Jack Diehl

High School Students Need Someone to Talk to About Sex Without Shame

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News of Note: High School Students Need Someone to Talk to About Sex Without Shame

The other day, as a reward for finishing their state tests, I was letting my students talk quietly in groups and do word games. I sat next to three of my ninth graders (three girls and a boy) and quickly joined in on their discussion.

They were talking about teenage pregnancy, noticing the high number of girls in the school who were currently pregnant. The tone of the conversation started playful, but the students were asking some very serious questions.  The sole male student in our group directed the following question to me:

“Yo, Miss– who do you think is more responsible for getting pregnant—the boy or the girl?”

Before I could answer the girls quickly interjected their own opinions. It was the boy’s responsibility, because he was the one who needed to use a condom.  It was the girl’s responsibility because she shouldn’t be letting a boy go that far.  It was the parents’ responsibility because they should be monitoring their kids.

Reeling the conversation back in, I answered, “First of all, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility because the consequences affect each person.  But I think that’s the wrong question.  My question is: why are teenagers getting pregnant, in the first place?  And I think the honest answer is that you guys just don’t receive a good sex education in school.”

To my surprise, the kids enthusiastically agreed. Many were quick to point out that they had had no sex education in their public schools.  And they were even quicker to insist that they needed it.

What followed was a barrage of basic sex-ed questions on topics from prophylactics to periods to pregnancy, some of which astonished me in their naïveté.  For example, one of my students asked if using condoms was even “worth it” because “a lot of times they don’t work.”  Astonished to find that several of my students were nodding in agreement, it dawned on me that this is a direct consequence of the misinformation spread with abstinence-only sex education.

Why are so many kids clueless about sex? Our society doesn’t embrace sex as a human right or something we are all entitled to experience. I do not understand how something as inherent, necessary, and enjoyable as sex could be so stigmatized and avoided. Regardless of why the taboos that follow sex persist, we must wake to the inevitability of sex. If kids and teens are not taught honest and useful information about sex, birth control, pregnancy, etc, more unwanted children will continue to be conceived and another generation of the sexually repressed will guide our future.

Engineered stem cells seek out, kill HIV in living organisms

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News of Note: Engineered stem cells seek out, kill HIV in living organisms

(Medical Xpress) — Expanding on previous research providing proof-of-principal that human stem cells can be genetically engineered into HIV-fighting cells, a team of UCLA researchers have now demonstrated that these cells can actually attack HIV-infected cells in a living organism.

Sexually transmitted diseases are an unfortunate, but very real obstacle for the sexual freedom movement, one that often reinforces fears and insecurities that lead to further sexual repression.

While many people think of HIV as an “incurable” disease, that may not always be the case.  Modern medicine has drastically improved the lifespan of those infected with the virus from as little as 8 years in the mid 90s to even 50 years today. With studies like these and others, the chance that a cure will be found within our lifetime is higher than ever, although informed consent and practicing safer sex will always be needed.

We will continue to bring you the latest developments on HIV studies and sexual health.

Creative Commons image by: AJC1

Taking exception to the concept of ‘American exceptionalism’

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News of Note: Taking exception to the concept of ‘American exceptionalism’

“It’s a curious thing how the notion of American exceptionalism has been twisted and turned into a bludgeon, not only to assert American superiority but also to employ as a test of allegiance.

The Republican presidential candidates have wielded the concept with great enthusiasm, both as a way to stress their patriotic fervor and cast doubt on President Barack Obama’s belief in the pre-eminence of — even love for — the country he leads….

His pride in America, Obama said, “does not lessen my interest in recognizing the value and wonderful qualities of other countries, or recognizing that we’re not always going to be right, or that other people may have good ideas, or that in order for us to work collectively, all parties have to compromise, and that includes us.”…

Given the serious challenges the country faces, we could use a little less “we’re No. 1″ hubris and little more focus on great ideas — whichever country they come from — and working together…

It’s hardly time to accept the status quo when, for example, the U.S. ranks 50th globally in secondary-education enrollment rates and American 15-year-olds rank 31st in math performance (wedged between Luxembourg and Portugal) and 23rd in science (between Hungary and Czech Republic). China, Singapore and Finland sit at the top of these lists from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development….

Hewing closely to America’s greatness means rolling up our sleeves, getting down to work and fixing things, not blithely boasting about who is better and more patriotic than whom.”

What do we gain from considering ourselves greater than other nations? I have recently spoken about our anti-social behavior and our questionable “happiness” compared to the rest of the world. Wouldn’t some humility and self improvement serve us better than reckless self confidence? The trouble with exceptional (and nationalism for that matter) comes when it’s used to encourage blind agreement with the government (and often by extension, mass media). Do the “exceptional” humble themselves in front of their inferiors? Do the “exceptional” deserve privilege at the expense of others? I don’t see the strength in arrogance and pride, only the inevitable fall that comes to those who refuse to accept their faults.

