The worst thing about Valentine's Day

It’s Valentine’s Day.

I know that a great number of people can’t stand Valentine’s Day.

They reject it as a fabricated, commercialized Hallmark holiday

They protest the inflated flower prices and packed restaurants.

They are offended by the reminder that they are still single. Or newly single. Or endlessly single.

These are the folks who say things like, “I don’t need the calendar to tell me to give my wife flowers” and “Our love doesn’t wait for February 14th.” They snipe at happily married couples and blossoming romances.

Ask one of these folks what they have planned for Valentine’s Day, and they might stab you with their ballpoint pen.

Some of these complaints might have some validity, but here’s the real worst thing about Valentine’s Day:

All those people who complain about Valentine’s Day.

If you don’t like Valentine’s Day, just treat it like any other day. Ignore the roses and candy and hand-holding. Walk right past the boundless romance and starry-eyed attraction. Pretend it never happened, because complaining about Valentine’s Day has three significant problems:

  1. It attempts to ruin the joy of others for entirely personal reasons.

  2. It makes you look like an unpalatable, sour-puss jerk face.

  3. Worst of all, complaining about Valentine’s Day is wholly unoriginal. It’s been done so many times already, and I assure you, it’s been done better than you will ever do it. We’ve all heard the complaints before. You’re not saying anything new.

    And trust me, even worse than being alone on Valentine’s Day is being unoriginal.

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No straw but plenty of lemon? Absolutely stupid.

Elysha and I went to dinner on Saturday night with friends. I ordered a Diet Coke. When it arrived, it was adorned with an unrequested wedge of lemon but no straw. When I asked for a straw, I was informed by our server that the restaurant had eliminated straws in an effort to be more environmentally friendly.

I was annoyed.

In fairness, I was already annoyed. This was a server who ignored us for 15 minutes, and when we finally asked another server to find our server, he finally returned, explaining that he hadn’t wanted to interrupt our conversation at the table by coming over to take our orders.

In other words, had we wanted to eat. we needed to all sit silently as a signal that we were ready to eat.

That was stupid. But so is this straw policy.

I am not opposed to the reduction of plastic waste. Even though the elimination of straws - a popular movement about a year ago - has been shown to be one of the the least significant actions a person can take to reduce plastic waste, and even though straws can be easily recycled, and even though a paper or even a washable, reusable, metallic straw could easily replace the plastic straw if needed… here are two even larger reasons why this restaurant’s policy is stupid.

STUPID REASON #1

Elysha ordered a mixed drink, and it came with a straw. Not the larger straw typically used in soda but a smaller, thinner straw. Yes, in addition to being a straw, it also serves to stir the drink, but still… IT WAS A STRAW. Don’t tell me that the restaurant has adopted a no-straw policy when there is a straw sitting in the drink beside me. That stirring straw could easily be replaced by something more environmentally friendly.

STUPID REASON #2

Removing the straw from my glass but garnishing it with an unrequested, unnecessary wedge of lemon is really, really stupid.

That lemon was grown in a location hundreds, if not thousands of miles from that restaurant, which means that it was picked from a tree, packed in bubble wrap or foam padding to prevent it from bruising during the journey (according to the United States International Trade Commission), then wrapped in a sealed box in brown packing paper. Then it was shipped north using fossil fuels by train and truck until it finally arrived in the restaurant’s kitchen, where it was probably placed in refrigeration, burning more fossil fuels until it was finally cut into wedges for my soda.

Want to save the planet?

Stop jamming meaningless wedges of lemon and lime onto the edges of your drink glasses, particularly when the patron didn’t ask for or even want any lemon.

That wedge of lemon was probably worth five hundred straws in terms of its environmental impact. A ban on straw is a lovely way of virtue-signally, but it’s also stupid when you’re making egregiously environmentally- unfriendly decisions in the same damn glass of soda.

