TIL: The Winter Olympics are happening… right now… in Sochi, Krasnodar Krai, Russia.
Well, OK, I knew the next Olympics were in Sochi, and that they were going to be happening soon. Mostly because of the massive amount of whining the media was doing just because their hotels weren’t “completed, functioning, livable buildings.” Case in point:
So really, I just didn’t know the games actually kicked off today.
But I began wondering, after reading some of the stories about yellow water, no water, dangerous water, and non-water related vexations… could this be something more insidious. The Russians hate Americans, Americans like laughing at the Russians. And with a history or cold wars and spying between the two countries, why couldn’t this “unpreparedness” have another layer.
And then my suspicions were confirmed:
Cameras in the showers. Boom. They’re watching the American journalists. Bam. They’re messing with us.
A little bit of sleuthing, a mild level of hacking, and 15 minutes later, I found the following transcript between two Russian agents in a secret room, right within one of the hotels the American journalists are staying at.
***** begin transcript *****
Boris: And so I said to her, “I’ve got something right here I’ll Putin ya…”
Ivan: Good one, good joke *laughs* Oh, quiet, that reporter is back in her room. … She’s going to the sink. Quick! Switch it to kerosene.
Ivan: Good. Oh, look, she’s looking at the glass. *laugh* I hope she drinks it.
Boris: Shit, she’s reaching for the phone. Quick, hand it to me!
Boris (using poor done Hispanic, female voice): Hola, room service. … Hmm? Oh si, the water? Oh si, it is working now, yes. Is fine, um, but just don’t *stiffled chuckle* use it on your face. Goodbye. /phone clicks/
Ivan & Boris: *laughing loudly*
Ivan: Ooo, look, she’s taking a picture with her phone. I bet she’s going to tweet it. … Oh, da, she did, look, right here. Oh man, she called it “dangerous face water.”
Ivan & Boris: *laughing*
Boris: Stupid Americans and their tweetings.
Ivan: Da. Say, why did you pretend to be a hispanic woman on the phone.
Boris: Oh, it’s what they expect when calling room service.
Ivan: Stupid Americans.
Boris: Stupid Americans.
Ivan: Shh, quiet, that Journal of Wall Street guy is going to sleep. I’m going to go tell Boris to “accidentally” get booked in the same room and walk in on him sleeping.
Boris: But I’m Boris.
Ivan: Nyet, not you. Other Boris. Creepy Boris.
Boris: Ohhhh, da, nice. Dude is creepy. We need more than two first names for men in this country.
Ivan: Well, there is Vladimir.
Boris: WHAT? WHERE?!
Ivan: Nye nye, as a name. Other than Boris or Ivan, there’s Vladimir. Calm down, you’re paranoid with this whole spying thing.
Boris: Da, you’re right.
UNKNOWN THIRD VOICE ON INTERCOM: You two, shut up, get back to work.
Ivan & Boris: Uhuh, yes sir!
UNKNOWN THIRD VOICE ON INTERCOM: And Boris, your joke wasn’t funny.
***** end transcript *****
GiveMN, Give to the Max Day, #GtMD13, or whatever you want to call it. It’s a relatively new institution in MN to drive online giving before we all get wrapped up in the holiday season. Yet even with the rally and push behind the day (by last count, I’ve received around two dozen emails from various organizations, and it’s barely noon), as with any non-profit cause, it’s easy to feel like your donation isn’t much, you’re not sure which organization to give to, or that it’s just easier to brush it off without much thought.
Regardless of of how much you give or which organization you give to though, here’s 5 quick reasons why you definitely should give.
- The multiplier effect… Today of all days, many non-profits have found matching donors, which means your $10 donation becomes $20, $25 becomes $50, $50 becomes… well, you get the idea. And GiveMN does random $1,000 matches throughout the day, plus a couple $10,000 matches at the end of it all, which means, with a little luck, your $10 could become $20… and then $1,020 or more.
- You’re a leader… whether you like it or not. When you act and support a cause/organization you think is making the world a better place, there’s a ripple effect. Someone sees you, someone is impressed.
- Something of substance on social media… From GiveMN’s statistics, when you give and let others know, it’s on the order of another $18 donation. It’s similar to dropping some cash in a collection box, spurring the person next to you to do the same.
- It’s relatively small… $10 isn’t much, but often has a pretty big impact. If you need to, skip a couple coffees or pints or bag lunch it a few extra times or whatever small effort necessary. Charities just want your support today, not your kidney.*
- But it’s impact is large… Your donation matters. Money means nothing except for how we use it. Kids educated, animals rescued, meals served, etc. These orgs specialize in what they do and are able to stretch dollars amazingly far. A couple clicks online and you’ve done something profound today.
