kruegerian

Time to get organized

Category: Solar Cooking

Your Odds Are Better Here

I’m pasting here a column I wrote for the Southwest Journal in 2006, when many in Minneapolis were talking about “getting outta here” due to crime. My answer was, and is, “You’ll be just as unsafe from physical harm–or more so–if you move outside the central city of any metropolitan area.” And the stats back that up… Here you are:

[Southwest Journal, May 19, 2006]
All crime is local, part 3
By Luther Krueger

Your odds are better here

I moved to Minneapolis in 1980 to attend the University of Minnesota. One of the first news stories I caught on TV was about a student who went to the window to check out a disturbance happening outside. One of the parties acting up turned to the window, shot and killed the student.
Crime was the least of my concerns then. I faced a 20-credit quarter and the only crime I’d witnessed was that the interest on my student loans had jacked from 3 percent to 5 percent. I probably turned off the TV, headed to the book store, and vowed to not run to the window at the sound of others in some state of disputation, as that was apparently a risky thing to do.

Since 1992, however, crime has been the topic of the day, for nearly every day of my life. Earlier that winter, my youngest brother, Mark, was mugged a couple blocks from home. He nearly escaped without harm or loss, but lost his backpack and wallet when one of the three robbers used a two-by-four to club him on the back of the head. All three suspects were caught, and got some what-for in court. Mark survived, albeit a bit dazed and bruised.

Like some who experience violent crime close to home, I joined my neighborhood’s effort to prevent it. Among other efforts, Lyndale barnstormed to organize block clubs, worked with rental property owners and started a citizen patrol.

Five years later, the Star Tribune printed a lengthy article about the turnaround taking place in Lyndale – “A Neighborhood Lifts Its Fortunes” was the headline. Nine years after that, we just finished our 14th Annual Crime Prevention Walk-a-Thon in Lyndale, reaffirming our commitment to make the neighborhood safer.

Reported crime in Lyndale began to rise a couple years ago, but our network of volunteers has sprung back into nearly the level of action we took in the 1990s. We don’t expect crime will rise much further before it begins to drop again.

Yet during our 14-plus years of success against crime, there’s been one consistent problem. We have suburban friends who won’t visit us. I had an insurance agent who wouldn’t schedule an appointment in my home, insisting he only met clients in his home in a third-tier suburb. And in my job, I hear from people who don’t want to visit Downtown. Stated or left unsaid, the reason is the fear of crime.

When anyone says they are afraid to visit me or come Downtown because of crime, I try to bring them up to speed on the actual risk of being victimized, which is very low. For many, it provides relief to tell them that they’d be plenty safe so long as they didn’t get drunk, didn’t hang out with criminals and didn’t leave their anything out in the open in their cars.

But for many others, one homicide from a bullet intended for someone else, and all bets are off. I’ve always thought that such a reaction was irrational, but couldn’t tell them they’d be safer here than in their bedroom communities.
Now I can. The case can be made that I’m in greater danger of life and limb – especially of dying at the hands of a stranger – by driving to Apple Valley where I attend church, than by spending the rest of my week in “dangerous” Minneapolis.

The ‘random’ act of violence you need to be aware of

Now that the new Central Library is open Downtown, I recommend you check the periodical section and browse through Governing magazine for the year 2002. Check out Alan Ehrenhalt’s “Assessments” columns – they’re all good – and in time you’ll run across his essay, “The Deadly Dangers of Life.”

Ehrenhalt summarizes the research of the University of Virginia’s urban planning professor, William Lucy, co-author of the book, “Tomorrow’s Cities, Tomorrow’s Suburbs.” In what Ehrenhalt refers to as “an actuarial bombshell,” Lucy shows that if you move out, away from the so-called dangerous inner cities, in actuality you are increasing your risk, ironically and specifically, of being killed by a stranger. The further out you move, the more you increase that risk.

As Lucy points out, more fatal traffic accidents – almost exclusively with strangers – happen outside the central cities of metropolitan areas, per capita, than stranger homicides in the urban core. You’ve heard it before, and it’s true -most accidents happen within a few miles of home.
Many don’t equate traffic deaths with homicide because murder is an intentional, horrific assault. “It’s true,” Ehrenhalt says, “people don’t spend much time worrying about accident rates in prosperous suburbs, but then again, maybe they should. After all, as [Lucy] puts it, you’re dead either way.”

