Who is next?

Your fearful observer awoke one morning last week wondering when it will happen in Missouri.

It was the morning after the latest school shooting, this one in Florida, the seventh school shooting incident in the first forty-five days of the year.  As of the morning after the latest shooting, twenty people had been killed and thirty-four others had been wounded in those seven incidents.

Since the pace of school shootings began to pick up nationally in the 1980s there have been more than 350 school shootings in this country.

Three hundred.  And fifty.  Plus.

The escalation of shootings at schools is stunning.  Wikipedia has compiled a list of incidents at schools going back to Greencastle, Pennsylvania’s Enoch Brown School massacre in 1764, although that doesn’t quite fit today’s description of a school shooting because it was part of an Indian uprising against the British.  Only one of the ten people killed was shot.  The others were killed with “melee weapons,” as they are called.

The chart says there were twenty-eight incidents in the nineteenth century. The number jumped to 226 in the Twentieth Century (141 of them in the last three decades including the first mass shooting, 1999’s Littleton Colorado incident that killed fifteen—including the two suicidal shooters—and wounded twenty-one).

In the first seventeen years and two months of the Twenty-First Century there already have been 212 incidents that have made this list.

The Wikipedia list shows nine such shootings in Missouri since 1980. Eleven deaths, including four of the shooters.  Seven injuries.  Not all of the incidents are what we might think of as school shootings, namely students killing students.  The killing of three monks at Conception Abbey is on the list, for example.  Some involved only adults.  Missouri’s most recent incident was three years ago when a man was wounded in a school parking lot shooting, apparently by another adult.  The most recent student incident was in Joplin in 2006 when a student failed to kill a principal when his gun failed.

We hope we never have one of those horrific incidents in Missouri.  But we are sure we are not the only person in Missouri living in dread that it could happen here.

What is there to do about it? Opinions are strong on this issue and we will not wade into it here. Our focus will be on an important factor that can get lost in the discussion of school shootings and what should be done beyond the increasingly stale phrase “thoughts and prayers.”

The Associated Press the morning after the Florida incident described the suspect as, “An orphaned 19-year old with a troubled past and an AR-15 rifle…” and reported, “Students who knew him described him as a volatile teenager whose strange behavior had caused others to end friendships with him.”

Sooner or later someone is going to ask—some probably have by now—“Why didn’t somebody do something to head him off?” And some will wonder why he didn’t get help with mental health issues, sentiments frequently heard after incidents such as these.

Unanswerable questions.  A similar question might be, “How many school shooting incidents did NOT take place because our mental health people turned their clients in a better direction?”

Many years ago, one of my sometime-colleagues who sat next to me while we covered the legislature turned out to have murdered his wife a couple of years earlier. Who among us can honestly say that we can determine that the person next to us is so unstable that he or she is or can become a killer?

Can we, however, reduce the chances that something terrible might happen if we put more resources into a system that works to reduce those chances?

We wrote a column last year about a courageous and striking book we had read called, “No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America.” I suggested that anyone in the legislature who deals with health and mental health funding should have this book on their must-read list.  With the General Assembly in session, now—particularly as we ask questions in the wake of the Florida school shooting—it is time to renew that suggestion, not just for those dealing with mental health funding but for all of our lawmakers.

Discussions are underway at the Capitol of further reductions in the state’s ability to finance vital programs and services at a time when the organization, Mental Health America, has published its 2017 report on the state of mental health in this country.  It ranks each state and territory on fifteen categories to arrive at a ranking that “indicates lower prevalence of mental illness and higher access to care.”

Missouri’s overall ranking was 31st.   Seven criteria used to rank services to adults placed Missouri 36th. We were 24th in the “youth” category.

The study found that we are 23rd in the prevalence of mental illness.   But when it comes to access to mental health care, we are only 36th.

If one of these unspeakable tragedies caused by someone of noticeable “strange behavior” happens in our state, as has happened in Florida, how will we think about that 36th place ranking?  And should this situation, this possibility, this circumstance be part of those discussions?

We pray that Missourians never have to confront those questions.  Or the people of any other state.

Let all of us pray.

Maybe a little bigger government makes sense

But there are those who will say bigger government NEVER makes sense.  Don’t go off in a huff, though, if you’re one of them. Take a deep breath, let the blood pressure drop a notch or two, and consider the words of Governor Guy B. Park who told the legislature in his second (and last) biennial message on January 6, 1937:

When the boundaries of our counties were fixed by the Constitution of 1875 (editor’s note—that was the Constitution in effect in 1937), time and distance were the principal consideration. The boundaries were probably determined on the basis of how long it would take a resident to ride his horse from his home to the county seat, transact his business and get back in time to milk the cows.  As a matter of practical economy and common sense, it would be the better part of wisdom to materially increase the size, thereby reducing the number of counties. Should that be done, the local county government would be as close to the people in point of time as they were in 1875.  In order to accomplish this, an amendment to the Constitution would be necessary, and I recommend that you adopt a resolution submitting such an amendment to the people of the state.

