Previous month:
March 2009
Next month:
May 2009

REFLECTIONS: Taxes

[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 The late and unlamented foolishness called Tea Bagging for Tax Day on the ides of April, reminds me of one of the earliest lessons I learned in Washington journalism: Beware of the “cheap shot.”

But before I go further, there are a few things that need to be said in the wake of the vicious and hypocritical and dangerous stupidity of the so-called protests, things that most of my colleagues in the press may have missed. I say dangerous because most of the mob-like threats and name-calling, like “fascist,” “communist,” “socialist,” were directed at the first black President of the United States. And the fanaticism, the results of which could be unthinkable, was encouraged by appeals to lawlessness:

1. House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said, “April 15 has long been and always will be a day American workers and their families despise.”

First, the polls show that this is not true; 61 percent of Americans think the tax code is fair. But this is from a man, sworn to uphold the tax laws, among others, who has been taking taxpayers’ salaries and perks for 20 years, and who let out nary a peep when his president sent Ohioans to wars, approved wiretaps and torture and ran up the highest deficits in history while trying to kill Social Security.

2. Talk show foul mouth Glenn Beck, whose baseless babbles charging Obama with the intent to ban all guns, may have led to the murders of three police officers in Pittsburgh, called for secession from the federal government because, he said, it’s driving us to suicide, all the while standing in the Alamo, where Bowie, Crockett, Travis and every defender died as part of their effort to eventually bring Texas into the union.

The Alamo, not incidentally, was restored as a national monument by the federal Works Progress Administration.

3. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, suggested his state has the right to secede from the union, apparently forgetting that that had been tried before, that Texas would blow away if not for federal largesse, and that Texas owes its existence to one of the greatest federal land grabs in American history in 1836 - thanks to Andrew Jackson and his friend, Sam Houston, the state’s first governor and an opponent of the 1861 secession.

Apparently, Perry and fellow governors of the Old Confederacy are still fighting the Civil War for states’ rights (i.e, slavery) as well as the outcome of the last election, refusing to recognize that their side lost in 1865 and Obama won in 2008.

But I have digressed. Like these demagogues, many of us – in the press and among the public – are too quick to join in taking such shots at taxes, the Congress and its alleged pork barrel projects, now called “earmarks.” We do so without thinking. They are easy targets.

And it’s especially easy for television to ridicule where our money goes and how it is spent; it makes for a good two-minute piece. It’s the kind of cheap shot that the late Sen. William Proxmire, [D Wis] popularized with his “Golden Fleece Award.” But most of the time if you looked closer, there was merit in the expenditure.

Thus Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, part of the Old Confederacy cabal fighting against federal money its citizens need, ridiculed the funds in the stimulus legislation that monitored volcano activity. Of course there are no volcanoes in Louisiana, but there is one in Alaska and it’s been erupting. And there is money set aside for monitoring hurricane and levee problems in Louisiana.

Remember how many times during the campaign you heard criticism of funds spent on fruit fly research? Well, because of the nature of the fruit flies’ rapid generational changes, they make for excellent research into all sorts of human problems. And yes, we ought to know why the honey bee seems to be disappearing.

More broadly, the nation’s founders created the House of Representatives and gave it the exclusive powers to tax and appropriate because the “People’s House” is where the most basic tenet of American politics, the utilitarian principle of self-interest, rightly understood, operates. Indeed, what has been derided as “bringing home the bacon” is what members of the House are supposed to do.

In that give and take among members of the House is how roads, bridges, schools, sewer systems and money for states and localities are divvied up. It’s true that some of it may go to a bridge to nowhere, but then again, it may be a bridge that serves a few people who need it.

That’s what government is for. Perhaps some of the things are purchased at too high a price, but the seller and the maker will pay taxes on the money they make.

I am sure there have been many abuses, but over these 200 plus years, the Congress has spent money to build the railroads, the nation’s industrial infrastructure, the interstate highway system and the airports, though this process too often belittled as pork. All of us who closely examine our own lives can find how we’re better off for the pork that members of Congress, and our city and county council representatives, won for us and our neighborhoods. Just the other day, county pork paved the roads in my rural area.

As for taxes, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, reported on April 17 that the average American family paid only 5.9 percent of its earnings in federal income taxes in 2007, a near-record low. As a result, a Gallup survey found that more than half the people said their federal income taxes were either too low or about right.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pointed out that the United States has “the lowest taxes of all developed nations.” Even the wealthiest of Americans this year will pay only 28 percent (slightly more than under Bill Clinton), compared to a 90 percent marginal tax rate during World War II and under Dwight Eisenhower (which worked out to 50 percent after deductions).

According to the liberal Campaign for America’s future, the problem is not so much that taxes are too high, but that many are unfair. Great corporations escape an estimated $14 billion in taxes through loopholes, deductions and off-shore businesses. Individuals who can afford good lawyers or accountants pay lower rates than many less affluent Americans who don’t itemize.

A good example of the unfairness is the regressive payroll tax for Social Security. At the moment, there is a $107,800 cap on earnings subject to Social Security taxes, which means persons earning more – much more - avoid this tax on every dollar they earn over $107,800. And sales taxes on necessities hit the poor harder than the rich.

Still, even with payroll, state, local and sales taxes, Americans pay a smaller percentage of their incomes to governments than most people in Europe. Taxes in France and Germany amount to 50 percent or more. Americans pay less in taxes, but a lot more than most Europeans for public transit. And Europe’s high taxes provide a variety of benefits including paid maternity leave, child care and universal health care.

We get what we pay for and we seem to want a huge military more than we want, say, better public schools and health care.

So next time you celebrate low taxes, don’t complain about the pothole that swallowed your car or the cops who didn’t come quickly enough. Remember the admonition of Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.” And earmarks too.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson talks about childhood and food in The Asparagus Tale.


The Appearance of Age

EDITORIAL NOTE: My huge apologies to Virginia DeBolt who writes The TGB Elder Geek column twice a month. For the past two columns, I forgot to put her byline and bio at the top of her piece. I want to clear that Virginia writes that column, not me. Here is the bio that should have appeared yesterday and is now there:

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.


category_bug_journal2.gif The media buzz surrounding Susan Boyle, the frumpy, 47-year-old, Scottish singer who became a YouTube sensation, prompted yet another story, this one in The New York Times last week, about stereotypes and the human need to categorize one another based on appearance.

Rounding up sound bites from the usual experts in anthropology, psychology and neuroscience, the reporter concluded, as the headline declaims, “Yes, Looks Do Matter.”

They sure do. I'm certain there are some enlightened souls who never give a fig about what they look like to others. For most of us, however, particularly women, we start caring at – oh, about kindergarten age. I must have been seven or eight when, one day, it struck me how pretty all the girls in my ballet class were. And that I wasn't like them.

Although I didn't need independent proof of that observation, it was reinforced at our recitals each year when someone else danced Cinderella and I danced the stepmother. Another girl was the Sugar Plum Fairy; I was the Nutcracker.

But it hit home hardest in my freshman year of high school. Sometimes it is little things that bring home larger truths.

I was shy and awkward in those days, had no idea how to talk to people and fellow students were not admiring when they labeled me “the brain,” shouting the epithet at me in the halls. “There goes the brain,” they said. Could I help it that I had the answers when teachers called on me? Learning came easily; socializing and friendship did not.

A brutal revelation occurred one afternoon when I was walking home alone several paces behind a gaggle of the most popular girls in school. They looked so pulled together, dressed in just the right way, their hair bouncy and perfect as they laughed and giggled together - oh, so comfortable and self-assured in their attractiveness. Something I knew nothing of.

Then I noticed the backs of their ankles. They were indented on both sides. Mine were not and I remembered a saying I had heard now and then that “the mark of a lady is a well-turned ankle.”

I still don't know where that adage comes from or what it means. But that day I came to know for certain, by way of a more familiar adage, that the story of the ugly duckling would not be my story, that no swan ever had fat ankles.

Fifty-five years later, I remember that afternoon precisely. When I got home, I stared at myself in the mirror for a long time and thought about my appearance intensely. I knew even then that pretty people are granted dispensation by others as one expert confirms in the Times story:

“Indeed, attractiveness is one thing that can make stereotypes self-fulfilling and reinforcing. Attractive people are 'credited with being socially skilled,' Professor Fiske said, and maybe they are, because 'if you’re beautiful or handsome, people laugh at your jokes and interact with you in such a way that it’s easy to be socially skilled.'”

The rest of us have to work at it, which in later years I did, overcoming my shyness and learning to make the best of my peasant face and body with artful use of makeup, hairstyles and clothes.

On that day so long ago, however, I didn't yet have those skills and I ended my watershed afternoon of self-assessment with a kind of shrug: oh, well, maybe someone will marry me because I'm smart (remember, in those days marriage was the primary goal for girls) even if I'm not pretty.

Here is another thing I knew – later, but still at a young age: no matter how much I learned about making myself as attractive as possible, when I got old, I would revert to my teenage looks – an older version of plain and ordinary. And it's true. Only it happened differently from what I had imagined.

