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Social Security – Part 5: Other Proposals

It’s hardly begun and already the Social Security debate is out of control. The hysterical contingent, dispensing dubious facts and a few outright lies, shouts Crisis! Disaster! Bankruptcy! in support of President Bush’s claims. Only private investment accounts will “save” Social Security and make everyone millionaires in their old age.

Crabby Old Lady is old enough to know – as should anyone who holds a high school diploma – that if it sounds too good to be true, it is. Average income in today's dollars is about $42,000. The administration's current privatization proposal would allow up to two percent of an individual's Social Security payroll tax to be invested in a private account. That's $840 per year. Multiply that by the average worker's professional life of 45 years and there is a total principal investment of $37,800. Nobody's getting rich on that.

One enterprising retiree - obviously an above-average wage earner - ran the actual numbers. Stanley Logue paid into Social Security for 45 years until he retired in 1994. He compared the return on his contributions to the Trust Fund with what he would have gotten had he been able to invest the same amount of money over the same period of time in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, including dividends.

“To his surprise, the Social Security investment won out: $261,372 versus $255,499, a difference of $5,873.

“It’s an astonishing finding. The DJIA represents blue-chip stocks. Social Security invests in U.S. Treasury bonds. Over long periods of time, stocks have consistently outperformed bonds. So, you would think that Logue’s theoretical stock investments from 1950 to 1994 would have surely outpaced the return on government bonds.

“The fact that they didn’t illustrates one of the hard truths about stock investing: Timing matters.”

- The Christian Science Monitor, 27 December 2004

The truth about President Bush’s claims for private accounts is that depending on accidental timing of birth and retirement, a few people might make a killing, but the majority will not.

The counterbalance to the hysteria of the pro-Wall Street crowd are the dissenters. To convince enough of the right people that private accounts are the wrong choice, however, they must do more than repeat the obvious success of the 70 years of Social Security, which is mostly what they have done to date. To have an intelligent public discourse, alternative solutions are in order and Crabby is waiting to hear more. Here are a few that have surfaced so far:

Raise the salary cap on which Social Security payroll taxes are collected
There is no reason to have any limit. Let Social Security collect the payroll tax on total salary earnings. The folks who make a lot of money will squeal, as will corporations which match contributions. But Crabby Old Lady says, “let ‘em squeal.”

In her working life, the limit has gradually increased by a factor of more than 21, from $4200 in salary to the new 2005 limit of $90,000 without putting a crimp in her lifestyle. It is a small price for the rich to pay to ensure a minimal retirement income for ordinary folks.

Cut Social Security benefits to those who don’t need it
Crabby knows a woman, a widow who has never worked a day in her life and whose husband left her with the kind of wealth 99 percent of us can only dream of. Yet she collects her survivor’s benefits – a few hundred dollars a month - and insists it is her due.

A “means test” for benefits would eliminate this obscenity without harming anyone while keeping many millions of dollars to help maintain benefits for those who need it.

Raise the retirement age
We are living longer and healthier lives than when Social Security was created in 1935, and already, the age at which full benefits are paid is being slowly increased. A majority of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) say they expect to continue to work past age 65. Increasing retirement age further means more workers will contribute longer, building up Social Security reserves.

Roll back the Bush administration’s $1.35 billion tax cut
President Bush entered office with a budget surplus of $127 billion and turned that into a deficit of astronomical proportions. To have created a tax cut that primarily benefits the rich, particularly in the midst of an expensive war in which soldiers go without armor, is a pretty good definition of insanity. Roll them back.

The Bush administration would have us believe that private investment accounts are the only possible solution to guaranteeing future retirement benefits, and that is simply not true. Crabby will leave the number crunching to the experts, but the above suggestions – and more that will be forthcoming when the new administration gets rolling after Mr. Bush’s inauguration in late January - must be considered. This is a serious issue and it is unconscionable to not put all reasonable proposals on the table.

Next time, Crabby Old Lady will summarize for you the reasons of those who oppose privatization.

...to be continued...

Social Security Privatization Series Index


The Tyranny of Child Surveillance

Among the losses in a culture that places the virtues of youth and wealth above all others is the wisdom of elders. If grandparents still lived around the corner to advise and help with raising the kids, if the experience that can be gained only through decades of living were considered valuable, Crabby Old Lady probably would not need to be as alarmed as she is.

Earlier this week on National Public Radio, Crabby listened in shock to parents describing how they monitor their children’s email, computer passwords, chat and IM conversations, and watch their kids browse the Web, in real time, from other computers such as at work. Alternately, the so-called “security” software they use can save all this information for parental perusal at a more convenient time.

Parents can do this openly, letting their children know up front that nothing they do on their computers is private. Or, they can do it on the sly and the kid never knows his or her parents are reading those deepest teenage secrets kids keep to themselves or share only with their peers. One surveillance company boasts that its software can be installed without the knowledge of the computer owner, “runs in complete stealth and cloaks itself to hide from the remote user.”

The NPR story also described cell phone GPS software by which parents track children’s movements when away from home, including online maps showing the routes the kids are walking or driving, and even the speed at which the children are moving. Thus, a mother explained on the program, if the car her daughter’s friend is driving is going faster than mom approves, she phones her daughter to get out and wait for mom to pick her up.

There was no indication in this NPR story that any of the children being spied upon were special case kids of any kind - poor students, incipient criminals, drug users or emotionally crippled; no indication they were anything but normal teenagers. The parents said they spy on their kids to save them from sexual and other predators. One father described reading this message from a 14-year-old schoolmate of his daughter: “Are you humping your pillow now?”

The father piously told NPR that because he monitored this instant message conversation, he was able to stop his daughter from carrying on such talk, and that the boy’s parents were grateful to know that their son had typed such terrible language into his computer.

To which Crabby Old Lady can say only, "oh, come on," and she wants to know if these two sets of parents have lost their reason. Teens with raging hormones talking of pillow humping is so dangerous they must spy on their children? Crabby is a lot more worried about those parents than the kids.

A quick Google search easily turns up such as this:

“Concerned moms like Cristina Bedoya of Miami uses the same computer her 15-year-old daughter does to peek at who she's emailing or sending instant messages. All it takes is knowledge of your child's password or a click on the history button to see where they've visited on the Web…she refuses to feel guilty.”
- azcentral.com, 29 October 2004

Well, that mother should feel guilty and she should stop spying. Just knowing this stuff goes on makes Crabby Old Lady feel dirty. It may be legal, but it is - pure and simple - morally wrong.

If parents, as those on the NPR program insisted, believe they are protecting their children from all bad things by spying on them, they need to know it won’t work. Shit happens. Kids get hurt sometimes and secret surveillance will not change that.

But what spying on kids will do is teach them to not trust their parents. It will teach them to accept authoritarian surveillance and intrusion from other sources like the government and companies they will work for one day. It will teach them that to be watched at all times is an acceptable way to live in a free society.

Crabby wants to know how many times these lessons need to be taught. Older folks remember Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in which citizens were so successfully indoctrinated into the “correct” way of thinking and behaving that children were commonly known to turn in their parents to the secret police for their political opinions.

Think carefully, parents, when you are tempted invade your kids’ privacy, Keep it up, says Crabby Old Lady, and it won’t be too long until it’s your email the government is reading; your employer is already doing so.


Aunt Edith in an Interesting Hat

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[1925] In the 1920s and until shortly after World War II, no proper woman left the house, even to grocery shop, without a hat. I remember watching Aunt Edith, when we were preparing to go out together, adjusting that day’s hat just so, attaching it with a fabulously jeweled hatpin, then turning to and fro in the mirror to be certain it was perfectly placed. I liked the elegance of that ritual. I wish we still wore hats.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
airchild @ 2003-08-25 said:
Really beautiful portrait, and lovely account of the hat-wearing ritual. It was indeed very charming, wasn’t it?

rosarosa @ 2003-08-25 said:
Did they weare gloves also? And what about cigarettes? Would women then, smoke with or without gloves or not at all? I’m now writing a story about that time, so…

ronni @ 2003-08-25 said:
Oh, yes, rosarosa. Gloves were an important accessory to a woman’s wardrobe until the 1950s, and not necessarily for warmth. The length of the gloves for different circumstances - casual, formal, business, evening, etc. - was an important matter and it was a fairly serious faux pas to wear an inappropriate length or style for the occasion.

There were rules (have no idea who made these rules) too about proper removal of gloves, when to remove them to shake hands and when not to. Some women wore jewelry - rings or bracelets - over their gloves. I don’t know if there was a rule or custom about smoking with gloves, but I remember seeing women do so. Men, in those days, made as much a point to light women’s cigarettes (there is a great scene showing how sexy this could be with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in the movie, Now, Voyager) as they did to open doors.

rosarosa @ 2003-09-01 said:
Thanks, ronni. I couldn’t find you back for a while! Incredible, unbelievable. And such a short time ago, really.


Poetry and Bling-Bling

category_bug_journal2.gif In the eight months or so since I began this blog, my life has been enriched in many ways. It has forced me to think seriously about getting older in ways I would not have bothered if I weren’t writing about it. Readers who leave comments have taught me many things (not only about aging) and pointed me in directions of thought I am unlikely to have found on my own. And best of all, I have made new friends. Astonishingly, some have sent me gifts which today, I will share with you.

The Last Cigarette CDThe Best Cigarette
Eric Antonow, who is president and CEO of a company that provides technology services for real estate companies, also runs several blogs, including d_o_c_u_m_e_n_t, and among his other wide-ranging interests, he produced this CD of Billy Collins – America’s poet laureate in 2001 – reading his own poetry.

We “met” when Eric responded to an essay I posted about the phenomenon of time seeming to move faster as we age and I then posted his response. Subsequently, he sent me Collins’s CD. Here is one of the poems:

Another reason why I don't keep a gun in the house
The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

Roger McCough BookBlazing Fruit
Cook Sister is an ex-pat living now in London who blogs about her native South African cooking, including a lot of good recipes. She sent me a collection by British poet Roger McGough, who is as witty and satirical – in his own, different way - as Mr. Collins.

Here is a poem Mr. McGough wrote about sin and age, written about 20 years ago when he was in his fifties:

Today is Not a Day for Adultery
Today is not a day for adultery.
The sky is a wet blanket
Being shaken in anger. Thunder
Rumbles through the streets
Like malicious gossip.

Take my advice: braving
The storm will not impress your lover
When you turn up at the house
In an anorak. Wellingtons,
Even coloured, seldom arouse.

Your umbrella will leave a tell-tale
Puddle in the hall. Another stain
To be explained away. Stay in,
Keep your mucus to yourself.
Today is not a day for sin.

Best pick up the phone and cancel.
Postpone until the weather clears.
No point in getting soaked through.
At your age, a fuck’s not worth
The chance of catching ‘flu.

