Movies, Music, Pop Culture

Thoughts on ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

Ma Rainey’s nephew has just gotten into a car accident driving his aunt and her girlfriend to a recording session in a scene early “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The scene is set in 1927 Chicago. Rainey, played by the incomparable Viola Davis, is about to be hauled away by the police.

Rainey is indignant. Don’t they know she’s the star?

They don’t. Her white manager bribes the cops. She sees the money go from one white hand to another.

Ma Rainey has a lot of power for a Black woman in 1927 America. Her voice sells records and white men will cater to her to a point.

But to get out of going to jail for speaking her mind about a traffic mishap, she needs her freedom bought by a white man.

If the viewer hasn’t caught on by now, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is not a musical bio pic. This is a film about the blues in their truest sense — the oppression of Black and brown people.

She punishes these white men for the oppression and slights she’s endured. She shows up late. She demands her stuttering nephew deliver the intro to her song. She orders Cokes be brought in to combat the heat. She drinks those Cokes slowly while the white record men swear and complain.

Ma Rainey’s voice makes them money. And for as long as it does, they will put up with her. She knows this, hates this and revels in it at the same time.

The trumpet player Levee Green (the late Chadwick Boseman in his final performance) rages against anyone and everyone who doesn’t recognize his ascendancy to the greatest trumpeter of all time.

Levee is cocky and mocks the old ways of his fellow bandmates. He ignores the advice of wise pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) and mocks the faith of trombone player Cutler (Colman Domingo).

Rage bursts from Levee in self-destructive explosions. He becomes obsessed with a locked door. He rams his body into it until he finally cracks through, revealing a space no bigger than a prison cell with the daylight far away — a symbol of how deep a hole the young Black man begins life and how each door broken through runs into another brick wall.

The story ends in tragedy and blood as so many do for Black Americans, then and now.

I would not go so far as to say I liked this movie, but I was absolutely impressed by it. I love the way playwright August Wilson uses language and builds tension with lines the way an orchestra reaches crescendo.

The reason I say I don’t like the movie is because it’s a sad story that makes a sadder statement about the plight of fellow humans that remains true today.

It’s hard to embrace such discomfort. But it’s a good idea that we do and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a worthy place to start.

Daniel P. Finney’s new off-off-off Broadway Play is called “Megatron: The Musical.” 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

Crime and Courts, des moines, Des moines police, humor, Iowa, Media, News, People, Pop Culture, sports, Uncategorized

HOT SHEET: #OldManStudent update, NFL notes, Iowa celebrates small COVID-19 gain, absentee ballot confusion and police success stories

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

ITEM ONE: Update on #OldManStudent. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker takes all his classes online via Zoom meetings at Drake University. This format works better than anticipated, but there are pitfalls. Example: Your typist’s bathroom is about 12 feet from his computer. Always remember to mute your microphone when you answer nature’s call because mics will pick up certain sounds one would just as soon remain private.

ITEM TWO: Other Zoom meeting notes: No one looks good eating a sub sandwich on camera. If you happen to have the NFL season opener on in the background, mute the TV and make sure the TV is not in direct line of the camera.

ITEM THREE: The NFL season began Thursday. The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs beat the Houston Texans. It still feels odd to say “defending champion Kansas City Chiefs,” perhaps the only good thing to occur in 2020. Then again, I’m old enough that it feels weird not to say Houston Oilers. The Bears also did well Thursday evening. The team owes this mostly to not having played.

ITEM FOUR: The typist turns almost all his sporting attention to pro football. His beloved New York Yankees cling to the eighth seed in the American League playoffs. This spot only exists because baseball executives expanded the playoffs to make up for the coronavirus-shortened 60-game regular season. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker questions the wisdom of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman’s “protect all prospects” approach. The typist grimly notes the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals have won more World Series in the last decade than the Yankees. The Yankee batters may be “savages in the box,” but they’re sad sacks in the standings.

ITEM FIVE: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference to celebrate Iowa dropping from No. 1 in coronavirus spread to No. 3. Wow. What an accomplishment. What did Reynolds do, bus some people to Missouri?

