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REFLECTIONS: Reagan

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Category_bug_reflections Can anyone guess which modern statesman said the following, which I shall quote at length?

“Facing conditions of absolute inhumanity such as those which now exist in Sudan and Somalia, does not the world have a moral responsibility to act? To choose the right to passage, to impose minimum order and provide sanctuaries of relief? In parts of Africa today, mankind is an endangered species.

“Have we come to the point where we must set up human preserves as we have for rhinos and elephants? If so, then let us do it, and do it now...We must work toward a standing U.N. Force – an army of conscience – that is fully equipped and prepared to carve out human sanctuaries if necessary...I can think of no more honorable mission for a soldier or his country.”

I do not think that people like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich or the rest of today’s Republican leaders would even come close to agreeing with that or recognizing who said it. But then they didn’t really know the man who said it, the man they profess to idolize and emulate, whose name they take in vain attempts to justify their extreme politics.

The speaker was Ronald Reagan, who I knew during more than eight years that I covered his campaigns and his presidency. This was the Reagan who had learned a few things and grew during and after his presidency. This was the Reagan who, plainly put, was not anywhere as near as radical or as nuts as the people who now control Republican politics.

Reagan was popular because he was an inclusive person with not a trace of wingnut vindictiveness – even towards a critical reporter. He was close to then-Democratic House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill; one of his first appointments was that of former Senate Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield as ambassador to Japan.

The speech, to which I’ll return, was entitled Democracy’s Next Battle, and was delivered on December 4, 1992, at the Oxford Union Society in England just a month after Bill Clinton was elected president. The students of the storied debating society had expected to poke fun at Reagan, then 81. But they greeted his unexpected words with a prolonged standing ovation.

I know, this was the same Ronald Reagan who ushered in the era of greed and huge deficits; who approved selling arms to Iran to finance the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua; who turned the cold war icy with his railing against the Soviets as the “evil empire”; who sent troops into hapless Grenada, probably to mitigate the killing of 240 Marines in Lebanon; who gave us Star Wars, the myth of a missile defense that’s still with us.

I know about these Reagan misadventures for I covered and wrote critically about all of them, first for Knight Ridder Newspapers, then for Newsday. And I laughed at Reagan’s foibles, as when he came back from Central America and exclaimed that “there are a lot of different countries down there.” Or when he visited a souvenir stand in China and proclaimed that it was a sign that free enterprise had come to Beijing.

Nevertheless, I am a bit of a Reagan revisionist for it is important to contrast his presidency and his brand of conservatism with that of the former and unlamented occupant of the White House and the right-wing reactionaries who have hijacked conservatism, which my dictionary defines as “a political orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes.” That would include radical changes to the Constitution.

It is true that Reagan came into office with a promise to cut taxes by a third, which he did with the help of Democrats who piled on their own tax breaks. Signed in 1981, it was the largest tax cut in history. But Reagan’s chief of staff was Vice-President George H.W. Bush’s former campaign manager, James A. Baker, a pragmatic conservative hated by White House right-wingers like Pat Buchanan.

Fearing that the tax cuts were too deep, that the deficit was growing too quickly, Baker and the Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, also a pragmatic conservative, combined in 1983 to get Reagan’s grudging approval for the largest tax increase in history.

In 1976, when Reagan ran in the Republican primaries against then-Vice President Gerald Ford, he suggested Social Security be made voluntary. He also believed that Medicare was a step towards socialized medicine. But in the presidency, he came to understand that Social Security would collapse if it was made voluntary and he made no move to change its nature.

Instead, the commission he appointed under Alan Greenspan, made changes that saved Social Security for 75 years. Nor did he make a move to privatize or cut Medicare. Perhaps that’s because he admired and had voted for Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman before he became a Republican. He didn’t allow ideology to get in the way of good sense and politics.

He was late coming to the fight against AIDS, as the epidemic grew in the Reagan years. But he did come, at the urging most importantly of Elizabeth Taylor. And despite support from right-wing fundamentalists, Reagan, the first president who had been divorced, did not engage in gay bashing and he did not press his views against abortion, probably because he had too many Hollywood friends who were gay or had had abortions.

It is also true that Reagan, against the advice of Baker and most of his generals, sent Marines into Lebanon in 1982, ostensibly to protect the airfield and other installations as the Israelis were pursuing the fleeing Palestinians. Reagan was effusively pro-Israel, but the pragmatists argued that even if the Marines were supposed to be neutral, they would be seen as on Israel’s side and get deeper into the quagmire.

Sure enough, after Reagan ordered a battleship to fire on positions that had been attacking the Marines, came the bombing of their barracks. I was there when Reagan took responsibility, then pulled the Marines out.

Finally, despite his cold war rhetoric, Reagan was among the first leaders in the west (with then-British Prime minister Margaret Thatcher) to recognize that Mikhail Gorbachev was a genuine reformer and, as I reported in these columns earlier, he met with the then-Soviet leader in Moscow to declare the era of the evil empire was over. And together they concluded treaties to reduce, for the first time, the number of nuclear weapons. They are still in force.

I’ve always believed that when he called for Gorbachev, in 1986, to “tear down” the Berlin wall, he knew it would happen. And it did, when George H.W. Bush was president and Baker was his secretary of state. Bush, as vice-president, had thought Reagan naive about Gorbachev and as president delayed for a year agreeing to the arms treaties that Reagan made possible.

Indeed, in one meeting with Gorbachev that I covered, in Iceland, Reagan and Gorbachev nearly agreed to banish all nuclear weapons, until their advisers intervened. And after Reagan’s death in 2004, Fred Kaplan concluded in Slate that “the end of the Cold War may be the most oddball chapter in the history of the 20th Century. How fitting, then, that the two most oddball leaders, Gorbachev and Reagan, made it come to pass.”

Consider, please, what would have happened in those days if Baker or Reagan had listened to the naysayers and cold-warriors in the Reagan administration, like the Buchanans, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Richard Perle. What if we were listening to the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity and O’Reilly then?

Reagan was a conservative to the core, but he grew in office. Once, before he became president, he suggested the U.N. should “sail off into the sunset,” forgetting that the organization is on the east coast.

As he told the Oxford students,

“I did not always value international organizations and for good reason, they were nothing more than debating societies...But with the end of the cold war, the U.N. was also liberated...As long as military power remains a necessary tool of modern existence, then we should use it as a humanitarian tool and rely more on multilateral institutions - such as NATO and the U.N...The noble vision of the U.N.’s founders is now closer to realization.”

I was told Reagan wrote most of the speech, which concluded,

“My young friends, I hope with all my hearts that your days will be great, not on the battlefield, but in science labs, the operating rooms, performing arts halls and wherever empires of the mind can be assembled.”

Perhaps such eloquence is one of the reasons President Barack Obama admires and understands Reagan’s legacy better than those who call themselves his heirs.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary E. Davies is In the Mood to be Beautiful.]


Aches and Pains of Age

category_bug_journal2.gif One of the unwritten rules of elderhood is that we may not talk about our aches and pains. Somehow, old people have a reputation for dwelling on them, but that's not my experience and it could be that we – or, the old people I know – have been brainwashed by the youth culture to keep silent.

Well, not today.

I am grateful for my health. Aside from slightly raised cholesterol levels controlled with medication, I have no age-related health problems – no arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis, etc. But I do have the odd ache or pain that I didn't have when I was younger.

On Sunday morning, I woke with a stitch in my side. Nothing debilitating, just irritating. I let it go for a few hours until remembered I have several painkillers in the cupboard. Sometimes you don't realize how much something hurts until it stops. What could I have done in my sleep to cause that?

Not exactly a pain, but for several years when I stood after sitting for a good while – lingering at dinner with friends, for example - I couldn't walk for half a minute or so without hobbling. It happened every morning when I got out of bed too. I realized recently that I've been hobble-free for many months now, maybe more than a year. It would help if I could figure out what changed so it doesn't return someday.

My elbows occasionally ache. I notice it when I lean on one and when I investigate by squeezing a little, it becomes real pain. Thinking it might be arthritis, I asked the doctor about it. She doubts it is arthritis and said, “So don't squeeze it.” That advice is hard to follow; I always want to see if still hurts.

Every few weeks or so, a stabbing pain attacks the second toe of my left foot. I mean, horrendous, teeth-grinding, wanna-scream pain. It is intermittent – each stab doesn't last long – but it repeats every few minutes for an hour or so and then disappears until next time, maybe a month or two. What's that about?

And here's a strange one: once in awhile, one of my earlobes aches horribly, although not for long.

A few trips through Google looking for “old age” and “aches and pains” turned up nothing useful. All the articles are about back, neck and joint pains or conditions mentioned above, some of which can be alleviated with moderate exercise. I am at a loss as to what exercises I can do for my second toe and earlobe.

Now in the greater scheme of things and compared to the real health problems of some elders, none of this is worth mentioning. But I'm curious about whether I am alone in experiencing random pains unrelated to conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism, etc. and that don't seem to indicate a health problem.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek writes of When I Slept with Lauren Bacall.]


ELDER MUSIC: Dog Songs

category_bug_eldermusic When the idea first came to me, I thought this musical topic would be kind of silly (and you can guess what's up for next week's Elder Music), but as I listened, I was surprised at the variety of moods and styles of songs about man's best friend.

Jim Jackson was blues guitarist and singer in the early years of the 20th Century who had a large influence on later rock and blues musicians, including Janis Joplin. This is a scratchy old recording of Old Dog Blue. [3:03 minutes]


Another lament for a canine friend, Old Shep was recorded later by such singers as Elvis Presley and Hank Snow, but this is sung by the by the co-composer, Red Foley, originally released in 1941. If it doesn't rip out your heart, nothing will.


It's hard to overstate how popular this sing-songy song was in the early 1950s of my childhood. If you grew up during that time in the U.S., you probably still know the lyrics to the Patti Page hit, How Much is That Doggie in the Window?. [2:08 minutes]


Just about everyone knows Elvis Presley's first big hit, Hound Dog, but it was recorded earlier by Big Mama Thornton. [2:35 minutes]


Just for fun, here is Hound Dog again by Elvis at a performance in his home town of Tupelo, Mississisppi in 1957, complete with screaming girls. (Were you one of them?) [1:44 minutes]


It is impossible to ignore the title of this Johnny Cash tune from the mid-1960s: Dirty Old Egg Suckin' Dog. It's funny too. [2:09 minutes]


Although both John Lennon and Paul McCartney are credited with writing Martha My Dear from the Beatles' White Album, it is McCartney's song and said to be about his old English sheep dog – or maybe it's about his then-girlfriend, Jane Asher. I prefer the dog explanation. [2:25 minutes]


Back when Yusuf Islam was still known as Cat Stevens, he made this song a hit. I Love My Dog. [3:16 minutes]


In more recent times, Nellie McKay recorded The Dog Song which she sings and plays here at the Letterman Show. [3:07 minutes]


We end with a song from what is probably the best doggie movie ever, Lady and the Tramp, which was released in 1955. Peggy Lee wrote or co-wrote all the music for the film and here, she sings He's a Tramp. [1:19 minutes]

There are a lot of other dog songs I couldn't find online. What are your favorites?


This Week in Elder News: 28 March 2009

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.

Stop me if you've heard this one. A man runs into an acquaintance and says, "It's funny, I was told you were dead.” He says, "well, you can see I'm still alive." The first man says, “You can't be. The man who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you.”

If you have heard that one, you're older than you admit because the story, from an ancient Roman book of jokes, is 1600 years old, discovered by a classics professor. Read more about it here. (Hat tip to Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles)

As the family story goes, Mommy and Daddy were taking pictures of eight-month-old Ronni in her bath when they heard on the radio in the background that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.

Anyone our age remembers that before there was television news, we got pictures of national and international events in movie theater news reels. Nikki Lindquist, who blogs at Nikki's Place, sent along a link to old, Universal news reel footage at YouTube. This is part of President Roosevelt's “Day of Infamy” speech, following the Japanese attack. [2:37 minutes]

That clip is the raw footage. This one, a report on the crash of the zeppelin Hindenburg in 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey, includes the dramatic narration and background music so common in those news reels. [2:59 minutes]

You will find many more historic news reels here:

Nikki has been busy tracking down other other kinds of old video too. Remember the 16mm educational films we sat through in school in the 1940s and 1950s? Embedding is not offered, but you can watch a slew of them at this website.

If you are a fan of Rumpole of the Bailey - the books or the television series – you will enjoy this lengthy interview with Rose Mortimer about her father, Rumpole author John Mortimer, who died at 84 in January.

Crowd sourcing as a method of garnering innovative solutions to social problems is popular these days (see whitehouse.gov). Now, United Cerebral Palsy with AARP and the Institute for the Future, has created a website about a fictional town, Deepwell, where a cast of characters interacts with online participants (you) to overcome a series of caregiving challenges. You'll find all the information and the story at Ruby's Bequest.

There is a new longevity calculator called “Vitality Compass” at AARP. It appears to be more comprehensive than the RealAge longevity quiz popularized by Oprah Winfrey. (I still don't believe I'm going to live to be 94.)

One caveat: Although there is no indication that it applies to the AARP calculator, this New York Times story reveals that RealAge passes on personal information collected from their longevity quiz to pharmaceutical companies who then email marketing messages to participants.

There have been uncountable dance fads through the years and you're sure to remember this one from the 1940s and '50s. Keep your eye on the guy – he is fantastic. (Hat tip to Melinda Applegate) [2:48 minutes]


Advertising and Elders

On Tuesday's post about language and elders, Mary Jamison left this comment:

“While we're at it, what about the advertising?! I don't mind that I get targeted for anti-wrinkle cream and various health care devices as much as I mind how bad the ads are: boring and uninventive.”

Mary is right. Whether television commercials or print ads, the concepts and production values are awful. Unlike Mary, however, I object mainly because they perpetuate the cultural imperative to appear young until the day we die. They say to everyone that youth is the gold standard of life and that aging is unacceptable.

The company that produces whatever this product is has been spending a lot of money for online ads recently. It turns up on almost every email newsletter I get and news website I read:

Before_After3

In addition to being repellent for its message, the ad is a fraud. At first glance, it looks like the lighting is harsher in the “before” photo and the “after” photo has been shot in soft focus. Look again and you can see they are the same photograph; the "after" image has been Photoshopped.

Companies - especially wrinkle cream companies - are so confident people will spend money to look young, they don't even bother with a real testimonial. And as the ad is bogus, it follows that the product is.

More than the obviously fraudulent, however, I object to the focus of all advertising targeting elders for the near one hundred percent concentration on disability and ill health (of which, apparently, wrinkles and sags are included): arthritis, osteoporosis, medical alert systems, scooters, life insurance all feature old people, usually only old people. No wonder everyone believes that to get old is to be sick.

Some old people need these products. So do some young people. The person I see regularly on a scooter in my neighborhood is about 30.

But the greater disservice, I think, is that old people are missing from other kinds of ads and commercials. Do advertisers think we don't buy pet food, cleaning products, breakfast cereal, cell phones, cars, airline tickets? And you'd think elders would be the obvious target for those Dr. Scholl's gel inserts for shoes.

The reason we don't see elders in any but health-related commercials, I suspect (in addition to the fact that ad agencies are staffed almost exclusively with people younger than 40), is that advertisers believe younger people won't buy products that are sold by old people. They are as much brainwashed by perpetual media age bias as they are the brainwashers.

As advertisers know better than anyone, repetition works. So when only young people are shown using the ordinary products of life and we see only old people using health-related products, what is the message? You tell me.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Carmi tells us a love story, Zoya.]


Stimulus Scams

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (S. 1) – more commonly known as the Stimulus Bill (full text here) - became law when President Obama signed it on 17 February. Among the provisions of interest to elders is a one-time payment of $250 to those who receive Social Security benefits.

Scam artists saw an opening and immediately began targeting consumers, including elders, to “help them qualify” for the payments. By email and on websites with official-sounding names, these criminals ask for payment or personal information including names, addresses, bank and credit card account numbers, etc. to do the paperwork for payment of the stimulus check.

These swindles are so widespread that the Federal Trade Commission, on 3 March, issued a warning which you can read at the FTC website.

Here is the real deal on the $250 payment:

  • Everyone who receives Social Security and/or SSI benefits will receive the one-time $250 payment

  • You do not need to do anything to receive the payment

  • If your Social Security or SSI benefit is paid by check, you will receive the stimulus payment by check separate from your regular monthly benefit

  • If your Social Security or SSI benefit is a direct deposit to your bank account, you will receive the payment in that manner

  • If both you and your spouse receive Social Security benefits, you will each receive a $250 payment

  • No schedule has been published for distribution of the checks, but the Social Security Administration has announced that all checks will be delivered by the first week of June

  • The payment is tax-free, no matter what your income is, and you are not required to report it on next year's tax return

  • The payment is in addition to your normal Social Security/SSI benefit and will not affect those benefits

You can find more information in a special section at the Social Security website.

Other scams include offerings to obtain government grants under the stimulus package. The Los Angeles Times published an informative story about them on Tuesday.

It is hard to fathom what kind of people these scam artists are. Aside from the psychology and morality, imagine the thinking that goes into it: “I'll tell people they won't get their stimulus payment unless they apply for it. I'll make it sound so difficult that they will pay me to do it for them. And they're so stupid that they will give me their credit card and bank account numbers that I can then rob.”

Maybe some are that stupid. Or maybe some are alone, worried, mentally confused or don't have the skills to find the facts on their own. Whatever the reasons for falling for a scam, the punishment should be far worse than it probably is, even if the swindlers can be found, because to cheat the vulnerable is reprehensible.

Although $250 doesn't sound like much these days, for people at the low end of the Social Security benefit scale, it makes a big difference. And as one at the other end of the scale, I could get by without it, but it still not chump change.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carol Gardner is talking about jobs and dreams in Flippin' the Bird.]


Watch Your (Ageist) Language

category_bug_ageism.gif Reports here of news, entertainment and advertising bias against elders have fallen off in the past year or so. Ageist depiction of and references to old people are so widespread that I could publish an entire blog with daily links to them. That is not to say there aren't some improvements here and there, but they stand out for their singularity more than any rush toward change.

