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Senator McCain’s Age

category_bug_politics.gif [Before I even get started on this post, you should know that I support Senator Barack Obama for president and strongly oppose Senator John McCain. At a future date, I will post my reasons which have everything to do with policy and positions and nothing to do with either senator’s chronological age.]

As if the late-night comedy shows were not already doing a yeoman’s job of promulgating ageist jokes about Senator John McCain, now there’s a website devoted to bashing the presidential candidate based on his age alone - John McCain. Old. Really Old.

Here is a list of the home page navigation links:
Aged
Decrepit
Doddering
Fossilized
Outdated
Paleozoic
Primeval
Stale

And these are the choices in an online poll asking: How would you describe John McCain:
Confused
Geriatric
Prehistoric
Decrepit
Fossilized

When I first looked at the website, I thought maybe I’m humor-impaired. But on further reading, I dismissed that idea. It is ageist through and through.

If there were (and who knows, there may be) a site similarly devoted only to the color of Senator Obama’s skin, cable news would headline it every hour and civil rights groups would organize petitions. But there is no media commentary on this anti-McCain website, no civil rights activity and the two or three newspaper pieces on McCain age jokes nearly every night on Leno, Letterman and O’Brian have been little more than an excuse to repeat the jokes.

Early on in this campaign, I believed the issue of Senator McCain’s age would be a positive force for a public debate about ageism and a chance to help educate the nation on the value and importance of elders in a culture that mostly rejects that truth.

I was wrong. McCain’s age has become, instead, a point of derision of the senator and nowhere in mainstream media has there been a serious story, seriously researched about ageism, its real-life manifestations and the tyranny it imposes on old people. (Stay tuned, however. That may change soon and I’ll let you know.)

So, should Senator McCain’s age be a factor in anyone's thinking while making the decision on whom to vote for? Certainly. But there are two ways to approach it – one is reasonable and one is not.

Poor health can be, but is not always, associated with old age. You might be concerned about Senator McCain’s health and how that could affect his performance as president. He released 1300 pages of medical records (although only for a few minutes and none could be photocopied by the limited number of reporters who were allowed to see them), and he has a long history of cancer. But there are millions of cancer survivors and millions of old people live with manageable chronic conditions that do not impair their job performance. Still, if McCain's health is your concern, it is a reasonable consideration.

Reports of Senator McCain’s temper tantrums have been attributed to his age. I reject that reason, but the issue is worth considering. Maybe it worries you to have a president who easily flies off the handle. The kind of intemperate attack ads he has recently produced on Senator Obama are something some might like to think about too, although they are hardly new to presidential politics.

There is a growing list of factual errors in Senator McCain’s speeches, interviews and town hall meetings. Are they due to age? Lack of knowledge? Or can they be dismissed as slips anyone would make under the pressure of non-stop campaigning for the past 21 months? These are reasonable questions to ask when making a decision about whom to vote for.

And, elders have a unique perspective younger people do not in weighing Senator McCain’s age in terms of the stamina required to handle the daily work of what is often called the hardest job in the world. We know how we are different from our younger selves, we live it every day and some voters may want to apply that experience to deciding whether to vote for McCain. Although I doubt the daily work of being president takes any more stamina than the pressures of a full-time election campaign.

These are all reasonable issues to consider in regard to McCain’s candidacy.

Unreasonable is the non-stop barrage of old-age jokes, the assertion that McCain could die in office and the attacks with derisive adjectives as on this anti-McCain website.

Ageist jokes have been around for decades on greeting cards, in cartoons and many comedians’ repertoires. They reinforce already entrenched ageism which leads to age discrimination in the workplace that, according to filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is up 20 percent over the past year. Also, it is well-documented that some elders are treated less aggressively by the health community just because they are old. Ageist jokes targeting McCain are not funny, they are prejudicial and they have real-world consequences including unfair dismissal of McCain's candidacy based only on his age.

Another unreasonable attack is that if elected, McCain might die in office. And so might anyone else. But age didn’t stop the British from re-electing Winston Churchill prime minister at age 77, nor the Germans electing Konrad Adenauer chancellor at age 73 and the French electing Charles de Gaulle president at age 68. All served out their full terms.

And what if a President McCain (or any president) were to die in office? That’s what vice presidents are for. The number of Senator McCain’s years should not deter anyone who believes he is the better choice from voting for him.

All the nasty adjectives referring to Senator McCain’s age should be condemned as fast and furiously as the nation would respond to anyone who used equivalent terms referring to Senator Obama’s skin color. That few do and that this anti-McCain website continues to publish reflects the widespread belief in the United States that it is all right to discriminate against someone based on age alone. And that is morally reprehensible. It denigrates not only Senator McCain, but every old person too. Where is the outrage?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins gets poetic about My House.]


Blogs – Our Little First Amendment Machines

blogging bug image See that image over there on the left – the vintage World War II woman with the headline, Liberty Waits on Your Fingertips? Currently, it links to a page with a list of my posts about the Thought Crime Bill (which for now, sits dormant in a Senate committee). Other times, I link it to this page about bloggers' rights at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

At the bottom of the image is a quote from Jay Rosen - “Blogs are little First Amendment machines.” I first heard it when Jay, a professor of journalism at New York University who blogs at PressThink, spoke during a general session at the first Blogher conference in 2005. Six little words to remind us that blogging can do more for democracy, for making the voice of the people heard, than anything since the invention of the printing press.

With a blog, you can share your unique perspective on any topic you want; it gives you the power of the professional media. Oh yeah, you say, but not nearly as many readers. Probably so, but you never know the reach of your words.

Affinity groups – elderbloggers are an affinity group of old people – share some of the same readers. But we each have other readers too who have other readers and so on, around the globe.

Yesterday, Marian Dent of And the Beat Goes On sent me this video. You could call it, and it is, a good, cleverly-done primer on blogging for those who don’t know what it is. But there is an additional theme regarding each blogger’s potential to inspire and motivate others. Take a look. [2:58 minutes]

There are three months until what is, arguably, the most important presidential election of our lives that will affect not only the future direction of the United States, but much of the world. There is hardly a public issue in existence that does not need addressing from the Constitution, war, torture, healthcare, education, the economy, class warfare, corporate involvement in government, treatment of veterans, warrantless surveillance, energy, inflation, Social Security and more.

So much, in fact, that it is difficult for an individual voter to be well informed on all of them and know where individual candidates - for Congress as well as president - stand on them. So much that Senator Obama, I've read, has more than three hundred advisers.

So here is what I propose: that each blogger reading this today – whatever else you write about on your blog - take on one issue or a small aspect of one issue, follow it in the mainstream press, on alternative media and political sites online, on other blogs as it is debated and once a week, write about what you’ve learned on that issue. Make yourself an expert on it, do some research, give us the facts, tell us what the candidates are saying, how it's being spun by their surrogates - and your opinions too, if you are so inclined.

Readers in other countries: it would be fascinating to read your perspective on issues in the U.S. election which will undoubtedly have consequences in your countries that will differ depending on who is elected.

And here is what I will do at Time Goes By: I will use Sundays, when I usually give readers a break with no post, to link to each of your election issue posts. Just be sure to email me the link to your post by Friday at noon because it’s not humanly possible for me to review every blog often enough to keep up.

Let’s use our blogs as the little First Amendment machines they are, so we will each be as informed as we possibly can be when we enter those polling booths in November.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran will leave your smiling after reading A Road Trip with My Grandson.]


Generic Drugs Redux: Reader Beware

category_bug_geriatrician.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: The TGB Geriatrician is a bi-weekly column written by Dr. Bill Thomas (bio) for Time Goes By to give us the information we need to help us navigate the health issues of aging. Dr. Thomas also writes his own blog at Changing Aging.]

When I was young, I was a very poor student. I failed sixth grade, but the teacher passed me anyway saying, “I’m not letting you get away with it!” One reason she passed me is that she knew me as a voracious reader. I still am.

One of the most important things I have learned from all that reading is that not all books are created equal. Not all authors are equally credible. Not everything that is written down can be trusted. That might seem cynical, but it really isn’t. A good reader asks questions:

Who is this author?
What are the author’s qualifications?
What are the author’s biases?
What are the author’s strengths?
What are the author’s weaknesses?

So it is with this background that I noticed a TGB comment in response to my last column here about Generic Drugs. It included the following:

“But these other filler items can vary considerably. I think people would be well-advised to be aware of such possibilities if they think they're experiencing a different response from their generic. A quick search turned up this link which is not alarmist, but adds some specifics about brand names vs generics.”

This is a solid, well-written comment and it includes a link to source information.

Yummy!

Of course I followed the link, and found this:

“Some people are allergic to some excipients. In addition, a person's body may have become accustomed to the entire mix of active an inactive ingredients in one manufacturer's drug, and changing the mixture - even if there is no allergy to a new ingredient - may cause a change in response to the medication.”

