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Google Accuses Crabby Old Lady of Dishonesty

See that empty white space in the right sidebar? And the other one just above the comments section here and on The Elder Storytelling Place? That's where Crabby Old Lady's Google Ads once were - until Monday when Google disabled Crabby's account.

Google's email was short on explanation. Apparently, Crabby poses a "significant risk" to Adsense advertisers and further investigation on Crabby's part revealed this in the web giant's Disabled Account FAQ:

"Because we have a need to protect our proprietary detection system, we're unable to provide our publishers with any information about their account activity, including any web pages, users, or third-party services that may have been involved.

And further:

"As you may know, Google treats invalid click activity very seriously, analyzing all clicks and impressions to determine whether they fit a pattern of use that may artificially drive up an advertiser's costs or a publisher's earnings. If we determine that an AdSense account may pose a risk to our AdWords advertisers, we may disable that account to protect our advertisers' interests."

Crabby Old Lady doesn't have a clue what Google is talking about.

To raise a little extra cash, at the suggestion of a TGB reader she signed up for Google Adsense about five or six weeks ago, read all their rules and regulations, posted the code to her blogs and got on with her life. She fiddled with the colors in the ads a couple of times, but that seems to be allowed. On a few occasions when an ad caught Crabby's attention, she tracked down the advertiser by other means than clicking the ad which is disallowed by Google for site owners. So that couldn't be the issue.

Google now declines to pay Crabby the $175 or so she has earned during her several weeks of Adsense involvement. No wonder they're all millionaires at Google, confiscating honestly-earned money from a Crabby Old Lady because if Crabby has been banned without evidence or explanation, undoubtedly thousands of others have too.

A friend tells Crabby that his company lost a client when, while building a website, they included Google Ads in the design. The site was not yet public and Google suddenly banned it from the Adsense program.

Google provides no evidence of wrongdoing. Crabby Old Lady went through their appeal process which became a joke when she read that they may decline to respond - which they have not done so far - and there is nothing she can do to refute secret evidence beyond proclaiming her innocence. It's like being denied the right to confront one's accusers in court which, if Crabby's memory is in working order, is unconstitutional in the United States. But then, corporations are not democracies; all civil rights are left at the door when one is employed by or contracted with corporations.

Google's time would be better spent disabling the splog sites that plague Crabby by scraping her blog's content and posting their own Google ads - that's a real fraud.

Crabby, on the other hand, played by the rules. She is an honest person. And she is highly embarrassed at being banned by Google. When she read their email the first time, she felt her face get hot. That subsided and she woke the next morning in a rage over Google's unwarranted accusations and summary judgment.

It's not nice for a billion-dollar company to impugn the integrity of a Crabby Old Lady.

For many years, Crabby has relied on Google Alerts to keep her abreast of all things related to aging. She would now like to divest herself of all things Google and if anyone has a good alternative to Google Alerts, please do let Crabby know. She will also be using a different search engine from now on.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia continues her series of stories about embarrassment and humiliation with The Mousetrap of Cockiness.]


Quindlen's Shameful Ageism

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“Each time I’m described as middle-aged the 25-year-old still living in me lets out a scream.

“Granted, I now have a perspective, a wisdom, a more comprehensive body of knowledge, if only I could remember it. But words elude me occasionally, which is challenging for a wordsmith. More important, there’s a certain spark that now smolders sometimes. So where’s the sweet spot, that moment when the timeline of experience intersects perfectly with the trajectory of excitement? It’s different times for different people, but it seldom occurs late in life.”

That’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen in the last week's issue of Newsweek arguing that Senator John McCain is too old to be president while projecting onto Mr. McCain her reluctance to come to terms with her own aging.

Ms. Quindlen, who is in her mid-fifties, appears to believe the myth that aging is about nothing but decline and that physical infirmity should bar one from high office. Tell that to Franklin Roosevelt, whose domestic agenda did more good for the American people than any ten other presidents put together.

A large part of her argument depends on the fact that Senator McCain “…takes the stairs slowly and cannot lift his arms to comb his hair.” I’m unaware that those “infirmities,” as Ms. Quindlen labels them, affect his mind and in fact, are not related to age at all.

When McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over Vietnam in 1967, both arms and a leg were broken, he nearly drowned in the lake where he landed and the mob that then attacked him crushed his shoulders and broke several ribs. He was denied medical care for a week or more until the Vietnamese discovered McCain’s father was a top admiral. And all that was before the torture began.

To equate the results of McCain’s war injuries with mental incapacity is worse than nonsense; it is shameful and reflects the writer’s ageism.

Ms. Quindlen also notes that if Senator McCain is elected he will be, at 72, more than two years older than President Reagan when he entered office - as if this is an important difference. As often noted here, people age at dramatically different rates and times in their lives and the current U.S. average age at death is about 77. That’s average and I haven’t noticed Senator McCain nodding off during speeches as former President Clinton – age 61 – was recently caught on camera doing.

Senator McCain is not my choice for president, but it’s not his age that disqualifies him for me and it should not be for anyone else. If a widely-read, national columnist dissects a candidate's qualifications for office, she has an obligation to know what she's talking about or at least acknowledge her personal prejudices if she can't disregard them.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Georgie Bright Kunkel does some thinking about First Ladies and Maybe Even First Gentlemen.]


Arranging a Life in Retirement

category_bug_journal2.gif It feels like years that my life has been in continual disruption and now, having put some thought to it, I realize it has been literally years.

From mid-2004 to mid-2005, I looked for full-time work full time without success. For the next year, until mid-2006, I prepared my New York apartment for sale, then spent half of several days a week away during showings and traveled frequently to Portland, Maine, to find a new home.

After moving in June 2006, I spent the rest of that year designing and overseeing renovations, learning my way around my new city and settling in. I hadn’t moved in 23 years and had forgotten how long the details of making a home comfortable can take, not to mention that I was 23 years older and tire more easily than two decades previously.

Last year, I traveled more than I anticipated and took on several projects that required most of my extra time. Finally, on Sunday, I finished the last project and have sworn there will be no more for at least the first half of this year.

What I want to do is find my natural retirement life rhythm.

For our entire lives, from kindergarten until retirement, our time is bound by schedules set by others - first in school and then by our employers. Even the self-employed must align their time with customer and supplier schedules. Our days are ordered by those requirements and our other responsibilities and interests must be squeezed in around them.

By the time we retire, after five or six decades of slavish attention to others’ clocks, we have no experience at ordering our days. Vacations don’t count.

Some people thrive on no schedule, flitting from one thing to another as whim takes them and they manage to get the essentials done. Or not, and maybe it doesn’t bother them. I’m not one of those people.

I’ve chosen to make this blog my retirement job and now I can figure out where it best fits in my day rather than working it in around obligations. Maybe I’ll set aside a certain time of day to deal with email (once I catch up with the 100-plus I’ve flagged - if I can remember why they’re flagged). Definitely, I’ll mark some hours of the day to read the piles of unread books. And set a specific time of day to get in some additional exercise. It might actually get done that way.

From what I read, many people are suddenly faced with empty time the day after they retire. That’s not my problem, but I’m eager to see what kind of rhythm I can give my life now that my time is my own.

What about those of you have retired? How have you worked out the rhythm of your days?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Edna Henke takes a wry look at the indignities time can inflict upon us in Broken Body Parts.]


The NYRB Snarky Attack on Bloggers

When the latest issue of The New York Review of Books arrived in Crabby Old Lady’s snailmail box last week, she was surprised to see a big, bold headline on the cover – BLOGS - by Sarah Boxer. The NYRB is more likely to deconstruct Montaigne (again), discuss the death of Susan Sontag or ruminate on evil in postwar Europe (all in this issue) than report on anything as revolutionary as blogs.

