The If, When, What and Who of Sex Education in the Schools

“Hormones are nature’s three bottles of beer.
― Mary Roach

It’s the beginning of another school year and, as usual, the discussion of if, what, and how sex should be addressed in schools is in the news. Many people think it should be taught in its entirety (age appropriate, of course) from “A” (autoeroticism) to “Z” (zoophilia) without any judgements to the right or wrongfulness of anything. Many others think it should be restricted to only anatomical changes in puberty and the mechanics of the sexual act between consenting adults only, along with generalized moral restrictions (i.e., heterosexual only). Many others believe that it has no place in the schools at all.

It’s pretty much a given that alcohol lessens one’s inhibitions, allowing one to say or do things they otherwise wouldn’t. How much it takes to lose that tenious control we possess over our mind differs both physically and emotionally for different people, but there is a threshold that can be crossed in each of us. The same can be said of hormones; they, too, can overtake us physically and emotionally, where we can lose control and do something we otherwise shouldn’t, and the threshold varies from person to person.

As adults, most people learn from experience what their threshold is and wisely stop before it’s reached, in order to remain in control of their body and emotions. But what about children, specifically teenagers, who desire to be an adult and to try adultish things like drinking, or following those urges where their newly burgeoning, rampant hormones lead them? It is only natural that they want to find out what it’s like.

We adults, knowing from our own experiences how tenious are the self-limiting controls teens have, have made it plainly known to them the dangers of alcohol physically and have enacted laws forbidding them to drink, or for anyone to sell or otherwise make it available to them. We do the same when it comes to having sex, we tell them that there are dangers to them both physically and emotionally. However, there are no laws forbidding them to engage in it – except where it involves someone not of their age, such as a younger child or a legal adult.

And yet, they will find a way sooner or later to obtain alcohol (and get drunk). Likewise – with almost unrelenting hormonal urges and no legal prohibition not to – most will, at some point before legal adulthood, engage with a like-minded other of their age (and have sex).

Realistically, there’s no way to stop them. Telling them to just say “No” doesn’t work. Once physically able to, the desire to do it is a natural bodily response. And even for those who are hesitant, peer pressure to do it will almost always force them into it. As Margaret Mead observed, “Young people are moving away from feeling guilty about sleeping with somebody to feeling guilty if they are not sleeping with someone.” 

So, back to the question of if, when and how. The real question is, who? The answer is it’s the responsibility of parents, it is part of their job description. They are the ones who should teach their children everything they need to know, including all the variations of sexuality out there on the world, and impart to their child whatever religious or moral boundaries they believe in. And then trust the child, all the while knowing that afterwards it is ultimately the decision of the child as to do what they will do, and standing by to pick up the pieces if all goes wrong, just as they would if it were anything else.

Unfortunately, that all too often isn’t the case. Otherwise there’d be no compelling reason for society to step in and require it to be taught in schools. So parents only have themselves to blame if it’s taught to their child in a manner they don’t approve of.

My father was the “who” who taught me, and he explained everything to me that I described above a parent should. I did the same to my sons.

And the thing he said to me (and I said the same to my boys) as he finished “the talk” was, “Whenever you have sex, you both share and absorb your DNA into each other. So just remember, when you have sex with a girl, you’re having sex with every boy she’s ever had sex with before you.”

Now, if that doesn’t make a real heterosexual boy stop and think twice, nothing will.

But if he’s secretly somewhere on the sliding scale downwards of the remaining 80 or so percent, the bi- to homo- sexual, he might just might realize how wider a field there is to plow.

Regardless, as a parent, you’ll have done your job.

– Bill

White on White Anger?

“They’ve been practicing racism so long, it’s perfect.”

― Darnell Lamont Walker

For the past two days I’ve been trying to sort out my thoughts and feelings about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. Unless one’s been deep in the woods without internet or access to any media, or lives out of the country and missed the news blurb, there was a clash – a riot – between our “Alt-right” (read: White Supremists, neo-Nazis) and counter-protesters. Three dead, many injured. Search your internet for details.

