# Holidays

A "woke" view of a classic Christmas story

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer concept is by Adam Yee, available via Shutterstock

Jerry Foxhoven is an attorney, child advocate, former law professor, and former director of the Iowa Department of Human Services.

It’s time I admit it publicly: I’m “woke.”

One of my favorite contemporary writers is pastor and author John Pavlovitz. He reminds us often that “Jesus was woke.” He observes that Republicans/Evangelicals like to refer to the Bible a lot but rarely bring up Jesus. Here is what Pavlovitz says about that:

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When Iowa refused to join "Franksgiving" celebrations

I’m grateful for so much this Thanksgiving, including an independent platform and a community of readers who appreciate in-depth coverage of Iowa politics.

In past years, I have marked this holiday by sharing links about its origins and the associated myths, or ideas for making soup and other dishes from Thanksgiving leftovers.

Today, with permission from Matthew Isbell, I want to share a vignette about Iowa’s Thanksgiving celebrations during a previous era, when (like today) this state was solidly Republican during a Democratic presidency.

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U.S. government should help families decorate veterans' graves overseas

Tombstone of Lawrence F. Shea at his war grave on the American cemetery in Margraten, Netherlands. Photo by Arne Hückelheim, available via Wikimedia Commons

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

Veterans Day is around the corner. For John and Bob, the day will be for remembering the men and women who serve in the United States military—and two service members, in particular. 

For John, it will be his son, Robert, a Marine lieutenant who will forever be 29 years old. For Bob, it will be his father, Karl, forever the face on treasured family photographs of a handsome 26-year-old Army captain.

John and Bob are patriots through and through. They are not big-government fanatics. They have something else in common, too. They both believe the American people should never forget the ultimate sacrifice paid by members of the U.S. military, and that is a reason they are disappointed with a decision made by the government they love.

They believe the federal government has made a terrible, insensitive mistake by walking away from a pledge to the families of our war dead after World War II—to make it convenient for Gold Star families to remember their 234,000 loved ones who are interred or commemorated in 26 military cemeteries and memorials in more than a dozen foreign countries. 

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Needed for America: A better operating system

Writing under the handle “Bronxiniowa,” Ira Lacher, who actually hails from the Bronx, New York, is a longtime journalism, marketing, and public relations professional.

Bringing in my 7-year-old Windows laptop to the repair shop—I confess I hold on to my computers as long as I hold on to my cars—made me think about how America is like a PC.

PCs, based on the Microsoft Windows operating system, are greater than the sum of their parts: a box made by manufacturer A, a motherboard from manufacturer B, a hard drive from manufacturer C, a power source from manufacturer D, and so on.

Similarly, America was pieced together as a conglomeration: 13 semi-autonomous colonies, now 50 semi-autonomous states, which differ in ethnicity, topography, religion, and economy, among others.

The Constitution was designed not as a unifying operating system but as a series of giant compromises to keep states from warring with each other. So states can mandate what is considered criminal conduct, mandate their own penalties for such conduct, ascribe and proscribe rights, and more. In fact, it took the Supreme Court to rule, in 1819, that yes, federal law had primacy over state law.

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Yes, Santa, there was a Virginia

Herb Strentz was dean of the Drake School of Journalism from 1975 to 1988 and professor there until retirement in 2004. He was executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council from its founding in 1976 to 2000.

Given all the hoopla and hokum—and bitterness of kicking someone in the teeth—about the legend that there once was a celebrated Iowa caucus, let’s get back to reality.

Let’s consider whether there once was a Virginia who wondered about Santa Claus, and whether he actually was a fellow who dealt with things that really mattered—like merriment, consideration of others, and even being jolly.

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Holidays: an opportunity to help others in need

Steve Corbin is emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa and a freelance writer who receives no remuneration, funding, or endorsement from any for-profit business, nonprofit organization, political action committee, or political party.      

Thankfully we are nearly six weeks past the 2022 midterm election. I can hear many voters exuding a sigh of relief and shouting, after $17 billion was spent on disinformation, misinformation, and the occasional truthful political ad, “yes, finally, the election is over.”

Normal life is back, and we’ve jumped right into the holiday season. Let’s ponder how to make this year’s holiday season better than we’ve experienced heretofore.

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Honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted

David McCartney is retired University of Iowa Archivist, a position he held from 2001 until 2022. He delivered these remarks on November 11, 2022 at the Veterans for Peace event on Iowa City’s Ped Mall.

Thank you all for joining us this morning as we observe Armistice Day.

The original intent of this day, and our observance of it at this hour, is to commemorate the agreement that ended the First World War, an agreement signed in France between Germany and the Allied forces.

It was a prelude to peace negotiations, beginning on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. Armistice is Latin for “to stand or still arms.”

By an act of Congress in 1954, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day. Some, including the novelist Kurt Vonnegut and Rory Fanning of Veterans for Peace, have urged the U.S. to resume observation of November 11th as Armistice Day, a day to reflect on how we can achieve peace as it was originally observed.

It is in that spirit that we honor the original intent of Armistice Day this morning by honoring all victims of war, including those who resisted war, those who have advocated for peace.

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Emancipation jubilation

This column by Daniel G. Clark about Alexander Clark (1826-1891) first appeared in the Muscatine Journal.

Juneteenth is an easy holiday to miss if you aren’t watching for it. Still, we Iowans pride ourselves on being out in front on justice and equality, so this is for us.

You probably know it’s about the Emancipation Proclamation and the outpouring of jubilation when the long-delayed news finally reached Texas.

Did you know Governor Tom Vilsack signed a bill in 2002 declaring the third Saturday in June as Juneteenth National Freedom Day in Iowa? Then last year, amid a season of “racial reckoning,” President Joe Biden signed the bill designating Juneteenth a federal holiday.

The historic pages of the Muscatine Journal yield few mentions of the word. The first I find is a 1985 column by Aldeen Davis, titled “Texas has its own holiday.”

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What is this day about?

U.S. Army veteran Joe Stutler shares his keynote address (as prepared) for the Cedar Rapids Memorial Day ceremony in 2019.

One Veteran’s perspective on the meaning of Memorial Day:

Good morning…..

You’re asking yourselves, “who is this guy and why is he here?”….I wondered the same thing when Linn County Director of Veteran Affairs Don Tyne called me several weeks ago from the Commission meeting to ask if I’d be willing to speak today.

Why me, I asked? I’m not a retired general, not a Medal of Honor recipient, not a Congresscritter or Governor or the like….heck, I’m not even running for office….

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"Lest we forget" is not about a shopping list

Herb Strentz reflects on Memorial Day after witnessing Australia’s holiday to honor fallen soldiers.

Memorial Day will soon be upon us. A reminder came via email: “Memorial Day Sale! Save big this year.”

A Google search for “Memorial Day Sale” yielded about 21 million results.

The graveside floral and flag tributes we often see this weekend are reassurance that somber reflection and dear memories are more important than “SAVE BIG!” in your shopping.

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A must-watch MLK, Jr. clip for Iowans

“Share this clip of my father,” tweeted Bernice King, the CEO of the King Center on January 17, the holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “We must study him beyond the end of ‘I Have a Dream.’ (and that’s taken out of context, too)”

I don’t recall seeing this video before today. It’s from a speech in 1968, but I haven’t determined the location. Dr. King spoke about the massive government assistance for mostly-white farmers over more than a century, helping “the very people [now] telling the Black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

The civil rights leader delivered a similar message in other venues, for instance while visiting Ohio Northern University in January 1968, and during a March 1968 appearance at Grosse Point High School in Michigan.

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Honor Thanksgiving spirit by respecting Indigenous people

Sometime during the fall of 1621, white European settlers at Plymouth held a harvest feast, attended by some Wampanoag, one of the Indigenous peoples living in the area. Almost everything else you learned about that “first Thanksgiving” was wrong.

The Pilgrims didn’t invite the Wampanoag to share their bounty. Some historians now believe the Native men came because they heard gunshots and assumed the settlement was under attack. (They had formed an alliance with the European settlers in the spring of 1621.) Another theory is that the warriors showed up “as a reminder that they controlled the land the Pilgrims were staying on and they vastly outnumbered their new European neighbors.”

According to Thanksgiving myths, the Pilgrims expressed gratitude for Wampanoag who taught them how to grow or find food in their new surroundings. In reality, “Their role in helping the Pilgrims survive by sharing resources and wisdom went unacknowledged that day, according to accounts of the toasts given by Pilgrim leaders.”

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What the federal government has done for veterans in 2021

November 11 was first celebrated as “Armistice Day” in 1919 and became a national holiday in 1926. Since 1954, it has been known as Veterans Day.

It’s customary for American politicians to release statements on this day thanking veterans for their service to the country. But what has the government done concretely to return the favor to veterans? This year, more than usual.

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The Fourth of July: Then and now

Herb Strentz: While our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in the interests of a new nation, many current political leaders would gag on the notion of pledging anything without considering its effects on their re-election or campaign contributions.

It can be unpleasant to compare centuries-old inspiring words with today’s Independence Day celebrations. But here we go anyway, because the photos show some people can make a mess out of July 4 fireworks the way our nation can make a mess out of democracy.

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What July Fourth Means

A year ago in The New York Times, David Brooks asked us on the Fourth of July to renew our national spirit, asserting that failing to take pride in America has caused many of the inequities and inequalities that have led to our comprehensive failure to conquer the pandemic.

Any such feeling has to include the reality that America was never a single nation to begin with. And that we remain separate nations today, kept apart by ingrained notions that bar too many of us from achieving this country’s promise: that each of us can use what our creator has bestowed upon us to the best of our abilities for the betterment of us all.

We began as a confederation of thirteen separate states, settled by different peoples, with different philosophies of how to live, achieve liberty and pursue happiness. (Many of us did agree, however, on driving out and killing the indigenous peoples.) Other “settlers” of diverse backgrounds came to these shores and added to the stew.

Today, separate Americas remain:

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Who will pay for Iowa troopers' Texas deployment?

State officials have not yet determined how an unprecedented deployment of 25 to 30 Iowa state troopers to Texas will be financed, Iowa Department of Public Safety spokesperson Debra McClung told Bleeding Heartland.

Governor Kim Reynolds announced on June 24 that she approved the Texas governor’s request for help in unspecified border security efforts. She’s authorized to do so under the interstate Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

While the Iowa National Guard has often been deployed to other states, this kind of work is beyond the scope of state troopers’ normal duties. McClung confirmed, “We are not aware of any Iowa State Patrol deployments outside of the state over the last 24 years since Iowa joined the EMAC.”

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Iowa's delegation supported Juneteenth holiday

Juneteenth National Independence Day is now a federal holiday, under legislation President Joe Biden signed today. The bill commemorating the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865 moved through Congress at unusual speed so it could take effect in time for this weekend. Most federal government workers will have Friday the 18th off, since the new holiday falls on a Saturday.

The U.S. Senate approved the bill through unanimous consent on June 15. Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst was one of the 60 co-sponsors (including eighteen Republicans) in the upper chamber. Senator Chuck Grassley didn’t co-sponsor the bill, but at least he didn’t object to its passage. He is one of only two currently serving senators who voted against establishing a holiday to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983. (The other is Richard Shelby of Alabama.)

U.S. House members approved the Juneteenth bill on June 16 by 415 votes to 14 (roll call). All four representatives from Iowa voted yes, which probably would not have been the case if Steve King had fended off Randy Feenstra’s primary challenge last year.

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A sad Mother's Day for many, due to COVID-19

A record number of Americans and Iowans passed away over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the largest share of the excess deaths and indirectly contributed to many fatalities from other causes (such as heart attacks or strokes).

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, Rachel Kidman, Rachel Margolis, and Emily Smith-Greenaway estimated that as of February 2021, approximately 37,300 children in the U.S. under age 18 “had lost at least 1 parent due to COVID-19, three-quarters of whom were adolescents.” Using figures for excess deaths during the pandemic (as opposed to confirmed coronavirus fatalities), the researchers estimated that 43,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent to the virus. Their study used demographic modeling techniques as opposed to survey data.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s spokesperson did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiry in early April about whether the agency has tracked how many Iowans who died of COVID-19 had children under age 18 or dependent adult children living in their home, and how many Iowans who died in the pandemic were primary caregivers to children (but not their parents).

Even without firm numbers, it’s clear that far more people than usual are experiencing their first Mother’s Day without their own mothers. This holiday can be one of the toughest milestones soon after a bereavement, and even many years later.

