Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Iowans Discover Forest Bathing

I just discovered a local news story from earlier this month exploring the concept of "forest bathing."

I'd never heard of it either before tonight.

This is happening in nearby Hiawatha, IA. A forest bathing tour guide named Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiler has been leading small groups near Prairiewood. It's an opportunity for people to unplug from society and open up their minds and senses to the nature around them.

For example, participants are encouraged to use their eyes to notice the subtle differences in plant-life. They cup their hands around their ears in order to channel the sounds of nature more effectively. They are encouraged to submerge their hands in water and to hug trees during the tours.

It looks like the forest bathing sessions at Prairiewood are now over. But people living near Des Moines can look forward to similar walking tours at Jester Park in June.

You can watch the news segment here. It's interesting stuff!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Drug Addicted Mom & Dad Attempt to Use their Catholic Faith to Disrupt Adoption by Non-Drug Addicted Lesbian Moms

I've been reading about a court case from New South Wales where a lesbian couple was allowed to adopt the 4-year-old girl that they had raised for most of her life. The birth parents were objecting to this adoption because the adoptive parents would not commit to raising the child as a Catholic.

Here is some of the backstory: The girl was removed from her mother's care when she was four days old due to the mother's long history of drug abuse and due to her manslaughter conviction over the death of her infant son seven years earlier. In that case, the infant son had died from methadone and benzodiazepine poisoning. She blamed her then-boyfriend for administering the fatal drugs into the child.

The baby girl -- named CJD for court purposes -- was placed with the lesbian couple when she was six months old. They have been together as a couple for nearly ten years and have provided financial and emotional stability for the child. The child continues to experience behavioral challenges, most likely as a result of prenatal drug exposure.

The birth mother opposed the adoption of her child by the lesbian moms because they would not commit to raising the child as a Catholic. The birth father opposed the adoption of his child by the lesbian moms because he also wanted the child to be raised as a Catholic. He also said that he wanted to raise the little girl himself if the birth mother was not allowed because he was "deprived of the opportunity to be a father" due to the child's removal due to safety concerns.

Both birth parents have significant mental health challenges and learning disabilities. The birth mother also refuses to take any responsibility for her son's death and has been in jail since that child's death due to continued struggles with drug abuse.

Meanwhile, the adoptive mothers have committed to an open adoption arrangement with the birth parents. They are open to allowing the girl to be involved with scripture class and listen to Bible stories. They also don't object to CJD making her own decision to becoming a Catholic as she gets older.

I can't even...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Where Is Richard Simmons?

I decided to try out some new podcasts this past week and discovered a new one called "Missing Richard Simmons" by a director/producer/podcaster named Dan Taberski. This podcast explores the mystery behind fitness guru Richard Simmons' sudden disappearance from public life back on 02/15/14. Taberski was a Slimmons gym regular who found himself wondering what happened to his friend.

Keep in mind that Richard Simmons was a gregarious public figure for nearly four decades. He was known for connecting with fans at their home phone numbers for years at a time to assist them with their long journeys from obesity. He ran exercise classes every week at Slimmons gym for forty years, where he led combination workout/sharing sessions with as assortment of regular and gawkers. He connected with his fans in such an intimate way.

So for him to drop out of public life and to avoid all attempts at contact by all but his family and inner circle... Well, it's just nurtured whatever concerns that people who personally knew him but who existed outside of his very inner circle. Every unanswered email and phone call just prompt friends to begin wondering about every dark rumor surrounding his disappearance.

Is he sick or disabled? Did he really transition into a woman? Did he regain his weight? Is he the victim of elder abuse or financial exploitation?

I ended up joining this podcast just in time for it to wrap up. Which made for some interesting podcast-binging this week. Ultimately, Taberski did not connect with Richard Simmons. But he finally received enough reassurance from Simmons' people and from the police that he's okay. He's just done with public life.

That's ultimately what I learned from "Missing Richard Simmons" and the subsequent media reports. Richard Simmons, after forty years of public life, simply decided that he needed to shift gears and focus on himself.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Repressed Romance in "Riverdale" Episode 5 Deleted Scene

It's been a few weeks since the last issue of "Riverdale" aired and it will be another six days before episode #8. Fortunately, Archie Comics and The CW decided to treat us fans with a deleted scene from episode #5. This was the episode where Cheryl went a little nutty at her brother's memorial service. But it's also the episode where Archie gave up the quarterback position on the school's football team so that he could focus more on his music.

