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Dumb Employment Practices

category_bug_ageism.gif Last week, there was a lively discussion here about ageism in media coverage of older job seekers. It is worth debunking some other dumb ideas commonly repeated about employment of older workers.

Start your own business
Those who fancy themselves experts in advising older workers on how to get hired, invariably include this at the end of their list of suggestions as though there’s nothing to it.

I did that once for a couple of years – a research company for film and television producers. I loved the work, both doing it and overseeing employees who were doing it. Three short-lived talk shows, with John Tesh, Whoopi Goldberg and Greg Kinnear, were among our clients along with HBO and other film production companies.

But I hated the business end, the marketing and the sales. I’m not good at it and although I got a little better with time, I never wanted to do it. And it took two full days out of the seven I was working that I wasn’t upholding my end of our production process.

It is my belief that, within reason, anyone can learn to do almost anything if they put their mind to it, but talent, aptitude and interest are also factors. Many people, like me, are good at their jobs – the tasks involved - but to suggest that all the same people can also run a business is disingenuous. It is specialized work that not everyone can do well enough to keep a business afloat.

That “overqualified” bugaboo
Who makes up this stuff? If someone who had been the managing editor of The New York Times had walked into my research business office and told me he wanted to write research for movies and television, I would have sat him down then and there.

If he became bored, that’s his problem as long as the work was good. If he left in six months for a better job or any other reason, that is a risk with any employee just as employees risk being laid off (whether they’ve worked somewhere a month or 20 years) because of business decisions they have no part in. It happens every day.

Until we are living in a business world where tens of thousands of jobs go begging, this is the emptiest excuse for not hiring someone ever devised.

The “older workers cost too much” excuse
Back in 1975, CEOs were paid, on average, about 45 times as much as the average employee in their company. Today, that number is 500 times the average worker’s wage. In comparison, Japanese CEOs are paid 20 to 30 times their lowest-paid workers’ salaries, and in Europe, CEOs take home about 40 times as much.

Here are some examples of CEO compensation in the U.S. for 2004:

Ray R. Irani of Occidental Petroleum was paid $52.6 million.

Terry S. Semel, CEO of Yahoo!, took home more than $109 million in salary and other compensation.

The CEO of MBNA, a giant credit card company, raked in $168.9 million.

To be fair, the compensation for the average CEO of a top U.S. company in 2004, was not quite so eye-popping at $9.84 million, but still a 12 percent increase over 2003, according to The New York Times.

This is monstrously unethical when it was recently announced that for the past year, worker salary increases have lagged behind inflation, and for the past decade, have barely kept even with inflation.

Some basic arithmetic
Let's start by using the average CEO compensation figure - $9.84 million. First, we’ll cut it down to $5 million. I’m pretty sure those guys can still live fairly lavishly on that. We now have an extra $4.84 million floating around the average company.

Now let’s take a nice round worker salary of $50,000, a bit above the current national average of $42,000. Add a third for the cost of benefits, health coverage, employer portion of Social Security, etc. and we get $66,500. Which means that average corporation could hire 72 extra employees and not spend a penny more than they are now.

Even using a potential older worker salary of $100,000 adjusted to $134,000 with benefits, 35 more workers could be hired without costing our average company a dime.

Of course, no corporation is suddenly adding a bunch of new workers these days. But the point is, if CEO (and other executive) salaries were more in line with the average in the rest of the western world (and some of these guys are running companies whose stock prices, which it’s their job to improve, have dropped precipitously during their tenure), no one could claim that older workers cost too much.

Older workers, these days, will take any job at any pay they can get. But experienced workers are worth more than entry-level employees and it is depraved and indecent to claim they are too expensive with executive pay at such piggish levels.


Growing Into Elderhood – Part 2

In Part 1 of Growing Into Elderhood, we talked about Dr. William Thomas’s idea of senescence as the transition period between adulthood to elderhood.

We also discussed the work of Lars Tornstam, a researcher who created the theory of gerotranscendence which resulted from his studies of the real-life experiences of older people in Sweden. His findings overlap and support Carl Jung’s seven tasks of aging.

I was struck, in both instances, with recognition of myself in recent years. Here are a few concrete examples of changes in outlook and beliefs of my own as I get older that match these two men's work:

A desire to set aside the world of “have to do” in order to explore the “want to do"
It was Aunt Edith who, 25 years ago and in her seventies then, told me she had made the excellent discovery in old age that the dirt would wait if she had something more interesting to do than clean house. Although I recognized the truth and humor in that statement then, I was still deeply into my adulthood and only in recent years has it been okay to let the dust accumulate for awhile when there is a good book to read or movie to see with friends.

I thought I was just a slow learner, but now I think one must reach senescence to put this into practice.

Self-confrontation and the discovery of hidden aspects, good and bad
It is not that I was ever unaware of my less lovable qualities; it was that the pain in looking at them closely created such overwhelming feelings of unworthiness that I didn’t look at them much.

