Saturday, March 26, 2011

Marcella's Nightmare

New York City's Association for Children's Services (ACS) was in the news again last week after yet another death of an abused child. Last year, severely malnourished four-year-old Marcella Pierce died in her Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment weighing a scant 18 pounds and showing signs of other traumas. Her mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, was arrested and charged with murder, manslaughter and assault, but recently prosecutors charged three more people, including two ACS case workers and the girl's own grandmother, with contributing to her death. "Baby Marcella might be alive today had these ACS workers attended to her case with the basic levels of care it deserved, or had her grandmother stepped in and put a stop to the shocking abuse she is charged with facilitating," said Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes.

The indictment charges that the grandmother witnessed the little girl being tied to a bed and her crib many, many times. The indictment also charges that former ACS caseworker Damon Adams failed to make nearly all of the mandated biweekly visits to the Bedford-Stuyvesant home, and falsified ACS records to show he did; Chereece Bell, his former ACS supervisor, is accused of failing to properly oversee and monitor Adams' work with Marcella and her family. Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes said, “I said at the time we announced the indictment of Marcella’s mother that this was not going to be an investigation that was going away. We are going to find out at long last what they’re doing at ACS to make sure there are no more child fatalities."

This story is so tragic on a number of levels. First, there is the girl's could a mother inflict such brutal abuse on her child? How could a grandmother stand by while this happened? And please don't give me that crap about poverty creating an environment where the mother felt helpless and hopeless...that is pure B.S. How does being poor cause people to torture their children? You want to hold up liquor stores, I can see that. You want to give your child up for foster care, okay. But how does beating and starving a child help your poverty? Anybody who does this has to be seriously evil. I am as far from being a perfect person as anyone, so I have been trying harder not to judge people. I keep looking for mitigating circumstances that might justify such horrifying behavior, but I just can't imagine any.

Another criminal failure is the behavior of the heartless, uncaring ACS workers into whose hands poor Marcella's fate was placed. They must have understood that if this child was in the ACS system, there was a reason. Something about her family, environment or history caused a flag to be raised that warned: look in on this child from time to time. She is at risk for harm to befall her. How could they falsify reports saying they had performed this vital duty when they did not? Don't they have the brains to comprehend that every week that passes without them checking up on this child puts her one step closer to danger? Their caseload was not heavy; they were just too god damned lazy to do their jobs. I'm glad the D.A. is prosecuting, but some slick lawyer will probably get them off with a slap on the wrist.

Finally, the system itself failed Marcella and other children like her. ACS hires people totally unqualified for this kind of work. I'm sure there are good, hardworking case workers, and my thanks goes out to them for doing a very difficult job, but clearly not all can be trusted with the welfare, indeed, the very lives of at-risk children. There needs to be supervision, especially of new workers, until they prove they are competent and caring in working to protect the children placed in their care. Management must diligently make follow-up visits to ensure shortcuts are not being taken. New York City seems more interested in chasing traffic scofflaws than in monitoring the welfare of kids in the ACS system. This is a disgrace and it has to stop.

There are far too many stories in the news of children who are horribly abused by the very people who should be nurturing and protecting them. I hope there is a special place in hell for the monsters who engage in such unspeakable evil. In the meanwhile, if they need someone here on earth to pull the switch that fries these bastards, I hereby volunteer my services.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The World Turns Upside Down

Life is so unpredictable. One day everything is going along as usual, and then suddenly, madness. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan is that kind of surreal event for the Japanese people. Earthquakes are not uncommon in Japan, but nothing like the magnitude 9.0 quake that hit on March 11, 2011 has been seen since September 1, 1923 when a magnitude 8.3 quake killed between 100,000 and 140,000 people. In the recent March 11 earthquake, the death toll (as yet unknown) and property damage from the earthquake were exacerbated by a horrific tsunami that swept away all in its path. Entire villages were wiped out and the fate of their inhabitants unknown. Contemplating all of this, with the added threats of the possibility of another significant quake in the next 48 hours, and the possibility of a nuclear plant meltdown, just numbs the mind.

