Political Camouflage

When DrugMonkey Tweeted a link to this study earlier this week, I had to follow it. I do love me some science-based policy and effective interventions.

A study suggests that school-based prevention programs begun in elementary school can significantly reduce problem behaviors in students. Fifth graders who previously participated in a comprehensive interactive school prevention program for one to four years were about half as likely to engage in substance abuse, violent behavior, or sexual activity as those who did not take part in the program. The study, supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a component of the National Institutes of Health, will appear in the August 2009 print issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The online version of the article is viewable today.

I was happily reading along, noting that the authors were appropriately cautious, talking about the longer-term follow-up that needs to be done. Then I hit this paragraph.

“This study demonstrates that a comprehensive, schoolwide social and character development program can have a substantial impact on reducing problem behaviors of public health importance in elementary-school-age youth,” said Dr. Brian Flay of Oregon State University, the study’s principal investigator.

“[C]haracter development”? Huh. “Character” is one of those words, right up there with “class” and “breeding,” that generally tells me someone is trying to separate the “deserving” and the “undeserving” for their own exclusionary purposes. I headed to the website of Positive Action, the program in question.

The first look was not promising. Their page title reads, “Positive Action: an Evidence-Based Character Education Program.” There was the problematic word again. However, the further I dug into their curriculum, the less I saw that was in any way objectionable, since it turns out the reliance on this nebulous quality of “character” was all surface.

Relieved but grumpy, I bitched to DM.

They’ve got to make the program all about “character”? Because if we instill self-esteem and teach kids to analyze behavior and view influences skeptically, they might turn out to be too radical or something.

Don’t mind me. I’m just pissed that we have to support conservative buzzwords that are tied to all sorts of nasty thinking in order to get a good idea past them.

We snarked a bit about the nature of the conservative character, and I forgot about the matter until I saw this link from Analiese.

Thankfully, the Obama administration has brought some measure of sanity to public health policy, cutting most abstinence-only education funding from the 2010 budget. But abstinence organizations are not going away. In fact, they’re getting organized. Well aware that their cause is in trouble and unpopular, purity proponents are revamping their image to appear more mainstream. And with Obama’s faith-based initiative lending them an ear, it just might work. [...]

The lack of consistent and presentable leadership, combined with ripe-for-mockery educators like Deltano, has made it all too easy to dismiss the virginity movement’s message. And they know it. One of the “Strategic Objectives” now listed on the NAEA website is “Rebranding the abstinence message.”

So when the NAEA met for its annual lobby day in March, high on the list of priorities was developing a strategy for continuing to receive federal dollars. Joe Sonka, managing editor of the Advocates for Youth blog Amplify, wrote of the lobby day, “Instead of abandoning their demonization of condoms and adherence to social conservative ideology over sound science, they would simply rebrand themselves as a curriculum that ‘wasn’t just about abstinence,’ but was all about ‘holistic approaches’ to ‘healthy lifestyle choices.’”

At an April 29 Capitol Hill briefing, Huber told the room that abstinence-only education is “not a ‘just say no’ message.” “This is not abstinence only, this is a holistic message that prepares and gives students all of the information they need to make healthy decisions,” Huber said. In fact, the NAEA isn’t even calling its programs “abstinence only” anymore–now they’re “abstinence centered.”

You know, of course, that they’re nothing of the sort. I highly recommend reading the article to find out what new guises the abstinence movement is using to hide itself. It’s even claiming to be “science-based,” although as you would expect, the science is the bought-and-paid-for sort that the energy companies are using to fight effective action against global warming.

Yes, read and be prepared (as it were). But while you’re reading, feel free to take a moment to be heartened, because it’s awfully nice to know that they are feeling the need to adopt our language for a change.

Atheists Talk–James Morrow

Towing Jehovah, James Morrow
Atheists Talk #0075, Sunday, June 21, 2009

First, let’s suppose that Jehovah God is real. Good News for the religious, right? Then, let’s twist it a bit and see what happens should Jehovah die. This would cause a major problem for at least the Abrahamic religions. After all, how could we hope for eternal life if the Provider Himself is subject to mortality? The guarantee of eternal life in His Presence would at that time become null and void. Steps must be taken and a cover-up must be carried out. Hiding bodies is difficult enough, but when the body of Jehovah falls from Heaven and turns out to be two miles long, complications multiply. The beauty of novels is that they allow absurdities to shed light on reality, and James Morrow uses the device of the dead god to illuminate our notions on religion and philosophy. Scott Lohman, president of the Humanists of Minnesota, will interview Morrow on our show.

