Sunday, December 26, 2010

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
Daniel O’Neill

I had always been one to talk back to my parents and authority. I didn’t mean anything by it—some kids did it for attention from either their peers or from the authority in question. I only talked back when someone was bullshitting the facts. “Don’t make that face it will get stuck that way,” my mom would say. “No it won’t! I do this all the time, again and again, and it hasn’t gotten stuck yet!”

I learned early enough that people can alter the facts the way they want in order to get their way, or to get a point across.

Was my mom lying? I suppose she was—of course your face won’t get stuck. But what I know now, and what at that age I didn’t know, was that my mom wasn’t a mastermind pulling strings behind the curtain. She was just trying to keep the peace and get me to stop pestering my sister. Being a young boy, I was far from getting ready to jump on the table, point my finger and declare “fraud!” But I knew there was something I had to keep my eye on. What I learned early on, and what everyone eventually learns, is that not everything you hear is going to be true.

When I started getting older, and making faces at my brothers and sisters wasn’t occupying much more of my time, I still kept the same attitude—still questioned authority. I found people everywhere withholding information and oversimplifying things, sometimes to get their way. I found that people love reasoning. People could reason their way through anything.

At this point I’d like to say that I am not a paranoid person. At least I don’t think I am…

I’m in college now and I’ve seen over and over how humans change up ideas. They oversimplify things, they associate things together that actually have nothing to do with each other, and they sometimes even resist factual information when it goes against their principles. They choose to go against scientific and/or statistical results. Recently I’ve been interested in indentifying situations where this “manipulation” of information becomes a serious problem such as in politics and decision making.

Some claims made recently by conservatives and those with right-leaning biases are a prime example of manipulation of data. It was not uncommon to hear that Obama’s health care reform, signed in March of 2010, was the largest tax increase in American history.

I remember hearing this left and right. Friends I didn’t even think knew or cared about politics or taxes had this opinion. They had somehow acquired that knee-jerk reaction that comes with watching too much TV, or that comes with reading just the headlines from newspapers or online news articles. Obama raised taxes. Makes sense right? He is a Democrat. And Democrats’ thing is raising taxes. I’m afraid it’s not that simple.

The three highest tax hikes in American history came from George Bush I, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan.

First off, we must keep in mind that in order to argue about taxes we need to have an accurate way to measure increases and decreases. The revenue effect as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic product) is considered the best way. Using the percent GDP this way we can account for inflation and therefore have the most accurate measure. Secondly, the Obama administration’s health care reformation is not just one bill. It is comprised of two pieces of legislation: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act. Both of these were signed by Obama at the end of March 2010.

These two acts that make up Obama’s reform of health care are full of many extreme changes in government spending and revenue collection. There is a lot of money going in and a lot of money going out. We have to look at the net effect of the tax cuts and tax increases.

The government’s nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that the “total net effect is that the bill would bring in an additional $525 billion in total revenues over the next 10 years.” $525 billion coming in sounds like a lot. But does that mean that it is the biggest tax increase in American history? Nope. Using the measure of percent GDP, Obama’s plan is “slightly smaller than the tax effect in the fifth years of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 (a tax increase signed by President George H.W. Bush) and the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (a tax increase signed by President Bill Clinton)” (Farley)

Republicans and conservatives, after sidestepping past Clinton’s and Bush’s tax hikes, then went on to completely disregard the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 signed by Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s reform package constituted 0.8% GDP (average for the first two years). This was the largest tax hike in recent American history. Obama’s health care reform package comes to less than ½ a percent of GDP.  Jim Horney who is the director of federal fiscal policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has said of this 0.5%: "It's not insignificant. But it is far from being the largest tax increase in recent history."

Partisan bickering in American Politics is full of this kind of manipulation of data. Those against Obama’s health care reform were able to highlight spending while diminishing revenue collections. A particular side can construct facts or sometimes lie completely.

An interesting study done by the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School showed that people have a tendency to resist factual information if it happens to go against their beliefs. The study, entitled The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of - and Making Progress In - The American Culture War of Fact, was conducted between December 2006 and September 2007 and includes data obtained from surveys and experiments of some 5,000 Americans.

This study attempted to assess the opinions of people with differing cultural outlooks on varying controversial issues such as gun control, global warming, nanotechnology, and mandatory HPV vaccinations for school age girls. The analysis of opinions regarding global warming was quite interesting.

The conclusion of this study found that the policy solution to global warming “strongly influences […] willingness to credit information about climate change.”

When told the solution to global warming is increased antipollution measures, persons of individualistic and hierarchic worldviews become less willing to credit information suggesting that global warming exists, is caused by humans, and poses significant societal dangers. Persons with such outlooks are more willing to credit the same information when told the solution to global warming is increased reliance on nuclear power generation. (Kahan)

The worldviews which they talk about in the study come from this framework for classifying individual’s cultural values:

The Hierarchical worldview is one in which people believe that “rights, duties, goods, and offices should be distributed differentially and on the basis of clearly defined and stable social characteristics” such as gender, wealth, lineage, ethnicity. This is generally known as a Conservative ideology. Opposite this worldview is Egalitarianism, where rights, duties, goods, and offices should be distributed equally and without regard to things like gender, wealth, etc. This is a Liberal perspective.

The Communitarian worldview is the belief that the interests of the society should take precedence over individual ones. The Communitarian perspective believes that society “should bear the responsibility for securing the conditions of individual flourishing.” This is also a Liberal ideology.

