Monthly Archives: January 2017

LIFE AT 80 AND HOPEFULLY BEYOND

Here is an excerpted version of a sermon given by Rabbi Raymond Swerin of Temple Sinai in Denver last month.

“Thank you for inviting me to share the pulpit in honor of the eighth anniversary of my tenth birthday.  We tend to label such milestones ‘significant’ birthdays, but indeed, as the years add up, every birthday becomes significant.

“Last week, I came across a test on the Internet.  It was entitled, “Will you live to be 80?”  With only a week to go, I couldn’t resist.  I took the test and I failed.  It told me to change what I was doing immediately or I wouldn’t make it to 65.  It was the first test I’ve failed since 3rd grade spelling.  So I learned; at 80, I don’t need tests?

“Ever since my retirement twelve years ago, I have been exploring the promised land of longevity.  We live in a youth enamored culture, whose sentiment was expressed by Shakespeare in two brief lines:  ‘Age, I do abhor thee.  Youth, I do adore thee.’  Roman philosopher Seneca called it ‘An incurable disease.’

“The composer David Diamond lamented:  ‘Age is torment.  Only death can terminate the agonizing flow of deterioration.”  He must have been a lot of fun at parties.

“Similarly, there is Robert Browning’s line, “Grow old with me . . . the best is yet to be.”  I used to question that as poetic license.  Now at 80, I have come to recognize at least six reasons to justify Browning’s positive view of aging, the good stuff that comes with rounding the bases.

“The first positive is the gain of tranquility.

“All of our most important decisions are made in earlier years: educational and vocational choices, what college to attend or not; who to marry and when and where and why… and if not, why not.  Then there are the ramifications of marriage—buy or rent, live near the parents or as far away as possible, children or not, how to raise them, religious observances, private or public school, and the personal choice issues that grey the most dedicated of parents—discipline, limits, their independence, dress, language, Internet and cell phone usage, moral values vs. pop culture…a conundrum that these past months of electioneering have driven home.

“All the pressures have eased.  I am more relaxed than ever.  I get to exercise regularly and take an occasional afternoon nap, sometimes unexpectedly; and, what a joy to find an empty page on my calendar.  I have no compunctions, no guilt as I sit on my porch and thumb pages on my mini-iPad.  During my working years, time was a constraint, a limited commodity to be parceled and scheduled, weighed and confronted.  Of late, time has become my friend.  Tranquility is a good thing.

“The Second gain is what the Greek philosopher Plato called ‘the cooling of passion.’

“If a matter is not truly significant or important, ignore it!  I spent a lot of energy in former years worrying.  I got umpteen emails these past few weeks from those rejoicing over and from those worried silly about the election results.  But I have come to realize that worry is the fulcrum, the mid-point between action and resignation.  Worried?  Either do something about it—volunteer for the cause you believe in, get tested for the pain you feel, find the person who can fix the leak, debate the issue…or, resign yourself to what is and let it go—take a trip, take a nap, fagetaboutit.  Aging is about getting less frantic, less overly analytical, more accepting, less needy.

“Sean O’Casey wrote about his eighties:  ‘I like to sit back and let the world turn by itself without trying to push it.’

“Age does not render us indifferent to the world’s problems, to the ills of society, to the suffering and unhappiness of people around us.  But the perspective of years teaches us there is no quick fix for the world’s problems.  The Middle East will fester and smolder for as long as there are Sunni and Shia, Arabs and Jews.

“Some of our intimately personal problems have no solution. All we can and must do is endure.

“The third gain is spiritual; I call it ‘redefining a relationship with God.’

“The poetess Anne Marx spoke of this when undergoing cancer treatment:  ‘The force beyond,’ she wrote, ‘is now in charge of my fate.’  There are life events we simply can’t control.  We can’t always change a health, a family, or a financial issue.  At an earlier time in life, we might plunge in, charge at full speed, race toward distraction; we might make ourselves crazed over each confronted issue, frustrated at each failure, feeling guilty often, or perhaps given to a whole lot of religious flailing—God bargaining, ‘why me,’ and a bunch of shudda-cudda-wudda.  With the perspective of a few years, we come to realize that such emotional and religious flailing doesn’t bring amelioration or resolution.  You want change?  Change your attitude; change your perspective; change your anti-depressant.

“Family arguments?  Saving the world?  I’ll do what I can to help as best I can, but I need a God who accepts me for who I am…right now.  God as judge?  The deity who failed anger management?  Not so much anymore.  God…now more as understanding spirit of the universe, God as the depth of wisdom yet to be plumbed, God as patient listener and comforter, God as private confidant and trusted silent partner, God as friend who accepts calls at any time, God as the Source that leads to peace of mind even in…especially in…the face of illness or pain.

