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March 21, 2012

Bully Documentary – Rated Important

Bullying is a big problem.  Over 13 million children in the U.S. are bullied each year.  The bullying can take the form of verbal, physical or cyber abuse.  In some cases, it can lead kids who have been the victims of constant bullying to take their own lives.

bullyingBully is a new movie about bullying and will soon be hitting theaters around the country.  However, the film has been given an R rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  This means that kids will have to see the movie with their parents, and also it cannot be shown in schools, where it is most needed.  For example, the Cincinnati School District signed on to bus 40,000 of their students to the movie – but because the Appeals Board retained the R rating, the School District will have to cancel those plans.  There have been protests about the R rating from many groups and also celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Streep, and Johnny Depp.  Twenty members of Congress have also requested a change in the rating.  The appeal to have the MPAA change the rating to PG-13, filed by Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the company which distributes the film, was denied.  The MPAA has defended its rating, pointing to the violence and raw language used in the film.

Former senator Chris Dodd, now chairman of the MPAA, extended a lifeline to the film’s distributor saying the film could launch unrated.  He was responding to criticism that much more graphic films, with a much less important message, have been assigned the PG-13 rating.

Bully – Trailer #1

Perhaps this is time when the MPAA leadership should think beyond the narrow confines of its charter.  By weighing the benefits of a PG-13 rating to expand the audience for this important documentary, the MPAA would make an immense contribution to the efforts of teachers, parents and kids to end bullying.  In this case, the visceral experience of bullying could motivate us as a nation to put an end to the violence that so many children have to deal with each day.


March 12, 2012

charity:water – Leading the World to Cleaner Water

ethiopian_women_carry_waterAccess to clean, safe drinking water is a big problem for over 1 billion people in the developing world.  These individuals must spend a great deal of time and energy simply collecting water that is often contaminated.  This represents a huge opportunity cost for those struggling to better themselves economically.  For example, in Africa over 40 billion hours a year are spent just hauling water from ponds, rivers or springs to villages where it is used.

Globally, diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war.  Over 30,000 people die each week from diseases due to unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions.  Tragically, 90% of these are children under the age of five.  The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation.

One group that has done more than almost any other is charity:water, founded in 2006 by Scott Harrison, whose first gig was playing in a rock band.  Dissatisfied with his life, Scott signed on as a photo journalist for Mercy Ships, a group of hospital ships operating along the western coast of Africa.  During his time there, he saw firsthand the devastation wrought by diseases caused by unclean drinking water.

Water Changes Everything – charity:water

scott harrison

Scott Harrison

Determined to do something about it, he returned to New York and set about designing a new kind of charity focused on bringing clean drinking water to people throughout the developing world. The organization he founded, charity:water, has raised over $50,000,000 and invested in over 4,000 water projects serving over 2 million people worldwide.   The approach taken by charity:water  to accomplish this informs us about the new generation of social entrepreneurs.

Proof – Scott was disappointed to learn that many of his peers didn’t donate to charities because they weren’t sure how the money would be used.  So he designed transparency and accountability into every water project undertaken by his organization. Charity:water provides GPS tracking and video cameras for every project so donors can see exactly how their money is being spent. Funding for the operation of the organization is raised separately – e.g., from grants and corporate sponsors.

Sustainability – The organization designed in sustainability to each project, so that it could be run by local water committees which oversee the management and maintenance of new wells.

Marketing – charity:water has been aggressive about teaming up with corporate partners and using a variety of publicity / marketing tools to recruit donors and volunteers.  Go to their website and you’ll see merchandise and e-gift cards used to make it fun and easy to donate to water projects.  The website is elegant and inviting, and packed with videos (versus walls of text).  charity:water has also been very adept at using social media to promote its cause and engage donors.

Crowdsourcing – The organization has set up mycharity:water which provides a way for individuals to help it raise money through events.

Branding – charity:water has branded itself in a very intentional manner so that donors will associate it with the values and approach it has painstakingly developed since its founding to achieve its mission.

charity:water has ambitious goals.  According to Scott Harrison, it wants to bring clean drinking water to 100,000,000 people by 2020.  That is a goal we can all drink to.


March 7, 2012

The Deadly Silent Rage of Troubled Youth


T.J. Lane under arrest

On Monday, February 27, 2012, T.J. Lane walked into his his high school cafeteria and shot three of his fellow students dead and seriously wounded two others.  Shortly afterwards, he quietly surrendered to police.  The community of Chardon, Ohio was stunned.  It seemed impossible to believe that Lane could perpetrate such a vicious, cold blooded act.  In fact, some neighbors and classmates, interviewed after the shootings, remembered him as “fun” and “easygoing.”

Even though school shootings have been in the news many times over the past decade, it seems we never get over being shocked when children murder other children.  The town of Chardon has come together to remember the victims and try to find its way forward after the tragedy.  But questions remain:  Why didn’t we see this coming?  Were there early warning signs that were missed?  How can we identify and help troubled youth like T.J. Lane to prevent such killings in the future?

There are many misconceptions about school shootings.  Some of the most common are detailed in an article by Bill Dedman of MSNBC.  As Dedman points out, there is no handy profile or set of personality characteristics that can be relied upon in these cases.  But usually there are warning signs.  Certainly in the case of T.J. Lane there were several.

First was his troubled family life.  For T.J. Lane, violence and abuse in his family life may have set the stage for the episode at Chardon High School. According to Christopher Johnston’s article on Time.com, there was a long history of abuse and physical assault between his mother and father.  Later, after he went to live with his grandparents, the trouble continued, and both he and his brother were charged with assaulting their uncle during an argument.  The incident that investigators believe might have triggered the shooting rampage was the breakup with his girlfriend.  Within the context of his rough and turbulent early life, he may have come to believe that violence was a way to express his feelings and resolve emotional difficulties.

Then there was the poem he had written on his Facebook page which ended with the lines,

“Feel death, not just mocking you. Not just stalking you, but inside of you. Wriggle and writhe. Feel smaller beneath my might. Seizure in the Pestilence that is my scythe. Die, all of you.”

Finally, there was the relatively easy access to guns.  T.J. Lane apparently used a gun which he stole from a family member.  The Christian Science Monitor noted: “It is not yet certain whether the handgun was properly stored, had its ammunition removed, or was secured with locks preventing its use — all factors that that gun safety advocates say are critical in preventing gun access by children.  According to a 2000 study by the US Secret Service, 65 percent of school shootings up to that point involved a gun obtained from the juvenile shooter’s home or that of a close relative.”

Elizabeth Flock of the Washington Post reports that, ironically, the Ohio state legislature has been considering passage of legislation which would make it easier for individuals to take concealed weapons into,among other places, government buildings, private and public colleges, daycare centers and churches.  (The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence rated Ohio only a 7 out of a possible score of 100 in terms of strong gun laws).

chardon-high-school-memorialThankfully, homicide statistics show that school shootings have declined by almost half over the past decade.  Yet, the horrific nature of these crimes should motivate us to probe more fully the link between prolonged exposure to violence as a child and future violent behavior as a teen or young adult.  It is within our power to avert these crimes if we can learn to be more careful observers of our children’s behavior and act on any warning signs we see, no matter how small.