Wednesday, April 01, 2015

New playground safety requirements are absurd

The chances of a child dying or seriously hurting himself in a playground fall are infinitesimal.

A combination of government regulations and free market innovation has created playgrounds that are incredibly safe for kids... except if they die of boredom. All the fun stuff is gone, but boy is what's left non-lethal!

The CDC reports that in the 10 years from 1990 to 2000, there were just 31 deaths from playground falls, and 70 percent of these were at playgrounds in someone's backyard. This means that on public playgrounds, there was an average of about one death per year from falling. With about 40,000,000 kids in America under age 10, that means the chances of a child dying or seriously hurting himself in a playground fall are infinitesimal.

Nevertheless, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has proposed new standards that would revamp the surfacing materials on playgrounds. ASTM's stated mission is to prevent concussions and head injuries. But with the chances of these accidents already so low, you have to wonder about their true intentions.

The ASTM has established important standards in a range of areas throughout its 100-year history. It is a private organization, but local and state governments often require public areas to meet ASTM standards. Through this process, the government essentially requires submission to standards approved by non-government forces. The potential conflicts of interest in the ASTM are glaringly apparent since it is mostly made up of engineers and business owners, and that goes double when one considers the opaque process by which new playground surfacing standards become law.

Very soon—on or around April 1st—an electronic ballot will be opened to all committee members of what is less-than-felicitously called the "F08 on Sports Equipment, Playing Surfaces, and Facilities" task force, as well as "subcommittee F08.63 on Playground Surfacing Systems." Tim Gill, author of the blog Rethinking Childhood, says that even after several conversations with committee members, he still doesn't have a clear picture of what exactly the voting process entails and how proposals are approved. The ASTM does not make committee membership public. Likewise, committee papers and voting records are also hard to come by. And so, says Gill:

    “I don’t know for sure why the [surfacing] standards are being pushed so hard. It is clear that some committee members have a commercial interest in the topic (for instance, they have a financial interest in a supplier of playground surfacing that would meet the new standard, or in a surface-testing service). It may be that in some cases, their company would benefit from the change. In the absence of membership details, papers, voting records or public debate, it is hard to say too much more.”

Even if all the members of the ASTM have only the best interests of kids in mind, it is still hard to say that these new standards would do anything to improve the safety of playgrounds. In fact, the case can be made that this attempt to make playgrounds safer may actually backfire and increase the risk of injury.

How's that? Consider the current concerns about extremely safe football helmets. The fear is that they may encourage adolescents and adults to lead with their heads when making a tackle, increasing the risk of brain injuries. Jay Beckwith, a playground expert, writes on his blog, “[Developmental physiologists] also are concerned that the lack of consequences when falling may retard the child’s ability to form proper assessments of their skill, i.e. reduce their judgment.”

David Ball at the Centre for Decision Analysis and Risk Management just published a paper called “Observations on Impact Attenuation Criteria for Playground Surfacing.” That's a mouthful, but basically he wrote that even though the ASTM’s proposed changes seem rational on the surface, there are potential negative ramifications that need to be taken more seriously:

    “There is concern that an intervention of this nature might have significant and unintended consequences for play provision with knock-on implications for overall child welfare, because play is an essential constituent of growing up.” 

In other words: Kids need to play. If we have to shutter playgrounds because the local park district can't afford new surfacing—or new surfacing inspectors—kids will sit at home getting fat, depressed, and diabetic.

How much safer is that?


Are colleges turning our young adults into infants?

When I was a little girl, I used to dream about going to college. I was fascinated by the notion that I would be living away from home, carrying my state-of-the-art laptop around to each one of my interesting classes, mingling with other students at the campus bar, and having the time of my life. The moment I reached high school, I began researching colleges in my area, trying to determine which one of those extraordinary institutions of academia and young adulthood I wanted to attend.

College symbolized maturity, and maturity meant I would no longer be an awkward, emotional child.

Finally, after years of waiting, I received my letter of acceptance to a school on the other side of the province. It was there that my fantasies of young adulthood were shattered.

