Monday, March 31, 2014

Thousands Upon Thousands of Chickens Killed in Iowa Fire

There was a fire yesterday in Galt, Iowa, at an egg farm. No farm employees were injured in the fire but the chickens themselves did not escape unscathed:
Centrum Valley Farms Chief Operating Officer Steve Boomsma said in a release that the fire began in a barn where about 75,000 hens were housed. Boomsma said that in addition to that loss, smoke from the fire resulted in the loss of a flock of 75,000 hens in an adjacent barn.
It's unclear what caused the fire.

150,000 hens... Can you imagine 150,000 hens being crammed into two buildings? It boggles my mind.

 It makes you seriously consider going the urban chicken route...

Nero & Jonniemae Trouten Perform!

Stuffed Animal continues to create new artwork featuring the adult versions of the Archies -- as well as several of their friends. Check out this new cover image featuring Josie & the Pussycats, the Archies... and Nero!:

Nero has been making frequent appearances in Stuffed Animal's work for several months, but my drag persona Jonniemae Trouten is still relatively new. Looks like Jonniemae and Nero have finally recorded their own single. Check this out:

Stuffed Animal was curious what Jonniemae would look like as a red-head. I'm not sold. I was thinking black hair with red streaks, but Husband Mark thought that blue streaks might be even better! Thanks S.A.!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Child Sponsorship Alternative -- Global Ministries

If you are like me, you became frustrated and disheartened last week by events surrounding World Vision USA (here and here). Might I suggest a more inclusive alternative?

Global Ministries program is a faith-based organization ministry that works both nationally and globally doing mission work and providing assistance for those in need. It is a joint ministry of the United Church of Christ and of the Disciples of Christ. You can read through a whole assortment of ways that Global Ministries helps out.

One of those ministries is a Child Sponsorship program. Global Ministries' Child Sponsorship program provides food, basic health care, clothing and in some cases housing, school fees, uniform, books and training and livelihood opportunities to impoverished children in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Europe.

Anyone (individuals, churches, organizations, whomever) can help out. Child Sponsorships costs $25-30 per month. There is no administrative fee associated with Child Sponsorships.

New sponsors will receive a photo and biography for their assigned child. Sponsors are encouraged to write to their assigned children and to learn more about each others' lives.

My church sponsored one Palestinian girl for several years. We were just assigned to a new boy from Palestine named Mahar. In addition to regular sponsorship costs, we also raise additional funds to pay for Christmas and birthday gifts for our kids.

And Global Ministries doesn't discriminate against any of its ministry employees because of sexual orientation or marital status of gay employees.

You can learn more about Global Ministries' Child Sponsorship program here.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

DC Comics Introduces Cree Teen Hero Named Equinox!

Last fall, we learned that DC Comics would be canceling JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and recreating the team and the book itself as JUSTICE LEAGUE CANADA. What was left of the team was going to move its headquarters to Northern Ontario and they were going to be joined by a new Canadian incarnation of Adam Strange, as well as a brand-new Canadian teen hero.

Since then, the new comic book has been renamed JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED. We have learned that the team will consist of Animal Man, Green Arrow, Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, Stargirl, And Supergirl, as well as the previously mentioned Adam Strange. They were being pretty cagey about the identity of the new Canadian teen hero, but that finally got released late last week.

Her name is Equinox and she is a Cree super teen:
Code-named Equinox, Miiyahbin is a 16-year-old from Moose Factory, Ontario, whose power comes from the Earth and changes with the seasons. As revealed in October, the character is inspired in part by Shannen Koostachin, a teenage activist who lobbied the federal government for a new school in Attawapiskat First Nation, on the James Bay Coast. Koostachin died in a car accident in 2010 at the age of 15.
Series creator Jeff Lemire has so far not clarified how exactly her Earth-based powers will manifest or change. Sunny in summer and snowy in the winter? Maybe.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

It's a Hung Jury in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #13!

I just finished GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, which is the 6th chapter of "The Trial of Jean Grey" storyline crossing over within this title and ALL NEW X-MEN. It's a complicated premise if you don't know the characters. But here goes:

The Guardians are a bunch of alien defenders who've recently taken to protecting Earth from alien menaces. The All New X-Men are the original X-Men who got plucked from their earliest days and now find themselves stuck in the present -- accompanied by Kitty Pryde and X-23 (AKA Wolverine's female clone -- Don't ask!) A powerful alien empire kidnapped young Jean Grey from the past because old/dead Jean Grey from the present got possessed by the Phoenix Force back in the 1980s, blew up a sun, and killed several billion members of that alien empire. They planned to try young Jean Grey for her future crimes. The Guardians team up with the X-Men and then meet up with some space pirates called the Starjammers and travel across the galaxy to represent Jean at her kangaroo court!

Still confused? Don't be. Just pick up the book and run with it. You'll catch up pretty quickly.

Even though this particular issue was GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, there were several interesting developments involving the All New X-Men:

*Jean Grey's Powers: This trial opened up a whole lot of hate in Jean Grey. Supposedly she manifests a brand-new power. It used to be that she had telepathy and telekinesis. Now she somehow joins her telepathy and her telekinesis together and lashes out at others. Frankly, that's how I always thought her powers worked. The important thing now is that she turns pink when she uses her psionic powers:

But she needs a code-name. I'm sick of all the guys getting code-names and the girls going with their real names. If Marvel Girl or Marvel Woman doesn't cut it anymore, how about Ener-Jean? On second thought...

*Cyclops in Space!: Young Cyclops learned one or two issues ago that his father wasn't killed during his youth, but instead was kidnapped by aliens and transformed into the space-pirate Corsair. He makes the decision in this issue to leave the X-Men and join the Starjammers! This would be a major spoiler except that Marvel Comics already spoiled that spoiler last month when they announced a new CYCLOPS series featuring Young Cyclops and Corsair:

*I love Rocket Raccoon!: One of the more infamous members of the Guardians of the Galaxy is Rocket Raccoon. He'll be featured in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Nothing new really happened with him in this issue, but he's still pretty awesome. As usual:

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #13 is written by Brian Michael Bendis and penciled by Sara Pichelli & David Marquez.

Nero at Daycare -- 03/27/14... And Performing with Kevin Keller!!

After a few sick days and a short travel vacation, Nero finally got to return to doggy daycare this afternoon! Fortunately, it didn't start raining until I picked him up:

Not only that, but my friend Stuffed Animal has continued showing me his artistic renderings of the Archies. Who knew when I started this blog five years ago that Nero would become such an integral force within the Archies?? Check out that Kevin Keller single!! Or is it a duet??

Thanks again, Stuffed Animal!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Bar Rescue" Goes to Council Bluffs, IA, Tonight! // Updated on 03/25/14 to Include Episode Summary!

(Originally written on 03/23/14): I've watched Spike TV's "Bar Rescue" program fairly regularly for a couple years. I almost never get the chance to watch it when it first airs, but it reruns pretty much all day every Sunday so it's not difficult to get caught up quickly on the episodes. It follows Jon Taffer and his crew as they travel the country and fix up struggling bars. My son originally got me hooked on the program, but he's since fallen away from the show. I like it, but it's definitely evolved from an entertaining reality show that uses "bar science" to upgrade struggling bars to an entertaining reality show that seems to look for train wreck situations to exploit. That's just the way it seems to me (and it seems to bear out after listening to interviews with some of the show's recent guest bar owners on "Afterbuzz TV"). But I still enjoy the train wrecks.

I bring up Bar Rescue for two reasons. First, the show will visit its first Iowa-based bar later tonight. That's right. Taffer has visited Illinois and Nebraska and Missouri and Kansas, but it's never made an appearance before now in Iowa. Tonight's episode of Bar Rescue will feature O'Face Bar in Council Bluffs, IA.

I've never been to O'Face Bar, but I have been to Council Bluffs several times. Usually, I'm just passing through on my way to Nebraska. I also managed to blow out a tire on my car once in Council Bluffs. That was a real drag and probably not a good story to share here on my blog.

Secondly, tonight's episode of Bar Rescue will feature the first bar that Jon Taffer walked out on. It feels like this should be a major spoiler, but everyone associated with the program has been promoting the heck out of that angle so why should I bother being cagey about it? As a result, O'Face Bar goes without getting any type of a facelift.

I'm going to do my best to show my support for Iowa and watch Bar Rescue. Unfortunately, it competes with Walking Dead and this household doesn't have a DVR! But you can watch the program tonight at 8 PM CST on Spike TV.

Updated on 03/25/14: I finally caught the entire episode of Bar Rescue visiting Council Bluffs, IA (AKA "Punch-Drunk & Trailer-Trashed"). Husband Mark and I watched the first half-hour together back when it first ran Sunday night. Then I got called into work and missed the second half of the show -- until earlier this afternoon! And what an episode it was!

Here is the nutshell: Jon Taffer and his production crew visit O'Face Bar in Council Bluffs. The staff spend most of their time ignoring customers and taking shots. The female co-owner spends most of her time plopped at the bar and taking shots. Jon Taffer managed to get some test customers into the bar, but not much else. That's because Taffer himself had to race over and break up a brawl between the manager and one of the O'Face servers! Taffer got majorly pissed off when the owners fired the server instead of the manager --  despite the legal liability that they risked by keeping the manager around. Taffer threatened to leave the show if the manager didn't get fired -- but the owners decided to keep her around!

Taffer did eventually give O'Face Bar another chance, but things never got better. The bar staff failed their stress challenge. Then everyone kept standing around squabbling with each other when they were supposed to be training. Finally Taffer started digging some dirt and found out the O'Face Bar is notorious for run into trouble with the local police. Not only that, but he found some online video of the male owner getting into a fight with one of their bartenders.

Taffer decided he had enough. He wasn't going to sully his reputation by associated with this bar any longer.

The episode was definitely a train-wreck -- but it was a fun train-wreck!

World Vision to Recognize Employees' Gay Marriages

I'm sure you've heard of World Vision. It's a well known worldwide Christian relief organization. The group is being criticized by several of its conservative supporters because the organization has updated it's employee conduct manual to recognize married gay families:
Christian relief organization World Vision has announced that it will no longer define marriage as between a man and a woman in its employee conduct manual, a groundbreaking change for an evangelical institution and a signal that gay marriage continues to affect religious organizations.

