Category Archives: Society


People of color, poor people, women, students, and people with disabilities all face continuing efforts to disenfranchise them. This is not new. But the only way to ensure your right to vote is to vote. Otherwise, those without our collective interests at heart may take that right away, whether you are poor and dark-skinned and female or wealthy and white and male.

Collection of the American Folk Art Museum

Made by Jessie Telfair of Georgia in 1983, this beautiful quilt embodies our collective political voice. From the American Folk Art Museum,

This is one of several freedom quilts that Jessie Telfair made as a response to losing her job after she attempted to register to vote. It evokes the civil rights era through the powerful invocation of one word, “freedom,” formed from bold block letters along a horizontal axis. Mimicking the stripes of the American flag, it is unclear whether the use of red, white, and blue is ironic or patriotic, or both.

We have the right and duty in the US to vote, though there is no legal obligation. Consider the Suffragettes. Consider the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Consider that people continue to try to disenfranchise some of our citizens. The only way to ensure our rights is to vote.




Morals | Liberal vs Conservative

A look at moral decision making in a framework of “liberal” and “conservative.”

How I See It

right-way-wrong-way1Consider the following moral foundations that guide the decisions people make. How would you rank them in terms of their importance to you? Which one is top on your list? Which is least important to you?

Take your time. Order them from most to least in how important they are as guides to your moral decisions.

Care/Harm: This foundation is related to our ability to feel the pain of others and underlies the virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

Fairness/Cheating: This foundation underlies the ideas of justice, rights, proportionality, and independence.

Liberty/Oppression: This foundation relates our feelings toward those who dominate and restrict our liberty. Tension with authority can bring people together in attempts to remove the oppressor.

Loyalty/Betrayal: Evolved from our tribal history and the formation of coalition groups with others. Patriotism and sacrifice for our group are two ways this foundation is expressed.

Authority/Subversion: Related to the hierarchy…

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Gun Violence | The Costs Are Huge

How I See It

StopViolenceWe pay a high price in the U.S. for our lack of action to curb gun violence. It is inexcusable how little is done to combat the spread of weapons of carnage. Especially disturbing is how large percentages of the general population think smart measures should be taken, yet, political forces prevent it.

The price we pay is obvious when we see the stories of police violence toward citizens, shootings of police, murders, robberies, and senseless horrible mass killings. People are understandably fearful for their lives and those of their children and loved ones. Some segments of our society are in much greater danger than most. We must try to turn the tide against this.

Besides the emotional and societal costs, another price we all pay is in actual monetary cost. This isn’t reported as often. It doesn’t carry the visual impact of a shooting or senseless crime. Media wants…

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THIS is Iowa

by Melanie

Note: It’s time to remember what community is about, and the intricate, sometimes invisible ways we’re bound together. I wrote this four years ago after an evening at the North Liberty Barbecue and Blues Fest. 

Your vantage point may be different from mine. If you see Iowa from 30,000 feet, or perhaps whizzing through on I-80 at 70 mph, you don’t see what I see.

From my vantage point this evening, I saw feet. Settled into grass rough as a boar’s bristle hair brush, I ate my barbecued brisket sandwich and cole slaw, and I saw feet. Women’s feet, clad in rubber flip flops, towering high heels, strappy sandals, ballet flats. Stretched out in front of me, my own feet, the exception: clad in thick crew socks greyed from a laundry mishap, and a pair of athletic shoes.

Children, little boys with pale skin, pinked from the heat and sun. Many have blond or reddish hair — the northern European genes still run strong in this part of the state. Other little boys with their chocolate brown skin and tightly curled hair. Little girls, towheads with tank tops and tiny skirts, and dark-haired girls, dressed the same, all holding tightly to a parent’s hand.

I remember passages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book Little House in the Big Woods, where she so aptly describes the swirling skirts dancing at Grandmother Ingalls’ house, all from the viewpoint of a small child. I think of my view from the ground, how limited my scope is here, how little I see.

