Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Top 10 Places to Retire 2030

     Yes, that's right. Not the best places in 2020, but the best places ten years from now.

     We all know that today the most popular place to retire is Florida. Warm weather. Low taxes. Lots of golf courses. Plenty of beaches. What's not to like? Florida is followed by Arizona, then Texas, then the Carolinas. Retirees are drawn by the low cost of living, the warm weather, the recreational activities.

     But things are changing. Florida and the Gulf Coast are pummeled by more and more hurricanes and tropical storms. Arizona has been roasting in 100 degree heat all summer, with Phoenix topping 110 on more than 50 days.

     Will retirees really want to move into an area where the flood waters rise, forcing them to evacuate as soon as they arrive? Will they want to bake in the hot sun of the Southwest . . . or, just in case anyone can afford to retire to California, risk the fires and rolling blackouts of the West Coast?

     According to most experts, the country is getting hotter. Climate journalist Abraham Lustgarten in an article for ProPublica and the New York Times, says that Buffalo, NY (believe it or not!), "may feel in a few decades like Tempe, Ariz., does today." Meanwhile, Tempe itself will be sweating away in the triple digits.  

Buffalo, NY, street scene
   He also says that extreme humidity in the Mississippi valley, from New Orleans north, will make living conditions unbearable. Fresh water will be in short supply throughout the West and also across Florida, Tennessee and Alabama. He sees California-type megafires threatening the South from Texas to Georgia.

     While some parts of the U. S. bake in the heat, rising sea levels will chew up shorelines along the East and Gulf coasts, swamping many coastal areas and infiltrating underground aquifers. One estimate projects that high water will force some 13 million Americans to move away from the coastline.

     Experts predict the recent migration of retirees toward the coasts, and toward warmer weather, will reverse. Now instead of retiring to Florida or Arizona, people will head north. They will seek cooler summers. They will avoid fire-prone regions and shy away from low-lying areas subject to flooding.  

     So where will people be retiring in 2030? Okay . . . nobody really knows. But here's a good guess.

     1. Minnesota. The land of 1000 lakes is already rated high on many retirement lists for its low crime rate and great medical care (think Mayo Clinic). Minnesota residents also enjoy the longest life expectancy of any people in the country. Jesse Keenan, Harvard climate-change professor, seriously suggests Duluth as a promising location. He says the city should brace for a coming real-estate boom as climate migrants move north.

     2. Colorado. The state is high and dry, with clear air and access to plenty of recreational activities. There are good medical facilities and a wide array of cultural offerings. According to the Business Insider website Colorado has already become the quarantine location of choice, mostly for people moving from Texas and the West coast.

     3. Northern Florida. In 2030 people will still like the sun and warm breezes. Southern Florida will be awash in brackish water, with cities like Miami and Ft. Lauderdale separated from a beachless waterfront by huge concrete walls. But northern Florida is protected from the hurricanes, has more access to drinking water, and has a slightly more temperate climate. Lustgarten thinks Orlando alone may receive more than a quarter million new residents as a result of sea-level displacement, and it's possible that the Atlantic coast north of Cape Canaveral may still be habitable.

     4. Coastal Oregon and Washington. According to Lustgarten the migration from California, particularly Southern California, to the Pacific Northwest will only increase as people look for a better economy and more temperate climate. The megalopolis of Seattle will essentially merge with Vancouver to its north.

     5. Idaho. Another refuge for West coasters looking for clearer air, cooler temperatures, lower crime rate . . . and its up-and-coming wine country is not threatened by constant fires.

     6. Michigan. Lustgarten suggests Michigan has a climate that will only get "more temperate, verdant and inviting." He predicts a renaissance for currently downtrodden Detroit.

     7. Wisconsin. Almost as good as Minnesota, with plenty of drinkable water, cooler temperatures and a healthy lifestyle. Madison is home to a top university, while Milwaukee on Lake Michigan offers an underused infrastructure that could be brought back to life.

     8. Pennsylvania. The state has the cultural and seasonal advantages of the Northeast, without the high taxes and high cost of living. New Yorkers are already fleeing the city to settle in eastern Pennsylvania . . . close enough to the ocean to visit, but far enough away to avoid the storms and floods. Like football? Penn State hosts Big Ten sports (as does Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota).

     9. Vermont. It has the Green mountains and a green lifestyle . . . and according to Lustgarten, will soon have a more temperate climate. 

     10. Upstate New York. Cities like Rochester and Buffalo could revitalize an already-existing infrastructure, and offer safe, secure neighborhoods overlooking Lake Erie and Lake Ontario -- all with, you guessed it, cooler summers and milder winters.  

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Mastering Our Power

     "Mastering others is strength," wrote Lao Tzu, "mastering yourself is true power." 

     I just saw an article by someone who was mastering the power in himself. He wrote that for most of his life he had never voted in any elections. He felt that politics was dirty. Political people were often angry and unpleasant to be around. He didn't want any part of them. He also figured that one vote has no impact. One vote out of tens of millions? It's insignificant.

     He had heard all the arguments about how it was his civic duty, how if he didn't vote he had no right to complain, how one vote really can make a difference. None of those arguments moved him.

     So what finally changed his mind? He realized that politics doesn't affect him very much, but they do affect many other people he knows -- people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, people fleeing domestic violence, people suffering from racism, genderism, ageism. So he asked himself: How can I say I support these people if I can't take a few minutes to vote? It costs me almost nothing, but it means a great deal to many of my neighbors, including those who have the misfortune to be in the way of a wildfire, hurricane or pandemic.

     It's the power of the vote. And maybe because we all feel so powerless these days, this week Baby Boomers are talking about power. 

     Laurie Stone of Musings, Rants & Scribbles asks us to picture a female brought up without any gender conditioning, a female who does what she wants whenever she wants. Picture a dog named Libby. Then you can picture all the things Laurie admires about her Yorkie's chutzpah in An Untamed Unfettered Female.

Libby does her thing
Libby does her thing
     Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit addresses another aspect of empowerment. We have created and directed our lives, she says. We're the make-it-happen generation. So it's no surprise that some of us have trouble sitting around, doing nothing, and letting things happen of their own accord.  She offers a simple exercise to discover The (Sometimes Painful) Gift of Sitting with a Blank Canvas.

     Meanwhile consumer journalist Rita R. Robison provides information that will give us power in the marketplace. In Price Gouging Persists on Amazon she reports on an analysis showing that some items on Amazon were up to 14 times more expensive than identical products sold at other retailers.

     (I second Rita's report. I was on Amazon looking for health and cleaning supplies. A bottle of simple rubbing alcohol was priced at $10. That seemed like a lot to me. So I checked out Walmart.com. Sure enough, there was a same-size bottle for $3.92 -- for a two-pack! So I continued my shopping on the Walmart site.) 

     Then we have Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com who is Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The justice, who died on Friday at age 87, spent her life fighting for equal rights and the empowerment of women everywhere.

