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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

10 Reasons Why Men Are Better Than Women

     We've read a lot lately about how women are working more; and even though they make less money than male colleagues at work, they often earn more than their spouses; yet they still run the household and take care of the kids. Women need a man as much as . . . what's the old saying, like a fish needs a bicycle?

       A new PBS special Makers: Women Who Make America chronicles the women's movement starting in the 1960s, up through the Anita Hill fiasco in the early 1990s. And a recent book The End of Men by Hanna Rosin argues that women are no longer gaining on men, they have pulled decisively ahead -- they do better in school, they get more graduate degrees, they earn more money, they live longer than men. In short, women are taking over the world.

   Well, I've been around the block a few times and know something about gender. And I'm here to say: Not so fast!

     Men are still better than women in many important categories and endeavors of life. Let me count the ways:

     1) Men can reach the top shelf. And not just in the kitchen. They can reach up there in the garage, the basement, even in your clothes closet.

     2) Men can unscrew a new jar of jelly or olives or any other jar from the grocery store that is screwed down so tight it takes a real -- shall I say it? -- man to open the damn thing.

     3) Men offer a lot of advice -- all for free.

     4)  Men know how to gamble. I'm not saying they know how to win, just that they know how to gamble.

     5)  Men have incredible focus and an unbelievable attention span. I mean, have you ever tried to watch a baseball game, or a golf match, all the way through? They can play a violent video game for 6 or 8 hours, without stopping.

     6)  Men have an understated but always-appreciated social skill involving -- as my friend Joe the golfer likes to say -- the ability to "grace you with the gift of their absence," especially on a Saturday or Sunday during golf season.

     7)  Men can fix things. Well, some men can fix things. Other men try to fix things, then after they break them, they know how to call in the expert. Either way, they care of the mechanical things in your life.

     8) As politicians prove over and over again, men can yell louder than women, they can interrupt more often, and they have the ability to completely ignore what that the other person is saying.

     9) Men do yard work . . . at least, as long as they can use some kind of heavy machinery.

     10) Men have a sense of humor. Seriously, in a study of 1,200 cases of public speaking, neither males nor females laughed as much with female speakers as they did with male speakers, explaining, said the study, the paucity of female comedians. Another study of personal ads showed that men offered "sense of humor" as a dating virtue, while women requested laughter more than twice as often as they offered it. Women couldn't care less whether their ideal mate laughs or not -- they want a male who makes them laugh.

     And if you're not laughing by now, I guess that explains why I couldn't get a date in high school!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Our Lives Are So Complicated!

     Okay, we all know that the economy is going to hell in a handbasket. But I need to talk about something more serious, something that affects our lives every single day.

     I'm talking about how complicated our world has become, now that we're older and weighed down with responsibilities as well as all the encumbrances of modern technology.

     When I was younger, and I wanted to go outside, I just went out the door. Sometimes I paused to put my shoes on. But lots of times, not even that.

     Now when I want to go out the door, there's a whole process I have to go through -- a checklist that would put a space shuttle launch to shame. I have to find my car keys, and my wallet. I need my cellphone. And my glasses. Not those. Those are my reading glasses. I need my distance glasses. Oh, and do I know where I'm going? Do I need to borrow B's GPS?

     And I certainly can't go barefoot anymore. With my sore feet, I need socks and lace-up shoes, complete with the insert that's supposed to help my bad knee.

     So that's leaving the house. But even when I'm at home, life is more difficult. I used to eat anything that was in the refrigerator. But my stomach has become a little more sensitive with age. Can't handle those rich foods. Oh, and don't eat anything with too much salt -- don't want to develop high blood pressure. I have to rummage around the refrigerator for 15 minutes just to locate some small morsel of edible snack to stave off starvation for another couple of hours.

     How about watching TV? I used to ... turn on the TV. Now we have four remote controls, all of which have to be manipulated in just the right sequence, depending on whether we're watching regular TV, or HD TV, or Netflix, or an archived show from Free on Demand. And if one of the kids has been visiting, and switched everything over so they can play a computer game, then ... well, then, we don't know what to do, and we have to call one of the kids to talk us through it.

     But the worst is ... going to bed.

     I used to brush my teeth (on a good day) -- then just fall into bed.

     Now the evening ritual starts at least an hour before I actually go to sleep. We walk the dog. Shut down the computer. Find my book, and my reading glasses. Then go upstairs where I pick up the room humidifier, take it to the bathroom, fill it up with water, bring it back and turn it on. Then I go in the bathroom again. Brush my teeth. Floss. Use the special 50+ mouthwash that's supposed to protect my gums and my tooth enamel. Put on my pajamas (I used to sleep in my underwear, but jeez, it's just too cold for that in the winter.) Set the alarm clock. Then wrap my elbow with the elbow brace that's supposed to help my carpal tunnel syndrome. Then lather on some moisturizer so my fingers don't split in the dry air. And finally -- whew! -- I rest my weary head upon my special pillow that's supposed to protect me from neck pain.

     Am I crazy? Well, if I am, B's even crazier, because her daily rituals are even more time-consuming than mine. No wonder why we have to retire. It's a full-time job just to get up in the morning, find something to eat, and get ready for bed at night!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

And So ... We Muddle Through

      I was at a burger joint the other night, having dinner with my lovely B. On the way to the restaurant from work, B stopped by to visit a friend of hers who'd suffered a death in the family. She'd brought along a plate of homemade cookies, and stayed a little while to offer some friendly support.

     So at dinner, across the wooden table, B said to me, "Do you know what her husband does for a living?"

     I had no idea. I barely knew the woman, and had never met her husband. But they live in a nice house in town, so I figured maybe he works at the nearby Pepsi office park, or for IBM which has a big complex in town -- or perhaps he commuted to the city for some kind of management job.

     "He drives a delivery truck for the local oil company." said B.

     "Huh?" I replied. I was surprised. But I'm never too surprised anymore to find out what people do, because so many of my contemporaries have changed jobs in the past few years, usually not for the better.

     B's friend is a nurse, and has a good job, which apparently pays for their mortgage and food and clothes for their kids. The husband used to work for a financial firm as some kind of commodities dealer. But a few years ago he was let go because, as B explained it, whatever he did was rendered obsolete by the computers. The guy was unemployed for a while, until a friend who worked for the local oil distributor suggested he drive a truck to make a few extra dollars while he looked for another opportunity. Now, several years later, he's still driving a truck.

     John Agno of So Baby Boomer argues in his post, Generation Squeeze, that while all of us have suffered from the Great Recession and its long and painful aftermath, it's the Baby Boomers who have taken the greatest hit. "They have lost the most earning power of any age group," he wrote, "with their household incomes 10 percent below what they made when the recovery began three years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company."

     In addition, Baby Boomers have suffered the most from falling real-estate prices. They are helping to support both aging parents and their underemployed 20-something children. Many have lost their jobs at a point in their lives when it's practically impossible to find another job at anywhere close to their old salaries. A lot of Boomers have lost their medical benefits, long before they're eligible for Medicare, and many have been forced to start taking Social Security as soon as they can, at age 62, thus shortchanging themselves by receiving lower monthly payments for the rest of their lives.

     As a Baby Boomer myself, I find it hard to disagree with Agno's conclusions. But I can understand how a 20-something might disagree -- pointing out that many recent college graduates are working in jobs well below their skill level, while finding career-track positions closed off to them. Many are going back to school -- and incurring still more debt -- in a desperate attempt to develop a sought-after marketable skill. The result:  Most 20-somethings make less money than their Baby Boomer parents did at a similar age, and they will likely be on a lower salary track for the rest of their lives.

     Nevertheless, my sympathies go out to my fellow Baby Boomers. One friend of mine worked for years for one of the big liquor companies. He got laid off in his mid-50s, and soon found himself working as a clerk in our local liquor store. Another friend got laid off from his marketing job a few years ago. Luckily, his wife holds down a pretty good job. But he now spends his time as a house husband -- even though his kids are grown up and out of the house.

     I know a man who turned 60 last year. He lost his job with the state government. Technically he's a lawyer; but he hasn't practiced law in years and he hasn't been able to find a legal job, so now he works part-time at a fitness club. His wife, also a lawyer, got laid off from her firm (even though she was a partner), and now works "of counsel" with another firm -- which is legalese for part-time, we'll call you when we need you, and pay half the going rate.

     Despite this wife's experience, I'd venture to guess that Baby Boomer men have suffered more than women, in the sense that due simply to the conventions of the age -- for there was still plenty of sexism in the 1960s and '70s when those careers were getting started -- the men rose higher on the corporate ladder and the income scale ... and then they fell harder. But the economic, social and psychological toll has hit everyone, including spouses and children and other family members.

     I wish I knew what was going to happen. Are we the next Great Britain, as some have suggested, just at the beginning of a long but inevitable economic decline? I hope not. I hope we solve the sequestration conundrum, and tackle the debt burden, and figure out a way to put people back to work in meaningful jobs. I hope we are able to put ourselves back on a progressive economic path that will allow us to take care of our elderly, and also serve our children and grandchildren well.

     In the meantime, I guess we have to do is ... muddle through.

Monday, February 18, 2013

What Is Middle Class?

     Kay Dennison over at Kay's Thinking Cap inspired this question in my mind, with her post on Marco Rubio's claim that he's just a regular guy with working-class roots. I don't know much about Marco Rubio (other than he's a conservative Republican so I probably don't agree with him on many issues since I'm a moderate Democrat), and so I want to put the question of Rubio's class status aside. But her post, and several of the comments, got me to wonder: What is middle class in America today?

     According to a definition from the Brookings Institution, the middle class encompasses families with incomes between one-half the median income and twice the median income. Today this would make a middle class annual income range from about $25,000 to $100,000. But of course location makes a big difference. If you're trying to raise a family on a $100,000 a year in Boston, New York or Washington, you're barely scraping by. But if you're a couple without kids in Macon, Ga., or Mason City, Iowa, you're among the richest people in town.

     However, it seems that most Americans consider themselves middle class, regardless of any objective standard -- and perhaps that's the only definition that really counts. Most doctors and lawyers and business managers think of themselves middle class, even if they're making $300k or $400k a year. Most cops and teachers and civil servants consider themselves middle class, even though most of them make less than $100k a year and many make much less than $100k a year (although many cops in my neck of the woods work the system so they make over $100k a year during the last years of service which determine their retirement income).

     But surely, if you're among the so-called 1 percent -- people making over $500k a year -- then you probably think of yourself as among the rich, the upper class, the elite. On the other end of the income scale, if you're on welfare or food stamps, or live in Section 8 housing, you might think of yourself as part of the underclass -- although according to the National Center for Opinion Research, some 36 percent of people earning less than $15k a year call themselves middle class.

     But what about us retired folks? The average Social Security benefit is just about $15k a year. So if you live on Social Security alone, can you claim to be middle class? If not, how much of a pension, or how big a balance in your IRA does it take to qualify? Again, the number is probably quite different depending on whether you live in New York or California, compared to lower cost areas in Texas or South Carolina.

     By objective standards, the middle class has been shrinking for the last four decades. But we all know that being middle class is not just about income. There's a cultural aspect to middle class that involves work, education, family, community. Do you need to be a high-school graduate to join the middle class? A college graduate? Do you have to own your own home?

     It would seem that unless you're legitimately retired, one or two people in the family would need to have a steady job to make a claim to the middle class. Welfare mothers, homeless drug addicts, rich playboys and people living off the grid are probably not considered middle class.

     Despite the importance of the middle class in American legend and lore (not to mention politics), some people don't want to be associated with the middle class. A lot of inner city blacks make fun of middle-class whites who they consider square, unimaginative, uncool people who "just don't get it." Young people living in Brooklyn or The Mission take pains (unlike Marco Rubio) to hide or deny their solid middle class roots. These young hipsters think they're special in some way. And one thing we know about middle class people:  They are not special.

