Category Archives: Books

Madison and Monroe – state’s rights before States

Before I delivered my grandsons to school this morning I had a half dozen posts pounding on my door begging to be written and uploaded. Let’s see how many make it to the blog before the day is out.

I’ve just come in from my sun porch where I was forging ahead with the book Founding Rivals mentioned previously. Reliable Book Reviewer Kirkus describes this book as “lively, clear-cut.” It is. Both men, confronted the impossiblity of running America as 13 squabbling republics each with veto power over the whole. First friends, then foes and then friends again the two men, preside over the first resolution of the question. Madison and Monroe, the fourth and fifth Presidents of the United States, were simply among the first Americans to wrestle over the question and they were divided about the adoption of our Constitution.

Those questions continued to reverberate until the war that my hero (and the namesake of this blog) settled. But the question was like the undead. It rose again to search out more living brains to consume.

Today’s Party of Lincoln has taken up that call from the Dixiecrats who hated civil rights and fought integration. They have presided over what is being called the resegregation of the United States.

That’s enough for the first post. The next post will highlight the Grand Old Party’s latest champion.

Sex Education

One of the most engaging articles in the Sunday paper was written by an intern for the Duluth Budgeteer, Ryley Graham. It was about her appreciation for books written by today’s crop of American female comedians. Her story began with a bunch of rednecky old men who saw Ms. Graham reading Amy Schumer’s recent best seller “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.” . They let Ryley know they approved because Schumer was very funny and joked a lot about sex. That they were a bunch of red neck’s made no difference. Ms. Graham appreciated such books for a different reason. They are full of useful information. For instance, Schumer’s book has been controversial and contains anecdotes that none of the geezers probably ever heard about. Schumer’s candidly describes waking up to find her boyfriend stealing her virginity without asking permission. The memoir leaves it up to the reader to decide whether this was an act of rape or not.

I wrote about Schumer once before on the blog and the topic led me to use an all too common four letter word that I only use sparingly here. (A quick check suggests that this is only the 30th time that the word shit has made it into my blog either on its own or in compounds like “bullshit.”) That’s out of 17,598 posts or once every 586 posts. I’m not particularly prissy but after inflicting my fifth grade potty mouth on Topeka, Kansas, my Dad advised me not to waste perfectly good swear words through overuse. He said that if I wanted to catch people’s attention I needed to use them sparingly. Hell, (to use a word I’m less fussy with appearances in over 200 posts), young people today don’t think twice about using these words. I hear them shouted out by partying college students many a spring and summer night when my windows are open for the fresh air.

It’s a three letter word that had parents panicked during my junior high years “sex” as in sex education. Half of the parents were afraid these classes would give kids ideas. The other half were afraid that if we didn’t inflict the class on their children their children would inflict a lot of embarassing questions on them. A number of male comics have made hay with this subject through the years but female comics have been slower to follow suit. I’m not sure if this is because women want to appear demure or if they thought the “ick” factor would drive away the male half of their audience. But Ryley’s old farts haven’t been deterred. Yes, even the Chainsaw Massacre of subjects female business can catch a guy’s attention more successfully than the self submitted porno videos that litter the Internet.

Yesterday I finished reading American Rose to Claudia. Its a biography of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. I found it in a thrift shop this summer and to my delight it dished about a lot of historical characters I’ve been reading about lately as well as vaudeville, and burlesque. It makes clear that Gypsy mythologized her life while giving new meaning to the term “stage mothers.” Her Mother was a lesbian/psychopath/serial murderer. Trust me, none of that got into Gypsy’s self created mythology. Gypsy and her sister survived one helluva childhood.

Gypsy was a product of those bad old days before sex education classes. You know, the Era of brothels, madams, back alley abortionists and casting room couches. I doubt that the departure of Roger Aisles will put an end to that Era and God knows, today a pernicious new sex trafficking epidemic to taken root. Thank goodness the idea of “fallen women” is being put to rest by women like Schumer. She might even kill off “slut” or force us to find an equivalent term for men that doesn’t leave us jealous or in awe of them. Talk about bragging rights Casanova claimed to have gotten his own daughter into bed.

I was in junior high when Sex Ed classes relieved my parents from the responsibility of embarassing me but just in case my folks had no objection to my seeing the movie Gypsy should sex ed fall short. Heck, my Aunt and Uncle were sophisticates and when they were visiting Duluth they took in the Saratoga as many young couples did in the Mad Men Era. Myth or not I suppose seeing the movie was every bit as edifying as anything I learned in Sex ed. It wasn’t graphic; and it was a myth; but it also gave my parent’s way of giving me a preview of coming attractions. Today Amy Schumer fits that bill.

Gypsy was famous for giving her audiences as little sex as possible and performing a parody of strip tease with a wink and faux blushes.
I prefer the candid conversation prompted by today’s young comics who don’t wink and who leave all the blushing up to me.

The school board’s HL Mencken is retiring

Loren Martell just called. He is abandoning his coverage of the Duluth School Board.

