comics, des moines, mental health, News, politics, sports

HOT SHEET: Drake Jethro’s trims hours, Trump honors Dan Gable, and horse skeleton chicanery

Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Neighborhood Station.

ITEM ONE: Terrible news from the bar at Jethro’s on Forest Avenue near Drake University: The restaurant is closing on Mondays and Tuesdays for at least six weeks. Insiders tell the typist the restaurant has a steady flow of regulars — including this ol’ Paragraph Stacker — but has struggled to lure students from the nearby campus during the pandemic. With reduced capacity due to COVID-19 social distancing protocols, all restaurants and public gathering spaces are feeling the pinch. Jethro’s owner Bruce Gerleman, a Des Moines businessman and restauranteur, considers the Drake Jethro’s, his first in a chain of seven barbecue joints around the metro, his personal favorite. He’s spoken to the typist of his loyalty to the neighborhood. Of course, all businesses, no matter how altruistic, face the reality of the bottom line. Jethro’s will keep regular hours Wednesday through Sunday. Let’s hope the shortened week is a temporary taking of the knee during exceptional circumstances and not the beginning of the end at Drake Jethro’s.

ITEM TWO: Whenever possible, drink cold beverages over lots of ice in a glass. Pause before you sip to recall our not-too-distant ancestors lapped water from streams. Now we have uncounted flavors of water and ice on demand. What a time to be alive.

ITEM THREE: President Donald Trump plans to award Dan Gable, perhaps the greatest wrestler of all time, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestowed upon citizens, writes Cody Goodwin, the Des Moines Register’s superstar wrestling writer. Whatever one thinks of Trump, it’s a tremendous honor for arguably the finest athlete and coach Iowa ever produced. As a campaign strategy, it isn’t shabby either. Polls have shown Trump dead even or slightly leading in Iowa. Showing some love to a living Iowa legend can’t hurt.

ITEM FOUR: Dedicated to the great state of Florida in all its weirdness: The UPI reports Florida officials seized a package from Hungary containing a full horse skeleton. So for those of you planning on getting a Hungarian horse skeleton for Halloween, remember you need a special agricultural permit.

ITEM FIVE: New Comics Wednesday recommendations:

  • Iron Man 2020: Robot Revolution TPB — The idea of a future with a morally ambiguous Iron Man mercenary first came to be in 1984 created by Tom DeFalco and Herb Trimpe. Now it really is 2020 and things are far worse than Iron Man 2020’s creators envisioned.
  • Rorschach No. 1 — in another case of what’s old is new again, Rorschach, the most interesting characters of the magnificent 1986 Watchman series gets a three-issue DC Black Series run by comics’ best current writer, Tom King.

ITEM LAST: The stress mounts and continues to build as we approach holidays reduced and fall celebrations cancelled by the coronavirus, the most uncivil election in modern memory, an economy on the verge of collapse, joblessness, an impotent Congress and a harmful executive branch. Just remember: You can’t fix it all. All you can do is your best and even then, sometimes you’ll stumble. Take a moment to remind yourself that you are the only one of you in the whole world, a child of God worthy of love, dignity and respect. Then take 10 deep breaths and find one person you love and remind them, too.

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. Daniel P. Finney is controlling transmission. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit

Faith and Values, Iowa, Movies, Pop Culture, Winterset

John Wayne: Iowa’s cultural icon or a ‘rotten SOB?’

Some California Democrats want Orange County to strip John Wayne’s name off their airport because of some racist and homophobic things he said in an interview.

Wayne, of course, was born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset in 1907. He became one of the most successful actors in history. He died in 1979 at age 72.

The damning Wayne quotes come from a 1971 Playboy interview. Wayne supported white supremacy, referred to gay men as perverts and a common homophobic slur and demeaned Native Americans.

I read the interview text. No context has been stripped. Racist thoughts came out of his mouth the way bullets came out of his six-shooter in his Westerns.

It’s ugly and sad.

I don’t know what the fine people of Orange County should do about their airport name.

I suggest they not pick a person.

Who could live up to the scrutiny?

We’re all sinners and these days there’s a concentrated effort to make sure every sin is paid even posthumously.

Thank God the Duke didn’t have Twitter.

I wondered if the flap over the airport would affect the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum in Winterset. I called Brian Downes, the former Chicago Tribune reporter who is executive director of the attraction.

