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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

Teens Sue School for Punishing Them over Lewd Photos

Two teenage girls, along with the ACLU, have filed a lawsuit against their school district after the school punished them for publishing racy photos on their myspace pages. Let’s get ready to rage.

The background: a group of girlfriends had a sleepover earlier this summer that involved phallic lollipops and a digital camera. “Suggestive” photos of two of the girls eating the candy found their way to myspace (surprise), though the girls set their privacy controls so that only “friends” could see them.  A few months later, some jackass kid (probably an ex-boyfriend or a vindictive drama queen) printed the pictures out and brought them to school, where they were shown to school officials. School officials then suspended the girls from their fall semester extracurricular activities, made them apologize to an all-male coaches’ panel, and made them seek counseling.

There’s so much wrong with this situation that I don’t even know where to begin. First, you’ve got school administrators disciplining kids for activities that didn’t take place on school grounds, during the school year, and had nothing to do with school, period. When kids bring phallic-shaped candy to school, confiscate it. When they violate dress code, send them home. When they misbehave, discipline them. But when they exercise their free speech rights as private citizens (and at fifteen, who among us wasn’t experimenting with the power of sex appeal?), the school has no business acting as a censor.

Second, it seems to me like the wrong people were punished. What about the kid(s) who printed the pictures out and brought them to school? Aren’t they the real evildoers here? They took what was intended to be private knowledge and publicized it. While that may not be illegal, there’s definitely a lesson here that these creeps aren’t learning. You don’t tell other people’s secrets, and you never spread unflattering or character-destroying photographs of anybody around school or the web. Those are two things that civilized, decent people just don’t do. Isn’t that a more important life lesson for becoming a decent person than the glib message “don’t take pictures of yourself licking a dick-shaped lollipop?”

Third, the punishment here does not even come close to fitting the “crime.” 1) The crime here is young ladies acting lewdly. Not minors engaging in sex acts. Not peddling child pornography. They were acting un-ladylike. If school admins looked around their lunchroom any day of the week, they’d see the same thing happening among giggling groups of girlfriends. It’s called “adolescence,” and while teens might be annoying to everyone else, they’re not doing anything out of the ordinary (I recall an old video of a friend of mine performing two seconds of over-exaggerated fake fellatio on a banana back in the 8th grade – good thing myspace wasn’t around then). 2) The punishment resulted in the situation going from merely embarrassing to downright humiliating. Someone tell me WHY these girls had to seek counseling. Even more important, tell me WHY they had to issue apologies to an all-male panel of coaches. Shaming someone over his or her sexual expression is a sure-fire way to really screw with their head and unleash their insecurities; the effect is worse if done publicly. Why on earth is the school getting away with publicly shaming two teens?

Fourth, the sanctimony displayed on the part of the school’s administrators is out-fucking-rageous. High school teachers: as much as you’d like to think otherwise, you are not charged with the sacred task of instilling a moral compass into other people’s children. You are civil servants – basically government employees. Your job is to educate, supervise, and when necessary protect these teens from external danger or from other students. Your job does not include the right to impose disciplinary sanctions on the basis of your subjective ideas about drugs, sex, rock and roll, politics, etc. That’s a job for parents. If anybody had any responsibility whatsoever, it would have been for a concerned teacher to quietly notify the girls’ parents of the photos, and let them deal with it. Instead, they made the whole incident into a much bigger deal than it needed to be.

The girls in question here have every right to be upset. School officials overreacted and overstepped their bounds. At the same time, these girls learned an unfortunate but important lesson about posting unsavory photos on the web. As I’ve said before, kids are stupid, and when you post pictures of yourself acting uncharacteristically lewd on the ‘net, you’d better be ready to be judged. But being teased by peers is punishment enough; being shamed and humiliated by school authorities is totally uncalled for.

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Filed under: Internet, Off-Topic, , , ,

An Apology for Jacob

I complained about it a few months back, but lately I’ve actually started paying attention this blogger’s daily “list-o-links.”

So, ahem… I’m sorry, Jacob. Your links don’t suck, they add some variety to the same old blogs I read everyday. (But still, you know, “no effin’ way.”)

Filed under: Off-Topic

Now Playing Elsewhere on the Blogosphere

I’ve written a piece in the current issue of The Kosmopolitan Online that details my experience and insights from Black Friday 2008. Read it.

If you haven’t ever read the Kosmo, I suggest you check it out. In addition to being a great web publication about culture and current affairs, it’s also a playground for former Koch heads.

