20 PRIORITIES and a pleasure

At the moment I seem to be suffering from priority paralysis. There are so many things I want to be doing I’m having a hard time latching on to any single one of them. Blogging is one of them and I have a summer’s worth of stuff on my mind which I will not be getting to now or, in most cases, ever. But starting this after ten minutes of looking at the blank screen may be my first step on that long proverbial journey.

I’ll start with “The Teachers Wars” a book I think I will order. No. I just did order it. Fortunately I found one listed as unused like new and with shipping it only will cost me $6.88. It should arrive in a week and perhaps by that time I will have finished reading Dark Horse the Autobiography of Wendell Wilkie.

This is good. Thinking about books and ideas gets my juices flowing. A week ago I couldn’t sleep for hours one night of my weeklong Wisconsin soujourn with my grandsons and thought about the connections between the many books I’d been reading recently. I roughed out a blog post mentally which I’m still tempted to write. But I’ve got those other priorities to dip into each requiring a step for their continuing journeys.

As for The Teachers Wars it was mentioned yesterday at 709’s opening day teacher inservice at Denfeld High. I spent the day there – a very worthwhile day. At the end I wondered why it took me three years to attend such a day. Well, the Administration didn’t encourage that kind of participation in the past and I was preoccupied with our school board wars. That would be worthy a book too. Maybe I’ll write it someday but that would be priority 21.

The first thing that struck me was looking at all our employees sitting in the Denfeld Auditorium – Everybody, not just teachers, was being inserviced – a nice bit of democracy if you ask me. It was a sea of white European faces. That’s a worrisome fact in a district which has a growing number of minority students who suffer a stunning gap between their academic success and the students who look like all the staff.

After this there were four sessions for staff the first being a “cultural sharing” which was grouped by school or geography. The Superintendent suggested that I wouldn’t alarm too many people if I attended the meeting of the staff who work on the second floor of the Administration Building HOCHS (Historic Old Central High School). The idea was, I gather, that we would share our families cultural values: lefsa, sourkraut puritan work ethic and the like but most of the folks in our group talked about the things in their families that were important traditions. I had promised the Superintendent that I would be a “fly on the wall” and not say anything but I figured after most of the others had spoken I ought to explain how my family had been political in order not to seem stand-offish. I mentioned my Dad’s giving his parents lists of candidates to vote for and my Mother’s family long discussions about politics and history.

For the next three sessions I attended sessions for the three divisions of our schools. Elementary teachers, Secondary teachers and everyone else.

I’ll blur my impressions together. I got the sense that our elementary teachers were every bit as concerned about class size as I thought they were. I also got the impression that they have had so many new directives thrown at them that they are gasping for air. Imagine someone happily juggling three tennis balls and someone else helpfully tossing them two more to juggle. The sessions was about grading changes that we made last year. We got rid of A,B,C and D’s and replaced them with 4,3,2,and 1’s. How about zero you ask? I’m not sure I have an answer for you. I’m not sure its an option anymore just a reality we no longer acknowledge a la No child left behind. And, yes, when I asked, everyone seems to treat the numerical grades as stand-ins for the discarded letter grades. Was that not predictable?

I stopped in at a session for social studies teachers and only recognized one from my earliest days on the School Board. He was my son’s teacher at the long gone Woodland Middle School. I also noted how thinned the ranks of the social studies faculty was. The Teacher’s Wars of the past decade apparently concluded that social studies was not a particularly valuable subject. If Santyanna is right we may have more election year’s like this one to look forward to.

Finally, I went to a session on “formative” assessment. I’ll explain it this way- its not a “summative” assessment. Or to elaborate in non jargonese – Its like a quiz to a final exam except its not necessarily a test.

I intend to spend a lot more time in our schools this year to make up for a couple of really crumby years on the school board. I had several teachers tell me they were glad to see me and I heard this as well from Art Johnston and Alanna Oswald among the board members who spent the day at Denfeld. When Teacher’s Union President, Bernie Burnham, sent all the School Board members a thank you email for showing up I replied to it with an assurance to her that it had been our pleasure.

Another of the old emails I missed.

Some one sent me a link to this story:

Star Tribune sues Minneapolis Public Schools for information
Anthony Lonetree, Star Tribune

The Star Tribune is suing the Minneapolis Public Schools in an effort to force the release of data relating to student suspensions, school climate issues and district spending, among other concerns.

A lawsuit filed Monday in Hennepin County District Court alleges that the district has failed to deliver on requests dating to September 2015 and also seeks damages for what it describes as the district’s “willful violation of the [Minnesota] Data Practices Act.”

