Thursday, July 31, 2014

A rational, history-based argument for gun regulation

 “The Carrying of Fire Arms Strictly Prohibited.” — 1879 sign posted on the main street of Dodge City

GOSH, I'm a fan a Nicholas Kristof. He has written such a rational, grounded-in-history opinion piece for The New York Times. I'm hoping you'll take a minute and read it. It's pretty short.

Our Blind Spot About Guns

By Nicholas Kristof
JULY 30, 2014

If we had the same auto fatality rate today that we had in 1921, by my calculations we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually in vehicle accidents.

Instead, we’ve reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent — not by confiscating cars, but by regulating them and their drivers sensibly.

We could have said, “Cars don’t kill people. People kill people,” and there would have been an element of truth to that. Many accidents are a result of alcohol consumption, speeding, road rage or driver distraction. Or we could have said, “It’s pointless because even if you regulate cars, then people will just run each other down with bicycles,” and that, too, would have been partly true.

Yet, instead, we built a system that protects us from ourselves. This saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year and is a model of what we should do with guns in America.

Whenever I write about the need for sensible regulation of guns, some readers jeer: Cars kill people, too, so why not ban cars? Why are you so hypocritical as to try to take away guns from law-abiding people when you don’t seize cars?

That question is a reflection of our national blind spot about guns. The truth is that we regulate cars quite intelligently, instituting evidence-based measures to reduce fatalities. Yet the gun lobby is too strong, or our politicians too craven, to do the same for guns. So guns and cars now each kill more than 30,000 in America every year.

One constraint, the argument goes, is the Second Amendment. Yet the paradox is that a bit more than a century ago, there was no universally recognized individual right to bear arms in the United States, but there was widely believed to be a “right to travel” that allowed people to drive cars without regulation.

A court struck down an early attempt to require driver’s licenses, and initial attempts to set speed limits or register vehicles were met with resistance and ridicule. When authorities in New York City sought in 1899 to ban horseless carriages in the parks, the idea was lambasted in The New York Times as “devoid of merit” and “impossible to maintain.”

Yet, over time, it became increasingly obvious that cars were killing and maiming people, as well as scaring horses and causing accidents. As a distinguished former congressman, Robert Cousins, put it in 1910: “Pedestrians are menaced every minute of the days and nights by a wanton recklessness of speed, crippling and killing people at a rate that is appalling.”

Courts and editorial writers alike saw the carnage and agreed that something must be done. By the 1920s, courts routinely accepted driver’s license requirements, car registration and other safety measures.

That continued in recent decades with requirements of seatbelts and air bags, padded dashboards and better bumpers. We cracked down on drunken drivers and instituted graduated licensing for young people, while also improving road engineering to reduce accidents. The upshot is that there is now just over 1 car fatality per 100 million miles driven.

Yet as we’ve learned to treat cars intelligently, we’ve gone in the opposite direction with guns. In his terrific new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, notes that “gun control laws were ubiquitous” in the 19th century. Visitors to Wichita, Kan., for example, were required to check their revolvers at police headquarters.

And Dodge City, symbol of the Wild West? A photo shows a sign on the main street in 1879 warning: “The Carrying of Fire Arms Strictly Prohibited.”

The National Rifle Association supported reasonable gun control for most of its history and didn’t even oppose the landmark Gun Control Act of 1968. But, since then, most attempts at safety regulation have stalled or gone backward, and that makes the example of cars instructive.

“We didn’t ban cars, or send black helicopters to confiscate them,” notes Waldman. “We made cars safer: air bags, seatbelts, increasing the drinking age, lowering the speed limit. There are similar technological and behavioral fixes that can ease the toll of gun violence, from expanded background checks to trigger locks to smart guns that recognize a thumbprint, just like my iPhone does.”

Some of these should be doable. A Quinnipiac poll this month found 92 percent support for background checks for all gun buyers.

These steps won’t eliminate gun deaths any more than seatbelts eliminate auto deaths. But if a combination of measures could reduce the toll by one-third, that would be 10,000 lives saved every year.

A century ago, we reacted to deaths and injuries from unregulated vehicles by imposing sensible safety measures that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives a year. Why can’t we ask politicians to be just as rational about guns?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A logo in the window at last

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw

WE'RE MAKING progress at Brainstorm. Still a long way from our grand opening, but we're inching along. 

We finally got our name on the window. Hallelujah!

One of the non-physical alterations we've made is changing our name from Brainstorm Marketing to Brainstorm Iowa. It's shorter, snappier, but broader in concept. Marketing was a little too pigeonhole-y, plus we get the added benefit of being able to lose our l-o-n-g web address; becomes the shorter, easier to remember and type We haven't switched our web address quite yet, so if you look for us, look under the old address.

