Kids forcibly sent to re-education programs

From Nadya Labi’s “Want Your Kid to Disappear?” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2004):

RICK STRAWN IS AN EX-COP WHO STARTED HIS COMPANY in 1988 to help police officers find off-duty work guarding construction sites. Ten years later, he was asked by a member of his United Methodist church to transport the churchgoer’s son to Tranquility Bay in Jamaica. The school is run by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs, a company headquartered in Utah that owns eight schools in the United States and abroad, including Louis, Jr.’s destination. …

Three years ago, Strawn escorted Valerie Ann Heron, a 17-year-old from Montgomery, Ala., to Tranquility Bay. The school is the most hardcore in the WWASP system, the one to which students are sent when they repeatedly cause trouble at other schools. …

The world according to Strawn is based on choices and consequences. The world according to WWASP is designed to reinforce the same principle. Students enter Casa by the Sea at the first of six levels. To advance, they have to earn points through good behavior and schoolwork. Until they reach level three, which takes an average of three months, they can communicate with the outside world only through letters to their parents, which the school monitors. After that, they can talk on the phone to their parents but no one else.

Casa costs nearly $30,000 for a year – as much as a year’s tuition at Harvard – but offers no traditional academic instruction. Instead the schoolwork is self-paced; the students sit at tables with a workbook and take a test on a section when they decide they’re ready. They can retake the same test as many times as necessary to achieve an 80 percent passing grade. According to the Casa parent handbook, the school does not ensure that “the student will even receive any credits” or that the teachers who monitor the study sessions will have U.S. credentials. The school does not track how many of its students go on to high school or college. “You’re not going to have a teacher riding your back,” Dalton told Louis. “It’s all independent study. I just read the module, and did the test. I finished class in a week. That’s how easy it is.”

Students spend more time studying themselves than any other subject. They write daily reflections in response to self-help tapes and videos such as Tony Robbins’s Personal Power, You Can Choose, and Price Tag of Sex. They answer questions like “What feelings/emotions did I experience today and how did I choose to respond?”

Students also attend, and eventually staff, self-help seminars. The entry-level seminar, called Discovery, encourages participants to “learn to interrupt unconscious mental and emotional cycles which tend to sabotage results.” Kelly Lauritsen participated in Discovery at Casa in 2000 and said she was encouraged to hit the walls with rolled towels to release her anger. The price of tuition includes versions of these seminars for parents. Like Oprah on speed, sessions run nonstop from morning until midnight. Many parents and kids say they benefit from the self-analysis. “I didn’t realize that I had so much anger inside,” the 14-year-old girl whom Strawn transported in November wrote to her mother. …

Strawn told Louis that the hardest thing about Casa would be abiding by the school’s intricate system of discipline. “It’s not the big rules that get you. It’s all the little rules,” Strawn said. Casa docks students, according to its handbook, for telling “war stories” about inappropriate experiences, for being unkind to each other, and for making “negative statements about the School, the staff, the country, or other students.”

“There’s a whole page of rules,” said Shannon Eierman, who attended Casa last year. “That page is divided into sections of categories, into different codes, and a million subcategories. You could be there forever and the next day and learn a new rule.”

Students at Casa who commit “Category 5 infractions” can be punished with an “intervention,” for example, which is defined as being left alone in a room. Students say that the punishment can last for weeks, though Casa insists that the maximum penalty is three days. “I had to sit with crossed legs in a closet for three days,” said Kaori Gutierrez, who left Casa in 2001. Interventions may be used to punish out-of-control behavior, drug use, and escape attempts. But they’re also the way the school handles “self-inflicted injuries,” which can range from cracked knuckles to self-mutilation with pens or paper clips to an attempted suicide.

At the root of this long list of punishable violations is “manipulation,” which includes lying or exaggerating. Strawn repeatedly uses the word to dismiss a kid’s behavior – it’s the way he said Valerie Heron acted the day before her suicide. In the WWASP universe that he inhabits, manipulation is a term of art that refers to just about anything a teen does or says that the staff doesn’t like.

Human life & wasted time

From Paul Graham’s “The Hardest Lessons for Startups to Learn“:

We take it for granted most of the time, but human life is fairly miraculous. It is also palpably short. You’re given this marvellous thing, and then poof, it’s taken away. You can see why people invent gods to explain it. But even to people who don’t believe in gods, life commands respect. There are times in most of our lives when the days go by in a blur, and almost everyone has a sense, when this happens, of wasting something precious. As Ben Franklin said, if you love life, don’t waste time, because time is what life is made of.

