I’m Just a Pill: A Schoolhouse Rock Classic Gets Reimagined to Defend Reproductive Rights in 2017

Like many American children of the 70s and 80s, my understanding of how our government is supposed to function was shaped by Schoolhouse Rock.

Immigration, separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers and of course, the promise of the Constitution (“a list of principles for keepin’ people free”) were just a few of the topics the animated musical series covered with clarity and wit.

The new world order in which we’ve recently found ourselves suggests that 2017 would be a grand year to start rolling out more such videos.

The Lady Parts Justice League, a self-declared “cabal of comics and writers exposing creeps hellbent on destroying access to birth control and abortion” leads the charge with the above homage to Schoolhouse Rock's 1976 hit, “I’m Just a Bill,” recasting the original’s glum aspirant law as a feisty Plan B contraceptive pill. The red haired boy who kept the bill company on the steps of the Capital is now a teenage girl, confused as to how any legal, over-the-counter method for reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancy could have so many enemies.

As with the original series, the prime objective is to educate, and comic Lea DeLaria’s Pill happily obliges, explaining that while people may disagree as to when “life” begins, it’s a scientific fact that pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg lodges itself in the uterus. (DeLaria plays Big Boo on Orange is the New Black, by the way.) That process takes a while---72 hours to be exact. Plenty of time for the participants to scuttle off to the drugstore for emergency contraception, aka Plan B, the so called "morning-after" pill.

As per the drug’s website, if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, Plan B  can reduce the risk of pregnancy by up to 89%. Taken within 24 hours, it is about 95% effective.

And yes, teenagers can legally purchase it, though Teen Vogue has reported on numerous stores who’ve made it difficult, if not impossible, for shoppers to gain access to the pill.

(The Reproductive Justice Project encourages consumers to help them collect data on whether Plan B is correctly displayed on the shelves as available for sale to any woman of childbearing age.)

There’s a helpful football analogy for those who may be a bit slow in understanding that Plan B is indeed a bonafide contraceptive, and not the abortifacient some mistakenly make it out to be. It’s NSFW, but only just, as a team of cartoon penis-outlines push down the field toward the uterine wall in the end zone.

The other bills who once stood in line awaiting the president’s signature have been reimagined as sperm, while songwriter Holly Miranda pays tribute to Dave Frishberg’s lyrics with a pizzazz worthy of the original:

I’m just a pill

A helpful birth control pill

No matter what they say on Capital Hill

So now you know my truth

I’m all about prevention

If your condom breaks

I’m here for intervention

Join me take a stand today

I really hope and pray that you will

Drop some facts

Tell the world

I’m a pill.

Let's hope the resistance yields more catchy, educational animations!

And here, for comparison's sake, is the magnificent original:

Via BUST Magazine

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Walt Disney Creates a Frank Animation That Teaches High School Kids All About VD (1973)

The comically plainspoken, tough-guy sergeant is a heaven sent assignment for character actors.

Think R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket

Louis Gosset Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman

Even Stripes’  Warren Oates.

Keenan Wynn, who strove to keep America safe from “deviated preverts” in 1964's Dr. Strangelove, was awarded the role of a lifetime nine years later, when Disney Studios was seeking vocal talent for VD Attack Plan, above, a 16-minute animation intended to teach high schoolers about the scourge of venereal disease.

Wynn (son of Ed) threw himself into the part with gusto, imbuing his badly-complected, Kaiser-helmeted germ commander with the sort of straight-talking charisma rarely seen in high school Health class.

A risky maneuver, given that Vietnam-era teens did not share their parent’s generation’s respect for military authority and VD Attack Plan was the first educational short specifically aimed at the high school audience. Prior to that, such films were geared toward soldiers. (Disney waded into those waters in 1944, with the training film, A Few Quick Facts No. 7—Venereal Disease, the same year Mickey Mouse appeared in LOOK magazine, waging war on gonorrhea with sulfa drugs.

Gonorrhea was well represented in the Wynn’s Contagion Corps. The ranks were further swelled by Syphilis. Both platoons were outfitted with paramilitary style berets.

The Sarge pumped them up for the coming sneak attack by urging them to maim or better yet, kill their human enemy. Shaky recruits were reassured that Ignorance, Fear, and Shame would have their backs.

