Wednesday, 30 July 2014

No, Humans are NOT Living Longer than in the Past

Hardly a day goes when when I don't read that we humans are living longer than ever before. By many years.

“...old age now mostly means we have more years on the clock than did our forbearers. A lot more.” (Next Avenue)
“There’s no doubt that we’re living longer than previous generations.” (Time magazine)
“People in developed nations are living in good health as much as a decade longer than their parents did. (Science Daily)

But the truth is, we are not living longer or, anyway, not by much and certainly not by a decade. The people who write this stuff are plain wrong.

Some cite the fact that there are billions more old people in the world than there were in the past but that's just because there are billions more people of every age on the planet nowadays. (You, perhaps, have heard of the population explosion even if those reporters have not.)

The main reason for these false assertions is a misreading of what “life expectancy” means and how it is measured.

Until the mid-20th century, large numbers of babies died in infancy and toddlerhood. So when you measure life expectancy from birth, including those babies in the average, it looks like life expectancy in your grandparents' – even parents' – day was only 45 or 50 years.

But if you measure life expectancy from, say age five, our parents and grandparents commonly lived into their sixties and beyond, as you and I expect to do. Here is some additional explanation from research scientist, Howard Friedman:

”The correct evaluation involves life expectancy at age 65, not at birth! The truth, surprising to many, is that the average increase in life expectancy for a 65-year-old is only about three or so years.

“The increase is even smaller for retirements at ages beyond 65. And the social security retirement age is already being raised by two years (to 67)...

“Reductions in infant and child mortality have been dramatic during the 20th century, but 65-year-olds today are not strikingly healthier or longer-living than 65-year-olds of the previous generation or two.

“If life were being extended for decades there would be lots of 115-year-old Americans running around, but there aren't any at all.

It is important that you understand when life expectancy is being wrongly reported because it affects a variety of public policy proposals.

One example: every election cycle, large numbers of political candidates, usually of a certain partisan stripe, try to tell voters that Social Security is unsustainable because millions of people are living decades longer than previous generations. Not true.

There are good reasons to tweak Social Security, but decrepit centenarians sucking up unplanned-for decades of benefits is not one of them.

Dr. Friedman goes on:

”...the hard truth is that most 65-year-olds today will not be collecting those extra Social Security checks and enjoying an additional dozen or more of the golden years. “On average, they'll live only a bit longer than their parents. Increased longevity is not a valid argument for changing Social Security payouts; it's phony.”

With Leslie R. Martin, Howard S. Friedman is the author The Longevity Project, the 2011 report of an eight-decade study of 1500 Californians analyzing what behavior and character traits were common to those who lived a long time.

It is a fascinating book written with laymen in mind with some surprising conclusions that contradict conventional wisdom. It is writing with laymen in mind and I highly recommend it.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carl Hansen: Ice Cream, Noah and My Fear of Water

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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

2014 Medicare and Social Security Trustees' Reports

On Monday, the Medicare and Social Security Trustees released their annual report. Since it is 283 pages long, I'll give you the highlights as transmitted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) Media Center and NBC News.

If, at this point, you are inclined to fall asleep or click over to cuteoverload, you might want to pause for moment to read the good news:

”The Medicare Trustees today projected that the trust fund that finances Medicare’s hospital insurance coverage will remain solvent until 2030, four years beyond what was projected in last year’s report.”

It is due to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that both solvency of the trust fun and quality of care has been improved. In addition,

”Medicare spending per beneficiary has grown quite slowly over the past few years and is projected to continue to grow slowly over the next several years.

“During the past four years, per capita Medicare spending growth has averaged 0.8 percent annually, much more slowly than the average 3.1 percent annual increase in per capita GDP and national health expenditures over the same period.”

As you know, the premium we pay for Medicare Part B (traditional Medicare) for the next calendar year is not usually announced until October. However,

”...the preliminary estimate in the Report indicates that it will remain unchanged from the 2013 premium for the second consecutive year.”

That would be $104.90.

According to a NBC News early report on Monday, the average premium for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage is expected to increase by less than $2 a month.

Also according to that NBC News report:

”Social Security's massive retirement program will remain solvent until 2034, officials say, although disability benefits are in more immediate danger.

“The disability trust fund now is projected to run dry in 2016, unless Congress acts. At that point, the program will collect enough payroll taxes to pay only 81 percent of benefits.

“The trustees who oversee Social Security and Medicare project a 1.5 percent increase in monthly Social Security payments to beneficiaries for next year. That would be among the lowest since automatic adjustments were adopted in the 1970s.”

If you are up for nearly 300 pages, you can read the full report here [pdf].

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Bettijane Eisenpreis: Progress is Our Least Important Product

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Monday, 28 July 2014

Crabby Old Lady on Youthful Stupidity

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Over the weekend, I played hooky a bit from the work I should have been doing to spend time lost in a couple of books. One of them, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes was a re-read that was even more engrossing and more enlightening about what it means to get old than the first two times I read it.

I have added it (the only novel so far) to my list of Best Books on Aging. It needs some further updating which I will try to get around to soon. But if you haven't looked at it - the list - you might be interested.

We all say stupid things when we are young. What Crabby Old Lady objects to, however, is that those who are too young to have accumulated much useful knowledge, information and experience are deliberately allowed to embarrass themselves in public.

Take this story from Huffington Post titled Six Signs You're Aging Well. Let Crabby stop right there and ask what “aging well” means?

The generous answer is that the story is about being healthy but Crabby was pretty sure, when she clicked the link, that thought would prove to be too generous.

And so it was - revealing a list that could be compiled only by someone with zero knowledge, let alone understanding, of old people. Among the six signs:

Your pants have a zipper (instead of an elastic waist)
You left your big-button phone in the 1990s where it belongs
You have an online checking account

When Crabby checked to see who writes such patronizing claptrap she found this biography:

“Yagana Shah is Huff/Post50's associate editor. She received her master's in journalism from the University of Maryland and interned with USA Today. Her interests include health news, bucket lists, and the British royal family.”

Do you suppose it was Arianna Huffington's idea to give a kid working her first paying job the geriatric beat? Is it Arianna Huffington who approves this kind of age-contemptuous drivel? And does she know that this is only the most recently egregious of such belittling contempt for old people that regularly appears on Huffpost (among sometimes better stuff)?

Crabby wanted to believe the story (well, that's inflating it; it's really just a listicle) resulted from someone's lapse in judgment, that a busy editor let it slip through. But when Crabby saw Ms. Shah's previous story - Five Sure Fire Signs You're Aging Too Fast - there was no misunderstanding that it wasn't deliberate.

Just the title, in this case, is demeaning and wait until you get a load of those five signs:

Being More forgetful
Dry mouth
Dull, Uneven Skin Tone
Bloodshot/Red Eyes

As though only old people suffer these common indignities.

Ms. Shah has advice for elders about what to do for these conditions some of which she has cribbed from Dr. Mehmet Oz - you know, that paragon of trained physicians who promotes miracle weight loss potions.

Crabby feels bad taking down this young woman. Well, only a little. Ms. Shah lists a master's degree in journalism which confers – or should – some degree of knowledge that is absent in her advice columns for old people.

What Crabby mostly feels bad about is that this young woman, apparently due to a lack of adult supervision on the job, is made to look foolish so publicly.

But Crabby feels worse that existing prejudices about old people are reinforced. Thanks to such thoughtless ignorance, it will take longer than usual for young readers to realize there is just as much good living to be had with wrinkles, constipation and even dull skin as when one is young.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Mack: Endless Bars of Soap

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Sunday, 27 July 2014

ELDER MUSIC: Jessye Norman

Tibbles1SM100x130This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

JESSYE NORMAN is the best singer in the world. I know, I once said that about Cecilia Bartoli, but now it’s Jessye’s turn in the spotlight.

It's not widely known that Jessye is my twin sister. She and I turned up in this world at exactly the same time. Okay, she was in Georgia, U.S.A. and I was in Victoria, Australia but given the time differences and everything else, lo and behold out we popped simultaneously and I said hi to mum and she sang to hers.

I don't think Jessye's aware of this interesting fact.

Jessye Norman

Jessye's parents were musical (in an amateur way) and Jessye took piano lessons from an early age. Once exposed to opera music, she was an instant convert and devoured the recordings of Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price (and Nat King Cole).

She proved to be a talented singer from an early age. Later, she studied at a couple of universities and gained a masters degree in music from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).

Jessye went to Europe to establish herself and made her debut in Wagner's Tannhäuser in Berlin. There was no holding her back.

Many, many roles, concerts and recordings followed that I won't bore you with. Let's get to the music.


I'll start with HECTOR BERLIOZ. Hec is probably best known for his Symphonie Fantastique but we're having something considerably less grand than that work.

He wrote a song cycle called “Les Nuits D'Été (Summer Nights)” consisting of six songs. Jessye sings one of those, Villanelle.

♫ Jessye Norman - Les Nuits D'Ete - Villanelle


Naturally, we have to have some opera and we'll stay in France with GEORGES BIZET although the opera I've chosen, his most famous, is set in Spain. It's “Carmen”, of course.

The piece is called Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante, which roughly translated means, I say that nothing frightens me.

♫ Jessye Norman - Carmen - Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante

Jessye Norman

Jessye has branched out into other areas of music now and then and most especially spirituals, which she performs really well. Here is one such, Hush! Somebody's Calling my Name.

♫ Jessye Norman - Hush! Somebody's calling my name

Richard Strauss

RICHARD STRAUSS (who was not related to the family who wrote waltzes) wrote a song cycle called “Four Last Songs”. These really were the last things he wrote just before he died at age 84. The premiere performance of these was after he died.

The one I've chosen is the first of these so I guess you could call it the Preantepenultimate Song. It's called Frühling, which means Spring, and no, the others aren't called Summer, Autumn and Winter.

♫ Jessye Norman - Frühling

Franz Schubert

A column like this would be incomplete without some lieder from FRANZ SCHUBERT. Lieder is just a fancy word for song and is used by musical snobs who like to show off. The song I've chosen is Ganymed (or Ganymede in English).

♫ Jessye Norman - Ganymed, Op.19-3, D.544


PIETRO MASCAGNI wrote that rarest of musical beasts, a short opera. I refer to “Cavalleria Rusticana” which was an instant sensation when it was first performed in 1890 (possibly because the crowd could get out in plenty of time so they didn't have to pay extra time for the babysitter).

Jessye performs the role of Santuzza, a peasant girl, and her aria is Voi Lo Sapete, o Mamma.

♫ Jessye Norman - Voi Lo Sapete, o Mamma

Jessye Norman

Another spiritual, because she does them so well (of course, she does pretty much everything well, even something unexpected as you will hear at the bottom of the column). This is I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray.

♫ Jessye Norman - I couldn't hear nobody pray


Here are two songs by ERNEST CHAUSSON. I've included two because they are both short and are quite delightful.

Ernie was born into a rich family – his father made a fortune assisting in the redevelopment of Paris in the 1850s. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire and he was just starting to make a name for himself in music when, alas, one day at the family's country estate he was riding his bike downhill and hit a brick wall. He died instantly.

The first song is Les Papillons.

♫ Jessye Norman - Les Papillons, Op. 2 no. 3

The second song is Le Charme.

♫ Jessye Norman - Le Charme, Op. 2 no. 2


Songs (rather than opera arias) are rather over-represented in the column but that's fine with me. The next representative is by JOHANNES BRAHMS.

Old Jo wrote two songs for voice, viola and piano. This is one of them Gestillte Sehnsucht. I have no knowledge of German but the various translators online all seem to suggest that that means Satisfied Longing.

♫ Jessye Norman - Gestillte Sehnsucht

Jessye Norman

I'll end with something I really didn't expect. This was tucked away where I couldn't find it very easily but it couldn't escape my search program. The song is Mack the Knife.

♫ Jessye Norman - Mack the knife

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Saturday, 26 July 2014



Several readers send this video of the final concert from the remaining members of British Monty Python comedy group.

This video is the final song on the final night of the final 10-night stand in London during which many of the other performers from earlier in the evening joined them on stage.

You can read more here.


From Darlene. You don't often see Queen Elizabeth II or her son Prince Charles having this kind of fun. Too bad we don't know what they were laughing at.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles laughing


The actor George Takei, famously known as Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek series, was on The Daily Show to talk about a new documentary about his life and host Jon Stewart zeroed in on Takei's childhood in one of the most shameful events in American history.

Takei was five years old, he tells Stewart, when he, after Pearl Harbor, his parents and siblings were forced from their home to the camp for Japanese American citizens at Santa Anita Racetrack where a friend of mine also grew up. Take a look:

There is an extended interview online at The Daily Show website.


Once upon a time, in 2004, a pine tree was planted in Los Angeles in memory of Beatle George Harrison:

George-harrison-tree-beetles-Gary Friedman-Los Angeles Times)

Now, the tree will be torn out and replaced because it was killed by an infestation of – wait for it – beetles. Heh.

You can read more here.


I've been meaning to show you this video since last May when actor Kevin Spacey appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

You may or may not know that Spacey is a decent singer. Although he is better known nowadays for playing Frank Underwood in the Netflix hit, House of Cards, in 2004, he directed and starred in Beyond the Sea, the biography movie of Bobby Darin, and sang all the songs himself. I have the album and still play it now and then. I like Spacey's voice.

On The Tonight Show, Spacey and Fallon joined the members of the barbershop quartet called Ragtime Gals to sing Talk Dirty.

There is more information with links to additional song videos here.


Some of us elders have been carefully watching the development of self-driving cars because they could be so useful to elders who, when they can no longer drive for various reasons, could be less dependent on the sometimes non-existent public transportation and the kindnesses of strangers.

Although it is only one step in the right direction, I was thrilled a few years ago, to try a self-parking car at Ford Motor headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan:

I was amazed at how well it worked. Now, however, if we can believe the MIT Technology Review (and I generally do), it will be decades before self-driving (also called autonomous) cars will be ready for urban use:

”For example, a fully autonomous car would need to understand that someone waving his arms by the side of the road is actually a policeman trying to stop traffic.

“When surveyed by the conference organizers, the 500 experts in attendance were not optimistic such problems would be solved soon. Asked when they would trust a fully robotic car to take their children to school, more than half said 2030 at the very earliest. A fifth said not until 2040, and roughly one in 10 said 'never.'”


I hope they're wrong. You can read the whole story here.


As I keep repeating myself – John Oliver may be the best news person on television even if he is a comedian. He has been specializing in in-depth coverage of important issues. Last Sunday on Last Week Tonight, he took on America's prison system.


Just like the polite cat in this video, my cat Ollie taps me lightly on the arm or leg or face or whatever body part he's near when he wants a pet or a head scratch. Take a look:

For Ollie, however (and who knows – maybe this cat too), when food rather than affection is the question, he's more insistent. Well, “vicious” would be the better word and I've got the scarred ankles to prove it.

Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog IF you include the name of the blog and its URL.

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Friday, 25 July 2014

Growing Old with Trees

Tom Delmore, a poet himself, sends me poems by others from time to time. Two that have been waiting longer than they should to be posted here are about trees and and the men who spent a lifetime knowing them. Take a listen.

By Wendell Berry

I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don't think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
- no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new—who has known it
before?—and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man. And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.

