Friday, January 12, 2018

We Should All Drink the Water We Pollute

Mike is out of town on business so I watched too much news last night, a whole cycle of news devoted to Trump's 'shithole countries.' comment. I am amazed that so many people still want him to apologize, as if he had never maligned people of color before. We established that he was a racist when he called Mexicans rapists, when he was rude to the parents of a Muslim soldier who had given his life to his country, when he said there were some very fine people among the Nazi thugs invading Charlottesville, when he limited aid to Puerto Rico, when he called Colin Kaepernick a son of a bitch for peacefully protesting for Black Lives Matter. Do I need to go on?

Trump is not going to change now. I don't know why people keep expecting him to. He won't apologize to keep peaceable relationships with the countries he insulted either.

The interesting comment I kept hearing was that 'Trump's handlers' tried to manage the aftermath. Trump's handlers, as if he's a trained bear. Let that sink in. Trump has to be handled.

Too bad he can't handle himself.

So, where am I on my resolution?

I missed a few days. The nice thing about a good New Year's resolution is that you can lose it and get back on track again. Right? The worst resolutions are all or nothing. Right?

I received one last note from NordicTrack: I will go ahead and pass on that information over to the correct department. I appreciate the feedback, thank you.

Yes, I am back to believing that NordicTrack might embrace my idea of making the energy of athletes at gyms actually accomplish something.

Should I try another exercise equipment company? It's hard to keep reaching out, hard to feel like an idiot over and over again. It's easier to stay quiet, to let the status quo, not to make waves. There it is, that feeling of inertia I keep talking about.

I'm certain that technology will either save or kill us, depending on how we use it. Inertia will most certainly kill us when it comes to the environment.

I heard something about climate change in the news yesterday. It was a blip. What was it? I was in the car listening to NPR on the way home from the library. I think it was an ad for Living On Earth, PRI's Environmental News Magazine.

But I know I didn't hear the latest podcast of  Living on Earth.  I would have remembered that one.The Boundary Waters is in jeopardy.

After Trump reversed an Obama ruling restricting mining in Minnesota, the Boundary Waters is at risk of being polluted by acid, arsenic, mercury, and lead.

What is it with Trump reversing every single thing Obama ever accomplished? What the hell is that? It's ridiculous and petty. Just what is the long-term benefit to allowing mining in the Boundary Waters?

It would ruin canoe trekking there. Can you imagine having to carry water into the boundary waters to paddle there for a week? Can you picture people having to stay out of the water to keep from being poisoned?

That would totally suck.

I've paddled in the Boundary Waters twice, once in the early nineties, and once in 2004. It's a place where you can get lost on the border between the U.S. and Canada, where you can see the Milky Way at night, where loons still call their haunting song, where you can still smell algae above the clean water as you paddle.

Just think of it: acid, arsenic, mercury, and lead.

It's too bad Trump's handlers don't serve him water from the  places that he pollutes. If we all looked at water that way, that we drink what we pollute, Flint Michigan would never have happened. This mining operation near the Boundary Waters would be required to clean up after themselves. People would stop putting chemicals on their lawns for fear of drinking it.

It may not be climate change, but it's a thought. Act as though you're going to drink or eat anything that you're tempted to pollute. We do, after all.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Watching Jack Reacher

"I'm working on climate change now," I told Mike as we sat on the couch in front of the Jack Reacher movie.

I used to love Tom Cruise movies until that whole thing with Katie Holmes trying to escape Scientology with her daughter Suri and the time I watched Cruise dance on Oprah's couch shouting stuff about how much he loved her. Now, watching him perform is tainted somehow, not completely ruined, but tainted. It's hard when you realized that your revered Hollywood types are actually human.

 Climate change. Right.

I felt I needed to tell Mike along with a couple of friends that I'm trying to see how long I can keep a New Year's resolution going regarding climate change.

See, I've wanted to quit already. We're not even in double digits for the new year. It's pathetic. My answer to that is to tell people what I'm trying to do so I feel some obligation to do it. By the time I'm done, I'll be ridiculous and pathetic. But we'll see how it goes. Maybe there is hope against climate change yet.