I had thought there would come a time when the artifice wouldn't work anymore. Instead, I've become consciously, even aggressively what I am. Sometime in the past few years I ran out of energy to make the effort, so no makeup now. No hairstyle. It has grown nearly down to my waist and I pin it up on top of my head to keep it out of my face. I had gained a lot of weight and now I've lost a good deal of it – but that's for health reasons, not vanity this time.

On the half dozen times a year I think I need to boost my appearance – for a TV show or a special social occasion – I can still pull myself together, at least in the context of what my 68 years look like. And it's kind of fun, in a girly-girl way, when it's only occasionally. But I wish way back in high school I could have been as accepting of myself as I am now.

Ronni2009_04_28

This is a webcam shot taken yesterday as I was writing today's post. Still not the beauty I wished to be as a kid, but I don't mind now. I am what I am and beyond neat, clean and appropriate, I don't pay much attention anymore.

It was Susan Boyle's dowdiness that caused the sensation. If she had the attractiveness of a Julia Roberts or Demi Moore, who are in range of Susan's age, I doubt her performance would have had the same kind of impact. No one expects plain people to be anything special and except in rare cases like Susan Boyle, hardly anyone allows them to be.

Good looks give people an advantage over more ordinary appearance and it causes so much angst – of which my younger self is proof. One of the advantages of growing old is that we can get over such things.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Carmi writes of a harrowing story from her husband's experience as a young soldier in World War II – Kakushka.


THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Keeping Up with Technology

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.

The fascinating thing about technology is that it's always changing, always new. The terrifying thing about technology is that it's always changing, always new. If you'd like to keep track of current news in technology - at least have a glimmer of what everyone's talking about - how do you do it?

Follow the News
The easiest way is to follow the news, just the way you follow news on any topic. In The New York Times, columnist David Pogue publishes a column called Pogue's Posts that deals with all sorts of topics. Recently, Pogue has written about Twitter, cameras, Blockbuster, Skype, Google, and PDF. You can look at the archive of all his posts or look for posts on a topic of interest using the Tag List on the page.

At The Washington Post, writers Rob Pegoraro and Brian Krebs write in the Technology section and take on topics like GPS, computer safety, social media, games, software and everything else in technology news.

Read the Blogs
I post a variety of news stories related to technology each week myself on BlogHer. In the past month or so I've talked about financial websites, the argument over Kindle 2's read-aloud feature, the Pew Generations Online study, donations sites and Twitter.

There are blogs that are nothing but technology news. Two examples are TechCrunch and Techmeme. These two sites provide a constant stream of information about the business of technology, new technology, new startups, and rumors in the industry about everything from Steve Jobs health to whether or not IBM is going to buy out Sun.

Both of these sources publish between 10 and 25 articles a day on tech topics. I read both of these blogs, but only about 10 percent of the articles get my actual attention. The rest just flow on by. Technology topics cover a vast landscape. It's okay to be interested in only individual pieces of the overall jigsaw puzzle.

Many readers of Times Goes By are bloggers. Where do you find information to answer your questions about your blog? A blog about your blogging tool is a great place to start. A good place for those using Blogger on Blogspot is Blogging Basics 101. If you use WordPress, Lorelle on WordPress has tips for about everything. Most blogging platforms have similar helpful sites.

Search
If you have a particular interest, it's a good bet that there is a blog about that particular thing. You can use Google to search for blogs. As an example, suppose you are interested in iPods. You go to Google and search for iPod. In the initial search, you get Web results, like these showing links to the iPod store and Apple.

Websearch

Google will search more than just the web. Above the Google logo you see links for Images, Maps, News, Video, Gmail and More with an arrow beside it. That little arrow means that there are more ways to search. if you click on it, you see Blogs as one of the places to search.

Blog-option

If you click on the words Blogs, Google will search blogs for whatever you have in the search box, in this example "iPod."

Blog-results

The first thing you see is a list of blogs devoted largely to the topic of iPods called Related Blogs. Under that you see a listing of current blog articles about iPods on all sorts of blogs. If you are looking for a complete source of iPod information, try one or all of the blogs in the Related Blogs list.

Print
Remember print? Paper, ink. You know what I'm talking about.

Plenty of print publications have regular features to keep you informed about technology. The AARP Journal usually has some excellent tips for web sites that will help you solve everyday problems. My local newspaper always has technology articles. I'm sure yours does, too.

Look around. Technology information is everywhere. All you need is a modicum of curiosity and you will be up to date in no time.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine explains What I Really Know About Summer Nights.


How Philosphers Face Death

EDITORIAL NOTE: Kimberly Hanson has added a photo of her workspace to the Where Elders Blog feature. You can find a list of many others here where there are also instructions on how to send in your blogging desk photo.

There is a curious little book I've been reading titled, The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley who is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. It is a collection of short pieces about what philosophers throughout written history have said about death and how they died. It is one of those lovely little books you can keep around on a table, dip into anywhere to find something to surprise you.

“I want to defend the ideal of the philosophical death,” writes Critchley in the introduction. “In a world where the only metaphysics in which people believe is either money or medical science and where longevity is prized as an unquestioned good, I do not deny that this is a difficult ideal to defend.

“Yet, it is my belief that philosophy can teach a readiness for death without which any conception of contentment, let alone happiness, is illusory. Strange as it might sound, my constant concern in these seemingly morbid pages is the meaning and possibility of happiness.”
In the first chapter, he recounts a long list of how some philosophers died. Among them:
  • Heraclitus suffocated on cow dung.

  • Plato allegedly died of a lice infestation.

  • Diogenes died by holding his breath. (As did a larger number than you would guess.)

  • Simone Weil starved herself to death for the sake of solidarity with occupied France during the Second World War.

  • Roland Barthes was hit by a dry cleaning van after a meeting with Jack Lang, the future French minister for culture.

In addition to the alternately tragic and absurd stories of philosophers' deaths, with Critchley's wit and his selection of quotes from these men and women, it veers from comedy to tragedy with a lot to reflect upon. Some excerpts:

“It is widely believed that Aeschylus [525/524 – 456/455 BC] was killed when an eagle dropped a live tortoise on his bald head, apparently mistaking his head for a stone. Apparently, the great tragedian was represented on his tombstone slumped over, while and eagle – the bird of Apollo – carried off his soul to heaven in the form of a lyre.

However, a lyre looks like, and perhaps was originally, a tortoise shell strung with a few strings. Presumably, someone ignorant of the iconography mistook 'eagle-taking-the-soul-of-dead-poet-to-heaven-in-the-form-of-lyre' to mean 'eagle-drops-tortoise-on-head-of-sleeping-poet-killing-both.'” (page 11)
“William of Malmesbury tells the doubtless apocryphal tale that [John Scott] Eriugena (810 – 877 AD] was summoned to England by Alfred the Great and subsequently stabbed to death by his pupils, presumably some unsatisfied English monks. Apparently, the murder weapons were not knives but writing styli. Further proof, if proof were needed, that the pen is mightier than the sword.” (page 85)
“Metrocles [late third century BC] reportedly farted when rehearsing a speech. This drove him to such despair that he tried to starve himself to death. Crates came to visit the distraught Metrocles and made him a meal of lupins. Of course, as lupins are members of the bean family, this merely caused him to repeat the indiscretion...

“Thus, philosophy begins in farting, and some might say that hot air at one end of the body is simply accompanied by hot air at the other end.”

“Metrocles died in old age, 'having choked himself,' as Diogenes Laertius curtly notes. One hopes that the cause wasn't lupins.” (page 29)
“Naturally enough, the Meditations ends with a meditation on death. Marcus Aurelius [121 – 80 BC] asks, 'Why do you hunger for length of days?' The point of life is to follow reason and the divine spirit and to accept whatever nature sends you. To live in this way is not to fear death, but to hold it in contempt. Death is only a thing of terror for those unable to live in the present. Marcus Aurelius concludes, 'Pass on your way, then, with a smiling face, under the smile of him who bids you go.'” (page 64)
“Before his final illness, Thomas Hobbes [1588 – 1679] invited his friends to write possible epitaphs to be engraved on his tombstone. His favourite was the following: 'This is the true philosopher's stone.'” (page 121)
“[Franz] Rosenzweig (1886 – 1929) was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 1922 (the same degenerative disease that afflicts Stephen Hawking). In his final years, Rosenzweig could only communicate by his wife reciting letters of the alphabet until he asked her to stop and she would guess at the intended word. His final words, written in this laborious manner, were an unfinished sentence that reads,

“'And now it comes, the point of all points, which the Lord has truly revealed to me in my sleep, the point of all points for which there - '

“Apparently, the writing was interrupted by a doctor's visit. Rosenzweig died during the night.” (page 201)

Damn. Imagine what we may have missed learning thanks to the doctor's visit.

I love this little book. It can be read for the 190 individual stories, some of them amazing. But there is much more to gain from it as a whole.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson writes of a recent death in Seven Days to Say Goodbye.]


Elder Music? Not Today - Instead...

