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The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman - Part 3

category_bug_journal2.gif I am pretty sure that if not for Aunt Edith's continued urging in regard to Grandma Hazel's antiques and if not for having a brother willing to help, I would have sold the house as is for whatever pittance it would have garnered, thereby avoiding the need to enter it again. In fact, I might have given it away.

The shocking circumstances of Hazel's life have, with time, overwhelmed my memory of the days following my brother's arrival in St. Paul. Although I don't recall, I doubt we told Aunt Edith about the condition of her sister's home. The two women wrote many letters to one another and I believe they spoke on the telephone regularly. Did Hazel mention her garbage problem? Or that the toilet didn't work? Or that the furnace was broken?

Did Aunt Edith have any inkling of how her sister lived? I don't know.

With instructions from Aunt Edith on what to look for, my brother and I carefully picked our way through the freezing squalor of Grandma Hazel's house. There is no telling how long the kitchen faucet had been leaking, but I nearly slipped and fell on the sodden newspapers, a couple of inches thick, that Hazel had placed on the floor in front of the sink to soak up the water.

There was too much junk piled up to be able to enter the bathroom, but we could see a filthy, clogged toilet and grimy bathtub neither of which had been used recently. There were pots of urine and feces throughout the house.

We took frequent breaks in the rented car outside to relieve ourselves of the smell and to warm up for a few minutes.

The small bedroom behind the kitchen where Grandma Hazel had died was remarkably free of the detritus that packed the other rooms. Nothing much there except the bed. What we thought was a closet door turned out to lead to the cellar and another shock.

More trash bags, hundreds of them, filled the cellar nearly to the top of the stairs. No wonder the furnace had not been repaired. By the time it stopped working – it had to have happened that year since she had not frozen to death the previous winter – no repairman, if one had been phoned, could reach the furnace.

My brother and I pondered how this could happen. There must have been a day two or three years before, we decided, when Grandma Hazel, feeling too weak or tired to drag a bag of trash 20-odd feet to the curb, had tossed it down the cellar stairs thinking she would retrieve it on a better day when she had more energy.

And then, well, that day never arrived and one thing led to another until there was hardly any space left for an old woman to live in. Maybe she had thought, at her age, she would die before the cellar filled up.

Given our shared, mordant sense of humor, my brother and I laughed in a grimacing sort of way. It probably had started small with only a couple of trash bags – no big deal - and just got out of control, no doubt to Grandma Hazel's surprise when it was too far gone for her to face the effort a cleanup would involve.

A family of mice complained when I opened a dresser drawer in the second bedroom. Somehow, they had not destroyed a lovely little collection, wrapped in plastic, of velvet and satin evening purses, silk scarves and a pair of white leather, opera-length gloves so tiny I could not get my hand in the widest part of the cuff.

Memories of a better, different life decades earlier.

In another drawer, I found a never-used, hand-made, patchwork quilt, probably sewn by Grandma Hazel in her teens, as girls born a hundred years ago did for their trousseaux. It is a remarkably modern design for its time (Hazel was born in 1892), and I've kept it. Early on, I thought I'd use it on my bed, but cats and antique quilts are not a good mix. So, as in Hazel's home, it sits folded in a drawer.

The garage was a ramshackle building with broken windows and doors which had been letting in rain and snow for years. It was filled with cartons that had obviously not been unpacked since Grandma Hazel had moved into the house, and had deteriorated from the weather.

Several oriental rugs, rolled and left on the floor, were moldy and damaged beyond repair. As expected, the boxes were filled with delicate porcelain vases, crystal glassware and an astonishingly large collection of Meissen china – well more than 200 pieces painstakingly collected, Aunt Edith explained, one-by-one over many years.

Due to the condition of the boxes, it all required repacking for shipment to our homes so my brother and I bought all the necessities, hauled everything from the garage to our hotel rooms and spent the next day or two carefully packing it all.

We found a treasure trove of letters from Grandma Hazel's first husband, our grandfather, carefully preserved in a drawer in date order, covering a period from 1915 or 1916, when he began serving in the Army in Washington, D.C. through sometime in 1918. There was a letter almost every day with the warm and lavish sentiments you would expect from a young couple in love.

Beginning in April of 1918, there is a gap of three months, followed by a few more letters that are mean, nasty and hateful - that guy was one angry dude - but with no indication of what had happened to cause such a dramatic reversal of affections.

Was there silence for three months from my grandfather? Given the vitriol of the last letters, I doubt it. Did Grandma Hazel, perhaps thinking of posterity, destroy those letters? More likely, but there is no way to know these things.

Wondering about it now and then over the years, I have invented only two explanations, neither of which feels solid since I don't know the beliefs, character or ethics of the two people. Because my grandfather was the aggrieved party, did Grandma Hazel perhaps have an affair back in Chicago while he was away working for the war effort?

Or, making the mysteries of my family more convoluted than could ever be sorted out at this late date, was he not my dad's biological father? Could Hazel have given birth to another man's child and passed it off as her husband's until he somehow discovered the deception? It would explain the man's absolute disinterest in my father.

But if true, it would sure complicate who I think I am.

To be continued – one more part on Monday...

The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 1
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 2
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 4
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – A Followup


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Nine to Five


The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 2

category_bug_journal2.gif Dealing with a mother's death usually falls to a grown child, but my father had died two years earlier. In a telephone consultation with Aunt Edith, then in her late 80s, and my brother, both in Portland, Oregon, it was decided I would go to St. Paul to handle the details of Grandma Hazel's terrible demise.

Aunt Edith said there were valuable antiques to be collected from her sister's house and garage – Meissen china, oriental rugs, crystal, probably some beautiful, old furniture. My brother asked if he should go too, but I felt confident that I could arrange shipping, find someone to cart away what remained and handle what little else there would be to do.

In the intervening years between my visit with Grandma Hazel in early 1968, and her death in 1984, she had sold the house on Winslow Avenue and bought a much smaller place in a less grand neighborhood. I assumed she needed the money from the sale but as I indicated, not much personal information passed among the members of my small family.

If you don't count Maine where I live now, there is nothing quite as snowy or cold as Minnesota winter. I was unprepared, in my then-fashionable mini-coat, for the bitter morning air and freezing wind as I made my way to the attorney's office in St. Paul.

There was no estate, he told me as he ticked off a list of the documents he had asked me to bring, except the small house and its contents. There were a few papers for me to sign and, he said, I would need to meet with a city official. The medical examiner? A registrar of city deaths? With what happened later in the day, I don't recall.

I asked how it happened that my grandmother froze to death. How was she found? Neighbors, who had not seen her recently, had called the police. The furnace was broken and apparently had been for most of the winter. She died in bed.

Then he told me it would be better not to visit the house, that it was in awful condition and I could hire someone to clear it out. I dismissed his warning. Probably, I surmised, a tiny, 92-year-old woman who was trying to stay warm for the past two months or so would have been a less than meticulous housekeeper.

No, he repeated, it was much worse than I was imagining, not something I would want to see. I appreciated his desire to shield me, a stranger to him, from an unpleasant experience, but how bad could it be, I thought. And it wasn't his decision to make.

Next, I met with the city official. There was more paperwork after which he gave me a simple gold band, a wedding ring, that had been cut from Grandma Hazel's finger and a brown, plastic box about the size of an old-fashioned family Bible. Her ashes.

Ominously, this man, too, strongly suggested I hire someone to sort the contents of the house. Doing it myself, he said, would not be a good way to remember my grandmother.

What could these people be talking about while they were being maddeningly short on detail?

Without my learning anything further, the official and I sparred about this for awhile until he was convinced I would not back down. He had the keys and would take me there. He said I should not be alone when I entered the house.

Set back from the sidewalk about 25 feet, it was a white bungalow left unpainted for many years with a badly weathered, wooden garage next to it. The surrounding homes, although in better repair, were about the same size. So far, I was still puzzled about why these men showed so much concern for me, a grown woman with a dead grandmother she had never known who was just taking care of family business.

The city official unlocked the front door and stood aside. I didn't get through the entrance before the stink knocked me back. The unexpected combination of dirt and grime, rotted and still-rotting garbage and most of all, filth - human urine and excrement - was overpowering. Holding my breath as much as possible, I took a couple of steps inside.

Whatever furniture may have been in that living room was buried under dozens of full, garden-size, trash bags piled as high as a five-foot, frail old woman could stack them. Mixed in with them were as many bundles of newspapers leaving only a narrow path, no more than nine or ten inches wide, through the room to the right toward the kitchen.

I was horrified. Someone had lived like this. Not just any someone you might read about in the newspaper. It had been my grandmother. Grandma Hazel. Aunt Edith's sister. It was hard to fathom even with the evidence in front of my eyes and the stench nearly gagging me.

Next to the front door, draped over a couple of the bags, was what must have once been an elegant sable coat, now moth-eaten with patches of fur missing and the lining torn. For just a second or two, I distractedly wondered if that was all Grandma Hazel had to wear when she went shopping. The question, as I realized, had no relevance; the temperature in the house was no warmer than outside.

My god, I thought. What would this smell like in summer.

What I could see of the kitchen from where I stood, still near the door, didn't look any more promising, nor did the bedroom I could peek into over the piles of trash bags in front of me. Something sloshed when my foot bumped it - a copper kitchen kettle filled with urine, a turd floating in it. Disgusting. The entire place was grotesque. I was sickened and repelled.

This massive accumulation of waste could not have happened in the couple of months of that winter. It was years in the making. I pushed back the humiliation that washed over me – with the city official nearby - for my grandmother and for me for not knowing of this. But right then, with no more than two minutes having passed since I had walked in, I refused to be shamed for the ghastly life and death of a woman who had no motherly affection for her son - my father – or for me.

I backed out and closed the door.

Having no heart for further investigation on my own, I returned to the hotel and called my brother. I was wrong, I told him. I can't do this alone. Please come.

The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 1
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 3
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 4
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – A Followup


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenda Adams: Get a Job


The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman

category_bug_journal2.gif My father was born at the start of World War I, in 1916. His father served at an Army desk job in Washington, D.C. while his mother – Grandma Hazel to me - stayed home with her new son in Chicago.

Toward the end of the war, something sudden, dramatic and unpleasant happened between husband and wife. I don't know what it was and anyone who could tell me is now dead. Whatever it may have been, it caused an irrevocable break between my father's parents.

Dad said the only time he met his father was when he was nine. He turned up at the house one day, gave my dad a quarter to go out for a soda and when dad returned, his father was gone. A divorce had been settled upon. I have no knowledge of this man, my grandfather, beyond his name. There is not even a photograph.

A year or two later, dad's mother sent him to Portland, Oregon to visit her sister, my great Aunt Edith, for what he was told was a summer vacation. He never saw his mother again. It is hard to know these things for certain – as in every family, there are secrets and questions were not encouraged. But apparently, Grandma Hazel wanted to marry Darby who was uninterested in having a kid around. Aunt Edith raised her nephew, my father.

Darby – he was always referred to by his last name - was an attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota. He and Grandma Hazel collected antiques and lived in a large home on a hill in that city. I don't recall – if I ever knew – when Darby died, but he was not a presence in my childhood, and Grandma Hazel was little more.

My brother was born after dad returned from World War II. Mom told me that she wrote to Grandma Hazel now and again inviting her to visit us to see her son and meet her grandchildren. Hazel said she couldn't do that - she couldn't leave her home unattended because someone might steal her antiques.

I sensed that my mother was miffed, but not so much that she made an issue of it – perhaps because she too had a distant, nearly nonexistent relationship with her family. Her mother had died giving birth to her and, as the family story goes, her father, not knowing what to do with a newborn, left her in the hospital for three months.

During my mother's childhood, her father married several more times and when a wife, like Darby, didn't want a child to care for, my mother was shipped across town to the home of one of her father's sisters.

My mother's ethnic background was Welsh (her mother) and Spanish (her father) and my mother's appearance took after her mother – mousy brown hair, fair skin. Her aunts regularly commented in my mother's presence that it was too bad Charlotte wasn't as pretty as her cousins with their olive skin and blue-black hair.

Although we occasionally visited her father, as far as I know my mother never saw her aunts and cousins after she left home following high school. I never met them.

I have sometimes wondered how it is that my mother and father, each abandoned by their only parent for being inconvenient, managed to find one another. And how strange it is to think, now and then, that if one or the other had been less emotionally damaged – which I would have fervently wished for both of them – they probably never would have.

What I mostly knew of Grandma Hazel growing up were the gifts she sometimes, although not every year, sent on my birthday and at Christmas. Always inappropriate, they became family jokes. I remember only one, a huge bolt of satin fabric, black with gigantic red flowers. It was as ugly as it sounds and, of course, a disappointment to a kid expecting a doll or a game or a book.

At mom's prodding, I dutifully wrote thank you notes to Grandma Hazel for these oddities. And now you know as much about her as I did. There were no letters or photographs, no stories about her life.

The gifts stopped arriving when I was in my mid-teens, but we exchanged cards – no chatty notes included, only signatures - at the holidays and Aunt Edith would remind me to send one for Grandma Hazel's birthday. I felt no attachment to her. She showed no interest in me and I reciprocated.

None of this seemed strange to me. With little other experience, children are accepting of what is and I don't remember thinking about Grandma Hazel except when I agonized over those damned thank you letters. It's hard to know what to say, when you're a kid, about a bolt of ugly cloth that is taller than you are.

Late in 1967, my husband and I moved to Minneapolis. After we found an apartment and were settled in, I telephoned Grandma Hazel and made arrangements to visit her in nearby St. Paul. I had no idea what I would say to her but now that I was in the vicinity, I was mildly curious and it seemed the right thing to do.

She lived in the large, two-story house on Winslow Avenue she had shared with Darby when he was still living. The lighting was dim and the lower steps of the staircase off the foyer were stacked with boxes and household items making it obvious that she lived only on the first floor. Most of the doors were closed as she led me down the hall, but I could see there was a bed in what would otherwise be the dining room.

Then 76, Grandma Hazel was tiny and fragile-seeming. I doubt she weighed 100 pounds. I remember only two things she told me as we sat together at the kitchen table that day: that she climbed a ladder to chip ice off the eaves of the house during winter and that she didn't eat much – two chicken wings were enough for dinner.

My general impression was that she was batty, but not dangerously so. My husband and I stayed less than six months in Minneapolis and I didn't see Grandma Hazel again.

One afternoon in December of 1984, I answered the door to my apartment on Bedford Street in New York City to find my neighbor, Mary, with a uniformed police officer. They asked to come in and after fumphing around for a moment or two, the young officer gently told me my grandmother in St. Paul had died.

Later, Mary said the officer had visited her first, wanting a friend to accompany him in case I collapsed at the news.

Hardly.

A St. Paul attorney, whose telephone number the police officer had given me, told me my name and address had been noted among my grandmother's papers marked, “in case of emergency.” She had been found in her home, he said, frozen to death.

It got worse from there.

The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 2
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 3
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – Part 4
The Terrible, Lonely Death of an Old, Old Woman – A Followup


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mark Sherman: Memorable Lines


REFLECTIONS: Botswana

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 An old and dear friend, wishing us well on our travels, told my wife and me, “You’re remarkable.” I knew what she really meant. Our rabbi told members of his congregation of our plans and they nodded as he blessed our trip. We understood why.

They were indulgent, but they thought we were crazy to be planning such a trip at our age and wondered if we’d survive. My wife, Evelyn, told me, “Well what age should we go? If not now, when?”

So we went this summer on a two-week African safari to celebrate our 80th year, among other things, in a place like nowhere else on earth, the vast Okavango Delta of Botswana. So instead of my customary “reflections,” this is a loving travelogue about a magical place, why we went and with whom, for we acknowledge that we are not foolhardy (else we would not have made it to 80) and could not have done this alone.

I may have mentioned that I’ve spent considerable time in South Africa as a reporter. My wife and lived there and traveled the region for five months in 1996-7 when I was teaching young journalists in South Africa how to pursue their craft in the freedom of their new democracy. And when we could, we spent days in the bush with the amazing animals and birds that inhabit this continent.

Much of the bush is flat, sandy, dry and dotted with brush, the thorny acacia, and umbrella trees that don’t grow high. There are no forests and certainly no lush, jungles (indeed, a lion couldn’t survive in a jungle.

But drive through this rather ordinary land and suddenly it’s alive with a couple of grazing giraffes raising their heads, a herd of elephants at a water hole, a dozen zebras, hundreds of the graceful and delicate impala, the most common of the antelope, chattering troops of baboons, wildebeest crossing the road, hippos in the rivers, water buffalo and, if you’re lucky, a lion and a solitary leopard. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Elephants2

During the months we lived in Johannesburg, we had neither the time nor the money to visit the special place called the Okavango in Botswana, one of Africa’s most prosperous and best-run democracies, just north of South Africa. A former British protectorate, you may know of Botwana now as the home (in the capital, Gabarone) of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The books, incidentally, will give you a good idea of the grace and charm of the people of Botswana, and their veneration of those of us who have achieved age.

Botwana is rich because of its diamonds, but also because the Okavango has become a great attraction for travelers from all over the world. It is the only place where the rivers, full from the rains and flowing from the west do not empty into the sea. Rather, they simply stop and flood the great Kalahari desert forming a vast delta of islands, lagoons and clear water swamps. And during a few months of Botswana’s winter, southern Africa’s animals come to the waters and grasses and reeds to drink, hunt and mate.

Lioness3

In too many private game reserves in Africa, the animals are accustomed to coming at certain times to the viewing places, where sight-seers can have a drink and take their photos. The Okavango, on the contrary, is a place to be with these creatures where they live on their terms. And it’s a birder’s paradise, starting with the lovely national bird, the lilac-breasted roller and the huge red-headed crowned hornbill.

When Evelyn and I were younger we would have camped out in tents in relatively safe camp areas, close to the animals. That was out of the question this time. Indeed, a South African journalist friend, who knows about my partly paralyzed right side, warned us that even luxury camping would be too rigorous for just the two of us.

But one day last year, while I was going on about my hope to see the delta, a son-in-law suggested he and my younger daughter could go with us to help. By and by, another daughter and her husband joined us. Eventually we numbered eight including two grandchildren, 17 and 20. And I took charge of the planning.

Wholegang2

It was a good thing that it took a year to put the trip together for it made paying easier. And truly, aside from the transatlantic air fares, the costs of the camps were reasonable and it included light planes to take us to each of the three bush camps we chose.

Unless you can camp out in your own tents, the best way to visit the delta is to stay for a couple of days at each of the various camps, to explore the different features of the delta’s terrain, the waters, the Kalahari, the animals and the birds.

With the help of a South African friend in the travel business, and for our sake and the comfort of our family, we chose the services of Desert & Delta, which has been doing business in Botswana since 1982 and owns and runs some of the best camps in the delta. We chose three, Moremi and Savute, within the country’s vast national parks, and Shinde in a private reserve. Each of the three was unique and all were tastefully tucked into the environment, without disturbing trees, animals or birds.

The routine for seeing the animals and birds is the same at every camp I’ve visited - up at 6AM for a cup of coffee or tea, then a four hour game drive atop a high Toyota Land Cruiser that can negotiate three or four feet of water, if necessary. Then lunch and siesta, high tea at 3PM and at 3:30 until dark, an evening game drive.

I worried on the first drive out of Moremi that the family might not see the sights I’ve seen. I needn’t have been concerned. First the impala (there are more of them, two million, than there are people in Botswana), stately giraffe (did you know they must spread their legs so they can get a drink?), baboons, warthogs (so ugly, they’re cute), then a sight that left everyone gaping - a pride of six or eight lions, running towards us in the shallow water, brushing past our vehicle heading for dry land and the tall grass where they like to hide.

Leopard2

The following morning we came on a leopard lounging on a dead tree limb just outside camp and four young lions reuniting with their mothers who had been out hunting. And on the afternoon-evening drive, called a sundowner, our Botswana guide/tracker/driver, Mod, promised us elephants and we found them, moving through the tall grass like mountains.

The sundowners end with drinks – soft or hard - and watching the sun disappear on the far horizon of the land so distant, I swear you can almost see the curvature of the earth.

Elephant2

At Savute, I took a shower on a warm afternoon and watched a dozen or so elephants drinking and washing in the pool a few yards away. They had chased away a herd of wildebeast but allowed impala and other antelope to share the waters.

That morning, Evelyn and I slept in but the six others had their eyes filled with animals and birds. They watched a leopard that had just hung her kill – an impala – in a tree for safe keeping. Her cub was hidden nearby. On the sun downer, we watched while a male lion tried to get it on with his mate–about four times in the hour.

And on the last night at Shinde, which is surrounded by water and the guide can go off-road because it’s in a private reserve, we watched silently a hungry female leopard as she stalked a reedbuck, one of the many varieties of antelope. The full moon came up early, to light the scene. A large striped antelope called a kudu, too large for the leopard, watched out for the reedbuck. And two elephants lumbered unhurriedly in the distance.

That night an elephant awakened my daughters and came within a few feet of their tents to shake the fruit from a date palm. And a staff member reported that a hippo, one of the most dangerous animals, wandered through the camp. Animals do not fear the vehicles, but if you should be foolish enough to get out, the animals will either run or charge.

Did I mention that the meals - breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner - were outstanding - four or five star - with fresh fruit and vegetables in abundance along with roast kudu at one meal?

And because, as I said, age is venerated, Evelyn and I were treated as celebrities, with a great deal of deference, at each camp with staff and guides (who outnumbered the 22-24 guests) helping us over the rough spots. It’s difficult to walk with a cane and a gimpy leg over a path strewn with fresh elephant dung. It had a strangely pleasant, but pungent odor and disclosed the elephant’s vegetarian diet. Did you know that except for the cats and other predators, all the animals are vegans?

On the last day at Shinde, at the end of the safari, there was a surprise. Evelyn and I were taken by boat through the waters flanked by tall reeds and grasses to an island in the delta where, in honor of our 80th year - and other family observances - the staff had set up a formal lunch among the trees with napkins, silver, china and wine for us and the rest of the guests. Our age, it turned out, had its privileges.

We stopped for our sundowner at a great, gnarled boabab tree that may have been 1,000 years old. On the way back to camp, we stayed out after dark because the guide was searching for a lion whose roar he heard. But we only saw, in the guide’s spotlight, a group of wildebeest and warthogs huddled for safety, and a hyena.

Saul2


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: The Recital.


Time and Time Again

REMINDER: Don't forget the new FEATURED ELDERBLOGS in the left sidebar. Each Monday five blogs, selected from the complete list, are called out for the week to help us find new gems we hadn't known about or remind us others we might have lost track of.

category_bug_journal2.gif It's an old aging topic of conversation – how fast time flies. It came up recently during an email exchange with Peter Tibbles who writes the Sunday Elder Music column. He said he'd thought an album had been released about five years ago but when he checked, he was shocked to find it had been 15 years ago.