     From my experience, a lot of people on the university campus, as well as artists of all types, would rather be caught dead than be lumped in with the middle class. These sensitive, tortured intellectuals ridicule the bourgeois morals of the middle class and are horrified by their ticky tacky suburban houses surrounded by white picket fences.

     So are you middle class? One way to find out is to take a survey offered on msn.com called 9 Ways to Know if You're Middle Class. Or if you're more ambitious, you could read the U. S. Dept. of Commerce report Middle Class in America. But in the end, only you know for sure.

     Nevertheless, when all in said and done, some of us are proud to be middle class, whether we really are or not. I guess that's one thing I have in common with Marco Rubio.


Friday, February 15, 2013

It Drives Me Crazy

     I just got home from Florida, driving some 2300 miles up and down the East coast of America. And I can tell you, without equivocation, that the worst traffic on the entire Eastern seaboard is around Washington, DC. The roads contain all the ingredients for a horrific driving experience:  Too much traffic. Lots of trucks. Miles of road construction. And plenty of aggressive, impatient drivers who speed, tailgate and basically flout the traffic laws.

     A distant second for worst traffic is the Orlando area -- while, surprisingly, the rest of Florida isn't that bad. The biggest surprise, at least to me, is that the driving in New Jersey is not the awful experience I expected it to be.

     I'll admit my own bias. I like to travel about 5 mph above the speed limit. I think that is a reasonably safe speed, and figure it's basically still within the speed limit.

     However, if you go 5 mph above the speed limit, you are one of the slowest drivers on the road. The flow of traffic on I75 and I4, up I95 to the Garden State Parkway and the Taconic Parkway, ranges somewhere between 10 and 15 mph above the speed limit. And a significant minority of drivers punch it up to 20 mph over the speed limit.That's right, when the limit is 55, they go 75. When the limit is 65, they go 85. At least until they get pulled over by a cop, which I noted takes place occasionally but not too frequently.

     So a lot of people passed me on my trip -- too many passing on the right, not the left. There were a number of instances when I was cruising along in the second lane of a four-lane highway. Two lanes open on the left. One on the right. A driver would pull up behind me, tailgate for a minute or two, then break to the right -- even though the left lanes were wide open. I figure these people are just ignorant. They don't know that they're supposed to pass on the left.

     Some people pulled up behind me, then went to the right even though there was a truck or slow driver just ahead of me in the right-hand lane. The driver would pull even on the right, inch ahead of me, then realize there wasn't enough room to pass without getting stuck behind the slow driver in the right-hand lane. So they slowed down, fell back, and angled into the left lane to pass the way they're supposed to. I figure these people are stupid. They couldn't figure out that the right-hand lane would block them when they tried to pass.

      There were a few people who watched and waited for a free lane. If they saw the right-hand lane was clear, they'd take over the lane and speed past a line of cars in the middle lane, until they closed in on a slow car -- then they'd veer into the middle lane and continue into the left lane, where they'd join the line of faster cars until the right lane got clear again, and then they'd jump back to the right lane to get ahead of another half-dozen cars. I figure these people are sociopaths. They don't care about other drivers, don't appreciate that they're putting anyone in danger. They think solely of their own convenience and need to get ahead.

     Of course, it's easy to criticize and make fun of drivers who don't drive like we do. I think I'm a good driver ... but most people think they're "better than average" drivers.

     But when you're out on the road for days at a time, you realize that it's dangerous on America's highways. But where's the outrage when over 30,000 people are killed on the road every year (even though it used to be even worse before airbags came on the scene)? People understandably spilled gallons of tears for the 27 people killed in Newtown, Ct. But that very same day, more than three times as many people were killed on America's highways. People protested wars in Iraq (4,486 American soldiers killed in 11 years) and Afghanistan (2,083 killed in 12 years). But those losses are infinitesimal compared to the casualties on our roads at home.

     Every once in a while, you see a cross on the side of the road marking the loss of someone's life in an auto accident. Probably involving someone who was speeding, tailgating or passing on the right. Those crosses should remind us -- school's open, drive carefully.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What a Difference ...

     ... a couple of days make. I got home last night from three weeks in Florida. Visiting family. Playing golf with old friends and new (including Douglas over at Boomer Musings who, as it turns out, is a better golfer than I am). Meeting a friendly group of fellow Snowbirds at a Bonita Springs table tennis club. Walking the beach. Enjoying a brief brush with Disney. Lolling around various restaurants sampling wares from all parts of the menu. But aside from all that, here is a picture of my backyard on Sunday:

     And here is a picture of my backyard this morning when I woke up:


      And you wonder why so many of us retired folks turn into Snowbirds!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Bloggingtine's Day

     It's a busy week. Today is Chinese New Year. Tuesday brings us Mardi Gras. And Thursday is Valentine's Day.

     You're never too old for love, but it doesn't seem that love is front-of-mind for Baby Boomer bloggers. In this February Best of Boomer Blogs, Katie Foster, a proud foodie, waxes poetic about her ... love of food. She loves to shop, loves to cook, loves to eat, and she takes us on the scene of The Battle of the Chefs, featuring top chefs from the top restaurants in Dubai.

     Laura Lee Carter reminds us that Baby Boomers are the first American generation to grow up  in a world inundated with ever increasing manipulative advertising. Our parents had radios, but we witnessed a virtual explosion in technology in our lifetimes, all designed to reach us with ads wherever we are. We're the first generation Engineered to Consume.

     (And we do love those Superbowl ads, don't we?)
     Lisa Froman tells us that humility is something we may become well acquainted with at midlife. Learn more about midlife and humility at Tao Flashes -- which may include some teachable moments involving 20-somethings and learning experiences involving hashtags.

     Speaking of love, on the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide, Rita R. Robinson, consumer journalist, writes about a survey that shows more couples fight about a messy house than money. However, there are two things that most couples agree on. The things that drive them the most crazy are misplacing keys and bills.

    (I don't know about your household, but in our household we agree on something else: We agree that you are messier than I am.)

     Finally, John Agno in his post Generation Squeeze, reports that the Labor Department's latest jobs snapshot acknowledges that all Americans have suffered from the recent economic troubles, but presents a strong case for crowning Baby Boomers as the greatest victims of the recession and its grim aftermath.

     To which I say, Aftermath? That would suggest the recession is over, wouldn't it? But maybe we need to get past all that -- for it's the year of the snake, and the snake is known for its financial acumen, perhaps indicating we should no longer worry so much about money.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

     I've always enjoyed reading a good mystery, going back to Agatha Christie and John D. MacDonald, continuing through Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Sue Grafton, J. A. Vance.

     B recommended Louise Penny to me a few months ago -- she'd heard about her from a friend at the library. Penny is a Canadian writer who has developed a series about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his trusty assistant Jean Guy Beauvoir, who work out of Montreal and solve mysteries in the far north.

     I read The Beautiful Mystery, about a murder in a monastery. And I just finished A Trick of the Light, which involves an artist who finds a childhood friend lying dead in her garden.

    I recommend Penny to anyone who likes stylish mysteries. But what stopped me was this poem offered by a character in the book, as she gazed over the scene of the crime:

        "You're lying on your deathbed.
         You have one hour to live.
         Who is it exactly, you have needed
         all these years to forgive?"

     I was raised a Catholic, and forgiveness was an issue that loomed large in my youth. So this made me wonder, who do I need to forgive? My parents, perhaps, not because they were bad parents, but because they were not perfect. My ex-wife? Nothing to forgive. Old school friends or work colleagues? Yes, there were some issues, but nothing worth a minute's thought on the deathbed.

     No, I thought, it's not that I need to forgive. It's that I need forgiveness. For the people I've hurt; for the stupid things I've done; for the things I should have done but never did. Perhaps the person I need to forgive is ... myself.

     What does Penny's poem say to you?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Remember Him?

     Since I've been in Florida a whole week -- actually, over a week -- I'm beginning to feel like a native. Okay, not really. But this venerable actor is a true Floridian ... or, at least nearly so.

     His parents had a small farm on Cat Island in the Bahamas. They traveled around the Caribbean selling tomatoes and other produce from their gardens. In February 1927 they were in Miami. The mother, Evelyn, was seven months pregnant, when she suddenly and unexpectedly went into labor. The boy was born two months premature. He was not expected to survive, but his parents stayed on in Miami for three months, nursing him and eventually bringing him to health.

Cat Island, the Bahamas
     The parents brought him back to Cat Island where as a child he helped out on the farm, but didn't get much education other than some basic religious studies as a Catholic. In 1937, the family moved to Nassau, but the young boy found nothing but trouble on the larger island.

     In 1942, the parents sent their 15-year-old son to Miami to live with his older brother -- and because he'd been born on American soil he automatically gained U. S. citizenship. He later explained his main reason for leaving: "I lived in a country where I couldn't live where I wanted to live. I lived in a country where I couldn't go where I wanted to eat, where I couldn't get a job except for those put aside for people of my color or caste."

     After just two years in Miami, he moved to New York City with dreams of success. Instead, he found a job washing dishes. A fellow waiter helped him learn to read, sitting with him at night and coaching him as he poured through the newspaper. Then the young man decided to join the army, where he was promptly assigned to the kitchen to wash dishes.

     He soon washed out of the army and headed back to New York. He auditioned for the American Negro Theater and was accepted as a student, but he did not find any immediate rapport with audiences. He could not sing, and with his Bahamian accent, did not fit the stereotype of the black actor.

     He worked hard at softening his accent and developing his acting skills, and was finally given a leading role in the classic play Lysistrata. Audiences responded, and critics gave him some good reviews.

     In 1949 producer Darryl Zanuck offered him a part in his movie No Way Out. He played Dr. Luther Brooks, treating a white bigot portrayed by Richard Widmark, and won praise for his understated performance. He moved to Hollywood and won increasingly better parts. In 1955 he broke through in Blackboard Jungle, for his role as an inner city high-school student confronting his teacher, played by Glenn Ford.

     Three years later he was nominated for an academy award for his part on The Defiant Ones. In 1961 he starred in Raisin in the Sun. Then in 1963 he became the first black actor to win an academy award for best actor in a leading role, for his performance as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.

     His career reached a peak in 1967 when he reigned as the biggest draw at the box office, starring in three popular movies: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, To Sir, with Love with Pamela Dare, and In the Heat of the Night with Rod Steiger.

     The actor (who you must know by now is Sidney Poitier) did receive some criticism for playing the stereotype of the overly-idealized black character, with no faults, no sexuality, and no connection to the zeitgeist of those troubled times. But Poitier felt that his work was a reflection of his values, and he also sensed an obligation to represent his race in a positive way. Later, thinking of his poor-but-proud upbringing, he said, "I decided that I would do nothing that did not reflect positively on my father's life."

     Sidney Poitier went on to direct several films, including Buck and the Preacher, in which he also co-starred opposite Harry Belafonte, and the popular 1980 comedy Stir Crazy, starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

     Poitier was married to Juanita Hardy, a dancer, from 1950 to 1965, and they had four daughters. He has been married to former Canadian actress Joanna Shimkus since 1976, and they have two daughters, including actress Sydney Tamiia Poitier, who recently appeared in an episode of Hawaii Five-0.

     Poitier was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney company from 1998 to 2003, and he has received many awards, including several life achievement awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He lives in California, and will celebrate his 86th birthday on February 20.

     P. S. F.y.i.: some other famous native Floridians:

       Pat Boone, 78, born in Jacksonville
       Janet Reno, 74, born in Miami
       Fay Dunaway, 72, Bascom, Fla.
       Jim Morrison, 1943 - 1971, Melborne, Fla.
       Bob Vila, 66, Miami
       Elizabeth Edwards, 1949 - 2011, Jacksonville
       Tom Petty, 62, Gainesville
       Wesley Snipes, 50, Orlando