Quotulatiousness

July 22, 2014

23% of US children live in poverty … except that’s not actually true

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:48

In Forbes, Tim Worstall explains why the shocking headline rate of child poverty in the US is not correct (and that’s a good thing):

The annual Kids Count, from the Annie F. Casey Foundation, is out and many are reporting that it shows that 23% of American children are living in poverty. I’m afraid that this isn’t quite true and the mistaken assumption depends on one little intricate detail of how US poverty statistics are constructed. This isn’t a snarl at Kids Count, they report the numbers impartially, it’s the interpretation that some are putting on those numbers that is in error. For the reality is that, by the way that the US measures poverty, it does a pretty good job in alleviating child poverty. The real rate of children actually living in poverty, after all the aid they get to not live in poverty, is more like 2 or 3% of US children. Which is pretty good for government work.

[...]

However, this is not the same thing as stating that 23% of US children are living in poverty. For there’s a twist in the way that US poverty statistics are compiled.

Everyone else measures poverty as being below 60% of median equivalised household disposable income. This is a measure of relative poverty, how much less do you have than the average? The US uses a different measure, based upon historical accident really, which is a measure of absolute poverty. How may people have less than $x to live upon? There’s also a second difference. Everyone else measures poverty after the influence of the tax and the benefits system upon those incomes. The US measures only cash income (both market income and also cash from the government). It does not measure the influence of benefits that people receive in kind (ie, in goods or services) nor through the tax system. And the problem with this is that the major poverty alleviation schemes in the US are, in rough order, Medicaid, the EITC, SNAP (or food stamps) and then Section 8 housing vouchers. Three of which are goods or services in kind and the fourth comes through the tax system.

July 21, 2014

The retreat of civil society and the advance of the nanny state

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:27

In The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders why so many parents are being arrested these days for letting their children do things that used to be utterly normal:

Last month, when the first wave of these stories came out, I suggested it was a problem of helicopter parents enforcing their notions of parenthood on others. But the number and variety of such incidents suggest that something more is at work. The communities that are happy to watch the kids in the neighborhood, and help parents with an extra set of eyes and a few caramels, are just gone. We’re arresting parents because civil society is retreating from children altogether.

Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner and a father of five, attributes it to a decline of “neighborliness.” And that’s certainly true. People see a kid, imagine a bad thing could happen to them, and then think they should call the cops. Whereas “neighborly adults look after other adults’ kids when the parents are unavailable.”

Gracy Olmstead, in a very smart article for The American Conservative, says that all of this waning of society and waxing of the state was predicted by communitarian libertarian Robert Nisbet:

    Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.

[...]

But today those communities seem rarer, and so, too, those shared premises about how kids should behave. More than that, there’s a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood. Deliver a short report on a child’s behavior and his parents may snap back, “Don’t tell me how to parent my child.” A neighbor’s interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation (one they usually know little about because they are not very neighborly) to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.

Update: Scott Greenfield on the whole “see something, say something (to the authorities)” situation with parents and children.

[...] the most fundamental cause for some people to feel empowered to rat out a parent [is] because they just aren’t managing their children the way I think they should!!!

Everything that fails to comport with the way the most sensitive soul in the neighborhood feels it should must now be a crime. Do it for the children. Do it for the women. Do it for … just do it.

Parents always question other parents’ parenting skills and choices. We naturally believe with all our heart and soul that whatever choices we made were better than theirs, whoever they may be. This is human nature, given our own belief that we are right and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. Conversely, everyone who agrees is brilliant, confirming that we, too, are both right and brilliant. These thoughts are nothing new.

But the problem in Douthat’s parade of bad parenting isn’t merely some prissy busybody’s decision that some parent has inadequately bubble-wrapped their kid. The problem is that they conflate their parenting choices with righteousness, such that anyone who doesn’t share their sensibilities has committed a crime. It’s a crime to neglect your child, with neglect defined as doing anything less than providing absolute safety and comfort to children as the most delicate flower perceives it.

[...]

