Wednesday wanderings heading into June

Hopefully the rain will stay away permitting a walkabout. Of course, one of our blogging friends Linda passed through town and I am still recovering from a long hike. It was great to meet her in person and my wife and I both enjoyed her company.

Speaking of aerobic activities, I was recently reminded of a charity run in Raleigh led by the NC State University students. Annually, they do a Krispy Kreme donut race. The mission is you must run a few miles to the Krispy Kreme, eat a dozen donuts and run back. My guess is the return run is more lethargic.

Staying with the aerobic theme, I was once goaded into a 10K race by my boss who was trying to get me lose a few extra pounds I had added. So, after training, I was ahead late in the race, when I heard from behind “Keith, I am going to catch you.” Not knowing he was actually spent, I sped up the rest of the race making my finish uphill even more exhausting. I was so tired, I did not care about winning at that point.

At my age, I walk and hike now as I can keep it up. When I ran various races over the years, my running revolved around preparation for each race. I would be good at running for about a month afterward, then fall off the running wagon. I did have a huge collection of T-shirts, though, both long sleeve and short-sleeve with the races.

A couple of years ago, I weaned myself of many of these shirts keeping those I liked best or were in the best shape. It was quite the memory lane as I sorted through them. The longest race I ran was a 15K, which was at the beach. I recall the last turn headed us into the wind. It felt like I was running in place, as slowly as I ran.

Even if slowly, I would encourage people to walk, hike, run or do anything aerobically on a routine basis. Preferably, doing so sans donuts and with or without the goal of a T-shirt. You will be better for it.
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Stars among stars do not beget a great movie

My wife and I watched a couple of movies this weekend that had an abundance of stars. They even had relatively high Rotten Tomatoes’ scores. But, they were far from being great movies.

Last night, we watched a thriller/ comedy starring seven headline stars called “Burn after Reading.” George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Francis McDormand, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins and JK Simmons could not make this movie great. It was at best OK, maybe earning a C- letter grade. Yet, it was disappointing given our expectations.

Earlier we watched a movie with three stars called “Certain Women” about three determined (actually four) women who are trying to make a go in Wyoming. It starred Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams. It also starred a Native American actress named Lily Gladstone who has appeared in a number of movies and had equal screen time in this movie to the three stars.

Sadly, the movie was very tedious and longer than it needed to be. It was very undeserving of its high ratings. My wife and I debated turning it off on a couple of occasions, but had invested time in it by the second decision point, so we wanted to see the finish.

We were also surprised in a good way with a couple of movies this weekend. “Head full of Honey” starring Nick Nolte and his daughter Sophia Lane Nolte is very enjoyable and charming. In a movie of stars, the younger actor steals the movie playing the older Nolte’s granddaughter as she takes care of her Alzheimer’s ridden grandfather. The other is “Stronger” about a Boston Marathon bomb survivor and double leg amputee starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany as his on and off again girlfriend who was running in the race. The story moves beyond the heroic stage of his survival and deals with the real life angst of learning to live with his setback.

It seems we are better served in our search for movies in liking the story, an actor or two, and seeing reasonably high ratings using different measures. We do not mind foreign language films with subtitles and we do not limit English speaking movies to those made in the US. These sentiments open us up to a lot of great movies. For example, with a French mother, Kristen Scott Thomas has been in several excellent French speaking movies.

So, happy hunting. And, beware of too many stars. Note, the above are merely our opinions, so that and $3 will get you a cup of coffee.

Texas continues to lead the way in wind energy, but don’t tell anyone

Texas leads the way in wind energy, but for some reason this is not common knowledge, nor is broadcast. First, a few statistics from the US Energy Information Administration.

“Texas produces more electricity than any other state, generating nearly twice as much as second-place Florida. In 2021, Texas accounted for about 12% of the nation’s total electricity net generation.

The share of electricity generated from wind in Texas has shot up from zero to 24 percent between 2001 and 2023.

In 2021, Texas produced about 26% of all U.S. wind-powered electricity generation, leading the nation for the 16th year in a row. Wind power surpassed the state’s nuclear generation for the first time in 2014 and exceeded coal-fired generation for the first time in 2019.”

Just picking the numbers 24% and 26%, the oil rich state of Texas gets about 1/4 of its electricity from wind energy and it provides about 1/4 of the wind powered electricity in the country.

Why? Four main reasons.

1)Texas provided powerlines to rural areas starting back at the turn of the century to harness electricity from such sources to meet a renewable energy goal of 15%.

