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Prognosticating the Boomers

If surveys and research about aging baby boomers are to be believed:

  1. Boomers have loads of disposable income
  2. Boomers will continue to work unto death out of financial need

  1. Boomer retirement will cause a big shortage of workers
  2. Boomers have no desire to retire

  1. Boomers are the healthiest generation that ever lived
  2. Boomers have a higher prevalence of heart disease, obesity and other age-related ailments than previous generations

Read enough of this stuff and you’ll see that the polls aren’t worth the cost of the telephone calls to do them. Crabby Old Lady is tired to her bones of boomer prognosticators who don’t know what they’re talking about.

And the whining! A recent news story based on a December Pew Research Center poll [PDF] (if it can be believed) reported that boomers are “feeling the squeeze,” citing these survey results:

  • 29 percent of boomers (with living parents) provide parents with financial help
  • 68 percent of boomers provide adult children with financial help
  • 13 percent of boomers provide financial help to both parents and adult children

Crabby’s reaction is “yes, and so?” It’s not as though boomers are the first generation to be “sandwiched”. Where she grew up – the average, little middle-class city of Portland, Oregon – about half her schoolmates had a grandparent, sometimes two, living with them. Some were healthy and active; some were not. Caring for aging parents while children are still in school is not a new phenomenon.

Crabby understands that it’s hard to stretch the dollars, but her biggest question is: why aren’t boomers’ adult children supporting themselves? Might it have something to do with boomers’ overindulgence of the kids they raised? One third of the Pew survey respondents – ONE-THIRD – said parents have a responsibility to provide housing for adult children. What are they thinking?

Because media and government (and pollsters) refuse to acknowledge the existence of anyone older than boomers, the rest of us elders will be required to live with the consequences of social decisions based entirely on notions – true or false - about the boomer generation.

Further, these boomer surveys don’t make a distinction between older and younger baby boomers. Forty-somethings have about as much in common with 60-year olds as Crabby does with the new baby next door. At 40, people are just hitting their career strides, expecting to gain even more success. They are still working hard, striving and raising families.

At 60, with the historic retirement age of 65 looming, they are beginning to consider what to do with the years they have left. Even if boomers "redefine retirement" (the ubiquitous empty catchphrase of boomer news stories), these are distinctly different mindsets.

Since boomer surveys contradict one another, there is nothing to do but wait and see what the oldest boomers actually do – and in what numbers - in the next few years. Meanwhile, Crabby Old Lady would like to see some surveys of her age group and older. We're not dead yet (though that is hard to know if mainstream media is relied upon), and our concerns are often different from the boomers.


Teaching Youth to Hate Aging

category_bug_ageism.gif As has been reported here in the past, the anti-aging movement is a sham and a lie. There is nothing on earth, natural or man-made, that will make anyone younger, but that hasn't stopped millions from being duped into spending billions on lotions, potions and pills that promise to knock 25 years off off their age.

Now, even 20-somethings are being persuaded to believe that they can and should do anything necessary to avoid getting – or looking – older:

“'Vanity is probably the main reason I started using anti-aging products, as superficial as it is,' says [Leslie] Speyers, a 24-year old…She notes that maintaining a youthful look is a common worry among her friends – including one who’s begun to dye her dark brown hair to hide some gray and another who uses skin-firming lotion on her legs because she thinks they look too flabby.”
- AP, 25 December 2005

Another 25-year-old has already undergone facial abrasion treatments to “keep wrinkles in check.”

Models Christie Brinkley and Cheryl Tiegs, who tout anti-aging products on television, are cited as 50-somethings for younger women to emulate and there is no doubt they look younger than their years in those commercials. However, it’s an easy bet that they have had a few nips and tucks, and I can guarantee – having spent a quarter of a century producing television programs – that a good makeup artist together with an experienced lighting director can take more than a decade off anyone’s appearance on camera.

There is nothing wrong with caring for one’s skin. Staying out of the sun helps, and as any dermatologist (who doesn’t have his own line of expensive anti-aging products) will tell you, soap and water will do the trick along with a little moisturizer to keep skin from drying out. Nothing else is needed. (Staying out of direct sun is a given.) In fact, a dermatologist I interviewed once told me that there is no moisturizer on the market that is any better than Vaseline except that it's bit heavy for everyday use.

Why is it that people so young are already concerned with the physical changes of getting older? Because we live in age-phobic culture that is discriminatory and disrespectful, littered with false beliefs about old age. We are teaching our children, nearly from the cradle - in movies, on television, in books, magazines and lame jokes - that aging is the worst thing that can happen to them. We are teaching them this every day in such innocuous occurrences as a visit to the cosmetic counter:

“Amy Flink, a 24-year-old Chicagoan...recently went for a free department store facial, only to have the clerk berate her about her freckles and the beginnings of tiny lines under her eyes.

“'That kind of harsh response, she says, ‘adds an extra level of paranoia and self-doubt – and how many people in their 20s need that?’”

- AP, 25 December 2005

Or people of any age. Will someone please find that store clerk and bite her.

Fortunately, not all young people are as susceptible to the youth and beauty police as others. Laura, who is 30 and blogs at kyrielle, said in her email enclosing the link to the AP story:

“This article made me wince and glower and sputter. Bleh.”

New Attitude on Successful Aging

category_bug_journal2.gif For years, researchers have defined successful aging as an absence, or low level, of disease and disability. Now, a fascinating new study of more than 500 elders aged 60 to 98 challenges that notion.