Looking up I see more, taller children, young adults, young families pushing their strollers. Varying colors and attire, still they seem much the same. The police officer stands out in his uniform, though. He sports a painted pirate patch over one eye and a curling mustache, lending unexpected panache to his appearance.

The next generation older, those of us in our 40s, 50s, 60s, we are more diverse. Men wear tank tops or polo shirts or Sturgis rally t-shirts. They have long hair and crew cuts, beards and smoothly shaved faces. Dew rags and straw hats and ball caps… If you think all Iowa men wear “farmer” caps, John Deere or Case caps, let me assure you it isn’t so. Half the men I saw tonight in their 60s look like old hippies, and the others looked like anyone’s neighbor.

THIS is Iowa. Iowa is not what you see from 30,000 feet, nor speeding by on our main highway. Iowa is not defined by our agriculture or our industry or even our presidential caucuses.

Iowa is our people and how we come together. We come together at the North Liberty BBQ and Blues Fest this evening, at the Kalona Fall Festival, at Hooverfest and the Iowa City Jazz Festival, and hundreds of festivals across the state, across the year. We come together at the farmers’ markets and the football games and community concerts, at churches and synagogues and the Mother Mosque of America. We grant each other a high degree of tolerance and respect.

We are not well represented by the fringe elements proposing a radical GOP platform. We are not well represented by the vile and reprehensible Steve King. We are purple, not red. We are well-educated and rational. We love jazz and blues. We have a long history of progressive civil rights laws, and we were one of the first states in the nation to welcome marriage equality.

What you see from a distance is not what I see. The view from afar does not show you our people, our faces, our children of many colors. The view from the ground is different, is real, and is the future. THIS is Iowa.

Don’t Ask

I’m not afraid of asking people about themselves. As an investment manager for many years, it was necessary to ask personal questions, to find out how people saw themselves and their families, their lives under different financial conditions. Often clients would apologize for talking about their worries for their grown children or for their health. They didn’t see those concerns as part of their financial picture, but I did.

At social gatherings Jim and I often find ourselves in conversation with those we don’t know, learning much about the others. People like to talk about themselves.

Except when they don’t.

Over time I’ve found that there are a few things you just shouldn’t ask someone. Things like
When is your baby due?
Aaaaah, fraught with peril. This is a question you should never ask a woman unless she has independently confirmed she is pregnant. A dear one of mine was asked this recently. She is not pregnant. She has put on weight because of an illness. The question left her feeling humiliated and humbled one more time by an illness that has robbed her of so much, including her physical self image.

One of the best, gentlest lessons in tact I ever had was when I was a couple of weeks from delivering my baby. A woman I hadn’t seen for a while saw me and smiled broadly. “What’s new?” she asked. I understood immediately that she didn’t want to assume that my distorted figure meant impending childbirth. Being a little overweight herself, she may have heard that question herself.

When are you going to start a family?
Another child-bearing question that is none of my business, nor yours, either. Sometimes this is asked by eager family members or friends, who want a woman to “join the club.” Sometimes it’s asked by complete strangers, as my niece related to me yesterday. People who want children but are struggling with fertility problems do not want to hear this. People who don’t want children do not want to hear this. People who might someday want children do not want to hear this. Leave it alone. I’m sure you’ll be the first to know when that precious bundle is expected.

What happened to (your marriage, your job, your plan to…)?
Depending on your relationship with the person asking, this might be a reasonable question. But when the neighbor down the street, with whom you have a nodding acquaintance, asks what caused your marriage to break up, the neighbor has stepped out of bounds. Don’t be the neighbor. It’s better to ask open-ended questions about the future rather than specific, painful questions about the past.

What church do you belong to?
Since at least the early 1800s, social discussion of religion and politics was considered rude. And for as long as religion has existed, religious differences have sometimes led to great tragedy. Leave religious discussions for very close family members, friends, or people within your faith community.

How could you let your (adult) child do that?
Um, “adult.” I don’t LET my adult child do anything. As an adult, that adult gets to make their own decisions.

How can you afford that?

Will you make me a quilt?
Probably not, but I am least likely to make quilts for people who ask for them.


