Nancy Reagan Did Not Approve of this Pencil

by Nancy French

According to the New York Times, it took a ten-year-old kid to realize this:

A company has recalled a batch of pencils after a fourth-grade student pointed out an embarrassing message that appeared after he sharpened his pencil. 

The pencils carry the slogan ”Too Cool to Do Drugs.” But the student noticed that when the pencils are sharpened and get shorter, the message becomes Cool to Do Drugs,” then simply Do Drugs.” 

As a result of the discovery by Kodi Mosier, a 10-year-old student at Ticonderoga Elementary School, the company, the Bureau for At-Risk Youth, based in Plainview, N.Y., recalled the pencils.

They are going to re-print the pencils with the message written in the other direction.  That way, when the pencils are sharpened, they don’t encourage kids to develop a crystal meth habit.

And speaking of Nancy Reagan, does everyone remember this very special message on Diffrent Strokes?  Every time I’m annoyed when Michelle Obama pops up on the Disney Channel to talk about a healthy diet, I remember the oh-so-awkward Diffrent Strokes episode and cut her some slack. The only thing that could’ve made this cameo even better is a well-placed whatchu talkin bout First Lady? 


Women Having Fewer Children Than Their Hearts Desire

by Colette Moran

 . . . and it isn’t just here in the States. The Pew Research Center came out with a report today in which they asked women in more than 30 countries, aged 40-54, what was the ideal number of children to have, and compared it to how many they actually had.

In many developed nations, the average number of children that a woman has in her lifetime is now less than two, falling short of the approximate fertility necessary for a generation to “replace” itself. While there are many factors driving what some deem a ‘Baby Bust’ in Europe and—to a lesser extent—the U.S., a lack of desire for children is not among them.

 . . . Reality often doesn’t comport with the ideal. Among EU women ages 40 to 54, one-third reported that the number of children they actually have is lower than their personal ideal. This gap in ideal versus actual fertility varies markedly by country.

The U.S. data is somewhat dated, coming from a 2006-08 survey, but reveals that American women are not having the families they envisioned. 

Some 52% of American women (who gave numerical responses) said their ideal is two children, and an additional 44% said that three or more children is their ideal. (While 86% of women gave numerical responses to this question, 14% reported that the ideal family size was “as many as [someone] wants.”) But 40% of U.S. women nearing the end of their childbearing years have fewer children than their ideal.

The report goes on to point out the many factors that may be causing this trend, such as delays in child-rearing (which can lead to fertility problems) and lack of finding a suitable partner, but even when women have great benefits and incentives for parenting, they still tend to have fewer children than their ideal. (Or none at all — a report from January showed that the U.S. is one of the leaders in childlessness.)

It seems that — even when taking into account the factors listed above — the notion is entrenched in women’s minds that when it comes to childbearing, less is more. Why this persistent notion that one or two children is all a mother can handle and adequately provide for? If that’s what a woman decides for herself, that’s one thing; but if she desires more but chooses not to because of outside influences — societal/peer pressure, the stress of parenting, perceived economic restraints — that seems quite sad to me. Choosing not to create more little miracles because you’re afraid what others will think, or because you’re buying in to the notion that we must have a certain amount of cash in our bank accounts to properly raise another child, or any other arbitrary reason… I honestly believe that in these matters, one must follow her heart and be open to the joys — and yes, challenges — that more children bring to a family. It’s more than worth it in the end.

– Colette Moran is a mom of 7. Follow her on Twitter @ColetteMoran

More Pinocchios for White House Wage Gap Claims

by Colette Moran

The Fact Checker at the Washington Post had previously examined the claim reiterated by President Obama that women only make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, and awarded it one Pinocchio for its lack of truthfulness. The President has continued to use the factoid, including in his last two State of the Union addresses and in a speech this week, so the Post revisited the claim. They now feel they were too generous in their previous assessment:

From a political perspective, the Census Bureau’s 77-cent figure is golden. Unless women stop getting married and having children, and start abandoning careers in childhood education for naval architecture, this huge gap in wages will almost certainly persist. Democrats thus can keep bringing it up every two years .

There appears to be some sort of wage gap and closing it is certainly a worthy goal. But it’s a bit rich for the president to repeatedly cite this statistic as an “embarrassment.” (His line in the April 8 speech was almost word for word what he said in the 2014 State of the Union address.) The president must begin to acknowledge that “77 cents” does not begin to capture what is actually happening in the work force and society.

