Her Majesty, and an Answer for Grief

In her life she stood, silent and somber, for many memorials and funeral services, as did so many others, to pay her last respects.

She wouldn’t have wanted anyone to stand for hours without taking a seat or a bathroom break, just to see her flag-draped coffin — would she? Yet thousands waited in those conditions to do just that.

If the dead see us weeping, if they can see balloon launches (which run contrary to science and so should be against the law in any case), they can then see anyone who does something good in their name. Balloons drift off, never to be seen again (except when snagged in some poor tree’s branches, or found in the stomachs of some turtles which have mistaken them for their normal jellyfish prey, or their broken-down microbits in our own lungs). But trees endure, and give us something to care for and focus our pain on, over the days, months, and years after our loss and their planting.

Many who knew her, whether near or far, commented on and admired her devotion to her country and to others. In her coronation speech, she pledged herself “to your service… Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.” Her son, now King Charles III, vowed to be like his mother in serving their citizen-subjects.

While still a princess she was a Girl Guide. In the United States, the Guides’ sister organization — Girl Scouts — is perennially short of volunteers and donations.

So let your lives be queenly and reflect hers in service. Let your heart, even if grief-stricken for Her Royal Highness, impel you to go forth and be of use, as she was. Almost every country has Girl Guides/Scouts, and every locale needs trees. Find a group or place that needs your work, find a place that needs trees, and plant some — and in so doing, bloom where you are planted.

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Boxing Biden

The day after the Inauguration, I thought I was in my late mother’s area of town, where still stands (albeit much “improved”) the house I brought my own newborn home to, all those years ago, where my brothers and I grew up, where I took care of Mom, with nurses’ help, in her dotage.

As much trouble as she gave me at the end, I keenly miss my mother and the old neighborhood, the trees, most of the people.

This dream wasn’t long, but it was packed with meaning. I know well how to study dreams thanks to Mom, a pioneering psychoanalyst.

Far from being mad at Joe Biden, in real life I know the man I voted for has infused a breath of fresh air, of dignity, of hope, into the majority of Americans. To be this/close to the President is something thousands — millions — of us wish for.

So why was I boxing him? Rather vigorously on my end, though in retrospect not as much on his. No Secret Service intervened, nor any uniforms.

I never thought of myself as a boxer, never got in the ring. But I did train at length in Chinese sword, knife, and staff; I practiced and assisted in teaching tai chi, with my sensei, dead five years now. “The deceivers,” he called us and those who went before, since tai chi is all about leading the attacker astray. Practitioners will surely be amused at my subconscious. Tai chi is often called the Supreme Ultimate Pugilism: in other words, top-notch boxing.

The word training is another puzzle box: it means not only practicing, but riding the rails. I have been on many cross-country trips on Amtrak; Biden commuted by train to and from Washington DC over many years.

My joints are achy and stiff. In real life, I am out of practice. He wasn’t trying to hurt me, he wasn’t even trying to hit me. He watched me trying to hit him, perhaps silently rebuking me for letting so much time go by without practice, without training.

I was recognizing the President, Joe Biden, as a kindred soul and a teacher, and wishing he were mine.

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From the city to the land, with gratitude

Many people who work the land have been conned by the last and lamentable White House occupant and his minions into believing city slickers are smug and relatively safe in these too-many ivory towers, and consider them rubes in flyover country. But speaking as a lifelong Chicagoan in a single-family home that always needs work, most of which we do ourselves when energy and work allow us enough time for it, and who took to heart Master Gardener training more than two decades ago (and took those lessons directly within the heart of what used to be the Hog Butcher to the World) — well, those few don’t speak for me and mine.

It is true that some densely populated places have plans and projects in the works for immense warehouses, some under glass, lights and fans galore, where a city can grow foodstuffs, lettuce, tender annuals, fish even. Not nearly everything a metropolis would require, though. There are farmers’ markets and urban gardens where we approximate as best we can what you do every day, though again it’s not the same by a long shot.

Along with most of the country, rural people take out loans and pay the bills and stretch to make ends meet, trying to plan for the coming year in spite of dreading when the next deluge might arrive, if a cow’s about to breech her calf, even if the vet bill’s enorous you may still lose them both, whether you’ll be able to hire enough help to get the harvest in.

