Living in Society

Archiving Twitter

DPRK Twitter Image

I heard about the Library of Congress partnership with Twitter to archive all of Twitter, past, present and future since its launch in 2006. I hadn’t heard the project went bust with insufficient funding in 2017. Too many tweets, one presumes.

Should we care? We should, but not because there is profound knowledge on Twitter.

Yes, noted scholars create multi-tweet threads with reasoned arguments, citations, and links to references. Yet what role does that play in advancing learning? The potential audience seems limited on Twitter. Wouldn’t the same argument inform more effectively in a newspaper, blog, or scholarly journal? It would be more targeted, for sure. Such targeting would garner better impact on learning than the transitory ephemera of Twitter..

News writers use tweets as a source of quotations from prominent people. A quote is a quote, I guess. It’s easy, which prompts the related sentence, “they are lazy.” What point are they making? Why not get an actual quote from a news maker? I know the answer: access is easier on Twitter. Definition of the word “access” is peculiar here.

With hundreds of millions of tweets per day, who could read all of that to glean valuable content? Some form of artificial intelligence or tweet-bot, maybe. Not a human. I can’t think of who would want to review all of that. I hardly look at my own tweets from yesterday, let alone something I posted in 2008. There are three hundred million or more tweets per day.

If a user considers their universe in Twitter, a time line can be carefully curated. It is only within this curation that any of it has much meaning. Archiving Twitter would seem to preserve little of that personal vantage point. Tweets are a fungible commodity only to the extent an individual user loses their individuality. We Americans resist that.

The role for libraries and archives with regard to Twitter and other social media platforms is to push governments to define better laws regarding collection, archiving, and ownership of our posting. As the example of Cambridge Analytica during the recent presidential election illustrates, there were few rules about scraping the internet to collect detailed voter information and using the aggregated data to influence the election. At what point does that become an illegal invasion of privacy? The answer hasn’t been defined and doing so falls in the wheelhouse of people who spend their lives compiling archives of information and documents.

When we examine the history of libraries and archives, my bet is as much that was important has been lost as was saved. I think of the Protestant Reformation and its raiding of libraries and archives to destroy the physical records of the Catholic Church. There are plenty of other examples. Regarding Twitter, if the Library of Congress can’t preserve it, then who can and to what end?

With planetary warming, we may not have to trouble ourselves with these questions for much longer. If archives exist to tell the story of humanity’s demise to beings living multiple millennia from now, there is no point. Like us, I doubt future such beings will be much interested in those billions of tweets.

Kitchen Garden

Pruning Day

Deer eating buds and tender branches of a limb felled during apple tree pruning.

On the fourth day in a row of freezing and subzero weather I bundled up and pruned the pear and three apple trees. As the sprouts and branches came down, they were frozen: sap flow had ceased. That’s what we want during fruit tree pruning.

I pruned what could be reached. I used a ladder to remove a large branch that was crowding the spruce tree. With the bulky clothing I didn’t want to maneuver too much on the ladder, risking a fall. If the trees survive, there should be a crop in 2023.

Branches will remain where they fell until it thaws. In late winter or early spring, I’ll move the branches toward the brush pile, cut them up, and burn them, delivering their minerals to a garden plot. I enjoy the spring burn as much as anything I do in the garden.

A couple of hours after pruning, deer arrived to eat what they could of the fallen tender buds and first year growth. Food for them is scarce in mid winter.

I read my ninth book this month. In winter, when I’m not writing, cooking, sleeping, or shoveling snow, I’m reading. There is a list of my reading at the menu tab labeled “Read Recently.”

We have been avoiding public contact as much as possible during the surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant. The county Democrats decided to convert the Feb. 7 in person precinct caucuses to online because of the surge. My spouse hasn’t been out of the house in quite a while. I go to the grocery store once every week or two. I still drink fluid milk and have to re-provision from time to time at a convenience store. I frequented about half a dozen retail stores during the pandemic and organized my shopping so I spent the least possible time inside each.

Onions and shallots are doing well on the heating pad. When it’s time to plant the first spring seedlings, they come off the heat and get a trim. Last year I started cruciferous vegetables indoors on Feb. 7, so there are a couple of weeks to take care of shallots and onions.

