Censorship Sucks!

When I first heard about a possible censorship of Dr. Seuss books, like so many others, I said: “What?”  My eighteen years of working at the American Civil Liberties Union gave me experience to ask, “who is the censor?”  Not that censorship is okay under any condition, but usually, the censor is a third party that finds something objectionable to their own beliefs and attempts to stop the artist, author, or distributor from allowing the objectionable material to be read or seen by others.

Facebook was abuzz with people saying that this censorship was cancel-culture and that they would continue to read Dr. Seuss books, even the ones that have been banned.  The words “cancel-culture” caught my eye.

First of all, the books are not banned; they will no longer be published.  That’s a big difference.  Second, the decision was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the licensing entity holding rights of publishing for all of his books.  It’s not a third party claiming that the books are offensive; it’s the heirs.

I never read Dr. Seuss books as a child, and I don’t remember an adult reading them to me, either.  Perhaps I was too young to remember, but knowing my family, I’m sticking to the former.  Even in adulthood, I thought these books probably originated in 1950 or later.

Two of the books that have been discontinued are the first Dr. Seuss book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” published in 1937; and “If I Ran the Zoo,” which was published in 1950.  These books have been around for quite some time.  Many Dr. Seuss books were written in the 1950s.

Do you remember reading “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street?”  If that book is still in a bookcase at home, you had better hold on to it.  It is selling for $350 on Amazon.  “If I Ran the Zoo” goes anywhere from $499 to $799.99.  “Green Eggs & Ham,” and “The Cat in the Hat” are still popular books, and they will continue to be printed.

Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, was a political cartoonist for a New York newspaper in the early 1940s.  He admitted to using “harmful stereotypes to caricature Japanese and Japanese-Americans.  Decades later, he said he was embarrassed by the cartoons, which he said were ‘full of snap judgments that every political cartoonist has to make.’”

Based upon his reconciliation regarding those political cartoons, it doesn’t surprise me that his foundation would proceed with the discontinuation of some of his books.  Dr. Seuss was a kind man who didn’t want to offend anyone.  If he were alive today, he may agree with this decision.

I have to agree that this matter borders on censorship.  However, it’s not the type of censorship that we usually see.  No one has pulled these books from the bookshelves; they will no longer be printed.  They’ll still be available to read; you just have to find them in order to read them.  Censorship is “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.”

The foundation’s decision to halt the printing of these books does not fall under the definition of “suppression or prohibition.”  There is no movement to prevent anyone from reading these discontinued books.

But is it cancel-culture?  “The Cat’s Quizzer,” one of the discontinued books, “hasn’t sold in years through the retailers BookScan tracks.”  It seems like this move by Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a financial decision in many ways.  “Cancel culture (or call-out culture) is a modern form of censorship in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person.”  This decision doesn’t even come close to the newfound definition of cancel-culture.

In the 1970s, I read a book to my daughters that all three of us enjoyed immensely.  “It Could Be Worse” was written by Margot Zemuch.  It was a story of a married man named Ivan who was upset that the house smelled of cooking, the children were screaming, etc.  He went to the Rabbi who told him to bring the chickens into the house.  When that didn’t work, he was told to bring in the dog and the cat into the house; next the goats.  This went on with the cow and the horse.  Finally, poor Ivan couldn’t take it anymore.  The Rabbi told him to take all the animals out of the house, sweep and clean it, and come back when everything was done.  Ivan was happy and smelled the sweetness of dinner cooking and the thrill of the children’s laughter.  Ivan brought the Rabbi wine and bread as a token of appreciation.  The moral, of course, was in the title of the book.  Things can be worse.

In the 1990s, I went looking for that book to read to a different child.  I couldn’t find the same book, but I found a book by Margot Zemuch called “It Could Always Be Worse.”  It was the same story with some changes.  The Rabbi was now a wise man, the token gifts at the end of the story did not have wine, and word ‘always’ was added to the title.  There may have been some other changes, but the point is that the moral of story remained the same.  Yes, words were adapted to make the story more politically correct.  But if you hadn’t read the first edition you would never had known that it was revised to be acceptable to a wider audience.

Public outcry may prompt Dr. Seuss Enterprises to allow Random House to print these books with modest changes.  It’s sort of like “The New Coke.”  It won’t be the same as the old books, but after time, we’ll realize that the story is the same.  Change is inevitable.  It just doesn’t happen as fast as it did in “Dirty Dancing.” [In this movie, the 1960s changed into the 1970s overnight.]

Go ahead and add these six books to the list of others that have been censored at one time or another: Catcher in the Rye (I had to read this book twice to figure out why it was banned); Huckleberry Finn; just about any book by Judy Blume; Fahrenheit 541; The Bible; Gone With the Wind; and Mein Kampf, just to name a few.  And these books have not been censored nor discontinued by the authors or their heirs.

I can’t quite reach the level of saying this is censorship, but if you own one of these six books, hang on to it.  It just became worth a whole lot more.

Censorship sucks!  However, it also sells books.

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Wishing you enough

We celebrated Stephanie’s birthday last August in quaint, humble style.  I bought her a cake, but instead of the usual “Happy Birthday” greeting, the top of the cake was decorated with “Wishing you enough.”

We’ll be married for 16 years this coming October, but we’ve been together for over seventeen years.  We became acquaintances working on a legislative project [felon voting rights] back in 2004.

In November of 2003, Stephanie had called me to ask if I would be the speaker for the Annual December Luncheon of the Metro Des Moines League of Women Voters.  I wasn’t in the office that day, and a note was left for me to call her back.  My office has never been a neatly organized area of work.  Below is a link to a photo of Einstein’s desk on the day after he died. He was much neater than me.

Einstein’s desk

By the time I found the note and got back to Stephanie, she had already found someone else to speak – Brian Gentry, Governor Vilsack’s legal counsel.  She thought it was cute that I returned the call (too late).  I informed her: “well, I am going to attend because I would like to hear what Mr. Gentry has to say about this issue.”

I showed up with my colleague and “good trouble-in-arms-comrade” Rev. Carlos Jayne.  Both of us joined the League of Women Voters that afternoon in the Tea Room at Younkers in downtown Des Moines.  It was the first time I had seen Stephanie, and my impression was that she was some banker, lawyer, or doctor’s wife with nothing else to do in life.  But she was pretty and intellectually charming.  She thought I was gay.  I worked for the ACLU, had an earring, long hair and wasn’t married.  Fair enough.  We were both a ‘little’ wrong.  She was still pretty and intellectually charming, and I was unmarried with long hair and an earring.

It was a few months later, after we kept showing up at the same meetings that we began to know a little more about each other.  The late Judie Hoffman, former lobbyist for the Iowa League of Women Voters, invited me to speak at the ILWV annual Issues Briefing on the subject of legislation that would allow ex-felons to vote.  Stephanie and I talked for a while after the meeting on the same issue.  She was passionate about this matter.  I began to get passionate about her.

It wasn’t long after that Issues Briefing meeting that I took a chance and emailed her, asking her to dinner.  Yes, brave, was I not?  She responded by telling me that she could offer only a sporadic friendship.  I accepted that offer.  We became friends.

We had a few dates that Stephanie said were not really dates, they were outings, or something like that.  I considered them to be, well, dates.  We enjoyed road trips, visits to the Des Moines Art Center, and food.  We are both foodies.  Our favorite road trip was traveling to Elk Horn for the greatest buffet.  Unfortunately, that restaurant closed.

After a few months, I shared the following email with her:

My sister sent this to me.  I think it’s beautiful.  Stephanie, “I wish you enough!”

At an airport I overheard a father and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced her plane’s departure and standing near the door, he said to his daughter, “I love you; I wish you enough”. She said, “Daddy, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Daddy.” They kissed good-bye and she left. He walked over toward the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?” “Yes, I have,” I replied. Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my Dad had done for me. Recognizing that his days were limited, I took the time to tell him face to face how much he meant to me. So, I knew what this man was experiencing. “Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?” I asked. “I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, her next trip back will be for my funeral,” he said. “When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, ‘I wish you enough.’ May I ask what that means?” He began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” He paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, he smiled even more. “When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with enough good things to sustain them,” he continued and then turning toward me, he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory. “I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Good-bye.” He then began to sob and walked away. My friends and loved ones, I wish you ENOUGH!!! They say, “It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but then an entire life to forget them.” Send this phrase to the people you’ll never forget and also remember to send it to the person who sent it to you. It’s a short message to let them know that you’ll never forget them. If you don’t send it to anyone, it means you’re in a hurry and that you’ve forgotten your friends. Take the time to live!  Take care.

