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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Presidential interference with the schools?

The start of the school year is always filled with anticipation and dread.

The good stuff: new notebooks and crayons, seeing friends you missed during the summer that, even you had to admit, had gone on a couple weeks too long. That first day of school outfit, carefully selected: you hoped it would establish you as eligible for greater popularity than you had last year.

One of the things I dreaded was the 600 yard run. Back in the day, one of the first things we did in physical education classes--after we'd hand-embroidered our names on our grotesque gym suits--was complete testing for The President's Council on Physical Fitness.

Just about every kid in the nation did it. It wasn't considered unusual for the President to ask kids and parents to do things for the president, the nation, and themselves. It was assumed we knew we were supposed to get smart. But President Kennedy stepped in to remind us that our job also was to get fit. Even back in the 1960s, Americans were less active than our European (and worse still, our Soviet) counterparts.

The test we took involved 50-yard dashes, shuttle runs, sit-ups, pull-ups, and push-ups. I did great on the sprint events and the sit-ups. But I always failed the pull-ups and push-ups. Most girls did.

When it came to the 600 yard run, though, I'd usually pass out. Or worse, throw up. Neither of those things was cool, but either was better than coming in last. Which I did, now and then.

Having the test in the first weeks of school seemed a poor idea. Except for the kids who always excelled, most of us weren't prepared. I now know that I did so badly partly because I had undiagnosed asthma. And I now suspect that the test was done early so that teachers could demonstrate great improvement by the end of the year. You can't blame them for that.

The Council underwent a number of name changes, but since its inception during the Eisenhower years, it's played a role in our national agendas. I still have a stack of President's fitness commendations my kids got at Underwood School not many years ago.

Maybe the best thing about being an older parent is having a sense of history, a longer perspective, and the willingness to think for yourself instead of letting your anxiety be pumped by the media. If you're one of the parents who's overwrought about the notion that the President of the United States would want to encourage kids to do well in school, you might want to do your own homework.

In his speech to school children next Tuesday, is President Obama going to try to manipulate students into developing pride in education ? You betcha. Will it make him look good if he succeeds? Who cares, as long as our children benefit?

The children in the Elmbrook school district are being "protected" from this speech. I hope ours get to hear it and talk about it with their parents, friends, and teachers.

The idea of sound minds in strong bodies has always been understood as desirable, and leaders have always called for us to do better.

It's called patriotism.

It's also a darn good idea.

Silly season: the over-reaction epidemic

Bud Grose, politics, kids

Forget H1N1: worry about the over-reaction epidemic.

The town of Glenrock, Wyoming, is smaller than the town my grandfather lived in. But when I visited Canton, South Dakota, as a college student, everyone knew that they didn't know me.

"Who's this young lady, Otto?" the clerk asked. "She's my granddaughter," he said, his eyes twinkling. The woman looked a little nonplussed. "Didn't know Dort had kids that old," she said.

"Naw. Not Dort's. I done it twice, you know," he said, taking my arm and the groceries. Before dinner, everyone in town knew my grandfather had been married more than once, and the proof of the pudding was in his living room. The community alert system was activated, and a contingent of the more boldly curious among them knocked at the door. They wanted to take a peek.

I bring this up because as much as times may have changed, it's hard to believe that the Glenrock police officers who tasered 76-year-old Bud Grose didn't know him pretty well when he and a 9-year-old neighbor took his 1959 John Deer tractor on a little detour during the annual Deer Creek Days parade.

It's hard to believe that two young police officers would think they'd need to escalate to using shock weapons to subdue an old man and a little boy, both members of the community.

You'd think that when they couldn't get the pair to change course, they'd figure out the situation might lead to a little traffic confusion and head off to make the best of it. And then scold Bud over the pulled pork and coleslaw later. Maybe write a little ticket, come to that. Or talk to his kids to make sure something wasn't going on with Mr. Grose.

That's how things work when people know each other and have a little common sense.

It's not so hard to believe that Mr. Grose or the boy who was driving might have more than tapped the police SUV that got in their way. Okay: let's say they might have rammed it, as the police say they did. Though I can't imagine my grandfather doing that with his favorite tractor. Still, you never know what's going to happen when folks get their testosterone up.

