Let’s not pretend this is new

The current situation of inflamed racial tensions in Minneapolis is distressing and frustrating. The video of George Floyd being held down with a knee to his neck is sickening. The disregard for the life of another individual is the epitome of pure evil, and thankfully, charges have been brought quickly against at least one of the officers. 

There is hope that the riots and anarchy that has permeated the city over the past couple nights will start to calm, now that justice has started to turn its slow wheels. After all, what we really want is for things to go back to the way that they were. We want to get back to our lives and livelihoods. But, let us not for one second think that if the rioting stops that we’ve somehow turned a corner. Read this next sentence very, very carefully. 

This. Is. Not. New.

I grew up in Saint Paul, on the “Eastside”, which has never been known as a haven of prosperity and wealth (to put it mildly). I’ve been shot in the back with BB guns, been awakened by the sound of gunfire outside my house, and found passed out drunk people on the steps of our duplex. But even at age 10, there was one thing that all of us knew… we might have it bad, but at least we didn’t have to deal with Minneapolis Police. News reports of cops planting evidence on a suspect that they just shot, or roughing up people of color for no reason were not uncommon. Despite the fact that I’m a white male, it still gave me pause when my friend and I were pulled over just on the other side of the border for a broken taillight. I’ve lived my entire life with this central narrative about the MPD

Let’s take it back another step though. The history of the Twin Cities is not one that has been kind to people of color. Redlining was a massive problem here, as much as anywhere. Black people were required to stay in their neighborhoods, and were even protested when they tried to move into white ones. The black community also had to deal with institutional discrimination at all levels, which is most visible today in the destruction of the Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul and the North Minneapolis neighborhood. 

Both of these neighborhoods were irrevocably changed with the construction of Interstate 94. The Rondo neighborhood was bisected right through the middle, destroying dozens and dozens of houses, and forever altering the character of a neighborhood and a community. North Minneapolis was also hit with a new freeway through its neighborhood because it was “just working class people and negroes” and was labeled by cartographers as “Slums”. So strong was the prejudice towards people of color, that it was simply deemed OK to crush their attempt at community building. But yet, when Interstate 35 got too close to a very wealthy (and less racially diverse) portion of Saint Paul, no effort was spared to lock the whole thing up in lawsuits until it was turned into “35E Parkway” and the speed limit capped at 45mph

Minnesota has always been considered progressive. It’s a “liberal bastion” of the great north. Yet, that progressive spirit shouldn’t give us a pass when it comes to racial equity. Minnesota is 84% white (79% when subtracting hispanic origin), and our African American community is only around 380,000 people (6.8%) (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/minneapoliscityminnesota,MN/PST045219). That’s not a lot of diversity, and when you leave the Twin Cities area the percentages skew even more and more white. Yet, you would think that for as progressive as we’re touted as being, that our racial strifes would be minimal. That’s far from the truth, and it’s complicated by our “progressive” ideals and how we’ve responded to other races in our past. 

Minnesota and its progressive history is well known for it’s stance on refugees. In the 1970’s Minnesota took on a huge Hmong refugee resettlement initiative and now hosts the largest Hmong community of any metropolitan area in the United States. Again in the 2000’s Minnesota took on another refugee population and now boasts the largest Somali community in the US. We’re proud of what we’ve done for the world by helping these communities resettle in the frozen north. We wear it as a badge of honor, and we should be grateful for all the people who helped make these resettlements possible. But, when looking at our “home grown” minority populations, we’ve fallen way short. Particularly when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans and African Americans. 

Our “Progressive Pride” has made us blind to the fact that we’re no different than many other areas of the country when it comes to how we deal with minorities, many of whom are living in poverty. We think that because we have historically generous social safety-nets, long-standing union support, and a strong love of multi-cultural arts, that we must be taking care of every one equally. In fact, we’re not really that different than anyone else. We have a sordid history with desegregation and school busing. We are home to the largest mass execution of Native Americans in history. And, we continue to show that our police forces struggle to treat people of color fairly. 

The first step in any type of change, personal or societal, is coming to terms with where we’re at. Many times when people want to lose weight, it’s because they’ve looked long and hard in the mirror and don’t like what they see. The same goes for people suffering with substance abuse, eating disorders, or any variety of mental illnesses. We need to first recognize the problem, as a problem, before we can even consider how to make a change. 

We’re at an inflection point Minnesota. We’re being shown the mirror of racial injustice, and we don’t like that fact that it’s our face starting back at us. It’s time to put away the excuses. It’s time to put away the “ya, but…” that we add to all of our pithy social media comments. It’s time to admit that we have a problem, and it’s not a new one. It’s one that we’ve been avoiding, dismissing, or outright denying for far too long. 

