Water is Life

Water is life. Yet, the EPA, under the direction of the current administration is changing the interpretation and implementation of the Clean Water Act. This will result in up to 6 million miles of streams (half of the total in the U.S.) and 42 million acres of wetlands (again, about half) no longer being protected from being used as a dumping ground for industrial and household pollutants.

The change is to focus on only protecting permanent waterways and not bodies of water that dry up at any time during the seasons. This is 2020 isn’t it? How can this even be a consideration with so much evidence that pollutants such as lead and mercury have had profound effects on the population of the U.S. (and other countries), let alone the damage done to these ecosystems.

The willful ignorance is shocking.

Water is life. This is not a metaphorical statement. Coursing through my body are water molecules that could be thousands, millions, even billions of years old. Our lives are sustained by, and intimately connected to the flow of water throughout the global water cycle. This is a physical connection we all experience every moment of every day. The majority of water on the earth is in forms we cannot use and to sustain living function the available freshwater must be continually recycled by the earth system.

Once polluted, that water cannot be truly cleaned unless effectively distilled (through the evaporation component of the water cycle) when the individual water molecules float into the air and leave behind the pollutants dissolved and suspended between the water molecules. Problem solved, right? No. Those pollutants are left behind in the soil in greater and greater concentration.

We know this. Individuals in the administration making decisions know this. And if they don’t, they aren’t qualified for the job they are doing. But, we know this too.

Water is life. Water in our streams and wetlands are not a commodity. But this is how we treat it. We know that if you remove regulations controlling what corporations or home owners/individuals can dump into wetlands or streams, they will begin putting pollutants like lead and mercury back into these water systems.

Even though these waterways are not liquid 100% of the year that doesn’t eliminate the impact of the pollution dumped there. The next time that waterway fills it will “dissolve” those pollutants and carry those chemicals to anything that uses that water, be it plants, wildlife, or humans. What isn’t absorbed by an organism in that location eventually gets carried to a more permanent body of water fed by these vernal or temporary pools/streams either downstream or in the aquifer connected to that body of water. Either way, it eventually gets into the larger system and into all living systems relying upon that water for life–including us.

We know this too. Why are we even having to discuss this? How can anyone think it is not wrong to dump waste anywhere? I mean really, WTF?

Water is life. But instead of treating it as a sacred component of life, we once again are letting the interest of corporations’ profits dictate our decisions. The metaphorical swamp that was promised to be drained is now going to destroy the real “swamps” that sustain our ecosystems and therefore us! It’s very difficult to not just type a string of expletives in an angry tirade at this point.

A few will make even more money by destroying a public commons of fresh water and we the people will eventually pay the price. We will do so literally when we fund some future clean up effort with tax dollars, and we will pay the price with the health of our children and grandchildren.

Of course this will affect the poor and marginalized in our society the most since corporation decision-makers won’t dump waste in areas that affect their homes, but instead in areas nearer the poor and marginalized. This repeated pattern demonstrates they know it’s wrong and harmful to do this, but will do it anyway and then resist all efforts to be held accountable. In the end the cost of clean up will be less than the profit made so for them it is just a cost of business. But for the rest of us it is the cost of our lives.

Water is life. Until it isn’t.

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The Old Man and Lady Liberty

I’ve been thinking about the Impeachment. We all fully expected acquittal. In some ways, I agree with the GOP Senators who agreed Trump had done inappropriate (even illegal) activity, but to remove him would be too dangerous in the current hyper-politicized country. Though if they really believed he is guilty, then they swore an oath as a juror that they did not follow. For those that took this stand, I think it was an attempt to appease both sides, not a moral decision. We’ll see if that helps them in November. But, I do think the country will be better off removing this president through an election. But if we don’t, I shudder to think the economic, social, and ecological damage that will be done.

What I found more disheartening was that the Senate refused to hear additional testimony and view additional documentary evidence. They freely admitted they were specifically blocking the American public from learning all of the facts. I believe this is the bigger issue and constitutional crisis. Agree or not with the House impeachment, the house has the legal authority to subpoena witnesses and documents, and those subpoenaed are legally bound to comply or should be found in contempt of congress. It’s been done before. By not enforcing the subpoenas, seeking additional witnesses, and then acquitting on the charge of obstruction of justice, the Senate has given this president complete free reign to break any laws. We’ve seen no evidence that this Senate will hold any line with this president and we’ve seen no evidence of any ethical or moral boundaries on the part of the president to contain his actions. I fully expect we will see attempts to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate political rivals to this president. That is not what happens in an open and free democracy.

Anyway, here’s a song, an allegory if you will, titled “The Old Man and Lady Liberty.”

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Well, That Was Unexpected

Twenty-two years ago, I stumbled into the house after a day of teaching and when my wife asked what was wrong, I collapsed onto the bed and tearfully let go of concealing the intense abdominal pain that had been building all day. After a few days of diagnoses and testing, they used a scope to clip the end of my bile duct and remove a gall stone. They didn’t take out the call bladder. I’m not sure why, and boy, do I now wish they had.

