A Great Religious Leader Spoke His Last Sermon on Sunday

No, I am not writing about the Pope, if this title caught your eye for that reason. The person I am saluting is a local church leader in North Carolina, Reverend Steve Shoemaker, a progressive Baptist minister. I did not attend his church and only met him in a group setting, but he was a community steward who looked out for those less fortunate and was inclusive in his ministry. He personified religion at its finest. Per The Charlotte Observer who reported on his last sermon, he was the kind of minister we should both applaud and follow.

However, his job eventually wore him down as he was counsel to many 24 x 7 without much down time to rejuvenate. He eventually self-medicated through alcohol to stave off some depressive impusles.So, through a very public process, he told his congregation he needed to go to a treatment facility and after he tried to return, bid his church adieu and retired. His compassionate leadership would become his eventual alabatross.

Shoemaker long advocated helping homeless families and individuals. He urged his congregation to be more than distant givers. He encouraged them to give of themselves to help people. And, they did. His church was renowned for its stewardship. Quoting Rabbi Judy Schindler who is of a similar ilk, “I admire the depth of Rev. Shoemaker’s scholarship and the strength of his moral leadership. He has been a courageous speaker for human rights for all and a fearless advocate for LGBT equality.”

On Rabbi Schindler’s second point, Shoemaker was all about inclusion. As the leader of a Baptist church, his church was not a member of the more exclusive Southern Baptist Convention. They were kicked out of that more conservative group for welcoming gays and lesbians and became members of the more progressive thinking American Baptist Association. Under his guidance, the church also formed partnerships with Jewish and Muslim houses of worship. So, he walked the talk. Per Schindler, “he was a solid partner in interfaith dialogue.”

A window into Shoemaker would be a choice of music he sang at his last sermon on Sunday. Ironically, I had just written a post about the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” from the musical “South Pacific.”  The point of the song is we are not born racist. We have to be carefully taught to become that way. He even coined a new verse which he sang:

“You’ve got to be taught to be afraid…of people with different DNA. And, people not born in the U.S .of A. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Many of the parishioners wore red this day to honor a saying he used to close his prayers. “God, take your hearts and set them on fire.” A church member was quoted as saying about Shoemaker. “Here it is OK to have questions. And, it’s OK to love everybody. You don’t get that everywhere.”  That is so true and is unfortunate. You should, but you do not get that kind of love and inclusion everywhere. Shoemaker will be missed. He loved many and loved them well. And, they loved him back and followed him where he led.

Former Senator Hagel Deserves a Chance

My friend Barney in www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com (his Views from the Hill) wrote a nice piece on the “Chuck Hagel Nominating Circus – updated 2/1713.” I was reading an article this morning by Donna Cassata of the Associated Press called “GOP vs. Hagel is personal, business.”  For those who try not to keep up with the circus called politics, Hagel is a former GOP senator from Nebraska who has been nominated for the Secretary of Defense, but his confirmation has been held up by GOP senators who want to make some sort of statement. While he should get approved in the near future, he did not serve his efforts well, when he had a less than stellar performance at his confirmation hearing. Yet, the AP article brought home a few points I would like to highlight which, to me, say he deserves a chance, not the opposite as touted by the Republicans.

Hagel served his country well in the military. That is known and appreciated, even by the GOP senators lined up against him. Yet, one of the criticisms is he does not appear to be hawkish enough. When people who have never fought criticize someone who has for not being “hawkish enough” then that should give you pause. But, let’s set that aside for now. Senator John McCain, a former veteran and POW, led the charge against his old friend, but now begrudgingly supports his candidacy. On Fox News, McCain said:

“There’s a lot of ill will toward Sen. Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said the surge (of US troops in Iraq) was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which is nonsense, and was anti-his-own-party-and-people.”

Others have said Hagel’s past opposition to unilateral penalties against Iran, comments about the influence of the “Jewish Lobby” in Washington, and support for reducing the nation’s nuclear arsenal give them concern about his support for Israel.