From P2P to social sharing

From Clay Shirky’s “File-sharing Goes Social“:

The RIAA has taken us on a tour of networking strategies in the last few years, by constantly changing the environment file-sharing systems operate in. In hostile environments, organisms often adapt to become less energetic but harder to kill, and so it is now. With the RIAA’s waves of legal attacks driving experimentation with decentralized file-sharing tools, file-sharing networks have progressively traded efficiency for resistance to legal attack. …

There are several activities that are both illegal and popular, and these suffer from what economists call high transaction costs. Buying marijuana involves considerably more work than buying roses, in part because every transaction involves risk for both parties, and in part because neither party can rely on the courts for redress from unfair transactions. As a result, the market for marijuana today (or NYC tattoo artists in the 1980s, or gin in the 1920s, etc) involves trusted intermediaries who broker introductions.

These intermediaries act as a kind of social Visa system; in the same way a credit card issuer has a relationship with both buyer and seller, and an incentive to see that transactions go well, an introducer in an illegal transaction has an incentive to make sure that neither side defects from the transaction. And all parties, of course, have an incentive to avoid detection. …

There are many ways to move to such membrane-bounded systems, of course, including retrofitting existing networks to allow sub-groups with controlled membership (possibly using email white-list or IM buddy-list tools); adopting any of the current peer-to-peer tools designed for secure collaboration (e.g. Groove, Shinkuro, WASTE etc); or even going to physical distribution. As Andrew Odlyzko has pointed out, sending disks through the mail can move enough bits in a 24 hour period to qualify as broadband, and there are now file-sharing networks whose members simply snail mail one another mountable drives of music. …

The disadvantage of social sharing is simple — limited membership means fewer files. The advantage is equally simple — a socially bounded system is more effective than nothing, and safer than Kazaa. …

Recognizing futility

From Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville (261):

[On 9 March 1862, the world’s first battle between ironclad warships took place. The smaller and nimbler Monitor was able to outmaneuver Virginia, but neither ship proved able to do significant damage to the other. Catesby Jones, commander of the Virginia] gave the Monitor everything he had given the wooden warships yesterday, and more: to no avail. When he tried to ram her, she drew aside like a skillful boxer and pounded him hard as he passed. After a few such exchanges, the crews of his after-guns, deafened by the concussion of 180-pound balls against the cracking railroad iron, were bleeding from their noses and ears. Descending once to the gundeck and observing that some of the pieces were not engaged, Jones shouted: “Why are you not firing. Mr. Eggleston?” The gun captain shrugged. “Why, our powder is very precious,” he replied, “and after two hours incessant firing I find that I can do her just about as much damage by snapping my thumb at her every two minutes and a half.”

Shoehorning drivers licenses

From Bruce Schneier’s “REAL ID” in Crypto-Gram (15 May 2005):

REAL ID also prohibits states from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. This makes no sense, and will only result in these illegal aliens driving without licenses — which isn’t going to help anyone’s security. (This is an interesting insecurity, and is a direct result of trying to take a document that is a specific permission to drive an automobile, and turning it into a general identification device.)

DRM ratchets up, but never quite works

From Edward Felten’s "DRM and the Regulatory Ratchet":

Regular readers know that one of my running themes is the harm caused when policy makers don’t engage with technical realities. One of the most striking examples of this has to do with DRM (or copy-restriction) technologies. Independent technical experts agree almost universally that DRM is utterly unable to prevent the leakage of copyrighted material onto file sharing networks. And yet many policy-makers act as if DRM is the solution to the file-sharing problem.

The result is a kind of regulatory ratchet effect. When DRM seems not to be working, perhaps it can be rescued by imposing a few regulations on technology (think: DMCA). When somehow, despite the new regulations, DRM still isn’t working, perhaps what is needed is a few more regulations to backstop it further (think: broadcast flag). When even these expanded regulations prove insufficient, the answer is yet another layer of regulations (think: consensus watermark). The level of regulation ratchets up higher and higher – but DRM still doesn’t work.

The advocates of regulation argue at each point that just one more level of regulation will solve the problem. In a rational world, the fact that they were wrong last time would be reason to doubt them this time. But if you simply take on faith that DRM can prevent infringement, the failure of each step becomes, perversely, evidence that the next step is needed. And so the ratchet clicks along, restricting technical progress more and more, while copyright infringement goes on unabated.

Cuchulain fights the ocean waves

From Lady Augusta Gregory’s "XVIII. The Only Son of Aoife", from Cúchullin of Muirthemne (1902).

