Only the Young, can run

For the majority of nearly 250 years, old white men have had their turn at running the United States via the presidency, senate, and congress.  In the last election it was great to see women attain 23 and 25% in the House and Senate though non-whites are still only make up a smaller percentage.  Regardless, perhaps it is a reason for hope that things are trending so that one day our representation will be as diverse and vibrant as the population they are supposed to represent.

Before reading on, I recommend clicking here and letting this lyric video play in the background so you can listen.

On a related note, despite being a white man closing in on 50 years old, I am Swiftie.  That’s right, I have seen Taylor Swift in concert four times and continue to be impressed with her as a human being and artist.  It is refreshing to see an artist publicly taking a stance for human beings.  I do agree with her perspective.

They aren’t gonna help us

Too busy helping themselves

They aren’t gonna change this

We gotta do it ourselves

They think that it’s over

But it’s just begun

Only the Young, can run

The picture at the top of this blog might have caught your eye.  It is a picture of the leaders of countries who have flattened the coronavirus curve and protected their citizens effectively by quickly implementing social distancing measures, ramping up testing capabilities, contact tracing, etc.

So if you are a young person, please consider what you can bring to the table to help our divided society.  And regardless of who you are, once we are Out of the Woods, apply some critical thought and preparation for your physical or virtual trip to the polls.

Off Topic: The Police and BLM(2)

Growing up I had plans to follow in my father’s footsteps and be a police officer.  What changed my mind was the TV show COPS.  I still find it and similar shows interesting to watch, but back in college I realized that I would never have the patience and disposition of the officers on the show.  I realized, as an example, that if I came to a home where a husband had clearly been beating his wife, I would not have the right temperament to legally deal with the husband.  I would have likely issued some form of my own justice in that scenario.  Though my self-control has matured through the years, recognizing that would be a challenging career for me while I was still in college was likely very beneficial in retrospect.

To this day, I am still very much pro police.  I think they have an incredibly difficult and challenging job that has never been under more scrutiny.  Any job where a split second decision can determine if you or someone else lives or dies has to be psychologically and mentally challenging.  I think that the majority of officers are very good people doing very good things.  Like in any occupation, there are a few bad apples but I do not think that is the core issue here.  Officers are a reflection of society and the analytics support that racial bias still exists in some police forces just as it does in society as a whole.  Many police forces have already taken steps to improve this and many others are in process.  Certainly with the limelight on this issue, positive iterative changes will continue to come.  If you have strong skepticism about the police, I challenge you to call your local precinct and find an officer to treat to lunch so you can speak directly and gain a better understanding of the fact that they are human and want to go home after their shift.  Many officers have co-workers who were senselessly shot during routine traffic stops or similar and that can without question impact the mentality of an officer.

As a society, I believe that part of our role is to make things easier and less confusing for officers so there is no question about our intent.  There are many ‘shoot or don’t shoot’ videos circulating social media showing just how challenging it can be for officers to not know someone’s intent.  When it comes to routine traffic stops, I think following Coffey Anderson’s PSA on what to do is a good idea.  Ensuring that the officer can clearly see your hands, your car is off, your license is already on the dash, and you are respectful is beneficial.  It is embarrassing to say, but I have been pulled over about 6 times in the last 8 years (speed, taillight or headlights out, etc.) and have only been given a warning each time which I attribute to making the officer comfortable.  On a more comedic note, The Chris Rock show did their own PSA back in the 90’s which is still relevant and funny.

Being Pro Police does not mean that I am anti-black.  I have struggled with the inappropriateness and idiocy of some protesters but it is important to recognize that those people are a reflection of a small percentage of society who think hurting police will have a positive impact.  There was a small protest group the other day who were demanding that the police force as a whole dismantle.  I do not think this groups spokesperson had very good foresight in to what the consequences of lawless society would be.  What caught my eye on the live news footage of the protests the other night was how the majority of protesters wanted to be peaceful and were making efforts to stop the violent perpetrators who had showed up.  I am still not convinced that marching on freeways or making unreasonable demands for immediate justice is an effective means of pushing things forward positively, but I support the cause.  A few days ago I heard a sermon (skip to 8:10 mark) which brought me more empathy and a healthier perspective to social injustice as a whole.  As an example, I struggled with the fact that the phrase Black Lives Matter seemed to leave out all non-blacks as though they did not matter.  Now, when I hear or see the phrase BLM I infer “too” at the end of it and that I think BLM2 is a more accurate depiction of the intent.  For me, the sermon influenced a change in my perspective that provides me a healthier balance.  Pastor Andrea is one of my favorites and this sermon is timely and well thought out.

