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The written word is subjective. As a writing teacher, I tried always to provide my students with a rubric to guide their work. This way they knew upfront how their essays would be evaluated, and I felt I could be more fair about assigning a grade to their words. For example, my rubric might give a solid thesis statement 10 points, well-developed arguments/content 30 points, good sentence structure 20 points and grammar and usage 15 points, giving the whole essay a possible value of 75 points.

As the presidential election starts to rev up, I got to thinking maybe this idea of creating a rubric would help us voters decide, unequivocally, who is the most presidential candidate according to a rubric of qualities most valued in leading the free world. For example, here is a rubric weighing the features I feel would be most important in a president:

_____Honesty (50 points). This means refraining from gaslighting or telling Americans what they want to hear, rather than the truth.

_____Integrity (50 points). Having values and a moral compass that never waver whether they win votes or not.

_____Intelligence (30 points). The ability to understand the complexities of our world.

_____Listening. (40 points). Being able to collaborate with other experts. Being open to hearing different perspectives before making decisions that will affect our people and planet.

_____Compassion (30 points). Being guided by an empathy toward all people and their rights as humans.

_____TOTAL (200 points).

This rubric is a tall order for any human, but even so, my rubric makes the choice for president more clear as to which of the candidates is most presidential and whose score falls well below a passing grade. My rubric leans heavily on leadership and qualities of character, but each voter has an option to create their rubric of what they value before they cast their vote. As voters perhaps it is wiser to challenge ourselves to examine the candidate rather than the promises they make while campaigning. What attributes do you value most to lead us toward a better, thriving, equitable America?

Peggy Ludtke, Stillwater


Jazz on a Minnesota dock

On a dock, on a mild Minnesota morning at 3 a.m., wrapped in a blanket, the aurora of a lifetime swirled above my head. Words are an insufficient method for capturing the experience and sharing it. It was like being in the wind of a night rainbow. I couldn't look away, couldn't stop taking photo after photo. I sat until almost dawn watching, absorbing, awe-filled, bathed in beauty. It won't happen again in my life, mild weather, no mosquitoes, windless — allowing the lights to reflect on the lake — and, even in our times, smokeless. Nothing stood in the way of a complete northern lights night. Every cell in my body was realigned by the solar swirl. Our sun adding an extra boost to everything it already gives us.

And how does jazz connect with the northern lights in the spring of 2024? Asked to sit in on a jazz group playing at a local venue, this church musician, soloist and cantor said yes. At 64, you just don't say no to a new musical adventure. I stared at the charts I was sent not knowing really what they were (basic directions for the instrumentalists) and promptly reached out to my musical buddies for real music that sported notes, chords, words, time signatures and familiar musical symbols. This musical adventure was, as they say, totally out of my wheelhouse. No rehearsal, microphones, plan as you go, stay on your toes, make in-the-moment music.

One of my selections was "When You Wish Upon A Star." So human to think just about our wishes, trying to bend our gargantuan star to our personal whims. But as I prepared the piece, I reflected on the song in the light of our recent auroral outburst. I wondered, was our sun sending us a wish this time? Seeing the current suffering of our planet and its inhabitants and sending solar breezes, which apparently activate particles above us, which gifts us a jazzy light show of undeniable originality?

Despite my trepidation, my jazz debut went off without a hitch, thanks to the skill of the instrumentalist who despite minimal directions and my hesitant vocals made music happen. That's jazz, I guess. It only happens that way once, creative and original. Like our recent northern lights, magnificent from a dock, in a lake, in the middle north of our country. I'll carry that night with me all my days, the music of the spheres. Available to all who care to look up, at night, sitting quietly long enough for your eyes to calm down enough to see the faint light, the swirls, the spires and the occasional shimmer of our northern light.

Kris Potter, South Haven, Minn.


All aboard for Chicago

Thanks to the Star Tribune for excellent coverage of Amtrak's new Borealis passenger service between Minneapolis and Chicago. The large front-page picture with the headline "Just the ticket" and full-page article "Borealis makes its maiden voyage" (May 22) provide information that will inspire travelers to use this new, significantly improved rail service. Popular Minnesota destinations along the route include Red Wing and Winona.

In addition to the comfortable coaches and food service, Borealis will benefit from many millions of dollars spent on track improvement along its route that includes $12 million contributed by Minnesota and Wisconsin. No doubt President Joe Biden's bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act of 2021 provided some of the money and incentive to complete this long-planned project.

A nice touch for inaugural passengers was having Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner riding along and greeting them. Clearly Amtrak is ready for some long-awaited improvements to its overall passenger service, going beyond the Northwest Corridor that features high-speed Acela trains between Washington, D.C., and Boston.

William Steinbicker, Minnetonka


Where are all the riders?

I have always been proud to live in a "bike friendly" metropolis. While it's lame to admit it, on a recent Friday I finally dusted off my Raleigh 10-speed and pedaled the Greenway to work for very first time. While basking in the glow of a warm smile from Greta Thunberg in my mind's eye, I began to think about why the bike lanes on city streets have so few riders. Did Minneapolis (and Edina for that matter) build the two-pedal equivalent of the interstate highway system only to see it go unused? Did I suffer the staring from co-workers for wearing spandex to casual day for nothing? I mean seriously, do we need more Dutch people downtown, or perhaps do we just need more dolts like me to get off their rumps and ride?

Chris Birt, Edina