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May 2006

Gone Fishin'

category_bug_journal2.gif My move is down to the wire now. The van arrives here on 25 May and the closing on my New York apartment is set for a few days later. I’ll be “homeless” for awhile. If that state lasts longer than a couple of weeks, I’ll stay with friends in rural Pennsylvania. If it is shorter, Ollie the cat and I will sleep on a friend’s sofa here in New York City.

In an hour, I’ll be off to Maine for the fifth time to look at properties and if all goes according to plan, I will return in a few days with a contract on one.

If you are so inclined, I would appreciate the lighting of candles, doing odd things with eye of newt and leg of toad, or whatever else it is you might do to influence the housing gods. I don’t relish a lengthy period of homelessness or intrusion upon kindly friends.

While I’m gone, several fellow bloggers have graciously agreed to fill in with guest blogs. Please treat them as agreeably as you always have in the past, leave them lots of comments and visit their blogs. That snazzy new laptop I ordered may not have arrived yet, but there’s an internet café in Portland and I’ll check in a couple of times.

See you later in the week…


Medicare Part D Enrollment Deadline

category_bug_journal2.gif This is a reminder that there are only 17 days until the registration period for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program ends on 15 May after which there is a penalty of one percent per month in the cost of the premium.

Asked recently about the reason for the deadline and penalty, Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt said, "If we don't have a deadline, fewer people will sign up." That's just nonsense particularly given the large number and complexity of the programs offered in each state.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine have asked Mr. Leavitt to extend the 15 May deadline, but it is unlikely he will do so.

Part D is a poorly conceived and poorly executed program that benefits the big pharmas far more than elders. But if you do not have other prescription drug coverage and depending on your drug needs it is better, for now, than nothing.

Following the Boy Scout admonition to be prepared, here are some of the many problems you may encounter:

  1. As the deadline approaches, telephone lines are busy so wait time to speak with a provider to sign up are lengthy
  2. The government has failed to withhold Part D premiums from some Social Security checks as requested by beneficiaries resulting in dunning letters from providers with threats to cancel service
  3. In other cases, Social Security computers have withheld three and four months worth of premiums from one Social Security check
  4. Some insurers demand payment of four months’ premiums at once
  5. Some insurers have not provided accurate lists of drugs covered and federal officials have warned of “bait and switch” tactics by some carriers
  6. Some carriers fail to disclose the limitations on drugs they cover such as quantity of pills per prescription or requiring doctors to get advance approval

[There is more information on Part D problems in this New York Times story.]

It’s not much of drug program, is it? But nothing will change between now and the 15 May deadline, so if you have been postponing enrollment only because the difficulties of choosing a carrier are daunting, it’s time to get it done.

You can find the approved programs in your state at the Medicare website. Good luck. As former president Bill Clinton used to say, I feel your pain. I thought I'd signed up five weeks ago, but now my application is lost in a bureaucratic maze at the provider and is "being investigated."

THIS JUST IN: One of the serious failings of Part D is that at any time, insurers can change the formulary (the list of covered drugs) which could result in the sudden loss of drugs a beneficiary is using. Last Wednesday, a new politicy was issued. It states:

"No beneficiaries will be subject to discontinuation or reduction in coverage of the drugs they are currently using."

There are (of course) exceptions. One is that a drug may be removed from an insurer's formulary if new research shows the drug is unsafe for some poeple or if a new, lower-cost generic of a brand drug becomes available.


Sensitivity Training to Counter Ageism

category_bug_ageism.gif The International Longevity Center, which is run by Dr. Robert Butler - the man who, 40 years ago, coined the term “ageism” - has issued a new report, Ageism in America. It is long and I’ve not had time to study it thoroughly, but it appears the same old, same old prejudice against age is alive and well. Some items from the report:

  • Negative language describing elders is in abundant use: fossil, old biddy, codger, over the hill, old goat, greedy geezer, coot, etc.
  • Medical slang is equally prejudicial. GOMER means “Get Out of My Emergency Room” and usually refers to elders. People in hospitals awaiting transfer to nursing homes are referred to as “bed blockers.”
  • On television, only two percent of characters are older than 65 (that age group represents 12 percent of the population and is growing rapidly) and they are usually portrayed as foolish, weak and confused.
  • About 20 percent of workers report that age discrimination in the workplace is increasing.

The health treatment of elders is shameful:

  • About a third of physicians erroneously believe that high blood pressure is normal in elders and therefore do not treat it.
  • 90 percent of people older than 65 do not receive screening tests for prostate and colorectal cancer or bone density.
  • Chemotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer is used less frequently for women older than 65 than for younger women.
  • 60 percent of elders do not receive preventive service and Congress recently eliminated funding for geriatrics education and training.
  • 90 percent of nursing homes are understaffed.

There is much work to do in correcting negative beliefs about elders in every aspect of life. Some good news is that a few organizations are helping school children understand what getting older is like and one was recently reported in the Charlotte Observer.

High school students were first asked to come up with words to describe old people. The positives were “nice,” “knowledge” and “bingo.” Most were negative: “deaf,” “lonely, “bedsores.”

In a follow-up then, the children were given “instant aging kits” which contained bulky work gloves, a pill bottle with tiny candies, a sewing kit and cardboard eyeglasses.

“With his hand gloved, Stefano Cardin struggles to remove a safety pin from a sewing kit. The glove simulates the effects of arthritis or loss of feeling. ‘It took me like 30 minutes to just take the thing out,’ he says later.

“Matthew Johnson, wearing blurry glasses that simulate cataracts, knocks a sewing kit off a desk as he walks by. ‘My depth perception was gone,’ he says. ‘I didn’t know my hand was on the desk.’

“Directed to separate tiny candles by color, students wearing yellow-tinted glasses struggle to tell them apart. ‘Oh my gosh, they all look the same,’ Morgan Stewart says. The glasses simulate the effects of yellowing of the eyes’ lenses, which occurs with age.”

School children are routinely taught about racism and sexism, but ageism is barely a blip on the radar screens of education professionals. We need to have this kind of sensitivity training in every elementary and high school in the U.S. But more, given the results of the Ageism in America study, we need it too in every medical school, corporation and on television.


Auto Insurance Torment

Crabby Old Lady thought spending three days in customer service hell sorting out her various communications needs was the worst it could get - but oh, no. There is another kind of excruciating torment: auto insurance.

If there is a way to insure a car when it is purchased in one state, the new owner is resident in another and moving to a third within four or five weeks, Crabby can’t find it. Well, it is possible, but not without turning cartwheels for which, in the middle of move, one has no time.

  • The car cannot be insured in Pennsylvania unless Crabby obtains a Pennsylvania drivers license and, possibly (Crabby can’t remember now after so many telephone calls) a permanent address in the state.
  • She can insure it in New York, but registering a car is so time-consuming and complex there is a company that does nothing else but run the gauntlet of obstacles New York requires. It is unlikely the process would be finished by the time Crabby leaves New York.
  • The car cannot be insured in Maine until it is registered there, but a permanent address is required which Crabby won’t have for several more weeks.

This list oversimplifies the torture Crabby endured for two full days while speaking with insurance agents, departments of motor vehicles and insurance commission offices in all three states. It has been a nightmare.

Unlike customer service representatives, each of the 15 or 20 people Crabby spoke with about insurance knows their business and the regulations in their state. It is just that the regulations don’t allow leeway for the three states involved. It appears that the concern with Pennsylvania and Maine motor vehicle officials is that Crabby is trying fool them by registering a car there to avoid the astronomical insurance rates in New York City.

