Sunday, February 27, 2011

Most Iowans Support Gay Marriage or Don't Care

The Des Moines Register recently published an article regarding a poll on marriage equality here in Iowa. Turns out that it's pretty much a 3-way tie between the Nays, the Yays(!), and the Ehs(?) when it comes to legal marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples:
Asked whether they favored or opposed the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision that allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry in Iowa, 30 percent told the Iowa Poll they just don't care much one way or the other, while 37 percent opposed or strongly opposed the court ruling and 32 percent favored it or strongly favored it.

Poll results also revealed a double-digit ambivalence on two other questions related to same-sex marriage. Asked if the November vote not to retain three Iowa Supreme Court justices was good or bad for Iowa, 17 percent said they're not sure. And if there were a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, a quarter of those polled said they would not vote.
Regarding the first question, I find it really interesting that more than half of Iowans either favor or don't care about the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision that led to gay and lesbian couples marrying in this state.  Combined, that's roughly 63% vs. 37% who continue to oppose the decision.  And a sizable chunk of that 63% (nearly half of that number) really doesn't care one way or the other, but wants our government to move on to issues that do actually affect their lives.  Check this out:
Yet the voices heard less often are those of middle-grounders like Nick Palencsar, a 30-year-old Davenport man who is engaged to a woman and ambivalent on same-sex marriage. "It's not my issue, and I don't feel like my input is all that valid for that reason," Palencsar said. "Is that probably a cop-out? Yeah, absolutely. I'd have to sit down and really weigh all the pros and cons, but if I had to make choice, I'd probably vote against the ban."

Palencsar might be a perfect example of a large group of Iowans whose voices are often overshadowed on same-sex marriage issues. He has his MBA, but he's currently unemployed and worried about practical issues like the economy. He used to be a staunch Republican, but he now considers himself an independent because he believes the GOP has moved too far right on social issues and its core theme of fiscal restraint. He's a Christian, but he says a gay marriage ban would hurt a minority group.

"American politics has become so polarized - you're either very liberal or very conservative, and there's no middle ground for people like me," he said. "A lot of these politicians aren't listening to what is a fairly substantial moderate minority."
I understand that the "Don't Care" numbers can just as easily swing over to the "Oppose" side of the issue, but it's clear that there is a sizeable number of Iowans who really want government to move on from gays marrying and begin working at rebuilding our limping economy.

Before I go, I have a related update related to President Obama and the Department of Justice's recent announcement that they will no longer defend the DOMA law in federal court due to their belief that it is an unconstitutional law.  Not surprisingly, Iowa Representative Steve King is upset with that decision and has come up with a punishment for the President: Defund the DOJ:
“We have the authority to do a few things, and one of them is to control the budget. The resources that they would be using to defend the DOMA law in court are not necessary to appropriate to them. So with open rules on appropriations, that’s an opportunity to bring an amendment that will reduce their budget by an appropriate amount. To continue funding a Justice Department that defies their oath to the Constitution and refuses to enforce the laws of the U.S. is a terrible precedent to tolerate. So the first thing is to send a very strong message by cutting the funding to the Justice Department."

Religious Treatment of Non-Religious Marriages vs. Non-Religious Civil Unions

A couple weeks, I got caught up in a discussion on Andrew Marin's blog concerning a planned protest of the worship services of a Chicago-based Catholic Church by a GLBT group, which in turn was being counter-protested by a group of religious groups.  Turns out that the GLBT group was protesting the Catholic Church's (unsuccessful) efforts to use its influence to scuttle a civil union bill.

A reader named Samantha posted a comment in support of the Catholic Church's advocacy against the civil union bill:
The Catholic Church supports traditional marriage between a man and a woman because it promotes chastity. Sex is meant to to procreative and unitive and saved for the sanctity of marriage. When a homosexual couple engages in “sex”, it is not procreative because it is physically impossible and unnatural for two man to have a child (or two woman). The exception to this is a man and woman who are “barren”. The Church believes it is chaste for this couple to have sex because it is natural and they are still open to life. Of course, a man and man could never be open to life because they are missing an essential piece.

The Church is not “homophobic”. In fact, the Catechism states that “Men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies . . . must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” However, these men and women (like all men and women) need to be chaste according to their state.

The Church’s stance on chastity is the reason that it so strongly opposes the civil unions bill. Even those bill applies to those who are not homosexual, I believe that this is seen as supporting homosexual relations, which is unchaste. All are called to live chaste lives, and homosexual couples engaging in “sex” are not living out their call to chastity. It is disordered, just like sex outside of marriage and sodomy.

Why does the Church care so much about your sex life? Because sex is beautiful and powerful!!
Then Thursday or Friday this past week, I was listening to a call-in advice show on some Catholic radio station.  A woman called the host with a somewhat convoluted story.  Basically, she lived her life outside of the church for many, many years.  She married a couple times and neither husband was Catholic.  Her current husband is a lapsed Lutheran and has no interest in coming back to church or becoming Catholic.  However, the caller has come back to the Catholic Church is recent years and is extremely involved with the life, mission, and ministry of the Church.  That said, she was being told that she could not participate in any of the sacraments because technically she is living in sin.  Her husband refused to get married in the church because he thought it was a waste of time.  He thought it was a waste of time because the church leadership was requiring the two to undergo weeks of premarital counseling despite the fact that they had been legally married for 11 years and had kids.  The church was unwilling to bend and come up with a less intense, more realistic response; so the husband was unwilling to do anything; so the wife was excluded from the sacraments.

