Category Archives: Science

Peonies, Roses and Daddy Longlegs


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Earlier this month, Daddy Longlegs on flower in side garden.

The odd, ever changing summer in Iowa continues.

On Tuesday, dodging rain, my wife and I had gone shopping, and we picked up a few of the season’s last plants on clearance. We got two small rose bushes and two pink peonies.

My plan was to plant them under a birch tree in our front yard. I think my back yard is just getting too shady for these kinds of flowers.

Anyway, when I went out to garden Wednesday, I started by taking my good camera and making a few images of the fine morning. It had rained Tuesday and was very damp, but fine and nice on Wednesday—usually this summer, we’ve been either very humid and warm or downright wet, so Wednesday was one of the precious in-between days. No rain and no extreme heat—it was just Iowa pleasant.

I was impressed by the number and variety of Daddy Longlegs I found this morning, crawling at the edge of plants, on patrol for food to scavenge. I learned via a PBS article and a DNR web site that these non-spider arachnids basically don’t hunt—they are walking around looking for dead insects or decaying leaf to eat.

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Pair of Daddy Longlegs on Hosta. They shed legs as a defense, and according to a PBS article, if a male wants to mate and the female is not in the mood, she may rip one of his legs off.

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On Milkweed.

And, if attacked, they shed a leg and move on. More than half of Daddy Longlegs will lose at least one leg in escaping a predator (or potential mate) during their life.

Well. It was not the only interesting nature note of the morning.

As I planted my roses and peonies, a bit of a disturbance broke out in a nearby ash tree. A small bird was being chased about by a tiny bird—a hummingbird was swooping at another bird, which was complaining about the harassment.

I’ve seen hummingbirds several times this summer, but never caught an image of one. I pointed the good camera up in the ash tree, hoping to be lucky. And I was, because it appeared the hummingbird actually roosted, waiting for its next opportunity to be macho or birdo or dino—whatever we should call it.

And when, on the computer, I looked at the image, I realized the tiny bird was not sitting on the branch—it has a tiny nest in the ash tree.

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Hummingbird on guard in nest.

The city is cutting out ashes, and this is a city tree, so at some point it will be removed. I hope it’s after the fall migration.

And I hope to see some pretty pink peonies next spring!

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Wanting Something to Rot in the Ground


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Danny Mishek, president of SelfEco.

I saw a cool product today. and I wish it was readily available each spring.

Danny Mishek, president of SelfEco, a company in Stillwater, Minnesota, gave the annual Barbara A. Knapp lecture at Mount Mercy University. In his speech, he told about how his company makes two product lines: plastic eating utensils and plastic plant pots. The hook is that both product lines are produced mostly from corn stalks and roots—they are plant-based, biodegradable plastics.

And the pots, which rot away in the ground, also have fertilizer embedded into their structure.

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SelfEco seed-starting pots. Danny Mishek gave them to me. Now I have to figure out what seeds I want to start next year ….

I want them. I want all the plants I buy for my garden next spring to come in them. May the idea grow and spread. Mishek said 4.2 billion garden pots are sold annually, with only 2 percent recycled. His pots don’t need to be either tossed or recycled—you simply plant the plant, which feasts on the fertilizer at its roots as the pot decomposes.

“If something is going into a landfill, it’s a missed opportunity,” Mishek said.

He showed pictures of forks, plates and champagne flutes his company also produces, with the idea that these are again put in a compost pile rather than tossed or recycled.

It was, to me, a pretty inspiring speech. Of course, as a gardener, the idea of not having to de-pot my flowers immediately appealed to me, but Mishek’s company is doing something important that can help solve a big environmental problem.

I enjoyed the presentation, even if it included a rather famously debunked quote that is often attributed to Gandhi: “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you WIN!”

I’m not sure what made me google for a source, but those words just didn’t sound like Gandhi, to me. In fact, they did not come from him. PolitiFact and Snopes.com have both dealt with the quote—PolitiFact checked into it when Donald Trump tweeted that quote during the campaign last year.

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Dr. Tracy Tunwall, fauclty chair, introduces the speaker.

As usual, you can’t trust a Trump tweet. Then again, Polifact notes that both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton referenced the same words and falsely attributed them to Gahndi. And, although not really from Gandhi at all, the words reflect a nice thought that did fit the speech well.

Anyway, that’s all an aside. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Mishek speak, and thought he peppered his remarks with good advice for students. For instance, he noted to students that they would all be judged—it’s inevitable. That should motivate you to do good things so that “they will judge you for being awesome.”

He also noted that making choices is a key in life. “You only have so much energy. You can’t put 25 hours into a day,” he said.

Nice words. You can’t put 25 hours into a day. Probably, as it nears midnight, that means it’s time for me to go to bed. I won’t try to put more hours into this day. But after the speech, when I thanked Mr. Mishak for his interesting words, he gave me a sample package of pots.

I may not put more hours into a day—but I’m looking forward next spring for finding reasons to put these pots in the ground!

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Where is the Care in Healthcare?


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Dr. Danielle Rudd, assistant professor of biology, speaks Oct. 5.

I think you’d have to have a heart of ice not to be a bit riled up Thursday night.

Dr. Danielle Rudd, assistant professor of biology at Mount Mercy University, spoke on “Putting the Care in Healthcare” during the 2017 Fall Faculty Series. It was another standing-room-only event, attended this time by many MMU students as well as faculty and community members.

She was speaking about Americans who live with rare diseases—but she noted that it’s only the individual diseases that are rare. In total, about 30 million American, close to 1 in 10, are dealing with a “rare” health condition.

And she powerfully introduced the audience to three people who we’ve surely seen before—the current president of MMU’s Student Government Association, the daughter of a religious studies professor and the son of a prominent local alumnus. All have conditions that have forced their families into becoming advocates and exports in our dysfunctional health system.

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2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

The evening was personal, enlightening, entertaining—and frustrating. Republicans have tried, and failed, to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, the Trump administration is doing everything it can to ensure the law’s failure, which they will surely blame on the law itself rather than their own governing incompetence. That’s when I got riled up. No, Congress, no GOP–we don’t want the ACA repealed. When you get a leak under the sink, you don’t decide sinks are a bad idea and ban indoor plumbing.

What does it say that too many of our national leaders don’t understand that adequate health care is vital to us all? And who could hear the stories we heard last night and want to go back to a time when too many would be denied insurance or care? What do you have that makes you think that way?

Hearts of ice.

Post script: After I wrote and posted this, I recalled that there had been at least 4 personal stories shared–and I felt a little bad, as if I were ignoring someone’s life. Anyway, I wrote this straight from memory without notes, which is why it is short of details and has no direct quotes. If I messed up details while thinking about the event a day later sans memory aids, I apologize, and, well, that’s just a sign of how an old brain works (or doesn’t).

Eden Wales Freedman, assistant professor of English, listens Oct. 5. She will speak Oct. 12 in a presentation called “From the Suffragettes to the Women’s March: Feminism for Everyone.”

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Marching Bigly for Mother Earth


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Iowa City March for Science April 22–my wife and two granddaughters and I took part.

The March for Science, planned this Earth Day, April 22, 2017, was not overtly political. After all, science is supposed to transcend politics—the chemicals of your body don’t care whether you voted for Hillary or Donald.

But, I was there, joining the nearest event in Iowa City, mostly due to politics. It feels as if both political parties ignore science, to our peril. Some liberals fuss about GMOs or vaccinations—or wonder why we spend money on NASA. But, pained as I am by irrationality on the looney left, let us give the right wing its due—it’s irrationality is much more widespread and, due to who is in power now, more dangerous.

Never in my lifetime have we elected a president so abysmally ignorant of everything—history, politics, and, yes, science. Never has one political party—the GOP—worked so hard against biology (yes, evolution is a thing), chemistry (if you burn that carbon it will go somewhere with some effect), Earth science (yes, the globe naturally warms and cools, but no, this particular extinction event is not natural), etc.

So I was in Iowa City to March. And it felt right, somehow, that I was there with two young grandchildren. Their lives have been shaped for the good by science—they live at a time when many humans, especially in northern North America, are well fed, comfortable and safe form most physical harms thanks to science.It wasn’t just the idea of democracy that made America great. It was the idea of ideas.So here is how I spent Earth Day 2017:

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Cool Iowa spring morning–planting pollinator friendly flowers on Earth Day with the help of two granddaughters.

First, we planted. I don’t even know who sent me some pollinator-friendly seeds at work, but thank you, benefactor. Those and other seeds (I’ve received bee-friendly packs from various sources) went into the ground this morning. Some of the seeds will be dormant until 2018—milkweed, for instance, must overwinter before germinating. But, where there is Iowa dirt, there is hope, and I hope this morning’s plantings will eventually aid both bees and butterflies.

Second, we marched. One daughter, with her young son, headed to Des Moines to march with our mathematician son who lives in Ames. My wife and I took two granddaughters to Iowa City. The girls made signs, petted dogs and gamely walked the whole March route. I am sure they didn’t understand what was going on, but I deeply felt that what we were doing was for their sake. The currently irrational political storm that is raging threatens science at many levels, and attacks on basic research are very shortsighted. Plus, we are delaying action that will be necessary to come to grips with global warming, and my grandchildren may suffer more than I do from our current shortsightedness. So, we march.

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One of many signs at Iowa City March for Science.

I am not naïve enough to think that today made a whole lot of difference. The miserly small-minded mindset of governments in both Des Moines and Washington wasn’t changed by my few small steps. But I was trying to make America great again.

Once, we were a courageous country that put footprints on the Lunar surface. We saved the Bald Eagle from extinction, and cleaned up much of the smog that chocked our great cities. We changed our habits so that rivers in Ohio would not remain flammable.

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Granddaughter during march.

Yet, today, we can’t even agree that Iowa water is dirty, that the planet is warming, that space is worth exploring or that science matters.

It does. I won’t be silent as my once great country falls into a deep intellectual malaise.

It’s time to speak, act, march and make some noise. We had the drive, brains and courage in our past to do great things. We still have them. We must overcome the bigly sad shrill voices of ignorance that dominate our discourse today.

Mother Earth, on behalf of Iowa and our nation, I apologize. I don’t know, somehow we got drunk in November 2016 and are living in an extended nightmarish hangover.

I don’t want us to do that again, and I vow to do what I can to do better.

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