• Ban the Booms

    • Posted on Oct 15, 2017
    Here's today's Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier column.  Fireworks is now a major issue affecting quality of life in Cedar Falls, and everywhere else that's deciding whether to allow consumers to blow off fireworks in their back yards.   

    It was a bad idea, as residents with ears and sensitivities know, and Cedar Falls will start reading (and I hope passing) a ban ordinance on Nov. 20.
      
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    I grew up in Iowa, where fireworks stayed illegal for decades until last June. Fireworks were outlawed, so only outlaws had fireworks.   

     I also witnessed injuries and barely escaped a few myself. Those little gunpowder sticks and rockets were dangerous, and injuries could be serious, even life-
    threatening. 

     True story:  I spent days in Sartori hospital during my early teens being treated for emergency hernia surgery. I shared a room with a man in his early twenties, a good-natured fellow who had lost the tip of his thumb and first two fingers to a cherry bomb.  

     He was wearing a tux at a wedding and as a joke, someone had tossed the cherry bomb at him.  It fell into his cummerbund—that decorative waist-band that completes the front of a tux—and he pitched it out just as it went off.  Maimed for life. 

     To be fair, “cherry bombs” and “M-80s” have since been banned everywhere.  

     Still, injuries from less lethal but still legal fireworks in Iowa have in fact
    increased.  Deb Krebil, Marion Fire Chief and president of the Iowa Association of Profession Fire Chiefs, emailed me the following statement from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: “In 2017, there were as many firework injuries at UIHC as were seen in the previous three years combined.  In addition, the injuries seen this past summer were more severe, resulting in a greater proportion of surgeries and hospital admissions.  Lastly, the number of patients injured who were under the age of 18 increased.” 

    Yet public safety is only the first reason to ban consumer fireworks.  

    Let’s hear it for peace and quiet. Celebrating national holidays can get noisy just from sheer exuberance, and I’m all for that as long as citizens can choose.   
    But neighbors shooting fireworks don’t allow choice. Booms, bangs, and falling hot ashes impinge on a whole neighborhood. This is especially true for pets and PTSD sufferers, who struggle mightily with explosions that mimic both thunderstorms and battlefield firefights.     

    Though state legislature legalized sales of fireworks, they also allowed cities to continue banning them.  That has generated statewide controversy, and Cedar Falls will be reading a new ordnance banning the booms on November 20th, according to Mayor Jim Brown. 

     Those against a city-wide ban set forth three arguments:  Revenue, freedom, and enforceability.  Granted, revenue from consumer explosives now stay in Iowa. That’s also one solid argument for legalizing recreational marijuana. So fireworks will stay legal for purchase.  For use, go outside city limits.

     Freedom?  It stops at the eardrums.  That’s why we have noise ordnances.  
    Enforceability remains a major issue. Fireworks shooters will always be with us, and bans might even make fireworks more attractive for scofflaws. 

    Still, a ban means possible arrests and fines.  Even though it’s hard to catch fireworks shooters, they’re subject to neighbors’ complaints and citizens’ arrests.  
    These Iowa cities have already completely banned explosives as private entertainment:  Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Ames, Johnston, Burlington, Iowa City, Coralville, Dubuque, and West Des Moines. 

     Cedar Falls and Waterloo should join them.     
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  • Vietnam Story at Last

    • Posted on Sep 24, 2017
    Here's this morning's (Sun. 9-24) column on Ken Burns's documentary 'The Vietnam War" which deserves serious attention and discussion.  Our national trauma from that horror of a war continues, and the truths contained in this film may help move us toward reconciliation.   That was Burns and Novick's purpose in making it.  

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    Over the years I’ve taught three Vietnam War films— “Platoon,” “Full Metal Jacket,” and “Apocalypse Now.”  All led to energetic classroom discussions about the purpose and meaning of that terrible war.   

    Yet those films, and many others I’ve viewed, were missing aspects that needed telling.   I’ve been waiting decades for a film that would get closer to the complete story. That story had to include the North Vietnamese’s version, and a clear-eyed look at America’s involvment from the beginning. In other words, ignored facts.   

    That film arrived on PBS last Sunday night.  

    “The Vietnam War,” Ken Burns/Lynn Novick’s 18-hour documentary is available free on PBS’ website and in segments on Iowa Public Television during the last two weeks of September.  It was my generation’s defining event, and deserves respect and discussion.   

    I watched the first four episodes last week and can’t stop thinking and feeling about them.  Like any great film, it affects you in the head, heart, and gut, often all at once. 

    For the head, there’s information that few Americans knew, and certainly none really wanted to know:  Ho Chi Minh, far from being an enemy, began his political career trying to free his country from all external powers, especially the French.  He believed our American Declaration of Independence and Constitution got it right.  

    He tried to tell both Presidents FDR and Truman, that all he wanted was independence, but got nowhere.  The U.S. supported the French, who occupied Indochina as part of their colonial empire.  Ho Chi Minh was far more a believer in his own country’s autonomy than in Russian or Chinese Communism.   

    Even more disturbing, we were lied to from the beginning, beginning with the “Tonkin Gulf Resolution,” which justified retaliation when we had been the attackers.  I had read about that phony attack in 1968 and realized then that we couldn’t trust our government.   

    Both President Johnson and Defense Secretary McNamara knew we couldn’t “win” as early as 1965. As LBJ tells Defense Secretary McNamara, “There’s no light at the end of that tunnel.”  Yet they knowingly went on to escalate our involvement, sending thousands more U.S. Troops to fight in what was essentially a civil war.  That knowledge hits the gut.  

    No wonder citizens were protesting, loudly and en masse, during that whole conflict.  Had our soldiers left Vietnam when leaders knew we couldn’t win, we would have been spared a decade of slaughter and destruction that haunts us still.  

    Throughout the documentary, because our war destroyed so many lives on both sides,  individual stories get told in sharp detail. Young Denton Crocker’s story gets told throughout the third and fourth episodes, and left me choked up, thanks to current interviews with his still-traumatized mother and sister.  Denton’s story stands for thousands of other young men who left broken-hearted families. 

    Ken Burns hopes “The Vietnam War” will start a national conversation about that awful war. Our leadership went horribly awry, and we need to admit that openly.   
    Reconciliation must begin with truth.  


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