Sage

While perusing through today’s headlines, I may be reminded of some ancient or recent adage that reflects an appropriate understanding or analysis to the news as shown below:

News HeadlinesWisdom and Analysis
Health officials make their final pleas for holiday caution as coronavirus cases spike. 
Washington Post

Weekend air travel hits pandemic-era record, despite health officials’ pleas to stay home
CNN
“Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”
George Carlin
Man leaves $3K tip for a beer as restaurant closes for virus 
AP
Wishing good, merely, is a lukewarm charity; but doing good is divine. 
James Lendall Basford 
Fresno bishop warns Catholics against stem cell-based COVID vaccines, including Pfizer’s
Fresno Bee
All religions promise a reward for excellence is of the will or heart, but none for excellences of the head or understanding.
Schopenhauer

Is Playing Pickleball Safe Now?

Is playing Pickleball less safe now than it was in the summer? Given the change in weather and new wave of Covid 19 infections, what should we be doing to ensure safe and healthy play?

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, epidemiologist, scientist, government official, CDC employee or pandemic expert. The conclusions and opinions are mine based on limited information, data and just a few hours of thought and analysis. Like many other topics today, there is a lot of misinformation and this post is my personal effort to sort out my alternatives and plan of action.

Overview: There are approximately 2,300 members in the South Jersey Pickleball Group. Recently there were a few members that tested positive for coronavirus. These members had recently played at various pickleball venues and obviously this created some concerns within the pickleball community. While there have been reported incidents of coronavirus infections nationwide spreading at indoor pickleball facilities, there appears to be few, if any infection outbreaks of coronavirus from playing outdoors. 

The infection rates within the State of New Jersey and specifically Camden County have risen dramatically the past few weeks. In Camden County, more than 15,000 cases of infection have been reported since the start of the pandemic. This represents about 3% of the Camden County population. Gloucester County has approximately 7,200 cases, representing about 2.5% of their population.

If we use 3% as the mean, as many as 70 South Jersey Pickleball members could be projected to have already caught the coronavirus. So no one should be surprised in a group as large as ours, there may be some reported cases. (As an offset, most members of the South Jersey Pickleball group are obviously very health conscious and many are retired so they are not exposed to potential workplace initiated infections.)

Risk Management Considerations:

Many in our pickleball community are in a high risk age group (65+) related to complications from Coronavirus. Younger players generally have less to fear if infected but they still need to exert vigilance and prevention for themselves and when playing with or around older players. Older players too must be diligent when playing with or around younger players.

Exposure to many players. If you play golf or tennis, generally you play with three other people for the morning or session. Some Pickleball Meetups had 50 or more people signed up so this meant in a two or three hour period, you could be partnered or playing with 12-20 different people depending on the available players at your skill level. (See chart). If you play 3 or more times a week, you can be playing with 40 or more different people creating added potential exposure or risk.

Exposure to players who are visiting or returning from vacations from “hot infection” states. Pickleball players (usually) are a very friendly group. We don’t check IDs on the court. Hence we don’t quarantine players from Florida, South Carolina etc playing on South Jersey or local courts. Regrettably as I write, just about every state is a “hot infection” state.

Exposure to different pickleballs. There are those balls you play with each game and those balls you toss back to another court when their ball rolls on your court.

Recommendations:

These measures appear to be prudent given the colder weather and the rising rates of Coronavirus infections nationwide and within the South Jersey/Philadelphia area. Hopefully by Spring 2021, vaccines will have begun to be distributed and pickleballers can return to an almost normalized routine.

Play within small groups of players (4-8) to minimize exposure. Various groups are organizing and using the TeamReach app to schedule events. If, by chance, a player displays symptoms or tests positive, TeamReach can serve as a communication and tracking tool.

Ideally one should play with those who are responsible and considerate of the health and safety of other players. These also should be people who you can have fun and be social with.

Players who play exclusively outside may be safer to play with than players who have recently or are playing indoors.

If you are an older player, it may be safer to play with people within your own age group. Most younger players have families and children and are much less likely to be able to isolate due to career and family responsibilities.

Playing outdoors appears to be more safer (not foolproof) than playing indoors. If you are deciding to play indoors, make sure that the facility and employees are practicing the same due diligence and health risk mitigating efforts as you are.

Maintain social distancing and wear a mask while resting or waiting to play again. (I don’t think I have seen those precautions taken at all at any of the venues I have played. I think all of us were lulled by the great weather.)

Don’t handle someone else’s paddles. (This generally happens when moving paddles along a fence or queue to create space.)

If you are feeling sick or have a fever, don’t play!! (whether it’s outdoors or indoors). This is not the best time to try to play through an illness.

From Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Hill Street Blues), one last piece of advice “Let’s be careful out there!”