It left Crabby to ponder the difficulty people with weekend homes in other states face if they keep a car there as a friend did many years ago. He took a train each Friday evening to Rhode Island where his car was parked in a garage near the train station and made the return trip to New York City by train on Sunday evening.

Crabby told you the many reasons she doesn't like automobiles. This insurance mess is another.

But that fine, little PT Cruiser is at last insured, although the convoluted machinations it has taken to accomplish it are grotesque. It shouldn’t be this hard, and with a society as mobile as ours, Crabby Old Lady sees a large need for uniform and reciprocal auto insurance regulations throughout the 50 states.

ADDENDUM: It is important, when complaining as much as Crabby Old Lady does, to give credit when it is due. Lenovo (formerly IBM), from whom Crabby purchased her new laptop, has provided excellent customer service during her initial questions, through placing her order and in followup calls after Crabby lost all the email confirmations and receipts after her computer crash.

If the machine is delivered in ten or 12 days from now as promised, it will be a singular accomplishment in the world of customer service. If there are Oscars for customer service, Crabby's vote goes to Lenovo.

But don't ask Crabby about the difficulties she is having trying to enroll in a Medicare Part D program. Those folks have invented yet another form of excrutiating torment.


Who Owns Your Blog?

On the story here last week about Municipal Callousness donna, who blogs at Changing Places left, in part, this comment:

“I've started watching out for older people so much more since reading this blog. I find time to talk to older people now, look out for them on the streets, slow down my own steps when crossing with someone who is elderly to make sure they get across all right, usually without trying to be too obvious about it…

“But it's not just elderly people - I started that way, and now am just more observant of everyone. I make sure kids don't run away from their parents and climb onto escalators, sometimes get their attention and let them know their parents are looking for them in the grocery store, notice when the clerk is tired or having a bad day and take a minute to try and cheer them up a bit…”

Wow. What a compliment it is to know you’ve made a positive difference of this magnitude. From times when strangers have unexpectedly helped me out - maybe just a taxi driver hefting a heavy bag in and out of the trunk - I know these are not small things.

I too take more notice since I’ve been writing Time Goes By. For me, there is something about saying things “out loud” that makes me more aware of thoughts and ideas that would otherwise fade away without my taking action. And although I can’t bring a specific instance to mind right now, I know I have done things because of what other bloggers have written.

I wonder how much this happens around the blogosphere. It seems to be little mentioned.

Donna’s comment, coupled with time constraints now as my preparations for moving to Maine gain urgency, remind me of the conversational quality that is the essence of blogging. Without comments, bloggers would have no way to know if they aren’t just pissing into the wind or if their words matter to anyone.

I didn't know this when I began Time Goes By, but it would be a poor, little wisp of thing without reader participation. My idea for the blog was that writing about getting older would force me to think critically - more pointedly and with more focus to help me investigate and understand better what getting older is like. Doing it publicly would keep me on target and keep me honest. I thought maybe a couple of other people might be interested, but I had no idea how reader comments would enrich the blog itself - which is no longer so much a representation of me as it is a separate entity with a life of its own.

We each own our blogs - or so I thought. The owner is in charge, sets the topic(s) each day and commenters follow that lead. Here at TGB, I drop in to watch the conversation, the dialogue and the debate as it develops across 24 hours and unlike some bloggers, I don’t join in much unless there is a question that needs clearing up. On a (very) few occasions over two years, I saw the conversation tilting toward quarrelsomeness, but before I could post a comment that might help keep the dialogue more civil, a reader jumped in and did it for me.

Still, it's my blog, right? Another day, another topic, another comment section conversation. This week, I am beginning to think otherwise.

Because the long list of tasks and chores to accomplish my move to Maine is reaching critical mass, I have almost no time to surf the web or blogs, to read or to do the research into aging that I usually do each day. So to continue the blog during my transition, I’ve begun reading comments more closely, picking up interesting ideas and then commenting - but as a new blog post.

This takes far less time than plowing through the notes, books, magazines, printouts and blog journal ideas I keep for future blog entries. It’s much faster to write from my head than from facts and so for the nonce, I am relying on all you smart readers who leave such thoughtful comments and what those comments spark in me.

Blogging tends to be a here today, gone tomorrow medium that eats fresh content for lunch. But following up on new ideas from comments, sometimes, may be a way of extending the dialogue from one day to the next, of delving deeper into some topics and ideas that deserve more time and attention, of treating the blog, day to day, as more of an extended conversation - an online version, if you will, of those warm, wonderful evenings that stretch into the wee hours among friends who have much to ponder together.

And in that way, maybe we don’t own our blogs quite as much as we believe we do. By taking up a thought provoked by a reader comment, rather than posting standalone stories every day, readers come to have an ownership stake in one another’s blogs.

It's just an idea I'm tinkering with as I pack these many cartons and try to keep my blood pressure under control dealing with customer service representatives.

[HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: A few days ago, I made a change in the TGB style sheet so that story links display in bold. I had been having trouble seeing them lately, especially when they are in their green state of being. Let me know is this is helpful to you.]


The Speed Bumps of Getting Older

category_bug_journal2.gif In response to the post here Saturday about the physical limitations that appear in our lives as we get older, Roberta, who blogs at Elusive Allusions, had this to say in a comment:

“I discovered that it took me two days to sew a pair of slacks that I used to zip up in 3 hours. It's tough when you're as impatient as I am and you can't lay blame by yelling at the top of your lungs, "Will you please hurry up!!" (Guess I could yell, but I'd look mighty foolish yelling at myself that way.) So I've had to resign myself to being in that class of dawdlers that I vowed all my life to never be a part of.”

Speaking of “elusive,” time is that. On the one hand, I am amused at the paradox of gaining newfound patience in many things I chafed at waiting for when I was younger just when my time on earth is demonstrably shorter. On the other hand, I wonder - not counting rest periods for some kinds of tasks - if they really do take longer to finish or if, in tandem with the increased patience, I no longer see the need to rush through them.

My wise and wonderful great Aunt Edith once told me that it took until her seventies to understand that if she had something more interesting to do, the house cleaning could wait - the dirt wouldn't go anywhere.

Because the inevitable slowing that comes with age happens so gradually we aren't much aware of it until it becomes acute, so it is probably as hard to know if one is slower than in the past as it would be to recognize one’s own dementia, if that were to happen. Does it take me longer to wash dishes or sweep the sidewalk or vacuum the living room? I have no idea, particularly if it is a chore that doesn’t require a rest period.

If one really is slower, however, is it the task that is taking longer or, as Roberta suggests, does one dawdle more? Dawdling for me is more akin to becoming distracted by something else and although I’ve not made a point to notice yet, I appear to have less ability, these days, to ignore stray thoughts and ideas that wander into my mind even when I’m intent on a such a task as writing a blog entry.

That leads me to wonder if, like the waning ability with age to tune out ambient noise which makes it difficult to hear close-up conversation in a loud room, do we also, in a sort of cognitive counterpoint to the physical aural change, lose the ability to ignore the extraneous chatter in our heads as we get older? Might that be what slows us down sometimes?

I don’t have any answers to this and no time for research these days, if it’s even been studied. But I’m curious to know if it’s just Roberta and me, or if dawdling and distraction are common among elders.


An Old Lady’s Fine New Car

category_bug_journal2.gif Crabby Old Lady has been on such a binge of complaints lately (or, as Claude at Blogging in Paris puts it, "in grumbleland") that to write this story, I had to pry her fingers from the computer keyboard one-by-one.

Certainly I’ve mentioned in the past that I dislike automobiles. It’s like having a perpetual infant - they always want something: gasoline, oil, window washer juice, tires, tags, inspections, insurance renewals and then there are the mysterious noises they develop that may or may not be calamitous. It is my contention that after a century of development, cars should run like refrigerators - plug them in and they go for 20 years.

