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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Taste of the Big Apple

     B and I were invited to a wedding party held at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, NJ. We could drive there and back in one day. But we decided to go a day early, stay overnight, and see a few sights.

     Actually, my mother grew up in Jersey City, back in the 1920s when it was a decent, middle-class suburb across the river from New York City. But by the time I was growing up in the 1960s, Jersey City had become a slum.

     No more. Jersey City is now a thriving metropolis with soaring office buildings, luxury apartments, and easy access to downtown Manhattan.

Jersey City skyline

     But still, it's less expensive than Manhattan, which is why, when we decided to come a day early, we booked into a hotel at Harborside, a development on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson River. But we thought, as modern and upscale as it is, why hang out in Jersey City when we could take the Path train and be in New York in a few minutes.

     Well, the Path train is closed on weekends, we found out. They are still working on repairs left over from 2012's Hurricane Sandy. But there's a ferry, we were told, right down at the end on the block.

     So we hopped the ferry and for $6 took a ten minute trip to downtown Manhattan.

The New York skyline

     We got off and walked into Brookfield Place overlooking Rockefeller Park, which hugs the Hudson River. From Brookfield Place you can see the Oculus, the $4 billion structure that replaced the Path station that was destroyed on 9/11. Oculus, derived from the Latin word for "eye," refers to a circular opening in a dome or wall.

The Oculus, as seen from inside Brookfield Place

     Built by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Oculus design was inspired by a child releasing a dove.

Looking up from just outside the Oculus

     We came out at the World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial. Even today, it's a remarkable site. Flowers and small American flags are stuck into the cracks of the wall. People are visibly moved, even 18 years later.

9/11 Memorial, South Tower

     From the World Trade Center we walked north on West Broadway, and realized once again that in New York, you can find almost anything . . .

In New York City ... really?

     . . . including a poster store that sounded interesting, not that we could afford any of the posters. They're for collectors only.

Philip Williams Posters

     Then we poked our way into the Mysterious Bookshop, which is more our speed -- an entire bookstore chock-a-block with nothing but mystery books. B bought a copy of Murder in the Marais by Cara Black. Don't know much about it, except apparently Parisian investigator Aimee Leduc finds herself in a "dangerous web of ancient secrets" after finding a woman strangled in her home.

The Mysterious Bookshop

     We spent some time in the park, watching the river flowing by, and the people relaxing along the waterfront. Then we went to the Brandy Library for dinner.

Girls exercising on the shoreline

      Lest you think we have a literary bent . . . the Brandy Library does not have any books. Instead it features bookcases packed with bottles of wine and spirits. The menu consisted of one page of food selections, and 20-some pages of alcoholic opportunities.

Brandy and more brandy

     B and I are not drinkers. But we enjoyed the atmosphere, and listened in as the group of young guys at the table next to us ordered a flight of rare brandys and got a ten-minute lesson in spiritology from the young, French-accented waiter.

The sun sets over New Jersey

     Most of the locals, it seemed, went to the Brandy Library for drinks and appetizers, and then they were going off to dinner.

     But for us, when 8 p.m. rolls around, we are ready for the end of the day. So we walked back to the ferry and cruised back west across the Hudson.

The New York skyline, on the way home

     Then the next day we went to the wedding reception in Liberty State Park. And we left early, not because we had a long drive back home (about an hour and a half) but because . . .  no matter where we go, we usually leave early.
View of Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty and Verrazano Bridge, from Liberty State Park, NJ

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Why I'll Never Move to Florida

     B and I occasionally go ballroom dancing, and sometimes we take lessons too. This past spring we took a series of lessons through our town's community center. We were thinking about signing up again for the fall. But then we learned that our dance instructors, a couple in their early 60s, are moving to The Villages in Florida.

     They've bought a house, and their Pennsylvania home is now on the market. They say they'll move as soon as their current home sells.

     What I wanted to tell them (but didn't) was:  Well, I hope your house doesn't sell too soon, because you don't want to move to Florida anytime in the next two or three months.

     So this got me thinking why, while I do like to vacation in Florida for a couple of weeks in winter, I would never move to Florida on a fulltime basis. Why not?