Thus we are boosting the rating on this factoid to Two Pinocchios. We were tempted to go one step further to Three Pinocchios, but the president is relying on an official government statistic – and there are problems and limitations with the other calculations as well.

Other interesting findings on the wage gap reported by the Post include Bureau of Labor Statistic data showing that women who never marry earn 96 cents for every dollar a man makes. Additionally, another survey by the Labor Department concluded that if you put a dollar value on the fringe benefits that women usually opt for — like more flexible parental leave — the wage gap is a mere 5 cents on the dollar.

Read more here.


Number of Stay-at-Home-Moms Continues to Rise

by Colette Moran

In the good news/bad news department, fewer American mothers are working outside the home — but many are doing so not by their own choosing. The Pew Research Center released new data today that includes moms who choose to stay at home, are unable to find work, are disabled, or are attending school. 

The share of mothers who do not work outside the home rose to 29% in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. This rise over the past dozen years represents the reversal of a long-term decline in “stay-at-home” mothers that had persisted for the last three decades of the 20th century. The recent turnaround appears to be driven by a mix of demographic, economic and societal factors, including rising immigration as well as a downturn in women’s labor force participation, and is set against a backdrop of continued public ambivalence about the impact of working mothers on young children.

There was a big jump in the percentage of moms who said they were staying home because they couldn’t find work — while only 1 percent made this claim in 2000, the number climbed to 6 percent in 2012.

There are many interesting pieces of data, including what turns out is the small number of SAHMs who are the so-called well-heeled “opt-out” mothers that get a lot of press these days. But the other striking information from this report is the answer to what is best for children – and, I think, the fact that so few did not choose a definitive answer to the question.



What’s Best for Children?



A clear majority feel that it’s best for a parent to stay at home to care for children. But of course, it’s a basic question. One can understand if there is also lingering ambivalence. I personally have found staying home more rewarding and strongly encourage young women to choose it. But I also know several moms who work outside the home for various reasons, and I see their kids thriving. Could some of them afford to stay home and perhaps discover that their children (and they themselves) would fare even better? It’s easy for me to say yes. On the flip side, it’s hard to convince some women that the stereotypes of the happy homemaker being less intelligent and less successful than the career woman are unfair.

As far as this report is concerned, of course it is troubling that fewer women are able to find work, but perhaps we can find comfort in knowing that there are benefits to having moms in the home full-time that money can’t buy. 

See Maggie Gallagher’s more thorough take on this study for NRO here.

On a similar note — here’s a piece on the the importance of help from extended family for all moms.

White House Pastry Chef Leaves Post: ‘I Don’t Want to Demonize Cream, Butter, Sugar, and Eggs’

by Nancy French

Bethany Jenkins at the Gospel Coalition explores food and healthy choices in her article “Watching What We Eat,” which mentions the White House pastry chef who recently left his post:

Under the direction of Mrs. Obama, the White House executive pastry chef, Bill Yosses, “was directed to make more healthful desserts, and in smaller portions, that were to be served only sparingly to the first family.” He frequently replaces butter with fruit purée and sugar with honey or agave. He also often adds whole grains to desserts and picks his fruits, vegetables, and herbs directly from the White House garden.

A few weeks ago, however, Yosses announced his “bittersweet decision” to leave Washington and head to New York, explaining, “I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar, and eggs.” He also said, “Not everything is about sugar, but everything is about good taste. And there’s such a thing as healthy good taste.” In other words, he thinks it’s possible to focus on healthy ingredients without stigmatizing traditional ones.

Remember -- This Professor is a “Liberal”

by George Leef

On Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh writes about the recent, very nasty instance at UC Santa Barbara where a professor took violent action against young anti-abortion protesters on campus. Actually, he doesn’t need to add much to the transcript of the interview with a police officer,from which we learn a lot about the authoritarian mindset of many “liberals.” The professor says that she acted because she “felt triggered” by the protesters and their signs, because she felt they were violating school policy, and because the protesters were violating her rights. Freedom of speech? She replies that she doesn’t know where the boundaries are.

I bet that this professor’s classes are wonderful examples of pure, dispassionate, academic inquiry.

Eat Right and Save the Planet

by Julie Gunlock

Every five years, a committee of officials chosen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reviews the federal dietary guidelines. This committee, called the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, is mandated by Congress to work on “providing nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public . . . based on the preponderance of scientific and medical knowledge currently available.”

In other words, these are the government-fat-camp counselors, and they’re here to tell you what to eat.

