Monthly Archives: March 2009

Bars – Jiamen

Speaking of retro relief, my wife and I had drinks and dinner at Jiamen recently. It’s the newish Asian restaurant at 5400 Edgewood Road NE.

Dinner was not as “innovative” as the sign outside promises and as I hoped, but we’ll go back and try again. I’ll reserve judgment on the food for now.  The place has lots of potential.

Instead, I’ll dwell on the big positive of the night – a bar that boasts a cocktail menu featuring a long list of vintage drinks.

You can order up a Corpse Reviver #2,  French 75, Sazerac, Sidecar, Vesper, Singapore Sling, Old Fashioned and several others. 

I stayed in the rye food group with a Sazerac and a Manhattan. They were hefty, stiff drinks mixed well. Once drained, I was ready to head down to the docks with Sam Spade to check out the La Paloma.

Although, my wife probably would not have approved. Dames.

The bartenders were friendly and fast. The bar  was busy enough to give off a happening buzz but quiet enough for conversation. Big flat screen TVs remind you it’s not 1945, but with March madness basketball on both, there was no complaint from me.

Bottom line, it’s a good place to drink in a little history, or whatever you feel like. They also have a pretty good beer selection.

And if you’re wondering about a Sazerac,  it’s a New Orleans invention and is considered the city’s official cocktail.

A complete history and recipe can be found here.




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Today’s Column – Retro Relief

Our past has a very strong pull when the present is so scary.

You don’t have to look hard to find proof that jittery Americans are seeking elusive comfort in nostalgia. We’re clinging to shards of the so-called good old days to get us through bad new days.

Maybe we think the only way to see a light at the end of the tunnel is to throw ourselves into reverse.

The New York Times carried front-page news last week that candy sales are rising while other parts of the economy melt. People are snatching up the same cheap, sugar nuggets that fueled their kickball games and sleepovers. Adults without jobs refuse to go without Skittles.

Women are lining up to see New Kids On The Block, and neither the act nor the audience has been a kid in years. USA Today buzzed about a new book extolling the virtues of play and how harried, unhappy adults make too little time for it.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune carried a report last week on how a few Roman Catholic churches are going extreme-retro, offering sinners indulgences so they can repent like in the old days. The Middle Ages.

Vinyl records are selling. Old TV on DVD is hot. I half expect Bon Appetit to have a tater-tot casserole on its cover next month.

Now, I’m not judging. I, too, am guilty of moonwalking toward the past.

Shuffling things around a basement closet awhile back reminded me that I’m still the owner of an Atari 2600, circa 1981, video game system and a few dozen games.

I also have a 25-year-old, 13inch color TV that’s an analog relic in a digital world.

It was a match made in the heaven of memory.

I hooked up the old system and it worked perfectly.Grabbing a Coke, Classic, from the fridge, I settled in to blast asteroids and aliens and waves of incoming missiles. The familiar hand cramp and thumb callous were not far behind.

Also thanks to the digital TV conversion, we now have the Retro Television Network, beaming oldies all day on KWWL’s channel 7.3. You can watch “Magnum P.I.” every night if you want.

There’s that cocky, lovable Tom Selleck, in trouble again, stopping to use a pay phone and getting his news from a newspaper. He has a “little voice” inside that narrates his adventures. Today, he’d whip out his BlackBerry and tweet “@TC,@Rick: Higgins mad about Ferrari.Being shot at. Ltr.”

On Sunday, I grabbed my copy of “Berlin Diary” by William Shirer. It’s the book I read at age 16 that made me think about becoming a newspaper reporter. Flipping through it reminded me of the excitement I felt about telling interesting, important stories. Now, working in the city where Shirer’s career began, I’m wondering how much longer I’ll get to tell stories.

This is and always will be a sentimental country.

But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. An economy-sized bag of Skittles is going to give you a gut ache eventually.

It’s comforting to reach back, but getting through whatever it is we’re going through means being engaged in the present. If better days are out there, they’re ahead of us.

Still, if blasting a few aliens makes you feel better, fire away.

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Snowman Death Baffles Investigators

Mr. "Daddy" Snowman

Mr. "Daddy" Snowman

MARION — Was it the wife, or the sun?

Only Mr. Frosty “Daddy” Snowman knows. And he’s not talking.

Not anymore.

Snowman, age undetermined, was found expired on the front lawn of a home in a north Marion subdivision Sunday afternoon. Foul play is suspected, but natural causes have not been ruled out.

