Sunday, March 31, 2013

The nerve

Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our lives. — C. S. Lewis 

THE ARTICLE BELOW appeared on the New York Times website a week ago, and it's so darn interesting! 

It's about love and your vagus nerve. Well, not yours specifically. I actually don't know anything about your personal vagus nerve, although I'm sure it's a perfectly lovely one.

It's written by Barbara L. Fredrickson who is a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the author of Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become.

Your Phone vs. Your Heart
Published: March 23, 2013

CAN you remember the last time you were in a public space in America and didn’t notice that half the people around you were bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else?

Most of us are well aware of the convenience that instant electronic access provides. Less has been said about the costs. Research that my colleagues and I have just completed, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, suggests that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people.

Our ingrained habits change us. Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say, reflecting the increasing evidence that experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit.

Plasticity, the propensity to be shaped by experience, isn’t limited to the brain. You already know that when you lead a sedentary life, your muscles atrophy to diminish your physical strength. What you may not know is that your habits of social connection also leave their own physical imprint on you.

How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect.

My research team and I conducted a longitudinal field experiment on the effects of learning skills for cultivating warmer interpersonal connections in daily life. Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.

We discovered that the meditators not only felt more upbeat and socially connected; but they also altered a key part of their cardiovascular system called vagal tone. Scientists used to think vagal tone was largely stable, like your height in adulthood. Our data show that this part of you is plastic, too, and altered by your social habits.

To appreciate why this matters, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.

By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses.

Beyond these health effects, the behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges has shown that vagal tone is central to things like facial expressivity and the ability to tune in to the frequency of the human voice. By increasing people’s vagal tone, we increase their capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

In short, the more attuned to others you become, the healthier you become, and vice versa. This mutual influence also explains how a lack of positive social contact diminishes people. Your heart’s capacity for friendship also obeys the biological law of “use it or lose it.” If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.

The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.

Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.

When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.

If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.

So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dating my husband

I'm very romantic, I'm extremely romantic. I date my wife. Alice Cooper 

I THREATENED TO go on strike if we didn't get out and about, so last night Paul and I went on a date. We sampled a new vegan restaurant called New World Cafe in the East Village. The dish I chose was slightly too spicy for my tastes, but otherwise good. 

The two desserts we had, though, were ab/fab. One was called raw lemon bar, made of ground nuts, coconut and lemon with no flour which meant that Paul could have it. He's trying to maintain a gluten-free diet. (More about that another day.) I had a big ginger cookie that I liked very much because it wasn't overly sweet. 

If you live in central Iowa, check it out. Paul and I agreed that it's one thing Des Moines has been missing — a good alternative, vegetarian/vegan restaurant. 

People never seem to expect it of me, maybe because I look sort of dress-for-success-ish, but I love a hippie restaurant about better than anything. Everywhere I've lived, some alt vegetarian restaurant has been my hang. There was one in Des Moines when I first moved back here, and I ate there all the time. Like weekly. That closed, and eventually there was one in Ankeny, and I ate there all the time until it too was no longer. Hopefully this one will last. 

After dinner, we went shoe shopping, a favorite hobby, but in this case I actually needed new shoes. When you wear a size 5, you tend to wear out shoes because it's hard to find replacements, especially something like basic black pumps. 

I lucked out and found a pair that fit, and Paul talked me into getting a bonus pair of sexy, strappy patent pumps. Admittedly it didn't take lots of convincing, and it made Shiva happy because now she has two new shoeboxes to nest in. My girl loves any box or bowl or bag or drawer where she can curl up in a little ball.

Shiva is so happy in her box.

Boy Boy wants to do everything Shiva does, but he's
too big for a shoebox, so he settled for a lid.

Both are down for the count.

After shoes, we went to see the movie Quartet. It came highly recommended by Paul's parents, but even without their review, we figured it had to be good because it was directed by Dustin Hoffman and has Maggie Smith in it. It actually made Paul kind of teary.

Paul's bonus round yesterday was getting a new trombone — which made me happy because it made him so happy. He deserves it!