"Yeah? Climate change? " Mike said after he typed some stuff onto his work computer. He's on a tight schedule this week. It's stressful. It would be nice if I just sat and watched the movie, but I get fidgety on the couch.

"Yeah. I picture myself as the angry housewife who fights climate change."

He laughed.

Bingo. I nailed it. That is exactly what I wanted to hear from him. I rambled on.

"I wanted to address inertia, you know."

"Inertia?" he said. His eyes were back to his work. He really needed to get his work done.

"Yeah, like what could I say to you that would get you to make one change to reduce your carbon footprint?"

"Nothing."

He looked me in the eye.

"Exactly. That's why we're fucked. I couldn't even make it five days without buying my big plastic container full of one serving of greens. I bought five servings of romaine lettuce at Costco in a lightweight plastic bag instead of the clamshell last week but then I had to throw out three of them because of this whole e coli thing. The CDC won't even say where the romaine might have come from, so I had to throw it all out without knowing if it could be tainted. I can't even make myself stick to my own New Year's resolution for a whole week, not even to save the world."

"Unless some scientist solves the problem, we're fucked," he said.

"Yeah, fucked."

And I sat back on the couch and watched Tom Cruise shoot the eye out of a target with a sniper rifle at Robert Duvall's gun range.

Thank you for listening, jules

Protect What is Vulnerable Even If It Isn't People

I'm trying really hard to ignore Trump's shenanigans, but it's hard. Do you see me trying?

I want to ignore the fact that he can't sing the National Anthem from memory, that he can't read from a teleprompter, that his vocabulary is third grade or less, repetitive, and sometimes slurred, that he tweets a hissy fit against:

Black Lives Matter athletes who kneel respectfully,
the North Korean dictator who goads him,
the mayor of San Juan in Puerto Rico who asked him for aid,
anti-racists responding to the Nazi march in Charlottesville,
anti-pedofiles responding to the Alabama Senatorial race, 
female news anchors who report his unprofessional actions,
his smart prepared African American Presidential predecessor,
his smart prepared female 2016 Presidential opponent who won the popular vote.

 Oh, I know I'm forgetting a lot of people. Here it is: if any female, African American, Muslim, Asian, liberal, Hispanic, nonwhite person catches his attention, he will denigrate them on Twitter.

I am trying to ignore all that because that is the shit-show. The show I intend to be involved in is GOP Congress's lack of response to the Russian investigation, to the damage he's doing by reducing the State Department, the damage he's doing to the free press, the damage he's doing to our sacred and fragile ecosystems.

We need to prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The area, called the middle Arctic tundra is such a fragile environment that it depends on mosquitoes for pollination. It is treeless, cold, averaging 10 to 20 degrees, and gets little rain.  It's winter temperatures average negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer hangs around 37 degrees. So, summer seems like winter to me and winter is like those wild winter days when I was in college and the school warned that my spit would freeze before it hit the ground and my exposed eyeballs would freeze in three minutes. Stuff can grow there, but life is tenuous, at best.

It hosts lichen, wildflowers, and low shrubs. Trees can't survive there. Most wildlife can't either. The fauna of the middle Arctic tundra has also become completely dependent on its  climate. Arctic foxes, polar bears, caribou, Arctic hares, Arctic squirrels. Notice the Arctic title before most of those names. It's an incredibly fragile ecosystem. Have you looked at the photos of the starving polar bears. It's heartbreaking.

Drilling will bring in roads, people and equipment squashing tiny homes. Spillage of any kind will poison areas which may take centuries to recover after it stops.

This plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge came in the name of the '2017 Tax Reform Bill.' I put that in quotes because most people call it the 2017 Tax Scam, in which the 1% gets significant tax breaks on the backs of the poor and the middle class.

So, there is the added 'benefit' in this new tax bill that our most precious biome could be destroyed in the name of oil.

Did you notice that the GOP tacked this onto it? At the last second, without allowing more than 48 hours to review the 300+ page document?