     For her part, Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin focuses on overcoming discrimination and the relentless push for change in Notorious RBG and the Women Who Persevere.

     Finally, as a postscript, you might want to check out Kathy Gottberg's vlog Today Is a Good Day to Live. She reminds us that regardless of our circumstances, we each have the power to shift our mindset and create days filled with things that matter to us. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Old Dog, New Trick

     Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? B and I have not only learned something this summer. We've become experts. On Zoom.

     We started out attending Zoom sessions hosted by someone else. That's Zooming 101. It's pretty easy. Someone schedules a meeting, they send you an email with a link, and you open the link. The only thing you have to know is how to turn on your camera and make sure your audio is on.

     We belong to the Center for Learning in Retirement (CLR) at our local university, and after closing down the spring session in March, the university decided to hold summer courses online. So I signed up for "Strategic Leadership in Times of Crisis." All on Zoom. The course focused on the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and drew lessons about leadership from how John Kennedy and others handled that historic crisis.

     So I logged in, listened to a presentation by the host, watched a few video clips he shared with us, then took part in a discussion about what we could learn from it all. The only thing I had to do was log on (see above) and then press the space bar on my keyboard whenever I wanted to participate in the class discussion.

     A few days later I joined a movie discussion group through our local movie theater. We each watched the movie in advance on Netflix -- Mount Rushmore, a 1998 coming-of-age film starring Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Then we all logged onto Zoom. The discussion was led by an independent movie director who filled us in on some background, then opened up the session for discussion. I didn't like the movie -- I found the characters unappealing, the situations unbelievable -- but I was in the minority. What I learned is that the movie is beloved by people growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s (ask your kids about it).

     In July, B and I stepped up to actually host a CLR discussion group via Zoom. It wasn't too hard. All we had to do was figure out how to schedule the session, then admit people to the meeting and master the art of calling on people electronically. Yes, we made a few mistakes. But everyone was new at this. Our audience was very forgiving.

     Zoom offers a free version, but you can also buy an upgraded version, Zoom Pro, for around $13 a month. The main advantage is that while the free version limits a session to 40 minutes, the Pro version allows unlimited time. We knew we would be hosting an hour-long course in the fall, and we wanted to set up Zoom to meet with friends and family, so we ponied up for the Pro version. Well, actually, B ponied up for the Pro version.

     Since then we have held a birthday party online with Zoom. We have hosted a family reunion. We've met with a number of friends. B also does church meetings via Zoom, and she recently joined the League of Women Voters which now holds meetings on Zoom.

     Lately, we've been getting ready for the class we'll host in the fall, "Great Decisions in Foreign Policy," a program from the Foreign Policy Association. We've directed this program before in person. Now we have to do it via Zoom. The format calls for us to share a video, then direct a discussion with 25 people. So we have to know how to screen share. That's the AP course in Zooming. Now we've enlisted a few friends to practice how to share a DVD video, then go into discussion mode without totally messing things up.

     Does it sound like I'm bragging about how smart I am learning all about Zoom? Darn right I am!

     I'd say, with all due modesty, that I have the equivalent of a Master's degree in the program. But to be honest, if I have a Master's, then B has a Zoom Ph.D.!
 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Held in Contempt


     I once read an article about how psychologists could predict which couples in therapy would end up getting divorced and which ones would patch things up and re-establish their relationship. The key element was not how much they argued, how different their views were, or how much they screamed or cried. The key element was contempt. If husbands or wives felt contempt for their partner, then divorce was almost inevitable.
    
      This came to mind as I was scrolling down my Facebook feed -- which I try not to do because there's little to be gained from the exercise. But sometimes in the middle of a self-isolating-induced coma of boredom, I can't help myself.

     And what strikes me is how much contempt my liberal friends have for their fellow Americans who are conservatives -- or anyone who happens to disagree with them -- and how they attack anyone who's not on board with their woke agenda. Their call their opponents dumb or stupid. They are liars, racists, even Nazis.

     Meanwhile, conservatives on social media reply in kind. They take pride in denying established facts, disdaining legal authority, ridiculing academia, the media, the government. They say liberals are either rich power-hungry hypocrites or else poor morally corrupt losers.

     That's on Facebook, or other social media, or sometimes on the so-called news channels on TV. It's enough to make you think that there are two different realities -- and that the country is falling apart.

     But then there's real life. I'd say most of my friends are liberals, some vehemently so. But I have a few conservative relatives who voted for Trump, and some neighbors who by all outward signs are proud flag-waving conservatives. And the funny thing is, in real life, we all get along pretty well.

     Okay, part of that is the natural tendency of people to avoid religion and politics in polite conversation. But a good part of it is that the stereotypes posted on social media are not just misleading, they are downright false.

     For example, in real life my across-the-street neighbor is a truck driver who hangs a big American flag outside his front door, and I've heard him make a few comments about how he's out-of-touch with our generally more liberal town. A selfish, narcissistic racist? Well, actually, no. He mows the lawn and plows the driveway of the elderly widow next door, for free as a neighborly gesture. And I've stood around with him on the sidewalk more than once having a friendly conversation with the African-American woman who lives down the street or the Asian couple that lives around the corner.

     Or there's my brother-in-law who is devoted to his conservative Christian church. I know he voted for Trump and -- yes, he's denies global warming and is socially conservative. But is he your typical non-college-educated redneck? No. He graduated from college and he's also taken some continuing education courses. But more than that, he defies the stereotype because he volunteers in the community helping people less fortunate than he is, and despite his views on global warming he drives a gas-sipping VW, has no a/c in his home, grows his own vegetables, and composts most of his garbage. Despite his political views, he actually lives the lifestyle of an ultra-liberal Vermont hippie!

     Then there's the nephew from Chicago. He and his wife are both Trump supporters. You get them started, and sometimes it's a bit much. And yet he's in the music business and somehow gets along with his liberal colleagues. And they live in an integrated building in an integrated neighborhood, so in terms of anti-racism they're way ahead of my liberal friends who live in middle-class white neighborhoods.

     On the other side of the ledger, one of my friends is self-consciously super-liberal. So is his wife. They support Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ rights, free health care -- and I'm guessing they'd support AOC if she ran for president. And yet they actually lead lives that any conservative would  aspire to. They're not welfare cheats. They're not morally corrupt by even the most conservative standards. They both have jobs; work hard; pay their taxes, go to church, don't do drugs. They own their own home, and they've raised two responsible children. Given their actual lifestyle, they could be Mormons!

     Now I'm not saying that there aren't some truly hateful people in the world. But most of us have good intentions based on our own beliefs. Each of us may think that we have better ideas, or support policies that are more fair or more effective. But as people we are no better than our neighbors. Besides, do you really think you'll convert someone to your point of view by insulting and demeaning them?