Monday, now working from home, I called my wife and uttered “gall stones.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” is all she said, and hung up the phone.

An eternity later, she got home and off we went to the ER. Having experienced this before, I knew exactly what this pain was. But this still was unexpected.

Fortunately, I’m part of a very large pool of employees as a professor in the MN State College system, so I have good health coverage. Or, at least good by today’s standards. It still costs me and my employer thousands to cover my family with a moderate deductible and maximum out of pocket cost, both of which are much higher and cost considerably more than when I first started teaching (a long time ago, we’ll say).

One aspect of debate in this country around health coverage is the control of the costs. I often will hear that free-market solutions can control costs if the patient is thought of as a consumer. From my experience as a consumer, so decidedly a one-sided perspective, I call B.S. There’s one ER in my town. When your spouse is doubled over in pain, you’re not going to shop for the most reasonably-priced ER. Then once in that ER, am I going to refuse their ultrasound service and go to another hospital or clinic to get an ultrasound? Once diagnosed, and assuming the pain has been managed, it isn’t really feasible at that point to shop for the most reasonable-priced surgeon and operating room facility. Again, that would require transporting to another town, plus most likely starting over with a new doctor from scratch after medical records have been transferred.

When in crisis, you are no longer a consumer. You are a patient. They are very different paradigms. The ER doctor and surgeon are not sales representatives, they are health care providers. At no point in my experience of walking into, being diagnosed, and initially treated in the ER, or the next day having surgery to remove the offending organ, was I ever treated like a “customer.” And I’m thankful that I wasn’t. I was a patient in distress and incapable of making a sound purchasing decision. At no point was the cost of anything discussed, or was I given a menu of levels of treatment for different costs. We’re not putting a new alternator in my car. We’re keeping me alive. I am extremely fortunate to have my wife as a personal ambulance service, access to health care and insurance, the means to pay the deductible and out of pocket maximum (though that’s a bit more shocking and painful–but less so than gall stones!) and the knowledge that my insurance will cover the rest of the cost. Therefore, in my situation, there was no hesitation about going to the ER. Many are not so fortunate.

Maybe some things are better left out of the free market, and even should be left out of capitalism entirely.

Now I’m regretting declining a copy of the ultrasound of my gall bladder and it’s warehouse of stones emailed to me. So, instead here’s my rendition based on what it felt like.

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Otherizing and Futilizing

Are you stuck “otherizing” and “futilizing?” Don’t know those words? They are words I’ve invented to mean the act of holding others distant and different resulting in a lack of empathy or concern (otherizing) and continuing to take no action believing one’s individual action cannot make a difference (futilizing).

I was attending an MLK day event on Monday. While listening to the speaker I was conducting some impressive futilizing in my head. What have I done to make a difference? What can I do? After all there will never be a TEG day fifty years from now like there’s an MLK day. King was 39 when assassinated, and look what his short life stood for and accomplished. I’m pushing 52 (pretty hard), and what can I possibly do that will matter? Oh, woe is me, right? Plus TEG day just sounds stupid.

When I stopped gazing at my own navel and looked around this room full of individuals, I saw some influential (or at least vocal in the local community) individuals, but mostly other anonymous (to me and and me to them) regular community members. If we all otherwize and futilize, then we are certainly doomed to render all but those holding the wealth and power in a perpetual state of marginalization. Most of us will have little if any impact on “the world” but we can certainly impact those immediately around us. I think a realistic starting point is to work on our individual and collective empathy. If we can all individually work to build empathy and teach that empathy to others by doing such things as:
– noticing and rejecting stereotypes
– respecting and valuing differences
– widening our circle of concern
– listening closely to others (and “others”)
– managing difficult feelings like sickness, anger, and frustration
– navigating social situations ethically and fairly
(adapted from Making Caring Common Project: https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/resources-for-educators/how-build-empathy-strengthen-school-community)

These all sound nice, but remain abstract ideals until used as a metric to measure one’s daily actions. So maybe pick on and learn more to then prompt action so that you can have an impact on at least one other, and then another, and another…

Maybe learn more about implicit bias. These are links to information and an implicit bias self-assessment from a Harvard project.

Seek other news sources, making yourself aware of potential bias in various news sources. Here’s a couple of media bias charts to get you thinking. Of course, they come from media sources and in and of themselves may include bias.

Learn, practice, and model active listening and how to engage the “other side” productively and with civility.
https://libguides.lmu.edu/fakenews/LeftCenterRight (includes links to some interesting TED talks about how to have civil conversations)

Act purposefully. Take the time to pause and ask yourself, “What then?” If I do this, purchase that, throw away this, say that, what then will happen?

