Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Human Race

Reflections on Being Human
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, October 26, 2022, p. 6A

Homo sapiens are the only animal species able to talk themselves into difficulties that would not otherwise exist, from divorce to war.

“Is” enables the generalizations of prejudice: “she ‘is’ Black,” “he ‘is’ a Jew” – when they are both so much more.

Although some list three to nine human groupings, there is only one race. The human race. One species. Homo sapiens. Individuals whose DNA is 99.9 percent identical.

“Race,” or species, relations would be how we get along with cats and dogs, wildcats and bears.

An American astronaut and Russian cosmonaut come from different cultures and speak different languages. But they have more in common with each other than either does with their countries’ farmers, or brain surgeons. The same can be said of different countries’ trades workers, hobbyists and athletes.

Like other species, humans vary in height, weight, bone density, eye and skin color -- including comparing “whites” who spend the summer building the perfect tan and those who stay indoors.

But the significant differences between us are matters of culture: customs and norms, language and arts, religion and celebrations, history and mythology.

We trivialize the cognitive ability of plants and other animal species because we believe ourselves to be so much smarter. But the only two cognitive abilities any species requires are survivability and reproduction.

Molly Ivins once said of a Texas legislator, “If his IQ slips any lower we'll have to water him twice a day.” Given what Homo sapiens have been up to recently there are plant species demonstrating more cognitive ability than we have.

There are many advantages of a liberal arts education, however obtained. It’s like going from black and white TV to color TV, or well-seasoned rather than bland stew. Everything you see, hear, read about or do explodes with multifaceted meaning.

Even if one’s goal is great wealth from business, take note: Over one third of Fortune 500 corporate CEOs have liberal arts degrees.

Similarly, the more one values and knows of others’ cultures the more one can borrow and use in their own. Why are Denmark’s citizens so happy? How do matriarchal societies work? Cultural anthropology should be a required course.

When walking my Fitbit steps I greet those I meet. I’ve followed up with some I’ve talked to from India, Kurdistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Vietnam in a neighborhood park. For example, our Turkish friend attended our family gatherings. He informed us about, among other things in Turkey, family relationships, history, politics, his military experiences – and the game of reading fortunes from Turkish coffee grounds.

In fact, throughout my life I’ve found everyone I’ve met and talked with, no matter where they’re from or what they do, has had something to tell me I didn’t know. From millionaires to the homeless, they all have their story.

But that can only happen when I see an individual rather than a member of a group; when I approach the conversation with questions rather than assumptions and labels.

Nicholas Johnson is the author of "Test Pattern for Living." Contact


The “is” of identity. See generally, S.I. Hayakawa, ed., Language Meaning and Maturity,” p. 29 (1954) (“4. The ‘is’ of identity. … To be wary of the ‘is’ of identity is to guard against confusing words and things ….”), and Wendell Johnson, People in Quandaries (1946), (“Unconscious projection shows itself rather conspicuously in our use of the verb to be in its various forms is, are, am, etc.”)

Human groupings. Paul Rincon, “Three human-like species lived side-by-side in ancient Africa,” News, BBC, April 2, 2020, (“Two million years ago, three different human-like species were living side-by-side in South Africa, a study shows. The findings underline a growing understanding that the present-day situation, where one human species dominates the globe, may be unusual compared with the evolutionary past.”)

Jasna Hodzic, “Homo sapiens is #9. Who were the eight other human species?” Big Think, April 12, 2022, (“Have you ever wondered why there is not another species like us? One line of reasoning suggests that we would not be so unique had we not killed off some of our relatives.”)

One race. “Ruth Benedict,” Heroes for a Better World, (“The peoples of the earth are one family.” “Culture is not a biologically transmitted complex.”)

DNA 99.9%. “Genetics vs. Genomics Fact Sheet,” National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, undated, (“All human beings are 99.9 percent identical in their genetic makeup. Differences in the remaining 0.1 percent hold important clues about the causes of diseases.”)

Culture. “Ruth Benedict,” Heroes for a Better World, (“The life history of the individual is first and foremost an accommodation to the patterns and standards traditionally handed down in his community.” “No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes. He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking.” “We do not see the lens through which we look.”)

Molly Ivins. “Quotations,” Molly Ivins, Wikipedia, (“On James M. Collins, U.S. Representative, R-Dallas: "If his IQ slips any lower we'll have to water him twice a day.")

