Sunday, March 29, 2015

Enough "Criminals"

Most excellent Madame!  It is what our readers have been waiting for—disputation!  We have been seeing eye to eye quite a lot as of late (as you put it, I have been showing my brilliance by agreeing with you, lol), and now we diverge, and in so doing demonstrate the effect of one of the quotes on our page about “argument among friends.”

I’m not sure how I intimated that the described situation was “harmless,” but I do feel strongly that the circumstances, and others like it, are not criminal.  Your statements about the older person having more knowledge and experience are true, but should be irrelevant as to criminality determinations.    Further, giving emphasis to things like that, in my view, only reinforces the subtly misogynistic  and debilitating “weaker gender” presumption that undermines the independence, strength, confidence, dignity, and treatment of young women in a way not all that dissimilar to prejudicial presumptions about math ability, engineering aptitude, etc.

And I did address the psychological, social, and emotional component—and the greater knowledge and experience of older “suitors”—when I said that male-female interaction information should be taught to both young ladies and young gentlemen just as they get to the immediate pre-pubescent stage.   They also need to know that the successful track records of “relationships,” where the age difference is stark, drop considerably when the younger person is below the age of 25, and further, that many of the relationships end poorly or leave negative emotional effects.  Maturation in many respects can be a slow and gradual thing.

But all that is a far cry from criminality.  I fail to see that whether one makes good relationship or sexual decisions (on the part of the male or the female in this case) has relevance to whether there is criminality.

Presumptions against consent, as you seem to imply when you said that between a 22 year old and 14 year old there would be a “fine line between consent and coercion,” do harm in my opinion, because they serve to reinforce the patronizing idea that girls are silly, what they say can’t be taken seriously, they can’t be trusted to make decisions, etc.   

Your point about the lack of nuance in the law or allowance for the exceptional is well taken.  And I agree that magical points being reached on a birthday are quite artificial.  See!  You thought I was going to just be on a disagreeing roll! :)

Consciousness, internalizing, or accepting of the ramifications of his actions before he took them are anything but assured, given that he reached age 22 in a society that, during his “formative” years,  likely coddled him, shielded him, and threatened him with consequences that never actually materialized.

Whether it was a pattern or a moment of weakness can be relevant—but should not be a criminal consideration, only an administrative one.

I am puzzled by your last two paragraphs, and there is perhaps conflation.  Consensual biological coupling should not be a criminal matter in my view, but at most a societal or administrative one.  You seem to imply that we should presume coercion.  Far too many lives have been ruined by presuming that.  We should instead accept stated consent (with some systemic safeguards; see below).  By the way, it was the 14 year old in the case, in private questioning, perhaps even volunteering the information, who readily said it was mutual, non-coerced, even a “relationship.”

Of course his judgment was poor! His own maturity is probably deficient.  But if poor judgment was a crime, there would be hardly any non-criminals left.  I think it is a sign of a poorly connected, reactive, infantile society when it wants to criminalize so many things that are merely poor judgment.

We as a society contribute to these things by effectively narrowing social circles, forcing teachers into expending large amounts of time just to make it financially  (while also meeting the expectations of serving, grading, coaching, etc.), and then we wonder why “inappropriate” relationships occur inside those circles.

We have a ridiculous hodge podge of age of consent/age of majority statutes in the various states, which apparently range (I have not looked at all 50) from 14-18, with 16-18 apparently predominating.  We need standardization, even if it has to retain elements of artificiality.

Historically, the age of presumed puberty has been 14.  That’s probably the standard with the most prevalent track record.  Of course, the stuff in our hormone injected Frankenfood system has complicated things by frequently throwing that all out of whack, with 11 not being uncommon and even lower ages occasionally showing puberty.  Your rail against Monsanto and other agri/”food” businesses seems well pointed.  Another discussion!