Loren was frustrated that his column this week only made it to the Reader’s Online version. I too was surprised that it wasn’t in today’s paper copy. The Reader’s publisher Bob Boone, to whom I am grateful for his having published over 100 of my columns, gave Loren the impression that he thought Loren’s writing was a bit snarky. I’d be more inclined to describe his prose as aceberic like Mark Twain’s or HL Mencken’s. Okay, Okay. So the two words are not all that different.

Here’s a little dose of Mencken:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

Also attributed to Mencken No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. but this, alas, can not be verified.

Oh and today I was reading American Rose about the ecdysiast Gypsy Rose Lee to Claudia. HL Mencken coined the term. He must have been a good biology student. He coined it for the incomporable strip teaser Gypsy. Claudia was so overcome that she had to leave immediately afterwords and travel to her Seminary in New Brighton and cleanse her soul.

Nibbling at my priorities

In no particular order:

A. I got this email from my Buddy and answered it. I won’t include my reply because it points a finger at a few folks and jabs hard.


This puzzles me, at
The debate about fairness and gaps was off and running again. In the end, the people on the low end of the pay totem pole lost two-bits/hr. The vote was a 3-3 tie. In the boardroom a tie is a loss for those trying to pass something. For readers counting the “yous,” there were only six Board members present. Member Sandstad had been granted another “excused” absence, though I’d bet a quarter she would have been another ‘nay’ vote with her DFL-endorsed comrades.
Why wouldn’t board members who are DFL-endorsed, be more likely to vote for the pay raise than those board members who aren’t so endorsed?

[your Buddy]

emails aren’t really priorities but common place daily experiences. Answering them all can become a priority especially after I’ve neglected going through them for a while.

B. Finishing the last half of the Pulitzer bio of Andrew Jackson will wait although I hope to add it to this year’s reading list as completed. In the meantime I found another book I’m falling in love with Founding Rivals about James Madison and James Monroe. The author is an attorney and political consultant not an historian but I fell in love with another of his books on the six living presidents who were still alive at the start of the Civil War.

He packs a lot into his books with great economy.

C. Continuing three days of searching into old newspapers from a newspaper data base which pulls out stories based on, among other things, Last names. I’ve printed out a hundred or more stories on my grandparents lineages – Welty, Robb, McLatchey, Marsh. I’m putting their histories into timelines.

D. I am persuing the Robb timeline with a deadline of the Next Armistice (Veterans) Day. I’ll be attending yet another memorial to my Grandfather this time in Topeka, Kansas. Some bricks with his name on them or something will be placed somewhere. I am attempting to put tons of material together for my own curiosity in the hopes someday of writing about him – one of the dozen books I continually threaten to write. Pay no attention to the man behind the typewriter! Maybe the Topeka VFW would like to put it in their library if I ever crank it out.

E. Gathering more information on Topeka’s history of integration. I’m sure you remember Brown vs. Board of Education. This post evidently marks at least its sixteenth mention in the blog. It made it to my old website as well – here and here.

I just sent an inquiry to the Brown v. Board of Education national historical site asking them if they could tell me the name of the segregated black school who’s students were sent to my Loman Hill Elementary in 1958 when I was in second grade. I’ll visit it when I travel to Topeka in November. BTW My father’s mother attended the original “Monroe School” (there’s that name again). She would ride her horse to it, hop off, and the horse would find its way home.

I got interested in looking this information up because Claudia is half way through one of the books assigned to a seminary class she is taking. Its the autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Ida was so fed up with the murders and lynchings of respectable black Memphis citizens that she eventually encouraged them to go west young black man. Many ended up in Topeka in the neighborhood called “Tennesee Town” that was a block from Loman Hill Elementary. Claudia finds “Crusade for Justice” a damned sight more readable than a lot of her other text books.

F. On the subject of lynchings – I just deposited my pay for playing “Mike” in the teaser which hopes to tease some money out of investors for a movie about Duluth’s famous lynching. Duluth and Topeka have ties to this event. Clayton Jackson, one of the victims was from Topeka. A Topeka attorney represented his interests in the ugly court case which followed. As Michael Fedo’s book makes clear the court was in the awkward position of finding at least one black man guilty of a rape that never happened.

BTW – Without that lynching Brown of Board of Ed might never have taken place. Roy Wilkins, a black Minnesotan was attending the University of Minnesota in 1920 and the shock of an anti-black lynching that far North made him switch his studies to law. He was instrumental in pointing the NAACP to Topeka when they began their assault on Plessy V Fergusson.

Oh yeah! And I finally got past Psalms. 137 inspired
the short story I read in high school that I mistakenly thought was meant to describe a post apocalyptic nuclear world. It was post apocalyptic just not nuclear.

As for Proverbs, the next book in line, here’s one for you: Proverbs 12:16 “Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult.”

Oh and one more goodie: In all the old clippings I discovered that my teacher ancestors were “elected” to their jobs. In a 1909 story which had a list of their newly raised monthly salaries ( by five dollars!) I discovered my grandmother, Winona McLatchey, (later to be Mrs. George Robb) was going to earn $50’s a month. That’s a ten percent pay raise! What was her School Board thinking?

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.


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.

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.”

Psalm 10 and Octopus Ink

In the six months since I’ve returned from Jerusalem I’ve managed to get over half way from Genesis to the last of the minor prophets – Malachi. (Those are generally all the books in both the Protestant’s Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible) Last night after the end of the Democrat’s Presidential nominating convention I read Psalm 10: As with Job before it I couldn’t help relate many of the lines to current events, to wit:

Vs. 2: In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor- (Donald Trump ripping off legions of small contractors, college students, renters, investors)

Vs. 3: For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain….:(Ditto Trump)

Vs. 5: Their ways prosper at all times: your judgments are on high, out of their sight, as for their foes, they scoff (tweet) at them.

Vs. 7: …..under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.

Vs. 8: …Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless:

The Republican evangelicals really have nominated a fifth grader’s, middle finger of a candidate. I’d say fourth grade as that is one estimate of Donald Trump’s vocabulary usage but my older grandson is going into fourth grade and I just can’t stand the idea of my grandson being in the same class with Donald Trump.

Even my first grade grandson has a superior vocabulary to the Trumpster. Yesterday after our trip to the Duluth Aquarium we were talking about Octopus ink and he said it was an “obstacle illusion.” That’s also a good description of the Big Apple, rip off artist. The fifth grader in me can’t help but think of that stock fifth grade retort, “I know you are but what am I?”, when I hear him call Clinton “Crooked Hillary.”

It turns out that about two-thirds of Americans who call themselves “evangelicals” never or rarely go to church. Consequently, they have nominated a candidate who is disinterested in religion and contemptuous of today’s thin Republican dogma. Now they are faced with a candidate, like her or not, who was locked out of her house by her Mother to face down the neighborhood’s bullies. Too bad the Republicans didn’t have any candidates with Mother’s like Hillary Clinton had.

Olive’s Egg

This is Olive’s Egg. It was an impulse buy I couldn’t resist while we were shepherding our grandson’s around St. Paul’s Como Park Zoo.

I didn’t believe the little sign by the two ostrich eggs in the Zoo’s shop that explained that they were eggs laid by the Zoo’s ostrich Olive that had been blown out by zoo staff. They were marked at less than twenty dollars. I picked them up and they were solid like porcelain and remarkably heavy with a tiny hole where the yolk had been sucked out. I bought it as well as a sisal bowl to make sure it didn’t roll off any surface on which I would place it. The price seemed so reasonable for a bit of exotica.

I am not immune to impulse buys but I’m generally reasonably resistant to them. I also bought a 1000 piece puzzle of Tutankhamun’s mask at the Science Museum. (It tied in with our visit to the Mummy exhibit) Buying puzzles on trips has become a habit over the past decade for putting together at Christmas Time. I didn’t find a puzzle in Israel so this will represent my travels this year when we all get together in December. These objects were the culmination of a busy buying week which started last week when we took our grandson’s to the Duluth Depot to see the replica funeral car that carried Abraham Lincoln from Washington DC to his final resting place at Springfield, Illinois. I had meant to write about it last week in one of four posts I never got around to. So far they rest as incomplete stubs a few posts back of this one.

There was a Duluth Public Library book sale across the street and we decided to go over to see if there were any good books to buy and to find something about Abraham to read to our grandsons. While Claudia searched the children’s section for Lincolnalia I perused the history books on sale. I found two paperbacks for a buck apiece and bought them much to the annoyance of one of the folks at the change table who groused that I wasn’t taking nearly enough books away. Both were about the origins of the Civil War. One on the Gold Rush’s role and the other on the conflict on the Kansas/Missouri border. I later bought a third book about the California Earthquake by Simon Winchester to get change for my parking meter.

I don’t consider book buying history books to be an impulse buy. The first book I dived into was the one on California. It had a fascinating first chapter………….more to come. Church now. Completion and editing later.

That first chapter told about the killing of an anti-slavery US Senator by a pro-slavery California Supreme Court Justice in a duel. The author Leonard Richards is a Californian and he’d never heard of this fact as a school kid. He’s a pretty prolific author and even wrote a book I think I was interested to by on the life of former President John Quincy Adams when he was later elected to serve a couple decades in the US House of Representatives. It was nominated for a Pulitzer.

History is a labyrinth and when you go down one corridor you pass up entrances to many others and that has consumed much of the past two weeks for me. I’m also dipping further into the Pulizer winner American Lion about Andrew Jackson. In many ways the war against Slavery began in earnest with Jackson, the slave owner, and his outflanking of his Vice President John C. Calhoun the champion of State’s Rights. I blame the latter for the take no prisoner stance of the GOP on that issue – unless. that is, some State veers dangerously towards gun regulation. By the way Lincoln based much of his legal argument against Secession on Andrew Jackson the long time opponent of his hero Henry Clay.

In resuming that book I ran across the name Bancroft and got lost in a Wikipedia search for a couple hours leading to the namesake of the Bancroft Prize. That led me to his book Slave Trading in the Old South and a book “The Beginnings of the Bible Belt Southern Cross” and another about how slavery and modern capitalism were inextricably linked.

I ordered them all. God knows where I’ll find room for them on my bookshelves let alone time to read them all.

The sum of my bookish endeavors has had one salutary result. My Grandson’s know I revere Honest Abe. The little one had his grandmother read two books in a row about him after our visit to the funeral car and the library and he bought me a walking Abe Lincoln Head for Father’s Day. The older one spent hours making me a Perler Bead Lincoln.

As it said on my old Business Card “Those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it.” I hope I do better by my grandsons than I did by their Uncle who I swear turned up his nose at all the social sciences to teach me a lesson. Learning about the past can be a drag. At lease my son didn’t call for a boycott of the new version of the Television Series “Roots.”

What a Dogg!

Break for books

I’ve had a bit of a respite from School Board work for gardening and books the latter of which keeps my mind busy.

On my trip to St. Louis and back last weekend I took in the first half of an audio book about Andrew Jackson by Jon Meacham. Claudia found it on the Duluth library and downloaded it to my cell phone but I bought a copy of it a few years back and its been one of a dozen I’ve meant to read. I’ll start working on the second half shortly. I’m still slogging through the Old Testament a chapter or two just before bedtime. Last night I discovered the particulars of Solomon’s source of wisdom in First Kings. I did not know that the two mothers who brought the baby to him that he threatened to divide in two were prostitutes. That part wasn’t in my Sunday School book. His decision brought him renown in Jerusalem but he also saw to it that he executed a fellow who he’d pardoned earlier when the pardonee violated an order by Solomon not to enter into the Kidron Valley. I was just there a few months ago to visit the Garden of Gethsemane. Fortunately, I wasn’t a Palestinian when I crossed into it.

At this rate it will take me till December to get to or near to Malachi. But I finished my fourth book of the year (not counting kids books) Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley. I have dutifully added it to my reading list on my old site. If I finished the Meacham book I’d have a book for each month of the year so far.

I’d started reading it out loud to Claudia much as I had The Wreck of the Medusa a few months back but like the Medusa it wasn’t quite sprightly enough for reading aloud. But the subject was interesting and once I began reading it on my own it went fast. It intrigued me how much the terrorism of ISIS today harked back to the example of both Christian Europe and Islamic Turkey in the 1500’s. Heads, and just about every other body part, rolled then as they do today…….That goes ditto for King David. Jackson just shot the folks who insulted his wife or marched them off to Oklahoma in the Winter if they took up too much space where the White Race wanted to settle.

The book is bookended by Suleiman the Magnificent’s conquest of the Isle of Rhodes and his son Selim’s defeat in the sea battle of Lepanto The Britannica puts battle deaths at about 16,000, Crowley says 40,000. Whatever it was it was hellish. Imbetween there was a battle for the small Island of Malta later famed for Dashiell Hammett’s Falcon. BTW Suleiman is the Arabic for Solomon. Its likely that his troops split a few babies in two. This fifty year period saw the end of the much feared swallowing up of Christian Europe by the dreaded Turks. There was no love lost between the Catholics and the Protestants at this stage of the Reformation but even most Protestant nations cheered the defeat of the Turks at Lepanto.

Blasphemer or Gadfly?

To quote the beginning of the Sunday Trib’s Editorial:

“The blasphemy was uttered by an elected official. Of course elected. Easy political points.

Except Duluth School Board member Alanna Oswald — like so many politicians, candidates and pot-stirrers before her — missed the mark by suggesting in March the Duluth school district consider ridding itself of Historic Old Central High School, a landmark as identifiable and iconic in Duluth as the Aerial Lift Bridge. Maybe even more so. The castle-like brownstone has been breathtakingly dominating our skyline since 1892. A bridge over the ship canal didn’t go up until almost a decade and a half after that.”

Alanna Oswald didn’t take much offense at this grandiose allegation of her apparent willingness to subvert Duluth’s architectural history. And the Trib is not exactly wrong to say that other “pot stirrers” had suggested that Old Central was too big a financial burden (Brownstone Elephant) for the District to maintain. I remember how UMD caviled when the Congdon family generously gave The estate to them to maintain thirty years ago.

But there’s more to this story……which I will explain after I go for a walk on Brighton Beach with my recently returned better half…….

……My break led to a leisurely lunch at Va Bene and was followed by a satisfying read about the horrific seige of Fort St. Elmo on Malta by the Turks. It puts the Alamo to shame. That will put me in the mood for our 4PM Committee of the Whole meeting in a short while to discuss our budget. I’m not going to it in a very positive frame of mind.

So, anyway. Alanna’s question was really about why a building valued at $4 million to the Duluth School District by the appraisers that told us all of Central was only worth $8 million, tops, should now be worthy of our spending $18 million – especially in the face of an enrollment decline based on our using classroom funds to pay off Red Plan debt. If that’s blasphemous so is putting a higher priority on education than on schools. I guess that makes me a blasphemer too.

The first school board member to cavil at the prospect of hanging onto Old Central – which is so perfectly suited to a massive educational bureaucracy – it was Board member Garry Krause who more than any other public official can be given credit for catching George Sherman’s interest in developing Duluth. Although I was no more interested in abandoning Old Central in 2002 than I am now I seconded a motion of his to consider the idea.

The editorial actually contained some news in it. Our Facilities Manager, Kerry Leider, learned that there could be up to eight million in government funding available to fix up Old Central because its on the Historic Register. In that case, Alanna’s questions may have borne fruit. And I suspect the Editors at the Trib wanted to give her credit for the discovery. Certainly Mr. Leider, despite nearly a quarter century on the job, seemed surprised to hear of such potential funding.

Thank goodness we have someone else on the Board who asks questions. Such a person is neither a blasphemer or a gadfly but simply a public servant looking for accountability.

What’s that line teachers are always quoting? Oh yeah, I remember: “There is no such thing as a dumb question.”

Harry reads Adano

I love this book. It won a Pulitzer in 1945 the year after it was first published and while the Second World War was grinding to an end. I am about to start Chapter 23 which is two thirds of the way to the end. I decided to record the Foreward and the first chapter last night and to see if I could figure out how to post the reading here. I used my cell phone’s voice recorder app. Its not a fancy studio recording and I made some mistakes and I also hammed it up with 1940’s Hollywoodish “Eyetalian” accents. Hershey was just building on a kind of writing pioneered by Mark Twain in that regard.

Even though Eyetalians might feel a bit sterotyped by Hershey’s depiction of them today the Americans get the same treatment. Find this book and read it all. Its a short read and it will help you feel like you’re washing a whole lot of today’s politics out of your system.

A Bell for Adano Foreward 4 minutes

A Bell for Adano Chapter 1 part A 26 minutes

A Bell for Adano Chapter 1 part B 19 minutes

War and Peace and the Duluth Schools

I have a modest civic responsibility – to do my best for the ISD 709 schools. When I moved to town in 1974 I had larger ambitions to make my way in the world of politics. When local political experts suggested I start by running for the Duluth School Board I politely demurred outside and scoffed on the inside. I had no idea that my life would turn those ambitions on their heads. Today I fear a terrible decade or two lie ahead for the Duluth Schools. I’ve been despairing of a means to stave off the worst. I fear that the wrong blog entry may hasten disaster. For that reason I will write a metaphor, of sorts, instead – about the books I’m currently reading.

I mentioned in one of the last blog posts that I snapped a photo while in Israel that I only looked at closely a few days after returning home to Duluth. In it I found a Palestinian shot dead not an hour before lying at the feet of an Israeli soldier. I believe I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that this trip was intended to study peace making efforts in Israel.

One result of that peace trip is my current attempt to fulfill one of the few items I’ve always had on a bucket list – reading the Bible from cover to cover. About a month ago I started where I left off a quarter century ago at the Book of Numbers. Its the fourth book of the Jewish Torah. I read just before bed as much as I can stand before my eyes glaze over. Its usually only a chapter or two. I’ve downed three books so far having finished Joshua last night. Like Numbers and Deuteronomy its a tough slog. At 65 I feel like I’m finally ready to read the Bible and make sense of it. God knows, if there really is a God, that I’ve been reading up all my life on the history, geography and theology of the Christian Faith. And now I’ve been to Israel. Granted, it looks a little different at the beginning of the 21st Century than it looked over 2,000 years ago when Jesus began collecting disciples but the topography and climate haven’t changed.

Deuteronomy reinforced and deepened my understanding for the dead Palestinian who I caught on camera. Here’s how the ancestors of the Jews, so many of whom would later go sheep-like to the charnel house of the Holocaust, dealt with the residents of the land God promised their forbear Abraham. From Chapter 3 verses 3-7:

3 So the LORD our God also gave into our hands Og king of Bashan and all his army. We struck them down, leaving no survivors. 4 At that time we took all his cities. There was not one of the sixty cities that we did not take from them—the whole region of Argob, Og’s kingdom in Bashan. 5 All these cities were fortified with high walls and with gates and bars, and there were also a great many unwalled villages. 6 We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city—men, women and children. 7 But all the livestock and the plunder from their cities we carried off for ourselves.

King Og of Bashan didn’t fare well and, unless the boasts of Deuteronomy are metaphoric themselves, the Hebrews under Joshua did not leave a single human survivor in the sixty cities and uncounted villages of Bashan. I just read a book about the coming to power of a man who tried to be that thorough himself, only with the Jews.

I had been planning another winter trip for almost as long as I looked forward to my peace studies class in Israel. A small Missouri University engaged the foremost historian of World War One’s 369th US Infantry to research and give a speech about my Grandfather at the National World War I Museum. The Division was composed of black soldiers and tiny Park University wanted to honor its alumni, George Seanor Robb, my Grandfather. He was one of two Kansans who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for that war. In case you were wondering my Grandfather was white and an officer.

While I visited the National World War One Museum in nearby Kansas City I bought a book for a memento. It was an anti-war book written in the Isolationist aftermath of the Great War. It’s Three Soldiers by John Dos Passos.

I began reading this to Claudia a few weeks back but owing to the direction we knew it would go and Dos Passos’s literary style we set it aside. I plan to read it now in tandem with the John Hershey Book which is delightful and very Frank Capraesque. The Dos Passos novel, like ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, by Erich Maria Remarque, is a warning against war that my Grandfather took to heart, after he was awarded the MOH. He never forgave Woodrow Wilson for tricking him into voting for him, a Democrat, for President on the promise to keep America out of a war we had no business fighting in. I doubt if he read the Dos Passos book. He generally read histories and there was nothing about war he could learn from Dos Passos.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to continuing this war story. But what a wonderful optimistic book Hershey’s A BELL FOR ADONO is proving to be. Its supposed to be a four hour read but that’s not by reading out loud as I am to Claudia. Everything America was to become (minus Jim Crow and lynching) bursts out from its pages. Oh, it has one dark presence, General Patton. And even Patton’s appearance, albeit under a different name, is a wonder. The book, written in the second to last year of World War II, is a paean to Democracy, one that Americans ought to be reading now during this tumultuous, cynical Presidential election. It was being read by Americans while the war raged. Even its outing of Patton, so thinly veiled that no one back home could have had any doubt to whom Hershey was referring, is a testament to America’s freedom from censorship. It demonstrates how Americans practice pure, simple honesty even during the darkest of times.

So there you are. That’s my reading list for the moment. That’s what’s on my mind. Nothing less than War and Peace and the future of one small city’s public school system.

Good guys and Bad guys in books

Sandwiched between School board related work I found time to finish reading one book to Claudia and started another. The book finished was yet another spectacular history by Erik Larson. I only had the Epilogue to finish and then read a couple more pages on the sources he most relied on to put his book together. The book was In the Garden of Beasts, a fitting book for me to read after my visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem in January.

Its one of eight or nine books I’ve read on Hitler and the misery he inflicted. This one follows the Dodd family, the father of which was the unlikely American Ambassador to Germany as Hitler took power. I’m not sure how much time Larson took to research the book but he says his necessary reading of so many holocaust related materials: “living among the Nazis day in, day out proved for me a uniquely trying experience.” I understand. I feel an obligation to read such material for much the same reason as Church folk read liturgies during services which admit to our failures. Last week our prayer of confession to God said in part: “We want you to reign in our midst, but we want you to do it our way.” I suspect God has gotten used to being ordered around.

I knew I wanted a lighter book to continue with and I’ve had my mind on John Hershey’s “A Bell for Adano” for a couple months. I’d suggested it to Claudia and, by coincidence, she found a musty old copy of it at her seminary that she bought for a dime. I know she read it thirty or forty years ago. She thinks she read it before our marriage but I think it is one of hundreds of books I recommended or bought for her because I knew I wouldn’t read them.

Its first forty pages were a breeze. I read the Italian accents like Father Guido Sarducci I know its an uplifting story and it has a parallel in Duluth with our Japanese sister city, Ohara.

Its also a reminder of a very different time when plastic xenophobes like Donald Trump were stilled and America grew its heart two sized larger. So far, both Claudia and I have chuckled through this book except when the Italian American Major walks into Adano to find a dead woman with her leg blown off in the street. Hershey sets out the premise for his novel in a two page foreward. It hearkens to a time when Americans were the good guys and says in part:

America is the international country. Major Joppolo was an Italian-American going to work in Italy. Our Army has Yugoslavs and Frenchmen and Austrians and Czechs and Norwegians in it, and everywhere our Army goes in Europe, a man can turn to the private beside him and say:”Hey, Mac, what this furriner saying? How much does he want for that bunch of grapes?” And Mac will be able to translate.

That is where we are lucky. No other country has such a fund of men who speak the languages of the lands we must invade, who understand the ways and have listened to their parents sing the folk songs and have tasted the wine of the land on the palate of their memories. This is a lucky thing for America. We are very lucky to have our Joppolos…

America is on its way into Europe. You can be as isolationist as you want to be, but there is a fact. Our armies are on their way in. Just as truly as Europe once invaded us, with wave after wave of immigrants, now we are invading Europe, with wave after wave of sons of immigrants.

Seven days left to file for the Duluth School Board

No one is watching the filings for the Duluth School Board more closely than I am. Some will no doubt be watching with an equal ardor but none more so. So, of course, I will write about anything but the Duluth School Board.

Its not that I haven’t wanted or attempted to write. To the contrary I’ve penned a thousand or more good words each of the last couple of mornings for the blog. They’ve either been far too ambitious for me to finish or pretentious. Besides they weren’t about the school board exactly. They were all about the books I’ve been reading and the lessons, not learned, but reinforced, about human behavior.

I finished reading the mammoth (to me) book by Jung Chang on her life and the lives of her Mother and Grandmother from the Warlord period to the end of the Cultural Revolution. Now I have to decide whether I want to read her equally weighty tome on Mao tse Tung. I read Wild Swans out loud to Claudia and then searched Goodreads for a good book about the same period of time in Palestine/Israel. I found a great book and had no trouble reading the first two chapters to her after having it downloaded to her Kindle. Its called My Promised Land. I picked it out because Claudia’s study at the Seminary will take her to the Holy Land next winter. She asked if I’d like to go and I said I would. I’ve already cheated her out of a big trip to celebrate our fortieth anniversary.

That I didn’t finish either of the posts I began has two primary causes. First I’m driven to write, not about books, but about the Duluth School Board. Second, I didn’t want to cheat myself out of spending time with my grandsons.

Yesterday after pulling up blog stakes I went to the movie Minions with the whole family. It was very funny but so light on story I’ve already practically forgotten it. Today, after church we went to breakfast then took the whole family again to tour the William Irvin. It was the first visit for Jake and Tan doesn’t remember his previous visit. Then we came home and fought with WMP’s – Weapons of Mass Precipitation.

I set up three reservoirs of ammunition in three locations around our house. We had six or seven thirsty squirt mortars. I chased the boys and they chased me around our house. When the drenching proved only alarming I made sure we got to attack each other with the two hoses, one in front one in back of our house. Claudia said that the unnervingly busy traffic on east Fourth street, due to detours from street construction, stopped at the lights and goggled at the sight of a geriatric old fart warring with his nimble little grandsons.

I’m sorry. Blogging just can’t compete with making a complete fool out of yourself with your grandkids. Hell, I’ve been on the school board for the last year and a half. I don’t know how to be anything other than a fool at this point. I sure hope the folks filing for the Board have a better idea how to comport themselves than I do. The future of our children’s education hangs in the balance.

Wild Swans and Mao and AWWWWWWW my old website is down

Claudia and I finished a weighty biography tonight, Wild Swans. We apparently acquired it in February but only began reading it May 29th. Today’s July 9th so we managed to get it done in six weeks. I’ve just attempted to add the book to my lifetime reading list on my old blog It appears that the blog is no longer working. This page and the snow sculpting page are about the only parts of the once vast site that I kept updating. For ten years the website was my life although it was eventually eclipsed by Lincolndemocrat. I suppose I can go back to the wayback machine if I really want to review it. Maybe it can be fixed but I’ve let dozens up software upgrades go by without keeping the old site up to date. I’d hoped to have it survive me but I don’t think I have it in me to rebuild it. At the moment the homepage is still up but I haven’t found any internal links that work.

Well, that deflates me and my will to say something about the wonderful book that Wild Swans is. It had twelve million copies sold by 2003 so I’m a late reader. It was finished in the early 1990’s. It can only be read in China underground or that was the case as of 2003 when its author penned its brief afterward.

It was a wonderful character study and, although our situation in Duluth doesn’t come close to the extreme, of Maoist China, I kept running into a lot of parallels with our little ongoing sagas.

When all else fails – write about books

I’ve had five or six posts in mind each of the last several days. Instead of post them I’ve spent time with Claudia working around the house and buying bedding plants. I’ve also spent hours reading to Clauda. I finally finished reading a book this year just a hair before the half way point. Dead Wake is, as I predicted, fantastic. I’ve added it to my old webpages’s reading list the first and only book completed this year.

Larson is a fantastic writer and this book appealed to me because of my interest in my Grandfather who enlisted in World War I at the age of 30 while a high school principal. Years later, after winning the Congressional Medal of Honor, he told the then twelve year old me that the worst mistake he’d ever made “in my life” was voting for a Democrat who promised to keep America out of War but didn’t keep it.

I’ve puzzled over that statement ever since. After reading Dead Wake I think I’ve put my finger on something. He was passing down trite old Republican cant that had resonated with Republicans since the Great War through the Second World War and Korea. They could blame Democrats for getting the US involved because Democrats had been president at the outset of each. Only the Second World War was truly “popular” if that’s the right word. Stud’s Terkel wrote a book that summarized this attitude “The Good War.” I left a book mark in my copy of it at page 176. Only four hundred and one pages left to go.

But my Grandfather was most likely reporting a lifetime’s worth of thinking about that war, his war. Afterwards America was disillusioned with the results of the “war to end all wars.” Most Americans believed that the European Allies we fought with made the Second World War inevitible by treating Germany so badly. That made our participation in the first world war as problematic as the First Gulf War which, it could be argued, led to the Second Gulf War, Afghanistan, 9-11, and a host of jihadists leading up to today’s ISIS.

After reading Dead Wake I’d bet that my all too eager to volunteer Grandfather felt some exhilaration at the prospect of evening the score with German submarines. If so, it took him some time to work up his disgust with Woodrow Wilson. But that would have been a little too much nuance to pass on to a junior high grandson thus he left me with a simplistic view of his thinking. He told my Mother some far more interesting things about his experiences in the years that she visited him in his nursing home.

Claudia and I got through two-thirds of two other books this year before dropping them. Its no sin to do this although I have been conditioned to “clean my plate.” We just started a new book “Wild Swans” about three generations of Chinese Women. I only realized the author also penned an acclaimed history of Mao tse Tung that I have sitting on a shelf waiting for me to get to. The first twenty-four pages were fascinating. Foot binding was described in gruesome detail. Toenails keep growing into the soft rotting flesh of the sole ever afterwards.

I will pause in my reading because Claudia is heading off to spend some more time with her Father. That may afford me the time to whittle away the many stacks of paper that have been accumulating in my new office. I need to see it again unobstructed to assure myself that it was worth all the effort to fix up our attic.

Beyond Patience

That title is meant to be a joke.

Hooray! I’ve got my computer back. Think of it as my Thor’s Hammer. I can almost fly with it.

This post is supposed to be about last week’s school board meeting. I prepared notes to type up but I think I will be content at this point to see what Loren Martell reports about our meeting. He always listens to a recording of it before or as he writes it. I rely on memory and whatever illegible notes I took on my official board book during the meeting. I took lots of them last week.

