Tagged: education

Sex education is a human right — Erika Sánchez

When I was 17, I thought I might be pregnant. I had just fooled around with an acquaintance of mine, and my period was a few days late. Though there was no real penetration and fertilization was practically impossible, I convinced myself that I was carrying a fetus and that my life was over.

I took a pregnancy test. It came back negative, but I was still terrified. What if it was wrong? What if I had taken it too early? I frantically scoured the Internet for information. I was just a few months shy of my 18th birthday and learned that the law required my parents’ consent for an abortion. I knew I would never carry out a pregnancy at such a young age and that my conservative, immigrant parents would never agree to the procedure, so I considered my choices, which included traveling to a state without parental consent laws or asking my friend’s mom to take me to the clinic and pose as my own mother. On top of it all, I worried about the cost. I was hysterical — until I finally got my period.

This experience demonstrates how abysmal my sex education was. The overarching message that girls received in my high school health class was that if we had sex, we were going to get knocked up. Our school’s teen pregnancy rate was very high — we had a daycare full of students’ babies — so it seemed quite plausible to me…

What I needed was information and support, but I didn’t know where to turn. Unfortunately, our education system has not improved much since I was a teenager. Sex education continues to be under attack in the United States despite the overwhelming amount of evidence that a comprehensive curriculum can save young people’s lives. Teaching children about the importance of using condoms and getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, can keep them from making detrimental choices. Experts estimate that one person age 15 to 24 in the U.S. is infected with HIV every hour of every day. But while some developing countries such as Guatemala and Indonesia are taking important steps to improve their sex-education programs, our country keeps gutting them indiscriminately.

RTFA for the breadth of what Erika Sánchez has to say.

I think you and I know who is responsible for lousy education becoming worse. There is a broadly cast minority of Americans whose belief systems are rooted in ignorance, in a conviction that knowledge not only is forbidden fruit; but, a danger to stability and safety – to be prohibited. Only the guidance of some priest, pundit or politician is acceptable. Only rules formulated in the dark Ages can be trusted.

This defines a number of conservative currents in American ideology. They are embraced by fools.

500 million taxpayer dollar$ training Syrians to fight ISIS ain’t exactly a success

Is this part of their training?

Only four or five Syrian individuals trained by the United States military to confront the Islamic State remain in the fight, the head of the United States Central Command told a Senate panel on Wednesday, a bleak acknowledgment that the Defense Department’s $500 million program to raise an army of Syrian fighters has gone nowhere.

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the top American commander in the Middle East, also told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States would not reach its goal of training 5,000 Syrian fighters anytime soon.

His comments came during a testy hearing in which a succession of senators from both parties criticized the American-led effort in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, the Sunni militancy also known as ISIS or ISIL…

In May, the Defense Department began its training program for up to 5,400 fighters a year, in what White House officials described as a necessary component of President Obama’s strategy to use local troops on the ground against the Islamic State, combined with American air power.

…General Austin told the Senate committee that many fighters in the first class of 54 graduates of the training program for Syrians were attacked in July by an offshoot of Al Qaeda, the Nusra Front, and either fled or were killed…

He acknowledged that the program was behind schedule, and said that the military was reviewing it. Asked how many fighters were still in Syria, General Austin said that “it’s a small number.” He added, “We’re talking four or five.”…

“So we’re counting on our fingers and toes at this point when we had envisioned 5,400 by the end of the year,” Senator Claire McCaskill said.

Actually, we only need the fingers on one hand – or the toes on one foot.

$500 million for 4 or 5 fighters still in the game. Tell you what, Mr. President. I’ll need more than my social security check. Give me $100 million and I’ll go over and fight as an American civilian senior citizen.

Airfare, new military duds, snazzy firepower – I’d really like one of those $5000 sniper rifles – enough to hire a couple gangbangers to cover my butt.. I could get into action for less than $100K. I’d leave the rest of the money behind to fund education for school kids here in New Mexico. I’d fight for them.

Most scientists agree – Americans don’t know much about science

Sandra Cunningham/Shutterstock

Americans’ purported cluelessness about science has led to wide gaps in how the general public views the world compared to how scientists perceive it, according to a new study released…by the Pew Research Center.

Some 98 percent of scientists polled rated the general public’s lack of science knowledge as a problem, with 84 percent of them calling it a major issue.

One result: Regulations on land use, the environment and food safety aren’t generally influenced by the best science, according to a recent poll of 3,748 scientists conducted by the Pew Research Center in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The spread between what scientists think and what the general public thinks about a dozen science-related issues varied, but there were some noticeable gaps…

There was a 51 percentage point difference in views about whether genetically modified food is safe to eat. Some 88 percent of scientists were for it while less than 40 percent of the public agreed.

