Your Attention, Please . . .

Last week, it seems like it took me forever to read a New York Times article about whether I might have adult ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).  I had trouble focusing.

My spouse, with whom I associate ADD, would interrupt my reading to point out a pretty bird in the yard.  After admiring it for a bit, she forgot what she came to tell me. Oh, that’s okay, I had to find something on my disorganized desk, or check the mail, or get something to eat.

Perhaps I should not have read the article.  I have a To-Do list that is seven pages long.  I should be rearranging priorities on the list rather than reading something that has nothing to do with me.

The article did reveal something that I believe explained why my Iowa Test of Basic Skills tests had a huge slump on the graph when it came to reading comprehension.  My geography, math, English grammar, and other ratings were always 90 to 99.  However, reading comprehension caused a dip in my overall score.  Then I read last week “that adults who are diagnosed with A.D.H.D. must have also experienced significant symptoms of the disorder before the age of 12, even if they were not formally diagnosed during childhood, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or D.S.M.”

I remember scoring in the 30s on the ITBS Reading Comprehension section.  Every time the results would come back, I wanted to argue.  I should have scored perfectly in those sections.  How else can you explain that I did well in the math sections when the questions went something like: “A train leaves Philadelphia at 6:00 am traveling west at 50 mph; another train leaves St. Louis at 7:00 am traveling east at 45 mph.  At what time and place will they meet?”  I could get the answers to the questions easily.  However, I did wonder who put those questions together because there wasn’t enough information.  Were they passenger trains or freight trains?  Did they have to pick up or let off passengers?  Were there stops to exchange boxcars along sidings, or pick some up, along the way?  There is also the problem of the United Transportation Union requiring breaks and shift changes for engineers and other personnel.

But I played their silly game as if the trains were remotely controlled and had no scheduled stops.  Not to mention the inability of having to maintain that speed going up and through mountains . . .

Now, where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Stephanie remembered what she came to talk about.  I’m sure it was important.

I am not going to waste my time reading about this condition again.  There is even a treatment plan for it.  If I had it, why would I want to change?  I sort of like myself.

It’s a good thing I am not afflicted with ADHD.  I wouldn’t want to live that way.

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Exercise Can Be Exhilarating

As we get older, exercise becomes more difficult.  I long for the days when I could ride my bicycle down the hill all the way to Homer’s, have a couple beers, and throw the bike in the back of someone’s pickup and catch a ride back up the hill.  All of that ‘throwing’ and ‘catching’ must have consumed a lot of calories.

Stephanie and I walk almost every day.  Well, Stephanie does.  I’m sporadic.  Last year, we walked between three and five miles daily.  This year, Stephanie is still at it; I’m a few miles behind – like a continent behind.

Growing up in Vail, several of us kids had a variety of ways to exercise.  When we were young, we played redneck, dangerous livestock farm hands against indigenous people.  We used water guns and water balloons as hand grenades (yes, cowboys and Indians didn’t have grenades, but our imaginations were creative).  We examined every square inch of the countryside within a mile with treks along creeks and the river, fencerows, pastures, alfalfa fields, and through corn rows.

In later years, during the day, you might find a few of us building tunnels and forts at Alley North’s haybarn.  Actually, you couldn’t find us.  That was the point.

The hay barn contained thousand of bales of hay.  These were not the huge round bales you see along fence rows in Iowa today.  These bales were two-string bales about 16” x 18” and 4-ft long.  Each weighed between 60 and 80 lbs., depending upon the contents (alfalfa, grass, mixtures, etc.).  The barn was constructed with poles and galvanized siding on three sides.  The southeast side of the barn was open.

If Alley came by and saw one of us, he would jump out of his vehicle and head into the barn to catch us.  We had so many tunnels, some connected, some not.  It must have looked like a whack-a-mole game to anyone trying to catch us.  Our system of tunnels was simple, and we built them so that the fattest of the gang could get through the tunnel with ease.  Underground rooms were supported with board we found inside and outside the barn.  We were careful not to add a lot of weight to the roof of the room.

On the open side of the barn, we would have three to four bales strategically placed so that they would pop out when we got to the end of a tunnel.  From several disguised lookouts, we could see where our pursuer(s) were located and plan our escape accordingly.  I don’t remember that any kid ever got caught.

I am sure that Alley thought we might be smoking.  We were not that dumb.  Yes, there were plenty of risks, but all of us pests are still alive to this day, or passed away from other ailments, naturally or unnaturally.  No one was ever harmed in the hay barn.