In this scene, Valerie interrupts Archie while he works on his song. He tells her that he turned down the quarterback gig so that he could focus more on his music. However, he confuses her because he's still playing on the football team -- granted, it's the junior varsity team and he's not likely to get much play-time anymore.

He explains that he's not a quitter. He doesn't want to give up on the football team, just like he doesn't want to give up on his song. And he really wants Val's help. Which she agrees to do.

You can definitely feel the romantic tension between these two characters in this scene. And I'm left wondering why it was excluded from the final episode. Still it's nice to get a treat after nearly three weeks without a new "Riverdale!"

You can watch the deleted scene here.

Muscatine City Council Begins Impeachment Effort Against City's Mayor // Updated Report: $100,000 in City Legal Fees May Be Used to Justify Impeachment Effort // More Updates...

(Originally written on 01/13/17): This is interesting. Last night, the mostly Republican City Council in Muscatine, IA, unanimously approved impeachment proceedings against the city's Democratic mayor, accusing her of unspecified incidents of misconduct and neglect, as well as making disparaging comments towards city employees.

I've been reading the sordid conflict between Mayor Diana Broderson and the Muscatine City Council with interest. She unexpectedly won an election against the incumbent mayor back in 2015 and has since struggled for achieve any of her limited mayoral duties, which pretty much consist of making appointments to city commissions, as well as appointing the Police and Fire Chief. In fact, the City Council voted last summer on an ordinance that stripped the mayor of those duties. Mayor Broderson challenged this new ordinance and received a decision from the state Attorney General's Office back in October 2016 indicating that the City Council lacked the authority to make these changes and that it was potentially criminal. However, the Muscatine County Attorney declined to act on the state Attorney General's opinion last month.

Which leads us to this week. The Muscatine City Council announced that it would vote on a request to impeach the city's mayor at its 01/12/17 city council meeting. According to the Muscatine Journal, none of the Council members wouldn't offer any explanation for this move and instead referred the reporter to the city attorney, who conveniently couldn't be reached for comment.

Last night, Councilman Michael Rehwaldt read the following motion:
An elected City official may be removed from office for, among other reasons, misconduct or maladministration in office, and willful or habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of the office; and

Willful misconduct or maladministration in office and include, but is not limited to, conduct such as repeated public criticism of the City or staff; repeatedly engaging in defamatory attacks against the City, staff or public; breach of fiduciary duties; or other conduct which tends to erode public confidence in the City or staff.

Habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of office an include, but is not limited to, such conduct as repeated breaches of the public official's fiduciary duties and/or repeated failure to follow established city ordinances or policies;

It appears the Mayor may have engaged in some of the foregoing conduct to the detriment of the City and in contravention of her established duties and, as such, written charges for removal should be filed to determine if the Mayor should be removed from office as a result of such conduct.

Therefore, the City Council of the City of Muscatine, Iowa, hereby motions to instruct the City Attorney to draft and file written charges for the removal of the Mayor as provided for by Iowa Code Chapter 66 and City Code section 1-7-6.
The Council members continued to avoid any specific accusations. Hopefully, they have evidence of willful misconduct or maladministration. Certainly something more substantial than vague suggestions that she "may have engaged" in detrimental conduct.

About 60 citizens attended the meeting and all appeared to denounce this impeachment effort.

I'm not a citizen of Muscatine, but this really doesn't pass the smell test. The Muscatine City Council better watch out or they might engage the citizens enough to vote out its incumbents -- particularly those like Councilmen Rehwaldt, Bynum, and Natvig -- all of whom are up for re-election later this year.

Updated on 01/19/17: We're beginning to get an idea about what the Muscatine City Council plans to use to support their impeachment effort against Mayor Diana Broderson:
The Muscatine city attorney said in an email to City Administrator Gregg Mandsager Wednesday that the city has incurred more than $100,000 in unbudgeted expenses in fighting what he says are "unproven claims and allegations" made by Mayor Broderson...

City officials said the official charges could be released as early as Friday.

City Attorney Matthew Brick detailed the 2016 attorney fees in an email to Mandsager. That email was in response to an inquiry Mandsager received from Broderson requesting more information about costs and attorney fees. Brick's email stated that complaints filed by Broderson against city officials, staff, contractors, and citizens resulted in about $64,000 in unbudgeted legal fees and $43,600 in staff time during the 2016 calendar year.

Mandsager had forwarded the email to the mayor and city council members early Wednesday morning. The email was also forwarded to the Muscatine Journal and Quad City Times.

As to the allegations that she caused funds to be spent by filing complaints, Broderson said she was just doing as the citizens asked...

Her reaction to the amount of costs paid to the city attorney was to wonder how much had been spent changing the city's appointment process. The council passed an amendment earlier in 2016 that created a nominating committee made up of the mayor, the city administrator or his appointee, and two council members to review candidates for city appointments.

"My take would be most of the money has been spent trying to reduce the office of mayor," she said.
By the way, I was listening to this Muscatine-based podcast earlier tonight and was shocked to learn that City Administrator Gregg Mandsager has apparently banned the city's employees from speaking or interacting with Mayor Broderson, outside of basic greetings. It's apparently been this way since shortly after Broderson's election in 2015.

Updated on 01/25/17: I'm not even sure that the Muscatine City Council actually has a clue about Mayor Diana Broderson's impeachable offense. Check this out:
Muscatine City Attorney Matthew Brick says charges for removal of Mayor Diana Broderson may not be filed for weeks, and the nature of the charges has yet to be determined. Brick said he will continue to investigate, and "slow equals fair. I want to make sure if there are relevant issues that they get looked at," he said. 
The Muscatine City Council two weeks ago voted to take the first steps toward ousting the mayor. Councilman Michael Rehwaldt cited "habitual neglect" and "willful misconduct or maladministration in office" as two possible reasons. State law says elected officials can be removed by two-thirds vote of the council. 
"It would be nice for not only me but for the people of Muscatine to know sooner rather than later so both sides could work to prepare," Broderson said. 
If evidence for removing the mayor under state law is not found, Brick said at the end of the investigation he would report back to council.
It sounds to me like the City Council members are just biding their time until after the next election cycle. Pretty shady, Muscatine...

Updated on 02/17/17: Muscatine City Attorney Matthew Brick filed a list of complaints early this morning, which are being used as the basis for Mayor Diana Broderson's impeachment:
Broderson is accused of ignoring Brick's legal advice when he told her that she was stepping outside of the boundaries of her power as mayor, listed in the document as "willful misconduct or maladministration … habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of her office..."

In the document, Broderson is accused of "making baseless complaints” that cost the city as much as $100,000 in legal fees and staff time to investigate, including asking for an investigation into whether she had been discriminated against on the basis of her gender and requesting investigation into actions of the city that were later determined to be unfounded.

Also outlined is an alleged breach of fiduciary duties, failure to comply with city code, defamation and/or false allegations and misuse of power and/or abuse of discretion.
These charges have been filed with the city and could appear on the agenda for the next Muscatine City Countil meeting. That is scheduled for 03/01/17.

Updated on 03/10/17: The Muscatine City Council scheduled the date for Mayor Diana Broderson's impeachment hearing at their council meeting last night. The hearing will begin at 8:00 AM on Thursday, March 23rd.

According to news reports, residents approached the Council and expressed disappointment with this whole process. One particular resident suggested that they should have waited until the next election when Mayor Broderson's term expired and just run a better candidate against her instead of going through the time, money, and embarrassment of impeaching her mid-term:
Although advised by City Administrator Gregg Mandsager to answer “no comment” to residents’ questions, Councilman Santos Saucedo responded to Nathan Baker, of Muscatine, after Baker said the recent actions of the council were making Muscatine a statewide laughing stock. Baker said that the mayor would not have retained her seat through the next election in November, and the council should have waited instead of trying to impeach her. "I wouldn’t vote for her again except for that you guys have created this problem," he said. "The right thing would be to let her finish her term, and for you guys just to do your thing." 
Saucedo was visibly upset after Baker’s remarks. Saucedo said he was doing what he felt was right and promised that the reasons behind the charges filed for the mayor’s removal would be revealed at the March 23 hearing. "All the information is going to come out," Saucedo said.
The problem is that the Muscatine City Council has been so cagey about why they are impeaching her that there is little else for residents to do except assume that there's something under-handed, political, and nasty about this whole affair.

Updated on 03/21/17: The impeachment hearing begins first thing Thursday morning. Here are some new details. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:00 AM in the council chambers in Muscatine. The hearing will be open to the public, but they will not allow any public comments at the meeting. They will not broadcast the hearing on their local government channel, so you won't have any televised footage for use during future campaign commercials (unless someone in the audience records something on Facebook Live).

Muscatine has brought a retired judge and mediator in to act as special counsel for the city and to act as prosecutor. Mayor Broderson will be represented by her own attorney, presumably at her own expense. Council members will hear the arguments for and against Mayor Broderson's impeachment. Two-thirds of the Council will need to vote for her impeachment. It's unclear if they will actually vote on Thursday or not.

The Muscatine City Council is walking on fragile ice here. This is the first case of a mayoral impeachment in Iowa history. There is an election in a few months and three of the seven Council members are up for reelection. There are already efforts to vote out all three Council members this fall.

Updated on 03/23/17: Mayor Broderson's impeachment hearing dragged on for eleven hours today. You can follow the #musmayor hashtag on Twitter, but it's not clear to follow most of the testimony because there's very little video or written coverage (outside of some tweets and 2-minute clips). Eventually, the hearing was postponed until 9:00 AM on Saturday, 04/01/17.

Updated on 03/24/17: Hear are some details on the testimony, courtesy of the Muscatine Journal. It offers more substantial reasons for the impeachment hearing:

Gender Bias Complaint: Mayor Broderson had initiated a gender bias investigation against the City Council and City Administrator Gregg Mandsager. It was later determined that there was no basis for her allegations:
When he was called as a witness, City Administrator Gregg Mandsager said he may have been negatively impacted by the investigation during a recent job search, because he was required to say he had been the subject of an investigation into gender bias. He also said his health had been negatively impacted by the investigation and allegations made against him and council members during her term.
Misuse of Campaign Funds: Mayor Broderson has been accused to spending $500 of her campaign funds to pay for her attorney. She is also alleged to have spent $1200 in campaign funds to send letters to residents that attack the character of Council members. For example, she referred to the Council members as "good old boys."

Complaints Against City Staff: Mayor Broderson allegedly claimed that two staff members violated Muscatine's Code of Ethics for negative comments made on Facebook about her during their free time. For example, she was called an "asshat" by a city accountant. She also questioned the employment status of a retired city engineer who was hired as a temporary independent contractor while also drawing from his IPERS pension.

Mayor Broderson still hasn't testified on her own behalf. She will presumably have the chance defend herself on April 1st.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Federal Court Okays Lesbian Mother to Sue Liberty Counsel, Mat Staver, and Others for Role in International Kidnapping

It's been a very long time since I last wrote about the sad story of Lisa Miller, Janet Jenkins, their break-up, their decade-long child custody fight, and Miller's subsequent international kidnapping of the womens' daughter. Lisa fled to Nicaragua with their daughter Isabella in late 2009 after the Vermont and Virginia courts reached their final straws with Miller over her repeated disregard for shared custody agreements. Primary custody was to have transferred to Jenkins, but Miller fled the country with the assistance of others, including Pastor Kenneth Miller (who was sentenced to 27 months in prison for his role in the kidnapping) and Virginia businessman Philip Zodhiates (who faces eight years in prison for convictions of international parental kidnapping and conspiracy).

Yesterday, a federal court gave permission for Janet Jenkins to go ahead with a lawsuit against Lisa Miller and others who had conspired to assist with Isabella's 2009 kidnapping -- including Liberty Counsel, Liberty University, as well as Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen of Liberty Counsel:
This fall, Jenkins, represented by Sarah Star, Esq. as well as attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center and Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, asked the federal court in Vermont to lift the stay, and, in light of new evidence adduced through the criminal prosecutions, to permit them to name Liberty Counsel, Liberty University, as well as Liberty Counsel lawyers Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, as defendants. On Monday, the court issued a 61-page order granting that request and lifting the stay. 
“I’m pleased that the court today expressly confirmed that the kidnapping was an affront to our client’s rights not just as a mother, but also as a former member of a same-sex couple whose rights the Constitution protects,” said Sarah Star, Esq., who also served as Ms. Jenkins' attorney during the custody dispute. 
“The court acknowledged its obligation to protect those rights and to ensure that we can pursue Ms. Jenkins’ claims expeditiously, which we intend to do.” “The court has given the green light to a full exploration of Liberty Counsel’s role in the kidnapping of Isabella, as well as the role of the Liberty Counsel lawyers,” said David Dinielli, deputy legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We are pleased the court recognized that our allegations suggested ‘significant wrongdoing’ by these lawyers, including Mat Staver, and we will move swiftly to learn more about their wrongdoing and to hold everyone involved in the kidnapping to account.” 
According to the court document, Jenkins' team alleges that Miller conspired with Liberty Counsel to raise funds with the intent of keeping Isabella separated from Jenkins. After legal attempts to keep them apart failed, the legal team conspired to facilitate their run through Canada and eventually to Nicaragua. You can read the entire decision here.

Major Character to Die in Upcoming Issue of ARCHIE

Comic book readers are encouraged to check out ARCHIE #20 and #21. The story line will feature a drag race between Archie and Reggie -- and one major Archie Comics character won't survive!:
“Up until now, Archie and his pals have led fairly untroubled, normal lives. Suddenly, in one horrifying instant, that all changes when one of the kids looks death in the eye — and death doesn’t blink,” Archie writer Mark Waid tells EW in a statement. “Who will it be? All we can tell you is that you’ll be shocked — and that no one is safe.”
The race on Dead Man's Curve will happen in ARCHIE #20. And the identity of the dead character will be revealed in ARCHIE #21. It's unlikely that Archie will die -- not unless they've decided to pull the plug on this series(!!). That leaves Reggie, as he's the other driver.

On the other hand, it's likely that some poor innocent will become the unexpected victim on a high-speed vehicle. That opens things up quite a lot: Moose... Midge... Dilton... Jason... Cheryl... Jellybean... Mr. Weatherbee... Ms. Grundy... Mr. or Mrs. Andrews... Or even *whimper* my beloved Kevin Keller!

Which Archie Comics character do you think will die in ARCHIE #20 and #21? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I Finally Saw "Damned," the Social Work Britcom

I wrote last month about a British television series called "Damned," which featured a team of children's services social workers. There was a lot of interest for this program within the online social work community given some of the early publicity.

However, there was more negative than positive once the series made its premier. There were complaints about the cookie-cutter characters with little depth or originality. There were complaints that "Damned" failed to portray the social work profession with anything remotely resembling professionalism. And there were concerns that it was overwhelmingly dark and depressing.

At the time, I pushed back against the criticism. Keep in mind that I was unable to watch "Damned" because it wasn't airing outside of the UK. But I figured, based off the pre-publicity, that the creators approached the social work profession with good intentions, while also acknowledging our warts. I also figured that they needed to come up with storylines that would entertain the masses.

Last night, I was on Vimeo and stumbled across the program's pilot episode from 2014. I still haven't seen any of the episodes from season one, but I'm left agreeing with the social work critics of "Damned." I'm also wondering why they expected anything different from the first season, after having watched the pilot!

The first four minutes featured the office staff ignoring calls and people pounding at the door while they complained about how nobody would answer the calls. They even turn away a woman who's trying to access the restroom for her child.

We're then introduced to Rose (played by actress Jo Brand), who managed to lock herself out of her house -- with her three very young children left behind. Keep in mind that Rose is 60. At least the actress is. And it's possible that she adopted three very young children. But it's very difficult to imagine that she's the single mother of three children under the age of 5 or 6. Anyway, she's late for work and is struggling to connect by phone with her own mother. So she -- the child services social worker -- leaves her children behind with hopes that their grandmother will eventually show up.

