Saturday, June 30, 2012

US Olympic swimming trials

"Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement - and we will make the goal." — Jerome P. Fleishman, lyricist (who's only well-known song that I can find was published in 1905)

PAUL AND I are attending the Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha. We've been here for two days and have already seen so many great athletes and races. 

We totally lucked out tonight with our seats; we were right above the start and finish end of the pool. We were situated so we could also see the three NBC Sports announcers as they were broadcasting live. Here are a few pictures from Friday night.

This is what the pool looks like when they turn off the lights
for drama right before a big race or an awards presentation.

Here it is with the lights on.

When someone breaks a Trials, American, Olympic or 
world record, they set off the flash pots.

We got to see Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte last night and tonight. This is the a semifinal heat of the men's 200 IM. Michael is in the fourth lane from the right with his arms back, and Ryan is in the fifth. 

Same race — 200 men's IM — just after the starting buzzer. Michael Phelps is in the
fourth lane from the right and Ryan Lochte is in the fifth.

They're burning it to the wall on the last 50 meters, the freestyle leg, of the men's 200 IM. Ryan is ahead with Michael close behind in lane four. We were rooting for Ryan, and he won.

Being here is just so much fun!! Paul is wearing his US swimming
trials shirt from when we attended four years ago.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Health care victory

"Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music." ― George Carlin

PAUL AND I are doing the happy dance over the Supreme Court finding the health care law to be constitutional. And who would have ever supposed that it would be Chief Justice John Roberts who made the difference?! 

I would have guessed Justice Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote. But Kennedy has been disappointing me a lot lately; I thought health care was doomed. 

I wonder whether the fact that the entire country (except the very rich and Wall Street) is pissed off about the high court's decision finding that corporations are people (clearing the way for those with the means to buy our government) at all influenced Justice Robert's opinion. Perhaps he doesn't want to go down in history as having headed the most plutocratic court ever.

I can't believe that in this case fairness prevailed!! Paul and I will be celebrating by attending the Olympic swimming trials in Omaha. We've had tickets for a little while, but it was looking dicey as to whether Spiderman would be able to go. I wouldn't have had the heart to go without him.

Chock one up for the home team! :-)
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On the mend

"By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity--another man's I mean." Mark Twain, Following the Equator

IT WAS A tough weekend for Paul, but as of today the wound from being bitten by a brown recluse spider is healing better than I thought possible based on how it started out. The swelling from knee to ankle is gone, the muscle and joint pain are pretty much gone, and the brainbanger of a headache he's had for more than a week is not quite, but almost, gone. He's still quite tired, but all in all his prognosis is exceptional considering how sick he was. 

Here are an illustration and photos so you won't be afraid of all spiders — just the poisonous ones. In Iowa there are two to watch out for: the brown recluse  and black widows.

The identifying mark of a brown recluse is the 
violin-shaped dark area on their heads. 

Okay, it's pretty creepy looking.

You also want to avoid black widows,
recognizable by the red dot.
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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Spiderman minus the superpowers

"If you are going through hell, keep going." Winston Churchill

PAUL WAS BITTEN by a brown recluse spider on Saturday. Being bitten by a brown recluse is not a good thing. There are only two species in our part of the country that you have to watch out for: black widows and brown recluse spiders.

Paul thought it was a tiny injury sustained in the course of building an 18-feet high, 20" X 20" aluminum-extrusion exhibit, and not knowing that it was a venomous spider bite, treated it exactly opposite of how he should have.

When you're bitten, you should go immediately to a doctor or urgent care center for treatment. He was bitten on Saturday but didn't see a doctor until Wednesday. 

You're not supposed to apply heat to the bite site which Paul did, over my suggestion that he ice it instead. He didn't know what he was dealing with. (Neither did I, but my rule of thumb is that heat may help some things sometimes, but can potentially be quite harmful, whereas ice might not always help in every case, but it's never going to do damage.)

If you've been bitten, you should be inactive because the more you move around, the farther and faster the poison spreads in the body. Not only had Paul been building this exhibit from early Saturday until 1:30 AM Sunday — in and out of wooden crates, working on the floor, up and down ladders, lifting, carrying, using tools and so on — so the client, who had driven in from Champaign, IL could perform the walk-through, but on Sunday he rehearsed for and played a Music Under the Stars concert for six or more hours.  

