Categories
Writing

August Dreams

August Dreamscape

We’re well into tomato season in the garden. Not to the point of hurling them at passersby, yet close.

Amish Paste, German Pink, Mortgage Lifter, Black Krim, Speckled Roman, Granadero, Boxcar Willie, Abe Lincoln, Martha Washington and other tomato varieties sound exotic. Each is vying for best of crop and a repeat planting next year.

The hard work of the garden is finished. With temperatures in the 90s, we stay indoors and dream most of each day.

I’ve taken to looking at the sky. It is a reminder of how small humans are, how Earth is a single ecosystem. I could look at clouds all day, at least until a nagging human condition urges me to do something else.

Most of us will get through the coronavirus pandemic. What then? We’ll need August dreams to find out.

Categories
Writing

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.

Categories
Writing

Back to Work

Chia Fen Preserve

It took the cable guy about 15 minutes to get us back on the internet nine days after another cable guy unknowingly cut the cable to our house.

The cable business does not use scientific protocols while conducting operations, apparently.

The technician tested the service from the main line and it was okay. The underground cable to the house was not. The tracked cable laying machine nicked the wire to our house and that of a neighbor. He dropped new cables for both of us and yet another cable guy will return in a week or so to bury it. No excuses now for not working.

No profound revelations from me nor did I experience any epiphanies while using my mobile device to get on line for nine days. It has been a backup plan and it worked better than going completely dark.

I wrote more in my paper journal and a couple of letters and cards. I was also able to write and submit an op-ed piece on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on June 6 for the Cedar Rapids Gazette (Read it here tomorrow). It’s not often the newspaper contacts me for an op-ed so I figured out a way.

I read more poetry (check out my Reading List), worked in the garden, and bicycled. On Sunday I crashed the bicycle. A few abrasions resulted and sore shoulders. My ego suffered the most damage. I got back in the saddle Monday and reduced my speed from 18 to 12 miles per hour on those downhill slopes on the gravel trail. Now that I’ve had a crash I can stop worrying about having one.

There is a job in fixing the inefficiencies of business. My previous work in transportation and logistics was exactly that. All the same I have little interest in helping the cable guys do their work more efficiently. I’m just glad we have service again and ready to move on to what’s next.

Categories
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

Categories
Writing

Vacances dans l’Iowa

July Morning in Iowa

After finishing a month at the editor’s desk of Blog for Iowa I’m taking some time off. Because of the coronavirus I won’t be going far, maybe from my desk to the garden… and a daily trip on the trail.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back when my cable to the internet is repaired by the cable company next week, and when I’ve had a bit of rest from daily writing.

Hope summer mornings find you well, safe and happy. Jusqu’à plus tard!

Categories
Writing

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.

Categories
Writing

That Person Doesn’t Live Here

Campaign mailer sent to my home.

I gave the political mailer I received from Mariannette Miller-Meeks a B grade. While not very inspiring to a progressive blogger, it accomplished the basics.

She asked for a donation multiple times, explaining why she needed the money and how she would use it. She listed six key issues for her campaign, solicited my phone number and email address, and provided a check box list of ways to get involved, including the curious “get active in the blogs.” The mailer was paid for by the campaign.

Whoever forwarded my name to the doctor’s team hasn’t been reading my public writing since 1974. I know from experience how people get on mailing lists so that’s cool. Obviously Dr. Miller-Meeks doesn’t remember me from Adam and I’m okay with that as well.

“Your name was forwarded to me as a pro-Accountability, pro-Borders, pro-Life Republican who is fed up with Democrats’ obstruction tactics,” the mailer said. Well no. That person doesn’t live here. I’ve been a registered Democrat since we moved back to Iowa in 1993.

I’ve been covering Dr. Miller-Meeks for a while, mentioning her for the first time in 2010 with an unfortunate play on her first name:

There is no question that Loebsack’s opponent, Mariannette Miller-Meeks would be an enabler for the increasingly right wing Republican agenda. The talking points she uses in her speeches and appearances come directly from the playbook of the lobbying groups who support her. For example, her skepticism about the science of climate change is a talking point directly from the Iowa Farm Bureau. As her first name suggests, Mariannette Miller Meeks would be a puppet for the powerful interests, leaving middle class Iowans and those in poverty to fend for themselves in class warfare.

