people in Kenya.
  • F is German, so he closely follows German and European politics. I try to keep up, but it’s not my go-to news topic. He sent me a great article recently from The New York Review of Books, “The New German Question”, that gives a good overview of German politics.
  • My good friend Sam is doing some research for his masters’ degree on measuring happiness in terms of “wellbeing” indices. Sam says, “The problem, of course, is that increased production alone does not guarantee a happy, healthy society.” Read the rest of his smart piece here: “How do we move towards a society that prioritizes wellbeing?”

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News Roundup: The Humanities, Exercise and Addiction, Women’s Rights, & Kristof’s return

Sorry for the lack of recipes lately — I’m certainly making delicious things in the kitchen here at my parents’ house for the summer, but they are mostly standard family dishes that I don’t think to post here, or that I didn’t take enough part in the creation to justify posting. More recipes coming soon, promise! In the meantime, here is this month’s News Roundup, with a bit of everything: comedy, wisdom, addiction, abortion, the humanities, breastfeeding, and eggplant… It’s a mish-mash, but I hope you’ll take the time to browse through the list and click through to read the pieces that look most interesting to you.

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Broccoli, Eggplant, & Wisdom

Exercise, Addiction, & Body Image

  • “Addicted to Endorphins” is one of the NY Times‘ “Room for Debate” topics, where they ask a handful of experts to write in their thoughts; this topic asked, “Is all this emphasis on exercise healthy, or dangerously compulsive? Can exercise like running be addictive?” One of my favorite responses came from evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman:

Our deep evolutionary history as physically active foragers and hunters helps explain why our bodies are inadequately adapted to long-term physical inactivity. Almost every organ in the body—from bones to brains—needs periodic physical stress to grow and function properly.

It is often said that exercise is medicine, but a more correct statement is that insufficient regular exercise is abnormal and pathological. In this regard, wanting to be physically active every day is no more an addiction than wanting to get eight hours of sleep.

  • Watch this TEDxMidAtlantic talk by model Cameron Russell, called “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.” It’s a smart, honest, well-thought-out talk that both men and women, especially anyone who has ever dealt with body image issues, should spend less than 10 minutes watching.

Women’s Rights / Feminism

  • “What happened when I started a feminist society at school” is a smart essay in The Guardian written by a 17-year-old who set up a feminist society at her school and for doing so, received an appalling amount of verbal abuse from the boys at her school. She and her group posted pictures with girls holding handwritten signs stating “I need feminism because ______” as part of a project called Who Needs Feminism. Rather than being celebrated for this, the girls were ridiculed and the school made them take the photos down. It’s sad. In the author’s words,

We, a group of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old girls, have made ourselves vulnerable by talking about our experiences of sexual and gender oppression only to elicit the wrath of our male peer group. Instead of our school taking action against such intimidating behaviour, it insisted that we remove the pictures. […]

It’s been over a century since the birth of the suffragette movement and boys are still not being brought up to believe that women are their equals. Instead we have a whole new battleground opening up online where boys can attack, humiliate, belittle us and do everything in their power to destroy our confidence before we even leave high school.

  • But there are good men out there! This Guardian piece is a heartening take on abortion from the male perspective. The author says: “I support a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion because centuries of history shows us that women are going to get abortions whether they’re safe and legal or not. And when they’re not safe and legal, these women will often die terribly or be damaged irreparably.”
  • Nicholas Kristof, my favorite NY Times opinion writer, returned after 5 months off with two fantastic op-eds. “A Free Miracle Food” is actually the second one, with the main point that breastfeeding is a natural and necessary thing to do and that it can especially help decrease infant deaths in developing countries. Kristof explains,

…in the poorest countries, the main concern is that moms delay breast-feeding for a day or two after birth and then give babies water or food in the first six months. The World Health Organization strongly recommends a diet of exclusively breast milk for that first half year.

In a village in Mali…I watched a woman wash a baby — and then pour handfuls of bath water down his mouth. “It makes the baby strong,” a midwife explained.

On hot days, African moms routinely give babies water to drink. In fact, breast milk is all infants need, and the water is sometimes drawn from unsanitary puddles.

