Saturday, April 12, 2008

In spite of highest funding for abstinence-only, Texas has highest repeat teen birth rate

Abstinence-only is big in Texas.

The Lone Star state gets almost twice as much in federal funding for abstinence-only education as any other state, about $17 million a year. Is this somehow because President Bush lives there and he supports abstinence-only education for teens? Not sure.

At any rate, the abstinence-only plan is apparently not working. Texas has the nation's highest birth rate among teens who already have a baby, at 24%. The national average for repeat births to teens is 20%, and in many of New England's blue states, it's less than 15%.

Part of the discrepancy is due to higher abortion rates in northern states. Nonetheless, even supporters of abstinence-only programs must conclude that these plans are not preventing teens from having sex. Worse, they are failing to educate teens about birth control.


Marian Starkey, December 2007. "Texas has highest repeat birth rate." The Reporter, the magazine of Population Connection.

J. Swedish. "Texas ranks number one in the nation for abstinence-only funding and births to teen mothers. What's wrong with this picture?" Nation Women's Law Center.

See also Dallas Morning News article by Robert T. Garrett

Keywords: abstinence only, teen birth, repeat teen birth, Texas, birth control, protected sex

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kathleen's Tips on Mulching

My friends Kathleen Jardine and Jim Cameron are the most practiced long-term gardeners I know. Kathleen was the first organic gardener I ever met, back when we were students in Oklahoma, and then again when we shared a collective household in Charlotte. Now she and Jim are designers and builders of passive-solar homes (SunGarden Houses) in Chapel Hill, NC. Around their own beautiful home in Chapel Hill, they have one of the most luscious gardens I've ever seen. After we visited them a couple of months ago, my son said, "I'd give anything to live in a place like that," and he meant it. I told him I felt the same way.

But we don't. We live in a squat and homely little house in Charlotte, on a very ordinary little suburban street. We used to have some woods out back, but developers turned it into a subdivision. I'm worried that we might lose some of the big oaks on our street because of our long drought combined with the horrible city-wide cankerworm infestation. The trees are the street's primary asset, and there aren't that many to begin with. If they go, I will be very sad. One massive tulip poplar has already fallen. It just cracked one day and fell over. There wasn't even any wind, although the main trunk had always been leaning, like the leaning Tower of Pisa. I was at the computer and heard a loud crack and then a crash, and then the power went out. I ran outside, and the huge tree had taken down 3 other trees on its way down. Plus, it blocked the street and knocked the utility pole down. The tree had been weakened I think by the drought and the dadgum worms.

In spite of development and drought and cankerworms, we do still have our little raised-bed garden in the side yard. Ken has already got the cool weather plants going, the lettuce and chard and spinach and onions. But it's about time to plant the warm-weather veggies - the tomatoes, okra, beans, peppers. April 15 is the customary date in the Piedmont of NC when another frost is considered unlikely.

Which leads to the subject of mulching. We've been in this drought situation for eight months or longer. Watering is allowed only once a week now. Mulching drastically reduces the amount of water loss from garden soil.

I called Kathleen this morning to ask her about mulching. She said she puts dead leaves around her plants, 3 to 5 inches deep. Any deeper and the water from above can't penetrate. The leaves don't have to be chopped up leaves, but chopped up is good. Then on top of the 3 to 5 inches of leaves, she puts shredded hardwood mulch. She said the hardwood mulch will not wash or float away, so it anchors the leaves. She arranged with the municipal government of a small town near her to deliver the hardwood mulch to their home. The town makes mulch from collected yard waste.

We have plenty of leaves, and that's generally all we use. For our flat and relatively sheltered garden, anchoring is not really necessary. We can, though, get free mulch from Charlotte's recycling center on Hickory Grove Road. It's made of shredded yard waste, much of it shredded wood. Might have some grass seed in it. But still...using it recycles the stuff, keeps it out of the landfill, plus it's free.