     I have another relative who lives in Florida. She's a card-carrying feminist -- her hero is Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- but she's been married for over 20 years to a retired military engineer who's about as conservative as you would expect. Yes, I've seen an eye roll or two when the subject of politics comes up. But for the most part they get along just fine. They agree to disagree on some items, but they respect each other as people and for the most part their lives and values are compatible. They obey the law, love their children, pay their taxes, get along with their neighbors, and they both volunteer to help out other people in the community. She volunteers at the art museum and helps raise money for community services, and he supports an organization for retired servicemen.

      So it is possible. We can disagree about things. We can argue and yell and scream. But we need to remember that above all we are Americans who believe in democracy -- and to believe in democracy we have to respect our fellow citizens, even if they have a different point of view. Question their assumptions, tear apart their logic, disagree with their opinions. But there's no benefit in insulting them or calling them names. We cannot hold our fellow citizens in contempt.
   

Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Health and Wealth Gap

     Retirees are not worried about money. We are worried about contracting Covid. Our children are not worried about Covid. They are worried about money.

     So Covid presents a health gap between young and old, as well as a wealth gap between young and old. That's an undeniable conclusion from an Edward Jones and Age Wave multi-generational study of some 9,000 Americans.

     It makes sense when you realize that Covid-19 has in six months killed over three times the number of Americans who died in all the years of the Vietnam War. Today Covid is the third leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer, but ahead of Alzheimer's, accidents and any kind of criminal activity including gun violence.

     Most of the people who get Covid are under 40. But most of the people who die from Covid are over 60. A quarter of people over age 60 who come down with Covid end up in the hospital. But only 3% of those under 40 spend any time in the hospital. And they usually get better. It's extremely rare for someone under age 40 to die of Covid.

     But if retirees have to worry about Covid, we are not by and large worried about our income. We're not losing a job or suffering a cutback in pay. Our incomes are secure, from Social Security, pensions, IRAs and other non-earned income. Plus, three-quarters of retirees own their own homes, half of us owning outright with no more mortgage. So only about 10% of retirees report that Covid has "negatively impacted" their financial security.

     For our children it's a different story. They have lost over 20 million jobs. Some of those jobs have come back in the last two months. But further layoffs linger. And nobody knows how many are still working but are taking home half a salary, or even less.

     In our case, out of four children, two are still working at full salary. One was furloughed for three months on a fraction of his salary. He's now back at work, hoping for the best. The fourth kept his full salary until June, then was cut back by 50%, and recently was cut another 15%. He still has a job, but there are no clients and there's not much to do . . . and he's fearing the worst.

     Our own experience reflects the broader picture. According to the survey, a third of Millennials say their finances have been impacted by the pandemic. Many of them have stopped making contributions to their retirement plan, and a significant number have dipped into their retirement account to pay current bills. Some adult children have even been forced to move back to their parents' home due to a job loss.

     The financial stress has also caused mental health issues. Over a third of young adults say they have suffered mental health declines since the pandemic began, compared to just 10% of their parents

     It's another story for younger Baby Boomers who are not yet retired, but suddenly find themselves out of work. Some Baby Boomers Are Pressured to Cut Spending since they're too young for Medicare or Social Security, but they may still have children to support or college tuition to pay -- and yet their prospects for finding a new job are slim to none due to ageism. Even 50-somethings who are up on the latest technologies are often passed over in favor of younger people with fewer skills.

     Meanwhile, almost half of retired Americans said the pandemic has made them worry more about their children. Some 24 million Americans say they have provided some financial support to their adult children during the last six months. Many of us have had no problem helping our kids. Our income has remained steady, but expenses have gone down, so we have more money sloshing around in our accounts -- money we can afford to give away.

     But others have to put off more necessary expenses in order to help their kids -- delaying home repairs, foregoing new clothes, stretching out credit-card payments. Yet the majority of retirees still say they would offer financial support to their kids even if it did jeopardize their own financial future.

     Many of us can afford to help our kids now, but we worry the economic impacts will linger, causing us to compromise our longer-term financial security. The majority of retirees see retirement not just as an end to work, but as a new chapter in our lives, when we can pursue new dreams, enjoy new freedoms, take on new challenges. Covid by itself puts a brake on pursuing new opportunities since it's hard to connect with a new group or a new cause when we can't meet people face-to-face. Any financial squeeze just further inhibits our pursuit of new opportunities.

     There is at least one silver lining to Covid. According to the survey, two-thirds of Americans said the pandemic has brought their families closer together. The experience has inspired them to have important discussions about financial planning, preparing for retirement, end-of-life issues, and strategies for protecting and improving health. Perhaps we could also count our new proficiency in Zoom and FaceTime!

     Also, we retirees have something going for us:  We have seen a lot of problems come and go. We have a longer-term view. We realize that as hard as it is, this too shall pass.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Take a Day Trip

     If you're ever in a funk, due to Coronavirus or for any other reason, sometimes the cure is a day off -- a break in the routine to reset your attitude. We were getting tired of feeling sorry for ourselves because we're self-isolating, staying home, avoiding friends. We're watching TV, reading books, cooking, working in the yard. All things to keep us occupied. But they are not enough . . . just not enough.

     So we decided to take a day trip.

The surf was up

     We've been on a few outings since lockdown began -- to see our local covered bridges, walk along the canal by the river, visit a few historic towns. But there's nothing quite like going to the beach.

Plenty of beachgoers
   
     For us it's an hour-and-a-half drive to the Jersey Shore, where for $10 you can purchase a ticket to get on the beach. Tickets are limited to keep down the crowds. We wore masks as we entered through the gate, where you might be in close proximity to other people. But once on the beach it wasn't hard to maintain at least six feet distance. Yes, someone might come a little closer as they walk by -- but only for an instant, and in the breeze.

But not too crowded
   
     The surf was up, so there were plenty of young surfers (and a few old ones) catching waves and enjoying good long rides. Most of the schools and universities in New Jersey seem to be opening up remotely, leaving people free to spend some extra time at the shore.

Catching a wave
   
     The sun was out, the temperature in the high 80s, and the water was 73 degrees.

Surfing beauty
 
      Still, there was plenty of space to relax and soak up the last rays of summer. A perfect beach day.

Peaceful times
   
     We drove home at the end of the day, back to reality. But the ocean is always there if we feel the need. The beach is beautiful in September.
 

Saturday, August 22, 2020

I'm in a Lousy Mood. Aren't You?

     It took me a long while to begin to notice it, but now I finally realize what's wrong. I'm in a lousy mood. The Coronavirus lockdown is getting to me.

     Lethargy has set in. I sit around the house. It's an effort just to get up out of a chair, go upstairs and find my book. I'm tired of reading anyway. I've been reading twice as many books as I normally do, spending an hour or more in the morning lounging in a chair, drinking coffee and reading a book . . . and sometimes staring into space because it's hard to focus these days.