“The fourth gift harvested while aging is a liberation from the urge to set everyone straight.

“I used to feel it was important to win arguments.  When I was right and I was usually right (except at home), you needed to know that.  I took up words with some pretty heavy thinkers back in the day.  The intensity of their conviction was fierce, but I often thought that intensity is no proof that you are right.  Philosophers and historians have been passionate and wrong, experienced explorers have gone astray, some religious leaders and their doctrines have done more harm than good, artisans and writers have portrayed nonsense, military leaders have blundered in battle, czars and presidents have deceived or played the duped fool, yet at one time or another, no matter how wrong they were, they thought, felt, with absolute certainty, without a scintilla of doubt that they were right.

“That doesn’t mean that I have no opinions.  Oh, I have opinions…about nearly everything, and if you ask, I’ll share them…no holds barred.  At 80 I know what I think and how I feel about lots of stuff.  Here’s my opinion for what it’s worth, but don’t take it personally.  I’ll be happy to tell you exactly what I think.  I have no need to win your approval.  If you agree with me, fine; if not, I just return to step one above—tranquility.

“The fifth dividend of old age is greater appreciation and gratitude.

“I have become more attentive to old and new friends and to relatives.  More often than before, I keep in touch usually by email, since many of my older relatives don’t hear so well.

“Fix a moment in just one person’s day, bring a smile to one face, do an unexpected kindness…and you will fix that person’s entire world if only for an instant.  In that way, you can begin to change the world, even if just by a minuscule amount.

“So, I make a deliberate effort to be thankful for small favors and kindnesses and try to return them in like manner.  It costs nothing to let someone in line ahead of you, to chat for a second with the mail carrier, to thank the young man with the ear phones who mows in a few minutes what would have taken me an hour on a good day, to be grateful for good neighbors who point out the massive hornets’ nest on the side of our house and then proceed to spray it.

“The sixth and most important gain is more involvement with family—children and grandchildren.

“I’ve had a love affair with a married woman for 55 years.  Rikki will usually respond by saying that these have been 25 of the happiest years of her life.  With abiding trust in each other and acceptable delusions about our ineluctable charm, we are left with surprisingly little to argue about.  She has been a rock of strength and support through all of our personal, family, and career trials and challenges.  We’ve had an especially good time traveling the globe since retiring and not having to stress out over the little things.  I say of her what the great Rabbi Akiba said about his beloved Rachel:  ‘Whatever I am, I owe to her.’

“I always wanted my kids to be critical thinkers, to question everything and to challenge motivations—theirs and those of others.  You don’t have to be a total cynic to be curious and cautious.  Then I know that they will think before they believe, question before they accept blindly, and wonder at why and how things and people operate.  Besides, I want them to learn how to enjoy laughing and smiling.  I have much sympathy for folks who have no sense of humor.  God loves a good joke.  That’s why people were created.

“Let me close by sharing this final thought:

“Earlier in life, with many years to look forward to, I felt like a millionaire in time, not giving it much thought, and freely spending it.  Now, that my supply of time has shrunk, I appreciate far more each day, each hour, every bit of new knowledge and every moment with people I care for.”

Sounds like a good roadmap for all of us to follow.

ArtSchwartzSig

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WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE TRUMP YEARS

In two days we crown the new champion of social media and the populist king of angst.

What are the foreseeable realities to seeing Trump’s campaign promises happening?  We wish him and the country well, but let’s take a look at what is likely to play out.

“There’s not a snowballs chance in hell we can see 4% growth, unless pigs can fly,” according to Harry Dent, President of Dent Research, who offers analysis and predictions based on extensive demographic research.

“A new supply-side strategy?  Just when we have overcapacity everywhere thanks to the greatest debt bubble in modern history; one that’s caused consumers, businesses and governments to overinvest and buy?

“Do they actually think that businesses are going to expand under their new strategy?  Ha!  Businesses didn’t expand with zero interest rates.  Instead, they bought back their own stocks and financed near-meaningless mergers and acquisitions.

“Sure, Ronald Reagan became president following the greatest inflation and supply-side crisis in history.  Hence, his supply-side strategy worked.  Inflation means excess demand versus shrinking supply!  More people wanting the little there is.  That’s when a supply-side strategy and greater deregulation actually can and does work.

“We don’t need more supply, we need more demand, and we’re not going to get it.  Not while the greatest generation in history (both in size and influence) are saving more and retiring in droves.