This statement is almost entirely false. First, excipients are the inactive ingredients in medications and they are selected on the basis of their lack of allergenicity. Here is a partial list (a more complete list here):

  • Cellulose: ethylcellulose, methylcellulose, hydroxymethylcellulose, hydroxypropyl, microcrystalline – obtained from fibrous plant material (woody pulp or chemical cotton)
  • Dextrans: partially hydrolyzed corn or potato starch
  • Dextrose: powdered corn starch
  • Iron oxide: used as a coloring agent
  • Sucrose: sugar, also known as refined sugar, beet sugar or cane sugar
  • Maltodextrins: a starch hydrolysate that is obtained from corn in the United States but can also be extracted from wheat, potato or rice.

The point is that we encounter “excipients” all the time and in amounts far greater than those used in pills. If a person truly has an allergy to an excipient, the problems would extend far beyond medications.

The second part of the statement,

“...a person's body may have become accustomed to the entire mix of active an inactive ingredients in one manufacturer's drug, and changing the mixture - even if there is no allergy to a new ingredient - may cause a change in response to the medication,”

is false. False.

False.

The FDA says:

“A generic drug is a copy that is the same as a brand-name drug in dosage, safety, strength, how it is taken, quality, performance and intended use. The FDA requires that all drugs be safe and effective. Since generics use the same active ingredients and are shown to work the same way in the body, they have the same risks and benefits as their brand-name counterparts.”

So, on the one hand I have the undocumented assertions of Marcia Purse and on the other hand, I have the explicit policy of the FDA. Let’s compare.

Here is Marcia Purse's job according to her profile posted at LinkedIn:

Office Manager, Airgun Designs USA (Privately Held; 1-10 employees; Sporting Goods industry) May 2001 — Present (7 years 3 months)

Airgun Designs USA makes paintball guns and accessories, but I've never played paintball, and at the only tournament I attended, which was Shatnerball 3, I was working so much at the registration booth that I never saw any of the game.

Although my title is Office Manager, since July of 2007 I have worked remotely at this job, handling accounting, sales, customer service and human resources. We just haven't come up with a better title!

Seriously, when it comes to the question of generics and brand name drugs, I give more weight to the FDA than I give to the office manager at Airgun Designs USA

Again, let us weigh the qualifications:

  • The FDA v. the Office Manager of Airgun Designs USA
  • Office manager of Airgun Designs USA v. the FDA

Okay, in this matter, I am going to give greater weight to the views of the FDA.

Some might think that I am being disrespectful of Ms. Purse, but I am not. I’ve read some of her writing about mental illness and I think she has valuable things to say. Also, she comes across as a really nice person. I am unwilling, however, to accept her unsupported assertions about brand name and generic medications. She is not a credible authority on this subject.

Two final points:

Crabby Old Lady sent me a note that said:

“I laughed when I first read your Generics column - the part about ‘I know you're out there thinking generics are inferior’. Since then I've been shocked at how many responded by telling you that you're wrong. I'm not unaware that some people are misinformed about generics, but still - the number who disagreed with you really surprises me.”

Big Pharma spends millions of dollars actively undermining the reputation of generic medications. That money has an impact on public opinions and attitudes. No surprise there.

Last, I encourage TGB readers to be critical. Ask questions. Probe. Ask for links. Reserve judgment until you can properly evaluate the source of the information you read on the internet.

EDITORIAL NOTE: You can subscribe to The TGB Geriatrician column by email by clicking here. Subscribe to the daily Time Goes By blog by email or RSS in the upper right corner of this page.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson tells a kid's tale of having Gone Fishing.]


The Other Election

category_bug_politics.gif On Friday evening, former Senator Fritz Hollings was a guest on Bill Moyers Journal. Hollings spent 38 years in the Senate where, according to Moyers’ introduction, he had

“…a long and colorful run during which he made a name for himself as a passionate advocate for the hungry, a champion of balanced budgets, and a fighter for jobs in the textile industry. He called it quits four years ago and went home to South Carolina. But he was back in town recently, to see old friends and sign his new book, Making Government Work.”

All summer, all eyes have been on the two presumptive nominees for president. It has been a long time since there was such a stark difference between the two candidates and whoever is elected will govern differently from how the other would. But the federal government is not only about the executive branch.

There is another, equally important, election in November that is being ignored. All seats in the House of Representatives will be on ballots this year as well as one-third of the Senate. Congress’s latest approval rating is the lowest for any Congress in history – nine percent - because nothing gets done and we the people can easily see that. Senator Hollings, unlike the media that never reports anything but candidates' gaffes and horse races, made crystal clear the two reasons Congress is useless.

Below are some highlights. There is nothing you don’t already know, but Senator Hollings gives some startling details that bring it home – stuff you won't find in newspapers and on most television, is never discussed by the political pundits and therefore never made an issue.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: As a senator, in the last two or three years, that's all I was doing was raising money. And working for the campaign and for the party…All the time is fundraisers. All the time is money, money, money, money. In 1998, ten years ago, I ran and had to raise eight-and-a-half million. The record is there. Eight-and-a-half million is $30,000 a week. Every week for six years. Each and every week for six years.

The game is money. I got to get the money [and] to heck with constituents, I gotta get contributors...

We didn't go home on the weekends. We tried to get out Thursday afternoon or night or at least early Friday morning to go to the West Coast for fundraisers. That's why Hollywood and that's why Wall Street has got that much influence. I'm not going to South Carolina. They got no money for a Democrat. I have to travel all over the country.”

BILL MOYERS: Years ago, you write, "On Washington's birthday, a freshman senator would read the farewell address at 12 o'clock noon and then we'd have votes in the afternoon."

FRITZ HOLLINGS: We'd have votes. Now we have merged Lincoln's birthday with Washington's Birthday and take ten days off in February for fundraising. We have St. Patrick's Day, ten day break for fundraising. Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, the month of August, Labor Day, Yom Kippur and Columbus Day - that's ten days gone in October. September, October is fundraising. Everything is attuned for the campaign, the hell with the country.

BILL MOYERS: A constant, permanent campaign.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: That's exactly what it is.

BILL MOYERS: Commercial television is the big winner in this because that's where so much of the money goes.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: That's right; the rich have got all the speech they want. The poor got lockjaw. He can't articulate out onto the television.

BILL MOYERS: The poor can't. They have no voice.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: Yeah, and that's the trouble. They tell you, don't go waste time and don't go see people...

BILL MOYERS: The clear message is money has a stranglehold on our democracy.

FRITZ HOLLINGS: You gotta untie that money knot and then the government will begin to work.

BILL MOYERS: And who gives them the money?

FRITZ HOLLINGS: Wall Street, the banks, and business.

BILL MOYERS: What would you do about the power of the press in our society today?

FRITZ HOLLINGS: Tell them that by gosh, tell the truth. You know the debate between Walter Lippman and John Dewey. And Walter Lippman said, what we oughta do is get the experts in finance and defense and education and the various elements of government, and let them determine the company's the country's needs and give it to the Congress and let 'em pass it.

John Dewey, the educator said, no, no, let the free press report the truth to the American people and the needs will be reflected to the congressmen and senators in Washington. And he was right. But they're not telling the truth anymore…

They’re all getting by with perceptions; they're all getting by with pollster politics. They're not talking about the needs. The country is ready, willing, and able to work; the government's not working.

These are the two reasons (money and a corporate-controlled press) it hardly matters which candidate is elected president in November. A war might be shorter or longer with one than the other. I suspect (or hope) we might have a chance to restore the Constitution with one over the other, but…

Politicians' need for today’s equivalent of $30,000 a week in 1998 campaign funds assures that the next Congress – even if we throw out all the incumbents in November – will be no different from this Congress (nine percent approval). It will continue to be the handmaiden of Wall Street, banks, corporate America and individual rich people because that's where the money is. I wish I could believe I am wrong.

You can view the Moyers/Hollings interview or read the entire transcript here.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mike Nichols tells us about The Night I Was a Leprechaun.]


This Week in Elder News: 26 July 2008

In this regular weekend 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.

Do you wonder what the Iraq War is costing you? Personally? Progressive Future just posted its Invest in U.S. Calculator. Enter your 2007 income to see how much of it went for the war and what it otherwise could have paid for.

The New Yorker took a drubbing from far and wide two weeks ago, including here, about its “satirical” cover art of Senator and Michelle Obama. Lee Siegel of The New York Times best illuminated why the cover is offensive:

"In satire, absurdity achieves its rationality through moral perspective — or it remains simply incoherent or malign absurdity. The New Yorker represented the right-wing caricature of the Obamas while making the fatal error of not also caricaturing the right wing...

"By presenting a mad or contemptible partisan sentiment as a mainstream one, by accurately reproducing it and by neglecting to position the target of a slur — the Obamas — in relation to the producers of the slur, The New Yorker seems to have unwittingly reiterated the misconception it meant to lampoon."

