A close friend, a retiree like me, mentioned the difficulty of getting around. He lives in Chennai, India and the traffic there is horrendous. There are hour long traffic jams and public transport is overcrowded. The effort of getting around is too much and he finds himself sticking close to home, taking pleasure in activities such as gardening, journaling and music and enjoying family life. It is a feeling I can understand.

Here in Somerset N.J, the traffic is still manageable even though it is stop and go in the mornings and evenings during rush hour. However, there are other problems for the retiree who wants to socialize. Distances are much greater and friends of long-standing suddenly move away when they retire. Those who are still working have their own priorities and are busy with work and family. Getting together is not easy and , while e-mail and the phone are useful they cannot take the place of face -to-face socializing. Also, it must be admitted that the prospect of driving long distances,even to meet good friends, is less appealing than it used to be.

Luckily for me, our move to an Active Adult community has panned out very well. Most people here are either retired or semi-retired and have the time to socialize. Our houses are homes , places to live in, not things to show off. There is no more competition whether about houses, jobs, cars or children. Besides, we are all at that stage of life where the children have moved out and are on their own. Now we have the time to pursue our own interests whatever they may be. The Community Center has a variety of activities which bring like-minded people together and lead to friendship. The best thing is that we all live close by and in many instances can walk to each others’ houses. Consequently, I have made two very good friends among my neighbors and I would have made even more if I had not recently taken up a part-time job for the summer. They are making up for the friends I lost when I moved here from the town we had lived in for over forty years.

What would I have done if I were not in such a community ? One thing I’d have done is gone for a walk in the early morning and/or the late afternoon. That’s the time when older people are to be found taking a walk and it wouldn’t be too difficult to strike up a conversation with a promising type who could become a friend. Since such persons are in the neighborhood, it obviates the need for transport. Another thing I’d do is to hang out at the Senior Center if there were one close by. Some seniors can be crabby but surely there must be someone simpatico with whom we can connect. And finally, I’d volunteer. All of us are above average, even experts, at something or the other. Why not share this expertise? Tax preparation help is always needed in March-April and many public libraries have programs to offer help to those who need it. If you have always done your taxes, this might be something to investigate. If you can teach something (computers, math, English, science, whatever) that would be great because it would give you a chance to connect with young people. Just being around youngsters and their enthusiasm and energy generates sense of well-being.

Proximity counts for a lot but there are ways to get around it.

Four years ago, when LeBron James made “The Decision” on primetime TV, he not only upended the balance of power in the entire NBA but also made himself the most reviled player in pro basketball. While he had every right to switch teams, the grandiose manner in which he did so annoyed fans everywhere. Except in Miami, of course. His second decision, three weeks ago, once again sent shock ways through the entire NBA but was the polar opposite of the earlier one and will go a long way towards rehabbing his image. It took me completely by surprise…

When the San Antonio Spurs demolished the Miami Heat last month, I thought that LeBron would stay with Miami while the Heat rebuilt around him and I said so in an earlier post. My reasoning was that teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, the Chicago Bulls and the Houston Rockets would have to trade away too much of their core to create the cap space to sign LeBron and what was left of their roster would not be enough to challenge for the NBA championship. I also had thought of Miami’s Big Three as being closer than they actually were; I never thought that LeBron would cut loose from Wade and Bosh. And , finally, I thought that LeBron had burnt his bridges so completely that I never considered he might return to the Cavaliers. My bad.