I guess I don't see why the Church is all over civil unions -- which have nothing to do with the Catholic Church's institutions, rites, or membership.  Meanwhile, the Church refuses to recognize or respect the sanctity of heterosexual marriages performed outside the Catholic Church's institutions, rites, or membership.  I don't see the Church throwing its money to influence laws and governmental policies related to non-Catholic heterosexual family units, such as divorce laws or laws related to remarriages.  I don't see the Church meddling with heterosexual marriages performed at court houses or non-Catholic Christian churches, or non-Christian houses of worship.  But the Church can't stop itself from meddling in legal relationships that have no substantive connection to any religion.

Samantha gladly supported the Catholic Church's interference with Illinois' recently passed civil unions law and cited the Catechism as an instructive tool for non-Catholic gay and lesbian people.  What am I missing here?  I'm not saying that there aren't gay and lesbian Catholics or that they shouldn't follow the rules of their religion, but I am saying that it is totally uncool that Catholics and others who adhere to conservative religious beliefs insist on holding others who don't to the rules of their institution.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nero at the Dog Park

No doggy daycare today, but we decided to go to the local dog park this afternoon and practice Nero's clicker training.  Turns out that responding to clickers is a lot easier at home than it is at the dog park.  That's said, D' and Nero had a fun time chasing after tennis balls.  Check it out:

Ms. Lion was there, too, but really struggled with the cold even though she was wearing her sweater.  I ended up carrying her around for most of the trip.

5 Comics That Aren't Films Yet... But Should Be! (Jon's Blog Edition)

Newsarama posted an article earlier today titled "10 Comics That Aren't Films Yet... But Should Be!".  They had many choices -- some had been cartoons already, a couple had been TV shows in the past, most of them were DC books or indies and one of them (Dr. Strange) actually had a really bad live action movie a few decades back --, but I think I have a much better list of 5 comics that should be made into films.

Pet Avengers: You knew I had to have it, and frankly it's a no-brainer that the world needs to see the greatest super-team I never knew I needed before Marvel created them adapted onto the big screen.  And the timing is perfect.  Marvel is pumping out everything Avengers-related these days (Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Avengers).  Adding the Pet Avengers to the film franchise would be the ultimate frosting to this fine batch of cinematic cake.  If I were to script it, I'd have Lockjaw, Frog Thor, and the rest join forces to defeat the Red Ghost or maybe Devil Dinosaur.

Marvel Zombies: Movie audiences love superhero battles and they love zombies.  I can't imagine a better dystopian posthuman apocalyptic storyline.  I think the viewers would eat up the scene where Zombie Spider-Man, er... eats up his wife and Aunt May.  Plus, it'd be fun to watch the Zombie Hulk tear Magneto to shreds.  I doubt I would do a straight adaptation of any of the "Marvel Zombies" mini-series, but I think you could come up with an extremely cool movie filled with the best of Marvel's zombies.

Manikin: Manikin is my favorite character from the Canadian Alpha Flight comic book series.  He's a doctor who can summon three genetic relatives from various points of human evolution: Proto (a globby goo-like character with super-corrosive powers), Ape-Man (or Lowbrow, as I like to call him, who is a super-strong caveman), and Highbrow (a futuristic super-smart man who can levitate and teleport).  Marvel never did a lot with Manikin, but I've got tons of fun ideas about what you could do with a man of his powers.  One idea I've always wondered: can his other selves someone the others to their timelines?  In other words, I'd experiment with time travel in adapting Manikin's tale for the Big Screen.

Camelot 3000: This was a pretty cool maxi-series published by DC Comics back in the early 80s.  In it, King Arthur and the rest of the Knight of the Round Table find themselves reincarnated in 3000 AD and placed in the position of fighting off an alien invasion.  Amidst the invasion and the battle for good and evil, you're also dealing with people who are struggling with ancient souls suddenly taking over their lives.  In one case, you have Sir Tristan struggling with his own reincarnated body (that of a woman), as well as his believes about gender roles and sexuality.  Much like The Watchmen, Camelot 3000 is self-contained and not encumbered by decades of baggage to weigh down its cinematic adaptation.

Milk & Cookies: I love this pair.  They're basically parodies of Marvel's Cloak & Dagger.  Cookies is a super-strong, super-gruff monster and Milk is a wonderfully sweet girl who fires lacteal energy.  I'm not exactly sure what I would do with this duo, but surely a cinematic world that once created a movie featuring Batman and Robin with huge nipply chest-plates can spare some creativity for one of Marvel Comics oddest creations.  Maybe they could re-work one of those old Hostess Comic Book Ads, except instead of invading aliens getting repulsed by twinkies, they could get repulsed by actual treat-like super-heroes.  Maybe...

What comic book character or storyline would YOU like to see made into a major motion picture?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Nero at Daycare -- 02/25/11

Nero wasn't nearly so uber-hyped today, though it looks like he still had a good time at doggy daycare.  Check it out:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Nero at Daycare -- 02/24/10

Nero was wound for sound today.  Good thing it was one of his doggy daycare days.  Check it out:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Iowa House GOPs to Recorders: "Stop Issuing Marriage Licenses to Gay Folks!"

