A local cultural observation, just to break up the campaign coverage for a minute…

The Latin Mass can pack a room, and it ain’t all about nostalgia. (Or, as friend used to spell it, “naustalgia,” which I always took to mean the past making you sick.) One of the old ethnic churches in my New England city has just been re-opened after being shuttered for 15 years. Our bishop asked an order of priests dedicated to the Tridentine Mass to set up shop, and the order obliged. The first Sunday Mass was held recently, and it was an eye-opener.

First of all, the number of young families was staggering. They’re looking to the future. Talking with them after Mass was like a tonic.

The church was packed, people standing in the back, even 40 or so standing on the steps outside when the church filled up. It’s possible some were there for the novelty, or to see what a Latin Mass was like. There were a few folks who had been parishioners back in the days when it was “the Polish parish.” There were certainly some pre-Vatican II Catholics who wanted the liturgy of their youth. Most of the attendees, though, looked like they’d been born well after the mid-1960s.

Second, the bumper stickers out in the parking lot indicated a lot of politically-engaged people in attendance. There were humorous (not to say barbed) slogans and serious ones, many explicitly pro-life, few explicitly partisan, yet all designed to give a Democratic nominee the vapors.

So what?

I’ll tell you what this looks like to me: these people praying together are not cultural refugees. They’re not wringing their hands. They’re looking past the next election. They’re steeped less in tradition per se than in faith in God. And they’re bringing that faith with them as they raise their kids, go about their daily business, and prepare to vote.

If the Republican nominee prevails, these are people who will keep him on his toes. If the Democratic nominee prevails – and she won’t, if these folks have their way – these are people who have the makings of resistance, if not outright defiance. People who take their religious faith and their American citizenship seriously are a force to reckoned with, with or without a “win” in November. Let others talk (without a constitutional basis) about separation of church and state – just don’t expect separation of faith and daily life.

Am I giving too much credit to one event in one small city? Maybe. Still, there’s something about that church full of savvy young families that shook up my pessimism about the upcoming election. I needed the reality check.

As for the Mass itself, it was a revelation to me. I’m a post-Vatican II cradle Catholic. Let’s just say there seem to be riches I’ve yet to discover.

Ellen Kolb writes about the life issues at LeavenForTheLoaf.com. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking in New Hampshire. See her earlier posts for DaTechGuyBlog: Ethics and PP’s Campaign Cash, Putting a Know-Nothing in His Place, Ads Say the Darnedest Things, and Worried About the Court? Then Worry About the Senate. 

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By:  Pat Austin

monument
Detail of Caddo Parish Confederate monument

SHREVEPORT – Indulge me this week.  I’m so sick of national politics I just can’t bang out one more post on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or the uninformed masses who continue to believe that raising the minimum wage is the answer to our problems (sorry about that last one – someone on Facebook rattled my cage this morning).  Actually, Facebook is the devil.  Let’s don’t talk about that, either.

I’m finding my interests these days turning more to local issues and the snake pit that is our local government; this is not very good fodder for a blog like this one with national readers as a rule, so I save that stuff for my own blog.  However, we do have a sort of regional controversy going on around here as of late with the brouhaha over the Confederate monuments.  I’ve written about it here on this blog before, but I’m sharing this with you now as an example of the ever important principle of “unintended consequences.”

Here in Shreveport we have a term-limited local official who is bound and determined to remove the Confederate monument that stands outside our Caddo Parish courthouse before he leaves office.  He’s tried several times over the years to have it removed and has never been successful primarily because the little patch of land it stands on was donated to the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1903. Although a formal deed was never recorded, the donation is recorded in the minutes of the Police Jury meeting when the land (and a $1,000 donation toward the commission of the monument) was given.

Back in those days people did business with a handshake and a good word, so it’s not surprising that a deed was never filed, but it would make things a bit more clear today.

