Duggars, true crime

Josh Duggar is getting out of jail today…

I woke up this morning to the news that Josh Duggar will be temporarily released from jail today. Six days ago, Josh turned himself in, his wife Anna at his side, having been busted on federal charges for two counts of receiving and possessing images depicting child sexual abuse. Before I went to bed last night, I read an article that provided more details about Josh’s case. Federal agents found about 200 images on Josh’s computer, which was heavily rigged to deceive his wife, Anna. All of the images involved very young female children, some of whom were toddler aged. Despite all of that talk about the Duggars monitoring Internet usage and avoiding “wordly” things like pop music and television, Josh has developed some very sick obsessions that he’s accessed online. And despite his training at the School of the Dining Room Table, Josh is surprisingly tech savvy. He knows how to go to the dark, sleazy underworld on the Internet to satisfy his sick obsessions and perversions.

Frankly, as much as I dislike prison as a punishment, I think prison is exactly where Josh belongs. Prison should be reserved for people who are dangerous, and I think Josh has proven that he is VERY dangerous, especially to young children, the most vulnerable people in society.

Ugh… I can’t believe I watched the whole thing… Josh is truly disgusting.

According to a live stream video put out by Duggar expert, Katie Joy, who runs the Without a Crystal Ball YouTube channel, Josh’s computer had software on it called Covenant Eyes, which was supposed to send Anna information about the sites Josh was viewing on the Internet. But Josh also had his machine rigged with a TOR browser and a Linux system that allowed him to access the dark web, where there were no “eyes” on him. There, he was engaged in some very dark and shady activities that are about as far away from Christlike as a person can get.

People magazine reports that Josh will be released to “close family friends”, Lacount and Maria Reber. The Rebers say they don’t know Josh very well, but they are close to Josh’s parents, Jim Boob and Michelle, whom they know through church. The couple felt they should help the Duggars, even though Maria Reber says she’s only familiar with the charges against Josh and doesn’t know the details. Federal probation officer, Diem Nguyen, testified that Maria Reber had expressed concern that Josh would be released into her home, since her husband works full-time and she would be left for several hours alone with Josh during the daytime. For that reason, among others, Nguyen recommended against letting Josh out of jail.

The Rebers have a 22 year old daughter who gives piano lessons, but she will have to find another place to deliver her lessons. The Rebers also own firearms– big surprise– but no firearm safe. The judge did indicate that she wanted the weapons out the the Rebers’ home, since it would obviously not be a good thing if Josh decided to play with them while facing decades in prison.

Josh will have to be supervised 24/7. He’s not going to be allowed Internet access, must surrender his cell phone, and will be wearing a GPS monitor. Josh is not allowed to be around any children who aren’t his– and if he does see his own children, with whom he will be allowed unlimited contact, it can only be in the presence of his wife, Anna. He cannot see his minor brothers and sisters or his nieces or nephews.

I can’t help but remember Mark Salling, an actor who played Noah Puckerman on Glee. Salling was facing a prison sentence because, like Josh Duggar, he was in possession of images depicting child sexual abuse and had also been accused of sexual assault against an ex girlfriend, whom he sued for defamation of character. Salling was eventually forced to settle with his ex girlfriend, whom he was ordered to pay $2.7 million. When he was arrested in 2015, Salling was found to be in possession of over 50,000 illegal images. In 2017, Salling pleaded guilty to the charges and probably would have been sentenced to 4 to 7 years in prison. He also would have had to go to a treatment program and register as a sex offender. However, Salling never got sentenced because on January 30, 2018, Salling committed suicide by hanging himself.

While Josh Duggar is definitely not Mark Salling, there is a concern that he might try to commit suicide if he has access to weapons or any other means. Personally, I doubt Josh would ever try to commit suicide, mainly because I think he’s probably a sociopath. I suspect he thinks he will beat these charges, even though the evidence is extremely compelling and federal charges are notoriously difficult to refute. According to Katie Joy, who reportedly has many contacts within the Duggar family, Josh’s attitude during the bail hearing was surprisingly lighthearted. And the fact that he used the same easily guessed password for his regular accounts, such as banking, as he did for his porn sites, tells me that he’s unbelievably arrogant and never thought he’d be caught. And of course, he’s also a Christian, and a lot of Christians think they’re blessed and God is smiling on them… especially if they’re famous and wealthy, like Boob is.

I don’t know what life was actually like for Josh when he was growing up, but one thing I have observed is that Josh has always had access to his parents and their vast resources, even though his sex pest proclivities have caused significant issues for the Duggar empire. It’s because of Josh’s molestation scandal that 19 Kids and Counting was scandalized and canceled. Of course, that show was really just rebranded into one about the adult kids as Jim Boob continued to collect all the money on behalf of the adults… and I did notice, before I quit watching several years ago, that Boob and Michelle were becoming more and more visible on camera. But the point is, Josh hasn’t been shunned or excluded from the family circle.

Contrast that to what’s happened to his sister and one of his victims, Jill Duggar Dillard. Jill reportedly isn’t allowed to visit her family unless she has permission from Boob. She basically had to sue her father to get paid for her time on Counting On, and what she was paid basically amounted to minimum wage. When her sister (and fellow Josh victim), Jessa, went into labor with her latest baby, Ivy Jane, Jill had to ask permission to be able to go onto Boob’s property to help Jessa give birth. Jill and her husband, Derick, are definitely set apart from the family. Granted, I think part of it has been their (wise) choice– and they are now in charge of their own lives, which is how it should be. But the point is, Josh is definitely someone with deep and troubling issues. He’s been enabled, while his much healthier and less threatening sister, Jill, has been ostracized. And while Boob may find Jill a threat because she’s not living life according to Boob’s standards for women, it seems to me that if you really have the truth, it can’t be threatened because someone decides to wear pants, get a piercing, or seek therapy. If the Duggars had sought real help for Josh, back when he was a teenager, perhaps they would not be in the horrifying situation they’re in at this time.