Not sure why this should be a surprise.  Representatives Dwayne Alons, Kim Pearson, and the rest are obsessing over gay couples and our marriages yet again.  This time he's filed House File 330, which prohibits County Recorders from issuing any more marriage licenses to gay or lesbian couples (though he's probably okay with couples consisting of one gay man and one lesbian).  House File 330 is also mindful of our state's former DOMA law and the constitutional challenges that it failed to meet:
County recorders would be prohibited from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the Iowa Supreme Court would be unable to rule on the issue under a new bill sponsored by six conservative House Republicans. House File 330 specifically says that the Supreme Court shall not be able to prohibit or restrict the law if the bill were passed. Review of laws by the Supreme Court is one of the fundamental pieces of Iowa’s checks and balances system.

However, there is a provision in the Iowa Constitution (Article 5, Section 4) that allows lawmakers the ability to make laws that skip Supreme Court review, noted Drake Law Professor Ian Bartrum. “It’s technically probably constitutional but it’s a pretty rare and radical step and probably an ill-advised one,” said Bartrum. “I think this is a knee-jerk reaction. They say, we have this power and they don’t think about what this means to the outcome on the ground.”
Their plan is to prevent any more gay nuptials until Iowa's voters (eventually? possibly? maybe?) get to vote on a constitutional amendment that would, if passed, outlaw gay marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships.  I guess they're worried that voters might feel bad about destroying actual families if/when they go to the ballot box.  Or maybe they're worried that voters will see that Iowa continues to do fine, just as it did before April 2009 when gay couples started marrying in this state.

DOMA's Dead

Well, not really.  But the DOJ is no longer going to defend the federal Defense of Marriage act in court:
After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit. We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation. I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option. The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.

Furthermore, pursuant to the President's instructions, and upon further notification to Congress, I will instruct Department attorneys to advise courts in other pending DOMA litigation of the President's and my conclusions that a heightened standard should apply, that Section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard and that the Department will cease defense of Section 3.
Nothing's really changed except the DOJ's stated interest in defending what they view to be an indefensible law.  So one day, the Federal government will recognize my marriage just like the State of Iowa does and I'll be able to, for example, file federal taxes as a married man as opposed to a single man.  But that day's not today.  But it's a start.

No Snub for "Facts of Life" for Gay Co-Star After All

Do you remember the article I posted last week about Facts of Life regular Geri Jewell writing a book and coming out in the process and subsequently getting snubbed over her lesbianism by friend and co-star Lisa Whelchel?  Remember how I hoped that the story wasn't true, but how I also could see Whelchel responding in that manner?

Turns out the story I referenced was wrong and that Whelchel isn't going out of her away to snub Jewel.  In short, I was wrong.  According to Jewell:
"(T)hat’s a bold face lie, because I have not been in contact with her. She would never snub me." Geri says she came out to the devout Christian years ago and it did not affect their relationship. "She's been a wonderful friend; loving me unconditionally and we both value honesty. And I love her deeply. She’s always been a good friend," she says.

"Her faith does not embrace that [homosexuality]. That is fine. Actually, I respect her because she walks her talk. She’s entitled to believe what she wants to believe," Geri says. Geri adds she couldn't be snubbed, because the two haven't talked in years, "our lives have gone in different directions. That's what happens in life."
Once again, I was wrong and I apologize for spreading a false rumor.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"We Are One" Labor Rally in Des Moines

I've been feeling extremely guilty all day about not traveling to Des Moines to rally against HSB 117, which would drastically alter Iowa's collective bargaining rights.  I've been feeling so bad about it, I've even begun campaigning to return the state capital to Iowa City so that people like me can more easily lobby our state legislators.  I couldn't sleep last night, which eventually prompted me to send out letters to each member of the House's Labor Committee to add my electronic voice to those opposed to this overhaul of Iowa's labor movement.  Basically, I've been worried all day that nobody would actually show up to Des Moines except a bunch of screaming Tea Party activists. (It didn't help that my e-mail inbox apparently decided to stop sending incoming mail to me.  I've been cut off!!! -- though my e-mails are finally starting to filter into my inbox after stockpiling in some corner of the Internet all day.)

Turns out that Iowa's Unions and supporters showed up in force today.  I've seen anywhere from 800 to 1,000 Union supporters, compared to 100-120 Anti-Union Activists. 

If nothing else, this type of Legislative scrutiny of Iowa's collective bargaining laws stands to motivate and energize our Labor Movement.  It's been said that nothing brings people together better than a good enemy.  I've already had one of my co-workers tell me that she is going to sign up for our unit's union in direct reaction to the Legislature's attempt to overhaul our collective bargaining rights.  And that's after one day of rallying.  Branstad has declared that he is going to push ahead with his desire to radically change Iowa's bargaining laws.  He's particularly interested in striking health benefits as a permissible bargaining topic. 

If he keeps this up, we'll soon have 90% membership in our local union!  (There's always a couple hold outs.)

One last thing before I go.  I often hear about how public employees earn so much more than private sector employees.  Well, maybe not:
An assessment of wages and compensation in the public sector requires that we differentiate between levels of education, experience and occupation. More than half of the public-sector workers in Iowa have at least a four-year college degree or more; just a quarter of Iowa’s private-sector workforce has the same. When average earnings are compared by education level, private-sector workers generally fare better than their public-sector peers.

When education, work experience, annual hours worked, race, sex, disability status, and firm size are accounted for, male public-sector workers earn nearly 12 percent less and female public-sector workers earn over 16 percent less than private-sector workers. Male state government workers earn 9 percent less than comparable workers in private industry, while for local government the public-sector wage penalty was 14 percent. Among women, the earnings penalty was over 13 percent for state workers and 19 percent for local government workers.