Crabby doesn’t mean to get snarky about the NYRB. After all, she reads it. But she doesn't expect depth of coverage or understanding of tech culture and on that point, Ms. Boxer’s story on blogs wasn’t disappointing.

As with all print media stories on blogs, the first 500 words once again defined blogging. Blogs have been around for more than ten years now and with 100 million of them, they need defining these days as much as carrots and Crabby will thank the press to give it up.

Further, the NLRB story leads with an image of Wonkette as though that sums up blogging, which isn’t much different from using People to typify magazines. In addition, the story purports to be a review of ten books about blogging, but they are barely mentioned. Instead, readers are treated to Ms. Boxer’s seemingly willful misunderstanding of blogs (even though she apparently did some measure of research for her own book on blogs due out next month). Some examples:

“Bloggers thrive on fragmented attention and dole it out too – one liners, samples of songs, summary news, and summary judgments. Sometimes they don’t even stop to punctuate.”
“Many bloggers really don't write much at all. They are more like impresarios, curators, or editors, picking and choosing things they find on line, occasionally slapping on a funny headline or adding a snarky (read: snotty and catty) comment.”

Ms. Boxer apparently believes “snarky” is a blog-centric portmanteau word although several dictionaries trace it as far back as 1866, and she also finds “anyhoo,” “haz-mat,” “nutters,” “bejesus” and “babealiciousness” peculiar enough to comment upon. This woman needs to get out more.

The point of her entire story is to put bloggers in their place compared to "real" writers and journalists - like Ms. Boxer. She seems to have surfed the most notorious of the blogs – sex and Superman take up a lot of paragraphs – and she compares English-language blogs unkindly with their Japanese-language counterparts:

“The largest number of blog posts, some 37 percent, are now in Japanese, according to a recent Washington Post article by Blaine Harden, and most of these are polite and self-effacing - karaoke for shy people. Thirty-six percent of posts are in English, and most of them are the opposite of polite and self-effacing.”

Crabby is confused. Does Ms. Boxer mean blog posts or blogs - there is a difference, of course, and Crabby knows of at least two blogs that publish in both languages.

Somehow, in Ms. Boxer’s world, bloggers who have out-reported mainstream media are nothing more than link whores. She dismisses Little Green Footballs for pointing out a doctored Reuters news photo and Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo for reporting Trent Lott’s racist remarks (which led to his resignation as Senate majority leader) as nothing more than attempts to pimp their stats by "bring[ing] down a big-time politician or journalist.”

It’s the style of blog writing that most gets under Ms. Boxer’s skin. After unequivocably stating, “If people wrote like this for publication, they'd be fired,” she attempts to punch up her skewed view with the help of academe, quoting Stanford linguist Geoffrey Nunberg from an ancient (2004) NPR interview:

"’I don't quite have the hang of the form,’ [said Nunberg]. And, he added, many journalists who get called upon by their editors to keep blogs are similarly stumped: ‘They fashion engaging ledes, they develop their arguments methodically, they give context and background, and tack helpful IDs onto the names they introduce.’ Guess what? [writes Ms. Boxer] They read like journalists, not bloggers.”

You wouldn’t know it from Ms. Boxer’s story, but there are thousands of well-crafted, cited and source-linked blogs informing and entertaining readers. Crabby Old Lady wouldn’t be nearly as well informed if she didn’t rely on blogs and alternative media at least as much as the mainstream press.

Ms. Boxer may have written a book about blogs but Crabby doubts its depth or value. Boxer treats blogging both too superficially and too seriously. Blogs run the gamut from the likes of The New York Review of Books to People magazine in as many styles and levels of professionalism as other media. It’s time for the print press to get over their provincialism and report on how blogs are changing the media landscape.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, David Wolfe recounts how a high school English teacher falsely accused him of plagiarism and what he did about it in I Never Got to Show Her.]


This Week in Elder News: 26 January 2008

In this regular Saturday feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

The collection this week is heavy on politics, but it's been that kind of week.

For me, there was only one announced candidate for president who has what it takes to be the kind of leader we desperately need, and now Dennis Kucinich has gone and dropped out on me. He never had a chance and in my cynicism about how most people vote, I believed (and still do) that some of his difficulty in gaining traction had to do with the fact that he is not classically handsome. That the media ignored him and debate moderators, when he wasn't excluded, barely acknowledged him didn't help either.

Here's his withdrawal statement posted at the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Thursday. Kucinich will fight to retain his House seat and (hear, hear, Ohioans) this is one representative we should hang on to.

January 31 will be the first anniversary of the death at age 63 of the great Molly Ivins, a political commentator who had in life and still has no equal. Her wry Texas humor and dead-on skewering of President "Shrub" and his neocon policies helped soften the sting of the past seven years. Here is some audio, about nine minutes, of her last appearance with Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion in 2006 - scroll down to the beginning of Segment 2. (Hat tip to Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles.)

James Ridgeway and Jean Casella have taken up the cause against the Thought Crime Bill, S.1955, at Mother Jones magazine. They say Senate hearings will be held early this year and that the bill "appears certain to be signed into law." Their story is long with much more detail of related actions going on in the U.S. than I've written here. It is worth every moment of time it will take you to read it. (Hat tips to Steven of Projections and Anita McClellan)

There is a new website that will not only reduce the load in your mailbox, but save a few trees too if enough of us join. Catalog Choice, similar to the Do Not Call Registry but not part of the government, allows you to opt out of receiving particular printed catalogs. Sign up, choose the catalogs you don't want and the organization will contact the providers to remove your name. Plus, it's free.

On Monday evening, 28 January, President Bush will give his final State of the Union Address. It is unlikely to be any more honest than his previous annual speeches, so here is a nifty set of facts and figures from the Campaign for America's Future to consult so you'll know when the president is trying to bamboozle you.

None of the Republican presidential candidates have put forth proposals to fix our broken healthcare system. At least two of the Democratic plans for healthcare reform mandate the purchase of health coverage, one of them with penalties for non-compliance. There are a lot of unanswered questions about this policy and next Thursday, 31 January, Kaisernetwork is holding a live webcast to explore the issue in depth. The public is invited to ask questions by email or phone before and during the webcast, which begins at 1:30PM ET.

I've been called many things in my life, some that pained me, but I'm pleased as punch to be included in Chuck Nyren's list of blogging "troublemakers" at his new Chuckhov's Fun Blog. He also says, "When she links to one of my blogs in one of her posts, the number of page views for me that day equals an entire month of normal activity. It's humiliating." Aw Chuck, I'm sorry...

My, my, my - it's amazing how our legislators suddenly get religion in a wide-open election year fueled by an angry electorate. Last night, in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Republicans said they "believe that the earmark system should be brought to an immediate halt." Earmarks, of course, are the billions of dollars in pork projects, like the infamous bridge to nowhere, that are dropped into bills at the last moment often in secret. But being politicians, after all, they didn't really mean it. All they want is a bipartisan panel to talk about it - according to The Hill.

Last week in elder news we showed a video of 500 years of women's faces painted by the great masters. This week, thanks to Darlene Costner, it's a video of 20th century film actresses. I wonder why no one ever does this with men. From Glumbert Women in Film.


Why Do You Live Where You Do?

category_bug_journal2.gif Tech guru extraordinaire, Chris Pirillo, and his wife Ponzi recently spent some time in Hawaii. Chris returned home to Seattle with five reasons he would not want to live in Hawaii. (“Nice place to visit, but…”) You can watch the video below (5:31 minutes) or read his reasons here.

