This beer is ONLY good for beer bread

I’ve been living in an apartment with my family as my house is being constructed. The last couple of months have reminded me why I’m not fan of apartments in the first place. We moved in on a Friday morning, and that evening around 9 pm I saw a group gathering outside to smoke. They were being a bit loud, so at 10 pm (quiet time for our ordinance) I called the apartment complex security number. I drifted off to sleep through the noise, only to be re-awakened at 11:30 pm to two different guys screaming at each other. The phrase “I’m going to kill you, you m$%^-f%&#$” was loud enough to easily penetrate my kids windows. After I called the police, the argument continued, and at one point the very un-Christian thought of “Maybe they’ll shoot each other and then quietly die” crossed my mind.

My apartment isn’t in the ghetto. It’s actually really nice. It has a nice pool, complete with a kiddie area and a 4.5 foot section. It has a nice workout room, with a partial weight set, treadmill and even a kids play area next to it, where my kids play while I get my workout in. The apartment complex hosts all sorts of events, and they have a movie and game room area too.

It’s a nice apartment. And I couldn’t hate it more, because of the people.

Continue reading “Apartment living and people”

Just in case you think Democrats are talking through their hats when they predict a “blue wave” in November, let me give you a peek at my state’s 2018 recent Congressional primary.  I admit that New Hampshire is a small sample size. This is a cautionary tale, not a prediction of anyone’s “wave.”

Our entire current federal delegation – two Senators and two Members of Congress – is Democratic. Republican challengers for New Hampshire’s two Congressional districts are in place after a pair of fiercely-contested primaries. They are now working to replace Democrats in a state where independents make up 40% of the electorate, state Democrats just shattered their own record for number of primary ballots cast, and where in 2016 Donald Trump finished behind Hillary Clinton.

The state’s chief election official, whose predictions about turnout are usually on target, had estimated that 90,000 Democratic ballots would be cast in the September primary. Actual number was over 126,000, which includes a substantial number of primary-day registrants. The number of GOP ballots cast – around 100,000 – looked anemic by comparison.

So much for this being an off-year election. New Hampshire Democrats showed in the primary that they are fired up. They want to hang on to those two seats in Congress. It’ll take fired-up Republicans and allied independents – local ones – to rise to the challenge.

The Granite State Republican congressional candidates proved themselves to be effective grassroots campaigners in highly competitive primaries. They’re not burdened with complacency. That’s one reason why I think that the startling number of Democratic ballots in the primary looks more like reason for caution than reason for panic.

That’s the view from one small district. How was primary turnout in your area?


Ellen is a New Hampshire writer who blogs about the life issues at Leaven for the Loaf. 

Now’s the time to celebrate the First Amendment and support independent journalism by hitting DaTipJar. Thank you!

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — One of the unintended consequences of Common Core (or whatever your state’s iteration of Common Core is) has been an attack on the classroom library and independent reading.

In the move to implement a “Tier 1 curriculum,” the first thing to go is anything that does not align with that curriculum.  In Louisiana, a Tier 1 curriculum “exemplifies quality.”  As defined on the Louisiana Believes website, it “meets all non-negotiable criteria and scored the best possible on all indicators of superior quality.”

Louisiana’s version of Common Core is called Louisiana Believes and in ELA our Tier 1 curriculum is Guidebooks 2.0 which was “made by teachers for teachers” and “ensures all students can read, understand, and express their understanding of complex, grade-level texts.”  It began in 2013 when the framework was developed and now in 2018 most parishes are well into implementation of the curriculum.  In my parish we are in year two.

In at least two parishes there have been reports of ELA teachers being asked to remove novels, or anything that is not Tier 1 material, from their rooms: one report was from south Louisiana and the other report came to me from northwest Louisiana.  To protect these teachers I will keep their names and parishes private.  In one parish the teacher was able to strike a compromise with her administration after she provided research and documentation on the benefits of independent reading.

As Donalyn Miller so often makes the case, the research on independent reading “is ubiquitous” and not hard to find.

In defense of these school districts, I think that part of the problem is that we are so new to the implementation of this radically different, scripted curriculum that sometimes administrators and supervisors may not all be on the same page with regard to what is acceptable and what is not.  I can think of no other reason to justify why an administrator might tell a teacher that “independent reading has got to go!” or to remove novels from the classroom.  Sometimes these directives vary within a single district from school to school.