I have to admit this decision of LeBron’s is a master stroke. It gives him everything that he wants : a max contract, a return to his roots and, most importantly, a core of young stars that is better than anything he had to work with in Miami and is almost certain to help him to win more championships in the years to come. In Miami, DWade was a shadow of himself and Chris Bosh was never a dominant player. Even though they both restructured their contracts, it did not afford Miami the cap space needed to give LeBron the supporting cast he needed. The Heat had holes at both guard spots and at center and it would have been impossible to fill them satisfactorily. On the other hand, the Cavaliers roster is filled with young, talented players who will only get better and are already superior to anything that LeBron had at Miami. There are no less than four recent first round picks ( Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett) and three of them ( Irving, Bennett and Wiggins) were #1 overall picks. Of them all, only Bennett has failed to live up to his promise. Irving is already one of the best at his position , Thompson and Waiters are solid players and Wiggins could be the trade bait to pry Kevin Love loose from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Love is a rebounding machine and gives LeBron the defensive stud that the Heat lacked. The Cavaliers roster also includes Dwight Powell centers Brendan Haywood and Anderson Varajeo and two promising rookies , second rounders Dwight Powell ( a 6-10 PF from Stanford) and Joe Harris ( a 6-6 SG from Virginia) It is still too early to anoint the Cavaliers as the favorites for the championship because there are sure to be several trades as the other contenders try to beef up their rosters but the Cavaliers are certainly up there. Working with young teammates at Cleveland also frees LeBron from the weight of the expectations that he labored under in Miami. His own fault for talking about six, maybe seven, championships when he teamed up with Bosh and Wade.

Almost as important as the upgraded roster is the PR bonanza that LeBron is reaping. In one fell swoop, he has gone from being a traitor to the returning hero who will help bring a championship to Cleveland, a city that has been without one for half a century. I think this is very important to LeBron because he must have chafed at being painted a villain though he did not show it publicly. Jettisoning his #6 Jersey and reclaiming his old # 23 is yet another signal that his Miami days are behind him and that he has cast his lot with the Cavs.

Nor will he be taking a significant hit financially. He might have gotten a few more millions at Miami but he will more than make up for it in the coming years. There is an opt out clause in his contract which will enable him to re-up two years from now when the NBA’s ESPN deal kicks in and the cap will be significantly higher. Not that it matters that much.His endorsement deals dwarf his salary.

Finally, the low-key manner in which he announced his decision to return to Cleveland was very shrewd. Either he has matured and learnt from past mistakes or he has some very good advisors. Maybe both. It will be interesting to see what the other teams do to counter the budding powerhouse in Cleveland.

G – O -A – L !!

With the end of overtime fast approaching, I had more or less resigned myself to the World Cup final being decided on a shoot-out. In fact, I had just turned to my wife and remarked that I didn’t think there was going to be a goal scored in the remaining few minutes … when Mario Goetze scored. I have since watched the replays of his remarkable goal several times and it remains a thing of beauty, a moment of brilliance. Perfection itself.
Goetze had entered the game almost towards the end of regulation and he produced the magical moment with Andreas Scheurrle, another sub. Both of them were able to outrun the tired Argentine defenders who had been on the field for almost two hours. Schuerrle sprinted down the left flank and fired a perfect cross into the penalty box which the fast arriving Goetze chested down, volleying the ball past Sergio Romero, the Argentine goalie, into the far corner of the net. Romero had no chance as the shot caught him moving the other way. It flashed behind him and into the net in the twinkling of an eye.

There have been other wonderful goals scored during this World Cup. The first was Van Persie’s airborne header in the Netherlands match against Spain. Another was James Rodriguez’s shot towards the end of the Colombia- Japan match when he juked a Japanese defender off his feet before firing the ball past the over-matched goalie. Then Rodriguez again against Uruguay when he received a pass on his chest and , in one fluid motion, fired the ball into the net even though he was surrounded by Uruguayan defenders. There were also efforts by Messi, Sneijder, Shaquiri, Cahill and others. They were all wonderful but Goetze’s was agoals beautiful as any of them and it had the distinction of being the only one in the final of the World Cup. All that was needed was that Spanish announcer who used to go G -O -A -L !

Two other thoughts about the final…

I have to marvel at the thoroughness of Germany’s preparation. They had prepared for every eventuality, saving one of their most dangerous goal scorers for the very end when the Argentine defense would not be able to keep up with him. Earlier, in the semifinal against Brazil, their coaching staff had planned how to control the midfield and weather the initial Brazilian onslaught.

In the aftermath of the match, it was nice to see how the cameras were not focused solely on Goetze. In other sports, the man who scores the final basket, the guy who kicks the winning field goal, the quarterback who throws the winning touchdown gets most of the glory. Not here. Here , the glory was shared and the reserves who hadn’t played a single minute were just as overjoyed as those who had played the entire match. When the final whistle blew, they all raced onto the field and leaped in to one giant pile. Lukas Podolski had been a star on Germany’s previous WC teams ; in Brazil, he played hardly at all. No matter, he was just as joyful as anyone who had played. He took selfies with his son and other players and had his son kick the ball around on the field where the World Cup final had just been played. What memories that child will have ! Who knows but that he might not make some World Cup history himself twenty years from now !

