New Orleans: Where It’s At & Where it Could Be—10 Years On.

NOLA & Gulf Coast Favorites
NOLA & Gulf Coast Favorites

The city of New Orleans was established by the French, in 1718. 45 years later, the Spanish had taken over the city, and the rest of the Louisiana Territory (by way of the Treaty of Fontainebleau). And then, 40 years after that, the Spanish allied themselves with France, and returned the Territory to the French, allowing Napoleon to sell the reacquired land to the United States (1803); and for about .04¢ an acre, President Jefferson scored the city that would become one of America’s greatest cultural icons.

202 years, and many tropical depressions, hurricanes and other weather related events, later, the Crescent City was pummeled by Katrina. Since official record keeping began, Hurricane Katrina (to include floodwaters from Lake Pontchartrain via the compromised levees) has been the most destructive storm to hit the Gulf Coast. The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was responsible for more lives lost, and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was more intense, but in sheer devastation of land, buildings, economic loss, and displacement of people, Katrina stands alone.

It should be noted that while Hurricane Katrina was ultimately responsible for producing the weather conditions that caused the levees to fail, the failure of those levees is seen by many as a man-made disaster that exacerbated the naturally occurring disaster that was a storm of epic proportion.

The word “unbelievable” is one that I almost never use, mainly because it’s not applicable. In the aftermath of Katrina, however, I seem to find the word “unbelievable” most apropos when describing the failures of the local, state, and federal, government response. Considering the technology that was available, the wealth of resources our nation (and our allies) had to offer, advanced logistical capabilities, and the extending of hands from tens of thousands of people, one would think that the situations that occurred in the Superdome, with policing issues, foreign aid, FEMA, and displaced citizens, would have been avoidable, but alas, they weren’t. From President Bush lying about “[nobody] anticipat[ing] the “breach of the levees” to Mayor Nagin failing to order a mandatory evacuation of the city, the dereliction of duty was seemingly in every public office; from NOLA’s Central Business District to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, the entire post-hurricane SNAFU was, and still is, UNBELIEVABLE!

But let us not dwell on the past, too much. Instead, let’s think about where NOLA is and where it could be. 10 years is, relatively speaking, a long time in a young person’s life. Most children born in 2005 will be going into the 4th or 5th grade this fall. They are more than 1/3 of the way through their K-12 education. While those who were in 1st or 2nd grade will likely be Juniors or Seniors in high school. And, in New Orleans, that means charter schools, for the most part.

New Orleans Public School system is now (since the 2004-05 school year) an amalgamation of “regular” public schools (operated by Orleans Public School Board (OPSB)) and public charters (managed by the Recovery School Board (RSB) or the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)). As of the 2013-14 school year, a total of 44 Boards of Education were operating 87 schools in New Orleans; 30 of those schools were operating as Independent Charter Schools and are overseen by the (BESE). As The Cowen Institute-Tulane University points out in their annual report, this number of boards, each with its own policies and procedures, does not lend itself to equitable opportunities or equal treatment of students. Nor does it make good sense fiscally.

The students of these schools are not vastly different from students in other large metropolitan school districts, with a couple of exceptions—they are dealing with the traumatic effects of at least one life altering event (for many students, the number is higher) and they are guinea pigs for a post-Katrina education governance system. They have their struggles and successes in and out of the classroom and they are engaged in social media, sports, and music, as well as debate, chess, and theatre. But they also have a district with 92% of students attending charter schools (which have varied track records, just like public schools, but with less stability) and are more likely to have undergone severe stress due to Katrina and the events that occurred in their everyday lives, after the waters receded.

For the past 10 years, New Orleans’ citizens have been trying to get back to some semblance of “normal”. To say its been a tough road would be akin to saying, getting hit in the face with a tire iron might sting a bit. These kid’s lives have been turned upside down, sideways, and inside out; and the adults have experienced just as much chaos but with even more responsibilities i.e. stressors. Events like those that were brought on by Katrina and the ensuing failure of the levees and multiple government entities are enough to make the strongest people break.

Sadly, that wasn’t the only trouble the Gulf Coast would experience in a relatively short time frame. Adding a financial meltdown that started in late 2007, and turned into the Great Recession, heaps trouble on top of difficulty. The impact was, according to some economists, less severe in a Gulf Coast that was just starting to recover. However, with billions of dollars of aid being pumped into specific sectors for rebuilding, outside groups bringing in manpower and putting money into a few areas in the regional economy, and many citizens still not back home, it may mask the true impact of the recession on the locals. Either way, it definitely had an effect on the local industries which had to, post 2005, repair or replace physical facilities (and boats), hire and train new employees, deal with insurance companies and government personnel, and do it all while trying to manage the stress brought on by the initial act and compounded by the secondary and tertiary issues that followed. Then, as if a National Recession wasn’t bad enough, B.P. had to bring international pain to the Gulf.

The 2010 oil spill (TransOcean/BP) that killed 11 rig workers, lasted 87 days (and then some), and pumped about 5 million barrels of oil into the lifeblood of two major industries (fishing and tourism), was the blow that could have sealed the fate of the great cultural entity that is NOLA. And truthfully, New Orleans, and the greater Gulf Coast region, affected by: 1) government malfeasance; 2) the Army Corps of Engineers; and 3) Katrina; have struggled to make it back; many have likely been hanging on by a very thin thread. But don’t “misunderestimate” them; they will not give up, they will not quit.

And this includes the young people. THEY ARE TOUGH! Mentally, Emotionally, and Physically; much tougher than any child should have to be. But that is the hand they were dealt, and they are, All In. The future of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is secure, if not quite certain of where It will be in 50 years. The policies that are implemented, and the people crafting those policies, will play an important role in determining what that future looks like.

A lot of policies have been implemented in the post-Katrina era. Many have not had adequate time to be judged, others are failing to one degree or another, and some have had success, if limited. And this is good. If no new policies had been tried, it would have been a sign that the people were giving up. So long as the political affairs continue, imperfect though they may be, the community will survive and eventually, if not quite yet, thrive.

Three major catastrophes in five years would be too much for many cities. But yet, there it is, NOLA! The City that Care Forgot. The people who brought us so much of what is central to many of our everyday lives. Who Dat think they gonna wreck The Big Easy. Resilience, Tenacity, and Fortitude, are key characteristics of a 26.3er; so too are they abundant elements throughout Southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. They endured decades of the “Aints“, the loss of the Jazz (now in Utah, that’s still weird), and gators the size of an AMC Pacer. They don’t scare easy and they’re in it for the long haul.

So when people would say, in the months and years proceeding late August of 2005: “why should ‘we’ rebuild a city that sits below sea level?”, I’d reply, “Because in addition to Mardi Gras, Sazeracs, and Southern Hospitality, NOLA has provided us with 3 iconic pieces of what it means to be ‘American’ (regardless of whether or not you enjoy any of the three): Jazz music, Creole cooking, and Truman Capote. To not rebuild New Orleans would be like the Polish not rebuilding Warsaw; or Japan not rebuilding Tokyo; and our nation, on 26 August 1814, saying, “eh, it’s just our Capital, let’s not worry about it”. Without New Orleans, America would be just another superpower with a bunch of Nukes, a wealth of world-class cheese and beer, and a long list of World Champions who never played a team from beyond our shores (and Toronto’s Jays and Raptors rosters are largely staffed by guys from the country that lies just South of Canada) .

So here we are, 10 years later. New Orleans and Coastal Louisiana, as well as parts of Mississippi’s and Alabama’s Gulf Coast are still rebuilding, still renewing, still rehabbing—lives, physical structures, and the many interconnected pieces of the larger Gulf Coast community. It is hard to imagine what life was like for the residents of this region over the past 10 years. But we know it was hard for all and exceedingly difficult for a good many. And we also know they are coming back, one step at a time. So if you have the means, and you’re not opposed to having “Too Much Fun“, head on down to The Crescent City and Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler.