Stated consent should, in this revised system I propose, normally be accepted.  However, the prosecutor or the court can dispute the consent, and should especially do so in cases where puberty does not appear to have been reached.  If the consent is disputed, the defense then is allowed to pick a psychologist, from a list provided by the local sufficiently large psychological professionals organization, and that psychologist will interview, at government expense, the stated consenter.  That psychologist will make a professional determination whether the stated consent is not true, whether it is only stated because of fear, trauma, or excessive concern to not get the older person in trouble.  If the psychologist determines that the consent is invalid because one of those things exists, and therefore is in reality coercion (rape), then the court will be informed and criminal proceedings can begin.

The prosecutor can also attempt to show that presumed puberty is not actual.  The defense would select an MD, from a list of MDs (don’t even have to be pediatricians) that the local sufficiently large Medical Society has submitted as qualified, to make such a determination at government expense.  If no puberty exists, or, in the MD’s assessment, no puberty had begun by the time of the first “incident,” then the judge can examine preliminary investigation evidence and make a determination that there is reason to believe that biology could not have been a factor, and therefore charges of child criminal molestation (a serious crime) can be pursued.

The rule of law is supposed to presume for the defendant, against whom, relatively alone and isolated, the power of government is arrayed in prosecution and judgment and imprisonment.  Consent should be the first hurdle, and puberty the second, to restore fair treatment before the law in these matters.  America already has a disgraceful and appalling incarceration rate, far higher than most countries, probably the highest in the world.  Let’s quit adding to it and cease to criminalize biology.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How Old is Old Enough?

Professor J,

We see cases like the one you have referenced in your post quite often. On our city there seem to be at least two or three per semester.

While I see the point you are trying to make and agree with you that the life of this teacher may not need to be ruined, I don't think it's quite as harmless as you make it out to be. Young women (I'm struggling to use the term in reference to a 14 year old which I would still consider to be a girl) can indeed think for themselves and make numerous decisions about the things you outlined.  While a man (or woman) of 22 may not have "sorcerous powers of charm and persuasion" he (or she) is likely to have a good deal of knowledge about the world and much more experience than someone so much younger. Especially between the ages of 14 and 22 I would say that it isn't the years of difference that matter, but how much personal growth, experience, and knowledge is gained during those particular years. 

Sliding the proportionate ages down to 10 and 18 makes it a bit less tolerable because the difference in the amount of appropriate knowledge on both sides of that equation seems more pronounced. 

Neither do I think that a girl is more of an adult or likely to make better decisions because she has gotten her period. In most of these stories the adult claims that the sexual acts were "consensual" but between a 14 year old student and 22 year old teacher there is probably a fine line between consent and coercion.

While I don't think this teacher needs to (necessarily) be labeled a sex offender, someone should be asking whether or not he should be left in charge of such young students and as you point out that could easily be handled by the administration. 

The problem with all these cases (and lots of law in general) is that there is no room for nuance or the exceptional. It's not unthinkable for the girl to actually be the aggressor in such a situation, but it isn't likely. Lolita is a salacious story because she's unusual. A law must be written down and defined. It's a constant problem then, isn't it? What about the remarkably mature 13 year old or the mentally challenged 20 year old? The law must deem some age to be appropriate which means that on paper it looks as though a magical maturity is reached overnight on this birthday or that. Not just for consensual sex but for smoking, drinking, and even marriage.

I would question the decision making skills of the man here. Twenty-two years old with a college degree and (I'm assuming) a teaching certificate means he would have likely understood the situation and all that he had to lose. It makes his judgement questionable at the very least. We also don't know if this was a pattern of behavior or a poor choice in a particular situation. Again, the law doesn't allow for the difference between something contrived and premeditated or the result of a momentary weakness. In a perfect system all these things would be taken into account. 

I do take issue with one part of your post more than the rest: you seem to be hinting (I know you'll correct me if I'm wrong ;)) that we are at the mercy of our desires and urges. It is here that you lose me completely. We expect people to overcome their evolutionary biology with reason and rational thought every day. I'll be the first to admit that it is easier at some times than others, but the situation this fellow finds himself in wasn't just thrust upon him by his desires no matter how natural and pleasurable they may be. If we expect a 14 year old girl to know her own mind well enough to take control of the situation and say no, how much more should we expect if of him? 

