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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Living in Society

Budget Time


Each year I put together a budget. When I say “budget,” I mean “expense budget.” Sometimes I follow it, other times not so much. I’ve been unwilling to accept the constraints of living on a pension, so when unexpected things happened — furnace repair, yard tractor repair, or auto replacement — our debt increased each month beginning in April. We’ve been unable to pay it off from cash flow. It’s time for a reckoning.

In the budget spreadsheet I compare income against projected expenses. There is not a lot left at the end of the year.

Paying the car loan and addressing some long-standing home maintenance issues are part of it. There will be unexpected expenses again this year combined with a project list to accomplish. Any income beyond our pensions can readily find a home. Our current income is spent on basic living.

What to do?

We need more income for things beyond basic living.

Some parts of a budget are not complicated. If we take the time to step back and examine what we are doing, the answer seems obvious. Now that the need has been identified, how do we meet it?

This is the part of budgeting at which most people never arrive.

Living in Society

Winter Solstice 2022

Apple Trees in Winter

At the moment of winter solstice, I hope to be returning home for my day trip. About an hour or so later, the first local snow of the coming winter storm is expected to fall. After arriving home, I’ll bunker in for the duration. It is forecast to be a typical Iowa blizzard. Let’s hope it is that.

Solstice is in the pantheon of end of year family holidays that began last Sunday with our wedding anniversary. Following today, there is Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, a birthday, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Normally the holiday season would extend to Super Bowl Sunday, yet I no longer pay attention to the sporting event. January 1 is the end of the holidays.

We more note the passing days than celebrate them. After our child left Iowa in 2007, we haven’t often spent Christmas together. We settled for visits during this extended holiday season when they were able to come.

Before I started school, ours was a religious home. I lived with Mother and Father and with or near my maternal grandmother. She brought devotion to the Catholic Church along from her native Minnesota. Although she is reputed to have been excommunicated over her second marriage, Christmas, and more particularly Easter, remained important.

Father was not a religious man. He left a King James Bible with his name embossed on it. He presumably got it in his youth. Inside there is a hand-written note of uncertain authorship that begins: “America’s Stake in the Christian Home is a Stake in Christ.” There is also a note saying, “98% of truly Christian homes never broken by divorce.” If he believed that, it would have complicated the close relationship between members of our three-generational home during the 1950s.

He began to get religion after graduating from the Palmer College of Chiropractic. If he began a practice, he would need clients. Joining the Catholic Church, where Mother and Grandmother were already well-embedded, was a way to network among the faithful. When I discussed conversion at age 40 with him, it was a utilitarian matter. He hoped to identify people with needs for chiropractic adjustments. Father didn’t live long enough to join the Catholic Church or pass the state boards and begin a practice. The parish pastor noted his intentions toward conversion during the eulogy at his funeral Mass.

I don’t recall an exact moment when I lost the Catholic religion. I remained reasonably faithful through graduation from a Catholic high school. While my church attendance was less frequent at university, my faith was there. The bishop accepted me for study for the priesthood after graduation. I did not pursue it. While serving in the U.S. Army I attended church when we were on field maneuvers. After my discharge, I recall attending Mass in the church where I was baptized and by then the divide had grown too wide to bridge.

From the time of the Roman Empire through today, people celebrated Winter Solstice in difference cultures. Parts of Saturnalia fit right in with the Western idea of December holidays. As mentioned, I note the day and hope for a safe return from today’s trip.

There will be a lot to consider during the blizzard. I’m ready with gasoline for the generator, an extra stock of water, and plenty of food.

Religion is more on my mind in December than in other months. In a conversation with the local Catholic priest during a random meeting on the state park trail, I asked about reconciliation. Based on our conversation, it will not be possible. I’m okay with that.

For today, there is the winter solstice.

Living in Society

Holiday Travel 2022

Winter Travel

Word is in from the news media-meteorological information trust that a significant Midwestern winter storm is brewing for the days leading into Christmas. Our family is splitting up for the holidays and have travel plans. Because we are retired and flexible, we will comply with the media overlords and travel Wednesday. If I were still working outside home, I would travel when schedules permit. Military service instructed me life goes on regardless of weather conditions.

It snowed overnight yet only a dusting remains. A half hour with a broom will clear what the sky dropped. I’ll wait until sunrise to get that chore done. Otherwise, there is plenty of indoors work to accomplish today.

The last time I was alone on Christmas was after my arrival in Mainz, Germany. While I was being processed into our battalion they were on field maneuvers until the last days before the holiday. When they returned, everyone hurried to be with family and I was left alone. By then, I was 18 months into being a regular journal writer/diarist. I used the time alone for reflection:

Personal Journal
25 December 1975
Mainz, West Germany

I have just spent the last few minutes waiting for water to come to a boil on the stove for tea. While waiting, I skipped through this journal, stopping every so often and reading random pages. It seems that what I have written at other times is sufficiently removed from me to permit my pursuit of authorship of literature. This is good.
The things I have read also pain me at times. The thought of a past once present now changed into memories.
As I sit today, Christmas, before my desk, I will not forget, I cannot forget myself when I am writing -- it soothes me by its connection with the past, direct, like looking through the space that I have traveled from the eternal point of view. Sehr gut.
I sit down, spreading ink on paper and what yields it? Ink on my small and ring fingers and a touch with the past.

I’m looking forward to Wednesday’s trip and getting off property for a couple of hours. In deference to the weather, I’ll stop to provision on the trip home. I won’t like being separated from everyone, but at least we have free video conferencing… and, of course, social media. When there is a small family, that’s how it goes some years. I’m okay with it once in a while. Wouldn’t want to make it a holiday tradition, though.