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

Saturday, August 27, 2022

It's That Time of Year Again

     I have a friend who watches every single game of the NY Mets. I guess that's one way to spend your retirement.

     But I am not much of a sports fan. I don't watch baseball or hockey or basketball. I never watched much football, either, until we moved to the Philadelphia area the year the Eagles won the Super Bowl. However, since then the Eagles have faded, and so my interest in football has faded as well.

     But one sport I like to watch is tennis -- at least the majors. The U. S. Open starts next week. This past week brought us the qualifying matches, which give 128 young, lower ranked players a chance to get into the tournament. If a player wins three qualifying matches he or she will earn a place in the main draw.

     This is the first year the qualifying rounds have been open to the public since before Covid, in 2019. So I arranged to meet up with my son -- a former college tennis player who lives in Brooklyn -- to catch the action on Thursday. We like to go to the qualifiers, even though we don't see the big names, because it's free (instead of costing hundreds of dollars), and it's not crowded so we can sit right up close to the court (instead of 20 or 30 rows back).

Fans file in and out past banners of past champions

     So I drove over to Hamilton, NJ, took New Jersey transit to Penn Station, then the Long Island railroad to the stadium. I left home at 8 a.m. and arrived just before 11, in time to rendezvous with my son and see the matches start.

     We saw a young American amateur Ethan Quinn (Ranked 506), a freshman at the University of Georgia, lose to a more seasoned player from Argentina. American Zach Svajda (Ranked 306), lost to a Swiss. But American Brandon Holt (Ranked 296) upset a higher-ranked player from Ecuador. And we saw Chris Eubanks (Ranked 147) beat a pro from France.

Holt hammers a serve

     Both Holt and Eubanks went on to win their matches on Friday. So both of these young men will be playing in the main tournament, which starts on Monday and continues to the finals -- the women's final on Sept. 10 and the men's on Sunday, Sept. 11. 

     You probably won't see Holt or Eubanks in the finals. More likely it will be Rafael Nadal, defending champ Daniil Medvedev or possibly the young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas who we saw play as a 21-year-old qualifier when we went to the Open in 2019.

Banks ready to return

     The women's finals might feature Serena Williams -- she has announced her retirement and this is the last major tournament for her -- or more likely defending champ Emma Raducanu from England or Iga Swiatek from Poland, or possibly American Coco Gauff.

     Just in case you want to know about those other sports . . . current betting gives the Eagles a pretty good chance of getting to the playoffs -- better odds than the Saints or the Seahawks, not as good as defending champs LA Rams or the current favorites the Buffalo Bills.

I also like watching the planes come into LaGuardia airport

     And as for the baseball World Series at the end of October? The LA Dodgers are favored -- with the Yankees, the Houston Astros and the NY Mets (yes, the Mets who are in first place!) given a decent chance. I'll have to put that on my calendar because honestly, otherwise I'd probably forget.  And I promise -- that's all the sports you'll get from me.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

What Are You Afraid Of?

     I recently realized that the most important issues facing us today are not racial tension, war in Europe, inflation, abortion, insurrection. They are important, sure. But none of these things threatens to kill us tomorrow.

     Here's what can kill us tomorrow. Here's what we should be afraid of:

     Gun violence. There are some 30,000 shooting deaths in America per year -- and the number is rising. More than half are suicides. I'm not suicidal, and I hope you aren't either. I don't own a gun. Also, I'm not African American. And for a host of reasons African Americans are eight times more likely to be killed by firearms than white people. Still, many of us occasionally venture onto a high-school or college campus for our senior learning courses, or we go to the mall or a concert or sporting event. We could be a target, no matter who we are or where we live.

     Falling. Some 32,000 Americans die every year from falls. And guess which age group suffers the most? One out of four seniors falls every year -- in the shower, on the stairs, in the dark. Not every fall results in an injury, but the Center for Disease Control says about 3 million older Americans show up in an emergency room because of a fall. I try to be super careful in the bathroom, with its slippery tiles. I always hold onto the bannister when I take the stairs. And I have a running battle with my wife about the throw rugs. She thinks they're pretty; I think they're dangerous.

     Drug addiction. When we were in Michigan last month, where recreational cannabis is legal, we succumbed to curiosity and bought some marijuana. We got packages of little beads, which you can put in a drink or eat right out of the pack. After we got home, we tried it. Didn't do much for me or my wife. But it does do something for some people. Not to mention the pain medications that people take after a surgical procedure or to treat chronic pain. I don't think I'm going to die of a drug overdose. But opioids are seductive. Probably very few of the 70,000 Americans who died of drug abuse last year ever thought they'd be a victim either.

     Global warming. Is this really going to kill us tomorrow? Well, my wife and I are planning to spend two weeks in September on the coast of South Carolina. At the height of the hurricane season. These days the storms are fiercer, just like the fires are hotter and the floods are higher. Add to that the possibility that as temperatures increase and icecaps melt, more and more deadly bugs and bacteria will be unleashed on humankind (covid, monkeypox, polio, more to come). I don't think global warming will kill me -- otherwise, why would I be going to South Carolina? -- but it might kill my grandchildren.

     Nuclear Armageddon. Maybe I'm a bit to quick to dismiss that war in Europe. The Russians are holed up at a nuclear power plant. The Ukrainians are shelling the Russians. Could there be an unintended but catastrophic hit? Or, if the Russians start losing, could they turn to a "tactical' nuclear option? Then there are the nuclear dangers from India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Israel and Islamist terrorists. 

