LET'S pretend you are some Midwestern schmuck recently awakened to the sad light of another February, the month when Manic Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder shake hands on some metaphorical summit. And every year some obsession or other volunteers to hike up and try pushing them off. And fails.
And just to grab an example out of the rarefied air up there, let's say this year it's rope. You like rope. As a yout you did some climbing and rappelling in manilla diaper and single-brake-bar-and-carabiner rig (if you go now to a site tracing the history of such contraptions you find that's where it starts, which is like flipping through your family's cherished album of memories and finding the Montgolfier Brothers attended your fifth birthday party). Though in those days your half-psychotic, half-Eagle Scout pal Laughing Boy took charge of all the ropes, so you could relax and concentrate on not shitting yourself.
Anyway, this fascination with the romance of rope is all out of proportion to your actual use of the stuff. You hike, and backpack; you use it around the yard; you lash the occasional piano or unruly neighbor child to the bed of your truck. You know, at most, a half-dozen knots, but you keep a couple pieces of paracord on your desk for practice. But for some reason indicative of continual mental deterioration--not that anyone's bothering with indicators at this point--you've decided that your rope collection needs whipping.
Whipping a rope means securing the ends with twine to some other agent to prevent unravelling. This can also be accomplished, in the case of man-made fibers, with the application of heat, which is how every piece of rope I own is now secured, but that was pre-obsession. I know how to whip with twine, or thread, but it turns out the method I know, and can manage, barely, isn't optimal. In other words, it won't feed the winter wolf. So I goes to my local internet to learn how to do a proper whipping, which would be French whipping, if tied, or needle-and-palm whipping if sewn. And this, at long last, is our point. Go ahead and try this yourself [Caution: googling "French whipping," particularly without the quotes, might not be completely workplace compliant, though if you're worried about that whaddya doing here?]. It'll return pages of instruction, with stop-motion animation or video in the bargain. Go ahead and try to follow one. Any of 'em. Try two, or three, or six. If you manage anything roughly approximating a finished-looking French whip you beat me by several virtual furlongs.
And maybe you did, but the lesson is--and it would be better made to the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction--that knowing how to do something is distinct from being able to tell someone else how to do it in something approximating words.
Then there's Ross Douthat talking about sex education.
I think I said this last time, but I've been trying to swear off Douthat. I suppose it's possible some sadist at the Times--but I repeat myself!--got wind of that and assigned Douthat to do something with Ess Eee Exx in the title, or maybe this was a more generalized marketing ploy.
And here's our first question: is this not the ninth year of the 21st century (don't quibble)? What is the fucking "conservative" obsession with Sex Ed still doing here? It's like railing against the necking opportunities presented by drive-in theaters. One thing--maybe the only thing--to be said for the Freudian hegemony of the last century: people who spouted off like this were generally diagnosed, not given Op-Ed columns.
Liberals hated almost everything about George W. Bush’s presidency, but they harbored a particular animus toward a minor domestic policy priority: abstinence-based sex education.
I assume someone somewhere is keeping track of the number of times Douthat uses this "Liberals hated every jot of the Bush administration, and especially X" ploy. I recall at least five, even though I use a brain emetic immediately after reading him.
The abstinence effort accounted for about a hundred million dollars in a trillion-dollar budget, but in the eyes of many critics it was Bushism at its worst — contemptuous of experts, careless about public health and captive to religious conservatism.
Somehow it never occurs to these guys that hacking up lines like "only a hundred million dollars or so" whenever it's convenient is what virtual Liberals really hate about "conservatives". But while we're at it: contemptuous of experts, check. Careless about public health, check. Captive to "religious" "conservatism"? That's like the drum major being hostage to the band.
So last week’s news that teenage birthrates inched upward late in the Bush era, after 15 years of steady decline, was greeted with a grim sort of satisfaction. Bloggers pounced;
And here Linkmaster R waves at Jill at Feministe. Which leads us to ask, "Well, why shouldn't she pounce?" as well as opining that the country would be a lot better off if everything that was said at Feministe had the sort of psychic reverberation Douthat attributes to it here.
But our larger point--and we're not stopping just because we've made it about fifty times in the year he's been at the Times, is, th' fuck is some thirty-year-old with a bad teenage beard who is, at the core, a fucking blogger, i.e., who cannot write, confuses "linkage" with "evidence", and who is incapable of producing a column which is not an unwitting sketch of the interior of his own skull, in the way Thurber struggled mightily with the microscope for a semester of biology before producing a drawing of his own eyeball, doing spitting out blogger like it's a disease? Bloggers pounced! Didn't the Times hire this bozo so there'd be someone at Op-Ed meetings who knew what HTML stands for? Bloggers pounced! Jesus Christ, find an article in today's Times somebody didn't pounce on. Isn't Douthat supposed to be the guy who understands this?
