Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Elevated Terror Threat for LGBT Community

The Department of Homeland Security needs to raise the terror threat level to Severe Bloody Red.   The escalation of attacks, intimidation and threats against the LGBT community is on the rise and taking a bloody toll.  The most recent consequence of escalating harassment have resulted in the tragic suicides of two young teenagers and the curiously deranged and dangerous social media stalking of a gay university student leader by an assistant attorney general from the State of Michigan.    These attacks pose a clear and present danger to the physical safety and emotional wellness of the LGBT community.  It exemplifies the prevailing climate of intolerance and bigoted hatred exponentially spawning in the polluted vitriol of America’s political culture.  It is clothed in the righteous banality of religious fundamentalism.  Justified with the certainty of theological platitudes  and enforced with the zealous sword  of biblical scripture.  It presents an extreme risk to the civil liberties of all citizens.  It assails our right to freely associate, compels behavior and demands conformity of thought and adoption of a common belief system.  It is a grave and  looming threat to our democratic way of life.

Tyler Clementi was a college freshman at Rutgers University.  Tyler, a gifted musician, diligent student, good friend and loving son jumped off the George Washington Bridge after Dahrun Ravi, his roommate of three weeks, surreptitiously videoed a sexual encounter Tyler had with another male and broadcast it on a social media site. To ensure the video attracted wide exposure, Mr. Ravi Tweeted to his followers that they should log on to the live stream.  The horror and shame of being victimized by a vicious hate crime and personally violated in such a manner was too much to bear.  Mr. Clementi chose to end his pain by taking his own life.

Understanding this event as the result of a misguided college prank gone wrong or an unfortunate consequence enabled by the misuse of powerful social media technologies misses the point.  To do so would absolve Mr. Ravi’s distorted and heinously warped value system.  His punitive glee in perpetrating the offense.  His demonstrative lack of capacity to feel empathy or acceptance of his roommates sexuality.  His failure to recognize his right to privacy.  His lack of any sense of compassion.  Mr. Ravi’s prurient pursuit of degradation and defamation of his hate crime victim and his intent to do extreme harm to Mr. Clementi is evidence of his deep rooted and socially acceptable homophobia that is shared with many people.

It is curious that one would expect that as a person of color, Mr. Ravi would have a heightened sensitivity to the poison of prejudice and the destructive capacity of  hate crimes.  Trying to understand Mr. Ravi’s motives for his action is an impossibility for anyone to fathom save himself; but one can surmise that as a person of color Mr. Ravi may have experienced a situation where he was cast as “the other”.  The other is always an uncomfortable and dangerous geography to inhabit.  The alien outsider, one who stands apart and is different from the dominate ethnic, racial, creed or sexual orientation is usually cast in shrouds of suspicion, fear and ridicule.  Perhaps Mr. Ravi’s attempt to revile an LGBT person because of their sexuality was an attempt to gain acceptance with his classmates by victimizing Mr. Clementi in league with other straits?   Mr. Ravi gets a pass and is welcomed into the inner circle as one of the good ole boys whose prejudices, fears and bigotries mirror the dominant culture.  The price of admission for Mr. Ravi was the death of his roommate.

The other disturbing factor in Mr. Ravi’s assault was the use of social media technologies.   Many youths enabled with powerful communication platforms like You Tube, Facebook and Twitter have a difficult time perceiving the boundaries of private and public life.  The domain of the public persona and private life has become obscured and confused by the ethical vagaries and accessibility of a multichannel digital life.  Since the time of their birth, today’s youth have been totally saturated, empowered and enraptured in the world of digital technologies and media.  It has become the necessary open source to project your ego, display your passion and live out your angst as a real time avatar.   The reality of interpersonal connections and human skills erodes in a universe of self seeking holograms guided by a radical social ethos to project power through the aggressive pursuit of self will with the ultimate objective to seek aggrandizement and demand  instant gratification.  Mr. Ravi used that power to devastating effect.

