Dear parents, your grade 9 kid should already know about sex

October 9, 2014

Another older article, but this time about books, censorship and schools. A common story.

Upset parents demanded this week that the Kings Canyon Unified School District remove a book intended for freshmen English classes that one father said is “inappropriate, amoral and disgusting.”

“All parents send their children to school with the expectation of trust, that they will be safe and protected from all forms of harm,” Jeff Claxton told school board members at their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 23. “If you allow this title to be taught to our children, you will have failed.”

The only harm that comes from reading a book is the risk of a paper cut. Oh, right. Books are full of ideas, though, and these parents would rather their kids only get their ideas from parent approved sources, not bestselling fiction about adolescence. Were theirs so titillating they wouldn’t want their kids to know about those either? I offer a quote from the book, although I’m not given a page number.

“Secrets affect you more than you’d think. You lie to keep them hidden. You steer talk away from them. You worry someone’ll discover yours and tell the world. You think you are in charge of the secret, but isn’t it the secret who’s actually using you?”

Back to the article.

A crowd of about 50 people packed the small board room, and a majority of them came to protest the use of “Black Swan Green” at Reedley High.

The 2006 novel is the story of 13 months in the life of a 13-year-old boy in England in the early 1980s. In one passage of the 294-page book, the boy watches a couple have sex and describes what he sees.

I suppose they flipped through the book specifically to look for the word SEX so they could complain about it; they didn’t bother to read it. It’s won several awards. I’ve never heard of it, but I just work at a library; I don’t have time to read everything that’s in there. (Maybe I can suggest it to my Banned Book Club peeps when we finish Candide, though.)

The school district’s position has been that ninth- graders would read only two excerpts, not the entire book, and that neither of the excerpts deals with sex.

But, a parent has filed a complaint with the district about the book, which some say is pornographic in its depiction of the sex scene, blasphemous in several references to Jesus and profane because it contains the f-word and other vulgar language.

Like I said, probably flipped through to cherry pick the “naughty” bits.

The thing is, kids learn about sex and will learn it from their friends and all manner of media and internet and FSM knows what else. They’ll be swearing, they’ll be vulgar, they’ll be teenagers circa 2014 and just as idiotic and horny as kids in the 1980s were.

Another book, another place, another time: parents call police to stop free giving of challenged book in Meridian, Idaho. The publishers provided free copies of Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian after it was learned that the schools removed it from the reading list.

“There’s a paragraph right here where it has some sexual content,” Kissel said. “But if you look at it it’s a paragraph this big in a 230 page book.” That page reads ‘If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs.”

After about an hour of Kissel passing out books to teenagers, Meridian police showed up. They said they had been called out by someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent’s permission.

Are you fucking kidding me? Why would teenagers need parental permission to read a book? I read The Devil’s Cat at mealtimes and my parents never batted an eye. Of course, they never even opened it up to see what kind of book it was but it had a cool hologram of a cat’s head turning into the devil on the cover. And lots of sex, death and demonic violence. Perfect for a 13 year old… I can’t say it corrupted me in any way. It was just a book I read a few times.

At my library, parents can have access to their childrens’ library cards to check what they’re borrowing, but only up to the age of 14 or so. Beyond that, the teens have the right to borrow whatever the hell they want on their cards and snoopy parents can’t do a thing to stop them but I’m sure they’ve tried over the years. (The only limits put on them have to do with movie and video game ratings, viewer laws the library has to uphold.)

I don’t think anyone spoke up about books we were assigned in school when I was a kid. Our teachers seemed to go out of their way to pick challenged materials. To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, The Outsiders, The Chyrsalids.. that’s all I can think of off the top of my head but I think there were others.

That’s all I got. Thoughts?


Update to the posing with Jesus story

October 8, 2014

I wrote about this back in August so it was nice to see an update to the story about the 14 year old boy who posed with a Jesus statue and made it look like he was getting a blow job. He’s banned from social media for a while and has 350 hours of community service to complete.

Among the other punishments, he must obey a curfew of 10 p.m., no alcohol or other controlled substances monitored by random drug testing and stay in school.

District Attorney Bill Higgins presented the decree to the court.

After accepting the agreement and while settling the number of community service hours, Judge Ling focused on the religious rights of Love in the Name of Christ, noting that the juvenile’s actions infringed upon their rights to practice their faith.

I bold the bit that makes no sense. He didn’t storm their church and shoot everyone who tried to pray to Jesus or tie them up and take all their bibles away. He posed outside on the lawn for a stupid picture. How does posing for a picture get in the way of their right to worship? Explain that to me.

Upon successful completion of these terms and conditions, his case will be dismissed and the juvenile will have no criminal record.

Personally, I think it should have been tossed out of court from the get-go with a “don’t be that stupid again” warning as he went out the door.

“I know that there are many groups that say this case is about religious rights, and quite frankly, they are right,” said Higgins in a written statement. “But it is the religious rights of the Christian organization that owns the statue and has placed it for display on their private property that have been implicated. They have every right to practice their faith unmolested. In American [sic], we all enjoy the right to freedom of expression and the freedom to practice our religious beliefs without interference, but that right ends where those same rights of another begin.”

Get him for trespassing on private property, maybe, but his behaviour did not infringe on anyone’s rights to worship. He was just doing a stupid thing and took pictures of himself doing it. He did not molest parishioners, he posed with a statue.

Maybe they should have considered the possibility of it being mistreated before sticking it out there. Maybe it could have been on a higher, less easy to access pedestal, or a design that wouldn’t give people these kinds of kinky notions. People are weird.

Off topic a bit, I’m amused by churches that use their billboards to advertise their faiths but choose the weirdest sexual innuendos by which to do it.

“Why are you in jail?” “I posed for a picture with Jesus…”

September 12, 2014

“… and made it look like oral sex.”

It’s totally immature, but is it worth criminalizing him for it?

A Pennsylvania teenager is facing criminal charges after posting pictures to Facebook of him simulating a sex act with a statue of Jesus.

The young man posted that he took the pictures in late July at the statue of a kneeling Jesus in front of the “Love in the Name of Christ” Christian organization in his hometown of Everett.

The criminal charge, which will be heard in family court, consists of “Desecration of a Venerated Object.”

Pennsylvania law defines desecration as “Defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise, physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”

The teen, whose name has not been released, could face up to two years in a juvenile jail if convicted.


JT Eberhard at Patheos looked up the penalties for vandalism in Pennsylvania and this is over the top.

a 14 year-old does something stupid that causes literally zero property damage and he could face two years in juvenile jail because it’s a “venerated object”? That’s insane. That’s really ludicrous.

If he had spray-painted the statue, I’d be all for charging him. If he had done any damage, he should be punished in accordance with the damage done. Hell, I even think a slap on the wrist for trespassing could be appropriate. But fucking with a kid’s life for being immature at an age when pretty much everybody is immature is petty, vindictive bullshit. This law about venerated objects needs to be challenged and unmade, and I hope this case can be a vehicle for that.

Hopes going on here, too. This is clearly brought about by hurt feelings and easily offended locals who just don’t see it as funny. I see it as funny. I think the picture is one of the funnier things I’ve seen lately, and I’ve scrolled through the pictures of Satan with an erection. All of them I could find.

As an update to my previous post about that, apparently there’s a petition up now to ask for the statue to be put up again.

The petition, called ‘Bring the Giant Satan-With-An-Erection Statue Back to East Vancouver‘, has more than 1,000 signatures already. It was created by Darryl Greer and mentions that if the city can install a statue of a porcelain dog on Main Street with a price tag of almost $100,000, it can install a statue of Satan with no cost to taxpayers.

Although the poodle has admitted it is jealous of the statue

Click the link to read the amusing Twitter quip made on the fake dog’s behalf.

Posing with statues is something people do and get their pictures taken doing it. If they can make it somehow sexually suggestive, they will. It’s fun for all ages, too.

Not the original point of the art when put out in the world to see, but people are innovative and funny like that. These days it seems everyone has a camera and it seems everyone has access to quick internet uploading of the pictures they take whether they’re quality shots or absolute crap.

I say sorry that the boy picked your Jesus statue to pose with but it was at just the right height for his pubic public stunt to work. Had it not been there, he couldn’t have done it.

And let us all give thanks to the Flying Spaghetti Monster above for the fact that he kept his clothes on. Other might not have, like this man who stripped and climbed onto the head of the Duke of Cambridge and this woman who recently gave a naked hug to Nelson Mandela.

Religious youth less likely to try drugs and alcohol, apparently

September 11, 2014

Science Daily is reporting on a paper published in Alcohol Treatment Quarterly.

The youths participating in the study had been referred by the courts or by medical professionals. 195 juvenile offenders agreed to spend two months in a “residential treatment program” where they were interviewed, screened for drug use and otherwise monitored and reported on – for science.

Study findings, which support a growing body of research, suggest that young people who connect to a “higher power” may feel a greater sense of purpose and are less likely to be bothered by feelings of not fitting in, said researcher Byron Johnson, Ph.D., co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

How did they get to these findings?

Researchers used four measures: alcohol or drug use, craving for alcohol or drugs; prosocial behaviors (service to others); and self-centered or narcissistic behavior. Forty percent of youths who entered treatments as agnostic or atheist identified themselves as spiritual or religious at discharge, which correlated with a decreased likelihood of testing positive for alcohol and drugs.

“Daily spiritual experiences” such as prayer or worship also were associated with “a greater likelihood of sexual abstinence, increased prosocial behaviors and reduced narcissistic behaviors,” researchers wrote.

It’s a short article and, without having access to the original paper, there’s not much I can do here but parrot the reporters and then throw a few thoughts on the virtual table.

Statistics are some of the most bendable things in the universe. That 40% put in there: Is that 40% of 195? Or did they mean some mystery X % of the 195 identified as non-religious and of those, less than half of them changed their tune by the end of the study? If, for ease of calculation, there had been only 10 agnostics, that’s only 4 minds changed. Hardly staggering or worth reporting on if you ask me.

Also, if X % is agnostic, how big is Y %, the percentage of young offenders identifying as Christian? Were they Christian when they did whatever it is that sent them to court in the first place? If it wasn’t drug or alcohol related, what was it? Thievery? Assault? Graffiti? What?

“Connection to a higher power” apparently doesn’t correlate with “never breaks a law.” Religious kids can still be rebellious even if they never smoke crack or down a mickey of booze. This is evident by the fact that they found 195 kids to study and only X % were non-religious. I say “only X” because non-religious remains a minority position in the States and will be for a while still.

Johnson noted that fewer adolescents today are connected to a religious organization than were youths of previous generations. Twenty-five percent of the millennial generation — people born between 1980 and 2000 — were not attached to any particular faith, Johnson said, citing a 2010 Pew Research report.

Among possible reasons that adolescents may opt not to experiment with drugs are religious instruction, support from congregations, or a conviction that using alcohol and drugs violates their religious beliefs, Johnson said.

I’ll make the case that social support is the key issue here, not religion. To increase pro-social behaviour in youth, how about creating more affordable pro-social activity incentives for everyone overall? Encourage people to know and like and grow to trust their neighbours. Create an environment in the home, school, neighbourhood and overall community that promotes quality behaviour and ethical living. Make it easier to do the right thing, to be the good person. Try to do more earlier to catch the kids that are disconnected and not finding it easy to make friends — and the ones that turn to bullying behaviours to cope. More support for the family unit in general in terms of having a living wage and adequate food and housing. Take some of the stress out of home life and maybe kids wouldn’t have as big a compulsion for a chemical escape from it. Hell, even encouraging people to start gardening can have a positive impact on a community. To quote Ron Finley,

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”

Fuck yeah! Strawberries!

Any more and I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop there.

Got a new box of Scruples

July 5, 2014

Very exciting.

The Little Man and I enjoy walking around the neighbourhood on weekends looking for garage sales and today I struck gold with a mint 2nd edition copy of A Question of Scruples, still with the original 1986 Wool-co price tag on it, $19.99 reduced to $12.50. A real garage sale bargain at $3, let me tell you. Mint be damned, this was opened as soon as I got it home. The Man and I spent many an hour pondering how to answer the questions posed in the 3rd edition. It was nice to find another box of what ifs.

I think the bulk of the writing I’ll do for this blog will, quite frankly, focus on answering questions out of this box as if this were an “Ask an Atheist” Q&A. Saves me doing a lot of extra reading to get a post ready, and anything that will speed me up and get me back in the swing will be the “easy” stuff.

Other topics and ideas may crop up again in time. Until then, feel free to post your own answers to the questions posed, should the mood suit.

A heavy first:

Your teenage son tells you in strict confidence about a friend who is taking cocaine. You know the parents are not aware. Do you warn them?

My first instinct is to promote Kids Help Phone. I remember the ads from my youth and all they promised in terms of a compassionate ear and anonymity.

In terms of what I would personally do, hell if I know. I guess it would depend on a few factors.

How well do I know the parents and the kid in question? If it’s a case where I don’t know these people and only my son’s close with the family, I would feel strange taking this to the parents. If I were friends with the family, I’d still feel weird bringing it up.

Is it “just” cocaine or has this kid been getting deep into the crack, as it were? What sort of addiction fears would we be looking at? An article out of the Guardian from 2009 reported on a study regarding cocaine and how it was never published in the States because it:

descended into outright heresy. “Occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems … a minority of people … use casually for a short or long period, and suffer little or no negative consequences.”

And finally: “Use of coca leaves appears to have no negative health effects and has positive, therapeutic, sacred and social functions for indigenous Andean populations.”

At the point where mild cocaine use was described in positive tones the Americans presumably blew some kind of outrage fuse.

Not to say I’m saying to this hypothetical kid, go nuts, science is on your side…

I mentioned to the Man this first not so easy question and read it out to him. He wondered immediately about level of use, as in, was this friend confessing his/her first ever use of coke to our kid, or admitting to a problem spanning several months? Good point. And, he also said he’d definitely tell the other parents whether he was close to the family or not. Vital information about their kid and his/her possible downward spiral, after all. And, he mentioned, he’d hate to be put into a position where the family (if we knew them well or not) later asked us how and when we knew their child had a problem. It’d hardly make us look good to say we’d known for half a year or something. Too true.

I still like the anonymity route, myself. Encourage our kid to help his friend find help, through some kind of crisis service program or intervention. Get the parents involved, obviously, but maybe try to make the friend be the one admitting help is needed? Having the parents run ripshod over this kid’s life might be part of why he or she turned to drugs in the first place.

Well, that’s the best answer to the question I can come up with at the moment. Thoughts?

EDIT July 6: I see why journalists record all their conversations before writing things. I goofed the paraphrasing of my Sweetie’s thoughts on the matter. He’d definitely want to tell the parents if we knew them well, but it would depend a bit on where the kid’s at in terms of use. If it’s just been a couple times and the kid can be encouraged to seek out better alternatives to drug use for problem solving then maybe the parents wouldn’t necessarily need to be made aware of the usage.

One of the reasons I like writing posts based around Scruples questions is because I’m a fan of thought experiments. I also like to use them to fight the fallacy that atheists are moral vacuums because we don’t have a god pointing out what’s right and wrong.

“Teens see this film, they walk out and throw their razor blades away”

January 29, 2010

So I guess beards will be in fashion now? It’s out of World Net Daily – a new film in theaters that is supposed to change the minds of suicidal teens and make them more hopeful people. It’s called To Save a Life:

Jim Britts’ “To Save a Life” debuted at No. 15 on the box office charts, topping $1.5 million in ticket sales on opening weekend (which already puts it on pace ahead of another church-produced film, “Facing the Giants”) in 441 theaters nationwide.

The film’s story is about an all-star athlete and his girlfriend, who find their lives spinning out of control when Jake loses a childhood friend to suicide. Breaking out of the patterns of peer pressure and popularity to reach other hurting students, however, proves a life-changing challenge.

“Some people are just dying to be heard,” states the film’s tag line. “The movie asks, ‘How far would you go? How much would you risk? How hard would you fight … to save a life?'”

Teenagers themselves are raving about the film…

Anything willing to deal seriously with the serious issue that is teen suicide is generally fine by me. It’s nothing I went through, and I had no close friends that experienced this either (that I know of). If it has to peddle a religion in the process, well.. it’s better to be a pain-in-the-ass god botherer than dead. At least there’s the possibility of growing out of it. Dead is just dead.

New Song’s website for teens to share their reactions and stories attests to lives being changed:

“I am a cutter, and I could really relate to Jonny in this movie and how he felt,” writes Marisa. “I even thought about taking my life a few times, but now I’ve learned that there’s so much more to life than what I thought it was. God gave me a reason to be on this earth, and I am now seeing what I’m here for.”

Marisa and others who wrote in apparently needed a dose of hope and an increased feeling of purpose. I don’t know that a two hour movie would ever be enough to actually change a life but if it’s helped her express her reason to be around and encourages her to be a role model for other troubled teens, then good for her. And good for them, as well.

From Variety:

elements of Jake’s spiritual dilemma ring true, and in less compromising hands, an examination of the wedge that religious conversion drives into existing relationships could have yielded great insight. But the film’s invocations of faith’s knottier issues are defanged by its easy answers (teenage pregnancy? Just let the youth pastor handle it) and many supplemental dramas that swell the running time to a bloated two hours.

