Obama caves to religious pressure on birth control debate

Atheist feminist rage activated:

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the proposal would guarantee free coverage of birth control “while respecting religious concerns.”

Churches and religious organizations that object to providing birth control coverage on religious grounds would not have to pay for it.

Under the proposal, female employees could get free birth control coverage through a separate plan that would be provided by a health insurer. The institution objecting to the coverage would not pay for the contraceptives. The costs would instead be paid by the insurance company, with the possibility of recouping the costs through lower health care expenses resulting in part from fewer births.


Look, I know that in the grand scheme of things, women will still receive their free birth control even if their employers decide its their prerogative to force their religious beliefs on their employees. At least the Obama administration hasn’t completely fucked over women in this situation.

But it’s the principle of the matter. Religious organizations should not receive special privileges from the government since that explicitly violates the first amendment. These religious organizations love to cry that they’re the ones defended by the first amendment, but that’s false. If you’re religious and your health insurance covers birth control, no one is forcing you to use that birth control. If an employer doesn’t want their employees using birth control, tough shit. You don’t get to enforce your religious beliefs on others.

The only reason this is even a debate is because Catholics make up a substantial part of the US population so they’re able to cause a bigger stink. If a Jehovah’s Witness employer wanted to ban all of their employees from ever receiving blood transfusions, would Obama have caved? If a Muslim employer decides you can’t spend any of your paycheck on pork products, would that have been okay? Religious organizations should have to pay for birth control coverage just like every other organization instead of receiving special privileges. Instead, religious organizations threw a temper tantrum and Obama responded by buying them metaphorical ice cream.

Republican lawmaker wants to criminalize aborting your rape baby because it’s “tampering with evidence”

I’d say it’s a new low for Republicans, but really, it’s their usual low:

A Republican lawmaker in New Mexico introduced a bill on Wednesday that would legally require victims of rape to carry their pregnancies to term in order to use the fetus as evidence for a sexual assault trial.

House Bill 206, introduced by state Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R), would charge a rape victim who ended her pregnancy with a third-degree felony for “tampering with evidence.”

“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime,” the bill says.

Third-degree felonies in New Mexico carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.

But don’t worry, Cathrynn Brown! I know you’re not a geneticist so this wouldn’t have occurred to you, but I have the solution to your problem. You can do paternity analysis using the DNA from an aborted fetus, the placenta, or (thanks to new technology produced from my very own department) fetal cells that are circulating in the mother’s blood. Why, you don’t need a live baby at all! It’s a win win situation. Women aren’t forced to give birth to and raise their rapist’s child as some sort of bizarre punishment for being raped, and evidence is still obtained to identify rapists.

I’m sure Rep. Brown will rescind the bill now that science has come to the rescue. It’s not as if this is actually some underhanded attempt to outlaw abortions, right?

The one brief message I have about the election

If you’re voting third party, you’re voting for Romney. Stop being an idealist and wake up to the reality of how our system works. I agree we need to have more parties in the dialog – trust me, I’d be way happier voting for someone more liberal like Jill Stein if I had the knowledge my voice would be heard – but that’s not going to happen by throwing your vote away and helping a Republican win. If you need any more convincing, remember Nader in 2000.

Obama isn’t perfect, but he’s the only option that supports equal civil rights for women, racial minorities, and LGBT individuals. And to me nothing more is important in my country than equal rights for all. If you put your pocketbooks ahead of equality, you’re selfish and downright immoral. My grad student stipend is technically at the poverty line for Washington state, and I would still happily pay higher taxes if it meant providing social services and helping those who need it the most. Heaven forbid I don’t have the luxury of an iPhone because I think someone’s children having food on the table is more important.

That’s the society I want to live in, and that’s why I’m voting Obama.

My president has to remind us that “rape is rape”

It’s kind of sad that American politics has come to the point where Obama needs to state the obvious about rape:

President Obama has weighed in on Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) comments that women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape” because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” During an impromptue press conference on Monday, Obama said, “The views expressed were offensive. Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people.” “So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians — a majority whom are men — making health care decisions on behalf of women,” he added.

Exactly. Though I wish Obama took one more sentence to point out that what Akin claimed has no scientific merit. Especially since Akin is on House Science Committee. A terrifying idea, indeed.

If you want to know the science behind rape, stress, and pregnancy, Kate Clancy has written a great post for Scientific American following this political kerfuffle. The short answer:

Yes, psychosocial stress is associated with fetal loss in some samples. That is not the same thing as saying that stress causes fetal loss. Some women are more reactive to stress than others, and this seems to be based on genes and early childhood experiences. As I pointed out in my post, it certainly isn’t something women have conscious control over. And so it is irrational to link the stress of rape, while awful and severe, to fetal loss, when we understand the mechanism of the stress response and its relationship to pregnancy so poorly, and when we know next to nothing regarding how variation in stress reactivity is produced.

Or instead of understanding the science, you can be like Rep. Steve King (R) and remark how you never heard of someone getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest. Because if you’ve never personally heard of something happening, that means it must be true. It only took a minute of Googling for me to find a scientific paper showing 0.5% of women getting abortions had their pregnancy result from incest, and that obviously doesn’t address the women who didn’t get abortions. But it’s still greater than King’s claim of zero.

I won’t be visiting Russia any time soon

A hooligan like me would certainly be thrown in prison:

Three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot have been jailed for two years after staging an anti-Vladimir Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral.

Judge Marina Syrova convicted the women of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had “crudely undermined social order”.

The women say the protest, in February, was directed at the Russian Orthodox Church leader’s support for Mr Putin.

Judge Syrova said Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29, had offended the feelings of Orthodox believers and shown a “complete lack of respect”.

“Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich committed hooliganism – in other words, a grave violation of public order,” she said.

What was this horrific act of hooliganism?

Along with other members of their band, the women staged a flashmob-style performance of their song close to the altar in the cathedral on 21 February.

Their brief, obscenity-laced performance, which implored the Virgin Mary to “throw Putin out”, enraged the Orthodox Church – its leader Patriarch Kirill said it amounted to blasphemy.

Yep. Two years in jail because you dared to swear, mention some religious figures, and speak about a theoretically democratic election. I know the US is fucked up, but at least I don’t get thrown in prison when I say FUCK THE CHURCH.

Hopefully something positive happens with their appeal, and hopefully even more international pressure is put on Russia. Not that I’m expecting much coming from the US. Can you imagine Obama having to defend a blasphemous band called Pussy Riot during an election season?

Why you shouldn’t play the lottery

Watch this US Powerball simulator long enough and you’ll understand. Sean and I have now been “buying” two tickets a week for 350 years for a total of 36,400 games. We’ve spent $72,750 and made $5,417, which puts our rate of return at around 7 cents a ticket. We’ve never made more than $100 on a ticket.

Insert comment about the US education system’s failure to properly teach statistics here.

Depressing infographic of the night

Click here to see a larger version:

My initial reaction: Holy fuck is that biased. The only group that comes even close to a 50/50 gender split is Time Warner, and they’re at 67% men, 31% women. If there are any topics where women should be interviewed more often than men it’s abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood, and women’s rights…but we’re not even close to 50/50! The best ratio for interviews about women’s interests is 52% men, 31% women. Add this to the list of Reasons Why The Main Stream Media Depresses the Fuck Out of Me.

My reaction upon more reflection: I wish I had the data for a control group of random topics. Is this better or worse than average? I’m not sure which would be more depressing.

After a little digging, this was the best I could find (from the same group):

Looks like some categories fair better than others. Women’s rights has more women interviewed than usual, but abortion has less. But across the board, women’s representation is pathetic.

This is post 36 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

How will marijuana legalization change popular culture?

Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in a number of states, including my current place of residence (Washington). It’s probably no shocker since I’m a dirty liberal, but I’ll be voting in favor of legalization. It’s ludicrous that we have such tight regulations on a drug that’s less harmful that alcohol. Heaven forbid if some people want to sit around watching Blue Planet while eating ice cream! But even beyond that, it’s ridiculous how much money is wasted on the drug war, and how it disproportionately affects people of color.

Marijuana may not get legalized by states this year, and even if it does national laws still need to change. But it’s going to happen eventually, and I’m really curious how popular culture will change when it does. In Seattle, marijuana is de-criminalized, and I’m fascinated by how different the culture is here compared to Indiana. No one gives a fuck if you smell weed while walking down the street. Accomplished, productive people smoke, which totally destroyed the stereotypes I had grown up with about all pot smokers being lazy losers. Medical marijuana dispensaries are everywhere.

But how much more will culture change when it’s totally legal? Will pot smoking bars pop up along bars that serve alcohol? Will you be able to order a pot brownie for dessert at major chains just like you can order a beer? Will there be massive mediocre national brands (the Bud of Bud?) with local, pricier, artisan weed? Will there be specialized gourmet restaurants were every food item in infused with THC?

I’m honestly curious. When I’m 80 and telling small children “Back in my day, pot was illegal!” how shocked are they going to be? Is it going to be seen as a normal, integral part of culture by then, just like alcohol?

What do you think?

This is post 29 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Fixing Math Education – or – How I Learned to Stop Lecturing and Love the Common Core Standards

This is a guest post by Mark Webster, continuing his tradition of guest posting for me during Blogathon. He is a graduate of Purdue University from the School of Science in the field of Mathematics Education and is currently a High School Mathematics Teacher in Indiana.

Please note that the author is representing general trends and personal experiences of a trained educator combined with popular evidence-based practices.  By no means is this exhaustive.  Please do not be butthurt. If you have evidence-based practices that conflict with anything I have said, please feel free to leave a comment.

There has been a lot of discussion on the problems in education, in general, but never do you hear a bigger cry for change in any other subject than you do in Mathematics.  Perhaps it is time to analyze the problem and line up some solutions.*

Who are the problems in Math Education?

Teachers are certainly not the only problem, but when deciding to figure out the problem, it’s always best to start inward.  In this post, I will be looking at what teachers need to focus on.

In our schools, there is still a lot of passive learning going on.  What is passive learning, you may ask?  Let me answer your question with another question:

When you imagine a math class, what do you think of?

Probably something like this:


A teacher, facing the board, not interacting with his students.  Many of us, myself included, have had experiences like this.  No teacher-student interaction. No checks for understanding.  No eye contact.  Perhaps, even more pernicious, there may not even be an analysis of the learning and long term progress of students.

Direct lecture-style math classrooms create an environment of passive learning.  The teacher says a bunch of words at the front of the board; maybe, if he is a more dynamic teacher, waves his arms around a little bit; and then throws quizzes and tests at you. (Multiple, if you’re lucky—on the college level, there is rarely regular assessment…but that is neither here nor there.)

Even worse, the math classroom suffers from a lack of student metacognition and critical thinking—an ailment in a math classroom that baffles me to no end, particularly because that is, more often than not, the go-to excuse that teachers trot out when a student asks them “When are we going to use this?”

Rarely is the question asked, “Is our children learning?”, the answer to which is, more often than not, either “No.” or “Not well enough.”  Now it is time to move beyond that question to “How can we help them to learn?”

How will the Common Core Standards help?

One of the country-wide initiatives that will be taking hold in the coming years, the transition to which will be complete in 2015, is called the Common Core Standards.  While there are standards for Math and English, for obvious reasons (Hint: I’m a math teacher) I will be only talking about the Math standards.

1. Stricter Math standards for the USA.

If you look on the national report cards, you might notice grades for the states are changing. Of the 50 states, only six of them have not bought into the common core standards.  If you or your children are students in any state besides Washington, Alaska, Texas, North Dakota, Nebraska, or Virginia, you will have (hopefully) heard of the change.  A common set of standards across the country will mean that students are learning with the same level of rigor and relevance in Indiana as they are in New York or Mississippi.

2. Increased focus on Critical Thinking

In my professional development and my own personal research on the PARCC exams, I’ve come across the same thing over and over:  The standardized tests of the past will not go away, but they will be refocused.  Instead of fifty “Math Problems” on a test, the student may be given five or six “Math Tasks.”  These tasks may involve, on the elementary school end, explaining the purpose of a step within a problem that they have completed for you, finding errors in simplifying a problem down and explaining what the error is, or even taking a newspaper article and analyzing it to take a position, using evidence.  Instead of focusing on finding an answer, the test will be concerned with how they can apply math to that answer.  How wild!

3. Broader, more targeted learning objectives

Most state standards and assessments have, in the past, been far more focused on students simply demonstrating their knowledge of a process, i.e. “Plot these two points and determine whether the slope is positive or negative.”  Common Core standards are far more broad and far more targeted.  Much like the National Counsel of Teachers of Mathematics standards, the Common Core standards concern themselves with specific domains of learning and applying them to metacognitive tasks.

Now, instead of plotting those points on the exam; they may, instead, be given a question that asks them to analyze, display, and track profit margins for a company and take a position on whether or not they will be able to afford to stay open in five years.

The accountability is changing from teaching mathematical processes to teaching thought processes. I approve of this, but does this really address the problems that we have seen above? I don’t think so.

So…How Do We Do This?

There are many champions of new processes within the Math Education community.  Many of you have heard of Salman Khan and his famous Khan Academy, fewer of you have probably heard of Dan Meyer***—some Math teachers even haven’t (A fact which breaks my heart.), and I’m sure even less of you know about the conflict of pedagogical styles that lies between them.

Let’s break them down:

Dan Meyer’s pedagogical philosophy, a project that began as WCYDWT? or What Can You Do With This? and has slowly morphed into something he calls Any Questions? is designed as a student-centered, inquiry-based, generally collaborative effort to force students to lead the discussion and gain ownership of the material by creating the payoff in the medium used to teach the material; and, instead of spoon feeding them concepts, force them to push through a mathematical task and create the demand for the material.

Salman Khan’s pedagogical philosophy, a project that began as a series of youtube videos, has become a website, and some might say a school, of its own.  The Khan Academy allows students to develop on their own, facilitates continuous improvement for the students at their own pace and on their own terms, and allows for constant pedagogical moderation.

Math teachers and parents alike have raised concerns about the methodologies that these two men have created.  Dan Meyer critics fight him because they believe his philosophy creates a lack of rigor.  Salman Khan critics fight him because his videos do just as much lecturing as one might see in a classroom, and do nothing to enrich and create ownership of the material.

Even with the miles of space between their two philosophies, it is worth the time to compare them and see a similarity:

These philosophies depend on a consistent foundation of what has come before.  The genius of Dan Meyer’s method lies in the students being able to work through the tasks because they are absolutely prepared to tackle it.  The utility of Sal Khan’s method is that because students get to a topic on their own terms, they are prepared to see it and they can meet it head on.

Without constant analysis and moderation of our students’ learning, we cannot teach to our fullest potential.  If we leave students by the wayside because we don’t know where they are, we have put a student in a hole that they may not be able to escape from.

*I’m by no means the first nor am I the most qualified person to look at this.  We’ve been overhauling since before I started teaching, but one more eye on the problem can’t hurt. Even if I’m not saying anything new, informing new people can’t hurt. Right?

**http://www.canyonville.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Math-Class-620×270.jpg  Disclaimer: This picture is not necessarily an indictment of this teacher.  It is a photo that I found on the internet with a teacher that had his back to the classroom.  The fact that it took me about five minutes to find one is encouraging to me.

***Full Disclosure: I worship the ground upon which this man walks. The classroom ideal he has created is my personal mission.

This is post 28 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.