I wish I'd said that. Still, it seems churlish after all the hoo-haw not to point out this week’s cover that returns to the classic wit the magazine is known for.

Newyorker2008_07_29

The Social Security Administration launched a redesign of its website last Monday. It’s more attractive, easier to read and navigate and most important for people not yet retired, there is a new, more accurate benefits calculator. It is based on your actual earnings with adjustment for future earnings projections and inflation. Check it out here.

January will not be too soon to be rid of this toxic White House administration. It’s not enough to have ruined the economy, conducted unnecessary wars and ripped Constitutional guarantees out from under us. Now they are trying to rush through a new "secret" rule experts say will make it harder for the federal government to regulate workplace exposure to chemicals and toxins. Read more at the Washington Post and ProPublica and a follow-up here.

As sex saturated as our culture is, the subject of elder sex is still taboo or, at best, snickered at. But the octogenarians in this human sexuality class have no such reticence. Their questions and comments probably wouldn’t make the cut for network or even cable news (consider that a content warning). Dr. Myrtle White, medical director of A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resources, who teaches the popular class, says she gives these elders the same information as is taught in her nursing classes. [3:56 minutes]

While we’re talking about the functions of old bodies, new research has found that liver transplants from old donors are just as effective as those from young donors.

“There was no difference in survival rates for patients who received a liver from a donor aged 60 to 78 compared to patients who got a liver from a younger donor.”

You can read more here, and you might want to update your end-of-life documents to offer your own liver to save a life.

Illegible physician handwriting causes 1.5 million drug errors and adverse reactions in patients every year. So beginning in 2009, Medicare will pay bonuses to doctors who use e-prescriptions. Read more here.

After mounting coverage that rivaled the Berlin Airlift itself, the media has been bashing Senator Barack Obama’s Berlin speech as too high-falutin’ without enough detail. The far left has attacked it for embracing the war on terror and Senator John McCain has been whining that Senator Obama is a Johnny-come-lately to world travel after having attacked him for not visiting Iraq and Afghanistan.

Oy, the head spins. The better idea is to skip the pundits and decide for yourself. Here’s is the Berlin speech in its entirety. Or, full text is here if you’d rather read it. [26:19 minutes]

After a month of one factual gaffe after another by John McCain, a discussion of his age in relation to his capability for high office is not unreasonable. But that’s not what the late-night comedians joke about. Instead, they spew forth such one-liners as, “He remembers Iraq when it was called Mesopotamia,” and Gerald D. Skoning of the Chicago Tribune is giving them what-for.

“I think it's time for all Americans - pundits, comedians and the vast electorate alike - to get off the age-bashing bandwagon and focus attention on the urgent issues facing our nation.”

Hell yes. Read more here.

In May, Irvine Robbins died at age 90. Never heard of him? He was one-half of Baskin-Robbins, and Julia Reed at Newsweek marked his death with a short history of ice cream. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson installed an icehouse at the White House so he could have ice cream year round? There are more tidbits here.

Kay Dennison of Kay’s Thinking Cap recently bought a quarterstaff. Here’s how she reported her purchase:

“I was delighted when I and my tired legs found a lovely young artisan who makes excellent quarterstaffs of all types of wood…I told him about the Quarterstaff Revolution and he thought it wonderful. When I mentioned that canes signified infirmity, he interjected, "but quarterstaffs denote power." What a great young man!!!”

Have you sent in your picture for the Quarterstaff Revolution?

Before the media got to bashing Barack's Berlin speech, they warned of the potential, on his world jaunt, for faux pas, gaffes, mistakes, missteps, pitfalls and revealing an Achilles' heel which gave Jon Stewart more good material than Senator McCain's real errors. [5:30 minutes] (Hat tip to Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge)


Gay and Gray: The Book

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

When I agreed to write this column for TGB, I figured I better do some research. After all, what credentials do I have? I'm just a lifelong lesbian who is aging and who blogs.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that there was a book entitled Gay and Gray. I was a little less enthused by the subtitle, "The Older Homosexual Man," but what the heck? Fortunately I was able to find a used copy.

Originally issued in 1982, and reprinted with new material and a new prologue in 1995, Raymond M. Berger's book is a serious social scientific examination of the lives of gay elders. It leans on all the apparatus that academic researchers use to support their conclusions: interviews, case studies, a questionnaire, reference to other research.

And, especially for its time of publication, Mr. Berger came up with a delightful thesis. In the prologue to his second edition, here's how he described it:

"...being gay can actually be an advantage in adapting to the aging experience. Every gardener knows that placing his seedlings in the harsh outdoors early in the season creates plants that are better able than the greenhouse variety to withstand the stressors of the growing season. So it is with people, gay positive scholars have argued. Early weathering promotes survival."

He goes on to contend that because many gay men have to leave their families of origin in order to live fully into their orientation, they also, earlier and perhaps more fully than heterosexual men who have mothers, girlfriends and wives to fall back on, have to learn to live as competent, independent adults.

"Later, when faced with the losses of old age - loss of job, status, friends - the older gay man can draw on the skills he learned as young adult."

Sounds to me like the kind of facile pop psychology peddled by those throwaway "magazines" inserted in Sunday newspapers. And like reading them, there's a certain guilty pleasure in playing with the idea mentally, before throwing it away. I don't think any of us have to be gay to play:

  • Did you feel at some point that you had to leave home or family in order to grow fully into yourself? Was it painful, surprising, or just "growing up"?
  • Has your particular experience of "weathering" made getting older easier, harder, or maybe just no different that any other life challenge?

Lots changed in the LGBT world between the two editions of Raymond Berger's study. The AIDS epidemic vastly changed the circumstances of the gay male population while concurrently gay people began to win civil rights and wider acceptance. In 1995, having viewed the trajectory of those changes, he made some predictions that seem to me still interesting after another 13 years.

  • "Chronic illness will play an increasing role in the lives of gay men of all ages."

    Indeed yes - the AIDS plague acculturated many urban, gay men from a young age to be exceptionally aware of and sensitive to dealing with sickness and disability.

  • "Lesbians will assume an increasing role in the leadership of gay community groups..."

    Yes, again. On the one hand, this simply reflects that an entire generation of men who would have occupied leadership roles died off prematurely. But in consequence, many LGBT institutions got used to the experience of having women in leadership. Though the plague has receded, many lesbians still occupy highly visible leadership positions.

  • "Older gay men will become a large part of gay community institutions." For Berger, this predicts declining ageism: "Even the traditionally youth-oriented bars and social clubs will increasingly cater to the more numerous and affluent gay men."

    I think on this topic he underestimated the power of generational marketing. Wherever any affluence exists, our society creates a niche commerce to exploit its potential. So we all have even more institutions encouraging expense and consumption for the young - and for the old.

  • "Gay men will increasing adopt 'traditional family values.'"

    He means stable relationships and parenting. Sure - it's true. When you aren't living as an outlaw, it is a lot easier to live responsibly and care responsibly for others.

  • "Senior-specific, gay, social service agencies will continue to be rare."

    I don't have the expertise to evaluate this, but he is probably right that general purpose social service agencies have become more adept at recognizing and accommodating the needs of gay elders. Whether LGBT elders trust the agencies is another question.

  • "The aging of the gay population will enhance the political clout of urban gay communities."

    This is something I do have some expertise in and I think he's generally right. Older people are simply a more reliable base of voters than younger age groups. And we have more money to throw at politicians. Still, the rising influence of urban gay political communities has depended on a lot of factors besides the aging of gay communities that would take a book to explicate.

  • "Older gays will play an increasing role in the environmental movement."

    This was a long shot at the time and I don't know if it has panned out. Berger opines that, because of the sophistication that gay men of sad necessity had to develop about public health and immune dysfunction, they might lead the way in our growing awareness of how our thoughtless civilization is poisoning the world.

    Perhaps as a community, we gay folks are still little more conscious about public health. But everyone has had to get more aware quickly when facing such new threats as West Nile virus and a potential bird flu pandemic.

For an older book, Gay and Gray has held up pretty well and remains thought provoking. How about that?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, TravelinOma recounts a sweet event about enormity of love in Remember Me.]


Of Age, Fat and the Speed of Time

category_bug_journal2.gif They tell us there is an obesity epidemic and it is hard to deny. There weren’t many skinny types at the farmer’s market yesterday morning, nor 30 minutes later at the supermarket as I did my weekly shopping. A good-sized majority was, to be charitable, chubby and I’m one of them. Friends kindly tell me I’m not fat, but they’re wrong; I’m just good at camouflage.

As is true for many women, the pounds magically piled on during menopause without any effort on my part. I ate as I always had and clothes got tighter until they had to be replaced with larger sizes. Years passed and by the time I thought it would be a good idea to pare down the ol’ bod a bit – something I had done many times during my mid-years to eliminate the annoying ten pounds that repeatedly asserted themselves – I couldn’t find the desire to do it.

I’d maintained my fairly svelte figure from puberty onward by counting every forkful that went into my mouth. But after menopause, I discovered I no longer had the diligence to do the math. I had come to enjoy eating anything I wanted without guilt and owning no full-length mirror makes it easy.

And so it went. Until now.

In the middle of a night in May, I woke to searing pain in my lower back, like someone was repeatedly stabbing me with a knife. It was excruciating and I bit the pillow to keep from screaming. “Recovery,” since then, has been a constant but dull ache, tolerable most of the time unless I sit for too long.

I got to thinking that the back pain could be connected to the extra weight I’ve been hauling around – a lot more than those ten pesky pounds of yore. It might also have something to do with the huffing and puffing I’d been experiencing in recent months climbing the one flight of stairs to my apartment. Visions of lifelong pain and oxygen tanks are strong motivators, so I dredged up memories of long-ago weight control efforts and got to work.

It’s not hard. Whole grains, skim milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, a small piece of fish or skinless chicken two or three meals a week. You know, like one ought to eat all the time.

On Fridays, to assuage the enormous sweet tooth that helped get my body where it is today, I replace one meal with whatever “bad” food I’ve been craving – usually ice cream or a piece of excellent cheese. It is necessary to limit these to the same day once a week because moderation in them is not a concept I understand: a serving of ice cream is a pint.

Already, I’ve had to ditch a pair of pants that was sliding down my hips and here’s the best part: my two physical ailments are vastly improved: the back pain isn’t gone, but I can feel it diminishing almost by the day and I am nearly skipping up that flight of stairs in the past ten days or so. Amazing, considering that I'm nowhere near, yet, the amount of weight I want to drop.

The second best part is that I’ve hardly noticed I’ve been doing this for five or six weeks. In my younger years, I was known to check the bathroom scale two, three and more times a day hoping for another half pound to be gone, and it seemed like it took eons to lose ten.

Not having a scale now removes the disappointment when the needle refuses to budge, but I think something else is at work that makes weight loss easier than it’s ever been: time.

There is hardly an old person alive who does not complain about how fast time flies. I fill up two weeks’ worth of the little vitamin dispenser and when it’s empty, I’d swear I filled it yesterday. When the dreaded colonoscopy was scheduled a comfortable month in advance, suddenly it was the day before. And every one of you knows that when you wake up tomorrow, it will be Christmas.

But as irritating as it to have time speeding by, it has now become an advantage – using one affliction of old age (the speed of time) to defeat the frustrations of correcting another (excess weight).

If you had asked me before I began writing this blog post (which required me to recall how long I’ve been eating this way), I would have said about two weeks. It doesn’t feel any longer than that, but it’s been five or six weeks and could be seven - which more reasonably accounts for those pants falling off.

Using the speed of time this way is a remarkable discovery, and I’m hard at work figuring how else I can apply it. Any ideas?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Darlene Costner strings together a lifetime of little stories that is definitely For the Birds.]


A Question Only Elders Can Answer

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Now Steven of Projections has joined the Quarterstaff Revolution and what a fine staff he has.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Apparently, this is question week on Time Goes By because yesterday I asked about writing and today, I have another for you. First, some background.

Somewhere about sixth or seventh grade, teachers began talking to us about having a goal in life, planning for a career, deciding what we wanted to be when we grew up and from that point forward, it became a regular topic of classroom discussion.

Although girls were nominally included in these exercises, teachers were not serious in our regard. “Wife and mother” was an acceptable answer and most girls of my era delivered on that expectation both in class and soon after high school graduation. It was the 1950s; things were different then.

These lessons were an annoyance for me because I couldn’t tell the truth. I wanted to be a writer and I thought about it a lot in private hours at home, picturing myself someday pounding away at my typewriter in a room surrounded by books – my own private library. But girls didn’t have such ambitions where I came from and I also had massive doubts about my ability. So I never told anyone, not even my best friend. It was my not-so-little secret dream.

Cut to awhile later, my junior year in high school. I don’t remember the exact writing assignment we were given in English class, but I have no doubt my essay was on topic – I was such a goody two-shoes in those days. (I've written about this seminal event before, so if you know it, you can skip to the last three or four paragraphs.)

The story I turned in speculated that houses take on the feelings of people who had lived in them. My mother had rented a small house in the south end of Sausalito that turned out to have a lot of funny, little things wrong with it. When the toilet was flushed, a loud groan surged forth from deep in the pipes. It didn’t stop unless you ran to the kitchen and turned on the water in the sink.

The latch on the back door always clicked shut as it should. But the door never failed to have come open next time you walked by. And so on, you get the idea. My conclusion was that people who had lived there before must have had a lot of jolly times in the house because it played so many tricks on us. I remember being quite pleased with myself, thinking it was the best story I’d ever written particularly because it was an original idea I’d never heard before.

Some days later, our papers were returned with our grades. I “knew” mine would be an A – it always was – and I still remember being stunned, feeling the blood rush out of my head when I saw the D.

The teacher had appended a note to the grade in red ink, something about the story having no basis in fact and “Houses do not have personalities.”

Although I had been struggling alone for a long time trying to figure out how one went about becoming a writer, it didn’t matter anymore. My dream died that day in English class. I believed then that teachers knew what they were talking about and clearly I could not be a writer with such wrong-headed ideas.

Which left me with no goal.

I floundered around in office jobs for awhile after finishing school, then became a radio show producer and, before long, a television producer. They were interesting jobs. I traveled the world, worked with kings and queens and movie stars and heads of state. I was paid to do what I like – find out everything there is to know about Katharine Hepburn for a primetime interview, for example, and about hate crimes or hurricanes or the Unabomber or anything else that came up for documentaries, and fashion it all into video stories.

I wrote for all those shows, but it was more of a group effort than I’d had in mind as a kid. Later, I got closer to my childhood dream when I left television for cbsnews.com when the internet was new and we were still inventing it; I did more individual writing than in television.

Now, half a century after that fateful day in English class, I tap out stories on my laptop in a room surrounded by books – my own private library - for this blog and occasionally for the Wall Street Journal and some other publications. (Take THAT, Miss English Teacher Dream Killer or whatever your name was.)

So for a kid who had no goal, life turned out to be a whole lot more interesting than I had expected. I worked at what came along, drifting with whatever winds of chance and serendipity allowed me to make a living. It was mostly surprises, one after another, and nothing I could have predicted.

So the question today, which no one can answer until they are old, is: has your life turn out the way you expected?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dorothy explains how she has overcome regrets in Memories of My Mom.]


Elder Writers

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Kay Dennison of Kay's Thinking Cap has joined the Quarterstaff Revolution by sending in her photo. Will you be next?]

Early on, when Time Goes By was new, I visited each link on the Elderbloggers List at least two or three times a week and often every day. The list has more than 300 links now and that frequency hasn’t been possible for a long time.

Having been remiss in my blog reading for too long, yesterday I started at the top and went through one-by-one catching up with at least the posts that were on the home page. I didn’t get farther than the beginning of the Ds (who knew so many blog names start with A). I’ll continue a few every day now and then try to do this tour more often, but let me tell you about what I found out with this concentrated blog reading all in one swoop:

Elderbloggers are consistently good writers on an amazing range of topics.

Whether tackling the intricacies of the economy, politics and healthcare or reporting on the progress of gardens and grandchildren, discussing books and movies or passing on interesting news stories, local events and trivia, recounting travel adventures and even diets or having a good rant, the elders on this list know the art of storytelling.

The quality of the writing is remarkable which, of course, makes any story – even when you think the topic is not of personal interest – compelling, and I wondered, as I was reading, how this came to be. Few elderbloggers are professional writers.

In my case, I have always written stories. I wrote my first “book” when I was five or six. I have always “studied” writers I admire as I am reading to learn more about how to do it well, marking sentences, paragraphs and passages that “sing” in their various ways.

It is thrilling when I feel I have done that – which is less often than I would like and I am excruciatingly aware of it when I fail. There is no counting the number of blog posts here I would like to permanently delete and most are no more than adequate.

But when the writing is going well, when my awareness of self is lost in the flow of words, when there seems to be no physical presence of hands and keyboard between my mind and the appearance of words on the page – that may be my greatest pleasure in life.

It hardly ever works that way, but I suspect one reason I keep turning out this blog and other writing is the promise of finding that “flow” now and then.

Another reason was explained to me years ago when I first ran across this quote from E.M. Forster: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.” It happens all the time that my thoughts are a jumble and I work out clarity by writing, which often leads somewhere entirely different from where I started. Like right now – these last five paragraphs were not on my agenda for this post when I began.

So to turn this back around to where I started - the quality of elder writing: as I was reading that bunch of blogs yesterday, I found myself wondering how you (and non-bloggers who contribute to The Elder Storytelling Place) approach the writing of your blogs.

What compels you to do it? Have you always written, whatever else you do with your life? What satisfactions do you get from writing? How seriously do you take the craft of writing? And…

How did you get to be so good at it? There is an abundance of bad writing online, and in the world at large (even from people who get paid to do it), but not generally on elderblogs.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Gloria MacKay explains how she grew into a now deeply-held interest that bored her in childhood, in Over and Under.]


A Crabby Old Lady Complains (Again)

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Anyone who has sent an email that needs a response between about last Tuesday and Friday – please resend because it is no longer in my possession. I do have all new contributions for The Elder Storytelling Place.]

Having spent the majority of Saturday and way too much of Sunday recovering from some corrupted email files that required finding and setting up a whole new email program while trying to transfer data before the old program crashed her computer again, Crabby Old Lady is now behind in her regularly-scheduled, household tasks and feeling sour about it all.

It seems a good time, before her bad mood wears off entirely, to air a couple of other irritations.

ITEM 1: If you have a commercial product or service of any kind, you are not welcome to promote it in the comments of Time Goes By.

Crabby is not talking about normal, usually automated, spam that all bloggers are too familiar with. She means troglodytes who post their advertisements in the guise of comments: “Your blog is very interesting. I'm sure your readers would like my new book, 'How to Stay Young Until Hell Freezes Over'. Click here to purchase.”

These fatheads read just enough to see that their product somewhat relates the readership of TGB but not enough to know that Crabby would, in many cases, find the product abhorrent. Their scribbling in the comments amounts to spray painting graffiti on the walls of Crabby’s home. It is rude, inconsiderate and the sales pitches are always deleted as soon as Crabby sees them.

If you have a product or service you think would be of interest, send an email. Crabby almost never writes about commercial products/services/websites, and then usually when she has discovered them herself or they have been recommended by someone she knows and trusts.

But if you want to try, here’s a hint: do not, in your email, tell Crabby where she can purchase the product to read or try out.

ITEM 2: If you want your blog to be included on the Elderbloggers List, it is good to consider saying more in your email than “I have a blog and I’m older than 50. Put me on the list” or “Here’s my blog. How do I get it on the list?”

Crabby Old Lady is always looking for good elderblogs to add and appreciates suggestions, but inclusion is not a right and it cannot be demanded. The list is Crabby’s blogroll which she considers to be personal recommendations. Each listing has been vetted according to her criteria and standards:

  • The blog must be written by someone age 50 or older
  • It must be at least three months old
  • New entries must be posted at least once a week
  • It must be reasonably well-written
  • It must be designed to be easy to read and navigate. (Blogs designed with light text on a dark background are never included)

So if you’ve got a blog, please make sure it meets these criteria. You might want to tell Crabby something about the blog in your email too. Maybe participate in TGB for awhile first. Although it’s never a requirement, you might have already linked to Time Goes By from your blog. And, you could even try being pleasant in your email note.

Until now, Crabby Old Lady has responded to the people who fall into this category with (relatively) polite explanations, but the increased volume lately is taking too much of her time and any such missives will, henceforth, be deleted without a response.

Thank you for your time. Crabby will now try to catch up on her household chores.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins has poem just about anyone can relate to, The Kitchen Blues.]


This Week in Elder News: 19 July 2008

In this regular weekend 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 week ago today, 108-year-old blogger Olive Riley of Life of Riley died. She was the world’s oldest blogger as this story in the New Zealand Herald acknowledged. When I noted her death here last week, Granny Annie of Fools Rush In suggested that I might like to take on another project – a memorial to elderbloggers we’ve come to know and love who are no longer with us.

It is such a good idea that I did it. It’s not elaborate, but a permanent place to keep the names and home pages of bloggers we miss in a place where we won’t forget them. It has a link off the right sidebar titled In Memoriam. (Hat tip to Mike Nichols of Anxiety, Panic & Health for the NZT story.)

There is no dearth of information about the benefits of walking for elders, but a new study from the University of Georgia shows that it cuts the risk of elder disability nearly in half and puts some eye-popping hard numbers to it:

“…walking program participants increased their peak aerobic capacity by 19 percent when compared to a control group and increased their physical function by 25 percent.”

The study was conducted only with men, but I have no doubt that women benefit too. So get out your quarterstaffs and get moving.

General Motors researchers are developing a futuristic windshield designed to help elder drivers see more clearly what’s happening on the road. It involves lasers, infrared sensors and cameras to make objects on the road stand out. But as in this photo that projects a blue line along the edge of the road in fog, it will be a boon to drivers of any age. Read more here.

Artwindshieldap

It was good news a week ago when Congress voted to override President Bush’s veto of the Medicare bill that would have cut physician’s pay and probably pushed more doctors into refusing to take on new Medicare patients. But there are other important changes too. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has posted a list of them, translated from the bureaucratic gobblydegook of the bill itself.

Sometimes you just have to wonder what gets into people’s heads. The Gilbert Guide is probably the definitive website for hard information on all aspects of late life caregiving yet I hardly ever visit the site even though I subscribe to the email newsletter.

This week, I realized why: I can’t read the email newsletter due to the elder-unfriendly design of orange text on a blue background. I wonder how many other subscribers there are who, like me, never bother to click to the site because they can't see the headlines.

Gilbertguide

Many years ago when a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, she spent several weeks researching the disease and potential treatments before making a decision. Even though she was a reporter herself, because it was a time of high anxiety for her, she had a friend accompany her to interviews with physicians and researchers to take accurate notes.

A new study reveals that a third of 65-plus Medicare patients do this and the result is a higher level of satisfaction in the quality of care. The companion could be a spouse, adult child or a friend. We should all keep this in mind for ourselves and our elder parents.

There was lot of comment pro and con regarding my dissatisfaction with the New Yorker cover this week featuring Michelle and Barack Obama. I have one final thought before we permanently put this issue to bed: Mad Magazine has never had any trouble making their satire clear, nor The Onion, and to a widely diverse readership including children. Shouldn’t satire be apparent to be worthy of the name?

Here is how satire is supposed to work in a video clip from Jon Stewart. You can disagree with the politics and even with the level of humor, but you won’t miss the point. [7:53 minutes]


Elders and Inflation

category_bug_politics.gif Surely you saw the news yesterday: one measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 1.1 percent in June – twice the rate of May for a total of 5 percent over the past 12 months and the largest year-to-year jump since 1991.

Meanwhile, consumer spending has stagnated and no wonder. Food prices, according to the federal government, rose .8 percent in June (up 6.1 percent in 12 months) with a 2.8 percent increase for fruits and vegetables and a 1.6 percent rise for dairy. Gasoline passed the $4 mark a few weeks ago, with a gallon of regular going for more than $5 in rural areas where it costs more to truck it to the local pumps.

In my neck of the woods, Portland, Maine, a pint of local strawberries at the farmers market is going for $6 this year compared with $4 last year (33 percent). I just signed the contract locking in the price for my winter-season heating fuel: up more than 45 percent in one year - and that’s with the .02 cents-per-gallon elder discount, which will save me all of $15 over the next 12 months.

I'm sure you have your own stories of giant leaps in prices of essentials. National CPI averages don’t come close to telling the economic story for those of us in the real world despite McCain campaign economic adviser and former senator, Phil Gramm, says about us being a nation of whiners.

Elders are being hit hard. Throughout the country, Meals on Wheels programs are cutting back deliveries to once a week, frozen meals instead of hot, and the number of visits from home health care aides is being cut too.

“…Bill Harman, 77, relies on a home aide to take care of his wife, Evelyn, who is 85 and has Alzheimer’s disease. Mr. Harman has had to use a wheelchair since 2000 because of hip problems…”

For her work with the Harmans, health aide Katie Clark earns $9 an hour and is not reimbursed for the gas she uses to drive the 700 miles over a week to visit them twice a day. Now, with the surge in gas prices, Ms. Clark doesn’t know how much longer she can afford the travel.

“If she leaves, Mr. Harman said, he could not care for his wife…Without an aide, he said, he would have to put his wife in a nursing home, and probably need to live in one himself.”

The New York Times, 5 July 2008

Even elders who do not need home care, who are independent, are cutting back on visits to friends and family, community events and senior centers.

“[Betty Lish, 62,] has turned off her phone service and internet connection. She doesn’t use her air conditioning and keeps all appliances unplugged whenever possible. She relies on food stamps for groceries.

“’I can’t cut back any more,' she said.

“After paying rent and utility bills, the amount she receives in Social Security payments leaves about $20 a month for gas…

“So Lish cannot afford gas to visit her children, several living about two hours away. She no longer communicates through email with a son living in Japan.”

Tulsa World, 12 July 2008
“Most senior citizens are on a fixed income and can barely afford to put gas in their car. And no gas means many of them are shut in.

“Some are complaining they can’t visit their friends and their friends can’t visit them so they sit at home alone.

“For many seniors, their set budget doesn’t include enough money for soaring electricity bills, gasoline that’s nearly $4 a gallon and paying double for the same bag of groceries they used to buy.”

myfoxhouston.com, 2 July 2008

The July/August AARP Bulletin published a poll showing some of the ways elders are coping with rising food prices:

Using coupons at grocery stores: 57%
Buying generic brands of groceries: 56%
Starting a vegetable garden: 27%
Shopping less frequently: 47%
Eating more leftovers: 56%
Eating fewer meals: 18%
Eating out less: 54%

It’s that “eating fewer meals” that is alarming. And, undoubtedly, some elders are not filling prescriptions or taking smaller dosages of medications to stretch the time between refills.

The real-world price increase examples at the top of this story are likely closer to the truth of current inflation than the government's official CPI numbers. In a story yesterday at Huffington Post, Kevin Phillips quotes Charles S. Schwab & Company chief economist Liz Ann Sonders:

“‘Over the past 30 years, major changes have been made to the calculation of the CPI…

“If you eliminate those adjustments and calculate CPI as it would have been calculated in 1980, it would be nearly 12 percent today...No wonder clients constantly tell me they distrust government inflation data."

Phillips concludes:

“Maybe our presidential candidates should take a break from discussing how many troops to move from Iraq to Afghanistan or vice versa and start publicly discussing the extent to which a fundamental mismanagement of the U.S. economy rests on a framework of what can bluntly be described as lies, damn lies and statistics.”

No kidding. And we shouldn’t have to wait for an election; Congress could be working on this. For elders, the issue of miscalculation of inflation statistics is a serious matter. The annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is based on the CPI.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, liloldme tells of a surprise encounter from Long, Long Ago and Far Away.]


Hopeful, Open, in Love with Life – and Old

category_bug_ageism.gif Somewhere in my wanderings around the web, I found this short profile on a 60-plus blogger's home page:

“In my heart, I’m still young – hopeful, open and in love with life.”

Counteracting common statements such as this is one of the reasons I started Time Goes By. They abound in all corners of our culture perpetuating the belief that to be old is to be without joy, enthusiasm and wonder. Some variations you’ve heard all your life:

  • She’s 70 years young
  • You’re only as old as you feel.
  • You don’t look 60.
  • The secret to staying young is (just about anything).

My particular pet peeve is “I don’t feel (50, 60, 70, etc.)” Well, of course you do. Whatever you feel is what that age feels like.

What people usually mean when they repeat these commonplaces is that the person so described is not (yet) decrepit. The problem is that they reinforce the ingrained belief that youth is the gold standard of life. They support negative attitudes toward aging and are so frequently spoken that most people saying them, writing them or hearing them are unaware of their ageist effects, one of which is self-hatred.

Frequency and repetition lead to acceptance of the “truth” of a statement, as every advertiser knows. A good example is the plethora of hair color commercials and print ads that use as their primary selling point the promise to cover gray hair. The internalized message in viewers of all ages is that gray and, therefore, age is bad.

It is particularly disturbing when these statements are used by elders against themselves and other old people. That blogger quoted above can so little imagine there is joy and enthusiasm in old age that he or she must publicly claim a facsimile of youth to feel worthy.

It is not entirely the blogger’s fault. From the cradle, we are bombarded with insidiously negative attitudes – subtle and overt - toward the old, repeated until they feel as irrefutable as gravity. A step toward changing the cultural bad attitude toward age is for elders to stop doing it to ourselves.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, the winner of the Excellence in Storytelling Award for June 2008.]


Generic Drugs

category_bug_geriatrician.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: The TGB Geriatrician is a bi-weekly column written by Dr. Bill Thomas (bio) for Time Goes By to give us the information we need to help us navigate the health issues of aging. Dr. Thomas also writes his own blog at Changing Aging.]

I know you are out there. I know that there are still some people who see generic medications as being somehow inferior to brand name drugs. This is a big issue, worth billions of dollars to major corporations, but I do have a funny story to tell you about generics.

A few years back, the anti-anxiety medicine Xanax™ lost its patent protection and became available as a generic called Alprazolam. A patient of mine who was, I'll admit, a very anxious person, called me at home on a Saturday after seeing me in the office on a Friday. "Hey Doc," he said, "this new medicine you put me on doesn't work!"

I asked a few questions and slowly came to understand that when he had refilled his prescription, the pharmacist had supplied him with the just-released, lower-cost generic version of the drug.

I explained this to him and he continued to insist that something was wrong. He'd taken the new pills as prescribed and they "didn't work at all. Nothing." I learned early on in my medical career that it is never a good idea to argue with patients, so I told him I would talk to the pharmacist and then call him back.

I was living in a small town then and was friends with the pharmacist (I'll call him John since that is his name.) John confirmed that he had supplied our patient with the generic version of Xanax. Then came the kicker. "You know Pfizer* makes the brand name (called Xanax) and the generic (called Alprazolam) on the same production line in the same factory." In fact, the only difference was the shape and color of the pill.

I called my patient back and explained all this - that it was the same medicine made in the same place by the same people with the same machines. It just looked different and cost less. He didn't care. He wanted the Xanax that he knew and nothing else. What could I say? I called John back and made the switch.

So what was going on here?

  1. Pill colors and shapes are designed by marketing teams, not doctors. Color and shape are related to sales. That's why Viagra is a blue football and not a pink softball. Drug companies spend billions trying to persuade Americans that color and shape matter. Remember the "purple pill?"
  2. The chemical compound inside brand name drugs and their generic equivalents are exactly the same. It's like the salt in salt shakers, you can pay big money for engraved silver salt shakers or you can save money and buy simple glass salt shakers. But, in the end, the salt inside the shaker is exactly the same - it is sodium chloride.
  3. Drug companies have the right to force generic drug makers to make their pills a different color and shape. They rely upon the confusion sown by this difference to support sales of the brand name drug. As you can see in the case of my Xanax loving patient, it works.

  4. Generics are manufactured according to the same rigorous standards that govern the manufacture of brand name drugs. They are Cadillac drugs for sale at Chevrolet prices.
  5. The big, brand name drug makers have started to make what are called "reverse payments" to generic drug makers. Because of the huge profits that they make on the brand name drugs, they are able to pay generic drug makers to NOT MAKE GENERICS. Keeping competition from an equally good product that can be sold for less is good for the drug makers' profit-and-loss statements and bad for the health and healthcare of Americans.

Clear? Not as clear as you might think. Very soon after this post goes up someone is going to write a comment that reads something like: "Generics don't work on me. My doctor says that I have to have the brand name versions." Here is what I love about blogging at TGB, I get to tell you the story behind the story.

First, your doctor doesn't think that "generics don't work on you." She knows that your body reacts to generics the same way that it reacts to brand name drugs because, inside the body, brand name drugs and generics are the same thing.

Fillers and colorings are often blamed when patients say generics don't work, but generics use the same fillers as the brand names and the amount of food coloring in a pill is incredibly tiny. Problems with fillers and colorings are theoretically possible but the fact is, they are tremendously rare. Brand name drugs and generics are equivalent inside the body.

Second, your doctor has the same policy I do. She has explained that generics are just as good and that the only real difference is the price. You were not convinced and she is not going to waste time arguing with you. End of story.

Third, you should choose generics whenever you can. Why? I think that it is a matter of intergenerational fairness. Every dollar spent on brand name drugs that are no longer under patent and thus have a generic equivalent, is a dollar fewer for childhood immunizations, prenatal care, school health clinics and all the rest.

We all share an obligation to be thrifty with the health care resources we use. We are a rich nation, possibly the richest nation in history, but we are not so rich that we can afford to spend money foolishly on expensive pills simply because we are accustomed to a certain shape and color.

I look forward to reading this comment thread.

* The drug was developed by Upjohn before it merged with Pfizer.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Herchel Newman attempts to exorcise the evil demons of modern life in Utter Frustration. ADDITIONAL NOTE: Today is the last day to vote in the Excellence in Storytelling Award. Polling closes at midnight eastern U.S. time. Links to nominated stories are here.]

EDITORIAL NOTE: You can subscribe to The TGB Geriatrician column by email by clicking here. Subscribe to the daily Time Goes By blog by email or RSS in the upper right corner of this page.

The New Yorker Cover

category_bug_politics.gif

Newyorkerobama I'm not the only person writing about this week’s New Yorker cover. Just about every reporter, pundit, columnist and blogger who make politics part of their beat have or will have their say. If your jaw didn’t drop when you saw it the first time, you’re not paying attention.

The cover is shocking, incendiary and will be propaganda fodder for America’s right wing for the rest of this campaign. It will empower the anti-Obama and anti-Democratic Party fringe, and the dolts among the electorate will believe as some already do.