Sixty-eight percent of scientists think it’s safe to eat foods grown with pesticides compared with 28 percent of the public.

Almost all of the scientists believe in evolution. Just 65 percent of the general public feels the same way, according to Pew polling…

There was one notable — if sad — area on which everyone polled appears to agree: Americans need to improve the science, math and technology education available to students across the country.

Historically, we have a consistent if backwards track record on improving any aspects of education. If there is potential benefit to our war machine – we’re all for it. Go America! Rah, rah.

Though a lesser influence, reflect upon our teacher’s unions which have adopted the sort of protectionist policies characteristic of AFL craft unions. Treating schoolteachers – and teaching – like plumbers with city contracts is not my idea of building useful education, a nation of bright young kids stepping out of school to create a positive, progressive world.

Worse than that – is the tradition that we seem to have acquired in the late 1950’s that moved the core responsibility of school systems to keeping our little darlings safe from hurt feelings – at the expense of standards of learning. And how to learn.

Nope. The creeps at the top of our economic pyramid would like a small improvement in meat machines capable of a slightly higher level of technical performance – where they can’t be replaced by a robot on the assembly line. That’s all, folks.

Former Seattle mayor urges divesting from fossil fuel

Sometimes the best measure of a movement’s momentum is the reaction of its critics. When, in early October, the Australian National University (ANU) announced that it would sell its shares in seven fossil-fuel and mining companies, it triggered a chorus of criticism from the country’s conservative politicians.

These nominal champions of the free market were quick to tell the university what it should do with its money. The Treasurer of Australia, Joe Hockey, disparaged the ANU’s decision as being “removed from reality.” Others chimed in, calling it “a disgrace,” “very strange,” and “narrow-minded and irresponsible.” Never mind that the sums involved were relatively small – making up less than 2% of the university’s estimated $1 billion portfolio.

As the drive to divest from fossil fuels picks up speed, such panicky responses are becoming increasingly common. The outrage of Australia’s conservatives reminds me of the reaction I received when I testified before the US Congress in 2013 that we should “keep our coal in the ground where it belongs.” David McKinley, a Republican congressman from West Virginia, in the heart of America’s coal country, replied that my words “sent a shiver up [his] spine,” then changed the subject to the crime rate in Seattle, where I was Mayor.

…The fossil-fuel industry clearly sees the divestment movement as the political threat that it is. When enough people say no to investing in fossil-fuel production, the next step has to be keeping coal, oil, and gas in the ground.

That is a necessary step if we are to head off the most dangerous consequences of climate change. To prevent world temperatures from rising above the 2º Celsius threshold that climate scientists believe represents a tipping point beyond which the worst effects could no longer be mitigated, we will need to leave approximately 80% of known fossil-fuel reserves untapped…

…reality implies another compelling case for divestment. To be sure, some will claim that the world will never change and that we will continue to depend on fossil fuels forever. But one has only to look to Seattle, where gay couples marry in City Hall and marijuana is sold in licensed retail outlets, to see the human capacity to reexamine deeply held assumptions. The prudent investor, and the wise business leader, will look where the economy is headed, not where it has been.

We need more courage like that shown by the ANU. Its leaders bucked the power of coal and oil interests, which wield enormous power in Australia. If they can do it to popular acclaim, others can, too.

Hear, hear!

Partial eclipse of the sun, today

Partial eclipse

Sunsets are always pretty. One sunset this month could be out of this world. On Thursday, Oct. 23rd, the setting sun across eastern parts of the USA will be red, beautiful and … crescent-shaped.

“It’s a partial solar eclipse,” explains longtime NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak. In other words, the New Moon is going to ‘take a bite’ out of the sun…

The partial eclipse of Oct. 23rd will be visible from all of the United States except Hawaii and New England. Coverage ranges from 12% in Florida to nearly 70% in Alaska. Weather permitting, almost everyone in North America will be able to see the crescent.

The eclipse will be especially beautiful in eastern parts of the USA, where the Moon and sun line up at the end of the day, transforming the usual sunset into something weird and wonderful…

A partial eclipse may not be total, but it is totally fun.

See for yourself on Oct. 23rd. The action begins at approximately 6 pm on the east coast, and 2 pm on the west coast. Check NASA’s Eclipse Home Page for viewing times near your hometown.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

More physical activity improved school performance

The scientists…at the Centre for Brain Repair and Rehabilitation at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, have tested the hypothesis that increased physical activity stimulates learning and improves school performance.

In the study, published in the scientific periodical “Journal of School Health,” 408 twelve-year-olds in the Gothenburg region were given two hours of extra play and motion activities per week, in collaboration with a local sports club. This was approximately twice the normal amount of curricular physical activity.

