Martell’s take on our last meeting is …

here in this week’s Duluth Reader:

“Well, thank you, sir,” Johnston responded, clearly still surprised by the attack.
I have trouble inserting this scene into city hall. I can’t imagine an administrator striding up to the podium during a city council meeting, leaning forward, glaring, and in a loud, sarcastic voice, ignoring all protocol, publicly ridiculing the marital status of a councilor.


Last night I attended the big City sponsored meeting at Clyde Iron in Bullying. I was late but got there in a fierce snow squall before the showing of the movie Bully began. Here’s the trailer:

We evidently were not shown the movie this trailer shows but only a portion of it. The scenes of harassment on the bus got most of the 54 people in the audience worked up as well as the ineptitude of the school administrators in targeting the bad actors. This is on the radar for the nation’s mayors although it seems more under the purview of School Administrators. Supt. Gronseth was there to follow up the Mayor’s introduction. Half the audience was composed of mental health experts or ISD 709 administrators or School Board members. That left precious few civilians to participate.

The movie was followed by forming about six tables with enough people to hold a twenty minute discussion after which one spokesman from each table summarized the twenty minuted discussion. This routine is getting a little stale for me. In the sheet of paper we were given to offer comments on the movie or our meeting I said something to the effect that it would have been helpful to have some plan of action developed to follow the movie.

Then the audience left to go back out into the cold. I gave on stranded participant a ride home and we had a pleasant conversation about politics on college campuses during the Vietnam War.

Oh at our table we had a spirited discussion about expectations of our kids. Another old coot like me said kids needed boundaries and the enforcement of them. He said that where student behavior was concerned it was all black and white and that anybody who said there was any gray was a liberal. I owned up to being a liberal and mentioned that it was hard for me to come down with no mercy on a kid with everything at home going against him. Twenty minutes was not enough to pursue this question.

Mr. U’s Worm Juice

Somehow my early morning pre-standing thoughts jumped from William Styron’s suicide to the miracle of putting the first Chester Park Elementary School Carnival together. Our old principal was Mr. O. to the kids including my son and daughter. Yesterday I had another one initialed principal give me a tour of his school, Larry Udeson or “Mr. U. to the kids at Stowe School.

Its Harriet Beecher Stowe School really. I find that very gratifying with my love for Lincoln and all things Civil War. She was the woman to whom Abe allegedly said upon his introduction to her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this Great War?” She was also Mark Twain’s next door neighbor in Hartford, Connecticut a home we saw when visiting Twain’s residence.

Its nestled in Gary and New Duluth where ironically blacks had begun settling during and immediately after WW I as cheap labor during the war. They mostly made a hasty exit after the infamous lynching that was no doubt pushed along by the Depression Mr. Grant writes about mentioned in the post before this.

But enough of my discursiveness, on to Mr. U.

I’ve been remiss in visiting our schools. I made a tour of all the schools immediately upon my election back in 1995. I had an odd reputation back then too and wanted to allay fears that I was some sort of problem. I didn’t do that after last year’s election. I figured that getting to know the school board members was more important and working on our working relationships. Besides, I was fearful that because of my terrible ranting about the Red Plan I might make teachers and administrators worry to be seen with me lest they be reported on. I know that sounds completely paranoid but as another old Board member and I used to say to each other: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean folks aren’t out to get you!” I think I’ve mentioned that before.

Well, for the start of the school year I decided its time to get to the buildings I haven’t really had a chance to tour and meet the staff. Stowe was an old favorite of mine. I was fond of two of its last principals, Terry Cottingham and Larry Johnson. Johnson was the chief judge for at least ten Spelling Bees in a row for which I acted as the word pronouncer. Larry Udeson has taken over and he was at the last school board meeting accepting an award for the school. We have always gotten along well and I decided that if anyone wouldn’t get the heebie jeebies upon my entry into their school it would be Larry.

While someone behind the front desk went to retrieve him I sat down and looked at a book with all the classroom pictures. I only got up to about the third grade before Larry returned and was gratified to see that the number of kids in the early grade classes was between 22 and 26. Those are very good and much smaller than I had imagined.

It was clear upon our walk through the corridors that the kids liked “Mr. U.” When they saw him coming they would wave. He stopped to help one zip up a sweatshirt. As we walked along he introduced me to the staff members who walked by. One remembered me from Washington Junior in 1984 and told me she had told me how to use the coffee maker in the teacher’s lounge. I almost remember that but I saw a lot of teacher’s lounges in those years so I can’t be sure. I told her I’d moved on to a french press to impress her with my advancement.

I asked Larry for a history of this work. He had been a social worker who had been tapped in the Mark Myles years to be given administrative training. He’d been in both elementary and middle schools and we talked about how kids change as they move through the grades and have changed since he began teaching. He mentioned some good advice given him by Superintendent Dixon. I suspected that he quietly wanted to let me know that he got along well with my old nemesis. If so, that was just fine. Dixon had mad people skills. I think in contemporary usage “mad” means really good. I have no quarrel with anyone who learned and benefited from the old Superintendent’s good side and frankly, that will be a lot of the current staff in our schools. I trust they will overlook my preoccupation with Keith’s bad side as I will be grappling with its after affects for as long as I serve on the school board.

