Reduce, Reuse, Return to the Earth

Posted November 13, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve been recycling garbage most of my adult life. That means I’ve put certain objects in different bins to separate it from the trash, with the belief that they would be trucked off to some factory, which would turn them back into raw materials for manufacturing. But today I’m starting to feel like I’ve been hoodwinked.

There’s been a lot of good reporting on the subject. You can look at 60 minutes or NPR’s Planet Money. The jury may still be out on the general subject but it’s starting to look like recycling was a bad idea to begin with. It certainly doesn’t make economic sense and it doesn’t seem to make ecological sense either.

Recycling plastics, for instance.

I was a young reporter when I attended a news conference in Minneapolis hosted by Hennepin County and some charming plastics industry minions who were going to show us how easy and sensible it was to prepare plastics for recycling. A woman smiled as she took a gallon milk jug, crunched it up and dropped in the correct colored bin. It may have been a blue bin but I can’t remember. This was in the ’90’s. A long time ago.

I’m willing to bet that plastic recycling was a scam from the start. The people behind plastic recycling knew it didn’t make sense but this was a way for us to not feel so bad about buying plastic. Therefore they could continue making it out of petroleum. Is that shit recycled? Looks to me like it ends up in landfills, as it always has or, worse yet, floating the Pacific Ocean’s great garbage patch.

Today, I throw plastic in the trash because I’d rather see it at the Miramar Landfill than floating in the seas or shipped out to God knows which country where they do God knows what with it.

The three R’s of solid waste management used to be Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. They should be Reduce, Reuse, Return to the earth.

The answer might make you think I’m in favor of landfills. I will say that with landfills, at least, you know where the trash has gone. You can see it pile up. You can smell it. There’s no slight of hand when it comes to garbage dumps.

But just burying it doesn’t mean it returns to the earth. That only happens when trash degrades in an efficient way that’s kind to the earth and the groundwater.  And I think this has to start with a long goodbye to plastic packaging and products and that’s not going to be easy and it will take a while.

This wonderful, durable waterproof material we call plastic has become part of virtually everything we make. It’ll take some brilliant environmental engineering to find replacements, and it’s going to take a willingness by consumers and governments to move in the right direction.

This old earth will be fine and ultimately it will find a way to reclaim all that is cast upon it. But it would be a bummer if we poor humans have to live in a plastic trash bin for the rest of our existence. The good book says “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” It’s what happens to us and it has to happen to our trash also.

RAGBRAI 2019

Posted August 4, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Dipping my rear wheel in the Missouri to start RAGBRAI. Notice the river is so high that the river’s edge is in a parking lot.

Another year, another week of near-perfect weather judging by Midwestern summer standards of perfection. Tens of thousands of people from all over the country came to Iowa for RAGBRAI, bound by a common culture of friendliness and tolerance and the shared challenge of of riding 65 miles a day for seven days on a bike.

It’s never hard to start a conversation on RAGBRAI, and I had a ton of conversations with strangers about public radio, my kids, my Iowa roots and the mysterious allure of RAGBRAI, the world’s biggest bike tour. I’m actually not sure that’s true but it’s what I’ve heard and it works for me.

One person I encountered on the road was Ben Kieffer, whom I worked with 30 years ago during my first job in public radio at WSUI in Iowa City. We rode together for close to an hour, catching up on what’s been going on in our respective lives. We had some conflicts while working together, but I was happy to see that water was under the bridge and out to sea

WSUI has been folded into a larger “Iowa Public Radio” network. Ben works for them now.

Amish country in Davis County, Iowa.

As before, I was riding with the NPR and Team Groucho cycling clubs. NPR had another pie-eating relay race with the Des Moines Register and we lost again. Our record thus far is 1-3.

While riding I had many conversations with my good friend Scott Horsley, who, by God’s mercy, is no longer covering the White House and no longer has to report on Donald Trump. With Scott, I felt obliged to tell him that I was having some troubles in my marriage, and that my wife and I are separated.

When it comes to that subject, it’s easier to just to tell people “things are fine” and that’s what I typically do. But when you’re close to someone, especially someone who also knows Karen, it begins to feel like a terrific dishonesty.

I thought of this when I was talking with a member of our NPR/Groucho group and I asked him how his son and daughter were doing. This was not someone I was close to, but he still chose to be honest, telling me about the terrible problems one of his kids was having with mental illness, and the difficulties he and his wife were having affording the costly care.

Someone once said every act of honesty is an act of courage. I heard that more than 30 years ago. I still remember it and still think it’s true.

John Hickenlooper with Bill Danforth outside a beer tent.

As this was a vacation for the members of the NPR team, we tried to avoid talking about news and politics as best we could. But we couldn’t ignore the fact that some presidential candidates were using RAGBRAI as a campaign vehicle. One of them was John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado, who showed up with his campaign staff at a beer tent along the way. This was appropriate since Hickenlooper, prior to his political career, created a business out of brew pubs. Bill Danforth, governor of Team Groucho, got his pic taken with Hickenlooper.

As stated, the weather was near perfect by Midwest standards. We had rain the first day of cycling, which was more of a blessing since it broke the stifling heat we felt when first arriving in Omaha for the start of the ride. Later in the week,  it rained again overnight and I heard the raindrops pummel the top of my tent as a I camped in a city park. But it stopped before we got up. That morning I told a Baptist minister, who was selling pastries at the park, that I had prayed for the rain to stop, which was true. He said, “So did I.”

Among the towns traversed: Winterset, the birthplace of John Wayne. Bloomfield, the home of a remarkably handsome county courthouse and surrounded by Amish country (Horse carriages caused no undue traffic problems on the county roads). Adair, site of a train robbery by Jesse James. Stuart, site of a bank robbery by Bonnie and Clyde (Nobody ever said crime was unheard of on the RAGBRAI trail). Keokuk, the end town and confluence of the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers, as well as the childhood home of entrepreneur Howard Hughes, Sr. (He was the father of the more famous and crazy one who had the Spruce Goose.)

Beth Howard, pie maker.

l got to meet Beth M. Howard, a pie maker in Franklin who — through books and blogging — has taken the pies to new heights in terms that are culinary,  interpersonal and philosophical. Her banana cream is unbelievable.   Did I tell you we lost the pie-eating contest? The small-town web infrastructure strained under the weight of tens of thousands of cyclists arriving in overnight towns, virtually every one of them carrying a smartphone. Posting news of your RAGBRAI exploits on Facebook were very difficult.

The route this year was the best I’ve seen, with plenty of hills and nice scenery. Did I forget anything? Maybe. Suffice it to say RAGBRAI was another big rolling party. I had a great time though I may take a break next summer.

 

 

 

Taking on the Joy of Eating

Posted June 9, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I have begun doing something I never have done before. Dieting. In the past I’d tried to watch what I eat and resist the temptation to have a little bit more. But I’ve never taken it seriously, and I’ve never really had any success losing weight.

So what’s my diet? I’m counting calories. That’s it. I don’t care about fat. I don’t care about carbs. Just calories. I call it the eat-less diet.

Hang on. Here’s a snappier name: The 2,000-a-day diet.

I figured if I limit my daily intake to 2,000 calories, I’ll burn more calories than I consume and I’ll lose weight. My son introduced me to an app called MyFitnessPal. It allows me to calculate the calories in pretty much any food. I store the meals I create in a database. Yes, the database also tells you how many carbs there are and how much fat but, like I said, I don’t really care about that stuff.

The weight isn’t coming off in a flash but it is coming off. I’ve lost 8 pounds in about four weeks of dieting. I want to lose another ten-twelve pounds before I stabilize my weight. This experience has led me to some interesting discoveries.

The first thing I discovered is dieting is a lot easier than I expected. I imagined terrible pangs of hunger, and the expense of great willpower to keep to my new eating regimen. As for those hunger pangs: I feel no more hungry between meals, eating 2,000 calories a day than I did eating 3,000 calories a day.

Yes, losing weight takes some discipline and patience. It requires some organization. Figuring out how many calories are in that slice of bread, that scoop of peanut butter or that glass of wine is a hassle, and it’s a hassle keeping a diary to track all of it. In fact when you do this, eating becomes more of a task than a joy.

And the joy that comes from eating was my big discovery.

When you live in a world of virtually limitless calories, you don’t really eat because you’re hungry, and you sure don’t eat to survive. These days we eat because it brings us pleasure and it’s something to do. Eating is a joy. It’s cheap entertainment. It’s something to occupy you when you’re bored.