The last link of this entry is from Trevor Noah of The Daily Show, give this video a view if you have not seen it.  Like The Daily Show does so well, it mixes substance and comedy.  ‘You can be pro-cop and pro-black which is what we should all be’, I couldn’t agree more.  We, as citizens of this planet, need to be more cooperative, tolerant, and patient so we do not continue down a path of being divided.  Our diversity is what makes us great and worth celebrating and there is room for both “sides” of this issue to make improvements and compromise.

Grace Abounds

When I was in about 4th or 5th grade, I recall everyone in class needing to pick out an instrument for band. We needed to take a test first to demonstrate our skills of reading music and such and then the results of that test would be used to “help” steer you towards an instrument of your choosing. The gymnasium was filled with instruments for students to walk around and check out and teachers to help answer questions. I remember wanting to play the drums and being told my music test score was not high enough to qualify for the drums. Somehow I ended up with a saxophone, quickly realized I was not as passionate as KennyG and three weeks later when my dad started talking about wanting to buy it to save money on the monthly rental, I returned it and retired my musical career. To this day, I am convinced the fact that I was not qualified for drums was a conspiracy that many young boys with dreams of beating a drum faced that day. My good friend Chris, played the drums so I will need to ask him how that came to be. But, his whole family was musical and most played together in a band, like a modern day alternative Partridge family. In hindsight, perhaps he did score better than me on the music test.

Music has always been important to me. I used to have battery powered speakers taped to my ten speed handlebars for bike rides. I would use my Eye of the Tiger cassette and other inspirational rock music on a mixed tape to keep me peddling. In middle school I spent a little time listening to Stryper and other Christian Rock bands but my musical tastes have varied widely over the years. Currently I ear bud up for yard work, and use a Bluetooth speaker playing my favorite playlist for garage work, home projects, cooking, and even showering. Recently, I have noticed that the bulk of my favorite music has multiple vocalists, frequently both male and female. I am not sure what significance that has (if any), just a random observation.

As my own kids reached confirmation age, we switched to Wednesday night church service which has been a blessing for numerous reasons including lazy Sunday mornings. One of the other benefits was a pleasant surprise, the presence of a contemporary Christian Rock band at the Wednesday evening services. The band (called Grace Abounds) is led by Jared who is a cross between Tim Mahoney, Martin Zellar, and a spiritual granola bar. Sari, who plays keyboards and has strong vocals ironically looks and sounds more like (Microsoft) Cortana than (Apple) Siri. It is clear that the entire band invests a fair amount of time to optimizing the delivery of their musical gift to the congregation. Last night’s service was an emotional one for me, I showed up dealing with some personal disappointment and was quickly provided perspective by a story from one of the parishioners about some significant struggles she has faced which led in to a powerful homily. Primed with emotion, as Jared and the gang broke into a powerful rendition of what I presume was Todd Agnew’s Grace Like Rain, I was overcome with emotion and wept somewhat uncontrollably. I was not crying out of self-pity or personal sadness, it was from the alignment of the beautiful music, empathy for others, and gratitude. I left the service feeling motivated to do more, give more, and be better.

This is not the first time music has had a powerful impact on me and will not be the last. Music can be a real motivator for me and capturing and maintaining that positive energy is always the challenge. Thank you Grace Abounds for sharing your talents and inspiration, you are part of what motivates me to look forward to church.

As you conclude reading this, please take a few moments to thank someone who helps inspire, motivate, and bring out the best in you.

Off topic: The 2nd amendment

There are a handful of issues that polarize our nation and become political issues which tend to divide party lines. Some examples are gay marriage, climate change, abortion, the death penalty, and healthcare. The second amendment is another example that is drawing a lot of attention due to the publicity of recent shootings. It states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

On the extremes there are those that think guns have no place in society and those that think everyone should carry a gun everywhere. Most people live in reality and land somewhere in the middle. Recently, my Facebook feed has had countless postings roll through about how making meth and heroine illegal has not taken them off the streets so it will not work for guns; how we do not blame cars for drunk drivers so why do we blame guns; and likened Obama to Hitler because neither want you to own guns. While these might all be cute posts to some, they dramatically oversimplify the issue and misconstrue the solutions being proposed.

