"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Do Opposites Attract?

     I was thinking recently, after my brother in law and his wife made a visit, how unusual they are as a couple. Why? Because they are both extremely neat, and they both seem to put a lot of effort into saving money and watching their expenses. They are both very organized. Their home is immaculate; their yard is picture perfect; and it seems that half of their conversation revolves around ways to save money.

     It seems unusual to me, because from all my experience, I've found that opposites attract. You have one neat person, and one messy person in a marriage. One spender, and one saver. (Just f.y.i., in my own situation, B is the spender and I am the saver.)

     Don't ask me why that is, but in a marriage it does seem to work out pretty well, as long as the two people are not at the extremes. If one's an unrepentant shopaholic and the other a pennypinching miser, then all they do is argue. But a healthy give-and-take between the garden variety spender and the reasonable, rational saver seems to lead to a good compromise and a good outcome. Together, the couple keeps a good balance and spends appropriately, because of the pull and tug between the two forces.

     If you have two spenders, you run the risk of going into debt, maybe even going broke, and facing retirement with plenty of clothes and furniture and memories of great vacations, but no plan to provide any income for your golden years beyond the modest funds sent to you by Social Security. And if you have two savers in the family -- well, you end up with a spare and barren existence, and lots of money in your estate which your kids will gladly squander for you after you're gone.

The in-laws
       The same goes for the messy meter. I'll give you one        guess who's the messy one in our family:

       B has a pillow prominently displayed on our living room     sofa, "My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a    glance."

     Yes, she is the messy one, I am the neat one. But it's okay, because it gives our house that lived-in look -- without deteriorating into a big jumble of debris littering the table tops and the floor.

     Well ... maybe there's a little debris, but neither one of us is so extreme that it causes real problems. I am not a neat freak. I'll throw a tee shirt on the chair in the bedroom and it might sit there for a few days before it gets into the laundry. And the back room where I have my office does sport a few piles of books and papers.

     But by and large I'm pretty neat. I don't leave shoes or clothes around the house. I take my mail, every day, and throw out the junk and put the bills in my letter holder. I'm also in charge of recycling, so I'm on top of the magazine and newspapers that get stacked up on the coffee table.

     But I will say, I haven't seen the top of the kitchen table since we last had house guests -- when my, er, brother and sister in law were here.

     B uses the kitchen table for her mail, her books, her brochures. The overflow goes onto the dining room table, and the overflow of the overflow gets piled in the corner of the living room. She slings her pocket book and the book bag she brings to work, over the kitchen chairs, along with a sweatshirt and a sweater. And the boxes she has, either incoming or outgoing to the post office or UPS, are stored on the dining room floor.

     The only thing that really threw me recently? So ... the kitchen table is piled high with an assortment of papers and books. It has what I call the "literary look." That's okay with me. But the other day B goes out and buys a couple of candlesticks. "Oh, they're nice," I say. "Where are you gonna put them?"

     "On the kitchen table," she says with a smile. "They'll look pretty."

     "Well ... I guess," I reply, but I'm flabbergasted. No one will be able to see them!

     When I was younger, a messy house used to bother me. Then I had kids. So I learned to live with it, and now it doesn't bother me anymore. I've mellowed. I have also learned to appreciate the benefits of the "messy" lifestyle (for example, they save everything and, given time, can usually lay their hands on whatever you want, as opposed to us "neat freaks" who throw everything away ... not that I'm admitting to being a neat freak).

     The only thing that still bothers me is the shoes by the door. And that's mostly because I'm a klutz. B has five or six coats hanging off hooks on the wall behind the back door, so the door can't open all the way. And there are six or eight pairs of shoes and boots piled on the floor. Trying to tiptoe past the shoes to get out the back door is quite a trick. Twice I've tripped over a pair of shoes and stumbled through the screen door. But I'm learning. I haven't tripped once this summer.

     And besides ... I've visited my in-laws, and I feel that I can hardly breathe when I'm in their house, for fear of leaving a coffee cup ring on the kitchen counter. I'd rather live with a little mess than live in fear of the neat police.