These DGAC folks don’t have such a good track record. After the 2010 meeting, the DGAC unveiled the new Choose My Plate icon, which emphasized the importance of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. That replaced the “Oops, we were wrong” Food Pyramid that had encouraged Americans since 1992 to go heavy on the carbs. The new plate was met with much optimism. Celebrity chef Padma Lakshmi gushed that the new plate was a “triumph for the first lady and the rest of us.” Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University said, “The new design is a big improvement.” Others suggested the plate would finally knock some sense into us piggy Americans and make us eat better and lose weight.

Of course, reasonable people realize this is ludicrous because what normal person says, “You know, I really need to eat better. I think I’ll go check out the USDA website for diet info.”?

Only Washington bureaucrats could be oblivious enough to miss the utter uselessness of the DGAC. Only they could be unaware that the United States has a thriving, $60 billion diet and exercise industry (not to mention a whole host of independent bloggers) that already provides people with a variety of choices and advice on how to get fit and eat nutritiously. The DGAC members must avoid grocery stores altogether because if they did ever stand in the checkout lane, they’d be bombarded with magazine headlines promising guidance on dieting (along with pictures of bikini-clad hard bodies).

So the DGAC is at it again this year, reviewing the 2010 dietary guidelines. You can even watch the proceedings online . . . although I don’t recommend it. I watched the second hearing (so that you don’t have to) and after the first speaker, I considered bailing for the much more entertaining activity of organizing my son’s sock-and-underwear drawer.

But then something happened. Something relatively interesting.

Kate Clancy, billed as a “food systems consultant” (yeah, so am I!) came to the podium and explained that the DGAC must integrate environmental concerns into the guidelines. As her speech went on, I heard phrases like “environmentally friendly food choices” and making “low impact food choices” and looking at things with an “ecological perspective.” Her point was clear: Americans must not only make nutritious food decisions, they must make environmentally responsible food decisions even if that means Americans’ food costs increase. And food prices most definitely will go up if her recommendations are included in the final guidelines.

According to Clancy, environmentally responsible food decisions include switching to a “plant-based diet” – which is food-systems-consultant talk for “vegetarian,” but she fails to mention that when it comes to total calories, it takes much more plant-based food to equal what lean meats can offer. Are Clancy and the DGAC suggesting people with scarce financial resources spend all of their money on a high-priced plant-based diet? After all, kids need things besides food. School supplies, clothing, and a place to live seem vital elements of a child’s life.

While Clancy doesn’t say we have to swear off meat altogether, she envisions a population that procures protein from local sources, only buying line-caught fish, grass-fed beef, and organic milk. Again, she makes no mention of the added costs associated with this Whole Foods-style food shopping. Which should make us all wonder, do these folks understand that the highest rates of obesity are suffered by those who live under the poverty line? This administration, which portrays itself as looking out for the poor, might want to reconsider making recommendations that will needlessly hike the prices of healthy food for that very demographic.

Clancy also skips over how this type of diet would work in practice. In addition to ignoring costs, she doesn’t discuss how it might be difficult to get a child to eat the appropriate number of calories if they’re subsisting on a vegetarian diet – something most mothers struggle with daily. She doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of how lean proteins and diary are considered an important part of a child’s diet.

Those things are secondary to the real goal: saving the planet from that plague of hungry humans. Watch out for the next DGAC guidelines; they may not just be useless. 

— Julie Gunlock, a Sr. Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, is the author of the new book From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back.

The Bright Side of Prenatal Screening

by Colette Moran

Over on the Corner Andrew Johnson posted about Planned Parenthood’s president being pressed on when she personally felt life began. I hope the video goes viral, so that people will begin to see that simply ending your answer with “but that’s my own personal decision” will not wash away the distaste that denying the humanity of the preborn leaves in sensible minds.

Another story from NPR this week was understandably seen as bad news by some. 

By their very nature, technocracies work towards the path of least resistance: towards creating systems with fewer exceptions, aberrations, or deviations. Technocrats think in matrices, and exceptions to the norm are viewed as problems to be solved. If children with disabilities spoil the mathematical predictability of the technocratic utopia, they must be eradicated from the equation. Eugenics make perfect sense when paradise is only a problem of engineering.

But I’m looking at it in a positive light. While NPR trumpeted that the new blood test that can screen a preborn’s DNA for genetic abnormalities will give parents more confidence when they choose to abort, I am thrilled that it will potentially lead to fewer abortions on perfectly healthy children. These developments could also lead to there being fewer amniocentesis procedures done, which is good news since amnio does carry a small risk of premature delivery or infection.

