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Playgrounds and Battlegrounds

8/25/08
Just in time for the new school year, CNN has published a piece on how to help your kid cope with bullys. As a formerly bully'd kid, I have a little insight on this issue.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 30 percent of all children in grades six through 10 have been bullied or have bullied other children during a school year.

Clinical psychologist Mark Crawford of Roswell, Georgia, called the statistics unacceptable. "Bullying is not a rite of passage," he said. "It always has a bad outcome."

I dunno, I turned out alright. I think that the 30% number above is really too low. Unless middle school has changed a great deal since I was there the real number of bullys + bullied kids is WAY higher. Any kid who isn't rich, pretty, or of exactly average intelligence will get picked on and bullied. I wasn't rich, I was skinny, and I wore glasses. I also had a really smart mouth. I was a prime target. I think I came out well, but I don't know what I would have been like if I'd been the product of the mentality represented by this article.

He also conceded that some children won't open up to their parents about bullying. "One of the reasons kids don't tell their parents they are being bullied is the fear that their parents will run in and do something about it and they think that will make it worse."

That's probably because it will in most cases. This, I imagine, is because of the trickle-down effect of directed punishment. If your parents call Jimmy the Bully's parents they might punish Jimmy for being a jerk to you. He gets grounded or whatever and he knows that you're to blame because you opened your big mouth to your parents. Then he kicks your ass on the playground. It sounds a lot like a mafia movie, but that's how it goes down on the playground. What can we do about that?

But be judicious, she urged. Some parents can inflame the situation. "You will encounter situations where parents will tell their kids, 'If you are hit, I want you to hit back.' "

Experts point out it is important for parents to keep emotions in check and to not encourage a child to hit back or retaliate.

My parents never told me to hit back. My mother knew that I had a big mouth, and I generally didn't shut up when I probably should have in order to avoid getting in fights. (I've gotten a little better at that as I've gotten older.) She was never in favor of me hitting back, but I think she understood when I finally did. My father is a fan of defending yourself. He'd tell me not to attack anyone, but defending yourself is ok if you need to do it.

That's what kids need to hear. This rubbish about "just run away" or "don't retaliate" is not at all helpful on the playground. When the playground turns into a battle ground these weak maxims just don't work. All they do is paint you as a weak target for Jimmy and his crew. Turning the other cheek just gets you punched in both cheeks. Parents don't generally want to hear this, but sometimes you have to hit back. Generally you only have to have one good fight before bullys realize that you aren't a soft target and they'll move on to someone else.

I was picked on and beaten up and chased around for years before I figured out that running away didn't solve problems. I'm not saying that force is always the only option, but sometimes it is the right option. For me, that meant finally standing up for myself in (I think) 6th grade. This guy, Brian Something, would pick on me mercilessly every day. Pushing me around. Smacking me around. One day he hit me and I hit back. Actually, as I remember it, I punched him in the face and then gave him my own 6th-grade ground and pound. I don't swear that's what happened, but I know for sure that I punched that bully right in the face a couple of times and he never, ever messed with me again. Neither of us was really hurt, but I clearly won my freedom from bullys that day.

It would be really great to live in a world where children were always civil to each other and no one ever made anyone else feel bad about themselves. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen because little kids aren't civilized. When you're a little boy and you're bully'd there is nothing worse than being told by people you respect that you can't hit back. You only have so many options as a kid, and if the only ones left are Run Away or Get Beat Up you feel helpless.

That helplessness is what leads to the bad results that Dr. Crawford mentions. It's not the bullying that makes you helpless, it's the inability to respond to it.

Comcast and the FCC

8/21/08

Comcast does some shady things.

Customer service is nonexistent and they will sometimes charge you a couple hundred dollars for porn that you couldn't possibly have purchased. Then they laugh at you when you explain that everyone in your household was out of town that weekend for Thanksgiving and ask them to remove the fraudulent charges.

Their technicians are hit or miss and sometimes they just don't show up, or they show up and do a really poor job. (I've had a couple of really good ones, but that's not the norm.) Their services in cable, phone and internet will just go away for no apparent reason, and woe betide the person who calls customer service to find out what's up. Woe!

Another thing that they do which is shady is that they block or impair some web-things that go across their internet connections. Bit-Torrent is a program (and protocol) that allows large files to be sent over the internet in bits and pieces between peers. It saves expensive and limited bandwidth for companies like Blizzard (who uses it to dispense their WoW patches to hundreds of millions of players) and Revision3 (who uses it to dispense their free web programming). Comcast doesn't like torrents and they instituted some code to drastically slow or block torrents. This has been determined to be unfair by the FCC because Comcast and other ISPs are supposed to provide an internet connection that is neutral to those things that move across it. They are violating Net Neutrality (not a law, but it's coming I hope!) by limiting the sorts of files they'll allow to pass. It leads to situations in which web page owners would have to pay off Comcast so that people could access their sites. That's bad. It would be like your phone company allowing you to call your mother, but not Pizza Hut. Or your internet connection working only with PCs and not MACs. Bad stuff.