You see the glazed doughnut in the pink box that someone brought to work and you anticipate the way that sweet, crusty exterior is going to collapse in your mouth, how the saliva will secrete and how your taste buds will let out a soft cry of pleasure.

Are you hungry? No. Do you need it? No. But you eat it for the thrill and pleasure of holding it in your hand, tearing it in two and raising a piece to your lips.

Maybe this sounds puritanical, denying myself the pleasure of food. But there are more ways to feel good. If you lose weight you’ll feel younger and you’ll feel more alive. So my advice is come up with a plan that makes sense, and just do it. It won’t hurt. And it’ll be easier than you think.

UPDATE!

Still good news. As of Aug 7 I’ve lost 15 pounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fermi Paradox

Posted May 19, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I was a sophomore in high school in my hometown in Iowa when Mr. Malcolm, my English teacher, was talking about writing fiction and explained why, despite the many stories about them, nobody will really ever build a time machine.

If people, some day, will be able to go back in time, why haven’t we met any visitors from the future?

I call it the Mr. Malcolm paradox. Or I have, ever since I read a book by David Brin called Existence, which introduced me to the Fermi Paradox. Like many books of science fiction Existence examined the possibility of life on other planets and the possibility that we may encounter it.

Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi was a great physicist who – the story goes – was discussing the possibility of extraterrestrial life with colleagues when he said… if alien races exist, “Where are they?” His larger question was this: If there is life on other planets, and interstellar travel is possible, we should have been visited by these space travelers long ago and probably more than once. We would have at least encountered their probes.

And yet, we have only the great silence of the cosmos.

Given the vastness of space and of time, any reasonable person must agree that there is other life out there. The vast nature of time tells us there’s a very good chance that other intelligent life was spawned much earlier than ours, possibly by millions of years.  Therefore they’ve had a lot more time than us to develop science and technology that would allow interstellar travel… if such a thing is possible.

Is it possible? All we know is so far is there ain’t no ET’s knocking on the door or calling us on the phone.

Of course, the physical realities that hold back space travel have no grip on our imaginations. We got to the moon so why not go further? Science fiction has created warp speed and “worm holes” that will allow us to bust through space at rates that will get us from here to there. In Star Trek and the like, humans and their galactic cousins are out there exploring the universe, colonizing other planets and forming political alliances with other groups of beings. But any reality check brings us back down to earth in more ways than one.

And it brings us back to the Fermi Paradox. What makes us think we can get there if they can’t get here? And as far as we know they never have.

It is possible that life, that’s evolved to the level of human thought, is extremely rare. It is possible that the distances between the stars and their planetary systems are so great it’s simply impossible for anything but light to travel that far.

Existence also offers the theory that there is a kind of “filter” that human-like races must pass through to continue thriving, innovating and surviving. Call it the nuclear bomb problem. The advance of human technology ultimately reaches that point where people have the ability to annihilate themselves or destroy their planet’s environment. That reduces even more the number of planets that harbor intelligent life because not all civilizations make it through the filter.

This stuff must be pretty depressing to a lot of people. The stars we see in the sky will never be places we visit. Space may be the final frontier but it’s one we’ll never really get to.

Maybe one answer to this dilemma is faith.

Faith in God allows us to believe there is a supreme intelligence in the universe that we can know and understand. There are people who have a similar faith in progress, which allows them to believe we will be able to travel to life-bearing planets, even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Existence ends with the creation of a manned telescope in the far reaches of our solar system, which is much more powerful than any telescope we’ve ever seen. Even if we can’t travel to the stars, we can keep looking at them and learning and wondering. Maybe that’s enough.

Harp Concert

Posted May 9, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The people in the room wait for the next girl

Who comes up to perform the harp with practiced

Notes and cool confidence but I, my eye

Pays no notice to them and gazes to see

My girl with moist eyes and a reddened face

And she moves at a hurried pace to a place where no attention

Weighs on her… and the weight can be held in silence.

She feels small but she’s tall enough to be

An adult that hides the child I remember when she

Burst onto the earth with a fearless cry.

But now failure before a crowd chills the joy she brims with

And I can say nothing because I have no answer.

Nothing to change what happened.

Nothing to make things right.

Only love. Only mute, stupid love.

 

A New Battery for my Prius

Posted April 9, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

At the end of this alley they sold me a hybrid battery.

