Cold Weather is Here

Cold weather set in.

Since ambient temperatures dropped below freezing, I haven’t left the house very much. I’ve been reading, writing, cooking, and working on a few small projects. I wasn’t ready to bunker in.

I gave up on picking up more garden mulch with the mower. I disassembled the grass catcher and put it in place on the shelf. I also moved the electric snow blower closer to the garage door. With the subcompact Chevy Spark there is a lot more room in the garage. Step by step, I’m getting organized.

The small ceramic heater running next to my chair is doing the job of keeping my writing room warm. I hung a blanket on the door to retain heat, and that is doing its job as well. Now it’s time for me to do my job of writing.

Where does my writing get noticed? When I post on Twitter, the response can be huge. Yesterday I posted,

Thus far there have been 3,872 impressions and 154 engagements. That is a lot.

When I post on Blog for Iowa, it garners many more views than here. Before the midterms I posted about Iowa Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear and the post got 507 views. That, too, is a lot.

Year to date this site got about 8,000 views, with the leading sources being search engines and the WordPress Reader. Thanks so much WordPress community for following me.

Now that cold weather is here, my in-person contact with humans reduced noticeably. I don’t like it, yet here we are. Hopefully my writing will improve and bring with it better cooking, reading, and a cleaner, more organized home. Despite the calendar suggestion we have another month of Autumn, it feels like winter is here.

Living in Society

Twitter Take Three

Despite yesterday’s mass resignation at Twitter, things seem back to normal. When an authoritarian boss gives employees an ultimatum to work harder or leave, for most people the only choice is to leave, thus depriving the authoritarian of their leverage. This is America. That is, unless your visa is based on such work and employees have morphed into slaves.

My freakout regarding Elon Musk buying Twitter is over. The big picture, obvious to any sentient being, is the transition is not going well. I don’t like the many little changes I’m seeing in the platform, yet I’m still there and will be for the short-term. Also, I can enter my birthday and get balloons on my account that day. That might be nice. Give me an edit button and it would be the cat’s meow.

Most of the rest of this post was written before Musk’s arbitrary deadline for employees last night. I plan to continue unless there is a subscription fee or the platform goes dark.

After the election I purged accounts. During a political campaign, the reasons for following had a shelf life until the general election. I got down to 160 or so. Now I’m thoughtfully curating a timeline that provides me the best of what is available and relevant. As of this writing, there are 173.

The core of people I follow are those with whom I have some personal connection or long term interaction on Twitter. I’ve been to their house, went to school with them, worked on a project together, or otherwise know them in real life. There is also a small cadre where I don’t recall how we got started in social media yet the thought of dropping them was too much to bear. This is to be expected.

I distilled the many possible local news reporters to a group of about a dozen that I either know or interact with frequently. I follow a few reporters who work for major news outlets, like the awesome investigative reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason with Associated Press, Emily Rauhala with the Washington Post, Jane Mayer and Elizabeth Kolbert with The New Yorker, and a few others. Wednesday I added Trip Gabriel with the New York Times and Vaughn Hillyard with NBC News. Both of them have been a frequent presence in Iowa doing political reporting and highlight important national stories without their tweets being too many.

After Michael Franken lost the Iowa U.S. Senate race, I had to find some Democratic senators to keep tabs on what the upper chamber was doing. Amy Klobuchar started following my account during the 2020 Iowa caucus cycle after I followed her, so there is one. I also decided to add back Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. Chuck Grassley follows me, yet I don’t follow him any longer. I get plenty of information about Grassley from other sources, including occasional in-person encounters, and his weekly legislative newsletter. My other U.S. Senator is Joni Ernst. Because she is a rising Republican star, there is plenty of information available about her activities. I follow my congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks and she follows back.

