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Rock On?

Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 2:28 PM

This is the story of geology professor Robert M. Thorson, who, en route to a conference, was told that the rock in his carry-on luggage was a "dual-use" item. (That is, an object which has a mundane function, and could also, potentially, serve as a weapon.)

Thorson's rock, intended to be used to illustrate a point in his speech, was a banded chunk of Hebron Gneiss, resembling a broken slice of layer cake ��perhaps around the size of a grapefruit.

Thorson was given the option of returning to the ticket counter to check his specimen as baggage, but judged that doing so would likely cause him to miss his flight altogether. He asked if he could claim the rock upon his return, and was told no.

"Who knows?" the professor writes in a public forum piece for his local paper. "Perhaps your tax dollars will be used by an internal think tank of agency hire-ups to ponder why on earth a geologist would travel with a rock. Who knows? Perhaps the government will wiretap my phone or check my library records to see whether I have checked out a Koran or a book about stone-age warfare."

This is, of course, not the fault of TSA screeners, who have been tasked with a nigh-impossible job � but of the bureaucracy that mandates that a rock would be sufficient to wield against a flight attendant, or commandeer a plane. And, if it is, what is to be said about the ability to purchase D-cell batteries at an airport terminal gift store, load them into your socks, and create a makeshift bludgeon?

In a carefully stage-managed event, President Bush appeared at a Conference on School Safety. And, after opening remarks, did nothing more than nod in approval to comments from participants that sounded like a PowerPoint presentation.

There was no discussion of the root causes, nor of solutions. And Mr. Bush, the First Lady, Education Secretary Spellings, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales all studiously avoided mentioning guns or gun control.

Bush, of course, gushed and beamed as Craig Scott, the brother of Rachel Joy Scott ��the young woman killed at Columbine after being queried about her faith � talked about the value of God in schools.

Public schools.

Having attended private schools through high school, I can assure you that the mere mention of God does not ameliorate the bullying or social divisions that have correctly been identified as a root cause of school violence. I could leave mass on First Friday, and promptly be teased in the schoolyard for being Asian, or smart, or short.

And I suspect that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold really didn't care about the faith of their victims. A diet of action-film style violence and their own skewed perceptions dictated their question, and their response.

Scott was quick to blame the media ��music, games, movies, the internet, even news stories for the violence.

I beg to differ. We do our children a great disservice if we do not bestow upon them the life skills that enable them to cope with a less-than-perfect world. We need to teach them critical thinking, encourage and foster emotional maturity, and respect that isn't grounded in one's religious beliefs.

God teaches us to be responsible for our actions, not to imagine ourselves immune to baser emotions or that school prayer will somehow innoculate us against school violence.

The answer is not a photo-op, Mr. President.

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