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Christmas in a year of loss and uncertainty

The holiday season tends to be a particularly difficult time for those who are bereaved, and 2020 brought loss to the world on a scale most people in developed countries had never seen. The U.S. is on track to set a record for deaths occurring in one year, primarily because of the coronavirus pandemic.

At least 3,744 Iowans are known to have died of COVID-19, according to the state’s website (3,741 according to the latest figures published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control). Our state’s death toll from March through December will surely top 4,000 once we have final data. The new, more accurate counting method the Iowa Department of Public Health adopted this month often involves weeks of delay. An analysis the New York Times published on December 16 estimates that Iowa experienced about 3,900 excess deaths from March 15 to December 5, compared to the same period in a typical year.

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On forgiveness

Ira Lacher reflects on a major theme of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, which begins at sunset on September 27. -promoted by Laura Belin

This is the season when Jews all over the world are bound to examine themselves and their actions, even their thoughts, emotions and feelings. During this time, culminating on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, we are told that “for the sins of man against God, the Day of Atonement forgives. But for the sins of man against another man, the Day of Atonement does not forgive, until they have made peace with one another.”

I’ll be honest: This is the hardest year of my life to forgive.

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July 4th provides a route to November 3rd

Herb Strentz: Some lines from the Declaration of Independence “remain sacred even in these days of skepticism, cynicism, and mutual betrayal. In a way, they got us here and they offer a way out.” -promoted by Laura Belin

Happy Fourth of July!

That opening is neither a belated salutation for 2020 nor a head start on Independence Day 2021.

Rather it suggests it may be a good idea to keep the Fourth in mind to stay sane through the 100 and more days we face of political rhetoric, folly, hatred and the like until the Nov. 3 election — unless, of course, that is called off or rigged  as some of the fears go.

Remembering the Fourth is like hearing at a place of worship that one should celebrate and practice one’s articles of faith every day — not only on days of festival and commemoration.

So let us focus on how we “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness;” and that, to those ends, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

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After the Fourth of July

Tyler Granger: Amateur fireworks displays cause many problems, from airborne toxins to worsening respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. -promoted by Laura Belin

A new annual tradition is taking shape for Des Moines metro residents after the Fourth of July. For the last three years, air quality alerts have been issued due to excessive use of amateur fireworks.

Iowa legalized the sale and purchase of fireworks in 2017. Since then, pet owners across the state–especially owners of hunting dogs–have frequently been upset this time of year. Hunting dogs that are trained to work with gunshots will display anxiety over fireworks will show signs of distress as the Fourth of July approaches.

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Memorial Day amid COVID-19

Memorial Day is supposed to be about honoring those who died in wartime service, but this year it’s hard not to focus on the unprecedented (for our lifetimes) carnage of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Sunday New York Times front page on May 24 had no photos, just six columns of text with a few words about each of 1,000 people who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s approximately 1 percent of the official U.S. fatalities, which are almost certainly underestimating the real death toll. As the headline conveyed, the scale of loss is incalculable.

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Celebrating Easter, Passover in a pandemic

Most Christians (aside from those in the Orthodox Church and Jehovah’s Witnesses) are celebrating Easter today, and Jews all over the world are in the middle of the Passover festival. But the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted holiday celebrations along with almost every other aspect of normal life.

Many Iowa houses of worship have adapted by live-streaming services or broadcasting them on radio frequencies congregants can hear from cars parked outside the building.

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Kim Reynolds' job title is governor. Not Christian faith leader

Governor Kim Reynolds has urged Iowans to “unite in prayer” today in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In a proclamation presenting elements of Christian theology as fact, Reynolds declared April 9 to be a “Day of Prayer” statewide. An accompanying news release invited the public to participate in the Iowa Prayer Breakfast, which was held virtually this morning. The annual event features Christian faith leaders.

Reynolds and Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg appeared in their official capacity at the breakfast, via separate video links. Speaking from the state emergency operations center with the state flag and seal of Iowa visible behind her, Reynolds hailed the effort to keep “glorifying Jesus Christ through the public affirmation of His sovereignty over our state and our nation.” From the Capitol building, Gregg observed that “Christ’s love for us” will never change, even in challenging times.

A public health emergency is no excuse for elected officials to promote religion, especially not a specific faith tradition.

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Weekend open thread: Thanksgiving leftovers

All best wishes to the Bleeding Heartland community for a happy and restful Thanksgiving weekend!

If you cooked at home today, you may have some food to use up. Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee for president, is famous for making soup from the turkey carcass. Here’s his mother’s soup recipe. I’ve posted some of my favorite ways to use leftovers below.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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As labor unions decline, income inequality grows

Labor Day should be about celebrating the many successes of the labor movement. The Economic Policy Institute has found, “On average, a worker covered by a union contract earns 13.2 percent more in wages than a peer with similar education, occupation, and experience in a nonunionized workplace in the same sector.20 This pay boost was even greater in earlier decades when more American workers were unionized.”

The percentage of U.S. workers represented by a labor union is lower now than at any point since World War II. That trend is among the factors contributing to income inequality not seen in this country since the 1920s.

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Tanks in Washington and other July 4 links

President Donald Trump has ordered a military parade and flyover in Washington, DC to celebrate Independence Day. He’s been wanting to stage this kind of display since his first year in office.

The production will cost millions of additional dollars and shut down air traffic to and from Reagan National Airport for hours. Republican donors and VIPs will get special passes to watch the festivities in a restricted area. Traditionally, all July 4 events in the nation’s capital have been free and open to the public.

The National Park Service is diverting $2.5 million “primarily intended to improve parks across the country” to cover a “fraction of the extra costs,” the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey, and Dan Lamothe reported on July 2. The “entire Fourth of July celebration on the Mall typically costs the agency about $2 million,” a former Park Service deputy director told the newspaper. Costs could escalate if the heavy military equipment damages streets.

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Memorial Day: Iowans fallen in wars

President Donald Trump reportedly considered pardoning Americans accused or convicted of war crimes on this Memorial Day. Fox News personalities, not military officials, have pushed for the pardons, which “could erode the legitimacy of military law and undercut good order and discipline in the ranks.”

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner wrote, “These contemplated pardons represent a degradation — not a celebration — of Memorial Day.” Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan, commented that Trump’s “idea that being sent to fight makes you automatically into some kind of war criminal is a slander against veterans.”

Since Memorial Day (first known as Decoration Day) is supposed to be about honoring Americans who died during military service, let’s take a moment to consider those soldiers.

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Beer and baseball

A message for the holiday season from Ed Fallon. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I’ve gotta tell you this crazy dream I had last night about beer and baseball. I was playing major league baseball (yeah, only in my dreams). I came to the plate and struck out four times (ok, that part’s realistic). After my last strikeout, I sauntered out to center field where I was surprised to find my rocking chair. I sat down and prepared to watch the rest of the game.

The other team’s leading slugger stepped up to the plate. Suddenly, the fans rose to their feet while children poured onto the field. Led by a seven-year-old girl standing at the pitcher’s mound, everyone raised a beer to toast the slugger, singing, “We like beer, yes we like our beer.” The girl and other under-age kids raised cans and bottles of soda pop instead.

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Memorial Day open thread: Forgotten history

Historical accounts have long credited Waterloo, New York, with establishing the tradition now known as Memorial Day. That small town first held an “annual, community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags,” on May 5, 1866.

However, Felice Leon of The Root explained “The Black History of Memorial Day” in a fascinating video posted on Facebook over the weekend.

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"We must match our proclamations with courage": Remarks for Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker spoke about institutional racism, injustice, and discrimination at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids on Monday, January 15. You can watch his keynote address for the MLK Day Celebration here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In 1963 President Kennedy was asked by a journalist if he felt that his Administration was pushing integration too fast or not fast enough, citing a recent Gallup poll that showed fifty percent of the country felt he was moving too quickly on issues of race. President Kennedy responded, “This is not a matter on which you can take the temperature every few weeks, depending on what the newspaper headlines might be. You judged 1863 after a good many years – its full effect. The same poll showed forty percent or so thought it was more or less right. I thought that was rather impressive, because it is a change and change always disturbs, and therefore I was surprised there wasn’t greater opposition.”

Great is the person who can understand how the present fits into the larger picture of history. The battles we fight today may be obscured and distorted by the detractors, but we fight for the future, knowing full well that one day, history will affirm the moral certainty of our cause.

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Four links for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

For some, today’s holiday is just a day off from work or school. But thousands of people will be honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at events around Iowa. State government’s official celebration begins at 10:45 a.m. at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, 909 Robert D. Ray Drive in Des Moines. Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker will discuss Dr. King’s legacy and various justice reform issues at three events in Mount Vernon or Cedar Rapids.

The African-American Museum of Iowa (55 12th Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids) is offering free admission between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm, with children’s activities between 11 and 3. After the regular opening hours, the museum is hosting a job fair and a free screening of the movie “Hidden Figures.” On January 25 from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, museum staff will hold an event at the North Liberty Public Library highlighting “the fight for equal rights, both nationwide and in the state of Iowa. Featured individuals include Alexander Clark, the man who helped desegregate Iowa schools in 1867, and Edna Griffin, the woman who led sit-ins at the Katz Drugstore in Des Moines in 1948.”

I enclose below excerpts from a few articles related to racial inequality or the civil rights movement. Bleeding Heartland has compiled other links related to this holiday or to Dr. King’s work here, here, here, here, and here. The quote pictured at the top of this post first appeared in Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 1963).

Many politicians will quote the civil rights icon today. If Iowa lawmakers want to honor his legacy, they could pass some of the criminal justice reform bills introduced in recent years, or other ideas advocated by the NAACP. Instead, members of the Iowa Senate and perhaps the state House are likely to debate a bill to reinstate capital punishment this year. Many years of data point to racial disparities in how the death penalty is applied. (Rod Boshart’s reporting suggests the death penalty bill probably will not pass.)

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July 4 thread: Legalized fireworks in Iowa

During the action-packed legislative session, I never got around to writing about the bill making fireworks sales legal in Iowa for the first time in 79 years. Even if you hadn’t heard about the change in state law, you’ve probably noticed more fireworks going off in your neighborhood at all hours of the night lately, or seen complaints about the phenomenon on your social media feeds. Although numerous local ordinances restrict the use of fireworks to a short window on or close to the 4th of July, many enthusiasts either don’t know or don’t care. I haven’t heard of many people being fined for ignoring those rules.

I’m no fan of do-it-yourself fireworks, which can be triggering for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many veterans say unexpected or “random” explosions near their homes are more upsetting than large municipal fireworks displays, which happen at predictable times.

Amateur fireworks also cause many preventable injuries. So far this year, a Davenport teenager lost a hand, and a woman in Shueyville has third-degree burns after “a multi-shot box misfired sending a projectile” into her lap. Her four-week-old infant was lucky to escape with only cuts and a broken leg after the quick-thinking mom “tossed the baby aside before the firework exploded.”

Iowa’s long ban on fireworks sales was inspired by major fires, in particular the 1931 blaze that destroyed downtown Spencer. When House members debated Senate File 489 in April, Democratic State Representative Tim Kacena warned about incidents he had seen as a firefighter in Sioux City. Already this year, amateur fireworks have caused several serious fires, one burning down an abandoned farm house near a friend’s residence in Wayne County.

Support for the fireworks bill didn’t fall strictly along party lines. After the jump I’ve posted the Iowa House and Senate roll calls, so you can find out whom to credit or blame, depending on your perspective. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

For those interested in the events that made July 4 a day worth celebrating, I recommend a trip Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was drafted, approved, and signed in 1776. My family recently traveled there for the first time. The highlight was the phenomenal Museum of the American Revolution, possibly the best historical museum I’ve ever seen. Plan to spend at least three or four hours there to make the most of the exhibits.

The National Constitution Center is also worth at least a half-day. My favorite parts were the temporary exhibit on the rise and fall of Prohibition, a permanent display featuring books that inspired the founding fathers, and an interactive feature (accessible on the center’s website) showing the influences on each amendment in the Bill of Rights. My kids’ favorite part of the Constitution Center was an area where you can vote for past presidents after reading genuine campaign statements about ten issues, not attached to either candidate’s name.

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Memorial Day thread and resources for Iowa veterans with PTSD

For many Americans who (like me) have not served in the military, the three-day weekend at the end of May marks the unofficial beginning of summer activities. Forgetting the original purpose of this day is itself a long tradition, University of Oregon American history professor Matthew Dennis told NPR two years ago: “In 1888, even before it was declared a national holiday, President Grover Cleveland was criticized for going fishing on Memorial Day instead of, you know, visiting graves or participating in other sorts of rites.”

