Monday, November 21, 2016

Metaphor of the Jack Russel Terrier

I'm writing this Saturday afternoon December 5th, 2015 after the most bizarre experience. I was doing my long run on heritage trail and as I passed through Durango, Iowa I almost stepped on a little Jack Russel Terrier guarding the bridge, at least I think that's what it was. I dodged it at the last second and it proceeded to run with me. Not barking at all, no collar, just running beside me. That's not unusual. I've had a golden retriever run seven miles with us once in college and two other dogs go about a mile and a half with me. However this little thing just kept going. At the ten mile turn around I proceeded to do a workout of some 6:05 per mile pace running and gapped the dog, but on the rests it would catch back up. In total it ran 11 miles with me around a 6:40 pace! Unbelievable.

As I was thinking about it I can't help but draw parallels to life. I was not expecting or even looking for company on my 20 mile run today, yet I certainly welcomed it. As I think about how some of my closest relationships have started over the years, it was certainly with little warning, no expectations, and with satisfaction to be companions on the journey of life.

Getting to November 2016, as I finish writing this, it's been an eventful year for me. What does it all mean? For a long time I have viewed life through the lens of accomplishments, getting a degree, climbing a mountain, running a race, etc. The thing is, after you do all of those "things" you are still sitting there on the other side of accomplishment, just another human. That's really the point, life is about relationships, our relationships to other people, to God, to the planet. Not all relationships are equal, but they do all have value, even if it is only for 11 miles on a rail trail one day.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The End of the Truth

The Pope did not endorse Donald Trump for US President. On the contrary, after a trip to Mexico he questioned the Christianity of a person who would prefer to build walls rather than bridges. 

A part of me wants to check out. After Everest I looked at my pictures and videos and GPS tracking points, evidence I was there, and realized a skilled high school kid could fake it all. It's depressing. I know quite a few people who doubt that humans contribute anything to climate change, yet they understand you can die from carbon monoxide poisoning in your garage. They are pretty similar concepts, but a report in the journal Science as a link has essentially the same weight as a bogus article by a group of programmers in Yugoslavia. In the past getting published was a privilege, something that gave credibility to the ideas. And to be fair most books, scientific magazines and  newspapers still have very high editorial and fact checking standards. But on the internet that doesn't matter. After all, I could write pretty much anything and someone might take it as fact. 

Working in engineering we spend a lot of time getting to facts, and not making decisions based on opinions. Readers don't take the same credibility standards to journalism that they do vehicle warranties. We live in echo chambers that reiterate what we "like" while keeping us from those ideas we disagree with. 

I want to write a book about Everest, but I wonder, what is the point? The idea is to say, 'this is how I did it, this is how I would recommend you doing it.' But I am struggling to see the value because while I hope everything I write is the truth, I know it is only my perspective. Based on the perspectives of people I know, which seem detached from reality I have to wonder, 'how detached from reality am I?'

As long as I keep asking myself these questions, I'm fairly sure I'm living in reality. It's when you are sure you understand everything and don't question your view that you probably are not living in reality. Still... I feel like none of it matters. I dread retirement. What happens when you quit? When you toss in the towel, how do you define your life's work?

It's nearly impossible to have a conversation with people who don't acknowledge the facts. Yet we are all obstinate in our own way, so it's a two way street.

Should I write a book? Would anyone buy it?

Monday, November 14, 2016

r > g

Two years ago I was getting so much out of reading the 577 dense pages of Capital in the Twenty-First Century that part way though I started publsihing review summaries of each chapter. If you are into economics it’s an essential read. As I reel from the election and try to make sense of the world around me I had a breakthrough. An ardent Republican and Trump supporter, explained his idea for a grocery store that instead of prioritizing profits tried to do well by customers by charging low prices, and by it’s employees by paying a high wage, making just enough money in profits, “Say $1000 a year” he said, to stay in business. And in that moment I realized the issue from a perspective I had forgot. When r > g after g > r for any length of time, it feels very unfair. 