Here are a few additional links to some music, articles, and information relating to New Orleans and this story.

Rebirth Brass Band: Move Your Body-The Funky Biscuit

Hot 8 Brass Band: Sexual Healing

The Atlantic: The Big Comeback     By: Derek Thompson

Los Angeles Times: Recalling Days of Despair in the Superdome    By: Kim Murphy

The New Orleans Advocate: 10 Years Later 

Preservation Hall Brass Band: Iko Iko

Terence Blanchard: Levees—–From: A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina).

Kermit Ruffins: Drop Me Off In New Orleans

The Animals: House of the Rising Sun

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts—–A Spike Lee Documentary about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the entire hot mess of government disfunction.

Treme: HBO Series – Produced by David Simon & Eric Overmyer—-Great series that gives one a taste of New Orleans amazing music scene and what life was like in New Orleans after Katrina.













The Great Minnesota Get-Together—a.k.a. The Greatest Fair on Planet Earth!

Updated: June 2018     Links to State/County Fairs in all 50 States

The Minnesota State Fair is, by all accounts, one of the great Fairs worldwide. With an average attendance of nearly 2 million visitors, it ranks near the top for major expositions in North America and beyond. The spectrum of entertainment and attractions ranges from top-flight musical groups to hundreds of different varieties of flora and fauna (including the amazing renderings of crop art), food in jars, on plates, in bowls, and of course, on sticks. There are games & rides, specialty events/days that highlight various sectors of the State’s economy & heritage, and booths that provide insights on: gardening, art, installing a hot tub, brewing beer, wind power, Spam (a national treasure), and so much more. The fair has something for everyone.

The famous Grumpy Cat.

Fairs are an important piece of what is known as Americana. Our state, regional, and county fairs, help remind us whence we came—as a society, a country, a rural-agrarian community that placed a high degree of importance on tradition; not simply for the sake of tradition, but because it provided a historical remembrance of how things were done, in the name of survival. And furthermore, it provided the learning that was needed for succeeding generations to improve on the way things had been done traditionally, giving rise to the advances that brought us hitherto.

Chicken-in-a-Waffle-Cone and Blue Cheese and Corn Fritz

These extravaganzas celebrate all things agricultural; and while every state has one or two products they are known for: (dairy in Wisconsin and New York, wheat in Kansas & North Dakota, swine in Iowa & North Carolina, rye in Georgia & Oklahoma, turkeys in Arkansas & Minnesota, grapes in California & Washington, beef in TexasNebraska, etc., etc.) it is common to see hundreds of different plant and animal varietals at the larger fairs. Agriculture is, of course, every fair’s raison d’être, but these gatherings have often attracted the ladies and gentlemen who are pedaling their wares, ideas, and technological advances that are going to “change the world“, and sometimes do. 2018 attractions include: green energy exhibits; water efficiency, sanitation/filtration, and sustainable management practices; and in Minnesota, the Eco experience.

Jars and Jars of preserved goodies.
Minnesota's finest Maple Syrup specimens
Minnesota’s finest Maple Syrup specimens

Minnesota’s state fair is not the oldest (started in 1859), that Blue Ribbon belongs to New York’s State Fair (1841), nor does it have the largest total attendance (Texas claims that title, however, the Texas shindig runs nearly two weeks longer), but Minnesota does have the largest average daily attendance. “So [its] got that going for [it], which is nice“. Furthermore, the MN State fair has Ye Old Mill, a non-vomit inducing ride that, in 2015, celebrated 100 years of floating Young, Old, and In-between, through the Tunnel of Love.

A short list of more amazing attractions at the Great Minnesota Get-Together includes: The Miracle of Birth Center; a cornucopia of free music and dance offerings; Food—a panoply of fried, non-fried, frozen, and, fluids (beer & wine & milk) for quenching one’s heat & salt induced thirst; Coliseum shows featuring horses, cattle, and dogs; the Northwoods Lumberjack show (drawing Lumberjacks from ArcataFlagstaffLadysmith, Nacogdoches, and Muskegon; the Agriculture/Horticulture building with everything from crop art to craft beer (and maybe the best ice cream in Minnesota (Sonny’s and Pumphouse are in this conversation as well)); Creative activities and animal competitions show off the best needlework, baked & canned goods, poultry, steers, sheep, landscape construction and much more original handiwork (K-12 & Visual Arts) and livestock showmanship (4-H & FFA); and the Midway rides and games (because no carnival is complete without vomit inducing rides and jumbo-sized stuffed-animals.

Somewhere at the Fair: post rain storm, pre-repacked street
Somewhere along Dan Patch Ave

America’s State Fairs are an iconic symbol of our country’s agrarian past, present, and future. Our agricultural landscape has changed immensely in the past 239 years. Technology has allowed for the massive scaling up of farm operations and therefore the massive decline in the number of families engaged in farming. This mechanization was also undertaken in the processing/manufacturing of food. As the size of farms increased, so too did the size of the corporations buying the farmers’ wares. It is basic economic theory in action.

Crop art featuring the McNeely Conservatory in Como Park
Crop art featuring the McNeely Conservatory in Como Park

Economies of scale allow for more efficient use of manpower, physical space & machines, and capital. This production model has been the major contributor to the dwindling number of artisan producers. However, with the resurgence of restaurateurs, small grocers, and school districts, across the nation, increasingly working with local small and medium size family farms, the artisanal method of handcrafting in small batches is returning. Add to this trend, the growing numbers of millennials who are taking interest in where their food comes from and how it is made and we can see the beginnings of a movement that will in some ways bring us full circle.

The Fair is a chance to interact with the members of our larger community whom we don’t see on a regular basis. Those families who engage in the practice of animal husbandry, horticulture, and agriculture, as well as the artists, vendors, politicians, and performers, who make our lives better by perfecting their craft and rewarding us with the products of their labor.

Get out to your State Fair, wherever you live; and if you want to take a trip to the Greatest Fair on Planet Earth, the airport code is MSP and Southwest just might have a deal.

Minnesota State Fair
Bovine Love

A few more State/County Fair sites to check out

   Maryland                  South Dakota          Pennsylvania (Allentown Fair)

New Mexico                    Missouri                        Kentucky

      Ohio                          Mississippi                       Oregon

South Carolina           Bangor,Maine                    Arizona

    Florida                         Montana                          Illinois

Tennessee (Valley)           Utah                         New Hampshire

 Rhode Island                Wyoming                        Vermont

  Colorado                      Louisiana                      Connecticut

  Alabama                  Massachusetts                   Michigan

West Virginia        Idaho East & West                  Indiana

   Hawaii                         Alaska                            New Jersey 

  Virginia                     Delaware                             Nevada

Rugged Individualism: It’s Not Really So Real

There is a myth that persists in our society, a myth that the rugged individual (RI)(read: male, usually White, tough, rough, “self-made man“, does it “his way”; think – John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Indiana Jones, Donald Trump, George W. Bush, and the Marlboro Man) is the one who gets things done and makes our country the military, economic, and “moral” superpower it is. He explores new places or ideas, fights the “good fight”, goes his own way & finds success, and usually saves the day—in one way or another. He is the reason, some believe, that America is great. He is also the role model for those who wish to remake America in his image (that is to say, without government policies that intervene in social or economic affairs—for the most part). They say that this RI personality trait lies within the social fabric of American society, it’s part of “our” DNA. The only problem with this kind of thinking, is that it’s leaving out 95% of the story, and anyone who is not of the male gender. Rugged individualism isn’t really real.