[EDITORIAL NOTE: My apologies for no elder music today. The week got away from me and I ran out of time. So instead, here is a REFLECTIONS EXTRA: Malaria from Saul Friedman whose regular Reflections column will appear here next Thursday.]

[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 When I read that Saturday, April 25, had been designated World Malaria Day, it reminded me how and why the United States had succeeded in eradicating that parasitic scourge from this country by 1949. It was one of the most important, if unsung, triumphs of the New Deal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, malaria was endemic in the 13 southeastern states until the late 1940s. Indeed, CDC's headquarters was placed in Atlanta partly because that part of the Old South was at the center of the malaria belt.

If during the early part of the 20th century, many southerners seemed slow, lazy and intellectually backward, much of the reason was malaria which infected nearly a third of the people, especially in rural areas. The malaria parasite caused anemia, fever, loss of energy and other debilitating ailments.

The attack on malaria in the American south began when the Tennessee Valley Authority drained the swamps as part of its project to bring public power, flood control, reforestation and recreation to the southeast. And the TVA, created in 1933, spent more money than any agency on malaria mosquito eradication. The TVA hired entomologists, doctors and malaria experts to help sharecroppers, black and white, fight the mosquito.

After the US. entered World War II, when southern training bases put GIs in danger, the U.S. Public Health Service joined in the eradication program. But the TVA had done most of the work. In 1949, the U.S. was declared free of malaria. This is something the Old Confederacy might remember these days.


This Week in Elder News - 25 April 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.

That 47-year-old, YouTube singing sensation, Susan Boyle, has gone and got herself a makeover which you can see here. What do you think?

Good Grief. The greatest Ponzi schemer in all of history, Bernie Madoff, is already being made into a movie. Read more here.

Elaine Frankonis, who blogs at Kalilily Time posted an excellent story this week pulling together several sources of information on the developing health care reform from the Obama Administration. Well worth a read here.

Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge post a story about how funny she looks trying to get about since she broke her hip last November. “A stranger watching me would wonder what that poor inebriated old granny had to drink,” she writes. Read more here.

A week or so ago, my friend NancyB became another of the millions who are among the unemployed thanks to our recession. For several years, she blogged at her employer's website and now she has started her own blog, The Tempered Optimist. It would be nice for you to go welcome her to the elder blogosphere.

Marion of And the Beat Goes On sent this video: Sculpting the Aging Process in 4:51 minutes.

If that sculpting isn't fast enough for you, here it is done photographically in 40 seconds.

In a blog post titled, “Sick and Twisted: Anti-Aging and Cosmeceutical Ads” from a website called Jezebel – Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women, comes a marvelous take-down of print advertising for anti-aging products. An example:

Ad headline for an Andrew Weil product: “Rest Easy. Overnight Repair Comes Easily”

Jezebel: “You're broken! But don't worry. Rest easy. We'll repair you overnight.”

Many more with images of the ads here.

In several scenes from one of my favorite novels, Jack Finney's Time and Again, the protagonist is able to travel back to the late 1800s by living in the Dakota in New York in an apartment that is recreated to be exactly as it was in his target time travel year. Now, a Harvard researcher has duplicated this experiment with a group of old men by “retrofitting an isolated old New England hotel so that every visible sign said it was 20 years earlier.” The results were

“...stunning [according to a reviewer of the researcher's book]. After just one week, the men in the experimental group (compared with controls of the same age] had more joint flexibility, increased dexterity and less arthritis in their hands. Their mental acuity had risen measurably, and they had improved gait and posture.”

The important thing about this is that we are bombarded with signals that tell us getting old means poor health. When is that going to end? Read more about this study here. (Hat tip to Paula Kimbrough)

No link on this item. My friend, Sophy, who lives in London forwarded an email “joke” that is making the rounds. I found amusing and maybe you will too. It is in the form of a short letter to a bank:

“Just checking - one of my cheques has been returned marked 'insufficient funds.' In view of current events in the banking market, does that refer to me or to you?”

What It's Like to Get Old

category_bug_journal2.gif Recently, a 20-something, young man asked me what it's like to get old. When I made that phrase the subtitle of this blog five years ago, I didn't mean that I had an answer but that over time, writing about a variety of things related to aging, perhaps a picture would emerge.

And that seems to be happening at Time Goes By, particularly with the varied thoughts and opinions from readers in the comments and occasional guest blogs. Not that there can be only one answer. We each get old in our own way and the longer we live, the more the answers change.

Young people probably would find this hard to believe, but there are as many aspects to life in age as there are at any other time, although some are different: new challenges, adjustments to new circumstances, diminishing sex drive, knowing death is closer rather than farther away, health or lack of it, the changing focus of one's days after retirement, reduced income and more.

Many old people say they don't feel as old as they are. This makes me nuts. Since no one has ever before been as old as they are now, then whatever they feel is how it is to be that old. And anyone who says at 65 that they feel the same as they did at 40 is – well, lying.

But here is what I think they are trying to get at: even with new challenges, a big surprise about being old is that it's not so different from every other age. Because there is such an enormous emphasis in our culture on youth and so little attention paid to old age, there is the expectation that age is an entirely different country - that, perhaps, asleep one night, we cross a great divide and wake up old.

It doesn't happen like that. There is no divide. We move through adulthood adapting to the milestones as they come along – first job, achievements, promotions, marriage, children, divorce sometimes, empty nest, becoming a grandparent. But no matter how sudden or jarring the event or transition, the minutiae of daily life continues: brush your teeth, take a shower, cook dinner, wash the dishes, do the laundry, take out the trash.

And so it is for old people, if not their observers, that there is a similar continuity to daily life when the next, old-age-defining transition – retirement – comes along. Plus, our interests, opinions, passions, friends, personalities, likes and dislikes don't change just because we get old and except for not going to the job each morning, we are, for better or worse, the same people we have always been.

One of the biggest changes in old age is not within ourselves as much as in how other, mostly younger, people treat us. We are dismissed, ignored and made invisible based solely on our appearance. Put the same words, thoughts and opinions we have in a younger body and the world pays attention.

This forced disappearance into a void that is foisted upon elders is part of what it's like to be old and it is insidious. Just as a kid told repeatedly that he is stupid seems to become so, an elder who is ignored frequently enough stops trying to be part of the world. (This is one of the reasons I promote blogging for elders. Within each of our little blog worlds, readers listen and respond. We are still respected here.)

Old age is changing. Because we live so much longer than previous generations, there can be 20 and even 30 years, a third of our lives left after leaving the workforce. Some, if they are not laid off and can avoid age discrimination in hiring, prefer to continue working. Others, in retirement, pursue interests that were postponed during busy midlife.

What is not given enough attention in old age, however, is the right to do nothing – or what would appear to be nothing in the eyes of younger people. But it can be a relief to no longer have places to be, goals to achieve, quotas to meet.

It may not seem as exciting as the competitiveness of corporate life or partying the night away, but getting the garden (which moves at its own, slow pace no matter what you do) just right, for example, is equally satisfying and not something I appreciated 30 years ago.

A younger person would probably dismiss me as an old couch potato sitting quietly in my favorite chair most evenings. But my mind is busy, having the time now to reflect, contemplate and weigh alternatives at leisure. Or to shut out everything around me and lose myself completely in the world of a novel. Or to listen – really listen and not merely hear a Beethoven symphony. Or, other times, to wallow in the mundane amusement of TV cop shows.

So perhaps the one definitive thing that can be said about being old is that it is slower, in the best interpretation of that word. It is not an attribute that is widely admired in the go-go ethic of young people. But that's okay. Whoever wrote Ecclesiastes knew what he was talking about with “to everything there is a season.”

I think I understand why that young man asked the question. I once thought old people were alien-like too. I was disappointed on my 21st birthday when, as an official adult at last, I did not wake that morning with a complete understanding of life. Fifty-seven Forty-seven years later, one surprise is how much I have not changed, except for the external packaging.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran reflects on beloved pets in the tale of Tigger.]


Politics: Short Takes and Questions

category_bug_politics.gif There is so much going on the worlds of politics, government, the economy and other areas that it is no longer possible to keep up with it all. We are living in highly complex times, every day I am falling farther behind and find myself puzzled sometimes by events I do manage to follow.

So today, I've chosen just three of the questions on my mind for some short takes and perhaps your thoughts.

Bank Bailout
It is becoming increasingly clear to me that throwing money at banks with no oversight whatsoever cannot succeed in fixing the economy. Not a penny of bailout money has gone into lending. Foreclosures are skyrocketing again. Twenty fraud investigations into the bailout program are going on. But the guys who got us into this mess are running the bailout in government while leaving their previous colleagues in charge of the banks.

Why is no one talking about re-instituting Glass-Seagal or similar bank regulation? Why is no one asking why banks are too big to fail? It seems to me that if a corporation is too big to fail, it's too big to exist.

It is not possible that there aren't competent bankers and Wall Street people who could carry on. Plus, I suspect it's not as hard to do as they have tried to make us believe.

Torture Prosecution
Whatever legal pretzel twists Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials concocted to approve waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” they are torture and I am shamed by my government having done these things. I believe the people who approved and carried out this kind of interrogation should be prosecuted.

