Weekend open thread: Depressing news, inspiring news

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: Some exceptionally sad news caught my eye recently:

A new investigation by the Associated Press and the USA Today network found that in the first six months of 2016, children aged 17 or younger "died from accidental shootings — at their own hands, or at the hands of other children or adults — at a pace of one every other day, far more than limited federal statistics indicate." Alaska and Louisiana had the highest rates of accidental child shooting. A separate feature in the series focused on three incidents that killed two teenage girls and seriously injured another in Tama County, Iowa.

Government research on accidental gun deaths is nearly non-existent, because more than two decades ago, the National Rifle Association persuaded Congress to defund gun research by the Centers for Disease Control.

Meanwhile, the AP’s Scott McFetridge reported last week on the growing hunger problem in Storm Lake. The problem isn’t lack of jobs—the local unemployment rate is quite low—but a lack of livable wages. Iowa-born economist Austin Frerick mentioned Storm Lake and other towns dominated by meatpacking plants in his guest post here a few months ago: Big Meat, Small Towns: The Free Market Rationale for Raising Iowa’s Minimum Wage.

I enclose below excerpts from all of those stories, along with some good news from the past week:

The African-American Hall of Fame announced four new inductees, who have done incredible work in higher education, criminal justice, community organizing, and the practice of law.

Planned Parenthood marked the 100th anniversary of the first birth control clinic opening in the country on October 16. Click here for a timeline of significant events in the organization’s history.

Drake University Biology Professor Thomas Rosburg will receive this year’s Lawrence and Eula Hagie Heritage Award from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. Rosburg is a legend among Iowans who care about native plants, wetlands, and prairie restoration.

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July 4 open thread

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community! Enjoy the day safely, and please remember that amateur fireworks can not only hurt people, but also cause distress for war veterans suffering from PTSD.

It’s less hot today than usual on July 4, which will make walking with Jennifer Konfrst and other Democrats in this afternoon’s Windsor Heights parade much more pleasant. If you went to any parades this weekend, please share your anecdotes. I urge Democrats to wear sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and a t-shirt with a positive message. Don’t be rude to any political adversaries, and don’t respond in kind if heckled by Republicans. My go-to answers to parade watchers insulting me or candidates I support include, "My dad was a Republican" or "It’s a free country" or "Happy Fourth of July!"

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Thanks to media coverage picking up on the Iowa DNR’s recent warning about wild parsnip, last year’s post about that hazardous plant and poison hemlock has become the most-viewed edition of Iowa wildflower Wednesday. This weekend’s follow-up with more pictures of wild parsnip has become the most-shared Bleeding Heartland piece about wildflowers, which is ironic, since very few of more than 125 posts in this series have featured European invaders.

Some people confuse wild parsnip with golden Alexanders, a North American native with small yellow flowers. But the plants look quite different, and golden Alexanders tend to boom earlier in the year than wild parsnip.

Iowa wildflower weekend: The dreaded wild parsnip

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources put out a warning this week about an invasive and poisonous plant that has become prevalent in the state.

Though not native to North America, wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is has spread across most of our continent. I see massive stands near I-80 and I-35 on the west side of the Des Moines area, as well as along lots of country roads.

Many Iowans googling wild parsnip have landed on my post from last year about this plant and the notorious poison hemlock. On my way home from scoping out prairie wildflowers in Dallas County yesterday, I decided to take more pictures of the plant, along with other flowers you may see blooming close to it this time of year.

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Memorial Day open thread

Once known as Decoration Day, the concept of honoring Americans who died in military service on the last Monday in May "originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971." Many Americans visit the graves of fallen relatives on Memorial Day. Morgan Halgren described visiting the grave of her uncle, who was killed in action during World War II, during a trip to the Netherlands.

In a guest editorial for today’s Des Moines Register, Joy Neal Kidney described her family’s annual ritual of visiting Violet Hill Cemetery in Perry (Dallas County), to honor the memories of relatives including three uncles killed during World War II.

Lynda Waddington’s latest column in the Cedar Rapids Gazette called for offering "more than words" to the war dead and their surviving families.