2)Texas wind energy developers pay an annual rent to ranchers and farmers to put wind mills on their property. The number I recall is $5,000 per annum per windmill. One ranchers said he gets $55,000 per year for his eleven windmills which is huge supplement to his income.

3)Per now-deceased oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens, he said on “60 Minutes” about ten years ago that wind is the future of energy in the middle of America; natural gas is just buying us time. Iowa gets about 43% of its electricity from wind energy with several other states getting over 1/3 of theirs.

4)The production of wind energy has dropped in cost to be as cost-effective, if not moreso, than coal energy. Natural gas put the first nail in coal’s coffin, with wind and solar energy adding two more nails.

The reason I love this story is it surprises people. But, it also shows how an oil rich Texas planned ahead and now is seeing the dividends. It should be noted because of these four reasons, other utilities not based in Texas have wind farms in that state. Not only is wind renewable, it is not a zero-sum provider of electricity. My wind energy does not affect yours.

Sunday morning rain coming down

It is a rainy Sunday reminding me of the Kris Kristofferson song lyric. While his song is more on lament, the metaphor is good. Here are few thoughts to kick around:

– it appears a debt ceiling agreement has been reached between the president and speaker, but still has to get passed. The frustration is the continual last minute chicken playing that goes on instead of serious bipartisan discussion with data. We are nowhere near solving our debt problem. The debt ceiling is to allow us to pay for borrowing we have already spent.

– the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been so fraudulent, his own party approved by a significant majority, his impeachment. With Representative George Santos being charged with a crime of fraud, even the US House has not censured Santos, so Texas Republicans at least acted to say enough is enough.

– apparently, the former president may have been even more fraudulent with the classified documents he removed from the White House. Adding to his other court convictions and pending charges for election meddling and maybe seditious actions around the insurrection, why this person is even being considered for president is beyond me.

– finally, you only get one time to make a first impression, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis could ill-afford a poor roll out of his campaign given his other problems. He now needs to recover from a hole he is in. This is not unlike the ACA roll out which was botched through poor web-design that Obama should have made sure of beforehand given its importance. The ACA got better, but it had to overcome an unforced error.

As an old boss told me once, he is like a big umbrella to keep the s**t from raining down on us from the corporate bosses. We need our leaders to do their job with seriousness of purpose and get their umbrellas out. They could begin with not creating their own mess.

Jim Brown – a simple name, but a complex man, may he RIP

Before Tina Turner passed away, another icon died, named Jim Brown. Brown was a legendary football running back for the Cleveland Browns and was arguably one of the best who ever played that position.

But, he was far more than that. He retired early to become an actor and was in a few dozen films. Most notably, he was in one of my favorite films called “The Dirty Dozen,” but more on that later.

What he should be also remembered for is he was an outspoken civil rights advocate and worked closely with Martin Luther King. Brown and three other legendary black athletes, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) of the UCLA Bruins all jointly spoke out for the rights of blacks. Brown was the centerpiece spokesperson.

Their outspokenness differs from the relative silence of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and their contemporaries who did not want to risk their endorsements. It is good to see current athletes like Lebron James and Colin Kaepernick speak out risking their careers. Kaepernick’s career has been ruined because of the backlash against his efforts.

Brown led the way with the other three stars of his day. He was not perfect and there are stories of domestic abuse. If true, this is an awful and a severe indictment of the man. It shows that notoriety does not mean they can do no wrong. Yet, to not mention his sins and crimes would be an unfair rendering of his life.

Let me close with a positive story from a boy who loved “The Dirty Dozen.” Brown’s character was sadly killed after a heroic scene in the movie. It was befitting his heroic nature as a football star, but was sad to see. Maybe it is a good reflection on sports heroes in general. They are very good at their craft and can use their platform for good as Brown did. But, that does not mean they are perfect. And, they should be held accountable for bad behavior just like all of us would.

Playing chicken with the debt – letter to the editor

While we need to deal with our debt in a holistic fashion, playing chicken with the debt ceiling gives the illusion of good governance, but is rushed. For example, one of provisions of the Republican bill on the debt ceiling would increase the debt by $120 billion. From an article called “GOP’s cut to IRS funding in debt limit plan would backfire” by Brian Faler of Politico:

“Republicans’ proposal to rescind $71 billion in IRS funding pushed through by Democrats last year would cut projected tax receipts by $191 billion over the next decade, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates. The result: The government would find itself an additional $120 billion in the hole.”

This provision is designed to help aggressive taxpayers who benefit greatly from their efforts to mask income. So, it runs counter to the goal of reducing the debt while helping the wealthy.

A legend has passed – Tina Turner, may she RIP

Anna Mae Bullock, aka Tina Turner, has passed away at age 83. Someone whose active lifestyle and stage performance made her consistently look younger than she was has died after a long illness. When I have been asked who gave the best concert I have ever been to, the answer is Tina Turner, hands down.

She is one of the finest entertainers who gave it her all every minute of her performance and through numerous outfit changes. She made sure we were entertained. She was often accompanied by two or three younger dancers with whom she easily kept up with while singing! She had a long list of hits she could draw from. Yet, the song that always got the crowd going was saved for her encore, “What’s love got to do with it?” When she sang this one, she would ask the women, then men sing the chorus telling the men “it should be easy, you’ve been saying this all of your lives.”

Her story is well known and portrayed in the biopic movie starring Angela Bassett as Turner. She had a physically and mentally abusive husband (and manager) in Ike Turner staying with him longer than she should have because of their Ike and Tina Turner Revue. After leaving, she went out on her own and had even bigger success, but still had to contend with Ike who made threats.

Several songs stand out in addition to the above – “Private Dancer,” “The Best,” “You better be good to me,” “I can’t stand the rain,” “We don’t need another hero,” et al made after she went on her own, and the relentless “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits” made before. In fact, her version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” was her magnum opus until she went on her own. She even did a song with Phil Specter without Ike called “River deep, mountain high,” which brought her acclaim.

She was an icon, but she became a legend. And, she will be missed.

Comments on US debt from Maya MacGuineas director of Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Note, this is a repeat post from January. It has increased in relevance since that time. From the desk of Maya MacGuineas of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. I will offer no additional comment as it speaks for itself.

“Today, the Treasury Department announced that it has begun engaging in a set of accounting tools known as “extraordinary measures” to avoid breaching the nation’s $31.38 trillion statutory debt limit. Those measures are expected to delay that breach until at least early June and possibly later.

The following is a statement from Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

Without qualification, the debt limit must be increased or suspended, and it should be done so as quickly as possible. Ideally, we would return to the practice of lifting the debt ceiling without relying on extraordinary measures – which have become all too ordinary – and refrain from making the increase anything close to a last-minute showdown.

The debt ceiling is too important to turn into a game of chicken, and default should never be suggested by those with a fiduciary responsibility to govern the nation. Politicians who are rightly worried about the nation’s unsustainable borrowing path should take a hard stance against new borrowing and oppose legislation that would add to the debt while offering specific solutions to control the debt already on the books, rather than threatening not to pay the bills on borrowing that has already been incurred.

The debt ceiling does offer the opportunity for all lawmakers to pause, assess the fiscal situation of the nation, and take action as necessary. And it is necessary. The debt as a share of GDP is at near record levels. We are on track to begin adding $2 trillion per year to the debt by the end of the decade. Interest payments are the fastest growing part of the budget and are projected to start costing $1 trillion annually in only a few years. The Social Security and Medicare Hospital Insurance trust funds are headed toward insolvency. And last year alone, Congress and the President passed bipartisan legislation that added nearly $2 trillion to the projected national debt. This is an urgent problem that is not getting the attention it needs.

An ideal solution would be for Congress to lift the debt ceiling as soon as possible and at the same time put in place measures to improve our fiscal trajectory. This could include specific policies or processes such as a fiscal commission.

Attaching fiscal reforms to the debt limit was common practice in the past when both policies and processes to improve fiscal responsibility were included as part of a deal. More recently, in a jaw-dropping act of fiscal irresponsibility, politicians in both parties pivoted to support debt ceiling increases along with legislation that made the debt worse. Under President Trump, the debt ceiling was lifted three times with bipartisan support and included legislation that added in total a stunning $2.1 trillion in new borrowing to the debt.

Congress should return to the past model of a debt ceiling increase, legislation to improve the fiscal situation, and a broad based understanding that the debt ceiling must be increased in a calm and timely manner. We must not threaten default. The cost is simply too high.“

Monday morning you sure look fine – May, 2023

With all due respect to Fleetwood Mac, let me once again borrow these lyrics this Monday in May. Typing Monday in May reminds me of another song lyric by Three Dog Night, “I’ve got pieces of April, but it’s a morning in May.”

Now that I have provided two ear worms in one paragraph, let me throw out a few thoughts:

– the US debt ceiling increase has once again become a game of playing chicken; my strong advice to all concerned – GET IT DONE. Then, spend the needed time with data and look at both tax increases and spending cuts as both will be needed. I am not sure what frustrates me most, the playing chicken with the debt or the callous disregard for a thoughtful exercise to address the problem. Republicans have shown they only care about the debt when not in power and Democrats need to think through some spending cuts that can be made, along with tax increases that the GOP abhors.

– the environmental concerns we have caused are becoming more apparent as the detection of forever chemicals are cropping up in more places. I have often cited Dr. Sandra Steingraber, who is a biologist, ecologist and bladder cancer survivor. We humans do not consider enough the role the environment plays on our health often focusing only on hereditary concerns. When we do focus on them, we tend to consider the impact on a 50 year old man, when we should be considering the impact on children who are closer to the ground, mouth breathe more, place hands in their mouth more and whose lungs and brain are not fully developed. The exposure and impact is simply greater for a child than an adult.

– speaking of children, we owe it to them to crank up the efforts of dealing with climate change in an all hands on deck manner. There are several examples of action in motion that should be accelerated with funding. We must stop putting as much carbon in the air and start taking carbon out of the air. We also need to deal with the increase in methane that is escaping from vented natural gas sites and through the arctic ice as it melts. There are natural carbon eaters such as mangroves along the shore, large forests, offshore kelp farms, etc. that can be nurtured. Plus, they are investing more in renewable energy sources that take advantage of the natural elements to a region be they solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc. Progress has been made, but a lot more is needed, now.

These are only a few key things we need to discuss. I am tired of politicians who flitter from various sensational issues and causing problems rather than solving them. If hurting our children by not dealing with toxins, destroying our planet or leaving them with our debts is not sensational enough, I don’t know what it is.

Let me close with an example. Living in North Carolina, I have been aware of the push on the Department of Defense for decades to effectively deal with the toxic water at Camp Lejeune that was killing US Marines and their families. The base families finally got their attention when they served the ugly looking and odorous water to the leaders when they came to visit. It should not take that long to address these issues.

Cheap bosses

I have written several posts about some of the good bosses I have been fortunate to have. Unfortunately, the ones who I did not write about are more in number. I have also had several bosses who were beyond thrifty – they tended to be cheap in a comical and sad sort of way.

The first one I will call Carl, not his real name. Carl had a well-earned reputation of not being one who grabbed the check at a restaurant. His colleagues would use an age old term called “Short arms” or “Alligator arms” to define his bent to avoid reaching for the check. There are other examples, but one that is indicative. When I joined the company, I asked one of my colleagues why he had a water service in his office (those large replaceable jugs). Others were able to enter his office to get water. He said he paid for this because Carl was too cheap to buy water for the office.

The second boss I will call Jim. Jim was thrifty with the company money, but had no problem using it for his benefit. The best example is Jim’s hosting the annual holiday party. He would order twice the amount of liquor, beer and wine to restock his liquor cabinet. On a more daily basis, he would order wine at lunch and ask the wait person to “not skimp and fill it to the brim.” My guess is he would expense lunch with the staff.

The third one I will call Brett. Brett loved using vendor (insurance brokers, consultants, et al) money to pay for events – golf outings, dinners, sporting events, lunches, etc. The most embarrassing situation occurred when a vendor was going to fly him to an event they were sponsoring. Brett said yes, but then asked “What if I drove?” meaning would you reimburse me for the difference. It was truly a crawl under the table moment.

The fourth boss I will call Leroy. Leroy was big on doing little things at the company expense. Mailing personal correspondence on the metered mail system used for company mail is a good example. But, my favorite story is his expensing a speeding ticket he got as he was late for a meeting and driving way too fast.

Finally, I have shared the story before where my grandmother, who worked in retail, spoke up when the CEO of the company was touring their store with her boss, the store manager. The CEO asked to borrow her pen and then put it in his pocket and started to walk away. My grandmother said Mr. Brown that is my pen. My boss is too cheap to provide us pens to make orders, so I have to bring in my own pen. Think about that. Before the age of computers, orders had to be written down, so to do her job she had to provide her own pen.

These stories are sad and comical as well as illustrative. It should be noted that none of the spendthrifts would be confused with being a good boss, at least in my view. To me, it is important more to respect your boss than actually like him or her. When you see bosses like the above, there is not much respect that is elicited by their actions.