It wasn’t long after we kept wishing each other enough that we began declaring our love for each other.

Although I love Stephanie to pieces, and tell her so every day, I will always wish her enough!

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42 Capons

During my packing plant career in the 1970s and 80s, I would spend Friday afternoons or evenings in a Vail, Iowa, bar. Whether it was Lucky’s, Homer’s, the Longbranch, or the American Legion Club, I could be found in one of them.

Vail, with a population of fewer than 500 residents, managed to support four bars. That was in the 1980s. Today, three of the bars remain in existence. There’s been a name change or two, a bit of remodeling, switch in ownership, but the same number of residents continue to keep three bars alive.

One afternoon, I was sitting with three other packinghouse workers enjoying a cool beer at the Legion Club. A young man walked in and asked if anyone was interested in buying some capons. We all knew him; he was brought up in a family of about ten or twelve who lived a few miles north of town.

Before I go on, I may need to explain to those not familiar with farm animals just what a capon is. A capon is a castrated rooster. A castrated horse is a gelding, a barrow is a castrated hog, a castrated bull is a steer, and a castrated human is respectfully called a eunuch. Capons are actually more tender and juicier than a hen. Besides, one can weigh up to ten pounds, dressed. That’s a lot of good tender, juicy, chicken meat.

We agreed to pay $50 for 42 capons. There was a catch; we had to go out to where he lived to capture them. They were all over the farmyard. I wasn’t able to go with them that Friday night. I don’t recall what prevented me from joining in the fun of corralling 42 chickens in the fading sunlight. However, I did offer to show up at Miller’s farm the next morning to help butcher. Also, since I didn’t participate in the Friday night chase, I promised all the gizzards, livers, hearts, etc. to those who did. [I could do without the livers, anyway.]

Saturday morning, seven of us set up a processing line, each with a different set of tasks. Within a couple hours, we tipped a few beers to a job well done. I took my seven wrapped capons home and placed them in the freezer of our refrigerator. Once defrosted, each had to be cut in two halves to fit in the pot. Eventually, I made soup out of all of them with the exception of one. It was roasted. My, they were delicious.

The following Monday, I had ridden to and from work with one of the other three guys. Coming back into town he asked if I wanted to stop for a beer. Sure, why not? The other two guys were sitting in the Legion Club already. We sat at the same table we had sat at the previous Friday.

We weren’t there very long when Teddy walked in. He stood at the bar, a few feet from us and, after he had ordered a beer, told the person he was standing next to that his hired hand took off last Friday, and what was strange is that he managed to take off with over forty capons. Oops! We all heard him.

We invited Teddy to sit down with us and we told him the story of how his hired hand came in asking if we wanted to buy some capons. Teddy was one of the most mild-mannered persons you could ever meet. He laughed. “Son-of-a-gun!” He shook his head and smiled.

We promised to chip in and pay him, but he wouldn’t have it. He said something about learning his lesson. Hell, we did, too. I just can’t remember, but I’m sure we paid Teddy something.

If you are ever offered a capon that is still alive, be sure that the person offering it owns it, and savor every bite. It will be the best chicken you ever eat.

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Hey, Joe! Where you going with that gun in your hand?

WARNING!  Do not read this while eating!

After writing about one of my favorite watering holes when I was younger, I had a few people ask me to write to about Homer’s brother, Joe.  I blogged about Joe’s brother, Homer, last November.  If you thought Homer was one-of-a-kind, you didn’t know Joe.  He was far beyond what you have ever seen.

As Dave Berry would say: “I’m not making this up.”  That is probably the biggest reason why some former Vailians (people who used to live in Vail, Iowa) wanted me to pen this.  No one would believe it.  [I never noticed how much Vailians is similar to villains.  Huh!]

Almost anyone living in a rural area will know what is meant by a rendering truck.  For those who don’t know, a rendering truck is a truck used in the process of transporting deceased animals to a rendering plant where the carcasses are used to create byproducts.

