Dystopian Future Ready Iowa

Long ago, someone asked, and I looked into why college was now so expensive. The answer turned out to be, less state and federal funding. Now, state funding is back in Iowa in the form of Future Ready Iowa. Local colleges have been making adjustments because what this program does is fund only certain majors that the governor and local industries want.

On paper it sounds kind of good.

Future Ready Iowa is a powerful tool for growing family incomes, meeting employers’ needs, and strengthening our communities,” said Gov. Reynolds. “The Future Ready Iowa Act will ensure Iowans have the skills they need to succeed in a world driven by technological disruption – both now and in the future.”

However, take a look at what the government will fund in my neck of the corn field:

https://www.futurereadyiowa.gov/central-college

It’s very similar to to other colleges’ lists. Some have physical education teaching and nursing funded but the lists are nearly the same anywhere you go.

What’s missing I ask? Take a moment to think about it.

Here’s another part of it:

College scholarships for certain majors, flexible enrollment standards, and other perks.

The local college is responding: A local Jesus-based consignment store has also gotten money for training people.

What could be wrong with this?

As an educator I can tell you this: it’s not flexible enough. There is nothing more miserable than a student who is forced into a certain major and learns they want something different–but no one will pay for it because it is “impractical.” I have seen kids on the science track because it is the only education their parents will pay for.

Where are the arts in this state educational dictatorship? They are relegated to being occupation based, for example, an art-teacher is supported. I’m from a family of teachers. There is nothing wrong with teaching. Most of the time, it’s fun and rewarding. However, it does lock you into a certain middle-class not-great health insurance maybe I need a side hustle status which is nearly impossible to break out of.

But can you imagine having been forced into being something medical or teaching because it was the only way to afford college? This practical approach pretty much ensures that careers in the arts, pure sciences, journalism, English, and even religion are only open to kids with money. Rich people will be writing the news, giving the sermons, and singing the songs. The rest of us will be handing out pills, teaching in maskless classrooms, and other government determined career paths. It’s very much like the choice of roads in Charlotte.

Why do I feel so passionately about this? My grandfather was in the heating and air-conditioning business. His fortunes rose and fell with the company, which had trouble adapting from coal furnaces to gas and to air conditioning. He made sure all his kids got an education and learned how to think and be flexible. My granny was a lovely, sweet woman. But she believed a lot of what she read in The National Enquirer. She also wanted her kids not simply trained but educated, because it was something she never had. Guess what. My mom never read The National Enquirer.

Education helps ease the fear, doesn’t it?
You could write a whole scifi novel about this one.

Scholarships are good things, but we have entered into a dark place where training is paid for but being educated is a luxury. And will schools respond by cutting programs because of lack of majors, until, in the end, all we have is job training and not much beauty or deep-thinking? Yes, I’m sure this will happen. Perhaps it already has.

The persistent, absurd, useful mythology of Chauvinism

It wasn’t until recently that I learned about the man and the myth behind the term chauvinist pig. This mythological man has been a part of society for quite a while and indirectly has been part of mine, especially since I live in a rural area. I was flabbergasted to find out that Chauvin was a fictional character, a legend, and although some thought he was a real person, history hasn’t backed this up. Instead he’s an archetype and not one to be proud of. You may know a few of them, particularly if you live in the country.

The chauvinistic character has a long history in comedies and satires. The loud-mouthed ardent patriot, aggressively clinging to extreme nationalism –which by the way Einstein called the “measles of mankind”– first appeared in French vaudeville around 1840. The allegorical Nicholas Chauvin was an aging soldier who allegedly had 17 wounds and three amputated fingers, all from his persistent re-enlisting in the military. He was a peasant, his name synonymous with “clodhopper” or “country bumpkin.” Early songs about him make him sound like a man obsessed with his sex-life as much as he was with France and Napoleon. He was in fact, “pig-like” in that he was unaware of how expendable he was to Napolean–how the battles he bragged about were leading him to eventual slaughter, but not before he returned home and made more little piggies to send off on nationalistic tasks for any Empire in power. His first sexual experiences were with women who took his money. He was used. He was deep-down a coward. Yet he glorified sex and violence. He was a chauvinist.