Like most of the other schools I’ve walked through my sense was that Stowe was a lovely school and pretty orderly. That was reassuring. I suspect I’ll find the same as I make unannounced stops at other schools in the coming month. There are a few principals I have yet to meet.

Half way through our travels he answered my inquiry about whether the school still had red worms with a stop in the worm shed. He showed me the five bins full of food waste and the happy worms busy composting it all. Below each bin was a dark oily pail under a faucet. “Worm excrement” he called it and from then on “worm juice.” He said he really ought to be selling it as a fund raiser to gardeners. Then he asked me if I’d like some and I couldn’t turn him down. Dilute it with water 20 to 1 or you will burn out your house plants. I’ve got a schefflera I can’t wait to fertilize. Larry assures me this stuff will do wonders with our plants.

I carried the bottle around with me in a brown paper sack for the remainder of the tour like illegal hooch.

The sun has just risen over the horizon and is lighting up my corner as my blog writing gas is running out. I’ll be back with more soon.

Where to begin?

Not with that by now ripe and ancient and unedited series………. I know I promised to do it. It was more of a promise to myself and not to my readers so I’ll just hang that rationalization out there for you to smirk at.

Its been one of those mornings with me waking to a hundred blogable thoughts that sort of started by my thinking about the Author William Styron who, it strikes me, staved off depression by writing important work about depressing truths. I recall vividly reading the rape scene, startling to me as a Senior in High School, in his Book “The Confessions of Nat Turner.” That led me into two directions…..a fascinating series of responses to Andrew Sullivan’s Blog from women writing him anonymously about their experiences of rape and to thinking about one of Styron’s subsequent books “Sophie’s Choice.” It was an illusory choice that drove the plot and the life of the woman who made it and it.

The one place my lying awake did not take me to was any determination to pour three or four hours into proofreading old posts. So where to begin.

As it happens I was thinking about posting my Buddy’s terse question to me on the last post I wrote the one preceding this, of course. Its about economics and race. We’ve argued about both. So when I checked my email I found among the four unasked for solicitations one from Amazon with a book offer. These are usually more miss than hit because between my wife and I we got all manner of books nearly beyond any algorithm to deduce our interests. This one caught my attention however and the blurb in it sounds intriguing.

By the publisher of the prestigious Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, an account of the deep economic slump of 1920-21 that proposes, with respect to federal intervention, “less is more.” This is a free-market rejoinder to the Keynesian stimulus applied by Bush and Obama to the 2007-09 recession, in whose aftereffects, Grant asserts, the nation still toils.

James Grant tells the story of America’s last governmentally-untreated depression; relatively brief and self-correcting, it gave way to the Roaring Twenties. His book appears in the fifth year of a lackluster recovery from the overmedicated downturn of 2007-2009.

In 1920-21, Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding met a deep economic slump by seeming to ignore it, implementing policies that most twenty-first century economists would call backward. Confronted with plunging prices, wages, and employment, the government balanced the budget and, through the Federal Reserve, raised interest rates. No “stimulus” was administered, and a powerful, job-filled recovery was under way by late in 1921.

In 1929, the economy once again slumped, and kept right on slumping as the Hoover administration adopted the very policies that Wilson and Harding had declined to put in place. Grant argues that well-intended federal intervention, notably the White House-led campaign to prop up industrial wages, helped to turn a bad recession into America’s worst depression. He offers the experience of the earlier depression for lessons for today and the future. This is a powerful response to the prevailing notion of how to fight recession. The enterprise system is more resilient than even its friends give it credit for being, Grant demonstrates.

My Buddy and I heatedly debated Obama and Bush’s rush to fix the Depression that began the Obama years. He was the hand’s off libertarian I was the John Maynard Keynesian big government fiscal interventionist. Still am, but I’m willing to test my theories with a good dissent. Sadly I’ll have to wait for other reviews of the book because I’m not likely to find time what with all the other unread must-reads gathering dust on my bookshelves.

As for my Buddy’s terse response to my Nightmare Economics Post. This is it:



Our politics today is mentally stunted. We need more minorities to wrest the economy from the old white folks who were given so many economic protections during LBJ’s Great Society that today they live well and long while one-in-five American children go to bed in need.

What the hell does that mean? Are you suggesting that only white folks who are now old were given many economic protections during LBJ’s Great Society? What evidence is there of that? If there is no evidence of that, why do you ascribe those protections to only white folks? Do you need to visit an ophthalmologist for the purpose of eliminating racial bias and bigotry from your vision?