  • The NY Times featured a long essay last week called “Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too.” The author focused on students at U Penn and how women are now “hooking up” more frequently; it’s not only the guys, seemed to be her point. My first reaction was “DUH.” Many (female) acquaintances and some of my friends at Oberlin often had one-night stands, some drunkenly and some not. I found a lot of things to contend with in this article. Here’s my list (but you should read it, too, and tell me what you think): A) Nothing should preclude a serious relationship — when it happens, it happens, and you work it out, sometimes having to make cost-benefit decisions. B) If someone is so rigidly fixated on exactly what (s)he must do for the next 10 years and refuses to change, (s)he is probably too busy for a relationship anyway or will be too focused to notice when a good one passes him/her by. C) Also, the things the article brings up are ultimately genderless — it’s not about men vs. women, it’s about people and the decisions they make. That said, the “default answer,” when drunk/high, is definitely not “yes.” D) Finally, you don’t by any means have to choose between marrying young and not having a relationship at all, especially in 2013…seriously?!

The Humanities

  • Before we get into the “are the humanities dead?” debate, here’s a fun graphic of Dickens’ novels, ranked by “most Dickensian.” It’s whimsical, but I love it and totally agree that Bleak House should be at the top.
  • And now, “Are the humanities dead?” I am a proud English major / literary scholar and lover of the humanities, so this debate hits close to home and I’ve been following it closely.

Former English majors turn up almost anywhere, in almost any career, and they nearly always bring with them a rich sense of the possibilities of language, literary and otherwise.

That kind of writing — clear, direct, humane — and the reading on which it is based are the very root of the humanities, a set of disciplines that is ultimately an attempt to examine and comprehend the cultural, social and historical activity of our species through the medium of language.

What many undergraduates do not know — and what so many of their professors have been unable to tell them — is how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.

…outside of this elite set of private schools, the humanities are holding their own, and at institutions with a far wider demographic of students. At schools nationwide, the number of students majoring in the “softest” humanities — English, foreign languages and literatures, the arts — has been remarkably steady over the last two decades, hovering between 9.8 percent and 10.6 percent of total bachelor’s degrees awarded. […] Students remain grabbed by the questions we pose in humanities classrooms — about style and character, politics and perception, love and ethics — and by how we follow these lines of inquiry into the pages of a novel, or the composition of a painting, or the prose of a philosophical treatise.

Kristof’s Return!

  • I promised you another Nicholas Kristof op-ed. “How Could We Blow This One?” was his first piece after five months of leave, and he certainly hit the nail on the head: “Doesn’t it seem odd that we’re willing to spend trillions of dollars, and intercept metadata from just about every phone call in the country, to deal with a threat that, for now, kills but a few Americans annually — while we’re too paralyzed to introduce a rudimentary step like universal background checks to reduce gun violence that kills tens of thousands?”

That’s it! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these. Leave a comment or email me at whereveriamyouaretherealso@gmail.com

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News Roundup: Running, the Arts, (Sex) Education, & Comic Relief

I can hardly believe it’s been more than two months since my last news roundup. High time for an update. This roundup includes a variety of articles and blurbs that caught my eye over the past couple of months. Topics range from running to language/linguistics to sex education to gun control, obesity, and more. As always, I’ve categorized the articles as best as possible so you can troll for what interests you the most. Click the links to read the full articles, and feel free to leave a comment or email me (whereveriamyouaretherealso@gmail.com) with your thoughts on any of these.

Running

  • I love running and do it willingly, but some days this is the only thing that gets me through: Runner’s World Motivational Poster #45.
  • Most runners, especially anyone who has ever run track, will appreciate this.
  • My Oberlin track coach preached (and still preaches) “PMA” to all his athletes. What’s PMA, you ask? That would be Positive Mental Attitude. In a nutshell, believe in yourself / be optimistic and good things will happen. I was skeptical for a time, but then started to mentally prepare myself for long marathon training runs by positive self-talking, telling myself the run would be fine, go well, I’d be strong and feel good. Guess what? It works! This Runner’s World article, “Train Your Brain to Run Your Best,” proves the point further and is worth a read for any athlete.