     We also spend too much time watching TV. The highlight of our day comes at 7:30 p.m., when we finish dinner and get to turn on Netflix or Amazon prime. We've watched an embarrassingly large number of videos: Babylon BerlinFauda, Dead to Me, Call My Agent, Wonderland, Offspring, Schitt's Creek  The list goes on and on.

     Now we're getting sick and tired of watching TV. We typically only last through Season One of any series before we get jittery. We feel like we have to move on to the next one. We're so easily bored these days.

     We watch the weather on TV. After a while it all seems the same. Sunny or rainy. What's the difference? We watch the news, but the commentators are so nasty and hateful, we just turn them off. We saw a little of the Democratic convention, but it was too predictable. With only a few exceptions (like the courageous Gabby Giffords on Wednesday night) it's just politicians talking . . . blah, blah, blah . . . tell me something I don't already know.

Do you feel trapped?
     We spend a lot of time Zooming with friends and family and people we volunteer with over at the college or down at the church. Zooming is another highlight of our day. But it's not the same as seeing someone in person, talking face to face. You go on Zoom to get the job done; not to have fun.

     And then there's way too much time just sitting around and . . . doing nothing. Too much time to think about the past and regret the stupid things we did when we were young -- the opportunities we may have missed, the people we may have let down. Too much time to worry about the kids and what they're doing and how this pandemic is going to affect their lives for now and forevermore. Too much time to wonder about what's going to happen to us. Are we going to be forced to spend our retirement years living like shut-ins, robbed of the excitement of travel, the joys of grandchildren, the satisfaction of helping in the community?

     B and I have talked about this. We feel bad that we feel bad. Many people have it worse than we do. We're not losing a job. We're not losing income thanks to Social Security and a still-thriving stock market that props up our IRAs. We're not front-line workers risking our lives in a hospital or a grocery store. We're just in a bad mood, feeling grumpy, because we can't get on with our lives. We feel stuck. Trapped.

     Day after day is the same. "There's nothing to look forward to,," B complained. "We can't make any plans."

     But we did acknowledge that when we feel frustrated and constrained, the temptation is to take it out on the people nearest and dearest to us -- spouses, family, friends. Yes, we've been snippy to each other -- not because of anything we've done, but just because we're feeling snippy. Dirty dishes in the sink have somehow become important. Clothes left on the floor used to be ignored; now they are annoying.

     We have to consciously be aware that the problem is not with us. It's not the clothes or dishes. It's the situation. We remind ourselves not to turn against each other, or turn against ourselves. There's too much time to judge and criticize -- judge our family, criticize our friends, blame ourselves, demonize people on Facebook. Enmity breeds enmity.

     We have to give everyone a break, including ourselves. I'm lucky to have B, and she's lucky to have me, even if we do occasionally get on each other's nerves now that we're spending so much time together -- and so little time with anyone else. We are lucky to have friends and family who show up on the other side of a Zoom meeting or Facebook call. We're lucky to have a comfortable home and plenty to eat and all the electronics to entertain us.

     Of course there are problems in the world, as there always have been and always will be. But don't take them personally. Don't judge other people too harshly -- don't get down on yourself. We'll stay busy, even if it sometimes seems pointless. See friends when we can. Go for a walk. Go for a ride. Keep our eye on the horizon. Stay positive. We'll get through this.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Are We Cool?

      I've seen a couple of lists on the internet claiming to show what Baby Boomers think is cool. These lists are written by younger people -- Millennials or Gen Xers or Gen Zers or whomever -- and so of course the clear message is that whatever a Baby Boomer thinks is cool has got to be the most uncool thing in the world.

     Some of the items on these lists are set-ups. Mom jeans, for example. Has anyone ever thought that mom jeans are cool?

     But other items are up for debate. For example.

     Sending emails. Supposedly, Baby Boomers think sending emails is cool, while Millennials wouldn't get caught dead using email. They text. Or use Instagram, Snapchat or something else that requires only a few words. I don't know if Baby Boomers really think emails are cool. But they are useful. So the only thing I can conclude is that Millennials don't have much to say.

My clunky old phone
     Landlines. Okay, a few of the coolest people I know have given up their landlines. But most of us have kept them. If landlines are not cool, then a telephone book is even less cool. But the other day we got a letter in the mail addressed to an unfamiliar name at our address. If we had a telephone book we could have looked up the person's address and if she was local, just dropped off the letter on her doorstep. But now, no phone book, no way to find her address. All we could do was hand it back to the post office to return to sender. 

     Cruises. We've never taken a cruise, although it seems that most of our friends have been on at least one, and we have a few friends who take two or three a year. So, yes, they're right. Baby Boomers do think cruises are cool. 

     Paper bills. Uh, guilty. I pay my bills electronically, but I like to get paper bills in the mail. I find them easier to keep track of that way. Otherwise, you get some bills by regular mail, some by email, some by text . . . you never know where the heck the bills coming from and invariably one gets lost and doesn't get paid on time -- and we get stuck with a late fee!

     Retirement funds. Baby Boomers are big on IRAs and 401k plans. Apparently, Millennials not so much. But I got news for Millennials, Gen Xers and all other young people, wherever they are -- they'd better get with the program. Otherwise, when they get to our age, they'll still be eating ramen noodles for dinner.

     Pickleball. Guilty. It's all the rage where I live, or at least it was before Coronavirus set in, and hopefully will be again. But whether the so-cool Millennials think it's cool or not . . . it beats playing Hero Academy on your smartphone.

     Cable TV. We still get cable TV. Our kids do not. But as a Baby Boomer I'm not sure I think cable TV is actually cool. It's just a force of habit.

     Meatloaf. B likes meatloaf. I don't. That makes me -- ahem -- cool in the eyes of the younger generation.

     Catalogs. Same as above. You see, I am cool.

B's pillows

    Throw pillows. Ditto. I'm so cool!

     Newspapers. We get the weekend editions of the N. Y. Times. But cool or not, lemme tell you, the world would be a better place if more people read good old-fashioned newspapers.

     All-you-can-eat buffets. Nobody thinks all-you-can-eat buffets are cool. But I love 'em. So much comfort food!

     Bar soap. I use a bar of soap. B uses liquid soap. I always thought it was a male-female  thing, not a difference between people who are cool and people who are uncool. Okay, I'm beginning to get the picture. Maybe I'm not so cool after all.

My bar of soap
My bar of soap
     Malls. Honestly, we don't go to the mall very often. But what's Christmas without spending some time at the mall with Santa, the Salvation Army, the tree and the decorations?

     Clint Eastwood. Whatever you think of his movies, and I don't care how old you are, Clint Eastwood is definitely cool. 

     Golf. Golf was cool back in the 1990s. Not anymore.

     Visors. The coolest guy in our golf group wears a visor. I guess that shows you how cool our golf group is.