We’ve been given this moment in time to consider how we want Minnesota to look tomorrow and into the future. Let’s stop, reflect, and take a breath. Unlike Mr. Floyd, we can still breath, and history will be watching what we do next. 

Product Review: SP Connect Phone Mount

A year ago I decided I wanted to start using a phone mount on my bike. Sometimes I’m out and about and am looking for directions, or I need to send/receive text messages while I’m biking (via voice). Other times I want to be able to quickly grab my phone and take a picture of something I’m passing by, or perhaps I just want to play Pokémon Go while I’m biking around. For all of these reasons I decided to start searching for a mount for my bike to keep my phone front and center while riding.

My first attempt at a mount was a very inexpensive one I picked up off of Amazon. As with most cheap crap that you find online, this one performed as expected. It got the job done, but that was about it. It used elastic bands to hold the phone in place, and the mount secured to the handlebars with a simple clamp. This mount had some problems though. The rubber bands held the phone well enough, but getting the phone on and off the mount was a chore. It meant that stopping for a quick photo wasn’t really an option. In addition, the mount had a swivel head on it so that you could angle the phone in different positions. That swivel mechanism never was able to tighten very well, and so often the phone would flop forward or backwards while riding over bumps. It didn’t make me feel very comfortable about riding with my phone like that.

Thankfully, I have a deep bench of experience in my biking community, and my friend Abe suggested that I check out the SP Connect bike mounts. He’s been using them for years, and loves them, and said that they meet all of his needs. After hemming and hawing for way too long, I pulled the trigger and bought their kit. The basic kit comes with a mount, a case, a weather protector, and a small attachment that allows you to prop the phone up at an angle when sitting on a table. It came to $60, but that seemed to be standard across the market for a system like this.

DSC02121The kit arrived a few weeks ago, and I’ve had a chance to try it out on around a hundred miles of biking. The mount is a simple clamp mechanism that uses a plastic strap that you screw tighter by turning a small nut. It actually does a decent job holding the mount securely in place. In order to use the mount, you need to use the SP Connect case, which contains the other part of the mounting connection. There are two raised bars on the mount that secure to the back of the case. You set the phone on the mount and then turn 90 degrees to either side and the phone locks into place.

The mounting is really secure, and I’ve even (gently and momentarily) lifted the front of my bike off the ground by the mount. Lining up the case to the mount is pretty easy as well, and there’s only been a couple times where I’ve struggled to get it in the right place the first time. Those times have become less and less with more practice. Many times it involved me trying to set the phone on the mount at an odd angle that isn’t fully flat against the mount. I’ve gotten better at matching that up each time I do it.

DSC02124The case that you need to use is moderately ruggedized. It’s not at the same level as an Otterbox, but it does have some heft to it, and good protection around the edges. It fits my iPhone well and I’ve had no issue with slippage or things being blocked. All around, a decent case. In addition they send along a weather proof cover that you can put over your phone while it is mounted. The cover is a simple piece of fitted plastic that allows you to still touch your screen, but keeps the phone dry.

Finally, they send along a small stand that you can attach to the back of the case, and it allows you to sit the phone up on its side for (I assume) watching videos. It’s a cute little addition, but I’m not sure how useful it’ll be for me in the long run. Maybe it’ll be fun to use if I’m out biking but then stop to eat at a table and want to watch something.

Should you but the SP Connect? One of the things I haven’t mentioned yet is the competition. There were two other systems that I looked at when deciding on this mount. The first was Quad Lock. From everything I could see, there are very few differences between Quad Lock and SP Connect. They use similar locking mechanisms and the accessories and price are similar.

I also investigated Rockform, and it is still one that I might like to try some time. Some of the unique features of Rockform are it’s mounting mechanism which is a quarter turn, star-like system. It also utilizes a strong magnet in the case to secure the phone a second way to the mount. Rockform seems to be a great target for mountain bikers who are hitting some really serious terrain that might break other mounts. Since I didn’t need that much protection, I decided to save a few bucks and go with SP Connect. I did also see some online reviews that felt the Rockform was a bit harder to get used to attaching. Though, I’d want to get a kit myself and see if I can replicate that.

In the end, I’m very happy with the SP Connect. So much so that I got my wife a mounting kit for her phone and bike, and she loves it. The SP Connect is a capable mount that does what I want it to do. It allows me to quickly remove the phone from the mount on the go, and otherwise keeps the phone solidly connected and in place. Based on the last couple months, I have zero complaints about it, and would recommend folks check it out if they’re looking for a phone mount for their bike.