Years ago, there was a saying in the parent’s handbook, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Today, that’s Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree. This isn’t to suggest that beating kids is a great method of child rearing, but to remind all the self-righteous that their beloved nanny used to beat their mother to a pulp when she misbehaved. Are you ready to lock granny up? If not, what moral authority do you have to call the cops on someone else, whose crime is not meeting your expectations of safe enough?

The criminal law is not a child-rearing tool. If you spent a few seconds thinking beyond your overly passionate feelings, you might consider whether a child would do better to be reared by a loving parent who isn’t inclined to keep them locked in protective custody throughout the formative years, than as a ward of the state. How does turning a parent into a criminal, losing a job, perhaps even a home, make a child’s life better?

July 13, 2014

QotD: Teaching children how to read

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

This is Cargo Cult stuff. They did the same thing with their new innovations in Whole Word learning (reading a word at a glance), when they got rid of Phonics (sounding a word out, letter by letter), and doomed a generation to being bad readers.

Here’s the Cargo Cult part:

Professional Highly-Educated Education Researchers noted that high-level early readers were usually just identifying words at a glance — reading in a “whole word” way. While kids using Phonics read more slowly. Phonics kids were slower readers and struggled with it more.

So hey — let’s stop teaching kids this slow method of reading called Phonics and just teach them “Whole Word” reading!!! Win, win, win!!! It’s easier for the students, and even easier for the teachers, as they don’t have to teach the step-by-step Phonics method of reading. They can just say the word “horse” is horse and keep saying it until these stupid kids start learning that “horse” means horse.

Here’s the problem: This is Cargo Cult mneliaty. Yes, the high-lanrneig, early-raednig kids are in fact using the Wlohe Wrod raenidg mhoted, just as you, reading that gibberish I just wrote, employed Whole Word reading — looking at the first and last letters of the word and using context and years and years of experience in how the written language works, and what words are expected to come in which place in a sentence to read, fairly easily, a bunch of misspelled words as the words I intended.

But the high-learning, early-reading kids are only doing that because they started reading earlier than the other kids. All kids — including the early readers — go through the Phonics phase. [...]

Now, having gone through the Phonics phase at age 3 or 4, by age five I was reading quite a bit, especially Peanuts (I had whole books, decades’ worth of Peanuts cartoons). And I had moved from “mostly Phonics” to “mostly Whole Word reading,” at least as far as common words. The unfamiliar words I still had to sound out, Phonics-style.

So sure — the accomplished 6-year-old readers are indeed mostly using whole word, at least for common words. Spoiler alert: That’s because they already went through the Phonics phase at age 4 or 5.

The Cargo Cult mistake of these “Educators” is to think that Whole Word reading is a shortcut to teaching reading. No — Whole Word reading is the endpoint of learning to read. First you read letter by letter, then syllable by syllable (as you have begun to compile, in your Reading Memory, a large list of common syllables). Then you start just reading Whole Word.

You have to go through the letter-by-letter process to get to the Whole Word level. [...]

By denying kids their first step in reading — teaching them to read letter-by-letter — educators have not advanced Whole Word reading. They’ve retarded it. You can’t do whole word until you’re an ace at letter by letter.

They’re making the same mistake here with this jackass method of teaching math. The method they’re teaching is what I’d term a secondary insight. [...]

But once again the “Experts” are demonstrating their Cargo Cult mentality when it comes to pedagogy. Because kids will start intuiting these things after they’ve mastered the rote-memorization and drilling routine of arithmetic and the times tables, hey, let’s just cut out the middleman and teach the Advanced Secondary Insights explicitly! And skip all that tedious rote-memorization and drilling!

Ace, “Common Core is Pretty Dumb”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-01-21

July 10, 2014

Sometimes, “a phase” really is just a phase

Filed under: Randomness — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:21

Lindsay Leigh Bentley contrasts her own “tomboy” childhood with that of Ryland, who was born female but whose parents have transitioned her (at age 5):

I have no degree in early childhood development, nor have I studied psychology. I didn’t even graduate from College.

I am also not here to pass judgement on Ryland’s parents. I believe that they are doing what they believe to be the most loving thing for their child. I’m simply sharing my story because I see so much of my 5-year-old self in this child.

