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The Oldest Old Project: Nancy Leitz

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am out of town for several days this week. In my absence, are stories from five elders and/or bloggers who have contributed to what I am calling The Oldest Old Project. They had to be at least 80 to participate and I asked how their lives had changed in the 20 or more years since they were 60. Today, Nancy Leitz, who does not blog, but is a frequent contributor to The Elder Storytelling Place.]

I will start by saying that I will be 80 years old in two months. EIGHTY! That can't be. I am only a young girl in my mind.

But, Ronni wants us to start at the beginning of what they say is old age (60 years), so I will do that.

In 1988, I was 60 years old and had been selling real estate for years. I was a bundle of energy who could go through 10 houses in a day; up the stairs, down the stairs, through the garage, pet the dog, thank the owner and on to the next place.

I worked seven days a week when necessary and many evenings were spent writing contracts and negotiating sales. When that got too much for me I began working for a large builder selling beautiful new homes. The commissions were nice and because I was getting a bit older than I was when I started in this business, I took a partner to ease the burden of working every day of the week. That worked out well because my husband, Roy, and I loved to travel and this gave me both the time and the money to go wherever we wanted to go.

So, now you know that I had a job, a husband and, last but certainly not least, four married children and eight grandchildren, two brothers (one, the former pope), a sister and a large extended family of mostly nieces and nephews.

I just reread that and ended by singing “and a partridge in a pear tree."

The one thing that we had that was most valuable to us was a sense of humor. We could find something to smile about in almost any situation. It's a good thing, too, because we fell back on that humor many times. In our darkest hours, and thank God there weren't many, we found something to laugh about.

Because of my working arrangement with my business partner, I had time to read and
travel. I had loads of energy and devoted most of it to family affairs. I knew everybody's birthday and anniversary and never failed to send cards to all to let them know I was thinking of them. My health was excellent. I belonged to the health club at our local hospital and did aerobics three days a week, but I was starting to feel older and made jokes like saying my Social Security number was 3. One of my younger associates joked that when Moses came down from that mountain, he was carrying the Ten Commandments and my real estate license.

One big change in my life came in my early 60s. All my life I had been very thin. No matter what I ate I could not gain a pound. THEN, Ta Da, after the big Six O, I began to gain weight. My metabolism had retired! It was gone; forever, I eventually found out.

One Mother's Day, a package arrived from our daughter, Carol. It was a gift for me and it was a very pretty top and shorts set. I took the shorts out of the box and held them up and Roy and I started to laugh. They were GIGANTIC. I said, "What is our Carol thinking, sending me these shorts? Look at the size of them. They would fit an elephant."

After we had laughed for awhile at the huge shorts I went upstairs and tried them on; they fit PERFECT!

Fast Forward: 1993. Five years later. I am 65 and collecting Social Security. Roy and I are still traveling; he is still working. This year we took a cruise through the Panama Canal and loved it. Absolutely no health problems on my part but Roy's diabetic symptoms are starting to become more evident and we take extra precautions to keep them in check.

Roy's brother died and left us a small cottage on the Perkiomen Creek. It was in shambles. We had built a cottage on the same property when our kids were little and that one was in excellent condition, so we started fixing up the one we called "Ernie's Place" after his brother.

We scraped and painted and lugged old furniture out and new stuff in. It was hard work but we were both up to it and enjoying every minute of the challenge. It took us more than a year but in the end, the place was really spiffy and the whole family spent weekends there boating, swimming and eating. Still remembering everybody's birthday and now had a great place in the country to have a party for birthdays and holidays.

1999: Six years later. Roy has retired and the circulation in his right leg is slowing. He is very compliant with the diabetic rules the doctor has ordered and he tests his blood sugar several times a day and eats and takes insulin accordingly. We are still traveling and have discovered that cruising is the best way to travel. We went all over the Mediterranean in 1995, and in 1997, did all of Scandinavia and Russia on Royal Caribbean.

By now I am having trouble both with my thyroid and high blood pressure. I have a wonderful doctor who tried out several medications to correct both ailments and by taking two pills and two vitamins a day I am in good shape but definitely slowing down.

The first thing to go was the birthday and anniversary cards. I began to forget dates and spent a lot of time apologizing for not remembering birthdays. I solved that by having the whole family to the cottage for a giant birthday party for everyone. It was fun and it took off all the pressure I had to remember dozens of dates every year. I am still exercising and feel terrific if a bit slower. Don't forget I am 71 years old now.

In the year 2000, we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary by taking our four children and their spouses and children on a cruise to Bermuda. It was an inspiration to do that because we had a wonderful time and everyone was delighted to have a whole week to be with each other.

There were 19 of us in our group including my sister. The younger folks rented scooters and went snorkling and visited the pink sand beach. Roy and I didn't do any of those things. We visited the historic places and hired a guide to take us around the island.

Sometimes we forget how old we are and think we can do the things we used to do easily, like ride a bicycle. I hopped on one in Bermuda thinking I could ride along on it just like I used to do, but it only took two minutes for me to realize that was not true. I jumped off just short of falling. I won't do that again. Another fun thing bites the dust!

After the trip to Bermuda, we found out that the kids and spouses had planned a wonderful 50th wedding anniversary party for us and our friends. We weren't expecting that, but were delighted. It's a good thing it was not to be a surprise because we had booked a 10-day bus trip through several national parks and the tour started the day after the party.

So, we flew to South Dakota and the tour began and so did the trouble with the circulation in Roy's right leg. His leg ached constantly and he had to sit down quite a bit. Then, getting on and off of a bus 10 times a day and walking a lot took its toll on both of us. I was astonished when I realized that I was getting tired after walking only a short distance. I was used to walking for miles and this was something new. Both the circulatory problems in Roy's leg and my blood pressure were becoming more of a concern to us and to our doctors.

In 2003, my health was under control but the senior moments were happening more frequently. I could never think of the person's name I wanted to mention. I learned that the best way to deal with that was just to stop trying to think of it and the name would POP into your head about two minutes later when you weren't even thinking of it. But it was, and still is, very annoying.

And there was no point asking Roy because the minute I said, "What was that fellow's name we met at the hospital?" poor Roy would go white under the pressure of the moment and the name was lost to him, too. What a pair we were becoming. But, this was minor compared to what was to come.

The pain in Roy's leg was getting much worse as the circulation decreased. His doctor put him on new medicine that was supposed to help with that but nothing worked and the pain was worse. We were sent to a vascular surgeon who did not offer much hope but did suggest several things we could do.

They took a vein out of the top of Roy's leg and put it in the lower leg hoping to improve the circulation but that didn't help. The next thing was called interventional radiation. In that procedure they tried to open the vein and insert a stent to hold it open but that was not successful either.

Nothing we or the doctors tried helped in any way and the leg just got worse and more painful as the circulation went down even more. In the end Roy's right leg had to be amputated below the knee on New Year's Eve 2003. By the time he actually lost the leg, the pain was so intense he said the amputation was a relief.

Now it is 2008, and we just had a party to celebrate our 80th birthdays. Roy was 80 in January and I will be 80 in December so we settled on July for the celebration. We invited 100 people to a luncheon buffet and dancing and were very pleased that 96 people attended.

Our health is very good. Both of us have slowed down considerably but we haven't stopped. Roy walks in his artificial leg so well you would never guess he was disabled. He had his car modified so that he could still drive it but with his left foot. When we get in the car the first thing he does is take his leg off and put it in the back seat. This means that when we stop I have to go around and get his leg and take it to him.

You should see the looks I get as I walk around the car with his leg with a shoe and sock on it. I see people looking and I just smile which lets them know that it is okay to ask me about it. People are so nice. They all want to help but we don't really need any help.

We are both still very active and happy and live in the same home we have been in since 1965. We pretend it is a condo and put away the maintenance fee we would pay at a condo every month and with that money we hire people to do all the things we are not up to anymore. Grass cutting, snow removal and painting, etc. That works out well for us and we hope we stay in this phase of our lives for at least a few more years. So far, so good !!!!!!!

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins is back with another poem, September Twins.]


The Oldest Old Project: Ramona Moorman

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I am out of town for several days this week. In my absence, are stories from five elders and/or bloggers who have contributed to what I am calling The Oldest Old Project. They had to be at least 80 to participate and I asked how their lives had changed in the 20 or more years since they were 60. Today, Ramona Moorman who runs a newspaper in Marcellus, Michigan, but I’ll let her tell you about that.]

Yes, I am one of the old, old, having just celebrated my 80th birthday last month. It has amused me to learn people between the age of 50 and 60 consider themselves elders.

There have been big changes in my life between 65 and 80. The biggest challenge I faced during the years was becoming a widow at the age of 71, and consequently inheriting my husband’s lifelong career.

He had been the editor/publisher of one of two small-town, weekly newspapers we have owned since 1950. When his health began to fail a couple months before he died in 1999, I began helping him publish the newspaper. I had not previously been very involved in the business.

For most of my married life I was a stay-at-home Mom with four children. At 50 years of age, a friend of mine and I started a wallpaper decorating business. Both of us had been very active and busy in our community as volunteers, but decided it was time for a change. After retiring from the business, it was back to volunteering, until I took on the role of editor/publisher.

My husband’s funeral was on a Sunday and the next day, putting one foot in front of the other, with the help of my children and friends, we got the paper out and I have been doing so since then. Yes, it has been a challenge, but a rewarding one. One, which to me, has become more of an enjoyable hobby, rather than a duty.