Texas Charm BraceletBling Bling
Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles has a wicked sense of humor, knows a lot about good fun and has a heart as big as her home state. To my delight (I have a short history, many years ago, with Texas) and to the great amusement of some overly sophisticated, New York friends, these turned up in my mailbox from Pattie.

We who blog do so for many reasons but I doubt, when we began, that new friends – people we would never meet otherwise - were on our minds. Life is full of excellent surprises.


An ElderBlogger in South Asia

Sunday morning, the world’s largest earthquake in 40 years (magnitude 8.9) caused tsunamis up to 30 feet high that crashed into eight south Asia countries including Sumatra, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka.

The destruction is formidable: Buildings are collapsed. Roads washed away. Airports under water. Villages wiped off the face of the earth. There are estimates of 14,000 dead or missing. Many more are injured with no local medical help in many towns.

Thomas Brinson in Sri Lanka One of the men on my Older Bloggers list, Thomas Brinson of Various Journeys, has spent the better part of the past year as a peace worker in politically unstable Sri Lanka. He is located near Mutur and Trincomalee on the east coast of that island nation, which took a direct hit from the tidal wave.

Last week, Thomas and I spent some time “talking” in real time via instant messenger. He had posted some photos of the flooding from heavier-than-usual, seasonal monsoons and he told me it is early in the rainy season with the potential for worse floods over the next two or three months.

Thomas was thinking of washed out bridges and the attendant difficulty in getting supplies. Of people’s homes needing repair and rebuilding. Of the violent political situation in Sri Lanka. And of a power supply that is whimsical in the best of weather, making blogging a sometime thing for Thomas.

He wasn’t thinking about record-breaking earthquakes and walls of water taller than three-story buildings. News reports out of Sri Lanka say it is among the worst hit by the south Asia tidal wave.

With great relief, I read on his blog this morning that Thomas is safe:

Me G4 Mac is washed away into the deep muddy-green Indian Ocean Sea; the backup is washed away with most of the rest of most of my worldly goods in the destroyed NP House in Mutur. Oh well, time to start everything anew. I'm physically quite sound; mentally/emotionally holding up; spiritually, I have lots of moment to moment, breath to breath time to practice over and over "Mother/Father Divine grant me acceptance" & "Namo Guam Sith Yin Pusa" and to just watch and pray about the devastating scene passing by. Not much else to do except to be present to help my community of Mutur rebuild itself (over 200 dead, many still missing), being of service however I can. Hey, I still have my new Mini-iPod, but no charger, so I listen to one song an hour.

I shall survive. I've survived a lot worse. This too shall pass. Be gentle; I shall connect when I can . . .


Grandma Hazel and Great Aunt Edith

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[circa 1918] Beautiful young sisters. I met my grandmother briefly one afternoon in 1969 in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she then lived. In her late 70s by that time, widowed and mildly off her trolley, Hazel had always refused when my mother invited her to visit us in Portland when I was a child because, she said, someone might steal her oh-so-precious antiques if she was not home to protect them.

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Merry Christmas, Everyone

The danger in posting anonymously-written, forwarded email is that everyone but you has read it six times already. But this one is new to me. It made me laugh - and we can all use a good laugh at the end of this year.

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE from
Ronni and Crabby Old Lady


With thanks to Cop Car who comments here regularly, here is

The Night Before Christmas (Attorney Version)
Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter "the House") a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to a mouse.

A variety of foot apparel, e.g., stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter "Claus")would arrive at sometime thereafter. The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein vision of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.

Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as ("I"), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the party of the second part (hereinafter "Mamma"), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep. At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g., kerchief and cap.

Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e., the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance. The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance.

At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter "the Vehicle") being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer. The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus.

Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen (hereinafter "the Deer"). (Upon information and belief, it is further asserted that an additional co- conspirator named "Rudolph" may have been involved.)

The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys and other items of unknown origin or nature. Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney.

Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages , toys, and other unknown items.

He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations.

Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stocking of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute "gifts" to said minor pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.)

Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as "lookouts." Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination.

However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim: "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!" Or words to that effect.


Social Security - Part 4: The President's Plan


“One of my charges is to explain to Congress as clearly as I can, the crisis is now,” said President Bush at the end of last week’s economic summit in Washington where Social Security was the centerpiece topic. “I will also assure members of Congress that this is an issue on which I campaigned, and,” he continued with his trademark swagger, “I’m still standing.”

- The New York Times, 16 December 2004

In “crisis," he says. At other times, the president or his privatization supporters have said Social Security is in “unsustainable,” “broken,” “going broke.”

Listen carefully to Crabby Old Lady now: Not one of those words bears any resemblance to reality.

The Problem
As Crabby pointed out in her three previous backgrounders:

  1. Social Security, with no changes, will pay full benefits to all retirees, disabled and aged recipients without even dipping into the Trust Fund until 2018.
  2. Using the Trust Fund to supplement ongoing contributions, all Social Security recipients will receive full benefits until 2042.
  3. In 2042, the Trust Fund will be depleted and the number of contributors to Social Security will be able to provide only 75 percent of what will be needed to pay out full benefits.

The problem is that simple: We have 37 years to pump up Social Security before the well runs dry and privatization is not the only nor the best solution. So no matter what the administration tells you in coming months or what scarifying language they use to spin their position, keep those three pieces of information in mind.