Deer took an after dinner rest near the spruce tree. It is a popular spot for wildlife year around. Creating a habitat is one of the successes we have had. It is an accomplishment. Each time I see deer, squirrels, foxes, birds or an opossum, I consider how little wildlife there was when we built here. Hopefully the apple trees will survive long enough for birds to nest in them a few more seasons.

Deer resting on the grass near the spruce tree.

Into a Mine Shaft

Detail of the USGS quadrant map for coal mining in Bureau/LaSalle County, Illinois. There were three coal seams in the Cherry mine, the deepest at 485 feet.

A Twitch-TV streamer played Minecraft in the background as I worked on daily rushes about… coal mining. From there I descended into the mines, at least figuratively, for several hours.

My maternal grandfather mined coal in Bureau and LaSalle Counties in Illinois for at least 30 years that we know. Besides family lore and my interactions with him while young, I knew little about this aspect of his life. He was the guy from Illinois, no longer married to Grandmother, who gave me a handful of pennies each time he visited. Coal mining was a much bigger deal than I thought in the basin of the Illinois River in Central Illinois.

The Saint Paul Coal Company operated the Cherry mine in Bureau County, one of the places Grandfather worked. The company was established in Illinois in 1902 and owned two mine properties in 1909, the year of the Cherry Mine disaster in which 259 men and boys died. The mine operated on 7,217 acres of land, producing about 300,000 tons of coal annually with a daily capacity of 1,500 tons.

Because of the mining disaster, a significant amount of documentation exists, including the 96-page report on the disaster from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At this writing, the Cherry Mine disaster remains the third most deadly in American coal mining history. Grandfather first showed up as a miner on the 1910 U.S. Census in LaSalle County, old enough to have worked at the Cherry Mine during that period.

Rushes are the first draft of a section of my book. My process is to take a topic, typically a couple of paragraphs, and write rushes which will be heavily edited before being added to the draft of my autobiography. It gives me a chance to refine what I want to say without mucking up the main draft of my work. So far the process has served.

I decided the chapter about my maternal grandparents’ early days needed historical background. In a couple of ways, the mining history of LaSalle and Bureau Counties depicts a similar lure of wage work that attracted many European immigrants to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This includes my maternal great, great grandfather, who mined coal in Allegheny, Pennsylvania after arriving from partitioned Poland in the 1880s. My paternal grandfather mined coal in the early 20th Century in Southwestern Virginia, although his ancestors were well established in the United States by then.

I found a history of Saint Hyacinth’s Church in LaSalle, written on the occasion of their diamond jubilee in 1950. Established in 1875 by a community of mostly Polish and German immigrants, it is named for the saint, a Polish Dominican priest and missionary who worked to reform women’s monasteries in his native Poland in the 13th Century. The Polish exclamation Święty Jacku z pierogami! (“St. Hyacinth and his pierogi!”) is an old-time saying, a call for help in some hopeless circumstance. Pierogi was a constant topic of discussion during family visits to our relatives in LaSalle. It likely remains available there. According to family lore recorded on, My great grandparents contributed to establishment of the Saint Hyacinth cemetery where they and Grandfather are buried.

I started the day’s research late morning and the next thing I knew, it was time to start dinner. It wanted pierogi, yet we had to settle for enchiladas. I’m not finished with this topic yet.


What is a Home Library?

Snapshot of part of my home library

The place where I write is surrounded with books. There are more books in the next room, in boxes and piled on tables. There are shelves of books in the garage. There are documents going back to the 1950s. There are also boxes of artifacts. What is all this stuff?

To call it a library is not quite accurate. It is a collection of things, yet only in the loosest sense of the word. I set up my desk when we moved in, the same place it is today, before electricity was connected to the structure. Things collected here the way flotsam washes to shore. There is little agency in the word “collection” as applied to my place.

“Archives” doesn’t get it right either. In a corner is a tree trunk from the pine tree that grew outside my window during the 1960s. On top of it I pile each bill as it comes in and is paid. The stack of papers is 16 inches tall. When someone wants a document, I say it is filed on the stump. A stump is not a filing system, they say. I don’t argue the point.

As a newly minted septuagenarian I’m concerned with a couple of things.

When I die, I want people to be able to find relevant things, such as my will, whether I paid the last electricity bill, the title to the automobile, and a list of my computer passwords: an archive of the exigency of now. This is a given, it exists, and can be improved upon.

There are too many books to read or to pass on to someone else to sort through. A sorting has begun. A library is a place to find something specific. As needs change, so should the contents. Getting rid of many books and papers is common courtesy to my survivors. I try to be courteous. It is difficult to find things if I’ve forgotten what I have. This can be a problem when considering what I leave behind.

Mainly I want quick access to books and papers I need for my writing. Egads! I’m not there and time’s a wasting! Archival materials would describe this if I had taken time to archive everything, which I have not. I’d like to get the collection to a manageable size, one that would fit in a single room. Once I get there I may call it a home library and be justified in doing so. For the time being, it is what it is and the word “library” is not an accurate fit.

It is a place to work. A place of my own. That will have to suffice for now.

Living in Society

Don’t Tell Us What to Read

Morning Reading for $1.25

I got my first library card in 1959 and have been reading ever since. When I was young, teachers kept an eye on my reading and made their opinions known. If they didn’t like a particular book, I read it at home where my parents supervised me.

My first conflict was in eighth grade over a book written by Ian Fleming, one of the 007 series. The priest saw I had it and confiscated it because of Bond’s interaction with women. I discussed it with my parents and eventually bought another copy from my allowance.

In high school I heard about J.D. Salinger’s book Catcher in the Rye and wanted to read it. It was prohibited and unavailable in the school library. I read that one too. I managed the conflicts between teachers and my reading.

What I can’t abide is the state legislature regulating which books should be allowed in schools. This decision should be between teachers, librarians, and parents. The claim parents don’t know what books are in schools seems bogus. If the legislature wants to do something, fund on-line access to card catalogues throughout the state. We don’t need lawmakers telling us what to read.

~ First published on Jan. 22, 2022 in the Cedar Rapids Gazette


Double Dipping on Carbon-Capture

Field Corn

Governor Kim Reynolds mentioned carbon-capture in her condition of the state address during a segment on renewable energy.

I am introducing new legislation that will improve access to E15 and B20 and upgrade Iowa’s fuel infrastructure to offer higher blends. And I’m proposing that we invest in carbon-capture solutions to sustain and build on our leadership position in renewable energy.

Governor Kim Reynolds Condition of the State Address, Jan. 11, 2022.

To be clear, the governor supports carbon-capture to protect Iowa’s investments in ethanol and bio-fuels. It has nothing to do with addressing the climate crisis, and everything to do with continuing to grow corn for ethanol. We are not sure if carbon-capture even works.

“The U.S. Department of Energy invested $684 million in unsuccessful carbon capture and storage demonstration projects at coal plants under the 2009 stimulus package, a U.S. Government Accountability Office audit found,” according to Karin Rives at S&P Global. “This time, the DOE has close to $1 billion from the 2021 infrastructure law earmarked for large-scale carbon capture pilot projects, as well as $2.5 billion for carbon capture demonstrations.”

If DOE spent $684 million on carbon capture and it failed to capture carbon, why would our government increase the amount to be spent? To address the climate crisis, ethanol and bio-fuels need to go out of business. Society should develop true alternative fuels that free farmer fields to grow food crops and don’t rely on release of carbon dioxide to produce ethanol.

Fool me once on carbon capture, shame on you. Fool me a second time, shame on me.

Read all of my posts on carbon-capture at this link.

Living in Society

Miller-Meeks Didn’t Support the Military

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks should be consistent about where she stands on support for the military. On Jan. 12, she voted against expanding eligibility for educational benefits to our National Guard and Army Reserves in the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2021.

In June, Miller-Meeks said, “I can think of no better way to help those transitioning from our military than by giving them access to the benefits they have earned.” She gushed on her congressional website how she voted in favor of four bills to help our military members.

Which is it congresswoman? Are you for or against supporting the military with improved benefits?