Alley would have things straightened out, and within a month, we were at it again.  Like gophers, we came back to pop our heads up out of the kid-made bales to get the adrenaline going when Alley spotted us again.

Alley North also owned the grain elevator at that time.  On an occasional Sunday, we would sneak into the basement from a window that was missing.  We would ride the one to two-person caged elevator up to the top.  One hundred twenty feet.  What a view from the headhouse.  I am not a person familiar with heights, so I didn’t go out onto the roof, but I know a few did.

If Alley came to the elevator, we had a little game we played with him.  Next to the caged elevator was a ladder you could use from the first floor all the way to the top.  It was dark in there.  In most places in the shaft, you couldn’t see the ladder from the passenger elevator.  We could climb down the ladder to a spot in the darkness and go to the back side of the ladder to hang on and lean against the wall.  The passenger elevator’s controls were wired in such a way that if you kept your finger on the up button (or down button), anyone pushing a button at the top, the first floor, or the basement, could not override the direction of the elevator.

Someone always made it to the first floor coming down the ladder.  While Alley was in the headhouse looking to see where we were hiding, the first person to the first floor pushed the ‘down’ button and held it.  Alley was stuck on top.  I’m not sure he knew about this button flaw, but the elevator would stop when a kid yelled, he would hop in the cage and push the ‘down’ button.  If Alley did happen to push the ‘up’ button, the kid in the cage would grasp a rung on the ladder and swing back behind it.  Depending on how many of us kids dared to do this, the game could go on for most of the afternoon.

No one was ever caught.  No one was ever hurt.  We were foolish, but we were invincible kids.  We probably left the elevator and ran to the haybarn to hide and plan our next incredibly stupid caper.

Next blog:  How we exercised at night, featuring J.C. McCullough.


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Pissed Off

A private sector employee from Iowa goes across the border on a Friday after work to Illinois and his friends ask if he wants a hit off a blunt.  He takes a hit and thinks nothing of it.  Recreational use of pot is legal in Illinois.  On his way home on Sunday, he realizes that there could be a random drug test early in the week and has heard that marijuana will stay in his system for up to 30 days.  He purchases a package of fake urine at a vape shop.  The following Monday morning, he is asked to take a random drug test.  He manages to get the fake urine into the beaker without anyone seeing him.

Days later, a lab result suspects that he may have used fake urine.  Depending upon a union contract; an employee handbook; or company policy that has been posted conspicuously, the employee may be disciplined, or in a severe case, terminated.  However, he can also be arrested for a simple misdemeanor: defrauding a drug or alcohol test.

The Iowa House of Representatives passed House File 283 by a vote of 61-30 last February with virtually no debate.  Of course, what’s the sense in debating a bill that is rammed down the minority party’s throat?  The bill creates “the criminal offense of defrauding a drug or alcohol test,” and establishes the penalty for the offense as a simple misdemeanor for the first offense and a serious misdemeanor for subsequent offenses.  The Iowa Senate did have debate prior to passing HF 283 along party lines.  The 32-16 vote had Republicans falling in line with its caucus, and most Democrats falling in line with their caucus (one Democrat – Sen. Kevin Kinney voted with Republicans).

The governor signed it into law in March.  It became law on July 1.

This must be one of the most wasteful uses of legislators’ time.  It reminds me of two other bills I saw enacted over the years.  In the 1990s, a bill became law that created the crime of not returning a video cassette to a movie rental business.  I know of no law enforcement officer who has ever been engaged in arresting someone for failing to return “Back to the Future” or any other videos.  It’s not worth their time.  They will tell you that.

Then, not that long ago, the Iowa Legislature passed a law that made the failure of returning farm equipment to an implement rental provider a crime.  I argued that the matter is for a civil court, not a criminal court.  I have no idea how many law enforcement hours have been used to corral lost implements of husbandry, but I’m sure it doesn’t happen that often.

This law falls into the category of law enforcement saying, “this is not worth our time to proceed with acquiring evidence, showing up in court for preliminary hearings, trials, etc.”  But the real story is going to be whether due process has been afforded to the employee.  The law does not distinguish between a private sector employee and a public sector employee; it covers both.  However, the public sector employee has more due process protection since the Iowa Supreme Court has said that “procedural due process protection must be afforded when an at-will public employee is discharged for reasons of dishonesty, immorality, or illegal conduct.”

Even a private sector employee has some protection.  Prior to this law, there would be no constitutional protection for a private sector employee.  Now that the legislature has made a segment of private sector employment criminal, there arises new arguments.

