Visiting people and places is the ticket

I wrote a few years ago about the wonderful visit we had to New England, made more enjoyable because we reconnected with some relatives. The combination of using a visit to a place to visit people can be marvelous, the caveat is to make sure it is people who you want to be around.

The past few days, my wife and I did a similar kind of visit to my home state of Florida and roots in south Georgia. Starting with my hometown of Jacksonville, we stayed with my brother and visited with his oldest daughter who is temporarily staying with him. The next night, we had dinner with his son, who we had not seen for a few years. It was wonderful to catch up. Earlier that day, we had yet another four hour lunch with my three best friends dating back to grade school, along with their wives. We did hear a few new stories, along with the old, and got to catch up.

The next day we drove to Tampa where we spent a couple of days enjoying its wonderful River Walk and a cool place called the Oxford Exchange suggested by our niece, my brother’s youngest daughter. The key to our trip was to visit with her, which was lots of fun. But, while there, we got to meet our blogging friend Gronda, who I had never met in person. She is a delight and has lived a wonderful life with various experiences, which she shared. We walked to and from the restaurant with Gronda, which was on the River Walk, as we sat outside and enjoyed the meal.

As for meeting our niece, it is lovely to meet her now as a wonderful young woman, as contrasted to the child we saw grow up. Meeting her alone in her new home city was quite fun. We had a nice brunch at the Oxford Exchange which is a rehabbed old building filled with shops and restaurants.

Finally, we ventured north and had a wonderful meal with members of my father’s family in south Georgia. I won’t mention the town, because everyone knows everyone else. There were eight of us, which included the three children (and their spouses) of a man raised with my father after his parents divorced. My dad was brought up largely by his aunt and her husband, who had two children as well. This aunt had helped raise his mother, as her biological mother was not part of the picture.

We had so much fun catching up, trading stories and filling in gaps in other stories. I hope the visits spawn reciprocal ones. It did with our New England trip. In fact, another niece we reconnected with in Maine is coming down for a few days later today.

I cannot emphasize enough how happy we are to have made these trips. I recognize this may not be newsworthy, but let me say don’t wait until it is too late to connect or reconnect.

A true lesson in correcting racist action

I heard this story yesterday while visiting with friends dating back to grade school. One of my friends was a catcher on a good college baseball team.

As they played an arch rival, my friend was catching an African-American pitcher, whom I have met as he was a good friend of my catching friend. That day, an opposing player got a single off the pitcher and, while standing on first base told my friend’s first baseman, “Tell that ‘N-word’ I will own him all day!”

The next time up at bat, the African-American pitcher dusted him back with two pitches (meaning he threw pitches closer to him than homeplate). The opposing coach came out to complain and the Black pitcher’s coach told him what was happening. The offensive batter’s coach told the pitcher’s coach “to throw at him two more times.” After the batter walked to first base after four balls, his coach removed him from the game and told him why. He told the pitcher’s coach after learning of the racial slur, “We are not going to put up with that s–t.”

While I am not condoning a pitcher throwing toward a batter, I repeat this story as it is an exemplar for people in leadership – a coach, minister, teacher, boss, mentor, representative, governor, senator, or president – they can make a huge difference in condemning racism. His quote is priceless, “we are not going to put up with that s–t.”

Just think if these people in leadership positions or, even the rest of us, said “that is not right” or “I do not agree with your saying that.” Or, just by actions, to show support to a target of racism. We need our leaders to be among our better angels. Yet, we must also walk the talk. If our so-called leaders fail to lead, we need to share our disappointment and ask them to do better.

Bumper sticker solutions

Bumper sticker solutions may get people elected, but they rarely solve problems. Most problems are complex and multi-faceted. And, some bumper sticker solutions don’t address the greater causes.

The most obvious example is “Build that wall.” Building a wall was sold as the cure for disenfranchised economic areas. Yet, immigration, legal or illegal, is down the list as causes. The two primary causes are companies chasing cheap labor and technological gains. As a CFO once said, companies would get by with no employees if they could.

Bumper sticker solutions also dilute the focus and dollars from addressing the underlying causes. “Saving coal” fits nicely on the bumper, but it overlooks that coal has been in demise for both cost and environmental reasons and has been for ten years. Only Senator Bernie Sanders told coal miners the truth in 2016 saying “your jobs are going away.” But, what could not fit on a bumper is “here is what I plan to do about it.” He then defined transitionel compensation and training to help miners learn new trades. It should be noted the demise in coal fired plants has accelerated under the current White House.

Our problems are real and complex. Very few, if any, can be solved with implementing a bumper sticker solution. Repealing Obamacare will hurt tens of mullions of people. Any improvements or changes have to be well thought out and not slapped on a wall as was done in 2017.

Let’s ask more questions of politicians. What, how, when, how much are good ones. But, let’s start with why?

Bad habits

Aristotle said we are creatures of habit. Implicit therein is the habits can be good or bad. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called “The Power of Habit,” where he noted the way to stop a bad habit, is to identify the trigger and replace the bad habit with a better one.

Old habits. The bad ones can be as simple as too many fried foods or sweets to smoking regular or e-cigarettes to drinking more than one should. Or worse. The good ones could be regular meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise, reading or selective and portion controlling eating habits.

Or, the habits could be less concrete. Kindness, civility, and decency are enviable habits, just as rudeness, bullying, lying etc. are habits to avoid emulating.

I have shared before that I am an alcoholic. Yet, to avoid a future train wreck, I stopped drinking more than twelve years ago. The key was a day-by-day mantra I learned from another struggling alcoholic – “I am not going to drink today.” Another key is the substitution of other habits – fruits and fruit juices, selective sweets, hot tea, etc. – instead of a drink.