[Your Buddy]

I had no more time to respond to this question than I did to proof old posts. Had I attempted it I might have referred to some of the histories that describe how the white south and the Congress crafted social welfare policies that left blacks out of the New Deal. But I doubt my Buddy would have been impressed. I just sent him a one word reply relating to my need to visit an ophthalmologist:


Nightmare economics

Chocolate is good for the brain and memory. I don’t know how much that is hype but I welcomed hearing that on last night’s news. Maybe my consumption of the stuff will counteract the short night sleeps I often get when I’m trying to solve the world’s problems. Its just after 2 AM and after close to four hour’s sleep (not bad for me) I woke up agonizing about how the Republican Party has reinvigorated some long discredited notions about economics. Its made for good electioneering but that’s only if you take short term election success as your measure. This could be the last election cycle it works for the GOP in this mid term election before the old white majority of voters begins to peter out.

I won’t go into any depth… fact I’m out of my depth on this but I’ll put down some bullet points before retreating to proofing and editing the three recent “tenterhooks” posts that by now are already old news.

Government spending and borrowing have been doe see doeing forever. Time and again great nations have been brought to their knees by taxing themselves to death for great egos and warfare. Israel’s King Herod, Robin Hood’s King John and a great many other’s lost favor by being accused of overtaxing the nation to build Temple and other public amenities or financing great wars like the Crusades, in John’s case for his vainglorious brother Richard the Lion Hearted. And yet such public spending can take an economy and help it break from the doldrums. The North’s Civil War spending, despite the debt, pushed its economy into the stratosphere that kept up despite a couple of recessions until the Depression. FDR’s modest domestic spending during that time edged the nation away from recession but it was finally conquered by the massive military spending unleashed by Pearl Harbor. Hitler had taken Germany out of its Depression even earlier by building up his military and even avoided blame for too much taxation by simply stealing the wealth of the Jews to help finance his world take over.

The argument between guns and butter continues to this day. Not making a choice between them is what tarnished LBJ’s Presidency. He wanted both when the GOP only wanted the war spending because it suited their appeal to patriotism. Actually this is not quite true. In my youth the GOP had pretty much conceded the point that John Maynard Keynes was right about government spending’s power to get an economy moving. They had been saddled with Herbert Hoover’s fabled inaction for forty years by the time I became politically active. They were all Keynsians according to an economic mantra of the sixties and seventies. But they would soon abandon Keynes when they resorted to their “Southern Strategy” to win elections. The South had benefited greatly by FDR’s spending but had been very stingy doing its level best to make sure black southerners got nothing. The traitor LBJ began throwing money at poor blacks in the South’s estimation and this after enforcing their Constitutional right to vote in 1964 by trampling all over the South’s much cherished Jim Crow State’s Rights.

Suddenly all the Republican Keynesians were on the run and replaced by small government Southerns who only wanted to spend money on Defense, being the great patriots they were. George Herbert Walker Bush from that old discredited pre-southern GOP jabbed at the ascendant Southern appealing Ronald Reagan by calling his Defense spending plans “Voodoo Economics.” He shut up about that to become Vice President and then watched as Reagan borrowed like crazy to pay for Star Wars which did indeed help bring the Soviet Union to its knees at the cost of a massive Federal Debt. It was the debt that the old GOP found disagreeable but not the new GOP. It discovered that it could go into debt and then let Democrats take over and beat them up for the Debt by reducing federal Domestic spending for things like the War on Poverty.

The old Democratic accusation that Republicans were all about “trickle down” economics lost all its sting in the age of a thousand billionaires and the biggest prison population in world history.

So this is what woke me early this morning. Its why I didn’t vote in the primary election for the first time in my life and while I will barely give a damn when I vote in the general election next week. Our politics today is mentally stunted. We need more minorities to wrest the economy from the old white folks who were given so many economic protections during LBJ’s Great Society that today they live well and long while one-in-five American children go to bed in need.

Now on to that unpleasant editing I promised myself I’d get to.

Who ya gonna call?

I started Sunday at the Church parking lot in the Bloodmobile where one of my fellow parishioners said he’d told the computer questionnaire he’d had a tatoo because he was laughing at my singing to the nurse who was out front drawing my blood.

No wonder I was in a rotten mood later when our trunk or treat began. Here I am holding Staypuff at bay. Slimer ran away every time I pointed my ecto plasma gun at him.

Staypuff under guard

Our neighbors in the spot next to us were not amused.

The Force had left them.

It was just not a day to edit and proof read old posts. Maybe later this week.

Telling it like it is

Maybe this is why I’ve focused on reportage and my personal observations rather than fiction:

Readers have become so canny about the way fiction works, so much has been written about it, that any intense work about sexuality, say, or race relations, will be understood willy-nilly as the writer-s reconstituting his or her personal involvement with the matter. Not that people are so crass as to imagine you are writing straight autobiography. But they have studied enough literature to figure out the processes that are at work. In fact, reflecting on the disguising effects of a story, on the way a certain set of preoccupations has been shifted from reality to fiction, has become, partly thanks to literary criticism and popular psychology, one of the main pleasures of reading certain authors. What kind of person exactly is Philip Roth, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, and how do the differences between their latest and previous books suggest that their personal concerns have changed? In short, the protection of fiction isn’t really there anymore, even for those who seek it.