“We’ve been packed lately,” Downes said. “I don’t know how many for sure we had, but they were backed up out the door.”

Wayne has kept his drawing power in ways other Iowa legends haven’t. Cleveland Indians legend Bob Feller died in 2010 and the museum in his native Van Meter soon followed.

The museum is now Van Meter’s city hall with a large exhibit honoring “the heater from Van Meter.”

Wayne, however, died 41 years ago. People still keep coming to see the screen legend’s birthplace.

What to do with the legacy of Wayne provides an interesting challenge for Iowans.

I grew up in Winterset. The main street through town was named in his honor when I was a kid. I watched Wayne Westerns with my dad.

“The Quiet Man” is my favorite romantic movie. “True Grit” and “Rio Bravo” are as good a way to winnow away a lazy Saturday afternoon as I can muster.

Wayne made good art.

Well, sort of.

As fiction, they’re harmless, but I worry too many people think John Wayne Westerns are in any way a historically accurate portrayal of how the Western United States was “settled.”

They’re not. And one could make a strong argument that so many movies, both by Wayne and scores of other Westerns, have badly mislead Americans about the history of this nation, especially atrocities against natives.

Wayne certainly held no empathy for Native Americans.

“I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from the Indians,” Wayne said in the infamous Playboy interview. “Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”

Phew. It gets harder and harder to like this guy every quote I read.

The dictum of this era is that I should renounce Wayne, maybe burn a photo of him and post the video to Instagram to prove how sensitive I am.

But I never watched a John Wayne movie because of what the Duke thought about politics, race or history. I did not take my idea of what it is to be a man from his characters, either.

I watched them to be entertained. That I am entertained by those movies may rankle some people, but I generally believe what I do with my own time is my own damn business.

As for Wayne, don’t look for Winterset to burn down his birthplace and topple the nice bronze statue out front of the museum.

The birthplace is a private not-for-profit outfit. They’re not a public entity and as such not subject to the whims of cultural waves. Wayne’s association with Winterset will be preserved.

Some people will think this is a bad idea, that Wayne should be loathed rather than adored.

But that is the short-sighted nature of things these days. Everything is a dichotomy. Sinners and saints. Good or evil. Hero or villain.

But that all-or-nothing approach is not human nature.

Wayne once said, “Each of us is a mixture of some good and some not so good qualities. In considering one’s fellow man it’s important to remember the good things…

We should refrain from making judgments just because a fella happens to be a dirty, rotten son of a bitch.”

I condemn Wayne’s comments in the Playboy article. They’re indefensible.

But I believe people are more than one thing. I believe a person can create art and say terrible things. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both owned slaves, yet without their guiding hands, we would not be here to debate the propriety of honoring them.

Like most things, it’s all a matter of perspective. The Bible offers some stern guidance on the matter of idolatry.

Maybe we should look at Wayne less as a cultural hero or icon of manliness and simply see him as a man.

All men have the capacity to be good and rotten SOBs.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit

des moines, Iowa, mental health, obesity, People

How a scared transfer student from Winterset ended up in the East High Alumni Hall of Fame

My phone rang on my way back from the doctor in early March. It was the daughter of one of the vice principals I had while a student at East High School in Des Moines.

She cheerfully told me I had been selected to the East High School Alumni Hall of Fame. Somehow the car remained on the road.

It reminded me of a joke I used to tell at reunions before I stopped going. I was voted “Mr. Congeniality” by the Class of 1993. I always wondered if my classmates had a profound sense of irony or they just didn’t know what the word meant.

See? I can be a real jerk. I try not to be, but it happens. What business do I have in the East High Alumni Hall of Fame? That’s a real honor. Eastsiders take that stuff seriously.

The alumni association and the thousands of dollars they give each year to help East kids go on to college is the true pride of the east side.

Putting me into their hall of fame must be an error. I could think of a half dozen people more deserving than me.

I’m just a simple paragraph stacker trying to make his way in the digital world. What’s more, I’ve made more mistakes in my life than I care to admit to.

I’m an anxiety-riddled, depression-prone morbidly obese straight white guy who still reads comic books and collects Funko Pop! figures.

What have I ever done?

A woman from the Class of 1948 nominated me. I met her 28 years ago when I interviewed for an alumni scholarship. She apparently saw something in me that I don’t.

That’s sort of my East High story. Parents 1.0 died by the time I was 14. I ended up at East after leaving Winterset under unhappy circumstances.

The reason I landed there was a couple members of the Class of 1967 decided to remake their lives at ages 41 and invite an orphaned teenager into their home in the spring of 1991.

They became Parents 2.0 and they provided the stable home I’d never really had.

I had given up on family by the time I met them. I was prepared to go back into the foster care system. I didn’t care anymore and I wasn’t going to love anyone or let anyone love me.

Parents 2.0 met my every aggressive rejection with an unrelenting onslaught of love. And so we learned to love each other and I became a better person.

There were East alums Ric Powell and the late Bill Carlson, then the school’s baseball and football coaches, along with East basketball coach Chuck Sutherland, who took mercy on my uncoordinated, slow-footed soul and let me tape knees and ankles for the football and basketball teams and keep the scorebook for the baseball team.

I could not help these men win games, but they still saw value in having me around. It fostered a love of sports and sports writing.

Ed Kelly, in first or second year as advisor, let my writing loose on the pages of the Scroll. They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be a master of something and I got a bunch of those reps writing for the East High Scroll.

I was no photographer, but I learned a lot about perseverance and dedication from the late John Lethcoe, whose rare blood disease made climbing the steps to his classroom multiple times a day a painful chore.

Yet John covered more ground than most teachers in a day, setting up group shots for the yearbook with his famed “One, two — CLICK” shutter press.

I never would have survived to a third day at East had it not been for my classmate and future friend, Tyler Teske.

I transferred in from Winterset, pop. 4,500. There were about 1,800 kids at East when I attended. The office gave me a schedule card that told me where my classes were and when.

They dropped me off in speech class. There was a sub. She didn’t know what to do with me, so she just told me to sit in the back.

The bell rang. I stood in hallway as chaos erupted and the crush of humanity clattered through the basement.

My next class was Algebra II in room B12. That could have been on the moon for all I knew. I felt overwhelmed, lost and very alone. I was going to cry.

Tyler, tall and gangly with big glasses and a friendly face, said to me, “You look like you could use a friend.”

He took my schedule card, showed me to my next class and met me after that class to show me the rest. He lived a few blocks away from Parents 2.0.

Soon we were riding the bus — and later driving in his parents’ Camry — to school everyday. We played basketball after school and talked about the things teenage boys talk about late into the night.

The woman who interviewed me for an alumni scholarship all those years ago helped me receive the Tom Luthens Memorial Scholarship, named after proud East alum and longtime Des Moines school board member Sue Luthens’ late son.

That money helped me attend Drake University where I learned my craft. My first summer job was writing high school baseball and softball game stories for the Register’s sports section. The first doubleheader I was assigned was Hoover at East.

I came into the Register newsroom one day to learn the computer system. I asked a copy editor — one I would later learn was one of the grumpiest men to ever live — where I could sit. He didn’t answer.

But an East alum, Randy Peterson did. Pete said, “Hey kid, he’s an asshole. Sit wherever you want.” And I’ve been stacking paragraphs ever since.

So they’re inducting me to the East High School Alumni Hall of Fame. But that’s not really true. They’re inducting all the people who helped make it possible for me to be there.

It was the teachers and coaches and everyday people of East who embraced the motto “For the Service of Humanity.” They made me better. I can’t possibly ever see myself as worthy of this honor.

But I’ll accept it on their behalf.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit

Crime and Courts, des moines, Des moines police

Why Des Moines’ racial profiling ordinance is a failure before it starts

A well-meaning Des Moines City Council passed a racial profiling ordinance this week. The idea is to prevent police from picking on minorities when enforcing the law.

Racial profiling ordinances feel good, but they don’t amount to much.

Make an ordinance that says don’t do it.


The problem is it’s unenforceable.

Then a cop pulls over a minority.

The minority says he was racially profiled.

The cop said it was a broken taillight.

Cop said. Minority said.

Now what?

Des Moines police already have a policy against racial profiling.

There’s one important difference: A police policy allows the department to investigate patterns of behavior.

The city can only look at the single instance in a single complaint.

Single complaints are weak when it comes to something as complex as racial profiling.

How do we know what the cop was thinking the moment those lights came on?

Is he thinking that’s a black guy where he shouldn’t be or is he thinking that’s a car with a violation?