“What is most interesting about this study is that people who think they are aging well are not necessarily the most healthy individuals,” [said lead researcher Dilip Jeste, M.D.]. “In fact, optimism and effective coping styles were found to be more important to aging successfully than traditional measures of health and wellness. These findings suggest that physical health is not the best indicator of successful aging – attitude is.” [emphasis added]

The study, as reported in seniorjournal.com, relied on subjective reports by the participants, all of whom live independently, and the sample of individuals matched the national averages of medical and mental health conditions.

Although the incidence of physical illness and disability were high within the study group, when asked to rate their degree of successful aging on a ten-point scale - 10 being “most successful” - their average was 8.4.

“Most of the respondents who gave themselves high ratings would not meet the criteria for successful aging as quantified by more traditional measure that include absence of disease and freedom from disability.”

Also, those who regularly engaged in such activities as [bloggers take note] reading and writing and community socializing gave themselves higher scores than those who did not. And in contradiction to long-time received wisdom, “volunteer activities were not found to exert the same influence on participants’ reports.”

“For most people, worries about their future aging involve fear of physical infirmity, disease or disability,” says Jeste. “However, this study is encouraging because it shows that the best predictors of successful aging are well within an individual’s control.”

In other words, it's not an unfocused power-of-positive-thinking kind of attitude that makes a difference. It is adopting personal coping mechanisms as difficulties come along, and remaining as physically, socially and mentally active as possible in one's circumstances.

Jeste noted that the information from this study

“…could lead to the development of a new model for successful aging that incorporates the perspectives of seniors themselves.”

What a concept – ask elders how they’re doing.

[This research was conducted at the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine.]


A Nation of Serfs

Every month, mainstream media announces the good news (it’s always good news) – based on reports from the federal government and self-satisfied soundbites from President Bush - that the U.S. economy is humming along quite nicely. And every month, this news makes Crabby Old Lady bilious.

To its credit, The New York Times, on Christmas Day, set out to debunk the administration’s latest attempt to convince Americans that they are better off than they were last month, last year or ever in history before Mr. Bush came along. The editorial concentrated on the employment picture:

“Administration officials…love to cite the economy’s low unemployment rate, recently 5 percent. But more than one million people have left the work force since 2001 and are not counted as unemployed, although a big reason for leaving is a lack of good jobs. Add to that the 4.2 million part-timers who want full-time jobs, and employment is weaker than the administration would have you believe.”

No kidding, Sherlock. But as usual, the newspaper of record (they are not alone in this) never bothers, in its business pages, with historical data - reporting only the latest month's figures and whether it is up or down from the previous month.

Crabby Old Lady has done some homework for you on U.S. employment in 2005 – and you better damned well appreciate it; it’s hard to find and collate.

Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announces the number of new unemployment insurance applications. On a different day each month, resulting in separate news stories, job creation numbers are announced. They are never compared in one place and mass layoffs, such as those in Detroit recently, get their own, individual news stories.

So because of our short-attention-span, disjointed news cycles, the government gets away with crowing about how many new jobs have been created in our supposed growing economy. But let Crabby show you the total numbers of each for the first eleven months of 2005:

Job creation: 1,871,000
Mass layoffs: 1,564,000

Difference: 307,000 new jobs

Not so hot when you see them together, is it? And these figures do not include non-mass layoffs nor the number of new, off-shored jobs nor the increasing number of people who are employed (often illegally) as independent contractors because when they are laid off, they cannot collect unemployment insurance and thus are not counted as unemployed.

In addition, as The New York Times editorial points out, in a year when corporate profits have been phenomenally high - in the double digits - “wages have lagged inflation by 0.3 percent for 80 percent of the workforce,” defined as blue-collar and non-managerial.

And no wonder. What company can afford to pay a living wage to its workers when their CEOs receive this kind of eye-popping compensation. [Don’t forget to add three zeroes to those salary numbers.]

“The heads of America's 500 biggest companies received an aggregate 54% pay raise last year. As a group, their total compensation amounted to $5.1 billion, versus $3.3 billion in fiscal 2003.”
- Forbes, 21 April 2005

Although they just voted themselves a 1.9 percent pay raise for 2006, amounting to $3,100 a year, members of our rubber-stamp congress don’t make nearly as much as private-sector CEOs – that is, until they leave office and are hired by the corporations whose phenomenal profits congress has increased through favorable legislation, lowering corporate taxes and handing out no-bid contracts.

Is it any wonder Crabby Old Lady is bilious? She will remind you of all this when it’s time to vote next November.

This, from counterpunch.com is worth reading too.


Respect

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield built an entire career on one joke about getting no respect. Now that he’s gone, there’s no one to siphon off some of the ambient disrespect and elders take a large part of it.

Even the media’s overdone response to the oldest baby boomers turning 60 next year has been curdled by snide asides and false assumptions about old people. And elders are so unimportant to the federal government that President Bush didn’t feel the need to attend the once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging earlier this month.

Without any respect from mainstream media or the government, it falls to us bloggers to do something about changing cultural attitudes toward elders which is the reason I started this blog.

But long before I got here Robert Brady, an American who has been living in Japan for 30-some years, was speaking up for elders. Aging is not the sole focus of his Pure Land Mountain blog, but he regularly lends his sparkling voice to the fray.

Last week he noted that due to there now being more deaths than births, Japan’s population is declining - which led him to muse:

“As to said decline, I myself may be declining, but nevertheless it seems to me that Japanese society could do a lot better with wisdom at the helm than some upstart knowitall whippersnappers fresh out of the classroom who can't even add to the population.

