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.

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.

Chilling requirements (not just for plants)

The tulips are chillin’. Are you?

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.

Although we’ve had the paradigm of hard work getting us ahead, many don’t believe it any more. There are studies and editorials about how productivity is killing us. Numerous companies don’t reward hard workers. They are obsessed with driving up stock prices and to do this they do things such as fire workers, cut Research and Development and trash the environment. This isn’t good for the long term health of the company. And constant work isn’t good for our health either. Employee stress eating after work is a sign of a poorly run company. Do you do that? Can you chill instead?

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.

My New Pup Chilling

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.

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!

The Great Blood Pudding Debate

If you’ve ever been privy to a church debate or argument, you know it’s a hurtful thing and can stick with you for a long time. The debate about blood pudding was fiercely fought in England in the mid 1600s to late 1700s. Sir Isaac Newton didn’t leave behind many papers or correspondence when he died at the age of 84 in 1727. But he did leave behind a treatise on his thoughts about the raging blood pudding debate-the question being, should Christians eat blood pudding?

First of all, what is blood pudding? Also called black pudding and blood sausage, it’s made from animal blood, a grain such as oatmeal, fat, and various spices, and is sometimes stuffed in a casing like a sausage. It’s considered an English breakfast staple. Bloedworst in the Netherlands, Boudin noir in France, morcilla to Spanish speakers, this dish is popular in many cultures. It’s said to be softer than a regular sausage but still meaty, with a taste you can only really describe as “dark.” But you might have never heard of it. In the US, it’s banned for sanitary reasons, however, it’s important in French and Cajun cooking and some versions have passed inspection.

In Newton’s day it was a staple food of the poor, particularly the Irish, who bled their oxen to make it without killing the animals.

Why was this food once worth a religious brawl? The debate centers around the book of Genesis. In the first part of Genesis, humans are told to eat only plants. Later, Noah is told it’s okay to eat animal but not their blood. For Christian scholars, the holy book held three sets of rules–Moses rules, Noah rules, and post-Jesus rules. No blood was a Noah rule. The argument is that drinking/eating blood is barbaric, consuming a life force that is not yours to consume. But according to some scholars, post-Jesus rules say you can eat the blood. Isaac Newton himself was squarely in the anti-blood pudding camp. He was a great reader of scripture and did his best to interpret it. He said,”the prohibition is a check to savageness and cruelty.” He was not alone in equating blood with sacred life. You could eat flesh but not blood in many opinions. To eat blood defiled the person who consumed it. It might give the person a thirst for blood.

In Newton’s day, many also thought that trophy hunting was forbidden by the bible, again, because it incited cruelty of the spirt. Newton was opposed to eating anything killed in a cruel manner because “such actions incline men to …unmercifulness.” The Methodists joined him in being anti-blood pudding. Newton, it should be noted, was not particularly merciful. He was full-Noah in regards to blood eating yet in the “post-Jesus” camp and against circumcision. But if anything, people in religious debates are not known for their consistency of stances.

The debate still goes on today in some circles. The tempest, however, subsided, possibly around 1797 when John Rollo, surgeon General of the Royal Artillery, prescribed it as a cure for diabetes, along with opium.  Clinical Diabetes(Vol. 14, Issue 3).

The anti-puddingers have largely been forgotten. It’s popular throughout the world. There is even a Black Pudding Club and a Blood Pudding Press, which publishes poetry. A man saved his life by using a frozen one as a battering ram when he got stuck in a freezer.

Next time you get in a pointless debate, remember the Black Pudding.

At least he’s not getting hit with Black Pudding. You can buy this cute decal here https://www.etsy.com/listing/37437973/isaac-newton-gravity-decal-macbook?ref=shop_home_active_67

Decal link.

Word of the year: oligarchy

An oligarchy is when a few people rule over the majority. The rulers are put in power due to wealth or nobility. At its core, oligarchy involves concentrating economic power and using it for political purposes. 