     So I might as well tell you, when I was in high school, I wasn't exactly the coolest guy in the class. It wasn't for lack of trying. I smoked cigarettes, drank beer, and did a lot of other stupid things that I thought might make me cool. Then I finally realized. The truly stupid thing is to try to be cool. Because it doesn't mean a thing. You're much better off being yourself.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Lessons from 60 Years of Living

     My wife and I Facetimed with my daughter and her husband and our baby granddaughter the other day. They're busy starting a family, moving to a different city, getting a new job, buying a house. It's great to see them, talk to them, but I had to bite my tongue because all I wanted to do is give them advice -- and they really don't need my advice.

     Nevertheless, I've been on this earth a long time and have learned a few things, although as my wife often reminds me -- ha, you don't know everything. So if you can add anything to these lessons, please, be my guest.

     So some lessons, learned the hard way:

     The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I learned this in high-school geometry. The principle goes well beyond mathematics and applies to everything from mapping out a trip to planning out a career

      Look to see what's coming. This comes from driver's education. Look both ways, and anticipate what the other drivers are going to do. This is especially important if you (as I did) learned to drive a stick shift, to avoid excessive shifting, excessive braking, and just generally knowing what's about to happen so you don't get blindsided. In driving, as in life, you don't want to get blindsided -- whether it's by a divorce, a layoff, a sudden accident or mishap that could have been foreseen and thus avoided.

     Don't piss into the wind. I learned this at Boy Scout camp. But aside from not getting yourself wet, the message is: don't buck the trend, whether it's the prevailing opinion at work or the prevailing opinion among your friends -- unless you want to lose your job or your friends. So . . . go with the flow.

     Know when to break the rules. Of course, there are always exceptions to the previous piece of advice. Sometimes the rules make so sense; they're holding you back, and you need to break out of the box. I learned this in my first job, when I broke some rules and catapulted myself into a promotion. But, I realized later, I was lucky. Because make no mistake. Most of the time you'll be opposed by the hidebound, the people with a vested interest, the people who can't see over the horizon.

     Stay on your toes. I learned this one in Little League. I played second base because while I was not afraid of ground balls, I had no arm and couldn't make the throw from shortstop or third base. But playing the infield, the ball comes at you pretty fast. You have to be ready. The coach would tell us, "Stay on your toes."

     How to make a decision. Some people make a list of pros and cons. Others flip a coin -- and know the answer when the coin is in the air and they're hoping for a particular result. But I learned the concept of "expected value" in business school. Suppose you have one die. It costs you a dollar to roll the die. You pick a number, and if your number comes up you win $10. Should you play? The answer is yes, because on average it will cost $6 to win $10. If you're expected value of an action is positive, then you should take the action. It works in business but also in other aspects of life including your love life. It also works in gambling. Or as Kenny Rogers told us: "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

     Pick your fights. I learned this from my older sister. We used to fight all the time when we were little kids and I would always lose -- until one day when I got a bigger, I finally got on top of her and pinned her against a rock. We never fought again, because my sister was smart enough to know she wasn't going to win anymore. I learned it again later in life when I stood up to my boss when he was doing something wrong. He backed down, because he had to, but it wasn't long before I found myself with an early retirement package.  

     Go down swinging. Sometimes you have to fight even if you think you might lose -- if it's a matter of principle, or justice, or desperation. If that's the case, don't give up. You never know. You might surprise them. But if you do lose, lose with honor. So maybe if I hadn't picked that fight with my boss I'd have a more generous pension today -- but at least I can live with myself. 

     Get out of your rut. I learned this from tennis. It's easy when you're playing tennis to fall into the habit of hitting the ball back to your opponent. He's standing right there. So sometimes you have to remind yourself:  Hit the ball to the other side of the court! Make him run! Similarly, in life sometimes you have to shake things up -- to make people notice, to catch competitors off balance, to change the pace -- whether it's a career, a relationship, a vacation, an investment. Don't always just hit the ball back.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Is This Really Urban Renewal?

     I mentioned that my wife and I took a day trip up to Bethlehem, PA, to catch a sight of the so-called Steel Stacks. So here's what we saw as we turned into the parking lot.


     Pretty amazing, huh? We arrived the afternoon that Musikfest was to begin, held annually at the beginning of August. Gates open at 5 p.m., the music starts at 6 p.m. Below is a picture of the main stage, hard up against the Steel Stacks,. Usually Musikfest attracts thousands of young people -- it's located just down the hill from Lehigh University --  but this year crowds are limited, so the main stage is not being used.

 
      Instead the bands are playing at a secondary stage, across the street in front of the ArtsQuest center. The crowd is limited to 250 people in the main area, and another 250 in this secondary area. Foods tents have been set up in one of the parking lots. Again, only 250 people are allowed into the food area at one time -- all arranged around a one-way pathway. Take-out only. 


     We were not there for the music. We just wanted to see what this was all about. Musikfest is held at the site of the old Bethlehem Steel Company, founded in 1863 to make iron rails for the railroad. The plant was a major manufacturer during both World Wars and went on to produce steel used in modern bridges and skyscrapers. After the plant closed in 1995, it was left to the elements. But in recent years the site has slowly been renovated as an urban chic destination for tourists, music lovers . . . and gamblers. 


     Down the street, behind an abandoned building, we could glimpse Wind Creek casino, which in my mind illustrates the change in our economy from manufacturing (steel making) to services (games of chance). The casino, here since 2009, closed in March and re-opened in June to a Covid-limited audience. We didn't walk all the way to the casino. Instead, we circled back around the other way and found . . . a Roman ruin?


     No, just another post-industrial American ruin.. And beyond that, another one . . . 


     and yet another, whose falling-apart roof lends itself to a more abstract view.


     So as you can see, they have a ways to go in the renovations. Still, there are economic green shoots growing out of these old ruins. There's an industrial museum buried among these buildings. A community college has claimed one corner of an old building. Then, of course, there's always tourism, the great American pastime. 


     The Visitor Center was closed -- it was opening later in the day for Musikfest -- but we probably wouldn't go in anyway. We don't even use public restrooms these days. So we left for home, wondering all the way: Is the new American economy really better than the old one?

Sunday, August 2, 2020

"Oh, My God!"

     Laurie Stone woke up an hour later than usual. "Oh my God," she thought. "Where's Rocky?" Her kitty always roused her at the crack of dawn with his loud Meoooowww!

     A sense of dread rose as she got out of bed. She'd heard about older pets dying quietly in the night. She called for him as she looked around the bedroom. She walked through the living room, through the dining room, to the kitchen . . . .

     For the rest of  the story, you have to go over to The Morning the Cat Didn't Wake Me. And after you've done that, we can run down the posts of some other bloggers -- bloggers who are mostly staying home, sometimes sleeping late, but also venturing out, one way or another, to ponder different points on the compass.

      As for me, I've had to cancel several vacations due to Covid. Instead, my wife and I have been making day trips. We drove over to Princeton, NJ, and walked around the beautiful college campus. We traveled up to Bethlehem, PA, and took a tour around the old steel furnaces. We followed the Delaware River down to Bristol, PA, where the river meets up with the canal that once was used to haul coal from the mountains to the city.

