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,  so 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.

We need Dave

One of my favorite movies is called “Dave” starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. Kline plays the title character who is asked to be a puppet President propped up by the Chief of Staff (played by Frank Langella) after the President has a stroke. Dave is tapped due to his close resemblance to the President which he has parlayed into an act for parties.

Yet, Dave turns out to be a surprisingly good President who gets further enabled when the First Lady (Weaver) realizes he is a fraud and her husband (who she loathes  due to his affair) is in a coma on life support. She encourages Dave to be a true people’s President and he flourishes. Unlike the President he replaces, he focuses on jobs and helping people when needed. The best segment is when he asks his accountant, Murray, played by Charles Grodin, to find money in the budget to help disadvantaged kids and then plays his ideas out in front of his cabinet to the fury of the Chief of Staff.

Thinking of the line from Simon and Garfunkel song, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you,” I would insert Dave’s name for the needed hero. Rather than the man who is President in name only, we need Dave to come to the rescue and take the reins. It cannot be the Vice President who has become chief sycophant to the President agreeing with every inane thing he does. We need a hero who truly cares about people and relationships, values those who serve and inspires others. The “valuing those who serve” is important as our current President shows disrespect to hard working civil servants as well as his staff and due process.

Two key undercurrents of the movie are the relationship Dave has with his Secret Service lead (played by Ving Rhames) and his respect he gains for his Vice President (played by Ben Kingsley). He values them and they show him respect in return.

So, if we could trade out Dave for Donald, we would be in a much better place. And, if he cannot do it, maybe Michael Douglas’   “The American President” could be tapped.

 

Small pieces of big movies

With the forthcoming Academy Awards, it might be fun to select small funny pieces or vignettes from movies that had some level of acclaim.

Annie Hall: Two small scenes that must be paired stand out. In an earlier scene Woody Allen’s character is speaking with Annie Hall’s brother. The brother notes that sometimes when he is driving at night, he briefly considers veering into an oncoming set of headlights to end it all. A few scenes later the expression on Allen’s face is priceless as guess who is driving them to the airport at night?

Forrest Gump: Two priceless scenes stand out. One is when Bubba finishes telling Forrest the many ways to cook shrimp. They are using toothbrushes to clean bathroom tile and Bubba’s says “Well, that’s about it.” Forrest pauses and then goes back to scrubbing. The other is when Lieutenant Dan shows up at the Bayou and Forrest just leaps into the water, while the now pilotless boat is still running.

Casablanca: There are countless scenes in this most quoted movie of all time. One that I love is just after Inspector Renault is forced to close “Rick’s” because he is shocked there is gambling going on, the pit boss hands the Inspector his winnings. The other is when Rick tells the Nazi Major Strasser that he came to Casablanca for the waters. When the Major replies there are no waters here, Rick says “So, I was misinformed,” with a very wry grin.

Jaws: The running gag line echoed by Roy Scheider, the land preferring lawman, is “We gotta get a bigger boat.” The other eerily funny scene is when the grizzled sea captain played by Robert Shaw got the attention of a talkative town council by slowly scraping his finger nails on a chalkboard. Yikes. Another funny scene is on the boat, after much drinking, the guys are comparing scars. At the end, Richard Dreyfus’ character points at his heart and notes the name of the girl who first broke it.

Rocky: A couple of character names for the pets gives me a chuckle. The bulldog was called “Butkus” in homage to the tough linebacker for the Chicago Bears. The two pet turtles of Rocky were humorously named “Cuff” and “Link.” As Rocky heads to the ring to fight Apollo Creed, he is wearing a robe with advertising on the back. When his manager asks him what he gets out of the deal, Rocky said he gets to keep the robe. “Shrewd,” the manager replies.

Gone with the Wind: A humorous set up occurs when Scarlett is about to get a visit from Rhett Butler in Atlanta and does not want to reveal she is on hard times. So, she has a dress made from the draperies. By itself, this is a humorous scene when the audience recognizes what she is wearing. But the funniest parody of this scene is courtesy of comedienne Carol Burnett, when she comes down the stairs with a dress made out of the drapes, including the curtain rod.

Please share with me your memorable scenes from award-winning movies. They can be funny, impactful, romantic, sensual or sensuous. Tell me who you think will take home best picture.

More wisdom from an astronaut

I have written before of some great advice from astronaut Mike Massimino in his book “Spaceman.” As I read further, I came upon this gem which summarizes what matters most which applies to more than being an astronaut.

Massimino was influenced by the movie “The Right Stuff,” which defined by example what it took to be a test pilot and astronaut. But, after becoming an astronaut and watching his fellow astronauts help him when his father was being treated for cancer, he made the following important observation.

“If you’ve ever wondered what the right stuff is….It’s not about being crazy enough to strap yourself to the top of the bomb. That’s actually the easy part. It’s more about character, serving a purpose greater than yourself, putting the other guy first, and being able to do that every single day in every aspect of your life. People ask me all the time what it takes to become an astronaut. It’s not about being the smartest or having the most college degrees. The real qualifications are: Is this someone I’d trust with my life? Will this person help look after my family if I don’t make it home?”

Massimino notes there are smarter people than he who did not make the cut to be considered. Yet, he had been a great teammate in every thing he was involved with and honored the process by seeking help and learning from others. His education was guided by the goal of becoming an astronaut. Yes, he was also smart, but he said these other attributes were essential.

Reading this made me realize how translatable these vital attributes are to other disciplines. Being a good teammate, asking for help and offering help will carry you far in many endeavors. He noted that previous astronauts, like Neil Armstrong, John Glenn and Jim Lovell were most gracious and giving with their time and advice. That is a lesson for us all and an example to the newer crop of astronauts.

It’s Elementary

My daughter is a keen judge of what she likes and dislikes. She will not follow the crowd for its own sake, which we love. She will surprise us with an astute observation that shares her reasoning of such opinions.

An example of this is she adores the show about a modern-day Sherlock Holmes called “Elementary.” But, she does not like the Benedict Cumberbatch version on the BBC, nor the old black and white series with Basil Rathbone.

The reason is she thinks the character Sherlock Holmes is too much of a jerk and need not be. In her view, he can still be adroit, but treat others better. She likes the “Elementary” version because the character has a drug problem and is more human. Holmes’ flaws in this version make him more approachable and permit Watson to help him not just with crime solving.

Jonny Lee Miller plays the more flawed Holmes and does the role justice. My daughter likes that Watson is played by Lucy Liu, giving the show more context and a female character to commensurate with. Plus, Aidan Quinn adds some context in his detective role as benefactor of Holmes and Watson’s crime solving help.

What I find interesting is my daughter also loves Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie novels. Poirot is unusual in his traits, but can be a tad rude on occasion. His quirkiness is similar to the Elementary version of Holmes in that he is flawed, but colorful.

I agree that Sherlock can be a jerk and could sand around the edges a little more. But, the older I have gotten, I have witnessed highly intelligent people who exhibit hints of some traits of Asperger’s Syndrome where they focus on minute details, but less on social cues. So, maybe I am willing to give Holmes the benefit of the doubt on occasion. Yet, I can still get perturbed when he is showing his hind end. It’s elementary.

Hidden Figures make America great

My family had the opportunity to see the movie “Hidden Figures” recently. It may be one of the finest movies I have seen in the past few years. From the online movie summary, it is about the “incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit….The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.”

The movie stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, with a key role for Kevin Costner. These three mathematicians helped plot a course into space, so that our astronauts could return safely. And, when computers were destined to replace them, one taught other African-American women in the computing department how to program in Fortran to save their jobs and supply capable talent to the NASA space effort, since so few folks knew Fortran.

We must value diversity for its own sake, but also from economic and development standpoints. If we limit where ideas can come from, we limit ideas. It gets no simpler than that math equation. As Johnson notes, math does not care what color you are. The other key point is the math to launch, orbit and return safely was breaking new ground, so innovative thinking was key. Johnson offered that kind of innovation, which married some old school math to solve the new problems.

Throughout history, ideas have come from those who understand and are in proximity to the problem. A gay man named Alan Turing saved over a million lives in World War II and shortened the war by two years per General Dwight Eisenhower by solving the Nazi Enigma communication code. Yet, he had to hide his homosexuality and was later imprisoned for it when discovered. This WWII hero died in jail. The 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” is about Turing’s efforts.

A black man named Vivien Thomas helped solve the Blue Baby death problem by restoring the full flow of blood from the heart through groundbreaking open heart surgery on a baby. Yet, like the NASA mathematicians, he had to battle racism which would not allow him in the operating room, at first. His story is told in the 2004 movie, “Something the Lord Made.”

Jesus said we should treat each other like we want to be treated. It is the right thing to do, but it is also the wise thing to do. Please remember this quote from an economist who advised Presidents Reagan and Clinton, “Innovation is portable.” And, where it occurs is where the jobs start. So, we need to let innovative ideas flourish regardless of their source.

A big culprit in the housing crisis is punished

After living through the housing crisis and reading and watching news, books and movies, I read with interest that one of the biggest culprits has been punished – the rating agency Moody’s. In my view and the view of others, Moody’s failed in its job to forewarn investors of the true risks of packaged together mortgage loans. They fell into a “pay to play” modus operandi.

What is pay to play? Per an article in Reuters, “Moody’s ratings were ‘directly influenced by the demands of the powerful investment banking clients who issued the securities and paid Moody’s to rate them,’ Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in a statement on Friday.” This would be akin to you paying off the inspector of the house you just built and want to sell. The buyer would not know the inspector was gaming the system against him or her.

So, individual investors, pension funds, 401(k) funds, states, and countries all fell prey to this pay to play ratings approach. Iceland had to declare bankruptcy, e.g. As a result of their actions, Moody’s was fined $864 million which will be distributed to twenty-one states and the federal government, who were part of the lawsuit.

We should not lose sight of an industry who became enamored with riskier investments and did not ask enough questions. Executives did not fully understand the risk they were taking on and it brought them down, along with the housing market, stock market and economy. An excellent movie to watch is called “The Big Short,” based on Michael Lewis’ book, which takes a complex topic and explains it with the dialogue, but also with clever sidebars which use laymen’s terms to define what things mean.

In essence, mortgage loans were given out to anyone who could fog a mirror, then these lesser risks were packaged together to spread risk and sold to investors. The problem is packaging bad risks does not make the risk less, it makes it concentrated bad risk. The law of large numbers to mitigate risk is only effective if good risks are mixed with some bad risks. Moody’s stamped these packaged loan investments with much higher ratings than they deserved. And, investors who trusted Moody’s and the seller bought them in good faith.

We rely on Moody’s and other rating agencies to take their job with seriousness of purpose and ethics. If they cannot shoot straight with us, they will let us down. And, that is precisely what they did. In my view, that fine may not be enough for the damage they helped perpetuate.