Even the best detectives aren’t psychic. You can’t do much from a single instance, especially involving vehicles at night where darkness often makes the race of a driver difficult to spot through the back window.

Des Moines police also do spot checks of body and car cameras for racial profiling and other tactics.

A single incident of racial profiling is unacceptable.

It’s also hard to prove.

But a pattern?

That’s a trail of evidence that gives police administrators the power to discipline or fire cops who can’t get with the program.

This system is imperfect, too. It requires trust that police can police themselves, a belief some in our community mark akin to fantasy.

The easiest and most reasonable move would be to ask the Iowa Department of Transportation to include race on driver’s licenses.

Then, every time a cop runs a license for any reason, it’s recorded. Because the state collected the race data, there is less potential for police tampering.

You get hard data that shows who is being pulled over or otherwise stopped by police.

That data can also help shake out patterns of bad behavior and lead to getting rid of bad cops or reforms in how officers’ do their jobs.

This ordinance may evolve, but right now it’s a feel-good measure that doesn’t even satisfy the protestors and reformers who pushed for the change.

Daniel P. Finney, independent journalist

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy. is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit


‘Mr. Wonderful,’ adieu

Ron Branam sometimes told people at the courthouse that his real name was “Mr. Wonderful.” Branam thought it was a joke. But the people who knew and loved him knew it as a statement of fact.

A swimming accident in 1967 paralyzed Branam from the neck down, ending his career as a courts reporter for Polk County. So he reinvented himself as a scheduler, making the state’s largest county court system flow smoother than possible in 40 years of service.

“After his accident he showed us all how to handle adversity,” wrote his friend Bob Barnett.

Branam died May 13. He was 81.

Branam grew up in Earlham. He moved to West Des Moines shortly after he married his wife, Sandy, where the couple would spend the next 62 years.

Branam graduated from the now-defunct American Institute of Business and became a court reporter for Polk County in 1965. He became one of the state’s best.

In his youth, Branam was an athletic sportsman. He swam and golfed, loved the Iowa Hawkeyes and horse racing.

Legend holds he and a few judges occasionally snuck in a few rounds of golf before morning hearings.

In July 1967, Branam took a trip to Battle Lake, Minnesota.

He dove off a dock and broke his neck. Friends pulled him from the water.

He was paralyzed from the waist down. He eventually gained some movement in his arms, but not the fine motor skills needed to rapid-fire transcribe court proceedings.

Judges put Branam in charge of scheduling for Polk County district courts in 1967 at $6,000 a year, half his court reporter salary.

The courthouse had only one wheelchair-accessible entrance at the time and no wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

Branam persevered with a famously chipper attitude. He steered his motorized wheelchair with a joystick on the armrest. His thin form about and wore a dark beard with tufts of white on each side during most of 1980s and 90s.

He was the go-to guy for anyone who wanted to keep track of the constantly shifting schedules of trials and hearings.

“Ron was a consummate professional and a great help to a young women attorney 51 years ago,” Karla Fultz, a former Polk County juvenile court judge and Des Moines attorney, wrote of her friend. “I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him throughout my practice and time as a judge.”

Branam wrangled the schedules for decades as the county’s population grew – and the criminal and civil dockets along with the population.

His organizational skills were credited with saving taxpayers thousands. And he always made time to help people, whether they be high-ranking judges or a befuddled member of the public.

“Not many of us get through this contentious and combative world without having made an enemy or two. Our buddy, Ron, was an exception to that,” Michael McMurry wrote of his longtime friend. “I never knew anybody not to like him or anybody that he didn’t like. As the court administrator, he was simply the best in the business.”

Officials named Branam Handicapped State Employee of the Year in 1986.

He shunned the praise.

“I’m a better employee now than when I was walking,” he told the late Des Moines Register reporter Anne Carothers-Kay for a profile. “I can’t play golf now.”

Branam and his wife turned their West Des Moines backyard into an explosion of colorful blossoms, vines and leaves.

Sandy Branam started the project after their children had grown and moved out. There was no need for a basketball court and tetherball pole.

She wanted to add some flowers along the wheelchair path. It grew to be described as “the arboretum on Ashworth,” per a 2005 Register profile.

The couple spent summers in their gazebo watching birds of many feathers flitter between flowers and feeders.

He requested no services and his remains cremated.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Sandy Branam, an adult son and daughter, grandson and two sisters.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at