Living in Society

Christmas Eve – 2021

Earthrise by Bill Anders, Dec. 24, 1968

Best wishes to readers for end of year holidays.

In our house, it is Christmas Eve, although there is a string of notable days running from mid-December through January. I enjoy those Christmas seasons when I can stay home without pressure from work or other social obligations. During the coronavirus pandemic, it makes sense to avoid exposure to others, although the isolation is only partly mitigated by modern communications technology.

Leaving home can be a traumatic experience. When I left home in 1970 to attend university I didn’t understand there would be no permanent return to my home town. When our child left Iowa in 2007 there was also a lack of understanding of how the change would affect us. We do the best we can during holidays, whether child or parent. The veil of our illusions wears thin at the end of the year.

On Christmas Eve my tradition is to review this photo taken by Bill Anders during Apollo 8. It changed my life, and those of many others, to see Earth suspended in space, alone and vulnerable. Some say it sparked the environmental movement. The problem is the environmental movement and society more generally have been doing a poor job of mitigating the worse effects of the climate crisis. The coming week before New Year’s Day is projected to be the warmest December week in recorded history for North America. It is a cause for concern for us all.

For Christmas Eve dinner there will be cornbread and chili, followed by settling in to a long night. We did not decorate the house for the holiday and haven’t the last few years. If we have guests during a future holiday season I expect we will get the boxes out from under the stairway, reminisce about the decorations and how we came to have them, and put them up. Not this year, though.

It is a time for letting go the frustrations and tensions 2021 created within and among us. The year began with an attempt to overturn the results of the November 2020 U.S. presidential election. It is ending with a robust economic recovery that could only have happened with the leadership of President Biden and his administration. It was a year of the yinyang of being American.

As we prepare for a winter, delayed by a warming planet, it’s time to consider the future and actually do things to bring peace on Earth. That we will is my Christmas Eve wish.

However you celebrate year’s end, I wish you health and happiness as we prepare to enter the new year.


We’re Going Home – Joan Didion

Joan Didion in 2008. Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons.

When I write my best I think of Joan Didion. She died of Parkinson’s Disease on Dec. 23, 2021 in Manhattan at age 87.

I will continue to think of her while I’m writing.

The reason her writing has such influence is she has been in and on my mind since high school. I thought, if I could write like Didion it would be the pinnacle. I won’t ever be as good as she was at her worst.

I was thrilled when I found South and West: From a Notebook and Let Me Tell You What I Mean this year. I wolfed them down, starved for what she brings to writing. While she studied Hemingway and Conrad, she did not write like them. She had her own lean, assertive simplicity to make her points. I was enraptured.

I didn’t understand California after a half dozen trips there. While Didion’s stories are her unique, single perspective, they are believable and seem probable. They informed my understanding that California was more than what we witnessed through media combined with ocean, desert, farmland, and what seemed like an unlimited number of highways. She exposed a side of it I wouldn’t have known. There is value in that.

In college I struggled to find a path. I was on a trajectory supercharged by the death of Father in 1969. Didion’s writing was something I could look to and see myself. Although being a successful writer wasn’t meant to be my career, Didion gave me hope in dark times.

We’ve known the end was coming for a while. Now that she passed there are no surprises, just a feeling of desolation, restlessness and sensibility characteristic of her work.

Her writing will persist, as will memories of her frail frame on talk shows as she headed home.


Did Kurt Vonnegut Drink at The Mill?

The Mill on Burlington Street, Iowa City, Iowa. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Someone posted a notice on social media that a demolition permit was issued to tear down the building where The Mill operated. They had been in business since 1962. I’ve forgotten more than I remember about The Mill. Time for demolition? So it goes, Kurt Vonnegut may have said. He wrote Slaughterhouse-Five after he moved to Iowa City in 1965.

Who knows if Vonnegut drank at The Mill during his two-year stay in the future UNESCO City of Literature? We do know he was fond of Donnelly’s. There were only so many bars within walking distance of his home at 800 North Van Buren. Given random associations between Vonnegut’s two years in Iowa City and a finite set of bars, it seems likely he did.

So it goes.

What I recall of The Mill is spending time with friends in graduate school. I listened to Joe Pratt, who dragged his new wife with him to Iowa from California for the American Studies Program. He played Stan Rogers songs on Open Mike nights at The Mill. Our writers for Blog for Iowa met up there for beverages and food. When I was more active in the Johnson County Democrats there were events at The Mill, or we’d just go to hang out after an event finished elsewhere downtown. It was a serviceable bar, which by the 2000s showed its age.

The Iowa City I knew upon arrival in 1970 is long gone. One more non-historical landmark demolished is no big deal. It would be best if the corporation razing the property built another high rise. More people of means could live near the city center. I don’t know what residents might do with their automobiles yet that never seems to be an issue. Downtown should be built up while there is interest among wealthy people and contractors to do so.

To me the death knell for downtown Iowa City was when Things, Things, Things closed. The department store came out of the turbulent 1960s and found commercial success into the 21st Century. It was administratively dissolved by the Iowa Secretary of State on Aug. 9, 2012 for failure to file a biennial report.

So it goes.


Swallowing the CCS Proposition

Field Corn

Two corporations plan to install Carbon Capture and Sequestration technology to collect CO2 emissions at about 40 ethanol and fertilizer plants spread across Iowa. Next, they plan to permanently bury the resulting liquefied CO2 in deep rock formations in North Dakota and Illinois. I don’t know who is swallowing this malarkey. Almost no one is.

The CO2 pipeline is planned to cross Karmen McShane’s family land in Linn County.

“It’s heartbreaking,” McShane told Gannett’s Donnelle Eller for a story. “My dad is 77. My mom needs care. And he feels powerless (to fight the pipeline).”

There is a lot of that going around.

The pace of news articles on CCS is increasing. Eller wrote about it in Monday’s Iowa City Press Citizen and followed it with another article in Tuesday’s newspaper. Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette has been covering CCS as well. When the regular news coverage is frequent, we should read what paid media writers have to say. That’s what I’ll be doing to see how the process unfolds over the end of year holidays. This is my seventh post on CCS.

The Iowa oligarchy of agriculture decided to do this thing, so resistance may be futile unless more people than have become engaged. If McShane is typical, the train left the station and once ground is broken for the pipeline, there will be no stopping it.

As long as Iowa focuses on ethanol, industrial agriculture using manufactured fertilizers, and monoculture row crops and livestock, the environment will get worse. It is pretty bad already if one looks at water and air quality. Implementing CCS does not address any of this and is a distraction from needed action to address Iowa’s water and air quality.

CCS is premised on a vague statement that we must decarbonize the economy. People have written books on this, and just because two companies are spending big bucks on the project, the one-off process in Iowa does not address broader concerns about reducing the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere as if it were an open sewer. As far as I can tell, the sole reason for the project is to protect agricultural oligarchs’ two children: corn ethanol production and fertilizer manufacturing.

To read the rest of my coverage of carbon capture and sequestration in Iowa, click here.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


Walkabout #3

Village Well, Dec. 21, 2021.

Every village has a well. I began helping manage ours in 1995 when I joined the association board for our village of 85 homes. It has been an interesting project. We don’t really call it a village, yet the size is right.

I used this morning’s walkabout to head up the hill to meet with a contractor about a maintenance job. Ever since our main contractor died it has been a challenge to find technicians to work on our specialized equipment.

We met and they explored the well house, took photographs and asked questions. Like those before them they would not commit to bidding on the job. Fingers crossed they do bid.

We have had issues with our mostly volunteer managed well. At one point we bought the generator in the photo so an outage wouldn’t cause us to lose water pressure. When we lose pressure for a period of time the Iowa Department of Natural Resources requires a testing protocol, which is a bit of a pain. We have enough volunteers so whenever electrical power is lost, someone runs up the hill and starts the generator so it’s back on line before running out of water.

Water is life. Every village has a well. While mostly unseen behind the tall pine trees the village well is at the center of our lives.


Holiday Notes

Sunset from our front steps, Dec. 19, 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic continues during a second holiday season. I had hoped to be done writing about that by now. The omicron variant of the virus informed me, “No, you are not done.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease specialist, said yesterday on CNN, “Unfortunately, I think that (record numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are) going to happen. We are going to see a significant stress in some regions of the country on the hospital system, particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination.”

We had already cancelled a Christmas trip to be with our child and their close friends, because of increased incidence of COVID-19. Today I’m making a list for a trip to the grocery store to provision up with fresh vegetables so I don’t have to leave the property until the new year. I seek to minimize our exposure to the new, highly contagious variant of the coronavirus.

