Iowa’s Final Stretch – 2014

Photo Credit

Photo Credit

LAKE MACBRIDE— With yesterday’s top of the ticket U.S. Senate debate between U.S. Representative Bruce Braley and State Senator Joni Ernst, the Iowa political season moves into the final stretch. For those who don’t recognize it, that’s a horse racing metaphor, and at this point, Ernst looks to lead by a nose, although based on the aggregate of polling, it is still neck and neck.

A lot can happen between now and Nov 4. Braley is leveraging the existing ground organization of the Iowa Democratic Party, comprised of the usual cast of characters plus a contingent of out of state organizers. Ernst is doing a “full Grassley,” which means talking to the faithful in all 99 Iowa counties. Both candidates are raising every nickle they can.

Both have third party groups, financed by people we know, advocating for their respective campaigns. Based on the candidate comments last night, Charles and David Koch are causing the most trouble for Braley, and NextGen Climate, financed by venture capitalist Tom Steyer, is hitting Ernst’s campaign hard enough for her to omit from her comments the other groups backing Braley. The playing field is not equal between the Koch Brothers and Tom Steyer, but there is a tendency to depict it as such. There are other groups supporting both candidates, but they didn’t get a mention during the debate.

The race will be won by whoever secures the largest number of so-called “no-preference” voters. If the truth will out, and one hopes it does, Braley will win. Whether it will is an open question. Both Braley and Ernst confirmed who they are in their responses last night, something that is not news to those of us paying attention. The trouble is it will be a couple of weeks before most people, no preference voters particularly, start engaging. Most that I know with this registration have not begun to engage in the race.

Ernst was asked, “what do you believe about climate change? What would you do about it?” Her response began, “I grew up drinking well water on a farm. My dad is a conservationist. Most Iowa farmers are phenomenal conservationists.” The head scratching began.

“I don’t know the science behind climate change, but I cannot say one way or another whether it is man-made or not,” she continued.  “I have heard arguments on both sides.”

In framing up a well worn climate denier argument, Ernst affirmed her relationship with the oil and gas lobby. More importantly, she revealed that she does not have the intellectual capacity to evaluate what many believe is the most important issue of our time. This has larger consequences when applied to issues of war and peace, helping the needy, controlling our national budget, nuclear disarmament, and many others.

Her statements about the relationship between recycling, conservation, the Environmental Protection Agency, Cap and Trade, farming and well water would not stand up to the light of day if people could hear what she said. Whether the Braley campaign will effectively get the word out to likely voters remains another open question.

For those of us in the working class, this is pretty theoretical. We have bills to pay and a reality in which to live, one that is not always pleasant, as this news story indicates.

Richard Engel Interview

Richard Engel Interview

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Life Minus Television

You Bet Your Life

You Bet Your Life

LAKE MACBRIDE— It has been a while, more than a year, since the television has been turned on with any regularity. I fired up the tubes to view President Obama’s address to the nation on the campaign in Syria, and occasionally we follow extreme weather, but mostly the set rests darkly in the corner, collecting dust.

That’s not to say we disconnected. We cut back the service to basic cable to save a few budget dollars, and maintained what we had for the bundling with Internet service. With the recent demise of my laptop, and acquisition of a desktop to replace it, I have less screen time generally. The computer has become a work station in a life with many of them— a post-television life of screen time.

Early on, I realized the boon to productivity that was word processing software. It’s hard to believe how much time was spent typing and re-typing a finished paper or article on my Smith Corona and Olympia machines. I kept the typewriters for sentimental reasons, and don’t know if I could find a new ribbon should I want to use them again. While we lived in Indiana, I bought a word processing machine and produced some documents that survive, including a journal— electronic word processing was a miracle.

On April 21, 1996 we bought an Acer home computer and logged on to the Internet at home for the first time. Making the decision to add the $25 monthly subscription to an already tight budget was a big deal. There’s no going back now, and communications services is a big chunk of our monthly budget, one I would like to cut back on.

Now there’s the hand-held mobile device with an Internet connection and many applications. It is used mostly to check email and news, and every once in a while, I make a phone call. Owning this machine has made a laptop less relevant, and communications with people who matter easier.

With the conversion of the industrial economy to one based more on services, the most important element, one that changed everything, has been constant human contact. At the warehouse, I interact with hundreds of people each day when working a regular shift. At the orchard, on a busy Saturday I will greet 500 people or more. It is this human contact we crave, despite how it drains energy from our day.