THE time Cúchulainn came back from Alban, after he had learned the use of arms under Scathach, he left Aoife, the queen he had overcome in battle, with child.

And when he was leaving her, he told her what name to give the child, and he gave her a gold ring, and bade her keep it safe till the child grew to be a lad, and till his thumb would fill it; and he bade her to give it to him then, and to send him to Ireland, and he would know he was his son by that token. She promised to do so, and with that Cúchulainn went back to Ireland.

It was not long after the child was born, word came to Aoife that Cúchulainn had taken Emer to be his wife in Ireland. When she heard that, great jealousy came on her, and great anger, and her love for Cúchulainn was turned to hatred; and she remembered her three champions that he had killed, and how he had overcome herself, and she determined in her mind that when her son would come to have the strength of a man, she would get her revenge through him.

She told Conlaoch her son nothing of this, but brought him up like any king’s son; and when he was come to sensible years, she put him under the teaching of Scathach, to be taught the use of arms and the art of war. He turned out as apt a scholar as his father, and it was not long before he had learnt all Scathach had to teach.

Then Aoife gave him the arms of a champion, and bade him go to Ireland, but first she laid three commands on him: the first never to give way to any living person, but to die sooner than be made turn back; the second, not to refuse a challenge from the greatest champion alive, but to fight him at all risks, even if he was sure to lose his life; the third, not to tell his name on any account, though he might be threatened with death for hiding it. She put him under geasa, that is, under bonds, not to do these things.

Then the young man, Conlaoch, set out, and it was not long before his ship brought him to Ireland, and the place he landed at was Baile’s Strand, near Dundealgan.

It chanced that at that time Conchobar, the High King, was holding court there, for it was a convenient gathering-place for his chief men, and they were settling some business that belonged to the government of that district. …

Cúchulainn rose up then and went to where Conlaoch was, and he still handling his arms. And Cúchulainn asked him his name and said: ‘It would be well for you, young hero of unknown name, to loosen yourself from this knot, and not to bring down my hand upon you, for it will be hard for you to escape death.’ But Conlaoch said: ‘If I put you down in the fight, the way I put down your comrade, there will be a great name on me; but if I draw back now, there will be mockery on me, and it will be said I was afraid of the fight. I will never give in to any man to tell the name, or to give an account of myself. But if I was not held with a command,’ he said, ‘there is no man in the world I would sooner give it to than to yourself, since I saw your face.

But do not think, brave champion of Ireland, that I will let you take away the fame I have won, for nothing.’

With that they fought together, and it is seldom such a battle was seen, and all wondered that the young lad could stand so well against Cúchulainn. …

But Cúchulainn threw his spear, the Gae Bulga, at him with all his might, and it struck the lad in the side and went into his body, so that he fell to the ground.

And Cúchulainn said: ‘Now, boy, tell your name and what you are, for it is short your life will be, for you will not live after that wound.’

And Conlaoch showed the ring that was on his hand, and he said: ‘Come here where I am lying on the field, let my men from the east come round me. I am suffering for revenge. I am Conlaoch, son of the Hound, heir of dear Dundealgan; I was bound to this secret in Dun Scathach, the secret in which I have found my grief.’ …

And then the sorrow of death came upon Conlaoch, and Cúchulainn took his sword and put it through him, sooner than leave him in the pain and the punishment he was in.

And then great trouble and anguish came on Cúchulainn …

‘I am the father that killed his son, the fine green branch; there is no hand or shelter to help me.

‘I am a raven that has no home; I am a boat going from wave to wave; I am a ship that has lost its rudder; I am the apple left on the tree; it is little I thought of falling from it; grief and sorrow will be with me from this time.’

Then Cúchulainn stood up and faced all the men of Ulster.

‘There is trouble on Cúchulainn,’ said Conchobar; ‘he is after killing his own son, and if I and all my men were to go against him, by the end of the day he would destroy every man of us. Go now,’ he said to Cathbad, the Druid, ‘and bind him to go down to Baile’s Strand, and to give three days fighting against the waves of the sea, rather than to kill us all.’

So Cathbad put an enchantment on him, and bound him to go down. And when he came to the strand, there was a great white stone before him, and he took his sword in his right hand, and he said: ‘If I had the head of the woman that sent her son to his death, I would split it as I split this stone.’ And he made four quarters of the stone.

Then he fought with the waves three days and three nights, till he fell from hunger and weakness, so that some men said he got his death there. But it was not there he got his death, but on the plain of Muirthemne.