And this comment from the Dish reflects something I feel is especially true about our times when people upload every aspect of their behavior to the Internet for everyone else to see. Today’s biographies no longer hide the warts and blemishes of the great and mundane people who’s lives they chronicle. Its often unsettling, frequently disappointing but ultimately liberating. My heroes (and some villains) were humans not saints or even pure evil. They had clay feet like me and yet they managed to transcend and enrich the world or diminish it with great abandon:

Far more interesting and exciting to confront the whole conundrum of living and telling head on, in the very different world we find ourselves in now, where more or less anything can be told without shame. Whether this makes for better books or simply different books is a question writers and readers will decide for themselves.

Tenterhooks Pt. 3 – “That woman”

You will want to begin reading this at Tenterhooks Part 1A I’m no saint

An image I just googled in case you were wondering, as was I, what tenterhooks are. They must be very good at hanging things out to dry but today I think the pinchy clothsline clips would do less damage.

I’ve taken to calling the school board the Keystone Cops in the last couple months. (Not my two-person side mind you) Its not a very dignified image. And yet last Tuesday we soldiered on with considerable aplomb, at least before the marriage bomb. Continue reading

Tenterhooks Pt. 1B – I’m no saint

You will want to begin reading this at Tenterhooks Part 1A I’m no saint

So, last night after a second day playing with automobile Halloween consumes I got a call from Tim.Tim as you may recall is the young black fellow who claimed to have gotten half a dozen DWB’s over the summer and fall. I’m still walking up to Afro-americans in town and handing out my school district business card. I do it a little less often as the temps are driving us all indoors and that means walking up to blacks in a more confined interior space becomes more public. Earlier this week I did this with a check out girl at a local store who had no other customers about. After I explained my concern another check out clerk said “I heard you say you were on the school board….” I was given an earful about “Core Education.”

Ah, but I digress. Continue reading

“Tenterhooks” Pt. 1A – I’m no saint

There is no way to sugar coat this. Our District’s Human Resources Director said the most shocking and unforgivable thing I can recall ever hearing addressed to the Duluth School Board at last Tuesday’s meeting. Janna Hollingsworth’s story in the Duluth News Tribune did not come close to capturing its awfulness. Art Johnston to whom the remarks were directed demanded an apology. He is owed one. And yet I did not acknowledge this at the meeting. I chose instead to play the role of harmonizer. I made the sensible observation that demanding public apologies while tempers flared was unlikely to achieve them. Of course, speaking in the moment I was not nearly as concise as this.

I’m going to take a ten minute break to see what I said and more importantly what HR Director Tim Sworsky said. Continue reading

You watch, you decide

I’m still working on Jabba and a half a dozen other things. The last two nights my dreams have had nothing, so far as I can remember to do with the Schools. I kinda like that. At the moment I only have a hazy recall of all the things I wanted to write about that last school board meeting. They will surely come back. In the meantime you watch the meeting and see what you think. My observations will be put down eventually. Just let me assure you that nothing in my appearance as a harmonizer at this meeting in anyway should lead to the impression I’m pulling away from Art Johnston. To the contrary, as his persecution grinds on with no word I’m only becoming more sympathetic and irritated. Now its on to Jabba again.

The 10/21/2014 Duluth School Board meeting in all its mercifully short 2 hours and 1 minute’s worth of glory.

Here’s the quick synopsis of the rowsans any mention of the education related agenda – that was reported by the Trib.

Jabba the Hutt

Like I was saying yesterday I planned to visit Mom and write a post and build a Halloween car costume. Somehow the blog post got lost.

Actually I had two long district related phone calls so that by the time I got to my Mom’s it was almost lunch. She was asleep so I put more hershey’s kisses in her candy dish for visitors (workers) and headed home. It was blog – Jabba, blog – Jabba all the way home. Jabba won. I spent the day building the skull and frame for Jabba the Hutt’s head. It was four feet wide, three feet thick and tall but faceless when I finished.

If you missed that post, which I intend to write tomorrow (remembering the pavement on the road to hell) I’ll blame last winter’s weather. I don’t quite know what possessed me to work on a Jabba the Hutt but I have always felt like I shortchanged my inner artists last winter. All that snow and so little sculpting. Too damn cold. So maybe its my inner creative impulse at work.

If so, its not exactly being gratified. The blog post in question went by the boards today as well. I visited my Mom this morning and sang and also recited the Presidents in order telling her the story of her father doing it when I was a kid. I sang too but the afternoon back home it was all Jabba the Hutt. I wish. I know how to sculpt snow. I don’t know how to put a face on a cardboard egg with burlap, a hot glue gun and Styrofoam.

If you want to bring some youngsters to Glen Avon’s for “Trunk or Treat” to see how badly I muffed it there will be a dozen decorated cars handing out treats next Sunday from 3 to 5PM. Its in the parking lot on Lewis Street just off of Woodland.

I also left two urgent emails and one phone call unresponded to along with that blog post. I only wrote this so that I could get this pathetic excuse for abandoning my blogging duties off my mind for some much needed sleep. Once again I’m bushed.


I’m good for two posts today. This first one is “Harry’s Diary” stuff, more for my mental contextual record keeping than anything else (What was going on when I wrote that nonsense?). The next post will be the one that covers the news and the behind the scenes stuff. That will have to wait for my return from my Mother’s where, as per usual, I will shortly go to sing to her after her breakfast wakes her up a bit.

I’ve particularly enjoyed the bygones in the DNT since August. I moved to Duluth 40 years ago so the bygones is mentioning all the news stories I read about that helped me come to know Duluth and its politics in 1974. One of the first things I did upon moving to Duluth was start up my subscription to the Tribune the “morning” paper. There were two papers back then. The Herald was the evening paper published for all the workers who didn’t have time to digest the news before work.

Yesterday’s Bygones reminded me of one of the things that perturbed my conscience upon moving to Duluth. From the Bygones:

Oct. 21, 1974
St. Louis County Attorney Keith Brownell has notified three Iron Range mining companies they must stop requiring job applicants to affirm on their applications that they are not members of the Communist Party. Brownell said the practice violates the 1974 election law.

I was raised in the shadow of the Communist Witch Hunt’s of the 1950’s and in the heat of protests against the Vietnam War and with a good dose of public spiritedness from my high school Debate days. The first year on the team we argued the fine points of the Miranda ruling which was all about telling arrestees their rights before questioning. I knew damn well that asking folks about their old Commie affiliations was as wrong then it is for today’s employers to ask about a job candidate’s sexual preferences. Still, to get my teaching job in Proctor in 1974 I folded.

When I got the job application up in Proctor I saw with horror that it asked me if I had ever been a member of the Communist Party. I knew that by rights I ought to shove the damn job application up the butts of the people who handed it to me.(What I mean, of course, is I should have politely pointed out that this was an improper question to ask a prospective employee)

Did I do what I should have done………? Silly you for asking. I needed a job. The school year was just starting. I was getting married in a couple weeks. Teaching jobs for social studies teachers were as scarce as hen incisors. I chickened out and told the truth. “NO,” I was not now and never a member of the Communist Party. I was a Republican for heaven’s sake!

The issue of what kinds of questions are fit to be asked will be a big part of my next post. But first I’ll have to go sing. Then I’ll post. Then I’ll build Jabba the Hutt. I’m looking forward more to Jabba than jabbering if you were wondering?

TTFN. (Ta Ta for now).

Chair Miernicki responds concerning…

…a former Board member’s teacher contract analysis:

Hello Harry,
Thank you for the update. I am wondering about Mr. Paulson’s letter. Should I be at the 10/20 meeting? I didn’t know about it.
Also, what does the following statement from Mr. Paulson mean?
“Here are my observations on this contract which I hope you fellows can talk about at the
mtg 10/20 if you think the public& board should know”

Is there something “the public& board” should not know?
Best Wishes As Always,
Mike MIernicki

My reply:

Hi Mike,

I sent the email on to all board members to share former Board member Paulson’s analysis. “You fellows” almost certainly refers to me and perhaps Art Johnston although I didn’t look at the email closely enough to see who else it was sent to.

I asked Mr. Paulson for his observations on the contract as I have yet to read it through myself. He has been waiting for it since it was passed by the Board early in May. I presume he may have gotten the date of tonight’s meeting wrong as I have not met with him and had no plans to meet with Rich on the 20th.

Since Mr. Paulson was probably referring to tonight’s meeting its evident to me that Mr. Paulson was suggesting that he would have no objection to our sharing his concerns at the meeting – with the public. Mr. Paulson and I share the belief that our District and School Board should be as transparent as possible.

See you tonight,

So much to do, so little time to do it

Its a minute shy of noon. I opened my School Board inbox without any enthusiasm to see what is in it. I’ve peeked at it a couple times in recent weeks but I’ve not gone back to read through all the email. You will see that I responded belatedly to one recent corespondent. I may have a couple emails back to me relating to the one I sent my fellow Board members the day before on the teacher’s contract. I’ll check them out before tonight’s meeting but, again, without enthusiasm.

I’m still pursuing my priorities in order. Family first, School district stuff second. Yesterday afternoon I went back to the church (Does that count as family? As an agnostic I’m not even a member although when I was working low to the ground on the Habitat project my pastor saw me and said with delight that she rejoiced to see my on my knees) I had primed some large arched windows on Saturday and needed to cover them with brown paint to match the other windows. I’d spent yesterday morning tucking everything in my patio out of the way next to our sun room.