No kidding. Happens to me all the time, especially every two weeks when I fill up my seven-day vitamin containers. On a suggestion (two years ago? three years ago? who knows) from Millie Garfield of My Mom's Blog, I have two of them because weekly fill-ups seemed to come around every day. But even with two, when I'm counting out a multi-vitamin, two calciums and two fish oil gelcaps into their little boxes, I think, “Didn't I do this just yesterday?”

Because I watch another program on the same television channel, I frequently see promos for a show titled Monk. Now and then I make a mental note to take a look at it one day, but I haven't done so. Last week (a month ago?), a promo announced that the final season is starting soon. Final season? It feels like a new show to me but, obviously, several years have gone by without my noticing.

I remember, during even my not-so-young working life – say, age 40 or 45 - when I was eagerly anticipating a Friday night date or had theater tickets or some other special event, that on Wednesday I'd think, “My god, won't the weekend ever get here.” These days when Wednesday arrives, I think, “Damn, the week is almost over” and sure enough, I turn around – or so it seems – and it's Friday.

There are many explanations for the phenomenon of time speeding up as we get older. In fact, it was discussed on this blog at some length five years ago (I would have guessed two years ago) here and here and here. No one really knows the reason, so you can take your pick among the theories.

There may be no other topic for which “it's all relative” is more apropos.

The experts tell us that as we get old, it is easier to remember what happened 40 years ago than what we had for breakfast yesterday. For me, unless an event is closely attached to another for which I know the date – buying a home, 9/11, getting married, etc. - I can easily be off on when it happened by a decade and even more.

As I told Peter, this is a warning to you readers: when I write something like “10 or 15 years ago,” it is just as likely to have been 25 or 30 years ago.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone - Alzheimers: Part 2.


ELDER MUSIC: Musicians You Should Know About - Part 2

IMPORTANT EDITORIAL NOTE: Although Peter Tibbles has been handling most of the Sunday Elder Music columns for several months, today it is official – he joins Virginia DeBolt, Saul Friedman and Jan Adams as a regular contributor, our own master musicologist whose knowledge in just about every genre is immense.

In addition to his scholarship, humor and excellent taste, Peter has a knack for the telling anecdote about musicians and it feels like he is my own personal deejay as I prepare these stories for posting each week. His bio is here and I know you will welcome him to the TGB family.


I mentioned last week that Delbert McClinton is the best white soul singer still alive. There was a better one but he’s no longer with us. Eddie Hinton had an interesting life. He played guitar on a number of the Stax records and wrote a few of the songs as well. He made a couple of albums over the years but few saw the light of day.

It was only towards the end of his life that these and new recordings started appearing. He was always quite fond of legal and illegal substances. This was a factor in his not becoming more famous. This track is I’ll Come Running (Back To You) from “Letters from Mississippi.”

EddieHinton

I first encountered Lisa Gilkyson in Albuquerque back in the seventies. I immediately bought her album called “Love From the Heart.” I think it sold about one copy. Some years later, Eliza Gilkyson arrived on the scene, and, lorks a’mercy, it’s the same person. She still makes fine albums, even finer indeed.

From her album “Lost and Found,” Richmond Boy.

ElizaGilkyson

For those with long memories, and that must be just about everyone reading this blog, Eliza’s dad was Terry Gilkyson who was also a songwriter: Cry of the Wild Goose, Memories Are Made of This, Greenfields, Marianne.

I saw Phil Ochs a few times. The first was in Vancouver in 1970. Amongst other songs, he sang Okie from Muskogee. After that song, an audience member offered him a joint and a can of beer. Phil chose the beer.

He was the first person who was going to be the next Bob Dylan. Phil certainly believed that but it didn’t come to pass. He was bi-polar and killed himself in 1976.

This is The Party from his best album, “Pleasures of the Harbour,” but I’m sure it wouldn’t interest anybody outside a small circle of friends.

PhilOchs

Apparently Jennifer Warnes played the lead in Hair in Los Angeles in the late sixties. I wish I’d seen that. Anyway, I first became aware of her with a Linda Ronstadt sound-alike song, I Know a Heartache When I See One in the mid-seventies. Since then she’s made some fine, distinctive albums. No more comparisons with Linda.

It was a toss up whether to feature that song or something from later. I decided on later, First We Take Manhattan, from an album of songs by Leonard Cohen called, “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

JenniferWarnes

I see Mike McClellan as often as I can. That means two or three times a year. He lives in Sydney but is part owner of a winery down here in Victoria that has a concert venue attached. What could be better than a winery and Mike McClellan? Well, the last time I saw him, it could be as Rodney Crowell was there as well.

Mike recorded several albums in the seventies and eighties, but they have been deleted. A few years ago an excellent two-CD set of his best songs was released. Unfortunately, last year EMI stopped producing this without telling him. He’s now in negotiation with them to retrieve the rights and the masters so he can put it out himself. Let’s hope he succeeds.

This is his signature tune, Song and Dance Man.

MikeMcClellan


This Week in Elder News - 25 July 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.

Correction
A couple of weeks ago, in mentioning the blog of my old friend Lew Grossberger (who is very funny), I said that he is 70-something. Wrong! Our mutual friend Joyce Wadler, who writes for The New York Times (here's one of her recent stories), emailed to remind me that he is 68.

Too Old to be Trusted
Although Walter Cronkite's death did not garner nearly the attention of Michael Jackson's, the news media generally fell all over itself in praise of “the most trusted man in America” omitting the fact that it was his age that forced his retirement at 64. Here is one writer who did notice. (Hat tip to so many who sent this link.)

Elder Crime
For the past ten years, the number of crimes committed by old people has been on the upswing:

“In April, two sisters, ages 65 and 70, were busted in Stroudsburg, Penn., for selling heroin.

“Akers speculates that many elderly arrestees are career criminals who maintain the stamina and strength that crime typically requires. “Late-onset criminality is very rare, and typically financial in nature,” he says.”