The information requested includes reports supplied to the newspaper by other districts, including results of school-by-school surveys that ask students how safe they feel in and around their schools and that gauge how committed teachers are to their respective buildings.

The school-level surveys, known as the 5 Essentials, have been provided to the Star Tribune by the St. Paul Public Schools, and formed the basis of a Feb. 16 story reporting widespread discontent among teachers in the state’s second-largest district.

The lawsuit stems from four requests made by staff writer Alejandra Matos — each of them relating to “matters of significant public concern,” the Star Tribune argues. Newspaper attorneys first got involved in March — at which point the district had provided incomplete data for one request and none for the other three. At that time, the Star Tribune asked the district to provide, in writing, a date by which the newspaper would receive a “complete, substantive response to each request.”

Amy Moore, the district’s attorney, replied in part: “It would be great if we had the luxury of staff who were dedicated to nothing but answering Star Tribune requests, but we try to focus our resources on the students in the classrooms.”

On Monday, Superintendent Ed Graff, who joined the district after the requests were made, said that he plans to review the complaint, and that his intentions are to be transparent and responsive in such matters.

Its much better to keep this kind of stuff in dusty old file cabinets. We don’t want to keep people anesthetized.

Books for students today and yesterday

I am off for a week with the grandsons and not planning on taking the computer or blogging. I do intend to check my email but that will be a problem on my cell phone. That’s because I rarely thin out old emails. I live by the illusion I should catalog them or eventually come back to old emails and deal with them. Well, if I’m going to start receiving them again on my cell I have no choice but to spend a couple hours culling them. Just now I looked at one that compared recommended reading lists for middle schoolers today with a list of recommended reading from 1908. Here it is.

The author makes several point among them: 1. A hundred years ago books were far less contemporary suggesting an emphases on time tested classics. The recent book list had books that tended to be less than twenty years old. And 2. The books in the 1908 list had more dense and complicated prose while today’s books are much simpler in word choice and sentence construction.

Those are both important points but the devil’s advocate in me kicked in. For years a statistic has stuck in my head. It is probably very wrong. As I recall it in 1939 only ten percent of children in the United States graduated from high school. Until today I’ve never bothered to confirm this. According to this site (which footnotes the statistic’s origin) 50.9% of students graduated. I’m glad to sweep out that faulty mental cob web.

But this same list says that in 1909 the year after the more classical book reading list was compiled only 8.8% of American students graduated from high school. What should I make of this?

Well, schools are being asked to do very different things now than they were expected to do a hundred years ago. We want everyone to be formally educated although that is no guarantee of success. Heck this blog’s namesake only had a couple years of elementary school education and today most scholars consider him the greatest of our Presidents to date.

Reading classic convoluted sentences (the kind Abe Lincoln memorized by the gross reading Shakespeare) isn’t necessarily the best indicator of intelligence or education. Perhaps there is something to be said for using straightforward simple prose. Hemingway was a revolutionary when he began publishing books with short simple sentence structure using day to day dialogue. God knows who wants to read an Ikea instruction book for putting furniture together with archaic or confusing prose?

A third point in the article was made. It suggested that the 1908 reading recommendations had books that emphasized qualities that inspired national cohesion whereas more contemporary books emphasized current events like acceptance of transgender people. I’m still thinking about that.

One thing that stuck out is that the US graduation rates seem to have hit a plateau. We just can’t get 100% of students graduated.

In 1964 just before I graduated the first of the baby boomers only had a 76% grad rate. In 2014 after a couple of decades of national hyperventilating about our education system the national graduation rate was only 82% according to this source.

Sadly that’s Duluth and not Lake Woebegon where all the children are above average. This gives me something to ponder for the coming school year.

Pound foolish about our competition

I heaped skepticism if not quite scorn on the idea that Duluth’s Catholic schools would be up to competing with ISD 709 by expanding. A friend threw out a yellow penalty flag of sorts and pointed out something I didn’t know. The Catholic schools in Duluth are apparently no longer under the wing of the Duluth Diocese. I presume they once were because their teaching corps was made up of nuns and priests.

I asked my friend with the yellow flag if they had been separated from the Diocese in recent years. Behind this question was my suspicion that such a separation would have been prompted by the Catholic Church wishing to protect its assets from lawsuits over generations of pedophilia and child abuse. My friend didn’t know. Does it make a difference if child abuse is a thing of the past? Perhaps the best answer to that last question is forgive but never forget. That would be my real attitude which is line with Santayana’s warning that to forget the past is to relive it.

What happened is a tragedy and I don’t mean to make light of it. My sister-in-law’s estrangement from the church on its account is a tragedy. The new Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air but even he has had to navigate the issue with some political restraint.

I am neutral about the proposed expansion of the local Catholic Schools. I wish them well for the sake of their students and the larger society that has a stake in their preparation for the future.

I say the same for the Edison Schools which have foundered recently on the Point of Rocks. Today it was announced that a new high school would not be opening as planned in the fall of 2017. Whether there is justice in the buzz saw of opposition to Edison’s expansion depends on one’s point of view. Certainly the very fortunate placement of PTSA leadership and union supporters on the Planning Commission and in Duluth’s Planning Department is worthy of a raised eyebrow. It strikes me that the opposition comes from those who resent its perceived successes and fear that its future growth will come at the expense of ISD 709. But, as with the Catholic Schools, we all have a stake in all of our schools doing well. If the Duluth Public School Academy should eventually become a high school it does not have to be at the expense of the ISD 709 Public Schools.

The recent sale that fell through struck me as an opportunity to change the dynamics between our public schools from scorpions in a bottle to chivalrous competition rather like the example of the American runner who offered a hand to the New Zealander who stumbled in the Olympics.

I have no doubt that they will eventually build a new high school. In fact the opponents of Edison might have been too clever by half. There will be another ISD 709 school board election in 2017 the year a new Edison was to be completed. If the school stays on the drawing boards by the time a new school board is seated in January of 2018 the need for an extra $14 million dollars might be even more apparent. If the Central white elephant is not sold before that date woe to the board members running for reelection who opposed the sale this year.

Ah, but these same Board members saved the District $25,000 last week when they decided to keep our lowliest workers tethered to poverty level wages. Some people would call that penny wise but pound foolish.

I’m so vain

Yesterday I took the grandsons agate hunting on Park Point at 10AM. The Tall ships had already arrived and were moored around the Harbor. It was an excuse to swim, dig in the sand, skip stones get sunburned. Claudia was finishing a 5000 word paper for her Seminary class so giving her some time to concentrate was the goal. We spent four hours with me stopping to take pictures to add later to Facebook. I don’t put them in the blog often because I get censured and criticized and stuff and I don’t want grandsons to have to deal with the burdens of my infamy. My kids got enough of that. Its also why I only have linked Facebook to a couple dozen “friends” who are either family or very close. As it is they inundate Facebook with so much stuff it boggles my mind. If I had a hundred or a thousand “friends” I would have so much stuff sent my way my family member’s posts would be lost in the flood.

After getting good burns we walked back to the Ariel Lift Bridge where one last tall ship was readying itself to enter the Harbor. We stayed put to watch it enter under the bridge before heading off to Cloud 9’s hibachi. It was the only restaurant both boys could settle on and that was grudging. Still, who wouldn’t want to have an hibachi chef fling morsels from his spatula to your mouth. I caught mine after two attempts. One Grandson caught them twice. We were out till close to five and I had to get them back to taekwondo as they snacked on goodies from Hepzibah’s Candies. An ill timed bridge raising made the candy stop convenient and dry as the clouds were spitting on us.

Today I had a short ten O’clock meeting of the Transfer Appeal Committee to consider a request to have a child admitted to a school outside the boundaries of his/her residence. Then I had to head over to the Damiano Center to serve lunch with my church group.

This summer has been wonderfully mundane like this. I’ve only blogged sporadically, even though I am often keen to do it however these wonderfully bland things happen and horn in. Monday we went fishing on a pontoon boat when Claudia’s brother came into town. Claudia caught a fish and her picture with it makes it look as though it bit her and is dangling from her nose. Its on Facebook. This Sunday we are stealing the boys away before school starts and taking them on a mostly Wisconsin adventure to the House on the Rock and the Dells with a Sunday trip to see South Pacific at the Guthrie.

Its a damn shame that all the kids in the Duluth Schools don’t have grandparents or even parents who can do this. As a member of the Duluth School Board I would love to even things out for such kids. This years I’m beginning to feel like something other than a heretic on the Board. Golly, I was successful in seeing to it that the Minnesota Ballet found a place to fix up its tattered costumes. Yippee!

Most of this is Facebook bait but I do keep the “Harry’s Diary” section to give readers the sense that I manage to be human once in a while. That’s part of the reason I sculpt snow. I once got an angry email from a critic who ended her missive “And I hate your snow sculptures!” I knew exactly what she meant. She didn’t like the fact that they made me a sympathetic fellow since I was doing such horrible things as a school board member. Its one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten. And as for this post? I offer it up in the same vain….or is that vein….or vane?

St. Louis County Schools “Red Plan”

“district administration refused to provide any clarification, and urged school board members themselves not to respond to the newspaper’s questions.”

I probably haven’t mentioned the other school building disaster in St. Louis County for better than a year. That was the abysmal experience of the rural schools in the interior of the County the St. Louis County Schools which were advised and built under the direction of Johnson Controls. The Timberjay Newspaper summed up the sorry current finances of that district in a story a friend sent me. Their Administration advised their elected School Board not to talk to the press. There is just no way to put any positive spin on their experiences, hence the quote that precedes this paragraph. Sounds familiar:

Restructuring provided minimal savings

As school district officials campaigned to win passage of the controversial school restructuring plan in 2009, they argued that the proposed closure of community schools and construction of new consolidated schools would save the district more than $5.6 million dollars annually and put the district on a firmer financial footing for years to come.

But the majority of the savings touted by school district officials and their consultant Johnson Controls never materialized when the district implemented the plan beginning in the 2011-12 school year. In fact, school district budget data shows that district costs rose in key categories, such as transportation and operations and maintenance, despite JCI’s promises that those costs would decline.

The savings shortfall was, perhaps, most pronounced in operations and maintenance. District officials argued that “right-sizing” from seven older K-12 buildings to four new or renovated K-12 buildings plus a renovated elementary school would achieve $1.24 million in annual savings. But the district’s operations and maintenance costs, which averaged $3.7 million a year in the three years prior to implementation of the restructuring plan, spiked to $4.4 million in the first year with the new configuration. At the time, school officials pointed to one-time costs as the district adjusted to the new facilities, but the district’s operating and maintenance costs jumped again the following year, to $4.75 million. While the district, in part thanks to lower fuel costs, was able to trim its operating costs to $4 million in the 2013-14 school year, costs jumped again the following year. Since the restructuring, the district has spent an average of $4.4 million a year on operating and maintenance, according to data submitted to the state Department of Education. That represents a $700,000 annual increase, or 19 percent, in operational costs— far from the $1.24 million in savings that district officials and JCI representatives had touted. The additional cost of maintaining expensive infrastructure, like community water supplies and wastewater treatment facilities, which were required for the district’s new and renovated facilities, only added to the financial burden.

The district is also spending more on transportation than it did prior to the restructuring. The district spent an average of $1.7 million on transportation in the three years prior to implementation of its school plan. In the first year under the new configuration, transportation costs spiked to $2.1 million and have risen every year since, through the 2014-15 school year, when the district spent $2.35 million transporting students and staff. Transportation costs for the just completed school year are not yet available from the MDE and it’s possible that the significant reduction in fuel prices in the past year helped trim some of the district’s costs. Even so, higher transportation and operating costs associated with the restructuring have added roughly $1.2 million annually to district expenses, and have prevented the district from achieving the financial turnaround officials had sought.

25 cents-an-hour fallout

I will comment on this following email that I found in my inbox this morning shortly but I have a breakfast meeting in nine minutes….

…..It was a good meeting. I learned all about the Duluth Civil Service Board and why the Duluth School Board has to pay attention to it. (It turns out we had a discussion of the Civil Service Board a couple years ago that I had forgotten about. Re-reading this post reminds me just how ridiculous my first two years back on the Board were.) Now on to the subject at hand:

Today the Trib has a short, belated story about the failed attempt to better compensate our hourly, non certified, non union, hourly substitutes. The Administration got its points across in it but we proponents could feel a little slighted because our point of view got short shrift. That may be remedied by Loren Martell if he decides to write about the discussion in the Reader and that’s possible. He gave me a call shortly after the meeting with a couple questions about our proposal. I already linked to the youtube in my first post on the subject so you readers could catch our arguments as we extemporized.

Not having researched hourly sub pay I was in no position to argue facts on the ground but a follower with some experience in the subject sent me an email on the subject. Here is what my follower reported:

Hi Harry and Alanna,

I wanted to share some info with you about the wages being offered for playground and lunch supervisors at the Superior, WI school district since others on the board think minimum wage is enough to pay to fill these very important positions.

They currently are advertising to fill such a position at Lake Superior Elementary and it pays $11.93 an hour.

Also, last year I saw a playground lunch supervisor position advertised at North Star last year and I am pretty sure it paid $10.40 an hour, but cannot be 100% certain.

