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National Teacher’s Day: Let’s Actually Start Valuing Our Teachers Again

What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today is National Teacher’s Day and not a moment too soon. However most people probably don’t know or care that it is. Teachers are not valued highly in our society. They used to be but not anymore. Ask a teacher how they feel about classroom conditions, support from the elected officials on school boards that use their office to attack the institutions that they have been elected to serve. Ask any teacher about the effects of the “No Child Left Behind” on their ability to teach and be able to reach out to students that learn differently from the rote memory exercises needed to pass a standardized test.

Higher education likewise is being gutted the formerly amazing California State University System, and the California Junior College system which I attended is being decimated. Professors have not competitive wages in years, programs are being cut while tuition is increased. I attended San Joaquin Delta College and paid $5 a semester plus books. I averaged $200 a year at Cal State Northridge. Programs were amazing, class sizes good, professors and instructors, excellent. That system and many others are in crisis.

You see teachers, especially those in Public Schools have for the last 30 years or so, ever since Howard Jarvis’s Proposition 13 passed in California and gutted educational spending the target of right wing pundits, politicians and preachers. They are blamed by some people for almost every ill in the educational system. If teachers complain or take their case to the media they are made the villain. In most States they don’t make a lot of money for all the education, training and certifications that they are required to have to teach.  They have few protections and those that they do have, mainly in the protections that they gained through their participation in organized labor are being stripped away in state after state.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s my dad was in the Navy. It was a turbulent time for our family. Due my dad’s transfers as well as a school boundary change in one district I ended up attending six different elementary schools in three states, three schools in three states in 4th grade alone. During that time our lives were in a constant state of flux and as a grade school student it was my teachers that helped me get through that time. Because of the transfers I didn’t get to have the opportunity to remain in a community long enough to get established until Junior High School. I was always “the new kid in town.” Not that that is bad or that I have any bad memories of that childhood. I found the new places, people and schools to be a grand adventure. In fact when my dad retired from the Navy I was not happy. I wanted him to stay in because I liked the adventure.

I remember every one of my elementary school teachers names, save one in 4th grade where were we not at the school long. There was the strict Kindergarten teacher, Mrs Brandenburg who made sure that she write with my right hand.  To this day my handwriting is illegible but who cares now when I type everything. Then there was my 1st Grade Teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs Christian. She was a sweetheart her husband was an airline pilot and in 1st grade, probably because of my handwriting I was tested for some learning difficulties. I guess that there was nothing wrong because that didn’t last long. In Second Grade I had Mrs Jackson. Then in 3rd grade a new school was opened and I attended Olympic View Elementary School.  My 3rd Grade Teacher was Mrs King.  It was in 3rd grade that I really began my adventure in reading. I devoured every book in the biography and history section that I could find in the Library, especially those dealing with military and political leaders, sports figures (especially baseball players) and military history.

I began 4th Grade at Olympic View but my dad was transferred to a travel intensive assignment in Long Beach California in the fall of 1968. I had my first male teacher at Olympic View, Mr Alguire who I really liked. We moved to Long Beach and it was a difficult move. there were a number of deaths and serious illnesses in the extended family and I attended Robert E Lee Elementary in Long Beach for just a few weeks before my dad had my mom, brother and I go live with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia. We arrived there in early December and I found that I was out of my element. My teacher at Miller Elementary was Mrs Gates. She was very tough and I was hammered with more homework than I had ever seen. I was also the “new kid” and since we had just moved from Long Beach a “city slicker” and was challenged to a fight in my first week. It was a draw. However Mrs Gates was a great teacher and I continued to read, write well but illegibly and learn to speak in front of the class.

When the school year was done we moved back to Long Beach when in a different neighborhood just across the cement lined San Gabriel River from Orange County I attended Hawaiian Gardens Elementary School where I met my friend Chris Brockel who I have managed to stay in contact over the years. That was probably my most fun year in school. I was asked if I wanted to skip 5th grade but I told the principle that I wanted to remain in my 5th Grade Class. My teacher was another gem, Mr Oliver. It was a great school year combined with the fact that my dad was always taking us to California Angeles baseball games.  But dad received orders to the elderly Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock CVA-19 home ported in Alameda California at the end of that school year which made another move necessary and initially thought had ruined my life. heck I had baseball, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, the Queen Mary and Sea World. I saw my first professional hockey and basketball games and it was a dream life.

Since it was the early 1970s and the Bay Area was in turmoil and I had a great Aunt in Stockton  we moved to Stockton just down the street from her. In Stockton I attended Grover Cleveland Elementary School and had the woman that I think was my best teacher of elementary school Mrs Dietrich. My dad was underway or deployed most of the time between 1971 and 1974 when he retired. That first year was hard and like my other teachers Mrs Dietrich was a rock of stability who encouraged me to learn and think for myself.

I attended Stockton Junior High and Edison High School and there are were teachers at every grade level who I remember fondly. My French Teacher from 7th-9th Grade was Mrs Milhousen who was very patient with me. My history teacher was Mr Silvaggio who my brother would later teach on the same faculty in his first teaching assignment. I remember my Printing Shop and Wood Shop teachers, back then you had to become familiar with trade skills as well as academics. I learned to play the French Horn in band class which was taught by Mr Hull.

At Edison I still remember great teachers like Gloria Nomura, Mr Riley, Mr Oji, all who taught History or Social Studies, Donovan Cummings my Speech teacher, Coaches Charlie Washington, Vick Berg, Duke Pasquini.  There were others but two of the most important were my Naval Junior ROTC instructors LCDR James Breedlove and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness.  I could go on and on about teacher.

That continued in college and seminary. I am indebted to the wonderful, gifted and dedicated men and women that were my teachers.  My mom was a teacher’s aid when life settled down in Stockton when dad left the Navy and retired from the school district. Likewise my brother Jeff is a teacher and in administration at an alternative school in the district, his wife is an elementary school teacher.  I now have a BA and three graduate degrees. I am indebted to my teachers and cannot forget them. Teaching is hard. I have taught a couple of undergraduate level Western Civilization classes and the amount of work is enormous.