The GOP flockers.

Are they bound and determined to ruin what is most beautiful about this country?

Thank you for listening, jules



Sunday, January 7, 2018

Working to Find Awe

Today, I did the classic move on a New Year's resolution to keep me going. I told someone what my resolution was, why I thought it was an important move for me.

This morning, my nephew, his friend, and I, along with our dogs, hiked Mt. Si. The truth is that they hiked Mt. Si and I hiked three-quarters of Mt. Si. Teddy went with them all the way to the snow at  the top of the mountain. I dawdled. I stopped three times for lunch. I talked to people. I looked up into the trees.

All of you serious hikers might roll your eyes. Go ahead. I did not make it to the top. I did not intend to make it to the top. It was a plan for me to hike my own speed, which is slow, and to take the time to look around me.

I felt the joy of being surrounded by trees.  Have you ever noticed how many trees have a tiny hole at the base where an animal lives? I spent some time looking at the beautiful front porch on one of these tiny residences, a stone patio, sword fern planted on one side, Oregon grape on the other. And imagine the polished wood ceiling of the foyer. All it needed was a tiny hobbit door and I would have signed up to live in one.

One way to get through all the heaving of walking up a steep hill is to notice minuscule hobbit houses under Douglas fir trees. What a roof to have on your house, an entire tree that rises into the sky, an entire set of roots winding under your feet, polished wood flooring.

When fog rolled in and separated the near trees from the far ones, I was in heaven. I live for days like this, when the clouds wind around the mountain, when diamonds of droplets hang from branches everywhere, when it's safe enough for the yellow-bellied sap sucker to tap tap tap down at eye level with you without hiding behind the tree. I could barely breathe, I was so awed. Awe has probably saved my life. Maybe it can save the planet too.

It's really important for those of us who fight climate change to take a break sometimes and look at what it is that we are saving. I'm serious. I think that once a week might not be too often.

On the way to the trail, I was telling my nephew about photographing jelly fungus with my wide angle lens. I couldn't even see they were little bells until I looked through the view-finder. These are the ways I have of believing that saving the planet, that saving the species that live at these temperatures is worthy of my continued attention.

Not to mention the continuation of the human race.

After the joy of floating through the forest, of talking with like-minded people on the trail, of greeting every friendly dog and wondering if they had played with my Teddy, we all reconvened on the way down the mountain and talked about the environment.

What better time to reinforce what effort it's going to take to fix climate change. I admitted my inability to eliminate my dependence on the big plastic containers of the good greens. They both told me that everyone has their own problem sticking to the list of all the things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint. My nephew admitted that he loved driving. What twenty-something doesn't? And then he told me how exhausted he got protesting climate change for six years before he moved out to the Pacific Northwest.

I didn't know that about him.

He told me too that he wasn't done. He was just taking a break from it. He got burned out, seriously burned out. It sounded like he was beginning to recover.

His friend admitted that she didn't want to give up flying to grand destinations. Then, she told us about cargo travel. Holy cow! I want to go across the ocean on a cargo ship! Don't you? But you need time to travel that way. 

Then, my nephew told me about tide turbines. I had always assumed they were hard on sea life. Not so much, he told me, except if you're a barnacle.

Sometimes a conversation is the beginning of how we can save the world. Sometimes it's all about looking closely at what we want to save, imagining the hidden lives around us. Sometimes it's about admitting our failure to give up big plastic containers. Sometimes it's finding out about cargo travel and tide turbines.

And I admitted to my nephew that I thought we could hook all those gym members up to become a waterfall of energy. He laughed when I told him.

But he didn't tell me it was useless to imagine. I love him for that.

Thank you for listening, jules

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Weird

This is hard for me. I have to be honest - some things that happened before Christmas made me feel as though I lost my voice, any right I had to talk in a room full of people. Resistance fell away. Who was I to say that Trump broke the law?

What happened?

I lost a job I was assured was mine. No, it wasn't an important job, only ten hours a week. I'd worked with these children for two and a half years as a volunteer. The teacher I was working with was simply trying to get me a paid position for what I was already doing and in the process of losing the job, I lost her friendship too. That was an awful hit to my self-esteem.

