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Let’s Retire to the Hilton - Again

I’m in Portland, Maine for a good portion of this week, prospecting for a new home. But perhaps there is an alternative, as this previous post suggests. It’s a hoot!

[NOTE: Last Saturday, columnist Patty Fisher of the San Jose Mercury News found this piece to be a welcome antidote of humor to the serious business of caring for elderly parents.]


Portland, Maine This Week

category_bug_journal2.gif Today, I am traveling to Portland, Maine, to spend some time this week looking at potential new homes there.

My reason for leaving New York City, which has been my home since 1969, is not unique. Too many older workers are forced out of the workplace earlier than they want, expected or are financially ready for because corporate America frequently engages in the illegal practice of age discrimination. They prefer cute young bodies just out of college to experienced workers with gray hair whose bodies probably don’t show off as well as they once did.

As baby boomers begin to retire in the next few years, this may change because there simply will not be enough workers to fill job openings the boomers will leave behind. But it has not happened fast enough for me to benefit yet.

When Crabby Old Lady first wrote about our decision to leave New York, she said,

“Is Crabby angry? You betcha. And sad and heartbroken and wretchedly unhappy to leave her home. Because she is generally hardwired that way, she’ll get over it - just not anytime soon. But at least, thanks to the wake-up call from Anne, the decision is made - and there is a kind of relief in that.”

Crabby was correct about getting over it. It has taken longer than I anticipated to sell my apartment, but that is done now and I’m eager to start a new life in a new city.

While I’m gone, I’ll post links to some TGB golden oldies I think you may enjoy. First, is the personal odyssey to the decision to leave my big-city home of 36 years.


A Laptop For Every Elder

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported on a project of Nicholas Negroponte and his team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab:

“…producing a laptop so cheap that governments could afford to link every child in the world to the Internet."

Negroponte’s team and other organizations have been pushing to create a $100 laptop and, in cooperation with the United Nations and sponsorship from such corporations as Google and Advanced Micro Devices, to distribute them to developing countries and even within in the United States. Production will begin in late 2006 with distribution to follow shortly thereafter.

As was stated at a meeting of the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society, “everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate” in the benefits of information technology.

And so it should be for elders too.

Older people sometimes become isolated, families may live far away, friends die and perhaps they can’t get out and about as easily as in the past. As any of us bloggers know, access to the internet puts us in touch with limitless fascinating information from all over the world, makes shopping easy, keeps us in touch with friends and family and creates opportunities for new friendships that are no less affectionate for being at a physical distance.

And should elders take up blogging, there are important benefits in helping to maintain mental sharpness.

There could be another important benefit to wiring elders: as I have mentioned previously here, the number of physicians, especially those trained in geriatrics, will not keep pace in the coming years with the number of aging people who will need treatment. If we can get inexpensive computers and internet connections into every retirement home, assisted living facility and individuals living on their own on fixed incomes, a lot of monitoring by physicians can be done over the internet and by email, relieving some of the congestion in doctors’ offices.

I will be speaking on this topic, Respect Your Elder Bloggers, with Marian Douglas and Lori Bitter of the JWT Mature Market Group at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas in March.

It’s exciting to find that Mr. Negroponte has already finished the first step of creating inexpensive hardware which could probably work, with some small modifications, in a program for older adults as well this one for children.

RELATED STORIES:
Blogging Into Old Age
The Nature of Blog Friends
All My Blog Friends Live Close By


When Will the Boomers Grow Up?

A few days ago my cyberfriend, Melinda Applegate, asked in an email, “Why is it that so many 30-somethings can’t stand us [baby boomers]?” In taking a stab at an answer, I wrote back, in part:

"It's not just 30-somethings, Melinda - even I don't like boomers. I'm five years older than the oldest ones and have never had much in common with them. But I've had to live with boomer zeitgeist all my adult life.

“What no one likes is that boomers have controlled the culture for 50 years - their interests always become the country's interests with few other choices. But the boomers themselves didn't cause it - the media, manufacturers, advertisers, marketers and retailers did.”

Then I ran across a story by Chauncey Mabe, writing at Sun-Sentinel.com, who places the blame on boomers themselves:

“…there are so damned many of us - we constitute such a huge market of consumers - we can force the world to take notice as we matriculate each passage of life.

“It's starting to get unseemly.

“Are you as sick as I am at the spectacle of mature men of substance in line at Starbucks, dressed like pre-teen boys in shorts and T-shirt?”

Mr. Mabe, who at age 50 is smack in the middle of the baby boom, goes on to suggest that it is time for aging rock stars like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones to make way for such younger bands as the Shins, Death Cab for Cutie and Jimmy Eat the World:

“No, none of these will equal the Beatles”, writes Mabe, “but this is their day. For pity's sake, don't be a hog. Let them have it.”

Which reminded me of a recent post from Tamar at In and Out of Confidence:

“Yesterday I went with a friend to see Pride and Prejudice. As we were setting out I joked that I will probably come out of the movie feeling depressed because I am no longer as young or beautiful as the lead actor. My friend, who is a young woman not quite thirty, burst out, ‘Oh Tamar! You've had your chance. Be fair. Let someone else have it now ...’"