I'm leery of buying shredded hardwood mulch, given the deforestation that's going on in the Southeast at the hands of the timber industry. I know that some trees are cut expressly for the purpose of creating mulch to sell in retail outlets; for example, cypress trees in a swath across southern Louisiana.

I'm definitely not buying any dyed mulch, regardless of the source. I learned the hard way about mulch dyed red, after our neighbors laid out a ton of red mulch right next to our organic vegetable garden. I hate confrontation....but I had to do it. Read the story.

Key words: red mulch cankerworms drought April 15 vegetable garden hardwood mulch leaf mulch development gardening Sungarden Houses Kathleen Jardine Jim Cameron cypress mulch

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The car addiction

What is it about cars? Growing up, my eco-groovy family owned three cars. Despite our limited income and ardent environmentalism. In the collective house I live in now, despite the fact that none of us are above the poverty line, every single driving adult owns a car.

Why are they so necessary? In 2008, car ownership has reached almost one car per two people in the U.S. In some parts of the country, it’s as high as .975 cars per person. It sounds ridiculous when you put it that way, but at the same time, it’s hard to remember how else we used to get around!

In my household, three of us got our cars for free. My aunt and uncle gave me their retired station wagon. Likewise, Matt inherited an elderly family car; Catherine adopted her boyfriend’s truck. Nonetheless, we’re spending more on these vehicles than we think. This calculator shows that, even without purchase costs, and even though I bike most places, I’m still shelling out about $100 a month to own my car. Even more disturbingly, the retirement calculator at the bottom of the page tells me that if I invested that money instead, I’d have more than $165,000 by the time I retire. Or $34,000 if I put it in a college fund. Or $18,000 towards a home loan. Wow. Is owning a car really worth all those things?

Especially considering how often I use the car. Since I’ve started biking to work, I’ve gone from driving about 500 miles a month to just over 100. When I bought a tank of gas last week, it was only my second tank since the new year. (Thank goodness!)

My housemates are in similar positions. Brian telecommutes to a non-profit in Washington. Occasionally he bikes to the library or a coffee shop for a change of scenery, but he mostly works from his bedroom. (Commute time = 3 seconds!) Catherine and Matt work at our neighborhood elementary school – a fifteen minute walk, or a two minute bus ride if it’s raining. For the English classes they teach across town on Tuesday nights, they carpool with another teacher who lives down the street.

Still, there are those rainy nights when a bike just won’t cut it. And there are those loads of manure for the garden that require a truck. But really, four cars? I wonder if sharing might be the way to go. If we can get past the habit of having our own personal chariot available at any given moment, I wonder if we could get used to sharing one car between the four of us. I wonder how many other households could do the same. At $3.50 a gallon, I bet we’re not the only ones considering it.
by Sadie Kneidel

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Cheaper than coffee and twice as effective

I couldn’t stop thinking about coffee this morning. It’s been gray and cold for more than a week, and a nice hot cup of caffeine seemed like a pretty necessary step in getting me to work. I couldn’t stop thinking about a particularly delicious, steamy, cinnamony cup I’d enjoyed the day before. I needed that, and I needed it now!

I could just “borrow” a few beans from my housemates’ hoard. No. That’s not nice. I know, I could stop by a gas station on the way to work and stash the cup in my saddlebag. No. That’s both gross and likely to spill. Could I detour past a coffee shop? Could I make Folgers in the teachers’ lounge?

Fortunately, my morning commute has become routine enough that I no longer have much of an internal debate about whether I’m going to do it or not every morning. I just get on my bike and go.

So that’s what I did this morning, albeit coffeeless and sorrowful. I promised myself that if I got to work on time, I could either make myself some or stop and get some somewhere.

Thirty sweaty minutes later, I coasted down the final hill towards campus. A gas station, offering all the coffee I could ever want, was just a few pedals to my right. It was only 7:51. I had time.