I did the job for awhile last year at ******* and I can tell you these people are handed a lot of responsibility, get very little or no training, get very little or no supervision or support, and sometimes have to work over their allotted time to fill out behavior reports or similar- time that they do not get paid for.

These people are on the frontline of keeping kids physically safe and also psychologically safe and are in a position to stop bullying and harrassment, yet are treated like very second-class citizens and not give the tools or training they need and are definitely not financially compensated for the amount of responsibility given.

Wal-Mart has a prominent poster in their foyer stating all positions start at $11 an hour, with some positions earning more.

Don’t know if that is helpful to your argument or not….

I wrote back and explained that this information was enlightening even if it hadn’t been fully verified.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I was studying up on the City’s Civil Service Commission and its possible authority over the Duluth School District. One thing is very clear to me. Unions stick up for union workers. Not in a union. Good luck. I’m not saying this is wrong. I’m just saying that it is what it is.

Abortion again

I feel strongly that the issue of Abortion has been dealt with damnably in American politics for most of my life. I have never been shy about tossing in my two cents on the subject but in recent years I haven’t commented on it largely because I’ve said everything I can think of about it and put it on the blog.

That said I run across other voices that make sense and that are worth sharing. Here’s one of them from a person who thinks almost exactly like me except that she considers herself pro life and not pro choice. If you are pro life ignoring her arguments will come at the peril of the children you wish to save.

I said much the same thing (although not nearly so well) in a speech that earned me a room full of boos in a Republican Convention back in 1992.

This summer I was reminded of that by a Republican who likes what I do on the Duluth School Board. We reminisced about those years when I was still an eager if unloved Republican. He asked me why I would give such a speech to the Republicans. I did it for the half dozen timid pro choice participants who defied the crowd and clapped for me in the face of a chorus of boos. What I said needed to be said. Our nation would be a better place today had my arguments been heeded then.

Breaking ISD 709’s bank 25 cents at a time

It turns out that Senator Everett Dirksen never said “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” Evidently when he was first misquoted in the press he decided it was so good he never really corrected it. That’s just as well because since last week’s Human Resources meetings we have heard the quote misquoted several times. First it was said to be “A million here, a million there” reducing it by a factor of ten. The quote was tossed out by a board member to suggest we were going to break the ISD 709 bank by giving our lowliest workers who substitute on an hourly basis a 50 cent per hour pay raise over and above minimum wage pay increases mandated by the State of Minnesota.

These workers are not represented by a union that can bargain for them. They often work as little as 12 hours a week and have no benefits. Administration explained that many of these part time workers use these lowly jobs as jumping off places for more substantial employment with the District or are simply parents getting a little extra money to be at their children’s school.

At our School Board meeting last night our Superintendent pointed out that Wisconsin pays an even more niggardly $7 to such workers. I quibbled that considering the public-worker-adverse Scott Walker regime this might not be such a lofty justification for our keeping our hourly workers poorly compensated.

Alanna Oswald who is particularly close to such workers reckoned that our earlier discussions made it unlikely to win a school board vote on a 50 cent pay raise offered an motion to give hourly workers a 25 cent pay raise. I considered this a happy compromise that symbolically showed our District to have an “it takes a village” mentality with regard to our hourly workers and yet demonstrate a little fiscal conservativism in the face of budget deficits.

The video of this meeting will be up later today and the fifteen minute discussion that took place was quote worthy. It starts about about the 8:30pm mark in the meeting. Its at the 1:47:15 mark on youtube.

For my part I mentioned that the Dirksen quote was for billions not millions. Then I pointed out that we weren’t even close to talking about such figures. Instead we were talking about 25 cents an hour and that added together the cost was a paltry $25,000.

With member Nora Sandstad “excused” from the meeting Alanna’s proposal lost on a three to three tie in the absence of a majority

I found this vote disheartening and Alanna’s arguments persuasive. She read the substance of an email she sent me in advance arguing for the raise. Here is her justification:

It is apparent to me that the majority 4 are not about to pass anything related to giving our hourly/substitute employees a $0.50/hr raise (a 5% raise) from their current minimum wage pay. The page in the board packet says it all: “Administration is not recommending an additional increase to the Hourly/Substitute Pay Rate Sheet at this time.”

I propose a compromise. Continue reading

More competition for 709?

I was about to link this post to the DNT story of how Duluth’s Catholic Arch Diocese is investigating the start up of a K-12 school system in Duluth. But when I began linking the first story I found online about the Diocese it was a story about how its attempting to avoid compensating families whose children had been abused by Diocesan authorities.