When I hear the Unholy Trinity of Right Wing Politicians, Pundits and Preachers that beat up public school teachers at every opportunity. School Board members who seem to be more interested in political careers than education and those that hack away at programs that cater to the whole person I am disgusted. When I went to school those things that made me what I am today, the library, the gym classes, athletic programs, the foreign languages, art, music, speech, and things like shop were required. They helped give me an appreciation for the world and for people in general. They helped make me a more rounded person. From what I see now those kind of programs are being decimated and our kids will be poorer for it. This is not the fault of the teachers. They work with the crap being forced on them by politicians in Congress, statehouses and on school boards with ever shrinking resources and always increasing requirements.

We need to actually care about our teachers and educational systems. Policy and budget priorities set by politicians coupled with parents that are either bullies or absentee are the reason our schools are in trouble.

I hate to lecture but teachers matter. Education policy matters. Educational funding matters. If we want to be competitive in the world we need to make education a priority again and start giving teachers some measure of respect and stop using them as a straw man to divert attention from the real causes of our educational crisis.

Today is National Teacher’s Day. Admittedly it is after hours but take some time in the next few days to thank a teacher.  If you don’t have kids, go back and thank one of your own.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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52 Years: Musing on Life and Civil Rights in 2012

Trayvon Martin and Emmit Till

Well about this time of night some 52 years ago my mom was deep into a very long day of labor at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland California. 52 years and it doesn’t really seem that long but it is. When I was born Dwight Eisenhower was President and his Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy were preparing to run against each other for the Office of President.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists like Medgar Evers were campaigning for the rights of Black Americans and others and would lose their lives in doing it within a few years. In that time Blacks were violently attacked even in church, the 15 September 1963 Street Baptist Church bombing. Just 6 years before I was born a 14 year old boy named Emmit Till was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman. His killers backed by a surge of popular support were acquitted of the murder and a few months later confessed to the murder unable to be prosecuted under double jeopardy. Blacks did not gain legal protections enjoyed by whites until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When I was a teenager my home town of Stockton California desegregated its schools. I am proud to be part of the first class at Edison High School that completed all of its high school years in that environment.  I remember those times fondly and my friends there are all my “Soul Vike” brothers and sisters.

I know this is a weird start to a birthday article but I never believed that I would see racism become fashionable again.  But then I should have seen it coming because it has always been there maybe just under the surface but still there.  Back in 2009 I was attacked and threatened by a White Supremacist in response to articles about world War II and a baseball game on this site.

So when I started reading responses of certain media and political figures to the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman it struck a chord. I have been following the case online and have read a good number of posts by people “defending” Zimmerman by making the most racist and hateful comments maligning the dead kid and those that have the nerve to make this killing an issue.

No one is perfect and I am not calling for a mob approach to justice that would condemn Zimmerman without a full and impartial investigation and if need be a trial. However that being said if no one bothered to raise Trayvon Martin’s death the story would be buried deeper that Trayvon.  Without the actions of some nationally known activists and media personalities Zimmerman would never be forced to account for his actions that night in which he killed Trayvon. Zimmerman is said to have allegedly killed in self defense despite defying police who told him not to pursue or confront the teenager and the police at the minimum did a terribly inept investigation and at worst were complicit in a cover up that now may involve leaking material to a local reporter that they believe is helpful to painting the dead kid in a negative manner.

That bothers me. It reminds me of what I have read of reaction to and defense of the murderers that killed Emmit Till.  If Zimmerman did nothing wrong and if Trayvon Martin actually attacked him first a thorough investigation would have left no doubt. Zimmerman is innocent until proven guilty but he may never even face trial based on the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law.  I just don’t get the convoluted arguments that self defense trumps even a fair and thorough investigation of of a man that used a gun to kill another. But now all we have is the trigger puller’s account to rely on and the stultifying spin of his defenders who seem more intent on killing the victim once again than they are on finding out what really happened. The Sanford Police have probably ensured that will never happen by not doing the ballistics, gunpowder residue and other normal procedures that would show what happened. That is not justice.

I was perusing a Christian blog which the matter was being discussed and I think that what I read there was the most discouraging as people professing to be Christians were in the lead trashing the life of a dead kid and making comments on race, African Americans and civil rights that if they were said about White Christians that would be decried in the right wing press and blogosphere.

I wonder at times how far we have come.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Unassuming Miscreant: How Padre Steve got his Driver’s License

Who would think that the Young man in the Aviator Sunglasses could be so devious? 

Note to Parents: While this article talks about my own misdeeds it is not an endorsement or blessing of your kid doing such things unless they do it with more style and flair than me.  In which case I need to meet them, as I do appreciate genius and want to make sure that they have the opportunity to school them in the ways of the “Farce.”This is just the first installment of my high school follies so look for more in the future.

I was a quiet and unassuming high school delinquent back in the 1970s and I love the classic 80’s comedy Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.  When I watch it I always reminisce about the good and not so good times that I enjoyed and did not enjoy in high school.  When I watch the movie I am reminded of so of my own sneaky misdeeds which included weaseling my way through or out of classes, escaping school to get my driver’s license by playing dead and cutting Geometry class so often by hiding in the library that the library staff thought it was my assigned class.

You see no one suspected me of such behavior because of my shy nice guy persona. Now to be fair I was pretty introverted most of the time. To top it off I was a NJROTC cadet in the years following Vietnam which was not the place one hung out if one was in the real “in crowd.” I sacrificed my love of baseball to appear cool by playing on the Sophomore Football team, albeit not very well. I was active in church and I was a pretty nice guy.  I look in some of my yearbooks and see the comments inscribed by friends and they all pretty much reflect the image that I put out. Thus while I was a complete goof off or no show in some classes I was a show off in other classes that I was good at which gave people the illusion that I was a really good student.  I was in those classes but image is everything and my High School GPA was just a bit above 3.0.

Now most people never suspected me of anything devious except my little brother Jeff who had me nailed though he was still in elementary school.  Little brothers and sisters have that ability.

