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Where to buy

All three of my novels can be found at this site, which supports local bookstores.

Lost in Waste is available here. In the near future, Iowa succumbs to authoritarian rule. Fortunately, it’s a comedy.

It and all of my novels are available in Pella at the college spirit shop. It’s right off Broadway near Broadway and Peace. (Click for link.) They and other faculty books are kind of hard to find … in a crate and displayed near the floor…so you might need to ask at the desk. On the plus side, no tax and they’re sold at a discount.

Natural Attraction is sold at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, Iowa (signed copies!) and The Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.

Cleaner, Greener Labs is self-published and sold here.

Mixed In, a comic dystopia set in the near future United States from City Owl Press. When passions are regulated, which laws will you break? Buy here:

 Amazon US

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Mixed in is also available at Beaverdale Books (DSM) and The Central College Spirit Shoppe in Pella, Iowa.

Click here for Wolves and Deer 

or here for the paperback.

Click here for Nook.

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Or enjoy the first chapter here.

It’s also available at the Spirit Shoppe in Pella. Thank you for your interest!

Is it the hand sanitizer?

You go through your day in a fog. You’re tired all day but jazzed at night. You get in the car and can barely drive. You have a headache and congestion and maybe a cough due to post nasal drip but no fever. You ask yourself, is it covid? Ask a second question: how much hand sanitizer did I use today?

In these times, I find myself drifting between normalcy and hypochondria. If I have a period of time when I can isolate, I am at peace, but if I have to go out, I might not be able to sleep afterwards. Yes, it could be anxiety. Or is it the hand sanitizer? Today, I got in the car for a grocery pick up. A delivery driver pulled up. I didn’t want to leave the package sitting on the porch. I put on a mask, got out, retrieved the package, got back into the car, and generously used hand sanitizer.

The grocery pick up involved popping the trunk for the grocery delivery, closing it, and driving away. But I felt bad, like I had stumbled in a hole. In fact, I got out of the car in the garage and I almost did stumble. Worried, I took my temperature. It was normal. Then, I thought through the chain of events and took a moment to review the hazards of the active ingredient in my hand sanitizer, ethanol. Here it is:

Do not breathe mist, spray, vapors
Wash exposed skin thoroughly after handling
Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product

I had the sanitizer in my hot car even though another hazard reads: Store in a well-ventilated place. Keep cool.

From another site:

Inhalation: Inhalation of high concentrations may cause central nervous system effects characterized by nausea, headache, dizziness, unconsciousness and coma. Causes respiratory tract irritation. May cause narcotic effects in high concentration. Vapors may cause dizziness or suffocation. 

As a chemist, I should have known better than to use hand sanitizer in a hot car with the windows rolled up. It’s basically booze.

From a study in 2017 “Inhaled alcohol may be associated with enhanced behavioral effects including increased risk of addiction. “:

The study includes this chart:

From Alcohol Clin Exp Res
 2017 Feb;41(2):238-250.
 doi: 10.1111/acer.13291. Yale based reserch group

In other words, not much is known about inhalation of alcohol, but it does get into your blood more quickly and at a higher concentration than if you drink it. Alcohol can cause covid-like symptoms such as a headache and stuffy nose. Alcohol can make anxiety worse and cause sleep problems.

The bottom line is NOT that you should not use hand sanitizer. COVID is a dangerous virus. You must protect yourself. However: USE SPARINGLY AND IN A WELL-VENTILATED AREA!

And of course, the best protection is quarantine, followed by masking. Hand sanitizer should not be used as an excuse to allow gatherings or to force workers into dangerous situations. It’s not a panacea, only a caution, and it has its own drawbacks. A better alternative to school situations is probably to have hand washing stations with soap and water in classrooms, similar to what you find at outdoor concerts and music festivals.


How important is natural hair?

The Crown Act, which prevents discrimination against naturally Black hair, or more accurately, against hairstyle and texture, is one year old. The social implications of being able to wear your hair as you please are enormous but from a scientific standpoint, there’s even more reason to support going all natural. Some hair products, especially black dye and hair straightener, have recently been linked to breast cancer.

Eighty per cent of all women dye their hair. Dyes can be permeant or semi-permeant (last for 6 washes or so). Semipermanent dyes coat the hair and most are harmless. However, a few such as Grecian Formula, may contain lead based products and should be avoided.

