Well Known Biases

Politics, Economics, and the Law

Monthly Archives: March 2012

Public Education and Social Control

Austin Carroll, a (former) student at Garrett High School in Indiana, was expelled for a post he made on his personal Twitter account. There seems to be some lack of clarity of whether or not he accessed Twitter from his home computer or a school computer. In either case, it appears that the school’s computer system is able to (and apparently does) track posting’s from students’ accounts.

Where to even begin? Stories such as this angry up my blood before I’ve even begun to unpack and examine the implications.

Naturally, if the student is using a school computer, the school is within their rights to regulate the manner in which their computers are used. Yet even if we accept the school’s position that Carroll accessed Twitter from one of their machines, that still leaves several issues. Firstly, isn’t expulsion for a bit of relatively harmless profanity rather harsh? It seems like the sort of transgression which could be addressed with lesser punishments. And if expulsion is on the table for an offense such as this, one would hope that this is clearly spelled out in the usage policy. I’m sure there are provisions for punishments “up to and including expulsion,” but I somehow doubt that any of the students would have seriously expected expulsion to be leveled for cursing. It seems more like a thing you bring to bear if a student has made threats of violence.

Now let’s consider what it means for us if the school is mistaken (or, to be somewhat cynical, misrepresenting the facts). If the school is allowed to regulate speech in cases where a student is neither using school property, nor engaging in threatening speech or speech related to illegal acts, then the school is asserting total control over students’ speech, and the students effectively have “privileges” to speak, and not “rights.” Privileges which can be revoked at the school’s pleasure, if a student expresses themselves in a manner which offends the empowered school officials. The rights of minors are of course already curtailed, but given Carroll is a senior in high school, and it is nearly April, it is reasonable to assume he could easily have already turned eighteen, and therefore is legally an adult. To condense and make explicit, if Carroll is eighteen, and had posted his tweet from home, the school district is asserting the right to punish adults for (and thus control) their private speech, based not upon public-safety necessity, but simply upon what they feel to be appropriate.

Numerous locales have various “anti-bullying” legislation either enacted or in the works, which would regulate both what occurs at the school, and what occurs outside of school. Most of these seem to be overly-broad, to the point of chilling what is, or should be, protected free speech. The Carroll expulsion appears to lack even the flimsy “public safety” framing of these statutes, resting wholly on the school administrators’ sense of propriety. Happily the student body of Garrett High School appears to have reacted to the expulsion quite poorly. But if we as a society roll over on issues such as this, we set rather unnerving precedents, confirming to those in these positions of power that control of our private speech is a thing they can do. It invites authoritarianism. Those who would act as our censors should be called out, shunned, and their power delegitimized.

(I considered posting a link to Garrett High School’s website, but as I cannot be certain of directing you to the correct place, I shall refrain.)


Link Roundup – 03/29/12

A bill in the House would require almost all video games to carry a warning label concerning aggressive behavior.

Sweden may well be on its way to being a cashless nation. Sebastion Anthony, at ExtremeTech, has some thoughts on the topic.

Tennessee has approved legislation allowing public school debate over evolution, and providing for the display of the Ten Commandments. In New York City, officials have taken a somewhat different approach, banning all references on test materials to anything that might be controversial or create negative feeling.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed that visitors of “extremist websites” be put in jail.

The U.S. government plans to levy a 5% tariff on Chinese-made solar panels.

New NHTSA guidelines could essentially kill navigation systems.

Iran, it seems, has been purchasing U.S.-made surveillance equipment and software from Chinese firms.

Speaking of China, a study has found that internet censorship is quite common. I’m shocked. Shocked! Well, not that shocked…

A Brazilian city has embedded tracking chips into their school uniforms.

Link Roundup – 03/20/12

The NSA plans to open a new data center in Utah by 2013. Feel safer yet?

Rick Santorum, if elected, would quite like to crack down on the “scourge of pornography” currently afflicting the internet.

The United States has won extradition of a college student from the UK, for copyright infringement. I have no words.

In the interests of protecting the increasingly outmoded brick-and-mortar software sales model, Connecticut legislators are proposing a tax on downloads.

Kim Dotcom, of Megaupload fame, may be able to reclaim his assets due to a procedural error.

Researchers are postulating ways to exert “soft control” over people by means of incentives built into games, etc. on their mobile devices.

Pentagon war games discover the United States may be drawn into a regional conflict with Iran should Israel attack them, leaving “hundreds of Americans dead.” Forgive me for not being exactly shocked.

And the Worst is Yet to Come…

America’s quadrennial horror continues unabated. The lack of enthusiasm coupled with mild amusement which characterized my early reaction to the Republican nomination race has been entirely replaced by resignation and loathing. I still like Ron Paul, but I’m a realist, and it’s clear that he’s playing this game for platform exposure and bargaining chips. I dislike everyone else to varying degrees.

Romney wouldn’t be substantially different from Obama, he just plays for a different club. Newt “King of the Moon” Gingrich is a horrifying megalomaniac. And Santorum is, well, Santorum

I talked with a coworker of mine who also attended the local caucus. He told me I lost pretty much everyone with my first sentence, right as I belittled their firm adherence to the idea that abortion, gay marriage, immigration, et al were The Most Important Issues Ever. Another caucus ally said that eyes everywhere glazed over after I brought up budget figures. Last election one local gentleman affirmed that abortion caused illegal immigration, so this is probably about what I should have expected.

Anyway, Santorum won my county with 47% of the vote, and took the whole state with 51%. He won a couple more states shortly thereafter. He’s transitioned from an amusing back-marker into something approaching a legitimate contender for the nomination. I would still put my dollars on Romney clinching it, but Santorum’s recent victories could make the rest of the race much more interesting tedious. I do not understand the appeal, but to hear my fellow caucus-goers talk, there may be a widespread belief that if we just keep the gays from getting married and the women from having abortions, then the Good Lord will balance our federal budget and scrub the rust off all our abandoned factories.

The election can’t get here soon enough. The sooner we sort out the issue of either replacing or retaining our current Fearless Leader, the sooner we can all get back to driving the country into the ground.

Here are Kansas caucus results by county.

Here is a fancy-pants pie chart of the overall Kansas results (‘uncommitted’ votes, and those who voted for someone no longer in the race omitted.)

A Few Words for the Republican Caucus

I attended my local Republican caucus this morning. That was… something.

I don’t really consider this a speech, but it probably fits the definition. I tried to tailor it somewhat to the expected audience without compromising the intended message. I suspect my words made little difference to anyone present.

More on the Kansas primary in the semi-near future.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Despite what the various conservative pundits may have said, the single most pressing issue of this election is not abortion, illegal immigration, or gay marriage. There is, naturally, still room to discuss these issues, however the single most pressing issue facing our country is financial. Our current economic situation can be characterized as anything from “unimpressive” to “grim,” depending on how you want to count things, and whether you want to compare it to several European nations, or look at it in absolute terms. Current U.S. debt is between nine and fifteen trillion dollars, depending on how one counts. That is between about sixty, and about one-hundred percent of America’s gross domestic product. For perspective, if you had been born at the same time as Jesus, and had spent a million dollars every single day between then and now, you’d still not have spent one trillion dollars. The government expects to add at least this amount in the coming year. And I’m not even going to get into unfunded liabilities, which is the money the federal government has promised to pay out in the future, but does not yet have funds to do so. That figure somewhere north of sixty trillion.

What are we doing that is so expensive? For the 2011 fiscal year, the federal government spent about $3.5 trillion dollars, and took in about $2.3 trillion, a $1.2 trillion dollar shortfall. 23%, about $835 billion, was spent on medicare/medicaid. 20%, or $725 billion, was spent on social security. Together these two programs amount to about $1.5 trillion dollars. 19% of the budget, or $700 billion, was spent by the Defense Department. These are the three main expense items on the federal budget, and all together account for $2.2 trillion dollars, which is 62% of the budget. It does not matter what your opinion is of social entitlement programs, and it does not matter what your opinion is concerning defense spending. The numbers are quite clear; we cannot afford to pay for all of it. We already know what our future holds, should we continue down our current path. We only need to look at Europe, and at Greece in particular. Our current future is one of a debt crisis, riots and disorder, and the very possible collapse of the dollar.

