Here we go again…

[These musing follow on the heels of an Iowa legislative initiative [with the grand-sounding moniker of “Students First Act”] to further school choice in a legislative session in which members of the majority party have been railroaded into support of a law that has been debated annually for several years. Even members of the majority party have doubts about the wisdom of furthering school choice in Iowa, but our governor is calling in the membership chips.]

I don’t have the chops to argue school policy at the level of the Iowa state legislature. I don’t have the lobbyists at my disposal who are busily bending the ears of those who are ostensibly representing us at the Iowa Capitol. I’ve not sat in on any of their proceedings.
I can tell you this. Our representatives do not have staff persons at the meetings of our school boards, locally. They are not here talking to students in our schools. They are not here talking to our teachers during breaks in their day.
They are getting their information twice-(or more)-removed from ground zero, the classrooms in which our students are taught.
In light of the dollars our state funnels into education, and, as a taxpayer, I have to say there is a big gap here between those making policy and those who have to carry out those grand ideas.
We schooled our kids at home (with the help of some classes at our local public high school, I must add), and our kids have long left the house to follow their lights. But, my experience with public schools and with the kids who have attended public schools continues to fuel my interests. I attend public meetings relating to education. In those public meetings (emphasis on public), I’ve heard school kids from primary through secondary levels tell about their experiences. I hear reports from principals and teachers, who relate the triumphs and travails of their work.
There have been some interesting discussions, especially as the COVID pandemic hit. In another, the board room was packed as a student related the presence of racism in the school.
The minds of our kids are like sponges. When they are interested, it’s a big job finding enough material to feed those interests. In school, interested kids are encouraged to think, write, create and speak to communicate those interests. Our teachers (public and private) are professionals who delight (or should) in providing the basics to fuel those interests while encouraging students to broaden themselves.
Where am I going with this? You are busy with yet another season of “education reform.” It seems to me that this perpetual diversion never stops. It does more to advance political careers than it to advance the state of education.
For example, proponents and opponents of “school choice” are beavering away, right now, on a bill that would expand state funding to families who want to send kids to private schools.
It will benefit a few more parents in lower-income brackets in the first year, if the bill is enacted. Three years down the road, it has the promise of benefiting parents state-wide who want to support private schools…
…that is, if the state legislature continues to fund the program. The economics of the program under discussion have not been fully vetted.
In prior years, there has been vociferous debate about whether the dollars spent on state education have been effective. If we taxpayers don’t hear that, again, with this proposal, something is off kilter.
It’s easy to forget that state policy begins by funding favorite programs, but when state income falls short, the continuation of those programs falls back to the local tax base.
Promises and making policy are easy, especially if the persons making the promises and policy are not in the trenches. So, pardon me, if you see my eyes roll, with this latest proposed legislation.
In the spirit of compromise, I offered this: If state legislators are feeling flush and are bound and determined to assist private education, designate a one-time, substantial contribution individually to each qualified private state school in Iowa. Attach whatever qualifiers legislators wish to impose, but emphasize that the money is to be invested wisely in a program to offer scholarships to local families who wish to have their kids attend private schools.
That method will reduce the criticism, somewhat, of diverting state dollars from public to private education.
But I can’t help but see programs such as these chip away at the need for robust public education.
Oh, and while legislators are at it, they can an least make an effort to approach a cost-of-living increase to public education. Teachers, administrators and support staff are the backbone of any education initiative. Parents are essential, as well, not to mention kids who are eager to learn.
Encouraging our kids to read, think, write, create and speak at the backbone of a well-functioning republic. That’s the underpinnings I’m looking for in an educational system. I hope our representatives are good examples of those who read, who think critically, who can write, create and speak their own minds outside of the confines of their parties. If they are not, I wonder how effectively they can guide the educational process.

If memory serves…

Artists, make sure you have a photo print, an audio recording, a CD or DVD, of your creation. A digital copy will not last the test of time.

Patrick Somerville, show runner of that marvelous, scary series “Station Eleven,” knows the fickleness of financing and digital media. I had to chuckle at one of Somerville’s ruminations.

