Categories
Living in Society

First Library Card

First Library Card, November 1959.

The public library has been important in my life. It began in 1959 at the American Foursquare the first year we moved there. I was in the second grade. The bookmobile made weekly rounds near us, at first to the church parking lot, later to the drug store parking lot at Five Points. I became a regular customer.

Entering from the back, we browsed the stacks, usually Mother and me joined by my sister when she got older. Before there was the Bookmobile I relied on books and magazines Mother gave me for reading.

There were biographies of the Ringling Brothers, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, the Wright Brothers and others which expanded my world. The first thing I checked upon arrival was whether there were any new ones in the series. We enjoyed Dr. Seuss books when they were available, which wasn’t always. All the kids who frequented the Bookmobile liked Dr. Seuss so when they were returned they immediately went back out.

When ready to check out, we made our way to the front, where the driver sat in the same seat he used to drive the Bookmobile. He voice-recorded the check outs into a microphone then we left. It wasn’t my last library experience.

The idea the city had a library, and the economics of one organization buying books that could be shared, was part of understanding cooperation and fair play. It was a lesson learned early in my life, part of getting along in the city.

Today our community of about 6,000 has a great public library. We gave money, built it, and then donated the finished building to the city. The irony is I rarely check out a book there. My main use of the library is to socialize. I check the new book shelves from time to time, use the meeting rooms, donate books, and attend the Friends of the Library used book sale. During the coronavirus pandemic I donated some new puzzles for kids to check out. With the pandemic most library activity ceased. Maybe the library will open again this year or next. I hope so.

I still have memories of the Bookmobile and my blue, hand-typed library card. That sustains me for now.

Categories
Social Commentary

What We Are Not

1940s War Diary, anonymous author.

I came across a war diary from the 1940s. While not sure how it came to be mine, it likely came from a box of odds and ends at an estate auction or from the used book section of a thrift shop. The first entry, tells a story of an Iowan at the time of U.S. entry into World War II:

I’m not much of a writer and don’t suppose I even will be but this isn’t supposed to be a great work of literature but rather a common down to earth story of a common down to earth boy.

Undoubtedly you know him. He is any of those numerous boys who left the farms, villages or cities — the fresh smelling earth of the farms or the clamoring errands of the city — to take up for you and me, the battle of survival between right and wrong.

The boy joined the Army.

Discarded 1940s Iowa Journal, Author unknown

The views reflected in these paragraphs were commonly held.

A single life was the story of broad society. There was a need to record that story in writing. Individual will was suppressed in favor of a greater good. People had an innate ability to understand each other. Right and wrong were easily definable and commonly held views. The relativism that infected our society a couple of decades later is absent and makes the journal entry stand out.

When people speak with gauzy reverence of the generation of men and women who fought World War II, I get a bit nauseous. I knew men and women who participated in the war effort and if you asked them, they wouldn’t want special treatment. Most of them hardly talked about the sacrifices they made or about the war. None of them paraded around in uniforms afterward. If they kept their service uniforms, they were packed away and seldom, if ever, mentioned. Many women worked in domestic defense plants and wore no uniforms. They are often forgotten.

What struck me about this journal entry was its clarity. One notices where the author fit into society. There were shared beliefs and those beliefs were positive and affirming. 21st Century society has no such clarity. It may no longer be possible.

It took a lot to decipher the script yet I think I accurately captured it. I would never write the sentence, “Undoubtedly you know him,” about myself. We’ve become a society where no one seems to know anyone outside a small clique of friends, relatives and co-workers. The idea there are common goals? Just look at U.S. reaction to the coronavirus pandemic to see the absence of a common response. We no longer are common, down to earth people and that’s one source of today’s social problems.

What we are not may define who we should be.

Categories
Writing

Resolved in 2021

Winter wonderland, Jan. 3, 2021.

During the coronavirus pandemic I resolved to make something of the raw material of life, a week at a time, going forward. Not a New Year’s resolution, subject to artificial pressure and expected failure — a structured, new life.

After decades of working jobs, the school years — mine and our daughter’s, political election cycles, and growing seasons, those patterns were blown apart by the pandemic. This year it’s time to put everything back together in a way that creates something familiar yet new.