Age and experience (not to mention a position of authority) make him the more responsible party here. But I'll agree with your overall point of the extreme and perhaps permanent label may be overkill. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Punitive Biology


Good reminder that the actions of even a single individual can matter quite a lot.  In matters of reasoning as well.  Because when we fail on those, we set in motion far reaching effects.

Discernment?  Sanction fitting the transgression?  Apparently we don’t care to have those at all.

Instead, we ruin lives.  Criminalize non-criminals.  I could be speaking of marijuana, but I’m not.

I’m speaking of biology.  Rape?  Murder?  At best, we get brief mild or moderate outrage on those.  But insert some biology, and people lose their minds and the outrage meter goes off the scale.  There are few who can seem to resist using the sexuality of others as a weapon against them.  Even teenagers, who will mightily resist “snitching” for just about everything else, will readily employ this particular weapon.

In the capitol of Nebraska, a 22 year old first year teacher is about to have his life ruined for good, be labeled a sexual deviant and sexual offender, and spend a good deal of his life behind bars.  And even when he gets out, he will be a registered sex offender, something that will haunt everything he does or tries to do, including where to live.  Economically, he will have few options, almost none of them worthwhile.  The resulting despair and depression that confront those like him have driven many to suicide.

His “crime”?  Oral sex with a consenting 14 year old.  Whoops.  Sorry.  She can’t “consent.”  The law and society considers her woefully bereft of reasoning or judgment.   What’s more, it considers virtually any older male as having sorcerous powers of charm and persuasion that she is helpless to assess, let alone dismiss or ignore.

How degrading.  How insulting.  That we think so little of our young ladies.  How is this presumption supposed to help them become strong minded, strong willed, confident women?

It also flies in the face of what common sense and common reality (backed up by extensive research literature) tell us, which is that 14 year old girls make a great number of meaningful cognitive decisions, from internet, phone, television, and social media exposure (and levels); to manners of dress and appearance; to who they associate with; to the subjects discussed; to personal hygiene; and so on.

So instead of implied helplessness, how about we try this instead:

-Teach our young ladies (and young gentlemen), once they start reaching puberty (13? 12? 11?), the various aspects of male-female interaction, and not just physical, but social, psychological, emotional, etc.  This wouldn’t have to be done at school.  Could be at church, could be at another school, could be at home, could be at a girls club of some kind, or any number of places.  The parent(s) would decide in each case and certify it.

-Decriminalize natural biology and get way more perspective about all that.  I wrote a whole post about this on the Professor over 2 years ago.  See it here:

-In situations where there are other considerations (such as the matter of educational/administrative power over the student, such as this case), administrative options, not criminal penalties, are far more warranted.  For instance, in the Nebraska instance I mentioned above, the school district, presumably in command of far more in-depth facts than outsiders, would have a range of administrative options.  Everything from brought into group counseling or mentoring therapy; asked/made to apologize to the school, students, and parents for transgressing their trust and confidence; fine and/or suspension for a time; advised to learn from the incident and transferred to another school for a probationary period; given a short-term administrative position and not having the contract renewed, meaning the teacher would have to go elsewhere or into another profession; or any number of sanctions or remedies (guidelines—not prescriptions—could even be drawn up for school districts to reference).

I think Elton John needs to modify another of his songs.  It should go like this:  “Discernment seems to be the hardest word.”

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Small Change Adds Up

Professor J,

The point you made about the media not reporting things that don't happen is a good one. This can also be applied to those bad days that we have as individuals. I employ it a lot: I wasn't diagnosed with cancer, I didn't wreck the car, the house didn't burn down. Hell, I didn't even burn dinner!

All the women I know complain about going to the grocery. Including me. A couple of years ago I thought how that would sound to anyone who was struggling to feed their family or living in an area of the world where food, or even clean water, simply unavailable. The nerve of us to complain about abundance!