Sometime in the past decade, I got easier on myself. My shortcomings horrified me less which, interestingly, has helped to mitigate them to a degree. I’m not so impatient now that I’ve faced my inherent impatience and I behave better in situations that irritate me. I also have come to see that anger, which can pop out suddenly, is frequently my reaction to injustices and that, at least in small instances (if not the world) where I have a measure of control, it leads me to right some wrongs. I like that about me.

Increasing understanding of the distinction between the self and one’s role
A lot of my ego and my definition of myself had been tied to working in the glamour medium of network television and later, in the cutting-edge technology of creating websites when it was new and we were inventing it. Man, I was so cool.

It took the slap in the face of unemployment for two out of the past five years, with no potential employer showing any discernable awe at my coolness, to disabuse me of such self-importance. But I had already begun, to a degree, to separate my “self” from my work, to doubt that my work was much different from anyone else’s. And there is no way I could have made the decision to move to Maine without beginning to let go of my belief that I invented New York City.

Blurring of boundaries within time and space
Could natural changes that come with aging be the explanation for the slipperiness of time I wrote about recently in Time’s Trickery, that feeling not of remembering – it’s nothing like that – but of actually being my younger self for a few moments.

Decreased interest in toeing the line of social norms
I like this explanation – that it is a natural phenomenon of aging to decide to let my hair grow in its natural gray color and not fret the extra pounds that have accumulated. It also makes the popularity of The Red Hat Society more understandable even if I personally find their allegiance to another conformity unpalatable.

There will undoubtedly be new realizations in coming years, and I am looking forward to elderhood - though in its own good time. Right now, I’m obviously a senescent. Do any of these examples ring similar bells for you?


Ronni With Crew

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[1986] We were shooting part of a Lionel Ritchie interview for The Barbara Walters Specials here at Tuskegee University - home of the infamous Tuskegee Study. For 40 years, from 1932 until 1972, 399 black men were denied treatment while the U.S. Public Health Service studied the effects of their syphilis - a shameful episode in U.S. government and medical history.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
the_nannish_one @ 2003-10-22 said:
Shameful indeed! One of so many. It’s hard to even imagine.

hamlet @ 2003-10-22 said:
Yes, shameful indeed! One of many...unbelievable.

hamlet @ 2003-10-22 said:
I had heard of this, but forgotten about it. not only is your series interesting, it’s educational/informative too. Thanks.

zinetv @ 2003-10-22 23:38 said:
It is difficult to image that a person involved in medicine could ever make a case of doing something let that to anyone.


Beau Bennett

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[1986] Long before there was Ollie, there was Beau, an Abyssinian. We must have been preparing for guests when this photo was taken because he is wearing his “diamond” party dress.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
pellegrini @ 2003-10-15 said:
A friendly and clever face - Hi Beau!

zinetv @ 2003-10-15 said:
Beau is definitely a party kind of guy.

hillspan @ 2003-10-15 said:
Cool cat with his own "ice."

yolima @ 2003-10-15 said:
Such an elegant cat, that Beau.

roomwithaview @ 2003-10-17 said:
Lovely Beau and so special in his jewels.


Growing into Elderhood – Part 1

In his book, What Are Old People For?, Dr. William H. Thomas makes a plea to rescue the idea of and the word “senescence” from its commonly-used definition of “the state of being old.” It is better applied, he believes, to the transition period (which begins in each of us at widely varying ages), between adulthood and elderhood.

“There is no biological trigger for this transition,” writes Dr. Thomas, “it is a function of culture and shared expectations. It is the beginning of ripening, just as adolescence is the beginning of maturation…

“The purpose of senescence is to prepare a person for the final stage of human development, elderhood.”

- William H. Thomas, M.D., What Are Old People For?

This period of senescence (a term that will used regularly now at Time Goes By), is the growing out of adulthood and a reaching for the new. The beginning of senescence, Dr. Thomas says, is marked by

“…the dawning awareness of how heavy a toll is taken by the things he or she ‘has to do.’ Sheltered for decades by the energy and vitality of youth, adults are utterly convinced of the rightness and goodness of their family and chosen work.

“The shadow of doubt appears only tentatively and intermittently at first. Gradually there emerges an understanding that one’s family, while beloved in every way, is very much like millions of other families.

“Slowly the adult begins to understand that his or her work, while undoubtedly important, is very much like the work being done by millions of other people.

“These uncomfortable insights are slowly and painfully transformed into a desire to set aside the world of “have to do” in order to begin exploring the mysteries that cloak the world of ‘want to do.’”

In another section of his book, Dr. Thomas discusses the work of Lars Tornstam, a Swedish gerontologist, creator of the theory of gerotranscendence.

Words like that make me ootchy, but the real-life experiences of gerotranscendence, which correlate with the period of senescence, aren’t hard to understand. They fall into three broad categories:

The Self
Self-confrontation of good and bad aspects
Decrease in self-centeredness
Rediscovery of childhood

Relationships
Increased need for solitude
Increased distinction between the self and one’s role
Less acquisitiveness
Decreased interest in toeing the line of social norms
Greater reluctance to give advice

Cosmic Insights
Blurring of boundaries within time and space
Increased interest in one’s personal family history
Receding of the fear of death
Renewed interest in nature and the world around us

No one goes to bed one night and wakes up the next day a senescent or elder. It takes a long time to reach each state of being and the above list rings true for my experience so far in getting older.

