November Trail Walking

Lake Macbride State Park trail, Nov. 21, 2021.

Days of the week have been differentiated. Defining a “week” with no work outside home seems essential to emerging from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Where are we on the pandemic?

According to CDC, less than 10 people died of COVID-19 in our county during the last seven day period. The actual numbers were “suppressed” on their website. The rate of admission to hospitals for COVID-19 is three per day for the same period. Our county has a high level of community transmission of the virus compared to most other counties in Iowa which are described as “substantial.” The percentage of positive tests for COVID-19 is on an upswing and expected to get worse as the end of year holidays are upon us. The county health department encourages us to get vaccinated if we aren’t, and to get a booster shot before December if we are eligible. The vaccine is available on a walk-in basis at pharmacies. We appear to have reached a period of stasis in the pandemic.

Some days of the week are better defined than others. Mondays are about catching up on desk work and starting new projects. Wednesdays are for shopping in person if needed. Fridays are for finishing up the week’s work, and the weekend is back to being the weekend with less travel and most activities occurring at home. Without effort on my part days would have continued to blend into an endless series of indistinguishable sunrises and sunsets. It is important to impose structure on our lives, so I have.

Every day I attempt to exercise. Of late, most of it was walking on the state park trail. When we chose to build our home here, proximity to the state park was an attractive feature. Not only is the trail well-maintained, the abundance of wildlife can be astounding. Waterfowl and birds alone are a constant source of wonder. The point is the exercise, though, and the trail serves.

We don’t know if or when the coronavirus pandemic will end. What you see is what you get, I suppose. Maybe it is over and we just haven’t said so. I plan to continue to wear a mask in public, especially when shopping, long after the threat of COVID-19 has diminished. There are plenty of other colds, viruses and contagions to avoid. If this is an eccentricity of the elderly, then so be it. I embrace it. I’m at a point where I don’t care that much how people view my appearance. I do want to fit in when in social settings, but there are lines to be drawn. I have plenty of N-95 masks.

The weather has been delightful this fall, with more temperate, clear days than we deserve. I’m planning to hike the trail again today, partly for the exercise, and partly to see the activity of a society of people and wildlife in transition. Here’s hoping there is change for the better.


Writing About Politics

Iowa City political event during the 2010 campaign. Note U.S. flag incorrectly displayed. We fixed it before the event began.

Voting and politics have been part of my life since the earliest days. I remember discussing Dwight Eisenhower with my parents. He was a Republican and we didn’t like him for that. When he started building the Interstate Highway System, it had a direct impact on our lives. We revised our position to say he wasn’t so bad and looked forward to cutting down the time it took to drive to my aunt and uncle’s home in Nashville, Tennessee.

Harry Truman was president when I was born. I have no memory of him in that role. I recall seeing news footage of Truman taking a walk from his retirement home in Independence, Missouri. Mostly, I reference his memoirs to see what he had to say about decisions he made as president. I’ve read the passage about his decision to drop the atomic bomb several times.

Father campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960. He had mimeographed canvass sheets he got at the union hall and diligently filled in the names of everyone on our block and how they would vote. When he finished our block, he worked on nearby ones. Kennedy lost Iowa to Richard Nixon and, as we know, won the general election.

The 1964 election of Lyndon B. Johnson framed the way I thought Democrats should govern. LBJ had a big majority in the legislature and was able to pass legislation. In his book The Vantage Point: Perspectives of the Presidency 1963-1969 he listed them inside the front cover. It’s a long list. If his political legacy is tainted by the war in Vietnam, it is dominated by many policies and legislation that changed the United States for the better. I was shocked when Hubert Humphrey failed to win the 1968 election as I felt he was cut in the LBJ mold and would be a great successor. Nixon beat Humphrey 301-191 in the Electoral College. It wasn’t even close.

I have nothing good to say about the Nixon years. 1972 was the first year I was eligible to vote and I don’t recall if I did vote for George McGovern. I remember some confusion about whether I could vote in Iowa City, where I attended university, or whether I had to vote at home. I recently wrote about the 1972 election and McGovern here. Nixon was a liar and it was with a sigh of relief I welcomed his resignation in 1974. I didn’t care who was president. Gerald Ford? Fine.