Now, however, The International Longevity Center – USA, together with Aging Services of California, have published a media style guide that should sit next to the general style guides in every media company.

Language matters. When we are repeatedly assailed with negative, prejudicial words and images, we come to believe in what they stand for. When we change the language, beliefs begin to change. Media Takes: On Aging is primarily concerned with the language of aging with a brief review of current usage followed by authoritative suggestions for change.

Probably the most commonly misused word is elderly, found in newspapers and on television every day to describe anyone with gray hair. Here is Media Takes advice:

“Use this word carefully and sparingly. The term is appropriate only in generic phrases that do not refer to specific individuals: concern for the elderly, home for the elderly, etc. In other words, describing a person as elderly is bad form, although the generalized category 'elderly' might not be offensive.

"If the intent is to show that an individual's faculties have deteriorated, the Associated Press Stylebook recommendations citing a graphic example and attributing it to someone.”

In other words, “elderly” is not, as it is mostly used, a synonym for old.

The book also cites Washington Post columnist Abigail Trafford on a word, senior, that Time Goes By tries to avoid for precisely Ms. Trafford's reasons:

“...the word senior 'has probably had its moment. The word is laden with stereotypes. It conjures up dentures and discounts, decline and dysfunction.'”

Although the authors do not mention the word “still” - as in “At 80, she still cooks her own meals,” it is implicit in this recommendation:

“Don't ascribe a routine behavior to an older individual, suggesting it is a deviation from the norm. Older adults are active, sexual, etc., like people of any other age.”

In the preface to Media Takes: On Aging, Robert N. Butler, who is the president and CEO of the International Longevity Center – USA, who coined the term “ageism” in the 1960s and who was interviewed for Time Goes By last year, writes that because we live so much longer than any previous generations of humankind, it is required now that we change obsolete mindsets and beliefs about growing old:

“The social construct of old age, even the inner life and the activities of older persons, is now subject to review and revision. The very words we use to describe people are undergoing greater scrutiny.

“It is ironic, then, that at the same time Americans are beginning to see an unfolding of an entire life cycle for a majority, we continue to have embedded in our culture a fear of growing old, manifest by negative stereotypes and language that belittles the very nature of growing old, its complexities and tremendous variability.”

The International Longevity Center and Aging Services of California have sent free copies of the style guide to more than 10,000 journalists, film and television producers and other media professionals, and another 2,500 university chairs for marketing, communications and the performing arts. You can download a free copy at the ILCUSA website [pdf] and the Aging Services of California website [pdf].

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chester Baldwin reports his experience with A Real Cost of Freedom of Choice.]


Traffic Survival in Portland, Maine

Yesterday, Crabby Old Lady had reason for a short visit to the Maine Mall in South Portland which is about seven miles from Crabby's home. The trip involves driving over city streets, a major highway for four miles or so and several connecting roads.

During the course of the drive to and from the mall, the following happened:

  • A man (who Crabby had seen from two blocks away) standing on the corner as Crabby's car approached an intersection waited until his light turned red to cross the street.

  • A few blocks later, a woman with a kid of about four suddenly strolled out from between parked cars and, looking neither left nor right, sauntered across the street.

  • On a narrow, two-lane street with parking on both sides, a man suddenly opened the passenger car door wide and stepped out not more than ten feet from Crabby's approaching car.

  • As Crabby's car entered an intersection when her light turned green, a car going the opposite direction sped up to cut in front of Crabby for a left turn.

Crabby's brake foot got a heavy workout yesterday.

None of this is unusual. Every time Crabby drives somewhere, a combination of at least two of these events and/or others occur. It is as if the entire population is begging to die in traffic.

When Crabby moved to New York City, she owned a car and because she lived in Riverdale in The Bronx for the first couple of years, she drove to and from Manhattan daily. With that experience and walking in the city, she quickly learned that at any and every moment, someone will do something in traffic that could maim or kill her.

Once that is understood and internalized, however, driving and walking in New York is frustrating but not frightening or even dangerous. It just takes a different kind of alertness than Crabby had known in other cities.

What makes it work is that everyone knows this. No matter how much pedestrians cross against the light or in the middle of the block, you can trust they know where every car, truck and person is and they know to the nanosecond how to maneuver without being hit.

Similarly, drivers can be trusted to know their part in the unwritten rules (although drivers and pedestrians need to be wary of drivers whose license plates indicate they hail from farther away than New Jersey or Connecticut and have little practice with New York traffic.).

Not so in Portland, Maine. Crabby has lived here for nearly three years and her sense that her life and everyone's else's is at risk each time she steps into her car only increases. And what she resents is that if something happens, the odds are it will be caused by a pedestrian, but she would surely take the rap.

Crabby is not talking about children chasing a ball into the street which all drivers are cautious about. Every incidence of oblivious behavior Crabby has encountered has been by an adult and, not infrequently, an adult with a child in tow or in a baby carriage.

And that guy who waited until his light was red to cross the street? He's not alone. That is the most frequent scary event Crabby runs into (no pun intended). They never look and they always saunter, as though they think city streets are country paths.

It is particularly frightening at night. Streets here are not as well lighted as in New York and almost everyone wears blue or black coats. In the dark, Crabby slows at every intersection, but she cannot do more than cross her fingers that no one will walk out from between parked cars.

The size of Portland, Maine, compared to New York should not require unwritten survival rules. But these people don't even follow the written rules. It's not aging drivers who will kill people here. It is the stunningly mindless pedestrians.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins slips in just under the seasonal change wire with Winter Poem.]


Social Security and the Economic Crisis

category_bug_politics.gif To any elder who receives Social Security benefits (all of us older than 65 or so), a survey by Sun Life Financial released last week is shocking: overall, 48 percent of American workers would prefer to stop paying into Social Security even if it meant they would receive no benefits when they become eligible.

The breakdown of the survey by age is understandable if, as is probably true, the younger you are the less you know about the benefit:

  • 59% of workers in their 30s prefer not to pay and not receive benefits

  • 51% of workers in their 40s agree

  • 44% of workers in the 50s prefer not to participate

The top shocker, however, is that 33 percent of workers older than 60 would choose to stop paying into Social Security if they had a choice – again, even if it meant they would receive no benefits.

As a reader emailed Andrew Sullivan who writes The Daily Dish at The Atlantic:

“This survey suggests that 1/3 of our soon-to-retire population has questionable financial judgment. If that isn't an argument FOR mandatory Social Security, I don't know what is.”

Let me make this personal for a moment. Twice in my life, after the age of 40, emergencies made it necessary for me to cash out my 401(k)s. In addition, three periods of unemployment ranging in length from a few months to two years, put me deeply in debt each time. After I found work again, it took many months to pay off the debt during which time, I could save – well, call it nothing; it was close enough.

Were it not for the value of my apartment in New York, which I sold in 2006 before the housing crash, AND SOCIAL SECURITY, I would be living in a rented room in the back of someone's home. I thank President Roosevelt and Social Security every month when that check is deposited to my account. I doubt that anyone whose Social Security benefit is more than pocket change would disagree.

Particularly with the collapse of the economy, it is incomprehensible that anyone would voluntarily give up Social Security in exchange for 7.2 percent more in their paychecks. Listen to economist James K. Galbraith writing last week in Washington Monthly:

“For the first time since the 1930s, millions of American households are financially ruined. Families that two years ago enjoyed wealth in stocks and in their homes now have neither. Their 401(k)s have fallen by half, their mortgages are a burden, and their homes are an albatross. For many, the best strategy is to mail the keys to the bank...

“...the American middle class find today that its major source of wealth is the implicit value of Social Security and Medicare – illiquid and intangible but real and inalienable in a way that home and equity values are not. And so it will remain, as long as benefits are not cut.” [emphasis added]

About a month ago here, I wrote about the approaching attack on Social Security. It comes from several conservative quarters, and one of them is particularly well-funded - one billion dollars in private money from 82-year-old billionaire, Pete Peterson, whose anti-Social Security/Medicare campaign William Greider laid out clearly in his Looting Social Security story in The Nation in early February.

The 21st century name for cutting Social Security and Medicare is the benign sounding “entitlement reform” and although he won't address it for awhile, even President Obama, in the period between his election and inauguration, committed himself to entitlement reform. In addition (Galbraith again):

“...on February 23 [Obama] convened what he called a "fiscal responsibility summit." The idea took hold that after two years or so of big spending, the return to normal would be under way, and the costs of fiscal relief and infrastructure improvement might be recouped, in part by taking a pound of flesh from the incomes and health care of the old.”

One of the most oft-repeated arguments for cutting Social Security and Medicare is that greedy geezers are taking money from the young. Last week Dean Baker, who is co-director of the progressive think tank, Center for Economic and Policy Research, pointed out the flaw in this reasoning at alternet:

“Finally, the recent collapse of the housing bubble and the resulting stock market plunge have reduced the wealth of older workers and retirees by close to $15 trillion. This is a transfer to the young, since they will be able to buy the housing stock and the corporate capital stock for a far lower price than they would have expected to pay just two years ago.

“Remarkably, the granny basher crew has somehow failed to notice this enormous transfer of wealth from the old to the young. They just continue their crusade to cut Social Security and Medicare as though nothing has happened.

