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Sunday Election Issues - 31 August 2008

category_bug_politics.gif This Sunday post is a collection of links to elderblog stories about the issues that are important to understand in making our choices on who to vote for in the November election. You can read the original post announcing this feature here.

Joe Biden Up Close
From Susan Harris of Sustainable Gardening Blog: How Joe Biden Treats the Help

Senator Obama’s Candidacy
From Sylvia Kirkwood of Sylvia Over the Hill: A Long Way Traveled and a Long Way to Go

Restoring Constitutional Rights
From Gary White of Having Fun Until I Die: Homeland Security

The Significance of Clinton and Obama
From Alice Pasupathi of My Wintersong: Is It Race, Gender…Or Both

Partisan Diehards
From Cynthia Samuels of Don’t Gel Too Soon: Hillary Supporters and the Obama Campaign: Don’t Do This!

Lots of Smart Political Information and Commentary
From Jan Adams of Happening Here: Just read the entire home page of posts. It's among the smartest political commentary online. (Jan did not send this. It's a personal choice.)

Candidate Issue Positions Compared
From the International Herald Tribune: Obama, McCain on the Issues


This Week in Elder News: 30 August 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.

British novelist, critic and biographer, Dame Margaret Drabble, on the power of old age.

“We want to choose to grow old gracefully,” she writes, “like the Queen or disgracefully, like John Mortimer and Beryl Cook, or not at all, like Helen Mirren. We don't want to be lumped into a category.”

You can read more here. (Hat tip to Maureen who blogs at A View from England)

Last summer, I was privileged to be invited to speak at the Gnomedex conference in Seattle, and I’m sorry I couldn’t attend this year. One presentation explained a new vocal joystick said to be a boon for returning Iraq veterans whose injuries make it hard to operate a computer. I think it’s a great idea for elders too, who may have limited use of their hands due to arthritis and other conditions.

It may have changed since I left New York City two years ago, but there were no ATM fees there. Here in Maine they soak you at both ends of the transaction. Unless I drive out of my way most of the time to get cash from the ATM at my bank, I’m charged $2 at the “foreign” ATM and $1.75 by my bank.

Now, a new “service” is being tested that will deliver dollar-bill size ads with money at ATMs. Although I think there is already enough advertising on every empty space in our lives, I have no doubt this will catch on. Advertisers are paying to place their ads in ATMs, and I think that if we are to be forced into more scraps of paper clogging our wallets, all ATM fees should be eliminated when these ads are dispensed. Read more here.

Eighty-seven-year-old Helen Zarnowski of New Hampshire has strong words for senior ghettos. “Prisons” she calls them as she lobbies for elder housing to be integrated into existing communities holding all generations. And...

“We should plan housing where seniors can access as many services as possible on their own, even when they no longer are able to drive.”
More here.

Chuck Nyren of Advertising to Baby Boomers alerted me to the fact that Growing Bolder Media, where both Chuck and I were interviewed on their radio show last year, has won the 2008 Senior Vision Media Award from the Florida Council on Aging. Congratulations.

The Pew Research Center for Politics and the Press reports this week that more Americans – 52 percent overall now, up from 43 percent in 1996 - believe churches should stay out of politics. Elders age 65 and older lead the way with 75 percent saying churches should not endorse candidates. Read more here.

The 2008 Democratic Convention is history now, one that will be remembered, for different reasons, as strongly as 1968 in Chicago.

It went pretty well, don’t you think, for a tightly-scripted, zillion-dollar party with no suspense factor. The increasingly irrelevant TV networks ran only an hour of clips each night which may have been a better idea when compared to the cable news bloviators gabbing (as though they had something useful to say) over the audio of all but the Clinton and Obama families' four speeches. For me, CSPAN was the better choice.

There was another speech cable news allowed to run uninterrupted: Senator Ted Kennedy, the grand old man of Democratic politics over the past half century whose appearance was poignant for both his personal health circumstance and the passing of the baton to a new generation. He is one of us, an elder at 76 years, of whom we can be supremely proud. However his life has been otherwise complicated, throughout his tenure in the Senate, Ted Kennedy has fought harder, longer and more consistently for working people than anyone else in Congress.

His appearance in Denver, a trip made at great physical cost, produced bittersweet cheers and tears. Here again is Senator Kennedy’s Convention speech. [10:01 minutes]


Some Elder Polling

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.

I'm both a political junkie and an elections professional (I train community groups to increase participation), so I actually enjoy poring over polling date. In this post, I'm going to look at some of the polling about elders in the upcoming election and particularly at polling on state Proposition 8, a measure that that would add language to the state constitution to eliminate same-sex couples’ right to marry in California.

Some basics I keep in mind when looking at the data:

  • Different pollsters define older people differently in their surveys. The most common definition seems to be voters 65 and up. Those of us between 60 and 65, who TGB also names "elders," disappear statistically in the huge mass of voters 50-64.
  • Voters in the over-65 age group are only a little over 19 percent of registered voters according to a Pew Research Convention Backgrounder. We're often told we're a huge chunk of the electorate, and we are, but not as huge as we might have been led to think.
  • The reason elders are thought to be such a large segment is that fully 79 percent of us were registered and 70 percent of those actually voted in 2004; that's higher than the electorate at large in both categories. Maybe we have just hung around long enough to get more involved?

Much has been made this year of how attractive to Senator Obama is to young people. And polls bear that out; the Democrat was winning young voters by 60 - 33 percent in August.

At the same time, there is some evidence that Obama has a much harder time with older voters. Recently some 16 percent of voters over 65 reported being undecided.

"Seniors are about 50 percent more likely than other voters to be uncommitted at this point in the race. Voters aged 65+ will eventually represent about 20 percent of the electorate, but they may represent more like 30 percent of the pool of persuadables."

That explains why the candidates may pay a lot of attention to elders. Senator Obama's selection of Joe Biden as his running mate was supposed to assist in bringing us into his fold.

Here in California, age also seems to be a big factor in whether people will vote for or against the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The Field Poll, considered the gold standard for the Golden State, found on July 18 that if the election were being held then, more voters said they would vote No (51 percent) on Prop. 8 than would vote Yes (42 percent).

Democrats overwhelmingly will vote No - and we have a substantial plurality of Democrats.

"By age, opposition to Prop. 8 is greatest among younger voters under age 30, as well as among baby boomers in the 50 - 64 age bracket. Voters in other age groups are more evenly divided."

Though in this poll all groups would reject Prop. 8 at least narrowly, voters over 65 came closest to approving it, showing a 45/46 split.

It seems pretty clear that the variable that decides whether people can support same-sex marriage is their own experience with gay people. According to a Los Angeles Times survey

"The divide was...stark when it came to the proposed constitutional amendment: 70 percent of voters who said they did not know a gay person would vote for it, a position taken by just 49 percent of voters who said they knew a gay person."