Language & Literature, Art & Music

    • Confession: I love opera. Okay, that’s not really a confession because I am not ashamed of it. True, my appreciation for opera didn’t come until college, but while at Oberlin I was able to see some amazing singers perform in a wide variety of operas and opera scenes. Oh, and I took a musicology class on Mozart’s last five operas. Yes, it was awesome. Anyway, if you are an opera lover or are just wondering what the heck all the fuss is about, check out this fun BuzzFeed article, “What Happened to Opera?” It’s fun and you can watch some videos of incredible singers.
    • Speaking of Oberlin, Amanda, a good friend of mine and fellow Obie, writes for Critics at Large and last month wrote a beautiful piece on Andy Warhol and her experiences of learning “from the artworks themselves” that began in the Allen Art Museum’s print room. Here’s an excerpt (though you should read the essay in its entirety, just to sink into Amanda’s outstanding prose):

“I learned quickly, but not from lectures or textbooks – I learned from the artworks themselves. Entire movements, periods and cultures – Japanese woodblock prints, the satiric eighteenth century engravings of Hogarth and Grandville, loose pages from medieval illuminated manuscripts – communicated themselves to me as archives without histories, until pulling prints became not unlike a daily descent into a dark, empty movie theater where all you could see were images, images, images flickering in the shadows and sublimely untethered from narrative.”

  • “Looking for Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin” is an interesting piece from the NY Times‘ Travel section; its timing was particularly good because I had just read Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, two fictional memoirs of sorts about the author / his protagonist’s years in Berlin in the early 1930s. (The second story is what Kander and Ebb based their musical Cabaret on.)
  • If you’re part of my generation, you probably speak with slashes, as in “I was thinking we could go to the movies slash do something else together this weekend.” “Slash: Not Just a Punctuation Mark Anymore” is a smartly-written piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education by a professor who asks her students to teach her two new slang words at the start of every class. She goes on to discuss the use of “slash” in spoken conversation. A fun piece worth the read.
  • Staying in linguistics territory, I read a great blog called The Inky Fool; this fool is Mark Forsyth, who has also written two books (The Etymologicon and The Horologicon), both of which I’ve read. This blog post, entitled “Plumbing with Aplomb,” is a particularly good example of Forsyth’s intelligent and witty discussions of linguistics.
  • This is just for fun: maps that show “the deepest linguistic conflicts in America.” The maps show how people in different regions of the States pronounce the same words, or the different words they use to mean the same thing. It’s pretty interesting; I (not surprisingly) found my hometown of Rochester, NY to be more midwest-leaning in some pronunciations and more New England-y in others. In terms of my own pronunciation, most of it matched that of other Rochesterians but some didn’t match how I speak. How do your pronunciation and vocabulary match up with your home region?

Children & Education 

  • NY Times “Sunday Dialogue” recently asked “What Makes a Good Teacher?” They present a letter to the editor to which readers are invited to respond. I even sent in a response for this one; though mine didn’t make it into print, it’s worth reading the original letter and its responses for all of the diverse ideas and thoughts people have about what makes a good teacher.
  • On a similar note, an opinion piece called “No Learning Without Feeling” argues against the US’s new Common Core State Standards and their (ridiculous) focus on standardized tests. The author makes a good point that this isn’t the way to get kids excited about learning and literature:

“The truth is that high-stakes standardized tests, in combination with the skills-based orientation of the Common Core State Standards, are de-emphasizing literature in the English classroom in favor of “agnostic texts” of the sort familiar from test preparation materials. These are neutral texts created to be “agnostic” with regard to student interest so that outside variables won’t interfere when teachers assess and analyze data related to verbal ability. In other words, they are texts no child would choose to read on her own.

  • NY Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow does an excellent job of providing his readers with shocking statistics about what is wrong with our (American) society. This piece, “The Kids Are (Not) All Right,” is no different, and props to Blow for alerting us so we can try to change them:

“…according to data released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, each day in America:

2 mothers die in childbirth.

4 children are killed by abuse or neglect.

5 children or teens commit suicide.