However, there has been a procedural roadblock that shouldn't be there. On Tuesday, President Obama said he would “not stand in the way” of a a full inquiry or panel to look into the allegations.

Not stand in the way? Last time I checked, the U.S. still had three, independent branches of government, and the legislative and judicial branches are free to investigate anything they want without approval or intervention from the executive branch.

Apparently (I've not read this stuff as closely as I would like), any torture investigation has been held at bay since the November election due to President Obama's public statements about looking forward rather than back. Recent pressure from Congress and civil rights groups prompted his reversal on Tuesday.

I suppose a president can use his bully pulpit to try to persuade anyone, but I'm bothered that it sounds like the decision to investigate and prosecute or not has been left to the president instead of Congress or the Justice Department. Am I the only one who has noticed this?

Loony Pundits
The right wing commentariat has become unhinged. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michelle Bachman, Ann Coulter, Michael Steele, et al are hovering at the edges of sanity. You know their hysterical drill by now: fascist, liberal atheists, including our Muslim president, are going to force everyone to have abortions, turn kids into homosexuals, compel all workers to join a union, forbid gun ownership, send teenagers to re-education camps, close the churches, deny access to the doctor you want and – horror of horrors – tax the rich. So to save the country from dreaded socialism, they say, we must buy teabags.

The worst of it is that millions of damned fools believe these fatheads who are only marginally rational which is the best one can say about anyone who, in our darkest hour in decades, wishes the president to fail.

With so many complex problems on the table, never have we been more in need of thoughtful, serious debate. It would be smart of us, with a federal government controlled entirely by one party, to have some intelligent input from the other side of the political spectrum. Yet the media employ only these whackos. Surely there must be reasonable Republicans somewhere, don't you think?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, a story titled What I Really Know About the Internet from Lyn Burnstine.]


GAY AND GRAY: How It Was Then...

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

A wise lesbian named Nancy Flaxman, who consults with helping agencies for elders in the San Francisco Bay Area, cut through a lot of social service verbiage on a recent KQED radio forum:

”What I want to bring out for LGBT seniors - those people who are probably in the closet who are listening today - please know that you do not have to be alone...All of us as LGBT people, no matter what age, are isolated unless we gather together with each other...We've seen alcohol and drug addiction, depression, suicide.

“Those who are homophobic and transphobic will attribute these things to some perversity in our so-called lifestyle. But depression and other health issues are not from who we are, but rather from society's homophobia.

“You take a person like me. I'm 62 years old, this is my job, I'm out there all the time, I'm out, out, out, but everyday I can open the newspaper, turn on the radio, watch TV and hear who I am and my relationship with my partner being debated.

“I think those of us who are out don't even know, don't realize consciously how this effects us - every day to be told you are not good enough. When we can gather with each other in community, that leads to our own health and wellbeing. It's not that we are different from other people, it is what everybody needs.”

I think Nancy is all too right. But like Nancy, I'm a "young elder" (we're the same age). Since I was about 30, I've lived in a world where being gay was at least imaginable, if not commonplace. LGBT folks who are older than Nancy and I lived through experiences that chill my soul. No wonder that, if they find themselves late in life isolated and possibly dependent on professional service providers, they sometimes retreat into a closet they thought they'd escaped years ago.

The story of "Lee" from Nurse magazine is representative for too many.

”As a young nurse, Lee, who has asked that her last name not be used, worked in an electroshock unit in New York in 1950. She watched other lesbian women her age receive electroshock therapy to cure them of their 'deviation.'

"'It pushed me into the closet so far that I didn't come out until I was 58,' she says. She married and had two daughters. After her husband died, she came out and felt relieved at no longer having to hide who she was.

“But in recent years, Lee, now in her 70s, says she has retreated somewhat into the closet. None of her neighbors at the low-income senior complex where she lives know she is a lesbian. She has no idea how they might treat her if they knew.

“They are very nice people, she says, but some are very conservative. 'They come from a different era...It's a big drain of energy when you have to hide something,' she says.”

And it wasn't just the lesbian women. Gay men grew up with warnings like this video: [1:23 minutes]

I gave you the short version. YouTube has a 10 minute long version that proclaims "Produced in cooperation with the Inglewood Police Department and the Inglewood Unified School District." Like the 1930s movie Reefer Madness, this clip seems pretty funny now - but I bet it was no fun if you were a gay kid and it was shown at your school.

I'll close this with a clip from Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi's 1963 "documentary," Women of the World, narrated by Peter Ustinov.

Again, this is amusing now, but it's not surprising there are LGBT elders who never were able to completely move beyond what growing up with this stuff did to them.

I'm so glad I am fortunate enough to live in a time when we've moved beyond the ignorance (and the gender stereotyping!) that were the rule not so long ago.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenda Verbeck recalls her 1950s Childbirth Without Fear.]

PLEASE NOTE: A new, little feature in the upper left sidebar is a list under the header, "At The Elder Storytelling Place" where henceforth there will be links to the five most recent stories at that blog. Let me know if you like this feature or think it is useful.


A Nasty Little Credit Card Surprise

UPDATE: From The Washington Post this morning:

"The heads of the credit card divisions at 14 major banks are set to meet with the president and his top economic officials at the White House on Thursday, administration aides confirmed yesterday. They are bracing for a warning that the president will join the chorus of condemnation if they resist efforts to protect their credit card customers from unfair practices."

Read more here under the headline, "Card Issuers Brace for Stern Warning."

Crabby Old Lady never carries a balance on her credit cards. They are paid off each month except in extraordinary circumstances.

Ollie the cat's veterinary care for a life-threatening condition over Thanksgiving weekend was one of those extraordinary circumstances - thousands of dollars. Last month, Crabby finally paid the remainder on her Citi credit card - $310.43.

This last payment was made before the due date and Crabby has not used that credit card since Ollie's illness, so she was surprised Saturday morning when an electronic bill from Citi arrived. The balance should be zero and therefore no statement, but to her astonishment, there was a charge for $3.06.

Perhaps, thought Crabby, she had mis-typed the amount when she paid electronically. A check of her bank statement showed she had paid the correct amount. Crabby was puzzled. She pays off her main credit card from Chase every month without additional charges. What could this be? Then she read some fine print on the statement:

“We calculated the finance charges you owe us by using the Previous Balance shown on this billing statement. You owe us these finance charges because we assess finance charges daily on all your balances (including your finance charge balances) until we receive payment in full.”

In other words, it is not possible to pay off a balance on a Citi credit card – there is no such thing as payment in full.

Yes, Crabby knows the amount in this case is minuscule, but that is not the point. Calculate such additional fees from millions of customers over a year and you get a pretty good idea of where the cash comes from for those executive bonuses.

Crabby is wondering now if, after she pays the $3.06, there will be a bill next month for three cents. She would almost have been better off borrowing money from the local loan shark – which is a pretty good description of the consumer business practices of big-bank credit card issuers.

Credit card horror stories abound. In addition to interest rates jacked up to as high as 29 percent with or without a default, there are huge over-limit charges, phone payment fees, cash advance fees, sky-high late payment penalties. On the other end of transactions, credit card issuers charge many fees to merchants, ranging from one to six percent, for the privilege of accepting their credit cards.

Some might call all these fees gouging and in fact, as Congress gets going this week after their two-week vacation, both the House and Senate are considering a credit card bill of rights to require greater disclosure and to limit the banks' ability to raise interest rates on existing balances.

Too little, too late, as far as Crabby Old Lady is concerned, and one more instance of big banks enriching themselves on the backs of taxpayers.

As to the bigger economic picture (all this is related), the parent company of Crabby's credit card issuer, Citigroup, has received $50 billion in bailout cash and guarantees over four separate payments from the federal government (you and me) since last fall.

Citifield2During this period, Citi almost purchased a $50 million private jet until a phone call from President Obama put the kibosh on that. But they did pay out, with no White House objection, eight times as much for naming rights to the New York Mets new ball park. In the current circumstance, that appears a tad excessive to Crabby.

Aside from deregulation over the past 20-odd years, one of the reasons banks are allowed to charge usury rates, of which Crabby's $3.06 is a part, is that the government is filled with former banking executives who are protecting their own, just as many bank executives are former high-level government officials. And that is affecting how the economic crisis is being handled in Washington.

In a disturbing story in the May issue of The Atlantic, Simon Johnson, a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), explains how the banking industry has taken over government and why the recovery, as it is currently operating, cannot succeed. He writes:

”...the government's velvet-glove approach with the banks is deeply troubling, for one simple reason: it is inadequate to change the behavior of the financial sector accustomed to doing business on it own terms, at a time when that behavior must change. “As an unnamed senior bank official said to The New York Times last fall, 'It doesn't matter how much Hank Paulson gives us, no one is going to lend a nickel until the economy turns.' But there's the rub: the economy can't recover until the banks are healthy and willing to lend.”

I urge you to read the entire story. It is complex, but Johnson is a good writer and it's not hard to follow. For some lighter and shorter reading on bankers' arrogance, try The Wall Street Whine: Goldman Sachs Edition from Dean Baker.

