Category : Current

Students at Duke University have spent the last few weeks on twitter about a female freshman student who flies out to Los Angeles on occasion during school and leads a double life as a porn starlet. The porn-star-student was outed by fellow freshman Thomas Bagley, reports The Chronicle, Duke’s student rag. Bagley told The Daily Caller that the starlet divulged her secret to him. Bagley said she swore him to secrecy. He obviously then went ahead and told a bunch of people at a fraternity event almost immediately but he still didn’t get into the fraternity.

The sex-worker student doesn’t want her real name revealed — or even her slutty porn name revealed — despite the fact that she has now done at least two interviews, written a monologue about herself and been invited to speak in various Duke classes on the topic of sex work.

She explains to XOJane:That a woman could be intelligent, educated and choose to be a sex worker is almost unfathomable.

The student claims she entered the adult film industry as a way to help pay the exorbitant cost of attendance at Duke, where the grand total for tuition, fees and room and board is about $58,000 per year. However, it’s not clear how much her extra-curricular activities help relieve her financial burdens.

The student describes herself as a “nerdy,” “very sexual” libertarian-leaning Republican. She wants to be a lawyer someday. For now, she is a “proud women’s studies and sociology double-major” who despises Duke’s Greek scene. She told The Chronicle that she feels “at home” when she is in the porn world. She feels less at home when she is on the Duke campus.

“I feel like girls at Duke have to hide their sexuality,” she explained. “We’re caught in this virgin-whore dichotomy.”

However, with increasing scrutiny of her private life, gossiping and external pressure it remains to be seen how this story will develop. The student claims it is “probably the most empowered I have ever felt”, but with her parents unaware of her moonlighting career and potentially getting pressured to leave the University and her dreams of becoming a lawyer it remains to be seen whether she’ll still feel the same way in the near future.

Transgender Ex-Italian MP Vladimir Luxuria says she was detained at the Sochi Winter Olympics for waving a rainbow colored banner with the words ‘It’s Ok to be Gay’ in Russian.
Vladimir “Vladi” Luxuria is never one to go unnoticed.  The 48-year-old transgender, who prefers to be referred to in female terms, was the first openly-gay member of any parliament in Europe when she was elected in 2006.  She was also the first European to be arrested during the Sochi Winter Olympic games for demonstrating about gay rights.  Luxuria says she was detained on Sunday night by two plain clothed officers in the Olympic park where she was waving a rainbow colored banner with the words “It’s Ok to be Gay” in Russian.  She was questioned for several hours and released, according to Italy’s Foreign Ministry which activated its crisis control unit to keep an eye on the situation.  “I couldn’t understand what was going on because they were talking in Russian and no one translated for me,” she said in a televised interview wearing an “I ‘heart’ trans” t-shirt.

Putin transgender

She says she came to Sochi to protest because a “certain man named Vladimir is homophobic” and her intent was to spread peace and underscore the importance of human rights. The Olympic authorities told Italian news service ANSA that they had no record of Luxuria’s arrest. “We’ve talked to police and they have told us there is no record whatsoever to any detention or arrest,” Alexandra Kosterina told ANSA, adding that it was common practice for minor incidents to go unrecorded. Writing on her personal website, Luxuria says she intends to go back to the police who detained her to retrieve her flag.

On Monday night, Luxuria intended to attend an ice hockey match in Olympic Stadium. “I don’t intend to go unnoticed,” she told Reuters reporters in Russia.  “If they won’t let me wave a flag with ‘It’s Ok to be Gay’ written on it, I will just shout it. I know how to say it in Russian.”

Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has never offered true depictions of women. Instead it’s famed for showing fantasy girls. This year for the cover shot, the magazine has decided to dispense with any tangible sense of realism, by bringing out an inanimate 55-year-old female who’s a collection of fake body parts - Barbie.

The swimsuit issue has always been comfortable with stirring up potentially controversial swimsuit issues. It’s featured models wearing nothing but body paint. Just last year, it took a heap of flak for its use of people of color as “props” for its bikini-clad babes. But the choice of Barbie as cover girl is unusual for an issue generally understood to be primarily a self-pleasuring tool for dudes. Perhaps SI is now aiming for the 7-year-old girl demographic?