Another mystery is people’s love affair with their cars and their favor of one brand or model over others. All I care about is getting from point A to point B with a minimum of fuss. Not having owned one since 1969, the only cars I can identify at a glance are those with a unique body style - the VW bug, which is one of the most elegant redesigns in automotive history, and more recently, the retro-styled Chrysler PT Cruiser. Each in its own way is an esthetic beauty.

But in general, I have no interest in cars. When I’m asked at rental agencies what kind I want, I tell them “red” so I have a slight chance of finding it in a parking lot.

With all that in mind, it is with reluctance that I have been making moves toward the purchase of an automobile, a necessity to get around my new hometown of Portland, Maine and its vicinity.

I enlisted the help of a friend in Pennsylvania, Neil Thompson, who knows everything - inside and out - about cars. He has been diligently following local advertisements for me and as of today, I am the new owner of a 2004 PT Cruiser Sportwagon at a price considerably below the going rate for that year and model. It has 25,000 miles on it, checks out clean with Carfax and is still under factory warranty. Plus, it is red so I won’t lose track of it at the supermarket.

This isn’t the actual car, just an example I found on the web, but isn’t she beautiful?

2004ptcruiser

The oddest thing has happened to me now that she’s mine - I’m in love. I think this gray-haired old lady will make a remarkable impression tooling around in such a fine-looking vehicle. Equally remarkable is that I suddenly care about that. Where did this pride of ownership (false or not) come from after a lifetime of disinterest? I’m even feeling less annoyed with the required upkeep.


The Excruciating Torment of Customer Abuse

Crabby Old Lady’s week began with a major computer malfunction. The tinkering involved in fixing it stole an entire day from her life but as events of the following days were to prove, that was a mere tickle in the afflictions of life compared to the excruciating torment customer service representatives routinely administer.

You were expecting the regular Sunday edition of the Silver Threads column today. Due to the robotic Neanderthals who are paid real salaries to torture customers, Crabby had no time this week to surf her sources, read blogs or even follow the links in her Google Alerts.

Therefore, you hereby have her permission to leave now. What follows will be lengthy diatribe (Crabby needs to get this off her chest) filled with spleen, acrimony, rancor and venom aimed at a variety of big-time service providers who deserve eternal damnation.

The goal, which appeared simple enough in the beginning, was to rearrange Crabby Old Lady’s communications services to ensure a smooth transition from New York City to Maine next month and in doing so, effect some changes Crabby had been planning even without a move. She made a list:

  • Switch now, before the move, from telephone landline to VOIP from Vonage. It is less expensive, offers more services for the price and on arrival in a new home, needs only to be plugged into the computer to be up and running.
  • Switch Verizon landline telephone number to Vonage.
  • Sign new cell phone contract and get new free phone as the battery of Crabby’s antique cell, in use for four years, dies after ten minutes of talking.
  • Arrange pick up for a specific day of Time-Warner television cable box and internet cable modem.

Now Crabby Old Lady will be the first to admit that we are all a tad over-communicated, but it is how we live now. These services are as essential to our lives as the Pony Express was in the days of the old West, and they don’t come cheap. Crabby is not being unreasonable in expecting efficient, knowledgeable service, but it is non-existent.

Over Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Crabby estimates that she spent about 15 hours with a telephone attached to her ear. It started with Vonage at whose website, she had been informed, her landline number could be transferred. That was the first piece of misinformation although it took three customer service representatives (hereafter referred to as CSRs) and, eventually, a supervisor, to determine that for certain.

The supervisor was actually smart, amusing and helpful in finding a new number with a Maine Area Code that met Crabby’s needs, and because she had been put through more than an hour of conflicting information delivered in stolid officiousness from the three previous CSR cretins reading from a script, he eliminated the activation charge on Crabby’s account. All seemed well but, alas, it was not.

Several more lengthy, unpleasant telephone conversations with more CSRs who didn't, wouldn't or couldn't understand have left Crabby, three days later, without the telephone number that was selected, so there will be more CSR agony tomorrow.

One of the enraging situations with CSRs in general is their mindless adherence to a script and inability to hear what the customer is saying which, in its latest version, went something like this:

CRABBY OLD LADY: When will my new number be activated?

CSR: You telephone number will be transferred on Friday.

COL: (Mildly concerned). No, no. I am not transferring a number, I am activating a new number.

CSR: You can’t select a new number. Your number will be transferred on Friday.

COL: (More concerned) I did select a new number and just want to know when it will be activated.

CSR: You can’t select a new number. Your number will be transferred on Friday.

COL: (Alarmed) No. I selected a new number. Please tell me when it will be activated.

CSR: You can’t select a new number. Your number will be transferred on Friday.

That continued with some minor variations for awhile until Crabby hung up and sure enough, her new phone number, scheduled to be activated Friday evening, was not done and she woke Saturday morning to a phone with no dial tone. More CSR telephone calls got her a dial tone and she can call out, but the wrong phone number is attached to the line. Crabby is saving that fight for Monday.

Crabby desperately wanted to keep the landline number she has had since 1975, and that became possible if she transferred it to her cell phone. Since Verizon reception is excellent in Portland, Maine, she will make greater use of her cell phone there than she has in New York and this was a good opportunity to take advantage of the free phone that comes with signing a new contract.

But it took two-and-a-half hours of a non-functional online form together with too many uninformative telephone conversations to find out, in her final call with customer service, that Crabby cannot order her new phone online (and it’s not free if ordered on the telephone) until the final bill on her landline is sent which would not occur for another three weeks. Unacceptable! Crabby needs a functional telephone for her next trip to Maine.

With an ear so sore it was about to fall off, Crabby was willing to pay for the damned phone and fight it out with the company later. So she hied herself to a Verizon store where it took more than hour to make the purchase because the sales woman didn't understand the computer system and then, THEN, they wanted $10.00 more to transfer her contact list from her old phone. Crabby was so angry, she’ll program the numbers herself while she watches television over the next few evenings.

Having written this, Crabby feels better now and won’t exhaust you further with the television and cable modem problems, but she has some suggestions for all customer service management everywhere:

1. Get rid of the [expletive deleted] mindless scripts and train CSRs to hear what customers are saying.

2. Never, ever allow a CSR to say, “I think that’s how it works.” It makes customers nervous (rightly so) and they can’t make decisions without definitive information.

3. Teach CSRs the following words: “I don’t know the answer to that. I will transfer you to someone who knows.” Crabby will crawl through the telephone and strangle the next CSR who pretends to know the answer and screws up the entire transaction.

4. When a customer has already spent 20 or 30 minutes first on hold and then another 20 minutes explaining the issue, don’t make her wait on hold for another 20 minutes for the next idiot to whom she must reprise the issue and who won’t be able to answer her question. Keep a reserve of more informed CSRs who take the transferred calls without requiring another wait.

5. Eliminate from the vocabulary of the CSRs, “We apologize.” Apologies don’t cut it and they don’t fix the problem. Each one of the 20 to 25 CSRs Crabby has spoken with in the past three days apologized but didn’t understand the issue.

6. If you insist on outsourcing customer service to other countries, hire CSRs who do not have heavy accents. Having to ask a CSR to repeat what they’ve said is waste of time, is embarrassing to the customer and leads to misunderstandings, frustration and wrong orders.

7. Get rid of those endless marketing greetings each CSR begins with: “Welcome to XYZ Company, the best communications provider on earth here to serve you with all your needs unto the grave at exorbitant prices and lousy customer service. My name is Melody. How may I help you today?” How about just: “XYZ Company customer service.” Profits go to the swift and you’re wasting everyone’s time.