In the end, Tamar, another boomer, and Mr. Mabe reached the same conclusion:

Tamar: “It is true, so true. Indeed, I have had my chance, and now it is time for me to be an elder and leave the young and beautiful for someone else.”

Chauncey Mabe: “The Bible, for example, though regrettably composed prior to 1946, is full of good stuff. Consider the death of Abraham in Genesis 25, where he is said to be ‘an old man, full of years.’ I like that. Somehow, it beats ‘an old man, with an iPod, in short pants.’"


Gimme That Old Time Religion

Last year on this day - the eve of Thanksgiving - the voters had just returned George W. Bush to the White House for a second term. The role of religion in public life had played a part in the campaign and Crabby Old Lady, with good reason, had harsh words for a minister she had seen interviewed on television:

"Crabby Old Lady was shocked to hear the minister say further that Bush’s election shows God is giving the United the States one more chance to mend its ways, and when asked about those citizens who adhere to other religions, he dismissed them all with one word: 'Repent’ or they will - to his satisfaction - burn in hell.”

When two weeks ago, Dover, Pennsylvania voters threw out all the school board members who supported teaching intelligent design on an equal footing with Darwinism, Pat Robertson called down the wrath of God on the town. On the same election day, the Kansas Board of Education voted to join four other states in requiring that intelligent design be taught in the state’s science curriculum.

Let us be clear: intelligent design is dressed-up creationism. Teaching it as a scientific alternative to evolution is an attempt by certain Christian groups to subvert the Constitutional doctrine of the separation of church and state and, long term, to turn the United States into a Christian theocracy. We all know how peaceful the theocracies of the world are. [Be sure to check out biology professor Colin Purrington's funny (and serious) take on the teaching of evolution here and here.]

It all makes one nostalgic for the good old days of my youth. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, I was surrounded by the numerous religions of my neighborhood playmates. There were more stripes of Protestantism than anyone could count. Kids are curious sorts and sometimes I went to church with my friend Carol, who was a Baptist. It surprised me that they used grape juice for Communion; the Episcopal Church used real wine.

In a row of three houses across the street were three related Chinese families who practiced Buddhism and I remember watching Yeu-Bun’s mother saying prayers at a shrine in a corner of their living room.

The other Chinese family around the corner were Catholic as was the woman who took care of my brother and me after school, and we attended Mass with her sometimes.

For the year or so leading up to our 13th birthdays, the Catholic kids in my grade were let out of school early one afternoon a week to attend Catechism classes, and the Jewish boys (bat mitzvahs for girls were not common in those days) were allowed out early too for bar mitzvah classes. The only complaints were from Protestant kids whose churches didn’t have such ceremonies, but it was just schoolyard joshing among kids. No one really minded.

There were Christmas pageants at school (I have vague memories of being a snowflake one year), but parents of non-Christian kids showed up with every other parent to watch their little darlings recite their lines. No one was bothered that the pageant celebrated a Christian holiday and no one sued the school board. Although not as excessive as today, Christmas was a secular holiday in the 1950s, as it is now and without which, retailers could not survive. That was understood and I am certain no one of other religions thought their beliefs were diminished by the pageants.

I grew up in an ecumenical place and time. Religion - except for kids' normal curiosity about one another’s differences - was a private, family matter. Today, we have public, Christian prayers at the start of school sporting events; lawsuits over the Ten Commandments displayed in schools and courtrooms and creationism in science classes - the last endorsed by a president who swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

We have made gains in many social problems that hadn’t been addressed yet in the 1950s, but on this issue, it feels like two steps forward, one step back. We would do well to return to the old time religious attitudes of my childhood.


Age as Adventure

Twelve years ago, feminist godmother, Betty Friedan, published a book as thoroughly researched as The Feminine Mystique, which she had published 30 years earlier, in 1963.

The Fountain of Age is a deeply rich study of aging, a fount of information on such topics as "Denial and the "Problem' of Age", "Intimacy Beyond the Dreams of Youth" and "Coming to a New Place". Although the book has never reached the audience of Friedan's seminal first work, every page is filled with thoughtful, compelling ideas about getting older.

Recently, I was re-reading the section on "Age as Adventure." If you are a regular reader of Time Goes By, you can imagine my pleasure at this quote from a Jungian analyst, Suzanne Wagner:

"Our fear of dying has thrown us into a spasm of wanting to control everything, but death is one thing we cannot control. Why not accept your own age as part of nature and find out what it really is instead of tampering with it? The problem is, we don't often listen to older people, we don't recognize that wisdom, flowing like a fountain."[emphasis added]

Last Saturday afternoon, amba of ambivablog at last traversed the three or four blocks between our homes (we'd been attempting this first meeting for an embarrassing number of months) and we spent a delightful couple of hours getting to know one another in person. One of the agreements we came to about getting older is how excellent it is to slough off many of the concerns of our youth that caused so much consternation through the years. "They don't matter anymore," I remember amba saying, and Friedan concurs:

"The new sense of adventure which age may force or free us to can lighten us of unnecessary weight and burdens we've dragged too long from our childhood, the frustrations of our youth that we swore never to face again.

"How strange not even to worry about them anymore, to find old pain strangely dulled, or even if sharp, bearable after all. How freeing, not to have to worry about, or maybe even feel, those old conflicts, about success and failure, in work or love."

Friedan also spends a good number of pages quoting studies that refute the commonly held belief that creativity diminishes with age. She quotes gerontologist, Robert Kastenbaum, who wrote that

“…’habituation,’ which, in both love and work ‘obscures our ability to recognize what is new or original in ourselves or in the world around us.’ He proposes a new seriousness, and a new playfulness, in age about ‘the creative impulse: why it won’t just quit.’…creativity in age ‘is [wrongly considered to be] either a trivial pursuit or a pursuit undertaken by trivial people.’

“This attitude tells us ‘less about the true nature of creativity in later life than it does about our society’s discomfort with the prospect of dealing with an active, imaginative, unpredictable and there dangerous senior generation.’”

Friedan found that what many consider outrageous or foolish behavior some people undertake as they age, often dismissed as "senile reversion to childishness," is instead, wonderment, an essential element of wisdom. She quotes Allan B. Chiver from Creativity in Later Life:

“Wisdom appears to invoke the return of wonder and mythic delight in the world…Central to the attitude of wonder is an affirmation of life just as it is in the present. The individual neither hankers after a lost past nor a future yet to be…an affirmation of one’s life just as one lived it, for better or worse…an affirmation of one’s past, the return of wonder invokes a similar affirmation of the present, down to small, ordinary events.”

Although I have a long way to go on the journey toward wisdom, I have recently, through no effort on my part, noticed a return, sometimes, to wonderment in the smallest things - a baby's smile, the exquisite texture of a crisp, new apple, the seriousness and intensity of the cat's concentration on cleaning his tail.

It is a big, fat book, The Fountain of Age, and when I first read it twelve years ago - at 52 - it seemed dense, too dense and too much of a slog to get through, although I did finish it. Today, in the middle of my seventh decade, it has become a crucial and meaningful guide for me to the adventure of aging.


What Elders Want

Last week, we played a little name game to see how people felt about various words used to reference old people. M Sinclair Stevens left this comment on the poll results story:

“Sometimes y'all get me wondering "What do old folks (or is it elders?) want?" the same way that men confronted with women's lib in the 70s wondered "What do women want?"

“…Maria complains when there is a special class for seniors—something that, in my mind, acknowledges that someone has been considerate enough not to think everyone has the same needs or desires as the 20-year-old co-ed next to me. Ronni (rightly so!) points out how the process for flu shots could have been improved had some forethought and planning gone into providing for the needs of the elderly/aged/senior/mature recipients.

“So what's the message here? Should I expect people to treat me with the deference afforded by my age, just as long as they don't label me as senior?”

The reason for the existence of TGB is to explore what getting older is really like. Time Goes By was launched nearly two years ago because just about all popular writing about the later years of life is focused on decline, debility and disease and that can’t possibly be all there is to it.

We live in a profoundly ageist culture where youth is the gold standard of life and the appearance of youth substitutes for youth itself. Older people who don’t keep up their end of the bargain to deny that aging exists (through any means possible, including injecting themselves with a poison, Botox, and undergoing sometimes dangerous surgery) are marginalized, demeaned, kept out of the workforce and generally made invisible.

Mainstream media upholds this ageist attitude. Many “cute-ify” old people with underlying tones such as “Isn’t that cute how someone her age manages to publish a blog.” Another way this is done is to hold up the few old people who run marathons, for example, as the ideal of age, suggesting that those who aren’t triathlon competitors are slackers.

The most insidious result of an ageist society is age discrimination in the workplace which denies people even as young as 45 and 50 the right to advance their careers and even to work at all – only because they are no longer young.

By pointing out these issues, revealing other, positive sides to getting older, discussing what later life (increased, on average, by 30 years during the 20th century) should and can be, Time Goes By and its readers are helping to reinvent old age.

In the course of doing that, there are bound to be disagreements, false starts, errors in judgment, confusion and great discoveries too. We are in new territory and from my end, it is an exciting adventure every day. I am grateful to have so many readers who jump in with their thoughts, opinions, arguments and stories. Together we are discovering ourselves in this time of life.

And so if Maria wants an age-neutral exercise class, Jill objects to the word elder, Jude thinks biddy is just fine and Cowtown Pattie wants to know why "you ol’ heifer" wasn’t included among the poll choices – it’s all part of the process of figuring out what getting older is really like and how we might want to change things.

What each of us wants is not always the same and that is as it should be. We are proving that elders cannot be lumped together within the stereotypes the culture often tries to box us. We are as different from one another as people in any other stage of life.