On the cover, the legendary blonde is called the “doll that started it all” and poses with her head turned saucily over her shoulder and her hand jauntily on her hip. And in SI and Mattel’s campaign for the cover, she comes bearing the defiant hashtag #unapologetic. This is not the demure, wide-eyed toy generations of girls have grown up with. She’s appearing in Target this month as Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Barbie, but you can also call her Suck On It, Haters Barbie.

Inside the new issue, an advertising spread by photographer Walter Iooss Jr., who has shot famed SI swimsuit models from Cheryl Tiegs to Kate Upton, pays homage to other “legends.” A Mattel spokesperson told AdWeek this week that “Every year the Swimsuit edition sparks conversations about women and body image, and Sports Illustrated stands unapologetically behind this issue that women, in reality, love. Unapologetic is a rally cry to embrace who you are and to never have to apologize for it.” In a statement, Mattel said the campaign celebrates “some of the world’s most famous swimsuit legends — like Barbie — who have gone on to break boundaries, build empires and shape culture.” The company added that, “As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks,” posing for SI “gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be #unapologetic.”

As a colleague notes, this is what is known as obvious trolling. You plan on getting mad again this year about hot, barely clothed women in a sports magazine again this year, world? Here. Here’s a plastic one. Here’s every woman’s first role model of an unattainable body image. Happy now?

Mattel, which has faced steeply declining sales in the past several quarters, may have thought that presenting its most iconic figure in this new light would be a great way to get attention. And attention it has received. But now what? Does that translate into bigger sales, or even meaningful conversation? Barbie is not a contestant on “The Biggest Loser.” If she has endured criticism for her body, let it be remembered that it has never penetrated her tiny, rubbery ears. She’s not a survivor or an innovator or a role model. She’s not a person. She’s a freaking mass-produced doll. So you don’t get to trot her out as some badass champion of body positivity, and you sure don’t get to do it in the pages of a magazine whose annual swimsuit tradition revolves entirely around trying to incite boners to the max.

Barbie herself isn’t a tool of oppression — I played with her, my daughters have played with her, and so far we’ve all somehow managed to avoid being BRAINWASHED BY THE PATRIARCHY. Sometimes she even gets to do cool stuff like be an engineer or a doctor. But by turning her into an SI model, Sports Illustrated and Mattel are making a statement, and that statement is, “We both get called out all the time for sexism and we think it’s ridiculous so ha ha ha here’s Barbie where Heidi Klum used to be.”

Thanks for the cheeky condescension, corporate halfwits. And by the way, good luck with all that. Maybe SI swimsuit model Barbie will be a blockbuster at Target, but I imagine some parents might want their daughters’ toys to fall under a different aspirational rubric than “something men like to leer at.” A lapse in judgement from the editors that might just come back to bite them.

Edited article. Original article by Mary Elizabeth Williams. You can follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

In a departure from its traditional spring marketing, luxury retailer Barneys is launching a campaign to raise awareness about transgender issues. Barneys’ campaign, called “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters,” is the latest in a long history of trans-acceptance by the fashion industry. In the early 1960’s, British Vogue featured a transsexual model April Ashley and in the latter part of the decade, Candy Darling was Andy Warhol’s transgender muse. Decades later, as transgender people began to emerge more fully in the public eye, “America’s Next Top Model” broke convention by casting a trans woman named Isis King in 2008 and a Brazilian transgender model, Lea T, appeared in a 2010 ad campaign for Givenchy.

There are an estimated 700,000 trans people living in the United States, according to the Williams Institute, which is relatively small compared to the estimated 8 million gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults in the US. In the US, transgender people are unemployed at double the rate for the general population—four times for trans people of color—and they are more likely to be homeless and commit suicide. In August, close to Barney’s flagship store a man in Harlem reacted angrily after discovering a woman he’d hit on was transgender, he killed her.

“While the lesbian, gay and bisexual community has made enormous strides in this country in this last five to ten years, it has always been glaring to me that the trans community has been left behind,” said Dennis Freedman, Barneys’ Creative Director. “It seemed an important time to do this.”