Lastly, I revisited some of my connections with Friends Committee on National Legislation. I follow Joe Volk who is now retired and was general secretary when I visited in Washington, D.C. We did some events together in Iowa. I follow the current general secretary, Bridget Moix. I also follow Jim Cason whom I met in D.C. and Arnie Albert who was my D.C. roommate and is retired from American Friends Service Committee in New Hampshire. Friends Committee on National Legislation provides direct, accessible information about what’s going on in the capitol.

Like most users, I have no idea what Musk is doing. Perhaps he does, although Twitter users are doubtful and last night’s events were unexpected. He is apparently living at his office until whatever plans he has are realized. If he were to fail, which I doubt, I would shut it down and not seek another platform to replicate it. Twitter is useful for what it is –a valued news source. If it went away, I’d just have to adjust.


Update on Iowa CO2 Pipelines

Field Corn

While driving to the Democratic office in North Liberty after a shift of door knocking, I passed a seemingly endless line of black tank cars waiting to be loaded with ethanol or corn syrup in Cedar Rapids. That Iowa’s vast agricultural promise, countless thousands of acres of fertile soil, would come to this is saddening and frustrating. As a state we’ve become entrenched with what we know (i.e. corn growing) and don’t want to consider alternatives. Such entrenchment is why Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) is being proposed in Iowa to support the ethanol business.

Art Cullen cut to the chase in a July 15 Storm Lake Times editorial, titled “Pipelines Will Happen,” saying, “The pipelines will get buried. The Iowa rainmakers will get theirs as we pretend that we are addressing the planet being on fire.”

While Cullen may be right, the corn ethanol business and CCS make no sense in 2022.

Johnson County Supervisor Jon Green expressed his skepticism in an email:

My introduction to CCS was in Wyoming with the Two Elk project.

The first thing I learned was this has been tried many, many times, with millions of dollars of public money chasing these technologies. I have yet to learn of a single project that worked at a scale sufficient to make the technology feasible. So I begin from a position of deep mistrust when someone comes along and says they can magically make it work.

But let us set those concerns and experience aside: even if these projects do exactly what they promise, the effects will be small (in terms of carbon reduction, although the tax incentives are staggering) and only provide incentives to continue producing ethanol, a carbon loser.

I realize we can’t just flip a switch and electrify the entire country tomorrow, but every dollar we invest into pipelines is a buck that could’ve been used for solar panels or wind turbines.

Nov. 14, 2022 email from Johnson County Supervisor Jon Green.

When I wrote a series of posts about CCS a year ago, it was a process of personal learning. Since then, it became increasingly clear that the technology doesn’t work well enough to meet its promise, as Green said. It is a big money game in which the rich get richer and the opinions of Iowans may be faithfully recorded on the Iowa Utilities Board website, yet in the end will be ignored without considerably more uproar than we are seeing now.

Des Moines activist Ed Fallon has been following resistance to CO2 pipelines and is more optimistic.

When the first of these pipelines was proposed by Summit, proponents were sure it would be a slam dunk because Iowa corn farmers love ethanol. What Summit underestimated was the depth of resistance among farmers to having their land forcibly taken through eminent domain. In fact, farmers’ opposition has proven so strong it’s quite possible these pipelines will be defeated. That’s especially true if landowners, farmers, and other opponents continue to stand together.

Nov. 13, 2022 email from Ed Fallon.

From my experience with S.A.F.E. (Saving America’s Farmland and Environment) in 2013 I understand how business proposals centered around land use can be defeated. In that campaign MidAmerican Energy proposed to build a nuclear power plant near Wilton on prime farm land. When farmers organized around stopping the plan and formed a coalition, even Republicans like Jeff Kaufmann came on board and the plan was stopped. Fallon’s comments are consistent with my experience in Wilton. The difference is the CO2 pipelines will run for hundreds of miles instead of on a specific, limited parcel.