When I was forced to leave Manhattan two years ago, I didn’t have a specific destination in mind, but I did have criteria:

  • I don’t like hot weather, I particularly don’t like deserts and I like four definitive seasons, so the entire southern half of the United States could be eliminated
  • I like an ocean nearby, so I didn’t need to consider the upper middle of the U.S.
  • I’m a city girl, so my choices were easily winnowed down to Seattle, Boston and the two Portlands - Maine and Oregon
  • Other people would disagree, but for me Seattle and Boston have all the disadvantages of big cities and few of the advantages
  • I figured I had a better chance of getting New York friends to visit me in Maine than Oregon

That last item was a mistake, but that’s a story for another day.

Time Goes By readers are scattered all over the world. Some of you have lived in the same place all your lives. Others have chosen new hometowns either during your working lives or in retirement. A few lucky people have two homes and split their time between them.

What about you? How did you make your choice about where to live?

By the way, I found Chris Pirillo’s five reasons for not wanting to live in Hawaii through his Lockergnome newsletter which he publishes several times a week. I’ve subscribed for almost as long as it has existed (ten years or more?) and it is packed not only with tech tips, but an amazing amount of good information, advice and links on just about any aspect of living. You too can subscribe for free by sending an email to picks@lockergnome.com.

Some of Chris’s tech tips are too geeky for me to understand, but there is so much of everything else that it is an enormously valuable newsletter.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dorothy recalls a strong presence from her childhood in Memories of My Gram.]


Get to Know Even More About the Elderbloggers List

I’ve been remiss in adding new blogs to the Elderbloggers list, but it’s been a tad busy around here and I’m playing a lot of catch up. (Isn’t this time of life called retirement and shouldn’t I have more free time than I do?)

Until then, however, you can help other readers learn about more of the Elderblogs. We’ve done this twice in the past – here and here – when I asked and you graciously responded by telling us about the blogs you selected to write about. Those that have been reported by you are already marked with a tilde (~) which links to the report. But there are still many unreviewed blogs, so let’s go for it again.

Here’s how it works:

  • Choose a blog from the list without a tilde, one you have never visited or have not visited in a long time
  • Take a look around the blog, read some new and some old posts, check out the features, get a feel for it
  • Then come back here and in the comments section, tell us about the blog you chose
  • Keep your review to about 250 words or fewer so the rest of us can be sure to have time to read them all

To give it some form and ease of reading, we’ll create a format. Start your review with a header that is the name of the blog in bold and is also a link to it. Here is the html to do that:

<strong><a href="URL goes here">Blog name here</a></strong>

Just copy and paste the html into the top of the comment form and fill in the two blanks. Be sure to not lose any of the carets, slashes, semi-colons and quotation marks – they are necessary – and don’t let any extra spaces slip in. Then hit the “enter” key twice for some separation from header and start your review.

As the reviews are posted, I will add the tilde links to each blog as soon as possible.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia tells how she got A Second Chance to save a life.]


The Thought Crime Bill - A Senator's Boilerplate Response

category_bug_politics.gif No, I haven’t forgotten S.1959, also known as H.R.1955, titled the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act which I call The Thought Crime Bill (full text here and read more here). As far as can be determined, it is sitting in the Senate Homeland Security Committee with no hearings scheduled yet.

Like many elderbloggers, Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles wrote to her senators about our concerns that the bill tramples all over the First Amendment and several others. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison recently sent Pattie this insulting reply:

“Thank you for contacting me regarding S. 1959, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. I welcome your thoughts and comments on this issue.

“Introduced on August 2 nd by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), S. 1959 seeks to amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by including new provisions regarding the prevention of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism. One such provision of this legislation would be to establish a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism. The primary duties of the commission would include examining and reporting on facts and causes of homegrown terrorism and ideologically based violence in the United States.

“Another important provision of S. 1959 is the establishment of a university-based Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States. This center would assist federal, state, and local homeland security officials in preventing homegrown terrorism in the United States.

“S. 1959 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, of which I am not a member. Should this legislation come before the full Senate, you may be certain I will keep your views in mind.

“I appreciate hearing from you and hope you will not hesitate to keep in touch on any issue of concern to you.”

The senator’s response treats Cowtown Pattie as though she’s an idiot who doesn’t understand the bill rather than addressing the concerns about civil liberties Pattie raised and is almost a duplicate of the responses others have received from their Washington representatives, including the response from my own senator, the bill’s sponsor, Susan Collins. They pay lip service to their constituents, but essentially dismiss our concerns.

Meanwhile, at least one other mainstream newspaper has printed an editorial warning about the dangers of this bill, one of which Diane of Cab Drollery alerted me to from the Sacramento Bee. The editorial makes some excellent points:

“According to the bill, ‘violent radicalization’ is promoting an undefined ‘extremist belief system.’ It is using ‘force or violence’ to advance ‘political, religious or social change.’

“Of course, force need not involve physical violence. Examples of nonviolent force abound: Blacks in the 1950s staging sit-ins at whites-only restaurants; suffragettes chaining themselves to the White House fence in the 1910s to win the vote; workers striking to win better labor conditions in the 1930s.

“And what constitutes homegrown terrorism? According to Harman's bill, it includes planning to ‘intimidate or coerce’ the government or people of the United States to further ‘political or social objectives.’ In short, Harman's bill would make civil disobedience in the name of political change ‘homegrown terrorism.’

“Even worse, the national commission that would ferret out such activity would have sweeping subpoena and investigative powers to haul individuals and groups in for examination.”

The editorial continues with this historical warning:

“Harman's bill is labeled as an act to ‘prevent homegrown terrorism,’ and undefined ‘other purposes.’ This makes her bill eerily similar to the bill creating the House Un-American Activities Committee, which began in 1938 as a vehicle for investigating Nazi propaganda ‘and certain other propaganda activity.’

“The abuses of that committee, including its harassment of civil rights groups, are well documented.”

The Sacramento Bee does an excellent job of deconstructing the consequences of the bill’s vague definitions that, should it become law as it is now worded, could make even this blog post a reason to subpoena and investigate me or anyone one of us who publishes our own “editorial” against S.1959.

It would be a good idea for us all to continue to write our senators and those who sit on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, presidential candidate Barack Obama among them. Personally, I want to see if quoting the Sacramento Bee editorial will get a less insulting response.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Kay Richard tells us about her experience with one of many women's lifelong obsessions in Long Beautiful Hair.]


Old Women, Young Men

category_bug_journal2.gif Many years ago, while I was visiting my great Aunt Edith in Portland, Oregon, we went to a big, vertical, indoor mall so I could do some necessary shopping. Aunt Edith preferred to stay in a main floor area, a pleasant space with benches and tables, lots of light and living trees.

I was gone about an hour and when I returned, there were three young men deep in conversation with Aunt Edith. It turned out they were starting college and Aunt Edith was giving them household tips complete with easy-to-cook recipes and how to live on a tight budget. They seemed to be having such a good time, I hesitated to interrupt. It’s not often in my experience that the very young and very old spend much time together and conventional wisdom dictates that the generations have little in common.

When I was in Seattle last summer, I met a young man with whom I had dinner two nights. It was an instance we all experience now and then of feeling like you’ve always known someone. We kept in touch and while he was visiting the east coast this month, he came up here from Boston to spend four days with me.