The missionary impulse is an essential element of Christian faith, so to fault a Christian film for proselytizing is ultimately a meaningless criticism. Nonetheless, “To Save a Life’s” agenda is proclaimed so loudly that it tramples all over the film’s quieter elements, and often seems designed less to steer viewers toward salvation than toward a very specific (and at times borderline cultish) type of suburban youth ministry

While I can’t offer much advice on the suicide aspects, I think it is worthwhile pointing out that church-run youth groups aren’t the only options for kids who want to make new friends or make a difference in their communities. Check with your schools, check at a library. There are all kinds of groups out there. Hobbies, books, music, sports, volunteering — whatever. There are kids that come to a mall here in town every Sunday just to play Magic-the Gathering, or whatever card-based RPG is in style these days. At least a dozen of them set up at a game supply store and play. Just get involved with something positive and fun. Find the fun. And if you can’t find one, start one.

Children are better off today.. well, kind of.

January 3, 2010

I don’t have kids. I don’t even know if I want kids. I think if I did have kids, I’d consider raising them like in The Village, away from the hustle and bustle and crazy tech crap and money woes and gangs and drugs. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to invent monsters and a superstition around the colour red to keep them in line, mind you. A little bit of lusting for the simpler times, is what I’m getting at.

Anyway, saw this article at WORLDmag recently, where Anthony Bradley claims it’s a much better world for children today than any other time in history. He goes all the way back to Greeks and Romans to illustrate how unimportant kids used to be but it’s not even necessary to look that far back. Considering child labour practices of the past (and even in other countries today), sure, Western kids have got it pretty good. He writes,

In a Western culture like ours that worships children and idolizes youth, the low social status of children in antiquity seems foreign.

What I bold there is a problem that needs dealing with. Kids should not be worshiped. Kids should be kids who know their parents will be making their decisions for them — to a point. For example, kids have way too much purchasing power now and parents who had to do without seem loathe to let their kids feel the same angst. But kids who get everything they want in life are going to have a hard time when they’re on their own. Whether in university or working for a living, when they discover they have no idea how to deal with problems because their helicopter parents take care of everything for them, how will they ever mature into independent people?

Also, a lot of kids are on pills for depression and other mental issues. Why in the hell should any kids be depressed if they’re living in the best time kids have ever had? Some statistics:

One in five children have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. And up to one in 10 may suffer from a serious emotional disturbance. Seventy percent of children, however, do not receive mental health services (SGRMH, 1999). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in children, affecting 3 to 5 percent of school-age children (NIMH, 1999). As many as one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents may have depression (CMHS, 1998). Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds and the sixth leading cause of death for 5- to 14-year-olds. The number of attempted suicides is even higher (AACAP, 1997).

I doubt numbers have gotten lower over the past decade. And even living with a bummed out mom increases the risk of depression in teens (her own or adopted), too.

A growing number of studies demonstrate difficulties that depressed mothers have in interacting with their children, remarks psychiatrist John Markowitz of Columbia University. Tully’s study “bolsters the evidence that maternal, more than paternal, depression meaningfully affects children through home life, not just heritability,” he says.

And if you look at the indicators of teen depression, small wonder it often goes undiagnosed:

* Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
* Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
* Irritability, restlessness (What teen isn’t?)
* Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
* Fatigue and decreased energy
* Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions (isn’t that nearly the definition of a teenager?)
* Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping (yeesh)
* Overeating, or appetite loss (talk about opposites)
* Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

Now, let’s bring technology into this. I quote from a study done on American employees and stress levels.

The Occupation Safety and Health Administration has declared stress a hazard of the workplace. And it is no wonder that workers feel overwhelmed and overworked; the average American office worker sends or receives about 201 messages a day in the form of e-mails, voice mails, faxes, and memos (Eisinger, 2001).

Today, how many does the average kid get, I wonder? Last April it was reported that a teenage girl racked up a $4800 cell phone bill on text messages alone. Ten thousand text messages sent and around the same number received. Never mind the fact they didn’t have a texting plan with Verizon, that’s still more than 300 in a day and, according to the article, mostly within school hours. That’s insane. No wonder her grades fell into the toilet.

The pressure to be constantly connected and informed must be intense. I’m from a generation where internet and cell phones and that kind of stuff weren’t vital to popularity and teen survival. I just had to make sure I was begging for the right music to stay in step with my peers. I never was one for telephone talking day and night, either, and a summer away from school friends was never filled with sturm und drang, it was the norm.

I think kids are better off in terms of health, education and welfare, but better off mentally? I think not.