About Me

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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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Could Lewis's Science Fiction be turned into a film?

Perelandra, the second of C. S. Lewis' Science Fiction trilogy.
My wife and I went to see the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis's 3rd installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I enjoyed the film, which, with a few changes, followed Lewis's plot quite well. The film has underperformed at the box office, but I hope this will not end hopes of a production of the next book in the Narnia series: The Silver Chair.

Narnia, of course, is not the only fantasy fiction written by Lewis. He also wrote The Screwtape Letters, a brillant satire in which a "senior devil" named Screwtape gives advice to his nephew "Worwood" who has been given the responsibility of leading a human "patient" to the man's damnation. (Wormwood fails.)

Lewis also wrote a science fiction triology prior to Narnia, and I am tempted to wonder in this day when science fiction works like Star Wars, Startek and many other titles appear annually, whether some producer might be tempted to have a go at Lewis's contribution to the SF genre.

The three book titles are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I believe the last book is greatly inferior to the first two for reasons I'll discuss later, but the first two involve themes popular in SF movies: space travel, new species, alternative worlds, evil scientists, even devils. Silent Planet and Perelandra also have something rather unique to their credit: they are both examples post World War I utopian fiction, a genre not often seen in our time.

In the first book ,Out of the Silent Planet a linguist, or philologist in British terminology, named Elwin Ransom is kidnapped by two men, one a former school mate ironically named Devine and the other a professor of physics named Weston, and taken to Mars, named Malacandra by its inhabitants. There Ransom escapes his captors and flees them meeting in his flight the various creatures who inhabit the planet. He uses his language skills to learn their langauge and discovers that they live a near perfect existence free from war, hatred, greed, adultery, and other sins that exist on Earth, which is known on Malacandra as "The Silent Planet." Ransom discovers that the reason for the Malacandran's utopic existence is that the Fall experienced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden never happend on Malacandra. Ransom eventually is reunited with Devine and Weston who reveal the worst of human qualities to the Malacandrians. Because their prescence is deemed harmful to the Malancandrian world, all three are sent back to earth.

In Perelandra, Ransom is summonded to Perelandra, aka the planet Venus, to help the inhabitants of a new creation. There he discovers a world made up largely of floating islands with some "Fixed Land". He meets one of the two human inhabitants of the planet, a female named Tinidril. Her mate is nowhere to be found. Both Tinidril, who is green skinned, and Ransom are naked, but the is no hint of lust between the two. Soon they are joined by another earth man, Prof. Weston of the previous novel. Weston soon becomes the vehicle by which Satan is able to enter Perelandra for the purpose of tempting Tinidril to do the one act God has forbidden: remain overnight on the Fixed Land. Ransom realizes that his job is to prevent another Fall. He does so, at first, through argument and debate with Weston. Finally, he physically fights Weston, defeats and kills him. Tinidril is then reunited with her mate, and Ransom is returned to Earth.

Both of these novels create utopic worlds based on Christian theology. Because the creatures of Malacandra never fell, they are naturally good, chaste, peaceful and just. We can assume that the same will happen for the descendents of the first couple of Perelandra. All will be born free of original sin and obedience to God and righteous living will be natural for them.

The third work of Lewis's trilogy That Hideous Strength, set on Earth, has a much darker tone than the previous his two books. The work is also an unfortunate mishmash of science and fantasy with everyone trying to discover the secret chamber where Merlin the magician sleeps.

Once utopias were fairly common starting with Sir Thomas Moore's novel Utopia. Works like Erewhon by Thomas Butler, News from Nowhere by the English Socialist William Morris, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, an Ameican Socialist, and even Herland by the American feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman. All of the books outlined the writers' vision of beneficial futures created through sound political and philosophical principles.

Utopias are fairly rare in our time. Two world wars, paricularly World War I, seems to have ended the writing of utopias in favor of dystopias. Lead by works like 1984 by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley'sBrave New World the future was seen as a dark and scary place to be. Most visions of the future now are dystopic nightmares like Mad Max, Blade Runner, the Maxtrix franchise and so forth.

