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I Have A Remedial Education Proposal – For Legislators

Part of the problem that having a representative democracy creates is that the representatives are often only as educated and savvy as the populations that elect them (particularly on a more local scale).  This results in elected officials, who are in charge of making important law and policy to govern those they represent, endorsing, doing and saying incredibly stupid and damaging things.

It becomes more pronounced when legislators are required to make determinations about issues that require some specialized knowledge or expertise, because it all comes down to whether or not they find the experts presenting recommendations credible.  And biases against positions make it easy to discount good evidence based policy.  What’s more, a huge handicap is created when legislators approach policy with fundamental ignorance of science: how it works, what is consensus and why scientific consensus should carry great weight.

When this sort of ignorance and “everyone is entitled to their own facts” sort of attitude is allowed to continue, you see idiocy on grand scales.  On just one day during a Utah legislative session, the following headache inducing nonsense was aired, championed by the head of our public lands office, Kathleen Clarke.

The day of this session, it was more or less solid headdesking with some facepalms interspersed for variety.  Issues like this always seem to come down to a mixture of totally misunderstanding science and a deep and sustained fear of federal regulation that borders on paranoia.

Because these people are given public trust to make policy and laws for us, I see no other option but to insist on a basic level scientific, medical and sociological literacy.  Those legislators whose education and experience background are lacking should be required to attend seminars getting them up to speed; they are entrusted with nothing less than our lives and futures.

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I Love Busty Girl Comics, Plus Let’s Talk About Bra Shopping

I have a complicated relationship with my boobs.  Like my mom (and to a lesser extent, my paternal grandmother), I have been busty from adolescence onward.  It has nothing to do with weight.  I’ve been underweight, I’ve been relatively fit, I’ve been overweight.  And I’ve always had disproportionately large breasts.

I used to fantasize about someday getting reductions.  But as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable in my skin, I’ve realized that while I’m often frustrated, inconvenienced and sometimes pained by being busty, my breasts are a permanent part of my conception of self.  What’s more, once I got past a gut fear of embracing my sexuality as a person, rather than hiding it, I started being able to appreciate my breasts and feeling happy about my proportions.

That doesn’t eliminate frequent frustrations and inconveniences that come from being busty, but there are sometimes perks to balance that out.  In any event, because I can identify with so much of her artwork and humor, I’ve come to really appreciate Rampaige’s insights whether perks or problems:

Busty Girl Comics: Obscured View

There is something nice with having someone who not only understands the viewpoint of busty people (because she’s also been great about recognizing trans men having experience with breasts as well), but who is able to find humor in daily little incidents that I’d never even think to mention.  What’s more, I love that she draws a variety of body shapes, because “busty” is far from universal and despite the feeling I sometimes get while clothes shopping, women have highly varied figures. Read More…

It’s About Damn Time

The President of the United States has finally fucking evolved already and moved in line with his party, his base, the arc of history toward justice and the majority of United States citizens: President Obama finally supports marriage equality.

For 560 days we have been waiting for him to complete whatever philosophical “evolution” was necessary for him to arrive at the obvious fucking conclusion that civil legal marriage (along with the associated benefits and protections) should be open to all people regardless of who they love, and that this has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever some religious fucker thinks about sin and brimstone.

I suspect there is more political calculation involved in the decision than I would have liked, and the timing could have been better (read: a couple weeks earlier before this week’s frustrating setbacks in North Carolina and Colorado), but at least we can stop trying to justify supporting a candidate who is behind the times.  We no longer have to talk about choosing the least of two evils when conservative assholes point out that their bigotry surely can’t be actual bigotry because even our Democratic president doesn’t fully support LGBT rights.  We don’t have to wait any more.

This country is changing, and today at least, I feel confident that however slowly, it is changing for the better.

Lenore Skenazy Could Be A Skeptic, But She’s Not

Free Range Parenting, It’s almost skeptical.

For a long time now, I’ve really wanted to like Lenore Skenazy.  She dares to speak up against the ridiculous and crippling bubble wrap we put around kids growing up and point out that we should be basing our decisions about risk/benefit to kids based on the actual evidence.  Skenazy pointed out that crime rates are at historic lows nationally and in individual states, and yet the policies that govern parenting, play and schooling have gotten ever more restrictive.  There are social norms at work, although they vary by region, that ostracize parents who allow their children opportunities to learn and grow independently while building confidence and useful skills.

She calls it “Free-Range Parenting.”  Sounds like a good start toward a skeptical worldview, right?  Turns out, not so much.

Then the problems start to show up.

Along with the evidence based ideas of letting kids play outside without adults hovering a foot away and allowing mature kids to ride on public transportation to see friends or hit the library and not immediately characterizing men near children as probable pedophiles, she also comes off as a denialist about things we do have evidence of risk and harm.  I would not have known the extend to which she endorses some of these things had I not followed her on Twitter for a while.

I had a bit of a ragegasm in January when she seemed to side with a systemic anti-medication approach to ADHD that made my life misery as a kid.  She linked to a poorly done bit of research on exercise for kids with ADHD credulously agreeing with the overstated conclusions, saying it was “unsurprising but significant.”  I feared for all the parents who followed her seeing this and deciding that their kids don’t need medical treatment or coping strategies after all, they just need to run around a bit more during the day.  I feared they could face non-treatment (which is fucking hell) because of the I-heard-about-this-alternative-treatment-on-Oprah effect.

Since then, it appears that she has made her healthy and positive stance toward medicating those with ADHD more clear, which I appreciate.  However, she seems to think that since the rash of known bullying related suicides doesn’t match an overall decrease among most students (meaning it doesn’t affect lots of straight and cis kids, in my opinion), there is no epidemic of systemic abuses.  She seems to say that bullying is sad but normal and decreasing, so we shouldn’t look to see if there are greater influences of bullying, even anti-gay bullying, as the nation becomes more conservative and polarized about LGBT equality.

She claims that “No one is shrugging off the real crime of bullying. But to pretend there’s an epidemic when in fact things are getting better is to both over-react AND sell our kids short.”  Has she even looked at what places like Tennessee legislature or the Anoka-Hennepin school district have said and done on the matter?  If Skenazy had been paying attention at all, she should know that religious conservatives are lobbying for the right to verbally crush LGBT youth all in the name of religious freedom.  Some conservatives have even argued that bullying kids abusing LGBT students are displaying natural revulsion, rather than ingrained prejudice.  Is this really the argument she believes is supported by evidence?

But for a while, I continued following her because she generally has sane things to say about kids being allowed to be kids and parents not being perfect.  Then she did something that I think is unforgivable.  She claimed the recent CDC rape and sexual violence survey was an example of “overdefining” crime while linking to some of the most hateful straw analysis of the survey I have seen.

Lenore Skenazy Tweet Endorsing Rape Apologist Article

I think I understand why she did it.  Skenazy has long argued that our sex-offender laws are screwed up, and punish teenagers and adolescents for bad judgement.  And that much is true; it is one thing for someone to be convicted of statutory rape when xe is old enough that the power differential is inherently harmful.  It is another when a couple of years separate boyfriend/girlfriend and the elder spends the rest of xir days labeled on a registry, having future life options eliminated without good cause.

Why I No Longer Trust Lenore Skenazy.

But what Skenazy has done is conflate these Romeo & Juliet scenarios with the real and statistically huge risk of rape and sexual assault that women face and spit on victims.  By endorsing the views of someone actively trying to undermine more comprehensive study of sexual violence, she has become a rape apologist.  It was at this point I could no longer follow her or endorse her advocacy because it’s tainted by someone who interprets facts to suit her hypotheses.  Consent is really not that hard (no matter how “where is the line/I’m just asking questions” assholes try to muddle the issue).  Skenazy is talking about instances of free and enthusiastic consent without inherently broken power dynamics, and then endorses the most vile denial and rape apologism without even thinking.  That she could not see the difference means that I can no longer trust anything she says to be objectively measured.

So you can understand why I am so angry, I’ll talk about both the article she endorsed How to fake sexual violence rates and produce scary numbers and the CDC survey it references.  I’ll start by talking a little bit about the CDC violence study, but honestly, it has been parsed and discussed in so much depth that it’s mostly just so I can explain just how wrong the opinion piece is.

Read More…

Unlike Utah’s Eagle Forum, I Can’t See Teen Ignorance as “Good News”

In yesterday’s Salt Lake Tribune, Lisa Schencker reports that Utah ranks dead last in knowing about safer sex among the states surveyed:

Utah has the lowest percentage of high schools teaching teens about condoms among 45 states, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2010 in Utah, 11.3 percent of public secondary schools taught kids about the efficacy of condoms, how to get them and the importance of using them consistently and correctly, according to the report. That was the lowest percentage of schools teaching teens about all three of those topics out of 45 states surveyed.

To be even more disturbing, this is the case of Utah’s current sex education program, which critics said gave too much information to teens; the push to keep kids even more ignorant about sexuality and health led to the narrowly avoided anti-education bill the governor only recently vetoed.  That there were those lobbying to push us even lower than we obviously are in education (how do you get lower than last fucking place?!) thought our current education needed to be eliminated shows just how neglectful our curriculum standards and priorities are.

Utah’s rates in diseases like chlamydia are shameful, and our highest infected populations are aged 15-19.  Yet somehow, conservative groups see all this as a good thing.  Even great news:

But Dalane England, vice president over issues for the Utah Eagle Forum, called the numbers, on the whole, “great news.”