The statutory presumption of innocence is found in the Iowa Criminal Code. It requires a person’s guilt be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal proceedings. Iowa Code § 701.3. We do not believe this statute implies a public policy applicable in the employment context. While a defendant charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty, this right is limited to criminal proceedings.

Borschel v. City of Perry, 512 NW 2d 565 – Iowa: Supreme Court 1994

 Why does the Iowa Legislature continue to pass legislation without researching constitutional case law?  One answer might be that the majority party believes that the case of Borschel is just an opinion; that only the legislature may create laws.  But my take is that the word “fraud” has a powerful political pull.

As I have claimed for over thirty years, a urine test will not indicate impairment.  It will show only that there are metabolites of a substance in the body.

Have you ever had a hangover?  You may not be drunk, but a urine test will show that you may still have traces of alcohol in your system.  This idea of thinking that employees will conduct themselves properly without using drugs or alcohol during their private time is superfluous.  The irony can be found with executives that hit the golf course during the day to entertain prospective clients, while having a drink or two, condemning the worker who tries to hold on to employment when the circumstances and odds are against her.

At the least, a conspicuous notice of some sort should be posted where employees can see it, warning them of the criminal act and its consequences.  In the long run, it might lead to a less expensive practice.  Not giving proper notice to a crime could lead to a dismissal of the criminal case and cost an employer punitive and compensatory damages.  This should have been included in the bill.

If the employee is at-will, which most Iowa employees are, why don’t employers just fire them?  Why is it necessary to have these feel-good laws that a lobbyist may have sold to a client to show that they can get a law passed?

Next up.  National Guard troops to search vehicles for liquor that was purchased across state lines in order to avoid paying Iowa’s higher booze taxes.


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When I was child in St. Ann’s Grade School, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was running to become the President of the United States.  JFK was a Catholic, just like Joe Biden.  The nuns, the priests, and most Catholics I knew got behind JFK and supported his candidacy, and eventually, his presidency.

I heard the concerns.  ‘He will be taking orders from the Pope.’  ‘All laws will come from the Catholic Church.’  Protestants were scared that the Pope, the bishops, and priests would be running the country, and that they might be persecuted.  None of that happened.

However, here we are, sixty years later, and instead of celebrating another president of the Catholic Faith, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is condemning President Biden because he doesn’t follow the religion’s position on abortion in his political life, although he does oppose abortion in his personal life.  By a vote of 168 – 55, “the bishops went forward with plans for a report on the meaning of the Eucharist in the church.” The report will be a part of a long process in which President Biden “and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights” may be eventually rebuked.  In the Church, rebuke means censure.

“This movement is driven by the extremely conservative wing of the Catholic Church.”  There should be no conservative wing of the Catholic Church.  There should be no liberal wing.  Jesus is simple.  Feed the poor, heal the sick, be kind.  Jesus taught forgiveness, peace, and love of one’s self and others – not just those who think and act like you.  And Jesus warned his followers that they should not be quick to judge (like the bishops).

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Matthew 7:1-2

The Catholic Church also opposes capital punishment.  It is hypocritical that some priests will refuse to offer communion to a politician who is pro-choice, but piously give it to the politician who supports and introduces legislation to enhance or establish the death penalty.  There are far too many of the latter.

I graduated from a Catholic High School.  That same school will ask me once a year to help financially support its mission to teach adolescents about Catholicism and Jesus’ word.  I refuse to contribute.  It is painful to know that a vast majority of students that came from that school, my class and beyond, were taught well that abortion is a sin, and all Catholics should oppose it.  Supposedly, the school did not give the same weight to the death penalty.  Those same alumni that have lectured me on the evils of abortion [I have been called a baby killer by a few] support the death penalty, unequivocally.

The U.S. bishops should not be making policy that allows individual priests or bishops to determine the cleanliness of a communion recipient’s soul or the conscience of her mind.  Where does this lead?

“Once we legitimate public policy-based Eucharistic exclusion as a regular part of our teaching office — and that is the road to which we are headed — we will invite all of the political animosities that so tragically divide our nation into the very heart of the Eucharistic celebration,” . . . That sacrament which seeks to make us one will become for millions of Catholics a sign of division.”  Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego.

The purpose of this so-called report is to increase participation in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  It will have an adverse affect.