It's a Yamaha jazz model, and that's about all I know to say about it. He bought it from a friend of another Des Moines Big Band member, and as a result he gave Paul a really good deal. Paul could hardly wait to come home and take it for a spin. I love how it sounds; it's more mellow than the one he's been playing. He has a gig tonight, one tomorrow and then Big Band Monday night. He's looking forward to putting his new horn through its paces.
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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lonesome Earl and the Clutterbusters

You're a big, big man with a little bitty gland. Jim Carrey, Funny or Die

THANKS, Funny Or Die, for this fabulously hilarious little video starring Jim Carrey playing both Charlton HestonLonesome Earl and Sam ElliottLonesome Earl is backed up by his band called the Clutterbusters comprised of Abe Lincoln on upright bass, John Lennon on acoustic guitar and Ghandi playing a shekere, singing about why some men need guns. Paul laughed so hard he almost cried. 

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Oh please

"He told a lie, he's not a liar." — Matthew McConaughey, in the April 2013 issue of Details Magazine

I NEVER COULD abide Matthew McConaughey. He comes across as much too pleased with himself, and I find his — or more correctly, what he apparently thinks are his — "aren't-I-just-smokin" camera poses to be eye roll-inducing, but his defense of Liar Liar Pants of Fire Lance Armstrong just tears it.


A) Your buddy Lance didn't tell "a" lie. He lied over and over again hundreds of times and built a lucrative career on those lies. If that isn't the very definition of a liar, I don't know what is.

B) Get over yourself; you're kinda creepy-looking.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

The estimable, unrelenting Joe Nocera

I'M GRATEFUL FOR Joe Nocera, who writes for the New York Times, and his assistant, Jennifer, for continuing to compile statistics and stories about the roughly 23 people a day killed by guns in this insane country of ours.

Saving Children From Guns
Published: March 22, 2013

For nearly two months, my assistant, Jennifer Mascia, and I have been publishing a daily blog in which we aggregate articles about shootings from the previous day. Of all the stories we link to, the ones I find hardest to read are those about young children who accidentally shoot themselves or another child. They just break my heart. Yet Jennifer and I find new examples almost every day.

Partly, I react by thinking, “How can anyone be so stupid as to leave a loaded gun within reach of a small child?” But I also have another reaction. In 1970, Congress passed a law that resulted in childproofing medicine bottles. The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates the paint used in children’s toys. State laws mandate that young children be required to use car seats.

So why can’t we childproof guns? In an age of technological wizardry — not to mention a time of deep sensitivity to the welfare of children — why can’t we come up with a technology that would keep a gun from going off when it is being held by a child? Or, for that matter, by a thief using a stolen gun? Or an angry teenager who is plotting to use his parents’ arsenal to wreak havoc in a mall?

It turns out — why is this not a surprise? — that such technologies already exist. A German company, Armartix, will soon be marketing a pistol that uses radio frequencies that prevent a gun from being used by anyone except its owner. At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the senior vice president for research and development, Donald Sebastian, has long spearheaded an effort to develop biometrics for “gun personalization,” as it’s called. Guns employing this technology fire only when they recognize the hand of the owner. There are others who have invented similar technologies.

Why aren’t these lifesaving technologies in widespread use? No surprise here, either: The usual irrational opposition from the National Rifle Association and gun absolutists, who claim, absurdly, that a gun that only can be fired by its owner somehow violates the Second Amendment. Pro-gun bloggers were furious when they saw James Bond, in “Skyfall,” proudly showing off his new biometrically protected weapon. They were convinced it was a Hollywood plot to undermine their rights.

Yet there is reason for at least some hope that the day when these technologies are in widespread use will soon be here. Last week, there were two important meetings about gun personalization technology. On March 13, in Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. met with several dozen advocates, including Sebastian and Stephen Teret, the co-director of the Center for Law and the Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. The purpose of the meeting was to get Holder up to speed on the technologies so he could make recommendations to President Obama.

The following day, in San Francisco, Sandy Hook Promise, an organization founded by citizens of Newtown, Conn., publicly launched its “innovation initiative” in collaboration with some Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. One of the leaders in the effort is the venture capitalist Ron Conway, who coincidentally threw a Christmas party on the day of the Newtown massacre. Gabrielle Giffords was among those who attended. Like so many others, Conway decided he had to do something about guns after Newtown.

The innovation initiative, which will make grants, and even award prize money for good ideas, includes an emphasis on gun personalization technology. A member of the group, Alan Boinus, who applied for a patent on a biometric technology back in 1994, has founded a company, Allied Biometrics, that is devoted to commercializing biometric gun technology. He has already begun a collaboration with Sebastian in New Jersey.