As I read these sections of Dr. Thomas’s book - several times now - I clearly recognized myself, in the past few years, moving into the senescent period. In Part 2, I will put some concrete examples to the work of these two men.


The Ageism of Mainstream Media

category_bug_ageism.gif Good Morning America has added a regular contributor to report on how to get hired if you are an older worker. That’s the good news. It means mainstream media is beginning to recognize the problem.

The bad news is that the reporter’s advice is the same old stuff found on hundreds of websites that places the burden on older workers to overcome the false and unjustifiable belief that they can't do the job because of their age:

  • Update your technical skills
  • Show your willingness to adapt
  • Don’t be a know-it-all
  • Don’t list jobs on your resume older than 10 or 20 years
  • Omit college graduation date
  • Start your own business

The ageist assumptions on that list are discriminatory on their face: that older workers haven’t learned to use a computer in the 20 years since they became commonplace; that they can’t change; that they have a bad attitude; that experience is not important.

And worst of all, that last one admits that if you’re older than 40 or 50, you probably don’t have a chance of being hired anyway, so strike out on your own.

Some newly older workers, facing age discrimination for the first time, may need this advice (which in a fair and legal workplace would never be needed), but I doubt most do. We’ve been out there in the job market too long not to realize that the only way to get past age prejudice is to do the impossible: pretend we are younger than we are, which is what this Good Morning America “expert,” along with all the other so-called experts, is saying.

The announcement, on abcnews.com, of this addition to the morning television program, while offering advice to overcome age discrimination, implies that it doesn’t exist:

“…how to beat the perception that youth rules the workplace…seemingly dominated by young people.” [emphasis added]

In the next breath, the story admits it does exist:

“Older people often hear that they’re ‘over-qualified’ and the interviewer is quick to point out that they won’t be happy in the job…”

“Over-qualified has, for years, been code for “you’re too old.”

What is missing in all media and recruiting industry discussion of age-related hiring problems is that corporations are breaking the law, sometimes quite openly. But no one addresses it.

Instead of so-called experts with bad advice reinforcing discriminatory practices, where are the interviews with real-life hiring managers or corporate executives asking the hard questions:

  • Are you sure your company has never not hired a candidate because of his or her age?
  • Do you eliminate resumes up front that show an applicant to be an older worker? (If no) how are you certain?
  • What is the ratio, in your company, of workers older than 50 to those younger than 50?
  • How have you trained your HR people in age discrimination law?
  • Do you sit in on interviews occasionally to be sure your hiring people are fair to all candidates?
  • Why is it necessary for older workers to hide their age on their resumes?
  • Why does it appear that corporate America has no interest in experienced workers?
  • "Experts" advise older workers to be “understanding” of young managers' shortcomings in handling older workers. Why are people given the job if they are not capable of doing it?

Instead of addressing the real problem, age discrimination and ageism are further entrenched in the culture of the workplace every day by imposing barriers on older workers that are demeaning, illegal and impossible: no amount of lying on resumes (and that is the rightful name for what older workers are told to do) conceals our age when we get an interview. We wear it on our faces. But where is the media reporting on all this?

It is time corporate America and the recruiting industry are called to account for their age discriminatory practices, and the media is an excellent place to start; to begin to raise a ruckus. Instead, mainstream media only blames old people for being dullards.

What else can be expected; mainstream media is corporate America.

[Thanks to Chancy for the tip on this story.]


Stuck in the Mud – Or Discerning?

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The decision on where I've decided to move has been made. You can read about it at my companion blog, A Sense of Place.]

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“A friend said the other day, when I was venting about a 68 year-old relative who won't get what seems like depression checked out by a doctor, ‘Don't you think that after a certain age, people can't change?’ … I don't want to think we're limited that way. I want to think that humans can change at any age.”

That’s ML at Full Fathom Five, speaking in a recent post, and I agree. Old people change in large and small ways every day, just as they did when they were young, and it is a myth that old folks become “stuck in their ways.” But it is easy to see how some people mistake experience for stubbornness.

A few days ago, the kid at the store where I regularly purchase my coffee tried to get me to buy a new blend that was on sale. At one point in the "discussion," he said, "oh, try something new for a change." I did not.

What the kid didn't understand is that in 50-odd years of drinking coffee, I've tried dozens of blends. It took a lot of bad coffee to find the one I like.

A while ago, a friend who is closer to my age than the coffee store kid, tried to convince me to stay at a party after 10:30PM, because he thought I'd be missing out on a lot of fun by leaving.

I wake early and those quiet morning hours before the world gets moving are precious to me. No phone calls, few emails, no horns blaring in the street – just the birds, the cat and me. It is one of the great, small pleasures in my life and sets the tone for my day.

Besides, I learned long ago that nothing much happens past 10:30 or 11PM at a party other than people - even those I am fond of, and me too - get drunker and dumber.

People sometimes believe elders made a choice years ago and refuse to try anything new. They are wrong. We are not inflexible at all. What we are is discerning.

