education, law, mental health, music, narcissists, psychology

Repost: The clarinetist who dodged a bullet…

This is a repost from June 2018. I am working on finishing reading a book that I want to review. Maybe I’ll be able to do it today. Maybe not. Anyway, I thought this was an interesting story. It appears here mostly as/is, with a couple of new videos added.

I just read an infuriating story on the New York Times.  Eric Ambramovitz, a gifted clarinet player from Canada, was just awarded $375,000 Canadian dollars from a lawsuit he filed against his ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Lee.  Why?  Because she crushed his dream and cost him two years of a promising music career.

In 2013, Ambramovitz and Lee were dating.  Both were music students and Abramovitz had dreams of studying under Yehuda Gilad at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles, California.  But the manipulative and sneaky Ms. Lee did not want her beau of a few months to leave Canada.  So when Abramovitz received the rare, all expenses paid, highly prestigious acceptance to study under Gilad, who only takes on one or two new students per year, Lee intercepted the email, impersonated her ex boyfriend, and turned down the offer.  Then, she sent a fake email to Ambrovitz, indicating that he had not been accepted to study under Gilad at the conservatory.  Instead, he could attend the University of Southern California with a $5000 scholarship, which Lee knew would not be enough.  Abramovitz could not come up with the rest of the $50,000+ tuition charged at USC. 

Lee and Ambramovitz eventually broke up and Ambramovitz finished his bachelor’s degree in music at McGill University in Montreal.  Then in 2016, he traveled to Los Angeles to re-audition for Professor Gilad.  But Gilad was confused, because he remembered that Ambramovitz had already auditioned and turned down the chance to study with him.

It was at that point when Eric Ambramovitz came to the sickening realization that his ex girlfriend had committed some major league relationship fuckery.  He asked Mr. Gilad about the email he had received from “giladyehuda09”.  Gilad said that was not his email address.  At that point, Ambramovitz filed a police report.  Just an aside here, I’m not sure it would have occurred to me to file a police report if I had been victimized in this way, but now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense.  What Ms. Lee did was akin to identity theft.

This man has some serious musical chops! He is definitely no Squidward.

Fortunately, Ambramovitz won acceptance to the University of Southern California, where Mr. Gilad also teaches.  He completed a two year certificate, not on scholarship, and studied under the professor part time.  Professor Gilad testified in court that Ambramovitz made excellent progress studying under him.  However, Ms. Lee’s dishonest hijinks cost the gifted clarinetist two years of his career, as well as missed professional opportunities.  According to the article, 80 percent of clarinetists in North American orchestras consist of Gilad’s former students.

But he survived… and it didn’t crush his spirit.

Ms. Lee did not respond to the lawsuit and had no lawyer listed in the suit.  It’s doubtful that Ambramovitz will ever see any of the money he was awarded.  He has, however, found success as a professional clarinetist.  He just got a job working for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra after having previously worked with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. 

A few things come to mind after having read about this case.  First off, I’m amazed that Ms. Lee had access to her ex boyfriend’s email account.  I wonder why Ambramovitz wasn’t able to log into some kind of school account to see what his admittance status was.  Seems like when I applied to graduate school at USC, I had an account that showed what documents I still needed to submit.  That was in 1999.  I guess that’s not how they do things at all schools.  I see from another article (a much more complete one) that Ms. Lee also did the same thing with Mr. Abramovitz’s successful application to Julliard.

Not only is he insanely talented, but he’s also quite generous with sharing his gifts. I’m so glad he got out of that toxic relationship. He also seems like a really nice person.

I guess it just goes to show you that you can’t trust anyone.  According to another article about this case, Ms. Lee moved fast.  Within a month of their first date, Ambramovitz was staying at her apartment almost full time.  He let her use his laptop and she obviously had access to his passwords.  Actually, if she’s got cluster B tendencies, this makes perfect sense.  They tend to overwhelm their victims with whirlwind romances.  Then, once the poor victim is hooked, cluster B, high conflict types turn into horrible people.   