Nero at Daycare -- 02/22/11

Nero was definitely in need of daycare play time today.  He looks pretty mellow in this pic, but he was vibrating today.  Check it out:

My Open Letter to the Iowa House Labor Committee regarding HSB 117 (Collective Bargaining Bill)

I woke an hour or so ago and can't get back to sleep, so I decided to spend some time writing to the Iowa House's Labor Committee regarding House Study Bill 117, which would drastically amend the state's collective bargaining laws.  The sub-committee is scheduled to meet over this issue later this afternoon:

Dear Iowa House Legislators:

I am extremely concerned about HSB 117, which -- if approved -- will severely restrict the ability of unions to collectively bargain for our employment rights. There are numerous aspects of this bill that upset me:

1. It eliminates our ability to negotiate with employers over insurance. If an employer wishes for union employees to contribute towards our insurance expenses or to renegotiate our coverage plan, the employer can use the collective bargaining process to work out a compromise with union employees. I know that my employer has negotiated with our union repeatedly over the years regarding the type of plan being offered to union employees, how much we pay for co-pays and deductibles, etc. This bill would allow for employers to arbitrarily alter insurance coverage without recourse, or even eliminate it for union employees. That type of unilateral power is not good for employees or our families.

2. It eliminates the ability of unions to bargain with employers about outsourcing or layoff procedures. Presumably, this would allow employers to fire full-time employees over temporary workers if desired. It also would make it so that seniority would no longer be used when prioritizing layoffs. In other words, union employees who've dedicated their lives to serving businesses or government agencies and who are most familiar with the ins and outs of that industry will no longer be rewarded for their longevity, knowledge, or loyalty.

3. I disagree with the establishment of "free agent employees". It basically eliminates the concept of "collective" bargaining. Outside of allowing individual employees to opt out of representation by unions, I'm curious if all free agent employees will negotiate their own individual contracts or if they will have a one-size fits all option, which is fully at the whim of the employer?

4. Lastly, I'm not a state employee, but I'm concerned about allowing the Iowa Legislature the ability to veto state contracts. In my mind, it further politicizes the collective bargaining process and sets up a situation where state employment contracts are essentially filibustered by certain legislators or parties. I can't see how that benefits those employed by the State of Iowa or the State of Iowa itself.

Do not gut Iowa's collective bargaining law. Please vote against HSB 117.

-Jon Trouten
Iowa City

Monday, February 21, 2011

Iowa's Capital Needs to Relocate back to Iowa City

Did you know that Iowa City was Iowa's capital for roughly 16 years during the mid-1850s?  Of course, this was back when we were a territory and not a state.  It originally started in Burlington, but they wanted something more centralized, so Iowa City was created as the Iowa Territory's new capital.  All was good until we began working on our statehood and decided we needed something even more centralized.  There was some sort of contest or lottery or something and Des Moines ended up becoming the capital of the the State of Iowa.  I believe it's even written into our state constitution.

But here's the rub...  There are all sorts of things going at at the state capital that I really need to go to, including tomorrow's Labor Rally and the various Marriage Equality lobbying efforts.  The problem is that I can't get away.  I can't get away for the day from work.  I can't get away from the kids.  I can't get away from the dogs or my other time obligations.  I just can't get away.  At least not for the day.  But I can get away for a few hours at a time.

Which is why it would be nice if they would start the process of shifting the capital back to Iowa City.

Not that it's all for me.  I mean, the recent Census showed that most of Iowa's counties showed little if any growth during the past decade and those that have shown the most growth are those in the urban corners of the state -- including and especially Johnson and Linn Counties.  So there's probably lots of Iowans in these counties who would like to take off a few hours from work or home to lobby their legislators, but who can't get away for the entire day.

So the campaign begins here.  The FAMiLY LEADER and NOM and other similar groups can spend all their time and money lobbying to amend our constitution to restrict the definition of marriage in this state.  I'm going to try stealing some of that time and momentum and shake up the constitution so that our state government is forced to relocate their offices to Iowa's Corridor.

By the Numbers

6 -- Questions posed to Iowa City native, University of Iowa student, and marriage equality advocate Zach Wahls by Campus Progress about his absolutely stellar (and viral) speech to the Iowa State House speaking out for his two mothers and against a proposed constitutional amendment, which if approved will outlaw gay families.  Among those questions are:  What reactions he's received and why does he think it went viral?  What kinds of activism has he engaged in in the past?  What does his peers think about this subject?  What does he think about social studies that show that kids do better in lesbian-headed households?  Do you think Iowa will overcome efforts to ban gay families?  What other protections would service gay families?  Here is what Zach thinks about the prospects for Iowans outlawing gay marriage:
I'm really optimistic. Like I mentioned earlier, our generation is incredibly accepting. So, even though there's still a chance HJR6 [The Iowa Marriage Amendment, which amends the Iowa constitution to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman] could become the law of the land in Iowa, give it twenty or thirty years and I am supremely confident that the validity of same-sex marriage will be recognized by law.
45 -- Percentage of Iowans (give or take 3.5%) who think approvingly of Governor Terry Branstad's so far as governor.  According to the same poll, 62% of Republicans are mostly skeptical that he can accomplish his five-year job target and 72% of them doubt he can raise Iowan incomes by 25%.  Meanwhile, he's moaning about "personal attacks" from those who criticize Branstad of double-dipping with his wage as governor and his pension from his previous years as Iowa's governor.  Iowa state workers have been criticized in recent weeks by Branstad and GOP leaders for doing the same thing (pulling off their IPERS pensions for retiring early while simultaneously pulling work wages for doing unfilled jobs as reduced salaries).  I'm not saying that it's good for the state workers to be double-dipping.  I'm just saying that the governor should be consistent with his criticism.