These are specific to GtMD13, but feel free to apply variations of these rules to whenever the next time you feel an itch to spend your money on a cause, on helping others.
P.S. Not sure where to start, here’s four orgs I’ve given to already. Consider them vetted and worth your consideration.
*though, if you’re feeling generous, I know a guy
I have about 57 ideas for blog posts following my recent trip to Namibia. But, while I over-think and procrastinate on those, I wanted to at least share this little bit of knowledge now.
This is a springbok:
It’s not as cute as a steenbok:
But it’s still pretty damn adorable:
It is also…
A delicious shot
Amarula cream liqueur on top of peppermint schnapps. As a bonus, this drink is free so long as you are a foreigner and say “What’s a springbok shot?” If you are a girl, it’s both free and bottomless*.
A delicious meal
So tender, a knife is optional.
A less than delicious rugby team
I still prefer the All Blacks or Wallabies (or other sports)
*Of course “it” refers to the shot in this case, but, you know, double entendre and all…
A love of over-analysis can be cruel since, if truly embraced, it never is complete. Analysis begets analysis begets analysis ad infinitum. So, building off a question from a friend, I realized there were two comparable metrics from my previous post on contrasting renting a car versus driving my own for an out of town work meeting:
- Dollars – greenbacks, bucks, USD, the most popular false idol
- Pollution – NOx, SOx, ppm, CO2, “carbon”… that stuff that is often produced by our actions that seriously messes with the planet (where we happen to live) and everything therein and thereon
The end result of my last post was that I had an added cost of $13, which I justified by valuing the more enjoyable 10 hour drive. However, there’s another aspect to consider. What if, perhaps, I spent that $13 to reduce the amount of pollution my trip caused. As I mention, the rental car got 42.5 mpg compared to the 27 mpg that my car would have achieved. Which means I burned 7.3 fewer gallons on the trip than I would have.
While there’s a mix of pollution from driving (methane, nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, etc.), let’s stick to the biggest component and the most publicly recongnized: carbon dioxide (CO2). A gallon of gas burned produces 8,887 g of CO2 (which is about 8.9 kg or 19.6 lbs). So my rental avoided 143 lbs of CO2. Which is on the order of what an adult human weighs, so you can go ahead and compare it to the last time you stepped on the scale. If you want a different visual, a standard basketball holds about 0.25 cubic feet of air and a pound of CO2 fills approximately 8.1 cubic feet*. So imagine, if you can, 4633 basketballs. That’s the volume of CO2 I avoided.
But quantities of CO2 is a hard thing to wrap your head around since from there you need to take into account it’s impact on global heat retention and try to grasp what damage all those basketballs would have done. But let’s not do that. Let’s stick with the 143 lbs avoided for $13 and how this compares to other things going on to offset or reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Another way to put it, how cost effective was it to spend $13 to avoid 143 lbs of CO2.
There’s a pretty famous (at least in certain circles) study, with subsequent updates/revisions, that prices out the cost of GHG reductions in dollars for various methods. Some seem pretty esoteric, like “reduced slash and burn agriculture conversion,” while others are very straightforward, such as “lighting – switch incandescent to LED (residential).” In any case, here’s the results in one chart:
Euros per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (€ per tCO2e)… totally helpful. This is what we get for letting Europe get ahead of us on dealing with the issue of anthropogenic (or human caused) climate change. Well, $13 is approximately €9.8 and 143 lbs is about 0.065 tonnes. Which puts me at about €150 per tCO2. Sooooooooo, kinda of pricey.
As a carbon offset cost, it looks like again I’m not truly justified in the rental car. But my conscience is a bit cleaner. Also, I’m talking about thirteen bucks here. I should probably just call this reasonable and move on.
My job takes me to exotic locales and far off destinations, giving me the chance to leave behind the tedium of the Twin Cities for something like Madison, WI. Naturally, I always look forward to the hours of driving accompanying these adventures, especially when said adventure is a day long meeting. In this case, my itinerary was:
- Monday – drive there, have dinner meeting
- Tuesday – have day long meeting, drive back
Unfortunately the logistics didn’t allow a bus or carpool to be feasible (which always bums me out a bit). Typically, I’d just use my own car without a second thought, but when the organizer suggested I rent one, it seemed as good an opportunity as any to over-think something. And it’s one of those comparisons that I knew wouldn’t likely show any massive difference, but I was still curious to figure out. Plus I have precedent for doing this sort of thing.* I mean, sure, using my car is easier, probably cheaper, and it’s been customized to my use over the years. On the other hand, renting a car is swankier (in the “not driving a pile of crap” sense), likely more fuel efficient, and saves wear and tear on my car. I went with renting for reasons to be explained below (post-spoiler spoiler alert), but the Focus was nearly the exact same color as my Camry.** Which pretty much meant they had to be compared. So let the battle begin!