Governors could make such suggestions in the days when the Constitution forbade them from seeking re-election.  And members of the legislature then, as now—particularly those from some of the counties likely to be affected—knew they would be greeted by pitchfork-carrying constituents if they went home after voting for such an idea.

Here we are, eighty-one years after Park’s speech and 157 years after Worth County became the last county created in our state, and we have twenty-five counties populated by fewer than ten-thousand people and six more who are just barely at ten-thousand.  That’s more than one-fourth of our counties, a lot of them in the sparsely-populated northern counties.  Seven counties have fewer than FIVE thousand residents. Worth County struggles to stay above two-thousand.

It’s been almost sixteen decades since Missouri honored some kind of hero or notable citizen or family member of an early settler by naming a county for them.   But we’ve had plenty of heroes since then, plenty of famous people who are better known than the people whose names adorn many of our counties.  Who was Dade after all?  Or Holt or Knox or Sullivan or Schuyler or, well, Worth?

Naturally, combining small counties or changing their names will generate a lot of hostility.  We’re a pretty territorial species.

But that doesn’t mean that Guy B. Park didn’t have a good point that has only gotten better.

(We wrote at some length about this more than two years ago when a longtime friend passed along a propose map of new counties.  If  you go back to Dec. 19, 2015, you’ll find that proposal along with some of the same musings in this column.  But maybe it is an idea worth bringing up more frequently than once every eighty-one years.)

Capitol credit

State Senate leader Ron Richard has had a goal for the State Capitol for a long time and he’s hoping his last year in the legislature is the year that goal is reached.  And it should be.

Richard loves the Capitol as the symbol of a state’s greatness and power, of its stability and beauty.  But he has watched as the Capitol has deteriorated during his almost sixteen-year career and how appropriations that have finally started providing some rehabilitation of the now century-old building are not nearly enough to get the job done.

He has seen the state struggle with meeting its budgetary responsibilities for education, health and mental health, social services—you name it.  And as the state has struggled to meet those responsibilities, the state’s greatest symbol has deteriorated.

Millions are being spent as a continuation of exterior restoration that has been underway for about three years.  Some critical problems in the basement have been attacked. But millions of dollars more are needed to do what needs to be done now and to meet the costs of ongoing expenses later.

Richard has been hoping to get a bill passed setting up a tax credit program that would encourage people and organizations to donate money to fix our Capitol.   He is the sponsor of one of two bills in the Missouri Senate addressing the problem.  While he could be putting the muscle of his position behind his own legislation he has decided to let Senator Dan Hegeman from the northwest Missouri community of Cosby carry the issue.  The bill already is out of committee and is ready for Senate debate. It started the week twenty-seventh on the debate list, a good position for early approval.

It’s Senate Bill 590 for those of you who keep score. It does two things.  It creates tax credits for people who donate to restoration and repair work at the Capitol complex, and it creates tax credits for those who want to contribute to restoration and repair work on other public buildings.

A lot of deep-pocket people and companies have representatives in the capitol hallways every day that Richard, Hegeman, and their colleagues on both side of the rotunda are meeting.  It would not be surprising if those hallway denizens carried word back to their employers that their workplace needs some help.  Some of the money raised can be used to increase general public awareness of the need for donations for which private citizen-donors would get credit on their state taxes.

Richard has several times shared this dream with your correspondent and it’s time the dream comes true.   Richard already has created a legacy as the only person in the almost-two century history of the state to serve as the leader of the House and the leader of the Senate.  But that accomplishment is more a legislative distinction.  Leaving behind a program that can raise money for the capitol’s upkeep is the more important thing.  It could be a legacy.

But times have changed a little since Ron Richard first established this goal.  Historic Tax Credits are not as popular as they once were.   The legislature established caps on those tax credits a few years ago—no more than an aggregate total of $140 million.  That cap drops to seventy-million dollars on July 1.  Local historic preservation organizations can point to buildings and districts in their communities that have benefitted from those tax credits.  Now, as the cap is cut in half, there could be two new causes trying to attract tax credit seekers.

Historic preservation tax credits aren’t very sexy.  Some lawmakers question whether they create enough new jobs to justify the reduction in state revenue that they produce.  Others with little interest in history might see little value in them to begin with.

But they ARE important.  They’re important for the towns where we live because they encourage us to think of how far we have come while making sites usable, even inhabitable.  They’re important for our capitol, a place intended to inspire those who visit and who serve there.  The fact that some who visit and who serve do not find the intended inspiration cannot be an excuse to let our capitol decline into a symbol of decisions not made, responsibilities not met, and needs not acknowledged.

Our capitol is better than that.  And the Richards dream and the Hegeman legislation is the best chance for our lawmakers to prove it so.   We hope they don’t miss the chance this year.

Are you smarter than a third grader?

We wrote this a year ago and put it in storage until we needed it.  We noted the other day that Representative Dean Dohrman has introduced a bill requiring people wanting to graduate from college to score at least seventy percent on a civics test before they can get their diplomas. He says he hopes the bill spurs greater civic education in our colleges.

