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News Headaches

Maybe it’s because she’s getting older or maybe not, but Crabby Old Lady is getting a much larger percentage of her daily news these days from the Web rather than from radio and television. It’s not that it’s easier or better necessarily, but at least it doesn’t hurt.

In traditional broadcast media, the speed of delivery has come, lately, to rival that of old-time auctioneers like this one - the voice of Tom Cassidy, stolen from Sunspot Productions:

Okay, Crabby admits that's exaggerated a bit, but the rat-a-tat-tat delivery of news is a fact, and coupled with the intent of program hosts and anchors to convince Crabby that the hacking of Paris Hilton’s telephone book is a security breach meriting the shutdown of airports and borders, trying to find out what’s happened in the world is akin to physical assault.

News today sounds like semi-automatic handgun fire. Stories have been shortened to the length of bullet points and verbs have been caught in the cross-fire: “Queens building collapse; two dead. Japan in space. Key insurgent arrest. Capture in Kansas. Suicide bomb in Tel Aviv. Stay tuned.” After a barrage of 20 rapid-fire commercials followed by a fusillade of lottery numbers – 14, 27, 44, 45, 51, 62 – Crabby needs emergency medical care.

If Crabby were not so agitated and simultaneously exhausted from this verbal onslaught, she would feel as she does when the color-coded terror alert is raised: Yeah? And what should she do about it? The media culture of fear has us in its clutches and according to all-so-called-news-all-the-time, the grim reaper is gaining on us.

There was a time when news editors and anchors believed it was their job to actually edit the news into a hierarchy of importance. While the rest of us were manufacturing widgets and generally keeping the business of America afloat, they could be trusted to wade through the multitude of daily events and sort the dreck from the need-to-know. And – heaven forfend, these days - they even put it in context for us. Huntley-Brinkley come to mind along with Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Linda Ellerbee. (You young ‘uns among us will have to look them up for yourselves.)

This post came to mind when Crabby had breakfast on Saturday with her friend, Caroline – much younger, at age 40, than Crabby – who declared that television news, with its hammering speed and volume, made her feel bad all the time, and she’s given it up. She is undoubtedly not alone and Crabby, a news junkie by anyone’s definition, hadn’t realized until Caroline brought it up how frequently she turns off the radio as soon as she has determined if she needs an umbrella.

Perhaps that is what the powers that be are counting on. Crabby Old Lady has little truck with conspiracy theorists, but adding journalists who are paid to shill for the government’s point of view and fake reporters in the White House to the maximum-speed noise and debasement of news to entertainment – well, even Crabby wonders: is all this together a plot to keep everyone so disoriented and distracted from what's really going on that our freedoms will be ripped out from under us before we notice?

Crabby’s going to go take an aspirin now and check with the thought police on that question (online) in the morning.


Harry’s Suicide Note

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Harry's Note

[1972] The first man I dated for more than one dinner after my divorce was a long-time, full-time, anti-war activist who seemed to take in his own gut every bullet and every burst of napalm fired in Vietnam. He despaired of an end to the killing and we could not save him from his despair. Harry is among the unsung dead of the Vietnam War. I wonder how many others there are.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
polaroid_billy @ 2003-09-13 said:
Harry, I think I understand how you felt. Not as deeply or all consuming, but somehow...I don`t know. Life is strange and sad and funny and strange.

yolima @ 2003-09-14 said:
Such a poignant note. And how sad he could not go on living....

av_producer @ 2003-09-14 said:
So sad.

setya @ 2003-09-14 said:
:(

Kelly @ 2003-09-15 said:
Ronni, I just discovered your brave and wonderful flog an hour ago, and have read the whole thing from start to the present. Your selection of images and your words are most compelling, and I’m looking forward to future installments.


Ronni at Her Job

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053ronni_cavett

[1972] My new job with The Dick Cavett Show at ABC-TV paid about 15 percent of the total income I had been accustomed to with Alex, and when publicists I knew telephoned - the same ones who a few months earlier had wooed me with expensive meals and private movie screenings - I had to tell them I was not authorized to make booking decisions, that I was a production assistant and I would take a message for the producers.

I recommend this exercise to anyone who ever might think he or she is hot stuff. It builds character.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
tatefox @ 2003-09-13 said:
Ronni, This is a beautiful recollection. Thanks for the delight.

yolima @ 2003-09-13 18:06 said:
This shot reminds me of my time at the Associated Press in New York, about 10 years later. Same chairs, file cabinets and typewriters. You were a brave girl!

ronni @ 2003-09-14 said:
I was wondering if anyone would notice that typewriter, Yolima. And we thought they were oh so modern and high-tech then.


Social Security – Part 13: The Problem with Raising Retirement Age

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Norm Geras has been publishing a normblog profile every Friday for 75 weeks now - a Q&A with bloggers of an astonishingly wide array of interests and expertise. Today, he has profiled Crabby Old Lady’s alter ego, Ronni Bennett.]

There has been a relative lull in the Social Security privatization debate this week while President Bush has been making nice with national leaders in Europe.

The New York Times, in an editorial, explained why Bush’s claim that privatization will allow workers to bequeath their private accounts to their heirs doesn’t hold water. Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post took journalists to task for not doing the math in their reporting on Social Security. And some labor unions sent letters of protest to Wall Street firms that have been lobbying for privatization.

A conservative group, USA Next, attacked AARP in an internet advertisement for their opposition to privatization by suggesting AARP supports gay marriage. (It takes no position either way.) More attacks, via television ads, are planned by the group which says it has amassed $10 million for the purpose so far, and it has hired Chris LaCivita who was associated with the Swift Boat Veterans during last year's presidential election campaign. Expect things to get nasty in the coming weeks.

What Crabby Old Lady finds missing in the jockeying for position on the issue, is any discussion about what can and should be done to ensure that benefits will not need to be cut 30 or 40 years down the road. There are a number of generally painless, minor tweaks to the Social Security system that can do this. One is raising the age at which full benefits are paid.

Many opponents of Social Security privatization have suggested this. Because we are all living longer, healthier lives, Crabby thinks this is an excellent idea to add to the mix to help maintain Social Security’s benefit levels into the future. In this way, more people would contribute longer to the plan, building up reserves.

There is, however, a catch – a big one - to this idea:

For it to work, corporate America must allow older people to continue working, and they are not much inclined to do so. Age discrimination in the workplace is so widespread that it is just a fact of life for older workers, and every year, millions of them become road kill, their livelihoods dead and gone in their prime and their valuable skills squandered to the notion that they become dinosaurs at age 50 and even younger.