The endless, unstructured days have been wearing and wearying. My daily routine, with its check list of recurring tasks and framing to accomplish something, is fine. For the first ten months of the pandemic I thought it would soon be over. Today I know it won’t.

I won’t dwell on this long, but American reaction to the virus has been pitiful. While other nations knew and followed protocols needed to stop spread of the coronavirus, our society is not so educated or disciplined. As a result, as of today, more than 20.6 million people contracted COVID-19 and more than 351,000 deaths were attributed to it. The projections are for multiple hundred thousands of additional deaths from COVID-19 before the pandemic is declared over.

Vaccines have been created and approved in record time. That’s good. Our government has done little to organize a distribution network. Last week, vaccine producers reported warehouses full of vaccine that had not entered the distribution pipeline. They were waiting for direction. Not only are Americans pitiful, so is our federal government in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not that hard. Develop a plan to get the vaccine into people’s arms.

Set all the crazy aside, though. If we can’t get our individual house in order, there is little hope of surviving the pandemic, let alone helping family, friends and neighbors who need it.

I want a week back. You know, one with weekends where we do special stuff. Leading up to it would be hard, diligent work for useful purpose. The kind after which we could take it easy for a while… over a weekend. Most of my working life I didn’t have that, so why now? Because it’s possible, and with the pandemic, needed for structure.

I built a weekly schedule to write the first draft of my autobiography by the end of 2021 as a first priority. There are Monday through Friday writing shifts that produce 1,000 words each. On Saturday, that same time of day will be devoted to editing the week’s rushes. Once I’m done with editing, I’ll take the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday off from writing. Sounds simple. It’s made possible thanks to FDR (Social Security) and LBJ (Medicare).

Writing these blog posts is quick. I haven’t counted how many I’ve written but more than 3,000. An autobiography grounded in history will take longer to produce the same number of words. I don’t know how daily writing will be organized, and the research materials are definitely not easily accessible. Figuring all this out is a process and by the end of it, when the first draft is in hand, artifacts will be well organized, I predict. By setting a daily word count goal there is a measure of success.

There is other work to schedule in my work week, not the least of which is working on household projects, gardening, cooking, and eventually returning to social activity and advocacy. All that can wait for the end of winter while I focus on being a writer. I’m resolved some good will come from this project. The end result is made easier to accomplish by having a realistic plan.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Farm Journal #1

Chicken at Sundog Farm

Happy New Year to my friends at Sundog Farm!

Hope everyone is well surviving the coronavirus pandemic. It made 2020 difficult, to say the least. Jacque and I remained virus free, although neighbors on two sides of us caught it and former Solon Mayor Steve Wright died from COVID-19 complications, as you may have heard. The virus is all around us and I’m reluctant to leave the house much.

I’m wrapping up old business and I saw the check from the sweet corn come through on my account this morning. Your sister still hasn’t cashed the $30 check from April for a t-shirt, so if you can give her a nudge on that, I’m not sure how long the bank will continue to cash it. If it doesn’t clear soon, I’ll presume she won’t cash it. Insert snarky comment for her about running a business here:

I’m not sure what I’m doing this coming season. Well, I know some things. When the derecho destroyed my small greenhouse I bought another. I plan to start onions in January using the channel trays I bought from you last year. I also got a heating pad from Johnny’s and may get a grow light. I don’t like having the trays inside for fear mold will form in the room where I put them. I also don’t want to run my space heater in the greenhouse continuously. I think you started onions in the basement. Is that true? If so, when did you start them and at what point did you give them light?

As far as soil blocking, I think the pandemic will remain with us for most of the season so we have to address that. As I may have mentioned, I don’t really like working by myself all the time. It did protect us from each other last year and one hopes the situation is not permanent. Last year I didn’t wear a mask, although I am now the proud owner of five homemade ones and can bring one along and wear it when I’m with people. Since it’s your farm, it is really up to you to tell me what to do. So what I’m saying is I’m open to the idea of a barter exchange in 2021. It’s time to start talking about that, although no particular hurry.