[From Leavings published in 2010]

By W. S. Merwin

Old friend now there is no one alive
who remembers when you were young
it was high summer when I first saw you
in the blaze of day most of my life ago
with the dry grass whispering in your shade
and already you had lived through wars
and echoes of wars around your silence
through days of parting and seasons of absence
with the house emptying as the years went their way
until it was home to bats and swallows
and still when spring climbed toward summer
you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers
of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened
you and the seasons spoke the same language
and all these years I have looked through your limbs
to the river below and the roofs and the night
and you were the way I saw the world

[From The Moon in Morning published in 2014]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: We Never Knew When to Quit

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

Not Like Them – Those Other Old People

Hardly a week goes by that I do not receive a press release or reader email alerting me to a photography exhibit of elders. So much so that it is hard not to conclude that it is becoming a growth industry.

The two most common categories are closeups of wrinkled skin and old people participating in sports - or, sometimes, both in the same series.

It is always better, I believe, so see more portrayals of old people, in any medium, than not. But too many of the photographs are just ordinary and stand out only for having been shot in harshly lit black-and-white which, as any denizen of the internet and certain galleries knows, is the signal that you are in the presence of “art.”

You can choose to reject that designation if your judgment tells you otherwise particularly, in my case, when it seems the photographers' goal is to shock us with the apparent ruin of 90-year-old bodies.

In June, Lillian B. Rubin died. She was 90 years old, a sociologist, a psychologist and author of several useful and well-received books including, in 2008, 60 on Up: The Truth About Aging in the 21st Century.

In reading Rubin's obituary, I was reminded of the opening line in that book,

“Getting old sucks. It always has, it always will.”

Anyone who has been reading this blog for longer than a day or two know that I disagree. But I do know what she was getting at and some of that is contained in an article she wrote for Salon in 2011:

”...old age - even now when old age often isn't what it used to be – is a time of loss, decline and stigma.

“Yes, I said stigma. A harsh word, but one that speaks to a truth that's affirmed by social researchers who have consistently found that racial and ethnic stereotypes are likely to give way over time and with contact, but not those about age.

“And where there are stereotypes, there are prejudice and discrimination – feeling and behavior that are deeply rooted in our social world, and consequently make themselves felt in our inner psychological worlds as well.”

In a short but remarkable section of that Salon article, written when Rubin was 87, she admits to her own prejudice against old people. As she recalled the interviews with elders that she conducted for 60 on Up,

”...I found myself forced back on myself, on my own prejudices about old people, even though I am also one of them.

“Even now, even after all I've learned about myself, those words – I am one of them – bring a small shock. And something inside resists.

“I want to take the words back, to shout, 'No, it's not true, I'm really not like them,' and explain all the ways I'm different from the old woman I saw pushing her walker down the street or the frail shuffling man I looked away from with a slight sense of discomfort.

“I know enough not to be surprised that I feel this way, but I can't help being somewhat shamed by it.”

My own “small shock” and “surprise” and “shame” is that sometimes I catch myself, when I pay attention, feeling like Rubin. Because even though I am hyper-aware, thanks to the work I do for this blog, that I am one perilous fall or terrible diagnosis away from disastrous need of part- or full-time care, I feel different from those who do.

But what Rubin was getting at when she wrote that getting old sucks is not so much the physical manifestations as the emotional and spiritual changes that our culture does not acknowledge even as it is the major source.

Rubin and I share a disdain for the relentless focus on youth, the anti-aging industry, the dubious value of brain games, elders who pretend they are not old.

It is the less than artful photography of ancient bodies I mentioned above that comes to mind when I read part of Rubin's conclusion in her Salon piece:

”...we're living in a weird combination of the public idealization of aging that lies alongside the devaluation of the old. And it isn't good for anybody.

“Not the 60-year-olds who know they can't do what they did at 40 but keep trying, not the 80-year-olds who, when their body and mind remind them that they're not 60, feel somehow inadequate, as if they've done something wrong, failed a test.”

Until we, as a society, find a way to value the late years of elders' lives – all the years, in all their manifestations - there will continue to be old people like Lillian Rubin, me and a certain percentage of you who are ashamed to know that sometimes we feel “not like them.” Until we are forced, one day, to admit, finally, that we are.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Ag Terms in Advertising – Natural Ignorance is Bliss

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