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Semi-Disappearing Act

August 29th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

For some reason I can never resist this one particular view of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. I take a new photo every year.

Okay, in the name of sanity, psychological self-rescue,
and certainly spiritual correctness, I’m going to slow my posting down to a crawl until I head back to LA this coming Sunday or Monday (at which point I’ll start posting more Voices from the Road).

If something astonishing happens, and I can’t resist, you’ll assuredly hear from me. Otherwise, I’ll be….as one friend suggested I should have been doing all along….chill-axin’.

(And, yes, I do know that’s a silly use of vernacular for a Topanga-living white broad.)

Posted in bears and alligators, Life in general | 33 Comments »

Katrina – The Tin Roof Blowdown

August 29th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Here we are at the second anniversary of the devastation
—natural and man-made—of the city of New Orleans. The storm made landfall south of town at 6:10 a.m. Aug. 29, 2005.

Now, two years in, perhaps the most emotionally vivid account of those terrible days, and of the ghastly failures and neglect that followed, is not written by a news reporter, but by Louisiana-located mystery novelist, James Lee Burke, who sets his most recent book, The Tin Roof Blowdown, against the backdrop of the period during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina.

I recommend the book as a great end-of-summer read,
but—because of the interweave of the hurricane into the tapestry of the narrative—it’s also much more than that.

Burke is known for his ability to write about his characters’ struggles against sin and for redemption with a poetic and Faulknerian flair. But, this time, his prose is also laced with torrents of sorrow and rage at what has happened to the city that he often used to describe as “The Great Whore of Babylon.” Now he writes, ““New Orleans was a song that went under the waves.”

He poses the essential questions of the storm’s aftermath, not through political tirades, but through simple scenes occurring offhandedly in the narrative, like one in which Burke’s shadow-haunted protagonist/cop, Dave Robicheaux, comes upon an old man trolling through the rubble of his house looking for his drowned wife: “How come nobody come for us?” the man says, his words soft, directed everywhere and nowhere.

Or to give you another, more empassioned example, here’s how the book opens:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Life in general, literature, National politics | 8 Comments »

Locke Step….Forward!

August 28th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Well, they voted….
and the Steve Barr/Green Dot/Locke charter contingent won, at least this round. But the lay of the land that was glimpsed today presages a win in the up-or-down vote that will take place at the LAUSD board meeting on September 11.

“I think Admiral Brewer realizes that,” said Locke teacher/activist, Bruce Smith, “and that’s one of the reason he’s with us.”

Put another way, the winds of history are at the backs of the charter folks, and the smart money says that anybody who obstructs this move will, when all is said and done, be blown to the sidelines.

“The thing is,” said Steve Barr this afternoon,
as he, Bruce Smith, and axed Locke principle, Frank Wells, were sharing a victory chat, “the Locke teachers initiated this. We didn’t approach them.”

Barr also says that he’s specifically not making an effort
to retrieve the rescinded signatures (although some have retracted their retractions anyway), “because I refused to validate the idea that the union can put all the teachers into lock down and keep them there until they’ve managed to intimidate the hell out of everyone and get people to rescind what were honest signatures gathered over a period of weeks.

“Look,” he says, “if our petition gets challenged,
we’d be happy to have a public hearing on the whole thing. We know that our signatures have been verified both by Greg McNair (LAUSD’s director of charter schools) and by the LA Times. So, if we really delve into how [the district and the union] got the signatures rescinded, they might not like what we’re going to find.”

Barr has also, he says, had conversations with California Attorney General Jerry Brown,
who is an old friend and political ally and has indicated he’ll look positively on the Green Dot/Locke petition issue.

“But I think Duffy and I are 60 percent there,”
he says, and relates how a month or two ago, UTLA prez, A.J. Duffy had agreed to go out to Locke for a public one-on-one discussion with Barr at the invitation of sixty of Locke’s teachers, but the Locke union chapter chair spiked the event, so it never took place.

Yet, the truth is, if the petition is approved, it won’t really matter what A.J. Duffy thinks or does.

In the meantime, Barr and company are going ahead at Locke in anticipation of a positive outcome in September. “We have the beginning of a design team. We’re acting as if it’s going to happen because it is going to happen. And, I’m telling you, it’s going to be great.” As he says this last, Barr’s voice drifts into a timbre that is part cheerleader, part head coach, part religion-hawking visionary. It is a tone that many—try as they might—find hard to resist.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 9 Comments »

Locke High School: Return of the Jedi?

August 27th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


Tuesday (today, by the time most of you read this) is the day that the LAUSD board will decide
whether or not it wants to jump into the drama that unfolded last spring around Locke High School. More specifically, the board will vote Tuesday morning on a resolution introduced last month by new board member Richard Vladovic, which would mandate an up-or-down vote by the board on the the Locke/Green Dot charter petition.

If that sounds overly complicated, let me refresh your memories: Last May, Green Dot and Locke’s activist teachers formally submitted a petition asking for the low scoring high school to be converted to a charter school, with Green Dot the administrative entity. The petition was signed by approximately 60 percent of Locke’s 73 tenured teachers. The Green Dot supporters only needed 51 percent, to legally trigger a charter conversion. So, bingo, the charter was all set to be mandated…..but…..

…. the Empire Struck Back. Furious union and district officials met with teachers, then bullied, hectored and scared the bejeezus out of them. The upshot was, seventeen of the teachers rescinded their signatures, thus dynamiting the charter majority. (Whether all this rescinding is legal or not, is up for debate, but in any case, there was now a cloud over the petition. )

While they were at it, district officials also fired Locke’s principal, Dr. Frank Wells, for supporting the charter move, and demoted Bruce Smith, the senior teacher who was a leader in the charter fight. (He told me that, last week when he got his paycheck, instead of getting around $40 an hour he got $31.86, another questionably legal move on the part of district apparatchiks.)

Many disgruntled district watchers (myself included) then called on the newly reconstituted LAUSD board to prove their would-be-reformist mettle and thus step in and settle the issue. Whether or not they choose to be….as Mr. Bush might say….the deciders, is what is up for a vote today.

The drama was upped a few notches last Wednesday, when in a surprising turn of events, LAUSD Superintendent, Admiral Brewer, came over to Locke and, in a meeting with the faculty, publically supported the charter conversion. Since that time, six teachers have rescinded their rescinding—with another half-dozen still on vacation rumored to be planning to do the same.

So….this brings us to this morning’s meeting. Eight union people will speak against the charter conversion, with four speaking for it. (Weirdly, there were only eight speaker spots and the union simply gobbled them all up. It was only after the Green Dot group launched a strong protest that four additional speakers spots were opened up. Gee. How debate friendly!)

But here’s the thing: the stakes here are far greater
than the fate of one inner city high school. The Santee teachers have told me they are watching Locke carefully to determine how they might fare with a similar movement. And if Locke and Santee both went Green Dot charter, what other high school dominos might then fall?

(It is telling that state senator Gloria Romero—who has recently let it be known that she plans to run for State Superintendent of Schools—made a point of meeting with some of Locke’s charter-supporting teachers earlier this month.)

If I was in town, I’d be down at Beaudry Street watching the board vote. But I’m not, thus I’ll rely on nefarious spies, education radicals and rogue informants.

So stay tuned.

(And, yes, that is Steve Barr in the photo.)

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 13 Comments »

Our Battle-weary Children

August 26th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


WitnessLA commenter, Poplock
, said something interesting and unsettling in an earlier thread about Santee high school. He described the murders he’d seen as a child. “The first killing in front of my eyes was at age 8,” he wrote, “second one – around 12, and third at 15, the forth by 17 and so on and so on….Imagine that, I wasn’t even a gang banger…”

It was a reminder to me of something of which those of us who work in the inner city have long been aware, but that public policy has been disastrously content to ignore, and that is the fact that a great many kids living in urban neighborhoods—in Los Angeles and elsewhere—are suffering, to a greater or lesser degree, from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

By sheer luck, Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle
has an excellent and extremely well-written group of articles by staff writer, Jill Tucker, on just that subject—and what she has documented must not be ignored.

Here’s how the main story begins:

Tierra Turner’s older brother was shot and killed on a busy Bayview street last summer.

By the time Tierra, 11, arrived at the scene with her mother, a yellow tarp covered 18-year-old Anthony Brooks’ body. Nearby, a second tarp covered his friend, Monte Frierson.

Standing outside the police tape, Tierra broke down, her small body heaving with sobs.
Two weeks later, Tierra started the sixth grade.

Along with a Tinker Bell backpack and pink Princess cell phone, she carried the deaths with her to Visitacion Valley Middle School each day, absentmindedly writing “RIP Ant and Monte” on the cover of her notebooks and in sidewalk chalk on the playground. As the months passed, her grades slipped and her temper often flared.

At her school, the principal and staff see the signs and symptoms of trauma-related stress in many of their students – the hostile outbursts, the sliding grades, the poor test scores or the inability to pay attention

But here’s the money ‘graph:

“As many as one-third of children living in our country’s violent urban neighborhoods have PTSD,” according to recent research and the country’s top child trauma experts – nearly twice the rate reported for troops returning from war zones in Iraq.

In a related article, Tucker talks to a PTSD researcher at Stanford who has looked at the damage trauma can do to brain development.

What Dr. Victor Carrion found was startling: Children with PTSD and exposure to severe trauma had smaller brains.

The study, released earlier this year, was just a first step toward understanding the physical effects of trauma and why some children have a greater ability to ward off physical and mental reactions.

Although she’s an SF writer, Tucker gets into LAUSD’s
Post Traumatic Stress problem. It seems that, a few years back, some LAUSD psychologists wondered if LA’s urban kids suffered from PTSD at the same rate that the national experts were claiming. Here’s what they found:

In 2000, [LAUSD] joined UCLA researchers in screening students from 20 schools in violence-prone parts of the city.
Of the 1,000 students randomly selected, 90 percent were a victim of or a witness to community violence, and 27 to 34 percent had PTSD, said Marleen Wong, director of the district’s Crisis Counseling and Intervention Services.

Read the rest of this important, informative series.. The issue of PTSD in America’s children and adolescents is a essential piece of the educational and public health puzzle that we leave out at our own peril.

NOTE: More Voices from the Road in a day or two. For the moment, I’m perched one place—namely the ever-glorious West Glacier, MT—but as it’s a vacation destination, as they say, the road is coming to me, so I’m still actively gathering voices.

Posted in Education, Gangs, LAUSD | 24 Comments »

Voices From the Road III

August 25th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Curious horses on Interstate 90 past Gold Creek, MT, where I stopped because the dog was stir crazy.

This next batch came from the stretch between Butte, MT and West Glacier, MT
—gorgeous country even if much of it was on fire. Fortunately, but the time I drove through, most of the fires had calmed.

Okay, here are those voices:


Kevin and Mike were inside a combination bookstore/coffee bar in Butte, where I went to avail myself of a WiFi connection. They were drinking fancy coffees and philosophizing something fierce.

Kevin, 47, lives in Butte and is a contractor. He said: I think there needs to be more equal treatment between everybody in this world. There’s too great a disparity between people who have everything, and those who have nothing. There needs to be more common ground between the two. It seems that especially lately, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. I think global warming, I think are part of that too. The rich just don’t give a darn so they keep giving out false information about that. But I think everybody realizes its actually happening. That would be my choice, to come up with more of a common ground between the rich and the poor.

Mike, 64, lives in Butte, and is a retired engineer. He said: . I think something like what Kevin said. What is justice? It means treating everybody fair. Everybody gets a fair shake. But in this country money is what counts. I watched an old interview with Leona Helmsley, and she actually said thought she should get another trial because, “I paid six million in taxes. That should entitle me to something.” So Justice. Treat everybody treated equally.


I met these three firefighters when they’d come down for the fire line, south of Missoula. They’d been fighting what is known as the Black Cat fire. The blaze had been huge and dangerous earlier in the week, but now it was moving toward control.


Fen, 37, is from Emporia, KS. He said:
The energy problem. Our dependence on fossil fuel.

Lee, 35, Rapid City South Dakota. He said: I agree with Fen. I’d also like to see us do away with our dependence on fossil fuel. We need to spread it out amongst our other resources.

Dennis, 37, is from Colorado. He said: Welfare reform. In my opinion I’d cut welfare reform because there a lot of jobs for people who want to work.


I met Marcia and Rosario when they pulled into the parking lot in front of a gift shop in West Glacier, MT. They were riding a beautiful, candy apple red Harley, and had just returned from the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, the place they’d originally met 34 years ago. (They’ve been married 34 years.) They are both from Pittsburgh, PA.


Rosario, 54, said: If I had the chance to help this country with one solution, it would be….for everyone to coexist, to put aside religions and colors, and just get along. I think that would be a peaceful start to a calmer world.

Marcia, 53, said: I’d bring back all the one-on-one customer service, and bring back the old cork board where you actually talk to people. I used to do that, and I miss it. Nobody has customer service anymore. The politicians wouldn’t get into that, I realize. But in terms of the politicians…..They should take better care of the environment. Global warming.


Light posting over the weekend. Back on Monday, but likely not TOO early.

Posted in American voices, National politics | 25 Comments »

The Battle for Santee High School – The District Reacts – UPDATED

August 24th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Weekly version of the story I first reported here
about the battle going on at Santee Education Complex, came out on Thursday. Yet, even before the paper hit the news stand, there were new developments:

On Wednesday, popular Santee AP teachers, Anthony Marenco and Alexandra Avilla
held a press conference to announce that they had resigned—essentially because of principal Vince Carbino, whom they said created an extremely hostile work environment. The same day, LAUSD officials issued their own statement about the whole mess, saying they were bringing in the city’s human relations commission to mediate the Carbino/Santee issue. The district made the unusual move at the urging of City Council member, Jan Perry, who has been a strong supporter of the beleaguered principal.

These two events finally got the LA Times
to take notice of the story.

The district’s announcement
was a move that many Santee faculty viewed with cynicism. “In other words, nothing’s going to happen,” said one teacher.

In response, a group of Santee faculty members issued their own press release Thursday stating that, if the district doesn’t make a very strong move regarding Carbino, they’ll look to converting Santee into a charter school.

The discussions, says the release, “are centered not on the removal and replacement of our ineffective Principal Carbino…..but in the removal and replacement of our ineffective Los Angeles Unified School District.”

Meanwhile, various teachers and school administrators
who have worked with Mr. Carbino at this three previous school assignments, have been contacting me with their own unhappy Carbino experiences.

Most are quick to say that that principal Carbino
is not without talents. But, the consistent message is that his liabilities greatly outweigh his advantages.

According to Jordan Henry, a Santee English teacher
who called me today (as I was speeding across Montana), right now at Santee the faculty, sentiment against the principal is running high. When UTLA queried them about a week ago, 79 percent said they disapproved of the way Mr. Carbino was doing his job. “I think you can safely say that number is growing,” he said.

UPDATE: The district has reversed course and, late Friday afternoon, following a “hurried investigation,” has reassigned Carbino pending the outcome of mediation. Here’s the LA Times take on the district’s latest move.

NOTE: The LA Times also has a good story on the personal hardships created by LAUSD’s massive payroll screw-ups, which have been going on since early February after the new computerized system was put in. I’ve been hearing absolute horror stories on this issue myself (including word that one teacher is reduced to living out of his car). But over all, this is one more tale of the Gang…er…school district… that Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Good grief.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD, unions | 22 Comments »

Voices From the Road – II

August 24th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

Finally, the next batch of voices. I spoke with the people below on the route between Cedar City, Utah, and Butte, Montana, where fortunes were made through the mining of copper.

Late today, I’ll put up the next group, which I gathered between Butte and West Glacier, MT. This group spans a range from afternoon latte drinkers to out-of-state firefighters fresh from battling Montana’s “Black Cat” wildfire.)

So far, as you will note, I’ve been sticking with the same question, but that may change.

FULL DISCLOSURE: In the course of interviewing Holly and Heidi (see below) I found it necessary to have a Moose Drool beer or two—just for the sake of establishing rapport. (I am nothing if not dedicated.)

(NOTE: click on the thumbnails if you want to see larger photos)

Jason, 18, lives in Cedar City, Utah, and works at the local Motel 6. He said:
Probably I’d change the economy. We’re so much in debt. We’re considered one of the wealthiest nations in the world. But we’re really just trillions of dollars in debt.

Travis, 31, works as a mechanic in Filmore, Utah. He said:
It’d be global warming, because if they don’t do something about it there’s not going to be a place for us to live in twenty years.

