Crime and Courts, des moines, Iowa, life

An Iowa State Trooper killed in the line of duty, a school shooting and another Black man killed by a cop in Minneapolis? These are the days I don’t miss journalism.

Many days I miss being a journalist. The job could be great fun. And the people, oh the characters, I met. There are so many stories I don’t dare share publicly that still make me laugh. I also worked alongside some of the most entertaining humans one will ever know.

This proves less and less so every day, especially as our nation seems to rack up tragedies as senselessly and randomly as the point system on ESPN’s Around the Horn.

Friday, a man shot and killed 27-year veteran Iowa State Trooper Jim Smith after an incident in Grundy Center.

A Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer shot and killed Daunte Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop. The Brooklyn Center chief said he believes the shooting was accidental.

Brooklyn Center is a suburb of Minneapolis, where a year ago George Floyd, also a Black man, died after a Minneapolis cop leaned on Floyd’s neck with his knee for nearly 9 minutes. That former officer, Derek Chauvin, stands trial for Floyd’s murder less than 20 minutes by car away from where Wright died.

A Knoxville, Tennessee, student shot and wounded a police officer at a magnet school. The student died when police returned fire. As the pandemic wanes, so raises the sadly familiar fear of our schools as targets for spree killers rather than institutions for learning.

Some of my best work and fondest memories came on the night police beat for the local Gannett Outlet Store. The beat also drained me of my humanity.

Trooper Smith died in the line of duty. The reporters from the wire services, the newspapers, radio stations and TV stations dig in. They want details about Smith’s life. Family. Children. Hobbies.

Many times, reporters find themselves at the door of someone who has suffered a terrible tragedy: the loss of a loved one by violence. This always churned my guts. I couldn’t help but think the last thing in the world I would want was some stranger on my front stoop knocking on my door and asking me to tell them all my secrets.

If I were still practicing the trade, I might have had to knock on that door.

I chocked down my distaste for this work with the advice of Tom Alex, the Register’s longtime day police reporter. He always said it was better to have someone call you a son of a bitch and slam the door in your face before you wrote the story than write the story and then have somebody call and call you a son of a bitch because you got it wrong and didn’t even try to talk the victim’s family.

But near the end of my career this was not enough. The digital age demanded push alerts and real-time updates to website stories. We sometimes wrote from notoriously inaccurate scanner traffic. We clawed for every piece of information and pushed it out.

Reporters were given less and less time to work with police officers and develop sources. There was a time when cops and reporters got to know each other as people. Now reporters demand things and cops fear reporters are pushing a political agenda with each question.

It’s a stalemate that is detrimental not only to news reports but the trust in both institutions, neither of which can afford to lose more ground with an increasingly distrustful and divided public.

That same stalemate occurs in reporting on the racial implications of the trial of Chauvin and the truth of Wright’s death at the hands of police in the same metro area.

Passions burn. Attempts to find the truth that contradict our preconceived notions about what and why caused these deaths. The pick-your-confirmation bias media force us to parrot the angry talking points that agree with what we agree with what we’ve already determined are the facts.

Most you’re-with-us-or-against-us narratives are false, but the public has no patience for non-binary ideas. Somebody is a good guy. Somebody is a bad guy. Pick which one and scream on social media.

Half of journalism jobs disappeared between 1990 and 2020. The anemic reporting staff that remains is ill-equipped and poorly experienced to vet the issues of the day let alone foster meaningful and healing discussion.

They try, but most outlets are owned by greedy corporate hustlers and hedge funds whose only point is to turn $1 into $2 as fast as possible in order to make a handful of rich white men fractionally richer.

Today’s journalists are forced to beg for subscribers in their social media feeds and use metrics — what people clicked on yesterday — to decide what to cover the next day. Sometimes this means news outlets make fools out of themselves trying to get too many bites out of a one-hit feature story like Fruit Loops pizza. Other times, it means worthy projects are abandoned because the online audience has lost interest.

This is not a one-to-one. News outlets, even the ones I make fun of, do try to keep the public informed.

But the public does not want to be informed. It wants to be affirmed.

The problem, of course, is we are all merely human and, by definition, flawed and prone to mistakes.

Our only hope is to recognize is that our flaws unite us and the correction can only be found in a collective offering of grace.

Many days I miss the newsroom, but mostly I miss the people and the memories. When I think of the task before them, the challenges they face and they pain and suffering they witness, those are the days I’m glad to be a civilian, knowing the phone won’t ring with an editor asking me to go ask strangers to tell me their secrets.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
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Iowa, life, Winterset

How I pissed off a bunch of my old friends by writing about racism in the small Iowa town I grew up in

I pissed off a lot of people — old friends from Winterset, mostly — the last time I wrote in this space. I’ve been stuck as to what to say since.