Mr. Ravi may believe that his technical prowess provided him license to pursue the character assassination of his victim.  Questions will arise about the harm these social media technologies can cause.  Many believe the power of the technology is to vast and dangerous for teens and children and provides tools for stalkers, predators and criminals to aid their enterprise to exploit others to do harm.  A great example being the recent clamor about Craig’s List and its promotion and support of child prostitution and sexual slavery.  The proliferation of online bullying, sexting and other pernicious uses of social media technologies are problems with no easy solutions.  No doubt these are real concerns but it is not the inherent nature of the technology that is at fault it is the values and intent of the users of technology that are cause for concern.

The problem is not about having too much freedom, or having access to enabling technologies we don’t yet  know how to tame.  Twitter,  Facebook, and blogging sites empower the user.  Like the Luddites of old who believed machines were enslaving them the crux of the matter lied in the intent, use, control and deployment of the technology.  These technologies are powerful tools to enlighten, cultivate, uplift and empower individuals but it can also  just as easily be used as tools to harm, denigrate, enslave and oppress.  Its all about human values.  The values of a society that believes it has the license and the moral conviction to defame and destroy the lives of others because they have the means and tacit consent to do so is terrorism.   The fact that one can quote Leviticus, or find the appropriate passage from the Quran or  St. Paul does not justify nor confer the right to “righteously” expose, denounce or shame a perceived moral depravity in a secular society.

That brings us to the other tragic suicide, 13 year old Asher Brown, returned home from school last week, walked into his closet and used a handgun to end his life as a result of being terrorized by his Middle School classmates in Houston.  Classmates of Asher bullied him and taunted him about his perceived homosexuality.  On the day Asher took his own life, he admitted to his parents that he was gay.  It is startling and comforting to learn that Asher felt safe enough in his own home to admit his sexual orientation to his parents.  Asher’s mother and father accepted their son’s sexuality and did not scorn or condemn him.  They continued to unconditionally love and embrace their son as all good parents do.

It is unfortunate that the boy’s  tormentors did not share the same understanding and practice the acceptance of Asher’s parents.  Children live and emulate what they learn from their parents and communities they participate and live in.  If children are prisms of the families and communities that create them the bullying behavior and bigoted hated must have been a keystone of Asher’s tormentors homes.  Public education is under sever pressure.  Homophobia and bullying is not on the curricula of the public school system.  Tolerance, diversity and secularism are values that  public schools try to promote and are often the ideals that are derided by indidivuals and institutions that condemn public schools as propagators of these “liberal values”.   In response to their abhorrence to these unsavory ideals they choose to home school their children and teach them to fear Ungodly secularism, be wary those who are different and condemn the sinfulness and moral depravity of same sex relations.  Demonizing homosexuals and preaching distrust for people and persons who may not look or think like you do is fertile ground for a violent reaction to express the pent up fear and resentment of the alien and reprobate other.

Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the public school system has been directed to be a “value neutral” institution.  It is pressured to reform its curricula to better reflect the prevailing conservative culture that demands creationism be taught as a science, Darwinism is dangerous and unionized teachers are fonts of liberal ideology that needs to be silenced.  The learning  experience in the public school system has devolved  into a mundane exercise of  preparatory drills  to take commercially developed state examinations.  Teachers and institutional  effectiveness is quantitatively  measured by a students ability to retain a series of specious facts.  The quality of the educational experience, love of discovery, pursuit and exchange of ideas, respect for diversity and different points of view are lost in the “value free”  world of pedestrian test taking and fact retainment.  Had these children been schooled in the value of tolerance and the reality of diversity or had time and opportunity to interact with other children unlike themselves, the fear and resentment of Asher may have been lessened and the young boy may still be with us.

The crowning jewel in this trinity of hate has to be the State of Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell.  Mr. Shirvell has engaged in a cyber bullying of University of Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong.  Mr. Armstrong is openly gay and was elected by the university’s student body to represent them.  This has not sat well with Mr. Shirvell a University of Michigan alumnus and a fundamentalist Christian.  Mr. Shirvell has started a website, Chris Armstrong Watch where he unleashes a consistent homophobic fueled diatribe against Mr. Armstrong’s alleged “radical homosexual agenda”.

As a private citizen, Mr. Shirvell closely peruses Mr. Armstrong’s Facebook page to pick out posts and photo’s that raise his ire and uses the material as grist for his Chris Armstrong Watch website.  The accompanying comments and altered reproductions of Mr. Armstrong photo’s scream about his elitism, sexual degeneracy and Nazi like political tactics Mr. Armstrong employs in service to the advancement of a radical homosexual agenda.

This is truly frightening stuff.  A state Assistant Attorney General scouring Facebook pages and setting up a blog site dedicated to attacking and undermining a student leader because of his sexual identity is sickening and comes dangerously close to the abuse of office which I understand Mr. Shirvell was relieved of today.  Mr. Shirvell defends his actions on the grounds that he is exercising his rights of free speech as a private citizen.  Driven by his Christian fundamentalist faith and a reactionary political ideology,  Mr. Shirvell’s political fixation and strident personal vilification of  Mr. Armstrong are classic Rovian attack politics.  Mr. Shirvell stands shoulder to shoulder with James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart.  All three have shown a disdain for the truth, law and private rights of their targets in pursuit of a radical right wing agenda.

The values of a society that believes it has the right and the moral conviction to defame and destroy the lives of others because they have the ideological conviction, means and tacit consent to do so is the definition of tyranny and its pursuit is terrorism.  The US Constitution protects all citizens from zealots emboldened by personal truths derived from their holy scrolls.  A secular democracy protects the civil rights of its citizens and frees them from the righteous tyranny of others.  The Constitution stipulates that there is a single law of the land and it is a  violation of civil rights and a crime to expose, denounce or shame a person based on a theological interpretation of moral depravity.  The Constitution is the final arbiter and surest protection of individual liberty for all; damning the psychological culture of extreme political egoism advanced by Shirvell, Breitbart and O’Keefe.

Character assassination and appeal to the baser instincts of fear and loathing help propagandists to demarcate the lines that separate groups, reinforce prejudice and make dialog and the formation of consensus all but impossible.  Consider if you will a government administration populated with individuals with the temperament of Shrivell, O’Keefe and Breitbart.  America would be ruled by a government that edits reality to conform to their ideology.  It would propagate a political narrative that blindly  pursues ideology by running rough shod over the personal life of citizens while resorting to character annihilation and entrapment tactics.  It would truly be an embodiment of an Orwellian nightmare

The terror threat must be raised.  Terrorists are harming our citizens.  The world will miss the gracious presence of Asher’s beautiful smile.  Asher will never anoint another with the promise of renewal again.  The dear gift of youthful transformation is now lost to a world deeply in need of a rebirth.  The precious resource of Asher is squandered and silenced by those clinging to the old ways of ugly bigotry.   Asher’s spirit will remain with all who loved him and venerated by all who respect individual liberty.

We have also lost the exquisite melodies of  Tyler Clementi’s music.  Tyler’s silence will never weave harmony into a cacophonous world crackling in ugly dissonance.  Tyler’s violin now entombed in its case will never sing the sounds of joy, enlightenment, revelation and transcendence to those who refuse to listen to the symphonies of understanding, acceptance and appreciate the celebration of love.  The beautiful music Tyler created and brought into the world will never be heard again.  Tragic that the wonderful harmony of Tyler’s life was quieted by the deaf ears of those refusing to listen and most needing to hear it.

Rest in peace beloved.

Youtube Music Video: Janine Jansen, Lark Ascending

Risk: LGBT, civil rights, constitution, free speech

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October 1, 2010 Posted by | Bible, children, Civil Rights, community, culture, democracy, education, gay rights, government, LGBT, politics, Quran, religion, social justice, teaching, terrorism, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paying The Mentor

Spread Those Wings

Spread Those Wings

A recent discussion board on Linked In posed a question about mentoring.  Specifically the question asked is, “can mentoring be profitable for the mentor?”

The distinction between being a mentor and selling mentorship is an interesting question.  It is a valid distinction.  A few years ago I was required to take mentor training when I volunteered to mentor children of incarcerated parents. The sessions were conducted over the span of two Saturdays.  The sessions were fantastic and provided me with insights, resources and skills that are critical to being an effective mentor. The woman who conducted the sessions was compensated and paid by the participants and sponsoring organizations.  For her mentorship is a commodity.

It reminds me of a quote Bill Parcells made when asked by a reporter why he was getting so worked up over the loss of a football game.  Parcells answered that yes football for many is only a game but for him it was a profession.  Parcells makes a great point.  If the professional loses his passion he loses his profession. The distinction of a vocation and avocation is a question of receiving monetary or psychic remuneration.  Its up to everyone to decide what kind of treasure one stores up for oneself.

As many who have mentored know, mentors receive various kinds of compensation which may include the spiritual or emotional manna that serving and coaching others confers on the mentor.  That also applies in a corporate setting where a more senior executive is assigned to mentor and coach a younger or new company employee.   Though it may appear that the senior executive may be required to mentor as part of his job he still will be blessed with the benefit of psychic compensation that helping a mentee richly pays to the mentor.   The institutional interest is served because the mentor conveys the values and mores of the corporate culture to the new employee.   This is a critical function that all institutions need to do.   Without a shared and understood corporate ethos the sustainability of the institution is at risk.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a discussion on WNYC.   The guest was talking about how business models are radically changing.   Specifically he was speaking about Google and how it is transforming whole industries.   The “Google” revolution is seriously altering the business models of numerous industries that include advertising, newspapers and software subscription marketing to name but a few.   One of his points was that corporations need to discard the knowledge of the older workers because it was becoming increasingly irrelevant to the new emerging business practice paradigms.   Its a valid point that goes to the heart about the nature a revolution.   Total transformation changes mores and cultures.   The old has been overthrown by the new.   The implications are a difficult and scary truth to digest.    Particularly for a person like myself who has been in the world of business since 1979.

It is however written somewhere that there is nothing new under the sun.   And people who have been blessed with the experience of witnessing many sunrises have much to offer our world.   The global economic crisis has revealed a startling pervasiveness of institutional failure and the paucity of leadership.   This applies to business, politics, schools, places of worship and many communities we are part of. New leaders need to be raised up.    Mentoring people to assume positions of leadership is a critical priority of our nations recovery.

Cory Booker the Mayor of Newark NJ has stated that he believes that mentoring is one of the city’s most critical need if it is to break the cycle of deprivation, violence and cultural decay.   He is spot on.   Mentoring is an absolutely critical skill and vocation that we need to develop, encourage and commend.

President Obama in his inaugural address alluded to the passage from Corinthians “when I was a child” to implore his countrymen and women to grow into a more mature nation to meet the pressing challenges of our country and the world.   It is a clarion call for all mentors to come to the aid of their country.   We posted on this subject on Risk Rap which can be read here: When I Was A Child.

You Tube Music Video: Balam Garcia, Infant Eyes

Risk; lost generation, lost knowledge, socialization, community, civic values

March 8, 2009 Posted by | children, culture, education, teaching | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Terrorists Win

Banksy

As the United States begins an extended celebratory weekend to commemorate and honor the historic election of Barack Obama, the nation seems swept up in an immediate and intimate sense of history in the making. Most Americans are hopeful that the Obama Administration will turn a page on the damaging partisanship, fear mongering and narrow ideological rancor that has been the hallmark of recent Washington politics.

Millions of citizens are expected to make a pilgrimage to the citadel of world democracy to witness and participate in this historic event. Our nation has invested much hope in this man to turn the page and the fortunes of our nation around. The United States and the world are eagerly watching, praying, anticipating, eager to touch, experience and witness this event. For the rest of our lives the question will be asked, where were you on the day Obama took office? What were your thoughts? What was your opinion about what he said during his inaugural address?

For children in the Oakland Public Schools the answer will be sitting through another nondescript day of classes because the school board has prohibited the live viewing of the event due to fear that something bad will happen. I am unsure and very dismayed about where this type of thinking comes from. God forbid if something terrible does happen; the teacher can quickly turn off the TV to protect the students from witnessing any bloody carnage that may occur if terrorists do strike.