(When Paul and I were first together, he told me that playing a trombone is a strenuous, aerobic activity. At the time I thought that sounded like an exaggeration until I ended up being seated close behind him one evening a few months later during a Des Moines Big Band performance. I was in just the right spot to watch his back muscles and legs and arms while he played, and I could definitely "see" what he was talking about.)

Monday Paul put in another long, hard day tearing down and packing up the exhibit for the freight carrier. All in all, I think it would have been hard for him to have been more active unless he been climbing a mountain or competing in a triathlon.

Here's what Dr. Jerry Balentine, D.O. F.A.C.E.P. on has to say: "The brown recluse venom is extremely poisonous, even more potent than that of a rattlesnake, but causes less disease than a rattlesnake bite because of the small quantities injected into its victims. The venom of the brown recluse is toxic to cells and tissues.

This venom is a collection of enzymes. One of the specific enzymes, once released into the victim's skin, causes destruction of local cell membranes, which disrupts the integrity of tissues leading to local breakdown of skin, fat, and blood vessels. This process leads to eventual tissue death (necrosis) in areas immediately surrounding the bite site."

This is not a picture of Paul, but it could be except
that the wound has also risen up and looks kind 

of like mount Everest from the side. says this:

Some people have a severe, systemic (whole-body) reaction to brown recluse spider bites, including the rapid destruction of red blood cells and anemia (hemolytic anemia). Symptoms include:

— fever and chills
— nausea or vomiting
— joint pain

Paul has extreme pain at the bite wound site and in his whole leg. His leg is swollen from knee to ankle and turned hot pick. He's been running a fever alternating with chills. He has had nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and in addition to one hell of a headache, his whole body hurts.

In a clinical study, skin necrosis occurred 37% of the time, while systemic illness occurred 14% of the time. Paul is on the wrong side of those statistics; he has both.

And as if this weren't bad enough, Paul has been fighting an MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus) infection for the last five months at least. He's now on his fifth kind of antibiotic. I'm taking the best care I can of him, but I can't help but be freaked out. He's really sick!

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Facebook étiquette

"Good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person." — Mark Twain, Notebook, 1898

THIS WHOLE Facebook thing is a bit of a quandary to me. I haven't quite decided what I think about it. 

Paul was much more of an early adopter and "got" how it works right away. I was slower to give it a try, and I'm not very good at it yet. The jury is still out as far as I'm concerned. I might be like my friend Ann, and give it a miss altogether.

On the one hand, it's nice to be able to keep up with events in the lives of family members and close friends, and on the other — well, I've got four other hands.

1) I'm by nature not a joiner (Rotary would be the exception; it's completely amazing that I've stuck with it). I also have somewhat of your basic luddite mistrust of the whole linked-in thing — both literally and figuratively. I signed up for Linkedin, and ditched it soon after. Temperamentally, it might not suit me.

2) Although a person generally speaking enjoys hearing what's going on with those you feel close to, you're also subject to all sorts of details about others' lives that you might just prefer not knowing. A little of the TMI thing going on.

3) Following all these events and activities and thoughts for such a crew of people can eat up a whole lot of time!

4) There also seems to be a certain amount of bad manners practiced by users. I've been paying attention to how a Facebook presence is managed by those who seem gracious to me in their use of it, and from what I can tell, the proper etiquette is that if someone takes the time to comment on something you've posted, it's polite to "like" the comment as a means of essentially saying "thank you for taking the time to read and respond."

And although I faithfully read and "like" what certain contributors post, they never return the compliment. It's understandable in the case of public figures who have thousands of "friends" (though I was pleasantly surprised to have Frank Bruni from the New York Times reply via email), but in the case of family members, friends and friendly acquaintances, it seems rude not to be reciprocal. The nonverbal — or perhaps I should call it the non-clicked message — is that what those particular posters are thinking, saying or doing is so terribly interesting, meaningful, cute, erudite, or wise and so on and so on, but the same is not true in reverse. "I'm fascinating; you're not."

Paul recently had a great time removing people from his list. I'm considering the same, or at least being as unconcerned with those who are unconcerned with me. As Grandpa used to say, "What's sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander," or as Grandma would say, "Turn about is fair play."
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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Facial characteristics of autism

"The one common denominator for all of the young children is that early intervention does work, and it seems to improve the prognosis." — Temple Grandin

LAST OCTOBER I included some new research in a post about subtle facial characteristics that can help identify autism spectrum in children before behaviors become extreme enough for diagnosis. The earlier identification and intervention take place, the better the potential outcome for both child and family.

Science Daily had this to say on October 20, 2011: 

The face and brain develop in coordination, with each influencing the other, beginning in the embryo and continuing through adolescence. Now, University of Missouri researchers have found distinct differences between the facial characteristics of children with autism compared to those of typically developing children. This knowledge could help researchers understand the origins of autism.

Here's part of the study originally published in Molecular Autism:

There is no clear answer about whether autism is caused by genetics or by environmental influences," said Kristina Aldridge, lead author and assistant professor of anatomy in the MU School of Medicine and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. "If we can identify when these facial changes occur, we could pinpoint when autism may begin to develop in a child.

Aldridge and colleagues found these differences:

Children with autism have a broader upper face, including wider eyes.

Children with autism have a shorter middle region of the face, including the cheeks and nose.

Children with autism have a broader or wider mouth and philtrum – the divot below the nose, above the top lip.

I found more photos on CBS News from the study. 

Here two good websites to assist with early identification:


"I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul." — Jean Cocteau, French poet, novelist, playwright, artist and filmmaker

I'M UPSTAIRS WITH Anaya, and after feeding her her nightly treat of an 1/8 of a can of Fancy Feast, talking to her and petting her, I'm hanging out on a big doggy bed we bought — for me, actually, to provide a cushion on the hard pine floor.

She has a bowl of dry crunchies and fresh water available to her at all times, but she, like our other three, loves her twice-a-day treat.

We have our routine, she and I. I come upstairs with enough sound that she knows I'm approaching. She's always on the window shelf we put in for her. 

I enter the room, sit on a hard chair about five feet from her and talk to her. Then I move to the big cushion on the floor that's only two feet from her. I continue to talk to her in a soothing voice. We're now eye-level with one another. 

I put out my hand and let her sniff my fingers. I put her treat plate on the window shelf, but I hold onto it as an aid to the process of acclimating her to my hands. Then I stroke her head and shoulders as I continue making soothing sounds, and she moves to the plate and eats from it while I hold it. 

I take the plate down when she's done and scrape up any little leftover bits on my fingers, and offer it to her. She eats the bits off my fingers. Then I pet her and pet her and pet her, and I'm blessed once again with purring. Then I hang out on the floor cushion and read a magazine or the news online or, in this case, tonight I'm writing to you.

The purring is music to me. There was about a month's absence of it from when she first purred in late May until it resumed only recently. We had to remove her favorite, favorite piece of furniture from the room in order to make her more accessible. It was a very tall bookcase, and the top of it was her safe place, but we'd reached a plateau. I couldn't keep standing on a chair for 15 minutes or half and hour at a crack. I needed to be able to spend much more time with her than that, and she wasn't about to get down off the bookcase while I was there. 

Anaya was not happy with us for making the change, and she regressed for awhile to hiding and hissing. She's better than ever now, though. She stretches out on her side on her window shelf after her treat and lets me pet her. It's a big deal because that's a much more vulnerable position than a crouch or a regular sitting position — and tonight for the first time, I got actual kneading! She even goes entirely to sleep, stretched out two feet from my head.

I let in each of the other kids one at a time last night. Shiva, who's our sporty, climby girl, wants to get up on the shelf with her, or better yet, climb up the big fancy cat tree we got Anaya. We were hoping that the cat tree with it's three levels of perches and scratching posts and so on would compensate for the missing book case, but so far I'm not sure Anaya has even been on it.

Shiva, on the other hand, wants to climb the tree in the worst way. Such familiarity and climbing about inches away from her by another cat is much too alarming for Anaya at this stage, and Shye, I discovered, would be positively mean to Anaya if I'd let her be. Shye was trying to attack her, so Shye is not allowed in. 