There needs to be a new designation for the frustration of not being able to accomplish what companies promise on their websites, in their television commercials and what we pay a lot of money for. What that designation is - without question, after suffering years of it - is abuse: customer abuse. For every ten customer service calls Crabby Old Lady makes, she is abused in nine of them. And don’t tell Crabby she is overstating.

The abuse is so habitual that there is not one of us who cannot recount dozens of abusive customer service situations.

The torment of that abuse is bad enough. But in the end, when she is calm again, what dispirits Crabby Old Lady is the theft of her time. The only thing of real value we humans own is our time and it is our very lives - especially when you are as old as Crabby - that are taken from us when hours are wasted due to bad customer service management and general incompetence.


Accommodating the Limitations of Age

category_bug_journal2.gif Before moving to New York City in 1969, I had lived in seven cities and moved several times within some of those towns. As a result, I am an expert at packing. There were damaged items only when the moving company packed on two or three occasions so once again, I am packing.

Twenty-three years ago, when I bought this apartment, I spread the chore over five or six weeks, filling up two or three boxes each evening after work, a few more on weekends, and by moving day it was done. No big deal.

Not so this time. I hadn’t counted on the physical differences 23 years bring. It’s harder now to hoist a box of books across the room or onto a stack of other boxes. I don’t remember them being so heavy in past moves, and today, after hauling several of them around, there’s an ache in my lower back I’ve never felt before.

Getting on and off the stool dozens of times to reach stuff stored on high shelves unexpectedly tires me too. I don’t recall that in the past. Packing is basically boring so I’d like to get through each session as quickly as possible but this time, I need rest periods that weren’t necessary when I was 42.

When we are children, there are things we cannot do because we are too small, too short or not strong enough yet. By our teen years, we are fully capable physically and that doesn’t change much for a long time, decades, so we have no practice at accommodating diminishing capability.

Also, in a youth-obsessed culture, there is an unspoken pressure to hide - or not admit - any physical decline for as long as possible even, perhaps, to ourselves. To reveal that you can’t lift the box is tantamount to admitting you are less capable in general which, of course, is not so but might be seen that way by others. Society accommodates children’s lesser abilities without question and we should be as understanding at the other end of life.

Last evening, a friend who is in her early 30s, having returned from a quick trip to London, came to dinner with the excellent cheeses she obtained there. Hearing my lament about tiring more easily now, she offered to spend a day helping me pack. It was my almost unconscious reaction to decline with a polite thank you, but this morning, I've decided to accept her kind offer.

Elders can help the culture - and oursevles - accept as normal the differences that come with aging by graciously allowing others to help when they offer, by asking for help when we need it and by learning to work within our new limitations. It’s been three or four years since I gave up doing all the housecleaning on Saturdays and I now spread it over the entire week, one room or chore per day. I just forgot to apply the same strategy to packing for this move by planning for extra time.

I also forgot, in not asking friends to help, that we all feel good about ourselves when we share our expertise. I recently spent an hour or two on the telephone helping a neophyte blogger get started and felt an excellent sense of well-being afterward. Pitching in with our individual knowledge or just hauling boxes around for someone who can't do it as easily anymore nourishes our sense of personal kindheartedness and reaffirms our humanity.

There is one upside to the rest periods I need now which didn’t exist 23 years ago: this time, I can check email, write a blog post or read the news online until I’m ready to tackle the next box. I need to be careful, though. The internet is seductive and if I get distracted for too long, the packing will never get done.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: On yesterday's post about municipal callousness, joared - who is not a blogger herself but who comments prolifically around the blogosphere - left a story about the everyday need for more sensitivity toward others in situations that are commonplace but less dramatic than ticketing an elder for walking too slowly. It has a nice synergy with this post.]


Municipal Callousness

When Crabby Old Lady had a hissy fit a few days ago about the Los Angeles police department ticketing an 82-year-old for walking too slowly, Ian of Panchromatica (who lives in England) popped off in a comment:

“The US is, I am afraid, the country that tells every one else about liberty, but it is the US also that seems to generate stories like this.”

Now Ian is a long-time friend from Crabby’s pre-blogging days at fotolog.net, and it is true that Crabby is embarrassed sometimes at her government’s unwarranted, holier-than-thou stance vis a vis other countries. Nevertheless, she was mildly ticked off about his swipe at the U.S.

Then, helping to prove Crabby’s contention that bloggers are, in general, remarkably quick to correct themselves when they have erred, Ian emailed a news story noting in his message that, “I was obviously wrong to think it couldn't happen here.”

“A woman found semi-conscious on a pavement in the early hours during a diabetic seizure was given an on-the-spot 'fixed penalty' fine by a policeman who thought she was drunk…

“’When the paramedics came, I gave them my insulin and explained I was diabetic and I tried to tell the policeman the same,’” the woman said.

- Daily Mail, 16 April 2006

[As Ian explained, a “fixed penalty” is equivalent to the U.S. “ticket.”] In this case, the victim of the mindless, municipal callousness is, at age 30, not an elder, but the principle is the same and no doubt, the fixed penalty would have been written whatever the her age.

Elders and the disabled often share similar limitations along with many of the aids and remedies - walkers, wheelchairs, voice-activated technology, etc. They also share the ignorance of the young and able toward those who are not physically “perfect”.

Is this bureaucratic antagonism toward elders and the disabled a trend in western democracies? Crabby wonders. Are these tickets and fixed penalties a warning to us to stay out of the way of the swift and the fleet?


Chipping Away at Privacy

About the size of grain of rice, it is imbedded in the upper arm, transmits a unique number, can be scanned by monitors mounted anywhere or by anyone with a handheld reader, and lasts indefinintely. It’s an electronic VeriChip, radio-frequency indentification (RFID) technology, approved for use two years ago by the FDA and coming soon to a hospital or physician’s office near you.

Its value, say proponents, lies in saving lives. When a patient arrives unconscious or incoherent in an emergency room, his arm can be scanned for important medical data and family contact information stored in a secure computer.

Emergency room personnel can “…quickly check their blood type and find out if they are taking any medications or have allergies or other medical conditions. Nurses…could determine whether patients are organ donors or have living wills. Surgeons could scan patients on the operating table to make sure they are working on the right person.”
- Washington Post, 15 March 2006

It’s a godsend, they say, if your mother with Alzheimer’s Disease tends to wander. She can be tracked down with her VeriChip - just like the six million dogs and cats who have been “chipped”.

At least 80 hospitals across the country, thanks to free scanners from VeriChip Corp., are equipped with the RFID technology, and a few have already begun routine scanning of all patients.

This is a good thing, right? No one need be concerned, with a VeriChip implant, about getting the wrong medication or having the healthy breast removed.

Privacy advocates aren’t so sure. There is the question of security of medical records stored in a computer that is protected with a password. “Secure” computers are hacked every day. And the question of access is troubling:

“Can law enforcement have access? Can public health workers have access? Can employers have access? Given the recent efforts by law enforcement and data monitoring by the government, this is exactly the kind of technology that would be attractive,” says Janlori Goldman who heads the Health Privacy Project, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.
- Washington Post, 15 March 2006

VeriChip Corp. suggests physicians charge patients $200 to be chipped and of course, it is voluntary. But how long will that last?

In the same way that credit cards were originally marketed for convenience and are now the only method of payment accepted by many retailers, so it will become with the VeriChip: emergency medical use today, a 24/7/365 tracking device tomorrow.

The day will come when doctors no longer keep paper or office computer records and we will be warned that without the chip, our healthcare cannot be guaranteed. It is not inconceivable that chip implant will become a requirement for Medicare and Medicaid.