I’m glad Ambramovitz broke up with that miserable woman.  What an awful thing she did to him!  I hope karma kicks her ass.  But… at least he didn’t marry her.  This kind of sabotaging behavior is what Bill experienced firsthand when he was married to his ex wife.  I liken being in a relationship with someone like that to being chained to a dead tree.  A dead tree might eventually rot enough so a victim can escape, but it could take years of soul crushing before that happens.

Bill suffered damage to his career, his relations with his family, and his finances before he was finally able to break away from his psycho cluster B ex.  While Ambramovitz’s situation is heartbreaking on many levels, at least his story has a happy ending…  as does Bill’s.  Not everyone is so lucky.

ETA: September 2021… I may have to write some about Gabby Petito later. Unfortunately, her story didn’t have a happy ending. Also… fun fact– many years ago, I played clarinet myself. But I did not have a gift for it.

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education, music, musings

Repost: There’s life beyond your senior year… confessions of a C student

Here’s a repost from the original blog, written March 28, 2018. It appears as/is. I know it’s not currently college application season, but I think this post could be useful for some people.

Yesterday, my alma mater did a fundraising drive called #LoveYourLongwood.  This is apparently a new development.  For many years after my graduation in 1994, Longwood University was rather relaxed about fundraising efforts.  I’d say in the past ten years or so, they have become much more assertive about pushing alums to donate money.  I usually ignore the pleas, although I did donate during the holiday season.

I probably would have made a donation yesterday, had I not looked at our rather paltry bank balance.  March still has three days left in it.  Still, as I get older and our finances have improved, I have given some thought to donating more money to my college.  The truth is, I owe a lot to Longwood.  Maybe my time there didn’t lead to a smashing career, but it did leave me with a lot of intangible gifts like wonderful friends, some excellent experiences, and the opportunity to study music simply because I love it.  It was a warm, nurturing place to go to college.  Today, almost 24 years after I graduated, I still reap the benefits of my four years there.

I have written about my college admissions experiences before, but I’m going to briefly repeat the tale for anyone out there in Internet land who is currently experiencing the pain of rejection from college.  I’m inspired to write about this after reading an article in the Boston Globe about the immense pressure high school seniors are dealing with at this time of year.  It takes me back to the spring of 1990, when I was myself trying to find a place to go to school.

I may call myself “The Overeducated Housewife”, but the simple truth is, I was a very ordinary student.  I didn’t earn great grades in high school and didn’t have super high SAT scores.  I did do well on standardized tests, particularly in writing.  However, I was a singularly unimpressive student in high school, even in English class.  I would get praises for my writing, but I didn’t care enough about the books we were reading to put a lot of effort into my papers.  Consequently, I earned average grades.

My parents, who had already raised my three sisters, didn’t really care too much about my performance.  I got through high school pretty much on my own efforts, with lots of Bs and Cs and the occasional D.  I remember working hard in school, particularly in my math and science classes, but not as hard as I probably should have.  I didn’t have any extra help, nor did I have anyone pushing me to excel.  I was also completely unmedicated, which isn’t a bad thing, but I think if I had grown up ten years later, I probably would have taken meds for depression or perhaps ADD.  I was encouraged to get good grades, but it was entirely up to me to accomplish that.  I didn’t really know how. 

In high school, I spent most of my free time riding horses.  I did do well in that activity, although I wasn’t particularly talented.  My success in riding was mainly due to my fabulous pony, Rusty, a dedicated riding coach, and a lot of dogged hard work.  I was definitely not “born in the saddle”.

When it came time to decide on a college, I had sort of a beer budget and champagne tastes on every level.  I didn’t have the money to consider attending private schools.  I didn’t have the grades or impressive resume to consider trying to get scholarships or applying to super competitive schools.  My mother, ever the pragmatist, told me I shouldn’t bother applying to the one school I really wanted to attend.  She didn’t think I’d get in there.  She was right.  In fact, Longwood was the ONLY school out of the four I applied to that accepted me.

