Full Moon

Full Moon Through Maple Tree

Full Moon Through Maple Tree

Friday is my Monday as I embark on a substantial project to write several articles for the newspaper before the county seat makes a mass exodus for spring break. The paper expects to be shorthanded, so my editors want articles in the vault.

Today will be gathering information, with four scheduled interview events and a few followups. Tomorrow will be writing the first article and organizing to write the rest.

In part, it’s what being a writer means.

The rest of writing is varied and elusive. It is one thing to write for a newspaper, and quite another to compete for readers in the media jungle where their eyeballs reside. At some point writers decide whether to actively join the competition, or to focus on improving writing by cranking out work as quickly and as well as one can. It makes sense for me to choose the latter, and here’s why. Writing is a craft that requires practice. The only way to get better at it is to do it—often and regularly.

One of my projects is to create an anthology of past writing in book form to sell at public speaking engagements. When I review pieces written 40 years ago, a lot of them are pretty rough. My style has changed, and improved, even since I began blogging in 2007. Even more so since I began newspaper writing last year. The reaction to such editing of the past is to rewrite them all, or to let them stand warts and all. I have been unable to embrace either—the project is stalled.

Here’s the hard part: it’s easier to focus on paid work with an editor because there are specific demands to be met in a fixed time frame. When taking a drink from the fire hose of what’s possible, the rush of project ideas is hard to tame. Combine that with required attention to economic security and it is easy to see why many writers don’t get beyond the idea, outline or draft stage.

In a way, the short piece, around 1,000 words, is a great opportunity to improve stylistically without a big commitment. Writers miss an opportunity if they don’t create in short form because people are simply not reading that many books. According to the Pew Research Center, an average American reads five books per year, with 24 percent reading no books. Why spend the effort to produce book-length work if the chance of finding readers is remote?

Maybe it’s the full moon, maybe it’s threats to economic security, or maybe I’m just arriving, but as we cope with life’s busy-ness, it is important to consider where we’re bound and why. Becoming a better wordsmith to present short, meaningful pieces is never a bad path to take.

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Are Property Rights a Climate Action Tool?

WHY-WHY-NOT-MELBOURNE2-4_0For many, protecting property rights is high on the list of priorities. It’s the American way, shouldn’t it be so? A related and perhaps better question is whether climate advocates should use eminent domain as a tool to advocate against energy related projects.

Answers are elusive.

When the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Kelo v. City of New London that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified private redevelopment plans as a permissible public use under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, property rights advocates were up in arms. There is a role for eminent domain when governments initiate the process, but private developers should have no such rights, they said.

Kelo may mean that when U.S. infrastructure projects are developed by foreign corporations (TransCanada Corporation’s Keystone XL Pipeline) or by U.S. corporations (Energy Transfer Partner’s Dakota Access Pipeline or Clean Line Energy Partners’ Rock Island Clean Line), foreign or private domestic entities have the right to initiate condemnation process and take easements and other property to build their projects.

In a March 2 article in the Des Moines Register, William Petroski reported, “a majority of Iowans support plans for a crude oil pipeline in Iowa and a wind electricity transmission line project, but they overwhelmingly oppose the use of eminent domain for both projects.”

Politicians have argued that these projects create jobs, decidedly temporary ones, and in today’s economy people should accept such jobs, implying they should also cede eminent domain rights to U.S. or foreign corporations. This couldn’t have been clearer than the Keystone XL Pipeline bill passed in the U.S. Congress, vetoed by President Obama.

Kelo is not without emerging challenges.

On Feb. 18, the Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Clarke County Reservoir Commission v. Edwin D. and Deloris A. Robins Revocable Trust. The case is an appeal of an April 8, 2014 lower court decision wherein “Judge Sherman W. Phipps of the Fifth Judicial District of Iowa ruled in favor of CCRC’s ongoing Squaw Creek Watershed project, confirming it is for a public use, public purpose or public improvement as defined in the Iowa Code,” according to Amy Hansen of the Osceola Sentinel-Tribune. Developers seek to make a recreational lake much larger than the size required to serve water needs for the community to enhance property values as they sell adjacent lots.

Whatever the outcome of challenges to the Kelo decision, climate advocates are damned if they do and damned if they don’t regarding use of eminent domain as a tool. The contrast between the Rock Island Clean Line and the Dakota Access Pipeline exemplifies the problem.

On Aug. 20, 2014 while on the Great March for Climate Action, David Osterberg of the Iowa Policy Project said Iowa needed a way to get wind-generated electricity out of western Iowa to markets. His view is not unique among climate action advocates. The Rock Island Clean Line offers one such solution, but some property owners along the proposed route won’t allow an easement voluntarily. Osterberg said the Rock Island Clean Line wasn’t perfect, but it did offer a solution to shipping electricity to markets. The implication is that eminent domain may have to be used by a Texas company to build the project, although Osterberg did not say that specifically.