Felon and livestyle guru, Martha Stewart, complained of the bulky ankle bracelet she was required to wear as a condition of her parole during which she was allowed to leave home only a few hours a day. Not a problem in the near future. Insert a VeriChip in a parolee’s arm and he can be monitored anywhere. Someone, somewhere is thinking right now that it’s a great idea for sex offenders.

Before long, employers will require chips to replace those tacky, plastic access cards workers wear around their necks to get around the workplace. Oh wait. VeriChip employees already wear the chip and CityWatcher.com of Cincinnati controls access to the company’s surveillance-camera tapes with employee chips. The Mexican government uses them in high-security offices.

“Bars in Spain and Amsterdam, meanwhile, are offering the chips to patrons who want quick entry and to run electronic tabs.”
- Washington Post, 15 March 2006

Can the chipping of kids be far behind? Surveillance cameras are already ubiquitous, thousands of them mounted around major cities. But who needs cameras when everyone is chipped at birth? They can be replaced with chip readers inside and out of every building in town.

We will be told in the beginning that chip implantation is important for our health. Later, they will be marketed to us as a convenience: start your car, lock your front door, buy a beer. Retinal scans are old-fashioned even before they’re out the laboratory door. Shove a chip in everyone’s arm and every move we make will be tracked.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, my God. It’s 1984. It’s George Orwell,” said Jonathan Musher, a physician hired by VeriChip to recruit hospitals and physicians. “But this is a passive device. It’s not controlling or tracking anyone.”
- Washington Post, 15 March 2006

Well, not yet. Here’s to your health.


19th Nervous Breakdown

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Steve Sherlock invited me to discuss leadership with him last week and we had an interesting telephone chat. He's distilled my ramblings into a more coherent form and posted it at his Passion For the Good Customer Experience blog. Check it out.]

What a lot of sympathy Crabby's computer catastrophe evoked yesterday. She thanks you all for your comfort and sympathy and even the laughs one or two of you had at her expense. It is funny when you take into account that eventually every computer user suffers a major malfunction and knows that computers are immune to salty jeremiads. But they help by releasing Crabby's ire without doing harm to property and small animals.

In her more fanciful moments, Crabby Old Lady sometimes believes electronic devices respond to human emotion. Too much anger, stress or anxiety hanging about in the atmosphere and a cell phone drops a call. Or the DVR playback breaks (as Crabby’s did several days ago). Or a computer eats its own data.

What with the seven months of her home on the open market, deadlines on a couple of projects nipping at Crabby’s heels, looking for a new home to buy, packing for her move, juggling finances and an elderly computer going wonky lately, yesterday’s debacle was more like the 119th Nervous Breakdown - the computer’s, not Crabby’s - although the Old Lady wasn’t far behind it in her own distress.

As predicted yesterday, Crabby lost about 10 hours to computer tinkering. Not that it’s of wild interest to anyone, but it’s still on Crabby’s mind, so here are the results:

  1. The import of the IE bookmarks to Firefox went without a hitch, as it should. Crabby had last exported them from Firefox to IE about a month ago, so not too much is lost.
  2. Firefox refuses to save preferences or, rather, saves only some of them. Crabby likes a clean, uncluttered look at the top of her browser and those giant icons and extra toolbars now reappear every time she opens Firefox, along with a gaggle of unwanted Google choices. She’s given up on ironing out this little snag and will wait to see if Firefox will behave better on her new computer.
  3. After two lengthy phone calls with customer service at her domains registrar and some adjustments to her email accounts, they are functional again. But it wasn’t easy. Test emails severely strained Crabby’s patience all day because the registrar’s servers were having their own nervous breakdown (probably Crabby’s fault) resulting in a wait, sometimes of an hour or two, for email to arrive.
  4. Unanswered email in Crabby’s inbox cannot be recovered. If you’re expecting an answer to anything sent recently up until about 8PM Monday, add a re-send to your to-do list because it’s not here anymore.
  5. Most painful is the loss of all - did you hear that? ALL - of Crabby’s archived email including many previous years’ worth she ported onto this computer when it was new. Years of conversation with friends old and new, which includes many of you. Email archives are the modern equivalent of saved snailmail [see this story] and it breaks Crabby’s heart to lose so much personal history.

For a long time, Crabby conducted one of those email conversations in the early mornings with her oldest, closest New York friend. They were serious and silly and fun and thoughtful and warm and witty, and they were the best keepsake Crabby had of Ann, who died two years ago.

In the 20 years Crabby has owned computers, it is her experience that their useful life almost never exceeds four years. After that, there are dire consequences to contend with and this machine is four-and-a-half years old (Crabby was kidding yesterday about it being built in 1910).

On the other hand, maybe Crabby is wrong about electronic devices reacting to human emotion. Perhaps they have their own feelings and this guy is angry about his impending replacement in three weeks.

Which is a nice segue into this computer joke emailed to Crabby by Chancy who blogs at driftwoodinspiration:

As you are aware, ships have long been characterized as female (for example, "Steady as she goes" or "She's listing to starboard, Captain!"). Recently, a group of computer scientists (all male) announced that computers should also be referred to as female. Their top five reasons for drawing this conclusion are:

  1. No one but the Creator understands their internal logic.
  2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else.
  3. The message "Bad command or file name" is about as informative as, "If you don't know why I'm mad at you, then I'm certainly not going to tell you."
  4. Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for later retrieval.
  5. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

However, another group of computer scientists (all female) think computers should be referred to as male. Their top five reasons are:

  1. They have a lot of data, but are still clueless.
  2. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem.
  3. As soon as you commit to one you realize that, if you had waited a little longer, you could have obtained a better model.
  4. In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on.
  5. Big power surges knock them out for the rest of the night.

Too Old For This...

There is no real post today. Crabby Old Lady is just venting, frustrated to the max. The air around here is blue with language not suitable for a polite blog. Ollie the cat is hiding under the bed and Crabby would join him there if she didn't face a day destined to be entirely lost in computer hell.

The good news is that yesterday Crabby spent big bucks on a new laptop with all the top-end bells and whistles. A screamin' machine that will be delivered in less than three weeks. Whoo-eee. (A big public thank you to Millie Garfield's son, Steve, for talking over the geeky details to help her choose the most appropriate innards of the new computer.)

The bad news is the reason for her purchase: this ancient computer (built in about 1910), has been going all wonky on her for several months, and it went nuts while Crabby was sleeping last night. It deleted everything in her Thunderbird email client. All her archived email is gone along with the recent email she hadn't answered yet and most disastrous - all her email account settings are gone.

Crabby funnels her ronnibennett.com, her timegoesby.net and gmail email messages to her inbox through her main Roadrunner account, which she never displays in email because it's the ugliest and least memorable email address anyone ever saw.

To make this work, Crabby long ago set up email forwarding and then set all those POP and SMTP parameters in her Thunderbird email client and promptly forgot about them. Does she know those settings now? Did she keep a record of them somewhere? Don't ask. By some miracle of bits and bytes, at least her address book survived. But if you've sent Crabby an email anytime since about 8PM on Monday, she can't retrieve it yet and, depending on what time all this data was deleted, is not sure she will ever be able to do so.

This may or may not be connected to the fact that also in the dark of night, Firefox installed its latest version, without Crabby's permission, deleting all her hundreds of bookmarks. That's not so bad since there is a near duplicate in IE Crabby can import, but Crabby had deliberately not installed the newest Firefox because last time there was an upate, it ruined her video settings which haven't worked properly since then.