We love having a storefront location!! And we're now in such a fun part of the city. We're surrounded by clothing boutiques, gift shops, antique stores and funky restaurants. We took an impromptu walk around the neighborhood a few weeks ago, and Paul said, to quote Marc Maron, "We've found our people." 

As I may have mentioned, we have a full kitchen. It's the first time in my entire life that I've ever had a dish washer. Seriously, and I think I'm in love!

We have a little black table and chairs next to one section of our big windows where we eat lunch. Before we had our name on the window, from time to time people came in thinking we were a restaurant. Not such a surprising misconstruction considering that we have one of our customer's big displays up inside and he's a pizza restaurant consultant, and coincidently we also have a Tabasco sauce banner stand that's plainly visible. Add to that the little table with us sitting in the window eating, and not such a stretch think "restaurant." Gotta get new displays!

When we were cleaning out our old location, we put a lot of things in storage and disposed of at least as much either by selling it on Craig's List, donating it to Habitat for Humanity's Restore or simply putting it on the back dock at the old office for anyone who wanted it. One of the items Paul put out was a trade show display case that I always thought was kinda cool because it's a smaller one, maybe 40" long, and pod-shaped with bright red straps. 

I looked out the window at our new office one day and saw a guy on a bicycle with our case strapped to a kind of makeshift trailer he was pulling behind his bike. I said, "Hey, Paul! Our ex-case just went peddling by."

A couple of weeks later, I was taking the trash out to the dumpster at our new location, and there he was. I think he thought I was going to scold him because as I walked over he said, "I'm just looking for cans and bottles." 

I said, "Of course. Of course. That's just fine. I have some inside I'll bring out to you, but I'm interested in your case. We're the ones who put it out on the dock at 108 Third Street."

He apologized for taking it, and I said, "No, no! We meant for whoever could use it to have it and put it there for the taking. We're glad you're finding it useful."

Then he told me that he keeps his bedding in it to keep it dry during inclement weather, and indeed his bike trailer is a phantasmagorical construction of all his worldly goods organized and strapped together.

Today as we were having a late lunch, I saw him across the street, standing with his bike under a big shade tree. I pulled out a cold lemon soda from the fridge and walked it across the street to him. 

The back of the showroom.
Part of my office.

Paul in front of a couple of exhibits.
PS: July 29 would have been my Grandpa Sargent's, the grandpa who raised me, 125th birthday. Yup, he was born in 1889. 

Today, July 30, is my brother David's birthday. He's lived in Japan since he was 24, and I haven't seen him since I was 20. 

Today is also my cousin Kevin Sargent's birthday, another grandson of Grandpa's.

I will always love you, Grandpa and will always be your little Kay.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Vitamin K deficiency in babies

"Vaccines save lives; fear endangers them. It's a simple message parents need to keep hearing." — Jeffrey Kluger, American journalist and author of scientific books

A NEW and dangerous round of anti-vax hysteria is making the rounds that's persuading parents of infants to forgo getting a routine shot that will prevent a rare but deadly vitamin K deficiency.

Here's the story from Mother Jones.

In May, the Tennessean reported on a truly shocking medical problem. Seven infants, aged between seven and 20 weeks old, had arrived at Vanderbilt University's Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital over the past eight months with a condition called "vitamin K deficiency bleeding," or VKDB. This rare disorder occurs because human infants do not have enough vitamin K, a blood coagulant, in their systems. Infants who develop VKDB can bleed in various parts of their bodies, including bleeding into the brain. This can cause brain damage or even death.

There is a simple protection against VKDB that has been in regular medical use since 1961, when it was recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics: Infants receive an injection of vitamin K into the leg muscle right after birth. Infants do not get enough of this vitamin from their mother's body or her milk, so this injection (which is not a vaccine, but simply a vitamin being delivered via a shot) is essential, explains pediatrician Clay Jones on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream below). It's also quite safe.

So then why are some parents refusing to get it, leaving their infants vulnerable to a potentially devastating condition? It's difficult to understand the phenomenon outside the context of a growing fear, in general, about vaccines in the US. 

"There's a lot of overlap with that anti-vaccine mentality," says Jones. 

Indeed, reporting on the Vanderbilt VKDB cases, the Tennessean explained that "Vanderbilt doctors believe incidences are on the rise because of the anti-vaccine movement."

VKDB comes in two versions, an "early" form (occurring in the first week of life) and the much more dangerous "late" form, which tends to strike infants between two and 12 weeks old who have not received Vitamin K, and who are "exclusively breastfed" by their mothers. 

The problem, writes Jones, is that "levels of vitamin K in breast milk are low, much lower than in infant formula."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infants who do not receive a vitamin K injection have an 81 times greater chance of coming down with late stage VKDB. Even then the risk remains small: Between 4.4 and 7.2 infants out of every 100,000. But a Vitamin K injection is "virtually 100 percent protective," Jones explains.

Such are the facts, yet nonetheless, parents interviewed by the CDC after bringing in their infants with VKDB showed concerns about the injection. "Reasons included concern about an increased risk for leukemia when vitamin K is administered, an impression that the injection was unnecessary, and a desire to minimize the newborn's exposure to 'toxins,'" observes a CDC report. These concerns are scientifically questionable at best. "Earlier concern regarding a possible causal association between parenteral [injected] vitamin K and childhood cancer has not been substantiated," states the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A quick Google search returns a number of dire warnings about vitamin K shots circulating on the Internet. One of the top results is an article at, which urges readers to "Skip that Newborn Vitamin K Shot," before going on to list an array of "dangerous ingredients in the injection cocktail." (The site also calls vaccines "scientific fraud.")

The case for the vitamin K shot is irrefutable, says Jones, "especially when you take into account just how ridiculously safe these intramuscular injections are."

And then there's physician Joseph Mercola (whose popular website calls vaccinations "very neurotoxic" and suggests they are associated with a list of conditions, including autism). In another article on his site, Mercola suggests there is a "Potential Dark Side" to the vitamin K shot. "A needle stick can be a terrible assault to a baby's suddenly overloaded sensory system, which is trying to adjust to the outside world," it reads. (Although Mercola himself rejects and debunks the alleged leukemia link.) Mercola instead suggests administering vitamin K orally, claiming it's "safe and equally effective."

In a written statement provided for this article, Mercola elaborated on his views. He said that as a doctor, he has personally seen "direct evidence of trauma from injections," and he cited risks from aluminum preservatives contained in vitamin K shots. "It is incomprehensible to me how any rational individual could even consider arguing the use of vitamin K injections over a simple and inexpensive, painless oral dose that has never been shown to fail," Mercola wrote.

Jones disagrees. "We have decades of data from a number of countries, some of which have oscillated between doing the [intramuscular injection], doing the oral, and doing nothing," he says. "And so we have good data that shows that while oral is certainly better than nothing, it is not as effective as intramuscular dosing." 

In particular, with oral vitamin K, there are problems involving making sure that people take the right dose and stick to the regimen—and then of course added problems if a baby vomits up the dose. 

"There's a lot of factors that could potentially interfere with the ability of the oral dosing to work," adds Jones. 

"Intramuscular is the best way to do it." (For Jones' more thorough rebuttal to Mercola, read here.) A 2003 statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics makes a similar point, citing evidence that "oral prophylaxis" may fail more often than an injection in preventing late VKDB. (Here's a paper discussing the cases of several infants in the Netherlands who received oral Vitamin K, but still came down with late VKDB.)

Science aside, evidence presented by the CDC suggests that refusal of vitamin K shots may be a major phenomenon to contend with. In Tennessee, the CDC found that at the hospital with the highest rate of missed vitamin K injections, 3.4 percent of infants were discharged without receiving one. At birthing centers in the state (a hospital alternative, often run by nurse-midwives), the number was much higher: 28 percent. (The agency also hinted that medical staff may not be adequately informing parents about the need for the shot.)

To prevent any more horrific brain bleeds in infants, that has to stop. The case for the vitamin K shot is irrefutable, says Jones, "especially when you take into account just how ridiculously safe these intramuscular injections are."

Although there have been those skeptical of vaccination since it was first discovered as a disease preventative, the latest surge in the anti-vax movement started when Andrew Wakefield, a British physician and researcher, published a study in 1998 alleging a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism.

Since then his research has been proven to be unreproducible, unethical, fraudulent and dangerous to his his study participants and society, and he has been barred from practicing medicine in the UK

And just so you can know just how dastardly this guy is, here's some of his history from Wikipedia:

After the publication of his paper, other researchers were unable to reproduce Wakefield's findings or confirm his hypothesis of an association between the MMR vaccine and autism or autism and gastrointestinal disease.

A 2004 investigation by Sunday Times reporter Brian Deer identified undisclosed financial conflicts of interest on Wakefield's part. The British General Medical Council (GMC) conducted an inquiry into allegations of misconduct against Wakefield and two former colleagues. 

The investigation centred on Deer's numerous findings, including that children with autism were subjected to unnecessary invasive medical procedures such as colonoscopy and lumbar puncture, and that Wakefield acted without the required ethical approval from an institutional review board.

On 28 January 2010, a five-member statutory tribunal of the GMC found three dozen charges proved, including four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally challenged children. Wakefield was struck off the Medical Register in May 2010, with a statement identifying deliberate falsification in The Lancet research, and he is barred from practising medicine in the UK.

In January 2011, an editorial accompanying an article by Brian Deer in the British Medical Journal identified Wakefield's work as an "elaborate fraud". In a follow-up article, Deer said that Wakefield had planned to launch a venture on the back of an MMR vaccination scare that would profit from new medical tests and "litigation driven testing".