He is mourned today by his young friends, Tess and Ella, who said in a joint statement that they, “made him what he was, and worked hard to keep him from falling to pieces.”

They blamed each other, though both issued high-pitched, indignant denials. Neither is under investigation, police said.

The crime scene (Warning: Graphic)

The crime scene (Warning: Graphic)

Witnesses told police that Snowman blew into town on the heels of Saturday’s heavy late-season snowfall. He was last seen standing in the yard next to Ms. “Mommy” Snowoman, his estranged wife. Their marriage had cooled in recent months.

Ms. "Mommy" Snowoman

Ms. "Mommy" Snowoman

Snowoman is now considered a “person of interest,” according to police, but remains at large.  They are following leads, but have so far hit dead ends. Investigators say it’s almost like she melted into the thin spring air

Snowman, according to friends, was an irregular columnist for the Snowtown Blow, where he won awards for his reporting on the threat of global warming. He was laid off last month, when his job was outsourced to Antarctica. He soon entered treatment for antifreeze addiction.

Friends said he drifted all winter. But they said he hoped to make a fresh start this spring, or at least lose a little weight.

Still, they said, it seemed like he knew his days were numbered.

“I had to remake his head, twice,” Tess said. “He kept losing it. Then Ella sat on him. She ruins everything.”

He will be remembered at a private ceremony, where Tess and Ella will collect his hat, scarf, sunglasses and carrot nose from the front yard before they blow away or get jammed in daddy’s lawn mower. Snow cones, his favorite, will be served afterward.

Anyone with information about Snowman is asked to contact authorities.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Ella said. “Can we get out my pool yet?”

Snowman during happier days

Snowman during happier days


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Monday Reads — Buyer’s Regret

Did you ever have buyers regret?

Sure, you drop a chunk of cash on something and later wonder whether it was the smart play. It happens.

Say you’re a Cedar Rapids city official, and you read this morning’s on-the-scene report form The Gazette’s Adam Belz on temporary flood barriers failing twice in Fargo along the Red River, the same ones CR ordered up as part its temporary protection scheme. That’s gotta give you pause over your oatmeal.

The HESCO barries “wouldn’t be able to withstand water at any significant height,” the story says. I don’t think that came from the company’s brochure. But I’m expecting a “they didn’t use them right” or something from the leaky barrier maker any minute now.

Belz also hits a line drive the city’s direction with his description of what it looks like when a flooded town has a strong mayor to lead the way. There apparently is no leadership debate in Fargo, like there is around these parts. Maybe we can hire Mayor Dennis Walaker to be our flood CEO.

So what else are we regretting?

The Register has an interesting piece today on the consequences of Gov. Chet Culver’s bonding plan. Bonding delivers a large up-front pool of infrastructure spending but paying back the bonds will deplete funding over the long run, according to the state auditor. The Cato Institute also says debt is bad.

Anybody want to buy a shuttered dog track on the outskirts of Waterloo? The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier says it’s for sale to anyone who will redevelop the property for another use. Apparently the track’s owner, the National Cattle Congress, is finally giving up hope of ever bringing gambling back to the property.

And will you still buy Old Style, now that it’s fully kreuzened again and more expensive?

The Omaha World-Herald probes this vital issue this morning. Beer fans quoted in the article are wary of the changes, especially the fact that a $12.99 case now costs $18.99. Old Style is trying to follow Schlitz, which went back to its old formula at a higher price and saw sales rise this year.

And may your day by fully kreuzened as well.

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Deductibility Spawns Creativity

There’s a part of me that’s tempted to wade boldly into the fight over whether the state should finally dump federal deductibility, or the ability of Iowans to deduct fed taxes from what they owe the state.

It’s a big issue. But, honestly, I sent that part of me out to get kolaches.

In Prague.

So if you’re looking for keen analysis weighing the benefits to our optical tax rates realized by elimination vs. the threat of bracket creep, your flogging up the wrong blog.

All I know is that if the Legislature is going to take away a deduction, they ought to add some back in. It’s only fair.

I have 5 ideas.

1. Drinkability Deductibility — This break would recognize the economic and environmental benefits created by Iowans, like myself,  who buy beer by the keg —  which save aluminum and glass, are reusable and slice fossil fuel demand by requiring fewer beer runs.

And what was I doing when I came up with this concept? I’d rather not say.

2. Gullibility Deductibility — Iowans should get to deduct the cost of any product they buy late at night — Snuggies, Shamwow, Loud ‘N Clear etc., or the loss of any unused gold jewelery they put in a durable envelop and sent to strangers far away.

3. Football Insatiability Deductibility — A tax break for the price of season tickets, NFL Sunday Ticket, tailgating tents, flags, car decals, helmet-shaped grills, jerseys, hats, bumblebee bib overalls, toddler-sized football uniforms/cheerleading uniforms, mailboxes, garden gnomes in team colors, golf club covers, dog sweaters, bottle openers that play a fight song, team Christmas ornaments and therapy.

4. Compatibility Deductibility — Married couples get a tax break for every single blissful year they endure, er, I mean, enjoy together.

5. Twitterability Deductibility — A 0.0001-cent tax cut for every Tweet. That ought to deal the final death blow to the last remaining remnants of your internal dialogue.

I know what you’re thinking. These are really bad ideas.

Oh yeah? Well what have you got, smarty pants?


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Friday Reads — Abbreviated

Technical problems at home. So I’m late and brief.

Mainly, I wanted to point to The Register’s story today reporting that U.S. Rep. Steve King’s tax property break was a clerical error, according DC officials. He plans to pay it back.

The big story is the partisan tax reform battle firing up at the Statehouse. Dems want to eliminate federal deductability and plow the new revenue into tax breaks for people earning less than $125,000. They say it’s a middle class tax cut. Republicans say it’s a job killer and a trick and income redistribution. It all promises to dominate the final weeks of the session.

It’s also reminiscent of last fall’s Obama-McCain battle over Obama’s plan to cut taxes for people under 250,000 and raise it on others. The GOP says small biz will be hurt.

Democrats say the move would make Iowa’s income tax rates look better when recruiting businesses. Right now, they argue that federal deductability inflates those rates, so Iowa gets lumped in with high-tax states unfairly.

The Register, The Gazette, Radio Iowa all have coverage.

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Today’s Column — “Pork” and Bonds

In the “Tower of Invincibility,” Republicans think they have found an exploitable weakness in Gov. Chet Culver’s big bonding plan.Instead, they’re showing emptyheaded, inchdeep partisan politics.

The tower is a 12-story office building planned by folks in Vedic City, the southern Iowa town built on the principles of transcendental mediation.The governor’s office told communities to submit any and all ideas for using a potential $750 million pot of infrastructure money. Vedic City sent in its tower.

Once the list became public, Republicans eager to shoot down the Democratic governor’s signature legislative proposal swiftly wielded the “Tower of Invincibility” as a weapon. Right-leaning Web sites carried snide banner headlines. The words “exposed” and “scheme” were tossed around. It’s just like Congress, they said, greedy, unpopular Congress.

But is it fair to scream “pork” in this crowded political theater? Nope.

For one thing, the tower and a handful of other projects Republicans latched on to were among nearly 4,000 projects taking up 227 spreadsheet pages. Along with a handful of items that make you go, hmmm, there are scores of road projects, wastewater system upgrades, school repairs, etc.

It paints a pretty good picture of why Culver’s bonding idea is largely a good one – because this state’s infrastructure is badly in need of repairs. Culver deserves credit for trying to do something about it.

But not in the scorched earth world of 2009 GOP politics, where everything that government touches is bad, wasteful, silly and open to sound-bite scorn. Everything is pork. Monitoring volcanoes, important genetic research using fruit flies – it’s all a punch line.

I’m certainly not saying that the government doesn’t waste money on stupid stuff. And vigilance is a good thing. I have no problem with Republicans making principled arguments about bonded debt and its future consequences.

But when you start using tactics that assume we’re vapid and stupid, that we’re not interested in the details, only in clever spin, that’s where I draw the line.

Because once you drive past the “Tower of Invicibility,” you’ll find the Anamosa School District trying to make its high school accessible to the disabled and replace a 102-year-old middle school. You’ll see efforts to upgrade aging pieces of the rural power grid, to establish passenger rail service to Chicago and make badly needed storm sewer upgrades in Cedar Rapids.

You’ll read that tiny Blanchard “is without an adequate sewer system.” Yeah, pork. Ha ha.

All this GOP angst is just noise. They don’t have the votes to stop it. Really, only Culver can screw this up.

An 11-member board is planned to decide how this money is spent. I hope it runs like the first few years of the Vision Iowa Program, which I think is one of the most successful state programs in history. We need tough, independent-minded people to put applicants through their paces. A team of rivals, perhaps.

But if the governor packs it with cronies and political patsies, it could be a boondoggle yet. He may win a great victory, but in politics, nobody’s invincible.


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