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An ordinance for healthy drinking May 13, 2010

Posted by jdoetkott in Journalism.
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When times are tough people often turn to the tired expression, “Well, at least I have my health.”

Americans spend trillions of dollars on health care and medical expenses every year, doing almost anything they can to protect their well-being. And on June 1 an ordinance will take effect that city councilors hope will do its part to help protect the health and welfare of Iowa City residents.

On April 6 the Iowa City City Council passed an ordinance that will raise the bar entry age to the legal drinking age of 21. Effective June 1, the ordinance passed by a vote of 6-1 with councilor Regenia Bailey casting the only dissenting vote.

Mayor Matt Hayek said the ordinance is intended to alter the city’s “culture of consumption” and curb both underage and binge drinking.

The dangers of starting early

During lengthy discussions in the City Council meetings that lead up to the ordinance’s passing, many proponents cited alcohol-related health concerns and the dangers of underage drinking.

Kelly Vander Werff, prevention manager for the Mid-Eastern Council on Chemical Abuse (MECCA), said underage drinking can have both short and long-term effects on a person’s health.

Vander Werff said underage drinking can damage the brain’s frontal lobe, the brain’s decision making center, which is still developing until around the age of 25. She also said underage drinkers are more likely to drink in a high-risk way, and research has shown that people who start drinking early are more likely to become addicted.

“If everyone would wait until they are 21 we would see a lot fewer problems in the adult population,” Vander Werff said.

Environmental change

The 21-ordinance is an example of what health professionals call “environmental change” and can be one of the most effective ways to reduce widespread alcohol-related problems.

Doug Beardsley, director of the Johnson County Public Health Department, said in order to combat underage drinking and overconsumption it’s important for city law to be in alliance with community expectations.

“As it is, you do have that kind of tacit acceptance,” Beardsley said. “This [ordinance] aligns public policy and our stated desire to cut down on underage drinking.”

Beardsley said similar ordinances implemented in other areas have been successful in reducing underage drinking and thought the same was possible for Iowa City.

UI Student Health offers several services to help students with substance abuse

Angela Reams, substance abuse prevention coordinator at UI Student Health, noted that not only is it important for these laws to be enacted, but also enforced.

“Research has shown that enforcement of the legal drinking age and enforcing legal bar entry age reduces high risk drinking and underage drinking,” Reams said in an email.

Vander Werff said Iowa City’s high alcohol outlet density – the majority of the city’s 52 bars are in the downtown area – is a major cause of the city’s alcohol-related problems.

“Having easy access to alcohol increases consumption for all ages,” Vander Werff said. “Decreasing access is the primary way people see population-level change.”

A different kind of education

But as effective as environmental change can be, Vander Werff and others agree that alcohol education is also critical to effecting lasting change in the community.

The UI already has several alcohol education programs in place which are continuing to expand.

The AlcoholEdu program is “designed to prevent alcohol-related problems and educate students on the impact of alcohol on the mind and body,” according to the UI website. For the past four years the program has been mandatory for all first year students, but will be expanded next year to include all incoming students including transfer students who are not 21 by the start of school, Reams said.

The UI also recently added the e-CHUG program which allows students to receive instant feedback on their drinking habits and provides information about how they can live a healthier lifestyle.

Reams said programs such as e-CHUG can be very helpful in curbing high-risk behavior.

“Research has shown that programs that provide assessment with instant feedback about behaviors can assist students in thinking more about their behaviors while drinking, encourage the incorporation of more protective factors, challenge social drinking norms, and decrease high risk use,” Reams said in an email.

And apart from the university, MECCA, for which Vander Werff is a prevention manager, has prevention staff working in all Johnson County high schools to educate those younger students about the dangers of alcohol.

A piece of the puzzle

But environmental change and education are still not enough.

Beardsley said the city needs more alcohol-alternative outlets for students and other underage people to participate in.