Farmers raise the animals that get slaughtered and carved into loins, chops, roasts, and more, for all of us to eat. Farmers and their families suffer the financial losses when a twister or out-of-control wildfire or hundred-year flood lays waste the goats and their kids, or the established fruit trees ready to bear, or what was to have been next week’s harvest. Farmers and their neighbors are predominantly kind souls with big hearts, employing who they can, assisting others in need, feeding many, many more.

Now, most of us know when killing is called for. I don’t live-trap mice and let them go “free” somewhere (I recognize this abomination as a citified though non-universal thing) like out in the alleys, because the vermin or their successors will do their damndest to find their way back into our bread bags and dog chow and grain stores. No! Rodents are properly eaten by raptors or snakes and the occasional hen (and yes, folks — they will peck and eat mice. Vermin are to be dispatched, without passion, by us, our chickens, and our rat-catcher dogs.

There is always something that wants doing on a farm, often rightnow! Things break and there’s no repair shop down the block. You and yours, your neighbors perhaps, you’re it to fix it. As the old sampler goes, you use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

You could exist at any moment without us, but not we without you. You do not need to visit the huge museums or wander the downtown streets or dine in our restaurants, but we are grateful when you can come and do so. We all need food, so for this and you who make it happen, we are filled anew and properly with gratitude. Many in the cities are trying to learn these things you grew up with; please forgive our impatience to know the essentials-and-then-some, to try to catch up with you.

In quarantine my neighbors have been wondering why there are so many butterflies, or why they never heard that particular bird (how rare! It isn’t? What can it be?) singing before, or what pokeweed is and why you can’t let the chore of pulling it when you spot it get away from you, not even in the dirty city. Your mouth may allow a small smile, as did mine, at one man, excited that he just saw “baby bees.” How fortunate are all those who know there are entire biology lessons to be had right outside the kitchen door, beginning chemistry in any cookbook and kitchen. Fortunate are all who are able to keep seeking information and finding solutions.

This we know: the land sustains you, and us, and everyone. May the sun shine warm upon your backs, and the rains fall soft upon your fields. We thank you, our brothers and sisters upon this great blue-green marble.

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The Day It All Changed

Twenty-one years ago, I was visiting my mother on my day off. Pregnant with my first (and to-be only child), we were having coffee and coffeecake as I turned the news on.

In one of New York City’s World Trade Towers, fire blazed out all the windows, high up on many of the floors. All the stations were covering what they knew of a plane having crashed into it. I called my husband and told him to turn on the tv. What station, he wanted to know. “It doesn’t matter.”

As we all watched, aghast, another plane crashed into the second tower.

Reality sank in. The country was under attack. But we were safe in Chicago. Weren’t we?

Daughter of the late Frederick P. Wiesinger, a structural engineer of some renown, I watched the firefighters and cops in their grim, desperate rush toward the madness, and realization shocked me like a slap of cold water: the towers were unstable and would collapse. The reporters continued their job, covering the non-stop chaos. Could I call New York and say what was obvious from this distance? Could I get word to the scene of the crimes, yell for my brother and sister first responders to ignore their training and their impulses to help, and NOT go in? I assessed the situation more somberly than anything in my own career thus far: even if I could get through on a line, why would they listen to me, a far-away unknown?

I was a veteran Law Enforcement Officer. I had been a police dispatcher. Should I go to New York to help? Knowing New York, I could envision them telling me they could handle it. Should I go to work? My temporary ”confinement” (the antiquated term for pregnancy) assignment was in the Warrant Section at headquarters. I called. No, don’t come in. My supervisor had not yet heard the news; I explained it as swiftly and coherently as I could. No, they couldn’t foresee that I would be needed. There was nothing to do but look on with helplessness and rising anger.

Phones were down all over the greater NYC area, including to 9-1-1. The numbers hit home immediately: terrorists cut some off this exact day from those at he same number, the numbers which even children know to call for help.

Planes were grounded, far from their planned destinations, at airports all around the world. I called work again. HQ felt confident Chicago was under control. I called the Red Cross, sure I could at least go give blood. No again. There were few drives going on, and none open for unscheduled donations anywhere. There was nothing I could do. We all watched in horror; the towers came crashing down.

A mantle of dread, which I now am never long free from, descended on me (it did not “settle” on me, as the expression usually goes). More accurately, it clobbered me.

A new age was, and remains, upon us.

I refuse to call it the age of fear.