The World Cup final is tomorrow and it should be a good one, the artistry of Messi against the disciplined approach of Germany. I will be rooting for Germany as I have been since the beginning of the tournament but , if Argentina wins, I will be happy for Messi. Leading his country to a victory in the World Cup would cap a glittering career. But , one way or another, it will all be over tomorrow and then there will be a four-year wait until the next World Cup.

I was talking to my nephew this afternoon and he was bemoaning the fast approaching end of this edition of the World Cup. No surprise because he is an avid sports fan who follows many sports. What did surprise me was when my wife expressed similar sentiments a couple of days ago. She is only an occasional sports fan but she was glued to the TV for most of the tournament and, along the way,became quite knowledgeable about soccer. Soccer appeals to her in a way that American football does not. Except for the offside rule, there are no complexities to the game of soccer to befuddle watchers. Kick the ball. Keep it away from the opposing team. Try to shoot it past the goalkeeper. Elemental. All you need is a soccer ball and a piece of vacant ground. No other equipment needed. No wonder it is the # 1 sport in the world. No wonder more people play it and watch it than do any other sport.

I suppose that because the World Cup comes around only once every four years makes it all the more memorable. If it occurred more often, it would not have the same cachet. Yet I find it appeals more to me than even the Olympics. The Olympics have their own allure but they are too big; there are too many things going on, too many judging controversies, too much politics, too many obscure sports of no interest to me. By the half way point, I am sated.

The World Cup is not perfect but it is closer to perfection than anything else. Yes, the traditional powers usually carry the day but, on any given day, David can slay Goliath. Who among us did not cheer tiny Costa Rica’s entry to the quarterfinals? Or feel a thrill as Ghana held mighty Germany to a draw ?

The World Cup has added appeal because it is contested by national teams. The teams are made up of professionals but they are not club sides. Because of this, the fans in the stands are more passionate about the fortunes of their team and it shows. All of us who watched the Brazil- Germany semifinal will remember the sight of the heartbroken little Brazilian boy sobbing uncontrollably as his team unraveled. Or the stunned Brazilian woman with tears rolling down her cheeks.There were happy moments too as fans whose team had just won celebrated in the hands.

Considering the high emotions aroused by the matches, the fans were surprisingly very sporting. They watched the matches sitting side by side, singing their fight songs but seemed to accept defeat with stoicism , sometimes even with grace. Towards the end of the Brazilian team’s rout by Germany, an elderly Brazilian supporter turned to a German fan and handed over his facsimile Jules Rimet trophy. Is that sporting or what?

The fans, the stadiums, the ceremony, the matches themselves with their moments of sheer magic and high tension make the World Cup the premier sporting event in the world. It will be sad when tomorrow’s final is over and we will have to wait four years for the next edition of the World Cup. Still, there is one more match tomorrow. May it be a good one.

Two weeks ago Ann Coulter, the conservative political pundit, unloaded on the game of soccer, averring that ” Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay. “ In her column she then proceeded to tell us why she felt so. Here is a synopsis of her reasons with my reactions ; the italicized portions are direct quotes of Coulter’s.

