Monday, February 26, 2007

Lenten Sacrifice

I know this might come as a shock for some of you who know me, but for Lent this year I'm actually giving up pop.

I dunno, I guess now that I'm married and have a job I feel like it's time for me to make a larger sacrifice than I have in the past. I've given up some big things in the past, but this probably tops them all. When I'm stressed pop helps me relax; for me it's the ultimate comfort food.

It's already been tough. And it'll probably get harder, though hopefully by the end it isn't as difficult. I guess we'll see.

What are others giving up for Lent?

Forgotten but not gone
You drink it off your mind

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


This past weekend Laura and I drove down to Florida for the wedding of one of my friends from law school. We took off about 9 p.m. on Friday night and got down there about 2 on Saturday afternoon. The wedding wasn't until 7:30 so we decided to check into our hotel and catch a few z's, since it'd been a long night of driving.

When we found our hotel we became immediately concerned about the quality of the place we were staying. I'm being overly generous when I call the place a crap-hole. For starters the check in desk was located in a separate building with a large, rectangular, black sign hanging over the door, the word "Registration" in white lettering, painted across the front of the tin-sheet sign. I say it was made of a sheet of tin because, well, I've only ever seen tin bent like this thing. It looked like people had taken large chunks of cement and hurled them at the ends of the sign, so that they bent backwards and down, twisted into unusable folds of scrap metal. With the ends bent away the sign no longer read "Registration", instead proclaiming, "through these doors lies 'Gistrat'".

The guy standing behind the Gistrat desk was a diminutive, South-Asian with a comb-over. There's an obviously different sense of style in the Miami area, because even this scrawny fellow had left the top few buttons of his black shirt undone, revealing his chest and about a third of all the gold* chains in the entire state of Florida. To compliment the gaudy chains he also wore several large gold-and-diamond* rings on his fingers, so many in fact that on two of his fingers he had doubled up on rings. It certainly seemed a strange juxtapositioning, this little guy with the thick accent and the obscene amount of tacky gold* jewelry. But who knows, maybe he was dealing coke from behind the Gistrat.

Our room wasn't an improvement over what we'd seen so far. The building smacked of having been thrown up way back in Florida's heyday, in the 50's or 60's or whenever that was. Everything in the room was obviously from that period, and even the best efforts of the housekeeping staff (though I sincerely doubt they gave their best efforts) couldn't diminish the feel that this room had been used thousands of times before, by thousands of different people. Probably at times for some questionable behaviors. Possibly even coke dealing. Possibly by the Gistrat guy.

The sheets were the type that pretty much just sat on the bed, and pulled off to reveal the stained, lumpy mattress the moment you sat down on them. The pillows were flatter than a year-old soda. The shower curtain was crusted and yellow, the tub was crusted and brown, and the toilet seat had this brown stain that sure looked like perma-crap, but probably was just some sort of mold spores. Oh, plus the door was set all askew, so that it closed but there was still about a half-inch crack through which we could see out, and presumably passers-by could see in. I rigged the curtains so that it covered the crack, but still... not O.K.

Anyways, we barricaded the door, slept, woke up, got some food, and went to the wedding. Where they had an open bar. Before the ceremony!

The whole thing was held at this place called the Bonnet House, which was absolutely gorgeous, set near the ocean, alongside a canal. The ceremony was outside, in the courtyard of the house, and people were welcome to carry their drinks to their seats. Which was kind of odd. Especially since just after the groom got to the front someone dropped their glass.

I'd never been to a Jewish wedding ceremony before, and I gotta tell ya, it was really something. Except that I had to sit between two large Albanian women with excruciatingly severe body odor... No, the wedding was really cool. They exchanged vows, there was talk about covenants (I love the idea of religious covenants), they smashed a glass (the groom missed on the first shot), people shouted "mazel tov!" Good stuff. They're a wonderful couple, and I'm sure they'll be extremely happy together.