Theological Anarchy

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution includes the clause we’ve come to think of as the separation of church and state. The intention was to ensure that the practice of religion would be free from government intervention, and limiting the power of the federal government to enact religiously-based laws.

Though the Bill of Rights was ratified more than two centuries ago, how the amendments are to be understood and enforced continually changes.

Challenges to the First Amendment have been in the news recently. There are two issues, in particular, at hand. One is the exemptions allowed religiously-based institutions from complying with government mandates. One is the passage of a state law, which would allow discrimination specifically when the discriminating party claims religious belief. Both have the potential consequence of theological anarchy.

In March 2016 the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning the Affordable Care Act and prerogatives of religiously-affiliated institutions to deny insurance coverage to employees for reproductive health care. These institutions include schools, hospitals, and orders of Catholic nuns. The organizations were already granted a legal accommodation, allowing them to file a two-page form with either the federal government or with their health insurance provider. The form would allow them to opt out of having reproductive health care coverage under their plans. In so doing, the reproductive care would be insured separately and at no cost to the employer.

The religious organizations object, complaining that filing a two-page form is a substantial burden, too much to ask. Though seven appeals courts disagree, the Eighth Circuit Court found for the plaintiffs. The fact that the appeals courts had a split decision is what sent the issue to the Supreme Court.

In other news, the Mississippi legislature passed a bill allowing private citizens, government employees, corporations, and other organizations to discriminate in a wide range of ways, if they claim they do so because of their religious beliefs. The legislation is still subject to resolution of differences between the House and Senate versions. According to the Washington Post,

Mississippi’s House Bill 1523 says, among other things, that public employees, businesses, and social workers cannot be punished for denying services based on the belief that marriage is strictly between a man and a woman. Same goes for people who act on the belief that “sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage” and that gender is determined at birth. It says the government can’t prevent businesses from firing a transgender employee, clerks from refusing to license a same-sex marriage, or adoption agencies from refusing to place a child with a couple who they believe may be having premarital sex.

It prevents the government from “discriminating” (through taxes, fines, withholding benefits, or other forms of retaliation) against a “person” (broadly defined as an individual, religious organization, association, corporation and other kinds of businesses) for acting on their religious convictions regarding sexuality and marriage. That includes employers, landlords and rental companies, adoption and foster care agencies, people and companies that provide marriage-related services (rental halls, photographers, florists, etc.).

The bill protects doctors who refuse to provide counseling, sex-reassignment surgery, fertility treatments and other services based on their religious convictions, and allows companies and schools to establish sex-specific policies regarding dress and bathroom use. It allows state employees to recuse themselves from licensing or overseeing a same-sex marriage, so long as they take “all necessary steps” to ensure that the marriage isn’t impeded or delayed as a result. And it gives foster and adoptive families license to “guide, raise or instruct” children as they see fit, a rule that Human Rights Campaign argues would make LGBT children vulnerable to being forced into “conversion therapy.”

Emphasis above added in bold by me. But read it again: “It prevents the government from “discriminating” (through taxes, fines, withholding benefits, or other forms of retaliation) against a “person” (broadly defined as an individual, religious organization, association, corporation and other kinds of businesses) for acting on their religious convictions regarding sexuality and marriage.” In essence, the bill says a person, broadly defined, can act however they want with regard to someone else’s sexuality or marriage, as long as that person claims it is due to their religious convictions.

Supposedly these two current issues are narrow, one about contraception and reproductive health care, and the other about sexuality and marriage. But why stop there? Why is SEX so special, that it gets special exemptions? If a person (or organization or corporation) can be exempt from following the law in these circumstances, why should they ever follow the law, any law they don’t like? Why can’t they claim their religious conviction prevents them from serving people of color? Or requires that they marry their daughters off at age 10? Or requires them to stop paying taxes? Or allows killing other people because they don’t like them? What is off limits here?

And what accurate test is there of religious conviction? Is it like the Monty Python test for witches? How can we tell who is acting out of conviction and who is just plain mean and ugly?