To better use the home time I started a writing project. Hoping to have a first draft done by next year at this time.

Hope you are bunkered in for the snow storm. Supposed to get 5-8 inches, I hear.

Regards, Paul

Categories
Reviews

Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1917. Public Domain Photograph

The copyright of The Great Gatsby expired yesterday and a flurry of news articles spammed the channels. If Gatsby is the great American novel, like the country, it is far from perfect.

It remains a good book to read at the onset of summer, as I did for many years. It takes a certain experience of what summer meant in Midwestern culture to appreciate the book. That culture of my youth faded years ago. I no longer read the book annually although I keep a copy where I can find it.

What impressed me most about F. Scott Fitzgerald was seeing an 8 by 10 photograph of him at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas during a reunion with fellow Army officers. Organizers of the event were attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. The future author of The Great Gatsby was stationed at Leavenworth and the photo commemorated his stay. As we know, Fitzgerald was not a good soldier. He worried he would die in the world war without publishing anything. He later regretted not serving in combat. Such worries being part of what characterized his short life.

Upon reflection, it occurred to me Fitzgerald was not much different in his humanity. While I haven’t the drive or interest in being published he did, the army is a great equalizer and created a bond with him that was no abstraction.

I know The Great Gatsby well. Now that it’s in the public domain others are latching onto it, to revise or rewrite it. As someone suggested, there may be a Muppet version of the novel. The truth I increasingly face is whatever summer meant 50 years ago doesn’t exist any longer. There is no going back. This renders Fitzgerald’s fiction less relevant than it once may have been.

That people write about this copyright expiration with so many words is a sign that nothing like Fitzgerald exists in contemporary fiction. Writers are more like Gatsby himself not realizing what was important about the book is rooted in a time now gone. There is no green light at the end of the dock toward which to reach. It’s just us in the dark, craving something more than the commerce of society, yet not knowing what that might be.

I think I’ll read The Great Gatsby again this year and consider how to soldier on. Maybe I’ll learn something this time.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Onion Patch

Last bowl of 2020 onions from our garden.

I wrote a week’s worth of posts ahead of the holidays to avoid thinking about daily writing for a while. It’s time to get going again.

As the calendar turns to 2021, it’s also time to get serious about the garden. First up is onion seeds.

In September I wrote about the 2020 onion experience. Here’s what’s in the works for 2021.

Channel trays: I bought five channel trays and matching container trays. I got a bag of #13 soil mix, designed for use in channel trays, from the local land products company. I also ordered a special heating pad for germination. The upshot is to grow my own onion starts from seed. I’m better prepared for it this year than last.

Onion plants: Just in case, I am ordering the same varieties of onion plants as last year to be shipped in April from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. I hope to give up the live starts, but not until I’ve started my own onions successfully at home for a couple of seasons.

Greenhouse: I don’t know if I’m returning to the farm because of the persisting coronavirus pandemic. If I do, I may give some seeds to my friends to start as an additional layer of backup. That worked well with shallots last year.

Quantities: This winter I used onions sliced and frozen for cooking and the results were good. By planting more than last year I can freeze more, extending the locally grown onion season.

Shallots: Last year’s Matador shallots had a long shelf life so I’m planning on them again. I was surprised at how useful they are in the kitchen.

Onions: Ordered Rossa di Milano red onion and Calibra yellow onion seeds. I will also plant all of the seeds left from the last couple of years to see how they germinate: White Lisbon, Red Burgundy, Talon, Sweet Spanish Utah Strain, Walla Walla and Valencia. For onion plants, my online shopping cart has Patterson, Ailsa Craig, Redwing and Sierra Blanca in it. There may be some tweaking before I hit the order button in a few days.

We use onions almost every day. Last year was the first to produce more of my own. In 2021 I’ll dedicate more space to them and work toward producing a better crop. It would be great to produce enough storage onions to last until the end of March 2022.

In any case, gardening season has begun and that’s hopeful news as a winter storm bears down on Eastern Iowa.

Categories
Living in Society

Looking Ahead

We had a snow storm in Iowa overnight Tuesday. Jacque and I spent yesterday morning clearing the driveway and steps of 11 inches that accumulated so we could get the car out if there were an emergency. Not that we were planning to go anywhere for a while.

She took this photo outside when we finished.

Thank you to the thousands of visitors to this site during the past year. I appreciate your views, likes, comments and follows more than you know.

Good things will come in 2021, of that, I’m certain. A politician said we are stronger together. Another said we should dream big and fight hard. Both represent good advice I plan to follow in the coming years.

Happy New Year! May there be peace on Earth, our only home.

Categories
Social Commentary

2020 In Review

Lake Macbride

There was life before the pandemic, then there is now. Everything got scrambled, some things literally during the Aug. 10 derecho. Yet the biggest event, the one that brought the most change, has been adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic.

It is a pandemic. A next door neighbor got the virus. So did one across the street. It’s hard to do a census of contagion because people don’t talk about the coronavirus. When people are sickened, they stay isolated at home or are taken away from the community to hospitals where they either recover or die, for the most part alone. It remains out of sight and mind.

While working outside I often forgot and approached a neighbor without a mask even though I had one in my pocket and knew better. We don’t know everyone who is infected and may never know in advance who will be affected next.

A former mayor who lived near us died from complications of COVID-19. The minister who officiated at our wedding did too. My cousin Don died of it Christmas eve. Other friends and relatives got the virus and recovered. It is everywhere. We have worked hard and smart to avoid getting infected and so far our efforts paid off. We never know, though.

Here’s a short list of what happened after the Iowa governor signed a proclamation of disaster emergency regarding COVID-19 on March 9:

  • Last restaurant meal on March 13.
  • Moved the sewer district and home owners association monthly meetings to conference call because of the pandemic.
  • Final shift at the home, farm and auto supply store on April 2 because of the pandemic.
  • Interviewed by Andrew Keshner of MarketWatch for an article about the impact of the pandemic on gardening, April 16.
  • Eliminated in-person political meetings beginning April 23 because of the pandemic.
  • Had three COVID-19 screenings, all negative.
  • Left the Johnson County Food Policy Council at the end of my term.
  • Began bicycling for exercise June 27.
  • Began donating garden extras to the local food rescue organization on July 23
  • Published a guest opinion in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Aug. 9
  • Derecho, Aug. 10.
  • Started a website for The Prairie Progressive.
  • Informed the chief apple officer I would not return to the orchard for the apple season because of the pandemic.
  • Got haircuts at home because of the pandemic.
  • Observed the Jupiter – Saturn conjunction.

I did a lot of the cooking, trying to integrate the kitchen with the garden. That’s a work in progress. It was a good year for gardening, with a variety of crops, plenty of rain, and a productive, abundant harvest.

I read 56 books. More of the books were poetry this year.

I wrote more emails, made more phone calls, and stayed active on my socials. I craved human interaction that used to be taken for granted as a natural part of life. I began writing letters on paper and sending them via U.S. Postal Service. Some wrote back.

I had more interaction with people I’ve known for years, including my sister who joined me at home a long time ago. There was processing and grieving to do for Mother. I also grieved for friends and for people I’d come to know, but didn’t realize how much they would be missed when they died.

It was a good year for doing what was important. The coronavirus was a constant companion reminding us of what that is.

Like many, I didn’t expect 2020 but took it as it unfolded. It looks like I’ll make it another year. Regardless of the ongoing pandemic, may we all make 2021 a Happy New Year.

Categories
Sustainability

Epistemological Crisis

Frozen lake, Dec. 21, 2020.

It’s no secret there is an epistemological crisis undermining the authority of knowledge. It may be the most significant problem to grow out of the Reagan administration. That the discussion of creationism versus evolution returned during the 1980s was only the beginning.

There is a difference between justified belief (a.k.a. facts) and opinion and it is epistemological. That is, “relating to the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion,” according to Dictionary.com. At issue is that solutions to other pressing problems rely on the ability of Americans to separate opinion from facts, something we as a society have become less able to do. Al Gore recently summarized our current situation as follows:

And though the pandemic fills our field of vision at the moment, it is only the most urgent of the multiple crises facing the country and planet, including 40 years of economic stagnation for middle-income families; hyper-inequality of incomes and wealth, with high levels of poverty; horrific structural racism; toxic partisanship; the impending collapse of nuclear arms control agreements; an epistemological crisis undermining the authority of knowledge; recklessly unprincipled behavior by social media companies; and, most dangerous of all, the climate crisis.

Al Gore, New York Times, Dec. 12, 2020

Unless we can agree there are facts, and how to distinguish them from opinions, we may have reached the end of the long, good run that was the American republic.

During the time since Reagan, moneyed interests gained hegemony in our government and society. Thom Hartmann put it this way in his forthcoming book The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class:

Billionaire oligarchs want to own our republic, and they’re nearly there thanks to legislation and Supreme Court decisions that they have essentially bought. They put Trump and his political allies into office and support a vast network of think tanks, publications, and social media that every day push our nation closer and closer to police-state tyranny.

Thom Hartmann, The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class, to be released February 2021.

It is particularly distressing American oligarchs used the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to increase their grip on the nation and extract taxpayer money intended to alleviate the fiscal crisis it caused. In normal times this would be unthinkable. These are not normal times.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act which deregulated use of the public air waves. Regulations put in place in the 1920s through the 1940s were largely repealed. The result has been to consolidate most media under half a dozen corporations which now control the message. Perhaps Sinclair Broadcast Group is the worst in that they distribute editorial pieces from the corporation for inclusion during on-air broadcasts. All of the media corporations play a role in the deterioration of knowledge.

In 1987 President Ronald Reagan directed the FCC to cease enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine. In 2011 the Obama administration removed it from the FCC rules completely. Broadcasters no longer had an obligation to present balanced or fact-based information. The significance to the epistemological crisis these actions brought is hard to overstate.

What do we do about it? For those of us on small, private blogs it is easy: have a basis in fact if we run a story, focus on inquiry and understanding. As Tom Nichols pointed out in his book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, “None of us is a Da Vinci, painting the Mona Lisa in the morning and designing helicopters at night. That’s as it should be. No, the bigger problem is that we’re proud of not knowing things.”

With their 40-year head start, it will be challenging to overtake the oligarch puppet masters who bought much of our government. Hartmann has a dozen ideas to get us started. Gore and Nichols have more. The bottom line is the truth matters, scientific methods matter, and while religious belief plays a role in human culture there is a difference between things we take on faith and those that can be verified through scientific methods.

At the Oct. 22 presidential debate, Joe Biden said, “We’re going to choose science over fiction.” It’s a starting point on a long journey, one which we all should join.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa.

Categories
Writing

1981 Reunion

Davenport, Iowa Morning Democrat front page, Dec. 28, 1951.

Well, it’s happy #30 for me with a trip to Gettysburg and a reunion with old Army buddies. It is an occasion for reliving old memories and returning to Iowa to finish the unfinished business of my life.

Journals, Carlisle, Penn., Dec. 28, 1981.

Today is my 69th birthday and I’m happy to be among the living. It’s especially true given the alternative. We have no celebrations planned, no special meals, no gifts. That’s normal in our two-person household. We would enjoy getting back to normal.

With the coronavirus pandemic we’re even more inclined to stay home and indoors — to take care of ourselves. I didn’t want to retire from my part time jobs this year, yet here I am because of risk of contracting COVID-19. If I drew a map of our neighborhood, the houses I know that had at least one case of the virus surround ours like a fortress. According to yesterday’s news the pandemic in the United States has not peaked and one of every thousand Americans died of COVID-19. I’m learning about the term “excess deaths.”

My blood pressure was normal this morning. My weight has been the same since before Thanksgiving. There have been no dietary surprises to throw the vitals out of whack. At a certain stage one wants life to be normal. Better usage at age 69 is “as normal as it gets.”

Today’s forecast is for wintry weather, although the snow is mostly west of us. Even though I am home most days there is a feeling of the holidays during this quiet time between our wedding anniversary and New Year’s Day. Just like it was 39 years ago, “It is an occasion for reliving old memories and returning to Iowa to finish the unfinished business of my life.” There remains a lot of living to do.