Looking back on it, I think I would have had more choices if I had applied to a couple more schools.  The other three that I’d applied to, besides Longwood, were in a slightly higher league– too high for me at the time.  I do think I would have ultimately succeeded if I had gotten into any of the other three schools, but they were very popular choices among my peers.  My crummy grades and mediocre test scores were simply not competitive enough and I got the dreaded rejection letters.  Even Longwood accepted me conditionally, mainly because I was struggling in math.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful math teacher my senior year who made sure I got through with the required C.

My trend of mediocre academic performances mostly continued at Longwood.  I never once made the Dean’s List; however, I did blossom in other ways.  It was at Longwood that I finally started doing what I was probably born to do.

People who knew me when I was growing up didn’t know that I could sing.  My mom knew that I had absolute (perfect) pitch, because I took piano lessons when I was very young.  My piano teacher noticed I could name pitches without a reference note.  But I would never sing in front of anyone because I was (and still am) very sensitive to bad singing.  I knew I could sing on key, but didn’t think I sounded particularly good.  So I wouldn’t sing in front of other people, and was never encouraged to try.  My parents were both musicians, though, so it makes sense that I’d have a knack for music. 

To earn a bachelor of arts degree at Longwood, I needed to take a course in one of the fine arts.  I chose music appreciation and a one credit voice class.  I ended up excelling in the voice class and my teacher invited me to study privately.  Before I knew it, I had joined Longwood’s Camerata Singers, which required an audition.  I was soon singing with people who had been in choirs all through high school.  That experience was truly life changing for me.  Making music is now something I do most days, even if not many people hear my efforts.  It’s made me a much happier person.

It may seem like a minor thing now, but that one voice class opened up a whole new world to me.  I only wish I had taken it sooner.  I might have majored in music instead of English.  I both excelled in and loved my music classes.  I got straight As in them, with the lone exception of that one music appreciation class I took.  By contrast, I was a mediocre English major, except when I took writing classes.  In my writing classes, I excelled like I did in music.

It was an adjunct music professor at Longwood who cared enough about me to encourage me to study music, even if she couldn’t persuade me to change my major. I can’t help but wonder if I would have gotten the same attention at any of the other schools I had considered.  Looking back on it, it seems as if I was destined to go to Longwood.  Maybe I wasn’t a superstar student, but I think I flourished there.  Even today, I communicate with professors who knew me in the 90s.  My husband, Bill, attended much more prestigious American University and he hasn’t seen or spoken to any of his former professors since the 80s.  Sometimes, the less famous college offers a better value.  I know I’ve often mused about how much more I got out of my time at Longwood than I did the University of South Carolina.

After Longwood, I joined the Peace Corps kind of on a whim.  I was soon exposed to people from other parts of the country and then the Republic of Armenia, a place that had been mostly off limits to Americans only four years prior to my arrival. I used my music skills a lot in Armenia.  Then I went to graduate school and earned those two master’s degrees that I don’t use… which became the reason I call myself “overeducated”.  Still, I recognize that I was able to compete with people who went to “better” schools, both as a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student.  I don’t regret any of those experiences now, but sometimes I wonder how in the world I ended up here.  In some ways, I have been extraordinarily lucky.  I often feel kind of like a fraud, but I know deep down that I’m not one.   

I empathize with high school seniors who are now dealing with the hell of trying to get into college.  I don’t envy them at all.  They’re dealing with so many things that I didn’t have to deal with.  Life has gotten super competitive on many levels.  I thought it was bad in 1990, but my generation had nothing on their generation. 

It’s harder and more expensive to go to college these days.  So many young people are racking up huge debts, and competition for well-paid work is stiff.  Young people are having to worry about gun toting lunatics invading their schools and killing random people.  We have a total buffoon in the White House who doesn’t care about anything but making rich people even richer (ETA: Remember, I am writing about Trump, not Biden). 