For years, the rendering truck driver in the Vail, Iowa, area was Joe Devaney.

Joe drank a bit.  Actually, Joe was impaired all the time.  I don’t believe I have ever heard anyone talk about a time when they had seen Joe sober.  A faithful Catholic, Joe never missed Mass on Sunday mornings.  He wasn’t actually sober then.  He sat in the back with the rest of us who fulfilled our weekly obligation out of fear of our mothers, and then continued long after out of habit.

At communion time, Joe would stagger up to the front of the church to receive the blessed sacraments.  As church etiquette goes, everyone should have been praying, most symbolically with their heads down, but a stray eye couldn’t miss Joe coming up to have a eucharistic minister hand him a host, which he chomped on as if it were a Ritz cracker.  Next, he would waddle over to the minister with the wine (blood of Christ).  He would take a huge sip.  Anyone in line after Joe passed on the wine, if there was anything left.  Except for choir members.  None of them saw Joe drinking from the chalice.

The reason why no one wanted to follow Joe in drinking from the chalice had nothing to do with his occupation, nor his permanent condition.  No, it had everything to do with the fact that Joe chewed tobacco.  It was unusual to see Joe without a dribble of tobacco-stained dribble running down his chin.  He may have had a wad of Red Man chewing tobacco in his cheek at the time of communion.  I doubt anyone wanted to know for sure.

Nonetheless, Joe would be wearing clean overalls, a neatly pressed flannel shirt, and have his thinning hair neatly combed.  The red baseball went on his head after Mass and never came off until next Sunday.

Meanwhile, during the week, Joe was someone to avoid.  His overalls would be dirty, and they would smell.  What would you expect from a guy who manhandled dead cow, sheep, and pig carcasses all day long?  I believe he may have even soiled his overalls a time or two.  Rarely did he wear gloves.

I have heard from some friends of mine a few stories that I cannot verify, but knowing Joe, I attest to their truthfulness:

  • Joe was known to sit on a dead cow eating his lunch prior to loading it in his truck;
  • There was a corner intersection somewhere out in the country where farmers would bring their diseased or dead animals, drop them off in the ditch and when Joe Devaney made his rounds, he would collect these animals and throw them in the back of his truck.  One day a farmer was on his horse checking his fields.  He tied up the horse and started walking the fields to check the crops.  Joe came along and saw the horse without a rider and shot it and put it into his truck!  (Often, a farmer would leave the animal in the ditch still alive so Joe would have to shoot it because they just couldn’t do it.)
  • Occasionally, a stray dog would show up in town. Someone would complain and the city officials would tell Joe.  He would find it, shoot it, and throw it in the back of his truck with the other dead animals.  He shot more than his share of someone’s pet, but I don’t think he ever knew it.

Homer’s had a good-sized room in the back with two large round tables for playing cards and a pinball machine in the corner by the entrance to the bar.  If you heard the back door slam, you needed to look up. Homer’s brother, Joe, would come by and ruffle the hair of the guy sitting nearest his staggering route through to the front.  You learned never to sit on that side of the table.  You also learned to tilt the pinball game quickly and move on.

Daily, except on Sunday, he would stop in Vail and go to his brother’s bar for a shot of whiskey with a dead carcass or more in the back of the truck.  If you were anywhere within one block of where his truck was parked, you smelled it!  He tried to park it in the shade, but some fool working downtown would beat him to the shaded parking slot in the alley.  It served them right to have the window rolled down a bit.

Joe also owned a windowless building in an alley off of Main Street.  He aptly called it the wool shed.  It wasn’t a shed as you might picture a shed; it was a solid brick building no larger than an average one-car garage.  He used it to store wool.  Wool was stored in burlap bags that were over seven feet in length with a circumference of about four feet.  He used the building to nap, often.  During summer months, it was hot as hell in there.  Yet, it didn’t bother him.  It didn’t bother him to store a bottle in there, either, and take a nip upon waking.  He once offered me a drink from the bottle.  I was walking down the alley.  1) Hot as hell; 2) tobacco juice around the rim; 3) the obvious stench surrounding us?  I turned down the invitation.