While I think it unlikely that any of Lewis's SF will make it to the big screen, I think it would be an interesting challenge to try to recreate them in some form on the small one. They couldn't be set on Mars or Venus. Space exploration has forced us to place our other worlds in "galaxies far, far away." However, the idea of encountering an unfallen species does have interesting opportunities for us to do the sort of self-examination that is the hallmark of good science fiction. The idea is not without precedent. H. G. Wells did something similar to this in his work The Time Machine, a work that may have influenced Silent Planet. Humans who are a bad influence on other species has figured in many a Star Trek episode.

Perhaps someone or some group may wish to bring Lewis's science fiction to a wider audience through television. They might make an interesting cable series made to show that we can aspire to live up to higher ideals. Who knows? One day the utopic vision may be back in fashion.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Review of Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse

Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's CorpseBloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse by James L. Swanson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book provided fascinating information on how both Lincoln and Jeff Davis went from human beings to the central characters in different mythologies.

Lincoln's myth began mere hours after his assasination as hundreds of people clamored to be present at his death bed. The myth increased exponentially as a result of the national mourning that took place in Washington and on the 10 city tour made by his remains and coffin.

Davis' journey took place over the long life he lived after his capture and imprisonment following the surrender of Lee's and Johnston's armies. He became a living symbol, indeed the inventor of, "The Lost Cause", the belief that even though the South had been defeated, it had been right in succeeding from the North, a belief that persists in various forms to this day.

Swanson conveys the moods, the emotions, the attitudes Americans had and have had about both men. He is at his best when he discusses why Lincoln and Davis's lives and deaths meant more to the people of their day than simply them as individuals. People invested in these two leaders all the griefs, sorrows, anguish, pride, and patriotism they had felt about their part in the Civil War. At times, though, he gets a bit repetitious as he fears we won't completely understand the importance of his subject. Still, this is a highly recommended book for Civil War buffs and also those who need to understand how the Civil War affect us even now.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 27, 2010

Some Thougths on My Faith.

A few of my postings on Facebook about my faith statement.

The problem with the church is that it has become more concerned about who Jesus was and what we should believe about him than what he wanted us to be doing about his ministry and our work in the world.

I think we as Christians should be much more concerned about how we are acting in this world than what we believe doctrinally.

What Jesus challenged during his ministry was the "purity code" of his day that emphasized religious conformity and belief over righteous actions. The church has adopted the righteousness of the Pharisees establishing rules as to who is in and who is out of G...od's favor. Justice and righteousness have gotten lost in the squabble over whether or not someone believes the right way.

Jesus had much more to say about the way the rich treated the poor than he did about sinners. He was more concerned about social sins like poverty and the marginalization of the poor than he was about believing the right doctrine.

That is why I decided to leave the evangelical church and join a movement that emphasized a convenenting fellowship rather than a credal one. We really don't care in our fellowship what you believe. We care about the fact that you are living to create a just and sustainable world.

We figure that this is most pleasing to God.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Joseph's Complaint

If you ask me, and no one ever does,
The whole thing was a mess
From start to finish.
And I had to wade my own way
Through it.

The day Mary said yes
Should have been the beginning
Of my joy. She didn't bring
Much to the marriage. No
dowery. No connections.

But I didn't require much.
As one of Nazareth's working poor, I
Just want a wife to make a
home. Have children.
Carry on the family name.

It began to fall apart
When she told me she was
"with child" without me!

My rights under the law
Were clear. I could denounce her.
She could have been stoned.
I couldn't bear that.

So I decided to make it a nice
Quiet separation. A quick, easy
Divorce. That's the kind of guy
I am. No trouble. No big deal.

Then came the dream and I somehow
Knew that something bigger than me
Was happening with Mary.
I had to go through with the marriage.

Mary began to show and nothing
Could stop the village tongues
From wagging. Everyone knows
Everyone's business in Nazareth.

Women clucked their tongues and
Pointed at us. Boys walking past
Me showed me "the horms" with their
Fingers spread on either side of their heads.
Groups of me laughed quietly behind me .

Then came the news that
The Romans wanted to count us,
So that they can better tax us.
More money to make their boot
On our neck heavier.