Some Amazing Social Security Facts

  • 96 percent of American workers pay Social Security taxes and are entitled to collect benefits.
  • Today, more than 47 million American receive checks from the Social Security system.
  • The average monthly payment is a modest $895.
  • Social Security constitutes more than half the income of nearly two-thirds of retired Americans.
  • More than one-third (almost 17 million) of Social Security beneficiaries are not retired workers. They are disabled workers (5 million); spouses and children of retired and disabled workers (5 million); and spouses and children of deceased workers (7 million).
  • Social Security is more than half of the income of nearly two-thirds of retired Americans.
  • For 20 percent of retired Americans, Social Security is their only income.

What an extraordinary safety net President Roosevelt created. Had he done nothing else in his tenure, this should be enough to maintain his place in the small pantheon of great leaders for centuries to come. All we have to do to continue his good work is adjust the program a little to account for changing demographics as our population ages. And the solution, while it needs careful exploration and consideration, is as simple as the problem: find an equitable way to increase contributions to Social Security so those who become eligible after 2042, will be protected.

There are many ways this can be done and there is no dearth of ideas. Crabby will begin today with the president’s plan.

The President’s Solution
It is the responsibility of President Bush, in the new year, to present his proposal to Congress where it will be debated. So far, the White House has neither announced nor leaked much information beyond the president’s adamant statement that he will not consider raising Social Security taxes.

What is known is that in December 2001, a bipartisan Commission on Social Security, convened by Mr. Bush and sometimes referred to as the Moynihan Commission, delivered to the president a report [pdf] with its recommendations to “reform and strengthen” Social Security. There were three models, but no expert has taken seriously any but number two. It is this one that so far is being bandied about by supporters of privatization as the framework for Mr. Bush's proposal. Here are the basic provisions:

  • Younger workers could voluntarily invest two to four percent of their Social Security payroll tax, up to $1,000 annually, in a personal account.
  • In retirement, workers’ Social Security benefits would be reduced by workers’ contributions to their personal accounts.
  • The plan would set a minimum benefit for minimum-wage workers who had worked for 30 years at 120 percent of the poverty line.
  • The index for increases in the Social Security benefit portion would be indexed, beginning in 2009, to price inflation instead of wage growth as it is now.

Because Social Security would lose the two or four percent of contribution diverted to private accounts, the Commission noted that money would need to be borrowed to keep the Trust Fund solvent, and that is the reason for the estimate of one to two trillion dollars needed in transition funds if privatization is adopted. In regard to this, Crabby would like to remind you that everything the government does always costs more than the original estimate.

The Commission, blaming the short time available to them, had no useful recommendations for inclusion of the Social Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). [See Crabby’s Social Security backgrounder, Part 2.] It is unacceptable to do anything that shortchanges these programs and no privatization legislation should be allowed to ignore them or reduce their benefits which as they stand now, are minimal by anyone's estimation.

That's as much as anyone knows for certain, so far, about the president's basic idea for privatization. Next time, Crabby will tell you how opponents view this proposal and following that, she will outline other ideas being suggested to ensure Social Security meets its future obligations.

Privatization: Recent Developments
In the past week, a number of Democrats, and some Republicans too, have been voicing reservations about privatization as a solution to the Social Security problem.

Meanwhile, President Bush held a year-end press conference on Monday wherein reporters asked four or five questions about Social Security. In his first answer, the president seemed to be backing away from his hitherto insistence on Social Security “reform” as his top priority:

“First of all, let me put the Social Security issue in proper perspective. It is a very important issue, but it's not the only issue, very important issue we'll be dealing with.”

Perhaps sensing that it will be a harder battle than he once thought, the president backpedaled further by preparing to lay the onus on Congress if privatization is rejected:

“I don't get to write the law. I will propose a solution at the appropriate time, but the law will be written in the halls of Congress.”

Although his rhetoric was softened from his past relentless scare tactics, the president reiterated the need to fix Social Security - about which he is correct - although he seems to believe no one else knows this:

“I think it's important for me to continue to work with members of both parties to explain the problem. Because if people don't think there's a problem, we can talk about this issue until we're blue in the face, and nothing will get done…for a period of time, we're going to have to explain to members of Congress that crisis is here.”

And in regard to private investment accounts, he seems to have forgotten that the United States has lived through a terrible, decade-long Depression and several bad recessions:

“And the younger worker would gain a rate of return which would be more substantial than the rate of return of the money now being earned in the Social Security trust.”

That is simply not predictable. Even a president of the United States cannot tell the future and Crabby will soon show you how disastrous privatization could be.

...to be continued...

Social Security Privatization Series Index


Crabby Old Lady is indebted to Greg Anrig and Bernard Wasow of The Century Foundation for their extraordinarily clear explanation of the privatization issue from the opposition point of view, and she encourages readers to bookmark that link to the Foundation’s website for use during the debate. In the interest of fairness, extensive arguments in support of privatization can be found at The Cato Institute and The Heritage Foundation.


Aunt Edith

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Aunt Edith 1914

[circa 1914] Out of “show business” now, Aunt Edith (on the right) landed in Portland, Oregon, where she took an office job. In an era when women, in general, did not work outside the home and if they did, had no career choices beyond secretary, nurse or teacher, Aunt Edith not only joined the all-male business world, she became a successful executive.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
bytefactory @ 2003-08-23 said:
What a rebel that Aunt Edith. It seems that she was quite an inspiration to you, Ronni.

airchild @ 2003-08-25 said:
Your Aunt Edith was a strong woman, very admirable!


Give Nature Just Enough

Friday, 17 December, marked the last broadcast of Now with Bill Moyers, who has retired after 33 years in broadcasting at CBS News and PBS. I intended, today, to write about an interesting and important reason he gave for leaving, at age 70, full-time work – and I will get to it below – but in tracking down a link for the story, I was startled at the remarkable amount of vitriol I ran across aimed at Mr. Moyers.

A major point of contention seems to be a quote Mr. Moyers gave AP writer, Frazier Moore, about his final broadcast. In a story widely posted around the web, he told the writer:

"I'm going out telling the story that I think is the biggest story of our time: how the right-wing media has become a partisan propaganda arm of the Republican National Committee," says Moyers. "We have an ideological press that's interested in the election of Republicans, and a mainstream press that's interested in the bottom line. Therefore, we don't have a vigilant, independent press whose interest is the American people."

An opinion, to be sure, though no more than what any citizen is guaranteed by the Constitution. What caught my attention is how widespread is the malice in response to it – and to Moyers personally – from professional pundits, bloggers and commenters:

“…a charlatan as a journalist and a preacher…”

“Goodbye and good riddance…whatever it takes to get these old pinkos out of media.”

“…good-for-nothing, slimebag leftist.”

“…utterly contemptible.”

“…another multi-culturalist socialist.”

“…a cretin.”

“I’ve always hated that f’ing guy.”

“…he hates America.”

“…worthless, self-important, lying bastard.”

"I have heard nothing out of his mouth that helped or changed my life."

These crude characterizations are about the man who brought us such extraordinarily thoughtful television series as The Power of Myths with Joseph Campbell; A World of Ideas; Genesis: A Living Conversation; Healing and the Mind, to name only a few. No one is required to agree with Bill Moyers, but no thinking person can deny his intelligence, curiosity and humanity.

What Crabby Old Lady would ask, if she were here, is: Are people such as these allowed to vote?

Now to the original point of this post:

In a print interview with David Bianculli leading up to the occasion of his retirement, Bill Moyers said he is leaving as a result of older people he had been interviewing, including the actor Hal Holbrook who is 79:

“Holbrook talked about sailing solo across the Pacific when he was younger and learning that to survive, ‘You have to give to nature just enough to stay upright.’ The lesson Moyers took from those conversations: bend a bit, slow down, and see where the winds of life blow you next.”
- New York Daily News, 16 December 2004

I once knew a man who had been a professional French chef, was widely and intelligently read, also knowledgeable and astute as to world politics and an expert on classical music. I asked him, one time, what there was he still wanted to learn. So much, he said, but he was saving for his old age the two most complex subjects he knew of: pastry cooking and understanding Wagner.

Life and learning does not end in old age. Bill Moyers point, though more eloquently put, is similar to mine from a few days ago: that as the body inevitably wears out a bit and slows down, it is as wise a decision to “give nature just enough” as it is to give the winds of life the time to blow you in new directions.


Can't Remember? Forget About It

category_bug_journal2.gif On 22 February 2001, Barbra Streisand was feted by the American Film Institute (AFI) with its Life Achievement Award. The expected bevy of stars, producers, directors and friends were on hand to offer their tributes and reminiscences of the lady’s career. When it came Jack Nicholson’s turn at the podium, he said he was puzzled when the Institute asked him to participate because he “didn’t remember being in a Streisand picture.”

Given the stature of Ms. Streisand in the universe of movie stars, that revelation was undoubtedly delivered as an ironic joke. But it is not inconceivable that it was also true. As my friend Richard, a couple of days ago, related this incident to me, I was struck by the impossibility, in the fullness of our lives, of recalling even some important events.

Mr. Nicholson appeared in the Streisand-starring film, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, in 1970. Prior to that, he had made 18 movies and he has made 39 more since then. Also, in the same year as “Clear Day,” he was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Five Easy Pieces. So with the hoo-hah attendant to such a successful movie and the many successes and awards in subsequent years, he can be forgiven, certainly, if his one appearance in a lesser role with Ms. Streisand had slipped his mind.

How much of our lives, I wonder, disappears into the mists of the past never to be regained? There is so damned much to remember in even a simple life.

In an interesting piece on aging and memory, Laura Common reports that we each have a 100 billion neurons (brain cells) that collectively contain trillions of connectors.

“Even one neuron,” she writes, “may store fragments of many memories, ready to be called up if a particular network of connections is activated. One scientist likens the remembering process to a switchboard of flashing, blinking signals sending and receiving messages.”
- 50Plus, June 2000

"Activated" is the key word in that quote and, it seems to me, activation is dependent on serendipity. When I was first sifting through boxes and envelopes of unorganized, old photographs to compile my Timeline (it begins here), I was astonished at the memories that came flooding back – places and people and events I hadn’t thought of, in some instances, since they happened. Without the photos to trigger the memories, it is doubtful I would have remembered them at all.

That quite naturally led to the question of what in my life I will never recall because there is nothing - no photo, letter or piece of memorabilia - to activate the memory.

Even with a trigger, memories are sometimes gone. It was in 1970 that my professional life took on enough complexity to require a daily calendar in which I also recorded my personal appointments. I have saved those calendar books and every few years I page through some of them.

Look here: three evenings a week for the better part of 1974, the name Robert is inscribed. Who could he be? If I was seeing him that frequently, I was undoubtedly sleeping with him, but he’s a blank to me now.

In the mid-eighties, I was having lunch regularly and the occasional dinner with someone named Moira. Huh? Nothing comes to mind in any manner about this woman.

