What are the greater threats to humans?

Watching the news these days can seem like an apocalypse is about to occur. Between ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups, EBOLA, the festering conflict in the Ukraine, the ever-present threat of North Korea, and various levels of corruption in far too many countries, it could seem the end is near. Yet, while all of the above are scary, the one that we should be most fearful of is the level of corruption, as it gets in the way of addressing the greater apocalyptic threats to humans. The greater threats to humans are: too many people with too few resources, chemically enhanced food products that are leaving us less able to fight off anti-bacterial resistant strains of bacteria, global poverty and health concerns and the impact of climate change on all of these issues.

I am not saying the first group of issues are not severe, especially EBOLA and those impacted by the terrorists groups, but the issues which would impact humans the most are in the second group, with corruption standing in the way of doing measurable things about problems that will be exacerbated by the overarching problem of climate change which impacts everything.

Population planners have answered the question how many people can the earth support with a carefully couched range. If the average human consumes like the average Rwandan, the earth can support over 15 billion people. If we consume like the average North American, the earth could support less than 3 billion people. We are currently between the two with roughly 7 billion of people. The two keys we must always keep in our mind are air and water. “Water is the new oil” as our dearest resource on the planet and it is showing its need to be nurtured more with the extreme droughts in California, Texas, Australia and other parts of the globe. Plus aquifers are not as robust in many areas as needed. Bad air quality is so harmful that we have only begun to scratch the surface on the impact of toxic air particulates that come from fracking, pesticides and other chemicals that are blown or escape into the air.

The chemicals we use to grow more and better foods to feed our growing population, not only are harmful due to the pesticides that need to be ever stronger (we are spraying Agent Orange on some crops), but there is a nastier and more deadly problem that we are seeing surface in hospitals. Chemically enhanced foods are hindering our ability to fight bacteria that gets in our system, sometimes from these same foods. The super-bacteria is increasingly resistant to current anti-bacterial medicines and more people are dying from formerly highly preventable infections. “PBS Frontline” did a documentary earlier this week on this issue and “60 Minutes” did a similar report in the past year.

EBOLA has exposed the global health and poverty concerns in West Africa which impede our ability to fight disease, any disease. EBOLA will be very hard to harness and may result in a million deaths before it is reined in, which is truly a catastrophe. But what happens if one of these anti-bacterial resistant strains gets into people? What it also shows that people in poverty do not have access to healthcare, clean water and sewage to process waste away from where they live. The inability to separate drinking water from sewage water is a key to reducing exposure to disease. Plus, there is a high correlation between family size and poverty, so it is incumbent upon us to distribute birth control materials and education resources.

However, each of these problems will be made worse by climate change on top of the problems climate change will cause by itself. Dr. Sandra Steingraber, biologist, ecologist and author (“Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah”), notes that we do not talk enough about the impact of climate change on the chemicals in the ground. She notes it is like a chemical crock pot, as the climate gets hotter, the chemicals will become even more detrimental. Author Steven Solomon notes in his book “Water: the Epic Struggle of Wealth, Power and Civilization,” that climate change will impact our water in a huge way through more severe droughts, fighting more forest fires, more unpredictable weather patterns (providing way too much precipitation in some places, with very little in others) and impacting crop irrigation on top of its other concerns.

Plus, those in poverty and without good healthcare tend to get impacted by natural events more than others, so climate change will be more harmful to those who can least afford it. I have written before about the Carteret Islanders whose island is being consumed by the ocean. It has already destroyed their ability to grow crops through the salt water encroachment. The islanders have had to travel to petition leaders of larger islands to move their people there. Ironically, these less educated people have more open dialogue about climate change than we do in our US Congress.

Yet, standing against doing more things to address these issues is corruption and influence, including in the US. We must address these issues now and not wait until they happen. The price tag to fix the impact of climate change or research new drugs, is far cheaper to do it now than after the impact. In the US, we have too many funders of politicians that have a financial stake in perpetuating their interests, which run afoul of planning ahead. It is far worse elsewhere with corrupt politicians keeping money meant for others. For example, Hosni Mubarak has over $80 billion in wealth, yet Egyptians were getting by on $2 a day. Brazil shined up nicely for the World Cup, but not much of the money fell to people in need. The Ukraine president was ousted last fall as he was corrupted by the Russian government, while others suffered in the country.

These are the bigger concerns that could endanger all humans. We need to do our best to address these issues now and plan accordingly than wait until it is too late or too costly.