Opposing this worldview is the Individualistic view. This is a very Conservative, Libertarian ideology. Individualism holds the belief that it is individual who should “secure the conditions of their own flourishing” without assistance of “collective interference.” (Kahan)

In the experiment, each subject was given one of two versions of a newspaper article which reported a study by scientists. In both versions of the newspaper it was reported “that the temperature of the earth is increasing, that humans are the source of this condition, and that this change in the earth’s climate could have disastrous environmental economic consequences.” The difference between the two articles is that one called for “increased anti-pollution regulation” and the other called for “revitalization of the nation’s nuclear power industry.” (Kahan)

Here is a graphical display of the results taken from the study:

From this study it is seen that the ways people shape their ideas on policies relies heavily on their cultural views and individual worldviews. Instead of arriving at sensible conclusions by thoroughly looking at scientific evidence, free from biases, Americans end up resisting factual information simply because it goes against their beliefs.

Everybody knows, or at least everybody should know, that you can’t believe everything you hear. You’ve heard this time and again. You have to also keep an open mind. From what I’ve encountered in researching the ways people think and the way people respond to information, perhaps the public should take another look at this old adage and try to find the energy not to take the easy way out of their information gathering.

 Kahan, Dan M. The Second National Risk and Culture Study: Making Sense of—and Making Progress In— the American Culture War of Fact. PDF file. Sept 27, 2007. <http://papers.ssrn.
com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1017189> <> <

Thursday, December 23, 2010

WikiLeaks: A Reading

Holy polemical rhetoric, Batman! (No, not you, Putin.) In the last few weeks lightning rod WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange have been metamorphosed into diabolical super-villains or ultra-righteous super-heroes, depending on who’s drawing them. Let’s take a deep breath, and masticate this bolus for a minute before we try to choke it all down.

Last week, I approached this topic like any journalist might: with the desire to say something new. I wanted to examine Assange’s philosophy, as opposed to his actions per se, to try to trace out the conceptual links between his push for government transparency and, on the incoming end, the public’s demand for greater regulation of the economy; and, on the outgoing end, a growing consciousness of the disparity between a global economic structure and a national political framework. What I found, however, was far more complex. 

Much of what has been said thus far focuses on the normative aspects of this controversy: whether the actions of WikiLeaks should be seen as desirable, or even permissible. It is a very polemic issue in that it is attempting to renegotiate the boundaries between accountability and security and, in the process, conceivably inflicting undue harm upon others. Nevertheless, information is a fundamental tool of democracy and as such it belongs in the hands of the public on whose behalf the government operates. Political apathy is endemic in American society. At the very least, WikiLeaks has presented an opportunity for democratic participation. 

But the sheer magnitude of information made available by WikiLeaks raises a whole host of other issues, many of which point to the global order as potentially harmful to citizens. Whether its China’s status as the U.S.’s “banker,” or the propensity for massive infiltrations of state secrets, the interconnectedness of the world has, again, been made excruciatingly clear. 

In an article that appeared in a June issue of The New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian wrote of Julian Assange, “He had come to understand the defining human struggle not as left versus right, or faith versus reason, but as individual versus institution.” Assange envisions himself as a champion of the people – a technologically proficient incarnation of FDR. Or, as suggested by Dr. Craig Murphy of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at UMass Boston, even of Woodrow Wilson, whose first of fourteen points advocated “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.” 

A noble sentiment, but the question on everyone’s lips has been: “Is such a diplomatic process feasible?” I interviewed Dr. Eben Weitzman, who is the Chair of the Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance Department at McCormack, and he spoke of something called “second tables.” This is an important concept when considering the work of diplomacy. Second tables, he explained, is a term used to signify the dualistic character of negotiation. If the “first table,” is the diplomatic table, then the “second table” is the one at which sits the state department official to whom the diplomat will report. This is true on both sides and at both ends of “the table”: each diplomat will sit again with their respective heads of state, and each respective head of state will have to justify policy decisions to the general public. As Dr. Weitzman put it to me, “If people can’t have confidential conversations, then their ability to negotiate is severely hampered.” Besides, save for the inflammatory comments that, when published, effectively caught many diplomats with their pants down, the private face of diplomacy seems to look a lot like its public face. In many ways, the most recent cables paint a picture of diplomacy that is already surprisingly transparent. 

Which may be more than can be said for WikiLeaks as an institution. Although Assange has been given the blessing of Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower responsible for leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, many still question the legitimacy of his organization. Steve Coll, who operates a blog for The New Yorker, wrote, “Assange declares that he is pioneering an improved, daring form of journalism. That profession however, despite its flaws, has constructed its legitimacy by serving as a check on governmental and corporate power within constitutional arrangements that assume the viability of the rule of law.” And Khatchadourian points out “Assange must confront the paradox of his creation: the thing that he seems to detest most – power without accountability – is encoded in [WikiLeaks] DNA.” 

In his provocative essay “We, the People of Europe?” Étienne Balibar noted a similar paradox with regard to the existence of borders around a democratic state: “They [borders] are the absolutely nondemocratic, or ‘discretionary,’ conditions of democratic institutions.” There is a significant irony in the fact that Assange’s organization, with which he hopes “To radically shift regime behavior,” retains some of the inherent contradictions of that so-called regime. Furthermore, if Assange is looking to encourage transcendence of the national political model, he will be faced with the same challenges in providing internal protection for his sources as international organizations are faced with in protecting human rights; viz., the fact that any form of trans-national belonging is always underpinned by a web of international treaties among sovereign states. 

