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.

Be careful of your leadership examples

While in attendance at a college event for our son, my wife and I waited in line with other parents and friends before we entered the performance hall. On the walls were pictures of the various graduation speakers at the school. We overheard several people comment on Lance Armstrong as a speaker in 2011 and some wondered aloud if they should take the picture down. Then I started looking at some of the other speakers – Karl Rove in 2010, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 2008 and President George W. Bush in 2002. I put the years up as I believe the timing is important.

By the time Armstrong spoke, there was evidence that he had misled the public, which he admitted to last month. To be honest, I have always felt he was taking something to improve his performance, as what he accomplished, especially after surviving cancer, was hard to believe. Yet, by the time he spoke to the graduates, there should have been enough question about his veracity to determine whether he was a suitable speaker candidate. Clearly, after his confession last month, these young adults can further discount whatever they remembered from his speech.

The same goes for Karl Rove as a speaker, which occurred in 2010. This is before his public meltdown on Fox News the night of the election, when he would not concede the obvious, that he had wasted hundreds of millions of dollars of key donors who had paid for a GOP win. Yet, at the time of his speech, what did we know about Karl Rove? He is, first and foremost, a master spin doctor and I do not say that as a compliment. He is very good at perfuming pigs in elections. But, that is not enough to discount him as a speaker by itself. Where I have major concerns are two-fold.

First, he was significantly involved with the George W. Bush white house to create a story of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that led us into war. Second, it was confirmed after Lewis “Scooter” Libby was sent to jail for 30 months and fined $250,000 for leaking the name of Valerie Plame, a CIA agent, to the press, that Rove also leaked the name to Robert Novak, the reporter who broke the story. The whole purpose of the leak was to discredit the name of Plame’s husband and former ambassador Joseph Wilson who had evidence that contradicted a major claim in the WMD assertion. This was in 2006, four years before he was invited to speak at the graduation. Libby went to jail, but Rove did not due to his connections and Libby’s taking the fall earlier.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke in 2008. To me this was an interesting choice. He has been reasonably quiet on the bench, yet his senate confirmation hearing brought significant theater around his alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill, a colleague. I found it interesting that two corroborating witnesses, Angela Wright and Rose Jourdain, were not permitted to speak at the hearing. Thomas was confirmed, in part, because he cleverly used the term “high-tech lynching” to imply race was a motivating factor. But, Hill is African-American. I also found it amusing when it was reported that Thomas’ wife left a voicemail message on Hill’s answering machine a couple of years ago saying Hill should apologize for her role in trying to discredit her husband years before. Hill’s reaction was why should I apologize? Now, I am not saying he did or did not harass Hill, but if the students had googled Thomas, this story would pop up which would lead them to question his selection as a speaker.

President Bush spoke in 2002, so it was quite a coup to get a sitting President to speak. We would not find out until later that his presidency would not be one that is held up as one of the best presidencies. A study by presidential scholars I once saw referenced rated him closer to the bottom of the list. The fact he was not invited to either of the last two GOP conventions gives you evidence of what his own party thinks of his efforts. However, unlike the three above, who had questionable qualifications when they spoke, the President was a very reasonable choice at the time. He would only prove disappointing at a later date.

The college has had many great  leaders speak at graduation and they should be given due credit. Of the ones I note above, the person that gives me the most pause (at the time he spoke) is Rove. I personally find him representative of what is wrong with politics. His track record is not enviable in my mind as a leader, so I would not think of him as someone who should be an example to our young adults. His main talent is to obfuscate the facts and sell you a story. That is not true leadership. That is Machiavellian.

I know the graduating students probably do not remember much about the speakers unless they are really famous. They probably remember little, if anything, of what they say. Yet, as a parent, I do think it is important to vet the speakers to make sure they are as good as advertised. They are supposed to be examples of leadership or someone who had done something extraordinary through effort. So, two years from now, if one of the grads remembers when asked that Karl Rove was the speaker, the asker will likely note, “Wasn’t he the guy that had the melt down on TV on election night?” The response should be “Yes, but he was much worse than that.” And, that is a shame.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Piety does not trump criminality

My wife and I watched last night one of the most disturbing film documentaries we have ever seen, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” Alex Gibney directed the documentary which talks with many witnesses in many countries about how priests routinely molested young boys for years with impunity. That is disturbing in its own right. Yet, the evidence is very compelling that the actions of these priests have been known for years at the highest levels in the Vatican, and efforts to take action were actually thwarted from Rome.