I’m weary of hearing her military resume because while she used the GI bill for her own education, leveling the playing field between National Guard/Reservists and active-duty personnel is something she can’t abide.

I may have missed some fine print right wing politicians find objectionable, yet the big picture is Miller-Meeks voted against a bill to help men and women in uniform.

Our military personnel deserve our thanks on behalf of a grateful nation. But no, Miller-Meeks couldn’t provide it.

~ First published in The Daily Iowan and also in other local newspapers

Kitchen Garden

Hatch Chili Sauce

Hatch chili sauce using a blend of Hatch and Guajillo chilies.

A variety of dried chilies waits for me in the pantry. Yesterday I made chili sauce with the rest of the Guajillo chilies I grew, and some Hatch chilies from the grocer. It is a bit of a production yet this chili sauce is great on just about anything.

First put a kettle of water on to boil. Stem the chilies and split them to remove most of the seeds. Place them in a bowl and pour the hot water over them to enable them to hydrate. Cover with a plate to hold them under water. Soak for at least an hour or until they are flexible.

Place the chilies in a blender with a cup of the soaking liquid. Add whole garlic cloves, at least one large head. Add pepper and Mexican oregano. Blend until it is as smooth as possible.

Place a tablespoon or so of peanut oil in a frying pan and heat. Using a strainer, pour the sauce mixture into the frying pan, pushing as much through the mesh as is possible using a spatula. Set the strainer with bits of chili skin aside and stir the strained sauce.

Add a dash of salt and a teaspoon of sugar to bring out the flavor of the chilies. The idea is not to sweeten the sauce, but to make the chilies taste more fruity.

Stir and mix, mix and stir over medium low heat. Reduce the sauce until it is the consistency of a thick tomato sauce or tomato paste. Use the soaking liquid to dilute the sauce if it gets too thick. Make it the consistency you want.

Put it in a jar, refrigerate, and use it like you would any hot pepper sauce. If I had summer greens, I’d make a taco filling with it along with black beans. I’m the only person in our house who eats spicy things. All the same this Hatch chili sauce won’t last long.


Writer’s Week #1

I discarded worn hats and pulled these out. Spring styling has begun.

It was a good week for my autobiography.

I made steady progress on re-writing the first four chapters. The time was about ten to one editing over writing. The most difficult challenge is getting the narrative right so it is honest and understandable. I located key documents I’d forgotten. I also created one empty banker’s box. That last part is particularly rewarding for a retiree with too much stuff.

There was a file with old resumes in it, including a Statement of Personal History (DD Form 398) I completed in 1982 or 1983. It includes every job I held and every address I had from birth. That will be useful in creating a time line. A quick glance revealed a number of inaccuracies. I know more now about my life than I did when I was living it, which seems normal.

Importantly, I located the family history documents Mother provided about my paternal line. It is a set of genealogy forms with a lot of information completed. This makes the process easier. Like with every documentation, there are some mistakes and omissions. I can fill in the blanks if I choose. I debate whether to tamper with the originals and have thus far mostly left them as is.

In 1983, we made a long automobile trip from Iowa City to Saint Louis; Evansville, Indiana; Wise County, Virginia; and then to Philadelphia to visit friends and relatives. It was a sort of second wedding trip after our first one to Chicago in December 1982. I located my journal entries from the trip, in which I recorded the interaction with my Uncle Gene when he traveled from Florida to Wise County to be with us. He explained his family life in and around Glamorgan, Virginia where he and Father were born. The journal will help. I may quote most of it directly as it tells the story as well as anything I could write now.

Uncle Gene also took us to some of the home places, including a parcel of land described as “lying and being in Wise County, Virginia on the waters of Guests River in the Rocky Fork section of the Gladewell Magisterial District.” This property, called Rocky Fork by family, goes way back. We explored it during the visit.

I spent considerable time thinking about the 1920s and 1930s this week. I’m reading a book called Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. It recounts the history of use of the element radium in manufacturing consumer goods, and the impact of radioactivity on workers. The radium girls literally glowed from toxic radium contamination.

