Pollution and I have a long-standing grudge match. Pollution is a form of chemical assault. Anyone and everyone should be angry about pollution. So what if it helps the economy? You know what else helps the economy? Innovation.
Many studies have connected sickness and hospitalization for respiratory problems with air pollution. For example, COVID and other viral respiratory diseases are harder to fight when the air around those affected contains particulates and chemical pollutants. Particulates are a pervasive form of air pollution here in Iowa. The most hazardous of particles are the very fine ones known as PM2.5. These tiny particles can clog your lungs and accumulate. You can never cough them out. Once your lungs are coated with them, you either need a lung transplant, or you will die. They come from combustion. Gas and diesel engines, home heating, power plants, fires, and cigarettes all contribute to these damaging particles. Chemical reactions such as those associated with farming and industry are other contributors.
Coarse particles known as PM10 will cause respiratory illness. They come from such things as grinding and crushing rocks along with dust from unpaved roads. Course particles can aggravate existing conditions, cause shortness of breath that could result in a hospital visit, create susceptibility to respiratory infections like pneumonia and bronchitis, and cause excess strain on heart muscles.
Recently, I got an air particle monitor as a gift. It uses a laser to count the small PM 2.5 particles. I connected it to a sensor network and you can follow the Monitor here.
Here’s what it looks like when displayed:
You can see that currently, Pella’s air pollution isn’t too bad. It was pleasantly low during Thanksgiving week-end. You can see a spike on the left -hand side of the top graph when someone smoked a cigarette near the monitor. Smoking puts out a small, dangerous cloud of particulates—enough to register as hazardous. There are ebbs during quiet times and after the rain shower, followed by rises corresponding to traffic, when neighbors were using leaf blowers, and when smoke from a wood stove or bon fire drifted on the breeze. The thing about pollution, especially air pollution, is that it doesn’t stay put. No doubt you remember from chemistry class that gases have a lot of kinetic energy. They move.
For now, we are in an air pollution lull. It’s early in the week and industries haven’t gotten into full swing. The fields are dormant after harvest. What can we expect in the future? No doubt air pollution will rise this spring.
Fertilizer itself is a pollutant, resulting in significant air pollution and particulate emission. Because of its demand for fertilizer, corn is one of the dirtiest, most polluting of crops. Fertilizer manufacturing is in itself polluting.(Note the higher air pollution levels near the Mississippi which is the site of numerous fertilizer plants.) You might be grumbling about the coming winter but for today, go out and enjoy the air.
As a scientist, it took me a while to grasp why Iowa’s governor stood fast against mask wearing during a respiratory pandemic. Not only did she and her cohorts not support mask mandates, they banned them and made those who wore them pariahs. The net result was more covid deaths, but even worse than this, the college where I worked supported her. We briefly had a mask mandate, following a student petition, but for the most part, this is what we signaled.
The message was: you can wear a mask if you want, you poor, weak thing instead of stressing the science: masks work to slow the spread of covid by at least 40%. In a place where people sit close and windows won’t open, this would have gone a long way to keeping covid out of the classroom.
It took a while for me to process it was one more academic microaggression—Second Class Citizen status in a place of higher education. There was no need to protect the professors. If you wanted to protect yourself it was up to you to be the outsider. It was also expected that if we got covid, we had to carry on someway somehow.
The bottom line is, I retired from a job thought I’d take to the grave with me or at least work at until age 70. As an educator from a family of public school teachers, college administrators, and librarians, being a professor was a familiar fit for me. The stimulation of new ideas, research, and writing was a dream come true.
This isn’t to say there weren’t snakes in the garden, such as the visit from the governor devoid of passion. As a chemistry professor, I became aware of the desire of legislators to both praise, harness, and censor scientists. It quickly became apparent that the powers that rule in Iowa didn’t want our opinions on climate change, pollution, or saving the wetlands. If we couldn’t produce some engineers, preferably conservative in outlook, what good were we?
I was only accused falsely by a student once, thankfully. It had to do with the Vagina Monologues, which my school no longer performs. This was around the time purity culture was rampant. Students even fell victim to the No Dating Movement, a form of benevolent sexism. The student was most certainly pushed to be angry with me by outside forces.
