Archive for March, 2020

When it gets personal

Author: admin

The entire world is wrapped up in this COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re bombarded with death counts, state-by-state information on new cases and deaths, medical bulletins and political statements. Some of which are lies and damned lies from our “president” and his coterie of truth slayers.

We’re inundated with scenes of medical personnel doing heroic things at the risk of their own health. We’re told where the worst of it is at the moment, how bad and where new cases – hundreds of thousands of new cases – are likely to happen next.

Most of us are now under orders to stay home. Staying isolated. Staying separated from everyone else. Many of us are concerned for family and friends who are far away. Most of all, we’re a bit fearful for what the next day will bring and how soon our neighborhood will be among the statistics. Whether we’ll be infected and, if so, what will happen to us.

I’ve previously told you of our large, Arizona neighborhood of seniors. Three communities – cheek-by-jowl – of about 92,000 folks over the age of 55. Based on three years of desert residency, I’d guess about 60,000 of us are over the age of 70. And some 10-15,000 over 80. That would seem to make us a handsome target for any infection. Especially this one.

We have two modern, well-equipped, well-staffed hospitals. Each has about 100 beds. You do the math.

Barb and I did the math. And it ain’t good!

We’re sheltered at home with sufficient provisions for a month or so. We’ve ventured out for medical appointments but that’s about it. Lots of time on the old computers, reading or binging on Netflix. Pretty typical. Cloistered. Which gives us a lot of time to think.

Here’s where it gets personal. During that thinking time, a single scenario keeps playing in my head.

I get the symptoms. Coughing, sweating, flu-like stomach problems, etc.. Barb takes me to the hospital – a five-minute drive.

The emergency room is full. Takes about three-hours to be seen by a nurse. She tests and soon confirms COVID-19, calls an orderly and, suddenly, I’m on a gurney in the hall on the sixth floor. Me and dozens more. And there are five similar floors below.

Time passes. The sound of coughing never ceases. Workers appear, do their duties and disappear. Coughing. People talking in hushed voices. Once-in-awhile a gurney is moved someplace else.

Then a doctor arrives and introduces herself. She tells me what’s currently going on in the hospital, how rushed everyone is, how supplies are running low and describes the never-ending line of old folks still in their cars outside.

Then, she lowers her voice, bends closer and says “We’re out of ventilators. We’ve been out of ventilators for three days and we’ve had to make some hard choices.”

That’s where this repeated scenario ends. Each time, it ends with that doctor and those words. Each time.

Then, it’s back to all that time to think. Hearing those words and imagining what happens next.

The reality is I’m 83-years-old. Though healthy for my age, there are some things that can be medicated but not fixed. I’ve been blessed to have a long, mostly healthy lifeline. Survived cancer and some broken bones. With occasional prescriptions to mask various elderly afflictions, living a comfortable retirement. But, still 83.

That means there are lots of younger people. Lots. They’ve got years ahead of them that I’ve already crossed off life’s calendar. They’ve got things to do I’ve already done. They’ve got things to see I’ve already seen. They’ve got time to go. Time I’ve already used up.

Suddenly, the news we’re watching gets very personal. Very. The endless statistics become more meaningful. The number of cases and the number of deaths more real. Concern for Barb and the rest of the family are more important than ever before. Thoughts of the end-of-life more immediate.

We are a nation under siege by an enemy we can’t see and can’t control. While most of us are trying to follow the new and, hopefully, temporary rules, others are not and they’re endangering us as well as themselves. For too many, the seriousness, the reality, the eventuality that it will suddenly become personal has not registered. But, it will.

Barb and I elected to stay where we are largely because there are so many doctors, specialists of every stripe and easily accessible health care facilities for people our age. With some 92,000 of us, medical necessities would seem to have been met.

Which creates a significant irony in my scenario when the doctor says “We’re out of ventilators.”

The same excellent and plentiful health care that caused us to change our lives may now play a significant role in our end-of-life.

It ain’t the same

Author: admin

Politicians and TV’s talking heads have been saying our current COVID-19 international crisis is much like living during WWII. It’s not. For those of us who lived that period from 1938 to1945, the differences are stark and numerous.