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Right republican wrongs

For too long, Republicans have worried millions by labeling everything not on their agenda as “socialism.”
Many Democrats are taking that “hard left turn” (“For some Dems, left not right fit;” Chicago Tribune, Thursday 25 July 2019) in response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that we humans have, at best, 12 years to turn things around in the environment. This same terrifying piece does not say we have time to shrug and wait ’til Year 11, it says we might only have until next year to arrest carbon production’s rise before we arrive at the point of no return; the Potsdam Climate Institute’s Hans Joachim Schnellnhuber warns that the world may be mortally wounded by our negligence by 2020.
We have had zero support from the current White House occupant and his ilk, one of whom (the Environmental Protection Agency’s head) just this week refused to ban a bee-killing toxin. Known to damage children’s brains too, chlorpyrifos and the Administration are evil twin symptoms of what’s wrong in politics, especially on the right.
We can complain about a perceived mismatch between liberals and moderates, or we can all put our noses to the grindwheels and right the many wrongs we’ve generated. Without bees and other pollinators, people won’t have food. Commerce and industry cannot survive without the raw materials Earth provides. It’s beyond head-scratching that conservatives aren’t concerned about conserving the planet.
We are long overdue for a Green New Deal. Still all to true in the Republican playbook, all that matters is the money and power they and their cronies can get, how many new (read: improved and protective) regulations they can sink. This is madness, and it cannot persist.
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Meth and Marijuana, Mistakes and Messes

“Drug addicts hurt only themselves, if at all.” “Drug suppliers would not have to resort to illegal methods if their product was at the least decriminalized.” “There’s no problem with smoking or eating grass.”

This is not the late 1960s, with its common refrain of “Tune in, turn on, drop out.” The science behind basically everything is there to be known, more so than ever before.

Are drug use and delivery victimless crimes? Thinking they are is a huge impediment to law enforcement, and to public health, especially when it comes to methamphetamine, and even marijuana.

Meth is not a crime against persons such as rape or robbery. It is not a property crime along the lines of stealing your neighbor’s grill or car. But there are still victims.

Meth operations are never benign. The chemicals used to make it will seep into the soil, unless they are flushed into municipal sewers, to contaminate communities downstream. Akin to toxic waste dumps, meth labs require hazardous-materials responses by law enforcement and support agencies. They might become Superfund sites if they aren’t already, and that’s only if there are any Superfund monies left. The manufacture of meth results in hundreds or thousands of hours’ worth of clean-up, never done by the makers nor addicts themselves.

Chemicals found by law enforcement have to be stored securely, beyond mere lock and key, as evidence for the courts, for however long it takes. The toxins can’t be allowed to contaminate the storage facility, officers, or transport vehicles, or wherever it’s bound for once the court cases conclude. Officers and court personnel must be paid for their time; the meth operators, having contaminated matters, can’t have their property sold off to cover debts like a bank robber’s car might be.

Addicts need treatment for their woes, yes, but part of the punishment should be to force criminals and users to stay in prison for twice or thrice the time it takes for an effective cleanup, then afterwards be compelled to do the same amount of time in community service, cleaning up after someone else’s hellhole or a similar eco-catastrophe, to emphasize the fact that they have not committed “a victimless crime.”

But surely not marijuana? Oh yes, it’s almost as bad.

Even in states where marijuana has been decriminalized, illegal grows go on clandestinely, and crime persists; users get into car wrecks and fights. Places identifying on paper as members-only smoke clubs are run as businesses.

California conservation officers patrolling the Emerald Triangle — an area of fertile federal forest — also have to try to stop illegal weed grows. News flash for dealers: you have no right to use the public lands just as you please, to shoot at the biologists who must now arm themselves, travel in pairs and devote all their time not to research but to cleaning up your trash — your shit. That is not your land, or water, it’s public property!

Beyond humans who should only visit according to rules and regulations, it belongs to the animals that are supposed to live their own lives there. Growers have no business putting out rodent poison against the native critters — which, once eaten, can also kill the top predators, fishers. Fishers and owls, squirrels and field mice, all belong there — you do not. And pot smokers? Unless that’s some backyard bud in your pipe or papers, if you don’t know or care where it came from, you are part of the problem!

Marijuana smoking in teens is discouraged due to their brains still developing. I have noticed, as the years passed, that young men I knew who got into a habit of regular pot smoking, did not then age into adulthood gracefully, but were stuck as emotional yearlings; they remained wherever they were when they first started self-medicating their issues with pot.

Maybe marijuana can relieve pain or seizures, maybe it can’t. Maybe it urges people using it to commit suicide — or maybe it “only” does so in the already-depressed. So much more study is needed — not anecdotes. This is not something to be rushed, however much one may demand a license to grow or sell it. We have to get all the details right, right from the get-go.