Hannah Arendt, in a 1951 statement of prophetic clarity and resonance, wrote, “Deadly danger to any civilization is no longer likely to come from without…The danger is that a global, universally interrelated civilization may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages.” It is precisely this kind of danger that Assange is trying to subvert through the WikiLeaks mission. 

Within the current globalized landscape, there is no longer any spot on the planet that is not subsumed under state control. If individuals are forced out by their state, then they become what Arendt would call naked in their humanity. State borders that have traditionally delineated not only nationality, but also social standing, have been drawn towards the centers of civic space --– there is a Chinatown in every major U.S. city. The problem with this model, as Balibar points out, is that “by definition, a globalized market has no “outside” in either a geographical or a sociological sense…There exist only forms of inner exclusion.” It may be possible to view WikiLeaks as an attempt to move outside of this model in order to foster conditions for new forms of inclusion. By eschewing the traditional contextualization processes of journalism, Assange may be offering an unmediated opportunity for the public to engage directly with these forces of globalization and “inner exclusion.” By allowing the general public open access to wide sheaths of information, he is effectively wresting control from institutions and making everyone, himself included, accountable to the public not only for their specific actions, but also for their ideals and overarching policies. In this respect, I think we are seeing a progressive kind of transparency from Julian Assange. 

As it appears at the current moment, this controversy has polarized the general public into those with security concerns who maintain status quo support for national politics, on one end of the spectrum, and those with concerns about over classification who maintain liberal theories of transparency and democratic control on the other. In the end, Assange can only work to maintain standards of fair and balanced reporting that some believe have been abandoned or obscured by the traditional news media. If he is able to do that, then we may be seeing the advent of a new kind of journalistic integrity after all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Too Old To Drive

Have you ever endured the aggravation of being stuck behind an elderly driver, unable to pass as they maintain a constant speed of 15 miles per hour below the speed limit? Have you ever narrowly avoided a crash because an elderly driver was no longer able to operate their vehicle in a safe, capable manner? If so, you're not alone. In a report done by the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety, accident claims drastically increase after a person turns 65. Further research by has found that older drivers are more likely to be involved in multi-vehicle crashes than younger drivers, and with the number of drivers over age 70 expected to triple in the U.S over the next 20 years, things will only get worse.

In 2007 there were more than 20 million licensed drivers 70 years and older in the United States, according to The Federal Highway Administration. That same year in the state of Massachusetts, drivers in this age group accounted for 32 fatal accidents, or 11 percent of the state's fatal crashes, while accounting for only 13.5 percent of the total population in the state. Nationally, drivers between the ages of 75 and 84 are responsible for a vehicular fatality rate equal to that of teens; the rate quadruples for drivers over the age of 85. This comes as a great surprise because teenage drivers are often considered to be the most dangerous liabilities to safe driving. It is alarming to see how clearly the statistics show a direct correlation between aging and car accidents.

So, what's being done? Not much for many states. Advocates for the rights of the elderly have made it difficult to impose driving restrictions against older drivers, claiming that these restrictions are the product of age-discrimination. There are some states, however, that have been able to move past this debate and impose regulations to ensure the safety of elderly drivers.

The most logical approach in guaranteeing a person's driving ability would be mandatory driving tests; however New Hampshire and Illinois are the only two states who have successfully enforced these road tests. Both states require all drivers age 75 and over to be retested in order to continue operating a motor vehicle legally. Using A less progressive approach, 23 different states are enforcing drivers over age 65 to renew their driver's license every two years, in person. These states feel that a person proves to be a competent driver just by showing up at the Department of Motor Vehicles. There are 16 states, however, who have taken it a step further by mandating all applicants participate in an eye exam with each renewal. This method has had greater results than simply enforcing renewals every two years. In Florida, where eye exams are required for drivers over the age of 80, only 7 percent have actually failed the test. The program was still a success, however, encouraging 20 percent of the over 80 population to forgo renewing their licenses out of fear of failing the eye exam. Since the eye exam was enforced in 2004, vehicular related fatalities for drivers over the age of 80 dropped from 14.88 deaths per 100,000 residents to 12.34 per 100,000 residents. This may not sound like a major improvement, but in a state with 15 million residents, the numbers are actually quite large. .

While vision testing has certainly proven to be effective, there are many other ways that aging impacts a person's driving abilities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that "safe elderly drivers require the complex coordination of many different skills. The physical and mental changes that accompany aging can diminish the abilities of elderly drivers. These include: a slowdown in response time; a loss of clarity in vision and hearing; a loss of muscle strength and flexibility; drowsiness due to medications; and a reduction in the ability to focus or concentrate." Many elderly drivers are involved in crashes that occur because of reasons beyond poor eyesight. In 2009, within a 3 week period of time in Massachusetts a 92 year old man killed his wife when he slammed into her while backing their car into a parking space, an 83 year old woman died when her husband collided with another vehicle and a 4 year old girl was pronounced dead after an 89 year old woman hit her in a crosswalk. One of the worst cases of poor elderly driving occurred in Santa Monica, California, when an 86 year old man drove 300 yards through a crowded farmer's market, killing 10 people and injuring many more. Blood tests were taken following the crash confirming that the man was not under the influence of alcohol and had not been using prescription or recreational drugs. In a statement following the crash, the man claimed that he had tried everything from stomping on the break pedal to jamming the car into park, but could not get the vehicle to stop. Apparently, the pedal he was stomping on was the accelerator, not the break pedal, which lead to speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour during his 300 yard plunge through pedestrians and street vendors. The man was convicted with 10 counts of vehicular man slaughter with gross negligence, the harshest penalty for his actions. He faces a possible 18 years in prison.