It is just difficult for an ELA teacher to hear that a student can’t read a book; it’s hard to justify that.  And frankly, I don’t know how anyone who calls himself an educator would tell a teacher that students can’t read books.  One of these teachers was told she “is resistant” to the new curriculum; if that doesn’t sound right out of Ray Bradbury I don’t know what does.

In fact, the Louisiana Believes website even states that the vision for students is that “Every day, students in Louisiana should build their knowledge of the world, read meaningful text, express their unique ideas through writing and speaking, and attempt complex problems.”

Given that, I don’t believe that the Louisiana Department of Education is truly against students reading books and so I can’t conceive of why they would want them removed from classrooms, yet I have actually talked to two teachers where this happened.

It is no secret that I have a classroom library and this has not happened to me; my students are reading AND they are participating in the Louisiana Tier 1 curriculum.

I can only hope that there was some misunderstanding on the part of these two teachers  and that the issues have been resolved.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

Secretary Mattis recently released a memo directing commanders to make better use of the military justice system, likely in response to the plummeting number of court martial cases across all services. For the non-military person, this might sound absurd: why are we unhappy when we have less crime among the ranks? A bit of explanation is required.

Continue reading “Secretary Mattis, the UCMJ, and the power of the ISIC”

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some random thoughts this week:

Book Reviews:  I’ve finished reading two books this week: What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren, and Educated by Tara Westover.  Both have been books that leave what I call a book-hangover, which is to say that they were both so good that it’s been difficult to get into another book immediately after.  Cat Warren’s book about her work and training with her cadaver dog, Solo, is a thoroughly researched and engaging story.  It’s not your sentimental dog tale where you need a box of tissues at the end.  Not that kind of book – you are safe.  I learned so much about the science of dogs and scent and about how handlers train and work with these dogs.  Warren’s dry humor, quick wit, and solid science make this a thoroughly engaging read.

Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is a heart-wrenching story about her very unconventional childhood.  Westover was home-schooled in the loosest sense of the word and never set foot in a classroom until she was seventeen years old. Her father, most likely mentally ill, is a survivalist and the Westover children spent their days stocking the root cellar for the End of Days and working their father’s scrapyard. Their mother is an herbalist and midwife and her essential oils and other cures were used to treat all of the family’s injuries including third-degree burns and loss of fingers.  To escape the abuse of her older brother and to make her own way in life, Tara buys a math book and an ACT practice book, teaches herself math, and gets into Brigham Young University.  She doesn’t stop there.  I could not put this book down and now I can’t quit thinking about it.

Speaking of Education:  As you may remember, my students are participating in free-choice reading this semester.  I started building a classroom library last spring and through my Amazon Wish List and my own weekly trips to thrift stores and second-hand book shops, we now have just over 300 unique titles (plus some duplicates) in our classroom.  I’ve been giving updates on my blog about their progress but the short version is that so far, here at the end of week four, this is a success.  I have students that have read multiple books now.  They are writing about what they are reading and they are talking with me about their books.  Even better, they are asking me for suggestions for their next books as well as giving me titles to add to our Wish List!  Keep in mind, most of my students came into my classroom telling me that they don’t read for pleasure and could not remember the last book they read outside of required school texts.  It’s still early in this project, but I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing in my classroom every day!  It’s very exciting to watch!

Still Speaking of Education:  It’s an election time in Louisiana and our governor is proposing a teacher pay raise.  John Bel Edwards is up for re-election in 2019 so it’s apparently time to get the teachers on board.  He thinks a $1,000 annual pay raise will do it.  Let me make this very clear:  he can give me whatever pay raise he wants to but until he returns teacher autonomy to the classroom and abandons canned, scripted lessons, I’m not voting for him.  Period.  Call me a single-issue voter, I don’t care. I.Don’t.Care.

Hurricane Gordon:  The tropical storm we were watching last week turned and fizzled.  This is not a bad thing necessarily but now officials are worried about giving too many false warnings:

Louisiana officials declared an emergency, called out the National Guard, shuttered schools and closed courthouses as Tropical Storm Gordon drew near, but the weather system bucked east and left the Pelican State unscathed.

Such false alarms are the cost of a robust emergency response system, scientists and government officials said Wednesday. Some worried residents could become desensitized to future alerts.

“People think they’re getting over-warned,” said meteorologist Frank Revitte of the National Weather Service’s Slidell office, which issues forecasts for southeastern Louisiana.