For this comparison, we’re going to try and stick to everyone’s favorite metric: dollars. This makes the primary question; will I save enough in gas to offset the cost of the rental. The round trip runs about 540 miles. The EPA says my ’97 Toyota Camry XLE should get mileage of 17/24/19 mpg (those number being city/highway/combined mpg). I’ve driven to Madison with my car in the past… I actually get about 27 mpg. Gas was running about $3.70 at the time of this trip. So 540 miles at 27 mpg costing $3.70 per gallon gives me a fuel cost of $74.
The EPA says the ’13 Ford focus should get 27/38/31 mpg. I got 42.5.
Same calculation with this, significantly better fuel economy, means the rental car’s fuel costs are $47. Also, sidenote, 500+ miles on a 12 gallon gas tank… WHAT?!***
So the rental saved me $27 in fuel cost. Big whoop you might say, and reasonably so when you factor in the final rental cost of $45/day for two days. The $90 rental minus $27 saved on fuel means I foolishly spent $63.
A year ago I managed to get my annual miles driven with my car down to 7500. Aside from this being on the order of 4000 less than the average American (thank you city living, public transit, and the Twin Cities bring bike friendliness), it also means my insurance company let me get into their low mileage program, which shaves $50 off my payment every 6 months. It just so happens that 2013 has been a rather crummy spring, and I’ve been driving a bit more and biking a bit less than typical. So I was getting dangerously close to going over my 3750 miles for the current 6 month period. Avoiding these 540 miles was key to keep me below that. Which means I should credit some, if not all, of that $50 to this rental.
$90 minus $27 in fuel savings minus $50 in insurance savings puts me at $13 for the net cost of the rental. This worked for me since the ride is smoother, the sound system is better, and I finally got to mess around with my phone using the Focus’s bluetooth capabilities. Reduced agony**** during almost 10 hours of driving… worth $13.
Plus, when it all comes down to it, reimbursement for this meeting was done based on mileage at the Federal reimbursement rate, currently at $0.565 per mile. So anything less than $305 was a win.
Overall, gas savings alone clearly wasn’t going to make renting a car the smart choice in this case, and my savings for another reason really made the difference. Of course, something as simple as if I actually got the EPA estimated 19 combined mpg for my car would alone boost the fuel savings up to almost $60. So poor fuel economy plus slightly higher gas prices or a slightly lower daily rate on the Focus could easily make a rental the smart choice, without the need for ancillary savings.
And that, kids, is your lesson for today.
** Except, fittingly, a more lively shade of maroon/red
*** Side-side-note, in all honestly, it’s probably a little sad that I’m impressed by this when 40+ mpg should really at least be the norm these days. Our cars were supposed to fly by now. Or at least hover.
**** Though the seats in the Focus are either made for someone skinnier than me or someone fatter… or maybe someone shorter*****? I just can’t tell, but I did not like them.
***** I’m 6’2″.******
Just so we’re on the same page here (and recognizing the limitations of the written word, especially in blog form), I wanted to clarify that the points made in my recent post, 5 Reasons To Not Be Overjoyed that MN Legalized Gay Marriage, have counter points. Oh man do they have counter points. But with all the unleashed fervor with the bill’s passage into law, I was at least trying to put into words what was keeping me from slathering on the rainbow body paint and streaking through downtown St Paul.
But thanks to my friends’ response on facebook (some responding with said fervor I was lacking), it’s worth pointing out the equally measured responses to the points I made and why these were really no reason to not be happy.
- It’s common sense, except…
- A lot of things seem like common sense but not wholly embraced by the weird system we have constructed and labeled “civilization”. If anything, the law’s passage is an indicator that things are going the right way, in my opinion. It suggests the things I value have and are being broadly agreed upon and supported, and thus have reached a point where we need to codify them. And this is arguably better than the inverse of having a law established to which society and values run counter.
- It needed to be “legalized”, except…
- While the connotation of the word “legalize” is a bit peculiar these days, there’s a fundamental reason gay marriage needs to be; the government can’t do anything unless explicitly authorized to do so by it’s laws. So even if it was just a matter of lack of foresight, a law needed to be passed for this.