Scriptwriter Bill Bosche had quite the knack for identifying what sort of sugar would make the medicine go down. The Sarge intimates that only a few of the afflicted are “man enough” to inform their partners, and while Ignorance and Shame cause the majority to put their faith in ineffectual folk remedies, the “smart ones” seek treatment.

Elementary psychology, but effectual nonetheless.

Today’s viewers can’t help but note that HIV and AIDS had yet to assert their fearsome hold.

On the other hand, the Sarge’s matter of fact delivery regarding the potential for same sex transmission comes as a pleasant surprise. His primary objective is to set the record straight. No, birth control pills won’t protect you from contracting the clap. But don’t waste time worrying about picking it up from public toilet seats, either.

A word of caution to those planning to watch the film over breakfast, there are some truly gnarly graphic photos of rashes, sores, and skin eruptions. Helpful to teens seeking straight dope on their worrisome symptoms. Less so for anyone trying to enjoy their breakfast links sans the specter of burning urination.

So here’s to the sergeants of the silver screen, and the hardworking actors who embodied them, even those whose creations resembled Pillsbury’s Funny Face drink mix mascots. Let’s do as the Sarge says, and make every day V-D Day!

VD Attack Plan will be added to the animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City next week. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated History of Planned Parenthood, Brought to You by Lena Dunham, JJ Abrams & More

Lena Dunham drafted a host of well known friends for The History Of 100 Years Of Women's Health Care At Planned Parenthood, the short film (above) she co-directed with animator Kirsten Lepore. Others taking part in the production include comedians Mindy Kaling and Amy Schumer, actors Meryl Streep, America Ferrera, Hari Nef, Jennifer Lawrence, and Constance Wu, and producer J.J. Abrams.

But the real stars of this show are the female trailblazers who fought (and continue to fight) for access to safe and affordable reproductive care for all women, regardless of age, race, or ability to pay.




In the words of founder Margaret Sanger, a controversial figure who seems to share quite a few traits with Dunham, from her deft leverage of her celebrity on behalf of her chosen cause to her capacity for alienating fans with some of her less savory views and statements:

No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.

Women like Rosie Jimenez, a single mother who died from complications of a back alley abortion following the passage of the Hyde Amendment, were victimized by laws regarding reproductive choice.

Others, like Estelle Griswold, executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, flouted the laws to bring about change.

More recently Faye Wattleton, Planned Parenthood’s first African American president and its current president, Cecile Richards, have worked to promote awareness of both the public's rights and any impending dangers to those rights.

(Vice President Mike Pence’s inadvertent fundraising efforts go unheralded, appropriately enough. The millions of women---and men---who made small donations to Planned Parenthood in his name are the true heroes here.)

For more of Dunham’s highly visible support of Planned Parenthood, read her 2015 interview with President Cecile Richards or check out the t-shirt she designed to benefit the California Planned Parenthood Education Fund.

via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

David Lynch Explains How Meditation Boosts Our Creativity (Plus Free Resources to Help You Start Meditating)

David Lynch meditates, and he meditates hard. Beginning his practice in earnest after it helped him solve a creative problem during the production of his breakout 1977 film Eraserhead, he has continued meditating assiduously ever since, going so far as to found the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace and publish a pro-meditation book called Catching the Big Fish.

It might seem nonsensical to hear an artist of the grotesque like Lynch speak rapturously about voyaging into his own consciousness, let alone in his fractured all-American, askew-Jimmy-Stewart manner, but he does meditate for a practical reason: it gives him ideas.




Only by meditating, he says, can he dive down and catch the "big fish" he uses as ingredients in his inimitable film, music, and visual art. You can hear more of his thoughts on meditation, consciousness, and creativity in his nine-minute speech above.

If you'd like to hear more, the video just above offers a nearly two-hour presentation at UC Berkeley with Lynch as its star. You'll also hear from outspoken quantum physicist John Hagelin and Fred Travis, director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness and Cognition Maharishi University of Management. Some of what they say might make good sense to you: after all, we could all use a method to clear our minds so we can create what we need to create. Some of what they say might strike you as total nonsense. But if you feel tempted to dismiss all as too bizarre for serious consideration, you might meditate, as it were, on other things Lynchian: backwards-talking dwarves, severed ears on suburban lawns, alien babies, women living in radiators, sitcom families in rabbit suits. He's certainly pitched us weirder concepts than meditation.

For some secular introductions to meditation, you may wish to try out some of these resources.

