It's long been an article of faith with me that the seemingly perpetual growth in the number of state-sponsored gambling outlets is poor public policy. Common sense says that the amount of money people will spend on these games has a ceiling - one that we've almost certainly reached by now.

If that's correct, then further expansion of legalized gambling is a fool's errand, as the money generated by it won't increase meaningfully. Once gambling has reached a saturation point in a region, revenues will just get shifted from gaming company to gaming company and state to state and local government to local government.

But like all articles of faith, I had no proof for my hypothesis. So I decided to test it, and the Quad Cities market seemed like an excellent laboratory.

What is now the Isle of Capri casino in Bettendorf opened in April 1995 - making us a three-casino community. (I'll refer to the casinos by their present names throughout this article.) We now have almost two decades of gaming information with the three-casino marketplace, and a handful of variables allow us to see what happened here when this happened there: the December 2008 move of Jumer's from downtown Rock Island to Interstate 280; the recession that hit in 2007-8; new casino competitors in eastern Iowa in 2006 and 2007; and the 2012 introduction of video-gambling machines in Illinois outside of casinos.

What I found didn't exactly support my hypothesis of a Quad Cities gambling pie with a fixed size. Rather, the data suggest there are ways to add new customers to the local gambling market - but that the pie has nonetheless been shrinking for a decade.

The July 9 Rock Island Argus/Moline Dispatch article announcing a verdict for Benton Mackenzie on drug charges began like this: "Even as the 12 jurors shuffled into the courtroom to announce their verdict, Benton Mackenzie could already sense his fate. Guilty."

As storytelling journalism quickly establishing a mood and then getting to the point, it's pretty good.

Yet with the basic facts of the case never in dispute, the verdict had long been almost a foregone conclusion because of a pre-trial ruling in May - which the Illinois-based newspapers mentioned in trial coverage but didn't actually cover. Judge Henry Latham ruled that Mackenzie couldn't claim he grew marijuana out of medical necessity to treat his cancer.

The Quad-City Times, on the other hand, did cover that ruling, and did a decent job explaining the precedent behind it.

But the Benton Mackenzie coverage from both entities, while voluminous, overlooked or ignored frameworks in which daily events could be understood, processed, and put into a more-meaningful context. The story is ultimately not just about one man with terminal cancer facing a criminal trial. Nor does it merely illuminate the general issue of medical marijuana.

Rather, it's a heart-wrenching, complicated example of something larger: how the justice system deals with an area of rapidly changing law - one that is itself chasing a swift change in public attitudes following decades of calcified prohibition policy.

On Monday July 14, 2014 Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba hosted a roundtable discussion at the Davenport Public Library. The purpose of the meeting was to address the influx of migrant children coming in from Central America into the United States and how a Quad Cities based "Caring Cities" campaign could assist.

The meeting was approximately 50 minutes long. This video has been edited down to 17 minutes.

In attendance and identified on the video are:
Mayor Bill Gluba, City of Davenport
Glenn Leach, Davenport Catholic Diocese

Mike Reyes, League of United Latin American Citizens

Cheryl Goodwin, President Family Resources
Mr. Ortiz, Outreach and Community Enrollment Coordinator for Community Healthcare
Rick Schloemer, Scott County Housing Council
Stephanie Lynch, Doctoral Candidate University of Iowa
Amy Rowell, Director of Moline World Relief
Byron Brown, Retired ARMY, CEO at TGR Solutions

[Note: Not every individual seated at the table is identified by name in the video. We are happy to update this story with any missing participants.]

For our 2014 short-fiction contest - co-sponsored by the Bettendorf Public Library - we're celebrating banned and challenged books. Our 20 prompts are all drawn from famous (and sometimes infamous) novels that school boards, governments, or other arbiters of taste and morality didn't want people to read.

The deadline for entries is September 2.

We'll publish winners and favorites in the September 18 issue of the River Cities' Reader - just in time for Banned Books Week, which this year runs September 21 through 27.

We're also planning an event featuring readings of winning and favorite stories at 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 25, in the Bettendorf Room of the Bettendorf Public Library. More details will be announced later.

Steve Zuidema, the co-owner and brewmaster at Davenport's Front Street Brewery, called the byzantine state laws regulating alcohol distribution "laughable now. But getting them changed is going to take some lobbying and some money, because I think the distributors have a great lobby."

He was talking about the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association, and for proof of that organization's influence in the state legislature, look at the situation faced by the Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire.

If you're wondering what beer distributors have to do with producers of distilled spirits, you're on the right track.