7 children or teens are killed by firearms.

67 babies die before their first birthdays.

892 babies are born at low birth weight.

914 babies are born to teen mothers.

1,208 babies are born without health insurance.

1,825 children are confirmed as abused or neglected.

2,712 babies are born into poverty.

2,857 high school students drop out.”

  • The above piece is from April. Just last week, Blow wrote another op-ed, “These Children Are Our Future,” in which he gives us a “statistical portrait of the high school class of 2013” and what the class would look like if there were 100 students in it. It’s a really powerful set of statistics that everyone should be aware of. Blow notes that,

“We have not sufficiently prioritized some fundamental safety structures for children in this country — fighting child poverty; supporting all families (including single-parent ones) and their children through policies like paid family leave and early childhood education; insulating children from a culture soaked with violence; and educating children fully about sexuality and pregnancy, and allowing them open access to a full range of safe sex options (which would reduce our extraordinary rate of sexually transmitted disease, prevent more unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions).”

Sex & Sex Education

  • Taking Blow’s last point above, about sex education, there have been a few well-written essays floating around about that. This NY Times “Room for Debate” collection asking, “At What Age Should Sex Education Begin?” is particularly worth reading. Many of the contributors made excellent arguments for why/how/when (at what ages) sex education should be taught, both at home and in schools. One such contributor wrote,

“Irrational fear – the cultural belief that teaching young people about sex will cause them to have sex – keeps administrators and educators from doing what they know is best: providing young people with developmentally appropriate, sequential and honest sex education. Never mind that 30 years of public health research clearly demonstrates that when young people receive such education, they are more likely to delay sexual initiation, and to use protection when they do eventually become sexually active, than those who receive no sex education or learn only about abstinence. Withholding information about sex and sexuality will not keep children safe; it will only keep them ignorant.”

  • There’s a new book out called What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by journalist Daniel Bergner. Salon recently published an interview with Bergner about the book, which made me really want to read it. The piece is aptly called “The truth about female desire: It’s base, animalistic and ravenous,” and I recommend that every woman and man read the article. Here’s a short excerpt to pique your interest: “One of the scientists, who was really influential in calling attention to the size, put it this way: the reason we’ve ignored this is because we’ve managed to convince ourselves that one gender is all about reproduction and the other is all about sex. That is, women are all about reproduction and men are all about sex. Again, a complete distortion.”

Gender, Culture, & Machismo

  • Having lived in London for about six months now, I have already noticed plenty of linguistic, cultural, and social differences between Americans and Brits. This “Short Cuts” essay from the London Review of Books seeks to explain some of these differences in a humorous way. The essay is worth a read for any American or Brit who has spent time in the other country. Here’s a sneak peek excerpt about something I have found to be absolutely true:

“In the English manner, he apologised several times that night for joining my friends and me at our table. An Englishman will apologise to you twice in the course of inviting you to dinner when you are friendless and desperate and couldn’t feel more grateful for the prospect of company. ‘No doubt,’ Eagleton writes, ‘the British will soon be apologising for being stabbed in the street.’ Americans apologise only when they’re overwhelmed by guilt and want very much to be forgiven.”

  • Moving from cultural differences to gender differences, this Science Daily paper entitled “Men Are from Mars Earth, Women Are from Venus Earth” explains how “From empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion, statistical analysis of 122 different characteristics involving 13,301 individuals shows that men and women, by and large, do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and inscrutable your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.” My dad has also done some research and teaching in the area of sex/gender differences, so he brought this to my attention.
  • And now onto differences in sexuality, with this op-ed on “How Latin Culture Got More Gay.” The essay can best be summed up with this quotation: “These developments not only undermine stereotypes about machismo, but also the assumption that the prominence of Catholicism makes progressive change impossible. Same-sex marriage is legal in Belgium, Portugal and Spain, and Ireland recognizes civil unions. As the United States Supreme Court debates same-sex marriage, perhaps it should consider the precedent set by other nations of the Western Hemisphere.” Seriously. Get with the program, USA.