I read with some trepidation the “Patience” post. I hadn’t proof read it and I worried that I might have been too dyspeptic since I was in a gloomy mood when writing it. No worries. Its surprising cogent and I only spotted one missing comma and one wrong preposition (if for of) and a “too” where there should have been a to.

Erik Satie is playing on Pandora in the background. I have even more post ideas that I’d like to address but they are accumulating so rapidly I find myself in the position of Sisyphus at the bottom of his eternally unclimbable mountain.

Speaking of beyond patience that seems to be Loren Martell’s condition. I read yesterday’s column “Where have all the Children Gone?“in the Reader and as always I recommend it. I will hasten to apologize for sounding like the always eternally optimistic Member Loeffler-Kemp but its worth remembering that things are not quite as grim for many of our children as Loren’s column makes it sound. Sure, classes are crowded and our course offerings have been trimmed but for bright and well-adjusted kids living with emotionally healthy families will get by. Resiliency is the word academics and social workers throw around to account for this. That doesn’t mean things aren’t tough. The letters we received from the Denfeld teachers spells this out. Now that I have my comupter back I’ll put some of them on the blog.

As for the finances of the District Loren is right to acknowledge that our steep financial fall has softened. Yes, promises that the Red Plan would pay for itself were always a joke. Yes, School Board ate up the old reserve to keep our slashing of teachers to a draconian minimum. Yes, we have stopped transferring six million of year out of operations to pay off debt service (by raising taxes in excess of 10% in two successive years). But, the fact of the matter is, for the moment the descent has stalled. Loren is right to fret about our continuing enrollment decline. Art Johnston put the cost of losing another 200 students at $2 million. That’s if they generate $10,000 from the state. At one recent meeting we were told they only generate $6,800 in state funding per student.

Even if the Edison Schools draw another 700 students out of the ISD 709 schools our best students will still get a good education in our schools. But what a loss in opportunities the Red Plan will have cost them. And let’s hope the teachers at East don’t feel compelled to join their Denfeld colleagues in agonizing that the kids in their classes have fallen behind those of the pre-Red Plan days.

I can’t fault Loren’s fears. I too am frustrated. I’m particularly aggrieved when I remember that before the Johnston imbroglio I had planned to read in every elementary school over and over this month. February has been “I love to read” month every year since I first got elected to the School Board.In my earlier service on the Board I made reading pilgrimages to the elementary schools all year.I still have my gorilla slippers and favorite books waiting in my attic for return engagements. Its just that I’m too busy putting together a defense of Art Johnston because of this stupid pogrom.

I’m not quite beyond patience but I’m close to it.

What I read and watch

I’m not sure why my Buddy sent me to this page on Nora Robert’s recreational reading. She’s an author whose pseudonym I’ve run across many times when I’ve googled my grandfather George Robb. Her pseudo is J.D. Robb.

I read it and its as good an occasion to post one of my book posts. I’m currently reading a curious novel called Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. BTW I haven’t read this NYTimes book review. Hitler hasn’t taken over France yet but, as in the movie Cabaret placed in Germany of the same era, his shadows are already casting themselves against events.

Its been a while since I read a book to Claudia but we have two others waiting in the wings. These two are histories rather than historical novels. The first is about the Spanish Civil War and the second is Wild Swans Three Daughters of China.

These three should keep us for most of the year although I’ll have my own history books to peruse while Claudia is stuck behind a mountain of books for her various theology classes.

We keep escaping when we can either to books or movies or good television. We have several television series to livestream the first of them being House of Cards and we take in movies. I wrote a blog post on Selma and The Imitation Game a few weeks ago but I wasn’t satisfied with it so I never uploaded it.

I just wanted to reassure my readers, once again, that in addition to my family I have other things to take my mind off the Duluth School Board.

Tonight’s School Board Homework

I would grudgingly watch tonight’s election results as the people of the United State’s send more “blame everything on Obama” congressmen to the Nation’s Capitol except that I returned from a day in the Twin Cities to find Attorney Mary Rice’s long overdue report on Art Johnston. I will be reading it but making only limited comments about it’s contents. I’ve been warned that doing so could subject the school district to a lawsuit in a letter our CFO sent along with the 65 page report. Ms. Rice interviewed 36 people from June 3rd to September 16th.

If and when the public sees the report will be redacted like hell to protect the innocent. It is not legal testimony and if anything were to go to court would require a do over before it could be accepted by a court of law.

It may be worth pointing out, however, that if I were to disclose private info it appears from the letter that the District would only be subjected to a maximum of $15,000 for my violating this privacy. (I’m not sure if that would leave me off the hook) That’s peanuts. I can’t wait to see how much more Mary Rice’s report will cost the District than a potential $15,000 fine.

I have been silent for a week but not without the intention to write about a great many things of an educational nature. This was not one of those things. I suspect I’ll be wired all night and will get little sleep reading through it. That’s too bad because I’m driving down to the the Twin Cities again tomorrow for the day. Today it was to read a book to my wife while she headed down for a class at her seminary. Its a very engaging book: The Orphan Train. Tomorrow I’ll be traveling south to attend a meeting on Title One at the Minnesota Department of Education.