Self-Driving Cars

I first was introduced to this idea on an episode of Scientific American Frontiers in 1997 called ‘Robots Alive’. At the time a university had developed a vehicle that could drive itself down a highway. It could not navigate an intersection, parking lots, or too much confusion, but it was a car that drove itself! I was so excited that I proclaimed that soon you would be able to put a map into the car and that it would go where you wanted it to go.

I did not know that the map technology would come first, in the form of GPS. I had heard of the satellites that could pinpoint your position, and how amazingly accurate they were, but it did not occur to me that they could be overlaid on maps. Honestly I don’t think that I knew then that it was a global system. Today this is so ubiquitous that I get frustrated every time I have to give directions to the hotel where I work.

Many years later, after I had a drivers license, and my own car I began to wonder why do not have these self-driving cars yet. I have done a lot of cross-country driving, which is the technology that I knew specifically had already existed for at least ten years at this point. So I did a little digging. I found out that the research being put into this at the university was shut down. I could hardly believe it. It was shut down because of liability concerns. The thinking was that if one of these vehicles was deemed at fault for an accident the developers and programmers would be the ones held liable.

This opens up a whole other can of worms. In this country we are obsessed with making sure that someone else is to blame for every injury, no matter how small or who is actually responsible. I am no fan of McDonalds, but I do not believe that it is their fault that someone burned themselves on coffee that is obviously hot. This trend of suing others for your own incompetence is at best, stupid, and at worst, detrimental to scientific, technological, economical and societal progression. I am still in shock that the courts of this country have set something this damaging as a legal precedent in this country. It has gotten so crazy that homeowners can be sued by a burglar for injuries caused by hazards created by a burglar himself, and there are tales of this actually succeeding, although I have not found the records to back it up.

In order to get around this ridiculousness of American culture, when Google decided to create their self-driving car they pre-empted this argument. They have already established that the driver of the vehicle is legally responsible for any problems. This works because the car’s control can be overridden easily by the driver at any time by simply taking control as you would normally drive the car.

I also believe that because driving is really a routine of wrote behaviors and following specific signs. This is something that computers are inherently better at than humans are. ‘If this, then that’ is the way that computers think. Humans get distracted, intoxicated, bored, or try to multitask. These are the most common causes of accidents. Even the times that humans think of as a judgment call; for instance making the light before it changes, can be calculated with precision by a computer that we could never match. Driving is a computer-friendly activity. With a properly programmed design, I believe that accidents would largely become a thing of the past. On top of that other groups are working on technology that allows the vehicles to communicate directly with one another. This means that they do not need to anticipate each other’s actions or respond to last minute decisions. The main challenge at this point is accounting for human unpredictability.

When I learned about the Google self-driving car, I was very excited, and I still am. These cars, when I first looked several years ago had already logged over 100,000 miles on the open roads of California. They have all of the advantages of a computer on the road, and are still able to share the roads with human drivers and even avoid pedestrians and pets. In all that time, the only accident that the cars had was a fender-fender in a parking lot while driving under human control. With many more miles under their belts; nearly 1.7 million, they had only 6 accidents. None were caused by the autonomous vehicles (source).

There are other prototypes that would require all vehicles to be replaced with self-driving simultaneously. This is a completely unfeasible model to implement. Parts of the technology may be able to be adopted by others; like the inter-vehicle communications, but I cannot see all Americans giving up driving at the same time.

I am very excited to see these vehicles out there, making our roads safer. I have already seen cars that beep when the driver drifts out of their lane, a technology directly from the show that grabbed my attention so many years ago. There are cars that parallel park themselves, have blind spot monitoring, cruise control that adjusts as people ahead slow down. Tesla Motors actually has a car currently on the market that has an ‘autopilot’ feature that will “steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control“.

I am hopeful that these technologies will help us prevent accidents in the near future, and eventually be able to eliminate them. For now I am still behind the wheel. I do enjoy driving, but the more that I see of other drivers, the more concerned I am. I know that some drivers have much worse driving records than these cars do, and I believe that letting the cars replace these drivers would make us all safer. That said I totally understand being terrified of technology. I know how often computers malfunction. The automatic response to this type of eventuality must be considered in the design.