I was born the second daughter to two loving, amazing, supportive parents. They would go on to have 2 more daughters. The four of us couldn’t be more different, even down to our hair and eye color. Our parents embraced our differences and allowed us to grow as individuals, not concerned with the social “norms” for girls. I often joke that I was the boy my dad never had. My dad is a free spirit, 100% unconcerned with what people think of him, and he thought nothing of “out of the box” behavior. I function more as a firstborn than a second born (however, this does not make me the firstborn, amiright?)

[...]

I wanted to be a boy. Desperately wanted to be a boy. I thought boys had more fun. I felt like a boy in the way that our society views genders. I liked blue and green more than pink and purple. I remember sitting up as high as I could climb in our huge mulberry tree, bow & arrow in hand, trying to kiss my elbow (a neighbor lady had told me that if I could accomplish this, that I would turn into a boy, which was what I wanted in that moment, as a child, more than anything.)

Thankfully, my parents didn’t adhere to the archaic stereotypes that “boys like blue” and “girls like pink;” that “boys play with dinosaurs, and girls play with dolls.” Had they told me that liking these things made me a boy, I would have concluded that I was a boy.

They just let me be me. They let me be a girl who wore jeans more often than skirts. They let me play with slingshots rather than princess wands. They didn’t conclude that I was gay, or transgender. They didn’t put me in a box that would shape my future, at the expense of my own free will.

July 9, 2014

Britain’s latest moral panic enters the “proposing bad law” stage

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:40

Iain Martin says it’s now gotten to the point “where it is permissible to mention George Orwell and his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four“:

Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the NSPCC, said earlier: “If someone consciously knows that there is a crime committed against a child, and does nothing about it because they put the reputation of the organisation above the safety of that child, that should be a criminal offence.”

“Consciously knows.” There’s an interesting phrase. It seems that the NSPCC sees this sanction applying only to people in positions of responsibility. But how can that be defined fairly in law? Will the new law only apply to the chief executive of a health trust, but not to the finance director or to the head of communications? It would be impossible to define such a law so narrowly. In time it would have to apply to anyone working in any organisation. And, surely it must also apply to anyone who comes into contact with said organisation and who might have heard that a crime has been committed? People often think they “consciously know” something when they have actually only heard it third-hand. If the idea is established that failure to pass on a wild rumour to the police is somehow illegal, it is not difficult to imagine what could go wrong.

[...]

If it is to become a crime to fail to report suspicions that child abuse is taking place, why should the new law not to be extended in time to all other areas of criminal activity? It could become illegal to fail to report to the police if you suspected that a fellow citizen had committed a crime, or might be about to. As someone wise on Twitter put it earlier: the historical precedents of states making it compulsory for citizens to report on their fellow citizens are not encouraging.

July 8, 2014

Understatement of the day – “Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:42

In the Telegraph, Iain Martin tries to put this summer’s British media hysteria/witch hunt into a bit of perspective:

Anyone who expresses astonishment about the wave of recent revelations and allegations centred on the conduct of assorted entertainers and celebrities from the Seventies must have been lacking access to a television set, if they are genuinely shocked. In that decade, and on into the Eighties, even the most successful and least funny comedy programme rested mainly on one joke, which involved a man in a raincoat chasing around bikini-clad young women. Back then the work of Benny Hill was regarded as family entertainment, and groping, sexual incontinence and jokes about the corruption of innocence were the staples of countless other comedians. It would be surprising – really, wouldn’t it? – if a minority of twisted, power-crazed people working in “entertainment” intent on sexual abuse hadn’t exploited the opportunity to do terrible harm.

Britain in the Seventies was a very weird place. The sexual revolution (largely an elite project of the Sixties, which did not go mainstream until later) had produced a bizarre popular culture hybrid. In the Seventies, the British saucy postcard tradition, always darker than it looked, featuring cheeky innuendo, collided with a crazed mood of supposed sexual liberation. The message pushed out in some sitcoms and other forms of popular entertainment was that everyone was permanently at “it” and that any woman resisting “it” was a prude or a relic of a bygone era. Questions of license, consent and desirability became hopelessly confused. This was the dark flip side of the numerous benefits which came with the abandonment of the old, stifling constraints imposed on both sexes.