ITEM SIX: Just a day after Hot Sheet warned of absentee ballot confusion from well-meaning non-profits, two Iowa judges ruled absentee request forms that were pre-filled with the voter’s name and address were improper, per the Associated Press. The county auditors in Woodbury and Johnson counties sent the request forms to make it easier for people to seek absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, the typist supports efforts to increase voter turnout. However, at some point people must take responsibility for themselves — especially in challenging circumstances. To quote retired Drake University professor Herb Strentz, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

ITEM SEVEN: Recommended viewing for the weekend:

  • Louisiana at Iowa State, noon, Saturday, ESPN. The Cyclones are playing without fans in the stands and the Hawkeyes aren’t playing until spring. Regardless of your allegiance in the Cy-Hawk rivalry, you might as well give ISU your eyeballs.
  • Philadelphia Eagles at the Washington Football Team, noon, Sunday, regional coverage. Hot Sheet knows no teams of regional interest play in this game, but we want to see how many times the announcers accidentally say “Redskins” and then fall all over themselves to apologize.
  • The Boys, Season 2, streaming on Amazon Prime: Superheroes with sex, blood and breast milk reheated with heat vision. I’m not making this up.

ITEM LAST: Lest we be cajoled into thinking the local constabulary only makes news in officer-involved shootings or amid racial tensions, Hot Sheet turns your attention to three items of note in the most recent Des Moines city news letter.

  • Chief Dana Wingert promoted Lillie Miller to captain, naming her the first Black female captain in the department’s history. Miller, an officer since 1999, was also the department’s first Black female lieutenant under former chief Judy Bradshaw.
  • Jeff Edwards, a former public information officer and DMPD Medal of Valor recipient also attained his captaincy.
  • Wingert recognized Senior Police Officer Scott Newman, a 21-year veteran and a member of the department’s tactical unit, with the DMPD Lifesaving Award. Newman rescued five people from a burning car wreck on his way home from work early July 5.

The typist takes a lot of heat from liberal extremists for his support of police. That’s fine. Honorable people disagree. And who gives a damn what dishonorable people think? The ol’ Paragraph Stacker recognizes every police department has problems. No one lives in a utopia. But the typist notes that no matter how bad things get, no matter how many people hate them — when the shit breaks bad and the citizenry cries out for help, the police come running.

OK. That’s it. Listen to our podcast. Be careful out there and, as always, donations welcome and appreciated.

Behave and be kind.

Daniel P. Finney hopes Rick will finally return him to Earth C-137.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way poking fun at the passing parade. 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, News

Masked and confused in Des Moines

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie ordered people to wear masks in public Wednesday — some seven months into the global pandemic.

He didn’t order it when the restaurants and schools were shuttered. He didn’t order it when businesses started slashing jobs because of shortfalls caused by the economic fallout of a nation on pause.

But when the state government is fighting lawsuits from local school districts who believe the Iowa Legislature’s order to send kids back to in-person instruction is dangerous, Cownie finally ordered masks in Iowa’s largest city.

Masks are good public health policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. I just don’t understand why this move is so much more necessary now than it was in March.

Or April. Or May. Or June. Or July.

I like Cownie. I think he’s a good mayor. But this move feels political rather than preventive.

Cownie is a Democrat. Gov. Kim Reynolds is a Republican and Republicans control both houses of the Iowa Legislature.

Somehow, in this stupid country run by the absurdly rich and dishonorable scofflaws, we lack the ability to find consensus on basic facts about best practices during a pandemic.

To be sure, lawmakers’ move to send kids back to in-person instruction is a political move, too.

Gov. Reynolds, charged with upholding the return, is a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump, Trump who doesn’t understand the pandemic.

He only understands it’s another chance to appeal to the vile, racist underbelly of his political supporters by calling coronavirus the “China virus.”

I wonder if this shit had originated in Russia if he would pull the same stunt.

My point is this: There are no adults in charge. Every political office holder seems to want to use this global pandemic as a baseball bat to kneecap their opponent.

Democrats and Republicans are all so busy casting each other as the incarnation of evil that they are impotent and useless when it comes to the basic function of their jobs: Work for the benefit of the public good.

I’ll say this again for clarity: I like Frank Cownie. I want to believe he issued this mask order because he believed it was the right thing to do.

But it’s hard for me to believe that, not because I doubt Cownie personally, but because I doubt our representatives so much.

I know Cownie. I’ve interviewed him. I hugged him the day two metro cops were gunned down. We stood hand-in-hand at a church service at St. Paul’s AME Church after the massacre of parishioners at an AME church in Charleston, North Carolina, by a racist gunman.

I know Cownie is a good and honorable man. Yet the fact that I doubt him speaks to just how broken our nation is. I’m doubting a man I like and trust.

Every important Supreme Court decision seems to be 5-4 on party lines. Every vote in the House is offset by an opposite force in the Senate. We are a mess of a nation whose only consensus is that we hate the other side beyond reason. Moderates are extinct.