“It should be evident that the granny bashers don't care at all about generational equity. They care about dismantling Social Security and Medicare, the country's most important social programs. It is important that the public recognize the granny bashers' real agenda so that they can give them the respect they deserve.”

As I've written here many times in the past, the projected shortfall in Social Security in 2041 when, if we don't begin fixing it now will result in only 78 percent of benefits being paid, is easily repaired.

Among the best suggestions are raising or even removing the salary cap on which the Social Security tax is paid. It is now capped at $106,800, so don't tell me it would harm poor people, and accomodation can be made for any burden to small business. Gradually raising the age at which full benefits are paid is another good idea - we are living longer, healthier lives than when Social Security was enacted in 1935.

John K. Galbraith's wide-ranging Washington Monthly story, titled No Return to Normal, is about why the economic crisis is bigger than we yet know and will last longer than the cable pundits, eager to sugarcoat our problems, report - and maybe even, according to Galbraith, it is bigger and will be longer than the Obama administration understands so far. But today, I'm concentrating on the sections in his story about Social Security. Here is the part of Galbraith's overall solution to the crisis that applies to Social Security:

“...we should offset the violent drop in the wealth of the elderly population as a whole. The squeeze on the elderly has been little noted so far, but it hits in three separate ways: through the fall in the stock market; through the collapse of home values; and through the drop in interest rates, which reduces interest income on accumulated cash. For an increasing number of the elderly, Social Security and Medicare wealth are all they have.

“That means that the entitlement reformers have it backward: instead of cutting Social Security benefits, we should increase them, especially for those at the bottom of the benefit scale.

“Indeed, in this crisis, precisely because it is universal and efficient, Social Security is an economic recovery ace in the hole. Increasing benefits is a simple, direct, progressive, and highly efficient way to prevent poverty and sustain purchasing power for this vulnerable population.

“I would also argue for lowering the age of eligibility for Medicare to (say) fifty-five, to permit workers to retire earlier and to free firms from the burden of managing health plans for older workers.

This suggestion is meant, in part, to call attention to the madness of talk about Social Security and Medicare cuts. The prospect of future cuts in this modest but vital source of retirement security can only prompt worried prime-age workers to spend less and save more today. And that will make the present economic crisis deeper.

“In reality, there is no Social Security 'financing problem' at all. There is a health care problem, but that can be dealt with only by deciding what health services to provide, and how to pay for them, for the whole population. It cannot be dealt with, responsibly or ethically, by cutting care for the old.”

For those of you who have read this far, I know I've given you a lot of dense reading today. I am about to give you more. Please read all the stories to which I've linked today and in particular, I urge you, plead with you, to read Galbraith's story. It is long and some of it is technical, but it is crucial to understanding all the economic news (some of it quite stupid) we are deluged with every day.

And it will also be important when, in the future, I ask you join the fight to save Social Social and Medicare from the entitlement reformers not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren who, as the Sun Financial survey indicates, need to be saved from themselves.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann tells how she came to know You Are Not in Control.]


ELDER MUSIC: Texas Tunes

EDITORIAL NOTE: Today's Elder Music column is written by Cowtown Pattie who blogs at Texas Trifles. You can't say she isn't enthusiastic about her home-state music.]

Since its raucous and rowdy beginnings, Texas has derived its strength from the independent nature of its natives, sometimes described as "proud, ornery, cussed, hard-headed." When we're right, we proudly lay claim to it and when we're wrong, we own up to it and start all over.

True to that description, Texas music is as colorful and diverse as the state is itself geographically. We're big. So, it follows that the number of talented musicians abound in the Lone Star state. In recent years, Texas has been home to the musical celebration known as SXSW (South by Southwest) which was originally created to showcase artists from across the state, and primarily to bolster the Austin area music scene.

Today, SXSW is much larger in scope and includes musicians from Texas and beyond, and now includes film and other media as well. The 2009 festival runs March 18th through the 22nd and if you cannot attend, then the following suggestions are the next best thing.

With roots deep in our Mexican heritage to the south, ragin' cajun' cousins to the east, lonesome cowboy and plainsmen to our north and west, Texas music has a distinctive sound. Around the hill country (Fredericksburg, Schulenburg, Gruene, New Braunfels, etc.) the music takes on a old European flavor; the accordion was popularized in Tejano music in the 19th century due to cultural exposure to German settlers.

I can't begin to touch the vast choices in Texas talent, so in an attempt at brevity (I had to educate myself on that word – it doesn't exist in the Texas lexicon), the following examples will hopefully get your toes tappin' right smartly and add some flavor to your listening library. I wanted to select artists that non-natives might have yet to discover, thus, Willie and Waylon didn't make the cut, nor did a gazillion other names you would recognize. Not that these better-known fellas and gals aren't worthy - just that their music has been more commercialized.

Okay, first course: to set the mood, you might want to run to the kitchen for some hot salsa and tortilla chips and a bottle of cold beer. Then, let's start with a little south Texas Conjunto/Tejano king of the accordion, Flaco Jimenez. Song was recorded at the 1990 Texas Conjunto festival and I apologize; I don't know the name of the tune. [2:23 minutes]


Flaco is probably more well known to the average Texan with his connection to a great Tex-Mex band, the Texas Tornados. Featuring the late Freddy Fender, Augie Meyers (on the keyboard), Flaco, and the one and only late Doug Sahm, whom you may also know as the Doug in the Sir Douglas Quintet. The band was a mainstay in south Texas music for a long time. This tune is She Never Spoke Spanish to Me. [3:15 minutes]


I bet most of you have heard of Larry McMurtry, the writer and book collector connoisseur, but his son is as terrific a performer as his papa is a quill master. Here is a fantastic quote from the June 20, 1997 edition of the Austin Chronicle by columnist, Christopher Gray:

"In the ongoing parlor game of 'Match the Texas Songwriter to his Appropriate Literary Precursor,' James McMurtry could play a perfect Joseph Conrad to Townes Van Zandt's Walt Whitman, Guy Clark's Mark Twain, and Lyle Lovett's Oscar Wilde. Stacking labyrinthine plots on top of shady characters, sung in a voice reminiscent of Todd Snider and Go to Blazes' Ted Warren, McMurtry's songs are more interior dramatic monologues than jukebox singalongs."

Here is James McMurtry and his band performing 60 Acres [4:22 minutes]


Nothing finer than to dance the night away listening to a real Texas western swing band, complete with a steel guitar and fiddles. Feel your boots slipping on the sawdust, as a sure-footed cowboy leads you through the maze of dancing couples. Here is a fine old tune every Texas western band worth it's cerveza should have in its repertoire, Fraulein, sung by the great Bobby Flores and the Country Minstrels. At any given Friday or Saturday night in Gruene, you can hear this tune fill up the dance hall in that little German Texas town. [3:15 minutes]


Here's a sound that drips with Texas authenticity, The Flatlanders. The band members are each consummate artists individually, and together their sound is even sweeter: Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. The song, My Wildest Dreams, doesn't get started until about two minutes into the clip, but you might enjoy the storytelling that comes before. I really enjoy listening to the nasally, Lubbock-flavored voice of Jimmie Dale Gilmore. By the way, Lubbock is THE flatland country. [4:56 minutes]


Texas is also the home of some great blues music. Most of you are already familiar with the tremendous talent of the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, but before Stevie, before Delbert McClinton and before the Fabulous Thunderbirds, there was Lightnin' Hopkins from Dallas. Lightnin' has been the inspiration to many musicians and is the gold standard of blues in Texas. Have You Ever Loved a Woman is a great example of his bluesiest. [4:18 minutes]


Speaking of Lightnin', this last artist choice was one of his biggest fans. I can't pass up an opportunity to include my most favorite Texas performer, though I came late to his fan club. Sadly, Townes Van Zandt, is no longer with us, he passed away in 1997.

Born to a wealthy oil family in 1944 in Fort Worth, Townes family tree boasts a great grandfather who played a part in the mighty Republic of Texas: Isaac Van Zandt. Townes was a unique Texas musician and his life story is fascinating, though very tragic. Take the time to discover more about Townes, I guarantee you'll be hooked on his music.

The song, Waitin' Round to Die, was never a huge commercial success, but it without fail touches me every time I hear it. I believe the old black man in the film clip is "Uncle" Seymour Washington, an old blacksmith and friend to Townes. [2:25 minutes]


Townes has a son, J.T., who is so much like his dad it's spooky. YouTube did not allow embedding for this video of J.T. singing Nothin' but here is a link.

And for comparison, here is Townes singing the same song. One of his best, I believe. [2:49 minutes]

If you'd like to investigate more Texas artists and music, here's one site to start with. Click on the drop down box to search artists. Enjoy!


This Week in Elder News: 21 March 2009

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

A new survey from Careerbuilder reports that economic meltdown has caused 60 percent of workers 60 and older to postpone retirement (I assume that means those who still have a job.) Eleven percent say they may never be able to retire now due to loss of their savings. Another 73 percent say it will take up to six years of work to recoup their losses. About a quarter say they make up the difference in a couple of years. Read more here.

