Now what do I do with those political signs and wickets?

Winners exult, losers lament, and all of us wonder what to do with our growing collection of political signs and their metal support rods (AKA wickets).

They were so important to sway voters’ minds… maybe… and now??

If your candidate might ever run again for the same office, one or more years from now, save the sign in your garage or basement. A little rust won’t hurt; in fact, it makes them more secure in the ground and less easy for evil-doers to pull out.

256px-2008-08-03_White_German_Shepherd_supporting_Barack_ObamaPhoto by Ildar Sagdejev from Wikimedia Commons

You might wish to keep one sign as a memento of each campaign of historic importance… for a future collage on your garage wall, maybe?

Otherwise (and I’ve tried most of these)….

The sign, perched on its wicket and slanted at a judicious angle, is great for shading delicate plants and transplants from hot summer sun.

• A sign can also temporarily block holes in picket fences where rabbits and rodents might otherwise enter your back yard (e.g., while you’ve removed pickets for repair or repainting).

• The paper or plastic part of signs makes a good paint drop cloth. Add more signs to cover more area. You can cut the signs at the sides and fold them out to be twice as large.

• Lay plastic signs on the ground under your eaves to prevent water infiltration, and cover them with dirt or stones.

• In messy weather, use signs to protect carpet underfoot in your car (just be sure not to give a ride to the candidate in question during that time).

• The wicket is excellent for propping up floppy bushes and flowers. For lower plants, cut or bend the wicket supports. The type of wicket that looks like a ladder, with two prongs extending up into a corrugated sign, are the best for supporting plants, which are held in place by the arms.

• Here’s a remedy for those clothes hangers that dry cleaners send back pants hanging on, and whose sticky cardboard crosspiece tends to sag on reuse: cut a piece of wicket to the right length and insert it inside the cardboard. That one won’t ever sag again!

• Wedge a wicket segment between a window sash and the frame above (e.g., above an air conditioner) to prevent it from being raised from the outside.

• Insert wicket lengths between studs to hold up wall insulation and prevent sagging.

• I’ve used a wicket folded triple ply to insert inside a bamboo pole and then into a flag holder whose opening was too small for the bamboo. The metal made a strong link where wood and thinner bamboo had collapsed under the strain.

• To stitch together segments of chicken wire or garden netting to keep out birds and rodents, whether vertically or horizontally: straighten out a wicket (they are surprisingly long when bent into a straight line) and thread the resulting steel rod through the two adjoining segments.

• To weight down garden netting so birds can’t push it up.

• In art works. No kidding, I’ve seen in museums what looked to me like vertical clumps of campaign wickets with pieces of wood or corks jammed onto them. Adaptive reuse at its most esthetic.

How to cut regular metal wickets by repeated bending? Some wickets are thinner and much more bendable than others. Be careful; use gloves and eye protection. It can be done by brute hand strength, or by pliers: bend repeatedly until the metal fatigues and breaks. Hack saws take too long; this is tough metal! I guess a bolt cutter would work.

If all adaptive reuse fails, an enterprising person or organization can collect wickets and sell them to the scrap yard for a few pennies a pound and the satisfaction of recycling metal and thereby reducing carbon emissions.

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About a Chester County family separated by ICE

It’s not all in Texas! Over 600 people gathered at the June 30 Families Belong Together rally in West Chester. They heard, among many other speakers, Dida Gazoli of Kennett Square speak about the separation of a Kennett area family whose father and husband was taken in May by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) at his immigration interview for permanent resident status. Jaime Aguilera Valencia now sits in a cell in a federal prison in Philadelphia, awaiting sentencing for re-entering the U.S. from Mexico to care for his American wife and children, who were and are facing urgent medical and financial circumstances.

As the family’s friends and now advocates, Dida Gazoli and her husband created a public group on Facebook for emotional support and the Statement of Communal Support page where community members can use their voice and supporting statements to work against the separation of this family.

Quoting the latter site:

“Jaime was taken into ICE custody on May 9 at his Immigration interview for the I-130 Petition (for “Alien Relative” to establish permanent resident status aka Green Card). According to ICE officials, Jaime was scheduled for deportation on May 14, even though he’d been actively seeking legalization for well over a year. Five days after he was apprehended and incarcerated by ICE, his I-130 Petition was approved by Immigration. Then, on June 5, his immigration attorney’s request for an “emergency stay” was denied. In other words, the same government agency (U.S. Immigration) that approved the first step in legalization, after over a year’s time, abruptly took it away because they do not consider the family’s extreme medical hardship to be an ‘urgent humanitarian reason’ for Jaime to remain with his American wife and children….”