Lots of people remember the quote from Abraham Lincoln, then a candidate for Senate from Illinois: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

People forget the rest of statement:

“I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Lincoln said that as the nation was on the verge of the bloody Civil War.

I am not as optimistic as Lincoln. I think it is already a house that is broken beyond repair.

I just hope to God I’m wrong.

Daniel P. Finney covers long division and multiplication for

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

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

Crime and Courts, des moines, Des moines police, People

Whites must face hard truths of history if America is to make good on its promise of equality

Photo by Nick Shandra via Unsplash

The truth is, there are happier stories in my notebook. I just don’t feel like telling them right now. I feel like talking about anything other than the racism being confronted in our nation is tantamount to capitulation.

I’m an anxiety-riddled, middle-aged white man who desperately wants the world to calm down. But I hear my fellow humans’ outcry. And I worry that when I say I want things to settle, that I’m being heard as saying that their cause is less important than my comfort.

White silence is white violence, goes one chant.

I am not remaining silent. I just don’t know what to say or do.

I feel like everything I might say will come off as a white guy trying to make it about himself.

That’s how I felt about a group of celebrities who circulated a black-and-white video talking about how they won’t tolerate racism anymore. They meant well. Their cause was just. But they looked silly. The whole thing felt, at best, overacted and, at worst, attention-seeking.

Gee, Kristen Bell, I never once thought you were a Confederate Battle Flag waving member of the KKK even though you are a white woman who is a successful actress.

I kid, but I’m sympathetic to a point. For whites in America at the moment, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The white privilege here being, of course, that for too many black and brown Americans, it’s too often just damned.

I believe it’s good that white people are uncomfortable. Black and brown people are uncomfortable all the time.

When I was a freshman at Drake University, my roommate was a black guy from Milwaukee. He came from urban-Midwest. I came from small- and midsize-Midwest. Our perspectives were very different.

The Drake men’s basketball team got into trouble for paying for a recruit to stay in a hotel off campus. The recruit was black. An assistant coach, also black, got fired. I was a newsman in training. I thought it was a story about corruption in basketball recruiting.

My roommate thought it was about a poor kid who didn’t have the grades to get into Drake and an assistant coach trying to make sure he had lodging and food.

I think we were both right, but it always bothered me that I never thought about the recruit, a guy the same age as my roommate and I, not having food or a place to stay. I wish I could say that the lesson my roommate taught me stuck and informed my reporting for the rest of my career, but it didn’t.

Journalism is a blood sport and the lust to chase a story and beat the competition often overwhelms even the most disciplined practitioners of the trade. There’s a sign in the newsroom of my former employer that reads “Every second counts.”

There’s probably some truth to that in the digital world, but these days we should all take a few seconds to infuse what we do with more empathy.

I learned a lot from my roommate that freshman year. He was the barber in his group of friends. Often our room had four or five black students hanging out and talking while they waited for my roommate’s clippers. I played video games, mostly Madden football, with the guys. We were friendly.

I was fool enough to think I was “down” with black people because we’d played some video games and shared a few pops.

But one day at lunch, I decided to sit at the table with some of the guys who played video games in our room. Things got quiet. Nobody said I couldn’t sit there, but clearly my presence screwed up the vibe. I realized this was a time and space where black students felt they could unwind and be themselves.

I may be a guy they’d play video games with, but I was still white. I did not understand their path through this world. And me being there was taking away one of the few spaces they had to let loose on a mostly white campus in the middle of a mostly white town in a mostly white state.

I remember supervising interns at my previous employer. One was a Drake student who said he wanted to go to a black barbershop near campus on a dare before he graduated. I asked him why. He said he thought it would be funny.

I didn’t think it would be funny. The barber would welcome the business, but my roommate had taught me that the barbershop plays a different role in the black community than it does in the white community. I told the intern my story about sitting with the black guys I knew from Madden. I suggested maybe it was OK that black people had something to call their own in a country where few venues allowed such things.

I thought about calling up my old roommate. I haven’t talked to him in a good 15 years. There’s no hard feelings there. He went back to Milwaukee. I stayed in Des Moines. People grow. They drift apart.

But I asked myself why I was calling. I didn’t like the answer. I think I was calling him because I wanted him to absolve me from being a racist. I wanted him to tell me that I wasn’t a part of the problem. I wanted to be certified as a good guy.

But he can’t do that. No one can do that.