The people who leave comments here surprise me every day and I don't always agree. But I learn from everyone who visits here and I have been changed because of it. I’m a having a terrific time exploring old age with all of you and hope you are too.


Social Security – Part 23: Reform Dead, For Now

The president’s proposal to privatize Social Security has been pronounced dead – as it should be. Mr. Bush first announced the plan in his January 2005 State of the Union address and no amount of administration road show, in which the president and other officials tried to rally hand-picked, sycophant crowds behind the plan, could convince the country to agree.

Now, Senator Charles Grassley [Rep. Iowa], who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has said there is not a chance of action on Social Security before the congressional elections in 2006. Others have said it won’t be addressed before 2009, after the next presidential election.

This is a terrible mistake and Crabby Old Lady is ashamed of Congress – Republicans and Democrats - for dropping this issue.

Social Security is not anywhere near as sick as the president and Republicans made it out to be during their campaign to shove private accounts down the country’s throat. But with the demographic increase in people older than 65 in coming years, some tweaks do need to be made and the earlier that is done, the less painful it will be for everyone.

The problem, as Crabby has explained in this series, is that the federal government – not just this Bush administration – has for decades raided the Social Security Trust Fund, spending the money held there willy-nilly, leaving behind Treasury IOUs. This must be repaid and guess who will be stuck with the bill? But there is a three-point solution:

  1. Stop the government raid on the Trust Fund now.

  2. Gradually raise the eligibility age for full benefits to 68 or 69. This has already been done once and Crabby, for example, is not eligible for full benefits until she is 65 and eight months. We are living longer, healthier lives and this change should not be a hardship as long as corporate America gets over its aversion to old people and keeps them employed.

  3. Eliminate the salary cap. The average Joe pays $2,480 of his annual $40,000 salary into the Social Security fund. That’s a big chunk of change at that level of income, but it secures his old age.
  4. At the other end of the scale, a worker with an income of, for example, $250,000 is taxed the same dollar amount as the person who earns the $90,000 Social Security cap: $5580. [The cap will be raised in January 2006 to $94,200.] Is that fair? Crabby asks.

    If the cap were eliminated, the worker with a quarter of a million income would pay $15,500 into Social Security and, Crabby believes that anyone taking home $234,500 (minus whatever income tax he pays) who can’t live comfortably is, as Oscar Wilde put it, “someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

However much the Bush administration has reduced taxes for the top one percent of earners [removing those tax cuts would help too], we do still have a graduated income tax. It is based on a social theory that those with more should contribute more to the common good. There is no reason this same philosophy should not apply to the Social Security tax.

Crabby believes these three changes will be the least painful to the largest number of people and will guarantee Social Security – the most successful social program in the history of the world – for future generations. It is unconscionable for our representatives in Congress to postpone changes for more than three years. To do so, will make the eventual fixes harder on everyone.

…to be continued…

Social Security Privatization Series Index


Anarchy in the Old Folks’ Home


GuardianUK Ian Bertram of Panchromatica sent me the link to this story published in the Guardian UK last week.

It is funny and sad and poignant and you’re going to love it.

Copyright rules suggest I should not reprint this in its entirety, but I’m doing it anyway – excerpts couldn’t possibly do it justice and I'm uncertain when it might disappear behind a Guardian firewall. So if you would take an extra second or two to click one of the links to the Guardian, maybe they won’t sue me.

NOTHING BEATS ANARCHY IN THE OLD PEOPLE'S HOME
Christopher Manthorp
Wednesday 16 November 2005

As a manager for residential care, you should be above playing favourites. The group of homes in your charge are equal and deserve equal respect. In a long senior management career, I've never achieved this objectivity. I like the ones that residents are most comfortable in.

Now long disposed of by the council, a home in Bradford was the best I ever managed. It was decaying and ugly, a Victorian monstrosity built to express a mill owner's wealth and left by him to the corporation in the hope of avoiding hell. It was badly designed for housing older people then, and would never now pass inspection requirements. Residents slept together in fours and fives, padding half-naked down corridors to dank toilets forced into corners designed for hat racks.

I loved the residents. They were mostly Ukrainians, Poles and Romanians who had come to Bradford after the war to fill the gaps left in the cotton mills. Assimilation with the local community was limited by language problems. They had undistinguished careers, fathered children who got out as soon as they could, and they drifted into alcoholism, poverty and the physical helplessness of old age after a life of labour.

When I was given line management responsibility for the home, its manager was an ex-soldier who had turned it into a kind of boot camp, where he barked orders and expected residents to stand by their beds in the morning. The man who replaced him must have lied carefully at interview. In the then paternalistic and solidly conventional care environment, he was a natural anarchist. He had a good look at the rules imposed on the place, then tore them all up.

Researching the views of residents by the simple expedient of getting drunk with them in the evenings, he and his equally anarchic staff let them have their head. Freed from rules, the residents were monsters. They haunted the local parks, cider bottles permanently in hand, fighting, peeing behind bushes, one or two regularly exposing themselves. They were happy as kings.

It was an exclusively male home - an oddity even in the 1970s - until an enterprising social worker begged me to take in Maria, who would otherwise have been put in a mental hospital. A Jewish Pole, at 17 she was a member of the Joy Division. For those of you too young to know what this means, she had been taken out of a concentration camp and forced into prostitution for German soldiers, while her family starved to death or were gassed next door.

Understandably, she went mad. Violent, alcoholic and asocial, she fled her home country as soon as she could and scraped a living in the grimmest corners of Bradford's poverty traps by methods best not dwelt upon. But my manager, breaking innumerable rules, admitted her as the sole female resident, accommodating her in what was more or less a boot cupboard.

She was immediately at home. All the male residents - widowed, drunk and susceptible - fell courteously in love with her, gratifying her every whim. She picked out the only Scottish resident of the home, a rough-drinking, free spirited street bum. He had found himself with no choice but residential care after he had fallen asleep in the middle of the road and lost both legs to an absent-minded driver.

Invariably and argumentatively pissed, they canoodled in the boot cupboard to the accompaniment of the dreadful country and western records they loved. They fell in and out of love noisily and dramatically two or three times a day, screwing like rabbits. I can't tell you how proud we all were of them.

I was reminded of the home by bumping into an ex-staff member last weekend. Then just a care worker, he now manages a day centre for people with learning difficulties. He's stayed true to the Bradford home's principles. People who attend his centre enjoy themselves as freely and creatively as they can. He's got plenty of support, but real freedom involves real risk. It's always going to be a worry to a particularly hidebound type of senior management. But they're wrong and he's right. Stay free, Nick.

Christopher Manthorp is operations manager for older people's services at Kent county council. He is writing here in a personal capacity.


Accommodating Elders

It is an entrenched custom of U.S. culture to make exceptional accommodations for children and this is good. It is understood by everyone that children are by nature stupid, likely at any moment to do something that will maim or kill them.

Parents install those little buttons in electrical outlets so the children won’t fry themselves. They use gates to keep toddlers from tumbling down the stairs. And they hide dangerous household products where curious fingers can’t reach them.

In public, we install traffic signs near playgrounds to alert drivers to the possible sudden appearance of a child chasing a ball into the street. We require bicycle helmets, safety features on car seats and strollers, and there isn’t anyone who wouldn’t grab a kid wandering into a crosswalk against the light.

We also make accommodations for the disabled – ramps and curb cuts for wheelchairs; special parking places close to building entrances; Braille on elevator buttons so the blind can get to the floor they want.

Although some of the modifications for the disabled are helpful to old people, in general little attention is paid to their needs in public places, as was evident at a recent flu shot clinic I attended. Fifty-eight stairs for people in their 70s, 80s and 90s using walkers and canes is unreasonable.

Eighty percent of old people live independently and do quite well for themselves, but that doesn’t mean they have the stamina, energy and agility of younger adults. It took the local block association five years of petitions and public hearings to convince the Department of Transportation in New York City to extend the time of a walk sign on a wide avenue in the neighborhood so old people could get across the street before traffic, horns blaring, started bearing down on them.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Why aren’t there take-a-number systems with benches for people to await their turn in bureaucracies where there are liable to be long lines? Even the local butcher uses that arrangement. Why don’t products and medicines come with instructions in larger than one-point type? Why don’t more physicians check in with their elderly patients by telephone? Monitoring chronic conditions doesn’t always require an office visit and it would save health insurance costs too.

And what has happened to the practice of my childhood in the 1950s when youngsters automatically gave up their seats on the subway or bus for old people? When did people of all ages stop holding doors for elders with packages? And why can’t store clerks take a little extra time to answer questions from people with hearing problems or who are a bit confused? A little patience from all of us wouldn’t hurt and can help an older person a lot.

We are careful to shield children who don’t know any better yet from all kinds of trouble they can get themselves into. It is only right to make accommodations for the difficulties that commonly turn up at the other end of life.


Name Game Poll Results

There were a lot of interesting opinions expressed about the Old Age Name Game Poll. “Elder” in particular came under discussion and some feel that it should be reserved for people who have reached their 80th year or more, as it embodies the ideas of wise and learned along with the Biblical decree to respect elders.

Reaching one’s ninth decade does not guarantee wisdom any more than a college degree confers intelligence. Some have it, some don’t. And elder, used in acknowledgement of respect, experience and judgment has long gone missing from the U.S. vocabulary – if, indeed, it ever applied to anyone outside Native American culture. It still carries a tinge of respectfulness, but the word hardly ever comes up in general usage these days.

If I’d thought to do so, I would have applied “elder” to my friend Patrick. He died in his forties, but he was an old soul – understanding and wise beyond his years, and sought out by people of all ages for those qualities. We should all hope to become as he. But that is, again, a definition of elder in the old sense. Today, it floats around the edges of language, I think, waiting for an updated definition.