The organization’s U.S. branch will recognize same-sex marriage as being within the norms of “abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage” as part of its employee conduct code.

“I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue,” said World Vision’s U.S. President Rich Stearns in a letter to employees...

“I want to reassure you that we are not sliding down some slippery slope of compromise, nor are we diminishing the authority of Scripture in our work,” Stearns said. “We have always affirmed traditional marriage as a God-ordained institution. Nothing in our work around the world with children and families will change...

"There is no lawsuit threatening us,” he added. “There is no employee group lobbying us. This is simply a decision about whether or not you are eligible for employment at World Vision U.S., based on this single issue, and nothing more.”
World Vision has roughly 1,1000 employees.

I've already seen calls for financial boycotts by conservative Christians.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Michigan's Ban on Gay Marriage Declared Unconstitional // State Attorney General Plans to Appeal // UPDATE: Federal Appeal Court Temporarily Halts Gay Weddings in Michigan

Late yesterday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman declared that Michigan's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. Michigan's attorney general plans to appeal this decision and will seek an emergency stay on this decision.

But at least four counties in Michigan have already begun marrying same-sex couples. Glenna DeJong and Marsha Caspar of Lansing, MI, were the first same-sex couple married early this morning.

(Caspar and DeJong exchanging vows)
There have been several of these court cases over the past few months. Enough that I don't always remember to update them on the blog before they get appealed. It's still very promising news.

Congratulations Michigan!

Updated: This should not be a shocker, but a federal appeals court issued a temporary stay in Michigan's same-sex marriages while the state appeals yesterday's decision. In the meantime, over 300 same-sex couples managed to get married throughout Michigan today.

Westboro Baptist Church Stages Its First Post-Fred Phelps Protest // Counter Protesters Offer Condolences // Westboro Members Remain Unmoved

Members from Westboro Baptist Church staged their first protest since the death of Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. The twenty-plus church members were protesting a concert by singer Lorde in Downtown Kansas City. I'm not sure why they were protesting Lorde, but it probably had to do with God's hatred towards gay people.

It's interesting to note that the church is already out protesting again. But I found it even more interesting to read the sign offered by counter protesters: "Sorry for your loss":
More than 20 protesters protested pop star's Lorde concert, however it was another message that stuck out. A group of counter protesters held up a sign that read "sorry for your loss..."

The message meant nothing to Steve Drain a longtime Westboro member. "I don't even know what they're saying," he said.
Personally, I'm growing tired of people going out of their way to offer condolences to Fred Phelps' family and friends. They don't appreciate the sentiments (which really doesn't surprise me) and I really don't think they're going to get anything out of those condolences. I'm ready to let them privately mourn (if indeed they do that) and move on with their lives.

Jem and the Holograms... The Movie!!!

There were a lot of really great toy-related cartoons back in the mid- to late 80s. One of my favorites? It was Jem and the Holograms! Jerrica Benton inherited her father's music company -- along with a sentient computer system named Synergy -- and used her corporate resources and Synergy's holograms to recreate herself and her friends as Jem and the Holograms! For most of the series, she traveled the world making music and helping orphans, while fighting back against her wicked rivals, the Misfits (and later the Stingers)! Oh, don't forget about the hopeless love triangle between Jerrica, Jem, and Rio! This show had it all -- including tons of music videos! I really loved that show.

News began circulating yesterday about an upcoming Jem and the Holograms movie! It's being directed by Jon M. Chu (of G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and he and his colleagues are seeking input from fans to help write the music, design the costumes, and select the cast. They aren't seeking money. They just want your creative input. Check this out:

They are initially seeking two-minute video audition clips from kids of all ages explaining what they like about Jem and showing off their singing abilities, but they are also interested in pics demonstrating what they like best about Jem and the Holograms. All videos are to be posted using the following hashtag: #JEMTHEMOVIE

Friday, March 21, 2014

Iowa Jury Acquits Ex-Felon of Voter Fraud in Less Than One Hour

(Matt Schultz)
A jury in Keokuk, IA, spent less than 40 minutes yesterday to acquit an ex-felon of perjury connected to an incident of voter fraud. Kelli Jo Griffin was accused of intentionally lying on her voter registration form to vote in a municipal election in Montrose, IA:
Griffin, a 40-year-old mother of three young children and one stepdaughter, would have faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted since she was charged as a habitual offender...
Griffin had lost her voting rights following a 2008 felony conviction for delivery of less than 100 grams of cocaine. She testified that she believed her right to vote had been restored when she left probation last year, which had been the state's policy until it was rescinded three years ago by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.

Lee County Attorney Michael Short had argued that Griffin deliberately left blank a question on the form that asked whether she was a convicted felon, and if so, whether her rights were restored. "That's a knowing lie!" he shouted during closing arguments, forcefully lunging his head toward Griffin. He said she was trying to hide her past as a drug dealer and promote an image of a "stay-at-home mom who is just doing her thing."
Griffin testified that she was trying to teach her stepdaughter about the voting process when she participated in a election involving an uncontested race involving her local mayor and city council.