I don’t envy you young folks at all, although I am very impressed by how young people are standing up and making their voices heard.  And young people today are doing such incredible things… things that perfectly average, mediocre people can’t conceive of doing.  I would imagine that the pressure to stand out must be insane… and yet it gets harder and harder every year.

I’m impressed by that insane drive to succeed that some young people have, but I have a heart for those who were perfectly average folks like me.  It’s true that life is not a dress rehearsal, but most people end up okay, even if they aren’t stars.  These years on the brink of adulthood can be tough going, but eventually, most people come to a place where grades and test scores no longer matter.  So take heart.  There’s life beyond the spring of your senior year.  You just have to get through it and keep your eyes on the prize.

A musical project I completed at the time I wrote this piece. Lately, I’ve focused more on playing guitar than singing. I’m better at singing than guitar playing, though.
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book reviews, education, religion

Repost: Kevin Roose tries out Liberty University…

Here’s a book review I wrote for Epinions.com in 2009. Since I’ve been on a fundie kick lately, I’m reposting it here as/is.

Sometimes life can take you to places you never dreamed you’d go. Such was the case for Kevin Roose, who was, in the fall of 2006, a student at Brown University. Like so many other students of his ilk, Roose was very much a free spirit who liked to party. But Roose was also a curious reporter who happened to be working with author A.J. Jacobs.  In 2007, Jacobs published his book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Inspired by Jacobs’ experiment trying to live his life as literally by the Bible as possible, Roose decided to trade in his wild ways at Brown for a semester at Liberty University, a conservative evangelical Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. Roose chronicles his experiences at Liberty in his book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University (2009).

I had just started reading Jacobs’ book when I got my copy of Roose’s Unlikely Disciple. Though I was thoroughly enjoying reading about Jacobs’ stab at living biblically, I couldn’t resist putting down Jacobs’ book in favor of Roose’s. You see, I am a native of Virginia and graduated from Longwood College (now University). Longwood is located in Farmville, Virginia, just a mere 45 minutes east of Liberty. I had some high school friends who attended Falwell’s famous school and had driven past Liberty on many occasions on my way to my grandmother’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia from Farmville. Though I never in a million years would have wanted to attend Liberty– not even for a semester– I have always been curious about the place. So reading Roose’s book seemed a lot more urgent to me than finishing Jacobs’ book was, even though it appears that Roose’s project was inspired by his mentor’s earlier work.

Roose’s background

Obviously, Kevin Roose is very intelligent, since he managed to get into Brown University. His parents are very liberal and not very religious.  Roose explains that they most closely identify with the Quakers but were never a particularly churchgoing lot. When Roose proposed to attend Liberty for a semester, his parents and the rest of his family were not too thrilled. Like so many other people, they had heard Jerry Falwell’s well publicized remarks about how secular America had caused God to punish Americans with 9/11. They had heard him talk about how Tinky Winky, the beloved purple Teletubby of the children’s show, was actually a symbol to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. They had seen Falwell on television, blustering about how the liberals were degrading America with immorality. Roose’s family and friends were shocked that he’d want to be associated with Jerry Falwell, even just for a semester. And yet, though he wasn’t that into being an evangelical Christian, Kevin Roose applied to Liberty University as a transfer student and was accepted.

Changes!

Using a witty and appealing writing style, Roose explains what it was like to be a fish out of water at Liberty. He writes about how he had to learn to fit in as an evangelical Christian. The process was harder than the average person might realize. For one thing, Roose had to learn how to refrain from cursing while, at the same time, not react too harshly when he heard someone refer to a homosexual as a f*gg*t. Next, he had to learn about the Bible and actually take classes in the Old and New Testament. He had to change the way he approached members of the opposite sex, including the way he dated them. And he also had to stop drinking.

