Quotulatiousness

March 31, 2012

Nick Gillespie on the “bully” crisis that isn’t

Filed under: Education, Law, Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:35

There’s an ongoing major media story about bullies, but Nick Gillespie says the crisis doesn’t really exist:

“When I was younger,” a remarkably self-assured, soft-spoken 15-year-old kid named Aaron tells the camera, “I suffered from bullying because of my lips—as you can see, they’re kind of unusually large. So I would kind of get [called] ‘Fish Lips’—things like that a lot—and my glasses too, I got those at an early age. That contributed. And the fact that my last name is Cheese didn’t really help with the matter either. I would get [called] ‘Cheeseburger,’ ‘Cheese Guy’—things like that, that weren’t really very flattering. Just kind of making fun of my name—I’m a pretty sensitive kid, so I would have to fight back the tears when I was being called names.”

It’s hard not to be impressed with — and not to like — young Aaron Cheese. He is one of the kids featured in the new Cartoon Network special “Stop Bullying: Speak Up,” which premiered last week and is available online. I myself am a former geekish, bespectacled child whose lips were a bit too full, and my first name (as other kids quickly discovered) rhymes with two of the most-popular slang terms for male genitalia, so I also identified with Mr. Cheese. My younger years were filled with precisely the sort of schoolyard taunts that he recounts; they led ultimately to at least one fistfight and a lot of sour moods on my part.

Ah, yes, the joy of classmates discovering that “Nick” is such a useful name for casual abuse. It was part of the reason I’ve insisted on using “Nicholas” ever since I got into the working world. Bullies were certainly part of my early school experience, and that of my own son. Rather like the changing of the seasons, they were just part of the school environment. I got into a few fights, but quickly learned that most other boys had a weight and reach advantage over me that resulted in a fairly quick end to each fight. The bullying tapered off in high school, but I tried to minimize the opportunities for it to happen, too. I have very few remaining friends from school — but that’s partly a reflection of the fact that I had relatively few friends in school.

Part of the perceived problem with bullies is that parents are much more involved in their kids’ lives than earlier generations:

How did we get here? We live in an age of helicopter parents so pushy and overbearing that Colorado Springs banned its annual Easter-egg hunt on account of adults jumping the starter’s gun and scooping up treat-filled plastic eggs on behalf of their winsome kids. The Department of Education in New York City — once known as the town too tough for Al Capone — is seeking to ban such words as “dinosaurs,” “Halloween” and “dancing” from citywide tests on the grounds that they could “evoke unpleasant emotions in the students,” it was reported this week. (Leave aside for the moment that perhaps the whole point of tests is to “evoke unpleasant emotions.”)

Politicians, always eager to be seen to be “doing something”, are lining up to “do something” about bullying:

Last year, in response to the suicide of the 18-year-old gay Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, the state legislature passed “The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.” The law is widely regarded as the nation’s toughest on these matters. It has been called both a “resounding success” by Steve Goldstein, head of the gay-rights group Garden State Equality, and a “bureaucratic nightmare” by James O’Neill, the interim school superintendent of the township of Roxbury. In Congress, New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Rush Holt have introduced the federal Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has called the Lautenberg-Holt proposal a threat to free speech because its “definition of harassment is vague, subjective and at odds with Supreme Court precedent.” Should it become law, it might well empower colleges to stop some instances of bullying, but it would also cause many of them to be sued for repressing speech. In New Jersey, a school anti-bullying coordinator told the Star-Ledger that “The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” has “added a layer of paperwork that actually inhibits us” in dealing with problems. In surveying the effects of the law, the Star-Ledger reports that while it is “widely used and has helped some kids,” it has imposed costs of up to $80,000 per school district for training alone and uses about 200 hours per month of staff time in each district, with some educators saying that the additional effort is taking staff “away from things such as substance-abuse prevention and college and career counseling.”

Bullying is a problem, but it’s neither new nor growing:

But is bullying — which the stopbullying.gov website of the Department of Health and Human Services defines as “teasing,” “name-calling,” “taunting,” “leaving someone out on purpose,” “telling other children not to be friends with someone,” “spreading rumors about someone,” “hitting/kicking/pinching,” “spitting” and “making mean or rude hand gestures” — really a growing problem in America?

Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.

Ross McKitrick: Earth Hour, a dissent

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Environment, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:26

I don’t observe Earth Hour, and Ross McKitrick explains some of the reasons far more eloquently than I can:

In 2009 I was asked by a journalist for my thoughts on the importance of Earth Hour.

Here is my response.

I abhor Earth Hour. Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century. Every material social advance in the 20th century depended on the proliferation of inexpensive and reliable electricity.

Giving women the freedom to work outside the home depended on the availability of electrical appliances that free up time from domestic chores. Getting children out of menial labour and into schools depended on the same thing, as well as the ability to provide safe indoor lighting for reading.