Creative Commons Image by: freefotouk

Incarceration Nation

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News of Note: Zakaria: Incarceration nation

“Here are the facts. The U.S. has 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. That’s not just many more than in most other developed countries but seven to 10 times as many. Japan has 63 per 100,000, Germany has 90, France has 96, South Korea has 97, and ­Britain – with a rate among the ­highest – has 153….

“Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession….

“Partly as a result, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education in the past 20 years. In 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons vs. $5.7 billion on the UC system and state colleges. Since 1980, California has built one college campus and 21 prisons. A college student costs the state $8,667 per year; a prisoner costs it $45,006 a year.

What justifiable reason is there for America to have a higher prison population than any other country on earth? Outrage can be the only response.

How much longer will this for-profit destruction of human lives continue before the whole country realizes what’s going on?

Revealing statistics like these might just wake up the public, as more and more activists are working to give prisoners in this country and these issues a voice that will soon be harder to ignore.

Creative Commons image by: Tim Pearce, Los Gatos

The Death of Copyright

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News of Note: You Will Never Kill Piracy, and Piracy Will Never Kill You

Now that the SOPA and PIPA fights have died down, and Hollywood prepares their next salvo against internet freedom with ACTA and PCIP, it’s worth pausing to consider how the war on piracy could actually be won. It can’t, is the short answer, and one these companies do not want to hear as they put their fingers in their ears and start yelling. As technology continues to evolve, the battle between pirates and copyright holders is going to escalate, and pirates are always, always going to be one step ahead.

While “pirates” are always going to be one step ahead,  that doesn’t mean that the structure of the internet cannot be undermined by wealthy lobbyists. I completely agree that the enforcement of copyright will never be absolute. Copyright enforcement doesn’t work and we need an alternative. I suggest that we first start calling Internet Piracy by what it really is, File Sharing.

It’s not a physical product that’s being taken. There’s nothing going missing, which is generally the hallmark of any good theft. The movie and music industries’ claim that each download is a lost sale is absurd. I might take every movie in that fictional store if I was able to, but would I have spent $3 million to legally buy every single DVD? No, I’d probably have picked my two favorite movies and gone home.

The difference between stealing and copying is becoming increasingly important. The Missionary Church of Kopimism has the right idea: “a congregation of file sharers who claim that copying information is a sacred virtue.” Their definition of information includes all types of media including, music, video, and software. While this may sound like a ploy by the file sharing community to justify their activity, they may actually be making a legitimate point. One of the reasons the internet is valuable because it gives us access to information. The sharing of copyrighted media increases access to information.

Right now, the industry is still stuck in the past, and is crawling oh-so-slowly into the future. They still believe people are going to want to buy DVDs or Blu-rays in five years, and that a movie ticket is well worth $15. Netflix is the closest thing they have to an advocate, but the studios are trying to drive them out of business as they see them as a threat, not a solution. It’s mind boggling.

Digital distribution of media is the future. Copyright-enforcing tyrants must agree on a platform together and provide a system that people will actually enjoy using (think Steam). I do not believe abolishing copyright will limit innovation, but will instead encourage more people to create. Production companies, publishing companies and record labels must lose their ability to generate profit off the works of individuals, as we move to systems that reward independent artists and encourage new ideas.

The companies that benefit from copyrights are afraid to take risks as they pile mounds of money behind mundane projects. I believe that abolishing copyright enforcement online will not only increase innovation but also amplify the internet’s inherent strengths: connecting our world, educating the masses, fueling revolutions, and revealing truth.

U.N. summit focuses on how to improve global happiness

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News of Note: U.N. summit focuses on how to improve global happiness

The United Nations turned its attention to happiness — and just how it might be achieved on an international scale.

“Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and “recognizing that the gross domestic product … does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people,” a U.N. resolution invites member states to discuss “the pursuit of happiness and well-being in development with a view to guiding their public policies.”

Tom Barefoot, the founder and co-coordinator of Gross National Happiness USA, an organization that seeks to encourage the use of alternative indicators to measure what matters, thinks happiness is caused by similar activities across cultures…

Despite having the largest GDP in the world, the United States was ranked 16th in a 2008 world survey of national happiness. Barefoot thinks there are some simple things Americans can do to increase their happiness.

“Spend more time on other important things like family and friends,” Barefoot said. “Get out in nature and do something for a cause that’s bigger than oneself, volunteer.”

Are you surprised that America ranked 16th in national happiness? We can’t cover our ears and pretend that we’re perfect. Why not humble ourselves and look at the strengths of other nations? Happiness, while almost vague in its simplicity, is at the absolute foundation of all human purists.