Jeff, 53, from Inkham, Idaho, is a truck driver, and family man. He said:
: I’d first fire every one of them. And tell them to go find a job. They’ve been around long enough. Then I would probably address the war. I don’t think the war’s been run in our best interest. I think it’s been run over a bunch of money, and money only. A very selected few are filling their pockets. And we’re losing too damn many young women and young men for their cause to fill their pockets.


Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in American voices, National politics | 12 Comments »

More Voices Coming very Shortly – UPDATED

August 23rd, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

In just a while this morning I’ll have a post up—including more more voices from the road.

WILL HAVE SOMETHING UP in about two hours. Am finishing another deadline, have another radio show, plus there’s some breaking news on the Santee story…..and I’m…..Butte, Montana….trying to find a cafe with WiFi.

Hang in. And guys, the point is, I’m asking average people
who are out there making a living and trying to raise kids, not folks who take three newspapers a day or stay glued to the web—like many of us. But I’m finding them very thoughtful and well-informed. Hang in for Holly and Heidi, both bartending for minimum wage and tips, Holly already raising three kids at age 26. Yet, they are lovely, thoughtful women. Then there’s Dan, 23,the conservative, who’s working for schools in Great Falls, MT. Also smart and articulate.

Back soon.

Posted in Life in general | 8 Comments »

The Newark Murders and the Myth of MS-13

August 22nd, 2007 by Celeste Fremon


In my utterly sleep-deprived, road-addled state,
I was scheduled this morning to be interviewed for a new NPR show that’s being done specifically for web-radio and podcasting. It’s called the Bryant Park Project.

The subject was the Newark murders and whether we should blame the gang MS-13—Mara Salvatrucha—for the awful kllings of the three college students. It seems that two of the alleged killers, the 28-year-old and 24-year-old, were members—or purported members of MS-13. Plus the 15-year-old killers had MySpace pages that were filled with MS-13 imagery.

So was this a gang “hit” the Los Angeles MS-13 gangs had ordered?
the very nice young host wanted to know. You can hear what I said when the segment goes online this afternoon. (I have NO idea if I completed any of my sentences in my entirely fatigued state.)

But for the record, the answer is….of course not.

The Newark murders were ghastly, ultra-predatory crimes that have everything to do with three messed-up, disaffected young teenagers who came under the sway of some truly evil adult predators. (Why in the world were 15-year olds hanging out with a 28 year old?)

When the MS-13 connection came up, I called my friend Alex Sanchez, to find out what he thought about what the media was saying about the MS-13 link. Alex is the executive director of Homies Unidos, a respected gang intervention group in LA. He’s a terrific man, and a former gang member who straightened out his life and now is of great help to others. He also happens to be from El Salvador, and his contacts among LA’s MS-13 homeboys are better than most anyone I know.

He said the guys on the street were as mystified as the rest of us as to why three college students would be lined up and murdered, another shot, in the most cold-blooded and vicious way possible—for nothing other than maybe some gold chains, cell phones, and whatever pocket change. This isn’t gang behavior. It’s psychopathic behavior.

More than with any other gang within memory—including the Crips and the Bloods—the media has mythologized Mara Salvatrucha to a ridiculous degree. “The Most Dangerous Gang in America!” the headlines scream! Oh, please.

All that media-driven hysteria accomplishes is to tell a sad, broken 15-year-old that if he wants to feel powerful—and like “somebody”—he should live up to this overblown media myth.

All gangs are dangerous and tragic—MS-13 among them. But most of the LA gang murders that, year after year, tear terrible, irreparable holes in families and communities are not the result of the organized actions of supergangs. They’re inevitably over something far more depressingly ordinary

A random example: A year or two ago, the mother of one gang member in East LA got her car stolen, and a couple of members of another gang saw it and failed to stop it. (They didn’t do the car jacking, it just came to light that they hadn’t prevented it.) Words were exchanged. Threats were made. Threats escalated. Someone got shot. And then retaliations piled on retaliations. At last count, there have been three deaths that I know of over that one incident.
Horrible, horrible stuff. But organized? No.

PS: For the background on MS-13 (a gang that certainly does have its own unique character and history) this film is quiet good. And another very good film on the subject, “Hijos de la Guerra” will show in LA in October. (I’ll let you know as the time approaches.)

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, media | 29 Comments »

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