That it happended in Virginia doesn’t surprise me. Virginia is a southern state, was a slave-owning state prior to our civil war (1861-1865), one of 11 states that tried to secede from the union and one of the very last to yield to full racial intergration, in the 1960’s – a hundred years after that war that the South lost. I was born a scant 80 years from its end, lived my first 20 years of life there and remember in the 1950’s water fountains, bathroom facilities and resturants and more with signs that said “Whites Only” or “Colored Only”. I remember seeing the Confederate battle flag flying far more prominently than the national flag. I remember, at our high school football games in the 1960’s, that no one stood or paid any attention when the national anthem was played at the beginning, but that everyone stood, sang out, yelped the Confederate yell, when Dixie was played next. I remember that right across the street from our church in Arlington was the headquarters of the American Nazi Party, home of its leader, George Lincoln Rockwell, the Nazi flag flying high ouside on a pole and 2 uniformed SS Stormtroopers standing guard at the front door. I remember a common saying at the time, when referring to people in general, that there were 4 kinds: at the top, White people, then Colored people, then (the “N” word), and at the bottom, White Trash (“poor, uneducated, socially inept, culturally ignorant; hillbillies, rednecks.”) Back then, Arlington was considered very liberal from a southern perspective. (I’m happy to report that today Arlington is nothing like the past, in fact, most of what constitutes Northern Virginia is nothing like most of the rest of the state, which – for the most part – is still quite conservative.)

I give that bit of history for what it’s worth as a background, in part, to what happened in Charlottesville. Ostensibly, it was about die-hard southerners against the current movement by society in removing monuments and the like that remind people of our embarassing slave-owning past. But I think maybe it’s more than that, and it’s the last of my memories above where I’m going.

I read a post by a fellow WordPress writter that I follow, nativeindc, a Lakota Souix lady:

www.https://nativeindc.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/white-supremacy-isnt-new-wake-up-act-defend-protect 

She noted, “Racism and segregation happens within our own racial groups, against each other… comments I’ve seen friends and family go through of ‘not being native enough, not being dark enough, they must not be full blood’ and so forth happens a lot, and it’s not right. These inter-racial group attacks and racism, among our own, is creating another divide within our own.” 

It was these words that led me to a “Eureka!” realization, remembering that people categorization above that divides Whites into 2 classes: these Alt-righter White Supremists have used the “Coloreds” and their gains in equality as scapegoats for their anger against what they believe is reverse discrimination by them when, unconsciously, mostly, they are really probably angry at the financially better off, better educated and culturally and socially more prominent Whites who have looked down on them from way back when. As nativeindc put it, an “inter-racial attack”.

And, if that premise is true, then there is some understanding. “Upper-class Whites” – especially liberals, but also conservatives – have come to accept people of color as equals, but never have and still don’t like “low-class Whites”. They find them an embarrassment. And this is evident politically in the Democratic party which claims to support them but actually ignores them, as well as the current rift in the Republican party between the old-guard moderates who give them no mind and the “Tea Party” faction that embodies them.

And this why “lower-class Whites” are so racially fixated – “upper-class Whites” accept “Coloreds” over them. They transfer their anger to the “Coloreds”, the people separating them from those other Whites. They don’t understand, even if the “Coloreds” disappeared, the upper-class Whites wouldn’t feel any different towards them. (They’d still be an underclass. Not unlike every other culture on Earth, past or present; there is always an underclass.)

It’s a racism that’s been practiced and perfected in America since the earliest colonial days. That doesn’t make it right. It just is.

Inter-racial jealousy.

But that’s just my hypothesis.

– Bill

Dining Out Frustrations

“Eating at fast food outlets and [chain] restaurants is simply a manifestation of the commodification of time coupled with the relatively low value many Americans have placed on the food they eat.”

– Andrew F. Smith

Another Letter to the Editor of mine to our local newspaper published. What’s interesting about this one is the title: Writers of letters aren’t allowed to assign a title; the editors just pick a key word or phrase from the letter, and the title they assigned my letter are words I did not write but seems to answer my “No reason given”. 

As if the editors agree that what I wrote is the reason why Cracker Barrel decided not to come here after all.

[The editors wrote]:

Why Cracker Barrel said no to [our city]

[I’d wrote]:

I read that Cracker Barrel announced it would open a restaurant [here] and then opted out. No reason given. However, here’s a hint: a corporate spokesperson said, “All our [resturants] have… decor on the walls … which we customize to the local community.”

Maybe they saw what we see, daily, that epitomizes our community and couldn’t figure out an illustrative decor that wouldn’t be off-putting and nauseous to diners: Homeless people pushing overfilled, stolen shopping carts down the street, panhandlers on every freeway off-ramp, children holding handwritten signs on intersection islands pleading for help to pay for some family member’s funeral, streets and freeways cluttered with trash, blood on a sidewalk from the latest gang shoot-out, unsightly, unmaintained absentee-landlord apartment complexes, neighborhoods where every third yard is brown and dead, or ubiquitous yard sales? But that’s just a partial list.

I’ve been to a couple of Cracker Barrels back East. Their decor is kinda cutsie-hokey. The food’s just OK, no better than any other chain. However, they don’t serve alcoholic beverages. I’d eat there if one was here, if I could have a drink to take the edge off what I see in our city on the way there.

