Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This is Not Reform

It's apparently been almost six years since I've posted to this blog. The current political fight seems like a good reason to revive it.

On Monday night, I joined over 4,000 people at the Iowa State Capitol to protest changes to Chapter 20, a section of Iowa Code that has protected the collective bargaining rights of public employees for over 40 years. I had signed up to speak at the public forum, but was not able to do so before the forum ended at 8:00. This is what I would have said.

My name is Rob Timmins, and I am the district data and assessment coordinator for Southeast Polk Community Schools. 

In a previous incarnation of my teaching career, I taught advanced composition classes, first at Stuart-Menlo High School, then at Valley High School in West Des Moines. When we worked on persuasive writing, I talked to students about finding the right words, and sometimes THE right word that could simultaneously define your side of the argument, while not alienating those who would disagree with you. 

Last night, after I thought I had finished writing what I would say tonight, I saw an ad promoting collective bargaining “reform” in Iowa. The ad was obviously in favor of HF291. However, the word “reform” in the ad only met half of the definition of the right word that I shared with my advanced comp students. While the word is certainly designed not to alienate anyone on either side, it does not honestly convey the radical, fundamental changes to collective bargaining that are in this bill. Calling this collective bargaining reform is the equivalent of calling catsup a vegetable. While tomatoes are good for you, and they are an ingredient in catsup, you cannot honestly call catsup nutritional. In the same way, change is part of reform, but you cannot honestly call this kind of radical change reform when it strips almost all collective bargaining rights away from most of Iowa’s public employees, and even goes as far to make some of our current rights, like the ability to negotiate for health insurance, completely illegal.

In my 25 years as a public educator, I have always been a member of my local teachers union. On an annual basis, I have paid close attention to the negotiations between my association leaders and the local school board. These negotiations have had great impact on my life and my family. There were years when negotiations between the teachers association and the district were contentious, and others when they were more amicable. The common thread among all of those years of negotiations is that they ultimately resulted in an agreement. Collectively, the association and the district were able to forge a compromise that was acceptable to both sides. In 25 years, I've never seen negotiations in one of my districts go to arbitration, or even mediation.

This is the very definition of local control. Employees of the local school district came to an agreement with locally-elected school board members to decide the best way to compensate teachers for the work they do, for the service they provide for their community. HF291 is not reform. It will decimate a system that has worked remarkably well for over forty years, a system that has created a collaborative community of teachers, administrators, and local school board members working collectively in the best interests of our students. Ben Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” HF291 will create a knowledge debt that will hurt our state for years to come. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Is This Anything?

David Letterman occasionally does a bit on his show called "Is This Anything?" It features some sort of strange performance, followed by Dave and band leader Paul Schaffer discussing whether the act is anything. That's it.

That's how it feels every year looking at our 4H pigs in the months, weeks, and finally days leading up to the Polk County Fair. After the previous year's fair ends, Brett and I start studying boar websites, looking for the next year's sires. We pick up every boar catalog available at the Iowa State Fair, even though we always get boar semen from the same two places, Swine Genetics International and Cain Super Sires. We discuss which boar would enhance the qualities of each of our sows and gilts, and we hope that we're able to match up the right genetics to get next year's Polk County Fair Supreme Champion Market Individual.

Once the farrowing starts in January, "Is This Anything: Swine Edition" starts in earnest. From day 1, we look at the new baby pigs and talk about what's good about them and what they are lacking. I talk with both Brett and Kay about what litter they want, and what their other options are if the other girl has first choice.

This year, there were really only two litters from which to choose. We had six litters, but these were the only two that had enough pigs in them to win the litter class at the fair. Brett went back and forth between them. Since she's a senior, she had first choice for both pigs and calves. She knew right away which calves she wanted for her feeder pen, but didn't make up her mind on the pigs until the week of the swine weigh-in in April.