She hasn’t changed much, although she said in the mailer she’s depending on “the support of grassroots patriots” like me to take this seat back (after Dave Loebsack occupied it for 14 years). If anything, her positions have hardened during the Trump administration.

Over ten years I infrequently interacted with Dr. Miller-Meeks and heard her speak multiple times in different venues. In 2014 I wrote a post called Deconstructing the Puppet Show responding to a speech she gave at the Iowa State Fair. My propensity to make a pun using her first name regretfully persisted. Read the entire post here, but this is the main quote:

She is plugged into the mainstream of radical conservatism as much as any Republican candidate. In her soapbox speech, she covered their current talking points: Benghazi, Obamacare, Lois Lerner, the NSA and IRS, people getting tangled in the social safety net (that she would transform into a trampoline), drones targeting citizens, the Veterans Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, Keystone XL, and others, all in 15 minutes.

I’m not sure what attracts Republicans to Mariannette Miller-Meeks for a fourth campaign. In order to be successful, the winning candidate in this race has to have something in common with a majority of voters. Miller-Meeks can’t get beyond parroting Republican talking points and that will stop her short in the vote tally on Nov. 3.

This is where Rita Hart’s campaign has strength. She is genuine and original. Hart writes her own agenda and it includes representing every Iowan. The Republican Party of Iowa has lost its grip with the realities that face Iowans. The mailer I received didn’t cost much in the scope of the election. However, they will pay for this approach at the ballot box.

I won’t be completing the form in the doctor’s mailer. I’m voting for Rita Hart.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Categories
Writing

Still Life with Weeds

Still life with yard weeds

Mother died eleven months ago and the time since then has been life-changing. It is partly because she is gone, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic and our resulting retirement, and partly because of a reckoning with my physical health.

A lot has happened and I don’t know where my life is heading.

Not only do changes center around us personally. American politics, the murder of George Floyd, the heat wave in Siberia, and a global human restlessness driven by complex factors set a backdrop in which anything we do beyond basic survival seems futile.

We must continue to take one step after the last one even if our destination is uncertain. We can’t give up.

Yesterday I found a zucchini under a large leaf. It was gigantic. I brought it to the kitchen and it maxed out the scale, somewhere about 2.5 kilograms. Normally such summer squash goes in the compost bin. This year I posted a photo of it on social media and it attracted a lot of attention, including suggestions on what to do with it. There was no shortage of ideas.

I grilled three slices for lunch, made soup using a suggestion from someone living in Italy, and shredded the rest to freeze for later. Sometimes one has to deal with the zucchini we are dealt.

Categories
Home Life Writing

Quarantined

Daylilies

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.

Categories
Living in Society Social Commentary Writing

No Class Reunion

40th High School Class Reunion, Summer 2010.

This summer marks 50 years since about 260 of us graduated from Davenport Assumption High School. As a group, we were never close and that makes organizing a class reunion difficult. There won’t be one this year.

It was a Catholic high school and parish loyalties continued through the four years. To some degree, those parish-nurtured social groups continue. I still read about cliques of friends who get together from time to time. When we graduated, social media didn’t exist as it does today. Information about classmates’ current activities would be unavailable without Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

I helped organize our fifth reunion, hiring a band to play music during the event. I also helped organize the 40th reunion, a two-day event, working on building a database of contact information that put me in touch with many former classmates. The fifth seemed too soon, the 40th was enjoyable and productive given my role. I heard from people whether they attended or not.

I stay in touch with a few friends from high school. If there were a chance to get together it would be great. With the coronavirus pandemic even a small gathering seems unlikely. We are of an age where conditions of life are catching up with us and at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Maybe we’ll get together in some safer, future year should we be lucky enough to live so long.

For now I wish my living classmates well. For the increasing number who died, the Catholic faith holds hope of a life after this one. I remember them here. As for me, I continue to put one step in front of the last and go on living. Such living includes spending time every year considering those youthful days and learning what classmates are doing now. What else is a person to do?