Griffin's was the first example of voter fraud that made its way to court. Secretary of State Matt Schultz has been using these cases to prove that Iowa has a major problem with voter fraud. Reports at the end of 2013 had indicated that Schultz had spent $150,000 to find five incidents of voter fraud (most involving ex-felons who had mistakenly registered to vote -- not attempted to vote). That number went up to 26 cases over the past two years and his spending total ended up approaching $280,000.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. of Westboro Baptist Church -- Dead

News just came out that Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. has died at the age of 84:
The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., who founded a Kansas church widely known for its protests at military funerals and anti-gay sentiments, has died according to his son Tim Phelps. Phelps, 84, was being cared for in a Shawnee County facility, Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain said Sunday.

Members of the Westboro church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Thank God for 9/11,” claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.
Not much else is known at this time.

Fred Phelps Excommunicated for Seeking Kinder Treatment of Fellow Church Members

I was out of town for a few days, so I'm a bit behind. I wrote earlier this week about Pastor Fred Phelps Sr. being on the verge of death and receiving hospice care. But there was another bit of news about him being excommunicated back in August 2013 from Westboro Baptist Church. It was unclear initially why Phelps had been excommunicated. However, The Topeka Capital-Journal published an article earlier this week explaining the reason for the excommunication. It was all about inner-church politics:
The excommunication occurred after the formation of a board of male elders in the church. The board had defeated Shirley Phelps-Roper, the church’s longtime spokeswoman, in a power struggle, and Fred Phelps Sr. called for kinder treatment of fellow church members.

The board then ejected Fred Phelps Sr., who founded the church in the 1950s.

The power struggle and excommunication was revealed by Nate Phelps, a son of Fred Phelps Sr. who broke away from the church 37 years ago. The elders had a big impact on Fred Phelps Sr., Nate Phelps said. “They took the one thing that meant everything to the man,” Nate Phelps said, referring to Fred Phelps Sr.'s tie to the church. “That old man and his reason to exist have gone away.”

On Sunday, church spokesman Steve Drain refused to talk about the excommunication of Fred Phelps Sr. "We don't discuss our internal church dealings with anybody," he said...

Among the all-male board of elders are Drain, Timothy Phelps, Jonathan Phelps, Samuel Phelps-Roper, Charles Hockenbarger and Fred Phelps Jr.
Meanwhile, I've read referenced in the past that Margie Phelps has stated that they do not "worship the dead" at Westboro Baptist Church. In other words, they don't plan on holding a public funeral for any members of that church.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Public Policy Polling: Iowans Still Split on Gay Marriage

Iowa has had marriage equality for nearly five years. Public Policy Polling wanted to know what Iowans thought about same-sex marriage. Sadly, even though most believe that marriage equality has had no impact on their lives, Iowa voters still find themselves split on whether or not same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

According to PPP, 46% of Iowa voters believe that same-sex marriage should be allowed, 45% believe that it shouldn't be allowed, and 9% of not sure. Meanwhile, 14% of Iowans believe that same-sex marriage in Iowa has had a positive impact in their lives, 23% believe that it's had a negative impact, and 64% believe that gay marriage has had no impact in their lives.

During the break-down, it was noted that male voters strongly oppose same-sex marriage by a margin of 56/37 while female voters strongly support gay marriage by a margin of 55/35.

Meanwhile, these same Iowa voters support raising minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by a margin of 52/35. They also support medical marijuana by a margin of 62/27, but oppose recreational marijuana by a margin of 33/60.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nero Sings with the Archies!

Stuffed Animal was feeling inspired again and got to wondering what might happen if my Nero decided to team up with the Archies on one of their latest recordings. Stuffed Animal offered some commentary about this unique musical pairing:
I bet you were wondering how Nero, a dog, can sing on recordings by The Archies?  Especially when he tends to go off pitch?  Producer Ralfi Chingas is a genius when it comes to tracking voices.  He sits Nero at a special "mike" that modulates the volume and gruffness of his voice (Nero is so loud, he doesn't even need to have his vocals double-tracked).  He records Nero singing harmony on a song like "Looking At Tomorrow" (the new single), and then does a mix.  Archie, or whoever else is singing lead on the track, comes in and studies the mix.  Then he sings the melody right over what Nero has laid down, and Ralfi mixes again.  The blend is just seamless.  And everybody's talking about this special new sound The Archies have on their voice tracks!
Husband Mark disputes the notion that Nero sings off-pitch. I gotta wonder why he uses an auto-tuner if that's the case.


Monday, March 17, 2014

X-MEN LEGACY #300: The Power of a Legacy

I learned about this, which got me thinking about the power of a legacy. Most people hear about somebody dying (especially a vile man like Fred Phelps Sr.) and they turn to the Bible or something else equally inspiring. Me? I immediately turn to comic books.

This week offered up a great story about the power of a legacy in X-MEN LEGACY #300. This was probably my favorite issue from this particular comic book in more than a year. It featured two previously unknown characters -- an unnamed girl with a horrible past who finds herself in an alien death-trap outside of the Jean Grey School and a previously unknown member of the X-Men called Forgetmenot who possesses the unfortunate mutant ability to instantly slide out of others' memories whenever they look away from him.

Forgetmenot finds himself distracting "Fangirl" with stories of his past "forgotten" adventures as a member of the X-Men -- which led to the question of "legacy." What kind of legacy can one leave behind when nobody will ever remember you? Gradually, the question shifts and becomes this. Which is greater? The person leaving behind the legacy or the legacy itself?