– [my name]

Now, don’t think for a moment that the above descriptions are totally indicative of my city; large parts are absent of those negatives, but they tend to be more residential and wealthier enclaves, just like any other major metropolis.

I could have listed many more possible reasons Cracker Barrel might choose to stay away from our community – like our overwhelmingly un/under- educated and unskilled workforce, or the excessively high poverty rate that would preclude the ability to dine out regularly – but letter writers are limited to only 200 words.

I could have also further opined in my letter that, like so many other American cities, we just don’t need any more chain resturants. Their food tastes okay – at best – but isn’t the healthiest. Not so say, in all honesty, that I don’t frequent those we do have here – I do (out of necessity if I want to not cook at home). And that’s not to say that I don’t always dislike the experience when I do.

But what’s needed everywhere are some more locally owned and operated resturants that serve well-prepared, quality meals, where one can get a real dining experience in a unique atmosphere (and not cookie-cutter-the-same-everywhere-decour/motif) and, unlike chain resturants, where customers don’t feel like pigs being led in, slopped, and encouraged to leave quickly. I know we have some, been to a few (and enjoyed them immensely). Just wish there were more for a greater variety.

That’s something I’d drink a toast to.

I and my wife, but more so one of my sons and I, have in the past discovered some fine local places to dine, both here in town and elsewhere where we commonly travel. Unfortunately, it has been our experience that those places quickly go out of business. Maybe it’s their smaller size, their more off-the-beaten-path location, or their slightly higher prices (compared to the chains).

I don’t know, but it’s frustrating.

It’s become something of a family joke – if we find a great little local resturant, and if we eat there more than twice, it’ll have closed and gone out of business by the next time we go there. Seriously, it’s happened many times.

Alas. C’est la vie.

– Bill

Injecting Sanity Into Elementary School Homework

Homework strongly indicates that the teachers are not doing their jobs well enough during the school day. It’s not like they’ll let you bring your home stuff to school and work on it there. You can’t say, ‘I didn’t finish sleeping at home, so I have to work on finishing my sleep here.”

― Jim Benton

During my working career, I understood the occassional need to be assigned overtime – a report was needed ASAP or a project was on a time-line and time was running out. What I never understood was having to stay late to do inconsequential, what I considered “busy work” and the fact that some bosses felt – and they’d tell you so – that the job had precedence over personal life. Fortuanately, I had a few bosses that didn’t believe in overtime, they understood – and they’d tell you so – that personal time was more important than work.

And in my school days, I had teachers of both kinds; the sadists that assigned ungodly hours of homework that wasn’t necessary to understaning what had been taught that day, and the saints that insured that everyone in the class had a working understanding of the day’s material before the end of class. Those saints did their job well, unlike the other kind. And if a student indicated (or the teacher suspected) he/she needed something more, then maybe some homework might be needed on an individual basis, without the need to unnecessarily burden the other students with redundant “busy work”.

So I was glad to read that a school district, Florida’s Marion County schools, will be banning daily homework assignments in elementary schools. Although daily homework won’t be part of the curriculum, teachers will still occasionally assign things like research papers or science projects to do at home.

All the kids are asked to do at home is to read every night. Read anything that interests them. Read for 20 minutes.

You can read all about it at:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/17/why-this-superintendent-is-banning-homework-and-asking-kids-to-read-instead/?utm_term=.5f055f5c581.

They are also doing this in a Vermont district: 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/26/what-happened-when-one-school-banned-homework-and-asked-kids-to-read-and-play-instead/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.7c649fb95c80.

All you educators and concerned parents (or people who know school-age children) can also read about the study behind this concept:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/26/homework-an-unnecessary-evil-surprising-findings-from-new-research/?utm_term=.55f0b76c1afa.

My youngest grandson even had homework last year in kindergarten, for cripesake!

This study makes complete sense to me. Reading is where education begins. If you can instill the joy and skills of reading in elementary students, I guarantee they’ll excel beyond and through high school.

I especially like the Vermont district’s homework policy:

1. Read just-right books every night – and have your parents read to you.
2. Get outside and play – that does not mean more screen time.
3. Eat dinner with your family – and help out setting and cleaning up.
4. Get a good night’s sleep.

I wish that was all of my homework assignment as a kid.

– Bill

Doing the Right Thing Politically

“Like most of my colleagues, I promise my constituents a lot of stuff I can never deliver. But what the hell? If it makes them happy hearing it, and they’re stupid enough to believe it, shame on them…Forget public service… [It’s] all about self-service and selfish survival…If raising money is critical to getting reelected, so is spending taxpayers’ money to reward those who help get us reelected.”

― Congressman X, The Confessions of Congressman X

“[A]ll members of Congress should be required wear NASCAR uniforms. You know, the kind with the patches? That way we’d know who is sponsoring each of them… [T]hey’d never…do it but it’s a great idea and would wake people up in this country.”

― Brad Thor

It’s refreshing to hear the truth, even if it comes from a liar. I say liar because X is; he tells his local constituants he will represent their interests all the while knowing he will only serve himself and the interests of his true masters, those who financially fund his campaigns and expect payback. We shouldn’t be agaspingly shocked to learn this, it’s quite within the American Dream to want to be rich and/or powerful. Most who are have found differing ways but some have found it easier through politics than honest work.

There are – have to be – some politicians who honestly try to represent the interests of the people. But what people is the question. Forgetting those they’re financially beholding to, are they only the people of the district or state that elected them or is it the nation as a whole (what is good for the many, not just the few)?

That historic great member of the British Parliament and political philosopher Edmund Burke said (substituting “Congress” for “Parliment” and “District/State” for their divisions), “Congress should not be a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests… [whose] interests must [be] maintain[ed], as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but Congress is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole, where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole…You choose a member, indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not a member of a Congressional District/State, but he is a member of Congress.” Members of Congress should not merely represent the interests of their local constituants or political party over the interests of the nation and its citizens, as a whole. 

Likewise, our first president, George Washington, in his Farewell Address at the end of his presidency, warned against allowing one “faction” or one party to dominate. And we now have a government of one dominant party in all three branches – the Congress, Presidency, and Supreme Court. And within that party, one faction – the ultra-conservatives (the Tea Party-ists and their fellow travelers) – dominates that party. But taken together, all as one “faction”, we have governance along party lines not in consideration of the majority and the common welfare. (To be fair, when the other party – which is dominated by the ultra-liberals – are in control, the same thing happens.)

So it was refreshing to see last Friday one representative, Senator John McCain, a Republican, going against the interests of his party and its leaders and their financial backer’s wishes, to be the deciding vote against the conservative attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act – that enables tens of thousands of Americans to have health care insurance they otherwise couldn’t get or afford – with something draconian less.

McCain joined Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins (both Republicans) to be one of those rare representatives that (in this instance) honestly represented the interest of the people, not just that of their constituency, or their party dictates, but of all people, the nation.

And if we could put patches on the clothes of our representives to show who they really are serving, McCain, Murkowski and Collins would have last Friday been conspicuously wearing – prominently above any other patches – the American Flag.

– Bill

Tweeting Bigly

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

– Abraham Lincoln

In this day and age of social media, everyone comments on the latest thing that they’ve done – even the smallest things. Used to be, they’d ring up a friend to tell. Now people post it on Facebook and enjoy their friend’s – and friends of friends, or anyone, depending on their privacy setting – “likes” and comments.

But Tweeters are a different kind – generally they post to share what is on their mind at the moment instead of happenings, and often without apparent forethought prior to hitting the send button as to its truthfulness or possible impact.

Our president is an example. He’s referred to by many as the Tweeter-in-Chief, a play on his title, Commander-in-Chief. He has an apparent penchant for tweeting just about every random thought that comes into his head. And, in combining both “in-chief” titles, his latest tweet that transgenders will no longer be allowed to serve in our armed forces has everyone but himself scratching their collective heads, wondering where that came from. 

I’m not going to go into the merits or demerits of whether or not transgenders should or should not be allowed to serve. That’s not my intent here. What I want to illustrate is that the president, were his tweets a gun, one would think he’d have learned by now to keep it holstered and not repeatedly shoot himself in the foot.

In that tweet, he said he reached his decision after consulting with his generals. Yet, when the brass at the Pentagon were asked for a comment, their only response was shrugged shoulders and the answer to reporters that they should ask the White House. Apparently, they are in the dark as much as anyone about it.

In that tweet, he justified things by saying transgenders negatively impact troop readiness and effectiveness. Well, a study concluded by the Pentagon a year or so ago came to the opposite conclusion, based in part on those 12 other nations who’ve allowed transgenders in their armed forces for years and some for decades.

Apprently, the brass don’t have a problem with transgenders the way he does.

He also justified it by saying how excessive medical costs are, involving transgenders. Well, the Pentagon has said such costs only amount to about 1/2 of 1% their total budget. Hardly excessive. In fact, the Pentagon spends 10 times as much, annually, on Viagra. 

Now there’s something to tweet about!

I’m sure somebody out there has counted how many other tweets he’s made in his life, probably hundreds since entering office. But I’m curious how many were not snarky, thoughtlessly picking and poking, reflexively responding without constraint or forethought, or reacting to something just to show how witty he thinks he is, as his many tweets demonstrate.

It appears that our president seems to enjoy hearing himself talk (as it were), which leads me to the understanding of a narcissist: “A cross section of the narcissist’s ego will reveal high levels of self-esteem, grandiosity, self-focus, and self-importance. … Narcissists’ language and demeanor is often geared toward one objective: to maintain…power…” That comes from the magazine, Psychology Today.

Considering the fact that he’s not been able to get any substantial things done after 6 months in office, I suppose he has nothing left except to try to appear powerful in his demeanor. And his recent public statements that he is the greatest president since Lincoln, and jokingly (?) said his face should be added to Mt. Rushmore National Monument, along with those other greats, Washington, Jefferson, T. Roosevelt and his favorite, Lincoln, reflect his self-esteem and grandisoity. 

(If you read my post yesterday about the administration’s study to decide if some dozens of national monuments should lose federal protection, I guess Mt. Rushmore won’t be on that list. And on that subject, another post of mine from 3 July 2016, “The Selling of America”. And if you don’t know what bigly means, read my post of 5 September 2016, “Trump Memed Bigly”.)

I’m no doctor, but one only has to see, observe, read and listen to the president to realize that definition fits him exactly. Maybe he’s not, maybe he’s only being foolish.

Mr. President, listen to your aides and associates wise counsel to stop tweeting. Save us your tantrums and your tirades. 

It would be better if you listen to your Lincoln’s advice: Remain silent and not remove all doubt about how foolish you are acting.

– Bill

Attack on the Sequoias

“In a world that is becoming increasingly virtual, the parks remain places of visceral beauty. Places where we can remember that we are but a small part of the life on this planet, and that it is a truly wonderful planet and the only one we’ve got.”

― Nevada Barr

Two days ago I joined my eldest son and two eldest grandsons on a day-long hike on a series of trails above the Zumwalt Flats in the Kings Canyon National Park. I say “hike” tongue-in-cheek as this was my second time there with him in three weeks and his hike is to me more of a forced march. Whatever, I need the exercise and enjoyed being with my grandsons.

Now, in the KCNP stands the second tallest tree in the world, in the middle of the Giant Sequoia Monument (which contains the majority of the world’s population of the towering trees), the largest giant sequoia tree, the General Grant, – 267.4 ft (81.5 m) tall, a circumference of 107.6 ft (32.8 m) at ground level, an estimated bole volume of 46,608 cu ft (1,320 m cubed) – that is believed to be 1,650 years old. It stands in one of the 65 named groves of sequoias in California (the General Sherman tree in adjoining Sequoia National Park is the largest tree on Earth, approximately 6,000 cu ft larger in volume and about 450 years older). Other sequoias are taller at 300 ft, some are older at around 2,000 years, but the Grant and Sherman are larger overall. I give you these numbers only to impress upon you their truly “giant” size. Even if you can’t mentally picture such a tree, believe me, they are the definition of “awesome”. Now, I’m more of a coast/beach kinda person, but the giant sequoias are more inspiring to behold than their somewhat smaller sequoia cousins, the coastal redwoods (also protected, for the most part).

These wonders of nature, whose linage goes back to the Jurassic period, are today threatened. Not by fire or pest or some other natural enviromental enemy, but by the unnatural greed of man (that may be an oxymoron – greed seems to come naturally to mankind).

The current administration in Washington has declared its determination to open public lands to private industry (read: oil and gas exploration and drilling, and logging). To that end, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is undertaking a study of more than two dozen national monuments to determine how many – or all – should be stripped of federal protections and auctioned off to the highest bidder for commercial exploitation. And the supervisors of Tulare county (roughly twice the size of the state of Delaware and encompasses the Giant Sequoia Mononument area) have voted their approval (as if Washington needs it, or cares, but it’s a nice bow on the package) at the urging of local logging companies and sawmill owners.

Supporters of the Giant Sequoia Monument are in fear of the drooling timber industry, should it be unleashed from the current ban on logging. Chad Hanson, a noted tree ecologist, says, “Oh, yeah. We are taking this threat very seriously.”

I’ll end this by saying that all our national monuments, parks and forests are and should be protected and kept in their natural state, and not for development or other commercial use, but solely for the use and enjoyment by all and as a legacy to future generations, and as an acknowledgement to their Creator in thanks for the natural beauty given us.

May it ever be so.

– Bill