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

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Homeward Bound

     My Snowbird adventure is over. This weekend I am returning to Pennsylvania from my winter trip to the south.

     You wouldn't think that going from where I am now, at latitude 33, to home, at latitude 40, would make that big a difference, especially considering there are 90 degrees of latitude in each hemisphere. But that 7 degrees of latitude represents a difference of about 20 degrees Fahrenheit at this time of year -- and several weeks difference in the arrival of spring.

Goodbye to my southern beach
     According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, astronomical spring begins on or about March 21, the Spring or Vernal Equinox, when the sun crosses the Equator. (Actually, in 2020 spring begins on March 19 or 20, depending on your time zone).

     For me, spring begins when the daffodils and forsythia come out. That, too, usually happens toward the end of March.

     But meteorologists use a different metric. They group each of the seasons into whole three-month periods. Meteorological spring consists of March, April and May. Summer is June, July and August.

     So according to the meteorologists, tomorrow brings us the first day of spring. And so, for now, I'll go with that. For no matter where I am, no matter what the temperature, I'm an optimist.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Why Do Blue State Liberals Retire to Red States?

     My nephew who moved from New York to South Carolina after he graduated from college puts transplanted Northerners into their own category. They are not Southerners, he says. They are Northerners who now live in the South.

     In other words, these transplants -- many of them retirees -- do not adapt to the customs and attitudes of the South. They bring their northern sensibilities with them, and often segregate themselves into gated communities or golf course developments -- or go to a university town like Athens or Austin.

     When he took a job on Hilton Head Island, SC, my nephew lived off island where he could afford a place, with locals who were for the most part true Southerners. He commuted to Hilton Head where almost everyone came from the Northeast or upper Midwest.

     Let's face it, there is a certain amount of snobbery among Northerners who retire to the South. Presumably the same could be said for Californians who retire to Arizona or Oregon. I don't think the Southerners or Westerners mind the snobbery so much. But many of them fear that the Northerners, or Californians, will bring their liberal values with them, which involve high taxes and big, intrusive government.

    So why do northern, or bi-coastal, retirees migrate to Red states? Some go to be with family . . . their kids have moved for a job in Dallas or Denver, or Raleigh or Atlanta. But most retirees from the North move because they want warmer weather. And now that they don't have to live near their high-paying jobs in Boston or New York, or Chicago or Cleveland, they can move to a less stressful, more laid-back area of the country.

     No doubt they also move for a lower cost of living. They may be tired of paying high state income taxes as well as $10,000 or $15,000 a year in real-estate taxes -- or maybe, now without a job, they simply can't afford the high cost of living. Maybe they say they want to support education, but since their kids are no longer in the school system, they don't have a personal stake in education and so they really don't want to pay for it.

     Is this liberal hypocrisy? Well, maybe that's one way to look at it. But you really can't blame these people, can you?

     So do Southerners really have to worry that northern liberals are going to bring their big city problems with them, or that they're going to "gentrify" the South, and the interior West as well, and run the locals out?

     A recent poll found that 44% of people in New Jersey, and 50% in Connecticut, express an interest in leaving their state. The Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that 52% of Californians are considering migrating to another state. According to the New York Times, more than 7.3 million Californians have actually left the state since 2007. That's as many people as the entire state of Arizona!

     Is it possible that the Blue staters are bringing their politics with them? The people from California -- many but not all of whom are retirees -- are now fleeing to Nevada, Colorado and Arizona. The people from New Jersey and Connecticut are going to Florida and North Carolina. And these are exactly the Red states that are trending toward purple, if not blue, as their populations increase with out-of-staters.

     But not so fast. The Berkeley poll also found a sharp difference between the people who want to leave their Blue states and those who want to stay. It's the conservatives and the moderates who are most unhappy and most anxious to leave. The liberals for the most part think their Blue state is just fine, and they are happy to stay where they are. So, for example, the breakdown for California is: 38% of Democrats are considering leaving, compared to 55% of independents and 71% of Republicans.

     If this poll reflects reality, then maybe the question is wrong. Blue state liberals are not, by and large, retiring to Red states. Blue state conservatives are retiring to Red states. If that's the case, then instead of making Red states more liberal, the migrants may actually widen the Red and Blue divide -- bolstering the conservative-to-moderate populations of the Red states while leaving the liberals behind to make the Blue states even more liberal.

     Perhaps we all have some personal experience with this phenomenon. Certainly, several of my old New York friends are liberal elites who wouldn't dream of moving to states that they consider backward (cue Deliverance.) I also know a few who have moved to Red states who complain vociferously about the "right wing" government and their "right wing" policies.