There was a person in my past who was in charge of a department for several years. I know firsthand that she accomplished many good things during her tenure. But she was erratic with how she treated others. She had supervisors eavesdropping on employees. She went through dozens of administrative assistants within a period of months. She identified "problem-makers" and made life hellish enough for them so that they eventually fled the department.

People were literally dancing in the hallways when they received the email announcement of her resignation. And it wasn't just those whom she had targeted. Pretty much everyone was celebrating.

What kind of lasting legacy did she leave behind? People don't remember her operational achievements when they talk about her, but they still talk about how she treated other people years later.

We all leave behind legacies. Some are more significant than others. Some touch millions. Others touch a handful. It's up to each of us to step back from time to time and reassess how we live our lives and impact those around us. Because it all adds up.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church Dying in Hospice

I learned early today that Fred Phelps Sr. -- founder and pastor of Westboro Baptist Church -- is "on the edge of death" and receiving hospice treatment. Not only that, but his estranged son Nathan Phelps reported last night the the elder Phelps has been excommunicated from the very church that he founded since August 2013:
I've learned that my father, Fred Phelps, Sr., pastor of the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church, was ex-communicated from the "church" back in August of 2013. He is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas. 

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Terribly ironic that his devotion to his god ends this way. Destroyed by the monster he made. 

I feel sad for all the hurt he's caused so many. I feel sad for those who will lose the grandfather and father they loved. And I'm bitterly angry that my family is blocking the family members who left from seeing him, and saying their good-byes.
Hemant Mehta from the Friendly Athiest blog reached out to Nathan Phelps and posted the following information:
I just got off the phone with Nate and he confirmed what he had written. The rumors had been flying for several weeks, he said, but after a conversation with some of his fellow “excommunicated” family members, he found out that the rumors were true. He elaborated on that final line, too, saying that the Phelps family is now blocking anyone who is no longer with the church from seeing him, including Fred’s sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews.

Why was he kicked out of his own church? Did he have a change of heart near the end of his life? There’s no definitive answer to that and Nate has heard different things (so any explanation is pure speculation right now).
I have known about Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church since the very early 90s. He and his church have irked me for decades with their ongoing "God Hates Fags" protests of funerals and churches. Sadly (and this is completely directed towards me), I have always been much more bitter towards politicians and everyday people who only became upset with Westboro Baptist Church's protests when they began protesting military funerals.

This church had been protesting the funerals of gay men for years. Nobody ever attempted to pass any legislation to curb such behavior when they were protesting actual fags. It was only when they protested military funerals as symbols of America's supposed love of fags that people began looking for ways to protect mourners from the Phelps' filthy protests.

You wouldn't know it from my past two paragraphs, but I've largely gotten over that bitterness. I almost never think about Fred Phelps or his crazy daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper or any of the other remaining members of Westboro Baptist.

I have spent some time reading the comments following Nathan Phelps' announcement about his dying father and I've read another similar thread posted by one of my Facebook friends. It's an interesting range of thoughts. Many people are already lining up to protest the funeral of Fred Phelps Sr. I don't see the point:
You know that his family is expecting a massive funeral protest. I wonder what would happen if he died and nobody protested. I wonder if his family would learn anything if others demonstrated a level of grace that they rarely offered to others?
I'm not naive. I don't believe that the remaining members of Westboro Baptist Church will come to this epiphany if nobody shows up to celebrate the passing of a man who made a name for celebrating the passing of others. It's possible that some of the more religiously perverse members of the church might actually see that lack of protest as sign of God's approval.

But it's a start. Mehta noted in his post that a good chunk of Phelps' children and grandchildren have fled from Westboro Baptists during the past decade and most of those have been the younger under-30 crowd. That indicates that the church is slowly fading away -- if only through attrition.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Iowa City Struggles to Meet Storage Needs of Local Homeless Population

Last fall, the Iowa City City Council approved new regulation that were supposed to curb panhandling. The city was getting a lot of complaints about aggressive panhandling on the Iowa City Ped Mall last spring and summer. There was increased frequency of fighting and signs of overt drug use by local transients. Additionally, some guys were hanging out on the Ped Mall all day with shopping carts and electronics, which impeded the flow of foot traffic.

The City Council finally passed an ordinance last September, which banned the following behaviors:
* People will be banned from sleeping on planters or benches. Additionally, people will be banned from lying down on benches except for between 10:00 PM -- 5:00 AM.

* People will be banned from storing large items, such as shopping carts, on the Ped Mall for more than two hours. There will be an exception made for strollers, walkers, and other items needed for special events (such as the Friday Night Concerts).

* People will be banned from plugging electrical items, such as radios and televisions, into public outlets unless they have special permission from Iowa City.

* People will be banned from panhandling near parking meters and at all of the street entrances to the Ped Mall...

People caught violating this revised ordinance will have to pay a $65 fine, though they may be allowed to perform acts of community service if they cannot afford the fine.
However, this new ordinance created a problem for those in Iowa City who are homeless and who don't have anywhere to store their stuff during the daytime. Most of the time, they cannot keep their belongings at the Shelter House. There is really nowhere else that they can store their stuff.