Here is where the unintended consequences come in.  This local official is still pressing the monument issue and now it seems that the parish may not own the land upon which the courthouse sits at all.  There is a possibility that the land actually belongs to the heirs of a man named Larkin Edwards who was an interpreter for the Caddo Indians; the Caddo Indians were so fond of Mr. Edwards that they reserved and donated large parcels of land to him in their treaties with the government.

Talk about a can of worms…talk about unintended consequences…

We don’t know how all this is going to turn out: maybe it will just die on the vine as it has in years past, or maybe some attorney will grab hold of it and find some heirs to make a claim, or maybe some other resolution will be found.  In the end, it seems to me, that the only winners here will be the lawyers.

As to the issue of Confederate monuments, there have been pushes to remove them from public spaces and to change names of highways or schools named after Confederate generals.  As this blog attracts readers across the nation rather than just down here in the South, I am curious what the nation as a whole thinks of this.  Is it a movement to erase or revise history?  Do these monuments belong in front of courthouses or as in the case of New Orleans, in the middle of a traffic circle?

I’ve heard, but not yet researched, that there are movements to remove Union monuments in the North as well.

Curious what you think.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Like all other schools across the state and across the nation, Walnut Hill Elementary/Middle School in Shreveport is gearing up for rigorous state testing this month.  The new tests that students will now have to take are Common Core based and extremely tough and schools across the parish have been drilling, doing remediation, holding motivational pep rallies, and offering after school tutoring.  One principal is even calling on prayer, a move which now has him in trouble with the ACLU.

Mr. Albert Hardison is the principal of Walnut Hill Elementary/Middle School; he is a quiet, kind man who always has a smile and gentle nod of his head in greeting.  He has been the principal at Walnut Hill for thirty-five years; his former students are now sending their own kids to Walnut Hill because they think so highly of him and his leadership.

Mr. Hardison attracted the attention of the ACLU when he sent home his March 2015 newsletter to parents advising them about upcoming testing schedules; the school newsletter always has a Principal’s Message to parents.  I’m going to share his message to parents in its entirety here because I want you to have the context; he wrote:

Principal’s Message – ‘Truly We Are Blessed’

“Our school may be old of age, but it is cleaned, well-maintained, and free of debris and graffiti.  Our faculty may not be monetarily rich, but they care, share, and give to our students a wealth of knowledge that will help them become our country’s doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, nurses, and yes, even presidents.  Our students come from all economic levels, communities, races, and origins, but at our school they unite and become one indivisible student body under the Walnut Hill banner of excellence, fairness, and equality for all.

“The sun may not sine outside, but inside our laughter, smiles, encouragement, praise, and love for our children dazzle the day.  Although cloudy days are sometimes evident, the light of optimism, the rays of hope and the joy of teaching and helping our students brighten these cloudy days.

“Our parents may not visit our school each day, but their support, compliments, quick response to our cry for help and love for their children and school is unwavering.

Principal Albert Hardison (Shreveport Times file photo)

“Although all children may not blossom at the same time, our faculty continues to fertilize their minds, water their thoughts, nourish their spirit, pull back the blinds so that the light can stream in, and soon, they bud, grow, and prosper.

“On mornings when the sun is beaming or hidden, our student prayer group ‘Hornets for Hope’, pray and give thanks to the Son of God for carrying our school over the thorns of negativity and the thistles of discord and setting it gently on the petals of harmony and the lily of tranquility.  Our ‘Hornets for Hope’ thank God for giving us a school that believes in God, family, and education.

“We thank God for helping us to realize that if we removed Christ, family, and teachers from the lives of our children there is no way that adding more police officers, legislating more laws, building more jails, requiring more testing, mandating more parental involvement, earning more money, or purchasing more things could ever replace the blessings of God, the love of our family, and the knowledge imparted by our teachers.

“A hundred years from now it will not matter what type of house we lived in, what color our skin was, how much money we had or what brand of clothes we wore, but what will matter is that we steadfastly walked in the ways of Christ, that we honored and loved our parents, family, and fellow man and that we lived by our school motto:  ‘Work for the Best – Accept only the Best – Be the very, very Best.’

“And that in itself is truly a Blessing!

“Albert Hardison, Principal.”

Personally, I think it’s a lovely analogy and a beautiful message.  The ACLU did not agree.

On March 30, 2015, the ACLU of Louisiana sent a letter to the superintendent of Caddo Parish Schools informing him that Mr. Hardison “has engaged in a pattern of religious proselytization by sending messages to parents invoking prayer, and through a lengthy ‘Principal’s Message’ on the school’s website.”  Further:

This letter is to inform you that these messages violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and comparable provisions of the Louisiana Constitution, and they must stop immediately.

They also found offense with this blurb found within the newsletter:

Phillippians 4:13. . .I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

 

Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana has demanded that all religious references be removed from Walnut Hill’s website and from all other Caddo Parish schools.  She also demands that all Caddo Parish staff be educated about “the Constitutional protections of students and staff from religious indoctrination; and Instruct the Principal of Walnut Hill that neither he nor his staff may include religious references of any kind in school communications.”

In response, Caddo Parish did indeed remove all offending references from the Walnut Hill website.  Via The Shreveport Times:

The school district issued a statement Tuesday saying it would investigate the matter internally and make certain there isn’t a Constitutional violation.

“In this instance, questionable materials subsequently have been removed from district web pages while the investigation continues,” the statement said. “If there is a violation, we will make certain we act swiftly to ensure we do not have any further violations.”

The Walnut Hill community responded, too.  Friday morning a prayer rally was held at Grawood Baptist Church and despite drizzling weather and cloudy skies, it was attended by hundreds of parents, students, former students, and other community members.

A Facebook page, Support Albert Hardison, now has over 8,000 Likes and the comments in support are powerful:

“I support Mr. Hardison 100%. All 3 of my kids go there & he is what a principal should be! He is an outstanding leader & role model for our young children! Walnut Hill is a great school & all that started with him, and the compassion that he has for our kids. He is a man that stands firm in his beliefs & we as Christians should stand firm in ours as well & support him!”

And another:

I don’t even practice any sort of religion and he has done nothing wrong. Ever since I was in 1st grade to 8th grade at that school Mr.Hardison was a huge inspiration to me. He kept me going and motivated me to do the best I could. I was going through times with severe bullying and people putting me down every day. He gave me the hope and strength to move on and set my goals for myself. Every morning I would go to his office and visit him and tell him about my day and how things were going. Every staff member at walnut hill is beyond amazing! They help out so much with the kids and care so much about them. If this adult’s child actually went to that school then they’d be satisfied with how much they help out. I’m more than 100% on his side!

There are streams of similar comments on the page.

Shreveport attorney Royal Alexander weighed in with an Op-Ed in The Shreveport Times, and went on to tie the local issue in with the current brouhaha in Indiana:

Here in Shreveport, Caddo Parish schools is investigating allegations that the principal of Walnut Hill Elementary supposedly violated the First Amendment by invoking God and Jesus and calling for prayer in school publications. However, Principal Albert Hardison has an excellent reputation and I applaud him for erring on the side of religious freedom. I strongly maintain that these types of issues are not nearly as clear as the ACLU has asserted.

The current state of the law regarding prayer in public schools is that, generally, a school official may not initiate and/or sponsor a prayer because, the argument goes, doing so tends to endorse one religion over another in violation of the Establishment Clause. However, a very important distinction has been drawn for student-initiated prayer practices such that public school facilities may be used as long as the use of the facility is truly neutral and equally available to religious and non-religious groups alike.

Another distinction has been drawn that makes allowable the study of the Bible in public schools as long as the study occurs in a purely academic manner. There are still other distinctions as well.

Parents at the school support Mr. Hardison;  I am told that Mr. Hardison “is a godly man” that doesn’t force his religion on anybody.  He puts God first in his own life, then family, and then education.  If a child asks him to pray for them, he does it (and they do), but he doesn’t force it on anyone.