Wakefield's study and his claim that the MMR vaccine might cause autism led to a decline in vaccination rates in the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland and a corresponding rise in measles and mumps, resulting in serious illness and fatalities, and his continued warnings against the vaccine have contributed to a climate of distrust of all vaccines and the reemergence of other previously controlled diseases.

Here's the real deal: According to the CDC, the rates of complication from vaccines are so low that the benefits of vaccination are as much as 10,000 times the risk. 

For example the rate of developing pneumonia as a complication of measles is 6 in 100, 1 in 1000 for encephalitis and an average of 2 deaths per 1000 occur, whereas the rate of encephalitis or severe allergic reaction to receiving the MMR vaccine is 1 in 1,000,000.

Complication rates from having the mumps are 1 in 7 for testicular atrophy in men and 1 in 4 for miscarriages for women in the first trimester of pregnancy.

The pro-vaccine website called antivaccinebodycount tallies the number of vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths (compiled from weekly CDC reports) at 136,242 preventable illnesses*, 1397 preventable deaths* and 0 autism diagnoses scientifically linked to vaccination.*

*in the US from June 3, 2007 to July 12, 2014 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dutchman's Store, Cantril

“I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.” — Grant Wood

SATURDAY Paul and I took Paul's parents on a road trip to Cantril, Iowa to visit Dutchman's Store, and on the way we stopped to see the iconic house from Grant Wood's world-renown painting, American Gothic

It was an encore performance. It's exactly the same trip Mama Logli planned and we took together about a year ago. We thought it worthy of repeating.

Cantril, population 222, is located in Van Buren County in the southeastern corner of Iowa. According to Wikipedia, the entire county has a population of just 7570, of which 1006 reside in Keosauqua, the county seat, which FYI is the home of the oldest continuously-operated courthouse in Iowa and west of the Mississippi.

The red square on the Iowa map is Van Buren County. On the left is an enlarged drawing 
of Van Buren County, with the town of Cantril circled in red. The other squares on 
the county map are also towns, so you can see it's rather sparsely settled.

There's an association called the Villages of Van Buren, and here's what their website has to say about themselves:

"Off the beaten path, but near to history, nature and the spirit of America's heartland, visitors say life in the Villages of Van Buren, a unique cluster of towns in Van Buren County, moves at a slightly different pace, friendliness is a virtue among residents and village heritage is sacred ground.Relax as you drive through the countryside because you’ll not find a stop light or a fast-food restaurant in the entire county.

Awarded 'Iowa Tourism County of the Year"'in 1989, 1991, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2010, it's easy to see why the Villages of Van Buren are one of Iowa's top tourism destinations. We are also proud to be included as one of only nine Iowa locations in the best-selling book '1,000 Places to See Before You Die' in the U.S. and Canada."

But first came our stop in Eldon to see the American Gothic house and walk through the small museum dedicated to Grant Wood and the history of his best-known painting. Visitors are offered the opportunity to get their picture taken in costume posing as the dour pair in front of the house Grant Wood immortalized.

Of course we had to do it.

The famous original.
Paul's parents, Phyllis and Keith, in their own clothes.

After leaving Eldon, we wended our way on county roads through Amish country to Cantril. I spotted a bake sale at an Amish farm participating in the Farm Crawl, an event where various local farms welcome visitors and offer goods for sale. 

I bought donuts and a cream-filled coffee cake, and Paul's parents got green beans and a pecan pie. The green beans were $1 and half a dozen donuts were $1.75. I haven't had a donut for I bet 10 years, but for the last couple of weeks I'd been experiencing an intense donut craving, and there they were calling my name. I ate three, and about made myself sick. I expect I'll go another 10 years before I do it again.

Below are a few photos I snapped while we were at the bake sale home.

Dutchman's Store is an anomaly and a wonderment in this modern day. It's an old-fashioned country store, but not a fake old-fashioned country store like some restaurant chains have. This is the genuine article where what you buy is wrapped in paper, comes in a Mason jar or a bag with a twist tie.

It's become a draw for tourists, but it started simply enough in 1985 as a single storefront serving the needs of area residents for meat, produce, milk, cheese and butter, spices, raw ingredients, dry and preserved goods, bakery items, household wares, ointments, clothing, shoes and every other thing you can think of sold at fair and reasonable prices. It's grown now to encompass the entire block.

The place was jam-packed on this particular Saturday, and I was so distracted by the array of goods and crush of people that I forgot to take any pictures, so I've attached two screen caps taken from their website.

Paul and I bought peaches, tomatoes, fresh and dried garlic, ginger, horseradish, coleslaw, honey roasted pecans, soup, soap and a knife. (They have the best and most inexpensive knives there!)

Afterwards we ate across the street at Alice's restaurant where there were pork tenderloins, mashed potatoes, $5.00 hot beef sandwiches, homemade peach pie and other Iowa soul food on the menu.