It is now available on-demand through HBO and I encourage each of you to watch Mea Maxima Culpa (which means through my very great fault). If you are raised a Catholic like my wife, the documentary will both break your heart and trust as well as making you furious that pious people would let this happen and then cover it up. If you are a parent, this documentary will break your heart even more. You see, in addition to raping hearing children, the priests preyed on deaf children who could not easily communicate with others what was wrong.

This is how the story of the molestations broke, as deaf boys, who attended St. John’s School of the Deaf in Milwaukee, had been molested for years by a priest named Father Lawrence Murphy. As adults, when no one would heed their pleas including the police, other priests, bishops, archbishops and even a Cardinal, they began putting wanted posters on car windshields with the Father’s picture and name on them. This was in 1972. People used to believe this was isolated to America, but Ireland had a huge scandal over priest molestation and the church handled it so poorly, the Irish government in a very Catholic country had to call the church on the carpet for tolerating pedophiles. Even in the shadows of the Vatican, a deaf school in Italy had the same issues as St. John’s in Milwaukee. And, stories of molestation have been and are being reported in many other countries and in the US, such as what is transpiring on Los Angeles and over time in Boston, where a significant sum of money was used to settle cases.

Yet, what the documentary reveals as even more troubling, is the Vatican has known about pedophile priests for years with some evidence going back to Spain in the year 400. And, to make it even worse, the current Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had all pedophile cases reporting into him. So, for some time, Ratzinger has had full awareness of the priests who were molesting children and led in the cover-up and attempted rehabilitation of the priests. You see, the problem was so significant, the church had a program to try to rehabilitate priests who were molesting children. Yet, the leader of the program wrote that it was his belief you cannot change pedophiles from preying on children and they need to be removed from their duties. His opinion was overruled by higher-ups in the Vatican and the rehabilitated priests were sent back to their parishes or to other parishes to molest again.

What also was revealed in the investigative stories is a contradiction that the US Archbishops did nothing. While they could have done much, much more and deserve a lot of blame, some begged Rome to let them take action and did so in writing. Yet, the Vatican would not let them do so out of good faith to a fellow priest. The troubling part to many of the reporters who were interviewed, some of whom follow the Vatican closely, was how certain church leaders focused more on the priests and saving the image of the church rather than the kids. The Archbishop in Ireland was caught on camera saying he is very busy in response to why he has not gone to see the victims and their families.

The Catholic Church has done an amazing amount of good for many in the world. We should not lose sight of that. The people who make up the church have donated time, energy and money/ goods to help those in need. And, for the number of priests who have done these evil things, there are countless others who do so much good.  Yet, these good-hearted Catholics deserve more than this from their leaders. I feel for the nuns and priests who have devoted their lives to the church to have their leaders breach the trust and faith of so many. I feel for those many parishioners who have the constancy of faith to keep them going to see them now have to question their spiritual guides. The position of priest is so important in the church, when the incumbent shames the role, they need to be reviewed and appropriate action taken. In these cases, piety does not trump criminality.

These pedophile priests are criminals and need to be prosecuted. They are actually worse than normal pedophiles as they betrayed the lofty trust placed in them and abused their authority as well as the rights of the victims. There are some who have called for Ratzinger (I cannot refer to him as pope at this point) to be tried for his crimes of cover-up. To know priests have done these horrible things and to not have taken action is criminal. One of the victims in Milwaukee has actually sued the Vatican without much success, yet he did bring suit against them. However, he gave up on his suit and recently joined with some other cases to get restitution for other victims and to prevent it from happening to future victims.

Unfortunately, it continues to happen. While these issues are of such great concern, the church continues to grow in South America and other parts of the world. A reporter who was chastised for her role in breaking the story, noted these countries are where America was on this issue back in the 1960’s. The victims dare not accuse a priest as they would not be a good Catholic. Their communities would quiet them just as the boys in Milwaukee were not heeded, even after they became adults.

I encourage you to watch this film. It will disturb you. We cannot tolerate letting people, but especially leaders, prey on children. And, it is even more paramount if the leaders are religious ones. They have a level of trust that makes it worse when it is breached. If we suspect something, we need to go to the police. To do otherwise, lets a pedophile harm another. To apprise the church would likely lead to more cover-up and denial than action. And, it does a disservice to all the wonderful priests who earn people’s trust every day. Most importantly, do it for the children. If we always remember that, we know the path, while hard, is the more righteous one.

Bigotry – you’ve got to be carefully taught

For those of you who have seen the play or movie “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, you may recognize part of the title as a pivotal song in the story – “You’ve Got to be CarefullyTaught.” The play involves a woman who falls in love with someone and then realizes his children are half islanders. She has a hard time coming to grips with her bigotry as according to the song, we are not born hating; hatred has to be carefully taught. A sample of Hammerstein’s lyrics follow:

“You’ve got to be taught, to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught, from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

“You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

This play was written in 1949 based on excerpts from James Michener’s novel “Tales from the South Pacific.” Rodgers and Hammerstein knew precisely what they were doing with this novel and lyrics as America was full bore in its civil rights crisis and more reasonable people were questioning why? Bigotry, hatred, bias – it has to be drummed into you before it’s too late. Before you can think for yourself.

Yesterday, I saw a picture above a story about the Boy Scouts and their delaying a decision to allow gays in their ranks. As a father of three, this picture was very disheartening as it showed young scouts holding up signs which were derogatory to those who are gay. For all the good the Boys Scouts does for young boys, teaching them to be bigoted toward others who happen to have different sexual preference, is not something worthy of a merit badge. For all of the teachings about responsibility, accountability, advocacy, and civility, to carefully teach them it is OK to hate these people because they are different from you is not in keeping with the mission of the Boy Scouts, nor is it in keeping with the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus said it in many different ways per the bible I learned from. The two that are burned in my memory are “love your neighbors as you love youself” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” There are no exceptions about being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And, for that matter, there are no exceptions about them being Atheist, Muslim, Jewish or Agnostic. Words are easy. I have seen people who can inspire with words. Yet, the proof is in the action. What do you do each day? How do you interact with others? I see people everyday treat customer service people or perceived subordinates poorly and treat others in more cordial way.

However, these scouts are learning from us adults, both parents and leaders. I have noted many times before, it disturbs me greatly when spiritual leaders promote bigotry. This is one of the greatest betrayals of their responsibilities I know. Yet, our civic leaders are not much better and tend to be worse on occasion. Right now, Congress cannot pass an act which will make it easier to protect those who experience Violence Against Women. The primary hold up is the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the bill.  Violence against anyone is crime, unless it is self-defense. To distinguish who should be protected more than others based on sexual preference is the height of hypocrisy, especially since the push comes from the evangelical right.

Hatred has to be carefully taught. The Congressional leaders who are against the bill to stop violence against loved ones, should truly be embarassed to be on the wrong side of this issue. Domestic violence is a horrible crime because it happens routinely and consistently until a tipping point occurs. Unfortunately, the tipping point may be a death of a loved one. Women and children are the primary targets, yet others are impacted and should be protected. I have written before about an acquaintance whose sister was killed by her husband and he and his siblings had no idea she was being beaten. They learned the kids, on occasion, would have their father pick them up and beat their heads into the ceiling. What difference does it make if the target is gay or lesbian? This is not right and those Congressional leaders who are against the inclusion of all are “not on the side of the Angels.”

What should and can we do about it? We need to strongly encourage our leaders to think like parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts on most issues. Stop thinking like politicians. When GOP Governor Bobby Jindal says “we need to stop being the stupid party” this is an example of what he is talking about.

But, if we cannot alter the bigotry of the adults, please let’s focus on teaching the kids not to bigoted in their views. By word and deed; by encouragement, mentoring, or by corrective action or admonishment, please encourage people to do their best to follow Jesus’ examples and treat others like we want to be treated. The most important thing of all, is to walk the talk. Do everyday what you are telling them to do. That is what they will remember most.

Let me leave you with an encouraging story, which I may write more about later. The Western-East Divan Orchestra is a highly successful orchestra. But, that is not newsworthy by itself. The news is the orchestra consists of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Iranis and Iraqis. The news is the orchestra is right in the hornet’s nest of danger. These teens and young adults come together at great risk to play and collaborate. Many of their friends and relatives judge them harshly for so doing. Yet, they continue because it is important. By working side by side toward a common purpose, they see that the person they are supposed to hate is just like them. They are being carefully taught, this time not to hate, but to get along and play as a unit. We could learn a great deal from these young people and those who lead them.

You’ve got to be carefully taught. My question as a parent – what do you want to teach them?