In classic Silicon Valley fashion, Boinus told me that the government has been hopeless, and that innovation and the market itself would solve the problem. “The market will prove this out,” he said. “People want to be responsible. People want safety.”

I agree with him that Congress has been hopeless and then some, unable to even work up the courage to vote on an assault weapons ban for fear of offending gun owners. But I’m not convinced that the market alone can create mass acceptance of this technology. It took years, after all, for Congress to overcome the car industry’s resistance to air bags, ultimately requiring a law that made air bags mandatory.

Thousands of lives could be saved each year if gun personalization technology became the law of the land. In mid-April, Representative John Tierney, a Massachusetts Democrat, plans to introduce a House bill requiring that all guns include personalization technology within two years.
Congress once cared enough about the safety of its citizens to pass laws about air bags and childproof bottles. We’ll soon find out if it still cares enough about the safety of its constituents to make childproofing guns the law of the land. It should.
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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Air quality improvement

"I think there should be a literacy test and a poll tax for people to vote."  — Ann Coulter

I trust most of you have seen the video clip of Michele Bachmann running away from CNN's Dana Bash as Dana tried to interview her about just one of the impressive list of utter fabrications she included in her speech at CPAC. The spray of malicious remarks, smack talk and outright lies spewed at that unseemly get-together got me to musing about how much better the air quality would be in this country if certain individuals would shut the heck up. Based on the things that come out of their mouths, here's my personal list of people who should take an immediate, possibly life-long, vow of silence.

Ann Coulter
Rush Limbaugh
Michele Bachmann
Sarah Palin
Donald Trump
Howard Stern
Karl Rove
Bill O'Reilly
Glenn Beck
Joan Rivers
Pat Robertson
Don Imus
Megyn Kelly
Sean Hannity
Nancy Grace
All members of the Westboro Baptist Church
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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Walking the cat and the great divide

"Cats are intended to teach us that not everything in nature has a purpose." — Garrison Keillor

WHEN we got home from work today, Paul took Shiva out for a walk. Yes, Shiva is a cat, and she likes to have Paul or me take her for a walk around our yard and the one next door. She loves David, our next door neighbor, and runs to say hello when she sees him.

The beautiful and smart Miss Shiva.

After a bit, I heard Paul bring Shiva in, but I didn't hear him in the house so I looked out the window. Paul and David were standing around with their hands shoved in their pockets shooting the breeze. I thought, "Well isn't that just a quintessential Iowa moment." Had this taken place in Minnesota, they would have been standing around with their hands in their pockets while they shot the breeze except they both would also have been staring at the ground instead of looking up or at each other.

I've attached an article from The Great Divide, a New York Times Opinionator series about inequality. It's really long, but so thought provoking. Honestly, it's worth the read.

Singapore’s Lessons for an Unequal America

By Joseph E. Stiglitz
March 18, 2013

Inequality has been rising in most countries around the world, but it has played out in different ways across countries and regions. The United States, it is increasingly recognized, has the sad distinction of being the most unequal advanced country, though the income gap has also widened to a lesser extent, in Britain, Japan, Canada and Germany. Of course, the situation is even worse in Russia, and some developing countries in Latin America and Africa. But this is a club of which we should not be proud to be a member.

Some big countries — Brazil, Indonesia and Argentina — have become more equal in recent years, and other countries, like Spain, were on that trajectory until the economic crisis of 2007-8.

Singapore has had the distinction of having prioritized social and economic equity while achieving very high rates of growth over the past 30 years — an example par excellence that inequality is not just a matter of social justice but of economic performance. Societies with fewer economic disparities perform better — not just for those at the bottom or the middle, but over all.

It’s hard to believe how far this city-state has come in the half-century since it attained independence from Britain, in 1963. (A short-lived merger with Malaysia ended in 1965.) Around the time of independence, a quarter of Singapore’s work force was unemployed or underemployed. Its per-capita income (adjusted for inflation) was less than a tenth of what it is today.

There were many things that Singapore did to become one of Asia’s economic “tigers,” and curbing inequalities was one of them. The government made sure that wages at the bottom were not beaten down to the exploitative levels they could have been.

The government mandated that individuals save into a “provident fund” — 36 percent of the wages of young workers — to be used to pay for adequate health care, housing and retirement benefits. It provided universal education, sent some of its best students abroad, and did what it could to make sure they returned. (Some of my brightest students came from Singapore.)