My father was too old for the draft at that time. So, he volunteered to be a warden for the feds. Living on a ranch of several thousand acres, his assigned area was quite large. His responsibilities: assure other ranch homes had their black blinds in place every night; make sure drivers had black coverings on headlights with the little slit that allowed a small sliver of light to see the road; notify authorities of anything unusual; keep a detailed, written record of his rounds.

That warden authority came a pith helmet and an armband. Though unarmed, his duties were largely respected. Neighboring ranch owners followed whatever directions he was authorized to give and some even joined him on his lengthy, blacked out, nightly trips. A hundred miles each night. Then some.

What Dad did as a single citizen was a representation of a national effort – an effort where everyone on the “home front” was expected to become active in thousands of small ways to back up the military on the front lines. Regardless of age. And volunteer we did!

I remember saving pennies, nickels and dimes to take to school to put in a can on the teacher’s desk. Each 10-cents earned a small stamp that went in my little book. When filled, I got a “war bond” for the 18-dollars the book represented. At the end of the war, we would get 25-dollars back.

Mom saved cooking lard for reuse. Put black blinds on all windows. We kept a large garden and raised our own beef, pork and chickens, supporting not only ourselves but some neighbors and some city folks at church. Gas for all vehicles and farm equipment was rationed. Unnecessary travel was banned. No outside lights at night. We used federal food rationing stamps.

Even as a kid, I was part of an all-out national movement to support and defend the country. There was work. There were responsibilities. There was a sense of urgency and seriousness. But, most of all, there was an all-encompassing “we’re-in-this-together” feeling everywhere.

There’s nothing like that now. We’ve become more divided – acting more as single citizens and less as a whole. This is not 1944!

When the emergency COVID-19 relief bill passed the Senate, eight Senators voted “no.” When told to stay home, thousands of college kids hit the beaches in Florida and other coastal states. A guy who tested positive checked himself out of the hospital and went back to work, obviously endangering others. Newspapers across the country reported similar acts of defiance of law, order and sensibility.

We’re no longer the united “home front” of WWII. We’ve become a nation of individuals, clearly divided by race, sex, morality, social standing, economics, religion and anything else you can think of.

While individualism is not all bad, at this time, battling an unseen enemy that could – and likely will – eventually kill millions, it’s not the best personality trait you want to see displayed.

And, there’s this important difference. During WWII, we had a President who not only told the truth, he made an extreme personal effort to reassure a frightened nation. His “fireside chats” were informal radio talks. A New Englander’s voice of calm and a voice of real leadership, despite a crippling disease that would kill him before the war ended.

Now, we have a “president” who looks you straight in the eye and lies! And lies! And lies! And LIES! He even attempted to “classify” details of our pandemic so only he and his handpicked “spokesmen” would be allowed to brief Americans with whatever information was deemed supportive of Trump.

Then, something began happening. Voices of experts began being heard – unclassified voices of people with expertise – with knowledge – with facts. People with valuable information began working around the White House. And, eventually, even the “president” was forced to face facts, bad though they are.

Now, we’re being told it’s “up to the 50 states” to equip health care professionals who’re leading our defense against COVID-19. “Not the federal governments responsibility,” we’re told. Let the states fend for themselves is the attitude. And we have a “president” who looked into the TV camera and said he bears “no responsibility” for hiding facts, for lying about the dangers we face and for screwing up the administration’s disastrous response to the pandemic.

No. There’s little connection – if any – to how this nation reacted to the dangers posed by WWII. That was then. This is now.

The armed military we nationally supported then has become an army of health professionals we must now support with life-saving equipment, new isolation facilities, staffing and reliable information. And we need to forego some of that “individualism” by obeying orders to stay home, to isolate ourselves one from the other, to practice good personal care to avoid any possible spread of the virus.

What we’re being asked to do – what we must do – has nothing to do with “over there.” This war is “over here” – anyplace you happen to be. National security and an assured future are up to each of us to be shared by all of us.

I remember the ‘40’s and the times we lived through. But, now, it just ain’t the same.

Ground zero

Author: admin

O.K. So, here’s the thing.

Center for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed 78,000 COVID-19 cases in China a week or so ago. Statistically, infected people less than 60 years of age had a death rate of 1.92%. Over 60, the rate was 15.6%.

I am 83. We live in Sun City West, AZ. Bordering SCW on the East is Sun City. On the Southwest, Sun City Grand. All Del Webb communities. Together, the unincorporated population is about 92,000. Since the minimum accepted age is 55-plus, an educated guess would be about 80% are over age 60. Many of us much older.

Given the results of the CDC research, you can understand why we have a lot of nervous neighbors. Why Barb and I are a bit unsettled.

One of the major draws for these senior communities is communal activities. Beautifully equipped workout facilities. Nearly a dozen Olympic-sized pools, both inside and out. Club rooms and associated equipment for about any type of activity you can think of from Artistic Hand Lettering to Zymurgy. And some 350 groups in between. If you like doing something as a craft or leisure activity, we got it in spades! Clubs, clubs, CLUBS!

The three communities also have about 18 golf courses, public and private. “Swingers” here are more into golf equipment than switching spouses. Several of the courses are open to the public, drawing people internationally. Even PGA and LPGA tourneys attracting the big names. And bucks!

We’ve got a very large, well-equipped library with the very best resources from hundreds of thousands of books to virtual reality classes. Large car clubs, metal crafting and woodworking – all fully equipped with the best tools found anywhere.

So, where am I going with this? What’s the point?

Just this. Effective immediately, everything but the golf courses have been shut down. Closed. Locked up tight. Even several churches have deserted parking lots on Sunday morn. Empty. There’ll be more. Soon. And I suspect even golf courses will close as more testing for the Coronavirus results in higher positive numbers.

COVID-19 and about 70,000 inhabitants over the age of 60 with no place to go and nothing to do. Nearly everything they came to Arizona for has been taken away – some for a few weeks – some indefinitely. Our “snowbird” clientele is particularly unhappy. Winter rents here for a 2br/2 bath go $3,000 a month – and up. Some folks with homes elsewhere are packing up.

And Cactus League Spring training for major league baseball? Dozens and dozens of games in local MLB ball parks. People from all over the country come here and pay big, big bucks for rent, entertainment, food and sitting in the sun watching favorite teams. Late February to early April. Not this year. Closed last week. Empty.

It’s strange to drive through these very active retired communities and look at the empty parking lots. Everywhere. Panic buying has come and gone so even grocery and drug stores have little foot traffic. Not even cars parked in driveways.

As senior “cities,” we’ve got the obligatory on-campus hospitals and nursing homes. Also several funeral homes and crematoriums. All busy, even on normal days. How busy – and overloaded – will they be in, say, 60 days or so?

Shopping here. From Dollar Store to Nieman-Marcus. Dozens of shopping centers. All look to this time of year for their best sales incomes. Not this year. Restaurants, theaters, performing arts and more depend on the winter influx of people with dollars to spend. Not now. And it’s gonna hurt.

If a pandemic like COVID-19 went looking for a cushy breeding ground, the old Del Webb Communities here – and in California, Nevada, Florida and elsewhere – offer some of the best. If you throw in Flagstaff, Mesa, Tucson, Prescott and a few others, there are likely several dozen similar setups for us old folk just in Arizona. Hundreds of thousands of people over the age of 60 – many in their 80’s – all packed together, ripe for the pandemic of the day.

Still, people here don’t seem to be feeling sorry for themselves even as they admit to living in communities of high risk. No, there appears to be an outbreak of helping others. I’ve found several online postings looking to create daily call links to check on friends and neighbors. Heard some chatter at the grocery store of several people going door-to-door daily in their neighborhoods to knock and have brief conversations – without going inside – so those alone will have someone to talk to and won’t feel so isolated.

These Arizona senior “cities” are tough places to get acquainted. Most housing is designed for living “out back” with large patios, Arizona screened living spaces and citrus trees behind the house. People come and go through garages in front and, unless you make extra effort, you might not see the folks next door for months. You’ve also got those damned “snow birds” flitting in and out during the year.

So, even in adversity – or maybe because of it – it seems there are people deciding to reach out to help each other which makes for some good news even as we try to dodge the COVID-19 bullet.

None of these musings are meant to downplay the seriousness of this worldwide calamity. All of us – wherever we live – are being put to the test. Good Lord willing, we’ll get through to the other side.

