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.

MRC Field Trip

As a part of a Master Recycler / Composter class that I am taking we recently went on a field trip. The two most interesting stops for me were to a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and a sanitary landfill. Getting a first-hand look in to exactly what happens to single sort recycling and trash was very educational.

The MRF was part impressive technological marvel and part old factory line worker. On the one hand there were sophisticated conveyor belts, gears, magnets, optical lasers, and air pressure to help sort the materials. On the other hand, there was a visible shortage of employees on the line who were tasked with helping to manually sort items that do not belong or were missed by the automated systems. These jobs of watching and pulling various materials flying past on a conveyor belt are challenging to staff but very necessary to ensure a quality product is produced so that there is a market for the materials. For a good visual of how a typical MRF works, check out the last three and half minutes of this video.

The landfill had its technical aspects as well; like collecting methane gas from the breakdown of trash, liners and pumps to protect from ground water penetration, and more. But in the end it is not all that sophisticated, as it is a giant piece of land being filled with trash and covered. In the picture above I happened to take it as the hydraulic line on one of the trucks ruptured. If I had a better camera with me, I would have zoomed in to show the sad sight of a bunch of bald eagles (our national emblem) sifting through and snacking on our garbage.

My trip left me with several takeaways:

  1. As citizens of the planet, we should continue to work towards reducing consumption and voting with our dollar to buy sustainably sourced items. Not bringing something in to the system in the first place is even better than recycling it. As one of my old favorites says, you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.
  2. Plastic bags are a huge problem. At the MRF they are undesirable as they wrap around the equipment and cause machinery breakdowns. Do not put them in your single sort bin and do not put your recyclables in bags, put recyclables directly in your cart. At the landfill, there were three fence lines surrounding the facility filled with bags that blow around on windy days. We should all be moving beyond plastic bags for our shopping and kudos to Minneapolis for passing a law for 2017 that does just that. So, if you find yourself with a pile of plastic bags they should be brought to a local grocery store who likely has a bin for recycling them. That way they get to a facility who specializes in them and they can use them to create engineered lumber, yard furniture, etc.
  3. MRF’s do not want your shredded paper. It falls through the system and ends up contaminating the glass and other recyclables making them less marketable. Ironically and sadly, I had just shredded a pile of financial statements the week prior and had thrown them in my single sort. Fears of identity theft are warranted but we have several options to improve and keep recycled material at a high quality:
    1. Go paperless – most bills and financial information can be sent electronically which simplifies filing and saves some trees.
    2. Only shred what you need to – There is typically only a part of a page or two that really needs shredding and the rest of the information is marketing or does not have personal information that would be beneficial to a hoodlum; minimize what you shred.
    3. Take advantage of shred events – There is one near me coming up and a quick search should find options. Shredded paper is recyclable but a MRF is not equipped for it so finding a shred event is a great way to protect your identity and ensure the lifecycle of the paper is not wasted.
    4. Compost – as a last resort you can compost your shredded paper, use it as a weed barrier, etc. The caveat is you would want to avoid certain items on a vegetable garden, etc.
  4. Put the caps on your recyclables. MRF’s do not like loose caps as they fall through the system and end up in the landfill, can cause equipment problems, etc. They prefer caps be left on even when it is a plastic cap on a glass item, etc.
  5. Use common sense with recycling and if you are in doubt, check your local haulers website or call and ask them. Garden hoses, extension cords, coat hangers and items like that clog machinery and do not belong in single sort. Our MRF tour guide also mentioned that they routinely see dirty diapers coming down the conveyor belt and that the strangest item was a live turtle. Let’s try to be less lazy with our choices and if you are not certain whether a turtle is recyclable, ask someone :).
  6. Aerosols require special care to recycle. Items like spray on sun screen, hairspray, and shaving cream containers often have a mix of metals and plastic and are pressurized which can create a hazard when going to a MRF and yet they are recyclable. The best way to handle these items is to collect them a take them to your local specialty recycling center like The Recycling Zone which most counties have. One idea is to keep a bin that you put these items, alkaline batteries, fluorescent bulbs, electronics, and similar in and then take it there as needed. The great news is it is free and the workers will even come grab the stuff from your car.

There are 8 MRF’s in the MN metro area and they all offer tours as they want the public to be educated and to improve their recycling efforts so that they produce a high quality product. I encourage you to read up on your haulers website about what exactly they recycle and organize a MRF tour if so inclined.

The human disposition

My wife recently discovered a lump on my body and a closer inspection found a second one. This was a concerning discovery and I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for later that week. In the days leading up to my appointment I had some internal angst, worried about cancer and various other potential issues. This got me to thinking more about death and I recalled a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency blog I had seen detailing options for ‘dying greener’.

Conventional funerals, burials, and cremations are typically not environmentally friendly. According to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota, cemeteries across the U.S. each year bury 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid (includes formaldehyde), 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets), 30 million board feet of hardwoods (caskets), 1,600,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults), and 14,000 tons of steel (vaults). Flame-based cremation is typically the best of the three traditional methods but is also energy intensive and little regard is given for the release of mercury and other emissions that come from the process.

Our traditional means of human disposal is not at the top of the list of environmental concerns, but like many things it presents an opportunity to improve. Over 10 years ago The Mayo Clinic created a process called Alkaline Hydrolysis as a means of disposing of cadavers more efficiently. Today that process is becoming more mainstream with progressive funeral homes offering it as a ‘green option’. It is sometimes called bio cremation, green cremation, or flameless cremation. The process places the deceased in to a steel cylinder that is filled with 95% water and 5% alkali which are heated to 350 degrees. This makes complete decomposition, which would normally take about 25 years, only take about 2-3 hours. The end result is nothing but some soft bone fragments and possibly mercury cavity fillings remaining, everything else is dissolved in to a sterile solution. Dexter Morgan could have really benefitted from having access to this technology.

At the doctor, my lumps ended up being nothing to be overly concerned about (lipoma, a benign body fat tumor). Regardless, it is good to know that when my time comes I can be taken to the Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater and boiled in to dust using less energy and emitting 75% less carbon than alternatives. I also saw a video about burial pods on my nieces Facebook feed recently. That is an interesting thought as well and could transform would be cemeteries in to forests.

A watershed moment

The story of the Flint (Michigan) water crisis is one of corruption, incompetence, denial, and more importantly; grass roots heroism. In April of 2014, State Treasury officials in Flint changed their water supply to the Flint River in an effort to save money. Shortly after, residents began to complain about orange stinky water. Those concerns were quickly followed by confirmed E. coli in the city water which resulted in officials telling residents to boil their water. The city then decided to over-chlorinate the water which resulted in the water now smelling like a swimming pool and burning residents eyes while they would shower. The chlorine levels were so high that Flint had violated the Safe Drinking Water Act. The water became so corrosive that General Motors pulled out of the Flint water supply system because it was damaging automotive parts.

The orange stinky water was only the visible issue. The odorless and invisible problem of lead in the water continued to worsen. All water suppliers in the U.S. (except Flint) know enough to add a corrosion control treatment to water. This treatment helps build up a thin barrier on the inside of pipes to help avoid them from degrading. Flint, like many municipalities, has some lead pipes supplying their water so this treatment is critical to prevent the lead in the pipes from breaking down and entering the water supply. As residents in Flint began to notice strange skin rashes, children losing weight, and countless other health symptoms; Flint officials continued to say everything with the water supply was fine. If a water supply has greater than 15 parts per billion of lead, it is considered unsafe. At 5,000 ppb it is considered toxic waste. One mom in Flint who had her water tested regularly due to the health impacts of her children, had her homes water verified at 13,000ppb. You would think all of that detail and documented test results from other homes would be sufficient for officials to respond accordingly. Sadly, the mantra of everything is fine continued.

Marc Edwards, an appalled research scientist from Virginia Tech and a number of his grad students are one of the heroes in this story. He and his team descended on the city with lead water test kits and held a press conference to speak to their results. He even provided a visualization (pictured above) which shows how the Flint water quickly degraded a nail in a water bottle. Officials downplayed those results as inaccurate and continued to say all was fine. The (former) mayor even said how his family drinks the water and it is fine for everyone else to do so as well. Regardless, this began to draw broad attention. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a local pediatrician worked with others to compare lead levels in children under 5 years old who lived in Flint. She found that the percentage of kids who had elevated lead levels doubled after the change of water supply. This was a courageous data point to bring forward when the very folks who help fund her medical center would be hurt by the information. Again, state and local officials tried to debunk her numbers but after days of evaluating the data, begrudgingly agreed with the conclusion. Dr. Hanna-Attisha further outlined for residents and officials what the potential real world impacts could be for children with lead poisoning which helped open residents eyes to the seriousness of the issue. Leanne Walters and the other residents who pursued action and answers tirelessly while having to boil bottled water to be able to give their children warm baths are also heroes.

Today, Flint is back on Detroit water but much of the damage has been done and Flint is now in a declaration of emergency with federal aid on the way. Residents continue to need to use bottled water for now. A full timeline of some of the key milestones has been published here by the governor’s office and Michigan radio did a great story on the issue which you can listen to here. The fact that this happened is not the most concerning part, all people make mistakes and have poor judgement some of the time. The real concern is the persistent denial of the truth that led to serious consequences that will continue for years to come in homes, health care clinics, and courtrooms. I cannot speak to the motivations of some to blatantly lie to the EPA and others about the water being treated, the test results, etc. Often, in situations like this it seems egotistical self-preservation plays a role.

The story of Flint draws many parallels to our currently warming planet. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the human impact on global temperature and climate, a small group with loud voices continue to beat the drum saying everything is fine. Even with 2015 being the warmest year on record, they continue to try to discredit the data. Sadly, that group includes many in power and even some presidential candidates seeking more power. Making meaningful progress on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is a much tougher battle than improving one cities drinking water, but that progress will need to evolve in the same format: an honest dialogue that prioritizes the best interests of the many.

Belated resolutions

In thinking about approaching 2016 I had random scattered thoughts for things I would like to do or change. As I prioritized the hustle and bustle of the holidays as well as the chillaxing family time, I am just articulating my thoughts now.

My thoughts on own 2016 resolutions are as follows:

  • Eliminating the use of single use plastic bottles – It is easy to grab a single use plastic chocolate milk bottle when at Kwik Trip or a plastic soda bottle from a vending machine, but transitioning to carrying a reusable water bottle with me to ail my thirst will improve my bottom line and waistline. When I need a soda, I will choose an aluminum can or to fill my reusable at the fountain machine. I can do the same at Caribou or the hockey rink when I need something warm. Part of what is driving this desire to mitigate any use of plastic bottles is my disgust over Nestle and the way water is becoming privatized. In the midst of California’s historic drought, Nestle Waters (the largest bottler of water in the world) continues to draw water from the San Bernardino National Forest and other public lands around the world. Their permit for San Bernardino expired in 1988 and yet they continue to take the water uncontested by the Forest Service. I would encourage you to take a few minutes and watch the top two videos on this page and think about how you can reduce giving in to single use plastic bottles.
  • Getting Fat II – As I mentioned in my previous post, I purchased a fat tire bike and have been riding it quite a bit. For 2016, I have decided to set an annual goal for miles ridden of 1,000. I plan to track this on my band and it will give me the flexibility to not ride on some days and ride more miles on others. I am all geared up for winter riding, night riding, and have even used my bike for one errand so far since I now have a lock.
  • Volunteering – My schedule allows time for volunteering and working on different causes. For 2016 I plan to streamline those efforts and focus more in areas where I feel I am providing a valuable impact. Sometimes my passion and persistence to help an organization in need has resulted in a one sided effort where I end up cajoling the organization in to accepting help. That is frustrating and I need to put my energy in to places that are appreciative and desiring help.
  • No plastic bags – Our family owns plenty of reusable shopping bags. For 2016 my intent is to not use a single disposable shopping bag to get items home from a store. If I forget to bring reusable bags, I will need to just carry stuff or go get the reusable bags. I have been at 90% on this effort, but my goal for 2016 is 100%.

I am certain I am missing some items I thought of previously and will likely still add some other 30 day challenges to the year.

30 day challenge: Getting Fat

In my last blog entry, I recalled the joy of having speakers strapped to my handle bars as a kid for long bike rides. That got me to thinking about what I could do to stay active this winter. I struggle with finding pleasure on a treadmill or elliptical so a new 30-day challenge began to take shape. I purchased a fat tire bike at the end of October and am now 35 days in to riding it every day. I am fortunate to have trails right near my house that are pretty amenable for riding. Having a goal to ride every day has led to some challenges; including riding late at night and during some interesting weather but having that variability has been a part of the fun.

I am still learning many things but here is a quick recap of a few things that I have learned so far:

  • Eye protection is important for visibility, especially during heavy rain
  • 4 inch tires are nice but do not provide as much traction as a 4×4 truck
  • A good headlamp makes night trail rides more fun
  • If downwind and carrying good speed, you can really scare the hell out of a deer (and yourself)
  • The bike store sells chaffing balm for a reason, always wear good undergarments

Currently, I am enjoying improving my cardio and getting to see some wildlife in the process. Longer term, I hope to use the bike for some errands and thus have asked Santa for a bike lock and a few other essentials to make that possible.

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.