See, I was trying to argue a point and the HR people didn't want to hear it. I have to admit to you that I wasn't feeling well that afternoon. I didn't argue well or wisely. I didn't know when to stop.

Two nights ago, I told Mike I thought I lost the job because I was willing to argue a point. He was in the living room then. I was in the kitchen. He paused his movie.

"That's not why," he said.

"What?" I asked. I walked into the living room with hands goobered from loading dirty dishes.

"You lost the job because they think you're weird."

It was like a punch to the gut.

"I am weird. I was more weird that day because I didn't feel well, but I am weird. I'm not dangerous and I'm honest, but--"

"Nothing you say or do is going to change their minds."

"I know, but I can't even volunteer for them now."

And I wandered back into the kitchen so I could cry on my own and pretend Mike didn't know I was doing it. He knew.

Eventually, I sniffled enough, finished the load of dishes, and went into the living room and sat down next to him.

"You've got to love me, you know," I said as he patted my shoulder over the cat who sat on his pillow between us.

I had spent a whole year arguing against Trump's administration and I'd grown confidence in what I had to say. Plus, I felt great about all the hours I spent volunteering for kids and it was all stripped away in one fell swoop. I'd been righteous. I'd been righteous about so much of my life. When I encountered  something that was wrong or illegal or both, I finally stood up. I took a stand.

Except these HR people didn't want any discussion about their practices and their counterweight opinions overruled two and a half years of dedication I had shown. In fact, I'd volunteered weekly for that school district since 2006. Now I can't even volunteer, let alone get paid for my work. And even though I suspect I lost the job because I argued a point poorly and didn't know when to stop, no one there has explained exactly what they think went wrong. They left me in the dark. I hate being left in the dark when someone thinks I've done something wrong.

I feel like I've lost my voice.

I've written every single day for seven years and almost every day for twenty-two. That came to a screeching halt three weeks ago. I'm fighting it. I resolved to look at the inertia in human nature that has us so far down the track of climate change that polar bears are starving to death and swimming for days trying to find ice from which to hunt. I'm trying to overcome eco-anxiety and read about bleached coral, about extreme weather, about the Larson C ice shelf in Antarctica that is supposed to break off any day now.

But I'm still battling to speak out. It's hard.

Who am I to try to fight the status quo? I'm an ordinary woman. I don't even have a job.

I can't even earn enough from my last book, Angry Housewife Fights Tyranny, to justify writing another one. Oh, that is hard to admit. Yesterday, I had to argue with a bookstore owner that sold a few books that they should pay me the last $5.49 that they've owed me since October. Five freaking dollars.

So, if you're reading this, you should be forewarned: I am weird. I'm ordinary. I don't have any special skills except that I try to write every day, except that I care, except that I think someone needs to stand up and speak out. Who else if not me, a weird ordinary woman who didn't get the job she'd been doing for two an a half years?

What else do I have to do?

Inertia doesn't get broken down with silence. Nothing will change unless more of us speak out, act out, be willing to look weird.

Thank you for listening, jules


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Experience the Bus

I figured you might want to know how my conversation with NordicTrack on Facebook ended.

Yesterday, I received this message:

I am sorry but with our machines we do not have the option to do that, thank you!

And this morning, I wrote back:

Please pass this message up to your engineering department. It would not be a difficult challenge and it would help the environment. Thank you. 

I have to tell you that the whole thing made me feel like an idiot. I would have appreciated a detailed reason why an engineer wouldn't put that kind of technology into exercise equipment, to capture the energy that is put into a spinning flywheel. The person I got when I sent this message was not that guy.

I think I understand the complications with a treadmill. Every time I'm on a treadmill, I feel as though I'm going to fall off the end of it. I can't quite keep up. That's probably the idea, to push me. Granted, the most time I spent on a treadmill was under the supervision of a cardiac technologist while doing a stress test and before that a short stint with a personal trainer. Personal trainers seem to need to keep you off balance, don't they? I fell off that thing at least twice. 