Fortunately, I received a computer as a gift for my 70th birthday. Had I not learned to use it, it would have been very difficult for me to take over publishing the paper. Watching me use the computer and seeing that the results would be suitable for composing the newspaper, my husband purchased a computer for one of his employees to replace a clunky, smelly, hard-to-use Compugraphic machine. Soon after I became the publisher we were completely computerized.

I chuckled when I read Steve’s comment to your September 22 column. I don’t think anyone reading our weekly newspaper considers it “fluff.” I have been involved in peace and justice, nuclear freeze and women's movements since the late 70’s. Naturally, our newspaper now reflects my interests and we took an early stand in opposition to the Iraq War and to the Bush regime.

My small village is in the midst of a heavily Republican area and needless to say, many critical and harsh letters to the editor were received, nevertheless people kept on subscribing. And, has the nation, the majority of people in our area now oppose the war.

What is important to me at my age really hasn’t changed a great deal from when I was younger. Family, friends, work, community, life-long learning and trying to “make a difference” has always been important.

Of course, physical activities have changed. I used to enjoy tennis, bowling and cross-country skiing, but now enjoy other less physical demanding activities. I have also learned to turn over to others some of the heavier household activities that I used to enjoy.

Years ago, I used to take part in peace marches and protests, not only in our area but also in Washington, D.C. and Chicago. Now, I stand for peace in our village on one Saturday a month.

Thankfully, I can say that my life at 80 years of age is good, I am contented. I am also grateful for the change in my personal life that computers and the internet have brought.

The internet has enlarged my world. Although I spend a lot of time reading books, newspapers and periodicals, I find I rely more and more on the internet to keep me informed.

Although I don’t have a blog, I enjoy reading blogs; yours is a first-read every morning. There are many authors of blogs that I think would be great friends. Also, I find shopping on the internet for needs and gifts is much easier than having to go to stores. The only drawback to it is that I find book shopping on Amazon 1-click is sometimes too easy.

I am deeply troubled about the disastrous condition of our country and sincerely hope the November election will bring changes we desperately need. I am ashamed of the depressing legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Florence Hart Millo gives us more than one good reason her mother's entrepreneurship was important in My Mother's Business.]


Sunday Election Issues - 28 September 2008

category_bug_politics.gif This Sunday post is a collection of links to (mostly) 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.

Confusing Political Narratives
From Sylvia Kirkwood of The View From Over the Hill: Did Someone Say Clarity

Palin Video
From Lia of Yum Yum Café: Laurence Lessig on Palin [12:25 minutes]

More on Palin
From Naomi Wolf at Alternet: Has Sarah Palin Been Picked as the Titular Head of the Coming Police State?

Even More Palin – A Clever Idea
From Frank Paynter: Donate to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin’s Name

Origins of the Economic Mess
From David Wolfe of Ageless Marketing: The Financial Meltdown We're In Was Made Inevitable 35 Years Ago

McCain’s Diplomacy or Lack Thereof
From Darlene of Darlene’s Hodgepodge: More Reasons

The Kind of Leader We Need
From Elaine Frankonis of Kalilily Time: Too Smooth For Blue Collars?

Lies, Damned Lies and Way Too Much Money
From Lee Cantrell Speaks: Spinning Out of Control

Let’s Lighten the Mood
From Leah Aronoff: Venice Gondoliers For Obama [1:38 minutes]


This Week in Elder News: 27 September 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.

In addition today, at the bottom of the links list, Crabby Old Lady responds to readers’ answers to her neighbor nightmare posted last Thursday.

There is a terrific new blog called Advanced Style, created by three young people, Brianna, Ari and Erika. Brianna tells me the goal is to capture "awesome styles of New York's older men and women from the sophisticated and well-dressed to the accidentally stylish and colorful folks on the town." Here's a recent example.

Orange_in_harlem

The blog makes me smile and reminds me of one of the reasons I will always miss living in New York City - everyone seems to have a style that is all his or her own.

A more intimate kind of elder fashion was on display in Tokyo last Thursday: adult diapers in a range of types for people who are bedridden to those who are much more active.

"The fashion show itself was half camp, half instruction. Speakers blared oldie hits such as Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood as models jaunted on the stage with diapers pulled on over black tights."

Photos and more information can be found here.

According to one expert, “seniors are the only group in America that has been increasing its rate of voter turnout, especially in the 75-and-older range.” Elders of all ages vote at a rate 60 percent higher than young people. Find out more about how our age group is expected to influence the November election.

Although elders are among the hardest hit by the financial meltdown, there has been hardly any media attention. To their credit, a couple of reporters at The New York Times do recognize the problem. The conclusion of one of their experts?

“For older people, there is no upside to the distress. ‘They’ve got to adjust their expectations of retirement,’ said Martin Baily, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. ‘The market will recover, but you won’t.’”

There will be a lot more about this at Time Goes By in the near future.

Elders in New York City and around the country are taking college classes by telephone in a program called DOROT University Without Walls. There are 250 courses ranging from feng shui to poetry to philosophy and more.

"It gets me out emotionally. It releases me from the four walls around me," said Leeds, who has participated in the program for 12 years. Her fall selections include a course on the life and work of author Doris Lessing and a class on recording personal histories.”

Read more about it here.

The University of Reading in England finds in a study that simply increasing the size of link buttons in computer programs, browsers, websites, etc. greatly increases elder’s ability to use computers. In fact, younger people benefit too: “…expanding targets produced the same improvements in error rates and target selection times as for older people.” (Hat tip to Suzz of Suzzwords)

Any Social Security beneficiary knows that the annual increase in the Medicare Part B premium often comes pretty close to wiping out the Social Security cost-of-living increase. Good news this year: the premium will remain the same for 2009: $96.40 for 95 percent of Medicare beneficiaries.

Crabby Old Lady’s Neighbor Nightmare Update
One of the many benefits of the overwhelming response to Crabby’s Thursday request for help in dealing with her nightmare neighbor is emotional exhaustion. Yes, you read that correctly: a benefit.

While reading the numerous expressions of sympathy, outrage and suggestions in comments and many private emails, it was as though a hundred-pound burden had been lifted from Crabby's back. Tears flowed down her cheeks, probably in relief that so many understand how awful this has been for Crabby. It felt like two years of knotted muscles in her upper back finally untangled themselves.

As Crabby noted in the comments Thursday, selling her home is not feasible. The few sales of comparable properties these days are going for 12-15 percent below what Crabby paid for her condo. And now, having lost 30 percent of her retirement funds in the market meltdown, she cannot afford to take the real estate loss too, not the costs of a move itself. But there is another, equally important, reason: Crabby’s contrariness will not allow her give in to these cretins until she can move on her terms.

A huge difficulty in small condominiums (which Crabby experienced in her four-owner condo in New York City to a far lesser degree) is that the owners ARE the board. There is not the pressure of numbers in dealing with problem owners as there is in large condominium and co-op projects. And when one of the three owners, as in her current condo, is the constant transgressor and the second is disinclined to any kind of confrontation, nothing changes.

Before posting her rant last week, Crabby had stopped at the nearby fire station to ask about her options in any future burning in the cellar. The fireman said that as long as nothing is then in flames and there is no smoke, it is a police matter. Crabby should call them to investigate and follow through.

As soon as Crabby has a moment, she will, at the suggestion of some readers, stop by the police station to inquire about making nuisance and other reports. This is a small town and, as someone said, they will remember Crabby in the future.

One reader took the time to consult an attorney for Crabby who advised finding legal counsel. Paying by the hundreds of dollars an hour is not in Crabby's budget, but another reader with the same thought emailed suggestions for free or inexpensive legal services for elders and Crabby has found two in her area.

Many people mentioned the importance of documentation. Crabby hadn’t done that except for the emails she sent to the condominium owners requesting/demanding action on the incidents. Unfortunately, she lost all previous emails in a computer crash several months ago, so there is no written record of older incidents. But she will now carefully document occurrences in a separate file and photograph each one. And, having now collected the telephone numbers of the appropriate authorities – health, animal, non-emergency police, etc. – she will report each incident as it happens.

To give you an idea of the passive/aggressive nature of her neighbors, a few days ago in response to Crabby’s complaint about having her car blocked in the driveway (again), Dick had the balls to send around an email with this photograph showing marks on his door from Crabby banging on it with her key. Crabby had resorted to using her key after 15 minutes of knocking had bruised her knuckles which had started to bleed:

Dicksdoor

(The door is white, not gray) Dick “suggested” in the email that Crabby should use her knuckles or her foot instead. Crabby has not and will not respond to such unmitigated effrontery.

Crabby laughed through her tears reading the “get even” advice from some readers and she wishes it were in her nature. Mostly, she just wants this all to go away. Even if she would rather be in New York City or Portland, Oregon, a move is not affordable for the time being and she does love her apartment - her built-in library, her deck garden, having a guest room for the first time in her life and, don’t laugh, even having her own washer and dryer after four decades of hauling her laundry down the block and paying to have it done, is a weekly pleasure even if she does hate folding.

Crabby Old Lady, who sometimes through this ordeal thought she is the one who is nuts, wishes to thank all of you from the bottom of her heart for your support. What a great place the blogosphere can be.


