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[Back to laughing matters 5]

Your [human] race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug push it a little weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand. You are always fussing and fighting with your other weapons. Do you ever use that one? No; you leave it lying rusting. As a race, do you ever use it at all? No; you lack sense and the courage.
–Satan, in The Mysterious Stranger by MARK TWAIN

This brilliant piece of satire immediately brought that Twain quote to my mind:

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When Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist posted it, several commenters said they found it “inappropriate” and “in poor taste.” One sniffed, “I highly question the integrity of someone who would post it.” That the commenter’s incoming link was from a conservative blog is, I’m sure, a coincidence. An equal number of the protestors were surely my fellow Democrats. Our knees have a long history of turning to Jell-O when someone implies we’re being unfair — whether or not they’re right. It’s the one implication we can’t bear.

I don’t care what the perspective is — when a piece of satire is smart, funny, and relevant, I’ll defend it to the death. This parody-poster brilliantly condenses fact and implication by juxtaposing the abstinence-only position of a vice-presidential candidate and her pregnant teenage daughter.

As many others have noted, the McCain campaign made her pregnancy an issue. This parody simply (and quite mildly, folks) makes use of establish facts to drive home a crucial point: Abstinence-only sex education does not work. Over $176 million has been poured into the promotion of abstinence-only sex education, despite studies indicating that a majority of kids taking a virginity pledge fail to keep the pledge, are more likely to have unprotected sex than non-pledgers when they do have sex, and are equally likely to contract STDs.1

Fortunately, teen prenancy is on the decline — but not because of abstinence-only education. According the Guttmacher Institute’s 2006 report, teen pregnancy rates are down 36 percent from 1990 to the lowest level in 30 years, but just fourteen percent of this decrease is attributed to teens waiting longer to have sex. The other 86 percent is the result of improved contraceptive use.

Obama wisely put the topic “off-limits” for campaign staffers, threatening to fire anyone who went after it and rightly noting that he was himself the child of a teenage mother. That’s smart politics. Making the necessary connection to Sarah Palin’s views on sex education is appropriately left to the rest of us. And if we can do it humorously, so much the better.
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1“Abstinence Education Faces An Uncertain Future,” New York Times, July 18, 2007; Bearman, Peter and Hannah Brückner: “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse.” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 106, No. 4 (Jan 2001), pp. 859-912.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.