There are at least four distinctive aspects of the Singaporean model, and they are more applicable to the United States than a skeptical American observer might imagine.

First, individuals were compelled to take responsibility for their own needs. For example, through the savings in their provident fund, around 90 percent of Singaporeans became homeowners, compared to about 65 percent in the United States since the housing bubble burst in 2007.

Second, Singaporean leaders realized they had to break the pernicious, self-sustaining cycle of inequality that has characterized so much of the West. Government programs were universal but progressive: while everyone contributed, those who were well off contributed more to help those at the bottom, to make sure that everyone could live a decent life, as defined by what Singaporean society, at each stage of its development, could afford. Not only did those at the top pay their share of the public investments, they were asked to contribute even more to helping the neediest.

Third, the government intervened in the distribution of pretax income — to help those at the bottom, rather than, as in the United States, those at the top. It weighed in, gently, on the bargaining between workers and firms, tilting the balance toward the group with less economic power — in sharp contrast to the United States, where the rules of the game have shifted power away from labor and toward capital, especially during the past three decades.

Fourth, Singapore realized that the key to future success was heavy investment in education — and more recently, scientific research — and that national advancement would mean that all citizens — not just the children of the rich — would need access to the best education for which they were qualified.

Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, who was in power for three decades, and his successors took a broader perspective on what makes for a successful economy than a single-minded focus on gross domestic product, though even by that imperfect measure of success, it did splendidly, growing 5.5 times faster than the United States has since 1980.

More recently, the government has focused intensively on the environment, making sure that this packed city of 5.3 million retains its green spaces, even if that means putting them on the tops of buildings.

In an era when urbanization and modernization have weakened family ties, Singapore has realized the importance of maintaining them, especially across generations, and has instituted housing programs to help its aging population.

Singapore realized that an economy could not succeed if most of its citizens were not participating in its growth or if large segments lacked adequate housing, access to health care and retirement security. By insisting that individuals contribute significantly toward their own social welfare accounts, it avoided charges of being a nanny state. But by recognizing the different capacities of individuals to meet these needs, it created a more cohesive society. By understanding that children cannot choose their parents — and that all children should have the right to develop their innate capacities — it created a more dynamic society.

Singapore’s success is reflected in other indicators, as well. Life expectancy is 82 years, compared with 78 in the United States. Student scores on math, science and reading tests are among the highest in the world — well above the average for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the world’s club of rich nations, and well ahead of the United States.

The situation is not perfect: In the last decade, growing income inequality has posed a challenge for Singapore, as it has for many countries in the world. But Singaporeans have acknowledged the problem, and there is a lively conversation about the best ways to mitigate adverse global trends.

Some argue that all of this was possible only because Mr. Lee, who left office in 1990, was not firmly committed to democratic processes. It’s true that Singapore, a highly centralized state, has been ruled for decades by Mr. Lee’s People’s Action Party. Critics say it has authoritarian aspects: limitations on civil liberties; harsh criminal penalties; insufficient multiparty competition; and a judiciary that is not fully independent. But it’s also true that Singapore is routinely rated one of the world’s least corrupt and most transparent governments, and that its leaders have taken steps toward expanding democratic participation.

Moreover, there are other countries, committed to open, democratic processes, that have been spectacularly successful in creating economics that are both dynamic and fair — with far less inequality and far greater equality of opportunity than in the United States.

Each of the Nordic countries has taken a slightly different path, but each has impressive achievements of growth with equity. A standard measure of performance is the United Nations Development Program’s inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, which is less a measure of economic output than it is of human well-being. For each country, it looks at citizens’ income, education and health, and makes an adjustment for how access to these are distributed among the population. The Northern European countries (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway) stand towards the top. In comparison — and especially considering its No. 3 ranking in the non-inequality-adjusted index — the United States is further down the list, at No. 16. And when other indicators of well-being are considered in isolation, the situation is even worse: the United States ranks 33rd on the United Nations Development Program’s inequality-adjusted life expectancy index, just behind Chile.

Economic forces are global; the fact that there are such differences in outcomes (both levels of inequality and opportunity) suggests that what matters is how local forces — most notably, politics — shape these global economic forces. Singapore and Scandinavia have shown that they can be shaped in ways to ensure growth with equity.

Democracy, we now recognize, involves more than periodic voting. Societies with a high level of economic inequality inevitably wind up with a high level of political inequality: the elites run the political system for their own interests, pursuing what economists call rent-seeking behavior, rather than the general public interest. The result is a most imperfect democracy. The Nordic democracies, in this sense, have achieved what most Americans aspire toward: a political system where the voice of ordinary citizens is fairly represented, where political traditions reinforce openness and transparency; where money does not dominate political decision-making; where government activities are transparent.

I believe the economic achievements of the Nordic countries are in large measure a result of the strongly democratic nature of these societies. There is a positive nexus not just between growth and equality, but between these two and democracy. (The flip side is that greater inequality not only weakens our economy, it also weakens our democracy.)

A measure of the social justice of a society is the treatment of children. Many a conservative or libertarian in the United States assert that poor adults are responsible for their own plight — having brought their situation on themselves by not working as hard as they could. (That assumes, of course, that there are jobs to be had — an increasingly dubious assumption.)

But the well-being of children is manifestly not a matter for which children can be blamed (or praised). Only 7.3 percent of children in Sweden are poor, in contrast to the United States, where a startling 23.1 percent are in poverty. Not only is this a basic violation of social justice, but it does not bode well for the future: these children have diminished prospects for contributing to their country’s future.

Discussions of these alternative models, which seem to deliver more for more people, often end by some contrarian assertion or other about why these countries are different, and why their model has few lessons for the United States. All of this is understandable. None of us likes to think badly of ourselves or of our economic system. We want to believe that we have the best economic system in the world.

Part of this self-satisfaction, though, comes from a failure to understand the realities of the United States today. When Americans are asked what is the ideal distribution of income, they recognize that a capitalist system will always yield some inequality — without it, there would be no incentive for thrift, innovation and industry. And they realize that we do not live up to what they view as their “ideal.” The reality is that we have far more inequality than they believe we have, and that their view of the ideal is not too different from what the Nordic countries actually manage to achieve.

Among the American elite — that sliver of Americans who have seen historic gains in wealth and income since the mid-1970s even as most Americans’ real incomes have stagnated — many look for rationalizations and excuses. They talk, for instance, about these countries’ being homogeneous, with few immigrants. But Sweden has taken in large numbers of immigrants (roughly 14 percent of the population is foreign-born, compared with 11 percent in Britain and 13 percent in the United States). Singapore is a city-state with multiple races, languages and religions. What about size? Germany has 82 million people and has substantially greater equality of opportunity than the United States, a nation of 314 million (although inequality has been rising there, too, though not as much as in the United States).

It is true that a legacy of discrimination — including, among many things, the scourge of slavery, America’s original sin — makes the task of achieving a society with more equality and more equality of opportunity, on a par with the best performing countries around the world, particularly tricky. But a recognition of this legacy should reinforce our resolve, not diminish our efforts, to achieve an ideal that is within our reach, and is consistent with our best ideals.
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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nick and John

"I am certain that I have been here as I am now a thousand times before, and I hope to return a thousand times." — Goethe

George Takei posted these two antique photos with a caption that said, "Apparently Nicholas Cage and John Travolta are vampires." 

I found a couple of straight-on shots of Nick and John, and holy cats! They really are doppelgangers!

Nicholas Cage 150 years ago.

John Travolta 150 years ago.

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Truth Lady

"Truth Lady wouldn't like that." — David Kobberdahl

Happy first day of spring to everyone in the northern hemisphere on this side of the International Date Line, and to everyone else: happy whatever day it is.

BTW: Last week while we were driving to work Paul said, "I suppose it was inevitable that I would have friends about whom we wonder which of their alternate personalities is the dominant one."
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Eldora, Iowa

"As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics." — President Barack Obama

IN LESS THAN three months since the Sandy Hook massacre, there have been at least 2,728 of our fellow Americans killed by guns. Because these deaths are spread out geographically, somehow the reality of it doesn't seem like it's registering.

To put it in perspective, I've found a town of roughly that population in each state to more clearly represent what such a loss means. For example in Iowa, it's equivalent to all the residents of Eldora being murdered over the course of three months. Below is the list of towns. Don't wait until there's a Sandy Hook in your state before you start making noise.
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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Do it now

"I have been largely silent on the issue of gun violence over the past six years, and I am now as sorry for that as I am for what happened to the families who lost so much in this most recent, but sadly not isolated, tragedy." — Rep. John Yarmuth, Congressman from Kentucky

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” Edmund Burke

I am hoping as hard as I can hope that as a nation we're on the cusp of at long last enacting meaningful laws to address the epidemic of gun deaths in America.

If you've read my blog before, you know I look for a relevant quote to go with whatever shiny topic I'm writing about that day. Today I've included a second quote as a reminder of how important it is to take action. 

As of March 7, reliable sources put the count at a minimum of 2,728 gun deaths in our country since the Newtown massacre, a number which is assuredly far less than the actual total since gun suicides are often unreported.

Call, write and email your governor, your state representative or senator, your US congressperson and senator. Urge your spouse, relatives, friends and neighbors to do so as well. Don't wait until it's someone you know who's killed.

Below is an AP article from the New York Times about laws that are close to being passed and signed in Colorado to limit ammunition and require background checks for private and online gun sales. Governor John Hickenlooper may not care what an Iowan thinks, but I emailed him anyway to say, "Yay, Colorado for doing the right thing."

Published: March 13, 2013

Fiercely debated ammunition limits cleared the state’s Democratic-led legislature on Wednesday and were on their way to Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, who has said he will sign them. The 15-round magazine limit would make Colorado the first state outside the East Coast to place restrictions on guns after last year’s mass shootings. Pending in the legislature is the Democrats’ other signature gun-control bill, which would require background checks for private and online gun sales. Mr. Hickenlooper has more enthusiastically backed that measure.
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Political tales and other divertissements

"The only time people dislike gossip is when you gossip about them." — Will Rogers 

Who would guess that I'd ever have anything worth tattling. Well maybe I do, and maybe I don't. 

Michele Bachmann

I was running around the East Village a couple of months ago putting up posters for the last TCJO concert and popped into a makeup salon. Being beautified were a drag queen for a performance later that night and a club DJ. This was not your Merle Norman sort of a place. 

I was unaware that such an emporium existed in Des Moines and curious about the range of clientele they see. Color me surprised to learn that Michele Bachmann has had her makeup done there on several occasions prior to appearances in Des Moines. Considering that only two of the five of us present were straight, and given her ultra-conservative and outspoken view that marriage is only for heteros, it seemed counterintuitive that she would patronize this shop. She was a perfectly pleasant customer, they said, but my take on it is this: apparently gay people are equal to making her look good, but not equal to being married.

A good friend was in town for a visit a couple of months back, and we took him to Alba for dinner — or rather he took us, which was nice of him. Alba, by the by, is probably our favorite restaurant in Des Moines. (Oops, now there I was getting shiny.) His daughter, of whom he is justifiably proud, works at a major national news network, and she says that Michele Bachmann calls her five days a week to offer herself as a fill-in interview in case someone scheduled bails.

Ellen DeGeneres

Another friend's daughter is on the staff of the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen's latest book, she has three out, is called Seriously...I'm Kidding. Guess who wrote it? Not her. Her staff did. All of it. Paul said, "Did you actually think she would have written it?" 

Call me naive, but yes. In my mind, if you didn't write something, you shouldn't list yourself as the author. He asked me if I think Stephen Colbert writes his books. I don't know; I hope so. I assumed both Ellen and Stephen would have lots of help, but wouldn't credit themselves as the author unless the bulk of it was their work and all assistant writers were acknowledged. Bummer. She went down a notch in my book.

Roxanne Conlin

For those of you live out of state or country, Roxanne is a living (thank goodness) legend around these parts. For one thing, she's utterly brilliant. Coming from poverty, she worked her way through Drake University, graduating at 19, and then law school, graduating at 21. The rest of us mere mortals were only undergraduate juniors or seniors by the time she was ready to practice law. A few years later she also got a Masters degree in public administration.

She served as United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa for four years before running unsuccessfully for Governor of Iowa and the US Senate. As the leader of an extremely successful law firm, she has only represented individuals seeking redress for wrongs they've suffered — not for corporate entities. (At least she can tell the difference between a corporation and a person, as opposed to our Supreme Court who can't!)