Let’s look at these comments to draw a better picture of Hagel and those advocating against him. First, his comments about President Bush jive with historians’ view of the former president. They have rated him the 39th worst president out of the 43 who have completed their terms. Plus, Bush’s own party has disowned him by not inviting him to join the 2008 GOP Convention (McCain’s nominating one, by the way) making the sitting president participate by video and not inviting him at all to Mitt Romney’s nominating convention in 2012. It seems like Sen. Hagel called it early.

Second, I am always tickled by Bush taking credit for the surge. You see, the surge is what his generals told him to do when we invaded Iraq in the first place, advice he ignored. General Shinseki, his lead commander, told him that we needed the extra troops to stabilize the region. After the advice was ignored, Shinseki resigned over this issue as he felt we were doing a disservice to our troops. So, when we had problems and later did the surge, people said what a great idea this was after it seemed to help matters. I don’t know the specifics around why Hagel said what he said, but since he was going against the party line, he must have had a good reason. Yet, people need to remember the whole history and not just part of it.

The comments about the Jewish Lobby was a poor choice of words, but I believe many in Washington believe this to be true. I think we should support Israel, but that does not make everything they do right. We can’t even get our government to do things right consistently, so why should we blindly support everything Israel does. On the related issue of unilateral support of penalties against Iran, I don’t think any issue can be treated as black and white. Economic sanctions punish the wrong people. The people trying to feed their families are the ones who suffer. So, not supporting any issue unilaterally, is not by itself a bad thing. It shows the person is thinking and trying to discern the right course of action. This is tough stuff and I don’t know if anyone knows 100% what the right course is.

The issue on nuclear arms reduction is interesting as well. I agree that since there are too many extremists in the world, being armed is important. Do we need as many? That is highly questionable. Recognizing that Nagasaki and Hiroshima saved American and Japanese lives that would have been lost in an invasion, we always have to remember that our country is the only one who has made a God-like decision to kill many people to save more. The fact a leader is questioning this issue and sensitized to what it means to use nuclear weapons, makes him a better leader not a worse one. My friend Hugh Curtler (www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com) has written an interesting piece around the use of drones, which is a similar issue on a smaller scale when civilians get killed.

The final issue may be the one that gets in the GOP senators’ craw. He broke ranks with his party and was critical of issues the party supported. Last time I checked, Hagel’s title was Senator of Nebraska, not Senator of the Republican Party. Like many, I am very tired of the “party jingoism” that is pervasive in politics. Like many, I want collaboration and willingness to consider ideas from all sources.

So, with all that said, I think former Senator Hagel deserves a chance to be the Secretary of Defense. And, if you want to question someone’s judgment, why not ask Senator McCain why on earth he would think Sarah Palin was a suitable running mate. If he won and passed away, then he would be putting our country in the hands of an adolescent driver without driver’s education. So, Senator McCain, give the man a break.

Stupid is as stupid does – a recent history of the NC state legislature

“We have to stop being the stupid party,” said Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. While Governor Jindal leads another state, he was speaking collectively about his Republican party. Ironically, he said that during a Republican retreat in North Carolina (NC), which has been home to some of most unwise legislation the past year. And, per Forrest Gump and echoing Governor Jindal’s comments, “stupid is as stupid does.”

Here are a few highlights, or lowlights, as the case may be.