One-third of American women are living under or near the poverty line, is one of the shocking findings The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink reveals. The report is coauthored by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress. The report features extensive research on women’s roles in the economy as well as personal essays from Beyoncé Knowles, Hillary Clinton, Eva Longoria and LeBron James.

According to the report, 42 million women and the 28 million children who depend on them are living at less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line — equivalent to an annual income of $47,000 supporting a family of four.

In the introduction, Shriver explains that these dire circumstances are due to a confluence of cultural and economic factors:

These are not women who are wondering if they can “have it all.” These are women who are already doing it all — working hard, providing, parenting, and care-giving. They’re doing it all, yet they and their families can’t prosper, and that’s weighing the U.S. economy down.

Three critical factors contributing to women’s poverty are:

  1. Women are more likely than men to work in “pink-collar” service or caregiving positions, which are usually poorly paid and lack benefits.
  2. Even though women earn the majority of post high-school degrees, higher education is difficult to obtain.
  3. Single-parent families are increasingly common. According to the report, “more than half of the babies born to women ages 30 and younger are born to unmarried mothers, most of them white.”

As Shriver writes in the report’s opening chapter: “Leave out the women, and you don’t have a full and robust economy. Lead with the women, and you do.”

Here’s hoping that this new report will lead to tangible change.

The full text of The Shriver Report is available for download on Amazon.com.

Reports trumpeting basic differences between male and female brains are biological determinism at its most trivial, says the science writer of the year.

As hardy perennials go, there is little to beat that science hacks’ favourite: the hard-wiring of male and female brains. For more than 30 years, I have seen a stream of tales about gender differences in brain structure under headlines that assure me that from birth men are innately more rational and better at map-reading than women, who are emotional, empathetic multi-taskers, useless at telling jokes. I am from Mars, apparently, while the ladies in my life are from Venus.

And there are no signs that this flow is drying up, with last week witnessing publication of a particularly lurid example of the genre. Writing in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia revealed they had used a technique called diffusion tensor imaging to show that the neurons in men’s brains are connected to each other in a very different way from neurons in women’s brains.

This point was even illustrated by the team, led by Professor Ragini Verma, with a helpful diagram. A male brain was depicted with its main connections – coloured blue, needless to say  – running from the front to the back. Connections within cranial hemispheres were strong, but connections between the two hemispheres were weak. By contrast, the female brain had thick connections running from side to side with strong links between the two hemispheres.

“These maps show us a stark difference in the architecture of the human brain that helps provide a potential neural basis as to why men excel at certain tasks and women at others,” said Verma.

The response of the press was predictable. Once again scientists had “proved” that from birth men have brains which are hardwired to give us better spatial skills, to leave us bereft of empathy for others, and to make us run, like mascara, at the first hint of emotion. Equally, the team had provided an explanation for the “fact” that women cannot use corkscrews or park cars but can remember names and faces better than males. It is all written in our neurons at birth.

As I have said, I have read this sort of thing before. I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. It is biological determinism at its silly, trivial worst. Yes, men and women probably do have differently wired brains, but there is little convincing evidence to suggest these variations are caused by anything other than cultural factors. Males develop improved spatial skills not because of an innate superiority but because they are expected and encouraged to be strong at sport, which requires expertise at catching and throwing. Similarly, it is anticipated that girls will be more emotional and talkative, and so their verbal skills are emphasised by teachers and parents. As the years pass, these different lifestyles produce variations in brain wiring – which is a lot more plastic than most biological determinists realise. This possibility was simply not addressed by Verma and her team.

Equally, when gender differences are uncovered by researchers they are frequently found to be trivial, a point made by Robert Plomin, a professor of behavioural genetics at London’s Institute of Psychiatry, whose studies have found that a mere 3% of the variation in young children’s verbal development is due to their gender.  “If you map the distribution of scores for verbal skills of boys and of girls, you get two graphs that overlap so much you would need a very fine pencil indeed to show the difference between them. Yet people ignore this huge similarity between boys and girls and instead exaggerate wildly the tiny difference between them. It drives me wild.”