As to Crabby Old Lady's minor $3.06 issue, she considered not paying it, but a black mark on her credit history is not worth so small an amount. Then she thought to have a phone conversation with Citicard customer service, but you know how that goes. Crabby's time is worth more than $3.06 for a long wait on hold followed by someone reading from a script about “company policy." So she will pay the fee.

Of course, that's always been part of corporate standard operating procedure – make it too hard to complain - so consumers must rely on the government which, in a massive Catch-22, is owned lock, stock and barrel by the banks. Crabby is not holding her breath for that congressional credit card bill of rights.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Fred First ruminates on Rites of Passage: Growing Down.]


Celebrating Old Old Age

category_bug_ageism.gif Donna Woodka of Changing Places sent me this brief AP story about Nobel laureate, Rita Levi-Montalcini, who will celebrate her 100th birthday on Wednesday. She works at her namesake brain studies center - European Brain Research Institute (EBRI)–Rita Levi-Montalcini - near Rome, and she is a senator-for-life in the Italian Senate.

I like what she has to say:

"Above all, don't fear difficult moments...The best comes from them."

And

"I am not afraid of death — I am privileged to have been able to work for so long. If I die tomorrow or in a year, it is the same — it is the message you leave behind you that counts, and the young scientists who carry on your work."

And

"At 100, I have a mind that is superior — thanks to experience — than when I was 20."

The last statement undoubtedly has as much to do with genetics, health and plain dumb luck as anything else, but I do believe keeping as active as possible – mentally and physically – helps us maintain into old age.

But there is much more to Senator Levi-Montalcini than the fact of her triple-digit birthday. She has led a fascinating life which you can read about briefly at Wikipedia, in her own words in her Nobel autobiographical sketch and in a longer interview at nature.com concentrating on her brain studies work.

It is becoming commonplace for there to be news stories about people of great age who are “still” doing something – usually physical, such running marathons, participating in swim races, playing golf or bowling, flying an airplane – or, as in the case of a 114-year-old Nigerian, being arrested recently for having 254 bags of cannabis in his home.

In the early years of this blog, I made a point to mention some of these stories about old, old people. I believed it contributed to others' understanding that being old is not synonymous with being decrepit, demented or helpless. Then, a couple of years ago, I squirmed when I ran across one which mentioned in passing that an 85-year-old woman “still” cooks her own meals. I had a great aunt and a grandmother who did that until they day they each died at 90 and 92.

And, there are a growing number of octogenarians and beyond who keep house, drive, shop and do whatever else the rest of us do – maybe with some help for heavier chores. We even know some of them: Millie Garfield of My Mom's Blog, Mort Reichek of Octogenarian, Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge, Chancy of driftwoodinspiration. Well, almost, in Chancy's case. (Please let me know who I've left out.)

So I squirmed again when I read the headline on the AP story about Senator Levi-Montalcini: “Italian Scientist, Turning 100, Still Works.”

The discomfort, I have come to see, is due to how such a statement diminishes the person. It negates and demeans an entire life, as though the fact that she works at age 100, and not the work she does, is the most important thing about her. Should I live to an old old age, I really don't want someone saying, “she still turns out a blog post every day.”

It's not that I don't think it's nice to celebrate those big, round-number birthdays. Nor that when someone reaches advanced age, it is not interesting to know how they view their long life and all they have witnessed. I relished a story around election day last November about a 100-plus-year-old, woman, the granddaughter of slaves, who voted for Barack Obama; she is a vivid, living connection to our country's past.

Generally, however, news stories about the old old only serve to separate them from the mainstream of life, marking them – and younger old people too - as other, different and apart from everyone else. There is so much more to everyone than just the number of our years, as Senator Levi-Montalcini's life - when I looked further than the AP story - is.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson writes about a special packet of letters in A Red Frayed Ribbon.]


ELDER MUSIC: Cat Songs

category_bug_eldermusic A few weeks ago, we wrote about dog songs, so it is only fair to cover cats too. Moreso than dog songs, cat songs are often not about cats at all – the word cat being used in so many ways besides defining felines. I tried to stick with feline cat songs, but there are other good ones I couldn't resist. (This is an Ollie the Cat-approved blog post.)

Elton John's Honky Cat is one of them. I found it turning up on a lot of my personal play lists over the years and it's a nice way to get blood pumping on a Sunday morning – lively but not too much so. [4:58 minutes]


The Siamese Cat Song from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp is a classic sung and co-written by Peggy Lee. I found this vintage promotional film, narrated by Walt Disney, about how the song was written. [6:48 minutes]


Here is another of what are supposed to be children's songs. But we know better, right? This is The Cat Came Back from The Muppet Show. [2:44 minutes]


This is the late Freddie Mercury of the British rock band Queen singing about his beloved cat, Delilah. No video - just lyrics. [3:32 minutes]


In all the years I lived in New York City, my mother visited only once while she and a friend spent a summer traveling the U.S. by rail. Mom was never shy with her opinions: she didn't like New York and she didn't like the musical, Cats. She asked why there was so much trash on the stage. Oh, Mom, gimme me a break - what's not to like. This is Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats from the famous musical. [7:11 minutes]


Harry Chapin wasn't singing about a cat with this tune, but it was one of his top hits. Cat's in the Cradle [3:43 minutes]


What's New Pussycat, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David was the theme song of a 1965 comedy film of the same title starring Peter Sellers. It made Tom Jones a star. [2:19 minutes]


We end with my favorite cat song, Stray Cat Strut from the band, Stray Cats. [4:31 minutes]


This Week in Elder News - 18 April 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 man from my state of Maine named Chuck Lakin is an advocate of do-it-yourself, home funerals including a bookcase that, when the need arises, becomes a coffin. At a workshop presentation, an attendee called out, "Why isn't every home furnished like this?" Read more here.

This feature story was first posted a couple of years ago. It is a report of a supermarket in Germany that is designed to make shopping easier for elders. An important point about all elder-friendly design is that it is almost always good for everyone else too.

The U.S. Library of Congress has recently launched a YouTube channel with contemporary and, most interestingly, some of the earliest films ever made including this recording made by Thomas Edison in 1894 of some guy named Fred Ott sneezing.

Unfortunately, these videos are unavailable to embed. Hmm – I thought the American public owned the contents of the Library of Congress. Nevertheless, it is good to have them available online. (Hat tip to Nikki Lindqvist of Nikki's Place – an American in Sweden)

Stories have been popping up in newspapers around the country about the low interest rates and much more fair business practices of local credit union credit cards. It is worth considering giving up our big, bloated bank cards for these. Read more here.

In the wake of the ignorance (not to mention hatred on some placards) expressed at the tea party protests on Wednesday, this story on the unfairness of our tax codes is worth a read. All President Obama is proposing is to raise the tax rate on highest earners to ten percent below the rate during the Reagan presidency. As the writers note at the end of the story: “Our grandparents seriously taxed the rich. Why can't we?”

If you've missed Susan Boyle, the astonishing 47-year-old singer from Britain's Got Talent TV program, you've probably been pulling a Rip Van Winkle for the past week. The audience and the judges were expecting to mock her and got the shock of their lives. YouTube has disabled embedding for some reason, but you can see her performance and interaction with the judges here. [7:07 minutes]

Over at the Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page, columnist Peggy Noonan made some predictions on how our recession/depression will change the country. Among them:

“People will be allowed to grow old again. There will be a certain liberation in this. There will be fewer facelifts and browlifts, less Botox, less dyed hair among both men and women. They will look more like people used to look, before perfection came in. Middle-aged bodies will be thicker and softer, with more maternal and paternal give. There will be fewer gyms and fewer trainers, but more walking. Gym machines produced the pumped and cut look. They won't be so affordable now.”

Wouldn't that be a relief. More here.

A new movie opened Friday starring Michael Caine as an aging magician and a lonely 10-year-old boy who become friends. It's getting nice reviews as you can read here. And, here is a trailer for it.

Much to my surprise this week, I discovered that mythster, who blogs at Rotten Apple and frequently comments on this blog has done me the honor of nominating Time Goes By in three categories at the Bloggers Choice '09 Awards. I am dumbfounded to see that 21 people have voted for Time Goes By. Here's the link I'm allowed to post which I've also added to the right sidebar.

My site was nominated for Best Blog About Blogging!

Thank you, Mythster and all who have voted. You are very kind.

I have a feeling this has been around the web and, probably, email for a long time but I hadn't seen it. I've lost track of sources – sorry – but it's good for today's belly laugh:

My name is Alice, and I was sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment with a new dentist. I noticed his DDS diploma on the wall, which bore his full name. Suddenly, I remembered a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in my high school class some 30-odd years ago. Could he be the same guy that I had a secret crush on, way back then?

Upon seeing him, however, I quickly discarded any such thought. This balding, gray-haired man with the deeply lined face was way too old to have been my classmate. After he examined my teeth, I asked him if he had attended Morgan Park High School.

“Yes. yes, I did. I'm a mustang.” He gleamed with pride.

“When did you graduate?' I asked.