The other 95% of the story tells of how these tough guys were often raised by families that cared about their physical, mental, and likely spiritual, well being. Additionally, they were raised in communities (be it rural, urban, or the netherworld that lies between) where neighbors helped neighbors, believing in the notion that the whole is greater than any individual part. Without this solid foundation upon which they were raised (that the well-being of the local polity and its constituents take precedent over any one individual), it is doubtful that the more interesting 5% of their story would ever occur.

It should also be pointed out that rugged individualism, the American type, is not exclusively practiced by the male species nor dominated by the descendants of European Americans; men & women of all ethnicities have practiced some form or another of this character trait ever since our continent was first inhabited by Native Peoples more than 10,000 years ago.

Whether the communities that raise these RIs chose to act in a collective manner because of the biblical teachings they heard on Sunday’s, or because they knew that their community was stronger if every person was healthy, educated (in whatever professions were important to the continued existence of their inhabitants) and engaged in furthering the group’s well being, they worked together for the common good. This fraternal style of living arrangement does not preclude any RI from performing heroic acts, or spending long, lonely, hours developing a plan/model for a new venture; but at the end of the day, the solo acts are only one small part of the lived experience of every individual’s greater existence. The ongoing support from friends, family, neighbors, teachers, community, et al. is far more important in any success achieved by “The Great One”, and in the telling of the full story. And this is where some of Americas’ Great Divides have their beginnings.

The real history of our great country is not one of solo actors daring to be great, but rather communal actors being supported in their not truly individual endeavors. While the period of the Columbian Exchange and beyond was filled with the efforts of many capable sailors and crew, we only know the names of the ships’ Captains; they are given all the credit for traversing the oceans and seas.  Similarly, those brave souls who took their wagons Westward are only remembered by their family, or towns for which they are a namesake (the Donner Party exempted), yet the first Governor of each state is prominently displayed on public schools and other buildings/parks/etc. Civil War buffs remember that General George Pickett showed extreme bravery when he led his men into certain slaughter on day 3 at Gettysburg, but those thousands of men who followed Pickett, Pettigrew, and Trimble, also showed extreme bravery by marching into an open field— knowing the Union Army waited 3/4 of a mile ahead. Certainly, we cannot hope to remember the names of every person who has aided in every successful venture, but neither should we fail to recognize the importance of all those hands that helped to make events possible.

On the one side, the pro RI side, we have people arguing that individuals, not the government, are responsible for taking care of themselves. Whether “care” entails work, medical needs, 2nd amendment rights, education, or basic needs (food, shelter, safety), they argue that individuals should bear the burden of providing for themselves. These folks are more prone to argue for policies that decrease: government oversight generally, business & banking regulations, and taxes.

The other extreme is the far left-end of a socialist-style system (which is very different from a liberal progressive form of gov’t.). Governance of this sort provides many, if not all, of the necessities that people need to survive, though not necessarily thrive; from free or subsidized food and shelter, to healthcare, education, and employment. This extreme doesn’t find much support in the U.S. Neither of these systems, as is, are particularly useful in a modern economy, but they both offer ideas that could, through skillful compromise and some tweaking, be used for the greater good. Compromise, however, according to Cadillac (ads by Publicis Worldwide) and Elbert Hubbard, is for weak men. I would disagree with this premise, as would any wise politician hoping to gain passage of a controversial piece of legislation.

In between the far left and the far right are a wide variety of political ideologies, belief systems, and traditions that dictate, to some extent, regional and personal mores, values, and norms. While it is likely that we (our collective society) agree on far more than we disagree on, some “choose” (aided by various forms of media) to focus on those issues that divide us. The divisive list includes: Roe -v- Wade, 2nd Amendment, proper role of government(s), social insurance & social welfare programs, military spending, role of Christianity in schools/society/gov’t, immigration, minimum wage and the wealth gap (ideal and actual), social justice, and marriage equality. This seems like a big list of very important issues, and it is. But it’s not bigger than the list of items that we accomplish every day.

Work (paid and unpaid), caring for family, keeping up our homes, preparing meals, supporting others (mentally, physically, emotionally), taking care of the self, remembering to be nice to people (because one never knows what another is going through), volunteering, and learning, are accomplishments that many people successfully conquer, daily. So why do we insist on arguing about topics that are not of great enough import to get a majority of us to the polls on election day? (I believe they are important enough, but our national voting record tells me I am in the minority).

Part of the problem stems from our lack of understanding each other. We interact with and live amongst people, with whom we share commonalities. This serves to reinforce our beliefs and polarize those who dare to think differently. When we are continually told that our beliefs are right/correct/valid, and we hear the vitriol directed at those with other ideas, it’s natural to assume that “those people” have it wrong. But what if they don’t? Or, what if they do but don’t know it, because no one is willing to engage in civil conversations to understand another perspective. Or, what if the truth lies somewhere in the middle (like the suburbs)? And what about the RIs who claim that all sides have it wrong and that we should rebel against all government action and fend for ourselves (while surrounded by 500 friends and family members, a whole crew of RIs)?

This calls for conversations. Real conversations, one-to-one, face-to-face, “a” to “b”, you get the picture. These conversations take time, and courage, and sometimes cold beer(s). But this is the best way to learn about our differences, our fellow citizens, our brother and sisters, our countrymen/women and those with whom we share so much yet know so little about. Urban and rural people need to connect and learn why each feels the way they do about gun control and gun rights; it’s not as simple as one might think. Republicans and Democrats could learn a lot from talking to each other about the employment, economic, and moral dilemmas that come with income inequality and the pro’s and con’s of unions. Children of privilege could gain new insights into the power of words by talking with Ta’Nehisi Coates. And those Americans in positions of power and/or with greater wealth could speak with folks in middle and lower socio-economic communities and “get in touch” with what it’s like to not be wealthy; possibly giving them pause before spouting off about the minimum wage being one of the Democrats’ lame ideas .

Policies that promote individual risk and reward (such as deregulation of the banking and business sectors or tax cuts that do more for those at the top than those at the bottom) over the needs of the greater society are responsible, by and large, for many of our current economic issues. When more of the wealth (which is finite) is concentrated in the pockets of fewer individuals, it serves to depress an economy. The concept is not complex; if you have less money, you will spend what you have in order to survive and support anyone that depends on you. If you have more money (a lot more), you will invest it, or stash it offshore, or play other sorts of games to keep from paying taxes. Money that is hidden is not helping our economy; money that is spent in local businesses, whether on french fries, fuel, or fixtures for the kitchen, is contributing to the supply and demand cycle that economies rely on.

We have come to this point in our nation’s history (vast economic inequity) in part by crediting individuals with making America what it is today rather than talking about nation-building as an effort undertaken by all of us: enslaved Africans & African Americans; construction, industrial, & agricultural workers; miners; lumberjacks; fishermen/women; teachers; engineers; volunteers; men & women of the Armed Forces; bakers & brewers; salespeople, I.T. professionals, athletes, public servants, thespians & artists of all types, and all the other Americans and immigrants who have taken part in building our country, should be recognized for their substantial efforts in making America the country it is. By placing the elite on a pedestal, we have given them carte blanche to do as they please in all matters financially, legally, and politically; and they have done what is in their best interest, made money for themselves and their friends and left everyone else standing on the far side of the moat.

I don’t begrudge anybody from trying to make money. Money is not the issue; the issue lies in the mindset that those who are the most successful have achieved their goals through nothing more than their own hard work, tenacity, and sheer brilliance, choosing to ignore all the people that have played a role in them reaching their zenith (which tends to lead to less sharing of that created wealth).