By the way, do you know what happens when you place a wedge of lemon on the side of a glass but don’t also give the patron a straw? That lemon wedge falls off the glass when the glass is tipped forward into the patron’s mouth. It falls forward, bounces off the patron’s nose, turns, and falls again, eventually landing on the patron’s wife’s foot.

Yeah. That’s happened, too.

To be clear:

I’m not entirely opposed to the elimination of plastic straws. I’m opposed to stupidity. Illogic. Virtue-signaling without any real thought.

And I’ve been arguing against the meaningless, unrequested, lemon wedge for years, because unlike the straw, which serves a function, the lemon wedge is oftentimes a simple garnish, designed to make the glass look lovely while doing little to enhance the flavor of the drink.

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Hurting children because you are stupid

Elysha bought me a new Quip toothbrush. I am very excited. If you don’t have a Quip or don’t know what a Quip toothbrush is, find out.

It’s fantastic.

While I’m thinking about how clean my teeth are going to be, consider this:

In 2013, the city council of Windsor, Ontario voted 8-3 to stop putting fluoride in the city water supply.

Libertarians argued that they should be able to decide what they put in their bodies.

Far stupider people argued that fluoride is bad for you in the same way vaccines are supposedly bad for children.

So the fluoride was removed, and between the years of 2011 and 2017, the percentage of children with tooth decay or requiring urgent dental care increased by a staggering 51 percent.

Then, in 2018, with far less fanfare, that same Windsor City Council voted to reintroduce water fluoridation by a vote of 8-3.

Good news, unless of course you were unfortunate enough to be growing up during the six years that fluoride was absent from the water. In your case, you have more cavities and tooth disease thanks to libertarians. dumbass conspiracy theorists, and do-nothing politicians.

It’s one thing to hold back progress because your conservative values cause you to like things just the way they are. It’s usually done to preserve the dominance of the white patriarchy, but not always. Sometimes conservative values are far less sinister than the ones on display in today’s world.

But it’s entirely another thing when bigots, religious zealots, anti-vaxxers, and other dimwits try to force society back two or three steps.

That’s the worst. Eroding progress is disgraceful and must be stopped at all costs.

Also, go get yourself a Quip toothbrush. It’s fantastic.

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Roman numerals are stupid

You know what’s really, really stupid?

Roman numerals.

Americans have an alphabet . It consists of 26 letters and is derived from the original Latin alphabet. There are other alphabets in the world today, including Cyrillic, Arabic, Greek, and Braille. but here in the United States, we use just one.

We also have a system of numerals. It’s called the decimal numeral system, though the actual figures that represent the numbers are Hindu-Arabic or western Arabic. These are the numbers that children begin learning at an early age in order to understand and practice mathematics.

One set of letters. One set of numbers. As it should be.

Then, at some point in your life, probably in the fourth or fifth grade, a teacher or parent informed you that we also use a Roman numeral system, too, mostly when people want to make something seem more important or more stately than it really is.

  • Labeling Super Bowls and movie sequels

  • Differentiating Kings and Popes

  • Copyright dates on films, television programs, and videos

  • Clocks designed by jackasses

So in the midst of learning to multiply or balance equations with one set of numbers, you’re suddenly asked to learn a new system of numbering that you’ll never actually use in mathematics but will need to decode about twice a year for the rest of your life for reasons that almost never matter.

You may inquire to the benefits of Roman numerals, rightly expecting that there must be some advantage to learning this new system, but you will quickly be told that there are no benefits to this system at all.

Essentially they just look pretty. So learn them. You will rarely need them, but every now and again, it will be good to know how to decode them.

All of which makes Roman numerals so very, very stupid.

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The worst part of the Christmas season

Every year it’s the same annoying thing:

Sometime before Halloween or perhaps just after, Christmas decorations begin to appear in the stores. Lights and baubles and candy canes are placed on shelves. Commercials for holiday gift ideas begin to propagate on television and the internet. Even Christmas trees, some already lit and covered in ornaments and tinsel, appear in town squares.

Every year it seems as if Christmas starts earlier than the last, and with it comes the most annoying and persistent of all holiday traditions:

The people who feel the desperate need to make the early arrival of Christmas a topic of conversation.

Far worse than finding Christmas ornaments alongside Halloween candy or wrapping paper alongside Batman costumes is the person who must point this out with a combination of outrage and confusion. It’s as if they think they’re saying something fresh and new instead of something we’ve all heard ad infinitum.

Bits of brilliance like:

“Can’t we just enjoy Halloween before thinking about Christmas?”

“Isn’t it a little early for Christmas sales?”

“Can you believe that they already have Christmas lights and ornaments on the shelves?”

Why yes, I absolutely believe it. They did it last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Also, you commented on this phenomenon last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

It’s like an odd version of Groundhog Day played over and over again every year. The script is the same. The sentiment is the same. The outrage is the same.

Nothing ever changes.

I’m not sure how objectively annoying it really is to see Christmas paraphernalia on store shelves in October. Personally, I have this incredible ability to ignore inanimate objects on store shelves and move on with my life, but perhaps not everyone is so gifted.

But what is especially annoying and not nearly as avoidable is the repetition of conversation, the annual outrage over these holiday atrocities, and especially the misbegotten idea that these ideas are somehow new or desired or interesting.

And it’s not over, of course. Immediately after Christmas, the Valentines Day paraphenalia will appear, and once again, these masters of conversational mediocrity will reappear, asking why we need to see these romantic baubles in January and declaring that its seems as if Valentines Day starts earlier every year, which we of course know is true because we’ve been told this one million times before.

Piñatas suck.

I’m going on the record saying that piñatas suck.

Watching children at a recently birthday party bash this candy-filled monstrosity to pieces, it occurred to me how awful these things really are.

A few truths about piñatas:

  1. Two or three kids at best get to whack the thing before it breaks open, leaving the other dozen or so children standing around, never getting a chance to swing the bat and smack the damn thing even once.

  2. Allowing children to swing baseball bats, clubs, broom handles and the like in the vicinity of other children is a tragic accident waiting just waiting to happen. Go to YouTube and type in “piñata accident” and you’ll see hundreds of kids getting smashed in the head by wayward bats and poorly aimed sticks.

  3. The more horrible the child, the more candy he or she will acquire. The piñatas punishes the patient and polite child. It discourages civility and honor. There is no room for decency and decorum once the candy has fallen from the piñatas. The most aggressive, most rude, most selfish, most physically intimidating children always scoop up the bulk of the candy, leaving the more gentle souls to gather the discarded Werther’s Original or perhaps a bit of stomped-upon peppermint candy.

Want to know if you’re raising a monster? Inventory your child’s candy after a piñatas. If he or she has a large percentage of the candy, you’re child is probably a jackass and quite possibly a future felon.

There are also always crying after the piñatas is finished. Some cry because they didn’t have a turn at bat, and others cry because they see some future inmate with nine pounds of candy compared to their measly four pieces.

Why bring something to a party that is guaranteed to make children cry?

As a parent, I also feel stress during the piñatas. I worry. Will my child have a chance with the bat? Will he or she collect enough candy to be happy while not running over and shoving aside the smaller children in order to make that happen? Will my child be disappointed after this nasty affair is complete? Will it put a damper on the day? Will my child see herself as weak, vulnerable, or ineffective when this bloodsport is finally finished?

Piñatas suck. They must go the way of lawn jarts and croquet. They are a horrible, nasty bit of business that have no place at moments of festivity and joy.

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New Jersey is different and dumb.

I’m a nonconformist. I am not opposed to doing something different if the difference comes from a place of logic, efficiency, or common sense.

I don’t wear neckties because they serve no purpose other than acting as floral nooses.

I refuse to respond to anyone who has checked the restroom door, determined it to be locked, but then knocks on the door anyway.