There are laws against age discrimination which employers and the recruiting industry routinely skirt, circumvent and ignore. Age discrimination is as much a civil rights crime as race and gender discrimination, yet less than third of legal actions brought against employers for it succeed. Many such cases are settled out of court with findings sealed so that no one ever knows the crimes corporations have admitted to.

In addition, many age discrimination legal complaints are never brought against employers because the system works against employees and for corporations. A worker who believes his firing is due to age discrimination must pay an attorney $400 or more an hour to pursue the case, while corporations sit back and let their staff counsel stretch out the pre-court process with briefs, depositions and other delaying tactics until the plaintiff is bankrupt. Therefore, few pursue it.

So as much as Crabby Old Lady approves the idea of raising the retirement age as one tool to help protect the future of Social Security, it is not a feasible option until federal and state governments, the courts and the culture at large take age discrimination as seriously as they took on civil rights and women’s rights in the 1960s. Older people are the last acceptable prejudice and it must end.


The Youth of Age

There was a famous slogan, during the 1960’s anti-Vietnam War/hippie/yippie era, a mantra of the youthful political left: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” It was a catchy line, meant to warn of the fuddyduddyness, if not duplicity, of the older generations then in charge of the world.

A corollary popular in private conversation was, “I’m not ever going to grow up,” always said with self-satisfied pride and wide-eyed anticipation of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll into an infinite future.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. The responsibilities of marriage, family, careers and mortgages got in the way and most of those 20- and 30-something flower children and political activists turned out to be a whole lot like the older folks they so underrated.

Nowadays, many of those kids – grown up into their 50s and 60s and older - are still proclaiming their youthfulness. “I’m 70 years young,” they say. Or, “I’m in better shape than when I was 25.” Reading profiles at online dating services for older people is a hoot. Without fail, men and women alike insist they look younger than they are. “I’m 62,” they write (having undoubtedly shaved a few years to arrive at that number), “but don’t look my age.” The accompanying photos leave one to question the state of their vision.

The yearning underlying those statements, to remain young or at least to appear to be younger, is understandable in a culture awash in youth worship and ageism, but it makes those people look foolish, and I feel the same kind of embarrassment for them that a balding man’s comb-over provokes. One of the things Hugh Downs said in this regard, in his TGB Interview, struck me as irrefutably right and so:

“I have really come to embrace the idea that it is beautiful that young people get older and old people get older. This is the wheel of life and if you get hung up on the idea of staying young, you are doomed to disappointment.”

In his column this week, Donald M. Murray, after lovingly lamenting the rigid propriety by which his father lived, identified the kind of youth in age we should all aspire to:

“I have the freedom to construct still another new life in my 80s. I can study modern art and attempt it myself, read what I want, listen to new music - jazz and classical - until I find the music in the unfamiliar.

“I have the freedom to attempt what I want to and the freedom to fail, the great gift of old age. We know that failure is not the end but the beginning.

“I sit at my drawing table to discover what my failures will reveal, where the uninstructed line will lead me, a boy at 80 enjoying the childhood my father never had.”

- Boston Globe, 22 February 2005

We were wrong in the ‘60s about people over 30. And we are still wrong about them. It is up to us, the older generations, to set it right by refusing the false and foolish cultural imperative to deny our age and to put our collective experience and wisdom to the best use possible.


Ronni in New York City

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052ronni1972

[April 1972] By early 1972, I had a job and a two-room, tenement apartment in a Manhattan neighborhood later to be known as SoHo.

Stoop sitting one afternoon, I saw a teenage boy in the play yard down the block stab another. Summoned in some mysterious manner with no fuss or noise, neighbors quickly flowed from their doors to surround the boys. Within five minutes, two large black cars pulled up, the injured (or dead?) boy was placed in one, two men hustled the other into the second car and both drove away.

No police ever came and though I searched, I never found a newspaper account. There are eight million stories in the naked city…

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
zinetv @ 2003-09-12 said:
A few years ago I listened to a police scanner one afternoon and heard all manner of crimes in progress and just committed. Not one of them made the newspapers. Back in ’72, people relied more on the newspapers. . . makes you wonder. By the way you look much happier in this photo than in the previous two.

av_producer @ 2003-09-13 said:
Interesting. Do you remember the GAA (Gay Activist Alliance) Firehouse? For some reason I remember that being established as the beginning of the transition to SOHO. Now if you lived east of Broadway and south of Houston and west of 6th Avenue, there still existed a pretty tight Italian neighborhood that would have taken care of its own and perhaps that is what you had seen.

Of the notable crimes in my memory was the killing of a pedestrian outside of the Mills Hotel on Bleecker St (above the Village Gate). It was a flop house/SRO that would have housed what we called "drunks" and "bums". One of the residents threw a table (I think) out a window and killed the passer-by below. The community was outraged. The hotel was closed and a co-op was put in its place. Gentrification, the growth of SoHo, the NYU land grab would begin. It would kill that neighborhood as a neighborhood.

ronni @ 2003-09-13 said:
av - I don`t remember the firehouse and wish I did. In 1972, the only trendy establishment yet in SoHo was The Spring Street Bar and I’d always thought of it as the harbinger of the death of that old Italian neighborhood. I didn’t know the Mills Hotel story until now.

airchild @ 2003-09-13 said:
Every photo you post is filled with history, It’s great to read about the New York City before I lived there for a brief couple of years.

yolima @ 2003-09-13 said:
1972, that was when I was in NYC for the first time. I remember SoHo in the "olden days." Do you rememeber that store "Paracelsus" on West Broadway. Wild and colorful clothes. One of the first shops there.

roomwithaview @ 2003-09-14 said:
You`re looking good here Ronni!


Hugh Downs - Part 2

Hugh DownsCategory_bug_interview Nobody ever forgets their first time, and I am proud that Hugh Downs, one of the most prolific and distinguished news reporters and anchors in the history of U.S. television, agreed to be the first of this new series, The TGB Interview.

I was a producer at 20/20 during some of the years Mr. Downs co-anchored that television news program. Although we never reported a story together, I knew him then to be a man of wide experience, knowledge and curiosity who was kind, always gracious - and wise. He still is.

Yesterday, he spoke about what growing older is really like for him, what has surprised him about it, how his life has changed as he ages and how it has not. Today, we continue...

RONNI BENNETT: In some of your speaking engagements, you talk of “successful aging.” Can you give an example or two of successful versus unsuccessful aging?

HUGH DOWNS: I think unsuccessful aging happens in two ways: bad luck, where a person has the misfortune to grow old without maturing (in the way a piece of fruit can start to rot without ripening) and/or develop the improper attitude that age is something to be regarded with dread, in which case it can become dreadful.

