Amazon has been plagued by counterfeiters, fraudsters and crooks who use tactics like fake reviews to goose sales of their products; the company keeps cracking down on these activities, but despite using measures so broad that they destroy the livelihoods of legitimate sellers, Amazon is losing the war on crooked sellers.
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Josh Dzieza's deeply reported story on the dirty tricks used by Amazon's third-party sellers to beat their rivals is an outstanding read, and an important contribution to the debate about how automated systems that police user conduct fail at scale.
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The LA Times reports that Greg Schiller, a popular high school science teacher, was suspended because two of his students made projects that "appeared dangerous to administrators."
One project used compressed air to propel a small object but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.)
Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said his parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers.
A school employee saw the air-pressure project and raised concerns about what looked to her like a weapon, according to the teachers union and supporters. Schiller, who said he never saw the completed projects except in photos, was summoned and sent home. Both projects were confiscated as "evidence," said Susan Ferguson, whose son did the coil project.
One of the most important lessons kids learn in public schools is that school administrators are usually autocratic imbeciles.
Science teacher's suspension spurs petition drive (Thanks, John!) Read the rest
Kevin C Pyle and Scott Cunningham's non-fiction, book-length comic Bad for You: Exposing the War on Fun! is a marvellous and infuriating history of censorship, zero-tolerance, helicopter parenting, and the war on kids.
The comics form turns out to be just perfect for presenting this material. The book opens with a history of the fight over comics publishing in America, where the liar Frederic Wertham and his Seduction of the Innocents hoax led to a harsh regime of comics censorship, book banning, book burning, and decades of pseudoscientific vilification and dismissal of artists and the young people who loved their work. Presenting this story in a comics form only drives home how wrong Wertham and the Comics Code Authority were. Read the rest
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) has introduced legislation that would cut off funding to schools whose zero tolerance policies lead them to punish children for brandishing pastries in the manner of a gun, for making gun-fingers and saying "bang" (or similar), for pointing pretend guns that are smaller than 2" in length, drawing a picture of a gun, making a gun out of legos or pencils or whatnot, or wearing a t-shirt "that supports Second Amendment rights." Read the rest
When schools adopt "zero tolerance" policies and treat rule infractions as crimes, they often bring in actual police officers to serve as in-house security, and the entire student body become perps-in-waiting. Tim Cushing's litany of police overreach in schools includes a third-grader and a fifth-grader who were subjected to intimidating interrogation by a police officer over the alleged theft of one dollar; arrests for students who participated in a water-balloon fight at the end of the school year; felony charges for putting a joke in the school yearbook; arrests for flatulence; a cop who slammed a 10-year-old's head into a table so hard he got a concussion -- because the student was not at music class; and a diabetic student who was beaten by the school cop for falling asleep in class.
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Kevin at Lowering the Bar updates us on the Lego Gun Incident, wherein a six-year-old boy was punished for bringing a tiny, Lego-sized gun onto his Springfield, MA school-bus. The school initially demanded that the boy write a letter of apology and serve detention because the gun "caused quite a disturbance on the bus and that the children were traumatized." However, the same zero-tolerance-obssessed nutjobs at the school board also put CCTVs on their buses, and a review of the footage therefrom reveals that nothing bad actually happened. This has occasioned a small miracle in the form of the school board simply dropping the matter, rather than doubling down and, say, accusing the six-year-old of using a tiny, Lego-sized computer to hack into the CCTV and swap out the footage or similar.
However, Kevin goes on to note that a child in Baltimore continues to struggle with the permanent stain on his record caused by his taking bites out of a pastry until it was vaguely gun-shaped, thereby traumatising all the other students by exposing them to an approximate right-angle. This kid is having the book thrown at him:
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"This is a student-specific matter," the spokesman said, in case anyone thought they had suspended every student in the district, "and our school system is not going to have any comment on it, except for this: This is a matter between the school, a student and his parents. It's not, and it should not be, fodder for a publicity stunt by an attorney who seems to believe that his young client's best interests are somehow served by trying this case in the media."
On May 1, Kiera Wilmot, a Florida high school student, was arrested for mixing toilet bowl cleaner with tin foil, causing a small, harmless explosion. Though she had a spotless school record, she was expelled and charged with a felony as an adult -- a harsh penalty widely ascribed to institutional racism (Wilmot is black). On May 16, thanks to Wilmot's bravery, a crowdfunded project by former NASA engineer Homer Hickam, and the ACLU, the charges against Wilmot were dropped and Wilmot and her twin sister were awarded a full bursary to the Advanced Space Academy program at the U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala..
Now, Wilmot has written a must-read editorial for the ACLU on her experience with zero-tolerance, detailing the awful treatment she received and the thoughtless way in which the gears of the a discipline-obsessed educational system grind up its own students:
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The principal and dean of discipline came over and asked me to tell them what happened. I was kind of scared, but I thought they'd understand it was an accident. Before that, I've never gotten in trouble this year other than a dress code violation because my skirt was two inches too short. I told him it was my science experiment. In my third period class I was called up to discipline. I wrote a statement to the dean of discipline explaining what had happened. Afterward I was told to sit on the resource officer's office. They told me I made a bomb on school property, and police possibly have the right to arrest me.
Maryland State Senator J.B. Jennings (R) has introduced Senate Bill 1058, The Reasonable School Discipline Act of 2013, which is aimed at ending the incredibly stupid "zero tolerance" policies that result in kids being suspended or expelled for pointing a stick at another kid and saying "bang!" Here's the preamble:
FOR the purpose of prohibiting a principal from suspending or expelling a student who brings to school or possesses on school property a picture of a gun, a computer image of a gun, a facsimile of a gun, or any other object that resembles a gun but serves another purpose; prohibiting a principal from suspending or expelling a student who makes a hand shape or gesture resembling a gun…
Lenore "Free Range Kids" Skenazy sums up some of the incidents that inspired the bill: "the Hello Kitty bubble gun, and the Lego gun, and the imaginary grenade throw in a game of imaginary save-the-world, and last but not least the terrifying pastry gun."
Zero-tolerance is the same thing as zero-intelligence. You don't need human beings to enforce zero-tolerance systems -- if you want to run schools on the basis of "zero-tolerance," you could fire all the teachers and replace them with Commodore PET personal computers running very short BASIC programs.
Right to Bear Gun-Shaped Pop-Tarts Law Drafted
(Image: Gun, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from pedroalonso's photostream) Read the rest
Mount Carmel Area Elementary School in Pennsylvania suspended a five-year-old girl for pointing a Hello Kitty bubble-gun at another student, characterizing this as a "terrorist threat." The little girl had to undergo psychiatric evaluation before she was allowed back in. Her parents say that they couldn't get their daughter into another school, because no one wanted a kid with "terrorist" on her transcript. They're considering a lawsuit.
The school claims "the information supplied to the media may not be consistent with the facts" but declines to correct the record. They do, however, offer this empty, mealy-mouthed rubbish: "The Mount Carmel Area School District takes the well-being and safety of students and staff very seriously."
The kindergartner, who attends Mount Carmel Area Elementary School in Pennsylvania, caught administrators’ attention after suggesting she and a classmate should shoot each other with bubbles.
“I think people know how harmless a bubble is. It doesn’t hurt,” said Robin Ficker, an attorney for the girl’s family. According to Ficker, the girl, whose identity has not been released, didn’t even have the bubble gun toy with her at school.
Kindergartner Suspended Over Bubble Gun Threat
(via Reddit) Read the rest