Do children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends?

In a recent online discussion, someone said that ‘children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends’.  This is a variation on a common argument: children’s rights must be limited for their own protection.  If we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.

That this argument seems prima facie true is a symptom of our cultural prejudices.  It can be revealed as a prejudice through a simple allegory.  Imagine an intelligent adult from a culture without cars is visiting your area and you have been asked to show them around.  You are walking down the sidewalk together, and this individual suddenly steps into the street with oncoming traffic.  What do you do?

Your response wouldn’t be any different than it would be if a child did the same thing.

This isn’t because an adult from a different culture should have their rights limited for their own protection.  It’s not because if we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.  It’s because an individual unused to our world hasn’t yet gained the experience and knowledge to protect themselves from our technology.

And you wouldn’t respond by limiting this individual’s rights.   You would respond by taking immediate steps to protect them (despite their being an adult) and, in the longer term, educating them on how to protect themselves from the dangers of traffic.

You wouldn’t project from the fact that the individual needed protective intervention in this instance to limiting their freedom to set their own values or make their own decisions.

To intervene to protect the life of another human being is normal, no matter what age that person is.

However – if that same adult individual makes different life choices than we think they should make, we let them do so.  We try to understand and respect their differences in values.  We listen to them when they express an opinion and engage them in respectful dialogue instead of silencing them.  If they tell us they feel we have done something unjust to them, we take the allegation seriously and consider whether we have and if we should make amends.  We don’t think we have the right to coerce them into behaving in a certain way or engaging in certain activities because we value them or think them important.

Any individual deserves that respect, regardless of their age, and regardless of the fact that we’d intervene if they stepped off the sidewalk.

A statement on the rights of a child

I’m about to share something very radical and very close to my heart.

It’s based on a simple belief I have: All humans are created equal, regardless of age – men, women, children, and babies – all with the same inalienable rights.

For the purpose of this statement, “child” is defined as a human between birth and reaching the age of legal majority.

A better world would be based on these principles:

A child is fully human.

A child should be afforded every protection afforded to adults. Children are more vulnerable than adults, so should not be afforded less protection.

This includes protection against bodily injury, mutilaton, and assault, regardless of the agent of these crimes.

The child may seek restitution for these crimes. The state may prosecute for them.

The child has the same right to health as does an adult. Therefore, her right to medical care should not be obstructed, any more than an adult’s should be.

Obstructing a child’s access to medical care is equally a crime as obstructing an adult’s access to medical care. If his mobility is reduced to such an extent that he does not have independent access to medical care, those reducing his mobility has a responsibility to ensure that he recieves medical care when in need.

The child has the same right to choose those with whom he associates as does an adult. If a child chooses to change his place of residence, he may not be obstructed.

In the primal state, a child comes into the world with immediate access to natural resources that enable his survival. Due to legal implementation of property law, he no longer has access to these resources. Societies have an obligation to ensure that restituation for this is made to children.

In addition, those who bring a child into the world are responsible to protect and provide for him in his his period of dependence. They do not have any right to make any choices for the child as a condition of this responsibility.

I’m not sure how we can make this world a reality, but I think that when we do we will transform the world – first for children, soon after for everyone.

Instantly and easily cleaning up your gmail inbox

Some people have amazingly effective methods of keeping their inboxes tidy.  But if you’re like me and feel that your inbox has gotten out of control, there are two tools in the gmail labs which, when used together, can instantly make your inbox tidier.

To add these features to your gmail account, click on ‘settings’ then on ‘labs’.

The first feature you want to add is called ‘SmartLabels’.  The description Google labs gives for SmartLabels is as follows:

Automatically categorizes incoming Bulk, Notification or Forum messages. Filters are created to label mail with these categories and Bulk is filtered out of the Inbox by default.

The second is called ‘Multiple inboxes’.  The description:

Add extra lists of emails in your inbox to see even more important email at once. The new lists of threads can be labels, your starred messages, drafts or any search you want, configurable under Settings.