The hardest part of Black Lives Matter for white Americans, I think, is that we’ve read history books and seen stories that present us, meaning whites, as the heroes. We’ve seen images of our heroics so much, it’s easy to believe we are the greatest people who ever lived.

We won World War II. (We didn’t, actually. It was a team effort, but all that Russian blood spilled on the Eastern front didn’t fit our Cold War narrative that the commies were in every corner.)

We learned history through the lens of white colonialists. Columbus, they told us, discovered America. How one discovers something that has been there since continents divided and already had a people and a culture was not discussed, nor were the various atrocities committed by Columbus and his crew against natives.

For centuries, white people have travelled the globe, showed up in someone else’s land and said, “All this stuff is ours now. You will worship our God and work for us or we will kill you.”

And many times the white people killed a lot of the native people anyway, sometimes all of them.

There’s a pretty good case to be made that white people, as a race, are among the greatest villains in history.

Am I saying you, as an individual, dear reader, are a racist villain?

No, I am not. Neither are the people who support Black Lives Matter.

What they are saying is things are fouled up and they have been fouled up for a long time.

At the risk of trivializing this with a nerdy pop culture reference, white people are the Empire from the “Star Wars” universe.

We are at the moment in “The Empire Strikes Back” where Luke learns his father is Darth Vader, the most evil man in the galaxy — a man who murdered children and played enforcer for a brutal dictator.

Vader revealed his parentage to Luke and offered him a place by his side. Luke rejected it.

Will white Americans accept the sins of our Founding Fathers and choose to reject the racism that is built into the fabric of the country?

It starts simply enough. Acknowledge and accept history. White people weren’t always good guys.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t be and do good now. To risk another pop culture references by amending my favorite Billy Joel song: “We didn’t start the fire, but we can fight it.”

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

Iowa, sports

Sunday Thoughts: Kirk Ferentz learns the perils of the woke walk

Photo by Leonardo Marchini via PixBay

Beware the woke wave. White folks may think they can surf it, but it is just as likely to crash them into the reef and leave them bloodied and broken.

Review the long weekend of University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz. Iowa posted a video of their top Hawk talking about listening, learning and growing on the issue of racism that has again gripped national discourse in the wake of a Minneapolis police officer’s killing of George Floyd.

Ferentz went on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt to talk about an open and productive team meeting that included the subject. 

Ferentz came across as earnest both in the video and in the interview. I don’t know Ferentz, but I’ve no reason to doubt his sincerity. 

But before any white person cuts a video like that, they should ask themselves an important question: How clean is my house?

Ferentz soon learned his house was just as messy as any American institution. Former Hawkeye players came forward on social media with allegations of racist talk and behavior by the team’s strength and conditioning coach and his own son, Brian Ferentz, the team’s offensive coordinator. Others said adapting to the “Iowa Culture” caused anxiety and failure to do so would be costly.

Ferentz quickly regrouped. The strength and conditioning coach is on leave pending an investigation. (That coach denies racism. Brian Ferentz remains on the job.) Iowa will form an advisory committee chaired by a former player.

Ferentz cut a new video and shouldered the responsibility. He choked up talking about the allegations of racism in meeting with reporters Sunday afternoon. Again, Ferentz seemed earnest and his actions seem like more than just reactionary pandering.

Coaches, teams and schools all over the country have posted videos and text messages similar to Ferentz’s. They pledge to listen, learn and grow together.

I want to believe them, yet I am cynical enough to be wary of college coaches gesticulating their concern over racism after Floyd’s killing. 

Few institutions reap as much one-way benefit from the talents of African Americans as NCAA college football and men’s college basketball. It benefits coaches to come out and say, “Hey, we support African Americans here. We’re behind you.”

I wonder what percentage, even if it’s a sliver, of these messages are motivated by marketing and recruiting concerns. Did your school tweet that black lives matter? No? Then maybe a prized African-American recruit goes somewhere that did.

But it’s kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

If you don’t, then your program will be labeled racist. If you do — and you don’t know or are willfully ignorant of racial issues in your program — then you will be beset with racial allegations anyway.

Lost in all this is any ability to gauge sincerity. 

Like I said, Ferentz seemed earnest. I tend to believe both his videos. Many coaches from across the NCAA and into pro sports posted similar videos or text messages in support of the movement for equality and against racism.

I want to believe them all. I choose to believe them because I want to believe the people I love and celebrate are good and decent and real.

But life is more complicated than that. About 20 years ago, I moved from Des Moines to Omaha for a job. I thought Omaha, about twice the size of Des Moines, to be much more openly racist than Des Moines. 