Years ago these events were less personal. Sure they were reported in the newspapers for a few days, but with today's on site media coverage, the circumstances become frighteningly real. The terrifying footage from Japan comes into our living rooms and we find ourselves face to face with the people victimized by this tragedy. A young child who was happy and playing in his crib on March 10 is now being scanned for radiation poisoning by a space-suited technician, while his concerned mother looks on. Overworked doctors and nurses struggle to cope with hospitals overflowing with victims, wondering how much worse it will get if one of Japan's nuclear power plants lets go. Even TV reporters sent to cover this story are torn between doing their jobs and exposing themselves to unspeakable risks while their own families at home pray for their safe return.

Japan has experienced maybe 25 significant earthquakes in the past 100 years. Their government enforces strict standards for building construction, and businesses do all they can to protect computer data bases and equipment. The Japan Meteorological Agency developed an Early Earthquake Warning system that automatically calculates the focus and magnitude of the earthquake and estimates the seismic intensity for each location by detecting the preliminary tremors near its focus. Japanese citizens are thoroughly schooled about what to do when one of these early warnings is broadcast. Even with advanced technology however, the best the populace can hope for is up to 30 seconds advance warning, not enough to do much but get themselves to the sturdiest possible shelter and pray.

There are reports of Japanese citizens staging a mass exodus from the country and getting on a plane to anywhere to escape the consequences of a nuclear melt down. Their personal safety is the immediate concern and the future is something they can try to arrange when they are out of harm's way. I can't imagine what they must be feeling. I try to put myself in their shoes but the scenario just does not compute. I suppose that those lucky enough to be alive consider leaving all they know behind and relocating their families to be an option they are fortunate to have. I'm sure one of the questions that will be debated when the smoke clears is why did the Japanese build so many nuclear plants when the frequency of earthquakes in their country is so great? The short answer is that they have no coal or fossil fuels, and if they want to compete in an industrialized world, nuclear was risky, but the only realistic choice.

The Japanese are a resilient race as witnessed by their recovery from World War II and the devastation of the atomic bomb. Not only did they recover, but with help from the United States, developed into a modern, technologically superior world power. They have created glittering cities, giant corporations , and a healthy standard of living for their people, all the while respecting the ways and traditions of the past. I found myself callously thinking this morning what effect this earthquake would have on the stock market and my financial future until I remembered the dazed looks on the faces of people wandering the ruins looking for loved ones. This tragedy touched us all, and we can only hope that Japan will rise from such a devastating blow to become great once again.

What I'm left with in thinking how quickly things can change in the world is a determination to appreciate what I have in hold my loved ones closer, to let the little things go, and to be less quick to judge. Life is too unpredictable to do otherwise.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Next Stop, Charleston

After three nice days in Savannah, we rented a car and headed North about two hours drive to another low-country jewel of the South, Charleston, South Carolina. The rental rate from Hertz for less than 4 hours use of their vehicle was obscene, but we didn’t have much choice. The ride was a pleasant one as the road meandered from Route 17 onto Interstate 95 and back to 17. Coming from New York, where everything is vertical, we were surprised at how flat the landscape looked. We were told to watch for speed traps, so our pace was leisurely. We also saw road signs that reminded us that we were a long way from Staten Island. Lots of stores selling guns and ammo, and I must have seen twenty signs advertising taxidermy services. As we entered the Charleston city limits, we saw fewer house trailers and more big bucks mansions.

After checking into our hotel in the Charleston Historic District, we walked across the street to the conveniently located Visitor’s Center to get some tips on what we should see in the city during our stay. We were lucky to just catch a departing, 90-minute mini-bus tour of the area narrated by a guide who was very well-informed of Charleston’s history. His great grandfather had fought and died for the Confederacy, and we heard all we needed to know and more…I thought the guy was going to follow us back to our room. He did provide some useful recommendations on local restaurants which we put to good use. The first place we tried was Virginia’s, just a couple of blocks from where we were staying. Our waitress, Stella, was friendly and told us that the tour guide had steered us right. After devouring the She Crab Soup followed by the Shrimp with Grits, I felt like a good old boy gone to heaven.