We wended our way back towards Des Moines on different county highways that are part of the official Scenic Roads of Iowa, and stopped in Oskaloosa so I could made a quick run into one of my favorite shoe stores where they specialize in trendy shoes for a small price. In fact by coincidence, that day both Paul and I were wearing shoes we'd purchased the last time we were there a year ago with Mama Logli.

It's called the Shoe Dept, and I highly recommend it. As Paul says, "Any day that has new shoes in it is a good day in Kelly's world." Does he know me, or what?!

My super-comfortable, cushy, $16.98 sandals.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Des Moines jazz festival August 1 - 3

"Life is a lot like jazz; it's best when you improvise." — George Gershwin

AWHILE BACK I mentioned that Paul is getting a Special Recognition Award from the Greater Des Moines Community Jazz Center. I also hinted that we had exciting forthcoming music news that I couldn't spill because it had yet to be officially announced.

It was released weeks and weeks ago, so I'm remiss for not telling you what that news is.

But hang on; you're clever. You've already figured out it's a jazz festival in Des Moines like it says in the title.

Ding ding ding. You are correct oh, sleuth-y one.

There is indeed going to be a jazz festival here in the heartland August 1, 2 and 3, and we've got a couple of stupendous national headliners coming to town.

It's called Music Under the Canopy because it's being held at under the new canopy at the Brenton Skating Plaza next to the river.

I've included the schedule below, but before you get to that, READ THIS:

There are few, if any – at least that I know of – actual tangible benefits you receive from reading Hey Look, but here at last is one small one: I have a code for you to use that will get you Premium seating at the festival for the general seating price. Tickets are sold by the day or for the entire three-day festival. 

Go to and put in the code tjc (case sensitive) to get the upgrade for a day pass or tjcpass for the all-festival pass when you check out. This upgrade is available on a first-come, first-served basis, so you might want to jump on it. 

And BTW: Paul is playing all three days – in the Parranderos Latin Combo Friday night, with the Des Moines Big Band Saturday afternoon and with the Iowa Jazz Hall of Fame All Star Band on Sunday. Be sure and say hello to him if you attend.

Day Schedule

Day 1   Hiroshima plus World Port and Parranderos Latin Combo Click here to purchase this day pass

Day 2   Arturo Sandoval plus The Des Moines Big Band, Steve Grismore Trio, The Hands of Time, Patricia Barber and Damani Phillips Click here to purchase this day pass

Day 3   Dominick Faranacci plus Iowa Jazz Hall of Fame All Stars, Damani Phillips. Click here to purchase this day pass

Click here to purchase the All-Festival Pass.

Legendary trumpeter Arturo Sandoval

Individual Concert Times

Friday, August 1, 2014

  • 6 PM   Gates open to public
  • 7 PM   World Port
  • 8 PM   Parranderos Latin Combo
  • 9 PM   Hiroshima

Saturday, August 2, 2014

  • 1 PM   Gates open to public
  • 2 PM   Steve Grismore Trio
  • 3 PM   The Hands of Time featuring Chris Merz
  • 4:30 PM   Des Moines Big Band
  • 6 PM   Patricia Barber
  • 7 PM   Damani Phillips
  • 9 PM   Arturo Sandoval

Sunday, August 3, 2014

  • 3 PM   Gates open to public
  • 4 PM   Iowa Jazz Hall of Fame All Star Band
  • 6:15 PM   Damani Phillips
  • 7:30 PM   Dominick Farinacci

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Bottle Boys

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'." — Erma Bombeck

I'M A LITTLE late to the party here. This group of five Danish guys hit public consciousness in 2013 on Britain's Got Talent. Their initial offering was unique and entertaining, but nothing compared to what they've evolved to be — which is just amazing.

I've attached a video of their performance of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. They're seriously awesome!


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mama Logli's 89th birthday

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” — Dr. Seuss

AND WHAT a fantastically wonderful "you" Virginia Logli is! July 21 was her 89th birthday. We took over a cake, ice cream and an orchid to celebrate. She got lots of birthday cards and calls, and her niece, Denise Logli Jones, came over with pink squirrels so we could all drink a toast to Virginia.

Virginia with her 8-pound cake, orchid and lots of birthday cards,
and she's wearing beads we brought her from New Orleans.

I kinda overkilled it on the cake. Paul, Virginia and I each had gigantic slices, we sent one home with Denise, Paul took a piece to Dena, Virginia's 95-year-old sister-in-law, we left a slice for Virginia for later, and we took one to Lee (age 105), Virginia's other sister-in-law, and we still have half a cake left. 