I read a column by a former editor of mine who works in Omaha now. He said he heard the most overt racism in his career in Des Moines. He’s worked in Texas and Detroit, among other stops.

I don’t doubt my former editor’s experience just as he didn’t doubt mine. I believe we see what we want to, especially when it’s our hometown and our home teams.

We are willing to accept information that supports our belief that we don’t do the bad things that happen in other places as if we are somehow exempt from the indecencies and inhuman treatment that plague every other place.

That’s called confirmation bias and I am as guilty of it as anyone.

I made that mistake earlier this month in these paragraphs. I suggested protestors go to Minneapolis where Floyd was killed rather than protest good, hard-working cops in Des Moines.

That was naive on my part, maybe outright ignorant. 

Racism isn’t limited to one city, state or nation. They’re protesting in England, France and Germany, too. White people have been terrible toward black and brown people for centuries.

Study colonialism. For centuries, white people showed up in other nations, killed some (or a lot) of the natives and said, “All this is ours now and you’re now ruled by us.”

Ferentz handled his situation with class and dignity, but how it shakes out for the Hawkeyes going forward will be interesting and important.

As for me, well, allow me to come clean: I’m dirty. We are all sinners.

I truly, absolutely and without hesitation do not believe that I am superior to anyone because of the color of my skin.

But I have had racist thoughts. I have laughed at and told racist jokes. And I’ve benefited from a society designed by rich white men to benefit other white men.

I don’t cut myself a break because I was born a ward of the state. I was a white baby boy. I was adopted quickly, though the results of that pairing were mixed at best.

Still, I don’t know how many African-American babies were in the county hospital the same day I was that ended up in foster care and never knew a permanent, stable home.

Racism is a virus in which all white Americans are carriers. The debate is how active it is in our thoughts, actions and deeds.

I have no idea what the solution is. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be unemployed. 

All I can say is this, which I repeat often: We are all children of God, created in His image and deserve love, dignity and respect.

Act as if this is true and we will make it true.

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

des moines, mental health, Uncategorized, Unemployment

America in the age of permanent unease

Photo by nikko macaspac via Unsplash.

Everything feels wrong. The pandemic. Quarantine. Economic collapse. Unemployment. Racism. Violence by police. Violence against police. Outside agitators. Vandalism. Destruction. Theft. Curfew.

Hell, even Lady Gaga’s album is only so-so.

I live with chronic depression and acute anxiety.

And, friends, I’m cracking.

This shit is getting to me.

I’ve sworn off the news. Me. A 27-year newsman. I once got beat up in a Des Moines park after hours while covering violence in the park after hours. I wasn’t trying to be ironic. It just worked out there.

That was me.

Today, in a mess of free-flowing tear gas and pepper spray?

Hard pass.

Admitting that to myself makes me feel … lesser.

I’ve no call to be there. I’m still doing my journalism, but I’m independent now.

If you’re going to get mixed up with cops, protesters and rioters, you better have a good brand name with access to lawyers.

I don’t.

So, I’m sidelined like an everyday citizen.

These distress the big chuck of me that fears missing out, that wants to be in the thick of it and wants to lead from the front.

Yet a sizable chunk of me feels relief that I’m out of the game.

Just typing that sentence forces me to choke down bile. It disgusts me that I’ve lost whatever it was that sent me running toward the fray with a police scanner on my belt and my Blackberry (yeah, I’m that old) Twitter feed open.

But now?

Now I’m just a morbidly obese unemployed guy desperately seeking jobs along with 10 million of my fellow Americans.

If I’m not a newsman, what I am?

The confusion of self-worth and employment is an ugly side effect of capitalism on personal psychology.

We all more than our jobs. Yet, we spent a lot of damn time on those jobs. What value do I have if I’m not producing anything?

If I’m not making money, then I must be a lowlife skimming off the bottom of society, getting by on government subsidies.

I want to contribute. But Wall Street told me to take a hike because after 22 years full-time, I made a salary just big enough to be too big for an industry burning to the ground before our eyes.

I struggle to sleep. More accurately, I struggle to get to sleep. Around 7 p.m., I start getting so edgy you could cut cheese on my raw nerves.

I know in a few hours the city will shut down. The quarantine gave way to the curfew.

There was a time I would be headed out to sling sentences and stack paragraphs. But I’m sidelined, probably permanently.

And that hurts.

I can’t go to the bar. It’s closed. Hell, I can’t even order a pizza.

I try to give my life some purpose. I make daily contact with my friends. I check in with my parents a couple times a week.

I’ve asked my friend Paul to call me when he leaves home for work in Memphis.

I’ll get up at the same time and start my day. I look for jobs, set up interviews for future columns and maybe write something that is less whiny than this.

Yes, I could set an alarm. But I will ignore that alarm. When my friend calls, I’ve made a commitment to another person to participate in the day despite my desperate desire just to check out.

Even with my buddy’s help, I just can’t seem to settle in. I feel like a house cat that sees some ghost on the spectral plain and then randomly sprints out of the room.

Except I don’t run and even if I did, I don’t know where I’d go.

I try escapism, my drug of choice. I put on some of the new Looney Tunes cartoons on the HBOMax streaming service last night.

They echoed the classics I watched as a kid, but they weren’t the same. They felt more frenetic and neutered at the same time.

Yosemite Sam doesn’t use guns anymore because of course not. Yet, poor Sylvester the cat was skinned and had his muscles peeled down to the bone in the kind of gross-out comedy I would expect from Ren and Stimpy.

But I will never be able to watch and enjoy new cartoons the way I did the ones I saw when I was a kid.

That’s because when I was a kid, my responsibility was to have pants and a shirt on, eat a bowl of cereal, generally be quiet in the early morning and not make a mess in the kitchen.

It was just me, my dad’s Navy cap from World War II and my Pink Panther doll, who was my very best friend.

To a 5-year-old, that’s all there is to the world: Saturday morning cartoons and peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches.

Growing up brings responsibility. Rent. Mortgages. Car payments. Insurance. Bills. Still, even with that responsibility, there’s a rhythm.

These days, everything is out of step and unpredictable.

Unpredictable, like spontaneity, is overrated. Give me consistency and calm. I am 45 and I long for slow news days.

Mostly I just worry. I worry I’m not going to make it. All these years into adulthood and I’ve never felt closer to failure.

People have been generous supporting this blog and every little bit helps.

I’ve picked up one or two freelance jobs, but not enough to make monthly expenses once my severance dries up.

Unemployment is increased at least through July. There may be more stimulus. There may be expanded unemployment.

The coronavirus may peak. The racial unrest may settle.

I remember the words of wise, old Randy Evans when I used the word “may” in a news story many years ago.

“Finney, do you know what the problem with the word ‘may’ is?” he said. “You could just as easily say ‘may not.’”

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 reader-supported media. Please consider donating at

Crime and Courts, des moines, Des moines police, Faith and Values, People

From quarantine to curfew, America compounds tragedy

Photo of the Humanity Wall in Ghent, Belgium.
Credit: Matteo Paganelli via UnSplash

This is the year of compounding tragedy.
Coronavirus pandemic for the plague of racism.
Medical quarantine for police-enforced curfews.
It’s all just so damn sad.

America — and Iowa — just started to open up from nearly two months of quarantine. Scientists told us it was too soon, but the economy continues to crumble with nearly a quarter of Americans unemployed.

Good idea or not, we went back out. We shopped. We sat down for a meal at restaurants. We grabbed a beer. There was talk of sports starting again. We attempted normal.

Then a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd. The officer shoved his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck. Three other Minneapolis police officers stood by like cowards and listened as Floyd pleaded for air and eventually died.

The justifiable outrage followed. People held protests and demonstrations. A police officer killed Floyd — on video.

Do you see it now? their voices cried out. Do you see what we face?

People protested, marched and demonstrated across the country. In Des Moines, groups held protests at the State Capitol and Des Moines police headquarters without incident.

That was during the day.

At dusk, a different kind of people came to express outrage in unjustifiable ways.

The after-dark crowd shot fireworks at police. They threw rocks and bricks at police. Adults handed lit flares to teenagers to throw at police.

Vandals spray painted buildings downtown and shattered windows at Johnny’s Hall of Fame, Spaghetti Works and the Hy-Vee.

The troubles rumbled up Court Avenue to the Polk County Courthouse to break more windows and spray more paint.

Sunday, scofflaws looted and destroyed at Merle Hay Mall.

Police broke up the crowds with tear gas, pepper spray and flash-bang grenades. The whole ugly scene played out on local TV and news websites.

After two nights of violence, destruction and looting, the Polk County Supervisors ordered a curfew from 9 p.m., Sunday, until 5 a.m., Monday. It is now on hold indefinitely.

And for the first time since my former paragraph factory cut me loose, I was glad not to be in the thick of it — not because I wouldn’t want in on the big story, but because I don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to say about this season of misery.

2020 has been the year of suffering and sadness the likes I’ve not seen in my near 45 years.

COVID-19 killed more than 106,000 Americans, including more than 550 Iowans.

We can’t visit our elders, the most vulnerable population. People wave from a distance, through windows or across video screens.

As former Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully said recently, “This is a hard time to go without hugs.”

We shuttered businesses. We stopped going to the office. Ten million people lost their jobs, including me.

And just when we parted the curtain ever so slightly — BOOM! — racism punches us in our collective noses.

Obviously, I condemn the actions of the Minneapolis officer, who now faces a murder charge, and his three criminally negligent partners who allowed this gross depravity to occur.

Yet what comfort can I give? Everything I say seems hollow and trite. Everyone around me seems blessed with a clairvoyance or certainty I lack.

A friend in my right ear says it was extreme left wing anti fascists who whipped up the violence. A friend in my left ear blamed white supremacists for intensifying violence and destruction.

Charles Bukowski, the poet and novelist, once wrote: “Everybody has a different way, everybody has a different idea, and the are all so sure.”

There are a lot of people who are certain these days. Dead certain. Certain enough to be cruel, to threaten and even take lives, to revel in self-righteous fury.

But I’m not sure. I don’t know what the right thing to do or say is. I want to help, but I don’t know how.

The scourge of racism has been with this land since the first slave ships landed in the Americas in the early 1600s.

This nation was built on the backs of slave labor. It took the bloodiest war in the nation’s history to end the practice.

The Thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in 1863, but the open and aggressive efforts to exclude African Americans from society continued unabated for more than 100 years until the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

Since then, we’ve dealt with a more sinister form of racism — the kind that is easy for white people like me to ignore because it doesn’t happen right in front of us every day and thus seems remote given our own experiences.

Then something like the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police happens and we are all forced to confront this ugliness again.

I say “we.” I overstate. I mean “white people.” Most white people live blind to racism not present in their own lives.

I support the marchers but not the looters and vandals. I believe black lives matter. I understand that as a white man, I’ll never wonder if the reason I got pulled over was because of the color of my skin.

I try to treat my fellow humans with love, dignity and respect. I remember that we are all children of God, created in His image.

But my sadness over George Floyd and racism as a whole is great.

Racism runs deeper and is more destructive in this country than anything I can image.

I am lost. I have no wisdom nor course of action that will bring us — all of us, black, white or otherwise — together, which is an unimaginable misery of its own.

I am, at best, a marginal Christian. I am uneasy quoting the Bible, I believe the treatises on human kindness put forth by Jesus in the Beatitudes to be, at a minimum, great philosophy.

Almost daily, I am drawn to the Beatitudes, in particular this line from the Sermon on the Mount described in Matthew 5:7: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.”

This is something I’m sure about: Every one of us at some point in our lives will need mercy. I have many, many, many times.

Our African-American brothers and sisters need mercy now as they long have.

We must find a way to make mercy the beginning and ending of our lives, for mercy is the only cure for misery.

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 reader-supported media. Please consider donating at

Content on is available for reposting and reprint for free to any news organization. Links to the republished piece are appreciated.

des moines, People

Iowa mom’s long racial awareness journey and why white Americans need to follow her path

Jonathan Hayes and wife Kristi Kinne-Hayes with their four children. Submitted photo.

Kristi Kinne-Hayes grew up in Jefferson, a Green County city made of 4,200 almost all white people. Kristi played six-on-six girls’ basketball and became one of the best players in the state.

She knew local police officers by their first names and thought of them as just another face in the crowd rather than law enforcement.

Kristi played college basketball at Drake University, leading the Bulldogs to an NCAA Tournament berth her senior season in 1995. She seldom thought about race even though she played alongside and was friends with people of different races.

She had a longtime friend who played softball at Drake who was mixed race and never knew until someone asked her friend about her race in a Kansas City bar.

A background like Kristi’s makes it seem unlikely that she would comment on the ghastly death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. But life, love and motherhood changed her perspective and her long journey from racial indifference, maybe even racial ignorance, to awareness and empathy is one all Americans — especially whites — need to take right now.

Kristi graduated from Drake, survived ovarian cancer and met and married Jonathan Hayes, a former University of Iowa tight end who played for the legendary Hayden Fry during the famed coach’s revitalization of the program in the early 1980s.

Hayes is also African-American. But a mixed-race relationship didn’t expose Kristi to the racial hatred the corrupts America’s soul.

The first time Kristi brought Johnathan home to Jefferson to watch a ballgame, fans swarmed the Hawkeye hero for autographs.

“That was so traumatic for me because when I was at the game, people came up for my autograph,” Kristi said. “I told Jonathan they only wanted his autograph because they already had mine.”

The couple settled in Cincinnati, where Jonathan served as tight ends coach for the NFL’s Bengals.

They had four children. Yet it wasn’t until their eldest daughter, the couple’s second child, turned 16 that evil racism finally struck the mother of four mixed-race children.

Kristi and Jonathan bought a new car and gave their older vehicle to their daughter. They put the old plates on their daughter’s vehicle and paid the fees, but Ohio Department of Transportation computers hadn’t yet processed the transaction.

One evening their daughter came home pale.

Kristi asked her what was wrong.

She had been pulled over by police. The car tags were wrong.

“She said, ‘I was sure they were going to shoot me,’” Kristi said. “I thought, ‘Why would you think they would shoot you?’”

And the privilege of being a white star athlete from small town Iowa evaporated. She was now the mother of four children whose facial characteristics most white people would identify as black.

“If there’s a little bit of brown, to other white people, you’re black,” Kristi said.

Living with racism did not limit her children’s success. Eldest son, Jaxson Hayes, was a first-round draft pick by the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans last year.

Daughter Jillian is a highly prized women’s basketball recruit committed to the University of Cincinnati.

Kristi reminds them that she doesn’t care if other people label them black only, just remember that their white mother and her family loves them just as much as their African-American father and his family.

“Your name is clean,” Kristi tells her kids, “keep it that way.”

Still, she worries. Jaxson is off in New Orleans, just turned 20 years old and having the time of his life as an NBA rookie despite the league shutdown due to coronavirus.

She tells her children that if they are pulled over, put their hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel.

“I never thought I would have to tell my children that,” Kristi said.

Kristi saw the news reports and videos of a Minneapolis police officer putting his knee in the back of George Floyd, an African-American man suspected of forgery.

Three other police officers stood by and did nothing. They were all fired. As of this writing, it’s unknown if they will be criminally charged.

The killing of Floyd is a complete institutional failure by the Minneapolis police. That officer pressed his knee into the back of that handcuffed man’s neck as he pleaded for mercy, he could not breath and eventually lost consciousness and died.

He stared into the crowd almost as if he was daring someone to tell him he was wrong. The crowd pleaded with him to render aid, to check Floyd for injury or get him some water.

The officer refused.

A friend of mine made this observation a few years ago: “There’s two things we learned from everybody having cameras on their phone: There are no UFOs and police sometimes kill people for no reason.”

The true horror of this event: None of those officers moved to stop their fellow officer from committing a crime. It was depraved indifference.

Here in Des Moines, some of my police sources told me they were aghast at another cop so drunk on power that his defiance led to the death of a man.

“When you have him in cuffs, get him up and in a car and off to the station,” one cop told me. “That diffuses the situation right there.”

Another cop told me police administrators were circulating a video by a top training instructor illustrating the dangers of the knee in the back hold and all Des Moines cops will have to sign off on having watched it.

There’s been little local backlash at Des Moines police because of the Minneapolis killing, but the danger of using national stories to paint local pictures hangs over every police station.

Kristi saw that news and it moved her. She lives in Cincinnati, a city that saw race riots in 2001 after police shot an unarmed African American teenager. Kristi and her family moved to Cincinnati after that terrible period.

But motherhood long ago took the woman from Jefferson’s ability to be color blind.

Moved by the story, Kristi posted to her Instagram a trending meme of the officer with his knee in the back of Floyd’s neck and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. The caption read: “This is why.”

So what does all this have to do with Kristi Kinne-Hayes, the great Iowa basketball star?

ESPN commentator Emmanuel Acho pleaded with white America in a video posted to his Twitter feed Tuesday.

“My white brothers and sisters, we need y’all’s help,” Acho said. African-Americans have been outraged as people continued to die unnecessarily, but white Americans have remained mostly indifferent or hesitant to raise their voice in protest.

We need to take the journey Kristi Kinne-Hayes took in her 46 years. She went from living blind to race because it never directly affected her to having a profound understanding of just how horrible racism is in this country.

I’m not saying you need to repost the meme or start hashtagging everything #blacklivesmatter.

But we must all do our very best to engage empathy for people who are not like us.

It’s very hard for anyone to see life through the perspective of someone who has lived so differently.

Our failure to do that is already too late for so many, the latest being George Floyd.

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 reader-supported media. Please consider donating at