Stupidity of this level should never be rewarded.

But there are times when doing something different is simply stupid, and New Jersey has cornered the market on this in two particular areas:

STUPID THING #1: You can’t pump your own gas in New Jersey.

This ban is a holdover from a 1949 law that was passed because lawmakers were worried that Americans didn’t know how to handle gasoline safely. Given that 48 states now allow their citizens to handle the pumping on their own and do it well, this myth has been effectively debunked.

The ban also offers no economically discernible benefit. While the ban admittedly creates low wage jobs, it also increases the cost of gasoline in the state by several cents, which is money that businesses could theoretically use to hire employees.

Also, on a recent stay in New Jersey, I noticed an unintended consequence of this ban:

Many of the gas stations in New Jersey are simply that:

Gas stations with an occasional garage attached. In states like Connecticut, where drivers exit their vehicles to pump gas, the gas station has grown into a small, well-appointed, well-lit grocery store, complete with clean restrooms, hot food options, and oftentimes restaurant franchises like Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway.

I went out for milk in NJ one night and ended up at a Stop & Shop because none of the gas stations that I passed had a convenience store attached.

Those people pumping gas in New Jersey could easily be the workers in these convenience stores, and the people of New Jersey could be getting their milk and Snickers bars a hell of a lot easier.

STUPID THING #2: You can’t make a left turn in New Jersey.

If you want to make a left turn in New Jersey and you’re on a major roadway, you’re out of luck. To take a left, you need to turn right onto something called a jughandle, which is an exit off the roadway that brings you above or below the opposite lane.

Think highway exit ramp but for a two lane road that would never have an exit ramp anywhere but New Jersey.

These jughandles theoretically reduce accidents. Studies have shown that they move cars efficiently in heavy traffic and reduce accidents that lead to death or serious injury by as much as 26 percent.

The problem is that these jughandles force motorists to spend more time on the roads overall, thus increasing their chances of an accident and wiping out any safety benefit they might offer.

This is because you often need to drive half a mile down the road, turn around at a jughandle, and drive half a mile back in order to stop at the store you just passed on the opposite side of the road five minutes ago. Do this often enough, and the additional time spent on the roadways adds up quickly.

For a state that has already artificially jacked up it’s gas price, forcing drivers to travel additional miles is ridiculous, and all the additional driving can’t be good for the environment or the roads or cars.

Also, many of New Jersey’s jughandles are now deteriorating, and repairing them is expensive and time consuming, because they are everywhere.

They are like dandelions.

Like I said, I’m not opposed to doing something differently if it’s logical or sensible.

Actually, I’m not opposed to doing something differently even if the result is neutral. No gain. No loss.

Being different is a good thing. A beautiful thing.

But New Jersey is being different to the detriment of everyone driving on its roadways.

That’s dumb.

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The worst

Nuclear weapons
Unannounced pickles placed on plates without warning or permission
The Trump Presidency
Dress codes
Identity theft
The second and third Matrix films
Dance school teachers who perform in their students' recitals
The end of summer vacation
Incarceration for minor drug offenses
Parents who disown their children for choices of spouse or religion
Semicolons
The gun show loophole
Off-brand Pop Tarts
This sign

Things that should not exist in this world. 

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Goggles

Each of my children own a pair of goggles, and I hate them so very much. 

Most of the children who frolic at the lake where we are spending many of our summer days are wearing goggles, and I despise every pair. 

I did not own goggles when I was growing up. As far as I can recall, no one did. One weirdo owned a clip that pinched his nose shut, but that was it. We all learned to open our eyes underwater - in pools and lakes and even the ocean - and then we moved on. Life was simple. We donned a pair of swim trunks, perhaps remembered a towel, and jumped into the lake. 

I watch these kids - mine included - fidget and fuss with these damn things constantly. They adjust, clean, remove, and replace. They ask parents to tighten or loosen. They become upset when water sneaks through and touches their precious eyeballs.  

It's insane. 

Yesterday I saw a kid crying because he forgot to bring his goggles to the beach. He told his mother he couldn't swim because of this. 

Simplicity. This is what I prize above most things.

It's why I've never owned an umbrella.
It's why I threw out all of my ties.
It's why I wear the same pair of sneakers almost every day of my life.
It's why I've never owned a watch or a single piece of jewelry save my wedding ring. 

Simplicity. Streamline life by requiring as little as possible to get through my day. 

It's why I don't own goggles. It's why I wish my kids didn't own goggles. Every item added to your life complicates your life in some way, so unnecessary and burdensome items like goggles should be avoided at all costs.   

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The problem with crossword puzzles

I've never done a crossword in my life. Like Sudoku, I hated the idea of working on something that yields nothing in return when I'm finished. 

Yes, my vocabulary might improve, and I'll exercise my brain a bit, but I could just read a book instead and get all that a story or nonfiction title has to offer in addition to those vocabulary and brain benefits.  

But Elysha introduced me to the New York Times crossword app, which has short, daily crosswords that are timed. 

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Timed means that not only is accuracy under scrutiny but also speed. 

Timed means completing one can be turned into a competition.

I like competition. I like competition against myself, and I like to compete against others, including Elysha. I also like the fact that Elysha is indisputably better at completing crossword puzzles than me. Her times are often half of my own, and I have yet to beat her. 

Recently, she asked how long the latest crossword took me to complete, and when I said, "Almost four minutes," she responded with the sweetest, "Oh..." possible. 

I like this. I love to chase a frontrunner.   

So for the past month, I've been doing the daily New York Times daily mini crosswords. The first crosswords of my life. It always takes less than five minutes, and I've admittedly learned some new words along the way.

It's also been fun, and I'm improving. This morning I completed the puzzle in 1:01.

I have yet to crack one minute, which Elysha cracks almost daily.

But I have a complaint. As a newcomer to this world of crossword puzzles, one aspect of these puzzles is complete and utter nonsense:

The two word answer.

Like today, for example. The clue was "On the ocean." The answer was "At sea."

This is nonsense. Balderdash. Hooey. Poppycock. Malarkey.  

I understand that the two word answer might seem normal if you've lived with crosswords for a long time, but as one who just arrived in this new world and has an unvarnished, objective view of the landscape, I'm here to report that two word answers are lazy, sad, shortcuts to real clues. 

This is a crossword puzzle. Not a crosswords puzzle. One word crosses another.  

Every time a crossword creator writes a two word clue, an angel's wings fall off and the once- righteous being plummets to the depths of hell. 

Two word answers are the worst. 

And this is not sour grapes. I've gradually grown accustomed to the stupidity of the two word answer in the same way I had grown accustomed to the stupidity of the Electoral College and laugh tracks. Two word answers are not delaying my crossword completion.

They are just tearing at the fabric of my soul. 

Northeast School is a stupid name for a school. Three times over.

I drove by Northeast School in Vernon, CT the other day. Lovely little school filled with teachers who are undoubtedly doing an excellent job, but Northeast School?

With the opportunity to name a school after any of the people in the world worthy of recognition, the town of Vernon decided to name their school based upon its geographic location in town?

That is sad.

Even worse, there are THREE schools just in Connecticut that are named Northeast School. Bristol and Stamford also chose to name schools based upon where they are situated in town. 

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The town of Vernon is actually guilty of naming all of their schools poorly. Instead of honoring a Connecticut luminary or perhaps an underrepresented or unrecognized war hero or civil rights activist, the town named all of their schools based upon simple geography: 

  • Rockville High School (a section of Vernon)
  • Vernon Center Middle School
  • Center Road School
  • Lake Street School
  • Maple Street School
  • Northeast School
  • Skinner Road School

Vernon, CT isn't the only town guilty of wasting this opportunity. Many schools, streets, and other structures bear meaningless, oftentimes geographically oriented names. 

I just happen to be driving through Vernon recently. 

Naming a building or a street or any other public structure is an opportunity to bring recognition and praise to a person deserving of celebration. A town or city should be excited about the chance to honor someone deserving. 

Squandering an opportunity like this is just dumb.

Boy and bear

You know what's even more overhyped than a partial eclipse?

The panda. I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but every time I see the panda at the National Zoo, I can't help but think, "Yup. It's a bear. Black and white, but really, just another bear." 

My friends find bears wandering in their suburban backyards all the time. Larger, more impressive bears than this solitary, bamboo-eating machine. 

Even Charlie wasn't all that impressed.

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Check your privilege at the door

Few things annoy me more than unacknowledged privilege. People who complain about social safety nets while enjoying ample safety nets of their own.

For many, the unacknowledged safety net is the presence of a prosperous family. A childhood filled with stability, opportunity, and advantage. Private schools. Outstanding medical care. Travel.

It's the knowledge that financial ruin will not result in homelessness or destitution. It's the gift of a college tuition or the downpayment on a first home. A sizable inheritance. A job with a parent's company when all else has failed.

This is an enormous safety net that exists only though birth. It is not earned and is often conveniently forgotten as the people who enjoy these safety nets complain about the taxes that fund the social safety net for those who didn't win the lottery at birth.    

I recently listened to a man at a wedding who has lived with his mother for almost a decade complain about those who can't pick themselves up after financial disaster.

I listen to a former classmate who works for his family's business complain about Americans who who can't find a job or the taxes they pay to fund healthcare and Social Security.   
 

I hear to people wonder why so many folks end up in dead end jobs while displaying a diploma in their office from a prestigious college paid for by their parents. 

I hate this so much. 

Trump, for example, loves to tout his business success. He portrays himself as a self made man. A guy who used hard work and intelligence to amass a fortune. 

Yet when Trump was asked how his father helped him in business, he said, "My father gave me a very small loan in 1975, and I built it into a company that’s worth many, many billions of dollars.”

Trump's "very small loan (which he has lied about repeatedly) included:

  • $14 million dollars in initial loans
  • A $1 million trust fund
  • Another $7.5 million in loans ten years later

Additionally, as Trump’s casinos ran into trouble in the 1980's, Trump’s father purchased $3.5 million gaming chips, but did not use them, so the casino would have enough cash to make payments on its mortgage — a transaction which casino authorities later said was an illegal loan.

Trump also attended Wharton School of Business on his father's dime, and after graduating joined his father’s thriving real estate business and he relied on his father’s connections as he made his way in the real estate world.

This is not a self-made man. This is a man who enjoyed enormous financial privilege early in life but prefers to ignore that in favor of a personal narrative centered solely on hard work and clever business transactions.

In fact, economists have determined that had Trump simply invested his father's loan in an index fund, he would be far wealthier today

Not only is Trump not a self-made man, but he failed to beat the market over the course of his business life. 

He's less than average. 

Before you start complaining about the social safety net, public schools, government supported healthcare, food stamps, and the like, be sure to take a long, hard look at your own life and what safety nets you have enjoyed and may still enjoy. 

Winning the lottery at birth is a great thing, but not when your blessings prevent you from seeing and understanding the plight and needs of those less fortunate. 

I stand opposed to applauding when the people responsible for the source of the applause are not present.

We watched the fireworks on the front lawn at Central Connecticut State University last night. We had a lovely time. The night was clear and cool. The kids were silly. The fireworks were spectacular.

When the final booms sounded and the finale was at last over, people across the lawn applauded.

I don't support this. I don't believe in applauding when the person responsible for the applause is not present to hear the applause.

I think it's weird to applaud a fireworks show launched by people more than a mile away. 

The same holds true for movies. As much as I may enjoy a movie, I've never applauded at the end, and I think it's weird when people do. None of the actors, producers, directors, or grips listed in the credits are present in the theater at the end of the film. 

