Save a life, get suspended from school

Just about anywhere else at any other time, a sober friend giving a drunk friend a safe ride home would be a heroic act. Certainly it’s not the kind of thing that should result in getting suspended from school.

As this post on The Raw Story tells us, however, for Erin Cox, an upstanding student and now former captain of the school’s volleyball team, that’s exactly what happened. At issue here is the school’s zero tolerance policy regarding drug and alcohol consumption. It would also appear the school thought Erin had been drinking herself, or had even been arrested for being at the party, neither of which were the case.

I’m not a fan of zero tolerance policies. I prefer to call them zero intelligence policies, as that is a much more accurate name; most of the time, harsh punishments are dealt out based on one detail of a case. Whether it’s accidentally bringing a toy gun to school, or even sneaking in some over-the-counter pain pills from home, the policy to suspend kids for days or weeks or remove to an alternative schooling program shows the school has zero intelligence to make a reasonable decision.

I’m also not a fan of the 21 drinking age, either. Without kids seeing alcohol as a “forbidden fruit” the party that Erin felt the need to rescue her friend from probably would not have happened.

I’m not even sure the school had any business getting involved, as this was off school property and not in any way connected to the school other than some students at that school happened to be at this party.

Perhaps the biggest outrage here is that the court where Erin’s parents sued the school on her behalf is refusing to get involved, saying it has no jurisdiction over the school’s decision. I don’t know how the court arrived at this conclusion, but courts have overruled school district actions all across the country on many occasions.

Anway, zero intelligence pretty much describes my opinion of the faculty members at North Andover High School who felt suspending Erin was the right move. It quite clearly was not, judging by the fact it’s all over the national news now. The right thing for the school to do now is to immediately cancel the suspension, change the existing absences to excused (usually, suspensions are unexcused absences, which mean that assignments cannot be made up), reinstate Erin as captain of the volleyball team, and apologize profusely. I would also like to see someone involved in this farce of a decision get fired or reassigned, but I’m not holding my breath.

The outrageous US government shutdown of 2013

(Rather than picking a single news story or even set of news stories, as I normally do, I refer my readers who need background info to the Wikipedia article covering the US government shutdown. There have been so many news stories covering some facet of the event that it is difficult at best to even pick a representative sample.)

Welcome to the United States of America in 2013 October. Democracy as we knew it prior to this month is effectively dead, as the Republicans in the House of Representatives have turned our government into an absolute mockery of what it should be and what it has been.

Outrage barely begins to describe how I feel. The only reason I’ve been able to remain somewhat calm is that I have other things that have been occupying some of my time, whether it be paying work, miscellaneous personal matters, or football. The last of those isn’t much of a diversion when the team one’s following (in my case, the Houston Texans) is in the middle of one of the worst losing streaks in its short history, but that’s another rant for another day.

It’s an outrage because, at least in the beginning, the shutdown was about the Affordable Care Act (which the conservatives and, unfortunately, most news media have nicknamed “Obamacare”). The act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. It’s the law and the proper way to deal with latent shortcomings in the law is to amend the law the same way other laws are amended. Instead, the Republicans have resorted to hostage tactics, shutting down most of the federal government. I am convinced this was and is illegal according to 18 USC 2384 (seditious conspiracy). A petition on has been started (which I have already signed) which alleges exactly this.

The courts may find in the end that 18 USC 2384 doesn’t apply or has not been broken. Or, the perpetrators may find a way to avoid prosecution (“money talks, bull poo-poo walks”). But a lack of legal prosecution should not mean that those who have shut down our government should get away with it. We, the people, have the right and the duty to hold them accountable during next year’s (2014) elections.

Yes, I realize it has taken a while for me to get around to writing this post. I had honestly hoped to comment about the shutdown in past tense. I still love America, but that does not necessarily mean I love everything done in the name of our country by our government. I’m disgusted that the same political party which has run up a huge tab fighting unnecessary and possibly illegal wars now refuses to pay for them.

My message to Congress: This is not the time for over-sized egos to rule. The people elected you to serve them and run our government. You swore or affirmed to “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Shutting down the government and leaving it to default on its debts is a most egregious failure to do both. It’s that simple.

Children, gender identities, and empathy

A recent article tackles an issue head-on which, honestly, I’m surprised hasn’t been talked about more. The article is entitled “The real boy crisis: 5 ways America tells boys not to be ‘girly'” and reveals that a lot of what we accept as gender stereotypes may actually be detrimental to the emotional and psychological well-being of our young boys. From the article:

Expression and empathy are closely related for children. When boys are taught that they can’t “be like girls” it has the threefold effect. First, it alienates them from core aspects of themselves. Second, it portrays what is feminine as undesirable and inferior. Third, it forces boys into a “man box” from which emotions and empathy are excluded.

Perhaps a better explanation goes like this: We train boys that being empathetic is “girlish” or feminine behavior. So as they grow older, they become less empathetic, meaning they understand others less. The problems that result from this stem from the benign, to those (former boys that have now become) men who have found ways to adjust, to those that wind up on the evening news from those who have not.

Of particular note is that this article enumerates five specific ways in which we indoctrinate our children with gender stereotypes: clothing, hair, products (mostly toys, but can include things such as lunchboxes), sports, and stories. The problem, actually, doesn’t end with boys, as another quote from the article illustrates:

Immediately after girls watch television, their self-esteem drops. (This is true of all children except young white boys.)

(I notice the race issue, but choose to leave it for another day and another post.)

While this appears as a symptom of a larger problem with television and specifically the television programming aimed at children, the number of female characters in children’s books is imbalanced enough to be statistically significant (57% male versus 31% female protagonists; 36.5% feature male title characters versus 17.5% female). This goes beyond any one medium, whether print, television, or cinema.

It’s time for a radical change on how we educate our children, regardless of gender. Let’s get rid of this silly “blue for boys, pink for girls” nonsense. It never made much sense to me. The gender labels we have attached to some sports need to go. (What’s wrong with boys, or men, wanting to play volleyball? Honestly, I think an adult professional volleyball league would make great television, at least as good as NFL football.) I like what the WNBA has done for women in professional sports (I would have watched this summer if I had more time), but there is still a huge gender gap that needs to be narrowed.

Clothing is another area that’s a real sore spot for me. Utilikilts are a step in the right direction, but a lot of men don’t even know the company exists (and as a result, the prices are high because of economy of scale, which means even fewer men buy them than otherwise would). It’s still not as socially acceptable for men to use color cosmetics as it once was (cosmetics being primarily for women is primarily a product of early 20th century or perhaps late 19th century thinking). Yes, men can get away with some wild face paint if they are in a rock band (KISS, Twisted Sister) or an actor (Johnny Depp), but that’s about it.

Yes, I covered some of this same ground years ago (I don’t feel like linking to it but it’s there if you go back far enough). It’s an issue that hasn’t gone away, and isn’t going to go away until we as a society realize what the problems are.