Chauvinism has long been associated with rural life and a source of comedy and even admiration

A chauvinist is then, anyone who has a self-defeating “tribal attachment” to their race, gender, profession, or nationality. What does it take to create a chauvinist?

The romanticized image of the mutilated soldier-peasant with either a weapon or a spade over his broken shoulder has been pushed since the days of Pliny the Elder. How do you think Rome got so powerful? The image is hauled out and “worshiped” whenever “intellectuals” such as Einstein unfavorably critique the value of war and its exploitation of the lower class or talk about free college. Farmer-soldiers have been common throughout history, especially in the Union in the Civil War. (One of my relatives was such a soldier. He was severely injured and unable to farm, became educated instead.) The first step in creating a chauvinist is to connect it with patriotism.

Traditionally, farmer-soldiers are rewarded with land, but only if land is available. Interestingly enough, Midwestern farm women have been heavily lobbied to reject any kind of “feminism” or “women’s lib” as a threat to their way of life, their faith, and to the men who “feed America.” They have been told not to fight for themselves. Most of this perception was fanned by Farm Bureau (an insurance company) and other organizations who sell them things, starting in the 1980s. Rural women have been taught to accept and defend chauvinism…by insurance sellers. Another step in creating chauvinists is getting buy-in from women.

I have been wondering why my Midwestern-college employer put up rusty $100,000 landscaping statues to honor veterans instead of having the art department come up with something beautiful and inclusive. These rusty guys replaced a set of beautiful marble tablets engraved with names of Civil War dead and trees were cut to make way for them. Now, I see. This sort of imagery isn’t meant for people like me. War isn’t supposed to make intellectual sense. Those riveted scraps of corrosion represent the broken peasants and their mythology. Even at a college, a seat of intellectualism, the myth must live on because it’s useful to those in power. Even today, most military recruits are poor and yes, rural. So, another step in chauvinism is shallow tributes to it.

The chauvinist thus holds a certain type of grievance or unhappiness because of unjustness, and he responds by, well, being unjust. An older, country woman once told me that prejudice was the price women paid for not going to war. War, its injustice, rural life, and chauvinism go hand in hand.

At the heart of chauvinism lies aggression. As Masters and Johnson pointed out long ago, “sexuality is a dimension of personality” and although sexual aggression is often taken as a cultural symbol of male sexuality, it is not “hardwired” into human males. It is taught. The chauvinist has an axe to grind against society. The chauvinist ideal was created long ago but even today, men with fragile self-worth are more likely to lash out with aggression towards those around them.

For many, chauvinists are entertaining idiots. Their archetypes can take many forms: the redneck, the jingoist, the playboy, the gun-nut, the male chauvinist pig. Heck, even I have hapless chauvinists in my rural dystopian novels. Where else can you get comedy and tragedy in one package? The last step in chauvinism is to make it so normal that it’s funny.

Chauvinism is an identity. Nicholas Chauvin was meant to be a fool. However, many a chauvinist has embraced the term as a source of jokes and a badge of honor. Rush Limbaugh didn’t get a medal for being a nice person, or for any type of truth telling, but for reinforcing myth. He was proud of being a jerk, because he was a funny jerk, like Nicholas Chauvin. He even was called a political vaudevillian. Although Nick Chauvin died on the battlefield because he wouldn’t surrender, chauvinists aren’t going away any time soon. But should there come a time when we stop laughing?

Mask up against Authoritarian Rule: A checklist

I like to say that my dystopian satire series Unstable States is a cross between Idiocracy and The Handmaid’s Tale. Both titles are older and well-established views of a society gone off the rails. Idiocracy is itself a satire and although a friend argued with me about it, Handmaid’s Tale and the lack of female bodily autonomy seemed as if it could come true. It was true after all, in my mother’s lifetime and for those before her. And now here, or so it seems.

We’ve all read about repressive societies, fictional and otherwise. But what traits should we be looking for? For my satire, I incorporated my own Puritanically influenced upbringing and the early 1900s and post 9-11. And yes, Iowa’s growing pollution problem and governor were factors.

What if these influences had become autocracy? How would we even know? I turned to Political Science professor Jim Zaffiro for advice. He came up with some ideas.

Authoritarian Societies have these traits:

1.Marked by brain drain, hostility to truth tellers & intellectuals.