So there it is - the daily lives of gay people are new and strange to some folks and a matter of ordinary experience to others. Exposure to gay people seems to determine attitudes. The "Love Rush," the spate of same sex marriages in California since May, is probably having its own effect, showing happy people whose unions don't cause the sky to fall.

Not surprisingly, unfamiliarity with gay people is greatest among elder voters. Gay people used to keep their personal lives secret. (I should point out that the notion of gay marriage is a very new thing among older gays too; we certainly didn't grow up expecting such acceptance would ever be possible!)

One of the most interesting arguments I ran across while researching how age influenced attitudes toward Prop. 8 was an article by Peter Levine refuting the notion that as we get older, we automatically get more conservative. His argument is statistical and not simple (go take a look if you like math), but his conclusions suggests that elders aren't out of sync with the rest of society:

"With the possible exception of those born in the 1930s (for whom we don't have much data), it appears that people grow more tolerant as they age...It's my sense that there may be a small age effect here: people become more tolerant of gays as they mature and get to know openly gay people...However, the biggest effect here is historical. Everyone is becoming more tolerant, regardless of age."

Anyone wishing to know more about the No on Prop. 8 campaign can check out Equality for All.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran tells us what she has learned about Working From Home - The Telecommuter Challenge.]


Politics and the Farmers Market

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by Friday for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Yes, I know it’s overkill. I did this just seven days ago, but I had such a good time at the Farmer’s Market yesterday and anyway, thousands of other blogs are telling you everything you need to know about the Democratic Convention.

The early morning was bright, sunny and quite cool for summer. As I left, Ollie the cat had his eye on some crows arguing raucously in the street below. (Did you see the news story this week about crows’ ability to recognize individual human faces?)

Ollieinthewindow


I was low on veggie staples, so I got to spend a little more than my new, smaller food budget otherwise allows. I started with carrots.

Carrots


When you live alone, it’s hard to use up all the vegetables before they rot, but the Farmer’s Market sells tiny, little cauliflowers and broccoli – just right for me. I also picked up a new bunch of multi-colored radishes you can see part of at the top of the photo.

Broccolicauliflower


Purple bell peppers cost a fortune at the supermarket – $3 each sometimes - but yesterday, they were mixed with and priced the same as green ones at the Farmer’s Market.

Peppers


The varieties of lettuce make it hard to choose. I settled on red-leaf this week and a bag of spinach.

Lettuce


Look at these cherry tomatoes – about eight different colors including several shades of red along with orange, yellow and even purple which I’d never seen before.

Tomatoes


In an email exchange, I promised Chuck Nyren of Advertising to Baby Boomers a photo of the baby summer squash, so perfect and tender they can be cut up raw in salad.

Squash


I opted for another cherentais melon this week (after all, the one I had last week was the first in 20 years), but I also tasted a sample of these yellow-fleshed watermelon while I was shopping. Yum.

Watermelon


The first apples of the season were on display, but I knew that red delicious were on sale at the supermarket, so I passed on these until next week. There will probably be more varieties then too.

Apples


At home, I piled together my bounty including raspberries, enough blueberries to freeze some, three white-fleshed peaches, a bunch of baby turnips and a couple of gorgeous black plums I found at the supermarket. Don’t you just love summer fruits and veggies. It can almost – but not quite – make politics unimportant.

Bounty

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chrissy McB wonders if the feathered fellow looking at her from a tree branch could be a Bird Sign.]


Overriding Bush Veto to Save Original Medicare

[EDITORIAL NOTE: A few weeks ago, Congress voted to override President Bush’s veto of the Medicare reform bill, HR 6331. Most of the publicity about the legislation centered around staving off a 10.6 percent cut in reimbursements to physicians, but there were other provisions too that are moves in the right direction.

Saul Friedmen, the Gray Matters columnist for Newsday, published a column last Saturday clearly laying out these changes. His is one of the few mainstream media voices regularly speaking for elders. You can find more of his recent columns here.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Now that the sound and fury is done, and a good Medicare reform bill has been passed over the president's futile veto, it's time to take stock. For the bill was not simply about stopping a 10.6 percent cut in fees for Medicare doctors; much more was at stake.

That's why the American Medical Association, which has become a staunch friend of Medicare, the American Physical Therapy Association, mental health professionals, AARP and virtually every senior and health-care advocate, joined to pressure enough Republicans into defying George W. Bush for only the third time in his presidency. And for the first time since Republicans took over Congress in 1995, traditional Medicare won a battle against the health-insurance industry.

Indeed, the importance of the bill, the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act, was underscored when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) interrupted his treatment for a brain tumor for a dramatic appearance on the Senate floor, which shamed eight Republicans into voting to break their filibuster so the bill could pass.

Among those who were relieved by the bill's passage were thousands of Medicare patients in need of outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy, who were facing an annual $1,810 cap on the amount Medicare would pay, which is not nearly enough for most patients.

The caps were imposed years ago because of billing abuses by some private therapists. Patients who received therapy from facilities in hospitals were not affected. But Congress a few years ago authorized Medicare to adopt an "exceptions process," in which most patients in need of therapy at private facilities could exceed the cap. But that exceptions process had run out on July 1, before the new law was passed.

That meant thousands of patients faced continued pain, and setbacks in their recovery from strokes, surgery and injuries. The Medicare legislation, which has taken effect, continues the exceptions process through Dec. 31, 2009. Therapists hope the next Congress will impose a moratorium on the caps or repeal them as no longer necessary.

Similarly, the Medicare bill phases out over six years the higher co-pays for mental health services, so they are in line with the 20 percent co-pay of most other services covered by Medicare. Since Medicare became law in 1965, the program has required that patients pay a 50 percent co-pay for mental health services. Now, Congress has caught up with the times and decided mental health should be on par with physical health.

For poor or low-income beneficiaries, the legislation increases funding for the Qualified Individual program, which pays the high monthly Medicare Part B premium ($96.40) for persons with poverty-level incomes.

Many low-income beneficiaries have not qualified for some of these Medicare Savings Programs because their assets, including savings, insurance policies and in-kind household help, were too high.

The legislation increases the amount of assets one can have and still qualify for extra help in paying for Part D drug costs, as well as other Medicare savings programs that provide help in paying Medicare premiums and other costs. For example, the legislation exempts the value of a life insurance policy. It prohibits states from seeking to recover from estates the amounts paid to beneficiaries of the various Medicare saving programs.

The bill also eliminates the Part D late-enrollment penalty for persons applying for low-income subsidies. Also, as of January 2012, the bill will permit Part D coverage of drugs that have been prohibited.

The legislation makes life tougher for Private-Fee-for-Services plans. But the patient will have greater protection. Now, these plans will have to have their own networks, and must abide by the rules required of other HMOs and Medicare Advantage plans. And they will be subject to the same payment rates as other plans. Medicare advocates hope this will slow the growth of the private plans that cater mostly to the younger, healthier and more affluent beneficiaries.

Some of the most important provisions were aimed at slowing the growth of private Medicare plans, which were eroding traditional Medicare. For example, after a number of complaints about the hard-sell tactics of insurance agents, the legislation set some new rules limiting the behavior of insurance agents who sell Medicare Advantage (MA) and Part D plans (PDP), which cover drugs only.

Under the new legislation, salesmen are prohibited from door-to-door selling, cold calling and the cross-selling of non-health-related products. If you get an unsolicited telephone call, or a sales person at your door to sell you an MA or PDP, call 800-MEDICARE.

But the most contested part of the legislation was the Democratic proposal to pay for these improvements and the physician fees by cutting back slowly on the huge, $5-billion-a-year slush fund that the government pays insurance companies to offer their MA plans, so they can make record profits. This was the provision that the president, the insurance companies and Republican Medicare privatizes, opposed so strongly.

I would have liked to see Congress eliminate the subsidy, which costs 13 percent more per beneficiary than traditional Medicare. But as part of the legislative compromise, Democrats agreed to wind down the subsidy, beginning with $700 million in 2010. With a saving of $47.5 billion over the next 10 years.

As Bush feared, Congress has taken the first small step in saving original government-run Medicare. Perhaps more steps, like Medicare for All, will follow in the next Congress and administration.

You can write to Saul Friedman, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4250, or by e-mail at saulfriedman @comcast.net.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Granny Annie gives us Today and Yesterday, a poem she wrote in 2002 that shows how little some things change.]


The Best Books on Aging

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Zoe Riley, who blogs at Journeys Through Time, has joined the Quarterstaff Revolution. Is there anyone else out there with a photograph of themselves with their staff? If so, please do send it in.]

There are thousands of books about getting old and sometimes I feel as though I’ve read them all – painfully in cases when they are about how to pretend you are still young or are filled with bad jokes or with treacle enough to turn your gills green.

There are, however, a few I consider essential – informative, inspiring and wise, each in its own way:

What Are Old People For?
By Dr. William H. Thomas who contributes bi-weekly columns on this blog as The TGB Geriatrician.

Why Survive? Being Old in America
By Dr. Robert N. Butler who coined the term “ageism.” This book, published in 1975, won the Pulitzer Prize.

The Longevity Revolution
Also by Dr. Robert N. Butler. He gave TGB an excellent interview about this new book last April.

The Fountain of Age
By the mother of modern feminism, Betty Friedan, published in 1993. Hard going to read, but rewarding for the effort.

The Summer of a Dormouse
By British playwright, novelist and barrister, John Mortimer, who is also the author of the Rumpole of the Bailey series of stories.

From Age-ing to Sage-ing
By Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi published in 1997.

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton. Secondarily, these two by her: At Seventy: A Journal and Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year

Of course, there are others that are good, but these rise so far above the ordinary that I consider them my personal guides to getting old. I often peruse sections of them at random and am never disappointed.

In a recent email, Camille Shaffer, who has contributed some stories to The Elder Storytelling Place, reminded me of another book, The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty by Carolyn G. Heilbrun which I’ve allowed to sit on the shelf for too long. You might know Ms. Heilbrun by her mystery-writing pseudonym, Amanda Cross.

I don’t agree with some of Ms. Heilbrun’s observations about getting old, but that doesn’t make her book less thoughtful and important. Camille picked out some quotes to include in her email that sang to her and may inspire you:

“I have become more physically settled in my sixties, liking to be home, or toggling from one home to the next. Routine, which I used to scorn as next door to incarceration, holds new appeal for me. But one must not sit and think and ruminate all day.”
“Our sixties give us the chance to get out, not only from a job but from much else that we have been doing unquestioningly for a long time.”
The point is only that for those retired, with too much time and no world, a world must be found, and not necessarily one that is heavily populated. One can join a group or work alone; the essential is that the work be difficult, concentrated, and that definite progress can be measured. If the undertaking is not to become another daily habit, daily donned and discarded, it requires strong effort and the evidence of growing proficiency.”
“…it is our very presence that is important to the young. They want us to be there: not in their homes, perhaps, not watching them with a baleful eye as they go about their daily work, but there. We reassure them that life continues, and if we listen, we assure them that it matters to us that it continues.”
“Aging, particularly in the later decades, is a drawing in. Encounters with the outside world diminish for many reasons. The solitude of old age is often pleasurable. There is peace, a sense of the present.”

As the media has caught on to the fact that the gigantic generation of baby boomers is beginning to enter late life, they have rushed to cash in with a plethora of books about getting old, and there will only be more in the years to come. Most are quick hits with no intention to value or thoughtfulness, so superficial they float up off the table.

But you cannot go wrong with any of the ones above.

(NOTE 1: The book links above go to the books' pages at amazon.com. If you choose to buy any and use these links to do so, I will receive a small commission. I have never received more than $10 a year and in some years, nothing.)

(NOTE 2: Comments are permanently closed on this list.)


The Final Stretch of the Long Election Campaign

category_bug_politics.gif At last, after more than 18 months of presidential election campaigning, the opening of the Democratic Party Convention today in Denver ushers in the “real” campaign season – ten weeks of speeches, debates, attack ads, counter-attack ads and dubious promises along with some form of swift-boating of one or both candidates. You know, politics as usual.

That is, unless an unwelcome surprise from the Hillary-Clinton-or-I'll-Vote-For-McCain contingent disrupts the proceedings. Their venom is so irrationally nasty, it leaps off the computer screen and punches you in the face. Scroll down and read the comments on this post to see what I mean.

The policy differences between Senators Clinton and Obama are minuscule, and those who support Senator Clinton's positions and would now vote for Senator McCain are much more than sore losers. They are ignorant reactionaries who have no interest in the welfare of their country.

Senator Obama is not an ideal candidate, but he the only hope those who believe the United States is in terrible trouble have got and for me, this election is a no-brainer:

• If you want the U.S. to be in Iraq for 100 years, vote for Senator John McCain.

• If you want more young soldiers to die in new wars over the next four to eight years, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think veterans are respected and well taken care of, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think the Cold War was good for America and would like to see its return, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you want more tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think your share of taxes is not big enough, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think privatization of Social Security is a good idea, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you want Medicare benefits cut and the cost of healthcare coverage for your children and grandchildren to soar, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you believe it doesn't matter if 45 million Americans continue to live without health coverage, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think public education is as good as it can be, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think the way to reduce the federal deficit is to cut social, health and education programs, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you want to see the toughest assault yet on Roe v. Wade and possibly lose the right to abortion, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you want more jobs shipped overseas, vote for Senator McCain.

• If your salary is meeting your needs, or your children and grandchildren don’t need future wage increases, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think our energy needs can be met by placing oil drilling rigs off every coast in the U.S., vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think market-based solutions – that is, corporate interests – will successfully address global warming, greenhouse gases and climate change, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you believe more corporate lobbyists in Washington is just what our government needs, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think there isn’t enough secrecy or there is too much accountability in government, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think the Bill of Rights should be further eroded, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think the Supreme Court could use more justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you think it doesn’t matter that every country in the world hates the U.S. or whether allies cooperate with us, vote for Senator McCain.