We have had decades of making poor choices to arrive at what are the best and most satisfying for us. New is not always better and if it is, older folks have had more years than younger ones yet to make that judgment.

Our consumer economy exhorts us to buy, buy, buy. The most effective sales word marketers can put on packaging is “new,” and it is the young who are most frequently sucked in by this usually more expensive and sometimes inferior version. If it’s new, they buy it. Their elders know to look behind the glitz and glitter of the advertising for quality and need.

In decisions large and small, old people make fewer mistakes. We do change – after we have weighed the issue and come to an informed conclusion based on experience, and it is a mild form of ageism to believe otherwise of elders.

In thinking this over now, it appears to me that it may be the younger ones who are the stick-in-the-muds, willing to spend their time and money on anything that is momentarily trendy. But give them time; they will learn too - the hard way, just as we had to.

[BLOG NOTES: Please check out Changing Places where Donna Woodka has posted a lovely meditation in words and photos on Wrinkles.]


New Blogging Survey

Some new data on blogs and blogging was released on 20 May. The survey, conducted by infozine, a Kansas City online news service, reports that six percent of the adult population of the U.S. have created blogs, and nine percent of adult internet users have done so.

That adds up to 11 million American adults who have created blogs, according to this poll, which correlates fairly closely with Technorati having tracked its 10 millionth blog about a week ago.

Blog Readership
More people read blogs than write them. Sixteen percent of all adults are readers, and 25 percent of internet users, though the survey reports readership is down two percent since their last poll in November 2004.

Older Bloggers
Blogging is still an activity mostly of the young. 36 percent of internet users 18-29 read blogs and 19 percent of them have created one. That’s compared to 18 percent of people 50 and older reading blogs and just five percent who have created one.

What the survey did not poll was how many blogs are published by children under age 18.

When I was a kid, a friend and I produced a neighborhood newspaper one summer and it wouldn't surprise me to find out that some TGB readers did so too.

Ours was a big effort. Few people had home typewriters, so we wrote out our stories in longhand and then I had to convince my mother to type them up at her job and make us a mimeograph. (For you young'uns reading this, a mimeograph was an early copy technology; there were no copy machines yet.) My friend’s dad then ran off copies at his place of work.

Grownups just don’t get it sometimes. My friend and I went through a lot of pleading and a terrible case of the can’t-waits before our parents got around to finishing their part of the production process. But when we finally got the copies back (I suspect it was only two or three days, but it felt like forever), we nearly busted our buttons in pride to see our own words in print. And we even made some money selling the paper door-to-door at five cents a copy.

Nowadays, any kid can sign up at Blogger for free and doesn’t need Mom’s help to instantly have his or her very own words published not to the neighborhood - but to the entire world. I wonder if it is as thrilling.


Microsoft and Other Pains in the Butt

Sometimes Crabby Old Lady thinks corporate America sits up late at night, sleep-deprived and fueled by too much caffeine, working on ways to drive her nuts. Or maybe they hold conventions at four-star hotels thinking up this stuff.

Either way, they seem bent on turning otherwise rational beings into crazed parodies of themselves.

Take apples for example. And pears. For the past few years, agribusiness has affixed to each and every piece of fruit a little sticker. It’s usually about half an inch square or, rather, oval and it seems to have a name and a number on it, though Crabby’s old eyes can’t read it.

But just try to get the damned things off.

The sticker doesn’t matter on an orange or a grapefruit; Crabby isn’t eating the peel. But on an apple – well, she stood at the sink yesterday, as she has on hundreds of previous occasions, trying for five minutes to get that little sucker off. No way can it be removed by washing, and they must be using Krazy Glue, because no amount of picking at the label will pry it loose.

In the end, Crabby loses all patience and just tears out a chunk out of the apple to get rid of it, and on more tender pears, she’s been known to smash a good one-quarter of the fruit when she does that.

Who thought up this bit of insanity? Is the sticker an advertisement? Come on. Nobody reads a miniscule fruit label and anyway, Crabby asks, when was the last time anyone bought an apple by brand name? Crabby thinks the agribusiness marketing guy who came up with this idea should have about a dozen of those little stickers affixed to his willie to see how he likes picking them off.

A couple of weeks ago, Crabby stumbled on a new bit of telephone customer service hell. She had gotten through the menu with only one redial, made her final selection and then heard this: “We’re sorry. All circuits are busy. Please try again later.”

Circuits busy!? Huh? This was not a call to mom on Christmas Day. This was the internal phone system of a major corporation during normal business hours where, on demand, Crabby had punched in her account number. Thinking she must have made a dialing error, Crabby waded through the menu again, made her selection and got the same recording. No “please hold for the next available representative.” No option to leave a message. Just busy circuits and no way to move forward toward her goal.