Since Memorial Day weekend is also the unofficial beginning of summer, it’s a good time to share Mario Vittone’s must-read piece for recreational swimmers: "Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning." Once a lifeguard at Valley View Aquatic Center in West Des Moines jumped in to help a child in trouble in the shallow pool where I was standing near my children. Although I could not have been more than fifteen feet away, I hadn’t noticed a thing.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

UPDATE: Added below a map prepared by the Legislative Services Agency, which shows the home towns of Iowans killed in military conflicts since in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, or other locations.

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Weekend open thread: Threat assessments

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Arguments over the appropriate U.S. response to refugees from Syria were a hot topic this week in personal conversations as well as in the news media. I saw some longtime friendships strained over heated Facebook threads about the question. Governor Terry Branstad’s order "to halt any work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately in order to ensure the security and safety of Iowans" provoked commentaries in several major newspapers and an unusually strong statement from Iowa’s four Catholic bishops.

The U.S. House vote to in effect stop the flow of refugees from Syria and Iraq generated passionate comments from supporters and opponents of the measure. Dozens of Iowans expressed their disappointment on the thread under Representative Dave Loebsack’s official statement explaining his vote. In an apparent response to negative feedback from progressives, Loebsack’s Congressional campaign sent an e-mail to supporters the following day, trying to distinguish his position on refugees from the Middle East from that of many Republicans, and assuring that "we will not turn our backs on those in need." (Scroll to the end of this post to read that message.)

Calls by some politicians to admit only certifiably Christian refugees from the Middle East triggered strong emotions in many American Jews this week. I saw it on my social media feeds, where many people reminded their non-Jewish friends and acquaintances that the U.S. turned away a ship carrying hundreds of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a rare statement on a political matter (enclosed below), urging "public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today’s refugees [from Syria] as a group."

I’ve seen many people object to that analogy, saying reluctance to admit Syrian refugees is grounded in legitimate fears for public safety, unlike the prejudice that influenced U.S. immigration policy during the 1930s. But as historian Peter Shulman explained in this commentary for Fortune magazine,

Opposition to Jewish refugees was not simply timeless bigotry. With today’s talk of “Judeo-Christian” values, it is easy to forget the genuine alienness and threat to national security these refugees represented. […]

Behind these [1939 poll] numbers [showing widespread hostility toward Jews] lay a toxic fear of Jewish subversion. For decades, Jews had been linked to various strains of un-American threats: socialism, communism, and anarchism, of course, but also (paradoxically) a kind of hyper-capitalism. Many believed that the real threat to the United States lay not from abroad, but within.

One author of a recent letter to the Des Moines Register called for vetting Syrian refugees at the U.S. facility for holding suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay: "My Irish ancestors went through a similar process at Ellis Island. The vetting procedure was very different for them. They were checked to be sure they weren’t carrying diseases into America. We need to be sure that the refugees coming into our country don’t come with a mind disease goal of killing us, instead of seeking a new life for themselves, like my Irish ancestors did." Here’s some news for letter-writer Janet Boggs: when the first large waves of Irish ancestors entered this country during the 1840s and 1850s, many native-born Americans considered them and other Catholic immigrants an existential threat to this country, not harmless migrants seeking a better life. Read up on the Know-Nothing Party.

Today’s Sunday Des Moines Register includes a letter to the editor from Republican State Representative Steve Holt, who thanked Branstad for making "the safety of Iowans" his priority. Holt warned, "If we expect Western civilization to survive, we must abandon political correctness and educate ourselves on the realities of Islam, and the instrument of its implementation, Sharia law." Holt represents half of GOP State Senator Jason Schultz’s constituents in western Iowa; Schultz has been beating the "Sharia law" drum for months while agitating against allowing any more refugees from the Middle East to settle in Iowa. UPDATE: I should have noted that today’s Register also ran a letter to the editor from Democratic State Representative Marti Anderson, who made the case for welcoming refugees. I’ve added it after the jump.

Speaking of security risks, yesterday Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on questions surrounding the threat assessment teams many universities formed after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. I didn’t know that the University of Iowa sent "a detective with the campus threat assessment team" to a fake news conference communications Professor Kembrew McLeod organized in August to poke fun at efficiency measures outside consultants recommended for Iowa’s public universities. I had forgotten about the lawsuit stemming from false accusations that a whistleblower employee in the Iowa State College of Engineering’s marketing department might be a "potential terrorist or mass murderer." Officials spreading such rumors about the employee included the former boss whose shady conduct he had exposed. Excerpts from Foley’s article are below, but click through to read the whole piece.

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