So how does this relate to the election? I have hopefully shown that we can’t afford another President who ignores economic reality. There are two ways to successfully address our financial situation: The government can massively increase its revenues, a burden which would almost certainly fall on the middle class, as they have enough money to be worth taking, but not enough to afford lobbyists. Alternately, the government can massively cut spending. This means that at least some of your sacred cows will be going to the slaughter.

To whom shall we look for salvation? Our current President? I think I can safely assume that no one here favors another four years of President Obama. What about the current front-runner, Mr. Romney? Evidence suggests that he would use a bit of both options. There will be some cuts, and taxes or fees will also go up. Evidence also suggests he won’t do enough of either to matter, in the long run. Mr. Santorum? Santorum is a moral crusader, and a “Big Government Conservative.” He needs his government big enough to help the groups he favors and suppress those he doesn’t. He is unlikely to make government any cheaper, or any less intrusive. And Mr. Gingrich, that relic of the 90s, has claimed on occasion that he wants a Moon base. Now, I think a Moon base sounds amazing, but it also sounds extremely expensive. We cannot afford a President who is this out of touch with our present reality. And what of Dr. Paul? I don’t agree with absolutely everything Ron Paul proposes, and I suspect many of you agree with even less than I do, but he does stand head and shoulders above all the other candidates when it comes to understanding the economy. The reality is that our economy is the single most important issue facing our country at this time, and it should be your most important issue when voting. We can’t afford to delay fixing the economic mess we’re in, and for this reason I would urge you to support the one candidate who seems to have a clue how to make the necessary repairs to it, Dr. Ron Paul.

Link Roundup – 03/02/12

A very good article on the growing misunderstanding of what does and should constitute a “right.”

Supreme Court rules against the FBI. FBI turns off its GPS trackers. FBI whines a little.

EPIC obtains documents concerning the monitoring of social media by Homeland Security. And here’s the words you shouldn’t say. Or should say all at once. Whatever works for you.

North Korea, having rattled its sabers to the appropriate amount, has graciously agreed to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for aid.

Kim Dotcom is finally out of jail, though the U.S. did try unsuccessfully and have him put back in.

A general with the Syrian Free Army has stated that the United States and France have been arming them.

According to the Stratfor emails released by Wikileaks, there has been a sealed indictment drawn up against Julian Assange for some time.

An article on CNN asserting that it’s not the fault of higher education that American youth are abandoning Christianity.

Senate bill which would have allowed religious institutions to deny contraceptives coverage in their insurance gets shot down.

Iran and India continue to sort out their dollars-free oil trade. Israel grows impatient with out sluggish progress towards invading Iran. The world keeps spinnin’.

I’ve seen the previews for ‘Act of Valor.’ Personally, it looks for all the world like a propaganda piece, and I won’t be seeing it. RT, it seems, agrees.

The White House has issued the guidelines for when and how we may be detained indefinitely without trial.

Journalist records cops, gets arrested for resisting arrest (yes, you read that correctly), and has his video footage deleted. Fortunately he was able to recover most of the footage. This brings up a couple questions: How exactly can a person be arrested just for resisting arrest? That’s a secondary charge. You’d think the police would require a reason to arrest you in the first place. Also, wouldn’t it be destruction of evidence to delete the footage of, and leading up to, the arrest?

U.S. government takes down a Canadian owned and registered website for violating Maryland law. Remember, not living within American jurisdiction is no excuse for not following American laws.

Rear-view cameras will likely be mandated on all new vehicles by 2014. Thank you NHTSA for Thinking of the Children.™

Colorado may legalize possession of marijuana, even if its just because you want to smoke up. Should this pass, the inevitable pissing match with the DEA will be entertaining for everyone.

Japanese researchers have invented a device to shut people up.

An interesting, moving collection of portraits of writing about addicts in the South Bronx.

Why Josh Barrow prefers restaurants which get a ‘B’ grade over those with an ‘A.’