Marvin’s Provisions was a wholesale meat distributor in Vail.  Naturally, once meat is cut up it produces unwanted products like bones, tallow, fat, etc.  These byproducts were tossed into large 50-gallon drums, and Joe would pick them up on a regular basis and dump them into the back of his truck.  Many times, there would be a dead animal or two in the back.  The bones, fat, etc. was dumped on top.  No matter whatever truck needed loaded or unloaded, Joe’s haul took precedent.  You can understand why at this point in the blog.

I worked at Marvin’s during three years of high school, and for a while after I graduated.  In the early days of working there, I would punch out after work and go back to the slaughter house portion of the facility and watch Joe slaughter.  I wanted to learn how to butcher pigs, cows, and sheep so that I might be able to take over when Joe quit slaughtering.

Marvin’s began as Marvin’s Market, and part of the retail store was a locker service.  You could rent a locker (approximately 4’ x 3’ x 2’) in the huge freezer in the back of the store.  Lockers were used for storing frozen food when people in town didn’t have a deep freeze at home, or needed additional freezer space.  Part of this business was slaughtering, butchering, processing, and freezing.  I was fascinated with the slaughtering part of it.  I watched Joe every chance I could.  I knew I could do it all, except for shooting the poor animal.  However, I was psyched to overcome that struggle if I ever had the chance.

Joe didn’t get much for slaughtering.  He may have received $10 and the hide.  I am sure the hide was worth much more than the $10 at the time.  As far as I know, as drunk as he might be, I never saw him cut himself, or damage a hide.  I did assist once in a while, but Joe was faster without help.

A sow he was butchering once carried about 5 or 6 piglet fetuses.  Joe was going to dump them into the barrel with other non-edibles, such as lungs, when I asked if I could have them.  He never asked what I was going to do with them.  I wrapped them individually in freezer paper and placed them in the sharp freeze section of the freezer.  The following morning, before I had to catch the bus to school, I made a stop at Marvin’s and picked up the frozen piglets.  I was proud as hell bringing them into Sister Carlyce, the biology teacher, hoping that someday we could dissect the pigs rather than earthworms.  I never knew what became of those critters, but I’m going to assume that she couldn’t use them because they weren’t soaked in formaldehyde.

Marvin quit slaughtering before I graduated from high school.  He focused his investment in growing the wholesale business.  The only chance I had to slaughter after that was working for IBP in Dakota City at the age of 18 on the kill floor.  I can still butcher, but you’re gonna pay me more than $10 and a hide if I accept.

Joe died at the age of 67 in 1973.  He never married.  He was a corporal in the U.S. Army during WW II.  I learned a long time ago that many men served their country in the military, and you never heard a word about it while they were living.  You know only when he is given a military honor at his funeral.  I wonder if Joe suffered from PTSD.

Surprisingly, to my knowledge, or to the knowledge of anyone I know, Joe was never arrested for driving under the influence.  The rendering plant on the east side of Carroll was over 20 miles away, and he had to drive through Carroll on busy Highway 30 to get there.  I do know, however, that he received a speeding ticket once.  I heard him complain about it.  Can you imagine a law enforcement officer wanting to walk up to the driver side window after pulling over a rendering truck?  Joe’s rendering truck?


Acknowledgements:  Thanks to my sister, Kathleen, Terry Murtaugh, and Dennis Mohatt for their contributions to this blog.  After publication, there may be more stories to post about Joe.

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Clay Spear Amendments

Clay Spear was a legislator from Wever, Iowa, when I began my lobbing career in 1992.  Rep. Spear, a former postmaster in southeastern Iowa, died while in office, on January 27, 1993.  I recall coming into the Capitol on a Thursday morning and asking why there was a black cloth over his desk.  I was hurt when I found out he died the night before.  He served in the Iowa Legislature for over 18 years.  He was a master at checking bills for improper and poor grammar.  Oh, how we need him now.

My friend, Mark Lambert, told me that he had “channeled” Rep. Spear once when he explained to his city council that he had discussed an issue with other city attorneys via an email list.  He said it was an email list of the “large city attorneys” in Iowa, then he clarified with, “that’s large-city city attorneys, not large city attorneys, though I could belong to either group!”  It’s a perfect example of what Clay Spear would find in legislation and offer an amendment to fix it.