That may be for naught. I only discovered a month ago that a leak down my sidewalk that I had blamed on all the snow and rain earlier in the year was actually a leak in the plumbing leading up to our house. I’ve been given 14 days by the city to find a contractor to excavate and repair the leak. Unfortunately they are all loaded up with late fall repairs. The first one I called told me they were so busy they stopped taking new jobs two months ago. If its not fixed it will leave the potential for an impressive skating rink at my intersection all winter.

If they do fix it I might have to tear up my flowerbeds, patio and a wooden fence we installed ten years ago. Its a disheartening prospect. As for this afternoon I plan on doing more fun family stuff. Our church will have a “trunk or treat” next Saturday for folks who prefer that to treating down their streets. We decorate our cars and we decided to do the Ghostbuster thing. Claudia will be the Staypuff Marshmellow Man. I’ve got to turn our Traverse into the Ghostbuster vehicle. Then I may have to turn our daughter’s car into Jabba the Hut or the Death Star. They are working on the Starwars theme. Maybe I’ll find some time for school board stuff. I woke up a couple times last night thinking about it but with great difficulty forced myself back to sleep. It makes for a late wake-up getting one’s sleep with wakeful interruptions in the middle of night.

As the previous email/post indicates we’ve got our work cut out for us. I’m not looking for quick, easy solutions and I’m no longer willing to sacrifice family time to rush what hurrying can’t speed up anyway.

Cold Water

An email to the School Board with a hopeful recommendation:

Hello Board members,

I think it is time to look seriously at models for year round school for a couple of reasons:

1. Student achievement – kids who are struggling could repeat a quarter, kids who are advanced would have more options.

2. Building use- it just makes sense to use the buildings year round

3. Sports-my personal opinion is that competitive sports should be eliminated from public school, but since that won’t happen, a kid who is on a team, could take an easier load during the sport season.

Please seriously add year round school to the discussion about boundary changes.

Thank you.

My Cold Water:


Sorry to be a month late responding to your email. Of late I rather hate looking at my inbox and for a long while I had trouble opening it for some glitchy technical reasons. I know that’s not even a poor excuse for this tardy reply.

I don’t know if anyone else responded to your email but here is my reaction. Your suggestion makes total sense and is totally impossible. Even with our nine month school years we have classrooms that are crowded to the max. (Duluth gave up staffing for brand spanking new schools) Without some incredibly brave, creative sacrifices on the part of all involved there is no way to pay for the staff time a full year school would require. I don’t even think that if we could persuade voters to triple the recent bond levy increase we could come close to accomplishing this. That would only add between 42 and 54 teachers. It might be a start but we have a long way to go before our voters would trust us with that kind of money.

Sorry to throw cold water on your excellent idea.

If you would like to reply I recommend sending a direct reply to my personal email: as I look at that inbox close to daily.

Harry Welty

An email I sent to the School Board and Supt. this morning

Board colleagues and Superintendent,

I have been too preoccupied with the School Board’s quasi-legal investigation of our board colleague Art Johnston to read the teacher’s contract that was recently sent to us after its adoption last May. I did ask past Board member Rich Paulson to read through it for me to get his experienced eyes on the document.

His email to me is as follows:

Hi Guys,

The chair & clerk signed the contract on 4/22/14 but the board ratified on 5/6/14. It seems the contract was a done deal prior to board approval & without any public comments.
Page 51 is a memorandum of understanding-ALC teacher work day/week signed 10/10/13 by Supt. Gronseth & DFT without any negotiations or board approval. These memorandums must all be negotiated because they are part of the contract.
Page 9 sick leave bank b needs to change from 1/2 time to .6 time.
Page 10 jury duty g needs to change from 1/2 time to .6 time.
Page 28 salary schedule & regulations A-3 needs to change from 1/2 time to .6 time & A-4 same change.
I wonder if any impact with change on page 11 earned medical plan changed from Earned Medical Plan to Health Care Savings Plan? Also new language in C about daily rate of pay.
Lastly I wonder how health ins. benefits were handle prior to to ratification 5/6/14 covering term from 7/1/13 relating to 1/2 time vs .6 time?
Here are my observations on this contract which I hope you fellows can talk about at the
mtg 10/20 if you think the public & board should know. Any questions please call me or email me. I find if I speak on any of these items they do not get in paper but board members get printed.
Keep up your good work.

As I have found it impossible to place items on the agenda that do not accord with the majority’s will and because Mr. Paulson’s analysis arrived too late to do so in any case I plan to raise the issues he asked at the end of the meeting during our time for questions. I did not want to catch our Administration ill prepared to deal with his concerns.

Among the questions Mr. Paulson’s analysis leaves me with are these:

Is it the responsibility of our legal negotiator to review and proofread the contract prior to its consideration by the School Board?

If, as Mr. Paulson says, there are incorrect figures in the document are they made enforceable by the Board’s adoption even if they were mistakes?

Should a Memorandum of Understanding be reviewed and acted upon by the Board or is the Superintendent and/or his subordinate’s extended the authority by the School Board to act on them without Board approval?

I would like some background and guidance from Administration on Mr. Paulson’s question concerning health insurance benefits and the Health Care Savings Plan.