“Life experience is what we need, clear-eyed, reading glass-wearing folks up there in positions of party leadership who have experienced life, who know how to bring fine wines to the masses, create a department of rock and roll, swear in a secretary of sexuality, break down a few fences, change quite a few stodgy rules and eliminate even more others that get in the way of a good time to be had by all 24/7 nationwide.

“It's called the Silver Surfer Party. Bring a date.”

This so delighted me, I re-read an older post of Robert’s titled Elderhood, so named long before I got around to embracing that lovely old word. It would be unfair in the extreme to synopsize this dazzlingly beautiful, funny and definitive treatise which explains, without ever mentioning respect, why it, nevertheless, should be paid to elders - but only certain ones. A sample:

“I'm not talking book smarts or street smarts or any of those five-and-dime kind of smarts anybody can get if they can breathe long enough; I'm talking SMARTS, all gilded bold caps, as conferred only by time deeply spent.

“And I don't mean in meditation. I mean in ACTIVE QUEST. That too is gilded bold caps, but this time generously embellished with precious stones, mainly emeralds and rubies, because diamonds are way overrated, as any multifaceted elder knows.

”Anyway, that's why genuine elders aren't enticed by the culture of youth: because…”

Now get thee over to Pure Land Mountain and read what I haven’t gotten near expressing so well in almost two years of daily entries on this blog.


Where Silence is No Longer Golden

For as long as Crabby Old Lady can remember, the week or so surrounding Christmas and New Years was marked by heavy movie attendance. She seems always to have had extra days off work and – well, you can’t celebrate all the time and it’s usually too cold to be outside for long.

Crabby doesn't just like movies, she LOVES movies - especially good ones, but some bad ones and silly ones too. The entire point, to her, is to be enveloped by a giant screen in a darkened theater so that she can lose herself, give herself over wholly and completely to the pictures and the story.

But no more. Crabby saw exactly one film in 2005 and probably not more than one or two in 2004, because it has become so painful.

Have you tried it recently? Twenty minutes of commercials originally produced for television so that they display badly on a large screen; cell phones ringing followed by one-sided conversations at a volume more suitable to a stadium; and squalling babies.

Now, it appears that movie theater owners have twigged to one reason attendance is down and are petitioning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow installation of cellphone blocking devices in theaters. Of course, phone lobbyists are squawking because, they say, the devices would interfere with emergency situations.

Oh, yeah – like every cell-owning movie-goer is an obstetrician with a baby due any minute.

In an interview on CNN the other day, John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, said jamming cell phones would be a last resort. The preferred method of dealing with disturbances is to have theater ushers politely suggest to phone users and parents of screeching babies that they leave the auditorium for the duration.

The first thing wrong with that statement is – when is the last time you saw usher in a movie theater? Not anywhere Crabby’s been in New York City. And “politely suggest”? If courtesy were a concept understood by cell phone jerks and rude parents, this discussion would be moot.

The problem has been beyond politeness as a solution for years. Throw them out of the theater – without a refund - if they or their kids can’t keep their mouths shut, is what Crabby believes. And anyway, when did it become okay to take infants to movie theaters? When Crabby asked that question of a young mother once, she was told that baby sitters are too expensive. Too bad. You chose to have a child, stay home until the kid can behave in public. It comes with the territory of being a parent.

Theaters, by definition, are public gathering places designed to view and hear performances. Enjoyment of those performances has required silence from the audience - aside from laughter and applause - since the ancient Greeks invented the amphitheater. The biggest puzzlement to Crabby is that the rights of paying customers - sans phone or child - are superseded these days by those who think a theater is their home, but theater operators are to blame too for not enforcing quiet.

Crabby greatly misses movies in theaters – particularly at this time of year - so if it means she can watch a movie in peace, she’s all for cell jamming. But Crabby won’t return to movie theaters until someone also invents a baby-jamming device.


Coal in Your Stocking From Congress

category_bug_journal2.gif As long as we’re talking about health (see yesterday), the Republican-controlled Senate –
also yesterday – voted to cut the federal deficit by cutting Medicaid, Medicare and student loans. Oh yeah, let’s let the most vulnerable among us bear the cost of a budget run amok by lawmakers.

The vote was stuck at 50-50 until vice president Dick Cheney, having rushed home from Pakistan when Republicans warned him he might be needed to break a tie, cast the deciding vote.

This bill reduces the deficit by $39.7 billion over five years which, it is worth noting, amounts to $7.9 billion per year, compared to $27.3 billion in pork projects Congress voted itself in fiscal 2005 - and that’s only one year’s worth. Look out in 2006.

The legislation, which is expected to breeze through the House, freezes home health care payments under Medicare at current levels for the next year, and Medicaid regulations will change to make it harder for the elderly to qualify for federal nursing home benefits. Student loan interest rates will be locked at 6.8 percent and cannot be refinanced when rates fluctuate downward.

“President Bush praised the vote as ‘a victory for taxpayers, fiscal restraint and responsible budgeting,’ and he said it would help achieve his goal of cutting the federal deficit in half by 2009. In a statement, he said the bill marked ‘the first time in nearly a decade that Congress has reduced entitlement spending.’
- Washington Post, 21 December 2005

Now, there’s something to be proud of when only elders, the poor and youth of America are affected while the several tax cuts for the rich enacted during the Bush administration remain, to Congress and the president, sacrosanct.