--UCLA’s Free Guided Meditation Sessions

--Insight Meditation Center’s Free 6-Part Intro to Mindfulness Meditation

--Stream 18 Hours of Free Guided Meditations

--Meditation 101: A Short, Animated Beginner’s Guide

--Philosopher Sam Harris Leads You Through a 26-Minute Guided Meditation

--Moby Lets You Download 4 Hours of Ambient Music to Help You Sleep, Meditate, Do Yoga & Not Panic

This post originally appeared on our site in April, 2013.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Meditation is Replacing Detention in Baltimore’s Public Schools, and the Students Are Thriving

By now, most people are familiar with the term “school-to-prison pipeline," the description of a system that funnels troubled students through disciplinary program after program. Detentions, suspensions, and often expulsions further aggravate many students' already difficult lives, and send them “back to the origin of their angst and unhappiness—their home environments or their neighborhoods,” writes Carla Amurao for PBS’ Tavis Smiley Reports. Harsh disciplinary policies don't actually change behavior, and “statistics reflect that these policies disproportionately target students of color and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities.”

In short, students come to school with significant stresses and setbacks, and are themselves treated as problems to be quarantined or forced out. But why not instead teach those students---why not teach all students---effective means of coping with stress and setbacks? I can think of almost no more useful a set of skills to carry into adulthood, or into a troubled home or neighborhood situation. As the CBS This Morning segment above reports, one school in Baltimore is attempting to so equip their students, with a yoga and meditation program during and after school that takes the place of detention and other punishments.




The Robert W. Coleman Elementary School adopted a twice-a-day yoga and mindfulness practice during school hours for all students, called "Mindful Moments"; and an after-school program called Holistic Me, which “hosts 120 male and female students,” writes Newsweek, “and involves yoga, breathing exercises and meditative activities. Disruptive students are brought to the Mindful Moment Room for breathing practices and discussion with a counselor and are instructed on how to manage their emotions.” As we’ve previously noted on this site, these kinds of activities have been shown in research studies to significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and to improve concentration and memory.

In the Holistic Me program at Coleman, “which focuses on prekindergarden through fifth-grade students,” administrators already noticed a difference in the first year. “Instead of the students fighting or lashing out,” says principal Carlillian Thompson in the video above, they started to use words to solve their problems.” None of the students in the program have received suspensions or detentions, and many have become leaders and high achievers. The program was founded in 2001 by brothers Atman and Ali Smith and their friend Andres Gonzalez, all Baltimore locals. In the past 15 years, their Holistic Life Foundation and its partners have offered a variety of enrichment activities but focused primarily on yoga and mindfulness practices.

Using these techniques, students learn to resolve conflicts peacefully and to reduce the amount of emotional turmoil in their lives. Rather than further alienating or traumatizing already stressed-out kids, this kind of intervention prepares them for academic and social resilience. The foundation has rapidly expanded since 2015, receiving federal funding and delivering programs to Charlottesville, Minneapolis, Madison, and abroad. It may not have changed the course of “school-to-prison pipeline” policies just yet, but it has shown a constructive way forward for other schools like Baltimore’s Patterson High, which has adopted a 15-minute yoga and mindfulness practice at the beginning and end of each day for every one of its students.

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Audible.com? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

200,000 Years of Staggering Human Population Growth Shown in an Animated Map

Last night, during a talk on his new book Raising the Floor, longtime labor leader and current senior fellow at Columbia University Andy Stern told the story of a king and a chessmaster engaged in pitched battle. “If you win,” said the overconfident king, “you may have anything you desire.” Lo, the chessmaster wins the game, but being a humble man asks the king only to provide him with some rice. The king smugly agrees to his eccentric conditions: he must place a grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard, then double the amount of each successive square. Once he reaches the middle, the king stops and has the chessmaster executed. The request would have cost him his entire kingdom and more.

Stern used the story to illustrate the exponential growth of technology, which now advances at a rate we can neither confidently predict nor control. Something very similar has happened to the human population in the past two-hundred years, as you can see illustrated in the video above from the American Museum of Natural History.




Evolving some 200,000 years ago in Sub-Saharan Africa, and migrating across the globe some 100,000 years ago, modern humans remained relatively few in number for several thousand years. That is, until the technological breakthrough of agriculture. “By AD 1,” the video text tells us, “world population reached approximately 170 million people.”