Now, the FCC has been known to make big threats before (Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfuntion), but in this case they haven't really put their foot down. They say that Comcast has to give them details of their operations and change the bad parts with in a year. What a load of crap that is. Come on, FCC. Make yourself useful. Some people are offended by nipples and the F-word, and you threaten fines and sanctions. Comcast (among others, I imagine) has a monopoly on the internet service in many areas, you have determined that they are doing something bad, and you give them a soft ultimatium like this? Outragous.

Comcast now says that they would remove this torrenting restriction, but they want to slow down the internet connection for their heaviest users at peak periods during the day. I don't know the details yet, but this might be an ok solution. If the impact is minimal and these heavy users aren't paying a premium for fast service then I suppose it's a decent solution.

A better solution would be to take the massive profits ($1.163 BILLION in free cash flow) that they make from their monopoly and roll them into a better infrastructure that can handle traffic without impacting anyone's service.

Back in town and back to the Grind!

I spent a week in Maryland recently helping my Aunt Marge get her house ready to go on the market. Mostly, I carried heavy things and replaced rotten parts of a deck. More heavy lifting than anything else. I also got to see folks that I don't see very often, so that's a big plus. I don't have the pictures that I took with me right now, but I'll post some of them in the very near future.

School started yesterday. I'm still pretty relaxed because I haven't been to any of my "real" classes yet, but they start today so that will come to an end soon. I wish all of the awesome video games that are coming out in the fall had come out in the last month or so when I could have had time to play them!

Kilts FTW.

8/7/08
Dudes and Dudeettes,

I want a kilt. A Utilikilt. Why should men be limited to bifurcated leg-wear? Audrey says that she won't be seen in public with me if I were to get one. People would probably laugh. How sexist is that? Women can wear a tuxedo and it is acceptable. Why can't a man in the States wear a kilt? It harkens back to a time when men were MEN with big ass swords and face paint who drank from the skulls of their enemies. (Ok, I don't know that last bit for sure.) Pants harken back to when men were little frilly boys in puffy shirts and colored tights with codpieces. Which is more manly?

{YES! America's Best Dance Crew kept the Super Cr3w! We were sure they were going home tonight. America, I don't know why you put them in the bottom on every show. They're awesome. AWESOME. It's not that I don't like FannyPack, but the Cr3w is just better at the dancing.}

Texas Defies the World Court

8/6/08
According to this article from Reuters, Texas defied an order by the World Court and executed a Mexican national who was convicted of the rape and murder of a 16 year old girl. The world court said that Medellin, the murderer/rapist/gangbanger, shouldn't be executed because he didn't get to talk to his consulate before he was sentenced (or some such technicality).

Yep, we executed a guy who participated in the gang-rape and strangulation of two young girls who just happened to be walking down the street when a gang was doing some initiation bullshit. His aunt said "He was a normal, happy kid ... They don't have the right to take his life away, we acknowledged that he committed a crime but make him pay with a life sentence."

It doesn't seem that there is any reason for us to think that Medellin is innocent of his crimes, and I have a gut feeling that when two girls are gang-raped and strangled those responsible gotta pay.

The article makes it seem as if Texas did some outrageous thing by defying the World Court in this decision. It makes no mention of the fact that the US (much less the state of Texas) has no obligation to follow any World Court decree. It's true that we sometimes follow their edicts, but only when we want to or it seems prudent. If we don't have an obligation to listen to them, then who cares what they tell us to do?

State sovereignty is a big deal these days. Basically, the idea is that States have the right to do as they please within their own borders without the risk of other States intervening. How does this idea apply to foreign nationals who come to our country and commit crimes like Medellin's? Why should we think that local laws do not apply to those from other countries? I suppose that there ought to be policies which limit the sorts of laws which apply to foreigners (say we have some really weird laws that don't apply anywhere else) or which give some leniency to those whose languages would be a barrier to an effective legal defense, but neither of those things apply here.

Of course, this rule applies to Americans too.

Proof that we're the subjects of government experiments: Rainbows.

8/5/08


This woman needs at least two things:
(1) A tripod or a camera with steady-shot. Shaky-cam makes you look/sound extra crazy, and she really needs to dial it back a couple of notches.

(2) A class in general science where she learns the stuff that Isaac Newton figured out a couple hundred years ago. Light refracts through water. You don't need "oxide salts" or government conspiracies to make rainbows.

Shark Weak!

8/3/08

I'm generally a huge fan of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. (This is a full week of shark-themed shows.) This year was a bust, though. Every night fell into two categories: (1) Great Whites jumping out of the water and looking awesome and (2) how to avoid becoming shark food. (Don't smell like fish/blood.)

I like great whites as much as the next guy, but there's only so much time in a week to see sharks, and I'd rather see some science-y shows about neat sharks. Mix it up a little bit, Discovery! Show me some Goblin Sharks. Show me some more unusual stuff that I've never seen before. There are something like 350 species of sharks out there, and as far as I can remember you only showed me tiger sharks, lemon sharks, great whites, and Caribbean reef sharks. That would be a nice variety if I were talking about one or two shows, but that was the whole week. It sounds like a lame thing to complain about, but I wait all year for my shark-fix and I feel like I was denied this year. Shark weak, Discovery. Weak.