In an oligarchy, an organized minority controls a disorganized majority. It’s the most common type of rule around. We even see it in high schools with the cliques and power couples.

Some countries such as Saudi Arabia have been oligarchies for a long time. Others such as in Venezuela, form when democracy goes wrong. Cochtonia in my novel series, is such an oligarchy.

Ancient Rome was an oligarchy as was South Africa (established by Caucasians) in the last century.

Today these countries are oligarchies: Russia, Ukraine China, Iran (religious), Saudi Arabia (wealth, monarchy), Turkey (one family, the Kocs), North Korea, and a few others.

Some consider the US to be rapidly becoming a wealth based oligarchy now that over half of our wealth is controlled by a few families, with the Koch brothers and Silicon Valley wealth controlling much of the country’s policies. The Koch brothers have been very bad for any policies protecting the environment, for example.

Why would people put up with such rule? In many ways, it makes life more predictable. You don’t have to worry about politics, which is exhausting and a lot of work. The most powerful oligarchies offer hope that a few select peons will be able to join, lying to people that all have a chance. This is evident in my next novel, Lost in Waste.

The downside is, of course, most citizens become discouraged, disenfranchised, and even rebellious.

Democracy is most often toppled into oligarchy when people complain about government. Have you heard the terms starve the beast and big government sucks? It might sound like a pleasant appeal to independence but the truth is, these are oligarch refrains. These ideas aren’t based on any sort of well-researched, economic policies. They come from the wealthy wanting more and more.

In an oligarchy, you don’t vote out bad politicians. Once they get in, the repeat the lies of the oligarchs. Try writing one of Iowa’s senators these days. If you have evidence that their policies are hurtful, they write back calling you an idiot or don’t write back at all.

One tool of oligarchy is to divide the people. Here in Pella, people use the abortion issue as an excuse to support the oligarchy. If this issue goes away, the oligarchs will come up with something new to control the masses. I’m on the local planning and zoning commission and found that political party did not define how members reacted to a local controversy. People can be unified, but oligarchies don’t want this.

Oligarch’s also make sure that ordinary people depend on them for economic survival. You can see this today, as small businesses are swallowed up by large chains, companies merge, and even the media consolidates. In my town, the local factories sometimes tell people how to vote and run their own insider candidates. In fact, a tool of an oligarchy is to set up puppet rulers.

A third way they survive is to destroy any pubic projects and instead, make people reliant on their charity. An example of this is the American Prairie Reserve, which combines public and private lands, and is funded by primarily oil profiteers. They take and they give, and they expect us to admire them, as all oligarchs do.

How oligarchies fall? It can occur when some oligarchs become sympathetic with the public and fund initiatives favoring them. It is thought that this is why Caesar was killed.

If the majority organizes, they can regain some rights, and even tax the minority. The first step of opposing an oligarchy is to remain informed. This is why oligarchies such as Russia and some political parties put out so much disinformation.

Another way to gain freedom is to follow science. Science relies on independence and evidence based decisions. Unlike the powerful, most scientists have the public interest at heart, Scientists have been oppressed by oligarchs–think Galileo for example. “Indeed, reflecting on what drew him to the study of physics, Stephen Hawking once noted that in his chosen field, “It doesn’t matter what school you went to or to whom you are related. It matters what you do.” (source of quote) The idea that people are free to observe and to think is what moves science forward. The Dark Ages were a time of stagnation for science. Science and democracy grew from the Enlightenment together.

It’s no accident that independent research is being cut in the US.

Another way to fight back is to not share disinformation. Understand that disinformation comes with a kernel of truth to entice you. Misinformers might post a kind meme one minute and a lie the next. They might modify a real video clip, such as was done to make Nancy Pelosi appear to be slurring her words. Misinformers micro-target you. If you like dogs, a meme will carry a dog for example. Do not post or comment on dubious sources of information. If possible, speak privately to your dear old friend or relative who has become a meme-poster. Remember, lies and conflict only help the oligarchy.

To read more, go here and here.

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.