1. Soccer is collectivist. ( … the blame is dispersed and no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability). Really, Ann. Try telling that to anyone on the Brazilian team that took the field against Germany. Or to Jose Luis Scolari, the Brazilian coach. I don’t think they will ever live down the ignominy of that defeat. As for heroes, three of the top highest paid athletes in the world are soccer players. They wouldn’t command that kind of money unless fans lionized them, paid to watch them play and bought their merchandise.
2.Soccer is effeminate. (… a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys.) Soccer demands more from players than any other sport in the world. 90 minutes of total effort, only three substitutions. The only other sport that comes at all close is basketball but it only lasts 48 minutes, has frequent stoppages and players go in and out of the game.
4. Real sport carries the prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury; soccer doesn’t. For humiliation, see my response to item 1. As for personal injury, I’d think that Neymar’s injury certainly qualifies, don’t you?
5. You can’t use your hands in soccer. So what? That’s why they call it football in most parts of the world. Duh !
6. Soccer is being pushed on Americans.( the same people … are demanding that we love HBO’s ” Girls”, light rail, Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.)This is so ridiculous it doesn’t deserve a rebuttal.
7.It’s foreign. Well, so what? Not everything good is of American origin.
8.It’s like the metric system, which is also European. That again ? I like the British system but I recognize that the metric system is more logical, has innumerable advantages and is the world standard. Only the U.S, Liberia and Myanmar still follow the British system and we will have to change sooner or later.
9. Soccer is not catching on. Not true. More people watched the Portugal – U.S game than watched last year’s World Series or this year’s NBA finals.
Coulter concludes her diatribe by writing “ If more Americans are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Ted Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. No American whose grandfather was born here is watching soccer.” Partly true. There is no doubt that many of the American soccer fans are immigrants, particularly Hispanics. However, there is an increasing number of native born Americans who are beginning to like the game. A case in point is my neighbor and friend, a’ real’ American of the type that Coulter would approve of. He is a WASP, was born in this country, and I know he is reading Glenn Beck’s latest book. He also follows the World Cup avidly, ( as do his son and grandson), and he used to coach when his son played soccer as a kid. Now , the grandson plays soccer and loves it.
Ann Coulter’s broadside was so beyond the pale that other commentators have wondered if it was not tongue in cheek. Some have opined that it was deliberately inflammatory because it was a means of keeping herself in the spotlight. I wondered about that myself before rejecting both theories. Coulter doesn’t have a funny bone in her body and while she is a publicity seeker, the references to the New York Times, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy’s immigration law lead me to think that conservative politics is at the root of her explosion. Too bad for her. The New York Times will be around long after Ann Coulter is forgotten and Hillary Clinton will be the President in 2016, if she chooses to run. Better get used to the idea , Ann.

In the thirty five plus years that I worked in New York City, I never drove to work. It would have been foolish to do so because mass transit was so convenient. From our house in Edison N.J, I took either the train or the bus to New York. Mostly , it was the train and it was a pleasure to take my seat and open up the New York Times. Even when I had to stand, the forty minute train ride passed quickly and I arrived at the office fresh for the day’s work. I pitied the poor chaps who had to drive to work particularly if they were commuting into NYC from across the Hudson or from Long Island. Having driven to the City on weekends, I was only too aware of the bottlenecks at the Lincoln Tunnel or the Hudson Tunnel, and I couldn’t imagine having to deal with them morning and evening on a daily basis. I used to hear some of my friends gripe about driving to work and I never thought I would experience it myself. All that changed a couple of weeks ago.

More than ten years into retirement, I accepted an offer to teach part time for the summer. It would mean driving twenty miles to Edison from our house in Somerset N.J, three days a week. I was a little apprehensive about the driving part, never having done it before, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.

It really hasn’t been too bad. Quite pleasant , in fact, for the most part.

That first morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect and I started out early but even at 7:45 the traffic was building up. Luckily for me, I had to go in the direction opposite to the flow of traffic on Route 287. Except for two minor traffic buildups, I was able to tool along at close to the speed limit and I got to the office in 25 minutes. I was happy I was not going in the opposite direction where the traffic was stop and go. I couldn’t read my newspaper , of course, but there was the newfound pleasure of the car radio. Listening to today’s favorites and yesterdays hits made up for it. (Of course, since I get my news online these days, that option would not have been available even had I been commuting by train today.) The evening drive home was almost as good ; the traffic was a little denser and a five minute stretch of stop and go traffic but nothing to complain about. The traffic in the other direction was bumper to bumper and at times seemed like one giant parking lot. Anytime I felt impatient, I just had to look across and realize how good I had it. I must admit also that there is a sense of independence and well being in driving to work as opposed to commuting by mass transit. No waiting on crowded platforms or scrambling to get on.

I have one friend who used to drive from New Brunswick, NJ to Long Island every day It took him two and a half hours each way and he had to negotiate the heavy traffic over the Verrazano Narrows and the Long Island Expressway. He did so even when he was in his mid-sixties in all weathers , even when it had snowed heavily. I cannot imagine what it must have been like in the evenings when he had already put in a full days work and was staring at the 2 -1/2 hour commute home. I asked him once and he said that the drive passed quickly because he would listen to some audio books on the radio. I know I couldn’t have done it.