Though such tests give parents the opportunity to choose abortion when the results are not favorable — somewhere between 70-90 percent of preborns diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted — if they save even a few little souls from the scare tactics of doctors who are more concerned about malpractice and “wrongful birth” lawsuits than keeping babies alive, life wins.

Duke Porn Star’s Father Home from Afghanistan

by Greg Pollowitz

New York Post:

A US Army physician came home from a tour in Afghanistan to find that his little princess had turned into a porn star.

Devout Catholic Dr. Kevin Weeks was stunned by the news, but told relatives he and his wife are still supportive of Miriam, a Duke University freshman who has been having sex on camera to pay for her huge tuition bill.

“This is a tragedy in the family,” Amanda Minor, the mother-in-law of Miriam’s brother, Paul, told The Daily Mail. “The father is one of the best human beings I’ve ever met. He is just back from Afghanistan. He served his country, how awesome is that?”

Minor said that Dr. Weeks — based out of Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane — remains “so proud of his daughter; there’s no way they could have known this was going on.

“It’s terrible. But they would never abandon their daughter. This is a nightmare, what the family are going through.”

Miriam — known as “Belle Knox” to porn fans — wrote on women’s site XOJane last week that she needed the money to pay for school and avoid nightmarish loans.

Since the story emerged last week, Miriam has become the hottest name in porn.

The news completely floored dad Weeks, 54, and his wife, Harcharan, 48. The loving mom and dad had always made education a top priority for their kids — Miriam, 18, Anita, 20, and Paul, 22 — who went to a prestigious Jesuit school, Gonzaga Prep in Spokane.

Obviously, there are other ways of avoiding student loans, like going to a state school where the education is just as good as at Duke. And I hope the report from the mother-in-law is true and that the family is standing by their daughter. Being a parent is hard, but it’s a lifelong job. You can’t quit when the circumstances go against you.

The rest here.

The Importance of the Right Stories – for Kids, Adults, and Nations

by Nancy French

I remember the night.

A group of friends stood around my husband David’s laptop, looking at photos he had taken during the first half of his deployment with the Third Armored Cav. Regiment in Diyala province, Iraq.  He was on his twelve-day leave, and we’d gone to Boston to be with his dear friends from Harvard Law School. They came, with their families, for dinner. Soon, everyone gathered around him to hear the stories of war – the things he had seen, the soldiers he’d befriended, the al-Qaeda members who had vomited on him. 

Yes, he had some stories. Since his regiment suffered more casualties during “the surge” than any other in that time frame, his voice occasionally broke with emotion.

We had only twelve days with him before he went back to war, but we thought it was important to be with friends.

Our kids hovered hesitantly near the cozy group listening with rapt attention. My son gripped a Batman figurine in his hand as he stared at his dad whom he hadn’t seen for months. David was talking about things – terrorists, bombs, IEDs, tanks – that he hadn’t talked about before he’d deployed.  We weren’t a “military family,” so they didn’t grow up with talk of war. David was a lawyer who decided to serve his nation after 9/11. Suddenly, we moved from our penthouse in Center City Philadelphia back home to the south to be near family during the deployment.

This “new dad” was unfamiliar to them.

I wondered for a moment if this was good – we were at a party, for goodness sakes. Did our well-heeled friends really want to hear about the war? My friend Jean pulled me aside and said, “This is amazing. You never get to hear from people who’ve seen the front lines.”

Her reassurance comforted me, but I wondered if I should let the kids hear what he was saying. They were eight and ten years old. When is this the age-appropriate time to introduce them to genocide?  Beheadings? Just weeks prior to that moment, I’d covered their eyes during the scary scene in one of the Chronicles of Narnia movies.

The deployment made things real with our family. From those early ages, the kids began to contemplate unmitigated evil, the responsibilities of freedom, the high cost of war – on families, on soldiers, on nations.

I thought of this today as I drove them to school. They’re teenagers now, no longer hovering hesitantly on the sidelines of adult conversations. Their views – political, moral, philosophical, theological – have been shaped over the years by conversations, stories, and books. We were listening to an NPR interview about Mark Harris’s new book on World War II filmmakers, and discussing the government’s role in telling the story, balancing “propaganda” with actual patriotism.

As I listened to their thoughts, I was suddenly thankful David made the decision to serve his country. I’m also thankful that he chose to tell the children the hard, horrifying stories of war.

I am different than I would’ve been had he not chosen to serve, and the kids are different than they would’ve been had he not chosen to serve.

When my husband left in 2007, that man would never really return. But, I’m thankful that his voice still breaks when he tells the stories.

NJ Woman Suing Her Parents for Tuition Costs

by Greg Pollowitz

Sounds like she just wants access to her college fund. Reuters:

A New Jersey student who says her parents abandoned her when she turned 18 is suing them for school costs and other expenses in a case legal experts say could set a precedent for a family’s obligation to support a child who has left home.

Rachel Canning, 18, of Lincoln Park, New Jersey, wants her parents to pay the remaining $5,000 in tuition to the Catholic high school where she is a senior and seeks access to a college fund and repayment of her legal fees, court documents show.

A cheerleader and lacrosse player at Morris Catholic High School, Canning claims her parents kicked her out of the house in November 2013 after she turned 18, the age of legal adulthood. She wound up living with a friend’s family, she said, and the upheaval has jeopardized her educational future.

Her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning, said their daughter left home voluntarily late last year because she did not want to follow the rules of the house, including doing chores and adhering to curfew, according to court papers.

The rest here.

Update March 5: The judge dismissed the case, but Rachel doubled-down with this. The New York Post:

Rachel’s lawyer, Tanya Helfand, said the couple hadn’t lifted a finger to contact their daughter or make sure she’s doing OK.

“She is lucky to have her benefactors,” Helfand said of the family caring for Rachel.

“Her relationship with her parents is abusive, in particular her relationship with her father. I’m asking the court to help this vulnerable young woman.”

In court papers, Rachel said her mom has called her fat, while her dad has been “inappropriately affectionate with me.”

“He mentioned frequently that my relationship, in his eyes, was not one of a daughter, but more than that,” Rachel contends.

She stopped short of saying he never touched her unlawfully.

Her parents’ lawyer, Laurie Rush-Masuret, denied all of Rachel’s claims.

This has gone from kinda funny to really, really ugly right quick.

The Missing Factor in Latest Breastfeeding Study?

by Colette Moran

A study of children within families, some breastfed and some not, seemed to show no significant advantages for children who were breastfed. The researcher felt it was important to check the data within families as opposed to across families.

Many previous studies suffer from selection bias. They either do not or cannot statistically control for factors such as race, age, family income, mother’s employment – things we know that can affect both breast-feeding and health outcomes. Moms with more resources, with higher levels of education and higher levels of income, and more flexibility in their daily schedules are more likely to breast-feed their children and do so for longer periods of time.

Here’s the big unanswered question in this story — did she survey the moms of the siblings to ask about their socioeconomic status at the time of each of the children’s infancies? Did she find out whether or not the circumstances for each pregnancy, birth, and beyond changed for those moms? Couldn’t the child who was breastfed have come at a time when the mom was out of a job and low on money and wasn’t eating well and may have not known about the other health benefits for children? And couldn’t the bottle-fed child have come when the mom had better resources and she had learned those other health benefits?

Maybe mom got on a fitness kick with her last child who she bottle-fed due to an illness and that’s why the last kid is as thin as the first kid who was breastfed. Maybe she wasn’t as exhausted with that last kid (since breastfeeding is tiring) and she was able to spend more time caring for her and developed just as special a bond as the breast-fed child. Maybe mom was only able to teach that last kid her ABCs and such, boosting her academic performance.

I think it’s incorrect to assume that any mom is the same mother to every child.

But maybe I’m just irked that, when asked about her study, the researcher took the opportunity to grandstand for social policies: 

“I’m not saying breast-feeding is not beneficial, especially for boosting nutrition and immunity in newborns. But if we really want to improve maternal and child health in this country, let’s also focus on things that can really do that in the long term – like subsidized day care, better maternity leave policies and more employment opportunities for low-income mothers that pay a living wage, for example.”

I don’t necessarily disagree that we should consider improving all those policies (except bringing the “living wage” nonsense into the mix) — but if we’re talking about the benefits of breastfeeding, let’s stick to the science of the matter at hand.

Find more here.

The Perplexing Decision of Waiting to Have Children

by Colette Moran

A review of  The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock by Tanya Selvaratnam says the book has an important message but fears it will be lost on those who need to hear it most.

Fundamentally, Selvaratnam believes that Western, working women have gotten complacent about the possibilities of late childbirth. She herself waited until she was 37 before trying to conceive. After three miscarriages and an IVF attempt that was called off when it was discovered that she had cancer, she wants to remind younger women that it’s not always that easy.