I have really come to embrace the idea that it is beautiful that young people get older and old people get older. This is the wheel of life and if you get hung up on the idea of staying young, you are doomed to disappointment. Accepting age and mortality is a much more comfortable way to fit into life.

RB: Ageism is a serious problem that diminishes old people in the eyes of everyone and contributes to the youth worship of our culture. What personal encounters have you had with ageism?

HD: The Pepsi Generation mentality and the accent on youth would be funny if they weren’t so sad. In answer to your question, I have had almost no encounters with ageism on a personal level. I am current as a pilot, and I have never been discriminated against, based on my age, in a way that thwarted anything I want to do.

Media RB: The frequently negative portrayal of old people in the movies and on television doesn’t help the cultural attitude toward aging and old people. Have you noticed any enlightenment in that area of the entertainment media?

HD: There’s very little enlightenment or progress in the way old people are depicted in media offerings. This is a mill that grinds exceeding slow. But I think it will show progress when we have begun to shift away from a consumer society to a service society. And this has to happen if we are to survive on the planet. But maybe not in my lifetime or the lifetime of my great grandson.

RB: Age discrimination in the workplace is the most pernicious aspect of ageism. Why do you think corporate America is so unwilling to employ older workers?

HD: There is tremendous waste of skill and wisdom in the refusal to give employment to older workers who want to work. Many factors contribute to this nonsense: younger workers can be had for less money. Older, more experienced people are not as easily dominated as the young, etc. And corporate America is not as concerned with fairness as it is with profits. This bottom line philosophy should be restrained by a countervailing social thrust toward more fairness - and this will require an improvement in our education systems.

RB: In April, you will be speaking at a national conference of business executives about recruiting and retaining older workers. What are the one or two most important things you will you tell them?

HD: I would hope to get across some success stories businesses have had in hiring older workers.

RB: It is almost impossible to prove age discrimination in court. Less than a third of such cases succeed. What, do you think, is the best way to ensure that older people are treated fairly in the workplace?

HD: A massive shift in attitudes toward aging is called for. We still tend to put decrepitude and impairment in the same basket with aging, and it should be the opposite.

The older a person is, the more of a triumph that person is against the forces that try to pull us down - in our cradles, in mid-life and in old age. We need to look at it that way, and then I think more fairness will arise automatically.

Workers RB: In this blog, I advocate strongly for mixed age workplaces. What is your experience in working with people much younger than you?

HD: America once had the ability to mix ages in work projects. When fiery young minds like Jefferson and Paine were forging the Declaration of Independence and things like the Federalist Papers, they showed a willingness to work with, and to learn from, a man over 80 at the time the Constitution was ratified - Ben Franklin. We sort of lost that in the ensuing decades, but I think it is coming back.

RB: You’ve led such a rich life with so many opportunities for adventure, study and knowledge. What stands out as memorable?

HD: Curiously, one of the most memorable things I can think of occurred in my twenties when I read about Stoicism. From it (the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and the Enchiridion of Epictetus) I found out, on a very personal and practical level, that it is not necessary to hate anyone (we only hate what we fear), and that in small steps it is possible to drop the burden of concern about things over which we have no control. This really pointed my life in a different direction.

RB: Walter Cronkite has famously wanted to travel to the moon. Do you have any such unfulfilled dreams?

HD Yes. I would like to go to the moon, but it is extreme unlikely that this will happen.

Several decades ago, I was the first to request going into space as a journalist. James Webb was NASA administrator at the time. I knew all this gang from broadcast segments, and each subsequent administrator had a letter reminding him of my request. This was before Cronkite requested it - that doesn’t mean I would have been chosen before Cronkite who was very good on space coverage.

There may one day be tourism to the moon, but unless I can stay in shape for another four or five decades, I won’t be going. Again, this is not a disappointment or frustration that in any way impinges on the quality of my life.

RB: You’ve been a news reporter and anchor, a game show host; you are an author, a composer and many other things too. What, if any, gives you the greater pleasure?

HD: My second greatest pleasure now, probably, is listening to music and studying the scores of great composers. I am increasingly fascinated by trying to plumb what motivated them - what led them to the kind of inspiration that resulted in a great symphony or piece of liturgical music.

RB: How have your pleasures changed over the years?

HD: I used to think of reading as the second most pleasurable. (The first, corny as it sounds, is love, in all its aspects and my good fortune in being married to a super girl.) But I read a little less voraciously and listen to more music.

RB: I didn't know you were a composer until I was researching this interview. What kind of music do you compose? What instrument(s) do you play? Would our readers know any of your work?

HD: I never really mastered an instrument. I studied violin as a very small boy (five) and displayed no particular talent. Later, a little piano and in my twenties studied classical guitar.

But I learned, when I was 13, how to write music by reading books on composition and orchestration, and I composed a musical setting to the Thirteenth Psalm, which sounded grand with a pipe organ and choir. (Probably not very good.)

Church In my twenties, I wrote some pieces, one for large orchestra - a prelude in the form of an elegy - which was published and is still performed by various orchestras. Then a piano piece in 1958, which is available on the Americus label, performed by John Bell Young (An Old Familiar Air Which Has Its Own Tuxedo and Will Travel).

It was a thrill for me to hear this played properly because I write above my ability to play. Then a few years ago I wrote the cello piece for Yo-Yo Ma, which he premiered with the St. Louis Symphony.

RB: Do you think about dying? Have you come to terms with the fact of dying one day?

HD: I have thought about dying since I was ten. These thoughts have evolved considerably and out of this speculation and much reading has come a theology of sorts.

Many religious people would conclude I am an atheist because I can’t accept dogma. I am not an atheist. I am somewhat in the position of Thomas Carlisle, who said, “There is one True Church, of which at present I am the only member.”

It may be a complicated thing to explain, but I have arrived at the conclusion that (a) the universe was brought into being by an uncreated creator and whatever you want to call this entity - Brahma, God, Allah, Jupiter, Zeus, Thor, Wotan or Aten - it is unavoidable.

Gratitude Dedicated atheists, who have been known to say such things as “The universe created itself,” are faced with simply giving God another name (the Universe). It falls back to the ultimate philosophic question: Why is there something instead of nothing?

And (b) This immense cosmic realm is not hostile to us. I often feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be part of this enormous cosmos, and I feel I will be taken care of. Also I now believe there is no such thing as subjective death. From several different angles that do no violence to reason, I have formed a religion of sorts, and I am still pursuing the paths that some great thinkers - theologians, philosophers and scientists - often share. (I may one day write about this at length.)

RB: Do you believe in an afterlife? If so, what is it like?

HD: Yes, but in a way that cannot be explained in less than 20,000 words.

RB: What do you believe is the purpose of life?

HD: Finding a “purpose” of life is a little like answering the question, “What is the universe for?” (Or Dr. Thomas’s, “What are Old People For?”) I think you can have a purpose or purposes in your individual life, but what the purpose of life itself is, certainly transcends my ability to comment on it.

RB: Is the world better or worse off since you were young?

HD: The world is about the same. In the long haul there is probably progress. We have done away with human sacrifice, with the divine right of kings, with slavery, with some of the discrimination against women, and even with dueling - replacing it with lawsuits.

But this is a long haul and there are nasty setbacks - like Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. And even today, cruelty and greed play a bigger part in human affairs than we would like.

Lesson RB: Whom do you admire in terms of how they have aged?

HD: I thought George Burns did a pretty good job of getting to 100. His humor, his reverence for the memory of his wife, and his general attitude were exemplary.

RB: What’s the best part of getting older? And the worst?

HD: The best part of getting older is the unending potential for increasing the knack of enjoying, of relishing, of reminiscing and loving that more than offsets the decline in physical strength, the curtailment of faculties and the necessity to face mortality.

The worst part is the sad social attitudes we have that result in making elders the target of discrimination and neglect.

RB: What is one lesson you have learned about getting older that you would like everyone to know and heed?

HD: The one lesson is that aging is, in itself, not bad. What we need to fight against is not aging, but injury, illness, loneliness and discrimination.

RB: What are your plans for the future?

HD: The future for me is to watch my great grandchildren grow, to write, to read, to enjoy music and art, to ride horses for as long as I can get aboard a horse, to fly my glider, to scuba dive, to travel, to lecture and to contemplate the web of life - of which I am privileged to be part.

A TGB Interview: Hugh Downs - Part 1


Hugh Downs - Part 1

Hugh DownsCategory_bug_interview Hugh Downs, whose professional career has spanned 60 years, is one of the most familiar figures in U.S. television.

He was born in 1921, and began his broadcast career at age 18 as a radio announcer in Lima, Ohio. He was the announcer on Caesar’s Hour, he helped launch The Tonight Show with Jack Paar in 1957, was the host of the game show Concentration, of the Today Show, and he co-hosted 20/20 for more than 20 years.

But that hardly scratches the surface. The numerous documentaries he has reported and anchored have won him many Emmys, most pertinently for this blog, in 1985, Growing Old in America. You can read more about Mr. Downs’ long and distinguished career here.

He is also a pilot, a published composer, a horseback rider, a well-known adventurer and the author of more than a dozen books - three of them on aging. His retirement, if you can call it that, has not slowed down Mr. Downs at all.

He lectures at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University, speaks frequently throughout the country on the subject of successful aging, is chair of the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, chair emeritus of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, chairs the Research and Education Committee of the Geriatrics Advisory Council of the Mount Sinai Medical Center and was recently appointed a commissioner of the Arizona Film Commission.

With his wife, Ruth, Mr. Downs lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona. They have two children, two grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and a third on the way.

Mr. Downs graciously agreed to inaugurate a new Time Goes By series, The TGB Interview, which we conducted by email.


RONNI BENNETT: When you were young, what did you think getting old would be like? How is it different from what you expected?

HUGH DOWNS: When I was young, I thought getting old would entail a lot of sorrow that I could no longer do things I thought were important to do. This proved to be false simply because of a change in what I thought was important to do.

Granted, there are things I don’t do because I couldn’t if I wanted to. But would you mourn, at age 15, the loss of something you could do at age two and can no longer do? When you are two you can sit down backward and stiff-legged on a cement floor. Anybody 15 or older would be sent to the hospital with back injuries if he tried this. Wouldn’t it be neurotic to moan about the loss of this ability?

Do I wish I could play football? Or abuse my system as I did in my early twenties with bad diet, smoking and drinking too much? No.

RB: Were you really born on Valentine’s Day?

HD: Yes. I'm told that the doctor present at my delivery urged my parents to name me Valentine and call me Val. I was so grateful to my parents for not doing this that I forgave them for giving me a first name that I thought they had made up. When I was in the second grade, another kid named Hugh enrolled and I thought, "Isn't it strange that they made up the same weird name for him?"

Abilitylove_1 RB: How are you most different from your youthful self?

HD: I am most different from my youthful days in being much more in control of my comfort and having a vastly increased capacity for the appreciation of everything. Esthetic experiences are much deeper, the intensity of interest in interesting things.

The ability to love has increased beyond anything I could have imagined. When you are young and in love, you love only up to the capacity you have. My wife Ruth said it best in an analogy she used when we did a joint lecture on marital longevity at Arizona State University: “Young love is like a blowtorch - very hot and dangerous if mishandled. You can be burned badly by it. Mature love is like a giant bonfire at which you can warm your life.”

RB: What’s the biggest surprise – positive or negative – you’ve encountered about getting older?

HD: The biggest surprise I found on getting to my mid-eighties is why I still feel like I am thirty-five. (Except for the fact that I am happier than when I was thirty-five.) This requires a good bit of luck, as well as careful habits. But if you run afoul of injury or disease, then it is not aging we are talking about.

I am fond of saying, “There is nothing wrong – ever - about getting older or being older. There is always something wrong with being injured or impaired or alone, sick, broke, or discriminated against.”

RB: What, if anything, do you miss about your youth?

HD: The things about my youth worth having, I still have. The other things - the uncertainties (the shrouded future at your arm), the fact you have aspirations instead of accomplishments, the failures in love, career, and imagination - these I can do without, even though they were part of the seasoning of youth.

Gettingolder RB: What of your beliefs have changed that you can attribute to getting older – and wiser?

HD: In my youth, I believed things about history – partly because I was implicitly taught this in school - that I had occasion to revise. Example: I believed that any people under a cruel monarch or a tyrannical dictator would simply rise up, mount a revolution, and establish a beautiful democracy.

Then I came to realize that it almost never happens that way. Only once, that I know of: the British colonists who defeated the forces of King George III and set up the United States did something virtually unique. In most other cases, the overthrow of an oppressive government results in the establishment of an equally tyrannical one. (The Russian czars, the ayatollahs of Iran, etc.)

RB: Do you have any age-related diseases or conditions? If so, how does it affect your daily life?

HD: “Age-related conditions” is a term widely used, even in the medical community, and I find it flawed. True, there are disorders and diseases one is more likely to run into in advanced age than in youth, but there is a fallacy in coupling impairment and decrepitude with aging.

I have come to believe that there is no disease or disorder that is age-specific. For instance: if all old people were deaf, or all deaf people were old, then you would have a disorder that is a true concomitant of age. But this is not the case. And it is not the case with anything, including Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. (I have interviewed more than half a dozen centenarians, whose minds are undamaged by injury or disease, and there are recorded cases of Jacob-Creutzfeld and Alzheimer’s in people in their forties.)

In answer to your question, I notice in recent years some changes that might be considered age-related. I have lost some muscle mass (don’t do as many pushups as in earlier years) and hearing tests show a decline in high frequencies. Sometimes if I’m not looking at someone’s lips I don’t distinguish between “fun” and “sun,” but I doubt I’ll need a hearing aid before I’m ninety.

And none of the 100-year-olds I interviewed were physically robust even though their mental condition was good. So you don’t plan to start a baseball career at age 45.

Disorders RB: Compare an average day today to an average day before you retired from 20/20 in 1999.

HD: The average day I had when I was under contract to a network (say for 20/20) was a lot more sensibly structured. I worked mostly on broadcast projects, had more time to take in movies and TV shows, and to read books at a faster rate than now.

Now, I have more irons in the fire than I probably should. Between university lectures and other speeches, keeping up my email correspondence, broadcast guest shots, board meetings (chair of the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, chair emeritus of U.S. Fund for UNICEF, being a commissioner on the Arizona Film Commission) trying to shoe-horn in some creative writing, discharging duties of being a founding member of MAN (Men’s Anti-violence Network), and trying to get enough sleep and exercise, my average day today is a lot more filled than I anticipated when I retired. (This is badly undercutting my goal of becoming the Playboy of the Western World.)

RB:You have written at least three books on aging and you serve on the boards of several important organizations that deal with aging. How did this become an issue you wanted to explore so deeply?

HD: I first become interested in aging when, at age 30, I was asked to host a prime time special on NBC Television. It was called How Long Can You Live, and was a geriatric medical special on the subject of human longevity - not life expectancy.

This so fascinated me that it planted a lifelong interest in the subject of aging. It was the beginning of my learning experience

RB: In a remarkable book titled What Are Old People For?, Dr. Michael H. Thomas, a geriatrician, writes: “Old age may be a time of loss and decline, but it is not only that. There is a countervailing and equally significant increase in the power of adaption.” What adaptions have you made to getting older?

HD: Dr. Thomas is a geriatrician worthy of the name. Since you ask about me and what adaptations I may have made to getting older, I must say that decline has not really bothered me. We decline, in a sense, from the moment we are conceived. (See answer to the first question.)

I do not ride motorcycles any more not because I can’t, but because I can easily trade this for activities I enjoy more. I don’t pursue girls anymore, because even if I could strive for “conquests” of this sort now, I have a girl and for 61 years that has been more important to me than the uncertainties and the vanity of the chase. So I haven’t really given up anything important. The opposite is the case.

Wheellife RB: Dr. Thomas, in refuting youth as the gold standard of life, also writes: “In fact, old age is different from adulthood, just as adulthood is different from childhood. Age changes us…could it be that an older person is something other than an adult in decline?” Can you, having recently turned 84, speak to some differences you’ve noticed between adulthood and old age?

HD: Now, at age 84, I realize that adulthood starts out as a mass of responsibilities and challenges, and one can be zestful to face these and address them energetically. But unless I had had the misfortune to fail at everything I was striving for, there is no excuse for me now to insist on prolonging the muscular pursuits of earlier adulthood.

I am still a member of the “young old” and will, in five years, join the “old old.” The differences in these ages have to include concern that I will encounter some injury or disorder that could impinge on the quality of my life. But again, we would then be talking about something other than aging.

RB: It is common for old people to say they don’t feel old and I think what they usually mean is they are not much different on the inside from when they were younger. Do you find that to be so?

HD: Yes.

The TGB Interview: Hugh Downs - Part 2


From Mom

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Moneysworth Brochure

[October 1971] Mom sent me this when I told her about having left Alex. I was an emotional wreck in need of some TLC and I don’t know if her purpose was misplaced humor or practicality. She had always handled her own problems alone, asked no help and made no complaint. Although I never became as accomplished at stoicism as Mom, I was raised to be so: “Learn to roll with the punches, Sarah Heartburn,” is what she had always said when I wailed.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-09-12 said:
Most interesting is that you kept it and seems fairly well preserved.

ronni @ 2003-09-12 said:
Isn`t that so, av. I was surprised when I came across it while plowing through boxes of old photos and stuff for this log. I may not have seen it since I first received it.

zinetv @ 2003-09-12 said:
I think we have gotten a little ahead of ourselves here. Last I read you left house, home and husband. You were traveling with 2 suitcases and $500. So how did your mother find out where you were?

ronni @ 2003-09-12 said:
I wrote her a letter with a return address where I stayed for a while.

shadowplay @ 2003-09-12 said:
i think your fotolog is great.....the images and words are ever so evocative....really nice......

roomwithaview @ 2003-09-14 said:
she’s riding the train called "freedom."


Ronni and Alex

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Alex and Ronni 1970

[October 1970] After six years, my marriage was in shreds. It had been a long time since Alex and I had talked about or done anything together unrelated to the radio show. Our life was the show, only the show and Alex’s celebrity, and I could no longer find me in the single-mindedness of our relationship. To save my soul, I walked out a year after these photos were taken with $500 in my pocket and two suitcases of clothes. I had left my job, my husband and my home, and I had no idea where I would live or what I would do when the money ran out.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
ribena @ 2003-09-11 said:
powerfully told

zinetv @ 2003-09-11 said:
From looking at the thumbnail, the substance of the caption is evident; powerful choice and juxtaposition of images. The previous radio-daze photos really illustrates the heady frictionless moments that happen at least once lifetime. And you know it came to end when you see these two pictures. So like really real life soap. I eager look forward to the next pictures.


Social Security - Part 12: The Risk

Back in the late 1990s, during the internet bubble, Crabby Old Lady’s 20-something colleagues were all invested in Wall Street. Over lunch and after-work conviviality, they spoke of buying and selling online, of their personal trading accounts, of their gains - which were sometimes eye-popping - and they exhorted Crabby to join the game.

“Ever heard of the Wall Street crash in 1929?” Crabby asked the group. A nod or two around the table. “How about the crash of 1987?” Blank stares.

To Crabby, Wall Street is no more than the world’s biggest gambling casino in which the odds are rigged in favor of institutional investors and people of wealth. Anybody remember Enron? Worldcom? Martha Stewart? Last year’s mutual funds scandal? Yes, a couple of people went to jail, but they didn't lose their ill-gotten gains, and there are a lot of older people who lost all their retirement investments. No one writes stories about how they're getting by now. They are forgotten in their impoverished retirement or greeter jobs at Wal-mart at $7 an hour.

Crabby’s young friends lost most, if not all, of their gains and their initial investments when technology stocks tanked in 1999/2000 but at least, unlike older people, they have another 40 years or so to make up their losses.

Imagine that part of your otherwise safe retirement funds (Social Security) were invested in the stock market and it crashed the day before your official retirement. Are you willing to risk that for yourself? For your children and grandchildren? You had better be if President Bush succeeds in his quest to privatize Social Security.

Mr. Bush assures us that only those workers younger than 55 will be allowed to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll tax in the stock market and in doing so, is trying to divide the nation by age so that older folks, who vote in greater numbers than younger people and are more likely to pressure their representatives, will go along.

His success is dependent on younger people believing their retirement is so far in the future they can’t imagine it (you can remember that, can’t you?), and on having no memory or knowledge of the downside of the stock market.

Next week, during the Congressional recess for Presidents’ Day, Democratic representatives will fan out in their districts around the country to hold hundreds of town meetings and other events on Social Security privatization. If there’s one in your area, do try to attend. And bring a young person with you.

It may be, though not certain yet, that privatization would leave older folks’ Social Security benefits unchanged, but that is not the point. Crabby Old Lady believes it is the solemn responsibility of older folks to help protect the future of younger generations who haven’t lived long enough yet to accumulate our knowledge and experience, and who may not realize the real risks to them of privatization. Those promoting it are counting on us not caring enough to speak up.

Tell the president and your Washington legislators what you want at this website. Do it today and do it often. There is power in numbers.

...to be continued...

Social Security Privatization Series Index


The Body as Appliance

category_bug_journal2.gif Judging by the commercials on prime-time television, constipation, gas and acid reflux are afflictions common to just about everyone older than 50. With such icky ailments to look forward to, no wonder our culture does everything possible to deny aging.

But health does come in to play to a larger degree as we get older. The body inevitably wears down, parts and systems don’t work as well as they once did and sometimes a minor change in a body’s behavior sets off an alarm: OMG, is this serious?

I admit to a twinge of that feeling now and again, but beyond trying to eat well and getting some exercise, I generally ignore my body and so far it has served me well without much attention.

A lot of our health – in youth and age – is attributable to genes and good luck. But I wonder too if it is subject to attitude. Let me tell you a story:

Some 25 years ago on a Saturday, I was rushing around shopping, cleaning, cooking, setting the table with the real silver, arranging fresh flowers and all, in preparation for dinner that evening with a man I was coming to adore. I desperately wanted to impress him.

About 4PM, out of nowhere, that unmistakable internal shakiness that precedes the imminent onset of a flu hit me and already I could feel my temperature rising, my back aching, my mind beginning to go fuzzy. No way, I thought. This is not going to happen today. I refuse to be sick for this dinner.

For reasons I don’t remember, I thought if I meditated (which I do twice a day), I might be able to send that bug on its way - or at least delay it - before it settled in to plague me for a week.

Down in the room where my mind goes during meditation, a giant spider appeared unbidden – a big, fluffy, stuffed-animal sort of spider. Spiders generally produce the eek effect in me, but I picked up this one, walked him out through a back garden I had not known was there, through a gate in a back wall and into an alley where there were trash cans.

I put the giant spider in a can, securing the lid with a raccoon spring. As I walked back to the room, I checked over my shoulder and saw the spider peeking over the wall. “You’re not there,” I told it. “I locked you in the trash.”

When I finished the meditation, all the symptoms were gone and I never got that flu.

The mind/body connection is a subject of serious medical study. Most famously, Norman Cousins wrote in his book, Anatomy of an Illness, of his recovery from an incurable and life-threatening condition by, essentially, laughing himself healthy again. I don’t know about humor, but I do believe, in some circumstances, in some people, the mind and body work together to maintain health - at least some of the time.

A lot of it, in my case, is attitude; I don’t like doctors. It’s nothing personal about them individually; they seem to be generally good, caring people. But they are like haircutters who will always take off too much because cutting is the definition of their job. And if you show up too often in a doctor's office, he'll find something wrong because that’s the definition of the job – to fix bodies.

A while ago, I reduced the frequency of my mammograms to every five years because surgeons have already cut open my breasts five times and the poor little dears (there is not much to them) are criss-crossed with scars. At every mammogram, the radiologist points out little white dots and tells me they might be cancer. Every time, I tell him they’ve always been there and they are calcium deposits. “Well, they might not be this time,” they say and convinced me, too often, to let them cut me open only to say afterwards, “Not to worry. They are calcium deposits.” Yeah. Right. I told you that.

I certainly don't adocate or recommend this for every one, but for me, every five years is enough now, and when the x-rays show something that looks different, then I’ll let them cut me open again. Meanwhile, it’s true I tire more easily than in the past, am chubbier than I would like to be and what natural teeth I have left are probably goners - it’s a family trait. And that all feels normal at my age and okay with me.

My belief about my body is that barring accidents and with a reasonable amount of care, it is supposed to last until it wears out and then I die – sort of like a refrigerator or a television set, which rarely break down until their permanent demise.

I fervently hope I am correct, that the advocates of the mind/body connection are on to something and that my impatient attitude toward doctors and bodily impediments will work for me until I arrive at the Pearly Gates in the same manner as those household appliances.


Ronni, Alex, John, Yoko

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Ronni, Alex, John, Yoko 1970

[1970] Yoko designed the environment for the opening night of an exhibit of John’s erotic lithographs, and upon entering, guests were required to remove their shoes. Taped to every inch of the gallery floor was bubble wrap that popped when you wiggled your toes.

It was a brilliant way to turn strangers into friends for an evening, and at one point I looked up from bubble popping into the face of giggling “Cabaret” star, Joel Gray, who was also popping bubbles with his toes.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
davidgarchey @ 2003-09-10 said:
Wow !

airchild @ 2003-09-10 said:
Your pictures tell fascinating stories, Ronni. And WHAT history! I especially like this one. I look forward to viewing more of your photos.

natalie @ 2003-09-10 said:
....give peace a chance... RIP john ~ Rock on, Yoko.

zinetv @ 2003-09-11 said:
I`m beginning to feel really grizzled, in fact in my day they hadn`t even invented electricity. We had to watch television by candlelight.

bytefactory @ 2003-09-11 said:
wow Ronni!!! What an amazing moment that must have been.

arto @ 2003-09-13 said:
I must say that throughout several eras where there were many fashion victims (witness the poor fellow at upper right...who is that, Allen Klein?), your taste in clothes was excellent.

roomwithaview @ 2003-09-14 said:
EXCITING photo! This is a really tender picture of Yoko.


Age Humor

In most instances, Crabby Old Lady dislikes age humor. The largest number of jokes repetitively concentrate on debility regarding the bathroom, memory and sex - and worse, they’re not even funny. These three [one-liners, in the interest of brevity] are representative:

You know you’re old when…


  • An all-nighter means not getting out of bed to pee.

  • Getting a little action means you don't need to take any fiber today.

  • Getting lucky means you find your car in the parking lot.

Crabby will not be offended if you accuse her of lacking a funny bone. Nevertheless, these produce only a shrug in her - eh, been there, heard that and - they aren't funny.

Bad jokes are one thing; ageism is another. And that's what these jokes and so many like them do: they perpetuate negative stereotypes of older folks.

“…the 2001 survey by Duke University's Erdman Palmore, PhD, also revealed that the most frequent type of ageism - reported by 58 percent of respondents - was being told a joke that pokes fun at older people.” [Emphasis added]
- apa.org, 5 May 2003

According to a study conducted by psychologist Becca Levy, assistant professor of public health at Yale University, negative attitudes can cause early death:

“In Levy's longitudinal study of 660 people 50 years and older, those with more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions of aging.”
- apa.org, 5 May 2003

Crabby thinks it is particularly disturbing when older people themselves tell insulting or cruel jokes about being old.

Certainly what provokes many jokes about being old is the normal aging process that we all know has only one destination, and some “old” jokes have a quality of whistling past the graveyard about them.

And that’s a good thing. Humor gets us through tough times, if even for only a few moments, and in the best jokes, not only is there some wit and a surprise in the punchline, but a bit of human truth. Here are three jokes about older folks that made Crabby laugh out loud:

Three elderly men were at the doctor for a memory test. The doctor asked the first man, "What is three times three?" "274," was his reply.

The doctor said to the second man, "It's your turn. What is three times three?" "Tuesday", he replied.

Then the doctor asked the third man, "Okay, your turn. What's three times three"? "Nine", he answered. "That's great!" said the doctor. "How did you get that answer?”

"Easy," said the third man. "I subtracted 274 from Tuesday."

A pious man who had reached the age of 105 suddenly stopped going to temple. Alarmed by the old fellow's absence after so many years of faithful attendance, the Rabbi went to see him.

He found the man in excellent health, so the Rabbi asked, "How come after all these years we don't see you at services anymore?"

The old man looked around and lowered his voice. "I'll tell you, Rabbi," he whispered. "When I got to be 90, I expected God to take me any day. But then I got to be 95, then 100, then 105. So I figured that God is very busy and must've forgotten about me. And I don't want to remind Him."

A reporter was interviewing a 104 year-old woman: "And what do you think is the best thing about being 104?" the reporter asked.

She replied: "No peer pressure."


For the Last Time?

category_bug_journal2.gif Recently, Clarence at Can You Hear Me Now recalled his youthful passion for roller skate dancing:

“…something I became proficient at during my twenties and thirties. If only it were possible to go back for just one more evening of dancing on skates with an accomplished partner. Man! That would be something else.”

As the years go by, activities, hobbies, games, sports and other pleasures we once took part in drop out of our busy lives in favor of kids, work and different pursuits. Sometimes, the opportunity is no longer available for one reason or another or we lose interest or, less frequently I think, we are no longer capable of doing it.

Usually we don’t know, on the day it happens, that we have done a certain thing for the last time. Later, we remember how much we once liked – oh, water skiing, for example, and wonder why we stopped.

Although I don’t dwell on this, it interests me to think there are things I may already have done for the last time and, since I appear to still be alive, I don’t even know it.

At first, the idea pierces my heart reeking, as it does, of the end being nigh. On further thought, however, I find that it would be good, if I could know I would never do that thing again, to mourn it a bit, to light a candle for its passing out of my life or, in some circumstance, to send it on its way with a hug and kiss and perhaps a little party.

I would certainly throw a bash for having my teeth drilled if I could be certain it will never happen again.

Here are a few things I sometimes wonder if I have already done for the last time:

  • Swim naked in a secret stream on a hot summer day
  • Dance the tango (if I still know how)
  • Drive down the highway in a convertible at 100 miles an hour with Joe Cocker’s Cry Me a River blasting at full volume the CD player
  • Make love
  • Walk the beach alone in northern Oregon at 6AM
  • Walk Greenwich Village streets in a blizzard
  • Read all of Shakespeare’s plays
  • Visit London, Paris and the towns in the hills above the southern coast of Spain

If I have done these things for the last time, I would like to light a candle for them on their anniversaries each year – if only I knew the dates. In place of that – until next time – I will remember them, for as Madeleine L’Engle wrote:

"I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be...This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide…”
- A Circle of Quiet [1972]

Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Ronni

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Yoko, John and Ronni

[1970] When John and Yoko appeared on the radio show, John was embroiled in a lawsuit with Paul McCartney. While we were live on the air, a process server caught up with John and handed him a subpoena. John excused himself to puke in the men’s room, then returned to finish the show.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-09-09 said:
Wow!! Great shot. Great story. Wow!

roomwithaview @ 2003-09-09 said:
Wow! glad you posted a message on my page - I didn`t know you were here and I am interested. Will puruse this flog and the past and my memories at length. Thanks for bringing John Lennon to my morning. I`m curious about your past now. Ill be back. thanks

athomic @ 2003-09-10 said:
Amazing story. Thanks for sharing these photos and stories!

roomwithaview @ 2003-09-10 02:56 said:
Wonderful record here, Ronni. I admire your encapsulation of the history going on around you which you combine with the pictures. You really got the 50s through 70s as I remember it. Bet you had a poodle skirt too back in the late 50s. Mine was turqiouse.

ronni @ 2003-09-10 said:
Busted, roomwithaview. And mine was turquoise too.

yolima @ 2003-09-13 17:57 said:
What a story!

smith @ 2004-04-24 08:47 said:
Great story and memory. Love the picture.

tomswift46 @ 2004-04-24 10:00 said:
Wow! Fantastic! Great story and great foto!
I’ll come back here but we’re going to the beach.


Ronni and Alex at the Office

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Ronni and Alex in the Office

[1970] The hours were long, but it never felt like work and the perks weren’t bad: backstage at Woodstock and at the Fillmore, private movie screenings and music company parties filled many nights of the week. More seriously, we provided a regularly-scheduled, public forum for the anti-war movement. Maybe we changed a few minds about Vietnam. Hard to know, though I suspect we were preaching to the choir.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-09-09 said:
I am also noticing a fashion progression here just in the four pictures you are in. I think the fat watch band that Alex has on is just or was just back in style.

ronni @ 2003-09-09 said:
If you wait long enough, av, sooner or later, everything comes back into style.

Mary Schepisi @ 2003-09-09 said:
1970. It is fun for me to remember where and what I was doing then. As av producer said the clothes,hair and accessories bring instant memories. Thanks.

davidfmendes @ 2003-09-09 said:
You really look like you had a good time at work. Thanks for your visit to my flogs and blog and for your nice comment. Yes, I think I’ll be back to my photos and memoirs project some time. Fotolog reminds me of it all the time.


Social Security – Part 11: In America’s Best Interests?

To give you some relief from the political ins and outs of the Social Security battle, Crabby Old Lady will keep this installment short.

The presidential bully pulpit is a powerful political tool and President Bush is using it to its fullest to try to win over the population to his side of the Social Security privatization debate. Neverthessless, various polls in the past week are showing less and less support for the administration's plan.

Not one of the 45 Senate Democrats has announced support of the proposal, and several of the 55 Republican senators either oppose it or are skeptical. So it may be that the P.T. Barnum rule is in play: "You can fool some of the people all the time and you can fool all of the people some of the time. But you can't fool all of the people all the time."

But the Republicans have rammed through questionable policies before and this is not the time to sit back on Social Security. Yet to Crabby’s utter astonishment and disgust, the Democrats in Congress have not put forth a Social Security proposal of their own.

It is not enough to oppose and defeat the president’s scheme; another plan is needed. Social Security will come up short by 2042, but if tweaks to the system are made now, it will be less fiscally painful for everyone and there will be plenty of time to accumulate the needed funds.

WHERE IS THE DEMOCRATIC PLAN? Crabby wants to know.

While the Democrats are dithering, the White House spin machine goes 'round faster every day. The Republican Party is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and corporate America has put up millions of more dollars to shill for privatization.

But these people, even with all that money, wouldn't try to fool us, would they? The president and his aides wouldn’t mislead us, would they? None of these powerful people - political and corporate - would knowingly do anything that would harm their nation’s citizens, would they?

Crabby Old Lady lied when she said she would keep this post short. With the help of many online resources, but most particularly Craig Aaron at In These Times magazine, who credits Dissent magazine, Crabby has put together a Bush Administration Timeline. You tell Crabby if, based on the past four-year record, the nation’s and the citizens’ best interests are being served and if anyone should take the administration's word on privatization of Social Security.

...to be continued...

Social Security Privatization Series Index


The Jessie Project - Part 2

[The Jessie Project – Part 1]

category_bug_ageism.gif Because it’s hard to remember a fake name and other bogus details while engrossed in a telephone conversation with a recruiter about a real job, I made a big sign for my desk with Jessie’s name, telephone number and email address in thick, red letters. And I kept her resume at hand so not to forget the employment data I had invented for her.

It was a grinding bore to come up with two different-sounding cover letters that made the same points for each job listing Jessie and I answered. There are not a lot of ways to write a succinct letter touching on the points in the job ad and giving the recruiter a good reason to look at the resume.

By the time I began The Jessie Project, the bursting of the internet bubble had severely limited listings for the kind of work I do, but over the next three weeks, Jessie and I each sent out 14 inquiries to the same 14 job postings. Out of courtesy (and self-preservation), Jessie was not allowed to contact personal referrals from friends and colleagues, nor did she contact companies I’d identified as more than casual possibilities.

One of Jessie’s email responses, as had been true for me occasionally in the past months, asked for references before setting up a time for a telephone conversation. Obviously, she couldn’t supply them and that ended the dialogue.

(By the way, this is a request I had never run into before, and I still don’t understand the need until a candidate is on a company’s shortlist.)

One corporate human resources person asked each of us – Jessie by telephone and me by email – for college information and rejected us outright when we answered that we did not have a degree. I wish I’d thought to ask if they’d turn down Bill Gates for having no degree.

The telephone conversations with the three recruiters who spoke at length with Jessie had a friendlier, less formal quality to them than most of mine had which, I believe, reflects the youthful demographics of the recruiting world, 20- and 30-somethings thinking they were speaking with a contemporary. Jessie’s conversations were longer than mine usually are, more easy-going than when I was speaking as myself, and the recruiters expressed more enthusiasm.

I was eager to do an in-person Jessie interview to see what reaction there would be to my 60-year old face when the interviewer was expecting a woman in her mid-thirties. It was my intention to arrive with my own resume in my pocket, see what happened as Jessie and if there was real interest, spill the beans toward the end of the meeting.

At that point, I figured, they would either be curious to hear more about why I’d done it, or they’d throw me out as a fraud. Either would be instructive.

But I never got the chance.

During her last telephone conversation, Jessie was about to secure an in-person meeting when I just plain screwed up. Even with Jessie’s big red sign in front of my face, when she was asked to spell her name, I automatically answered, “R-O-N-N-I…” Oops.

The recruiter indicated some confusion (no kidding) and I started to giggle so hard I had to hit the Hold button on the phone. We rang off without pursuing the interview and I’ve sometimes wondered since then what that recruiter told her colleagues.

With the “oops incident” proving that I’m no actor and a lousy liar, I shelved The Jessie Project. It was taking too much time from my real job search and my suspicions about age discrimination had been confirmed.

Jessie’s response rate was faster and totaled nine out of 14 inquiries. Mine totaled two, one of which was quashed because of no college degree (the only time in my life I’ve been asked about college), and the other when there was no response to the references I sent. Jessie received six telephone calls; I received none.

It wasn't exactly a "scientific" experiment, but the discrepancy between the number of calls to us was good enough to prove it to me. There was nothing I could do with my new-found information, but at least I knew for certain my suspicions were not unfounded.

The media have been reporting for several years now that as many of the 78 million baby boomers begin to retire, there are not enough generation Xers, who number 45 million, to take their places in the workforce. They predict that the workplace is about to become a whole lot friendlier to older folks.

Not that I've noticed yet, but if it is going to happen, it won't be soon enough for me.

The Jessie Project – Part 1


Minnie Mae

In his Boston Globe column on Tuesday, Donald. M. Murray wrote eloquently of his wife, Minnie Mae, who had refused food and medication, and was quietly drifting away.

She died yesterday at 85. You can read her obituary and an appreciation from another Boston Globe writer.

If you have been reading Donald Murray’s column each week, you have come to know Minnie Mae not like a friend perhaps, but as someone you wish you could have known. Mr. Murray’s chronicle of his daily visits with his wife during her final year or so in a nursing home and his recollections of their life together in earlier days are a most remarkable story of love and devotion at the end of life.

One hopes a publisher will see the value of collecting these columns in a book. It would be a joy to own and read.