Next day we set out for a walk along Meeting Street, which went in a straight line down to the Charleston waterfront. We passed stately mansions, churches, restaurants, museums, and a long row of stalls that comprise City Market, an assortment of wares sold by hundreds of vendors. Sweet grass basket weavers can be seen in every building, along with, local artists, jewelry, spices, sauces, and local candies. Stately horse and carriages gallop by with people from all over the world, and restaurants line both North and South Market Streets. The atmosphere is festive and distinctly Southern. After picking up some souvenirs, we visited the Gibbes Art Museum for some local culture. The following day we hit the Charleston Museum and were pleasantly surprised by the extent and depth of their collections. One exhibit had period costumes from the Civil War era and people were encouraged to get dressed up and take pictures.

Like Savannah, many of Charleston’s historic homes were saved from the wrecking ball by the local preservation society. We toured several of these magnificent mansions and can’t imagine that anyone would ever have condoned their destruction. One house in particular, the John C. Calhoun Mansion, was spectacular. After falling into disrepair and sinking so low as to be used as barracks for naval personnel, the house was bought by a Washington, D.C. lawyer who spent millions restoring it. In addition he puts his considerable collection of antiques on display in every room of the home. Interestingly, unlike most homes open to tours by the public, the Calhoun Mansion is actually lived in by its owner and his family. The rooms and the surrounding gardens were a pleasure to see, and a reminder of the grandeur of a different time when generations of families lived in splendor in the old ancestral manor.

Travel helps us understand the diversity of this great country into which we had the privilege of being born. People are so different down south and out west and up north, and yet they are all part of the fabric of America. I have been critical of people who immigrate to the United States only for a paycheck and the government-funded freebies. They have no love for this country except for what it can give them. They long for the day when they can leave our shores and return to wherever they came from; I say good riddance and don't let the door hit you in the ass. My ancestors came to America for a better life, and they worked hard to achieve it. I am proud to be an American and proud of this country and all it represents. I hope to see a lot more of it before the good Lord cashes me in.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Georgia on My Mind

If being the birthplace of Johnny Mercer is the only thing Savannah, Georgia ever did for the world, it would be enough, but there is much more to this antebellum, soft-spoken Southern city. We traveled there last week for the first time and were completely charmed. Savannah is famous for many things including battles in the Revolutionary War, Sherman's March to the Sea during the Civil War, birthplace of The Girl Scouts, and of course the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil" was set here using Johnny Mercer's ancestral home as a backdrop. We stayed in Savannah's Historic District where landscaped town squares, period homes, walled gardens, museums, picturesque waterfront, art galleries, theaters, churches, and great Southern restaurants offer the visitor a rich cultural experience.

A lot of this beauty may not have survived if not for the good ladies of the Georgia Historical Society headquartered in Savannah. Chartered by the Georgia General Assembly in 1839, the Georgia Historical Society is the state’s oldest cultural organization and first and only statewide historical society. They have been instrumental in preserving the cultural and architectural legacy of Savannah and other Georgia cities. When the demolition crews planned to tear down some of the state's most treasured residential and commercial structures, the Society fought for and won the right to see them preserved. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for their determination and foresight.

Shortly after our arrival we started walking; you won't find a nicer city to see on foot. We passed The Lady and Sons, Paula Deen's restaurant in Savannah, and were lucky enough to get a reservation for the same night. Dinner was good, but the crowds that storm the place force them to keep their menu somewhat limited. We also had good Southern dinners at Churchill's Pub and The Chart House on the Savannah River. They have a trolley-style bus that tours the Historic District, and you can hop on and off for one price. We used it some, but did most of our sightseeing on foot. We made interesting stops at the Julia Lowe House, the woman who founded the Girl Scouts, the Owens-Thomas House where the walled gardens are colorful and serene, and the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum on manicured grounds with amazingly realistic ship's models including the Titanic.

A pleasant surprise was ours when we looked for a church to attend Sunday Mass and found the incredibly beautiful St. John the Baptist Cathedral just a short walk from our hotel. The interior of this magnificent church looks like something straight out of Florence, Italy. Vaulted ceilings, marbled columns, stately altar, sculpted Stations of the Cross, and murals everywhere make this a stop worth seeing. Coming off a multi-million dollar renovation, the Cathedral is awe inspiring. Mass was a tad long for my taste, but the congregation was dressed so nicely, it reminded me of high mass in my old neighborhood parish. We left feeling spiritually uplifted, and walked into the bright sunshine of an 80 degree Savannah Sunday, a treat in itself after this year's brutal winter up North.