“Aging people (Baby Boomers) don’t create more demand, they shrink and shrivel up, and then die.  They don’t produce more or expand supply either for that matter.  I’m sorry for being so blunt, but it’s simply the truth.

“We’re only going to grow our population to 360 million from today’s 323 million by 2060 at best, and not to 420 million as the clueless, straight-line experts forecast.  And I’m being optimistic with that estimate.  I’m accounting for immigration rates dropping to only 400,000 a year instead of zero, which is what happened in the 1930s depression.

“Do couples have more babies in a questionable or downward-looking future?  History says they have substantially less.  That’s 60 million-plus people that won’t be there to buy houses and have kids and smoke medical marijuana, or whatever!

“The ONLY way to reignite the middle and working class that elected Trump against the odds and polls, that has been sucking wind since the mid-1970s, is to let this damn bubble burst.  But do it in a more civilized way than how it happened in the 1930s.

“The ONLY way to make America great again is to admit to and fully accept our massive debt and unfunded entitlements…and then restructure them, like a Chapter II debt re-organization in business.

“And we shouldn’t cut off immigrants that come into our economy ready to work and start a high proportion of new small businesses and even 40% of Fortune 500 companies…we should welcome them more than ever!  But only if they have the skills we need and enter legally do we embrace them—like the Canada and Australian models.

“As for 3%-4% growth…as they say in New York:  ‘Fugedabit.’”

A more nuanced view is offered from the UCLA Anderson School of Management who has revised their outlook for 2017 and 2018.  The reason for the revisions, of course, relates to the November election.

“Clinton was going to raise taxes and spend more.  Trump says he will cut taxes and spend more,” according to David Shulman, Senior Economist with UCLA.

Shulman believes that Trump will implement a personal tax cut for higher wage earners that will total $300 billion a year, impose a $200 billion- a-year corporate tax cut, push for a $20 billion-a-year infrastructure program going into effect by the end of 2017, seek a $20 billion-a-year cut in Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, and make modest changes to trade policy that will lead to net reductions in food and aircraft exports.

“With $500 billion in tax cuts arriving in the third quarter of 2017, we expect economic growth to accelebrate from the recent 2 percent growth path to 3 percent for about four quarters,” Shulman wrote.  “Thereafter, growth will slip back to 2 percent.”

GDP will eventually slow down because the economy will need a productivity miracle to continue to stimulate growth.  “Whether that will come, as the Trump partisans expect, from the supposed supply-side effects of the tax cuts and the proposed regulatory reforms remains to be seen,” Shulman noted.

Shulman predicted that Trump’s take on the economy will lead to the federal deficit doubling to more than $1 trillion by 2018, which in the long run will pose a problem when the government needs more funds to pay for Social Security and Medicare.

With an exploding federal deficit and a higher inflation rate, the long-quiet Federal Reserve will become more aggressive and raise the federal fund rate to more than 2 percent by the end of 2017 and to 3 percent by the end of 2018.

With that in mind, the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds is forecast to exceed 3 percent by the end of 2017 and 4 percent by the end of 2018.  But mortgage rates are also going up, which means fewer houses will be built.

I share some optimism that the Trump administration can accomplish a lot with a simpler tax code, including lower corporate taxes, reduced regulations and some hard-nosed negotiating on trade deals.

Will lower corporate taxes that will allow the repatriation of overseas profits and swell the coffers of domestic companies be used to expand and create more jobs or will they continue to buy back stock, reduce debt or continue the merger and acquisition route?  Much will depend on the outcome of this question.

There is little chance that manufacturing jobs sent overseas will return.  Putting a tariff on those products will hurt all Americans.  Hard to believe Congress will go along with that proposal.

We are already spending billions of dollars on infrastructure.  At best, Trump’s plan to boost infrastructure will be incremental, not transformational.

His cabinet and executive appointments include a number of critics of the departments they will run and have created a lot of hue and cry from the anti-Trump crowd.  Are you surprised?  What did you expect?

You may recall that Barack Obama, at the start of his presidency, proclaimed loud and clear that he would transform America.  He tried, but his success in that regard has been minimal.  Donald Trump will more than likely follow the same path with his appointments and his pronouncements of “draining the swamp.”  It will be hard to achieve.

We’ll probably see a continuing stream of tweets from the president and that will tell us more about what he is thinking than we’ve heard from his predecessors.  Some of it he probably ought to keep to himself.  Patience is not his strong suit.