Cognitive ability. Paco Calvo, et al, “Plants are Intelligent, Here’s How,” National Library of Medicine, Oct. 20, 2019, (“Intelligent behaviour is usually recognized when individual organisms including plants … change their behaviour to improve their probability of survival. … Intelligent behaviour in single cells and microbes is frequently reported. … There is real biological benefit to regarding plants as intelligent …. The inbuilt driving forces of individual survival and thence to reproduction are fundamental to life of all kinds. In these unpredictable and varying circumstances the aim of intelligence in all individuals is to modify behaviour to improve the probability of survival.”)

Alison N. P. Stevens, et al, “Animal Cognition,” the nature education Knowledge Project, 2021, (“The physical world poses a number of problems for animals to solve. On a daily basis, animals must find food, avoid predators, and seek shelter. Solving these problems requires cognitive capacities. Cognition involves processing information, from sensing the environment to making decisions based on available information. Such cognitive capacities include, among others, the ability to navigate through space, account for the passage of time, determine quantity, and remember events and locations.”)

Homo sapiens have been around for about 300,000 years. “What does it mean to be human? Homo sapiens,” National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, But ferns have been around for 300 million years! Will we be? I doubt it. Jerald Pinson, “About Ferns,” Resources, American Fern Society,

Liberal arts. “Ruth Benedict,” Heroes for a Better World, (“The adequate study of culture, our own and those on the opposite side of the globe, can press on to fulfillment only as we learn today from the humanities as well as from the scientists.”)

“Liberal Arts Education,” Wikipedia, (“Liberal arts education can refer to studies in a liberal arts degree course or to a university education more generally. Such a course of study contrasts with those that are principally vocational, professional, or technical.”)

CEOs. Tim Askew, “Why The Liberal Arts are Necessary for Long-Term Success; The Short-Sightedness of STEM,” Inc., (“In fact, over a third of Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees.”)

Elizabeth Segran, “Why Top Tech CEOs Want Employees With Liberal Arts Degrees,” Fast Company, Aug. 28, 2014, (“Other tech CEOs across the country agree that liberal arts training–with its emphasis on creativity and critical thinking–is vital to the success of their business.”)

Happy Danes. “Why Finland And Denmark Are Happier Than The U.S.,” World Happiness Report,” Jan. 9, 2020, (“Finland and Denmark have consistently topped the World Happiness Report in all six areas of life satisfaction: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.”)

Matriarchal societies. Matriarchy, Wikipedia, (“Matriarchy is a social system in which women hold the primary power positions in roles of authority.”)

Anthropology. “Cultural anthropology,” Oxford Languages, (“the branch of anthropology concerned with the study of human societies and cultures and their development.”)

Note: Two books by Ruth Benedict had a very early impact on my thinking about cultural anthropology that continues in this column: The Races of Mankind (1943) and Patterns of Culture (1934).

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Sunday, October 16, 2022

Why Iowans Are Voting for AG Tom Miller

Why Iowans Should Vote for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller

Iowans can be proud of their Attorney General, Tom Miller.

He is the longest serving state Attorney General in the nation. The national organization of state attorneys general chose him as their president and recognized his outstanding service.

His Consumer Protection Division has helped thousands, his Farm Division was the first in the nation. His tobacco efforts saved thousands of lives. His integrity and high quality legal skills are widely acknowledged.

Tom Miller is the epitome of a non-partisan “public servant” rather than a “politician.” Had he sought higher office he likely would have it. Had he wanted wealth, private law practice would have provided it.

He chose instead to give his life and talents to the welfare of Iowans. We can thank him for his service by looking down our ballots and giving him our vote.

-- Nicholas Johnson, Oct. 13, 2022

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Tags: #IowaAttorneyGeneral, #IowansForMiller, #TomMillerAttorneyGeneral

Nicholas Johnson
Web pages:
Postal: P.O. Box 1876, Iowa City IA 52244-1876
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Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Grandma's Oven

It Starts With Grandma's Oven
Nicholas Johnson
The Gazette, October 4, 2022, p.5A

As a Gazette reader you don’t need reminders of the challenges Iowans and other Homo sapiens have helped create for us, other species, and our home planet.

Some challenges require resources individuals don’t have -- billions of dollars, heavy equipment, or inventions not yet imagined.

Other challenges we can not only address but turn into win-win-win accomplishments.

Erin Jordan’s article about the St. Andrew Lutheran Church’s “grow not mow” project (Sept. 28) (partnered with Feed Iowa First), followed that day by the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health got me thinking.

Remember the story of a young couple preparing a meal for their extended family? Questioned why they cut the turkey in half, they explained that’s what the wife’s mother did. When the mother arrived, she explained that’s what Grandma did. A phone call to Grandma solved the mystery. Her oven was too small for the roasting pan.

Our species has been surrounding homes with acres of grass for over 600 years. Why? Because our English ancestors did. Why did they? The number of human laborers required to trim grass without a mower made it what Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption” – evidence of their elite, wealthy status.

Immigrants to America brought the idea of grass lawns and the seeds to grow them. Industrialization introduced the lawn mower. The suburbs provided the acreages. And now forty million acres of America are lawn – our largest irrigated crop.

Meanwhile, over 20 million Americans are drinking unsafe water, while nine billion gallons of clean water flows over the grass daily, chemicals flow into the rivers, lawn mowers pollute the air, and hours of homeowners’ labor are consumed.

A Chinese friend of ours, on her first trip here, asked why homes grew grass instead of food. Cedar Rapids Lutherans apparently asked the same question [omitted from published version: and then, like Robert Kennedy, began to “dream things that never were and say, ‘why not?'”]. The result? Healthy food, including 5,000 pounds of tomatoes for distribution centers. [Photo source: wikimedia]

What the White House Conference reminded us is that “food” is more than calories. Insufficient calories can lead to food insecurity, hunger, and starvation when there’s “too much month at the end of the money.”

But “food” is also (or fails to be) “nutrition.” Healthy food from the produce department is as much “medicine” as pills from the pharmacy department. Yet nearly half of the world’s people cannot afford or get access to it.

Half of Americans have Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes; 42 percent are obese. Better nutrition can increase longevity, strengthen immune systems, lower risks of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, while lowering healthcare costs.

Turning some of those 40 million acres of grass into gardens around our homes won’t solve America’s health and hunger challenges. But it sure would help. Help feed Iowans healthy food, save drinking water, reduce pollution from lawn mowers and drives to grocery stores, cut healthcare costs, give us more years of quality life, hours of leisure time, gardening exercise, and some very tasty, cheaper meals.

Nicholas Johnson served as co-director of the Iowa Institute of Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy.

Robin Kash, "At Our House"

A regular reader of my columns in The Gazette, Robin Kash, after reading the column emailed me this well written verbal picture of how the column's general suggestions might blosom in your yard as well.
At our house, it started with our deciding to take up "edible landscaping." More than 10 years ago, we decided to strip turf from half our front yard and plant it in edibles, e.g., rhubarb, strawberries, mint, chives, plus containers with tomatoes, lettuce, and other salad veggies. This summer we got lots of garlic! In the other half we planted blueberries, gooseberries, currants, jostaberries, and bush cherries--plus we planted what has become a huge cherry tree in our side yard.

In the back, we erected raised beds which over the years have produced varieties of tomatoes, squash, an array of peppers, Swiss chard, kale, okra, carrots, beets, and other veggies. We now have three grape arbors. A neighbor got us started with raspberries. My wife fancied blackberries, and planted a seedless sort.

Ours is a small lot. We eat or preserve most of what we raise, but have enough to share with friends.

In addition, we had built three rain gardens. They help keep water from running off, and offer lots of happy meals for pollinators.

Moreover, in places not planted, we have spread wood mulch.

I confess, mowing lawns has never been one of my favored ways of spending time. Our edible landscaping cum mulching multiplies rewards.

Thanks for your article. I hope it encourages others to break their grass addiction. You know what I mean!
St. Andrew Gardens. Erin Jordan, “Church turns lawn into farm for immigrants,” The Gazette, Sept. 28, 2022, p. A7, (“St. Andrew Lutheran Church took the challenge to “grow not mow” and turned its lawn into an urban farm that grows amaranth and tomatoes for immigrants and others in need.

So far this year, the congregation has harvested more than 5,000 pounds of tomatoes. …

The church … partners with Feed Iowa First, a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit that unites businesses, faith organizations, schools, farmers and volunteers to grow produce for 19 food distribution sites around Cedar Rapids.

Feed Iowa First starts 50,000 plants over the winter and spring that are planted outdoors in 22 fields like the one at St. Andrew’s. …

Grow Don’t Mow farms likely will produce up to 28,000 pounds of produce this year, she [Feed Iowa First Executive Director Emmaly Renshaw] said.

Feed Iowa First has other programs that seek to expand access to fresh, healthy foods.

Don’t Waste Donate allows any local grower to give surplus crops to Feed Iowa First at a drop-off shed at 1506 10th St. SE, Cedar Rapids. The program tries to get produce to consumers within 24 to 72 hours, Renshaw said.