     It's too hot. I remember one time I was in Sarasota in September. I had to walk across a parking lot to an office building. The heat from the pavement burned through my shoes so badly that I broke into a run just to get into the shade of the building, and then inside to the air conditioning. Of course, I was sweating like a pig when I arrived at my appointment. So . . . I looked it up. The average daily high August temperature for Florida is 92 degrees -- and that's in the shade, if there ever was any shade. And it doesn't cool off at night. The average nightly low is 76.

     It's too muggy. It feels hotter in Florida when it's 90 degrees than it does in Arizona when it's 100 degrees. Because of the 80% humidity. And then . . . it rains!

     It's too trashy. Except for a very few nice downtown areas in Naples, Miami and a scattering of other places, the typical landscape in Florida involves a six-lane thoroughfare lined with gas stations, fast-food restaurants, strip malls and motels. It's just ugly.

     There's too much traffic. Those six-lane thoroughfares are choked with traffic, even out of season. And then, of course, Christmas arrives with its four-month infestation of SUVs from New York and New Jersey, Illinois and Indiana, Michigan and Massachusetts.

     It's too crowded. All those cars bring hordes of tourists and retirees who stand in line at restaurants, mob the amusement parks, overrun the beaches. Then out of season . . . the place is deserted. The condos are dark, the malls are empty, the beaches are a wasteland . . . yet, somehow, the roads are still choked with cars.

     Too many old people. I realize this is the pot calling the kettle black. Nevertheless, I don't think I'd like living in a place where everyone is as old as I am. I like living on our street where there are families and children. (A kid down the block has a lemonade stand out this weekend!) I like going to a restaurant where there are young couples and groups of middle-age women. I like walking around town and seeing teenagers bouncing into the ice-cream shoppe and young singles lining up at Starbucks.

It's not all bad ... January sunset over Gulf of Mexico
     The algae blooms. You can't go in the water because of the red tide and other algae blooms. And now they've discovered something new: Sargassum seaweed on Florida beaches contains arsenic and other health hazards.

     Bugs, alligators, sharks and snakes. 'Nuff said.

     Too much crime. Florida boasts seven spots on the top one hundred U. S. cities with the highest crime rates. That's more than any other state except California and Texas. Just by way of comparison, the following Florida cities have higher crime rates than Philadelphia (and Philadelphia certainly has its share of crime): Riviera Beach, Lake Worth, Daytona Beach, Miami Beach, Fort Myers. By some measures other Florida cities like Orlando, Miami, St. Petersburg and Jacksonville.are even worse.

     Lightning. Florida has been dubbed the lightning capital of the world. It has an average of 1.45 million lightning strikes every year, more than any other state. It also has more deaths by lightning -- over 60 in the last ten years.

     Hurricanes! We're just starting the hurricane season, and Florida experiences more than twice as many hurricanes as Louisiana or North Carolina, and almost twice as many as Texas. Hurricanes have caused an estimated $225 billion in damage since 1980, and have killed literally dozens of people.

     Okay, okay . . . I'm not trying to say that Florida is the worst place on earth. Besides, I like visiting in the winter, so I don't want to get banned from the state by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. There are certainly places that are hotter and more uncomfortable, that have higher crime rates and more dangerous animals. And think of this: there are no volcanoes in Florida! (But believe it or not, there have been earthquakes.)

     I'm just saying, it's not to my taste as a place to live. But I wonder . . . do you think our dance instructors might have a guest room in their new house where we could stay for a week or two in January?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Are Things Really That Bad?

     I was at a dinner party last week with three normal, middle-class retired couples, and while there was no overt talk of politics, everyone in the group seemed to take a dark and pessimistic view not only of our own country but the rest of the world as well.

     Of course, Trump was the elephant in the room. But it's more than Trump. It's the rise of nationalistic and authoritarian governments around the globe, from Russia to Turkey to Venezuela. It's the rise of racism and religious hatred. The rise of economic inequality. The nuclear threat. The endless wars. Global warming. We're even told we're running out of water.

     One woman talked about her 30-something son and his wife, who (according to her) were thinking that they would not have children, because it wouldn't be right to bring kids into a dying, dysfunctional world.

     I found myself being the lone voice of optimism in this group. Of course all our problems have not gone away. But I believe the world today is better than the one we grew up with, and far and away better than the world of our grandparents' day. And it can certainly continue to get better for our children and grandchildren, as long as we keep our heads about us.

     So with that in mind I decided to reprise a post I did last summer, courtesy of Jeremy Kisner, an investment adviser with Surevest Wealth Management in Phoenix, AZ.

     Kisner reminds us that the world has improved dramatically over almost any time frame you can consider. But, he acknowledges, it doesn't always feel this way because negative headlines attract eyeballs and sell advertising for the media. Granted, there are tons of very real problems. Nevertheless, Bill Gates nailed it when he said, "Headlines are what mislead you, because bad news is a headline and gradual improvement is not."

My favorite optimist
     Human progress occurs because every day a few billion people go to work and figure out ways to improve living standards. Individuals do not always recognize the gradual improvements. But one place you can see the progress is in the stock market which has been going up for most of our lives (with, granted, a few bumps in the road) and is now right at all-time highs.

     People get scared reading the news -- North Korea, Iran, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, refugees, economic disparities, global warming -- and then they get even more scared thinking about the things that might go wrong. But meanwhile, people buy more things, companies grow, wealth is created, and billions of people live longer and better lives.

     Here are a few of Kisner's examples of human progress,:

     Life expectancy: Consider this: If you were born in 1900, you would have had a 23% chance of dying before age 20 and a 38% chance of dying before age 45. Kids born today have about a 1% chance of dying before age 20 and a 4% chance of dying before age 45.

     Modern Conveniences: When our grandparents were born, virtually no one had electricity ... or telephone or indoor plumbing. They didn't have a car and couldn't fly in an airplane. Today, 85% of the people in the world enjoy the benefits of electricity. And two-thirds have a cellphone.

     Poverty: Twenty years ago 29% of the world population lived in extreme poverty. Today it's only 9% . . . and the rate is still falling.

     Crime: Violent crime has been on a downward trend in the U. S. since 1990. Almost 14.5 million crimes were reported in the United States in 1990. By 2016 that figure was under 9.5 million.

     Retirement: Some 90% of 65-year-old American men who were still alive in 1870 were working. Today only about 20% of 65-year-old American men are still working ... and many of them are working by choice not necessity.

     Housework: The average family spent 11.5 hours a week doing laundry in 1920. That has fallen to 1.5 hours a week as of 2014.

     Safety: Americans became 95% less likely to be killed on the job over the last hundred years. Seat belts, air bags and other safety features have brought down auto fatalities from 50,000 a year in the 1970s to about 37,000 today, despite more cars on the road. The auto fatality rate per 100,000 people has dropped from 25 to 11 -- less than half what it was in the 1970s.

     Disease: In the past century, vaccines and antibiotics have brought miracles for modern medicine. Just since 1990, the control of infectious disease has saved the lives of an estimated 100 million children.

     Food. Between 1961 and  2009, the amount of land used to grow food increased by 12%, but the amount of food grown has increased by 300%.

     Kisner maintains that people who think the best days for America, and for our economy, are behind us are essentially saying that human innovation is going to slow down or stagnate. He says that doesn't seem likely, at least over the next 20 to 30 years. Don't you agree?


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Why Do They Do It That Way?

     Apparently I've got my curmudgeon on today. But it's not my fault. The blame goes to the new switch on the kitchen fan.

     I turned off the ceiling fan in the kitchen yesterday afternoon. But it came on again. I turned it off again. Then last night, as I was upstairs getting ready for bed, I heard this strange whirring noise. Was it the dishwasher down in the kitchen? I had turned it on. But it's supposed to be quiet. It wouldn't be making that much noise.
     Maybe the noise was coming from something outside?. We live in town and so we occasionally get street noise, or strange sounds coming from the neighbors. I opened the window. But, no, it wasn't coming from outside.

     So, reluctantly, instead of dropping into bed, I turned on the hall light and trundled downstairs. The first floor was dark. But the noise seemed to be coming from the kitchen, and when I turned on the light, the fan was running on high, . . .  whirring like an airplane propeller!

