Archive for the ‘issues’ Category

sex play in kindergarden?

October 16th, 2007

There's a story making the rounds in the Norwegian media about a certain day care center that promotes "sex play" among the kids. Aftenposten has the story in English (for the record the translation is a bit half assed and doesn't reflect the story completely).

Children, she said, should be able "to look at each other and examine each other's bodies. They can play doctor, play mother and father, dance naked and masturbate.

"But their sexuality must also be socialized, so they are not, for example, allowed to masturbate while sitting and eating. Nor can they be allowed to pressure other children into doing things they don't want to."

The argument here is that sex is a natural and fundamental thing and kids need to learn about it. Since sex play among kindergarden kids is not unusual anyway, it's just a matter of how we respond to it. Pia Friis is the manager for the day care center in question, and she argues that it's harmful to inflict guilt on kids for this kind of conduct. Furthermore, kids should draw their own boundaries. Her position is backed up by phychologist/sexologist Thore Langfeldt.

"The only thing that is absolutely certain is that children, sooner or later, will play sexual games and examine each other at the kindergarten (..)"

It is certainly a progressive thought to permit this in kindergarden. However, there is a wider context to this issue. People like to point out the double standards surrounding sex in our society. There is no doubt that a lot of people (whether it's many or most is hard to say) are interested in pursuing the topic of sex publicly. We are in a sense surrounded by sex. How many commercials and billboards have you seen this week that exploit sex to sell a product? How many movies have seen this month with sexual content? How many sex jokes have you heard? It's evident, people don't want sex hidden away, they want it out in the open. When it's hard to find a movie that doesn't make any reference to sex, it's a pretty clear sign. Meanwhile, a lot of successful tv shows like Desperate housewives and most of all, Big Brother, sell primarily on sex. If there ever was a time when sex was a private issue out of the public realm, it certainly is long gone.

And yet, sex is still a taboo subject. People are mystified by it. It's embarrassment, not a permissible topic. And so people maintain this charade of taboo while they indulge in it whenever it isn't banned. Why is it that the most obvious, tired jokes get laughs as long as they contain sexual innuendo? Because sex remains a repressed topic. People are not free to express themselves openly, it's frowned upon. While I think that sexual behavior is for the most part pretty unrestrained (or so it seems), discussing it isn't. Do what you want, but don't talk about it.

When I read this story my initial reaction was pure skepticism. "What on earth?" It's the same reaction that was quoted in the story.

"Sexual games don't belong in a kindergarten," she declared. "Children don't need more exposure to this in kindergartens. We think it will damage their health."

But that set off an alarm bell in my head. I had formed an opinion without even thinking about the issue. Wait a second, why exactly am I skeptical? Based on what? Based on current norms of society? Norms are completely relative, and they change. Unless there is a solid argument as to why things must remain as they are, it's pointless to argue against change. And what is the argument from this politician? None whatsoever. "This doesn't belong in kindergarden." "We think it could be harmful." How? What studies are you quoting?

If one thing is obvious to me it is that we don't know what to do about sex, how to deal with the subject. Our traditional norms of keeping it locked up have been gradually pushed back to the point where it surrounds us, but we're still not supposed to talk about it. As a society we are extremely immature about it. And most of all, "protecting kids" from sex has been a moral effort. All the while kids themselves are in fact just as sexual and we have a serious disconnect from the point where they are old enough to pursue sex to the point where their parents think they are old enough to acknowledge it.

Perhaps if kids in kindergarden were taught to not to repress their sexuality they would grow up into more mature adults. And maybe then we could do away with the ridiculous double standard and stop surrounding ourselves with sex all the time?

Maybe the kindergarden concept is a good idea, maybe it's not. But we should determine this based on facts determined scientifically. The stupidest thing we can do at any time is to dismiss ideas out of hand because they don't conform to our superstitions.

the most compelling world view yet

October 3rd, 2007

I've had my share of exposure to the Christian world and pretty much decided I don't belong there. I haven't had very much to do with the atheist society, and so I've familiarized myself with the ideas through Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Granted, when people write books for the mass market, it's sometimes hard to know to what extent they really assert their own beliefs or whether they are just exaggerating on purpose.

Having seen Dawkins in a number of talks, I would say that he is very consistent in the ideas he expresses, and his book is true to this as well. Reading Dawkins I once again feel a little alienated, on several points. There is the notion of being atheist and proud of it which it isn't at all convincing. It is nice to know that one isn't alone in the world with some idea, but the whole thing of some kind of virtual march with banners telling people you're *proud* of what you are just doesn't register with me. Why would you be proud of the way god/evolution determined you would become? What is the accomplishment here? And the second thing is the black and white classification of all things religious. Dawkins won't say that some beliefs are more harmful than others, he just wants to condemn everything under the banner of religion.

Sam Harris, on the other hand, takes a much more nuanced stance. In fact, while his book is provoking and inflammatory, I find his talks to be much more compelling, and the best reflection yet of what I could agree with wholeheartedly. In particular, this talk (transcript) is as close as anyone has ever come to write something I agree with completely.

The Power of Nightmares: explaining terrorism

September 6th, 2007

I came across this really interesting program from 2004 produced by the BBC. The Power of Nightmares explains terrorism and indeed the current geopolitical climate in terms of the US neoconservatives' need to scare us in order to battle liberal values. Interestingly, the current radical Islamist movements are explained to stem from what was a similar movement to protect Arab states from corrupting Western influence.

The program is in three parts (180min), see them all on:

On the other hand, if you're going to be flying anytime soon, you might do better to skip this one, as it will infuriate you even further at all the bullshit you have to go through and have your toothpaste and scissors stolen.

media spreading FUD

July 31st, 2007

Creative writing is what English teachers like, isn't it? I guess that's what some people were good at in school, and now they're working in newsrooms. Like this fabulous news report.

I should write one of these pieces myself. I'm just not sure if I have what it takes.

Scientists have discovered a *dangerous* new substance called triheptopotassium. You are in _danger_ of being exposed to it almost everywhere you go. Anne Harris, a single mother of three, was walking her two-year-old daughter, Jennifer, in the park when she was hit in the face.
"It came out of thin air, there is no way I could have seen it coming. Once I felt the first drop, I grabbed my daughter and ran for the car. But it was too late, we were both soaked in it."
Anne's friend Marv was home when Anne and her daughter arrived last Tuesday. "She came to my house because it was closest to the park. Anne was frantic. We tried to wash it off her and Jennifer as best we could, but we couldn't be sure that it hadn't gone into the skin and poisoned the blood. We hope and pray that Anne and Jennifer will be okay."

Our technical expert Tony Allen has more. "Thanks, Lucy. Triheptopotassium is a _new_ liquid substance discovered *last year*. It is a clear liquid, which falls from the sky. So far no one knows where it comes from, but one thing is certain: it is *very* dangerous."
Scientists say that the best you can do is stay indoors, and not let your kids play outside under any circumstances.

Now I just need some actors in suits to play the parts. I have to make sure they use enough syllable elongation and other emphasis techniques on words like dangerous.

summarizing the Bush era

May 16th, 2007

Normally I'd just read these political articles and move on, but one that I found today is so succinct and logical that I think it deserves a note in the margin. Incompetent Design, the premise of how Bush and his buddies manage to make their dealings seem incompetent whereby they're point by point achieving exactly what they want to achieve.

It's a sobering perspective on the situation, certainly similar views have been expressed in the past, but I haven't come across a theorem equally elegant, logical and complete.

It's interesting how the assumption of "things aren't going the way we want them to" has been made into fact without actually being established anywhere. Meanwhile, sock puppets and figureheads like Bush, Rumsfeld, Gonzales and Rice come out and say the most outlandish things and the only response is mockery. Fine way to deflect real reactions. Underestimating idiots sure can be dangerous.