Reflecting on the 2nd amendment, the right to bear arms is infringed upon with some exceptions today. We cannot carry weapons on to a commercial flight, in to courtrooms, nor countless other businesses and offices. In addition, documented gang members, those previously convicted of gun violence crimes, terrorists, the mentally ill, etc. are faced with restrictions. As an example, should a documented gang member be allowed to legally purchase a gun upon their release from prison where they spent time for murder and carry it on to a commercial flight? If you think yes, you might as well stop reading now. If you think no, then you agree that the second amendment is worthy of some exceptions and establishing the specific details around when and how to impose restrictions is the key.

At different points in time, the NRA and other organizations have painted a picture of how if any gun controls are passed, law enforcement would be breaking in to homes to confiscate high ammunition magazines, assault rifles, and more. In 1995, the NRA characterization of the ATF as jack booted thugs and Nazi’s led to the resignation of membership by George H. W. Bush and others. This characterization on what gun control would mean lives on today. In reality, polls show that what most Americans want is simple; to see the gun show loophole closed.

On any given weekend, anyone can go any of the dozens of gun shows happening throughout the US and buy as many guns as they want with no background check and no registration. Closing this loophole is what the parents of Sandy Hook sought for legislation, it is how most of the guns used in the Columbine shooting were obtained and it seems like a common sense approach which is gun friendly. There is paperwork involved in buying a pet from the humane society, there are background checks for volunteering with youth sports, but there is nothing to prevent the previously referenced recently released convicted gang member from buying lots of guns.

Locally, schools in my area are working to pass referendums to get funding via tax increases to rebuild school entrances and add safety precautions for improving lockdown abilities during emergencies. My kids’ schools routinely practice code red lockdowns and that is a sad reality of the world we live in. Some extremists would argue we should arm school staff or similar but that is not the answer and it brings forth countless complications. Even in the recent Oregon school shootings, there were conceal and carry members on campus who heard the shooting and opted not to engage for fear of the pending SWAT team arriving and being confused and shooting them.

In America, our gun murder rate per capita is twenty times the average of other developed nations and five times more than the next closest (Italy). In 2007 Missouri ended a background check and handgun licensing program that had been in place for decades only to see a 25% increase in firearm homicides follow while homicides committed by other means in the state remained consistent. In 1995 Connecticut created a handgun permit system and extended background checks to private sales and has seen a 40% decrease in gun murders.

Let’s admit that we have a problem and can do better. It is true that closing the gun show loophole will not mitigate every scenario but it is a common sense approach to improving an abused gap without restricting 2nd amendment rights.

About me

My name is John Rivers and I am writing this blog to help raise awareness on the subject of climate change.  I live in MN and have a beautiful wife, two great kids, and a dog that sleeps so much it makes me jealous.  While I was always a little bit ‘granola’, I first started to learn about global warming about 10 years ago.  I am a huge fan of PBS shows like NOVA, Frontline, and Nature and in the mid 2000’s it was not hard to find episodes talking about the topics I found interesting.  This led to a greater desire to do things ‘green’ and think twice about decisions that used to be mundane.

Near the time the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” was released, a good friend of mine showed me how to use a kill-a-watt meter to measure my electrical consumption and we embarked on a friendly contest to see who could use the least electricity.  This led to cutting my families electrical usage to less than 1/3 of the previous average.  We also added hybrid vehicles, 385 gallons of rain barrels, efficient lighting, insulation and numerous other small improvements.  As time passed I became somewhat less vigilant and outspoken on the topic in part because in some circles I was viewed as a crazy tree hugger and in part because I knew that the changes my family had made were not enough to make a big difference for the planet.

In 2013 I had the opportunity to attend the Climate Reality training and was nudged by my good friend and my beautiful wife and off to Chicago I went.  It was very beneficial to spend time with likeminded people and helped give me perspective that there is still a lot to accomplish but that in order to accomplish it, we need to ensure people are introduced to the facts on the reality of climate change.  Like many challenges that have existed prior, change takes time and things are not accomplished without the efforts of many.  My efforts will include this blog, presenting formally or informally on climate change to any groups or individuals who will listen, getting engaged in some of the many local groups, and trying to set the best example I can.  For many people, thinking about taking action or making a sacrifice now to benefit their great grandchildren is too abstract; but we are already seeing evidence of climate change impacting us today and so for many, taking steps is becoming easier.  My hope is to inspire some to take additional actions and for others, to engage in a peaceful and constructive dialog.