We should not just accept deaths like these

Twenty years ago, when the death of 2-year-old Shelby Duis outraged Iowans, I was confident the Spirit Lake tragedy would soon bring change to our state.

I probably was naive.

In 2016, when Natalie Finn, 16, was found near death in a middle-class neighborhood in West Des Moines, I was confident that tragedy would bring change to our state.

I probably was naive. Again.

In 2017, when Sabrina Ray, 16, was found dead in her home in Perry, I was convinced the time for change was imminent.

I probably was naive. Once again.

So little has come from the deaths of these three children to prevent similar tragedies in the future. That is a tragedy itself, because state officials appear more focused on the optics, rather than the reality, of dealing with these entirely avoidable deaths.

Iowa should look at another Vision Iowa

There was a milestone of note recently, and it is a shame there was not a big public celebration.

Twenty years ago, Gov. Tom Vilsack and the Iowa Legislature had the foresight to create a program that has brought important changes to communities large and small across Iowa.

The program was called Vision Iowa – and it certainly provided that.

We benefit from these doses of inspiration

I’m sure we all have been inspired at one time or another by a gifted speaker.

Maybe it was a pastor or teacher. Maybe it was a leader who is a skilled orator. Or it might have been someone else who connected with us and delivered a memorable message.

In the past few weeks, a couple of speakers have done that for me.

Everyone has tasks we don’t like

Not that you asked, but the list of things I dislike goes well beyond liver and onions, “Rocky Mountain Oysters,” drivers who tailgate, and people who chew with their mouths open.

Until this year, the list did not include people who refuse to wear masks.

But with coronavirus moving through hospitals, care centers, bars and restaurants, sports teams, large gatherings and schools, the anti-maskers now have a spot on my list.

It’s time to streamline top-heavy universities

Even before coronavirus hit American colleges and universities, even before their budgets imploded because of the pandemic, questions were being asked nationally about how these institutions spend their money.

Some high-profile decisions by University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld have put the focus on this issue in our state. The issue further crystalized last week when a list of administrative staff at Iowa State University landed in my mailbox.

At its essence, this issue is the growth of the number of administrators, compared with the number of academic staff.

Threats won’t end people’s virus anxieties

Give an extra tug on your seatbelt. The next couple of months will be rough ones.

The new school year starts in a few weeks. Not surprisingly, with the coronavirus still sickening and killing people in Iowa, what normally is a time of much excitement has become a time of great anxiety.

Our president has said expects students to be back in the classroom for in-person learning in every school in America. If schools do not comply, he has threatened to withhold their federal education aid.

Many could be honored who aren’t traitors

The sun was drooping close to the tree line as the day wound down in southern Pennsylvania eight years ago.

A retired U.S. Army officer, now a historian, led a group of business people from across the nation – I was one of them – onto the hallowed ground there in Gettysburg. The national cemetery was our final stop on an afternoon-long, on-the-scene lecture about the great Civil War battle and the leadership lessons it teaches.

We had walked the fields and high ground where Union and Confederate forces squared off 149 years earlier. There were places with names like Pickett’s Charge, Little Round Top and the Peach Orchard.

As the day drew to a close, we gathered where President Abraham Lincoln stood four months after the battle to dedicate the cemetery. A total of 3,512 Union soldiers rest there.

Why are we tinkering with voting laws?

There have not been a lot of bright spots since coronavirus began sickening Iowans.

So far, 685 people have died in our state from the virus, and another 26,000 have been infected. Unemployment in Iowa is in the double digits. We have already begun hearing of business owners throwing in the towel and closing permanently.

But one thing has gone phenomenally well during the pandemic, and that was the primary election on June 2.

Which leads to this question: Why did the Iowa Legislature decide last week to tinker with the election laws in the closing hours before adjourning for the year? The changes amount to little more than a solution in search of a problem.

Public needs to see for itself how police act

There’s a quiz today.

How would the tragic death of George Floyd have been perceived if the encounter occurred on a deserted side street in the middle of the night, rather than on a busy street in a business area in broad daylight?

How would our understanding of the events have been different if there were no citizens around to record the scene on their cell phones and the only descriptions were the ones police officers provided?

What if the only visual record was on the body cameras worn by the officers?

The cell phone video is uncomfortable to watch. But viewers around the world have been transported right there cub-side in Minneapolis as a police officer, with his hands in his pockets, calming sits with a knee across Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while the life is forced out of the 46-year-old man.

In Iowa, the answers to my questions are troubling, too, unfortunately.

The benefit that comes from perspective

The shackles could not hold us. The Evanses cast them aside last week and traveled to Bloomfield and Cedar Rapids to visit our parents.

There are few social distancing concerns when you are standing quietly in a cemetery with your spouse, and your thoughts.

Every time I make the trip to Bloomfield and stop at the neatly tended expanse up the hill from the Fox River, there are many topics I wish I could chat about with Mom and Pop. Most would deal with family – what Sue and I have been up to, our two daughters, and how much we wish Mom and Pop could have the pleasure of knowing these delightful young women.

Last week, I found myself wishing I could talk about the coronavirus epidemic that has left everyone’s lives topsy-turvy.

Most of all, I wanted to ask Pop about the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic that he lived through. He was 9 years old when it struck.


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