“Atheists Talk” is produced by Minnesota Atheists. Mike Haubrich, Director and Host.

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Listen to AM 950 KTNF on Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call the studio at 952-946-6205 or email us at [email protected].

In the Trees

For someone with acrophobia, I spent an awful lot of time as a child a story or more off the ground in trees. We had a treehouse for a few years that was worth the climb up the rope ladder. I spent uncounted hours reading in weeping willows, having juggled a book and usually an apple in my climb. I’d ignore the discomforts of my irregular perch for the privilege of reading uninterrupted, just me and the tree. No one ever looked up.

I have another post up at Quiche Moraine today, back to my usual Friday schedule. This one ended in a place I didn’t expect when I started it. I really should have. I know me better than that. It just never occurred to me. Anyway, you can read it for yourself.

Not So Silent

It’s mid-June and people are still writing some very impressive posts related to Silence Is the Enemy. They’re worth the read.

  • Jason has a good rundown of the situation with our shared troll. Fascinating that someone would claim to be doing this to help raise awareness of rape but never consider that consent might be an important factor.
  • ScienceWoman totally stole my idea of using music, right down to using one of the same songs. Not that she knew I was planning to or anything.
  • Also at ScienceWomen, Alice put up a reminder that sexual assault is not just an “over there” problem. It’s a problem we all share.
  • And Toaster is doing a fascinating series on the ways men are not helping other men to be part of the solution. I’d point out that he’s missing the ways that women aren’t helping men, but this time around, if he wants it to be about the guys, so be it.

Update: The above comment about Toaster’s series is in no way meant to imply that he should be writing about anything else. It’s more a wry observation about who is attending to what where in this discussion. Nonetheless, he’s on it.

Dangerous Creatures

I was sitting down with a very good friend of mine the other day for a much-needed catch-up session. He said, “My mother’s behaving better. I’m starting to think I might not have to kill her and bury her in the back yard.”

He looked down, then back up. “The sad thing is that I could.”

I just nodded. That last part wasn’t news.

With special events rearranging our schedule, it’s been a while since I’ve had a new post up at Quiche Moraine. I’m told this one is scary, which considering the source, is a high compliment. Please check it out.

How Deep the Bullet Lies, Part III

This story I’ve already told, at least the first part of it.

It was a perfectly normal guy who didn’t want to let go of me when I was in my late teens. We’d been hanging out, kissed a little bit, but I was done. He wasn’t. It took making it very clear that one of us was going to be injured to get him to realize I meant it and let go.

If I had been more intimidated (he was a big Navy boy) or less sober or less willing to risk hurting him or being hurt, there’s a very good chance it would have ended in rape. The fact that he was horrified when he figured out I really did mean it wouldn’t have changed that at all.

Unlike the events in Part I and Part II of this series, this wasn’t a traumatic experience. Quite the opposite. Oh, it was scary enough while it was happening, but the fact that fighting back solved the problem was…cathartic. Educational.

Then, nearly two decades later, I decided to mention it. That was also educational. Not terribly cathartic.

I’ve had a friend decide to “walk away” over everything that happened in the last week and a half. I discovered that the person whose behavior I asked my friend to look at, thus dragging him into the whole mess, was using me and everyone else to generate controversy and pull attention to a cause he’d adopted. (Why do I believe Jason? This, mostly. It’s all too familiar: the big idea, the disregard for whether anyone else has consented to participate or is being hurt, the “regret” that changes no behavior.)

I’ve learned a few things about myself. I’ve learned just how stubbornly determined I am to see some things through and to get something worthwhile even out of awful situations. I’ve learned much more about the limits of how far I can push myself into the territory of using myself up.

