On the state park trail.

I spent a fair amount of Tuesday revisiting the outline of my autobiography. It quickly came into perspective. There will be multiple sections with each drawing on different parts of my life story.

After the dedication and introduction I currently see the following parts.

Part I: Background

It will begin with four historical pieces about Lincoln County, Minnesota; the area around LaSalle, Illinois; Wise County, Virginia; and Davenport, Iowa in 1951. I spent the most time last winter drafting these sections. They each need more work.

Part II: Main Narrative

Next will be a high level narrative of my life from birth until the present. In it I’ll cover the main stories on a time line, from my perspective. I’ll leave out personal information of people who are still living.

This part is subdivided into sections: 1. From earliest memories, moving to Madison Street, school, and my eleven-year residence at the American Foursquare in Northwest Davenport. 2. Begins with college, a trip to Europe in 1974, military service, moving to Iowa City, graduate school, and then marriage. 3. I begin what would become a career in transportation and logistics in 1984. I follow my career from the move to Cedar Rapids; to Merrillville, Indiana; and then back to Big Grove Township where we now live. 4. Next comes our daughter finishing grade and high school, going to college, and then moving from Iowa. 5. Finally, there is empty nest life, community engagement, my first retirement from transportation and logistics, continuing work until the coronavirus pandemic, and the post-work life in which I now find myself. The idea of these sections is to lay out the bare bones of how I spent my life. To research and get the story down.

Part III: Collected Writing

The last part of the autobiography will be a collection of my writing from letters to the editor beginning in 1974, and including resumes, poetry, published writing, journal writing, newspaper writing, and blog writing. The focus will be to reduce the quantity of written work to inform the narrative presented in the second section.

The clarity that came from spending time away from writing as I worked on the garden was a welcome surprise. The outline is not finished. A few days work remains and I’m ready to do it. After that it’s back to writing.


Toward Season’s End

Thistle near the state park trail.

Just like that! Temperatures are cooler. It has been in the mid-fifties overnight, with a daily high in the seventies. The shift toward season’s end is happening. Ready or not, here it comes.

This winter I’m again planning to devote significant time to my autobiography. I wrote good pages last winter and would like to move the narrative along. If I learned anything it’s that the task is monumental. Without organization, I’ll never finish.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m upgrading my computer CPU to a new one. As I do so, I’ve been going through countless files to see what is relevant to an autobiography. I printed a few things out. The more I look, the more files I find that can be permanently deleted. A person only has so much time to spend with old things that depart from the narrative that is to be preserved. Best to purge it now and get it done.

I resisted going through all the physical objects last winter. The boxes, albums, photographs, files, books, clothing and trunks are everywhere and need to be gleaned for relevant artifacts. Maybe I’ll spend time on that this year. If I do, the idea is to organize things chronologically instead of thematically. That mean busting up boxes and folders I once thought went together. As I extract and refine what I’ll use, there will be no going back. I’m okay with that. As I proceed with computer files I’m finding my organizational process was more a hodge-podge than orderly.

I stopped work on the autobiography mid February as my attention turned to the garden. If I repeat the cycle, I should be able to get a solid five or six months work done. The document on which I’d first like to make progress is called the “book tree.” It’s an outline of how I currently see the narrative progressing. There is a month or more work improving it. In the end it will make writing the narrative easier. Last winter I got addicted to word count. I need to let go of that for the moment and focus on what will be the story. That’s honest, journeyman work to which I look forward.

There are still things to do in the yard and garden. With the hot, humid weather I delayed until there is no more delaying. The grass is turning green and needs mowing. Before I do that I have to clear what became a weed patch upon which to place the clippings. I also have to pick a plot to plant garlic in four or five weeks. By the way, the garlic came in really good this year.

I don’t know how long the autobiography will take. What I expect is it will make life easier for whoever takes charge of my stuff when I’m gone, if for no other reason than that there will be less of it. I cling to the present life yet realize I need to let go. Upgrading my CPU is as good a metaphor as any for that.

Living in Society

Labor Day 2021

Labor Day weekend work: preserving Guajillo chilies.

For the second year in a row I’m not employed on Labor Day. The kinds of events marking the day are not the same as they were.

An announcement on the Iowa Labor News website read, “Most of the Union sponsored Labor Day events around Iowa have been cancelled, for safety reasons.”

“Safety reasons” refers to the coronavirus pandemic, which is not over, which has no end in sight. “The virus is here to stay,” Governor Kim Reynolds said at a Sept. 2 news conference. “Which means we have to find a way to live with it in a responsible, balanced and sustainable way.” There is no going back to the way things were before the coronavirus came along on Labor Day or on any day.

It’s been 48 years since I carried a union card at a meat packing plant. Since then, private business restructured to minimize its exposure to a unionized workforce. I’m not sure what Labor Day represents any longer. It sure isn’t about unions even if they are the groups most likely to plan events during better times.

Locally grown Honeycrisp apples.

This weekend the orchard began its Honeycrisp apple season, the university had a Saturday home football game, and there is a Labor Day Vendors Market in nearby Mount Vernon. It’s not much considering how many people work for a living. This year’s Labor Day Mayor’s Bike Ride in Cedar Rapids has been cancelled due to the pandemic. Suffice it Monday is a holiday and the weekend can be a time to take it easy.

Labor Day weekend is the “unofficial end of summer.” That’s going to have to do. Since I returned from a trip to Florida at the beginning of July the weather has been exceedingly hot and humid. Sunday morning’s ambient temperature was 59 degrees, reminding us of autumn’s approach. Sumac along the state park trail has begun to change color. There are signs of the end of summer all around.

In February I bought a new CPU to replace the one I’ve been using since 2013. This Labor Day weekend I hope to get it up and running, with files transferred. I face the same issue as in the past: what files do I want to keep? Ready or not, change has come and it’s time to decide. Like with the Labor Day holiday I must act like there is no going back. What is hard is deciding whether that means keeping old behavior or developing new. For now, I plan to work at home on Labor Day.

Living in Society Writing

Postcards from Iowa #4

Text on the postcard: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH is coming your way! To find out when, and much, much more, visit www ringling com MAY ALL YOUR DAYS BE CIRCUS DAYS!

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was a mainstay of my youth. Each year they came to Davenport, usually at the levee of the Mississippi River, to put on the Greatest Show on Earth.

A biography of the Ringling Brothers was one of the first books I checked out from the bookmobile after getting my library card. It was interesting four of the Ringling brothers were born in McGregor, Iowa. They inspired us to put on our own show in the backyard of the American Foursquare my parents bought in 1959.

The circus influenced my decision to be part of the high school stage crew where I could participate in putting on shows.

The days of circuses are ending and Ringling Brothers folded the tents for the last time on May 21, 2017. It was a really big deal when the circus came to town… until they no longer did.

Kitchen Garden

Retro Post: Pepper Flakes

Serrano Peppers

First published on Nov. 7, 2010 on my blog Big Grove Garden.

Pepper Flakes

There is a natural urge to use everything. It gets suppressed by the modern American culture of throwing things away. In our house we often don’t have trash to take to the curb each week, but almost always have recycling to go out. American frugality has been in remission, but expect a comeback.

While working in transportation, I received a gift of some dried peppers in small plastic bags. Two bags have been sitting in the pantry for a while. In addition, I grew a long, thin and red pepper in the garden a few seasons ago. Some of these were dried and stored. In the box store yesterday, in the Mexican food section there were four feet of dried peppers in many different kinds. They were cheap and I bought two bags of the most abundant types. When I got home, I combined all of them and ground about half into pepper flakes. The one jar this produced will last a very long time. When I grind the second batch, it will go into small jars for gifts.

The challenge of American society will be to balance abundance with frugality. Waste not, want not is how it goes. I am afraid that we have not been understanding what we have been wasting, and it’s time we did.

Living in Society

T for Texas, I for Iowa

Wild sumac leaves.

My trips to Texas have been entirely business related. I can’t say how many times I’ve been there but since 1984, when I began my work in transportation, maybe a couple dozen times. I may also have stopped over in Dallas on a flight from time to time. I am familiar with the skyline in the approach to DFW airport.

I wouldn’t want to live in Texas.

It is a land of uneducated people and many are proud of the fact. Texans I’ve known were both religious and hypocritical, always in things for themselves or not at all. Thievery was accepted if a person got something out of it and got away with it. Racism was common among people I met. There was a deep-seated hatred for black people treated equally by the federal government. Treatment by the government was a particular catalyst for conversations about injustice to white people. Hispanics? They were needed for labor whether they were documented or not. Hispanics were a permanent underclass during my travels. When I say “uneducated” I’m referring to white folks.

Don’t get me started on the treatment of women. Texas SB8 bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, before most women know they are pregnant. No exceptions for rape or incest, just bear the child. If you are 11 years old and can’t get a driver’s license, just bear the child. Got a medical problem during pregnancy? Just bear the child. Naturally, the man’s role in a pregnancy is seldom mentioned. The U.S. Supreme Court decided not to stay the law as it is litigated through the court system, effectively ending a woman’s right to choose in the state. The court’s decision was a step too far even for Chief Justice John Roberts who was responsible for gutting Texan Lyndon Johnson’s Voting Rights Act of 1965.

It’s well reported in the national news Texas Senator Ted Cruz placed a hold on President Biden’s state department and foreign service nominees needing confirmation by the U.S. Senate. It has to do with Biden lifting sanctions on the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Oil and gas has played heavily in Texas politics since before LBJ was elected to the U.S. Senate. How different would our last days in Afghanistan have been if State was fully staffed with permanent people?

I’m not saying Iowa is much better than Texas. It’s not. Since the Republican Party went off the rails after the re-election of Terry Branstad in 2010 it’s gotten worse here with each legislative session. It won’t be long before Iowa clones Texas SB8, although there is a sticky problem with the Iowa Supreme Court decision in 2018 which said Iowa women have a fundamental right to an abortion according to the Iowa constitution. A news person I know said, “It’s pretty clear that anti abortion organizations feel this is their moment, so the pressure will be there (to pass a law similar to SB8).”

We don’t grow cotton in Iowa yet our approach to controlling agricultural pests is similar: spray them with chemicals until they die. About the best thing I can say about Iowa compared to Texas is we don’t have tumbleweeds here. We have a government controlled by Republicans who say they reflect what people want. I haven’t met many of those people in 60 years living here.

I retain some hope for Iowa. We’ll see how the 2022 election goes before going too negative. Suffice it I have no reason to travel to Texas anytime soon. Not even for a visit to the popular festival, the rattlesnake roundup. We have our own snakes in Iowa. They need to be voted out of office.

Kitchen Garden

Pepper Time

Variety of garden peppers.

As we turn toward autumn tomatoes are finishing and peppers are coming on strong. I put up a lot of tomato product and am well-prepared to make it until next August. There is always a question of what to do with peppers. This year there are some new ideas.

Pickled jalapenos and hot sauce are traditional. I’ll also grind up what remains of hot peppers and mix it with salt and apple cider vinegar to use in lieu of fresh peppers in cooking. This worked last year so a repeat is in order.

Hot sauce and pickled jalapeno peppers.

I am backlogged with dehydrated hot peppers so no more this year. The main use is to grind for red pepper flakes. I have plenty on hand. I will re-hydrate the old ones next spring and use them to deter pests in the garden.

I grew Guajillo chili plants. The yield wasn’t what I hoped but will roast what there is, skin and coarsely chop them, and mix with apple cider vinegar, salt and garlic to use in Mexican-style cooking. I buy a commercially prepared version of this, so the idea has been in the works for a while.

Bell peppers will be cleaned, sliced in half and frozen in zip top bags. I don’t need many of these as there are some remaining from last year. The main use for bell peppers is for an afternoon snack. At two per day I could make it well into September with fresh ones for out of hand eating and cooking.

Arrival of pepper time also means the end of the garden is near. It’s hard to believe we’re already at that point in the growing cycle.

Living in Society

Change for Iowa’s Second Congressional District

Rural Polling Place

Each day it becomes clearer electing Mariannette Miller-Meeks to the Congress was a mistake. Instead of supporting the president’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, on Aug. 26 she posted this partisan comment to her twitter account, “Joe Biden’s withdrawal of Afghanistan has been a failure and has ended with needless deaths and injuries. Joe Biden should resign as Commander-In-Chief!”

She expanded her view in her weekly newsletter. Thus far, Joe Biden is Teflon to her spam, paying little attention to her or any Republican criticisms. Biden did right by ending the war in Afghanistan.

The problem with Miller-Meeks is not the partisan sniping. She is not voting in the best interests of residents of her district. She voted against almost all of the bills designed to bring the country back from the brink of financial ruin and a catastrophic pandemic. The complete list of her no votes since being sworn in last January is pretty long, but here is a partial one: HR3684 Invest in America; HR1319 COVID Relief Act/American Rescue Plan; HR1280 George Floyd Justice in Policing Act; HR1 For the People Act; and HR5 Equality Act.

Replacing Miller-Meeks with a less partisan member of congress who is willing to work for Iowans will not be a cake walk. Redistricting of the congressional districts lies ahead and while Iowa’s Legislative Services Agency, which draws the initial maps, is non-partisan, there could be changes in the political climate based on how LSA adjusts for population change reported by the last U.S. Census.

If we look at ten years of voting history in the current district, it’s clear a Democrat could win back this seat. Once the new map is created we’ll have to take another look. Luckily the Iowa Secretary of State has good data, down to the precinct level on the five congressional elections since the last redistricting in 2011. Another look based on new district organization is possible.

2nd DistrictRepublicanDemocratUnder voteTotal
Congressional election results in Iowa’s Second Congressional District.

Of the 24 counties in the current Second District, four are solidly Democratic (Clinton, Jefferson, Johnson and Scott). Five flipped from Democratic to Republican in 2020 (Cedar, Des Moines, Lee, Muscatine and Wapello), and the other 15 voted consistently Republican. Republicans were aided by the decision of Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate to mail every voter an absentee ballot request form because of the coronavirus pandemic. In my view, this was a key factor in the Republican success in 2020.

Looking at the table, what stands out is “midterm drop off.” More people vote when there is a presidential race and the number of voters invariably drops off during the following midterm election. In addition, during the 2012, 2016 and 2020 elections there were significantly more under votes than in midterm elections in 2014 and 2018. That means a significant number of voters cast a ballot for president but didn’t bother to do so in the congressional race. People who are general election voters only are easily identifiable in the voter databases used by both Republicans and Democrats to conduct campaigns.

The key point about midterm drop off is that during the 2018 midterm, Democratic drop off was 14 percent, compared to 32 percent in 2014. I submit the primary cause of better voter turnout among Democrats in 2018 was having Donald Trump in the White House. He was a motivator for Democrats to turn out. That may also be the case for Republicans yet their midterm drop off in 2018 was 22 percent compared to 20 percent in 2014. The meaning is clear.

If Democrats continue to be highly motivated to vote in 2022, reducing midterm drop off, it could give them the votes needed to defeat Miller-Meeks. Without Trump on the ballot, Republicans would be expected to continue to experience midterm drop off similar to 2014 and 2018 or about 21 percent. These numbers should be re-calculated after redistricting but it is hopeful for Democratic prospects in this increasingly Republican district.

The Iowa Democratic Party studied feedback from the failures of 2020 and shared publicly two things that need to be done to win back seats in the Iowa legislature: centralized fundraising for candidates and year around political organizing staff. I have no comment about the former. Hiring permanent staff is a blessing and a curse. If staff can stay focused on 2022 and organize to get out Democratic voters the way we did in 2018, it will be worth it.

If you want to check my numbers, there is more information in the election data which is available at the Iowa Secretary of State website.

Christina Bohannan was endorsed by former Congressman Dave Loebsack on Monday. That means Bohannan is the establishment candidate in a state where establishment candidates usually win if there is a primary. How the congressional campaign organizes is important. What matters more is motivating Democrats to turn up at the polls and vote the whole ballot. Not only will that give us a fighting chance to take back the congressional seat, but will help in races up and down the ballot.

That’s the kind of political change we need.


Book Review: The Hidden History of American Healthcare

In The Hidden History of American Healthcare: Why Sickness Bankrupts You and Makes Others Insanely Rich, author Thom Hartmann returns to familiar themes of greed, racism and oligarchic corruption. He applies them to a system of healthcare that profits the wealthy and provides marginal healthcare to Americans. A proponent of Medicare for all, Hartmann dives into what’s wrong with American for-profit healthcare and how changing it to a single payer system would be better for citizens.

Describing the overall theme of the series of Hidden History books, Hartmann lays out the challenge:

Americans must now prepare politically for 2024, and that starts by picking candidates and promoting policies that will beat oligarchy at both the presidential and congressional levels.

But most urgently, the entire country must laser-focus on stripping the oligarchic and fascistic elements that have crept into our republic since the Powell Memo, multiple Supreme Court interventions, and the Patriot Act with the war crimes and torture it has already facilitated.

Preface, The Hidden History of American Healthcare by Thom Hartmann

Anyone who bought health insurance through an employer or privately knows the issues with the American system: health insurance premiums are expensive and subject to high annual increases; there are co-pays that vary depending upon what type of coverage is purchased; preexisting conditions affect premium amount and can exclude people from some types of coverage; rather than visit a clinic close to home, an insured must visit medical professionals within the network of the insurance company or face higher costs. This system led to health care costs representing 24 percent of GDP. Countries like Taiwan have a healthcare cost of six percent of GDP, according to Hartmann.

Thom Hartmann

There is a better, less expensive way of providing healthcare. The trouble is, Hartmann said, “(it) would cut off the hundred of millions of dollars that health care industry executives take home every month.”

Hartmann seeks to put healthcare into historical context. He recounts the first single-payer healthcare system in 1884 Germany. He takes us through the creation of Medicare from John F. Kennedy’s initial proposal to passage into law under LBJ, and through the Republican dissent over the program. Hartmann describes Republican efforts to privatize Medicare through what is called Medicare Advantage implemented by President George W. Bush. That section of the book alone makes it worth the reading.

Like previous books in the series, Hartmann’s book is readable and familiar. It is divided into four sections: How bad things are in America regarding healthcare; the origins of America’s sickness-for-profit system; the modern fight for a human right to healthcare; and saving lives with a real healthcare system. The last section proposes solutions to our healthcare system problems.

The Hidden History of Healthcare in America takes us through the history to make the critical point: “It is time for America to join every industrialized country in the world and make health a right, not a privilege.”

Because the subject of the book is so familiar, it renders a complicated process to bare essentials with concrete proposals for action to fix the healthcare system. I highly recommend the book, which is scheduled to be released Sept. 7, 2021.

~ Written for and first published at Blog for Iowa.


Book Review: Equity

The challenge of creating work places that have inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility is everywhere. In her new book, Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives, Minal Bopaiah outlines how to turn lip-service about equity into a real world success story.

“Equality is when everyone has the same thing,” Bopaiah said. “Equity is when everyone has what they need to thrive and participate fully. Equity does not fault people for being different; it makes room for difference and then leverages it.”

The book covers a range of organizations, including for-profit companies and non-profit, non-governmental organizations. She has experience with both and leverages it to strip away buzzwords and conventions often used by management consultants. She reduces the narrative to easily understandable, succinct, and usable language.

Bopaiah introduces us to leaders who have overcome obstacles to equity and led transformative change: 

Minal Bopaiah
  • Managing partners at a consulting firm who learn to retell their story of success by crediting the system that supports them. 
  • News managers at National Public Radio who discover how they can create systemic support for diversifying sources on the air. 
  • A philanthropic foundation that collaborates with grantees to better communicate the importance of equity in healthcare to policy-makers. 
  • And creative professionals who have begun weaving inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility into the content they create, thereby transforming how customers and audiences view the world.

As a person who spent a career in business with a company experiencing dramatic growth, I found Bopaiah’s discussion of the myth of “rugged individualism” particularly engaging. She defines rugged individualism as “the belief that individuals are independent and unaffected by the system, time, or context in which they live and that their success is the sole result of their hard work and no other factors.”

One truth about organizations, businesses, and society more generally is the “system” can have a tremendous effect on dividing people and promoting more privileged members among them. As Bopaiah wrote regarding her Indian-American parents, the myth of rugged individualism can cast us “as characters in some kind of Horatio Alger tale in which the world is fair and everyone can succeed if they work hard enough.” Our systems favor the rich and privileged. Bopaiah’s concept of equity provides a way to address what can be a false narrative that suppresses an individual’s ability to participate in an organization equally with others.

Time spent reading Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives will pay dividends in understanding how organizations in which we participate can be better through inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. It is a fast read and moves along quickly to key points of Bopaiah’s narrative. Highly recommended for its brevity and focus.

Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives is scheduled for release on Sept. 7, 2021.

Don’t have time to read Equity? Here’s a brief video in which Bopaiah explains one of the basic concepts of the book, IDEA: Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility.

Minal Bopaiah is the author of Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives. She is the founder of Brevity & Wita strategy + design firm that combines human-centered design, behavior change science and the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility to help organizations transform themselves and the world. Bopaiah has written for the Stanford Social Innovation Review and The Hill and has been a featured guest on numerous podcasts and shows. She has also been a keynote speaker for many conferences, inspiring thousands with her credible, authentic, and engaging talks. For more information, please visit