     P. S. My mother was a spender, my dad a saver; my mother was the messy one; my dad the neat one. I hate to think what Freud would have to say about that! But ... they were married for 60 years.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Blogging Boomers Carnival # 226

     For this week's edition of the best in Baby Boomer blogging, check out the Midlife Crisis Queen. She's offering up some good news, some bad news, some interesting suggestions -- and she ushers in the fall season with a link to our favorite foodie, the Accidental Locavore, and her recipe for "Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Big 3 Problems with Social Security

     Social Security has been called the most successful government program in all of history, lifting millions of senior citizens out of poverty, relieving millions of families from the burden of taking care of elderly and infirm parents, and giving all Americans comfort in the knowledge that they will be taken care of in old age, when their faculties have deteriorated and they no longer have the ability to work.

     Of course, that was when the system was financially sound. When there were 7 or 8 workers supporting each pensioner. When the country's economy was expanding, and America ruled the economic world.

     Now, suddenly, when I'm ready to start collecting Social Security, after contributing to other people's pensions for some 40 years, economists and politicians tell us that Social Security is in trouble. The system is paying out more than it's taking in. The flood of retiring Baby Boomers threatens to drown the system in red ink. In a few years there will only be enough money coming into Social Security to pay out maybe three quarters of what's been promised to America's senior citizens.

     Some politicians are saying the Social Security system is nothing but a big Ponzi scheme anyway -- the early enrollees made out like Madoff's early investors, but now with relatively fewer workers to "invest" in Social Security the rest of us will be left holding the bag. They want to throw out this system that's been a cornerstone of American life for over half a century, and replace it with some ... other ... plan that involves sending the aged off to gamble in the stock market. Meanwhile, people under 40 watch payroll deductions come out of every paycheck, and they don't believe they will collect even one red cent from this doomed social experiment.

     It's all very distressing. But let's sit back a moment and assess what's really going on. What the real problems are. Fair warning:  I'm offering my opinion here, and I don't claim to have a PhD in Social Security policy. But I do have some common sense -- and I also have no ax to grind, except I would like to actually collect the money the government has been telling me it's going to pay me (see the Social Security site to see how much it's promising to pay you), and I'd like for my kids to be able to collect some Social Security as well.

     What I see are three basic fundamental problems. Feel free to disagree with me if you think I'm off base, or, even better, to offer other ideas if you have them.

     Problem 1)  The number of Social Security beneficiaries is growing at a faster rate than the number of people contributing to the system. The problem is undeniable. The question is what to do about it. We've already raised the government-approved retirement age from 65 to 66, and it's going up to 67. This means Social Security will be able to delay having to support all us Baby Boomers for a year or two, saving lots of money. The rationale for this is that people are living longer than they were in the 1930s, when the retirement age was set at 65, so the retirement date should be bumped up to reflect longer life expectancies. Now some people, such as the President's Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, recommend that the retirement age be pushed back even further to 69 or 70 -- delaying payments even more, and of course canceling payments to anyone unfortunate enough to die in their late 60s.

     In a way this makes sense. We're all living longer. We should retire later. Except, just because we're living longer, that doesn't make the work any easier. Do you want to be 68 years old, hefting packages for UPS or climbing on a roof for a construction team, with your bad back and arthritic knees? Oh, people say, most people work these days in an office. They can work until they're 70. Well, first of all, a lot of people work behind a desk, but a lot of people don't. So is someone going to set up two classes of retirees? The physical laborers who get to retire at 67, and the desk workers who have to wait until 70? Who would classify those jobs, and under what kind of political pressure? And besides, I can tell you, as a man who sat in an office for 40 years, that a desk can take its physical toll. Ask my carpal tunnel syndrome. Ask the herniated disks in my spine.

     Some people want to disqualify "rich" people from receiving Social Security. But where do you draw the line between the "poor" Social Security recipients, and the "rich" people who are disqualified? Would the same cut-off income level be used in high cost-of-living areas like New York or coastal California, and low-cost places like rural Texas or Georgia? And then ... Social Security was supposed to be an insurance program, not a welfare program. That's why the program has enjoyed such widespread support for over half a century. If you disqualify 20 or 30 percent of the elderly from receiving any Social Security, don't be surprised if Social Security loses support among this part of the population.

     No, I don't think there's a future in trying to limit the number of beneficiaries. Maybe tinker around the edges -- raise the earliest age you can collect benefits from 62 to 64, or possibly raise the percentage of Social Security payments subject to income tax. But any wholesale change is a non-starter.

     Problem 2)  Too many people rely on Social Security for most or all of their retirement income. Social Security was supposed to be an insurance program for old people, so they wouldn't fall into poverty. It was never designed -- and it's unrealistic to expect -- that Social Security will provide a comfortable retirement for the majority of Americans. About one third of the elderly rely on Social Security for over 90 percent of their income. And two thirds rely on it for at least half of their income. That's too many people leaning on the system for too much support.

     Sure, there are going to be a certain number of people, for health or other reasons, who go into their senior years with no income, no savings, no means of support. And there will be some who for one reason or another run out of savings. But it shouldn't be 33 percent of the population. I think we need to revisit people's attitudes about Social Security. It is meant to provide the basics for retired people, so they have a roof over their heads and a potato in the pot. But it is not meant to finance two cars in the garage, or greens fees at the local golf course, or a cruise to the Bahamas, or even a cross-country trip to visit the grandchildren. If you want to live like that, you'd better plan for it, and save for it, and be able to afford it -- and not take it out of the paychecks of workers who might actually be making less money than you are.

     We have a shared and agreed-upon responsibility to support people in their old age. But it really does seem that a lot of people expect too much from Social Security. It's hard to sympathize with the people who scream and shout and stomp their feet and raise holy hell if any politician anywhere even suggests denying one single penny to any Social Security recipient at any time now or in the future. It's also reasonable for younger people -- our sons and daughters -- to expect that they, too, will see the benefits of Social Security in their golden years, even though they may get less than what their parents enjoyed because people born in the 1930s and 1940s had the good timing to be collecting Social Security when there were lots of workers and not all that many beneficiaries.

     Problem 3)  The Social Security tax, aka the payroll tax, is regressive. The worker who makes $20,000 a year pays approximately 14 percent of his paycheck into Social Security (including the employer's contribution). The worker who makes $60,000 a year pays 14 percent. The worker who makes $100,000 pays 14 percent. That's what they call a "flat tax." It's not a progressive tax, It's a flat tax. But the worker who makes $200,000 a year pays only 7 percent of his wages into Social Security. And the worker who makes $500,000 a year pays less than 3 percent. That's not a progressive tax. It's not a flat tax. It's a regressive tax that perversely charges poor people more than rich people for the same basic program.

     So I'm with the Republicans on this one. The Republicans want a "flat tax." I say, let's make the payroll tax a flat tax, and charge the $500,000 a year doctor or lawyer or Wall Street financier the same rate as the grocery store checkout clerk -- or Warren Buffett's secretary. In other words, abolish the "ceiling" on Social Security tax, and make everyone pay their fair share. This would go a long way toward solving any future financial shortfall in the Social Security system.

     And perhaps with a few more modest changes around the edges, we can secure Social Security for ourselves and our children.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Here's Something We CAN Tell the Kids

     This post is a follow-up to my last entry, about what we don't want to tell the kids.

     It's easy to get discouraged about the state of education in our country, to worry over the future of our economy and wring our hands about the lack of good opportunities for our children. In fact, I do that ... pretty much every day.

     But then I happened to run across a clip about Dean L. Kamen and a non-profit organization he runs called "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," more widely known as FIRST. Kamen founded FIRST in 1989, with a mission to motivate young people "to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge and life skills."

     Kamen himself is an entrepreneur and inventor, most famous for creating the two-wheeled personal electrical vehicle known as the Segway. But he owns more than 400 patents, and has invented a number of significant medical devices, including an insulin pump, the first wearable infusion pump, a dialysis system, and a prosthetic arm. Kamen is also president of DEKA Research and Development Corp., which builds out its own devices and provides research and development functions for major U.S. corporations.

     The primary program sponsored by FIRST is the annual robotic competition. It's run like a competitive sports event. It begins in October with over 200,000 high school kids from all around the U.S. and elsewhere designing and building robots, within specific "rules of the game," to perform certain prescribed tasks. The kids work in teams and submit their entries at regional events. The projects are judged, and then in the spring the finalists converge to compete for prizes and college scholarships at the annual Championship Event. In 2012 the finals will be held in St. Louis, from April 25 to 28.

     Kamen decries our country's current focus on sports and entertainment, and encourages young people to ignore media personalities, and instead emulate our real superstars in science and technology. The only difference between his Championship Event and all the other sports contests, he says, is that "every kid on our teams can turn pro -- there's a job out there for every one of these kids."

     Of course, FIRST is not the only program encouraging young people to develop their skills and create a future for themselves. And a program like this is not going to help our current field of 20-somethings (although you might keep it in mind for your grandchildren). But it is one inspiring example of people actually doing something positive to secure the future of our young people, the future of America.

     Here is actor Morgan Freeman talking about the FIRST program:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shhhh ... Don't Tell the Kids

     It's no secret we are living through the worst economic time of our lives. This era is worse than the stagflation and oil shocks of the 1970s; some even argue it's as bad as the 1930s. The dirty little secret is that, as bad as it is for us Baby Boomers, it's worse for our children.

     According to a chart from Rortybomb, overall joblessness is more than twice as high for 20-somethings as it is for older workers. And the greatest percentage increase in unemployment between the end of 2007 and the end of 2010 was among 20 to 24 year olds with a college education!

     Yale economist Lisa Kahn says young adults will most likely see their career opportunities permanently diminished by this recession. She did a study of men who graduated during the early '80s recession, and found that all else being equal, for each one percent increase in the national unemployment rate, the starting income of recent graduates fell by 7 percent. And 17 years later, those who entered the workplace during the recession were earning 10 percent less than those who started their careers in better economic times.

     As Don Peck writes in a long article in The Atlantic, for Millennials (people born in the 1980s and '90s), the problem is not just the money they're not making today, it's all the money they won't make tomorrow. Not only do these young adults fall behind on the ladder of raises and promotions, but they are actually missing out on job skills. When you're in your 20s, in a first career-level job, you're learning skills, building a resume, developing contacts -- in short, learning the ropes. But if you squander four or five years at a low-skill stop-gap job, you miss out on that education. It doesn't take long to go from a promising 22-year-old college grad with an honors degree, to a 28-year-old drifter who can't keep a job.

     To add insult to injury, even as the job market for 20-somethings has dried up, these young adults are carrying more student debt than any generation before them. Last year, for the first time, total student loan debt surmounted total credit card debt, at some $850 billion. And, believe it or not, college and graduate school costs are going up even faster than health care costs.

     Those of us who had children early, with kids now in their 30s, may have escaped much of these economic headwinds. The kids got their careers established before the great recession, and they've managed to hold onto their positions. And maybe those later Baby Boomers, whose children are still in high school, can hold out hope that the economy will improve by the time their kids graduate from college.

     But those of us with kids in their 20s know first hand that the business world has turned its back on a whole generation. Between us, B and I have four kids ranging in age from age 20 to 28. One is still in college; another is in graduate school; and two are trying to launch their careers out of the current economic quicksand.

     My own son recently told me he got a promotion. "Now they're almost paying me a living wage," he said sardonically.

     I told him, "Hey, you're doing pretty well these days if you're pulling in a salary that almost pays you a living wage." He nodded, acknowledging that a lot of his friends are working retail, or working part time, or going to school because they couldn't get a job at all, or sitting at home because they couldn't get a job.