To makes sure they counted
Every last taxable Jew,
We had to go to the city of our
Birth, so I had to return to
Bethelem, my old hometown
With my pregnant, unwed fiance.

As we got closer, her time
Got nearer. No place would take us,
So we found a barn just in time.
Mother and child were fine.
Both lucky to be alive.

I cannot help but wonder
Where was God in all this?
I have been faithful, trusting,
And what did I get for it?

I still have to struggle
To feed my family, am no richer
For having been faithful.
Everyone will doubt my son's parentage.
In our land, those not of pure
Blood are unclean, outcast, unholy.

All I have left is trust,
The trust that somehow
God is involved in the mess
Of our lives, and will make
Something good out of it.

I cannot imagine what that could be.
(For Robin Meyers)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My latest read: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

I just got through reading Sherman Alexie's collection of short stories entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. No where in the book did I read an account of the Lone Ranger and Tonto fistfighting in heaven or any other place.

I did read 22 interrelated stories that center on a collection of Native American characters who live or have lived on a reservation near Spokane, Washington. Most of the stories have little or no real plot to them. Instead, they present a near stream-of-consciousness telling of modern Native American life. Alienation and survival are the stories' prominent themes since most of the characters have trouble belonging to the world outside the reservation, and have even more trouble living on the reservation.

Dancing is one of the many motifs Alexie uses to show how his characters to survive and overcome their alienation. For example, the tale "Family Protrait" centers on dancing. The speaker says about his family:
Then there was music, scratched 45's and eight-track tapes. We turned the volume too high for the speakers, and the music was tinny and distorted. But we danced, until my oldest sister tore her only pair of nylons and wept violently. But we danced, until we shook dust down from the ceiling and chased bats out of the attic into the daylight. But we danced, in our mismatched clothes and broken shoes. I wrote my name in Magic Marker on my shoes, my first name on the left toe and my last name on the right toe, with my true name somewhere in between. But we danced, with empty stomachs and nothing for dinner except sleep. All night we lay awake with sweat on our backs and blisters on our soles. All night we fought waking nightmares until sleep came with nightmares of its own. I remember the nightmare about the thin man in a big hat who took the Indian children away from their parents. He came with scissors to cut hair and a locked box to hide all the amputated braids. But we dance, under wigs and between unfinished walls, through broken promises and around empty cupboards.

It was a dance.

Dancing provides an apt symbol representing both means of the individual identity and social cooperation necessary for survival. Added to those means is that of story-telling. One character named Thomas Builds-a-Fire is an unstoppable story teller. We read of Thomas that he:.
once held the reservation postmaster hostage for eight hours with the idea of a gunand had also threatened to make significant changes in the tribal vision.

Thomas had agreed to remain silent and did so for twenty years.
But recently Thomas had begun to make small noises, form syllables that contained more emotion and meaning than entire sentences from the BIA.

Thomas goes through a kafkaesque trial and is imprisoned to silence his stories which endanger the social order. There Thomas begins his stories anew telling them to his fellow inmates. Fortunately, Sherman Alexie has yet to suffer Thomas's fate, so far.

The book became the basis for the movie Smoke Signals for which Mr. Alexie wrote the screenplay. I have not seen the movie, but plan to do so as soon as is feasible. I enjoyed experiencing Sherman Alexie's point of view and recommend it to anyone wanting to gain new perspectives

From Mayflower Congregation Church on Dec. 19, 2010

From Rev Robin Meyer's Christmas message today entitled "Cleaning Up the Mess". (I'm paraphrasing):
We struggle so hard to have "the perfect Christmas" as it is defined by department stores, toy stores and auto dealerships.

There is no perfect Christmas in the Gospels. The first Christmas was marked by scandal. Mary was an unwed mother who Joseph could have ruined just by following the law. However, Joseph trusted that God would redeem the situation. And God did. So we too must find the perfect gift of trust, trust in the power of God to redeem our efforts through grace.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

We Take a Small Step to "Justice for All"

Just when I start to lose all hope in our political system, just when I despair that we will ever truly realize our pledge to "justice for all", a ray of hope breaks through, and we take one more step towards real justice.

As I write this,US Senate is getting ready to vote a repeal of the military policy that has required good, patriotic Americans to keep their identities secret. Of course, I am talking about the policy known as "Don't Ask-Don't Tell" (DADT). Under this policy, and even before it, gay and lesbian service men and women lived in fear of being "outed" and discharged, dishonorably, from the service denying them the opportunity to serve, fight, and even die for their country.

Now, they will no longer be denied the rights enjoyed by all other Americans: the right of opportunity to pursue a military career.

We either mean what we say when we say we want "justice for all" or it is all a lie. Either we say that a gay American is as much a citizen as any American, with all the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of any citizen, or we must say that gay Americans are second-class citizens.

There is no other way to see this issue, and finally the Congress, led by the Democrats and President Obama, are answering that we do believe that all Americans are equal before the law and in the eyes of the Constitution.

Thus, this year ends for this American with a ray of hope.

Update: The Senate voted 65-31 to repeal "Don't Ask-Don't Tell"!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Conservatives are Killing Themselves

The conservative response to poverty is to blame poor people for being poor while denying them the means to escape their poverty. Conservatives blame the poor for not getting a job, but fail to realize how their attitude towards spending for the public good insures that the poor will always be with us and that we all will be the poorer for it.

In Oklahoma, one of the most conservative states in the nation, this can clearly be seen in our refusal to improve our public transportation system. In a word, it is horrible. In Oklahoma City buses run highly limited routes with very restrictive hours. How then is a poor person to have reliable, flexible transportation in order to commute to and from work? The poor typically must purchase older model, used cars from “We Carry the Note” dealers at usurious interest rates. These cars come equipped with built-in maintenance problems making them prone to breakdowns that require expensive repairs. Without good transportation, finding and keeping a job is even more of a struggle for those already at society’s margins.

Transportation is only one of a myriad number of problems the poor face in finding and keeping work. Added to the problem of basic transportation are expensive and inadequate early child care, an early childhood education system under-funded and under attack from conservatives, a paucity of after school programs, and a health insurance “system” that forces the working poor to face illness without medical attention resulting in sick or absent workers.

However, when it is proposed that we as a society do something to address these needs such as build the sort of modern public transportation system found in most of the industrialized world, conservatives go into a hissy fit about “class warfare”, “wealth redistribution”, “tax and spend” ignoring the fact that by helping the poor work, we help America work. Often they divert attention from real solutions to the problem of poverty by blaming immigrants, unions, public education, minorities, socialism or whatever is this season’s scapegoat for our social ills. They do so to save their self-centered attitude towards life.

Jesus warned his followers those who try to save their lives will lose them. Conservatives in particular, need to heed his warning. Saving ourselves, looking out only for ourselves and expecting poor Americans to do to the same is the surest way for us to die as a nation

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Let the Tax Cuts Die

Back when Bush cut taxes for everyone, a change in the tax code that mainly benefited this nation's wealthy elite, I saw a reduction of $300 or so in my tax bill.

Big whoop!

That's why I am not in the hand wringing mode over the prospect that the Bush era tax cuts are set to expire for everyone in a few weeks if the Republicans and Democrats don't start singing Kum By Ah together over the so-called "compromise" reached between Pres. Obama and congressional Republicans.

I say, let the whole thing die! The cuts have been around too long. All they have done is give us record deficits, benefited those who did not need help, and punished those who did.

Let us remember that the Bush changes basically did away with the reforms Bill Clinton made in the US Tax Code, reforms that were passed without a single Republican vote. All that did was give the US record prosperity,its first budget surplus since 1969, and a real reduction in the number of American's living in poverty.

Bush didn't seem to like that arrangement and shoved the whole thing in reverse. In doing so, he not only spent the surplus, but blew a hole in the budget to the tune of $2.3 trillon.

According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Allowing tax cuts to expire for married filers with incomes above $250,000 and single filers with incomes above $200,000— the top 2 percent of U.S. households— will avert $826 billion in added deficits and debt over the next ten years. The savings from allowing the top two marginal tax rates to expire for those high-income households constitute $443 billion of that $826 billion.

