Get A Rope!

18 02 2010

Just when you thought school administrators couldn’t get any dumber, a story breaks into the national media that exhibits such unimaginable levels of buffoonery that mereĀ  words cannot properly describe the event.

In this case, a High School in Pennsylvania got some Federal grants and issued every single student a laptop computer. The students were encouraged to take the laptops home and use them to access school websites, do homework, online research, etc. Each laptop came equipped with a webcam.

Unbeknownst to the students and their parents, the school installed software on the laptops which allowed them to remotely activate the webcams. The students found out about this little gem when one of them was accused of “improper behavior in his home“, and a webcam photo was produced as evidence.

I’ll pause for a moment to allow that to sink in.

For those of you who are a little slow on the uptake, the school could use the webcams to take photos and video of the students and the parents in the privacy of their homes. I don’t know about you, but I am not okay with the idea that random school employees could take pictures of me and my family in my home without my knowledge or consent. Anyone who wouldn’t mind this sort of government intrusion into their private lives should wear bright orange dunce caps so the rest of us can identify them at a distance. Any government agency playing this sort of game does not have your best interests at heart. George Orwell’s 1984 was intended as a cautionary tale, not a fucking instruction manual.

A lawsuit is, of course, in the works. Here is the case filing.

Leaving aside the obvious invasion-of-privacy issues, most High School students are between 14 and 18 years old. I’m pretty sure that taking surreptitious pictures of underage children is against the law- even in Pennsylvania. How many of these laptops were placed in the bedrooms of the students? A lawsuit ought to be the very least of the school’s worries at this point. The school administrators who dreamed up this episode of abysmal, weapons-grade stupidity ought to be living in mortal fear of mobs of local villagers with tar and feathers.

Here’s another issue to consider: What the fuck does “improper conduct in the home” mean? More to the fucking point, where does the school get the idea that the behavior of students off school property is any of their god-damned business? Once the student is away from school, he or she is on their own time, and no longer under the school’s control. I don’t care if the student was gang-raping jackrabbits while wearing nazi armbands, it’s not a school issue. I’m sure PETA and the ASPCA would probably be interested, but they have no business planting “bugs” in private homes, either.

What the Hell happened to you, America? We used to pride ourselves on our independent spirit and lack of respect for authority. The fact that these jack-booted school administrators turned pedophile voyeurs aren’t already dangling from lamp-posts tells me that rebellious spirit is dead and gone.

Bugler, play Taps for the United States of America.

Current status: Outraged

Current music: Baba O’Riley by The Who

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Idiot on Parade

9 02 2010

You have entered a world whose only boundary is the lack of imagination, a world where right and wrong have no objective meaning, where only dreams of mounting petty authority matter … there’s the signpost up ahead. Next stop: the school administrator zone.

(cue eerie music)

School officials just can’t seem to avoid going out of their way to shoot themselves in the foot. Let us take, for example, the case of a school principal from Charlotte, North Carolina. After being hired in 2008 with a mandate to increase the school’s test scores and other metrics, this alleged person decided to issue a personal fatwa that no one would be permitted to speak Spanish at the school. This news was probably unsettling to many people, including the school’s large minority (42%) of hispanic students, their parents, and the school’s bilingual secretary, who had been hired in 2006 because she spoke fluent Spanish.

Perhaps Principal Suzanne Gimenez was concerned about immersing all the students in English to improve their academic standing. After all, the school’s theme is “Academy of Cultural and Academic Diversity“. Her words did not seem to match this possibly-useful idea. She supposedly ordered at her first Staff meeting that no one would speak Spanish to any of the parents of the school’s students.

Speaking only English to the students is perhaps understandable. I fail to understand any rational reason to speak only English to the parents. Most of those parents are first-generation immigrants.

Immigrants to this country are generally assimilated in a pretty regular manner: the first generation moves into a local area filled with similar immigrants. These people work hard to immerse themselves in their local Chinatown or Little Italy where they are surrounded by familiar culture and language, and many of them never master English. They can get by with normal conversation, but complicated issues involving laws (for example) are very hard to get across without a good command of English.

The second generation usually grows up speaking their parents’ language at home, but English everywhere else. These second-generation immigrants almost always speak English fluently by the time they’re in their teens. These kids often marry outside their local culture and raise their children speaking mostly English- even at home.

So if, for example, a distraught Spanish-speaking mother comes to the school trying to figure out why her son had told her that someone had put a stick up his butt, it is less than helpful for the school despot … I mean, Principal … to insist that the victimized 6 year-old child do the translating. When the bilingual secretary tries to help, it is profoundly unhelpful for that same principal to scream at the secretary for speaking Spanish in front of the confused and fearful mother of a possibly-molested child. Worse still, it beggars belief that the principal would go out of her way to drive that secretary out of the office for trying to help parents by speaking Spanish. A lawsuit has been filed.