I didn’t vote in the 1976 election as I was engaged in military training. We were rid of Nixon, so I didn’t much care who was elected. My thinking was “America, figure it out.” From my perch in Mainz, West Germany I thought Carter was doing an okay job. I felt he was unjustly criticized for lack of support for the military when I saw the results of his policy and spending not far from my caserne. During a major field exercise in which I participated, our commanding officer would travel back to the states each week to provide an update to the White House. I saw some of the ideas we discussed in a tent in Germany turned into policy in Washington. It was a heady feeling.

Reagan was the beginning of the decline of America’s greatness with its focus on reducing the power of the central government, favoring the rich. Maybe we were just receiving a comeuppance after the LBJ years. The Reagan administration began overturning reforms of the New Deal, something that would persist with every subsequent Republican president. Each played a role in dismantling the social fabric we had come to depend upon. The years since then left us with with hyper-partisanship and a flow of wealth to a small percentage of people.

My early years, through exiting the military in 1979, were formative. It would be difficult to write about the politics as a separate topic in an autobiography. The challenge is to incorporate these stories in the flow of the book without having them dominate. Figuring this out is where I am this Monday morning.

Living in Society

Laying Low

Sunrise Over Lake Macbride

It is a weird, in-between time in Big Grove Township. Since the beginning of the pandemic it’s been quiet. As people turn inward to family and friends for the end of year holidays it is quieter still.

Quiet is good. We need it to have a belief the world remains malleable. That it is possible to step into society anew. That reason will prevail. I need to have hope. Quiet helps yet it is not enough.

I hiked on the state park trail to the sound of weapons discharge. The season is ducks, geese and other waterfowl. I couldn’t tell the distance yet the shots sounded like they were coming from the reservoir or the Iowa River. I have not been a hunter, although I understand the interest in getting together with friends and doing things outdoors. Being in the military was the closest I had to what hunters experience. Live and let live, I say. That is, except for the geese and other wildlife.

I went to the orchard to get Gold Rush apples. The owner was there and we chatted about the new Iowa house district. We’re not sure how things will shake out, what with the eclipsing of reason by something akin to emotional ranting. In addition to being a long way from most towns in Iowa County, there are only 2,490 Democrats out of 10,783 registered voters there. If we are to win the district, the votes will have to come from Johnson County. I’m laying low on politics until I get the lay of the land in the new district. In addition to Gold Rush, I bought Honeycrisp and Golden Russet. The orchard had an overall great year, the best ever he said.

Jennifer Rubin wrote an article for the Washington Post titled, “It’s not ‘polarization.’ We suffer from Republican radicalization.” In it she writes,

While it’s true that the country is more deeply divided along partisan lines than it has been in the past, it is wrong to suggest a symmetrical devolution into irrational hatred. The polarization argument too often treats both sides as equally worthy of blame, characterizing the problem as a sort of free-floating affliction (e.g., “lack of trust”). This blurs the distinction between a Democratic Party that is marginally more progressive in policy positions than it was a decade ago, and a Republican Party that routinely lies, courts violence and seeks to define America as a White Christian nation.

Washington Post, Nov. 18, 2021, Jennifer Rubin.

I don’t know if this will blow over. I don’t think it will. Yet I’m going to lay low until we figure out an approach to resolving the problems. I believe reason will prevail, although reason is on the ropes at present and needs our help. There is no roadmap of which I’m aware. There was a bumper crop of apples, though.

Kitchen Garden

Postcards from Iowa #14

Reverse side: Stella Marrs, P.O. Box 2273, Olympia, WA 98507.

I plugged in the grow light for the first time since summer to move a flat of Ajuga plants indoors. We reclaimed them from the yard, where they spread and spread, all the way down to the drainage ditch. We transferred them from my father-in-law’s home before he died in the 1990s. At the nursery Ajuga plants are quite expensive, maybe $6 per pot. We’ll have plenty at no cost but our labor if we take care of them. They grow like weeds.

