Uncivil Unions: April 2007: Archives

April 23, 2007

Canadian Province Introduces Ban On Cyber Bullying genre: Nouveau Thoughts & Uncivil Unions

I Want Change

Just two weeks ago the blogosphere was engaged in a debate about the appropriateness of implementing a standardized code to monitor and maintain web civility. Now a Canadian province has introduced legislation to make cyber bullying a punishable offense. The measure would allow schools to suspend students for personal attacks upon teachers or fellow students. I think it's an interesting development in light of the heightened concerns raised by the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech.

(Toronto) "Bullying is bullying'' whether it's done online or in a schoolyard, Premier Dalton McGuinty said as his government last week introduced new legislation to add cyber-bullying to the list of offences for which a student can be suspended or expelled from an Ontario school.

Changes to the province's Safe Schools Act were introduced to stop students from posting comments, pictures or videos attacking another student or teacher on popular online sites such as YouTube.

It's the first time either physical or online bullying will be formally prohibited in provincial schools.

"Whether you do it online by way of the latest technology or you're doing it in person or over the old fashioned telephone, it still causes pain and suffering,'' McGuinty said before a Liberal caucus meeting.

"It's unacceptable, and I'm proud of the fact our safe schools act will in fact broaden the gambit of offences and take into account bullying and cyber-bullying.''

Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday she wants to help students grapple with the new technologies they use and to teach them to start taking responsibility for their online actions.

But Wynne said she will also make sure troubled students who are suspended or expelled get a chance to return to school by providing $31 million a year for new programs to help them.

"Bullying is not currently listed as an infraction, and it's about time that we recognized the seriousness of these behaviours.''

When I posted my thoughts on the web civility issue a couple weeks ago, my focus was primarily on the behavior of adults and I expressed my concern that the internet is only the latest in a long string of venues for people to demonstrate their incivility.

In the last week, I also expressed my concerns that society needs to explore the dynamics that are leading to more and more troubled children and the prevalence of violence within the school setting. While I don't know the full details of this Canadian proposal, it makes some sense to address civility in children if our goal is to begin the process of altering the growing demonstrations of conflict and contempt.

I realize that schools cannot be a substitute for sound parenting in the form of guidance by example...but I also realize that if we are to have a chance at stemming the tide of incivility, children are our best hope. I find it encouraging that this Canadian measure allocates funds to assist in changing the behavior of those who commit these infractions. Again, it seems like a practical place to start, although I would need to have a much better understanding of the proposed legislation.

The Ontario Teachers' Federation welcomed the proposed changes to the Safe Schools provisions, noting that Monday's ``tragedy at Virginia Tech has everyone thinking about students and their safety at school.''

``Teachers in Ontario are happy that the proposed legislation includes bullying, cyber-bullying and bullying of teachers as an infraction that could lead to suspension or expulsion,'' said federation president Hilda Watkins.

"This behaviour is unfortunately spreading, especially in cyberspace.''

The opposition parties agreed bullying needs to be dealt with, but accused the Liberal government of failing to provide schools with adequate resources to ensure student safety.

Conservative education critic Frank Klees complained the government had few details in the bill.

If nothing else, it signals the beginning of a dialogue that may attempt to address the growing acceptance of vitriol and violence that seems to have become an integral part of our human exchange. It seems like a far better approach than looking to restrict song lyrics or to shut down comedians and television programs that simply parrot and parody the symptoms of a much larger societal ailment.

Until controversial songs and shows no longer speak to the valid feelings held by viewers, these types of communication will be perpetuated by a growing demand and an unlimited supply of new artists and advocates. Changing the culture must start at the source. Banning music or speech is akin to the century's old practice of banning books. It didn't work then and it won't work now because it doesn't extinguish the emotions that drive their creation.

Civility is not achieved through declarations or directives...it is achieved when a majority of individuals believe that it is a viable and valid decision that will serve to enhance both the individual and the society. That is the task at hand...and it is no doubt a formidable one. Nonetheless, progress will only be made when we acknowledge this fundamental reality and begin the difficult process of changing minds.

Daniel DiRito | April 23, 2007 | 10:49 AM | link | Comments (0)
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April 18, 2007

Best Of Thought Theater - Family Values: This Blows genre: Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Short Fuse

Following up on the Virginia Tech tragedy and my prior posting, I thought it would be beneficial to bring back a piece I wrote about a year ago. At the time, I was discussing family values with a focus on the objections to gay marriage. I've modified the posting to include only the portions I felt were relevant to an expansion of the dialogue initiated in the earlier Virginia Tech posting.

Family Values: This Blows

It's become fashionable to talk about family values. In today's culture wars, the posturing by various groups to become the definitive voice on the subject is rampant. All too often the debate centers on issues outside of the family in what appears to be attempts to vilify various segments of the population that don't meet with their approval.

From my perspective, children learn their values at home and the values they adopt are primarily discerned in proportion to the degree of sincerity and integrity they believe exists in their parents. In this construct, the degradation of family values originates within individual families as a result of a child’s perception that their parents are inauthentic and hypocritical.

In trying to then determine what is wrong with families, the indicators seem abundantly evident. Firstly, a family cannot succeed if the parents aren't committed to personal responsibility, a trait that frankly cuts a swath across all of society in its impact on the overall health of civilization. When personal responsibility is abandoned, so are the family and ultimately the society.

The family fails when parents demonstrate their own intolerance and disdain for others. It's not uncommon for a parent to have issues with their own parents and when they live out these failed relationships, their own children are taught that it's acceptable to choose conflict and estrangement rather than compromise and conciliation. This can take the form of a dispute with a sibling over money or the holding of a grudge against a former employer or coworker. Sometimes it's an instantaneous conflict with the soccer coach or the store clerk. Nonetheless, all of these actions have impact.

Families fail when mom and dad's relationship succumbs to failure through divorce or the demonstrated disdain for a spouse...often acted out in bitter divorce proceedings or custody battles where both parents savage the persona of the other in full view of the children. Frequently, these situations involve infidelity and betrayal that only further serves to tell children that commitment to the self far exceeds the keeping of commitments.

The family fails when children attend school for the first time rife with the prejudices of their parents. A child reared in a home filled with bigotry simply brings more bigotry to the society. This can take many forms...a hate for Mexicans, Blacks, Jews, Asians, Arabs, Homosexuals, Catholics, Christians, Atheists, Conservatives, Liberals, poor people, wealthy people, and many, many more. The adoption of these unfounded hatreds foments conflict which ultimately damages the child’s ability to form and maintain relationships.

Families fail when parents teach children the need to win but fail to instill in them the ability and the acceptance necessary to lose. This is perhaps one of the most negligent oversights...in that there is no doubt that, when confronted with the many struggles of life; more of us lose than win. There is only one Super Bowl winner each year, a limited number of lottery winners, one Tiger Woods, one CEO of Microsoft, and so on. Far too often parents give children the false impression that they can, should, will, and must always win. Many of these children are destined for disappointment. They're apt to leave school in search of a job or a relationship or success absent the ability to overcome rejection or to endure failure.

The family fails when parents neglect to teach children respect for others. This can manifest itself in many ways...a child wandering the aisles of a store without regard for another customers ability to navigate the same space...not saying excuse me when moving through a crowded room...not disposing of trash where it belongs...not acknowledging a driver that allows you to merge onto a busy freeway or into a different lane...not thanking the waitress for bringing one's meal, and numerous other courtesies that collectively build a functional society and set the framework for successful future families.

Families fail when a parent gives a child twenty dollars to go to the mall because they want the child out of their hair. Other times it may allow a parent to make up for not attending the school play or the tennis match or simply not having the time to spend communicating with their children. Many times, a parent's work or social life leaves little room for children...sometimes out of necessity, but also sometimes by choice. Regardless, children eventually distinguish the difference.

Ultimately, the family succeeds one child at a time and that must start at home. The relationship of the Mexican couple down the street or the gay couple in the grocery store can only threaten one family...their own. Time spent obsessing about the actions of other families simply detracts from the precious time each family needs to succeed. The sooner families begin to act accordingly, the sooner the value of all families can be maximized. If and when this happens, the individual will flourish and society will endure.

I wrote the following poem called This Blows while thinking about this topic. For me, it captures the essence of the issues and demonstrates the subtle, yet foreboding ease with which a parent can lose contact with a child...leading to disastrous consequences. Such occurrences are all too common and familiar.

Let me offer a few caveats. I am not suggesting that the actions of Cho Seung-hui can be attributed to his familial circumstances nor am I arguing that problem children must always be the product of a failed family...we simply don't know enough about Cho to draw any conclusions nor do we have enough understanding of psychology to definitively determine how some individuals become so disturbed and disconnected.

Nonetheless, I suspect that most readers will be able to identify with the sentiments expressed in this poem because they have known a family of this type or a child that comes from such a family. Situations like the one depicted in this poem do not necessarily lead to a bad outcome or to the same tragic ending. Lastly, there is no doubt that our culture needs to identify and address the issues that may be contributing to the number of disturbed children.

Statue In Munich - 2005

This Blows

Raised down where you were brought up
Brought down where you were raised up

You shouldn’t need to be propped up
Cause you were brought up so proper

Time is money, it’s only money
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

You crammed all night for your last test
They said stick with it, just do your best

School teacher says the kid needs some help
They think he’s fine, there’s always the belt

Give it all you got, how much do you need?
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

Be with you in a sec, they can’t spare a minute
They’re all over it, but their shows never quit

Holler if you need them, just give them a holler
Better not bother them, they can’t be bothered

Whatever it takes, they can’t take anymore
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

They haven’t time, they must be martyrs
Don’t you mother him, he wasn’t fathered

Don’t blow it all, you blew your top
They blew your mind, you blew them off

These kids today, they grow up so fast
Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow

Hey mister neighbor, they seemed so normal
Kid was so sweet, the mom was adorable

Nobody’s home, it’s been dead there today
Headline tomorrow, is tomorrow OK?

Another cliché, give the kid some dollars
Things couldn’t be better, let’s talk tomorrow
No need to bother, he’s blown away…

Daniel DiRito | April 18, 2007 | 2:59 PM | link | Comments (1)
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April 11, 2007

Imus, Bias, Devils, And Heaven genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

Don Imus

I’ve never been a Don Imus devotee. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I listened to any portion of his show. I’ve never met the man and I know next to nothing about his character or his motivations other than what I’ve garnered during this rancor over his racially charged remarks.

So what do I know? I know that people on both sides of the political divide have sought to take advantage of the situation. While that isn’t necessarily wrong, it is indicative of a much larger problem in our society. In the broadest sense, it’s the oversimplification of us versus them…good versus bad.

To make my argument, the best example I can offer is from the 2004 presidential election and the circumstances surrounding John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam. At the Democratic convention, Kerry made his oft quoted announcement, "Reporting for Duty", and so began a series of volleys intended to frame the issue for the voting public. The two choices offered were that he was either a courageous war hero who risked his life for his fellow soldiers and then focused his energy on opposing a war that was wrong…or he was a cunning opportunist who crafted his actions to garner the accolades of a heroic soldier in order to provide him with the vehicle to make inflammatory accusations about the war and his fellow soldiers to promote his own political and personal gain.

Back to Imus. There is no doubt that his actions triggered this mess. His derogatory comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team were ignorant and inflammatory. His words were immediately met by a barrage of criticism and that is as it should be. In short order, MSNBC acknowledged the inappropriateness of his remarks and suspended him for two weeks. As an outside observer, that certainly seems warranted.

So now what? Well, this is the point at which it gets tricky. This is the juncture at which the situation becomes larger than the sum of its parts. This is where it becomes less about Don Imus and more about ideology and advantage for those in search of opportunities to engage in the dialogue of us versus them…good versus bad…from positions that have eclipsed the essential considerations of those involved in and impacted by the transgression. It’s not surprising and it’s nothing new…but it is wrong.

Duke Blue Devils

Let me attempt to explain. Fortunately, today’s headlines provide a relevant example…the dismissal of rape charges against three Duke University La Crosse players. By all accounts, the local District Attorney sought to manipulate the system and the media to further his own agenda…regardless of the intended purpose of his office…to determine the guilt or innocence of the alleged perpetrators.

First, my own mea culpa. When it was reported that one of the accused had previously been involved with, and charged in, a gay bashing incident, I felt justified in doubting the assertions of his friends and family that he was incapable of the alleged rape. In my own way, I wanted to punish him and all those who would commit crimes against gays…and I made the rape incident about more than those charges and the guilt or innocence of those alleged to have committed those specific charges.

I wasn’t alone. A number of influential Black leaders came to the defense of the alleged victim. Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting they were wrong to come to her aid or to advocate on her behalf. Had that been the limit of their actions, I wouldn’t be able to use the situation to advance my argument. However, they too sought to make the incident about more than the needs of the alleged victim and ascertaining the guilt or innocence of the accused

The media outlets were also duplicitous. Almost immediately, the cost of tuition at Duke University was discussed and the social and financial standing of the families of the accused was reported. The inference to the excesses of class and status was palpable. They went further. They also portrayed La Crosse as the sport of choice for the privileged and hinted that the ability to participate might involve implied racial considerations. As is so often the case, the media sought to expand and exaggerate the breadth and depth of the situation…because it better served their need for sensational stories to attract viewers.

So what are the connecting points? Essentially, our culture has devolved into the serial practice of partisanship without regard for the individual or the pursuit of the truth. We’re not looking to find the truth, we’re looking to create truth and that is a pivotal distinction. As such, each issue becomes the flagship for opposing interest groups and the epicenter for partisan politics. Those actually involved in this and other incidents (and they are often victims) become nothing more than pawns in an elaborate game of chess…and they are frequently further victimized.

How does it play out? In ways that defy logic and deny reason. Don Imus has yet to speak with the Rutgers basketball team and they have not yet had the opportunity to confront him directly. Imus has apologized numerous times in countless ways…through the media. The Rutgers players have reacted…through spokespeople and the media. I’m sorry but when I see how these situations unfold, I am convinced that we suffer the severest form of "nothing is as it seems". Until we begin to realize that resolution and redemption begin at the most fundamental level…person to person…accused with aggrieved…true progress cannot be achieved. Why are direct dialogue and a face to face meeting between Imus and the Rutgers players the last consideration?

Frankly, we are fast becoming the epitome of a Jerry Springer society. It seems to have become more important to have an audience and notoriety when confronting conflict than it is to attain resolve and mutual respect. That model seems to serve the needs of the exploited and those who seek to exploit; reinforcing all that relegates objectivity to the outhouse while making the frailty and imperfection of the human condition a spectacle that harkens back to the Coliseum.

No doubt the Rutgers players were drawn into this fray through no fault of their own…which should afford them far more leeway as well as the right to determine the method and the means to achieve reconciliation. Unfortunately, the interlopers that seek to parlay the predicament are soon dictating the dynamics…fueling resentment and recalcitrance in order to advance their agendas. Putting them on display seems to be more important than facilitating the confrontation and apology that is necessary to begin the healing process and the restoration of their hard earned dignity.

Beyond that, the actual merits of Don Imus the man or the employee cannot and should not be ciphered through public opinion…especially public opinion that results from the systematic hijacking of the incident. In fact, one might be safe to suggest that those manipulating public opinion may well have more malicious motivations and intentions than those that underlie the incendiary words uttered by Don Imus.

Parental Advisory

This situation isn’t and shouldn’t be about whether liberals or conservatives, this race or that race, hip hop or honky-tonk, one group or another, are more offensive and therefore more responsible for all that is wrong with America. I am not capable of judging the whole of Don Imus nor am I capable of crafting a recipe to fix all of America…and neither are the countless pundits and partisans who have sought to frame it so.

I may be wrong, but I’m convinced that fostering or fixing the direct relationships we currently have is where we will begin to find solutions to our much larger societal issues. Consequently, I’m also not willing to subjugate the rights or responsibilities of the individual for the benefit of some beguiled brotherhood. When we do so, we endorse a system that substitutes subjectivity for substance and we are all diminished.

I’m not a religious person…but I often find kinship with the imagery surrounding the portrayal of one called Jesus and his teachings of understanding and forgiveness. For all the banter I hear about the Bible and Christian values, it certainly seems to me that we are fast abandoning what many view as the sacred "tablets" in favor of the sacrosanct tabloids. If I’m right, all I can say is heaven help us.

Daniel DiRito | April 11, 2007 | 7:57 PM | link | Comments (8)
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April 10, 2007

Anna Nicole's Sugar Baby Has A Daddy genre: Snapshot Thoughts & Tongue-In-Cheek & Uncivil Unions

In the never ending chapters in the life and death of Anna Nicole Smith, a court in the Bahamas ruled today that her former lover, Larry Birkhead, is in fact the father of her daughter...Dannielynn. Why Smith sought to avoid exposing the true identity of the father may never be known...but the one person who might know...Howard Stern, the former father will no doubt seek to capitalize on his time with the troubled celebrity. After all, it seems to me that this child is the modern day version of Gloria Vanderbilt...and will always be viewed as a much sought after trophy baby.

From CNN:

"Everybody, I hate to be the one to tell you this -- but I told you so," Birkhead said outside the court as he smiled and threw his hands into the air.

When asked what's next, he said, "I'm going to the toy store."

A DNA test confirmed him as the father with 99.99 percent certainty, said Dr. Michael Baird, who performed the test and revealed the results to a closed session of a Bahamian court Tuesday.

The court had ordered DNA testing to determine the father of the child, who has been at the center of a paternity dispute since she was born in a Bahamian hospital in September.

Smith had publicly identified Howard K. Stern, her lawyer and live-in companion, as the baby's father and listed him as the father on the child's birth certificate.

Dannielynn stands to inherit millions of dollars from the estate of Smith's late husband, oil tycoon Howard Marshall II. Until her death, Smith was involved in a legal battle over the inheritance.


Perhaps I'm a hopeless cynic, but I can't help but wonder the fate of this child had her mother died a penniless drug addict in any of the many large American inner cities. This thing we call love is a funny and complex concept...and I think in this particular situation it would be naive if one didn't question just what it is that all of these suitors actually love. My own suspicion is that little Dannielynn isn't their primary focus. I hope I'm wrong.

Regardless, I took the opportunity to put my thoughts and opinions about this tabloid tragedy into the following graphic.

Anna Nicole's Trophy Baby

Daniel DiRito | April 10, 2007 | 4:38 PM | link | Comments (1)
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