While individuals accomplish goals everyday: open businesses, graduate from college, get promoted, win a wrestling tournament, write a book, etc., etc.,;  they don’t do it without the support of their extended family/community. Be it financial, mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual, they are supported by many people from the various contacts they have made. Additionally, they are encouraged/motivated by loved ones; AND, the Local, State, and/or Federal government(s) provided services (e.g. infrastructure, emergency services/first responders, disaster relief, education, possibly tax breaks, grants & loans, and much much more) that allowed them to focus on achieving their goal.

Rugged individualism is not a myth, but neither is it the whole story. Some people have the innate ability to rise up and conquer whatever is thrown at them. This doesn’t happen through DNA alone, it is a skill that is first learned, then honed, and eventually ready to be used. It only exists because s/he had the opportunity to learn and the time to hone, and finally, the access to a place where using it offers the potential of reaping great rewards.

Leif Erikson—Rugged Viking type, got by with a lot of help from his friends
Leif Erikson—Rugged Viking type, got by with a lot of help from his friends

If you’re interested in exploring the political relationship between public and private actors and how policy actions shape societies, read Deborah Stone’s Policy Paradox. This book lays out some of the major issues that policy makers have to deal with when considering new policies and the communities they affect.

A few political cartoons about rugged individualism: AlaskaMedia production; RI

2016 Presidential Politicking—& The Donald’s All in (sort of, but not really, it’s complicated):

President Obama's 1st Inauguration, 20 Jan. 2009—it was COLD!
President Obama’s 1st Inauguration, 20 Jan. 2009—it was COLD!

The 2016 Presidential race has officially started! With Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, and Donald (Hashtag) Trump (amongst a host of others), tossing their hats in the ring, we are now starting the run-up to the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, seven months away. Because there are so many candidates, especially in the Republican ring, and due to the fact that it is confusing to stay up-to-speed on which (major) candidates are pushing which policies, and pushing back on others, I have prepared a 2016 PRESIDENTIAL PRIMER, which will be updated after DJT (who knew he would still be around come June 2016) and others drop out of the race…

(this is presumptuous of me, I know, but Trump’s track record speaks for itself, and he hasn’t given us any reason to think he’ll start acting “Presidential” in the next 16 months. Moreover, he’s Donald Trump, we’ve seen this circus before. Donald is not really a complicated man (but he tries to give that appearance), he’s a business man, he understands how to make money; he does not, I would argue, understand American politics very well and that is why he is unlikely to remain in the race for more than 3-6 months, if that. He’s made his splash, he’ll create some controversy, remind people that he’s still here, probably roll out some new t.v. show, business idea, or announce he’s going to be a music producer (one never knows), and then sit back and have his accountants count those Benjamins that his little scheme netted the Trump Organization (I’m now (June 2016) wondering if this has been an attempt to get his casinos a new infusion of cash)).

This initial post will focus primarily on domestic policy issues, as many candidates are still educating themselves on foreign policies. (Candidates’ stances are taken from their campaign websites and/or PBS online. Also, the issues below are not meant as an exhaustive list; rather, they are a sampling of how the candidates view specific policies and how liberal, conservative, or moderate each candidate is on each issue.)

First the Democrats, because the list is shorter and “D” comes before “R” in the alphabet.

Lincoln Chafee (former Governor-Rhode Island, former Mayor of Warwick, RI, and captain of the wrestling team at Brown University-senior season): Chafee’s campaign is focused on four main priorities. He wants to: 1) keep America out of “foreign entanglements”, using “brains…not biceps” to bring about peaceful solutions to international affairs; 2) support the middle class through “incentives and protections” and ensure those Americans in need of assistance, have access to fully funded social programs; 3) act as a steward of the environment while considering the needs of our energy infrastructure, and finding a balance between the two; 4) safeguard personal privacy protections relating to the individual liberties as outlined by our Constitution, guarantee citizens’ rights to privacy, and make certain our country is secure; 5) supports the federal govt’s role in “setting or organizing education standards”; 6) initially voted for the Patriot Act but is now against it; 7) create a path to citizenship for immigrants and provide them with in-state tuition rates, if they meet requirements; 8) make possession of small amounts of marijuana a non-criminal offense; 9) continue with the ACA and work towards a universal style healthcare system; 10) pro-choice and supportive of same-sex marriage; and 11) reform taxes by ending deductions, lowering rates, and placing limits on the estate tax.

Hillary Clinton (website-Spanish & English) (former Sec. of State, former U.S. Senator-New York, Presidential campaign (2008), 1st Lady-U.S. & Arkansas, and Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees fan): Clinton kicked off her campaign in 2000, when she ran for, and won, the Junior Senator slot in New York. Since then, she has been padding her resume: (1.5) terms as U.S. Senator, one unsuccessful Presidential bid, four years as Secretary of State, and a lot of time preparing for 2016. Clinton supports a long list of policy actions (too numerous to enumerate every one, so I’ll list 11 that capture a wide swath of her campaign literature), to include: 1) paid leave and child care that is high quality and affordable; 2) immigration reform that creates pathways to citizenship; 3) reforming the criminal justice system; 4) a minimum wage increase & 5) tax relief for America’s working families; 6) protecting the right to organize; 7) making college affordable; 8) clean energy; 9) fixing the Voting Rights Act; 10) keeping the ACA and Social Security intact; and 11) campaign finance reform, to name a few. Marijuana legalization is one issue where she hasn’t made up her mind, yet.

Martin O’Malley (website-Spanish & English) (former Governor-Maryland, former Mayor of Baltimore, and still singing & playing the banjo, in O’Malley’s March): O’Malley’s “Vision for the Future” includes 12 themes. Briefly, they are: 1) increasing the federal minimum wage to an hourly rate of $15 and “restoring workers’ collective bargaining power”; 2) provide greater oversight/regulation to big banks & Wall Street, and reinstate Glass-Steagall; 3) affordable child-care and pre-k and debt-free college and modernization of our high schools; 4) investments, nation-wide, in infrastructure & mass transit, and “affordable housing near good jobs and good schools”; 5) support of women and families—leave policies (post child-birth), equality of pay and “safe and affordable child care”; 6) invest in public education, local community initiatives and “critical programs” e.g. earned income tax credit, to cut poverty in half, within 10 years; 7) creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and passing the DREAM Act; 8) expanding benefits for senior citizens; 9) clean renewable energy tied to job creation; 10) enforcement of anti-trust laws and making trade deals that benefit America’s workers; 11) modernization of voting registration, restoration of the Voting Rights Act, removal of voter I.D. laws, and “embracing citizen-funded elections”; and 12) a Federal Government that is transparent, accountable, and high-performing. Additionally, O’Malley is pro-choice, would abolish capital punishment, expand the ACA and move to an “all payer” system, and increase gun control to include fingerprinting individuals wishing to purchase a handgun.

Bernie Sanders (website-Spanish & English) (running on the Democratic ticket but is an Independent and self-described socialist) (current U.S. Senator-Vermont, former U.S. Congressman-Vermont , former Mayor of Burlington, VT, and former organizer for SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee)): Sanders keeps his list of issues, on his campaign site, fairly short, but he is extremely passionate about these topics: 1) The continued difficulties of America’s shrinking middle-class due to wage and wealth inequalities—and he will address the effects of these inequalities on citizens who are not in the middle and upper economic strata in the “rigged economic system”; 2) the removal of “Big Money” from politics generally and campaigns more specifically; 3) the effects of climate change on our planet, now and in the future, and the need for increased investment in wind and solar power, wants to charge corporations for carbon emissions. Also, Sanders supports: 4) 2 years free tuition at State colleges and the ability to refinance student loans at a lower rate; 5) allowing states to set waiting periods for handgun sales and a ban on assault style rifles; 6) changing the ACA to a single-payer health system; and 7) creating a path to citizenship and allowing some groups of undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. ( e.g. children brought as minors—akin to the DREAM Act)

Potential Democratic Candidate:

Jim Webb (former U.S. Senator-Virginia, former Assistant Sec. of Defense, former Sec. of the Navy, and U.S. Marine (not former, because “Once a Marine, always a Marine“)

And the Republicans:

Jeb Bush (website-Spanish & English) ( Former Governor-Florida and fluent in Spanish): Bush is still developing his talking points, but PBS did get him to talk about several topics that will likely play roles in the forthcoming debates. 1) On education, he believes the Common Core is a good program but is opposed to forcing states to institute the standards. 2) On guns, he would expand gun owners’ rights (the article did not mention what exactly this means and I don’t want to guess). 3) On immigration, he would create a “legal status, not a path to citizenship”. 4) He is for each state making its own decision concerning the legalization of marijuana. 5) The Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare), under his watch, would be replaced by a “‘market-oriented’ alternative”. 6) On social issues, “ban most abortions after 20 weeks” and  believes in 1 man-1 woman, for marriage.

Dr. Ben Carson (website-Spanish & English) (former Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery-Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, recipient of Spingarn Medal (2006) and Presidential Medal of Freedom (2008) and holds 67 Honorary Doctorate Degrees): Dr. Carson lays out plans for 10 areas, 7½* are domestic related (*Gitmo – Naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba) qualifies as ½ because if it closes, the remaining 116 detainees could be transferred to the U.S. (domestic policy) for detention and/or trial, but that’s a BIG if). 1) He believes in local control for public schools and would overturn Common Core; 2) fiscal responsibility through passage of a Constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget; 3) Health Savings Accounts would help “re-establish a strong and direct relationship between patients and their physicians”; 4) Carson would like to “keep faith in our society”. He is advocating for all religions to have the right to express their beliefs in public, without fear of government intervention (his site does not state if this idea relates to prayer in schools, 10 commandments statues in front of courthouses, or other religious displays); 5) Pro-Life; 6) Pro 2nd Amendment; 7) On taxes, he touts reform aimed at shortening, simplifying, and eliminating the loopholes; and 7½) “Keep Gitmo Open”.

Ted Cruz (current U.S. Senator-Texas, born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and, might be the only “Texan” (in quotes because this calls into question who he really is) who hates avocados)): Cruz is a Harvard trained lawyer, believes very strongly in preserving the Constitution, and: 1) He is pro-life and believes in “traditional” marriage but allows that states should individually decide the marriage question; 2) does not support the Affordable Care Act but, 3) he does support school choice, in the form of allowing Title 1 funds to be used in public or private schools, he is for local control of schools and against the Common Core; 4) authored legislation to prevent “taxpayer dollars [from] subsidizing corporate fat cats”; 5) would cut the corporate tax rate to 15%; 6) against allowing current undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S.; 7) anti-net neutrality and wouldn’t tax access to the internet; and 8) likes the flat tax and thinks with an easier tax system, the IRS would be unnecessary.

Carly Fiorina (ran for U.S. Senate-California, 2010, lost to Barbara Boxer (D) in general election, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard): Fiorina believes: 1) that climate change is not a myth and humans are responsible, but the government doesn’t have the ability to do much to control it; 2) education standards should apply nationwide but local control should remain in place; 3) in protecting the 2nd amendment and that assault weapons should not be banned; 4) the ACA should be repealed and replaced with more competition in the insurance marketplace; 5) Congress should pass the DREAM Act and other immigrants should not be granted a “direct path” to citizenship; 6) Roe -v- Wade should be overturned and marriage consists of a male-female union—civil unions are ok for same-sex partnerships; and 7) the tax code should be less confusing and the gas tax should not be raised.

Lindsey Graham (current U.S. Senator-South Carolina, former U.S. Congressman-S.C., former South Carolina Legislator, U.S. Air Force-Retired, and has supposedly never sent an email): The Senator is a vociferous advocate of “Security” for “Our Nation, Our Future, Our Values”. Here is where Graham stands on some of the issues: 1) he acknowledges that climate change is real, and man-made and he is in favor of limiting carbon emissions; 2) campaign finance laws need reform and Congress should be able to limit spending; 3) on education, he does not support Common Core standards and would like to see more local and state control for school districts; 4) assault weapons and larger magazine clips should be easier for most people to access and he is against expanding background checks generally; 5) securing the border is the most important aspect of immigration reform and then he would work on a path to citizenship for some immigrants that are currently living in the U.S.; 6) He is against the ACA but enrolled in South Carolina’s exchange (which falls under the order of the ACA (he is a complicated man) and he is not the only anti-ACA Republican candidate to do so); 7) he is pro-life and believes marriage is between 1 man & 1 woman, but he also states that America should accept the Supreme Courts decision on gay marriage; and 8) he is not completely against raising taxes, as a means to balance the budget, and he likes the idea of a flat tax.

Mike Huckabee (former Governor & Lieutenant Governor-Arkansas, Presidential campaign (2008), and served as a Baptist pastor for 12 years): Huckabee is a staunch conservative and his faith guides his decision making processes. He takes the following positions: 1) energy independence, to include exploration of the Arctic and the Outer Continental Shelf, wind, and solar; 2) no new gun controls (“restrictions, registrations,regulations, & mandates”); 3) opposed to amnesty for immigrants and strong advocate of securing the border; 4) reform colleges & universities to control costs, and eliminate the Federal Dept. of Education and the Common Core, and return to local control of schools; 5) healthcare reform by way of getting rid of the ACA and providing Americans with “solutions and choices”; 6) protect Social Security and Medicare; 7)  proponent of the “fair tax“; 8) against same-sex marriage and abortion (though he makes an exception for abortion if the life of the mother is at risk); and 9) still not convinced that climate change is a big deal and not sure if humans play a role in it.

Bobby Jindal (current Governor-Louisiana, former U.S. Congressman-LA, named President of the University of Louisiana system at the age of 28, and Willie Robertson (Duck Dynasty) has endorsed Jindal): Jindal, the youngest major candidate, so far, promotes the following: 1) climate change is real and humans play some role though he’s not sure how big that role is; 2) dislikes Common Core standards, likes “school choice” and wants to decrease funding to State Colleges/Universities while promoting for-profit colleges; 3) gun access expansion; 4) border security, before any path to citizenship can be debated, and no “radical muslims” allowed to emigrate to the U.S., under his plan; 5) repeal and replace the ACA with a proposal that he helped author; 6) pro-life and still fighting against same-sex marriage; and 7) he believes eliminating state income taxes will create jobs, and local governments should be able to pick up the slack of a decreased state revenue stream.

George Pataki (former Governor-New York, former State Assembly Member-N.Y., former Mayor of Peekskill, N.Y., U.S. Delegate to the United Nations (2007), and he is a self-proclaimed environmentalist): Policy positions include: 1) allow the private market to take the lead on combatting climate change (Pataki is an environmental consultant); 2) give states control over public education and get rid of Common Core; 3) bans on some assault weapons, require trigger locks on new guns, and raise the legal purchase age to 21 (currently 18); 4) marijuana legalization should be a state-by-state basis; 5) favors the Patriot Act; 6) the ACA should be repealed and a new “market-based” health care law should be enacted (which is basically what the ACA is); and 7) rewrite the federal tax code and cut taxes.

Rand Paul (current U.S. Senator-Kentucky and he earned an M.D. from Duke University School of Medicine (who does he cheer for when Kentucky and Duke square off?)) Dr. Paul is a self-declared Libertarian (I think the vast majority of American citizens are pro-liberty but many Libertarians take this idea a bit further). Here are his ideas: 1) Do away with the Patriot Act and mass data collection of citizens private information; 2) Get rid of the Dept. of Education and the Transportation Security Administration (he would privatize the latter); 3) immigration reform with two caveats, increased border security and increased numbers of work visas for agricultural workers; 4) reform of the justice system, to include felon voting rights (for some, non-violent felons), and reclassification of drug offenses as misdemeanors; 5) pro-life but would leave Roe-v-Wade alone and “traditional” marriage supporter but doesn’t believe government should get involved in peoples’ personal lives; 6) a flat tax of no more than 17%; 7) and supports term limits on elected officials.

Rick Perry (former Governor & Lieutenant Governor-Texas, Presidential Campaign (2012), former member of the Texas House of Representatives, served in the U.S. Air Force, and he is an Eagle Scout): Perry’s introduction to Presidential campaigning was brief, in 2012. He’s hoping this go-around lasts a little longer. Here are his ideas: 1) Climate change is a natural occurrence and there is no proof that it is human made or permanent; 2) get rid of the Dept. of Education and Common Core; 3) proposed partial privatization of Social Security and/or raising the retirement age and lowering benefits for the wealthy; 4) secure the border then deal with immigration reform and allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, additionally, he is opposed to the DREAM Act; 5) repeal the ACA and let each state figure out healthcare on its own; 6) believes that cyber security needs to be upgraded and should be a priority for our government; 7) pro-life and opposed to same-sex marriage; 8) first time, non-violent, drug offenders should be offered rehabilitation, not criminalized; and 9) one flat tax for everybody, 20%

Marco Rubio (current U.S. Senator-Florida, former Speaker and Member-Florida House of Representatives, adjunct professor of political science at Florida International University, in Miami, FL): Rubio takes the following positions: 1) Climate change is happening but not because of human actions; 2) repeal the ACA and replace it with tax credits and less healthcare regulation; 3) opposes net neutrality; 4) reform immigration laws once the border is secure; 5) marriage is between a man and a woman but we should abide by the Supreme Court’s decision and he is pro-life; 6) simplify the tax code, reduce corporate taxes, and increase the child tax credit; 7) supporter of the 2nd Amendment; and 8) sponsor and co-author of the Student Right to Know Before You Go Actthe idea is that colleges would be required to tell students how much they would make, on average, all else equal, based on the degree they were pursuing when they entered as first year students (which would be great if it were only so simple…and we only needed engineers, healthcare specialists, and teachers)

Rick Santorum (former U.S. Senator-Pennsylvania, former U.S. Congressman-PA, Presidential campaign (2012), and he once represented the World Wrestling Federation in Court): Santorum would: 1) push an economic plan with a “flat and fair tax” (combination of cuts & simplification), ask for a very moderate minimum wage increase, and “end the IRS as we know it”; 2) increase border security and reduce immigration by 250,000 people annually; 3) continue his fight against same-sex marriage and against abortion; 4) return local education control to school districts and communities and get rid of the Common Core; 5) push for more drilling, oil & gas, and does not believe humans play any role in climate change; 6) repeal the ACA and replace it with a mix of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and tax credits and high risk pools for those who qualify; and 7) would “consider cutting cost-of-living increases” for current Social Security recipients.

Donald Trump (according to The Donald’s campaign site, he is “…the very definition of the American success story…”; if that story contained a real-estate tycoon as a father and business practices that are likened to that of a slumlord, then yes, that would qualify as “the very definition”, but I have trouble believing that the majority of people would accept his idea of an American success story. Beyond that, his political career is filled with possible campaigns that never materialized, stumping on behalf of other candidates, and twice being named the “Statesman of the Year” by the Sarasota, Florida, Republican Party (for what it’s worth)). Trump’s beliefs are no secret, ever, though his party loyalties change somewhat frequently, like the University of Oregon football team’s uniforms. Here is where he stands, currently: 1) climate change is a hoax that was created by the Chinese to gain a competitive advantage in manufacturing; 2) wind turbines (energy production) are bad environmentally and aesthetically (but no mention of how nice a fracking rig looks on the skyline, or the beauty achieved through removal of an Appalachian mountaintop); 3) Social Security and Medicare should be left alone (he “know[s] where to get the money from”. [and] Nobody else does.”); 4) pro 2nd Amendment but supports banning assault rifles and is ok with a longer waiting period; 5) against a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants but would give foreign college students legal status if they graduate from an American university, wants more European immigrants, but not immigrants from south of the U.S. border; 6) repeal and replace the ACA…with something akin to Canada’s system, aka, universal healthcare (not sure what to make of this); 7) pro-life and anti-same-sex marriage; and 8) would get rid of corporate taxes altogether and decrease the individual tax rate.

Potential Republican Candidates:

Chris Christie (current Governor-New Jersey, former District Attorney for the District of New Jersey, said he will announce on Tuesday, June 30th, and has attended more than 100 Bruce Springsteen concerts)

Scott Walker (current Governor-Wisconsin, former State Assembly member-WI, and counts the Koch Brothers as supporters)

John Kasich (current Governor-Ohio, former U.S. Congressman-Ohio, former Ohio State Senator, and he is not a fan of the Coen Brothers’ Academy Award winning Fargo)

Between here and Iowa, a lot can change. My next update (closer to Iowa’s caucuses) will focus on a smaller list of candidates and include domestic and foreign policy issues.

If you are interested in reading other blogs that focus on politics, foreign and domestic, Barry Casselman has a great site, and here is a list of others.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the National Mall (2010)
Thomas Jefferson Memorial on the National Mall (2010)

Eating to Live and Living to Eat

Ham ‘n’ havarti between pumpkin waffles with butternut squash soup and 3 bean mélange


Food, next to oxygen and hydrogen, is the human races’ most important survival need. A great deal of attention is paid to the foods we eat, the foods we try not to eat, the policies that dictate food production, safety standards, and labeling requirements, and the differing agricultural practices used by small family farms, medium size production sites, and large agribusiness facilities. We count calories and fat and protein and fiber, or we don’t; and we often think about eating healthier—and sometimes we do. But at the end of the day, we eat to sustain our existence; and, if we’re lucky, the foods we enjoy not only provide us with the necessary nutrients to preserve life, but also bring us joy through the flavors, colors, and aromas, that envelop each culinary delight.

One of the more recent trends in the food world (really taking off in the past five years) is the return to local sourcing, specifically with farms that engage in organic and sustainable practices. Restaurants featuring regional fare, school districts working with local producers, and increasing numbers of farmers markets, are all proof that people are 1) demanding food and beverage options that originate in their state or region, 2) are produced on farms that use sustainable and organic or biodynamic practices, and 3) are not just talking the environmental (social entrepreneur) talk, but walking the conservationist/land steward walk.

Amongst grocers, Whole Foods has been at the forefront of this movement. They were the first major grocery chain to be certified organic (2003) and they have been promoting natural and sustainable farming practices since they opened in 1980. They implemented an animal welfare rating system to provide consumers with background information about where Whole Foods sources meat and seafood and how the animals were raised/treated.

The grocer’s most recent policy change comes in the form of a rating system for produce and flowers. NPR produced a piece about this on Morning Edition (12 June 2015). Some organic farmers are upset because they don’t agree with the way Whole Foods is grading their farming practices. These farmers believe that being certified organic is in and of itself a very useful, and adequate, measure of how a farm is operating.

Whole Foods, however, didn’t incorporate the new system as another means of showing off their commitment to organic farming practices; rather, this initiative is intended to highlight those operators (organic & conventional) that are being good stewards of the land. Practices that are not included in organic certification, such as “water conservation, energy use in agriculture, farm worker welfare, [and] waste management” are extremely important to the long-term health of rural eco-systems and the people who work the land (Charles, 2015). This appears, from an outsiders perspective (namely mine), to be aimed at conserving our resources, rather than simply ensuring no pesticides were used. Both ideas, organic production and growing in an eco-friendly responsible manner, should be the goal of anyone interested in sustainability.

The issue of conservation and land stewardship is directly related to the interconnected ideas of eating to live & living to eat. When we choose to buy food and drink that is grown and produced locally, using practices that support the welfare of the land and the farmers, we are choosing to invest in our future and our health (and the health of those we cook for). Furthermore, we have to eat, physiologically speaking; so why not support the local/regional economy when possible. And, as an added bonus, we get to indulge in the amazing flavors that are found in the grains (local craft beer), fruits, and vegetables, that don’t require additives and preservatives to stabilize them for their extended shelf life.

Eating to live comes from necessity. Living to eat comes from those food experiences that we didn’t know were possible—until we savored just picked sweet corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes from the garden, or blueberries plucked from a bush. Support your local farmers, brewers et al., and purveyors of all things connected to your extended neighborhood.

Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!
Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!




Recharging Stations:

Modernity has ushered in the age of “Being On”. This new sense of being ever-present (without actually being physically present) has created a society that is losing touch with serenity and what it means to truly relax. Some say it’s inevitable, that we do what we need to do in order to keep up with expectations, whether real or perceived. Others seem to believe that “work-life integration” is the new trend and that we should strive to incorporate individual responsibility into our daily lives (read: “exercise, nutrition, downtime, family/friends” (Battelle, 2015)); which may work great for entrepreneurs or anyone who is not expected to show-up to the job site, but leaves out the vast majority of the workforce. I don’t believe it’s inevitable; nor should we have to integrate work and life in order to maximize the productivity of each. Finding balance between what we do to sustain ourselves/families financially and what we do to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, should be a top priority. If you love your job, your co-workers, your daily commute, you may require less balancing time, but you still need to recharge your inner-peace and heart, lungs, and muscle fibers.

Krista Tippet’s show, On Being, recently featured (4 June 2015) a discussion entitled “The Art of Stillness”. During her interview with Pico Iyer, a journalist and writer who has studied the idea of tranquility of the mind and body, they talked about recharging stations. This probably brings to mind a charging dock for your electronic devices, at home, or an airport, or work. Pico, however, likes to think about recharging the body and the mind, which has an electrical current of its own. The body’s grid can’t be recharged through traditional chargers plugged into a wall, but it can be revitalized by being present, in the moment. This kind of presence (mindfulness) is very different from being present in the digital world (degrees of mindlessness, multi-tasking, and information overload, the three not being necessarily mutually exclusive).

Presence; nothing more, nothing less.
Presence; nothing more, nothing less.

The scales that display balance between work and life, or school and life, have tipped heavily in favor of work/school. There are many thoughts as to why and how this change happened, all relevant to some extent. But more important is the issue of how to address it. We can’t just say, “f*#k it, I’m going to spend less time engaged in my livelihood,” and we can’t add hours to the day. What we can do is prioritize what’s important. Placing “self-recharging” high on the list is the best way to ensure that one engages in this activity regularly.

Mindfulness, as demonstrated by Jack.
Mindfulness, as demonstrated by Jack.


Multi-tasking: not mindful.
Multi-tasking: not mindful.

Taking time to unwind, relax, chill, whatever you want to call it, is healthy for the mind, the soul, and the body. “Unplug” from everything and find your own recharging station. Read a newspaper or a book, an actual ink & paper book, not on a screen. Savor a great cup of coffee or tea early in the morning, while listening to the birds and watching the world awaken. Find a time and place that lets you step away from all that is happening and just be. We probably won’t achieve nirvana, not in this lifetime anyway, but the simple act of existing, and nothing more, on occasion, will help make life more manageable, more enjoyable, and more serene.


The State of Education

We often hear people say that “the schools are broken” or the system has failed, or some other negative comment which is usually meant to cast aspersions on those schools having the most difficult time turning out “high achieving” students. Districts with classrooms bursting at the seams, dilapidated buildings in need of an extreme makeover that would baffle Ty Pennington, and a budget that had to cut all of the arts & music programs, are examples of the most visible needs at these schools. Add to that list a full-time nurse being cut to part-time (because we all know that students only get sick or injured on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday mornings), and sports programs and other extracurriculars that are bare-boned and funded through private donations, athletic fees, and whatever money the district hasn’t spent on the basics. Several of the schools that fit this mold have been featured in books by Jonathan Kozol and others.

Conversely, we occasionally hear that people are very happy with the school district their child attends. Their school has a high graduation rate, most students score ‘proficient’ or above on standardized tests, and they experience no shortage of funds for the band, the football team, and the swimming & diving squad. The high schools in these districts often make Newsweek’s list of “Best High Schools” and they are just as good, if not better, than many of the private schools in their area.

The truth is, both of these scenarios are examples of some of our nation’s school districts. But many more districts fall somewhere in-between, and are not often featured in magazines or books. They serve a wide variety of students who come from a wide variety of cultures/backgrounds and fall all along the socio-economic spectrum. These districts produce world-class scientists, authors, athletes, civic and business leaders. They also see students who are unable to complete the K-12 system, some of whom become homeless and highly mobile, and other students who have difficulty functioning in society. This is what our typical school district looks like. It is not one extreme or the other, rather somewhere in between and always hopeful that with the next new program, they can alleviate some ill that is preventing their school from making the “Best” list.  Our educational system is not, on the whole, broken. But neither is it in prime condition. Major systemic overhauls are needed.

Many districts are in need of fixes in one or two or seventeen areas. Those fixes, the majority of the time, require funding. This does not always imply new funding; some cases require money to be shifted from a program that isn’t working to a new program that has exhibited promise elsewhere. But more often, it does require additional expenditures. This, financing, is often the area where policy matters get hung up (whether it’s education policy or anything else).

As we’ve recently witnessed in Maryland and Minnesota, deciding which programs are funded, and how the state decides to spend its tax revenues, is highly controversial. Governor Hogan (R-MD) made the choices that he, and some of his constituents, believe to be right. While other Maryland citizens, especially those engaged in the profession of educating children, disagree. Not every district in Maryland is in dire need of additional funding, but there are districts that could benefit greatly from extra funds.

Sometimes funding is necessary to upgrade infrastructure or some other tangible feature. But more often, funds are required to provide those things that are not as easy to put a price on. Professional development is one area that schools can choose to cut back on, if they are experiencing a budget shortfall. This may seem like a fairly inconsequential cut but imagine the auto mechanic who is asked to work on new cars, using new technology, and never receiving any instruction about the new automobile features or how the technology works. Providing ongoing professional development is the best way to keep teachers up to speed with the ever-changing world, which means their students will have the opportunity to keep pace with their peers in surrounding districts.

Another area that is often overlooked, until it’s out of control, is class size. Somewhere in the history of education, a consensus was developed about how many students should constitute a typical class size . It is pretty standard for 20-25 students to be in a class, in the typical elementary classroom, and a few more in the typical middle school and high school class. This has worked fairly well for many students—not all. The problem is not the average class-size in the typical school. The problem is when budgets are cut and class-sizes explode, and teachers are told that they have to deal with it, just like any other professional would. The problem is two-fold; many teachers will do what they have to do to make it work, which means they’re putting in more hours outside of school while making the same wage. Meanwhile the students, the BIG losers here, get less attention, fewer questions answered, and more competition for the same amount of resources. And if we look at which schools have the most overcrowded classrooms, we find the majority of them to be in inner-cities.

