Monday, October 22

A Dog And Pony Show, Minus The Pony

OKAY, so I'm a closet authoritarian. I was raised in a passive-aggressive church: theologically liberal, tolerant, forgiving, but also hair-splittingly doctrinaire, and guess which side got the most attention?

So that when something like the Ellen DeGeneres dog 'do worms its way into my consciousness my first impulse is to say, "Try obeying the fucking rules." And my second impulse is to consider that for a moment, then say, "Try obeying the fucking rules." And when Keith Olbermann, appearing in character as Mr. Exasperated Good Sense says, "Give the dog back to the little girl already!" my immediate thought is that it might be time you booked someone on your show to disagree with you once in a while, although my thinking that has not had any noticeable effect to this point.

Maybe it's not emotional; there are good solid reasons why "girl" "cute" and "puppy" should not, taken in any order, trump contract law. And while justice must be tempered with mercy, it shouldn't be tempered with Hallmark card sentimentality. It's beyond sloppy to ignore the reasons why a shelter operation requires a contract, and why that contract specifies the animal can't be transferred on a whim. BILL FUCKING FRIST, Mr. Olbermann? I have no knowledge of the particulars of this operation, but a logical assumption is that the welfare of the animal matters to some extent. When we adopted Larry I managed to get in line behind a woman who wanted to argue (for five minutes) that she needed to have the cat in question declawed (to save her furniture, she kept explaining), despite the fact that the prohibition was item #2 on the contract (which spelled out why), and despite the fact that she was in a pet store where, for about the same amount of money as she was paying in adoption fees she could have purchased a cat she could have declawed, defurred, and given breast implants with no impediment except her bank balance and tiny intellect. I don't know what comparable, lifelong, blindingly-painful indignities are visited upon canines, aside from matching sweater and hair ribbon sets, but it's obvious why a "no-transfer" clause is written into an adoption agreement, and maybe we could save a few tears for the sake of unwanted animals tortured in the pursuit of longer-lasting hair coloration.

I don't know the details, and I'm prevented from learning anything further by the fact that I fucking refuse to read--or care--about Ellen DeGeneres' personal problems, so whether the matter could have been settled to everyone's satisfaction, outside the glare of publicity, I do not know. I do know it couldn't be once DeGeneres used her popular syndicated talk show as a bully pulpit, a fact which seemed to escape Olbermann beyond the cheap laugh provided by the video of her clumsy execution. She wants to go all weepy over the plight of Palestinian refugees or Israeli settlers, fine. She can turn on the waterworks for Gitmo prisoners or against Islamofascism; that's up to her viewers to evaluate. Using her show to pressure a butcher for selling her fatty pork chops, or complain if someone hauls her into small-claims court is beyond the pale.

I was keeping all this to myself--okay, I may have vented a teensy bit to my Poor Wife when the major details were rehashed in a promo for one of those execrable "entertainment" shows--but this morning I was cleaning up the three or four dozen browser windows I'd left open over the weekend when I happened to refresh Dean Esmay's site rather than close it, and I wound up chasing his link to The Ballad of Amber Dauge, the latest in Right-wing educational outrage stories driven by mindless local reporting from an upper-middle-class perspective. Ms Dauge, a high-school freshman, ran afoul of the Goose Creek High zero-tolerance weapons policy when a hapless butter knife fell out of her locker. She was suspended and recommended for expulsion, thus becoming the latest folk hero in the Whatever Happened to Common Sense campaign which oddly focuses its energy on "cute" "girls" with "puppies".

I suppose we should be thankful she wasn't packing Christmas-themed cutlery or we'd never hear the end of it.

Now, first, if you bother the read the linked story you may notice that it's remarkably one-sided. The particulars come from Amber; her mother objects to the paperwork timeline; and her father pops up to opine about the limitations of Zero Tolerance as a concept. But there's not word one from the school, its administrators, or the district. Which is always the case, because they aren't permitted to comment as the innocent young student is locked inside an airless cattle car on the Uncaring School Board Bureaucratic Railroad.

But this is not the way it works, and we assume even a teevee news-gathering operation knows it. No public school district serving any area of the country that has electricity can be cavalier about expulsion. There's generally at least two levels of appeal before an expulsion takes place, and the possibility of legal challenge once that runs its course, during which time the student remains in class. (Such rigors are part of the reason Zero Tolerance is spelled out in the first place.) If that's not the case in Berkeley county someone needs to disabuse them of old notions. If it is, then, the story is sensationalized as well as slanted.

I'm married to a teacher, and I'm the last person who'll ever tell you that school administrations are unfailingly wise or even competent. But then I'm also from Indianapolis, and I've watched as the local media remained silent as de jure crypto-segregation robbed our poorest schools of funds, then hopped aboard the Our Schools Are Failing bandwagon with attendant Blackboard Jungle subtext (at one point in the 80s the fact that a white student was punched by a black one was an above the fold story that lasted a week or more; in my day, absent the race angle, we called that Another Day in Gym Class). This sort of coverage went on unimpeded for a decade, until shortly after changing housing patterns and statewide testing removed some of the suburbs' protective coloration. It is still the case that local education reporting focuses on county schools, test scores, and police runs while football Fridays feature sportscasters touring the mega-schools of the white-iced doughnut counties in a helicopter whose annual operating costs exceed the total IPS extra-curricular activities budget.

Zero-tolerance programs in schools are by and large the result of televised sensationalism and the increasing pressure on public schools to respond to it after the fashion of the modern public relations campaign. And there is "zero" tolerance, where there actually is, in part because that makes good PR copy (the new Dress Code for Indianapolis Public Schools--which essentially requires children to dress as if they were working at Best Buy--was universally applauded by local teleprompter readers thrilled that baggy-pantsed ghetto dwellers they occasionally glimpse through their SUV's windshields would be learning sartorial restraint, if not algebra), but mostly because it's the only way to fairly enforce the rules. Either a butter knife is a weapon, or it isn't. Either Amber Dauge, cute puppy-owner, is prohibited from carrying one or she's not, but if she isn't then no one is. There's no rational way to write a rule covering only those people the News4 Team finds acceptable targets.


LittlePig said...

Yep. Them's the rules. And I know, because my kid was "expelled" in a similar fashion.

He came thru Montessori then went into public school at grade 7. In ninth grade he committed a cardinal sin without knowing it - he said something to the effect of "I'll bring my BB gun to school". Out came the alarm bells. He used the G word! And so was expelled.

He was out of school maybe three days. We went down and talked to Admin, they got together with all of us, my son apologized up a storm, and, absent a few days in a 'detention' class (which my son loved, as total silenced was enforced; he want to stay there full time) was back in school.

This kind of thing represents what is to me the biggest blowback of liberal influence. It's a massive cudgel we gave to the Republicans to beat us about the head and shoulders, aided and abetted by our lovely tabloid media. Bummer.

dms said...

Okay, I'm a dino. I went to grade and high school in the 60s and 70s. With one major exception, the greatest threat to my classmates' and my lives was getting the fruit loop ripped off the back of your shirt.

What has happened in the intervening years? Liberal teaching methods, or the need, during and after the Reagan years for both parents to work to support their lifestyles and buy everything for their kids? Children being farmed out to day care?

I just don't get it. I think I got a good public education, and when I went to school, students respected their teachers. When, how, and why did adults lose control?

D. Sidhe said...

"Zero tolerance" rules are fucking stupid, but possibly the only way to avoid selective enforcement, which runs rampant in schools. The "good kids" can spend all three years of high school stoned--believe me I did--and never once get in trouble for it, and so can the slacker kid whose dad is a high powered lawyer, but God forbid the smartass minority girl over there bring so much as a Pamprin to the lunchroom. Zero tolerance seems to ensure that the draconian tendencies of your standard vice principal are applied in such a way that everyone hates them. Fair, absolutely. But also stupid.

As for Ellen, who I have never fucking liked and my hatred only grew worse when she "came out", who cares. She signed a contract. The person she gave the dog to signed no contract, and therefore could have sold the thing as fake pork for all anyone would be able to do about it, and for all the person knew it would have been fine with the shelter.

Fucking stupid or otherwise, if you break the rules, you need to be ready to take the consequences. I can respect people who break fucking stupid rules, mostly because they are risking consequences in order to make a point. If you're not risking anything, what's there to respect?

All the Ellen thing has done, though, is remind me to redouble my efforts to not hear about her anymore and to get my next cat (or cats) from the pound. I'm evidently unwilling to comply with the rules a pet rescue group comes up with, so I, wonder of wonders, elect to go elsewhere.

Mind you, I have no intention of doing anything to any cat other than paying thousands for its medical care, going into the next town to find the exact right food, and possibly putting a humiliatingly pink collar on it, but I'm not submitting to more strict rules to adopt a cat than I would to have a freakin' baby human.

This moment of incoherence has been brought to you by three solid years of drug-addled high school logic and debate classes.

dms said...

d. sidhe,

Well, I guess I didn't get that great of an education.

yellojkt said...

The whole point of zero tolerance is that it requires zero thinking. And school uniforms are a solution in search of a problem. Kids can't deal drugs in a golf shirt?

ciocia said...

The Ellen drama is stupid. She signed a contract, and the contract was not created just for budding vivisectionists, but so that purebred animals will not be resold at a profit. Now she is using her status as a cutesie, adorable celebrity to bully a shelter to bend to her will. Sorry, Ellen it ain't all about you. The contract was written so that animals, who depend on the vagrancies of human behavior for survival, will be protected. Disappointed? Tough.

D. Sidhe said...

The whole point of zero tolerance is that it requires zero thinking.

Wish I'd said that.

And, just for the record, my objection to Ellen is not that she's queer. It's that after letting decades of millions of nobodies-in-particular take all the risks of being out, she seems to think she deserves a medal for telling us she's gay too. People get fired every damned day for being queer, and most of them don't have the option of running to the media to demand redress or revenge.

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