In other words, anyone could claim any moral or religious position and ignore standing law, not just relative to health care or insurance or marriage or sexuality, but on any issue. All the hypotheticals we saw in the Hobby Lobby case regarding insurance coverage of birth control or other reproductive care, blood transfusions, vaccinations, diabetic care for those who “eat too much,” etc., these don’t begin to scratch the surface. Anyone could claim exemption from any law, on the basis of their claimed religious or moral beliefs. Corporations will be able to rape the Earth with no constraints, claiming that “man is to have dominion over the Earth.”

There is NOTHING out of bounds.

Theocratic Anarchy: no rule of law except each person’s or organization’s own interpretation of what is allowed based on their beliefs.

The only upside? No legislators would be needed, as no law passed would ever have teeth again.

We’re Not Laughing Anymore

Imagine a bright, breezy day at the beginning of July. Jazz notes slid through the air like fingers across a keyboard. Music lovers relaxed in their lawn chairs or sprawled on blankets. Then the rumbling began, the sound of a small plane moving into view above the Old Capitol’s golden dome. Behind the plane a banner trailed, and as festival goers saw the banner, a chuckle arose from the crowd.

Johnson County, Iowa, is a Democratic bastion. As home to the University of Iowa, the surrounding community advocates for and votes for progressive principles. The jazz festival, held annually in downtown Iowa City and on the university campus, is just one aspect of the community’s support for the arts and inclusive values. Many of the festival attendees, perhaps most, would describe themselves as Democrats, liberals, or progressives.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 5.53.30 PM

The plane circled the area several times before disappearing, and we laughed. The banner trailing the airplane said, “IOWANS FOR TRUMP”. What a waste of money, Jim and I thought, useless to try to drum up fans in Iowa City.  And we assumed Trump’s campaign would disappear nearly as fast.

In August while visiting our son, we recounted the story to him. “It’s not funny, Mom,” he said. “Imagine if he were my commander in chief!” And yes, the idea of Trump’s candidacy became much less funny. Still, we thought it would end swiftly, mercifully, by Iowa’s caucus on February 1.

In the intervening months, Trump has proved himself to be a bigot, a misogynist, a serial liar, and a bully. From a psychological standpoint, likely he is a narcissist, too, though I’m not qualified to make that diagnosis. This week he failed to disavow the support of white supremacists. Later he claimed that his earpiece for the interview didn’t work well. However it worked well enough for him to say David Duke’s name. Clearly he heard that, and that he was being asked about Duke’s support.

The Washington Post wrote about Trump’s white supremacist connections: “The overtly racist stuff is supposed to be a political loser and radioactive to mainstream Republicans. What is not usual is that same cast of racist characters and organizations feeling at home and well represented at the very apotheosis of Republican Party politics, in the campaign of the prohibitive front-runner for the party’s presidential nomination.”

Whether or not Trump welcomes the attention from the nazi fringe, he has attracted it. That in itself shows what kind of person he is. And it shows the type of people willing to support him. Even if they themselves don’t hold to the fringe beliefs, they cheer on the man whose views invite them.

We are not laughing anymore, and have not for many months. Trump is a danger to our country. The only laughter I can manage is for John Oliver, with his recent take-down of Trump. It’s about 20 minutes, but worth your time.

Locate the Nearest Exit

Any of us who fly from time to time know the familiar flight attendants’ spiel. Besides the wise reminder to “adjust your own mask before helping others”, we are told to “find the exits closest to you, keeping in mind that your closest exit may be behind you.”

I comply. Not only do I find the exits, I also decide which will be easiest to reach, even if it isn’t the closest.

In 1980, a fire started in the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, killing 85 people. That disaster and others in the early 80’s taught me to find the exit on my hotel floor.

I’m not afraid. I have a better understanding of probability than the average Joe, due to numerous classes on it and a career in financial management. I know the probability of an airplane emergency or a hotel disaster is exceedingly low, and I run more risk every time I get in my car. But I look. After all, it only takes a moment to register this information.

The probability of being a victim in a mass shooting also is exceedingly low. (The current rate of occurrence, however, is many times greater than the airplane disaster or the hotel fire.) However, up until now I’ve considered this type of violence to be either TARGETED (not at me) or RANDOM (low probability). Now it feels like the potential for it is everywhere.