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Trans Protections                                

The current administration would have us deny transgender individuals health care discrimination protections. On a related note are late-night infomercials that would have us believe the most serious problem society faces is unquestionably erectile dysfunction. Yet there is a far more serious ED, a looming environmental problem of our own making.

Endocrine disruptors such as atrazine, an herbicide, were in 2010 found responsible for feminizing frogs.  Other EDs  – and their name, unfortunately, is Legion (think DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls like bisphenol-A, and dioxins) – enlarge the prostates in male mice whose mothers or grandmothers were the ones exposed to low doses during their pregnancies, even at a rate 25 times lower that what the EPA — currently compromised like all of Trump’s appointees — would have us believe is the ED safety threshold.

What are endocrine disruptors – even those recently discovered as a part of diabetes medications – doing to humans? Are they creating boys who not only identify with girls, but are girls at heart? Do EDs cause deformities of human male sex organs?

Scientists funded by the government have found indisputable evidence of trouble, from hyperactivity to a rise in the risks of breast cancer to missing sex organs or parts thereof. Yet some politicians, in the polluters’ pockets, want us to shut up and let the chemical companies call the shots and make the laws weaker than the pittance we have now.

The United States imports or makes more than 70 million pounds of chemicals a day, most of which give no clue as to their amplifying or terrifying interactions together. Neither their makers nor we the people have any idea what these are, whether in combination with others, in what quantities, with our water or air or soil or with us, whether they are benign or horrors.

The chemical industry has been using the same tactics and lawyers from Big Tobacco’s stables, promoting misleading and patently false information, trying to pass it off as unbiased research.

Knowing many citizens have heard BPA can cause unwanted changes to fetuses, they claim there are safe plastics that are BPA-free.  There might be some without BPA, but they aren’t without problems of their own.

They want us to believe we can keep buying and using whatever we please in the way of takeout containers, blister packs, plastic picnic ware, everything from syringes to sippy cups. It isn’t so: a strain of rat for test subjects which, perversely, don’t respond to BPA-like synthetic hormones was used by the plastics manufacturers to skew the results. Even those few plastics made from corn – marketed as compostable and biodegradable – test positive 91% of the time for EDs or estrogenic activity.

For too long, corporations have been allowed to make and package at will, without any consideration for where the product/packaging winds up; microbeads of plastic have washed into the Great Lakes, drinking water for Chicagoland and millions more. The fleece garments we have come to think of as making winter bearable – made from recycled plastic bottles! – shed microfibers which form into rafts of plastics in the world’s waters, when we can be sure nothing is able to filter them out, another sacrifice Big Chem has forced on us, on the altar of their obscene profit margins. Companies which insist they must have plastic bottles should have from the beginning been taxed at a higher rate to ensure there was a way to safely dispose of them, which as of this writing does not exist. They should have been forced to pay for research into better materials, so that taxpayers would not be left holding the clean-up bag as we are now.

Pollution has for too long been something we were expected to endure, the price of progress. Why should any of us have to continue to suck it up?  The result is nothing better than that the often rich owners continue to ignore the messes their profitable enterprises have left behind, and if they do have a spill that can’t be contained, such as 2014’s thousands of pounds of coal ash, arsenic, and other heavy metals into the Dan River, the owners, in this case Duke Energy, attempt to shirk their responsibilities by declaring bankruptcy! Union Carbide tried to pay off those Indian victims in Bhopal, still the worst industrial disaster in the world. Apparently no-one ever taught any of them we all have to clean up after ourselves.

A partial solution (for now) is for all communities to return immediately in some ways to the past’s better techniques: a bottle bill encouraging people to bring their glass bottles back to the point of sale for a small deposit would lessen litter and landfill, create jobs, and make plastic soda and beer bottles and milk jugs an unpleasant and eventually distant memory. We cannot continue to be lazy and pollute each other because plastics are lighter and they have been allowed to be cheaper.

In China and India, the one-child rule means the preference for sons has resulted in millions of female infanticides, as it has in other developing countries. The son preference is itself a throwback to past centuries and sometimes seems unstoppable. In the US, about a third of all pregnancies result in the embryo’s or fetus’s death, some before the woman knows she is pregnant; approximately another 20% result in a not-optimally healthy child.

Of the ones that didn’t make it, an increasing number were male. Since 1970, Japan and the U.S. are “missing” more than a quarter-million boys – those that should have been expected but were never born or did not thrive past infancy (from Poisoned For Profit: How Toxins Are Making our Children Chronically Ill by Philip and Alice Shabecoff, 2010).

Every single embryo starts off with the same plumbing, and will become itself depending on what hormones or chemicals it is exposed to and when, while in utero. So the greater question for all societies is this: if it is our industries which, in pumping largely untested and unregulated chemicals into the water and air, causing fetuses’ gender dysphoria, if there is even a chance these chemicals, singly or in action with others, cause harm, and the offenders continue to operate with no regard for anything but their bottom line, why don’t governments force them to stop?

Recently New Zealand afforded a river the same protections as people. Instead of claiming to be able to “pray away the gay” or continuing to blame the victims of poisoning – actual or suspected, for how they turned out — when will we get a spine and indict those responsible for these damages?

People who are different did not choose to be that way. No-one should hate them or judge them for how they were born – nor deny them the same health care rights “normal” people feel entitled to. We must also get beyond saying “Well, she’s somebody’s daughter,” or “he’s my neighbor’s son,” and speak the universal truth: each of them is someone’s child, relative or other beloved one.

There must be a paradigm shift; politicians must immediately pivot from protecting the chemical makers to protecting soil, air, water, all people, and the rest of the plant and animal world we depend on.

If you own a factory that makes these products, use better and non-toxic source materials and packaging. If you’ve been buying the products with unpronounceable ingredient names or unknown ingredients for yourself or your family, follow our great-grandparents’ adage: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Stop blaming and punishing those you find unbearably different – take a deep breath, and work on your own transgressions!

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The shame of ShamWow

Not all that long ago, a Tribune columnist (a man) extolled the so-called virtue of ShamWow towels as a diaper. Had he advocated child abuse I could not have been more horrified.

Baby pee is not “biohazardous” stuff, as he blithely put it, though the ShamWow — still for sale through direct mail — could very well be.  Nothing could be stupider that to put unknown chemicals next to a baby’s tender skin!

Don’t be like that guy, who either hasn’t heard of the link between various man-made substances (e.g. synthetic estrogen) and the decrease in average size in boys’ genitals –or a lazy moron who doesn’t care if there is, so long as he gets his 15 minutes of fame.

ShamWow Guy’s wife divorced him in 2018. Was it related to his having punched out a prostitute for allegedly biting his tongue during a drinking binge? Hard to say. But by then he and the ShamWow had fallen off the map. Good.

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Indiana Dunes: America’s Newest National Park

This gallery contains 14 photos.

Originally posted on Openlands:
On February 15, 2019, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was upgraded to a National Park, the country’s 61st. The greater Chicago region now has a National Park. Members of the Indiana and Illinois conservation communities have worked…

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Good Garden People: Also Good for Business!

It has happened to anyone who participates in any group that goes out to eat even once.  The bill comes, is passed around for review, money is collected – and a discussion ensues over who owes how much more for what, or hard feeling are hidden over the one(s) who didn’t pay quite enough.  Usually the larger the group, the more the bill falls short, and the longer it takes to straighten out.

One season, Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse’s volunteers took a series of field trips to interesting gardens, architectural sites and related environs.  I knew the others – slightly – but in the spirit of camaraderie, I offered to drive as many as would fit in our Suburban to that week’s feature, a big Wisconsin nursery almost two hours away.

The drive was uneventful, with people chatting and sharing garden tips.  After an informative tour, there was room for each person to stash a flat of plants in the car’s
“way-back”.  The final stop was lunch at a nearby pizza place.

The moment of truth came; the tension is the air was palatable, because the gratuity wasn’t included.  Would the waitress get the short end of the stick?  Of fourteen people, who would pretend she’d hardly eaten anything, and so owed next to nothing, leaving the rest to scramble for spare change?

The bill made the rounds, money appeared and was piled up.  Someone counted it.              There was too much!

A discussion ensued, but in an atmosphere of joviality: we were good souls.  Each woman got a dollar or so back and the waitress got a big tip.  The huge sigh of relief I breathed was heard only by myself.  I would go out again anytime with this bunch!

As I reflect on that day and those people, it seems likely that — just as good garden souls putting nutrients on a bed say to it “A little extra compost may help, and anyway, it won’t hurt,” so, too, the garden group said “Oh, well, dear, a little extra money from me might help, and won’t hurt in any event.”

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