But my mind keeps going back to all that energy a person exerts while on a treadmill. Would it be possible to capture the up and down motion in the drop of each foot? 

What this climate change dilemma needs is more engineers to engineer the hell out of it.  

The other machines should have been easy. If there's already a flywheel, half the work is done for the engineering team. Add some copper windings, a couple of magnets, and you have current, right?

Or did I mess that idea up too? All in all, the whole thing made me feel like an idiot. Maybe I am. Probably I am. But at least I'm thinking about it, trying to do something to battle the great inertia of 7.442 billion people marching into climate change oblivion.

Yesterday, I took another challenge. I rode the bus into Seattle.

I've only ridden a bus five or six times since I was a teenager when I got my license and a set of car keys. Every single time I ride the bus, I get nervous.

Am I going to the right place?
What if I get sick? How will I get home?
Is this the right bus?
Will I get off at the right stop?
How far will I have to walk when I get there?
What if my phone dies?
What if I don't have the right change?
What if I have to pee?

You have to admit that those are valid questions for newbie bus riders. 

The first time I rode the Seattle Metro, I researched the hell out of it and planned my ride online before I left. I recommend this. I was scheduled for jury duty in Seattle and I made a trial run to make sure I'd get to the right place. I did.

It was fun. A stop for coffee, time to look around, and back home on the bus, right?

Well, the buses mostly run into Seattle in the morning and out of Seattle in the afternoon. They don't just keep circling around and around. How do they do that? Some nice bus driver told me which bus to get on to get back to the park-and-ride where my car was parked. I went home on Sound Transit.

Whew!

So far, I've never gotten sick, too lost, gotten off at the wrong stop, or failed to have the right money for the bus. Once, I stepped off at the wrong park-and-ride on the way home, but I realized my mistake right away and simply stepped back on before the doors closed. See, I am an idiot sometimes. I use the map on my phone to find landmarks and once it didn't work in a tunnel so I had to walk back up the stairs a couple of times to look at the map and go back down to where I needed to go. 

All in all, riding the bus is an adventure for me.

Hey, I love my car. I really do. When I lived five miles outside of New York City, I used to drive my car into that mess rather than learn the trains, the subways, or the buses. I didn't want to miss the last run for the night and be stuck wandering around the city until they started running again at 5am.  I was proud that I could drive in New York City. Those taxi drivers are tough nuts and I could manage among them.

But it wasn't at all environmentally friendly. One woman in her own car, driving into a city of eight and a half million people. Eight and a half million cars would never work. It was hard enough getting in and out with those of us who were ignorant enough to try on a Friday afternoon. Sometimes, that twenty minute drive turned into three hours.

Once I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had the excuse that I lived in the middle of nowhere. No buses stopped anywhere near my house. I had to drive to get absolutely anywhere, even to the bus stop. 

Oh, I used to take turns with Mike biking home from work every other day when we both worked in the same town. We wanted to show up at work and not be a sweaty mess, so we figured that one would drop the other off at work and someone would bike home. It worked for a while, but it was a fucking hazard. Drivers don't see bikes. And worse, every week some asshole would roll down his window, drive by, and yell some insult at me.

"Cow!"

"Wide load!"

"Get some exercise, pig!"

That one always got to me. There I was, trying to get some exercise and some asshole sitting in a car was yelling at me to get some exercise. I was supposed to be beautiful while I biked? Just for him? The worst night was when a bunch of people in a car all rolled down their windows and barked at me. All of it got to me and eventually, I stopped biking home on my road. I also stopped working in the same town as Mike. I still dropped him off and then ran my errands so he kept it up longer than I did, but the second time he got run off the road by an inattentive driver, he stopped. He was finished.

Then, I was an unrelenting driver until very recently. Those bus rides were a challenge for me.

In my car, I feel at home. In my car, I feel safe. I can stop anywhere I want. I don't have to mingle with strangers in my car. I can make a detour. I can be spontaneous. I can go straight home. I love my car.

But that's part of our problem, isn't it? 

We love our cars.

