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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "Donald Kaul"

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This Week in OtherWords: Kaul Writes Again and Richardson Becomes Our Newest Weekly Columnist

December 19, 2012 ·

He’s back. This week in OtherWords, columnist Donald Kaul makes a surprise return to weigh in on the chilling Newtown shootings. Since he’s still on the mend and says that life’s just so much better without deadlines, my best advice to his many devoted fans is to watch this space.

And we’ve got two other developments to report. First, we’ve revamped our website, making it more user-friendly and easier to access on mobile devices. Please take a moment to check it out and let me know if you have any concerns or other feedback.

Second, we’re launching a new weekly column by Jill Richardson. She’ll write about all aspects of the food system, from farm to fork. Today, she’s taking a good hard look at ham, which millions of Americans consider a holiday staple.

And since we’re in the middle of the holiday season, please do consider making a year-end tax-deductible contribution to OtherWords. Our service is free for newspapers, new media outlets, and engaged citizens. But professional editing, proofreading, and concerted efforts to get these bold opinions into news outlets require at least a modest budget. Any amount you can give will be used wisely and effectively to help us expand our nationwide reach. You can make a donation on our new and improved website or mail a check payable to OtherWords to this address: Institute for Policy Studies; 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600; Washington, DC 20036.

For contributions of $100 or more, we’ll send you or someone you designate a copy of columnist Sam Pizzigati‘s latest book: The Rich Don’t Always Win. For contributions of $150, we’ll also include our cartoonist Khalil Bendib‘s latest collection: Too Big to Fail. Both make great gifts.

Scroll down to see this week’s lineup and please subscribe to our weekly newsletter if you haven’t signed up yet.

  1. Our Great Fiscal Opportunity / John Cavanagh
    This is a chance for the American public to engage in a critical debate over national priorities
  2. Funding our Future / Sarah Browning
    Slashing federal arts spending would curb our collective imagination.
  3. Turning our Tears into Action / Marc Morial
    We can’t go back to business as usual with gun violence in America
  4. A Grim New Year for Women / Martha Burk
    Many of the choices that appear likely in the pending budget deal would throw women under the bus.
  5. The New Agenda on Guns We Need after Newtown / Donald Kaul
    This time, the debate has to be about more than not offending the NRA’s sensibilities.
  6. A More Humane Holiday Ham / Jill Richardson
    Some of the ingredients on your Christmas dinner table aren’t so sweet.
  7. The Emperor of Avarice / Sam Pizzigati
    Gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson more than held his own against the stiff competition to be crowned the greediest American of 2012.
  8. Michigan Bucks Democracy / Jim Hightower
    With no warning, no hearings, no public input, no floor debate, and no time for citizens even to know what was happening, Michigan’s Republicans rammed a union-busting bill into law.
  9. Nixing Nuclear Energy / William A. Collins
    Japan backtracked on an ambitious plan to shut all of its nuclear reactors but Germany is blasting forward with an effort to do just that by 2022.
  10. Good Company / Khalil Bendib cartoon

Good Company, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Letters to the Editor: Readers Respond to Kaul's Departure, Part III

August 6, 2012 ·

This is the third installment of a series of posts showcasing the poignant letters Donald Kaul received following his farewell column and my tribute to him. We've gotten more than 150 emails and at least two dozen snail-mailed letters and cards so far. Please keep them coming. If you're a devoted fan, you'll want to read the first and second of these posts too. As I explained in the first one, please re-send any emails you thought were delivered to OtherWords@ips-dc.org prior to Tuesday July 24. Due to a snafu, they were lost.You may also snail-mail them to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.
—Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies.

Oh, no, say it isn't so, Mr. Kaul! So sorry to hear of your heart attack and wish you continued improved health. My best friend sends us your newspaper columns (from Branson, Missouri to Hulbert, Oklahoma) and they are always spot on! We will really miss your voice! We would be delighted if your health and well being would allow you to reconsider retirement!
Carol and Kelly Fagan, Hulbert, Oklahoma

My wife and I just moved to Arcata, California, so I'm not familiar with your column. I was struck by your "sign off" that was printed in the local paper (The Humboldt County, California Times-Standard) last Friday, enough to send you a message wishing you the best in your retirement. Thank you for sharing your insight about signs of a "heart attack" and how most men react. I hope you have many more years, and only write if it's something you wish to do. Retirement should be another fun chapter in our lives, something everyone can look forward to, I hope (though who knows what's in store for the younger generation).
—Mike Slavin, Arcata, California

Donald Kaul Signs Off, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

I was so sorry to read in Liberal Opinion that you have been so ill and would be discontinuing your column for now. I will really miss reading you in LO as yours is the column that I always turn to first thing. This is the second time I have written you as I used to read your column in the Arizona Republic (the only column worth reading). You had retired from writing your column in 2000 and I wished you well but let you know that I would miss your writing, all of which I agreed with - every word. Well, once again I regret that I will not be able to read my favorite columnist, but I care more that you recover your health and enjoy whatever else you do from now on. Please take good care of yourself.
—Barbara R. Iverson, Sedona, Arizona

I’ve never written to you before, but after your “Broken Heart, severed will” article, I just wanted you to know that I for one appreciate you and hope the best for you. I live in one of the most depressing areas of the nation (Louisiana) and am surrounded by right-wing fanatics whose only source of disinformation is Fox news. The local newspapers regularly run Michelle Malkin, Cal Thomas, Ann Coulter, etc. Once in a while they print one of your articles to show how “fair and balanced” they are. You have been a voice of reason and sanity. I have always enjoyed and appreciated your point of view.

