Categories
Home Life Social Commentary

Forward

Milkweed on the state park trail.

It’s time to move forward.

In a couple of hours I’m heading to the farm for the last shift of soil blocking this year. After that the rest of the year is a blank slate.

I’ll be writing something on it, to be sure.

Yesterday was a quiet day in Big Grove Township. After working the garden, processing the harvest, exercising, and cooking dinner, I figured out how much of my pension would be left when the next check comes and donated to Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Theresa Greenfield and Rita Hart. A person’s gotta do something.

Some of the local grocery stores are recalling bagged lettuce because of contamination by the parasite Cyclospora. I’m picking up lettuce at the farm today, enough to hold us over until the next wave is ready in the garden. The crew takes appropriate precautions to ensure our food is safe, so I have little worry about what we eat when it comes from the farm.

2020 has been a hella way to transition. The coronavirus pandemic pushed me into retirement. With a pension that pays basic bills, I can test pilot a financial structure in which I no longer trade labor for dollars. It’s like universal basic income, only just for us in the disorganized mess U.S. society currently seems to be. For the longest time I directed my life to this place. I did not expect to make it here.

I think I forgot to take my prescription medicine before sleeping last night but feel okay this morning. Feeling good is an existential threat. It causes us to take risks we may otherwise not have taken. There is a four-day spike of COVID-19 cases in our county. Initial analysis by elected officials is most of the cases are young adults. In other words, people who live as if there is no tomorrow and they are invincible. They feel good now and cast aside recommendations by our public health staff (if they are even aware of them). I prefer to have a list of conditions which moderate my risk taking. I need to do something to remember to take my pill before going to bed.

Humans have no choice but to move forward. We cherish nostalgia yet it’s not enough to sustain us. We enjoy stories yet there is a difference between a narrative and what really happens. I believe it is possible to understand reality. When I suggested on social media I might view The Matrix, a friend posted a reply, “Jeezus, take the red pill already.” That’s fine, I think I did, but can’t remember. Instead of taking it again I’ll initiate the next step forward.

Categories
Home Life Politics

Summer Solstice 2020

Sugar Snap Peas

In these waning hours of spring I have no regrets.

There are challenges created by the coronavirus. There is a legacy of challenge from the before time. Many are substantial and require action. Summer starts at 4:43 p.m. today and with its new season comes hope of means and methodology to address what challenges us in a new paradigm.

Last night I had planned to escape into one of my favorite movies, The Matrix most likely, although Out of Africa or Blade Runner maybe. Instead, I listened to former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe interview Joe Biden’s campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon. The podcast made me hopeful that Democrats could win the Nov. 3 election. For my first ever podcast, it was not bad.

I became familiar with O’Malley Dillon when she was Iowa State Director for John Edwards’ presidential campaign. I re-read some of her emails from 2007 this morning and don’t have a memory of meeting her in person. She became part of the 2012 and 2016 Democratic presidential campaigns. She knows who she is and what she’s doing.

While I listened through headphones that cover my ears, I began to walk about. I had to roll up the 12-foot cord and stick it in my pocket so I wouldn’t trip on it. I did dishes and started a load of laundry that included my used home made face masks. I’m not a pod person but might be if others are this engaging. What she said revealed where political organizing stands in the coronavirus pandemic.

O’Malley Dillon thought the entire presidential campaign would be conducted virtually. She reported how the rate of contact through text messaging was high, and that because of the coronavirus it was important to keep canvassers safe. I am reluctant to relinquish in person campaigning and adapt to text and phone banking. The podcast put me on the way to overcoming my hesitation and joining the campaigns of Biden, Greenfield and Hart as a canvasser.

The tradition of canvassing is long in my family. My father organized for JFK in 1960. Working with his union, he was part of a substantial effort to elect Kennedy. Even though Richard Nixon won Iowa with 56.7 percent of the popular vote, our family celebrated Kennedy’s election. After the assassination, I did a small part in helping elect Lyndon Johnson by a landslide. Taking the in person part of canvassing out because of the coronavirus goes against the grain.

So much is at stake in the Nov. 3 election we have to get involved. While I’m busy with our garden I’m also figuring out how I will engage to elect Democrats. O’Malley Dillon and Plouffe put me on the road to doing that before the Summer Solstice.

Categories
Environment

Sustainability in the Coronavirus Pandemic Recovery

Garlic and onions from a test dig on June 17, 2020.

As the coronavirus pandemic runs its course, governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again.

It’s now or never for the environment. Sustainability should be integrated into recovery plans because the health crisis, the economy and the environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery to improve environmental sustainability. There are only so many times trillions can be spent to jump start the economy. Sustainability must be considered and become part of any stimulus plan.

People have ideas on how to do that. The International Energy Agency developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” They revised “should” to “could” when recommending the plan, as a step toward political correctness in presentation. Sadly, no single logic applies to global matters. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the recovery.

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 are surging 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.

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, one of the world’s foremost energy experts has warned.”

No one know how long we have. It’s common sense we will spend stimulus money in the quantities planned only once. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.

The fact that almost no one is talking 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.

Categories
Politics

Final Spring Days

Wild grape vine, June 16, 2020

Tuesday afternoon I went to the drive-through COVID-19 test site in Cedar Rapids and was screened. I arrived early and there was no line. I’m expecting a negative result on Friday.

The small city near us is evaluating a way to hold the annual festival celebrating beef. The committee in charge knows because of the pandemic it won’t be as in previous years — with hoards of people pressing around the hay bale toss. They feel a need to do something. So many non-profit organizations depend upon the money raised each year. Announcement of a modified festival is expected soon. While not a fan of beef, I do my part to support the good work being done in the community.

Vice President Mike Pence was in Iowa yesterday promoting a “Great American Comeback.” His assertion the worst of the pandemic is over and we can start returning to normal is absurd. At a rally held at a manufacturer of recreational vehicles attendees held Trump-Pence signs while wearing no personal protective equipment. Despite such made for press events the pandemic is far from over and we have no way to trace the infection as more people contract COVID-19. Pence is the poster child of potential disaster rooted in inaction.

We stay home most of the time. No restaurants, no visiting friends, no trips except to get the basics of survival or to exercise on the trail. I’m starting to need a haircut. It can wait. Everything can wait.

As spring turns to summer it has been a good one. One of the best I can recall. In isolation we heal and gain strength. It is as if we’ve sworn an oath of solitude and will persist until the pestilence is purged from the globe. It’s a matter of who’s in control. For the time being we are.

Categories
Social Commentary

Adapting to the Coronavirus

Sunrise June 13, 2020.

There have been 7.3 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide according to this morning’s Washington Post. The virus has killed more than 410,000 of which 112,978 deaths occurred in the U.S. since Feb. 29.

Mitigation of the coronavirus is not going well here. Poorer countries have done much better handling the crisis. Absent leadership, incompetence, and a deliberate decision to treat COVID-19 like influenza for weeks in February and March, combined with a just ‘let it go’ attitude have taken their toll according to one public health official.

On Thursday the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 1,861 points when witless traders found out there wouldn’t be a quick recovery from the pandemic. How did they get the notion the recovery would be quick? Praise the Lord I got out of the market when I did.

In any case, the administration has thrown in the towel on their so-called fight against the pandemic and is moving on to the campaign trail. They are having rally attendees sign a liability waiver in the event there is COVID-19 spread at them. Their work has been about re-election since the day after the inaugural address and little else. In the Republican political playbook what’s another 100,000 COVID-19 deaths? F*ck it! Four more years.

Where does that leave bloggers, writers, gardeners and humans like me? We have to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the adaptation was forced upon us.

Retiring from retail work on April 28 was an easy calculation. At age 68, with some health conditions and a reasonable pension structure which included Social Security and Medicare, I decided to do without the additional income and potential exposure to the virus. I won’t be going back to the orchard to work in the retail barn this fall either.

For the first time ever my medical practitioner prescribed a medication which I now have to take daily to reduce cholesterol. I asked him what circumstances may result in ending the medication. He said maybe toward the end of life. While it’s not unusual for Americans to be on medication, and I’ve been lucky to avoid it this long, my health and welfare needs more consideration.

Finally, a lot of people remain unemployed and some jobs closed by the pandemic have not re-opened. Many won’t reopen at all or will emerge vastly changed. In any case, other people need the work more than I do. If I generate income it won’t be working as a wage worker for someone else.

What are the possibilities?

Our household spending plummeted since leaving work. The retained value of our balance sheet increased by 3.25 percent since the pandemic began in Iowa. Our personal debt decreased by 50 percent in the same period. We have a possibility of paying off our debt by the end of the year, opening up spending on large projects in 2021. There is a long list of backlogged projects.

I’m already reading more books, 23 since the pandemic began. I don’t know if it’s possible to “catch up on reading,” but many books wait in my queue and I might actually get to a lot of them. This is a positive alternative to spending more time on social media.

The schedule of work outside home is minimal and that enables a focus on home life. Part of that is taking care of health, and part is going through and getting rid of unneeded possessions in preparation for refurbishing our living space. More attention can be paid to the kitchen garden so our diet can improve, providing better nutrition. All this is welcome and showing marked improvement since the pandemic began in Iowa.

How I might re-enter society, being among people I know, doing things together, is missing from adaptation. With continued spread of COVID-19 I won’t join others at events unless I know their social distancing practices. That seems like a lot to ask friends and neighbors just to spend time with them. Zoom meetings aren’t really a replacement for someone who has been very social for as long like I have been. Likewise, with more people at home on the internet our connection isn’t adequate for an uninterrupted Zoom event. How all this gets resolved remains an open question.

Until there is a vaccine with widespread distribution, or some acknowledgement by public health officials the pandemic is over, I don’t see how adaptation can resemble the past. There will be gatherings but for now I ask myself why risk it? That’s going to continue for some time.

Being at retirement age has made adaptation easier. Maybe the best adaptation, the most socially responsible one, is to just fade away into my family, my bloggery, my writing, and my kitchen garden. There are worse fates than that. Eventually an opportunity to re-enter society will present itself but not yet.

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

Three Months In A Pandemic

Planks on the footbridge.

The absence of definitive guidance on what society should be doing during the coronavirus pandemic led us to a path of individual choices.

When Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds proclaimed the disaster emergency on March 9 few of us knew what to expect. Sadly, three months later that continues to be true.

Our social behavior is developing around risk avoidance, some of it informed, some less so.

Jacque made us facial masks on the sewing machine. I carry three of them in a plastic bag on the car seat to use when in public. Most frequently I wear them while shopping for groceries, and at the drug store, convenience store and at medical appointments. When I return home I wash my hands, change clothing, and if I’ll be inside the rest of the day, take a shower. I wash the masks after each wearing.

At the farm I don’t wear a mask because the crew has been self-isolated together since the pandemic began. The risk of me being exposed there is minimal. Since I’ve been tested, limit my activity, and maintain social distancing, I seem unlikely to bring it in. They developed a social distancing method of share delivery and are doing everything they can to avoid getting sick. An outbreak would be disastrous for them, their customers, and the business.

I don’t wear a mask to the state park trail and very few people I’ve encountered there do. Because it is outside and there is room enough to maintain social distancing the risk of contracting COVID-19 there seems minimal. I avoided going to the park for the first two months of the pandemic yet the need for exercise outweighed the risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

With more people home during the day the number of contacts with neighbors has increased. I don’t wear a mask while I’m with them because these encounters are pop-up activities of short duration. I have yet to see anyone in the neighborhood wearing a mask. The letter carrier and parcel delivery drivers are a source of potential contamination although a necessary service as our number of trips off the property has decreased. We sanitize packages and let them sit on the landing before opening.

Our main approach to risk management is reducing activity away from home and social distancing when we are out and about. It serves us well in that neither of us has been sick since the pandemic began. I don’t believe our experience and behavior is much different from any Iowan who takes the coronavirus seriously.

Clearly the pandemic will be of longer duration, so how should risk of COVID-19 spread be managed? There is little guidance from our government and public health guidance seems so universal it’s hard to figure how it impacts us in our actual lives. As a former career transportation and logistics professional I’m familiar with risk management. The pandemic is just one more layer added to risks already managed.

When I worked at the home, farm and auto supply store I got sick a couple of times a year. I caught something at work that caused runny nose, coughing, congestion or some combination of those ailments. The need for income outweighed potential health risks. When we entered the pandemic I reassessed and reversed my approach. I haven’t been sick since I walked out the door for the last time on April 2.

My point is we take risks in everything we do. During the coronavirus pandemic we must get better at doing so because the lives of our family and everyone with whom we come in contact depend upon it. The question never was “should we open up the economy?” The better question is what are the conditions upon which we can re-engage in society? How do we know it is safe enough to send our children to school, return to paid work outside the home, and participate in mass recreational events like concerts, sporting games, fairs and local festivals? If anything, we assumed those activities were safe before the pandemic, even though we knew, subconsciously at least, that safety has a broad spectrum of risk and no human activity is completely safe.

What are reasonable risks? Lacking appropriate guidance from experts each of us is making up our own rules, our own trade-offs between risk avoidance and participating in life. There is no going back to life before the pandemic. How do we restore enjoyable aspects of our lives with less risk of contracting COVID-19?

I don’t have definitive answers except that we are on our own. We are doing our best and for the time being, until we figure this out, that may be the best we can do.

Categories
Cooking Garden

Volley of Lightning Strikes

Lake Macbride State Park, June 2, 2020

The day began with a loud volley of lightning strikes west of the house. I don’t recall hearing so many at once. When hail pelleted the windows it felt like were in for the worst.

It didn’t last long and there was no damage to the garden or anything else I inspected after the clouds moved on.

Thus began another warm, wet day in Big Grove Township.

The morning work project was to organize the garage so both vehicles could be parked inside. Mission accomplished.

I found a cooking preparation for Fordhook chard that can be applied to other leafy green vegetables with great results:

Bring half a cup of vegetable broth to a boil in a Dutch oven. Clean the leaves from the stem of the chard. Finely slice the stems, three spring onions, three cloves of garlic, and add to the Dutch oven. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add roughly chopped leaves and cover. Cook for 2-3 minutes in the steam then stir to get the other side cooked, a couple more minutes. When the chard decreases in volume mix the leaves and bits and pieces and serve. Makes two servings.

When the garden has many varieties of leafy green vegetables a basic kitchen preparation like this is important.

We are not out of the impact of video footage depicting the murder of George Floyd being released in social media. While there are no demonstrations here, the crowd of protesters in the county seat grew to about a thousand on Wednesday. The president’s amateurish way of handling the crisis will prolong more than end the violence. We can all feel the vacuum of leadership sucking.

The coronavirus rages. 106,198 people died of COVID-19 in the United States as of yesterday. No end to the pandemic is in sight, although there is hope for a vaccine. The plan after a successful vaccine is unclear. The president’s failed leadership is evident: he should set expectations and take bold action to assist with the response. He has done neither. Meanwhile, society is deteriorating into chaos with one state legislator saying yesterday to a group that opposes mandatory vaccination laws, “COVID-19 isn’t even killing anybody.”

On the state park trail near where I live most people don’t wear protective equipment. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources does not require it although they request people otherwise maintain social distancing. Joggers, hikers and bicyclists haven’t been wearing facial masks, although I spotted a family group wearing them while taking a hike.

My activities outside home are restricted to grocery shopping, drug store visits, gasoline purchases, medical visits, and a shift per week at the farm. The farm crew moved on site at the beginning of the pandemic and has been self-isolating since then. I work alone in the greenhouse when I’m there. Other than at the farm, I wear one of my homemade face masks whenever I’m with people anywhere else.

I have been participating in TestIowa, the statewide COVID-19 response application. The app suggested I was eligible to be tested so I went to a drive-up clinic at nearby Kirkwood Community College. The result was negative. After visiting clinics for a diabetes follow up I made a list of conditions I’m experiencing. There were a dozen. I’m at a loss to say when all that happened but I feel pretty good. Feeling good likely hinders the effort to address these conditions as well as I otherwise might.

As spring turns to summer I’m ready for change. It’s a time when the morning thunderstorm is both familiar and frightening — a time to persist in doing what’s right for our family and for the broader society.

Categories
Garden Politics Social Commentary Writing

News, Retreat, Action

Home Garden May 30, 2020

When the news goes to hell, like it did on Friday, I retreat.

In an on line chat about poetry I wrote a follower, “Hope things are going better in Canada than they are here.”

“They are, very much so here in B.C.,” he responded. “I’m not a flag waver type but this present moment produces a real sense of refuge.”

On Friday moving to Canada was not out of the question.

To where did I retreat? I worked outdoors from 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday. I harvested grass clippings for mulch, put in the seventh garden plot, and called initial garden planting done.

I picked kale and delivered it to one of the library workers. Our public library remains closed because of the coronavirus pandemic yet they continue to run limited operations behind locked doors. Next week they begin curb side materials pickup as they determine how best to reopen. The local newspaper featured a photograph of the librarian wearing a mask in from of the building. Our library is the most obvious local indicator of the progress of the pandemic and economic recovery.

Once again, a video shared in social media — the May 25 murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis — sparked demonstrations and violence broke out in cities around the United States. Coverage dominated the news, eclipsing every other story, including the coronavirus pandemic which has now resulted in more than 100,000 U.S. deaths according to official statistics. It is a sign of the times I didn’t hear of Saturday’s demonstrations in the county seat, or in nearby Cedar Rapids until after working in the garden. There were no demonstrations where I live.

The thing about a retreat is it has a fixed beginning and end point, leaving us with the question what do we do next? It’s not complicated.

Above everything else, addressing the lack of leadership in our current government is a priority. That means voting the Republicans out of office in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles. It is difficult to see how any substantial change will be possible, in any area of society, until that is done. I’d much rather be writing about the climate crisis, income inequality, and social justice. For that to have meaning, we need leadership to set different priorities and move the country toward solutions. We can point out solutions to the climate crisis and income inequality, and that black lives matter all we want. To make a difference, our only hope is to change our government.

My last paycheck from a job was in April after retiring from the home, farm and auto supply store. Our expenses came down dramatically during the pandemic so there was money left from our pensions to pay down debt and donate to political campaigns. We’ll be doing more of that. Better than that will be to develop a positive message about who we are as Iowans and as Americans and to share that broadly. Living with a demagogue as president has been frustrating. We have to believe our best days are ahead of us and take action to work toward that end.

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

A Death During the Pandemic

Sunrise May 27, 2020

No one wants to die early of COVID-19. This morning Johns Hopkins University reported there have been 1.7 million diagnoses of the disease in the United States and more than 100,000 people died because of it in less than four months.

May the souls of the departed rest in peace. May their families and friends find comfort as we go on with our lives.

I participate in TestIowa, the State of Iowa’s on line COVID-19 testing program. On Monday I was approved for testing and made an appointment at a drive-through test site 11 miles from home. Yesterday I arrived early for my appointment and there was no waiting. The site was well organized with lots of staff, including a half dozen uniformed Iowa National Guard soldiers directing traffic and maintaining security. The site could handle lot more tests than they were. The deep nasal swab used to take a culture was uncomfortable yet tolerable. The results should be posted to my on line portal by Saturday. This post is not about me.

I’m thinking about George Floyd who died after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck while he was being arrested. In a time of ubiquitous cameras and recorders the incident was captured on video multiple times and posted on the internet. It rightly provoked outrage. Four police officers were fired after Floyd’s death yet that shouldn’t be the end of it. Why weren’t they arrested? We know the answer. There was no justice for George Floyd. He did not deserve to die.

While passing the milestone of 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus garnered attention yesterday we cannot forget the systemic racism that permeates our culture. Americans are not free unless all of us are free. The death of another black man in the hands of police is evidence we are bound to racism that shows itself only rarely. Its roots run much deeper.

How do we address that? I don’t know but unless we recognize racism for what it is in our lives there will be no addressing it. We have to do more than react when another black man dies. That death tally is not being closely followed yet it is as important and more enduring than the coronavirus.

May George Floyd rest in peace.

Categories
Home Life

Summer Will Not Be Repressed

Social Distancing Pick Up at the CSA

Shopping in person is my least favorite thing in the third month of the coronavirus pandemic.

I dislike losing control and exposing myself to maladies real and imagined. Since the pandemic is real, personal shopping activities are reduced to a minimum. That bodes ill for the economic recovery. Our household will be just fine with less shopping.

Some stores require customers wear a mask and others don’t. I have two clean, homemade masks in the car with me and wear them into retail establishments. Most retailers have taken action to protect their workers, but customers? “The customer is always right” has taken on new meaning.

In our neighborhood things are loosening up. We live next to a large lake. Foot traffic to the boat docks and trail was heavy over the long weekend as families made their way to get out of the house. A couple of residents are planning yard sales in early June. Rest assured there will be no social distancing in those driveways and garages. One neighbor plans to walk the streets to distribute popsicles in celebration of a child’s birthday. Don’t get me started on the ice cream truck that plays an annoying version of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer while hawking wares. At least the parcel delivery drivers wear masks, if the USPS contractor does not.

The small town convenience store is a barometer of what’s going on in the community. I had to get gasoline to finish mowing so I stopped at one on the way to the CSA to pick up our weekly share. I paid at the pump. Tension rested over everything as I stood fueling. They were busy yet activity seemed subdued compared to previous holiday weekends. No one was wearing protective equipment. I used only my right hand to touch anything. When I got back in the car I cleaned up with a sanitizing wipe kept for that purpose.

I didn’t go inside to play the lottery, which I normally like to do. Last time retail clerks wore masks and gloves, although they hadn’t put up a plexiglass barrier like other convenience stores. That was several weeks ago and they may have changed. Money is dirty whether there is a pandemic or not.

We are out of milk. That’s the sign it’s time to make a shopping trip. Dread it though I do, I’ll venture out. I have a list so I can spend the least possible time inside the store. There won’t be any impulse purchases today and that’s bad for the economic recovery as well.

Being an American is a mixed bag. We have some of the smartest people on the planet working on big issues, but everyday folk could care less. Part of the problem is a lack of political leadership. Part of it is tied to a progressive deterioration of learning. Everything gets politicized and in practice facts have been cut loose from their mooring. We are on our own to study and make a determination of what to do with our lives. Some call that “freedom.” I call it re-inventing the wheel.

If the past weekend taught anything it is summer will not be repressed. People have priorities and one of them is re-enacting trusted and valued behaviors. In the age of the coronavirus people will have their summer. I believe most of us will survive. What do I know?