Heidi Kyser

Journalist, writer

Archive for the ‘Recent articles published’ Category

In the eye of the beheld

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Vegas Seven, July 18-24, 2013

Vegas Seven, July 18-24, 2013

Although I’m proud of my recent Vegas Seven feature, “What Is Beauty?” I confess to being apprehensive prior to its release. The subject of the story, Stacie Frazier’s No Makeup Project, speaks for itself, but I worried my exposition lacked sophistication, from a cultural-criticism standpoint.

After all, everybody got a dose of women’s studies 101 in undergrad, right? If nothing else, there was that chapter, during anthropology or communications class, that talked about gender representation and patriarchal mechanisms of oppression. We don’t need to be reminded of these basic truths… we’re ready to go deeper. Right?

Maybe not. Overwhelmingly, the feedback I got on the story was  positive, but what grumbling there was spoke volumes. It could be summarized as follows: “Couldn’t you find any ___ (average-looking, minority, old, etc.) women to include?”

The pool of possible interviewees for my story was limited to the dozen or so women participating in the No Makeup Project shoot to which Stacie invited me. I was able to observe and interview them, learning just enough to determine which ones to follow up with later. I chose Leslie Stein and April Holladay because of their compelling stories of self-acceptance. In the photo spread, I also included Angela Anderson, the oldest participant in the shoot that I met, and Louella Clagett, the only non-white woman there. I had interviewed them both on-site and felt they would add diversity to the story.

What really struck me, though, was the richly ironic suggestion that Stacie and/or I limited our choices to good-looking women only. There was some socioeconomic selection going on, to be sure, since Stacie uses clients of her boudoir photography company, Haute Shots, for her No Makeup sessions. I understood this was because she was asking for a favor–at the least imposing on them for an entire Saturday, unpaid; at most, asking them to take a huge emotional risk for the sake of her personal art project. Maybe only attractive people elect to do boudoir shots (and oh, the subjectivity in that statement!); certainly, only an affluent clientele can afford it.

But looking around that day at the women who showed up, I found, as far as looks go, they were no different from the women I see at work or yoga class. Same variety of body types and facial features. Stacie used her skills to bring out their most visually pleasing traits, because that’s a goal of the project as she conceived it: to show average women how beautiful they really are without makeup. She accomplishes this not just through lighting, angle and pose, but also by getting to know them. She builds a trusting relationship with her subjects that allows them to relax, smile and reveal something from within.

The pertinent point, then, harks back beyond our women’s studies classes, turning the adages of church school and grandma’s kitchen on their heads: true beauty may be on the inside, but we have to see it to believe it. And even then, sometimes, we’re skeptical.


Written by Heidi Kyser

July 26, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Best friends vs. bad guys story ends in tragic twist

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My profile, Best friends taking on the bad guys, in this month’s issue of Desert Companion begins this way: “Imagine patting your trusty canine companion on the head — and then sending him into a situation from which he may not return.” Sadly, that’s just what happened to Las Vegas Metro Police  Officer Jeff Corbett and his K9 partner, Marco, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois.

I paraphrased the passage quoted above from a moving part of my interview with the profiled officer, Duwayne Layton. I could, actually, imagine patting my little Cocker Spaniel Aja on the head and then sending her into a room where an armed person had barricaded himself and was waiting to pick off people as they entered. It made me shudder, and then tear up.

I reacted with similar empathy to the news about Marco, which I happened to get the same day I turned in the Layton profile to my editor. According to a report in the Las Vegas Review Journal, on May 14, a Metro officer shot Marco after the dog mistakenly bit the shooter’s partner. Following nine days in intensive care, having lost the use of his limbs, Marco was euthanized, the Friends of the Las Vegas Police K9s reported on their Facebook page.

Internal investigators are looking into the incident. I suppose it strained relationships inside Metro, what with the physical injury of the officer who was attacked and the grief of Corbett and the rest of the K9 unit.

Based on the time I spent with Layton, I believe the loss of a K9 dog strikes unit members with a combination of what devoted pet owners like me feel when their companion dies, and what other law enforcement officers feel when their partner dies. To their handlers, these dogs are much more than just order-following machines.

In this short video of Layton and his retired K9 partner Rico, captured at Marc Kahre Elementary School’s Kahre Honor Day on May 11, Layton’s love for his dog is apparent:

If it weren’t for the uniform, you’d think you were looking at a man and his best friend, like any other.

But it’s deeper than that. K9 dogs live with their handlers, and as Layton explained to me, for the first couple weeks of their partnership, nobody in a household can interact with the dog but his handler. It establishes what Layton described as a bond not unlike that between parent and child.

Layton’s neighbor and Kahre Elementary teacher Sharlyn Reid told me she believes the apparent harmony between man and dog is part of the reason why kids at the school love the regular visits law enforcement pays to give demonstrations and motivational talks.

“They love Officer Layton,” she said, “because they love the partnership he has with his dogs.”