That has led us to dig out this piece:

Suppose you had to take a test to be a Missouri voter.  More important, suppose those wanting to hold public office, particularly the six statewide offices and legislative positions, had to pass this test. Be honest, now, those of you who have taken oaths of public office—How many of you would be where you are now if you had to match this third-grade requirement (We, personally, would be a little nervous if we had to do this)?

And for those who voted to elect these folks, could you have voted if you had to prove competence to deal with these issues?  It’s kind of a lengthy examination.  Extra paper will be allowed.

Explain the major purposes of the Missouri Constitution. Explain and give examples of how laws are made and changed within the state.

Examine how individual rights are protected within our state. Explain how governments balance individual rights with common good to solve local community or state issues.

Explain how the State of Missouri relies on responsible citizen participation and draw implications for how people should participate.

Describe the character traits and civic attitudes of influential Missourians. Identify and describe the historical significance of the individuals from Missouri who have made contributions to our state and nation.

Explain how the National Anthem symbolizes our nation. Recognize and explain the significance of the Gateway Arch and the Great Seal of Missouri and other symbols of our state.

Analyze peaceful resolution of disputes by the courts, or other legitimate authorities in Missouri. Take part in a constructive process or method for resolving conflicts.

Describe how authoritative decisions are made, enforced and interpreted by the state government across historical time periods and/or in current events.

Identify and explain the functions of the three branches of government in Missouri.

Describe the importance of the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition of Lewis and Clark. Evaluate the impact of westward expansion on the Native Americans in Missouri. Discuss issues of Missouri statehood.

Describe the migration of Native Americans to Missouri prior to European settlement in the state. Describe the discovery, exploration and early settlement of Missouri by European immigrants. Describe the reasons African peoples were enslaved and brought to Missouri.

Examine cultural interactions and conflicts among Native Americans, European immigrants and enslaved and free African-Americans in Missouri. Examine the changing roles of Native Americans, Immigrants, African Americans, women and others in Missouri history.

Examine changing cultural interactions and conflicts among Missourians after the Civil War.

Discuss the causes and consequences of the Dred Scott decision on Missouri and the nation.

Explain Missouri’s role in the Civil War, including the concept of a border state. Describe the consequences of the Civil War in Missouri including on education, transportation, and communication.

Compare and contrast private and public goods and services. Define natural, capital and human resources. Define economy. Explain supply and demand.

Conduct a personal cost-benefit analysis.

Define taxes and explain how taxes are generated and used.

Explain factors, past and present, that influence changes in our state’s economy.

Read and construct historical and current maps.

Name and locate major cities, rivers, regions, and states which border Missouri. Describe and use absolute location using a grid system.

Identify and compare physical geographic characteristics of Missouri. Describe human geographic characteristics of Missouri.

Describe how people of Missouri are affected by, depend on, adapt to and change their physical environments in the past and in the present.

Describe how changes in communication and transportation technologies affect people’s lives.

Identify regions in Missouri. Compare regions in Missouri. Compare the cultural characteristics of regions in Missouri. Explain how geography affected important events in Missouri history.

Research stories and songs that reflect the cultural history of Missouri.Describe how people in Missouri preserve their cultural heritage.

Identify facts and opinions in social studies’ topics. Identify point of view in social studies’ topics.

Present social studies’ research to an audience using appropriate sources.

Whew!!

How can anybody be expected to know all this stuff?  Aren’t you glad you’re not an immigrant seeking American citizenship? Actually, immigrants don’t have to go through all of this stuff.

But Missouri third-graders do.

What you’ve just read are most of the Missouri Department of Education’s grade level expectations for third grade social studies students and their teachers.  How well students perform under these guidelines determines how competent they are considered to be and, by reflection, how competent their teachers are.

The impetus for this goes back more than two decades, to 1996, when the Show-Me Standards were developed to gauge student performance.  The Show-Me Standards were replaced by the Missouri Learning Standards that were required by the legislature to be written because the legislature didn’t like the Obama Administration’s Common Core approach.  The MLS are pretty close to Common Core, though. The state education department says the standards “are relevant to the real world and reflect the knowledge and skills students need to achieve their goals.”  The department also says they work best when administrators, teachers, students and parents share the goals.

This state is big on “local control,” so the standards do not require local districts to closely adhere to them. Districts can still make their own decisions about textbooks and teaching strategies and curriculum. But they’re measured on a standard gauge.

Your observer/historian was chatting with another observer/historian in a local coffee shop a few days ago about these standards and we agreed on a regrettable fact about them.

These are standards for third graders.  The teaching of Missouri history used to be done in the fourth grade but the department has moved that teaching back to grade three now.

Consider this, then (we admitted it kind of scares us): Missourians went to the polls in November, 2016 and elected people who are in office today who have had little education in Missouri history since third or fourth grade and whose teaching in Missouri government was limited to elementary school or maybe a poli sci class in college.  State law requires American history and United States government courses in high school (but no world history or government studies is required in this undeniable era of globalization).