     Traffic accident. I just saw a report in our local newspaper. U. S. traffic fatalities, after declining for years, began to climb two years ago. The trend is continuing in 2022. Roadway deaths were up 7% for the first three months of this year -- almost 10,000 people died, the highest count in over two decades. The government blames the increase on "speeding, impaired driving, and other reckless behavior." National Highway Safety Administrator Steven Cliff, saying now is the time to double down on traffic safety, announced a national impaired driving enforcement program for the weeks surrounding the Labor Day holiday.

     Ourselves. I know I'm supposed to eat right. But does that stop me from reaching for the sugary snack? I know I'm supposed to exercise, but does that stop me from saying to myself, "Oh, I'll do it later." Or, I'm supposed to read a book or do a puzzle or ramp up my social life. All these things help us live longer and healthier lives. But instead I flop on the couch, turn on Netflix, and watch a stupid crime show that does nothing but lull me to sleep.

     We can urge politicians to address global warming and the nuclear threat. And they should. We can urge drivers to slow down on the highway. And they should. But sometimes we are our own worst enemy.


Saturday, August 13, 2022

Will My RMD Save Me?

     Last week I took the annual RMD from my IRA account. Probably most people schedule monthly withdrawals from their IRA or 401K, but for various reasons -- including the fact that Social Security sends me money every month -- I choose a lump sum.

     In completing this exercise I found out a few things. Some good, some bad.

     The good news is that according to the Federal government my life expectancy has somehow gone up -- and yours probably has too. Last year my life expectancy was 24.7 years. Now, even though I'm a year older, the government says my life expectancy has increased to 25.5 years. Don't ask me why. But you can't argue with the government.

     The other good news is that my RMD -- by the way, that's Required Minimum Distribution, the amount of money we withdraw from our IRA or 401K per year -- is $953 more than last year. That's thanks to a booming stock market in 2021. So I'm getting a raise!

     However, the balance in my IRA plan has gone down by about 5% since the beginning of the year. So unless the stock market gets better soon, next year's RMD will be less than what I'm taking this year -- and again, the same probably goes for you too. So we'll all be living longer, but getting less money.

     More bad news. Well, it's not news. I've known it all along. I do not have a pension. (I admit it, I am jealous of those of you who have a pension.) The pension I was supposed to get was rolled over by my company in the 1990s into what they call a cash balance plan, which eventually became my IRA. So in effect, what I have is an IRA instead of a pension. 

     In other words, I'm on my own. Which is okay as long as the stock market goes up. Yes, the majority of my IRA is in stocks (well, in stock mutual funds). And yes, that might be considered a little risky. But there's no way a bond fund or a money market fund will keep up with inflation.

     But that's okay, because of Social Security. I don't have to worry about the value of Social Security going down like my IRA has. In fact, Social Security is tied to inflation. So I got a 5.9% raise for 2022. We all did. And for next year they're talking about an increase of up to 9% (although it'll almost surely be less than that).

     So I'm okay. Maybe not quite keeping up with inflation, but close to it.

     But here's the thing. The government says I'll live another 25 years, bringing me up to 2047. But the government also tells us that unless things change, Social Security will run out of money in 2035. The proverbial lock box will be empty. And that means benefits will have to be paid out of then-current payroll taxes, which in turn means Social Security will only be able to pay out about 80% of earned benefits. Goodbye raise, hello decrease.

     So if we go by the government, after 2035 I'll still be alive, but old and poor. Will my RMD save me? Who knows. But still, that's 13 years from now. What me worry?

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Is Anybody Listening?

     A roundup of Baby Boomer blogs this week finds that we're doing a lot of talking. But is anyone listening?

     For example, do you talk to your pets? Rebecca Olkowski of the blog BabyBoomster sure does. But do they listen? She just spent two and a half weeks pet sitting for her brother and found herself Talking to Animals When There's No One Around. Put your ear to the door of her post to find out what she was saying . . . and who she was sleeping with.

     Carol Cassara is speaking more to pet owners. In Can You Afford a Pet? she asks some tough questions about whether some owners can handle the responsibilities that go along with pet ownership -- and she offers a couple of links to resources that might help those who are having problems.

     Laurie Stone of the blog Musings, Rants & Scribbles realizes that sometimes you go to a concert expecting one thing, but if you listen carefully, you end up with something better. Her husband got tickets to see Gordon Lightfoot, one of her favorite folksingers. She was expecting a good performance. What she didn't expect, she tells us in When a Concert Is More than a Concert, was to be reminded of these three poignant life lessons.

     Jennifer of Untold and Begin was Feeling a Little Nostalgic for Childhood Cartoons this week and so she went on Youtube to find some of her old favorites. She shares a few clips in her post. Listen in to see if you remember some of these shows.

     Meanwhile, stifling heat lasting days, as well as noisy crowds, tangled traffic and long lines everywhere aligned to generate a seasonal illness that struck Meryl Baer of Beach Boomer Bulletin. In Seasonal Sickness Strikes she discusses the treatments she tried to help her endure.

     Diane remembers when an overactive girl, a car left running, and an absent mother all came together to create a unique parking experience. Of course the girl didn't listen to her mother. So roll over to Early Parking to find out what happened.

     On a more serious note, Rita Robison, consumer and finance journalist, asks:   Why Won't Americans Wear Masks to Protect Themselves? Even when her county was rated High Risk for Covid, local businesses still didn't require, or even strongly recommend, that customers wear masks. Instead, they only say:  Masks are Optional. Which means hardly anyone wears a mask. It's puzzling to Robison (and me too) why people won't listen when more than 400 Americans are dying from Covid every single day.