I found that by masquerading as a serious student was far better cover to get away with things than being an in your face rebel like some of my other classmates were.  The fact that I carried a large stack of books with me everywhere I went added the image.  It did make my arms tired but when you have little else to use you take advantage of what you have.  I looked the part of the serious student thus that was what most people assumed that I was.

All of us at Edison High School had a common core of classes to prepare us for life. One of them was a class in health which also included some of the academic preparations for drivers training.  I was in a class with a bunch of folks that I have had contact with even today which was taught by Mrs. Davenport.   During the class we got to see two of the best “scare the shit out of you” films of all time.  They were Wheels of Tragedy produced in 1963 by the Ohio State Patrol and Red Asphalt produced in the early 1970s by the California Highway Patrol. Wheels of Tragedy can be seen in its entirety by following this link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6728780942571899981# while Red Asphalt can be seen here:http://www.documentingreality.com/forum/f166/red-asphalt-18740/

These are some of the creepiest films ever made and I’m sure that the girls were really grossed out by them.  When Mrs. Davenport left the room a couple of us played these films backwards on the 16mm projector, which led to images of dead people’s heads reappearing on their shoulders.  If these films were shown in theaters today they would get an “R” rating for violence due to the close up depictions of dead bodies.  I don’t know if they are still shown as they are somewhat dated, but they are pretty cool in kind of a retro-creepy way.

Once we got through that class which took place in the fall we started the actual driver’s education portion in the spring. The idea was that when we turned 16 we would be able to take and pass written and the road test administered at the Department of Motor Vehicles, better known as the DMV.  This class was taught by Mr. Allerdice, a stocky retired Marine with a close cropped hair and a growling who seemed out of place in the school but who was a great teacher.   He was like having a drill sergeant, albeit a nice drill sergeant but a drill sergeant nonetheless.  The Driver’s Education classes were limited to 3 students and included classroom instruction, a bunch of time behind the wheels of a simulator followed by supervised driving.   Our class had an orange Chevy Nova which had two sets of controls, one for the student and the “My God we’re about to die!” controls on the right side of the car at which Mr. Allerdice sat.   This was somewhat intimidating but still kind of fun, especially because we knew that if we were successful we got our learners permit and were pretty much golden for the DMV.  I had no problems with the class, really sailed through it and got ready for the real deal training on my parents 1972 Chevy Impala which was about the size of a small armored vehicle.

When the day came for my driver’s test I had to find a way out of school when my mom could take me to the DMV.  This came shortly after my 16th birthday at the end of March 1976.  That morning I told my mom to be ready to meet me about 10 AM because I needed her to take me to the DMV. She assumed like everyone else that I had permission to do the things that I said that I needed to do.  However I was flying by the seat of my pants and was about to embark on a gamble that if discovered would get me in trouble with the school and even worse at home. I was going to fake being deathly ill.

In my second period I told the teacher, whoever it was as I cannot remember what class I was taking that I was feeling sick. I told the teacher that I felt feverish and that I might throw up.  Since I had finished gym class the period before I was still somewhat sweaty which provided the cover for the fever, a sweaty and flushed face is great cover and prerequisite when feigning illness.  The teacher wrote me a pass to the school nurse.  I trudged down the hallway like I had the plague until I got to the nurses’ office which was in the main lateral hallway of the school where many of us had our lockers.  The corridor was empty except for staff policing the hallways for the miscreants hoping to cut class or escape for the day. They saw me but saw my pass to the nurse and assumed that I was deathly ill.

The nurse was a middle aged and a bit heavy set African American woman who was known for being wise to students feigning illness.  She was no dummy, had been a school nurse forever and didn’t take any shit but she was a most genial person.  I entered the office doing my best to look like I had the plague or other life threatening malady and prayed that I could pull off my escape with the unwitting permission of the Stockton Unified School Disctrict.  I told the nurse my story but she was not convinced.  However since I was still sweaty and flushed and she took my temperature.  I prayed that I would actually have one….and thankfully the temp was there, 99.1, not too high but still febrile.  How I pulled that off the temperature I don’t know to this day because I didn’t expect to have it taken.

The nurse then looked at me and said “Young Man, you do have a mild fever, do you still feel like you are going to throw up?”  I nodded meekly and replied that I thought that I was going to throw up, careful not to look her in the eye because I wanted to look really sick.  She went to the sink and got a paper cup and filled it with warm water.  She then said “You drink this; it will either settle your stomach or bring up whatever is down there.” I had not expected such good fortune; she had given me exactly what I needed to pull off my stunt.  I walked into the adjoining rest room and closed the door.  I looked down and the toilet and looked at the cup up water and smiled. With a grotesque simulation of an episode of projectile vomiting I tossed the water into the toilet.  I did this again and again for about 5 minutes.  When I was done I flushed the toilet, rinsed my face off with warm water and looking even more ill than I had went back into the nurses office.  By that time she was already on the phone with my mom.  “Ma’am, your son is really sick, and throwing up. You need to come and get him now.” The time was 9:30 AM.  She wrote me a note which bought my freedom and told me that she “hoped that I felt better.” I thanked her in a most sincere way saying that “I hoped that I did too,” thanked her and walked slowly to the main entrance of the school on South center Street.

About 9:55 mom came pulling up to the school, she was very concerned and asked “Steven, are you okay? The nurse said that you were really sick.” I said coyly, “Mom, I told you that I would be ready to take my driver’s test, let’s go.”  She gave me the most puzzled expression and said, “But she said that you were really sick.” I simply said, “I know mom, I told you that I would be here.”  Years later I told her the details of how I pulled it off details which totally amazed and disgusted her.

We went to the DMV where I passed the written and the driving test and posed for my first driver’s license picture.  I was street legal and had brazenly pulled off a stunt which not only got me my driver’s license but got me out of school early on a Friday.

I guess that it’s like Ferris Buehler said: “The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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No Time to Be Bitter: Padre Steve takes a Lesson from Buck O’Neil

Where does bitterness take you?

To a broken heart?

To an early grave?

When I die

I want to die from natural causes

Not from hate

Eating me up from the inside

Buck O’Neil

 

I was browsing the internet the other day searching for information on  the life of a person that I am interested in and came across a number of internet sites which indirectly referenced the man but were filled with more bitterness, anger and hatred than I could ever imagine being harbored in the heart of a single person.  They came from the far right and far left but the far right crowd seemed more angry bitter and then I had remembered them being, admittedly this website was extreme even by the standards of Der Stürmer  especially in the overtly racist overtones of the site and that the woman that runs it claims to be Jewish and “mad.” I presume that the site owner was referring to mental illness because only a deranged person could be so bitter, hateful and vengeful and all in the name of righteousness.   I was amazed just how far this woman went but instead of being put off I was morbidly drawn into her site reading article after article as if I had come upon a horrible accident involving Lady Gaga and Sarah Palin.  I finally got away, put down my laptop computer and resumed reading Buck O’Neil’s America on my Kindle.

The sites that I had visited when looking for a totally unrelated subject were filled with such hatred and bitterness that I was stunned. Anyone who reads this site knows that I am certainly not naïve and fully aware of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, and I include women in that somewhat exclusivist comment.  I began to realize that although I get angry at injustice I don’t have time to be bitter even at things that have been said about me or done to me.

I have seen the cost of bitterness in lives of people around me and in lives of people dying horrible deaths eaten up by the bitterness in their hearts.  I realized a long time ago that even if I was angry and even right in what I knew I could not remain bitter. When I came home from Iraq and was emotionally torn by things that were happening to me as well as the terribly bitter invective of the 2008 elections I knew that I could not live that way.  I had allowed such anger and bitterness to be part of me for a number of years after 9-11 that it consumed me at times, some directed toward those that directed those attacks but an even more vengeful attitude toward political liberals in the United States and Europe.  For a time I lost my sense of moderation and ability to see people as people that God loved and cared about.

Iraq changed that and since I have written about that time and time again I will simply say that when I came back from Iraq I could no longer bear the anger and bitterness of those that hated their fellow Americans as much or worse than those that attacked us.  It made no sense and I knew that I had changed.  I no longer had the time or energy to be so angry that I was bitter.  I was done. I stopped reading and listening to those that promoted such attitudes from the left or the right. Even then I had my moments especially as I battled all the components of PTSD, depression and a loss of faith that left me for all practical reasons an agnostic.  As faith, hope and stability began to return to my life those moments have become far less frequent and for that I am most grateful.

I am now inspired by those that overcame great obstacles of hatred, racial, gender, economic or religious prejudice and many of those stories come from baseball. One of those is the story of Buck O’Neil the great player and manager of the Negro leagues who never played in the Majors and was denied the chance to manage at the Major League level, instead serving as a coach and scout for various Major League teams.  In spite of having endured prejudice, discrimination and all that went with being an African American man, even a talented and successful one.

Yet O’Neil was one of those people that found good in everything and everyone.  He was one of those unique individuals that rises above hatred and does not become infected by it.  Such people seem to be a rarity but thankfully there are others like him and they reside in all corners of our land, they are of every race, religion, ethnic group, gender, sexual orientation and even political affiliation.  They would give the shirt off their back to help others and somehow in spite of things that they have experienced and the painfully nasty tone set by so many politicians, pundits, media types and terribly nasty and bitter people like the lady I referenced above, they still see the good in others and refuse to live lives infected by hatred, prejudice and discrimination regardless of the source.

However I ran into a number of people in the past couple of days that I could not believe. A few years back I started a Facebook page for those in my graduating class at Edison High School in Stockton California.  The title was Edison High School 1975-1978 and its description plainly said that it was for Edison High School in Stockton California.  I thought that was pretty straight forward I set up the page and forgot about it, which I often do because of my Mad Cow symptoms which is what I call my continuing PTSD symptoms, mild cognitive and speech cognition deficits that have affected me since Iraq.

So I forgot about the page, I don’t know how many people are even on it and I start getting nasty and condescending messages on Facebook from a bunch of people from New Jersey for God sakes.  These people were all over me like stink on shit and for what reason?  That I didn’t specify in the title that it was California and not New Jersey. It was in the description for goodness sake; all these people had to do was read. Instead they were all telling me that I needed to change things, tell all of the New Jersey people that this was a California page and remove them from the page. I’m sorry I don’t have time for that and if people can’t bother to read details or even see that the mascot logo was a Viking and not their school’s mascot.  According to the most vocal of these people there were like 29 people that can’t bother to read. So I changed the title to say it was Edison High School Stockton California and put a blurb to the New Jersey people that it was California and not New Jersey. Even that wasn’t good enough and so I passed it by, made a comment that people should read something before signing up for it and left the conversation. If I had stayed I would have started losing any sense of peace.

The I realized that people that do this are probably mad at the world in general, they feel cheated or lied to, they are bitter and need to take it out on someone.  So I took a deep breath, re-read some of Buck O’Neil’s story and thanked God for him. I knew at that moment that I was on the right track. As much as an irritant these people were I could not be angry at them or let it fester.  They must have things going on in their lives that I cannot understand which contribute to them needing to come after me when the obvious solution was simply to remove themselves from the site and tell their friends that they made a mistake.

Whatever, it doesn’t matter because I haven’t got time to be bitter and I don’t want anger and bitterness to eat me from the inside out and take me to an early grave. Maybe someday those that thrive on hatred, division and the promotion of enmity will figure out life and let go.  But as Master Yoda said to Luke “Strong is the power of the dark side” and “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”  I have seen enough of suffering and don’t want to contribute to the climate of hate and discontent that pervades our country.  I think Jesus even talked about not living in anger and bitterness and preached forgiveness even from the Cross. Funny how we have such a hard time living that way.

I have too many friends who have experienced the hatred of others and been wounded deeply by the words and actions perpetrated against them. Some have endured these patiently and others have turned to the same tactics and attitudes that they have been the victims of, perpetuating the cycle. Some things never change; the victims often in time become the persecutors.

Does this make this moderate a liberal and will the label stick?

It most probably does, but what the hell?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dallas Braden; Perfect Games and Memories of Home in Stockton California

Dallas Braden celebrating with teammates (Getty Images)

On Sunday Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s did what only eighteen men had done in the history of Major League Baseball, he pitched a perfect game.  However there is more to this story than meets the eye and some that touches me personally.