The rate of return on capital, r, is basically how much money you can make on investments. The growth rate of the economy, g, is how fast the economy grows, roughly equivalent to income. When economic growth is high, the benefits go to workers. When economic growth is slow, the financial benefits go to people that already have money, from loans, rents, profits, etc. When the ratio of capital to income gets over about 5, it starts to feel unfair. Of course, this statistic isn’t published anywhere because defining capital and income are very difficult and vary by country. 

For most of history, r was greater than g. Then 1914-1945, a huge portion of the wealth of the world was destroyed. Then from 1945 to about the 1990s the world population exploded. The world order was reversed. There was growth, there was opportunity, and no one really had much money to sit back and live on their savings the way there was a wealthy class in the 1800s and before.

This is the whole point of the rural populist movement in 2016. People realize that r > g, in different words of course, and it’s upsetting. Anyone providing any solution is going to be very popular. Bernie Sanders and Trump spoke to the same disenfranchised people who are not used to being disenfranchised in their lifetimes. America wasn’t ready for a socialist in 2016 to fix the issue, but they could rally behind a person that simply offered to make the country great again.

I realize this is total babble to most people, but it’s crystal clear to me and I agree. I didn’t think about r > g this whole election year and a half, at all. It’s like I read Capital in the Twenty-First Century and forgot it. But as my friend reminded me, unintentionally on his part, when inequality gets too high people get really mad [at the establishment]. 

I’ve had too much coffee as I write this, but wow! I am excited! Frankly I didn’t realize we were as close to my own “radical” economic views being mainstream. People aren’t articulating our economic woes the same way I do, and certainly not seeing the same solutions as I do (like a global annual tax of 1% on wealth above $10 million per person, or a universal minimum income of like $700 per adult per month), but their economic frustrations are in the same place. I’m starting to sleep better. 

Final thought, was Jesus an economic capitalist or communist (or something else)? Why or why not? Include Luke 6:34-35, Luke 19:11-27 and Leviticus 25 in your answer. It's a question just for you to think about, I'm not planning to debate it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” - Donald J. Trump 2005

The grab them quote, and video is something I find disturbing because it happened when he did not think he was being recorded. Which is to say, it is the best glimpse an outsider like me has to his true character, not his stage presence character, and I don’t know what to tell women about our next leader. To be fair though, he was just a 59 year old, and I do think he has matured, at least in the last few days. Another good more recent Trump quote, “I could stand in the middle of 5th avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t loose any voters.” Or how about this one, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” Where do I begin?

I am scared. 
Elk City Lake State Park Trail Crossing, Kansas, November 4th, 2016
There you have it. Probably high school kids, but the swastika was still there on November, 10th. Less than six months ago I was standing on the top of Mt. Everest in very cold conditions, with an awareness of the risk, a fear of the danger, but I was not scared. I’m thinking of leaving the country. New Zealand maybe? I’ve never been. My company has an office there. In the time I’ve been writing this, two friends sent me links to New Zealand resources and several for Canadian immigration information. The only two other countries I really have felt like I could live were Germany and Brazil. Although, I really should explore Central and South America more. Even Rwanda though would have great start up business costs, and I already have connections there. I don’t mind a little corruption, I believe everyone is evil (you might call them sinners), and I realize that politics is frequently ugly… but this is the most dramatic I have ever seen.

I understand working people and Christians are mad at the establishment. Gay marriage and abortion seem to be thrust upon us, and it’s hard to find support in the Bible for those things. As Christian congregations shrink and the media celebrates sin, it is easy to feel like our country has “left God”, regardless of whether it ever actually followed God. While I don’t think that Christian would be the best way to describe our country throughout history, I am a Christian, and I feel Christians build bridges of love, not walls of war. I have been comforted recently by the Bible story of Jesus being asked which are the greatest commandments, and him answering that first is to love God, and second to love your neighbor, and the entire law hangs on those two. That story is recorded in Mark 12, Matthew 22, and Luke 10. Loving God is something that cannot be measured by other humans, however, loving your neighbor is something that often is visible. I am struggling to see the love in our new President Elect. I really struggled to see Obama as a Christian, with his liberal interpretations of love, and I never voted for him, yet I did vote for Hillary. However, I do feel in part like the pharisee, the hipocrite with my own problems, the one who doesn’t share God’s love with others nearly often enough. All Christians need to take this opportunity to share God's love with others rather than deepening the hate. I'm seeing Christian Trump supporters on Facebook demeaning people and spouting vitriol. Christ didn't rub his authority in the Romans or the Jews faces, he sometimes said nothing.