Every day, Crabby diligently backs up her entire hard drive to another, external, hard drive. She's never before needed a restore and so far, it's a mystery to her how to retrieve only her email files from the backup disc and she's not willing to risk an entire hard drive replacement. Who writes this sh.. (oops) crap? Crabby knows every English word in the meager Retrospect instructions, but still can't figure out how to find the files she wants to restore.

Crabby Old Lady is no computer naif. There are many tricks and tweaks and fixes and work-arounds she is capable of managing, but she is being thwarted by mysterious, midnight gremlins and she's got way too many other things to do than to lose the entire day figuring out how to reconnect herself to cyberspace.

[Insert every possible version of the F-word here along with some new variations of other expletives that would make you blush.]


Medicare Part D - Not So Easy After All

category_bug_journal2.gif When I wrote about selecting a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan a couple of weeks ago, I gave it an average grade - at least for my simple needs. It might have been a B except that the Medicare website is so badly designed, so let’s call it a C.

Well, hold on just a minute now. The process is not done yet.

After applying for the plan I selected, I expected the next steps would move along as the pleasant woman representing the insurance carrier had explained on the telephone: my “welcome kit” would arrive in a couple of weeks along with an identification card, and I would be billed monthly as we had arranged. If I needed prescription drugs before my card arrived, said the woman, here was a number to call. It all appeared to be reassuringly efficient.

Silly me.

Random mailings and calls began arriving. Medicare sent a form asking for my name and Medicare claim number. Odd, since I already had my Medicare card in hand, but I followed the instructions anyway.

An application for Part D insurance arrived from the carrier I had selected. Having already applied by telephone, I called to ask if they wanted the application on paper too. No, that wouldn’t be necessary. The mailing was an error, probably the marketing department who didn’t yet know I had enrolled. Sorry. Please accept our apologies, etc.

Then an insurance company representative called to tell me there was a snag in my application; it would be longer until my card would be sent than I’d originally been advised. She didn’t know what the hang-up was, but assumed it had to do with a backlog of applications.

A few days later, I arrived home to a phone message from the insurance carrier asking me to call “ASAP” as there was a problem with my application. The tone in the caller’s voice suggested urgency.

That’s when the fun began.

The phone number led to the general customer service line. Each time you call, there are nearly ten minutes worth of menu choices and other questions before you sit on hold for an indeterminate length of time. I had an appointment and so hung up after 15 minutes.

I tried again the next day, went through the menu and the Q&A routine again, and way too long on hold. Eventually, I got a live person who asked why I was calling. “I’m returning your call,” said I. Thence ensued a long series of questions I had just punched into the telephone. When the bureaucracy had been satisfied, the woman once again asked why I was calling. I told her I didn’t know, but it apparently had something to do with my application for Medicare Part D coverage.

Many minutes of silence followed punctuated by my occasional question: Are you still there? At last, the woman said, “I think you’re not eligible for this coverage.”

“You think? asked I. “Well, I’m not sure,” said she.

I will spare you the rest of that conversation and the next one - a close duplicate with a supervisor who added that I am not in Medicare’s database. Since I have a card and a number, I doubted that, but it wasn’t worth having the conversation. She was certain I had never applied for Medicare.

Moving on to the third person - 40 minutes after I’d begun the phone call - I was assured that I am in the Medicare database but, because I had applied for Part D before my 65th birthday, the application had been voided and I would need to apply again.

No amount of explaining that the point had been to apply early so that I would be covered from my birthday forward made a dent. Nor did my suggestion that since my information had not changed in the intervening two weeks, perhaps the best course would be to just re-submit my original application.

Oh, no - that would never do, and I spent another 15 or 20 minutes making a second telephone application. No mention was made this time of what I should do if I need a prescription filled before my “welcome kit” arrives.

Is this what old age is about? Endless time on hold? The same questions repeated five, six, even seven times in one phone call? Mysterious mailings about information already established? Errors in Medicare and insurance records? Urgent-sounding phone calls that are not so urgent? Confused customer service people? Isn't there enough of this in our lives already?

I’m exhausted, and I still don't have a prescription drug card.

This Just In: Part D Cost Increases
The kinks aren't even worked out of the program yet, but Medicare announced last week that the cost to consumers of Part D will increase in 2007:

  1. Deductibles, for those plans which include them, will be allowed to increase by $15 to $265

  2. The coverage limit before the "doughnut hole" kicks in will be increased by $150 to $2400

  3. The maximum out-of-pocket expenses before Medicare pays 95 percent of drug costs increases by $250 to $3850

  4. Total increase in cost to an insured who uses enough drugs to get past the doughnut hole: $351.25

That is, unless insurance companies increase premiums too:

"Insurance companies say they are analyzing what kind of effect the increase will have on next year's premiums, but most say the new coverage limits shouldn't significantly inflate 2007 rates."
- The Wichita Eagle, 15 April 2006

Back in the 1960s or '70s, Senator Everett Dirksen famously said about the federal budget, "A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."

For elders on fixed incomes, an increase of a hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars there and pretty soon they're choosing between drugs and food.


Silver Threads - 4/16/06

Just in time for Easter, Fran has posted The 23rd Qualm - no disrespect intended. It begins:

George Bush is my shepherd; I dwell in want.
He maketh logs to be cut in national forests…

You can read the rest of it at Fran’s blog, Sacred Ordinary.

Ever wonder how the federal government is spending the dollars you’ll be sending it tomorrow? Type in the amount of your tax bill at tompaine.com for a great pie chart showing exactly where it all goes.

One of the Honorary ElderBloggers listed down their on the right sidebar is Rana of Notes From an Eclectic Mind. Besides being eclectic, Rana is a one of the best storytellers on the Web and this week she relates the true tale of a wrong number gone completely haywire. A great laugh coupled with some excellent advice for handling those pesky wrong number calls.

A housekeeping note: The conversation got a little testy this past week on my post about whether President Bush, in planning for the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iran, is in his right mind. In the two years of TGB’s existence, disagreements have never before turned personally snide and snarky. Crabby Old Lady asked me to remind everyone to please keep it that way in the future.

There’s Always Something is new this week to the ElderBlogger list. Check out this essay about the hows and whys of choosing an assisted living facility before you need one. Good advice.

A lot of elders aren’t interested in retirement. But it’s one thing if your employment involves tapping computer keys, quite another if you’re crawling around people’s dark, dank cellars at odd hours. Frank Paynter of listics recently required the services of his 74-year-old “pump guy”: “Leo gets up between 4:30 and 5:00 every morning and he’s at his shop by 6AM,” writes Frank. “He says he starts to get tired toward the late afternoon, but then he goes home for supper and gets his second wind.” I get tired in the late afternoon, too, but there’s never a second wind. Maybe that doesn’t happen until you get to be 74.

My corner deli sells Mary Janes for TEN CENTS apiece. Miniature Tootsie Rolls go for 15 cents each. So it’s a delight to read Bob Brady’s reminiscence at The Blog Brothers blog of The Empress of Penny Candy from his post-World War II childhood in Albany, New York.

Ageism is so acceptable that age is often used, when no other failing is apparent, as the ultimate putdown. Case in point: Seems Wonkette was carrying on the other day about Stanley Fish (gadfly law professor at just about every top-ten college at one time or another) starting a blog. Wonkette didn’t think much of his effort promoting Hillary Clinton for president prompting commenter “Chris” to post:

“Another step in the geezerfication of the blogosphere…Once the old folks crowd in on the latest fad, it becomes terribly uncool... and now with Stanley Fish, George 'I didn't blog' Clooney, and, sigh, Ariana Huffington, I hereby declare the blog-o-sphere dead. Or at least lame.”