Obesity & Food

  • “Research: Childhood obesity is a product of environment” looks at three new studies that point to environment over genetics as a greater cause of obesity. In their words, “Childhood obesity is a disease of the environment. It’s a natural consequence of normal kids with normal genes being raised in unhealthy, abnormal environments.” Worth reading the entire article.
  • Perhaps even more worthy of your precious reading minutes is the essay, “Fat City — What can stop obesity?”  by physician Karen Hitchcock. The piece is subtitled “Why obesity is not your doctor’s problem” and goes on to explore social constructs and thought patterns contributing to the obesity epidemic, serious health problems caused by obesity, and much more. It is an emotionally powerful, excellently written piece that I cannot adequately summarize here, so I beg you to go read it yourself.
  • On a food-related note, Michael Pollan has a new book out, that Mark Bittman (one of my favorite food writers) discusses and excerpts in his Opinionator piece, “Pollan Cooks!” Among other things, Bittman quotes Pollan as saying, “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” I completely agree.

Ukraine

  • I always keep an eye out for Ukraine-related news, since I feel a tie to the country after spending 2+ years there in the Peace Corps. So you can imagine how happy I was that Ukraine recently held the first gay rights rally in Kyiv. Brave people, those 50 demonstrators; clearly still a long way to go toward tolerance and acceptance.
  • Another big issue that, like homosexuality, is highly stigmatized in Ukraine, is HIV/AIDS. This Ukrainian girl, featured in a BBC article entitled “Ukraine’s youngest HIV campaigner,” is a heroine for speaking out about her experience living as HIV-positive in Ukraine. This also helps explain why Peace Corps Volunteers’ work with PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS education continues to matter in Ukraine.

Miscellaneous US-Related

  • Every American should read “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” I hazard to guess that Americans who have traveled a bit won’t be surprised by most of the statements made in the article, but it’s important for the less-well-traveled to read and understand the astute points the author makes.
  • And now onto gun control…a touchy subject, yes, but read Todd May’s Opinionator piece, “Is American Nonviolence Possible?” and that’ll give you some perspective on why the US needs serious gun control. I’ll start you off with this set of statistics:

“Clearly, we are a violent country.  Our murder rate is three to five times that of most other industrialized countries.  […]  Moreover, and more telling, our response to violence is typically more violence.  We display our might — or what is left of it — abroad in order to address perceived injustices or a threat to our interests.  We still have not rid ourselves of the death penalty, a fact that fills those in other countries with disbelief.  Many of us, in response to the mindless gun violence around us, prescribe more guns as the solution, as the Republicans sought to do during the gun debate.  And we torture people.  It is as though, in thinking that the world responds only to violence, we reveal ourselves rather than the world.

  • With the above in mind, read this excellent op-ed by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who herself was the target of gun violence a couple of years ago. In “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip,” Giffords states about the Senate gun control votes, “I know what a complicated issue is; I know what it feels like to take a tough vote. This was neither. These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association, which in the last election cycle spent around $25 million on contributions, lobbying and outside spending.” Shameful.

Whew! That ought to keep you busy for a while. What have you been reading lately?

News Roundup: Education, Equality, Health, & Human Rights

Every time I read an especially good op-ed or article, I post it to my Google+ profile. Not so much because people will find it there and read it (though I hope some do), but more to remind me of it at a later time when I care to share it with a larger audience. So without further ado, here is a collection of particularly good pieces I’ve read recently, with short summaries and/or quotes in case you don’t have time to click through to read the whole article (though I hope you do).