Attention, school administrators! Your sole reason for existence at work is to make sure the students get a good education. Anytime you let your narcissism and bloated sense of self worth get in the way of that primary function, you have utterly failed in your purpose in our society. Flexing your administrative powers for petty personal aggrandizement should not be on the agenda. If you get off on minor power trips, I suggest you take out those sadistic impulses by pulling the wings off flies.

Who am I to dictate to school administrators how they should act? I am the Public. School administrators are public servants.

The only reason these tin-plated tyrants with delusions of adequacy are allowed to get away with these sorts of stupidities is because they aren’t held accountable by their masters. For those of you playing at home, you can find a member of this master class by looking in a fucking mirror. We, the People, must hold these impediments to education accountable for their lack of visible signs of sentience. Go to school board meetings and raise Hell. If the members of the Board can’t get the problem resolved, get together with some of the other voters in your district and replace the Board with members who can. Run for office yourself. Those children being victimized by petty autocrats posing as school administrators are going to be the adults running the country when you’re trying to retire. Your future, our country’s future, is being forged by small-minded bureaucrats at local schools all over the US by turning our children into nominally-intelligent technopeasants.

Current status: Pissed off again

Current music: Welcome to the Black Parade by My Chemical Romance





Corruption

1 02 2010

As an American, I find myself increasingly at odds- philosophically- with the warlord in charge of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO). Although an elected official, Sheriff Arpaio seems to be going out of his way to emulate the tactics of some of the more villainous despots of the 20th Century. There are published reports that MCSO deputies have harassed and intimidated journalists who have reported less than flattering things about the Sheriff. He routinely brings unsubstantiated charges against elected officials and judges who displease him in any way. He reportedly threatened the mayor of Guadalupe after she complained about a raid on a Catholic church there. MCSO personnel repeatedly conduct operations within the jurisdiction of other cities. There have been reported beatings of prisoners in the jails under his control, and several prisoners have died in custody. Note that not everyone in jail has been convicted of any crime. The Maricopa County Jail is the holding area for many local jurisdictions, and many people are held there pending bail or arraignment.

His most recent brawl with local authorities happened when one of his deputies took some paperwork from the Defense Attorney’s desk … in the middle of court … on camera. The judge tried to let it slide if the deputy would apologize, but Sheriff Joe said, “No.” The judge ordered the deputy held for contempt, and MCSO staged a sick-out. That deputy was not punished, and still has not been submitted to the jurisdiction of the court.

For all his bluster about working for the people of Maricopa County, he’s costing them a ton of money. From Wikipedia:

From 2004 through November 2007, Arpaio was the target of 2,150 lawsuits in U.S. District Court and hundreds more in Maricopa County courts, with more than $50 million in claims being filed, 50 times as many prison-conditions lawsuits as the New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston jail systems combined.

That’s in addition to the security precautions he’s taken, including working out of an office building in lieu of the jail or courthouse- all at taxpayer expense.

While gathering information for this article, I found myself with a profoundly unpleasant feeling. I actually asked myself if publishing this commentary might cause problems to one of my relatives who lives and works within the MCSO sphere of influence. Having had this deeply un-American thought, I immediately shrugged it off and commenced to hunting and pecking away at the keyboard. It is shameful that any public official in this country can cause such questions to be asked, and is itself a denunciation of Sheriff Arpaio and his tactics.

How does this stereotypical TV villain get away with all of this? Part of it is the older voters in the county. He claims to be tough on crime, and a lot of older folks eat that up. He also has a lot of political pull with the state and local governments- probably because he has “dirt” on various politicos. Worse still, he’s been trying to brand himself as “America’s Sheriff”, and this has endeared him to a lot of right-wing fanatics with more partisan zeal than intellectual capacity. Any denunciation of Arpaio results in the loud-and-loonie wing of the conservative movement circling the wagons and doing everything possible to protect him. I have two words for those people:

NOT. HELPING.

You aren’t helping your own cause by getting mixed up with the manifold perfidies of Joe Arpaio and his sturmtruppen at the MCSO. The FBI is already investigating him for abuse of power and other sins, and the latest polls show his approval ratings have dropped to around 35%. Not exactly a rising star. In addition, Arpaio should be the antithesis of all the conservatives stand for. He aggressively intrudes his government power into private affairs and exemplifies the power of the State without a leash. Conservatives should be vilifying this man, not protecting him.

Alas, partisan politics seems to trump common sense and even self-interest. For those of you unsure what life would be like without the protection from the government guaranteed (NOT granted) by the Constitution, look no farther than Maricopa County, Arizona. Right here in the USA.

Perhaps someone should tell Sheriff Arpaio about the Battle of Athens. He’d probably be better off if the Feds got him.

Current status: Irked

Current music: Do It Again by Steely Dan