On Aging

I’ve been thinking about this post for the last few weeks. Each time I sat down to write something triggered a new fleeting thought on the subject which I furiously jotted down lest I forget it. Happened again this morning while watching a recording from last Sunday’s 60 Minutes. This time it was a report on Voyager 1 & 2 which have been exploring the cosmos since the late 70’s. The scientist in charge of the project stated that these two little spacecrafts will continue on their path well beyond the time our sun collapses in on itself and destroys Earth and most of our universe….something like five billion years from now! That really puts our little lives, along with all our problems, in perspective, or maybe not. It’s too much for my tiny brain to comprehend.

All these thoughts originated when I started to think about aging. It was triggered one afternoon when I saw my two year old grand niece actually using her mom’s iPhone. She already understood how to turn it on, go to the stored photos and videos, swipe through them and play a video. It looked as natural to her as drinking from her sippy cup. This got me thinking about the speed in which technology is changing our society, the gap between the struggle for older people to learn technology and how tiny kids intuit it. Is this going to create a bigger and bigger gap between generations? Are the baby boomers, which I’m a member of, going to have the most difficult time keeping up while the Gen X’ers, Millennial’s and the New Silent Generation progressively have an easier time? All of the sudden I was feeling old!

But then I thought ‘what does it matter’? The reason I felt left behind is because mass media messages tell us so. Just turn on the TV, go to a movie, open a magazine, turn on your computer; media is geared toward the young (except for Viagra and the myriad other ads for drugs that will fix your every problem). But the media is really only about one thing; selling you something whether you need it or not. We’re still a capitalist society based on manufacturing, marketing, selling and buying. The media’s impact is real, but is what we buy who we are? It isn’t for me. But with so much information bombarding us every minute of the day it’s not unusual, as we age, to feel left behind, just as our parents felt in the sixties and their parents felt a generation before.

Media aside, shouldn’t we each create a world which is OUR real world, for the world the media creates is no more ‘real’ than our own or that of anyone else.

Recently I received a text message from a kid with whom I went to grammar school all the way through college. Kid? Is he still a kid? He was last time I saw him!  The message had a recent photo attached of 7 or 8 ‘kids’ I grew up with. I was not close to any of them but knew them all well enough. I only recognized two; one guy looked like he hasn’t aged a day since we lived together for a summer at college and the other guy is Chinese, one of only two Asian kids in our school. The point is these were all old guys; bald, paunchy, most of them dads and granddads who had gotten old in the flash of an eye. The last time I saw them they were kids, and now they’re old guys….what happened to them in between then and now? What are all their stories?  How did they get old and why do I feel they’re all so much older than me?

And then I’m alerted to a Facebook post about this year’s 45th high school reunion.

The reunion numbers keep getting bigger and bigger! I remember my mother going to her 50th and coming back saying there were a bunch of old people there. What’s our obsession in reliving the past? My present is much better than high school ever was. But maybe not for everyone. Was four years in your teens such a significant time in ones life that we find the need to relive it every 5 to 10 years? My life experiences since that time have had a much more significant impact on who I am today. Maybe that’s not true for others, which is why they keep reliving the past.

The dichotomy for me is this; my body is that of a 62 year old male while my brain feels like it’s still a kid. Does that mean I’m immature? Probably, but I don’t really care! I think it’s better to have the attitude of someone young than that of an old person….our grandparents were old, not us. But then I get another reminder that I am a senior when a friend kindly points out that chronologically I’m no longer middle age unless I plan to live to be 124! Not likely. And I really don’t mind the senior discounts. At first I wouldn’t acknowledge I was old enough but now I seek them out (although I really don’t like the cashier asking if I’m a senior).

I watch my skin start to sag; my back aches when I get out of bed in the morning; I have to pee a couple times overnight; I don’t always follow the slang used by younger people; my short term memory isn’t what it was and the magnification of my readers increases every couple years;  the kids at the local cinema no longer ask if I’m a senior, they just know: maybe my reaction time has slowed…it has!  The list goes on and on, this is life. But life experience and the common sense that accompanies it is not something you can teach a younger person. Would I like to be 20, 30 years younger and know then what I know now? Of course, but that’s not going to happen. I still feel like I’m going to live forever, long enough to see our sun implode along with the universe (by that time we’ll have a fix for it though). I know living like this may not be realistic but I don’t believe aging should keep me from living life fully, more fully than my younger days. Maybe living each day like it’s your last is a good way to eek out all there is in life, but so is living in the moment.  After all, as a good friend jokes when we’re pushing our physical limits on the bike, enjoy it now, you’re going to be dead a long time!

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How I Became A Gym Rat

This past November the owner of the yoga studio we’d been practicing at for three years announced she was closing up shop. She was done instructing her mostly female clientele the proper way to execute downward dog and happy baby and child’s pose.  Guess she’d seen enough mangled poses for a lifetime and it was time for a major paradigm shift in her life.  End of December she uttered her last Namaste.

The closing of the studio was quite the shock for her small but devoted yoga clientele. My wife, along with many of the other MAFYE’s (Middle Age Female Yoga Enthusiasts….made that up, as if it wasn’t obvious) had countless discussion about where this left them.  Fortunately for us and several others the decision was easy.  Several of the instructors at the now closed studio were already teaching yoga classes at a big gym (similar to LA Fitness) just a short drive away. So we drove over to take a tour of the facility.  We immediately liked the friendly staff, low pressure salesman and the variety of other activities and gym equipment that would be at our disposal. Best of all the gym had a room away from the hubbub devoted to only yoga.  Did I mention that signing up would save us a small fortune?  Yoga, along with all other classes, plus access to all the gym equipment, would monthly cost us each about the same as two classes at the fancy, and now closed, studio we had been frequenting!

I’ve really liked the transition from fancy suburban yoga studio to the sweaty gym environment I’d only briefly experienced in past years.  I like that before or after yoga classes I could hop on the treadmill or stair-stepper or stationary bike and get a decent workout on days too cold for outside exercise.  I also feel more comfortable in the gym’s yoga classes, they’re not so female-centric; men just feel more welcome in the darkened room at the gym.  At our old yoga studio I felt like an outsider with the women only accepting me their male mascot….made me feel so cheap (haha).

What I really like about the gym, outside of yoga classes, is the sociological research I’ve been conducting while also getting a workout…it has been fascinating.  Well, it’s not really research, just great people watching. Most of the treadmills, stair-steppers, stationary bikes and ellipticals are on the second story balcony which looks down on the open weight room, exercise machines and other assorted torture devices.  The balcony affords great views of all of this. While anyone downstairs can look up to see who’s looking down upon them, they don’t.  I’ve observed some of the most interesting human behavior.  The men and women working out on assorted equipment appear to me as animals in the wild, mostly the big cats.  They quietly saunter out of the locker rooms, look left and right to take in the landscape. Their prey the perfect machine or weight bench.  They walk quietly and stealthily so as not to be noticed.  Once the perfect gym apparatus is in sight they walk up to it, circling several times (probably deciding if they know how to use it so they don’t look the fool). Sometimes they fetch one of the scented moist disinfecting towelettes to wipe off stray germs from the last lioness who used the machine.  Once cleaned to their liking they circle the machine one more time before they strap themselves in, making weight and position adjustments.  By this time they’ve spent ten, maybe fifteen minutes, just getting ready to do something.  And then it happens, they exercise!  The machine or weight is put into action….and then it’s over, the exercise is complete, all ten seconds of it.  At this point they catapult off the machine or weight bench as if an electrical shock has been administered.  And once again the walk around the machine begins, they eye it like a lioness eyes a recent kill.  The dance continues until another ten seconds of exercise happens and again up they spring!  Cracks me up every time.

There are also those who just have to watch themselves exercise.  Sorry, but it’s usually young women in great shape.  They stand in front of these huge floor to ceiling mirrors eyeing themselves as if watching an erotic movie.  They look left and then right and if no one is looking they flex a bicep or do a bend.  They lift some light weights and then stop to see if they look any more toned than ten seconds ago.  Some like stretching in front of the mirror; it’s uncanny how they can contort their bodies while keeping their gaze forward so they see every move (brings to mind Linda Blair in the Exorcist as her head spins around on her torso….without the green pea soup).  One young woman, who I admit has an awesome figure, actually executed perfect handstands against the mirror while looking at herself…she seemed fascinated by viewing herself upside down!

So next time you go to the gym to work out on the machines or free weights look around, and be especially sure to look up; there may be someone spying on your behavior, not that you’d look at yourself in the mirror, right?

A Happy New Year (in movies)

Think I’ll get a jump on the New Year by letting my wife do most of the writing. This could be my attitude for 2018; let someone else do the work and pretend I put in the time. A great New Year resolution (better than my old one of ‘not making New Year resolutions’, one I’ve stuck with for many years).

But seriously, the end of 2017 had a flurry of very good to excellent films. Margaret got down to business with her mini-movie reviews on Facebook which are copied below with my comments following each. Let me know which you liked, hated or movies we missed (I’m sure there are many).  And Happy New Year!

All the Money in the World – w/Christopher Plummer (*taking over for Kevin Spacey). Great story about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III and how his grandfather/richest man in the WORLD!!!, won’t pay the ransom of $17 million – which is like $2000 to the rest of us. Old man Getty is portrayed as a true nasty/mean/miser – Mr Scrooge perhaps? Michele Williams is young Getty’s distraught and very determined mother. (give her an Academy Award!) Intrigue, violence (the movie audience wants to kill the g/father) 😂😂 and action. Grade = B+  Side note: Mark Wahlberg is so miscast in this, not sure why he’s in it.  Peter’s take: As with several excellent films this year, truth is stranger than fiction, and this story takes it to the limits of what is believable. I agree about Mark Wahlberg; his acting was fine, just not the right vehicle for his talents.

The Disaster Artist – w/Dave and James Franco A totally absurd movie plot but…..it’s based on a totally true story. A very, very rich man (where’d he get all his $$?? he has never revealed) indulges himself and makes the WORST reviewed movie in history, which is now a cult classic a la Rocky Horror Picture Show. The movie depicts his movie being made along with all his antics. Very fun and funny (and crude at times) – be sure to stay through the credits so you can be the judge of his movie. ; ) Grade = B  Side Note: you can catch the “real” movie “The Room” at midnight screenings at The Plaza theater in Midtown ATL.  Peter’s take: talking about truth being stranger than fiction?  This story is so amazing one would assume it couldn’t be real…but it is!  See it for the fun of it!

Lady Bird – Saoirse Ronan – a wonderful young actress – “Brooklyn” was one of my faves last year. A young high school girl marches to her own beat and navigates a somewhat dysfunctional family life and HS. Yikes! This is a hard movie to describe being that so much subtly goes on. It is a very well acted and thoughtful movie. Grade = B  Peter’s take: I liked this movie a lot! It’s not for everyone (no car chases or explosions plus it’s sorta touch-y feel-y but not in a soap opera-ish way)…it’s just a well written, well acted slice of life that most of us will relate to as a part of life we’ve lived through, good bad or ugly. Saoirse Ronan is excellent but the real standout is Laurie Metcalf who plays Lady Bird’s mother; an outstanding performance worthy of an Academy Award for best supporting actress. And Tracy Letts as the dad is also excellent.

The Shape of Water – if you can suspend belief and just go with it, you will enjoy this movie. Deaf mute cleaning woman working in a top secret lab discovers a hideous monster being kept for “scientific” purposes. He is continuously abused by his “keeper”. She communicates with him via sign language and hard boiled eggs. (yes, suspend disbelief) It is a lovely story and bordering on Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Usually not my genre. I did like this. And Sally Hawkins is once again, amazing. Grade = B  Peter’s take: Not my favorite genre either, but I did like this movie. I agree with Margaret’s review and would add that the set design is outstanding; depicts an era many of us lived through with highly stylized visuals. Acting was excellent all around with special attention to Michael Shannon whose performance was terrifying!