     But other than these short journeys (okay, a secret -- we can't go for more than three hours total, because we don't want to "go" in a public restroom), we've been staying close to home.

Back home for Carol. But where is it?
     Carol Cassara, blogging at Heart, Mind, Soul, suggests that the pull toward "home" seems stronger than ever in our senior years. She left home when she was 21 and made a life for herself in California. But now something has shifted. She and her husband have been spending more time back home with family and old friends . . . all of which has led to a life-changing decision that she explains in Can You Really Go Home Again?

     Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com felt a pull toward another kind of home. As she tells us in Escape to Tempe, AZ, she was invited on a virtual tour of the city, where both her mother and brother once lived. The city has changed a lot, she reports, and now offers festivals, fine dining, major sports events. But with temperatures currently hitting 118 degrees, and Covid running rampant (Arizona is averaging about 2,500 cases a day) it might be best to stick to wide-open outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and golf . . . at least for now.

     Meryl Baer reminds us that the political hype continues to escalate as election day nears. By the way, did you know? Meryl Baer has a new blog called Beach Boomer Bulletin. Check it out -- it may be the only chance you get to go to the beach this summer.

     Anyway, Baer certainly echoes my feelings when she says that most of us can't wait until November 4 when the craziness ends. (Wishful thinking!) But political madness is not a new phenomenon. To give us all some perspective, she reviews in Political Scandals to Ponder a variety of scandals that caught the nation's attention over the years.

     To bring things up-to-date, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, offers us news and reviews of Trump's Four Executive Orders on Prescription Drugs. According to Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program, she reports, the half-measures are weak and will make only small changes in some drug prices to some people.

     Finally, whether you're at home pondering politics, or taking care of aging pets -- or finding a way to travel in these treacherous times -- Jennifer Koshak has a simple message: Remember to laugh, don't be afraid of being silly, and Never Stop Having Fun

Sunday, July 26, 2020

We've All Canceled Plans

     My wife and I were supposed to leave for Wisconsin today, on a two-week trip to visit my daughter and grandchild. Instead, we decided to stay home.

     We'd booked the trip back in May, when Covid cases were going down from an average of 30,000 a day to 20,000 a day. The virus was supposed to take the summer off, with the experts only worried about a second wave that might come in the fall.

     So we booked an airbnb, and I told my daughter: "We've got reservations, and we'll be there ...  you know, unless the Coronavirus makes a big comeback and stops us from traveling."

     We carved out the time on our calendar and looked forward to a Wisconsin vacation -- we'd never been to Wisconsin. We were doubly excited because we'd already had two trips canceled because of Covid. We were going to take a long weekend back home in New York at the end of April, but the event got canceled, and we were wary of traveling anyway, so we didn't go. Airbnb was good to us -- it gave us a full refund.

     Then our summer trip to Cape Cod was canceled. We had signed up for a week in July, but the woman who rents us her house called us and said they'd decided not to rent at all during the summer.

     We found out later, from a friend who lives on the Cape, that a lot of Bostonians and New Yorkers who have summer places on the Cape have moved there for the duration. The Cape is pretty crowded -- not with tourists, but with second homeowners.

     B read that on nearby Martha's Vineyard, where the rich and famous summer, they're experiencing a surge in fall school registrations. A number of second homeowners intend to spend the next year there, working from home and sending their kids to the local school.

     Anyway, we had two trips canceled. But I bet we're not alone. I'd guess a lot of us have had to cancel travel plans because of Covid.

     Still, we were looking forward to the trip to Wisconsin. And we prepared. We checked with our airbnb host to make sure she cleaned and disinfected. We made reservations at a hotel along the way with a "CleanStay" program. We stocked up on disinfectants and masks, and even researched how we could avoid public restrooms on the highway.

Not going to Wisconsin
     But there was no way around it. Instead of going down, the cases of Covid began to rise again. Big time.

     On May 17 new cases were down to 13,000 a day nationwide. There were several other days at the end of May when new cases came in under 20,000. But then they began to go up again -- 21,000, 23,000, 25,000. They crested 30,000 again on June 19. They hit 40,000 on June 25. They climbed to over 50,000 by July 1. And over 60,000 by July 8.

     This was making us nervous. The virus was supposed to go to sleep for the summer; instead, it was raging back. I began to drill down, looking at the cases in Wisconsin -- and in Ohio where we'd have to spend a night in the hotel. In July, Wisconsin went from 500 cases a day to 700 cases a day, to 900 cases a day. On Friday new cases in Wisconsin numbered 1,058. Ohio was worse. The state has suffered over 1,000 cases every day since the beginning of July, hitting 1,560 on Friday.

     The numbers at home have also been going up. But more gently. Pennsylvania currently has about 800 cases a day. So we finally decided it would be foolish to drive into the teeth of the epidemic.  Even if we're careful, we realized, we'd have more contact when we're away and on the road, exposing ourselves to more public touch points.

     So it's back to stay-at-home, self-isolation, talking to people on Zoom. But that's better than contracting Covid, maybe ending up in the hospital, or worse, and possibly giving it to my daughter and her family.

     So this morning I woke up. And my first thought was: What about Thanksgiving? Maybe we could go to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving! And then there's our winter trip ...

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Do You Know Your Geography?

     We've been planning a trip to Wisconsin for a couple of months now, to see my daughter who moved there in the spring. So I've been spending a lot of time hunched over maps, drawing routes on google, checking out the states we will drive through -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

     It's still up in the air about whether we will actually hazard this trip, considering the rise in Covid-19. But for all the aching back I've suffered in the planning, I have come across a few geographic surprises. I thought I'd share them with you, in the form of a quiz. So how much do you know about these United States of ours? Answers are at the bottom of the page.

     1. I used to live in New York State which is larger in area than Pennsylvania. But is New York larger than Wisconsin? So you tell me, which covers a larger area, New York or Wisconsin?

     2. Then which of these states is larger -- Pennsylvania or Ohio?

     3. Going farther afield (and out of my way), how about Florida or Idaho -- which is larger, area-wise?

     4. Now to population. Which state has more people, Wisconsin or Indiana?

     5. How about Pennsylvania vs. Illinois? Which one has the larger population?

     6. Okay, back to Idaho. Which state has a larger population, Idaho or Hawaii?

     7. Do you know the capital of Wisconsin -- is it Madison or Milwaukee?

     8.  Like I said, I used to live in New York. But when I did, I actually lived closer to the capital of Connecticut than I did to the capital of New York. The capital of New York is Albany. What's the capital of Connecticut?

     9. Now live in Pennsylvania. But I live closer to the capital of New Jersey than the capital of Pennsylvania. The capital of Pennsylvania is Harrisburg. What's the capital of New Jersey?