117  --  The House Study Bill being proposed that would radically alter Iowa's collective bargaining laws, taking away the rights of unions to bargain over insurance.  This means that the state could pull all of our insurance at any time without recourse, could jack up our co-pays at any time, and could change what type of coverage we have at any time without recourse.  It would drastically change how we go to arbitration.  It would make it way easier for our jobs to be outsourced.  There's a lot more to it, but the various labor groups are going to be marching on Des Moines tomorrow at 1:00 PM.  I'm trying to figure out how I can make it work.  Hopefully I'll see many other supporters out there.

$150 -- Amount of cash it costs to purchase a container of authenticated brimstone collected from the destroyed cities of Sodom &/or Gomorrah.  Have you ever struggled to purchase a Christmas or birthday gift for somebody?  This unique item could solve all your worries.  Just remember: all sales are final!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

From Good Neighbor to Good Citizen

I've written before that I attend Faith United Church of Christ here in Iowa.  It's a small church with a longstanding tradition of what we called "shared ministry".  In a nutshell, shared ministry means that everyone ministers to each other.  We don't have the luxury of a full-time minister, nor do we have a ministerial team or anything like that.  Members are strongly encouraged to use our gifts to support our church and our ministry.  That includes everything from Church Council to volunteering as Sunday School teacher to leading a book study group to mowing the lawn to organizing a Christmas fundraising event.  Oh, and one of our members leads or organizes church worship once monthly.  It so happens that Mark and I were in charge of organzing Sunday worship this weekend.

We split the duties.  Mark provided the sermon and chose some special music for the service (Turn! Turn! Turn!) and I organized the bulletin, prepared the prayers and hymns, and led the children's message.

I decided to do something different with the children's message.  Instead of me teaching the kids something, I decided to have the kids provide the message for the adults.  I asked D'Angelo to pick a Bible story that he likes and told him that we'll be offering a short play on that subject.  He chose the parable of the "Good Samaritan".  Instead of doing a straight reenactment of the Good Samaritan story, I decided to adapt "The Good Neighbor" from the old Davey and Goliath series.  D'Angelo played the part of Davey, Leslie played the part of his friend Jimmy, Mark was the narration, a church member named Pam Z. graciously played the part of little Mary, and I played the rest of the adult roles (Mayor, Mr. Lotts, and Dad).  I toyed with bringing Nero to play the roll of Goliath, but ultimately decided that this would be too much.

Here's the storyline, adapted from the TV show: Davey and his friends learn that it's "Good Neighbor Week" in their town and they are encouraged to become good neighbors.  They help out one of their injured neighbors with his raking and even get paid for their efforts.  Davey decides that it pays to be a good neighbor, especially when you get paid.  His dad reminds him that God said that everyone is our neighbor, even those we don't know and especially those who need our help.  The kids then go to the park to receive free "Good Neighbor" balloons from the mayor.  A little girl named Mary falls and hurts herself.  All of Davey's friends leave her behind so that they can get their balloons, but Davey stops and helps her home, even though it means he'll miss out on his balloons.  He ultimately discovers that helping Mary get home was a lot more satisfying than getting a balloon.  We all then sang "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God".  It was a amateurish hodge podge and definitely showed, but it was a lot of fun to do and everyone said they enjoyed it.

Fastforward a few hours, Nero graduated for a second time from Good Citizenship Class.  We enrolled in the class last fall, but he was pretty wild and I decided he needed more work.  We began his second class shortly after Christmas.  It was a challenging class.  Several of the dogs, including Nero, were either aggressive or hyperactive.  It was tough -- but certainly not impossible -- to keep Nero focused on me instead of the other dogs.  The more difficult night was our Agility class.  Not only did we have to focus on the various obstacles, but I had to be constantly aware of how close Nero was to certain dogs and position myself so that they weren't looking at each other.  It was extremely frustrating, but we survived.

Difficulties aside, Nero quickly learned all of the commands that were taught in the class and I was able to pick up some tips for addressing some of his challenging behaviors in the community.  Also, got the idea for clicker training Nero at home and found that he picked up on that training pretty fast, too.  We've mainly worked on getting him to come to me right away when he hears the clicker.  We've only done it at home and walking around the neighborhood.  I've got him to stop chasing the cat several times using it.  The challenge will be seeing if he comes to me when misbehaving at the dog park.  Little steps, I guess.

Anyway, he's now a two-time good citizen and has the certificate to prove it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ms. Lion NOT at Daycare -- 02/19/11

I often share images of Nero running around his doggie daycare, thanks to the generous blog of daily events that he sometimes shows up on.  I send Nero to daycare because he's big, young, and full of excess energy that's difficult for me to reduce during these winter months.  On the other hand, our peke Ms. Lion is much smaller, much older, much less social, and has much less energy than Nero so she doesn't go to daycare.  So I don't have as many brag pics to share here on the blog.  Which makes me feel a tad bit guilty at times...