So yesterday, I drove five minutes to the park-and-ride, waited twenty minutes because I missed the bus, and I went into the Seattle Art Museum to see the Andrew Wyeth retrospective. It was awesome!

I saw things I wouldn't have seen from my car, little brass animals on huge flower pots on Seneca Street. I saw how small Smith Tower seemed next to all the other buildings. I saw the golden afternoon light on Elliot Bay. I saw people, beautiful people, ugly people, bored people, tired people, and one sweet guy on a bike on Second Avenue who winked at me. I know I'm getting old now when guys have begun to wink at me again. There was an Indian man on the bus with the most gorgeous dimple in his chin. There was a sweet-looking woman reading a library book. I wanted to ask her if it was good. There were a bunch of people working not to make eye contact with anyone on the bus. I was an anomaly there, looking all around me and not bored by the experience. When I get old and lonely, I can ride the bus during rush hour so I can sit close to someone and feel their warmth through our layers of clothes. If I'm old enough, someone might wink at me or at least smile.

Still, when I got back into my car afterward, I let out a long breath. Had I been holding it for that long, the whole time I was exposed to the world? 

That's the challenge. I'm going to do it again soon, go somewhere else. Experience the bus in all it's humanity.

Thank you for listening, jules 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Two hundred and Forty Watts Per Athlete Per Hour

Yesterday, I reached out to NordicTrack about green energy. I figured they would be the most promising of the three exercise equipment companies. How do you define that feeling you get about a company, that sense that they are forward-thinking and still bound by values? That's a precious commodity for a corporation.

The only way they left open for contact that wasn't about complaints was through Facebook, so I sent them a message:

Have you ever considered setting up your machines to harness the power the person puts into it, charge a battery, put energy back onto the grid? It would redefine the word 'powerhouse.' 

They sent me a reply:

Thanks for reaching out. Is there something I can assist you with regarding your NordicTrack equipment?

I tried again:

I would like to know if any of your equipment is set up to provide green energy.

They wrote:

Just so I am understanding you correctly. You are wanting to know if you can charge your own unit instead of plugging it into a wall. 

I wrote:

No. I want to know if I can harness the energy I produce while I'm exercising for use elsewhere. 

There seemed to be a disconnect in our communications.

When I think about one machine and one person charging one battery, the whole thing sounds a little ridiculous, doesn't it? Phil Stewart says that a fit person cycling can generate about 240 watts per hour. That's enough to run your desktop monitor and your laptop, but not enough to run your refrigerator while you're exercising.

But put it into perspective by picturing your average gym at 6pm. If five guys spin on cycles, three run on treadmills, a couple on ellipticals, and at least one lifts at a weight machine, that's a whole lot of energy output, a lot of flywheels flying. And what about those spinning classes? Could a gym go green just by collecting all that energy output? No. Gyms run lights, a couple of computers, heaters, air and pool filters, a refrigerator, a microwave, TVs, vending machines, and a vacuum cleaner. Plus, I'm probably forgetting some of their energy needs. Your average exercise machine isn't in use twenty-four hours a day either, so it seems impossible for a gym to go completely green. Still, it could be a percentage. If you told me I could save ten percent on my energy bill, I might look into the possibilities.

The problem is getting everyone on-board, power companies, fitness equipment companies,  gyms, and even to some extent, the athletes. There's where your inertia settles in. A few people can move forward easily, but a lot of people take a lot of momentum to change directions, even if they all believe that climate change is a problem.

Maybe I haven't grasped the energy required to run the exercise equipment itself. Maybe I'm missing more than I think regarding this idea. That's entirely possible.

I'm going to become that crazy lady, aren't I? It's already bad at home, me repeatedly asking my family to turn out lights in rooms they're leaving and to shut off monitors they aren't using. Now, I have to nag gyms and corporations that make exercise equipment too.

Soon, I'm going all in to tell you my ideas about video game solutions and micro-windmills. I seriously don't know if any of it has any merit, but I'm already out on a limb. Might as well see how far out I get before it breaks.

Thank you for listening, jules