When we lived on Madison Street, before I entered first grade, I longed to stay up and watch “You Bet Your Life” with Groucho Marx on television. My parents would not allow it for reasons that have become obscure in the river of time. Partly they felt I should be in bed by 9 p.m. when the show aired, but there was more.

As I moved through the grades and left home, television viewing was always a second tier activity, one for after a day’s work was done, whether it be school work or a shift at a job. When I lived in Germany I bought a television late during my tour of duty, and got rid of it after a few months. There is no going back to television now. I’d rather spend my time with people, and see the diverse human experience for myself.

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Letter to John Kerry on Nuclear Abolition

Iowa City Nuclear Free SignDear Secretary Kerry,

With the rise of Islamic State and  Boko Haram; Ebola; persistent drought in California and Texas; persistent tension between India and Pakistan; and continuing inaction over our relationship with Latin America, Russia and China, it is clear that nuclear weapons can’t solve our biggest problems.

If they can’t solve our biggest problems, they become more liability than asset.

Please accept Austria’s invitation to send an official U.S. delegation to the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons conference in Vienna, Dec. 8 and 9.

The Humanitarian Impact initiative is a growing international movement to understand the consequences of nuclear war and build momentum toward nuclear disarmament.

President Obama said that America seeks “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” I completely agree with him, and believe the United States must be represented at this conference. We need to eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us.

There is no cure for a nuclear war, only prevention. U.S. participation in this conference would be a step in that direction.

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Fall Arrived

Band Stand

Band Stand

JOHNSON COUNTY— In a post-career life there is never a day off. I’m okay with that because days become a time to see the world through a new lens during and between existential errands.

Pepper Harvest

Pepper Harvest

After morning chores, I drove to the CSA to pick two bushels of bell peppers for freezing. Next, I went to the orchard and picked two dozen apples. I wanted some Wolf River and there were plenty on the trees. I also picked Jonathan, Jonafree, Gala, Haralson, Kandil Sinap and Marshall’s McIntosh. I picked up a half dozen apple cider donuts and a half gallon of fresh cider. Next I stopped at the newly opened Casey’s General Store on Highway One. It had opened for the first time that morning. From there, I went to the newspaper office to report that it was open, and that the current store would be cutting back from 24 hours per day.

Cemetery Pump

Cemetery Pump

I took some photos of the band stand, the cemetery, the Mexican restaurant on Main Street, and of the Bangkok peppers in our garden. It was a tour of the local, and I relished each moment before getting back to work.

Today is the first day of early voting in Iowa, and political field organizers are trying to bank votes. The Democrats seem better at it than the Republicans, but the latter now recognize it is a thing. Most likely I will vote early, but there is more learning to do before I do. A level of participation in our government that matters, so some energy spent researching the candidates and issues is time well spent.

Now on with today’s priorities in this too short life on the plains.

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Tomato After Action



LAKE MACBRIDE— To supply all the tomatoes a household needs, I planted a large tomato patch with eleven or twelve varieties, and two different cages. In all, there were 36 plantings, some with two seedlings in them. I used short cages leftover from previous years, and new ones cut from four-foot wire fencing. The whole plot was mulched deeply with grass clippings.

The endeavor was an unqualified success, and now it’s time to analyze, think and learn.

First Tomato Planting

First Tomato Planting

The seeds came from a couple of sources.

Leftover from last season were Acer and Best Boy. They produced well, however, they matured late. By the time they were ready, the end of the season was upon us, and our tomato needs largely met. Acer is a slicer, the seeds purchased at a grocery store (I think). There are better ones to use going forward.

Best Boy was also leftover from last season, and intended for canning whole. When we organized our canned goods, it became clear we have enough canned tomatoes from last summer to make it another year, so they weren’t needed for the intended purpose. Olivade and Monica are plum tomatoes purchased through Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They will replace the Best Boys going forward.

The organic Beefsteak seeds were purchased at a home center, and they have traditionally been our favorite. They too didn’t ripen until late in the season, and while we used some, a lot went to compost when bugs got into them.

Second Tomato Planting

Second Tomato Planting

Having a variety of small tomatoes was a joy this year. I planted Cherry, Gold Nugget, Sweet Olive Grape, and Black Cherry. The seed packets were leftover from last season and from Johnny’s. They came in early and were great for salads, snacking and pasta dishes. We froze some whole as an experiment, and look forward to seeing how they eat once thawed later in the year. One seedling of unknown variety was provided by our CSA. The Black Cherry plants grew very tall. Next season, they should be planted in one of the four-foot cages.