     I also know people who have retired to Georgia and Florida and Texas who are perfectly happy with their new adopted states, and now wouldn't consider living anywhere else. But when I think about it . . . I believe they all live in a gated community, a golf course development, or a university town like Athens or Austin.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Dreams on the Beach

     I haven't been posting as often as I usually do, because I'm on vacation.

     "Wait a minute!" my kids ask me. "How can you go on vacation when you're already retired? You're always on vacation!"

     The answer is . . . well, you probably know what the answer is. When you're home, even though you're retired, you still have responsibilities. The house. The part-time job. The volunteer commitments. The church or club you belong to. You know, the usual schedule.

     When you're on vacation you break your routine. You do different things. And you dream more.

My dream house at the beach

     When we come to the beach, we always dream of owning a beach house.

Or maybe something a little different

     We have decided, from a practical point of view, that we're not going to do that. There's simply too much money involved. Too much time. Too much worry, especially if you've got ocean-front property. But that doesn't stop me from dreaming.

Something more modest?

     Some beachfront spots are luxury resorts, where all the houses are big and expensive.

No ... this is too much

     Some others, like where we go in South Carolina, are more eclectic. The rich and the poor live next to one another -- although even modest homes by the beach are usually pretty expensive. Which, again, is why we don't own a home at the beach. We can only afford to rent a home at the beach . . . out of season.

How about a hidden gem?

     One thing to know. The newer homes are all built on pilings. Many of the older homes are ground level. Occasionally you'll see an older home being raised up on stilts. More often the older home is razed, and a newer, bigger house goes up in its place.

This one needs maintenance

     I'm amazed that despite all the talk of global warming and rising sea waters, people still invest literally millions of dollars to put up a house within a few feet of high tide.

They're still building

     I wonder what their thinking is. Maybe they don't believe in global warming. Maybe they have so much money they don't care if they lose it. Maybe they can rent it out and make a profit ... and let the future take care of itself.

One for sale. Don't ask the price. You can't afford it!

     Whatever the reason, the home insurance on a beachfront property must be enormous. But maybe it's still a bargain -- you pony up a few thousand dollars a year, but when the hurricane comes the government pays to rebuild your house, maybe bigger and better than before.

They all seem very exposed

     I don't know. Still, I'm fascinated by beachfront homes. Are you? Which one would you pick? Realistically, I don't really want one. But . . . wouldn't it be nice?

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Resources for Retirees

    Over the years I have collected a number of links to websites that offer information, inspiration, research and entertainment geared to people over age 60. You'll find this list of Retirement Resources down on the right hand side of the blog, below More Grownup Voices. I've found these sites to be helpful and informative, and so I encourage you to check them out. Explore the sites. Look for ideas and issues that are relevant to your life.

     For example, for travelers there's a link to Roads Scholar and National Geographic. For lifelong learners there's a link to the Osher foundation.  For people looking for post-retirement work, there are links to Encore and Second Act. For volunteers there's Volunteer Match.

     I also have some of the standard sites for seniors, such as the AARP site, and two links to the New York Times. One is for The New Old Age, a page that has been suspended but still offers archived material. The newer articles about life in retirement have been folded into the Times health section. So the other link brings you to New York Times - Health. (Note, however, that the Times limits your number of free visits per month unless you have a subscription.)

     Meanwhile, I just added a link to a new site called Manopause, which bills itself as a place for "men over 50 and the people who love them." It's brought to us by a group out of Los Angeles and includes among its contributors men and women who are doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, and at least one Pulitzer-Prize winner.

     For those who are academically inclined, I've posted a number of links to universities sponsoring retirement research that covers health, finance, relationships and other concerns of the older population. So take a look. There are links to the well-known Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, as well as research centers at Johns Hopkins, Michigan, Stanford, and the University of Utah.

     I hope you'll scroll down on the right and take advantage of this trove of information available to us, all for free. Meanwhile, if you've run across any other useful, reliable websites that will enrich our retirement lives, I hope you'll share them with us.

     May we all have a healthful, productive and satisfying 2020.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Something Fishy

     We spent a morning at the South Carolina aquarium, located on the harbor in downtown Charleston, SC. The aquarium offers a sampling of the flora and fauna along the waterways of the entire state.

     The mountains of western South Carolina, we were told, get enough rain to be considered a temperate rainforest, home to many species of wildflowers, salamanders, turtles and birds not typically found along the coast.

     The Bald Eagle was listed on the Endangered Species list in 1967, largely due to the presence of DDT which harmed the eggs. But today the eagle population has made a comeback in South Carolina, and so this majestic bird has been removed from the list.

     The Eastern Diamondback grows up to 6.5 feet long. It is the largest rattlesnake in the world and can live as long as 20 years.

     The streams and rivers of South Carolina flow down the mountains, across the Piedmont region, through the lowlands to the Atlantic. Along the way many fish thrive in the waters, including the Longnose Gar . . .

     . . . and several kinds of trout.

     American alligators can grow to 14 feet in length. They have lost a lot of their habitat to building and development, but still populate many of the lowland waterways.

     The Lion's Mane jellyfish lives off the coast. The stinging tentacles, I read, are grouped in clusters that each contain as many as 100 tentacles.

     There's also the Moon jelly which washes up on South Carolina shores in the fall. They impart only a mild sting. Or so say the experts. In any case, these jellyfish are so transparent that you can see clear through to their bright, horseshoe-shaped reproductive organs.

     Farther offshore, it was explained, is the Sargasso Sea . . .

     Here's a Sargassum fish which hides, well-camouflaged, amidst the carpet of seaweed.

     Finally, a view from the aquarium of the Ravenel Bridge, opened in 2005 and now famous as the symbol for this Southern port city and retirement mecca. If you're ever in Charleston, you can walk across the bridge. And you can spend an interesting and informative few hours, with or without grandchildren, rambling through the South Carolina aquarium.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Is This Art?

     We are blissfully ignoring the political news while we're on vacation. Last week when we were in Raleigh we spent an afternoon at the North Carolina Museum of Art. It's quite an impressive museum with works by Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O'Keeffe, Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore and others.

     The museum itself is surrounded by a park with several miles of trails featuring dozens of sculptures and large art installations. They are very impressive. But as I ambled through the park I began to think: Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the artworks and the more mundane, functional facilities on the grounds. They kind of look alike!

     So what about you? Can you tell which of the following are photos of art, and which are pictures of the everyday facilities you might find at any park?

     For example, is this a photo of a construction site, or a genuine piece of sculpture?

     It is a piece of art called Gyre by Thomas Sayre. The work was created in 1999 as "concrete covered with iron oxide, reinforced with steel, mottled with dirt residue from earth casting." Okay, that one was easy. What about the simple, spare example below. Is it art, or not art?

     It's actually the side of a gate that closes off the footpath to vehicles. So it's not considered art. How about the next one. Do you know what it is?

     It is a work of art, a bicycle rack made in 2005 by Alvin Frega, with wrought iron and steel, as part of the museum's art-in-service collection. So if this is art, surely the next one must be a piece of art as well. Right?

     No, it's not art. This shiny modern installation is a non-artistic bike rack, made out of aluminum by some anonymous people in a factory. How about the pair below . . . artistic or functional?

     Functional. These are regular, usable trash cans, not typically categorized as works of art. So what about the photo below -- is it a retaining wall or a mega-sculpture?

     This is called Installation 1-183 by Daniel Johnston, a line of 183 ceramic columns that changes "familiar forms into unexpected and awe-inspiring experiences for the viewer." How about the next one. Could it possibly be an oil derrick, fracking away to power our automobiles?

     No. It is called No Fuss, a 32-foot-tall installation by artist Mark di Suvero. The next one is even taller. Does that make it art?

     Nope. It's an ordinary smokestack -- apparently left over from the days when this was the site of a prison, and before that a military barracks. Next up: some things that look like street lights. What do you think. Are they street lights, or art?

     They are not street lights. They are called Flight Wind Reeds, by Bill and Mary Buchen. The picture below is a street light.

      Finally, we have this. Is it a piece of  art, or a piece of equipment?

     Honestly, we couldn't figure that out. What do you think?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Just So You Know

     I'm spending a week in Raleigh, NC, visiting children and grandchildren. I've been here before, plenty of times, but never for more than a day or two.

It's still winter in Raleigh
     Now that I'm here for a bit longer, I know the true secret of North Carolina. It's cold in the winter!

     I thought I was in the Sunbelt. But yesterday morning I checked weather.com, and found it was 42 degrees in Raleigh -- and also 42 degrees back home in Pennsylvania!

     Okay, but the weather report predicted the temperature was only going up to 48 in Pennsylvania, whereas it would hit 56 in Raleigh, with partly cloudy skies. That's better.

     But then I found out something else. The weather report can be wrong. It rained all afternoon in Raleigh, one of those cold, raw rains that chill you to the bone.

But here's one sign of life
     I'm probably not reporting anything new to people who live around here. I'm just sayin', to anyone wanting to retire in North Carolina, or vacation here in January, bring a nice warm coat!

     Anyway, we're soon to be back on the road again, heading farther south to Charleston, SC, where the weather . . . well, it can be chilly there in the winter, too, but it's guaranteed to be at least a few degrees warmer than North Carolina.