The results of Roose’s new lifestyle had some surprising effects on him. Though he knew he would only be at Liberty for a semester, Roose found himself changing with the experience, mostly in a positive way.  Just quitting drinking allowed him to enjoy hangover free weekends. He also managed to score the last print interview with Jerry Falwell, who died at the bitter end of Roose’s semester at Liberty.

My thoughts

I hesitate to think that Liberty University is actually America’s “holiest” university. There are quite a few evangelical Christian colleges out there, at least a couple of which are much stricter than Liberty is. For instance, as Roose points out in his book, at Pensacola Christian College (PCC) in Pensacola, Florida, men and women use segregated stairwells and are not allowed to stare too long at each other. A prolonged gaze at someone of the opposite gender is known as “optical intercourse” or “making eye babies” and can lead to significant punishment. At Bob Jones University (BJU) in Greenville, South Carolina, students were not permitted to date outside of their races until the year 2000. And women are not permitted to wear pants in public at either PCC or BJU; instead, they have to wear long dresses or skirts with pantyhose. But, I think for someone like Kevin Roose, Liberty was probably holy enough.  Shoot, I always thought Liberty University’s name was very ironic, considering the restrictions its students live with.

In any case, I really enjoyed reading Kevin Roose’s story about life at Liberty. I was very impressed by how much research Roose did, both in terms of the school and the conservative Christian movement in general. His writing is very easy and fun to read, as well as insightful. Having spent some time around college students and graduates of prestigious universities, I think I was afraid Roose might be a snob about going to Liberty after being at Brown. But Roose manages to maintain a very objective and open-minded attitude about Liberty. In fact, he even reveals some of the guilt he feels about hiding his true agenda from his new friends and colleagues. I half expected Roose to decide he wanted to stay at Liberty after all.

Overall

I think this book will really appeal to anyone who’s ever been curious about the religious right or Jerry Falwell. Roose includes some tidbits about Falwell that humanize the man a great deal. I also think The Unlikely Disciple is good reading for anyone who’s either attended or is planning to attend Liberty University– as long as they have a sense of humor.  I would also recommend this book to anyone who’s just curious about it. It’s often very entertaining, yet ultimately rewarding to read. I came away from reading this book thinking that Kevin Roose’s life was greatly enriched from his semester at Liberty; so was mine, as a result of Roose’s willingness to share.

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education, healthcare, musings

JFTDC… look it up on Urban Dictionary, if you’re confused…

There was a time, not so long ago, that I actually enjoyed getting involved in discussions on Facebook. I found it stimulating to have conversations with other adults about controversial topics. After awhile, though, the discussions started to become annoying, mainly because they often attracted trolls. I also found myself involved in online spats with men, some of whom seemed to get a charge out of goading emotional responses from people.

I realize it’s not always men who are like this. I’ve run into some very irritating women, too. I’m sure there are people out there in the world who find me annoying as hell, although I truly don’t go out of my way to antagonize people. Somehow, I just seem to come by it naturally. It started with my father, who used to criticize me for being “arrogant”. I don’t think I was arrogant, so much as I was strong-willed and articulate. He found my willingness to talk back to him disrespectful and aggravating. I found his tendency to discount me and my opinions disappointing, to the point of being heartbreaking. I mean, my own dad wanted me to dumb myself down so that I didn’t upset his ego. How sad is that? I probably could and should write a separate post about my dad… although whatever I write will likely be a rerun.

Anyway, early yesterday morning, while I was recovering from Arran’s first pee break of the day, I ran across a discussion a friend was having about whether or not people should be “segregated” according to their COVID vaccination status. This fellow, someone I have met offline, but don’t know all that well, was arguing that segregating people based on their vaccination status is discriminatory. He’s against the idea of “vaccine passports” and doesn’t think anyone should have to disclose their vaccination status or be forced to get inoculated against COVID-19. Surprisingly enough, I know that this man has a background in healthcare. He disapproves of the COVID-19 vaccines, claiming that they’re “experimental”.