Stan is a successful tech entrepreneur taking some time off while looking for his next business (ad)venture. We spent our days mostly deep in conversation about life and love and philosophy and technology and the nature of happiness – you name it. We continued our discussions each evening until midnight and beyond. It was delightful.

Stan, who is in his early 30s, isn’t the only young man with whom I’m friends. Lately, I seem to be collecting them and they are among the best relationships I’ve ever had with men. It is a completely unexpected development in my old age and I’ve been wondering if it is common and what accounts for it.

Whether it is common, I don’t know. What accounts for it, I think, is that with the large gap between our ages, there is an absence of sexual tension. For my part there is no wondering, as when I was younger, if this will develop into a romance, no nervousness over what to wear or if I’m attractive enough, no posturing or trying to be something I’m not to impress him. We’re just friends, two people who enjoy one another’s company without the complications of sexual attraction.

Discounting grandchildren, people seem to segregate themselves mostly by age and there is much to be said for having friends who share a similar life experience. But hanging out young people is a good thing too, and I wish I had included this phenomenon in the When I Was Young Meme last week. I would never have predicted, when I was 25, that I would have such a terrific group of young friends when I got old and that we would have so much fun together.

Maybe that was just youthful chauvinism on my part and young people today have less of it.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Herchel Newman wonders about the surprise some people have at hearing Please and Thank You.]


Shirley MacLaine and Me

The PR campaign for a new Shirley MacLaine movie to be released in a couple of months has begun. I always perk up when her name is mentioned because Ms. MacLaine and I have a personal connection – sort of.

You see, some people think I’m Shirley MacLaine. Well, not lately, but there was a time – a period of several years in the 1980s and 1990s when I was regularly approached for autographs and no amount of denial on my part would convince people – mostly tourists - that I wasn’t Ms. MacLaine.

It happened frequently enough that I’d sometimes stare at myself in the bathroom mirror, turning my head this way and that trying to catch a glimpse of what others saw. Maybe it was something similar in the set of our jaws or the shape of our eyes. Or a mannerism I am unaware of. I couldn’t be sure, but a lot of other people had no doubt.

There is a certain kind of woman they seem to breed only in Queens, New York. They dress in bright, bold colors – all worn together in the same outfit - and have that accent (think Fran Drescher in The Nanny). You can hear – and see – them coming for ten city blocks. Invariably, they are brash, loud, smart as whips and devastatingly funny.

I had a friend like that in the mid-1990s. Carol and I worked together in midtown Manhattan and on one cold, winter day, we avoided the nasty weather by making our way underground through the labyrinth of shops below Rockefeller Center toward a favorite restaurant.

Wading through knots of noontime tourists consulting their maps as we turned a corner, I saw a woman eyeing me in a way I had come to know well; I was about to be accosted for an autograph.

Sure enough. With her friends in tow, she rushed over, grabbed my arm and gushed: “I am your biggest fan ever. I’ve seen every movie you ever made. You…”

I interrupted. “I know you think I’m Shirley MacLaine, but I’m not.”

“Don’t you try to fool me, Shirley,” said the woman wagging her finger. “I’m your biggest fan and I know Shirley MacLaine when I see her.”

Now a crowd was gathering as the name Shirley MacLaine was passed from one person to another and people dug in their bags and pockets for paper and pen.

“Please, Ma’am,” I said. “You’re mistaken. I’m not Shirley MacLaine. I just happen to look a little like her. But I’m not her…”

The woman, quite firm about it, continued to insist that I was Shirley MacLaine and nothing I said could dissuade her.

As I tried to resist taking her notepad and pen for the autograph she wanted, Carol elbowed me and in her loudest, Queens whine said, “Oh, come on, Shirley, just sign the autograph. We’re going to be late.”

Of course, Carol was right - a perfect solution I'd been too thick to think up for myself. I signed Shirley MacLaine's name, leaving the woman victorious in her belief that she had met a movie star while visiting New York City and freeing Carol and me to get on with our lunch.

From that day forward, taking my cue from Carol of Queens’ sharp elbow and sharper wit, I signed autographs as graciously as I could when asked (until I apparently stopped looking like Ms. MacLaine a few years later) and hoped, should she ever find out, that she wouldn’t mind.

As a result, I feel a small connection to Ms. MacLaine and take notice when her name turns up as it recently did in an interview with The Australian promoting a new film, Closing the Ring, co-starring Christopher Plummer.

During the interview she mentioned another, Poor Things, shooting now with co-star Olympia Dukakis. It is based, says Ms. MacLaine, on a true story about two old women:

"They didn't like the idea that they were invisible, so they thought, 'All right, we will use this invisibility.'

"What they end up doing is scamming homeless shelters in California. They pick a homeless person, take an insurance policy out on him, get him off the booze and off the drugs…and when the policy reaches maturity, they run him over with their car.

"’They whacked 10 men that way, made 2.5 mill on each one,’ MacLaine says, sounding amused by the concept.”

Maybe Shirley MacLaine and I also share a sense of humor because I too find the concept funny and am looking forward to the movie and to adding it to the TGB Geezer Flicks list.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Darlene Costner explains why she put her foot down about where the family was going to live in The Nor’easter or Why We Moved Back to Arizona.]


This Week in Elder News: 19 January 2008

In this regular Saturday feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

Last year, 25-year-old Richard Stelmach noted that while he and most of the people using Facebook are somewhere near his age, in 40 years or so, what they will be writing and doing would be somewhat different. “I know this thought is a bit random,” he writes in the introduction to his Elder Facebook Page, “but I strangely find it interesting." Click on the image to read his vision of his future on Facebook. And please do cut him some slack – it’s funny. [Hat tip to my houseguest, Stan James of Wandering Stan.]

Oldfacebook

Several readers have sent emails recommending the new BigThink site that appears to think of itself as YouTube for – well, big thinkers. It’s still in beta but apparently the idea is that anyone can post videos expressing their bigthink ideas and last week, Chuck Nyren signed up. He hasn’t posted any idea videos yet, so here’s what showed up on his BigThink profile page. It seems a rather discouraging way to welcome new members. Check out Chuck’s brand new blog, Chuckhov’s Fun Blog.

Zerochuckhov

The video below has been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube, so I may be way behind the curve, but it is still beautiful: 500 years of women’s portraits in western art. The morph video is by Philip Scott Johnson set to Bach's Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major. [Hat tip to John Brandt}

Erica Jong makes a pretty good case about us – you and me – getting the president we deserve because we allow the media to turn a presidential election campaign into a high school popularity contest. Give it a read at Huffington Post.

A year ago, when a college professor David Gould asked people age 50 and older to write letters to his college students, he wanted them “…to give insight on what they know now that they wish they had known when they were in their 20s.” The results were remarkable and some are now online at the Legacy Letter Project. The project continues and you too can participate.


Weather Update and Ollie the Cat

category_bug_oliver Let me know when you’re tired of snow pictures. I have a houseguest this week and it’s been otherwise busy around here too. This is the best I can do for today.

Last week, Portland, Maine had an astonishing winter respite with the temperature in the 50s and 60s for three days. Of course, with the amount of snow piled up from recent storms, that just left us with ankle-deep slush but it was a pleasure to go outdoors without bundling up enough to look like the Michelin man.

The latest storm, on Monday, was big-time. It began around 6AM and was raging four hours later. You can see how heavily it was coming down by how high it is on the car’s tires.

Snowstorm1


The snow had not let up at all by early afternoon. The sky was low, the winds were high and it felt to me like a holiday – an excuse to set aside even indoor chores, stare out the window and daydream.