The setting of Braden’s feat was the venerable Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the “other” ballpark in the Bay Area.  Sitting in an area just off of the Nimitz Freeway the coliseum and its surrounding parking lots are in one of the most un-picturesque venues in the Bay area.  While one can see the Oakland Hills to the East the Park is just far enough away from San Francisco Bay to lack the ambiance of the San Francisco Giant’s home across the bay AT&T Park which sits on the bay with views of the Bay Bridge and the Skyline of the City of San Francisco.  While the ballpark has been the home of multiple World Series Champion A’s teams, numerous League Championship teams and had its share of Hall of Fame players tread upon its natural grass it has never been considered a great ballpark for either pitchers or hitters.   The fact that it is a multi-use stadium and the home of the Oakland Raiders football team contributes to un- remarkableness as a baseball venue.  All of this said it is a place where magic has occurred before when in 1968, in fact almost 42 years to the day of Braden’s magical win, May 8th 1968 Jim “Catfish” Hunter threw a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.  Like Hunter’s win in 1968 the A’s won the game by a score of 4-0 however Hunter’s win came before the American League adopted the Designated Hitter meaning that Hunter had to hit for himself in the game.  That being said he did hit and I mean that he really did hit.  Hunter went 3-4 including a double and knocked in 3 of the A’s 4 runs.  That was no fluke as Hunter had a .226 lifetime batting average with 6 career home runs and 51 RBIs.

Dallas Braden with Grandmother (Getty Images)

With that little bit of trivia said Braden who is not your typical power pitcher that usually pitches perfect games pitched a solid game which was far different than one year ago when he was hit in his pitching hand with a 109 mile an hour line drive off of the bat of Vernon Wells which left the imprint of the seams on his hand.  Braden as I said is not a power pitcher.  He has one of the 10 slowest fastballs in the game topping out at a mere 87 miles an hour.  Normally an 87 mile and hour fastball is a dish served at a perfect temperature for most good hitters and they eat the pitchers that throw them for lunch.  However Braden has a remarkable equalizer, it is not his curve or slider but his change up.  I drive faster than his change up on a typical commute to and from work.  Braden’s change up comes in at a leisurely 72.9 miles and hour.  This pitch is the slowest change up in the league and it baffles batters by making his fast ball seem faster than it is. Batters at the Major League level are not used to this type of ultra-slow deception for a pitcher and it served Braden well but even so coming into the game he had a lifetime record of 18 wins and 23 losses and a 4.49 ERA.  He is not the pitcher that one would put money on to throw a perfect game and I’m sure that Jimmy the Greek, Larry the Latvian, Johnny the Walker and even Pete Rose would have wagered against him pulling this off. Yet he did it against the hottest team in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Braden’s biggest notice came earlier in the year where he and Alex Rodriguez had an exchange of rather terse barbs following an incident where Rodriguez ran across the pitcher’s mound during the game.

Braden pitched for 5 or parts of 5 years in the minors for 7 different clubs in the A’s organization, the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League, the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League, the Arizona Athletics of the Arizona League, the Stockton Ports of the California League, The Midland Rock Hounds of the Texas League and the Sacramento River cats of the Pacific Coast League.  This year he has stayed in the majors and now after the win has a record of 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 7 starts.

Braden’s story is that of a young man who lost his mother Jodie Atwood in his senior year at Stagg High School in May of 2001.  His parents had separated when he was young and his father was estranged from the family.  His grandmother Peggy Lindsey took over and helped him through that last year of school providing the stability, love and care that he needed to survive his mother’s loss and not fall into the mire of Stockton’s often violent and crime ridden streets.  The story of this young man and the women who raised him is the story of how mother’s day ought to be.  Braden had the love and support of his late mother and grandmother during the turbulent times of his youth and as a result still remains closely connected to his grandmother and his home town.  In fact he commutes the 67 mile trip daily from Stockton to Oakland which means unlike many professionals, athletes, businesspersons, those in other professional fields to include the military that leave their home town and only make occasion visits home is able to keep himself ground in reality.  He does not live in a glamorous town; he plays for a very blue collar city on a very “Green Collar” team.  I think that is one of the stories that some people will miss, not all, Jeff Passan mentioned Braden’s connection to home in his column on Yahoo Baseball.

Downtown Stockton

You see there is something about this story of relationship and connectedness that I think may be uniquely Stocktonian.  You see for the past number of years Stockton has been ranked number one or at least in the top 5 of the nation’s “Misery index.”  This year it dropped to second as it was edged out by Cleveland Ohio, I guess Cleveland does rock. It is routinely in the highest percentage of crime, violent crime and murders in the nation.  In the economic downturn and the real estate crash it was hit particularly hard and for a fair amount of time led the nation in foreclosures, or may still I just haven’t checked.  It is a town that in many ways has experienced for many years and reflects the reality that many other locations in the country are just beginning to know in today’s economy.

Foreclosure capitol (Getty Images)

All this said there is still something that native Stocktonians appreciate about our city, even those of us that have moved away.  We tend to remain in contact with our friends who still remain in town or have moved away.  I currently am in contact with over 100 friends on Facebook alone. My Edison High School Class of 1978 still has well attended reunions and is very well connected to each other and the classes that came before and after us. I look at the Stockton Record website every day. I used to read the obituaries until the Record started charging for them.  When I go home there is a certain familiarity with the city and though it has grown to a rather sizable city it still has a small town feel to me. I can still go to Arroyo’s Café when I go home and see the same people. The same is true with Donut King, Chucks , Manny’s burgers, the Fox Theater and a bunch of other places.  While other cities built huge super-malls Stockton still has Weberstown and Sherwood Mall.  Yes they have changed some over the years but they are still much the same. Yes much has changed but much is still the same in Stockton and I think that it one of the things that makes Dallas Braden’s story so remarkable to me he has not forgotten where he came from.  He still loves and cares for Stockton.  In an age where the really “successful” people move to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco Braden didn’t cut himself off from his roots.  Are there others who have done such as this one that comes to mind is Joe Mauer in Minnesota but why leave if they will pay you more money than God gets in a season?

Another interesting thing that stuck me about Dallas Braden was his mother.  She was close to my age and I remember her, I thought it was in Junior High School but I couldn’t find t  find her in the yearbooks, it could have been the church youth group when I was in High School but regardless I am sure that I knew her.  I mentioned this to my mother today and she remembered the name.  Interesting how closely peoples’ lives are linked together.

My Oak Park Little League team back in 1972

I guess what strikes me the most about this game even more than the game itself which I must say that I am in awe of is the story of a man, Dallas Braden  who despite pitching in the Major Leagues still remembers home and family and stays connected to them.  This is becoming rare in our society and maybe given the state of the nation and how deeply divided we are it is time to return home, maybe not physically but returning to relationships with the people that we grew up with, schools, workplaces, churches and other activities.  Maybe Dallas Braden points us to something that matters more to many of us than the achievements of athletes or entertainers but to where we really need to be connected to one another as Americans, friends and families.  Yes it is wonderful to succeed and all should strive to be the best at what they feel called to be or do, but if that success destroys and alienates people from family, friends and home is ti really success? Maybe it is the pastoral environment of the baseball field that makes this happen for some of us.  Maybe like Terrance Mann played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams we can understand that

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

Thank you Dallas Braden for helping to remind us what is important as you play this game of baseball.  I do hope that you do well in your career and that this perfect game is a foretaste of a great career for you.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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How Padre Steve Got His Driver’s License, Passed Geometry, Escaped Advanced Algebra and Selects Mood Music for a Book Burning

Note to Parents: While this article talks about my own misdeeds it is not an endorsement or blessing of your kid doing such things unless they do it with more style and flair than me.  In which case I need to meet them, as I do appreciate genius and want to make sure that they have the opportunity to school them in the ways of the “Farce.”

ferris buehlerCutting Class and Going to a Museum…Hmmm…

I was watching the move Ferris Buehler’s Day Off a couple of weeks ago and I began to reminisce about the good and not so good times in high school.  When I watched the movie I was reminded of so of my own sneaky misdeeds by which I weaseled my way through or out of classes, escaped to get my driver’s license by playing dead, well just played really sick and cut Geometry class by hiding in the library.  You see no one suspected me of such behavior because of my shy nice guy persona. Now to be fair I was pretty introverted most of the time. To top it off I was a NJROTC cadet in the years following Vietnam, played on the Sophomore Football team, albeit not very well, was active in church and I was a pretty nice guy…not like I am now.  I look in some of my yearbooks and see the comments inscribed by friends and they all pretty much reflect the image that I put out. Thus though I was a complete goof off in some classes and show off in other classes that I liked, most people never suspected me of anything, except my little brother Jeff who had me nailed though he was still in elementary school.  Little brothers and sisters have that ability.

Steve&TuffyA Face that You Could Trust…An Unlikely Miscreant

I found that by faking being a really serious student was far better cover to get away with things than being an in your face rebel like some of my other classmates were.  The fact that I carried a large stack of books with me everywhere I went added the image.  It did make my arms tired but when you have little else to use you take advantage of what you have.

All of us back in the 1970s in Stockton had a common core of classes to prepare us for life. One of them was a class in health which also included some of the academic preparations for drivers training.  I was in a class with a bunch of folks that I have had contact with even today which was taught by Mrs. Davenport.   During the class we got to see two of the most class “scare the shit out of you” films of all time.  They were Wheels of Tragedy produced in 1963 by the Ohio State Patrol and Red Asphalt produced in the early 1970s by the California Highway Patrol. Wheels of Tragedy can be seen in its entirety by following this link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6728780942571899981# while Red Asphalt can be seen here: http://www.documentingreality.com/forum/f166/red-asphalt-18740/

They are to this day some of the creepiest films ever made and I’m sure that the girls were really grossed out by them, especially when Mrs. Davenport left the room and couple of us played it backwards on the 16mm projector.  If these films were shown in theaters today they would get an “R” rating for violence and close up depictions of dead bodies.  I don’t know if they are still shown as they are somewhat dated, but they are pretty graphic in kind of a retro way.

Once we got through that class which was the first or second quarter of the sophomore year for many of us we started the actual drivers education portion in the spring so that hopefully when we turned 16 we would be able to take and pass the State of California written test and the road test administered at the Department of Motor Vehicles, better known as the DMV.  This class was taught by Mr. Allerdice, a stocky retired Marine with a close cropped hair.   He was like having a drill sergeant, albeit a nice drill sergeant but a drill sergeant nonetheless.  These classes were limited to 3 students and included a bunch of time behind a simulator followed by supervised driving in a Chevy Nova which had two sets of controls, one for the student and the “My God we’re about to die!” controls on the right side of the car at which Mr. Allerdice sat.   This was somewhat intimidating but still kind of fun, especially because we knew that if we were successful we got our learners permit and were pretty much golden for the DMV.  I had no problems with the class, really sailed through it and got ready for the real deal training on my parents 1972 Chevy Impala which was about the size of a small armored vehicle.

When the day came for my driver’s test I had to find a way out of school when my mom could take me to the DMV.  This came shortly after my 16th birthday at the end of March 1976.  That morning I told my mom to be ready to meet me about 10 AM.  In second period I told the teacher, whoever it was as I cannot remember what class I was taking that I was feeling sick, felt feverish and that I might throw up.  Since I had finished gym class the period before I was still somewhat sweaty which provided the cover for the fever, a sweaty and flushed face is great cover when feigning illness.  The teacher wrote me a pass to the school nurse.  I trudged down the hallway like I had the plague until I got to the nurses’ office which was in the main lateral hallway of the school where many of us had our lockers.  The nurse was a middle aged and a bit heavy set African American woman who was known for being wise to students feigning illness who was a most genial person.  I told her my story and still sweaty and flushed she took my temperature.  I prayed….and thankfully the temp was there, 99.1 but still high.  How I pulled that off I don’t know to this day.  She then looked at me and said “Young Man, do you still feel like you are going to throw up?”  I nodded meekly careful not to look her in the eye.  She went to the sink and got a paper cup and filled it with warm water.  She then said “You drink this; it will either settle your stomach or bring up whatever is down there.” I had not expected such good fortune.  I walked into the adjoining rest room and closed the door.  I looked down and the toilet and looked at the cup up water and smiled. With a grotesque simulation of an episode of projectile vomiting I tossed the water into the toilet.  I did this again and again for about 5 minutes.  When I was done I flushed the toilet, rinsed my face off with warm water and looking even more ill than I had went back into the nurses office.  She was already on the phone with my mom.  “Ma’am, your son is really sick, and throwing up. You need to come and get him now.” The time was 9:30 AM.  She wrote me a note which bought my freedom and told me that she “hoped that I felt better.” I thanked her in a most sincere way and I walked slowly to the main entrance on Center Street.  About 9:55 mom came pulling up to the school.    “Steven, are you okay? The nurse said that you were really sick.” I said coyly, “Mom, I told you that I would be ready to take my driver’s test, let’s go.”  She gave me the most puzzled expression and said, “But she said that you were really sick.” I simply said, “I know mom, I told you that I would be here.”  Years later I told her the details of how I pulled it off details which totally amazed her.

I guess that it’s like Ferris Buehler said: “The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

My problems in more advanced mathematics began to occur in 9th grade when someone decided to throw the alphabet into what had otherwise been innocuous math questions that I could do in my sleep.  First period of 9th grade began in the hell of Mr. Nichley’s Algebra class.  Mr. Nichley was a throwback teacher.  He looked and dressed like it was still 1959, gray suit, boring tie and fedora hat.  He started the class speaking a language that I did not understand and wrote strange equations on the chalkboard which had new symbols and blurred the boundaries between the alphabet and the Arabic numbers that I had learned so well.  Unfortunately he was not much for explaining things to numbskulls like me and when I asked a question his answers always sounded like he was speaking in some foreign language.  The problem was that Nichley often seemed to be more intent on enforcing his brand of discipline than teaching.  I lost count of the number of students that he sent to the vice principle for minor infractions, including those done outside of school.  Some of the girls came in one morning very tan in the middle of the fall after have sat under sun lamps the day before.  This drew them blue slips.  If you talked in class and he was not in a cheery mood, which happened to be quite often, you got sent down.  Once he sent like 8 or 9 students in one class session.  I got sent down once without a blue slip.  However late in the fall Nichley was diagnosed with cancer of some kind and we got a never ending stream of substitutes.  Somehow I got through the year with C’s of various degrees and escaped to high school where I was faced with yet another test of my now severely limited advanced mathematical skills.  Nichley would survive to an advanced age dying just a few years ago in his late 80s surprising me because I figured that he must have died long ago as he looked like he was in his 70s in the 70s.

High school was different.  Geometry made more sense than algebra, I think because I could see the diagrams.  However, despite understanding it better I found our teacher, Mrs. Rundel boring as hell, so boring that I began to cut class.  Now Rundel’s class was 6th period, the last of the day.  This meant that as long as I didn’t get caught the next stop was the bus and home…or early in the year football practice.  The first quarter I only made a few cuts by going to the library.  The library was the perfect place, who would go to the library to cut class? That’s like running from God by going to church…wait I did that too.  But the library staff assumed that I was supposed to be there as I nestled my body amid the history and reference sections.  I got a “B” that quarter.  The next quarter I upped the ante.  I was becoming more and more bored, and Rundel always seemed to buy my excuse that I called into the counselors’ office or some easily verifiable story.  Of course to verify she would have to go see the counselor as she didn’t have a phone in the classroom and I’m sure my studious and law abiding demeanor helped the charade.  The 2nd quarter I pulled a “C” and the 3rd quarter I cut more and dropped to a “C” minus. What was amazing was that I was missing huge amounts of class and still passing.  The true test was the 4th quarter, this time I cut class more often than not.  I think I cut 23 out of about 45 class meetings, all in the library.  The last day of the quarter I showed up. I had to take 7 tests that afternoon and I finished the quarter with a 60.5% average just enough to squeak by with a “D” minus. My mom was surprised at the grade; she had not gotten a notice mid quarter about substandard academic performance because I had intercepted it and forged her signature.  She asked about the grade and I gave her my innocent, I had a “hard time with the class in the last few weeks of the quarter” story.   Rundel retired that summer and I’m sure that I had to have something to do with it. Thank God she did not call my mom like Mr.  Rooney did Mrs. Buehler:  “He has missed an unacceptable number of school days. In the opinion of this educator, Ferris is not taking his academic growth seriously. Now I’ve spent my morning examining his records. If Ferris thinks that he can just coast through this month and still graduate, he is sorely mistaken. I have no reservations whatsoever about holding him back another year.”

My less than stellar experience in mathematics ended in 11th grade when I came up against the advanced algebra teacher, Mr. Nadeau.  Nadeau announced to the class that he planned on failing half of us. I realized I was definitely in the half to be failed.  I knew that I had met my match and no amount of chicanery was going to get me through the way I got through the previous year.  I raised my hand, asked to be excused and went immediately to Mr. Brascessco my counselor.  I told him that I needed out of the class now, asked what was available and was enrolled in English Literature and sitting in that class in which I was quite successful and to this day I have never had to take another math class in my academic career, I was smart enough to know that my strength was writing and research, obviously honed to a fine edge while cutting class in the library.

And now…my mood music selections for the good folks at Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton North Carolina and their eminent Grand Master Pastor Marc Grizzard.  I have written a couple of times about them (see my latest on them here: https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/halloween-book-burning-update-bring-the-marshmallows-please/ )Since I looked at what they think is good music and found nothing suitable, they don’t have the Horst Wesel Lied in their music library. Since they can’t spell the name of the song and certainly wouldn’t be able to sing it like good Nazis, I have picked a few more contemporary tunes to help heat up the night.

I would start with the classic Disco Inferno by the Trammps, followed by Fire by the Ohio Players.  Once they got into it and started gyrating to the music while piling those Bibles on the fire I would switch over to a different style and play Burning Bridges the theme from Kelly’s Heroes performed by the Mike Curb Congregation and Foreigner’s Hot Blooded, REO Speedwagon’s Keep the Fire Burning, Linda Ronstadt’s Heat Wave, Abba’s Kisses of Fire. Continuing I would go with Johnny Cash and The Ring of Fire and the Talking Heads Burning Down the House and Blondie’s Atomic. Since this is a spiritual event I would end with AC/DC’s Highway to Hell.

It seems that Grand Master Pastor Marc has run afoul of the Fire Marshall and evidently he has no burn permit and that because of burn restrictions he won’t be able to have the burning.  Evidently Marc has decided the path of confrontation with the Fire and Law Enforcement agencies.  I can see this getting picked up in some of the offbeat press gets hold of this and starts presenting it as another example of Christian persecution. This could really be fun to watch and if I was there I would bring the beer.

I do hope the good folks at Amazing Grace Baptist and the Grand Master Pastor Marc will appreciate all that I do for them.  By the way call them at 828-648-0213 write Grand Master Pastor Marc at his personal e-mail: jonmarcgrizzard@aol.com

Peace, Padre Steve+

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Things I don’t get-Why do songs from my past get stuck in my head? Also Judge Sotomayor, Savior of Baseball

On Monday Friday of last week I went into work after two days of leave to hang out in the hospital with Judy and then after her release help her out a bit and ensure that she suffered no relapse.  I stopped by the little coffee shop called the Dancing Goat for my 24 ounce cup of Southern Pecan (this shop does not have French Vanilla) coffee with 4 French Vanilla Creamers and 4 packets of Splenda.  While I was there Pat, the lady who runs this shop and ensures that I get my free cups of coffee as I fill up my frequent flier card, had her boom box radio on.  She usually has a station that plays R&B or R&B-Pop crossover classics playing in the background  This particular morning as I was talking to Pat and fixing my coffee the radio station was playing a song from back in my high school days came on the radio.  As I fiddled with my creamers and Splenda I heard Play that Funky Music White Boy by the Ohio players.  I found myself flashing back to my days at Edison High School in Stockton California.  The song got into my head.  The whole day and night since I had the duty I found myself walking down the hallways singing and sometimes dancing to “And they were dancin’ and singin’ and movin’ to the groovin’ and just when it hit me, somebody turned around and started saying: Play that funky music white boy, play that funky music white, play that funky music white boy. Lay down and boogie and play that funky music ‘til you die, ‘til you die.  As I did this I would occasionally draw the attention of staff members or visitors.  I would kind of smile and say: “Sorry I hate it when that happens to me.”  Unfortunately it happens far too regularly and I don’t understand why.  Maybe one of my Psychciatry or Neurology colleagues can provide an answer.  Judy would just tell me that I’m nuts, however this is not a clinical diagnosis, unlike my PTSD.

I couldn’t help it.  I was consumed by this Ohio Player’s hit; every time I turned around I was singin’ “play that funky music white boy,,,”  It was wild.  Now I have had this happen with other hits from high school which once I hear them I can’t get them out of my head.  A month or so ago it was the Commodore’s She’s a Brick House, a week ago it was the Top Gun Anthem. A couple weeks before that it was Wild Thing from Major League. I can’t help it, these songs get in my brain and I can’t let go. It sometimes reaches the level absurdity when I find myself singing Mel Brooks movie songs like Blazing Saddles, The Inquisition, Springtime for Hitler and High Anxiety.  I don’t care what song it is, if I heard it back in high school or my first couple of years of college the song will stick and I won’t be able to rid myself of it.  If you haven’t has someone walk in an elevator or come around a corner unexpectedly when you are “movin’ and a groovin,” you really can’t understand.  The problem is it doesn’t have to be this song.  It can be any song.  It is scary and I just don’t get it.

When I was in high school my class was the first to go through high school under the “forced busing” program.  The white guys and gals from the North Side were bussed down to Edison High School on the South Side.  Over the years Edison’s demographics had become overwhelmingly Black, Hispanic and Asian.  When the whites, Hispanics and Asians from the North side showed up it was culture shock, but not in a bad way.  Our class was about 25% each of White, Black, Asian and Hispanic (Mexican.)  We became the “Soul Vikes” and enduring friendships between kids of different races were formed which remain to this day.  I think that our class was a prototype of the new America.  Our 30th reunion was great and I am honored to be a part of the 1978 Soul Vikes.  This experince helped me to come to love and appreciate R&B  and soul.  I may not have rythem or dance, but I love to be Movin’ and a groovin’.”

The fact that I am a proud member of the Soul Vikes of 1978 is not the issue.  The thing that I don’t understand is just how a song that I haven’t heard in years takes over my life, even if only for a day.  To me this is a mystery one of the things that I term: Things that I don’t get.  If you see  me doing this humor me.

Judge Sotomeyor: Savior of Baseball: Back in 1995 Baseball was faced with its most serious crisis.  A player’s walk out that lasted well over 200 days.  The MLB management was content to let things ride and it was getting close to the point of no return.  Americans were rapidly becoming fed up with both the players and the owners, especially the owners.  It was then Judge Sotomayor who stepped in and ended the crisis.  She has been credited by many writers and players with saving the game.  She has come under criticism by many and some like George Will, a baseball historian who I greatly admire take issue with this.  However at the time the players and owners were on a self destructive path that could have destroyed the game.  Baseball, it’s management at leadership among the owners and players union officials is far from perfect, but had they continued on the course that they were on in 1994-1995 it would have killed the game.  Judge Sotomayor’s ruling, which favored the players unions did save the game from itself.  As far as the rest of her record I have only superficially looked at it. She seems to be more liberal than some conservatives would like and more conservative than some liberals would like.  Time will tell what kind of justice she will be should she be approved.  Like any Justice she will be judged on her record.  I do pray if she is confirmed that she will be true to the Constitution, law and people.  Apart from that, as a member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish, I will always be thankful for her actions in 1995.

Peace,

Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, Political Commentary, things I don't get