• If you want more presidential one-liners on serious subjects like President Bush’s “Bring ‘em on” and Senator McCain’s, “Bomb, Bomb, Iran,” vote for Senator McCain.

If you have enjoyed the Bush administration and if you believe you, the United States and the world are better off now than eight years ago and you would like more of the same on steroids, vote for Senator McCain.

On the other hand, if you think the United States could use a dose of integrity, intelligence and thoughtfulness in dealing with the serious difficulties we face individually and as a nation, then Senator Barack Obama is your man.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Peter Tibbles has a childhood tale of Pet Snails.]


Sunday Election Issues - 24 August 2008

category_bug_politics.gif This Sunday post is a collection of links to elderblog stories about the issues that are important to understand in making our choices on who to vote for in the November election. You can read the original post announcing this feature here.

The Renewal of the Cold War?
• From Mort Reichek of Octogenarian: Georgia and a Truculent John McCain

A View of the U.S. Election From Germany
• From Lia of Yum Yum Café: My Personal Vantage Point

Religion and Integrity of the Candidates
• From Rain of Rainy Day Thoughts: McCain and the Solzhenitsyn Story

Government Surveillance
• From Gary White at Having Fun Until I Die: The Noose Tightens

The Legacy of the Bush Administration
• From Darlene of Darlene’s Hodgepodge: No Blood for Oil

The Continuing Importance of Hurricane Katrina
• From Citizen K: Katrina Fatigue

The New Anti-Entitlement Documentary
• From NCPSSM: I.O.U.S.A. – Fiscal Fortitude or Trojan Horse?

Republican Diversity
• When the lineup of speakers for the Republic Convention was announced this week, campaign manager, Rick Davis, made a point to note the list’s diversity. The speakers (in addition to Senator McCain and whomever his vice presidential running mate is) are President Bush, Laura Bush, Joe Lieberman, Dick Cheney, Arnold Schwarznegger, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorino, Mitt Romney, Sam Brownbeck, Tim Pawlenty, Tom Ridge and Cindy McCain.

You can’t help asking: Do two wives and a failed female CEO constitute diversity in Republicanland?


This Week in Elder News: 23 August 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.

There’s a controversy in Baltimore over the proposed construction of a retirement home that would be built on 17 acres of a country club that hardly anyone uses anymore. The residents of Roland Park are against it, but the space is needed in Baltimore, as everywhere, as the proportion of elders increases. I can’t help wondering if there would be as much outrage if the proposed building were a playground or school. Read more here.

Whatever complaints can be made about CNN and many are valid, I have a soft spot for Jack Cafferty. Maybe it’s that I’m familiar with him from more than 20 years on local news in New York City or perhaps I feel I have an ally in curmudgeonliness.

While I wasn’t paying attention, he seems to have begun an online-only op-ed type of column. Here is what he fears about Senator McCain.

My friend Sophy Merrick, who lives in London these days, sent this story about a controversy over a long-time traffic image warning drivers to slow down for elders. Some say it’s ageist and not representative of today’s old people. They are lobbying for a generic sign that would warn drivers to slow down for any reason. What do you think? Read more here.

Eldercrossing_2

Thirty-something Chris Collins who blogs at Fleep’s Deep Thoughts emails with some good suggestions for elders who need a little help reading things in their browser. Both apply to the new Firefox 3.0.1 (download here)

  1. Hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard and use your mouse scroll wheel to enlarge ANY webpage - text, images, graphics, anything in the browser window.
  2. The Fast Dial add-on for Firefox 3 gives you large icons in your default browser window for frequently visited websites. No more squinting at the bookmarks list for the sites you visit every day! Fast Dial is free and available here.

A new study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that fat doesn’t always mean unfit.

“…despite their excess pounds, many overweight and obese adults have healthy levels of ‘good’ cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and other risks for heart disease.”

And about 25 percent of slim people in the study whose weight falls into the “healthy” category carry at least two cardiovascular risk factors often associated with obesity. Read more here.

Among all the discouraging news in the world, it was fun to read about a bank in Missouri named – after the town where it is located – Tightwad Bank. Given current revelations in mortgage lending by the big banks, we could use a few more tightwad banks. More here.

If you live long enough, you will slow down, you will have some physical limitations. The trick is to adapt to your new circumstance. Sharon Brown, who lives on Kauai, sent this photo of a man who, served lemons in the form of a walker, has made lemonade. As Sharon explains:

"When we walked past him, I noticed the walker had a piece of PVC pipe strapped on the leg to hold the poles. His tackle bag was hooked around the rim and even a plastic sack was tied on to hold garbage. He smiled and wished us a good day. It was easy to tell he was enjoying his morning adventure."

Fishingwalker


The Poorest Elders

category_bug_journal2.gif My wallet was empty when I left for the Farmers’ Market Wednesday morning, so stopped at the ATM for $100 figuring I’d have enough left over for whatever comes up over the following few days.

At the Market I bought two melons, a lettuce, some blueberries ($7 a quart), blackberries and raspberries ($3.50 a half-pint), a bunch of four yellow beets, one huge tomato and a gorgeous peach.

To save a little gas, I have recently taken to doing my supermarket shopping on Wednesday too, on my way home from the Farmer’s Market. My list was short this week: yogurt and pineapple juice (for smoothies), a piece of fish for dinner, whipped cream (I’m not allowed, but the cat likes it as a treat), carpet spot cleaner (that cat throws up now and then), a good, whole grain bread ($4.29, up from $3.79 two weeks ago!), a pair of candles for the table and a bag of dry cat food.

On a whim, I picked up a pound of green grapes (Do you know how few that is? Grapes weigh a lot). Oh, and a box of three pot scrubbers. Ten items.

Near home, I realized I’d forgotten toothpaste, so I stopped at a drugstore and was shocked, when I opened my wallet to find only $20. How could that have happened?

I’ll admit I overdid on the amount of berries I bought, but not by that much.

This was not an extravagant shopping list, yet I spent $80! I don’t keep a close count, but not so long ago – only a few months - I would have expected to spend about $50 for the entire trip, both stores. CNN reported yesterday that food prices from July 2007 to July 2008 increased by 8.7 percent.

You have to ask what these folks are smoking. They certainly haven’t been in a grocery store lately; the increase is much higher over a year than 8.7 percent.

I won’t go hungry any time soon, but some people will – and some of them will be elders who have only Social Security to support themselves.

It doesn’t take much effort to find dozens of news stories about food banks and Meals on Wheels programs that are hurting financially and cutting back. Donations have dropped off, volunteers who can no longer afford the gas for delivery have quit and funding organizations have not increased their stipends.

For those of us not living in the deep South, the approach of winter is frightening. My heating fuel bill for the coming season is double what I paid last year and I’ll be turning down the temperature lower than even last year. Electricity costs are up too.

