Friday, July 25, 2014

The GOP & Governorship of Tennessee

The 2014 Tennessee gubernatorial Republican primary certainly presents the voters with some interesting choices this year. The favorite, of course, is the incumbent governor Bill Haslam who has certainly made his share of missteps. I personally felt that signing SB 3310 was ill-advised. The bill, which stipulates that all public school sex-education curriculum “exclusively and emphatically promote sexual risk avoidance through abstinence, regardless of a student's current or prior sexual experience” or that district will risk "the withholding of state funds by the commissioner of education", is a misguided attempt to legislate morality while addressing teenage pregnancy.

Regardless of your religious or political affiliation; I think we can all agree that the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancy, venereal disease, and awkward class-reunion encounters is to practice abstinence. For that reason, it should always be presented as the taxpayer-funded recommendation in a public school sex-ed program. However, a state-ordered mandate to ignore pre-marital sex among the state’s teenagers is not only foolhardy but fiscally irresponsible. The truth is that the conservative, southern “Bible-belt” states are leading the nation in per-capita pregnancy among 15-17 year olds. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas all make the top 5 and Tennessee is not far behind them.

Image Source: CDC
While there are several socio-economic factors that contribute to these rates, I seriously doubt the discrepancy is due to unfamiliarity with the concept of abstinence in the southern states or the widespread implementation of it in northern ones. We have to provide age-appropriate, data-driven classes that tout the numerous benefits of celibacy while operating under the assumption that a significant number of students have or will chose a much different path. It is in our best interest to equip these children to mitigate the risks of sexual activity both to themselves and their partners while preventing unwanted pregnancy.

That being said, I decided to investigate the other Republican candidates seeking to unseat Mr. Haslam. First up, we have Donald Ray McFolin. McFolin is a retired commercial wildlife artist who decided to challenge Haslam after the governor failed to respond to concerns about the education that his son was receiving. McFolin seems to be a genuinely concerned parent, but I could not locate any information on his stances outside of education reform so I am reluctant to throw him my support.
Donal Ray McFolin
Next, we have Mark “Coonrippy” Brown. Mr. Brown is a divorced father of two who currently lives with his elderly parents in Gallatin. He was inspired to throw his hat into the ring when Tennessee wildlife authorities took his pet raccoon Rebekah and governor Haslam failed to have the animal returned to his care. Coonrippy has enjoyed a level of media notoriety thanks to the YouTube videos of him dancing and showering with Rebekah and her deceased male predecessor “Gunshow.”

Mr. Brown believes that he was targeted by the TWRA and Haslam thanks to his growing Internet fame and the prospect of a reality television show focusing on his life with Rebekah. According to The Tennessean, Brown has held a number of odd jobs including gun safety instructor, firearms dealer, animal control, and an outdoor sports columnist. He also sells handmade crafts and claims to have picked up a little Bosnian from some local mechanics. He told the paper that there are only two authorities that could ever persuade him to drop his bid for governor: The Lord Almighty or the producer of his reality show. Yes kids, we now apparently live in a world where those two entities carry equal weight.
Mark "Coonrippy" Brown
That leaves me with perennial candidate and Internet sensation Basil Marceaux (.com). Details about Mr. Marceaux are somewhat sketchy (he claims to be a Marine Veteran and wears dog-tags and a badge featuring the words “Innocent Bystander” in most of his videos) but what is clear is his approach to cleaning up The Volunteer State.  One of the cornerstones of his campaign is requiring all citizens to carry handguns or face a fine. He has also stated his desire to end traffic stops and relocate the state capital to Chattanooga. He has taken a hard line on violent offenders “If you kill someone, you get murdered” but favors the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Both his speeches and website appear to be rambling stream-of-consciousness political soliloquies with the only difference being that his website also sells telescopes. He has also released a holiday song called “Come Christmas” and a video where he summarizes random Tennessee Supreme Court Decisions over a banjo loop. Despite the eccentricities, his message of government overreach may still resonate with voters.
Basil Marceaux Sr.
If only it were possible to combine the platform of the three challengers into a coherent message, Tennesseans could reside in a education-focused, speeding-ticket free utopia where a taxpayer can freely exercise his God-given right to bathe with a tree mammal. In the meantime, the odds favor Haslam continuing to representing the GOP in Tennessee so I prepared a short, open letter.

Mr. Haslam, 

                    In the name of all things holy and pure, just give the poor guy his pet raccoon back.

We The People

CDC - State Disparities in Teenage Birth Rates in the United States
Guttmacher Institute's May 2014 Report on Teen Pregnancy

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


While driving through the state of Florida, my wife noticed an inordinate number of billboards advertising gynecologists. I say inordinate, because neither of us could ever recall seeing that particular medical specialty advertised on the Interstate before. When you drive as much as we do, you become accustomed to seeing restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, and even questionable spas that seem a little too eager to highlight the fact that they service truckers. We never found this unusual since most of those businesses rely, to some extent, upon the impulsiveness of their audience. Perhaps you are tired and need a place to crash so you see an ad for a Hampton Inn and take the exit or you are hungry and decide to take advantage of the culinary offerings featured on a nearby outdoor sign.

That being said, it is difficult for me to envision someone glancing out from their car window and thinking, “You know what sounds good? An invasive medical exam administered by a complete stranger.” Even more disconcerting was the similarities between the billboards advertising gynecological exams and the ones promoting real estate agents. Both featured the same frozen smiles framed by the same focus-group phrases like “professional” “experienced” and “trustworthy”. 
Thankfully, the parallels eventually ended as only the real-estate agents promised “wider exposure” to their clients.

I suppose some people find the pictures reassuring, but I have to wonder how many people actually hinge their medical decisions on the physical features on the physician. Are there that many people thinking, “I know they are well-qualified and come highly-recommended, but do I really want someone with slightly asymmetrical eyebrows involved in my pap smear?” Conversely, if I was ever window-shopping for a doctor of urology and I saw a picture of a practitioner with comically-small hands; it could work in their favor.

Perhaps there is some regulatory parameter in the sunshine state that lends itself to outdoor advertising for certain medical procedures. Arkansas has always featured an abundance of billboards touting “vasectomy reversals” which I have yet to see advertised in other states. Are Arkansas residents in general statistically more likely to change their mind about voluntary sterility? Is that stretch of the I-40 corridor early enough into most family road-trips that dad can be convinced it would be fun to “have another one”?   
Whatever the reason, I think I would want something more substantial than the presence of an outdoor advertising budget before I would let someone fiddle with my pipes again. I will say that none of these billboards featured faces or reassuring keywords. Although more than one of them prominently displayed the word “affordable”, which is ironic considering the financial impact of the operation’s intended result.

Again, how many men are driving down the road, see a billboard, and decide that sitting on a bag of frozen peas for the next three days would be more fun than whatever activity they had planned? In one instance the “vasectomy reversal” billboard was in close proximity to a billboard catering to those facing an “unplanned pregnancy”. It was unclear whether or not the same service provider had funded both ads, but I suppose it would be rather novel way to monopolize the reproductive market. The same conglomerate responsible for making an unplanned pregnancy possible could then be in a position to swoop in a few months later and attempt to mitigate the effectiveness of the very procedure they performed on the man responsible for your current situation. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What Happened Next Was Amazing!

As I have always been a connoisseur of Internet trends, I feel that I must bring your attention to the recent wave of dramatically overstated media captions. You have all seen them; most of you have probably posted them. They have the exact same setup sentence with just a slight variation on the punchline. The setup sentence will briefly describe an event:
  • A Retired Gym Teacher Has Dinner at Golden Coral……
  • A Kindergarten Class Visits a Federal Penitentiary……
  • Two Hungarian Waitresses Spray Paint an Elephant…..
  • An ASE Certified Mechanic Contracts Syphilis…..
  • This Group of Lutherans Attempts to Purchase Hummus…..
These teaser sentences will culminate in one of two ways:

No One Expected What Happened Next!

What Happened Next Is Amazing!
First of all, if no one expected it then why was someone filming it in the first place? I am not suggesting that everyone featured in the clip was in the know, but generally speaking people don’t film random strangers paying for gas unless they have reason to believe that something more entertaining is likely to occur. Secondly, perhaps we are playing it too fast and loose with the word amazing. If everything that carried this label was truly amazing the word would lose its relevance. Amazing is an adjective best used sparingly.

Personally, I have been accused of overusing the word “fascinating” to describe documentaries, but I wish to succinctly make a case for my stance.

Here are a few things that “fascinate” me:
  • The Changing Demographics of Middle Class America
  • The Logistical Complications of Mounting a Successful Bid for the Presidency
  • Crime Statistics as They Relate to Socioeconomic Status
  • Long Term Effects of Radiation on Plant Life
  • The Unprecedented Rise of Non-denominational Mega-Churches and Those Who Helm Them

Here are a few things that “amaze” me:
  • Dubai’s Construction Budget
  • Bears Using Kitchen Utensils
  • Celebrity-endorsed Mobile Homes
  • Racist Pigeons

Generally, I am fascinated by acquiring unexpected information concerning a known subject whereas I am amazed when I am confronted with something that defies logic or I did not know to have previously existed. This is why I can be “fascinated” by documentaries on prison recidivism rates while being “amazed” when a Shitzu successfully lands a helicopter.

While I am on the subject of Internet trends, I am starting to see more and more use of the word “THAT” to imply widespread infamy involving a public figure. It implies that while something insignificant is currently being reported, it is occurring in close proximity to an event that has become inexorably linked to that person’s image. This technique is most widely used on magazines and websites that publish and disseminate celebrity gossip:

  • Kim Kardashian Unlocks Her Car after THAT Trip to Whole Foods
  • Ryan Gosling Discusses THAT Drawing on his Etch-A-Sketch
  • Nicole Kidman Scratches Her Ear after THAT Altercation with a Hummingbird
  • George Clooney Spotted Drinking Electrolytes after THAT Bout of Dysentery