I should make it clear that Plomin made that remark three years ago when I last wrote about the issue of gender and brain wiring. It was not my first incursion, I should stress. Indeed,  I have returned to the subject – which is an intriguing, important one – on a number of occasions over the years as neurological studies have been hyped in the media, often by the scientists who carried them out. It has taken a great deal of effort by other researchers to put the issue in proper perspective.

A major problem is the lack of consistent work in the field, a point stressed to me in 2005 – during an earlier outbreak of brain-gender difference stories – by Professor Steve Jones, a geneticist at University College London, and author of Y: The Descent of Men. “Researching my book, I discovered there was no consensus at all about the science [of gender and brain structure],” he told me. “There were studies that said completely contradictory things about male and female brains. That means you can pick whatever study you like and build a thesis around it. The whole field is like that. It is very subjective. That doesn’t mean there are no differences between the brains of the sexes, but we should take care not to exaggerate them.”

Needless to say that is not what has happened over the years. Indeed, this has become a topic whose coverage has been typified mainly by flaky claims, wild hyperbole and sexism. It is all very depressing. The question is: why has this happened? Why is there such divergence in explanations for the differences in mental abilities that we observe in men and women? And why do so many people want to exaggerate them so badly?

The first issue is the easier to answer. The field suffers because it is bedevilled by its extraordinary complexity. The human brain is a vast, convoluted edifice and scientists are only now beginning to develop adequate tools to explore it. The use of diffusion tensor imaging by Verma’s team was an important breakthrough, it should be noted. The trouble is, once more, those involved were rash in their interpretations of their own work.

“This study contains some important data but it has been badly overhyped and the authors must take some of the blame,” says Professor Dorothy Bishop, of Oxford University. “They talk as if there is a typical male and a typical female brain – they even provide a diagram – but they ignore the fact that there is a great deal of variation within the sexes in terms of brain structure. You simply cannot say there is a male brain and a female brain.”

Even more critical is Marco Catani, of London’s Institute of Psychiatry. “The study’s main conclusions about possible cognitive differences between males and females are not supported by the findings of the study. A link between anatomical differences and cognitive functions should be demonstrated and the authors have not done so. They simply have no idea of how these differences in anatomy translate into cognitive attitudes. So the main conclusion of the study is purely speculative.”

The study is also unclear how differences in brain architecture between the sexes arose in the first place, a point raised by Michael Bloomfield of the MRC’s Clinical Science Centre. “An obvious possibility is that male hormones like testosterone and female hormones like oestrogen have different effects on the brain. A more subtle possibility is that bringing a child up in a particular gender could affect how our brains are wired.”

In fact, Verma’s results showed that the neuronal connectivity differences between the sexes increased with the age of her subjects. Such a finding is entirely consistent with the idea that cultural factors are driving changes in the brain’s wiring. The longer we live, the more our intellectual biases are exaggerated and intensified by our culture, with cumulative effects on our neurons. In other words, the intellectual differences we observe  between the sexes are not the result of different genetic birthrights but are a consequence of what we expect a boy or a girl to be.

Why so many people should be so desperate to ignore or obscure this fact is a very different issue. In the end, I suspect it depends on whether you believe our fates are sealed at birth or if you think that it is a key part of human nature to be able to display a plasticity in behaviour and in ways of thinking in the face of altered circumstance. My money is very much on the latter.


In their study, Verma and her colleagues, investigated the gender differences in brain connectivity in 949 individuals – 521 females and 428 males – aged between eight and 22 years. The technique they used is known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a water-based imaging technology that can trace and highlight the fibre pathways that connect the different regions of the brain, laying the foundation for a structural connectome or network of the whole brain. These studies revealed a typical pattern, claim Verma and her team: men had stronger links between neurons within their cranial hemispheres while women had stronger links between the two hemispheres, a difference that the scientists claimed was crucial in explaining difference in the behaviour of men and women.

But the technique has been criticised. “DTI provides only indirect measures of structural connectivity and is, therefore, different from the well validated microscopic techniques that show the real anatomy of axonal connections,” says Marco Catani, of London’s Institute of Psychiatry. “Images of the brain derived from diffusion tensor MRI should not be equated to real connections and results should always be interpreted with extreme caution.”This point is backed by Prof Heidi Johansen-Berg, of Oxford University, who attacked the idea that brain connections should be considered as hard-wired. “Connections can change throughout life, in response to experience and learning. As far as I can tell, the authors have not directly related these differences in brain connections to differences in behaviour. It is a huge leap to extrapolate from anatomical differences to try to explain behavioural variation between the sexes. The brain regions that have been highlighted are involved in many different functions.”

How do you measure rape and sexual assault? It’s a difficult question and the answer impacts a couple of highly charged debates. As in: If you believe the measurements that say sexual violence against women is significantly on the wane—as one prominent national survey shows—then you might argue against spending a lot of money fighting it. Or you might argue that binge drinking among women doesn’t really explain the problem of sexual assault, since the drinking has increased even as the rape numbers have fallen.

On the other hand, if you’re worried that the same measurement tool—the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey—is vastly undercounting sexual violence against women, especially when it comes at the hands of men they know and in the company of drinking or drugs and that it’s time to stop letting “a misplaced fear of blaming the victim” prevent college educators—and the rest of us—from warning “inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.”

How helpful, then, that the Justice Department asked the National Research Council (part of the National Academies, which also includes the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine) to study how successfully the federal government measures rape. The answer has just arrived, in a report out Tuesday with the headline from the press release: “The National Crime Victimization Survey Is Likely Undercounting Rape and Sexual Assault.” We’re not talking about small fractions—we’re talking about the kind of potentially massive underestimate that the military and the Justice Department have warned about for years—and that could be throwing a wrench into the effort to do the most effective type of rape prevention.

The NCVS statistics show the rate of completed and attempted rape in the United States declining from a high of 5 percent of girls and women victimized annually in 1995 to a low of about 2 percent from 2005 to the present. Sounds good, right—men behaving better, women protecting themselves more. But here are the flaws that call the nice-sounding stats into doubt: The NCVS is designed to measure all kinds of crime victimization. The questions it poses about sexual violence are embedded among questions that ask about lots of other types of crime. For example:

(Other than any incidents already mentioned,) has anyone attacked or threatened you in any of these ways: a) with any weapon, for instance, a gun or knife, b) with anything like a baseball bat, frying pan, scissors, or stick, c) by something thrown, such a rock or bottle, d) include any grabbing, punching, or choking, e) any rape, attempted rape or other type of sexual attack, f) any face to face threats, OR g) any attack or threat or use of force by anyone at all?

That’s not a good way to prompt women (or men) to report nonconsensual sex, broadly speaking, especially if they haven’t previously gone to the police—as most rape victims don’t. As the new report puts it: “This context may inhibit reporting of incidents that the respondent does not think of as criminal, did not report to the police, or does not want to report to police.”

The NCVS also doesn’t include scenarios in which a victim is unable to consent to sex because she or he is “drunk, high, drugged, or passed out.” And the NCVS doesn’t do enough to provide survey-takers with privacy. They can’t quietly check off a box on a self-administered questionnaire—they have to answer questions out loud over the phone. These features of the survey have also been shown to inhibit victims from responding.

Here’s how to fix this, the National Research Council panel says: Conduct a survey of rape and sexual assault separately from other kinds of crime. The best way to get an accurate count is to frame the questions in a “neutral context, such as a health survey.” Instead of asking, Have you been raped? the survey tool should ask questions about specific behavior, for example: When this incident happened, were you passed out from drinking or taking drugs? This gives room for survey-takers who might not call what happened to them “rape” to provide a more accurate measure of how many people are actually victims of nonconsensual sex. And they should be able to enter their answers on their own, on a computer, rather than over the phone.

There is, in fact, an existing survey that has many of the attributes the NCVS currently lacks. It’s administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s called the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. (NISVS is the acronym. Apologies for the alphabet soup.) NISVS “represents the public health perspective,” as Tuesday’s report puts it, and it asks questions about specific behavior, including whether the survey-taker was unable to consent to sex because he or she had been drinking or taking drugs. NISVS was first conducted in 2010, so it doesn’t go back in time the way the NCVS numbers do. But here’s the startling direct comparison between the two measures: NISVS counted 1.27 million total sexual acts of forced penetration for women over the past year (including completed, attempted, and alcohol or drug facilitated). NCVS counted only 188,380 for rape and sexual assault. And the FBI, which collects its data from local law enforcement, and so only counts rapes and attempted rapes that have been reported as crimes, totaled only 85,593 for 2010.

It’s a real cause for alarm that there is such a huge discrepancy between the national survey that most closely follows the approach recommended by the experts and the ones that don’t, yet are more often cited. The bottom line is that women are still experiencing date rape or acquaintance rape or gray rape—whatever you want to call it—in dismayingly large numbers. As Christopher Krebs, a sexual violence researcher at RTI International, puts it, “We all know that rape and sexual assault are the most underreported crimes in the world, and it’s very hard to say that the problem is declining. The NCVS data could be missing a lot.” And especially critical: The NCVS doesn’t directly capture the instances in which drugs or alcohol leave women less able to defend themselves. Let me say that again: The national data about rape that gets cited over and over again doesn’t ask a single question about whether a victim was unable to consent because of drugs or alcohol, even though that is a major risk factor. The NCVS fails to see the full range of nonconsensual sex that should concern us. It also doesn’t accurately reflect the circumstances in which this kind of rape occurs—another important function that a tool like this should serve.

In the vast majority of sexual assaults, Krebs says, the victim knows the offender. And sometimes she may not remember exactly what happened—because her memory is blurred by intoxication. That’s why Emily Yoffe called for rape prevention education that reaches women as well as men. Not instead of men—of course we need to make clear that men who force sex are fully responsible for their violence, no matter what the circumstances. But we also should treat women as fully capable of agency by giving them the information they need to understand that binge drinking is a risk factor for sexual assault. I’m the mother of sons, not daughters. It is absolutely my responsibility to teach my boys that there is no excuse—none—for having sex unless they can be absolutely sure the other person wants to. But if I had girls, I would want to open their eyes to the reality that drinking to the point of passing out will make them more vulnerable. That doesn’t mean blaming them. It means arming them. The number in this piece that’s probably the most accurate count—1.27 million women sexually assaulted per year—underscores the urgency.




By Emily Bazelon

I hoped for a minute that she was parodying the whole eternal youth myth. But no, the supermodel was just ridiculing the old.

I am not privy to the thought processes of supermodels (thank God), and I cannot for the life of me think what was running through Heidi Klum’s head when she came up with the idea that dressing as an old woman was an amusing concept for Halloween. Heidi is well-known for going the full nine yards on All Hallows’ Eve. She’s been Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (or Gunther von Hagens’ flayed body, depending on your cultural references), the Hindu goddess Kali (managing to offend an entire religion) and now she’s given us what currently terrifies the western world beyond all reason – age.

Yes, there are cultural differences at play here – dressing up for Halloween in the US does not necessarily mean witches, vampires and Frankenstein – but it’s hard to see this stunt as anything other than ill-judged and offensive. There is a fine line here and Klum has crossed it.

Once the initial “red mist” had dissipated and I started to analyse my reaction, I’ve concluded it’s the fact that she played it straight and gone to a great deal of trouble to do so. This is not the slightly more acceptable “comedy crone” that we’re used to seeing and can tolerate – if we can’t laugh at stress incontinence and sagging bosoms we’re screwed. No, the problem for me is that it feels frankly insulting to quick fix a look that most of us are working hard to achieve over several decades. I’m not joking – take pride in the battle scars life leaves. Lines, wrinkles, veins, scars are all badges of survival – signs of a life lived. How dare Heidi Klum make light of that. As several people pointed out when I started on a rant this morning – there are those who have gone too soon who would have been very happy to embrace a wrinkled and stooped old age.

I then began to wonder whether she was trying to subvert the whole supermodel eternal youth myth. Perhaps she was saying something profound about all of us heading the same way. Something like “age is compulsory” or perhaps “life is terminal”. But after reading her  comments on Twitter, such as “Little old me” – I decided I was crediting her with too much existential angst.