Elders in Political Ads

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

category_bug_gayandgray.gif All too frequently, our culture keeps elders out of visible participation in media culture. Young and beautiful rules.

But I realized recently there's a surprising exception to this norm: a particular genre of political ads. Take, for example, this ad from the No on Prop. 8 campaign which is fighting the initiative to eliminate California's constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.

An attractive older heterosexual married couple plead directly with the viewers: "don't eliminate marriage for anyone," including their gay daughter. I think it is probably pretty effective. What do you think?

This ad is not unique in showcasing elders speaking to values. A story: in 2003 I had the privilege of working on part of the campaign to defeat California Proposition 54. This was a deceptive measure that would have prevented the state from collecting racial demographic information about people who used state programs. Proponents sold it as encouraging "color blindness." A coalition of civil rights advocates worked to defeat it because we feared its consequences: if no demographic data could be collected, it would become impossible to discover if very different populations were getting a fair shake.

In the 1990s, California had an unhappy history of voting for propositions like this. We were experiencing rapid racial diversification and many people weren't entirely comfortable with that, so we were susceptible to appeals to sweep racial classifications under a rug. But on this one, opponents pulled out a sweeping 64 percent victory.

How? We figured out that both the majority white electorate and the emerging communities of color would respond to the same pitch. The message was "by voting on this you'll make a life-and-death decision affecting every Californian. Proposition 54 would block information that can help save lives. It's bad medicine."

KoopWe had funds for just one TV ad to deliver that message. So we tested three sets of messengers. One was an attractive middle-aged female nurse. When opinion researchers measure who is trusted by the most people, nurses always rank very highly. We also had available to us many members of the cast of the show ER - then TV's most watched medical drama. So we tried out having them deliver the lines. Finally we tested Dr. C. Everett Koop, the retired Surgeon General of the United States and internet medical entrepreneur. If ever there was an archetypal grandfather, Koop fit the bill. I may not like him much, but I don't deny that.

Our focus groups found Koop by far the most believable messenger, so up he went and we blanketed the state with our ad. (Sadly, this was before YouTube, so I can't show you.) And we won, pretty much everywhere.

So why are visible elders so effective in some political ads? I have some theories.

Obviously, good political ads need to be attractive to elders because we vote much more reliably than other age groups. So it is not surprising that ad creators would show us some of our own.

But also, in a limited way, elders do bring a special authority to some elections that are really contests between conflicting visions of society's values. Most people, at least for the few minutes during which they cast their ballots, bring to elections a kind of civic communal consciousness that may be largely absent from most of our lives. If we vote, we do it in a mood of slightly solemn seriousness. (We often do this with jury duty as well I think.) And elders, despite our youth-oriented culture, bring a certain experiential authority that meshes well with that momentary communal consciousness.

And so, when campaigns are trying to urge people to come together about something that makes them anxious, elders make good spokespeople. And we elders get to see ourselves on TV in those moments.

Here's another specimen of Koop doing his grandfatherly curmudgeon bit for another campaign. Prop. 86 would have socked smokers with a cigarette tax, using the proceeds for health services. Koop couldn't beat the tobacco money that fought that one, but he gave it a good try.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, David Wolfe explains how he found a novel remedy for a malady that afflicts so many, titled Oh, My Aching Back.]


Crabby Old Lady Requests Your Advice

[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.]

During her years of blogging here, Crabby Old Lady has made many friends among elderbloggers and younger bloggers too. You're all smart and thoughtful and funny and creative and now, Crabby would like to take advantage of those qualities. She would like to consult you about a problem that has plagued her for more than two years. She would be pleased if you would indulge her.

Crabby lives in a tiny condominium – three owners who each have one floor of what, in New England, is called a “triple decker.”

A single man in his 30s owns the floor above Crabby (let’s call him Tom for today’s purposes). A single man in his 20s lives in the apartment below (let’s call him Dick), owned by his parents (they shall be called Harry and Louise today), who live a 90-minute drive north.

Crabby has lived in her Maine home for a bit more than two years - 28 months fraught with the most awful neighbor (Dick) she has ever encountered - even during four decades in New York City. His parents are no better.

The initial problem, when Crabby first bought her home in 2006, was being waked at about 2AM or so several nights a week by live, amplified music coming from below her bedroom, as loud as if she were standing next to the band stand in a nightclub.

When Crabby mentioned this at her first condo meeting a couple of months after she moved in, Harry said his son, Dick, is a “musical genius” and he must be able to play whenever the mood strikes him, so Crabby should buy ear plugs.

Crabby demurred and Harry insisted on his son’s “genius” and freedom to disturb the night. There was no resolution at the meeting. Later, Crabby convinced Dick to moving his music equipment to a room under her deck and she has since been able to sleep uninterrupted except – well, that comes later.

During the ensuing two years, the following has occurred:

Liquor bottles, beer cans and cigarette butts were and occasionally continue to be left on the front porch and sidewalk following Dick’s frequent, all-night parties. If she didn't sweep and pick up the mess, it wouldn't get done.

Ditto the small back yard.

Dick, Harry and Louise refused for more than a year to agree to a date for owners to get together to clean out more than a hundred cans of paint and other flammables left in the cellar by the renovators in 2005 – even after a fire department inspection demanded the immediate removal as a fire hazard. It was 15 months before Crabby could get the the all the owners to agree to a date and even then, she and Tom did most of the work and Crabby hauled the paint to the recycling center.

There is no garage and only a single-car-width driveway adjoining the building. To give owners a respite from street parking, each takes a week parking in the driveway, round-robin style. In the time Crabby has lived here, Dick has repeatedly parked behind her, locking in her car.

He almost never answers his door and Crabby has the bruised knuckles to prove it, most recently two weeks ago, pounding on Dick's door for 15 minutes at 9:30 at night, needing her car to pick up a friend at the airport.

Dick does not have a landline phone and his AT&T iPhone does not get service in his apartment. Crabby can never be certain, when she wants to use her car, that she will be able to.

In the spring of 2007, Dick bought a dog. When the handy man mowed the back lawn the first time that summer, dog poop flew up to his face. It took Crabby the entire summer with many emails and calls to Dick, Harry and Louise to get Dick to stop allowing the dog to poop in the yard and pick up the messes that were there.

Over last winter, instead of walking the dog, Dick allowed her to pee and poop in the cellar. Crabby discovered this in the late winter when, upon entering the cellar, the odor nearly knocked her over. Tom wasn’t too happy either when he discovered the dog had pooped and peed on the sailing equipment he stores in the cellar over the winter.

About once a month, Crabby is shocked awake at night by crashingly loud, recorded music from parties in Dick’s apartment. Each time, she must go downstairs (since Dick has no working phone) in her ratty, old pink robe (which she loves) and her flyaway, long, gray hair to make a spectacle of herself (publicly confirming her status as a crabby old lady) as she asks for the the music to be shut down. She hates doing that.

One day this past summer, Crabby found that the three trash bins in the back of the driveway were overflowing and more bags of trash, torn open by various nocturnal critters, were strewn in the driveway. The smell indicated that it was many weeks of accumulation. Since neither Crabby nor Tom uses the trash bins (preferring to place their bags and recyclables at the curb on the weekly trash night), it could only be Dick. It took a week after a cleanup request for Dick to do so.

Then, when Crabby went to the cellar last week, she was met with an overwhelming odor of something burning or having been recently burned. She immediately went on red alert, preparing to flee upstairs to grab Ollie the cat and leave. She was relieved there was no smoke, but she did see some burned bits of paper and small pieces of charred wood, obviously the origin of the odor. This wood-framed triple decker is more than 100 years old; a spark in the wrong place could destroy it in minutes.

In an email response to Crabby, Harry said he didn’t know who could have done this (really!?) and showed no evidence of concern.

As each of these incidents has occurred, Crabby has, in various moods and levels of anger, asked politely, demanded forcefully and she has lost it completely a couple of times, making a jerk of herself by shouting when these people have refused to take responsibility for the problems and, in the case of Harry, when he insists his son hasn't done these things.

In the time following the recent cellar burning, Crabby has become nervous about what will occur next since, apparently, there is no end to the nuisances, violations and disgusting behavior Dick can think up.

Here is Crabby’s dilemma: Although there is language in the condominium by-laws forbidding owners to do or allow anything to be done that is unlawful, disturbs or endangers other owners, lowers the value of the property, etc., the only penalty is a $25 fine after various notifications, re-notifications, waiting periods, etc. Nothing that is effective.

Does anyone have any ideas about what a Crabby Old Lady can do to get out from under this continuing nightmare?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sylvia Kirkwood has contributed a timely story titled A Personal Look at Color.]


Racism in the Presidential Race

category_bug_politics.gif I need a break today to take care of some pressing matters, so I am reprinting a post from Happening Here. Jan Adams (as many elderbloggers are) is doing excellent work at her blog about the election campaign, ruminating on it, reporting her efforts to get out the vote and passing on good stuff she finds.

Several recent polls suggest that racial prejudice will play a good-sized roll in the results of the November election. That's undoubtedly not news to anyone and although it is hard to gauge responses to survey questions about race, they offer some numbers. CNN has an overview.

And here is Jan’s post on the subtlety of racism in the campaign which she titled, "How Racism Works (campaign edition)":

Someone I don't know named Kelvin LaFond has written a letter to the editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that describes how racism works in the Presidential election with admirable brevity. I don't know whether that newspaper will/did print it, but I can reproduce it here [minor edits for clarity].