For another perspective, I checked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which ranks the causes of death in the United States. No matter where you live, you are far more likely to die from accidents of any kind – 108,000 plus died in 2004 (of which some 40,000 were vehicle accidents) than from homicide – fewer than 17,000. All murders, not just by strangers, according to the CDC “fell out of the top 15” causes of death in 2003. That’s 37 deaths per 100,000 population for accidents of all kinds compared with fewer than 3 per 100,000 for homicide by stranger.

At this point, it’s all too easy to descend into suburb-bashing: Who’s ready to call our local talk radio jocks and ask how we can help Ham Lake, Blaine, or Red Wing to fix the blunders of their mayors and police chiefs, who failed to clamp down on their far more serious problem of traffic deaths? If you made the choice to “move out” or stay out because it’s so dangerous here, you’d best prepare for the far more “random” act of violence experienced in a car accident than the usually deliberate act of homicide.

Such bashing may be cathartic – but would it be fair? After all, we’ve only looked at homicides vs. traffic deaths. Wouldn’t injuries suffered in aggravated robberies, stabbings and shootings, be more serious? And in just plain numbers, aren’t there more violent crimes in the central cities than there are nonfatal accidents in the suburbs?

Before doing more research, my answers were “probably not, and “I have my doubts.”

Most robberies don’t involve weapons, and the force used with weapons other than guns often doesn’t compare to the force of a car moving at half the speed of a bullet but with 10,000 times the mass. As cops are fond of saying when endorsing the use of bullet-proof vests, “Remember, it’s Mass Times Velocity Squared.” Most robberies happen within a few blocks of active business corners, and even robberies in residential areas afford the opportunity of knocking on doors to get help, and get it fast. But accidents in the suburbs are, ipso facto, farther away from hospitals and have more sparsely dispersed first responders.

What keeps me rooted in Lyndale is the fact that whatever the risk is, I know one can reduce it to the point wherein fear ceases to take over my life. As a community, we reduced crime simply by asking people to get involved. Traffic deaths can be reduced, too – in fact since about 1964, the number of deaths by traffic has stayed relatively constant after decades of population increases. Why? Probably due to one guy (Ralph Nader), his book “Unsafe At Any Speed” and a few dozen individuals who followed through in holding the automobile industry accountable for fixing their “designed-in-dangers.”

One can calculate that a million lives have been saved – saved from a seemingly random event – through some simple changes in our (drivers’) behavior (wearing seat belts), changes to the environment (better roads, traffic control), and making the product itself less dangerous (no sharp dials on the dashboard, a collapsing steering wheel, etc.)

Crime is no different. Traffic accidents aren’t any more random than crime, and anything that isn’t truly random can be controlled, reduced, well-nigh eliminated. Remember, it’s Mass Times Velocity Squared. Once your community reaches that critical mass of volunteers and the velocity of their involvement, there’s no problem that can’t be solved.


Luther Krueger lives in the Lyndale neighborhood and works for the Minneapolis Police Department as a crime prevention specialist in the 1st Precinct.

Living Off The Sun: Part 2, “The Question Man.”

We’re living in interesting times, with polarized politics in many countries. Here in the U.S. one polarized issue is global warming–happening or not? Here’s my take:

* We can kill a river, and the dead river kills a lake (Cayahuga, Erie). But we can’t kill the atmosphere?… not even make it a little “sick”?

* We can atomically contaminate hundreds of square miles of land, killing and mutating the life therein (Chernobyl), but throwing teragigs of carbon into the atmosphere will have no impact on weather, crops, sea levels?

* We can kill a sea (Aral) by diverting it’s life force and filling it with pollutants, but CO2 and other chemicals in the air–no difference whatsoever?

* We can create a “sea-fill” –the oceanic version of a landfill– accumulating in the Pacific Gyre, and gradually kill off just about every kind of living sea creature across the globe, but the garbage in our air won’t harm us that breathe it?

So, someone tell me what I’m missing. How can we contaminate and destroy bits and pieces of the earth, but expect no reckoning for moving carbon from underground and into the atmosphere? Long ago when news came mostly from the print media, you’d find the occasional column by “The Answer Man.” I don’t have answers, I tell my climate skeptic friends, but I have a lot of questions. Call me The Question Man.