Rep. Spear could have an amendment to a bill that did nothing but add a comma.  Maybe his amendment would insert a hyphen, nothing more.  “Small town police officer” to “Small-town police officer.”  It makes a difference, doesn’t it?  The only legislators today who would know what someone was saying if they mentioned a “Clay Spear Amendment” would be Reps. Dennis Cohoon, Steve Hansen, Brent Seigrist, and Senators Tony Bisignano and Pam Jochum.  Long after his death, amendments introduced to correct spelling, grammar or syntax were often called “Clay Spear amendments.”

Iowa used to be the education state.  It’s on the 2007 Iowa quarter.  “Foundation in Education.”  Every other state in the nation was jealous of Iowa and looked up to us.  Now, we’re barely in the top ten and sinking.  I think I know why.  We have a problem in Iowa with sentence structure.

I have pointed out quirks and failures in the Iowa Code several times.  Flaws in the Laws: Part I – Employment Drug Testing; Flaws in the Laws: Part II – Mourning Dove Hunting; Flaws in the Laws – Part III: 2nd Degree Kidnapping; and the most recent blog – Flaws in the Laws: Part IV – Disturbing the Peace, which was posted almost a year ago.  That most recent blog highlighted a problem with syntax in a bill.  Guess what?  The bill, requested by the Iowa County Attorneys Association, has been introduced in both chambers and is moving.  It passed the Iowa House of Representatives 88-0 on Tuesday, February 2nd.  There have been no revisions to this bill.

The ICAA conducts a lot of training for its members.  However, absent but definitely needed is a refresher course on basic English grammar.

In the ICAA bill, as I have written about last March, is the amended language (underlined is new language):

“2.  Makes loud and raucous noise in the vicinity of any residence or public building which intentionally or recklessly causes unreasonable distress to the occupants thereof.”

The language was added to address the absence of criminal intent.  It didn’t change the intent of the sentence.  The sentence remains “goofy.”  From what you can remember of grade school classes in grammar (maybe even high school or college), read that sentence aloud a few times and see if you don’t find that the object causing “unreasonable distress” is the “residence or public building?”  Remember, a sentence has a subject, a verb, an object, and a few modifiers.  Modifiers are adjectives and adverbs.  Now, without getting into teaching everyone all over again about proper grammar, can you diagram that sentence?  You never learned to diagram?  Oh, my!  That is what needs to be taught in school once again.

The last time I saw diagramming was during an Advanced Legal Research and Writing course, and the instructor, Curt Sytsma, wrote on the white board, “Jesus wept!”  He underlined the phrase and drew a line between Jesus and wept.  That is what diagramming is about – separate the parts of a sentence to the subject, verb(s), object, modifiers, etc.

How will this poorly-worded bill play out if the measure is enacted?  Will the courts say, ‘well, we know what it means, so we’ll rule that the person caused “unreasonable distress to the occupants?”’  They shouldn’t.  A smart lawyer, or maybe even a mediocre one if you can find one, is going to get someone off on a “technicality.”

In Auen v. Alcoholic Beverages Div., 679 NW 2d 586 (Iowa 2004) Justice Wiggins wrote for a unanimous Court that the “goal of statutory construction is to determine legislative intent. State v. McCoy, 618 N.W.2d 324, 325 (Iowa 2000). We determine legislative intent from the words chosen by the legislature, not what it should or might have said. Painters & Allied Trades Local Union v. City of Des Moines, 451 N.W.2d 825, 826 (Iowa 1990)Auen at 590.

I sent my concerns to several lawmakers; I discussed my concerns with the ICAA’s lobbyist; I drew up a short brief and shared it with legislative staff in both chambers, and nothing has changed.

These are the leaders that are arguing over our children’s education.  And yet, it seems as though none of them have the ability to recognize a poorly-worded sentence.  Is this why Iowa is no longer the education envy of the nation?  Hah!  I wonder how many elected officials recognized that I began a sentence with a conjunction.

I’m no Clay Spear, but I’m going to bet that he is having grave thoughts about this language problem resting in his tomb.