Rose and Italian were our early maturing slicers. They were also purchased through Johnny’s, and the Italian seeds were at a reduced price. If they are offered again, both will be purchased for next season. The Italian did well with short cages, and the Rose would do better in four-foot cages. I bought an extra roll of four-foot wire, so some of the old cages can be retired or used for other crops.

Upon reflection, tomatoes are best used fresh, either in the kitchen, or given away as gifts to those who don’t grow their own. Likewise, they are welcome at the food pantry until there is a glut. Fresh tomatoes are an essential part of why we garden, and most of the focus in using them is fresh.

My thinking about canned tomatoes changed. For making pasta sauces, chili and soup, plum tomatoes are the best product to use. Seeded thoroughly, cut in half, and then cold processed, I put up about a dozen quarts which weren’t really needed, although the abundance led me there. They will serve most needs.

I had been canning diced tomatoes, but any application that calls for them could use halved plums, so diced will fall from my repertory. That is, unless there is an abundance of slicers, which is what I used to make canned diced tomatoes. We’ll see how it goes.

A favorite canned product is hot sauce, but like with plain tomatoes, there is an abundance in the pantry ready for use from previous years. I have a gallon fresh in the refrigerator, and there is an abundance of hot peppers for making more, but at some point one has to stop.

There is never a shortage of juice as a byproduct of canning. I’ll continue to can it as it is produced, and any remainders will go to that end as the season finishes.

Growing tomatoes is a highlight of garden life. By using my sketch booklet and keeping track, I have been able to learn what works and what doesn’t— part of a gardener’s outlook in daily living, with lessons to our broader sustainability. Despite all the negative press this year, the tomato crop was excellent.

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Garden Work Day

Garden Work Day

LAKE MACBRIDE— It is hard not to engage in the news from outside Big Grove Township. U.S. and partner states are bombing Syria, the United Nations is taking up the expiration of the Kyoto accord, and more than 100 world leaders will address security issues at the U.N. It has already been a busy week.

Today, the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 convenes on an optimistic note:

Climate change is not a far-off problem. It is happening now and is having very real consequences on people’s lives. Climate change is disrupting national economies, costing us dearly today and even more tomorrow.  But there is a growing recognition that affordable, scalable solutions are available now that will enable us all to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies.

There is a sense that change is in the air. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to Climate Summit 2014 this 23 September to galvanize and catalyze climate action.  He has asked these leaders to bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience, and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015. Climate Summit 2014 provides a unique opportunity for leaders to champion an ambitious vision, anchored in action that will enable a meaningful global agreement in 2015.

While many states recognize the validity of what Ban Ki-moon has said, in the U.S., a positive outcome in the form of a binding and meaningful legal agreement seems unlikely. Even if some of us are pessimistic about U.S. participation, it will be worth our attention today and in coming days, to see what the Climate Summit produces. It is noteworthy that President Obama will be trying to get a resolution on counterterrorism passed by the U.N. Security Council rather than making any bold announcements on mitigating the causes of global warming.

In the universe of a single life, there can be hope. So that’s how I will spend this day on earth. Believing that we can sustain our lives in peace despite so much evidence to the contrary.

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Autumnal Equinox

Campaign Nonviolence Rally

Campaign Nonviolence Rally

LAKE MACBRIDE— I gave the speech on nuclear abolition, representing Physicians for Social Responsibility, without notes.

If the issues around nuclear abolition are not part of me now, they may never be. While fretting a bit beforehand about what to say, my five minutes on stage at the Iowa City Pedestrian mall on Sept. 21 went well without notes.

I made three points.

The nuclear explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are those we all know about. What is less considered is the more than 2,000 test explosions that killed thousands and sickened millions. I referred to the radioactive fallout from the Nevada test site that drifted and fell over Iowa, contaminating our soil. I spoke about President Obama’s commitment to submit the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification. It was a promise made in Prague in 2009, and still not kept.

President Obama will chair the United Nations Security Council this week, with the hope of passing a resolution regarding counterterrorism. The five nuclear club members on the security council won’t be debating nuclear weapons, but should. Obama had bicameral support for pursuit of the Islamic State in the U.S. Congress last week, and now he is rolling it out to the world.

Finally, when we consider our biggest problems, Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Yemen, the Ebola virus, South Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, Palestine and Israel, the drought in California, and others, nuclear weapons won’t help solve them. Since we don’t need nuclear weapons for our biggest problems, let’s get rid of them, I concluded.

It was a cool, crisp day leading into the autumnal equinox. While the actions of the aging crowd may not get done what should regarding abolition, it was good to see so many friends and try once again.

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