Blame and responsibility notwithstanding, what happened to Marco is tragic for everyone involved. It’s a part of the job that officers like Layton accept when they sign up, but it will no doubt pluck that cord of fear in their hearts the next time they pat their partners on the head and send them into situations from which they may not return.

National take-back day is tomorrow, April 28

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When was the last time you took inventory of the Percocet pills lingering in your medicine cabinet since the back surgery you had in the ’00s? Now, consider all the opportunities your acquaintances, neighbors, even kids have had to get their hands on them since then.

Tomorrow, take them to any Las Vegas Metro Police station, North Las Vegas police station, Henderson Police station, Boulder City police station, Paiute Tribal Police station or Nellis Air Force Base PX and turn them in, no questions asked. It’s part of the Drug Enforcement Administration‘s National Take-Back Initiative.

What’s that all about? Recall the story about prescription drug abuse I did recently for Las Vegas CityLife, the Pill Wars. In it, I mentioned the high percentage of prescription drugs that the government estimates come from friends and family, with or without their knowing it. Take-back is a way of getting those drugs outside the reach of abusers and dealers.

In fact, you can turn in your unused prescription drugs all year round at Metro stations, which are equipped with lobby drop-boxes to offer anonymity. But take-back day kind of makes it stick in your mind, like a holiday.

Don’t flush them down the toilet (the snails in Lake Mead don’t want them). Don’t follow your cousin’s cockamamie advice and bury them (the plants and water table don’t want them; plus, that doesn’t destroy them). Take them to the police tomorrow. Conscience: clear.

Of underwear questions and other indiscretions

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The thing about underwear questions is, they’re usually reserved for people you know pretty well. The media gets abundant latitude in the name of the public good, but still – I felt awkward inquiring about a complete stranger’s  skivvies, even if it was for a story in City Life.

I had to, though. It offered the perfect example of what I understood the story to be about, on more than one level. First, there are some crazy rumors floating around about Mormons (e.g., they wear magic underwear). Second, they kind of set themselves up for it (they do actually get special – although not magic – undergarments through the Temple). It’s time people grew up and learned to air their fears and suspicions in reasoned discussion with their fellow humans. Yet, it’s tough to do that when somebody’s most sacred beliefs are at issue.

In other words, how do you respectfully ask about something as delicate as a stranger’s underwear, if doing so may help dispel prejudice and promulgate truth?

I chose the preemptively apologetic approach: “I’m really sorry to ask this, and I don’t mean to offend you, but you said you were open to anything anybody wanted to know…”

Ladies' underwear advertisement, 1913Awkward,  but effective. After my source Aaron Lowe told me the church’s reasons, as he understood them, for mandating the use of specific undergarments, I felt satisfied with the answer. He described it as a close and constant reminder of his religious faith and duty. He said he could completely understand why other people might find it weird, but as I listened, I didn’t think he sounded weird at all – and someone so reasonable wouldn’t buy into anything crazy. Right? …

Lord knows, there’s need for public debate about all kinds of religious beliefs and practices, but how people engage in that debate can be as revealing as the subject matter itself. Consider reports of evangelical Christian preachers banning their congregations from voting for Romney because he belongs to a cult. If Romney does get the GOP nomination and Mormonism takes center stage, prepare to see lots of people, on both sides of the debate, exposing themselves.

Written by Heidi Kyser

January 21, 2012 at 9:00 am

Tomatis assignment ends with a question

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Recently, I had one of those assignments that piqued my curiosity so keenly, I wished I had more time to work on it.

I was profiling a local business, Brain Solutions, for Desert Companion and learned that it offered treatment – mainly for kids with learning disabilities – called the Tomatis Method. As I dug into the background on the method, I discovered that I could easily spend weeks or months just on that, before ever getting to a single interview. Then, the interviews themselves complicated matters even more.

The conviction of Tomatis Method practitioners and beneficiaries that it works miracles is almost as compelling as the lack of unbiased, scientifically sound research to back that claim up. Some audiologists swear by it; others are skeptical. I was left wishing I had a few more weeks to read Tomatis’ books and go through the program myself to see what it was like. To locate more people who’d done it with mixed results. I was left with questions.

Does the Tomatis Method really work? Even with more time, I probably wouldn’t be able to say for sure, but hopefully someone is working on a randomized clinical trial that will answer that question for the people to whom it really matters.

Car hits kids: A post-script to pedestrian safety story

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The Las Vegas Review Journal sent a news flash this morning about a car hitting two children in front of Culley Elementary School. It reminded me of the time I spent watching pedestrians flee oncoming auto traffic on the streets of Las Vegas while reporting a recent story, Walkers Beware, for City Life.

A public information officer at the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department confirmed today’s accident was as the RJ described. It happened near Washington Avenue and Jones Boulevard in the northwest part of the valley, and both kids went to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

The PIO had no additional information, such as specifics on injuries or whether the children were in a crosswalk. As pedestrian advocate Erin Breen noted in my story, “non-life threatening” injuries are not necessarily easy to recover from.

This incident, like so many others, underscores our community’s need to address pedestrian safety issues. People who want to get involved can check out efforts like Safe Routes to School and Look Out Kids About, or contact school administrators and public officials to see what — if anything — is being done in their area.

Little ‘hood wins journalism award

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I was happy to hear from Desert Companion Editor Andrew Kiraly this week that the magazine grabbed 13 trophies in the Nevada Press Association’s Best of Nevada Journalism 2011 awards – even happier to learn one of them was for a story I contributed, The little ‘hood that could. It took 3rd place for Best Explanatory Journalism in the magazines category. A judge commented, “This illustrates what the strength of a group can do to better a community. A very nice piece.”

Thanks to Andrew for his guidance on the story, which appears to have accomplished what we hoped (exploring the possibility of John S. Park’s success being repeated elsewhere), judging from comments readers posted online.

Pink paper makes a stark reminder

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When I saw the paper deliveryman making a tardy 7:30 a.m. round on my street last Friday, Sept. 30, I wondered if it had anything to do with that day’s issue of the Las Vegas Review Journal being pink. I imagined the scene in the printing department – someone in pre-press gritting his teeth and cursing management for their bright ideas.

Real or imagined printing drama aside, it was a worthy endeavor. The black-ink-on-pink-paper edition was designed to call attention to National Breast Cancer Awareness month, which started the following day, Oct. 1. RJ owner Stephens Media donated proceeds from street sales of the paper to Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Although well-known, the pervasiveness of breast cancer still surprises me. Two of my aunts have had it, and yet the steady stream of e-mails I got over the weekend thanking me for my story in the special pink RJ took me by surprise. I was reminded that this disease’s power to ravage bodies and lives is such that it has left little of our society untouched.

This month invites everyone to do something, no matter how small. Women can learn to check their own bodies or make appointments for mammograms. Men can make donations to research organization or sign up to run in next spring’s Race for the Cure. Kids can get community service points for school by volunteering with local organizations like the Janet Sue Mason Foundation.

If everyone whose life has been touched by breast cancer does a little, it gets us all closer to the day when we won’t need a month, or a pink paper, as a reminder anymore.

3-Feet law has teeth, but are they sharp enough?

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Up against deadline, an editor from Vegas Seven e-mailed me early last week in a panic. He was finalizing Room to Roll, my story in the Aug. 11 issue, and wanted to know what repercussions, if any, breakers of the new 3-feet law would face. (See the story for more about the law.)

It wasn’t that I hadn’t asked prior to submitting the story; it was that nobody seemed to know. The sources I talked to (including Ryan Pretner’s wife, who’s an attorney, and Senator David Parks, who wrote the bill) only said that it would be up to a judge to decide.

That’s true – but there’s more.

As luck would have it, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department‘s public information office, which hadn’t returned my calls while I was reporting on the story, put me through to someone right away when I called to get the Vegas Seven editor’s question answered on deadline.

PIO Jay Rivera looked it up and told me that violating the traffic law that encompasses the new 3-feet provision is a misdemeanor “with a penalty not to exceed $1,000, six months in jail or 120 hours of community service.”

Heartening as it was to get an answer (although it still didn’t make it in before deadline), it was disheartening to see a penalty that seemed light relative to the harm that can be caused when a car hits a cyclist.

To be sure, not all the collisions in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics I gave in the story are the fault of the motorists, but regardless who’s at fault, the cyclist is more likely to end up hurt – sometimes badly, as in Pretner’s case. If the driver is at fault and he, say, paralyzes someone, burdens him with millions of dollars in medical bills and a life of in-home care, takes away his ability to work… the maximum penalty the driver can receive is $1,000, six months in jail or 120 hours of community service? The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Hopefully, there is the possibility of escalating the charges based on damage done, and of course there is always the civil litigation option.

In any case, the 3-feet law is a good first step to making motorists more aware of their obligation to safely avoid cyclists. The risk of having to shell out $1,000 for a ticket might curb some intentionally aggressive behavior from drivers toward cyclists. But it’s unlikely the end of the fight for bicycles’ fair share of the road.

There is an Outside to Las Vegas

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Hooray for summer! Kids sleep late, live on cereal, play video games in their pajamas all day… and make their parents scream, “Why don’t you go outside and play, like I did when I was a kid?” Kids complain there’s nothing to do; parents complain they don’t know how to get their kids outdoors.

You can kiss all that goodbye now. Government agencies and nonprofit organizations banded together on a massive team project to help families get outdoors, as I learned in reporting this story for Boulevards Las Vegas magazine.

Under the umbrella of the Nevada Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, some 40 different groups worked to build  a portal to local recreational opportunities for kids. Although the project’s public funding will soon expire, Outside Las Vegas has vowed to continue spearheading the collaboration.

The website contains regularly updated information on things to do around the state; for instance, this weekend’s free fishing day at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Boulder City and Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs, put on by the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the City of Las Vegas, respectively.

So, parents and kids: No excuses. Step away from the game controller, make a couple mouse clicks and find what you’re going to do this weekend – outside.

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