I’m fine now with driving to work but it’s because it entails only a half hour drive against the traffic flow, three days a week for the next two months. Those others I see going in the opposite direction, most of them on commutes of an hour or more , I’m glad I’m not one of them. A tip of the hat to them.

The Triple Package

Why some people are more successful than others has always been a matter of great interest to many of us. In The Triple Package, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld explore the cultural traits that explain the outsize success of certain cultural groups in America. Chua and Rubenfeld, both law professors at Yale, are married to each other. They have also written several other books individually and Chua is probably best known for her controversial best-seller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger mother.

The Triple Package refers to three traits which the authors believe are responsible for the disproportionate success of groups such as Mormons, Jews and immigrants from China, India , Nigeria , Iran, and Lebanon. They identify the traits as a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control. The first two might seem contradictory to each other but Chua and Rubenfeld make a good case for their premise.

They postulate that members of these groups feel superior to others either because their religion has always taught them so or because they came from privileged circumstances in the countries of their origin. In America, shorn of reasons to feel superior, they work harder to regain their cachet while suppressing their feelings of insecurity vis-a vis their more settled neighbors. Impulse control is an essential attribute for success because it enables people to defer gratification as they strive mightily to get ahead. Even as these traits lead to success, they can also be the cause of future heartache. Superiority can lead to arrogance, insecurity to neuroticism and impulse control carried to extremes may prevent the enjoyment of success. Another negative is that Triple Package cultures focus on material, conventional success and prestige and close off other paths of achievement. There is a telling anecdote about the Taiwanese- American filmmaker Ang Lee whose father had wanted him to become a businessman. When Lee won an Oscar, his father told him there was still time.” You’re only 49″, the father said. ” Get a degree, teach in universities and be respectable.”

Perhaps the most perceptive part of The Triple Package is that American society dilutes and ultimately destroys the traits that lead to the success of Triple Package cultures. As these groups assimilate with the American mainstream, they lose the very attributes that made them successful. Taught that all people are equal, they lose their superiority complex. As they taste success they become secure and less capable of delaying gratification.

The premise of the book is fascinating and it has several interesting sidelights. I knew of the successes of Jews and Asian Americans but not that of the other groups. The Mormons have always been a low key group and it took me by surprise to read that, even with far fewer adherents, the Mormon Church is three or four times as rich as the Catholic Church in America. I didn’t know either that Nigerians- Americans account for the great majority of black Americans admitted to Harvard and that they are prominent in medicine and law.

Other issues The Triple Package touches upon: that success cannot be traced to “education cultures”, “family values” or ” thrifty cultures”. That America was for a long time a Triple Package nation but that this has changed in the last 50 years. That blacks are hurt by negative perceptions and low expectations rather than the lack of the Triple Package. The dynamics of Jewish families. That Appalachia does not have a Triple Package culture but its problems are due to geography, history and the ” resource curse”.

The Triple Package is a well written, well researched book and I found myself nodding in recognition as I turned its pages. There were two points, however, where I found myself in disagreement. In trying to refute the idea that Jewish success is because it is a ” learning culture”, the authors put forward the example of ultra-orthodox Satmar Jews who are yet one of the poorest groups in the nation. However, this is a specious example because the Satmar community dedicates itself to Talmudic study to the exclusion of everything else; this is hardly a foundation for academic success. It also seemed to me that the authors were on the wrong track when they write about the importance of caste in present day Indian society.

The Triple Package tackles a complex subject and it could have been a difficult read. Thanks to original research, groundbreaking statistics and lively anecdotes it is exactly the opposite… a book that is difficult to put down. Highly recommended.

The Triple Package. Amy Chua and Jeb Rosenfeld. The Penguin Press (N.Y) 2014.

Golden Ripples

About Food, Travel, Sports , Books and other fun things

47 Japanese Farms: Japan Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities -- 47日本の農園

A journey through 47 prefectures to capture the stories of Japan's farmers and rural communities


WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers

%d bloggers like this: