Just for fun, here’s the mail I got from candidates this past week, in no particular order. I think Warren has sent the most and apparently Bernie hasn’t sent a thing. See any you like? They’re coming your way soon, no doubt.
It’s Imbolc today–the time when Mother Earth awakes in the Northern Hemisphere. The cardinals are singing this morning–my new puppy can’t figure out what that mysterious sound is. It’s hilarious to watch her perk up her ears and twist her head around as she listens. Just wait, sweetie, it’s only the beginning.
We have a nice layer of snow here in Iowa. Snow is a pain to drive in, I admit it. However, it’s wonderful for the garden, providing insulation and moisture. In Japan, people put out special snow viewing lanterns with flat tops to catch the snow. Maybe instead of cursing the cold and snow, we need to look for ways to slow our culture down.
Meanwhile, Mother Nature tells us to chill. Apples and pears set more fruit after a hard winter. Time spent below freezing acts as a rest period for northern plants. Additionally, many plants have a chilling requirement, which is the number of hours of cool but not freezing temperatures they must experience before springing to life after winter. This keeps them from waking up too soon and facing a frost. “High chill” cold climate varieties need 800-1,000+ hours of chilling, while warm climate “low chill” varieties require 500 hours or less. Tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs require chilling. So do lilacs, dogwoods, and forsythia. Some of our favorite fruits such as apples, pears, blueberries, and cherries do, too.
Soon we’ll all be springing to life. It’s a time for new beginnings and spring cleaning. However, don’t forget to get your needed chill hours! There’s still time.
Quite a while a go, my daughter noticed that I had elements of witchcraft strewn about the house–particularly various crystals. She wondered if I could be a witch and alas, I wish I could be. I wish I could cast love spells and attract good fortune. I can’t.I had the crystals because I like rocks and minerals. I’m no witch. But at least I have science.
What did humanity have before science? We dwelled in superstition. The world was erratic and capricious–sometimes benevolent and other times cruel–depending on the wishes of deities. Deities selected the rulers of a nation. They brought the weather–sunny days to firestorms. They spoke to us through calamity and fortune. We did our best to understand, obey, and predict their whim and wishes. A cricket on the hearth signaled luck. In England, black cats were unlucky.
In the US, old shoes in the wall brought good luck as did lucky bones made from codfish. We had slogans such as “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” We had signs–lightning struck towers because the people within were bad, not because static charge accumulates at points. Maybe I’m glad not to have the witch’s craft. It seems so complicated.
As the Renaissance spread in Europe, a New idea took hold–that of verifiable truth. The idea that nature can be observed and understood, not just by the practitioner but by anyone else with the proper measuring tools and instruction. Secrecy and private craft was out and sharing ideas was seen as the only way to make progress.
When science struggled for respect, old women and women with birthmarks and extra nipples were witches. Witches cast low magic, earth magic or practical magic spells. An example of such might be causing milk to spoil or making someone have a “fit.” Interestingly enough, early scientists such as Isaac Newton believed in high magic, involving the planets, angels and demons, and cosmic realms such as alchemy, which involved chemistry mixed with prayer and summoning of powers by the alchemist. Sadly, all Newton got from his dabbling in alchemy was mercury poisoning from quicksilver. The Salem Witch Trials occurred during Newton’s life, although the English were starting to doubt witchcraft and the need to execute witches.
It took a while for magic to live only in the realm of fantasy. What’s the difference between fantasy and scifi? It’s magic vs verifiable truth. How does magic, the harnessing of unknowable forces, differ from science? In science there is the belief that anyone can do it–you don’t need to be The One who draws a sword from the stone or who is chosen to go to a school of magic. In science, nature makes the rules and anyone can discover them. Powers are discovered, not summoned. In science, everyone is a Muggle. Michael Faraday was a great champion of this and his ideas inspired other thinkers such as Charles Darwin who were great proponents of us all coming from the same family tree. (As opposed to leaders being from heaven and some being born better.) Science, at its heart, is the most equitable truth out there. It’s why it’s toppled dynasties, abolished slavery, and why scientists tend to write lab reports in the passive voice. It’s why, it’s so dangerous to those who believe they are innately better and are born better than others.
In my upcoming novel, Lost in Waste, the city-state of Cochtonville has evolved into the country of Cochtonia, run by businessman brothers Bert and Clarence Cochton. They rule through their wealth and capriciousness. Agricultural products are the heart of Cochtonia–and scientists are there to help the country produce more products. What’s lost in this country is that science is a way of knowing based on evidence. It’s a search for the truth. Without this quest, scientists aren’t happy and they aren’t productive. And the truth is, the citizens aren’t be happy in Cochtonia either. The nation’s ridiculous hoops for advancement in society have created a stratified society. It’s conformity and slogans impact productivity.
“Because I said so.” Didn’t you hate that as a kid? I found it so unpersuasive as evidence. Verifiable truth. No special powers. No divine leaders. Equality. These are tools science gave us to use against oppressors. So wave a wand and cast a spell if you wish. I hope it works for you. In my lab, we’ll be pushing buttons. Because all we have is the new craft of science. And as far as things go, science is much more dangerous to demons.
How did you get into writing? I always liked reading and writing
fiction as a child. In high school, a friend and I wrote comic serial novels to
entertain and possibly irritate our classmates. In college, I loved my Short
Story Writing course and then became the editor of the campus literary
magazine. When I went to chemistry graduate school, I missed fiction writing so
I applied to and got accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I’ve been writing
ever since, but didn’t attempt a novel until seven years ago.
How do you find time to write while teaching? I try to stay
disciplined and write each morning and evening, even if it is just for a short
Why did you choose to write romance novels? I don’t really like
violence and prefer to write things with a satirical edge to them. Love is a
universal topic and gives plenty of opportunity for humor, frustration,
self-reflection, and a happy ending.
How does the romance novel
community react to your infusion of science into your writing? I mostly publish
with a Sci-Fi publisher now so I am not strictly in the romance genre. I am
still building my reader base and this has been slow going.
Do you bring your writing (in
some form) into your science classes? Yes. Writing requires looking at
concrete details and evidence, expressing ideas efficiently, and drawing a
conclusion based on what has happened—just like a lab report.
Do you ever teach a novel writing class? No but I would love to if there is a demand.
Has anything from Central worked its way into your books? Not
really. There is an adage in fiction writing that “only trouble is interesting.”
I enjoy my work here so I don’t find a lot of inspirational trouble. I did one
time have someone who no longer works here tell me that they found my field of
Analytical Chemistry “far too easy.” I found this arrogant and I had a villain
use the line.
Not long ago, I went to an Iowa caucus training. A caucus is first of all, a meeting. It’s not a primary. It’s a meeting run by a political party and funded by the party. It’s a meeting to select the party’s nominee for election and to work on the party’s goals and principles–the platform. It’s an expensive undertaking. Here is information about the caucus. Here is the platform of one party and of the other.
A caucus will have an attendance of 5-500 people, depending on where you live in the state. It is a place to register people to your party, register people to vote, and to elect delegates for candidates running for president. Each county has a specific number of delegates based on how many people voted in the last 2 elections and how many candidates from that party received votes. A caucus is paid for by the party but works with the elected official–the auditor–to get this information. There are no official candidates at this point, although many have been vying for the nomination. A caucus can elect “undecided.” However, based on your number of delegates, only so many can move forward as “viable.” A candidate may have supporters, but not enough to win a delegate. If this happens, the supporters have the chance to move to their second choice candidate. As you can imagine, there’s math involved and some rounding.
Since there were allegations of fraud in the last caucus–which turned out to be a Russian hoax–the caucus will be less meeting- like next year. Instead of counting people in preference groups and having people win over delegates, we need to collect cards. And people must sign the cards and declare who they are for early in the process. This is a departure for folks like me, who show up not knowing who they will be for and hoping to discuss things at a meeting. I for one feel that the interference in the past election, starting with the caucuses, was a serious threat. There’s a difference between free speech and perpetuating fraud.
In the past, the chair counted the people in each preference group and the results were verified with name and signature by a delegate for each candidate. The card adds an extra layer. Plus, I have to save the cards in case there is an audit. Here’s a look at the card:
I volunteered to be a temporary chair for the next caucus. My goal will be to sort people into their candidate preference groups, elect delegates to the county convention (they represent their candidate preference), adopt platform resolutions, and elect people to leadership roles. I had to have a training and will need to pass a quiz.
The Iowa caucus will be on Feb. 3, 2020. It’s the first test of a candidate’s appeal and organization. The locations will be announced, but any entity supported by state taxes in any way must permit their location to be used at no charge.
A while ago, I came across a message from Highlights for Children.
A kids’ magazine featuring mild rebukes of doing things such as sticking your dirty fingers in an olive jar (that would be you, Goofus) instead of using a fork (yay Gallant–you always do the right thing), had a serious statement on Twitter about what I am going to call state sponsored child abuse.
Give this magazine credit for knowing the science of hardship, neglect, and stress on kids. Kids and baby mammals in general are not resilent as some claim. They are sensitive to stress. When raised in situations where resources are lacking females suffer from lack of brain development, leading to attention problems. In other words, things like poverty and war can harm the brain of a young female, making her less able to make good decisions and be less resilent in the future. Being raised by a stressed mom can create many problems for the offspring: depression, anxiety, attention problems and PTSD later in life. Good nutrition and dependable dads can help nuture brain development and ensure proper social skills. Allowing children to experience malnutrition and trauma, such as the trauma of war and poverty or even physical punishment, can affect genes, making future generations more likely to be unable to cope with stress. What helps? Anti-poverty programs including food assistance work! They protect children and familes. But due to the deep, genetic trauma of poverty and stress, we can’t expect insantaneous results. Lack of nurture becomes nature.
Life here on Earth has it all figured out. Plants consume carbon dioxide and water and pump out oxygen and carbohydrates. Animals consume carbohydrates and pump out carbon dioxide. It works beautifully when in balance. When out of balance, it creates spots where no life exists called Dead Zones. Dead Zone sound like something from a Stephen King novel. In reality, they are found in watersheds. The cause: lack of dissolved oxygen in the water.
When fertilizer from fields runs into the water, it causes algae to grow.
No problem, right? The algae will put oxygen in the water. It does, until it dies or until the excess algae chokes out other vegetation and kills it. Decomposition uses oxygen. The oxygen levels fall and animals die due to the lack of it, just as in the Death Zone of Mt Everest where the lack of oxygen is due to lower air pressure. Just like Everest climbers, aquatic animals try to get to areas of higher oxygen…they try to swim away and also gulp air at the surface. But they become lethargic and eventually will suffocate.
Of all crops, corn uses the most fertilizer. Therefore, its production is responsible for most of the Dead Zone. This map shows where most of the fertilizer us used in the Mississippi. Because fertilizer is mostly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, these areas are labeled “Nitrogen Hot Spots.”
The problem is acute when fresh water from farm fields containing fertilizer washes into the Mississippi. This water streams into the Gulf of Mexico-salt water–and sits on top of it because salt water is heavier.
The Dead Zone and agricultural pollution is a huge issue for Iowa. Because of all the animal feeding operations, Iowa is number one in poop...and the excess nitrogen in the form of nitrates that comes with it. New evidence shows that this does more than cause the Gulf Dead Zone. It contributes to cancer, including thyroid cancer which is very common in Iowa, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, and many birth defects and pre-term birth. We need more regulations of these pollutants. We need to reduce our dependence on corn and corn ethanol in Iowa. We need more regulations on animal feeding operations–many of them are owned by China. Did you know that there is more chicken shit in Iowa than people shit? None of it has to go through sewage treatment! Not a pretty picture.
Solutions will not be easy and won’t come as long as Iowans are complacent about the issue. Last year, almost none of my students had even heard of the Dead Zone. Iowans consider themselves “Iowa Nice” because they are superficially polite. But being ignorant of pollution is not very nice, is it?
Sadly, all of this rain and flooding will be a disaster for water quality. Here is a great article with more information.
Recently, Iowa has joined the ranks of states who have seen cases of measles, a viral disease entirely prevented by vaccine. Before a vaccine was developed in 1963, millions of people caught the disease each year. Brain swelling and death were the most serious side effects. In 2000, public health officials believed the United States was free of measles. However, in 2019, we have seen more cases than in 1994. Click here for a map and more information.
On Twitter, Dan Rather mused “Perhaps the anti-vaccine movement and the resurgence of overt racist rhetoric have something in common. As firsthand knowledge of the horrors of lynchings, the Holocaust, the scourge of horrific diseases fades with time, we forget that deadly pestilences demand our vigilance.” Some of this is true. Young parents haven’t had measles. Except for cases of extreme flu and HIV, people have forgotten how horrible viral diseases can be, with their resistance to antibiotics. You can’t kill a virus because it isn’t alive. It needs your cells to reproduce. How does your body fight a virus? It has to assemble the correct chemicals to take it down and to do this, it has to learn about the virus through exposure. Vaccines provide this training.
Much of the disinformation here in the United States is associated with Russian disinformation campaigns. We even have a crop of politicians going against doctor’s advice on vaccines and other important health issues. I’ve encountered locals who invoke their own version of god to justify ignoring doctors’ advice.
It comes as no surprise that a number of these people are simply complacent. Some might engage in “magical thinking” –the hope that something is out there beyond simply what we know at this time. Both complacency and magical thinking go together to create a “it can’t happen to me” attitude. I asked a doctor in a city which has seen a measles outbreak if the cases were mostly poor people. He said, no, poor people in general appreciate medical care and trust doctors. They also know bad things can happen. This epidemic has roots in the middle class.
Thanks to scientific advances, some viral killers have been almost entirely wiped from the face of the Earth. Polio is one of those killers. Although it was always around, it spread as an epidemic in the early 1900s with break- outs occurring each summer. In the United States, the epidiemic reached its peak in the summer of 1950 with 57,628 cases, 3,145 resulting in death and 21,269 were left with some form of paralysis.
Some patients suffered chest muscle paralysis, could not breathe on their own and were put into a ventilator known as the iron lung. Each device cost as much as an average home.
At the University of Pittsburgh, Jonas Salk launched what was then the largest human trial in history, injecting nearly 2 million American kids with a potential vaccine. His method, made from an attenuated virus, was funded by public donations via the March of Dimes. When it was announced that his vaccine worked, Salk was hailed as a humanitarian hero. You can read more here.
In 1952 Salk give vaccine to his family. In 1955, the vaccine given to the public for free. By 1994, polio was mostly wiped out.
Famed CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow asked Salk who owned the patent to his vaccine. The scientist replied: “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
A friend of mine remembers contracting polio in 1955, two months after the vaccine was annouced.
“I was 5 and had a terrible headache. We called the local doctor We didn’t have insurance so the doctor kept me at home and he had 2 Blue Cross nurses come over evey day to help my mom. I could not move so my mom had to boil wool blankets and wrap me in them, then they had to exercise every joint in my body to loosen them. This was every day. Most people were in the hospital in an iron lung. Since we were poor, I was at home. It took about 2 months of constant exercising joints and boiling blankets to keep the joints loose. I was unable to move at all. This was 1955 about 2 months after the vaccination. I have had problems with moving and bones. I spent 2 months at the Shriners Hospital straightening some bones especially in my feet. Still have issues with my back. ” She adds, ” I hope parents will vaccinate their children.”
The measles outbreak is an example of public misinformation as well as a consequence of government’s failure to adequately fund public health.. As a new election season gears up, look for candidates who put you and your family’s health first and make sure to vote for those who give accurate information. The way things are going, vaccinations could become illegal some day. Can you imagine health care workers thrown in jail for vaccinating people? Don’t let it happen.
Iowa was once a sensible state but it’s been heavily influenced by crazy as of late. Recently, a man introduced a bill to make miscarriages and causing them illegal–or at least subject to investigation.
I’m sensitive to health and safety regulations being cut. To me, these are protections. As a chemist, protections mean a lot to me. As a baby, I was given a lot of tetracycline. When my permanent teeth came in, they were grey and stained. This has affected my whole life. Yes I have crowns but that is not the same as real teeth. They need more maintaining. They need replacing at times. They make me self-conscious–but I still like to smile. And I have not gotten one penny of compensation for it all.
This is why, when I wrote about a dystopia in Mixed In, it was one in which there were no consumer protections and no environmental protections. The only regulations were for personal behavior.
Pollution can make people and animals more susceptible to disease. and this occurs at a genetic level, meaning, future generations will suffer. For example, fluorocarbon pollution from substances such as fire fighting foams and water proofing chemicals found in food packaging have been linked to a weakened immune response. The result in humans is that those exposed get more colds, respiratory infections and gastroenteritis. This is particularly common in young girls. These changes are at a genetic level–in other words, will be passed on. Additionally, those exposed are less protected by vaccines. which work by boosting the immune system.
In other words, unregulated pollution can doom generations of people while making pathogens stronger.
Another thing about pollution: It’s racist. African Americans are most likely to live in the shadow of pollution and are the least likely to profit from it. Do you think they don’t know it? Of course they do. And so do the politicians who spout the phrase “job killing regulations.” These guys know exactly what and who pollution harms and they don’t care. The question is: do you?