Its most unfortunate to deprive our children of witnessing this historic event. The peaceful transformation of power is a vital event all Americans should witness in order to understand and appreciate its deep significance for the freedoms a democratic republic offers. The Oakland School Board has ceded an opportunity to offer its students a once in a life time learning experience due to an overriding fear of terrorism. Fearful people are not free people. Its a lesson that the Oakland Public Schools need to learn.

The terrorists win this one.

You Tube Video: Dusty Springfield, Spooky

Risk: education, psychology

January 17, 2009 Posted by | Banksy, education, government, pop, psychology, terrorism, TV | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Knowledge is Good

The state college and university system is confronted with mounting challenges as state and federal funding sources continue to trim budget allocations to these vital institutions. State funded college education is a critical social service and support institution that provides higher education opportunities to our lower and middle class citizens. The availability of affordable and accessible public education is critical to maintain an efficiently functioning democratic society. Education offers economically disadvantaged people the hope of social advancement, cultural assimilation and a chance to realize the greater aspirations of America’s promise.

As state funding for higher education decreases, consumers will have to pay more. Colleges will need to scale back offerings and will be required to become more of a market driven enterprise. They will also need to rely more on the largess of alumni and corporate support to remain economically viable.

Cutting state colleges loose to navigate the ebbs and flows of the market economy threatens institutional independence and moves state education services one step closer to privatization. On the positive side this will encourage and inform institutional development and program initiatives that address the needs of the diverse communities’ state colleges serve. This will tend to temper the “ivory tower” criticism of academic institutions; but they must not lose sight of state college’s principal mission to enlighten citizens, serve cultural needs, enhance economic advancement potential and advance the political liberties of citizens.

State colleges are not vocational schools. Nor are they pools of labor and intellectual capital created to support these requirements of capitalist enterprises. As state colleges become more dependent on private sources of funding, it risks that its institutional culture will assume characteristics and political biases to support and advance the interests of its funding sources. This is another dangerous example of how privatization is assuming control of functions previously considered the domain of the state. The privatization of certain military functions, administration of elections and leasing highway toll road administration to private interests signals the growing pervasiveness state capitalism and commercial control over social and governmental institutions.

A free society requires educational institutions to be free from the control of special interests. Partnerships between corporations and public education institutions are critical to the success and growth of both parties. Academic freedom and the protection of the marketplace of ideas must never be compromised for the want of funding and must be guarded at all costs.

“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist wrote. Extra vigilance is required to assure that state education continues to be well funded and that the source of funds does not inhibit academic freedom and the ultimate liberty and freedom of expression of our citizens.

The challenge to maintain a standard of excellence, secure funding, maintain costs and create brand differentiation of the state college curriculum and service offering are keys to its survival. Like all market driven enterprises, state colleges need to create and market a unique value proposition. State colleges must balance course curriculum, services and institutional experience to equally serve its social constituents and commercial interests of its funding sources.

The experience of “No Child Left Behind” is a good example of a well intentioned policy that has harmed the primary education experience. NCLB’s places an emphasis on student’s ability to pass standardized tests. Test results are used as a metric to score the schools effectiveness and as a yardstick to reward good performance with additional funding. This program compromises the schools core education mission of instilling a love of learning to better prepare students to be productive members of society. NCLB more closely resembles a grant application process for capital funding that places the protection of the institution ahead of its mission to teach students.

Democracy requires citizens to possess an ability to question, reason and understand how dissimilar issues, events and disciplines intersect and connect in an increasingly complex world. State funded colleges are communities where these types of skills can be developed, nurtured and shared equally and dispersed widely to all members of the society.

That is what the original Lyceum was all about.

We close with a fight song from one of our great public universities, Hail to the Victors!

Risk: public education, civil liberties, informed electorate, participatory democracy, institutional bias, reputation risk, market risk

June 25, 2008 Posted by | education, government, pop, private equity, taxation | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment