My addition to the GMO debate

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to converse via Facebook with what can only be described as the “Pro-GMO” lobby – farmers and proponents of big agriculture.  What started with a Facebook post sharing a blog article led to an exchange between myself and the author, Gene Hall, the Public Relations Director of the Texas Farm Bureau.  I reference this exchange specifically because, unlike some others, the debate was intelligent and respectful.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case. 

Of course, as with any two-way discussion on Facebook there is a battle to have the last word.  Ultimately this is not a battle I feel compelled to carry on, and that is the reason for this writing.  I welcome any comments below, but these are my thoughts in a forum more suited for an issue with this level of complexity.

GMO, or genetically modified organisms, are simply not 100% anything.  If you take anything away from this, let it be a sense of cautious optimism mixed with prudent fear of the unknown.  Never trust someone who speaks in absolutes.  Much of this debate is filled with these absolutes: “GMO food is 100% safe!” “GMOs are 100% deadly!”  What foolishness.  Consider this, however:

DDT, a widely used chemical pesticide in the 40’s and 50’s, was proclaimed completely safe by its proponents.  In fact, the scientist who discovered its use as an insecticide was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.  It was not until 1972 that the US Government banned the use of DDT.  This was after 1.35 billion pounds of the toxic chemical was sprayed on US soil, the effects of which are still being realized today.  This is one of many examples that could fill volumes describing how greed and hubris led to a disastrous outcome.  Birth defects, cancer, diabetes, environmental impacts, the list goes on.

Please don’t confuse the above example as a direct correlation to my views on GM foods. The only statement that can be 100% truth is that the jury is out, and won’t be coming back any time in this generation.  There are studies that show both sides of the argument. 

It is worth pointing out that there are many many more studies that point to the safety of the science.  It’s also important to look at why that is, and to do so one must simply follow the money.  GMOs are big business – BIG!  Corn alone, which is 88% GMO is a $24.4 billion dollar industry in the US alone.  What farmer wouldn’t want to get the most output possible?  It’s easy to believe what is convenient and in alignment with your bottom line when your business depends on it.

These farmers are not bad people.  They are not billionaires sitting up in the big house doing high dives into pools of C-notes.  It is my belief that they are good people caught in a situation that they ultimately have little power to avoid, lest they be labeled a charlatan by their peers and persecuted as such.  Enter the villain in the anti-GMO movement – Monsanto.

Monsanto is synonymous with shadow governments, new world orders, and equally “out there” conspiracy theories.  They have even been called the most hated company in the world.  Let’s get that out of the way from the onset.  Monsanto is a publicly traded company, a $50+ Billion dollar behemoth that deals in scientifically advancing the agriculture industry, among other ventures.  One of these ventures is even a non-profit that exists solely to tout the wonders of GMO.  A non-profit funded by a for-profit to advertise how great the for-profit’s product is? Now that’s good business!

Unlike my characterization of farmers as good-hearted people doing what they feel is right, Monsanto is not good.  This is a company that is so against natural and time-tested methods of agriculture that it actually sues farmers who attempt to save seeds to plant the following year.  Why you ask?  Monsanto themselves tell us that it is purely about revenue.  Try making it through this page without cringing.  Does this sound like a company that has your best interest at heart?  Now think about the scientific studies it can fund along with the $2.6 million per day it spends on R&D.  This is about big business.  Follow the money.

In my exchange with pro-GMO folks, it is clear that they want to focus on the science that is available today.  That’s fine.  I’m not saying that we should label anything GMO with a skull and cross bones and tax it like cigarettes.  Nor do I think we should pull it from shelves.  However, don’t feed me claims of feeding a hungry world and point to studies funded illegitimate non-profit organizations that are funded by the industry itself.

US food labels today are required to list every ingredient contained therein along with each macronutrient to the gram per serving.  They breakdown fat into its various forms, separate fiber from other carbohydrates, and tell me how much sugar it has.  In 64 countries across the globe, food labels also tell the consumer if the product contains a genetically modified ingredient.  Unfortunately for the US consumer, however, $27 million dollars was spent in the first six months of 2014 alone in lobbying by pro-GMO groups to keep that snippet of information off the label.  That sure is a lot of genetically modified corn that could be fed to (now) genetically modified cows that are used to create genetically modified CHEDDAR!  Follow the money.

I’ll close with this:  Everyone has an opinion, a feeling, and a belief.  Make sure yours is based on thoughtful consideration of the evidence.  While Mr. Hall was extremely courteous in our exchange, there are voices on both side of this (or any) debate that lack his civility.  Let cooler heads prevail, lest we start sounding like this…

I work retail, and this is how I REALLY feel about opening on Thanksgiving Day.