Health around the world

  • “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive”: You should try working in 90-minute chunks, this article advises. “A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.” I totally agree, since I’ve spent chunks of time working from home on freelancing and other projects. When given the chance to schedule my own day, I find that I can only focus well on a task for 60-90 minutes before becoming tired and/or distracted. This article is worth a read.
  • “The Land of the Binge”: Wonderful article by Frank Bruni on Americans’ current obsession with binging (and purging). Can’t anything be done in moderation anymore? A favorite quotation: “Moderation. Remember that? It was once held up as an indisputable virtue, virtually synonymous with prudence. Don’t get too carried away with any one thing. Don’t become too set in your ways. That was the message from parents and teachers. That was the cue the culture gave. […] But America these days is an immoderate land of fixed opinions and outsize fixations. More and more we wallow: in our established political philosophy; in our preferred interest group; in our pastime of choice; in whichever health routine we’ve turned into a health religion.”
  • “For Americans Under 50, Stark Findings on Health”: Wow. Let’s do something to change this: “The United States has the highest infant mortality rate among [17 highly developed countries], and its young people have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes. Americans lose more years of life before age 50 to alcohol and drug abuse than people in any of the other countries.”
  • “Malawi’s Leader Makes Safe Childbirth her Mission”: Read this. Admirable woman.

Education

  • “The Boys at the Back”: A nice NY Times piece on how boys — especially in the U.S. — are struggling to achieve in traditional school settings. The author points out how behind the U.S. is in addressing these issues, and that it would be to the country’s advantage to check out how other English-speaking countries around the world are helping boys get through school: “the British, the Canadians and the Australians […] have openly addressed the problem of male underachievement. They are not indulging boys’ tendency to be inattentive. Instead, they are experimenting with programs to help them become more organized, focused and engaged. These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose).”
  • “Ich Arbeiterkind”: Yes, this one is in German. Sorry. My boyfriend shared it with me last week and I spent a few days reading through it in chunks. It’s a beautifully written piece on how social class and inequality affects how children are treated in schools and ultimately determines their futures. In Germany, kids are tracked quite early (before 5th grade or so) into different high schools; some are for university-aiming students, while others are for (generally working-class) students who will essentially become tradespeople. The article hits home on how much weight a teacher has in determining a child’s future, and how without supportive teachers there is rarely a chance for a German kid to move up the socio-economic ladder. It is possible, of course, but extremely difficult. We obviously have similar problems in the U.S. I could go on about this subject, but instead I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotations from the article: “Ich erzähle das, weil ich der Meinung bin, dass jeder Mensch die Chance haben sollte, etwas aus seinem Leben zu machen.” (“I am telling you this, because I am of the opinion that every person should have the chance to make something of his life.”)
  • “Downton and Downward”: Continuing on the theme of social inequality, this is a nice piece by Timothy Egan on the lack of class mobility in the U.S.: “…Britain, much of Western Europe, and Canada are becoming more socially and economically fluid while the United States hardens its class arteries. […] universal preschool [and] more help for college students…are proven elevators to a better station in life. […] Short of winning the lottery, education is the best route to a change in class status. Yet, because of the obsolete, factory-like nature of high school, which fails to propel at least a third of its students, and the confiscatory cost of college, the next rung up for 18-year-olds is becoming another haven for the rich.”
  • “In Alabama, a Model for Obama’s Push to Expand Preschool”: Part of the impetus for Egan’s article (above) was probably the newest educational debate in the U.S.: that of Obama’s hope to make preschool free and accessible for every 4-year-old regardless of family income. This is such a good idea; early childhood education has shown to be one of the biggest determiners in future life success. I’ll leave you with a block quote about Obama’s plan: “…the administration proposed that the federal government work with states to provide preschool for every 4-year-old from low- and moderate-income families. The president’s plan also calls for expanding Early Head Start, the federal program designed to prepare children from low-income families for school, to broaden quality childcare for infants and toddlers. […] Advocates for early education frequently cite research on the long-term benefits of preschool, by James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago and others, showing a link to reduced crime rates, lower dropout rates and eventual higher incomes among those who attend preschool. […] ‘We haven’t yet tried to replicate high-quality preschool programs, because we haven’t yet tried to pay preschool teachers the same that we’re paying our K-12 teachers,’” said Lisa Guernsey, director of early education at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan policy institute. “It’s pretty hard to imagine that we’re going to be recruiting great teachers if we’re paying them a poverty-level or just-above-poverty-level wage.””
  • “Education with Hands, Hearts and Heads”, Satish Kumar at TEDxWhitechapel: My friend Sam alerted me to this; Kumar is the founder of the U.K. Schumacher College, where Sam is currently doing his Master’s degree. It’s a short talk worth watching, in which Kumar illuminates his passion for education and articulates his ideas for reforming education to employ our hands, hearts, and heads. He says, “We are not consumers, we are makers.”

