Teen sex in America

Back in 2002, the government funded a study that showed there was no evidence that abstinence programs increased a kid’s likelihood of abstaining from sex. In fact, no studies have found evidence that teaching abstinence works to prevent teenage pregnancies. And yet this year, the federal government will fund abstinence-only education to the tune of $85 million.

Last week, for the third year in a row, President Barack Obama’s budget proposal included cuts to some $10 million of that abstinence-only education funding…In 2010, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States took a poll and found that 88 percent of parents of junior high school students and 85 percent of parents of high school students believe information about how to use and where to get contraceptives is an appropriate topic for sexuality education. Even Obama’s first budget as president aimed to make similar cuts to abstinence education funding. GOP members of Congress fought it, and the attempt ultimately failed. The same happened in 2010 and is pretty likely to happen this time, too.

All this means that over the past two decades, more than $1.8 billion in federal dollars have been funneled into abstinence-only education…

Meanwhile, as the various wings of the government have been fighting over what dollars go where, teen pregnancy rates have plummeted to record lows over the past three years. What’s more, rates fell 51 percent between 1990 and 2010. The reasons for the decline are complicated and hard to pinpoint; some studies give credit to better contraception and more precise use of it.

But when it comes to American teens and sex, we still have a lot of problems to fix…From 2000 to 2014, the number of schools that required kids to learn about STD prevention dropped by 10 percent. To combat the rising rates of STDs and the lack of education, different states are taking different approaches…California passed a law last year that requires comprehensive sex education in schools for 2016. San Francisco schools are considering making condoms available to students as early as sixth grade. They would not be the first California schools to do so; Oakland Unified schools implemented a similar policy in 2014. On the opposite end of the spectrum, last year Texas took $3 million from its state budget for HIV and STD prevention and reallocated it to abstinence education.

I think the map up top clearly leads to a conclusion that states with the best record for education have the lowest birthrates. States that follow the lead of 19th Century minds get 19th Century results – or worse. Better educated teens will get up-to-date info even if they have to search it out online, via Planned Parenthood or elsewhere. That may put backwards adults into the dreamland of bunched-up knickers; but, the kids are all right and are learning to take care of themselves when parents and teachers follow the lead of pundits and preachers who are decades past their sell-by-date.

More evidence of US military burn pits causing soldiers’ illness

Burn-Pits
Click to enlarge

In 2007, shortly after vice-president Joe Biden learned that his eldest son would be deployed to Iraq, the then-presidential hopeful turned to a modest crowd at the Iowa state fair and admitted that he didn’t want Beau to go. “But I tell you what,” he said, his family lined up behind him. “I don’t want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years and so how we leave makes a big difference.”

Beau arrived in Iraq the following year, and spent the next several months serving as a Jag officer at Camp Victory, just outside of the Baghdad airport, and Joint Base Balad, nearly 40 miles north of Baghdad. Though he returned home safely in September 2009, he woke up one day a few months later with an inexplicable headache, numbness in his limbs and paralysis on one side of his body. Beau had suffered a mild stroke. His health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Less than two years later, he died at the age of 46.

Though the underlying cause of Beau’s cancer cannot be confirmed, evidence gathered in a new book out Tuesday suggests a possible link between his illness and service. Based on clusters of similar cases, scientific studies and expert opinions, author Joseph Hickman proposes in The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers that US service members in Iraq and Afghanistan confronted more than one unexpected enemy that followed them home. Many soldiers complain of respiratory issues relating to their burn pit exposure. But others likely developed more life-threatening conditions such as cancers, Hickman contends, because of what the burn pits were built on top of: the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program.

From the moment the US launched its campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon ordered the use of open-air burn pits to dispose of the wars’ massive volume of waste. The military relied heavily upon these sprawling ditches, which burned around the clock to consume the tens or even hundreds of tons of junk generated daily. By May 2003, according to Hickman, there were more than 250 burn pits at US bases peppered across the two nations.