While we're pointing out positives I'll share something that I was unaware of until the past few years--the power of volunteering. I wasn't raised in a family where that was happening even though my parents were big Kennedy fans. That "ask not" and whatnot didn't seem to sink all the way down to everyday life.

So when I started volunteering after my kids didn't need me so much I was astounded. When working the polls or teaching adults to read or leading tours at the art museum I discovered an army of people doing good and helping all over the city. I often talk to fellow docents at the museum and learn that they are also helping at the animal shelter or that they have a prison ministry. Many of them are in their seventies and going strong to help in their communities! Now that I pay attention wherever I am, I realize that a huge amount of things that people enjoy in cities like walking trails, museums, and parks are maintained and kept going by volunteers. And all those small things add up. One more child tutored. One more piece of trash picked up. One more vacant lot reclaimed.

Here's an example: In an inner city community in Memphis there is a purple house flanked by two vacant lots. Those lots and the house, previously abandoned, have been made into something vibrant and healthy.

The house used to be boarded up:

This is what the area looked like this week.

Here are a couple of articles about how this happened: Art Garden Grows in Binghampton

 Community Building: Art garden rallies children, families around neighborhood improvement

When the bad news seems overwhelming we can't forget that one person really can make a difference and that the little miracles matter.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Perspective and Prospective


The “drifting” of power and money to the few does indeed take place all the time, because the majority of people are concerned with living their lives, not seeking to amass great power and wealth.  And power and wealth tend to slowly beget more power and wealth.

Largely, only the driven, ambitious, focused, etc. care to amass great power.  Unfortunately, those are also more likely to have among them great numbers of sociopaths, megalomaniacs, the dangerously insecure, the unenlightened, the monstrously selfish, etc., not to mention the hypocritical and shallow.  Even more unfortunately, many of them will not even be satisfied with fomenting the “drift,” but will move rapidly to strongly and unscrupulously to either 1) serve bad power, or 2) amass bad power for themselves.  The cycle will continue at least until we both infuse in ourselves the sentiment that Jefferson repeated—the price of liberty is eternal vigilance—AND find a way to improve the human mental, emotional, and spiritual condition to vastly reduce the numbers of sociopaths, megalomaniacs, etc.

Which also means the better rule sets we craft and enforce, the better the playing field can contain the attempted excesses.

Still, there is no doubt that perspective needs to be maintained.  For instance:

“News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen.  You never see a TV crew reporting that a country isn’t at war, or that a city hasn’t had a mass shooting that day.  Or that millions of 80 year olds are alive and well.
“Violent crime has fallen by half since 1992, and fiftyfold since the Middle Ages.  Over the past 60 years the number of wars and number of people killed in wars have plummeted (Prof note: The carnage of WW2 made that comparison too easy).  Worldwide, fewer babies die, more children go to school, more people live in democracies, more can afford simple luxuries, fewer get sick, and more live to old age.
“Problems that look hopeless may not be; human ingenuity can chip away at them. “We will never have a perfect world, but it’s not romantic or na├»ve to work toward a better one.” Steven Pinker, Harvard psychologist

When things are bad, do good.”  Little known motto of a major charitable organization.

“I could do other things.  Make more money.  But I choose to be here, teaching here, because I believe in YOU.  That some of you are going to change the community, our society, even the world for the better. May your days be filled with passion, may you have a wonderful, exuberant career.”  Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, explaining to students why he teaches at Berkeley.

“The free MUST remember the oppressed.” Amnesty International motto.

Muslim countries often don’t charge interest.  They have fees for transactions and pay dividends instead.  There are ways to think outside the box, and it may make greed not quite so damaging.

And if we are paying attention, we will always find life more wonderfully complex than we realized.  For instance (‘free market” fanatics may want to hold their heads to contain any explosive force), competition in Europe has often been CREATED by governments.  Certainly this is so for the phone service there, with the added twist that the governments forced the phone companies to be interoperable (one of the reasons phone service is generally much better in Europe than in the US).

I am, as you know, no advocate for pollyanish thinking, outlooks, or behavior.  But I also know that we can do much to make ourselves better.  One of the ways is to embrace the written word.  As Levar Burton asks, do your children, friends, family, and colleagues see you reading?  How many books do you have around home?  Do you have an evening a week where you don’t watch TV or do other things, but just read?  

Our reply to those who focus ONLY on negativity, who do so without contribution or desire for action to change, can thus be two simple questions: “What good book are you reading?  What are you filling yourself up with intellectually and emotionally?”

And yes, good Madame, I realize that I am speaking to the choir!  Try not to roll your eyes. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cheering Sequel

Cheers, Professor!

Oh, maybe that isn't exactly right. ;)

So even you, when you put your mind to it, thought of some good things to celebrate. Sometimes when it looks like the whole thing is going to hell I remember that I could have been born 500 years ago in Europe and would have lived and died without tasting Mexican food. Cheers me right up. We are actually incredibly lucky in ways we take for granted. Those elites and power mongers have been the flies in the ointment from the very beginning, though, eh? A historian cannot be surprised (or can he?) that no matter what great start is made, money and control seem to drift (a lazy term but you know what I mean) back to them.

At least we have a system that is suppose to work to keep them in check, an idea which previously would have ended with someone's head on a pike.

Thinking historically and globally is my favorite way to counter the constant drip of depressing news.

Completely agree with you about the smokers.

As a woman and the mother of a daughter I can think of another thousand or so reasons not to jump off a bridge today:

The epidural. That could just end my list right there.

Not having to have half a dozen children hoping a couple might survive.

Hair color. Just saying.

The fact that my daughter is educated and can basically do whatever she wants as far as work, education, or travel.

You point out that we have more comforts and note that Gibbon would think this a weakness (among elites). I'd agree with him on that and research shows that the affluent are actually less compassionate than others. But that tide is turning, while not among the 1% necessarily, certainly among others. People are becoming aware of how materialism impact their lives and are taking efforts to learn to be happy with less and focus on what makes a profoundly fulfilling life. #notstuff

We mentioned healthcare already but in my city there are two amazing children's hospitals dedicated to research on diseases that use to be death sentences just a few decades ago. St. Jude provides free care to children with cancer and also provides housing for families and local airlines provide free transportation if needed. Le Bonheur is a world class facility as well.

So much seems wrong every day and just when we think progress has been made in one area we seem to slip somewhere else. We need to keep pressing on those corrections that are needed but not at the cost of recognizing all that has been gained.

Another bleak week here. Seriously. Need. Sunshine. Hence the second post on this subject! :) And you thought it was for you. ;)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sunning Up


Adore the picture! (and caption)

Yes, it’s maybe the lack of sunlight. :)

Only YOU could be sunny and cheery and also avoid the false positive psychology trap.  Consider yourself in need of bottling. :)

Yes, yes, as the historian, I have been quite remiss in pointing out improvements.  For instance:

Even as the population increases, millions rarely die in a short period of time.  Thousands sometimes, certainly.  And we take note of such a tragedy.  Past generations dealt with a lot worse.

American unemployment is down, even adjusted for the hidden unemployed.

More comforts exist for more people than ever before (I am aware that Gibbon would find this a weakness, at least among elites).

Great medicines and medical advances exist.

Travel is way more than hoofing it 20 miles to the next town.  And better, and convenient, and comfortable!

Food is a lot more interesting.

People can post naked pictures of you one week, and no one cares (or much remembers) a month later.  For both celebrities and “regular” people.

Information is very plentiful and convenient.  Mostly! :)

Mass nuclear war/utter destruction is far less likely.

Smoking is restricted or penalized.  Okay, personal bias on that one.

The younger are making music that I enjoy.

Jon Stewart is still around. :)

Ah.  Much better. :)
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