He answered, “In 1975. Why do you ask?”

“You were in my class!” I exclaimed.

He looked at me closely. Then, that ugly, old, bald, wrinkled-faced, fat-assed, gray-haired, decrepit son-of-a-bitch asked, “What did you teach?”

Call Me Heloise Today

category_bug_journal2.gif Many elders, moreso women than men, live alone and although the difficulties of cooking for one are well documented, less noted is the issue of food shopping for one. It was not a problem for me in New York City because there are fruit and vegetable markets on nearly every block so it is not unreasonable to buy a couple of apples or one cucumber at a time; you are sure to pass a market tomorrow if you need more.

In Portland, Maine, however, walking to a market is not possible, so I tend to stock up to cut down on driving trips. Plus, sale items almost always come in five- and ten-pounds bags, and with only one person in my household, I have thrown out way too many limp carrots, soft onions, dried out lemons and other produce that rotted before I could use them.

Although I have never in my life watched a shopping channel or a paid commercial video on television, it has been hard to miss knowing about Debbie Meyer green bags. So when I saw them at the local Rite-Aid, I picked up a box.

According to the website, green bags are a “revolutionary technology to preserve freshness and prolong the useful life of fruits, vegetables and cut flowers without the use of chemicals.” They are made of reusable plastic (non-biodegradable) which is embedded with a form of Zeolite, a common commercial absorbent which is also used in clumping kitty litter. The idea is that Zeolite absorbs ethylene gas given off by fruits and vegetables after they are harvested thereby inhibiting the ripening/rotting process.

I have given the bags a whirl over the past two months or so and for me, they work – mostly. Lemons remain plump and fresh longer than before, as do lettuce, carrots, onions, potatoes, broccoli, beans, apples, oranges, peppers and mushrooms too. I found no difference with bananas, but I eat one almost every day so spoilage has never been much of an issue. I continue to keep them in the open in the fruit bowl on the counter.

There is a lot of argument over whether the bags work as advertised and the judgment of Consumer Reports is a definite negative:

“We saw green inside the Green Bags, but often it was mold. Blackberries became moldy after three weeks, strawberries and basil after a month, and peppers and tomatoes after five weeks. It was a tough test, but the same foods stored in other ways nearly always had less mold or none after the same time. Only bananas fared significantly better in Green Bags: After two weeks, they were firm and had not turned black.“

My past experience with berries of all kinds is that if they are not eaten within two or three days, they grow moldy. I haven't tried them yet in green bags, but three weeks or a month would be a gigantic improvement. How long does Consumer Reports want?

In addition to the Consumer Reports test results, there is a mixed bag of response – mostly negative - from 50 readers at this about.com blog story written by a chemist who is not convinced. But differences in results, which no one I read has mentioned, can also be attributed to the age of produce when it is purchased, which is unknowable.

My own test of the bags is not scientific. I didn't keep records of elapsed time, but my grocery list and bill have both been reduced because I don't need to buy fresh fruit and vegetables as frequently since I've been using green bags.

An important trick to success I learned the hard way is that anything stored in them must be dry, dry, dry. So I dry everything carefully, stick a paper towel in the bag with the produce and don't wash anything until I'm ready to use it. Sometimes a small amount of moisture sneaks in and then I just turn the bags inside out until they dry and store them in a drawer for next time.

I'm not pleased that the bags are non-biodegradable. To cut down on plastic, I have used cloth grocery shopping bags for years and I buy special, cornmeal-based bags for scooping out Ollie the cat's litter box. But Debbie Meyer green bags are sturdy and I expect to use mine for many months, maybe longer, before they need to be disposed of and replaced.

Since product reviews are not in my usual repertoire and are unlikely to reappear any time soon, today and only today, you may call me Heloise. And no, I'm not being paid by Debbie Meyer.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chrissy McB tells a story that will be recognizable to most elders - Retribution.]


Special Guest Blogger: Norm Jenson

category_bug_journal2.gif EDITORIAL NOTE: Norm Jenson often contributes amusing vignettes of life to The Elder Storytelling Place. Today, I am reprinting a piece he published at his own storytelling blog, Mostly Anecdotal, because it is crucially important.

In recent years, I have been alarmed to read of the anti-vaccine movement, parents who refuse to have their children inoculated against childhood diseases because they think the vaccines cause autism and other conditions.

I well remember the summer of no-swimming-allowed that Norm recalls here. I also remember quarantine signs posted on houses in my neighborhood when kids contracted whooping cough, diphtheria or small pox (with universal vaccination not yet in place). I remember school friends who were crippled by polio and a couple who died of it before vaccines relieved humankind of these scourges.

The parents of the anti-vaccine movement are not only endangering their children, they are endangering everyone else's children. I suppose I could spent some time on research and do the math to estimate how many children would have died in the half century since my childhood without the miracle of modern vaccines. But I think it is enough to merely ask the question.

You may have your own memories of these terrible childhood diseases. Feel free to share them in the comments sections and, urgently, with any parents you may know who withhold vaccines from their children.

Here then is Norm's story.


They Called Him Gimp

“I told you not to go swimming,” she said.

She was angry, really angry. Mom never got angry, not like this, and she never cried, but she was crying.

“What’s wrong, Mom,” I said. “You know I’m a good swimmer.”

“That’s not the point. I told you not to go swimming and I expect you to obey me,” she said.

Mom always had good reasons for her rules. She said it was dangerous, but wouldn’t say why and being a boy, when my friends asked I went swimming anyway.

It was the year I learned what fear looks like in a mother’s eyes.

The day I went swimming was hot, 90 plus, the year was 1953 and I was eight years old. It was the year polio arrived like a freight train out of control, mowing down thousands of kids, kids my age with paralysis and worse. But I didn’t know anyone who had the disease and it was hot.

A few years passed and so did my naïveté. Friends contracted the disease. I participated in a trial of a vaccine that would silence the nasty virus, though I had to get vaccinated twice, once in a trial and later when I found that I’d been given a placebo.

It wasn’t so bad, I didn’t get polio and Mom was not quite as worried as she might have been. She told herself that I had the real vaccine.

I called him Davey; the other boys called him gimp. His twisted limbs made walking difficult for him and painful to watch. He had polio. The disease twisted his legs and it took a steel brace to make it possible for him to walk.

Note to self: when Jimmy and Joey ask you why you are hanging out with the gimp, tell them he’s your friend and that his name is Davey. They will laugh at you and tease you, but you don’t care. When Davey wants to join the pickup baseball game, choose him. There are more important things than winning.

The years passed and I lost track of my friend and forgot about the handicap he dealt with every day. A few years later I saw him again in high school. The memories flooded back when I saw him “walking” down the hall, the brace still in place. High school was different in some ways. The open taunts were gone, but were replaced by snickers from those who didn’t understand that it could have been them.

We went our separate ways after high school. I saw Davey a couple of times after that, but didn’t stop to talk. And now 40-plus years later, I see his obituary in the local paper - his life over, undoubtedly shortened by the disease we all feared so much.

But we never learn. I see well meaning people blaming vaccinations for autism and other ghastly things. They have no evidence, but it doesn’t seem to matter. They are taken in by the woo. They are taken in by the liars who make their livings catering to fear - not the fear we felt in the fifties before there was a vaccine, but the fear that paralyzes with inaction.

They are afraid, but have learned nothing from the past. They follow the woomeisters. The result is predictable. The childhood diseases are returning and this time there is no reason for it.

Note to self: it was scientists, not movie stars, who found the answer to polio. It was scientists who did the hard work to develop the vaccines that time has demonstrated are effective and safe. They are the men and women who understand that correlation is not causation. And now they are being replaced by the woomeisters who haven’t learned the lessons of the past.

They are the ones that make their appearances on the TV talk shows spouting bullshit. The celebrities who fancy themselves as experts in fields they know little about. They practice their make believe not just on the screen, but where it can destroy lives. They are the ones we need to fear, not the vaccines they rail against. If my friend Davey were still here, he would tell them.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Andrews recalls a lot about cars and some other stuff too in Dad and Westport.]


Retro Talk or Dumbing Down

A couple of months ago, I was having dinner with some new friends who are only a decade or so younger than I. While we were discussing the bank bailouts and Wall Street disaster, I was met with blank stares when I said that trying to find an honest man in lower Manhattan these days made one feel like Diogenes.

At another dinner a couple of decades ago, a friend who is a well-known cartoonist, told me he'd had a cartoon rejected by the humor editor of a major magazine because, said the editor, these days no one knows who Sisyphus was.

I'm hardly a scholar of ancient Greece and I've been known to confuse Roman writers with Greek ones, but shorthand references to Diogenes and Sisyphus are common enough – and have been for about 3,000 years – that they should be recognizable in general conversation or a joke.

Now comes Ralph Keyes, writing in Editor & Publisher, to admonish journalists and commentators for what he calls “retrotalk” by which he means

“...employing terminology rooted in our past that may not be familiar to younger readers. Or immigrants. Or anyone at all, for that matter.

“Journalists who lace their copy with such retro terms or names risk alienating those who are too young to get the allusions. Even common catch phrases that hearken back to earlier times may be puzzling to younger readers: stuck in a groove, 98-pound weakling, drop a dime, bigger than a breadbox, or a tough row to hoe. (As one giggling third-grader asked when his teacher used this one, 'Isn’t ho a bad word?)”

Mr. Keyes isn't talking about pre-Christian era philosophers or even Teddy Roosevelt. In his argument, even contemporary references are too much to ask young readers to understand:

“When a Minneapolis Star Tribune article included the line, 'And by the way, have you stopped beating your wife?' many readers wondered why the paper would pose such an off-the-wall question. (Lawyers have long considered it a classic query that can’t be answered without self-incrimination.)”

Yes, that is the standard question in Catch-22 situations – even well outside legal circles - which makes it hard to understand why Mr. Keyes feels he must explain it to the presumably older writers he is addressing. (Oops - “Catch-22” may be, according to Mr. Keyes, too archaic for some to understand.)

Apparently, what Mr. Keyes does not understand is that the retrotalk phrases he cites as “verbal fossils” derive their value through repeated use negating the need for several paragraphs of explanation and, more importantly, serve to transmit our culture from one generation to the next.

Throughout my lifetime, a good deal of my continuing education has resulted from my elders' use of references I didn't understand and sometimes didn't ask about, not wanting to reveal my ignorance at the moment. But I tracked them down later and learned. I'm pretty sure I wasn't taught about Diogenes in school, but discovered him through such an incident.

What Mr. Keyes is asking for then is a deliberate “dumbing down” of American youth. The phrase was made famous in the early 1990s by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in reference to declining education values and the subject was resurrected by Susan Jacoby in her 2008 book, The Age of American Unreason. In a Washington Post article published around the tiime the book was released, she touches on a corollary to that dumbing down:

“That leads us to the third and final factor behind the new American dumbness: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. . .it’s the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place. Call this anti-rationalism — a syndrome that is particularly dangerous to our public institutions and discourse.”

That smugness permeates Mr. Keyes' commentary without any thought to the dumbing down of American discourse. Instead, Mr. Keyes wants us to believe journalists' historical and cultural references are an exclusionary tactic:

“Falling back on retro-references this way can give press coverage the flavor of a private conversation among those born before 1960. The implicit message to younger readers seems to be: Hey, if you don’t know what we’re talking about, maybe you should butt out. Haven’t you got some twittering to do?”

Or, young readers might, at the very least, visit Wikipedia instead. Should journalists take Mr. Keyes seriously, education will become a more a Sysiphean task than it already is.

Posted Earlier
Just now, having my first cup of coffee while getting ready to post, I discovered that today's story has disappeared from my computer. It was easy to figure out what happened: I saved a page with some notes and discarded the one with the story. Damn.

It's going to take awhile to re-create it. I'll will post it here as soon as I've done so. Meantime...

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary E. Davies has been thinking about her former husband in About Face.]


REFLECTIONS: Uncle Sam

[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 Everyone has – or ought to have – an Uncle Sam. Not the red, white and blue cardboard cutout with the beard and top hat. I mean a real Uncle Sam like my mother’s older brother who lived with us when I was a boy and gave me three of the most important things in my life, the greatest of which was my love of opera.

Sam worked in the New York garment industry, selling things like trim and buttons to manufacturers of women’s clothes. And the family told the story of how Sam, when he was a young man, came home with his arms bandaged because he helped pull people out of the flames that killed 146 immigrant women who were trapped in the sweatshop of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911.

Hosingbuilding

Until he explained, the family laughed at Sam’s bandaged arms, because he was always getting into trouble.

But that was because my Uncle Sam, who had been an immigrant, cared deeply about the important things, like injustice and the exploitation of workers. He was a fellow traveler, but he wouldn’t join the party (Communist, of course) because he feared deportation and he loved America. He broke with the party after Stalin’s 1939 pact with Hitler.

Sam also was an avid and knowledgeable New York Yankees fan, who corresponded with Casey Stengel about the fine points of the game. And he was adamant that Enrico Caruso was a greater tenor than the upstart Swede, Jussi Bjorling.

So these were the gifts Sam left me: my liberal left politics and a skepticism that has served me well as a writer. I often accompanied Sam on sunny Saturday and Sunday afternoons to the boardwalk near Brighton Beach where we joined the men gathered in knots arguing politics, philosophy, current affairs and the culpability of God for not striking Hitler dead.

Secondly, I have remained loyal to the Yankees despite George Steinbrenner for after all, Sam and I sat in the centerfield bleachers to see the likes of Gehrig, DiMaggio, Dickey, Keller, Gordon, Rizzuto and even Ruth when he made a guest appearance in a reunion with the 1927 team. One cannot do any better than that in baseball.

Sam made me understand why baseball was the greatest sport; it made a virtue of imperfection, for hitting safely just one out of three times could make you a star.

Finally, there was – and is – an appreciation – no, a love - of great music, but especially grand opera, which, as my wife says, combines all the arts – theater, acting, stage design, story, costumes, music and, of course, the glory of the human voice.

Sam introduced me to Toscanini conducting Beethoven’s symphonies on 12-inch, 78rpm, RCA records. But mostly, we listened to the greatest voices on the family Victrola: Caruso’s la Donna e Mobile, Una Furtiva Lagrima and my favorite e Lucevan la Stelle, which Cavaradossi sings to Tosca when he is about to die.

Enrico Caruso - la Donna e Mobile [2:18 minutes]

After Sam left our home and got married and I was old enough to go to work, I had his record collection. Even better, I had money enough to indulge in my two luxuries: suring the seasons, I went to an opera on Saturday night sitting up in the cheap seats, and a ball game at Yankee Stadium on a Friday night sitting in the bleachers. I went to ball games mostly alone, but I measured the worth of my girl friends by whether they enjoyed good music and opera.

On my last night in New York before I entered the army in 1950, my then lady friend, Judy, and I went to a New York City opera performance of Madame Butterfly. Now who could not like Butterfly when she sang, One Fine Day or when she killed herself for the love of Pinkerton and their child. Judy was unmoved and bored. And I never saw her again.

Renata Tebaldi - Un Bel Di [4:20 minutes]

Fast forward two years. I was married to Evelyn who played a lovely classical piano and shared my view that Mozart and Beethoven were direct descendants of God. On our first date we listened to classical music in the record library of the local USO. On our second, we saw the musical, Song of Norway, based on the music of Edward Grieg.

On our first trip to New York, after I left the army, we went to the old Met for a performance of Tosca with Dorothy Kirsten in the title role. When the tenor, Feruccio Tagliavini, sang Lucevan le Stelle in the final act, Evelyn saw her new husband crying with happiness - from being out of the army at last, back in New York and at the Met (not the cheap seats) with my new wife who loved opera.

Feruccio Tagliavini - Lucevan le Stelle [2:56 minutes]

May I say here that we are not musical snobs, although we do not consider rap and much of the most raucous crap music. We’re fans of Holiday, Fitzgerald and Brubeck. I played a folk guitar for a while and introduced my kids to Guthrie, Josh White and Seeger. And I brought home from my travels the earliest 45rpms of this new group of kids called the Beatles.

Since then, Evelyn and I have seen dozens of opera performances all over the world, some great, some not. I’ve even reviewed a few and we’ve lectured on opera. Happily, we share the same politics I inherited from my Uncle Sam. And while my passion for baseball has faded in the steroid era, opera, among many other things, has kept Evelyn and me together and listening for 57 years.

Thanks, Sam, wherever you are.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, wisewebwoman writes of A Wasted Brain in Oz.]


Birthday Questions Answered and a Follow Up

category_bug_journal2.gif Thank you again for the outpouring of birthday greetings last week. As Naomi Dagen Bloom put it in a comment, it was a wonderful celebration in “a very, very large backyard in cyberspace.” You made my day, more than you know.

A number of people asked questions in the comments and via email. I'm not comfortable expounding on my personal life unless it relates in some way to getting old. It's not that there are secrets; it just makes me feel overly egocentric not to mention that the answers are ordinary and boring. But it also seems impolite not to answer and since several questions were similar, this saves writing them several times in email.

doctafill asked about why I can't move back to New York City, to a less expensive part. For me, Manhattan – and especially Greenwich Village - IS New York. Through the 40 years I lived there, I always said I wouldn't like New York if I didn't live downtown. And that remains so. Having the rest of the city a subway or taxi ride away was part of the attraction, but I always wanted to go home to my little Village where I know the history of every nook and cranny.

Kenju asked how I know I would like Portland, Oregon better than Portland, Maine. Because in three years, I've never become comfortable in Maine – it's never felt like I belong - and over decades of visiting Oregon, it always feels like going home, which it literally is; I grew up there until I was 14. I hadn't realized just how small Portland, Maine is - for a city girl like me. And, my brother lives in Oregon. We've lived a continent apart for decades and I'd like to know him better before I die.

Possumlady asked how I chose Portland, Maine when I left New York. I'm pretty sure I've explained before, but...

When it became evident that to continue to eat, I'd need to sell my apartment in New York, no destination came to mind even though I've spent time in every state except five. So I made a chart of preferences:

I hate hot weather, humid and dry, and I like four seasons. So that eliminated the entire southern half of the U.S.

I like an ocean nearby. So that eliminated the entire middle of the northern half of the U.S.

I'm a city, not a rural person, so that left Seattle, Portland, Boston and Portland. I've worked in Boston over the years several times. I'm sure it has its charms, but they are not evident to me. I've also visited Seattle frequently and it seems to have all the disadvantages of a big city with few of the advantages.

That left the two Portlands. Although Oregon is my birthplace and my brother lives there, about 90 percent of my friends are in New York City. So the final decision was that there was a better chance of New York friends visiting me in Maine that Oregon.

That's true, but it doesn't make up for the pull toward Oregon I feel more strongly every day.

SteveG, who intends to move to Portland, Maine, also asked why I want to leave Maine and suggested that it might be related to something I never discuss on this blog: romantic companionships.

First, I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with Maine. It's a lovely place (if you don't mind shoveling a lot of snow). But I feel better in Portland, Oregon in many kinds of ways, among them - Portland, Oregon is a big city – a million people – and I just like the hubbub of big cities more than I recognized when I chose this Portland of about 64,000 people.

As to romantic companionship – it bears not at all on my desire to leave Maine and Steve, you're right: I don't discuss it. Should I marry again (about as likely as the next pig you see taking wing), I'll let you know.

Do I miss New York? You betcha. Every day. But after a short period of wailing and weeping when thwarted, I have always been good at accepting what is. (It's one of the things I like best about myself and it saves a lot of misery.) So if it comes to pass that moving to Portland, Oregon is impossible, I'll make peace with that too.

Did I leave out any questions?

FOLLOW-UP TO FRIDAY'S Elders and Fair Hiring Practices POST

Mike Nichols of Anxiety, Panic & Health alerted me to a story in Sunday's New York Times which leads with a report about a 57-year-old man applying for a job with a much younger hiring manager. He noticed her

"...falter upon spotting him in the lobby.
"'Her face actually dropped,' said Mr. Sims, who was dressed in a conservative business suit, befitting his 25-year career in human resources at I.B.M.

"Later, in her office, after several perfunctory questions, the woman told Mr. Sims she did not believe the job would be 'suitable' for him. And, barely 10 minutes later, she stood to signal the interview was over.

"'I knew very much then it was an age situation,' said Mr. Sims."

For me, Mr. Sims' story is personally chilling. I know that "falter" and that brush-off from 20-something interviewers all too well; I've been through it more than once or twice. It can never be proven in a court of law, but you know what it is when it happens, and it has everything to do with why I now live in Portland, Maine instead of still working and living in New York City.

According to the story, the unemployment rate for workers 45 and older is the highest it has been since 1948, when tracking by age began and it takes older workers weeks longer than younger ones to find a job - if they ever do. To repeat myself from Friday, when is this going to end. Read the rest of the story here. And there are several opinion pieces on hiring older workers - or not - here.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson tells a childhood story, The Violin Song.]


Elder Music: Australian Pop 2

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Today's guest elder music blogger, Peter Tibbles of Melbourne, continues his survey of Australian popular music through the years, bringing it up to the present day.Peter doesn't keep a blog, but he comments on TGB from time to time and occasionally contributes to The Elder Storytelling Place. If I haven't mentioned it, I know from personal experience that this man has excellent taste.]

To the eighties. I was pleasantly surprised to find some decent music. I'd forgotten some of these. The Dingoes, Stars, Cold Chisel, Goanna, Split Enz, Dragon (the last two Kiwi imports). Stars (the clip is actually from 1977, a fine example of "Weren't they cute at that age"). Look After Yourself. [3:56 minutes]

Cold Chisel with Forever Now [4:35 minutes]

And Dragon with April Sun in Cuba. [3:29 minutes]

The most important musicians around at the moment (and going back a couple of decades as well) would be Joe Camilleri and Paul Kelly.

Joe has been in a number of bands, most of which he organised. The most famous (at least in this neck of the woods) are Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, The Black Sorrows and The Revelators. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive; he can be in Jo Jo one week, the Revelators the next and so on. This is Joe in his Jo Jo Zep incarnation with Hit and Run from some time ago. [4:41 minutes]

Joe as/in/with The Black Sorrows performing Chained to the Wheel. The support singers are Vika and Linda Bull who have gone on to have a successful career as gospel-oriented pop singers. [3:47 minutes]

Paul Kelly is a national treasure. I have to include a song he wrote with Kev Carmody (another national treasure) called From Little Things Big Things Grow from the Make Poverty History concert (here with Kev and John Butler). [6:46 minutes]

Sorry about two Paul Kelly clips (okay, I'm not really). My favorite song of his is still To Her Door. I have no idea where this live version was recorded, but it's not bad. [3:24 minutes]

The original inhabitants of this country/continent/island/large flat bit of dirt girt by sea have been making music for more than 40,000 years. Just think about that for a moment. Of course, the now dominant culture pretty much ignored them until they strapped on electric guitars and said, "Take that, you lot." And take it we did, especially from Yothu Yindi. Treaty. [3:37 minutes]

Those who saw the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics may remember Christine Anu singing My Island Home. If you didn't see her, it's up on the tube, I notice. Here's a version without all the Olympics nonsense from the marvellous Rockwiz on SBS. [2:03 minutes]

Same song by the Warumpi Band, who wrote it. [4:23 minutes]

One of the quirkiest bands from New Zealand was Split Enz. After they split (sorry), several of the musicians from that band formed Crowded House, maybe the most successful Australian/New Zealand band. Paul Hester was the drummer.

Now, in spite of being in one of the world's most successful bands, in spite of being admired and honored by musicians around the world, in spite of being loved by virtually everyone in the country - in spite of all this, it was nothing compared to his black dog, depression. He killed himself in Elsternwick Park very close to where I live.

A couple of years earlier, television network SBS created a short series of programs called Hessie's Shed where Paul just ballsed around with a bunch of his friends. His friends being the cream of Melbourne's (and Australia's) musicians and comedians.

If you ever come across this series it's worth a look. Here is Crowded House and friends from one program with Sister Madly. [4:13 minutes]


This Week in Elder News – 11 April 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.

Sabine Mattern is a college student in Germany working on her thesis about baby boomers and the perception of aging in marketing. She emailed recently asking if I would post a survey she that would help with her work. It is aimed at the boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964). Here's the survey.

Mazel Tov to President Obama. On Thursday evening, he hosted the first-ever Seder for Passover in the White House. A rabbi who was not scheduled to attend said, “"I'm only sorry that I won't be there to see the president and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel say at the same time, 'Once we were all slaves. Now we are all free.'" More here.

2009-04-10-seder_blog

In an op-ed piece this morning in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, who is a former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush, compares and contrasts the behavior of Wall Street denizens during the greed years of Bush I's ignoble son to the cooperation of their counterparts in the days following the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

"In the years after 2001, they took care of themselves. But that bright shining week, Sept. 11 through 17, they took care of tradition, the exchange and their country.

"So maybe wisdom begins there for them, and for those entering and living out lives in business in America: Look only to yourself and wind up with ashes. Know it's bigger than you and wind up a hero."

It's an insightful story. Read the whole thing here.

Here's a cheerful view of aging from Steve who blogs at Projections who also posted this interesting quotation from the late physicst, Richard Feynman.

“There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.”

Imagine what Feynman would say about bailout monies if he were still alive.

Once upon a time if you lost a camera, it stayed lost. But this story explains how a bunch of people working together online managed to the find the owner even though there was no identification on the camera. The detective work is amazing. More here.

Soon, I may be the last person left in the U.S. without a facelift. Some years ago I railed against a job counselor who suggested plastic surgery for older job applicants. Now, apparently, no one needs to be advised; they do it on their own. This time the excuse is to remain competitive in the job market during a recession. But it's really about the culture's refusal to accept aging as normal. More here.

Naomi Dagen Bloom of A Little Red Hen posted photos recently of a white peacock. Amazing! Particularly the one juxtaposed with a little white dog.

When the recall of pistachio nuts was made last week due to salmonella contamination, the bag I'd recently bought was from the same California processor. Since I'd already eaten half the bag without falling ill, I kept it. But food safety is a growing problem. Here is a sane story about the fear headlines that have been circulating saying backyard gardens and farmers markets will become illegal if a certain Congressional bill passes. It's worth your time.

Here's your feel-good animal story for the week: a cat found alive after five weeks buried in the rubble of collapsed building in Cologne, Germany.

In a story last week about how everyday people are coping with the recession, CNN broadcast this repellent report on how an 84-year-old waitress is “...still waiting tables, but she's doing it to supplement her Social Security income. The most important thing here is that she has no mortgage...”

Wh-a-a-t? An 84-year-old on her feet all day working for tips in an economy where everyone has cut back on eating out is good news? See for yourself:

UPDATE: I just discovered that Crooks and Liars and Jason Linkins at Huffington Post picked up on this too.