The reception seemed a bit disorganized... there were assigned seats, but then it was buffet style, and even the bride and groom waited in line for their food. There was champagne poured, but no one toasted until about half and hour later, and for a while it wasn't clear there would ever be a toast. They did the cool dance-in-circle/lift-people-on-chairs thing (the Hora, I believe), which the band seemed to enjoy more than all the guests; seriously, the band had obviously rehearsed the song, knowing it was a Jewish ceremony, and was so proud that they'd learned it that they wanted to play it as many times as possible. They probably played the song for 15 minutes, and each time they approached the end - I'd say at least 4 times - the bandleader yelled out "one more time!" It was like that episode of Next Generation where they get caught in a repeating time loop and play poker a lot.

Let's see, what else? We drove along the Canaveral coastline for a while, and pulled over at a spot that is known for being frequented by Manatees. We didn't see any of them - I guess they weren't quite ripe yet - but we did see a dolphin. Seeing a dolphin in the wild is really awesome, especially when you're from no-where-near-an-ocean, like Laura and myself. We also saw the Goodyear Blimp, since we drove through Dayton Beach about the time the Dayton 500 was ending. Amazing how slow traffic can go after such a big race...

We got back early Monday morning, and caught some more sleep, ecstatic that we were back in our own clean bed with sheets that stayed on and pillows that weren't flat and a door that closed and so-on-an-so-forth. All in all, a good time.

* I seriously doubt those were real gold or diamonds. But again, maybe there was Gistrat coke?

People used to scoff, now they say "Mazel tov!"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why Abstinence Education Doesn't Work

Sex-Ed has been on been on my mind a bit lately. Maybe because there's been some discussion in the news of whether information on homosexuality should be part of Sex-Ed curriculum, or maybe because there's all sorts of talk about teen sex coming out of Texas with the whole HPV vaccination thing. I dunno. But for some reason it's been on my mind.

When I think about Sex-Ed I'm drawn to the question of whether abstinence-only education can ever work. I don't think there are too many people out there who dispute that abstinence itself is the most effective way to cut down on unwanted teen pregnancies, the spread of STD's, and the general emotional turmoil that can be caused by the sex-having of those who are not yet mature enough for said sex-having. Unfortunately, most evidence out there demonstrates that abstinence-only education isn't an effective way to create more abstinence.

Well, I guess I don't know if that's true. Maybe abstinence-only education does create more abstinence. But compared to Sex-Ed that includes birth control/safe-sex education, abstinence-only education isn't an effective way of reducing teen pregnancies, and the spread of STD's. There's really two variables going on here.

Let's call variable X the number of teens having sex, and variable Y the number of teens having protected sex. In a world with no Sex-Ed the number of X and Y are both depressingly high. In a world where abstinence-only education is taught the number of Y decreases. I don't know about studies regarding the number of X though. Presumably that would decrease as well. In a world where birth control and safe-sex practices are taught the number of Y decreases to an even lower amount than in the abstinence-only world. Again, I don't know about actual numbers here.

To put this a little more clearly let's take a hypothetical class of 100 kids. Say we give them abstinence-only education, which effectively convinces 25 of the kids. That means 75 of them have sex. Of that 75, one third have safe-sex, meaning that there are 50 kids have unprotected sex. Now teach that same 100 kids about safe-sex in their Sex-Ed class, and the results might be quite different. We'll say that 90 of those 100 have sex, but of those 90, 75 use protection, meaning that there are only 15 kids having unprotected sex. Comparing those worlds shows that in abstinence only, 15 fewer kids have sex but 35 more have unprotected sex.

Of course, I've no numbers or evidence regarding this hypothetical. However, I think it's probably a pretty safe assumption that the number of teens having sex is lower in the abstinence-only world, even if the number having unprotected sex is higher. But that is just an assumption, and maybe there are facts out there that prove differently.