Recently I met with Tony Forbes, a 95 year old resident of Winchester, Massachusetts about his experience operating a vehicle as an older man. Until a few months ago Forbes drove his vehicle every day, but after missing a stop sign, as many senior drivers do, he caused a three car collision. Fortunately no one was seriously injured in the crash, but his family took the car away and sold it in order to prevent further incidents. When I asked Forbes about the collision he exclaimed, “It wasn't my fault. I don't know why everyone keeps making such a big deal out of this.” Later he offered to show me his car so I could see the damage from the crash. I reminded him that his family had sold the vehicle months ago, but he insisted that I was wrong and that the vehicle was parked out front. Eventually I obliged for him to show me and he was very concerned to see the car was missing. “Somebody stole my car! I'm calling the police” he declared. Fortunately his daughter lives next door and was able to remind him that the car really had been sold, which took much convincing and left him very upset. Since the sale of the car 3 months ago he has called to report the vehicle stolen twice, according to his daughter, who is his primary caregiver. It's scary that this man is still legally licensed to drive by the state of Massachusetts and, if not for his family, could still be operating a motor vehicle on a daily basis with no concern from the state.

The state of Maryland has recognized the many ways age effects the driving abilities of the elderly. After assembling a group of nearly 1900 volunteers between the ages of 55 and 96, state officials conducted a test consisting of basic commands and asked the subjects to repeat simple movements. The criteria was designed specifically to test the cognitive skills of the volunteers. In January, 2006 the results were published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society and concluded that those who performed poorly on the test were 25 percent more likely to cause a car crash. Because of the test results Maryland is the only state that mandates cognitive screenings for drivers with concerning records and behaviors. The only trouble with this program is that it is not necessarily preventative. Drivers with concerning records have already caused accidents. Sure, the state is keeping them from causing more, but true prevention would keep them from causing any.

In 2003, California had introduced a trial program designed to prevent unfit drivers from maintaining a driver's license, and hopefully reduce the number of accidents caused by incapable drivers. The system required drivers of all ages to pass a driving knowledge test, cognitive screening and a vision exam. Each step was considered a tier in this three-tiered system. If a driver were to fail either of the first two tiers, a road test would be required in order to renew their driver's license. Those who could not pass the vision exam, however, were automatically failed. The trial only involved 152 drivers, and the results were inconclusive, which lead to California abandoning the project before it could be implemented.

The number of accidents caused by older drivers is undoubtedly concerning. It may not be possible for all states to require road testing for all older drivers, but most states need to consider a more aggressive screening system for the elderly. Some may argue that this is age-discrimination, however, the numbers prove the safety risks created by unfit elderly drivers, and it is clear that more needs to be done to improve this problem.

MTV's 'Teen Mom:' Harmful or Helpful?

Each week, millions of viewers tune in to watch teen girls try their best to be parents on national TV. About a year and a half ago, MTV started a new reality show known as "16 and Pregnant." The show featured about six girls around the age of 16 struggling to juggle school, family, friends, and relationships on top of having a baby on the way. They are forced to push aside their own dreams and put their babies first. For some reason, teens and young women, including myself, got addicted to the show, which airs on Tuesday nights at 10pm. The show became so popular that it is now in its third season with all different girls, and also led to a spinoff known as "Teen Mom," which just finished its second season and is scheduled to being its third season in January. This show revolves around four girls from "16 and Pregnant" and how they are raising their newborns to toddlers as well as dealing with other drama. The series' pilot episode was the highest rated premiere on MTV in over a year with 2.1 million total viewers, and the season one finale brought in 3.6 million viewers. The second season of the show premiered on July 20, 2010. For its season finale, it pulled in over 5.5 million viewers. What is it about teen pregnancy that we find so fascinating? Is seeing an average, everyday person struggle something we find comforting? Maybe people were sick and tired of watching shows about rich celebrities show off their cars and houses, and enjoyed seeing people that remind them of those from everyday life. Either way, teen pregnancy is a hot topic in Hollywood that everyone is always buzzing about. For such a taboo subject, many celebrities seem to have no problem discussing their personal lives in the pages of magazines, the internet or TV.

The original stars of 16 and Pregnant
When Jamie-Lynn Spears, Britney Spears' little sister, went on the cover of the December 31, 2008 issue of OK! magazine at the age of 16 to announce her pregnancy, it was their best-selling issue of the year. (And she was paid $1 million to do so.) These are the types of celebrities that young girls look up to, so what kind of message does it send when these girls are having babies? They might think it's easy because TV and magazines portray it that way, but being a teen mom is no picnic. Although shows like "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" show some of the struggles of being a teen parent, let's not forget that these girls are getting hefty paychecks from MTV to share their lives with the world. (It has been reported that they receive $60-$65,000 each per season.) What teens need to realize is that everything they see on TV is not real- it's just reality TV. All of the attention prompts the question of whether the young women's rise to pop prominence glamorizes teen pregnancy and motherhood. Child psychologist Laurie Zelinger says, "While a teenage parent may be doing the best they can, they don't have all the information to weigh their options. The emotional part of them says, 'Wow, this is exciting getting my 15 minutes of fame,' but they're not always thinking of the effect on the child. I think it does increase the likelihood that for some people, they will say, 'I can do it, too.' "

