A Voice From the Dust

Just today, I read a comment from a job seeker who was giving up on pursuing his goals. He was frustrated, and quotes from famous people that were very, very successful only seemed to make him more depressed. I wrote a response, because I was in the same position. Believe me, there were times when seemingly inspirational quotes only reminded me of how low my position was. What I needed then was a voice on my level. Thankfully, I have access to such a voice.

No quotes from famous people here. Just my great-great-gradnfather. In 1912, he had to flee Mexico with his family – children and grandchildren – because of the revolution there. He left everything behind. This was not the first time in his life he had to abandon everything and take his family miles and miles away from where he had settled.

He was 65, and arrived at Tucson, Arizona just before summer started. Summer in Arizona is brutally hot. He and his family lived in tents. Although he was a skilled teacher and had started schools across the West, he had no teaching jobs. Although he was a skilled brickmaker, there was no demand for that trade, either. So he got a job pulling mesquite tree stumps out of the ground. In Arizona. In the summer. While living in tents.

When asked about his situation, he said, “Next year will be better.”

And it was.

It wasn’t better because he knew it would be better. It was better because he believed and hoped it would be – and he took the actions he needed to take in order to make those hopes and beliefs become a reality.

If you want to give up hope, that is your choice and your decision. As for me, last year I was ready to leave my career of teaching and become a networking professional. At this time last year, I was saying “Next year will be better.”

Well, I took my great-great-grandfather’s example to heart. I worked hard – thankfully not pulling up mesquite stumps in the desert heat – and got my CCNP. I had some very very old experience in systems and networking, but I know it was the CCNP and the skills I learned in pusuing that cert that got me my internship, first job back in IT, and from that, the job I have now, which I enjoy greatly.

If you decide right here, right now, that “Next year will be better,” and are prepared to make great sacrifices in order to realize that goal, you can do it. You will prevail at finding the goal that others have abandoned, simply because you will still keep trying and the ones that abandon your goal will make room for you.

This much I do know – if I had kept my certifications active during the 11 years I had been a teacher, I would have had an easier time in my initial job search. I had an expired MCSE and CCDA. I’m going to recertify on the CCDA this year and then pursue CCDP/CCNP R&S after that, because as nice as things are now, I have decided that “Next year will be better.”

So never mind Edison, never mind Michael Jordan, never mind Martin Luther King, Jr., and never mind Gandhi. Never mind Thomas Jefferson, never mind Abraham Lincoln, never mind Steve Jobs, and never mind any other inspirational quote from someone that attained heights you think are unattainable. Listen instead to my great-great-grandfather, Edward Milo Webb, Jr. Listen to a voice that speaks from the dust, the dust from which he pulled up mesquite trees, and the dust upon which he spread his tent. Listen to a voice that came from behind a smile that endured the hardest of hard times and that spoke of a hope that fueled his soul all the time it was on this earth. Listen to the voice that spoke truly, and make it your own voice:

Next year will be better.

C’est la Vie, C’est la Guerre

Terry Kincaid spun around in his ergonomic chair while the proto-punk blasts of the MC5 blared at nearly unbearable volume inside the Launch Control Center of the 17th CIA Nuclear Weapons Division. Terry always did stuff like that when he was flying on acid. It helped to while away the hours and he didn’t have to leave the LCC – which made it better than smoking. Besides, it was so cheap in the commissary, so why not?

Terry’s buddy, Chuck Burzus, staggered into the LCC with a fully loaded water pistol and proceeded to discharge it all over Terry. Terry responded by drawing his sidearm and firing, barely missing Chuck’s head.

Chuck spun around to see where the bullet struck the wall, just a half-inch away from the fire alarm. He laughed, “Dude, no way can anyone die here.” Chuck took another beastly swig from his bottle of Jack.

Terry laughed right back. “Not until God says it’s time to die! Whoo-hoo!” He started to pound randomly on his keyboard and the buttons at his station. Several red lights started to flash, repeatedly and urgently.

Chuck pointed at the flashing lights. “Armageddon rave!” He proceeded to dance the Frug. The dance seemed rather macabre, what with him performing in front of the melted remains of a bulkhead that had fallen victim to a time when the pair brought a flamethrower to work.

Terry was laughing his head off as he played out a drum roll on his station, knocking his coffee into the innards of some sort of vitally important equipment. Smoke began to rise from the stricken system. That only made him laugh harder.

Chuck wasn’t doing acid, though: the liquor was starting to make him think. “Hey, Terry… Terry?”

Terry stopped laughing and focused what was left of his brain cells on what Chuck had to say. “Yeah?”

“You know how, uh…”

“Yeah?”

“Like, in science fiction stories… there’s like, always, an ironic ending?”

“Yeah?”

“You think that’ll ever happen here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like with all the insane stuff we do, you think we’ll accidentally start a nuclear war or something?”

“Naaaah.”

“Really? How do you figure?”

“That stuff is only in stories. This stuff here…” Terry held his arms high and made another ergonomic spin. “This is reality, dude. If God wanted nuclear wars to start accidentally, that would have happened back in 1948.”

“So, no irony for us?”

Terry shook his head. Only irony we’ll ever have is if we launch and blow ourselves up by mistake.”

Chuck knocked back his bottle and wiped his lips on his sleeve. “I dunno. Maybe we’re tempting God with all the stunts we pull.” Chuck threw the empty at an important-looking computer, whose lights suddenly went dark.

Terry kept shaking his head. “No way, dude. God loves us. That’s why we’re here with the best job in the world. We keep America safe and nobody gives a flying flip how we do it.” Terry then had a funny idea and wondered where he could get a box of hand grenades.

Chuck looked at the broken glass by the broken computer. “I still say something ironic is bound to happen. To us, even.”

Terry went back to shaking his head. “No way, dude.”

The red phone rang. Terry answered.

“Yeah?… Really?… OK, then… yeah, we got it… no problemo, sir.” Terry hung up.

“What was that?”

“We got a go code. Time to launch one.”

Chuck’s buzz went along well with the rush of adrenaline. An actual launch. Chuck sat in his chair and typed in his username, followed by his password, “password.” Having unlocked his launch control station, he selected one of the CIA’s best and brightest missiles to shoot into the sky. He clicked on the missile, armed it by typing in the arming password, “password1,” and then asked Terry, “OK, dude, where does this one go?”

Terry squinted, hoping it made what he was about to say all the more dramatic. “Take a guess.”

Chuck thought hard, hoping against hope that this was the ironic moment he anticipated earlier. “London!”

Terry made an honestly surprised face. “What the hell, dude? That’s not even funny. Guess again.”

Chuck composed himself. He remembered their mission and who their targets were supposed to be. There wouldn’t be anything ironic in this LCC. Not now, not never. “Boston?”

“Close. Providence.”

Chuck selected “Providence” from the drop-down list of targets on the CIA launch control program and then clicked on the “Launch” button. He then clicked the “OK” button on the confirmation screen. He turned to Terry. “OK, bro. Bombs away. One less nest of rebellion and terror.”

Terry pulled out a bottle of wine. “L’chaim, dude!”

Chuck produced two coffee mugs. “L’chaim back at you, bro! Time to pour!”

Terry poured and enjoyed his inebriating draught. “Life is good.” Suddenly, Terry suffered a massive stroke.

Chuck’s eyes widened in amazement. “Holy crap! Irony!” He watched Terry die as he kept drinking the wonderful wine.

Steps Toward War

In 1962, Russia took a chance on putting ICBMs in Cuba, only a few dozen miles away from the USA. In October of 1962, the USA very nearly invaded Cuba and very nearly triggered the launch of those ICBMs – which had their warheads already installed – as well as the ICBMs in Soviet submarines stationed in the area… submarines that were observing radio silence and that had orders to launch should the USA so much as touch a Russian ship en route to Cuba. One voice in the USA spoke to the president on the verge of ordering forces to undertake actions that would result in the launch of thousands of nuclear missiles… one voice spoke, and managed to convince a room full of hawks to take a different path. War between great powers did not happen that day.

Ten years later, Richard Nixon gave orders to the USA’s nuclear bombers to make glancing probes of Russian airspace. He ordered the missions to show the Russians how determined we were to win the war in Vietnam. Russia responded with minor violations of our airspace, presumably to show how they were equally as determined. Both sides had made their point and managed to step away from mutually assured destruction.

But this latest matter in Ukraine… this is perhaps too close to home for the Russians and too much of a stretch for the USA to back away from. Or, maybe this one, like other close calls before it, will be just that – a close call. But it will be one less close call before the final one that isn’t a close call at all, but the beginning of the real thing.

Look back 100 years ago to see a similar pattern. The great powers of Europe had nearly come to blows over colonial matters quite frequently in the years leading up to 1914. They managed to avoid wars in those cases, but each of those incidents made it more possible for those great powers to contemplate war with each other. In the end, it was a particularly violent and dramatic expression of violence in the Balkans that provided the sudden release for that pent-up violence. It didn’t have to be the assassination of an Archduke in Sarajevo that launched the Great War, but it was. Had a Serb not slaughtered a Hapsburg, something else was bound to have happened to get the great powers to commence destroying each other. 100 years ago, the great powers had exhausted the exploitation of the world to the south and east of them. Their economies demanded new asymmetric relationships, and that meant doing to each other what they had done to the Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans.

Germany got it first, good and hard. Its reparations fueled the boom of the 1920s in the nations of the victorious West. Its bankruptcy caused a sudden starvation of the whole system, triggering the seizures of the Great Depression. The Germans emerged from that experience with a leader and a mass of followers that were determined to reverse the asymmetric relationships and use the plunder of nations to fuel its own growth.

The German nation failed in that enterprise, leaving the USA and USSR as the premier consumers of nations on the planet. They struggled mightily with each other, with the sudden collapse of the USSR in 1991 leaving the military-industrial complex of the USA in a quandry. If it had no great enemy to fight, what was the massive military might of the USA needed for?

The answer came in the form of tiny nations around the world that tried to find their own way, preferably those with oil under them or in possession of some strategic bit of land. But after the USA paid a bloody visit to the graveyard of empires, Afghanistan, it found itself in a world in which its own ability to act unilaterally greatly curtailed.

China held a large amount of USA debt. Russia’s military strength had grown along with its fortunes in the energy trade. Once again, the world was host to competing great powers, playing their great games.

What will start the next, terrible, cataclysmic war? Will it be the shoving match between Japan and China in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands? Will it be the squabble over the rocks that pass for the Spratly Islands, where China demands what the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and even Taiwan claim as their own? Will it be in Ukraine, where the CIA-backed government refuses to back down to the Russian-backed government? Will it be in Syria, where Russian terrorist proxies do battle with American terrorist proxies? Perhaps it will be in Turkey, a state on the verge of violently unraveling as horribly as did Libya or Egypt? Could we see it all begin with one mortar shelling too many across the Line of Control in Kashmir? A misfire in the DMZ on the Korean Peninsula?

Any of those could be the spark, or something else equally minor yet elevated in importance because of the context in which it happens. 2014 is not 1914, but the world of 2014 is very much the world that was in the days leading up to 1914. At one point, one of the great powers will step too far, make a miscalculation, or simply decide that this time, it cannot back away from an ultimatum. At that point, the war begins.

We might take some solace in the thought that the combatants of WW2 did not use poison gas as often as those of WW1. Then again, the intention to starve entire populations to death prompted campaigns of unrestricted submarine warfare and firebombing of cities – only the defeated in WW2 were tried for war crimes. WW2 saw the first use of nuclear weapons. If WW3 does not see them, well and good. But WW3 would still see the carnage of machine guns, fuel-air explosives, cluster bomblet munitions, anti-personnel landmines, so-called “poison” bullets, and the like. Perhaps the nascent developments in biology and customization of microbes will see the first biological war, in which diseases ravage nations that are too afraid to use nuclear weapons on each other.

None of this informs the actions of nations in the present day, because their leaders all depend upon a myth of invincibility and ultimate triumph to sustain their grip on world power. Do your worst, we shall rise victorious in the end – so they all boast. So it was in 1914, but of the eight mighty empires that entered that war, four of them were completely shattered five years later. That was only with a few of the horrors mentioned above. If we see the use of nuclear weapons, we may see all of the mighty empires that enter into the next war come to their end.

And yet, we keep taking steps toward war.

Pipelines and Boots on the Ground

When you look at US military bases in Afghanistan and place them on top of proposed pipeline routes from Turkmenstan to Pakistan, one sees that the bases trace out the pipelines. Back in 2001, the hope was that the USA would take charge in Central Asia and, by association, the petrochemicals beneath the soil and sands of that region. The neocons spoke highly of the dictators of geologically-blessed regions until news of their boiling opponents alive came to light or, worse, said dictators chose to orbit either Russia or China and not to play ball with the USA, which never really got Afghanistan calmed down enough to get that pipeline project underway.

Now that the Central Asian dictatorships are no longer interested in American ventures, we no longer need to keep troops there to guard a pipeline route that will never exist.

Interestingly enough, Chevron, a company that had great interest in the Afghan pipeline, is also quite interested in exploring hydrocarbons beneath Ukraine. If they weren’t behind the recent riots that unseated Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, I’d be surprised. Oil companies have been behind assassinations, bombings, massacres, coup d’etats, wars, and other assorted acts of mayhem since the start of the 20th Century, when it became clear how much money and power was connected to black gold. Fun fact: Condoleeza Rice, a huge proponent of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, is a former Chevron employee. How about that?

So, we’re at Chevron being interested in Ukraine and probably getting the CIA to topple a tinpot elected official. Like it or not, Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was elected after a runoff election between him and his opposition that received the most votes. His election was as fair and valid as the USA’s own 2000 election, if one wishes to cast aspersions upon it. The guy was elected, and he certainly leaned towards Russia. Chevron got him out of the way and…

… obviously, Chevron totally forgot that the USA isn’t the only nation with an interest in putting its soldiers along pipeline routes. Russia today is not the disorganized post-Communist mess that it was in 1991. It has its act together, and is not afraid to project its power. If one looks at the major natural gas pipelines that cross Ukraine, one notices a line that goes strictly through predominantly Russian-speaking areas in the east and south. If Russia pushes into those areas to defend Russian-speaking people, it will also be securing a major pipeline route to Europe. Another pipeline to bypass Ukraine completely should be finished by 2017. All the same, Russia would prefer all of Ukraine to be friendly to its interests, but Russia does not like take a risk without hedging its bets.

At the very least, Russia will occupy eastern and southern Ukraine. The pipeline dictates that. Will Russia stop there? Maybe not: the other pipelines dictate that. But will Russia go beyond the borders of Ukraine? I don’t think so. It has customers on the other side of Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine couldn’t pay for Russia’s gas with money, so it has to pay for it by other means. Germany and the rest of Europe have cash and can pay for that gas, so there’s no need for Russia to move further west unless that money runs out.

Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea

Crimea is part of Ukraine, right? The USA is right to backstop the territorial integrity of Ukraine, right? Well, let’s take a look…

Truth be told, Crimea hasn’t been a part of Russia for as long as Ukraine. The Russians conquered it from the Turks back in the 1700s. Back then, the Russian Empire tried to leave its stamp everywhere, to the point of suppressing local languages in favor of Russian, a policy that continued under Communist government. When Gogol wrote Taras Bulba, the Czarists took the Ukrainian epic and forced it to become Russified. When the book was made into a film a few years ago, the very Russian producers made it a very Russian movie, even though all the characters were Ukrainian. The Russian attitude towards Ukraine is that it is an integral part of Russia’s sphere of influence, preferably a part of Russia’s state.

Ukraine itself is a gradient of a nation, with stronger Ukrainian culture in the west that begins to blend with Russian culture the further east and south one goes. The part around Lviw wasn’t even a part of Russia until 1939, having previously enjoyed a large degree of autonomy under the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy and then becoming part of interwar Poland. That region has never comfortably identified itself with Russia and has persistently been the core of resistance to Russian domination.

During the Russian Revolution, Ukraine attempted to break away as a state and Russia forcibly integrated it into the USSR. During the 1930s, Stalin stripped the Ukraine bare of food, creating a mass murder by starvation known as The Holomodor. Back when Hitler was only severely restricting Jews with no organized plan of mass murder, Stalin was killing people by the millions – and Stalin kept it under wraps as much as possible, with Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalists shouting down any reporters that tried to get the truth out. We may point fingers at Swiss bankers that touched Nazi gold looted from Jews, but we hardly ever think about how our own New York Times was knowingly complicit in Soviet genocide.

When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, many Ukrainians hoped for a lessening of the oppression and welcomed the invaders. That mood changed when the Germans proved as brutal as the Russians, leading to the formation of a Ukrainian nationalist resistance movement. The Ukrainians wanted full independence, nothing less.

By 1943, it was clear to the Ukrainian partisans that the Germans were on the way out. There was no further point in resisting their government: the Russians were the real, long-term threat. And so, in order to gain German equipment and training, the Ukrainians began to volunteer for the foreign mercenary parts of the Waffen-SS. The 14th Waffen-SS division “Galizien” formed and it fought ferociously on the Eastern Front. When it was posted to France, it deserted ferociously, so the Germans put it back on the Eastern Front, where it would sustain upward of 80% casualties in nearly every engagement it participated in.

Truth be told, much of that casualty rate was fudged by unit commanders in order to hide the truth that, once trained and armed by the Germans, the Galizien soldiers would desert to get behind the Russian lines to carry on the fight for Ukrainian independence. The Germans would have preferred for them to stand and fight, but there we are. The Ukrainians weren’t collaborating with the Nazis as much as they were using them as a vehicle to help them arrive at their own desired ends.

The Ukrainian resistance actually created a political entity independent of Moscow from 1944-1946, but the best recognition they got from the West was clandestine US support of the movement until 1946. After the war with Germany ended, the Russians set about crushing the Ukrainian resistance, finally clearing the field in 1949.

So, even if the Ukrainians had been part of Russia for centuries, the events of the 20th Century showed that there was a real desire on their part to be independent of Russia. The Russians that lived in Ukraine, however, held no such sentiments. They rather enjoyed being part of Russia, all other things being equal. The Russians in Crimea, the peninsula attached to the south side of Ukraine, were very happy to be part of Russia all the way up to 1954, when that region was administratively attached to Ukraine. Later on, Ukraine granted it some autonomy. As far as Ukrainian territorial integrity goes, it’s not really part of Ukraine. Demographically, it’s got a Russian majority.

Strategically, it’s got Russia’s Black Sea Fleet’s home base. While Putin could hem and haw about the need to keep Ukraine in Russian orbit if he wanted, he can not and will not entertain any flexibility on that base and the land around it. It will be Russian, full stop. It is necessary, so the Russians will do it. If Ukraine clings to the West for a while, its hyperinflation and lack of natural gas will get it to face East again after the next winter. But if Russia loses its naval base, that would be a disaster for its ability to project its power. It cannot let that port slip through its fingers for even a moment.

In this chess game, Russia is committed to defending the Crimea to the hilt. Russia is destroyed without it, so it will risk destruction to avert a guaranteed destruction. Does the West have the same set of outcomes at stake? And as far as territorial integrity goes, why did the West not insist upon Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity in the 1990s? It actively broke apart that nation, because it suited the desires of the West to do so. It’s harder than ever for the West – particularly the USA – to try and claim a moral high ground, given how the USA exercises police state powers on the level of the Stasi, KGB, and Gestapo. Have I gone too far? Consider the extra-judicial killings and torturings carried out with Presidential approval, and we have an apt comparison.

As I typed this, Russia cut off its natural gas discount to Ukraine. I’m not surprised. Next will be to cut off the flow of natural gas to Ukraine, which will also impact Europe. Is Europe committed to Ukrainian territorial integrity if it means its energy costs will become much, much higher?

I said this was a chess game. The USA just took down one Russian pawn, but its knight’s position is threatened. Will the USA bring in supporting pieces to threaten those Russian pieces involved in taking down the USA’s knight, or will it withdraw its knight and give back the Russians their position on the board?

Put even more bluntly, is this Ukraine thing worth a sacrifice of cities, destroyed with nuclear missiles? The Russians will be ready to go to that level when their survival is on the line, as it is here.

Before You Support that Popular Uprising…

Ukraine is in flames as a popular uprising erupts to topple a corrupt regime. Of course, the USA supports this popular uprising. We also know that the USA started this popular uprising, just as it has done in other places. The last time the USA pushed to get its man running Ukraine, he robbed the place blind. Yes, the successor regime is hardly less corrupt, but it’s not likely that the one the USA wants to put into power won’t continue the pattern of corruption. The difference is that the USA wants a Ukrainian government that benefits the West with its corruption, not Russia.

When I hear stories about the uprising in Ukraine, my mind connects it to the uprisings that the USA sponsored in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Vietnam. Every one of those except for Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan put a military dictatorship into power, as despicable as any could be. Syria is ongoing, but if it succeeds, it’ll produce a result that we got in Afghanistan and Libya – a radical, murderous, violently ideological regime that won’t think twice about directing its venom in our faces. We put things in motion that got the Taliban to run Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to run Libya. The rebels in Syria are al-Qaeda. That’s the faction that will emerge on top, and it’s the one we’re ultimately sponsoring through Gulf Arab state proxies. It’s almost as if al-Qaeda is a branch of the CIA.

And now Ukraine… recently, Russia Today posted a recording of US officials talking about how they’re working to get their man in charge of Ukraine – and the US had some harsh words for anyone that wasn’t working along with us. Nobody in the USA denied the validity of the recording and the apologies over it were only slightly more sincere than Japan’s apologies for World War Two. Yeah, that bad. The recording told a tale that has been told before about getting the CIA to agitate and manipulate politicians into doing what the USA wanted them to do. Now that the recording came forward, damaging the reputation of the US-backed candidates for Ukraine’s top job, the revolts started.

The same thing happened in Iran in 1953. We now know, beyond any doubt, that the CIA started those street demonstrations in Tehran. I have no doubt that the CIA is behind these street demonstrations that have turned violent. People are dying in the streets because the USA is actively seeking to rip nations out of Russia’s sphere of influence. There is no freedom at stake in Ukraine. It does not matter which nation Ukraine leans towards: it will have a corrupt and oppressive regime. The USA is playing a very sloppy game of chess and has just decided to trade pawns, rather than consider its position. Suppose a pro-US regime takes power in Kiev… how will they last through next winter without Russian natural gas?

Dropout Rates

Something else that needs fixing in the school system… dropout rates. They need to be higher to reflect reality. Trouble is, if they were figures that reflected reality, most schools would be in deep trouble with the No Child Left Behind requirements. That explains why the numbers for dropouts get cooked.

If a student transfers from a standard high school and enrolls in a charter school that has a dropout waiver, then that student does not count as a dropout, even if the student quits the charter after enrolling there. This explains why schools everywhere have larger freshman classes than senior classes by a significant margin, yet their dropout rates remain within NCLB bounds. These fudges are legal, but highly deceptive.

About That Moment of Silence in Texas Schools…

I heard a political ad yesterday. When the ad proudly proclaimed that this politician was responsible for getting a moment of silence into school, I cried out, “HE’S THE GUY!” Now, I don’t bear him any malice. I forgive him because he knows not what he done did do.

I knew when the moment of silence hit the agenda that it was an attempt to shoehorn state-sponsored prayer in schools. What it became was a joke. Kids would always try to text, talk, goof off, fidget, and do anything but pray. I don’t recall a single student of mine ever actually conscientiously using the moment of silence to offer supplications to the almighty – except for a few times when I asked that the students observe the moment of silence in recognition of a significant disaster. Otherwise, it created a disruption at worst and an annoyance at best.

It’s not like students can’t pray in schools. They can and they do. Thing is, we happen to have a horde of godless heathurns running wild in our schools that don’t give two cares about gettin’ religion once a day after ignoring the Pledge of Allegiance. A moment of silence isn’t going to get them to come to Jesus. In fact, there’s quite a few interpretations on that theme, as I understand them, and there are a number of faiths that don’t even subscribe to the notion of there being anything particularly special about Jesus.

As a teacher, I’ve accommodated the pious of all faiths. I’ve made exceptions in daily routines to allow for Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims (Sunni, Shi’a, and otherwise), Buddhists (Theravada and Mahayana), and even a Zoroastrian to practice their faiths according to the dictates of their beliefs. It’s not hard: it’s just a matter of exercising the same common courtesy normally extended only to Christians and Jews by our legislatures. (By the way… a note to certain high-minded Christians: Jews are *not* just waiting around to hear about Jesus, and then they’ll suddenly flip and become Baptists.)

The people that are most ardent about prayer in schools seem to me to be most ardent about *their* prayer in schools, and not someone else’s. I remember a time back in 1990 when I had an incident in an in-school suspension class.

For the unfamiliar, in-school suspension is a mild form of house arrest at school, typically assigned to students that have made some affront to decency like fighting, cursing at teachers, or getting too many tardies. This day, there was one student in ISS, and I had to cover the class at lunch time. When his lunch arrived from the cafeteria, he refused to eat it. The cafeteria lady took it back and I asked him why he refused it. He said, “I’m Muslim, and Ramadan started yesterday.”

Immediately, I knew it was his month of fasting from dawn until dusk, and knew that this habitually tardy lad had at least some sense of timing, even if it operated across months instead of hours. Be that as it was, I thought nothing of it and carried on supervising his working quietly on homework.

A few minutes later, a principal entered the room and confronted the boy about his refusal to eat lunch. She wanted to know if it was some kind of act of rebellion. He said, “It’s Ramadan, Miss. It’s a month of fasting.”

“What’s that? A ram-a-what? Are you making this up?”

I about had my jaw hit the floor after bouncing off the desk. This kind of stuff got taught in 10th-grade Social Studies in Texas. How could this person have a doctorate in anything from a for-reals university and not know that Muslims observe Ramadan, a month of fasting. But this lady had no clue and was really giving this kid grief. He insisted he was telling the truth and she kept asking him to come clean and admit he was fibbing. I interrupted and said, “Muslims do observe a month of fasting called Ramadan. He’s not trying to cause a disruption. It’s his faith.”

“Well, can he prove he’s Muslim or whatever?”

The kid looked at me, confused as to how to go about proving he was a Muslim. It’s not like they brand their yearlings or the EPA tags them to follow their migratory patterns. I suggested, “Why not recite from the Quran?”

He said, “Bismillah al-Rahman, al-”

She said, “OK, I believe he’s a Muslim. We just don’t want his mom trying to sue us for not letting him eat lunch or anything.”

Now, this was a woman that also professed a desire to have prayer in school. Yet, she had no respect or understanding of faiths other than her own. If I hadn’t been there to speak on behalf of the young man, he would have gotten in deeper trouble, to be compounded by a possible parent protest to the administration. That kind of spectacle was absolutely unnecessary, and completely avoidable to anyone truly interested in understanding and respecting religious pluralism, which is more to the heart of our Founding Fathers’ principles than mandatory state-sponsored prayer.

Which brings me back to this politician… his ad speaks glowingly of his support of the second amendment and uses equally glowing language to support his desecration of the first. What, does he want the right to hold a gun to my head and force me to pray? OK, so I exaggerate there (I hope), but there’s something in there that needs addressing. That is, we don’t fix our schools with prayer in them. We simply do not. Put another way, that moment of silence, along with the mandatory pledge, breaks the schools. They rob the school day of instructional time. They teach that conformity to minimum standards are more important than striving to make choices at one’s own pace.

As a teacher, that moment of silence and daily pledge really grated on my nerves. Schools were better before so-called conservatives took a page out of the totalitarian playbook and decided to force religion and patriotism on us all. I got along much better in my classroom without that moment of silence. So, if you’re a politician in Texas that cares about education, one thing you need to do is junk that moment of silence. If you need someone to give the guys behind it a lesson they’ll not like to forget, I’m your man.