Bull Durham – a baseball movie which is more about life

I was commenting last weekend on An Exacting Life’s blog about being superstitious  and was reminded of the movie “Bull Durham” starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.* While the movie, written and directed by Ron Shelton, is around the subject of minor league baseball, it is more about life and life’s wisdom that is imparted by the two wise seasoned characters – Costner’s Crash Davis and Sarandon’s Annie Savoy – to a budding baseball star who does not think deep thoughts, Robbins’ Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh. You need not be a baseball fan to enjoy this movie.

The movie has some of the best quotes this side of “Casablanca,” which I will share from memory, meaning I will likely be paraphrasing more than quoting. The one I shared about being superstitious is in the climactic scene (I must use this word cautiously as the movie has some scintillating scenes between Costner and Sarandon during the denouement), when Savoy enters Davis’ apartment without knocking to accuse him of telling LaLoosh to stay out of her bed, an idea she started, to channel LaLoosh’s energy into his pitching several weeks earlier. The team began a long winning streak thereafter.

Davis responded by saying he did not tell him that and said “You don’t mess with a streak as they don’t come along often.” He added “If you are winning because you think it is due to your not getting laid, then you are. And, you should know that.” Savoy realizes he is right and professes her desire for Davis, which had been smoldering all season. The irony of all ironies is while Savoy ends up with Davis, in real life, Sarandon falls in love with Robbins after meeting during the filming of the movie which led to a long marriage.

Some of my other favorite lines of the movie, include:

- Davis (who is the catcher) telling LaLoosh (the pitcher) on the mound to “Don’t try to strike out everyone. Strikeouts are fascist. Throw more ground balls, they are more democratic.”

- Savoy notes about LaLoosh “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”

- Davis, after being challenged to a bar fight by Laloosh, who did not know Davis was his new catcher, diffused the situation by tossing a baseball to the wild pitcher, saying hit me with this. The pitcher noted he would kill him if he hit him, to which Davis retorted, “From what I hear, you couldn’t hit water if you fell out of boat.”

- Davis telling LaLoosh after one of his pitches was hit for a long home run, “Man, that ball went so far it needed a stewardess.” This was after Davis told the batter what pitch was coming after LaLoosh kept shaking of the signal.

- Davis picking up LaLoosh’s shower flip-flops which had fungus growing on it. “If you get to the Show (the major leagues), people will think you are colorful (with the fungus). Until then, people will think you are a slob.”

- Savoy telling LaLoosh who needed to think less on the pitcher’s mound, “To breathe through your eyelids like the lava lizards.”

- Savoy telling LaLoosh to slow down when he rips off all his shirt the first time they are alone foregoing the romantic theater. She adds, “Put your shirt back on. I want to watch.”

The most memorable scene, though, occurs when he Davis responds to Savoy’s question when she tells the two ballplayers she will choose one of them to be in a monogamous relationship with during the season. Davis asked why does she get to make the choice and why not one of them? When he later add he does not believe in choice like that in “matters of the heart,” she asks him what do you believe in. Davis characters lays on a diatribe that tells her more than she ever wanted to know about what he believed in such as “I believe Christmas presents should be opened Christmas morning” and “I believe in slow wet kisses that last for three days.” After which she is obviously smitten with him saying, “Oh, my.”

I recognize these quotes don’t do the movie justice, as there are so many well crafted scenes and lines offered by a terrific cast. The dugout banter between the manager and pitching coach is priceless.  If you like the movie, tell me your favorite scenes. If you do not, I would love to hear your comments as to why. And, if you have not seen it, please do check it out.

* Here is a link her to her post: http://anexactinglife.com/2014/10/11/very-superstitious

A Non Sequitur calendar comic says it all about politics

My kids got me a Non Sequitur calendar pad last Christmas, where you peel away each date revealing a new comic scene. Today’s rendition may have been the funniest and most apropos one yet, given the approaching election.

Picture two older, heavy-set white men in suits reading newspapers while sitting in huge leatherback chairs which appear to be in a Members Only Club somewhere. One gentleman places the newspaper on his lap and says the following to the other:

“I think the two-party system is working just fine. Besides, buying a third one would be a bookkeeping nightmare.”

Two simple fracking questions

Much has been made of the recent Duke University study results on fracking in Pennsylvania and Texas which shows the cement casings around the fracking wells are the primary cause of the leaking of the chemically toxic fracking water into the ground water supply. Yet, fracking supporters have seized upon the phrasing that the fracking process itself is not causing the leakage, saying it is proof the process is safe.

Let me set aside the fact this study did not address the air pollution, the significant use of water, the earthquakes and environmental degradation. Let’s focus on the study findings. The fracking industry has said for a long time this process is safe, The Chairman of the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission (which is charged with setting the rules for fracking) even said that we stand a better chance of being hit by a meteor than for the wells to leak.

As noted by the Duke study, the wells do leak through the cement casings. Yet, the comment that the fracking process itself does not cause leakage being seized upon as documentation that leakage is not occurring is ludicrous. So, let me ask two simple questions, the second of which I have asked before.

First, if we are not currently fracking an area of land, there are no cement casings beneath the ground, as there is no fracking piping to encase. So, to say that the fracking process does not include the cement casings, which is a last line of defense for leakage escapes me. It would be akin to saying the oil gaskets in your car, designed to prevent leaking between joints, are not part of the lubrication process. So, the simple question is how can you not consider the cement casings part of the fracking process? No fracking, no cement casings, no leaking.

Second, in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, then Vice President Dick Cheney, who had been CEO of Halliburton, a company involved with fracking, inserted language that exempted fracking companies from the EPA requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Air Act. My simple question, which I have asked before and never received an answer from anyone, is if fracking is so safe, why would Mr. Cheney feel the need to insert that language?

If you have watched the two Gasland movies, a former fracking engineer made two important observations. He said 1 out of 20 cement casings around fracking piping “fail immediately.”  That means out of 10,000 wells in an area, 500 fail immediately. He also noted that statistic gets worse over time and does not factor in the new way that fracking is being done, which is both horizontally as well as vertically. He said the pressure on the joints is much greater than ever before, so more failures will occur.

So, I would encourage you to reread the above two simple questions and ask your political leaders to provide answers. Please hold them accountable. If you have not seen the Gasland movies, I would encourage you to watch them.

Sloppy reporting with surveys

It seems everyone and their brother has a survey. I am reminded of the Governor role in the movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” played so beautifully by Charles Durning, who stole the show. Durning’s Governor role would not do anything without seeing a survey poll. Today, seems to be no different, as our leaders want to rely on a less informed public to dictate policy decisions or at least pretend that we have an opinion by asking. Yet, all surveys are not equal nor are they reported well by a sloppy and, at times, conflicted news industry.

First, some surveys are biased from the outset. I have participated in these surveys where the questions are leading you to an answer by not giving reasonable choices. Or, a few surveys play mini-commercials at first before you answer the questions. I have seen surveys with altruistic purposes fall flat by leading questions, which is unfortunate, as unbiased  results would be impactful. I have seen surveys with more malevolent purposes guide you to the conclusion the survey sponsor wants to tout. Then, there are the informal surveys that are biased by who they are asking. The sad part is when these surveys get repeated by others, the surveys gain more validity than deserved as they were just an informal poll of online readers.

Second, playing off the reporting of bad survey information noted above, many news and online sources are lazy or sloppy with survey results. The survey source, timing, number of respondents, margin of error and types of questions are important. Also, a breakdown of the results by demographic group is critical. Here are two easy examples that affect a read on our President or his namesake piece of legislation.

Various surveys indicate that Obamacare still has a larger negative poll rating than positive. But, that does not tell the story. There are about 15% of respondents who tend to be more liberal who do not like Obamacare because it did not go far enough as they wanted national healthcare insurance. Contrary to a belief of far right conservatives, Obamacare is not national healthcare insurance. If you dig further, when the name the Affordable Care Act is used, the survey results get a little better as the nickname Obamacare has a more negative connotation. Yet, when you ask people whether they like provision by provision, with the exception of the mandate, the pieces of Obamacare poll positively.

The same could be said on Obama’s handling of ISIL. I saw this morning that 51% of Americans disapprove of his handling of ISIL with 40% in favor. This data needs to be unpacked more, as a number do not like his handling as they would rather us not go in at all, while others do not like as it as they want “boots on the ground” or at least not taking the question of “boots on the ground” off the table. So, what is the preferred approach per the survey?

I fully recognize we do not have a perfect President, but he has done more good things than given credit for. I do recognize what some do not, that he is moderate left and has been from the outset. This is one reason he does not poll very well, as he upsets apple carts on both ends. One of my more liberal friends refers to Obama as the best Republican president we have ever had, which is probably not how my friends on the right would describe him. Here in the North Carolina senate race, some people are having a hard time reconciling that Senator Kay Hagan was voted the most moderate senator, yet she voted with the president 96% of the time. Part of the reason is Obama is moderate left just like Hagan. Part of the reason is the GOP has moved further right than it was ten years ago, so even moderate right Republicans are called RINOs.

So, to understand what people say they want, we need to have the news agencies dig deeper with their reporting. Who said what, how, when and to whom? Otherwise, the assumption is the opinions come from one direction. And, if you believe that, then you might misunderstand (like many news and pseudo-news reporters do) what the real story is. For now, I will set aside the issue of surveying an under-informed public.

Don’t let your paradigm shift put your thinking back in the box

As a former consultant and client in a business setting, I get a kick out of the use of catch phrases that our bandied about within corporate walls to convey larger meaning. These expressions are over-used to the point of “Dilbert-like” status. Consider the following examples:

We need a “paradigm shift” or to “change our paradigm” – these tickle me as they allow the user to use a fancier word than model or template. It is an elegant way to say what you are doing is not working too well.

The most overused expression is we need to “think outside of the box” – this one conveys we have boxed in our thinking with our own processes, bureaucracy and cultures and don’t know what’s going on outside in the real world. I have also heard to “look beyond the nine dots” but to this day I do not know what that means and I am pretty sure the speaker does not either.

When all else fails, “let’s throw things against the wall and see what sticks”- this is a nice way to say, let’s just try some things and see what might work. It is also notes that no one has a clear cut idea of what to do.

Of course, change becomes easier when we have a “burning platform” – this phrase has great symbolism. When you are having some success, change is difficult, as some feel it is not needed. The burning platform means we better change as our ship is on fire.

The best business expressions, though, come from military service where their version of corporate headquarters is rife with opportunity. The most popular expression is SNAFU, which has actually made it to Miriam-Webster and Wikipedia. Even the most religious of people do not need help in spelling out the meaning of SNAFU. Trailing its more popular brethren, FUBAR has its own advocates. In the ranking of being screwed up, a FUBAR is worse than a SNAFU, with the exception a SNAFU is more normative. For the less familiar the BAR part is short for “beyond all recognition.”

Yet, my old friend Mike, who served in the Navy and was in the Control department of a company I used to work with, was my favorite with expressions. My favorite of his was “open the kimonos” meaning we should share information and not withhold any data. For the more worldly readers, the term is derived from how prostitutes would merchandise themselves to sailors on shore leave in an Asian port city.

He was also prone to describing how hard it was to change our bureaucratic organization saying it is like “turning a battleship in a harbor” which should not be tried due to its poor chance for success. He also had his own version of throw stuff against the wall, when he would say “we should just through the old bones and see what turns up.” This could refer to bones being dice or it might refer to a witch doctor or medicine man who would throw bones to read his own version of the tea leaves.

While these sayings range from being fun to the trite, they mask how hard it is to change and be forthcoming. If change were easy, more people would do so as circumstances present themselves. You need good information, but you don’t need every piece of information. The company Mike and I worked for wanted more information to decide something and often missed the market opportunity. Yet, the information should be a fair and honest assessment of the issue and potential resolution.

Also, the people closest to the customer or activity often have the better or good solutions, so their input should be solicited and considered. The only caveat to this is if someone’s job depends on the continuation of an old process. So, here is where some balance of outside thinking would be helpful, as the person may be reluctant to change.

Let me close with the phrases that convey trying things and keeping what works. Companies need to do this more than they do either in a pilot setting or small market or department. In the book “Built to Last” which is about extremely successful companies who dwarfed the success of their best competitors over time, a key tenet of these companies was trying stuff and keeping what works. In fact, a couple of the companies failed at their first product, but kept going.

So, it is more than OK to throw the old bones or throw stuff against a wall to see what sticks. But, at least be colorful with your expression when you do. Let me know some of your more memorable sayings overheard in your jobs.

Moral Monday protestors represent what’s best in America

In spring, 2013, a series of weekly protests began in North Carolina that continue until this day called “Moral Mondays.” The Moral Monday protestors came together to provide a voice to those who are being further disenfranchised by actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The protestors were at first discounted by some legislators as people not from North Carolina, but surveys of the protestors revealed they are almost entirely from our state. The protestors were also lampooned on a website which made fun of those who were arrested in Raleigh for violating trespassing rules and failing to disperse. That was extremely poor form by the website owner. As of this writing almost all of the 900 cases have been dismissed.

I have attended two Moral Monday protests as an Independent voter, one in Charlotte and one in Raleigh with my oldest son. What I witnessed were doctors, teachers, professors, ministers, rabbis, deacons, lawyers and people from all walks of life, races, and ethnic groups. What I witnessed is what’s best in America. I shared with my son how proud I was for the two of us to see democracy in action.

We should remind ourselves of why the Moral Monday protestors came to be, as many of the challenges they are protesting remain an uphill battle. Yet, we should also give kudos to the Moral Monday protestors who, in concert with teachers and parents across the state, helped convince the General Assembly to enact a long needed pay increase for teachers after harmful cuts were made in education funding. The General Assembly and Governor should be commended for acting and I am glad they made the effort, but we should also remember they were filling the hole they and previous Assembly’s dug over the years, so atta boys and girls should be somewhat tempered by that memory.

While the General Assembly has done some good things, actions have also been taken to infringe upon the rights of our common citizens, which have given our state some unfortunate national notoriety. This is why the Moral Monday protestors came into being. In addition to the cuts made in education and disenfranchisement of teachers which is causing flight to (and recruitment from) other states, the protestors are concerned over severe unemployment cuts that went further than needed. The protestors are concerned that a tax cut primarily benefitted those who made the most, while taking away things like the state Earned Income Tax credit for low-income earners. The protestors are concerned about not expanding Medicaid which would help several hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, help rural hospitals from closing and help our state economy.

The protestors are concerned with a voter suppressive law which is being touted in commercials, but is being challenged in court and will likely be ruled unconstitutional next year as was done in three other states – Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The stated purpose of the Voter ID law is to combat fraud, but voter fraud is immaterial and per retired General and Secretary of State Colin Powell, the real problem to solve is not enough people voting. It should be noted two other laws passed by the General Assembly have been ruled unconstitutional, so the Voter ID law overturn would not be the first one. Plus, yesterday the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals placed a temporary order to restrict two features of the Voter ID from being used this November.

And, the Moral Monday protestors are concerned with the changes that will harm our environment. These changes include, but are not limited to, making it easier to cut down trees to put up distracting electronic billboards, not accepting a peer-reviewed scientific report that echoes the 39 feet expected sea level rise by 2100 approved in other states like Virginia, hamstringing the Department of Environment and Natural Resource’s governance, and pushing forward a fracking agenda even though evidence continues to mount that fracking causes environmental problems. Coupled with the failure to fully understand how prevalent solar energy is in our state (and the number of jobs created as a result) reveals an unhealthy fossil fuel industry influence. When I attended a Raleigh Moral Monday protest in May, more environmental advocacy signs were apparent than the one I attended in Charlotte the previous summer.

I recognize some may still discount the veracity of the Moral Monday protestors’ arguments. However, in my view, these protestors should be commended for their efforts. At the very minimum, their voice needs to be heard. With teachers adding their voice and voting with their feet, change did occur this past summer. Now, we need more. Three things could be done in short order to help many in our state, plus doing more of something the Governor is advocating. First, either advocate the US Congress to increase the minimum wage or introduce one in NC that is larger than $7.25 per hour. A living wage in NC for one adult is $9.12 per hour. Second, expand Medicaid in our state before another hospital closes or more people go without needed, but unavailable treatment. It should not take another GOP Mayor walking to Washington to save a hospital and lives to get Medicaid expanded here. *

Third, let’s embrace solar energy as there are more solar jobs than coal jobs in our country and we have a huge start here, even before Duke Energy’s announcements the past two weeks. There is also more sun for energy and tourists than natural gas to frack, plus fracking and tourists do not mix and it does not mix too well with the residents either. And, wind energy can be further leveraged, especially offshore, where ocean acreage has been zoned for consideration.

Finally, we should provide kudos to Governor McCrory for pushing the community college training and redevelopment efforts that began with the Stimulus Act under the President. This is where we should be investing our time, dollars and energy as evidenced by Siemens, Snyders-Lance and others partnering with CPCC. Our state is blessed with one of the best community college systems in the country and we should leverage these assets more.

Thank you Moral Monday protestors. Please keep the faith. Your voice is needed. Your issues should be heard. Let’s hope more legislators are listening. And, thanks Governor for pushing the community college investment.


* Per the Associated Press on September 25, 2014, “The report from the Department of Health and Human Services said hospitals in states that have taken advantage of new Medicaid eligibility levels have seen uninsured admissions fall by about 30 percent. The report estimated that the cost of uncompensated hospital care will be $5.7 billion lower in 2014.”