We figure we'll freeze the rest and give it to Ann and Jonathan (Virginia's daughter and grandson who'll be flying in from California) to take to Mark's, (Virginia's son), when they drive her down to Fairfield for a visit in a couple of weeks — and they can polish off the rest.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! We adore you.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Long live Ukraine

“I ask you, people who care about the soul of Ukraine, those who want to preserve the heart, the spirit and the faith of our country for future generations, to please defend it.” — Yulia Tymoshenko, co-leader of the Orange Revolution and the first woman appointed as Prime Minister of Ukraine

I'M SHARING an article with you from the Washington Post. The upshot of it is that Vladimir Putin is extremely popular just now in Russia — more so than ever.

This I find disheartening. 

Theoretically, I have a lot of readers in Russia, second only in number to the US, so I'm guessing this post will make a bunch of them really, really mad, but I gotta say it: 

I am 100%, 200%, 300% in favor of Ukraine remaining an independent, autonomous country in its own right — not a subdivision, subset, territory, state, district, region or any other derivative of Russia.

Vlad, stop trying to annex land and people who deserve their own identity and destiny. And PS: You're kinda creepy, not to mention monomaniacal and megalomaniacal. 

And hey Americans: Just like it's not the England or the Brazil or the France, it's not the Ukraine; it's Ukraine.

In Russia, everybody loves Putin
By Aaron Blake July 21, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly a pariah on the world stage, with very few people holding a positive view of him or his country.

Back home, though, it's the complete opposite. As Russia has enmeshed itself in controversies in Syria and Ukraine -- and now allegations that its allies were responsible for shooting down a civilian plane last week -- its strongman leader has only grown more popular. In fact, he's more popular than a politician in the United States could ever dream to be.

A new poll from Gallup shows that 83 percent of Russians approve of Putin's job performance.

That's up nearly 30 points from last year -- and tied with the previous high from his first stint as president, in 2008. Clearly, his people think he's doing something right.

To put that in perspective, the last time any American leader or politician was that popular was George W. Bush, for a brief period shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And just four months after the attacks, Bush was back below 80 percent.

For the half-century before Bush, only George H.W. Bush, John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman ever matched Putin's popularity for any period of time. All three men rose to that height in large part because of major military events. Putin, though, has remained hugely popular even in the absence of a major war directly affecting his country.

And it's not just Putin who's popular. People profess to being quite happy with the government of Russia in general -- or at least, more happy than they were before.

So does Putin suddenly have a massive mandate from his people to do whatever he wants on the world stage? Well, not really. He might see it that way, but his popularity isn't all that new.

Although he's riding about as high as he ever has, this isn't the first time his approval rating has peaked above 80 percent. In fact, according to polling from the Levada Center, he was hovering around or above 80 percent for much of his first stint as president.

Putin's numbers are undoubtedly inflated by the fact that his country has state-run news media; it's much easier to look like a hero when the media are consistently on your side. And that goes double when you're involved in major events on the world stage. The Russian people, for instance, had a far different understanding of precisely what happened in Crimea, believing Ukranian nationalists were responsible for it.

But for a man facing a very significant role in the world and increasingly bad reviews outside his borders, it's important to remember that the most important feedback he's getting for his political legacy -- in Russia -- is overwhelmingly positive.

He has oodles of political capital back home. The question is how he uses it.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

New Jersey bully comes to Iowa

"Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee." — Bridget Anne Kelly, Chris Christie's former deputy chief of staff

I DON'T usually begin writing a blog post at 1:00 AM an hour after I've just published one. However, I'm making an exception because I only now became aware that New Jersey Governor Chris Liar-Liar-Pants-On-Fire Christie is coming to Iowa today. Batten down the hatches. This hot-air blimp will be entering my home state Thursday, July 17 for a three-day tour. 

I really need to keep up with my New York Times reading! His bullyness' intentions were mentioned in the Tuesday addition of the paper. Below is the article.

As a reminder as to why Iowans shouldn't support Mr. Christie, here are a few stats, and most especially if you're a Republican who believes in a fiscally-responsible, smaller government. That definitely ain't what he creates. Take a look:

Nine states, Delaware, South Dakota, Montana, West Virginia, Vermont, Wyoming, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oklahoma — each has an annual state budget that's smaller than the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's annual $7 billion (that billion with a B) budget. 

This is the agency you may recall where Christie has gotten his pals put on the payroll at big salaries as political rewards. Bridgegate main man David Wildstein is just one example of a buddy for whom Christie created a $150,000 a year job.

Here's what a January 16, 2014 CNN article had to say about how Wildstein came aboard:

"Give him a position at the top of the agency; he's a good friend of the governor. Soon after, Wildstein was named the director of Interstate Capital Projects, a title that previously had not existed at the bi-state agency."