What of ourselves do we lose by what we cannot remember? Or perhaps, in the case of painful memories that have drifted away by accident or design, what do we gain? For all we know, Jack Nicholson had preferred to forget his movie-making experience with Barbra Streisand, but chose to be a gentleman about her gala award event.

The title of Ms. Common’s excellent memory and aging article, which I unabashedly have stolen, wittily sums up the problem: Can’t Remember? Forget About It.


Great Aunt Edith

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[1911] Let's take a break from the rigid sequence of the timeline to look at a magnificent woman: my Great Aunt Edith. I wanted to grow up to be just like her and I’m still working on it. My father’s aunt (who raised Dad from age 10), was born in 1895. She left her Chicago home when she was 15 to join a touring dance company. It was a very suspect and risqué thing for a girl to do in those days.

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COMMENT FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
photokitchen @ 2003-08-22 said:
daisyjellybean would love this.


Ronni's Godfathers Lew and Henry

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[1946 and 1962] Lew, my mother’s best friend from high school, and Henry were lifelong companions who introduced me to such singers as Bessie Smith and Ruth Etting and taught me many secrets to throwing unforgettable parties.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
sckelly @ 2003-08-29 said:
What are the secrets?

Kayo @ 2003-09-11 said:
I want to hear about the parties!


Social Security – Part 3: The Trust Fund

A widely quoted 1994 survey reported that only 28 percent of adults under age 34 believed Social Security would still be around when they retire. 46 percent, in the same survey, said they believed in UFOs. Ever since then, that survey has been trotted out as proof, by those who support some kind of privatization program, that Social Security is bankrupt - as though public opinion were fact.

Among the arguments you will hear, in the coming months, for the need to divert some Social Security taxes into individual Wall Street accounts is that the Trust Fund, where the payroll taxes are deposited and from which benefits are paid, is a sham, nothing more than a shell game, an accounting trick, and that it is empty of funds.

Today, Crabby Old Lady will explain the Trust Fund.

History
The Trust Fund did not exist in the original, 1935 legislation creating Social Security. When President Roosevelt added the provision for it in 1939, he saw it as a guarantee:

“…so as to give the contributors a legal, moral and political right to collect their pensions…With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

Well, not so fast, Mr. Roosevelt. They may not have scrapped Social Security (yet), but our “damn politicians” in Washington have been dipping their fingers into the Trust Fund for years, to the tune of more than a trillion dollars.

What IS the Trust Fund Then?
For any privatization advocates of the wonky type reading this, Crabby is aware that the Social Security Trust Fund is not anything like private sector trust funds which hold varieties of financial assets. But it’s called the Trust Fund by convention anyway and Crabby will do the same.

Contributions to Social Security in excess of what are required to pay benefits are converted into Treasury bonds. These are IOUs from the Treasury Department which accumulate interest for which the Treasury issues more IOUs – the same bonds – to the Trust Fund. It is estimated there will be an excess accumulation of $1.7 trillion by the end of 2004.

In reality, no money changes hands between the Trust Fund and the Treasury. The government just goes ahead and spends the amount of the excess each year like any other money in the general revenue accounts. Think of it as borrowing from your kid’s piggy bank and leaving him a paper IOU.

So that means the privatization guys are right, doesn’t it? The Trust Fund piggy bank is empty.

Well, not really.

Those Treasury Bonds
Bonds are the government’s way of borrowing money – from individuals, from institutional investors, from foreign investors – private and governmental. And, in the case of the Trust Fund, from itself.

When Crabby Old Lady was an infant and toddler during War War II, in addition to pretty dresses and toys, she was given $25 U.S. bonds on her birthdays and at Christmas. They were special issues, called Victory Bonds then, to help finance the War, and movie stars toured America appearing at bond rallies to help increase sales.

Today, Treasury bonds with a face value of $1,000 are usually issued in 30-year maturities and pay interest twice a year.

Treasury bonds in various forms have been around for more than 200 years, and from the start, their credit ratings have been the highest of all debt instruments worldwide, the standard against which all other investments are judged. U.S. Treasuries are the ultimate safe investment and the U.S. government has never defaulted on a loan.

So when you hear from the privatization proponents that the Trust Fund is running on fumes, don’t believe it. The Social Security excess, currently at $1.7 trillion, is invested in the safest security on earth. Treasury bonds are the U.S. government’s solemn promise to repay its debt. And you trust the government, don’t you?

Here’s the Catch
What the president and his privatization supporters really mean when they say the Trust Fund is empty is that President Roosevelt’s “damn politicians” – the presidents, senators and representatives voters have sent to Washington - have spent the money needed to repay the loans which the Treasury bonds in the Trust Fund represent.

Let Crabby state that another way: the people elected to safeguard the future of all Americans through the brilliantly conceived, crown jewel of the New Deal, have stolen their old age fund and ignored the need to refill the piggy bank.

And guess who will be stuck with the bill? That’s right - one way or another, it will be you and Crabby Old Lady who will prevent the United States from defaulting on its Treasury bond debt to the Trust Fund.

Remember from previous installments of this series, that Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system, and ongoing contributions will meet benefits requirements until about 2018 when the Social Security Administration will begin dipping into the Trust Fund. That will continue until about 2042 when, without changes, the Trust Fund will be depleted and then-current contributions from workers will be enough to meet only about 75 percent of benefits payments.

So the president and his supporters are correct: Social Security needs fixing to fulfill its promise to provide a financial floor for all workers below which they cannot fall in retirement, and the sooner adjustments are made, the better.

It can be done without undue pain to taxpayers. Crabby just doesn’t believe gambling on the stock market (which is the definition of privatization) is the way to go. She will tell you why and what other proposals there are in future postings.


Privatization: Recent Developments
On Wednesday and Thursday this week, President Bush held an economic summit in Washington wherein Social Security was the major agenda item. The administration officials, congress people and economists in attendance are already on board with the president's plan and nothing of substance was discussed.

Until the president is inaugurated for his second term in January, opposing sides in the privatization battle will be jockeying for position, each placing their own spin in the issue. Here is The Hill's take on privatization from its daily email today:

Do not expect the Bush administration to be able to push its Social Security reform through Congress next year. Public opinion is not in favor of privatizing parts of the program and, unlike in its efforts to reform Medicare, the GOP will not be able to convince AARP to join its effort.

Democrats will vehemently oppose any changes to Social Security that they perceive as privatizing the program, hoping to gain some much-needed political capital from standing up to Bush on an issue on which public opinion is on their side.

The growing deficit and Bush’s pledge to cut it in half will also contribute to the administration not be being able to revamp the program.

…to be continued…

Social Security Privatization Series Index


Remembrance of Those Past

category_bug_journal2.gif On the anniversary of the death of a loved one, it is a tradition of the Jewish faith to light a yahrzeit candle which burns for 24 hours. By no stretch of anyone’s imagination am I a religious Jew, but this remembrance I keep without fail.

The relationships for which yahrzeit candles are lit are usually those for whom Kaddish (prayer for the dead) is said: parents, grandparents, spouse, aunts and uncles, siblings and children. But I expand it to include friends for in a family as small as mine – seven at its largest and now two of us – I have made family of my friends.

Although some in my blood family have lived into their ninth and tenth decades, through the whims of fate, too many friends died young – in their twenties, thirties and forties – and I want not to forget them. For the day during which the yahrzeit candle burns, that loved one comes to mind each time the flame catches my eye. And then I am happy.

Through some quirk of mind for which I have no explanation, thinking about someone dead is, for me, like being with them. They aren’t really gone; we just haven’t visited for awhile. I recall times spent together and the feelings of those moments return as strongly as when the party, dinner or conversation took place. Sometimes I shuffle through old letters and postcards they sent and in their written words, their voices come back to me as true as when they lived. We are together again.

Goblet
Grocery stores and supermarkets sell special yahrzeit candles, but I prefer a 24-hour votive candle in this ruby goblet. Only two remain now – one for my brother and one for me – from a set of eight my mother used for candles on special occasions. They were a gift to her before I was born and so I have no memory of life without them, and in that sense they are eternal to me, as is my memory of friends and small family.

There is a joke-y adage that if you live long enough, all your friends die, and so it is. I’ve reached that age now when funerals come ‘round more frequently and the list of days for which a yahrzeit candle is in order grows longer.

The yahrzeit is supposed to be a solemn anniversary, but I repeat this ritual for each loved one each year with cheerfulness and joy in our renewed closeness that day.

It is for us, the living, to bear witness for the dead, that they lived as we still do and walked among us until called to the unknowable, as we too shall one day be called.


Little Brother Paul

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[circa 1953] When my brother began reading and writing backwards – god for dog, luap for paul - teachers said he was slow. Mom and Dad refused to accept this and it became my task each evening to cram the English language into Paul with flashcards. Although our method is undoubtedly not acceptable to dyslexia experts today, he grew up to be a writer and newspaper editor, so I guess it worked just fine.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
closerlook @ 2003-08-22 said:
I just found your site today, and I am enthralled. Wonderful.

airchild @ 2003-08-22 said:
Great work you have done... a miracle happened! Nice log you have here.


Sensing Some Loss

category_bug_journal2.gif The American actress, Bette Davis, famously said that “old age ain’t for sissies” and a big reason, certainly, for everyone’s considerable fear of aging is the physical decline we see in those who are older that we are.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that all my five senses aren’t quite what they once were. So far, at 63, the changes are only mildly annoying, easily adapted to and attributable not to disease, but aging - which is (not wanting to buy trouble) what I was interested in knowing. So I took a little tour around the Web and what I found is pretty much as expected.

SIGHT
The experts agree that decline in vision and hearing are the most dramatic, and they offer some fascinating random insights:

“The pupil size decreases by 60 years old to one-third of the size it was at age 20.”

“For people of all ages, it is harder to tell blues and greens from each other than to tell apart reds and yellows. This becomes more pronounced with aging.”

“Almost everyone older than 55 needs glasses at least part of the time. However, the amount of change is not universal.”

“Some aging-related changes can begin as early as your 30s.”

Mine began at age 12 when I first needed glasses to see the blackboard at school. I switched to contact lenses five years later and my eye doctor recently told me that he has contact lens patients in their 90s. To dispense with reading glasses I wear one lens for distance and one for close-up, and I’m betting, for now, that will work until I’m dead.

HEARING
The experts say hearing grows less sharp as early as age 50 and is inevitable for most everyone, with a particular loss of the ability to hear high-frequency sounds. I can’t say if that’s happened to me. It’s sort of like memory; since I'm not a musician with a finely trained ear, how would I know?

I couldn’t find much information on my problem which is that it has become, in the past ten years or so, difficult to hear someone speaking near me when there is a lot of background noise. I never liked noisy places anyway, so it doesn’t put much of a crimp in my life.

