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The best and worst of 2017

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Last year’s Dumpster fire has spread to the landfill. But there were some good parts. Little Village contributors weigh in on the highs and lows of 2017.

Politics

Inauguration Day, Jan. 19, 2017. — photo by Lorie Shaull via Flickr

Highlight: Donald Trump became president. There is a potential outcome of the unfolding disaster that is Donald J. Trump’s presidential career that would be both good and very important: The blunt-force reality of Trump may finally smash through certain fictions that have blighted our politics. Like, it doesn’t matter if a candidate appears unready to be president, because a person grows once in office. Or, Americans are innately good-hearted — a polite fiction our history doesn’t support, and the ongoing spectacle of so many Americans publicly embracing the most blatant bigotries may finally lay to rest. We’d be better off as a country without these and other fictions that Trump being president disproves daily.

Lowlight: Donald Trump became president. Where to begin? The grim, poorly-delivered “blood and soil” inaugural address? No, that was just embarrassing, not actually destructive. When it comes to destructive, there’s an embarrassment of riches: a cornucopia of racist policies, economic policies that would make the even most shameless thief blush, the little-noticed dismantling of the State Department and the casual way Trump threatens to use nukes, etc., etc. There is a British term for situations like this: omnishambles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t convey the potentially lethal consequences of this bottomless pit of worst. But maybe we already have a word that does: Trump.

Paul Brennan

Science

Scott Pruitt. — still from Fox News

Highlight: CRISPR, the genetic engineering tool that has repeatedly garnered international attention, was at the center of another major scientific breakthrough this year. In August, scientists reported that they had used the modified bacterial defense system to alter a human embryo. Using a DNA-cutting protein called Cas9 and a guide RNA (a chemical sequence, similar to DNA, that directs Cas9), scientists were able to correct a genetic mutation that causes a prevalent heart disorder later in life. By demonstrating the efficacy of genetic modifications in human embryos, this breakthrough will enable the correction of a wide range of genetic disorders, though obvious ethical concerns and regulatory guidelines must first be addressed.

Lowlight: Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to lead the EPA and a noted skeptic of human-driven climate change, was approved by the Senate on Feb. 17. Two months later, thousands of people in over 600 cities around the world marched to celebrate science and call for evidence-based policy in government. The momentum built from this wave of science support was short-lived, however, as the White House increasingly censored climate research. In April, The Washington Post reported that the EPA had removed its climate science website. By August, the USDA had done the same, instructing employees to replace “climate change” with “weather extremes.”

Nicholas McCarty

Sports

Jessica Heims. — still from Paralympic Games

Track and field is my passion. As 2017 winds down, there have been definite highs and lows in the sport I love over the last 365 days.

Highlight: The beauty of track and field lies with world-class competitors like Erik Sowinski and Jessica Heims.

Sowinski was a Big Ten champion and All-American in the 800 meters at Iowa. He is still lives and trains in Iowa City while holding a contract with Nike. Sowinski likes to train alone with his college coach Joey Woody and loves the simple life Iowa City offers. He was the 2016 World Indoor Championships bronze medalist in the 800.

Jessica Heims is a paralympic athlete from Cedar Rapids. Jessica was born with a profound birth defect of her right leg. The leg was amputated before the age of 1 and she never looked back. She represented the U.S. in the 2016 Rio Paralympics in the discus and 400 meters and was recently named the 2017 USA High School Female Paralympic Field Athlete of the Year.

Lowlight: Track and field athletes seem to be regular topics of discussion when it comes to doping. This saddens me a great deal. Not all illegal athletes are caught, meaning records are tainted and results are not truly accurate. Just recently Chaunté Lowe four-time Olympian and American record holder in the women’s high jump, was awarded the bronze medal for her effort in Beijing in 2008, after originally placing sixth. Testing was completed in 2016 and the third, fourth and fifth place finishers were disqualified for using performance enhancing drugs. After the exhaustion of appeals Lowe rose from sixth place to third.

Mike Jay

Architecture

RISE at Riverfront Crossings. — photo by Zak Neumann

Highlight: Exemplifying the best in design, Bruce Mau and Bisi Williams, co-founders of Massive Change Network [MCN], an enterprise design consultancy based in Evanston, Illinois, recognize that in the Anthropocene, humans design the world. This fall, the MCN team presented three public talks and workshops to university leaders, faculty, students and community members, as part of an exploration into innovation and collaboration led by Sarah Gardial, dean of the Tippie School of Business. At public and group sessions, Mau introduced Massive Change Design Principles (MC24): a set of insights, methods and creative strategies that can be applied to solve problems of any type or scale. Their design process realizes that the “complexity of our rapidly changing world demands diverse talents and experiences to make innovation happen.”

Lowlight: Amidst the threat of nuclear annihilation, maximize-profits-at-any-expense narratives gave humans permission this year to forget civic good or mirroring nature’s dynamic and exquisite blueprint. Exemplifying the worst in design is the outdated, 1980s-style, massive building. Mis-proportioned for neighborhoods or historic communities, massive buildings create more problems than they solve. They threaten the irreplaceable charm of Iowa City’s thoughtful growth when they could take a page (of divine proportion) from other UNESCO Cities of Literature, like Edinburgh, Krakow or Prague.

Jiyun Park

Social Justice

Iowa City resident Handi Lutfi speaks about how House File 295 would affect her. Wednesday, March 8, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Iowa workers are suffering from one of the darkest hours in the Hawkeye State’s history after a Republican legislative take-over, which launched a series of attacks on workers’ rights in the public and private sectors.

Highlight: In response, workers started taking matters into their own hands. AFSCME, the largest union representing Iowa public workers, filed a lawsuit challenging the new law attacking collective bargaining. Their case, initially rejected by a Polk County judge in October, might now appear before the Iowa Supreme Court thanks to an appeal filed in November.
Outside the courtroom, many Iowans have been awakened to the struggle of organized labor by fighting for their rights in the workplace and demonstrating their outrage on the streets. Despite the legislature’s attack on minimum wage (and the livelihood of workers), a movement in Iowa City helped sway many local businesses to agree to the $10.10 hourly wage initially voted on by the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. This is just the beginning of an ongoing fight for workers’ rights and the ongoing struggle to improve the lives of workers in Iowa and across the country.

Lowlight: Earlier this year, Republicans gutted collective bargaining rights, rejected minimum wage increases and attacked healthcare. This is a result of the demagogic attitudes and corporatist policies of the right wing under Govs. Terry Branstad and Kim Reynolds and their allies in big business. This sad state of affairs is reflective of Wall Street’s national campaign against workers’ rights, with President Donald Trump as its cheerleading mascot.

Mike Kuhlenbeck

Independent Music

Mykki Blanco perfoms at the Blue Moose Tap House on the third night of the Mission Creek Festival, April 8, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Highlight: One bright spot I saw in music this year was a trend in Iowa music festivals toward not-dude headliners. I don’t know if this was a happy coincidence or the result of a concerted effort but major music events statewide took strides toward correcting the often-noted male dominance of festival lineups. A few examples included Street Heat and Little Big Fest in Des Moines; Mission Creek, Middle of Nowhere and Witching Hour in Iowa City; Maximum Ames Music Festival in Ames (disclosure: I am involved in this event); and the forthcoming Gas Seed & Feed in Quad Cities. Increasing the femininity and gender-inclusivity of our festivals on-stage and behind the scenes is critical to the long-term success and health of our musical communities.

Lowlight: Fallout from the Ghost Ship disaster in Oakland, California at the end of 2016 set a tone for the year. Anyone who has spent time in DIY spaces could imagine exactly the circumstances and horror of that event. Our spaces are often appealingly “off-the-grid” so to speak, but this secretive nature can result in unchecked hazards. This tragedy was a wake-up call. It was especially disturbing because artists are sometimes pushed into the fringes of city landscapes by an economy that does not have a place for them, as was the case with some residents and attendees of the Ghost Ship. Artists need to create. But where?

Nate Logsdon

Television

Still from ‘Twin Peaks: The Return.’

Highlight: As the ratings of Jimmy Fallon’s light-hearted Tonight Show continue to plummet, it’s clear audiences in the Trump era don’t want to be distracted by fun and frills — at least not completely. Some scripted shows managed to progress national conversations around race, gender, sexuality, class and gun control and still inspire genuine laughs: new programs Difficult People, Dear White People and American Vandal; the transcendant Atlanta and Insecure; and the absurd and stronger-than-ever comedies Rick and Morty, BoJack Horseman and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. TV in 2017 may be remembered for the epic returns of Daenerys Targaryen, Eleven and Agent Dale Cooper, and rightly so, but let’s also not forget how funny we managed to be.

Lowlight: Being woke is practically a civic duty, but do we really need to drape all “serious” shows in a gray, naval-gazing veil? Some of the most acclaimed programs of the year, I think, held inflated opinions of their own importance, even if they were well-acted and pretty to look at; dare I point the finger at critical darling The Handmaid’s Tale? Other culprits are House of Cards (R.I.P. Frank Underwood, but not really), Black Mirror, American Horror Story: Cult ​… even my beloved Sherlock took an ill-advised turn into heavy-handed melodrama. Yes, ​humans are capable of unbelievable cruelty. Yes, we’re ​Putin’s pawns. Yes, we’re heading closer to a fascist dystopia every day. Having accepted these realities, I’ll enjoy thoughtful but escapist dramas like Mindhunter and Big Little Lies.

–– Emma McClatchey

Food

Acapulco 2 paleta bar. — photo by Zak Neumann

Highlight: “Despacito” was the song of the summer, and the expansion of Acapulco 2 Grocery and Bakery in Iowa City — which happened as Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber were topping the charts — was my highlight of the year. The store on Keokuk Street now boasts a taquería and paleta (Mexican popsicle) bar, with an array of flavors that make me want to savor every moment slowly: piña, melon chile, kiwi and coco agua. Even as colder weather settles in, I still visit Acapulco 2 on Sunday afternoons for fresh, corn-husk-wrapped tamales ($12 per dozen) to pack in twos for spicy, hot lunches throughout the week.

Lowlight: In September, The New York Times published a front-page story titled “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food.” Following door-to-door Nestlé vendors in Brazil, the piece investigated how huge Western food companies like Nestlé and PepsiCo are aggressively expanding and marketing their products in developing countries. “The growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods is generating a new type of malnutrition, one in which a growing number of people are both overweight and undernourished,” the authors wrote. Full disclosure: this story will make you want to sign up for a CSA next year. Little Village has a guide for that.

Helaina Thompson

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 233.


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