Right? Wrong? Be civil

Recently, Sioux County Iowa Republican and Democratic party leaders have cooperated in helping a Hull Habitat for Humanity effort. At the same time, a new book has appeared that takes that idea a notch higher. (Keep reading. I’ll get to to the title in a bit,) I’m also reminded of a much earlier book co-authored by state legislators from opposite sides of the party table.

Effective governance is incremental. It takes time to build a strong governmental structure. Wholesale changes sometimes do more harm than good.

When persons wants to represent me in the halls of state and national government, I look for the ability to listen and listen again before advancing ideas. I also hope that the person representing me is also effectively representing a larger group of people.

Any time I hear a promise that a candidate is going to “drain the swamp” in national governance, joins a charge to “reform” a “reform” that was recently “reformed” or promises to shoehorn an initiative into local boards or councils that has no business there, I start looking for someone who has a better handle on going at things carefully.

I can’t count how many candidates I’ve sworn off of because of that crap.

But, this is meant to be a review of a book.

Dave Mulder, former Republican Iowa Senator and Frank B. Wood, a Democrat in the Iowa Senate at the same time, cooperated in an interesting look at the ins and outs of politics at the state level (An Education in Politics : Four Years in the Iowa State Senate 2004-2008). There was plenty of frustration in their look at four years in Iowa governance, but they postied a bunch of good ideas about getting past the differences to move forward.

That book was an interesting read, a fascinating look by two friends who sat near each other in chambers. The short book lets the reader look into their heads as they did their bit to move the state of Iowa forward.

Harold Heie has been working hard to cultivate the kinds of attitudes that counter the get-there-quickly crowd. His new book furthers his agenda of bringing people together who have perspectives that, at first glance, are antithetical.

I’ve been exposed to Heie’s methodology in other books he’s put together detailing “respectful conversations.” Invariably, they aided my thinking.

His latest: Reforming American Politics: A Christian Perspective on Moving Past Conflict to Conversation, continues in that vein.

I’m finding it to be instructive, despited that dreaded “reform” word in the title.

It’s hard to get into the thickets of thorny issues, but if we citizens don’t make the effort, we don’t have any hope of electing folks who are willing and skilled to make the effort on local, state and national stages.

Heie is hoping to help make it possible for more of us to do that.

The introduction of this book, and others he has written in this vein, makes it clear that he wants us to listen to each other, think on positions before staking a claim.

It’s not a new approach, but it is a refreshing one.

After making it clear that the discussion will hit major hot buttons of political discourse and warning that there are no easy answers in the areas of civil discourse and free speech, political activism, party politics, money and special interests in politics, immigration, wealth and poverty, health systems and churches becoming involved in the political realm, Heie directs the reader to the last chapter in which he summarizes his conversations with 23 others and lays out a course he finds fruitful in fractious times.

Then, he encourages the read to go back into the book and wrestle with the issues.

It’s good reading. It stirs the gray matter. It’ll knock you off your center. I’m learning a lot: primarily to curb my temptation to open my mouth and work harder at listening.

For folks looking at our neck of the woods, it’s easy for them to identify the outliers on the fringes. But they are not the majority. The majority of us are more centrist than we know, if we’d take the time to listen and get to know each other.

Leaders of our two major parties in the county set aside their differences to pitch in to assist a family getting a home of their own. Two senators, despite different perspectives, found ways to try advance discourse in the halls of the Iowa Senate. And, even more locally, there is one more person who is working to bridge widening gaps in political discourse.

Heie’s latest, published by Front Edge Publishing of Canton, Michigan, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other on-line retailers.


Of two minds

I’m of two minds about this Columbia Journalism Review report by Betsy Morais on the recent Pulitzer lunch. It’s equal parts reporting and editorial. I must admit. I read to the end. On balance, I’d give it a “woo!”

I like the irreverence of the writer in the face of the incongruities of the event.


You’re standing on the corner with nothing in your head
Shirt on your back and a gun in your pants
Thinking you’re the man but you’re only a stand-in
Standing in line to be the next bad guy.


Henry Rollins heads up a band that recorded this blistering critique of gun culture in 1995.

Rollins graduated from spoken word performances to a band backing his creations. It lends additional drive, in this instance, at least.

Move On

Mike Doughty has moved on from Soul Coughing, but Ruby Vroom remains a favorite album. For alternative rock, it’s a great example of musicianship and lyricism.

Doughty dropped an overtly political track in the early 2000s, 2004, I think. (I hope to be corrected, if that’s not right). It’s more than political, of course. It reflects feelings about the time.

In my book, it doesn’t measure up to the complexity of Ruby Vroom, but I sure resonate with the message.

I love my country so much man,

Like an exasperating friend…

Yeah, I believe the war is wrong.

Don’t believe that nations can be steered.

Lead the world by smarts and compassion.

By example, not coercion, force and fear.

Here’s a favorite clip (not at all political) from Ruby Vroom: Sugar Free Jazz.


I alone am the answer
I alone will make wrongs right
But in order to root out the cancer
It’s got to be kept from the sight


An operant word here is “sly.” Woven into the Decembrists’ tunes (They hail from Portland) are deep-seated longings, occasionally including outright comments on the state of the union and (if I may be so bold as to suggest) offering encouragement to keep on resisting forces that would erode the voices of freedom.

Here’s Starwatcher, from which I’ve included the lyrics at the start of this blog.

Here’s the video for Severed, which puts the song in an immediate context.

Thanks to blogger Brenton Dickieson, I’ve scored the young-adult Wildwood trilogy authored by Decembrists’ lead singer Colin Meloy. His storytelling ability is on par with his songwriting.


“You’re a real man, and you do what you can
You only take as much as you can grab with two hands
With your big heart, you praise God above
But how’s it working out for you, honey?
Do you feel loved?”


Florence and the Machine pays tribute to Patty Smith in this tune, introduced by strings, part of her album High as Hope.

She performed this tune in concert in 2018 and inspired an essay, located here. The writer found the experience memorable.

Here’s the song performed live. Florence Welch has a tremendous stage presence. Here, a repeated piano chime introduces the performance.