  • Over an extended period ending in 1972, the state of NC neutered residents who were hospitalized and measured with low IQs. Many of these folks lived lengthy, wholesome lives. Yet, this neutering of humans was done without informed consent (many of the parents did not know what they were agreeing to). A bill to provide restitution to the living victims totalled $20 million and had the support of the Governor and Speaker of the House, yet the Senate Pro Tem would not let it go through. This is $20 million out of a $21 billion budget.
  • A study on rising sea levels was commissioned and completed. The legislature did not like the result and asked them to have it checked. The report said global warming would increase the sea levels on the NC coast by 39 inches (one meter) by 2100. This is very similar to the results found by studies in Virginia, Louisiana, and several other states. The legislature refused to accept the peer-reviewed report and would only accept one based on “backwards looking data” that said it would rise 8 inches. Stephen Colbert lampooned them on his show for holding back the tide with legal briefs.
  • A legislator now referred to as Billboard Bob got a bill passed into law to permit billboard companies to remove more trees without the need to ask local permission. This made way for the new electronic billboards. So, we reduced oxygen producing trees to use electricity to power a changing message billboard whose purpose is to get the attention of drivers of cars going 70 mph. On top of that most of the messages are about the next strip club. Nice move.
  • Since we are on the environment, a bill was passed to pave the way to study the merits of fracking in NC. This bill was vetoed by the Governor, but her veto was overturned by one vote, which was mis-entered and the change was denied by the Speaker (his favoring the restitution above was anomaly in a bad record of achievement). Now a bill has been passed through the Senate Commerce Committee to lift the moratorium on fracking and to incent the industry who would make a ton money without any incentives. To my knowledge there has been no such study and fracking is one of the worst things we could do to our air and water(see earlier posts on “The Perils of Fracking” and “Gasland – a View of the Real Fracking Story”).
  • It is already illegal to marry the same gender in this state. Yet, the legislature put Amendment One on the ballot to make sure we all knew this and it passed. Unfortunately, this legislation is on the wrong side of history which will eventually overturn this law with long overdue national recognition of equal rights to the LGBT citizens. This is an embarrassing moment for our state in my mind. Fortunately, we have a President who agrees with much of the nation that it is time for equal rights.
  • In a very Machiavellian move, the Speaker was very creative in getting a contentious budget passed after midnight. He sent everyone home, only to make an emergency come-back-to-the-hall plea after people had left town. Only those forewarned made it back and the budget passed. This was not a very classy move.
  • The year opened with a new Governor and, in addition to the aforementioned fracking bill that could be passed, the Governor signed a bill to severely cut unemployment benefits since over $2.5 billion was owed to the Federal government. This was owed because previous legislators caved into business and reduced unemployment funding when times were good, so we ran out of money. Something had to be done, but they gutted the program when people need it the most. So, people who are let go and cannot find a job will be limited from 26 weeks to 20 weeks and the benefit maximum was reduced significantly. This also is harmful to the economy as it flows directly into purchases. Something needed to be done, but this was over the top, in many people’s minds.
  • The final issue is to not accept the federal money to expand Medicaid to cover the 550,000 million uninsured in NC under the Affordable Care Act. George Mason University has done a non-partisan study that says taking the money and expanding Medicaid is good for the uninsured, the hospitals and economy. Seven Republican Governors now agree with this and have changed their minds. The Speaker and Senate Pro Tem want to defeat this expansion and have passed bills to do so. There is more to come on this, but I hate that people are pawns in a political game.

I am hopeful the Governor, who has a history of more moderate behavior, will change his mind and encourage the Medicaid expansion. Yet, I do not give too much credence to this legislative body and its leaders based on their public stances. If people do their homework with unbiased data and reach a conclusion, I can live with the outcome even if I do not agree with it. Yet, when it is based on industry fed and funded studies with committees populated by industry advocates, then I am more concerned about the veracity of lawmaking. Most of the above fit this category and the ones that don’t – the LGBT and restitution issues – are just short-sighted and inappropriate. Even Forrest Gump would have his concerns.

A Few Financial Tidbits from an Old Fart

Recognizing there are many places for financial advice, as an old fart, I thought I would offer some specific examples on ways to save money. Some of these are in reaction to various conversations I have had with my children, nieces and nephews, but regardless of age, it does not hurt to validate your thinking from time to time. Please take these for what they are worth, examples of lessons learned, pitfalls avoided and plans executed when I was prescient enough to listen to someone else beforehand.

  • Don’t have too many credit cards. I have one debit and two credit cards – you will pile up too much debt otherwise and expose yourself to identity theft with too many. Pay down your largest interest rate first and close it out. Don’t just cut up the card, cancel it as identity theft can still occur – trust me on this.
  • If you are working and have access to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, for God’s sake use it. If there is a match, find a way to contribute up to the maximum match percentage. You will retire from some place and the cash provides cushion if you are laid off (company’s do that and it has happened to people who are better at their jobs than you are). You are throwing money away otherwise.
  • Do not play the lottery. I repeat, do not play the lottery. You might as well throw the money out the window. Lotteries are a regressive tax – it means people who can least afford to pay taxes, contribute to the lottery. Use the money instead in the 401(k) or 403(b) plan.
  • Avoid payday lending. In the bible, usury is a sin. In Dante’s Inferno, there is a level of Hell for payday lenders of the day. These guys are a step away from legbreakers. You will go into a death spiral of debt if you succumb.
  • If can’t get a job, try volunteering for a charity group. The networking is good as people will see your energies on showcase in a good way. Plus, the psychic income is rich. By working, you will avoid depressive thoughts and can use your energy in a positive way. Some non-profits may be able to figure out a way to get you some income. Plus, you can see ways to tap services if needed.
  • If you have some money to invest – think dividend paying stocks with low P/E (price to earnings) ratios. Take the price per share of the stock and divide it by the earnings per share. If 20 or under, it may be worth the effort. These companies may also have Dividend or Customer Purchase plans you can access online. This means you buy the stock without a sales charge driectly from the company.
  • You do not need to own the newest gadget or thing. Companies do this to get you to buy something. I am not impressed by who owns what. Most people are not. If people are more impressed by your gadgets than you, then you may want to hang around a different crowd.
  • Be smart with your fast food purchases. Do not buy the drinks there as the margins are huge on liquid. Get out of your car and go inside. You are wasting a ton of gas waiting in line and it may be faster if the line outside is long. Read the calorie chart – the Affordable Care Act is requiring disclosure. This will help you be less of a train wreck later on. And, please do not supersize as you will become what you eat – supersized.
  • Better yet, eat more meals at home and yes, eat the leftovers. The savings are huge. I will never die of food poisoning in my own house, so I usually have to be quick with the leftovers before my wife tosses them.
  • Avoid eye level purchases in stores, especially if you are woman. Not to be sexist, but the highest margin items in a grocery store are at the eye level of a 5’5″ woman. Also avoid out-of-place stuff at the end of an aisle or by the cashier. The stuff by the cashier is lethal. While we are at it, do not go inside a convenience store when you pump gas unless it is to use the restroom. Their margins are huge inside on purchases.
  • Reduce water usage by not running water while you shave, brush your teeth, etc. Also, get a lower flush toilet or put a small enclosed container of rocks in the tank as this will reduce the water usage. Use the energy saver setting on dishwashers.
  • Shut off electrical devices overnight. This will save energy plus it will slow the deterioration of modems, routers, computers, etc. And, it will reduce a fire hazard.
  • Go generic on all prescriptions (some generics are the same pill). Use the store brand ibuprofen, decongestants, etc. as they work just as well. Not all pills are the same as one of my sons breaks out in a rash with one generic, but the brand is fine, so use trial and error.
  • Get a second and third opinion on surgeries or diagnosis. Especially, back surgeries. Sometime surgeries can do more harm than good. If you need one, make sure you get all the answers to your questions and have exhausted other options.
  • Walk to errands. Take a couple of shopping bags and walk to the store. You will be healthier, plus you will buy less because you cannot carry it all back.
  • Don’t drink so much. I don’t drink anymore, but have drunk enough for a lifetime before I quit almost six years ago. You would be amazed at how much you save, plus the better health pays dividends. My last straw was a friend who died at age 59 because of alcoholism. I can tell most people drink more than they tell people. So, find ways to cut it back. Trust me, I know.

That is all I have for now. I hope this was useful. I am sorry about the preaching on the last item, but that is a big-ticket savings item. I welcome other ideas as I want to learn how to save more as well. Please provide additional suggestions below.

I succeed because I’ve failed

A key lesson for all of us is we will fail at some point in our lives and we may fail more than once. The key to success is what do you do when you fail. I was struck by this quote from Michael Jordan’s whose basketball prowess and effort should be admired – “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots…I’ve lost almost 300 games…I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And, that is why I succeed.”