“Let’s make this a place where they can engage in social activities where they don’t drink,” Beardsley said.

UI President Sally Mason has made alcohol-alternative events for students a priority and while the Campus Activities Board and Residence Life put on several programs every weekend, the events are poorly attended. Many students still feel it’s not enough, with popular events like Night Games only being held once a month.

And while UI officials look for new ways to educate students and attract them to sober events, everyone agrees that the 21-ordinance is not going to solve the city’s alcohol problems on its own.

“There is no one solution to curbing high risk drinking, so [the ordinance] is definitely part of a larger plan including environmental change, policy change, and education along with other initiatives,” Reams said in an email.

Vander Werff echoed Reams, saying the ordinance is not the final solution, but a necessary step towards healthier drinking in Iowa City.

“It’s a piece that needs to be there for the rest of the plan to come together,” Vander Werff said.

For a look at some of the public safety concerns surrounding the 21-ordinance, click here.

Safety in the wake of 21-only May 13, 2010

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When the 21-ordinance in Iowa City takes effect on June 1, thousands of underage bar-goers will find themselves without a weekend refuge.

There has been much speculation about where the young party crowd will choose to spend their nights when they can no longer hang out downtown. Many have suggested that the city’s neighborhoods will see a spike in the number of house parties. Others have said that residence hall personnel will have their hands full dealing with the increase of UI students drinking in the dorms. And still others say people will stop visiting Iowa City altogether.

Whatever the case may be, the Iowa City Police Department and UI Department of Public Safety will need to adapt to new and perhaps unforeseen challenges.

The rise of the house party?

House parties around the UI campus are few and far between due to the city’s vibrant downtown bar scene. But under the new ordinance, the “they’ll just drink somewhere else” argument says all signs point to an impending rise in the number of house parties.

UI police vehicle outside the UI Department of Public Safety

But police officials are not convinced.

Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said only time will tell if students and others truly do migrate to the neighborhoods.

“We won’t know until it happens,” Brotherton said. “There’s always house parties, we’ll just have to see if the 21-ordinance increases that.”

Charles Green, the assistant vice president for UI police, echoed Brotherton’s uncertainty.

“It’s an unknown,” Green said. “We really don’t know what the impact is going to be.”

And while it remains to be seen, those who believe the increase is imminent say the police will be unable to control partiers once they are spread out across the neighborhoods.

Brotherton said although a reallocation of resources might be necessary, the idea that house parties are harder to control than the centralized downtown area is unfounded.

“We go to a house party, it’s just a house party. We can shut it down,” Brotherton said. “There’s more we can do to control it out there.”

Downtown is not dead

So while neighborhood parties remain a concern that both departments will monitor closely, the downtown area will not be without its police presence.

Green said UI police will continue to work alongside the ICPD, but that their primary concern would be closer to university interests.

“What happens in the outlying neighborhoods will be the concern of the Iowa City Police Department,” Green said. “Our focus will be the downtown area.”

During most of last year UI police officers put in substantial overtime in the downtown area to combat violence in the Pedestrian Mall. Green said this year the department also added a regular shift to the downtown area on Wednesday through Saturday nights even before any discussion of the 21-ordinance had begun.

Recently the Iowa City Downtown Association announced that eight surveillance cameras would be installed in the Pedestrian Mall to add extra security to the area.

Brotherton said the cameras could be a benefit for police during times when information about an incident is limited.

“It’s a good positive step,” Brotherton said. “Anything is an assistance to us.”

Green also said the cameras could benefit the department’s operations but said it’s often difficult to accurately identify an individual because of the poor video quality and said the effectiveness of the cameras acting as a deterrent to crime would vary for each individual.

Getting home safe

Another public safety concern has always been what happens to people after they leave the downtown area and head for home. With people potentially going to more house parties as a result of the 21-ordinance, some people are worried about the safety of dark neighborhood streets away from the busy downtown area.

Apart from taxis, the UI offers a Cambus Saferide service that runs until 2:25 am on Friday and Saturday nights. The UI Department of Public Safety also offers a Nite Ride van service that operates until 3:00 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.

But ever since Nite Ride was first introduced there has been controversy over the fact that the service is only available to women. Many people have argued that the service should be expanded to include safe transportation for men.

Former UI Student Government President Mike Currie succeeded in extending the service’s hours during finals week last winter, but was unsuccessful in achieving his main goal of establishing a male Nite Ride.

UI sophomore Evan Willhite is among the supporters of a male Nite Ride and said the issue is more about safety than equality.

“Some type of transportation should be available for males as well as women,” Willhite said. “The university should do everything it can to maintain the safety of its students.”

Green said an Eastside Saferide Loop through the neighborhood close to campus was added in September in direct response to the calls for a male transportation service.

Green said he was unsure how much use the new route is getting, but said the department’s plans are firm.

“We have no plans to expand Nite Ride,” Green said.

Safety is personal

Both Green and Brotherton said their departments would continue to do everything in their power to keep Iowa City residents safe in the aftermath of the 21-ordinance, but stressed the need for people to take responsibility for their own safety.

Brotherton suggested traveling in groups to avoid conflicts on the walks home from house parties and said it’s important to be aware of how much you’re drinking and recognize potentially harmful situations.

“To me it doesn’t matter if they’re downtown or at a party,” Brotherton said. “If they’re over-consuming, they’re putting themselves in a dangerous situation.”

For a look at some of the health concerns surrounding the 21-ordinance, click here.

Can I get a bike over here? May 13, 2010

Posted by jdoetkott in Lifestyle.
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I recently saw this video from GOOD and whether it be from lack of sleep or just a predisposition towards bicycles, I was really struck by this video.

The video shows a high level of bike traffic in Utrecht, Holland and suggests that it is indeed possible for us to give up our cars and use pedal power as a primary mode of transportation. Americans in general are reluctant to give up their cars, it must have something to do with the freedom. But as we all look for ways to go green I think it’s important to remember that changing your lifestyle actually means changing your lifestyle. If you really want to reduce your carbon footprint buying recycled paper is good, but choosing not to burn gallons of fossil fuels on your way to work is even better.

Coming from Minneapolis, this concept of biking is not new to me. Minneapolis has been named the most cyclist friendly city in the U.S. and has the highest number of bikers. So now I don’t know whether to say “Be like them” or “Be like us.” But either way I thought I would call attention to this very simple idea.

Ride your bike more. It’s good for you, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for showing off your butt in tight bike shorts. We can all do more to reduce our impact on the environment, and biking is one of the simplest and most beneficial solutions.

Maybe not so advantageous May 13, 2010

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A few days ago I wrote a post about the advantages of Iowa weather compared to the snow that was falling in some parts on Minnesota.

I would like to retract that statement.

Iowa weather changes rapidly, or so I thought. It has been nothing but rain the past week, and while that’s good for studying, it’s extremely depressing and not an enjoyable way to end the year.

I have been wet, cold, and thanks to finals, extremely miserable this past week and I am really starting to question if the sun is ever going to come back out. I haven’t seen it for days and I’m starting to fear the worst.

So while Iowa is still milder, I think I would take some cold if it meant I could get a little sun.

Two years? Really? May 13, 2010

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By the end of the day today I could be done with 50% of my college career.

That sentence might not seem odd to anyone reading this, but let me tell you, that’s terrifyingly strange.

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was unpacking my stuff and moving in for freshman year. Or rewind the tape a bit further, it actually feels like it was just yesterday that I was still in high school. These last two years have flown by and I’ve experienced a lot of cool things and met a lot of wonderful people.

Looking ahead to the next two years, I am excited to see what the future has in store for me. I hope to be in Ireland at this time next year and who knows what other adventures I will have undertaken.

I know how cliché all of this sounds, and I’m sorry for the sentimental reflection, but it really is a wonder that I am where I am today. All I can do is thank all the wonderful people in my life and look ahead to things to come.

And while I’m ready for the future, a large part of me still says, “Two years? Really? Has it been that long?”

Go C’s! May 13, 2010

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This past winter I decided to pretend basketball did not exist. The Timberwolves were terrible, the Hawkeyes were terrible, and I just couldn’t force myself to watch my teams lose. But now that it’s playoff time I get to root for teams that can actually win more than 15 games. So who do I choose to root for?

Why, the Celtics of course. Yes, it’s mostly because of KG, but I also like their style of play and most of the players on the team. I think Rondo has talent beyond his years (and is only getting better), and I have always liked Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

It’s not that I don’t like LeBron James, in fact, I think he is the best player in the league no-questions-asked. And it’s not that I don’t like any of the other teams (although I hate many of the Lakers players, but maybe surprisingly I don’t hate Kobe), I just like the C’s.

If I can’t root for the Timberwolves, I’m going to root for a team that I like that can actually win. And the Celtics fulfill both those criteria. Hence, GO CELTICS!

WCCO’s Don Shelby retires May 13, 2010

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I just read this article from the Star Tribune and it saddened me greatly to learn that Don Shelby will be retiring from WCCO.

I always enjoyed Shelby’s newscasts because he was a true professional who still seemed to have fun doing the news. He had the face you could trust and he was a very big part of WCCO for 32 years.

The article is touching and I think I found this to be the most endearing part:

He said the favorite part of his job, “aside from the journalism,” was his annual 10-day posting at the State Fair, calling it “a chance to see the people in person. Those 10 days rejuvenated me.”

He wouldn’t be Don Shelby if he didn’t want to get out and connect with the people of Minnesota, because whether he knew it or not he connected with them almost every night.

My hat’s off to Mr. Shelby both as a journalist and a human being. WCCO won’t be the same without him.

Why I love Jon Stewart May 13, 2010

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Is there anything better than catching conservative pundits in outright contradictions? Well, if you said bacon, you’re right. But still, conservative catching is still pretty high on my list.

And this is why I love this clip from The Daily Show, and why I love Jon Stewart in general. Sure it’s easy to call out pundits when they blurt out boldfaced lies, but it’s harder to truly dissect their rhetoric and expose their hypocritical beliefs. And this is exactly what Stewart does in the following clip, and may I say, he does it to perfection.

Even if you’re a conservative, please enjoy this video and admit that Stewart got them all.

Jon Rauch May 13, 2010

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Keeping in the same hopeful Twins vein, I just read an article from the Star Tribune on Jon Rauch and oddly enough, it reminded me of how well he is doing this season. He is 9-for-9 in save opportunities which ties him for third in the American League. He seems to be pitching really well and has been a great replacement for the injured Joe Nathan so far this season.

Now, a couple weeks back I had a girl tell me that Jon Rauch is better than Joe Nathan…..needless to say I was unconvinced. And I still am. But I have really been impressed by the big guy and I’m really just extremely happy that the team found a solution to its closer problem.

Now as a sports fan I of course realize how much jinxing power these past two posts have. I am always superstitious that as soon as I say something is going really well, that it will immediately tank. And while I’m not trying to get ahead of myself and I’m only saying he has done well SO FAR, and the club is doing well SO FAR, it’s probably best to knock on wood anyway.

Twins win May 13, 2010

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The Twins beat the White Sox today in a solid win that leaves the club up 2.5 games in the division. The game was essentially a pitchers duel between Carl Pavano and the White Sox’s John Danks. The low scoring affair (3-2 was the final score) was typical of Twins-White Sox games over the past few years, and just like the last few years, the Twins won.

Like I’ve said before, it just feels so good to beat the White Sox, it never really gets old. I’ve been impressed by the team thus far and I think we could have a very successful season if they stay on track. Let’s just hope it happens.