Russets

August 13, 2022

One of Melissa’s go to meals is a baked potato.  While size does not matter for most potato uses (mashed, potato salad, hash browns), since the potato is the meal when you bake one, we like to get the jumbo Russets as baking potatoes.  We were almost out of potatoes, so I put them on my list for the market.  When I entered the produce section, I could not find any of the large russets.  They did have several varieties of smaller types of potatoes.  There were red, golden, and 5 pound bags of small russets, but none of the jumbo russets.  Instead, there was an empty bin where the potatoes had been.  There were other items I had found last week that were no longer on the shelves either.  No problem.  I had seen bags of large russets earlier in the week at our town market.  I made my other purchases and then stopped in our local market on the way home.  Here again, all I found was empty bins where the russets used to be.

When I looked online, I found the potato (Solanum tuberosum) is a starchy root vegetable in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) native to the Americas.  Wild potato species range from the southern US to southern Chile.  The potato was originally believed to have been independently domesticated by the Indigenous peoples of the Americas in multiple locations, but genetic studies traced a single origin in southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia to around 7,000-10,000 BP from a species in the Solanum brevicaule complex.  Potatoes were introduced to Europe in the second half of the 16th century by the Spanish and have become a staple food in many parts of the world and an integral part of much of the world’s food supply.  As of 2014, potatoes were the world’s fourth-largest food crop after corn, wheat, and rice.  There are now over 5,000 different varieties of potatoes and over 99% of today’s cultivars are descended from those originated in the lowlands of south-central Chile.  To improve disease resistance of Irish potatoes, Luther Burbank selected the potato that became known as Russet Burbank.  It was not patented as plants propagated from tubers were not granted patents in the US.  A russet potato is large, with dark brown skin and few eyes.  Russets are also known as Idaho potatoes in the US.

Throughout the pandemic consumers have been battling intermittent shortages of various food products and potatoes appear to be the latest item to join the list of food products that are in short supply.  China is the world’s largest producer of potatoes followed by India.  These are also the world’s most populous countries and are invariably among the top producers of most food products.  The US is the fifth-largest producer with Idaho and Washington accounting for over half the potato production.  Potato demand during the lockdowns was strong as people loaded up on snacks and most potatoes end up as processed foods like chips in the US.  As demand soared and supply fell, potatoes faced a supply chain problem like many other food products.  This was exacerbated in November 2021 as Canada stopped the potato exports to the US amid concerns about potato wart fungus.  Potato production in parts of Europe was also impacted negatively in 2021 due to floods.  The global potato shortage has gotten worse in 2022 and the Russia-Ukraine war has only added to the food shortage situation.  In the US the potato shortage is largely of the Russet variety, the baking potatoes used by restaurants and the popular base for French fries.

THOUGHTS:  The russet Burbank is more expensive to produce than other potatoes, as it consumes more water, takes longer to mature, and requires large amounts of pesticides.  Global fast food chains have been hardest hit as quality control regulations require using russets rather than local potatoes.  In nations like Japan and Kenya they have been forced to offer alternative sides to replace the absent French fries.  As dire as going without fries may sound, a real food shortage means there are no potatoes, onions, cabbages, flour, bread, canned goods, meat, or dairy products to be had at any store.  That is what many nations (and individual families) face daily.  Adequate food should not be considered a privilege.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Happy

August 12, 2022

Just under four years ago I wrote about the two times you always mark as happy in your life: the day you buy your boat and the day you sell it.  This was my third attempt at boat ownership.  The boat was an old (1994) 17.5’ fish and ski.  Even though it had not been on the water for two years (why they were selling it) the motor ran, and it had an operable trolling motor and fish finder.  I had taken the boat out once the first year, prepped it for winter, and then got it out for two disastrous trips the following year.  On the second outing the engine died, and I drifted completely across the lake unable to get it started.  I then struggled for an hour trying to get the trolling motor going so I could get back to the dock.  That was the last time I took it out, and although I tried to get a man to work on it, he could never find time (read, he did not want to).  Several days ago, I was approached by a man who noticed the boat sat unmoved in my back yard and asked if I wanted to sell the boat.  I finally gave up and sold it for what I originally paid.  He hauled it off yesterday, making both Melissa and me happy.