I’ve learned how sane and self-sufficient I sound even when I’m on the verge of cracking. Funny, even. I can’t drop all that, apparently. I can take someone apart and lay the pieces out for everyone to see, but I can’t lash out (even when it’s the kinder option). I can tell someone what I need, but I can’t make them feel it. The more that’s at stake, the less I’m able to make myself manipulate the situation.

I’ve learned how far I’ll go to protect my voice, including removing it entirely from play. There’s only one person who knows how close I came to deleting this blog and walking away from the internet. I found the support I needed and wrote these instead, amping up instead of shutting down, but the outcome was very much in doubt for a while.

I’ve learned how it feels to be on the receiving end of that off-topic kindness and silliness in the midst of a tough slog. I owe D.C., Ambivalent Academic, Will, Becca, DuWayne and Jason for that in ways I can’t quite express. Toaster, too, even if he wasn’t specifically trying to lighten the mood. I grin every time I see that cartoon.

But that’s enough about me and what I’m taking away from (hoo, boy) the first half of this month. This series of posts was originally intended to say something about the fact that we can’t know who we’re talking to when we’re talking about tough topics like this. I don’t know whether it’s done that, but either way, it’s time to shift the focus away from me. Back to the broader topic tomorrow.

For now, go find something fun to read at the blogs that are supporting Silence Is the Enemy with their page-view revenue. As always, Bioephemera has much that is weird and wonderful. Go read and marvel.

Iran by the Numbers

Want to know what happened in Iran but need to take a break from the violence? FiveThirtyEight is applying their usual beautiful math and savvy to the situation.

Statistical Report Purporting to Show Rigged Iranian Election Is Flawed

Like most Americans, there are few things I would like to see more than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hateful President, to be voted out of office. Elections in thuggish, authoritarian states like Iran need be treated with the utmost skepticism and scrutiny. I can’t say I have any real degree of confidence in the official results, which showed Ahmadinejad winning with some 62 percent of the vote.

There is a statistical analysis making the rounds, however, which purports to show overwhelmingly persuasive evidence that the Iranian election was rigged. I do not find this evidence compelling.

Iranian Election Results by Province

Iran Does Have Some Fishy Numbers

Although widespread allegations of fraud, manipulation, intimidation and other all too common elections tactics have been be common, statistically detecting fraud or manipulation is a challenge. For example, while mathematicians have been evaluating vote returns for irregularities in normal situational random number distribution , determining what the “correct” results should be is very difficult.

However, given the absolutely bizarre figures that have been given for several provinces, given qualitative knowledge – for example, that Mahdi Karroubi earned almost negligible vote totals in his native Lorestan and neighboring Khuzestan, which he won in 2005 with 55.5% and 36.7% respectively – there is room for a much closer look.

Polling Predicted Intimidation — and Not Necessarily Ahmadinejad’s Victory

Ballen and Doherty are doing admirable and important work. Regular readers will know how difficult it is to conduct a good poll in the United States. Take that difficulty to the fifth power, and you’ll have some sense for how difficult it is to conduct a good poll in Iran.

Unfortunately, while the poll itself may be valid, Ballen and Doherty’s characterization of it is misleading. Rather than giving one more confidence in the official results, the poll raises more questions than it resolves.

Speaking of Torture

On the way home from the Atheists Talk show today, Mike had Speaking of Faith playing in the car. This is actually pretty common among the “active” atheists I know, this listening to religious radio. I, perhaps because I’m not one of the deconverted, don’t really get it.

However, today I was lousy company for the ride back home. I was engrossed in the show.

The topic? Torture. But this wasn’t the torture conversation that’s been going on: Who approved what when and did anything useful come of it and/or will we prosecute? This was actually a discussion of torture, how it moves through organizations and society and what it does to the people along the way, how modern torture has been informed by our advances in understanding the human mind so that “nonviolent” forms are nothing of the sort.

I don’t understand why this was on Speaking of Faith. Maybe they lumped it under ethics. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that people listen to this show, preferably before they try to discuss the topic again.

Seriously, go listen.

How Deep the Bullet Lies, Part II

I was fifteen and sitting in the back of a pickup truck in a parking lot at UW-Stout on Christmas Eve eve. We’d gotten a bit off track.

On track would have been meeting the guy to whom I was going to “lose” my virginity. Virginity didn’t actually mean anything to me, but mine was getting annoying. I kid you not, there were two guys, uncle and nephew but very close in age, arguing over which one of them was going to take my virginity nine months down the road when I turned sixteen and was legal.

I had other plans, which included shutting these guys up already. They also included the younger brother of the fiance of a friend of mine. They didn’t include everybody but me, my friend, and her fiance’s father working until sometime that evening, but they all were. Hence the diversionary road trip until we could pick up younger son.

There was a topper on the back of the truck and maybe a heater. I don’t remember it being freezing. I do remember being offered a rum and Coke. My friend, who at eighteen was hoping she was pregnant, didn’t drink anything. I’m not sure whether I had a second drink.

I’m not chatty, so I didn’t really notice how hard I’d been hit until it was time to climb out of the back of the truck and back into the cab. If I didn’t have a second drink and the rum wasn’t 151, I was drugged.

He insisted that I sit between him and my friend. Then he unzipped his pants and explained that unless and until I “lent him a hand,” we weren’t going anywhere.

So I did. I was too intoxicated to think to counter-threaten with the fact that he’d already committed one federal felony by hauling me across state lines to get me drunk. I had nowhere to go, because I was trapped between him and my sober, silent “friend.” My one coherent thought was that this would be a very useful time for that passing out thing some people did around alcohol. I did that too.

I couldn’t stay passed out through the whole ride home, though, probably because it wasn’t safe. So there are nightmare flashes here and there of streetlamp illumination moving at freeway speeds. I remember being back at my friend’s house, younger son showing up after work, losing that pesky virginity because it was part of the plan (if not necessarily right then) and because if I didn’t follow the plan, I’d have to figure out what else to do.

My friend told younger son a few days later what had happened. It was apparently important to explain to him why I didn’t want to date him, although the truth is that he was very sweet but not that bright. She never said anything to me about why she didn’t try to stop it.

Every few years, she sends a note saying she’d like to catch up. She sent another one yesterday.

Lessons learned: (1) Letting someone mix your drinks means trusting them with your life. (2) The number of your friends is much smaller than the number of people you hang out and kid around with.

As I said before, I’m writing this now for the one person who deserves to know. I’m posting it because there are a few others who might get something out of it. I’ve never talked to anyone about it, not for any of (what I assume are) the standard reasons, but because I don’t want to spend any more time or energy on it. Even then, I knew people who’d been through far worse experiences and far worse betrayals.

This might be painful to you, which I understand and am sorry about. I still don’t want to talk about it. Or hear about it. If you feel you need to write something, Sheril’s got some suggestions about where your note can do some good for people who need it, badly. If that’s not enough for you, she has some other suggestions about things you can do to help those people. Not all of them involve your money. Do those instead.

Where Not to Get Advice

We already know we shouldn’t rely on Oprah or her guests for general medical advice or for medical advice for women, her main audience. Turns out, somewhat unsurprisingly, that one shouldn’t listen to her on matters of sexual health either. From Carnal Nation:

Take sexual orientation, for example—a subject that’s been in the news once or twice lately. As recently as 10 weeks ago, Oprah was asking psychologist Lisa Diamond if women turn to other women sexually “because of a shortage of men.” Oprah also wondered why, when women turn away from men, so many seem to choose women who don’t, um, look so feminine. [...]

Oprah is so focused on female victimization, in fact, that she even tells the astounding untruth that doctors pay more attention to the sexual aspects of prostate surgery than to hysterectomy. She also forgets to mention that more men die from prostate cancer than from breast or uterine cancer.

While I admire what Oprah did to make it okay for people to talk about being the victims of sexual assault, perhaps someone who is still so traumatized by her assault that she can’t name her own body parts is not the person women should turn to for advice on how to nurture their own sexual and reproductive health.

Well, you may call it the vagina, but poor Oprah just can’t stand that ugly word. “Don’t you think vi-jay-jay sounds better than vagina?” she asked with a pained expression. And the urethral opening? That’s “where you pee-pee,” said the 55-year-old Oprah on national TV.

Thanks to Lou for the link.