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Egypt’s First Steps

Some 23 million citizens cast ballots in Egypt’s first free presidential election, a historic achievement regardless of who wins the runoff. The photos of Egyptian women at the polls were particularly stirring, given the limits many Islamic nations still place on women’s education and civic roles. But the election euphoria died when the results of the first round were announced. A cache of moderates had split the vote, leaving two more hardline candidates the winners: Amed Shafik, a former prime minister of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, and Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Either choice is risky. Mr. Shafik might return the nation to its authoritarian, military-controlled past. Mr. Morsi might interject Islam into governing in ways detrimental to Egyptian women, secularists and adherents of non-Muslim faiths. Both candidates present foreign policy challenges for the West, other Islamic states and Israel. Neither candidate is actually the people’s choice.

Self-government requires sustained citizen activism, political organization and skill. The losing candidates will have to build coalitions and stay active. The Islamist majority in Parliament could, if coupled with an Islamist president, skew the focus and direction of government. Voters must monitor events. First, the military council that has run the country since Mr. Mubarak’s arrest is to hand over its powers to the newly elected president. A peaceful transition to a civilian-controlled military would mark another historic accomplishment. Second, the constitution needs to be finalized and passed. It was shelved in March by lawmakers unable to compromise. Voters must demand universal suffrage and a slate of basic rights. In this way Egypt can take its first steps toward a democratic future.


Cover Story

Quick, what’s on the cover of this issue of America? No peeking. Can you remember? Don’t worry if you can’t. Chances are it’s our fault. We need to be sexy and provocative, we are told, and that starts with the cover. You should remember what appears below our logo. You should want to tweet it, share it, like it. It should land us on the “Today” show, inspire comic riffs, maybe merit a mention on “The Colbert Report.” If it does not, then we have failed.

The newsweeklies show us the way. Newsweek put Barack Obama on the cover with a rainbow halo and called him “The First Gay President.” Time shows a young mother nursing a three-year-old child and asks, “Are You Mom Enough?” Each took off on Twitter, garnering tens of thousands of “mentions.” There were articles attached to these covers. At least we think so. There wasn’t much mention of them.

Understated no longer works. Forget about subtlety or wit. The point is to shock. Even the estimable New Yorker knows it is time for change. Think of the cover depicting President and Mrs. Obama standing with machine guns in the Oval Office, celebrating with a fist bump. You can’t blame the magazine for trying. How else are publishers to drive traffic, improve analytics, trend on Twitter? Words don’t sell; pictures do.

It is time for Catholic magazines to get in the game. No more pictures of war-torn regions or parishioners sitting meekly in the pews. We need to get younger, more attractive, less depressing. Editing articles can wait; it’s the cover that counts. Time to boot up Photoshop and have some fun.

Too Much Talk

Unplanned teen pregnancies have long been associated with poor educational and economic outcomes, but a new study suggests that social welfare specialists across the political spectrum may have gotten the matter precisely backwards. Teens do not become poor because they become pregnant; they become pregnant because they are poor.

Research published in the spring issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives indicates that the cultural histrionics over the “right” kind of sex education for young people—whether to emphasize abstinence or instruction in artificial birth control—is misplaced. It turns out that behavioral instruction has a limited impact on the trajectory of teen mothers. The social outcomes for teens who became pregnant but miscarried compared with those who kept their babies were essentially the same: Poverty begets poverty. Responding to the problem of teen pregnancy requires a much larger creative and practical public commitment.

Teens have to be able to imagine a future that is worth preparing themselves for. That means that more determined personal and educational interventions are required if teens are to truly break out of the cycle of poverty before they become unmarried parents. Young people do not need another abstinence or sex education seminar; they need a Cristo Rey or NativityMiguel school. If they do not see a practical way ahead out of poverty and hopelessness, they recognize all the lecturing on sexual mores for what it is: just talk.

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6 years 7 months ago
In reference to "Too Much Talk":  I certainly believe and support the conclusions of the article, that poor teens need to see a way out of poverty and recognize that they can make this journey.  However, please note that poor people have few choices concerning their discretionary practices.  "Natural" pleasure appears to be most often the only thing they can rely on to escape their impoverished environment.  Who among us would deprive them of this practice without showing them a better way out of poverty?  Indeed, it is those of us who are removed from poverty that have the obligation to help those who are mired in poverty find a way out of their plight.
Charles Erlinger
6 years 7 months ago

Please don't use "because" in the way that you did in the article on teen pregnancy.  Surely, on reflection, you can see the absurdity of attributing physical causality to a social abstraction.
Christopher Kuczynski
6 years 7 months ago

The editors' argument in "Too Much Talk" seemed to me confused, or at best incomplete.  The comment begins with what I thought we had known for years - that there is a correlation between poverty and the incidence of teenage pregnancy.  From there, the comment goes on to reason that the way to reduce teen pregnancies is to enable teens to imagine a world that is worth preparing themselves for.  I wholeheartedly agree with this thesis.

However, the editors are surely not so naieve as to deny that teens of all socio-economic groups are sexually active.  why, then, does there appear to be a higher incidence of pregnancy among teens of poorer backgrounds?  Is it because teens whose families are better off are waiting longer to have sex or are having it less frequently?  That may well be, though the comment doesn't tell us.  But it also seems quite plausible to me that teens from better off socio-economic backgrounds have more information about ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies as they prepare for their future, including the use of contraceptives.

The fact that being able to imagine a world worth preparing for can make a difference for teens in poverty who might otherwise become pregnant  should not lead us to the kind of faulty either/or proposition the editors posit:  Give poor teens more Cristo Rey or NativityMiguel schools, not education about abstinence or contraceptives.  A better option would be a Cristo Rey or NativityMiguel school with a proper approach to sex education which recognizes that information about abstinence and contraceptives, not just talk about a better future that can seem so abstract to a teen, is absolutely critical to enable teens to break the cycle of poverty with which the editors are so rightly concerned.

C Walter Mattingly
6 years 7 months ago
Certainly a better way for a poor child to imagine a better future involves setting on a path that provides that poor, commonly inner city child a high probability of graduating from high school on schedule. Perhaps America could follow up on this by examining the results of Loyola Marymount's study that indicates that 2% of inner city LA parochial school children fail to graduate on schedule, whereas that number for typical inner city LA public school children is 15 times greater. What is being provided in those LA parochial schools that the children in similarly situtated public schools don't receive? Do these LA parochial school graduates have lower rates of pregnancy and abortion? Do they teach abstinence/ contraception to obtain those lower rates? Are the LA parochial schools Cristo Rey or Nativity Miguel schools? Or is this astounding difference the result of something larger?
It's good to see America raise this crucial issue. I hope the editors follow up. 


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