But there is also this:  Both of us believe it takes extraordinary people to turn written goals into personal learning for fifteen to thirty children of incredibly diverse personal and cultural backgrounds every day in our classrooms.  Our lamenting the fact that a lot can happen in the decade from the time one is an eight-year old third grader and when one is an eighteen-year old first-time voter is in no way intended as a swipe at the public education system.  Neither of us could confidently assume that today’s decisions and situations would be better if the study of yesterday’s decisions and situations were fresher in the minds of those who voted and those who were elected. But it would help, we thought, if learning and voting were closer together.

How would we cure that problem?  When we considered all the things our school systems have to do and all of the problems students bring to school with them, we have to confess neither of us is close to an intelligent solution.

But wouldn’t it be nice if all of us, voters, candidates, office-holders alike, had to be as smart as third graders?

The roads of the people

This might or might not be any comfort to the special task force that has recommended fuel tax increases to raise money to maintain our roads and bridges, and build new ones where necessary.  But it might add some context to their work.

A century ago, Governor Elliott Major made his farewell address to the General Assembly.  In his first year in office, 1913, he had issued a proclamation declaring there would be two “Good Roads Days” in Missouri.  By the time he left office, fifteen other states had held annual “Good Roads Days.”  Major thought those special occasions had helped push Missouri to making “more progress in the construction and maintenance of good roads in the last two years than it has in any period of ten years preceding.”

Now, there’s a goal for today’s Missourians!

A century ago, Governor Major thought Missouri’s dirt roads were the most important ones in the system.  Today we might refer to those roads, years from the time when they were dirt, as our farm-to-market roads. But Major’s point about the importance of those roads has a lot of validity today.

In some ways, his message in 1917 is pretty close to the message we could hearing this year—with some modern language.  Here’s what he told the legislature:

The public highways of the country have ever marked by distinct epochs its civilization, and agricultural and commercial progress. It has marked it in the life of Missouri and of the American Republic. Until the highways stand abreast our broadest civilization, we will not be living up to our best privileges and the highest standard we can maintain in our civic and commercial life. We need to continue the construction, improvement and maintenance of our dirt and our hard surface roads. The dirt road, however, is the most important of all the roads. It constitutes ninety per cent of the road mileage of the State, and will continue so to do for many years to come. It is the real road of the people and the great highway of commerce.

We are in favor of the construction and maintenance of macadam, rock, concrete and other high-grade roads because every road that is constructed and passes through a section of country that produces something is an internal improvement of inestimable value. While we favor the construction of these splendid traffic ways, yet these are not the roads which mean most to the whole people. It is the dirt road, representing the first leg of the journey and over which moves the traffic of the State that serves us most; the road which enables the producer to bring more products to the railway stations and to the first markets of the country; the road which enables him to double the size of the haul and make the transit in less time, save wear and tear on harness and wagons and the lives of horses; the road that would bring additional hundreds of  thousands of acres under cultivation; the road that would increase the value per acre of all the lands through which it passes; the road that will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in shrinkage in the delivery of live stock; the road that will increase the attendance in the public schools of the country; the road that will lessen that part of the cost of transportation which begins at the producers’ door; the road every tendency of which is to improve community life and make it better morally, civilly and commercially.

There are bad dirt roads and good dirt roads. Bad dirt roads are a liability, good dirt roads are an asset. Missouri can not afford bad dirt roads, but it can afford good dirt roads. The dirt roads reach out into country life like tentacles and over them are moved the products representing the real commerce of the country, and their improvement will mean more to the State and Nation than any other one internal achievement which can be brought about. We can not make all the roads in Missouri high-class roads, but we can make all the bad dirt roads good dirt roads, and in the meantime construct as many high grade roads as possible. ,

Missouri has 63,370 miles of unimproved dirt roads and 54,264 miles of improved dirt roads. We have 3,420 miles of gravel roads, and 1,417 miles of macadam roads. ‘We have 570 miles of sand clay roads, and 700 miles of roads made from chats. We have about 400 miles of patent surface and other miscellaneous roads, making the grand total in the commonwealth over 124,000 miles. Last year there was placed upon these highways betterments valued at approximately $8,000,000. Under the new inter-county-seat drag law, we have about 10,000 miles of inter-county-seat roads, regularly dragged by the State, and upon which during the biennial period the State will have expended more than $225,000 for this purpose, while the people themselves have placed thereon special betterments in the sum of $1,500,000. ‘

The general state road fund law (Article 5, Chapter 121, R. S. Mo. 1909) should be amended so the moneys going into that fund may be used, if necessary, in securing the moneys the federal government may wish to give, meet expenses of convicts when working on or building public roads, or used to meet other important and necessary contingencies which might arise in road construction. It goes without saying that the federal government will give special aid, but it may require the states or the people to expend dollar for dollar. Should this be true, then with the general state road fund statute amended, Missouri can be the first state to receive the federal moneys. It would be well if the committees on roads and highways would, in a limited way, revise the road laws. The laws upon the subject are too numerous and confusing, and this Legislature can render a good work in revising same.

And here we are a century later hoping we can have enough transportation funding to match available federal funds.  The total mileage in our transportation system would astonish Major and the legislators of 1917 and thousands of those miles are the former dirt roads that the counties used to drag.  The amount the state spends on the system might be greater than they could comprehend although still not enough.  Convicts no longer provide free labor to build our roads and although we have more than twenty-five thousand convicts, they would not be nearly enough to give us the system we need.

Roads remain today as they were in Major’s time, links “to improve community life and make it better morally, civilly and commercially.” The language might seem a bit expansive in this Twenty-first century, but the point is the same.  A good transportation system is essential for many different purposes.  And the funding to capitalize on that essentiality remains as vital today as it was when dirt roads were the people’s roads.

To paraphrase Governor Elliott Major: “Bad roads are a liability; good roads are an asset. Missouri cannot afford bad roads, but it can afford good roads.”  We’ll be waiting to see the strategy that will convince tight-fisted Missourians they can afford good roads—or alternately, that they can’t afford not to have good roads.

Still Radio

I sat down at my computer early one morning when this came in that twilight between sleep and wakefulness. It has been polished a little in the days since.

I wrote my first story for a radio newscast in the fall of 1962 and I voiced my first newscast at 11:55 p.m. in January or February of 1963. I had been taught by, among others, a professor who is in the Missouri Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame, Dr. Edward C. Lambert, the founder of the broadcast journalism sequence at the University of Missouri. My first station manager is in the Hall of Fame, Mahlon Aldridge, of KFRU in Columbia. I was introduced for the newscast by an announcer who is a member of the Hall of Fame, Ray Rouse. Sometimes at my first station I filled in on sportscasts for Larry Zimmer, whose long career as announcer for the Colorado Buffalos and Denver Broncos football games put him in the Colorado equivalent of the MBA Hall.

For eleven years I was a voice in Columbia, then Jefferson City and for more than forty years I have been a voice throughout a state and at times a voice in other parts of the nation and the world, the supervisor and then an employee of another member of the Hall of Fame, Clyde Lear.  Even today, retired from the daily pressure cooker of a radio newsroom, I remain a participant in the medium, a contributing editor to The Missourinet. The two stations where I learned that radio would be my life are now just two formats in a building in Columbia. One of those stations used to operate in Jefferson City but is now just another property in a mega-radio conglomerate.

I have one of the great old upright radios in the library in my basement.  I turned it on once many years ago just after I got it and have not turned it on since because what comes out of it today does not go with that radio. I despair sometimes for the medium and I fear for our nation when the federal body regulating broadcasting continues to move to kill the diversity of voices in our communities in television as well as in radio.

There once was magic in the boxes that can pull ghosts out of the sky (as the play “Voice of the Prairie” puts it) and there still is, but in too few places.  Let us hope for a re-birth, somehow, of that magic.

 

I am Radio

I am the voice in the morning

In cities large and small,

In the country, high and low,

Telling you to dress for hot or cold, wet or dry.

I am the voice that is the neighbor you cannot see,

The friend you never meet,

Telling you important things:

Where the traffic is,

Where the detours are,

What the city council did,

What the school board intends,

When the civic club peanut sale is.

What the hot lunch is at school

Or the senior center.

I am the one you take to the basement

when the tornado sirens blow,

the trusted,

always present voice,

the voice of danger and of safety.

I am radio.

I am the one that tells you

What the high school team did last night,

What the major league team did;

The NFL, NHL, the NBA did.

I tell you the about the world—

What’s happening inside the beltway,

In space over our heads,

Across the Atlantic,

Along the Pacific Rim,

The Mediterranean coast,

In the sands of deserts

the damps of the tropical forests,

and your own back yard.

I am radio,

the image-maker

The words and the sounds

That let you see in your own mind

places and events—

the green of a diamond

and the white of its base paths,

The soaring arc of the ball headed for the crowd,

The hardwood floor,

the net that snaps as the ball goes through,

The chilly grass marked by yard lines,

the sounds of struggle and impact

and movement left to right on the dial.

I am the sound of sharpened metal on ice,

The crack of the puck off the stick.

As well as the rattle of gunfire in a besieged city,

Grief and joy,

The maraschino cherry

landing on a mountain of whipped cream

floating in a Lake Michigan filled with hot chocolate.

I am radio.

I am direction.

I am “Down the stretch they come!”

The market is up.

The politician who reaches across the aisle.

I am mathematics.

“40, 30, 20, 10, Touchdown!”

I am drama.

“Yesssss!” and “He SCORES!!!”

I am “Suspense,”

And “Inner Sanctum”

And warnings of war.

I am the voice of democracy and decency,

The voices of your town

Preaching the message

Sharing recipes,

Selling things on the trading post

Expressing opinions.

I am your voice.

I am radio

I am the past.

The Harding-Cox election returns,

Vincent Lopez

The A&P Gypsies

The velvet voice of Vaughn DeLeath

Paul Whiteman

Amos & Andy,

Lum ‘n’ Abner,

Fibber and Molly.

I am Charlie, the ventriloquist’s friend.

I am horror.

“Oh, the Humanity!”

Or “Now is a good time to switch off the radio,

for I propose to tell you of Buchenwald.”

“President Kennedy is dead.”

And I am hope:

“The only thing we have to fear,

is fear itself.”

“I have a dream.”

“That’s one small step for a man,

one giant leap for mankind.”

I was born of a desire to bring

The city to the country.

I remain the voice of the farmer,

The teller of market prices,

The forecaster of crops.

I am the Dow Jones numbers,

The reporter of prosperity

And collapse,

Of city crime

And rural struggle.

I am radio.

I am imagination.

Lake Woebegone, Minnesota,

where it’s always a quiet week.

Pine Ridge, Arkansas,

where the Jot ‘em Down Store was the place to be.

Grinder’s Switch,

where there was a lady greeter who said,

“How-DEEE!”

Metropolis, Gotham, Summerfield,

Rushville Center, Town Hall Tonight,

and a Dodge City that never was.

My places and my people are what your mind

Shows you they are.

I am heroes—

The Lone Ranger

The Green Hornet

The correspondent under fire

on the front line,

The reporter who will not be intimidated

in the political arena.

I am the villain—

The demagogue and the dictator

The manipulator and the huckster

Selling snake oil

In potions and politics.

Goat glands, Sal Hepatica and Ipana

Healing cloths and Hadacol,

Simple solutions

To complex world problems.

I am radio.

In places I am homogenized,

No longer OF a community,

but just IN a community,

not a station,

but just another format

in a building full of formats.

Some say I lost my soul when

towns became “Markets, “

When stations became only “properties,”

and when the neighbors on the air

talking to us about us

became strangers on the satellite

talking of division and distrust.

When corporate profits

Snuffed out community service

And killed the diversity of voices.

And in too many places, they are correct.

But in some places my heart remains strong,

There, I am still your neighbor,

Still the one who tells you the weather,

Let’s you hear the high school games,

Who tells you of the council, the school board,

The county fair, and the peanut sale.

I have been written off,

Pronounced dead,

Outmoded,

Old-fashioned,

Immaterial,

Uncompetitive,

Low-tech.

But I have not gone away.

I have not died.

I have reinvented,

Reinvigorated,

Restored myself.

Who knows what I am to become?

I remain

The voice in your bedroom,

information in your bathroom,

news at your breakfast table,

a companion in your car.

From midnight to midnight.

I remain.

I am radio.

Never before in the history of the world—

Only a small percentage of visitors to Missouri’s Capitol get to go up to the Whispering Gallery, a place where a person can stand facing the wall and whisper something that is clearly heard by someone facing the wall on the other side of the gallery.  It is unlikely that those who have been there or those who have noticed from their position far below the railing high up in the dome that is the gallery’s home have ever heard that the Missouri Capitol Whispering Gallery was unique in the history of architecture when it was designed.

Never had anything like it been done before.  And as far as we know, the story has never been told before. Or if it has, it hasn’t been told for a long, long time.

Deep in the files of the Capitol Commission Board at the Missouri State Archives is a letter written September 29, 1924 by Egerton Swartwout, the architect whose firm designed our capitol, a few days before the building’s dedication in 1924.  This letter, as is the case with so many of his letters, is an incredibly human document these ninety-plus years after that event.  In it, he recalls his company getting the bid to design the building, the struggles with the contractor over the stone to be used, and other issues that had to be dealt with.  Toward the end of the fourth-page of the five-page letter, he writes of his partner, Evarts Tracy, who had left the firm to help create the Army’s Camouflage Corps during World War I and who had died in Paris in 1921 while helping the French with their postwar reconstruction effort, “Poor Tracy, he was extremely interested in the Capitol and very proud of it and one of the things that appealed to him particularly was the whispering gallery, the only one, by the way, that has ever been made artificially, or rather made on purpose, and that was done by Professor Sabine.   Poor chap, he is dead now but he talked to me about it often and mentions it in his Memoires…”

That mention sent us off in search of Wallace Sabine and his memoirs.  Wallace Sabine was a physics professor at Harvard when Tracy and Swartwout were students there.  When Harvard built the Fogg Auditorium, the school quickly learned the audience could not hear what was being said on the stage and asked Sabine to find out why.  Sabine’s research made him the father of architectural acoustics. The measurement of sound absorption today is the Sabin.  When Tracy and Swartwout were designing the capitol in 1913, they sought Sabine’s advice for ways to make sure members of the House and Senate could hear the speakers in their cavernous, stone-lined chambers.  The sound-absorbing curtains and fabrics in both chambers, including in the ceilings, are the result of Sabine’s study of the original plans.  Some old timers your reporter talked to a long time ago recalled that debate could be heard in the pre-public address system days quite well.

Sabine was only fifty when he died in 1919. His successor at Harvard as the Hollis Chair of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, Theodore Lyman, edited a volume of Sabine’s papers and speeches and even some unpublished presentation, one of which was about whispering galleries.”

