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It’s wrong to tell parents what their kids can read

Here we are, well into year three of the effects and after-effects of Covid.

An oft-heard comment during this time has come from people who believe government should simply butt out. These people believe government should leave it to individuals, and parents, to decide what is best for themselves and their children.

“I trust Iowans to do the right thing,” Gov. Kim Reynolds has said multiple times.

But when other issues come up, there is evidence some of these same people want to impose their interpretation of what is right on other individuals and parents who may have different views from theirs of what is proper.

While we may not live in the communities where these new controversies are bubbling, we all should be troubled by these efforts just as much as if these efforts were occurring in our backyards.

One of these controversies is taking root in Baxter, a Jasper County town of 1,100 people. It is home to the Baxter Community School District, which had an enrollment of 475 students during the past academic year.

This is what political courage looks like

We all know what courage looks like. It’s at the core of our favorite stories. It’s central to the plots in most movies and television shows. It’s the backbone of the legends we cherish from history and from daily life.

Political courage is not so familiar. It’s an oxymoron these days, or one of those blue-moon phenomena that only happen when a politician is about to leave office forever. Compromise is a dirty word, and elected officials who stand up for what they believe against a party priority or work across the aisle to get things done face the mortality of their careers.

We saw both kinds of courage in prime time on Thursday night at the first public hearing of the U.S. House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

'Jumping the Shark' – Growing corn and soybeans in Des Moines Water Works Park


Landus staff re-enacting Des Moines' 'we surrender' moment in demonstration plot negotiations. Image from DMWW twitter account.

I’m sometimes asked how the ideas keep coming for this blog.

Believe me when I tell you this: writing this stuff is as easy as falling off a log backwards.

As we say in the biz, when we see some really interesting data: this excrement just writes itself.

Last week ag retailer Landus announced (1, 2) that an area of land in Des Moines’ Water Works (DMWW) Park will be used as a demonstration plot that will be planted with corn, soybeans and cover crops.

Our nation needs to focus on the greater good

Middle ground seems to have disappeared in the United States, and that’s unfortunate.

These days, there’s no appetite for the give-and-take that leads to compromise. Regardless of the side you are on, it’s pretty much “my way or the highway.”

Speaking of highways, in 1973, Congress and President Richard Nixon enacted a nationwide 55 mph speed limit in response to the oil embargo by Middle East petroleum producers.

Lead-footed Iowa drivers, frustrated after zooming along at 75 mph on Interstate highways, got nowhere with their objections the new speed limit interfered with their constitutionally articulated right to “secure the blessings of liberty” by driving faster.

A generation before, it was the same following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The federal government instituted a 35 mph “victory speed limit.” There were some who disregarded the new limit, of course, but most Americans willingly went along with the inconvenience — because they accepted assurances the lower speed limit was accomplishing a greater good for the American public.

Today, however, anyone making “the greater good” arguments about any limitations on guns is going to get a response similar to what occurs when you knock down a hornets’ nest.

Look at the price they make you pay

Secchi depth is a water quality measurement of clarity.

An 8”-diameter black and white disk is lowered into the water (flat side parallel to the water’s surface) and the first depth at which it can’t be seen is recorded.

It’s one of the oldest of all quantitative water quality measurements. Catholic priest Pietro Angelo Secchi demonstrated the technique to Pope Pius IX while onboard the pope’s yacht in 1865.


Measurement of Secchi depth. From: Carruthers, T.J., Longstaff, B.J., Dennison, W.C., Abal, E.G. and Aioi, K., 2001. Measurement of light penetration in relation to seagrass. Global seagrass research methods, pp.370-392.

We still use this simple but elegant method today and Iowa Department of Natural Resource's (DNR) ambient water monitoring program assesses lakes for clarity in this manner.

Research shows that the public’s perception of “good” water quality corresponds to a Secchi depth of about 3 feet; in other words, a depth where you can see your toes when standing in waist deep water (1).

Iowa has a little over 100 lakes, and their degraded condition keeps DNR busy restoring them.

You can easily make the case that lake restoration is the best thing Iowa DNR does.

Magic carpet ride

You may have heard that some insanely rich and politically connected guys want to burrow like a badger beneath an Iowa cornfield so they can lay some pipe that will ultimately carry carbon dioxide (CO2) to the hinterlands.

I wrote about this before with my essay "C is for Carbonalism," but, and this probably comes as no surprise, that first essay didn’t discourage those badgers one darn bit.

So, I brought in a big gun, Professor Emeritus Matt Liebman, recently retired from Iowa State University where he was Henry A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture, to beef up my storytelling with some juicy T-bone cred.

Actually, he wrote about all of this; I just sexed it up a little bit.

We are tired of waiting for our leaders to lead

Aaron Salter Jr., 55, was on duty at the security job that supplemented his retirement income. Ruth Whitfield, 86, was buying groceries. Celestine Chaney, 65, stopped in for strawberries for the shortcake she and her sister were eager to enjoy.

But their plans went awry Saturday afternoon. Salter’s work shift ended sooner than he expected. Whitfield didn’t make it through her grocery list. And thoughts of strawberry shortcake evaporated in a flash for Chaney.

The three were slaughtered along with seven other people at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. Just like the 20 students, all 6 and 7 years old, and six employees who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. Just like the 60 people who were gunned down at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017.

If only our government officials were as interested in these individuals as were the political leaders who have obsessed over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and her decision to compete for the Quakers or NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem.

Recent news has been hip-deep in irony

Irony has been so deep in recent days that we shouldn’t be surprised if people start walking around with their chore boots on or with the cuffs on their pants rolled up to avoid the mess.

Consider:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made an observation Friday that caused some people’s eyes to bug in disbelief.

Speaking in Atlanta to a group of judges and lawyers, he said of American society these days, “We are becoming addicted to wanting particular outcomes, not living with the outcomes we don’t like.”

There certainly are plenty of examples of that, both among Democrats and among Republicans. But Thomas failed to acknowledge any connection between his statement and the actions of his wife, Ginni, in the weeks leading up to the inauguration of President Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021.

Iowa's 'Singularity,' AKA ethanol senselessness

A "singularity" is a mathematical term for a situation where all known laws break down, and nothing makes sense. Physicists often use this term to describe the first fractions of the first second of the universe’s Big Bang origin, when even time didn’t really exist.

It occurred to me recently that here in Iowa, we have our own singularity. It’s called Ethanol. A state of senselessness, where all laws break down and math and science and even logic cease to exist.

I’ve written about (some would say railed about) ethanol many times. Why? Because corn ethanol for fuel is stupid. The industry exists by virtue of one reason and one reason only: government policy. The environmental benefits of using corn to produce a liquid biofuel HAVE ALWAYS been more desperation-half-court-heave than slam dunk, it’s lower potential energy when compared to gasoline makes the 10% blend number an obvious head fake, and its dominance of American politics has kept higher energy players sitting at the end of the bench. So why does ethanol get its ticket punched to the Big Dance year after year after year?

Politics. Liberal politicians from Joe Biden to Amy Klobuchar to Dick Durbin to Sherrod Brown to Cindy Axne to the Iowa City dogcatcher provide all the cover Republicans in general and Iowa Democratic state legislators in particular need to continue force feeding us this rancid cod liver oil until kingdom come.


Liquid biofuel volumes required by the Renewable Fuel Standard. The cellulosic requirements have never been met and EPA has waived them every year. Source: Department of Energy

How did this two-bit, two-carbon alcohol get enshrined as Iowa’s golden calf? A generation ago, GMO seeds and a favorable climate continued to increase corn yields, and by god, nature truly does abhor a vacuum and something had to step in to gobble up all that junk organic carbon laying around, otherwise known as #2 Dent. Enter the Energy Policy Act of 2005, also known as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) or if you're an Iowan, the 11th Commandment, that required blending of biofuels with gasoline. Grain-derived ethanol was to be a bridge fuel until cellulosic (ethanol made from leaves, stalks etc.) took over, but cellulosic flopped and is now riding the bench for the ANF’s Sandhill Cranes D league team in Middleofnowhere, Nebraska.

Is it OK for teachers to push some views?

I’m confused.

Some of our political leaders seemed to be talking out of both sides of their mouths about why it is wrong for public school employees to engage in what the leaders think is pushing a point of view onto students.

These leaders need to figure out whether it is good — or is it bad? — when school employees are involved in what critics call indoctrination.

On one hand, some K-12 school districts around the nation have been up to their chalk boards in controversy over allegations teachers are trying to pass on to students the teachers’ opinions on LGBTQ issues, transgender rights, or disparities involving the races.

But this week, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case out of Bremerton, Wash., where a football coach’s post-game prayers on the 50-yard line have divided residents and split politicians nationwide more than any football rivalry.

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