Pandemic Pivot

Moon at Dawn, Aug. 7, 2020

Iowa has been slow in containing the coronavirus pandemic.

Last night the president said during a press conference the virus will just go away. The Iowa Governor released an “Open Letter to Iowans on COVID-19” earlier in the afternoon, in which she said, “But normal during a pandemic isn’t the same normal as before. COVID-19 is still a reality, and circumstances still demand we do everything within our control to contain and manage it.”

While Kim Reynolds’ response to the pandemic fell short of expectations she’s at least pretending to be a leader. There is plenty about which to criticize her, yet her response is better than that COVID-19 is going to magically disappear.

After declaration of an emergency on March 9, an unwanted retirement on April 28, and Thursday’s approval of a face covering regulation by the county board of supervisors, it seems like the pandemic is only just beginning.

We Americans have been bad at preventing mass infections and deaths related to the coronavirus. This trait of our national character ranks right up there with yeoman farmer, chattel slavery, indentured servitude, genocide of the natives, and exploitation of the environment. It weighs heavy on the scale of justice when we consider the many good things our country does.

Like many, after an initial reaction to the coronavirus I’m reinventing myself for the future and that includes how I write in this space.

Old categories no longer seem relevant. I use the word “category” both as an organizer on this blog, but more generally in life. The top ten categories with the number of posts in parentheses tells a story:

Politics (435)
Local Food (311)
Garden (299)
Home Life (277)
Writing (276)
Environment (247)
Worklife (166)
Social Commentary (149)
Cooking (129)
Farming (83)

Even these ten seem like too many as I pivot through the pandemic.

I created the current blog in December 2008. With tens of millions of bloggers, I felt support for the WordPress platform would be better than Blogger which I began using in November 2007. I didn’t think much about how to organize the writing.

After my July 2009 retirement from transportation and logistics I settled into the pattern that resulted in this categorical breakdown. The adjustment now is to distill these categories. Here is my thinking: I find four categories of life worth living.

I define myself as a writer so the first category is Writing. That includes posts about writing like this one, but also excerpts from other writing I’m working on, including autobiographical work.

My posts about cooking, gardening, farming and local food have been popular. Using an integrated approach, I created a new category to be used going forward: Kitchen Garden. This category is designed to discuss every aspect of putting meals on our home table.

When I post about a political event few others are, it gets a lot of views. Politics is much broader than election and government, and includes most aspects of our lives. For the time being I will use the broader category Life in Society. Some of the previous categories will continue to exist but won’t be used.

Finally, my work with others includes mitigating the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons, climate change and conflicts in the form of war and social injustice. This specialized work merits its own category: Sustainability.

Who knew the pivot point of the coronavirus pandemic would be toward fewer categories? I’m sure it is the first of many adjustments we’ll make going forward.

Home Life Living in Society Social Commentary

Denial, The Coronavirus Is Your Friend

View from the kitchen window

When the U.S. Congress passed the CARES Act there was an unspoken assumption the coronavirus pandemic would be of short duration and gone by now.

Based on this, the Republican president and Republican Iowa governor pushed to “reopen the economy.” As they did we discovered Iowa and the nation were still on the upward slope of a curve of COVID-19 cases. As of Sunday, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported the seven-day average number of COVID-19 cases in Linn County was the highest since the governor declared the emergency on March 9.

Epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci made the situation clear in an interview with the publication MarketWatch. “We are still in a pretty big first wave (of the pandemic),” he said.

Cedar Rapids-based manufacturer Gary Ficken got a CARES Act small business loan to keep his athletic apparel business afloat, according to the Washington Post. He used the money to hire staff back early in the pandemic only to lay them off again when there was no demand for his products.“It ended up being a bridge to nowhere,” Ficken said.

As some of the benefits of the CARES Act expire, the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate doesn’t know what they want to do. “Half the Republicans are going to vote no to any phase four package,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on Sunday. “That’s just a fact.” Senate Democrats don’t have to negotiate with Republicans who are a firm no on any new relief bill, so we may as well stick to our guns.

Already the White House floated the idea of a short term extension of some parts of the original CARES Act. In the meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the main Republican negotiator, is discussing changing the $600 per week federal subsidy of unemployment benefits in the CARES Act to a new formula of 70 percent of earnings. Again, half the Republicans won’t vote for whatever bill he writes. Late Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the Republican proposal as “pathetic,” saying “it isn’t serious.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called it “totally inadequate.”

It is hard to say with certainty what the federal government should do in the form of relief for the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. The U.S. House passed a stimulus bill in May with which the Senate has done nothing. What needs to happen, and fast, is to stop denying we are in a pandemic. Denial is the coronavirus’ best friend.

If you are already past denial, here’s an informative podcast of In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt. Special guest epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who helped eradicate smallpox and is hard at work on coronavirus, grades our performance on a scientific, sociological, and political basis. He doesn’t mince words about political leadership or the CDC. “There is a special place in hell for some of the people who are lying about how dangerous this disease is,” Brilliant said in the podcast.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa


Is It Over Yet?

Trimmed Shallots Drying

When Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds declared an emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on March 9 I felt it would be of short duration and we’d quickly get back to our lives as they were. I was wrong.

Epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday, “We are still in a pretty big first wave.” In other words the pandemic will continue well into 2021 and maybe further.

We Americans have demonstrated incompetence and ignorance during the pandemic. Our reactions to health professional guidance created a social environment where it will be difficult to dig out. Returning to normal seems unlikely.

At its most elemental we need to wear a mask in public, wash our hands frequently, and do testing for COVID-19 with contact tracing. Apparently we are incapable of such collective action and almost 150,000 humans have died from COVID-19, many of them unnecessarily. We can be a pathetic people.

At the same time there are brilliant moments in the pandemic. First responders, health care professionals, and regular people have functioned at a high level to address the continuing crisis. Their actions are admirable.

The governor signed a new proclamation on Friday re-establishing specific criteria for operations in the economy even though we are experiencing a surge in positive test results. One of the criteria was a release for dental clinics to do non-emergency work. My clinic cancelled my routine appointment in early March.

I’m not thrilled about venturing to Cedar Rapids to go to the dentist. The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Linn County is at its highest yet.

I called the clinic and they were taking appointments. They had a new online portal for completing the forms needed prior to the appointment. I went online and did what I had to do. Some of the forms were related to COVID-19. The screening questions I encountered on the TestIowa site were there and to be expected. There was a liability waiver which I summarize: The office will do our best to prevent transmission of the coronavirus but you might get it. If you do you may get horribly sick and possibly die. It’s not our fault if that happens and you can’t blame us.

This has been my dentist since they moved to Cedar Rapids after my former dentist retired. They are doing their best in the coronavirus pandemic. They worked hard to prevent disease transmission before the pandemic as a regular part of their practice. I’m going in. I don’t believe I’m at risk or I wouldn’t.

All the same it begs the question of how we re-start our lives after quarantine. Dental care is not life or death in my case. I don’t have insurance to pay for it so I write a check. Like my dental office, I’m doing the best I can to deal with change caused by the pandemic.

We have to go on with our lives so I’m keeping the appointment.

Home Life Writing



Parts of the quarantine are tolerable.

Children running among my garden plots with inexpensive butterfly nets. From the house I can see only butterflies and nets bobbing to and fro above garden greenery.

Sometimes they leave their toys in the garden. I walk them across the property line to the scrub woods where they make a camp during cooler weather.

Life at home is tolerable.

Once I get too far out of a limited social circle it’s less so. My furthest reach was to the farm where I worked mostly in isolation to prevent the five quarantined farmers from getting sick. Other than that, grocery shopping, fuel, and a couple of trips to the orchard are the extent of my travels since March. I don’t feel comfortable doing any of it but feel I have to get out of the house and experience the reality of the pandemic.

Rain was forecast all day Wednesday although the forecast was worse than the actuality. After morning showers it hardly rained, enough so patches of the ground remain wet the next morning. The furthest I went from the house was to the garden and the mailbox, both within 80 feet. I encountered no other human during these trips.

COVID-19 reached the staff and residents of the elderly care center this week. To my knowledge it’s the first any area people contracted the coronavirus. The care center has been on lock down since the pandemic began so this is a new development.Someone must have brought it in.

On the positive side, I’ve written an outline of recurring tasks to give my days structure. The biggest gap is determining what projects I should be working on. There are projects needing attention, for sure, and little will to take them up.

For now I’ll settle for the sound and constant bobbing of young children in our yard. And waiting for something, what exactly it is will be revealed. At least that’s the hope.


Toward Sustainable Pandemic Recovery

Image of Earth 7-6-15 from DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory)

The climate crisis continues in the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic with its economic downturn threatens years of progress addressing climate change and sustainability. It’s now or never for the environment.

Governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again. Addressing the climate crisis can’t wait. Climate solutions must be integrated with stimulus spending.