Equality & Human Rights

  • “The Audacity of Lena Dunham, and her Admirable Commitment to Making us Look at her Naked”: I didn’t really like the pilot episode of “Girls,” Lena Dunham’s hit HBO series. That said, she is an Obie (like me!) and she has done a few interesting things in the name of gender equality and breaking down barriers of expectation. This quotation aptly sums up the article’s point: “For all our talk about wanting to see more so-called “real women” in the media we consume — a problematic category itself, as all women are “real,” no matter how near or far they might be to the female beauty ideal — we are awfully quick to condemn a woman who is showing us reality in a very plainspoken, unvarnished way. […] The aghast controversy evoked by Dunham’s nudity shows us just how much of this “real women” talk is lip service, and how very far we have to go before we can socially deal with the fact that different bodies exist. Truth is, we’d all probably be a lot less neurotic about our own bodies if we could get used to seeing and accepting the natural variety in other people’s — without shame, and giving no fucks.”
  • “Is Delhi So Different from Steubenville?”: A NY Times op-ed by my all-time favorite columnist, Nicholas Kristof. He’s quick to point out that human rights abuse happens both at home and abroad, in developing and developed countries alike. He’s also an unfailing advocate for women’s rights (yes!): “Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.”
  • “Love, Marriage and Voters”: By my second-favorite NY Times op-ed columnist, Frank Bruni. Bruni writes about all sorts of issues, but he is at his best when advocating for equal treatment for same-sex couples: “We’ve seemingly moved away from conventional and naïve expectations, if we ever really had them, and in the years to come we’ll surely see, on the national stage, more proof of that: candidates without partners, candidates with partners they haven’t wed, candidates with partners of the same sex. […] And my guess is that many of them will do just fine, as long as they aren’t defensive or opaque and they permit enough of a view into their lives and hearts for voters to see — and identify with — a bedrock of common longings, a braid of recognizable frailties and frustrations.”
  • “Civil Unions V. Marriage”: This is an informative piece explaining some of the main differences between civil unions and marriage. Ultimately, the article argues that the federal government should recognize same-sex unions across the board (true that!): “Civil unions, while definitely a stepping stone on the path towards equality, are rife with error. They are not universally accepted, so once you cross state lines you are once again a single person fighting the battle to simple live your life. Thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government does not recognize ANY same-sex unions. That’s right. ANY.”

Language

Peace Corps

  • An Open Letter: This begins, “Dear Person Contemplating Joining Peace Corps…” It’s worth a read, especially if you have been or are hoping to be a Peace Corps Volunteer one day. I found it to be quite accurate.

Eastern Europe (aka Ukraine & Russia)

  • “A Surprising Map of the Best and Worst Countries to be Born into Today”: This Washington Post piece cites a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit that ranked 80 countries across 11 criteria to determine “which country will provide the best opportunities for a healthy, safe and prosperous life in the years ahead.” Now, rankings like this should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it was surprising to see Ukraine — where I spent two years in the Peace Corps — ranked the third-worst country to be born into: “Ukraine is a middle-income democracy […] severe and worsening problems with economic inequality, which in turn are fueling corruption and poor governance. You’re worse off being born in [Ukraine], according to the data, than you are just about anywhere else, including Sri Lanka, a poor hotbed of ethnic violence, oppressive Vietnam, or even Syria.” I can say that the economic gaps in Ukraine are huge, and that corruption is still a big problem. However, as a fellow Ukraine RPCV pointed out, it would still be worse to be born into a war zone.
  • “Why Did ‘The Ukraine’ Become Just ‘Ukraine’?”: One of the pet peeves of most Ukraine (R)PCVs is when people call Ukraine “THE Ukraine.” This article, from Mental Floss, gives a good explanation for why Ukraine used to carry an article and why it doesn’t anymore. It’s a quick, interesting read.

U.S.

  • President Obama’s Inaugural Address: It was excellent. Here are some of my favorite parts: “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet […] We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth. […] It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”