While it seems reasonable to wait until you have found the perfect partner with whom to raise a child and the financial stability with which to do so, if all those things don’t happen until you are in your late thirties it may be much, much harder than you think to have a child of your own.

But this warning will probably fall on some deaf ears.Those who are still in their twenties may misinterpret the intent. They don’t want to hear about how fertility begins to drop off in the late twenties, and even more so in the thirties. They know someone who had a baby in their late thirties or even early forties, so why even think about all the people they know with fertility problems – or even consider there are many others who don’t divulge their secret pain?

The review suggests that young women should be learning about the potential decline in fertility when they are in high school during sex ed classes. Though they are even farther away from child-bearing years, it might be a good idea to plant the seed early that a woman’s fertile days are numbered. And they might be receptive since they are not in the midst of enjoying the life of a happily child-free, single, career woman. But I imagine that would not go over well and be looked at as premature pressure to forgo a career path and settle down.

When we are in an age in which a 23-year-old is considered to be living an “alernative lifestyle” for being married with two children, what chance do we have in warning young women not to wait too long? We will just get responses like this to a survey that said the ideal age to have children is 25:

Do you know what I was doing at 25? Dancing on bars after 4 too many shots of Jagermeister. Dating as many men as possible to figure out that guys who kick in your car door probably aren’t the marrying kind. Working my way to the top of the journalism food chain, first at FOX in Salt Lake City and later ABC in New York City, both of which involved 10-hour workdays. I was traveling. New York City, Mexico, London, Italy … you get the idea. I was grabbing myself a big ol’ handful of life whilst trying very hard not to create it, because that wouldn’t have been ideal. For me.

Of course every woman should do what she feels is best for her. But what is best? The best chances for a healthy baby are in the late teens or early twenties. But too many couples are not prepared for parenthood at that age. So is it best to wait? What should be the actual benchmarks? How much education, how many years in a career, how much money in the bank? It can make a woman’s head spin. 

In my book, if young women can’t see that the older women who are telling them not to wait could be themselves in a decade, they lose the best perspective on making this important decision.

Singer Robin Thicke, Wife ‘Mutually’ Agree to Split

by Greg Pollowitz

It looks like appearing in a music video with topless women and “twerking” with Miley Cyrus at an award’s show isn’t good for a marriage. Who could have guessed?

Details here.

FDA to Hold Hearing on Three-Parent Babies

by Greg Pollowitz

Scientific American:

A reproductive technology that taps three parents’ DNA as a way to eliminate hereditary diseases could reach clinical trials if the Food and Drug Administration gives the go-ahead

Reproductive technologies that marry DNA from three individuals will receive a trial in the court of public opinion this week. Such technologies may hold promise for averting certain genetically inherited diseases passed down via mutations to mitochondria, the cell’s battery pack.
Scientists have already had successes with this type of reproductive approach in monkeys and in human embryos, and are now eager to launch human clinical trials. First, however, they must get the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which will convene a public hearingbefore an advisory committee on February 25.
The technology, called oocyte modification (but sometimes nicknamed “three-parent IVF”), involves scooping out potentially mutated mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from a woman’s egg and replacing it with the mtDNA of an unaffected donor woman. The process is designed to prevent the transmission of some debilitating inherited mitochondrial diseases, which can result in vision loss, seizures and other maladies. Such inherited diseases, often unfortunately known by acronyms for complex medical names that include LHON, for Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, along with MELASMERRF and NARP, occur in about one in every 5,000 live births and are incurable.

The rest here.

Increasing Graduation Rates for Community College Students

by Colette Moran

The good news is that young people are enrolling in college in record numbers. The bad news is their graduation rates are less than stellar: little more than half for four-year programs and only about a third for community college students. But a closer look at particular schools – especially those serving the underprivileged – reveals even worse numbers.

What are the colleges with rates in the 90 percent range doing differently? One big difference is the services available which are designed to prevent failure. Less advantaged students often find themselves at schools that are ill-prepared to help them with the challenges they face in continuing their education.

There’s a remedy at hand, and it’s pretty straightforward. Nationwide, universities need to give undergraduates the care and attention akin to what’s lavished on students at elite institutions. If that help is forthcoming, graduation rates more than double, according to several evaluations of an innovative program at the City University of New York’s community colleges.

Over the past month, CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) has garnered hosannas in the media for its package of comprehensive financial resources, student support systems and impressive graduation rates.

…All too often [low-income and minority students] are steered to schools where they receive little if any support in mastering tough courses, decoding arcane requirements for a major, sorting out life problems or navigating the maze of institutional requirements. Graduation rates at these so-called dropout factories, especially those in urban areas that largely serve low-income, underprepared minority populations, are as abysmal as 5 percent.