None of them can hear your applause.

Applause of this nature has always felt like an affectation to me. A means by which people attempt to elevate an experience beyond its earthly confines. It feels false and cloying to me. 

I don't like it.

If you must applaud at the end of fireworks shows and movies, then I suggest you consider applauding at the end of books as well, or at least at the end of my books. The only difference between applauding at the end of fireworks or a movie and applauding the end of one of my novels is that reading tends to be solitary in nature, whereas a fireworks show or film are enjoyed by many people simultaneously. 

But does this mean that you are applauding because you're in the presence of others, or are you applauding because you feel authentic and heartfelt appreciation for what you just experienced?

If it's the former, then applauding at the end of movies and fireworks shows just got even worse. Now you're applauding simply because other people are applauding as well. You're applauding because of social pressure. You're applauding because others are applauding.  

That makes no sense. 

If it's the latter, and your applause is a signal of genuine heartfelt appreciation, then applauding at the end of a book, TV show, song or even a podcast that you especially enjoy only makes sense. Right?

Why applaud a film but not a book if the presence of others who are also applauding is irrelevant? 

You must either fully commit to applauding entertainment of all kinds that you enjoy or stop this silliness forever.   

My humble opinion. And insistence.

Boys in skirts

It's been done before under similar circumstances, but every time it happens, I feel great joy and hope for the world. 

A short-sighted, authoritarian school regime arbitrarily decrees that shorts are not permitted in accordance with the school's purposeless dress code. At the same time, the school maintains that skirts, which are essentially shorts without legs, are perfectly acceptable.

In response, boys arrive to school the next day donning skirts of their own to highlight the stupidity of gender-based dress codes.

In this case, it was the boys of Isca Academy in Exeter, where temperatures reached record highs. The boys had asked their teachers if they could swap their long trousers for shorts and were told no – shorts weren’t permitted under the school’s uniform policy. 

Then this happened. It's it fantastic?

As is often the case, the school officials reacted slowly, clumsily, and stupidly to the situation, saying that they were prepared to think again in the long term.

Shouldn't they always be thinking in the long term?

The headteacher, Aimee Mitchell, said: “We recognize that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible."

No you're not, Aimee. "Doing your utmost" would have meant saying yes when the boys asked to wear shorts because boys wearing shorts is no big deal. 

Mitchell added, “Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys, and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future.”

You want to consult the students, Aimee? Do you really think there is a significant numbers of boys who oppose the relaxing of the dress code? 

And since these boys came to school in skirts, can't we rightfully assume that their parents were aware of their protest and supported it as well?

How about just doing what is right and just? Eliminate your gender-based dress code and allow boys to expose their legs in the same way that girls can. When it's a matter of common sense and justice, leaders take immediate action. 

What I'll never understand is how shorts have become second class citizens in so many parts of society, despite the fact that they are nearly identical to skirts. It makes absolutely no sense. 

Imagine a school in 2017 where girls were only permitted to wear skirts, regardless of temperature or personal preference? What might the reaction to that kind of gender-based dress code be?

Is it any different than a school (or anyplace) where boys are only permitted wear pants? 

A summer camp has adopted my restriction on commenting on physical appearance, and I'm thrilled.

For more than a decade, I've been refraining from commenting on student's physical appearance, both negatively or positively. It's a policy I explain to parents and students at the beginning of the year, and it's one that my students have always appreciated.

My reasons are many.

  • There are far more important qualities in a child worth commenting on than the way a student looks. 
  • Children often have little control over their appearance. Choice of clothing and hairstyle is often dictated by parental preference and the family's income level and hardly represents any true fashion sense. 
  • Comments on physical appearance - even when positive - create a culture where physical appearance matters.
  • Comments on physical appearance are often skewed by culture, age, sex, and personal history.  
  • When you compliment on a little boy's suit or a little girl's dress, you risk unintentionally and unknowingly insulting the little boy or girl whose family can't afford a suit or dress. 