Use of eminent domain to construct CO2 pipelines is to some extent, an Iowa issue. Sheri Deal-Tyne, who has been researching CCS for the last year explains:

Eminent domain is certainly at the forefront in Iowa and other Midwest states. We in the Midwest are being targeted for these projects because of the relatively “pure” stream of CO2 that comes off of ethanol production. This pure stream means it is cheaper to capture carbon at an ethanol plant than it is at a coal plant. Eminent domain is going to have less meaning in places like Texas and Louisiana.

Nov. 14, 2022 email from Sheri Deal-Tyne.

On Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, the Iowa Utilities Board will hold a meeting to discuss federal preemption pertaining to CO2 pipelines. This is an important meeting as Deal-Tyne explains:

The December meeting on preemption is important because currently there are no federal regulations regarding the siting of the pipelines. This is handled at the state level, and varies by state. The Pipeline Safety Act is relatively new, and CO2 pipelines were added as an afterthought. Following the Satartia, Mississippi accident, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued for new rule making around CO2 pipelines, as well as scientific research in to what the safety protocols should be. But at the project level, the companies are claiming that there are regulations and that they are following them. Currently Summit has argued that the IUB does not have authority to consider safety issues because it falls under Federal jurisdiction. (this is where the preemption comes in).

Nov. 14, 2022 email from Sheri Deal-Tyne.

A year after first writing about CCS, the core issue remains: getting to a decarbonized environment means ceasing the production of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. The persistence of desire to perpetuate ethanol production in a decarbonized environment by collecting and burying CO2 would be a possible solution if the technology worked. It doesn’t. It hasn’t yet worked despite millions of dollars spent to make it work. There is no prospect that it will. That’s why I say CCS and corn ethanol make no sense.

Living in Society

Calendars in Place

Garage calendar in place.

Each year I get two advertising calendars: one for the garage, and one for my writing desk. This year the garage calendar is from the car dealership where we bought and service our Chevy Spark. The other is from the grocery store in town. They each serve a useful purpose while I work. Putting them in place represents the beginning of another new year.

The political climate in Iowa had me delaying plans until after the election. It is time to begin filling those calendars with hope.

Among activities planned is writing, reading, exercise and generally supporting our personal and financial well-being. There is a budget to be managed, work to maintain the physical structure of our home, and another year of yard work and gardening. The garage calendar will prove to be handy in this.

My recent posts here indicate my intellectual interests. I feel lucky to have avoided any illness which might impair intellectual capacity. I hope to keep it that way.

Now commences a review of 2022 and a course correction for the time ahead. In coming weeks, I’ll review my reading, my autobiographical and other writing, social activity, and my health. Indoors time is best for this. I’m not quite ready to begin, yet soon will be.

Repair, maintenance and improvement of the house will be a function of available resources and prioritized needs. Over the coming years we need to make sure our home is suitable for aging and the physical plant is maintained at the ready.

Today meteorologists expect snow to stick. Ambient temperatures are forecast around freezing with continuous snowfall until 6 p.m. We’ll get an inch or two. I would like a couple dry, warm days to run the mower again and make more garden mulch. With the crazy weather we have been having, that’s not out of the question in mid-November. I’ll be okay if I have to wait until spring. Blank calendars are in place.

Home Life

Clean Pair of Jeans

Garden Jeans

This morning I got out a clean pair of blue jeans and put them on. I’d been wearing the last pair since election day and it was time to get them laundered.

I keep a few pair of “nice” jeans, which means they have no known defects, fit well, and are suitable for outings into society. Currently, these are Levi’s brand, although it varied through the years. To avoid constantly laundering them, I wear nice jeans a few days around the house after an excursion. There are three pair of nice jeans in the closet.

Jeans that fit loosely and have been damaged or have holes worn in them are used when I’m working outdoors or in the garage. These are “garden” jeans. They get pretty dirty from kneeling on the ground and are usually good to wear for several days before laundering. Mostly these came from my time before the pandemic when I wore them to work at the home, farm and auto supply store. I don’t mind if these jeans wear out or get damaged on a tool or fence post. When they get unwearable, I launder them and recycle the denim.