Our big goofy, lovable boy is harmless, though. He wants to get to know her and stretches up for a sniff, but Anaya hisses and swats, so he backs down and away. Rebuffed, he just wants to go around the room and sniff everything and love up all over me to reassure himself. I encourage that so that Anaya can see that it's safe to get down on the floor and walk around, over me and on top of me.

My next goal is to see if I can get Anaya to play. If I can get her to play with a string or some other toy, I think I'll have some chance of getting her down off her shelf with me.

There's so much to tell of the Anaya story, all fraught with drama. I'll try to pick up the threads from where I stopped. 

Anaya was small and thin and very feral when we live-trapped her. We didn't know whether she was male or female, and she was much too wild for us to endeavor to find out. 

All doubt was erased when I came home on a Monday night after work not many weeks after we'd caught her. I went upstairs to check on her and heard the tiniest, tiniest squeaks. I turned on the light to discover four very, very small new-born kittens. One was already dead, but three were still alive. 

It was a shock! Not only did she not look old enough to reproduce, she was so skinny!! There was hardly anything to her and certainly no sign of pregnancy.

Paul was already at Big Band, so I couldn't get help from him. I immediately called someone who volunteers regularly at an animal shelter. She said I should just leave the kittens, and instinct would drive Anaya to take care of her babies. That's not exactly how it turned out, however. And that's as far as I can get for now.

A big PS: I came downstairs when I was finished writing this, and turned right around and went back upstairs to fill Anaya's dry crunchies bowl. The light going off is her signal that I'm gone for the night, but I left it on because I knew I was coming back up immediately. Anaya had gotten down off her window shelf — which she never does until I turn off the light. I circled around her as far away as the room would allow to get to her bowl, and she remained on the floor. And not only that: she was actually in a regular upright sitting position, not a crouch. Another victory for love and happiness. My Boy Boy was evidently a good teacher tonight. Pictures soon, I promise.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Music under the stars

"I have learned that there lies dormant in the souls of all men a penchant for some particular musical instrument, and an unsuspected yearning to learn to play on it, that are bound to wake up and demand attention some day. Therefore, you who rail at such as disturb your slumbers with unsuccessful and demoralizing attempts to subjugate a fiddle, beware! for sooner or later your own time will come." — Mark Twain, A Touching Story of George Washington's Boyhood

TODAY, Fathers' Day, Sunday, June 17 is the first concert in the Music Under the Stars series. If you live in the Des Moines area, consider attending. Played in the early evening on the lawn and steps at the foot of the capitol building, it's a lovely experience and entirely free.

A picture from Music Under the Stars a year ago.

Tonight program is called The Sounds of Summer. The Des Metro Concert Band plays first and features Mike Short, tuba soloist, followed by the Des Moines Metro Big Band. Paul plays in both. It's directed and conducted by Drake University music department chairman, Clarence Padilla. Other musician friends besides Clarence and Mike who will be playing are Dan Stevenson, president of Local 75 Des Moines Musician Association, John Kendeigh and Cindy Short. BTW, as of two days ago Mike and Cindy are first-time grandparents of baby Caroline.

The concert starts at 7:00. Bring a chair or a blanket. The weather portends to remain beautiful, so consider coming out to enjoy sunset over the city while you listen to live music. It would make for a nice date to celebrate Fathers' Day, reminiscent of simpler, safer era.

JUNE 24  A Little Night Music

7:00 PM  Des Moines Metro Concert Band with saxophone soloist, Jim Romain
8:00 8:00 PM Des Moines Metro Big Band
 with special guest, Fred Gazzo

JULY 1  Spirit of America

7:00 PM  Des Moines Metro Concert Band with flute soloist, Sandy Wacha

8:00 PM  Des Moines Metro Big Band

JULY 8  It's Showtime

7:00 PM  Des Moines Metro Concert Band with trumpet soloist, Andy Classen
8:00 PM  Des Moines Metro Big Band with special guest, Max Wellman

  Jazz in July

7:00 PM  The Soya Vista Jazz Orchestra with Gina Gedler

JULY 22  Military Veterans

7:00 PM  Iowa Military Veterans Band
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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Gail Collins points out a big duh

"If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say that the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little." — George Carlin 

YOU'VE CAUGHT ON that I'm a fan of the New York Times. How can I not be with the bevy of witty, insightful writers on staff.