Which brings me to the issue that many people in education circles don’t talk about. An overcrowded classroom in the inner-city of Minneapolis, or Baltimore, or Los Angeles, or any other large American city is very different from an overcrowded classroom anywhere else. Inner-city schools, on average, have more students growing up in adverse conditions, than schools in suburban and rural areas (and for clarification, urban does not always equate to inner-city but all inner-city schools are within urban locales). Children growing up in inner-cities are more likely to experience poverty and violence (Thompson, 2014) and this makes learning more difficult, especially in overcrowded classrooms.

If we want to make one major policy change that will have the greatest effect on closing the achievement gap (something that I’ll get into more in another post), reducing class sizes in inner-city schools would be that change; in my opinion, and a host of others (Chingos & Whitehurst, 2011). It’s true that reducing class sizes from 20+ to 10-12, or 35+ to 15-18, would cost a lot of money. But if we think about the amount of money we are currently spending on those former students who didn’t get a quality education (not for lack of valiant attempts by the teachers) we can’t afford to not make the investment.

Class size reduction is not necessary for every student to be successful; but if we are truly interested in providing every student with the opportunity to achieve the “American Dream” (assuming it can still be achieved by the average Joe or Jane), then we owe the students that are growing up under the most difficult circumstances access to more tools so that they might achieve results similar to those outcomes the more advantaged students are attaining.

The state of education is not all bad. Millions of great people wake up everyday and set out to change the world by inspiring young minds. They don’t do it for the money or the fame (shocking, I know), they do it because they care about their students. By providing these teachers and schools with the resources they need to perform their jobs at the highest level, we can make our economy more stable and our society more equitable. Both of which are relatively important for a nation’s long-term viability.

Take time to stop and notice what’s not directly in front of you, like wild flowers.
Education is not only a human endeavor.


About 26.3 & Beyond

26.3 & Beyond is not a blog/site that is dedicated to those marathoners that choose to go an extra tenth of a mile. Neither is it related to mistrials in a court of law. 26.3 & Beyond is in reference to the lived experiences of people everywhere.

Regardless of the type of work one is engaged in, it is likely that on occasion you find yourself going that extra mile. The day’s work was completed, or so you thought; but no, one more task requires your attention. And for some, it is simply an anomaly, a break in the routine. Yet, for others, working overtime, or two or three or more jobs, is part of their routine. When they hit that 26.2 marker, 3/4 of the way through their typical day, 26.3 represents the start of the next leg of their daily grind.

Working and going to school; working outside the home and acting as caregiver and homemaker inside the home; working, working, and working, until the day is done; these are the realities of the 26.3ers. We don’t get a medal for finishing each day—but we do get the opportunity to have another go at the world, tomorrow. Ever hopeful, 26.3 is a reminder that while life may not be perfect, not just as we planned it, we can greet each new dawn with the belief that “today” might be the day that something extraordinary happens. 

The reality, as Nelson Mandela once said, is that “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” And so on we go, one day after the next, one foot in front of the other. Living for the small victories, the reasons to celebrate with family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers on occasion. 26.3 is a number that symbolizes strengthresiliencetenacity/grit, and optimismextreme optimism. So, “When the going gets tough“, and life is hard, don’t hang your head and blubber. Remember, you are part of a crew, a very large, and sometimes motley, crew. Not all full-time members, some seasonal, some part-time, but members just the same. We’re all in this together.

26.3 & Beyond will provide weekly updates (I’m using the terms “weekly” and “updates”, loosely) on topics that affect our daily lives. My intention is to provide insights into the policy issues that are in the national spotlight as well as some that are specific to locales in the 50 states. Additionally, there will be posts when a need for policy action or reform goes unheard; something that is in obvious need of a fix and yet it is not receiving the attention it deserves. If it affects the common man/woman/child, it will likely be covered here.

Faidley's - Best Crab Cakes on Planet Earth: Lexington Market-Baltimore
Faidley’s – Best Crab Cakes on Planet Earth: Lexington Market-Baltimore

This blog will expound on a wide range of subjects and expand the conversation on existing information with personal narratives, peer-reviewed literature, historical insights, empirical analysis, art, music, graphs, experts from around the globe, and a non-sequitur or two for good measure. A sampling of the subjects that will be covered are: education (pre-K to life-long learners), food & drink, health  & wellness (physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional), politics & governance & the role of government, conservation & the environment, economics (both traditional & behavioral), relationships, all facets of the arts, Civil/Women’s/LGBTQ rights, social justice, and ethnicity & the idea of race

What, you may be asking yourself, is the connection between 26.3 and the topics I’ve listed (in addition to numerous other topics)? Well, EVERYTHING. Everything that happens in our life, or doesn’t happen, is affected by policy; and policy is at the heart of almost everything that happens in our world. Policy, in its most basic form, is an idea about how something is to be done. At the lower end of policy procedure we would find things like, rules stating that the six year old who just hit the baseball off the tee must run to first base before advancing to second base. In the corporate world, food service for example, policies relating to hairnets being worn by any person having hair on their head or face would be another type of policy; a bit more serious than the chosen journey around the base path. At the top of the policy food-chain, we find the laws and regulations et al. that are debated, voted on, and subsequently implemented, if passed, or kicked back and re-configured before repeating the cycle (Presidential executive actions being the main exception to this procedure). Or, they are killed off if they don’t fall within the parameters of what is possible, politically, in a given congressional session.

So again, you ask, what’s the connection? Because we are all affected by policies of all shape, size, and color, we should know more about what they do, what they don’t do, what they could do, and what happens if they suddenly cease to exist. Moreover, in the big picture, you don’t know, what you don’t know. So by providing information about policies, potential policies, and ideas that, well, for lack of a better term, suck, you can make more informed choices about which candidate gets your vote, which way you’ll vote on a measure or proposition, and, should you choose not to vote, tell people exactly why you made that choice (though I highly encourage everyone to vote, early, but not often).

26.3ers are busy; and time is indeed our most precious commodity. So if you are interested in learning more about the who, what, and why of the rules/laws/policies that guide your life, spend 10-15 minutes a week here and get caught up on the low-down. In addition to all of the more serious stuff, I’ll include links to goings-on in various locations , eateries-breweries-wineries-distilleries, music ( and other art happenings, and matters of historical significance.


Thanks for reading.


Found the place Shel Silverstein was talking about; it's in St. Paul, MN.
Found the place Shel Silverstein was talking about; it’s in St. Paul, MN.



Continue reading About 26.3 & Beyond

WordPress Resources at SiteGround

WordPress is an award-winning web software, used by millions of webmasters worldwide for building their website or blog. SiteGround is proud to host this particular WordPress installation and provide users with multiple resources to facilitate the management of their WP websites:

Expert WordPress Hosting

SiteGround provides superior WordPress hosting focused on speed, security and customer service. We take care of WordPress sites security with unique server-level customizations, WP auto-updates, and daily backups. We make them faster by regularly upgrading our hardware, offering free CDN with Railgun and developing our SuperCacher that speeds sites up to 100 times! And last but not least, we provide real WordPress help 24/7! Learn more about SiteGround WordPress hosting

WordPress tutorial and knowledgebase articles

WordPress is considered an easy to work with software. Yet, if you are a beginner you might need some help, or you might be looking for tweaks that do not come naturally even to more advanced users. SiteGround WordPress tutorial includes installation and theme change instructions, management of WordPress plugins, manual upgrade and backup creation, and more. If you are looking for a more rare setup or modification, you may visit SiteGround Knowledgebase.

Free WordPress themes

SiteGround experts not only develop various solutions for WordPress sites, but also create unique designs that you could download for free. SiteGround WordPress themes are easy to customize for the particular use of the webmaster.