“It is going to be a tough few weeks, months, as we get deeper into the winter,” Fauci said.

Merry f*cking Christmas, y’all.

The Christmas Holidays in my childhood home were mostly a product of my maternal grandmother’s imagination. She was born and grew up on a remote farm in rural Minnesota. At a young age, she moved to Minneapolis where she worked as a servant. She and a man got together (and presumably married) and had two children. Her plain, difficult life was punctuated by the special occasions of weddings, baptisms, first communions, and religious holidays, especially Easter, yet Christmas too.

Part of her Christmas holiday culture was creating a tableau of the nativity, with a manger and ceramic figurines she molded, glazed and fired herself. My inheritance from her includes this sort of creating something from the dross of daily life, something in which we could participate and enjoy. She recognized the fleeting moments of those special days and the work that went into making them. Without her, the Christmas holiday would have been much different.

End of year holidays have been secularized. Instead of making tableaux from home made things as a celebration of religious culture, we insert figurines that came down from grandmother in what has become a hollowed out, personalized family tradition. These are essentially habits repeated for lack of something better to be doing. Am I cynical? No, not really. When we put out decorations, we enjoy the time remembering where special artifacts originated. With the decline in participation in formal religion, people now craft their own end of year holiday occasions which may or may not include such traditions.

Americans’ membership in houses of worship continues to decline, dropping below 50 percent for the first time in 2020, according to the Gallup organization’s eight-decade polling trend. That year, 47 percent of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50 percent in 2018 and 70 percent in 1999.

In our household a number of special occasions mark the end of the calendar year. First is our wedding anniversary on Dec. 18, followed by the winter solstice, this year on Dec. 21. Christmas Eve is a time to make chili and cornbread, and on Christmas Day we make a special meal. If others are in the house, we may exchange gifts. My birthday follows on Dec. 28 which leads into New Year’s Eve. Dec. 31 involves a weak effort to stay up until midnight to ring it in. I usually have a drink. New Year’s Day is another special meal and by then all the leftovers from Christmas have been eaten. This year I plan to start a new tradition of starting onion seeds indoors on New Year’s Day.

As I age, there is a sense of loneliness and sadness as I survive more people I knew with each passing year. Coping with aging is increasingly present during the holidays. There are holiday phone calls, video chats, texts and emails. If we weren’t in the worst of the pandemic, I could engage with a local organization to help others. Such communication helps us cope.

Staying busy also helps. Garden planning is a natural undertaking for the holidays. I placed my first three seed orders and will work on another. In addition, I began a project in the garage to organize everything. Yesterday I discovered a drawer that was crammed full of telephone wire and connectors brought back from my father-in-law’s home in the late 1990s. He owned and operated a rural telephone company and I don’t recognize half of the tools and supplies. Land line telephones are in decline, so a lot of it will be sold at a yard sale or pitched. There is also plenty of reading and writing to be done to cope with loneliness.

The end of year holidays are much different from what I recall from childhood. I no longer believe there is a Santa Claus, even though I remember seeing him and the reindeer flying in the sky when I was in first grade. As we discover the new, electronic globe in which we find ourselves, there will be other changes. I predict end of year celebrations will continue. I expect to note the annual rites for many years to come.


Conservatives Have a Climate Caucus

On walkabout, Dec. 18, 2021.

When I wrote my Federal Elected Officials about climate change on Oct. 18, Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks was first to respond a few days later (see below). I did not know there was a Conservative Climate Caucus. She is a member and lifted the third paragraph of her response to me from the caucus website.

As long as she supports the beliefs of the caucus, there will be trouble reconciling my views with hers. In the long run, that’s okay. It is a starting point and we need to get going. We needed to get going 50 years ago.

The Conservative Climate Caucus was founded by Republican Congressman John R. Curtis (UT-03) in June this year with the following statement of beliefs:

What We Believe

The climate is changing, and decades of a global industrial era that has brought prosperity to the world has also contributed to that change.

Private sector innovation, American resources, and R&D investment have resulted in lower emissions and affordable energy, placing the United States as the global leader in reducing emissions

Climate change is a global issue and China is the greatest immediate obstacle to reducing world emissions. Solutions should reduce global emissions and not just be “feel good” policies

Practical and exportable answers can be found in innovation embraced by the free market. Americans and the rest of the world want access to cheaper, reliable, and cleaner energy

With innovative technologies, fossil fuels can and should be a major part of the global solution

Reducing emissions is the goal, not reducing energy choices

What We Do

Educate House Republicans on climate policies and legislation consistent with conservative values

Organize co-dels and staff-dels to better understand technologies and issues related to climate

Organize Member and staff briefings on conservative climate proposals

Bring Republicans to the table to fight against radical progressive climate proposals that would hurt our economy, American workers, and national security

Introduce Republican members and staff to leaders in industry, think tanks, and more

Conservative Climate Caucus website.

When it comes to hurting our economy, American workers, and national security, engagement of the federal government to address the climate crisis is essential. As long as Iowa focuses on ethanol, industrial agriculture using manufactured fertilizers, and monoculture row crops and livestock, the environment will get worse. It is pretty bad already if one looks at water and air quality. There is not much hope for the Conservative Climate Caucus as it was introduced, yet it’s what we have. It is an open question whether Democrats are up to the challenge of retiring Miller-Meeks after her first term. She is a strong campaigner and well known in the district. We have to begin somewhere, and soon. This may be it.

Email from Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Oct. 22, 2021.
Living in Society

Another Derecho

Sun shining through clouds the afternoon of the Dec. 15, 2021 derecho.

While Wednesday’s extreme weather manifested as a blustery thunderstorm in Big Grove, meteorologists have since categorized the multi-state storm as a derecho. It was nowhere as severe as the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho. (Update: The National Weather Service said it confirmed 43 tornadoes on Dec. 15, 2021. On Jan. 7, 2022 the number was revised to 61).

The good news is with generator and fuel standing by, and gallon jugs of bottled drinking water stored downstairs, we are ready. Practice makes perfect, as they say.

I spent 30 minutes chatting with a registered Republican, small business owner, and FOX News watcher this week. Things went well. We had plenty in common. The challenge is turning points of commonality into votes for progressive ideas. When push comes to shove, abortion is the dominant wolf in the pack. It is a firewall against political persuasion because if raised, the chat stops right there. People who oppose a woman’s right to choose raise the issue early in political conversations.

I have no choice but to interact with Republicans. They are and have been a part of our community since we lived here. During election cycles when I’ve had access to the voter rolls, I looked for the Democrats and increasingly they are in a minority where I live. I’m not complaining, just saying.

On a Zoom meeting with Iowa gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear last night, I asked what we should be doing to organize between now and the June primary. The response, somewhat predictably, was we should sign up to work on her campaign. It was her event, so I’m okay with that. A challenge remains unaddressed, though.

Democrats have three U.S. Senate candidates, two for governor, an unknown Democrat for the First Congressional District, and no declared candidate for either my state senator or state representative. There is a lot of work ahead if we want to elect more Democrats.

There is a case to be made the party primary election should be eliminated in favor of selecting candidates at a convention. It sounds undemocratic yet we could pick our people soon after the February precinct caucus rather than wait until June. That would give us four additional organizing months. We need every one of those in the current environment.

Back in the ancient days when megafauna roamed Earth, during the run up to the 2020 Democratic precinct caucuses, Iowa’s system failed to produce a clear winner in the presidential race. Instead results were delayed, the winner barely won the delegate count, and a loser asked for a recanvass of selected precincts. It wasn’t much better in 2016 when Hillary Clinton bested Bernie Sanders by a few delegates. There is no perfect system yet we can do better than the Iowa caucuses.

What I do, talking to Republican neighbors, is part of the political process yet I don’t see how it dovetails into the broader, state-wide politics. Politicians should concentrate on counting votes, yet there are endless conversations in all settings going on every day. These local conversations matter more than the vote-counting of politicians. They are valid and useful if sometimes frustrating. Often people who are different in political views put their best foot forward to get along in society. That may be all we have together. Democrats have yet to define our values in a way that resonates outside our clan.

I’m glad to have survived my second derecho. Now if I can survive our politics. That would be the rainbow at the end of a storm.


Writing Forecast for 2022

State of my autobiography, Dec. 15, 2021.

There is no getting around it: writers write about writing from time to time. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, writing and related tasks like reading, exercise, gardening and cooking have become my sole occupation. As I consider what is possible in 2022, writing and all that surrounds it will be a main part of my daily routine.