Fish is 68 years old. Huffington is 56 and Clooney is only 45, but that’s beside the point. It’s the casualness of the prejudice that - oh, never mind. I get so tired of this.
[Hat tip to Liz Ditz of I Speak of Dreams.]

Slow Road Home, vignettes and essays, stories and meditations, is Fred First’s first book. I had an early peek and it is everything you would expect from the guy who writes so beautifully at Fragments From Floyd. You can order it from its own website.


Media Continue to Malign Elders

Crabby Old Lady is having fits with the media again this week, although this one has been sitting on her hard drive for ten days or so. For decades, ageist attitudes have gone unchallenged and now that the oldest baby boomers have, at age 60, become media darlings, everyone older is - deliberately or not - consigned to the role of doddering, drooling fools who were none-too-bright to start with.

“…the baby boomer generation is better educated, has more money and is more involved in their health care decisions than previous generations, he said.”

Who says pre-boomers are such dullards? Why, it’s Dr. Carl Eisdorfer who is, Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Lenita Powers tells us, “a national expert on aging.” Crabby does not mean to malign the doctor’s credentials as a physician or researcher, but is surprised that a man who has devoted his life to studying the health afflictions of elders would make such an ageist statement.

His first two claims are true in the aggregate, although not so individually. The third is questionable in making the common and erroneous assumption that lack of a college degree demonstrates lack of intelligence or wit. Crabby is glad, at age 65, that Dr. Eisdorfer is not her physician.

Compounding the insult, Ms. Powers goes on to quote Larry Weiss, director of the Sanford Center for Aging at the University of Nevada, as he repeats the doctor’s ageist twaddle:

“The current elderly population is more passive, so they walk into a physician’s office and he says something, they don’t question it. A baby boomer, who is more educated than previous generations, will go in and question a doctor’s decision, even seek a different opinion.”

With no other explanation forthcoming, Crabby can only assume Mr. Weiss’s definition of “elderly” - i.e. “frail” (which, however, does not necessarily affect one's mind) - applies to anyone older than 60, a prejudice Crabby fears Mr. Weiss is passing on to a new generation of his students. What was that song from a Fifties musical? “You have to be carefully taught.” Elder prejudice is taught everyday by repetition of ageist attitudes.

Ms. Powers fills out her story with an interview with a 59-year old fitness freak (six days a week working at pilates, yoga, weight training, cardiovascular and resistance training plus an hour-long session on a stationary bicycle) who tells us,

“’…I keep forgetting I’m that old so I keep trying to do things I did 20 years ago,’ she said. ‘That’s probably what keeps me young.’”

Nothing wrong with all that exercise if that’s what engages you, but "young" is not a synonym for "fit," and she proves that even elders unconsciously buy into the language of ageism - “young” is good, “old” is bad.

When interview subjects exhibit such an all-encompassing attitude of ageism, a reporter has a responsibility to note its pejorative nature. Ms. Powers does not.

What is most insidious about the ageism of this piece (and many others) is its subtlety. It masquerades as a positive story on growing old while dismissing nearly 50 million people older than 60. That leads to marginalization of elders and worse, less vigorously applied healthcare which is common when people are viewed as inadequate.

In its recent love affair with all things baby boomer, the media perpetuates the ageist culture by creating an artificial division - even antagonism - between boomers and their elders.

Crabby has harbored the hope that by numbers alone boomers would, as they age, create a better social climate for all elders. Instead, the media persist in extolling boomer youthfulness while denying those who are older the respect and dignity people of all ages deserve.

Ms. Powers (or her editor) headlined this story, “Baby boomers changing the way we look at growing old.” Not hardly, says Crabby.


Massachusetts Attempts Near-Universal Health Coverage

category_bug_journal2.gif It was big news last week when the Massachusetts legislature approved a bill requiring all residents to purchase health insurance with the goal of covering 90 percent of the state’s uninsured. This week, Governor Mitt Romney, who had a large hand in the program’s development, signed the bill into law.

Although it is more complex in the details than this, here are the basics:

“Uninsured people earning less than the federal poverty threshold would be able to purchase subsidized policies that have no premiums, and would be responsible for very small co-payment fees for emergency-room visits and other services. Those earning between that amount and three times the poverty-level amount would be able to buy subsidized policies with premiums based on their ability to pay. Though no maximum premium is set in the bill, legislators’ intent seems to be for it to top out at about $200 to $250 per month.”
- Washington Post, 5 April 2006

People who can afford coverage and do not purchase it will be penalized on their annual state income taxes. The plan also includes inducements to businesses which employ more than ten people to provide affordable coverage and those that don’t will be assessed an annual fee of $295 for each uninsured worker.

“’This is probably about as close as you can get to universal [coverage],’ said Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington. ‘It’s definitely going to be inspiring to other states about how there was this compromise…For a conservative Republican, this is individual responsibility. For a Democrat, this is government helping those that need help.”
- boston.com, 5 April 2006 [no longer available without a fee]

The cheering lasted less than a day before naysayers spoke up and others revealed flaws in the bill.

“…the politicians assumed that only about 500,000 people in Massachusetts are uninsured. The Census Bureau says that 748,000 are uninsured.”
- tompaine.com, 7 April 2006
“…lawmakers and an insurance executive said in interviews yesterday that they expect premiums under the bill passed this week will be about $325 a month for individuals and as much as twice that for families.”
- boston.com, 6 April 2006 [no longer available without a fee]

In addition, the bill requires insurance companies to provide “affordable coverage,” but fails to define what that is. And some experts say the requirement of the bill for all state residents to purchase insurance is unworkable:

“’Not everybody has auto insurance; not everybody pays their state income tax,’ said Michael D. Tanner, the director of health and welfare studies at the Cato Institute, a policy research organization in Washington that opposes the Massachusetts legislation because of what it views as too much government intervention.”
- The New York Times, 7 April 2006

The legislature did not calculate the costs to the state of the new plan and a number of analysts have pointed out that right now, there is little more than a hope and a dream that it will work out. Harriet L. Stanley, a member of the state’s legislative healthcare financing committee who voted for the bill said:

“This is cutting-edge conceptual healthcare policy. But we don’t yet know what it’s really going to cost us or where we’re going to get the money from. To some extent you might call it a Hail Mary pass.”
- boston.com, 6 April 2006 [no longer available without a fee]

Massachusetts should be applauded for its effort if for no other reason than bringing national attention to the crisis in U.S. healthcare. But it’s not enough. We still need national universal coverage and we need it now. It is the only cost-effective way of providing healthcare for everyone:

“A single payer universal coverage plan could cut costs by streamlining health care paperwork, making health care affordable. Massachusetts Blue Cross spends only 86 percent of premiums paying for care. It spends the rest - more than $700 million last year - on billing, marketing and other administrative costs.

“Harvard Pilgrim and Tufts Health Plan - the state’s other big insurers - are little better; each took in about $300 million more than it paid out. That’s 10 times as much overhead per enrollee as Canada’s national health insurance program. And our hospitals and doctors spent billions more fighting with insurers over payments for each band-aid and aspirin tablet.

“…If we cut bureaucracy to Canada’s level we could save $9.4 billiions annually, enough to cover all of the 748,000 uninsured in Massachusetts…”

- tompaine.com, 7 April 2006

In surveys, a majority of Americans support a single-payer, universal system and we know, as the two writers of the tompaine.com piece point out, the reason we don’t yet have it. Because it

“...threatens the multi-million dollar paychecks of insurance executives, and the outrageous profits of drug companies and medical entrepreneurs.”

Come November, when every seat in the House of Representatives is up for grabs along with one-third of the Senate, you know what to do: demand that candidates in your state support national universal healthcare to be enacted by the 2008 election, and vote against anyone who doesn’t.


