Monday musings – insignificant or significant

Life offers many experiences from the insignificant to significant. Approaching my 62nd birthday, I can share that more than a few things people believe are significant are not really important. Conversely, little insignificant things may have been gateways into something more meaningful. As Robert Frost wrote, the road not taken has made all the difference.

The girl or boy you did not ask out, as your friends labeled the person too different, might have opened your eyes to wonderful experiences.

Being prevented by your parents from attending a party may be mortifying for a teen, but does not make that big a difference in the big scheme of things.

To this point, the most well-adjusted Hollywood couples, live away from the superficial Hollywood scene. They crave the reality, not perception.

Being genuine is far more important than being popular. Choosing to help or listen to someone with a problem, is far more important than being “liked.”

Changing your mind on a major decision may prove embarrassing, but it is usually for the best. Life events are worthy of as much introspection as possible. I have never regretted unwinding a major decision.

Saying “no” may be unpopular, but it is also more than fine to decline. People sometimes overcommit and end up letting people down.

Take the time to ask your older relatives about your heritage before it is too late. I still have unanswered questions, especially after doing research online. Knowing your lineage and history is gratifying, even if the history reveals some warts. Our kids love to speak of their roots.

Finally, one of the things my wife and I miss with the COVID-19 limitations is talking to people we encounter on our travels, near and far. A trip to Ireland was seasoned by chatting with Oola, who grew up in a corner of Belgium, very close to two other countries, eg. Take the time to talk to folks. It may make all the difference.

Scotland and America quietly (at least here) show the way on wind energy

In one of the best kept secrets in America, solar and wind energy continue to make huge strides and are on par cost-wise with coal energy production. And, with total cost of environmental, health, acquisition and litigation are factored in, the renewables beat the pants off coal. This is a key reason in Texas, renewable energy is passing coal as the second largest energy source behind natural gas in 2020. And, as oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said on “60 Minutes” early in the last decade, natural gas will buy us time, but wind energy is the future in the plain states.

The wind also blows in Scotland, especially offshore in the North Sea. Per Wikipedia, “Wind power in Scotland is the fastest-growing renewable energy technology, with 8423 MW of installed wind power capacity as of December 2018. This included 7800 MW from onshore wind in Scotland and 623 MW of offshore wind generators. There is further potential for expansion, especially offshore given the high average wind speeds, and a number of large offshore wind farms are planned.

The Scottish Government has achieved its target of generating 50% of Scotland’s electricity from renewable energy by 2015, and is hoping to achieve 100% by 2020, which was raised from 50% in September 2010. The majority of this is likely to come from wind power. This target will also be met if current trends continue.”

From Offshore Wind Scotland (link below), more update numbers on the offshore wind power notes, “We have 915 MW of operational offshore wind (as compared to the 623 MW in December, 2018 in Wikipedia) including the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, Hywind Scotland, and a further 4.1GW of consented projects in the pipeline. One of the largest offshore wind projects in the world, the 950MW Moray East project, is under construction in the Moray Firth and Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm, which at 50MW is the largest floating wind array in the world, is also under construction 12km off Stonehaven. SSE’s 1075MW Seagreen project in the Firth of Forth will start construction next year with 114 turbines utilising 9.5MW machines from MHI Vestas. Crown Estate Scotland will kick off the next offshore wind leasing round, ScotWind, with projects announced in 2020 and this should see the Scottish market rise to over 10-12GW by 2030.”

I recognize most readers will gloss over the numbers, but suffice it to say, Scotland is recognizing and capturing the power of its location to harness the wind. They set out a long term plan and went about achieving it, even when obstacles got in the way. What got very little play here is a golf course owner who happens to be the US president sued to stop construction of offshore wind mills visible from one of his Scottish courses. His company lost the case and had to pay the Scottish government US$290,000 for its court costs.

But, back in the states, Texas is not the only plain state taking advantage of wind. Iowa gets about 40% of its electricity from wind energy. Per Wikipedia, in 2019, the top five wind energy states are:

Texas (28,843 MW)
Iowa (10,190 MW)
Oklahoma (8,172 MW)
Kansas (6,128 MW)
California (5,973 MW)

California also leads the pack by far on solar energy at 27,900 MW in the first quarter of 2020, with North Carolina (6,400 MW), Arizona (4,700 MW), Florida (4,600 MW) and Texas (4,600 MW) filling the next four slots.

To put the two leaders in perspective, the Texas wind energy and California solar energy megawatts can power close to 8 million homes in each state. It should also be noted that electricity intensive businesses that run data and call centers, like Amazon, Google, Facebook and retailers like Walmart and IKEA are well ahead of others on the push toward renewable energy. Amazon is running TV commercials right now that say Amazon will be 100% renewable energy powered by 2025.

COVID-19 is harmful to people, but also is hurting the fossil fuel businesses. Quite simply, fewer people are traveling and buying petrol. But, the renewable energy business is less impacted as the focus is on homes and businesses. The Paris Climate Change Accord was not the only big deal that occurred in 2015 in Paris. Bill Gates led a group of 26 private investors and the University of California to form The Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in technology that will improve renewable energy and lessen our carbon impact on the planet. Gates committed US$2 Billion of his own money.

I mention all of this as this move forward is still underreported and underappreciated, at least here in the states. When I see US politicians funded by fossil fuel companies cry foul over green initiatives, the answer is simple. It is already happening due to market forces and it also happens to be where the job growth is. So, where do you want to invest your money?

https://www.offshorewindscotland.org.uk/

Hard to drain the swamp by hiring swamp creatures

The 45th US President won the election, in part, because of his commitment to drain the swamp in Washington. It should have given us pause when he hired more wealthy people than ever before to be members of his cabinet. As we continue to witness, it is hard to drain the swamp when you hire swamp creatures.

A few weeks ago, Scott Pruitt, the Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned. Pruiit was under significant scrutiny over a series of unehtical and extremely poor leadership decisions around spending, travel, favoritism, and influence. Staff who tried to cry foul were let go or reassigned.

Last year, we saw Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services leave. A report came out last week that detailed his significant use of charter flights at taxpayer expense. A similar criticism over questionable trips and sporting tickets led to the resignation of David Shulkin, the Director of Veteran Affairs.

Now, Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, is under fire for not divesting himself from several investments in companies. This astute business owner and investor claims these were oversights. But, documented reporting reveals he has numerous meetings on his calendar with CEOs of companies with whom he remained invested. That does not sound like an oversight to me.

Then, there is Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law who has no real title and only recently was fully vetted by the FBI for security clearance. It has been reported other global leaders speak openly about how they could use Kushner since he was soliciting money to pay off a $1.2 billion debt payment next year. He did get his funding, but my guess is that this is being investigated.

This should not be a total surprise as organizations take on the personality of its leader. With a leader who did not adequately divest or shelter his businesses from his ability to benefit, who does benefit from investment, hotel stays, etc. as patrons try to court influence, who significantly travels at taxpayer expense, it is not a stretch to witness his cabinet’s desire for perquisites and questionable practices in their favor.

To be frank, President Obama was vilified by conservative news outlet for his vacations to golf. Yet, these same news outlets condone with their silence the current incumbent’s conflicts of interests and sojourns. His travels far exceed that of other Presidents at this point.

It seems pretty swampy to me. Maybe more swamp creatures need to leave the lagoon.

Daytripping sans chemicals

If you are a fan of the Beatles, you know one of their earlier songs was “Daytripper.” Its meaning is quite different from mine which requires no chemicals.

With my single sister living nearby with some recent medical needs, our ability to travel for lengthy periods of time has been compromised. Instead, my wife and I are doing weekly day trips to towns near our city.

The key to all of this is a destination date for us. It usually entails seeing a memorable site or restaurant and just strolling the town or a beautiful park. The trips usually amount to three or four hours of time, but it is just nice to get away and see something different. Plus, many of these small towns have undergone a metamorphosis to restore old buildings or lost business.

In Rock Hill, we went to eat at a cafe where one of the first African-American counter sit-ins occurred. While there, we checked out a beautiful 11 acre park while holding hands along the walking paths.

The next week we visited Black Mountain meeting two of our children for breakfast and a walk about. The following week, we checked out a restaurant that a popular band bought for their mother in Belmont The food was excellent, plus it allowed us to shop at an unusual specialty shop and drop in on a photo museum which was quite interesting as we got a guided tour.

And, this past week, we ventured to the town of Shelby where we visited the Earl Scruggs museum. The interactive museum focused on the innovative banjo player, but also devoted time to other musicians from North Carolina. The subject matter and interactive nature actually exceeded our expectations. After an obligatory diner lunch, we visited the Don Gibson Theater, which was reopened about seven years ago to regional and national acts.

Along the way, we have met extremely gracious and helpful people. A police officer strolling the streets of Belmont was extremely kind and pointed out some places. The manager of the theater gave us a neat your behind the stage.

We are looking forward to our next daytrip. If you have not done these kinds of trips, give them a try. If you have, please share some of your surprising and wonderful visits.

Beautiful Beaufort

My wife and I ventured to a quaint town and area called Beaufort for the weekend. Pronounced Bew-fert, it is located on the coast of South Carolina between Charleston and Savannah. It is a historic town and has beautiful architecture as it sits on the Beaufort River. We just wanted to get away and this trip did the trick.

Beaufort is where the South Carolina leaders fomented the plan to secede from the United States. Ironically, Abraham Lincoln had an armada and ten thousand troops invade the port town just after the war started, so it fell into Union hands as the town leaders left quickly. It was called the “Great Skedaddle.”

The historic homes and stories behind them are marvelous. One interesting story is of a slave named Robert Smalls, who was educated and became an indentured servant which led to him being a ship captain. He later bought his old slaveowner’s house and brought in his destitute owner as she became homeless following the Great Skedaddle and Civil War. He took care of her until his death and asked his family to continue such until she died, letting her stay in her old bedroom.

Smalls later developed the first church built specifically for African-Americans. It was featured in the movie “Forrest Gump,” which was filmed in the area. Tom Hanks is remembered fondly in Beaufort and even used a box of chocolates from a store there in the movie.

Other movies filmed there include “The Big Chill,” “The Great Santini” and “The Prince of Tides” to name a few. The southern author Pat Conroy penned several of his books there, two of which were made into movies noted above.

The nearby islands add so much to a journey there. While we stayed in town, we did venture to Hunting Island State Park and enjoyed a beach with no houses, just tree-lined. Plus, I did climb the lighthouse to get some cool pictures.

The scenery and the food make it happen. Low country food such as shrimp and grits or Frogmore stew are worth a try.  Plus, one of the restaurants had a local guitarist perform his own and orher songs, so it added to one of our meals. We toured one house and did a carriage tour, which we both enjoyed and recommend.

If you come from a distance, the area has a lot to offer. Savannah, Hilton Head or Charleston are neat by themselves, but could easily be included in a longer visit to Beaufort. It is worth the venture.

Our slip is beginning to show

I read two interesting and related articles in the past two days which reveal our slip is beginning to show. The first article spoke of the noticeable decline in travel to the US since the ill-conceived travel ban was instituted by our new President.

The decline is from multiple countries beyond the boundaries of the seven countries noted by the President and has been termed the “Trump Slump.” The lost revenue on our mainland travel is estimated at $185 million per The Global Business Travel Association as reported in The Guardian.

The second article noted the fall off in foreign students interested in attending US colleges and universities. The reason cited is not feeling welcomed by the new administration. This is precisely the kind of immigration we want. The reason is “innovation is portable” per former Reagan and Clinton advisor David Smick. If we attract and retain foreign students, their ideas will bear fruit here. And, jobs initially surround the innovator.

These glimpses of our slip are just the beginning of a decline in revenue should we continue forward with our inward, nationalistic focus. Our slip will show even more and the impact on our growth will be more noticeable.

In an earlier post called “You cannot shrink to greatness,” global trade is accretive to the world’s economy, including ours. By not being welcoming, we will be harming only ourselves. This is a key reason some economists have predicted a malaise or recession under this President once the market euphoria contends with reality.

Words and actions have consequences. If we want to be a global country, we need to act like one.

We need to know the truth

The new leadership of our country has a modus operandi that the truth is only a commodity to be used when it works in their favor. I have witnessed in my consulting and managerial career that organizations take on the personality of its leader. Our leader is combative, thin-skinned and not too comfortable with the truth. Other leaders have lied, but we are talking about a whole different level of lying here as measured by fact checking organizations and just paying attention.

So, his PR people feel obligated to do the same, as once a lie is told and discovered, it either needs to be apologized for or padded with more lies. For this regime, the latter is the more common course of action. Cover a lie with more lies. The dilemma is it is a relentless effort to confuse people paying attention and sway those who do not.

But, this is not new, as our leader has been this way for most of his career. Who says so? His five biographers and ghost writer of his most popular book, “The Art of the Deal” say so. He has exploited many people during his career through bullying, misrepresentation, stiffing people, and many lawsuits, both threatened and real.

I have said before that I start out with the position of not believing a word the man and now his PR people say. The odds are in my favor that I am correct. Instead, I encourage folks to watch his actions, decisions and appointments.

For example, the so-called man of the people, has done the following, to name only a few of his actions, all of which are true.

  • He eliminated a planned mortgage premium reduction that would have helped millions of homeowners who did not put a large amount down on their house.
  • He is requesting the removal of a new requirement that would make all investment advisors act as fiduciaries, meaning they would operate in your best interests, which means that they would instead push transactions that may not be in your, but in their best interests.
  • He said Obamacare was in a death spiral, yet in a letter by the American Academy of Actuaries to Congress, they said that was not true. It should be noted Obamacare is helping twenty million plus Americans and, needs improvement, but is not a disaster, as he conveys.
  • He said Climate Change is a hoax invented by the Chinese to steal our jobs and has appointed several cabinet members and advisors who are perpetuating climate change denial in the face of overwhelming and convincing numbers of climate or environmental scientists. He is censoring climate change science by his departments which is a sure sign of not having faith in his own argument. It was reported by Bill McKibben in The Guardian, rural areas will be heavily impacted by not addressing climate change and not moving to renewable energy.
  • He introduced a travel ban that will do little to help with terrorism and actually will do the opposite. The terrorists are already here, but what is little known, he reduced funding on terrorism to address the 1,000 plus domestic terrorists groups that are tracked here. This coupled with ostracizing Muslims here and abroad, makes us less safe, as we should welcome all of our citizens and afford them the same rights and respect as others.

All of the above have an impact on the people who voted for him, as well as the rest of us, and not in a good way. It would be nice if these actions are highlighted, as  we need the truth. Otherwise, our complex problems will not get solved and we will have to address them in the future.

 

 

 

Let’s give thanks

My favorite holiday is upon us, one that brings families and friends together. We have a crowd of twenty-two joining our feast and fellowship this year, which is more than ever.

Especially nice will be seeing some new faces with our niece and two of our children each inviting a friend. It brings my wife and me joy to see them feel comfortable enough to invite a friend.

We will also be meeting the son of one of our nephews for the first time. They live in California and he has not had the opportunity to bring him east until now.

Of course, we are excited to have everyone here. My daughter asked how long ago did we start this tradition. When my grandmother passed away, going to her home for Thansgiving passed away with her. So, we remember her by making her cornbread dressing and continuing her  tradition.

Please enjoy your Thanksgiving and travel safely if you must. Hug everyone a little longer this year and share plenty of stories.

A few favorite cities

What are your favorite cities to visit? Through business and pleasure, I have had the opportunity to visit some wonderful places. There is so much more I would like to see, so I would love to hear from you. Here are my list of top ten places, with a few others noted at the bottom. By omission, you will likely guess where I have not been, as some choices would be obvious inclusions.

  • San Francisco – a city worth the travel and cost. It is so scenic and quaint, plus it offers access to wine country, Muir Woods and the Monterey coast.
  • Montreal – a city which offers a blend of French and English cultures and beautiful scenery. It is a great walking city and has wonderfully designed churches. Check it out during the Jazz Festival in the summer.
  • New Orleans – a vibrant, eclectic place with great music and food. Avoid the hot summer if you can, but do go. Also, indulge a tour to the Bayou to get a sense of the geography and fragility of the place.
  • London – a favorite city because of the cosmopolitan culture. It is a great walking city with numerous parks, pubs and historical places. Take in the theater while there, as well. Plus, it is a great launching pad for a journeys to France, Ireland, Scandinavia, etc.
  • Dublin – another great walking city, but ladies beware of heels on some of the cobblestone streets in Old Dublin. Much to see there in terms of history, pubs, etc., plus it is great place to view the rest of Ireland from.
  • New York – a must see for all, but you have to expect crowds. Also, a great walking city and there is so much to offer in theater, restaurants, shopping and sports.
  • Washington – I think this city is highly underrated as a place to visit, as there is so much to see and do. I always feel worn out from walking, but there is so much more to see and appreciate from the memorials to the museums to the zoo and restaurants.
  • Chicago – I have only been on business, but I love Chicago. It has a vibrance to it and is not as crowded as New York. Plus, the vistas of the lake are wonderful. It is a great place to fly into for a few days. Check out Lawry’s and Second City.
  • Toronto – Is a lot like Chicago with its lake venue. I wish I could have spent more time there, but it is not inexpensive. There are many things to do in close proximity be it the aquarium, Skydome, Second City, restaurants, sports, etc.
  • Cannes – I was able to go to a business conference here and what a trip. It is beautiful and has so much to offer in food (the right way over lengthy meals), shopping and casinos, if that is your cup of tea. My best memory is our group having dinner up in the hills overlooking the city and the meal lasting over three hours, leading to wonderful conversations.

Other cities I would give high marks to are Boston, Savannah, Charleston, Ottawa, Miami and Seattle. I would love to tour the northwest and check out Vancouver and set off for Paris, Florence, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Sydney, Hong Kong, etc.

Let me know some of your favorites. Or, please reinforce or share concerns of some of those above.