The effect of the intervention was evaluated by comparing the achievement of national learning goals by the children four years before and five years after its implementation. The results were compared to control groups in three schools that did not receive extra physical activity.

The results are clear, according to the scientists: A larger proportion on students in the intervention school did achieve the national learning goals in all subjects examined — Swedish, English and mathematics compared to the control groups.

“You can express it that two hours of extra physical education each week doubled the odds that a pupil achieves the national learning goals. We did not see a corresponding improvement in the control schools, where the pupils did not receive extra physical activity — rather the contrary, a deterioration,” says scientist and neurologist Thomas Linden at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

“Our hope is that planners and policy-makers will take our results into consideration,” says Lina Bunketorp Käll the researcher and project leader of the study.

Guess what? In Sweden that might actually happen.

In a parallel effort, a planned 5-story elementary school was changed to a 4-story school as built. Instead the building was constructed around an atrium for exercise and dance with running tracks on the rooftop. In China.

Panasonic’s solar power plant in a box

In an effort to bring reliable electricity supplies to emerging regions and remote island communities, Panasonic has developed an expandable, portable, self-contained photovoltaic system. The “Power Supply Container” comes equipped with 12 of Panasonic’s HIT240 solar modules on the roof and generates approximately 3 kW of electricity, with 24 lead-acid batteries capable of storing 17.2 kWh of energy used to store excess electricity…

The self-contained units were designed to be portable, easy to assemble and not require any professional construction work to get them up and running. Panasonic also notes the container’s form allows it to be moved with relative ease. They are being manufactured by PT. Panasonic Gobel ES Manufacturing Indonesia, which is aiming to lower the price of the units through mass production.

As part of Indonesia’s “Educational Environment Improvement Policy for Isolated Islands,” the first location set by Panasonic for trials of the Power Supply Container is the National Elementary School in Karimunjawa, an archipelago of 27 islands in the Java Sea, Indonesia. Panasonic chose Indonesia as a test region because of the country’s approximately 13,000 islands, many of which either lack electricity altogether because of power generation and development issues or whose access to reliable electricity is limited…

According to Panasonic, power to the school will be sourced from the energy-generating containers during the day, but excess electricity generated outside of school hours will be supplied to the local community. Over the next few years, Panasonic plans to continue developing and implementing its Power Supply Container program in an effort to bring secure and reliable, 24 hour electricity to other Asian countries and emerging regions.

Another example of how dramatically the cost of off-the-shelf solar power components is dropping, availability increasing. I’m encouraged.

I think if Konosuke Matsushita were still alive he would be pleased.

Reaganomics, privatization, brought Swedes crumbling schools, hospitals, booming inequality

Voters…are returning to faith in cradle to grave welfare after eight years of center-right Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who cut income, wealth and corporate taxes. Sweden’s tax burden has fallen by four percentage points of GDP – now lower than France.

In the eyes of many Swedes, the welfare state withered. Sickness and unemployment benefits were cut. Private firms started to run tax-funded schools and hospitals. But a tipping point may have come as a September general election approaches – and many now point to a U-turn…

By any standards, Sweden is healthy. Its public debt is around 40 percent of GDP, half of Germany’s.

But Sweden has one of the world’s most generous welfare states – like subsidized child care with up to 480 days of parental leave per child. Its Nordic model depends on keeping to a strict national bookkeeping unusual in much of Europe…

At the same time as demands grow for more spending on schools and hospitals, Sweden’s public finances have worsened. The country may now be heading for years of rising tax burdens if it wants to keep its public finances in order.

Flush from income tax cuts, middle classes have also enjoyed cheap loans and a property boom. As wealth grew – with clusters of Michelin star restaurants in Stockholm – Sweden remained one of the few economies in Europe with the top AAA credit rating. It also has the fastest growing economic inequality of any OECD nation…

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Fewer than half of Republicans believe in evolution

Fewer U.S. Republicans believe in evolution now than five years ago, with a Pew Research poll finding an 11 percentage point drop…43 percent of Republican respondents said they believe humans have evolved over time, a drop from 54 percent in 2009, a Pew release said Monday.

Sixty-seven percent of Democratic respondents said they believe in evolution, a rise of 3 percent from 2009.

Not a surprise. Why would anyone – even a conservative – with a bit of science education and understanding stay in a political party dominated nowadays by religious nutballs and economic ostriches?

Party differences remained even when factors such as the racial and ethnic composition, and religious and educational background of the political groups were taken into account, the Pew researchers said.

“It’s an intriguing finding that is suggestive of greater polarization,” Cary Funk of the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project and Social & Demographic Trends project told NBC News.

Fits the standard one-liner among coneheads I know who work at a nearby national laboratory, e.g., 94% of scientists are atheists. The other 6% are Republicans.