The Potato Guardian… a reading

Yesterday I came across an opinion piece in the Washington Post written by Alexandra Petri, about Trump’s comment to farmers regarding the need for strong second amendment rights to guard potatoes. I’m not making any comments here about the politics, that’s not what this is about. What I am doing is sharing a dramatic reading of the opinion piece (recorded hastily last night, and yes I know I need a pop filter), which features the story of a potato guardian, watching over their charge….

Political Discourse in the age of COVID-19

Lately it’s been harder and harder to participate in the social media sphere (and in particular Facebook). Because of the pandemic, and everyone having a lot more time on their hands, the amount of political discourse has gone up, while the quality of that discourse has often gone down. Too often I see deeper entrenchment on both sides of the aisle, despite the fact that we’re currently facing a crisis that doesn’t give a shit about sides.

COVID-19 is a science problem, not a political one. Science isn’t about conservative or liberal politics. Science is a thing unto itself, and when we try to shoehorn it into our political belief systems, it will let us down every time. That’s because science operates with a completely different paradigm than we’re used to.

In science you make a hypothesis based on existing data. You then test your hypothesis. You look at the results of that test, and the data, and then you either have proven the hypothesis or you need to restate it and try again. Or, you move on to the next step in the problem you’re trying to solve. It’s about trial and error, and most importantly… failure. Many things that people attempt in the scientific field fail. In fact, some scientists I know would even say that MOST things fail. The very essence of the scientific experience has a failure feedback loop built into it. It’s how it thrives. Many scientific and technological successes have come from building on the failures of what has come before. Without failure, those successes wouldn’t come to pass.

Politics operates in a completely different world. In politics we look to those in power to provide “the answer” to our problems (or we ask them to get out of the way if you’re a Libertarian). Politics does not respect failure, and in fact it punishes it. If a politician presents a message that does not resonate with voters they lose their next election. They fail. We don’t expect them to come back again and say, “Hey look, I found the problem in the data and I’m ready to try again, so let’s redo that election next month please.” They get one shot at it, and then if they fail they have to completely regroup, and may never be back on the scene again. Politics is about winners and losers and failure is not an option.

Then along comes a pandemic. An event in the natural world that can only be solved by science. This new thing has entered the world and to understand it takes rigor, discipline, and yes, failure. To find a cure for a disease you have to spend countless days and months studying and understanding the disease, and then hypothesizing treatments which then get tested over and over again, failing multiple times. It takes time. It takes patience. It requires failure.

Politics can’t handle this. It wants answers, and it wants them now. Policy decisions cannot wait until science has everything figured out and fixed. Politicians are forced to do the best they can, with the data that science has given them. Yet many times, the data changes as more hypothesis are tested, and success and failures chart a path to the truth. This means that when policy decisions end up needing to change, as the science changes, we don’t see “good” scientific failure, we see “bad” political failure. As a society we simply can’t wrap our heads about the idea of “evolving” policy decisions. Everything is either black or white, up or down. If you’re not giving the right answer, then the correct answer must be the opposite of what you’re saying. Because we live in a duopoly of political spectrums, we don’t have the benefit of more nuanced and multi-faceted political sphere. However, even if there were multiple spectrums, the nature of politics means that we’d all still be clamoring for one side or another of the multiple spectrums. It’s how politics and policy works.

This is a good time for everyone, as a citizen, to pause and take a moment and acknowledge where they are on the political spectrum. Then stop, pause, and take a deep breath. Ask yourself a question from a science point of view, “What if my political view on this turns out to be wrong and a failure?” What does that do to you? Can you accept a more science oriented view that allows for grace and understanding? Can you accept that we sometimes need to re-think our approach to policy? Can you accept that when dealing with a foe that only science can defeat, maybe we need to learn to adapt our worldview and allow for a more failure-based, experimental approach to our policy?

I make no secret of the fact that I’m on the liberal end of the spectrum. I’m a believer in universal health care, strong social safety nets, huge investments in public education, more government involvement in regulation and policies, and many other left-of-center ideologies. But I also understand that I live in a world where these ideals are not shared with everyone I come in contact with. I live in community with many different people, and I need to accept that reality and chose how to live in a conflicted world.

I would love to change the world and make this pandemic go away. As someone who grew up in extreme poverty, I know how devastating this time is to those who struggle every day to survive. Poor communities are being ravaged by the pandemic in ways that many of us in the middle class see as just minor inconvenience. I want to say that we need to end all of this lockdown craziness because of how incredibly destructive it is to those in poverty (of whom people of color are disproportionally affected). The liberal in me wants people to be able to survive and thrive, and this lockdown hurts so many people in so many ways.

But, I need to put that aside and let science happen. It’s so incongruous to my worldview to knowingly let people suffer, but I have to trust that science will get us to an eventual answer. It takes time and it takes failure. That failure leads to adjustments that often feel like they’re in opposition to what we thought we knew. It’s frustrating. It’s incredibly frustrating. It requires that I change, and that’s never easy.

My challenge to everyone is to take a deep breath. Comparing our situation to fascism or calling people murderers doesn’t help. We’re in territory we’ve never been in before in our lifetimes (most of us anyway). We need to let science do what it does best, and understand that, because of this, politicians may not always be able to meet our expectations. Things will get better, but it’s going to take time. Science takes time. What we can’t afford, as a society, is to let this continue to deepen the wounds we’re inflicting on one another.

Help those who you can. Give grace to those you disagree with. Be good to one another and tomorrow will maybe look different… maybe even better.

Shoe review: Altra Timp 1.5

In the trail running world, Altra is a huge name. They sponsor a ton of racers, and are a fan favorite shoe for many, many runners. They’re also zero-drop shoes, which is why I’ve shied away from them for so long. A couple of years ago I did give them a spin with some demo shoes, but I’ve held off pulling the trigger on my own pair until now. In January I picked up a pair of Timp 1.5 trail shoes, and have gotten around 40 miles on them so far.

One of the things that drew me to the Timp’s was how incredibly comfortable that they are. They are perhaps the most comfortable shoes I’ve put on my feet. The wide toe-box and the soft cushion makes then an incredibly enjoyable ride. Altra’s are known to be a bit snug in the mid-foot, but I didn’t find that to be the case with the Timp’s.

The biggest issue for me was learning to adjust to the zero drop. For my blog readers who aren’t in to shoes, a “drop” is the hight of the heel minus the hight of the toe. That difference is how much your foot is sloping downwards from the back to the front. I started running in 2010 in shoes that had a 12mm drop, and have slowly been moving further down the scale.

Back in January when I first put these on, I was dealing with a big of a niggle in my knee. I had seen an orthopedic, and gotten some exercises, and things were slowly starting to get better. However, when ran in the Altra’s I discovered that the pain went away. I was pretty confused at first, so I alternated between the Timp’s and my Saucony Guide ISO2 shoes. Every time I ran in the Saucony shoes, my left knee complained. Moved over to the Altra, and the complaining almost entirely went away.

The fact that these shoes helped with an issue I had been dealing with for a long time is a huge step in convincing me that this is the right time to transition to zero-drop. So much so, that I even picked up a pair of Altra Torin Plush road shoes (I’ll review those later). I haven’t noticed any calf issues from going to zero drop, and that might be due to the fact that I’ve slowly been moving to lower drop shoes for years. For a long time 8mm was my sweet spot, and then in the past couple years I’ve done a bunch of runs in 4mm drop shoes. Over the course of time I’ve managed to move my body more into alignment with a lower drop, but it’s been slow and measured process.

img_0908In terms of the shoes themselves, I find them to be one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. The midsole material is comfortable and cushy (despite not being their new Quantic material), and the upper is soft but supportive. The outsole feel grippy in the little bit of mud that I’ve been running in, but due to the pandemic, I haven’t hit any really steep or rocky climbs to test them on. The only weird thing is this fin that sticks out the back of the outsole. It’s like a little horizontal rudder that is supposed to add more stability, but I really can’t tell.

Right now the shoes seem like they’re pretty durable, but I have had friends who have worn through their uppers in 200-ish miles. Those were a few years ago, so I’m hoping that these newer models have a bit more durability going for them. If nothing else the outsole feels really solid, and seems like it will take a beating.

img_1384Because the 2.0’s are out now, I managed to score a decent closeout price on the 1.5’s. I’m curious to try the next version because apparently a LOT has changed on the shoe. I do always worry though when a shoe goes through significant revisions. I’ve had more than one occasion where the revision has completely ruined the shoe for me. With summer almost upon us, I’m hoping to spend some more time running on dirt, so I might need a second pair of trail shoes before too long.

Overall, I’m loving the Altra Timp 1.5’s. They are a solid trail shoe, that is incredibly comfortable. Having a nice wide toe-box is a huge perk, and I love how my toes can splay more than in normal shoes. You can probably still find some 1.5’s on clearance, so if you’re curious about a zero drop experience in a great shoe, I’d highly recommend giving the Timp’s a try.