Permanent dyeing opens and swells the cuticle, knocks out any color, and adds a large dye molecule. The first permanent dyes were made from coal tar in 1907. Hair dye has been around for a while and studied extensively. It’s known that only 1% of the dye gets into your scalp and if you get highlights or low lights, it’s even less since the dyes are applied away from the scalp in most cases. The dyes are not thought to be toxic or cancer causing, and yet, epidemiological studies have associated their use with breast cancer –a 7% rise in white women and 45% to 50% rise in black women who used dark hair dye. The risk was greater for those who dyed their hair at home. A chemical abbreviated PPD is found in greater amount in black hair dye. Dyes marketed to black women contain more endocrine disrupting chemicals as well.

Hair straighteners, used by 80% of black women to get a “European” look, are associated with an 18% rise in breast cancer by women of all colors.

Adana Llanos, a pioneer in this study, points out that the correlation does not prove that any type of hair dye or straighter causes cancer, only that there was previously no data looking at black women.

Researchers at Northwestern University have been looking at ways to make hair products safer, including developing dyes using pigments from black currents. In any case, hair style should not be one more arena where people have to fight for their lives. Celebrate natural hair!

From a display at the Charles H. Wright museum

This article is the basis for today’s blog.

In the bag: tips for the perfect coffee

Recently, the act of grinding coffee beans for the days’s cup struck me as pleasantly normal. Back when I was rushing off to an office and classroom, even something as small as grinding coffee was just one more obstacle to getting out the door. Whole bean coffee was in the “not worth it ” category, along with, at times, ironing. The semester from hell was over. Now, suddenly, I had a moment to appreciate the freshness and aroma of newly ground coffee. But what helps make coffee fresh? What keeps it fresh? And why does ground coffee smell so good?

Coffee beans undergo chemical reactions when roasted. This process creates hundreds of new chemicals.

Many of these chemicals are are good for you and and a few are bad. The good ones can “protect against gout (by lowering uric acid levels), tooth decay and gallstones… there is mounting and strong evidence for coffee providing some protection against type 2 diabetes.”  Coffee might even prevent Alzheimers disease.  Acrylamide is one of the few bad chemicals and more is found in in light roasts.

One thing that happens during roasting is the beans get lighter and more porous. The pores hold both carbon dioxide and the chemicals which give coffee its aroma. Of the many chemicals in coffee only a few are responsible for the aroma. Of these, a furan-2- methanethiol gets the most attention. Its odor has been described as a combination of nutty and burnt match. Clearly, the full range of aromas combine to give coffee its good smell. Medium roasts are most aromatic.

The good smell is created by less than 1% of the gases in coffee beans. Most of the gas trapped in the pores of a roasted bean is carbon dioxide. It makes up 1-2% of the weight of the roasted coffee.

Fresh coffee when brewed will have a delightful white foam called crema. This is made from carbon dioxide.

The way the coffee is roasted has a large effect on the gases trapped in the beans. Dark and medium coffees are highly impacted by roasting temperature and high temperatures release more gas–which you do not want. In the case of coffee, we want gas. Darker roasts are more porous and hold more gases to begin with. But the pores break down quickly when ground.

Keeping oxygen away is an important part of keeping coffee fresh. Carbon dioxide is found in highest concentrations in freshly roasted coffee. In a bag of coffee, carbon dioxide forms a protective atmosphere to keep oxygen away. Always close up your bag or canister of coffee to keep out oxygen and keep in carbon dioxide.

Grinding coffee will release up to half of the carbon dioxide within a few minutes and the grind will slowly lose the carbon dioxide over the course of days. Course ground coffee will lose the least carbon dioxide and fine ground the most. Keeping the bag closed will help prevent further loss.

An issue to be aware of when buying and drinking coffee goes further than the bag. Many coffee plantations are human rights violators, especially in Brazil. Many large suppliers of coffee have purchased coffee grown and picked using slave labor. Although coffee is originally from Africa, it was stolen and imported to South America and Haiti, along with Africans captured to tend it. Native people, particularly the Mayans, were also enslaved to bring us coffee.

This means that besides grinding beans before use & keeping the bag closed, the ideal cup of coffee will be Fair Trade.

Bulletproof is one such brand and here’s my favorite.

This company will let you select country of origin, are Fair Trade, and send you a clip to keep the coffee closed. They also advocate putting coffee in the freezer and I agree. The gases will be lost from the coffee pores much more slowly when cold.

There are plenty more to choose from should you do a search. Like grinding my coffee, paying attention to Fair Trade has not been a priority of mine. However, it will be in the future.

Thanks to this article for information on carbon dioxide in coffee:

Time-Resolved Gravimetric Method To Assess Degassing of Roasted Coffee, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2018, 5293-5300. Corresponding author is Chahan Yeretzian

Got you covered

The cover for Lost in Waste was in a contest for books published by independent/small publishers.

http://indtale.com/polls/creme-de-la-cover-contest

Once my second novel clearly identified the theme and tenor of the series, Book One got a cover make over. It looks less romantic, doesn’t it?

Likewise, the cover of my first novel, a Victorian romanic satire, was simplified over time, as shown below,

When I started out writing novels, I wasn’t sure of my path as an author. As this becomes more established, so do my covers.

What do experts say makes a good cover? Most will say it should be something simple and easy to take in right away with a clear focal point and an easy to read font. It needs to give a quick, big picture overview of what the book is about and catch attention.

Here are some all time great covers.

I didn’t have much to do with designing the cover but it’s been a well-received one. I asked City Owl CEO, Tina Moss, what makes a good cover. She replied as follows:

“The biggest thing with covers is to see the what’s working in the genre. What are readers gravitating toward? Covers like trends change. And some of the top indie authors will actually change their covers yearly or more often. I don’t think that’s necessarily correct as you want to create a brand and not chase trends. But having a brand that aligns with consistency in the genre is key. 


For example, your author name should be the same font on your cover, your website, your social media headers, your business cards, your swag, etc. The cover is a tool for marketing and branding.”

Following my CEO’s advice, I attempted to match fonts for this site with my books. How did I do?

Is technology making us stupider and what can we do about it?

I’m lucky I can work from home, very lucky. As I finish the semester, I wonder how student learning changed once courses went on-line.

Grading on-line papers is difficult for me. Reading from a screen is neurologically different than from a page. We read faster and with less depth on a screen. This is fine for an exciting novel, but when grading, I wonder how much I let slide. Add in the extra key-board steps it takes to correct or comment and it makes on-line paper grading slow going.

Some of my students turned in hand written lab reports and exams (via photo), as we did before we were so rudely interrupted. Writing by hand helps people remember and since it is slower than typing, it forces people to condense ideas and helps a learner transcribe knowledge onto their own words. It’s good for our dexterity. The pen helps us to see in a different way. When I found myself struggling to describe a sculpture in my novel in progress, I picked up a pen and sketched what my mind was visualizing. This helped me put my mind’s eye it into words.

Sadly, I will no doubt rely on screen submitted assignments more next semester because of health concerns. During my last week of in-person labs, as covid-19 crept up and all of us were either sick or scared or both, I had each general chemistry student show me their notebook as I graded the hand-written labs on the spot and gave each notebook back to its owner. I didn’t want a stack of them smoldering in my office, even though paper isn’t a huge source of transmission.

As we face an era of typed answers, we need to be aware of what we are giving up. Despite it being easier to type than hand write, answers are becoming shorter and less detailed, as if we are developing a universal impatience that may be here to stay. There is a pushback against learning cursive and many people don’t know it and can’t read it. However, it can’t be beat for efficient note-taking which helps you to remember. I compose on a keyboard and thank goodness for editors who then push me to expand. And as courses and compositions have moved on-line, I find a need to push my students to expand as well.

Teaching is only part of my job. This is the excuse given for paying adjuncts so terribly. However, if I attend one more Zoom meeting, it might toss me over the edge and I’ll run screaming outside without a mask. Yes, Zoom fatigue is the latest digital plague. Zoom brings us together in impossible times. It also makes us sadly realize what we’ve lost and can provide irritating distraction. Watching my hair grow ever longer is one of those distractions. Like most of us, I mute myself and block the screen.

