Letter from the Editor

Thursday, November 18, 2004

More than a coincidence

I was reading the remarkable story of Patrick Jordan today, which reminds me that while Baghdad seems a world removed from our Iowa lives, it can be a pretty small world after all.

Jordan served in a tank unit with an armored regiment, when they rumbled upon a group of soldiers pinned down and surrounded by a nightmare of an ambush - small arms fire, pipe bombs, grenades, and burning roadblocks.

Jordan helped to pull 20 men to safety that day, and was awarded the Silver Star for saving six soldiers trapped when their Humvee broke down outside the Sadr City battle.

Shawn Cook was one of those men, serving in a cavalry regiment. He saw one of his friends die in the Humvee beside him, but then the tanks arrived, and Jordan rescued the six survivors from the Humvee. Cook is still serving in Iraq, while Jordan has since returned to his base in Germany.

What neither man realized at the time is that they knew each other. In fact, they were classmates at the same alternative high school in West Des Moines.

That's pretty surprising.

What isn't surprising is how many heroes from Iowa are coming out of this war. Alternative school or not, part of Iowa education has always been reaching out to those in need.

Not all of us are fighting in Iraq, but we all will have our chances to reach out when someone needs us the most. Will we take the chance to be a hero to someone?

It's a small world, alright, but sometimes, the very worst of it brings out the very best out of us.

The Iraqi election is coming, and then it will be time to begin bringing Shawn and the rest of the major military presence home. As Iowans, we should start demanding that. It may be our way of pulling someone out of harm's way.

* All this reminds me that Colin Powell and three other members of the Bush Cabinet have announced plans to resign this week, and others are expected to follow. At least somebody in the White House has an exit strategy.

* The other day, someone showed me a picture of one of the President's appearances in Iowa shortly before the election. It was a Secret Service guy's feet, with a battered satchel sitting next to them. (Battered, perhaps, so that somebody doesn't get itchy hands to sneak off with a shiny new briefcase.)

This is the legendary "football," as it is known. The contents of this humble bag, sitting on the ground at an Iowa rally, is set to fire a nuclear weapons launch that would instantly and no doubt drastically change the future of the world.

I was a bit stunned. I somehow assumed that with the end of the Cold War, we had backed off the red telephone, Star Wars and the football a little. Apparently not.

If you really want to be scared, pick up the book, "How to be President: What to Do and Where to Go Once You're in Office."

In it, you will learn that one president reportedly carried the nuclear codes in his personal wallet, wrapped around his credit cards with a rubber band.

And that President Carter once forgot the nuclear codes in his suit pocket, and that they were discovered at the cleaners.

* On the state front this week, Sarah Oltrogge of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs tells us that eight cities have been selected to be designated Cultural Districts in the new Imagine Iowa 2010 program. Locally, Cherokee and Spencer are among them.

Congrats to them, but it's a crime that Storm Lake was ignored. We have two art galleries and a third proposed, the state's best scholastic art and music program, a parade of nationally known cultural acts through Buena Vista University, fine community and collegiate theater groups, historical resources aplenty, including a rare downtown of mostly original 1800s buildings and a new effort to save the threatened depot, plenty of community events with cultural efforts showcased, and the state's very best efforts at sharing cultural diversity.

It's good to see the state making a real statement about the value of culture, instead of the old smokestack chase. But the state should be embarrassed for missing Storm Lake, and the opportunities that would have come with including it. Or do we just lack the political pull?

* With another birthday recently passed, an e-mail a friend recently passed on is especially welcome. It was a list of sage advice from American icon Will Rogers.

"Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement," he said, quite well.

"If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."

"Never kick a cow chip on a hot day."

And on aging:

"Some people want to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know why I look this way. I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved."

"The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for."

And my favorite, beautifully said:

"One must wait for the evening to see how splendid the day has been."

And with this one, I'll bid you all a good night...

"Never miss a good chance to shut up."