So let’s get all of what you have likely read/seen in social media out of the way first and foremost.  In today’s culture (yes I’m guilty of it too), we far too often look online to find out what our opinion is before we stop and figure it out for ourselves.  This is, in part, the reason I have waited until mere hours before the day to post my thoughts.  Both the far right and the far left have come out to condemn retailers this year for their opening hours this year, taking away from that precious time we spend with family.  I’m talking from MSN to Fox, George Takei to the NRA.  Everyone and their dog have come out against retail for ruining the fabric of American family values. 

Allow me give you a little n=1 data on what retail has done, specifically for American families.  I have worked retail for the last 12 years.  In fact, it’s the only “real” job I’ve ever had.  It paid for my room and board when I went to school, paid for part of my school in tuition reimbursement, paid off the loans that covered the other part of my tuition, put me in a position to meet my future wife, moved me multiple times as new opportunities presented themselves, taught me how to lead and inspire people, how to truly serve people and the community, and…. well – I have to stop somewhere, although I could continue endlessly.

Beyond all of this, though, my job has taught me this:  Retail is a noble profession.  People need things.  And they need knowledge about those things so they can make informed decisions about what they purchase and how they can get the best out of those things.  People also live busy lives, and while many work 9 to 5’s and Monday through Friday’s – we in retail don’t.  This is part of serving our customers.  When our customers are on spring break, we staff up our stores, put our best folks on the floor, and get ready to serve.  When our customers enjoy a long weekend for labor day, we blow up balloons for appliances.  When our customers snap pictures of their graduates throwing caps in the air, we smile knowing that every click of a shutter is something in which we had a small part.

Now we turn to this, the starting line of the holiday season – Black Friday.  Now through December 24th we will serve more customers than at any other time of the year.  As we strategize around how to provide the best possible service for our customers – putting enthusiastic employees in front of them is high on the list.  The first step, of course, is finding out who wants to work on the day (double-time-and-a-half is a compelling financial benefit).  Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, more want to work than what we have need for.  That’s right – in general we are having more conversations disappointing employees that they CAN’T work on that precious day of turkey and family than we are having conversations disappointing employees that they HAVE TO work.  No social commentary, just statements of fact.

As I turn to our customers, and the conversations I have had with many of them, it has been very interesting.  Of course they have no context to what I have written up to this point in my post.  The average conversations goes something along the lines of:

Customer: “I’m so sorry that you have to work on Thanksgiving, it’s so terrible!”

Me: “It’s ok!  We are here when people want to shop, that’s what we do…”

Customer: “Yeah, I’ll be here.  What time should I get here to make sure I get X product?”

My personal opinion is that for every 100 people who are outraged in the opening time of major national retailers, 95 of them weren’t shopping Black Friday when we opened Friday morning at 8am.  Also, for every 1 that is outraged, 100 are lining up at your local big box store to score the hottest deals.  This is the real reason that Black Friday has crept back year after year until it is on Thursday for nearly every chain.  Retail is a noble profession, one that serves customers, and that includes allowing customers to shop when and where they want.  The fact is that you(the consumer) are the problem, and you aren’t going anywhere – except out and about, drunk on turkey and sides, into the line of a retailer.  But you know what?  I’m ok with that, and I hope you make your way into my line so I can serve you.  That’s what I do.

Now before you either start thinking that we all have giant red crosses on our front doors (no, this isn’t not-for-profit), or that I am just living in some utopia where we all hug and sing kumbayah all day, let me clarify.  We open our doors early to make money.  Lots of money.  As I said earlier, this is the starting line to the marathon of the holiday shopping season.  The term Black Friday, in fact, comes from the idea that retailers run in the red all year until the holiday season begins and we move into the “black” and become profitable for the year.  Let me make a short comment about this:

How has the recession been for you?  Listen to the news lately about the “painfully slow” recovery?  Have any idea about Fed tapering(or not), and why?  I find it near hilarious that so many Americans complain about the economy, yet expect that it is simply time combined with magic that is going to fix it.  No, my friend, it isn’t that at all.  You need to spend money!  Yes, you!  This is an historically short holiday shopping season, with Thanksgiving Day being closer to Christmas than it has been in many many years.  The results from America’s retailers this year is a key indicator of economic recovery.  This influences your 401k balance, your home value, the interest rate on your bank account, and more.  We need to win… you need us to win.