Here’s the story I was looking for about a rival school system.

Its hard to know quite what to make of the idea of an expanded Catholic school system considering the self-inflicted travails of the Church. It is likely a good faith effort by loyal Catholics to rehabilitate the Church’s reputation. How they will fund such an enterprise as they undergo bankruptcy is hard to fathom. Certainly the self inflicted travails of Duluth’s public schools seems to give the Diocese an opening but its hard for even me to regard the effort as anything other than a little delusional. If they succeeded under these straightened circumstances it would be a sorry testament to the colossal miscalculations of the Red Planners .

I’ll share one personal reflection on the state of Catholicism. My brother married a fervent and loyal Catholic wife. There was no question that any children would be brought up Catholic. For years during their marriage my sister-in-law went to Church and evening masses regularly and by herself. Because my Brother was raised a protestant like me and is as casual in his theology that was no problem.

For a long time it looked like there would be no progeny but then there was a miracle. I was asked to be my surprise niece’s God Father, an idea a little remote from Protestant practice, that came with the expectation I would raise her as a Catholic in the event of her parent’s untimely demise. I stood by my brother’s side at my niece’s christening and again at a ceremony to welcome a five-year old into the Church.

In the last ten years I have heard almost nothing but grim disapproval of the Church’s handling of a growing and infamous scandal and cover-up of institutional pedophilia from my sister-in-law. Its as though the Church is dead to her. But maybe in Duluth that reaction is not so common. Time will tell.

Oh, and here’s a picture from 2005 of my brother and niece after I paid a surprise March 17th visit. Its a leprechaun;

She is heading off today to become a Hoosier at the University of Indiana. She’s joining the swim team as a breast stroker. She’ll have stiff competition. One of her new team mates, Emily King, just took gold in the 100 meter breast stroke.

Trump “build-a-wall” bait

My Buddy sent me a post from Powerline (one of my favorite blogs -NOT). It was a doozey suggesting that a Somali woman who just defeated Rep. Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary had practiced bigamy or immigration fraud. This Somali woman is obviously a treasure so if there is proof that this is true it greatly clouds her future. No one in the DFL and perhaps no one in the press wants to pry into the truth.

Powerline’s posting has forced the issue and this is the latest from the Strib: http://www.startribune.com/marriage-discrepancy-clouds-ilhan-omar-s-historic-primary-victory/390247381/

I am a great proponent of the truth and believe a full airing of this should be made.

As I emailed back to my buddy:


I agree the truth should be told.

That said I imagined a theoretical Jewish woman in 1940 who might have escaped Poland during the Blitzkrieg forging docs to marry her brother to get him safely to the US. It would be hard to find fault with this stratagem.

Of course, it would be unthinkable to imagine her running for the state legislature a few years later with this hanging over her.

Just a couple thoughts.


Tu tu kerfluffle

I did some lobbying to open up some of our empty schools to help the Minnesota Ballet fix and store their storm damaged costumes. As a result I got a mention in this story about their travails.

Call it constituent services on my part. A member of our church who is a friend of the Ballet’s management called to ask me if ISD 709 might have a gym they could use so that they could take their costumes out of the plastic construction bags into which they were thrust a few days after the chimney of the Board of Trade building fell in on their costume storage room. I think I emailed all concerned including the School Board on Thursday night. By Sunday I’d not heard back and when I was told the Ballet was desperate to get started I was a bad boy and put in a second request and also sent the email to the Duluth News Tribune.

That’s sort of like putting a lit match under a sitting person’s toenail. I got an email remonstrating with me for pushing staff on such short notice. Yup. I did. The staff is hunkering down for the busy work of starting a new school year and pretty preoccupied. Had someone simply told me talks had begun I’d have been satisfied and not bothered with a second pushy email. I think this is a pretty easy peasey fix and sure enough Kerry Leider, our soon to retire Facilities Director, was helpfully already on the case.

I may make a motion tonight to offer our help to the Ballet at tonight’s meeting if it becomes obvious that a formal proposal be voted on. I kinda don’t think that should be necessary. Surely all of us on the Board are rooting for the Ballet to get back up on their toe shoes.

Besides, I suggested that they might offer a performance or some other token of their gratitude if we gave them a helping hand. I’m sure we have some break dancers who could use a few pointers on pirouettes.

Peter 3: 15 – Stories too terrible to tell

At my church men’s group this week our speaker was too frail to attend. He had escaped death recently and as a result had come to a deeper sense of faith that he hoped to share with the rest of us.

In anticipation of the story which ended up not being shared I handed out copies of the gospel music, “Every time I feel the spirit” which was, as I explained, a bit more rollicking than the subject at hand. Tom S. chose several Bible passages which he felt were apropos to the subject including Peter 3:15. As the NIV translates it:

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Other Bibles including the King James used the words “meakness and fear” instead of the NIV’s “gentleness and respect.” I found the word choice thoughtful and have been keeping the message in mind ever since. Although I can be matter of fact expressing my opinions on the blog in person I tend to back off of my strong opinions in person unless someone makes it clear he wants me to be frank. I don’t what to repeat one of my Dad’s regrets – overwhelming door to door missionaries with information that confounds them.

The world is a hard place and can be too much for some to bear. Its challenges only served to make Ray Pearson, the founder of our men’s group, a stronger person. Ray was a calm soul although a stickler for what’s right and decent. A retired Hermantown school superintendent he gently let me know he thought my opposition to the Red Plan was a tad militant for his taste. His quiet but firm dissent was not surprising. Seventy years ago Ray helped liberate a Nazi death camp.

Ray was in his nineties when he died and however the sights he witnessed affected him he lived a long healthy life. Other’s have not been so lucky. Primo Levy who survived the camps and went on to write about them committed suicide in later years from the haunting of those earlier times.

Yesterday I was pursuing a number of strands of history online and discovered that Iris Chang, the author of “The Rape of Nanking,” took her life after her book’s publication because what she learned plunged her into a depression. To this day the Japanese as a nation resist acknowledging what their soldiers did in China and elsewhere. A particularly ferocious gang of denialists rule the nation’s politics. Ditto Turkey regarding the Armenians. Currently the Chinese Government is curbing efforts to describe Mao’s Cultural Revolution as one of the worst genocides in history. Death threats rained down on the producer of a film made in 1975 about the life of the Prophet Muhammad despite his having vetted his screenplay with the highest religious authorities in Islam. Before its arrival in theaters they thought better of it and denounced it. Black Islamic Nationalists took hostages in Washington D.C. to have the movie pulled from theaters. To this latter offense my reaction was simple. I just ordered a DVD of the movie.

The small space between peace of mind and acknowledgement of evil is much on my mind since last weekend’s attempt to capture a slice of Duluth’s horrific lynching in 1920. This space has been on my mind a lot this year since I discovered that I had taken a photo of a dead Palestinian laying dead at the feet of an Israeli Soldier.

I haven’t begun to witness what Ray Pearson saw or for that matter what my Dad saw when he strolled the rubbled streets of Hiroshima as a young Navy man months, if not weeks, after the atom bomb was dropped on the city.

As I explained to the men’s group I am a long time agnostic but I appreciated the verse that Tom S. shared with us. To make it apply to me and give it the honor it deserves I’d only change a few words, to wit:

But in your hearts revere kindness and respect humankind. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

The concentration camps and bomb sites I see are all at a significant remove being that I encounter them in the news and history. I can’t always take them in with gentleness but in respect I can’t ignore them. That would be disrespectful. In that regard Japan, Turkey and China have fallen short. I don’t want America and I don’t want Duluth to follow their example. It occurs to me that hope’s best defense is respect.


In the co-ink-ee-dink department. After devouring a couple chapters of my biography of Wendell Willkie I picked up the Bible so as to stick to my regimen (attempted) of reading it daily. At the 63rd Psalm I read the lines above in the title and thought to myself. That’s the lyric of the duet I’ll be singing with my daughter at church tomorrow. Sure enough the sheet music lists that Psalm as the source. Not surprisingly the song’s lyric leaves out some of the colder portions of the Psalm attributed to King David. For instance this isn’t in it:

But those who seek to destroy my life
. shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
. they shall be a portion for jackals.

I probably mentioned in an earlier post that the duet was a casualty of last weekends movie shoot. Well, it got switched with some other musical performers in the congregation. My daughter and I will be practicing our vocals with the Choir director at church this afternoon.

oh yes….

…and the sale of Nettleton School has fallen through. Its a loss of $70,000 and means the continued spending of $35,000 annually (as I recall the figure) on maintenance.

We will have a meeting to fret about this in the near future.

Me, my summer Blog audience and a glimpse at the plethora of stuff brimming over in my head

My daily audience has shrunk by half this summer. I think there are two primary explanations for this and I have no idea which is more potent: A. I haven’t been posting about the Duluth Schools that much but spent my postings on Trump and race relations. B. I haven’t posted that much.