Molly’s Game – w/Jessica Chastain – based on a true story of former Olympian skier who turns a job as “put upon” secretary into a multi million dollar runner of very high stakes poker games in LA, then NY. The Feds are trying to take her down and she’s fighting back hard. If you are familiar with Aaron Sorkin productions (The West Wing, Newsroom) you know there will be a LOT of words spoken. This is an intriguing story and she and Idris Elba are outstanding – he as her lawyer who reluctantly takes on the Feds. Grade = B  Peter’s take: Agreed! I was on the edge of my seat most of the movie. Hate to repeat myself but, again, this movie proves truth is stranger than fiction. Would add that in addition to the performance by Idris Elba, Jessica Chastain was excellent. She’s in almost every scene and carries her intensity throughout.  See it!

Call Me by Your Name –  A beautiful love story that will grab you emotionally and not let go – at all. Yes, they are both young men, but watching the story unfold, you will feel the growing attraction and love between them was universal. The ending, heartbreaking. The acting from all, some of the best we’ve seen in a long time. Grade = A+  Peter’s take: This is a grown up movie for grown ups. This is my favorite of the year for many reasons; acting, skillfully written, beautifully photographed. If you’re not comfortable with gay themes don’t let the premise of this film turn you off; could easily been a story about a male and female and had the same impact. This is a difficult movie to write about as the beauty is how slowly but methodically the viewer becomes attached to the characters. Special attention to the younger man’s father played by the amazing (and chameleon like) Michael Stuhlbarg….you may not know his name but you’ve most likely seen him.

Downsizing w/Matt Damon. Is saving the environment a good reason to be shrunk to 5” (yes inches!) tall and live among many of the same? This movie started out promising as a comedy and went downhill from there. I am surprised MD signed up for this. If you want to see it, wait for video. Grade C- (I’d give it a D, but P liked it better than me)  Peter’s take: I really wanted to like this movie but it’s just so flawed. While Alexander Payne is an excellent writer and director he just tried to do too much with Downsizing. If he kept to one theme and story line it may have worked. That said, the special effects were really fun.

The Darkest Hour – Chamberlain is out Churchill is in as PM and not a minute too soon. Fascinating to watch the goings on of politics and hard decisions to be made on how to save London from the Nazis. There is a lot of talking, but history is being made – stick with it. Gary Oldman is a marvel as Churchill; and how Churchill changed the dynamics of the war is incredible. This is a great companion piece to Dunkirk. Grade = B+  Peter’s take:  We’ve read about it in books and learned about it from other movies, but one gets the feeling this is a much more ‘real’ story of the lead up to WWII from the British viewpoint. Growing up we all had great visuals of Churchill along with a couple of his famous quotes, but you feel this is a much more authentic characterization, warts and all. Life is not always cut and dry. This film along with Dunkirk made for two great historical films of 2017.

Following is a list of other favorite movies of 2017 (in no particular order):

Get Out  Disturbing but so good!

The Florida Project  The kids/actors in this film are amazing!

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri  Disturbing, excellent acting

Dunkirk  Great historical film with unbelievable cinematography

Wonder Woman  Just a bunch of fun

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  Just what you’d expect…fun!

Logan Lucky  Should have done better as there’s so much to like about this film

The Big Sick  Loved it for the acting, writing and true story

Okja  Can’t even begin to describe this film….just see it

We’ve seen a bunch of other films this year but these were the standouts. There are several films that have yet to make it to the Atlanta area that we’ll be seeing soon.  Hope to catch up then.

 

Stay A While

Last month M and I went on holiday, a very different holiday to what we’re accustom.  I’ll explain: A couple years ago we did a three week, six city tour of Eastern Europe that we organized ourselves.  The tour included Prague, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna and Cesky Krumlov (in the Czech Republic). We visited these cities in the dead of winter and although cold, bitter cold at times, each had their own charm.  Traveling in the winter when there are fewer tourists and everything from airfare to accommodations are less expensive was a great experience.  Unlike in the U.S., locals in this part of the world don’t hibernate in the winter; outdoor cafes were busy day and night as were restaurants and public areas.  My guess is that homes and apartments are small, money is tight so people congregate in public places for their entertainment.

Christmas Market

The outdoor cafes are what really got me.  They had propane heaters to keep you warm on top and heavy blankets to warm your legs.  I must say there’s something romantic, and a bit adventurous for Americans, to sit outside when the temperatures are below freezing (often well below freezing!) drinking steaming hot chocolate during the day and savoring a glass of wine at night. (Eastern Europeans are big smokers so choose your outdoor table carefully to avoid the second hand smoke).

Of the cities we visited Budapest was our all around favorite for several reasons.  One, it’s a beautiful city, almost as beautiful as Paris.  We visited fascinating museums; ate some excellent (and inexpensive) meals; indulged in decadent hot chocolate and pastries as good as any in Paris or other parts of Western Europe; toured beautiful churches; we were captivated by the architecture, a mix of old and modern, Neo-Gothic to Soviet era; toured the Jewish Quarter and learned the history of Jews in Hungary; we were educated in the terrorism that has plagued Hungary for hundreds of years by neighboring countries, each taking bites of land and freedom from the Hungarian people; and of course we visited the popular public baths which was a blast.  I could go on about the night life, the ‘ruin’ bars, the excellent public transportation…there was just a charm to the city and people and we didn’t have enough time to relish it all.  After three nights in Budapest we both yearned to return sometime soon for an extended stay.

Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar

The opportunity to do so came sooner than we imagined.  In the spring of 2017 I received an alert about a British Air sale from Atlanta to Budapest for $365 each round trip (you read that right; $365 each round trip).  We immediately decided we’d be crazy not to take advantage of this amazing offer so we booked that day (sale was for travel in October and November of this year).  This time we were going to spend two weeks in Budapest, plenty of time to immerse ourselves in all Budapest had to offer.  With an extended stay we decided an AirBnB would be a perfect choice, and knowing the city layout from our previous stay  we could make an informed choice of location.  Again, what a bargain; fourteen nights in a studio apartment, centrally located for $550, under $40 a night!

While I’d love to give a travelogue describing all the things we did over those fourteen days and nights, it would probably be boring; it’s easy to list the ‘things’ you do on holiday but difficult to describe the ‘essence’.  The experience of visiting one place for an extended time is so different from rushing from city to city, trying to cram in as much as possible in a short time, no matter how well you organize your schedule.  You really have the opportunity to live life like the locals.  You get to know the shop keepers, the wait staff in restaurants, the folks at the local coffee shop and patisserie.  You can tour a museum in the morning and walk the streets in the afternoon, maybe sit at a cafe for an hour or two conversing with the locals.  It’s just relaxing and a great way to learn the essence of a place, warts and all.

Hero’s Square

While we saw and did much, we didn’t cover a lot of ground like we normally do while vacationing.  And that was the idea of the trip; live like a local, get to know what it’s like to live in a place.  The first few days we were in Budapest we’d walk into a restaurant and were greeted in English, like we had a tattoo on our forehead that said ‘American’.  By the end of our stay we’d walk into a restaurant and were greeted in Hungarian, a sure sign we were one with the local culture.

I know not everyone has the luxury of an extended stay like we had in Budapest.  Heck, we may never have the opportunity again with all the places we want to visit (the more we travel the longer our wish list of places to visit).  But, maybe next time you can take a couple weeks off, think about an extended stay in just one location.  Doesn’t have to be overseas; could be a city a hundred miles away or across the country.  Stay a while, get to know the people and place….it’s an experience you won’t soon forget!

View of Pest from National Gallery of Art (Buda)

I’m Too Old For This Sh#t

Not sure if I like this title. Couldn’t decide if I should include a question mark or exclamation mark. And I couldn’t decide on the exact title, so here are some alternates;

I’m too old for this sh#t!?

Am I too old for this sh#t?

Camping…..cheaper than therapy?

Roughing it…..sort of

Living outdoors….thank god we can go home

How to shit in a campground bathroom (stolen from the book How To Shit In The Woods).

By now I’m guessing you figured out we just returned from a camping trip, and you’d be correct.  We spent six nights at Acadia National Park, a two and a half day drive from home. Long drive but well worth it. We camped in a very nice private campground which, fortunately, only allows tents and very small campers. No mega-motor homes running generators all night for their AC, big screen TV, coffee grinder, computer…you get the picture. Each campsite had a place for your vehicle, a level platform for a tent, a fire ring, electrical outlets, clean water. Close by was a very clean bathroom with hot showers. Next to the bathroom was a building called The Gathering Place which provided a strong internet wi-fi connection along with good coffee and sweets every morning. Hardly roughing it, although you are living outdoors.

It takes a couple days to get into a camping routine and once we did I reflected on what I feel are the ‘The Many Steps Of Camping’;
1) arrive in the afternoon when campgrounds are peaceful and the weather is good; you’ll feel a sense of serenity
2) then have a big discussion concerning the feng shui of your campsite; tent orientation, etc
3) OK, the campsite is set up just the way you want it; so now what do we do?
4) we could cook dinner on our new fancy camp stove, but better yet lets drive up the road to that diner we passed on the way in; setting up camp is exhausting!
5) the campfire; once you burn up 3 editions of the Sunday NY Times and your fire is roaring lets spend the next 2 hours staring into it…
6) at which point you’re really sleepy but you still need to brush your teeth, secure all the food in the van, walk back and forth to the camp bathroom at least 3 times, get into the tent with your partner while elbowing one another to get organized and then snuggle into your sleeping bags only to discover half the air escaped from the mattress so you both wiggle out of your sleeping bag and discuss who’s going to walk back to the van to retrieve the battery operated air pump while the other finds the nozzle in the mattress at which time you both say ‘screw it’ and sleep on a half filled mattress. Now that you’re once again snuggled into your sleeping bag you decide to check email on your iPhone only to remember there’s no internet within 20 miles and you’re too far from the Gathering Place to receive wi-fi…..argh!
7) first morning, groggy from a fitful night of sleep, it’s time to get the stove fired up, fill the camp kettle with water and get it boiling to make some great cowboy coffee only to discover those special beans you found at Whole Foods are WHOLE beans….damn it! Wonder what time The Gathering Place starts serving coffee?

Here are some other observations worth considering before deciding if You’re Too Old For This Sh#t;

– you will be awakened by a symphony of zippers at 2:00am, folks up to pee….zip zip zip, pee pee pee, zip zip zip, back in the sleeping bag
– camping is good, even great, when the weather is good; you know, between 50 and 60 degrees in the morning and 75-80 during the day and, most importantly, dry. Deviate from these conditions and what could have been a great outdoor adventure becomes a living hell; everything is damp, clothes, sleeping bags, newspaper to start the fire, firewood….literally dampening your spirit. And if there’s a serious rain all bets are off….there’s a good chance we’ll abandon our campsite and head for the nearest motel only to return after the rain has stopped and, hopefully, things have dried out….I’m serious, we’ve done this.
– do we take the next step and upgrade to a small camper, maybe a pop-up or 16′ fiberglass travel trailer with a nice queen bed and a bathroom smaller than those on a cruise ship? We have friends who have gone down this road, starting small and each year going up in size. And it doesn’t stop with the travel trailer….you need to upgrade your vehicle which will guzzle gas faster than a alcoholic guzzles a drink. And for some it doesn’t end with the 35′ fifth wheel travel trailer; we have friends who literally sold 95% of their possessions, bought a huge motor home that they now live in full time!

Now that we’re back in the comfort of our home and have had time to reflect, I’m confident we’re not going to sell our worldly possessions and become full time campers or RV’ers.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to occasionally go on a camping trip; we really do enjoy it; the fresh air, disconnecting from all our electronics, no TV, playing Scrabble by lantern light, the smell of the camp fire, s’mores, meeting and getting to know other campers.  And when you arrive home you appreciate your everyday comforts; private pooping with soft toilet paper, a hot shower that doesn’t cost $1.00 for five minutes, even air conditioning and heat! And I can definitely check email on my iPhone from the comfort of my bed which, by the way, doesn’t need inflating. And no zip zip zip to go pee pee pee!

The Summer of ’17

It’s been a hectic summer evidenced by the fact I haven’t written a post since spring. We’ve been busy, not with travel but with the pleasures of summer; evening meals on our screened porch, long bike rides, walks in the evening to avoid the daytime heat, hikes in the mountains. While these activities don’t appear to add up to the full days, weeks or months of summer, I admit there was more going on.

Early in the summer I received some great news.  Instead of trying to explain it I’ll allow the email I received do the talking. First allow me say this; you can’t believe how long it takes to count $4,209,000 and decide who gets a $420,090 grant from that sum!    “Greetings. The recent winner of Power ball Jackpot “Tennessee 20″ has deem it necessary to donate the sum of $4,209,000 USD each to you and Nine other lucky beneficiaries, in fulfillment of giving out 10% of their winnings as donation grant. Mind you, this is not a regular circulation, contact Patrick Dean, the group’s President and CEO via: kxxxxk@gmail.com for more information about this donation and for confirmation of this great news, click the link below”.

Once we received the money we needed to do something with it. As chance would have it I received an email with yet another great piece of news. But first let me say, Diamonds, what an outstanding investment;   “I got your contact in the cause of my serious search for a reliable foreign partner through a profile in which convinced me of your honesty. However, I am Ahmed Yashire Abbas my father was a businessman and also one the leaders of Libyan United for Reconciliation and Democracy movement that fought against the Government in Libya African.
I confide in you hoping you will never betray me at last, My most required concern is for you to recognised me as a friend/partner while establishing a long lasting relationship for our future. Presently, I am in Europe with substantial quantity of diamonds and the sum of Twenty Million Two Hundred Thousand United States Dollars (US$20.2m)”. 

The email goes on and on about boring things such as how this money was obtained and that it had been earmarked for arms, munitions, etc….blah blah blah. Suffice it to say the wife now has a very nice pair of diamond earrings that would put Oprah’s to shame. Plus I’ve got a great new friend in Ahmed, I ‘recognise’ that!

Speaking of shame I must admit that once you get a taste of wealth there’s no such thing as too much.  Fortune came my way again (just as I was getting bored with the diamond trade) with the following email;  “I have tried to get in contact with you previously, however I am not sure you got my previous email. I am reaching out to you again today because I have a Proposal you maybe in interested in.

I have chosen to contact you directly because I need a reliable partner I can trust; who can help me with the transfer of a huge sum of money deposited with the vault company I Presently work for. Obviously because of my terms of employment and conflict of Interest, I cannot Legally apply for the funds to be released directly to myself, hence I need you to come in to partnership with me; to be the named the beneficiary to the deposited funds.  Please acknowledge receipt of my email for further details to proceed.  Regards, Raymond”

Raymond, what a guy, and now we’re partners!  But counting money is not an occupation, and it does get boring. I knew what I needed was a challenge, something I could sink my teeth into, something I could build.  As luck would have it I received the following email from my new friend Lilian;  “Glad to hear you are in textile–knitwear market, we are knitting sweater manufacturer which located in shanghai.      Our product quality in line with European and American standards, competitive prices Product range is: sweater cashmere sweater woman sweater knitted sweater etc We always developing a series of new design to help our customer catch the market   Best regards  Lilian  Shanghai Qinchuan Apparel CO., LTD”

Now I don’t know the first thing about the textile business (don’t tell Lilian), but with all my good fortune this summer I’m sure our new sweater business with Miss Lilian will be a great success.

My good fortune just kept on rolling in this summer;  Mrs. Sofia Shaw had $5.5 million to share with me (if a portion went to a charity of my choice; reasonable); Ms. Ella Golan of Israel had more money in the International Bank of Israel to share; Mohad Kwame of UBA Capital (Europe) informed me that I was the recipient of 30% of $10.2 million. There are so many more opportunities that came my way I just don’t have time to list them all, plus I’m not one to boast.

I don’t get this obsession we have with education, jobs, saving for retirement;  just check your in-box and money practically falls on your lap.  Are people that lazy? I guess so. Oh, got to run; Sgt. Monica Brown is waiting for me at the airport; she’s made me her ‘personal courier’ (she really trusts me even though we’ve never met). I’m picking up a bunch of boxes stuffed with money ($25 million in $100 bills US!). It’s all on the up-and-up, she’s just not a citizen so can’t legally pick up all those boxes so she asked me to help…I couldn’t say no!  She said just look casual and don’t look anyone in the eye!

So, what did you do this summer?

 

Desensitized By Terrorism

After last week’s London terrorist attack, once again on innocent citizens, I carefully watched how long it took this tragic incident to no longer be part of the regular news cycle.  Within forty-eight hours CNN and the other networks, who now only report on “BREAKING NEWS” (which I guess is all news), had pretty much buried the attack to the crawl below the talking heads.  There were some arrests of suspected accomplices and the identifying of the three terrorists, but that was about it.  By mid-week it was all Kathy Griffin and James Comey.  But what of the victims; who were they? what was the response from Brits? what of the victims families? how did these three terrorists slip through the cracks?  Lots of questions but not many answers.

Since that horrific day in September, 2001, the pinnacle of terrorism, it appears that Americans (and likely most other nationalities) have become accustom to these terrorist attacks, desensitized to them.  I admit that I do the same; after all, we’re very much removed from so much that happens around the world, out of sight/out of mind.  And I’m aware that we really can’t dwell on every report of a terrorist attack, otherwise we’d drive ourselves crazy, spending our days in mourning for those involved.  With that in mind what can we really do?  It’s not like 9/11 where there was a great outpouring of support financially, spiritually and physically.

These thoughts came to me when the London news started to dissipate.  Here are some quick notes (unedited) I made when I realized we’d already put this story behind us;                                                                                                                                                           Have we become even more desensitized to the violent world we live in?
Has it always been this bad, or does the current world think it has a corner on the extremist market?
Does technology play a role in being desensitized?  Does immediate access to world affairs play a role?
Does the randomness of extremist violence make us scared?  Have our personalities changed due to it?  Are we just accustomed to living with the possibility of random violence?  Are our actions as Americans changed; road rage; every man for himself; our lack of everyday courtesies; our obsession with our phones and computers needing to stay in touch with the outside world but not with what’s happening in front of us?  Lots of questions!

Several days have now passed since the London attack and I can see I’m also forgetting it, maybe in the back of my mind anticipating the next random attack.  But current world affairs come to me in my own soundbites; how can a society such as ISIS attract so many young people with so little prospects that their best option is suicide?  how can this same group develop such twisted ideology?  why do people think evil deeds can hide behind religion, and interpret religious writings in such evil ways?  how did I, my family, friends, everyone I know get so lucky to be at the very top of the ‘food chain’, living in a free democracy where we don’t have the worries that so much of the world experiences daily (like how to survive another day!).  Some of these questions have logical, historical answers, but that takes a lot of study….and like the network news channels, I’m ready to get on with life, waiting in anticipation for what will come next.

I read a column from The New Yorker online this week titled “How Different – And Dangerous – Is Terrorism Today?” by Robin Wright.  It’s short and really worth a read (see entire article re-printed below).  The basic premise is that the world has experienced terrorism on a regular basis as far back as history goes, much of it quite devastating.  But there was always a specific point to the terrorism (not to imply that terrorism is ever justified)…..a cause to a means.  There just does not seem to be a rational basis for today’s terrorism; our culture and religions pose no real threat to Muslim extremists, none whatsoever.  Take a read….I think you’ll find it interesting;

How Different-and Dangerous-Is Terrorism Today?

On Sunday, just hours after three men launched an assault on London Bridge, British Prime Minister Theresa May stepped in front of 10 Downing Street and told the world, “We believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face.” In many ways, the attack in the British capital, as well as others over the past two years in Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, Paris, and Manchester, actually weren’t all that unique in terms of tactics, targets, or even motive. A century ago, a battered horse-drawn wagon loaded with a hundred pounds of dynamite—attached to five hundred pounds of cast-iron weights—rolled onto Wall Street during lunch hour. The wagon stopped at the busiest corner in front of J. P. Morgan’s bank. At 12:01 P.M., it exploded, spraying lethal shrapnel and bits of horse as high as the thirty-fourth floor of the Equitable Building, on Broadway. A streetcar was derailed a block away. Thirty-eight people were killed; many were messengers, stenographers, clerks, and brokers who were simply on the street at the wrong time—what are today known as “soft targets.” Another hundred and forty-three people were injured.

That attack, on September 16, 1920, was, at the time, the deadliest act of terrorism in American history. Few surpassed it for the next seventy-five years, until the Oklahoma City bombing, in 1995, and then the September 11th attacks, in 2001. The Wall Street case was never solved, although the investigation strongly pointed to followers of a charismatic Italian anarchist named Luigi Galleani. Like ISIS and its extremist cohorts today, they advocated violence and insurrection against Western democracies and justified innocent deaths to achieve it.

 

Europe has also faced periods of more frequent terrorism than in the recent attacks. Between 1970 and 2015, more than ten thousand people were killed in over eighteen thousand attacks, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database. The deadliest decades were, by far, the nineteen-seventies and eighties—during the era of Germany’s Baader-Meinhof gang, Italy’s Red Brigades, Spain’s E.T.A., Britain’s Irish Republican Army, and others. The frequency of attacks across Europe reached as high as ten a week. In 1980, I covered what was then the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe since the Second World War, when a bomb, planted in a suitcase, blew up in the waiting room of Bologna’s train station. Eighty-five people were killed; body parts were everywhere. A neo-fascist group, the Armed Revolutionary Nuclei, claimed credit.

Yet May is correct: modern terrorism is still evolving. It has already gone through distinct phases, with shifting missions, messages, and means of mobilizing. The onset is generally associated with the early acts by radical Palestinian groups in the late nineteen-sixties, such as the 1968 hijacking of an El Al flight from Rome to Tel Aviv. A half century later, terrorism is now a standard feature of asymmetric warfare, with fewer wars pitting states against each other and more of the combatants being non-state actors with less traditional forms of weaponry. One of the most striking trends is the way professional or experienced terrorists are being supplemented by a proliferating array of amateurs, Bruce Hoffman, the author of the classic “Inside Terrorism” and director of security studies at Georgetown University, told me.

“There may have been, in aggregate, more terrorism in the seventies and eighties, but it was discriminate,” he said. “They kept their terrorism within boundaries related to their cause. Today it’s different. It’s less predictable, less coherent and less cohesive. It leaves the impression of serendipity. ISIS posts pictures of a vehicle and says get in your car and drive into people—and that’s all it takes.”

Another major difference in the early twenty-first century is that the most salient movement is a transnational religious movement, which is a stark departure from the secular Marxist or nationalist cells in the seventies and eighties, according to William Braniff, the executive director of the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. “Those groups do not carry the same polarizing feature that religious extremism allows—that they are God’s people and others are damned,” he told me. They are more often willing to kill.

So, while the absolute number of attacks is down, the lethality of terrorism has risen sharply in the past two years, Braniff said. Between 1970 and 2014, there were no fatalities in fifty-three per cent of terrorist attacks worldwide. In 2015, the number of lethal attacks increased by eight per cent. The number of people killed in each lethal attack also increased.

Jihadi extremism has evolved through its own phases—and motives, goals, locations, and tactics—since the first generation fought the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan, between 1979 and 1989. The number of jihadis has grown exponentially with each mobilization, according to Clint Watts, a former F.B.I. counterterrorism specialist who is now at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in Philadelphia. The time required to “swarm”—or gather in an arena—has been roughly halved with each generation. Courtesy of both social media and recruitment by earlier militants, the latest crop of jihadis fighting with ISIS is drawn from a wider assortment of nations that are often further afield. Most ominously, each generation is also more extreme in its ideology and ambitions.

Today’s third generation is engaged in plots that are simpler yet more widespread than the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda, Watts told me. “They’re not as sophisticated as in the Al Qaeda era, when complex operations were well coördinated and carried out by a few designated men. Now, some are not even trained or formally recruited. They’re self-empowered.” As a result, killing people on a bridge may not have the same impact or symbolic emphasis as an attack on a U.S. Embassy or the World Trade Center. But the reaction can be just as profound.

The indiscriminate nature of terrorism today makes it ever harder to contain, Hoffman, of Georgetown, noted. “Thirty or forty years ago, terrorists did not have the ability to overwhelm authorities. With lone wolves today, law enforcement is often flying blind.”

“It’s very difficult to see how open liberal democratic societies can counter a threat that is much more individualistic, like the attacks in Britain, and that have the feeling of spontaneity,” he added.