BTW, don't get me started on the whole if you read the NYT you're some kind of cerebral snooty-pants. Speaking personally, I'm much more legally blonde than intellectual snob.

Aside from that, when did it get to be a bad thing to be smart?! Not that I think that I am, mind you. I like smart people. We need smart people. Isn't that the whole point of education? So really, someone explain to me just exactly how it came to be considered a plus to be unencumbered by information?

But I digress, which is after all, why this is called Hey Look, Something Shiny! 

Where were we? Oh yeah, the NYT; that's what we were talking about. Gail Collins is one of my faves. Yesterday she had a great column that points out something so forrest-for-the-trees, that after you read it, you think "duh." Why couldn't I have made such a concise and accurate diagram of the current political dichotomy. 

PS: I'm attaching her picture. Does she look like a condescending intellectual? No, she looks like your high school English teacher.

That highfalutin Gail Collins.

Running on Empty
Published: June 15, 2012 377 

Our biggest political division is the war between the empty places and the crowded places.

It’s natural. People who live in crowded places tend to appreciate government. It’s the thing that sets boundaries on public behavior, protects them from burglars and cleans the streets. If anything, they’d like it to do more. (That pothole’s been there for a year!) The people who live in empty places don’t see the point. If a burglar decides to break in, that’s what they’ve got guns for. Other folks don’t get in their way because their way is really, really remote. Who needs government? It just makes trouble and costs money.

The Tea Party is so Empty Places. Do you remember that Tea Party rally in Washington last year over the budget crisis? (That would be the spring budget crisis as opposed to the many other seasonal versions.) “Nobody wants the government to shut down,” began Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, diplomatically. “Yes we do!” cried voices from the crowd.

The Empty Theory made a lot of sense when the country was full of isolated farms, but it lost its mojo when the farmland filled up with suburbs and we elected a long series of presidents who were, to one degree or another, Modified Crowded. But now Empty is making a comeback, less an expression of physical reality than a state of mind. People living on Social Security and Medicare in a 400-unit condo development built with federal subsidies can march to their congressman’s town-hall meeting and demand that he get government out of their hair.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with Texas, the perfect exemplar of the New Empty. The population of Texas is approaching 26 million, mostly urban-suburbanites. But many of them believe they’re on the lone prairie. “Ask my students,” a professor at Texas A&M University told me. “They all associate themselves with the country. They’re living a myth. They think of Texas as open wide, but 80 percent of the people in Texas live in one of the major metropolitan areas.”

Texas is so Tea Party. Democrats haven’t won a statewide race there since 1994. Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, was one of the Tea Party’s organizational founders. Ron Paul was a kind of intellectual godfather. Rick Perry hails from an area in West Texas nicknamed “The Big Empty.” So, on the one hand, it seemed appropriate that Mitt Romney nailed down the presidential nomination there. On the other hand, the support seemed a little less than full-throated. Perry, who maintained his perfect record of election victories by making his name miraculously disappear from the ballot, told The Texas Tribune that he was super-enthusiastic about his party’s nominee. Then he noted that “we really don’t have an option here.”

Romney may be conservative, but he’s hopelessly Crowded Places. You may remember the cringe-inducing moment in 2007 when he started bragging about his prowess as an outdoorsman. (“I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I’ve been a hunter pretty much all my life.”) Inquiring minds checked the hunting licenses in all the places that Mitt had at some point called home and determined that he’d never applied for one. “I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter,” he amended. “Small varmints, if you will.”

Supporters describe this as a harmless bit of self-dramatization to emphasize Romney’s strong commitment to gun rights. Although actually, when he ran for the United States Senate and served as governor, he appeared to be very enthusiastic about gun control. (We could do this sort of thing all day. Having Mitt Romney as a presidential candidate is going to be one long Where’s Waldo on the issues front.)

When he was leading Massachusetts, Romney tried to make the state’s programs work better. Now he seems to be going for the lonely-but-throbbing heart of the Empty Places credo, which focuses much less on fixing government than simply getting rid of it. Last week, he announced that the country doesn’t need “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.” When that turned out to be overkill, Mitt backtracked, saying that localities pay for popular public employees like firefighters while, as president, he’d be dealing only with the unloved federal work force. (We have not really heard much about which of those workers he wants to see go. Social Security administrators? Park rangers? I’m putting my money on bank regulators and Securities and Exchange Commission enforcers.)

This fall, the Republican Party is going to be running on the Empty Places war cry, and it’s ironic that Mitt Romney’s supposed to be the one to lead the charge. Maybe he’ll one-up Perry and find four federal agencies to promise to close. Maybe he’ll bag a deer. Or a moose. They’re serious this time around.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

She's a bodybuilder at age 75

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." — Mark Twain

THIS MORNING I came across this story that ran on the BBC. Ernestine Shepherd began competitive bodybuilding four years ago at age 71. 

She ought to be proof to all of us that whatever justifications we're using for not exercising are totally lame. Consider that she wakes up every day at 2:30 AM (yes, Virginia, AM!) and goes for a 10-mile run before hitting the gym. Wow!

Here's the video. I promise, you'll love it.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Guest speaker, Congressman Boswell

"Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none." Benjamin Franklin

APRIL FIFTH WAS my turn to give the invocation at Rotary. Since I signed up before the program roster was finalized, I didn't know who our speaker would be until the week before. It turned out to be Congressman Leonard Boswell.

My club is comprised of Republicans, Democrats, Independents and religious and non-religious members, so I took care to make it as inclusive, conciliatory and ecumenical as possible. I got a number of compliments afterward. 

Join me in an attitude of reflection.
Today and everyday, may we be open to other's ideas and beliefs.
May we be respectful of our differences, not threatened by them.
May we grow in understanding and acceptance of ourselves and one another, replacing intolerance and incivility with insight and inclusiveness.
Working together, may we find common ground as we move forward with shared humanity and purpose.

Rotary Club of Des Moines president, DeAnn Thompson, Congressman
Boswell, yours truly and Allen Zagoren on April 5, 2012.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Mark Potok wonders if we're nuts

"The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract." — Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

MARK POTOK, Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote a guest opinion piece that ran in the Des Moines Register on May 28. The funny thing is that I actually knew it would be appearing before it did. 

Fancy that, me having inside information. You must know that Mark, Founder Morris Dees, Richard Cohen, Mary Bauer, Lecia Brooks and Maureen Costello are my idea of rock stars.

I knew about the upcoming piece because I recently forwarded my March 14 blog post about the SPLC to Mark, and we exchanged a couple of emails a few days before his article was set to appear.

Maybe the better thing to do would have been to pre-publicize his editorial through my blog so that more people might have been keeping an eye out for it, but I was afraid of jinxing it. I'm not superstitious actually, but I have a friend or two working at the Register, and I worried that if it were announced prepublication, some Register editor might feel that the piece had been 'leaked'. I didn't want to mess anything up for the good folks at SPLC.

But now that Mark's letter has been out and about, I'm offering it up for you to read. PS: Here's a link to the SPLC website. There's so much good stuff on it!

Dear Iowa,

I used to think you were a pretty straight-ahead place, what with all that flat land and healthy vegetables and honest living. I mean, Iowans rejected slavery 20 years before the Civil War and they approved interracial marriage a century before the U.S. Supreme Court. Homosexuality was decriminalized almost 30 years before the 2003 Lawrence vs. Texas decision did so nationwide. Today, control of the state’s Legislature is split between Democrats and Republicans and, a few characters aside, it is not known for political extremism. Like the corn it produces in such copious amounts, Iowa generally seemed a healthy and sensible place.

That idea of the state ended for me last week when I read the proposed platform released by the platform committee of the Republican Party of Iowa.

Are you people totally insane?

The platform is absolutely thick with ideas from the extreme right, lunatic conspiracy theories, and barely concealed hatred for President Obama and anything that smacks of multiculturalism. It sneers at science, is down on poor people, and despises, really despises, the United Nations.

Here’s a sampling of the deep-thinking goals of the Iowa GOP:

• Require candidates for president to prove that they are “natural born citizens,” beginning with the 2012 election. After all, non-citizens serving as president have been a longstanding problem in American politics.

• Reject the “claims” of global warming, which are “based on fraudulent, inaccurate information” and pushed by people using “extremist scare tactics.” The Iowa GOP “recognizes” that policies and laws designed to combat global warming are really “a plan to take our freedoms and liberties away.”

• Oppose “the diabolical collusion of the United Nations” in promoting its Agenda 21, a non-binding global sustainability plan signed by President George H.W. Bush and the leaders of 177 other nations in 1992. Like the Republican National Committee, the Iowa GOP apparently believes Agenda 21 is part of an effort to impose global political control on the U.S.

• Allow Iowa to “nullify” any federal laws it doesn’t like. Nullification was a failed legal argument made by opponents of the civil rights movement.

• Eliminate the Federal Reserve Act and implement a “sound commodity-backed currency” with a gold or silver standard.

• Fight the North American Union, “which would do away with our borders and sovereignty, and … [battle] the Amero, which would do away with our currency.” Although there actually are no secret plans to merge Mexico, the United States and Canada into a single entity — and replace our dollars with “Ameros” — that hasn’t stopped the conspiracy theorists.

• In the same vein, “oppose so-called ‘World Government.’ ”

• Entirely eliminate the departments of Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Energy, Interior, Labor and Commerce, along with the Transportation Safety Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

• Likewise, abolish the Internal Revenue Service and repeal the 16th Amendment, which legalized the federal income tax.

• Require judges to instruct jurors that in addition to judging cases, they may pass on the law at issue. Commonly known as “jury nullification,” this is a highly controversial notion that is embraced by the radical right.

• Oppose federal anti-bullying legislation because, after all, “students have the right and responsibility to stand up for themselves.”

• Pass a “stand your ground” law, like the one that many believe led to the death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. By a large margin, most prosecutors and police oppose such laws, which make prosecuting many killings difficult.

• Allow parents to refuse to have their children immunized.

• Reject the teaching of multiculturalism.

• Only teach evolution as a theory, along with creationism.

• Repeal compulsory school attendance laws.

• Outlaw pornography.

• Impose “more severe consequences” for convicted juvenile offenders.

• Eliminate the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees job safety.

• Repeal smoking bans because, as the platform statement asserts, “We believe this to be an issue of liberty.” Air quality in all businesses should be left up to owners’ “freedom to choose.”

• Repeal all hate crime laws.

• Oppose the imposition of Shariah, or Islamic religious law, in the United States, along with any other foreign or “United Nations Law.”

• Build a fence along the entire U.S. border with Mexico.

• Eliminate no-fault divorce laws and require “good cause” to get a divorce.

• End minimum wage laws.

• Oppose abortion and reject the Supreme Court’s decision authorizing it. Encourage adoption and aid to unwed mothers — but only if every dollar of support comes from the private sector.

• End subsidies to agriculture.

There’s more, but I’m getting tuckered out, what with sorting through this grab-bag of ridiculous conspiracy theories and just plain mean-spiritedness — an ideology that the Iowa platform committee says is all about the party’s main goal, which is “nothing more or less than a world set free.”

Set free, that is, from any connection to reality, critical thinking, or common sense.

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The furniture professionals

"The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor." — Vince Lombardi 

PAUL AND I made a new website for Dayan Mossberg who owns a company in Urbandale called The Furniture Professionals. You might be interested in seeing the site, but more important for the those of you who live in the Des Moines area is knowing about Dayan because he's a magician with anything made of wood.

He can repair, rebuild, restore, refinish, refurbish, recover, reupholster any piece of furniture. If you have a beloved piece that's barely hanging in there, but you can't bear to replace it because it, he can bring it back to life. In fact Dayan was chosen to resurrect irreplaceable furniture in the state capitol restoration.

In our house he has reupholstered four dining room chairs, built four oak doors from scratch to match an existing two, added doors and sides to enclose an open kitchen island, converted an entertainment armoire into a coat closet, repaired an oak door jam that had a big chunk out of it and refinished and reupholstered a treasured chair that was my grandpa's.

He also builds made-to-order residential or commercial furniture, and banks, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, clinics and other businesses hire him to go through their premises and retouch or repair anything nicked or worn so that everything stays fresh and new-looking. 

Here are a couple of photos to peak your interest, and here's a link to the site.

Dayan built the "tree" doors.

Here's one of the dining room chairs Dayan reupholstered.
Boy Boy graciously served as our spokesmodel. 

Dayan custom-made this table to match the cabinets.

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