The cuts in this legislation amount to 2.5 percent of the five-year projected budget shortfall of $1.6 trillion. If I reined in my personal spending this poorly, I'd be living on the street in a refrigerator box.

“The bill ‘robs from the poor to make room for tax giveaways to the wealthiest individuals in the country,’ said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).”

Merry Christmas, everyone, from 51 of your kindly, neighborhood politicians with their free, lifetime medical coverage.


Beware the Health Gods

It is no secret to anyone that the healthcare system in the United States is a bad joke. It is unnecessarily expensive; elders are regularly given inferior care; there are nowhere near enough geriatricians or nurses to go around; and 45 million people, including children, are without coverage at all. In about ten days, Crabby Old Lady will join them. Some history:

Story No. 1: Many years ago, sometime in the 1950s, Crabby’s father was between jobs for a month or so and without health coverage until the new position began. During that short period of time, Crabby’s little brother, who was then about ten years old, fell off his bike, cracked his skull and was in hospital long enough to rack up a huge bill. It was a lengthy burden for her dad to pay that off.

Story No. 2: In 1977, Crabby found herself in a similar position, without coverage until a new job began in a few days. She suddenly came down with a terrible and mysterious infection – never diagnosed - that involved ten days in hospital, delaying the start of her new job. Like her father, Crabby was impoverished by that little episode - costing in the tens of thousands - for several long years.

Laugh at Crabby if you will, but with these past occurrences, perhaps it is understandable that she is more than a little superstitious about being without health insurance. If something terrible is going to go wrong, it will happen during a hiatus from health coverage which, it is Crabby's suspicion, is intended not to pay for illness and accident, but to appease the health gods from smiting her.

Cut to the present day. Regular readers of TGB will recall that after a year of fruitless searching for work, Crabby decided to sell her home, in which she has a lot of equity, and leave New York for less expensive environs. The apartment has not sold yet.

Crabby, who was not eligible for medical coverage at her last job and therefore now without COBRA, has been paying for her medical coverage each month with both arms and legs, along with a couple of borrowed appendages.

Several weeks ago, her insurance company abruptly announced that Crabby’s plan is being discontinued and although there is a new plan, it costs so much more than previously – many hundreds of dollars a month for the premium – that Crabby can’t possibly afford it during this period when she is unemployed and selling her home.

So Crabby, who is eligible for Medicare on 1 April 2006, realized she has three months - three scary months - during which she is convinced that if she remains insurance naked, those health gods will visit upon her at least two or three plagues similar to those the Jewish god rained down on the Israelites.

To subvert such disaster, a kindly friend suggested that Crabby contact a New York State insurance program. The following ensued:

A: Health Plus NY provides coverage at much lower rates than for-profit insurers – but only in certain circumstances. In Crabby’s case, she is too old; the insured must be under 64, the exact age at which Crabby is now. Too bad for Crabby.

B: Refusing Crabby's jesting request to fudge a little on her age (and refusing to see the humor in said request), the woman at that organization suggested Crabby talk with another group, Healthy New York. They told her that their coverage is only for the recently unemployed, among other criteria Crabby does not meet. Their suggestion was to call the New York Department of Social Services (DSS) – in other words, Medicaid.

C: But DSS will not cover Crabby because she has a home equity line of credit – the large majority of which (since Crabby already has enough monthly bills) is untouched – and anyone with more than $4000 in cash or access to more than $4000 in cash – even if it is a loan – is ineligible.

So Crabby - and she is not alone in this circumstance - is out of options or, at least, affordable ones.

Why has this happened, you may ask. Because our elected officials in Washington are busy spending billions of dollars on a reckless, unnecessary war; defending domestic spying; writing useless legislation to make flag-burning illegal (when was the last time anyone burned a flag?); lining their own pockets; and assuring that insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms will continue to rake in the dough while the U.S. remains the only first-world country without universal healthcare.

What do those senators and representatives care about the rest of us. A notoriously generous health plan for them and their families comes with the job.

(While you are thinking that over, read this from Kurt Vonnegut who is - as someone noted - our century's Mark Twain.)

Although Crabby is grateful for having been remarkably healthy so far, she knows those health gods are just waiting to slam her when she has not made her monthly sacrifice to them. Might they be merciful to her? Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, If you are looking for Crabby Old Lady over the next three months, you'll find her in bed from whence she is not budging until 1 April 2006 when her Medicare kicks in.


The Blog Pub

In certain sociological circles, there is some hand-wringing and a lot of discussion about the fading of community as advanced technology, they say, isolates us.

“The ‘pursuit of loneliness’...is also linked to the notion that we have become a ‘home-based society’ too busy playing our playingstations or watching DVDs to care or participate in our own neighborhood or local community.”
- OnLine Opinion, 8 December 2005

The article from which that quote is taken reminds me of the fruitful discussion we had here last month about blog friendships [The Nature of Blog Friends and All My Blog Friends Live Close By]. The writer, Nicholas Hookway, who is an Australian PhD student at the University of Tasmania, says that although there is a lot of research to suggest that western cultures are losing their sense of community, he sees a new kind of community developing:

“…there is no doubting that widespread individualism and declining informal public space is a central feature of our contemporary world, I wonder if there is something going on under our noses that we are missing.”

Mr. Hookway suggests that the “information revolution,” most specifically blogs, have provided new ways of being together:

“If people are ‘hanging out’ at home rather than in pubs or cafes maybe they are online, finding cosy little worlds within their computer screens.”