In closing, here is how I look at it:  Scheduling employees to work on Thanksgiving is an easy lightning rod for anyone to latch on to and seem like they are “fighting the good fight”.  The problem is that people want to WORK and people want to SHOP.  Retail is a noble profession that has provided me personally with more than I could have ever asked, and in return I am ready, willing, and able to serve customers on the day. 

I will put in over 40 hours from Turkey day through the weekend – I hope to see you there!

Monster Triathlon – 10/20/2013

It’s finally time for another race report.  Despite my lack of updating here on the site, I have been somewhat hard at work on the training plan I posted awhile back.  As much as I hate skipping ahead and ruining the end of the story in the first paragraph, let me go ahead and get it out of the way: PODIUM FINISH BABY, YEAH!!

Monster Tri Trophy



In the days leading up to the race there was a very close eye on the weather.  It is unseasonably cold in the mornings and with a cold front blowing in late last week there were some pretty hairy predictions that I wanted no part of.  My Dad and I were returning to the race where we started 2 years ago, and one that I knew very well as it shares the same course as a few others I have done.  We were literally checking the forecast every 10 minutes hoping and praying for even a single degree of abatement.  The race was scheduled for a 7:30am start time.  Forecast : 45 degrees at 7:00am, 48 degrees at 8:00am – anything for a delay.

We set our alarms for 5:00am and started with coffee, breakfast of choice, and last minute preparations.  By 6:00am wheels were up and we were en route.  Upon arrival I warmed up on the turbo trainer for a bit in the parking lot before we headed up and got body marked and entered transition to get setup.  Did I mention how difficult it was to say “30” when asked for my age (it’s marked on one calf so your age group can be identified by other competitors)?  Harder than I expected… youth is wasted on the young.  Feel free to read into as much irony as you can stomach there.

Transition setup was rushed.  A marshal was shouting “2 minutes!” at the same time the announced was shouting “5 minutes!”, and let me tell you – the marshal was much scarier sounding.  I decided to cope with the cold with arm warmers, fingered gloves, and socks.  I laid everything out perfectly, got my shoes clipped in and started fishing for the rubber band ball I keep in my bag for securing my shoes in an optimal position for jumping on the bike as I run out of the transition area.  At that point 1 minute was called out and I hadn’t yet gotten my swim gear ready.  In the process of switching my focus to getting my goggles and swim cap I completely forgot about the rubber bands and I ran out of transition before the cut-off and accompanying scolding from the race marshal.

Before I was even in the door of the natatorium I knew I had forgotten something.  “Oh well, just going to have to roll with it.”  The pool start was one that I have done enough to be extremely comfortable with.  I wore number 154, so I walked up in the line until there wasn’t a 2XX in sight and took a place in line to assess my surroundings.  There were a couple talkative and very friendly guys there who struck up conversation and we ended up chatting until it was time to go.  I’m sure that standing in line just a person or three behind the pool entrance in a sprint distance race is merely a glimmer of the nervous excitement that fills ironman competitors as they tread water with 2000 of their closest friends awaiting the roar of the canon that unleashes the fury of a mass start.  That said, however, it is a unique feeling that I highly recommend.

The swim went off without a hitch.  I swam faster than I did two years ago in this event, which is either impressive or sad since it was only my third time in the pool since September 2012.  4:25.7 for the 250 meter swim, which is 1:46/100m.  Anything but the fastest swim of the day, but I was good with it.

T1, or the first transition went well in terms of executing my strategy.  I stepped onto my towel and threw the section I had folded over onto the top of my feet and quickly grabbed a hand towel I had to dry off my arms so I could get arm warmers and gloves on.  Then, with my feet mostly try I was able to get my socks on with no problem, then sunglasses(completely fogged up), helmet, and off I go.  Since I couldn’t see a damn thing as I ran out of transition, I pulled off my glasses and shoved them down my tri top.  “I will figure these out in a minute once I’m going.”  Run past the mount line, hop on the bike being careful to get my feet on the TOP of my shoes since I didn’t have them rubber banded in place(success), and I was off!  2:56.7 spent in T1

All sounds great so far, right?  Right… I quickly find out that despite the fact  that I could have used 5 more minutes in transition, it was fine because Murphy himself came right in and finished the job…

Not 300 yards into the bike, and as I’m nearing the turn onto the County Road that makes up the majority of the bike course, I look down and see that my sole water bottle is hanging perilously half out of the cage that is zip tied to my aero bars.  “WTF” is my first thought as it takes a second to register what is even happening.  Immediately I see that 2 of the 4 zip ties that should be holding the bottle cage in place are absent.  I have to deal with this now.  I pull over and make a series of quick decisions.  1) “Don’t lose it, everything is fine.” 2) “Don’t lose your Garmin(mounted to the bottle cage).  Stick it in your tri top pocket and you’ll have to roll with no data.”  3) “There is no where to put this bottle now, shove it down the tri top and let’s get on with this!”  Keep in mind at this point I still don’t even have my feet in my shoes.  Since I had to come to a complete stop and I’m right at the turn onto a road that I need to be moving full speed on I decided to jump completely off my bike and put my right shoe all the way on a strap it.  I know I can get the other one on while I’m on the go, which proves to work out just fine.  I’m guessing this cost me 30 to 45 seconds of time.  In all of it, though, I’m proud of how I kept my head and never let myself lose focus.  It’s one thing to lose your cool and have to regain composure down the road, it’s another to just keep it through any adversity.  I’m happy with it.

It’s not as easy to get a bottle out of your top while you’re biking, and it’s even more not as easy to get it back in than with a bottle cage.  I had decent success on the first try, so I all was going well until about the 5-6 mile mark (2-3 miles from the half-way point/turnaround).  That’s when I pulled it out to take a drink and while stuffing it back down my tri top I didn’t realize that I pushed down the zipper.  The first time I got the pedals around the crank I hit the bottle with my knee and launched it out of my top.  I heard three things: the bottle hitting the ground, the bottle breaking and liquid splashing the pavement, and myself – “God-damnit!!”

Obviously this was a day that I was to be tested.  Again, I never lost my composure.  My immediate reaction was more of a subconscious response to something you never want to do – drop a water bottle off the bike.  It took me about 0.5 seconds to take a breath and realize that I would be completely fine finishing the 10 miles I had left.  Not to mention, I got the added benefit of a quick weight reduction.  I was flying!  Disasters included, I finished the 16 mile bike leg in 48:25.2 with an average speed of 19.8mph.

Coming into T2 I decided to play it as safe as possible.  I came to a complete stop, dismounted, and ran in my cycling shoes back to my transition area to swap into my running gear.  It may have cost me a couple of extra seconds, but I was done with mis-haps. The rest of the transition was uneventful and I got out in 1:30.0

The run really went well.  Despite cold, heavy, feet for the first quarter mile, I really found my stride and was able to power through.  I did walk a few steps through the aid station to make sure I could really drink water since I took in much less than planned on the bike, but that was the only change from my initial strategy.  I kept my heart rate in the low 160’s and finished strong with a time of 24:13.9 and 7:49/mi pace.  I have a lot of speed work to do to be really competitive, but my run training has paid off.  The track interval workouts are no joke.

All in all I finished with a time of 1:21:31.7 for the 250m swim/16mi bike/5k run sprint.

Of course I didn’t know what my time was until long after I finished, nor did I know where I placed.  The award ceremony started about 30 minutes after I finished and I was eager to get results.  It started with the costume contest (it’s a Halloween themed triathlon after all!)   A dude in a giant minion costume from Despicable Me won, it was pretty awesome.  There was also a family dressed up like The Flintstones and two girls dressed as Batman and Robin that took home awards.  Good fun.  Then came women’s divisions and finally the men…

My dad finished just at the end of the women’s age group awards, which was really cool.  I was standing right there and got to cheer him across the finish line and be there to congratulate him.  No better father-son activity than hanging out with a couple hundred fellow lycra-clad weirdos – HA!

The awards announcer finally got to my 30-34 age group and began calling names.  1st – not me, nor would I even expect it.  2nd – not me, which I also hadn’t put in my mind as possible.  Now I don’t guess that there was any greater length of time between 2nd and 3rd being called compared to any two other awards but it felt like an eternity.  I literally closed my eyes and held my hands together in front of my mouth.  I think I looked like a finalist on American Idol – you know when they close their eyes and you can literally see them repeating their own name over and over in their heads?  Finally she called out: “3rd Place Dan Smith!”

I erupted.  “YES!!!”  Arms in the air, I pushed through the crowd and claimed my trophy.  I had just done over an hour all out, but I don’t know that my heart rate was higher at any point in the day than right then.  I hugged my dad, immediately took a picture of the trophy and sent it home.

Wrapping up, this was the perfect “imperfect” race.  Better to preservere when everything goes wrong than to just finish when everything goes right.  I achieved my goal, and I’m damn proud of it.

Now back to work!  It’s a long road to winning these things…