     10. The other place I like to visit is South Carolina. Is the capital Charleston or Columbia?

     Bonus:  I'm sorry I had to research this question. But it turns out that Wisconsin has twice the rate of Covid-19 as Pennsylvania -- just as many cases, with half the population. Which state currently has the most cases of Covid: California, Florida or Texas?

     Answers:

     1. Wisconsin at 65 thousand square miles compared to New York's 55 thousand. 2. Pennsylvania edges out Ohio, with 46 thousand sq. mi. compared to Ohio at a little less than 45 thousand. 3. Idaho. This one surprised me. Idaho is larger than Florida, with 84 thousand sq. mi. compared to 66 thousand 4. Indiana at 6.7 million people compared to Wisconsin's 5.8 million. 5. Pennsylvania wins at 12.8 million compared to 12.7 for Illinois -- Illinois used to be more populous but it is one of the few states that has lost population in recent years. 6. Idaho wins again, with 1.8 million compared to Hawaii's 1.4 million. 7. Madison. 8. Hartford. 9. Trenton. 10. Columbia. Bonus: Florida, with a seven-day average of over 11,000 new cases; Texas is averaging 10,000 a day and California 9,000. Pennsylvania has fewer than 1,000 cases a day.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Is Joe Biden Good for Retirees?

     Presidential candidate Joe Biden recently announced his economic plan for America. Normally, I try to stay away from politics on this blog. But a tax plan is something you can analyze, not just to judge whether you're for it or against it, but in terms of who it would help and who it would hurt.

     By way of full disclosure, I like to think I know what I'm talking about when it comes to these matters (I did get an MBA back in the dark ages), but I am not an expert so I invite anyone to correct or expand on my analysis.

     Here's a rundown of his proposals.

     Income taxes. Biden wants to take back the Trump tax cut. For example, he would increase the top individual tax rate for incomes above $400,000 from the current 37%  to the pre-tax-cut level of 39.6%. This might affect certain individual retirees ... but I doubt those individuals would get much sympathy from the rest of us.

     Payroll taxes. Biden wants to impose a 12.4% payroll tax on wages over $400,000. Currently, only wages up to $137,700 are subject to payroll tax. The new tax would benefit retirees since it would help shore up Social Security. It would benefit retirees even more if Biden didn't create a "donut hole" to exempt wages between $137,700 and $400,000, and just make all wages subject to the payroll tax.

     Capital gains taxes. He proposes raising the capital gains rate up to the same rate as earned income. Many people think this is perfectly fair -- why should investors get a tax break over workers? -- but make no mistake, it would be costly for anyone who has built up investments outside of an IRA or 401k.

     Itemized deductions. Biden would restore a higher limit, up to $400,000, on itemized deductions. This would be a favor for high income people in high-tax states such as New York and California, bringing them a tax cut. But who retires to New York or California? So theoretically it would hurt the rest of us, since we'd have to make up for those lost revenues.

     Corporate income taxes. Biden proposes raising the corporate income tax from 21% to 28%, which is halfway back to the old rate of 35%. Obviously, increasing the corporate rate doesn't affect individuals, except in a very indirect way. Some Wall Streeters warn a corporate tax increase could take down the stock market by 10 - 25%. But that's sheer speculation. If the stock market takes a tumble it's much more likely to be caused by the Covid economy than a corporate tax plan.

     Minimum corporate tax. He would create an alternative minimum tax on corporations with profits of more than $100 million. The idea is that it would tax at least some profits of companies, such as Amazon and Netflix, that have evaded taxes by the clever management of tax laws and business regulations.

     Special interests. Biden would offer tax credits to small businesses for adopting workplace retirement plans. This would not help current retirees, but it would help many future retirees who work for small businesses. He would expand some tax credits for renewable energy and restrict tax credits for fossil fuels. Again, this wouldn't affect current retirees; but it would make one small step toward helping the future of the planet. He's also proposing an $8000 tax credit for child care, eliminating some real-estate tax loopholes, expanding Affordable Care Act tax subsidies.

     Bottom Line. Only you can decide whether Joe Biden will make you richer or poorer, whether his ideas strike you as "more fair" or "more just" than the current system. But I can tell you two things:

     1) The plan is hardly radical. That may disappoint progressives, but reassure moderates. He is not proposing a wealth tax or even an increase in the estate tax. He is not proposing a single-payer medical plan. Instead, he calls for an extension of Medicare and an expansion of Affordable Care Act. He has put forth a more ambitious climate-change plan, but has not said how he would pay for it (so you have to question whether it's real). As a response to the economic upheaval caused by Covid-19 he claims he'll create at least 5 million "good paying" jobs in clean energy, research and development, and minority-owned businesses.

     2) Joe Biden's plan will not make the U. S. tax system any simpler. Unlike Amazon or Netflix, we will not be able to "game" the tax system, yet we will still need an accountant or Turbotax just to fill out all our tax forms. And the lawyers and accountants who feed off the complications of the tax code will not have to worry about any loss of business.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Is It a New World?

     Some people are acclimating themselves to the Covid-19 pandemic. They're going outside, eating at restaurants, playing sports. They've decided that the disease will be with us for a while. We can't continue living the shut-in life that we went through in April and May. And so we have to take measured risks just to live our lives.

     Others are more nervous than ever. They're realizing that over 130,000 Americans have died of the disease -- more Americans than died in the entire Vietnam war. They feel like they're playing Russian Roulette. They squeezed the trigger in April, and again in May, and it came up a blank. But how many more times can they squeeze the trigger before there's a bullet in the chamber?

     I know a few who have had the disease and survived. A 68-year-old fellow golfer was in bed for five days, then recovered. He's okay now. A couple in their 60s both had to go into the hospital. She was put on oxygen, he had to go on a ventilator. They both suffered terrible pain and fear. They, too, survived, but may suffer permanent effects.

     And the experts say we haven't yet reached the peak of even the first phase of the disease -- not to mention a second wave that may come in the fall or sometime next year.

The new normal
     So what are we doing? Some people are still in lock down. They are going out only to collect curbside pickup at the grocery store, or get takeout pizza. They're taking a walk down empty streets. But for the most part they're still staying home, closing themselves off like hermits.

     Some people are behaving selfishly. They are hoarding everything from groceries to toilet paper to hand sanitizer. Others display blatant disregard for both themselves and others. What, me worry? they say. And so they go out to parties or the beach or the amusement park and just have fun. They don't wear a mask because . . . well, it makes it hard to breathe.

     One couple in our community owns an RV. They are currently traveling out West and posting pictures on their Facebook page. Are they offering us some vicarious pleasures of their travels? Or are they just rubbing it in?

     Some people are going out of their way to be helpful. My town offers a program where people can call locked-down residents of senior living facilities to provide a friendly voice and give people news from the outside world. Some are going shopping for elderly or disabled people, or holding Zoom meetings for kids to help keep them entertained.