If we truly want to reduce the deficit as everyone says, we cannot afford these cuts any long. The federal government can have my measly share of the savings to help save future generations the burden of paying off my debt.

So, let the Bush tax cut debacle die. It should have been strangled in its crib.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

When the Majority Cannot Rule

Leonard Pitts
Leonard Pitts has written an exceptional essay explaining the wrong done by Oklahoma's amendment to the state constitution banning the use of Sharia law in court decisions. The implementation of the amendment was blocked by federal judge Vicki Miles LaGrange. Entitled "America Losing It's Mind", Pitts points out
The goal of terrorism, you see, is not to make a nation bleed but to make it fear.

Oklahoma’s nonsensical law suggests our enemies have been successful in that.

Our fear has caused us to act unjustly.

There have been many letters in the local newspaper condemning Judge LaGrange's injunction, which was based on the fact that the amendment clearly is hostile to Muslim citizens in the state. In their defense of the amendment, many writers mention the fact that the amendment was approved by over 70% of those who voted.

Their argument seems to be that if the majority approves of something, that makes it somehow automatically right, that justice is created by majority rule.

This is a lie, the falsity of which has been demonstrated over and over in America. I wish those who feel that the majority makes right could revisit the example provided by the "Little Rock 9", the 9 African-American students who integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957. I am quite certain that at least 70% or more of the people of Arkansas in those days opposed the idea of public school integration. However, the majority were wrong.
Little Rock Ning being escorted to Little Rock's Central High School in 1957

The people then felt they had good reason for their opposition, but mainly, they were afraid, just as we in Oklahoma seem to be afraid, and fear causes large groups of people to commit large acts of injustice.

Friday, December 03, 2010

I Hope the Republicans Succeed

The Republican Party has taken over nearly all branches of state government in Oklahoma largely because they were able to nationalize the issues in the state races and make this round of local elections a referendum on Pres. Obama and the national Democratic Party.

When Sen. Obama was elected to the White House in 2008, Rush Limbaugh and others on the fringe right loudly voiced their desire to see the president "fail" because they feared that his policies, which they saw as contrary to their ideology, would succeed and be made permanent. They were cynically willing to see ordinary Americans suffer in order to serve a political end.

I am liberal and proud to be so. However, I am not so much of an ideologue that I would wish my fellow Oklahomans anything but the best out of their government, which they voted for in very large numbers. I want their suffering due to the present recession to end, and I am not particularly concerned about who gets the credit. If Republican policies produce a better life for all Oklahomans, then bring them on and make them the law of our land.

What I am concerned about is that this government, and this goes for any government, deal with all its citizen justly. That they do all they can to respect and enhance human dignity, deal rightly with those who are most vulnerable in our society like the very old and very young, and work to make our presence on this planet more sustainable.

I am skeptical of the Oklahoma's Republican Party's ability to do this since it seems to me that they long ago sold their soul to rich and powerful who have little interest in the those who have been marginalized in our culture other than to provide them with a docile labor and consumer population. Their concern is for the short-term bottom line rather than the type of environment that will be inherited 7 generations hence.

But I hope that I am wrong. I wish to see my home state prosper. I wish to know that our choices have created better lives for our children and their children's children. Of course, I am going to be taking an active role in creating this success, and if this means that the Republicans claim justification for their victory, then so be it.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Centennial Must Become A Community Force

We had a staff meeting Tuesday about the problems at our school. One teacher complained that we have a small percentage of students who cause most of the problems, and that if we could somehow rid ourselves of these few, we could do a better job of teaching those who remain.

We were told that the problem would be "addressed." I don't hold out much hope for this. I suspect that little will be done about these students because we have voiced this complaint ad infinitum, and it is always being "addressed." I don't even bother to raise the issue anymore.

I think that we teachers at Centennial need to face the fact that any real solution to the problems of our school must come from us and not from some administrative action.

I think that one solution must involve us reaching out to our community so that the school becomes an important focal point in our part of Oklahoma City. We should be visiting churches, businesses, neighborhoods, and homes to talk about our school and our needs. And we need to be listening to those with whom we visit to find out what their concerns and needs are.

We must gain the trust and support of our community if we ever hope get them involved in the lives of their children.