Two stars of "Teen Mom", Maci Bookout and Catelynn Lowell, spoke out about how they feel the show impacts other teens. "I'm not trying to glamorize teen pregnancy," says Lowell, who adds that she and boyfriend Tyler Baltierra regularly communicate with their daughter Carly's adoptive parents. "If anything, I'm trying to stop it or at least try to make (teens) make better decisions like using protection or birth control. I'm doing the show for a good reason — to show teens that these are struggles that you go through when you become a young mom." Bookout concedes that all of the attention is "weird" for her and her son Bentley but says that the larger picture is more important. "I don't think I would ever regret doing '16 and Pregnant' or 'Teen Mom' because I did it for educational reasons," she says. "I definitely think it's doing its job, because some of the feedback I get from younger girls is really good as far as, 'I'm going to wait to have sex' or 'I'm going to use safe sex.' That was my goal. I didn't do it for the fame or for the attention."

It's not just celebrities who are discussing teen pregnancy openly. Lifetime Movie Network released "The Pregnancy Pact" on January 23, 2010 and drew in 23.3 million viewers in its first four airings. Also, out of 214 Lifetime Original Movies, it is ranked as the fourth highest. The movie is based on the 2007 media circus surrounding 17 teenagers in Gloucester, MA who allegedly had a pact to all get pregnant together. The girls were all 16 or younger, and most of the fathers weren't in high school. At least one was 24 years old. Superintendent Christopher Farmer said, "They will have a baby as part of their life to give them status. Motherhood gives them status." Doctor Elisabeth Guthrie, a pediactric psychiatrist, said, "It sort of gives you the impression of being an adult, an independent. It may give you an opportunity for unconditional love and attention from the baby and also that you give to the baby." Clearly, some teen girls are not taking the possibility of becoming pregnant and raising a child seriously. This opens up a whole new can of worms in regards to whether or not schools should provide sex education programs and birth control to teens rather than preach abstinence all the time.

The sad fact is, 3 in 10 girls in the U.S. will get pregnant at least once by age 20, and 1 in 6 girls in the U.S. will be a teen mom. An estimated 750,000 teens will become pregnant this year. Babies born to teens are more likely to grow up poor, have health problems, be abused and neglected, fail in school and eventually become teen parents themselves. Less than half of teen moms graduate from high school, and 8 out of 10 fathers don't marry the teen mothers of their babies. Also, less than 2% of teen moms earn a college degree by age 30. These facts are something to think about. "Babies are great—they’re cute and cuddly and they love you. But they’re also needy and selfish—they want all your time and attention and they want it NOW. Be honest—there are a million things you'd rather be doing than changing a diaper, right? So if you decide to have sex, have you considered the consequences of getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy? Weirdly enough, almost 50% of teens have never thought about how a pregnancy would affect their lives even though having a baby could be one of the most life-changing things to happen to them" (

"Although sexual behavior among teens in the United States is similar to that of teens in other developed countries, teens in the U.S. are less likely to use effective forms of contraception. The result is that the U.S. has the second highest teen birth rate among 46 countries in the developed world" ( Findings from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) show that one third of teen pregnancies end in abortion. Meanwhile, a teen who chooses to carry her pregnancy to term runs the risk of experiencing complications, usually because she fails to obtain proper prenatal care. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a pregnant teen is less likely to gain the appropriate amount of weight and is more likely to smoke during her pregnancy. Because of this, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unintended Pregnancy, babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be premature, and almost 10% have a low birth weight. In addition, children born to teenage mothers have significantly lower cognitive test scores at age two, compared to children born of intended pregnancy. Health problems to the fetus aren't the only risks a pregnant teen faces. According to ACOG, most teens (90%) who carry their pregnancy to term decide to raise their child themselves. Very few teens look to adoption as an option. Teen mothers are less likely to finish high school or get married, and are more likely to live in poverty, reducing their ability to properly care and provide for their children. Their low or nonexistent income makes it more likely that they will seek public assistance and depend on welfare. Diapers are expensive, but it's nothing compared to the $9 billion that teen pregnancy costs the United States each year. Teen fathers are also less likely to finish high school, and the jobs they hold will most likely be lower paying then those of men who wait to have children. ACOG has found that the daughters of teen mothers are more likely to become teen mothers themselves, while the sons of teen mothers have a higher chance of being incarcerated than children with older parents.

"The teen birth rate has declined slowly but steadily from 1991 to 2002 with an overall decline of 30 percent for those aged 15 to 19. These recent declines reverse the 23-percent rise in the teenage birth rate from 1986 to 1991. The largest decline since 1991 by race was for black women. The birth rate for black teens aged 15 to 19 fell 42 percent between 1991 to 2002. Hispanic teen birth rates declined 20 percent between 1991 and 2002. The rates of both Hispanics and blacks, however, remain higher than for other groups. Hispanic teens now have the highest teenage birth rates. Most teenagers giving birth before 1980 were married whereas most teens giving birth today are unmarried. The younger a teenage girl is when she has sex for the first time, the more likely she is to have had unwanted or non-voluntary sex. Close to four in ten girls who had first intercourse at 13 or 14 report it was either non-voluntary or unwanted" ( The primary reason that teenage girls who have never had intercourse give for abstaining from sex is that having sex would be against their religious or moral values. Other reasons cited include desire to avoid pregnancy, fear of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and not having met the appropriate partner. Three of four girls and over half of boys report that girls who have sex do so because their boyfriends want them to. Teenagers who have strong emotional attachments to their parents are much less likely to become sexually active at an early age and less likely to have a teen pregnancy.