The New England Centenarian Study at Boston University has been going on since 1992. A recent report about it at Voice of America News noted this important point about living to be 100 and more:

"A lot of people ask, 'Gosh, who would want to live to 100?' because they get this idea of 'the older you get, the sicker you get,' when in fact, what we've found is very opposite to that,” [researcher Thomas Perls] says. "Centenarians, they markedly delay the onset of any kind of disability well to their early- to mid-90s.”

More interesting information from the study here.

The Washington Post Op-Ed columnist, Eugene Robinson, recounted a personal health care story this week – successful surgery for a hand injury. It led him to this conclusion:

“What is relevant is that I have good insurance, which I obtain through my employer, and haven't paid a dime out of pocket for my treatment. If I were among the 46 million Americans who are uninsured, I'd be looking at a huge hospital bill. No one should face financial ruin because of a mishap with a fork and an avocado.

“The way we ration health care now - according to the individual's ability to pay - is immoral, and if higher taxes are needed to ensure that no one has to choose between health and bankruptcy, I'll pay. That was my position all along, but now it's personal.

“What's changed is that I also feel more strongly about the ability to make my own choices. I decided where I would be treated and, ultimately, what would or wouldn't be done. I'm willing to pay for that, too.”

Read more here.

There is no reason for this item except to note that even the bad guys get old. This is Charlie Manson before and now at age 74. Apparently that swastika on his forehead is a jailhouse tat.

CharlieManson

If you receive Social Security benefits AND are also employed, this is valuable information about Stimulus Package payments.

“Employers have received new tax withholding tables from IRS that are based on the assumption that the worker is entitled to the entire $400 individual credit if the worker's salary is under the income limit. A problem is created because the Social Security Administration (SSA) will also independently send out $250 checks to all beneficiaries.

“This means, if working seniors receiving benefits do not take action, they will receive both the credit through their payroll withholding ($400) and the check from SSA ($250). However, double-dipping is not allowed, so the government will insist on recovering the extra $250. Working seniors receiving both benefits will find themselves with a higher tax liability than they are expecting next April 15.”

You need to know this. Read the entire story at the NCPSSM – National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Is a new, bigger baby boom on the way? The highest number of births ever registered in U.S. occurred in 2007, beating the previous record holder, 1957. Read more here. [pdf]

Anytime someone wants to indicate something is out of date or obsolete, they say it's for old people. Now, even that bastion of liberal/progressive/green journalism, Mother Jones, that bastion of liberal/green/progressive magazine out of San Francisco has stepped in it with the headline, Email is for Old People. The magazine is published by the Foundation for National Progress, but they're not making much progress in regard to old age and attitude.

According to a new study from the University of Virginia, human mental abilities peak at 22 and are declining significantly by age 27. I wonder how this news squares with other research showing that the part of the brain that regulates risky behavior does not mature until age 25. More here and here.

This comes to Time Goes By via the two Tamars – one at Only Connect and the other, actually Tamarika, at Mining Nuggets. It's your awwwww video for the day. [2:17 minutes]


THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Zooming

EDITORIAL NOTE: Virginia DeBolt (bio) writes the bi-weekly Elder Geek column for Time Goes By in which she takes the mystery out of techie things all bloggers and internet users need to know to simplify computer use. She has written several books on technology and keeps two blogs herself, Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

Zoom, zoom, zoom. No this isn't a car commercial. I'm going to tell you how you can zoom in your browser.

Zoom in a browser enlarges text. Sometimes it even enlarges the images, depending on the browser. If you go to a web site and the text is so damn small you need eyes like Superman to read it, you don't need to give up and leave. You need to zoom.

FIREFOX
I want to explain a way to zoom in Firefox first, because it has a good add-on to help you. Then I'll get into the other browsers.

If you don't have Firefox, you can download it free. When it's installed, use it to visit the NoSquint add-on download page.

Download and install NoSquint. You'll probably need to restart Firefox.

NoSquint allows you to adjust the default text zoom level, and remembers the level per site. The first time you visit a site, the text zoom is 100%. If you change that to 110% or 120% or whatever you need, NoSquint remembers it the next time you go to that site and you automatically see it at the proper size.

In Firefox (and in many other browsers) zoom is under the View menu.

Firefox-zoom

Select View > Zoom and then the zoom option of your choice. Full Zoom In makes everything bigger. Full Zoom Out makes everything smaller. Text Zoom In and Text Zoom Out only change the text size, not everything else on the page, too.

Even if you don't have the NoSquint add-on in Firefox, you can still zoom using that menu. It just won't keep track of how much zoom you like for each site you visit.

INTERNET EXPLORER
Even though Firefox is the better browser, I'm sure many of you are using Internet Explorer. When you get into the topic of zooming in Internet Explorer, the issue becomes "which version of Internet Explorer."

In Internet Explorer 7, the zoom feature is found in a magnifying glass icon at the bottom right corner of the browser window.

Ie-zoom

Click the magnifying glass and pick your level of zoom. If you need to enlarge text quite a bit, you may end up having to scroll horizontally to read the whole page. The next time you visit the site, you'll have to start over from 100% again.

There is a setting in Internet Explorer that will enlarge all the text, all the time, in every site you visit.

  • Open Internet Explorer
  • From the Tools menu, choose Internet Options
  • Select the Advanced tab
  • Under Accessibility, deselect the following option: Reset zoom level to 100% for new windows and tabs
  • Click OK

Internet Explorer 7 will then preserve your settings in the future.

Internet Explorer 8, which will be available soon, will use something called "adaptive zoom." When you enlarge the text in Internet Explorer 8, you won't get the horizontal scroll bars, the text will expand in size, but it will wrap accordingly so you can simply scroll vertically down the page as usual.

SAFARI
If you use Safari, look in the View menu. Safari uses the terms "Make Text Bigger" and "Make text smaller" instead of the word zoom, but it's the same thing.

Safari-zoom

KEY COMMANDS
If you like to use keyboard commands, pressing both the Ctrl key and the plus sign key at the same time will enlarge text on a Windows computer. On a Mac, press the Apple key (Cmd) and the plus sign key at the same time. To make text smaller, it's the minus key, as in Ctrl - (Cmd - on a Mac).

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, James J Henry Jr recalls his childhood days at GrandMom's House.]


Blogging the News

blogging bug image Thirty years ago, while tearing out walls of a bedroom during renovation of a country house, I discovered newspapers had been used for insulation. Tacked up in date order and perfectly preserved was the front-page coverage of the 1907 “trial of the century,” during which millionaire Henry K. Thaw faced charges of murdering architect Stanford White.

Fascinated with the contemporaneous, daily reports from the courtroom, I lost a whole weekend of work on that bedroom and then bought modern, pink, foamy stuff for the new insulation. I'm not sure it was any better.

Until recently, newspapers didn't stop being relevant when the news got old. They have been used to line birdcages, wrap fish and garbage and to wash windows. Shredded, they have filled many a cat litter box. They are excellent packing material, handy painting drop cloths and in a last-minute pinch, they can become amusing gift wrap.

Newspapers once had a long and useful household shelf life and now that era is ending.

All around the country, newspapers have been cutting staff, closing their doors or, if they can scrape the funds together, switching to electronic-only distribution. And these moves are accelerating.

  • In February, Denver's Rocky Mountain News shut down after 146 years of publication.

  • On Tuesday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became the biggest city daily to close its print edition. It will live on as a web-only paper now, with many fewer employees.

  • In April, the Christian Science Monitor will cease print publication except for one weekend edition and switch their daily schedule to the internet.

There will be more. This downshift in reporting has crucial implications for the future of a democracy, but today I want to talk about a related, if lesser, consequence: the impact on blogging.

In the blogosphere, opinion is cheap and reporting is almost non-existent. Bloggers (I include myself in this) hop around the web, gather a couple of quotations and use them to legitimize our points. Without the legwork reporters do, we would not have anything on which to base our opinions.

Some blogs, including some of the most popular and praised, hardly bother with the added value of opinion; they just write a headline and insert a link to the newspaper. Even The Huffington Post, which labels itself “The Internet Newspaper,” produces little original reporting; it is primarily punditry with links to newspaper stories and one-sentence lead-ins to television news videos.

Many of our blogging sources are not only secondary, they are tertiary because television news videos are often based on what TV producers and reporters read in the morning papers or on the wire services.

Most of television news's national and international bureaus were shut down 10 or 15 years ago so unless there are pictures as compelling as a natural disaster or plane crash, reporting is done from Washington and New York which accounts for the increase in panels of talking heads on news programs - a lot of blather without any reporting behind it.

Almost all blogging is derivative, and that is not bad, necessarily. That liberty badge in the left sidebar of this blog with Jay Rosen's statement that “Blogs are little First Amendment machines” isn't there for nothing. Blogs have given a public voice to anybody who wants one - millions of us - and don't think it can't have an impact. I was just one of thousands of bloggers who expressed their rage at the AIG bonuses on Sunday and Monday and the government noticed.

Especially when the zeitgeist comes together around a single story, as it has with AIG, political change can happen. Congress and the White House were flooded with angry phone calls and email about AIG and are now working on ways to claw back those unearned bonuses. Bloggers, in part, helped do that.

But we read it in the newspapers first.

Such public response cannot not happen without newspapers and professional reporters. It is primarily newspaper, and some TV, reporters who make the repeated phone calls, haunt the halls of Congress and city hall, do the tedious work of plowing through public records and who develop sources over time who are willing to spill the beans.