Use of eminent domain to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline is favored by climate action advocates. Because Bakken Oil is dirty, advocates seek to obstruct access to market through Iowa. Eminent domain has made unlikely partners in the Iowa legislature, where Senator Rob Hogg, who has given more than 100 presentations for The Climate Reality Project founded by Al Gore and is author of America’s Climate Century, began partnering with Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a crop and livestock farmer and small business operator who is also a member of the Farm Bureau and National Rifle Association, to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline on eminent domain grounds.

As the Iowa Utilities Board evaluates the proposal for the Dakota Access pipeline, eminent domain has more traction than the argument that fossil fuels should be left in the ground because of their contribution to anthropogenic climate change. Climate action advocates favor the latter argument, but will support the former.

Property rights advocates like Kaufmann are unlikely to go both ways on the eminent domain issue.

“The Bakken (Dakota Access) Pipeline and the Rock Island Clean Line should pick out baby names and choose a honeymoon destination, because the two issues just got married,” said Kaufmann in a Jan. 31 interview with the Solon Economist. “You’ve got two different companies that want to ship two versions of energy. They’re both private Texas companies and both want to ship a product out of our state without allowing anyone in our state to tap into it.”

Use of eminent domain hinges upon “public use.” Set aside creation of a number of temporary jobs and the public use of conveyances for energy related products is elusive, especially with the Dakota Access Pipeline. In any case, corporations benefit more than people in both Iowa projects and with the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Property rights can be a tool for climate action advocates, but it has been an imperfect one at best.

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Belgian Lettuce and Garden Update



Today is the day to plant Belgian lettuce according to my late maternal grandmother. Not a specific variety, any lettuce seed will do. March 2 planting makes it “Belgian” in a way someone who grew up in a Minnesota-Polish farming community would understand.

It’s not happening this year, as the ground is frozen and covered with snow like last year. I’m not ready to give up on tradition, but this year’s weather is forcing my hand. As soon as the ground can be worked, lettuce seeds will be broadcast belatedly.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac indicates the average growing season in this area is 163 days, with an average last spring frost date of April 25. I’m calling bullshit on that right now and planning this year’s indoor planting to coincide with a last frost day of May 15. God willing and the creek don’t rise, some seeds will be planted in trays this week, with seedlings ready to go into the ground in May.

Starbor hybrid kale seeds arrived by U.S. postal service on Friday. The back order was finally filled, so this season there will be three kinds of kale, including the Blue Curled Scotch and Scarlet varieties already on hand. If everything proceeds as expected, there will be plenty of kale.

Seed-wise, I’m ready to plant the garden as soon as conditions permit.

The apple trees produced an abundance of new growth last growing season. While temperatures are below zero is the time to get out and prune new growth and make shaping decisions. That work is planned for this week.

Heavy snows took a toll on our lilac bushes, and I’ve not been to the back of the lot to check that clump. They are maturing, and may be due for a radical cutting back to enable new growth. Some research is needed, but the one next to our front door shaped up nicely when I cut the old branches away. These were planted from rootstock when we arrived in Big Grove, so it’s hard to see them mature, even if it’s a part of nature.

No deal is finalized with the CSA this spring, although the farmer may not know what she wants yet. There is an opportunity for some spring work until her supervisor arrives in May. If that doesn’t materialize, the time will be spent improving our garden—which is definitely needed.

The pantry is being worked down, but plenty of tomatoes, soup stock, apple sauce and apple butter remain on the shelves. Jars of canned dill pickles, hot sauce, salsa and Serrano peppers remain. There are even a few jars of kale soup starter on the shelves. Enough to tide us over until the first harvest.

Absent Belgian lettuce, there is hope for an abundant gardening season.

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Snow Fell



Snow fell as I drove home on Mehaffey Bridge Road through the lakes—a crystalline, sparkling snow. The wind blew as the sky darkened with imminent nightfall. I had turned the radio off.

I passed a frozen pond where a herd of deer and a flock of wild turkeys browsed—for what I couldn’t discern. A bald eagle flew overhead while entering the lane to our house. What other wildlife existed in the winter landscape went unnoticed, obscured by three historic species.

It is a time of change. This morning there is no Iowa City Press Citizen as the newspaper returned to a Monday through Saturday issue. They had been doing a brief cover, then inserting another Gannett Company paper, Des Moines Register, inside. Today the county seat is again without a daily newspaper.

That’s not to say there isn’t news. It’s just that people get news from a lot of other sources, including talking with neighbors and friends in person and over electronic media. Since I began writing for newspapers, I have read ours more. Despite the informative stories found inside each issue, news and news writing are not what they were, and the Monday issue is frequently quite thin. I predict newspapers will survive, but they compete for eyeballs in a way that has changed and continues to change. The economics of competition has led to less news coverage in newspapers and everywhere as we focus on the obvious.

I arrived home and turned the radio on to A Prairie Home Companion. That has changed too. One wonders how long it will continue once Garrison Keillor moves on.

Thinking about the mango-orange spread I bought last week, I put two tablespoons in a dish, added four tablespoons of home made salsa, mixed them together, and opened a bag of organic tortilla chips for a welcome home snack. Jacque was at work and not expected for a couple of hours.

The sweet taste of the mango came first, then the heat of capsaicin. It was crunchy, sweet, salty and spicy all at once. A perfect example of what living in these times means. We want it all at once.

We don’t often linger in falling snow to see what else is there. I’m certain it’s more than deer, turkeys and eagles.

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Juke Box – Soul Sacrifice

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Why Bakken Oil is Dirty

Bakken-Pipeline-Proposed-RoutePeople who care about hydraulic fracturing say the oil coming from the Bakken formation in North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan is dirty. It is. All oil is dirty, and my two cents is we should leave what’s there in the ground. That won’t go over well in North Dakota where discovery of the Parshall Oil Field in 2006 created an oil boom.

What makes Bakken crude oil problematic is that it contains more volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than oil shipped from wells in other regions of the country. This makes the oil more flammable, so when there is a train derailment, as there was in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec in 2013, the oil easily ignites and creates hell on Earth. (Read Adam Federman’s article in Earth Island Journal here).

Because so little public study has been conducted on Bakken crude oil and the operations that produce it, scientists don’t fully understand why the oil is so flammable. There are suspected causes.

The Bakken formation shale oil boom developed from almost nothing to more than a million barrels of crude oil daily in a short period of time. According to Federman, the infrastructure doesn’t exist in the Bakken to fraction off the VOCs as is done with other oil production facilities. The oil is shipped with the VOCs in it, making Bakken crude oil more flammable. There’s more Bakken crude oil today, it poses a real threat to public safety, and the transportation modes used are not regulated well enough for the commodity’s characteristics.

One of the frequent concerns in the Bakken is there are not enough suitable rail cars available to meet shipping needs. Lack of transportation capacity to get the oil to market is an issue. This created a business opportunity, and that’s what the Dakota Access pipeline is about.

Debate over trucks vs. rail vs. pipeline to transport Bakken crude oil is wasted time. Each mode of transportation has its own issues, and most transportation experts agree pipeline is the safest of the modes of transportation. Regardless of transportation mode, if there is a spill, first responders will be required to deal with a commodity on which they have in most cases received inadequate training. That problem could conceivably be fixed, but awareness of the issue hasn’t adequately emerged as we wait for the Iowa Utilities Board’s public healing on the Dakota Access oil pipeline.

Combine the increased flammability of Bakken crude oil with lack of proper shipping regulations and capacity, and we know why it is called dirty oil.

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Road to Paris Comes Through Iowa

WHY-WHY-NOT-MELBOURNE2-4_0On Tuesday, The Climate Reality Project announced three North American trainings, one of which will take place within a short commute from my home. Here is the announcement email I received from colleague Mario Molina:

Dear Paul,

Our New Delhi, India training is coming to a close, and we have some important news to share with you as we continue along the Road to Paris.

We’re hosting three trainings in North America this coming year — and we’re going to need your help to grow the Climate Reality Leadership Corps! Below are the upcoming training locations and dates:

Cedar Rapids, Iowa: May 5-7
Toronto, Canada: July 9-10
Miami, Florida: September 28-30

Will you share this exciting information with your networks today? We know some of our best new Climate Leaders will be sent to us from you, and we trust your judgment. As a matter of fact, our training in New Delhi boasted the highest ever referral rate from existing Climate Reality Leaders.

Each one of these trainings is a key stop along The Road to Paris, and it’s extremely important that by the time COP21 descends on Paris, we have a strong, loud, and dedicated group of leaders to demand climate action.

Training applications are now open, so don’t let these future leaders wait. Their opportunity to make a difference in this crucial fight for a safe climate could be waiting in Cedar Rapids, Toronto, or Miami.

Thank you for your unwavering commitment to climate action, and for inspiring your friends, family, and colleagues to join you.

Warm Regards,

Mario E. Molina
Climate Reality Leadership Corps Director
The Climate Reality Project

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