At this point, we think both girls may have something. Brett has some individuals that are really thick and muscular, and Kay has a number of pigs whose rate of gain has far surpassed anything we've ever raised. Are they anything? That's up to the judge to decide, one week from tomorrow, when the pigs finally enter the show ring at the Polk County Fair.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Tech Haiku

I forgot that I had written this until today when I found it on the Notes app on my iPod. When bored and wi-filess, what better way to fill the technological void than to compose a haiku?

I have my netbook,
and I have my iPod touch. 
Alas, no wi-fi. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

...and I feel fine.

On this dawning of the so-called Judgement Day, I've been wasting time finding some of my favorite End of the World writings and songs. I was posting them on Facebook, but I've become too verbose to fit my snarky remarks into the space Mark Zuckerberg gives me, so I've moved over to my long-neglected blog. Consider this my K-Tel Greatest Hits of the Armageddon package.

REM's "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)" is really the obligatory song of the day. Fortunately, it's a great song. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with the lyrics in Michael Stipe's vocals, but there are a million lyric sites on the web to help you follow along.

And while everyone's talking about fire and brimstone for the end of the world today, the great prophet Robert Frost reminds us that there is another possibility.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great

Which leads us to perhaps the greatest doomsday novelist of all-time, Kurt Vonnegut, whose 1964 novel Cat's Cradle ended with a sufficient amount of ice--more specifically, Ice-9--to destroy human life on this island Earth. Vonnegut's story includes enough amoral scientists and religious extremists for any prophecy of the end times, and it's far more entertaining and well-written than any Left Behind novel.

Speaking of signs of the apocalypse, according to Wikipedia, Leonardo DiCaprio's production company has optioned Cat's Cradle and is currently working on a script for a film version of the book.

Sting's post-apocalyptic opus "Bring On the Night/When the World is Running Down" clocks in at about 10 minutes, so if you believe this is our last day, you probably want to spend your time doing something more productive. If not, it's a great performance, so relax and enjoy it.

Finally, there's Prince's "1999." Here in 2011, it seems outdated, which I suppose is one of the dangers of forecasting the destruction of the world: When you're wrong, everyone is still around to know about it. Ask Harold Camping, the radio host responsible for today's silliness. His first prediction of the rapture was for 1994. Of course, that didn't stop him from making a new prediction, all based on biblical references and math. (My understanding is that his first prediction was incorrect because he forgot to carry a 2 from one column to the next as he calculated the date.)

What this means for Prince is that if he follows Camping's example, he is only five years from another blockbuster hit. Personally, I can't wait to hear the funky groove he lays down for "2016."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
--Hamlet, Act I, scene 5

Last night, Jordan and I watched Inherit the Wind, the 1960 Spencer Tracy/Gene Kelly classic based on the Scopes Monkey Trial. It was interesting watching a film where religious fundamentalists insist that any way of thinking that doesn't completely match theirs is a threat to everything that is good in this world on the same day that the Iowa House of Representatives passed HJR 6, the Marriage Amendment that not only puts a ban on gay marriage in the Iowa Constitution, but also a ban on civil unions and domestic partnerships. 

Part of me thinks that all of this has as much to do with the "ew" factor as with religion, that the opposition to gay marriage is mainly about thinking that gay sex is gross. But that can't be completely true, since so many gay-rights opponents have been found to have been shouting their opposition from deep within the closet. 

Most opponents of gay marriage claim a religious justification for their passionate support of discriminatory legislation. I won't argue against their claim that they found their beliefs in the Bible; I will argue against their claim that their beliefs are founded in the will of God. My own religious beliefs have their basis in the same Good Book as theirs, but my beliefs include the idea that if God is as truly great and mysterious as most Christians like to claim, then a few hundred pages transcribed from scrolls written in ancient languages and interpreted over and over again throughout the last 2000 years and beyond cannot even begin to reveal all of God's will in a way that can be understood by mere humans. 

At the end of Inherit the Wind, Spencer Tracy's character questions the prosecuting lawyer on passages from the Bible. While his opponent believes the questions are designed to mock the scriptures, the opposite turns out to be true. Tracy's questions demonstrate that the God who created the heavens and the earth also created in humans thinking, inquisitive natures that respond to information by wanting to know more; that creation is something beyond human understanding,  but it is in our nature to want to understand as much about it as we can. 

Hamlet was absolutely correct when he told his friend, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." The same is true for love, and there is far more to it than the narrow understanding that the Iowa House voted to put into the Iowa Constitution yesterday.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shake It Up, Baby

As I sit here watching "American Idol," it's hard not to think about what a gift it is to be able to sing well. I'm not saying this in a conceited way. I know that I was lucky to be born with a sense of pitch and a set of vocal chords that vibrate in a way that I've been told is generally pleasant to hear.

I've also been lucky enough to share a broad variety of vocal experiences with some great musicians, from jazz choir and "Hello Dolly" in high school, to the Old Gold Singers and a one-hit (one song, actually) acapella quartet at the University of Iowa, to my church choir and a couple different variations on a gospel vocal group. I've performed on stage at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City and  on the Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair. I sang the national anthem at an Iowa Cubs game in Principal Park, where I learned that singers and baseball managers have different standards for judging a vocal performance. "Great job," I was told as I walked past the home dugout on my way back to my seat. I was feeling pretty good about myself until he pointed to his watch and said, "One minute, 29 seconds. Perfect."

With the gospel quartet Bound4Him, I was part of three recording projects, but my real recording bragging rights come from singing backup on "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey" on Paul McCartney's Paul is Live album. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably mention that at the time, I was sitting in the third row from the top in Arrowhead Stadium, and there were 60,000 other people singing along, but that song from that concert is on album, so I'm sticking to my claim that I sang backup on a McCartney album.)

Until today, however, I had never gotten the opportunity to sing and play guitar in a rock band. Let me tell you, if you ever have a chance to get together with a few of your friends, a few instruments, some amps, and an auditorium of screaming kids, I highly recommend it. From the time we kicked off "Twist and Shout" with lead in notes from eighth grade band director Ted Heggen's Hofner bass until we hit the final chord, it was an absolute rush. I know my guitar playing was far from polished, but (and I say this with no small amount of pride), I nailed John Lennon's scream at the end of the instrumental bridge.

It was a great way to spend a couple of hours at school, and I got to see some truly talented Southeast Polk Junior High students as well. All in all, the best way to sum it all up would probably be the last line in the email I sent out to my bandmates at the end of the day: When's the next gig, and what are we playing?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

To whom it may concern...

To the Campbell's Soup Company: You can add the adjective "homestyle" to your chicken soup label, but you're not fooling anyone.

To any of my professors at the University of Iowa from 1987-1991: I've been going through some old files and getting rid of a lot of things. As I use my paper shredder to convert your mimeographed packets into livestock bedding, I can't help but wonder if some of you would have made more sense if you had breathed fewer duplicating fluid fumes.

To Right Said Fred: I don't care if you're too sexy for your shirt, but I could go a long time without hearing that song again because, well, it hurts.

To Jimmy Fallon, who in his weekly thank you notes told the F12 key "Thanks for nothing": F12 is the shortcut for "Save as." I use it all the time.

To Comedy Central: Thank you for posting episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report online. My cable and satellite dish-free life is better because of you.

To the producers of the Golden Globes show who were shocked by Ricky Gervais' performance as this year's host: Did you not watch last year's show?

To all the Bears and Packers fans: I'll be honest with you. I did not care who won the NFC championship game, but I'm really glad it's over so I can quit hearing about how much you hate each other.

To Rex Ryan and the New York Jets: You had second and goal inside the two yard line, and for some reason none of the next three plays involved Shonn Greene driving it up the middle? You deserve to lose.

To Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers: After stopping the Jets on fourth and goal at the one yard line, you fumble the first snap and give up a safety? You deserve to lose, too.