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.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Her Own Devices (Magnificent Devices #2)Her Own Devices by Shelley Adina
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think that part of the reason so many writers and their readers are drawn to 19th Century settings for their stories is the fact that roles in that society seem very definitive compared with our "post-modern" time. We like the feeling of having boundaries if only for the chance to go beyond them.

This is apparent to me in the Magnificent Devices> series created by Shelley Adina. I have had the pleasure of reading the first two books in the series: Lady of Devices and Her Own Devices. The protagonist of the series, Lady Claire Trevelyan, is a brilliant, resourceful, and highly focused 17 year old woman who lives in an alternative Britain divided between the titled Bloods, represented in the novel by Lord James Selwyn, and the Wits, represent by the engineer Andrew Malvern. In Claire, James sees a bride who can compliment his house and bear him children while Andrew, who employs Claire as his assistant, sees a equal partner who can help his technological discoveries.

In addition to sorting out affairs of the heart, Claire must try to keep a promise she had made to a group of orphans and, reformed, cut purses who she fell in with in the course of her adventures in the first book in the series. Steam cars, carriages, steam locomotive trains, and dirigibles are the main mode of transportation. (The internal combustion engine was a failure.)

Steampunk fans will find all the devices and props that make that they enjoy in the genre. Science fiction fans will enjoy the alternative history aspects of the book. (America is referred to as "The Territories.)

Romance lovers will enjoy how Claire works through the problem of having two men love her when she is uncertain that she wants to fall in love with anyone.

In sort, this is a good, quick read and a great introduction to Steampunk writing if one has not yet been introduced to its joys.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite PlanetThe Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Neil deGrasse Tyson's account of how Pluto went from being the 8th planet in our solar system to being designated a "dwarf planet" in the Krupier Belt that exists beyond the orbit of Neptune. I admire people like Tyson who can take complicated scientific concepts and explain them in laymen's terms without sounding condescending. (Another book I have read which does this well is Nigel Calder's Einstein's Universe.) Tyson talks about the controversy around Pluto's demotion, if it can be called that) treating those who disagreed with or even attacked the decision fairly and without rancor. He finally states that rather than trying to define what something is or it not, we should be more concerned with the property of astronomical bodies and what these bodies have in common or in contrast with other bodies. For example, we should be more concerned with planets that have or lack atmospheres, have water or ice (along with the possibility of life), or experience weather patterns. I agree.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End of the Line: Romney vs. Obama: the 34 days that decided the election: Playbook 2012 (POLITICO Inside Election 2012)The End of the Line: Romney vs. Obama: the 34 days that decided the election: Playbook 2012 by Glenn Thrush, Jonathan Martin

I was a bit disappointed.

This account was workmanlike, but less than insightful than others I have read. It provides the bare details of the 2012 campaign, but view reasons for think like Romney's enormous hubris or Obama's ability to win back his base despite having so disappointed them during his term in office.

As a Democrat, I can say that the book has a good ending.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got a view of baseball that I've never had before: the general manager's perspective. This book analyzes the success of the Oakland Athletics and their iconoclastic general manager, Billy Beane who is attempting to bring science and sense into baseball strategy and player development. Beane defied the received wisdom of the baseball world using the art of sabermetrics which purports to find the best players according to their ability to get on base and produce runs.

I enjoyed reading about Beane's live as a player and general manager. I'll follow Oakland more closely in the future

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

John Adams

John Quincy AdamsJohn Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I did not know much about John Quincy Adams except for the fact that he was president of the United States, and that he argued the Amistad case before the Supreme Court, winning the kidnapped African's their freedom. What I discovered was that he was a true genius, a man who saw far beyond his time and paid the price for it. Adams was fluent in several European languages including Dutch, French, and Russian. Due to this fact and other aspects of his intelligence, he first served his country in diplomacy securing international recognition for the new American nations and favorable trade relations for its industries.

His presidency was unsuccessful due to the fact that he was a true minority president, receiving fewer popular and electoral votes than his main rival and successor Andrew Jackson. However, due to the fact that no candidate for the presidency got a majority of the electoral votes, the election was thrown into the House of Representatives, where a deal was reached with Henry Clay to give Adams the office. However, while president, he was never respected. Jackson used the accusation that Adams had made a dishonorable deal to gain the White House to discredit and thwart Adams.

After losing to Jackson in 1828, Adams was elected to the House of Representatives from Massachusetts practically without opposition where he immediately threw himself into the growing slave controversy much to the outrage of the Southern congressmen who tried, unsuccessfully to censure and dismiss him from the House.

Adams' success in the Amistad trial was in many ways the first battle of the Civil War and the precursor to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. (Lincoln in his only term in the House served with Adams in his final term.) Adams literally died on the House floor fighting the Amistad case when he opposed the claims Spain made against the United States in regards to their lost "property" (the freed Africans).

Harlow Unger's book is very accessible. He acquainted me not only with the man but the times in which he lived. I now have a respect for John Quincy Adams that I did not have before.

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Poe, a Graphic Novel

PoePoe by J. Barton Mitchell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the benefits of becoming interested in the "Steampunk" genre is the discovery of new types of literature. I have not been that interested in "graphic novels", not since I was a teenager reading comic books.

Poe is a graphic novel with text by J. Barton Mitchell and art by Dean Kotz with assistance from others. The story is shows Poe and his brother William, a constable with the Baltimore police department, attempting to solve a series of murders that seem to revolve around some Roman coins that date back to the time of Jesus. The adventure that Poe and his brother go through create allusions to Poe's most famous writings.

I have not read enough graphic novels to be a proper judge of them. But the art work and graphics impressed me with their dark hues and active imagery. The story line was engaging. Given the supernatural premise of the plot, the characters seemed plausible and well motivated.

I would recommend this story for middle school students as a way to introduce them to Edgar Allen Poe, as well as for those interested in the graphic novel genre.

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Saturday, October 06, 2012

Review of "Year Zero"

Year ZeroYear Zero by Rob Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was quite a ride, but a bit of a let down at the end.

The premise of the novel is that humans have a particular talent in music that other beings in the universe do not possess, and when pop music radio and television was discovered by the billions of beings in other galaxies, they began to, illegally by our standards, download our music. Thus the conflict, all of those downloads created an enormous debt that some in the far off ether want to cancel by destroying Earth and all its inhabitants.

Basically, the book is a satire of our culture. The books protagonist, the man who holds in his hands the fate of all humanity is; the horror, the horror; a lawyer whose firm specializes in music copy write law. The book's spoofing only begins with lawyers and their trade. Reid sets his sights on pop music, reality television, video gaming, stereo equipment, unions (both the good and the bad), cab drivers (both the good and the bad), record executives, and, did I mention lawyers?

The writing style reminded me of Douglas Adams "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", filled with fast paced changes in characters, settings, and situations along with nonsensical conflicts and even more nonsensical resolutions.

I felt that the novel's resolution was a bit of a let down taking place as it does in a courtroom located in a galaxy far, far away. However, this is in keeping with a novel that is centered mainly on the absurdities the law creates mainly for the profit of lawyers.

By the way, did you know that Paul McCartney is going to live to be 164?

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I attended Octopodicon 2012 at the Magnuson Hotel in Oklahoma City. I met many great people, got some ideas for my school's Steampunk Reading Club, and enjoyed myself.

Here are pictures of some of those attending.

I asked him if he knew any songs from "The Mikado." He didn't.

From the Metropolitan Public Library. She is displaying a book my  school's Steampunk Reading Club will be reading next, "The Steampunk Anthology."

Two young Steampunkers

Captured but uncowed!

I warned her not to fly to close to the sun.

Trying to navigate a course with a flying machine.
A fencing demonstration

This is "Copper Claw," a Steampunk performance group. Her name is Ay-Leen the Peacemaker.  I didn't get his.

Leanna Renee Heiber I plan to get her book as a possible Steampunk reading. Very intelligent person.

The Old West is a popular Steampunk theme.

Kind of a spooky outfit.


I believe they have a shop named "Otherwhen Oddities" www.otherwhen.net
Please correct me if I'm wrong.

His name is Montague Jacques Fromage, the entrepreneur of the SteampunFunk Bizarre. www.steampunkfunkbizarre.com

Pirate in jail awaiting bail
Another jail bird. This was to raise money for a charity.
I told those whose pictures I took about my blog. I should have gotten more names, so if anyone wants to give me a name for the pictures, I would be grateful.

Had a GREAT time!
(Recently the members of the AFT-OKC voted to reject the contract that the union leadership negotiated with the district administration.  The union went back to the administration and asked to reopen negotiations, which the administration rejected.  There will be a second vote by the membership. This will be on whether or not we choose to go to impasse, which is a long process and will delay ratification until next year sometime.
The union sent out a flyer urging members to reject impasses and to accept the negotiated agreement as it was first presented.  
I recently resigned as Executive VP of the union because I felt the union leadership has been very neglectful of our membership. This was my response to their flyer calling for us to accept the agreement.
We really only have ourselves to blame for having lost the vote on the contract. 
I include myself in this because until recently, I was a part of this whole mess.
We have approved worse contracts than this, but the perception among the members is that we have not been on their side during the changes going on in the district.
We have not spoken out against those who have blamed the teachers for the perceived failures in the schools. In fact, several statements Ed has made have given the impression that we agree with those who believe that by firing teachers, we will somehow transform the culture in our schools, much of which is beyond our control.
These are forces involved with poverty, racism, neglect of the problems brought on by these forces and a host of other ills.
We have neglected this because we did not want to be perceived as giving excuses rather than solutions.
We could have been working for reforms while we were pointing out that simply firing teachers will not bring the sort of systemic change that is needed to truly and permanently turn our schools around.
This sort of change seems to be happening in places like Harlem, but we have never brought this up to my knowledge, and certainly not to the knowledge of those who voted down the contract.
Now, we are on the verge of losing this union.  Even if those showing up vote to reject impasse, as you urge, those hundreds of members who feel abandoned by their union will be tempted to "vote with their feet" out of the union.
This could have been avoided had we played it smarter, had we talked about the need for real change in our community.
We brought this on ourselves. I want no further part of it.  I will vote to go to impasse and urge others to do the same. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Romney Explain Obama's Voters

I cannot respect a man who feels so dismissive of half of the American electorate.
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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mentor: The Kid & the CEO: A Simple Story of Overcoming Challenges and Achieving SignificanceMentor: The Kid & the CEO: A Simple Story of Overcoming Challenges and Achieving Significance by Tom Alan Pace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

On the back of the book there is the claim, "Tony's [the book's narrator and protagonist] story will change your life." I have always been skeptical of such claims, particularly when made of a "self-help" book. And this one didn't (so far) change my life. However, I am probably not the book's primary target audience.

Mentor, written by Tom Pace with Walter Jenkins, told from the point of view of a young man named Tony, age 19, who is sent to jail for a parole violation and faces the real possibility of going to prison for several years. While in jail awaiting sentencing, he goes to a group therapy session run by a businessman named Malcolm who offers all who come the hope of turning their lives around. At first, Tony is skeptical and barely listens to Malcolm, just glad to escape the boredom of jail life. However, in a fairly short amount of time, largely due to the encouragement of a "lifer" convicted of murder, Tony attends, listens and becomes interested.

Malcolm stays to talk to Tony and gives him the book "The Greatest Miracle in the World" by Og Mandino to read. Tony doesn't read the book at first, but finally, with Malcolm's encouragement reads the book and begins a life-changing journey. Malcolm acts as Tony's mentor, and when Tony is released from jail without having to go to prison (due to his good behavior), Malcolm is there for him to offer guidance and encouragement. As is typical for these stories, Tony, by following Malcolm's sage advice, and through his own hard work and perseverance, succeeds as a person, a businessman, and a family man. (Tony goes to church and there meets the love of his life.)

All through the book, in the bottom margins, are bits of wisdom and advice like "finish what you start," have integrity," "have values," "save 10 percent," "read books," and so on.

I respond to this book on different levels, wearing different hats.

My book critic hat, for example, says that this is a pretty average plot line. The conflicts are resolved rather quickly with little dilemma. Malcolm introduces Tony to Gary, also a ex-con who now owns a backhoe business. It just so happens that Gary has a need for some extra help. Surprisingly, it takes a chapter or two for Gary to realize that Malcolm is the answer to his problem. Malcolm later gets into financial trouble and faces a class action lawsuit. He solves this problem by selling some of his property, and the suit is dismissed as "frivolous." Great plots are not this neat. The Joads have no property to sell to get them out of their troubles. They mortgaged it away long before they are dispossessed.

However, when I look at the advice the book offers, I am pleased with it. The advice is simple, mainly involving taking responsibility for yourself and working hard to achieve your dreams. Simple is often good and the advice is good in this simple form. My students, many of whom have already made some wrong choices (I have several fathers and mothers in my English 11 class.), should heed the advice in the book. The book is easy to read and moves quickly. Mr. Pace has made several copies of the book available to my school and others in our district. I plan to use them.

The next hat I put on is my teacher hat. I can use this book to further some lessons I have been teaching this year, particularly those involving the Heroic Archetype. Tony is on a journey, a quest for significance. He follows many aspects of the archetype, particularly, as the title says, having a mentor. He also descends into the "belly of the beast", both the jail and his own limited thinking, rises out of the depths to fight his enemies, those of his inner character. He emerges victorious and brings something good from his life: a business, a family, an opportunity to mentor others.

However, the last hat I wear is my social hat. Pace's philosophy is one of individual initiative and personal responsibility. It is a philosophy rooted deep in the American psyche and includes adherents as American as Ben Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Dale Carnegie. (Tony reads "How to Win Friends and Influence People.") It's the American ideal of "rugged individualism." I have no quarrel with those who remind us that we are ultimately the ones responsible for our lives. However, we are not in this alone. We cannot ignore larger social forces at work that create the Tonys of our country. Poverty is not just an individual problem. Pace only hints at the larger social forces at work in America. Tony at first cannot find a job because businesses won't hire felons. He is lucky to be living with Gary when Gary, a convicted felon and therefore sympathetic to Tony's plight, develops the need for another employee. Pace also never mentions Tony's race, probably for good reason, but we cannot ignore the fact that race and poverty have become in inexorably intertwined in America.

Yes, we need individual action; my students need to take action to move their lives in a positive direction. We need self-help books, but we need just as much "social-help books" and social mentors. We do have them in America,books like "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich and mentors like Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund.

Too many individual responsibility advocates look at these voices and claim that these community organizers somehow shirk our need for individual responsibility. Such is not the case. Instead, they make us aware of the systems we have in place in this country that have led to the largest gap between rich and poor in our nation's history, and they make us ask, "why?" Are the millions of poor people in this country simply lazy? Is there not something wrong about a person working full time at minimum wage and still being far below the poverty line?

Of course, that is not the focus of Pace's book. Where he is focused, he does well. My students would do well, or at least much better, if they followed his advice. For that reason, this book, will be good for them. As I said, I plan to use it.

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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Steampunk Mini-Con Downtown Library

I attended a "Steampunk Mini-Con" at the Oklahoma City Downtown Library today.

I meet many interesting people; several of whom are pictured here. I also heard a presentation on games from the Victorian era and even got to make a "steampunk toy", which I unfortunately left behind (sob).

Here are some of the folks who came in costume:

Kit Holley and Mandy Cole with daughter
Caterra King, Shadowleaf Joyce, and Nikki Watson
Anna and Ryan McKinley
Ryan has authored two Steampunk books: The Pirate Bride and The Lost Crew

Heather Copple, Samantha Royka, and Matt Copple

Zenon Awful (that's the name he gave me)

Olivia, Andrew, and Nicholas
Cat and I had a great time. I learned a good deal made some good contacts.  I hope that some of these become good friends.

I  am looking forward to Octopodicon, a much bigger Steampunk convention, or "Con" that will happen October 5-7 at the Magnuson Hotel in Oklahoma City.  For more information, you can go to  http://octopodicon.org

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Barry Tramel's Reply to my comments on Penn State U Football

Barry Tramel sent me a reply giving his reasons why the NCAA should not step in and shut down Penn State's football program.