Another fun stop was Leopold’s Ice Cream, founded in 1919 by three immigrant brothers from Greece: George, Peter, and Basil Leopold. Generations of Savannahians have loved Leopold’s ice cream. During the early years, food service was added and Savannah began enjoying tasty treats such as hamburgers, baby clubs, and pimento cheese sandwiches. Johnny Mercer grew up a block away from Leopold’s and was a faithful customer when he was home from Hollywood. He even told Peter he would write a song about Leopold’s famous “Tutti-Frutti” ice cream, which had become a Leopold’s hallmark and Savannah’s favorite. The fountain and interior looked a lot like the ice cream parlors we frequented growing up in Brooklyn. Needless to say, we dropped in to sample the legendary ice cream and it didn't disappoint.

Savannah is a place you go to decompress. The flowers, palm trees and brightly colored houses are just so calming to Type A Northerners. It's definitely a city worth visiting. Here's a little Johnny Mercer to put you in the mood.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, March 4, 2011

Have a Nice Trip Y'all

Back from vacation in Savannah-Charleston. It was a great trip and I'll be writing more about those lovely cities in future posts. Today's blog is about flying...something we do only reluctantly. We flew Continental to Savannah, and as we boarded the plane at Newark, I noticed that some people had on their "flying" clothes. Now I can see being comfortable, after all it is a cramped space, but the outfits some folks wear on airplanes are truly horrifying. Pajama bottoms and sweats that look like they Simonized their cars with them are a big favorite. Also, t-shirts with "funny" sayings are popular, such as Look Everyone Makes Mistakes, Take Your Parents For Example. Finally, there are the hats that just scream: look at me, I'm an asshole.

So we board with these pinheads after going through the endless security checks. We taxi out to the runway only to hear the intercom crackle and the laconic pilot's voice (they all sound the same) come on with the following announcement: Folks, we're waiting a while to take off...some of the pilots have been reporting wind shear problems. Really? Two words you don't want to hear sitting on the runway are "wind shear". On the list of airplane emergencies, wind shear ranks second, with only exploding fireball ahead of it. Then we hear: We should be taking off shortly. In airline speak that means sometime in the next 90 minutes. Once airborne, we now hear the phrase "a little turbulence"... translation...two minutes of wide-eyed, clenched-jawed terror.

During the flight the perky flight attendant (they used to be called stewardesses when they were attractive and polite) says we may move about the cabin. No can do. I'm wedged in the window seat and my lovely wife is giving me that you better not have to go to the bathroom look. I sip my little glass of juice (forget meals now days) fully aware that the liquid will soon be wanting to exit my body at the worst possible moment when the beverage cart is between me and the minuscule bathroom. I've heard of the mile high club, but I'm sure it's a myth. I can barely stay on my feet long enough to take a whiz much less muster up any acrobatic romantic maneuvers.

We land in Savannah and head for the baggage carousel. They make this sound like a fun amusement park ride, but it's hell on earth as 100 pieces of luggage that look exactly like mine come rolling down the line. Burly men knock down little old ladies when they see a bag they think is theirs. At least they check their bags, unlike the circus freaks that bring carry-on luggage the size of steamer trunks onto the plane and then stand there pounding it into the cramped overhead compartments. Oh, and while they do this, their nasty body parts are in your face since you are already seated. I'm going to bring a long hat pin on my next flight to shish kabob one of these thoughtless morons.

We drove down to Charleston from Savannah in a rental car that cost me $130 for four hours use. The flight home from Charleston was an interesting one. It was a beautiful day, so thankfully wind shear wasn't going to be a problem. As we taxied out for takeoff, Captain Laidback comes on the intercom and announces we are heading back to the terminal, no reason given. We arrive at the gate and two large, heavily armed Air Marshall's practically lift this guy out of his seat and forcibly take him off the airplane. He had been arguing with the flight attendant about moving his carry-on luggage to a safer place, and also gave the staff in the terminal some attitude prior to boarding. Some passengers heard him muttering threats and complained to the flight attendant. I hope they slapped his mouthy ass in jail.

More trip details to follow.


Children's Craniofacial Association