2. Leaders are elevated into masterminds to save the nation.

3. Information is censored and tightly controlled, so that the masses hear only or mostly the official interpretations of things.

4. Exploitation of invented outside or internal threats to justify suspension of civil liberties; often involves scapegoating undesirable groups, by race, religion, ethnicity, or foreign origin.

5. Tight control of other organs of government, including political parties, judiciary, and legislative.

6. Use of illegal methods or flaunting existing laws and norms in the name of security.

 7. Elevation of regime and leader survival over all else, leading to constitutional changes and rigged elections.

8.Use of neopatrimonialism to create sub-bosses totally loyal to the supreme leader who rewards them with patronage. (As seen in privatization schemes).

Other sources have similar lists including:

9. Sexism.

10. Hostility to intellectualism and the arts

11. Hostility to labor and labor unions. Protection of corporate power.

12. Obsession with crime and punishment

13. Insisting on titles such as Sir.

One problem with examining society and deciding if it is authoritarian or not is this: even egalitarian societies have rules and regulations. NO RULES! is not the mark of freedom. Ask yourself who do the rules benefit?

Inequality spreads much more easily than equality. Creating an egalitarian society where all people have equal opportunities, are not dominated, and may even punish alpha behaviors, isn’t easy. Authoritarianism is like germs in a sneeze. It may not be stable, but it spreads easily. We all need to recognize it for what it is and mask up. You don’t want to catch it. Hopefully here in Iowa we haven’t already.

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.


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.

An interview with ManyBooks

Lost in Waste is launched. It’s for sale here. If you do Facebook, I’m having a “party” with giveaways here. Comment for a chance to win. Facebook doesn’t allow competition and winners will be selected randomly.

Writing my first novel six years ago was a supreme struggle. I’d written and published short stories but never a novel. Who should be the focus? What should happen? How do I write a dialogue tag? And what is the theme? Every novel I ever read showed me what should be done, but none said the same thing. Because unlike science, there are numerous answers to any question in the arts.

I wrote two versions of Natural Attraction. The science romance version and the paranormal version. The romance was picked up and published as Natural Attraction. My first publisher told me to start a blog and get social media accounts, because writing is a business. I’ve been in this novel business for five years. Social media’s become a crowded place.

I like writing books. I love being edited and working with an editor to make a book the best it can be. Promoting my own books is much less fun. I can see why there is a whiskey called Writer’s Tears. I understand how the arts have a high suicide rate, just below that of people in the construction and building trades. There’s no sure way to know how successful a book will be. Or what even defines success.

One year, I got a rejection for that first novel on my birthday. I faced the same struggles many female authors do with virtually the same comments as a writer who submitted under a male and female name and found much more success as a male. For example, my main characters aren’t emotional enough or maybe are too stereotypical. The thing about rejection is, it’s not you getting rejected–it’s your characters, who for a short while, were more real to you than you were. You hurt for them. You let them down.

A writer can learn from rejection. An encouraging rejection from Harlequin Romance explained why a novel was not a true romance–because it highlighted the time and place of the characters. After that, I embraced the milieu novel. I moved forward.

People enjoy binging these days and series are popular. Mixed In is the first book in the Unstable States Series. It’s on sale for a short time right here.

Lost in Waste continues the same dystopia a short time later. It’s my fourth novel and I wrote it painfully slowly. However, I like how it turned out. How did I get my ideas? I watched news and social media, even though I kind of hate a lot of it. I listened to people and what events they were discussing. I don’t base characters on people I know but I do base them on what people are talking about. In Iowa, the topic is water pollution. Our water is so polluted, my city had to put in a reverse osmosis treatment plant. I read books. For Lost in Waste, a friend loaned me her anthropology books and we discussed topics. I went to a workshop. I wrote a little bit every day.

Mixed In is being featured on Manybooks. As part of the promotion, I gave an author interview. Being a teacher, I like author interviews. I explain or possibly defend myself. I don’t really like my photo taken. I feel as if it’s a visual interrogation. And female writers are judged on their looks. Having sensuous lips is apparently a reason for people to buy your books. I had a nice photo for my last book but needed an update. I went with a photo which, in the words of a friend, “made me look as if I could cause some trouble.”

Here’s the interview:

  1. Please give us a short introduction to what Mixed In is about. Catrina moves to an authoritarian city-state to pursue her dream job as a scientist. A chance meeting and deep involvement with rebellious bar owner Ulysses has her questioning the value of science to humanity. But it’s what she’ll need to save him.
    2.  What inspired you to write about someone who moves into an authoritarian society? Along with several other scientists, I was visited by the governor at my workplace. She spoke about Iowa needing more scientists in purely economic terms without any recognition of the joy of science, its optimism, and its commitment to making life better for as many people as possible. From my perspective, she was basically saying she supported science because it could make more money for the super-rich and that was to be its focus. I found it chilling but inspirational. I developed a fictional society ruled by a profit-driven family.
    3.  Tell us more about Catrina.  What makes her so special? Catrina carries the optimism of science and its love of problem-solving to the extreme. No problem is too big for her. She solves problems she maybe shouldn’t. She’s a little naïve. If you’re longing for a protagonist with a can-do spirit, like Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, or Hermione, you’ll love her. 
    4.  In Cochtonville, just about anything that is fun is outlawed – why did you create the story this way? Many people have told me that they think it has something to do with my hometown which is pretty buttoned up. That might have been a part of it. I envisioned a joyless place where there’s nothing to do but go to work and eat ham—and even that gets ruined. I based this on the Comstock Act of 1873 which declared many things to be lewd. I like to have mild sex scenes in my novels to help Mr. Comstock roll in his grave.
    5. Even though your characters live in a strange society, readers found them relatable and real.  How did you pull this off? I think we all can relate to the tension between private life and work life, to the complexities of love, and to being an outsider. 
    6.  Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have? I’m small and walk quietly so I can sneak up on people. Since I’m a chemist, I can make potions. And my last name rhymes with Frankenstein.
    7.  This is the first book in a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one? Yes, it and other books in the series can be standalone. The location is the same but the events and characters don’t depend on the other books. The series can be classified as Milieu, place-based. In each book, different people are fighting a similar battle.  
    8.  Among the wealth of characters in Mixed In, who was the most difficult to create? The male lead, Ulysses. He’s not the best choice for Catrina, he’s made questionable decisions, but I needed him to be likable.
    9.  What are you working on right now? I’ve just finished up the second book in the series, Lost in Waste, about falling in love with a GMO man. 
    10.  Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you? Mixed In is Amazon exclusive right now so they can find me there. I have a blog https://catherinehaustein.com/. I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sciwords/ I’d love to hear from them!

Fortunately, being a teacher has a low sorrow rate. Which is why I won’t quit my day job. This way, I won’t have to get plastic surgery to give myself those sensuous lips I might need to make a living as an author. And instead of my photo, here are my dogs waiting patiently for me to finish this blog and get out into the real world and play.

My dogs want me to pause and play with them in he real world.

How I Wrote Lost in Waste & the dangerous “art” of satire

Cali Van Winkle doesn’t plan to find romance in her life. After all, normal men are practically an endangered species after that last chemical spill. So when she spots genetically modified men while she’s on assignment to clean up a sewage lagoon, she vows to make the best of it. Thus began the first scene I wrote for Lost in Waste, which you can purchase here. (ebook only for now.)

I wrote this scene back in 2017. I wasn’t sure where to go with it. I made progress at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival that year. At the week long workshop style course, I developed the character of NezLeigh, an abandoned pre-teen with a potty mouth and a genetic defect–very small eyes. I based this on a sad reality, although I gave NezLeigh ability to see in the dark and to create clothes and rope from plastic bags. I got some laughs when I read aloud to my festival class, so I kept going.

I expanded the relationship between Cali and the GMO man, Remmer, who’d been genetically modified but botched. Using Crispr gene editing as inspiration, I envisioned him as one of many CrispEr men, with the E standing for erotic. No, it’s not an erotic novel; he and his fellow Crispers are meant to be an enticement for women to get them to conform and work harder. Thus, I watched plenty of male stripper videos and Magic Mike as I crafted it. And from there, it grew, little by little, with the help of my English major daughter, into an 89,000 word novel. How long did it take? Nearly a year and a half.

Remmer was modified using the Crispr process, which involves cutting DNA

This was my second novel in my Unstable States series, in which Iowa has turned into an authoritarian nightmare known as Cochtonia. However, there was no guarantee the second book would be accepted, nor did I promise I’d write a series. Despite this, the idea stuck with me and I persisted. Some have said that the authoritarian society emotionally resembles my own home town. I didn’t intend this but obviously, it must have influenced me. I didn’t finish Lost in Waste and submit it to the publisher, City Owl Press, until December 2018! Fortunately, I received a contract for publication soon after.

My next half year was spent working with my editor, Christie. She encouraged me to develop a Style Sheet to keep track of the series so there would be consistency going forward. It turned out to be 14 pages long.

Christie was incredibly encouraging. I tend to write “brief”–I don’t want to be boring– and she was able to tease expansion and elaboration from me. I most certainly need other readers who are willing to critique. One major change she wanted was a new opening. For a moment I was stumped but after a trip to Petoskey, Michigan and some relaxing stone finding and polishing, it came to me.

She also suffered through having to proof read me. Thank-you, Christie.

Next came another proof reading. I admire anyone with the eye and patience to do this! When I wrote my first novel, I hired both a copy editor and a proof reader. Lost in Waste was my first venture into trusting my publisher to help me with this.

In October, City Owl artists and editors created the cover. We knocked around a title for the work. My grandkids loved Lost In Space and I wanted to be sure to have one that hinted at comedy. This is how I got the final title.

And now, at last, it’s almost here. Am I nervous? Yes. While grief flows from us with sad universality, and love is a hormone regulated experience we share, comedy, like plastic, isn’t a natural thing.

A satire is dangerous, too. A satire expresses frustration with the status quo. Satire is intended to expose our foolishness by deploying humor. It exposes and criticizes foolishness by being foolish. For example, Iowa has enacted a ban on banning plastic bags. Thus, you will find plenty of them blowing in the wind in Lost in Waste.

Satire intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles. A writer in a satire uses fictional characters, which stand for real people, to expose and condemn their corruption.” It can’t be a middle of the road experience. It has to take a stand. Most comedy writers use a pseudonym because of the dangers comedy writing involve. In the words of famous satirist Johnathan Swift “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own. Which is the chief reason for that kind reception it meets with in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.” It must “claim no right to absolute truth or goodness.”

Thus, I hope, you will identify with and be appalled by the “out group” in Cochtonia, with the life in the oppressive nation of Cochtonia, and even with a few of the decisions the “good” characters make. Yes, satire can exploit stereotypes and will have some. I use stereotypes for the authority figures. As in Mixed In, there is a ridiculous boss who thinks highly of himself and demands far too much. Do I personally have a boss I hate? Absolutely not. But most can relate to the sense that they are working harder and sacrificing more and getting less glory than others around them.

Why can’t I stop writing comedy? Because, if I don’t laugh, I might cry. Also, I don’t want to “kill my darlings.” I won’t shock you by killing off the main character or even a dog even though I do parody a scene from The Bear.

If you find much about society, including yourself, absurd and unpredictable, you might enjoy escaping into a satire. You’ll be glad you don’t live in the nation of Cochtonia. Then again, maybe you do.

Authoritarians vs Art

It’s almost here. Lost in Waste will be released February 18. It’s a comic look at life and love in an authoritarian society, Cochtonia, which doesn’t regulate its agricultural waste. It only regulates its citizens. You can pre-order the Kindle version right here. Warning: it contains mild sexual references, male strippers, and children swearing. (I have never been a fan of the Victorian Era.)

It’s Book 2 in my Unstable States series. These books are stand alone but if you want an introduction to the wold, you can read about Book 1 here. The sad thing about authoritarian societies is that people put up with them easily and fall into the boring routine of authoritarians. They are usually perfectly fine for the average. I mean no offense to those who are perfectly happy with them. This is why, in Book 2, the overwhelming sense of the place is that it’s simply unfair. It’s ugly and drab and wastes people’s potential. But is it evil? You’ll have to answer that for yourself.

I’ve already gotten a suggestion from readers for the next book: have things turn around for the people. Have the environment saved. Let people get healthcare. Give them some freedom. As I turn to book 3, I need to look at how people resist authoritarianism. One way is through art. Take for example, the Judith paintings.

When society turned its back on an artist’s rape, she created a series of paintings to express her outrage.

It doesn’t take much to spot authoritarianism. Suppressing art is a good sign it’s afoot. And in a land oppressed, the “popular” art that the society produces is usually bad, even to the very citizens who don’t have exposure to good art. In Lost in Waste, the national anthem is absurd, but people sing it.

As explained in The Diplomat “The logic is straightforward: Artistic freedom is part and an aspect of the freedom of expression. Without a guaranteed space to explore and articulate their thoughts, emotions, imaginations and sentiments, artists will not be able to function or flourish….Works that are reflective and critical of the status quo are a crucial element of artistic expression.” In other words, free society needs art. Art is freedom. Art can be rebellion, thus dictators quash it. It’s why we need to support it.

Here in the US, the National Endowment for the Arts is under threat. The 2020 budget allows funds only for closing it. However, it’s not a done deal.

Motto of story–when art is suppressed, there’s an authoritarian lurking about.

Other ways to resist authoritarian rule: don’t let Them scare you, don’t let Them divide you, fact check, support women and minorities.

I like my forthcoming book. I hope you read it. I’d love to send you a copy. Contact me and I will. Or pre-order the electronic version. You don’t have to pre-pay.

And while you are here, give a museum with a Judith painting some love. It has some great art…much of it combines rebellion with humor. Vote for the Detroit Institute of the Arts as best art museum. Thank-you so much!

Tall Tale of Privatization

I took a road trip recently. It reminded me of the tall tale of privatization.

In West Virginia, the toll has doubled to $4. To cross West Virginia on I-77, a person needs to pay this three times, once every approximately every 30 miles, because the highway uses no state or federal funds. This decision has been made on a state level. Some people take country roads and locals can get a cheaper pass but trucks can’t. Costs get passed on to consumers.

We all pay gasoline taxes to fund our roads. However, it’s not enough and despite promises, infrastructure dollars will not be increased unless cuts are made to other domestic programs. In a punishing move, Trump has said that money will be taken from California, one of our most productive states. In the mean time, states are coming up with solutions that increase inequality.

Indiana privatized its toll roads, using a foreign company. The company then went bankrupt. This is common for privatized toll roads. Despite the disaster in his state, Pence is still a fan of the practice–which requires tax payers to subsidize the private partnerships. These partnerships have a track record of going broke. Additionally, they sell our public lands and roads to profiteers.

In North Carolina, a crowded freeway has some much needed new lanes but people can only drive on them if they have an Express pass, costing $6 or more. The passes are sold and the new highway lanes, where you can go as fast as you want, are owned by a company in Spain, Cintra. I-77 needed more lanes, the tax base did not allow for it, so privatization stepped in. Now there are two tiers of people on the road, the fast people with money and the rest of us.

Me in the slow lane in the rain

This is similar to the anti-Net Neutrality folks, who want people to pay to get their sites into the fast lane. My site will be in the slow lane.

A privatized dam in Michigan burst, due to disrepair, upending people during a pandemic and threatening a Superfund pollution site.

My district once had a politician who promoted private prisons…along with less regulation (he owned a factory). He called them a growth industry. Private prisons pay employees less than government run prisons. However, they don’t appear to save any money because they have a profit motive, unlike government prisons. They’ve been implicated in scandals such as Kids for Cash, bribery, and campaign contributions. They’ve been linked to an increase in incarceration and people returning to prison because they have no incentives to rehabilitate people.

Iowa threw its lot in with Medicaid privatization. Many critics said it was a thank you gift to political donors. In any case, costs of providing coverage have nearly tripled, because, um, profit motive. What did you expect? Unable to learn from others, the U of Iowa president is pursuing privatization of the university’s utilities.

Privatization of city services has increased costs across the country. Services to poor areas of cities have been cut when privatization sweeps in. Drinking water costs have increased while service decreases. Veolia, a private company, was in part responsible for Flint’s water woes and caused problems in Philadelphia. Famously, parking meters in Chicago have been privatized for the next 75 years. (U of Iowa is seeking a 50 year privatization.) Fees went up and meters started malfunctioning. Privatization has a disregard for the environment. It’s all about profits. Despite this, corrupt politicians want to privatize the popular US postal service even as privately held FedEx suffers numerous woes.

Do a search for Privatization Horror Stories for more.

It isn’t just happening in the US. In Australia, privatization has raised costs for everything from airport parking to energy. In Russia, privatization has created oligarchs.

Privatization increases inequality. Privatized entities fall apart. This is why privatization is a part of my next dystopia.

Ditch the myths about poverty and wealth

The problem with the economy here in the US is: it only works for some. Income inequality is at record highs. Food prices are 40% higher than they were ten years ago, in part because investors have been buying commodities. In other words, the rich are getting rich by making the poor pay more for food. Cutting food aid, as our government is considering and the president is pushing, makes it even more difficult for those in poverty to get healthy foods.

Income inequality makes a country less productive. Meritocracy is a lie. Wealthy people aren’t smarter, more productive, and better for society. It’s bad for society and even bad for them to believe this. And let’s be honest–a lot of them make terrible bosses. They aren’t cut out for it.
Plywood highlights this rural city hall and there’s not a Starbucks in sight to blame.

I recently got my salary letter. My raise was not wonderful. The next day, my spouse went to the hospital for surgery. It was needed, unexpected, and tucked in at the end of the year since we’d already hit the deductible with a procedure in June. I have health insurance. It’s not good but I won’t go bankrupt this year. All I can wonder is: why is the economy allegedly so good? Where is my raise? If an educated person is unable to see wealth mobility, is it possible?

The problem with the economy here in the US is: it only works for some. Income inequality is at record highs. Food prices are 40% higher than they were ten years ago, in part because investors have been buying commodities. In other words, the rich are getting rich by making the poor pay more for food. Cutting food aid, as our government is considering and the president is pushing, makes it even more difficult for those in poverty to get healthy foods.

Income inequality makes a country less productive. Meritocracy is a lie. Wealthy people aren’t smarter, more productive, and better for society. It’s bad for society and even bad for them to believe this. And let’s be honest–a lot of them make terrible bosses. They aren’t cut out for it.

Living in a poor neighborhood can change your biology. It’s stressful to be poor and the stress of being unfairly scrutinized and blamed for your poverty is crushing. This creates a cascade of harmful hormones.

Poverty shortens lives. Poor people live on average, 15 years less than rich people in the US and they are more likely to die from cancer.

Crime goes up when people know the deck is stacked against them. Add this to the tendency of rich people to cheat and you have the makings of an unstable society.

On the other hand, there are some lies persisting about people in poverty. They are NOT terrible parents and they DO value education. In general, poorer people abuse alcohol and drugs LESS than wealthy people do. Most families in poverty have two working parents.

The welfare budget in the US is less than one half of one percent in the US. About 60 percent of people in the US will spend at least a year in poverty. This is a rate twice as high as in Europe. There is little government assistance to help. Poverty in the US is escalating despite the low unemployment rate. The new jobs do not pay well. The raises these days go to those making above $100,000.

Poverty myths are so prevalent here that even poor people believe them. It’s why they can be convinced to vote against the social safety net and be proud of voting that way. There have been a few people here in the US who got rich on their own–kind of–not considering that the government seized lands from the natives who had cleared and settled the land. Americans grossly overestimate economic mobility with less educated people being the most likely to believe the meritocracy and poverty myths.

The myths exist to keep people in their place. How many politicians have you heard hint that if you don’t vote for them, the economy will go south, the rich will yank your job, you’ll slip into poverty and it will be your fault? Politicians will repeat the lies of welfare queens and poor people buying too many lattes. Ironically, the boyhood home of the politician who spoke so dishonestly of welfare queens is having hard times financially and needs government assistance.

Lattes do not create poverty. An unequal society and persisting myths do. The poor do not need financial advice. To assume this is snobbery. An occasional latte is not making anyone broke. Poor wages and high fixed costs such as for housing and health care are doing that. A latte is a cheap treat to keep them from wanting to die. As one woman said, “I’m poor and I like doing face masks to cheer myself up. I’m poor and I like to eat a meal I didn’t have to make when I’m too tired to keep going. Bite me.”

Since the war on poverty is far from over, we should be putting money into keeping society stable and working towards equality. And when I write dystopias, income inequality will be part of the unhealthy society. You know what else, I’m 100% with the poor woman and face masks.