     So what can we tell these 20-something kids?

     Despite the dismal statistics for college graduates, I still believe people are better off with an education. We live in an information age. Most good jobs require people to research, develop, manipulate, analyze and present information. The better you are at these tasks, the better your job. The more sophisticated and specialized your skills, the more in demand your services will be. Many jobs that used to require a bachelor degree now require a master's. But ... a warning. Education is expensive. I would be careful not waste your money getting a degree you'll never use. And don't bet your future developing skills that are not in demand. In other words, study business, engineering, teaching or nursing. Don't major in art history or sociology or English literature. Not unless you're really passionate about the subject and have a plan for how you can turn your passion into a reasonable career

     I'd also advise people to learn a practical skill. "There are many slips between glass and lips," as the old saying goes. No matter how promising your field, how good you are in your chosen profession, the world changes and can make almost any job obsolete. So don't end up like my brother in law, who made a pretty good living in the construction industry -- until a few years ago. But he had no skills to fall back on, and is now driving a delivery van for minimum wage. So learn how to cook or tend bar; get some experience as  a coach or camp counselor; take some practical courses in software and computing; and don't be afraid to get some experience as a salesman. A practical skill to fall back on, if for some reason your career collapses.

     I've said this before to our kids, and I'll say it again. Learn another language. There will always be a job for someone who's first language is English, but who is fluent in Spanish. There will likely be opportunities for people who speak Russian, Japanese or one of the Chinese languages. Okay, I admit it. Learning Russian or Chinese is hard. But come on. Millions of Chinese and Russians have learned English. If they can do it, so can we. And by the way, for those college kids spending a semester overseas, don't waste it by going to an English-speaking country. That's a vacation. Go to a country where you will learn the language and the culture.

     Don't be afraid to move away from your home town. A lot of the 20-somethings I know are clinging close to home. Many are actually living at home. They're scared, and home provides security. But staying at home is not the American way. We wouldn't be here if our grandparents hadn't left Poland or Italy or Ireland to seek a better life here. And they didn't hesitate to move west to Colorado or California to seek better opportunities. So I'd encourage the kids to expand their job search. There's no reason to stay in the Northeast or the Midwest if there are no job opportunities. Go to South Carolina or Texas or Arizona. Or, maybe even Brazil or Russia or India. In a global economy, it's unlikely that the best opportunities will be in your backyard.

     If you can, join a union. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said: Unions = Jobs. I actually do not believe that. I think unions can be exclusionary and might even kill jobs by driving up the cost of labor. But that's the point -- if you can get into that exclusive club, then a union will help you get better pay and benefits, as well as protect your rights as an employee.

     And finally, to the parents of all those 20 somethings, I'd say -- please be supportive. Don't blame them for the bad job market. Don't blame them for getting discouraged. Don't blame them for either taking a crappy job, or for turning down a crappy job. Just help them become "the best that they can be."

     And if you have any other helpful advice for how they can do that, please let me know. I'll pass it on to our four 20-somethings who are struggling mightily to make their way in a hostile world.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Letter Is in Your Face

     The letter in question has been going around the internet a little bit. It was picked up off craig's list, and is purportedly a real letter, written recently by a real entrepreneur.

     The person who emailed it to us thought the letter made a very good point. He commented, "This guy hits the nail on the head!"

     But B was appalled. She thought the whole thing sounded like sour grapes, and doesn't acknowledge the help the business owner probably got from other people, and the lucky breaks he most likely had.

     At first I thought the letter might not be real at all -- that it could be a plant from some conservative group. But I've noticed a lot of closed businesses lately. Our mall has half a dozen empty storefronts; the strip mall up on the corner has sprouted several "For Lease" signs, and ... my old employer itself filed for bankruptcy last year. It didn't go out of business, but it fired yet another round of employees, broke a lease and moved to less expensive quarters, and is trying to sell off a few of its departments.

     Read the letter (I've condensed it a little for brevity.). Do you think it explains anything, or nothing?

To My Valued Employees,

There have been some rumblings around the office about the future of this company, and more specifically, your job. As you know, the economy has changed for the worse and presents many challenges. However, the good news is this: The economy doesn't pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job is the political landscape in this country. 

You see me park my Mercedes outside. You saw my big home at last years Christmas party. I'm sure all these flashy icons of luxury conjure up some idealized thoughts about my life. What you don't see is the back story.

I started this company 12 years ago. I lived in a 300 square foot studio apartment for 3 years. My entire living space was converted into an office so I could put forth 100% effort into building a company, which would eventually employ you.

My diet consisted of Ramen Pride noodles because every dollar I spent went back into this company. I drove a rusty Toyota Corolla with a defective transmission. I didn't have time to date. I stayed home on weekends, while my friends went out drinking and partying. In fact, I was married to my business -- hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.

Meanwhile, my friends got jobs. They worked 40 hours a week and spent every dime they earned. They lived in expensive homes and refinanced their mortgages to live a life of luxury. I, however, did not. I put my time, my money, and my life into a business --- with a vision that eventually, some day, I too, would be able to afford these luxuries.

You arrive at the office at 9 am and leave at 5 pm. I don't. There is no "off" button for me. When you leave the office, you are done and have a weekend all to yourself.  I do not have the freedom.  I eat and breathe this company every minute of the day. There is no rest. There is no weekend. Every day this business is attached to me like a 1 day old baby.

You, of course, only see the fruits of that garden -- the nice house, the Mercedes, the vacations. You don't realize the sacrifices I've made. Now, the economy is falling apart and I, the guy that made all the right decisions and saved his money, have to bail out all the people who didn't.

The people who overspent their paychecks, or who never got legitimate jobs at all, suddenly feel entitled to the same luxuries that I earned and sacrificed a decade of my life for.  Yes, business ownership has its benefits but the price I've paid is steep and not without wounds. Unfortunately, the cost of running this business, and employing you, is starting to eclipse the threshold of marginal benefit and let me tell you why:

Government mandates and regulations and all the accounting that goes with them occupy most of my time. And I am being taxed to death. I have state taxes. Federal taxes. Property taxes. Sales and use taxes. Payroll taxes. Workers compensation taxes. Unemployment taxes. They're so extensive and complicated I have to hire an expert to manage all the taxes.  I wrote a check to the US Treasury for $288,000 for quarterly taxes.  You know what my "stimulus" check was? Zero. Zilch.

Had suddenly the government mandated that I didn't need to pay taxes, guess what? Instead of depositing that $288,000 into the Washington black hole, I would have spent it, hired more employees, and generated economic growth. My employees would have enjoyed the tax cut in the form of promotions and better salaries. But you can forget it now.

So where am I going with all this? It's quite simple.
If I deducted 50% of your paycheck you'd quit and you wouldn't work here. I mean, why should you? Well, I agree which is why your job is in jeopardy. If any new taxes are levied on me or my company, or any onerous government regulations, my reaction will be swift and simple. I fire you. I fire your co-workers. You can then plead with the government to pay for your mortgage, your SUV, and your child's future. It won't be my problem any more. I will close this company down and retire and maybe move to another country.

You see, I'm done. My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed. You'll find me on a beach, retired, and with no employees to worry about.

Signed, Your boss, 

     So, do you think this guy has a point? Does the letter explain some of the closed businesses in town? Or is he just an ass? The reason I'm asking is because I'm conflicted. And ... well, he could be both.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remember Him?

     He died of AIDS. But he was famous not so much for the way he died, but for the way he lived his life.

     He was born in Richmond, Va. in 1943, and suffered an early tragedy when he was six years old and his mother died of heart complications during routine surgery. His salvation came when he picked up a tennis racket. He played for his high school and quickly became a local star. But it was hard for him to find suitably talented opponents, because he was not allowed to play on many of the Virginia tennis courts, so he was forced to travel long distances in order to find competitive players.

