Charmed, I’m sure3/11/2015
By Kent Carlson
Maybe it was the period in time I was raised, or maybe it was who raised me, but the term “charming” really wasn’t a big part of my vocabulary. At least not until I met my friend, Dennis. Dennis was about 15 years older than me. He not only introduced me to the term, he was charming. He was a bit of a scoundrel, but charming nonetheless. In fact, charm goes a long way in winning over people. Over time I really appreciated the term, as well as Dennis. It’s not a term that is used often these days, and I think for good reason. The concept isn’t really appreciated. That indefinable little element that takes something from being kind of interesting to downright charming seems to be disappearing with the generations.
Several decades ago, there was a wonderful little event in Greenwood Park called “Art in the Park.” It wasn’t terribly formal. It was a gathering of artisans of different interests who shared their craft with others in what seemed to be a magical forest. It smelled of nature. Shafts of sunlight would shine through the towering oaks creating a natural light show during the day. People could bring a blanket and some lunch and hang out elsewhere in the park enjoying the shade or the sun while taking in our Iowa summer. It was…charming.
But, as is often the case, success brought change. “Art in the Park” grew in size and scope. Parking became a challenge. Rain sometimes brought slick, muddy hillsides. Organizers decided to move the event several times and changed the name to “The Des Moines Arts Festival.” More vendors, more artists, more attendees. The event has finally settled in the Western Gateway.
Another one of my favorite, unique Des Moines events has been the Salisbury Concours d’Elegance, a world-class show of classic vehicles on the grounds of the world-class Salisbury Mansion. I thought it a miracle, and a bit of genius, when organizers managed to combine a fabulous landmark with landmark vehicles for the public to enjoy. The Salisbury House and grounds are an amazing gift to Des Moines that I never tire of. It is hard for me to describe the joy the event has been for those who appreciate the artistry found in great automobile marques and great architecture. It’s a step back to the Gatsby era and all the charm that goes with it.
Once again, the success of an event has forced it to move. It is now the “Des Moines Concours d’Elegance.” And like the arts festival, it now takes place in the Western Gateway. Missing from the event is the Salisbury House, and the elegance it brought to the show.
My two favorite summertime activities in Des Moines now take place on the asphalt in downtown Des Moines. It seems charm is inversely proportionate to success. The Western Gateway has all the charm of a Wal-Mart parking lot, with some odd sculptures thrown in for conversation pieces. Traipsing across steaming asphalt to look at art or classic automobiles is hardly charming or unique, no matter how convenient it is to organizers. I’m sure city hall is thrilled to have something to fill the vacuum they created by imploding blocks of downtown Des Moines. For me, the thrill is gone. And so is the charm. CV
Kent Carlson is a native Iowa artist interested in the preserving Iowa’s architectural heritage and the common sense of its leaders. And he writes a few columns for Cityview, too.
A modest suggestion: Give up ignorance for Lent
By Herb Strentz
Succumbing to the temptation that one usually knows what is better for others, may I suggest that instead of giving up chocolate, gin or cursing for Lent, we’d be a lot better off if people would give up ignorance. Give it a try. Forsake ignorance, if only just for what’s left of the 40 days of Lent.
That notion occurred as I leafed through the March issue of National Geographic, in which the cover story, THE WAR ON SCIENCE, is a horror story all its own — peppered as it is with graphic lift outs such as “A THIRD of Americans believe humans have existed in their present form since time began” and “LESS THAN HALF of all Americans believe the Earth is warming because humans are burning fossil fuels,” along with lines about people who believe Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were pranksters in a hoax about landing on the moon.
Predictably, for me, this led to revisiting a favorite quote from the play, “Inherit The Wind,” a drama about the so-called 1925 “Monkey Trial” over the teaching of evolution in Tennessee.
On the witness stand, the anti-evolutionist William Jennings Bryan character asks the courtroom to consider the defense attorney, Clarence Darrow: “Is it possible that something is holy to the celebrated agnostic?”
“Yes!” Darrow replies. “The individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table there is more sanctity than in all your shouted ‘Amens!’ ‘Holy Holies!’ and Hosannahs!’ An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is more of a miracle than…the parting of waters.”
Those lines still resonate this Lenten season, perhaps even as much as the Sunday Old Testament Lesson or the Epistle or the Gospel for the day. Indeed, the idea of giving up ignorance for Lent is reinforced everywhere, it seems.
In an op-ed piece for The New York Times — Happy Talk History — Timothy Egan notes that not only are many political leaders in denial of science, as noted in National Geographic, they’re also in denial of history. Because history courses were not sufficiently pro-American and pro-Biblical, Egan wrote, Oklahoma “State Rep. Dan Fisher, a Republican, a Baptist minister and an active promoter of the view that church must meddle more in the affairs of state… got a legislative committee to approve an ‘emergency bill’ to ban A.P. history courses for college credit in Oklahoma high schools.”
The “good news” Egan writes is “Fisher has been mocked, mercilessly, in his home state. His legislation seeks to deny high school students access to a voluntary program that offers them college credit — a leg up in life, and a tuition-saver.”
The not-so-good news is that denial of science and denial of history is in vogue. The National Geographic notes, “We live in an age when all manner of scientific knowledge — from the safety of fluoride and vaccines to the reality of climate change — faces organized and often furious opposition.” Empowered by their own certainty and reinforced by fellow believers, “doubters have declared war on” well-founded consensus.
Small wonder that satirist Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker should write, “In the hopes of appealing to Republican primary voters, candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination are working around the clock to unlearn everything that they have learned since the third grade, aides to the candidates have confirmed. “With the Iowa caucuses less than a year away, the hopefuls are busy scrubbing their brains of basic facts of math, science, and geography in an attempt to resemble the semi-sentient beings that Republican primary voters prize.”
That seems an invitation to Iowa to counter fear-driven and fear-driving candidates by giving up ignorance for Lent. And maybe beyond? CV
Lyrics to “If I Only Had A Brain”
(As a GOP theme song — with apologies to Oz’s scarecrow)
We could do away with Perrys
With Carsons and with Christies
And with the man from Bain
We could do real soul searchin’
Instead of phony churchin’
If we only had a brain
We’d listen to the people
And not just the creep who’ll
Bankroll our campaign
With the thoughts we’d be thinkin’
We could be the party of Lincoln
If we only had a brain
Oh, we could do so much
To close the income gap
Cope with climate change, take ISIS off the map
And then dysfunction we could zap
We’d wonder ‘bout Giuliani
Our latter-day McCarthy
Good grief! The guy’s a pain
We would do our ‘nash-nul’ duty
Forsakin’ guys like Rudy
If we only had a brain
We would not just be a poutin’
Trumpin’, hatin’ and shoutin’
And just plain raisin’ Cain
We could win the election
Say goodbye to dis-affection
If we only had a brain CV
Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.