Some educators blame the ubiquitous cell phones for creating a generation which is poor scholastically because they can no longer focus. People who once loved to read can no longer read books. Former voracious reader Josephine Tovey of The Guardian writes of her struggle to read. “Almost every night it was pitched in battle against powerful forces – my phone, my post-work bleariness and my internet-enfeebled attention span – and the book was losing…as I get older and spend more of my life online, reading books has become harder.”

Smart phones could be making us dumber and are also addicting. People check their phones around once every twelve minutes, and first thing in the morning. This cuts down on the ability to begin the day focused since checking a phone in the morning is distracting. Abundant smart phone and television use has been linked to depression, especially in teens.

Computer addiction has been defined as “A disorder in which the individual turns to the Internet or plays computer games in an attempt to change moods, overcome anxiety, deal with depression, reduce isolation or loneliness, or distract themselves from overwhelming problems. The elderly, as well as children and adolescents, are particularly vulnerable.” As we turn to on-line schooling, will we increase this, or will computers be used less during out of class hours because they are associated with work?

Signs of this addiction can be found on the link.

After the invention of the printing press, unscrupulous folks churned out books filled with misinformation. The populace, who had mostly associated a book with the Bible, fell prey. No doubt, in the 1450s, people probably wondered if books were making us stupider. Now days, memes are the spreader of bad info and have created a “new world disorder.” The saying with a picture has been called a form of psychological infection and a source of prejudice. Older people are particularly vulnerable.

However, at least we have a way to connect in times like this. How can we do it better?

A few tips are:

  1. Use your computer only in specific areas and turn it off when not in use.

2. Store your smart phone in your purse or pocket.

3. Limit time on social media. Restrict yourself to x number of comments per day.

4. Find something new to occupy your time. Many people have learned fresh skills from on-line courses. Common hobbies during these times are tv watching (be careful not to binge as binging causes depression), reading, working out, and arts and crafts. So many people are baking these days that stores have run out of many ingredients. (Here’s what to substitute.)

5. Give yourself a time limit. Use a Nanny App or set browsing free days or hours.

6. Don’t believe those memes.

7. To improve focus and help organize and slow down your distracted mind, take a break and write by hand.

𝓣𝓱𝓪𝓷𝓴𝓼 𝓯𝓸𝓻 𝓻𝓮𝓪𝓭𝓲𝓷𝓰!

Earth Day: all the stuff we cannot see

We are running out of places to store our oil. Farmers can’t get their pigs slaughtered because the meat plant workers are sick and can’t kill them fast enough. Economies are toppling because of one little virus. Which brings us to the reminder: our life here hangs in a fragile balance.

Earth Day is 50 years old. It was launched by Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and the date was chosen to be just before finals week at colleges. Problems with the oil industry were thought to have inspired him–both the deadly used of lead in gas and an oil spill off the coast of California.

Environmentalism has long been in the fabric of our nation.

Environmentalism embraces  the Pragmatic Utilitarian perspective (hunting, fishing, hiking are worthy pastimes) and Idealist Naturalist (every species is important) perspectives. Most scientists are Idealists.

Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946), a utilitarian and the first director of the U.S. Forest Service, saw conservation as being for the good of the greatest number of people and saw businesses as selfish exploiters of resources.  He felt that the government was a representative of the People and should manage our natural resources.  The Utilitarian approach can be found in the Izaak Walton League and the  National Wildlife Federation.

Many events lead up to the formation of Earth Day:

•1930s  The Dust Bowl showed the need for soil conservation.

•1962 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson linked DDT use and bird death. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring connected DDT use with the disappearance of the bald eagle and other birds in the US.  (When I was a girl, most people in the US had never seen an eagle and its mysterious vanishing alarmed patriots as as well as nature lovers.)  Like Galileo and Paracelsus, biologist Carson wrote for a general audience, achieved nearly instant fame, and rattled authority figures.  Yet she had the admiration and backing of other scientists and  some politicians so her environmental movement took hold.

1968 First photo of Earth from space was taken during the Apollo 8 mission. Earthrise shows our planet rising over the moon. The Earth’s beauty contrasted with the dead surface of the moon helped people fall in love with it and see how precious it is and for the photographer, William Anders, human conflict and loyalty to divisive causes looked so petty. “This is the only home we have and yet we’re busy shooting at each other, threatening nuclear war, and wearing suicide vests,” he said. “It amazes me.”

1969 Cuyahoga River in Cleveland was so polluted with industrial wastes that it caught fire and burned.

1969 Santa Barbara oil spill causes by inadequate safety regulations, spilled 21,000 gallons of oil off the coast of California, killing thousands of animals. The explosion it caused cracked the sea floor!

By 1970, people in the US had had enough. In 1970 , the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) was created. Environmental laws increase from 20-120.

•1970 First Earth Day on April 22 was celebrated.

•A major advancement in environmental science came when the field of analytical chemistry (testing for chemical composition) was developed in the US in the 1960s and 70s.  This new branch of chemistry revealed  that small amounts of synthetic chemicals persisted in the environment.  Before this time, they were undetectable and assumed to be broken down when put into the air and water. I’m an analytical chemist and perhaps my love of environmentalism is at the core of it.

  In 1989 75% of people in US identified themselves as environmentalists. Recently, this has fallen to 42%, in part because it has been wantonly politicized and partly because the problems are less obvious.

•Astroturfing is a big problem for our environmental awareness these days and can be blamed for the lack of support and politicization. Here’s how it works: if scientific evidence points to a consensus but it could harm your profits,  a group of “scientists” will  be formed and they will refute the evidence. They will often not use the scientific method and rarely publish in peer reviewed journals. Sometimes they will get a letter to the editor published in a peer reviewed journal and then they will use it as a citation, as if they had published an article in the journal. Astroturf groups pretend to be “green”. If they employ scientists, the scientists are not working in their area of expertise. There are also social influencers who roam the internet with their name calling ex: saying environmentalists are hippies or earth worshipers, & calling good science “junk science. ” To oppose this, Scientists have had to march and speak out.

Science can be powerful. It’s hopeful yet skeptical–hopeful that problems can be solved but skeptical of the influences of power and money on science. With this, scientists are reacting with alarm to political and financial pressures more than ever before.  Companies are spending money to publicly refute accepted science and regulatory agencies are underfunded.  We even have a president pushing medical cures that don’t work! (Watch the Movie: Thank You for Smoking). These forces aren’t always able to be seen, yet, like a virus, they damage scientific progress and integrity. They damage democracy as well.

Science and Democracy, ideally, are a lot alike. Shared values include –openness to critical scrutiny –a skepticism toward claims that too neatly support reigning values –a willingness to listen to countervailing opinions –a readiness to admit uncertainty and ignorance –a respect for evidence gathered according to the sanctioned best practices of the moment.

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road / the one less traveled by / offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” Rachel Carson.

These words stand true today, more than ever. Please, celebrate Earth Day today.

Where folks do NOT shelter in place, will a mask help?

Here in Iowa, we are one of the few states without a shelter-in-place order. The governor’s guidelines are reactive, not proactive, and she is waiting until her metrics are reached to rein us in. These metrics include

  • Percentage of population greater than 65 years of age
  • Percent of identified cases requiring hospitalization
  • Infection rate per 100,000 population in the past 14 days
  • Number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities

As some have said, she is using the canary in a coal mine approach and our population is a the canary.

People in Iowa are NOT doing a great job of social distancing. Many of us see or hear of groups out and about, parties, and even trips to the church for coffee, And a friend recently had his/her business broken into by unsavory types roaming about. It’s like the wild west here. I’m lucky I can shelter in place at home, despite the 60 + assignments coming in each week. Going out is pretty terrifying. To this end, I decided to wear a dust mask when I walk my puppy. I have allergies anyway and the mask can also scare people away from me. Lord knows, they are not getting the message otherwise.

Professional masks are for the healthcare folks right now. Providers wear an N95 mask to protect themselves and a surgical mask over it to protect it. Although there isn’t a consensus yet, the virus appears able to spread as an aerosol, tiny particles like a mist which hang, not only on a cough or sneeze, but even when talking. This excellent article has all the in and out of aerosols vs droplets. And it makes a good case for why we should all wear masks to protect others.

It’s terrifying here and I have to ask: How helpful are non-medical masks? A study from several years back noted that they are half as effective as medical grade masks. Which in my opinion, is twice as good as nothing!

Being a chemist, I like protective equipment anyway. It makes me feel at home. Not to mention, I have always had ample saliva–I might as well keep it to myself.