I understand why people voted for him. It’s about change. It’s about wiping away abortion, which is something I am passionate about getting rid of too. I was a one issue abortion voter less than a decade ago, but I realize now you really do have to answer the question: what do you do when it’s illegal? Do you jail the women, the doctors at the inevitable black market clinics, what about women that go to Canada for “vacation”? How do you deal with the coat hanger self abortions?

A common theme I have heard from Trump supporters is that he will bring back jobs, and they mean those high paying, not college educated jobs, like in a factory at $25+ an hour. THOSE JOBS AREN’T COMING BACK. For two reasons, automation, in the not too distant future, many factories will be “lights out” factories, and second, in textiles you can’t compete with people making $0.21 per hour. Taxes on clothing in the United States just will not get high enough to offset the cost of people getting paid a quarter of a dollar an hour. As a concrete example, I spent the last five year in Dubuque, Iowa. At that factory’s peak in the 1970s they employed over 7,000 people. Today they employ around 2,500, and produce just as many machines. Those 4,500 factory jobs aren’t coming back to Dubuque, Iowa. Now I live in Montgomery County, Kansas, which in the last few years has seen the closure on an Amazon distribution center that I drive past every day, and a local hospital, not to mention the closest liquor store. The county population has declined from over 51,000 in 1930, to a little over 35,000 in 2010 while the USA total population has gone from 123 million to 308 million in those same 80 years.

There are jobs available, but you aren’t going to want to hear this, they are lower paying, and more labor intensive. My first job out of college, with a masters and bachelors degree in engineering, was working for $7.25 an hour for my uncle in Minnesota and living in my grandparents basement. It was depressing, but more importantly, it was the humbling I needed. I like to think highly of myself. Sometimes I joke I have trouble fitting my big head through doors. It’s a problem of mine, and while I now might think higher of myself for starting at $7.25 an hour with two engineering degrees, I don’t take my success for granted because I have been humbled. Which is to say, if you want a better job, get an engineering degree, even if it takes you seven years because you ain’t so good at school. The more skills you have the more employable you are. Life is hard. Now, I’m closing in on making $100k a year, I’ve climbed Mt. Everest, I’ve traveled around the world, I’m starting my private pilot’s lessons, I’m a USATF national champion and ran on Team USA at the world championships. What have you done to improve your situation? Do you want a better life? Do you want to make America great again? YOU HAVE TO WORK FOR IT! No politician is going to hand you a great job.

Many Trump supporters say they voted against Hillary. Yes, she certainly had some issues. Her email server at her house was a bad idea, and there were some donations to the Clinton foundation that were shady, but they are disclosed. Trump hasn’t disclosed any of his taxes. Trump is due in court in California for a fraud case against Trump University, in late November. I believe that’s the first time a president elect has had a court date between being elected and taking office. Since his kids will be taking over the family business, there will obviously be discussion of travel plans and why people are traveling and what they are up to, probably causing a conflict of interest, is that illegal for a US President? I know my company would fire me if I didn’t disclose a conflict of interest, but then again, I’m not the guy that appoints the guy to investigate me. Maybe conflicts of interest, and double dipping, really isn’t that bad?

Bullies… I have been on both sides of bullying. I have stood there as the short one, the derogatory “smart” kid, the last one picked, and told I have a funny face, daily for weeks. When you get to the other side of bullying, where you aren’t the one being bullied, it’s so easy to stand on the side line and laugh at the victim, instead of standing up for the underdog, and that’s where my fear comes from. I’ve been bullied, and I’m a runner, not a fighter. When the situation gets bad, I run, I don’t fight, and I think a lot of females and minorities feel similar to how short little Isaiah does. Which is to say, for all of the white males, and handful of white females, I have seen on social media calling for people to calm down, just be patient yourself, people will calm down. 