Parents are upset because whomever made the complaint doesn’t have a child in the school; they don’t want any ‘watchdog’ group or outside interference in a system that clearly works.  Walnut Hill is a high-achieving school, earning a “B” letter-grade from the State Department of Education; the school has over 60% of its population on free/reduced lunch and draws from all demographics.  Mr. Hardison is clearly doing something right at Walnut Hill.

For now, the Caddo Parish School Board is investigating the ACLU complaint.  Mr. Hardison, by necessity, has issued no statement nor has he attended any of the prayer rallies or gatherings.  But he certainly can feel the love and support flooding his way.

Isn’t there someone else the ACLU can go pick on rather than a good man trying to keep kids on the right track?

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

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by Timothy Imholt

Normally when I write a BLOG I rarely make it about things going on with me. Today I feel that I must rant about a local issue that is impacting one of my two sons.

I have a son who is autistic. He is a mild case, highly functioning but he is also at a very crucial point in his development (3.5 years old).

For those who aren’t familiar with the available services for these kids there are some amazing ones here in this state (if you can get to them).

Each child is evaluated by teams of professionals and given what is called an IEP (Individualize Education Plan). The parents and the school district review the plan (that the team comes up with) and it is eventually agreed upon. These plans are designed so that kids who are autistic (or have other problems) can start even with other kids when you get to the actual k-12 program.

It is a system that is far and gone above the one that was around when I was a kid. It really does make a difference in the lives of these children.

We recently moved from one school district to another in the same State. When we called the new school district and tried to enroll our son that is when all the fun started.

We did what any good parents would do. We called the enrollment office at the new district and said, hey we live here now, our son has this IEP from the other Massachusetts district, let’s get him enrolled.

They said (on the first call) that they were between sessions and everyone was out of the office so we would have to call back.

Fast forward a week, we call back, and were told that we have to bring his documented IEP into this one person at the district.

My wife takes the IEP in, drops it off, of course that person isn’t there, so it is left with an administrator who says it will get to this one, and only one person, who is permitted to review it and get the ball rolling.

Fast forward another few days, we call back and we get voicemail. We dutifully leave a detailed message and get no return call. I could repeat that story several times with many more unreturned calls.

Well, go forward another few days, the school year starts…still no return call.

Now school has been in session a week and we continue to leave messages, call, email, and yet we get nothing in return.

Now, if you have an autistic child, or know someone who does you know that breaks in services for these children can be very detrimental. They can drive them backwards in a big hurry and that is not what you want.

Now luckily my wife and I are in a position where we can get him some level of service privately (not nearly what he needs). We are doing that so at least it isn’t a total break. But if these services are going to be offered and advertised the least the people charged with enrolling students can do…is return a phone call. Just once.

Now that I am paying the taxes in this state that pay for these services I think I should be able to take advantage of them. Apparently paying taxes doesn’t imply that the services you pay for are yours to take advantage of. So, I will pay for them a second time and go private but unfortunately no everyone has that ability.

I will continue to fight the school district, as my son, as does everyone else’s (and daughter) deserves better than this. But I can’t help but wonder, if I were politically well connected, if I were, perhaps, related to someone at the school district, would things be different? The world may never know, in the mean time I will continue my crusade to get my son all of the services he is supposed to receive through the taxes I continue to pay.

Now, I find myself wondering what happens more and more as common core is implemented. I wonder if the commonality will be this type of service across all portions of the educational spectrum. I sure hope not. But there is always Catholic School!

I wonder if the State will reimburse me the taxes I pay for these services, as I had to go pay for them privately? Probably not. We can always dream I suppose.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As reported here a few weeks ago, Michael Vick came to Shreveport last night to record a comedy show at The Strand Theater.  When news of the event first broke, local animal rights, animal rescue, and animal advocate groups were outraged that the esteemed and venerable Strand Theater would allow the convicted animal abuser through the doors.

dogprotest2
(Photo courtesy of Bo Spataro)

Emily Daye set up a Facebook page “Protest Michael Vick Coming to The Strand Theater” (the page was deleted after the event) which generated a great deal of interest not just locally, but around the world.  Over 700 people vowed to protest Vick either in person or in spirit. Group members from all over the world changed their avatars yesterday to an orange ribbon protesting animal abuse.

