Saturday, April 14, 2007


Danny and Clara are my four-year-old nephew and niece.

"Danny, why did Clara eat only the heads off all her Peeps?"
"Maybe they were looking at her."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Choose Responsibility: License 18 – 20-Year-Old Drinkers

John McCardell was president of Middlebury College. He dealt with quite a bit of binge drinking and stupid drinking by underage students. Because drinking was both widespread and illegal for most students, the college was in the worst-of-both-worlds bind. They could not successfully prevent all youth drinking, but only drive it more or less underground. And they could not legally teach students how to drink responsibly.

When McCardell retired as president, he decided to do something about it. He has created an organization, Choose Responsibility, to teach and license 18, 19, and 20 year olds to drink alcohol.

I think Choose Responsibility has a great idea, and I support it wholeheartedly.

I am a teetotaler. I will have a sip of champagne in a toast if my mom asks me to, but that is about it. I don't care for alcohol, and am Irish enough not to want to develop a taste for it. I don't think alcohol is immoral – Jesus made wine, so it can't be all bad – but I don't want to have it in my life.

Nonetheless, most of the people I know and respect do drink alcohol in moderation. Most students will try alcohol in college. Most young people will drink as a rite of passage as well as a social good in its own right.

What I worry about is binge drinking and drinking to get drunk. This is a problem on my campus, and just about every campus in America. For the non-collegiate young adults, drunken drinking is probably an even bigger problem, with fewer institutional controls.

I want those students who do drink to learn how to do it in moderation. I think the best resource that an educational institution has to achieve any goal with students is to teach about it. Moreover, I think that the faculty are, on the whole, an excellent source of examples of how to drink responsibly and moderately. Colleges miss a vital teachable moment when we do not teach students how to drink the right way.

The initial debate has been tangled up with the drunk driving debate, which is not really relevant. Student drunkenness is still a problem even if they don't drive. Leaving students to pick up their alcohol education in the gutter makes no more sense than leaving them to learn to drive covertly and by trial-and-error.

At this moment, the Choose Responsibility movement seems quixotic, but it is a good idea. Its time will come, and soon.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

HPV Vaccine is a Centrist Issue

I have two teenage daughters. This summer, they will get the Human Papillomavirus vaccine. They are good girls, and I expect they will stay that way. Still, I don't know what will happen in the future, including the whole sexual history of their future (and now entirely hypothetical) husbands. The idea that there is a vaccine to prevent cancer and other lesser horribles seems like a wholly good thing to me. I am as grateful for the existence of the HPV vaccine as I am for the polio vaccine. If they ever invent a male version of the HPV vaccine, my son will get it, too.

So why is this an issue? Some people want to make the vaccine mandatory. Others opposed giving it at all. That is exactly the situation that begs for a centrist solution.

The argument for making it mandatory is the same as the argument for other mandatory vaccinations. This is a contagious disease that we can prevent, so let's prevent it. The vaccination cost is much smaller than the treatment cost. The whole society would be better off if we could wipe out this virus by giving it no hosts to live in.

I do think it would a good thing if all people who could benefit from the vaccine get vaccinated. I will leave it to the doctors to specify that population. Right now the CDC is saying girls and women from 11 to 26 should be vaccinated. I am not sure why they set that upper bound, but I will assume there is a good medical reason.

The argument against using the vaccine at all is that making sex safer encourages extramarital sex. This negative argument is advanced by pro-family Christians, but it is based on fear – if kids fear sex, they won't have any. I am a pro-family Christian, but I am against fear mongering. As I have argued before, fighting the culture of fear is the gruntled centrist issue. I try to dissuade people from extra-marital sex because it isn't good for their marriages and for the culture of marriage – not because it might kill them. We should try to prevent disease even if the people who get it in some way deserve it. Moreover, the sex diseases can easily spread to people who really don't deserve it.

Still, HPV, though very widespread, is not quite as contagious as, say, the polio virus. If some people opted out it would be a loss, but it wouldn't defeat the purpose of mass vaccination. They might opt out on moral grounds, or on sheer civil liberty grounds, both of which, I think, a free society should accommodate whenever possible.

So where does this leave us? I favor state-mandated vaccination of all girls, with the state paying the bill for poor people. If some people want to opt out, they should be permitted to. The rest of us can try to persuade them not to – as I am trying to do now – but that is a freedom that a free country can allow. Besides, a few years later, those "opted out" girls can make their own decision to get vaccinated if they want to.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What Should Classy Women Do With Don Imus, Woolly-Headed Fool?

One of my favorite interlocutors asked me a pointed question this morning:

"Am I the only one wondering why on earth Rutgers University or its coaches would be willing to have their women basketball players give Don Imus an audience, be in the same room with him or participate in his repentance-and-redemption dog and pony show?

I think that they should issue a terse statement that Mr. Imus is not welcome on their campus.

It’s like some fundamental law has been forgotten in all the media drama. Nobody is so important that they get to call a group of young women 'nappy headed ho’s' and then get to be in the same room with them."

I agree entirely with the main point here: no one is so important that they deserve an audience with people they have insulted.

I also have thought Don Imus was a fool throughout his career. I don't understand what his audience is. At least Rush Limbaugh has "dittoheads" who agree with his views. The "shock jock" audience, on the other hand, seems to listen for nothing more than that something shocking be said, whether they agree with it or not. It is no surprise to me that he said something shockingly stupid about the Rutgers women's basketball team. He says something shockingly stupid every day. That is his job.

If I were the president of Rutgers I would have blasted Imus and asked other responsible persons in the university to publicly help make him and all his works unwelcome at Rutgers.

Still, I am glad that coach Vivian Stringer and the young ladies who play for her responded to Imus as they did. They were so classy that they raised the tone of sports discussion in general, if only for a moment.

Which brings us to the question of why and whether the team should meet with Imus. If I were the coach, I would not meet with Imus, and I certainly wouldn't go to his studio. On the other hand, the women of the team seem to be considerate young ladies. They don't want to just leave Imus in the gutter, precisely because he is in the gutter. They are giving him a chance to redeem himself. Given the mealy-mouthed apologies that he has given already, I think he will probably make it worse.

Nonetheless, I think the Lady Scarlet Knights continue to show class. I look forward to their return to the tournament next year.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Emotional Moodreading Drug For Men

Women are better at reading emotions from other people's facial expressions than men are. A new study suggests that oxytocin, the sociability-inducing hormone that women get by the bucketload from childbirth, boosts mood-reading. Researchers in Zurich found that men could also read moods from faces much better after they were sprayed with synthetic oxytocin -- but only for a short time.

So, gentlemen, if you ever find yourself caught in an "if you really loved me you'd read my mind" loop, carry a discrete supply of oxytocin in a nasal sprayer and give yourself an edge. Think of it as leveling the playing field.

Who knows, maybe someday they will put the stuff in the water supply, like fluoride, to improve social life.

Monday, April 09, 2007

R.I.P Johnny Hart: He Put the A.D. in B.C.

Johnny Hart, the cartoonist who drew the "Wizard of Id" and "B.C." comic strips, died over the weekend. As the most explicitly Christian major cartoonist, it was appropriate that he died at the drawing board on Easter weekend.

I have thought it happily peculiar that the pre-historic cartoon called "B.C." was the one most likely to talk about Christ. In recent years Hart even added a character named "Anno Domini" to make ingenuously Christian observations to the cavemen and cavewomen who populated the strip.

Thank you, Johnny Hart, for adding to the wonderful weirdness of life.