I hope you recover quickly from your heart troubles. I also am saddened that you might hang up your pen. If encouragement from your readers is what you want, please accept this as my request that you keep writing until your head hits the table. You are appreciated. If you print this, please do not print my name since I do not want to have my home or car egged.
—A reader in Sulphur, Louisiana

So sorry to hear you are among the persons forced to take a "rest." But that's life I guess. I do wish you a speedy and complete recovery from this serious problem but I'm so glad you are a survivor! We do need your type of column! It is cut from a newspaper in Watertown, S.D. and forwarded to me by a very dear friend, after she has enjoyed reading it. So you see it travels far. My best to you.....do have a speedy and complete recovery.
—Joyce Serquinia, Auburn, Washington

I hope you have a good recovery from your heart attack and I wish you all the best in your retirement. I want to thank you for all the years of great writing with great wisdom and perspective on our society. As a lifelong Iowan I looked forward to your column for years. It gave me faith that I was not alone in a sea of morons and religious zealots hell bent on making a profit and imparting their morals on me no matter the cost.

Growing up in the 50s serving in the military and raising my family as a working man gave me a very different perspective that of the ME generation of the past 20 years. Now retired for the past eight years and once again living under Governor-for-Life Terry Branstad. I will miss your work. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
—James (Jay) Jebe

Note: the Des Moines Register recently published a version of this letter too.
Dear Donald: You announced the suspension of your column. You lay the reason at the foot of a heart attack and the general decline of civilization.

My plea to you – suck it up. Yes you’re 77 and yes you’ve had a heart attack and yes the world seems to be hopping into Thelma and Louise’s back seat as they happily drive off the cliff.

You may not fully grasp it, but some of us really need to hear your thoughts now and then. You make us think and smile and chuckle. We don’t have to agree with you to enjoy you.

You survived the demise of 6-on-6 girls' basketball (some will say you helped move the demise along.) You survived not having Nixon to kick around any longer. You survived a nice little bike ride becoming a production befitting Cecil B. DeMille. You survived the pendulum swing of politics and politicians, and issues and conflicts and day-to-day challenges — like how to light a water heater.

You survived the Register liking you and not liking you.

Through it all, you’ve had a loyal following. The five of us often meet to talk about you.

Just kidding. You touch many; many of whom would not dare to admit it.

Keep writing. For those of us who like you, and maybe particularly for those who don’t.

And one other thing, please update the photo that runs with your column. It looks like a police line-up shot. If you can’t come up with a better picture, use someone else’s.

Thanks and hope to continue reading you over the coffee.
—John Hale, Ankeny, Iowa

Best wishes for a quick recovery from your heart attack. Thank you for RAGBRAI, from a 61-year-old who lost his RAGBRAI virginity last week. The ride, instigated by my riding companion, our 33-year-old son, was to celebrate the first anniversary of MY heart attack.

I have two stents, 20 less pounds (not counting the ones I gained during the ride) and feel terrific. We did the Karras Loop, and I did another century today as part of an annual ride with friends.

You have obviously touched countless thousands of people through your columns and your ride.

May you be able to ride again, soon, as well!
—Mark Hertzberg, Racine, Wisconsin
Recently retired journalist (Director of Photography at Lee's Journal Times in Racine)

Dearest Columnist Who I Cannot Do Without:
Does the earth stop producing after a volcano?
Does the ground stop renewing after a fire?
Do any of us stop our minds just because our bodies are being contrary?
Obviously the answer is a WHOPPING NO.

We all get challenges in our 70s. Get your recorder going — or Dragon — or whatever and dictate those delicious, brilliant thoughts that no medicine or heart will stop your mind from thinking. Your blood pressure may be better with venting! Just don't make yourself follow deadlines. Who needs 'em? We'll read whatever /whenever you send a salvo.

Yours is the ONLY column I have cut, copied & sent through slow mail over the years. I especially loved your column a few months back that was a repeat of a column from years ago re God & Congress. Maybe you can cull former columns for current reading. Sounds fun! Blessings to your recovery and to your family.
—Sandy Percy

I was very sorry to hear about your myocardial infarction for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that word on the street is that heart attacks are no fun, But I’m also disappointed I won’t be reading your thoughts on the state of America for awhile, because they generally provide insight and a perspective that is all too uncommon these days.

I agree with what you opine about 98 percent of the time, and even when I don’t I respect the way you articulate your ideas in writing. Yours is an eloquent, thoughtful voice amidst a sea of shouters; in my only slightly biased opinion that aren’t nearly enough of you and far too many of them!

For right now I’m going to put all of my positive vibes into helping you back to good health. And once that’s accomplished, I look forward to reading your helpful bits of common sense that have been showing up in the Journal Tribune (of Biddeford, Maine) each week for at least as long as I’ve been reading the paper with the masthead that proudly proclaims it is York County’s ONLY daily.

We’ll miss you while you’re on hiatus, but given that its cause is that you’re healing, we can deal with it. Here’s to a quick and speedy recovery!
—Andy Young, Cumberland, Maine

From Margaret E. ("Peggy") Roney, Avondale Estates, Georgia, p309@bellsouth.net
Please don't quit us. Even though this is the first time I've written, I have ALWAYS looked forward to your column, your wisdom, your comfort that your column gave me. Please tell me how we can continue to read you whenever you do write. We NEED you! THANKS! Your loyal reader.
—Margaret E. ("Peggy") Roney, Avondale Estates, Georgia, Peggy [p309@bellsouth.net]

Select Tributes Posted as Comments on the OtherWords website

Donald Kaul is a prophet in the classical sense of that word; God's spokesperson. I trust that Donald will continue writing only when God is done with him.
—W. Michael Biklen

Add my name to the legions who have followed Don Kaul for decades and who will miss his "dark wit" if the worst is true and this is truly good-bye. When I moved to Iowa in 1976, Kaul's columns entertained and educated me. I had the good fortune to meet the man during RAGBRAI in 1983, when I was riding across the state as a young mother escapee of three boys under the age of 3. Something I said made it into his column that day. I've enjoyed his columns and was delighted to find him on OtherWords after he left the Des Moines Register.

Life takes funny turns. I am now the editor of a weekly community paper in Florida and through OtherWords have enjoyed sharing some of Kaul's insights and musings with our readers.

I too hope that he once again finds himself willing to share his gifts with us all, but if he's really and truly retired for good, we all have decades of insightful columns to be thankful for.
—Missy Layfield, editor of the Island Sand Paper, Fort Myers Beach, Florida

Donald: We keep saying hello and goodbye. When you tried to retire 12 or so years ago, I wrote you that I hoped you would change your mind and return. I ranked you then with Molly Ivins and Mike Royko as one of my three favorite op-ed page columnists in the Kansas City Star. When you relented and returned, I wrote you again, suggesting, as I recall, that we would need you badly in the battle to stop George Dubya. You wrote back promising to try. It wasn’t your fault that he won. Now you say a heart attack has prompted you to retire again — maybe. I’m saddened by your heart attack, thrilled that you survived it and hope you’ll be back soon. Another Republican in the White House we don’t need. Your wit and wisdom is needed again for the fight. Don’t rush it, but as soon as it seems physically advisable, please resume your column. With Mike and Molly long gone, you have no rivals for my affection. My Mondays on the Internet won’t be as rich until you do.
—Harry Jones, Evanston, Illinois

If you do stop, I'll understand but here in Traverse City, I'll miss your column greatly. Frankly, I've had to cut back on following politics as intensely as I used to for the sake of my mental health and I'm only 50.
—Sally Sheldon, Traverse City, Michigan

I'm glad to hear you had good medical care, and I'm glad that you've written about how this is the only one of the 30 wealthiest nations that considers health care a commodity rather than a human right. Now get well, and if you want to stop writing the column, so be it. I've been following you since I was an Iowa high schooler (and a page in the Iowa House of Rep., class of 1965, when Chuck Grassley was a squeaky-voiced freshman). I have yellowed clippings of Over The Coffee columns that still are zingers. You, sir, belong in the Journalism Hall of Fame. If there isn't one, let's start one and put you in it.
—ExIowan on Left Coast

Back in the late 70s, the Mason (Iowa) City Globe Gazette provided a list of about 2 dozen columnists and asked readers to rate them. Donald took first place. I always looked forward to his columns. He reminded me a little of Mike Royko although he had a style all his own. Even if he never got a Pulitzer, he deserves some kind of recognition. I'm grateful for all his wonderful columns and wish him all the best. Get well Donald. I hope we hear from you again even if it's only as a guest columnist every now and then.
—Wayne Stout

I grew up listening to my father chuckle at the breakfast table, and then read "Over The Coffee" aloud to my mother as we ate. Once I figured out that the newspaper consisted of more than just the funnies, Mr. Kaul's column was always the first thing I read. I'm just having a difficult time imagining life without being able to read Mr. Kaul's witty — and often caustic — comments on current events. Politics has become so depressing, and I always looked forward to being able to laugh about it...even just once in a while.
—Jaylah

I am 80 years old, a Korean vet, a college grad, a father of four, a grandfather, and, a great-grandfather. As I read your article I could not help but agree and strongly endorse these sentiments. I feel as if I have fallen into the rabbit hole and want to wake up. Is America done in less than 300 years, when Rome lasted 1,000? Thanks for sharing your insight.
—Harry Clayman

The Lineup: Week of July 30-August 5, 2012

July 30, 2012 ·

This week's OtherWords editorial package features Sam Pizzigati's first column, in which he explains why wealth inequality is officially holding steady while income inequality is growing increasingly skewed. Jim Hightower skewers Mitt Romney's financial shenanigans, and William A. Collins puts the nation's penchant for guns in perspective.

As Donald Kaul and I explained last week, he's either taking a break from writing or recently retired, depending on how things go with his recuperation from a recent heart attack. Thanks for all your kind, and sometimes funny, words of support, many of which are highlighted in my recent letters-to-the-editor blog posts. At least 110 emails and a dozen snail-mailed cards and letters have arrived so far, and Don tells me that he's feeling much better already.

This uptick in correspondence revealed an unfortunate and longstanding glitch in the otherwords@ips-dc.org email account. If you sent anything to that account before Tuesday, July 25th, it probably vanished. I didn't receive it, and since it didn't bounce, there was no way for the sender to know.

I can't begin to describe how sorry I am about this snafu. I know it will be hard for anyone who tried to reach out to me and got no response — possibly on multiple occasions — to believe that this was going on for more than two years. But it was. I deeply apologize for all the misunderstandings this may have caused. So, if you emailed a note for or about Donald Kaul before 4:30 p.m. on July 25, please send it again. And if you emailed me an inquiry that never got answered, please do try again.

As always, I encourage you to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and visit our blog. If you haven't signed up yet, please do.

  1. Smoldering Planet / Saul Landau
    Colorado's wildfires and the record heat waves should sober up some climate change doubters.
  2. Plain Old Murder / Chris Toensing
    The Pakistani government loudly protests that many of the casualties of drone strikes are civilian.
  3. Your Labor Rights or Your Life / Jessye Weinstein
    A hostile labor environment in a country like Colombia, connected through a trade agreement to the U.S., has repercussions for workers at home as well.
  4. Cleaning Up Campaign Finance / Michael B. Keegan
    Citizens United is here to stay unless we show it the door.
  5. Marching Toward Greater Inequality / Sam Pizzigati
    The world's super rich, according to a new report, are squirreling away phenomenal quantities of their cash in secret tax havens.
  6. How Mitt Got His / Jim Hightower
    Romney keeps playing hide-and-seek with his booty.
  7. One Nation, Under the Gun / William A. Collins
    Why do so many Americans believe that to properly protect ourselves today, we need guns?
  8. Unmanly Drones / Khalil Bendib (cartoon)

 Unmanly Drones, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Letters to the Editor: Readers Respond to Kaul's Departure, Part II

July 29, 2012 ·

Here's another sample of the poignant letters Donald Kaul received following his farewell column and my tribute to him. We've gotten more than 100 emails and at least a dozen snail-mailed letters and cards so far. Keep them coming and continue posting to the comment sections below Don's column and my commentary. As I explained in an earlier post, please re-send any emails you thought were delivered to OtherWords@ips-dc.org prior to Tuesday July 24. Due to a snafu, they were lost.

—Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Send (or re-send) your letters to Donald Kaul via email to otherwords@ips-dc.org. You may also snail-mail them to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.

Your insight, wit, commentary, analysis, story-telling, embellishment, etc. have delighted me since elementary school. You are one hell of a story teller, and always with a twist that makes your readers think. For better or worse, your writing made a big impact on my life. I learned to think and to question and to not be a dumb sheep in life. I became a Democrat partly because of you. Thank you for opening my eyes and inspiring my ability to feel for the less fortunate and to call bullshit on the indifferent. Thanks for making me laugh and making me cry. Thanks for making me mad and indignant enough to get involved in good causes…I would wave my good health wand all around you if it would help. Good luck and God Bless You, Donald Kaul.
—Cara Murphy, West Des Moines, Iowa

Donald Kaul (right) at the annual bike tour of Iowa he helped found in 1973 (Des Moines Register).

Please — after you recuperate from your heart glitch — continue to occasionally entertain us with your wit and humor. I have been amused for years with your columns and enjoyed the humor of Mike Royko, Rob Borsellino, and Clay Thompson from the Arizona Republic. It is nice to be able to pick up the newspaper and smile about SOMETHING that I've read! Columns such as these are a good antidote to all the reality around us. I hope your recovery goes well, and hope we haven't heard the end of you yet!
—Deanna Rhiner, Fort Dodge, Iowa

I've enjoyed your writing for many years. Don't quit now. We need your insights and opinions.
—Connie Goeb

Take care of your health first. Then, please, please, please come back to doing what the public forum needs most – and, generally lacks – a voice yelling “the emperor isn’t wearing any clothing!” and then explaining in measured tones the reason for the outcry.
—Cynthia Boyer Blakeslee

Thank you for all the insight you've contributed to the Des Moines Register. I suppose there are a lot of other things to do at age 77 but your wisdom and insight is greatly appreciated. First, I wish you and your family the best as you recover from your health issues. Next, you are the reason I read the newspaper even in the Internet age. God bless you for questioning things and wondering where our nation is headed. I am scared to death, too…I wish you could write forever and perhaps, some way, some how, you can. Keep the faith. God bless.
— Chip Giles, Des Moines IA

I have read and enjoyed your political columns for many years. You have a special ability to find and analyze kernels of truth that many others miss. Your humor and well-placed sarcasm are also effectively used to help make your point. I share your frustration with the current sad state of our hyper-polarized political discourse. Here in southwest Missouri, we are "blessed" with an abundance of "Bible-thumping know-nothings fueled by money from modern robber barons," as you so aptly put it. I certainly understand your decision to suspend writing your column indefinitely. Selfishly, however, I hope the day will come when you decide to resume writing, at least on an occasional basis. You have much to say, and you say it so well. Thanks again and best of luck.
—Roger W. Leonard, Republic, Missouri

I have a few email “friends” who occasionally send me right-wing garbage. I sometimes respond by sending them a link to one of your columns…Thank you for all these years of interesting, informative and good humored reading.
—Judy Guy, Springfield, Missouri

Just read your latest column and I'm so sorry you had the cardiac event, however, happy that you survived it and haven't lost your feistyness. I always look forward to your column and frequently give you a big "yes" — almost always, really. I'm 79 years of age and certainly understand your desire to retire but, trust me, you will be sorely missed. What with all the idiotic Republican rhetoric, you are our one bright, intelligent read. I live in Salida, Colorado, a mountain town of about 5,000 souls — many who don't agree with my beliefs — translated that would be Republicans. Anyway, we just co-exist in relative peace. I wish you all the best and especially good health and peace.
—Norma Smith, Salida, Colorado

No question about it Donald, all Iowans are "heartbroken" regarding the news of your recent bout with your heart…With your way with words and the scores of folks like me who have enjoyed your columns over the years, get back too it ASAP!
—John Langin, Johnson, IA

Darn oxygen. You'd think a molecule like that (O2), which makes up 21 percent of the atmosphere, would cooperate a little when it comes to nourishing your heart muscle. But, alas, there are lots of reasons that little molecule couldn't get to those nice heart muscle cells. I imagine you've become a bit of an expert in that process by now. Most people react after the fact and, you're probably like the rest of us, researching that process. I would urge you to go one step further with the oxygen molecule. Now that it's nourishing your heart muscle, which is dutifully pumping your blood, follow the next oxygen molecule as it exits your aorta and hangs a left up those nice carotid arteries leading to your brain. Now it's time for those great neurons of the brain to receive their gift of life. The neuron lives and your thoughts flow with the reading of these words. Isn't oxygen great? Keep your words flowing so my neurons keep requiring that oxygen molecule, and I keep thinking. Because, when it comes right down to it, no words: no thinking. And, then, what's the point? Happy oxygen pumping and neuron firing! Continue to heal quickly!
—Clark Harris, Branson, Missouri, Clark Harris [cdaharris2@gmail.com]

Since Molly Ivins left us, you have been the only link to reason in this crazy world.
—Dr. Larry L. Shaw

Please do not desert us in this wasteland, Mr. Kaul. I've been reading your column since I was fifteen years old (yes, I was a girls basketball player) and I hold you responsible for my deep-rooted cynicism. You're the light shining in the darkness. Do not unscrew your lightbulb now. Take some time for R&R&R (rest, recovery, etc.) and give us some more of what you've got. Love and best wishes.
—Eileen Nelson, a faithful Iowa reader

I am a long time reader/admirer of your columns and am so sorry you've hit a bump in the road that brings the columns to an end. As a fellow heart attack survivor (talk about denial...I drove myself to the hospital!) I know there's a lot of life left after the attack. My cardiac rehab involved riding a stationary bike....you can handle that. It's my hope you will soon feel well enough you'll want to resume writing. You have had the gift over the years to express what I was thinking and feeling but was unable to express nearly as coherently or cleverly. I own your books, have a collection of yellowing clippings of your columns and really still hope for more.
—Nancy Ross

Your words in today's Winston-Salem Journal made me declare aloud, "Yes, he has earned his freedom from our frightening national political scene." You have been a "friend" for most of my life; I began reading your column in the Des Moines Register when I was a freshman at Simpson College in Indianola. Fortunately, you have appeared in newspapers wherever I have lived. I will miss both your wisecracks and your wisdom. But, you know, when I recently retired, walking away from my role as Human Resources Director of an organization of over 2,000 employees, I compared it to what I imagine experiencing weightlessness feels like. You deserve that also! Let your burden down!
—Carol Gearhart, Pfafftown North Carolina

I’m 76 and have retired three times. Likewise, I’ve returned to the newsroom thrice. For my story, just patch in your brilliant column. My attack came on gradually but ended up with a December 12, 2011 open heart surgery to replace my aortic valve with bovine skin and a double bypass in the bargain. The recovery was brutal. Long story short: I’m back in the newsroom, which includes banging out a weekly column (for 46 years), upon which western civilization depends. Now I’ve never lied to you before, right? My fervent advice is: Go back to work, forthwith! Your kind of writing and blunt truth is needed now more than ever. I believe the Republic is hurting. Finally, what in the world could you do that would be more profound. Just existing in good health is not a viable option. Thank you for your great piece on the attack and warning to other poor wretches such as we.
—Bob “Hawk” Ellis

I read your column regularly (in the Springfield, Missouri News-Leader). I don’t always agree with you...in fact, you and I are often on opposite sides of political issues...but I find your column interesting and provocative, and at times very helpful to me as I try to think through just where I stand on various matters; it “makes me think,” in other words.

I guess I qualify as one of those “...Bible-thumping know-nothings” (Republicans!) you write about, in some ways, but I also agree with you 100 percent that this is not the America I grew up in, nor is it the America I long to pass on to my children… Please know that I value your work as a columnist who speaks his mind, and, being in my 70s also, I understand somewhat what you are dealing with. I hope and pray that your good health can be restored, and if you do decide to begin writing your column again, I’ll be here (Lord willing) to again benefit from reading it. God bless you, and hang in there!
—Mabe Davidson, Branson area of Southwest Missouri

I was saddened to read of your recent heart attack. I hope this finds you in good spirits, recovering on schedule and preparing your next column. I'm happy to continue to read you in the Des Moines Register, a tradition reaching back to the 1960s, when my family would discuss your writings around our dinner table. Nowadays, if you see a family gathered around a meal table with their heads down, you can be assured that — rather than sharing a moment of silent reflection — they're checking their mobile devices for whatever form of electronic ephemera is the current rage. Your work is a beacon of sanity in a crazy world — I'm reminded of what Jonathan Swift said about how a man of genius never failing to rally a confederacy of dunces. Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery!
—Michael K. Bryant

I have been reading your columns since I was a kid growing up in Iowa. Maturing from being a follower in a super conservative family to becoming a sound and active liberal adult, I have evolved while enjoying your take on life. Your ability to zero in on the issues of the day, cutting through all the accompanying BS, has been a joy to read. While saddened at the turn of events with your health, I know from personal experience that modern cardiac medicine really can put you back together until you are about 100 percent. So, from this corner of beautiful northeast Iowa, know that a fan is thinking and praying for your excellent recovery and (hopefully) a return to doing some writing.
—Jane Kemp, Decorah, IA

We hope you can rest, recuperate, stick to your vegan diet (!), and come back with pencil sharpened! We do need your voice in these fearful times. And thank you for alerting us to The China Study. It is changing our lives.
—Winifred and Ellis Standing Earlham, Iowa

We will miss him so much. My husband and I live in northeast Missouri and drive 12 miles every Sunday to buy the Des Moines Sunday Register, mainly because of the Donald Kaul articles. I sometimes can get it online from the website of the Burlington, Iowa Hawkeye newspaper. We hope Donald is able to resume writing his columns in the near future.
—Ann Barker

I have so enjoyed the return of your columns to the Des Moines Register. I'm a big fan from your original time in that paper. Please, please consider continuing your column when you feel up to it. You know you're going to keep up on current affairs anyway so you might as well tell us what you're thinking. We need you! Best wishes either way,
—Art Horgen, Knoxville, Iowa

The political atmosphere in the USA is enough to give a thinking, caring person, like you, a heart attack. Your health now is primary. Take care, and thanks for all your thought-provoking columns.
—Barb Sorlie, Ankeny, Iowa

If you decide for sure not to write any more columns, I will sorely miss reading them. Politically, we are usually on the same page, me being a liberal Democrat without much patience for Republicans —although some of them are friends of mine, I have to say. You can't avoid Republicans when you live in Lewisville, North Carolina…Democrats have few voices willing to speak out with as much conviction as you do, but you've done your share and then some. If you want to smell the roses until you're a hundred, you've certainly earned the right! I just want to tell you that I'm sorry for your health troubles, and that I'll miss your columns more than I can say. Thank you for writing them.
—Terri Kirby Erickson, Lewisville, North Carolina

Indeed Donald Kaul's column in the Des Moines Register has been a wonderful blend of biting humor and penetrating insights into our life and times pushing us all to look more carefully at the distressing tenor of our political and social life today. He has indeed been a breath of fresh air as our political climate has become more combative on the state and national levels. His insights on his own life and our life together have been entertaining, insightful and challenging and we hope that he will contribute more writing as he is interested and able. Thanks, Donald, for sharing from all of your heart.
—Nancy and Dale Hanaman, Rippey, Iowa

It has been 16 years since I had my triple bypass and I am doing great at 85, cussin’ Republicans and eating juicy tomatoes from my own garden. I was saddened, as I am sure you were, by the death of William Raspberry. I know you must have appreciated his work as I did, but I recommend that you do not join him, at least right away. If you crank up the sharp pencil again I promise I will find a way to get hold of your work. Best wishes! Pax et bonum.
—Curt Welborne

I am, I think, a Christian in the arena waiting for the sound of thundering lions paws here…Don, You have no idea how important you are to all of us, We can only pray that reasonable people like you will be able to derail what I think is sure to come, that our country will, if it hasn't already, become a country of lords and serfs. What a beautiful country and what a great shame. I for one am fighting to my last breath to try to in my own small way save what I love so dearly, and I know that there are lots of us out there!
—Chuck Maloney, Springfield, Missouri

Sorry to hear that problems with your bleeding heart may deprive us of the laughs provided from your left-wing nut perspective. Along with the laughs provided from the right-wing nut perspective of Ann Coulter, sometimes the opinion section is funnier than the comic section. If you ever need to take a quick nap, I suggest you try reading a column from the boring George Will…Enjoy your retirement.
—John Ross, Gulfport, Mississippi

Say it ain't so! You absolutely MUST continue writing (aka truth-telling). Your columns have always said exactly what’s been on my mind; however, you always said it better and with more flair than I could have…Please, I beg of you to reconsider and share your valuable insights as part of the largely silent majority. Yes, I agree that educated thought and civility is in decline in this country. But if your voice is silenced, the ignorant, small-minded and mean-spirited bigots WIN (even if they are in the radical right minority). If you stop writing, yours won’t be the only heart that is broken.
—VaLinda Parsons, Ames, Iowa

I am extremely saddened to read that you are considering not returning at all. While I can completely understand after reading today's column, I can still regret the loss of one more voice of reason in this era of scary people like Rush Limbaugh. With so many moderate, reasonable politicians getting out because of what you described, I keep wondering who is going to be left to speak for those of us who have no forum. My memory is not as good as it used to be but I'm sure you recognize the poem I'm referring to: Who will be left to speak for me? My husband and I live in southwest Missouri — not exactly a hotbed of liberal thinking! Sometimes, we feel as if we're the sole liberals left in this county!...Good luck in your "last years" and remember that you gave many of us a great deal of enjoyment with your learned, enlightening words.
—Lana Roach, avdrdrs@sbcglobal.net, Missouri

This is a moan of anguish! As a Richmond, Virginia native, I (and my wife, Lake), had to rely on the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Richmond News Leader for all political philosophy for almost 50 years before moving away. Your reasonable approach to the D.C. situation has been a breath of spring. It has been available to us through the Biloxi Sun Herald. We look forward to your views and would be greatly disappointed to see you retire.
—Tom Andrews, Mississippi

While I have no clear idea how I plan to spend the waning years of my life, as you seem to be deciding how to spend yours, one thing is certain. In my view, the world is a less colorful, informed, and intelligent place without your public voice in it. Thank you for letting me listen.
—Patrick Lord

Trump is nobody. YOU are THE DONALD. Please don't stop writing columns. I am 77 and I was retired for 10 years. It was awful. Don't lose the momentum.
—Dan Felshin, Springfield, Missouri

I live in a small remote one-newspaper town. Our editor writes that President Obama couldn't possibly do anything right. Guest opinions are usually from The Heritage Foundation, Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity. Your columns are a breath of fresh air and you gave a sense of humor which "conservatives" do not seem to have. Your column published in The Mountain Mail on July 25th was right on. I do hope you will continue to write and appear in our local paper. Also, for your information I am not a radical left winger, but a 92-year-old long-time registered (but disgusted) Republican.
—George Blake, Salida, Colorado

Your wit and humor have been a welcome diversion from the dreary and overly dramatic dribble which too often passes for commentary these days…Our readers — at least those who were open-minded enough to read your columns to their conclusion — have benefitted from your writings, whether they know it or not. I know I have.
—J Swygart, Opinion Page Editor, Decatur Daily Democrat, Decatur, Indiana

I hope you will find the means to continue writing; your weekly editorial columns have always been a bright spot in this part of the Bible Belt.
—David B., Aurora, Missouri

Even though I am a Republican — yet one disgusted at my party — I will miss your insightful words should you decide to permanently discontinue your column. Yet I could not blame you. I hope you fully recover from your recent heart attack. And I thank you for the much-needed reminder to many to not ignore the warning signs.
—Dan Engler, Springfield, Missouri

Thanks for summing up the state of the nation so succinctly. I agree totally — and thanks for citing Yeats, that's it exactly. Best wishes for a speedy recovery and many happy years doing whatever you most like to do.
—Virginia Graziani, Redway, California

I want to thank you for almost 40 years of columns I enjoyed reading most of the time…I was sorry to read of your recent heart attack (and surprised — you're a biker and a vegan, after all!) in this morning's paper, and wish you a speedy recovery. Go ahead and have a great retirement, if that's what you decide to do. There's always Cal Thomas! Aacckkkkk.
—Lori Carroll, Muscatine, Iowa

Well, Donald, I'm sure gonna miss you. Sorry to hear of your heart problems. Hey, at 77, that's not so bad...could have been worse. I don't blame you for wanting to retire. I'm retired, and I strongly recommend it. It's a wonderful life...everyday is Saturday! I was always excited to see your column in the Lake Charles (Louisiana) American Press. I will miss your humor and your spin on the ridiculousness of the political landscape. Enjoy your freedom and take care of yourself.
—Patty Cope, a fan from Cajun Country

I don't blame you for retiring, but I will miss your voice of reason. In these times we really need people like you to illuminate the darkness. I hope there is someone who can take your place.
—Roger Clark

I have always enjoyed your columns, even though I disagree with you most of the time. I am an Independent leaning toward Republican, while you are definitely a Democrat. I do try to vote for a person rather than a party although sometimes I feel like marking "none of the above." But I have always enjoyed your take on things (although you and I will always have to disagree on Obama). You have made me laugh, made me mad, and made me think, which is what great columnists do, and there are all too few of you. I will miss your columns.
—Sharon Gates, Nixa, Missouri

You are hands down my favorite columnist. The combination of insight, humor, and sometimes even compassion are unmatched by any other columnist. If you decide to quit, no one will be able to replace you.
—Bob Michielutte

Letters to the Editor: Readers Respond to Kaul's Departure

July 25, 2012 ·

Managing Donald Kaul's fan mail got harder after his farewell column. That's no surprise — he's a master columnist with a vast and loyal following. Yet I had a hunch that this part of my job wasn't quite as challenging as it should be. So I checked with the good people who manage the OtherWords email system and got what Don would call "unsettling news."

Virtually all the emails sent to OtherWords@ips-dc.org were going nowhere. And they weren't bouncing. Anyone sending them had no way to discover that no one would ever read them.

I hate to admit this. But I want to do my best at shepherding all those messages from all the readers and editors who are relaying their kind words to Don. A tech expert has sworn that those vanished emails aren't retrievable no matter how hard he and his colleagues wave their magic wands. So, if you emailed a note to that address before Tuesday afternoon, when we fixed this snafu, please send it again.

Donald Kaul (left), during the Des Moines Register's first Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI) in 1973. Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Register.

Here's a collection of my favorite letters and comments that streamed into my inbox before and after this glitch got resolved, paired with gems I found in various comment sections. Please, keep them coming. I've excerpted passages from the longer missives and left in two terms that may be unfamiliar. Many readers refer to "Over The Coffee," the title of Kaul's column in the Des Moines Register for years. Because he sometimes playfully referred to himself as "O.T. Coffee," he earned the nickname "O.T."

—Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Please send (or re-send) your letters to Donald Kaul via email to otherwords@ips-dc.org. You can also snail-mail them to OtherWords, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.

The Letters So Far

"Thank you for the years of wit and insight you have provided. I hope you have many years left at '100 percent.' If you do, send me the name of the doctors 'cause I haven't been at 100 percent in many years either. I don't have to go through that whole heart attack thing to get to 100 percent do I? Hug the wife, eat well and avoid nincompoops as best you can, unless you find them entertaining. Highest regards, a fan."
—Gene Ferrell

"I am 84 and if you stop writing I'll have to call 911. Seriously, please keep writing. It doesn't have to be politics all the time. Tell us about your life in journalism. You're a very funny guy who is quite serious. Don't let your fans down (and you've got tons of them)."
—Norm from Glenview, Illinois

"Your assessment of what is going on in DC, and in the rest of the country, also, the churches, is right on in my book. Please keep on writing! The world still needs the wisdom (dare I any longer use that word?) of the Silent Generation, especially yours. Besides, it will be good for you! I know that you are not a 'believer,' whatever that exactly means, but I am, whatever that exactly means, so I will just go ahead and offer prayers for your recovery and health. Best wishes."
—Elliot Blackburn

"Get well and keep us sensible folk in mind. The crazies are taking over. You have more great observations to make."
—Ann Bevington

"Even though Congress may give you a bad stomach ache, we need you to keep on a keepin' on. I'm looking forward to the day when you'll be back on the firing line. With best regards,"
—Roy Hickman, Kerrville, Texas (formerly from Ames, Iowa)

"You help to keep us sane by voicing what many of us are thinking but not articulating, certainly not as well as you do. Thanks for all of these years of great reading...may they continue."
—Sue Sharp Johnson, Oelwein, Iowa

"What a great article, My broken heart! Telling all your readers about what you went through, always adding a little humor, a little advice, but still writing about what's so important to most of us Americans. Please get back on your road to recovery and hopefully back to what you have always done best, writing! Your faithful reader,"
—Duane Lombardi

"This brings both good news and bad news about Donald Kaul. First, I'm so glad to hear that he survived the serious heart attack. But the last of what he wrote, about him dropping out of writing, is very sad/bad news. The last part of his words, about the status of our country and Congress, contain some real hard hitting zingers and I sure agree with him. Best wishes Donald. I hope you won't give up on your writing. You have sharp and needed wisdom to share. I hope I will be able to read your words at least from time to time. The crooks, the robber barons, the bible thumpers, the politicians on both sides, and the apathetic public all need your wise attention."
Charlotte Walker, Coralville, Iowa

"I wish Donald well in his recovery, will take his advice regarding chest pains and will miss his columns that were islands of respite in the sea of madness that is this on-line posting, publishing, social media or whatever we call it place on the Internet where we go to read and write now."
—Paul Deaton

"My thoughts are with you, Donald. I may be one of the few people in the country who can honestly state that I have every book you've published. I often feel like things have gone to far to keep fighting, but I've decided the alternative to fighting is dying, and I don't think you're any more ready to do that than I am. Take care of yourself."
—Maciej P. Wojtkowski, Olsztyn, Poland

"I grew up in Iowa, nurtured on a weekly diet of 'Over The Coffee' in the Des Moines Register. Donald, you were my first :-) columnist that I read regularly. Your column about Pat Buchanan's speech at the 1992 Rep. Convention is permanently laminated in my literary collection. I am wishing passionately for your complete physical recovery and hoping that you find the fortitude to keep writing. But mostly just get well!"
pammy2

"Your columns have helped me cope with the madness that's taking over. And while that might not suffice as a reason for you to continue writing, it's not nothing. Here's wishing you a long and happy life. Thank you for the many smiles, laughs and insights since I found Over The Coffee in the 1975."

—John Kerr, Lee's Summit, Missouri, formerly of Rockwell City, Carroll, and Ames, Iowa

"I and most everyone I know have been reading Kaul since we were kids. Congrats to Kaul on the positive prognosis and he deserves to live his life out happy for everything he has already given us. For us though, the world is a little less sane without his commentary."
—Trish Nelson, University of Iowa

"So sorry to hear of your recent health problems but I wish you a full and speedy recovery. I also hope you will find the means to continue writing; your weekly editorial columns have always been a bright spot in this part of the Bible Belt."
—David B., Aurora, Missouri

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