No, it is quite simply that making herself into an old woman for an evening is meant to be funny – not ironic, not an indication of the inner terror of a young and beautiful woman, not witty or making a point, it is purely to ridicule the old and have a good laugh at their expense. There is a serious discussion beginning on the subject of positive ageing and positive representations of age. I’ve been to two conferences in the last two weeks on the subject. Both were fascinating, stimulating and reassuring. What baffles me is that neither were rammed to the rafters – there seems to be some sort of apathy among older people about tackling their own future and status. Perhaps they think if they ignore it, it will stop, like ignoring a child having a tantrum. Or perhaps it’s a generational thing and they feel it’s impolite to make a fuss.

Unless a fuss is made there is a real danger that they (we) will find themselves negated still further to the point of oblivion. Older people, and I include myself at 58, must stand up and be counted, and protest against ageist nonsense such as this. Younger generations must be allowed to see positive representations of age and older people, not stereotypes and caricatures. To allow the current situation to continue is to stoke the fires of ageism and isolation of older generations. What are older women used for in the advertising world? Anti-ageing beauty products (usually heavily airbrushed or shown on 30-year-old models), medical products and walk-in baths: I’ll happily bore the tits off anyone who wants to talk to me about the lack of positive imagery in the media. Which might be rude of me to say so, but I’m still not nearly as rude as Heidi Klum.

By Invisible Woman

It’s long been known that America’s school kids haven’t measured well compared with international peers. Now, there’s a new twist: Adults don’t either.

In math, reading and problem-solving using technology — all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength — American adults scored below the international average on a global test, according to results released Tuesday.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and multiple other countries scored significantly higher than the United States in all three areas on the test. Beyond basic reading and math, respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.

Not only did Americans score poorly compared to many international competitors, the findings reinforced just how large the gap is between the nation’s high- and low-skilled workers and how hard it is to move ahead when your parents haven’t.

In both reading and math, for example, those with college-educated parents did better than those whose parents did not complete high school.

The study, called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, found that it was easier on average to overcome this and other barriers to literacy overseas than in the United States.

Researchers tested about 166,000 people ages 16 to 65 in more than 20 countries and subnational regions. The test was developed and released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which is made up of mostly industrialized member countries.  The Education Department’s Center for Education Statistics participated.

The findings were equally grim for many European countries — Italy and Spain, among the hardest hit by the recession and debt crisis, ranked at the bottom across generations. Unemployment is well over 25 percent in Spain and over 12 percent in Italy. Spain has drastically cut education spending, drawing student street protests.

But in the northern European countries that have fared better, the picture was brighter — and the study credits continuing education. In Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands, more than 60 percent of adults took part in either job training or continuing education. In Italy, by contrast, the rate was half that.

As the American economy sputters along and many people live paycheck-to-paycheck, economists say a highly-skilled workforce is key to economic recovery. The median hourly wage of workers scoring on the highest level in literacy on the test is more than 60 percent higher than for workers scoring at the lowest level, and those with low literacy skills were more than twice as likely to be unemployed.

“It’s not just the kids who require more and more preparation to get access to the economy, it’s more and more the adults don’t have the skills to stay in it,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement the nation needs to find ways to reach more adults to upgrade their skills. Otherwise, he said, “no matter how hard they work, these adults will be stuck, unable to support their families and contribute fully to our country.”

Among the other findings:

—Americans scored toward the bottom in the category of problem solving in a technology-rich environment. The top five scores in the areas were from Japan, Finland, Australia, Sweden and Norway, while the U.S. score was on par with England, Estonia, Ireland and Poland. In nearly all countries, at least 10 percent of adults lacked the most basic of computer skills such as using a mouse.

—Japanese and Dutch adults who were ages 25 to 34 and only completed high school easily outperformed Italian or Spanish university graduates of the same age.

—In England, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the United States, social background has a big impact on literacy skills, meaning the children of parents with low levels of education have lower reading skills.

America’s school kids have historically scored low on international assessment tests compared to other countries, which is often blamed on the diversity of the population and the high number of immigrants. Also, achievement tests have long shown that a large chunk of the U.S. student population lacks basic reading and math skills — most pronounced among low-income and minority students.

This test could suggest students leaving high school without certain basic skills aren’t obtaining them later on the job or in an education program.