The Department of Defense has long recognized that burn pits pose a substantial danger, especially to the environment. Waste management guidance in 1978, for instance, said that solid waste should not be burned in an open pit if an alternative is available, like incinerators. But the department charged ahead anyway and hired contractors like Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) to manage the pits. And up until 2009, the military didn’t have comprehensive standards in place governing what could or could not be burned…

❝“I’ll never forget the smell of burning shit,” said Marcus Hill, a retired US army sergeant who served in Balad between 2004 and 2007. But that was the least of his concerns. Among the other hazardous items service members recall being burned are: petroleum, oil, rubber, tires, plastic, styrofoam, batteries, appliances, electrical equipment, pesticides, aerosol cans, oil, explosives, casings, medical waste and animal and human carcasses. They also used jet fuel to stoke the fire.

These materials converged in a toxic plume that hovered over the base, and seeped into soldiers’ sleeping and working quarters, which were often a mile or less away. “Sometimes the smoke was so dense that you could breath it in and back out again, kind of like smoking a cigar,” said Hill. But for Hill and many others, the hazy cocktail didn’t initially register as a threat. “After being blown up a couple of times, you didn’t complain about stuff like that. It wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “It was part of our mission and we were told not to worry about it.”

As with Agent Orange in VietNam, the Pentagon, military branches and our government alike have maintained a policy of ignoring and disavowing responsibility for the death and destruction not caused by direct assault. That’s more than hypocrisy. It’s a deliberate policy choice. Not at all dissimilar from decisions made to carpet-bomb whole villages, incendiary air raids on cities full of civilians, demonstrate the genocidal potential of nuclear weapons on civilian populations.

We’ve just added the maiming and death of our own forces to the sum of thoughtless murder.

Is humanity getting better?

London, 1665. The capital smelled of death in its last large outbreak of the Plague, the worst since the Black Death of the 14th century. The diarist Samuel Pepys mourned, “Every day sadder and sadder news of its increase. In the City died this week 7,496; and of all of them, 6,102 of the Plague. But it is feared that the true number of the dead this week is near 10,000 — partly from the poor that cannot be taken notice of through the greatness of the number.”

As the deaths mounted and the streets filled with waste, Londoners noticed that dogs and cats were everywhere in the city. And so the order went out from the Lord Mayor.

Kill the dogs and cats.

The Chamberlain of the City paid the huntsmen, who slaughtered more than 4,000 animals. But the dogs and cats were chasing the rats that were feeding on the waste — and the rats were carrying the fleas that transmitted the Plague. Now spared from their predators, the rats spread the affliction even more fiercely. The medical advice from London’s College of Physicians — to press a hen hard on the swellings until the hen died — did not slow the disease. In the end, the Plague of 1665 is thought to have killed almost 20 percent of London’s population…A great fire then consumed a third of the city.

Many humans and animals died in this crisis of ignorance. Now that we understand the Plague bacterium, we know what procedures and medicines will keep the disease from becoming epidemic. Ignorance, we might say, no longer plagues us.

Today, pestilence threatens us not because of our ignorance but because of the success of our systems. Our transportation networks are now so fast and far-flung that they transmit diseases worldwide before cures can catch up. The next epidemics will play on our strengths, not our weaknesses — fighting them will mean canceling flights, not killing fleas. This Horseman of the Apocalypse has dismounted and now travels coach.

The introduction to an intelligent essay.

RTFA. Click the link.

Leif Wenar holds the chair of philosophy and law at King’s College London. He is the author of “Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World,” from which this essay was adapted.

A year of NASA looking at the sun — in 6&½ minutes

NASA has released a stunning time-lapse video of our Sun constructed from images collected by the Solar Dynamics Observatory over the course of its sixth year in space. The Ultra-HD quality video was recorded in the extreme ultraviolet spectrum…

The video is comprised of observations taken between Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2016. During this time, the SDO snapped a picture of our Sun once every 12 seconds across a wide range of wavelengths with its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly…

When played on its highest quality the video boasts a frame rate of 29.97 fps, with each frame representing a two hour period with a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. The incredible detail conveyed in the video allows the viewer to observe a number of stellar phenomena. Dark filaments can be seen suspended in the corona by twisted magnetic fields, occasionally erupting in titanic coronal mass ejections.

Sometimes the screen goes dark for a moment. The Earth got in the way. 🙂