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

Sunday, May 5, 2024

What Happened to Tom?

     I haven't posted for a long time. But I'm inspired by Confessions of a Grandma. Like me, she hasn't been blogging lately. But recently she brought us up-to-date on her life and times. Spoiler alert: She seems very active and happy in Florida.

     As for me, I've been doing the things that retired people normally do. 

     This past winter my wife and I spent several weeks in South Carolina visiting family -- well, mostly for the grandchildren. We played games, read books to the kids, went to the playground. We attended a 5th birthday party. Now we're heading to Wisconsin at the end of May to see other grandchildren. Yes, we are old. But we're not stupid. South Carolina in February. Wisconsin in June.

     Like everyone else, we're spending more time at the doctor's office these days. Don't ya' love those colonoscopies!?! I just got a shot of Cortisone in my knees. The orthopedic surgeon wants to replace my left knee. He says it's easy. In and out the same day. I'm walking the next day. But I know there's some heavy physical therapy that goes along with a knee replacement, and I also know one or two people who have had complications. So I'm not rushing into anything. Tomorrow I have a dentist appointment. Oh, cheers!

     The golf season has started up where I live. I've played three times so far. And I'm glad to report that I've gotten better each time. Of course, now I play from the senior tees, which makes it easier, but still . . . it's satisfying to know I can still improve at this age. I also know that golf is a diabolical game, so I can get worse at any moment, with the single swing of a club.

     I used to play Ping Pong (properly known as table tennis). Then I switched over to Pickleball. But recently I've gone back to Ping Pong. It's easier on the knees. We have a club that plays every Monday night.

     I continue volunteering at our local senior learning center. I taught a course on the history of the 1960s. I found it, well, simply amazing to relive those historic times of Kennedy and Nixon, Johnson and Humphrey, King and all the sometimes-misguided but always courageous people who protested about civil rights, student rights, the Vietnam war, and other deeply felt issues.

     My wife and I also do a course on current foreign policy. And I'm taking an oceanography course which is kind of fun, but sometimes scientifically over my head (so to speak).

     I'm in a book group. This spring we've read: The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann. It's a harrowing true story of an 18th century shipwreck off the coast of South America. I highly recommend.

     The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. Another true story. Roosevelt, after he lost his comeback bid for the presidency, traverses an unknown tributary to the Amazon. Candice Millard has written several historical narratives, and they are all good.

     Chenneville by Paulette Jiles, a novel about a Civil War veteran tracking down a murderer in Texas. It didn't do that much for me.

     And North Woods by Daniel Mason, a novel about a house in New England. The book gets great reviews. But I found it uneven -- some of the stories are interesting, others not so much.

     I've read some other books I could recommend. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is kind of weird, but fun. The Hunter is the latest Tana French novel, and I am definitely a Tana French fan. And I'm now deep into An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s by Doris Kearns Goodwin who is not only a great historian but an engaging writer as well.

     We've also watched our share of Netflix and Amazon prime. But I won't get into any specific recommendations. It's relaxing to sit down and watch something at the end of the day, but there was nothing spectacular. After all, it's just TV.

     Anyhow, that's what I've been up to lately. I hope everyone is healthy, and engaged with family and friends, and doing something interesting every once in a while.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Bigger and Badder SUVs

     My wife and I know enough not to go out on the road on New Year's Eve. But we don't always know enough not to drive when the weather gets bad.

     My wife B desperately wanted to drive up to New Jersey to see her grandkids the other day, especially since her last trip was canceled when her son and granddaughter got sick.

     But then the weather report turned bad. A storm was coming in, bringing snow overnight, then turning to rain. It was supposed to stop, so B thought she could still make the drive. But she really didn't want to be out on the highway with the trucks and the speeders and the possibly icy conditions.

      I offered to go with her. But what I really thought was that she should cancel the trip. And, finally, she did. Which was a good thing, because the rain and slush lasted throughout the entire day. It would have been a miserable and dangerous drive.

     But the honest truth is, I don't like to drive at all anymore, except maybe around town and on an occasional back road. I don't like the speeders, the tailgaters, the horn honkers, the distracted and aggressive drivers.

     The fact is, American roads are more dangerous than they have been in years, as reported in a recent CNN article This Cultural Touchstone Is Killing Far Too Many Americans

     Automobile deaths peaked in the late 1970s and stayed high through the 1980s. Then they started to go down, due largely to seatbelts, airbags and other safety measures. But starting around 2012 they began to go up again. And they've been increasing pretty steadily ever since, for the past decade.

     In 2011, a little over 32,000 Americans lost their lives in car crashes. By 2022, auto deaths rose to more than 42,000. And in 2023, when the final figures come in, deaths will almost certainly be higher than 2022.

     According to the CNN article, high and increasing vehicle fatalities are a  particularly American problem. Why? Well, there are the issues mentioned above -- speeding, tailgating, distracted driving. But another significant factor is the extra large cars and SUVs that we now drive -- vehicles that are getting larger and larger with each new model year.

SUVs keep getting bigger and badder

     Tall trucks and SUVs with blunt hoods are particularly dangerous -- 45% more likely to kill pedestrians than smaller vehicles. That's because the hoods block driver views, creating blind spots in front of the car.

     Also, SUVs are heavier than they used to be, which is especially bad news for pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists and people in smaller cars. Just as an example, 2022 saw the largest number of pedestrians killed in America in more than 40 years.

     The bigger SUVs may be marginally safer for the drivers and their passengers. But they turn out to be weapons against anyone sharing the road with them. The heavier vehicles are also harder on the roads, which we all pay to maintain. And they consume more fuel which creates more pollution and drives up the price of gas.

     Maybe it's time . . . well, the answer is obvious. If government safety agencies won't do anything about it, there's no reason why we should buy or drive those big behemoths.

     Oh, also . . . school's back open, drive carefully.