In addition to the New York boroughs, there are similar programs in Indiana, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, and many others states — some publicly funded and others privately. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has jumped into the act with their Completion by Design program. 

There are also pushes for non-traditional ways to earn degrees.

The bet public community colleges have made—that the best way to meet the needs of their constituents is by offering as much flexibility and convenience as possible—makes a certain intuitive sense in light of such complications. So does a commitment to low cost. Give students a cheap, expansive menu, served up at all hours; don’t demand a specific diet—that’s not a bad metaphor for the community-college experience today.

If anything, with enthusiasm rising for massive open online courses, or MOOCs, the higher-education pendulum is now swinging further in this direction. The current interest in “competency-based learning”—liberating students to earn degrees not by amassing credit hours but by preparing for assessments of particular skills at whatever pace and by whichever route they choose—is part of the same trend. Some reformers see the seeds of a revolution in college education, promising ultraconvenient, self-guided, low-cost courses of study for everyone. The “beginning of the unbundling of the American university” is how one observer has described the transformation. All it will take for students to avail themselves of this emerging opportunity is a clear sense of where they’re headed, lots of self-motivation, and good access to information about what mix of skills is likely to lead to a promising career.

While college is not for everyone — and many students learn their true calling from their failures — for those who simply need guidance and extra support, recapturing the billions of lost earnings (and the taxes they produce) are well worth the investment.

A Brilliant Idea for Kids Who Don’t Fit In

by Colette Moran

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t had to deal with the problem of a child being labeled ”weird” or having trouble making friends? Kristen Chase wrote about how proud she is that her daughter embraces being different, but she has also been concerned about her finding playmates.

It started to get difficult for her when she continually felt left out at recess… As I saw it, there were three options for her. She could sacrifice her own interests and desires a bit so she could be included more… who knows? Maybe she might actually like soccer or whatever it is they do at recess that she didn’t really want to do. 

Maybe she would become friends with them and convince them to do what she wanted to do. She could completely own who she is and make her own “tribe.” She’d have to make her own fun and prepare for it, like packing some art supplies or a book to read at recess. She might also have to lower her expectations about friendships… But she won’t feel like she’s compromising who she is.

Or she could do a little bit of both, deciding to make a little effort to step outside the box and engage with the kids through their own interests but without compromising her core values – which is exactly what she did.

But of course, some children are not as sure of themselves, or as capable of stepping outside comfort zones. Glennon Doyle Melton shared the strategy of her son’s math teacher in helping out those who may be struggling with loneliness or isolation.

Every Friday afternoon my son’s teacher asks her students to take out a piece of paper and write down the names of four children with whom they’d like to sit the following week… She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week. All ballots are privately submitted to her.

And every single Friday afternoon, after the students go home, Chase’s teacher takes out those slips of paper, places them in front of her and studies them. She looks for patterns. Who is not getting requested by anyone else? Who doesn’t even know who to request? Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated? Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

You see, Chase’s teacher is not looking for a new seating chart or “exceptional citizens.” Chase’s teacher is looking for lonely children. She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down- right away- who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

As a teacher, parent, and lover of all children – I think that this is the most brilliant Love Ninja strategy I have ever encountered. It’s like taking an X-ray of a classroom to see beneath the surface of things and into the hearts of students. It is like mining for gold – the gold being those little ones who need a little help – who need adults to step in and TEACH them how to make friends, how to ask others to play, how to join a group, or how to share their gifts with others. And it’s a bully deterrent because every teacher knows that bullying usually happens outside of her eyeshot – and that often kids being bullied are too intimidated to share. But as she said – the truth comes out on those safe, private, little sheets of paper.

Read more about this brilliant teacher here. On a related note, here is a story about how to recognize and treat anxiety in children.

Kathleen Parker: Hold Men to a Higher Standard

by Greg Pollowitz

Kathleen Parker had a good op-ed in Saturday’s Washington Post titled, “Sex after drinking and the war on men,” where she enters the recent NOW–James Taranto donnybrook over sexual assault on college campuses. Parker sums up the issue of sex-under-the-influence with. . .

[. . .] the problem of campus sexual assault (or misunderstanding, as the case may be) is often, if not always, related to alcohol. Drunks misbehaving, in other words. But when two drunks have sex, who, ultimately, is responsible should one decide that she didn’t really mean it? Without current data at my fingertips, I feel safe in presuming that few males charge females with rape following a party.

If the female decides at any point, including the next day, that she didn’t really want to engage in sex — no matter her own behavior at the time or the fogginess of her recollection, never mind the male’s own degree of inebriation — is the male entirely to blame?

. . . and then comes to this conclusion, which I think is 100 percent accurate:

In any case, these are tough questions for all fair-minded people. My own view will be repugnant to everyone. Feminists won’t like it because it runs counter to the very arguments they have advanced in their impossible pursuit of absolute equality. Men won’t like my answer because it will feel unfair, even though it is born of respect for men’s unique gifts and because it contradicts what feminism has insisted for the past several decades.

Obviously, men and women (boys and girls, really) are equally to blame for getting silly-faced, but — you’d better grab a seat — men should be held to a higher standard. This is not because they’re worse people, far from it, but owing to their superior physical strength and, let’s be honest, the obvious biological and anatomical differences, including, relative to females, copious quantities of testosterone, which fuels both libido and aggression.

Parker doesn’t mention this in her op-ed, but it’s not sexist to point out that men and women metabolize alcohol differently. See here, here, here, here, etc. And new research suggests that it’s not just alcohol, but many drugs, that affect women and men differently. It’s not misogynistic to see that men and women are different, it’s, shall we say, settled science.

The Pro-Family Message in HBO’s True Detective

by Greg Pollowitz

For those who haven’t been watching HBO’s new series, True Detective, I highly recommend it. It’s an extremely well written multi-timeline crime drama and, as I explain below, contains a powerful message of what it means to be a good husband and father. Minor spoilers ahead . . .

Here’s the show’s synopsis from HBO:

Detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart are brought in to revisit a homicide case they worked in 1995. As the inquiry unfolds in present day through separate interrogations, the two former detectives narrate the story of their investigation, reopening unhealed wounds, and drawing into question their supposed solving of a bizarre ritualistic murder in 1995. The timelines braid and converge in 2012 as each man is pulled back into a world they believed they’d left behind. In learning about each other and their killer, it becomes clear that darkness lives on both sides of the law.

Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, is a “cerebral, intense thinker” who “holds a negative view of society which sometimes puts him at odds with his partner Martin Hart.” Hart is played by Woody Harrelson and you can think of him as the exact opposite of Cohle. 

We find early on in the series that Cohle, in the 1995 timeline, is divorced, his marriage having fallen apart after the death of his daughter, and a recovering addict. Hart, in the 1995 timeline, is married with two daughters, drinks too much, and is carrying on an affair with a young courthouse staffer.

Hart, in episodes one through four, has been a remorseless adulterer. He plays off his philandering to the investigators in 2012 with a sort of that’s-what-cops-do shtick. But that false bravado all changes in episode five, where he finally — and painfully — reveals how much his actions have hurt and how much he wishes he could make things different. The short clip below finds Hart, talking to the investigators in 2012, admitting how his relationship with his family changed for the worse. (Mild language warning):

It’s really one of the view times I’ve watched a TV show where the consequences of a man’s actions are so realistically portrayed, and portrayed in such a way that it’s a punch-in-the-nose type of wake-up call to be a better father and husband.

I have no idea where the show is going with its last three episodes — that’s what makes it a great show — but I can tell you things got worse for Hart and his family by the end of the episode, and teasers suggest it gets worse. Maybe the best way to be pro-family is to honestly reveal that actions have consequences and those consequences can’t be fixed.

Al Roker Calls Mayor Bill de Blasio Out over School Closing

by Nancy French

There’s no better feeling than that produced by these two words: Snow Day.

In New York City today, excited kids hoping to stay warm and cozy in their beds for a few minutes longer were met with the cold realization that — even though there’s a blizzard — they had to go to school.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has gotten heavily criticized for this decision — by the city’s teachers’ union and elected officials. But check out these tweet from America’s beloved weatherman Al Roker, who has a daughter in public school:

Then, he made his own forecast, but this time of a political nature:

I knew this am @NYCMayorsOffice @NYCSchools would close schools. Talk about a bad prediction. Long range DiBlasio forecast: 1 term

— Al Roker (@alroker) February 13, 2014

That’s gotta sting more than a case of the frostbite!

When asked about Roker’s comments, de Blasio stuck to his guns (perhaps an inappropriate idiom for the mayor of New York City): “I respect Al Roker a lot. I’ve watched him on TV for many, many years. It’s a different thing to run a city than to give the weather on TV. So I am comfortable with our decision-making.”