Let us be clear: The cover is not ironic, it is not satire - as those who defend it will insist. It is race- and religion-baiting directed at the black, Christian presidential candidate that will reinforce the belief among the less intellectually endowed among us into believing that Senator Barack Obama is a Muslim racist with a neo-Black Panther wife who hate the U.S. enough to burn the flag in the fireplace of the Oval Office. Good god, how many fear-mongering symbols can be crammed into one caricature.

This is the most crucial election in the lifetime of any American alive and unlike many in the past, there are real ideological differences between the two presumptive candidates. We are deciding, in November, the nature of the future of the United States in a time when just about every facet of our government, even the Constitution itself, is frayed or broken. What we desperately need is intelligent commentary on these issues and not a derogatory, false depiction of slimy rumors that have been making the rounds of the internet underground for months.

For more than 50 years, the New Yorker has been my favorite weekly subscription. Its focus and intelligence have declined in the past decade or so - which would be apparent to more people if it were formatted differently – and I miss the in-depth profiles they stopped publishing a few years back. But I liked its range and leisurely pace. I don’t think there is another general interest magazine that is as good.

The real irony, unlike this week’s illustration, is that New Yorker covers have so often been clever, color commentary on current events – political, social and cultural – and always fun too. Many years ago when I lived in San Francisco, I wallpapered a dank, ugly, closet-like space in my apartment, containing only the toilet, with New Yorker covers because they always charmed me so.

For all that, I canceled my subscription yesterday. In the past, I have canceled or not renewed various subscriptions due to waning interest or the need to cut down the onslaught of reading material. But never the New Yorker and never any magazine due to content until now. In fact, I subscribe to a couple of magazines whose political views I find distasteful just to keep up with the opposition. Even they, however, don’t go as far as the New Yorker has this week, although they may now feel encouraged to do so.

I am already sad. I will miss Hendrik Hertzberg, Oliver Sachs, Seymour Hersh, Paul Goldberger and others, although I can read them online – maybe when I’m not so angry anymore.

Undoubtedly, a New Yorker spokesperson will, this week, apologize “for any misunderstanding” of the cover, saying it was meant as satire. Maybe, if the artist had put the caricature inside a TV screen with a Fox News logo, they could get away it. As it is, however, it endorses, supports and perpetuates repugnant, false rumor.

Losing my subscription will not, as Rick Blaine said, amount to a hill of beans in the New Yorker’s world. But sometimes a stand must be taken. Sometimes one must put their money where their mouth is to sleep at night.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis imagines past lives of strangers in Sisters With Hankies.]


And When I Die...

[UPDATE: 108-year-old Olive Riley of Life of Riley died Saturday in the nursing home where she had lived for several years. I've not been able to access her blog, undoubtedly due to her many fans trying to visit. With the help of her friend, Mike Rubbo, she wrote a lively, feisty blog. I certainly won't be the only one who will miss her.]

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have not taken the Retirement Survey yet, please do. Information and links are here.]

blogging bug image Not meaning to tempt fate (for those who believe in such superstitions), it’s amazing, for a blog where old people have been hanging out for four years, how many of us are still alive. Or, from another point of view, how few of us are dead.

Hundreds on the Elderbloggers List - along with tens of thousands and more of us in the wider blogosphere - remain at our computers tapping out our rants and recipes, joys and sorrows, thoughts and ideas. Maybe blogging is good for longevity…

But all good things, including life and, therefore, our blogs eventually end. I was reminded of this when Joycelyn Ward, who blogged magnificently as Maya’s Granny, died in June. Her son-in-law posted a sweet story about Joycelyn at his blog. Her daughter, J, posted a remembrance at Maya’s Granny with photos from Joycelyn’s life and since then on her own blog, Thinking About…, she has continued to write about her mother as she works through her loss and her grief.

This sharing of stories and thoughts from Joycelyn’s family – perhaps it could be called a blog memorial service - has been crucial to her blog readers and internet friends. And we are friends even though most of us never meet in person.

That is an astonishing phenomenon of blogging – how close we become through reading our stories, comments, arguments, sharing laughter, lives and, when needed, commiseration.

With some, we move on to email, phone calls and the occasional opportunity to spend a little time together in the “real world.” But mostly it is our written words that connect us more closely than many expect when they begin a blog.

All that thinking we churn out, along with our individual writing styles are how we come to care about one another. Even if you are not trying to explain yourself on your blog, who you are comes through. I do not believe that any blogger who tried could maintain a false façade for long. Character cannot help but be revealed over time.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece trying to place blog friends among our concentric circles of attachments:

  1. Immediate family
  2. Closest friends
  3. Extended family
  4. Other frequent social contacts
  5. Work colleagues
  6. Neighbors
  7. Acquaintances

Items on your list could differ in the middle, but we can probably agree that numbers 1 and 7 are properly placed, and wherever you list blog friends then, they too are people who would want to know when you die.

Not all of us have family members, as Joycelyn Ward does, who would think to publish an announcement of our death on our blog. If they are not bloggers, they may not understand how important we are to one another. Or they may not know how to do it. Or, particularly if they are non-bloggers, may not know what to say or how to say it. Death of a loved one is hard enough without having to figure out something new while grief itself is new.

We leave last wills and testaments to parcel out our belongings. Some design their own funerals or memorials. Others leave letters for loved ones to be opened upon their death. So why should we not also prepare a last blog post for our readers.

I first wrote mine about three years ago and I update it now and then which gives a good reason to look back over several months or a year to get an overview of what’s been happening at Time Goes By. And yes, it begins with, “If you’re reading this, I’m dead.”

It’s a good idea to note the location of your last blog post and place that information with the papers your survivors will need right away. Along with that, precise instructions on how to post it with ID and passwords are needed, detailed enough so that a non-blogger can work through posting it step by step.

Because Time Goes By is hosted on a fee service, I’ve directed that enough money be set aside to pay the host and domain registrar for a year. Those who blog on free services such a Blogger need not be concerned about their blog disappearing.

When a blogger dies, a community dies with it. Yes, we are interconnected through blogrolls and overlapping readership that extends infinitely outward, but each blog is a singular township too. It is peopled in the same ways of cities and towns with relationships ranging from nodding acquaintances to as tight as it gets. These relationships are, to me, of equal importance with real-life friends and we can, with a final blog post, remember one another in our death as we do now in life.

Although it may seem peculiar to attach social obligations to one's own death, a final blog post is the polite thing to do. If nothing else, it’s a chance to have the last word, and I’m not letting an opportunity like that get past me.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Peter Tibbles repeats some conversation from a long-ago romance in The Fillmore Variations.]


This Week in Elder News: 12 July 2008

In this regular weekend 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 Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered a change in the warning labels on Viagra and similar drugs that treat erectile dysfunction because there have been a (very) few reports of sudden hearing loss in men who use them. There’s an impolite joke hiding somewhere in this story, but I’ll leave it to readers more clever than I am to find. More here.

As Jack Cafferty of CNN points out, Senator John McCain apparently doesn’t understand how Social Security works. Even for a guy who says he’s weak on economics, this seems an extreme piece of ignorance. [1:14 minutes]

Believing, rightly, that the Medicare bill - H.R. 6331, full text here - to be of critical importance, Senator Ted Kennedy, who is being treated for a brain tumor, showed up in the Senate last Wednesday for the revote. It passed in White House veto-proof numbers, 69-30. Presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama voted yea. His opponent, Senator John McCain, was absent. See how your senators voted.

A new tracking survey shows how dramatically Americans’ access to healthcare has declined since 2003, among the inadequately insured as well as the uninsured. Full report here.

Healthcareaccessjpg


“If commenting on Hillary Clinton's pants suits is sexist, what do we call the guy who waves a sign that shouts "Iron My Shirts"? If it's racist to say that it took President Lyndon Johnson to make Martin Luther King's dream of equality before the law come true, how do we characterize the 3 in 10 Americans who say they would have trouble voting for a black man for president?”

Take a couple of minutes to read 60 and Up author Lillian Rubin’s article on ageism in the presidential campaign. Whether you agree with her or not, it is thoughtful and illuminating.

I don’t know if it’s ageist or not, but I laughed when this cartoon arrived in my inbox. (Hat tip to Darlene Costner of Darlene’s Hodgepodge)

Oldbatscartoonjpg

There have been a bunch of reports recently about how much more sex elders are having than in the past which, apparently, accounts for the rise in elder incidence of HIV/AIDS, up 15 percent, reports the Centers for Disease Control. In addition to tragic, this is embarrassing. How can elders - who can legitimately claim experience, if not judgment, over younger people - expect young folks to behave responsibly if we don’t? It’s not like anyone could miss, over the past 25 years, news of the disease and how it is transmitted. More here.

On Thursday, Crabby Old Lady posted a minor, little treatise on breasts. It was meant in fun and silliness, but not received that way by Dr. Ron Evans who blogs on retirement at the Topeka Capital Journal and posted this comment:

“I found this blog to be in poor taste for a public blog. What's next? Digestive processes? Illegal drug use? Sexual fantasy life? I hope this blog does not continue in such a direction.”

Good topic suggestions, Ron. Crabby says to tell you she’s working on them. Meantime, check Gary White’s amusing response to Crabby’s breast post from a male point of view.

Not to push all this boob business beyond the fringe, but I couldn't resist this last-minute item from Suzz at Suzzwords. Hundreds of women in England are protesting higher prices for bra sizes DD and larger - £2 more. That's about $4 US. Read more here.

If anyone doubted it, here’s proof that some things definitely improve with age. Sixty-four-year-old Joni Mitchell’s voice is deeper now, more resonant. This new arrangement of an old favorite is richer, smoother and the passing years have invested the lyrics with a new kind of poignancy. [7:17 minutes]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, a couple of reminders.]


A Few Short Notes on Friday

Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles sent in her quarterstaff photo. You can see it here.

Regular readers know Darlene Costner from her stories at The Elder Storytelling Place and her many cogent comments around the blogosphere. Now she has taken the leap with her own blog, Darlene's Hodgepodge. Do stop by and give her a welcome hug.

The new Excellence in Storytelling Award poll is open for voting through next Wednesday at The Elder Storytelling Place. You’ll find it in the right sidebar. Please do vote.

The Retirement Survey is also still open. You’ll find information and links here.

That’s it today. Some recent email complaints and a couple of disheartening comments yesterday in regard to the content choices at Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place have left me discouraged, dispirited and weary. It's enough to make an old lady want leave off writing anything but the daily meal report...

BREAKFAST: Cereal with fresh raspberries and skim milk
LUNCH: Arugula salad with honey/balsamic dressing
DINNER: One pint of Haagen-Dazs...

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones tells us about a special piece of family clothing in Where Did You Hide My Hat?]


Announcement: Elder Storytelling Award

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The TGB Retirement Survey is open and waiting for more participants. Get information and links here.]

Yes, you are on Time Goes By, but today’s post is about its companion blog, The Elder Storytelling Place. Because there are so many smart, funny, sad, ironic, heartfelt and compellingly well-told stories on ESP and they seem to get better with each passing week, I want us to be able to honor them in some manner.

So today, I am announcing The Elder Storytelling Place “Story Excellence Award”. Here is how it works:

At the end of each month, I will select five standout stories from that month and post a poll for readers to vote for their favorite from among them. It seems unfair that I select the nominees, but all 21 or 22 stories each month are too many and it would delay each month’s award to carry out a reader-nomination process. Yes, nomination is a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it - and it shall be moi.

The poll will be open for voting from the first through the seventh day of each month. The winner will then be announced the following day – or within a couple of days depending on my available time.

Since I am not in a financial position to offer a monetary award – or anything else that costs me money – what I have created instead is a nifty Award Badge for the winner to place on his or her blog and link to the winning story. Here is a prototype which will be tweaked and refined a bit before the first award is made:

There will also be a smaller badge I'll post to the winning story itself. I wish I could come up with a nickname for the award like Oscar, Emmy, Tony, etc., but ESPy is already taken and I ran out of steam after that idea.

Since a number of regular story contributors do not keep blogs, there will be an Excellence in Storytelling Winners page at The Elder Storytelling Place where the names of the storytellers with links to their winning stories will be permanently listed.

Then, in January, we will vote on the annual winner from the previous 12 monthly winners.

Even though we’re past the first week of July, we’ll start with the June 2008 award today to get us going. Because the poll service does not allow links in the choices, you can read or re-read the nominated stories at The Elder Storytelling Place by selecting June 2008 in the Date Archive dropdown menu in the right sidebar which will take you to a page with links to all June stories.

I'm working on finding a polling service with more useful options (and fewer glitches like that huge empty space at the bottom of the poll) and one that doesn't show the voting results so the winner will be a surprise. But this should be adequate for now.

The poll also appears on what will become its usual place each month, near the top of the right sidebar of The Elder Storytelling Place. You may vote there or here:

The voting will be open until midnight Eastern U.S. time on 16 July. {voting has closed}

Now, with this award, perhaps there is an additional incentive to send in more stories. Frequently, when a story is submitted, I am asked to “consider it for publication.” Let me be clear that with minor exceptions all stories are published. In the year and several months that The Elder Storytelling Place has existed, I’ve rejected only two or three (for objectionable material).

During each month, you are welcome to lobby me for including a story in the nominations. However, the decision of the judge, as they say, is final.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior has a story that any mother of a toddler will appreciate, titled The Mouth of the Babe.]


Breasts In Youth and Age

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Kathi of My Sister Was a St. Bernard has sent in her photo for Where Elders Blog and there are two new quarterstaff photos. Here is one from AQ of Always Question and the other from Wally Blue of The Resident Curmudgeon. Yours are welcome too.]

Yes, readers, the topic today is breasts. You know, those two things that sit on women’s chests also known as tits, boobs, bazooms, bosom, hooters, knockers, jugs and a hundred other names. Crabby Old Lady’s personal favorite, a fitting description of her non-pulchritude, is titties.

Last week at The Elder Storytelling Place, Camille Koepnick Shaffer related the adolescent drama of her first brassiere – a rite of passage for every young girl on her path to womanhood, and Crabby has her own first-bra story too:

Her mother had small breasts and as they walked together through the lingerie department toward the counter in the back, bras of amazingly big sizes (to young Crabby) were laid out on display tables. At a volume that apparently sounded like a police siren to her mother, Crabby asked, “Do people really come that big?”

When they reached the clerk at the counter, her mother spoke in a volume to match Crabby’s, “Do you have bras for beginners?” Crabby Young Lady, of course, was mortified.

Back in those days, the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe – who was chubby, even fat, by today’s standards – was the feminine ideal all women aspired to. It didn’t take long to become apparent that Crabby’s puny titties would never match Monroe’s. In fact, she never outgrew a beginner’s bra which, until she discovered foam inserts, looked wrinkly through the fabric of anything she wore except the heaviest sweaters. Cleavage would never be part of Crabby’s life.

Early on, then, she determined to ignore her titties (no point in wasting time being miserable over something that cannot be) and when, in the 1960s, feminists began burning their bras as a symbol of throwing off male, cultural oppression, Crabby got rid of those, for her, needless harnesses and she has been happily bra-less ever since.

That doesn’t mean she could stop thinking about her silly, little titties. During the standard recrimination period as her marriage was breaking up, Crabby’s husband once shouted, “And I never liked women with small breasts, anyway.” Funny now, adolescent-sounding. But Crabby assures you it was not, in her then-dubious sense of female confidence. It cut her to the core although, in due course, she recovered.

But involvement with her nearly non-existent breasts didn’t end with her marriage. Every mammogram (agony when there is nothing for that cold, metal, grapefruit squeezer to grasp) showed tiny, white dots on the x-ray that each physician assured Crabby must be biopsied to determine if they were cancer.

Those poor, little titties have been chopped open six times only to find on every occasion that the spots on the film are unimportant calcium deposits. Crabby Old Lady can read those pictures now as well as any radiologist and no one has been allowed to cut into her titties for two or three decades. Nor will they, until she sees something different.

Meanwhile, in the wider world beyond Crabby's personal tittie travails, breasts – mostly naked or barely covered – became a cultural fetish. What would spring break - and even TV, these days - be without wet teeshirt contests. Wonderbras and their ilk have created cleavage where none naturally exists (where were these when Crabby still thought she needed them?). Most cable news anchorettes appear to be hired as much for their unmistakably impressive chests as their facial beauty. And there is hardly a woman cop or lawyer in television dramas whose shirt or suit jacket isn’t open nearly to her navel – even in court.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast implants are the No. 1 cosmetic enhancement requested by women. 347,500 were performed in 2007, in the U.S.

What does all this concentration on big, bazoom-sized breasts mean, Crabby Old Lady wonders – if anything? Without wanting to give away too much of her personal history, no man has ever fled when he got her clothes off and if any didn’t enjoy themselves, they were, unlike her husband, gentlemanly enough not to mention it. Oh, and not one didn’t come back unless Crabby intended it so.

Which brings her to the present day.

Although Crabby’s lifelong determination to ignore her baby boobs failed, she is nonetheless chagrined to discover in old age, that even her little titties are not immune to gravity. She didn’t expect it, but sag they have and she feels a bit like Maxine:

MaxineCartoon

On the other hand, Crabby believes she (and any other old woman) would look silly with perky, upturned tits, so she waits gleefully for that eighth and most satisfying deadly sin, schadenfreude, to overtake her when, one day, a pair of surgically-enhanced, 75-year-old, artificial hooters eternally pointing north, rolls into view.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean takes on the irritating phenomenon of minor memory lapses in Where Did I Leave My Glasses?]