What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review? What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said "I do" to?
What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama were a member of the "Keating 5"?
What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does.

It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

Quickie From Ronni on a Different Topic: At the Senate Banking Committee bailout hearings yesterday, Treasury chief Henry Paulson said the reason he objects to including a provision to limit executive compensation and golden parachutes is that it "would discourage corporations from participating."

If that's all it would take to prevent them from accepting taxpayer money for their bailout, doesn’t it mean they don’t need the money? Just asking...

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz recounts an embarrassing moment in Clang, Clang, Clang Went the Trolley.]


The Elder Vote and Senator McCain

According to a recent Associated Press-GfK Poll conducted between September 5 and September 10, Senator Obama leads 61 percent to 35 percent among voters under age 30. In the same poll, Senator McCain leads Obama by 13 percentage points among elder voters. A new CNN poll says that seniors are now leaning more for Obama, but does not give numbers.

Crabby Old Lady is stumped wondering why old people are not choosing Obama in droves.

Over at DailyKos, there is a post from Downtowner, a grandmother herself, recounting a recent experience with her 82-year-old mother (I know some of you don’t read the boxed quotes; please do so today):

“She's worried, and tells me my aunt is worried as well. Wanted to say there is always room there if things get really bad for me or mine. I could sense she was really troubled, so I tried to reassure her, pointing out her Social Security is safe, no thanks to McCain.

“Now, my Mom is a Dem and has been a fan of Obama's for quite some time, so that was not intended as a persuasive dig, just a casual conversational one. But she seemed startled and asked what I meant.

“I said only that McCain was all for privatizing Social Security and was part of Bush's effort to do so and look where people's Social Security might be now if it was privately invested in the market. She freaked.

Downtowner’s mother called all her friends, many who were McCain supporters and explained McCain’s stand on Social Security. Downtowner continues:

“While she said some of her friends are still too stubborn to vote for Obama (which I am much afraid means some of them are too bigoted to) she claims not one of them will be voting for McCain now.

“Third rail indeed. And for this generation, who grew of age in the Great Depression, it seems it's more electric than anything. And while part of me hesitates to encourage the politics of fear - and make no mistake a threat to Social Security is a baseline fear for this generation - this is real fear of real consequences that this generation has experienced and wishes never to see visited on their children and their children's children.

“So call your Old People. Talk to them about Social Security - theirs, yours, your children's. They get it. Better than those of us who haven't lived in an America devoid of Social Security.”

(Hat tip to Jan Adams of Happening Here for the DailyKos story.)

Crabby Old Lady has never been an advocate of single-issue voting whether the issue is Social Security or abortion or anything else. But if that is what it takes to convince elders to give up their love affair with Senator McCain, call all the old people you know. If you are among us who are working to get out the vote for Obama, concentrate on elders – the young are already on board (and Crabby thanks them from the bottom of her heart).

Explain that Social Security is the single most successful social program in the history of the world. Without it, half the elders (and not a few disabled younger people) in the United States would be living in poverty.

Also, Social Security is not bankrupt or broken, as President Bush, McCain and others claim. It needs some minor tweaks (that will be discussed here before the election) which can be done without over-burdening anyone and there is time to get that done if the next president and Congress take it on during their first administration. Given his record, that would not be Senator McCain.

What he is saying this week, which is likely to change next week and maybe again the following week, McCain has a record of supporting the campaign to privatize Social Security. If such a program had been in effect last week when the market tanked, beneficiaries would have lost up to half their Social Security account. The current market will – eventually – stabilize and improve. Sometime after that, it will just as certainly go down again. That’s the way markets work.

Social Security, as was confirmed to Crabby and many TGB readers last week and again yesterday, does not belong in the casino on Wall Street.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clair Jean has something important to tell us about how Hope works.]


Elders and the Financial Crisis

category_bug_politics.gif

“In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx marveled that, such is capitalism's dynamism, ‘all that is solid melts into air.’ Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch should not be the last to learn the truth of that.”
- Washington Post, 20 September 2008

That was written in the context of disapproval of $25 billion in government subsidies to the auto industry, but the reference to the broader financial crisis by conservative columnist and author, George Will, hits where it hurts.

“All that is solid melts into air.”

Like many of elders – retired and near retirement - I have been nervous for several years about the economy in general and, personally, about the safety of my retirement savings. Now that the latter has been reduced (most of it in just one week) by a total of 30 percent, anxiety is a better description of my mood, and I have found it difficult over the past seven days to think about anything else.

My usual reaction to fear is to calm myself through study: search out the facts, read the experts, get the big picture and the small, consider the opinions of people who are supposed to know, try to understand the moves of the people who are in charge.

Such has consumed most of my waking hours for the past week. None of what I have read nor the intervention by the federal government on Friday in the form of $700 billion in taxpayer money to buy up failed properties reassures me, and I’m not the only one:

“In other words, for all the toxic securities that Wall Street has acknowledged holding, there will be yet more mortgage-backed paper that will go bad as the housing market continues to fall. As much as we all hope the worst is over, it's probably not.

“And as much as we might hope that the government finally has the answer, it probably doesn't.” [emphasis added]

- International Herald Tribune, 20 September 2008

That’s my conclusion too.

Amid everything else, I am concerned that the public is not following the crisis, that too few people read newspapers. Yes, I malign the press for their piss-poor reporting on the campaign, failure to point out candidate lies and near total lack of background on issues, but the better papers, if you filter carefully, are still the best source of day-to-day analysis and thinking.

However, it is necessary to read those better newspapers and not just your small-town rag which, if it is as bad as mine, tells you nothing or gets it wrong.

The only locally-produced story on the financial crisis in my town’s Sunday paper gave a breathtakingly light-hearted review of the Black Monday crash in October 1987, and concluded with this piece of idiocy:

“The good news is that, so far, this is mostly Wall Street's problem, not Main Street's. Hopefully, the people in charge are smart enough to keep it that way.”
- Maine Sunday Telegram, 20 September 2008

Not Main Street’s problem? Tell that to Mike Nichols of Anxiety, Panic & Health who left a comment on Friday’s post that his retirement savings are now down by half.

And Jan Adams of Happening Here who also left a comment saying she had “lost a lot this week.”

And NancyB of Ericksonsblogs who said, “Now with this loss, I will have to work longer than age 70.”

And Tropigal of Fashion After 50 who wrote, “I am trying to pull my money out, but I was told that tens of thousands of people are trying to do so, and it will ‘take time.’ I don't know if I will ever see a penny of my savings.”

Even Cop Car, who often butts heads with me over my political posts, left this mordant note on Friday’s post: “Good luck to us all - all of us owners of AIG, Freddie, and Fannie. Never thought I'd live long enough to be turned into a socialist.”

That's six out of the 12 different people, counting me, who commented on that post - fifty percent who are unlikely to ever recoup their massive losses.

Only a few of the major papers reported Sunday on the effect of the crisis on the retired and near retirees – all similar to that of TGB readers. One noted:

“After last week, psychologists took to the airwaves to tell people not to become sick over losing money, advising that pausing was better than panicking. But by then, enough people had sufficiently panicked to make a run on the $3.5 trillion in money market funds, similar to the bank runs that led to the Great Depression.

"’It's just amazing in the last four or five days how many times I've heard the words 'The Depression' brought up,’ said Kevin Flannery, general manager of the Leisure World retirement community. ‘It's all people are talking about here.’" [emphasis added]

- Washington Post, 20 September 2008

Yes. Old people know how bad it might become. If we didn’t live through the Depression ourselves, our parents did. We heard the stories all through our childhood.

As much as I owe to the major papers (along with some good online writing) for helping me understand how this crisis happened and what the federal government is proposing to do, the fatuousness of other writers at the same newspapers in the face of what may be calamity for everyone is astounding.

One New York Times writer is concerned about the effect of the crisis on pending sales of multi-million-dollar, Manhattan penthouses. Another of the paper’s writers, who purports to offer advice for ordinary investors and old people, asked this jaw-droppingly unhelpful question:

“Before you do anything with your portfolio, ask yourself this: Do you still believe in capitalism?

What the...? He goes on to offer this meaningless drivel:

“…spending just a bit less money in retirement may make a huge difference,” he writes as though elders haven’t already cut budgets to the bone due to the astronomical rise in gas and food prices. “‘Small changes in retirees’ burn rate will affect them far greater (sic) than what the market will do today,’ said Bill Schultheis, of Sagemark Wealth Management in Kirkland, Wash., and the author of The Coffeehouse Investor. That’s because overspending is a risk you can actually control, even if you can’t predict how the markets perform. ‘I’ve found that many clients really like that, because they like to be in charge.’

“He noted that spending on grandchildren was often a huge item for retirees. If you can’t bring yourself to cut back there, consider the cost of eating out. He says he is often surprised by the amount people spend on that.”

- The New York Times, 20 September 2008

Does that advice help you any? The last time I spent money in a restaurant was two months ago, and before that, four months.

Back at the Washington Post, former deputy assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy from 1988 to 1993, who was also a senior policy analyst in the White House, Bruce Bartlett, in offering advice to Senators McCain and Obama, says fixing the economy “will require belt-tightening from everyone.”