With all of his talent, Jordan worked harder than anyone to succeed. He also encouraged others to do the same, so he helped his teammates become better. People that know him say he was one of the more driven people they have ever met. Like many athletes, they are driven to avoid failure, to avoid losing. Jordan also worked at the less popular parts of the game – his defense. As my basketball coach said often, you can have an off night on offense, but you can never have an off night on defense. Defense wins games in almost any team sport.

In my senior year of high school, I was demoted from the first team to the second team. That hurt as there is pride involved with starting. So, I remembered my brother being a terrific sixth man. For those who do not follow basketball, the sixth man is usually the first person off the bench to spell the starters and gets about as much playing time as a starter. So, what did I do about it? I worked my fanny off in practice to be that one person the coach would call upon. I was a good defender, but I worked hard at being a better one covering our best big player in practice every day. I told myself I am going to prevent him from scoring in our team drills today. And, I would go do it.

Two things happened. We were better because he got better as I made him work harder for the ball. Bill Walton, one of the greatest college (and a great pro) players ever to play the game, used to say the best player he played against was his teammate, Swen Nater who made Walton better every day. Nater also became a pretty good pro player. The point to both Nater and my story is we both failed to start, but we did not let that bother us. We worked hard, got playing time and helped our teams win the best way we could. Although it is a different sport, I recall the great golfer Gary Player’s quote when answering a question about a “lucky shot.” Player said “I find the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

One of my sons did not do his best recently and he failed to achieve the success he wanted. He has since righted the ship and is doing what he is capable of doing, but when we were having a conversation about next steps, I told him a story from Coach K, the legendary Duke University coach. I shared with him when I had failed, but added this quote as it is pertinent. Early in Coach K’s tenure at Duke, their season ended with a drubbing from Virginia in the ACC tournament, something like 109-66. At the team party, a booster toasted “Here is to forgetting about this game.” Coach K quickly corrected him, “Here is to NEVER forgetting about this game.” I told my son never to forget this feeling as you need to do your best to avoid feeling this way in the future.

Failure is the best teacher. We should learn from it as it not fun. Life will knock you down, so dust yourself and get back up. But, remember why you got knocked down. The only thing you can control is you. So, make yourself better. There are two key lessons here. Winston Churchill is the greatest leader of the 20th century and the world owes him and his fellow Britains a great thank you for standing up against Hitler. His message was very clear – “Never, ever give up.” If he had, the US would be a very different place today. So, first and foremost, do not give up.

The other lesson is to learn from your mistakes. I have written a blog about my favorite business book – “Built to Last” – which looks at the common traits of highly successful companies. One of the traits is “good enough never is.” Many of these companies actually failed in their first efforts, but did not let that stop them. But, even when they had success, they never stopped improving. There is an old business change line that it is easier to change a company with a burning platform. It is harder to change one that has success. So, when you fail at something, learn from why you failed. Did you not study enough? Were you not prepared enough? But, also after you have success, do not forget to look for ways to improve. Do what it takes to not fail.

Let me close with one final piece of advice – don’t be afraid to fail. Jim Furyk, the great golfer with the unusual swing is noted to be as tough as nails as a competitor. One reason is he is not afraid to fail. He described a story as a very good basketball player on a good team. He wanted to take the last shot even when the other team knew he would. He told the coach the reason is he could handle the failure of missing better than his teammates. Jordan was like that as well.  So, don’t give up, learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to fail.

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PS – I have added a postscript to this as I want to reference a marvelous piece written this morning by Hugh Curtler at www.hughcurtler.wordpress.com on “Contrasting Heroes.” Please read the post and the wonderful comments. I admire Jordan and Tiger Woods greatly for their athletic achievements. They are very similar in talent, temperament and work ethic. Yet, they are also similar in another way as is pointed out in Hugh’s post and comments. Both have failed to use their notoriety to speak out for those who are disenfranchised in this world. I would love for them to remedy this failure and mirror their athletic achievements.