I’ll get by, but I fear for many elders and there doesn’t seem to be any planning or help coming from the government. Senator Barack Obama says he will eliminate income taxes for elders living on less than $50,000 a year. Well, first he must get elected (no guarantee) and then the legislation must get through Congress (no guarantee), so it won’t help any time soon.

And anyway, low-income people have small tax bills. Removing the tax won’t help enough at the rate of inflation we are experiencing which is predicted to increase even more.

In our May survey of elderbloggers, nearly 25 percent of 390 respondents reported annual incomes lower than $25,000.

income graph

Think of it. $25,000 is barely more than $2000 a month for shelter, utilities, transportation and food minus about $200 a month for Medicare and before the cost of any prescription drugs. Millions of elders live on much less than $25,000.

Unless we figure out some way to help the poorest elders, and do so within next couple of months, my own expenses tell me we will be hearing of elders dying from hunger, lack of needed drugs and freezing to death this winter.

It doesn't need to be this way. There is plenty of money in the U.S. It's just being distributed unfairly. Watch Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont explain why there is no money in poor people's pockets and think about what he says very carefully when you vote in November. [10:00 minutes]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Elizabeth Westbrook tells us about a friend who made A Bed For Drunk Robins.]


Wednesday Morning Farmers’ Market

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written any blog posts on political issues this week, be sure to get links to me by Friday for the Sunday Election Issues post. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, see this post.]

category_bug_journal2.gif It tells you something about my life that the day I most look forward to each week is Wednesday – Farmers’ Market Day at Monument Square in Portland, Maine. It lasts from about May to October and during that time, there is a constant shift in produce week-to-week as different fruits and veggies come into season, reach their peak and fade away when their day is done.

To my enormous disappointment, arugula is finished for the year as is a local pea hybrid with shells so crispy and sweet I eat them raw like candy. They last only two or three weeks, but there are other delights each time I visit.

The Market opens at 7AM and I like to be there early before the best is picked over. I left home yesterday at 7:30AM and noticed the hydrangea bush in front of the house is vaguely tinged with pink this year. Last summer it was pure white. What could have changed? No one I know of has been sticking pennies in the ground.

Hydrangea


It is only a five-minute drive to the Market, smack in the middle of town on Portland's main drag, Congress Street. This is my third year at the Farmers' Market and I've come to know the sellers now, so it is a social occasion in addition to stocking up for the week.

Even though the planting season is close to over, hot pepper plants are still for sale at the Farmers' Market. Not to my taste, but they’re weird, a bit alien and fun to look at.

Pepperplants


Every one of these tomatoes had reached the point of perfection – round, smooth and ready to burst with juiciness.

Tomatoperfection

Yesterday, I chatted with a woman named Elizabeth, clearly an older hand at the Market than I am. She waits until the end of tomato season to buy a large amount of the last, not-so-attractive tomatoes at cheaper prices, cooks them down into a thick sauce to freeze in bricks for winter when she can break off chunks to include in stews and soups as needed.

Terrific advice I will use this year. Although I bought one giant tomato weighing more than a pound at another stall, other delicacies were on my mind this week, like...

Row upon row of Maine’s specialty, blueberries, available at about half the stalls. These are cultivated, but there are wild ones too, smaller and usually sweeter. I buy both kinds while they are in season; each has its charms.

Blueberries


Strawberries are done for the year, but raspberries and wild blackberries are still here to go with the blueberries. I gorged on all three for a late breakfast when I got home.

Raspberriesblackberries


I took a little break from drooling over the food to get this photo of Millie Garfield’s favorite flower. Sunflowers are at their peak right now and it seems like every farmer grows some in addition to whatever else his or her specialty is. I like them this way in the subdued, early morning light.

Sunflowers


There are about 20 stalls at the Farmers’ Market packed with locally-grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, homemade jams and jellies and honey. Local means fresher – off the tree, bush or vine just yesterday instead of weeks on a train or truck - so they last a lot longer than supermarket produce.

My eyes nearly popped out when I saw French cherentais melons this week. I hadn’t had one since I was last in Paris 20 years ago because when they are available in Manhattan, they go for about $10 each. These were only a dollar a pound. The farmer said this is the first year he has grown them. I bought a cantaloupe too because I’ll undoubtedly have the entire cherentais for lunch today. Moderation is not among my skills.

Cherentais


Root vegetables are a feast for the eye at the Market. Those in the middle are yellow beets. They taste the same as red ones, but don’t discolor everything else in the salad or on the plate.

Rootveggies


I like the bunches of multi-colored radishes – I’d never seen any but red before moving to Maine. And on the far right are baby, white turnips – sweet and delicious when they are boiled and mashed, but I like them even better cut up raw in a salad.

Radishesturnips


The early morning light is dim, but Freedom Farm’s stall deserves special mention. I buy my lettuce, herbs and other greens there and the root veggies above are all from their organic farm. It is where I found the cherentais, and they also grow an exquisite, small watermelon, oblong in shape like an extra-large zucchini, with yellow flesh and an intense flavor that I finished in two days last week.

Freedomfarm

I shopped at farmers’ markets in Manhattan, but never with as much delight as I feel at this one. Winter arrives sooner and lasts longer in Maine than anywhere else I’ve lived, and maybe that’s what helps make this market the highlight of my week. (I've become such a boring old lady.)

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton "Sandy" Dickson explains what it took to get Elsie in a Bottle.]


Our Blog Friends

Over the past couple of months, I have received a fair amount of email from new readers wanting to know how to make friends online. Some ask for advice about starting a blog; others aren’t quite ready for that leap but would still like to connect with people their age.

In my own experience, I’ve found that it’s hard not to find friends if you jump in and make yourself part of the conversation on blogs. Darlene, now of Darlene’s Hodgepodge, had been a regular around the blogosphere for a couple of years before she began her blog, as had joared of Along the Way and Naomi Dagen Bloom of A Little Red Hen. I’m sure there are others who don’t come to mind right now.

There are also non-blogging readers we come to know through their comments (and at this blog, from their contributions to The Elder Storytelling Place) and with some, we further the friendship through email. In the TGB Blogging Survey in May, half of the 187 who responded to the question (all were age 50 or older) said they had made friends through blogging.

blog friends graph

In a follow-up question, nearly 32 percent of the 373 who answered the question described their relationship with blog friends as “good friends” or “as important as real world friends."

blog relationships

Sometimes we get to meet our online friends in person. I’ve been pleased to meet quite a few: Claude of Blogging in Paris, Millie of My Mom’s Blog, Pete of As I Was Saying…, Marian Van Eyk McCain of ElderWomanBlog, amba of Ambivablog, Frank Paynter of listics, Betsy Devine of Betsy Devine: Funny Ha-Ha or Funny Peculiar, Francine Hardaway of Stealthmode, Deejay of Small Beer, younger bloggers like Chris Pirillo of pirillo.com and Stan James of Wandering Stan and more (apologies to those unnamed).

I've known some of these people for years - they have become old friends now as have others there has not been the opportunity to meet (yet).

Although it is unlikely I’ll ever get on airplane again unless it’s a matter of life and death, wherever I go, I check to see if there are elderbloggers in the city to which I’m traveling and if we can make time to get together. Also, I’m surprised at how many bloggers I know online have reasons to visit so far afield as Portland, Maine. Citizen K and I are making arrangements now to meet when he and his wife are here in September.

Just guessing, but my closest friends are now split about evenly between offline and online, and those with whom I’m closest are equally important, whichever "world" they fall into; whether I know them in person or at the distance of a keyboard.

A sad result of getting old is how friends tend to die. One here, one there and pretty soon you’re talking about big-time holes in your life. The memories of old friends are wonderful to have, but it’s hard to meet them for dinner or have a phone chat.

Which is a big reason I work hard to advocate elderblogging. In retirement, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace, we may need to give up the car keys and sometimes physical mobility becomes limited. But sitting at the computer, we have a literal world of potential friends at our fingertips.

All you need to take advantage of that is to be open, join the conversation (don’t lurk for too long) and follow up with those for whom you feel a simpatico. And bloggers – be sure to welcome newcomers when you see their names in the comments more than once. Help bring them into the world of elderblogging and the world of friendship it creates.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins is back with another poem, Golfer's Lament.]


Exercise: What’s Your Excuse?

category_bug_journal2.gif A couple of months ago, The New York Times published a story by long-time health reporter, Jane Brody, about the importance of exercise for elders. Considering the amount of information it covers, the story is remarkably short and simple. Even so, it could be boiled down further to these salient points that should be burned in our brains:

Fact: As they age, people lose muscle mass and strength, flexibility and bone.

Fact: The resulting frailty leads to a loss of mobility and independence.

The last two facts may sound discouraging. But they can be countered by another. Regular participation in aerobics, strength training and balance and flexibility exercises can delay and may even prevent a life-limiting loss of physical abilities into one’s 90s and beyond.

Every time we discuss end-of-life issues here at TGB, it is universally agreed that no one wants to wind up unable to care for themselves. We all know the best way to ensure we remain healthy for as long as possible is to eat intelligently AND EXERCISE. But many of us do not.

Although a good exercise regimen should, as Ms. Brody notes, include aerobics and strength training along with something for flexibility and balance, some experts, aware of how negligent many people are about exercise, suggest that five, 30-minute brisk walks a week can go a long way toward staving off infirmity.

How hard is that? 30 minutes a day. Some fresh air. Time for mental stillness. And doing yourself a big health favor. Still, it doesn’t get done. At least, not in my house.

For several months, when I first moved to Portland, Maine, I walked for an hour every morning, seven days a week. I was new to the neighborhood, there was much to see and learn about the area, and I looked forward to it – for awhile, until it wasn’t so new anymore. You know how it goes: “Oh, I’ll skip today. Six days in a week would be okay.”

Then it's five, four and soon enough winter is here and I might slip on the ice or snow. Never mind that I see people on daily walks down the middle of the street (not many cars in this town) where the snow is worn away.

About a year ago, Claude Covo-Farchi started a blog, ElderExercise, as a support group for elders to encourage one another in keeping up their exercise routines. I was invited, but didn’t join. I knew from past experience that I would not maintain it – with or without encouragement – and didn’t want to feel more guilt than I already do.

I did attend twice-weekly t’ai chi classes for a year and actually learned enough to practice it at home. Still do, now and then, but not often enough. I’ve joined gyms about half a dozen times throughout my life only to let it drift after a month or two. I despise those machines, the blaring music and the general ambience of a lot of buff 20-somethings using the place as a singles bar.

But that’s just another excuse, like deliberately getting involved with a book or magazine or playing with the cat on my way to picking up those cute pink barbells in the bedroom.

So I tell myself to get back to walking every day as I did during the first months after I moved here. Set a time every day and work the rest of my schedule around it; that would be a start. But I have all kinds of excuses not to walk, let alone do anything more vigorous than push the vacuum cleaner around once a week:

  • Oh, the sky is getting dark, it might rain while I’m out. Better stay home.
  • I haven’t written a post for tomorrow. No time to walk.
  • I should cook that chicken before it rots. Can’t go out while the oven’s on.
  • So much email, so little time. Better get to it.
  • It’s 82 degrees today. Too hot to walk.
  • I really should take care of that bank business. Too far to walk, I’ll have to drive.
  • Oops, late dinner appointment tonight. Better have a nap instead.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. The depth of the stupidity of my excuses is beyond measurement. Oh, how I miss New York City where walking is integrated into everyday activities. You can do five miles there without noticing it. However, that is not my reality now and lamenting it is nothing more than another stupid excuse.

According to Miriam E. Nelson, who is director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston,

“…with every increasing decade of age, people become less and less active.

“But,” Dr. Nelson said, “the evidence shows that with every increasing decade, exercise becomes more important in terms of quality of life, independence and having a full life.”

The New York Times, 24 June 2008

So the question today is, for those who are as lazy as I am, what is your best dumbest excuse for not exercising? Maybe we can shame ourselves into getting off our butts.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz, an ex-pat in Turkey, explains how it came to be that where she lives there is No Such Thing as a Homeless Chicken.]


Sunday Election Issues - 17 August 2008

category_bug_politics.gif This Sunday post is a collection of links to elderblog stories about the issues that are important to understand in making our choices on who to vote for in the November election. You can read the original post announcing this feature here.

Education
• From Elaine Frankonis at Kalilily Time: Technology in the Classroom

The Race Issue
• From Sylvia K of The View From Over the Hill: Black or White – It Still Comes Down to Racism

Voting Rights
• From Gary White of Having Fun Until I Die: What Elders Can Do For Democracy

American Foreign Policy and Empire
• From Jan Adams of Happening-Here: Georgia on My Mind

Senator John McCain
• From Rain at Rainy Day Thoughts: McCain - Our Next President?

• From Ronni Bennett: No link here, just a question: Will someone explain to me why John Edwards is being crucified for philandering while an actual presidential candidate has been given a pass for cheating on his crippled wife with an heiress 20 years his junior and then divorcing his wife to marry the heiress who bankrolled his political career?

Marital infidelity is so common that I don’t include it among my criteria for making choices among politicians. However, if it is a “crime” for one politician to have cheated on his wife, shouldn’t the punishment be applied equally to all?

Corporate Accountability
• One of the issues not much addressed so far in this election cycle is lack of corporate accountability, exacerbated by many policies of Republicans in general and the Bush administration in particular. Here’s a ruefully amusing video on that topic titled Insurance Company Rules. [1:42 minutes]


This Week in Elder News: 16 August 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.

I don’t like admitting that I missed the 73rd birthday of Social Security last Thursday, 14 August. To make up for my lapse, below is a short video statement from James Roosevelt, the grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who signed the Social Security legislation in 1935. [1:02 minutes] You can read about the creation of Social Security here and about its 73rd birthday celebration here.

A new survey shows – in Britain, anyway – that women begin using anti-wrinkle creams at the tender age of 28. “Do any of these creams really make us look younger?” asks Bryony Gordon who is, herself, 28?

“No," she answers, "they just work by making you feel older. And when you spend your life trying to turn back the clock, you only end up missing what is staring at you in the mirror - and that's a face which is probably not half as bad as the beauty companies would have you believe.”

Now that’s a young woman after my own heart. Read more here.

According to a study from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Medicare Part D insureds paid $3.7 billion more in 2006 and 2007 for the top 100 prescription drugs than they would have paid if they were covered under Medicaid which, unlike Medicare Part D, is allowed to negotiate prices. More details here.

Former presidential candidate, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Dem, OH), has introduced The Medicare Drugs for Seniors Act (H.R. 6800) that would require Medicare to negotiate prices, among other important provisions. Read Rep. Kucinich’s statement here.

Nancy Belle, who works and blogs for Erickson Retirement Communities, writes:

“The stigma of age is tied heavily to the stigma of 'those retirement homes'. We [Erickson homes] are not places for the end of life. We are for living life.”

To help change public perception of retirement homes, Erickson has produced a new television commercial [:31 seconds] and Nancy, who is a good friend of Time Goes By, is wondering if you think it makes the point. You can let her know here.

When you don’t have old people around to check facts with, it can embarrass your company and undermine its brand. Can you spot the mistake in this screen grab of a promotional email from boomer/senior website eons.com last week?

Hogfarmer2

Hint: “Hog FarmER tent???” I don’t think so. I was there. In the tent. And anyway, back in the day, the Hog Farm was widely known. Mistakes like this are as jarring as an airplane above the desert in an old western movie and in this case, makes a company that targets elders look foolish.

Eighty-three-year-old James Hoyt died last week. Never heard of him? In 1945, as a private first class, he was one of the original four GIs who liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. Read this touching and historical obituary.

You know how a song gets stuck in your head and won’t go away? I was plagued this week with Mairzy Doats which I don’t believe I had heard or thought about in more than 20 years. At the risk of driving you nuts too (why shouldn’t you suffer with me?), here’s a modern version done in 1940s style. [1:44 minutes]


Elder Fashion – An Oxymoron

[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you have written anything this week about issues related to the upcoming election, please get a link to me today so I can include it in the Sunday Election Issues post.]

category_bug_journal2.gif In a recent email exchange, Nancy B of eChronicles lamented how difficult it is to find clothing designed for elder women’s body shapes. As it happens, the same thing had been on my mind recently, although my mood about it tends toward more ire than lament.

‘Tis the season for bargains in summer clothes – a good time to buy for next year - but as I peruse the catalogues that pour in, I see more transparent blouses and even pants than much of anything that actually covers a human body. The euphemism this year for transparent, by the way, is “gauze.” Perhaps there are so many left over because even younger women don’t want to be seen in public looking naked.

With few exceptions, even with sellers such as Coldwater Creek that supposedly cater to heftier bodies, there are fewer elastic waists on pants than in the past. In my case, that means when a pair fits my hips, the waist can’t be closed since mine – and that of many other elder women - long ago expanded to equal the size of our hips.

With the possible exception of the few Katharine Hepburn types of older women, everyone’s waist thickens with age. What are designers thinking? Certainly not about older women.

In blouses and tops, they are enamored of so-called boat necks that lie about two inches below the back of one’s neck. There aren’t many older women who don’t get a bit beefy in that area as we get older and it’s not something I want to show off. Aside from turtlenecks, a large number of sweater styles meant for cold weather are designed with boat necks too. (Also, too many collarless jackets are cut low at the back of the neck.)

Lately, I’ve been buying winter sweaters in the men’s department. The necks are located in the same place as human necks, they hang much more nicely than women’s sweaters and aren’t made in clingy fabrics.

It is nearly impossible to find a suit that fits an older body. Designers just add fabric for larger sizes without considering differing proportions so that if a jacket fits at the shoulders, it is unlikely to button at the waist. A larger size results in shoulder seams halfway down one’s upper arms while the matching pants or skirt are then baggy.

Lack of thought in design applies to shirts too. Given my shape these days, I like what are called “big shirts” to wear with pants, but those too are missing proportion in petite sizes (I’m just under 5’ 2”). They are so long, I look like an eight-year-old wearing daddy’s shirt. The problem is that clothes are originally proportioned for 5’ 8” and above models, and in sizing down for petites, short legs and short waists are ignored.

And why do the few dresses designed without waists all look like muu-muus of the 1950s – totally shapeless? There are numerous ways to cut and sew fabrics to give some style to dresses without waists, but no attempt is made to do this.

And don’t go telling me to shop in big-size stores or whatever the polite phrase is for fat-girl shops. Those clothes too are designed for younger bodies that although they are larger than clothes for skinny girls, are created for young, not old, proportions.

Our bodies begin to thicken about the time we start menopause (our forties for most of us) and although there were more than 52 million women in the U.S. 45 and older in the 2000 census (37 percent of the female population), and a few million more now, we are the forgotten women in the rag trade. One of the ways old people are maligned is our lack of style in dressing. Don't blame us. It's the fashion industry which has not given one second's thought to how our body shape differs from that of a 20-year-old.

If there are any fashion designers reading this who wouldn't scoff at making a fortune off us elders, give me a call. I know a whole lot more about what’s needed to reach our market and I’ll give it to you for free just to have something to wear that fits and is attractive.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek gives us his Reflections on a 64-Year-Old Photo.]


Exhorbitant Drug Price Increases

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.]

“Drug companies are quietly pushing through price hikes of 100 percent or even more than 1,000 percent for a very small but growing number of prescription drugs, helping to drive up costs for insurers, patients and government programs.

“The number of brand-name drugs with increases of 100 percent or more could double this year from four years ago, researchers from the University of Minnesota say. Many of the drugs are older products that treat fairly rare, but often serious or even life-threatening, conditions.

“Among the examples: Questcor Pharmaceuticals last August raised the wholesale price on Acthar, which treats spasms in babies, from about $1,650 a vial to more than $23,000. Ovation raised the cost of Cosmegen, which treats a type of tumor, from $16.79 to $593.75 in January 2006.

“The average wholesale price of 26 brand-name drugs jumped 100 percent or more in a single cost adjustment last year, up from 15 in 2004, the university study found. In the first half of this year, 17 drugs made the list.”

USA Today, 8 August 2008

It is not a "free market" when producers can arbitrarily push through price increases at will for products people need to survive, and nothing can be done to stop them. Where is the pressure to lower prices?

By some bizarre logic, we are expected to accept the "workings of capitalism" when companies raise prices by 100 percent, and we are supposed to object to our government acting to bring prices down by increasing competition.

