Saturday, September 26, 2020

Don't Expect Same Night Election Results

G. Washington, 1789
(National Archives)
I remember clearly staying up late on election night, watching election coverage and waiting for the winner to be announced--even though a news network's prediction was in reality unofficial. That probably won't happen in the November 2020 election, and voters need to understand that and be okay with waiting for election results . . . possibly for weeks or longer.

It helps to know that historically, during times when hand-counted ballots and snail mail were the norms, that gathering national election results took time. It used to be that the president was not installed in office until March, until in 1937 (and thereafter) when presidents were installed in January. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, the "Lame Duck" amendment, upped the inauguration day to speed up the transition to office, something needed and possible in the more technological age but which would have been difficult in older times when communications and travel were slower.

I recently read an article speculating various scenarios of a contested 2020 election, published by the Harvard Gazette, in which I was able to glean the one sentence of historical fact that I was looking for: "For many times in our history, we didn’t know the result of state tallies for weeks, so that’s not historically unprecedented." I wasn't motivated to fall under the spell of gloom-and-doom scenarios the article speculated, but I was interested in the idea that for most of the history of the United States, there were no election night instant results. Voters understood that there would be a time lag between the voting, the vote count, the results announced, and the inauguration. These things took time . . . and still do.

I also found it interesting that the idea of secret voting came about mostly after the Civil War because of the intensity and violence of that conflict. Before that, voting was more public, even including voice votes and adding your signature to a list for a candidate--sometimes during fairs or carnivals where folks (men, who voted then) could be inebriated. It seems voting is more solemn now, probably a good thing, not just something done between horse races.

The Wall Street Journal has posted an article online, "When Will We Know the 2020 Presidential Election Results? A Guide to Possible Delays," that seems to fairly objectively discuss the idea of delayed results for the 2020 presidential election. The journal's main point is that mail-in ballots will take longer to count, that we should expect that, and that we should be patient. 

“We have to prepare for the very strong probability that an election unlike any other we’ve ever had might take a little longer to accurately count with integrity,” said David Becker, executive director and founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, a group in Washington, D.C., that works to improve election administration. “More time being taken to report results is not an indication of a problem.”

We are reminded that election night results are unofficial and that it often takes weeks for the official tally to be announced. In a close race, it is even more important that the certification process be accurate, which may increase the time lag. 

Emotions are high for many, and some politicians are doing their best to inflame those passions. I think it's ironic--and good--that Americans need to realize that our patriotic duty in the upcoming election is to vote . . . and then chill. Don't listen to screamers and accusers. Let the process follow its course as it has done so for over two hundred years. Step back from that need for an instant information fix. Be patriotic. Just chill.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Down with Doomscrolling!

"Doomscrolling" and "doomsurfing" are new compound words Merriam-Webster is watching, "referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing. Many people are finding themselves reading continuously bad news about COVID-19 without the ability to stop or step back." The "scrolling" compound highlights the use of the smartphone for skimming for bad news, the "surfing" referencing computer use, although the terms are pretty much interchangeable. 

And I am guilty of engaging in this activity. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

"Can you think of a better way to spend your time?" Merriam-Webster asks, adding, "Remember to take some time away from your phone today." Yes! As one friend said to me six months ago: "It's bad enough to let this virus into your body, much less your mind." Merriam-Webster continues to provide wise insight. 

During times of crisis and uncertainty, some of us pay more attention to the news, looking for answers. And this might not surprise you, but we have to say it: a lot of the news is bad. And yet we keep scrolling, keep reading article after article, unable to turn away from information that depresses us.

Our friendly neighborhood dictionary provided some emotional support at the end of this "Words We're Watching" entry: "Whether you prefer to surf or scroll for your doom, don’t feel you need to take it in all at once. After all, tomorrow is another day."

Rathbun Lake
I was curious to see what strategies others have suggested to cut doomscrolling out of our day. And, yes, I went online to find out, but with a focus! In fact, here is my pre-research list of what I think I'll find, written down because this whole process--article and research--is really a bit of self-therapy to re-balance myself and to re-structure a more positive activity level for myself. It's part of my current two-week camping sojourn at local state park. Change of view, change of pace, and screw my head back on.