Also due to boredom, according to another expert. Read more at In These Times.

Best Geriatric Hospitals
At U.S. News, there is an useful list of the best hospitals ranked by score and reputation. You can search by medical specialty (including geriatric care), state and hospital name.

Summer's Bounty
My experiment this year with growing vegetables has been largely thwarted by squirrels and an excess of rain in deluge proportions. Elsewhere, however, it has been a banner season. The apricots seem to be sweeter than in years past. The “Rainier” cherries (we called them “Queen Anne” when I was a kid) are exceptionally tasty and larger than I remember.

ApricotsCherriesPeas

The peapods appear at the weekly farmer's market for only two or three weeks before they are finished for the year. They are larger and less shiny than the Chinese variety and so sweet I munch on them like candy. It's good none of this stuff is fattening.

Small Pleasures
If you're not a fan of Verlyn Klinkenborg, you should be. Each Sunday (and, occasionally, other days) on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, he publishes exquisite, little, philosophical essays that are about much more than the farm life he recounts. Last week, he compared the sleep patterns of humans and farm animals:

“What I find especially admirable is the animals’ attitude toward daytime sleeping. It is without prejudice because, unlike humans, they know that there is no propriety in sleep. It steals upon you when it steals upon you. You are not a worse chicken for snoozing in the early morning...”

Read the rest of the essay here.

Comparison Tool for Health Reform Plans
The website of the Kaiser Family Foundation has published a tool to aid in comparing the several health reform plans working through Congress. Details change fast as senators, representatives, lobbyists and the president juggle various interests and I don't know how up to date the tool is. But it should help in sorting out the main features of the plans.

Hear, Hear, Senator Sanders
Speaking of health care reform, Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders takes on Senator John McCain in Congress regarding “socialist” health care reform:

Out of One's Element
My young friend Stan James, who I met at the Gnomedex conference in Seattle in 2007, has recently arrived in Berlin where he will live for the next year. He has posted a thoughtful story on his blog about being a stranger in a strange land:

“...childlike in feelings of powerlessness,” writes Stan. “Not knowing how to properly take out the garbage. Not being able to participate in 'grown up' conversations. Having to ask questions all the time.”

You can read more here.

Abandoned Blogs
Harper's Index reports (not available online) that according to Technorati, an estimated 94 percent of all existing blogs have not been updated in four months. How is it, I wonder, that Time Goes By and many of your blogs are still going strong after four or five years.

Captain Cat Update
Two weeks ago, I introduced you to my brother's feline house(boat)mate, Captain Cat, who has a strong interest in the river on which they live, the sailboat and the surrounding wildlife. Following up, Paul tells me,

“Captain Cat fell in the river again yesterday evening. I had just arrived home to find that Isa had purchased a bottle of champagne for us to share on our dock in the Adirondack chairs. Captain Cat was seated on the edge of the dock studying the water, as she often does.

“When I popped the cork on the bottle, there was a splash near where Captain Cat had been seated. We surmised the popping of the cork jarred her little psyche and sent her over the side. I ran over to check on her, but by then she was out of sight under the dock - she can climb up on the large logs that support the house. About an hour later she was back on the dock shaking the water off her legs again.”

CaptCatPonder-the-water

Captain Cat, who had been been abused by her previous owner, lived mostly under the bed for the first three months after my brother and his wife brought her home. Her life now seem idyllic:

“She might actually think she has died and gone to heaven,” writes Paul. “She has made this end of the dock hers by challenging the big bruiser of a tabby cat that used to stalk our neighbor's bird feeder. He never shows his face here anymore. She thinks the neighbor's house is an extension of her house; she wanders in and out. She likes to spend time on his upper deck and roof watching the birds.”

Or, sometimes, sniffing the halyard on the boat looks like cat ecstacy.

CaptCatsniffing

“In the photo of her diving off the boat, I am sad to report she is diving for the dock, which at that end of the boat is about four feet away. It looks like she is making a perfect little dive with pointed forepaws into the river.”

CaptCatLeapingl

“I am not sure, but I think she only falls into the river, although she might be going after a big fish or an otter or even a goose - we have two kinds, domestic and Canadian. Sea lions occasionally come here from Astoria. One of those I think would eat Captain Cat in a single bite.”


Sense(s) of Annoyance

category_bug_journal2.gif Don't get me wrong as you read what follows. I am grateful for my good health which undoubtedly has less to do with smart living over the years than luck and genes. Also, I like the age I am (68), and have no desire to be younger or even to look younger.

In addition to health and appearance, I have made peace with many of the demons that haunted my youth and middle years, I continue to grow more comfortable in my skin, I have enough experience now to make fewer mistakes and I've gotten smarter – I can't be fooled as easily anymore. Getting old has been good to me.

Nevertheless, there is a mounting number of physical irritants and I've been such good little trooper on this blog in support of health care reform that I claim my right today to bitch:

My five senses have gone to hell.

Eyes
Did your mother tell you to turn on a light when she caught you reading in a dim room? Mine did: “Turn on the light,” she said, “or you'll go blind.” I guess she was right. Unless a lamp is trained directly on the page or I'm sitting next to a window in daylight, the words fade and turn to mush.

Nose
It hardly works at all nowadays. Does Ollie the cat's poop stink? Not that I can tell. Is there enough garlic in the soup? I can only hope. As far as my nose knows, they've bred the fragrance out of flowers.

I opened the kitchen trash bin one day a year or so ago and even I, with my fading sense of smell, was blown over from the stench that must have permeated the kitchen before it got strong enough for me to notice. Now I've taken to sealing kitchen garbage that can rot into its own little zip bags instead dumping it in the trash bin as I had done all my life.

Taste
A large part of how we taste food is related to smell, so I hardly need to explain this one. So far, it is holding up reasonably well, but I've noticed that some foods seem not to be as richly flavored as in the past. (That could be agribusiness growing for shipping convenience over flavor.) I'm teaching myself to appreciate texture.

Ears
These still work well enough that I wince, as I always have, at noises other people seem to ignore or, at least, tolerate. Nearby fire truck and police sirens cause an actual pain in my ears, and it is not my imagination that television stations jack up the volume for local commercials over the network feed.

But when there is a lot of ambient noise – in a restaurant, for example, with the buzz of conversation or background music or both – I can't distinguish the speech of the person with me. It all blends together and to compensate, I'm becoming a fairly accomplished lip-reader.

Touch
This is my single sense that remains unaffected. As far as I can tell. But the changes above have come about slowly, so perhaps this one isn't yet advanced enough to notice.

In addition, I leak (as we discussed a couple of weeks ago), my sleep schedule is erratic and the one prescription drug I take gives me gas. Is it any wonder I bitch? At least I'm not drooling.

Barring accident or disease, we make our way through the decades of life seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling as a birthright. We hardly notice how much they do for us; they are just there, individually and in tandem, bringing the world to us, enriching our experience and warning us of danger.

Now, to my surprise, I can't rely on my senses. This is part of “what it's really like to get old,” as it says on the blog banner up there, and no one tells you it will happen one day. Not that knowing would change anything, but I would like to have been advised to expect it.

I do what I can to accommodate the losses and certainly I'll take these over cancer, stroke or heart disease any day. But damn, it is really annoying.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: She Never Loved You.


THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Resize a YouTube Video

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.

You can put YouTube videos on your own blog. If it doesn't quite fit into the space you have, you can resize the video to fit.

We'll look at how you get a video and then talk about how to resize it.

Get the Video
There are two ways to get a YouTube video. The first way only adds a link to the video to your blog. Sometimes this is the only option available, depending on the video.

If you want to use the link to the video, find the spot to the right of the video that says URL. You see that with a red oval around it in this image.

the URL are is marked with an oval

A single click inside the field where the URL is given should be enough to highlight the URL. When the URL is highlighted, copy it. You can copy using the keyboard command Ctrl-C (Cmd-C on a Mac). Press both the Ctrl key and the C key at the same time. You can also copy using the Edit menu: select Edit > Copy.

Your next step in the process would be to go to your blog and paste that URL where you wanted it. But I want to talk about the other option for getting a YouTube video before we do that part.

The other way to get a You Tube video is to embed it in your blog. When this option is available for a video, you see it on the right of the video after the word Embed. In the image, you see it marked with a red oval.

the embed code is marked with an oval

Once again, a single click anywhere in the code should be enough to highlight all the code. In exactly the same manner as I explain above about copying a URL, you copy this code.

Add It to Your Blog
Whether you copied the URL or the embed code, you are now ready to paste that into your blog.

If you are creating a link with the URL, first type the words you want your reader to click. Then highlight those words and use your blog's linking tool to open up a window that allows you to paste in the URL for the link. Paste using the keyboard command Ctrl-V (Cmd-V on a Mac) or select Edit > Paste from the menu.

When you close the window, you should have a clickable link to the video on your blog.

If you copied the embed code, you probably have an extra step. In Wordpress, which is the blogging platform I use the most, the embed code has to be entered into the blog post using the HTML tab. Click the tab that says HTML (highlighted with a red oval in the image). Then paste in the code. It may look somewhat different on a blogging platform other than Wordpress, but you should have the same function available.

click the tab that allows you to enter html

Once you have the code entered on the HTML tab, you can click back to Visual to see how it looks.

In Wordpress, I don't actually see the video. I see a placeholder with a little "f" in the middle. (The "f" stands for Flash video.)

Resize the Video
Click on the placeholder image for the video. That selects it. You'll see the placeholder image becomes wrapped in a border and small boxes appear at the corners and sides of the borders. These boxes are resize handles.

the small boxes in the corners are resize handles

If you hold your mouse over any of the corner boxes, you should see the cursor change. When you see the changed cursor, you are ready to resize.

look for the changed cursor

To resize, you click and drag. There's a fine point to resizing. If you want to keep the proportions (the height and width relationship) of the image the same, you need to hold down the Shift key while you click and drag. If you don't use the Shift key to constrain the proportions, you may distort the image by making it too tall and narrow or too short and wide.

Use your free hand to hold down the Shift key. Then with the mouse, left-click on a corner box and drag inward with the mouse to reduce the size of the video. Wordpress displays numbers, so it's easy to see when it's small enough. Wordpress also displays a dashed outline of what the size it will be. When you stop dragging and release the left mouse button, the video will be resized.

drag a resize handle to resize

If you don't quite get it right the first time and want do-overs, remember to hold down the Shift key while you try again.

The video placeholder is still bounded by a border and the resize handles when you release the left mouse button after you've dragged. You want to move away from that selection. If you have some words typed in your post, you can just click on the words to reposition the cursor. If you don't have anything typed yet, you can use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move to the right of the video, where you can start typing your post.

I Don't Have Resize Handles. What Do I Do?
If your blog doesn't give you the nice bounding box and resize handles for dragging to a smaller size, you can still resize the video. You have to do a little math. And you get to play in the HTML code!

In the embed code you copied from YouTube, look for something like this:

object width="425" height="344"

Those numbers determine the display size. You can change the numbers. The math involved is easy with a calculator.

Do the same math on both numbers. (The numbers represent pixels, by the way. Pixels are the units your computer screen uses to measure things.) Suppose you want the video to be 75 percent of the original size. Here's how I find 75 percent on my calculator - if you still remember your high school math you may have another way to do it.

425 x .75 = 318.75

Round that off to 318. Change the width to read width="318". Then use the same percentage to calculate the height.

344 x .75 = 258

Change the height to read height="258". You reduced the width and height by the same proportions.