My local hospital has distributed this pattern and are asking people to donate masks, making sure they have a tissue pocket to give one more layer of protection. This site recommends putting a vacuum cleaner filter in the tissue pocket.

One source recommends two layers of high quality cotton (as in quilts) with ties. “You have to use relatively high-quality cloth,” Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said. Thread count should be at least 180. Hold the material up to the light to make sure nothing peaks through. If light can get through, so can a tiny virus. The article mentions inserting flannel can be a good option. I went through my meager stash of material and found that t-shirts are not “high quality” and neither was my favorite bandana, or any of my scarves. My trusty potholder didn’t let any light through and smells like cookies! But would it be stifling? Not to mention, a potholder wouldn’t fit securely across the face. Look here for guidelines on masks, including taking them on and off properly.

dust mask
bandana
potholder

Wash in a pillow case with hot water but don’t bleach your mask. A friend passed along the advice to have one side different than the other to make sure you know which one to put face first. And don’t use them when wet. This site has more advice, including limiting time worn to 2 hours at a stretch.

As for hospital masks, we need them. Production is ramping up. Companies are making masks in my home state and nearby my home town of Pella.

Wearing a mask is polite–it keeps your germs from the outside. Just don’t let it make you feel invincible. The efficacy of masks has not been proven. And I for one, plan to shelter, no matter what my governor says.

With warmer weather ahead, some models predict, unlike the flu, that the virus will spread more. Remember, the only way to stop it is to remove the host. That’s me and you.

What’s free: books and advice

Last week was the beginning of spring break. I was planning to go on a trip but cancelled it (it remains to be seen if I get a refund from the airline) and instead, have begun putting my lectures on line. Yes, I’m a teacher and like all teachers, I’m doing my best to keep learning going. I can’t imagine what will happen if education halts and future health care professionals and scientists can’t get proper training. Oh wait, yes I can imagine it and it is a part of Lost in Waste, where a self-trained medic takes on a variety of roles in society.

In fact, you can read all about it for free this week. My publisher is hosting a give away and Lost in Waste is free as an e-book from 3-25 to 3-27.

I’ve been busy giving my lectures a voice over. Fortunately, I was a DJ back in the good old days of radio, before it was swallowed up by huge corporations like I Heart Radio. However easy it is for me to record my lessons, accessing courses remotely is not easy for every student.

These are weird times. The people who once warned of Killing Granny now say go out and stimulate the economy. Are they hypocrites?

This is why we need to be cautious of politicians dictating our health decisions. Many cannot be trusted. And when it comes to going out, listen to those who say “DON’T” if you can. There are several reasons

  1. You might get it. No one knows exactly how this new virus might act. It’s not just a cold or flu, but you can read about viruses and the flu here for a refresher on viral diseases. People of all ages are getting covid and being hospitalized–even babies. Of those who live, some develop a lung condition. It’s possible that a heart condition may also occur. And as far as immunity goes, in general people who have been infected with other coronaviruses have only a short lived immunity.
  2. You’ll spread it. You can have no symptoms and spread it. Even if you have it and recover without needing a doctor, you can spread the virus for up to two weeks following recovery. If you can stay home, please do. Not everybody can. You might need those who are affected. In fact, in at least one case, a relatively young police dispatcher has died from COVID.
  3. Your doctor might get it. Your local paramedic or firefighter might get it. Many states, including lots of rural ones, have doctor shortages. States with plenty of doctors are currently overwhelmed. Doing procedures such as inserting breathing tubes makes healthcare providers more vulnerable than the average person. What will happen if this disease spreads across rural America? You won’t be seeing a doctor, or there won’t be anyone to take you to the hospital, that’s what will happen.

4. Historically, as illustrated by the 1918 flu pandemic, ignoring medical advice in order to make money has been a disaster for the nation and the president.

I admit, sheltering in place is boring. My hair is starting to look like that insider trading chick from Georgia’s. And it’s only the beginning. Sob! In the mean time, these books are free on Amazon for a short time. Please, click away!

I’d like to thank author Lisa Edmonds for the graphic. Here’s a link to her newsletter. Please consider following her!

High cost of rural life

The tranquility of rural life will cost you

When I visit city relatives, I like to shop and stock up on certain things less expensive in the city such as coffee and over the counter health and beauty products. In rural United States, goods usually cost a little more. Less volume means higher prices– and we suffer from higher energy costs.

It’s not all bad. After all, we have low cost housing. Sadly, this also corresponds to low wages and resulting low Social Security. Rural families need more than one vehicle and it takes more energy to get places.

All in all, urban life is cheaper by 17% but city folks make 32% more in wages.

Currently, as we face the coronavirus pandemic, lack of medical care jumps to the top of the reasons not to live in rural America. Here in rural Iowa, our hospitals send critically ill people off to a big city such as Des Moines or Iowa City. It’s one of many reasons we face higher health insurance costs. On top of this, rural people are less likely to have paid sick leave and less likely to have a job which provides health insurance. If asked to work from home, a third have no access to reliable internet.

A rural person is more likely to die when critically ill than the urban counterpart. Low patient volume and cuts in Medicare funds translate to hospital closures and hospitals that remain face shortages in trained medical staff. Rural hospitals have fewer doctors, but sicker patients. They have less capacity to deal with a “medical surge” event, be it a mass shooting or a pandemic. The doctors and nurses are skilled. They have to be. They don’t have the back up teams urban doctors have. But they lack space and equipment. Rural hospitals even have a cap on how many people they can handle.

I was at the farm store picking up dog food today. After waking up in a coronavirus induced panic, I went early to avoid the crowds. Only the elderly were out, getting food for their pets, batteries, and soap. The mood was grim. The Country Muzak was silent because who needs a reminder of how bad things could get? After weeks of denial, the old dudes passing each other in the aisles were acknowledging the coming plague, talking between themselves about things getting really bad. I’m with them. For the next two weeks, I’m working from home.

If you venture out to the store, rural folks, don’t forget light bulbs. It’s dark in rural America. Real dark. And we’re out of toilet paper, like everybody else.

Dirty Butts

Butts can keep away parasites in a nest but also spread poison and disease

Last week, while driving, I turned the corner on Main & University and a woman going the other direction in a white car sat at the stoplight. As I passed, she flung a cigarette butt in my direction from her open window. I had to wonder: do cigarette butts carry coronavirus?

Believe it or not, cigarette butts are the most prevalent trash–4.5 trillion are discarded annually world wide. They consist of cellulose acetate, a fairly standard plastic. Seventy-five percent of smokers admit to tossing their butts onto the ground or out car windows. They persist in the environment for a long time, and what’s caught in them flows out into the wide open spaces.

Chemists have been studying the environmental impact of cigarette butts on the environment. Being the kind of chemist who might study such a thing, an analytical chemist, I’ve attended talks about butt pollution. In one study, chemists at a university tested the ground at a pristine park and at a well known smoking area near by where butts littered the ground. No surprise, nicotine was found in the soil in the smoking area. More surprisingly, other chemists found that the butts emit vaporized nicotine and other toxins for up to a week after they’ve been used. Cigarette butts give off heavy metals such as lead and arsenic (which are toxic). They contain cholesterol (also in smoke according to a 1971 study). They leach plasticizers. Butts inhibit plant growth.They sicken kids who eat them.They are almost as dangerous as cigarettes themselves. Being near an ash tray is like smoking. (Some people advocate coffee grounds in ashtrays to soak up the smell.)

Sharing a smoke spreads all sorts of things–viruses, bacteria, flu, Hepatitis A. Cigs are not well regulated and are filled with toxic mold and bacteria. Do butts carry coronavirus? I can’t find any evidence. Yet, it seems likely they do.

New York is covered with butts and they have an outbreak.

People smoke most in Southeast Asia. They haven’t been hit hard by the virus, or are underreporting.

Even tidy Singapore has coronavirus. Health officials there are looking askance at disposable items such as napkins used in outdoor markets as “mini biohazards.” They note that birds will fly around with disposable items such as tissues. Birds also pick up cigarette butts, and sometimes feed them to their babies, not only in Singapore but across the globe.

The butts create water pollution. Even if they don’t spread coronavirus, which can live on surface for days so it is a possibility, they are harmful. People are rushing to stock up on toilet paper in case of a quarantine. It would be good if other butts, along with disposable napkins, cups, etc. were cleaned up as well.