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Reviews

Book Review: The Last Chairlift

I feel like I live in John Irving’s fiction. It’s mostly because he writes about things that resonate personally.

In The Last Chairlift he wrote about the 85th and 87 Infantry which were part of the Tenth Mountain Division during World War II. I was stationed in the 87th Infantry while I served in the U.S. Army in Europe. While there, it was part of the Eighth Infantry Division. When 8th ID was deactivated, the 87th Infantry was reunited with the Tenth Mountain Division based in Alaska.

I don’t know if I ran into Irving when I lived in Iowa City from 1970 to 1974. I remember seeing him in the English-Philosophy Building, but that could have been like one of the ghosts in The Last Chairlift. I may have imagined it. I know his novel The Water Method Man‘s main character lived at 918 Iowa Avenue in Iowa City. While reading the novel, I walked along Iowa Avenue from the Pentacrest to look at the house. That novel was published in 1972.

It is the familiarity with objects and places in his fiction that draws me in. Irving is one of the few fiction writers whose writing resonates. In Act III, my reading accelerated until I couldn’t put the book down. Few novels I read have this effect.

What surprised me about reading this and other Irving books is his work rarely appears on lists of banned books that circulate in Iowa and elsewhere. Perhaps he is not read by evangelical Christians, or librarians know enough to avoid placing his fiction in the stacks. Any engaged person should read his work.

I enjoyed The Last Chairlift a lot. Highly recommend!

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Living in Society

Toward the Exit

Corey A. DeAngelis and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds at the statehouse on Jan 24, 2023.

Toward the end of Monday afternoon I was following three live video streams opened in browsers on my desktop. With recently improved data stream from our internet service provider, and an upgraded router/modem, the video was crystal clear, the sound excellent. I didn’t like all I was hearing.

One window was a Twitch streamer during a session titled “Makers and Crafting.” They were making chain mail for use with a cosplay character. I enjoy Makers and Crafting streams more than those that play video games or are “just chatting.” It felt like we were getting something accomplished.

The other two streams were the Iowa House and Senate debates over the governor’s public money for private schools bill, the Students First Act. There was never a question the bill would pass. This morning it is heading to the governor’s office where she is expected to sign it yet today. I couldn’t listen to all the speeches and shut my desktop down around 5 p.m. to prepare dinner. Everything we expected was happening and I couldn’t bear watching the disaster in real time.

As unsettling as anything about this bill was the photograph of lobbyist and consultant Corey A. DeAngelis with the governor. The out of state consultant has been pushing for the bill and with the governor’s assistance, he got his way. This photo reminded me of a photo then-governor Terry Branstad took with Drew Klein of Americans for Prosperity when the legislature gutted Iowa’s collective bargaining laws for public employees. Apparently Iowa Republican governors have an affection for lobbyists when they destroy long-established traditions.

In the post I made about this bill I wrote, “Since Jan. 1, 2017, Republicans held a trifecta, controlling the governorship, and both chambers of the legislature. They are remaking everything about state government, and in turn, about Iowa. Schools are just one part of their agenda.” According to DeAngelis and company, the governor is not finished with school choice in this session of the 90th Iowa General Assembly. I doubt she is finished re-making Iowa.

The Democratic planning for and execution of a 2022 campaign was lackluster at best. While some candidates, like state senate candidate Kevin Kinney, had money and hired an organizer, others didn’t have good planning, execution, or adequate financial resources. It was like Democrats forgot how to campaign since Obama won Iowa in 2008 and 2012. I appreciate the work House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst and Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls are doing to rebuild the party. It is not fast enough to make a difference this and probably the next couple of sessions.

On Saturday the Iowa Democratic Party State Central Committee is electing someone to replace Ross Wilburn as chair. I hope they pick someone young and energetic because what the state party has been doing of late won’t cut it if we want to claw our way back into legislative leadership. We have good people in the party. I hope one of them steps up, wins, and does well.

What matters more is the Democratic state central committee is increasingly irrelevant to people like me. Of course, I retired and am a pensioner now, so less people will take me seriously. If the party’s future is in younger, new people, I’m all for it. I have plenty to do in the coming years and crossing politics off my list would be a boon.

As the 90th Iowa General Assembly revs up with an early win for the governor, they have much they want to do in the next two years. I doubt I’ll like much of it. They followed commonplace advice that if one is to eat a bucket of frogs, eat the biggest frog first. With the Students First Act out of the way, and with it the big distraction it was, Iowa Republicans can be expected to continue remaking the state in their image. For me, that means it’s time to head for the exits.

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Living in Society

Solon Schools: A Bond and Two Board Seats

1,515 students attend four schools in the Solon Community School District this year. There is a $25 million bond referendum election in March, and a school board election in the fall.

I plan to cover both elections.

The school board terms of Adam Haluska and Jami Wolf expire this year. Neither has formally announced whether they intend to seek another term.

The school does well on key statistics, beginning with a student:teacher ratio of 16:1. The district ranks in the top five percent of districts in the State of Iowa, top ten percent in math proficiency, top five percent in reading/language arts proficiency, and 95 percent of students graduate. While less diverse than an average Iowa K-12 school system, it maintains a seven percent minority enrollment with 33 students of two or more races, 58 Hispanic students, eight Asians, and seven blacks. The school system attracts young families to the area. For these reasons and more, I expect the community to support the bond referendum.

The special election for the bond is set for March 7, 2023. The district posted an explainer about the bond referendum here. The lengthy language on the ballot is as follows on the Johnson County Auditor website:

Public Measure LX
Shall the following public measure be adopted? 

Shall the Board of Directors of the Solon Community School District in the Counties of Johnson and Linn, State of Iowa, be authorized to contract indebtedness and issue General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $25,500,000 to provide funds to construct, furnish, and equip an addition to Solon Intermediate School building and improve the site; to renovate, remodel, improve, repair, furnish and equip Lakeview Elementary building and improve the site; to renovate, remodel, improve, repair, furnish and equip the Transportation Center; to construct, furnish, and equip a new Administrative building and improve the site; to construct, furnish, and equip a new multi-purpose indoor activity facility and improve the site; and to install a new field at Spartan Stadium?

Public Measure LY
Shall the following public measure be adopted? 

Summary: To adopt a Revenue Purpose Statement specifying the use of revenues the Solon Community School District will receive from the State of Iowa Secure an Advanced Vision for Education Fund.

In the Solon Community School District, the following Revenue Purpose Statement which specifies the use of revenues the Solon Community School District will receive from the State of Iowa Secure an Advanced Vision for Education Fund shall be adopted. 

To provide funds to acquire or install information technology infrastructure (including improving buildings or sites for the purpose of accessing broadband digital telecommunications) and school safety and security infrastructure. 

To provide funds to build and furnish a new school building or buildings; to build and furnish addition(s) to school buildings in the District; to remodel, reconstruct, repair, expand, and improve the school buildings in the District; to purchase and improve grounds; for demolition work; to furnish and equip district facilities. 

To provide funds for the purchase, lease or lease-purchase of buildings, equipment (including transportation and recreation equipment), or technology and to repair transportation equipment for transporting students as authorized by law, to implement energy conservation measures, sharing or rental of facilities including a joint infrastructure project for the purposes of offering classes under district-to-community college programs as authorized in Iowa Code Section 423F.3(3)(c), procuring or acquisition of libraries, or opening roads to schoolhouses or buildings. 

To provide funds to purchase land as part of start-up costs for new student construction program or if the sale of the previous student construction was insufficient to purchase land, and to purchase construction materials and supplies for a student-constructed building or shed intended to be retained by and used by the District. 

To provide funds to make payments to a municipality or other entity as required under Iowa Code Section 403.19(2). 

To provide funds for demolition, cleanup, and other costs if such costs are necessitated by, and incurred within two years of, a disaster. 

To provide funds to establish and maintain public recreation places and playgrounds; provide for supervision and instruction for recreational activities; or for community education purposes. 

To provide funds for the payment of principal and interest or retirement of general obligation bonds issued for school infrastructure purposes, energy improvement loans, loan agreements authorized by Iowa Code Section 297.36, sales, service and use tax revenue bonds issued under Iowa Code Section 423E.5 or Iowa Code Section 423F.4. 

To provide funds for property tax relief; and

To provide funds for other authorized expenditures and purposes as now or hereafter permitted by law and designated by the Solon Community School District. 

It being understood that if this proposition should fail to be approved by the voters, such failure shall not be construed to terminate or restrict authority previously granted by the voters to expend receipts from the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education Fund. 

If approved, this Revenue Purpose Statement shall remain in effect until replaced or amended by the Solon Community School District. 

Public Measure LZ
Shall the following public measure be adopted? 

Shall the Board of Directors of the Solon Community School District, in the Counties of Johnson and Linn, State of Iowa, for the purpose of purchasing and improving grounds; constructing schoolhouses or buildings and opening roads to schoolhouses or buildings; purchasing of buildings; purchase, lease or lease-purchase of technology and equipment; paying debts contracted for the erection or construction of schoolhouses or buildings, not including interest on bonds; procuring or acquisition of libraries; repairing, remodeling, reconstructing, improving, or expanding the schoolhouses or buildings and additions to existing schoolhouses; expenditures for energy conservation; renting facilities under Iowa Code Chapter 28E; purchasing transportation equipment for transporting students; lease purchase option agreements for school buildings or equipment; purchasing equipment authorized by law; or for any purpose or purposes now or hereafter authorized by law, be authorized for a period of ten (10) years, to levy annually, a voter-approved physical plant and equipment property tax not to exceed One Dollar Thirty-Four Cents ($1.34) per One Thousand Dollars ($1,000) of the assessed valuation of the taxable property within the school district commencing with the levy for collection in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2027, or each year thereafter?

There will be additional posts as the election dates approach.

Categories
Living in Society

Racism and Me

President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons, Yoichi Okamoto.

A grader notices things. I got a newspaper route in the seventh grade and managed my own business. First it was the Des Moines Register and then the Times-Democrat. There were nice people and deadbeats among my customers. Nice people were friendly. They paid on time and talked to me like an adult. The deadbeats, not so much. They wouldn’t pay their weekly bill. When I told the office to cut them off after a couple of weeks, the customer called the office and blamed me for them not paying, even though I knocked their door for collections twice every week when they were delinquent. Whatever the deadbeats didn’t pay came out of my margin. Even though there were losses, I had enough money to take the bus downtown to pay my newspaper bill and buy a few things on Saturday mornings.

One of my favorite downtown places was the automat at the M.L. Parker Department Store. I would wait outside for them to unlock the doors so I could be the first one in. I occasionally bought a pre-made hamburger and warmed it under an infrared light bulb. We didn’t have such a heating device at home.

I stopped at W.T. Grant, F.W. Woolworth and occasionally went to Petersen’s, inconveniently located across a busy Second Street. I also stopped at Louis Hanssen Hardware Store where they had a centralized cashier operation connected to the sales floor by a small trolley system.  There was a coin shop which was almost never open as early as I was downtown. The idea coins passing through my hands on the paper route were worth more than face value was fascinating.

I had vague notions that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Stokely Carmichael, and Malcolm X existed, yet they had little impact on our daily lives. I don’t remember seeing a news story about the assassination of Malcolm X even though it was in February of the last year I delivered newspapers. I heard about it later in high school. Like many, our family viewed King’s speech at the march on Washington on television. We believed everyone should be treated equally.

I encountered black kids my age at the YMCA swimming pool and at summer camp. It seemed like no big deal, although I bore a kind of racial prejudice without recognizing it. I knew black kids were kids like me yet I didn’t encounter them often. These experiences put into perspective something it’s important not to miss: I grew up in white culture with white privilege.

I had heard about the 1960 sit-in at the F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina in school before starting my newspaper route. That prompted me to enter the Woolworth’s in Davenport one Saturday morning and check it out. It didn’t seem that special, even if it was to those four North Carolina college students. No one was dining at the counter when I arrived. The woman behind the counter asked if she could get me anything. I don’t remember if I did that time, yet I added the lunch counter to my rotation of places to eat on Saturday mornings. I don’t know how the black kids I swam with at the YMCA would be treated if they tried to order something.

Our family saw images of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis after Dr. King’s April 4, 1968 assassination. We watched news coverage on television. The night shots of the scene were confusing and upsetting. Added to the recent assassination of President Kennedy I wondered what was going on in society. Assassination of our leaders was plainly wrong.

Today we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday. He would have been 94 years old had he lived. Here is the speech.

Categories
Living in Society

Changing Iowa and its Public Schools

Big Grove Township School #1

Iowa Democrats took a shellacking during the 2010 general election for U.S. Senate. We ran Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin against incumbent Chuck Grassley in a historic campaign. Grassley won 718,215 votes to Conlin’s 371,686.

In an email to supporters after the election, Conlin wrote, in part:

I don’t want you to be sad about the outcome of this election. There are other reasons to run besides winning. We talked issues that otherwise might not have gotten a hearing, we met lots of young women and girls who loved seeing an Iowa woman running for high office. And I hope that we motivated a lot of voters who would not have otherwise come out to the polls.

We stood strong for our principles. And we conducted our campaign with dignity.

[…]

As Ted Kennedy famously said, “the work continues, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream will never die.”

Email from Roxanne Conlin dated Nov. 4, 2010.

I would rather Conlin had won that election.

The Iowa Republican legislature and governor seek to change how schools are funded. It is the latest in a long-term agenda to radically remake Iowa into something completely different from the one in which I grew up. Since Jan. 1, 2017, Republicans held a trifecta, controlling the governorship, and both chambers of the legislature. They are remaking everything about state government, and in turn, about Iowa. Schools are just one part of their agenda.

We consider Republican legislators to be stingy in their support of public schools, although they say each year they have been generous. The fact is the cost per pupil in public schools is rising much faster than what the legislature provided each year in funding. Here is a a chart of expenses from the legislature’s website. The funding shortfall seems obvious.

What exactly do Republicans think they are funding in public schools? A change in education that walks away from basic assumptions about the long-time role of public schools in society. Let’s go in the Wayback Machine to the 1950s thanks to Frances FitzGerald’s 1979 book America Revised:

There is a growing consensus that the schools should assume a primary responsibility for basic functions of education which were once almost entirely performed by family and church. These include moral and spiritual education, character education, education for home and family living, and other aspects of personal and social adjustment.

Unnamed Report by the National Council for the Social Studies quoted by Frances FitzGerald in America Revised.

Today’s Republicans reject what used to be a consensus about education. During the previous two legislative sessions a proposal to advance public funding of private schools was held at bay because it is widely unpopular.

Governor Kim Reynolds, during her swearing in speech on Friday, Jan. 13, addressed what she is doing and why she persists in providing public funds for private education.

“Trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Psalm 32:8 

Having that perspective has given me freedom. A freedom to be bold and not beholden. 

Not beholden to others, to elections, or even to what’s popular. Instead, I have the freedom to do what I believe is right. Right for our state, right for our citizens, and, most of all, right for our children—regardless of the personal consequences to me.  

Press Release from the Iowa Governor’s office, Jan. 13, 2023.

The text of Senate Study Bill 1022, the Students First Act, was filed shortly after the legislature convened. While the governor’s proposal has not been popular, it may pass this session. The question and answer on last week’s Iowa Press explains.

Erin Murphy It’s bigger (comparing previous, similar legislation to SSB1022). Is it a slam dunk in your caucus? Is this bill your expectation that it will pass?

Pat Grassley And I think you touched on something that’s so important where the dynamic has fundamentally changed since last session. There’s been an election, and this issue has been out there. Candidates for the House all across the state were very successful and almost all of them at least campaigned on this part of their campaign strategy and their platform moving forward.

Iowa Press, Jan 13, 2023. Link

Regardless that the governor believes this path for public education is the right one, and Republicans campaigned on public funding for private education and won, the bill is flawed. It is also expensive, spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the first four years alone. I wrote in opposition to SSB1022, attempting to address the flaws in the bill as well as the need for legislators to work together on resolving the shortfall in Iowa public education funding:

I oppose SSB1022, The Students First Act, as written. I was educated first through twelfth grades in a private school without direct public funding. Our church paid the entire cost of physical plant and operating costs, including teachers. If the current Republican majority campaigned on change as outlined in SSB1022, and were elected because of it, some form of the legislation may pass despite protests. The bill’s language was filed just this week. I encourage Republicans to work with Democrats to make the final product much better than it is today. Consider and accept amendments now, and during debate. If Iowa will go down this path and give public funds to private schools, inclusion of the broadest possible input is needed. There is no hurry to get this done. Take your time. Do what’s right for Iowa. For me, that means rejecting the bill as written.

Public comments on SSB1022 in the Iowa Legislature. Link

We shall see what Republicans do during public dialogue on SSB1022. If it becomes law, Iowa will change in ways no one anticipated. The reasonable approach to elections exhibited by talented yet losing candidates like Roxanne Conlin will not be enough.

Categories
Living in Society

Students First Act

State Capitol

Last night, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds gave the condition of the state address in the House chamber, live broadcast on Iowa Public Television. In it, she introduced this year’s version of her voucher plan, calling it the Students First Act. In part, she said,

Regardless of the reason, every parent should have a choice of where to send their child—and that choice shouldn’t be limited to families who can afford it. 
 
My school choice bill will create education savings accounts for families who choose to send their child to a private school. The State will contribute $7,598 to that account, which is the amount of funding the State provides for each child who attends a public school.  
 
For students currently attending a private school, the plan will be phased in, focusing first on the families with the lowest income levels. And in three years, every family will have a choice in education. And no child will be limited by income or zip code. 
 
My education plan starts with school choice, but it doesn’t end there. As I said, this is about making sure every child receives a quality education, regardless of the school system they’re in. 

Governor Kim Reynolds Condition of the State address, Jan. 10, 2023.

Senate Study Bill 1022 dropped. Here’s the link to the bill.

There is speculation the bill might get a committee hearing in both the Senate and House today.

I wanted to get this information out on the internet. I’ll have more to say later.

Categories
Living in Society

Democrats on Defense

Oakland Cemetery after a foggy morning, Solon, Iowa.

While driving north on Southeast 14th Street in Des Moines, the Iowa State Capitol rose above the horizon in brilliance befitting its 19th Century aspiration. If something happened to the structure, I’m not sure it would be rebuilt with the stunningly beautiful design I witnessed on Saturday.

The 90th Iowa General Assembly begins on January 9. Republicans have a majority in both chambers of the legislature, so Democrats will play defense. Tuesday, Jan. 10, is the governor’s condition of the state address, although we pretty much know what she will say. Despite the Republican trifecta, Democrats stand ready to fight for Iowans like me.

“There’s no question last year was tough for Iowa Democrats, but I’ve got hope. I’m not giving up on my state and the place I’ll always call home. House Democrats are ready to get to work and fight for you and the people of Iowa,” wrote Iowa House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst in an email.

I signed up for the legislative newsletter from my State Senator Dawn Driscoll. If my State Representative Brad Sherman has one, I’ll sign up for it as well. I plan to watch the legislature more closely than I did last year. Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty, according to the July 8, 1817 Vermont Gazette. That is more than evident this year.

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Living in Society

They Got to Yes, Now What?

Insurrectionist occupying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on Jan. 6, 2021.

Lost among 15 ballots for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives this week was news that during the second half of 2022 inflation dropped to near the two percent targeted by the Federal Reserve. Chill on inflation, Republicans. Biden has got the runaway economy your party made well in hand. Combine more normal inflation with the lowest unemployment rate since 1969, and robust jobs growth, the administration should be honking its own horn.

Be assured, the news media is ignoring this positive story. Reporters find the drama and tussles during the speaker votes to be of more interest. Tension among Republicans mounted during voting:

During the final ballot, every Republican got to yes for Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker. We don’t know the extent of concessions McCarthy made to get those votes. We do know there are uncertain waters in our future. Now is the time for Democrats to stay the course.

Categories
Living in Society

Two Years Later

I will say this about Jan. 6, 2021: American society has bred and indoctrinated some of the dumbest people around. I understand what “Hang Mike Pence” and “Stop the Steal” mean. While repulsive and opposed to our constitutional legacy, the ask was at least coherent: reinstate Donald Trump as president.

As the U.S. House of Representatives elects a speaker for the 118th Congress, we are exposed to all manner of malarkey, including the statement from a U.S. Representative-elect from Georgia that former House Speaker Paul Ryan refused to implement MAGA policy and that’s why he was removed. For some reason, I believe electing a Democratic majority to the U.S. House in 2018, followed by the swearing in of Nancy Pelosi as speaker, was the reason… but what do I know.

House Republicans will do everything possible to make us forget about Jan. 6, 2021. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat, or something else, the nation’s best interests are served by remembering that day, determining what happened, and telling the truth about it. People who broke the law should be brought to justice. Whether we are too dumb as a society to do that is an open question.

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Living in Society

Into 2023

Winter dawn.

Thursday’s 60-degree ambient temperature was weird. The seventy-degree, one-week swing from ten below zero was bad enough. It won’t be good for our fruit trees. They are already weirded out by double leafing last year. Hopefully cold weather returns soon.

I don’t make “New Year’s Resolutions” any more yet there are activities upon which to focus in 2023. Here’s a brief list:

  • Last winter I finished writing in February. This year I want my off-line writing, mainly of my autobiography, to continue throughout the year.
  • More than 300 books have been donated from my library to charity this winter. I set aside 30 minutes each week to work on my library. The goal is to organize it by project and to make the book display more useful to my life and writing. Hundreds of additional books will be donated in 2023.
  • This year’s iteration of a kitchen garden will continue toward growing things we use and expanding the varieties and quality of plants. How produce grown is used in meal preparation is also a consideration for improvement.
  • Regular exercise is important to health. I seek to take advantage of the trail system surrounding us by using it more and in different ways.
  • As suggested in my post about budget, I seek to supplement income to enable new things beyond basic living.
  • We made a home project list of things to fix, make, or do to improve the quality of our home’s physical structure.
  • With Republicans dominating the state legislature and having exclusive control of our federal delegation, we’ll be playing defense in politics. My letters to the editor during the recent campaign were mostly critical of the two Republicans who will now represent me at the state house. To get anything other than defense done will require more work. This is a new reality with which to cope.
  • I need to sort through advocacy issues and pick one. Climate change has been the go to, yet I’m not sure it will be in 2023 when so many other issues beg for attention. I plan to sort through this as we approach the beginning of the 90th Iowa General Assembly on January 9.

This list does not represent significant change from previous years. If anything, activities have been distilled for clarity and reduced in number. That should make life in 2023 more livable.