Thursday, July 24, 2014

Conflating homophobia and Christian values

It'll be interesting to watch the progress of Bob Eschliman's claim, now pending before the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission, that his firing last May as editor of The Newton (Iowa) Daily News represented religious discrimination. Here's a link to today's Des Moines Register story about his complaint.

The Shaw Media Group, owner of The Daily News, fired Eschliman last spring because of his anti-gay writings on a personal blog. Eschliman used the term "Gaystapo" in relation to a publication entitled "The Queen James Bible" and suggested LGBT activists were "trying to make their sinful nature right with God."

If this were presented as a free-speech issue it would be one thing. Although it sometimes seems unfair, reputable media owners long have been concerned about the objectivity, real or perceived, of their reporters and editors. And media types generally have been cautious about expressing views publicly about controversial issues, even directed explicitly by their employers not to do so, because of fears perceived objectivity could be compromised.

So there is precedent for dispatching news types who lose through public statements or other means the trust of readers who question their ability to report fairly. 

But there is an interesting twist here. Not that long ago, media owners might well have fired an openly gay or "outed" gay reporter or editor, citing the same concerns about objectivity. In Iowa at least that would be illegal now, and rightly so.

Freedom of religion is new in this field --- prompted by the religious right's drive to conflate homophobia and Christian values. The implication of the complaint is that Eschliman was fired not so much because of what he said, but because he was a Christian.

I'm not buying that. But we'll see what the Equal Opportunity Commission says. And then, no matter what the commission says, we'll see what the courts say during the inevitable appeals process. The Texas-based Liberty Institute is backing Eschliman, so the process could be a long one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blue Vervain

Pin Oak Marsh, July 19, 2014

Verbena hastata (Vervain family - Verbenaceae). Also known as American Blue Vervain. Elegant plants reach six feet tall with erect branches and opposite leaves. Leaves are stalked, pointed and coarsely toothed. Many erect spikes of small, blue flowers in loose candelabra-like clusters near the top of each plant. Blooms midsummer into fall.

Common in wet prairies, low pastures, marshes and stream banks throughout the tallgrass region. The plant is native to North America.

They will know us by those we discriminate against

The outsider vantage point is an interesting place to be so far as Christianity is concerned, offering a less obstructed view of the absurdity involved when a major religion allows itself to be defined by its reactions to a relatively small group of people, most recently the LGBT community.

Especially in light of words attributed to the guy from whom the outfit takes its name: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Love that KJV.

So while it was gratifying on Monday to watch President Obama sign an executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by federal contractors --- without the additional religious exemption sought by Christianist zealots --- it will be interesting now to watch the religious right work the loopholes. And there are a couple of those.

Many "faith-based" programs offered by religious organizations with their noses in the public trough are funded by outright grants from the government, not through contractual agreements. So the new restrictions do not apply.

In addition, Obama left standing an exemption that dates from the George W. Bush administration that allows faith-based contractors to discriminate when hiring and firing on the basis of religion. A faith-based charity, for example, may hire only co-religionists if it wishes to do so --- Roman Catholics for a Roman Catholic-administered program, Baptists for a Baptist-administered program.

The boundaries of this exception really never have been tested, but now may be. What would happen, for example, if a Southern Baptist-run contractual charity discovers a gay Southern Baptist among its workers, then imposes the denomination's general understanding that gay people are not Christians, let alone Southern Baptists, and fires him or her? There's the potential for all sorts of other interesting twists and turns here.

And then there's the recent Hobby Lobby U.S. Supreme Court decision that opens the door for "closely held" public corporations to decline services to people if those services are deemed religiously objectional. More room for mischief. What if the courts hold people can be religiously objectional, too, and so it's not necessary to either employ or serve them?

It's going to be fun to watch Christians poke and prod and squirm now in order to legally avoid behaving like Christians.

By most estimates, the Obama order will cover about 20 percent of the nation's workforce and is the most significant act by the president involving LGBT Americans since the demise of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

Obama had delayed the executive order in the hope an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) might clear Congress, which now seems unlikely as progressives become increasingly uneasy with the religious exemption clauses included in a Senate-passed measure.

Progressive Christians generally applauded the Obama order and many had hoped, too, that the Bush-era religious exemption would be eliminated. That seems only fair when you're dealing with public funds.

And there are, by the way, quite a number of religious organizations --- some of them quite conservative --- that decline to accept public funding for their good works. To do that, however, requires familiarity with one of the basic rules of life --- if your nose is in the government trough, eventually there will be a ring in it --- and then a string attached to the ring to lead you where the government wants you to go.


Since we're on the subject, sort of, I was intrigued by this piece by Neal Broverman on the The Advocate Web site, "All Gay People are Screwed Up and It's OK."

Some might argue that Broverman shouldn't play the "victim card," but there's a good deal of truth in what he writes and it's good to acknowledge that, to one degree or another, all LGBT people are through no real fault of our own damaged goods. Or at least I've never met a gay person who wasn't.

That doesn't imply that we were born damaged, nor does it mean gay folks aren't entirely capable of transcending the damage. Most actually do. But damage to date has been inevitable, and continues.

And it's important to realize too that LGBT folks are neither the only nor necessarily the most important victims. We live, after all, in a society whose racist and sexist roots still are clearly evident at all levels.

The church always has been the principal instrument of damage, although that is changing to a degree now. But it should come as no surprise that many if not most LGBT people lack faith in the Christian experience.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I would say more, but ...

... it's Tuesday, the 22nd --- monthly great clean-up morning on the square. And I'm running late. Care to join us? Meet at 6 a.m. at the gazebo. Water provided (it's supposed to be 95 before all is said and done today.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Right along the concrete trail ...

It's always surprising (but kind of gratifying since it's restful to have places to yourself) just how underutilized Lucas County's public lands are --- and there are thousands of acres to range across. While ranging, I rarely run across more than one or two other human critters --- often no one at all. Including weekends. Odd.

Consider the options --- Thirteen miles of Cinder Path commence in Chariton and can be accessed in shorter segments between here and Humeston at many crossings. Then there's Red Haw State Park, a mile east of town; Pin Oak Marsh, a mile south; and undeveloped areas of the Chariton River Greenbelt, accessible among other places via a gap in the Chariton Cemetery fence.

Range a little father and thousands of acres of Stephens State Forest are freely accessible in southwest and northeast Lucas County. Then there's Williamson Pond, the "sloughs" --- Brown and Colyn; many public access gateways to the greenbelt; the areas (and trails) at Ellis and Morris lakes; and other spots I've forgotten.

So where the heck is everybody?


Even wheelchair users can enjoy Pin Oak Marsh, where a paved trail commences at the Lodge, then winds southeast to an observation deck over the water. It's among the easiest walks in the county, always accompanied by birdsong (the red-wings are a little territorial at the moment, however).

Since I've been roaming the prairie (sort of) recently, I went down to Pin Oak Sunday evening to see what I could see there without straying far from the trail. 

I was gratified to find a small colony of Rattlesnake Master down by the observation deck, and buttonbush with its feet in the water just north of the deck. But waded into the grass just off the path to take a photo (top) of Blue Vervain (Verbena bastata), just coming into bloom now.

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) also are showing up brightly now.

And it was great to see --- not far beyond the first bench and to the right alongside the path --- an expanding colony of Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya) spiking up and nearly ready to bloom. 

Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) also is blooming low to the ground.

Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is putting on the most dramatic show at the marsh right now, but be a little careful around this one. Every bit of it is poison --- the root, especially deadly (as "Hemlock" might suggest).


My friend Linda O'Connell tells me, by the way, that Highway 65 is now open between Derby and Humeston and that the balance of the stretch to Lucas (barring some flagging action while shoulders are finished) might open this week. That's great news and also means that the big Liatris (Blazing Star) show right along the highway midway between Derby and Lucas should be easily accessible.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Little hike on the prairie ...

There are a few things to keep in mind while on a hike with people who love the prairie --- like the one Mary Ellen and I joined  Saturday over around Medora. That's the youngest member of our party above and below.

First, the pace will be very slow. We spent more than two hours exploring a 20-acre prairie remnant in the morning, then moved on after lunch to spend more time than that meandering around a small part of the nearby --- and much larger --- Medora Prairie.

But no one wants to miss anything, so every time anyone finds something of note everyone gathers around to ooh and aah. Or just to talk.

And when someone finds something he or she doesn't recognize, everyone gathers round to try to figure out what it is.

In addition, the terrain will be rough and trails are unlikely. There will be brambles, bugs, tree stumps, branches to trip over, occasional mud and a variety of other hazards (wear sturdy shoes, long pants and when passing through brambles lift your arms to avoid scratches).

But I don't think any of us rambling around southern Warren County on Saturday could have thought of a better way to spend part (or all) of the day. In all, about 20 people were involved, some arriving late, others leaving early. Eight of us finished up at about 4 p.m.


Most of us met about 10 a.m. at Hickory Hills Park, a lovely Warren County Conservation Board area along U.S. 69 just south of Medora (a ghost town consisting of the Medora United Methodist Church, a store --- closed, and a house). We returned to Hickory Hills later for a picnic-style lunch in the pioneer barn.

The hike was hosted by Region 6 of the Iowa Prairie Network and Martha Skillman, at 83 or so grande dame of  the southern Iowa prairies and owner of the first prairie tract we visited, was among us.

Principal organizers were the Network's Andy Asell, also our primary guide; and Pam White. Andy, son of Chariton's Charlotte and Lyle Asell, lives at Indianola with his family and works for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He seems to live, breathe and sleep prairie.

Our area of interest was located about three miles northwest of Hickory Hills, rich in prairie remnants. The Warren County Conservation Board's Rolling Thunder Prairie (signed and locatable on maps) is here. The Medora Prairie, 360 acres owned by the Nature Conservancy, is a mile and a half northeast of Rolling Thunder. Martha's 20 acres is sandwiched alongside a "b" road between the two. Medora Prairie is open to the public but neither it nor Martha's property is marked.


From Hickory Hills we drove over to Martha's property, which she purchased in 2005 to protect and improve not long after it had been identified as a prairie remnant, meaning that although it had been grazed the sod had never been broken and the plant base was largely intact. There are four open prairie areas here, dissected by wooded ravines.

In the years since, Martha, Andy  and others have cleared overgrowth that prairie fires would have controlled before EuroAmerican settlement and Andy has constructed a rough trails system that allows visitors to move (in some cases with considerable effort) from one prairie patch to another.

Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens), a prairie native, was putting on a considerable show here, in the area nearest the road.

I was hoping this little butterfly would open its wings for me, but there were just too many people moving around and we managed to spook it.

Elsewhere on Martha's prairie we found dozens of prairie varieties, including butterfly weed (now moving beyond its blooming prime in most areas we visited)...

... yellow coneflowers (confusingly called officially gray-headed coneflowers)...

and a few examples of pale coneflower, also moving beyond the prime blooming season.

We finished up at Martha's without getting to the final prairie segment of her property, but it was 12:30 and time to regroup and head back to the Hickory Hills barn for lunch. Some with afternoon obligations headed home.


The Nature Conservancy began acquiring the Medora Prairie tract during 1996 and has worked since to deal with overgrowth --- including extensive burns in its western territory last year. So Andy was interested when we headed back to the land after lunch to see what native plants had emerged there.

One gratifying find was Starry Campion (Silene stellata). Earlier in the year, Andy said, this section of burned-over prairie and woodland had been a great place to find morel mushrooms.

We moved on to the highest point of the prairie, in roughly the middle of the tract, taking the usual time-outs to stop and confer about this or that.

Although this colorful little lily, known as Blackberry Lilly (Iris domestica), is not a native plant but rather an escapee from some long-ago domestic garden, we were surprised and pleased to find a colony coexisting happily with prairie milkweed along a ravine.

Except for the long hike back to our vehicles, Saturday's tour concluded on this gorgeous ridge with views north toward Indianola. I'd like to go back someday and just sit here and take it all in for an hour or so.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

You can never be too rich ...

... or spend too much time on the prairie. So M.E.M. and I, perhaps others, are headed this morning for a prairie walk over around Medora sponsored by Region 6 of the Iowa Prairie Network. Medora is a ghost town (although the Medora Church still is there) at the intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and Warren County Road G76 between Osceola and Indianola.

Gather at 10 a.m. at Hickory Hills Park just south of Medora, then head as a group to Martha Skillman's prairie remnants a couple of miles northwest, then north a little to the Medora Prairie. Should be fun, or at least fun as I define it.


Speaking of prairie, I noticed Thursday that the prairie blazing stars --- which provide one of the best Midwest prairie shows --- were just about ready to bloom.

The best display in Lucas County will be right along Highway 65 south of Derby. Highway 65 is closed this summer, however, for paving and I'll be trying to figure out in the next week or so if it's possible to get there from here.

If all else fails, it would be possible to walk in on the Cinder Path, but that would be quite a hike. So I'm thinking that it should be possible to approach from the west, cross the closed highway and reach the big anhydrous ammonia tank that marks the best place to park and view.


I went over to the dark side a month or so ago and ordered a digital subscription to The Des Moines Register and guess I'm kind of getting my money's worth --- at least with an "introductory" price. We'll see after full price kicks in.

In any case, there are a couple of stories of interest in today's edition.

One involves Iowa's Country School Grant Program, the only one of its kind in the country, that aids local non-profits with surviving rural school houses to care for. Although the Lucas County Historical Society is not mentioned, we've used the program twice in recent years --- matching grant funds with local funds. The much-appreciated program helped us replace the Puckerbrush School roof one year, then deal with near-collapse of the building's support structure another.

This is a grant program that has been under-utilized, mostly I think because of lack of awareness. The Register article could help to change that, however.


The other story involves the remains of Sgt. Robert "Bobby" Howard, who will be buried with military honors at 11 a.m. today --- some 70 years after his death --- in Sunset View Cemetery north of Moulton (located in Appanoose County southeast of Centerville).

Howard was declared missing in action after his bomber went down over Germany during World War II, on April 19, 1945. His remains were discovered in Germany during 2012 and identified with DNA testing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Instruments of peace

Four tiny butterflies (Pearly Crescents) were lunching companionably on a single stalk of butterfly milkweed on the prairie Thursday, the afternoon of a day when elsewhere a passenger jet with 298 aboard had been shot from the skies over Ukraine and Israeli ground forces were invading the Gaza Strip.

"Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union ...

Nearby, purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) was nearing the height of its seasonal bloom, as it has in this spot for millennia --- long before careless humans reduced natural habitat to a scrap of ground unsuitable for corn or soybeans.

"... where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope ...

Amid all that purple, a single stalk --- just one --- of white prairie clover (Dalea candida). A miracle? (It isn't necessary to walk on water, you know.)

"... where there is darkness light; where there is sadness, joy.

A month ago, wild indigo (Baptisia bracteata) was coming into full bloom. Now the cycle continues as blooms fade and seed pods form.

"Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) is coming into full bloom just now --- of primitive demeanor but highly practical (Native Americans used its root to treat snakebite; it's fiber, to make shoes).

We've come as a culture to think of prayer as a cosmic shopping list, when instead it is a call to individual and collective action.

"For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen."

Practicing peace is how peace is made. Would that we all were better at it --- and had the perseverance of the prairie.

"A Prayer attributed to St. Francis" is No. 62 among "Prayers and Thanksgivings," Book of Common Prayer, Page 833.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

... for such is the kingdom of heaven.

"Busloads of kids are being dropped off in communities primarily across the Southwest, exposing locals to disease and violence," wrote a guy named B. Christopher Agee yesterday in an piece headlined "This Governor Just Told Border Control They Can Shove It." 

Agee writes for a self-defined "conservative" outfit called the Western Journalism Center and was lauding Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad for his declaration during a Monday press briefing that none of the thousands of immigrant children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border illegally in search of refuge from poverty and violence in Central America would be welcome temporarily amid Iowa's cornfields.

By some estimates, 57,000 youngsters have crossed the border since last October.

As if to punctuate Branstad's declaration, The Des Moines Register reported Monday that a Clarinda non-profit that operates a program for at-risk young people had scrapped plans to shelter temporarily up to 48 of the undocumented children in southwest Iowa, perhaps after pressure from the Branstad administration. The non-profit, Sequel Youth and Family Services, leases space at the state-owned Clarinda Mental Health Institute. 

"We met with officials and decided it was not in any of our best interests to do it," Sequel vice-president Steve Gilbert told The Register.


What struck me about Agee's language was how familiar it was --- that "exposing locals to disease and violence" business. And how often it has been used in the past --- when describing "undesirables" --- Jews and Gypsies, gays and others --- fleeing for their lives or at least for a better life when confronted by danger, oppression and perhaps even death.

And how easy it is to spook Americans into xenophobic hysteria. Consider the protest crowds greeting real or imagined busloads of undocumented children in the Southwest and witch hunts elsewhere for locations real and imagined that might be sheltering some of the youngsters.

Of course this has become a partisan issue, fueled principally by Republicans who generally favor the term "invasion" when describing the children. But many Democrats have not stepped forward bravely either, knowing full well that while a majority of white Americans love stray dogs, substantial numbers do not feel the same about dark-skinned children.

It's useful to remember that federal law currently requires each undocumented child to be processed individually --- some will be declared illegal and deported; others will qualify for asylum. This is a time-consuming process, existing shelters have been overwhelmed and the government merely has been looking elsewhere for temporary housing.

Many allege the U.S. cannot afford to offer custodial care of all these kids, but that's nonsense. If we can easily afford far more expensive, destructive and in the end pointless wars, we can afford to feed and house children who wash up one way or another on our shores. As well as our own hungry kids, quite often overlooked.


Another Monday spectacle in Iowa was a gathering involving several hundred alleged Christians at the Capitol engaged in a day of "prayer, fasting and repentence" --- another of those meaningless and unscriptural displays of public piety the big guy himself cautions us against in Matthew 6:5-6.

You remember, surely --- "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corner, so that they may be seen by others."

Governor Terry and his sidekick, Kim Reynolds, both were there of course.

The "sins" were unspecified Monday, but since this was a convening of evangelicals --- one can imagine.

It seems doubtful that the sins of the Branstad administration and others against children were on the list.

Damn, that guy Jesus can be so inconvenient: "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of heaven belongs." (Matthew 19:14)


There have been some bright spots in Iowa, however. Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba and other activists there are working to involve the Quad Cities in offering temporary refuge to some of the children.

Not without opposition, of course. 

In Des Moines, the Eychaner Foundation --- with its principal focus heretofore on support for LGBTQ young people and anti-bullying efforts --- has launched the "1,000 Kids for Iowa" project, aimed at coordinating efforts to find shelter for some of the undocumented children with Iowans. 

Now I kind of doubt that Rich Eychaner was invited to Monday's prayer parley at the Capitol, nor is it too likely he'd have shown up there on his own --- you just never know who Christians are going to decide to stone.

But in this instance, the gay guy certainly seems to be doing the better job of channeling Jesus.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pie for breakfast: Dorothy's peach

My mother used to talk of a time on Iowa farms when breakfast was a major meal, often ending before dawn with pie for dessert.

I had pie for breakfast today, too --- but didn't add ice cream because that seemed inappropriate before 6 a.m. Nor did I have anything else, other than coffee. So it was hardly a balanced meal.

This is "Dorothy's Peach Pie" from the big blue Kitchen-Klatter cookbook --- the same pie Sara Palmer served Saturday night during our Kitchen-Klatter supper in honor of the late Dorothy Driftmier Johnson.

It goes together easily, tastes very good and is seasonal, since fresh peaches that actually taste like peaches are beginning to appear.

A couple of cautions, however. Use a deep-dish crust and, if you like lots of fruit in your pies, be prepared to have some of the egg-cream mixture left over. I used four peaches minus a bite or two, and that worked fine, but there was some liquid left when all was said and done.

Oh yes, the original recipe calls for a quarter teaspoon of Kitchen-Klatter butter flavoring. This was a good way to market Kitchen-Klatter flavoring, but not necessary.

1 unbaked (deep-dish) pie crust
Fresh peaches
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons (rounding) flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
dash of salt
2 eggs
1 cup of cream

Fill the pie shell about three-fourths full of fresh-sliced peaches. Combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and pour evenly over the peaches. Beat the eggs, add cream, then mix well together. Pour liquid evenly over peaches and dry ingredients. Sprinkle with additional nutmeg and bake in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake 50 minutes more. Cool and serve.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

And the beets go on (zinnias, too)

Jim let me make the Monday sweep of a green bean row currently producing prolifically in the museum garden, then added --- "Oh, if you like beets ...."

So now I have enough green beans to roast for a couple of meals, and beets, too.

There are four varieties of beets --- I'll peel and roast the white beets for lunch, since they lack the juice that stains and are easier to deal with. The other varieties will be roasted with skins on a little later, then peeled.

The only heirloom tomatoes nearly ready to eat are a small "cherry" variety --- and there aren't many of those right now, but tomato production will accelerate as summer progresses.

Kay's tangle of old-fashioned garden flowers at the south end of the garden is flourishing, too.

I'm partial to zinnias.

But admired the first poppies.

The first cosmos.

And this tangle of larkspur, too.