“We now have a unique opportunity to use (the economic crisis) to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive.” said Saadia Zahidi, World Economic Forum managing director.

WEF warned that “omitting sustainability criteria in recovery efforts or returning to an emissions-intensive global economy risks hampering the climate resilient low-carbon transition.”

Sustainability should be integrated into recovery efforts because the health crisis, economy, and environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery. Trillions can be spent only once. Given the scope of the climate crisis, its pressing urgency, society must choose to address the climate crisis now.

The International Energy Agency has ideas on how to do that. They developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” However, no single solution applies to global matters. We need multiple solutions implemented synchronously.

Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels surged back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the economic recovery. We must persist in demanding a solution.

Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe.”

No one knows how long we have. It’s common sense that stimulus money could be used in a holistic way. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.

That few in our government talk about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.

Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.

Al Gore recently said, “Moving forward from COVID-19 means we have an obligation to rethink the relationships among business, markets, government and society. We must deliver a sustainable form of capitalism.”

That’s not going to happen without a change in our government.

People ask me how I plan to address the climate crisis. My answer?

It’s time to stand up for what is needed in our country right now: moral revival and transformative change. That means voting for Democrats in November.

Postscript: Since I wrote this post Joe Biden released his plan to ensure the future is “‘Made in All of America’ by all of America’s workers.” The word climate is mentioned once in a paragraph to “apply a carbon adjustment fee against countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations.” I support Biden for president and encourage readers to read his Made in America plan here. Like any plan it will be subject to modification if Biden is elected president. One modification I expect is to integrate addressing the climate crisis in the plan.

~Written for Blog for Iowa

Living in Society

Iowa Summer Pandemic Politics

Iowa Summer

Independence Day is over! Time to get rolling on the fall campaign to elect Democrats! Not so fast…

The 2020 general election cycle has been like no other. Iowa didn’t stand a chance of influencing the national debate after the precinct caucuses yielded a field of five candidates who were awarded national delegates. Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee, placed fourth with six of 41 delegates, according to the Iowa Democratic Party website. A botched reporting process took Iowa out of the limelight as we didn’t certify caucus results until the race had moved on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Then the coronavirus hit the state. On March 9, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a disaster emergency proclamation regarding COVID-19. Political campaigns moved on line, conducting fundraising, voter contact, forums, and other events via telephone, text, email, and video conferencing. We got to know Zoom.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on political campaigning is far from over. There is expected to be little door-to-door canvassing, few in person events, and forget about the usual slate of county and state fairs, parades, pancake breakfasts, fish fries, and chili suppers. Politics in the pandemic seems much less significant than the public health emergency coupled inextricably with the economic downturn the pandemic is causing, to be honest. Whatever our federal and state governments are doing to mitigate the pandemic, it’s not working. The president’s recent guidance, parroted by the Iowa governor, is, “we need to live with it.”

On June 2 Theresa Greenfield became our nominee for U.S. Senate and all Democratic attention could turn to defeating incumbent Joni Ernst. In the age of Trump it seems possible to defeat the incumbent senator who had a solid win against Democrat Bruce Braley in 2014. The race will be tight and a lot of money will be spent by the candidates and political action committees.

In Iowa’s four congressional districts we have a slate of outstanding candidates in Abby Finkenauer (IA-01), Rita Hart (IA-02), Cindy Axne (IA-03) and J.D. Scholten (IA-04). They are working their campaigns and appear to have resources to do so. We can also expect each of them to be underdogs in the campaign cash department as Republicans have an unlimited supply of big dollar donors and political action committees just as in the U.S. Senate race.

The Iowa Senate seems out of reach for Democrats this cycle but we could make headway in the 18-32 minority, setting the stage for a majority in 2022. In the House of Representatives, flipping the majority to Democratic is within reach in 2020. If we could gain a House majority that would buffer the worst impulses of the Republican Senate and governor.

What’s an active Democrat to do? Get involved with electing Democrats.

While the way we support Democratic political campaigns may differ this cycle, the endgame is the same. Keeping track of voter contacts and make sure we reach out to everyone possible. In the pandemic that means participating where one can in virtual phone and text banks, and staying in touch with candidates through Facebook pages and virtual events. It also means adding politics to the list of things one discusses with friends and relatives. We each need our own list of people we seek to convince to vote Democratic whether it is provided by the party or not.