To make matters even more hazardous, Britain in the Seventies was a country wobbling on the verge of a transition. The population’s over-reliance on deference and a blind faith in the virtues of authority had already been tested in the Suez disaster and in the Profumo scandal of 1963, although it had not collapsed entirely. Parents still operated on the assumption that fellow adults in positions of power were likely to be trustworthy, and the majority were. But thanks to scandals revealed since involving schools, churches, children’s homes, the BBC, the Scouts and so on, we know that some individuals and networks of paedophiles exploited that trust, again to do terrible harm.

The hound pack of the media is in full cry, and that urge to convict before trial is overwhelming common sense and propriety.

But increasingly we seem less interested in due process – as a protection against miscarriage of justice or to prevent a bad precedent being established – than we do in the excitement of the moment and urgent demands for a government “inquiry” which must usually be “over-arching”. These inquiries are now an industry in themselves, although curiously the one area that probably deserved it (the banking collapse presided over by the political class which triggered the worst downturn in 80 years) was not given a proper inquiry. Funny that.

On Westminster child abuse, the risk was identified by Claire Fox speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme earlier. She said that rumour is already becoming confused with evidence. All manner of claims are now being aired and reported as though they are fact. “Twenty members of the Establishment,” “ministers” and unnamed “leading figures” are accused of dark and sinister deeds. Alongside those making genuine allegations, anyone with a claim will get on air at the moment, any crank or fantasist who wants to attract attention or settle scores will cry that they are being ignored or suppressed if the broadcasters will not give them a platform immediately. It would be a brave BBC producer who would decline right now.

July 5, 2014

Did Rolf Harris face a kangaroo court?

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

I didn’t follow this particular case (or any of the recent British witch-hunting expeditions against former celebrities), but this post makes it seem as if at least some of the charges Harris was convicted of were remarkably flimsy:

Rolf Harris has been convicted and for many that is conclusive proof of his guilt. However, we should not forget that the British justice system is not perfect, it can make errors, as these high profile miscarriages of justice show.

I do not know if Rolf Harris committed the crimes he was accused of. However, I find the fact that he was convicted, based on the evidence reported by the BBC, alarming.

Let me explain why:

    COUNT ONE – VERDICT: GUILTY

    “The woman said she was aged seven or eight when she queued to get an autograph from Harris at a community centre in Hampshire in 1968 or 1969. When she reached the front of the queue, Harris had touched her inappropriately with his “big hairy hands”, she told the jury.

    The court heard that no evidence could be found that Mr Harris had been at the community centre. He also showed his hands to the jury and denied they were hairy.”

When they say that no evidence could be found that Mr Harris had been at the community centre, they don’t mean a cursory glance turned nothing up. They searched local newspaper archives between January 1967 and May 1974, council records and even conducted letter drops appealing for witnesses. Nothing, not a single piece of independent evidence that he was ever there!

It is hard to see how the uncorroborated recollection of an event alleged to have happened 45 years ago, when the witness was eight, can constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt.

On another count of which Harris has been found guilty by the court:

So the accuser couldn’t remember when it happened (or how old she was), she couldn’t remember where it happened and yet the jury found her 36 year old memory of the indecent assault to be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt!

When we talk about the indecent assault we are not talking about something so traumatic, like rape, that it would understandably be burned into her memory. We are talking about a 17 year old having her bottom touched in the 1970′s, a time where bottom pinching was considered mainstream enough for popular TV shows such as Are You Being Served and on billboards for respectable brands such as Fiat.

Again, nobody who wasn’t there can be sure what Rolf Harris did or didn’t do in this case, but I know that there is an £11m incentive for people to make up accusations and without any corroborating evidence there has to be a reasonable doubt in favour of the accused.

I have no idea whether Harris is actually guilty of the accusations, but I’m astonished a court could convict based on such flimsy evidence. Clearly, at least in high profile media-related cases, the presumption of innocence has been replaced by a presumption of guilt.

July 3, 2014

QotD: The death of nuance

Filed under: Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

… American liberalism culture is now synonymous with a juvenile Manicheanism that imagines some perfect world we could achieve if people just weren’t so selfish and evil; that getting showily, publicly angry about problems is more popular than actually attempting to solve them; that there is no issue of such emotional and moral complexity that many people can’t reduce it to a black-and-white caricature; and that we have created a media which has made its financial best interest inextricable from destroying depth, nuance, and complexity. I genuinely don’t know if people believe in difficult choices and intractable problems anymore; they’ve been bludgeoned by the loud noises and shouting we mistake for discussion into thinking that all problems have clear villains and easy answers. I do know that this is no way to run a democracy. And I also know that, years from now, when people like Vogell are no longer wasting a second of their time thinking about physical restraint of children who are a danger to themselves and others, the women in my program will be working, quietly and selflessly and for awful compensation, trying to help the children they are now accused of abusing.

Fredrik deBoer, “difficult problems after the death of nuance”, Fredrik deBoer, 2014-07-01.

June 29, 2014

QotD: Feminism should not be just reflexive blaming of men

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

I find myself increasingly shocked at the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men which is now so part of our culture that it is hardly even noticed.

Great things have been achieved through feminism. We now have pretty much equality at least on the pay and opportunities front, though almost nothing has been done on child care, the real liberation.

We have many wonderful, clever, powerful women everywhere, but what is happening to men? Why did this have to be at the cost of men?

I was in a class of nine- and 10-year-olds, girls and boys, and this young woman was telling these kids that the reason for wars was the innately violent nature of men.

You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologising for their existence, thinking this was going to be the pattern of their lives.

Doris Lessing, quoted by Fiachra Gibbons in “Lay off men, Lessing tells feminists: Novelist condemns female culture that revels in humiliating other sex”, Guardian, 2001-08-14

June 28, 2014

Autism and vaccines infographic

Filed under: Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:44

Click to see full infographic

Click to see full infographic

H/T to Nils Werner for the link.

May 27, 2014

Internet privacy advice for kids (who are not “Digital Natives”)

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:15

Cory Doctorow sympathizes with young people who have literally grown up with the internet:

The problem with being a “digital native” is that it transforms all of your screw-ups into revealed deep truths about how humans are supposed to use the Internet. So if you make mistakes with your Internet privacy, not only do the companies who set the stage for those mistakes (and profited from them) get off Scot-free, but everyone else who raises privacy concerns is dismissed out of hand. After all, if the “digital natives” supposedly don’t care about their privacy, then anyone who does is a laughable, dinosauric idiot, who isn’t Down With the Kids.

“Privacy” doesn’t mean that no one in the world knows about your business. It means that you get to choose who knows about your business.

It’s difficult to explain to people just how open their online “secrets” really are … and that’s not even covering the folks who are specifically targets of active surveillance … just being on Facebook or other social media sites hands over a lot of your personal details without your direct knowledge or (informed) consent. But you can start to take back some of your own privacy online:

If you start using computers when you’re a little kid, you’ll have a certain fluency with them that older people have to work harder to attain. As Douglas Adams wrote:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

If I was a kid today, I’d be all about the opsec — the operational security. I’d learn how to use tools that kept my business between me and the people I explicitly shared it with. I’d make it my habit, and get my friends into the habit too (after all, it doesn’t matter if all your email is encrypted if you send it to some dorkface who keeps it all on Google’s servers in unscrambled form where the NSA can snaffle it up).

Here’s some opsec links to get you started:

  • First of all, get a copy of Tails, AKA “The Amnesic Incognito Live System.” This is an operating system that you can use to boot up your computer so that you don’t have to trust the OS it came with to be free from viruses and keyloggers and spyware. It comes with a ton of secure communications tools, as well as everything you need to make the media you want to send out into the world.
  • Next, get a copy of The Tor Browser Bundle, a special version of Firefox that automatically sends your traffic through something called TOR (The Onion Router, not to be confused with Tor Books, who publish my novels). This lets you browse the Web with a much greater degree of privacy and anonymity than you would otherwise get.
  • Learn to use GPG, which is a great way to encrypt (scramble) your emails. There’s a Chrome plugin for using GPG with Gmail, and another version for Firefox
  • If you like chatting, get OTR, AKA “Off the Record,” a very secure private chat tool that has exciting features like “perfect forward secrecy” (this being a cool way of saying, even if someone breaks this tomorrow, they won’t be able to read the chats they captured today).

Once you’ve mastered that stuff, start to think about your phone. Android phones are much, much easier to secure than Apple’s iPhones (Apple tries to lock their phones so you can’t install software except through their store, and because of a 1998 law called the DMCA, it’s illegal to make a tool to unlock them). There are lots of alternative operating systems for Android, of varying degrees of security. The best place to start is Cyanogenmod, which makes it much easier to use privacy tools with your mobile device.

May 20, 2014

Scotland ratchets up the Nanny State

Filed under: Britain, Government, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:27

Last year, the Scottish government introduced legislative proposals to nominate state guardians for all Scottish children, to be called “named persons” and to exercise rather Orwellian powers over the child and the child’s parents. The legislation is now in force, and Stuart Waiton explains why it’s such an intrusive step:

The children’s minister, Aileen Campbell, has been dismissive of those people who have criticised the act as state snooping, or, as many Christian groups have put it, an ‘attack on the family’. For Campbell, the new powers and duties being given to the state guardians are simply another service to help families in trouble and further ensure that children are protected in society. Indeed, Aileen Campbell at times appears to be nonplussed by her critics, incapable of seeing why her caring approach is not instantly celebrated. The claims of state snoops undermining the family, she argues, are simply ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘misrepresentations’ of the new law. When someone raised the point that this act undermined the role of parents in child-rearing, Campbell, somewhat comically, replied, ‘we recognise that parents also have a role’.

However, given the increasing ways in which all children are being categorised as ‘vulnerable’, the way in which all professionals are being educated to put child safety at the top of their agenda, and at time in which ‘early intervention’ is promoted as the only rational approach to solving social problems, there is a serious risk that the relationship between the ‘named person’ and parents will become one predicated on suspicion. Given that the red line for when it is appropriate to intervene in a child’s life is also being downgraded, from the child being seen as at serious risk of harm to mere concerns about their ‘wellbeing’, the potential for unnecessary and potentially destructive state intrusion into family life with this law is significant.

[...] There is also a great danger here that by incorporating every single child in the child-safety rubric, the few children who need state intervention in their lives will get lost in this vast system and not get the support they need. As one concerned parent has noted, when you are looking for a needle in a haystack, why make the haystack bigger?

May 8, 2014

Reason‘s Video Game Nation page

Filed under: Business, Gaming, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:02

Reason's Video Game Nation page

April 29, 2014

International pedophile rings – “a Bilderberg of diaper snipers”

Filed under: Britain, Law, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:07

For some reason, every decade or so a new moral panic sweeps the land (in this case, it’s showing up in multiple Western countries). Everyone gets their collective knickers in a twist over some horrible outrage which requires, nay, demands that something must be done. The panic de jour is organized gangs of pedophiles (it’s been the panic de jour several times in the last forty years). Kathy Shaidle looks at the most recent eruption of out-of-control morality:

One particularly distasteful breed of conspiracy theory that stubbornly refuses to die, however, is that which posits the existence of local, national, or even international pedophile rings.

Does pedophilia exist? Sure. However, it doesn’t follow that perverts have semiorganized themselves into some kind of parody of Freemasonry, a Bilderberg of diaper snipers.

For whatever reason — a quirk of the collective unconscious; individual shame and guilt; profound resentment of the ruling elite — the modern mind wants to believe in these vast pederast conspiracies, even though, again and again, investigations into their existence come up embarrassingly empty.

Yes, we can argue that this is because “the authorities” are members of the ring, too, but lots of “authorities” were in on Mafia and KKK malfeasance; this made prosecution difficult, but certainly not impossible. There are museums packed with primary source evidence of the Klan’s existence, and the Mob’s; contrast that with this utterly bizarre example of what can only be described as anti-journalism that appeared in the UK’s Islington Tribune earlier this month:

    Despite recognition that a huge paedophile ring preyed on Islington children’s homes in the 1970s and 1980s no one has ever been prosecuted and all the records of the homes and the names of the children who went to them have been “lost.”