Sabine began that paper, “It is probable that all existing whispering galleries, it is certain that the six most famous ones, are accidents; it is equally certain that all could have been predetermined without difficulty and like most accidents could have been improved upon.”  There six he wrote about in his paper were the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Statuary Hall at the Capitol in Washington, The vases in the Salle Des Cariatides in the Louvre in Paris, St. John Lateran in Rome, the Ear of Dionysius at Syracuse, and the Cathedral of Girgenti.  Statuary Hall in our nation’s capitol was the original chamber of the United States House of Representatives until it was outgrown.

Eighteen pages into his discussion of whispering galleries, the father of architectural acoustics wrote that the whispering gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London could have been more efficient had the walls been “slightly, indeed almost imperceptibly curved.” And then he continues, “Such a gallery will be in the dome of the Missouri State Capitol, a gallery unique in this respect that will have been planned intentionally by the architects.”

By the time this paper was published in 1921, editor Lyman added, “The building is now complete. One of the architects, Mr. Edgerton [sic] Swartwout, reports that the whispering gallery in the dome exactly fulfills Professor Sabine’s prediction and has been the cause of much curiosity and astonishment.”

There was some technical stuff in the paper that explained why our whispering gallery works so well and was better than any of the “accidental” ones in previous world history that we won’t get into.   But the fact remains—-

The Missouri Capitol’s whispering gallery was the first one in the entire history of world architecture that was designed specifically to be a whispering gallery.

We just dug that story out in the last ten days or so to put in the next capitol book (don’t ask us when it will be out—maybe 2019 if things work out but look for it when you see it).  But we couldn’t wait that long to tell it.  We’ve known our capitol is an extraordinary place.  But this feature puts it on a whole new scale.

There have been several intentional whispering galleries built in this country and internationally since then.  But the Swartwout/Sabine Whispering Gallery in the Missouri Capitol was the first of its kind.

Ever.

Next time you’re in the rotunda. Look up.  Climb up, if you have permission.  And step through a door to world architectural history.

(The photo is from the blog, “Opulent Opossum,” by Julianna Schroeder, who said some nice things about the Capitol art book back in 2011.  She was a great editor to work with.)

We’ll get around to it eventually. Maybe.

Let us not cast stones at Jefferson City for being a town that likes to talk about things for a long time before doing them.  This is, after all, a government town where many of its citizens spend their days in cubicles, and those citizens are masters at conducting meetings and talking about things and making reports and then putting the reports on shelves until they have another round of meetings.  You probably have heard of the new task force that studied state transportation needs and financing of them—five years after another task force studied state transportation needs and financing of them?

While doing some research at the State Historical Society the other day, I came across a newspaper article headlined, “Mrs. Jas. Houchin Starts Movement for $50,000.00     Y. M.C.A. in Jefferson City.”   It was October, 1915.

The organization of a Young Men’s Christian Association and the construction of a well-equipped building as its headquarters is the plan which Mrs. James A. Houchin has conceived and will carry out within the next year, probably within the next few months.

She already had put down five-thousand dollars on a lot.  “I believe the building should have a gymnasium and a swimming pool.  It will maintain a library, reading rooms and a basketball court,” she said.  She was impressed with the YMCA in Sedalia which had bedrooms on its third floor to rent to club members.

Mrs. Houchin died in 1924.  Jefferson City finally formed its “Y” in 1970.

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We are still waiting on another idea, though.  The Daily Capital News on June 7, 1923 carried a letter on the front page from local lawyer and legislator A. T. Dumm saying it was time the people of the capital city built a convention hall.  Dumm was the president of the Commercial Club—which later was the Chamber of Commerce—and was a member of the state constitutional convention that had recently met.

Editor Capital News:  Responding to your request for a suggestion for the advancement and betterment of Jefferson City, I beg to suggest, for the consideration of your readers and the community, the idea of a convention hall. 

I think we have reached a point in our growth and population where we might confidently launch such an enterprise and that it is highly desirable if not absolutely necessary must be evident…

Jefferson City, like every other city of its class and consequence, must be prepared to meet the demands and requirements, not only of its own people, but of those who, through business or pleasure, become our guests. 

We pride ourselves on the fact that we are the capital of a great state, but we should have a personality and an individuality of our own and not be dependent upon the state for the means of hospitality and entertainment for our visitors.  Outside of the two great cities, we are fast becoming the convention city of the state, and our importance in this respect will increase with every passing year.

A Convention Hall, centrally located, built and paid for by our own people, for the free use of our people and those who come to the capital, would, in my opinion, result in a great increase of our civic pride and advertise us throughout the state more favorably and extensively than any other single factor except good streets in the city and good roads leading to the city.

His friends called him “Tom,” because of his middle name.  He died in 1930.

It took fifty-five years for Mrs. Houchin’s dream of a YMCA to materialize.  It’s now ninety-four years and still talking since Tom Dumm voiced his hope.

Carol

It’s not one of the Christmas carols or hymns we are likely to hear in our churches during this holiday season, but it’s one we need to hear in a year when brotherhood has taken a beating throughout the world.