On CBS News, Katie Couric used the occasion to lecture viewers about the perils of telling kids only about abstinence, and ignoring contraception. The new numbers, declared the president of Planned Parenthood, make it “crystal clear that abstinence-only sex education for teenagers does not work.”
Did the Times just re-up this clown? Is it too late for a contract stipulation that prevents this sort of thing--the declaration of rhetorical victory based on who disagreed with you--or even just reduces it? Here's Katie "Rainbow Parties" Couric at the link Douthat apparently thinks you won't click on, or pay attention to:
"Is it a blip or the start of a disturbing trend?"
"The reasons aren't clear, but it came amid an increase in funding for programs that taught kids only about abstinence and nothing about contraception."
"We should teach our kids to say no to sex. Some will listen ... but others won't. So, they also need to know how to protect themselves."
That's a lecture? Or is it the culmination of forty years of "conservative" insistence that anything said on the evening news they didn't agree with was crytpo-Commie proselytizing? Is it really too much to ask of a Times Op-Ed perp of whatever stripe that he be able to recognize what is common, reasonable, and sane, and which is motoring straight and true down the uncontested middle of the highway of public opinion, and at least describe it as such? Say it again: how th' hell do you get out of Hahvahd without recognizing the distinction between this sort of thing and Thought?
In reality, the numbers show no such thing. Abstinence financing increased under Bush, but the federal government has been funneling money to pro-chastity initiatives since early in Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Or the difference between this and calculus, or history, or English? "The numbers" show precisely that; what th' hell else could they show? They don't prove the contention; if the Moose didn't tell you that, the Katie did. If the distinction between "funding pro-abstinence programs" and "funding strict abstinence-only programs while requiring total silence on anything approaching contraception" is lost on you, then I think the blame goes beyond Hahvahd to the entire Ivy League, the East Coast, and Western Civilization. And it does not exactly bode well for any sort of education.
If you blame abstinence programs for a year’s worth of bad news, you’d also have to give them credit for more than a decade’s worth of progress.
To what do we attribute logic-free education?
More likely, neither blame nor credit is appropriate.
what a magnanimous attitude to take, considering the question before us is the utter failure of your own position.
The evidence suggests that many abstinence-only programs have little impact on teenage sexual behavior, just as their critics long insisted.
But most sex education programs of any kind have an ambiguous effect, at best, on whether and how teens have sex.
Which, oddly enough, is almost exactly the effect Math classes have on whether and how teens add, and the effect English classes have on how they speak.
Predictably, the rare initiatives that show impressive results tend to be defined more by their emphasis on building social capital than by their insistence on either chastity or contraception.
Or their insistence in labeling them, respectively, "God's work" and "Evil Liberal child pandering".
A 2001 survey published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, for instance, found that “most studies of school-based and school-linked health centers revealed no effect on student sexual behavior or contraceptive use.” The exceptions included an abstinence-oriented program with a strong community-service requirement, and a comprehensive program that essentially provided life coaching as well as sex ed: participants were offered “academic support (e.g., tutoring); employment; self-expression through the arts; sports; and health care.”
'Course that isn't quite what the linked study, a sort of survey of the field, actually said (is anyone supposed to click these links and read 'em, Ross?). In the former (it reports that students were given "classroom health lessons", not abstinence education) students who were also enrolled in a community service program self-reported less sexual risk-taking; the latter, which is an intensive, multi-year after-school program targeting minority students which has showed promise, involves, and we quote, "staff…almost bec[oming] surrogate parents". You are cordially invited, Mr. Douthat, to come to Indiana and address our Governor on the benefits of spending money on this, or any other form of public education. And best of luck.
None of this renders the abstinence-versus-contraception debate pointless.
Right. It's the utter uselessness of your attempted moral indoctrination that handles that.
But we should understand it more as a battle over community values than as an argument about public policy.
Y'know, my memory ain't what it once was, so correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it your fucking side that Federalized the argument in the first place? Wasn't it yours that insisted Abstinence Only was apodictically certain to prevent all the Evils of Teen Sex? So you pick a fight, and you get beaten to a pulp because, after all, when God's on your side you don't have to train, right? And you lift your head off the canvas at the count of 8 and say, though bloody chicklets, "Hey, why not call it a draw?"
[Note: I was three-quarters of the way through this when I learned that Scott had done it earlier, and needless to say, better.]