- Potential, pending conservative backlash, except…
- I like saving and preserving things, but in doing so, those things tend to lose their meaning. Such with political capital. Why work hard toward a message of equality if you’re not going to hunker down and seriously push for it as some point? As my friend pointed out, this issue is relevant and now is as good a time as any to spend some of that capital. And while the next election is a midterm, which tends to shift conservative in MN, a significant portion of the campaign by those in favor of the law was to show the nonpartisan nature of their base. Which means that perhaps it’s cynical to think this new standard of acceptance isn’t embraced by conservatives.
- This law doesn’t mean anything, except…
- This is the real world. A friend of mine was readily able to point out that there are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections on the basis of marital status in federal law (clearly there’s a reason we’re friends). So once you get beyond the somewhat naive “the opinion of others doesn’t matter” position, then it readily becomes clear that it does mean a lot to the couples it empowers.
- Something about God, except…
- This one was really just silly. As a friend pointed out, a fair part of legalizing same sex marriage is “a victory for decency over theocracy”. It’s really just nice to see segments of religion not being able to overcome the separation that’s intended between church and state.
Ultimately, to what I deem as silly for having taken this long, others are naturally just breathing a sigh of relief and celebrating.
Today, on May 14th, Minnesota is about to become the 12th US state to legalize gay marriage. That’s a pretty big deal and, I think, a win and point of pride for my state. But I’m seeing countless pictures of those smiling, hugging, on the verge of tears and find myself less celebratory.
First, let me preface this reemphasizing that I am happy MN made this step forward. It’s just that, if I was smart*, I’d start a firm specializing in measured responses, devil’s advocating, and general “wet blanket”-ing services. I do this sort of thing with the consistency of high-precision manufacturing facilities and celestial body movement. I do it, and I do it well.
So, here, for your consideration, are reasons that might give you pause. Why should you not be overjoyed by today’s bill being signed into law?
- It’s common sense
- There’s a law in Colorado that says it’s illegal to fire a catapult at a building (or person for that matter)*. To this we say, “Duh”. If there was a movement, a campaign, and a rally to get those words on the books, we have some serious, serious problems in this country. Allowing two people that love each other and want to commit to each other to be recognized by the state – a non-religious, public entity designed to enable our innate freedoms and promote our welfare – causes me to give the exact same response.
- It needed to be “legalized”
- Because this is, more or less, similar to the situation where a stoner that wants easier access to pot. (/sarcasm) Drawing from my sentiment in #1, the connotation that this needed to be “legalized” is kind of depressing.
- Potential, pending conservative backlash
- We all loved the Tea Party right? Or maybe I meant to say “love”… they’re still around I suppose. Regardless, they’re an example of the backlash effect. I’m honestly a bit worried. There’s a handful of other middling policy reforms going on (I’m most closely following energy policy, and the results of this legislative session are probably going to be “meh” at best). We need progressive, forward thinking legislators and leaders in place if we’re going to continue making incremental improvements in areas like energy, education, housing, farming, transportation, etc. We have representatives who voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage from districts that voted 60% in favor of the amendment to ban it in 2012. Those in favor of today’s law are more metro vs rural, more young vs old. Both of these suggest it’ll be less of a political hot button issue going forward. But this will rally those against the law, and they’ll lash out indiscriminately where they can. And a resulting backlash against progressive stances in the coming elections could mean our step forward today will be followed by backpedaling in the future.
- [Edit] Additionally, and equally concerning, is that if this issue was the key driver getting progressive minded folks out to vote, MN could swing more conservative in future elections if the recent, liberal voting base simply becomes complacent.
- This law doesn’t mean anything
- At least to me. I’ve been to a wedding between two men already, in Minnesota. It wasn’t any less real, any less significant because a piece of paper was lacking. It was kind of annoying and at least a bit demeaning to them and their loved ones. But to me, to our friends, to their family, to pretty much whomever really matters; they are already married.
- Something about God
- We covet things left and right (money, possessions, or whatever the Jones’ have), pillage the planet, sleep around, and use His name in vain all. the. time. Now we’ve gone and enabled something which the bible is against… kind of… at least in a few spots when it’s not promoting love, compassion, and effectively being it’s own counterpoint. I’m honestly grasping a bit for this one.
So, in case you slept too well last night, the nice day is a bit too sunny, or you’re too looking forward to celebrating tonight and this weekend… I just want to say, you’re welcome.
Of course, there are counterpoints to these…
*In defense of my being smart, this post is definitely easier to write than what would undoubtedly be a much longer list of reasons to be overjoyed.
**Aspen municipal code Sec. 15.04.210