I think I’d rather have the warning than not.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

Tropical storm Gordon.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Last night as I was watching LSU’s trouncing of the Miami Hurricanes on television, I received a text message from a friend which included a screenshot of the new tropical storm in the Gulf, Gordon, with the question “Am I the only one who can feel a faster heartbeat and creeping anxiety over a pic like this?”

It’s an ongoing group text thread with five of us teachers and every one of us knew exactly what she meant.  I’d been watching that cone of probability all day long as it centered this storm right over New Orleans.

It’s only a tropical storm, it’s not a hurricane, and it’s probably not that big of a deal, but this is what living in Louisiana is like, especially after Katrina which was much in the news the past week with the thirteenth anniversary of that devastating storm.

Add to that the flooding along the south Louisiana coast with Harvey last year and, well, we can be forgiven if we look at tropical storm warnings a little differently than normal.

The New York Times has a story today about Hurricane Harvey and about how many poor neighborhoods in Houston are “slow to recover” :

A survey last month showed that 27 percent of Hispanic Texans whose homes were badly damaged reported that those homes remained unsafe to live in, compared to 20 percent of blacks and 11 percent of whites. There were similar disparities with income: 50 percent of lower-income respondents said they weren’t getting the help they needed, compared to 32 percent of those with higher incomes, according to the survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation.

And while Louisiana escaped the brunt of Hurricane Harvey, areas along the coast received up to twenty-two inches of rain which just added insult to injury after the devastating 2016 Louisiana floods.  In August 2016 much of south Louisiana received devastating rain totals as a slow-moving storm drenched the state and left many homes uninhabitable.

So, yes.  Whenever we see those weather graphics with those cones of probability slamming right into our fragile coast, we get a little nervous.

It doesn’t stop us in our tracks, though.  We are used to this.  It comes with the territory (literally!) and the flooding and storms are part of our routine.  We prepare, we wait, we watch, and sometimes the predictions are wrong.

But I do believe that Katrina changed things for us.  I’m in northwest Louisiana and so Katrina as a weather event didn’t affect me very much, but Katrina as a human drama certainly did.  I’ll never ever forget the haunted eyes of those refugee children in my classrooms.

With this little storm, Gordon, who is making its way over the coast this week and up into my corner of the state this time, what I worry about most is our very fragile coastline and vanishing wetlands.  I wonder why we have no better answers to protect them and I worry about places like Isle de Jean Charles, for example, that are already so endangered.  What must those people be thinking as they look at the weather forecast this week?

In the meantime, we celebrate our LSU Tigers’ performance last night, and I think I will go start a pot of gumbo and hope that the storm moves quickly through.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By DonkeyHotey (Donald Trump Is Not Going to Sue Pope Francis) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
President Trump and Pope Francis are about as far apart on the spectrum as you can get. Both men lead large organizations and have tried to implement big change. Most importantly, both are renegotiating deals. Let’s compare those results.

Pope Francis has been working to reunite a breakaway faction, called SSPX, most of his time in office. He has also been working to restore relationship with China and begin appointing bishops there. President Trump declared his intent to renegotiate trade deals, specifically with the European Union, Mexico and Canada.

These negotiations are tough. Both sides were fairly entrenched. Yet today we are reading about President Trumps successes and (not reading) Pope Francis’ failures. Why is that?

Continue reading “A tale of two negotiators”

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPOT — Last week Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator visited with Erin McCarty and Robert J. Wright on our local 710 KEEL radio about Governor John Bel Edwards touted Criminal Justice Reform.

The bipartisan legislation revamping the way Louisiana deals with criminals and crime was passed in 2017 in an attempt to lower Louisiana’s notoriously high incarceration rate.  The reform bill was authored by six Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent.  Those designations mean little though; in Louisiana all you have to do to get re-elected to the other side of the legislative chamber is change your political affiliation, if not your beliefs.

In a meeting with President Donald Trump in early August, Governor John Bel Edwards said, “In Louisiana, we’re proud of the work we’ve done. It’s been sentencing reform, prison reform, and a real focus on reentry and for the first time in 20 years, I can tell you Louisiana does not have the highest incarceration rate in the nation today.”

In 2017, U.S. News and World Report listed the top ten states with the highest incarceration rate in the nation and Louisiana was number one, and designated the prison capital of the world.

Everyone agrees there is a problem here but consensus begins to diverge when we begin to nail down what those problems are and how to solve them.  Senator John Kennedy, (R-LA) is one of those voices against the new reforms:  “Well, the governor and I just disagree,” said Kennedy. “He thinks our problem in Louisiana is we have too many prisoners. I think our problem is we have too many people committing crimes.”

Sheriff Prator is more specific.  In his visit on KEEL radio last week he enumerated several changes he believes are problematic.  One of his concerns is that the re-entry programs that are supposed to help the newly released acclimate into society are not yet in place.  “We’re designing the bus while we’re driving the bus,” he said, “and somebody is gonna get killed, and people are getting killed…”.

Sheriff Prator is referring to two prisoners who were arrested on drug charges that were released in November, who have now committed murder, and have been rearrested.  One of these was in Ouachita Parish and the other in Bossier Parish.

These re-entry programs are supposed to be funded in part by the savings gained from lowering the incarceration rate.  Sheriff Prator directs citizens to page 38 of the Practitioners Guide for the new reforms which explains that in the first year, 35% of the savings will go to the Office of Juvenile Justice for Strategic Investments and to the Department of corrections for the same purpose.  Nobody has said what those strategic investments are; Sheriff Prator did not know.

Still in the first year, 14% of the savings will go to Victims’ services (this number drops to 10% after the first year.) Twenty-one percent goes to “Grants: community-based programs” (drops to 15% after year 1) and 30% of the savings from early release goes to the General Fund to be spent at legislators’ discretion.

What concerns Sheriff Prator a great deal can be found on pages 6 and 7 of the Practitioner’s Guide which outlines new thresholds and penalties for non-violent crimes.  Apparently, we are not all in agreement on what “non-violent” means.  For example, under the new law, a person could barge into my home with a firearm and could be free the very next day.  This is now a probationary offense.  Specifically, the former penalty for this was mandatory five to thirty years.  Now it is 1-30 years and the one year is not mandatory, according to Sheriff Prator.

Another example: no longer considered a violent crime is “mingling harmful substances”; in other words, if someone drops a date rape drug in your drink, this is a non-violent offense.  So is extortion and a drive-by shooting if you happen to miss hitting a person.  See page 7 of the Practitioners Guide for these.

Here is the chart found on page 7 of the Guide:

Penalties for crimes have been drastically altered as well, such as debt forgiveness.  One scenario described by Sheriff Prator would be that of a repeat offender for theft, for example.  If the judge orders that person to reimburse the victim, the most they have to pay back is the equivalent of one day’s wage per month, and if they do that for one year the balance of the debt is forgiven.

Additionally, third and fourth DWI offenses are now backed down to probation and may qualify for diversion, which means that it is not recidivism if it never happened.  At least on record.

Nobody, not even Sheriff Prator, thinks our prison system was without fault before these reforms.  Everyone agrees that change was needed.  But perhaps we have once again passed a bill without really knowing what is in it.  At the very least, we have passed a bill that releases prisoners without the safety net to keep them from reoffending.  Those programs simply do not exist yet and that is not a good situation for the citizens of Louisiana or the newly released.

Read the Practitioner’s Guide; it’s not a complicated document.  You can find it here.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By John Ruberry

While “the betters” on the Sunday talk shows were praising John McCain, who died from brain cancer Saturday, Mrs. Marathon Pundit turned to me and asked, “Why isn’t anyone talking about the number of houses he owned?”

The TV talking heads weren’t.

In his laudatory statement about the Arizona senator’s passing, of course Barack Obama didn’t bring up the houses. But in 2008, when a Politico reporter asked the Arizona senator how many houses he owned, and in a awkward manner, McCain replied that he didn’t know. He suggested that the reporter check with his staff.

Watch Obama–the pertinent section begins at 1:38–mock McCain for being an out-of-touch elitist over the houses gaffe.

The correct number was eight, if you include the homes owned by McCain’s wife.

Obama’s campaign used the McCain houses remark in television ad. Which, in one of the McCain campaign’s better moments, led a spokesperson to retort, “Does a guy who made more than $4 million last year, just got back from vacation on a private beach in Hawaii and bought his own million-dollar mansion with the help of a convicted felon really want to get into a debate about houses?”

Obama still owns that mansion, purchased with guidance from Chicago political fixer Tony Rezko. And he now owns a second mansion, this one with–wait for it–a wall, in Washington.

McCain was tortured by his North Vietnamese jailers during his five years as a prisoner of war. Those injuries made it very difficult for him to type and use a computer. Which led the Obama campaign to run this sneering ad against McCain:

CNN didn’t begin its piling-on against prominent Republicans with the rise of Donald Trump, its Jeanne Moos sardonically reported on the McCain computer kerfuffle during the ’08 campaign.

When asked a town hall in 2008 about a George W. Bush statement that American troops might be serving in Iraq for 50 years, McCain musingly replied that they could there for “maybe 100.”

Let’s add some context here. Over seven decades after the defeat of the Axis powers there still are American troops stationed in Germany, Italy, and Japan. Only extremists from both sides of the political aisle are calling for their removal.

Obama pounced on McCain for the 100-years remark. “Instead of offering an exit strategy for Iraq” Obama said a month later, “he’s offering us a 100-year occupation.”

A lie.

McCain never spoke of an “occupation.” Obama pulled out our troops from Iraq in late 2011 and bragged about it in during his reelection campaign. Three years later ISIS seized nearly one-third of Iraq. Then Obama dispatched combat troops to Iraq again. About 5,000 of them remain.

Obama, as he is about so many other things, was wrong about Iraq.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

When an opportunity for me to visit Rome came up unexpectedly not long ago, I dropped everything, including blogging assignments. I will probably never have another crack at a trip to Italy with my husband. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I wanted to go.

I figured I might be able to write along the way. Surely there would be time. That’s not how it worked out. No one warned me of the overload of sights and impressions I’d be experiencing, and the deep contrasts I’d be witnessing. They packed an emotional punch. Perhaps the biggest contrast that hit my Catholic sensibilities was the one between churches as places of historical interest and churches as places of faith.

Rome is a city of church domes, not skyscrapers. Vatican City’s crown jewel, St. Peter’s Basilica, holds a commanding position. A walk through Rome reveals other churches that catch the eye: architectural marvels, places of art and beauty, accessible to believer and nonbeliever alike. One could be forgiven for valuing them simply as museums and artifacts of a certain period in history. That might be what brings someone through the doors for the first time.

Yet these aren’t mere artifacts of a lost time. They are places of worship. It’s odd how I felt that so strongly in St. Peter’s, thronged as it was with tourists. In the little side chapels within the nave, people were kneeling. Maybe one in twenty of the people in the vast church was there for prayer. Yet that five percent made the difference between a museum and a church. I asked where daily Mass was said, since obviously the “main” part of the church was occupied by tourists from all over the world. A guide pointed me to one of the side chapels, set apart only by a quiet attendant welcoming to the pews anyone who wanted to pray.

A few years ago, on another unexpected journey, I made a pilgrimage to St. Mark’s in Venice. The main doors, the big ones, were designated for tourists, of whom there were many. Who could visit the city without taking in that stunning edifice? For those wanting to pray, there was a smaller door off to the side: not to shunt anyone aside, but to guide pilgrims to a quiet area devoid of cameras and chatter.

In both Rome and Venice, I recognized those little side chapels as powerhouses, even if my Italy guidebook didn’t.

I came home to my little parish church, where the architecture is far more modest and draws no tourists. No one would ever confuse it with a museum. I came home to neighbors as appalled as I by the news of yet more abuse, more episcopal failures, more reminders that if my faith in God relies on anyone’s miter and staff then my faith is doomed to shatter.

Tough news to come home to after Rome, for sure. Yet in a way, my journey had set me up to face tough news. Rome was a challenging place for me. Beautiful and vibrant, yes. But around every corner and under every dome was that contrast and tension: museum, or house of worship?  I think that as long as those side chapels are occupied by people at prayer, the tension resolves in favor of worship.

I think that these days, both in Rome and at home, prayer is not only worship of God but also an act of defiance against people who need to be defied: all those who would weaken others’ faith, break bruised reeds, betray trust. A dangerous attitude, that. Prayer without humility and love becomes the clanging cymbal of which St. Paul warned us. Yet abandoning prayer altogether leaves the field to the museum-goers. I’m not prepared to do that.

Rome and Vatican City were a revelation to me. Nothing I studied prepared me properly for all the food, sights, history, and the accompanying  sensory overload. Yet quite against my will, elbowing its way into all my other memories is that sight of people praying off to the side in St. Peter’s. One in twenty, giving soul to the church, quietly pushing back against all that would render it a mere museum.