Community Support for Jaime Aguilera Valencia & His Family goes on to show that there is, in fact, urgent humanitarian need based on a dangerous medical condition of Jaime’s wife and 15-year-old daughter. Additionally, the genetic disorder may also affect the couple’s baby to be born in a matter of weeks.

Public figures are often quoted as saying of immigrants, “Let them just get in line and wait for their visa.” Jaime Aguilera Valencia went in for his interview with Immigration officials as part of that process, only to be seized by ICE and separated from a family that needs his support now more than ever. The legalities are complex but a so-called “family reunification” visa generally requires a wait of several years. That process, however, is scheduled to be shut down if current planning in Washington D.C. comes to pass. The Diversity Immigrant Visa program (aka “green card lottery”) is not open to Mexican citizens.

Sofia Soto, Jaime’s oldest daughter, will begin her studies at West Chester University in the fall. She spoke movingly at the Families Belong Together rally about the plight of her father and family (photo from Facebook). She is also one of the local residents quoted last month in a New York Times op-ed by Alfredo Corchado, “The Mexican Revival of Small-Town America.”

As the New York Times article brings out, the success and vibrancy of many towns like Kennett Square today depends on its immigrants… and so does, one might add, the future of our country as a beacon of democracy, human rights, and family values.

photo of the family from Facebook

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Dear School Children, from your Republicans in Congress

Dear School Children of America,

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Is this a great country or what? We honor an unbroken succession of (mostly) great presidents going way back to our Founding as a nation.

In school you may be learning things like history and critical reading, but we want to assure you that we, and especially our friends on the U.S. Supreme Court, know exactly what the Founders wanted: a chicken in every pot, a gun in every closet, all that.

You can leave this government stuff to us; it’s too complicated for you to understand right now and we don’t have time to explain it to you. You may well think we can’t have both children and guns, but our sponsors tell us we can and we believe them. Just know that we are here to serve you by making those difficult decisions for you.

So please, tomorrow morning, after we are through celebrating those great presidents, just go back to your classes, including your gun education training and your self-defense drills, along with all the other survivors in your schools, and leave us alone.

Sincerely yours, with our thoughts and prayers,

Your Republicans in Congress

PS It’s not just about guns either. As David Leonhardt shows in “Letting American Kids Die,” New York Times, 2/17/18, our country does not have a good record in supporting the lives of children. “The United States, to put it bluntly, has grown callous about the lives of its children,” he writes. He calls out gun violence (proposing “universal background checks and tighter semiautomatic restrictions” for starters), vehicle crashes (with inadequate law enforcement), and infant mortality (due in part to “the flawed safety net,” including spotty Medicaid coverage).

States can chip away at these problems as best they can. But it is obviously that only electing responsive members of Congress can solve these shocking problems on a national level.

So that’s 2,700 deaths per year more than the developed country average per million children. Or, to put it differently, one avoidable death per 370 children. How many children does each of us, or each teacher, know? And wouldn’t we want the US to be better than average, not just average?

Posted in Republicans, Satire, US Congress | 1 Comment

Why it’s colder here—because it’s warmer there

Sometimes attractive paradoxes don’t add up, but the one in the above title does! I noticed in “To Explain All This Cold, Take a Look At the Arctic” by Henry Fountain in the Jan. 4 New York Times (the online title “Why So Cold? Climate Change May Be Part of the Answer” is more to my purposes) that:

“The Arctic is not as cold as it used to be — the region is warming faster than any other — and studies suggest that this warming is weakening the jet stream, which ordinarily acts like a giant lasso, corralling cold air around the pole.”

The article goes on to explain that basically the polar vortex has been swinging farther south in winter on the jet stream even as summers are getting hotter, so that what I wrote in 2014 and 2011 (below) was right. Unfortunately, the person in the White House didn’t read that, because he recently tweeted (Time, 12/29/17): “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming….”

The point is, this is what global warming looks like in winter. The NOAA map in the New York Times shows the traditionally roundish arctic vortex greatly distended south into the central US, as well as into northern Russia. Western Europe will doubtless get its share too.

So here’s what I wrote before:

Why it’s colder here—because it’s warmer there, Politics: A View from West Chester, 3/3/14

The current pattern, here in Pennsylvania, of unusually hot summers and unusually cold winters, is surprising us all. But it shouldn’t, as it has been going on for several years.

We tend to think our own weather sets the worldwide trend. The forecast for tonight in West Chester is for -1 degrees. How about Anchorage, Alaska? A balmy 21 degrees! That extremely random sample bears out the premise of what you are about to read.

I’m going to repost what I still see as the reasonable explanation for the climatic weirdness of our time, from a blog I wrote three years ago, “Why it’s colder here—because it’s warmer there,” in February 2011:

I just heard an interesting interview by Robin Young, “Scientists Blame Dramatic Weather On Weakening ‘Arctic Fence,’” Here and Now, 2/3/11. Listen there; here’s the online description:

Many parts of Europe and the U.S. have seen unusual snowstorms and frigid temperatures for two years in a row. But places like northern Canada and Greenland have seen temperatures that in some months are running 15 to 20 degrees above average.

The reason, some researchers say, is a weakening “vortex,” a kind of atmospheric fence, that normally keeps cold air up north and warmer air south. We speak with Justin Gillis, who covers climate issues for the New York Times, about why the weather world seems to have flipped upside down.

The interview brings out that the jet stream, which normally circles the North Pole from west to east, currently is dipping down to visit us, one factor in the disrupted weather patterns the world has seen lately.

People tend to have short memories. Many of us have probably stepped outside the last few weeks and exclaimed: “Well, global warming is over, at least!”

Not likely: the program mentioned that 2010 tied 2005 and 1998 as the warmest ever as a global average and 2010 saw the hottest summer ever in the Mid-Atlantic states. The globe has warmed by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last couple of centuries, most in the past 30 or 40 years, according to Justin Gillis. See his related New York Times article “Cold Jumps Arctic ‘Fence,’ Stoking Winter’s Fury.”

In sum, it seems quite likely that the weather is (somewhat) colder than usual here right now because it’s (a lot) warmer in the Arctic.

Find out more in “A ‘Bulge’ in Atmospheric Pressure Gives Us a Super-Cold Winter Amid Global Warming” by Christa Marshall and Tiffany Stecker, New York Times, 1/5/11:

…According to some climate scientists, the cold in places like Florida actually could be a sign of warming, rather than an argument against the phenomenon.

The ongoing disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic from elevated temperatures is a factor to changes in atmospheric pressure that control jet streams of air, explained James Overland, an oceanographer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

That is because ice-less ocean is darker and, thus, absorbs more solar heat, which in turn spews warmer air than average back into the Arctic atmosphere.

That unusually warm air can contribute to a “bulge” effect to the atmospheric pressure controlling how cold air flows, according to Overland, who works at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Rather than moving circularly in the Arctic from west to east as typical, the bulge may prompt air to move in a U-shaped pattern down to the southern United States….

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Yes, Virginia, there is a US Congress but…

December 25, 2017

Dear Virginia and friends,

It has come to our attention that you may be wondering if there is a United States Congress.

“Why,” some of you are asking, “Should we believe in you when you don’t bring us any presents or do anything nice for us any more?”

Some of you are wondering if we really exist when children just like you go hungry at night, fall sick and can’t see a doctor, aren’t getting the education they need, and are being shot in malls and movie theaters.

Please, dear Children, be patient. Some day, you will understand how difficult it is to change anything in the business we work in. We need to check all our decisions in advance with our donors and sponsors, listen to what our party leaders tell us, and worry about keeping our jobs.

Those of you who, when you are our age, become politicians and millionaires like us will understand better.

And then, there are two of us, the House and the Senate, like your Mommy and Daddy, for those of you who have them. And we need to agree with each other before we can do anything. You know how that is, dear Children, it’s not easy. Can’t you just go to your rooms and play a video game and let us work on it?

And you know how it is when you’re at the playground: it isn’t easy to play nice in the sandbox. Some of the kids start quarreling about their toys and throwing sand at each other, and then they all divide up into two teams and things get nasty. But we know how throw sand in people’s eyes with the best of them, so there!

And if you’re not happy this year, just be glad it’s not next year, when we’re going to start carving away at your parents’ Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and your own health insurance too. If you don’t like it, go get a job.

One day you’ll be all grown up and we want you to know that we’ll always be there for you, and our thoughts and prayers are with you. And as soon as you turn 18, you’ll be paying for us to send you lots of mail, especially in election years.

With love,

Mitch and Paul

Posted in US House, US Senate | Tagged , | 1 Comment

“The Wisdom To Survive”

About 70 people gathered on Thursday evening December 7 to view “The Wisdom to Survive,” the final film of the fall in the West Chester University Environmental Sustainability Film Series in memory of Graham Hudgings.

The hour-long documentary at WCU’s new LEED gold-certified Business and Public Management Center was sponsored by Don’t Spray Me!, Sierra Club of Chester County, West Chester Food Co-op, WCU’s Office of Sustainability and Sustainability Advisory Council, the WCU Geography Club, and Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP).

Audience gathers for the film (Photo by Taka Nagai)

After snacks from the Food Co-op, a tour of the new LEED-certified building, and conversation over environmental exhibits, MC Sheila Burke introduced featured speaker Elizabeth Moro, Pennsbury resident and co-founder of Neighbors For Crebilly, which is striving to preserve the large farm south of West Chester as open space. A long-time supporter of environmental actions, Elizabeth was energized by the current political morass to the extent that she is running for the PA 7th U.S. Congressional seat.

Elizabeth explained that she grew up near Lake Huron, where she learned that “Mother Nature doesn’t negotiate – she’s in charge.” Humans used to work in harmony with nature, but now we need to get back to seeing the big picture that we are part of. Money is not a good way to evaluate importance. Try holding your breath, she told the group, and see at what point you’d rather draw a breath than collect money. She has helped raise funds to preserve part of the headwaters of the Brandywine near Honey Brook, Barnard’s Orchard in Pocopson, and now Crebilly Farm in Westtown.

She quoted Margaret Meade: ”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Thus, we need to stand together and be vocal. We also need to connect our actions to wisdom. In an ancient saying, “We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors; we are borrowing it from our children.” We need to stay vigilant; money to protect the Great Lakes has been taken away; EPA reports have disappeared from online.

The movie, she said, is about our very survival, which depends on connecting with our surroundings. We need to look at earth as a human being and take care of it to preserve our common home.

To quote a non-profit where she worked in Michigan, “The Fetzer Institute is a growing community of people who see we’re part of something more. We believe the connection between the inner life of spirit and outer life of service and action holds the key to lasting change.” That is certainly a refreshing view as many today strive to practice the waning art of political service!

After Moderator Sheila Burke mentioned the upcoming talk on “Managing the Electric Grid” (Wed. Dec. 13 at Sykes Student Union, WCU) organized by this evening’s co-sponsor 4CP, the film rolled. It presented many thoughtful points in just under an hour.

“Beauty will save the world,” as one of Dostoevsky’s characters says. “We didn’t create species and we have no right to destroy them.” Fossil fuels made the West rich and are now killing us. Getting off fossil fuels will be the most difficult thing that humans have done. But we must: human-induced climate change is “a crime against humanity.” Even a tiny change in climate can wipe out marginal populations, and desperation leads to violence.

Los Angeles is utterly dependent on glaciers, which are disappearing. Oceans are becoming too acidic to support shell-making by many species, including plankton, on which many others depend.

Bill McKibben ( says that economic equality is disabling us from dealing with fossil fuels. “We’re effectively killing ourselves.” The young get it, unlike the Exxon-Mobil CEO, who said: “My philosophy is to make money.” We are failing either to steward the earth (per the Old Testament) or love our neighbors (per the New Testament). Farmers (and women grow more than half the food but constitute 70% of the poor) are being colonized by corporate seeds and other products. The capitalist mentality is never satisfied. The cost of expanding at all costs will be our destruction.

We need to build a new economy and fight for public space. “Who owns the water when it reaches the land is the frog.” Whether we realize it or not, our actions are always in a web of interactions.

One hour of sunlight could fuel the world for a year… if we could capture the energy. We need a tough citizen movement, like the civil rights movement. This will be a painful transition. This is not a time to sleep!

Here are some points made in the discussion led by Professor Joan Welch of WCU. We live in a time of abundance and monoculture—and it’s not working. The price of carbon should build in secondary costs. We can’t put costs on the poor that they can’t bear. Some want to raise all to our economic level but we will need to go down some as well. Take down barriers to get to the source of wholeness. We can choose moral integrity or disaster.

Overall, it was a thoughtful community experience bringing together members of several activist groups. As the film mentioned, the human presence could be beneficial. At least, what can we lose from trying?

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Traveler’s Evening Song

Just feeling meditative, as the weather declines, days get shorter, and even younger people fall away from us.

J. W. von Goethe (1749-1832), Wanderers Nachtlied, II

Über allen Gipfeln
ist Ruh,
über allen Wipfeln
spürest du
kaum einen Hauch:
die Vögelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur! Balde
ruhest du auch.

Traveler’s Evening Song, II

Over all the hilltops
comes peace,
up in all the treetops
sounds cease;
there breathes only you:
the birds in the wood end their song.
Wait! Before long
you’ll be still too.

Or, take your pick, by Rita Dove, The New Yorker, 11/13/17:

Above the mountaintops
all is still.
Among the treetops
you can feel
barely a breath—
birds in the forest, stripped of song.
Just wait: before long
you, too, shall rest.

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