The twin attacks in Britain come as the Islamic State is close to defeat in Iraq and under growing pressure in Syria, where its capital, in Raqqa, is surrounded. Last week, Syrian rebels said that a new offensive into Raqqa was imminent. Tens of thousands of ISIS foreign fighters have been killed since the separate campaigns, both backed by U.S.-led airpower, were launched late last year. The movement’s credibility, which was based on running its own state, has been sapped.

Yet the collapse of the Islamic State’s caliphate could pose new threats to the West, J. M. Berger, a fellow at the International Center for Counter-Terrorism—the Hague, told me. “The jihadi movement is fragmenting. There’s big change happening—with ISIS and its ability to hold territory and with what happens to jihadis. It will be very difficult for us to stay ahead of them.”

ISIS propaganda—in online publications, audio messages, on social media, and the encrypted Telegram messaging service–has been urging followers and sympathizers to stay away and instead wreak havoc at home. Its slick publication Rumiyah (which is Arabic for “Rome”) offers graphic instructions for the kinds of attacks witnessed on London Bridge and in the other European onslaughts.

“The West can do things on the margins to be safer,” Berger said, but it still faces another “five or ten years of potentially dangerous situations. There’s not any silver bullet that will reduce the occurrence of these events in the short term. We need to be thinking about resilience—and how we’re going to assimilate events when they happen.”

Nineteen Souls And A Bottle (or so) of Wine….Oh, Gelato Too!

How is it that every so often the stars align to create magic?  When we meticulously plan, trying to create something special, it just doesn’t happen.  But maybe that’s the problem; you can’t plan for magic.

Nineteen of us got together a few weeks ago, meeting up in Sicily (as in Italy).  Most came from Georgia but some from the Midwest and one as far away as the Pacific Northwest.  Some knew each other, others met for the first time, but we were all there for the same reason; a week of cycling through the countryside and small towns and villages on this southern Italian island.  All the planning can’t guarantee a successful tour; the weather alone could destroy what would otherwise be a great week.  But the weather cooperated, so thus was born the magic that can’t be planned. 

We pedaled from town to town, stopping often for a croissant and a coffee, or just to gawk at the ancient architecture, outdoor markets and small town life.  We mingled with the locals, sometimes using sign language to communicate….never a problem.  We traipsed through grand cathedrals and churches, tapping away in our cycling shoes.  We’d stop for lunch, invading small cafes, scarfing down paninis and pizza and beer and gelato…cyclists are always ravenous.  After checking into our hotel (and one agriturismo) we’d head into town to mingle with locals and scope out where we’d have our evening meal.  Nineteen of us would pile into tiny restaurants, seated at long tables soon covered in plates and forks and knives and glasses and bottle after bottle of red wine.  Then the platters of olives and bread would appear to be followed by bowls of pasta and every type of fish and seafood you could imagine.  And don’t forget the gelato, there to fill in all the crevices and nooks and crannies left in your belly.  We’d stumble back to our lodging only to fall asleep and start the entire process again the next morning.

But the food and wine and quaint villages were only the backdrop to the friendships and camaraderie that developed over the week.  It’s the shared experience in a foreign land that can transform a vacation into a journey. When stepping away from our everyday lives to share something special there’s a bond that develops between those involved that others can’t see or understand.  We come home, family and friends ask about the trip and you try to explain how great it was, but it’s like trying to describe a great painting to a blind person; the essence can’t be seen or touched or felt if you weren’t part of the experience, just like the blind person understanding a masterpiece.

To top off the trip (literally) we climbed, by bike, to the top of an active volcano, Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe.  As we climbed the eleven and a half miles on the smooth road, we passed black rock, once molten but now solid.  We saw the devastation that a volcano can reap on the landscape as we passed old buildings buried to the roof line, now encased in solid rock.  But this didn’t dampen our spirits as our eye was on the prize of finishing this epic climb, topping off a great shared travel experience!

 

Footnote about travel: Margaret and I continued on after our week in Sicily, traveling by auto for another two weeks in Portugal.  We have lots of stories to tell about that part of our holiday but will save it for another time.  What I do want to to talk about is my continued amazement of the travelers we encounter when traveling in Europe.  There were Jerry and Jane from the Pacific northwest traveling for six weeks. Having started in Paris they were driving wherever the inspiration took them.  There was Cat from California, a sixty-four year old semi-retired, divorced attorney traveling solo through Europe by public transportation.  Cat had an open ended plane ticket with no plans to return home anytime soon. There was Doug, a young retiree from Canada traveling solo for six months, following his instincts through Europe. And there was the grandmotherly woman we met on a boat ride up the Douro Valley whose passion in life was travel.  You’d swear by looking at her she wouldn’t leave her front yard, but we were amazed to hear the places she’d been, some we hadn’t even heard of.

There were others we met along the way, one more amazing than the last.  I’m awed by the traveling spirit, especially by those you least expect to have it.  And that’s the essence of why we keep traveling.

Too Much Info? Sorry

I sleep naked, but that may change.

It’s not because I’m cold, or my wife asked that I put on PJ’s, or that I’m becoming modest (who sees me besides my wife?).  It’s because getting out of bed has become more difficult with each passing year.  First, I need to roll over if I’m face down, and that takes effort.  Then I need to contort my body into a position that grants me the strength to throw my legs over the side of the bed, plant feet on the floor, reach over to grab my t-shirt hanging on the end of the bed, and slip it on.  Now to perform the painful task of standing upright.  My lower back rebels as I slowly straighten, but I’m finally standing, although pant-less.  I once again reach over to the head of the bed, hunt around for my boxers, which have been pre-inserted into my sweats to make this next step easier .  But no, it’s not easy.  If I try to pull them up from a standing position my lower old-man-bedback says “NO…not today you’re not”!  If I sit to put them on it’s WWIII with my lower back.  Oh my lord, it’s painful to pull those sweats up in the morning.  So, that’s why I’m considering sleeping fully clothed.  I’d only have the act of standing to contend with….an easier way to start the day.

The first few minutes in the morning is when I feel the years catching up with me.  Granted, it’s only the first 15-20 minutes of the day that the stiff and sore feeling in my joints and lower back bother me…once I start moving around I’m really fine.  In fact I feel that at the ripe old age of 61 I’m really in the minority of baby boomers, let alone all the other age groups, of people that are in good physical condition.  Look around; obesity is a national epidemic as well as Type 2 Diabetes.  Those facts alone should scare people straight off the fast food/processed food bandwagon, but alas it will not.  The old cliche goes that ‘getting old is not for sissies’.  True, one needs to work at staying physically healthy and fortunately for me it’s not a burden….I enjoy my good physical health and make it part of my lifestyle.  Our friends, who are mostly very active people like ourselves, also make their physical health a life priority which makes it easier for us.

Sure, I can’t control my hair loss or what’s left on top from turning gray.  My skin is not as elastic as it once was and my vision failed the day after I turned fifty (I have ‘readers’ in every nook and cranny of our home and cars).  But for what I may have lost physically over the years I hope I’ve made up by being smarter about physical endeavors.

“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” Edward Stanley (1826-1893)

But what of the brain?

While I feel the affects of aging on my body, sometimes I feel my mind has aged much, much more slowly.  Our parents and grandparents generations appeared to have an ‘older’ mindset, while our generation has learned to age with less of a willingness to get old, something our baby boom mindset won’t allow.  True, it does get more difficult to keep up with technology, but I feel smart enough to take advantage of technology that I need and not concern myself with what is clearly not meant for me.  Memory does start to slip but there are ways around that.  I use tools of my own design to exercise my memory; instead of using rote memorization I use visual cues to help remember names and places.  I tend to remember more through visualization.  I periodically go through a list of people whose names I often forget and work at remembering them.  I still have a difficult time remembering names when I first meet someone but that has always been a problem for me and I don’t believe age has made it worse.  I also try to exercise my brain, continuing to learn by reading a variety of writings, going to plays, museums, galleries and by limiting my television viewing to movies, documentaries and the occasionally well crafted short run dramas and comedies that are so plentiful on the small screen today.  I meditate daily, which is a great tool for focusing the mind both during meditation and at other times.  And  physical activity is also great for the brain.

“The wiser mind mourns less for what age takes away than what it leaves behind.” William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

While my body may be 61, my brain age is about 24!  I know, if I was able to go back to my 24 year old self I’d feel differently, but the point is I feel young mentally; not immature (although my wife may disagree) but still open to living life to its fullest; physical activities, travel, learning, a thirst to know and do more regardless of what my body tells me.  Of course I’m not fooling myself; I look in the mirror and see my age, but sometimes I have a difficult time reconciling the person looking back with the person inside.

Perhaps men really are just big boys.

No matter one’s successes or failures males tend to have a little boy about to surface.  Maybe I feel that way because of my birth order (youngest of three); or that I don’t have children of my own; or perhaps I’m not as mature as I like to think (which I’m okay with). But perhaps what’s most important is continuing to feel excited about life, all the things we like to do and the people we involve ourselves with, the same as I felt when I was 24!

Regardless, I like that I feel young, and I don’t dwell on the time when I no longer will.  It will come, but I’ll fight it as long as possible.

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

A Nation Divided

QUOTES FROM ELECTION:

“I am scared that if ‘he’ gets into office, we are going to see more of the Ku Klux Klan and a resurgence of the Nazi Party,” ‘she’ said in November, —-. “I’m afraid things are going to blow sky high during this next term,” a nursing student said. He’s a “nitwit,” added a Democrat. “He’s shallow, superficial and frightening,” one of that year’s historic numbers of “undecideds” insisted”.  “The problem is not a loose lip but the simple answer.” *

JUST a very few weeks into the new presidential administration and most of us are feeling beaten down by the avalanche of political talk from friends, colleagues, TV talking heads, radio personalities, your barber, rabbi and priest.  After an interminably long election cycle and the daily play-by-play of the new administration setting up shop, we’re done….can’t take any more of it.   At lunch with friends, around the water cooler, Facebook, Twitter and on and on and on, we’re tired of all the talk and political posts.  Just in the last week several Facebook ‘friends’ asked “when Facebook become a place to espouse political views”.  Actually that’s not anything new…it’s just that people are so passionate about the current political scene, Facebook and the other social media outlets make it possible to air ones views to the biggest audience with the least effort.  Saddest of all are long time friends who are now at odds with one another and risk ending those friendships.

I’VE got to agree….we’re just worn out!  All the talking heads on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, the Daily Beast, and all other media outlets ad nauseam, can’t convince the ‘other side’ what’s right and what’s wrong in our new political world.  And that’s what bothers me; the two sides.  The divide between the Trump supporters and the Trump deniers is huge.  I remember elections going back as far as Kennedy/Nixon (that one’s a bit cloudy as I was five) and I never remember the country so divided, the depth of which scares me.  I have friends, close friends, that I dare not discuss the current political landscape for fear of ruining relationships, and I don’t like that feeling.  If you can’t rationally discuss your political views with close friends or family, with whom can you discuss them?  It’s reminiscent of the era of McCarthyism when friends would turn on each other at the slightest thought one may be a communist sympathizer…that was a dark period in American life.

BUT isn’t political discourse what makes America, America?  True, we’re all worn out, but the freedom to express our views without being persecuted is what makes our society truly free; a society of free speech and ideas, no matter how intensely we may disagree.  But the pessimist in me says perhaps this divide is just what politicians, both right and left, want; perhaps all the infighting among the general population is just what they ordered.  While we’re busy fighting among ourselves the politicians go about the business of writing policy that favors the few (ie., the wealthy) and lining their own pockets with dollars and power.    As in the past few years, with Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, politicians are betting the publics diminishing interest in protesting and marching against, or for, Trump’s policies.  But the optimist in me sees this situation differently; is there a chance that the divide is so great that there will be a political and cultural shift  similar to what occurred in the 60’s when the nation was divided by an unwinnable war, civil rights protests and a huge shift from a post wartime culture to something much less conservative?  One can only hope that in the long run this huge shift in our nation, brought about by the new administration, will produce some positive results.  It may be years before we know the outcome, but in the mean time lets try to preserve our friendships no matter how much we disagree with one another.

*The opening quote was from Coretta Scott King in 1980 when Ronald Reagan won the presidency.

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