Thursday, November 28, 2013

Idiots, Arsonists, and a Sad Heritage

Idiots, Arsonists, and a Sad Heritage:

Last Friday, arsonists set fire to the abandoned LeBeau Plantation in Arabi, Louisiana.  The building has a storied past complete with tales of ghosts and a sad heritage.  Originally built by Francois Barthelemy LeBeau as a weekend getaway, the plantation was completed the same year the wealthy aristocrat died.  The building remained in his family as a hotel and then casino until 1905. Joseph Mereaux purchased the property in the 1960s; however, the once ornate structure soon fell into disrepair. 

Like many plantations of long ago, the old building boasts a troubled past.  The LeBeau family was rumored to be extraordinarily cruel to the slaves. Rumors abound that some of the family members murdered slaves and then forced the other slaves to bury their comrades.  Still other tales of suicide (apparently some LeBeau members wound up hanging from the rafters by their own hands) and mayhem persist.  Even in the 1970s, the then-rented house was the scene of tragedy when a little girl seemingly was thrown from a window, and rumor circulated that a flesh and blood person was not her murderer.  Lore has it that the ghosts of former slaves haunt the premises.  Lights supposedly switch on and off—even though the electricity has long been non-existent on the property.  Still others have told of a lady in a white dress who passes by the windows. Is she one of the mourning LeBeau ladies?  

The men charged with arson allegedly were smoking weed and ghost-hunting when they set a T-shirt on fire and threw it into a stack of combustibles. Frankly, I think they were on stuff stronger than weed.  Meth, anyone? Maybe their defense could be that a ghost told them to do it. Actually, I don’t mean to belittle anyone.  Some may argue that the old building came to a just end. It was the scene of suffering and torture—a monument to the injustice once visited upon a group of people in this country.  Still, I only can hope that some remnant of that property can rise from the ashes and become a monument—not to injustice but survival.  Wouldn’t it be just if some church or charitable organization could purchase the property and make it a home for troubled youth? Then, the scene of so much misery would become a place of hope like the old Milne Boys Home in New Orleans or like the one-time Penny Lane in Liverpool, England; LeBeau Plantation would rise Phoenix-like from the ashes to save disturbed young people and at least begin to heal past wounds.  While I know nothing can make amends for the horrors slaves faced, maybe their ghosts can rest knowing that the place of their misery is now a place where people try to save young people like those who torch buildings. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A School Lesson in Steubenville, Ohio

Earlier this year, a great deal of press was given to a shameful incident involving students at a Steubenville, Ohio school.  The case involved the rape of a teenager at a party. The girl was intoxicated, and her attackers were well-respected members of the school football team.  One can only imagine the kind of mob mentality that took over that night.  The girl’s impaired state was no excuse for the behavior of the young men who took advantage of the girl’s diminished capacity, but what is most shocking is the behavior of school authorities that engaged in a conspiracy to protect the football players. 

A school superintendant, a counselor, and a coach have been charged for their various roles in the alleged cover up—and they should rightly be held accountable.  Even if those “adults” did not take part in the crime, their responsibility as school officials and representatives was to report the incident and take the necessary disciplinary steps, not conceal a crime.

Parents and students should feel that teachers, counselors, and other school officials have their best interests at heart.  Protecting the players who attacked the girl helped no one.  Those predators needed to learn a lesson and accept the consequences of their actions.  Some will argue that the girl should have behaved more responsibly, and indeed, she should have.  However, cruel, insensitive people conspired to use her foolishness to their advantage and make her a victim.  “Adults” who should have looked out for her interests and not simply pandered to the local celebrities then betrayed her by protecting those who made her a victim. 

As a teacher, I have long been told what my responsibilities were. Any time a crime against a child is suspected, adults must speak up and see that the proper authorities investigate.  If the suspicions or accusations are proven untrue, the school representative will not be charged—as long as he or she acted in good faith.  If a school authority does not act, the negligent person can be held responsible.  If that official suspects physical or sexual abuse by friends or guardians, he or she must act.  If someone brings a suspicion to that person’s attention, he or she must act.  That school authority cannot protect the teacher, coach, or counselor who may be a friend.  The school official cannot protect the suspected person’s children from scandal.  Students who terrorize or brutalize each other cannot be spared as well.  Playing favorites on such an important issue cannot be tolerated.  The endangered student must be the priority.  Those school officials in Ohio should be removed from their positions and stripped of their licenses.  Some should even face jail time.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hypocritical People

The hypocrisy of some people never ceases to amaze me, especially by those people who are religious hypocrites.  I know of many people who profess high religious ideals, but they have little charity or compassion.  They judge others, believing themselves morally superior to their fellow beings.  They gaze with disdain on those of us who are lowly sinners and proclaim their own superiority with booming authority.

I know several people who epitomize this hypocrisy.  When a local school sponsored a diaper drive to help women in crisis pregnancies, many responded with true charity and generosity; however, two people responded with judgmental cruelty.  One young teacher said, “No one had ever bought me diapers.” This comment comes from a woman whose husband makes a handsome salary as a pharmaceutical salesman.  Yet another said, “Those women bring it on themselves, and I never asked anyone for anything.” This same person has asked her administration for many breaks at her job as a result of ill health, and those in charge have been most generous.  Where would she be without someone’s generosity and charity?

Maybe these uncharitable comments derive from the frequent misconception that any poor people or “women in crisis” are derelicts who despise hard work, but that is stereotypical thinking and not always the case.  Most of us are not millionaires.  Many of us are poor, not because they don’t work, but because they have not achieved the education, opportunities, or simply the breaks others have obtained.  They are not all lazy welfare queens looking for handouts from rich women who teach Catholic school.  Ironically, one of these women also hails from a family of recent immigrants.  What would have happened to her family had some bigoted Americans shut the door on her family? Does she also not realize that some people would despise her for her Hispanic heritage just as she despises those women who are “in crisis”?

These calloused, cruel people also profess strong Catholic ideals and Christian spirit. I wonder if they would rather the woman in crisis abort her baby because she can’t afford them or drown her existing children in the bathtub. Then, these same women would condemn those women as foul murderers and unnatural mothers.  They condemn people who rely on food banks as “lazy,” but I wonder if they would rather those hungry, desperate people commit suicide rather than accept charity.  Aren’t such acts also sin? What some of these spoiled people don’t realize is that they one day may need help, and I’m sure they would condemn the people who turn a deaf ear. Some people just like to condemn others. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

George Zimmerman and Rage

Earlier this year, George Zimmerman managed to divide this country.  His name and that of his young victim aroused deep emotions among various segments of our society, dividing the country along racial lines.  Did Martin say something to provoke Zimmerman? Why did Zimmerman continue to pursue a potentially dangerous person even after police urged him not to do so? We may never know the answers to those questions, but the rhetoric following the event was intense, inflammatory, and divisive. My guy and I were at a function where an elderly white man obviously wanted to hold onto some imaginary territory.  To him, Zimmerman's innocence was clear.  This young punk had broken his nose.  Zimmerman acted in self-defense. Yet another white guy, ex-military, told the other elderly man they were going to "take back the country."  From whom, I wonder? Why did these two older white males feel so threatened by this trial and its outcome? I see this need to hold onto territory in the pages of social media outlets, the media, and in private conversations. Many white people assume that because I'm white I hold their racist views.  What I find ironic is that some of the very people who supported Zimmerman at his trial would--under normal circumstances--hate him and his Hispanic heritage because "those people" also have made inroads into a once predominantly white culture.

Now, however, we are seeing a darker side to George Zimmerman. His wife left him, casting doubt on his innocence and pure motives.  He has gone to jail because of violence against the girlfriend he tried to choke.  In his rage against her, Zimmerman said he had "nothing to lose." We don't know if Zimmerman's rage existed before he killed young Martin, but I wonder about the people who supported him before.  Do they still condone his violence against women? Is that acceptable, too? I'm not judging him.  I don't know what has happened in his life, and I know that God also holds those people accountable who judge others.  Still, we have to wonder now what happened on that street earlier this year.  Was Zimmerman provoked and couldn't hold his temper? Why are people so easily enraged these days?  Would the outcome of this whole tragic ordeal been different had Zimmerman walked away and let police handle the situation as he'd been urged to do?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Violence, Labeling, and Hatred

Every day, we read about violence.  For some of us, the violence is on our streets and too close to home.  We also hear of the violence occurring in war-torn countries--violence against civilians in the form of rape, murder, and pillage.  Since humankind's existence, we have found ways to torture our fellow human beings.  In war, countries often initiate conflicts for ostensibly lofty reasons when in reality, they want no more than to snatch land from someone else.  Still other wars are fought because someone decides he or she doesn't like the indigenous population of a region.  They may be the "wrong" race, ethnic group, religion or political philosophy. Labeling them "The Other" is easy.  We have someone to hate, and at times, finding that "other" is safer than learning about that person, finding out what makes him or her tick, and then making a friend. "Those people: are easy to hate because of their race, religion, etc.  Too often, haters cloak their animosity in the language of righteousness.  Hitler did this injustice in Nazi Germany.  Jews were "Christ-killers," and their fellow Germans were right, even holy, in condemning them.  Westerners did this to Blacks taken in the slave trade in Africa.  The color of someone's skin relegated him or her to the status of a slave. Any violence could be committed against that individual because he or she was no longer a person.

We can all see ourselves as superior in some way. Most of us would say we "aren't prejudiced," but even those who don't use ethnic or religious slurs often hold deep-rooted bias.  Still, we think we are above people like Hitler and his Nazi goons.  "This" couldn't happen in our country.  Well, it did.  We enslaved people.  We put out signs saying, "No Irish need apply." We rounded up Japanese Americans during a time of war and placed them in camps. No country is in any way superior to another in the "hatred" department.

And what of the violence in our streets? We hear young people say this or that  person wasn't in their neighborhood, their church, or of their color. Again, we have turf war, and the victims of those wars have been labeled "The Other" by someone. Being "Th Other" negated that person's right to exist.  Another who found him or herself superior had the right to stamp out the life of "The Other" or outcast.

When will we stop seeing our fellow beings as "The Other"?

Taking Responsibility in Schools

As a teacher, I'm always amazed that so many people don't want to take responsibility for their actions. Some of my students find inane excuses for not doing assignments or homework.  Maybe part of it is our busy lifestyle, but some of it is also a desire to avoid work and then blame someone else.  I've actually heard students say, "My grade dropped because she gave me a zero on my homework." Well, the student had a zero because he/she didn't do the homework. Sorry, Sugarplum, but that was your responsibility to do the work in a timely fashion.

Don't get me wrong.  Kids are not alone in this. An incident involving students lying was almost totally ignored by a disciplinarian at a certain school.  Her response to the teacher was, "Why don't you email the students and speak to them? You know the details." Well, the teacher did speak to the girls, but she wouldn't see them until last period.  The instructor more than willing to speak to them, but this wimp also needs to do so. She has the real power.  The teacher explained that she would be in class as a teacher and a sub nearly the whole day.  Couldn't THE DISCIPLINARIAN call the girls down and speak to them with the teacher at a specific time when the teacher was out of class? Why do some people collect a paycheck if they are so inept? The teacher had caught the deception and dealt with it as best she could, but a higher authority also needed to take control when the incident involved lying and a direct violation of school policy.

Too many people in authority have no guts.  Another friend of mine was denigrated by a parent while the principal stood by, doing nothing.  The principal feared the parent and was more than willing to see a veteran teacher smeared by a parent upset because his child had a C.  Gee, Mister, did you think your kid was going to be valedictorian? Maybe the child needs to do her homework and take her tests.  Mr. Principal, you say you value my friend as a teacher, but you let a parent become almost violent.  Maybe you really want my friend--who is set the top of the pay scale--to quit.

Our society wants to hold teachers accountable for everything.  I'm a fan of accountability, but I also think we have to make students accountable for what they must do, and we need to make parents accountable, too.  Don't assume your child will pass an AP class and ace the national test when she doesn't do her homework or at least make an effort.  Don't assume every elective will be easy.  Your child might not pass if he or she doesn't work.  It's called "Creative Writing" for a reason.  Why has your child taken the class if he or she doesn't have a creative bone in his or her body or doesn't even want to make an effort.  I'll answer for what I must do in the classroom, but I'd love if someone else occasionally took responsibility.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Vows and True Love

This year, I've been to three weddings.  A colleague married in early summer, and my precious goddaughter married in mid-summer.  Yet another relative married this weekend.  I'm thrilled for these young people and wish them the best, but at one time, I questioned the validity of marriage.  Many of the couples I'd met were unhappy, arguing over money, sex, and children.  We live in a world beset by misery: crime, corruption, and natural disasters afflict the whole world.  Why do people stand before clergymen and take vows? Maybe that's the reason I started to write romance.  I believed in true love in the abstract, but I had little faith in it in reality.  Nevertheless, I wanted to believe that true devotion and commitment were possible. Many of my books look at lovers who hold it together no matter what the odds.  In Love at War, my protagonist Nuala joins the war effort to avenge the death of her husband.  In Pirate Woman, Grainne supports her husbands--both of them--even when they are idiots.  In The Doctor and the War Widow, wounded Harley finds true love again after losing her husband to war. (All of my books are available at

I still, however, felt love had eluded me personally. Then, after Hurricane Isaac when I was really down, I met Ben.  There was just something about him.  I made him chase me--but not too far. He called me a lot, and I liked it.  After several months, something started to happen.  I really missed him when he wasn't around.  I always wanted to be with him. If he was ill, I worried about him.  He makes me happy. I want to make him happy. Instead of only shopping for myself, I find myself shopping for Jerry Garcia ties.  He buys me skirts and calendars.  I now listen to the Grateful Dead and call myself his Scarlet Begonia.  Love, who would have thought I'd find it? I guess it's only write that a writer find real love.

A Tale of Two Nuns

When I was in kindergarten, my parents introduced me to Catholic school education.  I hated kindergarten because I was very attached to my mother, and I wanted to be with her during the day.  However, kindergarten was overall a pleasant experience.  Then, I began first grade at another Catholic school. The clientele was different, to say the least. These students came from a much more upper middle class background. They reeked privilege and were rotten, spoiled brats.  The "religious" who populated the school were no better--well, most were not. These nuns were from Ireland and were used to disciplining children in a much more stringent manner.  Well, I'm not against discipline, but the "discipline and justice" doled out by these women was only "injustice" and "cruelty." They used corporal punishment--which then was legal. However, they meted out their "discipline" to only the less affluent children.  My father was not the doctor or lawyer as were some fathers.  He trained race horses and owned a bar.  We had working class roots, and ironically, were of Irish descent.  One Irish nun in particular tortured those of us who had less than the more well-off spoiled brats.  I was quiet, but any mistake I made met with this one woman's ire.  She humiliated me and others more quiet or less aggressive.  I couldn't stand her. I left that school thinking religion was invalid and the domain of rich men.  This woman had come from a poor background herself, yet she hated those of us less prissy and those who came from less important families.  Some of the lay teachers were kinder, and I left with a terrible image of religious people.

My mother still insisted I attend Catholic high school.  She thought that was my ticket to some mythical top she hoped our family would reach.  Well, it was no Mecca, but I did meet one woman--again a nun, who changed my perspective on religion and on teaching. Sr. Martha Maguire was also an Irishwoman, but unlike her mercenary and unjust countrywoman, Sr. Martha loved her students--all of us. She didn't reject us because we were less wealthy than some. In fact, she decried injustice of any kind and advocated equal rights for all races. She identified with African-Americans because she knew how the Irish had suffered under British injustice and decried the lack of Black students in our school.  When one girl had a baby out of wedlock and then saw it die at birth, Sr. Martha was the only teacher to pray for her.  The others--religious and lay alike--were silent in their righteousness.

I became a teacher because of women like Sr. Martha--not because of those like that other cruel woman, and I prayed that I would be able to inspire my students as she did me. i think I've reached most of them.  They tell me things like, "I loved your class. We cold tell you cared about us." Others say, "You were tough, but you taught me to write." Others say, "I still hear your voice when I think of Macbeth."

Thank you, Sr. Martha.  And to that other woman who shall not be named--I'm quoting Shakespeare, "Leave her to Heaven."