We were hanging out watching Primeval and Being Human tonight on BBC America and I happened to have my phone handy, so I decided to take a few grainy pics of my peke.  She wasn't terribly pleased with the attention, but that's never stopped me before.  Check it out!:

Thoughts on "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son"

The boys and I finally found time for an afternoon at the movie theater.  It seemed like D' and I were seeing a different movie every weekend for a while there and then a combination of fewer movies and other schedule gobblers conspired to keep us away from the Silver Screen.  We reviewed our choices -- and believe me, there weren't a lot of choices -- and decided to watch "Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son".  I didn't even realize that they were making another Big Momma movie until I saw it in the movie guys.  But, here it is.  FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (played again by comedian Martin Lawrence) must once again assume his "Big Momma" persona in order to save his 17-year-old stepson Trent (played by 27-year-old Brandon T. Jackson) from a mob hit.  Pretty soon, both men are pretending to be women and snooping for clues.

The boys loved this movie.  It was filled with lots of juvenile humor, car chases, and gun fights.  I thought that the movie got bogged down by a romantic sub-plot between Trent and one of the girls from the all-girls school, where most of this movie took place.  Trent and Haley's music date dragged on way too long for my tastes.  Then again, D' loved it.  I mean, he really loved it.  He told me that it was the best movie he's seen all year.  So maybe I'm just slipping further down that generational divide and can't be expected to get it anymore.

Best (and Only) Preview: "Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules".  I was a fan of the first movie and it's based off one of D'Angelo's favorite book series.  It looks funny.  There's no way we'll be missing this flick.

Friday, February 18, 2011

BVP: Wrestling Is Between 1 Boy, 1 Girl

File this one directly under "It's says so on the Internet, so it must be true".

Iowa has experienced a mild controversy this past week as two girls competed in a state wrestling meet for the first time in Iowa history.  One girl's opponent forfeited his match after failing to wrestle his female opponent, citing religious objections.  I'm not a wrestling fan, so I've really only passively paid attention to the whole controversy...  Until tonight. 

Assuming that this story is at all accurate, the FAMiLY LEADER's head spokesman Bob Vander Plaats has made a bold new proposal that, if approved, will change the face of wrestling in the state of Iowa forever:
Vander Plaats: Wrestling Is Between 1 Boy, 1 Girl

Three time gubernatorial primary loser Bob Vander Plaats proposed a constitutional amendment to define high school wrestling in Iowa as between one boy and one girl. Vander Plaats made his remarks outside Wells Fargo Arena yesterday.

The thought of two boys wrestling each other is an abomination,” said the CEO of the conservative political action committee, Family Leader. “God wants a wrestling match between Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve...”

The self-appointed moral compass of Iowa fears that if boys are allowed to continue wrestling other boys it would become a slippery slope. “Pretty soon you’ll see somebody wrestling an animal… or refrigerator… or a ball point pen… or even a laptop computer,” Vander Plaats pointed out. “Where does it end?”
You know how the adage goes.  First they came for the married gays, but I didn't say anything because I wasn't a married gay.  Then they came for the judges, but I didn't speak up because I'm not a judge.  Then they came for the high school wrestlers, but I still kept my mouth shut because I look awful in a wrestling singlet.  By the time they actually did come for me, there were no married gays, judges, or wrestlers left to speak up for me.  Or something like that.

Anyway, thank you yet again Snarky Hawk for your excellent coverage of statewide sporting news!

Nero at Daycare -- 02/18/11

Nero certainly mugged for the camera a lot today at Lucky Pawz dog daycare.  Check it out:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nero at Daycare -- 02/17/11

Nero was chasing the crowd today at doggie daycare.  Check it out:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Breastfeeding Prevents Obesity; Promotes Nanny State

First Lady Michelle Obama continues to promote her "Let's Move" anti-obesity effort here in the States.  Recently, she began speaking out in favor of breastfeeding, pointing out to data that asserts that breastfeeding children longer actually reduces the likelihood that children will become fat.  It turns out that America's level of breastfeeding is actually pretty high.  Roughly 75% of American mothers breastfeed.  However, only about 40% of African-American babies are being breastfed, so First Lady Obama has apparently been targeting her message to that segment of our population.  As you can imagine, American conservatives are seeing red. Case in point:
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) lashed out at First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday over her promotion of breastfeeding, particularly among black women, to curb obesity. On Laura Ingraham’s radio show, Bachmann said that Obama’s campaign — and an IRS change that makes breast pumps tax deductible — constituted a “nanny state” and that it was part of her “hard left agenda...”

The First Lady wants to encourage employers to be more open to women who are breastfeeding. The IRS also announced on Tuesday that breast pumps are now considered as a tax deductible expense for Flex Spending Accounts along with other over-the-counter medical items such as pain relievers, bandages and contact lens supplies.

But, on Ingraham’s show, Bachmann was having none of it. “I think this is very consistent with where the hard left is coming from. For them government is the answer to every problem. Clearly they are wrong because more spending won’t do it,” said Bachmann, who will return to Iowa on April 11 to take part in The Family Leader‘s “Presidential Lecture Series.”

Bachmann continued, “I’ve given birth to five babies and I breastfed every single one of these babies. To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies. You wanna talk about the nanny state? I think we just got the new definition of a nanny.”
Frankly, I have no clue what Bachmann is smoking here.  Flex spending accounts allow employees to set aside a certain amount of their annual pre-tax dollars and use those funds to purchase certain approved medical supplies.  I used much of my own flex spending account last year to purchase a new pair of eye glasses for my son.  I had no idea that I was being duped into falling for yet another liberal government spending scheme.

Then again, I think Bachmann is being purposely obtuse here.  It's downright deceitful for her to assert that the government is purchasing breast pumps for America's new working mother when they use their flex spending accounts to acquire these devises.  Where was Bachmann's concern over flex spending accounts in those pre-breast pump days?

Nero at Daycare -- 02/15/11

Nero was full of energy yesterday at his daycare program.  Check it out:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Alpha Flight Series in the Works! (and other comic book news)

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge fan of the Pet Avengers, the greatest super-team I never knew I needed until Marvel created them.  What's not quite well publicly established is my excitement of another of Marvel's super-teams, Alpha Flight!  Alpha Flight is Canada's premier super-team.  They're kind of the misfit lovechild of the X-Men and the Avengers.  When the team is smoking, they're smoking.  And then there are times when some not-so-good creative teams fiddle around with the concept too much and it falls a bit flat.  But I'm a big fan of the team in most of its incarnations.

Last month, I wrote about the team's permanent resurrection at the end of Marvel's Chaos War mini-series.  Several Flight fans were left wondering what would happen with our Canadian heroes and speculating that Marvel must have some reason for bringing the team back from the dead.  Turns out we were right!  Alpha Flight is coming back for an eight-issue mini-series, staring this June!

According to the writer, the team won't have much time to rest following their resurrection.  The Canadian government will become an increasingly fascist state as part of an upcoming cross-over storyline titled "Fear Itself".  I don't know much about the cross-over outside the fact that some God of Fear is going to come to Earth and upset the natives.  Beyond that, I'm clueless.  For whatever reason, the eight original Alphans (and apparently fan-favorite Puck) will find themselves chased around by the Canadian government. 

Don't expect too many elements of the later Alpha Flight years.  Co-writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente have said that they will focus pretty much exclusively on the team's early years.  That means, some of my favorite add ons like Manikin, Jade Dragon, Yukon Jack, Box and Purple Girl will be absent.  Of course, that also means that some of my least favorite add ons like Wyre, Murmur, USAgent, and Groundhog will also be absent, so I can live with this creative decision.

Speaking of comics, have you seen the images of the formerly Fantastic Four's new team and new costumes?  After the Human Torch's death, the Fantastic Four disbanded and have now started a new team called the Future Foundation.  The Future Foundation isn't exactly brand new.  Reed Richards (AKA Mister Fantastic) started up the new FF as a forum to mold Earth's future scientific minds.  In other words, it's the ultimate charter school filled with bunches of super-smart kids.  Oh, and Spider-Man has joined up.  I guess if the Thing can split his time between the FF and the New Avengers, so can Spidey.  I'm not completely sold on the new costumes, but I'm not panning them either.  I've already seen that some artists can really make them work, while some artists really can't.

Anyway, I'm a total sucker of comic book hype, so I'm already planning on pulling the new FF book.  If only for one possible reason...

Check out that team picture.  See the rocky guy holding the little girl?  See the birds?  Who are those birds?  What are those birds?  Are they super-smark parrots?  Are they cyborgs?  Could they be... new Pet Avengers recruits?  One can imagine all sorts of possibilities... 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"Facts of Life" Snub for Gay Co-Star // Updated Correction!!!

Earlier today, I learned of a really sad situation.  During the past couple weeks, it was announced that Geri Jewell -- comedian and former Facts of Life semi-regular -- was releasing her own memoir and revealing, among other things, that she is a lesbian.  I read a sad blog article about the National Enquirer's report that former co-star, long-time friend, and born-again Christian Lisa Whelchel (AKA Blair) is now snubbing Geri:
Geri and Lisa's friendship goes back decades, and Geri tried to get in touch with Lisa to tip her off ahead of time about the gay revelation, but Lisa didn't respond. She's avoiding Geri's e-mails and calls, and telling mutual friends that Geri's lifestyle choices aren't in line with her value system.
I am totally hoping that this is one of those faked celebrity stories and only a teeny-tiny kernel of truth, but I can't help but believe that this situation is mostly true.

True (and slightly pathetic) confession time: I am a total Facts of Life fanboy.  I used to fantasize about transferring to Eastland boarding school and becoming their first male student -- not so I could be surrounded by countless potential girlfriends, but because I really liked Natalie, Tootie, Mrs. Garrett, and the rest of the gang.  Interestingly, Blair eventually bought Eastland at the end of the series and -- in an attempt to prevent the school from closing -- opened the doors to male students.  I've watched every episode of the program numerous times and I've seen every Facts of Life movie special and reunion special.

Whelchel's religious beliefs are well known.  She skipped out on the episode when Natalie lost her virginity because the issue of premarital sex violated her beliefs.  I get that.  But she came back and she continued interacting with her co-stars and has presumably continued to interact with her former co-stars even though they have presumably done things in their lives that violate Whelchel's religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, I find it believable that Whelchell would turn her back on Jewell for coming out as a lesbian, though I hope it isn't true.  Maybe there are other "lifestyle" choices in Jewell's life that also violate Whelchel's value system.  It's sometimes too easy to focus on lesbianism.  But assuming it's true that the lesbianism is the forbidden issue, there are better ways that Whelchel could have communicated her disapproval to Jewell without totally cutting her off without violating her Christian beliefs (and God forgive me from linking to a NARTH ally like Debbie Thurman, but at least her list of 10 do's and don't's fall within Whelchel's belief system):
Do ...
• Get to know one or more gay-identified people in your neighborhood, workplace, school or church. Show them kindness and Christian love in action (Galatians 5:13-14).
• Tone down angry, hurtful rhetoric and pointed preaching aimed at the gay community. Patiently, prayerfully allow God’s Word to soak into the prodigal’s conscience. God must do the convicting of another’s spirit (Hebrews 4:12).
• Love prodigal gay/lesbian family members and friends unconditionally, just as Christ has loved you. Love never condones sin, but also refuses to condemn. Leave the possibility of repentance and change in God’s hands (1 Corinthians 13:6-7).
• Pray “without ceasing” for God’s truth and grace to have their way in the gay community and in our churches. Stand on the authority of all Scripture, which shows us both the depths of our sinfulness and the hope of reconciliation through Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:17-21).
• Speak and live as a responsible citizen of both “the city of man” and “the city of God.” Be compassionate and gentle, but unwavering in your hope and faith (1 Peter 3:15).