After enabling both these features and clicking save, here’s what you do.

Go to your settings and set your multiple inboxes to be to the right of your inbox.  Make one of them for bulk, one for notifications, one for forums, and one for starred or whatever other label you want to draw attention to.  I’d do them in reverse order of what I’ve listed here.

After saving your settings, archive all your bulk, notification, and forum messages, and set those messages to skip the inbox.  They’ll still show up in your multiple inboxes.

And voila!  Your primary inbox will now consist almost exclusively of important messages.  Most new messages coming in will going into one of the side inboxes, so they won’t distract you when you’re looking for important messages, but you can still view them when you choose to.

What techniques do you use to keep your inbox tidy?

Things that keep us from thinking clearly

Firstly, fear.  There are at least two ways that fear keeps us from thinking clearly.  When we’re afraid, our brain exists in a ‘flight, fright, or freeze’ state.  That we can think at all in that state is extraordinary and commendable.  Unfortunately, chronic fear can limit the breadth of our thought.

Additionally, we are sometimes afraid of the ‘thought-crime’ of thinking certain thoughts, which often results in either obsession with not thinking that thought, failure to explore that thought and find out that it’s really not a thought-crime (and that perhaps the opposite is) – or both.

Next there is anxiety and stress.  This has a similar affect to fear in shutting down access to parts of the brain.  Ever left the house in a rush only to realise that you’ve forgotten some essential item?  Or worse, been in such a hurry that you’ve accidentally hurt yourself picking up a hot skillet or tripping in the street?  I generally find that slowing down and doing one step at a time actually helps me complete a task more accurately and quickly, because I don’t make a mistake and have to repeat the action.

Then there is hope.  We want something to happen or be so badly that we ignore signs to the contrary.  Our eyes pick out the evidence that we hope for and convinces us that things will turn out the way we dream of.

Then there’s language.  The words we use come with all sorts of connotations.  Sometimes it’s the connotation of badness or goodness.  Other times it’s the implication of connections between different ideas.  Words like ‘money’, ‘company’, and ‘war’ all come with associated ideas that keep us from thinking about their essence.

When we know what can keep us from thinking clearly, we can take steps to lessen the role of those things in our life.  It’s also instructional in our interactions with others.

If you encounter someone who doesn’t think clearly, confronting them in a way that may increase fear, anxiety, or stress will be counter-productive.  On the other hand, if you help alleviate their fears, relieve their stress, and remove the source of their anxiety, they’ll start thinking more clearly, seeing the big picture, and making better decisions.

Why rising home prices are unsustainable

One thing this experiment has highlighted is that on days like today, when I’m not feeling very clever, it’s hard to write.  Here I am, sitting with a cup of English breakfast, wanting to say something about the economy and knowing that it won’t sound very articulate.  But I’m turning over a new leaf: I’m going to more strictly adhere to my initial resolution and write anyway.

Rising housing prices – rising in real terms, after accounting for inflation – are unsustainable without an equivalent rise in the salaries of new generations.  If housing prices rise 5% a year in real terms for one generation, the home that cost one generation a reasonable downpayment and mortgage payment will stress the savings and budget of the next with an interest-only mortgage.

Home owners demand rising home prices.  In fact, without them, we worry that the economy is in trouble.  The government and Fed do what they can to provide them, through policy and interest rate changes.   Over the last generation we saw housing prices rise across the U.S., with some exceptions, because of economic intervention, not because of a lack of supply, overwhelming demand, or increased housing quality.

Current homeowners benefited from the increase.  The next generation wanted in on the easy wealth that appeared to come from owning a home – it worked for their parents, it seemed consistent, wouldn’t rising housing prices happen forever?

But it’s a ponzi sceme in a sense – housing prices can continue to rise only as new generations of home owners stretch themselves further and further to own their first home.  What enriched one generation inevitably makes it harder for the next to make ends meet.

I know housing prices have been all over the place in recent years.  In my opinion, in many places they’re still too high to make home ownership affordable for many.

I’ve got some tea left… I think it can make sense to own a home if you’ll be paying less in interest on your mortgage than you would be on rent.  But I’ll also say do not count on there being capital appreciation.  It’s not inevitable.  That should be clear to us right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people hope that over the long run, housing prices will continue to rise, as they did for so long.  It’s true that governments are motivated to creating rising housing prices, so as far as they are successful, there may be money to be made.  But as the coming generations can stretch only so far financially, housing appreciation is unsustainable over the long term.

The tea is gone… hopefully this was fairly coherent.  I also know that while not everyone shares this viewpoint, it’s been written about before… ah well.  At least I wrote today.  I hope that for someone who reads this, something about this post was new and interesting.

A business model I’d like to see

There are companies out there that profit from tracking and using or selling information about consumers.  Social connections, contact information, interests, browsing habits – knowing these is very valuable to companies and they are willing to pay a high price for quality information.

However, there’s also the ethical component.  Taking this information about customers without their knowledge (even if it’s due to naivete) rubs many, myself included, the wrong way. 

What if we give consumers control over their own personal information by offering to resell it for them? 

They can opt to give you access to their social graph (i.e. via facebook connect), a cookie to track their browsing, and personal information such as age, demographic, and address.  Of course, you’d have sophisticated algorithms to verify that you’re dealing with an authentic account. 

You’ll offer bundles of this information for sell to companies, priced by level of detail and type of information.  When a company buys a bundle with your customer’s data in it, a payment is made to their account.

Yes, the information would still sold, but at least now internet users would be able to profit from the usage of their personal information.  I think it may also have the long term effect of changing our understanding of who owns personal information and educating internet users about when and how they give away their data.

I also think this business model a gold mine just sitting there for anyone with the skills and interest.

Invisible Women

Last winter I polled a particular group of women.   I asked them about their experiences as young adults over the age of 18.  Here are some of the results.

56% I was not allowed to own a car and/or get a driver’s license.

50% I did not have access to transportation.

69% I did not have freedom to dress as I pleased.

38% I believed or feared that going against the/some rules would result in physical punishment.

13% I was spanked (after the age of 18).

44% I believed or feared that going against the/some rules would result in homelessness.

81% I was not allowed to spend time with some people or in some social situations that I desired to be in.

56% I was not permitted to pursue a romantic interest I had.

44% I did not receive either a legally accepted high school diploma or a GED or equivalent.

69% I spent more than 20 hours a week cleaning/cooking/taking care of the home and was unpaid.

The women I polled were not captured by strangers or taken to a foreign country.  These were women who had lived at home with their families their entire lives.  They did not go to school, watch TV, or listen to the radio.  Although they lived in the U.S., they were unfamiliar with American customs and culture.

92% had believed that “if I were to call the police about a family matter something bad would happen to me.”

75% had believed that they could be physically obstructed from leaving their home without legal recourse.

Only 9% had been aware that “if I were to move out of my parents’ home, there were shelters and other non-profit and government assistance programs to provide shelter, food, basic living necessities, and training until I was able to support myself.”

The women I polled were born into and raised by controlling families in the U.S. and had their access to information severely limited from an early age.  As children and young adults, they had not been much aware of their legal rights.  They had feared the government and the legal system instead of believing that it could help them.

These women are not rare, but they are invisible.  There may be tens of thousands of them in the U.S.  Only the minority make it out.  The majority continue in this situation or marry and repeat it with their own children.

At the time they answered this poll, these particular women had recently exited and were establishing lives for themselves.  The challenges and difficulties they faced is fascinating and worthy of a post devoted to it.

I believe that these women were victims of human trafficking even though they don’t meet the standard profile of a foreigner held captive by strangers.  I believe that these women have fallen through the cracks in the system.  Non-profits and NGOs are not reaching out to help them.

What I would like to see: public awareness, outreach from support networks to these victims, and the working out of the legal system on how to approach these situations and what recourse and protection women who have been victimised in this way have.