Republicans & Gun Laws

I am honestly confused that in the minds of many Americans it is Republicans who are the ones who support gun rights. I know I normally try to keep party politics out of my discussions, but in this case it is the actual affiliation that confuses me. I have had conversations with people who heard my opinions on gun laws and assumed I was a Republican, to the point of questioning my other values.

Let me explain my views first, then I will explain why I have a hard time understanding the affiliation, and why I believe it exists.

I am a big supporter of the second amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” There are several reasons that the founding fathers saw fit to include this right in our constitution. Hunting and personal defense are the most oft cited today. Some people think that both are outdated. I disagree.

I do not support hunting purely for game. I believe that hunting is a good skill to have, and acceptable as long as the animal is not endangered and over-hunted. Most numbers permitted by the Department of Fish & Wildlife are created with this in mind. But the most important part to me is that all parts of the animal are used. If you kill an animal, eat what you can, tan the hides, carve the bones. Find a use for every part of it. The animal gave its life to you, the most respectful thing to do is not waste it.

We do have police to keep people in line, but they cannot do anything about a crime that has not happened yet, and they may not respond fast enough in a crisis. That said I know that shockingly high numbers of gun-related deaths in this country are of household members with their own weapons. This does not mean we should not have guns for our own protection, it means that we need to make sure that guns are out of the reach of children. It also means that we may need to find a way to make marriage counseling more normal. I cannot imagine a scenario where a person in a healthy, functional relationship would ever pull a gun on a member of their household.

The main reason that we have the second amendment though is just as important now as it was in 1777. Fighting the government. And I think I can hear my name being put on a government watch list right now. Thomas Jefferson believed that in order for the government to remain fair, we should have a revolution once a generation. I agree. This revolution does not need to be bloody, but it does require awareness of the populace. At some point I would like to go through the history of this country and point out the types of revolutions I am referring to.

The founders of this great nation had just been through a war against the tyrannies of a government, and knew that they alone could not create a perfect system. They left us the ability to improve upon it, and evolve it. Voting, protesting, the process of constitutional amendments are all examples of this power. The founders knew that they did not win the Revolutionary War with a traditional military, but rather a loose militia. Our soldiers did not stand in neat little rows and fire off vollies in unison. We were the original guerrilla soldiers, the snipers and the spies. When they gave us the right to have a militia, they did not mean a government backed military. They meant that the people should have the ability to stand up for what they believe in. That is the principle of The United States of America.

So why am I confused about the party affiliation?

Republicans are doing all they can to take away these rights that every American should hold dear. They are making voting more challenging for millions, under the guise of stopping a few fraudulent votes. They are changing the voting boundaries (Gerrymandering) in order to maintain power. The Patriot Act took away many of the rights that we had as Americans to change how the system works. They are trying to make decisions for us by taking away the choices of patients and their doctors.

So why are they fighting to keep a right that I associate with keeping governmental power in check? They blatantly ignore this part of gun ownership, along with the NRA. Republicans have been able to distract from the fact that they have been taking so many freedoms by championing that they are protecting this one. They control us with the fear of our guns being taken away.

The truth is that Democrats are not trying to take them. They are trying to limit access to ever-higher powered weapons. My personal opinion on this is still open. I do not think that everyone should have access to nuclear warheads, but I do believe that those who protect the constitution should be able to do so. Democrats are trying to limit who can buy guns. This is supposed to be about making sure that people who are unstable and liable to go shooting up a school should not be allowed to have them. That is a short-sighted solution.

Despite a massive amount of research and science, there is still no way to predict this behavior. What would be better is providing accessible, normalized mental care for all. In the meantime, preventing people with a proven track record of violence from owning firearms is a good first step.

 

My Top 10 Halloween Movies

10. Shaun of the Dead

http://www.gstatic.com/tv/thumb/movieposters/34914/p34914_p_v7_aa.jpg

I am not a big zombie movie fan. This one I loved. Mostly because of the opening scene. The rest is honestly quite forgettable. The way that the routine actions of people are shown comments on how we are already zombies. Maybe that is why the cultural fascination. Or maybe it is because we need a break from our zombified existence and actual zombies is a fun and ironic way to do it.