Snowstorm2


Although the weatherman said the storm would not run its course until 10PM, that didn’t stop an intrepid neighbor from getting a head start on cleanup in the late afternoon. Me? I waited for the handyman to dig out my car and sidewalk the next morning. I think I’m becoming accustomed – or inured – to weekly winter snowstorms.

Snowstorm3


On to cats. They are ever inventive and just when you think you know their repertoire, they surprise you with something new that leaves you puzzling about what goes on in their walnut-sized brains.

Recently, when it is meal time, Ollie the cat has taken to jumping on the counter under the cupboard where his food is stored. He eats there now until he’s had his fill, after which I put his bowl on the floor by his water for later snacking. It has become, at his instigation, our twice-daily routine.

Step back in time a few weeks to when Ollie appropriated a small piece of bubble wrap that came with a gift. Of two or three dozen toys, it became his favorite and I wrapped a rubber band around the middle to give it some heft for me to throw when we play run and fetch.

Now cut to four days ago when, at breakfast, Ollie brought his bubble wrap onto the meal counter. He spent a great deal of time and effort – sometimes sitting back to gauge his progress – positioning it on his bowl to suit whatever mysterious purpose he had in mind…

Oliverfood1


…making it as difficult as possible to get his head in the bowl to eat. When he accidentally knocked the bubble wrap off the bowl, he took time and care in replacing it just so before finishing his meal.

Oliverfood2


When I later moved his bowl to the floor, he retrieved the bubble wrap from the counter, placed it next to his bowl and then, satisfied, wandered off to find somewhere to nap. For a long time it was toy mice he drowned each day in his water. This is a much trickier maneuver.

And so it goes twice a day with me and Ollie the cat.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rabon Saip recalls three precious Moments from his life that made an impact.]


While Elders Scrabble, Congress Gets a Pay Raise

Worn down by an unnecessary war in the Middle East, presidential assaults on civil liberties, tax cuts for the rich, stratospheric medical costs, government-sponsored torture and innumerable other complaints about Washington politics, Crabby Old Lady joined millions of her fellow citizens in cautiously applauding the new Democratic majority in Congress the morning after the 2006 election.

Crabby’s (mild) euphoria was short-lived as it soon became evident that Congress had not changed at all. It continued to rubber-stamp President Bush’s initiatives, and apparently most of the rest of the country is in agreement with Crabby. Congress’s approval rating currently stands at an all-time low of 25 percent [December AP-Ipsos poll].

Now, with a federal budget deficit in numbers unheard of in the history of the world and increasing at a rate of billions of dollars a week, word comes that lawmakers have given themselves a cost-of-living increase for 2008 of $4,100 for the average lawmaker to an annual wage $169,300.

Those who hold higher positions of power, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] for example, get slightly more. Her salary goes from $212,100 last year to $217,400.

Crabby Old Lady doesn’t begrudge Congress its rate of pay, but she gets her knickers in a big-time twist when her representatives give themselves a larger increase than Social Security beneficiaries, both of which are supposed to be based on cost-of-living statistics. Social Security benefits were raised for 2008 by 2.3 percent; Congress gave themselves 2.5 percent.

With the average Social Security benefit at $964.50 in November 2007, the difference doesn’t amount to much: $266 annually at 2.3 percent versus $289 annually at 2.5 percent. Just $23. But it’s the principle that bothers Crabby:

“Rep Jim Matheson, [D-Utah], a leading critic of the COLA process, said in an interview that he’s not proposing that members of Congress never get a pay raise. But he said that, in a time of budget deficits when many people are undergoing economic hardship, ‘at least we ought to have an up-and-down vote on it. The whole process appears so secretive.’”
Houston Chronicle, 12 January 2008

And Congress wonders why the country hates them so much. If they had given themselves the 2.3 percent increase to match their largest voting bloc, their annual salary would be only $300 lower. Not a bad price, in Crabby’s lights, for Congress to appear as though they have a glimmer of recognition that their constituents are scrabbling to get by. Crabby Old Lady will keep this in mind come the November election.

[At The Edler Storytelling Place today, Lia tells another in her ongoing series of stories on embarrassments and humiliations titled Country Bumpkin.]


When I Was Young Meme

Blogging is old enough now to have grown some traditions. One of them, that mostly irritates me, is memes because they usually take time but not much thought without revealing anything useful or entertaining. But now and again…

Claude of Blogging in Paris has tagged me for a When I Was Young… meme that instructs participants to list five things in life they never thought – at age 25 - they would become. I've added the thought, "or would happen".

This one is interesting, especially for elders, because it requires us to compare our young selves to our old selves, and has the potential for surprises – if not for readers, for ourselves.

  1. At 25, I had been married for a year and expected it to last a lifetime. No divorce, like my parents, for me. When I initiated divorce after six years, I shocked myself, but it hadn’t been like any marriage I imagined and I was miserable – all day, every day. I believed the only way to save my soul was to go my own way.

    After a couple of years of healing, I thought I would eventually marry again; that was how girls were raised to think in the 1950s. But if you don’t count four years living with a lovely man named Barry, I didn’t marry again. In time, I came to see that I’m not much cut out for it. I like to be alone too much and unfortunately, with the exception of Barry, I’m attracted to men more cerebral than practical which means I always paid the bills, fixed the toilet, did the laundry, hung the pictures, took out the trash and every other bit of the minutiae daily living requires.

    So I decided that if I had to do it all myself, I’d rather do half as much. It saves a lot of anger and it suits my sometimes contrarian nature to live differently from the world I was raised in where a woman was considered a failure if she didn’t marry - which, fortunately, no longer applies.

  2. These days, no self-respecting kid – of either gender – is allowed to grow up without considering what kind of career s/he will choose. In my day, girls were not encouraged to think of much more than wife and motherhood except for nurse and teacher, and I never got beyond the (futile) dream of being a ballerina and, sometimes, a writer (see below). So unlike today's young people, I had no career goal.

    I worked at various office jobs in my early twenties until I began producing radio programs, then television and, in my fifties, websites. It was all accidental and I loved all of it. It took me to parts of the U.S. and the world I would never have visited otherwise and was always fascinating. None of it was on my radar at 25.

  3. In between imagining myself dancing Coppelia and the Sugar Plum Fairy with the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, I thought I’d like to be a writer, to tell stories. Then, in high school, when I’d written a fantasy for class about my home having a funny personality, the teacher gave me the only D I ever received. “Houses don’t have personalities,” she wrote on my paper and I, interpreting it as a negative judgment on my writing rather than the cramped thinking of an unimaginative teacher, gave up the idea of being a writer. It was a rough time in my life, I was only 15 and I didn't yet have the self-confidence to dismiss a grownup's spiritless assessment.

    Beyond writing letters, I mostly forgot about that dream until my television years when producing required me to write a lot of what people said on the air. Although no one every complained about my scripts or threw them back in my face, that teacher was always whispering in my ear that I wasn’t any good at it.

    I’m into my fourth year now, writing every day for Time Goes By and am as happy doing it as I was at the best jobs I had. I'm asked to write for professional publications too and that's enough for me to give that dream killer of a teacher a "so there" raspberry from half a century in the future.

  4. When I was five years old growing up in Portland, Oregon, I began dreaming of living in New York City – the Metropolis of Superman, the Big Apple, the most exciting, sophisticated city in America, the place where everything wonderful happened.

    The idea never left me, but even when a friend who had grown up in New York invited me to go with her when she was returning to her home town (we were about 21 or 22), I backed off, afraid I couldn’t make it in a place so big, so crowded, so different from what I knew. I thought then I'd be lucky to ever visit, but I'd certainly never live there.

    Then life pushed me to New York when my husband got a job there in 1968, and it was every good thing I had expected. I loved it immediately and for 38 years, I considered myself a New Yorker. It was MY city. I knew every nook and cranny of Greenwich Village, if not the whole town, looked up the history of every street and building, and felt connected to it as though I’d been born there. Home. I’d be there still but for the next item.

  5. Like many children, I often heard, “Not until you’re older,” “When you grow up” and “You’ll understand when you’re an adult.” I took this to mean that I’d get smarter as years went by and more capable, and in the world I lived in then, that would make me a more valuable person - at least in the workplace.

    Even when I got to be 40 and then 50 and bit beyond, it didn’t occur to me that I would become less employable due to my age. I thought I’d be seen as experienced, knowledgeable and, therefore, sought after.

    So it was a shock on two occasions, after being laid off in cutbacks, that my young colleagues found new jobs in less than half the time I did. Not to belittle them, they are smart people, but so am I and I have a lot more experience. Sometimes, in looking for work, the discrimination was obvious, face to face in interviews. Nothing you could prove in court, but anyone who has been there knows what I’m talking about.

    My mother and my great aunt Edith both worked until they were 70 and stopped then from choice, not because they couldn’t do the work or were fired for age. I expected to follow in their footsteps and am angry still, when I think about it, that I was forced out of the workplace. When I was 25, no one could have convinced me that anyone wouldn't be able to work in their chosen field until they wanted to stop.

    I'm not going to tag anyone for this meme, but if you take it up, do come back here and give us a link to yours. For readers who don't keep a blog, you're welcome to use the comment section here for the When I Was Young meme. There's no limit on length, you know.

    [At The Elder Storytelling Place today, David Wolfe tells how he he thwarted his remarkably mean siblings in It's a Wonder Some of us Survive Childhood.]


A Kafka-esque Nightmare in Elder Abuse

category_bug_ageism.gif Before you read further, I ask you stop and imagine this for a moment: you are confined to a 10-by-12 foot room. Attendants bring you medications, but you don't know what they are or what they are for. You would like to take a walk outside, but an alarm goes off when you try to go out the door - and you can't go out anyway, because there are no clothes in the closet.

Not long ago, you lived in an apartment, had been there for many years, owned all the appropriate accoutrements of life, paid your bills and after what was expected to be a short period in a rehab hospital to help repair a broken ankle, you were never allowed to leave again.

It sounds like a gothic novel, but it is not. It is real.

This story is particular to the state of Massachusetts, but is likely a problem in some if not many of the other 49 states and perhaps elsewhere in the world.

“Dawn Cromwell dares not leave her building. If she tried, a device girding her ankle would sound an alarm. For over a year, she has had to use store-bought reading glasses because her pleas for a prescription pair have gone for naught. She is given medications, but, she says, no one will tell her what they are.”
- Boston Globe, 13 January 2008

Ms. Cromwell, who is 73, has been confined to a nursing home where she has almost no clothes and has no idea what has become of her possessions or the apartment she lived in for many years – all because she suffered a broken ankle. After a short bit of rehab, she had expected to go home.

“But on the say-so of the nursing home’s doctor – a short, illegible diagnosis – a judge declared that Cromwell was mentally ill and handed all of her decision-making to a guardian. Cromwell lost all power over her own life, with no opportunity to object, no right to have a lawyer represent her, no chance to even be in a courtroom.” [emphasis added]

Someone has to give me more evidence than a broken ankle that a person is mentally ill, but that is not so, apparently, for judges to order guardianships and confinement in Massachusetts. And I thought, in the United States, we put ankle bracelets on criminals and people under house arrest, not old people. This is a nightmare.

Ms. Cromwell is able to be confined in this manner because she is what the State of Massachusetts designates an “unbefriended elder” – a person without relatives or friends to serve as her guardian. In that case, judges rely on petitioners – mostly hospitals and nursing homes – to decide a person is incapacitated.

The appointed guardians are unlicensed “professionals” who do this for a living and in the case of one guardian cited in the Boston Globe story, has possibly 70 clients and had not visited most of them in a year or more. In addition, guardians are required to file an inventory of a ward’s possessions within 90 days of taking on a guardianship, but this particular guardian had filed only five out of 58 appointed guardianships.

What has happened, one wonders, to Ms. Cromwell’s apartment, her possessions, her bank accounts? Who gets those things? The Boston Globe story does not address these questions.

In petitioning for guardianship, a certification of the elder’s condition is required including a detailed description of diagnosis and what decisions the elder has insufficient mental capacity to make. In 72 cases over the past five years,

“… mostly filed by hospitals and nursing homes, the medical certifications were so brief – some just a sentence or two – or so vague that they fell well short of what the court requires. Many were handwritten, some illegibly.”

In a separate study comparing certifications in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Colorado,

“…Massachusetts fared worst. The study found that in 154 cases in Massachusetts, the median length of the medical certification was 83 words. In one case it was just seven words.”

So in seven words, an elder can be confined to an institution until death without recourse - without access to personal property, records, bank accounts, one’s personal physician, an attorney, etc., and as in Ms. Cromwell’s case, there is no way to confront accusers or be heard in court. She has essentially disappeared.

As I said above, it is a nightmare - worthy of Kafka.

This story chilled me as I have no children and my only relative, a brother, lives on the west coast, 3,000 miles away. If a broken ankle can land me, shackled and permanently confined to an institution with my assets confiscated, I need to do something about that. Now.

I’ve had notes lying around for a long while regarding a power of attorney and a living will, but haven’t followed through. That power of attorney – someone I trust who is authorized to speak and decide on my behalf - has suddenly become imperative. I’ll take care of it soon.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains how a Wednesday Night at the Dante led to a family tradition still in force more than half a century later.]


All Americans Deserve CheneyCare

category_bug_journal2.gif

[ This is not a repeat. Some of you may have seen the image below as part of another story posted last week. I removed it when I realized it was confusing apples and oranges, and is expanded here today.]

Universal healthcare, also called single-payer system, has emerged along with the economy in general as a top domestic issue of the presidential campaign. You wouldn’t know that from the Republican candidates who support the status quo of market-based, private healthcare. But the Democratic candidates have heard the call of the populace for universal coverage and have remarkably similar proposals.

Dennis Kucinich is the only one supporting a true, single-payer system based on the Medicare. Other than him, the Democrats all offer play-or-pay to employers. That is, provide health coverage to employees or pay into a fund to support the cost of coverage from pools to be created to offer coverage to those who don’t get it from their employers. All the proposals subsidize low-income families.

Recently, the leading Democratic candidates have been squabbling over “mandates”:

  • Barack Obama’s plan would mandate purchasing coverage for children, but not adults – at least in the beginning.

  • John Edwards wants to automatically enroll people on tax returns, but not mandate coverage until costs come down.

  • Hillary Clinton supports mandates, but can’t decide if there should be penalties for non-compliance

One problem with all the mandate plans is that even with subsidies, some people cannot afford coverage. In fact, Mitt Romney’s universal coverage plan in Massachusetts, in effect now for a couple of years, has so far needed to exempt 20 percent of people from the mandate.

Another difficulty is that all the proposals maintain private insurers in the mix, an unlikely method of lowering costs. All elders need do to realize that is check the percentage increases in their Part B and Part D premiums this year.

An important financial aspect of a successful universal healthcare plan is including everyone in the pool. The 80/20 rule of business applies to healthcare; about 20 percent of the population uses 80 percent of healthcare. By spreading the cost – through taxes, premiums, subsidies where necessary, etc. – everyone contributes and everyone, rich and poor alike, has equal access to healthcare.