Another habit I had to lick was to get my weight in order. The stopping drinking helped, but I was carrying too much. Over about a five year period, I have been able to drop 45 pounds. The keys have been fewer white foods – those wonderful carb loaded potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. The other key is portion control whether it is a meal or snack. On snacks, serve a small bowl and leave the bag in the pantry. On meals, serve smaller portions and avoid the temptation to go back.

Plus, I added a daily exercise routine of about fifteen minutes after I shower. This is supplemented with walks and hikes a couple of times a week.

Good habits. Make sure they are sustainable. That had been a dieting and exercise challenge before and my weight yo-yoed. Best wishes on finding better habits should you need to go down that path.

A great songwriter and drummer passed away

The main songwriter for the rock band “Rush” and voted fourth best drummer in the world, Neil Peart, passed away Friday night from brain cancer.

One of the best examples of Peart’s clever wordsmithing is from the song “Freewill:”

“When you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

When my two sons and I saw Rush, Peart had two sets of drums surrounding him. In the middle of the show, the drums rotated, so he could play a different sounding set.

He was representative of the band, which included Alex Lifeson (superb lead guitarist) and Geddy Lee (lead singer, bassist and keyboardist), as people were amazed by how much sound came out of just three people.

People know their bigger hits like “Freewill,” “Tom Sawyer,” ” Spirit of Radio” and “Fly by Night,” but their body of work is pronounced due to great lyrics and musicality. Here are a couple of samples:

From the song “Subdivisions” about cookie cutter housing and thinking is the classic line about having to fit in:

“Conform or be cast out.”

Another clever set of lyrics comes from “Limelight” as he writes:

“All the world’s indeed a stage,
And we performers are merely players,
Performers and portrayers,
Each another’s audience,
Outside the gilded cage.”

Finally, from the metaphor “The Trees,” Peart and his mates write:

“There is trouble in the forest,
There is trouble in the trees,
For the maples want more sunlight,
And the oaks ignore their pleas.”

In the end, the forest is destroyed. The metaphor is plain – the haves must not ignore the plight of the have-nots, but destroying the haves is not the answer either.

Peart will be missed. His drumming, songwriting and his ability to make us think.

Movies worth a look

As a means of distraction or illumination, movies provide a necessary vehicle. Looking past the blockbuster action hero movies, here are few to consider for theater-going or downloading.

In no partiicular order:

“Knives Out” is in theaters now and is an entertaining who-done-it? Daniel Craig leads a very recognizable cast.

“Dark Waters” is more illuminating than distracting as Mark Ruffalo stars in a true-life chemical cover-up that went on for years hurting consumers, locals and employees.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is the story of Mister Rogers’s impacting the lives of many children, but also helping the life of an interviewer, the basis for the movie. Tom Hanks ably plays Mister Rogers.

“Midway” is a well-rounded view of the crucial battle of Midway a key refueling island in the Pacific during WWII. Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Ed Skrein star in an ensemble cast as the movie focus on both American and Japanese perspectives.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” is an excellent drama around Ford’s efforts to compete in Le Mans racing against recurring champion Ferrari. Christian Bale and Matt Damon star as the racer and racing car designer.

“Judy” is an excellent piece of acting by Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, late in her career. It focuses on a brief time where Garland plays a London venue to enable her to keep her children.

“Once upon a time in Hollywood” stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in a remake of a Hollywood tragedy. It is a Quentin Tarentino movie which is akin to the rewriting of history in “Inglorious Bastards.”

“Tolkien” did not do well at the box office, but is quite good. It focuses on Tolkien’s boyhood and early adult life which led him to his creative fantasy writing of “The Hobbit.” It stars Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien and Lily Collins as his muse and love interest.

Let me know what you think of these movies, avoiding spoilers where possible. Also, what other movies would you recommend?

We cannot solve US debt by charging more on our national VISA

The math problem is large. We have $23 trillion plus in US debt today, per the US debt clock. It is projected to increase by $10 trillion by 2027 FYE (September 30, 2027) before the tax cut in December, 2017. The tax cut added $1.5 trillion to the debt projection over ten years. A later budget change added $500 billion over ten years.

The budget bill just signed last week will add $500 billion over ten years per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, yet they note all laws passed in 2019 have added $2.2 trillion over ten years. That would make it at least $37 trillion. So, a good working number is $37 trillion sans any action by the end of 2029 FYE.

Tax increases will not solve this problem, nor will spending cuts. Both are needed. Once the interest cost approaches the defense cost, we have a serious problem. At $37 trillion in debt, the interest cost to maintain it inches closer. So, it truly matters not what Democrats or Republicans like, some poor souls in charge will take the heat for trying to solve a problem passed along by poor financial stewards. It will be akin to the Greek people not liking the EU or responsible Greek leaders when they said Greece was in debt trouble.

What frustrates me is the GOP Freedom Caucus who got elected on debt reduction is the biggest bunch of hypocrites. They screamed bloody murder when the debt was $8 trillion, then $13 trillion, but are passing debt increases misleading the public that the tax reduction would pay for itself – no tax bill has ever done that and this one did not. But, Dems are not without fault. What should scare us all, we should be reducing the deficit with a pretty good economy, yet the deficit is growing and will exceed $1 trillion next FYE. What happens when the economic growth softens even more than it has over the past year.

So, my plea to all is dust off the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Plan and do even more. I am trying to tell folks what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. If I was a young person, I would be screaming bloody murder at inaction on climate change, guns and debt. Debt is not as frightening as guns and climate change, but it is a huge problem.