I don’t understand the thinking of a lot of devout Christians, anyway. Or, at least the ones who profess to be Christians, yet vote for vile, disgusting, self-serving cretins like Donald Trump and revile people like Joe Biden. I’m not naive when it comes to politics. I know both of our major political parties in the United States are equally bad. But not all people are created equally in terms of their characters. For me, it’s pretty obvious that Donald Trump is a selfish, abusive, criminal. Any man who brazenly speaks about other people the way he does, with no shame or compunction whatsoever, is not someone who ever should have been allowed to lead– particularly the most powerful nation on the planet. By contrast, I see Joe Biden making decisions that clearly indicate that he cares about someone other than himself. It seems to me that Republicans who purport to be Christians are basically full of shit, and are only concerned with money and the appearance of being “blessed”, as well as keeping women under control. And the more I hear about the Duggars and the type of people who are their “friends”, the more I think that segment of society is corrupt and evil, despite all of their talk about emulating Jesus and worshiping God.

Well… we’ll see how well all of this works out for Josh and his family. I suspect that he may wind up back in the clink before too long. Even if he’s got the best intentions of being a model defendant, I suspect he’ll screw up before long. He can’t help himself, and he’s obviously very manipulative, dishonest, and sneaky. I really hope Anna wises up and finds herself a divorce attorney soon, before something truly tragic and irreversible happens. I know she was raised impoverished, in a cult. I know it seems like it would be impossible for her to break free of the Duggar trap. But I also know that there are many people who would help her in a heartbeat, if she would just reach out and ask.

Now to move on to cheerier subjects.

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education, memories, mental health, true crime

Principal in Florida school “caught with her pants down”…

Before I get started… anyone who hit this blog because of the expression, “caught with her pants down” should know that this is not going to be a perverted post. So if you came here because your mind is in the gutter, you probably ought to keep scrolling. When I write the principal was “caught with her pants down”, I mean she was caught doing something wrong while unaware or unprepared. It’s an idiom that happens to suit this particular news story, which I read first in the Washington Post. TMZ also ran the story, along with an accompanying video.

In this case, the principal is 37 year old Melissa Carter, of Central Elementary School in Clewiston, Florida. On April 13th, Carter took it upon herself to paddle a six year old kindergartner who had allegedly damaged a computer screen. The little girl’s mother, who doesn’t speak English and has not been identified, secretly recorded the incident, which happened right in front of her and 62 year old Cecilia Self, a school clerk who was there to interpret. The mother also said that Self’s interpretations of what was happening were inaccurate.

The girl’s mother and her husband are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and although the mom did not approve of her child being “beaten” with a wooden paddle, she felt powerless to stop it because she was afraid she would be reported to immigration authorities. Since the paddling, the girl has been transferred to a new school at her mother’s request. However, the girl has needed therapy; she cries often and doesn’t sleep. So the mother, despite being rightfully afraid of being deported, has reported the incident. Now, Melissa Carter may be facing criminal charges. It’s important to note that Florida does allow corporal punishment in schools. However, Hendry County school system, where Central Elementary School is located, does not.

Having watching the videos of the scolding and subsequent paddling, I tend to agree that it was less of a spanking and more of a beating. Carter rears back and hits the child with gusto. And when the child instinctively raises her hands to protect herself, the principal yells at her to put her hands down, then loudly berates her. I can understand why the child is now traumatized. It was hard for me to watch and listen to Carter speak– although in Carter’s defense, I don’t know if this incident was a first offense or the child was a repeat visitor to Carter’s office. Regardless, she had no right to hit the child, if only because that method of punishment is not allowed in her school district.

Some regular readers of my blog may remember that I had an unfortunate experience with being paddled in school when I was in the fourth grade in Gloucester, Virginia, which in the early 80s, was still very rural. During the 1981-82 school year, corporal punishment was still allowed in Virginia. That year, I had a young male teacher who was very popular and considered “cute”. I’ll call him Mr. A.

Mr. A. was memorable in many ways. I actually liked him a lot, because he was creative and a big believer in having fun. He used to encourage us to exercise and would take us out to run around the playground or play games– this was besides physical education class. He also had Armenian ancestry, which I found interesting even back then. I didn’t know that in 1995, I’d move to Armenia myself for two years. In the early 80s, Armenia was still part of the Soviet Union.

I remember when I was assigned Mr. A., he had a reputation for “whaling” kids. He actually called it whaling, because his paddle was shaped like a whale. And when he decided, rather arbitrarily, to hit children, he would do it in the front of the class, which was very humiliating. It happened to me once, for a reason that I think was completely inappropriate. Forty years later, I still haven’t forgotten it. It still pisses me off, because he had no right to strike me for any reason, let alone the reason he did. Below is part of the post I wrote in 2013 about the day I got a “whaling”.