If the 80 percent of healthier people object to financing the 20 percent, they would do well to keep in mind that each of us is only one disease or accident away from joining the 20 percent. And if the wealthy want to purchase additional coverage for luxury hospital rooms and monkey-gland treatments at spas in Switzerland, fine. But healthcare is a human right and the time has come for the United States to join the rest of the industrialized nations in granting that right.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the U.S. does not have the best healthcare in the world. It lags far behind every other industrialized nation in the standard benchmarks of national health including life expectancy and infant mortality, and those other nations achieve their superiority at a much lower cost per person than the United States.

During the caucus campaign in Iowa, the California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organizing Committee ran this clever (and true) image in local newspapers campaign and are now taking the ad campaign national.

SIGN OUR ONLINE PETITION FOR CHENEYCARE, says the headline above this image:

Cheney_news_image_010308

"CheneyCare!" Don't you love it. The ads support HR 676 intended to extend Medicare to all citizens. There's a website, Guaranteed Healthcare, supporting CheneyCare which they describe thusly:

“Unlike the average American, the president, vice president and members of Congress all enjoy government-financed health care with few restrictions or prohibitive fees. They are never turned away for pre-existing conditions or denied care for what an insurance company labels ‘experimental treatments.’ Such are the benefits of what we call ‘CheneyCare.’”

Although it makes a good deal of sense, HR 676 is an unlikely contender for adoption for the entire country if for no other reason than it eliminates private health insurers who contribute so much money to presidential and congressional campaigns to preserve the status quo. But the CheneyCare initiative raises awareness of the disparity between what kind of healthcare our officials grant themselves and what they are willing to do for the rest of us. For that alone, it’s a terrific idea.

Only Dennis Kucinich, who has little chance of gaining the Democratic nomination, would support CheneyCare for all. So if the best we can expect from the rest of the candidates is a hybrid of public and private healthcare, any of the other candidates will be fine on that issue and I’ll take it for now. Let’s just get something that covers everyone in any form and tweak it later.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior tells the tale of a special pair of Little Brown Boots.]


This Week in Elder News: 12 January 2008

In this regular Saturday feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

A new study from Denmark suggests that contrary to conventional wisdom, people do get smarter as they get older. But you and I knew that all along, didn’t we. [Hat tip to Chuck Nyren of Advertising to Baby Boomers]

Noting that tracking preventable deaths is one way to gauge the quality of a nation’s healthcare system, researchers released a study in the journal, Health Affairs, finding that 101,000 U.S. deaths per year could be prevented if America’s healthcare system worked as well as those in other countries. The U.S. came in dead last in the ranking of 19 industrialized nations. France was first.

One reason for the United States’ last-place position in that survey may be this: after a pilot project irrefutably proved that a simple, five-item, procedural checklist for doctors and nurses saved more than 1500 lives in Michigan hospitals over 18 months, the state’s Office of Human Research Protections shut down the program citing privacy concerns. Read it and weep at bureaucratic stupidity and for lives needlessly lost every day throughout the U.S.

There is a newly discovered video at YouTube deconstructing the definitions contained in S.1959, the Thought Crime Bill (The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act). Although the video maker’s use of whackos (conspiracy and otherwise), Bill O’Reilly, Rosie O’Donnell and Glenn Beck, weakens the argument, they too have a right to speak (unless this bill becomes law). Pay attention to what the narrator is saying. That’s the important stuff in this video. (9:40 minutes) [Hat tip to Darlene Costner]

FactCheck.org has long been a useful service for tracking the veracity of what politicians and journalists say. Now they’ve become even more useful with their new Ask FactCheck service where you can submit questions they will fact check and publish the results on their site. They say that most of the questions they accept for research relate to politics and public policy.

While economists debate whether the U.S. is in a recession yet, the brilliant and tell-it-like-it-is reporter, Barbara Ehrenreich explains why the official definition of recession has no meaning to us average Joes.

Playa Cofi Jukebox may be one of the most unattractive sites on the web, but the music is a load of fun. Choose from the top one hundred tunes of any year from 1950 to 1979, or choose a genre of music from those eras and they will stream it right out of their page and into your ears. Instant nostalgia. [Hat tip to Marion Dent of And the Beat Goes On]

Another kind of nostalgia pertinent to this election year can be found at The Living Room Candidate, a project of the Museum of the Moving Image. They have collected presidential campaign television commercials from 1952 through 2004, and what a long, strange trip it's been. If you can afford to throw them a couple of bucks to keep project going, that would be a mitzvah.

My favorite elder story of the week could be headlined Dead Man Rolling and just might disprove the first item in today’s news list. It concerns two 60-something men who wheeled their dead friend to the local check cashing shop in Manhattan in hopes of cashing his Social Security check. God, I miss New York sometimes.


So Much Technology, So Little Time

In the interests of keeping us on top of technology news-we-can-use, here are three developments that will affect you now and in the coming months. They fall into the categories of good, not-so-good and oh-no-not-again.

GOOD: Do Not Call Registry
Five years ago, the Federal Trade Commission did a smart thing for the beleaguered consumers of the United States. It created the Do Not Call Registry where phone numbers can be listed to opt out of telemarketing calls (the original spam). It actually works because the dollar penalties marketers pay for calling people on the list are extraordinarily high.

Needless to say, not being interrupted throughout dinner with sales pitches is extremely popular.

When the service began, registered numbers were set to expire in five years, meaning they would need to be renewed this year. But now, both houses of Congress have passed bills to extend the service indefinitely without renewal and all it needs is the president’s signature before the original legislation expires on 1 October. Since President Bush signed the original bill, it's unlikely he'll veto this one.

If you haven’t registered your phone numbers (up to three), you can do so here. It will be a great relief to you in fewer telemarketing calls because the only exceptions are charities, surveys, political organizations and companies with which you have an existing business relationship. I've been on the list from day one and it works. Now if they would only create a registry for email spam.

MAYBE GOOD: Digital TV Mandate
On 17 February 2009, all television broadcasters will make the switch, mandated by Congress, from transmitting analog signals to digital (DTV) transmission. Yes, you read that correctly. It says 2009 and the reason I’m telling you this far in advance is that unless you have recently bought a digital set or don't care about television, it will probably cost you money.

DTV is said to be an “innovative” new technology that matches the picture quality of film in your home even if you don’t own a high-definition (HD) television. It will also significantly improve closed captioning.

This affects the 15 million U.S. households that receive over-the-air signals via antennas, along with the additional 55 million who have secondary bedroom or kitchen sets that are not ready for DTV.

There are three choices for upgrading:

  1. Subscribe to cable, satellite or phone company television service
  2. Purchase a new set with a built-in digital tuner
  3. Purchase a converter box to convert your set(s) to digital

Option No. 1 costs whatever is the going rate in your area of the country. Cable is almost always a monopoly with no second choice which is often true for satellite and telephone companies too, so there is little chance for reasonable price.

Option No. 2 costs from a couple of hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending the size and type of television screen you want.

Option No. 3. converter boxes are available now in electronics stores such as Best Buy, Circuit City, etc. at a cost of between $40 and $70, reports the DTV Answers website which is owned by the National Association of Broadcasters. According to that site,

“Between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 31, 2009, all U.S. households will be eligible to request up to two coupons, worth $40 each, to be used toward the purchase of up to two, digital-to-analog converter boxes. For more information about the converter box coupon program, call 1-888-DTV-2009 or visit The National Telecommunications and Information Association website.”