Which leads Crabby to her final, similar bitch of the day. About two weeks ago, she purchased the 2005 version of Microsoft Money. She paid with a credit card, downloaded the program and it installed with ease. It even transferred over all her old records without a glitch. All was well with the world - until two days ago when Crabby needed to do some online banking. She opened Money and got a message box telling her:

“Your trial version of Microsoft Money 2005 will expire on 8/19/2005...[blah, blah, blah]…After the trial period, you can purchase a full version of Money 2005…”

WH-A-A-A-A-T??? Hear Crabby loud and clear: She spent $32.53 for the standard version of Money. She’s been back to the Microsoft Money website and nowhere does it say this is a trial version. Crabby’s trial is of another kind:

Just try to find a telephone number, or even a customer service email form on the Microsoft site. They do not exist. Crabby spent an hour looking for them online and within the Money program. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Crabby doesn't want to get too accusatory here, but this begins to sound like fraud - make it so difficult to correct an error that no customer will bother. No wonder Bill Gates is so rich.

If anyone reading this has any idea of how to speak with someone in the Microsoft billing department, Crabby would be most grateful if you’d let her know.

Meanwhile, Crabby is in a very bad mood about this and she’s thinking that having some of those fruit stickers applied to a certain part of Bill Gates' anatomy might be an appropriate remedy.


Crabby Old Lady Errs

On 20 May, in a story about Social Security Privatization, Crabby Old Lady took to task Mark Weisbrot, for misquoting President Bush. She even called it a “cheap shot” which has become, now, her own cheap shot.

In an email, Mr. Weisbrot has pointed out to Crabby, that his quote was correct:

Below I am pasting the original source, the Akron Beacon-Journal, where President Bush was quoted:

’But without changes this young generation of workers will see a UFO before they see a Social Security check.'

President Bush said this on April 15; your quote from him, which you mistakenly thought was the one I was using, was from May 4.

I presume that you will post this letter on your web site, along with a retraction of your original accusation that I had misquoted President Bush.

Sincerely,
Mark Weisbrot

Crabby sincerely apologizes. This is the sort of error that gets negatively compounded by repetition.

She would, however, like to gently point out that it is standard journalistic practice to source quotes. Mr. Bush uses the UFO statement in most of his Social Security speeches and has not, as far as Crabby has read, misspoken it before. Had Mr. Weisbrot sourced his quote, this mistake could not have happened.

Again, Crabby sincerely apologizes to Mr. Weisbrot.

Social Security Privatization Series Index


Ronni and Joe

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[11 July 1986] Joe is the son of Mom’s third husband, a sort-of step-brother, though our parents married after we were grown. We saw each other only rarely, when we both happened to be visiting Mom at the same time. Five years after this snapshot was taken, Joe would become my companion for several months through the most powerful experience of my life.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
virgorama @ 2003-10-21 said:
He looks like a good guy and WOW, look at that chest! Perhaps the powerful experience will come to light at some point here...?

ribena @ 2003-10-21 said:
What a teaser.

zinetv @ 2003-10-21 said:
Wouldn’t that be step-brother-in-law?


Mom's Birthday Surprise

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As I suspected during the planning, no one had ever thrown Mom a surprise party. Amazingly, not one of the 50 invited guests slipped up during the month between receiving invitations and the big night of her 70th birthday. Just as amazing, they all brought cameras which, was the one important item I had forgotten.

Next...


COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-10-16 said:
Wonderful collage. Almost cinematic.

yolima @ 2003-10-16 said:
Ooh, she looks so amazed, shocked almost. And look at those beautifully lacquered nails! She was blown away it seems...

ronni @ 2003-10-16 08:44 said:
She thought she was having a simple, little birthday dinner with her best friend, but instead, walked in to see 50 friends standing and applauding her.

zinetv @ 2003-10-16 11:26 said:
Nice set with the various stages of surprise.

michale @ 2003-10-16 said:
My mother turns 60 next year. I don’t think she has ever had a surprise party, either, so I will have to get busy...

renjennyc @ 2003-10-17 said:
It’s like one of those cool DVD features where you can choose the angle ....

roomwithaview @ 2003-10-17 23:17 said:
Hooray for this log, Ronni. I just spent about an hour catching up and it’s so cool to do it that way because the time really does pass by with the photos in a long span. I was so touched by your last image and words of Aunt Edith who had really gotten my attention earlier in your log. Her beauty remained so bright. This is everybody`s archive (well, of a certain age).


Social Security - Part 20: Cheap Shots

[UPDATE: Mr. Weisbrot has informed Crabby Old Lady that she is mistaken in taking him to task for misquoting President Bush. Crabby sincerely apologizes. You can read her retraction here.]

While President Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security appears to be moribund, at least for the moment, two House members, a Democrat and a Republican have put forth separate tweaks to the proposal that are so half-hearted and unsupported by fellow congress members that Crabby Old Lady can’t work up the enthusiasm to tell you about them.

Meanwhile, Crabby ran across an interesting piece by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., imagining what an article from the media apologizing for its poor and misleading coverage of the Social Security privatization issue might say.

The piece accurately recounts some of the media’s mistakes until Mr. Weisbrot gets to this statement:

“President Bush can say, as he did recently, ‘Without changes this young generation of workers will see a UFO before they see a Social Security check.’”
- cepr.net, 12 May 2005

Even Crabby, who is no fan of the current administration, couldn’t believe Mr. Bush (or his writers) is dumb enough to say something that egregiously false in public, and she is correct. Here is what Mr. Bush actually said at the 2005 Latino Small Business Economic Conference on 5 May 2005:

“There was an interesting survey once that somebody pointed out to me, that said younger people think it's more likely they're going to see a UFO than get a Social Security check.”

Crabby could easily be persuaded that the president intended that statement to be understood by his audience as Mr. Weisbrot reported it, but the fact is – it is not what he said.

The CEPR is a think tank of the lefty persuasion, with whom Crabby usually agrees. Several newspapers published Mr. Weisbrot's story - without correction - as did tompaine.com.

But how can critics of the media and of the administration, Crabby wants to know, expect to have their arguments taken seriously by the public when they are equally at fault? Because Crabby follows the Social Security issue closely, she knows that the rest of Mr. Weisbrot’s story is factual, but it is undermined by a cheap shot that Crabby proved to be false in two minutes with Google.

We are living in a political era overwhelmingly dominated by one party whose values are opposed by half the population. They lied to us about Iraq. They lied to us about the effect on jobs and poor people of tax policies they have instituted. And they are lying to us about Social Security privatization, a proposal that must be defeated if we are to continue to live in a country that believes in cooperation, compassion and the duty to help care for one another.

Those values haven’t a chance of competing with the status quo unless the opposition is squeaky clean in its tactics. Mark Weisbrot – and everyone who published his piece without fact-checking it - should be ashamed of themselves.

Crabby has spoken.

...to be continued...

Social Security Privatization Series Index


Time's Trickery

category_bug_journal2.gif What does it mean when people say, “you are only as old as you feel”?

At first thought, it sounds suspiciously like a more sophisticated version of “Oh, you’re not old,” a statement that is usually a lie and does not change the fact of anyone’s age. As we have stated here at TGB many times in many ways, there is nothing wrong with being old.

To take the statement literally requires asking yourself how old you feel. Eighteen doesn’t sing to me. I’m grateful to have left my teens behind long ago. At 30, I was just beginning to feel like a grownup, and I am fully that now. Self-assurance is a satisying state of being.

When I turned 40, I feared my youth was over and that turned out to be true, though it took another decade to understand it is the culture that is in error when it insists that youth is the gold standard of life.

At 50, I still suspected I was missing an important attribute in not having felt sufficient attachment to anyone to marry again, but discovered in the ensuing years that I like my aloneness which, fortunately, is not the same thing as loneliness.

My 60th year was a period of pain and fear - unemployed and being smacked in the face with age discrimination for the first time. My anger about it feels righteous nowadays and this blog, while it may not dent the bigotry much, gives me a public soapbox on which to proclaim its stupidity. That eases the fear which is always a paralyzing emotion for me.

So to answer the question, I feel as old as I am right now, 64. To feel an earlier age would mean to be without the knowledge, understanding, compassion for others and equally important, compassion for myself that I’ve gained.

But wait. Time or rather, specific points in time, are not as concretely or linearly placed as the calendar suggests. Sometimes, for me, time gets slippery.

My mind wandered last week, while I was bored cross-eyed mopping the kitchen floor, to a day when I was 15, water skiing with a friend and her family at a lake in northern California. Feeling an odd shift inside me somewhere, I shut my eyes and for a long moment, I believed – no, knew - that I could open my eyes and actually be under the tree where Judy and I each stole a forbidden beer from the cooler.

I felt the heat of the sun without a breath of breeze that day. I felt my thirst, the suppleness of my young body and the frisson of fear at possibly being caught - as real as the day it happened. I was that teenager again and I was a bit shocked, when I opened my eyes, to be an old lady cleaning a dirty floor in New York half a century later.

Such shifts in time have happened before, sometimes into what appears to be the future. In one that has recurred three or four times in the past couple of years, I am in a house that I can see in as much detail as the apartment I live in now. I am approximately the age I am now and long before this cat Oliver came to live with me six months ago, he was in this time shift too, racing up the stairs to the second floor once, and peering at me through the newel posts halfway up the stairs on another occasion.

While this is happening for what is, by the clock, only a few seconds but feels much longer, I am in that house, though I don't know in what state or city it is located.

Time isn’t as immutable as it’s cracked up to be. For many years, I kept a fortune cookie “fortune” taped to my desk: “Time is nature’s way of making sure everything doesn’t happen at once.” On those occasions when time slips a cog for me, I believe that’s true, and if we could just learn the trick of moving around in it at will, time and, more importantly, age wouldn’t matter to anyone at all.


Young Friends

category_bug_journal2.gif My young friend Heather, who is finishing up her final law school exams this week, took a break from last-minute cramming for a phone chat with me. We said nothing of importance. As with all friends, it is the contact and not the substance of the conversation that matters.

Aaron, one of the partners in Daylo, called too. He brought me up to date on the progress of their business venture, and we made preliminary plans for a dim sum breakfast soon with some other friends.

Except for their excess (from the point of view of my 64 years) energy and the fact that their adulthood is just gaining steam while mine is waning, I don’t feel much distance from them. Heather and I have been happy and successful roommates for several months on three occasions in the past when she stayed with me.

Aaron and I have good-naturedly bickered so openly at both websites where we worked together for several years that our colleagues often laughed that we behaved like an old married couple.

In one of my favorite books about getting older, The Last Gift of Time, Carolyn Heilbrun notes that old people don’t play a large role in the affairs of the nation:

“If, therefore, we wish to keep up with at least some part of what is going on in the world, it is the young to whom we must turn [without whom] I would probably be living in a state of sad self-satisfaction, ignorant of much that is happening around me.”
- Carolyn G. Heilbrun, The Last Gift of Time

Heilbrun is speaking not of politics or national and world events, which are easy to follow, but of what she calls “the feel of life,” which Heather and Aaron and other young friends provide for me.

“Our deepest feelings are, I think, in a different place,” says Heilbrun. “But to cut the hum and buzz completely from our consciousness, dismissing it with a tired, or, worse, critical gesture, is to cut ourselves off from our culture and the delightful sense of, however superficially, learning something new while regarding it with that peaceful (but never complacent) distance age provides.

“The lives of the young tend to be tumultuous and thus offer us, if we have young friends, vicarious experience of the best kind, the kind it would be painful in the extreme, not to say ludicrous, to have to undergo oneself.”

Generally, people tend to spend time with those of their own age group, sharing the commonalities of their current experience: many kinds of available nightlife favor young singles, soccer moms and dads congregate on ball fields trading transportation duties and old folks often find themselves segregated in retirement villages.

Young people, in addition to the pleasures of friendship, are a window into the shifting, changing culture, and how much of the “hum and buzz” and “feel of life” I would miss without Heather and Aaron and James and Autumn and Rich and Caroline and Laura and Chris, and the surprising number of younger readers of Time Goes By.

What they get in return, says Heilbrun, is the unstated assurance that most disasters in life pass, along with hard times, rejection and disappointment. And also this:

“…it is our very presence that is important to the young. They want us to be there: not in their homes, perhaps, not watching them with a baleful eye as they go about their daily work, but there. We reassure them that life continues, and if we listen, we assure them that it matters to us that it continues.”

Graying Vanities II

category_bug_journal2.gif In Graying Vanities a while ago, I wrote about allowing my hair to grow into its natural gray. It wasn't a deliberate decision as much as laziness and a loss of interest in the chore of coloring each month and now, nine months later, my hair is halfway down my back and appears completely gray when I pin up the remaining red ends.

Sometime soon, when I work up a little enthusiasm for it, I’ll probably have what’s left of the red cut off. Or not. Those individual hairs will eventually fall out, as all hair does.

I worried a bit, when I stopped coloring my hair, that it might negatively affect my employment prospects. If it did, these past months, I’ll never know. But I suspect those 30-something recruiters don’t jump for joy at their good fortune when I walk through the door.

As I was pinning up my hair the other day, I took a careful, more critical look at myself in the mirror than I usually do. What I saw gazing back at me was a chubby little old lady in baggy clothes and gray hair. You’d walk past her in the street and never notice.

Studying myself closely, I realized that, undoubtedly, if I covered the gray, cut my hair short, started wearing makeup again and took off 15 pounds, I’d shave a few years off my appearance.

“But I don’t want to go to all that trouble,” the old lady in the mirror whined back at me.

I don’t want to feel hungry all day, every day ever again, and unlike the decades when I did, my weight never fluctuates now. The body has its own kind of wisdom. And I like this long, gray hair. It reminds me of Aunt Edith who wore her long gray hair pinned back in a similar manner. For reasons unknown, that comforts me.

So I’ve become defiant about it now. This is me and I am willing to suffer the penalties dished out by a culture that demands a perpetual pretense of youth. The age and beauty police can take a flying leap along with all their glossy magazine ads. I will not be their shill.

Oh, and gray-haired, chubby old ladies, I just discovered, aren't always invisible to the world: the charming Greek contractor overseeing the renovations in an apartment upstairs, who is at least ten years younger than I am, brought me flowers last week in apology for the noise and asked me to dinner.


The Cult of Adulthood

In a recent piece about a sense of place, amba at ambivablog had this to say in an aside:

“You could add to that, that place is crucially important also to a child, and to childhood; and that this is one of many ways in which life comes full circle.”

How right she is. I remember my disorientation, as a child, each time my parents moved: a house that did not feel like home; a new school where I didn’t know the social rules; the loneliness of a shy kid who wasn’t good at making new friends.

What I did have, however, was time – to wander in the woods, to read books, to invent games of my own, to build whole worlds to my liking, to stare at the stars and dream of faraway places. Nowadays, there is little time for this as nearly every moment of a child’s life is programmed, from the womb even, for success in the adult world.

And similarly, elders are pressured to remain as much like adults in activity and appearance as possible.

The geriatrician, William H. Thomas, has identified “The Cult of Adulthood” in which, he says, “…we live in a world that is dominated, as no society ever before, by adults.” Listen to some other things the good doctor tells us about this:

“Every important social institution has been bent to the task of forming or reforming adults. Contemporary society has placed adult influence and prestige at its apex. Its power is so great that all else is scattered before it.

“…it is adults who govern. Man or woman, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, each of us participates in or is subject to the power of adults. Adults rule.”

- What Are Old People For?, William H. Thomas, M.D.

It is adults who insist by every means possible that elders remain unto death “chained,” as Dr. Thomas puts it, “to the rock of doing” even as their natures resist. The hegemony of adulthood leaves no time for nor patience with the distilling of memories and the meaning of life. Activity is all.

Now hear what Dr. Thomas says about “The Assault on Childhood” by adults:

“Modern industrial society has dispensed with the boundary between childhood and adulthood largely because such a line is not perceived to serve adult interests. We are witnesses to the relentless adultification of childhood.

“Even toys…are increasingly conceived of as tools for fostering improved performance.

“…the school system is a first cousin of the corporate model of manufacturing. Schools sort and track students by age and ability, like so many raw materials…The resemblance to an assembly line is obvious and intentional: the taxpayers who fund public education are ever eager to know whether they are getting their money’s worth.

“The cult of adulthood does not and cannot value childhood except as a staging ground for the real purpose of human life. Under attack is the idea of childhood as a time of exploration and play, enriched with vast quantities of time from which no outcome is expected.”

Time Goes By is dedicated to uncloaking the mysteries of aging and would leave the concerns of childhood to better-qualified others but for the fact that our children will continue to grow up indoctrinated to the cult of adulthood and further blind us to the spiritual, psychological and emotional imperatives of the other ages of life.

Adults are too busy doing, getting, acquiring and succeeding to recognize what their children are losing and what they themselves will find missing when they get old. And children are too young to know any other way. That leaves us, the elders, to fight back against the cult of adulthood.

Children and elders have many things in common, and that our stages of life have different reasons to be from adulthood, as amba reminded me, is one of them.


The Barbara Walters Specials Crew

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Barbara Walters Specials Crew 1986

[1986] The only “class picture” (on the island of Mustique for an interview with Raquel Welch) we ever took while I was with the show. The cameraman, Tom, was a fine, good friend who died too young.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-10-14 said:
Have you had a reunion? Do any of these people remain in your life? I found that work relationship often create a false sense of intimacy. Just wondering....

ronni @ 2003-10-15 said:
This was only one incarnation of the group. Everyone in the photo was new compared to when I was hired several years earlier, except for Barbara and me. And sometimes personnel shifted depending on scheduling and their other obligations.

I agree about work relationships sometimes creating false intimacies, though not always. And, I believe friendships do not need to last for years or a lifetime to be important. Some seem to be meant for the shorter term and are no less powerful for it.


Ronni, Barbara Mandrell and Crew

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085rbandbarbaramandell

[1985] I made a lot of trips to Nashville for The Barbara Walters Specials to do interviews with Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and others. Their museums never fail to amuse me with their kitschy exhibits like the re-creation of the room in which Barbara Mandrell spent her wedding night.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
pellegrini @ 2003-10-13 said:
A picture full of life!

hamlet @ 2003-10-13 said:
Hmmm...I guess one can sell tickets to anything.

zinetv @ 2003-10-13 said:
Nashville is a hoooot! Hee Haw! The problem has to do with the music. If you are not listening to country you are not a part of Nashville. To the plus side, Nashville has Vanderbilt University.


Mis-Reporting Age Discrimination

category_bug_ageism.gif In his New York Times Op-Ed column yesterday, Bob Herbert discusses the young jobless - teenagers and 20-to-24-year olds - who have taken a big hit in the employment market. Certainly it is a consequential problem, along with such issues as low salaries, continued lay-offs, and decreased benefits which affect all age groups.

But Mr. Herbert, who I respect, repeats the same-old, same-old employment “facts” about older people:

“Over all, only workers 55 and up have done reasonably well over the past few years.”

That statement is as wrong as all the other employment figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics each month due to accounting methods which adversely skew the numbers against older people more than younger ones.

Here is why:

  1. No one of any age group is counted as jobless after their unemployment benefits expire at 39 weeks.
  2. So many people are now hired as independent contractors (misclassified through corporate ignorance and sometimes deliberately, either of which denies misclassified workers normal benefits) that when they are laid off, they are not counted among the unemployed. Independent contractors are also ineligible for unemployment insurance. (Some people choose to freelance, but many thousands are forced into it through misclassification.)
  3. For reasons of financial need after long unemployment, many older people who have reached age 62, opt for early (reduced) Social Security and are thereby classified as retired rather than unemployed even though they are capable and willing to work.

Although No. 2 accounts for many unemployed of all ages missing from the statistics, it is the third reason that leads to the misunderstanding among the media and others that older folks are more fully employed than other age groups.

This is not to belittle the employment problems of the youngest generation of workers, but repeated misinformation about the number of older people who are unemployed helps to ensure that age discrimination continues to be ignored and accepted as a lesser evil than other kinds of bigotry.

Mr. Herbert concludes his piece on youth unemployment with this:

“…wealth and power in the United States has become ever more dangerously concentrated, leaving an entire generation of essentially powerless workers largely at the mercy of employers.”

True, but it is not one generation of kids who are powerless. It is also - perhaps moreso - workers older than 40 who face the cruelty of far fewer years to recoup their losses after periods of unemployment than young people.