Development and provision of modern health care without electricity is absolutely impossible. The expansion of our food supply, and the promotion of hygiene and nutrition, depended on being able to irrigate fields, cook and refrigerate foods, and have a steady indoor supply of hot water.

Many of the world’s poor suffer brutal environmental conditions in their own homes because of the necessity of cooking over indoor fires that burn twigs and dung. This causes local deforestation and the proliferation of smoke- and parasite-related lung diseases.

Anyone who wants to see local conditions improve in the third world should realize the importance of access to cheap electricity from fossil-fuel based power generating stations. After all, that’s how the west developed.

The whole mentality around Earth Hour demonizes electricity. I cannot do that, instead I celebrate it and all that it has provided for humanity.

Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. By repudiating the greatest engine of liberation it becomes an hour devoted to anti-humanism. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.

People who see virtue in doing without electricity should shut off their fridge, stove, microwave, computer, water heater, lights, TV and all other appliances for a month, not an hour. And pop down to the cardiac unit at the hospital and shut the power off there too.

I don’t want to go back to nature. Travel to a zone hit by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes to see what it’s like to go back to nature. For humans, living in “nature” meant a short life span marked by violence, disease and ignorance. People who work for the end of poverty and relief from disease are fighting against nature. I hope they leave their lights on.

Here in Ontario, through the use of pollution control technology and advanced engineering, our air quality has dramatically improved since the 1960s, despite the expansion of industry and the power supply.

If, after all this, we are going to take the view that the remaining air emissions outweigh all the benefits of electricity, and that we ought to be shamed into sitting in darkness for an hour, like naughty children who have been caught doing something bad, then we are setting up unspoiled nature as an absolute, transcendent ideal that obliterates all other ethical and humane obligations.

No thanks.

I like visiting nature but I don’t want to live there, and I refuse to accept the idea that civilization with all its tradeoffs is something to be ashamed of.

Ross McKitrick
Professor of Economics
University of Guelph

Botched investigation into GCHQ staff member’s mysterious death

Filed under: Britain, Government, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:17

This sounds particularly bad:

Forensic investigators have apologized for the bungling of the inquiry into the mysterious death of a codebreaker employed by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

In August 2010, Gareth Williams, described as a mathematical genius by his peers and employed at GCHQ since leaving university, was found dead in his flat in London. Williams, who had recently qualified for deployment with MI6 — Britain’s version of the CIA — was found naked and partially decomposed in a sports bag that had been locked from the outside and placed in the bath.

In the pre-inquest hearing on Friday, the court heard that the investigation into Williams’ death had been botched from the start. LGS Forensics said that DNA found on Mr Williams’ body was investigated, but later turned out to have been transferred there from one of the forensic scientists investigating the death, and a search of the apartment turned up no clues as to his death.

Warning: Despite a total lack of evidence, we still want video game “violence” warning stickers

Filed under: Gaming, Government, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:14

Erik Kain in Forbes on the latest attempt to put scare warnings on pretty much all video games sold in stores:

“WARNING: Exposure to violent video games has been linked to aggressive behavior.”

That’s the label Reps. Joe Baca and Frank Wolf want to place on every video game that hits store shelves.

Well okay, not every video game. Just every game with an E (Everyone) rating or higher. Only EC (Early Childhood) games would avoid the label. Every other game, regardless of content, would have the equivalent of cigarette warnings slapped on them.

This means that games like Tiger Woods PGA Tour would get a violence-warning label.

Can I humbly suggest that we sponsor a bill that would slap warning labels on all our elected officials?

“WARNING: May enact pointless, freedom-quashing laws based on bad data and lies due to sanctimonious pandering to special interest groups.”

The EFF is on the case.

EFF has put together an action alert that lets you to tell your Congressmember that you stand against the unnecessary and burdensome regulation of speech in video games, and that she should too.

Even though it is not required by law, many video game developers have been self-regulating games for age-level and content with Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) ratings since 1994. That system is widely understood in the marketplace, and allows consumers and parents to make informed decisions about their video game purchases.

QotD: Conservatives

Filed under: Humour, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I do not doubt that conservatives are, in their heart of hearts, jugheaded buffoons who simply want to will away inconvenient truths by plugging their ears and covering their eyes when faced with cognitive dissonance. I’m confident that they argue from authority when it serves their purpose and then are muy skeptical when confronted with authority they don’t like. I’m metaphysically certain that many are repllent and repulsive and altogether awful and that they tend to love dogs and cats in the abstract more than their fellow human beings. In all this, I suspect, they are incredibly similar to liberals and, alas, libertarians and everyone else.

Nick Gillespie, “Why Don’t Conservatives Trust Scientists Like They Used To? Are They Just Anti-Evolutionary, Anti-Global Warming Jag-Offs or Could There Be Other Explanations?”, Hit and Run, 2012-03-30

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