Not having sex at all is the only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy and STDs. If you do choose to have sex, you need to make sure that you use protection correctly every single time. There are a variety of types of contraception, so do some research and figure out which method is right for you. "Whether you choose to have sex or not, it is important to be able to talk about it with your partner. Having direct conversations about sex can be difficult or embarrassing, but if you are confident about your facts and able to express openly how you feel, it should be easier. So take some time to get informed and to think through what feels right for you. It may be helpful to talk these decisions over with a close friend, parent, doctor, or other trusted adult before you talk to your partner. When you are clear about your own feelings, it will be easier to communicate them to someone else. And don’t wait until you’re in the heat of the moment to make these decisions—having a plan means being prepared before you’re in the moment" ( "Most people say teens should remain abstinent but should have access to contraception. 94 percent of adults in the United States and 91 percent of teenagers think it important that school-aged children and teenagers be given a strong message from society that they should abstain from sex until they are out of high school. 78 percent of adults also think that sexually active teenagers should have access to contraception to prevent teen pregnancy. Contraceptive use among sexually active teens has increased but remains inconsistent. Three-quarters of teens use some method of contraception (usually a condom) the first time they have sex. A sexually active teen who does not use contraception has a 90 percent chance of teen pregnancy within one year" (

"To help prevent teen pregnancy, it is essential to educate teens on sex and birth control methods. Sex education is important for both girls and boys, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has effectively implemented programs that promote healthy decision-making among the teen population. These decisions include delaying sexual activity, reducing the number of partners an individual has, and increasing the use of contraceptives and condoms" ( ACOG recommends that girls begin visiting an ob-gyn between the ages of 13-15. This increases the chance that she will have had her first visit before becoming sexually active. Ob-gyns are well equipped to offer accurate information about sex, pregnancy, and STDs. They can discuss pregnancy prevention, such as types of birth control methods, as well as educate teens on the importance of safe sex practices. Teens are often too embarrassed to ask certain questions, and ob-gyns can address the subject in a thorough and professional manner. Besides doctors, parents also play a major role. The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health found that the more connected teens feel to their parents, the less likely they are to begin having sex at an early age. Research has shown that positive communication between parents and their children helps young people to establish values and make healthy decisions. And, according to the Advocates for Youth, teens who receive accurate information about sex from their parents are more likely to delay becoming sexually active, and to use contraceptives when they do.

The stars of Teen Mom

I know a number of people I graduated high school with or grew up with that either became pregnant or became parents in their teens. Most chose to keep their babies and raise them themselves, with the help of family members. Others chose to have an abortion, and none chose adoption. I have seen people struggle over what decision to make and have seen the way it has impacted their lives in both positive and negative ways. While there is no doubt in my mind that they love their children, I'm sure they would have rather waited and given them a better life than they have now by either graduating from college or getting a well-paying job. Some people simply cannot wait to start their own families, and I know a couple of girls who have two or three children and are under the age of 24. I could simply never imagine doing this, and I see what a struggle it is for them. Hopefully teens will stop focusing on what they see on TV and read in magazines and see the real picture. Learn the facts, look at the statistics, and then decide what is best for you. I believe that every woman has the right to choose what happens to her own body, and whatever decision she makes is the best one for her. Before you start doing anything, just stop and take a look at yourself in the mirror. Get educated on teen pregnancy and do not choose to become just another statistic.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Facebook Frenzy

Facebook Frenzy

Is Facebook going too far this time? Facebook launched its new messaging system this past Monday. Facebook Message will incorporate chat, text messaging, status updates, and email. But is this new feature going to be an overload for the company and its users? Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t think so.

Zuckerberg’s view of email is that it is too slow, formal and cumbersome. Is this statement accurate for all email users? Teenagers believe it is a dead form of communication. This is why Zuckerberg created this new messaging system. He wants to reach out to teenagers by making this type of communication easier and faster for them. But what about being professional and having a job that uses email? Zuckerberg cannot think that million dollar companies will take an applicant seriously if they present a email address to them. For the younger generation this may be okay, but companies and adults still believe that email is a professional and easy way to communicate.

Zuckerberg is pushing this issue too heavily. There are so many technological issues that can go wrong. Also, people many not even want to use the new feature. Many older, adult users of Facebook may find it much too challenging to have all these features grouped in one place. Some may not even understand how to use it. So, why is Zuckerberg pushing to change the Facebook world yet again? It may be because he has the notion that “a modern messaging system is [not] going to be e-mail.” Zuckerberg knows that people in America already spend an enormous amount of time on Facebook. If this new messaging system proves to be successful it will increase how much time is spent on Facebook and thus, create much more revenue for him.

This is one of Facebook’s biggest engineering projects; it took 15 months and 15 engineers to produce. It is no wonder why Zuckerberg would need to gain more revenue; he just spent all his money creating this new messaging system. Hopefully, this new feature will not be as successful as Zuckerberg has planned. The reason being is because people will be consuming more Facebook every minute of the day, things may become confusing and the privacy of one’s email, messages and chats may be broadcast to the whole Facebook community. We all know stated in the New York Times article on November 15th, 2010 “that the company’s privacy practices have often drawn scrutiny” from the public and its users.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pancake Fuck Night: An IHOP Story

All you can eat pancakes for six measly bucks: IHOP had seduced us without even trying. When my friends Dunner, Matt and I learned of this yearly promotion (mid-January to mid-February), there was no pause at all to think of what was to come next.

Very soon, it would be pancake o’clock.

One thing didn’t sit right with us, though, because three dudes sitting at an IHOP for two hours binging on mid-grade pancakes was actually rather pathetic-looking. So, we took our favorite train of thought one-way express to crazyville, where only one conclusion came out to greet us. Three people might be pathetic, but thirty people is a party, don’t matter how you slice it. Within a minute of this promotion’s discovery, all you can eat was turned into all who could eat, and Pancake Fuck Night was born.

Now as we all know, IHOP is no place special. Most of the time I find myself there, it’s not because the restaurant fits just perfectly into my ideal night out. We were out to change that this time and with a group of twenty-eight people we made the half-mile march from my home - a noisy gaggle of sophomoric laughter which fell upon the IHOP with unrestrained enthusiasm, as we jokingly said that we planned to keep eating until the restaurant ran out of pancake mix, and we could demand a refund and coupons due to lack of service. Before long, three hours had passed, several hundred pancakes eaten, and everybody said their goodbyes and dispersed into the night. Dunner and Matt and I, the administrative element, was pleased with how the night had gone down. But we were playing the long game, and had already begun our discussion for the next year’s feast.

The year passed all too quickly, but we had the advantage of several months’ planning time, organization for Pancake Fuck Night II beginning three months in advance. To our surprise, the second night was twice the party of the first one in literally every way: Our attendance doubled to sixty-two people. Over the course of four hours, we racked up a bill of almost five hundred dollars, ate four hundred and fifty pancakes, weaponized over a thousand packets of salt and pepper, and generally raised all kinds of hell. Thankfully though, we were in possession of a coupon for 20% off the entire bill, saving us over fifty dollars in what was agreed by all in attendance as a marvelous dick move against the restaurant.

In the aftermath, I began to wonder if there was any way to top our second year’s event. There are only so many people we all knew to invite, and 2009 had scraped the bottom of the barrel for attendees. But unbeknownst to us a very powerful ally was coming to life behind the scenes as our tremendous group broke off and went back home. The power of local legend.

Two months ago, I made the announcement for Pancake Fuck Night III, with the modest goal in mind of increasing attendance by half: ninety people or bust I said. What I wasn’t aware of was that two years of raiding IHOP gets people talking. In the months since, our simple gatherings had become the sort of thing one could make his friends feel like a fool for missing. “You’re doing another pancake night?!” a friend wrote to me right after my announcement was sent across the width and breadth of the Facebook, “I’m SO in! No way I’ll miss this!” she finished.

It wasn’t long before people began inviting their friends, and their friends’ friends, and the original goal of ninety people that I thought to be lofty was met and trumped in a mere three days. I should have thought something was up right then, but it never occurred to me how quickly something can snowball.

So now, some sixty days after planning began, the Pancake Fuck Night III Facebook event has four hundred and fifty confirmed guests, with another four hundred righty-nine maybes. We’re scratching at a thousand people now, almost five times the legal number of people that IHOP can hold. I’m shocked and amazed, absolutely taken aback by the scope of the beast that my two friends and I unknowingly begot only three years ago. This will undoubtedly be the most titanic event any of us have ever organized, and the planning will be a frustrating, long process. But if we can pull this off, if we can get a thousand people into that restaurant over the course of a day, we might actually accomplish our jackass objective from the first year’s night, and run that IHOP’s pancake vault straight into the ground.

For anyone and everyone interested in attending Pancake Fuck Night III, please see the information for the event here, at the Pancake Fuck Night III Facebook page

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Email Comes to Facebook

Yes. It has happened. Email has come to Facebook.
Why? Oh, as a result of talking with teenagers. Yes, that’s right, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced an ambitious development on November 15th, transforming Facebook from a social networking site to an all-out communication system.

After speaking with high-schoolers, Zuckerberg discovered that although most of them had email accounts, barely any actually utilized them, leading him to make the assumption that email is essentially a thing of the past.

His new service, which is currently open by invitation only until available to all users, brings chat, texting, status updates, and email together in one convenient location.

That’s right, you will soon be able to flaunt an email address! But, do you really want to?

According to Zuckerberg, email has become “too formal, too slow, and too cumbersome” and he makes it quite clear that his great idea will get folks off regular email. However, what it sounds like is that Zuckerberg is turning a no brainer into an aggregated belief. Of course the majority of teens do not use email; what reasons or obligations do most have to do so? That should not by any means imply that email is old fashioned, or as Zuckerberg says, “showing its age.”

Facebook, as we all know it, is a social site. I don’t know about my fellow adults, but I think I can safely assume that most of us would not want our email address associated with any aspect of Facebook. The popular site is far from professional and while an email address may suit the needs and interest of adolescents, I have witnessed too many job downfalls as a result of entangling work and play on Facebook. I think I’ll keep my friends in one spot, and my professional life in another, thank you.

As for having everything together in one place, I am pretty sure that I can muster up enough energy to log into my secure yahoo account, and then, yes, open up another tab for Facebook. I am not quite sure of the last time my email was unmanageable either. I can actually recall many a moment in which I sat there longer waiting for my statuses to update than my email inbox.

Some analysts say that people will begin to use Facebook’s system more than their familial email accounts, but I say that’s crazy. Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and Google ain’t going nowhere. Bring it on.

$o Hungry

December 9, 2010- A local favorite, Pearl Street Station on 53 Summer Street, in Malden, Massachusetts, offers a variety of great, cheap food. The restaurant offers the typical take-out menu options, such as pizza and subs, with the added benefit of specialty items usually only found in chain restaurants or at a grocery store, such as seafood and lamb. How many pizza joints have you seen with lamb or shrimp on the menu? The restaurant also offers a comfortable sit-in dining area, a plasma screen television equipped with sitting area for all sports fans and a bar.

The sit-down dining area is spacious with seats similar to traditional train cars, all with the added benefit of trains passing behind the restaurant. Pearl Street Station offers a friendly environment suitable for the family and for private functions. And if you’re planning a party at your house, you can order a Party Pan from the menu. All Party Pans serve 25-30 people and you can order anything from the main menu, from steak tips to shrimp scampi.

On a recent visit, I found out that Pearl Street Station offers 20 cent wings on Mondays and Sundays, but only during football games. If that does not appeal to you, then the steak tips sure as hell will. Grilled to order in barbeque sauce, the tips are mouth watering and can be ordered as part of the restaurant’s Just the Ticket Combo with ribs, lamb or sausages and a side of garlic mashed potatoes, fries and/or rice pilaf, all for around $14. And depending on how hungry you are, you could get all four meats (steak tips, lamb, sausages and ribs), also with two sides, for $16.

If the sit-in area does not appeal to you, the horseshoe shaped bar might. With excellent bartenders who can whip up any drink you’d like and plasma screen televisions scattered around the bar, you will find yourself relaxing after an exhausting day. A perfect place to meet up with friends, or make new ones, you will end up coming back to Pearl Street Station, as many already do. Then, there is The Jar, filled with little scraps of paper that have numbers on them; pick the slip of paper with your table's number on it and your meal is free.

Pearl Street Station is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 A.M. to 2 A.M. and on Sunday from 1 P.M. to 12 A.M.

By: Samantha Sarantakis

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jamie's Grille and Pub

If you are looking for a low-cost, high-quality meal, look no further than south of Boston at Jamie’s Grille and Pub. With three convenient locations in Braintree, Whitman, and Scituate, it seems there is always one nearby. It is a great place to go with family and kids for a great meal or to have a nice cold beer with friends after work or on weekends.

Established in 1967, Jamie’s Pub has been in operation for over forty years. As a matter of tradition Jamie’s offers the highest quality food served in large portions at affordable prices, providing their customers with exceptional value. Their menu features seafood delivered fresh daily from local markets, fresh poultry and the finest hand selected meats. They provide a large selection of lunch and dinner specials including roast prime rib of beef every weekend night.

Jamie’s continually strives to be an integral part of the community. They support numerous charities along with local youth and adult sporting teams and programs. Jamie’s is truly a neighborhood restaurant providing their patrons with a unique and enjoyable dining experience.

Jamie’s serves breakfast at two of their three locations and includes bagels, muffins, oatmeal, cereal, fresh fruit, toast, eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes and more. There are many specialties including different styles of eggs and omelets. Breakfast is available in the Scituate restaurant Monday-Friday 6:30am to 11:00am, Saturday 6:30 am to 11:30am, and Sunday 6:30am to 1:00pm. Braintree serves breakfast on Saturdays 7:00am to 11:30am and Sunday 7:00am to 12:00pm.

Lunch is available at all three locations Monday-Saturday from 11:00am to 4:30pm. There are many options to choose from, including soup, salad, clam chowder, chili, salmon, scallops, baby back ribs, veal parmesan, burgers, chicken, wraps, pizza with a variety of toppings, and sandwiches. They also offer lunch specials daily, including macaroni and cheese and shrimp. Basically, no matter what you are in the mood for, Jamie’s will undoubtedly be able to satisfy your cravings with their endless selection of delicious food!

Dinner is available at all three locations Monday-Thursday 4:30pm to 10:30pm, Friday and Saturday 4:30pm to 11:30pm, and Sunday 1:00pm to 10:30pm. Appetizers include buffalo wings, potato skins, onion rings, nachos, and a wide variety of soups and salads. There are choice steaks and tips that are premium USDA choice and hand cut. They serve them on warm skillets to keep them piping hot and juicy right to your table. Jamie’s also has seafood, meatloaf, chicken pot pie, fajitas, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, pizza and more. There are dinner specials that include roast prime rib of beef and chicken scampi. The possibilities are endless!

Weeknight Specials include:
Monday: Roast Beef Dinner- $10.99 (all you can eat)
Tuesday: Fish and Chips- $11.99 (all you can eat)
Wednesday: Italian Pasta Night- $8.99 (all you can eat)
Thursday: Shrimp Festival- $12.99 (all you can eat)

Besides having excellent food, Jamie’s also gets rave reviews on their service. Here are a few quotes from their website about visitors’ experiences:

"My server Nikki was great! She made me and my family feel very welcomed, also she was very delightful. Probably the best service I've had when my family and I went out to eat. She constantly came over and made sure everything was good and if we needed anything else, which I loved. She was very friendly and I appreciate having her as a server, I can't wait to come back and have Nikki. Keep up the good work!" -Martha from Braintree

"I have been here many times over the past few years. This was the first time I have been on an all you can eat night. Let's just say it will not be the last! As I tell everyone, It's always worth the trip from RI." -Sterven M. Abatiello from Rhode Island

Jamie’s is a family friendly restaurant with a great atmosphere, quality food and excellent service. I have been to the Whitman location numerous times and always have a nice, relaxing experience. The prices are reasonable and the staff is friendly. I would recommend it to anyone looking to have a nice meal and not spend a fortune.

63 Columbian Street

360 Gannett Road

769 Bedford Street