After a very rapid expansion, the numbers rose and fell slowly in the ensuing centuries as wars, disease, and famines decimated populations. World population reached only 180 million by the year 200 AD, then dwindled through the Middle Ages, only picking up again slowly around 700. Throughout this historiographic model of population growth, the video infographic provides helpful symbols and legends that chart historic centers like the Roman Empire and Han Dynasty, and show major world events like the Bubonic plague.

Then we reach the world-shaking disruptions that were the birth of Capitalism, the Atlantic slave trade, and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, when “modern technology and medicine bring faster growth.”

That’s quite the understatement. The growth, like the grains of rice on the chessboard, proceeded exponentially, reaching 1 billion people around 1800, then exploding to over 7 billion today. As the yellow dots---each representing a node of 1 million people---take over the map, the video quickly becomes an alarming call to action. While the numbers are leveling off, and fertility has dropped, “if current trends continue,” we’re told, “global population will peak at 11 billion around 2100.” Peak numbers could be lower, or substantially higher, depending on the predictive value of the models and any number of unknowable variables.

Andy Stern’s research has focused on how we build economies that support our massive global population—as machines stand poised in the next decade or so to edge millions of blue and white collar workers out of an already precarious labor market. The American Museum of Natural History asks some different, but no less urgent questions that take us even farther into the future. How can the planet’s finite, and dwindling, resources, with our current abuse and misuse of them, support such large and growing numbers of people?

It may take another technological breakthrough to mitigate the damage caused by previous technological breakthroughs. Or it may take an enormous, revolutionary political shift. In either case, the “choices we make today” about family planning, consumption, environmental regulation, and conservation “affect the future of our species—and all life on Earth.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Literature Can Improve Mental Health: Take a Free Course Featuring Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Melvyn Bragg & More

The great 18th century writer Dr. Samuel Johnson, who suffered from severe bouts of depression, said “the only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it.”

So...is it true? Can a poem help you cope with grief? Can a sonnet stir your soul to hope?

The University of Warwick have teamed up with some famous faces, and a team of doctors to tackle these questions and others like them, in a free online course on FutureLearn.

Poets, writers and actors like Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, Melvyn Bragg, Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time), Ben Okri (The Famished Road), Rachel Kelly (Black Rainbow) and others, will discuss their own work and the work of famous writers like Austen, Shakespeare and Wordsworth - exploring how they can impact mental health and why works of writing are so often turned to in times of crisis.

Here’s Stephen Fry on the pleasure of poetry:

Plus throughout the 6-week course doctors will offer a medical perspective, giving an insight into different mental health conditions.

The course is offered through FutureLearn which means it’s broken into chunks - so you can do it step by step. FutureLearn also features lots of discussion so you can share your ideas with other learners, which often can be as beneficial as the course material (as one previous learner put it “a really wonderful experience and I’ve loved the feedback and comments from fellow course members”).

Here’s a runthrough of what’s on the syllabus. The course focuses on six themes:

  1. Stress: In poetry, the word “stress” refers to the emphasis of certain syllables in a poem’s metre. How might the metrical “stresses” of poetry help us to cope with the mental and emotional stresses of modern life?
  2. Heartbreak: Is heartbreak a medical condition? What can Sidney’s sonnets and Austen’s Sense and Sensibility teach us about suffering and recovering from a broken heart?
  3. Bereavement: The psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously proposed that there are five stages of grief. How might Shakespeare’s Hamlet and poems by Wordsworth and Hardy help us to think differently about the process of grieving?
  4. Trauma: PTSD or “shellshock” has long been associated with the traumatic experiences of soldiers in World War 1. How is the condition depicted in war poetry of the era? Can poems and plays offer us an insight into other sources of trauma, including miscarriage and assault?
  5. Depression and Bipolar: The writer Rachel Kelly subtitles her memoir Black Rainbow “how words healed me – my journey through depression”. Which texts have people turned to during periods of depression, and why? What can we learn from literature about the links between bipolar disorder and creativity?
  6. Ageing and Dementia: One of the greatest studies of ageing in English Literature is Shakespeare’s King Lear. Is it helpful to think about this play in the context of dementia? Why are sufferers of age-related memory loss often still able to recall the poems they have learned “by heart”?

Start the course for free today.

Jess Weeks is a copywriter at FutureLearn. The one poem which helps her endure is The Orange by Wendy Cope.

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