Thursday, June 10, 2010

Abused Child Rescued in Indian Ocean

[Added 21 June 2010: turns out I'm not the only person to have such doubts. The whole article is worth reading but what jumped out to me was that Child Protective Services interviewed Abby Sunderland before she left for the trip. No word on whether it was a proactive family volunteering this to clear the air or a CPS representative who saw the press and wanted to be sure.]

Yes, I'm talking about SoCal 16-year-old Abby Sunderland, who was sailing around the world solo. A few days ago she put out a distress call when her mast snapped in the Indian Ocean; thank goodness she's now safe. Of course, this is on the heels of another SoCal kid (13 years old) who became the youngest ever to summit Mt. Everest. Both of these activities have non-zero chances of death. And at the end of the day, neither of them delivers more than bragging rights.

Why "abused child"? Because there's nothing inspiring or heroic in these stories at all, that's why. These are kids either being allowed to attempt, or being put up to, a stunt, by parents who are at best incredibly irresponsible and at worst willing to endanger their own children's lives to live vicariously through them. Abby Sunderland is a minor, and her safety is her parents' number one responsibility. Imagine those French fishermen hadn't found her; would people be so tolerant of her parents' permissiveness (or vicarious ambition) then? Or, imagine you have a 16-year-old kid, and she comes to you and says "I want to sail around the world solo." If you're a good parent, you'll say, "No. End of discussion." In fact you'll say that if you're a halfway mediocre parent. Frankly even Homer Simpson would say that. What do you think her chance of death was on this trip? Let's conservatively say 1%. Imagine your kid came to you and said, "I want to do X, but I'll have a 1% chance of dying." (For the record, attempting Everest has about a 5% chance of death.) What would the pay-off have to be for you to allow that to go forward? A hundred million dollars? Guaranteed entrance to Harvard? Most parents would be unable to even think about such a thing. If you have children, I certainly hope that there's no amount of money that would make you consider endangering their lives. Okay - so instead of money, what if the payoff was a few newspaper articles and an entry in the Guiness Book of World Records? Even more ridiculous, if that's possible. But she was really prepared! you (and she) might object. In case you haven't noticed, every teenager is immortal and knows everything. For that matter, everyone who's ever attempted Everest has thought s/he wouldn't be one of the statistics. But these are decisions each of us is free to make, for ourselves, once we've reached the age of majority.

If you think my tone is a little strident, please consider: do you find it distasteful, even borderline abuse, when children are allowed or pushed into the Hollywood acting scene by their parents? Then isn't it even worse that kids are allowed to (or encouraged to!) endanger their own lives with these kinds of stunts? The worst thing that happens to those Hollywood kids is a tabloid scandal and a stint in rehab ten years from now, and that's bad enough. But these kids could've died. Abby almost did.


Anonymous said...

You're ignoring the expertise of these youths in their chosen activities. You're imposing your own views on others. You're pretending that magically when they reach 18 years old they will suddenly develop the ability to judge for themselves. Frankly, you're being an ignorant and repressive age bigot.

Michael Caton said...

Listen, this is my "fun" blog. You want to get all mad at me about something, you go over to my atheist blog ( and you'll find plenty to get your blood boiling over there. Needless to say I'm disappointed that the angriest I've made somebody in a long time is with my fun blog.

Now then, regarding your ridiculous, yet stupid statements, which you proudly and tellingly stand behind by signing your name: the short and more appropriate answer is "Oh please." The longer-form answer is yes, I do have an opinion, and I express it, as do you; ergo we are both guilty of this heinous charge of "imposing our opinions on others". No, no one is pretending that anyone magically becomes wise when they turn 18. The reason 18 is important is that, on average, this is when people can take care of themselves - otherwise we'd have to give everyone a battery of tests to find out when they're ready to be licensed drivers, die for their country, and drink alcohol. We all know some people at 35 who aren't ready to drink alcohol, and some people at 15 who are. So we throw a dart and say "21". And we throw one and say "at 18, people have the judgment to have legal authority over themselves". There's no doubt that these kids are excellent at climbing and sailing. They're still kids. Skill does not equal judgment, and even if they are gifted with maturity beyond their years, it bears repeating that everyone 18 or older who ever climbed Everest thought they had the skills to do so, and a significant fraction die anyway. That alone is reason enough to say "I'm your parent, there's a chance of death, and the answer is no." If someone you have legal authority over wants to do something that has a 1 in 20 chance of death, and you let them do it, you must not care about them very much. Or at least you care about publicity more.

En fin, madame and/or sir - I'm wondering what your point was in writing this comment and ending with an insult. You certainly didn't change my mind, and I doubt with ad hominems like that you're going to change anyone else's. Cheeri-o!

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe that after your comments about "throwing a dart" and "they're still kids", that you could consider my calling you an ignorant age bigot (which statement I stand by) as an ad-hominem.

Michael Caton said...

Hello again Anonymous! I was beginning to worry I faced a life without your witty rejoinders, but I'm relieved you've returned to enlighten the Cro-Magnons of the blogging world like myself. Whether the fancy fightin' words you're using are ad hominem is irrelevant. I'm just waiting for some argument or piece of new information from you which you reasonably expect might change my mind (otherwise, why leave a comment?) But I get the feeling I'll be waiting a long time. And far be it from me to deny you kudos for bravely standing by your statement, Anonymous.

Now, while I have the pleasure of your delightful company, are there other arenas in which you excel at being non-productively indignant at people? Or do you limit your talents to rooting out "age-bigotry" in all its pernicious forms?

Please, PLEASE write back. You are easily the most fun I've had with this blog. Don't let me down!

TGP said...

I'll have you know that Mr. Caton is in no way an age bigot. In fact, I have it on good authority that he wears a large diaper for no reason other than to demonstrate his solidarity with the youth of America!

Michael Caton said...

Dan! I thought that was our secret! Our SEXY little secret.

kd the grammarian said...

What amazes me the most is that Anonymous does the same weird thing with quotation marks and commas that you do, MC. Are you sure that you and Anonymous are not one in the same?!

ps Watch out for those rattlers! I hear they bite!

TomC said...


I have often thought of you as an age bigot, but I am sincerely glad that Anonymous called you out here. He/she/it has given eloquent voice to my concerns that, heretofore, I was afraid to express. Afraid you say? Yes, I see how tightly you are holding that beer in your profile photo. That shows that not only are you an age bigot, but you also appear to have a tendency towards violence.

Whatever the case, the truth is out. You hate the young and you you are forcing your views on to others. I wonder how it is you sleep at night? I would now like to go for a 50 mile run in the desert with nothing but a few vials of water contaminated with feces to accompany me. I'm also 12 years old. I think I can pull this off.

Michael Caton said...

Let me respond in order, first to kd: I admit Anonymous does seem a little too tailor-made for abuse of the sort that I most enjoy delivering, but I am afraid I must contradict your charge that s/he is a figment of my keyboard. In closing let me also say .)(*&%()^&// (and finally, this).

Second, to TomC: your feces-run idea is an inspiring endeavor to be undertaken in your own idiom. That is why you, and only you, should undertake it. Immediately.

Third: it seems that our morally upright commenter has sadly left us - and given how I was pouring on the charm, I must confess I'm surprised and maybe even a little hurt. But if s/he is still reading, let me just say that his/her proselytizing efforts among the cyber-savages were not in vain. This weekend in Kings Canyon I came across a five year old wandering in the woods about 8,000' where the snow was starting to get thick. In my old Cro-Magnon view of the world I would have assumed this person not to be competent to get out of such a predicament. But thanks to Anonymous, I now know that would have been ignorant and repressive of me, so I left him to his voyage of discovery and self-actualization. Thank you Anonymous!