I briefly wrote about the second boat I owned when we bought this boat in September of 2018.  This was an old ski boat that my brother used to have when he had a cabin on a small lake in Kansas and I had used the boat to fish several times when I visited.  After he sold his cabin, he put the boat in storage for several years.  When I moved back to Kansas, he gave me the boat.  Like my last boat, I was never able to get it running and back out on the water.  The boat sat in the driveway outside my bedroom window for three years as I tried to work on it.  One night the boat became the hiding place for the man involved in a police dragnet and I finally thought it was more trouble than it was worth and sold it for scrap to a local dealer.  Again, happy to get it, and happy to let it go.

My first boat was a motorless John boat (flat bottomed) I bought when I was in Jr. High.  I had visions of taking it out on the local lakes and ponds and catching massive bass.  I did not have a trailer and it was too big to put on top the car.  The only way I had to transport the boat was our family’s pop-up camper.  This ended up being a major undertaking and I did not take it out very often.  I do remember two trips.  The first was when I took it out on a windy day and the waves carried me to the other side of the lake.  I started rowing when it was time to go home, and the wind kept me from making any progress.  It took nearly an hour to get to the other shore, but it seemed much longer.  The second was when I took several friends and rafted down a river for a High School science project.  The trip was amazing, and we saw sights and wildlife I never knew still existed.  We were exhausted after a day on the water and pulled the boat up on the sand before we went back to get the trailer.  When we returned, someone had stollen the boat.  I had been happy to get the boat, and while I was not happy it was stollen, I was happy I longer had to deal with it.

THOUGHTS:  While owning a boat can make you happy it seems they are best owned by someone with mechanical expertise, or the money and willingness to pay someone who has.  I will probably get another smaller boat at some time as the allure of catching the big one is still in the back of my mind.  It is our dreams that keep us going, whether they are fishing the lily pads for a lunker or achieving your life-long goal.  We just need to decide what those goals are and how much we are willing to change to achieve them.  This is what can make you happy.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Polyphemus

August 11, 2022

I have mentioned my routine for getting around in the mornings.  I sleep in while Melissa logs on for work but am usually awake an hour or so later.  Rather than getting up I open my phone and play my “mind” apps.  This begins with a crossword on Wordscapes.  Next, I play Let Me Out, where you move various sized vehicles around to allow the target car to escape.  I always end with a Mahjong puzzle.  Like my newspaper crossword, I tell myself this is keeping my mind active.  By this time Zena is usually waiting patiently just outside the bedroom door for me to see her.  I usually have a cup of coffee (or iced tea!) and may read the morning paper.  I have added a new activity since Zena’s arrival, and we go for a walk.  If I take too long getting ready Zena becomes anxious and begins to pace.  Then I put on her harness, grab the treats, and we are off.  On this morning’s walk we came across a polyphemus moth fluttering in the gutter.

When I looked online, I found the polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) is a North American member of the family of giant silk moths (Saturniidae).  The polyphemus is a tan-colored moth, with an average wingspan of 6 inches (15 cm).  The species was first described by Pieter Cramer in 1776.  The moth is the most widely distributed species of large silk moths, and ranges throughout North America from subarctic Canada and into Mexico.  The moth exhibits sexual dimorphism with males having plumose (bushy) antennae to detect unmated partners and females with a larger abdomen (carry eggs).  There is a surprising color variation within the species, but all are a shade of brown.  The most notable feature is the large, purple eyespots on the hindwings, which give it its name, referring to the Greek myth of the cyclops Polyphemus.

Polyphemus is the giant one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology described in the ninth book of Homer’s Odyssey.  Polyphemus first appears as a savage man-eating giant who captures Odysseus and his men.  Two are eaten every morning and night until Odysseus finally escapes by blinding Polyphemus with a fire-hardened wooden stake.  Folktales like Homer’s Polyphemus are widespread throughout the ancient world.  In 1857, Wilhelm Grimm collected versions of the myth in Serbian, Romanian, Estonian, Finnish, Russian, and German.  Other versions are also known in Basque, Lappish, Lithuanian, Syriac, Gascon, and Celtic.  More than two hundred different versions from twenty five nations are identified, covering a geographic region extending from Iceland to Portugal, Africa to Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and Korea.  Like the moth, the tale of Polyphemus got around.

THOUGHTS:  While the adult polyphemus moth does not eat, the polyphemus caterpillar can eat 86,000 times its weight at emergence in a little less than two months.  Caterpillars feed on leaves of broad-leaved trees and shrubs, as well as their eggshells after hatching and their freshly molted skin.  In large numbers the polyphemus caterpillars can be considered pests to plum orchards in California.  There are no direct positive effects of polyphemus on humans, but many are hand-raised by the curious.  This was the first polyphemus I had ever seen, and I understand why some would raise them.  They are large and beautiful.  Having few negative or positive effects on humans means the polyphemus is (mostly) allowed to survive under human radar.  As with many plants and animals, this is a good thing for the moth.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Horseweed

August 10, 2022

I thought it appropriate since I wrote on pigweed yesterday that I follow up with horseweed today.  I mentioned while I have placed a small fence around the areas where I grow vegetables, I allowed Zena access to two small areas of ground to run and play.  The larger area had been planted with the ground cover and the naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna) I have written about.  The area next to the faucet had been used effectively for potatoes last year, but with Zena this has become the preferred digging area.  Her excavation has become intense, and I knew it was time to cut down some of the taller weeds and fill the holes back in with the soil she had piled on the cement pavers.  I was surprised to see how tall the weeds had grown, and when I googled, they were identified as horseweed. 

When I looked online, I found Horseweed (Conyza canadensis, formerly Erigeron canadensis L.) or marestail, is a common agricultural and landscape weed.   This annual plant is found in most of North and Central America.  As the plant matures, it forms a single, hairy stem up to six feet tall (nearly 2 m), with alternate leaves that are long, narrow, hairy, irregularly toothed, baseball-bat shaped leaves that lack leaf stalks (petioles).  The mature horseweed produces flowers at the top on the stem branches that look like tiny, white, daisy flowerheads.  Horseweed can be a huge nuisance to farmers and has developed a resistance to a variety of herbicides.  Horseweed only propagates by seed and is dispersed by the wind, with a single plant able to produce over 15,000 seeds.  The best way to get rid of horseweed is through tillage.  Horseweed seeds are small, and germination requires light.  Studies have shown that seeds will not germinate when buried more than 0.2 inches (1/2 cm).  That means the fields need to be plowed rather than tilled. 

Tillage is not practical in my garden but pulling the plants out is another effective way to get rid of horseweed.  Like pigweed, horseweed has not always been a nuisance and was also used as both food and medicine.  Young leaves and seedlings are edible and can be dried and stored for later use to help flavor meals (with a flavor like tarragon).  Indigenous North Americans often pulverized the young tops and leaves and ate them raw (like an onion).  The leaves are a good source of calcium and potassium as well as protein.  In traditional North American herbal medicine, horseweed was boiled to make steam for sweat lodges, taken as a snuff to stimulate sneezing during a cold, and burned to create a smoke to ward off insects.  

THOUGHTS:  My horseweed will not be used for anything.  Since it is in flower it is too late to eat the young shoots or leaves.  Since I really like onions (yet cannot get them to grow to save me) I will not eat the tops as a substitute.  However, I do not want to spread the 15,000 seeds to another area.  I tried to pull them earlier and found them difficult to remove.  Perhaps I should get Zena to dig them up for me, but more likely I will do it myself.  Another thing my attempts at subsistence gardening have taught me is when you rely on whatever is produced to survive, you find ways to utilize everything.  That is behind most traditional Southern cooking (collards, mustard, turnips, and kale; add the oysters, shrimp, crawfish, and crab; and end with pork and catfish).  Most would agree this has taken subsistence and necessity to new heights.  The same is true for traditional dishes of other areas.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Pigweed

August 09, 2022

Melissa and I were watching a show on PBS last week concerning climate change and the fragile nature of the earth.  One of the persons interviewed was Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator.  Tyson’s comments addressed the effect of raising or lowering temperatures.  During the last ice age, the earth’s average temperature was only 8F (14.5C) less than today.  By contrast, the proposed 2F (3.5C) rise predicted by 2050 (if we control the greenhouse gasses) would result in widespread draught.  One of the trending stories on today’s weather app was about a super plant that might allow humans to modify crops to withstand draught and high temperatures.  The invasive pigweed thrives in hot and dry areas as easily as it does in your garden.