Finally, since our Board Chair and Clerk both signed the contract prior to the Board’s approval of same, I would like to know if that made the Board’s approval unnecessary.



Where I go to a very black place

Yesterday’s volunteer work at the Church will end up being two days. We had a small crew scraping and painting the sills of all the windows at ground level but I looked at the arched window facing Lewis street and saw that it was badly checked and flaking so I put up a ladder and tackled it. What I had thought might be a morning’s work kept me until 4pm despite getting cordial help with a second coat of primer from Mark Hennessy. All the white on the window frames will cause wonder when Church commences this morning. It looks like I’ll have a good week of weather ahead to pick a new day to cover it with brown paint like the rest of the windows. While we painted Mark told me about his family and an older brother my age who was killed two weeks after getting to Vietnam. That would have been my senior year in high school. He was born in April of 1950. I was born in December. If I had not enrolled in college I would have had a lottery ticket into the Army myself but by then America had sorted itself out into the college bound war evaders and the blue collar, like it or not, warriors. Maybe that’s why the pre-division military of WW II has always looked on it as “the Good War.” It was everybody’s war rich and poor alike, plus we won it with our Grant-like demand of unconditional surrender.

While I painted I recited the Presidents in order once. I did it before going to sleep two days ago. After committing Lincoln’s immediate predecessors to memory with the DeRose book I did the same to the smaller set of presidents after him up to William McKinley. That was pretty easy because it was a two/three combination. After Rutherford B Hayes, there was a one-two punch, Garfield famous for his assassination if little else and his Veep Chester Arthur a crook who tried to set a good Presidential example. That was followed by a threesome of two presidents. Cleveland, Harrison, Cleveland.

I spent Thursday or Friday afternoon reading about all these presidents in Wikipedia to get the details of their presidencies in brief. I also roamed the Amazon site for book reviews on the bios of these and other politicians of the Era. The Democrat Cleveland was in his first term as President when my Republican Grandfather George Robb was born. That family history helped anchor him in my mind with the four year cadence of Presidential elections. The year Grandfather turned one the Republican Ben Harrison got a term in the Oval Office. This got me to Cleveland again followed by a date I’ve known since high school. 1896 was the year of William Jennings Bryan’s run against McKinley followed by yet another date that has stuck with me since a Constitutional Law class in college. 1897 was the year that the Supreme Court ruled that “Separate but Equal” was constitutional. Fifty-one years later as I was heading to school the Court pretty well killed Plessy vs. Fergusson with the Brown ruling. Plessy had been right up there with Chief Justice Tawny’s Dred Scot and maybe Robert’s gutting of the 1965 Voting Right’s Act. After all we aren’t racist’s anymore. (I’m just saying that to bait my Buddy. Then again maybe I’m not.)

I did update my reading list on my old website by adding the book about Lincoln’s other five presidents. While I was looking at it I noticed that I’d stopped writing thumbnail descriptions of the books about six years ago so I added them in. I also discovered that I read Orwell’s Animal Farm in 2005 the year before I got wrapped up in fighting the Red Plan. I don’t remember rereading it but the timing was fitting.

My Buddy sent me a quick three emails in response to my posting his last email. I haven’t read them yet. Not sure I’ll respond but I may simply put them on the blog without a rebuttal. Least I can do for fairness’ sake.

I did have one debate with myself about my reply. I used the word “conviction” when talking about my sense that there is some DWB going on in Duluth. One of my Buddy’s replies refers to my not knowing the meaning of the word conviction although I’m won’t be sure what his whole comment will be until I open it. We often fence over definitions. The word “tendentious” was one of our first such debates. It occurred to me that the word “suspicion” might have been more appropriate. My Buddy is quite right. I have no evidence to back up my suspicion. I do have a good reason, however, to call it a conviction although it has yet to be proved.

It has been demonstrated that hard, some would call it oppressive, police work can tamp down crime. Rudy Giuliani’s police came out in big numbers and routinely stopped black young men in some tough neighborhoods. Crime there went down noticeably and was linked to the constant police presence. It works. So in Duluth we have some tough higher crime neighborhoods and it makes sense that our police would spend more time there than Lakeview or Piedmont Heights. It also just happens that these tougher neighborhoods have a higher African American population. If more cars are pulled over where more police are and there are more black drivers in those parts of town. Well, you can see where I’m going with this.

We also have a drug problem and those drugs come reliably from bigger city drug networks. Those networks on the ground are run by a larger share of inner city entrepreneurs and predictably those are more likely to be black than they would be if the networks operated out of small rural communities. Our cops know that and being vigilant they would be strongly inclined to stop a car with an out of date licence or a broken turn signal if it had out of state plates or a new unfamiliar face. If that face suggested a likelihood that it might have come from some inner city well….. Again you can see where I’m going with this.