In 1991, before we moved to Iowa, a mass shooter at the University of Iowa killed four faculty members and a student, and seriously injured another, before killing himself. Since the shooting I studied at UI and taught there. On Valentine’s Day of 2008, a mass shooter at Northern Illinois University killed five people and wounded 21 more, before killing himself. Two of my college degrees are from NIU and I taught there, also. The murders were in a classroom I’d frequently used. There is no way to kid myself that mass shootings can’t happen where I am. The potential for it is everywhere.

Last night before I fell asleep, I conceded that the wise move is to locate the exits, in every public place I visit. Jim and I planned to attend the annual “Thieves’ Market” at the university union this morning. Mentally I located the exits of the rooms used for the market’s vendors.

Today while we spoke with a photographer selling his wares, the building fire alarm began to blare. The photographer was reluctant to leave his booth. I pointed down the aisle. “Your nearest exit is about 100 yards that way. When you need to leave it will be easy to get out.” Jim and I headed out the door.

Public health risks are addressed in every realm but firearms. Automobiles, yard darts, hotels and airplanes, sudafed, all are highly regulated to improve public health and safety. The one thing intended to kill us is not.

I am not afraid. I am sad and ashamed that we accept the violence, that it has become so commonplace, and that my only defense is to locate the nearest exit.



We fight over how to achieve peace. We kill in the name of preserving life. We shove and kick each other to reach the last item on a shelf, an item we intend to give with love. We draw farther and farther apart, deeper into darkness. The greatest irony is that, generally, we share the same basic wants. We all want safety, nutrition, love, opportunity. But our perspective on how to achieve those seems to be separating.

Jim and I have a friend whose vision has deteriorated over the last few years. The images he saw fractured and multiplied, making it more difficult to tell what was real. It had gotten to the point that he couldn’t drive safely. Were the red cars ahead of him actually two red cars, or just double vision of one? Our friend needed new glasses to reintegrate the images, so he could see what was real.

We are used to the idea of “shalom” meaning “peace.” Another interpretation of “shalom” is “wholeness.” From wikipedia,

Shalom, in the liturgy and in the transcendent message of the Christian scriptures, means more than a state of mind, of being or of affairs. Derived from the Hebrew root shalam – meaning to be safe or complete, and by implication, to be friendly or to reciprocate. Shalom, as term and message, seems to encapsulate a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual, within societal relations, and for the whole world.

Shalom is peace, wholeness, integration. We need new glasses to see what is real, that we are one whole. When we give in to hate, whether to refugees from another country or to those who oppose them, we give in to darkness. There is no “other.” We are connected. We are one.

Shalom. Peace. Wholeness. Love.

My Private Meeting

I had a ‘private meeting’ with President Obama. About 25 of us were invited to meet him when he visited the U of IA for a speech in 2012. We were asked to line up along the wall at the far end of the room where our meeting was to take place. 

Twenty minutes before his speech, he entered the room and stood in front of a blue curtain backdrop. The first person in our group walked toward him. For each of us in turn, the President reached out his hand, said hello, and asked our name. I said I was very happy to meet him and work for his re-election. He thanked me. I was thrilled with his ‘endorsement’ of my efforts.

We turned with arms around each other. The photographer took a flash picture. I left the room. The next person followed in this efficiently organized set of ‘private meetings’.

My ‘private meeting’ took all of 30 seconds. The President had no idea who I was. Based on what I have read and learned, Kim Davis of KY had the same kind of brief arranged experience with Pope Francis. He had no idea who she was. Their ‘private meeting’ was arranged to get political mileage for a cause according to these Esquire and NY Times stories, among others.

She claims to have received a rosary gift. So did everyone else. I have a picture with the President as proof of my meeting. If I had a political cause to promote, this evidence could easily be used to show the President’s interest in me and my cause. I think that is what the supporters of Davis are doing. It is wrong to use the Pope and his influence that way.

That is my opinion.