When I looked online, I found pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) is a species of flowering plant in the family Amaranthaceae with several common names, including red-root amaranth, redroot pigweed, and common tumbleweed.  Pigweed is native to the tropical Americas and has spread as an introduced species on most continents and in a variety of habitats.  The weed is an erect, annual herb reaching a maximum height of 10 feet (3 m).  The leaves are nearly 6 inches (15 cm) long on larger plants, with those higher on the stem being lance shaped and those lower on the plant being diamond or oval.  The plant is monoecious, with individuals bearing both male and female flowers.  The inflorescence is a large, dense cluster of flowers interspersed with spiny green bracts.  The fruit is a capsule less than 0.08 inches (2 mm) long with a “lid” which opens to reveal a tiny black seed.  The common name of “pigweed” was given as it grows where hogs are pasture-fed.  You are likely to see it in your lawn or garden as it grows in a variety of conditions and resists many herbicides.  I have not seen this plant in our yard or my containers.

While researchers are looking for ways to use pigweed to genetically modify cereal grains, the plant is already eaten as a vegetable in different parts of the world.  Pigweed can be used like you would any edible green.  No species of the genus Amaranthus is poisonous, but the leaves do contain oxalic acid and may contain nitrates if grown in nitrate-rich soils, so the water should be discarded after boiling.  The young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw, and the leaves are high in calcium, iron, protein, and phosphorus.  Many Indigenous peoples in the US West used pigweed for a multitude of food and medicinal purposes and it is sold as a vegetable in some Mexican markets.  The seeds are edible raw, roasted, cooked as a hot cereal, used as a thickener, ground into flour for use as bread, and even popped like popcorn.  If you are using pigweed from your garden, be sure you have not sprayed it with pesticides or herbicides prior to harvesting.  

THOUGHTS:  Using pigweed in the kitchen is one way to manage a plant that many gardeners call a pest or weed.  There are indications that using pigweed as a fodder for cattle can have adverse effects (bloating) in large amounts and may even be toxic.  I found it interesting that there were as many sites dedicated to eradicating pigweed as there were touting the nutritional value of the plant.  Once again, the definition of a weed is something that grows where you did not plant it.  We tend to treat people in the same manner and find ways to discourage them from being in a location where they are not expected.  If we instead allow them to thrive, we will find diversity also has benefits.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Goodwill

August 06, 2022

Several months ago, I wrote about the old beanbag Melissa had saved.  It was filthy and I had removed the beans and washed the cover.  My thought was to take it as a donation to the local Goodwill store.  I have seen some of the “gently abused” items they receive and did not want this to be another one.  The problem came when I tried to get the beans back in the bag, and I lost a third of the foam balls “somewhere”.  At the time Zena had great fun chasing the little balls around the house and yard.  Since it was now in a depleted state, I kept the beanbag rather than donate it.  Melissa finally brought it inside to lay on when she plays on the floor with Zena.  It now has new life as one of Zena’s favorite toys as she pulls the bag around the floor and flips it over her shoulder.  Her favorite antic is to get a running start and jump into the middle of the bag as she chases her pull toy back and forth across the floor.

When I looked online, I found Goodwill Industries International Inc., or Goodwill, is an American nonprofit that provides job training, employment placement services, and community-based programs for people with barriers to employment.  Goodwill also hires veterans and people who lack education, job experience, or face employment challenges.  Goodwill was founded by Reverend Edgar J. Helms of Morgan Methodist Chapel in Boston in 1902.  Helms’ congregation collected used household goods and clothing discarded in wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired the unemployed or impoverished to mend and repair them.  The items were redistributed to those in need or were given to the needy people who helped repair them.  In 1915 representatives of a workshop mission in Brooklyn, NY joined with Helms and Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries was born.  The nonprofit is now funded by a network of 3,200+ retail thrift stores in 16 countries, including 165 Goodwill stores in the US and Canada.

I enjoy browsing the local Goodwill stores in the states where I live, although I do wonder about some of the product that reaches the shelves.  Goodwill has donation policies and will only accept items that can be resold.  Goodwill generally does not accept automotive parts, furniture showing signs of damage, large appliances, exercise equipment, hazardous materials, or building materials.  For liability reasons, Goodwill generally does not accept baby cribs or car seats, and sanitary regulations prohibit accepting mattresses.  Recent safety concerns have led to not accepting certain toys due to lead content in paint.  That still leaves the clothing, shoes, books, accessories (handbags, belts), dishes, furniture (good condition), household decorations, small appliances, and consumer electronics.  Depending on local laws, the value of the goods donated can be used as a tax deduction.  Zena is happy the beanbag was not donated.