On Thanksgiving I plan to lay out the 2022 garden and prepare the first seed order. Second seed order, actually, as I already have the onions and shallots to start in late December. I hope to clear the dining room table and sit down to consider what seeds we have and what we want to grow in consultation with my spouse. It could be a family tradition, one that means something special. We’ll see how it goes as I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

We are not big on year-end holidays and usually spend them by ourselves. Once we make that decision each year, everything hinges on how we feel. There is a slate of phone calls, emails and the like. Being a vegetarian household, the deer, geese and wild turkeys are safe from us as the meat culture is absent. Most people would call what we eat “side dishes.” At a point long ago we reviewed the nutritional values and found we had a well-balanced, if nontraditional Thanksgiving meal.

I don’t know where I got this postcard yet I like it. I do garden organically, although I gave in and started using composted chicken manure as fertilizer. It improved the yield. I don’t use manufactured herbicides or insecticides, organic ones work fine. I get organic seeds when I can find them. To see the face of the farmer, I look in a mirror.

Friday morning there was a partial eclipse of the full moon. It looked awesome set in a bed of bright stars. I couldn’t get a decently framed photo so I didn’t take any. Memory will have to serve.

We have provisioned up for Thanksgiving and have everything we need. If the orchard releases Gold Rush apples today, I’ll go get some along with a half gallon of cider. If the Gold Rush are not available, I’ll stay home and make my own cider for Thanksgiving. I saved enough garden apples in case I needed them.

With the holiday season upon us, the rush to year’s end has begun. 2021 is almost over and we are ready to begin again. I’m here for that. I’m looking forward to another gardening year.


What Will It Take on Climate Change?

Earthrise, Dec. 24, 1968

The 26th Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Scotland seemed like a dud. My friend Rob Hogg corrected me on Twitter, posting:

So there were some positive developments. I’m reminded that zero countries is the number living up to their 2015 commitments to reduce greenhouse gases at COP 21 in Paris, France. It is difficult to let go the negativity when it comes to our collective lack of action on climate change.

On a video call a friend asked if we had installed solar panels to generate electricity for our home. I know our financial condition well enough to say it is unlikely we will because of the up front capital expense. We are doing okay financially yet know our limits.

“When it comes to climate change, we can’t afford to go backward—or even stay where we are,” former president Barack Obama said. “If we are going to act on the scale that’s required to combat this climate crisis, we all need to step up and meet this moment together.”

What does “together” mean? It means governments and a select group of non-governmental organizations and rich people that have the means to address climate change at scale. Behind Obama’s statement is the assumption we live in a democracy. Increasingly, we don’t, as floods of dark money buy our government, including the court system. An individual’s local actions matter, yet they are not enough, especially if one is the only person on the block generating electricity from solar panels.

Former Vice President Al Gore weighed in on COP 26:

Statement from Former US Vice President Al Gore on the Outcome of COP 26

“The Glasgow Climate Pact and the pledges made at COP 26 move the global community forward in our urgent work to address the climate crisis and limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, but we know this progress, while meaningful, is not enough. We must move faster to deliver a just transition away from fossil fuels and toward a cleaner and more equitable future for our planet.

The progress achieved in the lead-up to and at COP 26 was only possible because of the power of people – young and old – using their voices to demand action.

Thanks to that advocacy, for the first time in 26 negotiations, leaders at COP 26 agreed to language that calls for a phase down of coal power and fossil fuel subsidies – a critically important step forward. Even more important, the deal significantly accelerates the timeline for nations to revisit and strengthen their net zero goals, calling for updates from every nation by the end of next year and a global convening by the UN Secretary General in 2023 to focus on more ambitious goals for cutting emissions dramatically by 2030. But despite that progress, there is much more that must be done – especially to deliver meaningful climate finance for both mitigation and adaptation to developing nations.

Ultimately, the outcome of COP 26 shows us that it has never been more important to hold our leaders accountable to their words and pledges. Advocates for climate action cannot – and must not – let up.

Six years ago, the Paris Agreement set a clear direction of travel that is moving the world away from greenhouse gas pollution and toward a sustainable future. The deal reached at COP 26 reflects the progress we’ve made in the intervening years and shows that the global community of nations is now in agreement that the era of inaction on the climate crisis must come to a swift end.”

Now is the time for government leaders, policymakers, business leaders, consumers, and activists in every nation to redouble their efforts and use the Glasgow Climate Pact as a springboard from which to drive bold action that will keep the goals of the Paris Agreement alive.”

Al Gore, Nov. 13, 2021, The Climate Reality Project.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the scale of the climate change problem. It is a problem, although against all reasonable efforts to educate, even that is in question for many people.

I wrote to my federal elected officials about how climate change impacted my life. I heard back from Rep. Miller-Meeks and Senator Grassley and am assessing their responses. I’m using my voice to raise the issue with my federal elected officials. Their response falls flat.

We have the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. That seems certain. Yet a society that is interested in supporting the richest among us more than taking care of each other is morally bankrupt.

The latest revelations about the Trump administration’s efforts to manipulate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic are evidence that the highest office in government was willing to use mass-death as a political weapon at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. What kind of human can support that? Yet Trump flags fly unabated in our neighborhood. It is clear the previous administration was going to do nothing about the climate crisis. If they get back in office after the 2024 elections, they will set about undoing what Biden got started to address climate change and more.

In this context it is important to ask, “What will it take on climate change?” From these quotations and more, we know it will take action on a scale only governments can provide. Yet we can’t be reduced to helping political candidates we favor get elected. There is something more at stake. Regardless who holds political office, governments must act on climate change. There will come a time, and soon, when it will become obvious to even the most prominent naysayers we have to act. So we keep plugging away and hope we are not already too late.

Kitchen Garden Sustainability

Going Home — Local Food

Garden April 20, 2020

Like most people, I want a decent meal when it is time to eat. In 2012, I launched a major study of the local food scene and was not disappointed in the results coming into and out of our kitchen. By working at a number of farms, growing and expanding our home garden, and participating in legislative advocacy, I learned so much about where food originates and conditions which engender growth of a variety of fruit and vegetables.

The impact of local food systems on our home life reached its peak in development of the kitchen garden idea. Now that the work is finished, I have less interest in writing regularly about food. It is an assumed part of a background against which I pursue other interests. I’ve learned what it means to know the face of the farmer. I maintain an interest in doing so. I just won’t write about it as often. Mainly, others are doing a better job of writing about our food system.

Food is basic to a life. It is not the most important thing. I am glad for the work I did, yet I feel it is finished. It is time to concentrate on more important aspects of life. It is time to keep a focus on life closer to home.


Carbon Capture & Sequestration References

Field Corn

Like it or not, Iowa Republicans have hoodwinked us into a carbon capture and sequestration method of addressing the climate crisis. It is common sense that hooking a polluting ethanol plant, coal-fired electricity generating station, or a propane grain drying operation to a mechanism for carbon capture does nothing to address the root cause of pollution. Nonetheless, here we go.

On June 22, 2021, Governor Kim Reynolds “signed Executive Order 9 launching a task force to explore carbon sequestration and the opportunities it presents for further economic development in the state of Iowa,” according to a press release.

Because of our existing supply chain and emphasis on renewable fuel infrastructure, Iowa is in a strong position to capitalize on the growing nationwide demand for a more carbon free economy. Iowa is a recognized leader in renewable fuel and food production, and this is another opportunity to lead and be innovative, invest in Iowa agriculture, and facilitate new sources of revenue for our agriculture and energy sectors. I am proud to bring together an impressive team of stakeholders that will help formulate smart, commonsense policy recommendations on this issue ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

Governor Kim Reynolds on June 22, 2021

When we talk about the decarbonization imperative across the global economy, carbon capture and sequestration has only limited use. As is typical of statements from the Iowa governor, there was no mention of the climate crisis in the release.

Having been forced to deal with carbon capture and sequestration as a public issue, advocates need references to understand what it is, its consequences, and risks. Below are some links to get started. Expect this post to be updated as new information is found and becomes available.

Carbon Capture and Storage, Center for International Environmental Law.

What is Carbon Capture and Storage?

The Role of Natural Gas Power Plants with Carbon Capture and Storage in a Low Carbon Future, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage comment to California Air Resources Board, Los Angeles Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The Gassing of Sataria by Dan Zegart, Aug. 26, 2021, HuffPost.

Chevron Concedes Failure at Gorgon.

Summit Carbon Solutions

Public Informational Meetings on the Proposed Summit Carbon Pipeline, Iowa Utilities Board.

Navigator CO2 Ventures LLC.

Public Informational Meetings for Proposed Navigator Pipeline, Iowa Utilities Board.

Bold Iowa

Iowa Sierra Club

Fossil Fuel Industry and Investment in CCS and CCUS.

The Fossil Fuel Industry’s New Rube Goldberg Scheme, Science and Environmental Health Network.

Carbon Capture & Storage: The Facts, Science and Environmental Health Network.

Facts About Carbon Capture and Storage, Sept. 14, 2021, Science and Environmental Health Network.

U.S. House Conservative Climate Caucus

Rational Solutions at COP26, Not Dramatic Alarmism, podcast by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX02)

Landowners: Know Your Rights About Eminent Domain

Iowa Laws and Rules for pipeline construction:

Chapter 9 - Restoration of Agricultural Lands During and After Pipeline Construction
Chapter 479b - Hazardous Liquid Pipelines and Storage Facilities
IUB FAQs on Eminent Domain
IUB Hazardous Pipeline Permitting Process

How to submit an objection with the Iowa Utilities Board: 

Written comments or objections to the proposed pipeline can be filed electronically using the IUB’s Open Docket Comment Form, by email to, or by postal mail to the Iowa Utilities Board, Attn: Docket No. HLP-2021-0003 (Navigator) and/or Docket No. HLP-2021-0001 (Summit) , 1375 E. Court Ave., Des Moines, IA 50319. 


Postcards from Iowa #13

Copyright: Joan Liffring Zug, photographer.

Reverse side: Made by Dexter Press, West Hyack, New York. Published by Mennonite Historical Society of Iowa, Kalona, Ia. 52247. Old Order Amish and conservative Mennonite daughters wear traditional plain homemade dresses familiar throughout 450 years of Anabaptist history. These are the children of a buggy maker living and working near the Kalona Cheese plant of Twin County Dairy, Inc., Highway 1, Kalona, Ia.

Two girls posing for a photographer who had permission to take their picture. There has been more than a little controversy about photographing Mennonites and Old Order Amish. It is permissible with the former, and against views about graven images with the latter. The images are well-circulated.

I used to visit the Twin County Dairy when bicycling from Iowa City. Cycling alone for the exercise, I would stop and buy cheese curds at the dairy. That is, if it were open. Often my trips were predawn when the glow and flicker of kerosene lamps came from house windows and the doors of barns. I no longer travel to Kalona as I learned how to produce almost everything I formerly bought at Stringtown Grocery and other shops scattered in the rural area.

Twin County Dairy, established by a group of Amish and Mennonite farmers as a cooperative in 1946, was shuttered in 2014. Kalona Creamery, a part of Open Gates Business Development Corporation bought it the following year. Their businesses included Kalona Organics®, Kalona Farms, Farmers Creamery, Awesome Refrigerated Transit of Iowa, and Provision Ingredients. I don’t know if they have a retail store that sells cheese curds. Since there is a creamery a few miles from home, I have no need to go and find out.

Author David Rhodes wrote about the area in his novel Rock Island Line. I have a library copy of the first edition, published in 1975. No doubt I bought it at a thrift shop. There is a rubber stamp inside the front cover that reads, “Outdated Removed from Circulation.” Young girls in the Mennonite community and their photographs won’t become outdated any time soon.

Living in Society

Reaching For Status Quo

Voter turnout was high during the recent school board election. The result wasn’t what many had hoped. The election was revealing, just in case we weren’t paying attention during the 2020 general election: conservative voters are rising.

In our school district there were no claims of fraud in the election and almost everyone appears to have accepted the results. One candidate decided to pursue removal of their child from the district after seeing what the electorate had wrought. The simple truth is we live in Iowa and this election result mirrors the state more generally. People have created a life around what they know and don’t want to change. They prefer the status quo.

