Let Santa bring the small stuff

Let Santa bring the small stuff

Gazette Column
What are your favorite childhood memories of Christmas? I remember getting up early and pouncing on my stocking, which was always filled with a few pieces of candy, a few small toys or trinkets and a lot of fresh fruit and nuts. Santa would also leave one or two gifts, often with a bow on top but seldom fully wrapped. The ongoing joke in my parents’ home was that Santa was a health nut. This is why he always delivered fresh fruits and nuts — he wanted us to be healthy. The truth about the fruit, however, dated back to the years before I was born, when our large family had many children living at home and few resources. Placing fruit in the stocking was a way for my cash-strapped…
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Protests are evidence of exclusion

Protests are evidence of exclusion

Gazette Column
One of the best things about working in the media is the access it provides to all facets of the community. When combined with innate curiosity and a penchant for organizing, this access results in piles of string — journalism shorthand for scraps of information that don’t warrant their own report, but that could possibly be valuable in the future. Since I’m curious about barriers to civic participation — not only why this person doesn’t participate, but why this neighborhood tends not to participate — I collect string on how groups interact. Some pieces are incredibly benign. For instance, a woman told me that she and her husband alternated attending meetings to save on child care. Others, however, provide glimpses of how infrastructure availability is determining civic and social participation.…
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It’s a privilege to invoke racism

It’s a privilege to invoke racism

Gazette Column
Something ugly has happened in Eastern Iowa. Cornell College’s Black Awareness Cultural Organization (BACO) has been hosting a weeklong awareness campaign on individual differences. The campaign, called Privilege Week, was intended to unite the student body and community, but has endured racist comments on social media and vandalism of promotional materials. Some continue to believe discussions of privilege are designed diminish personal achievement or amount to little more shaming of those who have historically benefited from privilege. The idea that some members of society have additional roadblocks along a path to success is, of course, a reality we understand. But many of us are also raised to believe that “good” choices result in “good” outcomes, and that everyone has the same opportunities to make choices. The latter is not always true and…
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Get some skin in the game

Get some skin in the game

Gazette Column
How’s cynicism working out for you? Perhaps it is ill timing that during 2014 election mega millions racing across televisions, radios, computer screens and roadsides, I’m hoping Eastern Iowans are willing to set aside cynicism and work for the betterment of all. Yet, apathy has significantly stained our communities, and hasn’t resulted in positive outcomes. In few places is this more apparent than in our justice system. In Johnson County, however, there is an organization attempting to turn the tide. But, without your help and your neighbor’s help, prospects are diminished. [caption id="attachment_1579" align="alignleft" width="500"] Opening remarks at a community discussion on racial disparities in youth systems were delivered by Sara Barron, co-chairwoman of the Johnson County Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee, at the Coralville Public Library on Wednesday, Oct. 15,…
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There’s a lesson in Atlantic City

There’s a lesson in Atlantic City

Gazette Column
I wandered aimlessly for hours, the quintessential tourist wanting to hold and press each experience between the pages of a mental travel memoir. I spent the better part of a day walking the historic boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J., having been drawn there by my desire to see a Monopoly board come to life and visions of the 1964 political convention that aimed to heal a party, if not the nation, following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Forget that reality TV Jersey shore garbage and Iowa Caucus speculation — this was where Frank Sinatra had crooned in the Copa Room of the Sands Casino and Marilyn Monroe had judged the Miss American Pageant in the Depression-era Claridge Hotel. [caption id="attachment_1654" align="alignleft" width="450"] Trump Plaza, the white structure with red…
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It’s not just the money, honey

It’s not just the money, honey

Gazette Column
Food and living expenses have new meaning for three Eastern Iowa state senators who recently accepted a national challenge to Live the Wage for one week. Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids, Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City and Tom Courtney of Burlington agreed to try and live with only $77 of spending money. The national challenge is the product of a coalition of advocates who hope to draw attention to the issue of the federal minimum wage. A person working 40 hours per week at minimum wage has gross earnings of $290 per week. The $77 is what the advocates estimate remains after taxes ($35.06) and housing expenses ($176.48) are deducted. Facebook posts have documented the challenge for the trio, and their commentary has been what one might expect from three…
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Iowa can learn from the Missouri tragedy

Iowa can learn from the Missouri tragedy

Gazette Blog
Michael Brown was an 18-year-old black man who died Saturday, gunned down by police outside his apartment complex. He was scheduled to begin classes at Vatterott College today and, according to friends who agreed to interviews, Brown wanted to be a business owner. News of the shooting spread quickly through the Ferguson, Mo. neighborhood. Brown’s body had been left in the street for hours, according to media reports, and photos of the scene were circulated. While there are conjectural stories of a struggle, that perhaps Brown, who was unarmed, tried to take a gun from the officer who ultimately shot him multiple times as he ran. a full investigation is not complete and likely won’t be completed for weeks. Mourning began on social media, rumors were circulated and those local…
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Voting ban is a mark of poverty

Voting ban is a mark of poverty

Gazette Column
President Lyndon B. Johnson announced a “War on Poverty” as part of his 1964 State of the Union address, promising and mandating the nation not simply treat the symptoms of the poor, but fetter out and eliminate root causes. “Today, for the first time in our history, we have the power to strike away the barriers to full participation in our society,” he said. “Having the power, we have the duty.” This appears to be a duty Gov. Terry Branstad is willing to shirk. By executive order, former Gov. Tom Vilsack said people convicted of crimes, who had served their sentences, should be able to fully participate as citizens by casting ballots and standing as candidates for public office. [caption id="attachment_640" align="alignleft" width="300"] "I Voted" buttons in a bowl. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)[/caption]…
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Time for ICCSD to get to work

Time for ICCSD to get to work

Gazette Column
The Iowa City Community School District should be feeling revitalized this week and, I hope, ready to tackle some persistent challenges. A former board member, Orville Townsend Sr., was selected from a field of nine highly interested and qualified candidates to serve a 15-month appointment to the school board. For the record, President Herbert Hoover, who supposedly applied but is not included among the nine finalists, would have received my nod except for his lack of residency in the district. Also, I doubt he’d be available for meetings. Townsend’s appointment was unanimous, a well-deserved vote of confidence for the Iowa City resident with a unique life experience that can and should serve the board well. For instance, Townsend served on the ICCSD Equity Committee and will hold firsthand insights from a…
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Prison alternatives needed for mentally ill

Prison alternatives needed for mentally ill

Gazette Column
Saturday’s column provided a closer look at a Johnson County criminal case involving a 29-year-old man on the autism spectrum who is facing 45 years in prison for crimes related to his obsession with a former girlfriend. When the man is sentenced to prison later this month — and there is little reason to believe he will not be sent to prison — he will join the ranks of some 8,000 Iowans who live behind bars. Of those inmates, according to the latest annual report by the Department of Corrections, about 47 percent have a mental health diagnosis for a chronic condition. Within that percentage are seven other individuals who share the Johnson County man’s diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome. While the most common diagnosis among inmates is substance abuse disorders and depression, the report…
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