What do you do when the hybrid battery on your Prius dies? I didn’t know because I’d never fully appreciated the terminal nature of losing your hybrid battery. The battery is the car. When one of them goes, you can forget about what’s left. And replacing the battery is a big investment I was hoping to put off.

After the battery conked out I was driving on only the gas engine. The car was sluggish to put it politely. It actually slowed to a crawl sometimes, and I’d soon have a deep stack of traffic stuck behind me on fast-moving single-lane streets when I couldn’t push the speed above 30 MPH. One time, I was literally passed by a cement truck going uphill.

But I had an inside source on the battery problem. Pat was a friend of my mom because she was a soloist in the Methodist church choir who also sang with the San Diego Opera. But I digress. More to the point, she drove for Uber and Lift and she had a Prius that had 290,000 miles on it.

She never had to replace her battery but was dreading the prospect, so she took tremendous strides to find the best possible deals. I texted her on the subject and her responses began pouring in. The ratio was four texts from her to one of mine. She sent me web links to battery dealers from here and yon.

When I finally got on the phone with her she told me she had just got off the phone with a dealer in Pennsylvania who had a crazy low price for a new battery… about $1500, if I remember right. No, they said, we wouldn’t mail one out to San Diego.

Obviously, she was hard to get off the phone once she got onto the subject. But she gave me a lot more confidence that I’d know a good deal when I saw it.

In the end, I called a local place called hybridbatterysandiego.com. They had a pretty slick website and a guy picked up the phone the first time I called. But when I found their location, it didn’t look like any location at all. In fact, I couldn’t see the address they claimed was theirs, located on a block in Spring Valley that was a one of those commercial graveyards of slap-dash, low-rent businesses selling tires, wrecks and auto parts behind rusty gates.

I called the guy again, and he told me to find an alley next to a sign and go to the end of it. The guy was Chris, and he ran through the options real quick with me. And without giving it a lot of thought I told him to install a new one, not a reconditioned battery, though the reconditioned one would be less than half the price.

I got out of there for just under… well, never mind what I paid. If I paid too much I’m not going to tell the world. Anyrate, I have a new battery that will probably take me at least another 150K miles down the road. Let’s hope the rest of the car holds up that long.

Estate Sale

Posted March 20, 2019 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The first I noticed there was something unusual going on at Bob and Jeanine’s house was when I saw a small crowd of middle-aged people standing in their driveway first thing Saturday morning. I should have guessed: An estate sale.

Not a garage sale, mind you, where people try to unload the crap they don’t want anymore. But an estate sale, where everything in the household is up for sale, including a lot of valuable possessions.

Bob and Jeanine were already an old couple when I moved into the neighborhood nine years ago. Now, Bob is dead and Jeanine is in an assisted living residence. They were both native San Diegans. Jeanine went to Hoover High School and Bob attended San Diego High. Their high school yearbooks were among the things for sale.

I bought Bob’s 1960 yearbook that was filled with signatures of favorite teachers and best wishes written in neat cursive and signed by students. The school was racially mixed even back then, with many black faces shown in the clubs and sports teams. You saw black and white photos of the members of the school’s Hilltop Choir, donning concert robes. The Thespian club dramatically posed. The girls in the Pom Pom Corps and Homecoming Queen Alice Cruz. They had a Russian Club, despite the Cold War.

Bob owned five bags of golf clubs. At the end of the sale none had been sold. He had a bunch of Minolta film cameras. Jeanine had a small collection of sacred art, some of which she bought on visits to Europe. I bought a small crucifix and a stylish bronze Last Supper print that I added to my own collection.

The biggest thing I bought was a mission-style loveseat that was only $38 by the last day of the sale. Nicholas and I carried it across the street and put it in our living room. A couple of estate sale veterans looked at it and said I should check for an emblem on the bottom to see if it was a Stickley. If so, it would be worth a couple thousand bucks, they said.

I did check, and there was a tag calling it a Gustav (Stickley’s first name) and saying it was delivered by Jerome’s, a local furniture store known for bargains, not arts and craft collectibles. OK… so it’s a Stickley knock-off, but still a nice bit of furnishing.

The loveseat has moved to my house.

I guess the best thing I saw was a picture of the lives led by two neighbors I would chat with on the curb outside but never really knew that well. I hope it’s OK, Bob, that I got your old high school yearbook, and I ended up with that loveseat.