Lately some veterans have been raising awareness that Memorial Day differs from Veterans Day, the national holiday established after World War I to honor all who have done military service.

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Weekend open thread: Christmas and Chanukah edition

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to Bleeding Heartland readers who are celebrating today, and Happy Kwanzaa to those who will be celebrating tomorrow.

Did you know that Christmas “was not among the earliest festivals of the Church”? If you enjoy reading about historical origins of religious traditions, I recommend this post on the New Advent website, along with “How December 25 Became Christmas” by Andrew McGowan, dean and president of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University. Contrary to popular belief that Christians chose a birthday for Jesus in order to appropriate pagan celebrations around the winter solstice, McGown argues that “the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover.”

I also enjoyed Kenneth Bailey’s analysis of the manger and the inn. More Christmas-related links are here.

The eight-day festival of Chanukah began last night, unusually late because an extra month was added to the lunar calendar during this Jewish version of a leap year. For those celebrating Chanukah with children, my best advice is to buy extra boxes of candles. Kids love to help load the menorahs, and they will break some candles.

I recommend Rabbi Brant Rosen’s reflections on a “tragic irony”: “the festival of Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that commemorates an ancient uprising against an oppressive Assyrian ruler, is being observed as we hear the unbearably tragic reports coming from an uprising in modern-day Syria.” Follow Rosen’s links if you are interested in the ongoing debate among modern Jews about the Maccabees. Were the heroes of the Chanukah story religious fanatics who acted like the Taliban have done in Afghanistan during our lifetimes, carrying out a “civil war” against fellow Jews? Or were the Maccabees the freedom fighters celebrated by early Zionists? David Frum makes the case that the “miracle of the oil” lasting for eight days “is not the reason for the holiday. It’s a revision compiled six centuries after the fact, at a time when the true reasons for the holiday had become too embarrassing to remember.”

Rabbi Robin Podolsky is for celebrating the miracle and not viewing the Maccabees as the modern-day Taliban. But even she acknowledges,

Sadly but not shockingly, the Hasmonean dynasty launched by the Maccabees turned out to be as corrupt and decadent as everything it sought to replace. They even turned aggressively on their neighbors, seeking to convert others to Judaism by force, much as the Seleucids had attempted to convert the Jews. Contemporary Zionists who paint the Maccabees as entirely positive role models might want to remember this, especially in the context of current events. How is the “stubbornness” of Palestinians who insist on a sovereign state so different from that of our ancestors? How to make sure we don’t switch roles in the drama?

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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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.

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: Mother's Day edition

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community who is celebrating this weekend. Although abolitionist and feminist Julia Ward Howe originally envisioned the holiday as a “Day of Peace,” our culture approaches today as a time to thank mothers with cards, phone calls, visits, or gifts. In lieu of a traditional bouquet of flowers, I offer wild geranium, a native plant now blooming in many wooded areas, and a shout out to some of the mothers who are active in Iowa political life.

These Iowa mothers now hold state or federal office: U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, State Auditor Mary Mosiman, State Senators Rita Hart, Pam Jochum, Liz Mathis, Janet Petersen, Amanda Ragan, Amy Sinclair, and Mary Jo Wilhelm, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, State Representatives Deborah Berry, Timi Brown-Powers, Nancy Dunkel, Ruth Ann Gaines, Mary Gaskill, Lisa Heddens, Megan Jones, Vicki Lensing, Mary Mascher, Helen Miller, Linda Miller, Dawn Pettengill, Patti Ruff, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Sandy Salmon, Sharon Steckman, Sally Stutsman, Phyllis Thede, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Cindy Winckler, and Mary Wolfe.

These Iowa mothers are running for state or federal office this year: U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge, U.S. House candidates Monica Vernon (IA-01) and Kim Weaver (IA-04), Iowa Senate candidates Susan Bangert, Pam Dearden Conner, Rene Gadelha, Miyoko Hikiji, and Bonnie Sadler, Iowa House candidates Perla Alarcon-Flory, Jane Bloomingdale, Claire Celsi, Sondra Childs-Smith, Paula Dreeszen, Carrie Duncan, Deb Duncan, Jeannine Eldrenkamp, Kristi Hager, Jan Heikes, Ashley Hinson, Barbara Hovland, Sara Huddleston, Jennifer Konfrst, Shannon Lundgren, Heather Matson, Teresa Meyer, Maridith Morris, Amy Nielsen, Andrea Phillips, Stacie Stokes, and Sherrie Taha.

Mother’s Day is painful for many people. If you are the mother of a child who has died, I recommend Cronesense’s personal reflection on “the other side of the coin,” a piece by Frankenoid, “Mother’s Day in the Land of the Bereaved,” or Sheila Quirke’s “What I Know About Motherhood Now That My Child Has Died.” If your beloved mother is no longer living, I recommend Hope Edelman’s Mother’s Day letter to motherless daughters or her commentary for CNN. If you have severed contact with your mother because of her toxic parenting, you may appreciate Theresa Edwards rant about “13 Things No Estranged Child Needs To Hear On Mother’s Day” and Sherry’s post on “The Dirty Little Secret.”

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Weekend open thread: Easter and Western caucus and primary edition

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

Happy Easter to all who are celebrating. Usually this Christian holiday falls during the Jewish festival of Passover, which is still weeks away. Kimberly Donnelly explains,

Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Passover, on the other hand, begins on the first full moon of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish lunar-based calendar.

The Jewish lunar calendar occasionally adds a leap month rather than the leap day we add to our solar calendar every fourth year. Passover is late in 2016 because a second month of Adar was added before the month of Nisan (often written Nissan).

In past years I’ve posted Easter and Passover related links here and here. A false claim about a Cedar Rapids Gazette front page headline on Easter Sunday figured prominently in University of Iowa Professor Stephen Bloom‘s 2011 hatchet job on our state, which provoked strong reactions from many Iowans.

Bernie Sanders swept yesterday’s caucuses in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii by wide margins. He also won the Utah and Idaho caucuses on March 22, while Hillary Clinton won the Arizona primary. The big story out of Arizona was disgraceful voter suppression, as officials reduced the number of polling places in the state’s largest county from 200 in 2012 to only 60 this year. That’s just 60 polling places for a county with a population much larger than Iowa’s. As Ari Berman explained, the long lines to vote in Arizona were a direct consequence of the U.S. Supreme Court majority “gutting” the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

Republicans didn’t hold any nominating contests this weekend. The GOP caucuses in Alaska and Hawaii happened earlier this month, and Washington Republicans will vote in a May primary. On March 22, Ted Cruz won caucuses in Utah and Idaho by huge margins. John Kasich came in second in Utah, knocking Donald Trump to third place in a state for the first time this year. However, Trump crushed the competition in the Arizona primary, grabbing all of that state’s delegates.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that John Deeth’s speculation on what went wrong in Arizona is worth a read. A few excerpts are after the jump.

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How Iowa political leaders could honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When Congress finally passed a bill establishing a federal holiday named after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1983, national public opinion was split down the middle on whether the civil rights leader should be honored in this way. The holiday is no longer controversial, and members of Congress who voted against it, such as Senator Chuck Grassley, are quick to explain that they admire King’s work. Bleeding Heartland has compiled links related to Dr. King’s legacy and the long slog to establish this national holiday here, here, here, here, here.

I’ve been predicting for months that this year’s legislative session would mostly be a giant waste of many people’s time. I hope Iowa lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad will prove me wrong by enacting not only the criminal justice reforms Branstad advocated in his Condition of the State speech last week, but also legislation to reduce mandatory minimum sentences, and improve police identification and interrogation procedures as well as police use of body cameras. The NAACP is pushing for a bill to ban racial profiling by law enforcement, which should not be controversial but probably will be a very heavy lift at the Capitol.

Branstad could act unilaterally to reduce one of Iowa’s massive racial disparities by revoking his 2011 executive order that has disenfranchised thousands of people, disproportionately racial minorities. (The procedure the governor established for regaining voting rights is “just about impossible” for felons to navigate.)

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. All three Democratic presidential candidates mentioned Dr. King during their opening statements during last night’s debate in South Carolina, and I’ve enclosed the videos and transcript below. I also included the part of the transcript containing Hillary Clinton’s and Bernie Sanders’ remarks on criminal justice reform.

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Weekend open thread, with Christmas links

Peace symbol wreath

Merry Christmas to all in the Bleeding Heartland community who are celebrating today. After unseasonably warm weather for most of December, snow arrived in time to produce a white Christmas for many Iowans. We didn’t get enough accumulation for sledding in central Iowa, but the trees look lovely. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

The Des Moines Register ran this version of the Christmas story from the New King James Bible on the front page of today’s Iowa Life section. The date that Jesus was born remains unknown; Andrew McGowan offers one historical perspective on how December 25 came to be celebrated as Christmas. Also unknown are the number of wise men (not identified as kings in scripture) who reportedly came to look for the baby just born. The nature of the star of Bethlehem has been a hot topic of debate among religious historians. Apparently it was not Venus, Halley’s comet, a supernova, a meteor, or Uranus. Kenneth Bailey’s discussion of the manger and the inn is worth a read. In his view, the birthplace of Jesus was likely a private home, which may have been in a cave.

After the jump I’ve enclosed the video of Mike Huckabee’s famous “floating cross” Christmas-themed television commercial, which aired soon after he became the Republican front-runner for the 2008 Iowa caucuses. When Huckabee launched his second presidential campaign, I didn’t see him winning the Iowa caucuses again, but I expected him to retain a solid chunk of social conservative supporters, having retained high name recognition as a Fox News network show for years. I never thought we’d see Huckabee languishing below 3 percent in the Iowa polling average, below 2 percent in the South Carolina polling average, off the stage for prime-time debates, and reducing staff salaries for lack of money.

My family doesn’t celebrate Christian holidays, but we did enjoy noodle kugel last night while listening to the Klezmonauts’ “Oy to the World,” the only Christmas music we own and to my knowledge, the only collection of Christmas songs done in the klezmer style. If you love “Jewish jazz” and holiday music, I also recommend the Klezmatics album “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah.” It’s true, the legendary American folk singer wrote lots of Chanukah-themed lyrics. Members of the Klezmatics set Guthrie’s words to new music.

Final note: The peace wreath image at the top of this post originally appeared at the Paint Me Plaid website. The peace symbol first became popular in this country during protests against the Vietnam War, but like so many of our political traditions, it has roots in the United Kingdom–in this case, from the 1950s British anti-nuclear movement.

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Thanksgiving weekend open thread, with ideas for leftovers

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

Thanksgiving has been a national holiday on the last Thursday in November since 1869. I didn’t know that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt caused an uproar when he tried to move the date a week early in 1939, hoping to stimulate the economy.

For many people, Thanksgiving is inextricably linked to certain food traditions. One of them is leftovers the day after the feast. Please share your own favorite recipes for leftovers in the comments. Des Moines restauranteur George Formaro offered three of his favorite uses for extra turkey here. Most years I make soup on the day after Thanksgiving. Here are four ideas, two of which would work for vegetarians as well as for omnivores. We had a smaller gathering than usual yesterday, so I baked chicken rather than a turkey. I made curried butternut squash soup early in the day; this recipe also works well with canned pumpkin. I didn’t make cranberry sauce this year, but when I do, I like to mix the leftover sauce with apples for a pie a day or two later.

Matt Viser published a fantastic piece in the Boston Globe this week: “Michael Dukakis would very much like your turkey carcass.” Turns out the former Massachusetts governor and Democratic nominee for president in 1988 “collects Thanksgiving turkey carcasses to make soup for his extended family for the year to come.” I enclosed excerpts from Viser’s piece below, but do click through to read the whole thing. The Dukakis family recipe for turkey soup is simple and easy to adapt to personal tastes.

Ideally, everyone could have a restful and enjoyable Thanksgiving, but the holiday season brings extra stress to many. Some tips for battling anxiety or depression this time of year are here and here. The first holiday season after a major bereavement can be particularly difficult for mourners; Compassion Books has hundreds of resources for people coping with “serious illness, death and dying, grief, bereavement, and losses of all kinds, including suicide, trauma, sudden loss, and violence.” A separate section inclues age-appropriate books for children who have lost a parent, sibling, grandparent, or even a treasured family pet. Carol Staudacher’s book of short meditations, A Time to Grieve, has been a source of comfort to me at difficult times. Whether or not you are religious, Harold Kushner’s verse by verse analysis of the 23rd Psalm is fascinating and provides some helpful perspectives on grieving.