And I’m not waiting for answers, I’m just doing what 1/8,000,000,000th of the world’s popluation can do to slow our collective asphyxiation. These past two days we’ve had near full-sun, after a gloomy fall and first few weeks of winter. And I’m cooking with the sun rather than with fossil fuels. I’m keeping most of the carbon I would otherwise use, in the earth where it belongs.

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I thought I was being clever when I titled these posts “Living Off The Sun,” but I must give credit and tribute to one who says it better. Not coincidentally, it came from the inventor of the SunFlash, Steve Baer. I stumbled upon this quote online. It was a biographical sketch of Baer, toward the end of a chapter called “Steve Baer, Beatnik Engineer” (browse for that title, you’ll be rewarded with a summary of his work with solar). Baer expressed his frustration with the Reagan Administration’s trashing of nascent renewable energy tax credits: “In 1975, in a book called ‘Sunspots,’ Baer announced that he would go his own way, “an old farmer, farming the sky, worrying about the weather.”

“Farming The Sky”–a more direct way of saying he’s “Living Off The Sun.” I have Sun Spots, and thought I read it cover to cover, but I’ll break it out again as I don’t recall that wonderful quote. Thank you Steve, for showing the many ways we can harvest sunshine.

Living Off The Sun

I’ve been fortunate to network with numerous designers, manufacturers and users of solar cookers for over a decade. Along with sunny hearts many also have green thumbs, and as we say, “Live off the land.”

Lance and Jennifer (http://morninghill.net/) were the target of my solar cooker collecting mania in the fall of 2018. I have accumulated 37 (!!) solar cookers since 2004, but I’d been fruitlessly searching for the Sunflash cooker, which originated with Zomeworks’ Steve Baer in Albuquerque, since I first read of its origins in “Heaven’s Flame.” Ultimately I returned to the world archives of google, to find the archives of the Solar Energy Association of Oregon and the testing of the Barker’s Sunflash, which was literally staked to their land and used regularly for cooking the fruits of their labor, “off the land.”

I wrote to Jennifer, asking if she knew anyone else who had a Sunflash cooker, as it was the last of my “missing in action” cookers I felt would complete my collection. Jennifer graciously offered to donate their Sunflash to the cause, and as soon as I could free up a week to travel to Oregon, I visited Lance and Jennifer at their wonderful Morning Hill Forest Farm in Canyon City in December. During and after a great dinner, made all of food from their garden, we talked about solar cookers past and present, the influence of Joseph Radabaugh’s “Heaven’s Flame,” and the broader topic of solar energy. A tour of their farm through fresh snow affirmed the life they’d chosen as best described in Home Power’s account in 2007 — https://www.homepower.com/articles/solar-electricity/project-profiles/postmodern-pv-pioneers

After three hours of fellowship, I loaded up the Sunflash and rode down the mountain roads and back toward the Minnesota prairie to bring it home. An hour outside of Canyon City, I noted that the clouds of the day had broken up, and unlike the night sky of my light-polluted home in Minneapolis, where maybe a dozen stars poke through the urban haze, I saw thousands of stars, and maybe it was just my imagination, but I think even the Milky Way swept across the horizon.

We all live off the land–most of us, through the labor of others. Thanks to my wife’s father’s labor, our 120 square feet of reconstituted backyard soil produces a daily salad through most of the summer, with the bonus of dried herbs in the fall and many grocery bags’ worth of vegetables. While we can’t come close to the commitment of the Barkers, we are inspired by their work and many other “post-modern pioneers,” and have lessened our dependence on fossil fuels and the carbon footprints of diesel-delivered greens to the degree that we can.

While I slowed down on the asphalt Oregon Trail to look at the night sky, I thought about those thousands of suns up there and it occurred to me that Morning Hill not only shows how we can live off the land, but also how we can “live off the sun.” Their solar panel array covers their power needs and then some, and with a battalion of solar ovens at their disposal, cooking food that couldn’t have grown without sunlight, their harnessing of the sun for all it’s power is complete.

For over a hundred years we’ve built a culture where we no longer cycle through the carbon we need and put it back into soil, food, and forests, but rather, we gorge ourselves on limited fossil fuels, only to belch it into the air where it really doesn’t belong, certainly not in the volume the atmosphere is bearing in this century. After nearly three years of generating our own electricity with solar panels, and fourteen years of cooking when we can in the “variety weather belt,” we are inching toward our own way of living off the sun.