Small business will probably benefit the most from Trump’s policies, but I’m not sure how much America will significantly change, and that may be okay, too.

Don’t despair, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said, “The office makes the man.”

ArtSchwartzSig

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FIFTY PLACES TO VISIT IN 2017 – PART I

Here are the recommendations for interesting sites to visit this year from the New York Times.

  1. Canada – The country’s 200 national parks and historic sites offer free admission to celebrate the country’s 150th anniversary of confederation. From the turquoise lakes and mountain peaks of Banff to the rolling dunes and redstone cliffs of Prince Edward Island, the country is a great destination.  The exciting cities of Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Quebec are charming, each in their own way.  As a bonus, the exchange rate is favorable for the American dollar.
  2. Altacama Desert, Chile – Great for adventure seekers and stargazers to its vast outer worldly landscape of wind-carved dunes and salt lakes, Chile’s largest telescope is located at the renovated Explore Altacama Hotel.
  3. Agra, India – Navigating the sprawling, magical Taj Mahal will be easier when an orientation center opens this year. Pictures don’t do it justice.  You have to see it.  Nearby streets have been repaved and the new Agra Pavilion is a glass-walled dining complex.
  4. Zermatt, Switzerland is a neighbor to the legendary Matterhorn. Whether skiing or sightseeing, it’s a treat along with Switzerland’s first electric cog railroad.
  5. Botswana, Africa – The Okavango Delta is rife with lions and elephants, and the safaris are a mind-opening experience, up close and personal in the wild animal world.
  6. Dubrovnik, Croatia – With its limestone-paved streets and 80-foot-high walls surrounding the old town, this is the crown jewel of the Dalmatian Coast. This is a real gem to visit.
  7. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming – Great place to watch the total solar eclipse which you can enjoy for two minutes and 20 seconds on August 21st. If you miss the eclipse, you’ll still be surrounded by the jagged peaks, mountain lakes and wildlife of a pristine and premier national park.
  8. Tijuana, Mexico – Though still rough around the edges, this fast-growing border town is on the rise, with a luxury condo boom and a new bus rapid transit system. The city is also having a culinary renaissance, fueled by craft breweries, stylish coffee shops and globally infused restaurants.
  9. Detroit, Michigan – No kidding! It’s the comeback city named in 2015 as UNESCO City of Design.  The new Qline Streetcar opens in April and connects downtown to the Detroit Institute of Arts and the entertainment focused District Detroit.
  10. Hamburg, Germany – A haven for architecture and design, the meandering promenade along the Elbe breathed new life into the riverfront and the nearby Warehouse District, which made the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015.
  11. Marrakesh, Morocco – A new museum opens this fall, featuring the work of legendary fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent. It’s adjacent to the Jardin Majorelle Public Garden, which is home to a museum dedicated to Berber culture and the designer’s private residence.
  12. Greenville, South Carolina – Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this small city maybe the next major food destination. Before or after feasting, you can enjoy the city’s many public art works or hike the 21-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail.
  13. Pedrigal, Ecuador – A natural beauty, that’s still natural. A great stopping place before or after a Galapagos excursion. This valley south of Quito is surrounded by huge volcanoes and grassy steppes, and a great place for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
  14. Penzance, England – The Cornish port town in southwest England has been featured in the BBC 18th Century Costume drama. Besides the scenery, the best thing to see is the art deco inspired Jubilee, one of Europe’s last salt water pools.
  15. Osaka, Japan – Kyoto represents the Japanese spirit, Tokyo its heart, and Osaka is the country’s insatiable appetite. There are 91 Michelen-starred restaurants and April 28 will kick-start a 10-day food festival celebrating flavors from Japan’s 47 perfectures.
  16. Sikken, India – With a new airport opening this year and the first rail link in the works, adventurers can trek Khangchendzonga National Park, a Himalayan haven of forests, valleys and mountains, including the world’s third highest peak. Spiritual seekers can pursue nirvana around this historically Buddhist land.
  17. Ile de Porquerolles, France – Only 10 minutes by ferry from the mainland, this four-mile-long, under-the-radar Mediterranean island is an unexplored refuge with mountain biking trails, sandy beaches and one rustic vineyard. This car-free island has one idyllic village.
  18. Stockholm, Sweden – A beautiful city spread across 14 islands with a very favorable exchange rate and free admission to all state-owned museums. It is the political, cultural, media and economic center of Sweden.
  19. Madagascar – This island nation (the size of France), off the east coast of Africa, has emerged as an ecotourism paradise. Whale sharks and humpbacks cruise the undersea world, fat-trunked baobab trees dot the land, and more than 90% of the island’s mammals are not found anywhere else.
  20. Sanya, China – With stunning white sand beaches and shimmering blue waters, this southernmost province on Hainan Island is known as the Hawaii of China.
  21. Cypress – A cultural and culinary renewal on a Mediterranean island. The City of Paphos has prepared a slew of events for its role as a 2017 European Capital of Culbase. The entire island boasts renewed attractions, especially in Nicosia, where the A.G. Leventis Gallery opened its collection of 800 artworks.
  22. Great Barrier Reef, Australia – The 1,450-mile-long reef is the world’s largest living organism; a mosaic of 2,900 coral reefs and 900 islands. Although threatened by climate change, it is still an idyllic place to explore this fragile, extraordinary natural wonder.
  23. Minneapolis, Minnesota – If you liked the music of Prince, you’ll love the City of Lakes. You can paint the town purple with a visit to First Avenue, the club featured in the pop genius’s film “Purple Rain,” go on a Prince-themed tour or travel outside of town 20 miles to Paisley Park, his domain for over two decades, for a public tour.
  24. Comporta, Portugal – Only an hour south of Lisbon, this hippie-chic, protected nature reserve and former fisherman’s village is underdeveloped and teaming with European A-listers.
  25. Astana, Kazakhstan – Aims to be a refuge of silk road luxury. There is a boom of hotels in Astana, the capitol, which hosts the 2017 World Expo, and highlights future energy solutions. The bio-diverse Tian Shan Mountains were included in the 2016 World Heritage list.