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Wintertime Fun in Vail

We’re getting more snow.  The previous blast of snow and cold air a few weeks ago, left branches covered with wet, heavy snow, and very slick streets.  Once again, this month, I am reminded of living as an adolescent in Vail.  No, not Vail, Colorado, but Vail, Iowa.

Vail, Iowa, sits on a hill, a fairly steep hill.  Running through the middle of town, west to east, is a farm-to-market road.  A farm-to-market road is a county road that is of a better quality than the streets in a rural town.  Its purpose is to connect “rural or agricultural areas to market towns.”

The FTM road dissecting Vail, Iowa, was a smooth road.  Unlike the town’s streets that were tarred and covered with pea gravel, the FTM road was tarred and covered with sand.  The difference was noticeable, especially in winter.  During the winter, a kid’s sled on the FTM road would not suddenly stop because it hit a patch of pea gravel.

When we were hit with a good-sized snow storm, often the kind that would close schools for at least a day, the county maintenance crew (secondary road maintenance) would head out to clear off the rural gravel roads.  The first step in that process was to clean the FTM road.  The road grader would not reach down to the road surface since the result would be to tear up the road.  So, a decent layer of snow remained on the road.  Vehicles coming into town, driving down the slope, helped to pack the snow on the road.  Vehicles attempting to leave town would rarely get up the road, would spin and spin, and eventually back down the hill and take an alternate route.  The spinning tires would create ice.  Back in the day, most people had “snow tires” and thought they could go anywhere.  But not up the church hill.

The church hill was named appropriately because the United Presbyterian Church at the time was the prominent feature at the apex.  From there to the bottom of the hill was a three-block long slope that, according to my guess, rivaled a good hill in the heart of San Francisco.  I believe the 1st half of the hill was close to a 15% grade, leveling off as you slid into the last block.

Several kids would run around town trying to find the city maintenance man in order to ask him to post “the signs” on the road.  The signs were nothing more than a sawhorse with a message stating: “Caution! Children sledding.”  There were two signs; one at the first intersection down the hill; the other was located in the middle of the intersection after the second block.  People in town respected those words of caution, except the Nelson family.

The Kenny Nelson family lived on the north side of town.  I can’t recall one member of that family stopping at the caution signs, and rarely would they slow down.  It’s a wonder we all lived without getting hit by a Nelson car.

The hill was occupied by more than kids that lived in town.  I remember the Nepple boys bringing their huge homemade bobsled into town.  Other children were brought into town by their parents.  An occasional out-of-towner would join the fun, as well.

A few older country people would attempt to drive up the hill while there were scores of children sledding.  They never made it.  We were not nice to people who thought they had priority on the road while we were sledding.  We didn’t stand in front of them, but as their tires were spinning you can bet some kid would walk up to their window and ask some dumb question, or tell the driver something they already knew.  “Your tires are spinning.”  “You’re not going very fast.”  “I don’t think you’ll make it to the top.”  Likewise, there were so many kids on the slope it was almost impossible for a car coming from the country to travel down the road.  Sledders at the top of the hill refused to yield.

It wasn’t long after I became a teenager that the long, steep hill was sanded and salted after being cleared by the road grader.  I am going to have to guess that government bureaucracy became much more important than a bunch of kids having fun and staying out of trouble.  After all, this is a FTM road, and farmers needed to bring their goods to town.  Bull!  Never did they need to get marketable items to any town, particularly on a Saturday or Sunday.  I am sure church was a necessary factor for some, and the challenge of making it to town from the farm for the sake of making it to town from the farm was another buckle slot in the bureaucratic belt.  It was sad to see the weekend entertainment come to an end.

Today, I live at the bottom of a hill similar to the one I lived near as a kid.  It’s a residential street, and the road is not plowed for at least twenty-four hours after a snowstorm of 2 inches or more.  It is cruel entertainment watching the numerous vehicles attempt to get to the top of the hill.  Like a kid in Vail, I want to say inane things as I see them back down the hill.  Many don’t understand that trying to back into a driveway is the worst thing they can do.  The vehicle will slide off the pavement, off the driveway, and get hung up with one wheel over the curb and the other three seeking to find a predicament of their own.

I no longer own a sled, but if I did, I might want to try sledding down Lynner Drive in Des Moines.  Providing, of course, that no family by the name of Nelson lives nearby.

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