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Veterans Day links, with thanks to the Iowans in public life who have served

November 11 first became a day to honor war veterans in 1919, one year after the First World War ended. Congress officially designated “Armistice Day” a national holiday in 1926 and changed its name to Veterans Day in 1954. Many Americans will make a special effort today to thank the veterans they know. In that spirit, Bleeding Heartland acknowledges some of the Iowans in public life who have served in the armed forces.

Iowa’s Congressional delegation includes only one person who has served in the military: Senator Joni Ernst. The number of veterans in Congress has declined dramatically over the last 40 years. In 1971, “when member military service was at its peak, veterans made up 72 percent of members in the House and 78 percent in the Senate.” But in the current Congress, just 81 U.S. House representatives and 13 U.S. senators have served in the military. I enclose below more statistics from Rachel Wellford’s report for NPR.

Governor Terry Branstad is the only veteran among Iowa’s current statewide elected officials.

Of the 50 Iowa Senate members, seven are veterans: Democrats Jeff Danielson, Tom Courtney, Dick Dearden, Bill Dotzler, and Wally Horn, and Republicans Bill Anderson and Jason Schultz.

Of the 100 Iowa House members, nineteen are veterans: Republicans John Kooiker, Stan Gustafson, John Landon, Dave Maxwell, Kraig Paulsen, Sandy Salmon, Quentin Stanerson, Guy Vander Linden, Matt Windschitl, Dave Heaton, Darrel Branhagen, Ken Rizer, Zach Nunn, John Wills, and Steve Holt, and Democrats Dennis Cohoon, Jerry Kearns, Todd Prichard, and Brian Meyer.

The population of veterans faces some special challenges, including higher rates of mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An estimated 22 U.S. military veterans die by suicide every day, which means suicide “has caused more American casualties than wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The Military Suicide Research Consortium provides information on the problem and resources for those needing help, in addition to white papers summarizing current research on factors that contribute to suicides. For instance, sexual assault in adulthood or childhood sexual abuse both increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and attempts. Also, veterans who know someone who died by suicide “reported more than twice the frequency of suicidal ideation.” I was surprised to read in this paper that major public holidays are not associated with higher rates of suicide. On the contrary, “holidays may act as more of a protective factor” against suicide, possibly because of greater “social integration during holiday periods.”

Last month the Iowa Department of Public Health released the Iowa Plan for Suicide Prevention 2015-2018, which “seeks to reduce the annual number of deaths by suicide in Iowa by 10 percent by the year 2018 – a reduction of 41 from the 406 three-year average from 2012-2014 – with an ultimate goal of zero deaths by suicide.” The full report (which does not focus on veterans) is available here (pdf). Iowans with suicidal thoughts or who are concerned a loved one may be considering suicide can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or Your Life Iowa at (855)-581-8111. For online assistance: Suicide Prevention Lifeline or Your Life Iowa.

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Weekend open thread: Halloween edition

What’s on your mind this Halloween weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Share any holiday stories or comments on any topic in this thread.

Two unusual Halloween customs are noteworthy in the Des Moines area: first, “Beggar’s Night” happens on the evening of October 30; second, trick-or-treaters are expected to tell a joke to receive candy. My unscientific observations based on jokes I heard in our neighborhood and at our children’s school “trunk or treat” earlier in the month: classics such as “knock knock” jokes and variants on “Why did the chicken cross the road?” never go out of style. Monster jokes are also popular. (What’s a ghost’s favorite fruit? Boo-berry. What’s a zombie’s least favorite room in the house? The living room. What’s a vampire’s least favorite room in the house? The sun room.) But aside from my kids, no one tells elephant jokes anymore.

As for Halloween costumes, I still see lots of ghosts, witches, skeletons, and vampires. Zombies are more popular than they were during my years as a trick-or-treater. Superheroes are a staple, but I saw fewer Star Wars-themed costumes this year than in the recent past. Many more children wore Hogwarts robes and carried wands. Compared to my childhood, fewer kids dress up as something generic; I saw some firefighters but only one police officer, one pirate, one professional baseball player, and no cowboys or football players. Princess outfits remain popular with girls, and I was surprised to see four or five Dorothys from the Wizard of Oz at the school event.

The coolest family I saw this year featured an Andre the Giant dad with his much-shorter sons dressed as Wesley and Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. The dad told me his daughter was Buttercup last year but wanted to wear something different this time.

Apparently someone in Iowa City was handing out packs of candy cigarettes to trick-or-treaters. I didn’t even know they made those anymore.

I love obsolete political bumper stickers and saw a fantastic one while out with my son on Friday night: Re-Defeat Bush 2004. Wish I’d had my camera with me.

Final note: Jeb Bush supporters must have been terrified to learn new details this week about the state of his campaign in Iowa. U.S. News and World Report posted a leaked internal document from the Bush campaign on Thursday. The idea behind the presentation was to calm skittish donors, but the numbers tell a horror story. Pat Rynard flagged the “terrible internal Iowa numbers” at Iowa Starting Line. Most shocking to me: zero doors knocked for Bush so far here. How is that possible? All of the major Democratic campaigns started canvassing in the late spring or early summer. The same was true before the 2008 caucuses. A Bush campaign official put a positive spin on the numbers, telling Trip Gabriel of the New York Times that even if Bush has only 1,260 identified supporters in Iowa, “I’m also confident we have more IDs than anybody else in the establishment lane.” I’ve got news for that person: some of those IDs will change their minds before caucus night, especially if they see another “establishment” contender in (such as Marco Rubio) looking more viable than Bush.

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Weekend open thread: July 4 edition

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community! I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday weekend–preferably not by setting off amateur fireworks. Although the Iowa House voted this year to legalize fireworks, the bill never came to a vote in the Iowa Senate. So amateur fireworks are still illegal, which is just as well, since they cause too many emergency room visits and distress for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. We caught the fireworks display after the Iowa Cubs baseball game on Friday night and are going out in a little while to see the Windsor Heights fireworks.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation marked the holiday by posting some stunning pictures of Iowa wildflowers, “nature’s fireworks.”

Alfie Kohn noted today that socialists authored both the Pledge of Allegiance and the words to “America the Beautiful,” which for my money should be our national anthem.

Speaking of which, former Iowa Insurance Commissioner Susan Voss sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the Iowa Cubs baseball game last night. Who knew she had such a good voice?

Two Democratic presidential candidates spent the day in Iowa. Senator Bernie Sanders and many supporters walked the parade in Waukee, a suburb of Des Moines. Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was in Independence, Dubuque, and Clinton.

As is our family’s custom, I took the kids to the Windsor Heights parade this afternoon. It’s one of the smaller parades in the Des Moines area, which explains the relatively sparse presidential campaign presence. On the Republican side, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was there; he also walked the Urbandale parade route earlier in the day. A few volunteers handed out stickers for Ben Carson, and I didn’t see any other GOP campaigns represented. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had a small presence; apparently more supporters walked for her in Waukee.

U.S. Representative David Young (IA-03) was working the crowd along the parade route. One of his potential Democratic challengers, Desmund Adams, mingled with Windsor Heights residents before walking the Waukee parade.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. After the jump I’ve enclosed a few photos from the Windsor Heights parade, including one wildflower shot, inspired by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. I also posted the roll call from the Iowa House vote in May to approve the fireworks legalization bill. That legislation split both the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

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Memorial Day weekend open thread

What’s on your mind this holiday weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome. For Memorial Day-related links, click here or here.

My social media feeds have been blowing up with comments about the Josh Duggar molestation allegations. The story has evoked strong emotions in many women, whether or not they’ve ever watched Duggar-themed reality tv. Sad to say, my friends who grew up in conservative Christian patriarchal households were not surprised by what Duggar allegedly did as a teenager. Some have shared appalling accounts of how girls and women are socialized to tolerate abuse or blame themselves later. After the jump I’ve enclosed a horrific document on “Counseling Sexual Abuse,” produced by the Institute in Basic Life Principles and used for many years by the Advanced Training Institute. The Recovering Grace website analyzes the document’s “victim-blaming” and “callous dismissal of abuse survivors’ pain” point by point. I am heartbroken for any woman who received that message in so-called “counseling.”

Former Arkansas Governor and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee posted on Facebook an unbelievable defense of the Duggar family’s conduct. Bleeding Heartland will have more to say on that in a future post. For now, I want to call attention to Huckabee’s assertion that “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities.” Based on what we know now, the Duggar parents neither reported the alleged abuse promptly nor got professional therapy for their son or daughters. Local authorities destroyed the old police records of the case, so we may never know the whole story.

Final note, since Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer: it’s worth re-reading Mario Vittone’s reminder that “drowning doesn’t look like drowning.”

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Weekend open thread: Flawed election polling edition

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

Happy Mother’s Day to those who enjoy the holiday, and healing thoughts to those for whom today is a difficult reminder of bereavements or a less than ideal mother/child relationship. In past years, Bleeding Heartland has compiled Mother’s Day-related links here, here, here, and here.

My most substantive post about mothering was not related to the holiday: My case against Hanna Rosin’s case against breastfeeding.

Since Thursday I’ve been caught up in news about the May 7 general election in the United Kingdom. While polls predicted a few of the results, such as Scottish National Party gains in Scotland and devastation for the Liberal Democrats nearly everywhere, no one anticipated such a large popular vote lead for the Conservative Party, which gave the Tories enough seats to form a government without any coalition partners. As election day approached, it appears that polling firms were “herding” to avoid releasing a survey that could be an embarrassing outlier. Nate Silver discussed the phenomenon of pollsters “putting a thumb on the scale” after last year’s midterm election.

Damian Lyons Lowe, founder of the British polling firm Survation, admitted here that his company “chickened out” of publishing data from a telephone poll taken the day before the UK election, because “the results seemed so ‘out of line’ with all the polling conducted by ourselves and our peers.” That final Survation poll turned out to be close to predicting the popular vote share for the Tories and Labour.

Facing a similar situation last fall, the Des Moines Register’s pollster Ann Selzer stood by her final numbers for Iowa’s U.S. Senate race. That poll looked like an outlier to me and many others, but Selzer was wise not to chicken out or tweak the numbers to follow the herd.

So far this year, various Iowa polls on the presidential candidates in both parties have largely agreed with one another. Most recently, Quinnipiac found a statistically significant lead for Scott Walker and a “scramble for second place” on the Republican side and a huge gap between Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Democratic field. I’m curious to see whether survey findings from different firms will start to diverge as we get closer to the Iowa caucuses early next year.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa marriage equality anniversary edition

Happy Passover or Happy Easter to all who are celebrating this weekend. In past years Bleeding Heartland has posted links about those religious holidays. For today’s open thread, I’m reflecting on the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien ruling, announced on April 3, 2009.

Lambda Legal, which represented the Varnum plaintiffs, published a timeline of the case. The LGBT advocacy group filed the lawsuit in December 2005, banking on the Iowa Supreme Court’s “extraordinary history” of independence and “civil rights leadership.”

If Iowa lawmakers had approved a state constitutional amendment on marriage, the Varnum case might never have been filed (in anticipation of Iowans approving a ban on same-sex marriage, as voters had done in many other states). But during the 2004 legislative session, the marriage amendment failed by one vote in the upper chamber, thanks to the united Senate Democratic caucus, joined by GOP senators Maggie Tinsman, Don Redfern, Mary Lundby, and Doug Shull. All four Republican moderates had left the legislature by the time the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Varnum. Redfern retired in 2004. Tinsman lost her 2006 primary to a social conservative challenger. Shull retired from the Senate in 2006 and unsuccessfully sought a seat in the state House that year. Lundby retired from the legislature in 2008 and passed away the following year.  

Reading through the early Democratic and Republican reaction to the Varnum decision should make all Iowa Democrats proud. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and former House Speaker Pat Murphy deserve credit for their leadership at a time when some Democrats would have run for cover on an issue perceived to be unpopular. Minority civil rights should never be conditional on majority approval.

As for the Republicans in the Bleeding Heartland community, you can be proud that your party’s state legislators seem less and less interested in fighting the losing battle to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

Three of the seven justices who concurred in Varnum v Brien (Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, Justice David Baker, and Justice Michael Streit) lost their jobs in Iowa’s 2010 retention elections. Justice David Wiggins survived a campaign against his retention in 2012. The remaining three justices who concurred in the decision are up for retention in 2016: Chief Justice Mark Cady (author of the ruling), Justice Daryl Hecht, and Justice Brent Appel. It’s not yet clear whether Bob Vander Plaats and his fellow-travellers will make a serious effort to remove them, or whether they will give up in the face of Iowans’ growing acceptance of marriage equality.