Politics has been weird this cycle. I’m okay with change yet the lack of person to person contact at events, door knocking, and fund raisers is unsettling. I have been walking in parades with Democrats and Democratic candidates for 20 years. Partly, I am involved in politics for this type of in person interaction. It’s hard to get fired up about a Zoom call the way it is to obtain a fresh list for door knocking.

The Iowa Democratic Party is being cautious about the risk of campaigning in the pandemic. An IDP employee explained it this way in an email.

The fear is that we might alienate Dems who are being extra cautious right now if we start showing up at their doors. The phones are the best option we have without in person contact being on the table, but hopefully it will become an option again soon.

Rank and file Democrats like me have little choice but to support what the state party and campaigns want to do. The thing is, we need to get everyone possible to vote for Democrats.

It’s clear no preference voters, along with some Republicans can be persuaded to vote for Joe Biden. They may not be willing to vote Democratic in federal and down-ticket races so we need to be nuanced in our approach to potential ticket splitters. We want those Biden votes for sure. If they are willing to pull the lever for Theresa Greenfield as well, that’s better. The secret sauce of Dave Loebsack’s long tenure is appealing to this type of ticket-splitting voter. A one size fits all campaign as we’ve run them previously hasn’t been as nuanced as 2020 demands.

My advice if you are reading this post is do three things: 1. Set a monthly budget to contribute to your favorite Democratic candidate. Almost anyone can afford a recurring small donation to the Iowa Democratic Party; 2. Make a personal list of people — friends, family, neighbors, and social groups — to contact about the election and then do it. Some may be resolute about their support for a candidate we do not prefer. Don’t beat them over the head with it but have that conversation; and 3. Get involved with formal party activities virtually or in person if they exist. The basic needs of the coronavirus pandemic — washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask or shield in public, staying home if sick — are straight forward. If events support these precautions, they are worth considering for participation.

Summer is here, as is the pandemic. Democratic politics will adjust and move forward, hopefully toward victory in November.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Environment Writing

Mink on the Trail

American Mink.

On Thursday I saw an animal eating fallen mulberries on the trail. The state park has an abundance of wildlife — every Iowa species is believed to live here. I didn’t recognize it and posted this photo on Twitter.

An abundance of responses identified it as a mink. I looked it up and it resembled a mink pictured on the internet. Most likely it is an American mink with more of them around the lake shore. Mostly minks are carnivores so the mulberry-eating was unexpected. Harrowing tales of chicken murdering ensued as the post got many engagements.

Every day we find something new is positive. When our curiosity wanes or we feel we’ve seen it all… that’s not good.

The newspaper reported another local theater troupe cancelled the rest of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Old Creamery Theatre sent termination letters to ten staff members Thursday night. The creative arts are really taking a hit during the pandemic. In addition to Old Creamery, Riverside Theatre had to give up its performing space, and bigger companies like Cirque du Soleil filed for bankruptcy. Live theater and concerts have been shut down with only a few productions testing a re-opening in the COVID-19 time.

Major theme parks like Walt Disney, where our daughter works, continue to furlough employees. As they begin to open up, the question is whether employees will be recalled, if the furloughs will continue, or will the endgame be being laid off. Live entertainment may never be the same if the coronavirus isn’t mitigated. As we know, that’s not going well in Iowa or in the United States.

I worry about independently-owned bookstores. There used to be many places to buy used books. Over the last couple of decades they consolidated, went on line, or went out of business. The selection has gotten worse. The main used bookstore in the county seat is Haunted Bookshop and I’m trying to support them as they continue to operate curbside pickup.

At first I bought a gift certificate to hold until they reopen. When it became clear re-opening was not in the near-term, I devised a poetry buying scheme. On Wednesday I wrote note saying, “Choose and mail me a book of poetry that I don’t already have once a month. Surprise me.”

I had criteria:

  • Short works by living poets. Short = around 100 pages or less. Up to 200 pages okay. About the length to read in a couple of sittings.
  • Less interested in comprehensive collections. For example, Crow by Ted Hughes but not Collected Poems of Ted Hughes.
  • I recently read and enjoyed Mary Oliver, Amy Woolard, Lucia Perillo and W.S. Merwin.
  • I’m looking to expand my reading and open to about anything. No Atticus or Rod McKuen.
  • Iowa connection would be a bonus, but not necessary.
  • Run the title by me before shipping so I can check to make sure I don’t have it.
  • These are not strict rules but guidelines. (Except for the part about Atticus and Rod McKuen).

Last night I received a favorable response. We are going to try the arrangement out. I’d rather make a monthly trip to browse the store. Until they are ready, this will have to do. Hopefully I will discover new poets in the process and they will have another small source of revenue.

I watered the garden shortly after sunrise. Our yard is the only one in the neighborhood where clover is allowed to grow. I do this so rabbits have something to eat besides burrowing under the fencing into the garden, and to attract bees and other pollinators. Last time I mowed, I set the deck high enough so all of the flowers wouldn’t be cut. It’s time to mow again and that’s my plan for the weekend.

Kitchen Garden Writing

Garlic Time 2020

Head of garlic straight out of the ground.

The garlic is ready. Yesterday I dug a head from the plot and the cloves are mature. As this image shows, each clove is pulling away from the stem and when I cut into it, the hydrated precursor to the paper had formed around each clove.

I’ll dig up the 50 plants today or over the weekend, rack them in the garage, and cure them until it’s time to remove the stalk.

It’s a nine-month process from planting cloves in October until the July harvest. Done right, the time commitment is worth it.

Garlic is a basic part of our cooking: I can’t imagine being without it. I also can’t recall the last time I had to get some other than at the farms where I work. If the quality is good this year, I’ll save a third of the heads for planting this fall.

In addition to garlic, the zucchini, cucumbers, celery, and onions are ready. Tomatoes are forming but it will be a while before they are mature and ripen. By the calendar it’s time to dig new potatoes from one of the four containers. The garden is turning to peak production whether I’m ready or not.

As it does my attention turns to writing for Blog for Iowa the next four weeks. I will cross post here the following day, although it is more political writing than I usually do. There is a lot to say about that part of society these days and I’m glad for the platform.

The forecast is hot and humid the next ten days… Iowa summer. July will be a mad rush to get everything done as we remain is semi-isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic. There should be less distractions than in the before time. I’ll miss the company.


The Before Time

Kale and black bean taco filling.

Bit by bit, elements of my life are falling away to reveal the person I’ve always been. I didn’t expect that from the coronavirus pandemic.

I remember driving across the Coralville Lake to work at the home, farm and auto supply store. Already the landmarks on that route are being forgotten. They are in the before time.

Yesterday’s post about bicycling is an example. I don’t know what made me get the bicycle down, other than it was ready, I was ready, and the weather was clear for a ride. Riding a bike is part of who I used to be. As an older bicyclist I have to be careful. A crash could be disastrous. Yet it is who I am becoming.

The garden is another example. This year I have time to do things right. The tomatoes are caged and pruned, the peppers properly arranged and producing fruit, and kale and other leafy green vegetables are planted to maximize space usage. As a result, there are plenty of fresh vegetables for the kitchen. Gardening was an afterthought in the before time.

The before time is gone. I don’t have a name for the new time. Something will come to me. Or maybe it won’t. The need to name things as a method of control is part of the before time. It’s gone to memory and fading fast.


Anchoring the Week

Milkweed Flowers, June 28, 2020.

Each week of the coronavirus pandemic is anchored by a few things.

Monday I make a to-do list and get things done remotely using the computer and telephone. Things like coordinating the community road repair, checking with kale customers, lining up garden tasks, and scheduling projects. I rarely finish everything on the to-do list.

Other weekly anchor points are grocery shopping on Tuesday or Wednesday, pizza for dinner Friday night, and garage work on Saturdays. The week ends on Sunday with a nap in the afternoon and a simple dinner. It is not much of a schedule but it helps keep me sane.

While there isn’t a “week” per se, the convention makes it easier to divide endless days into renewable chunks. It’s an endeavor of constant renewal, something humans need.

I’ve been more engaged in insect life in the yard and garden. The diversity and specialization is astounding. If chemical treatments reduce the volume of insects in farm fields, their absence in my garden attracts them. I thank the pollinators and murder some pests like the Colorado Potato Beetle, cabbage worms, and squash bugs.

The presence of insects, combined with open space and plenty of perches, attracts birds. The birds attract loose cats and other predators. The cats control the rodent population in the garden, although we don’t like it when they capture birds or ground squirrels. Rabbits like the quiet when I’m gone and fencing keeps them from chewing on vegetable plants. Occasionally we get other predators, like hawks and foxes. Neighbors reported coyotes although we’ve not seen one here. All of this means there is a local ecosystem and we do our part to fit in and provide diversity.

The sun is rising so I’d better finish and get on to what’s next. No rain is forecast and ambient temperature is expected to reach a high of 88 degrees. Exercise and gardening need doing before it gets too hot.