Jarrett Crippen as the DefuserIf you're the parent of a child who's a voracious consumer of comic books, don't make the mistake of worrying that he or she won't grow up to be anything. That child could, after all, grow up to be an artist. Or an educator. Or a detective. Or ... a superhero.

At least, those are a few of the career titles held by Dominic Velando and Jarrett Crippen, two adult comic-book lovers who will be presenting workshops at this year's QC Planet Comic & Arts Convention on July 13. The fifth-annual event will, of course, boast dozens of comic-book, action-figure, and graphic-art vendors with publications and collectibles for sale, plus adult and children costume contests and a silent auction held throughout the day. But it will also feature educational presentations by Velando and Crippen, who, in a pair of recent interviews, shared some thoughts on public art, eccentric teachers, Stan Lee, and the perils of aging into one's Spandex.

Rachel HartmanRachel Hartman, the April 28 guest in Augustana College's River Readings at Augustana series, is the author of the 2012 young-adult novel Seraphina. It's a fantasy tale of royalty and knights and the faraway kingdom of Goredd; of a mysterious murder and supernatural powers and fanciful beings named Loud Lad and Pelican Man.

More specifically, it's a story of the 16-year-old girl of Hartman's title, a gifted music instructor who's harboring a bit of a secret: She's not actually a girl. Or rather, she's half-girl, and half-dragon. And she's hardly the only dragon in town.

It turns out Goredd, as we learn on the book's eighth page, is a kingdom where dragons are able to assume human form, even if they don't have much understanding of, or use for, human emotions. Yet if you ask Hartman how she landed on the idea for Seraphina, and for her transformable creatures in general, she'll no doubt admit that inspiration didn't come from mythology or legend or previous works of fiction. It came from an inability to illustrate dragons.

Emily Long and Alec Roth in Spring Is in the AirThere were several moments during the evening performance of Spring Is in the Air - presented April 12 at the Adler Theatre - in which I sat slack-jawed in awe of the choreography executed by Ballet Quad Cities.

Socibot and the infininty mirror. Photo by AJ Brown Imaging."Look into my eyes and keep still," Socibot says to me in its pleasant but mechanical voice. Before I can do anything to comply with the command, the Putnam Museum's machine continues: "I would say you are a 44-year-old man." I laugh. "Your face is happy," it says.

Clearly, Socibot needs to learn that when it comes to age, it's better to guess low - as I'm on the cusp of 43, thank you very much.

This was a demonstration of Socibot's facial-recognition feature, but the talking, moving head is no one-trick robot. It does impressions - including of some famous cinematic artificial intelligences (2001's HAL 9000, Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg from the Terminator series). It can play card games using QR codes - which can also be employed to tell visitors about other features in the Putnam's new Science Center.

But mostly, it shows the complexity of human expression. Using the "compose" touch-screen interface, users can program Socibot to communicate - not merely typing the words it will speak but controlling its voice and nonverbal cues that impart meaning, from the movement of the eyes and head to flushed cheeks to the set of the mouth.

This teaches the challenges and skills involved in getting machines to complete multifaceted tasks. Nichole Myles, the Putnam's vice president of education and exhibits, noted that Socibot allows visitors to "experience what early coding and programming is."

And because the Science Center is geared to children - with the goal of getting them interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) careers - Socibot has also been programmed to chide users who try to put inappropriate words and phrases into its mouth.

Socibot is undoubtedly one of the most sophisticated (and expensive) components of the STEM center, and you could spend a few hours trying to fine-tune the proper expressions involved in, for instance, Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" monologue.

But given the breadth and depth of science-related experiences available at the Putnam's Science Center, to spend too much time at one station would be wasting opportunities. There's the feature that visibly demonstrates turbulence; the lift-yourself-up pulley; the airways fountain; ferrofluid; the gravity wall; the lever tug-of-war; the 3D-printing station; robot vision; the dinosaur dig scheduled to open this summer ... .

I've spent a lot of time as a kid, a kid at heart, and a parent at children's museums and science centers, and the Putnam's STEM center is a marvel - especially considering how quickly it came together and how little it cost.

Patrick Green and Jill Schwartz in Ballet Quad Cities' CarmenAfter two years of Love Stories for its Valentine's Day production, Ballet Quad Cities changed things up this year by presenting Carmen, the story of a commanding woman who does what she pleases with men she fleetingly fancies. As with Love Stories, though, there was more than one piece performed this past weekend, with choreographer Margaret Huling's "Black Coffee" - a jaunty, jazzy number also featured in last year's Love Stories: Love on the Run - making up the first portion of the evening's entertainment.

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