What we do know conclusively though is that teaching safe-sex is a more effective way of reducing the number of teens having unprotected sex. That means fewer teen pregnancies and fewer STD's. And therefore safe-sex education is considered to be a more effective form of sex-ed (though given the hypothesis above with the multiple variables I suppose one could argue whether it really is more effective).

What interests me is why abstinence-only education is less effective than safe-sex education. In my experience that's a question that hasn't really gotten enough attention. After all, if we could "fix" abstinence education, if we could make it as effective - or even more effective - than safe-sex education, then - given that abstinence is superior to stopping the spread of STD's and preventing teen pregnancy and even the emotional turmoil described above (which, let's face it, safe-sex doesn't prevent) - surely that would be the preferred method of education.

So what is it that makes abstinence-only education less effective? Quite simply that it does not exist. Sex-education, whether we like to admit it or not, extends far beyond the classroom. Sexual behavior is largely learned from society. Sure, we've all got some primal urge to mate, and even without any help from anyone else we'd eventually figure it out. But ultimately our sexual behavior - what is or is not taboo, the way we court and date and marry, the whole way we think about sex - is a product of our surroundings. Peer pressure is especially pertinent in our sex lives. The fact that it's "cool" is routinely a reason for teens to have sex. So is the idea that "everyone else is doing it."

This pressure doesn't come from our Sex-Education. Or at least it doesn't come only from our Sex-Education (it seems a likely possibility that a class which teaches teens how to have sex "safely" could be seen as tacitly condoning such behavior). Most of the pressure comes from our larger society; from TV and movies that make sex seem commonplace and casual. From magazines, and jokes, and so on and so forth. The fact of the matter is that we learn from all of this. This larger societal message undercuts any effectiveness that abstinence-only education could have, and instead sends a strong counter-message that sex should be had by any and everyone, whenever there's some attraction.

Now I don't want to seem like some sort of prude who wants to censor all these sorts of things (I'm not, and I don't). Yes, I think all of these things contribute to the problem, and certainly undermine abstinence-only education. But to be perfectly frank, I think the bigger problem lies with the lack of a strong voice supporting abstinence. If there were a significant effort in the media to portray successful and happy abstinence attempts that would be a wonderful boost to those trying to wait until marriage (just one of the reasons I loved The 40-year-old Virgin).

Although the media portrayal of sex is important, the role of parents is an even more essential piece of the puzzle. I'm saddened by the number of times I've heard people say that there is simply no stopping teen sex. I've heard parents say, "The fact is, if they want to have sex, they're going to, and there's nothing I can do to stop it." And while that statement might prove technically true, it's ultimately a defeatist attitude that simply enables more teen sex (and therefore more teen pregnancies and STDs and emotional turmoil). This defeatist attitude says that even if people want to wait until marriage they won't be able to, so we might as well give in and abandon abstinence. And that creates a void, where no one is carrying the banner of abstinence. And with no one carrying that banner... well, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What this defeatism ignores is that parents - and friends and teachers and role models and everyone in society - can have a huge effect on what teens want. A strong voice preaching the value of abstinence can go a long way towards creating a desire in teens for abstinence. And that's what abstinence education is really about: letting teens know the value of abstinence, giving them hope that they can achieve it if they want to. More important to that goal is not the education the kids receive, it's the voices they hear from those around them. Of course, abstinence-only education could certainly help too.

But in the world we live in, with a pervasive media voice that says "sex is casual, everywhere, irresistible" and with a defeatist attitude that says "resistance is futile", abstinence-only eduction doesn't really exist. And of course, if it doesn't really exist, then that explains why abstinence education doesn't work.

Players only love you when they're playing

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Don't You Hate It When You Can't Think Of The Right Words?

The other day I got hung up on the phrase "Arlington National Cemetery". For some reason or other I just couldn't remember what it was called. My mind was furiously racing, trying to trigger the right name so that I could put it into the conversation but I kept coming up with a blank.

Sadly, the best I could do was "you know... the... um... graveyard!"

We'll fill our mouths with cinnamon