Profoundities

Insights, wisdom and thinking from books that I have read that resonate within me…

Autumn poses the question we all have to live with: How to hold one to the things we love even though we know that we and they are dying. How to see the world as it is, yet find light within that truth. 

Autumn Light by Pico Iyer

Religious and ideological dogmas are still highly attractive in our scientific age precisely because they offer us a safe haven from the frustrating complexity of reality. As we have zero scientific evidence that Eve was tempted by the serpent, that the souls of all infidels burn in hell after they die, or that the creator of the universe doesn’t like it when a Brahmin marries a Dalit—yet billions of people have believed in these stories for thousands of years. Some fake news lasts forever.

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

But then again, I know very few people who have grown all the way up. The best most of us can do is manage intermittent maturity.

My Mistake by Daniel Menaker

People take sides in debates not on the basis of evidence or argument but on the basis of the side where they feel more at home.

However, just as you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink, so you can lead a mind to reason but you cannot make it think.

The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World by Julian Baggini

Somebody once defined the meaning of life as “the interruption of an otherwise peaceful nonexistence.”

Seasons in Hell: With Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog and, “the Worst Baseball Team in History”—The 1973–1975 Texas Rangers by Mike Shropshire

Where you die, and who is around you at the end, is a strong signal of your success or failure in life.

Invest in experiences over things. Drive a Hyundai, and take your wife to St. Barts.

The Algebra of Happiness by Scott Galloway

If religion makes people more moral, then why is America seemingly so immoral in its lack of concern for its poorest, most troubled citizens, notably its children?

The Moral Arc by Michael Shermer

Nowadays, science provides better and more consistent answers, but people will always cling to religion, because it gives comfort, and they do not trust or understand science.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

The End of October by Lawrence Wright (A Book Review)

The End of October is a novel that incorporates the following elements = Horror Story + Political Novel + Family’s fight for survival + Cautionary Tale.

This novel was written and published before the Covid 19 pandemic and what’s most surprising is how the author has eerily forecasted many of the events and issues that we are experiencing now. (He even predicted the U.S. Vice President being in charge of the pandemic task force and failing.)

I have read two other non-fiction books by Wright: Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David and The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Those books, like this novel, are excellent.

The background of this book includes the following: Global pandemic (Kongoli) that kills hundreds of millions of people…no cures, no vaccines…famine worldwide…Middle East war between Saudi Arabia And Iran…terrorist attacks by religious fanatics…cyber warfare between the United States and Russia that destroys each nation’s infrastructure and economies…economic depression, fallen governments worldwide…

It’s not a pleasant read or a feel good story. One can easily imagine the parade of horribles that could happen under those events. Panic. Hospitals overwhelmed. Government ineffective. (Philadelphia becomes the first U.S. hotspot in this novel).

Within all this chaos is epidemiologist Henry Parsons desperately trying to develop a vaccine, stay alive (he has more adventures and near death experiences than Indiana Jones)  and find a way to get back to the United States and save his wife and two children.

For me, the book had a slow start but quickly became a page turner after the fourth or fifth chapter. There is also an unexpected surprise finding at the end of the book.

One of the two or three best novels I have read in 2020…

“Keep Shooting”: A Feel Good story for a Not So Feel Good Time

This is a story that took place more than 45 years ago. In a 30 minute span, I may have inadvertently offered the best advice that I ever offered anyone not only about basketball but also life and in return, I received a lasting life lesson and one of the nicest things ever said to me, all from a young boy who just wanted to shoot baskets.

When people need to clear their head, some may pray, some may meditate and others may go for a long walk or run. In my 20’s and 30’s, I would pick up my basketball and head for the courts to shoot some hoops. Shooting baskets was a very centering practice and often served as my moment of Zen. Bounce, Balance, Aim, Release, Follow Through, Retrieve the basketball and Repeat. So on a sunny summer afternoon, I found the basketball court at Memorial Park in Cinnaminson empty. There was no one to disturb me and I was left alone to empty my mind and forget my worries.

Photo by Stephanie Young Mertzel

Routinely when I practiced alone, I would start with bank shots off the backboard and then move further back until I felt warmed up. I would then shoot set shots trying to find a rhythm and pace.   I would then practice lay-ups and jump shots before I finished with shooting foul shots. I would be so focused on this ritual that I would often lose track of time and not notice people or activities around me.

But not this day…

After shooting for about ten minutes, in the corner of my eye, I caught a young boy maybe nine or ten sitting silently on the side. He watched me for a while and every now and then I heard a low “Wow” or see a shake of his head in approval when I hit a basket. I really was in “flow” and I did not want to be disturbed and have to share my time on the court with anyone. Every now and then the ball would roll over to where he was sitting and he would slowly get up and roll the ball back to me.

I was able to largely avoid the youngster until I noticed that he now stood and was mimicking how I was shooting as if to copy the shooting motion. The boy was mostly silent to me as if he knew that I was in my own world and he was trying not to disturb it.  But I could tell he wanted to shoot baskets.

In my mind, the young boy sparked a memory of my youth. It was of another young boy, about his age, fatherless, who also stood silently at a park or ball field hoping that someone would let him play catch or toss a football around. That shy young boy was also silent not wishing to intrude but also hoping that he would be invited to play.

I motioned the young boy to come over and asked him if he wanted to shoot. I noticed that as he walked over, his balance seemed unsteady. One of his legs appeared to drag. I softly tossed him the basketball and noticed he had some difficulty in catching it. When he dribbled the ball, he did it slowly with two hands as if he never touched a basketball before. When he spoke, I detected a slight lisp or speech impediment.

His first few shoots did not touch the rim. His shooting motion seemed forced and I wondered if he suffered some type of physical disability. I could tell he was becoming discouraged as he kept missing. I kept handing him the ball silently after he missed shot after shot. I sensed his frustration. He stopped after one bad miss and handed me the ball and said, “Thank you” and turned to sadly walk away.

“Don’t leave,” I urged the retreating youngster. “Keep shooting! Everybody misses at first. Don’t give up.” I then showed him how to bend his knees and use his arms to aim the ball to propel the shot. He struggled for a few more shots where he hit nothing. Then one of his shots bounced around the rim. He wanted to stop and I told him “Keep shooting.” Finally with one big heave he made a basket. He seemed very relieved as I smiled at his success. “All huge journeys begin with one small step,” I told him.

To compensate for his poor arm strength, I showed him the Rick Barry style of shooting foul shots underhanded where he could use both arms to power the shot to reach the rim. He was better able to reach the rim and he made a few baskets bringing a slow smile to his face. What was an exercise in futility for him now became a challenge he gladly accepted.

I had to leave but I urged him to keep practicing. I could sense a bit of sadness in his eyes as I said it. I asked him if he had a basketball at home and he said he did not. I wondered what kind of home life he had and if kids his age would play sports with him. He did not appear to have the athletic and mobility skills that kids his age would have. I sensed that he may not have been invited to play any sports.  

I handed him my basketball. I told him the basketball was his but he needed to keep shooting to get better. It was as if I was giving him a new bicycle for Christmas. His face lit up with a smile. I did not realize at the time that I was providing him a lesson not just for basketball, but for life. You will face frustrations especially when you attempt new things. You will have bad streaks where you will get discouraged. His struggles may have been more challenging given his physical limitations.

As I grabbed my towel to leave, I asked him if he watched basketball on television. He shook his head yes. I then asked him if there was a player he wanted to be like. He paused, looked down at the basketball in his hands, raised his head slowly and answered, “You.”

The boy’s answer stunned me. I was going to try to say something witty and self deprecating but I could not. I could not speak. I know the youngster appreciated my time and attention that I provided. I nodded my head and smiled my thanks and headed for my car. The boy may have thought as I walked away that I was using the towel to wipe sweat from my brow. I was wiping my eyes.

Never been a coach, never was fortunate to be a father but fortunate to have that opportunity to make a small impression on that boy’s life. I envy all of you who have or had greater opportunities to make positive impressions on a young boy or young girl’s life. I just shared mine…

Day after Election Day (10:15 a.m.)

I don’t know yet who won the Presidential election but I know who lost, the American people. The country is even more divided 50-50 than projected before. There is no mandate to move one way or the other.

No political landslide this cycle, more like a political mud-slide.

I view political poll results as credible as readings from a crystal ball or investments ideas from a broker. Pollsters have had 72 years since they screwed up the 1948 Dewey-Truman race to improve their collection and screening of data and conduct accurately a snapshot of people’s opinions. Big fails in both national and state polls this election!

Another waste of time are political debates. They rarely move the partisan needle. Trump’s first debate with Biden was a disaster as his conduct was embarrassing. But obviously it did not hurt him in the election. Political debates are like pro wrestling matches – – ballyhooed, choreographed and the results don’t matter.

Democrats ran two very qualified Senate candidates against weakened Republican incumbents and lost decisively, despite polls showing tight races. Theresa Greenfield lost to Joni Ernst in Iowa and Jaime Harrison lost to Lindsay Graham in South Carolina. (Coincidentally to my point above, Ernst and Graham had very poor debate performances.) Republican Susan Collins, who appeared to be in an underdog in her Senate race in Maine, may hold her seat.

Not that half this country’s voters care but there were 1,130 new deaths due to coronavirus yesterday with 92,660 new infection cases.