You could travel all year with this list.  We’ll do the other half next month.

ArtSchwartzSig

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THE MOVIES IN ENJOYED IN 2016

Each January I’ve written a blog titled “The Best Movies” of that year and each year I’ve felt the movies in general weren’t as good as the previous year.  It finally dawned on me that there is a disconnect between what I think are the best and what the critics and Oscar voters think.

The other thing I realized is we went to the movies less in 2016 because there wasn’t that much we wanted to see—don’t care much for science fiction, animated or scary flicks.

So from here on I will call this blog “The Movies I Enjoyed in 2016.”  Just not sure what “best” means any more.

In 2015, we listed six movies as our best:

  • Steve Jobs
  • The Martian
  • Spotlight
  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • Bridge of Spies

The Oscar winner was Birdman, which I didn’t want to see, and kind of proves my point.  So, here, in no particular order, are the movies I enjoyed in the last year, none of which will probably take an Oscar.  The figures in parenthesis are the ratings from the Rotten Tomatoes website.

The Music Of Strangers:  Yo Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble – A sleeper with not the most inviting title, but an outstanding documentary.  The music was great.  It was a delight to see so much joyous music coming out of disturbance and pain.

Hell Or High Water – Texas Ranger Jeff Bridges, on the eve of his retirement, goes hot on the trail of two brothers who hatch a scheme to do a bank heist as revenge for the bank’s attempt to foreclose on their family’s property.

The Beatles:  Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years (95%) – In February 1964, the Beatles stepped onto the Ed Sullivan stage.  They performed to the then largest audience in television history and changed the music industry.  Most enjoyable documentary on how the group got started and got to the jumping off point of stardom.

Fences (93%) – Denzel Washington (always a favorite) directed and stars in this adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize play.  He plays a garbage collector in the 1950s who takes the frustration of an unfulfilled life out on his family.  Viola Davis is great as his wife.  Really good flick!

Sully (85%) – The always-outstanding Tom Hanks stars in this thrilling portrait of Chesley Sullenberger’s incredible, successful emergency landing of the Airbus full of passengers on the Hudson River.  Well done!

Manchester By The Sea (97%) – Casey Affleck inherits the guardianship of his spirited 16-year-old nephew and offers a compelling story of heartbreak and heartening.  It hits you with its honesty and authenticity as it resolves a basic conflict.

Café Society – Another underrated Woody Allen enjoyable romp and glittering valentine to the movie stars, socialites, playboys, debutants and gangsters who epitomized the excitement and glamour of the 1930’s.

Deepwater Horizon (84%) – Mark Wahlberg brings us back convincingly to the horrific oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.  Great photography and intense drama!

Hidden Figures – it’s the incredible untold story of three black women who were an integral part of NASA’s first launch of John Glenn into orbit.  Warm and humorous.  A feel-good flick.

An also ran was Eye In The Sky (95%) with another all-star performance by Helen Mirren.

That’s it.  Let’s see what we get in 2017.

ArtSchwartzSig

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