Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bookmarks – Stranger in Paradise

I had read a couple other books in the late Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series, but I clearly have missed a few things, such as Stone’s little affair with Sunny Randall (a character from another series). Some other events mentioned in Stranger in Paradise were news to me. In his Spenser stories, Parker does a pretty good job of giving the reader just enough information so one can keep up, but not so much as to drag down the narrative. I didn’t feel lost here, but since the character is what I am interested in, these little jolts did make me feel as if I’d been out of town too long. Perhaps I have.

Stranger in Paradise includes a character from one of the books I had read before, a killer named Crow. He has returned to Paradise to retrieve the teenage daughter of a Florida gangster. But when Crow refuses to kill the mother (he has a particular fondness for women that is never explained), a series of events unfolds that includes a gang of thugs the teen girl has taken up with, and a self-righteous woman bent on keeping a group of underprivileged children from coming into Paradise for an education.

There is Parker’s trademark dialogue, right out of the Raymond Chandler handbook, and Stone’s goofy and complicated relationship with Jenn (which is much like the relationship between Spenser and Susan). The story is what Parker fans have come to expect. Nothing seems new here, but it nevertheless enjoyable. Stranger in Paradise is a well-paced escape.

We do have an unbelievable climax that involves a shootout with two groups of bad guys providing Stone and Crow what they want (mostly). This and the rather neatly tied ending may seem far-fetched, but if you get that far in the story, you probably won’t mind.

NOTE: Much to my shame for not knowing earlier, I found out as I was finishing this review that Mr. Parker died of a heart attack in January. A nice obituary which also discusses similarities between Parker and his best known creation can be found here.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Reading Response – Of Bullies and School Administrators

Have been following the story of several teenagers who have been charged in connection with the suicide of Phoebe Prince since running across this New York Times article. I find it troubling that any children in a country that presumes to value tolerance would be able to destroy their consciences enough to allow themselves to do the sort of things that were clearly done to this young girl. I am almost as appalled that there are parents who justify the cruelty of their children and school teachers and administrators who pick and choose who they are going to protect.
Laws and programs about bullying can give schools the opportunity to be democratic when they have never really been. In the past, teachers and principals turned a blind eye when a kid was being picked on if that young person was not popular, seemed “weird,” or didn’t fit in. They didn’t do much about verbal harassment, unless the one talking used profanity. With an emphasis now on paying attention to different forms of harassment and better training of teachers, the opportunity is there to stop abuse and give just punishments to offenders.
But what really happens is often the same old thing, only now it is clothed with programs and posters and sweet sounding reassurances that every child is safe, and any perpetrator will be severely dealt with, no matter how well connected. What really happens is that if your child is the sort of person that seems an easy target  for bullies, “no tolerance” means the bullied kid will get punished if they do anything wrong, even if defending him or herself.
I have seen it with my own kids. One of my children spent much of a year being tortured with pushing, hitting, name calling and threats by a little boy while their teacher only seemed to notice my daughter complaining. I had to threaten the school with the unwanted publicity of a lawsuit and the child’s family with an assault charge to get the teacher and principal to even separate the two. They continued to maintain the boy was an innocent victim. Strange that a couple years later, at her middle school, the same boy tried to bully my daughter  one time and the teacher then was able to take action right away that has thus far halted the problem.
My son was once picked on every single day by several people, and yet when I went to pick him up from school, I had to go through a gauntlet of teachers who had to tell me about how he wouldn’t do any work and how he wouldn’t try to get along with his classmates. HELLO? Did you get the idea that a kid who withdraws like that and blows up at people calling him names isn’t just “sensitive”? It got so bad, we had to remove him from school. He’s back now, but was sent home from a class trip when he was picked on by one of his former tormentors (oddly, no chaperones were available) and lashed out with “bad language.” No punishment for the kid who used foul language to hurt my kid. No reprimand for the chaperones who couldn’t be bothered to stay in the cabin with the boys. No investigation into the incident. Just me having to listen to a teacher tell me that my son was ruining the trip for everyone else.
Now I look at the case of Phoebe Prince and I am again flabbergasted that school administrators claim they knew nothing about what was happening to her. I just don’t buy it. I know that it is difficult for teachers to see everything. But how can dozens of students witness incidents in a hallway or assembly and not one teacher or one administrator see it? This is part of what they are supposed to be looking for. I have a hard time believing that one student couldn’t say something in confidence to an adult. Doing so might well have saved this girl’s life. Someone knew something and could have done something. Most of the members of this community should be hanging their heads in shame.
A parent of another girl who had been a target by at least one of those charged stated that his daughter endured bullying for THREE YEARS and could get nothing done. Eventually an apology came after the fact. What kind of school are they running here? It seems to be one like so many in America, one that sends the message “Our job is not to protect your child. Our job is to make sure they come often enough to be drilled through standardized testing so we can get our funding. Those who are mean and cruel are rewarded. The unique and the different deserve the pain they get.”
I fear that after all the media frenzy about this case dies down, many will forget that there are still bullies and abusers in every school and that they come in many different packages with many different weapons. I am afraid schools will start new “anti-bullying” programs that will do no more to educate and empower students, teachers, and administrators than before, but only dress the same ignored messages in nice, comfortable language. I worry that we will continue to take the playground bully and the classroom abuser and raise him or her up to be the next Bernie Madoff or Ted Bundy.
But, you bullies out there, I am not afraid of you. I have some hope. My kids have some good people in their lives: family, friends, teachers, principals, coaches, scout leaders, ministers and others whose love can help to overcome the evil of willful ignorance.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Reading Response – Of Parents in Books

This evening read an interesting article from the New York Times by Julie Just called, “The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit.” Reminded me of something I wrote years ago about the dearth of positive parent figures, particularly fathers, in television and movies. Just’s article seems to focus mostly on mothers, and I found her look interesting. She doesn’t appear to have as big a problem as I do with so many books having parents who are crazy, absent, abusive, or self-absorbed. But she doesn’t applaud this either. I do wish she’d mentioned the excellent novels by Madeleine L’Engle, where the parents are flawed but still in authority (without having to be overbearing or dictatorial) and still worthy of respect.
There are a great many aspects of life that we, as a society, seem impelled to take an either/or approach to, and how to draw parental figures is one of them. Why we cannot, in all forms of art, have more mothers and fathers who are real, and who do the best they can despite the whining and selfishness of so many television fed teens, is beyond the scope of my understanding.
Don’t tell me it isn’t possible, that it won’t sell if the parents are too real and if they are right most of the time. I’ve seen it work over and over.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Reading Response – Of Team Building

I honestly could not, at first, believe what I was reading. I’d been following a story about football players at Texas A&M Commerce getting busted for possession of marijuana (and other things), when the story took an odd twist. Many of the members of the football team were implicated in stealing copies of school paper, The East Texan, in which the arrest was reported. Then head football coach Guy Morriss (thank Jesus, no relation!) called the thefts “The best team building exercise we have ever done.”
I shook my head. I read again. It was still there. I should have known. This mindset has always been there. I guess I just didn’t expect anyone to openly defend it.
College sports, and football in particular, is filled with people who have decided they live by a different set of rules, rules that make them lords of the universe and anyone who gets in their way or questions them be damned.
Team building? I know that Coach Morriss has since apologized for his statement. But I cannot help be think that he still thinks he and his players are above the law. Essentially a bunch of spoiled athletes did not like that teammates were not only caught in the act of a couple of felonies, but that a newspaper had the audacity to report it. So to “build” the team, they commit another crime (one for which the university has yet to take appropriate action). Sounds like the reasoning of a Mafioso.
Coach Morriss, if that is what you think is good for your team and the school you represent, then you can fucking have it!
I love sports, absolutely love it. But crap like this has all but ruined the joy once took I take in watching and reading about my favorite teams. This once included A&M Commerce.
This is one more example that in our culture athletes are a privileged class of people. We barely speak about the supposed “student athlete” who has no interest in education and who openly flaunts his disrespect of anyone in authority (except their coaches, of course), particularly their instructors. Most in our culture, in fact, regard teachers more often as obstacles to success, and many college athletes ramp up that attitude as if the idea itself is on steroids.
A member of the school’s Student Government Association even called the matter “over” after Morriss apologized in a statement. (For those of you not familiar with some of these fancy terms, “statement” refers to a weak-assed apology, probably not written by the coach himself, that is supposed to be a public witness of the contrite feelings he doesn’t really have about the actions that have embarrassed his employer, who has no intention of taking the kind of action against his employee that would be taken against the rest of us if we found ourselves in the same position.) So now even elected voices of the student body have helped us rest easy by sweeping more bullshit under the rug.
The president of the university has called the Morriss’ statement about “team building” “a misguided attempt at humor.” Really? That’s what you call it? The president seems to have forgotten that the coach told police he knew nothing about the thefts, and said about The East Texan “I don’t read that crap.”
I just want to get a few things straight: Lying to the police is okay. Theft is “team building.” People who write things you don’t like to hear are publishers of “crap.”  And President Dan Jones is okay with this. Morriss’ has pretended to be sorry, and he and his players have been “disciplined.” I’ll believe that when I see it.
In the meantime, I am not going to be surprised when another spoiled prince of an athlete has his way with us, or when some jerk of a coach or athletic director defends his actions.