Several of his friends took him to task about his stance. One person mentioned that she had to get flu shots as a condition of her job. She also mentioned that children often aren’t allowed to go to schools if they haven’t been immunized. She also expressed doubt that this guy actually cares if the COVID vaccines are FDA approved, and rightfully explained that the research behind the vaccines has been going on for some time now.

My friend came back with a response that he does care if the vaccines are approved, because he is concerned about how they might affect his family members. And then he wrote something I found a bit alarming:

…businesses segregating people between vaccinated and not vaccinated is akin to segregation between black and white. Segregation based on skin color is no different than segregation based on my vaccine status.

Oh my. Personally, I find this a bit of a stretch. COVID-19 KILLS people. It’s extremely contagious. So someone who is unvaccinated and happens to be carrying the virus could potentially cause an outbreak that results in death. It has nothing to do with a person’s race. Racial segregation is not the same thing. A person can’t help their race. They can help whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.

Against my better judgment, I kept reading. And then another friend of my friend’s left an admittedly “preachy” comment about how one person’s choices affects other people. My friend came back hot, demanding to know if he was being selfish for not wanting to risk taking an experimental vaccine. His friend responded that yes, not getting the shot is “selfish”, reiterating that the research has been going on for years.

At this point, I could kind of understand why my friend was responding with so much emotion. No one likes to be accused of selfishness, especially when he or she is trying to make a personal decision. But then he wrote something that really made me pause.

…only people are selfish because theyre not getting the vaccine?. I got news for you bro. The CDC said youre fully protected when you are fully vaccinated so why in the hell are you or anyone else for that matter worried about it. Let me be selfish by not taking an experimental vaccine. And for the record I knew about mRNA before you even knew what that was so dont preach the choir to someone who has a Masters in Public Health. WebMD is very dangerous bud

I happen to have a master’s degree in public health myself, and legitimately didn’t realize that this friend and I have that in common. So I went to see where he got his education. It turns out that both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees come from the same online for profit university.

I don’t have an issue with online education. Bill has two master’s degrees. One of them is a Master of Arts he earned in Information Management from Webster University back in 2003, having done a lot by correspondence and the occasional in person class early in our marriage. I remember how exhausted he was when he had to work a full day at the Pentagon, then go to class after work. He’d come home at about 8:00pm, having risen at 4:30am to catch the train to DC.

The other degree, Bill earned in 2016, just after he retired from the Army. He was taking cybersecurity courses through the National Defense University, and discovered that he could earn a master’s degree from Regis University (a Jesuit brick and mortar school in Colorado) by adding some of their online courses. That, too, was a challenging undertaking, as he would sometimes have to get up in the middle of the night to attend class or work in groups, thanks to the time difference between Germany and Colorado. I also witnessed how much real work went into Bill’s acquisition of that cybersecurity degree. When we first moved to Germany for the second time, he was constantly doing school work, even when we were on trips.

Then I remember my own graduate school experience, which was three solid years of traditional schooling at the University of South Carolina. I lived on campus, had graduate assistantships and internships, and got to know a lot of people. I had a social work professor in those days who didn’t like online or virtual instruction. For that matter, he also didn’t like telemedicine on distance counseling sessions. He didn’t think distance learning or telemedicine/counseling was a substitute for being in person. I have recently had the chance to see how well online counseling works. Bill recently started receiving online counseling, which is something that I have encouraged him to do for years. He’s a few sessions in already, and has really been enjoying the process. It’s something he can do for himself, while in the comfort of his own home or, in the case of the last three weeks, in a hotel room. He and his counselor talk for an hour, and can see each other, thanks to webcams. I think it’s been working out well for him.

Weirdly enough, it turns out the University of South Carolina is a pioneer in distance learning, which I learned when I was a student there. They’ve been offering distance education at USC for decades. I had a few classes at USC that were offered at satellite locations across the state so that working people didn’t have to come all the way to Columbia for class. Since I graduated in 2002, I know that it’s become even easier for people to get credentialed without traveling to school. But the University of South Carolina is a brick and mortar, non-profit, and publicly supported school that does a lot of really good work for the community, particularly in rural settings. In fact, one of my internships was in a rural town. It was unique and rewarding to work there. If I hadn’t married Bill, maybe I would have tried to get a job in a rural town and put my degrees to use. By contrast, when I was an undergrad at Longwood University (then Longwood College), there were no distance ed classes available.

Still, though… I’m not sure about these online for profit higher education outfits, particularly when it comes to graduate programs. I tend to distrust them. Maybe it’s because Donald Trump once ran one that became quite infamous for cheating students and ripping off investors. I also don’t think that entities for social good, such as schools, hospitals, or prisons should be for profit. I know from my studies that there are a lot of “for profit” hospitals and insurance companies out there, and their emphasis is on making money. I have found that when an organization is hellbent on making money, sometimes ethics fall by the wayside. However, in fairness to for profit universities and other entities, sometimes the product offered really is of good quality. Not all schools are created equally. I probably wouldn’t choose one myself, though, if I decided to go back to school again. Too many other types of schools offer distance ed or online programs.

In the case of this friend… he can count Texas Republican Tony Tinderholt as a fellow graduate of his school. Tony Tinderholt, as you might know, is a legislator who has famously advocated for the death penalty for anyone who has an abortion. I guess one could say that Tinderholt got somewhere with his education. And in fairness, I don’t know how good the education actually is at the school they attended. It’s not something I’ve researched heavily. I would not have considered attending that school when I was looking for a program, but that was mainly because my goal was to take a geographical cure for the situation I was in at the time. Also, online studies weren’t as popular back then, nor did the school that granted my friend his MPH offer the program I was specifically interested in pursuing. Of course, we can see where it led me, as I sit here early in the morning, typing a blog post instead of going to work at the CDC or something.

I guess I was just surprised that he was using his MPH to defend his anti-vaccination views. It’s not that I think it’s necessarily wrong to qualify oneself in an argument, especially when the other person doesn’t realize he or she is speaking with someone who has been educated or has actual expertise. It’s just that I wouldn’t expect someone with a MPH to be equating someone’s COVID vaccination status, or lack thereof, with racial segregation. But what do I know? My multilingual and degreed sister has a PhD in public health from Chapel Hill, an excellent school for public health, and my mom tells me that she’s fallen way down the Trump hole. Must be all those years she’s spent in North Carolina.

I’ll tell you what I do know… I now know what JFTDC means, thanks to Urban Dictionary. Perhaps my time would have been better spent looking up slang words online than going to graduate school or reading Facebook posts on other people’s pages. Especially since I do think the COVID vaccines are a good idea, although I don’t necessarily have a problem with people who think over-vaccination, in general, can be problematic. Actually, I agree that too many vaccines can be a bad thing, particularly when it comes to dogs. I think we do give pets too many shots– especially rabies. I base that on the number of dogs I’ve had who have wound up with cancer– particularly mast cell cancer, which can lead to lymphoma. There has been a link to over-vaccination and mast cell cancer, mainly because main cell tumors are caused by an immune system gone amok. Some people and animals don’t react well to vaccines, either. Our dearly departed beagle, Zane, was allergic to the leptospirosis vaccine and got hives when he had that shot.

But in the case of COVID-19, I do think the vaccines are essential, even if I also agree with a person’s right to self-determination. And I do think the vaccine passports are going to be created, whether or not my friend thinks it’s right. I suspect he ought to get used to the idea, because I think it’s coming. It’s not even a new thing, since I distinctly remember being issued a yellow WHO immunization card when I was in the Peace Corps. I especially think the vaccine passports will be used in Europe, which already issues pet passports for vaccines. Of course, my thoughts on the potential vaccine passport are just my opinion.

Anyway… it’s time for me to eat hard boiled eggs, so I’m going to close this post. And I’m going to be grateful to myself for not engaging in that particular argument. Self-control is a good thing, and fortunately, sometimes, I do have it.

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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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