Jeans between nice and garden are those deteriorated enough from being nice and are suitable to wear around the house. This everyday use doesn’t have a special name, yet most of my jeans fall in this category. They take the workload off the nice jeans and eventually will be converted to garden use. I purchased a pair or two of these when we lived in Indiana in the early 1990s. Good jeans last a long time.

One conversation I had with Father was about “work” clothes compared to clothes worn around the house. He felt his best clothing should be worn to drive forklift in the meat packing plant, with inferior or damaged garments used at home. He was trying to get out of the packing plant to become a chiropractor and believed his appearance in public mattered. He died wearing his work clothes while driving a forklift into an elevator. Having driven a forklift in the same packing plant after he died, the work didn’t seem too public, warranting the best clothing. His discussions about it likely led me to my present organization of blue jeans.

Now that the midterms are over it is time to get to work. I spent the days after the election hanging around the house, reading, writing and cooking. I want to say I was thinking about the election yet that’s not accurate. It was more like recovering from the losses. On Sunday I didn’t leave the house at all.

It’s time to turn the page and get to work. For that, a clean pair of jeans is just what we need to get started.

Living in Society

Ron’s Book Sale

Books acquired at Ron’s Memorial Book Sale at the Solon Public Library.

What does a person do with 1,800 books after the owner dies? If one supports our local library, they have a book sale and donate the proceeds to Friends of the Solon Public Library. That’s what my friend Pat did after her husband Ron died just before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in 2020.

While visiting Pat after COVID-19 had been normalized in Iowa, she offered me what books I wanted. I took one, and said I would just wait until the sale to buy more. Sometimes a person has to show up.

Besides sating my immediate reading wants and perceived needs, the sale was a chance to catch up with people in the community. The people I knew had retired or were scaling back to part time work. Our community has a small yet devoted group of readers and will show up for a book sale.

A younger me would have brought home a lot of books. Instead, I made a free will donation for these seven. I hope to read them all, likely beginning with Pat Conroy’s memoir. It will not be the same as having a conversation with Ron, who was not only well-read but could talk intelligently about almost any topic. Reading Ron’s books is no substitute for those conversations, yet that is where we are.

Iowa is among the least educated states in the country. Those of us outside academia who pursue intellectual interests get to know each other and support our public library. In our community of several thousand people there are not many of us. When someone dies, or experiences a stroke, dementia, or Alzheimer’s Disease it is a substantial loss. We are of an age when that possibility is tangible.

The first snow fell in small flakes as I left for the sale. It continued while I was browsing books, and until I arrived home. Winter has not arrived, just a reminder of it. For me that means hunkering down in the warmth of our home to read and write until spring. Those of us who remain must go on living. That’s what I plan to do.

Living in Society

Last Thoughts on Midterm Elections

Big Grove Precinct polling place at the Catholic Church.

Computers for the poll workers were set up below a large crucifix on the wall of Saint Mary’s Church. It was as if Jesus and I (the certified Democratic poll watcher) were keeping an eye on the proceedings. There was no controversy during election day activities. From news accounts, that appears to have been true across the state. When issues arose, the election system addressed them. It was a statewide Republican sweep, with a few exceptions, and that was that.

756 voters cast a ballot under Jesus’ watchful eye. As was expected, more Republicans cast a ballot at the polls on election day with Chuck Grassley receiving 478 votes and challenger Michael Franken 274 in our room. (In my previous post I tallied the main results). Voters have spoken, and that, too, is that.

Father worked as an organizer on the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy. I watched him complete mimeographed sheets with a generic grid for our block printed on it. He recorded the names and voting preferences for each property. When he finished our block, he got a clean sheet from the union hall to start another. Richard Nixon won Iowa that cycle.

I remember us discussing living in a Republican state with a Democratic president. It was a non-issue because we were part of a country that had 50 states after Alaska and Hawaii had been admitted to the union the previous year. JFK was our president, too, he said.