Don’t ...
• Rely on idle gossip or simplified “factoids” based in science, philosophy or religion. The complexities of homosexuality can scarcely be captured in a few pithy sound bites. Read, listen, think and pray before speaking (Proverbs 10:18-19).
• Acquiesce to either hypocrisy or pride. Homosexuality is not at the top of the sin hierarchy. Neither is it God’s mysterious gift to a select few (Luke 6:41).
• Turn a cold shoulder to a friend who may be struggling with same-sex attraction or says he is gay. Listen! Love! Pray! Be a friend and a discipler, but not a minor providence. God’s wounds are faithful, and He must have His way in another’s life (Proverbs 17:17;
Philippians 2:13).
• Attempt to force or guilt a gay person or struggler into changing. Simply offer “Christ and him crucified,” even if the gospel is rejected. It speaks volumes of gracious truth and hope to all sinners — and we are all sinners (Romans 5:1-6).
• Wait for the culture to “work it out.” Refuse to give in to frustration or weariness. Be a person both of prayer and of action, a hearer and a doer of the Word (James 1:22).
In other words, don't give up on the relationship.  Come up with a way to stay together even when you both disagree.

Edited to Add: Please read my follow-up article addressing this question. In it, Geri Jewell refutes the National Enquirer's story. As I noted in the follow-up article, I was wrong and I apologize for helping to spread a false rumor.

Date Day (or what I did with my husband on St. Valentine's Eve)

Mark and I don't often get to go out for date nights (or dates period), what with the boys and work and other obligations.  Last week, I learned that the Iowa City Community Theater was planning its own version of And Then There Were None, originally written by Agatha Christie.  I think I've written before that we're fans of murder mysteries, so it seemed like a perfect activity for the two of us:
The story takes place in 1944, on an island off Devon in Southwest England. An interesting assortment of people with different backgrounds receive an invitation from an anonymous source to spend the weekend at the luxurious mansion. As each guest arrives, they gather around at dinner to realize that each has no idea why they have been invited, or who invited them. They become even more suspicious when they realize that a storm is on its way and any chance of leaving the island has been completely dashed. With no telephone or source of communication with the outside world, the apprehensions begin to rise when the guests realize that they were invited to this mansion to die. As the bodies begin to pile up, the tension between the guests grows, making them paranoid and painfully nervous, asking the obvious question: Who done it? This two act play will leave the audience gripping the edge of their seats along with the characters, wondering what will happen next.

(Director Patti) Mott believes she has a cast of extraordinary talent. She enthusiastically describes them as “kind of a dream to get a wonderful cast and crew of people that mold together so beautifully.” The cast includes Iowa City theatre veterans Gerry Roe, Richard Paulus, Caroline Oster, Nelson Gurll, David Priebe, John Crosheck, Susan Manuel and Matthew Falduto. Newcomers Josh Megget and Tracey Schoenle round out the cast.
Then I started hitting roadblocks and it didn't look like we'd actually get to see it due to a bunch of work and familial conflicts.  Fortunately, there ended up being one showing that worked with Mark's schedule and we were able to find someone to entertain the boys during the show.

It was a pretty fun performance and ICCT kept true to the source material.  It was a great mix of actors and actresses and I can't think of any one of them that fell down on the job.  In other word, money well spent.

During the show, I got to thinking about one of my favorite takes on this story: Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends' "7 Little Superheroes".  In it, the Chameleon successfully traps Spider-Man, Iceman, Firestar, Captain America, Shanna the She-Devil, Doctor Strange, and the Sub-Mariner.  He very nearly conquered our heroes for good.  However, the day was saved by Ms. Lion of the Pet Avengers!  Needless to say, this has always been my favorite episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.  You can check it out here:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Voices of Iowa's Disabled

This 12-minute video was created this past October featuring the voices of various Johnson and Linn County residents who receive mental health and disabilities services, as well as parents of children and adults who also receive those same services.  Some are funded through the county and some are funded through the state's Medicaid Home & Community Based Services funds.  Copies of this video are being sent to all of our state's legislators.  The intent is to provide a human face to our legislature.  It's easy to talk about trimming this budget and cutting back on that one when you're looking at a series of budget line-items.  It's also meant to urge the state to refrain from pulling the administration of these services from the counties to the state.

One exciting element to this video for me was recognizing one of my fellow church members, Sherry G., in this video (starting at around the 5:37 minute mark). Sherry never fails to impress me with her positive, grateful, and giving perspective on life. It was a joy to see her involved with this effort.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Nero at Daycare -- 02/10/11

Nero looked extremely busy yesterday at Lucky Pawz.  Lots of running around with the pack:

He then stopped to mess around with a boxer (he's totally obsessed with boxers -- I have no idea why, but it's always a bad day at the dog park when there are boxers around...):

And then one last pose for the camera before coming home: