Sunday, October 14, 2018

Fall Course Catalog

     B and I are in the midst of our fall term at the Center for Learning and Retirement, held at our local university in Pennsylvania. So I'm in a classroom three times a week, twice as a student and once as a teacher.

     I know many of us are interested in pursuing our education, whether for profit, leisure or cultural enrichment -- whether we go to our local adult-education class, attend an OLLI course at a nearby university, or take off on an educational trip with Road Scholar.

     In that spirit, I offer you a list of opportunities from our blogging group's course catalog. See if you want to take a class on . . . 

     Fashion. Rebecca Olkowski in Flattering Clothing for Mature Women tries on a cascading vest and tee shirt from Covered Perfectly, a company that caters to women over 50. According to our expert the outfit is comfortable; it covers up middle age bellies; and it looks cute. I myself am no expert. But it looks good to me!

     Financial Analysis. Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting was tempted not by money, but by re-establishing a connection with long-lost relatives. So she took a risk and opened Spam Email in Another Language. What do you think she found? Go ahead (don't worry, you won't get spammed) and open up her link to find out.

     Health Insurance. Rita Robison reports on the increase in rates of people who don't have health insurance. Texas tops a list of states with the highest rate of uninsured, at 17.3%, and Massachusetts has the lowest at 2.8%. For a full report -- and to see how your state stacks up -- check out Uninsured Rates for Health Insurance on The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide.

     Marriage. Stroll down the aisle to Kathy Gottberg's 7 Thoughts on Marriage and Relationships. As a relative newly wed myself, I found her advice both useful and relevant.

     Networking. Jennifer Koshak of Untold and Begin presents How to Get the Most Out of a Blogging Conference based on a recent conference she attended in Florida. She shares highlights from her experience, and offers tips on how to get the most out of any conference you attend, as well as ideas on how to find the conference that's perfect for you.

     Sociology. Laura Lee Carter, who has a master's degree in history, offers up some political analysis in Who Voted for Donald Trump: A Cohort Study. I wonder if you'd agree with her.

     Stress. Carol Cassara reminds us that stress can hit even in retirement, and suggests that we might not know as much about stress as we think. In How to Manage Stress she offers some perspective, plus a few tips on how to refocus your days in order to better manage your life.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Push and Pull of a Pet

     We have a dog, a mixed breed, mid-sized female who is getting on in years. She weighs about 60 pounds. B got her as a rescue from the North Shore Animal League in 2006. So now Sophie is 12 years old, with a cloud of white spreading around her nose, and a touch of arthritis in her legs.

     B's sister-in-law and her husband used to have two dogs. One died a couple of years ago, and the other died last year. They had dogs for most of their lives, but now for the past year or so they have been without a dog. They live near us, and so last spring we thought they might like to dog sit Sophie. They agreed, and took her into their home for two weeks while we were away.

     Then, when we were going to Cape Cod this summer, we asked them if they'd like to dog sit Sophie again. But they begged off, making an excuse.

A camera shy Sophie
     Later, B's sister-in-law confided that having Sophie around made her husband sad. She reminded him of how much he missed their old dogs. He really didn't think he could handle dog sitting Sophie again.

     We saw them again last month at a family get-together, and I got talking with him about dogs. His daughter has a mixed-breed dog, and his son has two standard poodles. And then he reflected that he'd had dogs all his life, until recently. But he didn't think they would get another one.

     Why not? I asked.

     I'm 68 years old, he told me, and getting a dog is a long-term commitment. Sure, I'd like to have a dog now. But I don't know if I'd be able to handle the responsibility in six or eight or ten years. And, you know, I'd hate to be in that position -- having to find someone else to take my dog. And giving up a dog at that point would be really hard for me.

     My first reaction was that he was borrowing trouble -- worrying about something that might happen in the distant future, and missing out on all the things a pet brings into your life in the meantime.

     Or maybe he and his wife were just tired of having a dog tie them down -- and he couldn't admit it. Their kids are grown. They are retired. Maybe they want the freedom to travel, or the freedom from having to train and walk and take care of a pet.

     Then just last week I found out my former brother-in-law John (my ex-wife's brother) just got a new German shepherd. He, too, has owned dogs for most of his life -- as well as a couple of cats, and he once had a parrot as well. He's now divorced and lives on his own.

     John is 71, or three years older than my brother-in-law. And he suffers from multiple myeloma. He's been dealing with myeloma for a few years, and he is now stabilized, but his life expectancy has to be a lot less than my brother-in-law. But he has decided he can take on the responsibility for a new dog. I guess he feels that he can manage it. Or, maybe he just needs the companionship.

     There are many different reasons why someone wants a dog, or any pet for that matter. I have the best of both worlds. Since B got Sophie before we moved in together, she feels that Sophie is really her responsibility, and she does 80% of the upkeep. She feeds and walks her in the morning. She takes care of her medical issues. And she's the one who arranges for a pet sitter when we go away. All I do is feed her at night, and go out for a brief walk with B and Sophie in the evening.

     So I get all the benefits of having a dog, without the work. But if I ever found myself living alone, like John, I would probably get a dog of my own. I'd want the companionship. And I'd think that eight or ten years from now, my dog would take as much care of me as I would of him. (Many studies, including this one from Scientific Reports, show that dog owners enjoy health benefits and actually live longer than those who don't own pets.)

     I hate to think that one day we'll be without Sophie. But that will probably happen. Will we get a new dog at that point? Maybe we'll just downsize. My sister in Arizona has a Pomeranian that weighs in at about five pounds. He looks kinda cute!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Why Men Should Behave More Like Women

     This is the follow-up to my previous post about the problems of men in America today ... which I got to thinking about after my recent flu shot.

     But just so you know, my wife and I often go against type. I'm the one who stops and asks for directions, not her. I'm the one who goes to the doctor and gets my checkups, not her. And I'm the one taking a book discussion course at the senior center, with two other men and 18 women. Meanwhile, B is doing a technology course with mostly men and only a few women.

     So what's my point? I can't speak for B. But as for myself, I'm trying to behave more like a woman, simply because I believe it will help me live longer -- which at this stage of life is of more urgent concern than it was 20 or 30 years ago when ... you know, I was going to live forever.

     We all know that in general women live longer than men. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average life expectancy for a male born in the United States today is about 76 years. For a female it's 81. Even before they're born, males are at risk. About 115 males are conceived for every 100 females. But on average only 104 of those males make it into the world, as 11 of them fail to survive until birth.

     A 2012 study from Australia suggested that mutations in DNA account for at least some of the difference between life expectancies. And it's not just in humans. The life expectancy of a male chimpanzee is 45 years, compared to 59 for the female. The average male mosquito lives a week, the female a month.

     The study supports what scientists have long known -- that at least some of the difference in longevity between men and women is in the genes. Natural selection favors reproduction over longevity, in essence using the body simply as a vehicle for passing on genes. Males have shorter lifespans because once they pass on their genes, they are disposable. Females are built to stick around to raise their young -- especially in species like humans who take many years to mature.

     A related theory suggests that males compete with one another for the attention of females. The male who proves his mettle by engaging in risky behaviors like hunting and fighting is more likely to attract the female and therefore pass on his genes -- at least, evolutionarily speaking. But unfortunately for males, the more risky the behavior, the shorter the lifespan.

     But scientists estimate than only about 30% of the variation in longevity can be attributed to genetics. The rest depends on environmental and societal factors -- your exposures and your behaviors. So what can we men do to increase their life expectancy?

     Take fewer risks. Men in their late teens and 20s go through a testosterone surge that tends to produce aggressive and risky behaviors. Young men drive too fast, don't wear their seatbelts; they fight and experiment with deadly weapons, and engage in risky sexual behavior (but I don't really want to go there -- that's a topic for another blog post, and one not written be me). Even today, this all leads to a higher death rate among young men, as more men than women die in accidents and homicides. And we all know that risky behavior doesn't always end when a man turns 30.

     Get a safer job. Traditionally, men took on dangerous jobs, from the military to mining, while women filled safer jobs such as teaching, nursing and child care. In modern times, dangerous jobs have become safer, and the gender gap is closing. Nevertheless, men still work most of the dangerous jobs in America, from fishermen to farmer, roofer to truck driver.

     Don't smoke or drink or take drugs. Men tend to party more than women, and it takes its toll on their health. Fortunately, this gender gap is shrinking, as over the last two decades men have smoked less and less. Unfortunately, the results are different for drugs.

     Eat a healthier diet. Men eat more meat, more high-fat snacks, more high-fructose corn syrup -- all leading to higher levels of cholesterol. A diet with more fruits and vegetables (which can reduce colon cancer) and less red meat (which reduces the risk of both cancer and heart disease) will help men improve their health and extend their life expectancy.

     Deal with your stress. Researchers once thought that men suffered more stress because of their demanding jobs. That may no longer be true, as women are working more, earning more and shouldering more financial responsibility for themselves and their families. But one thing is certain. Men internalize their stress, or deal with it in harmful ways, such as drinking or fighting. Men also have higher suicide rates than women. And stress plays an important role in heart disease. So it's crucial for men to find healthful outlets for stress through sports, counseling, meditating or support groups.

     Go to the doctor. A lot of men (but not me!) won't go to the doctor, no matter how much it hurts, out of a false sense of bravado. While it may not be necessary for young males to undergo an annual physical, older men should see a doctor regularly and make sure to keep up with preventive care, from monitoring cholesterol to screening for prostate and colon cancer.

     One last note. Women shouldn't take their longer life expectancy for granted. The gender gap has been closing. According to a report from the University of Washington, between 1989 and 2009, life expectancy increased by 4.6 years for men, but only 2.7 years for women. Let's hope that any further narrowing of the gap is not due to women acting more like men, but men behaving more like women.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What's Happened to the Men?

     I went to get my flu shot this past week. Don't forget to do that. For odd reasons, my visit to the clinic made me think of a post I wrote awhile back about men and women.

     One of my pet peeves (along with hectoring people about safe driving) is hectoring people, especially men, about taking care of their health. In my experience, a lot of men ignore their health, somehow thinking it's a sign of weakness to go to the doctor, or eat their vegetables. This contributes to a basic inequality between men and women: on average, women live four years longer than men do.

     I think of myself as a feminist. Everyone should be treated equally and should have the opportunity to fully develop their talents and their lives. So in that spirit -- and hoping it's somewhat relevant and not insensitive in light of the hysteria around this week's news -- I repeat:

     I lost my job at age 53, never to find full-time employment again. Now over ten years later, I find myself sitting at home, working around the house, playing golf with my friends, doing volunteer work and picking up a few freelance assignments -- while my better half goes off every day to her job as a librarian. (This was two years ago. B is retired now -- she retired when she turned 65 and qualified for Medicare.)

    But my situation was not unique. I look around at my friends . . . still today. One lost his job in his late 40s. He couldn't find another job so he tried to start his own business, then he had some health problems, and now at age 60 he is being supported by his wife who commutes to the city. My friend Joe was forced into early retirement at age 57. His wife had gone back to work after the kids went to college. Joe became the house husband; his wife the bread winner -- until, now, Joe died last year at age 65, and his widow is still working but has been able to cut back to part time. Yet another friend took early retirement from the government after his wife landed a high-paying job in another city. Now he's fixing up their house (still) as she goes off to work every day.

     A few years ago, in 2012, Hanna Rosin came out with a book and TED Talk The End of Men, which argued that the era of male economic hegemony is gone for good. She pointed out that most of the jobs lost in the Great Recession were in male-oriented industries, while women working in health and education were not affected so much. According to the New York Times, today 12 of the 15 fastest growing professions are dominated by women.

     Meantime, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1970 female participation in the workforce has increased  from 43% to almost 60%, while male participation has gone down from 80% to 71%. And while older men still make up the majority of senior executives, today women in their 20s actually outearn men in their 20s. The tide has turned.

     A variation of this issue came up in our lives, when B was helping to run the charity auction at her church. She was looking for an auctioneer. "I think a man would be better," she mused, "but there aren't many men who come to church."

     "What about the elders?" I asked. I was thinking there must be at least one man among the group of elders who run the church.

    B paused.  "Actually, there aren't many men who are elders." She counted them up. "Gee, it used to be all men," she concluded. "Now there are hardly any." She gave me a significant look (as though it was my fault) and said, "Where are all the men?"

     I could only think that men, in large measure, are no longer in leadership roles, (okay, I get it, not in Congress, but isn't Congress behind the times in a lot of ways?) and in many cases no longer even working. Women have taken their place. Her boss, the director of the library, is a woman. So is the president of the library board of trustees. The PTA is run completely by women -- although men still dominate the volunteer fire department.

     It's no secret that the path to a good job is a good education. Today, more women than men go to college.  The college enrollment rate for high-school graduates is 72% for young women and 65% for young men -- the result is that 57% of undergraduate students are women.

     One Minnesota college admissions officer noted ruefully that the admissions pool had recently fallen to just 30% male. In the past year it had increased to 34% because, he admitted, "We actually did a little affirmative action."

     Meanwhile, women earn 63% of master's degrees and 54% of doctoral degrees. But hold on. Men do still "win out" in one category. Their high-school dropout rate is 10% compared to 7% for women.

     Currently some 80% of K-12 public school teachers are women. Perhaps one solution to male underemployment would be for men to enter the field of teaching, expanding their career opportunities and possibly helping today's young males make more of their school experience.

     None of this affects me directly. I don't need a job, and even though I take an adult-education class, I probably forget more than I learn. Yet I can't help but think how different the world is compared to when I started out -- let alone what it was for my parents.

     A lot of things have changed, mostly for the good. I have two children, a boy and a girl both in their early 30s. I just hope they both have equally good prospects for their careers -- and their lives.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fishing 4 Answers

     My days of "doing nothing" have ended. I started my two volunteer jobs this week.

     My focus is on education. I donate both time and money to my colleges, to the community college, and other local organizations that are trying to help people improve their lives. I know it's also important to help feed the hungry, house the homeless and help the aged. But I choose education, maybe because I still remember that old saying about giving a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and you've fed him for a lifetime.

     So B and I together lead the Great Decisions in Foreign Policy course at the senior center at our local university. I'm not sure we're "teaching anyone how to fish" with this course. But the material from the Foreign Policy Association is informative, and the discussion is supposed to elevate the level of political discourse. And goodness knows, we certainly need to elevate the level of political discourse.

Great Decisions is held at the Alumni House
     My other volunteer job is tutoring underprivileged and ESL young adults. I tutored at our community college back in New York. And now I'm starting in Pennsylvania. We teach reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary. All crucial abilities people need to hold down a decent job and become enculturated into middle-class America.

    But just because I support education doesn't mean I don't get frustrated with the whole system. The training I received for this tutoring job was maddening. My class went for 12 hours over four days, and we still didn't get the information we needed to do the job. The time was taken up by needless background, endless administrative details, irrelevant tangents -- and inedible snacks that were consumed by no one. This is just one example of how the educational system seems incredibly bureaucratic and inefficient.

     And maybe that's one reason why college is so expensive these days. College is way too expensive. Yet, I am not one who favors free college tuition for all. Why not . . . 4 reasons:

     1. Someone has to pay for it. Shouldn't the person benefiting from a service pay at least some of the cost?

     2. That which is given free is not so highly valued. If you pay for something you are more likely to use it, and use it well. It's human nature. If there's no cost to education, there's no penalty for letting things slide, not paying attention, and otherwise squandering the opportunity.

     3. Paying for college is an investment. The idea is that we pay for something now in order to reap bigger benefits in the future. And we all know that we need to encourage more investment in America, whether it's individuals saving and investing for retirement or governments investing in infrastructure for the future. Paying for college supports the value of investment.

    4. Besides, so what if a person comes out of college with $100,000 of debt. Is that so bad? After all, we don't blink when someone takes out $100,000 mortgage to buy a house. So why should we blink at a $100,000 "mortgage" on an education. I'd argue that an education is a better investment than a house. Wouldn't you?

     All that being said, however, I don't really think it's a good idea for a 20-something to be saddled with a huge college loan. Instead I'd argue that it makes sense for the public to provide free college tuition -- or some other higher-level training -- at least for the disadvantaged. And I'd also suggest that perhaps some particularly talented people should get paid for attending college. So  . . . 4 ideas:

     1. Federal and state governments should invest more in education, from pre-kindergarten up through graduate school. After all, the public at large reaps huge benefits from a more educated population. So we as taxpayers should help pay for it. Also, money from federal and state governments is spread more equitably than the traditional real-estate tax which funds most primary and secondary education -- funding that favors the wealthy and the upper middle class over the poor and lower middle class.

     2. College and universities could and should lower their tuition, and make funding more transparent. Much of the price of college tuition is controlled by a secret cabal of college administrators, and they dole out money and credits not for the benefit of students, but for the benefit of the institution. I honestly know very little about college funding. But it seems they spend way too much on administration, sports and trendy courses. These are luxuries. Why can't colleges -- or at least some colleges -- compete on price?

     3. Why don't we make colleges themselves, rather than the government and banks, loan the tuition money to their own students. Making the colleges responsible for the debt would force them to be more prudent in their loan practices -- and would give them an incentive to keep down both loans and tuition.

     4. Maybe an undergraduate degree should take three years instead of four. Instant 25% savings! My premise is that college provides basic, background information. Then people have to go on for a masters degree to get the training to become a librarian, teacher, social worker, health-care provider -- or, it seems, anything else. So let's get on with it!

     Well, these are just some ideas, jotted down one morning over coffee. Now for me, it's back to the trenches, just helping two or three students become better fishermen.