Now, as more and more of us rely on free editions of online newspapers for our information, more reporters will be laid off and more newspapers will die. Then what? In the decade-long existence of the blogosphere, the number of stories that have been broken by bloggers can be counted on one hand.

For some time, there has been an ongoing discussion among newspaper folks about how they can continue to exist. Even with only an online presence, reporters and editors need to eat and web advertising doesn't cover the bills – less so in our current, economic night.

The most obvious solution, charging a fee to read online newspapers, has already failed, but to preserve an independent press, it will be necessary in some form. A recent suggestion of 99 cents per story is untenable. The news-reading public, having now become accustomed to checking dozens of online sources, would raise holy hell. (At that price, it would cost me, at minimum, $50 a day.)

For now, I'm trusting that a solution will be found, but we are in untried territory. It will take time and some false starts before the problem is solved and undoubtedly more papers will fail before that happens.

Meanwhile, bloggers need to be aware of how much we count on and are beholden to the work of newspaper and, to a lesser extent, television reporters. I could not have written even this opinion-laden post without having read dozens of their stories over the past months and today.

Even though it's hard to wrap fish in flickering pixels, I don't care if newspapers stop appearing in print; electronic is fine. But our “little First Amendment machines” would lose most of their relevance without the hard work of journalists.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson remembers Maudie Mae.]


Hard Times, Hard Choices

It seems that every economic benchmark we have goes south each month, but according to the National Retail Federation, retail sales have increased for two months in a row. They are up .6 percent for February although that figure is still down .5 percent from a year ago.

Considering the number of stores that have closed in my area and what friends are telling me about many boarded-up shops in New York City, I find the numbers surprisingly low, but let's go with them anyway.

Back in early February, the same Federation reported on a survey conducted by BIGresearch about what consumers will and will not live without during our dark economic moment. Here's a list of the top items respondents found expendable:

  • Luxury handbags: 92.2%
  • Satellite radio: 90.9%
  • Specialty apparel: 90.7%
  • High-end cosmetics: 90.7%
  • Maid service: 90%
  • Facials: 89.8%

No kidding. In the best of times, the only one of those I occasionally indulged in was specialty (read: expensive) clothing.

The more interesting list is what the respondents said they cannot live without even in hard times - the “untouchables”:

  • Internet: 80.9%
  • Cell phone: 64.1%
  • Cable TV: 60.5%
  • Discount shopping for apparel: 43.0%
  • Hair cut and color: 40%
  • Fast food: 36.6%
  • New pair of shoes: 24%

One odd finding (to me) is that 57.8 percent of men report fine dining to be untouchable while only 12.3 percent of women feel so. It is no surprise, however, that 69.9 percent of young people 18-34 say they can do without a haircut and color, but only 57.8 percent of the 35-54 age group agree.

Hard times mean hard choices and when you're laid off work, the untouchables become luxuries to dispense with. For those of us who are retired and mostly on fixed (and in many cases now, due to the market crash, reduced) incomes, the biggest threat is inflation which, fortunately, has so far remained under control. But the future feels so unstable to me, that I'm becoming a penny pincher. I'd like to save as much as possible for whatever surprises the fates lay on us next.

With the exception of magazine subscriptions, of which I've let half a dozen of the most expensive expire, there are not whole swaths of expenses, as in the survey, I can cut entirely. I eat out no more than a couple of times of month. I have plenty of clothes and shoes, and never go to a hair salon.

Somehow I've cut my grocery bill almost in half although I'm not eating less or less well. I don't know how I've done that except that I choose the weekly supply of fruit and vegetables depending on sales and I've cut out all sweets (my gigantic sweet tooth is aching like a son of bitch).

I'm pretty sure I'll not renew my VoIP service when it comes due in June and live just with the cell phone. Several friends have been nagging me to get up to speed on Skype, so I'll use that too.

If times get worse, I can cut cable television, although I would miss the news channels a lot. But I'll give up eating before letting my broadband internet connection go.

So the question today is, as in the survey, what is untouchable for you, what is or has become expendable and how hard has it been to give them up?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Frank M. Calibria has discovered that he is Becoming a Klutz.]


REFLECTIONS: Socialism

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Category_bug_reflections To borrow a famous phrase, “a spectre is haunting” America, the specter of socialism. No kidding.

Last October, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber, known experts on specters, labeled Democratic candidate Barack Obama a “socialist” because he proposed increasing taxes on the rich to spread the wealth more equally. And Senator John McCain, who has spent his entire adult life in the pay of the federal government, joined them in denouncing Obama’s plans as “socialism.”

At the same time, when those capitalist bastions, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, were rescuing and taking over commercial and investment banks in the waning days of the most conservative presidency since Calvin Coolidge, even President Bush suggested that this sounded like the end of free enterprise. And some of his best friends on the right said the bailouts smacked of socialism.

In early February as the outgoing Republican administration’s hundreds of billions in bailouts of businesses and banks gave way to the trillions in bailouts and stimulus proposals of the new Democratic President, Newsweek’s provocative cover proclaimed, “We are All Socialists Now.”

Noting the cries of “socialism” from the ranks of right-wing Republican lawmakers (who had given unswerving support to Bush’s deficits and Big Brother government), the Newsweek editors wrote,

“There it was...the S word, a favorite among conservatives...But it seems strangely beside the point. The U.S. government has already – under a conservative Republican administration –effectively nationalized the banking and mortgage industries...Whether we want to admit it or not...the America of 2009 is moving toward a modern European state.”

By that they meant a social democracy, or a democracy (as in Britain, France and virtually everywhere else in the civilized world) with a measure of socialism, social ownership of public services.

Since then, with the introduction of Obama’s first budget, which calls for a tectonic shift in the nation’s priorities – from war fighting, do-nothing government and tax cuts for the wealthy to spending for public works, health care for all, jobs programs and education, liberals celebrate and call for nationalization and social democracy, while conservatives cry socialism as an epithet just short of communism. Thus a column in late February by conservative Washington Post pundit, Charles Krauthammer, was entitled, The Obamaist Manifesto. (Get it?).

On Obama’s speech to the joint session of Congress, Krauthammer wrote, it

“...will be seen as historic – indeed as the foundational document of Obamaism. As it stands, it constitutes the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. President.”

On the same date, as if taking a cue from Krauthammer, Congressional Quarterly reported from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, that Republican congressional leaders had come up with a strategy to oppose Obama’s budget priorities by “comparing them to those of socialist governments in Europe.”

House Republican leader John Boehner, one of the tannest members of Congress, considering he’s from Cincinnati, told the conference, “The stimulus, the omnibus budget, it’s all one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Obama was seeking to “basically Europeanize America.”

Mike Huckabee said of Obama’s plans, “Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff.”

And profitable prophet Tim LaHaye, told interviewer Rachel Maddow that Obama’s “socialism” was a precursor to “the rapture,” and the coming of the “antiChrist.”

That’s crazy, for sure, but it’s time to quit pussy-footing around the language and see what we’re talking about when throwing out words like “socialism.” For as I wrote here last October, there’s not a thing wrong with socialism. Some of our greatest minds were socialists, including Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and George Orwell. But Barack Obama is not a socialist, although I would not object if he was.

Socialism, according to Wikipedia,

“refers to a broad set of economic theories of social organization advocating public or state ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods...”

The key phrase - ”public or state ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods” - separates what is and what is not socialist.

Thus, the Newsweek story referred to Bush’s huge expenditure and expansion of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit as an example of a movement toward European style socialism. It was nothing of the sort, for the legislation took the program out of the hands of the government, Medicare, and gave it to drug and insurance companies that have enjoyed big profits.

Moreover, Medicare is not a socialist enterprise because it contracts with insurance companies as regional administrators and Medicare’s providers - doctors, labs, hospitals - are mostly private, unlike the British system of socialized medicine where providers work for the National Health Service.

Even if Obama adopted Medicare for All, which I doubt, it would fall short of being socialized medicine, because medical providers would be working for themselves, as they do now with Medicare. As it is, Obama still plans that insurance companies will play a large role in health care.

The U.S. does, however, harbor enclaves of socialism. In the successful VA health system and in the National Institutes of Health, where some of the best medicine is done, providers work for the federal government. The National Parks are socialist enterprises, despite Bush’s attempts at privatizing them. Many public power utilities, like the Tennessee Valley Authority, the great dams of the west, most urban transit systems and some railroads are owned by all of us.

Government can’t do anything right? Tell that to 60 million people served by Social Security. Or maybe you’d rather see Citigroup or General Motors or Philip Morris entrusted with your well-being.

I do not understand why we should fear the social democracy of Europe. Many Americans, including members of Congress, enjoy traveling to Europe and taking advantage of their social democracies - cheap and fast transportation, universal health care and a healthy opposition to war. There is no such thing as an uninsured person in the European Union, and the Euro has become as strong as the dollar.

But I digress. The only group that does not fear or even see the specter of socialism, is the Democratic Socialists of America, which mourns that socialism has not taken hold in this country and has few prospects. Nevertheless, as Obama is learning, despite the American desire for change, any challenge of the status quo will run into stiff opposition from those who have been in charge for more than eight years.

As that original 1848 manifesto said (substitute socialism for communism): “Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as socialistic by its opponents in power?”

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine speaks of the writing life in Tuesdays.]


Xtreme Compensation, Xtreme Rage

UPDATE: There is an interesting analysis of this AIG story from Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.]

category_bug_politics.gif Although I start every day with the online newspapers, I look forward to Sundays for the couple of hours, often more, of leisurely immersion in the mix of news and expanded weekend features that has been my ritual for half a century.

As usual yesterday morning, I brushed my teeth, fed the cat, made the coffee and settled down at my computer. Also as usual, I started with The New York Times. What was not usual is that when I saw the headline of the lead story, AIG Planning Huge Bonuses After $170 Billion Bailout, I nearly spit my coffee onto my pristine new laptop. You could say I was spitting mad.

It was only 6AM eastern time, but the number of comments at the end of the story had already reached 528, all of them some variation on what David Weidler of New Orleans wrote:

“This is criminal. Instead of being fired for there incompetence they are being rewarded. How can Congress allow this to happen?”

Indeed. It's good to know I'm not alone in my anger.

I skipped over to The Washington Post where it was also a front-page story: Bailout King AIG Still to Pay Millions in Bonuses. The number of comments of the same stripe had already passed 600.

So much for my pleasurable Sunday morning ritual.

After the brouhaha over CEOs traveling to Washington by private jet to beg for billions, and the widespread disgust at multi-million-dollar bonuses for those same CEOs and their corporate sidekicks, and the president's public chats on our troubles and our responsibilities, Little Miss Sunshine here had thought bonuses might be finished. How could I have been, even briefly, so delusional? Where did my instinctual cynicism go?

Not to worry. It returned full force Sunday morning and I am enraged.

The federal government has given AIG $170 billion in bailout money in exchange for 80 percent ownership of the giant insurance company. AIG planned to pay out $165 million in bonuses by yesterday which, according to The New York Times, is in addition to $121 million previously paid. And, this bonus money is going to "the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.”

That would be the financial services division, the one that wrote trillions of dollars of credit default swaps backed by sub-prime mortgages.

Edward M. Liddy, the new AIG chairman appointed by Treasury secretary Henry Paulson to run the company wrote in a letter last month:

“These employees [receiving bonuses] are highly specialized and/or are part of businesses that control billions of dollars of revenue and value that will be needed to repay the U.S. taxpayer. Our competitors understand how valuable our top executives are, and we are acutely aware that they would like to siphon off our most talented leaders.”
- The Washington Post, 15 March 2008

In addition to that “best and brightest” argument for bonuses from bailout funds, both the companies and the federal government say that the bonuses are binding legal contracts:

“...in his letter to Mr. Geitner, Mr. Liddy wrote that he had shown the details of the $450 million bonus pool to outside lawyers and had been told that AIG had no choice but to follow through with the payment schedule.

“The administration official said the Treasury Department did its own legal analysis and concluded that those contracts could not be broken.”
- The New York Times, 15 March 2009

Horse pucky. Corporations break contracts every day, especially those with their employees. In a brilliantly clear explanation of how debt destroyed our economy, attorney Thomas Geoghegan, writing in the April issue of Harper's (not yet online), says:

“First, we removed the possibility of creating real, binding contracts by allowing employers to bust the unions that had been entering into these agreements for millions of people. Second, we allowed those same employers to cancel existing contracts, virtually at will, by transferring liability from one corporate shell to another, or letting a subsidiary go into Chapter 11 and then moving to 'cancel' the contract rights, including lifetime health benefits and pensions.”

People who destroy a company are not “talented” and they are not “valuable” as Mr. Liddy and other CEOs continue to insist in the bonus controversy. They are criminally incompetent. They have brought our country (and other countries) to its financial knees, destroying the life savings of millions of people. In addition to the retirement savings and college funds of those in mid-life that are gone, there are elders who will live in penury for the rest of their lives due to the greed and incompetence of the people in these companies.

Here's a rueful laugh to go with my rage – the definition of bonus at entrepreneur.com:

“A monetary payment made to an employee over and above their standard salary or compensation package. Bonuses are one of the ways employers reward their employees for a job well done.” [emphasis added]

Someone has got to pay for the destruction of trillions of dollars of ordinary Americans' (mostly modest) wealth if for no other reasons than appearances and to assuage the fury of people who not so long ago had jobs and savings and now stand helpless in unemployment lines and live crammed in with relatives while business executives who caused this crisis are allowed to continue in their jobs still raking in millions for “a job well done” in addition to their astronomical salaries.

It was shocking, but also gratifying, to see how many hundreds of people, so early in the morning, had already expressed their rage in comments at The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers around the country. If these executives are not going to be fired or prosecuted, at least the bonuses must stop.

A government that can figure out a “legal” way to deprive workers of their right to organize and their earned pensions can certainly figure out how to strip executives of their unearned bonuses. Rage, rage against this crime to President Obama and your representatives. You know how.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson has a puzzle for you in his story, The Jumble.]


ELDER MUSIC: Story Songs

category_bug_eldermusic One of the great pleasures in life is a good story, and there are hundreds, maybe thousands of them told in song. Some of today's collection are so familiar you may, like me, know every word by heart. That doesn't mean I don't love to hear them again and again. Sometimes in an evening, I put on the headphones, crank up the volume, make sure all the windows are closed so no one can hear my off-key voice and sing along as loud as I want.

In the 1960s, songwriters had a penchant for long, long stories. The granddaddy of them all is, of course, Alice's Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. [18:36 minutes]


Twenty-five years ago or so, a friend found himself in the small town of Clear Lake, Iowa. He was a man who knew what is important in life and he sent me a postcard from there with the note,

“This is where Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper performed the night before they died when their plane went down on February 3, 1959. You should know this.”

That was, of course, “the day the music died” (50 years ago last month) that Don McLean wrote and sang about in American Pie. [8:36 minutes]


Forty-two years after Ode to Billie Joe was released, speculation still reigns as to the reason Billie Joe McAllister “jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge,” and singer/writer Bobbie Gentry has never said why. This is Gentry singing the story song on The Smothers Brothers Show. [4:49 minutes]


Who else but Shel Silverstein could have written a song as odd and wonderful as A Boy Named Sue. It was a huge hit for Johnny Cash in 1969 and this is the original live performance at San Quentin Prison in California that was recorded by Granada Television. [3:07 minutes]


Big Bad John, “who stood six-foot-six and weighed 245,” is a folk hero who met a sad end in the mine where he worked. It was a hit for Jimmy Dean who sings it here. [3:06 minutes]


Hoyt Axton wrote a bunch of story songs during his career. He probably came by his talent through his mother, Mae Axton, who co-wrote Elvis Presley's first major hit, Heartbreak Hotel. Della and the Dealer is a song about a murder in Tucson and also about a cat named Kalamazoo. [3:18 minutes]


Dave Van Ronk, who was a friend of mine, really is (and rightly so) a musical legend - a brilliant guitar picker and interpreter of blues, folk, jazz, old English ballades and much more. I fondly remember him for our frequent evenings playing cards with friends at his apartment on Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village. He was the worst Hearts player I ever knew and no matter how much we played, he never got any better. But his enthusiasm for the game never waned.

Stackerlee (also known as Stagger Lee and several other spellings) has been recorded hundreds of times. Van Ronk's version is a favorite. At the top of this video, he explains how he came to know the song. [5:49 minutes]


Frankie and Johnny, about a woman who shoots her man because “he done her wrong,” has been around since before the dawn of the 20th century. I'd intended to find a version by someone like Johnny Cash, Hoyt Axton or even Lena Horne. But I came across this clip from the 1956 movie, Meet Me in St. Louis sung by Sammy Davis, Jr. as the backdrop to a dance by Cyd Charisse. It is dated in so many ways and marvelous. [6:50 minutes]


I've told the story here before about how, as young as five years old, I listened again and again to an album my parents owned titled Manhattan Tower which I believe began my love affair with New York City 20-odd years before I finally got there.

This is a later re-recording of the suite that was originally released in 1946, and it has been shortened to a third of its length which loses a whole lot of good stuff from the middle. Too bad. It is arranged and produced by the composer, Gordon Jenkins, and is the story of a young man who goes to New York to make his mark. [6:57 minutes]


This Week in Elder News: 14 March 2009

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.

Sad news. On 7 March, 78-year-old Gene Maudlin who blogged for four years at Old Horsetail Snake died. According to a lovely tribute to him at A Mark on My Wall,

“Gene died today utilizing Oregon’s Death with Dignity plan. He was tuckered out from trying to breathe. His Scamp was with him at Hospice Hopewell House.”

Gene's site was one of the best daily laughs in the blogosphere. He was irascible, irreverent, profane and fall-down funny. His blog is archived here. Give yourself a smile or two today and read some of it.

I always thought hair turned gray because our bodies stopped producing melanin. It turns out I'm wrong. New research reveals it is caused by increased production of hydrogen peroxide:

"All of our hair cells make a tiny bit of hydrogen peroxide, but as we get older, this little bit becomes a lot. We bleach our hair pigment from within, and our hair turns gray and then white.”

There is more explanation here and here.

A psychologist in England wants to ban the word “retirement” to suit baby boomers who, apparently, are different from those of us who precede them. Nearly 50 percent of them want to travel when they retire as opposed to 39 percent of their parents' generation:

"[Boomers] do not see retirement as when they wind down and leave things behind. Instead, it is all about seizing the opportunities it presents."

As if no one else ever did that. But then, we all know that boomers are smarter, younger, kewler and better than their parents and every other generation that ever lived. I'd bet good money that the researcher/psychologist is a boomer. More here.

Thanks to TGB reader and sometime contributor, Leah Aronoff, we have this excellent precis from the Mayo Clinic on what to expect as we age. It covers heart, bones, kidneys, digestion, eyes, ears, skin, sleep and much more in easily digested chunks with links to more information for each one. It's practical, no-nonsense, straightforward information – worthy of a prominent bookmark.

Just because we elders have Medicare doesn't mean we don't have a stake in the health care reform President Obama will soon take on. This story explains two of the major approaches being considered. The time has come for everyone in the U.S. to have access to health care and it should be at least as good as Medicare; as good as what Congress gives itself would be even better.

And you can keep up with the Obama administration's view of health care at the new healthreform.gov website where you can read thousands of suggestions from ordinary Americans and submit your own ideas.

Unless you count some elders in this video, it has nothing to do with being old but it is marvelous to watch. The T-Mobile commercial was shot at Liverpool Street Station in England in January. The cameras were hidden so no one except the professional dancers knew what was going on. (Since 7.5 million people have viewed this video, you probably know it; but I didn't - so just in case.) [2:41 minutes]

Chuck Nyren of Advertising to Baby Boomers points to a bunch of stories questioning the usefulness of brain games. As I've said before, save your money. Crossword puzzles, soduko and blogging are just as good for your mind, less repetitive and cheaper too. More at Chuck's blog.

There is a terrific story at Alternet this week about a new book revealing hundreds of illustrations The New York Times regarded “not fit to print” with a whole lot of examples of the rejected works. Some of the reasons given are hilarious – or sad, depending on your point of view.

Ageism in youth can be a self-fulfilling prophecy according to Professor Becca Levy (and some other researchers) who has done excellent work over the years into the effects of prejudice on elders.

“The researchers examined the health histories of all the volunteers, focusing on cardiovascular disease, and they discovered that there was a striking link between ageism early in life and poor heart health later on...It could be taken as a cautionary tale for those who think they'll never grow old.“

You can read more here.

Remember when cash registers were big, bold, beautiful, brassy things that went ka-ching when a sale was rung up? There's a good story at The New York Times about an 86-year-old and his 46-year-old son who still repair them in their shop on the Bowery in New York.

In the U.S. this past week, it has been hard to miss The Daily Show host Jon Stewart's brilliant take-down of MSNBC money shoutmeister, Jim Cramer. If you didn't know better than to listen to advice from financial advisers before, you will after this video.

Earlier in the week, Cramer had tried to dismiss Stewart as only a comedian. Thursday night, in a face-off between the two men on The Daily Show, Stewart proved what real financial analysis is – that no one else is doing – and he'll make you laugh too, when you're not crying at what passes for financial reporting.

This is long [21:12 minutes] and worth every second.


The Excitement of Retirement

category_bug_journal2.gif There was a time in my life when I jetted off to exotic places, worked with kings and queens and movie stars and heads of state, hobnobbed at press parties with big-time rock and classical music stars and even visited the White House a couple of times including the Oval Office and the hallways, although not the private rooms, of the residence. That was when I was producing television shows.

Later, at the dawn of the internet era, I became the managing editor at cbsnews.com when it was new. Nobody knew then how to build web pages that worked, there were hardly any retail sites let alone Google, Wikipedia, YouTube and all the other services we take for granted now. The New York Times wasn't online yet and CNN.com, which launched about the same time as cbsnews.com, was our only news competitor for a few months.

We helped invent how the internet – or, the editorial end of it – works during those first couple of years and it was as exciting as my years in television had been – like what television must have been when it was in its infancy and many of the production techniques had not been developed yet.

In both careers, there were always hard deadlines and the hours were long, sometimes weeks (in one case, three months) without a day off. I used to think the reason I never married a second time was due to all the dates I canceled when emergencies and last-minute glitches arose.

I wouldn't trade a minute of it. I traveled the world on someone else's dime, got a peek at the lives of the rich, famous and powerful, worked with really smart people and best of all, it was a better education than any college or university could have given me.

In 2005, I was forced to accept the idea that I had retired. After a year of looking for work following a layoff from my last place of employment, I had become too old – at least in the eyes of the 20-something interviewers I met.

It took awhile to become accustomed not only to my new circumstance, but the to the word “retirement” itself. I didn't like it. It sounded tired, worn out, useless, boring. I got over my negative feelings about it, but when I step back and look at my days now, I can see why many young people dismiss us. Here is what I did yesterday, more or less in the order of occurrence:

  • Read the papers online with my morning coffee

  • Answered overnight email

  • Read some blogs

  • Played with the cat for 15 minutes until he decided a nap was in order

  • Paid some bills

  • Did two loads of laundry

  • Watched the first television reports of the Madoff guilty plea

  • Made a big batch of beef stew

  • Cut short a walk when I got too cold, having been fooled by the bright sun into thinking it was warmer than it was

  • Ran a couple of errands in the car

  • Read a couple of chapters of a book

  • Played with the cat again

  • Folded all the laundry (god, I dislike folding laundry)

  • Wrote this blog post

  • Answered more email

  • Had dinner while clicking through various TV news programs

  • More cat play time

  • Read a couple more chapters of the book

  • Watched The Daily Show from the day before

Have you fallen asleep? With minor variations, especially for seasons of the year, that's what happens every day, occasionally interspersed with lunch or dinner with friends.

And I LOVE IT. I love it as much as I loved all that running around the world meeting people and doing new things. A big part of it is that every day I can work at my own schedule rather than an employers'. If there's something more interesting than dirty laundry, the wash will wait for me. When I sometimes feel snoozy in the afternoon, I can have a nap. And when the warm weather arrives, with my little Eee PC now, I can walk down to the ocean even when I have a blog post to write.

There is the kind of time I never had before to work for a political candidate, have long phone conversations with faraway friends and leisurely walk through a museum or take a drive to a town I haven't seen in my new home state. I no longer need to cram all the household chores into a weekend and my personal interests into an hour here or there as I did for decades.

I would never have guessed it 15 or 20 years ago, but retirement suits me and I don't care how boring it appears to others. It feels right for this season of my life and that list is all the excitement I need.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Cowtown Pattie presents us with the tale of the life of Auntie McGasser.]


Cereal Toys

When did cereal toys disappear? I sometimes eat dry cereal for breakfast during the warm months of the year and there haven't been toys – at least not in the brands I eat – for decades.

Like most children, I probably drove my mother nuts begging for Rice Krispies or Shredded Wheat or Krumbles (remember Krumbles? It was discontinued half a century ago) depending on what the toy inside was.

Many were small plastic figures slightly larger than Monopoly counters – animals, trains, cars, flowers, hats, etc. - with a little hole attached so my friends and I could keep them all on a string, like a charm bracelet. Sometimes there were decoder rings, badges and other trinkets promoting radio shows we listened to.

I've forgotten most of them, but 60 years ago or so, these toys were an important part of my young life and it was not unknown for me to empty out a new cereal box, when mom wasn't around, to retrieve the toy that had sunk to the bottom.

So I was intrigued when I read somewhere recently that Cheerios has revived the cereal toy with a series of Lego racing cars. There is still snow on the ground here in Portland, Maine, but I couldn't resist picking up a box when I was at the market yesterday. Just as in days of yore, I opened the box as soon as I got home. (Well, I put the fish in the fridge first.)

What a disappointment. The car is enclosed in its own plastic bag so it sits on top of the cereal bag. Easier to find and maybe more sanitary than when I was a kid, but not nearly as much fun as digging through the cereal.

Worse, the car is already assembled. Booooo.

LegoCar

And worst of all, there are only three Lego pieces. I was imagining about 10 little pieces I'd need to work at putting together. It's boring when there's nothing to figure out.

LegoCarPieces

That fourth item (no, not the cat) is a group of stickers you can attach to decorate it like a professional race car. Overall, I am not impressed, although Ollie found it amusing enough to give those black wheels a couple of pokes. Then he lost interest too.

But the exercise sent me to the web to see what I could find about vintage cereal toys. Basically, not much, except on eBay. But there were hardly any as old as my era, the 1940s and early 1950s.

One of the cereal toys I've never forgotten was a plastic submarine. On its bottom was a tiny container into which you placed baking powder. The sub would then dive underwater and resurface on its own, again and again. I loved that toy and spent a lot of time with it in the bathroom sink. I was – oh, seven or eight years old.

And guess what? Among all the modern “antique” cereal toys on eBay from the 1970s and 1980s, I was delighted to find this one, identified as a 1950s cereal prize - and identical to the submarine I remember.

Cerealtoysub

Now that's a classy toy - look at the detail compared to the race car. It's cheap enough too, under $10 including shipping, and I almost bought it before I realized how silly I was being.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sydney Halet has written an ode to Old Fashioned Married Life.]