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, Susan Fisher tells us how she learned the kid-friendly explanation for thunder The Angels are Bowling.]


Summer in Portland, Maine

category_bug_journal2.gif It's been a long time since I've posted photographs. Getting out, even on my deck has been difficult; it has rained - heavy, soaking rains - more days than not throughout spring and summer. I haven't lived here long enough to know for certain, but it appears now that fall has already arrived. The days are mostly cloudy, when it's not raining, and cool with temperatures in the low- to mid-60s.

I'm not complaining. I like cool, cloudy weather.

Last winter, the local media tells us, gave us one of the heaviest snowfalls on record, more than twice as much as average. I can attest to that, having lost track about midway through snow season of how many times I dug out my car. This was one of the last, big storms, probably in late March.

Streetsnow


The deck is covered and doesn't get too much snow, but it looks rather desolate in winter and hard to recall that it flourishes during midyear.

Decksnow


They tell me here that you can't begin a garden until after 30 May; it might still freeze at night. When I was in New York in April, the tulips and daffodils were already in bloom in the sidewalk planters, but even in June, my deck garden looked sparse. (Note those lilacs on the other side of the fence.)

Junegarden


One morning in June, this appeared in the sky off my deck. What is it about rainbows that make us feel happy?

Rainbow


Remember the lilacs two photos up? The tree - it's much bigger than a bush - is in a neighbor's yard, but the branches overhang my deck, so I cut stole a few this year for the dining table. It is my favorite flower scent - it nearly makes me swoon.

Lilacs


Two months later, in early August, the deck garden has filled out, but I doubt the adjective "lush" can be applied in Maine where the growing season is so short.

Augustdeck


Nevertheless, the fresh-green color of the sweet-potato vine cheers me on rainy days and I have always liked the simplicity of plain, white petunias.

Vine_petunias


They were given a whole new look one recent morning during a pink-hued dawn.

Pinkvine_petunias


Speaking of pink, this photo almost does the color of this geranium justice, but not quite. In life it is even deeper and more sensuous.

Pinkgeranium


Second only to lilacs, the aroma of hyssop sends me into reveries. This is the most successful group I've grown in Maine and the honeybees think so too. Except in the heaviest rain, they are there every day.

Hyssop


But the real reason for this post today is to celebrate the fourth birthday of my furry companion, Oliver. He has not been allowed on the deck due to this misadventure last year. Which undoubtedly accounts for his pensive mood. I think today, this afternoon, I'll allow him some time out even though it means a lot nagging from him for more.

Ollie2008_08

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clair Zargas explains how she learned the hard - and funny - way about being one of those with Tenderfeet.]


Exercises in Political Inanity

category_bug_politics.gif Congress is on a long vacation, so elected officials and appointees aren’t available now for the Sunday political talk shows out of Washington which leaves TV folks talking to themselves. This an exchange that took place last Sunday on ABC-TV’s This Week hosted by George Stephanopoulos. The speakers are Cokie Roberts, an ABC political analyst, and Victoria Clarke:

ROBERTS: …As we've talked about before, in this year that should be such a Democratic year given all the other indices, he is tied in the polls and stage-sided in the polls and going off this week to a vacation in Hawaii -

VICTORIA CLARKE: (former Pentagon spokeswoman): Right.

ROBERTS: - does not make any sense whatsoever. I know his grandmother lives in Hawaii and I know Hawaii is a state, but it has the look of him going off to some sort of foreign, exotic place. He should be in Myrtle Beach, and, you know, if he's going to take a vacation at this time.

CLARKE: Well, and -

ROBERTS: And I just think that, you know, this is not the time to do that.

This may be one of the slimiest or, maybe, dumbest attacks on a candidate I’ve ever heard. Here is video of the entire conversation (with some extraneous material) and no one on the panel challenges Ms. Roberts. [1:43 minutes]

Senator Barack Obama spent some of his childhood years in Hawaii, his grandmother still lives there and why shouldn’t the senator take a few days off with his family, especially in these doldrums of the dog days of summer leading up to the Democratic Party Convention in a couple of weeks?

What good are political pundits? All they ever talk about is strategy as if they were experts at running campaigns, which they are not. Why aren’t they giving us background, history and potential options and solutions on the crucial issues facing our country? It is not like there is any dearth of them to talk about. But I have not seen a single documentary - even a short one – in mainstream TV media with any useful information about the economy, global warming, fuel and food prices, water shortages, Iraq and Afghanistan, healthcare, immigration and everything else.

Print media is no better. Where are the in-depth investigations of these same issues laying out how we got in these messes, comparing the candidates’ proposals and vetting them against facts?

You won’t find them in The New York Times or the Washington Post or local newspapers or Time or Newsweek and U.S. News - although the last at least makes a stab at it now and then.

I began subscribing to the three news weeklies in high school, so that’s about half a century of reading them. It’s not that I need the news; I read daily papers for that. But they served to catch me up on anything of importance I missed and because they are so deeply middle-brow, they kept me informed on the tenor of the times.

That hasn’t been so for a long time. These days the first 25 or 30 pages of the news weeklies – often more than a third of the magazine – is taken up with out-of-context quotes, silly lists of basest of pop culture, two- or three-sentence “overviews” of complicated events, subjective scorecards of what’s in or out and who’s winning and losing at – well, it’s hard to know.

God help us, the back page commentary in Time this week is, inanely, about what kind of dog the next president should have in the White House. The choice, according to columnist Nancy Gibbs, is “critical.”

Years ago when it was my job to know which celebrities were marrying, divorcing, in rehab or sleeping around, I often joked that I had got my reading of People magazine down to four minutes flat. I can do that with the news weeklies now and I’ve decided to drop them next time renewals come due. There is nothing there I can’t get online and anyway, in the 24-hour news cycle we live with, they have become an anachronism. Time is writing about Paris Hilton’s McCain rebuttal video this week - so two weeks ago.

There is much more good information online. Google Alerts bring me daily lists of links on any topic I set up. Sure, some of it is trash, but a lot isn’t. You quickly get to know which links to click.

There are hundreds of newspapers and magazines and aggregators online with better information and commentary than the weeklies. There are scholarly publications, too, from the left, right, center and even the edges of sanity with more depth than anything mainstream media has offered in years.

And among the ignorant political blogs are others from hard-working bloggers who, with none of the resources and contacts of big media, scour the web on their topics of interest – subjects crucial to all our futures - and bring together the best reading there is on them with links to the original material. On television, South Park has more interesting points of view on social issues and some political ones than many of the trivial TV pundits although I appreciate Bill Moyers' long and well-prepared interviews, but those are available online too.

If sliming Senator Obama for taking a short break in one of the 50 states (I suspect Hawaii would have something to say about being branded less American than Myrtle Beach) is what Cokie Roberts and her cohorts think is politics, it’s time to stop hanging on to outdated media and switch to the web full time. There is real information here.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Hillin reminds us how evocative scents can be in A Smell From the Past.]