So the Iowa City City Council asked city staff to explore storage options for people and families who lack permanent housing. City staff reached out to 36 different faith-based and nonprofit organizations in January to see if they could develop some sort of storage program for the community's homeless population. The city was even willing to help out financially.

Only one of those organizations -- Trinity Episcopal Church -- expressed any interest for this idea. However, they were unable to come up with enough space to securely contain and protect stored items. The city also looked at installing large lockers in one of the downtown parking ramps, but also decided that they didn't have the staff to oversee this project.

So the idea has been scrapped -- for now.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

ARCHIE #653: Archie's Rockin' World Tour Concludes in Canada!

Archie's Rockin' World Tour made its final performance in ARCHIE #653. It's been a crazy four-part worldwide musical journey (previously covered here, here, and here) featuring the Archies, Josie & the Pussycats, the Bingos, the Madhouse Glads, the Bettys, Brigitte Reilly (now known as "Brigitte"!), Katy Keene, Cheryl Blossom & Alexandra Cabot, Raj Patel, and Marcy Lodge. It's been an amazing journey from Riverdale to India to China to Australia to Canada and circling back home!

My biggest regret is that Reggie barely had any lines! But here were some of the highlights:

This was a great ensemble effort. I mean, look at that list of characters above. Not only did we get to revisit old Archie Comics favorites like Katy Keene, the Bingos, the Pussycats, and the Glads, but we got appearances by Sabrina and Midge and Two-Fisted Toni Topaz and Trev. Brigitte surprised us with news of her musical success last issue. Even Kevin Keller made an appearance at the tail end of this book!

As hinted above, there were several main characters who didn't get much page-time, but those who did really got a chance to shine. And frankly, when was the last time that the Bingos and the Glads got any shine-time?

I wrote about this before, but there were two developments that I really dug that sprung from this storyline. I absolutely *LOVE* the Bettys!!! When do we get to see this band again in action -- possibly with Trev as their tour manager -- because I will definitely buy that comic book!

The other exciting new development for me? It's the creation of the Archie-->Valerie-->Amisha love triangle! I feared that this was a dropped concept last issue when Amisha disappeared from the storyline, seemingly to head back to India. But there was a great epilogue in ARCHIE #653, which brings Amisha Mehta permanently to Riverdale High! Archie had a hard time resisting his new Indian friend when Valerie was glowering at him from behind his shoulder. How's he gonna handle things when Valerie leaves Riverdale for her ongoing musical tours with the Pussycats?

"Archie's Rockin' World Tour" wrapped up on a high note, with promises for new excitement in the future. Which is all you can ask for in a comic book storyline!

"Close to the Borderline" is written and pencilled by Dan Parent and inked by Rich Koslowski.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Riot Near Fairfield, IA, Following Removal from Pandit from Maharishi Vedic University

(Pandit Campus)
If you travel to Jefferson County, IA, you will discover a small community called Maharishi Vedic City. The city became incorporated in 2001. The community's stated goals are "protect, nourish, and satisfy everyone, upholding the different social, cultural, and religious traditions while maintaining the integrity and progress of the city as a whole." The community is known for its unique architecture and belief system. They're big into organic farming and they have their own unique currency -- though you can still use dollars and credit cards when visiting the community. But the community is probably best known for its Maharishi Vedic University, which promotes consciousness-based education that includes the practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. The community boasts a population of just over 250 residents. However, that number does not include the roughly 1,000 pandits from India who live on campus on the edge of the community.

Maharishi Vedic City is in the news following a riot last night on the campus of Maharishi Vedic University. I have read several news stories about the riot, but there are still big question marks all over this story. This is what I know:

Jefferson County sheriff's deputies were called to the campus yesterday to remove one of the pandits from the campus. There were unspecified disciplinary issues surrounding this pandit. Before he could be removed from campus, approximately 60-70 other pandits became angered and began throwing rocks at campus security and sheriff deputies. The one pandit was removed from campus by the sheriff's deputies. However, the other pandits continued to riot, knocking down a gate and then blocking one of the streets.

Law enforcement tried redirecting the pandits back onto campus unsuccessfully. That prompted the pandits to surround the patrol vehicles and begin throwing rocks again at law enforcement officials. They also rocked the vehicle, kicked out the lights, and tried breaking the mirrors.

This behavior continued and eventually the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office was aided by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Reserve, the Fairfield Police Department, the Iowa State Patrol, the Iowa Department of Transportation, the Iowa DNR, the Wapello County Sheriff's Office, and the Fairfield Fire Department.

The rioters were eventually returned to campus. No arrests are pending due to an inability to identify anyone who specifically threw any of the rocks.

I want to know what this pandit was doing that got him booted from campus. He was obviously significant enough that a sizable portion of the campus population rose up in outcry following his removal.

I will post more as I learn more.

Updated Obama Stats

This has been circulating on Facebook amongst several of my friends. I thought it worth sharing here:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"Afterlife With Archie #4": (Live, Archiemaster)

I've got a theory that I want to put out there about after reading AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #4 -- written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and penciled by Francesco Francavilla. This is the comic book series that tells the story of the end of the world starting in Riverdale USA. Here's the background: Reggie secretly killed Hot Dog with his car. A distraught Jughead sought the misguided help of the teenage witch Sabrina. Hot Dog came back from the dead and bit Jughead. Jughead dies within hours from that bites and is resurrected as a cannibalizing zombie. Jughead attacks a school dance and turns most of the teachers and kids into rampaging zombies, who in turn attack their friends and family. It's not looking good for the nicest town in America!

The surviving members of the Riverdale Gang taking refuge at Lodge Mansion. That didn't protect all of them from the plague, but it did offer them a bit of respite. Meanwhile, Archie snuck out of the building to make sure his parents were safe. That's when he was confronted at the end of last issue by the zombified Hot Dog!

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #4 features the return of Archie's new dog Vegas. This character was introduced a few months ago in ARCHIE DOUBLE DIGEST #244 (read about it here). The relationship between Archie and Vegas was retconned quite a bit for the purpose of this story -- but only for the better. That two-page spread featuring Archie, Vegas, and Zombie Hot Dog was one of the more heart-wrenching scenes that I've read in a comic book in a very long time. Very sad...

The rest of the story features Archie's mission to save his parents. Sadly, he was too late to save at least one of them...

There was one interesting interlude within this comic book featuring the Blossom twins. I had noted earlier this there seemed to be a strange twincest vibe going on with these two. Seems like I was right. Who would've thought that Archie Comics would feature one of the only (if not the only) incestuous relationships in modern comics?

Since the beginning of this series, I've been running an ongoing tally of fatalities within this series (here, here, and here). AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #4 reveals the deaths of Fred Andrews and Vegas.

But back to my theory... The general opinion out there is that Jughead has become a "king of the dead" character. After all, he was the first of the infected. He has spawned the apocalypse. He runs around with a crown and his (sort of) girlfriend was wearing a princess costume when she was killed by him. And everyone seems to circle around him.

Except that I don't think this is true.

Jughead wasn't the first of the infected and he didn't spawn the apocalypse. And I'm not sure that it's Jughead that the zombies are flocking around. Have you noticed that all of the zombies make a strange gurgling noise? Almost like a growl... Plus, check out this scene featuring a very buff Zombie Fred Andrews. He's tracking his prey through his sense of smell:

Not to mention the feral nature of these zombies. Mark my word: Zombie Hot Dog is the King of the Dead!

You heard it here first!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Guilty Plea for Man Who Drove Into Coralville Scheels // UPDATED: Joseph Moreno Sentenced to 17 Years in Prison

(Originally written on 11/01/13): Late last year, local citizens woke to news of the evacuation of nearby Coralridge Mall following a possible drive-through robbery. It quickly became clear that this was a drunk-driving incident run amok. The driver initially shot up his apartment and then drove through the entrance to the Coralville Scheels store. He then tested several of the weapons in the store before passing out.

23-year-old Joseph Moreno initially pleaded not-guilty to multiple charges. The Daily Iowan now reports that Moreno just pleaded guilty to all charges:
According to an Iowa City police press release, Joseph Moreno had allegedly discharged a handgun in his apartment several times in front of his roommates before the break-in at Scheel’s. All roommates were found unharmed. The 23-year-old was charged with first-degree burglary, reckless use of a firearm with property damage, carrying weapons, OWI, and first-degree criminal mischief.
Moreno faces a sentencing hearing on January 1, 2014.

Updated on 03/10/14: Joseph Moreno finally attended his sentencing hearing and has been sentenced to 17 years in prison:
Sixth District Judge Marsha Bergan sentenced 24-year-old Joseph Moreno Monday to 10 years for first-degree criminal mischief, five years for intimidation with a dangerous weapon, two years for reckless use of a firearm and an additional two days for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. “My hope is that I will not see you again and this is the wake-up call,” Bergan said to Moreno after the sentence. “And it’s a pretty severe one.”
Moreno will not be eligible for parole until after he serves as least half of his sentence.

Should Iowa City // Johnson County, IA, Issue Community IDs?

A group from the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa spoke yesterday at Faith UCC in Iowa City to educate us and seek support for a proposed community identification card program.

A community ID is essentially what it sound like. It is a picture ID card issued by the local or county government that would be available for all residents and that would be recognized by local police departments, public agencies, and businesses. This would be available to anyone: immigrants, citizens, senior citizens who cannot drive any longer, etc.

They are pushing for community IDs because there is a large number of local residents who do not have photo IDs at this time -- at least, they do not have photo IDs that are recognized by government or commercial agencies. As a result, they are more likely to have interactions with the police escalate due to an inability to prove who they are. They are less likely to be able to open bank accounts due to not having a recognizable form of picture ID. They are less likely to be able to find benefit from support services following a natural disaster without a form of recognizable picture ID. In general, it is more difficult for them as access basic services without an ID.

The community ID cards would not be recognized by outside municipalities. This would be strictly a local ID card. It could not be used for proof of ID when it came to registering to vote or for boarding an airplane.

My initial thought was to wonder why these folks don't just get a photo ID card from the Department of Transportation. After all, most of the items needs to obtain a community ID are the same sorts of things that you need to get an ID card from the DOT. It was explained that the DOT is very strict about the condition of the documents that people bring in to show proof of identity. For example, they noted that a birth certificate will be rejected if it's not in good condition (i.e., not rips or missing corners).

If/when this gets approved by local governments, it would cost $5-10 to have a community ID issued. It was noted that it would probably be more effective to have Johnson County issue the community IDs instead of Iowa City. That way, the community ID cards would be recognized by all of the surrounding communities.

The Center for Worker Justice representatives were urging everyone (whether or not we have driver's licenses) to sign up for a community ID. The idea is that they will be more widely accepted if everyone (or a significant chunk of everyone) gets one. I didn't sign the pledge, but roughly 450 others have over the past three weeks.

I'm still not sure how I feel about community IDs, but I'm interested in learning more. I will follow up on this topic as it advances.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

"Archie: Riverdale Rescue": Spring!

I began writing about the "Archie: Riverdale Rescue" iOS gaming app back in October 2013. Since then, the game has expanded to PC users. It's an oddly addictive game where you are tasked with the improvement and beautification of Riverdale USA using a variety of recognizable characters, such as Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica. A big part of the game also involves building emotional bonds between the various characters, leading to romantic couples, BFFs, and overall friends. I thought it would be fun to discuss aspects of the game that I find exciting, disappointing, and/or note-worthy.

I am still out of new Quests, but there was one development with the game earlier this week. A new upgrade was initiated and now Spring has come to Riverdale USA!

In other words, this...

... has transformed into this!:

Not only that, but Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and Reggie decided to invest in some new springtime clothes:

Spring Fashions: Archie // Jughead // Reggie
Spring Fashions: Veronica // Betty
Sadly for me, there were no new spring-themed Quests. But I still get to play around with the characters, accumulate wealth, and (eventually) redesign my own private Riverdale, which is fun in its own right!

Friday, March 7, 2014

LIFE WITH ARCHIE #34: Idiots, Stalkers, and Private Eyes!

I'm behind on my comic book reading due to a combination of work and family distractions. I finally read my copy of LIFE WITH ARCHIE #34. This is a magazine-style comic book featuring the adult adventures of Archie and the Riverdale Gang. The first half of the book -- written by Paul Kupperberg and penciled by Fernando Ruiz -- imagines how life might have turned out if Archie married Veronica. The second half of the book -- also written by Paul Kupperberg, but penciled by Pat & Tim Kennedy -- imagines how life might have turned out if Archie married Betty.

Here is my biggest complaint about the book. There was a lot of time between issues 33 and 34. This has been a recurrent problem recently with Archie Comics -- which gets frustrating when I'm looking forward to the next issue of a serialized storyline. Additionally, there was one major bit of resolution over in the Betty side of the book, but otherwise it feels like we're circling the wagons a bit when it comes to the various story lines. Sam Hill is still gathering information to assist with Veronica's trial. Clay is still struggling to fit into Riverdale and is still being stalked by the mysterious Wendell. Betty and Reggie are still doing their reality TV show. Betty and Archie are still floundering with their marriage. Midge is still pregnant.

Don't get me wrong. It's great that Archie (in the Veronica world) seems to be on the verge of new employment. I'm also looking forward to more courtroom bombshells in issue #37 (hopefully). I'm glad that Betty (in the Betty world) has finally gotten a clue and realized that she's alienating her husband and her friends. And I'm really glad that Midge is finally ready to give birth!

But I really want to figure out who that Wendell guy is -- or at least get some firm ideas about where this is heading. Right now, we know that he's going by an assumed name and he's fixated on Clay. I'm assuming he's the guy who shot Clay several issues back, but I'm not completely sure about that. But even if he's the guy who shot Clay, why does he keep flitting in and out of Clay's life? And why doesn't he like having his picture taken? Hopefully we'll learn more in an issue or two.

I also find myself wishing to see more action by Sam Hill, Veronica's private detective. I've read several of Sam's old 1950s comic book stories. He was definitely an action detective. My understanding is that Kuppergerg needed a private investigator for this "Veronica on trial" storyline and that it occurred to him to pluck Sam Hill out of Archie Comics' archives. It's a great idea and one that I appreciate. I just yearn for the action investigator that I've enjoyed reading in his old stories. Heck, even Sam Hill himself misses his old action adventures. Maybe next issue?

Don't get me wrong. There is plenty to enjoy in this issue. The new manager at the Chowhouse II seems sufficiently skeevy. I'm really looking forward to how that story unfolds.

I'm also really excited to read more about Archie's recent fling with Bella Beazley. He turned to Bella after months of inattention by his wife. What will happen now that Betty is starting to pay attention again??

And while I'm thinking about it, can I spend some time singing the praises of Pat & Tim Kennedy? I have always been a huge fan of Fernando Ruiz's artwork, but it took me a while to warm up to the Kennedys' pencils. The characters just looked off to me. Now I can't get enough of them!!

Lastly, my online friend Kinsley lucked out and became the winner of an "Archie: Riverdale Rescue" contest. He designed a pretty cool version of Riverdale on his game and became the first "Riverdale Rescue" fan to find himself "Archified" in the comic books. There was an initial draft of his image in the advertisements, but the final version of Kingsley by Fernando Ruiz is really well done!

Congrats, Kingsley! I'm officially jealous!!