That's not right either, though you can imagine how satisfying it might be in a frustrated Towanda! sort of way. In my book, damage to vehicles is not as bad as damage to human beings.

Does it seem like people have lost their ability to distinguish what's a little bad from what's a lot bad? What's worth being watchful about and what demands bringing out the tasers or crowds with burning torches?

I'm thinking about the "silly season" response to President Obama's speech to school children. One BrookfieldNow commenter said:

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Say WHO? Said WHAT?

The email from a dog park friend starts like this:

One of Bob Oster's CEO friends wrote this. Bob respects him highly. . .

I have no idea who Bob Oster is. But with the title "My 6 month evaluation of the Obama presidency," I know what to expect. It's a scary negative performance review, with a long list of failures, disapointments, and worse.

I'll only share one:

21.         Failing to support the freedom-loving citizens in Honduras and Iran (and instead, giving comfort to their dictators) to say nothing of his ineffectiveness with North Korea and anti-Israeli pronouncements.

If anything makes me crazy, it's written information people circulate without attributing the writer. It took about 30 seconds to find the name of this "anonymous" author: Jimmy V. Adams.

Adams is a principal in L3 Communications. If you didn't know he was a retired 4-star general, you might think that's a public relations firm. Knowing that, you're not surprised to find out that it's a defense contractor, supplying command, control, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Not just any contractor: with 66,000 employees, it's the 6th largest defense contractor in the US, with revenues in the range of $15 billion last year.

As the company's annual report states, rather dryly, "The defense industry has been a steady performer through all economic climates." Like any publicly traded company, its goal is growth. I don't much like to think about what steady growth in the defense industry means, but there you go.

Anyway, I'd never heard of L3 Communications. Though I have heard of Lehman Brothers, the third L in the name, and some of the companies L3 has swallowed whole or in part:  Lockheed, Martin Marietta, Titan, and a chunk of Raytheon. Having a name that's not especially memorable helps when you get sued for letting your employees abuse prisoners at Abu Gharaib. Nobody makes the connection.

When you start peeling these onions, one layer leads to the next. I could go on and on and on. But this time I'll spare you.

The point is, check the source of your information. What somebody's smart friend thinks might be a little colored by his circumstances. You may agree with Jimmy V, but you should know who he is and why he might be saying what he's saying.

Schooling Amanda: who decides?

Kurowski/Voydatch, Cal Thomas, kids, schools, politics

I'm feeling a little sorry for Wauwatosa school superintendent Phil Ertl. In deciding to forbid real-time viewing of a presidential speech, he's opened the door further for groups of parents with special interests to approve or censor curricula. And that can be a real headache.

Imagine trying to get consensus about anything except, maybe, math. Not enough of us understand that well enough to have political opinions about which math facts are dangerous.

Who should determine what's the right educational content for kids? What's the proper political stance for school? Who decides?  Parents or the government?

It's a trick question, because parents are the government. We elect officials democratically, including school boards, and in order to have a well-functioning society, we agree to go along with the rule of the majority and the law.

Which raises the question whether the employee Ertl or the elected school board should have made that decision. But I digress.

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Home from the wedding


No matter how beautiful Colorado is, some things make you appreciate Wisconsin. The ease of getting through airport security here is one. And skin loves the moisture in our air.

We had a whirlwind weekend trip for daughter Annie's wedding. This being the start of the school year for Geo, Liz, and me, we couldn't stay as long as we might have liked. But we made it west for the preparations, the main event at a lovely log lodge near Estes Park, and a half day of stunned unwinding before heading back.

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Wise or wimpy?

Schools, kids

In these days of incivility, it takes a brave person to say "I think I made a mistake." You can be certain that the folks who love a  fight will rise up with indignation to call you a flip-flopper. Vacillator. Caver-in-er.  Neville-Chamberlain-appeaser.

I'm not sure when people began to mistake rigidity and denial of any flaws for good character. But I think they ought to apologize.

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