The intent was not to upset people or settle 30-year-old grudges. There was a time in my life when I would have enjoyed that, but I hope I’ve outgrown the need to provoke simply for reaction’s sake.

In reality, it was another childish ideal that caused me to write about racism I witnessed — and was regretfully party to — while I grew up in Winterset: I keep trying to get people to think about things from a different point of view.

One of the many reasons I became a journalist is because things my family endured — and feared — while I grew up in Winterset. My family went broke refurbishing a red-brick mansion about 4 miles west of Winterset. We were so broke that we didn’t have enough money to cover the big windows at the front of the house.

So, we hung sheets for privacy, probably unnecessarily because visitors whizzed by at 55 mph or more and the house was a good quarter mile away from the road.

People made fun of us for our window coverings. Well, I don’t know if they did or didn’t. My dad worried that they did. He was ashamed of his financial status and, real or imagine, he worried the community would judge him for not having enough money for expensive drapery.

After my dad died, my mom and I lived in a small house by the high school. My mother struggled with addiction to opioids — stuff that isn’t even legal to prescribe anymore — and probably a series of undiagnosed mental illnesses. For reasons unclear to me, she decided to pay a service to mow our lawn instead of buying a lawnmower and letting me do it.

The dye was cast. That doughy Finney boy was so lazy he wouldn’t even mow the lawn at his own house for his poor, elderly mother.

This perception of me was so ironclad that it was thrown in my face multiple times, sometimes by teachers. No amount of my attempts to correct this rumor with the fact that my mother, while crazy, was still the adult in the house and the idea not to buy a lawnmower was hers, not mine.

I took to journalism in part because I thought I could set the record straight with facts and supporting information. I believed a well-reasoned argument should be at least be considered.

Small towns can be wonderful. They can also be vicious, especially on the matter of rumormongering.

The last time I wrote, I tried to ask my classmates from the small town I’m so found of to think differently about the things we said and did as they related to one of our classmates of Asian descent after the deaths of Asian-Americans in shootings at Atlanta salons.

Not everyone bullied the classmate in question, nor did everyone use racial epithets that I described, but a lot of us did. I did. And I admitted I was ashamed and had changed as an adult.

The discussion started off nicely enough. Some people apologized. The person I was writing about thanked me for the piece.

This changed.

The subject of the column started calling people out for things done more than 30 years ago. By name. And those folks weren’t too keen on being associated with racist acts. And other people remembered events differently than she did.

I received text messages from the subject of the column with screen shots of the arguments and the caption “I’m having so much fun!”

The arguments heated up. Some people came to me directly and asked me to moderate comments. I appealed twice in comments for everyone to settle down and just think about what we were talking about from a different perspective.

That was a failure.

Then the subject of the column turned on me. She asked me to take it down. I declined. The rhetoric intensified. I banned her from the page and deleted the comments.

I know one or two people put some thought into what I wrote about last week. But many didn’t.

What a waste of time and energy.

I still love my friends from Winterset. I would not be who I am today without them. It still hurts a little that I wasn’t able to graduate with my class, but that worked out OK, too.

But this small-scale incident is one of the large-scale reasons why I don’t know if I could ever be a journalist again.

Almost nobody wants to think. People are quick to yell. The facts are elusive and made irrelevant by the stubbornness in all our minds to see things in a way that supports our existing conclusions.

Nobody likes to be challenged. Journalism is the act of challenging.

Or it was.

Today it’s about Fruit Loops pizza.

I digress.

The whole affair reminds me of a story about the poet and author Charles Bukowski. A reporter rode with Bukowski on an airplane sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, when Bukowski wrote strange screeds for the alternative newspapers in California.

Bukowski was drunk. He clawed at the flight attendants and made a boorish fool of himself.

Some weeks later, the reporter saw Bukowski’s byline in one of those alternative papers. He told the story on the plane, except in Bukowski’s version it was the reporter who was a lout and Bukowski who looked with embarrassment.

The reporter ran into Bukowski sometime later and asked him why he said that.

“Hey,” Bukowski said, “I’m the hero of my shit.”

I think we’re all a little bit like Bukowski. We all want to be the hero of our own shit. And we’re willing to lie to ourselves hard enough that we actually believe it.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. Venmo: @newsmanon. PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

des moines, News, Winterset

Recognizing the anti-Asian racism of my Iowa youth

A childhood friend texted recently. She was angry about the gunman who attacked a series of Atlanta spas, killing eight people including six of Asian descent. She worried about the attacks on elder Asians in San Francisco.

My friend is of Chinese descent. Her father was an Iowa farmer who fought in the Vietnam war. He met and married a Chinese woman. They settled in Winterset. They opened a Chinese restaurant on the edge of town.

My friend struggled growing up. She was the only minority face in our class and among a very small number of minorities in Winterset. This is typical of most small towns in Iowa.

But until recently, until the protests over George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last summer, I never bothered to look at the world from my friend’s perspective.

She was the only person who looked like her. We grew up in the 1980s and anti-Asian talk was common. Parents remembered Vietnam. Grandparents remembered World War II.

People still gave cold stares to anyone who bought a Japanese car.

People used regularly the racial slur “chink.” My friends did. I am ashamed to admit, I did, too.

We referred to her, our classmate and peer, like that in casual conversation. I remember it clearly and it turns my stomach.

I offer no defense. There isn’t one. I spoke in ignorance. I thought only of myself and trying to be cool or thought of as the funniest guy around.

Not everybody behaved that way. She named classmates who were kind, who were friends she treasured.

I apologized to my friend for the words I used, my immaturity and my ignorance. She said I was never the problem and she didn’t remember being angry with me. It was small comfort.

My friend endured a lot. The anxiety she suffered from daily bullying and racial insults gave her an eating disorder in high school. She lost her hair. Can you imagine being a teenage girl and losing your hair?

I had moved away by this time to finish school in Des Moines. The story goes that one day my friend wore her wig and another classmate, also a friend, pulled it off her head and ran down the hallway as she chased him.

My friend took her grievances to the school counselors. She complained of the bullying and racial epithets. One counselor, she said, just stared at her without blinking. Another told her she would need to toughen up.

The counselor told her parents – in front of her – that she would never succeed in college.

They were wrong. We were all wrong. She graduated from Iowa State. She went on to become a famous hairdresser in Chicago. She worked “The Jerry Springer Show” and “Jenny Jones.” She moved to Florida and began competing in Iron Man competitions around the world.

She’s married now and lives in California.

She told me a sweet story about her daughter coming home from second grade one recent day. The private, Christian school her daughter attends celebrated multi-cultural week.

Her daughter learned that her friend was from Africa. The child was so excited to have a friend from Africa and wanted to know more. My friend spent time with her kids looking up facts about where the child grew up.

“I wish I had grown up with this kind of inclusiveness and I loved that my own daughter saw things as they should be,” my friend said.

I spent most of my life rolling my eyes at things like multi-cultural week. I never bothered to understand the violence inherent in my words as a child and too far into my present.

In mind, I didn’t understand hatred toward Asians. From the perspective of a white man, they seemed to acclimate so well. Many own businesses. Their children were high achievers in school.

The fault in that thinking, of course, is that it’s from a white guy. I haven’t lived in world where I have to bite my tongue every time someone uses derogatory words at or near me.

I didn’t have to suppress my culture – reading comics and playing video games – because it was the dominate culture. I missed out on learning about my friend’s experience because of white privilege.

White privilege gets mocked in the conservative community. I see white privilege as having the freedom to ignore the struggles of others, especially Black and brown people and the LGBTQ communities, because the culture doesn’t force them to see it.

My friend could never ignore or rise above racism because it was always there, in her face, every damn day.

She’s doing well. She’s happy.

Then some asshole in Atlanta shoots eight people to death at massage parlors. More assholes beat old men in San Francisco.

And my friendship with my classmate helps me see those events better, understand the sinister underpinnings of racial hatred that had always been present in my life – all the way back to grade school.

I ignored it because I was allowed to. Now I understand a fraction better. All it took was the suffering of a fellow human being and classmate to finally shake me awake.

What, I wonder, will it take for me and the rest of us to do something about it?

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. I’m freshly unemployed and have a big tax bill to pay. All donations are greatly appreciated and needed. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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.”

ParagraphStacker.com 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 paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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.

ParagraphStacker.com 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 paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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 ParagraphStacker.com.

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.

ParagraphStacker.com 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 paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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.

ParagraphStacker.com 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 paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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.

ParagraphStacker.com 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 paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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.

Fine.

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.

ParagraphStacker.com 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 paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

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.

ParagraphStacker.com 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 paypal.me/paragraphstacker.