But I just rolled on towards school. Funny – now that I could have it, I didn’t need it. After riding straight into the sunrise, with a cool, stiff breeze blowing over my face and down my collar, I felt pretty darn awake. My heart was pounding, my mind was alert, I was brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for the day. The equivalent of a shot of espresso at least.

by Sadie Kneidel

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Exciting New Discovery: Chimps' Short -Term Memory Is Better than Humans' (see video)

Dr. Matsuzawa with smart chimps Ai and Ai's son Ayuma

I have mixed feelings about keeping chimps in captivity. As I've written about before, chimps in medical or pharmaceutical labs often lead miserable lives.

But keeping chimps in captivity, when all their needs are met, has some benefits. For one thing, sustaining healthy breeding populations in zoos can help to ensure their survival. Most wild populations of chimps are threatened by habitat loss, by the illegal trade in wildlife, and by being hunted for "bushmeat."

Another benefit to humane captivity, in a stimulating and social environment, is that behavioral researchers can broaden our understanding of just how smart chimps are, and how many traits they share with humans. Chimps are, after all, our closest living relatives, genetically and evolutionarily.

I was very excited to see recent chimp research from Kyoto University that demonstrates chimps are actually better than humans at some types of short-term memory.

I worked with chimps for a couple of years in my early days of grad school, with Dr. Roger Fouts at the U. of Oklahoma. He was one of the pioneers in teaching chimps to use American Sign Language. Their capacity for language has been well established by a number of researchers now.

But the memory test in Kyoto is a new thing. It's the first demonstration I've seen that chimps can surpass humans at a cognitive skill.

This new test is a Concentration-like game using numbers on a computer screen.

“We were very surprised to find this,” said Tetsuro Matsuzawa of the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University. “But it’s a very concrete, simple fact. Young chimps are superior to human adults in a memory task.”

Dr. Matsuzawa and a c0-worker, Sana Inoue, began by training chimps to recognize the numbers 1 through 9 in order. Ai, an adult female who was the first chimp trained, performed as well as adult humans.

But when the researchers tested chimps younger than 6, the primates had a touch screen where scattered numbers appeared for up to two-thirds of a second and were then covered by white squares. After the shortest exposure time, about a fifth of a second, the young chimps had an 80 percent accuracy rate at tapping the numbers in their proper sequence, even though they could no longer see the numbers. This was far superior to adult humans’ accuracy rate of only 40 percent. The findings are described in Current Biology.

Human subject (Image: Matsuzawa/Current Biology)

A human subject selecting the wrong white squares

Dr. Matsuzawa said the chimps' ability might be similar to a "photographic memory," which is seen rarely in human children.

But however they do it, it's certain that "young chimpanzees have a better memory than human adults," asserted Dr Matsuzawa. "We are still underestimating the intellectual capability of chimpanzees, our evolutionary neighbors."

Dr. Lisa Parr, who works with chimps at the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University, described the Kyoto research as "ground-breaking". She said it's importance is unparalleled. "They are our closest living relatives and thus are in a unique position to inform us about our evolutionary heritage," said Dr. Parr.

She concluded that these elaborate short-term memory skills may have been shared by a common ancestor of chimps and humans, but may have lost their importance in humans as we grew increasingly reliant on language-based memory skills.

Chimp (Image: Matsuzawa/Current Biology)

A young chimp, before the numbers are covered (see this video on youtube)

How fast can you count the numbers? Take the test and see.

What's more important to me than learning about our evolutionary connections is learning how valuable these animals are to us right here and now. How can we eat animals that are as intelligent in some ways as we are? Surely this is motivation to protect the world's dwindling populations of chimpanzees more effectively than we are now.

If you want to learn more about protecting populations of wild chimpanzees, see Jane Goodall's website.


Henry Fountain. Dec 4, 2007. NY Times. "Chimps Exhibit Superior Memory, Outshining Humans."

U.S. labs import thousands of wild-caught primates

Chimps and gibbons have human elements to their speech

Research shows older females preferred as mates

Top 6 ways to protect wildlife from commercial trade

Wildlife trade, forestry, and the value of activism

Monkeylala (by Ken Kneidel)

Key words: chimps, chimpanzees, intelligence, animal intelligence, counting, short-term memory, Kyoto University