Friday, August 6, 2010

Bad Dad, China Spill, and Another Kagan

Make Room for Daddy's Vicarious Life

This week, 14-year-old Laura Dekker of the Netherlands has become the latest victim of parental abuse. Dekker's father, Richard, wants her to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone, as if that’s some sort of admirable achievement.

For a teenager to be able to survive a shipwreck is one thing, but doesn't a parent encouraging their teenager to unnecessarily attempt such a feat as crossing the globe in a boat solo represent an abrogation of parental responsibility? How is this less harmful than other forms of criminal behavior, like a leaving your kid in a hot car, or letting them drive without a license?

Dekker's mother did have some apprehension about the trip. Being divorced from her husband, she had taken out a guardianship order over her daughter which she allowed to be lifted only last week. Apparently, time is of the essence, because since Australian Jessica Watson, 16, just set the current record this past May, Dekker only has until 2012 to claim the title for herself.

As recently as this past June, Abby Sunderland was attempting the same feat as Dekker when her boat was damaged in a storm and she had to be rescued at sea. The French and Australians who saved her declined to press for repayment of the estimated $300,000 it cost to reunite her with her family. Sunderland's mother said they couldn't afford it anyway.


I am not an explorer, so maybe I can’t appreciate the thirst for danger and conquest that drives these uber-over-achieving parents. But I can’t escape my amazement that people who encourage such activity and risk for adolescents can be so foolhardy. Can’t they see they’re living vicariously through their pawn of a child?

What makes Dekker's trek even more absurd is that the Guinness Book of World Records has decided not to recognize such stunts anymore out of its own concerns for parental stupidity and child safety.

Greenpeace is Equal-Opportunity

In case right-wing conservatives have ever doubted that far-left-wing Greenpeace serves any useful purpose, recent news from China may help portray the environmentalist group in a different light.

While we’ve been dealing with our own oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, China has been trying to sweep a much smaller – yet potentially far more lethal – oil accident under the rug. Literally.

After an explosion and fire at a crude transfer station in the port city of Dalian, conflicting reports of the extent of the resulting oil slick into the Yellow Sea began to emerge, prompting Greenpeace experts to examine the incident. After their investigation, they produced a report last week which has been validated by independent experts and local citizens in Dalian – and has been refuted by the Chinese government, a sure sign of its accuracy.

In their report, Greenpeace alleges that as fires spread after the initial explosion at the transfer depot, a large oil tank was manually drained to reduce the risk of further catastrophe. You see, the fire could have reached another nearby tank holding a lethal mixture of the liquid chemical dimethylbenzene. Highly flammable and poisonous, dimethylbenzene is a component in some solvents which, if released into the atmosphere over Dalian’s six million inhabitants, could have killed thousands.

Although the Chinese managed to avert one disaster by saving the tank holding the dimethylbenzene, they let raw crude from the nearby tank they had drained flow down into the bay. Officially, the Chinese say only 11,000 barrels of oil were released, compared to the estimated five million barrels in the Gulf of Mexico. But the tank which had been drained could hold up to 365,000 barrels of crude. By comparison, Alaska's Exxon Valdez spill involved 270,000 barrels.

While the Chinese may be correct in assuming the tank they drained was almost empty anyway, Chinese fishermen up and down the coast near Dalian report having seen a massive oil slick up to two miles from shore. A lot of it is gone now along the shoreline, because as I said, the Chinese actually employed legions of locals to sop up the oil along the coast, using reed mats and rugs, along with socks stuffed with human hair (a method, surprisingly, BP claimed would be ineffective in the Gulf). Environmental experts have actually been stunned at the remarkable progress the Chinese have made in cleaning up their mess in such a short period of time.

Of course, the Chinese government being the Chinese government, a lot may never be known – 0r proven – regarding their recent oil spill. They may have been right all along, and the quick clean-up may be proof that only 11,000 barrels were released into the Yellow Sea, although even aerial surveillance of the area after the accident showed otherwise.

But can’t Greenpeace at least be credited for giving both capitalists and communists an equal run for their money?

Liberal Teachers Perpetuating Myths

And a familiar name in the news this week has been Elena Kagan's, having won her nomination to the Supreme Court yesterday along mostly partisan lines. But Kagan isn't the only newsworthy celebrity from her family, at least not in their hometown of New York City.

Her brother, Irving Kagan, is a teacher at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, a highly-ranked school for intellectually gifted pupils, and of which his sister, Elena, is an alumnus. Teachers there have been fighting with school administrators at Hunter College and the City University of New York, both of which control the high school (yes, don't get me started on NYC bureaucracies), regarding what they perceive as a student admissions process which is biased against blacks and Hispanics.

Specifically, the admissions process at HCHS consists of one exam which measures language and math proficiency, which the teachers believe prohibits a consideration of other criteria, such as artistic aptitude and social skills. They point to falling percentages of enrolled blacks and Hispanics as proof that the test only benefits kids from, well, families and environments where education and achievement are stressed.

Hmmm.... Isn't that supposed to be the target group of schools for academically-gifted students?

Anyway, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan's brother, Irving, has been somewhat of a pot-stirring ringleader among the teachers, even going so far as to read aloud a letter of no-confidence written by a group of teachers to one of their administrators in her office. The whole thing has gotten tongues wagging in the rare air of prestigious academia.

Not that I personally have any problem with teachers expressing righteous indignation at real problems in their school. But unless I'm missing something, aren't Irving Kagan and his fellow instructors still living in the Dark Ages of Affirmative Action?

True, most of the student body at HCHS is Asian and Caucasian, but does that mean the entrance exam is biased against blacks and Hispanics? Have these teachers ever heard of the term "spurious relationships"? Just because two facts may look like they're correlated doesn't mean they are. If the whole point of the school's existence is to foster the educational potential of intellectually-gifted New York City high school students, then maybe having a dearth of blacks and Hispanics should be telling people that there's a disconnect not with the ADMISSIONS process but the way blacks and Hispanics, in general, are raising their children.

Re-defining the admissions process to evaluate qualifications which have less and less to do with intellect hardly sounds like a viable way to maintain school standards which, in turn, help their students become successful adults. Does coddling kids in high school create high-functioning college students and college graduates?

To their credit, administrators at Hunter College have held their ground on admissions standards. And few people are surprised to hear that the illustriously liberal Kagan family has more than one leftward-marching progeny.

But in this day and age - when so many studies and educated minorities now recognize that it's not the standards that are wrong, or even a person's skin color, but the way some people raise their kids - it seems almost laughable that a cloistered group of educators in one of the country's most elite high schools is doing the very thing they're always accusing their conservative antagonists of doing:

Playing the race card.

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