But we knew that all along, didn't we? Mr. Hookway found a 33-year-old LiveJournal blogger who knows it too:

“…I’ve had more love, support, understanding and time offered me than I can conceive. I said to my mother tonight, it’s warm, and these women are the funniest, cleverest, brightest, most generous women I’ve ever met. It’s safe there, and it’s so warm, and it’s kind and it’s just worth it. I can’t explain more than that…”

Technology can’t help but change how we interact with one another and although when the habits of a culture shift there is some loss, humans are inventive sorts and we gain too. Most particularly, I think of elders whose social worlds can shrink upon retirement, through death of friends and perhaps declining mobility. But thanks to computers, the internet and blogging, new social worlds, as comfortable, neighborly and fulfilling as the face-to-face kind, are created.

Welcome to the blog pub.


The Oldest Baby Boomers

With all the media attention on the oldest baby boomers Who begin turning 60 in about two weeks, someone at the U.S. Census Bureau has used a few taxpayer dollars collecting some factoids that compare life in 1946 to life now along with a few projections for the future. [All statistics are from the U.S. Census Bureau except as noted.]

78.2 million
Estimated number of baby boomers as of July 1, 2005.

7,918
Number of people turning 60 each day in 2006, according to projections. That amounts to 330 every hour.

James & Mary
The most popular baby names for boys and girls, respectively, in 1946. Today, the names Jacob and Emily lead the list - James ranks 17th among boys and Mary is 63rd among girls.
Social Security Administration

50.8 percent
Percentage of women baby boomers in 2005.

9.1 million
Estimated number of baby boomers in 2004 who were black.

32 percent
Proportion of Alaska’s population that was part of the baby boom generation, as of the last census. Baby boomers also comprised 30 percent or more of the population in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. In contrast, Utah (23 percent) was the only state where baby boomers constituted less than 25 percent.

141.4 million
Estimated U.S. population in 1946. Today, the nation’s population stands at 297.7 million.

33 percent and 5 percent
The proportions of adults age 25 and older with at least a high school diploma and at least a bachelor’s degree, respectively, in 1947. By 2004, the respective proportions had risen to 85 percent and 28 percent.

$2,695
Average annual expenditures on health care in 2004 for people ages 45 to 54 — the age group that is the heart of the baby boom generation. When budgeting medical expenses, baby boomers should expect increased healthcare spending as they age. For example, those age 55 to 64 spent $3,262 and those 65 and over, $3,899.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

57.8 million
Number of baby boomers living in 2030, according to projections. 54.9 percent would be women. That year, boomers will be between ages 66 and 84.


This Week in the Elder Blogosphere: 18 December 2005

Robert Brady, who has been informing and entertaining us for many years at Pure Land Mountain, has started a second blog with his brother, Mick. TheBlogBrothers – Robert from his home in Kyoto, Mick from his home in Santa Barbara – alternate posts recalling their youth in Albany, New York (we DO all get around, don’t we). What is remarkable is that there is not a speck of nostalgia, just fascinating detail and reminiscence of the lives of two young boys in upstate New York a half century ago.

After a hiatus of a month, Always Question was back this week with one of his trademark rants, this time on government surveillance, and he reminds us that President Bush did not take the U.S. to war in Iraq on “faulty intelligence” as the Bush and other like to tell us, but “on the basis of manipulated intelligence.” Stop by and urge AQ to step up his blogging frequency. I miss his thoughtful political ruminations.

Rana at Blowin’ in the Wind has a poignant post about his son spending his first Christmas away from home in the U.S. where he began college in the fall. Rana works in Singapore and his wife in Calcutta. Why not hop on over there a leave a cheery Christmas message.

There are two gorgeous photos of snow at night from Beth of The Cassandra Pages.

Dick Jones at his Patteran Pages blog reposted his poem, Finisterre, a meditation on the end of life which reads in part:

…Along the fenceline,
through the trees and into the fields beyond,
a child is running hard towards the world’s edge.

What a lovely thing to do: Yaakov Kirschen, in reprinting one of his Dry Bones cartoons from 1973, about Golda Meir, included a photograph of the Israeli prime minister at age 18. What a beauty she was – but then, I liked her aging face too; there was so much living in it.

A woman after my own heart, GraceD at I am Dr. Laura’s Worst Nightmare is posting a series on Christmas schlock. You can see the first two here and here.

Demian at Keeping the Dream who, if memory serves, turned 50 not too long ago, explains why she is bothered when people tell her she doesn’t look her age. Hurray for Demian.

Collen at Loose Leaf Notes posted 13 Thngs About My Father – an engaging reminiscence.

Norm at One Good Move has his usual excellent collection of Quicktime clips and lefty links. If, like me, you are too often doing something else when The Daily Show is broadcast, Norm’s blog is a must-visit catchup.

Millie Garfield of My Mom’s blog celebrated an early Hannukah with her son Steve and daughter-in-law Carol before she left Boston for her wintering in Florida. Check out the video of their funny gift exchange at Steve Garfield’s Video Blog.

From the Honorary Elder Bloggers list on the right sidebar, I see I missed Rana’s birthday. She posted photos of herself at age "one-ish" and now, age 43, at her blog, Notes From an Eclectic Mind. If, like me, you missed wishing her happy birthday, it would be a nice thing to go do. Happy Birthday, Rana.

Also from the Honorary Elder Bloggers list, Halley Suitt at Halley’s Comment has a long (for her) treatise on Dr. Andrew Weill’s characterization of cosmetic surgery as a moral failure. I need to put some thought what Halley has to say.


WH Conference on Aging – Followup

[EDITORIAL NOTE: In answer to any email I may have missed responding to, the lack of a regular post yesterday was due my blog service, Typepad, having been down for more than 12 hours. It's back up now and seems to be working properly, including restored comment capability.]

category_bug_ageism.gif Delegates to the White House Conference on Aging this past week were in no mood to follow the tightly-scripted agenda referred to in my first story on the meeting.

“If President Bush had been expecting the White House Conference on Aging to rubber-stamp his Medicare and Social Security priorities, he received a stinging rebuke Tuesday.

“Rather than embracing the Medicare drug law and Bush’s call for private Social Security investment accounts, delegates at work session on those issues overwhelmingly rejected those positions.”

- Palm Beach Post, 14 December 2005

In a far more sane approach than the Bush administration enacted into law, delegates demanded that the new Medicare Part D be scrapped in favor of a single drug plan within Medicare that includes a requirement – currently prohibited in the legislation for Part D – that Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies as the Department of Defense does.

President Bush’s Social Security privatization campaign drew fire from the 1,200 delegates, most of whom were appointed by their state governors and congressional members with about 400 being selected by the policy committee from applications.

“Anger spilled over at the Social Security workshop where a conference staff member leading the session threatened to have one of the delegates, Stephen Regenstreif of Washington, removed. Regenstreif demanded a vote on whether delegates at the workshop preferred a statement opposing private Social Security investment accounts or one supporting them.

"Eventually, delegates were able to indicate their preference for the proposals, and the anti-privatization proposal won by a wide margin.” [Eighty percent according to one delegate.]

- Palm Beach Post, 14 December 2005

The overall goal of the conference was to select 50 of 73 resolutions drafted in advance by the policy committee, and then to suggest ways they might be implemented. At the four past conferences on aging, delegates could debate resolutions and put forth proposals, neither of which were allowed this year.

“’They’ve convened the best and brightest people on aging in the field but they don’t want input from us,’ said Helene Stone, a retired social worker…”
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 13 December 2005

In the end, the delegates’ votes on Medicare and Social Security were taken and Dorcas Hardy, chair of the conference, said all views would be reflected in the final report which is due within 100 days. Nevertheless, some delegates were skeptical:

“’I want to make sure that the policy committee doesn’t subvert what we were talking about today,’ said Belle Likover, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, at the conclusion of a Social Security workshop.

This week's was the fifth White House Conference on Aging. They have been held approximately once a decade since the Kennedy administration. George Bush is the first president not to attend and address the conference.


For Elders and Gimps and Everyone Else

A few weeks ago, I described the disaster of a city-run, flu-shot clinic which seemed to have deliberately made it as physically difficult as possible for the elders it was intended to serve.

In response to that story, I heard from Susan Stubblebine, a 60-year-old social worker living in a small, northeastern Minnesota town who recently entered what she calls “gimphood” and now uses forearm crutches to get around. Susan explained to me that most accessibility accommodations – when they are available at all – are designed primarily for people in wheelchairs, leaving landmines at every turn for people of any age who are otherwise disabled:

“The rest of us who gimp around,” she writes, have long walks, furniture that is designed to be low to the ground so that sitting down and getting up is an ugly sight, not to mention bathrooms that have one stall that may have grab bars, but everyone uses that stall because it’s larger, so if one needs to pee in a hurry, there is no hope.”

Susan says that hotel rooms ostensibly designed for accessibility are frequently missing such things as grab bars in the shower, and that the rooms are often in disrepair. And you wonder what kind of hotel management thought up this one:

“Picture an accessible room,” says Susan, "on the 12th floor with the prominently placed notice: ‘In case of fire, take the stairs.’”

Fortunately, Susan has a good sense of humor, but the problems are real.

“I have a ‘handicapped parking’ tag, but almost never use it. Many HP spots are either filled with shopping carts/snow piles/cars driven by those who are using Grandma’s tag, etc. I’m pretty philosophical about this, figuring that ‘they’ll get theirs’ someday.”

Susan introduced me to the concept of Universal Design, the idea being that the accessibility and usability of everything – containers, buildings, furniture, fixtures, cabinets, etc. – should be better designed to suit people of all ages and physical circumstances. The Usability Design Alliance explains:

“The housing stock in the United States is built to accommodate the average twenty-five year old, six-foot tall male. If this profile does not match your individual vital statistics you can correctly conclude that the bulk of this housing was not built to best accommodate you. In fact, this model group is but a minute segment of the entire population.”

People who have been thinking about Universal Design for a long time have come up with seven principles and guidelines to go with them:

  1. Equitable Use: the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  2. Flexibility in use: the design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  3. Simple and intuitive: Use of design is easy to understand regardless of user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration levels.
  4. Perceptible information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of adverse or accidental actions.
  6. Low physical effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  7. Size and space for approach and use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.

You can find out more about implementation of these principles at The Center for Universal Design website.

Not many builders and manufacturers have bought the idea of Universal Design yet. Millie Garfield of My Mom’s Blog proved that in her first videoblog last year with a container of Nescafe coffee. And Crabby Old Lady has posted complaints similar to Millie’s, but these problems aren’t confined to elders or “gimps,” and as my new cyberfriend, Susan, points out:

“I think that what would be good for older people would be great for all – signs/directions designed to be easily seen; door that don’t require massive effort to tug open; bathrooms located near entrances; curb cuts; store aisles free of junk…”

Quirky, Weird or Obstinate?