In fact, according to the New York website Empire Center, the average Port Authority salary is nearly $100,000 a year:

  • 7,401 individuals who worked for the Port Authority in 2013 had average pay of $98,854
  • Nearly half of all of PA employees (46 percent of the total) were paid $100,000 or more
  • 221 employees took home more than $200,000 including eight whose pay topped $300,000
  • The highest-paid PA employee was a police officer who was paid $330,856

Christie to Test Presidential Hopes in Iowa Trip
JULY 15, 2014

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey will make his most significant and elaborate return to the presidential arena this week amid indications that, despite his tribulations, his political standing has stabilized and his advisers see a possible path to the Republican nomination in 2016.

Mr. Christie’s three-city swing through Iowa, the first state to have a say on the presidential race, will represent a highly public resumption of his White House ambitions after six months of scandal. It was deliberately constructed to showcase what his advisers believe distinguishes him from the emerging Republican field: his personality and ability to interact spontaneously with ordinary people.

The Iowa trip — and a second planned for New Hampshire on July 31 — hint at what his backers said was a larger, delicate, post-lane-closing strategy for selling a potential Christie candidacy to wary donors and a broader Republican base. The strategy aims to demonstrate that whatever the Tea Party and ideological appeal of his would-be rivals, they lack his gift for, and enjoyment of, street-level “retail politics.”

There are plenty of reasons for skepticism of the Christie strategy: At least three investigations are still churning, with no end in sight, and the sheer volume of embarrassing revelations about the Christie administration’s conduct and culture could ultimately doom his presidential chances.

The governor’s rivals are already raising pointed questions about his leadership, including his financial management in New Jersey. And it is not clear that personality and charisma still matter in a party that has become so defined by conservative ideology.

But recent polling and discussions with Republican officials around the country have left Mr. Christie’s supporters and advisers more persuaded that, despite the damage from his administration’s role in touching off days of horrendous traffic on the George Washington Bridge last fall, there is a place for Mr. Christie in the presidential contest, should he opt to run, and they are eager for him to begin inching forward.

Even in New Jersey, where the latest subpoenas and testimonies from investigations into Mr. Christie’s office are monitored closely, his job approval rating remains 50 percent and considerably more voters — 45 percent against 38 percent — view him favorably than unfavorably, polling shows.

And well beyond New Jersey, interviews and public opinion surveys show, primary voters remain open to and intrigued by the idea of a Christie campaign. According to a Quinnipiac University poll of Iowa voters conducted at the end of June, 54 percent of Iowa Republicans still have a favorable opinion of Mr. Christie, compared with 23 percent who view him unfavorably. His numbers are less promising among independents.

The governor’s aides stress that Mr. Christie will not make his decision about whether to pursue a candidacy until the end of this year, and emphasized that his travel was focused on winning governor’s races. But in Iowa, where Mr. Christie will arrive on Thursday morning for a day of campaigning and fund-raising on behalf of the state’s popular Republican governor, Terry E. Branstad, he is being viewed as a likely candidate.

“People want to give him a chance here,” said Loras Schulte, a member of the Republican State Central Committee.

In two dozen interviews, Republicans in Iowa echoed some of the themes Mr. Christie is eager to stress — that he is a blunt and charismatic teller of unpopular truths. Most strikingly, few of them have paid much attention to the simmering controversy over the lane closings, or consider the episode to be a major liability for Mr. Christie. Many of them described it, dismissively, as an unhealthy obsession of East Coast Democrats.

“It’s one of those deals where the media made such a big deal about it that it went under the rug,” said Norman F. Fleagle, a 70-year-old farmer in Indianola, Iowa, who praised Mr. Christie for “having the gumption to do whatever he thinks is right, no matter how popular it is.”

“I think it’s a good trait,” he added.

Mr. Branstad, Iowa’s five-term governor, said that view of the George Washington Bridge story was widely held. “Really, most people here have never heard of it and don’t care much about it,” Mr. Branstad said. Those who did, he said, “have moved on.”

Mr. Christie, he said, “could very much be a contender here.”

Still, despite those signs of openness, Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, cautioned against too much optimism among Christie supporters, in part because the governor’s competitors will make the bridge scandal part of a broader attack on him.

“The problem with Bridgegate is not traffic in a place like Iowa,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s the charge by Christie’s opponents, in either party, that what happened is symptomatic of how he runs his administration.”

And the survey shows that independent voters, once an electoral bulwark for Mr. Christie in places like Iowa, are now far less enamored. In an open caucus system in which they can participate, 34 percent of independents in Iowa view him unfavorably, compared with 30 percent who hold a favorable view, Quinnipiac’s poll found. “He has to improve there,” Mr. Brown said.

During his Iowa visit on Thursday, Mr. Christie will speak at three fund-raisers: an event for the Republican Governors Association, the group he heads, at a private home outside Des Moines; a luncheon for Speaker Kraig Paulsen of the Iowa House in Cedar Rapids; and in the day’s marquee session, an outdoor cookout for Mr. Branstad at the fairgrounds in Davenport, which is open to the public for a low ticket price. (Invitations bill it as “An Evening at the Fair with Chris Christie.” On the menu: whiskey-marinated pork loin and sweet corn with bacon and cheese curds.)

Aides said they planned for Mr. Christie to make a stop near Cedar Rapids to mingle with Iowa voters, who are famed (and envied) for their up-close, town-by-town vetting of presidential candidates.

Such public appearances in his travels as head of the Republican Governors Association were all but banished after the bridge controversy erupted, when he faced calls to step down as chairman of the group and his events were strictly off limits to the public and news media.

He plans to travel to New Hampshire on July 31 to attend a minor-league baseball game with Senator Kelly Ayotte and hold another public event. A WMUR Granite State poll released last week showed Mr. Christie in the top tier in the field of Republican contenders.

Mr. Christie’s backers are increasingly focused on his personality as an asset, in part because of the obvious contrast with President Obama, and their belief that, after eight years of a phlegmatic and sometimes distant figure in the White House, the public will respond to a more emotive, passionate and expansive leader — a role they do not see filled by the presumptive Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Furthermore, the emerging Tea Party-backed White House aspirants, especially Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, are more animated by ideas and appear more comfortable speaking uninterrupted at a policy seminar or the Senate floor than in one-on-one unscripted interactions with voters. And the field still remains unsettled and bereft of a front-runner, especially given the reluctance of the former Florida governor Jeb Bush to commit to a campaign.
The question, for Mr. Christie, is how far personality can propel him in a drawn-out, brutal campaign, especially when conservatives remain suspicious of his ideology.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Iowan goes on a hunger strike

“The funny thing about firemen is, night and day, they are always firemen.” — Gregory Widen, Backdraft

AN IOWA firefighter is on hunger strike to raise enough money to build a new fire station. Here's the July 16, 2014 ABC News/Good Morning America article about Lehigh Volunteer Fire Department Chief Kirk Kelly.

Amid sharp budget cuts to fire departments across the country, one Iowa fire department chief has gone on a hunger strike to make a public plea -- his small town fire station is underfunded and needs help.

Lehigh Volunteer Fire Department Chief Kirk Kelley has been drinking only water, muscle milk and chicken broth since June 23. He has since lost 28 pounds, but says he will not stop until nearly $480,000 is raised to build a new firehouse.

“When I first started, I did pass out once,” Kelley told ABC News today. “I sat down real quick and I stood back up. I got light-headed and I had to sit back down. But I feel pretty good now.”

Kelley said after several failed attempts to get funding and loans for the Lehigh Volunteer Fire Department, he decided to take the extreme method to seek help.

According to a fundraising page set up by Kelley on, the fire department serves three nearby towns in a 70-mile radius and needs a bigger station to replace the old and outdated one the crew currently uses.

“Right now all we can handle is four smaller trucks in our station… Our station only has truck space, we don’t have a meeting/training room, kitchen/dining area, and we only have one restroom that gets shared by men and women,” the page reads.

The firefighters at the Lehigh Fire Department are all volunteers, and they respond to up to 70 calls each year.

Kelley said 50 years ago, the only task the fire department had to do was fighting fires. Now, they are responsible for responding to medical emergencies, stabilizing patients, providing water rescue and other rescues.

“There are 17 firefighters in our station, all of them are EMT trained,” Kelley said. “They don’t get paid at all. They do this out of their hearts.”

“I get paid $125 a month because I’m the chief, but I just give it back to the fundraiser to keep things going,” Kelley said.

“One day, we had three calls, two at the same time,” Kelley added. “That was a busy day for us.”

Right now, Kelley has only raised around $5,000, which is far short of his goal of $480,000.

Kelley, who works as an electrician, said his mother is a little worried about his health, but his wife has been supportive.

“My wife knows that I’m hard-headed so she just lets me do whatever I want to do,” Kelley chuckled. “My three-year-old daughter doesn't really know what is going on. She is always asking: ‘Why is daddy not eating?’”

Thursday, July 10, 2014


"Service above self." — Rotary International Motto

I FEEL so honored! Today I received the Roger T. Stetson Rotarian of the Year Award for 2013 - 2014 from my club, The Rotary Club of Des MoinesOutgoing President Dick Reasons presented it to me for my role as leader of the new-member mentoring program. It was his good idea, though.

Being the closet introvert that I am, normally I would be uncomfortable in such a situation, but instead I actually felt really happy and terrifically honored. I smiled so hard my face hurt, and I still have to pinch myself that my club chose me. 

Paul got to be there, and he's so proud of me that it's adorable!

Shortly after we married I received a writing award, and ever since then he's called me as his LAWW (lovely, award-winning wife). It's nice to live up just a little bit every now and then to how he views me.

Left: Bruce Kelley, newly inducted Rotary Club of Des Moines president.
Right: Dick Reasons, outgoing president. Me in the middle feeling very honored.

BTW: I wore The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit and we all know it's magic. :-)