Its not that I haven’t had a lot of things to get off my chest. I’ve got a couple lists of topics I want to pontificate on but finding the time has been difficult. Over the past week I’ve begun a couple long posts – about race – but didn’t want to post them until I’d proofed and edited them. As editing takes even longer than writing what I poured out may never make the cut.

Also I’ve been distracted by other projects. Heck, after my last post my Buddy sent me a bunch of emails some with subject lines that hinted he was responding to my long winded exposition of awkward black white relations. I haven’t opened them because my head already seemed to full of other things and I didn’t want to nurse yet one more urge to respond to his retorts.

I’ve gotten into about four books this summer that I’m flitting between. A recent one on Gypsy Rose Lee does a lot of flitting itself between the turn of the 19th Century, and the 1940’s and beyond. American Rose has kept both Claudia and I intrigued as I’ve taken afternoons to read it out loud to her. I picked it up on our recent camping trip with the grandsons at a Goodwill store. I’ve also begun digging into a biography about my Dad’s first political hero the Democrat turned Republican Wendell Willkie.

Reading this is part of a longstanding effort of mine to understand the history of the Republican Party as it was experienced by my Dad before me and my Grandfather – Dad’s father-in-law the generation before that. I’m about to read the chapter about Willkie’s treatment of his wife which so scandalized a since deceased, online author, few other Minnesotans have read Tom Roeser. Roeser sneered how Willkie had taken up with a new girlfriend, something I’m sure my then 15-year old Father had no knowledge of.

I’m still only half-way through the Pulitzer winning bio on Andy Jackson and I’m up to the Psalms in the Old Testament although I was so busy last week I set the Bible aside for the first significant stretch of time since plunging in last January. The Bible is part of my quarter century study of the Christianity I’ve felt obliged to come to some sort of terms with since the Days of the Moral Majority gave way to the GOPification of Evangelical America.

Since my efforts to memorize lines in the Hatestorm “teaser” for last weekend’s shoot I’ve also been poking about in all sorts of corners trying tie various race related threads to Duluth and my life. Just this morning I got a call from Tim who asked me if we should have a school board discussion about the “school to jail pipeline.” Tim had just had a ten-hour drive along with a Duluth patrol policeman. He was in recovery because six of his stops that day involved attempted suicides a figure which shocked me. Tim also reported an unplanned meeting he had with Art Johnston and a local District Court Judge which ended up hashing over the Judge’s hours of court cases involving tickets issued by the Duluth Police as they walked Duluth’s public schools.

All of these subjects deserve a post of their own but I am leaving them at your doorstep in this state of dishabille (that’s French for a state of undress – I’m just showing off)

I’ve been putting lots of thought into the movie about Duluth’s lynching. It strikes me as a project so worthy that I’d like to see all of Duluth take part in its development as an antidote to ignorance and as a salve for old wounds.

Speaking of antidotes I was moved by the medal ceremony for Simone Manuel for the 100 freestyle event. While Malcolm X’s knife is not yet out of black America this and other recent Olympics have shown that some healing is taking place.

BTW – my Niece, no mean swimmer herself, has raised money with her swim club each of the last four years to help pay for swimming lessons for inner city kids. Black children are far more susceptible to drowning because they have much less access to lessons.

As Andrew Sullivan always used conclude his posts, “know hope.”

Trump distractions via Internet

My Brother, a businessman, sent me this link today. It was on Politico and will no doubt be all over lots of other web pages before the week is out. It will probably be on the Olympics before its over as have several other Clinton ads.

I clicked an image on politico site thinking it might be a link to the ad before the real video showed up a few seconds late and was surprised to see the most unflattering of picture of Hillary on it photo-shopped to look like she was in prison with an accompanying link to more Hillary dirt. I laughed at how clever the Trumpsters were to sabotage a site that would do so much damage to Trump.

In the world of magicians this kind of diversion is critical to fooling the audience. Its a little like the last few weeks news. The Donald smears his reputation with little crappola hints suggesting that the Obama team recruited for ISIS or gun rights supporters might pull off a Lee Harvey Oswald on Hillary in front of enthusiastic audiences that olfactory challenged. I think its a losing strategy but he’s already laid out his excuse for the pummeling it looks like he’s about to take in November. “The system is rigged.”

If he means that he himself has laid IED-like trip wires all over his own campaign I can’t help but agree. Like others it leads me to suspect he only wanted free press when he began this project last year. For more and more people, including lots of black Americans who once had positive feelings about him, he’s replaced the T at the beginning of his last name with a CH.