I didn’t understand in 1960, and don’t understand now, how voters could pick candidates that don’t hold similar values and would vote against their best interests. Maybe people have been dumbed down. Iowa is not known for having a lot of deep thinkers. According to a recent article by Samuel Stebbins, Iowa ranks among the least educated states. That has to be part of it yet is not the whole story.

Iowans are conditioned to accept a wide range of outrageous things and such socialization or indoctrination is a key reason for Iowa Republican successes this election cycle. How they got there goes back to the rise of right wing talk radio and FOX. The socialized modern Republican is a primary cause of the infection of social discourse. It feeds upon itself. More liberal people either don’t want to engage in this discourse or don’t have to. Living in a progressive or liberal bubble isn’t good either.

Toward the end of election day, some Republicans hung around the entrance to the polling place. I listened to them chatting after they voted. Most were not aware of any framework, just that their peers can carry on a certain conversation with which they agree. Politics was hardly mentioned even though there we were at the polling place. The subject of conversation did not matter as much as the fact of it. This behavior, of setting existential reality aside to focus on something else, is essential to Republican dominance in modern society.

As film maker Jen Senko pointed out in her book and movie, The Brainwashing of My Dad, this conditioning is reversible if we know how to do it. For my part, I don’t enjoy getting into conversations where participants recount what happened last night while they were getting ready for sleep with the television tuned to FOX News. If we are serious about changing society for the better, people like me don’t need to consume right wing talk radio and television. However, we have to enter into more of these types of conversations. In doing so we become part of the community. I believe our differences will be tolerated in civil conversations and that is better than not being heard at all.

There is a lot to say about the 2022 midterms. There is nothing else to say. I’m moving on to more productive ground as this plot needs to lie fallow for a while. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Living in Society

Looking Toward 2023

Seed delivery.

Seeds went on sale at Johnny’s Selected Seeds and I placed a typical fall vegetable seed order. The cost savings were important, although I’m more anxious to get started with next year’s garden. I labeled packets with the gardening year of their intended use and filed them away. Apparently I decided to grow a lot of Romaine lettuce and got 1,000 pelleted Monte Carlo seeds.

Wednesday was a punk day with negative feedback from the election coming in via all media.

The preliminary results for Big Grove Township are that Republicans swept all the top races. Voter turnout in both parties was much less than in 2020. Chuck Grassley beat Michael Franken 563-473; Mariannette Miller-Meeks beat Christina Bohannan 565-473; Kim Reynolds beat Deidre DeJear 570-434; Dawn Driscoll beat Kevin Kinney 529-503; and Brad Sherman beat Elle Wyant 574-442.

In the county supervisor race, votes were split among five candidates as follows: Phil Hemingway – 580, Jammie Bradshaw – 537; Jon Green – 422; V. Fixmer-Oraiz – 351; and Erick Heick – 34.

Public Measure 1, adding language about Second Amendment rights to the Iowa Constitution, was approved here 562-436.

County-wide, Democrats won all of these races except House District 91, and Public Measure 1 failed.

The best result of the last few days was receiving my first order of garden seeds. Politics has been a disappointment the last few years. I plan to stick to gardening in 2023.


After the 2022 Midterms

Arriving home after my last shift of knocking doors before the midterm election.

The United States finished voting in our Nov. 8 midterm elections. The results for the U.S. Congress will not be known for a while. Some states passed laws that delay counting absentee ballots until the polls close. It could take days. Not here in Iowa. A spreadsheet of initial election results from the county auditor waits in my inbox. I looked at enough races last night to know the results were not good for Democrats.

Our county party set a goal of creating a 32,000-vote margin in the federal and state wide races to offset Republicans in other parts of this increasingly red state. They fell well short with the U.S. Senate race going to Michael Franken in our county, with a margin of 27,130. It was not enough and Chuck Grassley won his race handily statewide. Johnson County is an irrelevant blue dot in a sea of red.

Democrats did poorly across the state with Republicans sweeping the governor’s race and all five federal offices, according to the Secretary of State election results website. With 97 of 99 counties reporting, State Auditor Rob Sand leads in his race. He would be the only state-wide Democrat to win. Long-time office-holders Attorney General Tom Miller and State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald were both defeated by their Republican opponents. Two counties (Warren and Des Moines) in the First Congressional District have not reported, yet it seems clear from what is in that Mariannette Miller-Meeks will be reelected. All counties reported in the other Congressional Districts.

I spent most of election day poll watching. It became evident early in the day there would be no need to protect the vote. Two of the poll workers had been doing this work for more than ten years and their personalities are of the kind that don’t stand for malarkey. I remembered the poll supervisor from the 2020 election and she did an excellent job of organizing the site and keeping the lines moving, when there was a line. I heard of no voter protection issues county-wide.

This was a hard defeat for Iowa Democrats. Where we go from here is an open question. Some have suggested that a couple of substantial Democratic donors (Fred Hubbell and Jack Hatch) along with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack might pick up the pieces and rebuild the party in the mold of what existed when Vilsack was governor. That would be the wrong direction. We can’t go on like we have been and the politics of Iowa before Obama doesn’t exist any longer.

For now, I’m going to accept the reality that Iowa hasn’t been a swing state since 2016. There is another post coming after I analyze our county election results.

Living in Society

Election Day 2022

Lunar Eclipse on Nov. 8, 2022 taken with my mobile device.

Election day began with a total lunar eclipse at 4:16 a.m. I’ll refrain from obvious puns and wise-cracks. This election should be serious business.

Before the polls open, I’m not hopeful of turnout. Democratic early voting in our county is running behind the results in 2018 and 2020. According to former county party chair Brian Flaherty, Democrats need to turn out voters on election day at 128 percent of what we did in the 2018 gubernatorial race. Based my Sunday door knocks, too many people are blowing off this year’s election, making achievement of that election-day turnout goal more difficult. Mine was a small sample of voters, so maybe the broader trend is different. It is young, married people on my list — millennials and Gen-Z — who are not planning to vote.

This cycle my engagement with the campaigns changed. I found a home with the Kevin Kinney campaign because unlike the two decades of previous contests, the race to represent our precinct in the Iowa Senate was highly competitive. It is one of the most expensive political campaigns for a statehouse seat in the state. It seems clear the Democrat is the better candidate and the campaign is knocking doors until there are no more to knock. They also have a paid campaign manager, which makes a big difference in accessibility, professionalism, and flexibility. In the past, I aligned with the House candidate for campaign activities. This cycle our candidate, Elle Wyant, is running a less conventional campaign, which made it a bit difficult to plug in. The usual political activists in Big Grove did what they could to support her. We remain optimistic that Kinney can win his race. We should know tonight, although it will likely be close.

I began writing political letters to the editor about our congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks in March 2021 after Rita Hart withdrew her election contest. My letters have been regular until my final one appeared last Thursday. I have written on topics other than the congressional race, yet the focus after the nominating period has been on electing Christina Bohannan to the Congress. In every political poll, Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks held the lead. This race will be determined by turnout. Bohannan’s name recognition has not been good on the doors, even among people who said they plan to vote for Democrats. The only poll that matters is the one today after the polls close.

Other things I did during the campaign include attending the Iowa County central committee meetings, donating what I could afford to candidates, placing campaign signs at home and in our area, discussing the ballot with friends and family, attending a couple of events, and holding one event at the library. I was more active than I thought I would be.

The eclipse is ongoing as I hit the publish button and head upstairs to shower. I signed up as a poll watcher after no one else in our precinct did. It is going to be a long day. I’m hoping for a quiet day in which I can get a lot of reading done. To conserve battery life, I’ll keep my mobile device mostly turned off.

If you are reading this and haven’t voted, the polls are open Nov. 8 until 8 p.m. in Iowa: go vote.