”If Station Eleven ever disappears,” he tweeted late in 2022, “I promise to purchase one acre of land somewhere in the Mojave desert and just play it on loop, projected on a rock, forever.”

The series reprises the 2014 book with the same name by Emily St. John Mandel. So, even if the series gets lost in the ether, molders away on some unsupported form of storage or fizzles when the electricity is cut off from a storage site,, the book is still there.

That book is worth placing near the top of your reading lists.

The story? After a pandemic wipes out almost everyone on the globe, readers are dropped into a tale of a wandering troupe of actors who must scavenge and be ready to kill to stay alive to perform their interpretations of Shakespeare. The troupe also strives to keep musical performances alive. The author explores the costs of the loss of the society, the people we so treasure and the artifacts that society creates.

It’s a good read. It takes a well-worn literary scenario in a different direction. Beyond that, contemplating the world of that novel, a reader will grapple with the thorny issues of what is worth preserving in the event of a catastrophe.

That line of thought is well worth exploring.

Six Million Germans / Nakam

Wow. Thanks to a Gerry Canavan link (, a story in an on-line edition of Slate ( and a quick search of You Tube, I found this ditty by Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird. The song paints a quick portrait of a partisan band that got it into their heads to retaliate for the killing of six million Jews by killing six million Germans.

It’s hard to wrap around the idea of an organized effort to kill that many people. But, it happened. There’s plenty of proof that the Nazi regime was bent on eradicating the Jewish population under their control. Once that reality works its way into the brain cells, it’s no great leap to consider the revenge that genocide breeds.

While the song goes into detail, at first blush uplifting the work of the partisans, it carries a coda, so to speak, bringing the idea of vengeance into the modern day, and the ongoing consequences of intolerance.

Now can vengeance put upon the shelf
Be taken out later on someone else?
Be careful how you read this tale
Lest your own prejudice prevail
Look around the world today
And consider the role that vengeance plays
For History has its unpaid debts
And is it better if we forget?

The Price of Silence

Cool dream of United Nations delegates dancing to a song of freedom. Video is 14 years old or so.

Laurence Fisburne delivered the prologue written by Alicia Partnoy, who survived two years of prison in Argentina during that country’s “Dirty War.”

These are not just words tattooed on paper
No prison cell, no border fence, no torture will stop our plea
No stone, no stain will mar the river of our dignity
My child, for you today our voice befriends the winds-

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Not one nation dissented (though a few abstained). The declaration says that every human being deserves dignity, freedom and respect. There are those who say it’s the first blueprint for global rights, establishing fundamental freedoms for every human being.

In 2008 Amnesty International reminded of that declaration with a multi-cultural video. “The world’s leaders owe an apology for failing to deliver on the promise of justice and equality” in the declaration, according to the organization.

Sixteen international musicians collaborated on a music video in a reminder. The video featues artists who personally fled oppressive regimes:
Yungchen Lhamo (Tibet) was born in a Chinese labor camp and left Tibet in 1989 at the age of 22, trekking across the Himalayas with her two-year old son to escape oppression from the Chinese regime.
Alicia Partnoy is a survivor from the secret detention camps where about 30,000 Argentineans “disappeared.”
Emmanuel Jal was born in during war in Sudan in the early 1980s. He was taken from his family home in 1987 when he was six years old, and sent to fight with the rebel army in Sudan’s bloody civil war as a child soldier. He recorded the day after appearing at the United Nations General Assembly to speak of his experiences as a youth.
Chiwoniso relocated from Zimbabwe to the United States in August of 2008, removing herself and her two children from the political and economic unrest there.
Other artists include Hugh Masekela, Julieta Venegas, , Angelique Kidjo, Aterciopelados, Yerba Buena, Natacha Atlas, Rachid Taha, Kiran Ahluwalia, Natalie Merchant and Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5.

Link TV, Nacional Records, Aterciopelados, music producer Adres Levin (and his organization Music Has No Enemies) and video director Josh Atesh Litle helped create the video.

“The Price of Silence” was released as Barack Obama was prepared to take the office of President of the United State and for the 60th anniversary of the declaration. It was premiered for the New York Society for Ethical Culture in an evening titled “Every Human Has Rights: Hope for Human Rights in an Era of New Leadership.” On stage were Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 through 2002), Dr. Blanche Wiesen Cook, biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Samuel Kofi Woods, labor minister of Liberia.

In the video, actors were intercut with footage from the United Nations delegates opening proceedings in September of 2008. Sixty actors performed in front of a green screen to create a digital UN.

Litle saw hip-hop as the protest music of the new generation. Levin was nominated for a Grammy and was co-founder of Music Has No Enemies.

Amnesty International USA requested a meeting with Obama to discuss the human rights agenda of a new administration. In the first 100 days, Amnesty called for a plan and date for the closure of Guantánamo, an executive order to ban torture as defined under international law, and an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the United States in its “war on terror.”

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free

First heard this song at the conclusion of the Ken Burns documentary, The Central Park Five. In the context of the experience of the five falsely imprisoned youths, the tune carries a whole new weight. Performing the Billy Taylor jazz classic with a shout-out to Nina Simone who helped bring the song further into our consciousness is Brittany Howard.

Well I wish I could be like a bird in the sky.
How sweet it would be if I found I could fly.
Oh I’d soar to the sun and look down at the sea,
And I’d sing ’cause I’d know that
I’d know how it feels to be free.

Gaudete Sunday

And this promise:

The closed gate of Ezekiel
Is passed through,
Whence the light is risen;
Salvation has been found.

“The closed gate of Ezekiel…”

Reading this mediation, a great mix of melancholy, wish and hope rose.

On this Sunday,
images of past horrors
(gas chambers, behold, thinly disguised as showers),
present wars
(drones piloted from afar exploding in apartments),
individual acts of kindness
(a cup of coffee, a cold drink, good will to a shivering migrant),
snowfall relieving
a parched, drought-ridden earth
(as climate remorselessly shifts out in the fields and towns),
Wishes and hopes well
(Oh, for a cardinal’s red favor on a holiday)
as well as the desire
(a feast, an image, a shout: “Let us go!”)
for more of God to show.
(Come… Let’s see this thing that has happened.)

Let’s work together

Wilbert Harrison got the ball rolling in 1962 with this tune. The message resonated after Harrison’s recording. Canned Heat performed versions in 1970 and again in 1998, as did Bryan Ferry, although Ferry titled it “let’s Stick Together. Ferry’s rendition in 2018 gets the full, glitzy, orchestral treatment.

Together we will stand
Divided we’ll fall
Come on now people
And let’s get on the ball

And work together
Come on come on let’s work together
Now now people
Say now together we will stand
Every boy girl woman and man

Slow change

Its foundation has lost more teeth,
historic bricks gone missing,
spotted in fall inspection.
An old farmhands home
now surrounded by a growing town,
even with a north facelift,
settles in soil first deposited
by glacier and sea,
cold, wind and rain.

Three old evergreens
planted by the builders,
once towering and holding
mourning doves, jays and climbing kids
have been lost to blight.
Bushes and trees planted
according to gardening charts
transformed a spacious lawn
into a pocket park.

Children, now not our own
now delight in dodging
evergreens and ornamentals.
Bird life scatters when raptors fly by.
(Once monarchs animated young maples
and an opossum scavenged for apples.)

Squirrels and rabbits leave tracks
(still hoping for deer)
while a wood stoves ticks and radiates
in another winter of decades in place
warming a home growing old.

The rebel Jesus

The Christmas decorations (a local wit calls them the “holy pretzels”) in my town have been lit, now that Thanksgiving has passed. And, holiday music is filtering through every speaker, everywhere. It sets off a negative vibe with me… for a while. I usually get over it and don the appropriate Christmas spirit. Usually, I’m able to fire off a salvo of dissatisfaction, though, and true to my tradition, here is my contribution for this season:
Bebo Norman performed Jackson Browne’s alternative Christmas carol on a 2017 recording. It’s got a little different slant.

Browne joined the Chieftains on their holiday album The Bells of Dublin to sing the carol, as well. It was a welcome rediscovery for me.

We guard our world with locks and guns,
And we guard our fine possessions.
And, once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations.
And, perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us.
But, if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor,
They get the same as the rebel Jesus.