This movie shows why we need escapist holidays like Halloween. It is the same reason that it is only after the zombie apocalypse that people take shape in the movie.

9. Sweeney Todd

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0408236/

This is definitely in the category of Tim Burton’s better works. I love musicals, and this one is not only haunting, but, like much of Stephen Sondheim’s work, very difficult. It is amazing that few, if any of the leads are trained singers. Johnny Depp did a phenomenal job, but Helena Bonham Carter really pulls the film together. I keep hoping to see the younger stars in something else, but I am still waiting.

This story is truly horror. The real monster is a human just like anyone else. And yet, it is not frightening. The portrayal is lighthearted enough to not have viewers on the edge of their seats. It is more of a view inside a disturbed mind. This is far more haunting. We realize that we can identify with other human beings, even ones as twisted as Todd.

8. Arsenic and Old Lace

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arsenic_and_Old_Lace_(film)

Speaking of twisted people who seem just like anyone else, meet the two nicest little old ladies you will only meet once. In many older movies you never see the monster, the fear is left up to your imagination. This is in that spirit, in a way. The monsters live among us. But you can’t really call these ladies monsters. They do what they do for all the right reasons.

On Halloween we extend our trust to people we have never met, and will probably never meet again. Some people take advantage of that, but most do all they can to be a good neighbor. This story is about two ladies who fall into the second category, but are the ones to be feared. They are just so nonchalant about it, you wonder how they ever get away with it!

7. Edward Scissorhands

http://www.gstatic.com/tv/thumb/movieposters/12902/p12902_p_v7_aa.jpg

Another Tim Burton/Johnny Depp entry, this one is in some ways the exact opposite of Sweeney Todd. Edward looks like a monster, but he just has the sweetest heart. Vincent Price, part of so many of Hollywood’s golden age of monsters, is the kind, yet lonely inventor of Edward, whose heart is made from a sugar cookie.

This film comments on how much importance society puts on physical appearance. Initially the neighbors are curious about the strange newcomer, but they quickly change their tune at the first hint that he has any negative intentions. While there is no actual villain in the movie, there are several people whose intentions are less than admirable, and yet are permitted to remain part of the neighborhood.

5. & 6. Hotel TransylvaniaHotel Transylvania 2

http://www.gracehillmedia.com/portfolio-posts/hotel-transylvania/

These are just too cute not to have on this list. Monsters have deliberately recoiled from humans, because humans would not accept them. The monsters have hid so long that the stories take place in a time when the supernatural is not to be feared, but rather idolized. Now it is up to the monsters to accept the humans.

These movies deal with the idea of acceptance, but in a way that is not about ‘real’ topics. This is a kids movie, and makes a fun way to introduce these ideas to kids, under the guise of just a fun movie.

4. The Addams Family

http://variety.com/2013/film/news/addams-family-reborn-as-animated-movie-at-mgm-exclusive-1200781652/

This movie is so quintessentially Halloween it is almost hard to discuss. Every person in the film is twisted in their own way. The Addams are awesome because they don’t try to hide it.

This movie is all about being yourself. This is a common theme throughout the lore, but since this one is about Fester’s faked return, and eventual real return it is even more present. There is no reason not to be who you are.

3. Young Frankenstein

http://www.gstatic.com/tv/thumb/movieposters/4687/p4687_p_v7_aa.jpg

Frau Blücher. If you have seen it, you know what comes next. In Mel Brooks’ overly campy style, this is tops. Jokes repeated so often that they aren’t even funny anymore still manage to be hilarious. This is about the descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, who prefers to be known as Dr. ‘Fronkonsteen’. (Original spelling from the script.) The young doctor inherits the old family mansion and follows in the family footsteps. (Walk THIS way) In the end he realizes that he is a proud Frankenstein.

This movie plays with so many concepts and turns them on their head. This is really a fun escape from everything, while we play in the world of monsters. Not really for kids, most ‘adult’ jokes will go right over their heads. That said, I was nervous to watch it as a kid because it seemed like it would be scary. Because Brooks is making fun of the old Hollywood style, there are some moments that have the tension, but it is broken with a joke almost immediately.