Part of the Radium Girls narrative presents the history of The Radium Dial Company, founded in 1917 in Ottawa, LaSalle County, Illinois. It supported what became the Western Clock Company in 1919, featuring the Westclox brand. Radium Dial Company made watch dials painted by hand with radium so they would glow in the dark. The Westclox manufacturing plant was in Peru, LaSalle County, Illinois.

In the book there are two references to Starved Rock, which is where my maternal grandmother worked when she arrived in LaSalle County from Minnesota about 1925. It was a place for group outings for the radium girls and others. I hadn’t considered the broader context of LaSalle County in my autobiography, but now I am. Reading this book was a breakthrough.

As Moore points out, not everyone had automobiles at that time. Likewise, there was radio but no television. People mainly got news from each other, and from newspapers. For a historian, newspapers make it relatively easy to follow coverage of major stories like the one of the court cases of the radium girls.

This led me to think about how I gather news.

We need news, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, yet always. First priority is news about key family members, which is mostly sourced from networks of family and friends. After that, we seek news about what could impact our daily lives. How we gather news changed since the 1920s and during my lifetime. It will likely continue to change.

Our family tuned the television to watch the Huntley-Brinkley Report for news during my formative years. With theme music from the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, it had a weighty feel. News stories were told in direct, clear language. It catered to what passed for adults back then. It went off the air the summer after I graduated high school.

We subscribed to local Davenport newspapers, the Times-Democrat and the Catholic Messenger. In eighth grade we had a project to read and clip newspaper articles into a scrapbook. I got an A on the project. I was a paperboy who delivered the Times-Democrat in our neighborhood yet hardly read it except for a school project.

In graduate school we watched KWWL-TV news when we had a chance. They had opened a news bureau in Cedar Rapids which featured a recent college graduate, Liz Mathis. Mathis is currently running for Congress. I can’t recall when I stopped watching television news. It was long ago.

Today the day begins reading newspapers. I subscribe to online editions of the Washington Post, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa City Press Citizen, and Solon Economist. Each of them informs me from a different part of the community. I’m a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Arms Control Association, and the Climate Reality Project. Each of these sources provides specialized news. I subscribe to the governor’s press releases, to the county supervisors and public health news releases, and to a number of political office holder newsletters, including people who represent me in the Iowa legislature and the Congress. Lastly, I follow news reporters on Twitter. One exercises caution in picking them. I read their biographies and some of their work before following. There are a lot of great people writing relevant news stories about contemporary society if one is lucky enough to find them.

I had a good writing week and felt like sharing. Thanks for reading.

Living in Society

Funding Public Schools

Officer Writing a Letter by Gerard ter Borch. Photo Credit – Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Government should be in the business of funding public schools so that every child has access to a world class education. In her condition of the state address, Governor Kim Reynolds explained how much money state government was contributing to public schools. Everything was fine until school choice came up.

“But for some families, the school district doesn’t fit their values or meet the needs of their child,” Reynolds said, pivoting to school choice.

If parents want or need school choice, they should be able to find an alternative. At the same time, it is not government’s job to fund every parent’s dream education for their child. That’s where Republicans and I differ.

In the 1960s, compulsory school standards caused a problem in Oelwein. The school superintendent required Amish children to attend public school and they refused. Democratic Governor Harold Hughes intervened to request a moratorium on compulsory education for the Amish and defused the situation. In 1967 the legislature passed a law exempting the Amish from compulsory education and school standards based on their religious affiliation.

What is going on today is nothing like that. Public schools struggle with inadequate funding and we are talking about more money for private schools?

My member of congress, Mariannette Miller-Meeks is in sync with the governor and has adopted a D.C.-based approach to school choice.

In an editorial in the Independent Advocate, Miller-Meeks wrote, “Not every school is right for every student; thus, it is imperative that we give families the choice to send their child to the school that works best for them.”

Miller-Meeks introduced The Choice Act in the U.S. House. The Choice Act “would allow parents to be in control of their children’s education by expanding school choice programs and by creating greater awareness of different types of programs,” she wrote. The Choice Act takes us the wrong direction.

What is the limit on school choice? How much should the federal government be involved paying for school choice?

Public schools exist for a reason, to make the best use of tax dollars to provide quality education for all children. School choice as Reynolds and Miller-Meeks frame it is counter productive to good public schools.