“If [a candidate] thinks we can get $1 trillion out of the income tax without burdening middle- and lower-income workers, let's hear how,” writes Bartlett. “If he thinks we can cut spending by that much, he should explain how. If he thinks it can be done without significantly cutting popular programs such as Medicare, I for one would like to know how.” [emphasis added]

Now there’s an idea: let’s solve this financial crisis on the backs of poor people and the old without even a nod to the rich with their tax-free money shelters overseas.

There is so little wiggle room in my austere budget that I’m worried about how much the premiums for Medicare Parts B and D and my supplemental coverage will increase next year, and I’m already paying double last year’s price for heating fuel. I know it is no different for most of you and for tens of millions of others.

Again, Main Street is being forced to bail out millionaires and their companies while our few dollars shrink further every week at the grocery store and gas station. Personally, I don't believe in the Paulson plan, the people who devised it or the $700 billion price. They told us the Iraq War would cost $50 billion and it's currently at more than $580 billion. Why should I believe them about even bigger numbers?

Economics writer, William Greider calls this latest bailout a "swindle" and says,

"Financial-market wise guys, who had been seized with fear, are suddenly drunk with hope. They are rallying explosively because they think they have successfully stampeded Washington into accepting the Wall Street Journal solution to the crisis: dump it all on the taxpayers. That is the meaning of the massive bailout...

"We have a brain-dead lame duck in the White House. The two presidential candidates are trapped by events, trying to say something relevant without getting blamed for the disaster. The people should make themselves heard in Washington, even if only to share their outrage."

- The Nation, 19 September 2008

I feel that I’m not expressing my own outrage forcefully enough today, so I’ll let one John Cole (whom I don’t know from Adam) of Balloon Juice say it for me. I discovered him via Wood s Lot and he is as furiously angry as I am:

“I do not ever want to hear another damned word about the free market. I don’t want to hear another thing about letting the market regulate itself. I don’t want to hear about the free flow of capital. I don’t want to hear about government getting out of our lives.

“None of it. From superfunds to super-bailouts, I am tired of other people getting rich being irresponsible and then being told I have to pay to clean it up. I didn’t read one punitive aspect of this new plan. Not one punishment for the people who did this.”

[At The Elder Storytelling Placed today, Pat Temiz recounts a hair-raising journey in Afghanistan 1977.]


Sunday Election Issues - 21 September 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.

Note to McCain: Watch Your Back - Palin Grabs the Top of the Ticket
From Ronni Bennett (:38 seconds)

The Financial Crisis
From Citizen K: The Scent of Fear

The Importance of Paying Attention
From Sylvia Kirkwood of The View From Over the Hill: A Matter of Urgency

Governor Palin’s Position
From Entitled to Know: Sarah Palin is Ignorant About Social Security and Medicare

Fact Checking the Political News
From Gary White of Having Fun Until I Die: Where to Get the Facts

McCain and the Economy
From Rain at Rainy Day Thoughts: Foxes Guarding Chicken Houses

Learning From the Past
From Guitar Grandma: I Ask Again: Are We So Stupid?

A Lady in Spain Looks at the Campaign
From Ladyluz of Everything and Nothing: U.S. Politics

How a McCainite Changed His Mind
From Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifes: A Conservative for Obama

Funny Partisan Video
From Ronni Bennett (3:28 minutes)


This Week in Elder News: 20 September 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.

It’s been an busy and stressful week chez timegoesby due to the ups and down of Wall Street, so the Elder News is a little light today. Barring new painful surprises, we’ll try to do better next week.

SATURDAY AM UPDATE: I pulled this post together on Friday in the early afternoon. Later in the day, I ran across these two stories about the financial crisis. It is important that you read them:

Pentagon Ships Troops to U.S. to Prepare For Civil Unrest

Congressional Leaders Were Stunned by Warnings

Also this from William Greider: The Scent of Fear

Now back to our regularly-scheduled Elder News.

As far as Hollywood is concerned, old people don’t have sex. Now comes a new German film, Wolke Neun (Cloud Nine) to fill that void. “The first love scene of note in Cloud 9 occurs when sixtyish seamstress Inge becomes infatuated with 76-year-old customer Karl, leading to a lustful encounter atop a rug,” reports one review. Read more here.

Half the people who died in Hurricane Katrina were elders. In Hurricane Ike, nearly 300 disabled elders were abandoned by their caregivers. The Texas governor says there will be an investigation. More here.

In case you missed it this past week, Dr. Bill Thomas’s column, The TGB Geriatrician has some hard numbers on the growing lack of physicians trained to treat elders. It’s an important story and you can read it here.

People 85 and older are the fastest growing age group in the U.S. Now, researchers at the University of California at Irvine have begun a study of 1,000 nonagenarians hoping to learn more about healthy longevity. One of those subjects is 95-year-old Gordon Bern.

"People have a picture in their head of what someone in their mid-90s might look like,” says study leader Dr. Claudia Kawas, “unfortunately someone in bed or completely helpless or needing a nursing home. He's not any of that. We're just trying to find out his secrets."

Bern says he doesn’t think he’s done anything extraordinary to account for his many years. Read more about him here.


Elders and the Wall Street Mess

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

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a 60-something reader who told me he and his wife lost all their retirement savings in one of the Enron/savings-and-loan-style financial debacles and have not recovered. They will never be able to retire.

I’ve spent most of this week wondering how many elders – those near retirement and retired – are now in the same black hole.

On Monday, the Dow dropped 504 points followed by 450 points on Wednesday. The rise yesterday doesn't help much and it is likely the volatility will continue. Even people who are conservatively invested lost dramatic amounts of money, to which I can personally attest. By the time I turned my modest savings (meant to ensure reasonably decent care should I become sick or disabled) into cash late Wednesday, it had lost 25 percent of its value in two-plus days. (Gulp) That’s after a previous four or five percent had been nibbled away over the past few months.

[Although I’m not here to discuss Social Security today, if anyone ever again tries to sell you privatized Social Security as President Bush did in 2005, just point them to this week when even big money market funds, as solid as cash for decades, have begun losing value.]

Don’t let the financial pundits or even presidential candidates try to tell you the current financial problem is complicated. It’s simple: banks with lax or barely-existent credit standards gave mortgages to millions of people who could not afford them and then sold those bad mortgages to financial institutions that bundled them into various kinds of securities instruments that they bought and sold to one another many times over, raking in big commissions on every sale.

When home owners began defaulting on the loans, money, in the form of mortgage payments, disappeared and the securities instruments became valueless, leaving the banks with more debt than assets. (It's hard to finance a takeover with a bunch of empty houses no one can afford to buy.)

Of course, there are other factors contributing to the financial mess, but that’s all you really need to know to understand what has happened. Well, except one more thing that explains how the banks were allowed to make themselves so vulnerable:

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, Congress passed the Glass-Steagill Act which created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the organization that insures commercial bank accounts up to $100,000. It also separated banks into two types: commercial banks (the ones most of us use for our checking and savings accounts and personal, auto and home loans) while allowing investment banks – Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, etc. – to operate with fewer restrictions and therefore make riskier financial deals with potentially bigger returns.

If you don’t count my mother who, in her old age, kept gold coins in tin cans around her house, Glass-Steagill restored confidence in the banks for our grandparents and parents, and it worked well for more than 60 years. By the time I was old enough for my own bank accounts, there was no question about their safety.

Then in 1999, President Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which repealed Glass-Steagill. (You remember former senator Phil Gramm, don’t you? He was Senator McCain’s top economic campaign advisor until a couple of months ago when Gramm accused Americans of being whiners.)

What Gramm’s Act did was allow investment and commercial banks to consolidate, blurring the financial lines between them, leading to the same kinds of abuses that produced the Glass-Steagill Act in the first place - abuses that have resulted in the financial troubles we have today.

In searching the web for news stories about how much ordinary people - small investors and those with their retirement money in IRAs and 401(k)s - have lost this week, I found only one from Nicholas von Hoffman in The Nation yesterday:

"For Mildred, a professional woman around sixty years of age, Great Depression II has started. I am going to have to work the rest of my life, she said. I can't retire.

"She is not a rich woman, and her retirement investments have been decimated by the perpendicular drop in the stock market. Despite a lifetime of working and saving, like a thrifty squirrel burying acorns in the backyard, she's now broke...

"According to the Securities Industry Association, over half the households of America - something like 57 million families - own stocks directly or through mutual funds. McCain and Obama might bear in mind that this block of 100 million or so Americans are the very heart of the middle classes they both cannot praise enough."

Most reporters and columnists are more concerned with job losses on Wall Street as in this story Chancy of driftwoodinspiration emailed:

“The demand for financial services will in no way disappear as the automobile pushed out the horse and buggy a century ago. Although unemployment on Wall Street will undoubtedly rise, many workers will be reabsorbed elsewhere in the industry. The current financial crisis calls out for new products and services as well as more, not less, information about what is safe and profitable in the future environment.”
Wall Street Journal, 18 September 2008 (subscription probably required)

It won’t be me calling out for new products and services. Unless the winner of the November election pushes Congress for more bank regulation (repeal of Gramm-Leach-Bliley would be a good start), I’m thinking I trust a coffee can under the bed more than any bank for the time being.

There is no telling how many Americans have been wiped out, or close to it, this week. As bad as it is for younger people, they have two or three decades to recoup. Old people, like Mildred, retirees who rely on small investment portfolios to supplement Social Security and the man who wrote me two weeks ago, do not.