Filed under: Off-Topic, ,

Typealyze Technagora

According to the Blog Typealyzer, I’m considered a:

INTP – The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

(Although I’ll never be a mac-user.)
As I wrote at my other blog, this is an interesting result. An analysis of Ice Cream Headache concluded that I must be an ESTP, though admittedly, I have far fewer posts to analyze over there. Also, I wonder how accurate this tool is for blogs that heavily feature block quotes and links?
H/T: Angela

Filed under: Off-Topic,

Getting Out the Vote

No, this has nothing to do with politics, just promoting a friend. Evan Lisull, a student from UA and a very talented writer, is a finalist in the 2008 Blogging Scholarship from CollegeScholarships.org.

Vote for him here. Read his stuff here, here, and here.

Filed under: Off-Topic, , ,

Minnesotans for Global Warming

To celebrate Minnesota’s first snowfall of the season, please enjoy this video from Minnesotans For Global Warming.

MN4GW – “If We Had Some Global Warming” (to the tune of the Bare Naked Ladies’ “If I had a Million Dollars.”)

Filed under: Humor, Off-Topic, , ,

Frustrations with Blogging: Where’s the Content?

Author’s Note: Technagora is going off-topic once again today, this time for a good purpose. I need to address my concern about some bad practices that I see currently plaguing the blogosphere.

I’ve grown frustrated with the increasingly mind-numbing pastime of reading blogs. Everyday, my Google reader is overflowing with blogposts, most of which I have no choice but to “mark as read.” What is often touted as the modern-day equivalent of relaxing with the morning paper has devolved into a repetitive process: select a feed, scan more headlines than my brain can realistically process, clear out the feed until the reader is satisfactorily emptier than it was when I started (I never even zero it out anymore). However, I’ve noticed that a “Quantity-over-Quality” pandemic seems to have infected the blogs I read. I see too many short, insubstantial, forgettable posts, and too few analytical, organized write-ups. My concern is the very large number of posts which have unoriginal content, little informational value, and are over-reliant on hyperlinks. Many bloggers are guilty of either 1) saying the same damn thing as twenty other bloggers, (frequent “hat-tipping”) 2) extensively using blockquotes to simulate a point-counterpoint-style response to another blogger, or 3) abusing the blockquote by copy+pasting another article, and capping it off with a pithy closing remark. Also, link lists are a particularly grating format of blogpost that I must also address.

I see a lot of posts that take an issue or current event and offer the author’s commentary, and often the same arguments that all the other bloggers have already written. Whether or not the author is doing this intentionally (or knowingly), the result is that I end up reading almost the same post in four or five different feeds. This is where the “hat tip” is most often utilized. When you see “hat-tip,” it means one of two things: either the individual receiving the tip has notified the author of blog-worthy news that few other bloggers have heard yet, or the author has pulled a story from another blog and is attepmting to put their own “spin” on it. Writing about a hot topic requires a fresh angle, or an analysis of a certain aspect that’s been overlooked. Regurgitating standard arguments just doesn’t cut it.

Another tedious post format is the simulated point-by-point counterargument. This format includes a long blockquote, usually written by an “intellectual adversary,” broken into pieces by the author’s interjected arguments. The author’s arguments are typically littered with links pointing to either documented evidence supporting their claim, or more likely posts they’ve previously written on the subject. Again, a lot of repeated material, and seemingly no thought given to constructing a compelling, well-organized argument. An essay response to an article, or an op-ed piece is not written this way – blog posts should not be, either. This is just plain and simple bad form.

One of the lazier kinds of posts I’ve seen is the long-blockquote/quick-closer formula. These posts take the form of “So-and-so over at (Hyperlinked blog name) has this to say about (some current event): [Long blockquote followed by author’s short and unconvincing analysis, an appeal to please ‘read the whole thing,’ or a clever closer].” These posts are, let’s be honest, completely redundant and unnecessary. There’s no real content to them. If it weren’t for the fact that every damn blogger uses this format all the time to link to a usually well-known blog, I would be much more forgiving. However, if I cared about what so-and-so had to say, I would read his blog. Already-prominent bloggers don’t need free advertising; save the linking for up-and-comers.

Finally, I’ve got a bone to pick with link orgies. You know, when the author compiles a list of “interesting” or “relevant” things they’ve read that morning. I have friends and bloggers whom I respect who use this format – I’ve even tried it myself – but it just doesn’t do it for me. These virtual feed-readers-within-feed-readers could be of value if the author includes short and concise summaries, or even humorous remarks, regarding said links; most often, they’re literally a list of hyperlinks. The author is essentially increasing the already unmanageable number of stories delivered to my reader! The nerve!!!

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Blogging an amusing picture, chart, or other graphic is great! Some of the funniest pictures I’ve seen have been on blogs. Videos should ideally be short, preferably with a summary (more than just “Trust me, it’s a hoot”). Finally, if you simply MUST do the list of links, please include a concise, yet compelling description for the page you’re linking – don’t just tell me what it is, tell me why I would want to read it.

I confess, I’ve been guilty of all of the above offenses at Technagora. I’m still a novice in the blogosphere, and in fact, I originally started blogging because I hoped that it would improve my writing. However, I’ve realized that a lackadasical approach to blogging will only make me a worse writer. That is why I’m making a declaration tonight to end these bad blogging practices, and to hold Technagora to a higher standard. Things will be changing around here. No more echoing other bloggers, no more abuses of blockquotes. No more heavy reliance on hyperlinks. No more posts that lack content (or at least base entertainment value). My weekly post-count may decline, but I’d rather expend my efforts each month writing a couple of good pieces that I can be proud of, rather than be prolific each week with a few listless, passing commentaries.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d like to give credit to some good bloggers whom I recommend:
Tyler Cowen and Megan McArdle are both very good writers and analysts, (though both are guilty of employing the quantity-over-quality approach, with too many short/link-y/inconsequential posts), Gene Healy, Tim Harford, PolicyBeta, Will Wilkinson, and my current favorite, Agoraphilia. I’ve noticed that the blogs I love the most tend to post the least. When the authors do post, they don’t just rehash the same old material that all the other bloggers have been writing about. Rather, they write engaging, analytical, substantive pieces that provide the authors’ reasoned insights into an issue, and I know exactly what to take away from the post. I wish I could say the same for the rest of my reader feeds.

Filed under: Off-Topic,

More on the MSU Off-Campus Alcohol Policy

An economic analysis of the new policy, courtesy of the Economics Club, co-authored by myself, published in the MSU Reporter. The gist:

University leadership is in the unenviable position of trying to balance the students’ interests (if you can consider drinking an “interest”) with those of the community. However, administration showed a blatant disregard for student opinion by ignoring the student senate’s dissenting opinion and pushing through such a sweeping measure so quickly.

If the goal of the university is to achieve a high level of compliance to these new rules, then administrators should reconsider this heavy-handed approach. The ability of the new penalties to alter student behavior at the time of consumption remains dubious. The impact that the fines and classes will have on students’ behavior after the fact is also questionable.

Finally, the university must realize that it’s fighting an uphill battle against a deeply ingrained cultural norm that pairs the college experience with alcohol use

Read the whole thing. Pretty please?

Filed under: Off-Topic, ,

Nanny-Schooling

Apparently, the local paper published my letter-to-the-editor today (I thought they were supposed to contact you to verify your address before they print these things?). The background is that my university has a new policy this year that punishes students for alcohol-related offenses that occur off-campus. As would be expected, what passes for a local newspaper wrote an editorial commending university leadership for their excellent parenting. /sarcasm.

Here’s my take on the matter:

The Sept. 8 editorial praising Minnesota State University’s underage drinking policy (“MSU Correct on Alcohol Policy”) patronizes the MSU student community.

Of course, students ought to be expected to follow a reasonable code of conduct, both on-campus and when acting as representatives at university-sanctioned, off-campus events. However, the editorial missed the bigger issue at stake: It is the duty of local law enforcement officials, not school administrators, to police students’ activities off-campus.

MSU’s punishments for alcohol-related offenses (which include fines and mandatory “educational” films) are an assault on the autonomy of these young adults and have a questionable deterrent effect at best. Charging students for alcohol-related offenses through the legal system is the proper way to handle run-ins with the law; further castigating them through academic disciplinary action oversteps the school’s authority and should not be tolerated.

Perhaps if MSU’s administrators are serious about curbing underage drinking, they ought to begin by treating adults (even ones who behave like children) as adults and let them be accountable to the law for their actions.

A more thorough analysis of MSU’s alcohol-related-misconduct policy (courtesy of yours truly and the MS U Econ Club) will appear in the campus Reporter next Tuesday. I’ll blog it here.

Filed under: Off-Topic, ,

Marilyn vs. Audrey – the Final(?) Score

I’ve counted the votes, and among my sample, Audrey Hepburn is the winner, 11-8. Congrats, Audrey!

Sorry, Marilyn. I guess you should have left a little more to the imagination. 😉

Filed under: Off-Topic

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