Each of us will choose to use words and phrases to reference ourselves and others as old that fit us most comfortably. All I would ask is that they be chosen with the respect a given individual deserves, and that knee-jerk pejoratives be left to die.

Language matters. The civil rights movement of the 1960s began to gain momentum when African Americans refused any longer to accept the N word. And so it is with old people. When we resist ageist language, we are demanding the respect that a youth-centric culture too often denies us.

As of this posting, “elder” had received the largest number of poll votes, 33, followed by 29 for “senior” and 28 for “Old/Older.” As to the one person who voted for “biddy” – well, bless your heart, to each her own. Where I come from that’s not meant kindly…


Technorati Sucks

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that the second word in that title is among Crabby Old Lady's least favorite, so when she does use it, you can be certain she is one pissed off ElderBlogger.

All Crabby is trying to do here is run a little blog about getting older. Smart people who know how to do such things create cool tools to help do that and then they run around telling all the gullible news folks how great they are and next thing you know, they are hotshot web gurus speaking at every tech conference and being treated as though they're actually know something other people don't...

But the damned cool tool works about as well as a one-bladed windmill.

When Crabby's own Technorati listing is wrong – always wrong - how can she trust it when she's searching for age-related content on other sites? And too often there are no results at all. Server overload. Try emailing the Technorati service department and what you get is dead silence, no response. Ever.

These are not temporary glitches which any site can be forgiven occasionally. This has been going on for most of the past year. In the spring, when Crabby gave up on the help desk and contacted CEO David Sifry, he got Crabby's listing updated after a few email exchanges. That lasted about two weeks until it fell into a black hole again.

Technorati’s Niall Kennedy attended the Blogher conference in late July where Crabby Old Lady sat in with Koan Bremner of Multidimensional.Me when she pigeon-holed him on this very issue. Although he talked a lot and fiddled with his laptop, Niall was defensive and nothing changed.

It turns out Crabby is not alone in her complaint. Google “technorati worthless” and you’ll get 170,000 results showing that she is way behind the curve in lost patience. Last August, Jason Kottke bid farewell to Technorati:

“Pretty much everyone I talk to in the industry thinks the site sucks and we've just been waiting for it to get better because, well, it would have to at some point, wouldn't it? Well, I'm tired of waiting. Goodbye, Technorati - your url will darken the door of my browser no longer.”

That other well-known Jason (Calacanis) became fed up too:

“I think the company has a focus issue. They always seem to be busy doing odd side projects like mobile, Live8, the redesign and CNN. If I was running that company I would focus on one thing and one thing only: the quality of the search results. That’s it. That’s the only reason Technorati exists and that’s the thing they are doing worst.”

That post was also published in August and it’s mid-November now with no improvement.

So like these guys and what appears to be a whole lot of others, Crabby Old Lady has dropped Technorati and will rely on Icerocket, Feedster, PubSub and/or Blogpulse.

Thank you for listening. Crabby feels much better now.


Cast Your Vote in the Old Age Name Game

Jill Fallon of Legacy Matters left this comment on my post about Getting Over Getting Older in which resurrecting the word “elder” was discussed:

“I like the idea of reclaiming the world 'elder,'" wrote Jill, "even though I don't think it fits me or other people in the 50-70 stage which today seems to be late middle age. I prefer older to elder because it includes more people.”

My respect for Jill and her blog knows no bounds, but on this we disagree. It only takes a letter or two to make a difference in a word. “Elderly” feels frail to me. “Elder”, on the other hand, is a fine old word that has fallen into disuse and at age 64, I am comfortable with it, even proud to wear it. It is worth wondering if some people’s rejection of elder (not to imply that it is Jill’s reason) reflects the culture’s abhorrence of aging...

There are many words for “old” which can be positive, pejorative and points in-between. So it might be fun to see how TGB readers rank them in terms of preference.

Below is a poll containing some of the more common words used for old people. They are listed alphabetically to avoid any bias that might ensue from my personal ordering of the names. If you have other thoughts or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Select your favorites (multiple choices are allowed) and see how they compare.

What are your favorite words to describe old people?
Biddy
Coot
Elder
Fogey
Fossil
Geezer
Golden-ager
Graybeard
Mature Person
Old / Older
Oldster
Old-timer
Pensioner
Retiree
Senior
Senior Citizen
Third-ager
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com

[See also Name Game Poll Results]


Marketing Ageism / Ageist Marketing

category_bug_ageism.gif About a week ago, Elisa Camahort emailed a link to a blog by a marketing copywriter named Bob Bly, alerting me to this specific post:

“Having just been given an assignment to write a letter aimed at seniors, and rapidly approaching that status myself, I paused to think about what seniors (and near-seniors, like me) think, feel, and believe.

“Here’s what I think senior [sic] believe:

  1. Idiosyncratic, gruff, even crabby behavior is more accepted in the old than the young.
  2. The old days were better than today.
  3. The moral decay of society is accelerating at an almost exponential rate.
  4. Young people think they know everything, but in fact know almost nothing.
  5. Society has become course [sic] and crude.
  6. Technology scares them. They don’t understand it. But they wish they did.
  7. Their number one fear: outliving their retirement savings and being financially dependent on others.
  8. Their number two fear: old age, illness, and death.

“Are these on the money? Or are my assumptions off base?”

Off base? How about not within warp speed of this universe. I left a mini-version of my trademarked rant on age bias in Mr. Bly’s Comments section and was joined in the ensuing discussion by TGB regulars Winston of Nobody Asked and Tamar of In and Out of Confidence.

According to his professional home page, Mr. Bly is a 25-year veteran of writing successful marketing copy. He’s got the secrets, he says, to generating large numbers of responses to direct mail advertising that no one else knows - which secrets, by the way, he will reveal to you in a “boot camp” next February for a mere $2,497 – plus airfare and hotel in Las Vegas.

My intention is not to critique Mr. Bly’s copywriting skills which may or may not be prodigious. But I do take extreme exception to his false stereotyping of old people's attitudes as entirely negative, which is still too common in our youth-centric culture at large and in the professional marketing community.

When marketers bring these biases to their work, old people are targeted with advertising only about patent medicines, prescription drugs, diapers, dubious insurance policies and useless anti-aging products. When was the last time new cars, computers, iPods, fashionable clothing or cameras were marketed to older people, or models with gray hair and a wrinkle or two were displayed with them? It will never happen as long as there are too many marketers like Mr. Bly.

Tamar left a Comment suggesting that Mr. Bly must be kidding. One could only hope, but that would require an indication of irony, which never appears in his post or in the back-and-forth in the Comment section.

In addition, Mr. Bly avoided discussion of the question of his age bias we raised preferring instead, to create a semantic argument, defend his ageist list as being “proven by testing” (although he didn’t supply any of that proof) and attack bloggers in general.

While Mr. Bly’s post doesn’t have the reach of an advertisement in Vanity Fair or a commercial on television, for example, it is a small example of small-minded ageism and stuff lives forever somewhere on the web. So it, as all ageist propaganda, must be challenged wherever it appears.

Anyone - including Mr. Bly - interested in the latest research into marketing and the minds of older consumers presented in a thoughtful, engaging manner should check out David Wolfe's excellent blog, Ageless Marketing.


All My Blog Friends Live Close By

My post last week about the nature of blog friendship drew a lot of smart comments, adding new thoughts and ideas to my attempt to define the differences between real world and online relationships.

Some wrote that because we get to complete our thoughts without the interruptions that naturally occur in face-to-face conversation, we are better understood by and understand others more completely.

Most seemed to agree that emotional support is a component of blog friendships - especially for those who, being full-time caregivers or having moved to a new city or the busy-ness of life, haven’t the opportunity for frequent in-person visits.

We are judged on our blogs, said another, by the cogency our words and thoughts and not our physical appearance, which is similar to a comment about the variety of friends we find online. In the real world, friends tend to be of the same age group with similar interests, educational levels, backgrounds, even ethnicity and religion. Online, those definitions of ourselves don’t matter as much.

All these help further explain the closeness we feel with our blog friends. But there was one other about the greater speed with which we come to care for another. It was touched on in a comment left by Jeanne of her Cook sister blog and expanded on by cd mom at Half Changed World:

“I think in some ways my online friends...have spoiled me for in-person friendships, at least in the early, awkward, getting to know you stage. I don't have the patience for the meaningless small talk. I want people to talk about the things they're passionate about, what rocked and what sucked about their day. And people don't generally talk about those things with people they've just met.”

Exactly. It helps that many bloggers publish an About page listing their home town, what kind of work they do, their personal interests, why they're in the blogosphere and what their blog is about. But even without an About page, we bloggers skip the useless small talk that hardly anyone is good at anyway. As I remarked in the comments to cd mom:

“Whether we are agreeing, disagreeing or adding a new thought sparked by a post, we have an area of common interest as a starting point. In contrast, when we meet a new person in the real world, we fumble around about the weather or where we're from or where we went to college, etc. and there seems to be a social taboo against anything substantive in the beginning…”

Another reader reponded to cd mom with this interesting observation:

“It's not just that online friendships usually start in meaningful places, it's also that you are both doing it in a place where you feel comfortable *already*. You're at home, or at your desk at work, not negotiating territory in a neutral setting. You're doing it at your own pace…” [Kal Jones]

One blogger commenting at Half Changed World lamented that between some recently self-imposed isolation and real-world friends moving away, she is lately feeling lonely: “If only all my blog friends lived close by!” said Suzanne.

After reading all these thoughtful responses, I’d reverse Suzanne’s lament:

In cyberspace, all my blog friends live close by.


(Un)Intelligent Design

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Crabby Old Lady has been crabbier than usual this week (here and here) and today she’s tackling an issue she’s been wanting to spout off about for several months.]

The controversy over teaching intelligent design in tandem with evolution in science class - a proposal our brilliantly intelligent, well-spoken and popular president endorses – has received far too much serious attention for Crabby Old Lady to endure.