Let's go through the other characters. There's Al (played by Alan Davies), who spends his day planning a skiing vacation, avoiding his former client, and covering for Rose's child neglect. There's Nitin (played by Himesh Patel), a former cop who constantly spars with Al over workplace rules and conduct. There is Denise (played by Georgie Glen), the cold uncaring supervisor who lords over each morning's unit meetings. There is Nat (played by Isy Suttie), the temporary receptionist who's portrayed as incompetent, but who was never provided any training in the first place. And then there is Martin (played by Kevin Eldon), the former co-worker who washed out because of a mental break-down, but who still manages to hang out in the office and take calls when nobody is looking.

Finally, after spending tons of time in the office avoiding phone calls, Rose goes off to investigate reports of young 6-year-olds selling weed at their elementary school. She rescues three kids from a home-based pot farm. But that scene pretty much lasts 1-2 minutes.

Anyway, the pilot ends with two sets of children being hauled into the office by police officers for parental abuse and neglect. Fortunately, Al is around to pull some strings so that Rose's kids don't go into foster care.

I'm still curious about the first season of "Damned" and hope that it will eventually find itself on Netflix or wherever. But I will also be content if that day never happens.

You can watch the pilot for "Damned" at this link.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Remembering the Gay Waiter in "Archie Bunker's Place" (Episode 8: "The Cook")

I was on YouTube again this afternoon and was reacquainted with "Archie Bunker's Place," one of the many spin-offs to "All in the Family." The show featured Archie Bunker after he purchased a tavern with his Jewish friend Murray. I didn't watch this program too much when I was a kid, so my memories of the characters are kind of muddled. But midway through Season One of "Archie Bunker's Place," Archie and Murray decided to improve business at the bar by expanding as a restaurant.

Archie Bunker's Place, the restaurant, had its grand opening in "The Cook." The guys were struggling to find a cook for the restaurant. Either they wanted too much money or else they were foreigners. Finally, Veronica Rooney entered the restaurant. She was outspoken and pushy and didn't put up with Archie's guff. She managed to get the job -- with the condition that they would also hire her nephew Fred at a wage of $125 per week plus tips.

It's clear early on that Fred is gay. He's flamboyant and that makes many of the regulars -- Archie Bunker included -- uncomfortable. Archie insists that they fire Fred at the end of his shift. Of course, Veronica is threatening to quit if that happens and Murray really wants to keep her as their cook.

(Jon's Note: Keep in mind that Fred served beer to Archie's young niece Stephanie early in the show. If he'd been smart, he would have made a bigger deal over that and less over Fred's homosexuality.)

Everything works out in the end. Fred maintains his employment and Archie (eventually) gains some appreciation for his gay employee -- later... in his final appearance later in the season.

Check out Fred -- as well as some casual racism -- at this link.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Beauty and the Beast" Comes Out on Top During Its Opening Weekend // Plus: LaFou's Exclusive Gay Moment Revealed

Despite calls of boycotts by Christian conservatives, Disney's live-action "Beauty and the Beast" movie has been best selling movie of its opening weekend, bringing in $64.1 million on its opening night and promising to bring in at least $173 million once the weekend is through.

As you know, people have been talking about LaFou's "exclusively gay moment" in "Beauty and the Beast" all month. I haven't seen the movie this weekend and I most likely won't get to see it. But I really want to know about this "exclusively gay moment."

So I googled around and found it out. It turns out that there are two moments. One builds into the other. Towards the end, Gaston leads the villagers in an attack against the Beast and his enchanted castle. During that battle, an animated wardrobe snags three of Gaston's men:
(A)n enchanted wardrobe attacks a trio of Gaston’s henchman, forcing them into powder, wigs, and dresses. Two are disgusted, but the third smiles — a sort of gender-bending moment.

Later on, as things are wrapping up and everyone is celebrating, LeFou starts dancing with some woman before turning his attention to the henchman who enjoyed getting dressed up in women's clothing by the wardrobe. LeFou and the Henchman then begin dancing together for one or two brief moments before returning to the larger "exclusively straight movie."

And that is what has gotten everybody so upset about this movie: two evil henchmen dancing for two seconds in a sea of straight couples.