Local debate about Vick’s appearance quickly grew heated in the weeks leading up to the event; many tried to make it a racial thing.  It seemed to me that the media was fanning the flames.  One of the issues the protest organizers took close to heart was that Vick never actually served time for animal abuse:

Local activist Lindsey Fertitta wrote:

I hear all the time that Vick served his time for his crimes but that’s the thing, he never served a day in jail for his involved with the dog fighting ring.  He served his time for Federal Racketeering ONLY and was found in contempt of court for lying to the judge. He plead “Not Guilty” to Animal Cruelty despite all the evidence that proved he was guilty on the heinous acts.

Another group, one supporting Michael Vick and advocating forgiveness, also vowed to show up at the protest.  Their main contention was that Vick “served his time” and should be forgiven.  The “Michael Vick Forgiveness Rally” garnered about thirty supporters in front of the theater last night; some hinted at racial undertones in the protest against Vick:

“The truth is, it’s the venue. The Strand versus the Municipal,” said Marcus Franklin, standing with the Michael Vick Forgiveness Rally. “Most African-Americans have their shows at the Municipal Auditorium.” He said a sign held by someone across the street, who was white, saying “Why Strand Why?” sent a message that carried racial undertones.

By the time of the protest, about 30 people attended the Forgiveness rally at show time while those who showed up to protest Vick’s appearance numbered just over 100.

To me, the real story is that with all the vitriolic words and racial tension leading up to the event, in the end it came off perfectly peaceful and worked just as things like this should.  Both sides were able to express their opinions, nobody got hurt, and most amazingly, at one point the two groups came together:

 

dogprotest
Coming Together. (Photo courtesy of Lindsey Fertitta)

Loraine Guerrero with the Protest Vick group said afterward:

Last night there were a very few who tried to make our peaceful protest into a racial thing. Well we want to let you know that the majority of the protesters on the other side of us were not supportive of this racial thing. They were very warm and friendly. They even came over and offered us water and hugs, telling us that everyone has the right to their opinion and they respected that, as do we. Thank you to all of those that offered us understanding ( and water on such a hot day) .

Regardless of how you feel about Michael Vick and what he did, and whether or not he has paid for it, it’s wonderful to know that free speech is still alive and well; even though some people tried to incite violence and hate while hiding behind their computers, when it came down to it, everyone exercised tolerance and understanding on both sides.

A beautiful thing.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

Every week during the summer Fox 25 hosts what are called: Zip Trips. They go to a different Zip code and meet the people in the town. Today on my way to another event I noticed they were in Townsend, so I stopped by to visit and took a few pictures:

If you prefer a slide show I have one up at the old blog.

I also did a few interviews here is one with two local ladies

And here is one with VB from Fox 25.

If you want to see the Myfoxboston townsend stuff is here. This is exactly the type of local programing that I’d like to see more of.

Next week they will be in Saugus, land of Prince Pizza.

And BTW I want to give a special shout out to these guys:

The guys who make it happen

The crew guys are in the studio at 2 a.m. and then down to the towns to make the whole thing possible, they don’t get a lot of autograph requests or pats on the back but every good guy in front of the camera know that without these guys behind it, where would they be?

Steve DiNatale talked at the Twin City tea party meeting on Monday, He spoke to me before the event:

It’s important to note that the Tea Party invited their representatives. The willingness to hear views you might not agree with is good. The willingness to face people who don’t agree with you is better.

Yesterday at 3:30 Ward 5 Counselor Joe Solomito announced his candidacy for Mayor of Fitchburg. Before the crowed of about 40 showed up for his official announcement he talked to me for a bit:

I talked to a few of the 40 something people who attended first with Bob and Priscilla:

Then with Roland:

Ward 4 Counselor Kevin Starr was also at the event and spoke to me: