Views on the News - June 2002
by Sean Prophet
CALIFORNIA ASSEMBLY PASSES GLOBAL WARMING BILL - As goes California, so goes the nation. This has been true with catalytic converters and a lot of other government mandated anti-pollution technology. Now, California has finally set about regulating CO2 production, which will be the final blow to large, wasteful vehicles. The bill, if signed would phase in restrictions in about 7 years. It may be bitter medicine, but someone has to lead the charge.
ELEVEN YEAR OLD GIRL SUSPENDED FOR SKETCH OF TEACHER WITH AN ARROW THROUGH THE HEAD - By this measure, I'd have never made it through school. Drawing caricatures of teachers was widespread sport. I had a teacher named John Webb, and a girl in my class drew a picture of the teacher on a spider web in a toilet. Rude? Yes. Childish? Definitely. But isn't there a place for kids to be kids? Maybe the child should have been forced to apologize or stay after school. But instead the sketch was treated as a death threat. C'mon folks. Zero tolerance means zero percent of our kids will succeed. We need thicker skins and more astute educators to separate the real problem kids from the ones with a healthy spirit of youthful rebellion.
JEALOUS PRINCIPAL PERFORMS UNDERWEAR CHECKS AT SCHOOL DANCE (SAN DIEGO, CA) - Anyone caught wearing thong underwear was turned away. Now excuse me for being blunt, but anyone who'd go this far to enforce their "morals" obviously isn't getting enough sex. How can this principal have carried out these checks without herself exposing the girls, comitting a far worse breach of privacy. Depending on the woman's attitude and motivation (i.e. was she herself "turned on" by lifting the girls skirts?) she could be accused of committing a lewd act with a minor(s). Yikes! Fortunately, parents vehemently objected to this policy and the principal was suspended. Anyone check to see what kind of underwear the principal was wearing that day?
BIOETHICS JUST A SMOKESCREEN FOR MEDDLING - A spate of handwringing by bioethicists in recent articles is just the tip of the iceberg. There are people who wish they could control every new scientific breakthrough before it happens. As the famous technophobic saying goes: "science is much too important to be left to the scientists." As cloning, genetic engineering, and the possiblity of designer babies throws our definitions of humanity into chaos, many "ethicists" react by just saying no. Bur the genie is out of the bottle: the same technology that allows us to screen for sex or appearance will also allow us to breed out Alzheimer's disease. The same cloning that raises the specter of Dr. Mengele just might save yours or my life someday by letting us grow ourselves replacement organs. Even former President Gerald Ford has come out in favor of therapeutic cloning. So don't listen to the bioethicists as their voices and numbers swell in the years to come: These people want to tell you how to live, what kind of children you can have and what types of medical treatment you can be denied and for what reason. The future holds too much promise to let it be governed by overly sentimental guardians of an imperfect "humanity" based on suffering and limitation.
REALITY-CHECK FOR VOTER AND DOCTOR APPROVED MEDICAL MARIJUANA - (From the Sacramento Bee) Life just got more complicated for an 8-year-old boy and his mother who has had great success battling his mental disorders with a doctor-approved marijuana therapy. The youngster's medical condition has improved so dramatically that he can now attend public school, but school officials won't permit a school nurse to administer his cannabis capsules and won't let him take the pills himself on campus, the child's mother said. She hopes to persuade school officials to change their minds and allow the capsules to be given on campus. The day before the boy was to report to his new school, a message left on the family answering machine informed the mother that her son's recommended medication could not be administered on campus. So, she says, she's been forced to drive a round trip of 26 miles each noontime to remove him from the school grounds, give him his capsules, and return him to class. Vicki Barber, superintendent of the El Dorado County Office of Education, said she state law permits schools to dispense drugs only when they are formally "prescribed" by a physician. The boy's doctor made a "recommendation," and there is a difference, Barber added, between a "prescription" and a doctor's "recommendation." Because the district has a zero-tolerance policy, students are not permitted to have in their possession or to self-administer drugs of any kind, she said.
COMPUTERS AND SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS WORKING TO PREDICT CRIME - Even before the release of "Minority Report," Kingston University scientists are testing new software that can analyze images from surveillance cameras and warn officers of suspicious activity. In some cases the system is able to detect crimes about to be committed. It's great that these tools can be used to prevent terrorism, and for that they're ideal. But these tools can also be used by any overly paternalistic government to spy on citizens and clamp down on non-violent crimes. In the U.S., we can look forward to more harassment of drug users, johns, and other petty non-violent (basically innocent) "criminals". In the Islamic world, such systems could even be used to catch hapless lovers in a clandestine embrace, resulting in whippings, imprisonment, or worse. In a free society, people should not fear such cameras. Unfortunately, there is no truly free society on this earth, not even the U.S.
RANDY SCAVENGER HUNT A SYMBOL OF THE NEED FOR TEEN RITES OF PASSAGE - A group of Boston teens has been arrested for staging a scavenger hunt / initiation ritual which included theft, vandalism, and extreme acts of lewdness. How can parents and society be surprised at this when we give kids no way to find and face sexuality and real danger as part of growing up. In tribal societies, kids traditionally were ritually deflowered, forced into the wild to hunt, and removed from their parents around the age of 12 or 13. These practices ended only an evolutionary split-second ago. It's no wonder kids need to re-create this for themselves today. I wonder how long it will take our "civilized" society to figure out there's no risk-free way to make the transition to adulthood.
CHIEF DEFENDERS OF U.S. BILL OF RIGHTS NOT PROTECTED BY IT - A military man recently bad-mouthed President Bush in a published letter. Air Force Colonel Steve Butler now faces court martial, which could result in imprisonment, forfeiture of a year's pay, or both. Tell me again why anyone would want to serve in the military, if they have to give up the very rights they fight to protect?
OUR KIDS ARE HAVING SEX - Whether we like it or not. Attorney General John Ashcroft would like us to forget this fact, or more correctly, not to have any portrayals of it, even thematically or in computer animation. So if it were up to him, we can forget movies like Larry Clark's "Kids" (1995), or even the Oscar-winning "American Beauty" (1999), both of which contained non-explicit scenes of teenagers having sex. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Ashcroft's arguments, and pleased civil libertarians. But we can be sure that the extremists will not rest, and will continue to try to cast artists and filmmakers who tackle this difficult subject as pedophiles worthy of prosecution.
DRUDGE REPORTS BUSH ADMINISTRATION ACKNOWLEDGING GLOBAL WARMING - In a move with potentially far-reaching implications for the energy and auto industries, the Bush administration has sent a report to the U.N. acknowledging "specific and far-reaching effects" that it says "global warming will inflict" on the American environment. The United States will be substantially changed in the next few decades, claims the Bush report. The United States will "very likely" be seeing the "disruption of snow-fed water supplies, more stifling heat waves and the permanent disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes." Now let's stop screwing around, sign the Kyoto protocols, and slap on some energy taxes that will encourage conversion of our economy to non-fossil-fuel energy use. Is there any real choice?
JUDITH LEVINE AND FORMER SURGEON GENERAL JOYCELYN ELDERS CONFRONT MYTHS ABOUT TEEN SEXUALITY - In her new book Harmful to Minors, author Judith Levine challenges many of our cultural myths about teenage sexuality. While the actual age of onset of sexual activity is dropping, cries to raise the "age of consent" are growing. Our kids are caught in between their own raging hormones and parents with flagging libidos who have forgotten that they too were once teens. Abstinence-only education ignores the realities of teen-pregnancy and STD's. And we prosecute 11-year-olds as adults when they commit violent crimes--yet even a 17-year-old is not permitted to make a sexual decision in most states. A provocative book that asks society to confront some difficult issues. (Salon.com article)
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE FIRM DEVELOPS LANGUAGE FOR CODING "COMMON SENSE" - An important step to building machines that approach human intelligence will be training them to recognize patterns of information in the way that humans do. The bulk of this knowledge we pick up by age 3 or so, as we interact with others, and fall on our faces. We learn more, particularly in the interpersonal area by--say--age 21. In all, the average (non-specialist) person knows about 100 million things about the world. Texas based Cycorp has built the database, starting with 50,000 entries, and is actively working on a structure to allow computers to use this knowledge to draw insights about the human world from their own observations.
POLANSKI "CHILD RAPE" VICTIM FORGIVES - The woman who had sex with Director Roman Polanski in 1977 when she was 13 has said she has no objection to him being allowed to return to the U.S. while avoiding prison. Polanski fled to France rather than face prosecution. People can debate endlessly as to whether CONSENTING teens are harmed by having sex with adults. In the case of Mary Kay LeTorneau, the young boy obviously wanted more--impregnating her twice. In cases where there is no allegation of coercion, maybe we should let the "victims" speak for themselves--rather than treating it as "statutory rape," a crime against the state. Just as children over the age of 12 in custody cases are often given the choice of which parent to live with, we should hear kids side of the story when statutory rape is alleged. Failing this, we should at least give such children an opportunity to re-evaluate at the age of 18 and decide for themselves whether a crime was committed. At that point, if the victim declines to press charges, the statutory "rapist" should be released.
STUDENTS MORE CONSERVATIVE THAN FACULTY AT KENNESAW - John Steinbeck's Pulitzer Prize winning novel "The Grapes of Wrath" was adapted for a play, and the play contained scenes of nudity. The drama department of Kennesaw State University supported students in performing the play as written. About 500 students objected in April, petitioning the department to ban all nudity in student productions. The organizers claimed that because they were offended by nudity, they would be "forced to leave the campus community to participate in the arts." Instead of trying to drag the whole university back into the Victorian era, could they maybe, like, not go to the play?