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

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Just for Fun

     The story goes that Albert Einstein met Charlie Chaplin and told him, "What I admire most about your art is its universality. You do not say a word, and yet the world understands you."

     Charlie Chaplin replied, "It's true, but your fame is even greater. The world admires you even when nobody understands you!"

     Meanwhile, it was Albert Einstein who ultimately concluded: "There is a major difference between intelligence and stupidity. Intelligence has its limits."

     Okay, so if we're so intelligent, maybe you can tell me . . . 

     Why don't we ever see a headline that says: Psychic Wins the Lottery?

     Or, why do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in driveway and put our useless junk in the garage? 

     Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavoring but dishwasher liquid made with real lemons?

     Why is the man who invests your money called a broker?

     Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

     Why isn't there a mouse flavored cat food?

     Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

     Are you baffled yet? Then I have a riddle for you:  The poor have it, the rich need it, and if you eat it you'll die.

     Give up?

     It's nothing. The poor have it, the rich need it and if you eat nothing you die.

     A final conundrum. We both were born of the same mother, in the same year, in the same month, on the same day, and at the same hour. But we're not twins.

     You know why?

     We're triplets.

     Have a good holiday and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Too Old ... Too Cynical?

      Last week I attended an online presentation from Network 20/20, a group that hosts programs addressing various current issues. My wife and I have attended several of the sessions and found them informative and thought-provoking.

     This last one was called Is American in Decline: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century. The two panelists were Paul Kennedy, age 76, professor at Yale University, and Jessica Mathews, age 75, of the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace.

     What struck me was not so much their take on the issues of the day -- Trump, Covid, Climate, China, the Middle East -- but their overwhelming negative view of the world. Democracy is in decline. Authoritarianism is on the march. War is looming on the horizon. Global warming is choking us to death. 

     They also seemed nostalgic for the better times of yore -- of Roosevelt and Johnson and Clinton -- when America led the liberal world order and spread the ideals of democracy around the globe.

     Then it occurred to me. Maybe Dr. Kennedy is Gloomy Gus, and Dr. Mathews is Debbie Downer, because of their age. It seems like a lot of us in our 70s pine for the old days when life was simpler and America seemed a better place.

     If you're conservative, you look through rose-colored glasses at the age of Eisenhower and Reagan. If you're liberal you dream of Roosevelt and Johnson, or maybe Kennedy and Carter.

     I admit, sometimes I fall into the same way of thinking. Sometimes, it seems, life was better back when we were kids. We walked to school and played in the neighborhood without fear of crime or kidnapping. Mom was home to fix lunch and dinner. Dad went to work and coached Little League on weekends. We didn't worry about money -- either we had enough or didn't care if we had enough -- and everyone wasn't so competitive.

     But then I'd remember. The reason we could run around in the neighborhood was only because we didn't live in the inner city. I'd recall the family that was killed in a car accident, in the days before seat belts and airbags. My mother had a dear friend who died of breast cancer, when medical treatments were much more primitive. I knew a kid with polio who walked with braces. There was the boy with learning disabilities who was shipped off to some institution, never to be heard from again. Our neighbors got divorced -- and at the time it was a huge scandal. 

     We didn't have China as an adversary. We had the Soviet Union, which was worse. Remember hiding under our desks for the air-raid drills? Then there was Vietnam, the assassinations, the race riots and more.

     Maybe life seemed better because . . . we were kids. But I can only imagine was life was like for people of color back in the '60s. Women were pressured into domestic roles that for many became stifling. Men were trapped in jobs they had come to hate. My older sister told me that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was her hero, because she really didn't want kids and she credits RBG as the one who finally came along and gave her the options of birth control, and abortion if she ever needed it.

     I'm not here to argue one way or the other about racism or abortion or any other "hot topic" issue. I'm only saying that people who think America is in decline have got it wrong.

     Crime is down. Traffic fatalities are down. Life expectancies are longer. Social Security and Medicare help keep us comfortable in retirement. Yes, China and Iran and Korea and Russia present their challenges. But we are not on the brink of annihilation as we were in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

     Sure, there's still racism in America, as there is in many other countries of the world -- but it's nowhere near what it was 50 years ago. I live in a suburb of Philadelphia. The kids in my neighborhood walk to school, just like we did a half a century ago. But there are Asian kids who walk to school, and African American kids and other kids who ... well, I don't know what they are -- presumably some mixture -- but I don't really care.

     Meanwhile, the girls are on a college track, not shuffled off to home economics. And, yes, everyone has been dealing with Covid for the last two years, and it hasn't been easy. But at least we have a new world of technology to help us navigate the challenges.

     I dunno. Maybe I'm too much of an optimist. Or, maybe I'm just not acting my age.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Rule by the Irresponsible

       We were supposed to go to my sister-in-law's for Thanksgiving. There were going to be 8 or 10 people sitting around the table. We asked if everyone was going to be vaccinated. My sister-in-law was vaccinated, so was her husband, but she didn't know about the rest. She'd find out.

     She reported back to us that one of her husband's brothers was not vaccinated -- and he wasn't going to get vaccinated. Plus he was bringing a friend, and she didn't know if that person was vaccinated.

     So B and I elected not to go, because we didn't want to be sitting around indoors, for hours, talking and laughing with one or possibly two unvaccinated people.

     I was a little miffed, honestly. Why does one unvaccinated person get to dictate the terms of engagement for everyone else? But at least he was honest about it. He didn't try to hide the fact that he was unvaccinated.

Too close for comfort
     I also belong to a table tennis club. It has 40 to 50 members, ranging in age from 20 to 80. We used to play once or twice a week, with 20 to 30 people showing up for each session. Play was suspended because of Covid in March 2020. Now the club has resumed play.

     Here's the problem. We meet indoors at the community center. Once play gets started people begin to sweat. They breathe heavily. There's one door leading to the outside that is often left open. But there are no windows. The ventilation system is probably as old as the building. It would be hard to wear a mask. In other words. it's a perfect environment for spreading an airborne virus.

     Yet club organizers decided not to require that participants be vaccinated. Further, they decided, due to privacy concerns, that participants should not reveal their vaccination status. That means, with 20 - 30 people playing, odds are 6 or 7 people are not vaccinated. But no one really knows.

     Now some people say: So what? I'm vaccinated. I'll be alright. Honestly, if I were 20 years younger, I might feel the same way. But I'm not 20 years younger. 

     Meanwhile, in our county Covid cases are running between 200 and 300 per day, up from fewer than 100 a day a few weeks ago, even though some 75% of adults are vaccinated. Currently, 76 people are in the hospital with Covid. Last week 9 people died from Covid.

     So I decided not to play. I don't think it's worth the risk. But honestly, the situation leaves me a little peeved. Why? Because it's the minority of the unvaccinated who are in effect preventing the responsible majority from participating in a normal community activity. And the minority should not rule.

     Plus, if for whatever reason someone decides not to get vaccinated, shouldn't they at least be honest about it, not try to hide the fact? That way, at least those of us more susceptible to the disease, or who are more conservative, could make an informed judgment about how much contact we want to have, how much risk we want to take.  

Saturday, December 4, 2021


      I'm alone for the weekend. My wife has gone to meet up with her two sisters. She'll be back on Tuesday night.

     According to an ad from Meals on Wheels, "Social isolation is as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day." I don't know where they get that information. But I think it's probably true -- for some people, not for others.

     I have a sister who was single for about 25 years, between marriages. She lived by herself. But she had a job and several good friends and belonged to a couple of clubs, and so she wasn't socially isolated. 

     I have a brother-in-law who's been single most of his life -- he had one brief marriage back in the 1990s. I've never known him to have a lot of friends; but he is close to his siblings, and he never hesitates to travel alone. He seems comfortable with the situation. 

     Myself, I am not an alone person. I don't do well as a single. I just don't like my own company that much.

     I've never really lived alone. I grew up in a family of six. Had several roommates in college, and a roommate when I moved to New York City. Then I got married. After we got divorced I did kind of live by myself for a while. But my son was still in high school, and we had joint custody, so he slept at my house three nights a week. And when my daughter was home from college, she often stayed with me.

     By the time my son went to college I had developed a relationship with B, my current wife. Technically, I slept home alone most nights, but in fact we were together a lot of the time. I was not lonely. Then we moved into together and eventually got married.

     Last December my wife went away for a month to visit her two grandchildren in South Carolina. I was invited. But it was the height of Covid, and I elected not to travel.

     So I was home alone for Christmas and New Year's. I set up my own small Christmas tree. I put lights out in front of the house. I forget what I had for Christmas dinner. It was probably a Lean Cuisine from the microwave.

     But I didn't feel isolated, because B and I Zoomed or Facetimed pretty much every night while she was gone. I didn't really have much opportunity to sit around and feel sorry for myself.

     And that, for me, is the problem about being alone for too long. I start thinking negative thoughts, going over the regrets in my life. Why did I break up with my girlfriend freshman year in college? That was a stupid thing to do! Why didn't I become a lawyer? I could have. I would have made more money -- maybe had a more interesting job, too, you never know. Why did I get married so young? Didn't work out in the end. The divorce was good for me. But what did it do to the kids?

     That's why I don't like to spend time alone.

     Well, that's not entirely true. Before Covid, I would always go to Florida in the winter -- for a week or two while I was still working, longer after I retired. After I met B, I'd always invite her along, but she only came with me one time. She doesn't like Florida.

     So any number of times I was by myself, at least for a little while. It was fun. I could do what I wanted, keep my own schedule. I'd eat junk food, including dessert. Play music that nobody else wanted to hear. Oldies like Simon & Garfunkel, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, even some Doo Wop.

     But it never took long for me to start feeling lonely. I once went to Disney World by myself. I felt kind of stupid. Many times I sat by myself in a restaurant, amid a crowd of people, and felt socially isolated.

     Fortunately, I now know this about myself. So when I go to Florida I make arrangements to meet up for a day or two with my sister who lives in Jacksonville. And after my Florida sojourn, I reconnect with my wife and family in Charleston, SC. We settle down into our rental near the kids and grandkids, and suddenly I'm surrounded by loved ones -- and my alone time is over. Social isolation, no more.

     B and I are going to Charleston again this winter. We feel Covid is now less of a threat. But because of Covid, I am not taking my extra trip to Florida. That's okay. I've got these next three days to myself. I can do it.