But don’t expect any help. There is bail-out money – borrowed from China – but only for banks, along with golden parachutes for their executives who created this train wreck. The rest of us are on our own.

ADDENDUM: Although, as I said above, today's post is not about Social Security, this video arrived in my inbox this morning from Jan Adams of Happening Here who writes the Gay and Gray column for Time Goes By. It is pertinent:

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton "Sandy" Dickson tells of his adventures with Yoga (Stretching and Bending at 70).]


Voter IQ

[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_politics.gif For the past week or so, I have been tinkering with a post about the stupidity of the American public. It hadn’t quite gelled, but then I woke early this morning to these two comments on Crabby Old Lady’s post from yesterday:

From mythster of Rotten Apple:

“I've been listening to some sound bites from ‘middle aged women’ in Charlotte, N.C. that were running on Public Radio a couple of hours ago and I am not going to try to quote any of these people verbatim but in essence, they've decided to vote the McCain/Palin ticket because Palin's a woman and she knows what it's like to be a woman. That's her credentials. What more do you need?

“I remember when people were very concerned about the fact that the ‘media’ (i.e. TV) was broadcasting material aimed at a twelve year old audience. Now we know that they were programming way over their audience's heads.

“The majority of America's ‘adults’ are under-educated, unmotivated and blissfully happy in their ignorance.”

And this from joni:

“I think it's hard to underestimate the "voter I.Q." of the American public. Most people dislike the way our country is headed, yet so many of them will automatically vote for the party that created all these messes and would dig us in deeper.

“An otherwise intelligent woman told me that she couldn't vote for Obama "because of abortion. One of our friends says he despairs because he knows so many knee-jerk single-issue voters. They refuse to look at anything else.”

There was also an email from Melinda Applegate with a link to a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education by Thomas H. Benton titled On Stupidity. A couple of excerpts:

“The anti-intellectual legacy [Hofstadter] described has often been used by the political right — since at least the McCarthy era — to label any complication of the usual pieties of patriotism, religion, and capitalism as subversive, dangerous, and un-American. And, one might add, the left has its own mirror-image dogmas.”

“For academics on the political left, the last eight years represent the sleep of reason producing the monsters of our time: suburban McMansions, gas-guzzling Hummers, pop evangelicalism, the triple-bacon cheeseburger, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?, creation science, waterboarding, environmental apocalypse, Miley Cyrus, and the Iraq War — all presided over by that twice-elected, self-satisfied, inarticulate avatar of American incuriosity and hubris: he who shall not be named.”

Benton is one of those “academics on the political left” and he goes on to quote a number of books from writers who are alarmed at the declining knowledge of Americans:

Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter (2008), by Richard Shenkman, argues that the dumbing down of our political culture is linked to the decline of organized labor and local party politics, which kept members informed on matters of substance. Building on arguments put forward in books such as What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004), by Thomas Frank, Shenkman shows how the political right has been able to don the populist mantle even as it pursues policies that thwart the economic and social interests of the average voter.

“Meanwhile, the political left is unable to argue that those average Americans are in some way responsible for their own exploitation because they are too shallow and misinformed — too stupid — to recognize their own interests.” [emphasis added]

I think of this nearly every day as TV news broadcasts a bunch of fully-grown adults shouting “Drill, baby, drill” at John McCain/Sarah Palin speeches when all reputable experts in America tell us that not a drop of that oil will reach pumps for 15 or 20 years and will not lower the price.

Benton, whose job as he sees it is to “combat ignorance and foster the skills and knowledge needed to produce intelligent, ethical, and productive citizens,” lists some of the qualities of his students:

  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism. (I recently had a student defend herself by claiming that her paper was more than 50 percent original, so she should receive that much credit, at least.)
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.

I first noticed some of these qualities in young graduates I worked with as long ago as the 1980s, so we now have at least one generation of adults – voters – of the sort mythster and joni describe. And, I would venture, some well-known, high-level politicians too. There is reason to despair.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Morgana Sage writes of the sadness When Old Dogs Die.]


Of Lipstick and Lies

[EDITORIAL NOTE: It is hard to keep up with fast-moving news. Crabby Old Lady wrote this story on Monday. Then Lehman Brothers collapsed, Merrill Lynch was sold off and AIG is on the brink which, at last, alerted the presidential candidates that there are real problems affecting voters.

In the wake of the Wall Street meltdown, we learned yesterday that the candidate who doesn't know how to do "the emails" invented the Blackberry and says the "fundamentals of the economy are strong" - the same man whose only-known previous economic experience is as a member of the Keating Five and an avowed supporter of banking deregulation. He now says he wants a commission to study the economy. Crabby is suddenly reminded of barn doors.

It is interesting that when "only" gas and food prices were soaring and the country was hemorrhaging middle-class jobs, the candidates talked of lipstick and swine. Now that Wall Street millionaires are losing their jobs, their portfolios and their companies, they finally admit there is a crisis.

Nevertheless, Crabby believes this post, written before the candidates got religion about the economy, still holds.]

While Wall Street collapses and the election campaign is mired in lipstick and lies, Crabby Old Lady has taken a step back over the past few days to try to get a handle on the bigger picture. It ain’t easy with all the fog of minutiae, but here is what it looks like to her from 30,000 feet.

The swiftboating of John Kerry was picayune compared to what the McCain/Palin campaign is doing in its television ads. Nearly every statement in them is a deliberate lie, as are the claims Governor Palin has made about her political career in Alaska. The more the media turns up of her past, the more appalling her policies are revealed to be, filled with cheating, vendetta and attempts to force her personal moral beliefs on the citizens of her state.

That is the essence of the Republican campaign.

The other side plugs along reactively while the candidate stutters and pauses through speeches sounding uncertain (as he did not in the primaries), nitpicking details as if he were still teaching law at the University of Chicago.

It is clear to Crabby that Senator Obama has a deeper understanding of the complexities of the country’s and the world’s problems than Senator McCain and is not prone to risky, gut reactions as McCain is. She supports Obama because the presidency desperately needs an injection of intelligent thoughtfulness. But that is called governing. What is needed now is campaigning, and the Democrats are failing at it.

A large part of the problem is the media; the only way voters have to evaluate candidates since it is impractical for us to question them ourselves. The media’s failure is catastrophic.

Crabby has no statistics (but she is probably not far off) that 90 percent of television campaign coverage involves reporters and pundits second guessing campaign managers. They see themselves as oh-so-smart and clever expounding day after day, even hour after hour, on what the candidates should and shouldn’t do or say.

That is not what we need. Crabby wants a side-by-side comparison of the candidate’s positions on the economy, food and gas prices, the war(s), jobs, healthcare and Medicare, taxes, Social Security, education, the deficit, corporate accountability, the Patriot and Military Commissions Acts, torture, domestic surveillance, the Wall Street crisis, the housing problem. And their general world views.

Print media is only slightly better than television. They spend more time researching and reporting backgrounds of the candidates, but there still are not historical pieces on the issues laying out how we got to where we are now and what the best thinking is on how to move forward.

It’s no better online where most of the writing is opinion and reaction to what little real news there is (as is this story from Crabby), and where there is a lot more unsubstantiated rumor and partisan lies.

Crabby wants the media to stop the candidates cold and keep them on topic until they explain themselves when they make absurd statements, stretch the truth and change the subject when they don’t want to answer the question. When a candidate complains that the media is being unfair, as Senator McCain has about the digging into Sarah Palin’s governing background, she wants them to pin down the candidate. “Explain to our viewers, sir, how it is unfair for voters to know the governor’s record, especially when it differs from what you and she have said?”

All politicians are adept at repeating their talking points when they don’t want to answer a reporter’s question. Crabby’s question – and it should be the media’s too – in that case is: “Sir (or Ma’am), what is it you are trying to hide from voters by not answering this question?”

It doesn’t matter if a candidate still avoids answering; the point has then been made. But the media mostly let candidates skate however meaningless, inconsistent or fatuous their statements are.

Crabby wonders, too, how stupid the voting public is. To bring this back down from 30,000 feet to one specific instance: when the McCain campaign releases an ad, the nastiest one among many, saying that Senator Obama supports teaching comprehensive sex education to kindergartners, is anyone idiot enough to believe it? Would that ad really change someone’s vote to McCain? The larger questions are, what kind of people even think up such an ad? What is the underlying character of a person who approves it? And if they lie about something as easy to dispute as this, what will they do when they are in power?

Crabby Old Lady despairs. In the seven weeks left until election day, is there any chance at all of avoiding more lipstick and lies, of finding intelligent life within the presidential campaign?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, James J Henry Jr recalls how his Youthful Patriotism was instilled.]


Dialing For Doctors

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.]

USA Today goes in depth with a front pager on the issue of physician economics and the future of the aging baby boom. The story is a follow up on this earlier report:

"Millions of baby boomers are about to enter a health care system for seniors that not only isn't ready for them, but may even discourage them from getting quality care.

"’We face an impending crisis as the growing number of older patients, who are living longer with more complex health needs, increasingly outpaces the number of health care providers with the knowledge and skills to care for them capably,’ said John W. Rowe, professor of health policy and management at Columbia University.

“Rowe headed an Institute of Medicine committee that released a report Monday on the health care outlook for the 78 million baby boomers about to begin turning 65."