Abortion has torn the Catholic Church apart.  It has come to a point in time when the only issue that matters to many Catholics is the eradication of all abortions.  That will not happen.  There will always be abortions, albeit most of them in foreign countries (for the wealthy Americans), or dimly lit, unsanitary rooms off back alleys.  That’s where they occurred prior to 1973.  Innocent lives were lost during that era, also.  Young women, facing unwanted pregnancies were left to find a med school washout who would perform the abortion.  The young innocent woman was often a fatal casualty of the meatball surgery.  The dirty knife amateur surgeons were rarely, if ever, found or prosecuted.

Meanwhile, the practice of state killing continues.  Candidate Joe Biden promised to abolish the federal death penalty.  But like an octopus, on his other hand he “broke his promise and failed his first death penalty test in a very big way when his administration filed a brief with the United States Supreme Court asking it to reinstate the death sentence of Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.”  Where is the majority of Catholic bishops on this matter?  Silence.

President Joe has said that the issue of a possible rebuke is a private matter.  It is.  And Catholics should understand that.  However, the broken promise of seeking the death penalty, which is a government matter, should be an outrage by the bishops.  They should be as loud about this issue as they are with abortion.  The entire Catholic population should be up in arms – like an octopus.


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What’s That?

Several years ago, I underwent a hearing test at the VA Central Iowa Health Care Center, better known as the VA Hospital and Clinics.  The results of the test determined that my hearing was normal.  I know that’s a crock of crap, but I had a hearing test at Farmland Foods (now known as Smithfield Foods) in Denison, Iowa, back in the late 1980s.  At that time, my hearing was also normal.  I couldn’t hear well then; I can’t hear well now.

Our mother couldn’t hear very well.  Of course, the Ryan kids suspected that mom had selective hearing.  I may have inherited that trait.  However, now that I’m as old as I am, I’m going to defend her.  It’s my belief that mom was inflicted with ADD and OCD (not going to spell them out).  “What?” becomes a habit.

But really, I am having a difficult time hearing Stephanie, the television, and the dryer buzzer, and many other sounds I want to hear, many of them existing in nature.  Earlier this week, I thought of scheduling a new hearing test at the VA.  After a few minutes, I thought to myself: ‘I should wait.  Why would I want to hear firecrackers, fireworks, Harleys, and obnoxious music from people peddling bicycles on the trail?’

It’s that time of the year again in which the process of going to sleep becomes more labored than any other time of the year.

In Iowa, you can legally shoot off fireworks from 9:00 am until 10:00 pm from June 1st through July 8th.  The hours are extended on weekends to 11:00 pm.  That’s the legal limitations.  People in our neighborhood must be on a west coast time zone.

When fireworks were illegal in Iowa, residents of the apartments on the south end of the block seemed to be the only neighbors who set them off.  Now that it’s legal to blow your hand off, residents on all sides of us get into the action, especially on the nights of July 3rd and 4th.  The past two years have produced bad-air warnings in Des Moines.  You can see the thick fog of smoke early in the morning – and late in the morning.

My opinion on fireworks has vacillated throughout my life.  First, I like them; then, I didn’t.  When I was younger, if you gave me some firecrackers, cherry bombs, or M80s, I would explode them.  Mostly, placing one under a can, lighting a fuse, and running away to see how far the can would go in the air.

It seems to me that buying something that disappears immediately upon using it is a waste of money.  The older I get, the more I see that most of the fireworks around me are set off by those least able to afford them.  But that’s not the total case.  My neighbors to the north and to the west have the financial resources to purchase them and set them off and that’s what they do, it’s just not as consistent as the neighbors to the south.  I have no idea what it’s like in other neighborhoods, but I must assume that shooting off personal fireworks is not limited to the less fortunate neighborhoods.

As for Harleys, they come and go.  The full minute of listening to one-hundred decibels is no worse than the meat grinder I operated for ten to twelve hours a day when I was a sausage maker.  It ran constantly at ninety decibels.  In the final two years of operating that equipment, the company provided us with earplugs.  Then, they gave us a hearing test.  Everything was normal.

Bicyclists on the trail with the music turned up as loud as possible baffle me.  One day last week I heard a bicyclist go by listening to George Thurgood.  Actually, I heard him coming from over a quarter of a mile away.  Later, I saw a commercial with a guy riding a Harley, and he was listening to the worst 1960s teeny-bopper music – Build Me Up Buttercup.  Role reversal?

Stephanie and I walk every day we can, which is most days, including the winter.  Listening to the birds and watching wildlife move around the trail is one of our treats.  George Thurgood, Toby Keith, and Iron Maiden seem not to blend with nature.  I would like to say that in late fall, we’ll have the trail to ourselves and the eagles, turkey buzzards, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, and deer.  However, at that time the buzzards have migrated, as well as the red-winged blackbirds.  The cardinals are sparse, and several other species are beginning hibernation.  The deer will be with us, and so will a pair of eagles and their young (if we ever get introduced to them).

That’s the time to make an appointment to get my hearing tested.  I’m willing to bet that my hearing is normal.

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America Loves . . .

Famed adman Ed Labunski penned the catchy, classic jingle that branded American culture as “We Love Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet.” Eating one at the ballpark just somehow tasted different from an ordinary hotdog, and dreams of sharing that first hotdog with your young son’s first trip to a ballgame brought wistful smiles to baseball fans throughout the country. Yes, American culture from the 70s was very different from our culture today. We focused on relating to each other, based on shared experiences and desires. My adult children tell me it comes across as rather narcissistic, but it really was just a 70s thing.

Alcoholics Anonymous reflected a different culture back then. Old-timers packed smoke-filled halls playing cribbage and drinking massive amounts of coffee. If you attended 12-step meetings regularly, you could quote what they’d say on each respective step. The first step, “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable,” was dubbed the drunkalogue. No matter how many decades you’d been sober, it was important to keep in the front of your mind what a miserable drunk you’d been. Tearing down statues from the past would have made no sense to these fellows. After all, AA is an honesty program. If you forget where you’ve been and who you’ve harmed, you’re on the road back to becoming that horrible excuse for a human being. “Once a drunk, always a drunk.” This approach worked for most members and as the AA Big Book teaches, don’t judge others; the key to life-long recovery is to focus on improving yourself.

That’s not to say that AA didn’t evolve over time. Nonsmokers decided they just couldn’t handle the immense amounts of second-hand smoke; others felt that meetings should be more targeted or selective in their membership. Groups formed restricting membership to gender, profession, sexual orientation, age…the list goes on. Old-timers thought that sharing the desire to quit drinking was the most important thing to have in common. Life had taught them that working together towards the lifesaving goal of sobriety should be the main focus. Listen with an open mind and you’ll discover that, although details of the stories may be different, it was the consequences of these stories, the same excruciating pain, that bonds those in recovery. Younger members didn’t understand, they felt their experiences and needs were different from those crotchety old men.

Cultures need to evolve over time. For example, back in the day an intervention for alcoholism wasn’t a friendly circle of friends and family trying to break through the alcoholic’s denial by gently sharing stories about the pain caused by the alcoholic’s behavior and guiding them into seeking treatment. No, original interventions were mobs of self-proclaimed loved ones ganging up and brutally attacking the alcoholic and his unwanted behavior. The goal was to break down these dastardly drunks to rebuild them into acceptable, sober people who share the same thoughts and beliefs as other sterling members of society. Eventually this practice stopped. Bullying and ostracism is powerful for those engaging in it, but leaves a destructive path for others to clean up.

AA meetings continued to happily segregate into specialized groups that shared accepted thoughts and values. But then some young members started to question why they should seek a new group. Shouldn’t the present group change for them? Why were the old-timers saying the Lord’s Prayer during meetings? Don’t they realize that this is offensive to other members who are atheists, agnostics or practice other religions? These old men should change for their own good. Their culture is outdated and insensitive. What these whippersnappers didn’t realize is that with culture, comes traditions.

Many people are familiar with 12-step programs, but are ignorant of the 12 traditions designed to address conflicts between members and to protect the purpose of AA. The first tradition stated: “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.” The belief that unity and common welfare is key to stability and sustainability has been lost to heated political discord that is brutally tearing this country apart with no leadership in sight for healing the divide.

Some corporations are tiptoeing through the consequences of violating another old AA tradition: holding “no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” Chevrolet, long-time sponsor for Major League Baseball, has updated its commercial message from loving baseball, hotdogs and apple pie to baseball “reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.” But when MLB decided to slide into a murky political cesspool by moving the All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado to protest a new voting law, it lost sight of its purpose of unity and bringing people together. Baseball once was as American as apple pie.

Stephanie Fawkes-Lee is Senior Sports Correspondent for the Prairie Progressive, and a recovering lobbyist.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of the Prairie Progressive.  Not available at newsstands, but you may subscribe to this quarterly publication, which is “Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter,” by sending a check in the amount of $12 to:  Prairie Progressive, PO Box 1945, Iowa City, IA 52244.

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