Change is coming, like it or not because what society is experiencing with extreme weather, agriculture, and work life is not sustainable. The impact for the electorate will be for the majority to further entrench themselves in conservative values. It goes beyond the school board to include religion, women’s rights, agriculture, shopping, coping with this and other infectious disease outbreaks, greenhouse gas emissions, extreme weather, work life, LGBTQ+ rights, the whole shebang. Iowa is in for tough times ahead.

Conservatives I know are good people. The disconnect comes in avoidance of politics in everyday discourse. It is not surprising conservatives feel the litmus test for a candidate is whether or not they approve of abortion. What is surprising is how well this belief is kept hidden and how little people talk about their politics in society. We shouldn’t be surprised when these attitudes show up at the polls.

There is not much to do except go on living. For me that means talking more to neighbors and engaging in community activities as a first priority. I used to work to influence people statewide yet I’m not sure I would do it again.

When I was on the county board of health we addressed the challenges to health of coal-fired power plants with board of health members statewide. I sent a letter to many of them. One chiropractic orthopedist wrote back, “While I can appreciate your immediacy to the proposed power plant, I take exception to the global warming spreading paranoia over an unfounded politically contrived ’emergency.’ We as humans do not control the warming or cooling of the earth. The research is bogus that claims such… In my opinion the global warming paranoia is a Democratic manufactured ploy to simply increase government control of its people.” At least I got him to say what he really means.

I don’t know what “status quo” is other than a good headline. It is malleable, yet people have their limits. There is a lot to do in modern lives and many don’t want to reach much beyond their comfort zone.

To make progress as society, we must.

Living in Society

Can Iowa Democrats Defeat Chuck Grassley?

Senator Grassley in Williamsburg, Iowa. Jan. 12, 2010.

If Democrats repeat the campaign strategy and tactics of the 2020 Theresa Greenfield campaign, we are destined to lose any challenge to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

Greenfield was a good candidate, despite the loss. She had the best advice and raised a lot of money. If Democrats are engaged, we should now understand support from highly paid consultants, combined with stellar fund raising, did not get the job done. A repeat seems futile as we take on the incumbent’s campaign machine.

What makes Grassley so potent a campaigner? He is like a 1949 Ford 8N tractor. He may look old and out of date yet he’s still working, and for his Republican constituents, gets the job done. I attended a couple of his events over the years and he has been well-familiar with the turf everywhere he spoke. He knows the county margin of victory or loss from the most recent election at each town hall. He has deep connections to local Republicans. His campaign staff provides support to state house candidates in the form of analyzing local voter databases and targeting key voters with his folksy direct mail. Whoever is the Democratic nominee will have a lot of catching up to do.

I supported Mike Franken in the 2020 Democratic primary and am inclined to do so again. There are too many shades of Greenfield with Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who could not win reelection to her congressional seat. While Franken served decades in the U.S. Navy away from Iowa, we are at a point where a high level military veteran and Washington insider could best represent our interests as U.S. Senator. There are other Democratic candidates running to beat Grassley. None of them is as strong a candidate as Franken.

Is this an endorsement? Endorsements of baby boomers matter less each election cycle. It is time for my cohort to let go the grip we had on the Iowa Democratic Party. While I’m saddened to see long-time Iowa senators and representatives with whom I worked call it quits, it is time to move on and let the next generation work on campaigns. If successful, they should take the reins of power. Given the shellacking Democrats took in 2020 there is no case for letting old timers run the show.

One might say, “isn’t Franken old?” What matters more than age in the race to beat Chuck Grassley is policy and experience. The only Federal office holders with whom I spent more time than with Mike Franken are Dave Loebsack and Tom Harkin — I know him. Franken is right on policy and his experience is relevant, timely and evident. I don’t know if others will like him, but I do. I believe he could win the seat.

If I have been enamored of a political campaign for the experience alone, that time is past. Like most people I seek a secure, livable future. I believe Iowa Democrats can beat the incumbent if we avoid mistakes of recent campaigns, if we adapt to the times. I believe Franken is here for that.

In the meanwhile, we have a primary next year in which we will have to choose sides. I hate the distraction yet it’s part of the Democratic process. Here’s hoping we can rally around the winner and defeat Chuck Grassley next November. Our chances are better with Mike Franken as our candidate.