Work continues on the multi-year project that is my autobiography. The 13 three-ring binders in the photo are the containers for the first rough draft. The main 2022 project is filling them with a narrative. A key challenge is reviewing the source material in the form of files, journals, public writing, and internet searches. There is a lot of source material and a lot of reading ahead. Last year I wrote at least 1,000 words per day until April, then slowed down. Next year I hope to continue my progress almost every day until the first draft is completed. That may be in 2023 depending upon how 2022 goes.

For now I continue to write blog posts which are published here, on Blog for Iowa, and on a couple of other sites. The subjects have been varied yet they are comprised of two main topics: stories dovetailed into my autobiographical work and current affairs with an Iowa focus. I will have written about 350 posts in 2021, although I expect to slow down next year to focus on autobiographical writing.

At least once a month I plan to write a letter to the editor of the local newspapers. I may branch out with submissions to other papers in Iowa’s new First Congressional District, yet the best impact is closer to home. My primary topics are nuclear disarmament, the climate crisis, and current affairs. When I write to our local newspaper, the Solon Economist, the topics expand to more local issues like the fire station or recognizing local activities. All of my letters are cross-posted on this blog.

I am an email writer and occasional letter writer. I adopted email when I worked for the oil company beginning in 1989. From the beginning I saw it as a valuable medium. It really took off when we bought our first home computer in 1996. While I don’t have copies of most of my work emails, there is a trove of emails relevant to my autobiography dating to 1999. I will continue to write emails as a creative outlet, in addition to taking care of quotidian affairs.

I continue to maintain the journal started after college graduation. With the exception of the bound journal stolen from me in Calais, France, I have them all. I use it to record personal things that aren’t suitable for public consumption. Increasingly I monitor my health there.

Lastly, social media is a form of writing although we tend to view it as throw-away texts of little significance after posting. I expect to continue to post on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. According to Twitch TV, in 2021 I posted 8,075 chat messages on the platform. My main goals for social media posting are to be kind, honest and thoughtful. I will also endeavor to re-read every post before hitting send.

I am lucky to have stable, adequate pension income after more than 50 years in the workforce. When the pandemic slowed everything down and raised a real risk of contracting COVID-19, stepping back from paid work was possible. For the coming year, I don’t foresee an initiative to take paid work as the coronavirus is still with us. That will enable me to focus on writing.

The forecast is fair writing weather ahead, depending upon what weather in real life does.


Shine More Light on CCS

Field Corn

The more sunshine that falls on Carbon Capture and Sequestration plans of Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator CO2 Ventures the better.

On Sunday, Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported something surprising: “Scientists with the Iowa Geological Survey say the state has the underground infrastructure for sequestration here, which would allow Iowa companies to keep more of the federal tax credits for CO2 storage and build fewer miles of new pipelines.”

If CO2 can be stored in Iowa, why build the contentious pipelines from Iowa to North Dakota and Illinois?

“Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, Navigator vice president of government and public affairs, said at a meeting last week Iowa isn’t suited for carbon sequestration,” Jordan wrote. Not so fast say Iowa scientists who produced a study of the matter.

My point in publicizing this article is 1). to thank Jordan for covering an important issue, and 2). what is the rush in building the Summit and Navigator CCS operations?

The climate crisis is an urgent matter now and will escalate in importance during coming years. Before we invest dollars in an unproven, complicated scheme to protect ethanol and fertilizer production in a decarbonized economy, perhaps government should take the lead in determining whether CCS will actually work. In other locations around the world it hasn’t, for example, in Chevron’s operation in Western Australia. Asking the current Iowa government to get involved in examining project viability is contrary to the direction legislators and the governor would take us.

While the federal government budgeted a significant amount of money for CCS, how exactly it will be used is a moving target. Reuters reported “California lawmaker Ro Khanna introduced a bill into the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday that would prevent investors from securing carbon capture and sequestration tax credits if the carbon is used to boost oil production.” Given the propensity of the Congress to support CCS, it seems unlikely Khanna’s bill will see passage. As Reuters reported, “The bill… reflects deep political divisions in Congress over whether and how carbon capture can be used as a tool in the fight against climate change.” Until the Build Back Better Act is passed CCS funding won’t be final. Even then it is subject to modification by the Congress.

As the public and members of news media engage in the Summit and Navigator proposals it should be positive for Iowans. To learn more, check out our updated resource page here. And let the sunshine fall.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa