A Few Honest Words

A decade ago, Ben Sollee, bowing, plucking, singing cello artist, was toting an instrument on a bicycle, partly because it was part of his messages, partly because it was just so sensible. Sollee’s music may be quiet, but it carries a muscle of its own. In these performances, Sollee performed in studio and at the Lincoln Memorial. The performance at the Lincoln Memorial was noted by NPR’s First Listen and the independent outfit Mason Jar.

If you’re going to lead my country,
If you’re gonna say it’s free.
I’m gonna need a little honesty,
Just a few honest words.
It shouldn’t be that hard.
Just a few honest words is all I need.


For an instant,
opening the door
to the wood stove
and releasing
a plume of smoke,
the scent brought
an image to mind.
Wisps of smoke from
the blunt end of a
hot iron
pressing into pine
prepared for just this,
trying to conjure
an impression
of a dip into the
wide world outside the door.

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 (gerrycanavan.wordpress.com), a story in an on-line edition of Slate (https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/11/avengers-jewish-plot-mass-killing-germans.html) 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?