Honorary ElderBlogger Koan Bremner of Multidimentional.Me with whom I shared the How To Get Naked panel at the Blogher conference last summer, dropped a dime on me. She named me one of five to continue the meme, Five Quirky Things You Didn’t Know About Me, posting these instructions:

“Ground Rules: The first player of this game starts with the topic of “Five Weird Habits About Yourself” and the people who get tagged need to then write an entry about their five quirky little habits as well as state the rules of the game clearly. In the end, you need to list the next five people who you want to tag then go on to leave a tag comment on their blog.”

Koan, I’ve tried. Perhaps I’m just too ordinary to have weird or quirky habits – or perhaps I am profoundly ignorant of myself…

Whichever - this little treatise on obstinacy in elders is a substitute:

It is widely believed that old people become stuck in their ways, incapable of or unwilling to try something new. This has been discussed here at TGB before in Stuck in the Mud – Or Discerning where the distinction was made between stubbornness and experience.

I stand by that essay. Last week, however, a new reason for sometime insistence on routine presented itself.

When I was younger – thirties, forties and maybe into my fifities – I could, within reason, disrupt my sleep habits without consequence. I could stay too late at the party, have an extra glass of wine or two, go dancing until the wee hours and still be fully functional in the morning.

That hasn’t been true for at least a decade. Unless I get a regular average of six to seven hours of sleep, I am miserable the next day, can’t concentrate and every activity is drudgery, like pulling a 500-pound stone up a hill. So I stick to my evening routine, returning home from social engagements early enough to settle down, calm body and mind, and fall asleep at about the same time every night.

One day last week, however, dinner was so lovely, the company so convivial, the conversation so compelling that I stayed well past my bedtime and when the evening did end, I was still so mentally engaged that sleep wasn’t possible for another couple of hours.

The next morning I was sharply reminded of the reason I insist on my regular bedtime; the day was lost to misery. I never did get out of my flannel granny gown, I accomplished nothing I’d intended, I pissed off the cat because I wouldn’t play and I spent too much time beating up myself for being such a slob.

Elders (at least, this one) don’t bounce back as quickly as younger people and that’s one good reason I’ll go back to being stubborn about sticking to my bedtime - except when I'm not. And I’ll be a lot more understanding in the future about others’ insistence on whatever their routines are.


Dramatic Ageism

category_bug_ageism.gif It is mostly the media that define our culture. Television not only mirrors how we live, it shows us how to live - what to wear, how to behave and what to believe.

In the 29 November episode of the TV drama, Commander in Chief (which is about a woman president), titled “The Mom Who Came to Dinner,” the following scene turned up. The two characters are the First Husband, Rod Calloway, played by Kyle Secor and the president’s mother, Kate Allen, played by Polly Bergen:

KATE: President Allen. Madame President. My daughter, the president. Do you know, I can remember when I couldn’t open a checking account without my husband’s signature. Oh – Michael would be so thrilled to see her now. He bragged about her from the day she was born. Everybody says you get used to loss. I miss him more every day.

ROD: Kate, you spend too much time in that house.

KATE: Oh, there’s nowhere to go and nobody to go with.

ROD: What about all your friends?

KATE: They can’t see and they can’t hear and they can’t walk and going to lunch is like a major expedition. And once we get there, all they do is talk about their medical problems.

ROD: [nods sympathetically]

KATE: I remember bullying Michael into having a vacation in Hawaii. After one day, he said doctors should send all their terminally ill patients to Hawaii because being there one day was like a year. [PAUSE] Getting old is like a vacation in Hawaii.

That’s amazing. In under one minute, the script reminds us how much the conditions of women have improved since the 1960s and repeats the false stereotype that all elders are impaired and boring – as is old age itself.

This scene is not an isolated incident. In books, magazines, newspapers, movies, television and the internet, such insults are hurled daily at elders, biases that are never tolerated when aimed at ethnic groups, religions or women.

What that scene does is perpetuate the belief that it is okay to denigrate elders because even the president’s mother, portrayed positively throughout the show, doesn’t like old people or getting old herself. Constant expressions in the media of prejudice such as this make it possible for age discrimination in the workplace and inferior healthcare for elders, among other things, to continue unquestioned.

But behold the power of the media: anti-smoking advocates have been so successful in lobbying Hollywood to remove cigarettes, cigars, pipes and snuff from their stories that on the rare occasion we see an actor smoking on camera, we immediately know he’s the bad guy.

There is not a television show in existence that wouldn’t be drowned in objections if a major character was shown smoking. There would be boycotts of sponsors, a letter-writing campaign and viewers would stop watching to express their displeasure.

Such blatant ageism as this show exhibits is equally abhorrent. Episode writers Joel Fields and Alison Cross along with executive producer Steve Bochco and actor Polly Bergen – she especially is old enough to know better – should be ashamed of themselves. They could have used this story arc with the president's mother to promote a more positive image of elders.

ABC-TV has a blog for Commander in Chief where comments can be made. I left one this morning – if they they post it [it's a moderated blog]. Why not add your voice objecting to this characterization of elders. Now be polite about it…


WH Conference on Aging Begins Today

category_bug_ageism.gif Will anybody ever get it right about elders? The White House Conference on Aging begins today in Washington, D.C. and runs through Wednesday. It has been held once a decade since 1961, with the mission, according to the website, to develop “recommendations for research and action in the field of aging.”

It appears, however, that there won't be much action coming out of this conference. It is authorized this year to evaluate how the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000 can be met, along with evaluating (wait till you read this):

“…the manner in which national policies that are related to economic security and health care are prepared so that such policies serve individuals born from 1946 to 1964 and later…” [emphasis added]

What is anyone like me born before 1946 to the White House - dead? This should be named “The White House Conference on Baby Boomers and Screw Anybody Who’s Older Than 60 Conference.” But in reality, it won't do much for boomers either.

"'This conference is different...' [says Dorcas Hardy, appointed by President Bush to head the conference planning who hopes the meeting will deliver] 'Greater awareness of healthy diet and exercise,' she said. She then mentioned 'long-range care but quickly added that 'not everything is up to the federal and state government.'"
- Los Angeles Times 10 December 2005

In other words, the message from this White House is that if you're rich, we've got some great tax breaks for you, but if you're not and you're old, you're on your own.

The United States – in fact, the world – is on the cusp of a surge in the elder population the likes of which has never been seen in history. But questions of the coming increased need for caregiving for elders have yet to be addressed by the Bush administration, and Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist who teaches at the University of California Berkeley, has low expectations for any change in that attitude:

"Two-thirds of all care that older people receive is offered free by family and friends - and mostly by women in their 40s and 50s who hold full time jobs as well," she writes. "Such women can't quit their jobs, and even as they age, the administration doesn't want them to. As Hardy commented, 'We want retirees to think about coming back off the golf course' and going back to work. But caught between 'take care of grandma yourself,' 'don't expect much from government' and 'stay on the job' rhetoric, these women are nowhere near a golf course."
- Los Angeles Times 10 December 2005

Among the agenda [pdf reader required] items at the conference are:

The Workplace of the Future: Although the item refers to “encouraging employers to retain older workers”, nowhere does it mention the phrase “age discrimination” or even “ageism” – the largest barriers to employment of elders.

Health and Long-Term Living: Although there is some fancy bureaucratic language about access for affordable services, delivery of quality care and affordable health benefits, there is not a word about universal healthcare coverage.

It has increasingly concerned me, as I’ve grappled with understanding the convoluted provisions of the new Medicare prescription drug plan, that it is long past time for a single-payer system as every other developed nation has had for many years. This would be an excellent topic for the delegates to take up because it would serve both elders and those who care for them (not to mention children and everyone else), but the agenda of the conference has been carefully limited to the few issues the Bush administration supports.

Technology and Innovation…: This agenda section doesn’t even mention the most important tool we have to improve and sustain the health, well-being and lives of elders: computers and the internet.

The baby boomers may still believe they will be young forever, but we all know that is not so. The increasing numbers of elders who will need part- and full-time care will grow dramatically in the coming couple of decades and the numbers of people needed to do the caregiving are just not there. Arlie Hochschild again:

"In nursing homes, caregivers come and go. The annual turnover rate among care workers is 60% for nonprofit nursing homes and more than 100% in for-profit ones - mainly due to low wages. Money that might have addressed this needs has gone to tax cuts and war."
- Los Angeles Times 10 December 2005

This White House Conference on Aging, as planned by the Bush administration, is selling Americans - elders and their future caregivers - down the river. The longer we wait to address these issues, the greater the crisis will become and the more expensive it will be to solve it.


This Week in the Elder Blogosphere: 11 December 2005

AARP Bulletin posted two stories about ElderBloggers by Patrick J. Kiger: Older, Wiser Bloggers and Blogosphere 101. There may be a follow-up in the January print edition of the Bulletin.

amba at ambivablog has posted a beautiful photo of herself along with an ambivalent painting that she says will remain at the top of her blog until the end of the year. Go see how it speaks – or not - to you.

Claude at Blogging in Paris posted a photo of herself that appears to be as ambivalent as amba’s painting. Check it out.

Donna Woodka at Changing Places has been ruminating about life purpose and she too includes an image. It is reminiscent of Wyeth’s Cristina’s World, but also not.

This one is older than the past week, but Joy at Joy of Six posted a beautiful and moving piece on grieving following the recent death of her husband of 37 years. Don’t miss it.

Kenju at Just Ask Judy was in an image mood this week too. She posted some of the mysterious photos of parts of outer space that are hundreds of light years distant. They are breathtaking.

When was the last time you saw the words “Christmas” and “compost” next to each other? Jude at long-toothed hinterland dweller in Australia pulled that off.

Marian Douglas at Marian’s Blog reposted a funny piece that perfectly captures several of the less attractive aspects of our president and his administration in one short paragraph.

In response to my “memories” piece earlier this week, artist-blogger Marja-Leena Rathje emailed me a link to some of her paintings inspired by her father’s dementia. They are as mysterious and haunting as those space photographs.

Frank Paynter of Sandhill Trek asked some people how they blog. Tamar at In and Out of Confidence, Liz Ditz at I Speak of Dreams, Steve Sherlock at Steve’s 2 Cents and Winston Rand at Nobody Asked posted their answers on their sites. Frank will have more on his blog tomorrow, Monday.

Pat at Other Plans acknowledged the 25th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon and asked where her readers were when they heard the news of his death.

Ian at Panchromatica was thinking out loud about blogging versus the urge he feels, at the approach of age 60, to get out and get a life.

Robert Brady at Pure Land Mountain pointed readers to an astonishing interview, in The Japan Times, with one of the Japanese pilots who attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The pilot says it was a mistake.

Winter hit much of the country hard this past week and Cowtown Pattie at Texas Trifles took it as a personal – and funny – affront.