Bo CaldwellGiven that her November 30 lecture at St. Ambrose University is titled "Finding Faith & Fiction in China," it seems odd that author Bo Caldwell has never actually been to the country.

Once you know her story, though, the title of the lecture (being presented as part of the school's academic-year-long China Project) makes more sense. Caldwell might not have found faith and fiction in the physical China, but she did in a China that has disappeared - the place where her grandparents and uncle lived and worked in the first half of the 20th Century.

"I was writing about a China that was long ago," Caldwell explained in an interview last month. "And the country and the city of Shanghai have changed so dramatically. ... I didn't feel like it would help me that much to go there."

She added that "China has a connection in a home-like way. That's where my grandparents spent much of their lives. It's where my mom and her siblings grew up. Chinese things when I was a kid felt like home in a weird way."

The Distant Land of My Father was published in 2001 and follows the outline of her uncle's life in Shanghai - how he lost his wealth and almost his life during a tumultuous time. Last year's City of Tranquil Light is based on the experiences of her missionary grandparents in China.

That makes clear how Caldwell found fiction in China. But faith was a function of breast cancer and its treatment, both of which changed the nature of the book that would become City of Tranquil Light.

(This is the first of two articles on the Scott Emergency Communications Center. This piece focuses on implementation problems with emergency-response consolidation. The second part will deal with the price tag and to what extent taxpayers have gotten what they were promised.)

Let's start with the metaphors.

We're roughly six months into the transition to a consolidated Scott County emergency-dispatch and -records system, said Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin on October 6. "This is the part of the movie where ... the anxiety is. Then there's the resolution at the end, and there's a happy ending. We're at that point where we're going to be focusing on what the issues are."

"In a crawl/walk/run category, we stood up and got wobbly," said Bettendorf City Administrator Decker Ploehn, also on October 6. "But we're still standing. But we're not walking yet. But we're pretty much not crawling, either. So we're working our way forward, and we hope to get to running. And I think we're going to get to running; we're not there yet."

The Scott Emergency Communications Center (SECC) brings under one roof - at 1100 East 46th Street in Davenport - what had been four dispatching centers, serving Scott County's 12 municipal and county law-enforcement agencies, 16 fire departments, and five ambulance services.

All those agencies are now using the same radio system, and law-enforcement agencies are also using a single record-keeping system - both of which allow for improved interdepartmental communication. Agencies went live with the system from early April through early May.

Still to come - probably early next year - is the consolidation of each organization's dispatchers into a single dispatching entity, and the separation of call-taking and dispatching functions. The latter of those is expected to shave 30 seconds off the time it takes to dispatch emergency responders.

And late next year, Medic EMS will decide whether to fold its dispatching operations into SECC or just continue to have its dispatchers working out of the SECC building.

By the standards of local government, the project is complicated. "It takes a good solid year to iron out" issues and difficulties, said SECC Director Brian Hitchcock, who previously oversaw consolidations in Ashland County, Wisconsin, and McHenry County, Illinois. "Every one of those has issues and bugs that have to be worked out. ... We all wish it could happen overnight." He noted that every consolidation takes a different amount of time to work through, but that the one-year estimate runs through next April.

The consolidation - recommended by a 2006 study and put into motion by a December 2007 intergovernmental agreement - is also expensive, with capital costs of roughly $28 million. The building itself cost $7.31 million. New portable radios for all agencies cost almost $7 million, purchased without a formal bidding process. Installing a "central electronics bank and associated communications gear into and around the 911 center" cost more than $1.6 million, Hitchcock said. And the dispatching and record-keeping software that has been so problematic cost $2.7 million.

Project Censored annually publishes its list of the year's top "censored" stories. "We define modern censorship as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass-media outlets," its Web site states. "On a daily basis, censorship refers to the intentional non-inclusion of a news story - or piece of a news story - based on anything other than a desire to tell the truth. Such manipulation can take the form of political pressure (from government officials and powerful individuals), economic pressure (from advertisers and funders), and legal pressure (the threat of lawsuits from deep-pocket individuals, corporations, and institutions)."

Put differently, these 25 stories represent the most important news that Project Censored felt was under-reported over the past year.

Censored 2012: Sourcebook for the Media Revolution, by Mickey Huff and Project Censored with an introduction by Dr. Peter Phillips, is available (along with more detailed media analysis and sources for these summaries) at ProjectCensored.org. The book is published by Seven Stories Press.

(1) More U.S. Soldiers Committed Suicide Than Died in Combat

In 2010, for the second year in a row, more U.S. soldiers killed themselves (468) than died in combat (462). "If you ... know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know," General Peter Chiarelli told the Army Times, "because we don't know." Suicide is a tragic but predictable human reaction to being asked to kill - and watch your friends be killed.

(A sidebar about Christian Care's August 6 "Walk the Walk" event can be found here.)

Quad City Pheonix Festival organizer Emily JawoiszA celebration of survival in the face of seemingly unbearable hardship, August 7's Quad City Phoenix Festival - taking place in Rock Island's Schwiebert Riverfront Park - will find local performers, artists, self-defense instructors, and guest speakers raising funds for area shelters, halfway houses, and domestic-violence awareness programs. And as the phoenix is a mythological bird that famously rises from the ashes to become a newer and stronger version of its previous self, the festival's name, says organizer Emily Jawoisz, is perfectly apt.

Since the NuVal food-scoring system was introduced at all Hy-Vee stores in January 2009, my family - both consciously and subconsciously - has changed the way it buys and eats.

There are times when we've discussed whether to buy this yogurt or that yogurt, and the decision was based on nothing more than the higher NuVal score. (Sometimes, we look at the nutrition panel to try to figure out why a certain score was higher. Sometimes, we succeed.) And I'm certain there have been times when, without thinking about it, we've grabbed one food item instead of the lower-scoring version right next to it.

The funny thing is that until I began researching this article, we took it on faith that NuVal scores meaningfully and accurately reflected the nutritional content of the food we were buying.

Conceptually, the system is intuitively understood. It's a number from 1 to 100 (on top of NuVal's joined-hexagon logo) on the shelf tags of a vast majority of edible items in Hy-Vee. The higher the score, the better the food is nutritionally. Fresh blueberries get a 100, and nearly all fresh fruits and vegetables score in the 90s. Scores for hot dogs generally range from 6 to 16, while sugared sodas get a 1.

Of course, you already know that fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you, and hot dogs and sugared sodas aren't. Where NuVal is most instructive - and fascinating - is within a given food group. In its simplest form, NuVal is about deciding between two or three or 10 products jostling for your attention on the same supermarket shelf. As Dr. David L. Katz - the chief architect of NuVal and director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center - said in an interview last month: "Any aisle of the supermarket where you were already going to buy something, go ahead, but try to buy the most nutritious version that satisfies your wallet and your palate."

Zachary Michael Jack

Author Zachary Michael Jack is a seventh-generation Iowan - the son of a farmer - who lives in Jones County, and like many people with deep roots in the Hawkeye State, his identity is intertwined with his home.

"It's a state that we imprint very strongly on where we're from and [that] we consider a lifelong commitment," he said in a phone interview this week. "Each person manifests that advocacy in different ways. ...

"If you do love a place, part of that love ultimately evolves into advocacy for that place. ... Kind of put your weight behind things that are homegrown."

The 37-year-old Jack - who will speak and read from his creative-nonfiction book Native Soulmate (scheduled for September release) at the Bettendorf Public Library on July 21 - is throwing his weight around in writing. An associate professor of English at North Central College, he has edited Iowa: The Definitive Collection and Letters to a Young Iowan: Good Sense from the Good Folks of Iowa for Young People Everywhere.

But with last year's What Cheer, Jack started on a new path. It was his first novel, and a mystery wrapped around a love story - in the conventional man-and-woman sense, but also reflecting a love of the Midwest and of traditions and things nearly lost to time.

In Illinois, you could get a lighter sentence for killing a cop than recording one.

Section 14-4 of the Illinois criminal code reads: "The eavesdropping of an oral conversation ... between any law-enforcement officer ... while in the performance of his or her official duties ... is a Class 1 felony." Under Illinois law, a person is "eavesdropping" when he or she "knowingly and intentionally uses an eavesdropping device for the purpose of hearing or recording all or any part of any conversation" without the consent of all parties to the conversation.

A Class 1 felony is punishable by up to 15 years' imprisonment. My irreverent sense of the humor often gets me in trouble, but I just can't contain it here: You could get a lighter sentence for killing a cop than recording one. When Jonathan Posey was convicted of reckless homicide in the 2001 dragging death of Illinois State Police Master Sergeant Stanley Talbot in Rock Island, he only got a five-year sentence for that crime. Good for Mr. Posey, he wasn't videotaping.

Talk radio is one of the few places in American broadcast media that give voice to "regular people." But because local programs have largely been replaced by nationally syndicated hosts, the format rarely provides insights into the thoughts, concerns, and opinions of a local area.

Perhaps this is what makes Jim Fisher, talk-show host for WOC 1420AM for more than three decades, such a valued contributor to the genre. Whether you agree with him or not, he is one of us.

The Jim Fisher Show, heard Mondays through Fridays from 2 to 5:30 p.m., is a rarity. Not only has he maintained his program for 31 years and counting, but his show continues to be a commercial success. Clients get on waiting lists to be endorsed by Fisher, who has final say on which local advertisers he will pitch for. And his show consistently generates local advertising revenues that compete with nationally syndicated heavy-hitters such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who also air on WOC.

In an interview with this Quad Cities icon, Jim was charmingly frank in his assessment of his own success: "I have been blessed or cursed with a certain voice. I have never applied for a job. The Armed Forces Radio & Television Service asked me to work a volunteer shift while I was enlisted in the military in Asia. I ended up taking the licensing test here in the U.S. in the 1960s for commercial broadcasting."

Nora DeJohnOn May 21, Nora DeJohn's children will bring their mother back to Davenport for burial. Nora died in Pennsylvania on January 10 after a five-year battle with breast cancer. This will be a funeral to remember with a mass at St. Ambrose Chapel, Celtic bagpipers leading the way to the cemetery, and live Celtic music at an afternoon luncheon/reunion at the German American Heritage Center.

Her early career as a public-school teacher, community organizer for Eastside Development Corporation, and nutritional counselor for the Iowa State Extension service took her to all corners of the central city and familiarized her with many diverse public causes. Friends from a broad spectrum of community groups will be attending her Davenport memorial to help celebrate the indelible mark she left upon our town.

Deb Bowen is the first to admit that she didn't have a plan for what has become A Book by Me, a series of short books for children, mostly about Holocaust survivors, written and illustrated primarily by middle- and high-school students.

"I don't really know why I took the initiative to do it [initially], except that I felt their stories were so important," she said last week.

The seed was planted in 2003, when she attended a Yom HaShoah event so her daughter could get extra credit at school. There, she learned that three Holocaust survivors in the Quad Cities were all named Esther. "I'd never been to a synagogue before" that Holocaust remembrance, said Bowen, who's a Christian.

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