There were a few uncomfortable moments with the staff –unimpressed with the egghead professors–as well. When the science building, of which I was once dubbed the czarina, underwent renovation, I made my request to keep the humidity down in one room. It contained equipment which measured infrared (heat) absorption of molecules. In simple terms, substances can be held together by a plus-minus attraction as found in salt. They can be held together in a restless sea of their outer electronic charge as with metals. Or as with everything from water to oil, they can hold together by sharing their outer coating of electrons in clearly understood patterns. This equipment measured the later. But since the detectors were looking for shared electrons, the optics had to be made of substances in which electrons were not shared in order to make them transparent to what was being measured. Some of this was salt crystals. Predictably, my pleas were ignored, the salt in the instrument took on water, and the equipment needed costly repairs.
My past includes a long list of things I tried to shrug off. Poor ventilation in my office—enough to give OSHA concern. My lab roof leaked. A student had terrible allergies whenever he walked into the room. Years later, a plastic bucket filled with collected rainwater that had been hidden in the ceiling burst with a shower of gunk and mold. I became so afraid the fume hoods would break down, as they were known to do, that I came up with a whole book of labs that didn’t need them. Here’s the thing—I was often chastised for bringing up these valid concerns as if I was a naughty, out of control pest instead of an employee worried about health and safety.
I’ve been given emerita status and can return any time to use the new equipment the college bought after I left. The people who ignored my demands for lab and office quality control have long since retired. Although I’d intended to, I don’t go back. I’m not sure why.
Across the nation, teachers suffer from poor salaries and lack of time for professional development. Want to know a lack of time example? I was grading papers beside her bedside when my mom died! It seemed perfectly normal to both of us.
I’m writing this to bear witness. What we had in the way of education—supported and encouraged educators passionate about their subject matter and their students—is eroding faster than an Iowa field. Here in Iowa, few care to do anything about erosion. It’s too darn bad. We had a good thing.
You probably heard all the latest news about the IRS. My spouse is an accountant so I hear about taxes no matter if I want to or not but since it’s near an election, politicians are talking about taxes. Some of what you hear is good news, in fact, on the federal level much of it is. A lot of it is just plain BS-scare tactics meant to keep the rich richer and fund political ambitions.
Earned income credits are used for low income people and can add back some credit to the refund for “working poor.”. This bracket will go up too,meaning those raises from $7 dollars and hour $10 an hour will not be a burden, helping those low income workers and according to my spouse, “makes taxes more fair.” But if our taxes are going down, how will the government make ends meet without being stingy when it comes to the average citizen?
You probably also heard about the added IRS agents. This is needed to put the Service back in IRS. Taxes are the way we get money to run our country. To ignore tax cheating and not do all we can to collect what is legally owed is like shooting the family breadwinner. My husband calls it “malfeasance” which has been visited upon our country since the 80s.
Adding new agents will help honest people and make doing taxes and getting a refund much easier. By the way, here are some ways NOT to cheat on your taxes. Be aware, itemized deductions are pretty much going away in the new Trump massaged tax plan.
A relative who has since passed away was a member of the John Birch Society and was taught to hate income taxes so much that he told my husband he was working for the enemy by being a tax preparer. The John Birch Society was once considered a fringe wing of the Republicans and mostly ignored. It’s back now with its demonizing of many facets of civil society. Politicians such as Ted Cruz seem to be doing its bidding. I recently heard one running for office in my area say in a debate that getting rid of the IRS updates was her top priority. Here she is at my grocery store for those who recognize her.
I have been traveling and all across the country, the same politicians who brag about cutting taxes accuse the OTHER side of defunding police when it is those taxes which are paying for the law. None of it makes sense which is why I hate political ads. You can’t explain an issue in a soundbite, especially when the ads are handed down from outside groups like the John Birch Society But guess what, the same people associated with the John Birch Society are paying for those ads.
Progressive income taxes are used by states who want those who can to pay more in taxes. For those who want the rich to keep what they have (and possibly donate it to politicians), other taxes and fees are added to make up the difference. States vary in what they tax more, income or the add-ons and consumption taxes such as sales taxes. A popular way to add on a tax is to have a “sin tax” on things such as gambling, liquor, and tobacco products. Marijuana is a new and lucrative taxable substance for some states, luring people from out of state to fill their coffers. Take a look at your phone bill. Mine includes over $11 worth of tax and fees. Those are NOT income taxes. They are making up for the high income people getting a tax break, recouping losses for “tax cuts.”
My state, Iowa has a flat tax, which people see as simple and fair, but which shifts the tax burden onto lower income people more harshly than the upper echelon. It often means lost revenue for the state which means other taxes and fees must be added, or services must be cut. Personally, I probably won’t see much benefit and I would love the richer people to pay more taxes so they fund fewer political ads.
When it comes to taxes, unless you are very rich, there isn’t really such a thing as a tax cut. You might lose services and benefits or get charged more of another tax. Iowa for example, has gone from a 2.5 % sales tax to a 6% sales tax plus local option taxes. We also have an internet commerce tax. The basic idea is that if you have lower income taxes, you will attract more high rollers to your state and they will spend money buying things. One thing they will buy is political advertisements. They also are more likely to be tax cheats so those IRS agents are going to earn their keep.
One modern lesson we’ve learned is that tax cuts at the top are bad for a country. Look at Great Britain today. History shows this as well. The Mayan Empire is an example, as cited in the book Collapse.
In any case, be aware of what it means to “cut taxes” and if a politician talks about scary IRS agents, they are not going to work for you–they are John Birch Society performance artists. Be mindful and cast an informed vote.
Saudi Arabia is going to cut oil production and although they say they are not doing it for political reasons, we can see our politicians here vocalizing what could be their wishes such as finishing the Keystone pipeline which would bring crude to their refinery in Texas. It’s hard to imagine that some US pols even speak against electric cars made in the USA. Or maybe not. If we all switched immediately to electric vehicles powered by wind and solar energy, would we still need oil? The answer is, yes.
Fuel oil and gas are not the only petroleum based products. The paving and roofing material asphalt is a complicated mixture of large hydrocarbons and plenty of sulfur, vanadium, and nickel impurities and is petroleum baed. Tar can be made from coal or found naturally, as in the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles where fossils of mammoths and dire wolves have been found. But tar and asphalt are not the only additional uses for petroleum.
Petroleum is the starting material for most of our plastics and synthetic materials, everything from fibers to pharmaceuticals, starts out as a form of oil.
Hydrocarbons can be chains or rings, and are distinguished by their composition-molecules made from just two elements, carbon and hydrogen. These materials can be light and flammable like naptha and gasoline or heavier as with asphalt and tar. Although they are useful in their own right, organic chemistry can step in and add elements to the hydrocarbons to make them into entirely new compounds. But they are the necessary beginning–the feed stock so to speak.
Here is an example of making something simple, acetic acid, as found in vinegar. Acetic acid contains oxygen in addition to hydrogen and carbon. It can be produced by fermentation as in this reaction where the acetic acid is bolded.
2 CO2 + 4 H2 → CH3COOH + 2 H2O.
It can also be made from alcohol, something you don’t want happening to your wine, for example, in this reaction starting with ethanol (as in wine) and adding oxygen naturally. It’s why you need to carefully control the amount of oxygen when wine making.
C2H5OH + O2 → CH3COOH + H2O
With the proper catalysts, acetic acid can easily be made from oil, for example as in this reaction:
2 C4H10 + 5 O2 → 4 CH3CO2H + 2 H2O
Why would anyone do this when acetic acid can be made from fermentation? We need a lot of it. Non-food acetic acid has been produced industrially since the 1960s and accounts for 90% of the usage world-wide. Over 5 million tons are produced each year. It’s a high demand chemical used to make coatings, paints, inks, and plastics such as PET. It’s one example of how we use chemical feed stock petroleum to make products we use every day.
Twenty percent of each barrel of oil is used as a chemical feed stock and when oil goes up in price, so does anything made from oil.
There are biological ways to make synthetic materials as discussed here and in my novel Lost in Waste. But as long as there is plenty of oil available, it has a long history of being used as a fuel and a feed stock and this isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Kicking the world’s oil addiction won’t be easy, unless we want to go back to life as it was 100 years ago. And we all know how some politicians love plastic bags. Fortunately, crude oil prices are still much lower than their highest point in 2008 so don’t despair. We will have plenty of low cost cigarette butts other plastics in the near future.
I ventured out of my niche here in SE Iowa to partake in the second annual Okoboji Writers’ Retreat on the opposite corner of the state. This area contains glacier carved lakes and the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, the location of the conference.
I went with my sister, a journalist. We are both freelancers now as we embarked on the four hour drive across mostly rural Iowa.
The retreat was both fun and inspirational. I got ideas about new projects and for better or worse, encouragement to keep using social media. I learned how to make my sex scenes more sensual and met great people, including the owner of this farm and BNB.
Fortunately, the camera didn’t capture me in the links above, maybe because I was sneaking off to buy beer.
After getting much information and meeting people who enriched my life, we headed back to Pella and made a few stops along the way.
How often do you have a chance to see the world’s largest popcorn ball in Sac City, Iowa?
It’s right along highway 20 and you can glimpse it from the road. We stopped and parked behind it. The signage was confusing but it looked as if we were in a little park.
The popcorn ball was made all in one day–June 18, 2016. It weighs 9,370 pounds. This includes 2300 lbs of popcorn. It’s 12 feet in diameter.
We continued on our journey, stopping for mums.
Not willing to let the experience go, I made popcorn balls. It was messy and required vinyl gloves.
In case you were wondering, besides popcorn, a popcorn ball is made from confectioners sugar, corn syrup, marshmallows (optional), butter or margarine, and a small bit of water. I used around 2-3 cups of unpopped corn, weighing maybe half a pound (I’m rounding up to avoid having to use scientific notation or decimals). Think about it before you attempt to outdo Sac City.
Do you remember those high school literature test questions about the novel or story you read for class? Perhaps the most daunting one was, “What was the theme?” You knew what happened and who did it, where it took place and how it ended. But the theme? The “aboutness”? It’s not always easy pick out.
Likewise, you can write the first draft of your story and then sit back and wonder: what’s this really about at its core? Most authors start out with a nebulous idea of the theme of their tale. Yet, rewarding fiction has a theme without shouting about it.
So, what is a theme and how do authors work with theme?
In “Notes on Novel Structure” Douglas Glover says,”Theme as a general usable statement of the author’s belief about the world and human nature. A theme is usable if it incorporates a statement of human desire and a further statement about how the world works to thwart or interfere with that desire.”
John Gardner, one of the best authors to write from a monster’s point of view, gave this sage advice in The Art of Fiction, “Theme, it should be noticed, is not imposed on the story but evoked from within it—initially an intuitive but finally an intellectual act on the part of the writer. The writer muses on the story idea to determine …why it seems worth telling to achieve art—fiction as serious thought.
You don’t start out with a theme necessarily but one will bubble to the surface. How can you as an author determine what your theme is?
•What is my story about? Can I think of a word or idea—like forgiveness, innocence, power, struggle, love, betrayal—that might sum up the story’s “theme?
•Why should readers care about this story? What does it offer them that touches on universal experience?
•What does the story have to say about the central idea?
•What attitudes or judgments does it hint at? What is it saying about how the world works?
Few authors begin with the solid theme. Most begin with a character, a setting, a plot.
One thing I grapple with is helping my publisher convey the spirit of my books. They deal with serious themes–struggle against authority and science for good vs evil. But they poke fun at the absurdity of them.
I’m pleased about the icons in the newer versions of my novels because they are cute and help convey theme.
For example, Mixed In is about autonomy–scientific, cultural, and reproductive. Here’s the icon:
Lost in Waste is about work and consequences of scientific expansion without responsibility to the environment. It’s about greed, pig sh** and pollution and the overcoming power of love.
Wrinkles in Spacetime is about identity–scientific and personal– across time, space, and society.
A theme helps hold a story together, but does it matter if a reader catches the theme? I once had a student who claimed you couldn’t go wrong in Poetry Class by saying the theme of a poem was either sex or death. Another time, I thought the poem Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening was about a busy person taking a moment to see nature’s beauty but the teacher claimed it was about suicide. Clearly, a theme doesn’t need to hit the reader over the head, be noticed by the reader, or agreed upon by different people. Readers can make their own themes, which is some of the beauty and mystery of great literature. But if you, the author, write towards theme, it will help focus your work of art.
As I ramp up getting ready for the release of Wrinkles in Spacetime, I’m having a prize giveaway over on Facebook. Do you ever go there? Here’s the link:
What is real and not real at the same time? The answer is: fiction, a literary work produced by the imagination. Fiction is a good way to explore topics and issues in society, or to illuminate your reader without giving them a lecture or a list of bullet points. It’s a way to make your soul grow and connect with others.
You might be afraid to start a story, to even try it. But do. Do start.
In general, a story should open answering these questions:
Whose story is it? (protagonist) Unlike a non-fiction essay, a protagonist is not neutral. A protagonist will have a bias and will elicit feelings.
2. What’s happening and what will happen next? (plot)
Write an opening including all of the above. Put your heart on the page. Risk being sentimental. Don’t be just an observer. Have an action. Have a setting detail. Add an object. It’s your first scene! You’re on your way to writing your first novel.
Believe it or not, having a few restrictions can help you focus your ideas.
I picked up these tips from writing conferences, books about fiction writing, and from teaching short story writing. Hopefully, they will help you write a compelling story. You can always break the rules, but consider these:
Have authority. Know what you are talking about. You may remember taking a quiz about what do you seek most in a mate”? Maybe you said fun. Wrong answer. You need trust. Your readers have to trust you. You need to be trustworthy, to know what you are talking about, and have AUTHORity. When I taught short story writing it was quickly obvious when students had authority or not. One wrote about a town where he’d never been or even researched. When he changed his story to be set in his hometown, it became more detailed and real. Another wrote about a hapless Mexican drug dealer. The story came across as hateful and fake. He wasn’t Mexican or a drug dealer. He changed it to a hapless college student trying to sell drugs. It became more believable.
2. Write what you know, especially what you know emotionally, or what you want to explore. This will help your story be relatable. What about being human can you tell about and relate to?
3. Avoid big reveals at the end for the purpose of shock—story should reveal itself through the unfolding conflict. See plot.
4. Ask if you can help people learn something new, see things in a new way.
5. Once you have a chapter, make it readable.
Are tenses simple and consistent?
Good They sat in the classroom. (past) or They sit in the classroom. (present) I sit in the classroom. (First person present)
Too complicated They were sitting in the classroom.
Is the action efficient? Make sure every action is needed.
Good: The professor sat down and took a knife from her purse.
Too complicated: The professor walked in the room. She took off her coat. She sat in a chair. She unzipped her purse. She reached in. She took out a knife.
Take out junk words and over used gestures, telling words, such as these:
One of the very weirdest things about being an author is spending a year or more writing a novel and not being sure anyone will want to publish it or read it. You’ve got to wonder why a person would ever do such a thing.
Telling a story seems to be part of being human. Our brain edits our experiences to create logical interactions for future reference. We think of ourselves as a hero in our own narrative and one reason to write is to share what we have experienced so others can learn from our mistakes and successes. One reason to read is to learn about the world from the safety of your own chair.
Story is the language of experience. To be honest, being older and an author is not a bad thing. You’ve overcome a lot. But anyone with an experience can share it in a story. Tales of love, adventure, and triumph or defeat evolved to help us explore our own mind and the minds of others. Story is a dress rehearsal for the future that might come. (Mine in particular take this direction.) Stories introduce us to issues we might face someday and the outcomes of various strategies comfortably at home. Stories allow us to explore life and its complexities, to understand yourself and others. Stories help us feel less alone. They can also foster social relationships and give us a window on cultures, promote civic responsibility, and share information. https://education.uic.edu/profiles/rebecca-woodard/
Most importantly, stories entertain. Being entertaining has always been one of my life goals. I started out as a kid writing tiny books for my siblings. Most of them ended with everyone dying. Endings are hard.
One of the fun parts of being an author is watching your book come to life in the hands of skilled professionals. Here’s a peak at the novel coming out this month, Wrinkles in Spacetime.
In celebration of my upcoming release, I’ll be writing about the author life this month and how you, too, can enjoy it and get started on it yourself, if you haven’t already.