2. Nightmare Before Christmas

http://www.gstatic.com/tv/thumb/movieposters/15096/p15096_p_v7_aa.jpg

Being a Halloween list, you get not one, not two, but three Tim Burton movies. This is the first one of his movies I ever saw, and is the benchmark that I hold him to. When the Pumpkin King learns about Christmas, he thinks that he has found what he has been missing. He gets all of Halloween town to make Christmas their own. I seriously wish that some of the toys they made for the kids were available. Okay not in the full magic attacking mode, but real plushies, jack-in-the-boxes, etc.

This movie is about the yearning that we all have to do something different, the craving for adventure. In the end though, it is about learning to love yourself. It is only after Jack does that, that he finds love for another.

1. Rocky Horror

http://www.wktv.com/news/Rocky_Horror_Picture_Show__Rocktail_Party_arrives_at_the_Stanley.html

By now you have probably noticed that I do not like scary movies. Most of these have been for kids. This one is decidedly not. If you are ready to have some important conversations with your kids, feel free to try it, I’m not one to say don’t. I love this movie and the “f— what you think, I am doing things my way” attitude.

My introduction to this movie was honestly the most scary part of the movie for me. I went into the room where my mother was watching it. The first thing I see is Susan Sarandon running around in her bra and a torn off slip showing her underwear to the world. Keep in mind the only movie that I knew the actress from was Little Women. I left my mother to watch whatever this was in private and went back upstairs. Once I watched the movie though, I was hooked. I have seen three different live productions, and watched the movie in theaters a few times too. After a long night of trick-or-treating, nothing quite ties up the night like Rocky Horror.

Chapter 13 (WIP) – Something’s Missing

That night Jessica was discharged from the hospital and was able to enjoy sleeping in her own bed. She was still avoiding being responsible, so she had not called her boss or the bank yet. She had not spoken to the police since they came to interview her in the hospital. She was of course curious about all of those things, but she was enjoying having a great excuse to escape the stress she had been under for so long. She knew it could not last forever and determined that she would resume being responsible in the morning.

In the meantime Jessica curled up on the bed surrounded with every pillow she owned. She felt a bit antsy, even excited, but she couldn’t really tell what it was about. She was enjoying the comfort so much that she was having a hard time sleeping and decided to read a book. She picked up the one on the top of her ‘someday’ stack, Gulliver’s Travels. She had hardly reached Lilliput before her eyelids fell shut.

Soon Jessica was walking behind Rodney as they tried to find something for her to eat. After walking in silence for a few moments, Rodney slowed down and gestured to the right. Here we are. This place should have some ‘cheap’ food for you. When Jessica looked where he indicated, she saw a storefront. Out front were fruits and vegetables of all sorts. The sign over the door just said “GROCERY”. As they walked in Rodney took an apple from the bin and took a bite. Jessica was a little perplexed, but figured he knew the owner or something. Jessica directed herself towards a sign showing “Snacks”.

During the time they were in the store Jessica felt more relaxed than she normally did while shopping. She could not quite figure out why. Maybe the people around her were calmer. They certainly were, but was that what was making her experience so different? She felt that there was something missing. Something that normally made her a little tense. When she turned down the aisle for the snacks she saw a tremendous variety of beautifully packaged sweets, crackers, and other goodies. She was at a loss of what to choose. Normally she would just by a candy bar and tell Rodney that would be the most help to her blood sugar levels. But here she was not sure what was what. Nothing had the familiar brand names she was used to. It all looked like it was packaged by hand, none of the bright gaudy attention grabbing slogans everywhere. Each wrap was so perfect and so uniform that it had to have been done by machine.

Finally Jessica settled on a bundle of what looked like shortbread cookies with a raspberry cream in the center. They were wrapped in a sheer lavender light plastic like a cheap tablecloth done up with a light blue bow at the top. Once she took it, she told Rodney that was all she needed and looked to find the register.

“Is that all you want?” Rodney asked her.

“Yes, this should be plenty to get me back on track.” Jessica was realizing that she had no idea how much the cookies cost and was considering going back to check when she noticed that nothing on the shelves she was passing had prices. Rodney walked straight out the door, while Jessica hesitated inside. She could not see a cash register anywhere but did not know what the consequences were for stealing in Dallas.

Rodney turned around, “What’s the hold-up?”

Jessica could not think of an answer that did not make her sound like a loon, so she took a deep breath and stepped out of the store. She half expected Rodney to start running away from the store as fast as he could, but he just meandered to a bench right outside in the long park they had been walking through. Jessica followed and sat silently on the bench next to him. Jessica was catching on to something, and wanted to contemplate it for a few minutes before saying anything out loud.

After a few minutes of munching on his apple while Jessica nibbled distractedly at her cookies, Rodney said “You know, these apples are not as good as the ones that grow on this tree right here.”

Jessica turned up from staring at her hands and looked at the tree they were sitting underneath. She did not know her botany, but her grandparents had an apple tree when she was younger, and it looked similar. “What you just walk to school and grab a snack right off the tree?”

Rodney looked at her puzzled. “Yeah. Is that odd?”

Jessica turned away from him. “A little.” She paused to take a breath. “I’m not quite sure how to say this.” She slowed as she carefully chose the right words. “This place seems so real, when I am here. But– at home I know,” She paused as she turned to look at Rodney, “that it is all a dream.”

Rodney laughed out loud. Jessica was not sure what she was expecting him to do, but certainly not that. Rodney caught his breath enough to say, “I am glad that you are enjoying your time with me, but I would not think of myself as a dream. I’m normally not a hit with the ladies.”

Jessica went bright red. “No-that’s not what I– I mean you’re nice and all–but—-” Words failed her all at once.

“I knew that couldn’t be what you meant.” Jessica could not help but think he sounded a little disappointed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–” Jessica trailed off a bit. “I mean a real dream, like right now I am lying in bed at home asleep, and this is all going on inside my head.”

Rodney looked her straight in the eyes to figure out if she was serious. “Well that is news to me, I have been living here for years. Is this some sort of brain in a vat philosophy thing?”

“No really, but if you want to think of it that way, okay. In the real world I just got released from the hospital after a traumatizing robbery at the place where I work. I slept for several days because I have been working too much. The time that I met you at the diner was the first time I was ever in this town. Before the episode in the classroom earlier, I had never been there. The real reason I was acting weird and losing consciousness was because the doctors at the hospital were trying to wake me up.”

Rodney stared at Jessica for a moment as she braced herself for his response. “You are not kidding are you?”

“Nope.” I kind of wish I was. This seems like such a nice place.”

They both sat in silence for several minutes. Rodney staring straight ahead from his place on the bench, while Jessica tried to piece together everything that she was feeling.

Finally she broke the silence. “So I guess that explains how you think of money. To me it is the thing that brings the most stress in life. It only makes sense that in my dream world it wouldn’t exist. But just like most things in dreamland, a world without money could not really function.”

Rodney took several moments before he spoke. “I know that you believe this story you are telling me, but I can’t. This is my world. I do not think that I am just a figment of your imagination. I don’t want to tell you that you are crazy, but that’s what it seems like to me.” Jessica’s heart broke. She knew that would be the result when she brought it up. She just thought that since it was just a dream it wouldn’t hurt so much. Rodney went on, “In this world, there is no money, and it does work. I would try to tell you how, but I don’t really understand the point of money, so I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Jessica could see that Rodney was hurt by what she had said. “I wish I could know how you are feeling, I know this must be difficult to accept. Would it help if I told you about my world? If it won’t help I won’t do it. We can just go on like we never had this conversation.”

“But we did. I think that it might help me, but you will have to excuse me for thinking of that as your dream world, not this. Maybe we are really living in two separate worlds and when you sleep is when you come to visit.”

Jessica did not really think that was the way it worked, but if that would make Rodney feel better, she would go with it. “That’s okay. I think that in your position I would ask nothing less.” Jessica was a bit confused. From what she had been told about lucid dreaming, once you realized it was a dream, you could control everything in it. But maybe she just had to practice.

Chapter 14 – Worlds Collide

Freedom of Expression; Gender Identity

My son is about 18 months old now, and I want it to be his choice when he gets his first haircut, because I believe that it is about self-expression. His hair is getting long enough to be in his eyes, and I sometimes manage to pull it back for awhile before he takes out the hair tie. Because of the long hair people always assume he is a girl, but especially when it is up. I don’t really care, at that age gender doesn’t mean anything. To me the only thing gender means is how you have sex, and some limited biological brain functions. Most of what we consider gender identity is created by our culture.

Today my son was wearing a red flannel shirt and jeans while his hair was pulled up in a pink hair tie because that is what I happened to have with me. A gentleman stopped by to say hi and asked “who is this sweet girl?” I introduced him as my son. I thought it was rather amusing that it was more believable to the man that a little girl would wear a full boy’s outfit than that a boy would have long hair in a ponytail. In our culture girls have more freedom in this regard than boys do. We have fought for it. A century ago a girl wearing pants was even more taboo than a boy wearing a skirt is today.

Not only do women have a box they are expected to fit into, so do men. For women it is about fingernails, hair, and makeup. It is about shopping for shoes and clothes that allow her to be the woman she is supposed to be. For all of the fighting that women have done to be equal to men, there is still a box. The fight is not over.

The problem is that some men feel like by women gaining ground they are losing it. That is not the point. I am not sure what about the feminist movement gives that impression, but some people’s notion that women are trying to take over might have something to do with it. Men are confined in a box too. They have always been, and have not put together a fight the way that women have. Men and boys are pressured to be macho. “Be a man”, “Grow some balls”, those types of statements are endemic of the battle that they face. The equivalent “Act like a lady” is reserved for specific situations, but for the most part women have permission to be more manly than men have to be womanly. Not only is the behavioral box more confining for men, they are also more confined in dress. Women are expected to wear makeup, but the choice not to is not as taboo as the choice of men to wear it. Women can wear all sorts of tops, dresses, or skirts or pants. Men get shirts and pants. The variety even within that is very limited. As a costume designer I find designing for men from the 19th century on rather boring. And to top it off, men are expected to support the women in life in a way that they can do the shopping they are supposed to do.

I believe that the crisis that some people have with gender identity would not be nearly as bad if they did not feel pressured into a mold they did not fit. When a boy is forced to be a boy they feel the need to push back just because they like some things that are considered ‘girly’. Rather than sending this child on a whirlwind of identity, how about we just let him play with the dolls if that is what he wants. Later he may turn out to be straight, or he may turn out to be gay. He may even turn out to identify as a girl. That is okay.

To me it seems that the dichotomy between male and female has created a very damaging society. I understand that for some people who identify as their non-biological gender they only feel complete once they have completed their gender re-assignment surgery. I have no problem with the surgery, if it is that important to you, go for it. I support you 100%. My concern is that some people feel that in order to fit they have to completely identify as one or the other. I would rather live in a society where a man is allowed to wear a dress and makeup when he feels like it, but is still allowed to go hunting with the guys. Rather than having distinct gender identities, and spending so much time categorizing people (including adding new distinctions) we should just let people be themselves and skip the labels. For some people just being allowed to be themselves is enough, they would not need to go through all of the physical changes. For others the body they were given is not themselves, and they should have the right to change it.

 

Freedom of Expression; Costumes and Dress Codes

A few days ago I was reading a blog by a teacher about the day after Halloween. I did not save the link, and I should have. One of the students wore a cape to school that day. The teacher kept considering telling the child to take it off, but she noticed that a child who is normally awkward and clumsy was far more confident. The article seemed to be written in order to pride herself on doing a great thing for this kid, as it seemed to help him in the future as well. No students even mentioned the cape, although teachers did do a double take. I think that all of this is great. But in the end, the teacher, while she did compliment the cape, told him not to wear it again. I cannot figure out why.