THOUGHTS:  When I lived in California the back of the Goodwill store was across the street from where I worked.  This was also the door where collections were accepted during business hours.  The store had unwanted donations dropped after hours, usually at night, and there was a pile of “gently abused” items most mornings.  This forced the store to install cameras and motion lights as a deterrent.  While one’s donation is another’s treasure, trash is just trash.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Hall

August 05, 2022

The American football season always seems to sneak up on me and this year was no exception.  While I was scrolling channels for Royals baseball last night, I noticed the Hall of Fame Game was going to be on.  The Royals had played an afternoon game which freed my evening up for football.  This year’s game featured the Las Vegas Raiders and the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Jaguars currently have three Arkansas Razorbacks on the rooster with Jeremiah Ledbetter (defensive tackle), Grant Morgan (linebacker), and Montaric Brown (secondary).  The Hall of Fame Game is a week prior to the start of the pre-season and gives all three players an extra opportunity to impress the coaches.  Morgan is from the town where we live and played with our nephew.  He was considered too small to play and was a walk on for Arkansas.  He went on to be named to multiple All-America and All-SEC teams, served as a team captain in 2020 and 2021, and was twice named a Burlsworth Trophy finalist (most outstanding player who began as a walk on).  Morgan signed in 2022 as an undrafted free agent for the Jaguars.

When I looked online, I found the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game is an annual National Football League (NFL) exhibition game in Canton, Ohio, held the weekend of the Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies.  The game has been played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, located adjacent to the Hall of Fame building since 1962.  The NFL selects the two teams in advance of the preseason schedule, and they are usually announced around the time the new Hall of Fame members are announced, or Super Bowl week.  The teams selected try to match a notable player entering the Hall that year to maximize attendance and publicity of the game.  Since the Hall of Fame Game and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony are on the weekend before the normal NFL preseason season starts, both teams play an additional exhibition game compared to the remaining teams in the league.  All 32 current NFL teams have at least one appearance in the Hall of Fame Game.

One of the six players inducted into the Hall for 2022 was linebacker Sam Mills.  Mills signed with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in 1981 but was released at the end of preseason because he was too small (5’9”).  In 1982, Mills signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League but was released before the season because he was too small.  Mills finally got his chance in the United States Football League (USFL) with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars (moved to Baltimore in 1985).  In his three years with the Stars Mills became known around the league for both his tenacity on the field and his leadership off it.  Mills led the Stars to two USFL championships, was named to three All-USFL teams and is a member of the USFL’s All-Time Team.  He has been described as arguably the best defensive player (along with Reggie White) in the short history of the league.  After the Stars won the 1985 USFL title, head coach Jim Mora was signed to coach the New Orleans Saints.  Mills came with him and finally got a shot at the NFL.  Mills played 12 seasons in the NFL for New Orleans and Carolina and was named to the NFL All-Pro team three times.

THOUGHTS:  While American football likes to tout the “bigger, stronger, faster” motif, that is not always the case.  Of the 1696 players on 2012 NFL rosters, there were 323 players weighing 200 pounds or less (19%), 320 players under six feet tall (18.9%), and only 361 players weighing at least 300 pounds (21%).  Jack Shapiro was the shortest and smallest NFL player of all-time at 5’1” and 119 pounds, playing one game in 1929 for the NFL’s Staten Island Stapletons.  Mills is another example that desire, and heart (and skill) are more important than size.  That is true outside of athletics as well.  Stephen Hawking had a rare early-onset, slow-progressing form of motor neuron disease (ALS) which gradually paralyzed him over decades.  At the time of his death at 76 years in 2018, he was known as one of the foremost cosmologists in the world.  Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.

Velcro

August 04, 2022

It has been getting so hot over the last weeks that the plastic I put over the back door began to melt off.  Actually, it is not the plastic that is melting, it is the sticky glue on the back of the Velcro I used to seal the plastic to the door.  I was surprised as we had not had this problem before.  Then I realized we only put up our DIY porch greenhouse two winters ago, and last year we had taken the plastic off during the summer.  I had taken it off again this year, but Zena did not recognize the screen and went through the door, then the raccoon got into the bird seed.  Putting it back up solved the problem of both Zena and the racoon.  Now it is melting off the door during the day and I have been resealing it every night.  Melissa took Zena outside when we got up Sunday and the plastic had again fallen to the ground.  Zena saw a squirrel and took off, and since the plastic was not there as a deterrent, she went right through the screen again.  That meant it was time to buy new Velcro and redo the plastic over the bottom of the door.

When I looked online, I found Velcro was the creation of Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral, who had been inspired by a walk in the woods with his dog in 1941.  When they returned home de Mestral noticed the burrs attached to his pants and his dog’s fur.  When de Mestral examined the burrs under a microscope he saw the tips of the burr contained tiny hooks that attach themselves to fibers in clothing, like a hook-and-eye fastener.  The first challenge was finding a fabric he could use to create a strong bonding system.  He tried cotton but found it too soft and unable to stand repeated openings and closures.  After repeated testing, de Mestral learned synthetics worked best, and settled on heat-treated nylon.  To mass-produce his product, de Mestral needed to design a special loom that could weave the fibers in just the right size, shape, and density.  By 1955, de Mestral completed his improved version of the product.  Each square inch of material contained 300 hooks.  This was a density strong enough to stay fastened, yet easy enough to pull apart when needed.  De Mestral named his product “Velcro,” from the French words “velours” (velvet) and “crochet” (hook).  In 1955, he received a patent for Velcro from the Swiss government and began mass-producing Velcro in Europe and eventually expanding to Canada and the US.  Now if they could only develop a glue that did not melt in the summer heat.

While it took a while for Velcro to be accepted, it is now used everywhere from healthcare (blood pressure cuffs, orthopedic devices, and surgeons’ gowns) to clothing and footwear, sporting and camping equipment, toys and recreation, and more.  Velcro was used in the first human artificial heart transplant to hold parts of the device together.  Velcro has been used by the US military but has recently undergone modifications.  Velcro can be too noisy in a combat setting and tends to become less effective in dust-prone areas (deserts), causing it to be temporarily removed from military uniforms.  In 1984, on his late-night television show, comedian David Letterman wore a Velcro suit and had himself catapulted onto a Velcro wall.  His successful experiment launched the new trend of Velcro-wall jumping.  The game took off in New Zealand then moved to the US in 1991.  To no one’s surprise, this became a favorite bar game activity in the 1990’s.

𝗧HOUGHTS:  The process de Mestral used to develop Velcro by examining an aspect of nature and using its properties for practical applications has come to be known as “biomimicry.”  Biomimicry is about valuing nature for what we can learn, not what we can extract, harvest, or domesticate.  In the process we can learn about ourselves, our purpose, and our connection to each other and the earth.  Biomimicry has three elements at its core values and essence.  It learns from and emulates nature’s forms, processes, and ecosystems to create more regenerative designs.  It has the ethos of understanding how life works and creating designs that support and create conditions conducive to life.  Finally, as a concept it can (re)connect humans as part of nature to find our place in the Earth’s interconnected ecosystems.  This seems like affirmable ideals.  Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.

Package

August 03, 2022

Zena has gotten good about coming back to my office and letting me know it is time for her to go outside, and even better about letting me know it is time to eat.  Somehow, I have become the designated outside person.  She will often get up from in front of Melissa to walk back to my office to let me know it is time to go out or to eat.  When I am in my office it means that I am writing, and Zena will invariably come get me while I am in the middle of a thought.  Since Zena is still learning that she needs to go out I believe it is my responsibility to take her whenever she comes to me.  Melissa is suspicious that what Zena really wants is the treat that comes with her obedience.  I had fed Zena lunch and now an hour later she came back to tell me it was time to go out.  I put her leash on and opened the door to find a very large package sitting on the front porch.  Zena is always curious, but something about this package really got her attention.

When I looked online, I found a USPS letter carrier’s response to why packages are left on the front porch.  “Quite simply, packages are left on the porch because employees do not have enough time to wait for someone to answer the door, or to leave a pick-up notice for each package.  During the Christmas season a postal service rout may get over 100 packages a day.  It would take over three hours just to deliver just those packages if we had to do this for each one.  If you don’t want your package left on the porch, you can leave a note on your door, and/or get a signature confirmation or insurance where the package must be signed for at the time of delivery.”  If the package comes with the mail the carrier will generally leave our mail along with the package on the table along with Melissa’s succulents.  This is convenient for us and hidden from the street.  If the package is not left and you get a notice, you will have to go to the post office during their working hours to retrieve your package. 

Zena was quick outside and rushed back to investigate the package on the porch.  When I tried to scoot it inside with my foot it would not move.  Then I knocked the package over and it made a sound like gravel sloshing.  I figured it was more of the rock Melissa buys to put around her succulent arrangements.  I drug it in the house and told Melissa her rock was here, but she had not ordered any.  Zena was still curious, and I had to push her back as I opened the package.  Then I understood why Zena was franticly sniffing the package.  Inside the box was the fifty pound bag of puppy chow Melissa had ordered last week.  As usual, the box was twice as large as it needed to be to contain the puppy food.  The rest of the package had been stuffed with filler.

𝗧HOUGHTS:  My recollection is that prior to the pandemic (in the good ol’ days) drivers would knock or ring your doorbell prior to leaving a package at your front door.  Now there is rarely any indication something has been delivered unless it needs to be signed for.  The USPS does provide a phone app that notifies when something is delivered and gives an indication of what it is.  Melissa is a techie and has this and will occasionally ask if we got a specific piece of mail, although I have never seen it.  Leaving the package on the porch has given rise to porch pirates who roam the neighborhood looking for a package to steal.  It seems some will turn any convenience into their own opportunity.  Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.

Banning

August 02, 2022

My Sunday NY Times feed brought up the growing incidence of book banning in the US.  Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in America, but apparently that right ends if you write a book that says something other people disagree with.  Banning of books and pamphlets began as censorship in the Colonies in the 17th century and led America’s founders to draft the First Amendment to the Constitution.  The recent wave began at the end of last year according to a statement from the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF).  Between June 1 and November 29, 2021, OIF tracked an unprecedented 155 unique censorship incidents.  Most of the challenged books focus on LGBTQ issues, discuss racism in America, and/or “document the Black experience or the experiences of other BIPOC individuals.”  The crusade to suppress marginalized voices has picked up steam in 2022, with increasing numbers of parents, activists, school boards, and local policymakers seizing the chance to enact bans and restrictions on books in schools and public libraries.

When I looked online, I found book banning is the act of removing materials from a school or library’s collection because of objections from groups or individuals who say that they need to protect others (children) from the difficult information or ideas contained in the books.  While book banning today focuses on attempts to keep certain works of fiction out of the hands of impressionable children and young adults, the first instances of this censorship in Colonial America centered on objections to religious and political texts deemed too dangerous for the public.  This censorship continued even after passage of the First Amendment, with perhaps the most famous being the reaction to publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  This is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel on the cruelties of slavery, and the first American work of fiction to become an international best seller.  Stowe’s novel was widely banned in the American South as “abolitionist propaganda” and is still challenged in the US today for its inclusion of racial slurs.  In response to the controversy, Congress passed the Comstock Act of 1873, which made it “illegal to possess, sell, give away, exhibit, or send obscene books, pamphlets, pictures, drawings, or advertisements through the mail, along with anything else considered lewd, lascivious, immoral, or indecent.”  Between 1874 and 1915, an estimated 3,500 people were prosecuted, but only about 350 were convicted.

Who has the authority to ban books depends on the institution where a book is located.  For schools this is generally the school board who gives the final approval on whether a book will be included in the school curriculum, the school library, or on a suggested reading list.  Most school districts have a committee that give recommendations to the board.   Book banning a set of “4 R’s” (redaction, relocation, restriction, and removal) that are contrary to the “3 R’s” taught in school (reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic).  Redaction is when you put a line through a word you do not like or cover a particular image.  Relocation is when you remove something from its intended audience and aim it at a different audience (putting a children’s book in the young adult section).  Restriction is when you require permission to read something.  Removal is what most people think about when they hear about book banning.  This says the book needs to be removed “from the collection, from the curriculum, and from my sight.” 

𝗧HOUGHTS:  It is a violation of the First Amendment for the government to “ban books merely because it dislikes the ideas contained in those books, nor may it do so for partisan, political, or viewpoint-based reasons,” says Vera Eidelman of the ACLU.  Libraries are places where people can exercise their First Amendment rights by exploring a wide range of viewpoints, genres, and experiences.  First Amendment protections apply whether the government is banning books entirely or limits access to them by putting them in a separate section or behind the librarians’ desk.  There are 27 ratified amendments to the US Constitution.  You cannot have selective memory when it comes to supporting these amendments.  Each ensures a granted right.  Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.