The LGBT advocacy group One Iowa holds an annual gala around the anniversary of the Varnum ruling. Last night the group honored Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum and Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu, among others. I enclose below a statement from the group marking six years since gay and lesbian couples won the freedom to marry in Iowa.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend open thread

Technically, it’s still a long weekend for some people, so here’s an open thread for all topics.

Establishing a holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a long road, as Ben Kamisar reported for The Hill yesterday:

The King holiday used to be controversial, only passing the House more than ten years after Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) filed the first bill calling for a day to commemorate the slain civil rights icon. The measure eventually passed in 1983. Ninety representatives and 22 senators voted against it. […]

There are only six current members of Congress who previously voted against creating a national holiday for King. Another small handful did so at the state level.

The six who cast votes against the national holiday are all Republicans: Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), John McCain (Ariz.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah), as well as Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) and Hal Rogers (Ky.). Shelby cast his vote as a Democrat, before he switched parties. […]

A Grassley spokesperson noted that the Senator has been “very active in several African American causes,” including efforts to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act when he joined the Senate in the early 1980s. More recently, he has advocated for black farmers who had been discriminated against when applying for financial help.

“Senator Grassley’s vote against an MLK Day holiday was purely an economic decision both in the cost to the broader economy in lost productivity, and the cost to the taxpayers with the federal government closed,” the aide told The Hill in an email.  

Not one of Grassley’s finer moments, that’s for sure.

Bleeding Heartland has compiled other links related to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. here, here, here, here, and here.

I haven’t seen the movie “Selma” yet. For those who have, what did you think?

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Mid-week open thread: Christmas edition

Merry Christmas to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community who is celebrating the holiday, and peace on earth to all regardless of religious beliefs and customs. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

In past years I have posted some links about the religious origins of Christmas celebrations as well as some traditional food for the holiday.

Children often look forward to the toys they will receive on Christmas. Unfortunately, not all of those toys are safe or appropriate. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood gives out “awards” annually for the worst toys of the year. This year’s nominees were atrocious. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s annual “Trouble in Toyland” report is an excellent resource for parents, and I recommend checking to see if any of your children’s gifts ended up on the danger list. I’ve posted the executive summary after the jump, along with excerpts from a good Des Moines Register article on keeping your kids safe during the holidays.

Speaking of safety, the long Christmas weekend tends to be a busy time for travel. If you are driving to see friends or family, one of the best presents you can give yourself, your loved ones, and everyone else on the road is not using your cell phone while driving. It doesn’t matter whether you are talking or texting, or whether you are holding the phone or using hands-free technology: “There is no safe way to use a cell phone while driving.” Legislative bans on texting while driving or using hand-held phones haven’t reduced crashes (including in Iowa), only partly because of noncompliance. Hands-free devices give drivers a “false sense of security,” and drivers aware of texting bans may attempt to hold their phones out of view, increasing the amount of time they take their eyes off the road.

UPDATE: I should have included a few links on good toys. Here’s a piece on toys that encourage creative, imaginative play, and here’s a classic on “The 5 Best Toys of All Time” (though I would replace “dirt” with a ball).

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Thanksgiving weekend open thread

I hope everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community had a good Thanksgiving holiday and is enjoying the weekend, however you prefer to celebrate. For those who still need to use up leftovers, I’ve posted a few ideas for soup here and my favorite thing to do with extra cranberry sauce.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Winter storms and “Black Friday” shopping have dominated newscasts for the past day or two, but the big story of the week was the St. Louis County grand jury declining to indict Officer Darren Wilson in connection with the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. I cannot imagine how awful it would be to lose a child in that way, knowing that the person responsible will never even stand trial. Whether or not you believe Wilson acted improperly, there was clearly enough evidence to indict him. Let a jury sort out whether he is guilty beyond reasonable doubt at a criminal trial. Signs point to the prosecutor not even trying to get an indictment. A New York Times graphic I’ve posted below shows “what was different about the Ferguson grand jury.”

Not surprisingly, there was unrest in Ferguson for two nights following the grand jury’s announcement. Most of the protesters there and elsewhere were peaceful, despite feeling intense anger. However, some looting and burning incidents provided fodder for Officer Wilson’s sympathizers to portray those who protested Brown’s death as “thugs” or worse. I mostly avoided social media arguments over the Ferguson case but saw many people talk about blocking or unfriending racists in their feeds. Spectra Speaks wrote this counter-intuitive post: “Dear White Allies: Stop Unfriending Other White People Over Ferguson.” It’s worth a read.

A common thread in many online arguments over Ferguson was someone reacting negatively to the phrases “white privilege” or “check your privilege.” For people who don’t understand what that means, Des Moines-based writer Ben Gran spelled it out:

White privilege exists for all white people, even poor whites.

“White privilege” doesn’t mean you get free stuff for being white. “White privilege” doesn’t mean that life is easy if you’re white. “White privilege” doesn’t mean that you get everything handed to you on a silver platter for being white.

“White privilege” means that there are certain HORRIBLE things that are MUCH LESS LIKELY to ever happen to you because you’re white.

For example, if my son were waving a pellet gun around in public, it is much less likely that anyone would call the police, much less likely that police would open fire on him within seconds of arriving on the scene, and much less likely that police would stand around not administering first aid afterwards. Which is not to say it’s advisable for anyone to wave a pellet gun around–only that doing so while white is much less likely to get you killed.

UPDATE: PBS published an outstanding chart comparing “several key details” of Officer Wilson’s version of events to testimony various witnesses provided during the investigation. The chart “doesn’t reveal who was right or wrong about what happened that day, but it is a clear indication that perceptions and memories can vary dramatically.”

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Weekend open thread: Labor Day edition

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

Labor Day has been a federal holiday for 120 years, and it’s just one of many reasons Americans can be grateful to the organized labor movement.

Labor Day also marks the unofficial end of summer for many people. It’s a wet and muddy holiday weekend in central Iowa, as Des Moines just closed out the rainiest August on record. Hummingbirds will start flying south soon, and early September is a good time to see monarch butterflies on their migration through Iowa. The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City has a volunteer monarch tagging event scheduled for this Saturday, September 6. The Des Moines Register’s Mike Kilen reported late last week that several conservation groups are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to give the monarch “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act. Conventional farming practices, notably the widespread use of Roundup herbicide, have decimated milkweeds, which monarchs need to breed. Planting milkweeds along roadsides and in private yards can give butterflies good habitat.

In even-numbered years, politicos long considered Labor Day the unofficial beginning of the general election campaign, or at least the time more voters start paying attention. Campaigns are so expensive now, with so much more outside money flowing in, that Iowans have been bombarded with as many political ads during the “slow” summer months as we would have seen ten or twenty years ago in September and October. I wonder whether television commercials are becoming less effective for political campaigns these days. So many people change the channel or avoid commercials altogether by using DVR or Netflix.

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson’s guilty plea last week may or may not lead to other prosecutions in connection with Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign, but it has already cost one former Paul staffer his job. Jesse Benton had been managing the re-election campaign of U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. He resigned on Friday evening, citing “inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue.”  

July 4 weekend open thread: Iowa fireworks debate

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community. We’re heading out to the Windsor Heights parade soon. Holiday parades and summer festivals are great outreach opportunities for candidates and their campaigns. Please share any favorite parade stories in this thread.

Last weekend Democratic State Senator Jeff Danielson and Republican State Senator Jake Chapman co-authored an editorial promising to work together next year to legalize fireworks in Iowa.

Senate File 2294 had several provisions that would allow fireworks to be safely regulated. Those stipulations would include prohibiting minors from purchasing fireworks, giving local municipalities the ability to restrict fireworks and the fire marshal the ability to regulate fireworks in the case of droughts.

The fireworks ban originally was a result of a Depression-era fire created by a sparkler in the middle of a drought when temperatures were nearing 100 degrees.

There also are misnomers and myths surrounding the fireworks-related injuries. In fact, the number of fireworks-related injuries in the U.S. has decreased drastically – nearly 61 percent – from 1994 to 2011, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. This decrease in reported injuries is noteworthy considering the use of fireworks increased nearly 100 percent during the same time period.

We remind Iowans that as we near the celebration of our independence, fireworks remain illegal in Iowa. About 42 states have legalized some form of fireworks. We encourage all those who wish to have the same freedom to display fireworks, to please contact your legislators and let them know it is time for Iowa to join America in celebrating our Independence Day with fireworks.

Here’s some background on “The Great Spencer Fire” of 1931.

I’m a bit surprised to see Danielson taking the lead on this issue, as he is not only a firefighter but also a veteran. Amateur fireworks can prompt anxiety or panic attacks for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Playing with sparklers, which are legal, as well as fireworks purchased from neighboring states, contributes to a surge in eye injuries around July 4. Interest groups representing doctors have lobbied strongly against lifting the ban on most fireworks because of the risk of burns.

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Memorial Day open thread

What’s on your mind this Memorial Day, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

I’ve posted Memorial Day-related links in past years at this site, but I learned only last year that Memorial Day became an official federal holiday only recently, in 1971. That’s surprising, given that the tradition of remembering American war dead on a special day in May goes back to the 1860s. The Iowa National Guard’s website includes brief histories of Iowa soldiers’ involvement in U.S. wars since the mid-19th century and a stunning photo of thousands of men standing in the shape of the Statue of Liberty.

The horrendous shooting rampage in Santa Barbara on Friday night has prompted a wave of new commentaries about mental health, violence against women, and gun violence generally. It’s so upsetting to know that the authorities couldn’t do a thing to disarm the perpetrator, even though his family had been trying to get him help and warned police weeks ago that he was posting YouTube videos about his murderous and misogynistic fantasies.

For many people, Memorial Day marks the unofficial beginning of summer, so I’m re-posting a link to a piece that’s worth re-reading every year: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.  

Weekend open thread: Easter, Passover, and late spring edition

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

A joyous Easter to those who celebrate today and a happy Passover to those who observe. Last year I posted lots of Easter and Passover-related links here. I’ll just add a couple more: 2014 is one of those years when Eastern Orthodox Christians and those of other denominations celebrate Easter on the same day. Most of the time those holidays fall on different weekends because the churches use different calendars.

Reform Judaism magazine published a fascinating interview with Biblical scholar Richard Elliott Friedman. He argues that the Exodus story is not fiction, but reflects a departure from Egypt by the Levite tribe, and that most of the Hebrews never lived in Egypt. I’ve posted excerpts after the jump, but I encourage you to click through and read the whole interview. Friedman is “a leading proponent of the Documentary Hypothesis, which maintains that the the biblical texts traditionally known as the Five Books of Moses are actually the synthesis of many different sources from different time periods.” Click that link to learn more about what he views as “the editorial team behind the Bible.”

Religious or secular, I think all Iowans appreciate spring’s arrival. This weekend’s weather is almost perfect. Just within the past few days, the first ruby-throated hummingbird sightings were reported on the edges of Iowa. We don’t typically see any in Windsor Heights until early May. The latest central Iowa butterfly forecast is here. Our bloodroot only just started blooming this week, nearly a month behind schedule. We can see leaves or buds on a few other spring wildflowers, so I’m just about ready to relaunch Iowa wildflower Wednesday.  

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Political April Fool's thread

I’ve never been a fan of April Fool’s pranks or the April Fool’s Day fake news genre, but my friend Mark Lambert gave me permission to share this story. It made me smile. He was an administrative law judge at the time in the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals. Like many state employees, he worked in the Wallace Building near the Capitol.

In 2010, Mark took State of Iowa letterhead and added “Iowa Civil Rights Commission” in a realistic-looking font on it. He got to work before 6 am and hung signs on all the bathroom doors in the Wallace Building saying that due to a new interpretation by the Iowa Supreme Court, gender-specific restrooms were considered a violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act and the Iowa Constitution, and that all restrooms would now be unisex. “We realize this will take some time before you feel comfortable, but we are confident you will get used to it. In the mean time, please be considerate of your co-workers.” He figured some people would fall for the joke, because this was only a year after the Iowa Supreme Court’s Varnum v Brien decision on marriage.

All of the signs were taken down by 8:30 am, but still–a pretty good April Fool’s prank.

Share any relevant memories in this thread. I wonder which Iowa candidates and elected officials will circulate a fake press release or pull off some publicity stunt today.

Christmas open thread

Merry Christmas to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community who celebrates the holiday, and peace on earth to all, regardless of religion. All topics are welcome in this open thread.

Last year I posted a few links on the origins of the Christmas narrative. Historians agree that the birth of Jesus was not one of the earliest Christian festivals, and it wasn’t until the fourth century that Christmas was widely celebrated on December 25 or January 6. No one knows the date of Jesus’ birth, and I had always assumed that the late December celebration stemmed from Christians appropriating pagan winter solstice festivities. However, Andrew McGowan offers a different theory on the Biblical Archaeology website.

There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. […]

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus diedc was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.9 March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation-the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.d

This idea appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa. The treatise states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.”11 Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus’ birth to the winter solstice.

Many people eat traditional family dishes on Christmas. I enjoy reading Patric Juillet’s account of the Provencal culinary traditions from this season. I don’t cook anything that elaborate at any time of year, but I do plan to make noodle kugel later today. Like many Jewish Americans, we marked Christmas Eve last night by eating Chinese food and watching a movie.

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Weekend open thread: Thanksgiving and Chanukah edition

I hope everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community enjoyed the holiday yesterday–or both holidays, if you’re Jewish. For those who prepared a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, here are four soup recipes using the leftovers (two are vegetarian soups, and two use remnants of a roast turkey). We’re not a big cranberry sauce eating family, so some years I end up mixing the extra sauce with chopped apples to make a pie.

I find it hard to get into the Chanukah spirit so early, but for those who love Jewish holiday music, my favorite Chanukah album is the late, great Debbie Friedman’s “Light These Lights.” She recorded mostly traditional songs (starting with “Maoz Tsur,” also known as “Rock of Ages”), plus a few original compositions. Best of all, she omitted the cringe-inducing “I Have a Little Dreidel” song. I was amused to find out a few weeks ago that Amazon lists this record in the “Christian alternative” section. Woody Guthrie fans will enjoy the Klezmatics recording of original Chanukah compositions set to Guthrie’s words. It’s true, he wrote a series of Chanukah-related lyrics during the 1940s.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Weekend open thread: Tough choices

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

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the most important Jewish holiday. Naturally, the situation in Syria is on a lot of people’s minds and prompted some animated discussions between services. Our rabbi’s sermon focused on a freakish lightning strike at a Reform Jewish summer camp in June. Another popular topic of conversation for central Iowa Jews was University of Iowa running back Mark Weisman’s “tough choice” to play in the football game against Iowa State. Weisman felt obliged to honor his “commitment” to the Hawkeye football program. His father told the Des Moines Register a few days ago, “He wouldn’t let his teammates down, his coaches down, himself down, the whole nine yards […] It was a tough decision, but I think he made the right decision for him.”

As the old joke goes, ask any two Jews a question and you’ll hear three opinions. I heard lots of perspectives on Weisman’s choice yesterday. Many disapproved and felt he was setting a bad example for Jewish kids. (Almost 50 years after the fact, many American Jews are still proud of Sandy Koufax’s decision not to pitch in a World Series game on Yom Kippur.) But I heard someone comment that Yom Kippur would be almost over by the time the big game started at 5 pm anyway. The guy’s on a scholarship, and there are only twelve college football games in a year.

I knew lots of Jewish kids in college who didn’t observe Yom Kippur, and many Jewish adults don’t fast or spend the whole day in services. If marking the Day of Atonement is not particularly important to Weisman, who am I to say he should sit out a football game?

I will say this: I believe Coach Kirk Ferentz should have shown some leadership so that Weisman wasn’t made to feel that he would be letting the whole team down by not playing.  

Memorial Day open thread

It hardly feels like the beginning of summer in Iowa, with unseasonably cool weather all weekend and heavy rains causing flash flooding in many parts of the state. But no matter the weather, Memorial Day is always meaningful for many Americans. Setting aside a day for remembering the American war dead began shortly after the Civil War. I was surprised to learn that Memorial Day became an official federal holiday only recently, in 1971. The Iowa National Guard’s website includes brief histories of Iowa soldiers’ involvement in U.S. wars since the mid-19th century and a stunning photo of thousands of men standing in the shape of the Statue of Liberty.

In previous years, Bleeding Heartland has posted other links related to Memorial Day here and here.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Here’s a conversation starter: Josh Marshall’s case against naming U.S. military bases after Confederate generals, who were actually traitors to the country. I’m with Marshall and Jamie Malanowski, who called for renaming those bases in this op-ed column.

Longtime readers of the Des Moines Register may remember columnist Rob Borsellino. He died of complications related to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) on May 27, 2006.  

Weekend open thread: Easter and Passover edition

Happy Easter to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community who is celebrating today. I’ve posted some Holy Week-related links after the jump.

Passover began last Monday evening and ends this Monday evening in Israel and for most Reform Jews worldwide. Outside Israel, Conservative and Orthodox Jews will observe the holiday until Tuesday evening. A few Passover links are below as well.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.  

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Weekend open thread: Supreme Court marriage case edition

The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed on Friday that justices will consider two cases involving same-sex marriage. I’ve posted some background and analysis of those cases after the jump. One of the cases has the potential to affect same-sex couples legally married in Iowa.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Happy Chanukah to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community who celebrates–or rather observes–this holiday. My top Jewish parenting tip for this season: buy extra boxes of candles. Your children will want to load the menorah, and they will break some candles.

Most Chanukah traditions (lighting candles, eating fried foods, playing dreidel) don’t acknowledge the dark side of the events that inspired this holiday. History buffs will enjoy these brief accounts of what was really a Jewish civil war.

UPDATE: The National Weather Service reported on December 9, “The record streak for consecutive days with no measurable snow has ended in Des Moines at 279 this morning.”

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Weekend open thread: Thanksgiving leftovers edition

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday and will have time to relax this weekend.

For those who cooked a big meal yesterday, here are four ways to make soup from Thanksgiving leftovers (two using leftovers from roasting a turkey, one using sweet potatoes, and one using mashed potatoes). You can mix extra cranberry sauce with diced apples to make a pie.

Share your own favorite recipes or comments on any topic below. This is an open thread.

Weekend open thread: Labor Day edition (updated)

Hope the Bleeding Heartland community has been enjoying the long holiday weekend. This is an open thread. I’ve enclosed some Labor Day-related links after the jump, including an excerpt from the Iowa Policy Project’s recent report on wage theft, which “deprives low-wage Iowa workers of an estimated $600 million, deprives state and local government of revenue, and puts law-abiding businesses at a competitive disadvantage.”

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Red, white and blue edition

Happy 4th of July to the Bleeding Heartland community! I am celebrating the occasion with photos of red, white, and blue Iowa wildflowers. Click “there’s more” to view oswego tea, white snakeroot, and blue vervain.

The heat has been oppressive across Iowa lately. This afternoon I felt sorry for everyone in the Windsor Heights July 4 parade, including Representative Tom Latham, Representative Leonard Boswell, State Representative Chris Hagenow, his Democratic challenger Susan Judkins, and Democratic Iowa Senate candidate Desmund Adams.

I hope everyone stays safe and hydrated, and I am thinking of the veterans for whom today is a difficult holiday.

This is an open thread.

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Weekend open thread: Father's Day edition

Happy Father’s Day to the men in the Bleeding Heartland community who enjoy this holiday. My sympathies go out to you if the day is a painful reminder of a man who was never there for you, or of a beloved parent who is no longer living, or of a child in your family who has passed away.

All topics are welcome in this open thread. On Monday, I’ll catch up on the fireworks from the Republican Party of Iowa’s state convention.

Weekend open thread: Easter and Passover edition

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

If you are celebrating Easter or Passover, I hope you’re enjoying the spring holiday with friends or family. I tried an Italian haroset recipe for last night’s Passover seder–the recipe is after the jump.

UPDATE: Senator Chuck Grassley caused a bit of an uproar in the Twitterverse Saturday with this bon mot:

Constituents askd why i am not outraged at PresO attack on supreme court independence. Bcause Am ppl r not stupid as this x prof of con law

SECOND UPDATE: CBS news legend Mike Wallace has died at age 93. Morley Safer remembers his former colleague, and CBS posted other reflections, photos, and video clips at that link.

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Weekend open thread: Holiday and Iowa caucus cheer

It’s Christmas Eve, the fifth night of Chanukah, and ten days before the Iowa caucuses. Not-too-cold weather and clear skies will create good conditions for stargazing. The only thing missing from an otherwise perfect weekend is enough snow for sledding.

I hope everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community is enjoying friends, family and your favorite foods of the season. I’m eating the traditional Jewish Christmas Eve meal. Tomorrow noodle kugel is on the menu.

This is an open thread: happy holidays to all, and all topics welcome. A few Republican presidential television commercials now airing in Iowa are below.

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July 4 weekend open thread

Hope everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community is enjoying the long holiday weekend. Sounds like the weather across Iowa will be pretty good for the celebrations on July 3 and 4. I love the Windsor Heights parade.

Setting off fireworks at home is illegal in Iowa (rightly so in my opinion), but the law isn’t strictly enforced. Stay safe and remember that firecrackers are one reason July 4 can be a difficult holiday for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

This is an open thread, so all topics are welcome. A few things caught my eye this week:

As of July 1, Iowa boaters are subject to the same blood-alcohol limits as people driving motor vehicles. A long-overdue bill to that effect finally made it through the legislature this year.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources warned against swimming at six Iowa park beaches because the water contains high levels of fecal bacteria. The no swimming advisories apply to Emerson Bay at West Okoboji Lake, Geode near Danville, Beed’s near Hampton, Backbone near Strawberry Point, Lacey-Keosaqua near Keosaqua, and Springbrook near Guthrie Center. DNR staff have found high readings for bacteria in many other Iowa lakes this summer, so swim at your own risk and try not to swallow any water.

If you find a nice non-feces-contaminated swimming spot, remember that “drowning doesn’t look like drowning,” so it’s important to know the signs that someone is in trouble in the water. Drowning is the second-leading cause of accidental death for children.

I was not happy to learn that organic, “uncured” hot dogs with “no nitrates or nitrites added” do in fact contain nitrates and nitrites, often just as much as in conventional processed meats.

Danny Wilcox Frazier’s photo essay called “Out of Iowa” isn’t new, but I only found it recently. Worth clicking through.

Five links for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to the Bleeding Heartland community. Here are some links I enjoyed today.

Mother Jones put together a slide show on how we got this holiday, with photos of those who helped, and those who stood in the way.

Here are a couple dozen quotes from the civil rights leader.

Listen here as MLK explains, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam.”

The AFSCME blog compiled some of MLK’s comments about labor.

Susannah Heschel describes the relationship between Dr. King and her father, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

This is an open thread.


The 22nd annual event hosted by the Iowa Department of Human Rights and the Iowa Commission on the Status of African Americans took place this morning at the Iowa Historical Building. Branstad was scheduled and listed in the program as signing a proclamation as well as delivering an address.

Branstad arrived around 10:40 a.m., signed the proclamation and made a few statements.  He was then overheard apologizing to some of the event organizers, saying he was too busy to give the address, noting that this is one of his first days in office. Branstad was sworn in Friday.

Branstad then took a few questions from the press before he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds left.

Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for the governor, said Branstad was in meetings today that weren’t open to the public.

Wonder who he made time for on the holiday.

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Weekend open thread: New Year's Day edition

Best wishes for the new year to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community. What’s on your mind this first weekend of 2011?

Improving personal health is a common new year’s resolution. I’ll be trying to eat less sugar and exercise more, partly to lose a few pounds and partly to reduce stress. Research suggests that exercising before breakfast is especially helpful, and you don’t have to do intense, long workouts every day to benefit.

Radio Iowa suggested a few ways people can prevent strokes, “the third leading cause of death in Iowa, killing more than 1,600 Iowans last year alone.” Here’s another idea for preventing strokes: reduce coal combustion. Physicians for Social Responsibility has found that 92 percent of Iowans “live within 30 miles of a coal plant.” Particulate matter and other pollutants generated by coal combustion have been proven to cause strokes, as well as heart disease and cancer, the two other leading causes of death in Iowa. Using renewable energy or natural gas to replace some of our coal-fired plants could measurably improve the health of Iowans.

According to State Climatologist Harry Hillaker, 44.66 inches of precipitation made 2010 the second-wettest year out of 138 years for which records are available. Here’s hoping for less rain in 2011, because Iowa isn’t implementing land-use practices that might allow the ground to absorb more rain. Governor-elect Terry Branstad has never been big on flood prevention and still has no plan for flood mitigation. The new Iowa Legislature is no more likely to enact wise floodplain management policies than the last one.

Those trying to reduce their carbon footprints in 2011 can find good ideas here, here and here. Staff charged with making institutions more energy efficient can get inspiration from Luther College in Decorah, one of only eight colleges nationwide “to earn an ‘A’ on The College Sustainability Report Card released Oct. 27 by the Sustainable Endowments Institute.”

Luther received an “A” in seven of the eight graded areas including: administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, student involvement, transportation, and investment priorities. The college received a “B” in endowment transparency. […]

Luther was among the first colleges in the country to sign the Presidents Climate Commitment, which encouraged institutions to reduce their carbon footprint, operate more efficiently, and make sustainability part of every student’s learning experience. […]

Luther has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent since 2003 and is committed to a 50 percent reduction by 2012. Reducing greenhouse emissions is one of several goals in the college’s newest strategic plan, a section of which is dedicated to environmental sustainability.

Click here for the full report on how Luther achieved these outstanding results. The College Sustainability Report Card gave “B” grades to Grinnell College and Iowa State University, while the University of Iowa got a “C-“. Note to Luther staff: if you want more recognition next year, have someone return the Sierra Club’s “Cool Schools” survey.

This is an open thread.

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Christmas weekend open thread

Merry Christmas to those in the Bleeding Heartland community celebrating the holiday. Hope you have a joyful day with friends and family. To everyone else, I hope you enjoy some peaceful downtime this weekend. Yesterday our family finished a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle and went out sledding twice before enjoying Chinese food and a movie with a bunch of other Des Moines area Jews.

Today more sledding is on the agenda, and probably a new jigsaw puzzle. My boys received several new games for Chanukah, so we’ve been playing them a lot, especially “Sorry” and the Lego Harry Potter board game. For dinner, it will be my variation on my mother’s noodle kugel, which has become a sort of Christmas tradition for Mr. desmoinesdem. I’ve posted the recipe after the jump. It’s a lot less work than the traditional Christmas dinner Patric Juillet grew up with in Provence. Patric used to blog as Asinus Asinum Fricat. I am going to try some of his sweet potato recipes soon.

We received a card this week from a friend who usually bakes up a storm for Christmas. This year she got behind on her holiday baking, so instead of bringing over a package of goodies she made a donation in our name to Central Iowa Shelter and Services. That was a nice surprise. Food banks and shelters need cash donations now, and we don’t need any extra calories around our house. If you prefer to support charity working globally to reduce hunger, kestrel9000 suggests making a gift to Oxfam.

I didn’t notice too much “war on Christmas” silliness this year, but The Daily Show had a funny go at this American staple: “The holiday season wouldn’t feel the same without people going out of their way to be offended by nothing.” Locally, Gary Barrett tried to stir up some outrage over the demise of a “winter tree” at Ames High School. I felt my children’s public school did a good job of exposing the kids to different holiday traditions. Many children talked about their family’s rituals (religious or not) in class, and a display case had holiday decorations representing Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Devali.

The U.S. Census Bureau delivered Christmas cheer to some states this week, including our neighbor to the north, but as we all expected, Iowa will lose a Congressional district.

This is an open thread for anything on your mind this weekend.  

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Weekend open thread: Holiday gifts edition

What’s on your mind, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.

It’s the last shopping weekend before Christmas, so I’m reposting my favorite no-clutter holiday gift ideas after the jump. If you’re looking for a more traditional gift for a child, I recommend card games, jigsaw puzzles or something without batteries that’s suited for open-ended play, like blocks or erector sets. Other presents my kids loved this year: a mini hydroponics lab for growing sprouted plants, the Perplexus, one of the Lego board games, and the Zillio, which can be played in many different ways as they grow older. Their aunts, uncles and grandparents have excellent taste!

My kids love listening to audio books too. You can find check out many of these from the library to do a “test run” before buying as a gift. Some of our favorites:

the Frog and Toad books (read by the author, Arnold Lobel, perfect for kids 2-4)

the Usborne Farmyard Tales (CD comes with a fantastic picture book of 20 stories, perfect for toddlers or preschoolers)

Nate the Great collected stories by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (read by John Lavelle)

The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank Baum (read by Liza Ross)

any of the Magic Tree House collections (read by the author, Mary Pope Osborne)

any of Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins books (read by Neil Patrick Harris)

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes (full-cast audio recording)

George’s Secret Key to the Universe and George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt, by Lucy Hawking with Stephen Hawking (read by James Goode)

any of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney (read by Ramon de Ocampo)

any of the Harry Potter books by J.K.Rowling (read by Jim Dale)

Star Wars: The Original Radio Drama (full-cast recording, expanded version of the first Star Wars movie, plus The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi)

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Mid-week open thread: Chanukah edition

Happy Chanukah to those in the Bleeding Heartland community who observe the holiday. Members of the desmoinesdem family who are not eagerly putting together their new Lego set are enjoying Chanukah music. After our candles burn down we’re heading to the “Chanukah on Ice” event Chabad is putting on tonight at the Brenton Skating Plaza in Des Moines.

I consider the holiday season the best time of year to be Jewish, because there are a lot of fun Chanukah traditions, but no pressure to bake, decorate, etc.

Favorite Chanukah parenting tip: buy an extra box of candles. Kids love to help putting candles in the menorah, and they will break some.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind?

UPDATE: Former Representative Stephen Solarz of New York died this week at the age of 70. I remember seeing him during an Iowa visit sometime during the 1980s. At that time, he was a rising star in the Democratic Party. He may even have visited my precinct caucus in 1988–I can’t recall exactly when he was here. The New York Times obituary and this article by Steve Kornacki on the complicated relationship between Solarz and Chuck Schumer are worth reading.

Thanksgiving Day open thread

Happy Thanksgiving, Bleeding Heartland readers! Hope you are enjoying a day off with good food and friends or family.

Millions of Americans have had less to be thankful for lately. The USDA’s report on food insecurity in 2009 found:

Eighty-five percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2009, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.7 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security. In households with very low food security, the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. Prevalence rates of food insecurity and very low food security were essentially unchanged from 14.6 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively, in 2008, and remained at the highest recorded levels since 1995, when the first national food security survey was conducted. The typical food-secure household spent 33 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition. Fifty-seven percent of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs during the month prior to the 2009 survey.

The number of Iowa children living in poverty has risen too. According to the state Department of Education’s 2010 condition of education report, 37 percent of students are “eligible for free-and-reduced lunch, up from 26.7% ten years ago.”

According to Claire Celsi, the Des Moines Area Religious Council food pantry “says they can buy 2/3 more food wholesale with your cash donation. Please consider giving cash this holiday season.” I assume the same applies to other food banks.

Senator Tom Harkin cited the USDA’s “food insecurity” statistics as proof of the urgent need to pass a $4.5 billion federal child nutrition bill. The legislation may provide healthier school lunches to many children. The Senate approved the bill this summer, and Harkin was a key supporter. The legislation stalled in the House because, shamefully, the Senate version used food stamp money to fund some of the programs. However, House Democrats who were blocking the bill may be willing to move it during the lame-duck session, because the White House has supposedly promised to restore the food stamp money through some other vehicle. (I’m not convinced that will happen.) At La Vida Locavore, Jill Richardson argues that it’s time to get behind the “better than nothing” school lunch bill.

Richardson also posted an interesting piece on the history of Americans eating turkey for Thanksgiving.

If you can find a farmer who raises heritage breed turkeys, I recommend giving them a try next year. We buy our turkeys from Griffeion Family Farms near Ankeny. The dark meat on heritage birds is darker and more flavorful than the standard broad-breasted white turkey.

For Bleeding Heartland readers in the Des Moines area: The Bake Shoppe at 66th and University in Windsor Heights is open Thanksgiving Day from 7 am to noon, in case you need any last-minute bread or sweets for your table. They make fantastic egg knots (dinner rolls) and desserts of all kinds. The pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting are a huge hit with my relatives.

I know it’s the wrong holiday, but here’s an old Des Moines Register article that explains the local custom of kids telling riddles to get candy on Halloween. As a college freshman, I was shocked to learn that trick-or-treaters don’t do this in other parts of the country.

This is an open thread.

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Monday meal: Four ways to make soup from Thanksgiving leftovers

My family rarely has trouble finishing off the Thanksgiving turkey within a couple of days. We like sandwiches so much I’ve never had to experiment with turkey tetrazzini or other ways to use up the bird.

Some leftovers, like mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables, aren’t appealing cold and don’t reheat particularly well. I can’t stand wasting good food, so after the jump you’ll find some soup recipes incorporating Thanksgiving leftovers.

The first two ideas assume you are roasting a turkey this Thursday. The second two would work equally well for vegetarians and omnivores.

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Labor Day links

How are you spending the holiday, Bleeding Heartlanders? I’m off to see the Iowa Cubs’ last game of the regular season. If they win, they’ll make the playoffs.

If you attended any labor celebrations this weekend, you may have encountered some Democrats running for office. U.S. Senate candidate Roxanne Conlin attended the Clinton County Labor Day picnic yesterday and was grand marshall of the South Central Iowa Federation of Labor Parade in Des Moines today. Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge is at the Dubuque Labor Day parade today. Senator Tom Harkin, Iowa Democratic Party chair Sue Dvorsky and others will be at the Iowa City Federation of Labor picnic. Governor Chet Culver walked the labor parade in Des Moines today; later he’s is scheduled to attend the Hawkeye Federation of Labor picnic in Cedar Rapids. Culver’s relationship with organized labor has been strained in recent years, but he is clearly a better choice for working people than Terry Branstad. Culver’s campaign released this statement on September 4:


Des Moines – Governor Culver is participating in Labor Day activities all across the state of Iowa this weekend including festivities with hard-working Iowans in Ottumwa, Cedar Rapids and Burlington.  Governor Culver has been on the side of working families from day one of his administration.  The first bill he signed raised the minimum wage in Iowa.  He favors labors reforms that give workers their Choice of Doctor, Prevailing Wage, Expanded Scope of Collective Bargaining and Fair Share.

By contrast, Terry Branstad has vowed all labor reform is dead if he becomes Governor.  As Governor, Branstad had to be ordered by the Iowa Supreme Court to honor a legally binding contract between him and the state’s largest state labor union.  He has also opposed working families by his plan to cut health insurance for children, cut state funding for preschool, eliminate job creating entities such as the the Department of Economic Development, the Iowa Jobs and Infrastructure Initiative, and the Iowa Power Fund.

Governor Culver is also attending the Latino Festival today in Des Moines.  This year, Governor Culver signed legislation combating wage discrimination and a bill requiring new legislation to be reviewed for its impact on minority incarceration. Governor Culver is also a strong supporter of civil rights, women’s rights and worker’s rights.

By contrast, Terry Branstad now opposes a United States Supreme Court decision stating that all children in the U.S. are entitled to a basic public education regardless of the citizenship status of their parents.  Branstad says this decision should be challenged even though it has been the law of the land since before he was governor and he failed to challenge or even speak out against the ruling during his entire 16 years in the governor’s office.  Even more extreme, Branstad wants Iowa to go further than the Arizona law currently being challenged in federal court by requiring that everyone carry their birth certificate with them when traveling.  His plan would not only be an unconstitutional invasion of privacy but it would also cost local counties a fortune in increased law enforcement and jail costs.

The choice for the future is clear:  Governor Culver wants to help working families and encourage economic and population growth by making Iowa a more tolerant and welcoming place.  Conversely, Branstad wants to return to his extreme policies of the 1980s by making it tougher on working families.  He also wants to implement some of the most extreme policies in the nation by going further than the Arizona law regarding the immigration issue.

President Barack Obama is in Milwaukee today to announce “a comprehensive infrastructure plan to expand and renew our nation’s roads, railways and runways.” Trouble is, to create a significant number of new jobs we need to spend much more than the $50 billion the president is now proposing.

Farmers and farm workers who are regularly exposed to pesticides, take note: a new study conducted in Iowa and North Carolina showed that “women who are married to farmers who were licensed to apply pesticides” had a higher incidence of thyroid disease.

The percentage of private-sector American workers who belong to labor unions has fallen to about 7 percent. That’s unfortunate, because not only are union jobs more frequently higher-wage jobs, non-union employees are more likely to have health benefits if some of their colleagues belong to a union. I saw this summer that the Service Employees International Union is trying to organize Sodexo, the giant food-service company that runs dining-hall operations at many Iowa colleges.

The AFL-CIO ran a Labor Day television ad during some college football games, major-league baseball games, and a NASCAR race over the weekend. The commercial has a mostly non-political message about “America’s workers” being “the backbone of our communities,” “moving our country forward,” “working together for a stronger America.” Expect more hard-hitting ads to come later this fall: AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has promised “an aggressive and massive mobilization of working people this Labor Day weekend and for the fall election.” Democrats up and down the ticket in many states will be praying for a strong labor turnout, because most pollsters see a likely voter universe that tilts more toward Republicans than in 2008.

Finally, I got a laugh out of John Deeth’s observation today:

TheIowaRepublican says: “This Labor Day, Celebrate Iowa’s Right to Work Law.” Isn’t that like honoring deadbeat dads on Father’s Day?

Share any Labor Day thoughts in this thread.

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Buy local holiday shopping thread

Chanukah’s over, but there’s still time to shop for Christmas presents.

Blog for Iowa highlighted 12 great locally-owned places to shop in Iowa. Many of them feature locally-produced foods and hand-made crafts. For those heading to Prairieland Herbs and Picket Fence Creamery near Woodward, I would recommend driving 10 minutes up the road to Northern Prairie Chevre. Their little store carries items from many other local businesses.

If you want toys, clothes or accessories for babies or small children, try out one of these Des Moines-area businesses:

Simply for Giggles

The Stork Wearhouse

Little Padded Seats

VannyBean Baby Organics

The toy store on the lower level of Valley West mall

After the jump I’m re-posting a diary I wrote last December on no-clutter holiday gift ideas. Another way to support locally-owned businesses is to buy your friends or relatives services or entertainment that they might not treat themselves to or can’t afford.

Also consider donating to a local non-profit that means a lot to your loved one.

Please post your own ideas in the comments.

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Mother's Day open thread with lots of links

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in the Bleeding Heartland community. The new thing I learned today is that Julia Ward Howe envisioned Mother’s Day as an anti-war day of action by women of all nations.

We are going to a picnic and nature walk instead.

Good resources for pregnant women or mothers:

Attachment Parenting International (includes discussion forums on lots of topics)

Mothering magazine’s site and Mothering.com discussion forums

International Cesarean Awareness Network (and more resources for women wanting to reduce their risk of surgical birth)

La Leche League


Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood: Reclaiming Childhood from Corporate Marketers

Here are a few good reasons to wear your baby and some benefits of encouraging your children to play outdoors.

Good blogs for mothers: Mother Talkers (a community blog) and Momocrats

If Mother’s Day is painful for you, either because your mother didn’t provide the childhood you would have wanted, or because you are the parent of a child who has died, I recommend this diary Cronesense posted at Daily Kos two years ago: Mother’s Day – the other side of the coin. Frankenoid’s diary, Mother’s Day in the Land of the Bereaved, is also very moving.

Please use this thread to share any thoughts about this day or pay tribute to any inspiring mom in your life. Last year I wrote about my friend LaVon Griffieon.

UPDATE: Good post by DarkSyde at Daily Kos.

Christmas open thread and linkfest

Merry Christmas to Bleeding Heartland readers who are celebrating the holiday today.

And if you’re Jewish like me, remember that Jesus was an important Jewish theologian and reformer.

Here are some holiday links for you.

On the real meaning of Christmas:

A Christmas prayer from pastordan.

Carnacki shares a true story and treasured family memory.

John Lennon sings “Happy Christmas (War Is Over).”

greywolfe359 reflects on Light in the Darkness.

noweasels offers Christmas wishes and memories of small-town Christmas pageants.

Some less-happy Christmas stories:

Millions of children grow up in poverty, and even if they are relatively comfortable as adults, they never forget those feelings of economic insecurity. Last year chuckles1 shared his memories of “The year we stole a Christmas tree.” (The piece is still relevant, even though the presidential campaign angle is obsolete.)

Expatyank lives in Britain, where unemployment and other economic problems are causing the retail sector to implode during what should be the busiest shopping week of the year.

For history buffs:

Daily Kos’ resident historian Unitary Moonbat talks about how Christmas has been celebrated throughout the centuries.

Remember, the Puritans felt Christmas “incited moral degeneracy and so they declared war on the Christmas holiday by passing laws against it in Scotland and England, later in Massachusetts […]”

Other useful Christmas links:

Asinus Asinum Fricat is a chef and native of France. He shares some memories of Christmas in Provence, including recipes for traditional desserts.

The same diarist is a veteran restaurant owner and operator, and offers a Christmas proposal for entrepreneurs out there. It’s about how to set up and run a low-cost restaurant that “will thrive in this severe economic downturn.”

A conservative blogger offers some Christmas cooking and sewing ideas (the muffins look truly decadent).

Daily Kos commenters had lots of good suggestions to add to my list of no-clutter holiday gift ideas.

Eddie C posted a fun photo diary on Christmas in New York City.

Christmas humor:

JeffLieber wrote a funny piece from the perspective of Joseph: I’ve just discovered my wife has been unfaithful.

Asinus Asinum Fricat offers a selection of Christmas jokes (some are Australian and “saucy”). Be sure to read the comments, where many people posted additional Christmas humor. I added a Jewish Christmas joke.

Christmas music:

What do you prefer? Old-fashioned cheesy, like Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett? Childhood favorites like the Charlie Brown Christmas album? Hip adult options like Diana Krall’s jazzy Christmas music?

Deoliver47 shares a bunch of Christmas music videos.

We mostly listen to Chanukah music, but I do enjoy Oy to the World: A Klezmer Christmas.

Share holiday cheer or other thoughts in the comments.

P.S.: It’s the second white Christmas in a row in Iowa, which is nice.

Barack Obama's holiday address to the country

President-elect Barack Obama has been putting his weekly addresses on YouTube as well as on the radio. The latest one, released today, has a holiday theme. Here is the full transcript, and here is the video:

By the way, Obama is enjoying quite a honeymoon with Americans:

More than eight in 10, or 82 percent, of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Wednesday approve of the way Obama is handling his presidential transition.

That approval is up 3 percentage points from when CNN asked the same question at the beginning of December. Fifteen percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way the president-elect is handling his transition, down 3 points from the last poll.

Obama’s approval is higher than George W. Bush eight years ago. Bush had a 65 percent approval rating during his transition, and Bill Clinton was at 67 percent in 1992.

“Barack Obama is having a better honeymoon with the American public than any incoming president in the past three decades. He’s putting up better numbers, usually by double digits, than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan or either George Bush on every item traditionally measured in transition polls,” said Keating Holland, CNN’s polling director.

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No-clutter holiday and birthday gift ideas

I know it’s late to be writing this post, since Chanukah started tonight and Christmas is only four days away, but bear with me. Even if you’re not a procrastinator and have all your shopping out of the way, you might get some ideas for a birthday or anniversary present next year.

A lot of my friends are trying to declutter their homes and simplify their lives. During the holiday season, the can get overwhelmed by all the gifts that, while well-meaning, are neither items they need nor things they have room for. If they have young children, they may be dreading the influx of toys and stuffed animals that are already overtaking their homes.

If you give these people a gift card from a big-box store, they may never use it, and your money will go to waste.

If you have friends or relatives who don’t seem to be into stuff, or are trying to downsize their lifestyle, here are some gift ideas.

Give food. If you are a good cook or baker, home-made meals and treats are always appreciated (assuming the recipient doesn’t have food allergies or a restricted diet). A casserole or pot of soup that can be frozen may be a huge help to your friends. Before sending cookies or cupcakes with colorful frosting, check with parents to see whether the children have sensitivities to any food dyes or artificial flavors. These sensitivities can cause various behavioral problems.

A bonus to cooking for friends is that depending on what you make, it can be less expensive than buying presents from a store.

If you are not into cooking, consider giving a gift certificate to a locally-owned restaurant or independent grocer. This economy is very tough for restaurants, because so many people are trying to save money by eating out less. Supporting locally-owned businesses keeps more money in your community.

Give entertainment. A casette tape or CD does not take up much room and can be a nice gift. For children, I am partial to Justin Roberts, whose albums are available here, but there are many other good options.

Or, give tickets to an upcoming music concert or play in your area. This is a great gift for kids if you have a community playhouse with children’s programming. Parents may not want to splurge on that kind of outing for themselves, but they would enjoy taking their kids if someone buys tickets.

Movie theaters may sell gift cards that can be used for any showing of any movie.

If you are a musician, offer to play a 30-minute set at the event of their choice, like a birthday party in the coming year.

If you can afford to spend more money or are going in with other people on the gift, consider buying a family pass to a children’s museum, science center or zoo in your area. Your gift will be appreciated throughout the year.

Replace something they would otherwise have to buy.

Most people don’t like to give cash gifts, but replacing an item your friends need to buy anyway is just as helpful.

For adults, give a subscription to a magazine you know they already receive and enjoy reading (so you’re not adding to their clutter). Offer to pay for someone to shovel their driveway or mow their yard, if they are unable to do that kind of work. You can give a packet of bus tokens or a gift card to a gas station.

For families with children, make play-dough in a few different colors. You can find recipes online, and the kids will love it.

Or, pay for a few hours of housecleaning to do those “deep-cleaning” jobs busy parents often fall behind on.

If you know the children well, decorate a card with an “IOU” to babysit at a future time, or take the kids sledding, to a movie or to the zoo. Or offer to teach the kids a skill, like how to make a paper airplane or how to play games on Linux (that one was John Deeth’s idea!).

Give money to a good cause on their behalf.

Mr. desmoinesdem recently discovered JustGive.Org and is giving gift cards from there to some of his family. The recipient can use the card to give to any of a large number of charities in the JustGive database. Tons of environmental, human rights and other progressive groups are listed on the site.

If you already know of a non-profit organization your friends and relatives care about, make a donation directly to that group in their honor. Many people are reducing their charitable giving because of the tough economy, so this kind of gift would be appreciated.

For families with kids, consider a gift to the parent-teacher association of the local school. They usually need money for school supplies or playground equipment.

Please share your own ideas for no-clutter gifts in the comments.

UPDATE: Open Left user sisterfish also likes using DonorsChoose.org.

Open thread on surviving the holiday season

In my book, the holiday season is the best time of year to be Jewish. We celebrate Chanukah, but it is a minor Jewish holiday and doesn’t dominate a month of our lives. It is also not commercialized enough to drown out what we do as a family to mark the holiday.

Every year I see people feeling so much pressure to buy things and make things and decorate and create the perfect magical Christmas atmosphere, but they don’t have time to feel peaceful. At the moms’ groups people are always so stressed out.

It’s easy for me to explain to my kids that many people celebrate Christmas, while we celebrate Chanukah. I think it would be more difficult to try to teach children the true meaning of Christmas when your holiday is being used as a vehicle to push consumer spending.

Some conservatives get mad when store employees say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I don’t get the manufactured outrage about the alleged “war on Christmas.” Do they want everyone to think Christmas is all about jolly Santa and decorated trees and dancing reindeer?

This is an open thread for discussing anything you do to make the season meaningful, or at least reduce your stress level.

One friend has a ritual of going through the playroom with her kids before Christmas to pick toys to give away. No one gives away a treasured possession, but all the kids are expected to choose a few things no one plays with anymore, which can go to kids who need them.

Another friend is having a “clothing swap” party before Christmas to inspire us to finish cleaning out our closets. Women will bring clothes they don’t wear, or which don’t fit anymore. Other women can take them home if they like them. The extra clothes will go to charity after the party.

Another friend told me his family became inspired by the Hundred-Dollar Christmas idea a few years ago and now mostly exchanges hand-made or reused gifts.

Feel free also to discuss your favorite things about the holiday season or recommend your favorite holiday music. We mostly listen to Chanukah music, but I do enjoy the Klezmonauts’ Christmas album “Oy to the World”. Click the link to listen to samples of Christmas songs performed in the klezmer (“Jewish jazz”) style.  

The Wake Up Wal-Mart Holiday Campaign: Ad #2

This December, Wake Up Wal-Mart is going all out with our annual Holiday Campaign to awaken America’s largest retailer to its responsibilities. Here is a peek at our second TV ad for 2008's holiday season:



Titled Wal-Mart: America Just Can't Afford It Any Longer, the ad focuses on the hidden costs of shopping at Wal-Mart:

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Keep safe while traveling for the holidays

At Daily Kos yesterday, The Baculum King reposted a piece on safe driving tips based on his experience as a truck driver and one particularly horrifying accident he witnessed.

Daily Kos user Translator followed up with this diary containing more advice about driving safely in cold weather.

These piece are well worth your time.

Feel free to add any other holiday travel tips in the comments.

Remember, “research has found driving while talking on a cellphone to be as dangerous as driving drunk.”

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