I’m excited to hear the UN is even discussing happiness and only hope that the concept is not swept under the table entirely by nations whose thirst for control supersedes the general well-being of all human beings.

Catholic church abuse: at least one youth castrated for ‘homosexuality’

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News of Note: Catholic church abuse: at least one youth castrated for ‘homosexuality’

At least one boy under the age of 16 was castrated to ‘help’ his homosexual feelings while in Catholic church care in the 1950s, the NRC reported on Saturday.

But there are indications at least 10 other boys were also castrated, the paper said. The claims were not included in the Deetman report on sexual abuse within the Catholic church published at the end of last year.

The paper says the one confirmed case concerned a boy – Henk Heithuis – who reported being sexually abused by priests to the police in 1956. After giving evidence, he was placed in a Catholic-run psychiatric institution where he was then castrated because of his ‘homosexual behaviour’.

The protections given to religious institutions for criminal behavior are absurd. Sure this was 60 years ago, but the Catholic Church’s record of sex abuse has proven rather timeless.

This isn’t one big coincidence; these crimes are the result of the sexually repressive teachings that the Church “infallibly” supports. The Catholic leadership teaches that homosexuality is wrong while preaching celibacy and abstinence, but doesn’t their credibility go to zero by these sex crimes?

When will humanity stand up and say no?


The Unwelcome Mat

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News of Note: The Unwelcome Mat: How America Scares Away Tourists

Imagine that you’re the citizen of a prosperous, democratic ally like Britain, Spain or Japan, and you’d like to visit America. Before traveling, you must pay $14 to complete an online United States government form called ESTA, short for Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

ESTA asks for basic personal data, like your name and birth date. It also asks whether you are guilty of “moral turpitude,” whether you’re planning crimes or “immoral activities” and whether you suffer from “lymphogranuloma venereum” (don’t ask). If you’re involved in terrorism or genocide — and for some reason you’ve decided to take this opportunity to inform the United States government — there’s a box for that. And if you’re a spy — a particularly artless one — please let us know.

Naturally, no one with anything to hide will answer honestly. Such purposeless questions recall Thoreau — “I saw that the State was half-witted” — and should astonish Americans, who know better than their government how to welcome guests.

I’m trying to rationalize why the US Government exposes foreign visitors to all this arbitrary intimidation. It’s embarrassing, xenophobic, and only manages to make America look bad to the rest of the world.

I’m not suggesting less security, only practicality. America’s anti-social attitude is bursting out through the bureaucracy and doing more harm than good. How can we eradicate policies like this one, born of the same tendencies that lead to discrimination within our own country?

White House Proposes Online Privacy Bill of Rights

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News of Note: White House Proposes Online Privacy Bill of Rights

the Obama Administration released a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights for online users, including the ability for browser users to opt out of being tracked by advertisers and others.

The proposed document was described by the White House as “part of a comprehensive blueprint to improve consumers’ privacy protections,” while maintaining the Internet’s growth and innovation. The Administration said the intent is to give users “more control over how their personal information is used on the Internet,” and to help businesses grow while maintaining consumer trust.

In the wake of SOPA, PIPA and other bills, I’m immediately suspicious of an online “Bill of Rights.” The proposal focuses on data collection and online privacy. I am totally in support of increased privacy online but I’m totally against enacting new laws to enforce that privacy. This “Bill of Rights” does not protect us from the government, it protects us from commercial websites. Giving the government any more reasons to police the internet, even if under the guise of enforcing privacy, is not welcome or necessary. If you want to browse the internet privately you already can. People everywhere (and in countries like China) use Tor to anonymize their online activity and social networks like Diaspora address privacy concerns related to centralized social networks.

The US Government recently labeled anyone that cares about online privacy suspicious of terrorism. I have no reason to believe this new Bill of Rights is anything but a loss of freedom.

What purpose do you believe this internet Bill of Rights may serve? Would you rather have the government step in and police the Internet for you, or are comfortable protecting yourself with the tools already at your disposal?

U.S. Teen Birthrates Are Down, But Still High in Bible Belt

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News of Note: U.S. Teen Birthrates Are Down, But Still High in These States

In 2009, a landmark study found a strong correlation between religion and teen pregnancy. The CDC’s newest data suggests not much has changed. Teen pregnancy closely follows the contours of America’s Bible belt, according to the map (above) from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

It’s quite clear that teenagers want to have sex and no amount of discouragement or abstinence-only sex education is going to stop them.

The religious idea that sex should only exist for procreation has no business denying teenagers access to valuable health information (about birth control). Take a look at divorce rates in the bible belt, they are equally embarrassing. How much longer do you think this hypocrisy will last before everyone realizes it’s okay to enjoy sex?