“The more you talk about sex — as something so sacred and so intimate and personal — when you talk about that in a public setting you’re going to get more of it,” England said. “When you talk about abstinence-only … you get more abstinence.”

What’s more, England suggests that the small minority of students that have some idea about condoms and how to get them is actually a terrible threat to the state, indicating that teachers must be doing something illegal.  (Not actually sure if any portion of the population discussed includes private schools, but they actually teach and test on contraception, even the private Catholic schools.  And the state legislature can’t force them to keep kids ignorant and put them in danger.)

Seriously, WTF?  I think I need to have a nice long scream over here in the other room.

Utah Education Proving People Opposed to Government Shouldn’t Run Government

I love many things about my home.  Deep rooted phobias about government do not fall on that list.  Our politicians, local, state and federal seemingly can’t help but illustrate how stupid it is when people vote for government representatives that want to undermine the government.  It has serious consequences that should be indefensible.

In Saturday’s Salt Lake Tribune, Lindsay Whitehurst and Lisa Schencker reveal just what the reality of these policies is in practice: ignorance, poverty and failure.

“I wasn’t done with school, I didn’t feel like I was finished. I wanted to keep going,” said Barlow, a voracious reader who as a child devoured biographies of famous Americans. “I didn’t want to be in construction when I was as old as my father.”

His father put him to work anyway. Had he been in public school, a sudden absence might have been noticed. But Barlow, now 23, grew up in a Utah-Arizona border town as a member of the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs.

Like all young members of the sect, he was pulled out of public school in 2000 at Jeffs’ order. Children in the sect are educated at home.

And in both states, the government stays out of home-schools. Utah school districts are forbidden from making parents keep records of instruction or attendance, requiring them to have any teaching qualifications or testing home-school students.

I actually attended a few college classes with young men from polygynous students and like Barlow here, and found in discussions that they were so sheltered from basic knowledge I’d been taught in school that our small group conversations wasted time covering background information.  This is anecdotal on my part, but still makes me very sad and frustrated that politicians can be elected and reelected on a foundation of hamstringing schools.

“The idea that government should be the ultimate authority over educating children is bogus,” said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, sponsor of a 2005 bill to keep government out of home-schools. “If we’re going to use government resources and focus government attention on solving problems, let’s go where the problems really exist.”

I wish I could tell you that Madsen was not representative of the kind of language that dominates discussions about public education, but you couldn’t find a more mainstream position here.  What I want to know is what problems someone like Madsen perceives and how he proposes we stop them; if he doesn’t see undereducated and ignorant children as a problem, what exactly does he think government is fucking for?

Joseph Broadbent, now 23, said his father ended his education at age 13 or 14.

“I begged him and begged him to [let me] finish the 10th grade,” Broadbent said. Instead, he learned the welding business.

Broadbent said he also suffered physical abuse at home and left the sect about six years ago. When the construction work dried up, he made plans to get his GED.

But the years out of school took their toll. He has taken the test four times and failed. For now, he is back to welding.

That home schooled children are lacking basic skills and the ability to even obtain a GED should alarm anyone.  Being unable to get a high school diploma not only consigns these young people to poverty, but ignorance is harmful in and of itself.  Why is this acceptable.  Why do we let this happen?

Some 400 young people who have left or been forced out of the FLDS sect over eight years have come to the nonprofit Diversity Foundation for help, according to director Shannon Price.

How many are behind on their education?

“One hundred percent,” Price said.

Nuke It From Orbit

It’s the only way to be sure.

Today I had an otherwise liberal dude in my office (who actually knows I’m an atheist) tell me that he doesn’t care if gay people have relationships, kids, whatever, but*

he think that they shouldn’t want any more rights than he has any “special rights.”

What planet do these fucking people come from?  How does any otherwise normal, happy person who claims to deliberately not judge others as long as they are happy/not hurting anyone come to this sort of bullshit?  No matter how many times I read about people saying this or hear it from privileged assholes, I still can’t grok what exactly they imagine these “special rights” are.

For some, it’s clear that they don’t actually know any gay people and thus have this invented straw-gay that governs every stupid thing that comes out of their mouths.  For others, it seems more likely they actually do hate gay people, but are afraid of being really open about it, so they weasel about with claims of supporting equality but not some invented special consideration.  Or they waffle about with talk about how they should be allowed to force people into the closet to avoid discomfort, because their private just-how-I-feel beliefs trump others rights.

Days like today make me want to wipe out the entire state population as a way of wiping out this kind of bullshit.

*You can always tell you’re about to get hit in the face with some massive bigoted fuckery when a sentence starts this way.  There is always a “but…[insert stupid bullshit here].”