There are thousands of paintings and other depictions of Jesus, the most ubiquitous—probably—being those of Warner Sallman, particularly his “Head of Christ,” which has been reproduced a half-billion times, some say.  But Jesus probably didn’t look much like the pretty Aryan Jesus made famous by Sallman. And how he really looked is immaterial anyway.  It’s how we see him.

And that brings to Alfred Burt and his wonderful Christmas carol, “Some See Him…”

Alfred Burt was the son of an Episcopal minister in Michigan who began in 1922 the custom of sending special Christmas cards to parishioners that included the words and music for a new Christmas Carol the Reverend Bates Burt had composed. After Alfred graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in music in 1942, “Dad” Burt suggested he take over the Christmas card custom.  Alfred’s wife, Ann, asked the organist at the Bates’ church to write the lyrics while Alfred wrote the music.

Alfred Burt and Wihla Hudson created fifteen carols before his death because of lung cancer in 1954 at the age of thirty-three.

Their 1951 composition, Some See Him is a favorite in our household and seems appropriate for this year.

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav’n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
sweet Mary’s Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus’ face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
‘Tis love that’s born tonight!

In a world that sometimes seems pretty short on love and brotherhood, Alfred Burt’s carol seemed to us pretty important—although we aren’t aware of any service where it will be sung.

If you’d like to hear it, we recommend this performance by Santino Fontana and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v83iNif0hEw

And if you are not familiar with the Alfred Burt carols, we invite you to enjoy this first recording of them, in the year after his death, by the Columbia Choir:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXI6mjujeU8

May we see each other in the spirit of peace this season.

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Waiting for the Nobel Prize

Today we want to recognize an important first step in re-shaping economic thinking so significantly that reducing or eliminating the national debt could be done easily, a concept so brilliant that—if appropriately expanded—could merit international recognition.

The tax bill recently approved by the House of Representatives in Washington proposes to tax graduate student tuition waivers.  For those of us who never got far enough in our higher education to be offered those waivers or who came along before they were widespread in higher education, here’s how they work:

A University tells a student pursuing a master’s degree or a doctorate they will not have to pay tuition if they help teach or do research beneficial to the university.  The university pays those students a small stipend for their work so they can eat and pay their rent.

The House bill wants to consider the tuition waiver as income.   And to tax it.

It is a matter of considering money a person never has and does not spend as income and then levying an income tax on those never-had and unspent funds.   Think of the possibilities!

Paying a tax on the raise you did not get could provide millions of deficit-reducing dollars to the federal government.  Paying a tax on a stock dividend that did not materialize would add even more.  Considering the difference between what you wanted on a car trade-in and what the dealer gave you as income and taxing that amount would add to the deficit-reducing federal income.

Here’s one we thought of the other day when we went to Columbia where the gas price that day was nineteen cents less per gallon than the price in Jefferson City.  We used our grocery store gas rewards card to knock another forty cents a gallon off of the fuel we put in our tank.  Think how much the federal government could collect if it considered supermarket gas refunds as part of our personal income.

Soon the pre-holiday price reductions we are seeing in our stores will give way to the post-holiday sales prices.  If Congress were to take the simple step of taxing the hundreds of millions of dollars that are not spent because of those pre-and-post-holiday price reductions, the annual federal deficit could be eliminated and bites could be taken out of the total national debt.

The car companies are offering multi-thousand dollar incentives to clear their lots of 2017 models.  If Congress were to consider those price reductions as income and tax it, another important debt-reduction step could be taken.

Think of how much money is saved every single day by people who shop at the day-old bread counter at the grocery store.  It might seem like pennies for each loaf, but when applied nationally and for an entire year, taxing the savings on all of those loaves of day-old bread will add up to millions of dollars a year in tax collections.

Oh, and here’s a biggie.  An industry that decides to build a factory, a warehouse, or any other facility in a foreign country instead of in the United States because it can save millions of dollars in construction and operation costs:  If those savings were considered corporate income and taxed—even at the proposed lowered corporate tax rate—the economic benefit would be enormous.

And—oh, wait, there’s one more and it’s particularly appropriate at this time of year.  Further, it’s pretty comparable to the tuition waiver.   We are awash in online and catalog offers to provide customers with a benefit if the customer provides something of value to the merchant in return for which the merchant waives a fee or charge.  Give us money, says the merchant, and we will give you a sweater but we will waive the shipping charge.  Since the customer receives the benefit–a sweater—but spends no money to receive it, the shipping charge is thus income and can be taxed as such, just as a graduate student receives a benefit—an education—by providing something of value to the university (teaching or research assistance) but does not pay the equivalent of a “shipping charge” to get it and therefore faces paying income taxes on money never possessed or spent.

Think of the incredible benefits this economic philosophy of turning unspent dollars into taxable income could provide if applied widely, assuming the federal government doesn’t just increase spending to or beyond the amount of additional funds it would collect.  Congress could wipe out the national deficit and it could provide billions of dollars that could trickle down throughout America in programs and services beneficial to the poor, the hungry, the sick.

And to graduate students.

We’ll be watching for next year’s announcement of the Nobel Prize for Economics to see if this great advance is deservedly rewarded.