     He was spotted by a tennis pro and invited to come play with his team in St. Louis, and from there he earned a scholarship to UCLA. In 1965 he won the NCAA singles title (won six years later by Jimmy Connors and seven years after that by John McEnroe) and helped the UCLA team win the NCAA tennis championship. In the meantime, he was featured in Sports Illustrated, and became the first black player ever to play for the United States Davis Club team. He also joined a fraternity at UCLA and took part in the UCLA Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC). He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1966 and served in the army for two years, stationed at West Point where he continued to play tennis.

     In 1968 he broke into the big time, winning the U.S. Amateur championship, reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon, and then going on to take the U. S. Open in New York. He was a top-ranked player for the next ten years, winning the Australian Open in 1970 and beating the younger Jimmy Connors in 1975 to take the crown at Wimbledon and reach the ultimate ranking of #1 in the world.

     In 1979 he suffered a heart attack, underwent heart bypass surgery, and retired from professional tennis. He nevertheless remained active in the game. He did tennis commentary for ABC Sports; he was a motivating factor in the professional tennis players association; and as a result of being denied entry into South Africa earlier in his career, he took part in the anti-apartheid movement, getting arrested during a protest outside the South African embassy in Washington DC in 1983. He was also arrested outside the White House in 1992 for protesting the crackdown against Haitian refugees.

     In 1983 he had a second bypass surgery. A few years later he fell ill, and discovered he had apparently contracted the HIV virus from infected blood during the transfusions he received in the hospital. He and his wife kept his illness private until 1992, when his obvious physical deterioration forced him to go public with the disease. In the last year of his life he became a spokesman for AIDS sufferers and he founded his Institute for Urban Health to address inadequate health care delivery to inner city populations.

     Tennis great Arthur Ashe died in February 1993 of AIDS-related pneumonia. His inspiring autobiography, called Days of Grace, was published posthumously and became an international bestseller.

     In 1985, Arthur Ashe was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In 1993 President Clinton posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The city of Richmond, Virginia, has honored Ashe with a statue, and also named an athletic center for him. UCLA built a health center named in his honor, the Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center.

     But his most famous legacy will be center stage this weekend. At 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 11, two women -- the winners of Saturday night's semifinals -- will enter the 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium and battle for the championship title in the rain-delayed U. S. Open.

     Then on Monday, also starting at 4 p.m., the winner of the Federer vs. Djokovic semifinals, and the victor of the Nadal vs. Murray match, will duke it out in the tennis legend's stadium for the 2011 men's championship.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Blogging Boomers Carnival #223

   This week the Blogging Boomer Carnival seems to center around the subject of food -- offering a whole menu of different approaches to the subject of our culinary favorites and gustatory habits -- with an extra course that covers the hurricane season.

     John Agno at SoBabyBoomer tells us that when we get hungry because we haven't eaten for awhile, it's not really an empty stomach, but rather our brain that's sending the message. He discusses something which (I'm embarrassed to admit) I had never thought of before -- why the mouth is located so close to the brain.

     Over at the Accidental Locavore, after going through the motions of emergency preparedness for Irene, our favorite cooking contributor started to focus on the important stuff -- what were they going to eat if there was no power? See how they survived the hurricane. (Hint: It involved, among other things, a trip to a very special bakery.)

     Meanwhile, Laura Lee takes a trip down "What is your favorite addiction, distraction or obsession?" lane over at Midlife Crisis Queen! Can you guess what the latest favorite opiate of the masses is?

    And Ann is telling us how to baby-step our way to success when we want to make a change in our lives, including losing weight, and she's inviting you to join her at Contemporary Retirement.

     Finally, The Boomer Chronicles offers some photographs of the results of Hurricane Irene, over at TheGeminiWeb.

     And Vaboomer offers some haunting images from a boy and a horn and A Storm Called Katrina.

     As for me, I'm headed off for a few days vacation at the beach ... and the weather report predicts four days running of "a couple of showers" and "showers in the morning becoming steady rain in the afternoon" and "rain likely with a few thunderstorms." Oh, and the temperatures will range from 56 to 72.

     So I'm bringing along my jackets and ponchos and umbrellas, and I'm not sure I'm going to be in the best of moods. I'll probably spend most of my time in the cafes and the restaurants, and put on an extra, unneeded five pounds. Oh well, at least it's not a hurricane. And never fear, I came up with the perfect "Remember Him" to do when I get back. So have a nice week!


Friday, September 2, 2011

Forget Worrying About Dementia

     If you’re like me, every time you can't remember where you put your keys, or can't recall the name of a favorite actor playing in an old movie (or the name of the movie itself), you begin to worry that you’re starting down the long slide to dementia, if not downright Alzheimer’s. I know it's nothing to make light of ... but what else you gonna do?

     Just so you know: Alzheimer’s and dementia are different issues. Dementia refers to a set of symptoms that include memory loss, impairment of judgment and difficulty with language. Alzheimer's is a brain disease that accounts for 60 to70 percent of the cases of dementia, but other disorders such as vascular disease and Parkinson’s can also cause dementia.

     Currently, over 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s. Experts estimate that with our aging population, the number of cases will more than triple to over 16 million by the year 2050. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease is still a mystery to medical science. Although there is clearly some genetic component, researchers do not understand what causes the disease – or even exactly what it is. Amyloid plaques are found in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. But do the plaques cause the disease, or are they merely a symptom? Nobody knows.
      Doctors are working on tests to predict whether or not you will develop Alzheimer's, but so far there is nothing definitive. Pharmaceutical companies have produced drugs that ameliorate symptoms, but they have not found a cure. And if we haven't yet figured out how we get Alzheimer's, how can we possibly know how to prevent it? 

     There is no proof that we can. But a recent study from the University of California at San Francisco identified risk seven factors that may account for over half of Alzheimer's cases: The biggest risk factor is: 1) Physical inactivity. That's followed by 2) Depression; 3) Smoking; 4) Mid-life hypertension; 5) Mid-life obesity; 6) Low education; and 7) Diabetes.

     Said study author Deborah Barnes: "What's exciting is that this suggests that some very simple lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity and quitting smoking, could have tremendous impact on preventing Alzheimer's and other dementia."

     I'd argue that these lifestyle changes are not so "simple." But these are by and large the very same factors that put you at risk for heart disease and overall poor health, so this finding just provides additional motivation to make those changes -- giving up smoking, losing some weight, getting treatment for depression or anxiety, and engaging in some sort of physical activity like walking, biking, dancing or swimming.

     Other studies reported in the New York Times supported the UCSF conclusion. In addition, research has suggested that people who exercise and keep their minds engaged are better able to retain normal memory and brain function, even if they do develop the telltale brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's. Even more reason to go take an adult-education class at your community college, or join a bridge club or start doing crossword puzzles or the sudoko.

     Finally, in addition to the factors identified by UCSF, other studies have demonstrated that people who stay socially active are also at reduced risk for dementia. So don't stay home and watch TV or read a book. Go out and play golf with your buddies, or go to church and attend the after-service social hour, or join a group that plays poker or pinochle. Or ... if you do like to stick your nose in a book all day long, join a book club and socialize with other booklovers who can share your tastes and enthusiasms.

     So if I manage to avoid the long slide to dementia I have B and my buddies to thank. My buddies for playing golf with me. And B for luring me to dancing class.

     Meanwhile, everyone knows that Ronald Reagan suffered from Alzheimer's. So did Barry Goldwater and Charlton Heston. Rita Hayworth, Charles Bronson and Burgess Meredith. Iris Murdoch, E. B. White and Ross MacDonald. And Norman Rockwell and Willem DeKooning. The latest celebrity to fall victim is 75-year-old Glen Campbell, who announced just last month that he was suffering from the disease. So let's remember Glen Campbell, here from a live concert in 2006.