Brief Respite and T.V. Culture

Snowy Sunday in the Garden

The farmer sent a long text message. We delayed soil blocking because the forecast is cold overnight temperatures for the next week. The seedlings we might have planted would be at risk.

Lambing at the farm added a complication. Her sister posted a photo of a blanketed newborn near the furnace vent inside the house. If you didn’t know, farmers continue to bring livestock inside the house when needed and lambing is always a stressful time.

My Sunday schedule is now open and it is snowing.

Between two and three inches fell with more coming. I had planned to secure provisions in the county seat, but now I’m not sure. Even if I go, errands can wait until snow stops and roads are cleared in a few hours.

For breakfast I made an omelette using leftover taco filling. Except for the prep work it takes 20-30 seconds to cook an omelette. It’s so easy anyone can do it. On my first cup of hot cocoa, showered, shaved and nourished, I’m ready to turn to another day.

Unintentionally, I spend an early morning hour watching a 2003 documentary titled, Inside the Marx Brothers. The white-washed story recounted historical facts about the six brothers, leaving out the racism inherent in much of their work. I was a fan of the Marx Brothers before I left home to attend university. It wasn’t until later I realized the prejudices toward blacks and women contained in their films. I have VHS copies of most of their films, beginning with Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, written by George S. Kaufmann and Morrie Ryskind. These were adaptations of the Marx Brothers successful Broadway shows with the same name. I can hardly stand to view them today. Like many of the acts that emerged from vaudeville, neither the actors nor the audiences were cognizant of their biases the way we can be today.

Marx Brothers films aired on television Sunday mornings in the 1960s. We watched the newspaper guide to see when the next one would air and looked forward to them. It was during that ten-year period from 1960 until 1970 that we became a T.V. family, with everything that meant at the time. On the playground before school my friends and I would play marbles or four square and discuss what was on television the previous night. It was formative in a way that moved us from the physicality of neighborhood play to an intellectual approach to abstractions in the world. It made part of who I am.

We didn’t think much about network commentary on current events. The Huntley-Brinkley Report was our daily source of news and we tried not to miss it. Fifteen minutes seemed an adequate amount of time to present the news. Our focus at home was more on the style of the co-anchors and the closure we found in their signature sign off each night, “Good night, Chet. Good night, David. And good night, for NBC News.” The report expanded to thirty minutes on Sept. 9, 1963, following the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite which did it first. At the time we didn’t understand how they were going to fill an extra fifteen minutes.

A couple hours after sunrise and snowfall stopped. Time to chart the rest of the day while cultural memories of the Marx Brothers, Walter Cronkite, and the Huntley-Brinkley Report circulate in the tribal background. Considering the role television played in the 1960s, I wonder why we abandoned it, almost never turning a T.V. on, except to watch the weather during a storm.

Food for thought while I dig out a lane to get to the county seat and complete errands.

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Posted in Social Commentary, Writing | Tagged | 3 Comments

Cold For Now

Winter Travel

A colleague at the home, farm and auto supply store is itching to get on the road.

Last year he drove for a local asphalt company making pretty good dough. When the seasonal job wound down he returned to retail.

“I can’t do this for ten years,” he said, referring to both his age and the retail work he had undertaken.

He asked my advice about working for a large truckload common carrier driving over the road. I told him it’s a hard life.

Because of his type of driving experience, the firm to which he had applied required he attend a company-approved truck driving school for two weeks. It’s been 20 years since I recruited men and women for that type of school to work program but I provided advice nonetheless.

There will be an agreement. Make sure to read it before signing, I said. During my tenure in driver recruiting, attending a company driving school before employment was not free. Typically the written contract is for a period of employment, up to a year, after which liability to repay the schooling was forgiven. If one quits, for any reason before the term is up, the former employee would be responsible to repay the entire amount. Back in my day it was $5,000 although that likely changed since then. Creditors will dog debtors relentlessly, so the agreement is not to be taken lightly.

Second, do you really want to be gone from home for three weeks at a time? Driving is tedious, sedentary work for van drivers with hours to think about things. There is more physicality in being a flatbed driver, with tarping, chaining and strapping loads, but at a certain age who wants that? Time off changes forever for over the road truck drivers. That’s its nature and it is uncompromising. Most good drivers have a compliant social style, so being assertive doesn’t come naturally, especially with their dispatcher. They sometimes fail to realize that in addition to doing a good job as a driver, one has to be assertive to get time off. I don’t know what my work buddy will decide but I wish him well.

During winter we’re all itching to do something. A few weeks of isolation during bitter cold spells is welcome. There comes a point when we’re ready to do something else, something less confining. It’s cold for now but the economy of spring has already begun to ramp up with garden seeds and fertilizer finding their way to retail outlets. There is a yearning to break loose the limits of four walls and reach for our potential. It begins mid-winter and makes us restless. Making good decisions rolls up into the wintry mix of unrealized ambitions and present challenges. Friends make it easier to sustain our lives in this turbulent weather.

Posted in Work Life | Tagged | 2 Comments

Digging Out, Getting to Work

Home Made Hot Cocoa

After four hours digging snow in the driveway wind came up and I shut down the operation.

Mid-dig I made a cup of hot cocoa and took a break.

I made it to the road, gaining access for when I leave for a shift at the home, farm and auto supply store in a couple of hours.

The retail store is doing inventory. I expect a day of counting and recounting items with discrepancies between what was found by the scanners and what our computer system shows on hand. The recounting work will take several days.

I texted the farm where I’m scheduled to soil block on Sunday, saying the weather forecast looked dire and asking whether work would continue. The hydrant in the germination shed is usually frozen at this point so we would move soil blocking to the sheep barn where there is running water. It was uncertain she could keep the temperature in the germination shed warm enough to prevent the blocks from freezing at night. She’s researching cold and germination and will make a decision about pushing the schedule back a week by Saturday. The farm published the spring share schedule so the clock is ticking on these starts. The other farm where I work is scheduled to start soil blocking on Feb. 26.

We are having a real winter this year. A winter featuring wild variations in temperature. Variations that make weird noises in the house.

For now, with snow covering the garden, there is little else to do besides work indoors. We draw from the pantry, freezer and ice box for meal ingredients to use food as it nears the end of its storage life. We have a couple pounds of potatoes, a couple of apples, and vast amounts of onions, noodles, canned tomatoes, apple sauce, apple butter, pickles, sauerkraut, and dry goods. We aren’t wealthy but we won’t starve for a couple of months.

This year will be one of transitioning to full retirement. We have our financial structure in place and are gliding into the end of a worklife in society. In many ways, this is what I’d hoped for back in the day of the Whole Earth Catalogue and arguing with conventional farmers in undergraduate school about the efficacy of organic growing. While not in a hurry to complete the transition, we make changes with purpose. Each day taking us closer to what’s next with hope for a brighter future.

I believe we’ll make it.

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Hot Chocolate on a Snowy Afternoon

The author driving a parade vehicle in Morse, Iowa.

Four and a half inches of snow rests on the driveway waiting to be removed.

I like snow and don’t mind shoveling. I’ve gotten better at it since beginning work at the home, farm and auto supply store — a moderately physical job.

While fluffy snowflakes fell yesterday afternoon I made a batch of hot chocolate mix using ingredients from the pantry, enough to last until spring. I had to grind the granules of powdered milk in the blender because they would not dissolve as they were.

The warm, steamy drink is comforting and the best option after fresh apple cider from the orchard was used up.

Local political news was dominated by the Iowa Democratic Party’s release of proposed changes to the 2020 Iowa precinct caucuses.

“The Iowa Democratic Party has always sought ways to improve our caucus process, and today, we are setting the stage for the 2020 Iowa caucuses to be the most accessible, transparent, and successful caucuses in our party’s history,” Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price said in a press release. “Starting almost immediately after the 2016 cycle, this party took a holistic look at how we can make the Iowa caucuses more accessible and transparent. These proposals are the result of thousands of hours of conversation and years of hard work.”

I read the 65-page proposal, which is open to public comments for the next 30 days, and believe it is what Price said, a move to make participation more accessible and transparent. I also believe the Democratic National Committee forced Iowa to take these kinds of steps to remain first in the nation. Let’s face it, getting any group together for a meeting at a specific time in February is a challenge. By adding what are called “virtual caucuses,” the proposal provides a method for people to participate if they are unavailable to venture into a cold February night to hang with other residents of a precinct for an hour or so. I’m all for it.

The Iowa national delegate selection process seems arcane to those in the media who follow the presidential horse race and report on it. They build up to the caucus and need to report a “winner.” When viewed in terms of winners and losers it is hard to say what winning delegates in Iowa means to a Democratic presidential candidate. The first month of the primary and caucus calendar has the early states, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, about a week apart. They will be followed by Super Tuesday during which nine states hold presidential votes, including Texas and California. What traction candidates may get out of Iowa is dampened by the close proximity of these other contests. To make sense of the horse race, all 13 early states should be viewed through the same frame.

It is hard to say if the caucuses are important. Political scientist David Redlawsk asserts the Iowa caucuses remain important and wrote a book about why. Last night on Twitter Redlawsk posted, “Caucuses are about party building & organization as well as voting.” For those of us who have been trampled by a mass caucus exodus immediately following precinct delegate selection, the merits of Redlawsk’s assertion about “party building” are dubious at best and border the ridiculous.

In our precinct we’ve mostly struggled to fill our committee assignments to the county party convention with caucus-goers who will show up. We have even nominated people not present to fill the two county party central committee seats rather than let one go empty. This is the main organizing that goes on at the Iowa caucuses. With the notable exception of 2008, participation is mostly by people who have been very active in party politics.

The pre-caucus publicity and outreach of campaigns helps activate voters. In an electorate where more voters register no preference instead of for one of two major parties, it serves the general election more than any political party. I’m sure discussions about what happened at caucus circulate among dinner tables and community social events where the mix of party affiliations is diverse. That’s something. It is hardly being organized.

We’ll see how the 30-day comment period on the new process goes. I’m guessing there will be tweaks rather than major changes by the time it is finished.

My beef about politics is everyone wants to be a strategist and few will be tacticians. For most of my adult life I’ve been more interested in tactics than strategy, so I find the attitude annoying. A first distinction among strategists usually has to do with sorting. Is one a party insider or a rank and file Democrat? Are you a hardcore activist or one of the normal people? I don’t accept such sorting and believe we Democrats are all rank and file. Or, as Walt Whitman wrote in Song of Myself, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

Now that Iowa Democrats developed a reasonable plan to make the Iowa caucuses more inclusive and transparent, the next step is working to flip my precinct and our state from Trump to Democratic in the general election. I don’t subscribe to a paternalistic notion that our Democratic presidential selection process beginning with the caucuses is rigged by the party. Just read the plan and explain how it favors someone. It doesn’t. Let Democrats nominate who they will and chips fall where they may. We should all be working for the eventual nominee whoever it is, beginning now.

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Zach Wahls Solon Listening Post

Snow Tracks

SOLON, Iowa — Snow began to fall about 10 a.m., an hour before the scheduled legislative listening post with our State Senator Zach Wahls. By the time I got to the community center, about three inches of fluff was on the ground. We live in Iowa. We began on time.

It was a small gathering, affording everyone who wanted to ask questions or discuss issues adequate time. On points where there was disagreement — resolving opioid addiction and boat motor size on Lake Macbride — the topics advanced in a civil and straightforward manner. Credit to the senator for the way he moderated those conversations.

The mix of party affiliation of locals appeared to be half Republican and half Democratic. Of the people I knew, there was a retired firefighter, a chiropractor and the school board president. As is usually the case, several people from outside the district attended with their own agenda. By now, we’re used to that. The Center for Rural Affairs was a co-host of the event and had a display with literature available.

My question was about discussion of female genital mutilation in the legislature and news media. Senator Wahls said he hadn’t read a bill on the subject, and that no one he knew was in favor of the procedure. After the listening post I found both the Senate and House have versions of a bill making it a felony to perform genital mutilation or transport a minor out of state for the procedure. (Bill numbers are HF63, HF299, HSB115 and SF212).

Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Lynda Waddington, who won an award on Friday for her editorial writing, laid out expectations for the legislature in a recent column:

  • Send a strong message that female genital mutilation will not be tolerated.
  • Give prosecutors the tools and resources to bring perpetrators to justice.
  • Signal to state prosecutors that this practice is a crime that must be prosecuted.
  • Provide education and outreach to at-risk communities and professionals likely to encounter girls at risk.
  • Include measures to specifically prevent girls being trafficked across state lines for such procedures.

“A federal judge said it is up to the states whether or not girls undergo female genital mutilation,” Waddington wrote. “Iowa lawmakers must make a statewide ban on this unnecessary and heinous practice their first priority.”

That’s why I felt it necessary to raise it with Wahls. The issue was known last session but a bill did not advance out of committee. Read Lynda’s article at the link for more background about why Iowa is even talking about female genital mutilation.

We covered a lot of topics in an hour. It was time well spent.

Tim Brown, president of the Solon School board, attended. Brown is an engaging conversationalist with a wealth of knowledge about what’s going on in the community. He was interested in the legislature’s plans regarding school funding. Wahls recapped the bills on which he expects to vote, maybe as soon as next week. There is plenty of ink out there with details, including James Q. Lynch’s Cedar Rapids Gazette story from this morning’s newspaper.

After the formal part of the meeting, a group of us discussed a variety of topics, including the fact that the school board election will be combined with other elections in November. Two seats are up. Since our school district straddles counties, there will be an additional election cost to the board for about 20 homes in the Solon Community School District located in Linn County. Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert has not released detailed election plans according to Brown.

Even though the turnout was light, it was good to circle up with Senator Wahls on a snowy day in Solon before the first funnel.

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Market and Linn Streets

T-Spoons at the Corner of Market and Linn Streets

Editor’s Note: Originally posted on Nov. 4, 2011.

I live in the country, in case this is the first time you are reading this blog. In economic tough times, we have to multitask any resource use, so when I drive to the county seat, I try to combine tasks. I book events and meetings then schedule others around them. This is what I did yesterday when I spent the better part of five hours near the intersection of Market and Linn Streets in Iowa City.

Riverside Theatre and my volunteer ushering for “The Cripple of Inishmaan” was the anchor event. I scheduled a student meeting for 5:30 p.m. at T-Spoons and planned to have dinner and browse the used book stores before I had to be at the theater at 6:45 p.m. I ordered a hazelnut roasted coffee with a shot of hazelnut syrup. My coffee was ready by the time he arrived and he had nothing to drink since he was enroute to a class. We talked about the project and then he left for his 6 p.m. class. I reviewed someone’s resume while I finished my coffee in a faux leather chair.

There are lots of restaurants near the intersection of Market and Linn. Long established ones like Pagliai’s Pizza and Hamburg Inn No. 2, and newer ones like Oasis Falafel, Blue Bird Diner and Linn Street Cafe. I decided to read menus and look inside to see how crowded they were. I ended up going into Oasis: The Falafel Joint where I ordered Falafel, Babba Ganoush, Red Cabbage Salad and Madjadra with pita bread. I sat in the window and ate the tasty meal. It was enough food for two meals, so I took one home in a clam shell, leaving it on the floor of my nearby pick up truck before I going to the book store.

At the Haunted Book Store I asked the attendant for directions to the poetry section. In my current life, I view poetry as an indulgence the same way a smoker views a pack of cigarettes, for consumption and an addiction. It wasn’t always that way. There were many shelves of poetry in the store, and not many people: one gent with a portable typewriter was writing on it at a nearby table. I found Ode to the Cold War: Poems New and Selected by Dick Allen and read a couple of poems. For $4.95 it went home with me. I also picked up An Inconvenient Genocide by Alicia Ghiragossián about the conflict between Turkey and Armenia for seven bucks. Stopping by the Iowa section, there was a copy of a 1918 bibliography titled Iowa Authors and Their Works by Alice Marple. I bought this Historical Department of Iowa book for ten bucks to add to my collection of bibliographies of Iowa authors. Thus far, the evening was a success and it I had not been in town 90 minutes.

Stopping by the truck again, I left the books on the seat, stashed my mobile phone and headed to the theater across the parking lot. I took tickets and got to meet all of the theater-goers. The performance was very good.

Why do I write about this? Partly because other writers have done as much near the corner of Market and Linn Streets, and I hope I too will be famous for my writing. Too, this district of Iowa City is part of my personal history. I lived a few block away on Market, went on dates here, saw politicians and plays, did research for my writing, had meals and coffee with people who are important to me and browsed Murphy Brookfield Book Store and Haunted Book Store (and its predecessor) countless times over the years. I write about it because it is part of who I am and hope that is reason enough.

~ Here’s another post about Market and Linn Streets if you liked this one.

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Freezing Rain and a Green New Deal

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

Ice turned to mush as rain fell Thursday morning. The surfaces of Lake Macbride and the Coralville Lake appeared to remain frozen as I drove on Mehaffey Bridge Road.

When I arrived at the home, farm and auto supply store it continued to rain. By the end of my shift a layer of ice had formed on my windshield and morning slush had frozen.

I started the engine and chipped at the ice. It took half an hour to gain enough visibility to drive. I decided to skip a monthly political meeting, emailed the secretary of my absence, and headed home.

Iowa is a red state now. Voters had an opportunity to return balance to state government in 2018. Instead they chose Republican control of the governor’s office and state legislature. Taking advantage of their mandate, Republicans plan to take more control of the appointment of judges by changing the composition of a commission that selects nominees for Iowa courts. We’re a red state now, and we don’t like it.

We’re not leaving the state. To even consider it would be an anomaly in lives we’ve come to accept. In the end, politics is something, but not everything. It is definitely not important enough to get stuck in the county seat as the world freezes.

I’m interested in what the Congress does to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Yesterday New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a resolution recognizing the federal government has a duty to create a Green New Deal. A draft of the resolution indicates the following goals for a Green New Deal during a ten-year national mobilization period:

  1. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;
  2. to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;
  3. to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century;
  4. to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come—
    (i) clean air and water;
    (ii) climate and community resiliency;
    (iii) healthy food;
    (iv) access to nature; and
    (v) a sustainable environment; and
  5. to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’).

Who wouldn’t like these goals? Senator Edward Markey introduced the same resolution in the U.S. Senate.

It doesn’t take an advanced degree to understand a Green New Deal is dead on arrival in Mitch McConnell’s senate. While such goals need to be met to slow global warming, politics has ceased to be an endeavor of doing what needs to be done to ensure our mutual survival. Success of any legislation designed to advance a Green New Deal depends on recognizing the threat the climate crisis poses to society. Today, more people recognize there is a climate crisis. Our politicians, not so much.

Al Gore remained positive in his press release supporting the resolution:

The Green New Deal resolution marks the beginning of a crucial dialogue on climate legislation in the U.S. Mother Nature has awakened so many Americans to the urgent threat of the climate crisis, and this proposal responds to the growing concern and demand for action. The goals are ambitious and comprehensive – now the work begins to decide the best ways to achieve them, with specific policy solutions tied to timelines. It is critical that this process unfolds in close dialogue with the frontline communities that bear the disproportionate impacts today, as this resolution acknowledges. Policymakers and Presidential candidates would be wise to embrace a Green New Deal and commit to the hard work of seeing it through.

Failure to act on climate is the same as denial. I’ll support a Green New Deal while recognizing we can’t place all our hopes on a single, political solution. As we discovered during negotiations leading up to the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, political solutions are far from perfect. They may be inadequate. Yet they are something and have value if they can be achieved.

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