“Five to 7 percent of families don’t have a full-size refrigerator,” she said. “Our goal is as soon as those donations come in, they are out for distribution.”

Through Equitable Land Access, Feed Iowa First helps beginning farmers from other countries ….”)

Feed Iowa First. Feed Iowa First,

Grandma’s turkey. Barbara Mikkelson, “Grandma’s Cooking Secret,” Snopes, Nov. 9, 1999, (Snopes, the go-to source for confirmation of assertions and stories, labels this one a “legend” and provides a variety of the forms the story has taken over the years)

First lawns. “Lawn History,” Planet Natural Research Center, (“Closely shorn grass lawns first emerged in 17th century England at the homes of large, wealthy landowners. While sheep were still grazed on many such park-lands, landowners increasingly depended on human labor to tend the grass closest to their homes. Before lawnmowers, only the rich could afford to hire the many hands needed to scythe and weed the grass, so a lawn was a mark of wealth and status.” “Immigrants from Northern Europe brought with them to North America both the idea of the lawn and the grass seeds to create it. Some of those seeds, like the seeds of many other European native plants, were carried here with great care; others arrived on coat hems, or rolled in bundles of bedding or crates of imported goods, or on the rope used to tie such crates and bundles.”)

Lawn data.

(1) 40 Million Acres.

(2) Largest Irrigated Crop.

(3) 9 Billion Gallons.

(4) Hours of Homeowners’ Labor/Least Liked Chore.

Christopher Ingraham, “Lawns are a soul-crushing timesuck and most of us would be better off without them,” Washington Post, Aug. 4, 2015, (“[1] There are somewhere around 40 million acres of lawn in the lower 48, according to a 2005 NASA estimate derived from satellite imaging. "Turf grasses, occupying 1.9% of the surface of the continental United States, would be the [2] single largest irrigated crop in the country," that study concludes. Conservatively, American lawns take up three times as much space as irrigated corn. … In some states, a significant chunk of the landscape is covered in turf grass — meaning residential lawns, commercial lawns, golf courses, and the like. Delaware is 10 percent lawn. Connecticut and Rhode Island are 20 percent. And over 20 percent of the total land area of Massachusetts and New Jersey is covered in grass, according to that 2005 NASA study. … Other folks are ditching their lawns because of the amount of water they soak up — [3] 9 billion gallons of it per day, according to the EPA. Think of the miracle that is the modern water supply — pristine water pumped hundreds of miles, … And then consider that we intentionally dump billions of gallons of that water out on the ground! [4] A November 2011 CBS news poll found that for 1 in 5 Americans, mowing the lawn was their least-liked chore — ranked lower than raking leaves and shoveling snow.”)

“Lawn Alternatives; How to reduce your lawn care costs while lessening your yard's environmental impact,” Eartheasy, undated, (“Fuel for power mowers, toxic emissions, fertilizers and pesticides, water consumption, and your weekend time are all part of the cost of lawn maintenance.”)

Unsafe Drinking Water. Katie Langin, “Millions of Americans Drink Potentially Unsafe Tap Water. How Does Your County Stack Up? Rural, low-income Americans are most at risk of contaminants.” Science, Feb. 12, 2018, (“Tainted tap water isn't just a problem in Flint, Michigan. In any given year from 1982 to 2015, somewhere between 9 million and 45 million Americans got their drinking water from a source that was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to a new study. Most at risk: people who live in rural, low-income areas. … They found that during the Flint water crisis in 2015, nearly [ over 20 million ]21 million Americans—about 6%—were getting water from systems that violated health standards. And looking back over time, the number of violations generally increased from 1982 to 2015—spiking in the years following the addition of a new regulation, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For instance, after a rule about coliform bacteria was enacted in 1990, the number of violations doubled within 5 years. Such spikes don't mean that the water suddenly got worse, Allaire says, just that previously accepted levels of a contaminant were now considered too high.”)

Robert Kennedy “Dream Things.” Senator Edward M. Kennedy, “Tribute to Robert F. Kennedy,” Edward M. Kennedy Institute, June 8, 1968, (“As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: ‘Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.’")

White House Conference. White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health,”

“Toolkit for Partner-Led Convenings,” White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, May 2022,

Alan Rappeport, “Biden Administration Unveils Plan Aiming to End Hunger in U.S. by 2030; The ambitious initiative comes even as food prices have been soaring and food bank lines have been swelling,” New York Times, Sept. 28, 2022, (“The Biden administration is set to embark Wednesday on an ambitious effort to end hunger in the United States by the end of the decade, convening hundreds of policymakers, health activists, farmers and business leaders as it lays out a plan to make healthful food more accessible across the nation.

The White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health will be the first such gathering since 1969 ….

Kroger will work with the American Heart Association on a $250 million “food is medicine” initiative. The National Restaurant Association will work with fast food chains to ensure that kid’s meals only contain water, milk or juice. And Rethink Food, a nonprofit organization, will work with restaurants to divert millions of pounds of unused food to communities that are facing food insecurity. … According to the World Bank, nearly 193 million people around the world faced food insecurity last year.

A report from the Agriculture Department this month found that about 90 percent of U.S. households were food secure last year, while about 10 percent, or 13.5 million, had difficulty providing enough food for their family members.”)

Laura Reiley, “The FDA announces a new definition of what’s ‘healthy’; But what’s good for you is a fraught topic — and the federal government has a spotty record on the subject,” Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2022, (“Six in 10 American adults have chronic lifestyle-related diseases, often stemming from obesity and poor diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says these diseases are the leading cause of death and disability and a leading driver in the nation’s $4.1 trillion of annual health-care costs.

And the obesity epidemic is not moving in the right direction: Studies show that obesity, especially among children, rose significantly during the pandemic, with the greatest change among children ages 5 to 11, who gained an average of more than five pounds. Before the pandemic, about 36 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds were considered overweight or obese; during the pandemic, that increased to 45.7 percent.

In some Latin American countries, governments have instituted stricter food labeling laws, pushing back against sugary beverages and ultra-processed foods in an effort to escape the obesity epidemic that has overtaken the United States. In Chile, for instance, foods high in added sugar, saturated fats, calories and added sodium must display black stop signs on the front of their packages.”)

Healthy Food Benefits; 3 Billion Can’t Afford It; Related Facts.

“Nutrition,” World Health Organization, (“Better nutrition is related to improved infant, child and maternal health, stronger immune systems, safer pregnancy and childbirth, lower risk of non-communicable diseases (such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease), and longevity.”)

“The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2022; Repurposing food and agricultural policies to make healthy diets more affordable,” World Health Organization, July 6, 2022, [The “In Brief” pdf version:] (“The intensification of the major drivers behind recent food insecurity and malnutrition trends (i.e. conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks) combined with the high cost of nutritious foods and growing inequalities will continue to challenge food security and nutrition. This will be the case until agrifood systems are transformed, become more resilient and are delivering lower cost nutritious foods and affordable healthy diets for all, sustainably and inclusively. … The challenges to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition keep growing. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the fragilities in our food systems and the inequalities in our societies, driving further increases in world hunger and severe food insecurity.”

[Foreword] (“The most recent evidence available suggests that the number of people unable to afford a healthy diet around the world rose by 112 million to almost 3.1 billion, reflecting the impacts of rising consumer food prices during the pandemic.”)

“National Diabetes Statistics Report, Fast Facts on Diabetes” CDC, (37.3 M (11.2%) have diabetes; 96 M (38.0%) have prediabetes)

“Overweight & Obesity; Adult Obesity Facts,” CDC, (“Adult Obesity Facts/Obesity Prevalence Maps Adult obesity prevalence by state and territory using self-reported information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. “Obesity is a common, serious, and costly disease The US obesity prevalence was 41.9% in 2017 – March 2020. (NHANES, 2021) From 1999 –2000 through 2017–March 2020, US obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 41.9%. During the same time, the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%. (NHANES, 2021) Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was nearly $173 billion in 2019 dollars. Medical costs for adults who had obesity were $1,861 higher than medical costs for people with healthy weight.”)

Senator Cory Booker played a major role in creating the White House Conference. Google search: senator cory booker (food OR hunger OR nutrition) produced audio (only) of his remarks on npr, from which NJ made these notes.

“In addition to hunger, Sen. Cory Booker sys the U.S. faces a nutrition crisis,” Morning Edition, npr, Sept. 28, 2022, 5:18 AM ET, audio only, (health crisis, 1/3 federal dollars for healthcare, diet-related diseases; “diabetes, heart disease, this explosion of obesity” “healthy, fresh foods, available” “nutrition-empty foods” “front of packaging labeling” “subsidizing foods that make us sick” “food is medicine’ movement” “50% of America has Type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes” “food deserts” “diet related diseases”)

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