Lynn: Interesting. I guess I would say this. If Penn State football should be shut down, then the Catholic Church should have been shut down, too.What needed to happen was the Catholics (sic) to shut down themselves. What needs to happen if (sic) for Penn State to shut itself down. If the NCAA shuts down Penn State, it could have the reverse effect of changing the culture. It could galvanize Penn State into some kind of victim's mentality, that everyone is out to get them. That doesn't need to happen. The culture needs changed (sic).
 (Please note that I have added the "sic" comments not in any negative fashion, but simply to quote accurately.)

My response was that the Catholic Church has to answer to its authority for its actions (a slightly higher one than the NCAA). However, PSU has to answer to the NCAA for its actions in sports, and that makes it ultimately the NCAA responsibility to see that PSU does the right thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Should Penn State Lose Its Football Program?

I wrote to Barry Tramel, a sports columnist for The Oklahoman newspaper about his opinion on whether or not Penn State Univ. should lose its football program.  I have reprinted my remarks below. I will reprint his reply. Feel free to join in the debate.

Hi Barry,

I would like to know your opinion about whether Penn State should lose its football program

I have read several opinion pieces calling for something like this to happen.  I have to realize that my politics are quite "left-wing"; therefore, most of the blogs I read are of the same stripe.

However, I believe that Penn State has lost the right to run a football program, and that it should be closed for a significant amount of time. (5 years is the number I would call for.)

I have several reasons for this:

1. This was not just a horrible crime. It was also a systemic failure of a program more concerned with image and self-preservation than with the innocent lives being destroyed.

2. Since those in charge of the football program were covering up these crimes to protect the program, the penalty for their crimes should be the loss of what they attempted to protect.

3. This would send a message to all of college football that it is far better to "tarnish your image" than it is to engage in a cover-up since you risk losing anything to tarnish.

I am aware of at least some of the arguments against ending PSU football, and in my, perhaps not so, humble opinion, they don't hold water.

1. This would punish innocent football players.  Yes, these young men would have to find a new program as their step ladder to the NFL or a college degree (perhaps), but if one is good enough to get a PSU scholarship, the odds are well in that player's favor to find a new scholarship.

2. This would "punish" "innocent" fans.  First, I am sickened by many of the fans reaction to the scandal as they wanted to punish the victims for exposing the crimes.  Also, there is no "right" to sports entertainment. The fans and alums of PS have no right to demand that their desire to paint themselves in school colors and show up on a fall Saturday precedes the need to provide a just punishment for a program that was involved in a criminal conspiracy. 

3. The NCAA has no business getting involved in this. I know you argued this in a column you wrote, but I argue that PSU is not likely to take this step on their own. They should, but in the event they don't, the NCAA should do the right thing and do it for them. See my reason #3 above for my thinking on this.

I am guessing that you have a different perspective on this, and I would like your point of view. Should you wish, again, to include my remarks in your blog or elsewhere, you have my grateful permission.

Your loyal reader,

Monday, June 11, 2012

What I did on my first real day of vacation.

There are calendar dates like July 4th or December 25th, there are seasonal dates like the equinox and solstice, and then there are psychological dates where we feel that something has begun or ended.

Today, for me, was the first day of teacher summer vacation.  We were officially through with school on June 2nd. However, that was a Saturday. Saturday we are always out of school whatever the time of year. The same goes for Sunday.  Monday was "sortof" vacation but it was tempered with the fact that the next day, Tuesday, we were back at school for a 3 day teachers' workshop. Friday was recovery from Tuesday through Thursday, and then it was back to Saturday and Sunday.

Monday was the first day that was completely our own, our true beginning to summer vacation where we could do whatever we wished (within the bounds of legality) for however long we wished.

So I read books, that glorious pastime that all true English teachers lust after but never get to fully indulge. I read history books, Young Adult books, political books.  I am in my version of heaven.

Hope you are getting to enjoy your summer too.