Your current DVD and VCR players and camcorders will work with a digital television set. The DTV Answers website also explains how to figure out if your current television set is analog or digital.

For my needs, which are mostly news and DVDs, the analog signal is just fine, although I happen to own digital-ready sets and subscribe to cable. It's water under the bridge now, but I can’t help wondering how much of this congressionally mandated switch to digital was due to lobbying by television manufacturers to get people to buy new television sets. Whether or not, my friends who are movie buffs and sports fans are in digital heaven over the picture quality of the new TV sets.

OH NO, NOT AGAIN: DVD Formats
Remember the video wars 20-odd years ago between Beta and VHS and all those useless Beta tapes when VHS won? For the past couple of years, there has been an identical war for high-end DVD formats, between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray.

Last week, however, Warner Brothers announced it would release its films exclusively in Blu-Ray technology beginning in June, pushing Blu-Ray’s penetration in the DVD market to about 70 percent. Some technology reporters say it is unlikely that HD-DVD will survive now and will soon go the way of Beta. Others say, not so fast - the war is not yet over.

Here’s what that means to you. If you use an HD-DVD player, you will soon need a Blu-Ray player for many of the new movies you buy or rent. Currently, Blu-Ray players are more expensive than HD-DVD players and according to CNET, right now it’s cheaper to buy one of each than the dual players that are available.

The good news is that HD-DVD and Blu-Ray machines both play regular, non-HD discs - a relief to me. I don’t own many DVD movies, but there is a reason for the ones I have – I like to watch them a couple of times a year and I don’t want to buy them again. I already did that with music beginning, in my childhood, with 78s and moving on through 45s, 33s, 8-track, cassettes and CDs. All my music is now on my computer in MP3 format and I’ll be damned if I’ll replace it all again before I die.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis tells the tale of her neighborhood changed forever, although not in her heart, in The Grandfather of the Street.]


Senator Clinton and Elder Women

category_bug_politics.gif Senator Clinton's teary choke-up was the major news event of the final hours of campaigning in the New Hampshire primary, given heavy rotation on television news programs. In case you missed it, let’s go to the video tape:

There was a rush of commentary on the possible interpretations:

"It got me," said Jane Harrington, a voter from Newington who came to the session trying to decide between Clinton and Obama, whom she had seen a day before - and really liked. "I wanted to see who the real Hillary was. That was real."
- Newsweek, 7 January 2008

Ms. Harrington's was a widely-held response, but in the post-primary gabfests on the cable new shows yesterday, a remarkable number of viewers emailed to say they believe Senator Clinton's teariness was a carefully-planned media event to gain the sympathy vote over Barack Obama.

It's not nice to pick on someone when they appear undefended, but I squirmed throughout the video, embarrassed on several levels. Some pundits, citing her tiredness, say Senator Clinton’s choke-up showed the vulnerable, feminine, human side she has been attacked for hiding - or not having - during the past year.

Undoubtedly Senator Clinton, as she herself said in the diner give-and-take, was tired. There’s not a chance I would take on anything that requires as grueling a schedule as a presidential campaign. But the men’s schedules are no less grueling; they were tired too and there was a whiff from Senator Clinton, taking the video as a whole, of asking for extra credit because she's a woman.

If you take the tired explanation seriously, the larger question becomes this: if she is elected president, how will she handle it on the inevitable day when a crisis in the Middle East follows on the heels of a natural disaster in California, the stock market takes a plunge, Congress vetoes a pet piece of legislation and she is wakened in the middle of the night for an emergency meeting in the situation room? The campaign, exhausting as it is, cannot compare to events that need the immediate attention of and decisions from the president that can involve life and death.

So it is a concern that Senator Clinton’s mini melt-down followed in response to an innocuous question about how she "gets out of the house each day" and who does her hair. A further concern, if credit is to be given for being human, is that she remained steadfastly on message, referencing her standard talking point against Barack Obama’s experience, while in a state of high emotion.

It was a watershed-ish moment for me to watch that video, one that will remain with me as the campaign continues, because it further confuses Senator Clinton’s already disconcerting public character.

Meanwhile, surveys and pundits are telling us that older women are voting for Senator Clinton in droves because she is a woman.

“’I told her that my grandmother was the first person in town to vote, and my mother was the second,’ said Mrs. Smith, who was born three months before the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. ‘And I told her I was born before women could vote, and I want to live long enough to see a woman in the White House.’”
- The New York Times, 27 November 2007
“It seemed like it was always the men,” said the Clinton supporter [68-year-old Pat Slykhuis], “and the women were always put down. “I think it’s going to be wonderful. I want to see history made.”
- Reuters, 2 January 2008

With so much at stake in this election, voting for Senator Clinton solely on the basis of her gender is not good enough and I am ashamed of women (or men) who would do so, particularly those who are old enough to know better.

As Robert Scheer put it,

“Yes, it is important for the health of our democracy to break barriers that have held back a majority of our citizens, and for that reason it would certainly be an advance to have a black or female president. But that alone is not enough to justify a vote. What we need far more than a change in appearance is one of perspective.”
- truthdig, 8 January 2008

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia tells the story of how life imitated art in Nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.]


Elder Paper Chase

Is it Crabby Old Lady’s imagination or is there a lot more paper to deal with when you get old, turn 65 or retire?

For the small amount of time Crabby spends on medical issues – paying monthly Supplemental, Medicare Part B and Part D premiums, the occasional physician visit, one prescription drug to be refilled every three months – there is a larger flurry of dead tree material in her snailmail box than she would have expected based on her life before turning 65.

There are forms explaining who paid for what in impenetrable prose and charts that arrive, several for each medical incident stretched over many months, all mailed separately. The lag time for the pharmacy or physician to actually get their money appears to be lengthy although Crabby can’t be certain; each word on the forms is in English, but strung together, they don’t make much sense.

On a schedule Crabby has lost track of but seems to be frequent, her Part D, prescription drug provider sends missives about pharmacies – brick-and-mortar and mail-order. These appear to be urging her to use the mail for her one drug, but she likes dealing with a locally-owned pharmacy even if it does cost her $5 more for a 90-day supply of the pills.

For the 50 years Crabby Old Lady was employed full-time, she heard from the Social Security Administration once a year with a statement of her earnings and withholding. Now there’s an envelope from them once a month or so with information so deadly boring that Crabby can’t remember what it is to tell you.

It wouldn’t surprise Crabby to find out that every insurance company authorized to operate in the State of Maine contacts her monthly. It’s especially heavy during the November and December Part D renewal period. The rest of the year, her mailbox overflows with expensive, four-color brochures on the advantages of Medicare Advantage programs each with a photograph of the same smiling, gray-haired couple on the cover.

Even all that doesn’t begin to match the number of advertisements for medical alert devices, retirement community real estate, scooters, supplements guaranteed to cure dozens of ailments Crabby has never heard of and dubious time-share pitches. Oh, and the pleasures of cruises at $9600 a pop (on much cheaper paper than the Medicare Advantage booklets).

Of course, that doesn't count the standard-issue catalogues that have slowed down now since the end of the holidays nor the local supermarket and drug store flyers that people of every age receive, and the regular mailings from Dell who must think Crabby has not replaced the computer she bought from them 12 years ago since they continue to address her as "Dear Customer."

Apparently there is no way to get off these lists or slow down the avalanche from Medicare and Social Security. But it’s a good thing Crabby Old Lady has that Medicare coverage. She’s going to need it for the hernia she’s developing from hauling 100 pounds of paper downstairs for recycling each week.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Georgie Bright Kunkel explains Why I Joined the Raging Grannies of Seattle.]