Post-secondary institutions are no longer about bringing together young adults to learn in a mature, intelligent, and open environment. They are no longer about preparing students to live in the real world as independent, contributing members of society. They are about coddling children in an era rife with political correctness, a scourge that has infantilized an entire generation.

This infantilization takes many forms, but is perhaps most easily understood through the context of “safe spaces.”

“Safe spaces” are areas of college campuses designed to prohibit any and all speech deemed “offensive” or “triggering” by students. At Brown university, these safe spaces include coloring books and bubbles, as well as staff trained to deal with trauma.

Writing in the New York Times, Judith Shulevitz describes safe spaces as:

    “…an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning…”

Ms. Shulevitz goes on to list examples of the kind of infantilization that creates “safe spaces”, including Oxford University’s cancellation of an abortion debate because both participants were men and Smith College’s apology for a panelist using the “n-word” in context of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

In hindsight, I should have known college wasn’t a haven for young adults when my ninth grade English teacher forbade us from uttering the “n-word” in the context of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Both novels are a reflection of the time period in which they are written, and both novels have suffered through historical revisionism in the name of political correctness. History is only acceptable when it’s not offensive, you see.

Most recently, Britain’s National Union of Students requested participants at a women’s conference refrain from clapping and switch to jazz hands, as clapping was “triggering anxiety” in some attendees.

So where did this infantilization come from?

Ms. Shulevitz writes,

    “The theory that vulnerable students should be guaranteed psychological security has its roots in a body of legal thought elaborated in the 1980s and 1990s and still read today. Feminist and anti-racist legal scholars argued that the First Amendment should not safeguard language that inflicted emotional injury through racist or sexist stigmatization.”

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of students haven’t quite realized that college is not forever. One day, they will graduate and be forced out into the real world. If they think their bosses are going to create a safe space at work where they can eat glue and finger paint whenever they receive criticism, they’d better think twice before finding themselves lining up for unemployment.

Because right now, that’s precisely what these people are: unemployable.

They are not mature adults with a wealth of knowledge sealed inside their skulls. They are not rational people capable of handling the often inexplicable cruelty of the world beyond their college classrooms. They are not enlightened individuals craving to learn new things, even if those things contradict their existing beliefs and ideas.

They are children, and if that’s what they’re happy to be, then that’s how we should be happy to treat them.


“The Hunting Ground”: Reaping profit from rape hysteria

When the 'documentary' "The Hunting Ground" premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, it was advertised as a "piercing, monumental exposé of rape culture on campuses." In fact, its objectivity and perspective have been systematically dismantled since then. The film is best understood as a volley in the campus consent wars now raging across North America. It is part of a manufactured and coordinated hysteria about campus rape that imposes a politically-correct agenda and strips accused male students of due process rights.

Peel back the panic and you will often find profit. Some PC advocates profit from the power and prestige that being a savior can bring. The New York Times article "An Unblinking Look at Sexual Assaults on Campus: 'The Hunting Ground,' a Film About Rape Culture at Colleges" (Jan. 25, 2015) quoted the Democrat Senator from California, Barbara Boxer, as declaring "[Y]ou're going to see it in response to this film. Believe me, there will be fallout." The article indicated that Boxer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are pushing legislation that could ride into law on a wave of emotion created by "The Hunting Ground."

Political careers, administrative jobs, government grants, book and lecture contracts are just some of vast financial benefits that rest upon continuing the "rape culture" crusade on campus.

The Hunting Ground offers a rare glimpse into what may be a subtle "other financial benefit." The profit is not likely to come from box office magic. As of March 19, the revenue tracking site Box Office Mojo ranked the film at 60th in current ticket sales, with a total take of only $95,783 after a three-week run. Of course, the $500 licensing fee paid by each campus that runs the 'documentary' will soften the blow. The 'documentary' will be considered to be almost mandatory for screening on thousands of campuses; it will be immediately sponsored by Women's Studies Departments and other 'progressive' voices.

What is the subtle profit? It arises at the end of the 'documentary.' After heart-breaking and rapid-fire accounts of rape on campus, which offer no mitigating perspective, viewers are exhorted to "Take Action!" The "Take Action" button on the left-hand side of "The Hunting Ground" website takes a visitor to a page that reads, "Donate. THE HUNTING GROUND is proud to partner with NEO Philanthropy to ensure that your tax-deductible donation supports student-led campaigns, public education, policy reform, and prevention approaches."

NEO Philanthropy is a "transformative" foundation. Its media kit explains that NEO is "a national leader in innovative philanthropic solutions. We lead large-scale collaborative grantmaking funds on a range of social justice seek transformative social change." The organization focuses on four areas: the Four Freedoms Fund to promote immigrant and refugee rights; the Just and Fair Schools Fund to address discipline and bullying problems in K-12; the State Infrastructure Fund to mobilize the public on social, political and community fairness; and the Sunrise Intiative for Human Rights in the U.S. to "respond to some of the most serious human rights crises in this country's history." There is no mention of rape or sexual assault. There appears to be no track record on these issues.

The NEO site lists the organization's income for 2013 at $41,567,576 and its expenses at $38,578,027. Two income tax forms are disclosed – a 2012 and a 2013 Return of Organization Exempt for Income Tax. One of the expenses is explained; namely, the impressive salaries and other income benefits enjoyed by NEO officers. Two presidents are indicated. The 2012 form states that President Michele Lord received $272,269 over the year; President Berta Colon received $266,973, including over $90K from related organizations. The 2013 form states Lord received $251,769; Colon, $234,761. Five other officers listed made between $162,884 to $191,747 (p.63). More employees are introduced to visitors on the NEO site but their salaries are not disclosed.

The 2012 form discloses the many organizations that were funded by NEO along with the amounts disbursed (pp.29-53). The following are typical of the recipients listed under "Public Interest Projects":

Alliance for Justice: $200,000

America Votes Education and Action: $655,000

National Council of La Raza: $500,000

Project Vote: $50,000

Rock the Vote: $380,000

Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition: $310,000

The Voter Participation Center: $275,000

Voto Latino: $200,000

Overall, the emphasis is on immigrant rights, implementing social justice goals and getting out the vote. It is a fair assumption that NEO does not promote Republican candidates or ballot issues.

The most remarkable aspect of the recipient list, however, is the apparent lack of any grants to groups that focus on preventing rape or sexual assault. The names of recipient organizations drive this conclusion. A single grant to Planned Parenthood is as close as NEO seems to come to funding sexual health or safety. And, yet, the "Take Action!" cry from "The Hunting Ground" states that NEO ensures "that your tax-deductible donation supports student-led campaigns, public education, policy reform, and prevention approaches." Wouldn't that goal best be ensured by an organization with an established track record on sexual assault? There are many of them out there.

The 2013 form is similar in its disclosed disbursements; no apparent grants go to organizations that address rape and sexual violence, let alone rape on campus. The vast majority of recipients reveal that NEO has an entirely different focus. Only a few recipients have sufficiently ambiguous names to allow the possibility that they deal with rape in some manner.

No wonder the iconoclastic website SAVE (Stop Abusive and Violent Environments) inquired after "the propriety" of "The Hunting Ground" being used to fund raise for NEO. SAVE asks, "exactly how much of movie-viewers' donations will be used to underwrite Michele Lord's excessive salary?" Or used by NEO to pursue partisan issues like immigrant rights? Or used by NEO to encourage people to vote Democrat?

Another question needs to be answered. If, in fact, NEO is using "The Hunting Ground" as a fund raiser, did NEO finance its development in any manner? Is there a connection between director Kirby Dick and NEO? The source of funding is difficult to uncover. Indeed, even how much the 'documentary' cost to make is something of a mystery. Mojo lists the budget for "The Hunting Ground" as "N/A." Other sources claim it was $1.8 million.

The possibility of "The Hunting Ground" being a fund-raiser for social justice causes unrelated to rape is disturbing. The 'documentary' is emotionally jarring. The New York Times article notes, "At the premiere here on Friday, audience members repeatedly gasped as student after student spoke on camera about being sexually assaulted." It leaves viewers in the sort of angry turmoil that not only drives legislation but also opens wallets. If the donations are going to a transformative grantmaker with priorities other than preventing rape on campus, then "The Hunting Ground" appears to exploit that issue and to do so for profit.


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