Sunday morning muses

First and foremost, best wishes to our friends, family and folks in the path of Hurricane Irma. This juggernaut has already wreaked havoc in the Caribbean and is poised to do more.

Second, continued best wishes for those dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey here in the states and those abroad who are being flooded in other parts of the world. This will be a long haul, as will recovering from Irma.

Third, best wishes to the forest fire fighters in the West who continue to battle unending blazes. These tireless heroes are a huge line of defense.

Fourth and finally, best wishes to the families and friends of earthquake victims in Mexico. For those who also lost their homes, may you find cover and shelter as you rebuild or relocate.

Disasters bring us closer as they reveal our petty differences are just that. I greatly applaud all of those who have stepped up to help through donations of time, energy, goods and money.

As we rebuild, we must be mindful of what the future holds – more powerful storms, more flooding, more drought in drought stricken areas and more forest fires. We must rebuild to withstand, prevent and manage water, wind, heat and fire. I am happy to see consultants from The Netherlands here to advise some cities on managing ocean flooding given their hundreds of years of experience as a country below sea level.

For now, let’s do our part to help others withstand, survive and get back on their feet.

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Yet another gun story

The title represents a quote from a local news broadcast in my home city – yet another gun story. America’s obsession with guns continues full tilt and we cannot expect anything to be done about it at the federal level for the time being.

We have a problem with gun deaths that does not look like it will abate anytime soon. To discover for yourself, for one month, count the number of gun death stories in your local newspaper or on your favorite news station.

Yet, we have one political party and a few in the other that do not recognize the gun problem for what it is. These folks are backed by one of the more strident lobbyist groups in the NRA.

While these legislators don’t recognize the problem, most gun owners do. Most gun owners do not belong to the NRA, which tends to care more about gun sales where they used to care more about gun safety.

A few questions still remain unanswered:

– why has one political party prevented funding of the study of gun deaths by the Centers for Disease Control?

– why have we not lengthened the waiting period for guns when experts have said it will reduce the probability of suicide, the most significant gun death by far?

– why have we not extended background checks on all weapon purchases?

– why did this political party lead Congress to eliminate people on social security mental disability from the watch list for background checks?

– why do we not require every new weapon with finger print control to reduce children deaths or the death of the owner?

– why do we not codify every bullet to help in solving crimes?

Please note, with the exception of limiting people who don’t pass background checks and elongating waiting periods, none of these suggestions will greatly hinder the rights of Americans to buy guns.

But, we should not stop there. We need more civility in our discourse. We need every gun owner to complete a safety course. We need to improve areas of poverty where crime fills a void. We need to condemn pseudo-news and entertainment sites when they use hyperbole. Alex Jones of Infowars said the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax – that is just asinine and offensive.

Let me close with a provocative statement. One of the reasons shooting deaths by police officers are increased is these officers recognize that more people are armed and they have to make quick judgements that are sometimes fatal.

We have a gun problem in America. Common sense steps are achievable that will make a difference. One thing is obvious – doing nothing has not.

That happiness thing

“Success is not the key to happiness,
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing,
Then you will be successful.”

I do not know the author of this quote, but we have it hanging as a beautiful banner in a hall. I believe it is important to be the best you can be at whatever endeavor you embark upon. But, it makes it far more rewarding if you enjoy what you are doing.

I am reminded of the successful producer of movies who, after closing on his beautiful home, realized this did not make him happy. He decided to make a documentary movie which he called “I Am,” about what makes people happy. After interviewing a number of sociologists, philosophers, doctors, religious leaders, etc., his conclusion was money did not buy happiness. But, the absence of money could cause unhappiness.

Using economic terms to describe this, as people earn money beyond funding basic needs of food, shelter and health, there is a “diminishing marginal utility” to having more. Once you have enough to survive with comfort, having more does not make you happier. This documentary reinforced doing something that gives you purpose.

Having said that, many of us cannot afford to do what we want. We have to do what we can to make ends meet. And, sometimes the ends don’t meet. So, find joy where you can be it work, volunteer work, helping friends and family, attending classes at the community college, hanging with your mates, practicing your faith, etc. Don’t let your job define you.

At almost 59 years of age, I can attest life can be hard. It can beat you up. So, laugh, sing and dance more and often. Be a friend and listen with both ears and help when needed. When times get rough, take it a day at a time and do what you can.

Billy Joel sang that it iseither sadness or euphoria” which defines our moments. I think we live most of our lives in between those two extremes. If we find ourselves leaning toward sadness, we need to change the scenery. When euphoric, we need to remember well those moments especially when the sad ones intervene. We should recognize euphoria is fleeting, so find contentment where and when we can.

In another old song, Bob Dylan offers the simplest advice to our complex challenges. Just “keep on keepin’ on.” It beats the alternative and helps us navigate those rough waters.

 

Two Anniversaries

My bride and I celebrated 32 years of marriage this week. I think she gave up on trying to fix me up, so she is stuck with what she got. Kidding aside, my wife is easily the best half of us. She is “the girl who holds the world in a paper cup,” meaning she is as genuine as they come.

My wife likes to say we are friends first, when asked about our longevity. The friendship carries us through the ebbs and flows of the relationship. The other is keep a sense of humor. We often laugh at ourselves and can tease each other. Life is too short not to laugh more.

I had another anniversary this week. I passed ten years without a drink of alcohol. The cravings are far fewer and less intense, but they linger back there somewhere. My daughter asked me about my drinking habits as I made her and my wife aware of the anniversary as we traveled. It stunned them by the amount I drank, but at least I did it at home.

The key lesson I learned early in my abstinence is to say the following mantra, “I am not going to drink today.” This is a key reason recovering alcoholics know the number of days. Another piece of advice is to find a substitute – mine were green tea, fruits, fruit juices, popsicles or sorbet. The cravings will remain, you just need to drink or eat something else.

So, let’s toast with your beverage of choice (or necessity) to laughter, love and sobriety, at least for those who must abstain.

 

Push-ups, Sit-ups and Sprints

When Herschel Walker was asked at the University of Georgia about his weightlifting routine, he had a curious response. He said he had never lifted a weight in his life. For those of you who do not remember Walker, he was an extremely well muscled and fast running back for the Bulldog football team in the early 80’s.

When he was asked how he got so big and fast, he responded “Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints.” He went on to say when he was a scrawny young kid of about ten, he asked a gym coach how to get bigger, stronger and faster and the coach responded with the same answer as above.

What he did not tell the young Walker is how many. So, while watching TV, Walker would do push-ups or sit-ups during the commercials. He said it got to where he was doing about 1,000 of each routine every day. Then, he would go out and do sprints until he dropped.

Walker may have been the finest high school and college football ever to play a down. When I lived in Atlanta, I saw footage of Walker in high school. It is not an exaggeration to say the majority of times he touched the ball, he scored a touchdown, often playing only 1/2 the game as the score was so lopsided. The Hall of Fame quarterback, Fran Tarkenton, said in a guest sports news appearance, wherever Walker decides to go to college, the team will be an “immediate contender for the national title.” Georgia won the national title in Walker’s freshman year and he won the Heisman Trophy for the best collegiate football player.

Walker’s pro career was successful, but he did not stand out as much as he did in high school and college. I think he came up against equally talented athletes, so the margin was smaller. His positives were his strength and speed, but pro football longevity is predicated on elusiveness as well, which he did not need as much in the amateur levels.

Nonetheless, he was a significant player. He was also very humble and polite. Let me leave you with one telling story. After his career was over, a couple was stuck in their car as it was wrecked and rolled over with smoke coming out of the hood. This large African-American man was jogging by, so he immediately went over, realized the dilemma and ripped the door open helping the couple to safety. Then he ran on once he knew they were OK.

He never said a word to anyone what he had done, until a reporter asked him about his role in helping the couple. He shyly admitted he had helped them. He was called Superman by the couple and press.

Push-ups, sit-ups and sprints. We can always better ourselves. I am not saying do 1,000 of each, but a few each day would not hurt. The key metaphor is we have the power to make ourselves better, be it through physical or mental activity. It can be as easy as doing a few push-ups or sit-ups with each commercial.

Climate of Hope

One of the positives of the US President pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is it has galvanized the many who see the need to act to save our planet. Coupling the US exit with the President placing climate change deniers and fossil fuel supporters in key cabinet roles, he has placed the US government at the kids table, while the adults talk about solving the world’s problems.

Fortunately, even the President’s actions cannot stop the momentum as a tipping point on renewable energy and other efforts have been reached. As reported in the book “Climate of Hope,” by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope, cities, businesses and citizens have been leading the way. This is important as cities are significant contributors to climate change and can therefore make a huge dent in ameliorating its effect. And, they are sharing their successes formally and informally.

Some of these efforts include:

– Restoring and renovating older buildings into green buildings. Bloomberg touts the renovation of the 1931 built Empire State as a key example.

– Building new structures with an even greener footprint. In India they deploy white rooftops to reflect away the sun to minimize cooling costs, e.g,

– Building more pedestrian areas which provide safer and eco-friendly access to shops, restaurants and businesses. These car free zones actually are part of a solution to reroute traffic to reduce carbon polluting stoppage.

– Building with buffers to allow nature to do its jobs to absorb the pounding of the ocean, since, ┬áso many large cities are coastal cities with some below sea level. We should use nature to provide defenses that stand the test of time.

– Developing master traffic plans embracing car sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing, pedestrian pathways, electric vehicles from buses to taxis, and the elegant use of mass transit based on capital needs and restrictions. Bloomberg is big on measuring things, so installing GPS in New York taxis allowed them to measure success and make modifications to their plans as executed.

– Planting more carbon saving trees in cities and other areas, as well as using other plants such as mangroves in coastal areas as they suck carbon out of the air.

– Conserving food and reducing wastage. We waste huge amounts of food, both before and after it is cooked. Imperfect fruits and vegetables go straight to the dumps unless concentrated efforts prevent it and guide distribution to other users. Buying local saves on transportation costs and emissions, as well.

– Challenging manufacturers for efficient production and distribution. For example, a significant amount of wood goes to pallets that are tossed after one use. Look to more durable pallets that can be reused. Plus, the US does an excellent job of distributing products by rail and can do even better, as the rest of the world improves their efforts. These transmodal distribution centers that marry the efforts of ships, planes, trains and trucks provide huge efficiences and enhance trade.

– Dissuading the building of new coal plants. Active efforts have reduced coal from over 53% market share in 1990 to 30% market share of energy in 2016. Market forces are reducing this further as natural gas became cheaper and renewable energy cost fell to become more on par with coal. If new coal plants must be built, do it in concert with retiring older, less efficient plants.

– Making investment funds available to pay for upfront costs for renewable energy in countries that have fewer capital funding sources. India could do even more with available funding, especially as they electrify more of the country.

The great news is these things are happening. And, they are being shared. Please read this book. It is brief and optimistic. Also, watch the soon to be released sequel to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then spread the news about what is happening.

To be frank, these actions are positive and smart irrespective of one’s stance on climate change. And, a final note from Bloomberg is the millennials are paying attention. They want to work in places that are doing their part to fight climate change. Think about that as you plan.

The President and Congress own Obamacare

I have written often about the imperfect Affordable Care Act and ways to improve it. I have written often about the Republicans role in sabatoging the ACA making premiums even higher by not funding promised payments to insurers for adverse selection as well as naysaying the law and not expanding Medicaid in 19 states.

This sabatoge continues under this President who says the ACA is in a death spiral. It is hurting in many areas, but stabilizing in others. He said he wants to let it implode and then fix it.

Mr. President, that is not good enough. You are threatening to cease further promised payments to insurance companies which will harm people. You see, what you and Congress fail to realize is you own Obamacare. If it fails, it is on your watch. And, to be frank the significant majority of Americans and the press do not recognize the role you played in hamstringing the imperfect law.

My strong advice is to do what is necessary thinking of its patients and users. Those Americans out there deserve your best efforts to help them. Watching the ACA fail after you greased the skids is extremely poor form and uncaring. It is that simple. Fix the ACA. That is what is done to laws that need it to help people.