Here is where I am asking for your help. Please pray for our President and President-Elect, and pray for the people of our country, that we would have peace, because I don’t feel safe. I feel like our country just said that racism, bigotry, and sexism are okay. I know that that is not actually what happened in this vote, but it FEELS like it is. For those of you that are around me, please encourage me and tell me of the many ways that he is not authoritarian. Please tell me of the actual specific ways he is going to make the USA great. Beyond my own fear, encourage women and minorities to not be afraid. Rape culture took a big step out of the shadows this past week, at least in the eyes of many women, who are the people it matter most to. If I was a Muslim woman in the USA right now, I would be terrified.

As a note to Trump supporters, people do change their minds and their habits… but it takes about 18 months or so. Which is to say, there are millions of antagonistic liberals right now, but when America is great about this time next year, you can call them on their negative skepticism, and hopefully most will admit at that point, yes, they were wrong. Mike Rowe had a worthwhile read on the election, there are jobs out there, people want better jobs, they are going to need different skills than they have 
I am afraid. I am afraid that a president, congress and supreme court of all the same party will create ideological policies that don’t work. I am afraid that a guy who can’t be trusted with a Twitter account by his own campaign will be given the nuclear codes and authority over our military, including drones and surveillance. I am afraid that an isolationist attitude will (or has already) sweep over our country and send us into a recession larger than the 2008/2009 crisis. Plus, how can he be friendly to Russia, and tough on China? They share a border, they are huge trading partners, it’s either both or neither, not either/or. I'm not sure he understands that. I am afraid that he will energize the people he wants to be tough on in a negative way.

People have been bashing the “losers” who have mentioned moving to Canada or New Zealand on social media. First of all, as I mentioned above, people are legitimately afraid, myself included. Second, the vast majority of people in the USA immigrated here or their ancestors did in the last 400 years. The world has reached a level of development where you can move to a country that is not the biggest economy in the world, and still have a high standard of living. It is only natural that people will move out of the USA. In fact, net migration between Mexico and the USA was 140,000 people that left the USA and went to Mexico between 2009 and 2014. In the years 1995-2000 we had 2.27 million Mexican come to the USA, and already 2005-2010 there was a net loss of 20,000 people to Mexico. Which is to say, Mexicans aren’t streaming over the borders any faster than Mexican-Americans are going to Mexico to reunite with family. 

In a way it all makes sense. The United States has always been great for me, but over the past decade I’ve felt less and less normal. I mean, I run a lot, I climb, I travel, I was vegan for 10 weeks once, and while the parking lots are often full at the trailhead, anywhere else the people are sedentary and think the USA is the greatest. I do think it is the greatest… but I don’t know any more like I used to know. So I’m thinking of leaving. Oh I probably won’t leave, that would be crazy. But seriously… The USA is headed for a recession, and who knows, maybe a revolution. At Everest this year, while blogging from Gorak Shep I met an American who had lived abroad for 8 years, the last five in Australia and he had no plans to go back, or ever date another American woman. I was somewhat surprised by his opinions. It was a new idea to me. I wrote him off as an outlier, but I have thought about that many times over the last five months and I’m starting to wonder. I don’t want to grab women by the pussy. I don’t want to shoot anyone. I like diversity, whatever diversity actually means. I don’t want to stop peaceful people from crossing boarders, especially peaceful people with money who help our economy.

When I was at Everest this spring I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a Lutheran pastor in Germany in the 1930s who stayed and tried to change Germany from the inside. He was hanged by special order of Nazi high command in April 1945, only a few weeks before the end of the war. He stayed in Germany because it was his country and as he wrote in a letter, “to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will face terrible alternative of either willing defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization will survive, or willing the victory of their nation, and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make this choice in security.” I had trouble relating to him. While I was away at Everest, Trump went from one of several Republican candidates, to the only candidate, I was stunned. I didn’t actually expect him to win. I told my foreign friends he wouldn’t win, that was ridiculous. I don’t think he’s a Christian, which is of course not necessary in a leader, but it is something I like in a leader. Of course, related to Jesus’s first law above, no one can know who is a Christian or not, yet the Pope did say people who talk of building walls instead of bridges are not Christian. For example, Trump quoted from “Two Corinthians” not “Second Corinthians”, he’s been married three times, and by his many statements I just don’t see much love for his neighbor, let alone the poor. It is said, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” 

As far as the New Zealand talk… I’ve actually thought about it for years, taking an expatriate assignment, and why not now? I’ve spent about six months of my life in Asia, and two months in Central America, and I’ve lived in 10 states. Not to say that I’m getting bored with the States, but I would enjoy seeing another part of the world. I'm not in a rush to leave, but as this excellent article points out, we're probably due for some conflict. Get busy living or get busy dying they say.