I could go on and on. 

Beginning this year, I've extended my policy to include all people save my wife, children, and mother-in-law. Except for these four people, I refrain from commenting on the physical appearance - positively or negatively - because I want to live in a world where physical appearance is less important than a person's actions, words, and deeds. 

Not everyone thinks these policies are brilliant. Quite a few find them unrealistic and fruitless. A few have pushed back hard on my position. To my knowledge, no one has adopted my policy for themselves.

Until now. 

My friend, Kathy, recently sent me information from Eden Village Camp where one of her cousin's sons is working as a Counselor in Training this summer. The camp has a policy called BodyTalk which states that campers are not permitted to comment on anyone's appearance whether positive, negative or neutral.  

They explain their rationale in great detail on their website, but one section that I liked a lot was this:

If you tell me “You have great hair,” for a minute it might feel nice and I might feel a certain kinship with you and obviously it’s not the end of the world. But physical compliments are still judgments on our appearance. This time the verdict was positive; next time it might not be. The scrutiny adds pressure on me to provide an encore, to spend time grooming my hair tomorrow too, so as to continue receiving approval. I might privately hate my hair and wonder whether you actually really like my hair or just want to bring attention to it, or if I’ve received many such compliments I might be concluding that my hair is important to making me valuable. I might wonder why you never compliment my clothing. If others witnessed the compliment, those people might be thinking “I wish my hair looked like that! Maybe I should get it chemically treated,” etc. In short, it’s a whole lot of mental noise. And that’s just for a compliment!

Bonding via appreciations is great – we encourage more meaningful ones, like specific ways in which someone inspires you or a time you noticed someone doing something kind.

I encourage you to check out their webpage that explains the policy in full. It's a reasonable, rationale, and respectful way of running a summer camp, and frankly, it's the way every school in America should be run as well.

Teachers may not be able to control the comments that students make about each other, but they can certainly control what they say to children themselves. There is absolutely, positively no reason for a teacher to make a comment on a student's physical appearance ever. It's purposeless, potentially harmful, and completely non-productive.  

If you'd like to read more about my thoughts on the subject, here are some previous pieces stretching back almost a decade:

Stop complimenting students

Don't compliment students. One kid's compliment is another kid's insult. Restaurant staffers also take note.

My brand new, completely unrealistic, possibly supercilious goal that you should try, too.

Teachers: Stop commenting, positively or negatively, on your student’s physical appearance. It’s only hurting them.

Complimenting an item of clothing is the lowest form of compliment

A strong opinion on the onion volcano

I'm just going to say it:

The onion volcano that a chef creates at a traditional hibachi restaurant is seriously overrated. 

Flammable oil poured into a stack of concentric onions rings and lit on fire?

Had I done something similar to this at Scout camp (and I did), I'd be holding fire buckets for at least an hour as punishment (and I was).

Do nearly the same thing in proximity to a dozen or so patrons at a hibachi restaurant, and everyone around the grill goes nearly orgasmic.  

Are we so starved for entertainment that we find flaming oil burning from the top of an onion cone something worth of our verbal exultations? 

I really don't think so. 

Demanding "a seat at the table" doesn't strike me as very demanding

I recently heard someone arguing for "a seat at the table" for the members of her organization.  

"A seat at the table" has always struck me as the marginal end of what you should be striving for if you're hoping to affect change.

Nothing wrong with it, but oftentimes not exactly a game changer, either. 

A seat at the table doesn't guarantee much more than the opportunity to listen to everyone who already had a seat, and when you finally have a chance to speak, no guarantee that anyone will listen. 

Perhaps instead of fighting for a seat at the table, you should attempt to upend the table instead.

Then again, "a seat at the table" may just sound too much like an endless string of meetings to strike me as very useful.

I never want a seat at the table if it means another meeting.