I wore costumes to school every day. I got a lot of flak for it from my peers, but it allowed me to be who I am. In high school, people who did not know me by name knew me as Little Red Riding Hood because I always wore a red cape that I had made. Today there is a lot of discussion about school dress codes. They are being attacked for being sexist, and even for creating the very over-sexualized environment they were created to fight. I agree with all of those points. The rules are often stated in ways that target girls more than boys. They are nearly always more strictly enforced with girls than with boys. By making such a big deal of it, we are teaching young kids to look at one another’s clothing and bodies and question “Is that enough clothing”, “Shouldn’t they cover up more?”, and “Why, what is wrong with this outfit that I have to change?” We are saying that what they wear is more important that who they are, and more important than why they are at school.

Some of the rules are unfair to certain body types. In my district short and skirt lengths were determined by arm length. A silly rule since some girls were completely within regulations and still showed ass when they sat down, while I broke that without ever being questioned since my skirt was plenty long because my arms are long.

This is not the message we should be sending kids. We need to be encouraging them to look beyond the clothes, and beyond the body to what a person is really made of. When we focus on the clothes, the person gets lost. This encourages people in our society to dehumanize one another. This allows people to do things to people without feeling regret. Whether that action is teasing in school, or physically assaulting someone. We live in a society where we do not have the luxury to personally meet everyone that we interact with. This means that we cannot afford to make any of the interactions we practice with those we do know contribute to that dehumanizing effect.

The point of many dress codes is to avoid ‘distractions’. This is ridiculous. The fact that a girl’s skirt is a little short, or that a boy’s pants are too baggy (showing my age a bit) should not be allowed to be a distraction in the first place. A teacher notices that someone is leering, call them out. If they persist, they should be sent to the office. Not the person they were looking at. We should not be teaching children that others, girls especially, should cover up so that people looking at them can feel more comfortable. We need to be teaching children that people have different tastes and make different decisions. We need to be teaching children that they are responsible for their own actions.

I went to a middle school with a more extreme dress code, called a Uniform Code of Dress. It was not quite a uniform, but very close. We had 2 colors of pants or skirts we were permitted to wear, in one style, and 5 colors of polo shirts. This was initially instituted to prevent students from wearing gang colors. My friends and I were so out of touch with that world that we could not even tell you the names of the gangs active in our area, let alone what their colors or signs were. I would probably have worn gang colors a lot without realizing it, as many people do.

This system ended up in a lot more time tied up in determining if students were within regulations or not. Not only were we measuring if the girl’s skirts were actually longer than their finger tips to also trying to determine if someone’s pants were the right color. My first dying project was adding coffee to the washing machine while washing a slightly lighter skirt that had been called white too many times to make it more khaki. After I left the school, it was decided to keep the style restrictions, but lift the color rules. So the entire reason for the Uniform Code of Dress was thrown out the window.

During this period I was very frustrated with the rules because I could not express myself. I took to wearing what I call “happy socks”, or the ones with bright colors, pictures, or separate toes. I took a lot of time braiding my hair on the car ride in so that it was as weird as possible. In trying to find ways to express myself I tested the limits that no-one had thought to make. But I also lost something. The goal was not about me being me, but rather about being strange or drawing attention to myself. I still wear the happy socks, but the hair took too much work, and did not really mean anything to me. Later I turned to doing elaborate masks in makeup, which worked when I had an hour and a half bus ride each morning, not so much once I started driving. I kind of miss the masks.

There is another issue that is gaining attention these days. Gender identity. I think that this ties in perfectly with this topic. In high school I had a gay friend choose to wear a skirt one day. I honestly did not even notice it until he mentioned at lunch how much shit he was getting. He had chosen to do it in part to find out what the reaction was. He committed to going a full week. Of course when he stopped, the people around him may have felt like they won, but there is no point in continuing something on the principle of proving someone wrong.

I do believe that clothing is a key way to express who you are. I look back on that as inspiration to be myself no matter what since I cannot wear costumes to work every day. These days wearing a full costume is rare because I am lazy and getting all dressed up to go shopping doesn’t really feel worth it. Childhood is a special time, you do not have to worry about what bosses or clients think. If we allow children to express themselves when they are young, they will be more accepting when they are older, and they will have a better concept of who they are. I do not think that expression should be restricted unnecessarily, to me it is a part of Freedom of Speech. It is a human right.