But, if you’ll pardon me, as a “senior” senior, it often feels we’re living at “ground zero” these days. All 92,000 of us.

The loaded ballot

Author: admin

I’ve written and/or broadcast opinions under the banner of “SECOND THOUGHTS” for more than 50 years. Damn! Doesn’t seem possible.

One of the major lessons learned over all that time is, occasionally, I’ll write one on a topic that generates a lot of flack. But, even with that well-learned experience, I’m about to do it again.

A few nights ago, a lady who runs one of those D.C. “think tanks” was opining on CNN about our current presidential primaries. She did fine for awhile. Then she said this: “The Democrat Party has some work to do. Its candidates are down to two men,” she said. “Democrats must put up more women. We need more women candidates. Democrats have done a terrible job.”

It took a few seconds for those words to sink in before I hollered at the TV, “You’ve got to be kidding!” She may run a “think tank” but there was more “thunk” than “think” in those words.

At our house two weeks ago, we cast our ballots for a woman running in that presidential primary. A thoughtful, smart, experienced, highly qualified woman. WOMAN!

I’ve never seen a political party open the tent flaps so wide as they’ve been in this contest. W-i-d-e! “Come on down,” seemed to be the Democrats new motto. At one time, 25 folks were scampering around the country looking for dollars and votes. A few shouldn’t have made the effort but nobody said “No.”

Let’s take a look at just three women running under the donkey banner.

Amy Klobuchar. Senator Klobuchar. In the U.S. Senate for eight years. Experienced. Former prosecuting attorney for Hennepin County in Minnesota. The state’s largest. She gave the run all she had and seemed well-prepared. Experienced.

Kamala Harris. Senator Harris. Woman of color. Former District Attorney for San Francisco. Good record on prosecutions. Tough questioner on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Good debater. Organized. Experienced.

Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren. Doctor Warren of Harvard. Law school professor specializing in bankruptcy law. Smart. Good debater. Offered many sound ideas for improving the country. In the Senate for seven years. Experienced.

What the Hell was that “think” tank woman talking about? The Democrat Party has done “a terrible job” of fielding women candidates? What hole-in-the-ground has she been living in?

Look across the aisle, Madam. What women do you see there? How many? Qualified? Experienced? Breathing? Name one!

No, the Democrat Party’s “open tent flap” acceptance of any and all candidates this year was good thinking. Let ‘em all in, give it their best shot and let the voters figure it out.

And that’s what’s happened. Now, our candidate didn’t make the finals and we’re not too happy with the two that did. But, given the damnable alternative, I’d vote for Bugs Bunny if that was the choice.

No, I can’t blame the Democrat Party when it comes to women running for office. There was no lack of qualified women. The three described above were certainly qualified, experienced and worthy of the race.

It’s not the Party’s fault they didn’t make it to the finish. That “blame” – if “blame” there be – rests with voters. Democrat voters in all the states where there were contests. The candidates offered were “qualified, experienced and worthy.” But, it was voters who made the final choice. Not the people running the Party.

And this. Exit poll after exit poll showed many, many people filling out ballots were looking for just one thing: someone to beat Trump. I think many swallowed hard, turned their backs on their favorites and voted for someone who appeared to them to be a Trump-beater.

Did sexism play a role? Yes, probably. But, not, I believe, enough to be a direct determinant of the outcome. The decision rested entirely with voters.

November’s election is not your normal election. Not like any I’ve voted in before in 60 years of going to the polls. The big issue this time – the BIG ISSUE – is what kind of country we want and, I hope that means for most of us, a country not presided over by one Donald James Trump.

The issue is cleaning the wreckage out of the White House and surrounding environs. The issue is restoring confidence and faith in our country and our institutions. The issue is showing our offspring that racism, hate, ignoring the needs of citizens, serial lying and self-profiteering are not acceptable.

Actually, the far right said it many years ago. “Take back our country!”

I’d hope the Board of Directors of that “think” tank would authorize a six-month sabbatical for their CEO. Get her out of Washington and into the “hinterlands.” Give her time to see the “real world” and to listen to a number of us who aren’t living along the Potomac.

This is a really important election ahead. Maybe the most important since 1776. The fate of this nation – as we’ve known it – is on that ballot. Our future – as we expect it – is on that ballot. The world we want for our kids and grandkids and their kids is on that ballot.