Today, I’m going to dig into the Reunir Project. This is a project initiated by the First Presbyterian Church in Marshfield Wisconsin. They state that “[t]he REUNIR project was developed by the Immigration Action Team, part of the Outreach program at First Presbyterian Church in Marshfield, WI. Our concern is for those children and parents separated at the U.S.-Mexico border. REUNIR means to ‘bring together,’ which is both a Christian and humanitarian aim.” They have created this bracelet to increase awareness and provide a vetted list of agencies assisting children separated from parents and detained at the border. No matter one’s feelings about immigration, if we all had empathy and looked at these children as if they were one our own children, we wouldn’t allow this to occur.

Enough otherizing and futilizing.

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What if We Had This Hope?

What if…
What if the young woman did not fear an unknown attacker?
What if the child did not fear the stranger?
What if the teen did not fear their bullying peer?
What if the black man did not fear the police?
What if the Anishinaabe woman did not fear her abduction?
What if the refugee did not fear those charged with their processing and asylum?
What if the faithful did not fear their God?
What if the bigot did not fear?

We fear what we don’t understand, among other things. I’m not discounting inherent dangers such as heights, or in my case, chit chat. Our society is in a constant state of heightened adrenaline, ready to fight or take flight, and some of our leaders and media have capitalized on this seizing power and influence. We suffer a lack of empathy, collectively crippling us; this prevents progression through civil conversation, trapping us in a downward spiral of distrust and anger.

What if we tried this. Begin any exchange with another under the assumption they are doing the best that they can. I know, I know, how incredibly (and wondrously) naive. I’m not giving permission to excuse or accept the racism, hate, or general repugnant behavior. Yes, some people are just the shits. But, everyone’s behavior has an origin, and when when I meet someone, I have no idea about their story; their story filters every input their brain absorbs and attaches that experience to a previous memory, coloring the new experience. You cannot separate a person’s present behavior from their life experience. Again, this is not to excuse being an ass.

I do try and always begin from the premise that we both are bringing their best to the table–even if that best is woefully inadequate for a civil society. So, what does this naivete get me? It provides me a starting point for conversation, though I admit I often don’t see the opportunity due to my own blinders or lack of social skill–but I do work on it. It provides a place for empathy, trust, and even gratitude for their life experience and very existence. While it does not justify behavior causing fear or harm to others, it provides respite from feelings of anger, despair and futility.

This is not altruism or selflessness. I’m also hoping they do the same for me because there is plenty, for which I need grace. This also is not offering pity or a southern “Oh, bless your heart.” We know what that really means. It must be a sincere intent to understand what is at the root of another’s story.

What if you offered grace?
What if we could have difficult conversations and repair this fractured republic?
What if we had this hope?

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I ended 2019 with a (slightly uncharacteristic) post with a positive tone–a simple poem titled blessings. Then I took a week off and tried not to get mired down in current events and enjoyed the return of my children to the nest for a couple weeks.

Meanwhile…Monday morning I ready this headline in the New York Times: “Why Are Young Americans Killing Themselves?” The teenage suicide rate jumped 56% between 2007 and 2017 and is now the second leading cause of death among young people. I don’t expect it has declined in the last two years. The rate of teen depression increased 63% during that same time. We have a serious problem here. You don’t have to spend much time in a school to feel the anxiety that is an all-too-constant state among our children. I fear we are in danger of losing a generation.

Meanwhile…Australia is on fire. Walking the dog yesterday at sunset, I noticed the orange of the sunset (in the east). Hmmm. I can’t believe that it is smoke from Australia, as I would think it would take much longer for smoke to cross from the Southern to the Northern hemisphere, but I’m unaware of other sources of atmospheric particulate pollution that could be causing the sky to appear orange in all directions at sunset (and then again sunrise this morning). Maybe I should quit walking the dog.

Meanwhile…Beltrami county commissioners voted 3-2 to not allow refugee resettlement in the county under an executive order from President Trump that places the decision in the hands of local governments. Do I need to point out that Beltrami county has a significant indigenous Anishinaabe population and that it’s safe to say that the county commissioners and all those in attendance cheering the vote are most likely descendants of immigrants that took the land from the Anishinaabe.

Meanwhile…we are marching towards war with Iran one tweet at a time. We are a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This is the world we have made for ourselves. Are we satisfied with this path we are walking? I’m not. I think we can enact a different story for ourselves.

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Snow crunches beneath my feet
and I think of you.
I wonder where our lives
converged, diverged, got lost
and found again.
Crisp winter air fills my lungs and clears
my head of thoughts of myself
and my worries.
In the space freed of worry, I realize
I am blessed.
Then, I think of you.
Those who loved me into being,
teaching me grace, mercy,
empathy, and love.
No matter if we’ve recently spoken
or only exchanged cards, posts, tweets, or likes,
I think of you and I am blessed.
As are you.

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