There are a handful of things to hope for, in his first interview as president-elect he has already walked back on talk of getting rid of the whole Affordable Care Act. I don’t really think Democrats are that divided, yes there are some different opinions, but behind a stronger [male] candidate with less baggage, and maybe a little less socially progressive, they would have won the electoral college vote too, not just the popular vote. Further more, while no one knows who Donald Trump really is, including himself, perhaps this is the whole purpose of his life, to be in office here at this moment in time. Maybe he will do well? I've prayed more for him in the last four days than all US Presidents combined in my life.

As the Black Eyed Peas said over a decade ago, “Where is the Love?” I stayed out of political talk on social media this election season, because frankly, I didn’t think Trump would win and I wanted to build bridges between different view points instead of deepening divisions. I limited my view to building bridges between existing groups, but as Adolf Hitler once said, “Words build bridges into unexplored places.” We are now in that unexplored place. I was wrong, I didn’t expect this, and I have no idea what comes next. How can we cut taxes and increase spending?

Friends, pray for us, pray for our country. Men, be the role models we want our children to see. Show love to the unloved. "Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Garmin FR235 Watch Changed Me

A good title goes a long way in a blog post. How do you describe something in a sentence or less that tells the truth and yet is outlandish enough to get people to click on it? So I just said a watch changed me, and while it may not be a big change, read on to learn the details of how I have changed. 
FR235 on my wrist after breaking my hand August 20th.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 10,000 steps a day (or whatever an appropriate goal might be for you at the current time, maybe 5000 or 15,000 steps a day) is the best total fitness program I know of in my 15 years of thinking about fitness. Here are the reasons why a step goal is so great:
You can do it anywhere. No gym membership, workout clothes, or equipment of any type required.
You can break it up into very small chunks, like 100 steps at a time. I’ll revisit this later.
That comes to around 4-5 miles of walking, which is about twice the approximately 5000 steps per day the average sedentary American walks, which would mean a significant increase in activity for sedentary people. (Disclaimer, once people start wearing a step tracker with a number they can read, they walk more, so studdies of how much people walk are often biased by people wearing step trackers that display the number of steps.) Also, it’s low impact, you’re probably not going to get an injury from walking. 

I had no idea how many steps I took before I started wearing my FR235. Turns out 4000-5000 steps, not including running was pretty standard for me. While that is perfectly acceptable when I go out and run 8000-18,000 steps in the same day, when I take a day off running, my step count plummets. 

Finally getting to the topic, the first way the watch changed me was though an inactivity bar. After not walking or moving much for one hour, the watch will beep and vibrate at me, encouraging me to do about 100 steps to reset it. This is great! It’s a simple reminder that I need to take little breaks during my workday to stretch my legs. It takes about two minutes of walking to reset the inactivity bar. People say sitting is the new smoking, and I won’t argue. Humans aren’t meant to sit at desks for 8-10 hours a day… before going home to sit on a couch for a few more hours. If a little beep and buzz reminds me to spend two minutes moving around, it’s well worth the awkwardness in meetings when during a moment of silence my watch beeps. While the inactivity bar probably only added about 500-1000 steps to my average day, it was the first and most significant change in my routine.

The second way the watch changed me was the heart rate monitoring. When I keep saying I struggled to run in the heat this summer, I have heart rate data to back it up. My heart rate would climb into the 160s and 170s while I was running slower than 8 minutes per mile pace on flat ground, which is ridiculous! That means my body was working really hard to perform a task that under cooler conditions would result in a heart rate in the 130s. While I don’t like the Garmin recovery estimation after a workout because after just about every longer run I do it tells me I need 3-4 days of rest, the constant heart rate monitoring has helped me understand my perceived effort better. In other words, often in running you really need to do workouts at a perceived effort, not a concrete pace, and it’s hard to describe that without using heart rate. I ran with a heart rate monitor a number of times in the past, but not for every run, and especially not for most recovery runs. However, those recovery runs are probably the best time to use the heart rate monitor so that you really do take it as easy as you need.

The third way the watch changed me was through the step counter, by wanting to get in my goal number of steps per day. Typically when I run this isn’t an issue, but some days when I only do a few miles, it is, and I have to take an evening walk to reach my goal. While I have always enjoyed walks, this has given me some extra motivation to actually go out and put in 2000 steps after supper. 

The final way the watch has affected me, although I would not say it has changed me like the first three, is health metrics like sleep tracking and resting heart rate tracking. I don’t really do anything with the information, other than use it for confirmation bias that yes when I am averaging 7 hours of sleep over the past week I might need more rest, or when my resting heart rate dips below 45 yes I am indeed in okay shape.

I realize that the three benefits that I mention can be had on a watch without GPS and bluetooth connectivity to a smartphone, so you don’t need to go out and spend this kind of money on a activity tracker, in fact, it’s overkill if you don’t plan to use the GPS or the continuous heart rate monitoring. After all, I did use the thing to the top of Mt. Everest, and I’m pretty sure that of the tens of thousands of people that have bought the watch so far, I was the only one to really put it through it’s paces on top of the world. 

As a footnote, I’m writing this now because Apple Watch Series 2 came out not too long ago and now that GPS is internal, it can do all of the same that my Garmin FR235 watch does, and more, although the GPS time seems to max out at 5 hours, versus 11 for my FR235, which is a big difference for a person like me. I like getting text messages to my watch, and notifications for flights or weather. While I never used to wear a watch, now seems to be the time when having a smart watch seems reasonable. I imagine in about two years when the next generation of Garmins and Apple Watch are released, I will be totally sold on wearing a watch all the time the rest of my life, which is just not something I did the first 29 years. A watch was a tool for my running and mountaineering, but wasn’t incorporated into my life the way it is now. Of course... this could change as I grow and change.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Benefit of Starting Over

After six weeks off, which is a much longer blog post in the works, I am now starting my running over again. I FEEL slow and fat and stiff, and already I started to wonder, 'do I really want to put myself through this?' And the answer is 'yes'. The answer is yes because so many times I have gotten out of shape due to summer or an injury and it is ALWAYS hard to start back up. That is the lesson to be learned from starting over on something you previously had success: it always takes work, but you know that the results are worth the effort.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Moving Farther Away from Family

I did not realize how I appreciate living "close" to family until I moved "away". The median person in the United States lives 18 miles away from mom. In college I was about 1000 miles from home, but spent 3-5 weeks a year at home full time in May and August, then around Christmas and New Years. I briefly lived in Colorado after college, again about 1000 miles. Then I lived at home for about six months. Then I lived in Iowa, about 200 miles from home. I realized at the time that I definitely lived farther away from family than most of my coworkers, there were many who had moved from different time zones, even other countries. Seeing the numbers in the article linked above were interesting. Now that I am over 700 miles away it is a little harder to see my family and I have moved from the 75th percentile to the 85th percentile in terms of living away from home. 200 miles is a convenient distance, you can meet in the middle for lunch or dinner. I suppose being even closer would be even more convenient.

As you read through the article it seems to me that the ability to move is an economic privilege. I think we view moving as a economic hardship, something undesired certainly, and for many people the benefits of moving for a new job are much less than the negatives of losing the existing social network. So for me, taking a job 550 miles away, that comes with a raise, a lower cost of living, and very interesting work outweighed the social network that I had built in my life in Iowa, and that's a huge privilege.

People ask me about the risks of climbing Mt. Everest, and sometimes I respond with my opinion that to me the risk of not climbing Mt. Everest is greater than the risk from climbing Mt. Everest. That is an opportunity cost that motivates people to make a change. When not doing something is seen as the greater risk than doing that thing, new experiences will happen and you will learn.