Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Posts Tagged ‘Long Island

Cyberbullying and the suicide of a high school athlete

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In all seriousness: teenagers, if you’ve ever had the romantic notion that after you kill yourself, everyone will love you and miss you, then you haven’t been following the postscript of the March 21 suicide of West Islip, N.Y., high school student and star soccer player Alexis Pilkington.

That sounds a little cruel, because certainly plenty of people do love and miss the 17-year-old senior, who was set to play small-college soccer on her home Long Island after graduating in June. However, plenty of people have decided to treat her in death like apparently she was treated the same way in the waning days of her life — hounded by cyberbullying.

Suffolk County (N.Y.) police are investigating whether any criminal charges can or should be brought in the cyberbullying that apparently plagued Alexis Pilkington before she killed herself at her home. While plenty of people are ready to blame cyberbullying — the act of online harassment that’s quickly replacing getting the shit beat out of you or having your lunch money taken as the most popular form of bullying — for the girl’s decision to end her life, her family said she was undergoing counseling for an unspecified problem. “She was sick,” the West Islip Tribune quoted an uncle as saying. “She was fighting an illness we’ll never understand.”

Almost one month before Pilkington’s suicide, a speaker came to her school to discuss his son’s 2003 suicide, and how after the fact he discovered his son fighting off classmates online, or what were to become known as cyberbullies. It’s not known whether Pilkington attended that session, although school officials were quoted in local newspaper as saying that as a popular girl and sports star, she probably wouldn’t have.

At this point, it’s unclear exactly the nature of cyberbullying against Pilkington — who was doing it, what it was about, and why it was happening. Some friends have pointed the finger at Formspring.me, a new social networking site that allows users to register so they can ask and answer questions from other users, and have those questions and answers streamed to their Facebook and Twitter pages. Only a few days before Pilkington’s suicide, the company got a round of venture capital funding and made its big move from Indianapolis to Silicon Valley. I presume this is not the kind of big publicity it wanted right about now.

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A tribute video that takes a moment to lambaste Formspring.me.

Is cyberbullying responsible for Alexis Pilkington’s death? I’m not sure there’s a definite answer to that. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists “isolation” as a contributing factor to suicide, and no doubt being constantly harassed online, particularly from peers or people you thought were your friends, can be incredibly isolating.

Legally, cyberbullying is not treated as an accessory to murder or manslaughter in case of suicide. On March 29, nine teenagers were charged in the high-profile cyberbullying of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant to South Hadley, Mass., who killed herself Jan. 14. The charges were related to harassment and violation of civil rights (though two teens with statutory rape charges show that not all the alleged problems were online in nature.)

All we really know is: cyberbullying doesn’t help. And we know that for the most part parents, stuck in a generation gap where back in their day bullying required face-to-face contact, aren’t taking it seriously. I went to a talk at my son’s junior high school delivered by John Halligan, the same parent who appeared at West Islip High. More than 150 chairs were set up in the gym. Seven parents showed up.

As with old-time fist-in-the-face bullying, the problem is getting parents to believe their sweet little child is capable of something so nasty, but what makes cyberbullying especially problematic is that those parents are even less inclined to believe those words can hurt more than sticks and stones. (My wife and I just took texting off my 10-year-old daughter’s cell phone when two girls who have been friends started barraging her with disparaging remarks, rather than going through the dead end of confronting their parents about it.)

Also, as this scathing West Islip Tribune editorial points out, maybe growing seeing their parents flip out during youth sporting events, Tea Party rallies and long lines at the grocery checkout have given kids the idea that flipping out is an acceptable emotion to be used at any time.

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“I learned it by watching you!”

What’s even more unfortunate is that the cyberbullying of Alexis Pilkington isn’t resting after her death. Despite attempts to take down objectionable posts and photos as quickly as possible, an RIP site set up on Facebook is still rife with disparaging comments and obscene pictures. That’s resulted in another Facebook site ripping those who ripped her on the other site, which of course has attracted people to rip Alexis Pilkington on that site, too. A 15-year-old in West Islip has put up her own anti-cyberbullying Facebook site in response to all of this (the pre- and post-life activity), but who knows when that site will get blasted, too? (And, by the way, people have set up scores of malware sites for those who look at their pages to find out more regarding Alexis Pilkington’s death.)

Unlike the cyberbullying Pilkington apparently received before her suicide, it appears that much of the post-death traffic is coming from those who don’t know her, especially because I’ve seen references to the notorious message board denizens of 4chan.

Technically, that would not be cyberbullying, but trolling. No matter. Just remember, teens, that while you imagine yourself looking down from Heaven as the masses cry out your name, you’ll also be saying a lot of other people taking the opportunity to sully your name  without you around to defend it.

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What fiend burned a dollar sign into the East Hampton football field?

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The police would sure like to know. It’s been nearly two weeks after someone burned a dollar sign in the middle of the $1 million synthetic turf field at East Hampton High School in the tony Long Island enclave that’s summer home to the likes of Stephen Spielberg and Sean Combs. That someone also left a five-page note (and sent copies to local newspaper) raging about how the school board wasting tax money on things like, well, a $1 million synthetic turf field.

It would seem a dollar sign would be an appropriate symbol to have on the field, or the team’s helmets, given the town’s reputation. However, East Hampton has finances that would Californians feel sorry for its plight. The city of 21,000 year-round residents had to get state approval to float $15 million worth of bonds to cover 2007 and 2008 deficits, but East Hampton is looking at another $4.1 million in deficits for 2009, not counting the $1.9 million in 2008 money that won’t be covered by the bonds. As a result, the town is talking layoffs.

East Hampton had a foreclosure problem pop up at the beginning of 2008, and certainly the Wall Street bust and the (perhaps temporary) end of the big-bonus era is killing property values. But a state audit also found that the people running East Hampton were running it, all right — into the ground. That’s on top of the school system’s own financial struggles, although the $1 million synthetic turf field in question was approved as part of an $80 million referendum in 2007. Why not just yank up taxes on the wealthy? Because the residents aren’t all wealthy. The 2000 Census put 12 percent of them below the poverty line, and the city also has a sizable illegal immigrant population that helps support the summer residents.

By the way, it’ll cost $100,000 to fix the burnt field.

At this point, there is no list of suspects. There is no one local crank under suspicion. That’s because even in East Hampton, the tax protesters are out, and an afternoon tea is no longer only held in a mansion.

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Written by rkcookjr

July 16, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Ponzi Arena at Madoff Park

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It seems like everything week we get word of another high-flying financier busted for running a high-flying finance firm that’s nothing but the low finance of pyramid schemes. In this week’s installment of Ponzis on Parade, we get a guy who not only screwed over investors, but also children who thought they would be playing sports this winter!

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A large Long Island youth sports complex is going to be shut down for quite some time after its financier was busted on charges related to running a Ponzi scheme, according to Newsday. Well, it’s not like anyone could get too used to the place: it was opened one Saturday morning, and shut down by fire marshals that same afternoon.

Even before its financier got busted, the facility was under siege (rightfully so, it sounds like) from city hall over its construction, and the federal charges only finalize what has been going on since early December — apparently hundreds of young soccer, football, baseball, basketball and lacrosse players are either scrambling to find somewhere else to play, or just out of luck because of the closure of the $3.5 million National Tournament Athletic Center in Hauppage, N.Y. Authorities say its funding came from a $370 million Ponzi scheme run by one Nicholas Cosmo, a 37-year-old now in jail on charges of mail fraud for a scheme that allegedly bilked more than 1,500 investors.

According to Newsday, Cosmo also used $300,000 to fund a travel baseball league he founded. If you were planning on having your child in the NTB Travel Baseball League this spring, you might want to make other arrangements. (I called both numbers on the Web site — one sends you to an automatic voicemail with Nick Cosmo saying his name, and a prerecorded note that he is not available. Boy, isn’t he. The other number is for Agape World, his finance company. If you press 0 for the operator, you get a message that the mailbox is full. Boy, isn’t it.)

I feel terrible for the children getting shafted through no fault of their own. However, I grow less and less sympathetic for the investors in supposed guaranteed-return deals. Nothing is guaranteed, folks. More than a year ago, a long, long thread started about Agape World on a site called FatWallet.com, where not only was it made clear that Cosmo had a previous felony conviction (with jail time) for fraud, but that he also had to get “intensive outpatient gambling therapy” as well. And it appears Cosmo appeared on the site to cop that it was all true!

And here people used to think the lottery was a tax on stupidity.