…I was generally a pretty good kid and, in his class, I was one of the better students.  But one day, he had asked us to exchange papers so we could grade them.  I whispered to the person in front of me that mine might be messy.  Next thing I know, Mr. A. was calling me up to the front of the room to put my hands on the blackboard and bend over so my butt stuck out.  He made some inappropriate comment about how he had a good target, then proceeded to hit me with his whale paddle.

I don’t remember the paddling being painful.  It was just very humiliating.  To be paddled in front of a bunch of nine year olds is really embarrassing, especially when a lot of them tease you to start with.  I remembering being very upset… like I had been publicly betrayed by a trusted friend.  Moreover, I really didn’t think my offense warranted a paddling.

I went home still upset and my mom asked what was wrong.  I told her what happened.  She was upset about it, but my dad said I must have deserved it.  My dad was very pro corporal punishment and that was pretty much the only method he ever used to discipline me.  I still have a lot of lingering anger toward him for that reason.  He would get angry and hit me, sometimes when he was out of control.  Granted, I was a “handful”, but I was basically a good kid who caused little trouble, other than occasional disrespect and mischief. 

Paddling in public schools was legal in Virginia in the early 1980s; it has been banned in public schools since 1989, but is still allowed in private schools.  And maybe there were a few kids who deserved to be paddled, though I think that would have been better done in private instead of in front of their peers.  I don’t think what I did justified a public humiliation… and obviously many years later I still remember it.  I think if a teacher ever hit a child of mine, I would go ballistic.

I think most of all, though, I was disappointed in my mom.  She objected to what Mr. A had done, but did nothing about it.  She just went along with what my dad said, as usual. 

The following school year, Mr. A. ended up moving to the next school with us because he got a job teaching P.E.  He was in my school system the whole time I was growing up.  I guess I eventually forgave him, but I never forgot and I think I lost some respect for him that day, too. 

Later that year, Mr. A. had us outside playing soccer. For some reason, he decided to play the game with us. He was a pretty big guy with a powerful kick. At one point, he kicked the soccer ball and it happened to hit me in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I was actually unconscious for a minute and woke up with my head between my knees. That incident was also very embarrassing and painful for me. I remember Mr. A., who was originally from upstate New York, saying “Sore-y” (sorry, but with a Canadian accent) and sending me to the nurse to lie down for a bit.

Mr. A. was also notorious for playing a game he called “slaughter ball”. Basically, it was like dodge ball, but kids would line up against a wall as other kids and Mr. A. himself would throw the ball at them as hard as they could. I don’t remember playing slaughter ball with Mr. A., but I knew people who had him for P.E. class and did experience that. Having been both “paddled” and knocked unconscious by him, I can believe he was an enthusiastic player. Too bad my parents didn’t care enough about me to complain.

Because of my experiences with corporal punishment, both at home and that one time at school, I’m pretty much against its use as a disciplinary tool. I definitely don’t think it’s appropriate for school officials– teachers or principals– to be hitting children that aren’t theirs, particularly if the parents haven’t granted permission. Given the mother’s reaction to her child’s discipline session, I’m guessing that she did not give Carter permission to discipline her child in such a violent and disrespectful manner. I think if that had been my child, I would have raised holy hell… but sadly, I suspect that if I had been the mother in that case, Carter would not have dared to use corporal punishment. I’m not an undocumented immigrant and I speak perfect English. But at least she didn’t do it in front of a classroom full of the child’s peers… On the other hand, mom videoed this session and gave it to the press, so in essence, her daughter was just paddled in front of the whole world.

Although I remember still liking Mr. A. when I was a child, that was probably because a lot of men I respected (back then) hurt me physically, mentally, or emotionally. I never considered what they did abuse until years later, when I crashed into depression and crippling anxiety, told my story to a licensed psychologist, and was informed that I actually had been abused. In fact, one of my neighbors sexually abused me by exposing me to pornography when I was about nine or ten years old. I started thinking about all of this stuff I had compartmentalized for years and my mindset really changed. My father’s go to punishment for me was spanking, slapping, and yelling. He continued to feel free to do it until I finally told him, as an adult, that he had no right. And then I threatened to have him arrested.

In April 2016, there was another well-publicized case about a child who was spanked at school by his principal. That case, which took place in Georgia, also involved a Hispanic child and a mother who disapproved, but went along with it because she was afraid of law enforcement. The mother, Shana Marie Perez, claimed she signed a consent form under duress to allow her then five year old son, Thomas, to be paddled for spitting and almost hitting another student. Perez was told that if the principal was not permitted to paddle Thomas, Thomas would be suspended. Perez had been arrested two weeks prior to the incident on truancy charges. She had been booked into jail and released. If Thomas got suspended and missed more school days, Perez feared that she would go to jail.

In the 2016 video Perez took of her son being spanked, viewers can see administrators trying to get Thomas to bend over for his spanking. Viewers can also hear him begging not to be spanked and calling for his mommy. The teachers try to hold him down, but he continues to struggle, putting his hands over his bottom and fighting. Trust has no doubt been broken at this point as one of the teachers says, “He’s going to get a spanking. We have all the time in the world.”

Brent Probinsky, the attorney for the Florida mother and her daughter, says the girl’s mom calls him twice a day because the child has been “terrorized” by what happened. She cries and doesn’t sleep. To be honest, watching that video, hearing that principal’s harsh tone and threatening words, and most of all, seeing her really rear back and hit the girl with a wooden paddle, makes me believe that the child was traumatized. Probinsky insists that this was aggravated battery and he’s hoping that Florida officials will strip the principal and the clerk of their licenses so they will no longer be able to work in Florida schools. At this point, both women are on leave.

It occurs to me that if an adult hits another adult, a case could easily be made for assault and battery charges. But for some reason, many people think it’s perfectly fine for adults to hit children. And children are never in a good position to defend themselves against adults. I stop short of saying that corporal punishment is never appropriate, but I definitely don’t think it should be something that is done in schools. At best, I think it’s a last resort solution that should be done very rarely. I’m not sure what will happen to Melissa Carter or Cecilia Self, but I do think it would be appropriate if both of them were permanently relieved of their positions.

I just don’t think that hitting children is the best way to get their respect. When I was a child and got hit by my father, all I remember is hating him and wanting to either hit him back or kill him. I don’t remember him ever taking the time to talk to me about things I did wrong. I just remember his face turning red, veins popping out, and being turned over his knee while he took out all of his frustrations. And now that I’m in my late 40s, I still don’t have a very high opinion of him, even though I know he wasn’t all bad. The truth is, those discipline sessions were not actually very disciplined at all. When he died, I didn’t shed many tears… and to this day, I lament the fact that he treated me the way he did. Maybe it’s a blessing I didn’t have children of my own to fuck up.

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book reviews, religion

Reviewing Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult by Fleur Beale

Alright… so I’ve had my nap and finally finished Fleur Beale’s fascinating book, Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult. Neville Cooper, who died of cancer at age 92 in 2018, was the founder of the Gloriavale Christian Community currently located on the West Coast of New Zealand. Many people regard the Gloriavale Christian Community as a religious cult. I had not heard of it until recently, when I got a message from a lawyer in New Zealand who invited me to write about it. This book, originally published in 2009, is about Phil Cooper, one of the sons of Neville Cooper, and his first wife, Gloria.

I recently reviewed Daughter of Gloriavale, which was written by Lilia Tarawa, one of Neville Cooper’s granddaughters and one of Phil Cooper’s nieces. Before I get going too far into this review, I have to explain something. Due to a revelation Neville Cooper got from God, he later went by the name “Hopeful Christian”. Many of his followers have also changed their original names, mostly to adjectives that describe a “Christlike” quality. For instance, Neville has children named Hope, Faith, Miracle, and Charity. Lilia Tarawa is one of Miracle’s daughters. Sins of the Father is about Phil Cooper, who is Lilia’s uncle, and six of the children he had with his first wife, Sandy, who was later renamed Prayer. Sandy/Prayer also has another daughter by Phil. Her name is Cherish, and at the time the book was published, Phil had never met her in person. Phil also has a daughter named Jess by his second wife.

Phil Cooper was born in Australia in 1962. His parents moved him and his then ten siblings to New Zealand in 1967, when he was five years old. At the time, Neville Cooper was a traveling preacher who had developed a following and was invited to speak around the country. However, his teachings were at odds with mainstream Christianity. He was considered a fundamentalist. So Cooper decided to start his own community at Haupiri, located on New Zealand’s West Coast. He eventually named the community Gloriavale, in honor of his first wife, Gloria, who had predeceased him by many years. At this writing, several hundred people still live in Gloriavale. The women wear long blue dresses with white headdresses. The men wear blue shirts and blue trousers. The women of the community do what’s commonly considered traditional women’s work– cooking, cleaning, childcare, teaching, and the like. The men work in Gloriavale’s businesses or do manual labor such as farming or construction.

As he got older, Phil Cooper decided he wanted to leave Gloriavale. He chafed under his father’s oppressive rules, as well as his narcissistic and controlling behaviors. When he was sixteen years old, Phil ran away from Gloriavale, eventually landing in Australia. He had nothing, but managed with help from kind strangers. At one point, having landed in Brisband, he met Mormon missionaries who helped him out by giving him a ride. He ended up converting to the LDS religion, knowing that his father would disown him if he knew. Neville Cooper considered Mormonism as “false religion”. But as a sixteen year old, free from the compound, Neville wasn’t that worried about temporarily being Mormon. He bought himself a tape player, something that was forbidden in Gloriavale, and became familiar with the contemporary music of the late 1970s. Eventually, he was tracked down by his sister, Charity, who tried to talk him into coming home. Although he didn’t want to go home, he realized he missed his family, and he returned to Gloriavale to face his father.

When he first arrived home, Phil’s father welcomed him and he was allowed to return to his apprenticeship. But being on his own had given Phil a bit of an attitude that Neville didn’t like. Phil wore a watch, which Neville considered “worldly”, and he didn’t like that the young man had a tape player and listened to worldly music. So Phil was subjected to his father’s discipline. There he sat in Neville’s room, where 25 to 30 of the community’s men were also gathered. Neville severely chastised his son, demanding that he change his name because he didn’t want to be associated with him. Neville took Phil’s beloved watch and smashed it. Phil didn’t react, so his father got his mother and sisters to lay on the guilt, pressuring Phil to give in to his father’s demands for compliance and obedience.

Neville tried to threaten Phil with stories about how terrifying and dangerous the world was, but Phil had just come from the world, so he knew it wasn’t true. Then Neville told him that God would do terrible things to him and he would die a gruesome death if he didn’t repent. Finally, after hours of berating and extreme pressure, Phil cracked because he was exhausted. And then he took that precious tape player that he bought in Australia and threw it on the floor, breaking it. Meanwhile, Phil’s older sister, Faith, and her husband, Alan, had decided to leave Gloriavale with their five children. Like Phil, they found the community’s rules stifling. Moreover, Neville Cooper was a sexual deviant, who dictated just about everything in his followers’ lives, from who they were allowed to marry, to what they named their children, to what they wore and ate. Unlike Phil, Faith and Alan were successful in leaving permanently the first time they left.

For awhile, after he ran away, Phil became an obedient, model son, working very hard to win his father’s approval. In 1981, he decided he wanted to marry a young woman named Sandy, so he asked his father’s permission and Neville agreed. Phil was 18 and Sandy was 21 when they got married. They had plenty of time to make many children, so that’s what they did. Neville constantly reminded his followers of the importance of being Godly and obedient. However, he and the other men of the community used pornography. Young women who put on weight were forced to fast and were verbally abused. Sandy was fondled by Neville, and some of the girls in the community were forced to join the elders in hot tubs. Children grew up living in one room with their parents and witnessing them having sex.

Neville also believed that once girls hit puberty, they were ready to be married and start having babies. Pregnancy was an opportunity for the women not to work as hard, since they were allowed to rest more when they were having babies. Children in the community were involved with overseeing births, most of which took place at home, unless there were medical issues. Childbirth was considered totally natural and something that should not take place in a hospital unless there was a medical need.

In 1995, Neville Cooper went to prison for about a year on sexual abuse charges. His son, Phil, and some of the girls who had fled the community testified against him. His followers remained steadfast in their loyalty to their leader.

Before long, Phil Cooper was once again at odds with his father’s strict rules and abusive methods. When he was 27 years old, with help from a couple of his brothers, Phil left Gloriavale for good. At the time, he had five children between the ages of eight and sixteen months. After he left, he was told by a community elder that he would no longer have any communication with his children. Phil was heartbroken, so he decided to abduct his children, and his wife, Sandy. Again, he was able to pull off his plan with help from a couple of his brothers. Phil and his family eventually landed in the United States, where Sandy gave birth to Phil’s sixth child, a boy named Andreas. Sandy was never happy outside of Gloriavale, though. She went back twice, despite Phil’s protests, because she didn’t think she could live a Godly life without being in the Gloriavale community. After the second time, Sandy stayed, and later granted him a divorce.

But unbeknownst to Phil, when she left him the second time, Sandy was pregnant with his seventh child. He did not know about his daughter, Cherish, until she was much older, and at the time this book was published, had never seen her in person. One of his other daughters, Dawn, also willingly went back to the compound. The rest remain happily outside of Gloriavale. They have been able to go back a couple of times, but with every visit, there is both the pressure to stay and conform to the community’s culty standards, and careful minding of their visit so that they don’t influence anyone else to leave.

Phil and the other children eventually left the United States, having spent some time in the Hutterite Community in Minnesota. One of his children, Andreas, was named after one of the Hutterites who helped Phil. That group was apparently a much nicer one and more Christlike, and they treated Phil and his family with kindness. But they needed to go home and be closer to their family. So Phil and his kids moved to Australia, even though Andreas, having been born in the USA, was an American citizen. They had to get him Australian citizenship.

My thoughts

Fleur Beale has done a fine job with Phil Cooper’s exciting and amazing story of escaping his father’s cult. She’s a good writer, and her style is engaging and interesting. I liked that she included photos, some of which are in color, and is careful to explain some of the more complicated aspects of this story.

Oddly enough, aspects of this story and some of the methods used to get Phil to comply with his father’s wishes reminded me a lot of my husband Bill’s ex wife’s methods. One of the ways Neville would get his children to fall in line was to get other family members to put pressure on them and employ abusive methods like shunning, lovebombing, and group or family pressure. Bill’s ex wife also does this. Younger daughter has said that when she left home, her sisters would call or email her, berating her for being on a “high horse” or being “prideful” and telling her she should humble herself. Incidentally, when Bill was freshly divorced and leaving Mormonism, younger daughter also accused him of being “prideful”. Ex resorted to extreme measures to get her way and always punishes anyone who goes against her wishes. Neville Cooper was like that, too.

Neville Cooper/Hopeful Christian is often described as a very charismatic narcissist. Everything had to be done under his conditions; it was his way or the highway. Bill’s ex wife is the same way, and he has described her as “charismatic”– the type of person who can sell ice to Eskimos. Or, at least she can if they are unaware of the type of person she is.

Neville Cooper sounds like he was the same way, controlling and convincing people to do everything in exactly the way he wanted it done. A wide variety of abuses were employed to keep everyone in line, to include ostracizing members of the community. It’s no wonder Phil Cooper couldn’t stand it anymore. He recognizes that he has some of his father’s qualities, too, although he does his best to temper them. The children who left the compound with him are grateful that he got them out, even though they had to grow up without their mother. Neville Cooper was addicted to power, and he was ruthless in his quests to get it.

This is an excellent book about Gloriavale, and a young man who decided to risk everything to escape it, even though his father was the leader of the cult. Phil Cooper’s story is very interesting, and I think Fleur Beale has done well in writing the tale. I would definitely recommend Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult to anyone who is interested in learning more about this community, especially if it’s paired with other books about Gloriavale. It really is an interesting cult– and a reminder that the United States is not the only place where dangerous and charismatic leaders get into power and enslave people.

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book reviews, Military

Double repost: A review of Whatever The Cost: One Woman’s Battle To Find Peace With Her Body by Jenifer Beaudean and a review of In The Men’s House by Carol Barkalow

I will try to write something fresh a little later. For now, I want to repost these book reviews about women who went to West Point. This post originally appeared on my blog on March 20, 2014. The review of In the Men’s House was reposted on that post and was originally written for Epinions.com on April 6, 2012.

I just downloaded a couple more e-books from Amazon.com.  One book that intrigued me was Jenifer Beaudean’s 2011 memoir, Whatever The Cost: One Woman’s Battle To Find Peace With Her Body.  I read this book because it has components of three things that interest me: the Army, West Point, and eating disorders.  I had read about how some women either join the military to stay thin or develop eating disorders in the military.  Jenifer Beaudean entered West Point, aka The United States Military Academy, in 1987.  Women had been at the Academy since 1976 and though she did not come from a military family, Beaudean was inspired by a trip she took to West Point in the 70s, when women were still new.

Beaudean explains that she was not a natural choice for the military.  Creative and artistic, she got good grades and was a hard worker.  But she was not a natural athlete and she loved food.  Through strict dieting and diligent working out, Beaudean entered West Point in 1987 weighing 133.5 pounds at five feet four inches tall.  She missed the maximum weight allowed for her height by just half a pound.

Life at West Point was very difficult for Beaudean.  It was physically and academically challenging and she comforted herself with junk food.  Because the Academy also served heavy rations at mealtimes, Beaudean gained about twenty pounds over the course of her time at West Point.  She did end up a “diet tray” (slang term for overweight folks in the military) and had to lose weight or face being kicked out of the Academy.  Toward the end of her years at West Point, she developed bulimia, which followed her for years after she graduated. 

Beaudean completed her service obligation after graduation and left the Army in 1994 due to an injury she sustained in a parachuting mishap.  She married and divorced another soldier and went on to earn an MBA at the University of Michigan.

Beaudean’s story is one that I think probably doesn’t get told often enough in the military.  There is a lot of pressure to be thin and athletic as a service member, though some branches are stricter than others.  I thought Whatever The Cost was decently written, though there were a couple of minor editing glitches.  At one point, Jenifer Beaudean describes a male cadet as “strack”.  Having been around Bill and other military folks, I think she means STRAC, which is a 70s term military personnel used to describe someone who is Standing Tall and Ready Around the Clock or Standing Tough and Ready Around the Clock or Strategic Tough and Ready Around the Clock.  The point is, it’s an acronym that stands for something.  “Strack” is just how it’s pronounced.  I don’t remember Beaudean explaining this point in her book.

At another point in the book, she writes of trying to fit in her “dress mess”.  What I think she means is “mess dress”, which is a formal uniform worn by servicemembers at certain occasions.  Maybe “dress mess” is an official term, but I’ve never heard of it.  Someone can educate me if I’m wrong.

I also think that Beaudean spent a lot of time writing about the West Point experience and not enough time writing about the bulimia.  While I did find reading about her time at West Point fascinating, I’m guessing that a lot of readers would pick up this book because they’d want to read about the eating disorder she developed there.  I felt like that part of the book was a bit underdeveloped and could have used more substance.  I might have included a bit less about the West Point experience if space was an issue, though I have to admit, that was also very interesting reading. 

I admire Beaudean for working toward fulfilling her West Point dream and sticking through it, as difficult as it was.  I’m glad she found competent help and overcame bulimia, even though she writes that it will always be “there” in her head.  I liked the way she ended her book, too.  Overall, I’d probably give Whatever The Cost four solid stars.

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I was a rising college junior home for the summer when I first ran across Carol Barkalow’s book In the Men’s House: An Inside Account of Life in the Army by One of West Point’s First Female Graduates.  I clearly remember the day I purchased this book.  It was late May 1992 and I was wasting time in a Rite Aid drug store, looking for something interesting to read.  I was intrigued by the bold red lettering and picture of an attractive blonde woman on the paperback cover of In The Men’s House.  Having grown up the daughter of an Air Force officer and lived my whole life around the military culture, I had a feeling I would be interested in Barkalow’s story, particularly since she had bravely been among the first women at West Point.  The book also reminded me of an old made for TV movie I had seen about those brave women who sought to bring equality to the U.S. military. 

Twenty years later, I still own Barkalow’s book and have read it several times.  Many things have changed, although my closeness to the military has not.  I am now an Army wife.  A few days ago, I decided to do an Internet search to see what Carol Barkalow was up to these days.  I see that Barkalow, who had been a captain when she published her book, has retired as a lieutenant colonel. It appears that she is now on the public speaking circuit, living in southern Florida. 

One book– two parts

In The Men’s House is divided into two major parts.  The first half of the book is about Barkalow’s initiation into the Army.  In 1976, she was a high school graduate from Clifton Park, New York and one of 119 women entering the United States Military Academy, popularly known as West Point.  Barkalow and her female comrades were the very first women to attend West Point; consequently, they got a lot of attention, both negative and positive.  Year by year, Barkalow explains what it was like to progress through West Point until she and 61 other women finally graduated on May 27, 1980. 

The second half of the book is about Barkalow’s initial years as an Army officer.  Her career commenced in Germany back in early 1981.  Then a second lieutenant in the Air Defense Artillery branch, it was Barkalow’s first time out of the country and she wore her Class A uniform for the overnight flight to Frankfurt.  Barkalow describes three fast-paced years in Europe.

In 1984, Barkalow changed branches and became a Transportation officer, which had been her first choice.  She was transferred to Fort Lee, an Army post located between Petersburg and Hopewell, Virginia.  Barkalow’s new assignment as a company commander of a transportation unit in Virginia was not as intense as her work in Germany had been.  Consequently, Barkalow found time to develop a new hobby– bodybuilding.  An entry in a bodybuilding contest and subsequent picture that ran in the post newspaper turned out to be somewhat scandalous.  Barkalow almost lost her command over a picture that ran of her in a bikini.

This entire book really addresses sexism in the Army as it was in the late 1970s to mid 1980s.  Barkalow recounts her own experiences as well as those of classmates and colleagues.  She includes many snippets of diary entries she kept while at West Point.  She also includes photos.

My thoughts 

Obviously, I think this is an interesting book or I would not have read it more than one time.  I did notice during this latest reading that my perspective of Barkalow’s story had changed quite a bit.  When I read this book before, I was a single young woman.  I had spent a lot of time around military folks, but wasn’t totally vested in the culture.  This time, I read In The Men’s House as an Army wife.  My husband, Bill, was able to give me some insight into some of the things Barkalow wrote about in her book, since Bill is himself an Army officer. 

This time, when I read about Barkalow’s time in Europe and Virginia, I could relate more.  Bill and I spent time in Germany not long ago.  I grew up in Virginia, though I’ve never been to Fort Lee.  Barkalow wrote that one of her first choices of assignments would have been at Fort Eustis, which I am very familiar with, having grown up very close to it.  So when I read Barkalow’s story this time, it was like I had a lot more firsthand knowledge of the places she was writing about and the Army lifestyle. 

On the other hand, this book was published over twenty years ago.  The Army has definitely changed in a lot of ways.  Most recently, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, allowing servicemembers who are openly gay to serve without fear of reprisals.  Barkalow makes very oblique references to the Army’s collective attitude about homosexuality, but doesn’t really address it much in her book, other than to write that she didn’t care too much what her colleagues’ sexual orientations were.  She writes of dating men at West Point and ridiculous measures that were taken when the first female recruits showed up.  Many of Barkalow’s observations are very interesting.  For instance, she writes that the first female recruits had to have incredibly short haircuts, wear very unflattering pants, deal with sexist remarks and obscene insults by upperclassmen, and cope with an administration that had no idea what to do with the women. 

Barkalow writes that women at West Point forced the institution to change some of its long held but ill considered policies.  It’s because of women at West Point that cadets stopped running in combat boots.  They now run in athletic shoes, mainly because when women tried to run in boots, they got stress fractures.  Another example of policy change had to do with hygiene.  It used to be that cadets would be given a couple of minutes to shower or would not be allowed to go to the bathroom when they needed to go.  When women started attending West Point, the administration apparently realized that healthy women have menstrual periods.  Not letting the women shower appropriately and forcing them to ignore toilet needs led to stained uniforms and health problems.  Policies changed for the better.

I liked the first half of this book better than the second half.  Frankly, I think Barkalow might have had a better book had she just written more about her time at West Point instead of her first couple of assignments in the Army.  At the time she wrote this book, Barkalow was still early in her career.  A second book about her Army career seems like it would make a lot more sense, since she admits that West Point and real Army life were two different animals.  Also, I gathered from a glance at her Facebook page, that Barkalow may now identify herself as a lesbian.  A book about her experiences serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would also be interesting. 

Overall

I’m not sure how easy In The Men’s House is to find these days.  Given than it’s twenty years old, it’s a touch dated, although I do think it provides good insight into what it was like to be one of West Point’s very first female cadets.  I think it also offers a good glimpse of what it was like to be a female Army officer at a time when female officers were a distinct rarity.  I think any woman who served during that time must have a great deal of courage.  That being said, I enjoyed the first half of the book more than I did the second half. 

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book reviews

Repost: my review of Children of the Flames

Here’s one more reposted book review. This one was originally written for Epinions.com in 2010 and reposted on my old blog January 24, 2015. It appears here as/is.

On January 27, 2015, it will have been 70 years since Russians liberated the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.  This morning, I read a fascinating news article about an 80 year old Slovakian Jewish woman who was at Auschwitz when the Russians came.  It was Marta Wise’s 10th birthday when she was caught by Nazis and sent away, first to the Sered labor camp in Slovakia and then, a few weeks later, to Auschwitz, where she and her sister, Eva were imprisoned and were subjected to the cruel medical experiments carried out by Dr. Josef Mengele. 

In the last days of Auschwitz, there was a lot of chaos.  Able bodied prisoners were forced to march westward in an attempt to escape the Russians.  Because Eva was sick, Marta stayed behind with her.  The Nazis tried to kill Marta and some other prisoners by locking them in an enclosure and setting fire around it… but European weather is fickle.  A sudden rainstorm put out the fire and Eva and Marta were rescued. 

Their survival was against all odds.  The sisters were able to go back to Bratislava, where they reunited with their parents and all but one sister, Judith, who died at Auschwitz.  Marta moved to Australia and went on to marry and have children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. 

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I am reposting my review of Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz

The story of Dr. Josef Mengele and his gruesome twins experiments May 8, 2010 (Updated May 8, 2010) 

Pros:  Fascinating book. Well-written and insightful. Photos.

Cons:  May depress some readers.

The Bottom Line: This book is a valuable reminder of where humankind has been and where we don’t want to return.

Last night, I finished reading Children of the Flames: Dr. Josef Mengele and the Untold Story of the Twins of Auschwitz. This book, published in 1991, was co-written by Lucette Matalon Lagnado and Sheila Cohn Dekel. Lagnado is writer who has had a special interest in Dr. Josef Mengele and his twins experiments at Auschwitz. Sheila Cohn Dekel is also a writer and an educator, as well as the widow of Alex Dekel, one of Mengele’s victims. 

A brief overview 

Dr. Josef Mengele was a high ranking Nazi physician. He literally had a deadly charm to go with his handsome face. Although Dr. Mengele had been an undistinguished student at his Gymnasium in Gunzburg, Bavaria, he eventually managed to study at the University of Munich, where he earned a Ph.D. in anthropology. Mengele happened to be in Munich as the ideas of eugenics, racial purity, and ethnic cleansing were becoming popular in German society. 

Graduating from university with highest honors, he went on to Frankfurt University, where he earned a medical degree and later joined the military. In 1941, he got his first taste of combat and was an excellent soldier. The following year, he was in another battle on the Russian front when he made his first selection. Because there wasn’t enough time or supplies to help every wounded man, Mengele had to decide which of the wounded would be treated and which would be left to die. This task was reportedly very gruesome for Mengele and he hated to do it… but he was evidently very good at it. 

Mengele’s skill at picking and choosing would be used again when he went to work at Auschwitz. It was often Mengele who met the trains carrying hungry, exhausted, and often very sick Jews when they arrived at Auschwitz. With a white gloved hand, he would casually pick candidates for the gas chambers, directing the new prisoners to go left or right. 

Mengele’s studies in genetics and anthropology made him fascinated by so-called “freaks of nature”. And so, when those trains came to Auschwitz, he directed his fellow Nazi soldiers to help him find quirky subjects for his research. He looked for dwarves, giants, and Jews who didn’t look like Jews. But he was most interested in twins. Mengele believed that twins held the answers to the genetic secrets he had a burning desire to explore. Mengele’s position as a high ranking SS physician at Auschwitz gave him the freedom to explore those secrets by undertaking any experiments his heart desired. 

Mengele’s children: a protected class 

Dr. Mengele sought twins every time new Jewish prisoners arrived at Auschwitz. Most of the prisoners who arrived were under the impression that they were there to work. So when soldiers called for twins, some parents of twins and adult twins were reluctant to come forward. But as it turned out, the people who ended up in Mengele’s experiements were often better treated than other inmates were. They were fed better, allowed to keep their hair, and had better quarters. They were also safe from the gas chambers. The catch was that they had to be Mengele’s specimens for his often gruesome experiments and exploratory surgeries. Those that didn’t survive the experiments or surgeries were autopsied by an assistant, who would send their body parts and organs to Berlin. 

Supposedly, Mengele was comparatively gentle with the twins, particularly with the small children. He kept them in fairly good health and had a fairly gentle touch when he drew blood (on a daily basis). Sometimes, if he had a very young set of twins, he’d let their mother come with them. Mengele would often pick a pet who would be especially well treated. It’s said that he was affectionate with the children, giving them candy and chocolate and sometimes even playing with them. Some of them called him Uncle Mengele. But he would also casually dispose of them when he grew tired of them and none were spared his horrifying experiments.  

This book’s layout 

The authors of Children of the Flames chose to recount the story of Mengele and the twins in an interesting way. They got the stories from surviving twins who were the subjects of Mengele’s research and flip-flopped between the twins’ experiences and Mengele’s life story. Among the twins interviewed were a pair of male/female twins. The male half had been chosen to be the “twins father” because he had served in the Czechoslovakian army. He looked after all of the male twins. His sister was almost murdered, but was saved before she was sent to the gas chambers. The female twins in Mengele’s research did not have a “twins mother”. 

The authors include a lot of commentary from the “twins father”, as well as several other sets of the several thousand twins that Mengele used in his research. Of course, of all of those twins, only a few hundred survived the war. The authors also include photos as well as an afterword that updates readers on the twins.

One thing to know about this account is that it’s not entirely about the concentration camps. The authors don’t go into great detail about the experiments and they don’t dwell much on the concentration camp experience. Instead, they approach the story by describing how it was for the twins before and after the war as they interweave Mengele’s story.

My thoughts 

I found Children of the Flames fascinating. Josef Mengele was a horrible person, but he’s extremely interesting to read about. From this account, he comes across as deceptively charming and kindly, yet underneath that gentle exterior was a monster who killed and tortured people as if they were toys. As someone who has studied the social sciences, I find Mengele an extraordinary subject. He really is an example of a sociopath. The authors follow him from Germany to several countries in South America. They also offer information about his two wives, his son Rolf, and his nephew and former stepson, Karl Heinz.

I also enjoyed the interviews from the twins, most of whom were incredibly resilient. Their stories from before and after their experiences at Auschwitz are recounted, giving readers some perspective as to what it was like during their recoveries. Anyone who thinks the Jews had it so much better after they were liberated may be in for a shock. The twins describe very hard times, particularly for those who went to Eastern Europe or Israel rather than America or Canada. 

Overall 

Children of the Flames is excellent reading for anyone who is interested in learning more about Nazi Germany and concentration camps. The authors did an outstanding job of describing who Josef Mengele was as they put a face on his victims. They provide valuable insight as to what it was like for Jews after they were liberated. Even when they weren’t prisoners, they were still victims, haunted by nightmares, poor health, and crushing poverty. This should be required reading for anyone who is a student of European history.

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