Thursday, May 7, 2009

Good Morning America goes back to the 1950s

Yesterday was the National Day To Prevent Teen Pregnancy, so the issue got some coverage including Bristol Palin on Good Morning America.

The GMA segment on the subject reminds me of something from the 1950s or 60s where contraception and sex were only hinted at and discussed in veiled terms that only adults could understand.

Bristol Palin's last statement on abstinence a few months ago was incoherent and stumbling but included a statement that "abstinence is not realistic." That interview didn't seem to mention birth control either.

This time she has her talking points down and she gives a well-articulated message. "Abstinence is a hard choice, but it's the safest choice and the best choice." The interviewer asks what's the second line of that since teens might "roll their eyes" at abstinence (is that what they're calling it nowadays?) and her line is, "It's the safest choice, and it's something that kids should know about."

That is, the best choice is abstinence. And the second best choice is also abstinence. And the third best choice. And the fourth choice. Is that really what she means to be saying?

They also had a guy from an anti-teen pregnancy foundation started by a teenage shoe company who summed up the foundation's motto as "Just because you're wearing high-heeled sexy shoes, obviously you shouldn't have a baby."

The only discussion about birth control is impossibly muddled:

Host: "Do you think it has to be black and white, abstain versus protection, or do you think there is going to be some middle ground?"
Palin: "Yes I think definitely some middle ground."
Foundation guy: "Abstinence is obviously the best way, but being realistic you gotta talk to teenagers and say anyway, whether it be protection ... having a baby... a kid having a kid is just not right. Any way you can get through, we have to educate."

What exactly is this middle ground between abstinence and protection? Presumably they don't mean as in this joke site dedicated to "abstinence" from acts that can get women pregnant. It's a shockingly bizarre statement.

There is no getting around it: Teaching birth control is the middle ground.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

If banishing from the city doesn't work. . . no kissing until marriage

I love the title of this article True Lips Wait. A 22 year old is quoted as saying her first kiss was after the church wedding service in front of 200 people. That's about the age of marriage until which many evangelicals really do wait until marriage.

It's the clichee movie ending, but still it seems unusual (in my wine glass stomping Jewish perception) to kiss as a de facto part of a religious ceremony at all. But especially for someone who hadn't kissed at all before to have their first kiss in front of so many people, it seems particularly unusual to share such an intimate thing as one's first kiss with 200 people.

(I wonder when kissing at the end developed. Do any other religions kiss right after the ceremony? Which branches of Christianity? Variants of Eastern Orthodox? Are there any types of Protestantism that don't?)

Virginity pledge alternative

The former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav (Rabbi) Ovadia Yosef is known both for his great wisdom and his unfortunate moments with the press. Like father like son, perhaps, as his son recently made a decree that all unmarried men over age 20 must leave Jerusalem. It's meant as an incentive to push them to get married, but of course it sounds not so good. Much like Rav Ovadia's statements.

According to the rabbi, who publishes a weekly column on the Eretz Israel Shelanu leaflet, in the past it was customary to banish "older" single men from the capital as punishment for their refusal to marry and provide for a family.

In recent generations, Sephardi rabbis decided to annul this regulation, but according to Rabbi Yosef it should be reinstated. "Only a yeshiva student who studies Torah has an exceptional permission to postpone marriage, if he fears that marriage might distract him from his studies.

"But normally one must not delay marriage till after 20, and those who do had better leave Jerusalem and go study somewhere else," he wrote.

Last week the rabbi discussed in his column the question of what was the right age for marriage, and concluded that men must wed no later than age 19.

"Any man who reaches the age of 20 must hurry without tarrying, or he might find himself looking for many more years," he stated.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Flu risk perception

My understanding about the 1918 flu is that the first wave had few deaths, and those deaths followed standard pattern of seasonal flu: elderly and very young. The second wave came several months later and was a slightly changed form that had higher mortality, mostly in the healthiest age group, ages 20-40. These people didn't get it the first time around, so they were vulnerable in the second wave when it was more dangerous.

My question: is it possible that all these extreme measures such as closing schools --- e.g., Harvard closed down medical, dental, and public health schools today because of a case in the dental school --- will make the flu epidemic worse rather than better by inducing precaution fatigue and decreasing credibility of preventative measures such as vaccines and shutting down institutions so that when the flu is really serious people will assume it will be low mortality as it is now?

If this follows pattern of 1918, by the time the second scary wave of flu comes around, we will have a vaccine, perhaps even in adequate numbers to cover much of the population, but there's no vaccine for human irrationality. Everyone is getting all fired up now --- lots of parents kept their kids home at a local school here in suburban Baltimore due to 1 case in the school.

When the same thing happens next October or November, will people reason it's not important to be careful since last time turned out okay? Will people not bother to get the vaccine?