A Boy, His Site and His Civil Liberties Lawsuit

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By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, November 13, 2005

Hey, kids: Wanna pocket a hundred large?

First, set up a Web site that criticizes your high school. Create a guest book and let other students pile on. Then, let the school officials find out about it and wildly violate your civil rights by suspending you, kicking you off the baseball team and barring you from going on your class trip.

Finally, call the ACLU and yell, "Sic 'em!"

Last week a New Jersey school district agreed to pay $117,500 in settlement to a high school student who did just that in 2003. A federal judge ruled that the discipline ordered by the Oceanport school officials violated ninth-grader Ryan Dwyer's free speech rights. Well, duh. But that wasn't enough, and, on Monday, a settlement between Dwyer and the school district was announced.

The school said Ryan's guest book included anti-Semitic remarks and caused a potential danger to students. How, exactly, it didn't say. Ryan denied writing the offensive remarks, and his family said the school never said what, if any, rules or regulations he broke.

Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. High schools, apparently, shall.

The Perfect Man -- On Paper

If there were an award for "Best Creative Content on a Huge Corporation's Web Site to Distract You From the Fact That We're in the Gypsum, Chemical, Timber and Paper Industry," Georgia-Pacific would win it.

Georgia-Pacific makes Brawny paper towels, and the brand has had a mascot -- like Betty Crocker -- called the Brawny Man, since 1974, living on the plastic paper towel wrapper and in ads. No name, just the Brawny Man. (What are we to you women, just nameless pieces of meat?) Now, at the end of a long day, when your boss has been mean to you and your boyfriend doesn't understand and you could just cry for no reason at all, you can go to http://www.brawnyman.com/innocentescapes and be soothed and pampered by the B. Man himself.

A handsome, smoky-voiced actor with just enough stubble welcomes you into his woodsy cabin, complete with a roaring fire. You might catch him sculpting, or building a rocking horse. Or welding. He addresses the camera as if it were you. You can click around on the site to get him to say various words of comfort, such as "You've been so strong, and I want you to know I'm here for you" in an episode titled "That Thing You're Going Through." In others, he opens a stuck jar of pickles (strong!) and puts out a spider (sensitive!).

The videos have it both ways: They lampoon the every-woman-wants-a-strong-man stereotype but also deliver it. I'm sure they make a profound statement on post-post-post-feminism (That's where we are now, right?), but I'm evidently not man enough to figure it out.

My First Code Book

The search for new talent goes deeper and deeper. High school football coaches recruit superstar middle-school running backs. AAU coaches scout elementary schools for the next playground legend, even though he's so young that he's more likely to just dribble than to crossover-dribble.

Well, your government is no different in its search for pee-wee code breakers who could grow up to crack the next-gen al Qaeda codes.

Take a look at the National Security Agency's recently launched http://www.nsa.gov/kids . It features the cartoon "CryptoKids," seven crime-fightin' math/code/language/technology baby geniuses. Rosetta Stone, for instance, is a language fox. According to the site, she has a "fox-cination with language and culture." (Those guys may be able to crack a 109-bit key elliptic curve algorithm in their sleep, but everyone can use rewrite.) The site teaches kids the difference between a code and a cipher, tells you that Rosetta Stone practices martial arts, and includes code-themed brain teasers and games.

It's a pretty quick evolution for a government agency that didn't admit it existed until about, oh, 15 minutes ago.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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