She and her husband have also rescued hundreds and hundreds of cats and kittens! And did I mention that she has four children. In short, she's the

Two days before she was about to be 'roasted' to benefit Variety Club of Des Moines which raises money for children's hospitals in Des Moines, she suffered a stroke. As strokes go, it was relatively mild, but she still is having to relearn walking and writing. Paul and I visited her in the hospital (where she had a whole florist shop of flowers and had already sent an equal amount she'd received to area nursing homes), and we found her annoyed by this hitch in her busy life, but in good spirits and intent on a full recovery. She's rehabilitating at home now. She's a fighter — obviously. She'll make it all the way back.

Jeff Danielson

You may remember that I mentioned this State Senator from Waterloo in a recent post. I had spent the day at the Iowa State Capitol, or "on the hill" as it's informally called around here and listened to him speak about his efforts to take down Citizens United, that abhorrent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States that says corporations are people. I came away thinking that he has definite higher-office potential. A couple of weeks later Senator Tom Harkin announced that he would not seek sixth term in 2014, and CityView, a local weekly newspaper with actual reporters and staff, ran an article saying that Congressman Bruce Braley would run for Tom's seat, and Jeff Danielson was mentioned as a potential candidate for Bruce's seat in CongressIt sounds like Jeff isn't going to run, but . . . you heard it from me first that he has the makings.

Iowa State Senator, Jeff Danielson

United States Senator Tom Harkin

Congressman Bruce Braley

Governor Terry Branstad

This is old gossip I know, but here you go anyway. You may recall that a year ago I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting with Senator Tom Harkin at the Iowa Girls' High School Basketball Tournament. The seats were in a special reserved VIP section in the first row at center court, and it was great fun.

Governor Branstad was sitting two rows behind us, and I have to say that he looked perfectly awful. He was ashen and hardly moved or talked or reacted to anything going on. I kept looking back to see if he was still alive! Obviously he was because he's still with us, but it certainly didn't look like he had any blood flowing in his body. Conspiracy theory: Maybe he doesn't!!!!!! 

Governor Terry (I'm alive) Branstad

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

38% and 49% lower

"As mayors, our highest responsibility is to enforce the law and to protect the people we serve. One of the most difficult challenges we face in meeting this responsibility is preventing criminals from illegally obtaining guns and using them. The issue of illegal guns is not conservative or liberal; it is an issue of law and order — and life and death. — Michael Bloomberg and Thomas Menino, Co-Chairs of Mayors Against Illegal Guns

BELOW IS a letter I received via email from those wild-eyed wackos, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and you know what a bunch of crazies they are!

Oh be serious. If you've been elected mayor of a town or city, odds are you're a reasonable, middle-of-the-roadish person. More than 800 of these un-radicals are members of this coalition.

The most important information in this letter is how much guns deaths fell in the 14 states that require background checks.

  • The rate of women murdered by an intimate partner with a gun is 38 percent lower
  • The firearm suicide rate is 49 percent lower

You can read the whole letter with sources below. 

FYI: I was curious as which states have the most and least mayors represented in the coalition.

Most members:
Pennsylvania — 219
New York — 133
Ohio — 90
New Jersey — 88

Alaska — 0
Montana — 0
Oklahoma — 0
South Dakota — 0
Wyoming — 0

The state I'm most disappointed in Oregon. It's normally such a progressive state, yet they only have two mayor members.

Click on the list of members to see who in your state is (or isn't) a member. I'd appreciate it, and so would the parents, spouses and children of our fellow citizens who have been killed by firearms, if you'd call, email or write to the mayor of your city or town and ask them to join the coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Dear Kelly,

New polling data released today shows overwhelming support for gun reform. 88 percent of Iowa residents want every gun buyer to pass a criminal background check.

Unfortunately, in the vast majority of states, it's currently legal to buy a gun for cash with no background check and no questions asked. It’s time for Congress to recognize the will of the American people and fix our broken background check system.

Iowa's Senators need to hear from you.

Will you share this graphic on Facebook or forward this email to your friends and family to send a message to Congress?

Share this graphic on Facebook or forward this email to your friends and family to send a message to your members of Congress.

Background checks save lives. In the fourteen states that already require background checks for all handgun sales the following facts are true:

The rate of women murdered by an intimate partner with a gun is 38 percent lower.
The firearm suicide rate is 49 percent lower.
Gun trafficking is 48 percent lower.

Share this graphic -- and let Senator Chuck Grassley know that you stand with the majority of Iowans in demanding action to fix background checks.


Mark Glaze
Mayors Against Illegal Guns

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