The Crime of Being Old

The shock! The anger! Yes, the rage! Crabby Old Lady can barely control her apoplexy.

On 15 February 2006, 82-year-old Mayvis Coyle was ticketed by a Los Angeles cop for “obstructing the flow of traffic.” Her infraction? Walking too slowly. And listen to this:

“Sgt. Mike Zaboski of the Valley Traffic Division said he couldn’t comment on Coyle’s ticket, that it was her word against the officer who cited her - identified as Officer Kelly - as to whether she entered the crosswalk on green.

“’Right now, pedestrian accidents are above normal,’ he said Friday. ‘We’re looking out for pedestrians - people who think they have carte blanche in crossing the street.’” [emphasis added]

- LA Daily News, 10 April 2006

Crabby Old Lady nearly burst a blood vessel when she read this story. Those two cops are, in her book, nasty, evil, ageist halfwits who should be condemned to walk the rest of their lives with beans in their shoes.

Ms. Coyle was slapped with a $114 ticket for no other crime than being old. Councilwoman Wendy Greuet doesn’t like it either, but her tepid response is to request a study from transportation officials on how to accommodate elders who dare to walk in Los Angeles - the land the almighty automobile.

“The Coyle incident ‘has brought to bear an issue that is relatively common,’ Greuet said, ‘We should look at those areas with predominantly seniors and accommodate their needs at intersections.’”
- LA Daily News, 10 April 2006

“Areas with predominantly seniors?” Elders are likely to be in any place people of any other age are likely to be. What’s next? Crabby wants to know, confining elders to limited sections of town? Why not just set up concentration camps for elders so no one’s hellbent need for speed is thwarted? Even dogs are granted more leeway in the street.

Ageism is usually more subtle than this. Most people better cloak their distaste for elders than these two police officers and the councilmember. This is no amusing, little traffic incident. It reveals a city government’s official policy against the needs of elders.

Crabby Old Lady expects the good citizens of Los Angeles to rise up in large numbers and demand the extension of green light timing so people of all ages (how about the disabled, those temporarily on crutches, even kids?) can get across the street safely.

[Hat tip to Always Question for pointing out this story.]


The Lunatic-in-Chief?

category_bug_politics.gif This post is being published with a large dollop of trepidation. It is a serious accusation that no one should make lightly, but the most recent events of the Bush administration have gone so far off the deep end, it must be considered:

Is the president of the United States in his right mind?

Over last weekend and most notably in this week’s issue of The New Yorker, people are saying the president is willing to use “tactical nuclear weapons” to effect regime change in Iran, and the planning to do so, in place for many months if not longer, are ongoing.

In his column in The New York Times on Monday, Paul Krugman asks the question, “Does this sound far-fetched?”

“It shouldn't,” he answers himself. “Given the combination of recklessness and dishonesty Mr. Bush displayed in launching the Iraq war, why should we assume that he wouldn't do it again?
- The New York Times [via Common Dreams], 10 April 2006

On Tuesday, in its lead editorial, The New York Times noted:

“The planners are also looking at ways America could use tactical nuclear weapons to penetrate Iran's heavily reinforced underground uranium enrichment complex at Natanz. The British government is said to take Washington's planning exercises seriously enough to have worked out security arrangements for its own diplomats and citizens in the event of American air attacks.”

If you’re not scared stupid by this talk, you’re not paying attention. It is lunatic even if, as President Bush disingenuously said (without ruling out the use of nuclear weapons):

"The doctrine of prevention is to work together to prevent the Iranians from having a nuclear weapon," he said. "It doesn't mean force necessarily. In this case it means diplomacy."
- news.telegraph, 11 April 2006

Is there no memory of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Chernobyl? One can only echo British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who said that the idea of a nuclear strike against Iran is “completely nuts.”

No kidding. But there is, of course, precedent for this statement-and-denial, statement-and-denial, statement-and-denial propaganda from the Bush administration. It worked for getting us into the morass in Iraq. There is no reason to believe Mr. Bush is not trying to use the same, successful tactic again to soften up the citizens of the U.S. and the world for another war - but with the lunatic component of nuclear weapons this time.

The suggestion that Mr. Bush's nuclear sabre-rattling is just a ploy to get Iran to a negotiating table is deceitful on its face.

The government threatens to use nuclear weapons to annihilate a region of the world to prevent them from using nuclear weapons, and the media flails around avoiding what is to me is the single, obvious question:

Has the president of the United States lost his mind?

Read the links scattered about in this post and ask yourself what sane person - in this case, the leader of the most powerful nation on earth with all the responsibilities inherent in that position - would float such a hideous proposition.


Painting All Bloggers With One Black Brush

[EDITORIAL NOTE: In a special Retirement section today, The New York Times has published a story, Elderbloggers Stake Their Claim, which includes an audio interview with Mort Reichek of Octogenarian. Milt Rebman of Milt's Muse is quoted too along with yours truly. You might want to take a look.]

For many years, Boston Globe columnist, Ellen Goodman, has been a favorite of Crabby Old Lady’s. She has found Goodman’s thinking to be, sometimes, so inspired and thoughtful, that she’s even sprung, once or twice, for a book of her collected essays. But last week Ms. Goodman disappointed Crabby.

In an ignorant column about a few bloggers who shamefully blamed journalist and Iraq hostage Jill Carroll for her own captivity and accused her of anti-Americanism, Ms. Goodman accuses all bloggers of polluting the media.

“…not a good moment for the bustling, energetic Wild West of the new Internet…”

“…many [bloggers] have only one exercise routine: jumping to conclusions.”

“These attacks raise the question of what bloggery is going to be when it grows up. An Internet op-ed page? Or a polarized, talk-radio food fight?”

“…mostly unedited, without standards or correction boxes.”

Many Bloggers? By Ms. Goodman’s standards, we should condemn all newspapers, including her own Boston Globe, for the frauds of Judith Miller, the plagiarism of Jayson Blair and Ben Domenech, and the fabrication of Mitch Albom in writing a report of a ball game before it was played.

Crabby was amazed to see that although Ms. Goodman singled out Don Imus’s producer, Bernard McGuirk, for his slander of Ms. Carroll without disparaging all of talk radio, she allowed no such grace to bloggers, all of whom, according to Goodman, are responsible for the contemptible words of a handful.

It is as though Ms. Goodman is living in time warp. Until about two years ago, mainstream media famously dismissed bloggers as pajama-clad poseurs until some political bloggers beat “professional” journalists at their own game during the last election campaign.

Now newspapers liberally quote and proudly link to bloggers who mention their stories. They even solicit mentions from bloggers, as Crabby Old Lady can attest with marketing emails from such publications as Newsweek, Time and others landing in her inbox each week.

So, on what planet has Ms. Goodman been living for the past few years? Crabby wants to know. Blogs are almost mainstream these days.

As with a few mainstream media reporters who break the rules of journalism, some bloggers are unethical, insensitive and indecent. The vast majority, however - millions upon millions - are honest, careful editors of their own writing and quick to correct errors when they are pointed out. Some are even professional journalists. Others have been journalists in the past and still others, journalists and not, post their standards and practices on their blogs - which is more than some newspapers do.

Ms. Goodman ended her column last week with a disingenuous call for amends:

“For many bloggers, credibility - and decency - should begin with an apology to a survivor named Jill Carroll.”

The few (not “many”) who trashed Jill Carroll are not the sort who will apologize. After this misinformed screed, Crabby believes it is Ms. Goodman’s credibility which is at risk and she owes all the blogosphere an apology of her own.