USA Today, 14 April 2008

Here is the latest news:

"Medical students are shying away from careers in general internal medicine, which could exacerbate the U.S. doctor shortage expected by the time the youngest Baby Boomers head into their senior years, researchers report today.

“Only 2% of 1,177 respondents to a survey of students at 11 U.S. medical schools said they planned to pursue careers in general internal medicine, according to the new study…

“According to one estimate, the USA will have 200,000 fewer doctors overall than it needs by 2020, according to the new report. Meanwhile, the number of older Americans is expected to nearly double between 2005 and 2030.

“’Many medical students are turned off by the thought of caring for chronically ill patients and the amount of paperwork general internists must deal with,’ says lead author Karen Hauer, a general internist on the faculty of the University of California-San Francisco.

"’They rated the intellectual aspects of the field highly, and they rated continuity of care appealing,’ Hauer says. ‘When you put the whole package together, it's too hard.’"

“On top of the workload, a "research letter" in the same issue of JAMA as Hauer's study ranked internal medicine as one of the lowest-paid medical specialties…

“Radiologists topped Ebell's list, with a starting salary of $350,000, not to mention, Hauer notes, more regular hours than general internists.

“Their amount of debt [following medical school] didn't seem to influence their choice of specialty in her survey, Hauer says.

“Rather students focused more on quality of life factors such as income and work hours, which did steer them away from general internal medicine."

USA Today, 9 September 2008

The problem with a health care system that is driven exclusively by the economic interests of the participants is that what the market rewards (that is, large numbers of radiologists) and what people need (large numbers of general internists) do not match up.

I raise this issue because it is a sub-species of the more general question, "Is health care a market good (like cars and candy canes) or is it a right?"

We as a society share the conventional wisdom that people do not have a "right" to cars and candy canes. If we want to have these things we have to pay for them. Health care is, somehow, different. Who would say that a child with pneumonia should be left to suffer because his/her parents cannot afford treatment. There is a law that requires hospitals to treat any person who comes to the emergency room, regardless of their ability to pay.

This reminds me of a bit of cynical medical humor I learned in medical school: Doctors who we thought were overly concerned with a patient's ability to pay were said to demand a "wallet biopsy" before they would be willing to accept the patient."

The profit motive has contributed to progress in medicine and the healing arts. I would not want to go back to a time when medicine was a small-time cottage industry of not very well educated physicians making use of a narrow range of not very effective treatment. It is also true that the market does a terrible job of matching resources to need.

So the wealthiest nation in the world is now facing the greatest age boom and will almost certainly live through it without the doctors we need.

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, Tom Speaks recalls his trucking days in Hard Working '50s.]


Vote By Mail

category_bug_politics.gif Only last week, I discovered I can Vote By Mail (VBM) in Maine. It’s not called that here, but anyone for any reason can vote by “absentee ballot.” I was able to request one online and the ballots will be mailed out later this month. Other Mainers reading this can find out more here, although not all municipalities participate.

I’ve known about the idea of Vote By Mail because it has been in effect for several years in Oregon where my brother lives, and I was surprised to discover in reading some research he sent me, that 28 states have full Vote By Mail programs or, like Maine, are experimenting with it. You can find out where your state stands on this issue at votebymailproject.org.

Some people and organizations object to Vote By Mail on grounds of the possibility of fraud:

“Opponents maintain that nefarious interests could make a concerted effort to collect or steal ballots and send them in with forged signatures...Oregon officials defend the system by pointing to a case where one activist attempted to send in forged ballots to discredit the process. The individual was promptly apprehended and convicted...

“Another concern voiced by opponents is that mail balloting could result in the compromise of the sacred American tradition of the secret ballot. They envision situations where a spouse might pressure a partner to vote a specific way. Or individuals might be asked to bring their ballots to a meeting and mark them according to the will of the group.

“One study in Oregon surveyed more than a thousand voters and asked if anyone had been coerced to vote a certain way. The study identified only one voter who responded that he had been forced to vote for a specific candidate.

“Another often cited disadvantage of vote-by-mail is that it could preclude voters from knowing all the facts about candidates if events unfold close to Election Day or new information comes to light just before the election.

“And some have argued that requiring voters to pay for postage to return the ballots is the equivalent of a poll tax. One group unsuccessfully sued Oregon over the postage issue in federal court - an appeal is pending.”

The National Conference of State Legislatures

These, I think, are valid arguments, but only to a point. Oregon’s experience has been that many more people vote than before the state instituted Vote By Mail, and in places like Maine in the northern tier of the U.S., there is no telling what the weather might be on election day. We could easily have a foot or more of new snow, keeping many people at home.

And for elders, some of whom cannot easily get to their polling station, this is a terrific solution.

In addition, an enormous amount of state and municipal money is saved when the number of voting machines to be purchased and maintained is reduced or eliminated. Plus, I have a lot more faith in paper ballots that are themselves the paper trail than in electronic voting. Google "voting machines" and you'll get thousands of stories of miscounts, malfunctions, failed inspections, broken machines and lost memory cards.

I had no idea until last week that Maine allows Vote By Mail and perhaps you don't know about it in your state. You can check the list here. And of course, if you are not registered to vote yet, now is the time to do that. This presidential election will determine the future direction of our country for years to come - not only our current crises on everyone's mind, but new Supreme Court appointments.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones recalls the pleasure of forbidden activities in Taking a Dip in the Hotel Pool.]


Sunday Election Issues - 14 September 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.

Senator McCain’s TV Commercials
From Gary White of Having Fun Until I Die: A Lie a Day Keeps the Issues Away

Is it UnAmerican to be Smart and Thoughtful?
From Mort Reichek of Octogenarian: Guns, God, Gays and Abortion

Style and No Substance
From Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles: More of the Same, Second Verse

Political Cautionary Tales From the Movies
From Cynthia Samuels of Don’t Gel Yet: Pigs, Lipstick, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin and the movies: “Bob Roberts,” “A Face in the Crowd” and Willie Stark

Disenfranchising Voters
From The New York Times Editorial: Mississippi’s Ballot Tricks

What Palin’s First Interview Tells Us
From Another New York Times Editorial: Gov. Palin’s Worldview

More on What Palin’s First Interview Tells Us
From Bob Herbert: She’s Not Ready


This Week in Elder News: 13 September 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 Centers for Disease Control released a study reporting that 50 percent of those who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina were 75 and older.

“The results present a tragic portrait of elderly residents,” says the AP story, “who may have thought the warnings were a false alarm, who feared that abandoning their homes would lead to looting, or who simply didn't want to leave their familiar surroundings for the unknown.”

Although those ageist reasons may have been the case for some, why do I think that isn’t entirely the case? Maybe the report didn’t have a category for needed-help-to-evacuate-but-none-arrived. More here.

There are plenty of coupon websites, but Coupon Chief is particularly well organized, easy to use and will even pay you cash for coupons you upload. In the past, I’ve never used coupons but nowadays with prices skyrocketing, we need to cut every possible corner. Coupon Chief looks to be a big help.

This past week, Slate published a large Geezer Issue - “a range of stories about the elderly experience.” The problem is, with the exception of a diary from a 100-year-old, all the stories are obviously written by younger people about old people instead of old people bringing their real-world knowledge to the project. Nevertheless, there are a couple of good features like this list of Greatest Songs about Aging and Mortality.

Are you emotionally stable, organized, disciplined, conscientious and resourceful? If so, you’ll probably live longer than those with opposing traits. This information is contained in a new report from the ongoing Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging which has been tracking 2300 people for more than 50 years. More here.

68-year-old Al Pacino and 65-year-old Robert DeNiro have appeared together in a film only once before, the less than scintillating Heat. Now they’ve teamed again as two aging New York City cops in Righteous Kill. The critics are saying it’s no better than Heat, but I doubt I’ll be able to resist watching two of the best scenery chewers of my generation who between them have done so many great films, they’re allowed some duds.

Here’s another new film about aging and healing family rifts from childhood through adolescence and into old age. When Did you Last See Your Father? is based on the memoir of British poet Blake Morrison and sounds to me like a don’t miss. More here.

In separate, back-to-back appearances, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain spoke to an AARP gathering this week. McCain spoke mostly in platitudes and slogans, although he implied that as president he would seek to partially privatize Social Security. As of this morning, his appearance has not been posted to YouTube, but you can find it here on the ARRP website.

Senator Obama was specific and clear about how he would seek to deal with Social Security, Medicare and healthcare in general as president. [10:34 minutes]


Phooey on Active Aging

Crabby Old Lady grinds her teeth every time she sees the phrase “active aging” or is exhorted by “experts” and so-called life coaches to go back to school in her dotage, study a foreign language, take up belly dancing, do-it-yourself electrical wiring or bicycle across countries that have big, ugly bugs and no modern plumbing.

Not that there is anything wrong with those activities, but Crabby resents being made to feel that she is letting down her end of the elder culture or worse, slipping into senility if every hour of her calendar isn’t filled with self-improvement activities.

Active aging is all the rage. There is even an International Council on Active Aging that holds an annual conference and sponsors Active Aging Weeks or Active Aging Days in many cities.

There are fairs and “boot camps” for active aging, and for professionals in the field of active aging (who knew it is more than a slogan) there are seminars, a journal and at least one “summit.”