Dead last

Author: admin

A couple of years ago, we left a stormy Oregon Coast and resumed life in the cactus-cluttered landscape of Arizona. Basically, we traded roof replacement for air conditioning replacement.

Arizona, last continental state to enter the union, doing so in 1912, is also last on just about any federal program recognized according to such late entry, every compact and treaty executed in the name of the United States. You get used to it. Dead last.

Now, from our “way-back-there” position, we’re seeing “up-close-and-personal” real signs of climate change. It could get pretty grim. And soon.

Arizona is the last signatory to a compact assigning shares of water coming down the Colorado River. After a dozen years of drought across this scarred landscape, for those who haven’t noticed, that river hasn’t reached as far South as the U.S.-Mexican border occasionally.

Mexico, in what could be considered a good neighborly gesture, hasn’t said much about not receiving it’s liquid apportionment. That’s going to change. What’s brought about the muttering-under-the-Mexican-breath is recent droughts South of the border. Folks down there are beginning to feel the pinch of not having enough water.

Hold that thought. We’ll get back to it.

For many, many years, the big draw for people coming to Arizona and neighboring New Mexico – itself also a late statehood entry – has been the lure of year-round golf. Especially October-April.

Within a 30 mile radius of our house, I count 40 courses. All but a handful open to anyone. All 12 months. During those months – called “Snowbird season” by we locals – population hereabouts just about doubles. It’s a club swingers paradise in the winter.

But – maybe that should be B-U-T – that paradise is facing something it’s not faced before. Remember that word “drought?”

We live in Sun City West where there are nine courses and about 29,000 people. Two are private. But, the remaining seven are open, beautiful and well-kept. And well-watered. SCW has a beautifully engineered re-injection system that captures a lot of the runoff. Without that, we’d have faced our current dilemma earlier.

Still, those seven courses use about 2-billion gallons of water a year. That’s billion with a “B.” The 29,000 of we humans use about 1-billion gallons over the same period. See the problem?

Another item. Millenials. They’re not golfers like their parents. And grandparents. So, the future will see fewer golfers on those well-kept courses. The ones using all that water. The nearby city of Goodyear closed it’s municipal course some months ago and sold it to developers to build new houses. Other communities are considering the same.

As for SCW, if you take away the courses, property values will drop off a cliff. People will leave. They won’t be replaced by as many as have left. The local economies of Surprise, Peoria, Scottsdale, Mesa, Prescott – and dozens of other “Snowbird” havens -will suffer heavily.

So what do we do? Turn 18-hole course into niners? Close a few? Stop watering and use sand fairways? Open some pitch-and-putts?

The main water sources for our last-to-sign-the-compact state are the Colorado and Shasta Lake. Both of which are near all-time lows. The Central Arizona Project cuts through our county but nearly all the water in that man-made engineering marvel is obligated downstream.

Now, that Mexico thought you’re holding. If those folks start demanding their share of that Colorado River flow – as they have a legal right to do -our situation in Arizona and New Mexico could get real bad. In a real hurry. In fact, water-sharing compacts, treaties and other forms of agreement could paper courthouse walls for years to come.

In the meantime, sour local economies in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Southern California could make beggars of a lot of folks.

This is climate change, my friend. The kind of real-life catastrophe our President doesn’t understand and refuses to accept. Millions of people – convinced as long as there’s water in the sink things are O.K. – will follow our clueless leader into dusty oblivion.

We don’t hear many political conversations about all this locally. No deep-dive media stories. Very little street talk. But, I’m sure those who frequent high-priced watering holes and private clubs are talking. Talking about “bottom lines” and “corporate profits” and “shareholder returns.” The guy-on-the-street may not be alarmed because he can still get tee times and the old golf cart’s running well. But, those whose retirement dividends are on the line have got to be losing some sleep over all this.

Climate change is real. We can find so many concrete examples all over the globe. People who traffic in the sciences and environmental issues know and understand it. Whether on the ocean bottom or the sky above, evidence is there. All around.

In our case, in this cactus-littered landscape, it just happens to appear most prominently between the tee and the green on about 40 local golf courses.

“FORE!” For now.