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  • Home Roots Go Deep

    • Posted on Jul 17, 2016
    Here's this morning's Courier column.  Felt especially attached to the Cedar Valley when we flew home here after two months.  Probably a bit sentimental, but still accurate for me. 

    Gliding down through three layers of clouds last Sunday night into the Cedar Valley on a flight from Chicago after two months in the deep South, one word came to mind: Home. 

     Not that I was suffering homesickness, mind you, nor any specific need to get home.  It was just time to return, and descending into the Cedar Valley, it felt just right. 

     We had just glided over the Mississippi, and twenty minutes later, the Cedar River, then down into the farmscape that I’ve welcomed so many times on the Chicago flight home. 
    It’s better in daytime when the landscape shows crop rectangles, tree lines, backyards, gardens, houses, factory roofs, connecting roads, all in their July versions. 

     The night flight offers shades of dark and shadow punctuated by street and yard lights, the occasional vertical line of blinking red tower signals, and two-eyed cars crawling home.  

    That winding Cedar river, where for decades I’ve picnicked, swam, daydreamed, canoed, tubed, sandbagged, and feared its rising waters, provides some of my home feel. It’s a constant feature that unites the Cedar Valley and deserves to be celebrated.     
    Yet home is more than a river.  Even though I’m gone part of every year, I revel at returning to Iowa. 

    James Hearst wrote that that Iowa is “a land not known by mountain’s height, or tides of either ocean—a land in its working clothes.”   Just so. 

     There’s an honesty and straightforwardness here that I don’t feel elsewhere.  What you see is mostly what you get.  Yet there’s a constant undercurrent of shyness, even inferiority from our deep Scandinavian heritage.  Large egos usually leave.  

     Read Garrison Keillor for a full explanation. 

     I recognize that we have serious issues, certainly with racism, which we don’t like to admit or discuss, but it’s there.  And a deep conservatism hangs on, unable to recognize that we’re not going back to the mythical good old days that amounted to region-wide denial.   

     In Charleston, my other home city, a good Charlestonian friend was lucky enough (after selling his company) to choose where to move and set up housekeeping.  He researched the entire country, as well as a few European destinations, and chose Charleston.  To him, it now feels like home. 

    He’s a biker, golfer, kayaker, born in Wisconsin, but lived in Texas for years, and enjoys an active outdoor social life year-round. 

     He made the right choice, he says, and plans to grow old there happily. 

    That’s exactly how I feel about our Cedar Valley.   

    Iowa amounts to social paradise compared to South Carolina, which still hovers around bottom in educational quality, (Iowa is 13th, South Carolina 45th) life expectancy, (Iowa is 15th, South Carolina is 42nd) and so on.   As a South Carolina lawyer asserted in 1860, just after the state had seceded,  “South Carolina—too small for a republic, too big for an insane asylum.” 

    That’s why whenever I return to Iowa, I instantly relax into the rhythms, sounds, smells, and feel of home.  

     Whenever I leave, my heart stays here.  

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  • Old Glory and Free Speech

    • Posted on Jul 03, 2016
    Here's today's (July 3) Courier column.  Watching the salt tide wash away a sand graffiti version of an American flag on a beach got me to thinking:  Should that sand flag-scratcher be prosecuted for desecration? 

    Recently I was moseying along an Atlantic beach at low tide when I came upon an American flag scratched out in the sand with a stick. 

     It had the familiar outline—the box in the upper left with stars, horizontal stripes on the right and bottom, the whole sitting in a rectangle.  Well done, I thought, probably by a patriotic beach-walker with a sharp stick.  

     I knew that graffiti-sand flag wouldn’t last past noon, thanks to the approaching tide. 

     Imagine if someone had placed a Wal-Mart American flag there instead, and tacked it down with sticks.  The saltwater tide would inundate it daily.     

     Trouble. People would complain that a “real” flag was being desecrated by saltwater and carelessness.  No such problem with the sand flag.   

     That flag was a mere scrawl, a graffiti that any smart 10-year-old could have done. 

     So should patriots take “real” flags more seriously than sand flags?  Should anyone be fined or jailed for “desecrating” store-bought versions of Old Glory? 

     No.  They should not. If desecrating a flag depends on the elaborateness and detail with which the flag is created, it’s nonsense. 

     The flag serves as the country’s logo, and worldwide, the Stars and Stripes symbolizes what the country stands for.  Nothing more, nothing less.

     If this seems like common sense, point your browser to “Flag Desecration Amendment” and check out the serious attempts to outlaw flag destruction. 

     In the late 1960s, legislators from practically every state as well as federal legislators were rabidly opposed to flag burnings by Vietnam War protestors. 

    It infuriated them to see their beloved Stars and Stripes trampled and burned. 

     If you think the country’s divided now, a half-century ago we were burning down buildings—not just flags—and police and the National Guard were beating and shooting students for marching and protesting.  Now we merely carp and grouse on the Internet.  

     When the so-called “Flag Burning Amendment” to the constitution went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, the decision split 5-4 in favor of “desecration” being free speech.  And therefore perfectly legal.  

     And get this—Justice Antonin Scalia voted with the majority, insisting that public
    desecration of the flag was in fact protected the by the First Amendment.    

    Still, the idea didn’t die.  The U.S. Senate brought it up in again as recently as 2006.  It lost by one vote.   Basically, lawmakers wanted to give the courts power to punish anyone who damaged the flag in any way. 

    That piece of colored cloth, in other words, would be treated like a powerful religious relic, with the government behaving like an avenging church.    

     There’s a crucial irony here.  You can’t damage a country’s freedom by hurting its logo.  The only way to inflict real damage is by curtailing freedom of speech.  

     That’s what anti-desecration laws would do, as the Supreme Court wisely declared.    

    Defacing or destroying any representation of the U.S. flag does nothing whatsoever to harm the country for which it stands, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

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