What ... you can't see?!?
From top to bottom: Hi, Med, Low, Off.
Bottom switch: the real Off switch.
 Green button for light. Why do they make it so complicated?

     I tried to look at the little buttons to see what was going on. But I couldn't read the fine print. And I'd left my glasses upstairs. So I looked around, found a pair of B's reader's, which were on the kitchen counter, and slid the switch to off.

     So why do they make it so damn hard to turn the fan on and off!?!

     And by the way, the regular Off button seems to turn it off only temporarily. The fan comes back on again. So you have to slide the bottom switch to the side to really turn it off.

     But of course it's not the only problem we have. Do you know what half the dials and switches on the dashboard of your car do . . . if you  can even read them?

     We have another switch to turn on our ceiling fan in the bedroom. You need some incredibly good fine motor skills to turn the fan on and off, or adjust up and down.

See the little things next to the two switches?
That's how you turn the fan and light up or down ...
If you can get to them.

     And then there are light bulbs. Let's face it, the only thing you want to know about a light bulb is how bright it is. How many watts. Is it 40 or 60 or 100? But I challenge you to find a light bulb, any light bulb, and then ascertain how bright it is. Can't be done!

     I found yet another issue the other morning, when I was waking up early for golf. I actually woke up a few minutes before the alarm went off. And so I thought I'd be nice to B and switch off the alarm so it wouldn't wake her up as well.

Can you tell what to push to turn it off?

     I look at the clock radio for the on/off switch. I can't see a thing. Eventually, I got my reading glasses, and used the flashlight on my iPhone to figure it out . . . it's the top left.

     So now I have a birthday coming up. B asked me if I'd like an apple watch for my birthday. But what good would that do me? I couldn't see what the damn thing was saying!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

What Is Vacation For?

     It's the week of July 4, and so it shouldn't surprise anyone that what's on people's minds is . . .  vacation!

     Meryl Baer reports that the weekend brought a record number of visitors to the New Jersey shore town where she resides year-round. With the weather reliably hot and sunny, the beach beckoned, and retail stores eagerly greeted shoobies (out-of-towners). Baer says that in honor of the 4th she fulfilled her patriotic duty and spent money she doesn't have on a  . . . well, zoom over to Celebrating Independence Day to find out what she bought.

     Rebecca Olkowski of Babyboomster had a slightly different July 4th experience. In Earthquake: Rollling and Shaking in Los Angeles she explains how she swayed and shook in LA for two days, first with a 6.4 tremor, then a 7.1 quake. She survived, just fine, but the effect on her dogs was a little different. One of them was passed out; the other freaked out.

     If you need some advice about how to deal with summer issues (my dog freaks out from fireworks) then swim, skate or surf over to consumer journalist Rita Robison's post Think Safety This Summer. She offers some reminders about staying safe while hanging out at the pool,.cooking on the grill, mowing the lawn, even putting up your beach umbrella.

Have fun ... but be safe!
     And Jennifer of Unfold and Begin serves up another helping of tips with How to Save on Your Meals on Vacation. It includes a helpful checklist for your vacation cottage.

     On a more metaphysical level, Laura Lee Carter, says that no matter how disturbing the world seems, she finds she is Seeking Solace in Nature. And now at the age of 64 she finally knows "the peace that only nature can offer."

      Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles suggests that we all have a special place -- a place we return to that sustains us, restores us and comforts us. She shares the magic and memory of her spot, just across a bridge in the mythical land of . . . find out where in her post Where Is Your Place?

     And Carol Cassara of A Healing Spirit comes around to the topic of vacation, in a certain way as well. In her post What Does Your Life Path Look Like? she acknowledges that many of us sometimes think that everyone else enjoys smooth sailing in life, while we always seem to be facing gale force winds. So she tells us to take a vacation from constantly comparing our life to other people's ... because no matter what their Facebook page says, they are facing challenges as well.

     And finally, as if to remind us all about what vacation is really all about, Kathy Gottberg of SmartLiving 365 offers the post Could Contentment Be the Treasure We All Seek? For what's the purpose of vacation if not to achieve a state of peace, harmony and gratitude . . . and appreciating the luxury of just being alive.