Behold: After the longest and most expensive trial in American history, all charges were dropped in the McMartin Preschool child abuse case, during which an archeologist testified to the existence of “secret tunnels” on the school’s grounds, and children claimed they’d been raped at orgies at car washes.

Here in Canada, a $53 million inquiry failed to uncover a widely rumored pedophile ring in Cornwall, Ontario. (The Ontario Provincial Police had already reached the same conclusion eight years earlier.) At the end of the day — or, rather, the decade and counting — only one individual was ever convicted of any crime.

Theodore Dalrymple observed a decade ago that the people most likely to express outrage about pedophiles are actually those whose own kids tend to be neglected:

On no subject is the British public more fickle and more prone to attacks of intense but shallow emotion than childhood. Not long ago, for example, a pediatrician’s house in South Wales was attacked by a mob unable to distinguish a pediatrician from a pedophile. The attackers, of course, came from precisely the social milieu in which every kind of child abuse and neglect flourishes, in which the age of consent has been de facto abolished, and in which adults are afraid of their own offspring once they reach the age of violence. The upbringing of children in much of Britain is a witches’ brew of sentimentality, brutality, and neglect, in which overindulgence in the latest fashions, toys, or clothes, and a television in the bedroom are regarded as the highest — indeed only — manifestations of tender concern for a child’s welfare.

An earlier example happened in my home town in the late 1980s, although fortunately for Middlesbrough’s reputation the name of the county was the usual label for the moral panic: the Cleveland child abuse scandal.

The Cleveland child abuse scandal occurred in Cleveland, England in 1987, where 121 cases of suspected child sexual abuse were diagnosed by Dr Marietta Higgs and Dr Geoffrey Wyatt, paediatricians at a Middlesbrough hospital (in the now abolished county of Cleveland). The children were subject to place of safety orders, and some were removed from their parents’ care permanently. While in foster care, the children continued to be regularly examined by Dr. Higgs who subsequently accused foster parents of further abuse leading to them too being arrested.

After a number of court trials, cases involving 96 of the 121 children alleged to be victims of sexual abuse were dismissed by the courts, and 26 cases, involving children from twelve families, were found by judges to have been incorrectly diagnosed.

Despite the judicial results, the bureaucrats believed (and apparently still do believe) that the sexual abuse of all those children really did occur and that even that large number was less than a tenth of the actual problem.

April 23, 2014

Happy Meal toys as human rights violations

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

Amy Otto on the attempt to sue McDonald’s because they were handing out “gendered” toys with their Happy Meals:

A recent article in Slate by Antonia Ayres-Brown, a junior in high school, details the valiant feminist struggle she ultimately brought to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against McDonald’s for … discriminating on the basis of sex in the distribution of Happy Meal toys. “Despite our evidence showing that, in our test, McDonald’s employees described the toys in gendered terms more than 79 percent of the time, the commission dismissed our allegations as ‘absurd’ and solely for the purposes of ‘titilation [sic] and sociological experimentation,’” she wrote.

Let’s leave aside the fact that Connecticut has a Commission on Human Rights and note that this girl sincerely believes McDonald’s offering toys described, at times, as being for a girl or for a boy is a human rights violation.

While I admire the girl’s plucky disposition and effort, I do hope one day she learns to channel her energy into productive uses that will advance her cause in positive ways. This could have all been solved by her parents simply encouraging her to ask for the toy she wants. If girls are continually taught that they as individuals have no power to negotiate a situation as simple as “I’d like that toy” without the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights getting involved, I submit that these women are proving the case that they should not be put in positions of leadership or power.

By the author’s own admission,“McDonald’s is estimated to sell more than 1 billion Happy Meals each year.” Yet it does not occur to her that the fast food worker giving a “girl’s” toy to a girl is simply trying to give the customer what she wants in the most expeditious manner possible. This is a company that sells a billion of these things a year and gets them in the hands of their customers as fast as possible.

People do not eat at McDonald’s to get into a gender studies discussion with the teenage kid at the register; they go there to get food fast, hence the term “fast food.” If the author had worked in fast food for any nominal period of time, she might realize that the employee’s main motivation is not to spend any time persecuting women but to make it through his or her shift as painlessly as possible.

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