There are three people I mention in my comments to Hugh’s post who did not shirk their responsibilities. Jim Brown, the football great, and Bill Russell, the basketball great, both spoke out against racial inequity and abetted the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. But, a real hero is Harry Belafonte, the singer/ actor who used his notoriety to make a huge difference in the US, South Africa and around the world on helping those in need. There is an excellent documentary on HBO that shares the heroic life of Belafonte.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – Part II

Since my first post with this title received some nice feedback, I thought I would provide a sequel. Plus, I had pulled together some other stories which I did not use in Part I, so it was an easier post to write on a rainy, sleety Saturday morning than some of my other ideas. I will try to organize the stories into themes for ease of reference.

My Best Boyhood Friend

  • I was into sports growing up as was my best friend. We would often draw pictures in 6th grade of football or baseball players in the back of the class. He went on to be a sportswriter doing what he always did – talk sports. I accompanied him on a trip to cover our favorite college football team and he gave him a pad and pencil to pretend I was a sportswriter. He got serious and said you cannot root for our team, though, as it would be unprofessional. So, I quietly watched our team lead the whole game only to see the other team score late to tie it up. We were on the sidelines by this time and when the opponent scored, I saw my friend throw his pad and pencil ten feet into the air – “Be professional?” I asked him, to which he could only laugh.
  • My friend who knows a lot about many sports, knows nothing about guns for hunting. He was working in a sporting goods store and someone was holding a rifle and asked my friend why a gun was more expensive than another.  My friend explained why the gun he was holding was more than the one on display and made up reason after reason. The guy said that is interesting, but held up the gun and said “but, this is the cheaper one.”

Baseball is more art than science, or is it the other way around

  • My friend and I played on a very good high school baseball team that lost to the eventual state champion in the semi-finals. In a game earlier in the season, we were playing this very good team from an all boys private school that we loved to beat. Late in the game with runners on first and second and with less than two outs, any ball hit to the 3rd base side of the field on the ground should be tossed to the 3rd baseman as that would tend to be the easiest play. Our runner on second base would have to run on any ball hit on the ground. Well, that is the science part. When a ground ball was hit to the shortstop (close to 3rd base), our runner did something very unusual and wrong. He ran back to 2nd base. All the shortstop had to do was walk over to 3rd base and step on it and the runner would be out. Yet, our guy’s move so befuddled the shortstop, he threw to the 2nd basemen who was surprised by throw. The ball rolled into right field and we ended up winning the game when our the confusing runner scored.
  • On this same team, we played our archrival twice a year. While in the visiting dugout on their field, we noticed a scouting report written into the wood of the dugout such as “#19 cannot hit curve balls.” So, we tested it out and guess what – #19 cannot hit curve balls. Lesson to be learned, which we did afterwards, go to your own visiting dugout and see if there are any scouting reports written about your team.

Golf can be a contact sport

  • My friend Hugh noted in his blog how boring golf can be as a spectator sport. However, on this occasion, it was painful, but funny. I should note my golfing friend in the story was OK and he laughed about it later. I was across the fairway behind what I witnessed. My friend was standing ten feet behind and maybe two feet in front of another golfer swinging with a 3 wood. In what seemingly defied the laws of physics, the ball was so poorly struck, it went over the golfer’s left shoulder and hit my friend behind her in the face. He lurched forwards a few feet unexpectedly and shook it off. There were no broken bones, but he did have a round bruise on his cheek with golf ball dimpled imprint.
  • I had another friend who would sometimes do what we bad golfers do often, try to save a hole from the woods instead of taking our medicine and hitting the ball back into the fairway. In his best Phil Mickelson (who does this often to some success and some failure), my friend tried to hit a 3 wood next to a tree with a twelve-inch diameter with the ball on the wrong side of the tree. As we were watching, my friend unfortunately did not comprehend the momentum of the club and it wrapped around the tree and the clubhead hit him square in the face and knocked him to the ground. He was also alright, but it was like he was taking a boxer’s punch. The tree won in a TKO.
  • A good friend and I were playing as a twosome and got paired up with these two young guys. So, we had a friendly bet of $10 a piece. I am not a great golfer, but can be good on occasion. My friend is better and can be very good on occasion. Yet, we both started poorly and we got way down in our match. Our young friends asked us if we wanted to press and we said sure as they did not see much to contend with and were right up to that point. I started to play better first and helped us halve some holes and win a couple. Then on the back nine, the excellent golfer in my friend showed up and by the 16th hole, he actually got a good bounce off the cart path and drove the green. Our young opponents said, “sirs, we don’t have that much money.” So, after we won, we said “just buy us a beer and we will call it even.” It was the best beer I have ever tasted.

My golfing friend has a few stories

  • I think the best mother-in-law story I have ever heard is courtesy of my golfing friend above. I know his mother-in-law and she is very funny. On this occasion, while he and his wife were staying with her parents at the shore, mom walked in to their bedroom with him laying in bed watching TV with covers partially draped over him and one of his legs showing. You see my friend was naked. His wife is horrified in the bathroom as her mom sits on the side bed. As mom talks with him she pats his leg a couple of times and then in a sudden revelation figured out what was going on. She uttered an “oh my” and quickly backtracked out of the room.
  • Before Monday Night Football became less an event and just another game on TV, my friend and a couple of other neighbors would go to what was a forerunner to the sports bar. This game featured two very good rivals, both in their heyday, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. And, as you would expect, many people showed up in their team colors. Anytime you mix alcohol, sports and testosterone, something bad can happen. So, during a tight game one Cowboy fanatic in front of us started jawing with an Eagles fanatic behind our table. Bouncers did what they are paid to do and order was restored. Telling the story later, my friend said to our wives, “they were nose to nose” and put two fists knuckle to knuckle together to illustrate. I started teasing him saying “nose to nose? We were in the middle of them and they were twelve feet apart.” He laughed and said, “I know, but it is a better story this way.”

Directions are important

  • Before GPS, asking for directions was sometimes needed. Especially when you are driving a rental car in hilly California trying to find a company headquarters. Another friend was passenger and the car slowed to ask this guy on a bicycle where this headquarters was. The guy answered, but kept pedaling, so the car crawled along beside him as he spoke. Then, the bicycle ran off the road and a ledge out of sight. My friend and his associates got out of the car and rushed to the side and looked over the ledge fearing the worst. The guy was sprawled out on top of his bicycle on a ledge ten feet below and was still telling them how to get there using his hands. My friend said, “forget that, are you alright?” He said he was fine and they helped him back up and were instructed not to worry about it.
  • One of my mentors and colleagues drove off to a client meeting ninety miles away. So, we got back to work and about 75 minutes later, a nervous receptionist called and said the client my mentor was driving to see was here for the meeting. Oops. So, I entertained the client as we got in touch with my friend who backtracked to come back to the office. A lesson for us all – confirm the meeting including where it is. GPS will work, but the old saying in computer programming applies, GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

Plain spoken is best

  • My wife had a great-aunt who lived to the age of 99. She lived with my wife’s parents or, I should say, they lived with her as she was the oldest and it was her place. She had a twinkle in her eye and when she laughed her body shook. My mother-in-law and her sister was known to embellish a story. So, one day over Sunday dinner, my mother-in-law was going on and on about how good-looking this young man was from their young adult life. After listening for a few minutes, my mother-in-law looked to her sister for agreement and the great-aunt just said “To me, he was a poor pasture to lead your cows into.” We rolled onto the floor laughing.
  • When my wife was a little girl and got scared at night, she would crawl into bed with her great-aunt. She would constantly try to cuddle against her aunt’s back and after inching over time and again, her great-aunt fell out of bed. So, she just dusted herself off and climbed to the other side of the bed and went to sleep.
  • After tilling her fields with a mule and plow, the family finally got a tractor for my wife’s aunt. Yet, she would not take it out of first gear and had trouble changing gears. One day, my wife’s father came outside to see what a loud noise was. He saw the tractor banging into the barn, repelling and banging in again with my wife’s aunt on board. He ran to turn the tractor off and as he got closer, he heard the instructions you would give to a mule from her – “hee, haw, whoa dammit.” He said he about peed in his pants laughing as he shut it down.

I have used a couple of these stories in earlier posts, so please forgive the redundancy. I hope you enjoy them. And, if they trigger a story of yours, feel free to share or publish a similar post. It makes me smile to write these down for others. Happy trails to you…..until we meet again.

Here Comes the Sun Again

About a month ago, I used George Harrison’s song “Here Comes the Sun” to highlight the continued expansion of solar energy in the US. It was noted that California has passed 1 gigawatt of solar energy which is more than produced by many countries.Solar energy continues to become more affordable and is a job creator, as well. Also mentioned was the success of a Durham, NC company called Semprius which is a joint venture between the US Department of Defense, Siemens and Pratt Whitney Rocketdine. Semprius makes the state of the art photovoltaic panel in the world which converts 33.9% of the sun’s energy into electricity, a significant increase from the previous conversion rates of 24%. Instead of 1/4 conversion, it is now 1/3 about a 40% increase in productivity.

Yesterday, I saw two more highlights in my home state of NC.These observations are state specific, but I wanted to highlight what can be done when things are set in motion.Other states are having success as well, with California leading the way. In NC, a huge part of the success is a mandate for utilities to provide 12.5% of their energy from alternative sources by 2021, something that Duke Energy is taking seriously.  Duke just rolled out yet another 12.5 megawatt solar farm in eastern NC which can power 3,000 homes. The two additional highlights are unrelated to Duke Energy, but build on the success of Duke’s efforts in NC and the Charlotte metro area which has become an alternative energy hub in its headquarter city.

The first highlight involves an Italian company solar panel installation and photovoltaics developer setting up an US headquarters in Charlotte called Siser USA LLC. Siser will start small with ten employees, but they have a five-year track record in Europe and have developed 50 megawatts of solar energy in Italy, Germany, Spain and Eastern Europe. They picked Charlotte for its infrastructure and dedication to solar energy. An additional foreign-owned solar panel maker, Jetion Solar out of China helped recruit Siser to the Charlotte area. I should add that within 45 miles of Charlotte are several solar farms created Google and Apple for data centers they will be powering in Hickory, NC.

Further east, the second highlight is from Chapel Hill based Solar Strata, whom I have written about before. It plans to build a 100 megawatt solar farm in Duplin County breaking ground at the end of the year. This site will be able to power 11,500 homes. In 2012, Solar Strata announced a dozen solar farms under construction and this year they plan to announce another 25 more. By my count that is 37 solar farms which is pretty heady stuff. I noted in my last “Here Comes the Sun” post a month ago, solar energy projects need not be big and that is perhaps their elegance. They can be set up pretty much anywhere there is a large field and can supply power to nearby homes and data centers or plants. I passed by the Google site the other day on my way back from Asheville as it is noticeable from the road. One other irony is it is very near the famous Maiden minister who was severely criticized for wanting to put gays behind the electrified fence. I will let you write your own punch line to this.

As before, I mention all of these success stories for solar and wind energy as the stories need to get out. These are building energy sources, they are becoming much more affordable and scalable, they are creating jobs and they are continuing to be dismissed by the fossil fuel industry and the political party it funds. I worry about the GOP led NC state legislature who is talking about rolling back the 12.5% alternative energy requirement, who passed a fracking bill and wants to begin drilling with a stacked deck of fracking friendly oversight, and who dismissed a peer-reviewed rising sea level estimate that was similar to predictions made in Virginia, Louisiana and other coastal states and went with a looking backwards forecast that was 1/5 the estimated increase of the peer-reviewed report. Stephen Colbert rightfully lampooned the NC state legislature for their folly on holding back the tide with legal briefs. This was before Hurricane Sandy crushed New Jersey and New York due to coming ashore over higher sea levels.

Solar energy is a key part of the solution to our global warming crisis. Wind and other alternative energy sources play a key role as well. Plus, solar energy is much cleaner and will not pollute the environment with chemicals like many of the other solutions, fracking for natural gas and coal to name two. So, in my best George Harrison….here comes the sun doo-da-doo-dah, here comes the sun……and I say it’s alright……Let’s celebrate our many solar successes and spread the sunshine.