In case you’ve missed the terabytes of words published on this topic pro and con, Wikipedia boils down its definition to this:

“Intelligent design…is the controversial assertion that certain features of the universe and of living things exhibit the characteristics of a product resulting from an intelligent cause or agent.”

In other words, a smart cosmic spirit, not evolution, accounts for life. You can read the similar Judeo-Christian explanation for the origin of life in Genesis. (Crabby recommends the King James version for the beauty of its language.)

Although not all, many intelligent design proponents avoid identifying their supposed designer as God, but that’s just a political ploy to circumvent the constitutional doctrine of the separation of church and state as it applies to publicly-funded schools. So when you run across IDers’ references to a designer, you can substitute the word God if you like – it means the same thing. You can also substitute the word creationism for intelligent design if that suits you. ID is just fancy dress for creationism.

There appear to be as many variations on intelligent design as there are angels dancing on the head of a pin. Most adhere to the proposition that life is too complex for mutation and natural selection, the two primary aspects of the scientific theory of evolution, to be possible.

Oh, pshaw! All anyone need do to see the monumental flaw in that thinking is to consider the threat of another hot media topic - an avian flu pandemic. As biologist, Olivia Judson, explained in The New York Times last week, the H5N1 virus which so far, it appears, can pass only from fowl to humans, could “learn” to pass between humans in two ways:

“The virus might infect someone already sick with a strain of human flu, and the two viruses could have sex, thus creating a new virus that contains some genes from each. Such viral hanky-panky is thought to have led to the flu pandemics of 1957 and 1968. Or the virus could mutate - acquire accidental changes to its genetic material - in such a way that it becomes able to travel between people.”

Until someone can prove to Crabby Old Lady that not a single intelligent design advocate has taken a flu shot nor accepted the need for a new one each year – a tacit admission of belief in evolution – their arguments for teaching ID on a par with evolution are a sham, an attempt to cram Christianity, especially the evangelical variety, down the throats of America’s children at taxpayer expense.

Crabby has no objection to teaching a supernatural explanation of life - whether it is called creationism, intelligent design or fairy tale - as long as it remains at home or in Sunday school. To equate it with biology, chemistry, physics and evolution is as witless as according astrology the same legitimacy as astronomy.

It is shocking to Crabby Old Lady that there are places in the U.S., such as Kansas last Tuesday, which have ignorantly voted to change “the definition of science, expanding it to include supernatural explanations of natural phenomena” (UK Guardian) and promote intelligent design to equal status with evolution. Revoking Darwinism from the curriculum is, as Olivia Judson warns in the Times, a dangerous and frightening mistake:

“…we can use our knowledge of evolutionary processes in powerful and practical ways, potentially saving the lives of tens of millions of people. So let's not strip evolution from the textbooks, or banish it from the classroom, or replace it with ideologies born of wishful thinking. If we do, we might find ourselves facing the consequences of natural selection.”

Senior Discounts: A Rite of Passage

category_bug_journal2.gif Earlier this week, Colleen of Loose Leaf left a comment on my Getting Over Getting Older post about having recently received a ten dollar senior discount.

As serendipity in timing would have it, last Sunday I got my first senior discount too – at a movie theater. I had never asked for one before – hadn’t even thought about it - so I don’t know what possessed me to say at the ticket window, “one adult and one senior, please.” (ASIDE: I wish I’d said “elder.”)

It turns out that discount is no small change in New York City where movie tickets go for $11 a pop. The “elder” ticket cost only seven dollars, a savings which almost covered a grossly overpriced small bag of popcorn.

Colleen, who is about ten years younger than I, admitted to being a bit shaken by her first discount for age. I, on the other hand, sailed right through it without a quiver and have been wondering since then what other discounts I’m missing.

These two little rites of passage remind me that we don’t become old – or seniors or elders – in our minds overnight or on a certain birthday. Our perception of time is flexible, moving along at different rates of speed depending on circumstances, and minds can be hard things to change. We back into new definitions of ourselves slowly, I think, becoming accustomed to them gradually as other people and traditional markers outside ourselves – like photographs and senior discounts - reflect to us our passing years.

In the 20 months I’ve been writing Time Goes By, I’ve accepted my status – at least on paper – as a person of age, as an advocate for ending ageism and age discrimination, and for exploring what getting older is really like.

But what I had not done is feel that status of elderhood viscerally. I have yet to make it my own, so a part of my being that I don’t need to discuss it anymore - what Jill Fallon of Legacy Matters says Buddhists call “the ever-present awareness” of our inner selves.

I sense now, however, that I’m beginning to close in on it. Asking for the senior discount without a hiccup and taking pleasure in Elisa Camahort’s redefinition of me as “ElderBlogger Ronni Bennett” seem to be indications that acceptance in the wings. It took a long time in my youth to get past the feeling I was play-acting at being a grownup. The goal now is to become as certain an elder as I became an adult for so many decades.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll look into what other senior discounts are available. Saving a little money is a powerful incentive to attitude adjustment.