  • Have a specific purpose for going online
  • When (or if) checking the news, set a time limit--and set a timer for that limit, for instance, setting five or ten minutes to locate an article that provides current covid updates.
  • Use the internet to research for information for an article. This is similar to the first bullet point, except that it is linked to my computer writing work for my blogs. 
  • And as always (always, always, always!), check your sources!
NPR wrote an article that is pertinent to this topic: "Your 'Doomscrolling' Breeds Anxiety. Here's How to Stop the Cycle." The bottom line advice? Set a time limit, stay cognizant, and swap "vicious cycles" for "virtuous cycles." The use of your phone's timer is pretty obvious (and spot-on useful). Staying "cognizant" just means to enter the online information world with a specific purpose--and then to accomplish that purpose and get out. The last "cycles" concept is to replace the negative information activity with a more positive one. I wasn't so far off on my own self-suggestions, was I! published a comprehensive article about doomscrolling: what it is, why it's bad, and how to stop. "Turns out your brain loves this stuff," a psychiatrist says, the ancient negatives like dodging saber tooth tigers has been replaced by more pervasive, insidious negatives that just hang on and on. The article's suggestions? First admit that you engage in the behavior and that it has a negative effect. Next, set a daily time limit (15 minutes a day, the article suggests). Finally, train yourself to identify positive events in your life and around you. (Find three positives a day, the article suggests.)

What I found interesting and useful about both articles is the mention of having a plan. Negativity can be like quicksand; the ground looks stable, but suddenly you're stuck and being pulled down. Plan to stay on higher, firmer ground. Create a habit of engaging in positive activities. I think my two-week "staycation" here on the lake is paying off: reading, writing, cooking, hiking and bicycling, and having a plan to limit my news intake. Hiking rather than scrolling! In fact, now that I've finished this article, I think I'll see what my neighborhood heron is up to. Wash your hands, wear a mask, and maintain social distancing to keep your body healthy . . . and, you know, the mental equivalent for those three measures ain't so bad either. Keep to positive online material, filter your internet activity, and distance yourself from your phone. 

Well, okay, for me it is literally a new dawn on the lake, and I'm looking forward to this new day.

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Monday, August 17, 2020

Step-by-Step, I Get My Main-in Ballot for the 2020 General Election and Submit It

This 2020 November General Election falls with the time of our COVID-19 pandemic, as did the primary election. During the primary, I requested a main-in ballot, filled it out, and returned it. The process wasn't entirely seamless, though, so I'm being more careful this time for the general election--and I'm writing down the steps and publishing this article to help anyone (especially locally) who many wonder what the process is.

For the primary election, the Iowa secretary of state sent out ballot requests to all registered Iowa voters in order to make voting by mail easier and, therefore, safer because of our current coronavirus crisis. Two situations arose from this action by the secretary of state: 1) I didn't receive my request, and 2) our Iowa state legislature got huffed and passed legislation to make the mail-in process more difficult to facilitate, especially for county auditors.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate did send out mail-in request forms to Iowans, but my wife and I did not receive the forms. Via Facebook and a voting-savvy friend, my wife and I were able to download and print request forms, fill them out, and return them so that we could vote safely without crowding up the voting stations.

As the November election nears, concerns have also been voiced about possible delays in the U.S. Postal Service's mail pick-up and deliveries, prompting possible late delivery of mail-in ballots, which would cause those ballots to not be counted.

Therefore, it's best to secure your mail-in ballot early and to do everything you can to ensure that the ballot is delivered on time, whether by mail or by handing in your ballot to your local county auditor. Here are the procedures I'm currently following, and those I plan to utilize once I receive my ballot, in order to ensure that my vote counts.

  1. I searched online and found the "State of Iowa Official Absentee Ballot Request Form," the mail-in ballot request form. My wife and I ran off the forms and filled them out, being sure we didn't transpose any numbers or create any situation where the forms might not be considered completed. If we didn't have a printer, we could have gone to the county courthouse and received a ballot request from the auditor's office.
  2. I called the auditor's office and asked when the ballot request forms could be submitted, and the auditor is currently accepting request forms. I filled out the request form, donned my covid mask, grabbed my hand sanitizer, and delivered my request to the Jefferson County Courthouse auditor's office. The request form can be mailed to the following address: Auditor's Office, Jefferson County Courthouse, 51 W. Briggs Ave., Fairfield, IA 52556.
  3. Our county auditor clerk said the last date the auditor can receive the ballot request form is October 24, by 5:00 PM. 
  4. General election main-in ballots must be postmarked by November 2 and received by November 9, 12:00 PM.
  5. Mail-in ballots can be submitted by hand any time up through 9:00 PM on election day.
My wife and I plan to fill out the ballot soon after receiving it, and then I will mask up and deliver it in person to the county auditor's office. That way, the only mail interaction will be the delivery of the ballot. Here is an article about other options than mailing in your absentee ballot: Absentee Ballot Submission Options.

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Negotiating the Danger of Fools and Their COVID-19 Folly

"Sweetie, don't get too close to the lady," I say to my granddaughter at the swimming beach of our local lake. "Give her some space."

As my granddaughter stops and backs away in water that's waist deep for her, the lady says, "Oh, that's not important to me."

"Well, it's important to me," I respond.

The lady leaves the pond, and as she exits the pond, she grimaces and mutters, "I think it's just ridiculous."

It's a hot summer late morning, and my wife and I have taken the kids to swim. Few people are there, only an elderly man (maybe a bit older than me) and another grandmother and her two grandkids. The other grandmother is sitting in the shade maybe thirty or forty feet from the water. She never says a word to her two grandkids, whom we have to remind, along with our own grandkids, to keep our separate family spaces apart. The elderly gentleman has a touch of what used to be called "feeble-mindedness," and I have to clearly ask him to keep his distance as he leaves the water.

So, yeah, I'm thinking about the situation and how I answered, and with a bit of research come up with a Biblical reference from Proverbs: "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes" (26:4-5).

That's quite a mouthful, yet I think the main idea is that debating ignorance on its own level is not only a futile exercise, it also legitimizes the foolish idea or action. From that perspective, I think my response was appropriate. I stated my perspective in a way that motivated the response I desired--without trying to argue the individuals out of their mindset. I didn't accept their viewpoint; I just established that I would prefer that they keep their opinions over there.

As I write this, the United States will soon have four and a quarter million confirmed cases of COVID-19, 150,000 deaths, and has several states seriously under siege and in danger of being overwhelmed by the new coronavirus. "What will it take to convince people that the pandemic is real, that there is real danger?" I ask myself. Here I am at the beach on a Saturday morning for an hour and a half, and I have to interact with three individuals who foolishly are disregarding the fact that the world is experiencing a pandemic.

Being an admirer of the Age of Reason, the era that birthed our United States of America, I think of Benjamin Franklin and his Poor Richard's Almanack. “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that.” The United States, along with the rest of the world, is in the midst of dealing with the "dear school" or hard-knocks school of a viral epidemic, yet because the virus is invisible and for many Americans the effects of the virus are not sitting on their doorsteps, they scoff at the pandemic and its dangers, to circle back to the Biblical reference.

Negotiating the pandemic deniers is one of the greatest dangers during this time. Arguing with the deniers is a danger that has resulted in some deniers invading the personal space of others to breathe or spit on them, or to even attack. Another Biblical quote, reads "For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise" (2 Corinthians 11:19). To paraphrase, if we consider ourselves "in the know," then we should be kind and patient with those who are engaged in unwise thinking and action.

There is the flip side to this saying though, that we should "not kindly suffer fools," that we should not put up with the dull and dangerous thinking of others. Such behavior, though, can be its own expression of the ignorance of arrogance and excessive pride, of belligerence born narrow-mindedness. Thinking about this pandemic, it seems some push-back is necessary to keep a safe space around ourselves. The question for me as a private citizen, an individual, is how do we keep ourselves safe without provoking covid fools to get into our faces? How do we allow ourselves and others our personal freedom without giving this novel coronavirus the freedom to spread?

As a private citizen, I think my course is to be clear in my expectations of others without being confrontational. I am not trying to separate fools from their folly; I am trying to separate myself from the fools. Looking back at my actions at the beach, I think I did an okay job. For the woman who thought social distancing ridiculous, I didn't ask her to change her opinion, only to respect mine. For the grandmother who just let her grandkids play without providing social distancing guidance and intervention, my wife and I just kindly reminded the kids to each keep to their own areas. For the older gentleman who wanted to come up close and talk to me, I asked him to keep his distance in as neutral a manner as possible, turning my shoulder and breaking eye contact. All three strategies worked.

The problem is that each of those three situations could have been dismal, disastrous fails. The woman who felt the whole thing ridiculous could have ignored me and hugged my granddaughter, or could have charged over to me to scream in my face. The kids (including my own grandchildren) could have ignored our instructions, being at an impulsive age, and just gotten together. (This, of course, is one of the biggest fears of teachers as the beginning of the school year is approaching.) The elderly gentleman could have just not understood my request that he keep his distance, just a nice old guy navigating the fog of his latter years. I could have been occupying the covid reef he crashed upon.

None of those worst-case scenarios occurred, but they could have. I was reminded that going out in public during these times is a risk. We are all trying to balance our need for the freedom to get out with our need to keep safe during this pandemic. What risk level can we tolerate, and what risk level is prudent, not only for ourselves but for society, is the question of questions. We must find a way to kindly suffer fools yet to find a way to be "kindly unkind" and clearly indicate what behaviors are dangerous and unacceptable. As the governor of Wisconsin said last May, "We are the Wild West." Just as in the frontier days, an element of self-sufficiency, clear-headedness, and realistic thinking is required of all of us if we and our families are to remain healthy. The police and civil law can't protect us if someone invades our personal space and infects us with this novel coronavirus. It's already too late.

Yes, people in some cases and places are breaking civil law, but the big deal is that so many are breaking the laws of nature. People may get away with breaking a government's law, but the laws of nature are implacable when it comes to retribution. Hunker down, run, yell--do what you must, but do not get between fools and their folly. And for God's sake, do not become infected with their folly.

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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Three Angles for Writing a Travel Article

I've been thinking about my camping blog, Green Goddess Glamping. During the camping season, I write about the places I travel to, about my experiences out and about in my tiny camper. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, though, I'm not out and about so much, and when I am camping, it's been to sites close by, places I've camped at before. As a writer, does this create a dilemma? Since I've already written about a particular lake or campground, then what more is there to say?

I'll be traveling to a nearby state park tomorrow, Lake Darling State Park, in SE Iowa. I've written several times about camping at Lake Darling, both as a tiny trailer camper and as a bicycle camper. I've described hikes, bike rides, the campground, cooking, the weather, sunsets . . . all the fun my wife and I have fun there. What more to write?

What occurred to me was that any experience has three aspects or "angles" of approach by a writer, the writer's personal experience, the dynamics of the experience, and the geography of the experience. I've heard this described as the perceiver , the process perception, and the object of perception. This means I can write about any destination from any one or more of those three angles. I don't have to just write about my drive, setting up camp, and what I did. I have more options, and looking through past articles in Green Goddess Glamping, I can see examples of where I have already focused my writing on one aspect of this "three-in-one" reality of experience.

The Writer

When I arrive at a campsite, especially when I camp alone, sometimes the inner landscape of the mind melds with the outer natural beauty of the river or lake, the woods. Sometimes this leads to insights which I share in my articles.

Photo by Mark Busha, tiny trailer camper, in a remote location in Utah

One good example is my article about how being alone doesn't mean one is lonely, that solitude is not synonymous with loneliness. In "Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely," which I wrote while camping, I focused on my inner experience while out camping. I wrote about how camping in nature can lead not to a sense of loneliness and isolation but rather to an experience of connectedness and integration.

The Process

Sometimes the process of camping dominates; perhaps it dominates most of the time if we let it. Towing the trailer, backing the trailer, setting up camp, and camping out provide many opportunities for writing. My "How-To" and "Reviews" tab links are filled with articles that relate to the process of camping, everything from how to stabilize the trailer to campfire cooking. Articles about equipment, how it works and how well it works are always popular and fun to write about.

Jomeokee Park, North Carolina

When I write about the process of camping, there is always that journaling aspect: I did this and then that. Photographs fit into the narrative, which adds to the enjoyment of the camping experience. Many of my camping blogs are about the Green Goddess Expeditions. Since the Green Goddess is my first camper, many of my articles have been about what I needed to learn in order to enjoy the trailer camping experience. One good example of a narrative of a camping weekend is my article "Unknowingly, I Tiny-Trailer Camp-Crash Woodstock," where I wrote about stopping for a quiet weekend at a private campground while traveling the Carolinas, and then discovering that a private camping group had organized a music concert for the weekend. A fun experience!

The Subject

We show up to a campground for a few days, but the land has its reality outside our experience, it has its geography, its biology, its history. That is a subject for experiencing and writing about that is a source of great possibility. The more times I camp at a particular place, the more I learn about that place.

Statue at the west entrance to Lacey-Keosauqua

Lacey-Keosauqua State Park is a good example of experiencing a particular place. My wife and I have camped there many times, and I have quite a few articles about our "expeditions" there. As time passes and the number of visits to a campground add up, I think the experience becomes more "vertical" than "horizontal." We go deeper into a place and learn its secrets, something I wrote about in the article "It's Not Just How Many Miles or Places." Delving into the details can be a joy. What specific variety of oak is that? What variety of goldenrod? And since I'm writing during the Midwest summer: What exactly is a "chigger"?

Bur oak sketch

The three-in-one reality of knower, process of knowing, and known don't take place one at a time; there is no separation--one including all. As a writer (and a student of nature), I can focus on one attribute of my experience, though. It expands my ability to understand and express my experience. It focuses my intellect.

From the Gutenberg e-book

In Henry David Thoreau's narrative Canoeing in the Wilderness, he shifts seamlessly from his own personal experience to the process of canoeing to the beauty of the woods and river. He writes with growing awareness during the book of how he, even though an experienced naturalist, is not as knowledgeable in the woods as his American Indian guide Joseph Polis. Thoreau creates an enjoyable read as he narrates his experiences of canoeing the river rapids and the turbulent lakes in Maine. He writes about setting up camp and how his guide knows just the right place to be not too far from the river yet still dry and relatively free of mosquitoes. The physical environment is described with great regard and attention to detail, as seen in this passage describing canoeing down a branch of Webster Stream.
"As the shores became flatter with frequent sandbars, and the stream more winding in the lower land near the lake, elms and ash trees made their appearance; also the wild yellow lily, some of whose bulbs I collected for a soup. On some ridges the burnt land extended as far as the lake. This was a very beautiful lake, two or three miles long, with high mountains on the southwest side. The morning was a bright one, and perfectly still, the lake as smooth as glass, we making the only ripple as we[152] paddled into it. The dark mountains about it were seen through a glaucous mist, and the white stems of canoe birches mingled with the other woods around it. The thrush sang on the distant shore, and the laugh of some loons, sporting in a concealed western bay, as if inspired by the morning, came distinct over the lake to us." 
Whether as a camper or as a writer, whether on an expedition into the Maine woods in 1857 or on a weekday romp to the local state park, we can all be explorers of the three-in-one nature of life. We can have our inner selves up uplifted, we can enjoy the dynamism of our activity, and we can appreciate the rich beauty of our world. So this has been a small update from me: I'll be out there somewhere close to home, safely enjoying the richness of life, writing about how to make it even richer.

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