TASTE AND SMELL
These two senses go together because, although distinct, they work in tandem too and along with everything else, they decline with age. Here are some more nifty facts:

“Taste buds can recognize some 10,000 different flavors. Attached to each taste bud are flavor-receiving cells that every 10 days are replaced with fresh new cells.”

“We all have approximately 9,000 taste buds…The number of taste buds decreases beginning at about 40 to 50 years old on women and 50 to 60 years old in men.”

“…the keenness of smell diminishes faster with age than does the keenness of taste…In the average octogenarian, the sense of smell is half as sharp as it was during his or her youth.”

My expansive waistline is proof that my taste remains strong. I almost always eat not from hunger, but pleasure in flavors and textures. Diminished ability to smell, however, is the most irritating loss for me; it’s all but gone - some of it, undoubtedly, related to the years I smoked cigarettes. Garlic, fortunately, remains strong and oddly, I can smell a freshly cut cantaloupe from 10 yards away. I’ve given up perfume and cologne because I can no longer tell how much is too much.

TOUCH
Skin, they say, loses some ability to sense pain, pressure and vibration with age. “There can be a change in temperature sensitivity too,” and for this I am grateful. Until recent years, many a foul-mouthed muttering could be heard from me against the gods of winter wind and cold. Now I feel them less and have gained a larger appreciation of the wonderland snowstorms create, although I suspect, in my case, it has more to do with at last understanding the wisdom of clothing layers and hats over fashion.

So far, I have not needed any Bette Davis-style courage to deal with the physical changes that have come along which I seem naturally to accept without the whining at fate I was prone to in youth.

Everything wears out and unless you are among those who believe modern science (or quackery) will miraculously restore your youthful being while granting you another 50 or 100 years of life, it’s best to adapt and get on with living.

Further Reading
Aging Changes in Senses
How the Five Sense Change with Age
Age-Related Changes in the Senses


Grumpy Old Men and Crabby Old Ladies

Crabby Old Lady is miffed. Next week, on 21 December, BBC2 will broadcast – in England - a comedy program titled Grumpy Old Women.

And Crabby was not invited to participate.

It’s enough to turn a Crabby Old Lady even more cantankerous, cranky and crotchety. She is feeling thoroughly dyspeptic and ill-humored and she has been irascible, irritable, peevish and surly ever since she discovered the existence of this show. She is deeply offended at not being included.

And, what were they thinking in regard to the title? Everyone knows old men may be grumpy, but old ladies are crabby. And do please note: we are ladies, not women. Crabby Old Lady has a ring to it. It rolls off the tongue with lyrical ease and sings of self-parody, irony and jest while leaving room for the significant and serious. "Grumpy old women" lands on the ear with a thud.

But then, BBC2 probably thought they had no choice. They are trying to capitalize on two seasons of a phenomenally successful four-episode/one-special series titled Grumpy Old Men wherein a bunch of not-so-old (35 to 54) celebrities bemoan the state of the world around them. In naming the spinoff, the producers – not a group that is widely known to respect the audience - undoubtedly believed viewers are too dumb to make the connection between the phrases grumpy old men and crabby old ladies.

Or, they were being excessively literal and too thick to see the more elegant symmetry between the male grumpy and female crabby.

Because she has never seen them, Crabby cannot critique the programs, but the men, it seems, take on such topics as cell phones, body piercing, designer clothing labels that spell the F-word wrong and one of Crabby Old Lady’s favorite rants, telephone menus.

Most intriguing to Crabby, however, is a short clip from one of the Grumpy Old Men 2003 programs speculating that grumpiness is bred in the bones:

“I’ve been grumpy since the age of ten,” says Sir Bob Geldoff, “so it wasn’t a generational shift. I never expect anything to get better. I just am grumpy.”

“I didn’t turn into, at the age of 30, a grumpy old man,” say Rory McGrath. “I was a grumpy teenager as well.”

And a Brit television star whom Crabby can’t identify is downright churlish about his fans. “I’m a bit of a grumpy old bugger, really. And sometimes it is really difficult to be nice when people come up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve seen you on the telly. How’s your dog?’ And you’re thinking, ‘Actually, I just want to go empty the bloody dust bins now.’”

Crabby feels a kinship with these guys who wear their grumpiness proudly for as Geldoff says, “If you aren’t grumpy, that means you are content with the world. And who could be that?”

If you want to see malcontent, just ask Crabby about being overlooked especially when BBC2 - program title notwithstanding - is encroaching on her territory. Elliot Gould was the token Yank for the men and he’s hardly famous at all anymore. Surely Crabby Old Lady could have been the token lady Yank.


Ronni Age 7

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[5 October 1948] Two months after this photo was taken, Mommy and Daddy told me they were getting divorced. Secretly, I was happy because life could return to less fearful times with just Mommy and me and now, my baby brother. But I cried at the news because I thought it was wrong to feel that way about Daddy. So successful was my acting that – to my utter disappointment - Mommy and Daddy stayed together for another eight years.

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COMMENT FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
polaroid_billy @ 2003-08-21 said:
oh ronni, you can no more blame yourself for them divorcing than you can for them staying together. as children we always take the blame upon ourselves for everything that happens to us or around us. how are you today? thanks for sharing your private past with me.

cinefilo @ 2003-08-21 said:
Great picture, I liked all. Congratulations!

ribena @ 2003-08-21 said:
my thanks to Aaron, clarsen, hop, bytefactory and fredshead. and much more, of course, to you. "The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient - at others, so bewildered and so weak - and at others again so tyrannic, so beyond control." - Jane Austen, Mansfield Park