     Most of us are just being sensible. We go out when we have to, but stay home most of the time. I'm guessing our lawns and gardens look better this year, because we're spending time in the yard. Maybe we've used the time to clear out some clutter in the garage or basement; or we've organized our photo collection or knitted a sweater or scarf.

     Some people are thinking that our lifestyles have contributed to the problem. Are pollution, overpopulation, climate change and global warming contributing to increased pathogens and disease? Nobody really knows. We do know that less human activity associated with Coronavirus has cleared up the skies in some major metropolitan areas, at least temporarily.

     We also know that co-morbidity factors such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure can make us more vulnerable to the virus. Some people have taken this as a wake-up call to improve their lifestyles -- eat better, get more exercise, lose weight. I certainly see more people than normal walking and jogging up and down my street these days.

     Some people are trying to get creative, find new ways to do things. How many of us have learned how to Facetime or Zoom in the last few months? We have several teachers who live on our block, and they held spring classes on Google Classroom, exploring new ways to reach out to their young students using photos, games, videos.

     School administrators are trying to figure out how to hold classes in the fall. There are all manner of compromises and creative solutions being proposed. At my own Center for Learning in Retirement, we are holding all fall classes online. The good news: almost all the instructors have agreed to teach their classes online, and so far enrollment looks like it's going to be at least as good as last year, if not better.

     So where do we go next? I'm still hoping that researchers will come up with a cure or a vaccine -- and in a year or 18 months this will be but a bitter memory. My wife B thinks Covid-19 will be with us for a long time. In her opinion, we will have to learn how to adapt. Be cautious. Be safe. Wash hands. Use hand sanitizer. Wear a mask. But there are still going to be people who get sick and die. We'll have to live with the toll of Covid as a price of modern life, just as we live with the toll of crime or car accidents.

    That's why I'm at home right now, pecking away at my computer. And she is out this morning, taking a walk down to the farmer's market. It has reopened -- restricted to 50% capacity, with mandated face masks -- even though the number of new cases is rising again in our state.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

You Think THAT'S an Insult!

     One thing people probably agree on is that our world has become coarser. People don't hesitate to insult people on Facebook or anywhere else online. As Vivek Murthy and Alice Chen wrote on CNN.com, "The values of social media [are] sensationalism, us-vs-them rhetoric and curating one's life to look perfect."

     And no matter where you go you can't get away from the cursing. It used to be the most common word in the English language was the. Now it's a word that begins with F.

     Of course, insulting people is nothing new. But it used to be done with more class, more panache. Here are some examples:

     Said New York theater critic Walter Kerr about a rival: "He had delusions of adequacy."

     Or Winston Churchill about a fellow politician: "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."

     Winston Churchill was always good for a laugh. Playwright George Bernard Shaw once sent a note to Churchill: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play. Bring a friend, if you have one." Churchill's reply: "Cannot possibly attend first night. Will attend second ... if there is one."

     Or how about another retort. A member of Parliament told Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease." To which Disraeli responded, "That depends, sir, on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

     William Faulkner insulted fellow novelist Ernest Hemingway: "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

     Another writer, Moses Hadas, sent this response to a colleague: "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I'll waste no time reading it."

     Okay, here's a groaner from movie director Billy Wilder: "He has Van Gogh's ear for music."

     Some go for the jugular, like this one from lawyer Clarence Darrow: "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."

     Or Mark Twain: "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."

     And then American journalist Irwin S. Cobb: "I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial."

     Some insults are fairly subtle, but no less cutting. Oscar Wilde remarked about one person: "He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."

     Or British statesman John Bright: "He is a self-made man and worships his creator."

     Then the old Samuel Johnson who said of a fellow Englishman: "He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others."

     Actress Mae West was always good for an insult: "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."

     American actor Forrest Tucker along the same lines: "He loves nature in spite of what it did to him."

     Here's one from Scottish writer Andrew Lang, to keep in mind whenever you're reading something on Facebook or anywhere else on or offline: "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts ... for support rather than illumination."

     And finally, another from Oscar Wilde: "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."

     And so ... I'd better go!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

More Stuff I Don't Understand

     I wrote a few months ago about several things going on in the world that I just don't understand -- how prices keep going up, but there's no inflation; how we have so many new ways to communicate, yet Americans suffer from loneliness more than ever; how we're not having enough babies to replace the population (or pay Social Security benefits), yet there are too many people in the world causing global warming -- and breeding pandemics.

     I have to admit that there are a few more things I just don't understand. For example, the U. S. unemployment rate is over 15%, yet the stock markets are near record highs. It's not just stocks. CNBC recently reported that banks are taking in record deposits -- an increase of over $2 trillion in the last six months -- and the savings rate among Americans recently hit 33% of income. I guess what we need is . . . more unemployment?

     Also, I marvel in our age of super-fast electronics. You don't even have to go to the bank to deposit a check. You can do it on your phone. And when was the last time you even used a check anyway? Yet even with the high unemployment rate there is one job category that's expanding -- couriers and messengers. I thought couriers and messengers went out with the Civil War. But according to the U. S. Labor Department there are now 904,000 Americans employed as couriers and messengers, up from 859,000 in January. Go figure.

     Something else I don't understand. In April there were roughly 30,000 new cases of Covid-19 per day. Victims were flooding hospitals. People were panicked. They stayed home as schools were shut down and stores and restaurants were closed. Roads were empty of traffic. Only essential places like supermarkets and pharmacies were allowed to stay open.

     Now, today, new cases of Covid-19 are over 50,000 a day. Almost twice as many as April. Hospitals are still crowded; the death toll mounts. Yet the stores are open (yes, with restrictions). The restaurants are crowded. Traffic is back to normal. People are having parties. What am I missing?

     Like I said, all this just adds to what I've already admitted in that previous post Things I Just Don't Understand.

     The polls only bring more confusion. Something like 40% of Americans approve of our current president. About 55% disapprove. But Congress scores even worse. Only about 20% of Americans approve of Congress. Yet where do the political parties go to find new presidential candidates? To the one place even less popular than the presidency -- Congress (i.e Gabbard, Gillibrand, Booker, Harris, Warren, Sanders -- and remember, before that, Cruz, Rubio, etc.).

     I admit I thought a few of those candidates were okay. But don't you think it would be better to look elsewhere? Doctors, dentists, engineers, teachers, firefighters, accountants and nurses all enjoy higher approval ratings than politicians. 

     Well, we did turn to a real-estate developer once. Didn't work out too well. Meanwhile, I couldn't find any data on approval ratings for former vice presidents. But I'd guess they do okay. After all, for the most part they're unobjectionable.

     One last thing. When pollsters ask people if they approve of the direction of the country, only about 25% now say it's going in "the right direction." Over 60% say our country is on "the wrong track."

     Say what you want about the now-uncool Bill Clinton, and George Bush the first before him, but according to the polls the last time a majority of Americans agreed the country was going in "the right direction" was back in the 1990s. Is there anything to be learned from that?