Okay, okay, Crabby understands that a lot of this active aging activity is devoted to health, fitness and getting one's butt out of the LazyBoy which can’t be a bad idea. But an even larger part is an excuse to sell products, insurance, services, memberships, vacations, exercise equipment, homes and trinkets to old people. Who needs fitness advice at an active aging event when you can walk five miles among the marketing booths.

Crabby suspects a whole lot of this active aging stuff is organized by younger adults to rake in the bucks while remaking old people into facsimiles of themselves, and she is annoyed with the coercion of old people to be busy, busy, busy. Crabby Old Lady was busy every day for the 50 years she worked for a living and she is busy now trying to make time to not be busy for some small portion of every day.

Apparently, there is at least one other person as concerned as Crabby with the desire for down time. A young mother recently wrote of a cross-country driving trip without (horrors!) a DVD player to amuse the kids in the back seat. Sara BonGiorni asks in her headline, What’s Wrong with Boredom? and continues:

“We had conversations that we would not have had if Scooby Doo, Shaggy, and the rest of the Mystery Inc. Gang were with us. With the Superstition Mountains in the distance, my husband told the children the legend of the Lost Dutchman's Mine and the many failed attempts to find the gold in the mountains near Phoenix. ‘Arizona is not as boring as Texas,’ our son declared. The children used diaper wipes to fashion capes for their animals. The baby learned to feed herself French fries with her toes.

"While there is no research on the benefits of eating French fries with your toes, I feel as if we all gained something in daydreaming out the windows. Our son sometimes settled into quiet contemplation of the landscape, which more than once he described as "big and square."

"I hope the trip gave him some of the resilience that comes from learning to entertain yourself, but I also wish for something smaller.

“Lazy, unstructured time feels like a luxury to me, and I hope that the kids learned something about valuing it instead of looking for the fastest way to burn it up before the next stop at Dairy Queen.”

- The Christian Science Monitor, 8 September 2008

Crabby Old Lady could stop grinding her teeth down to nubbins if the growing active aging contingent, so intent on filling every moment of elders’ well-earned rest time, would take a cue from Sara BonGiorni.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nana Royer reflects on being The Last Tree in the Forest in her family.]


The World Trade Center - One Story

[EDITORIAL NOTE: With some minor edits to bring statistics up to date, this is a repeat posting from the 2006 and 2007 anniversaries of the World Trade Center attack. All these years later, I still feel a tenderness and loss when I think about that day.]

category_bug_journal2.gif In the late 1950s, there was an excellent television drama titled The Naked City set, of course, in New York. The show's tagline was, "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This is one of them." And so it is today on Time Goes By, one small story among millions.

In the late summer of 2001, I was 60 years old, unemployed since the overnight demise, 13 months earlier, of the dotcom where I had worked.

The stack of printouts and folders on my desk had reached a height of two inches – more than a year’s worth of email and snailmail job applications, cover letters, lists of potential employment contacts, headhunters, notes of telephone conversations, rejection letters, follow-up schedules and spreadsheets tracking it all.

As everyone in the world would soon know, the morning of 11 September dawned gloriously cool, bright and sunny - a good day, if you were not working, to go to the park or bicycle down the urban pathway toward the World Trade Center or just walk the city. But not for me. The wolf had been scratching at my door for many weeks and on top of that stack of job search detritus was a list of contacts I intended to call as soon as offices opened.

By shortly after 8AM, I had been at my desk for a couple of hours working on a design for what would, before long, become my first blog (not this one). I only half listened to CBS News Radio88 in the background, the usual litany of national and local politics, deliberate and accidental death, and celebrity stories to fill in the blanks between commercials.

Then the breaking-news alert sounded. I remember groaning; it would be just another fender bender or commuter traffic snarl breathlessly reported as though it were the start of World War III. But instead, the news reader said something about an airplane and the World Trade Center. I dashed to the bedroom to turn on the television and saw to my horror that perhaps it was, this time, World War III.

It’s the little things in life that can turn me into a crazed harridan. When the big things happen, I am calm and rational, running potential next steps through my mind and then taking action, if any is needed. My lifelong broadcast career experience kicked in; I needed to get to the office right away to help cover the story. But I had no office to go to. So, I phoned a journalist friend who was recently retired from full-time work.

“It’s like the Empire State Building years ago,” he said. “Some pilot lost his way.”

“Not a chance,” said I. For three years, I had worked in an office on 11th Avenue overlooking the Hudson River where I had watched planes large and small move up and down the river all day. I knew that 1: no planes are allowed to fly over Manhattan and 2: pilots are taught to ditch, when something goes wrong, in water and there is plenty of that around Manhattan. “It’s a terrorist attack,” I told my friend.

As soon as we hung up, the phone rang - my upstairs neighbor. His wife took their two boys to school in Brooklyn each day by subway and then returned home. She was late, he said. He just knew she had stopped to shop, as was her habit a couple of times a week, at Century 21 across the street from the World Trade Center. She didn’t have a cell phone with her. He was terrified.

My Greenwich Village apartment was half a block from the intersection of Sixth Avenue, a major north/south artery, and Houston Street. For 20 years, it had been my private ritual, as I left home each morning, to look north toward the Empire State Building and then south to check the twin towers of the World Trade Center. If they were there then all was right, I believed, with my world.

A second, less uplifting ritual – mental exercise, really - that began following the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, was my now-and-then attempt to calculate, should a Trade Center building fall over northward, whether the top of it would crash into my townhouse. My conclusion had been that it didn’t matter. Even if it didn’t reach as far as my block, the concussion would probably kill me. You shrug in the face of such potential catastrophe you can't control and get on with life. But my mind wandered back to it from time to time.

On that morning five years ago, my neighbor and I sat watching television near his phone waiting, hoping, silently praying to all the gods the world has ever worshipped to let us hear from his wife. We took turns joining neighbors at the corner of Sixth and Houston, staring south to the fire and smoke and, before long, the collapse of the buildings.

Within an hour or so, my neighbor’s wife telephoned from a friend’s house in SoHo and soon, sitting on our stoop together, we saw her, covered in white soot, walking toward us. Later, she told her story:

Yes, she had been shopping at Century 21 and was just entering the stairs to the subway in the lower concourse of the World Trade Center when there was a tremendous noise. The entire building shuddered. Debris was raining down as she and everyone raced out and away, not looking back. She hadn’t known what had happened until she reached her friend’s house.

I heard many more stories that day. I spent much of it sitting on my stoop with an old transistor radio by my side, and as thousands of survivors walked north on Sixth Avenue toward their homes, some turned into my street. The first time, I was surprised when a stranger in a dusty business suit carrying a briefcase plopped himself down beside me and wept on my shoulder as he told me his story. When he had collected himself enough to head home, another stopped, and another, sometimes two and three at a time. We wept together for the dead, for ourselves and for our city.

That evening, the journalist friend I had spoken with in the morning came by and we walked Greenwich Village looking for a place to eat dinner. Hardly any restaurants were open and those that were, were crammed with people, most of them strangers to one another just wanting to be with other people. We joined them and then wandered over to Washington Square Park where thousands more had gathered.

The next morning, I went to St. Vincent’s Hospital to give blood, but by then, sadly, it wasn’t needed and I was turned away. Home-made posters with photos of the missing were tacked on many buildings in the neighborhood. Spontaneous memorials with American flags, candles, flowers, prayer cards and notes had appeared on street corners.

The authorities shut down traffic except for emergency vehicles below 14th Street for the next four days, and we used the winding Greenwich Village streets as the cow paths they once were, ignoring street lights and crosswalks, walking where whim took us.

During those days, knots of people – sometimes neighbors, sometimes strangers – gathered here and there. The first question, carefully worded, was always, “Is everyone you know okay?” Sometimes they were; sometimes they were not. Often we just stood together silently for awhile, stunned still by the events of that terrible day.

Three weeks later, at last, I was offered a job and a week after that, I was on a plane to Florida for a week-long conference. Planes approaching New York travel up the Hudson River and then turn toward LaGuardia Airport. On my return from Florida, I deliberately chose a window seat on the Manhattan side of the plane because although I had seen the aerial photos of Ground Zero, I wanted to see it "for real".

The size of the devastation was shocking. I'd had no idea so much of downtown was gone. A big, ugly, open sore on the city, much larger than any photo or video had conveyed.

The first anniversary of 9/11 hit me as hard as the first anniversary of the deaths of loved ones I’ve buried. I mourned for the dead, for the kind of world we had come to live in now, and for the damage done to my city.

It disturbs me that from the day of the attack – and still – when I have stood at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Houston Street, I can’t remember which buildings the World Trade Center towered above when I looked south each morning. It feels as though my lack of attention all those years to their exact location in the sky is a betrayal and I am sorry for that.

Today, it is seven years later and now we, the American people have been betrayed. The president used the tragedy of 9/11 as an excuse to launch a war with lies that have been proved to be so beyond doubt. More American soldiers have died than died that day at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 28,000 more have suffered injuries they will live with until the end of their days.

And what have we gained?

Columnist Frank Rich’s summing up in The New York Times at last year’s anniversary still pertains:

“…so here we are five [six] years later. Fearmongering remains unceasing. So do tax cuts. So does the war against a country that did not attack us on 9/11. We have moved on, but no one can argue that we have moved ahead.”

[Today at The Elder Storytelling Place, Peter Tibbles gives us epistolary tale titled, simply, Emails.]