This has been the predicament for blacks in America since they were first brought over as indentured servants just like white Europeans. Only slavery turned out to be a lot easier. Slavery had been tried on Indians but they could escape into the forest and blend in with non slave indians. Blacks could always be seen as foreign to North America and if you found one living with the Indians you could pretty well guess that he had escaped. Think of black skin and African facial features as like being a brand on a cow. Or just think of it as designating a cow no matter who claimed ownership. Although slavery is no longer part of the equation the brand still is evident.

I was going to write an new Octoroon post a while back. The first of them prompted my most recent spat with my Buddy.

Here’s where I was going with it. That word was lifted from New Orleans slave life. Octo in this case refers to 1/8th of a person’s ancestry and this specifically was used for people who were descended from 7 white and 1 African great grandparents. By the time you have mixed in a seven to one genetic blending the African is a pretty minimal 12.5 percent. But in slave society it was enough to consider a person a Negro. Hell, most Europeans and Asians have 2 or 3 percent Neanderthal genes. (Africans who stayed on the continent never got contaminated with them.)

The otherwise all white child who had one octoroon as a grandparent would be down to 1.5 percent African ancestry. And yet in the Antebellum South there was the charming “One drop” rule. If you had a single black slave ancestor you were considered black. By that measure all Europeans are Neanderthals.

This prejudice against African features has not died and it has had a riot of interrelated consequences. Talented African Americans are suspected of being talented because of the white “blood” in their systems. African Americans have for years been shamed into hating their African-ness and impelled to couple with more European looking blacks. Nazi Germany with his junior high school quality Fuehrer decided that the one drop rule made sense when they began hunting down Jews to send to the Concentration camps to purify the German race.

One possible outcome of a black/white mixing is the ability for “passing” into the white community. An only slightly African looking child might move to a new place where without proof he or she could pass as white. For parents who wanted to spare their children the grief they endured finding a white mate made sense. For white parents the reverse was true. Having a child connected with a black mate was unthinkable for most of our history. I asked my Dad once back in my college days if he would mind my marrying a black woman. When he told me he hoped I wouldn’t I asked why. He told me he would grieve for the treatment he expected they would get.

They are still getting that grief. One way its inflicted is called a DWB. “Driving while Black.” That’s why for a hundred years the biggest black owned business in the US was skin bleaching. Maybe it would work in Duluth.

My Buddy’s indicts me

My Buddy writes:

On Sat, Oct 18, 2014 at 9:29 AM, [your Buddy] wrote:



If I ever attend to writing such a book it might free me from the compulsion to rise to my Buddy’s every put down when I post something about the crappy experiences of black Americans.

Meaning what? That I deny that black Americans have had and have crappy experiences? You do seem to suffer from a compulsion, which involves indulging in irrationality and bullshit. As I have said to you:

My complaints against you are “puny, blind and foolish”? My complaints against you are limited and precise, such as when you accused Duluth police officers of committing DWB, instead of simply and accurately saying that someone told you that he had repeatedly been the victim of DWB. Your such failure was utterly irresponsible, particularly considering that you are a member of the local school board and that you publish a blog. You fucked up. Have you met with Chief Ramsay? Have you acknowledged that you fucked up? I suspect that your fuckup marred your reputation with Chief Ramsay, and maybe with Mayor Ness and Duluth police officers. If your such fuckup wasn’t attributable to race hustling; to what was it attributable?

[your Buddy]

My Reply:

Perhaps Buddy, it was connected to my conviction that most people act differently when dealing with blacks than they do with whites. If this difference ended up being harmless it would be no big deal. Judging by the plight of such large percentages of blacks three hundred years after they were shanghaied into slavery it has been a big deal. Judging further by the much better situation for the descendants of other once discriminated against light skinned people who came long after blacks this plight is very much skin color related.

If Chief Ramsay can’t take my publicly expressed conviction that black drivers are more likely to be pulled over in Duluth traffic stops than whites and that this is in large part a result of their darker skin color then I’m quite happy for him know that one public official in our town does believe that this is probably true.

I only claim to speak honestly Buddy, not to speak the truth. If I’m proven wrong by the Chief then I’m quite willing to suffer the consequences. You’ve alerted the Chief about my conviction. I’ll be happy to hear from him if he can demonstrate that my conviction is unfounded.


I also sent my Buddy a PS that was unrelated to this dialogue

Jane the Virgin

I heard a good review of this new television series on PBS and found some subsequent raves on the Internet. So Claudia and I watched the first episode by live streaming it on Hulu. Evidently you can watch it here.

It was charming and Jane is a Virgin just like her Grandma told her to be. She is also pregnant.

I can only hope subsequent episodes are as funny as the first one. If so it will rate up there with Doc Martin and Australia’s original version of the Rake for me. I wouldn’t recommend the latter to just anyone as it is pretty bawdy. Like Doc Martin I’d have no trouble recommending Jane to anyone.

Its inspiration comes from the Latin American Soap Operas called telenovelas. This will be one souped up soap. You can watch the first one online and then catch them on the CW channel on Mondays after that.

Jane won’t get an abortion. Good for her. That would end all the fun.