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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Taking a Stand Against Theocracy


In February 2006, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled that a Maryland state law banning same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. In response to that decision, state lawmakers opposed to same-sex marriage introduced a resolution to impeach Judge Murdock (a move which was defeated in the Judiciary Committee) and a bill calling for the amendment of Maryland's constitution to prohibit all same-sex marriages. Although the bill failed to garner sufficient support for passage, it was reintroduced in a version that would define marriage as a union between a man and a women only but would still allow for civil unions. The latter bill was being debated by a Senate committee on 1 March 2006, when, according to the Baltimore Sun, "Clergy, constitutional law experts and children of gay parents were among those who packed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee room to speak out on the issue."

Part of that debate featured some give-and-take between Nancy Jacobs, a Republican state senator, and Jamin Raskin, a professor of constitutional law from Washington's American University over the influence of the Bible on modern law. The Sun reported the following exchange taking place between the two:
"As I read Biblical principles, marriage was intended, ordained and started by God — that is my belief," [Jacobs] said. "For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principals [sic]."

Raskin shot back that the Bible was also used to uphold now-outlawed statutes banning interracial marriage, and that the constitution should instead be lawmakers' guiding principle.

"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," he said.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Free Abdur Rahman, NOW!


I find the silence from the religious right on the fate of Abdur Rahman very curious. Rahamh is the Afghan who faces the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity. The Afghan consitution, based largely on Shariah law and which stipulates that no law in Afghanistan can contridict the Koran, apparently allows the death penalty in cases of "apostacy". Apostacy in Muslim countries means that once you convert to Islam, you cannot change your mind about your faith.

As I said, the "Religious Right" has been rather silent on this. I checked the web site for the Christian Broadcasting Network which Pat Robertson founded to counteract the "secular humanist media" has nothing about this on their front page. When I did a search on the name "Abdur Rahman", I got this as the result:

Your query [Abdur Rahman] returned [0] results.

You would think that a case where a Christian who was facing martyrdom for his faith in an Islamic country would be cause célèbre in the evangelical world, but apparently when the cause is caused by Mr. Bush's war, the right wing is not so, well, célèbre.

We liberals are often accused of being such relativists that we see nothing as immoral. We are condemned when we discuss cultural values for denying absolute truth. Yet here is a case where, if some moral value is not being violated, then one would think that no moral value can be absolutely firm.

This liberal, at least, see something very immoral over the fact that Rahman faces even the remotest possibility for being punished for his decision to adopt a new faith. I'm sure that I am not alone among my fellow liberals for thinking this. And I am looking beyond the fact for a moment that I consider any application of the death penalty immoral.

Rahman should be a free man. Free to walk the street of Kabul unmolested, free to adopt his faith, free to proclaim his faith to anyone who cares to listen. That's what we call freedom of conscience, and any society, any culture, any government that does not uphold it cannot be called a free society. That's why I thank God, and I am a praying man, for the fact that we have separation of church from state in America. I praise the Lord that the founders of our nation, the writers of our remarkable Constitution, wanted to create a secular government. A secular government is a moral government because it is the only type of government that can secure justice for all.

But back to Rahman, Afghanistan, and the government there, a government that exists only because our soldiers are still fighting and dying over there. Our president has said that he is "concerned" over Rahman's fate. Concerned hell! Supposedly, the reason we went into Afghanistan was that we thought the Taliban had created an oppressive dictatorship. Yes, we wanted to find Osama bin Laden and serve justice on him, dead or alive. But when we didn't get him, some say because we took the units necessary to complete the task out of Afghanistan and sent them to Iraq, we stayed around to defeat the rest of the Taliban and set up a better, a more just government in their place.

Look what we got for all our casualities, billions of dollars, and continued presence! I repeat, "Concerned Hell!" Our "leader" should be saying to the Afghan courts and government, you let this guy go about his business or we outa this place. We didn't give you the flower of our youth just so you could perpetuate the same system you complained so much about before.

I would say, "Free Rahman now, or we are already gone."

How about it, evangelicals? Time to stick up for what is right, what has been right, and what always will be right. Justice for all or you're on your own, Afghanistan.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

On Birthdays and Baseball



On Sunday, I am the worship leader for our congregation. The worship leader leads the congregation in our "Prayer of Repentence" which the entire church says in unison. The WL is also responsible for presenting a little talk before calling for the offering called "The Prayers and Thoughts of the People" which is our church's attempt to have the laity add something to the worship experience. The WL can talk about anything. This is what I am presenting tomorrow.

On Birthdays and Baseball

Tomorrow, around 12:26 in the afternoon, Spring begins. A few days after that I will be my birthdate. I’m not telling you this to get sympathy or presents. I simply wish to talk about the fact that as a child, I was happy that my birthday fell a few days after the beginning of Spring because that meant I could usually persuade my parents to give me some type of baseball equipment for my birthday. Sometimes it was a new bat or glove. Sometimes it was simply a new baseball. Having a baseball in my neighborhood was very important because that meant that you could always get into a game regardless of your playing ability.

Once I was privileged to live in a city that had a major league team. For a couple of years in the early 60’s, my family lived in Kansas City where the Kansas City Athletics played in old Municipal Stadium. One game I particularly remember happened in August of 1961, the year of the Maris/Mantle homerun race when I got to see the New York Yankees play. Roger Maris hit his 51st homerun of the season in that game.

My clearest memory of that day came before the game when I got to go down into the box seats to see the players during batting practice. That’s when I stood no more than 6 feet away from Elston Howard, the Yankees’ All-Star Outfielder/Catcher, and their first black ballplayer. I did not know then that Howard once called Municipal Stadium his home ballpark having played there for the Mighty Kansas City Monarchs, probably the greatest team in the history of the Negro Leagues. Elston had played with legends like Buck O’Neil, Cool Papa Bell, and Satchel Paige.

The baseball has taught me many lessons. While I won’t say that "Everything that I needed to know, I learned from Baseball", the great American Game has, at least, taught me this much:

1. If you are going to get anywhere in life, you have to leave home and get out there where it’s not so safe. But, do take advantage of the safe places when you can.

2. No one succeeds all the time. In baseball, if a player over the course of a career fails two out of three times at bat, you know what happens to him? They put him in the Hall of Fame.

3. Life doesn’t always play it straight, so be prepared for when Life throws you a curve, or even a slider. Above all, look out for the screwballs.

4. It’s possible every now and then to hit a homerun, but more often, you’re going to need to have someone help you around the bases. In fact, baseball is one of the few sports where assists, know as RBIs, are a more important statistic than Runs scored.

5. Every now and then, you will be called to sacrifice yourself for the good of the team.

6. If all goes well, and if you work together with your team, you will be finally brought home in triumph where everyone will be very glad to see that you made it back safely.

PLAY BALL!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

65% is No Solution


The American journalist H. L. Mencken once wrote, “For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.” The proposed “65 % solution” for Oklahoma public school funding is an example of Mencken’s dictum.

This mandate states that Oklahoma school districts must spend at least 65% of their budgets solely on “classroom instruction” rather than “administrative expenses.” According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), school districts nationwide devote 61.5% of their budgets for such purposes. However, it is interesting to look at the list of items the NCES considers administrative expenses. These include school counselors, school nurses, libraries, teacher training, food services, school buses and bus drivers, classroom aides and service aides for special needs children. All these are vital components to a child’s education. All would suffer under the 65% solution.

This proposal is no more than an attempt to sooth voters into thinking that its proponents support more efficient public schools, and that this can be achieved without pain or sacrifice. It is a “feel good” scheme that offers no new money for education, no help for Oklahoma’s children. All the “65 per cent solution” does is force yet another mandate on our public schools.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Dubai Ports Deal Collapses

I must give credit to Republicans in Congress for standing firm on this. They, as all politicians do, had an eye on the polls. They saw the damage this deal would do to them in the mid-term elections and stood up to Bush.

Ironic, isn't it that a man who proclaimed that he was a "uniter, not a divider" has succeeded in uniting both political parties against him.

In this case, the Republicans were right, and this must be acknowledged by this Yellow Dog Democrat.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A Dubai government-owned company said it will sell its US port operations in a move that spared President George W. Bush a showdown with Congress.

Dubai Ports World (DP World) made the announcement after leading Republicans told Bush that Congress would block the takeover.

"Because of the strong relations between the United Arab Emirates and the United States and to preserve that relationship, DP World has decided to transfer fully the US operations of P and O Ports North America to a United States entity," said a company statement read by Republican Senator John Warner.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Standing on Bottles


Her hair is never in place, and
She pulls it back over her ear once more as
She lifts the tray again which
Now weighs as much as a manhole cover and the
Bottles have bottoms made of springs.

She carries the tray to
Another group of lost souls with too much
Time and too little purpose.

She depends on them for her pay.

The Rent,
The Car Payment,
The Groceries, and
The Child Care
Depend on this
Group of Bottles.

Then,

She is bumped by a drunken VP in a
Designer Suit, and
The Bottles Sway and
Shift the
Foundation on which
She Stands.