The United States will have a tough time catching up because money at the state and local level, a major source of education funding, has been slashed in recent years, said Jacob Kirkegaard, an economist with the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“There is a race between man and machine here. The question here is always: Are you a worker for whom technology makes it possible to do a better job or are you a worker that the technology can replace?” he said. For those without the most basic skills, he said, the answer will be merciless and has the potential to extend into future generations. Learning is highly correlated with parents’ education level.

“If you want to avoid having an underclass — a large group of people who are basically unemployable — this educational system is absolutely key,” Kirkegaard said.

Dolores Perin, professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, said the report provides a “good basis for an argument there should be more resources to support adults with low literacy.”

Adults can learn new skills at any age and there are adult-geared programs around the country, Perin said. But, she said, the challenge is ensuring the programs have quality teaching and that adults regularly attend classes.

“If you find reading and writing hard, you’ve been working hard all day at two jobs, you’ve got a young child, are you actually going to go to class? It’s challenging,” Perin said.

Some economists say that large skills gap in the United States could matter even more in the future. America’s economic competitors like China and India are simply larger than competitors of the past like Japan, Carnevale said. Even while America’s top 10 percent of students can compete globally, Carnevale said, that doesn’t cut it. China and India did not participate in this assessment.

“The skills in the middle are required and we’re not producing them,” Carnevale said.

Respondents were selected as part of a nationally represented sample. The test was primarily taken at home using a computer, but some respondents used a printed test booklet.

Among the other findings:

—Japan, Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Flanders-Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, and Korea all scored significantly higher than the United States in all three areas on the test.

—The average scores in literacy range from 250 in Italy to 296 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 270. (500 was the highest score in all three areas.)  Average scores in 12 countries were higher than the average U.S. score.

—The average scores in math range from 246 in Spain to 288 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 253, below 18 other countries.

—The average scores on problem solving in technology-rich environments ranged from 275 in Poland to 294 in Japan. The U.S. average score was 277, below 14 other countries.


Online: http://www.oecd.org/site/piaac/publications.htm


Follow Kimberly Hefling at http://www.twitter.com/khefling


Lori Hinnant contributed to this report from Paris.

The research found of those, 73 per cent have ‘made do’ with their partner because their ‘true love’ slipped through their fingers.

And a quarter of all adults have been in love with two people at the same time.

But the detailed study revealed 17 per cent of the 2,000 adults polled said they have met the love of their life since they got together with their long-term partner.

And some 46 per cent said they would be prepared to leave their spouse or partner to be with their true love.

Men are more loyal to their partners than women with 37 per cent saying they would stay in the relationship for their partner’s sake.

The poll by Siemens Festival Nights, a unique three day event showcasing three different operas, found the average person has fallen head over heels in love just twice in their life and has been left heartbroken once.

But an unfortunate one in 20 adults has been heartbroken more than five times in their life.

For 60 per cent of those questioned it took just 10 weeks to know that someone is Mr or Mrs Right, the poll found.

Claire Jarvis, Director of Communications for Siemens said: “The survey highlighted some colourful revelations about people’s love lives.

“The results showed it can be hard to find ‘the one’ and although the general perception is that women tend to fall in love more often than men, it was intriguing to see that in reality both men and women fall in love on average two times in their life.

“What is alarming is that so many people claim to be in long term relationships or even married to someone who isn’t the true love of their life.

“And if there are people out there who are genuinely in love with two people at the same time, they must face a huge dilemma.

“Interestingly, more than half of those polled thought they have been in love on occasions but looking back don’t believe it was the ‘real thing’.”

The survey also found that the typical adult fell in love for the first time at the tender age of 19 and dated four to five people before they met ‘the one’.

The study also showed that for nearly 75 per cent of the adults polled the definition of love changes as they got older.

Claire Jarvis added: “Although many of the adults polled said they weren’t with their true love, the majority claimed to be head over heels with their current partner which is really encouraging”

“Love is a fundamental in everyone’s life and a dominant theme in all forms of art and culture.

“Many famous opera stories like La Traviata, and the Magic Flute centre on a powerful love story and our upcoming events at the Crystal in London which are open to the public are no exception.

“We hope adults and children alike will take advantage of this festival and enjoy opera at its finest, in a relaxed and welcoming outdoor setting.”