Of course you could make it 50 percent of its original size by doing 425 x .5 = 212 and 344 x .5 = 172. Or 85 percent of its original size by - well, you get the idea. Just use the same percentage on both numbers so that you keep the proportions right.

Put the new numbers in the code (be sure you don't remove the quotes around the numbers when you change them) and the video will display at the new size. Also be sure to replace the numbers in the TWO places in the embed code where they appear – near the beginning and near the end.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior: Fun at the Carrie Underwood Show


Delaying Health Care Reform Into Oblivion

category_bug_politics.gif Republicans in Congress, some of their state governors, the chairman of the Republican National committee and a variety of pundits declared war this week, making it crystal clear that their goal is to bury health care reform.

It is a “cabal,” screeches one. “Socialism,” says another. “Reckless.” “A dangerous experiment.” “Too much, too fast, too soon.” “You should be scared to death.” “It will be [Obama's] Waterloo.” And finally, instructions from Bill Kristol to his conservative compatriots: “Go for the kill.”

Should shouting health care reform into oblivion fail, Alex Castellanos, who is a consultant to the RNC, offered a backup plan: "If we slow this sausage-making process down, we can defeat it."

The United States lags behind every other developed nation in the standard measures of health. Forty-seven million Americans are uninsured - more than at any time since before Medicare. No one knows how many are under-insured and we spend twice as much per person on health care as the second most expensive nation.

All this begs the question: why don't conservatives want their fellow Americans to have health care?

Why is the status quo acceptable to them? Why is it all right for anyone to go untreated for lack of coverage? Why is it okay that 62.1 percent of all personal bankruptcies (in 2007) were due primarily to medical bills?

Although it has been my observation over my 68 years that conservatives are just generally meaner than liberals and progressives, the reason is money.

The health care industry as a whole is the largest lobby group in Washington and just yesterday it was reported in the Washington Post and elsewhere that federal lawmakers, including Congressional committee members working on health care reform, have raked in $170 million from that lobby over the past couple of years and are continuing to do so as they write the reform bills. ($1.5 million to Democratic Senator Max Baucus alone.)

Should those lawmakers leave Congress for whatever reason (election defeat, sex scandal, greed), the Washington/corporate revolving door ensures that they are rewarded for their efforts to protect corporate interests with high-paying positions. So they have an enormous incentive to favor big business over the people of the United States whether it is health care, bank regulation or anything else.

When they are not shrieking scare words at us, Republicans and blue dog Democrats have been arguing that health care reform is too expensive. What no one I can find has pointed out yet is that while cost estimates for health care reform are between $1 and $2 trillion over ten years, the federal government would be on the hook for $23 trillion if none of the money already spent on or allocated to all the loans, rescues and bailouts were never recovered.

That makes health care reform sound like a bargain. And it is. The only difference between the two numbers to Republicans is that the larger one benefits mighty corporate interests and the smaller one, a pittance by comparison, benefits only the American people.

Unlike the humongous loans, rescues and bailouts, new taxes are being weighed to pay for health care reform. I have not seen an estimate of how much premiums for a public option would cover so we're swimming in murky waters to discuss this. But one suggestion is that a tax surcharge be levied on the largest earners, a idea we discussed here last week.

Predictably, there are howls from the Republican sector and even House leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, declared that if such a tax is imposed, the floor should be at the $1 million salary level rather than $280,000 in the House proposal.

Unfair, cry the opponents, to tax only the rich. Let's talk about fairness and justice for a moment. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, President Bush's tax cuts, which began in 2001, are still in force and benefit only the rich, had a direct cost to the government of $860 billion through 2005. Bush's promise when he lobbied for these reductions was that they would spur economic growth. We know now how well that worked out – they paid for the yachts and fourth and fifth homes that the rich are now trying to unload without much success.

During World War II and under President Eisenhower's tenure, the wealthiest Americans were taxed at 90 percent (well, much less after deductions), so there is precedent for taxing the rich. The poor have no money, middle-class is tapped out and it is time that the wealthy paid their fair share. There would be some small amount of justice in that for the non-wealthy among us and wouldn't hurt the wealthy.

If our country (and do remember that it is taxpayer money) can bail out banks who caused their own financial collapse while destroying the life savings of millions of Americans, costing them their homes along with five million jobs, we can afford health care for every American. Social justice, of which there has been none for many years, demands it.

As the war of words over health care reform escalates and the president's approval numbers dip slightly, Republicans are trying to kill it off and one way that can be done, as Mr. Castellanos notes, is through delay. The longer it takes, the less reform there will be. That's what scares me the most which Bob Franken, writing at PoliticsDaily, explained well:

"By the time our leaders cobble something together, the process of compromise will have created reform that really isn't. The pressure to do anything else will have run out of steam.

"Our leaders will leave us with something that is inadequate, at best, and possibly worse than before.

"Then, in their zeal to declare success and placate voters, they will trumpet a glossy success and gloss over the mind-numbing details that will really add up to failure."

I do believe we will get some kind of health care reform – perhaps only a weak one, but something. The one item the Republicans hate most in the debate and which we cannot do without, however, is the public option. They fear it will lead, in time, to a single-payer system and they are correct. And that is why we must win on health care reform.

At 8PM eastern time tonight, President Obama is holding a press conference largely devoted to health care reform. It will be carried on all three broadcast networks and the usual cable news channels.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior: Fun at the Carrie Underwood Show.


GAY AND GRAY: Fun in the Sun

[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.]

Not everyone at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade and Celebration this year presented a picture of glowing youth. In fact, quite a few of us were quite mature. Here are some pictures from the day that I thought folks here might enjoy.

I asked Jo from St. Paulus Lutheran Church how many of these events she'd been part of. "About 30," she thought.

GayPride1

This woman thought she'd attended maybe five parades. When I encountered her, she was looking for her young cousins, visiting from Sweden, who she'd lost somewhere.

GayPride2

These fellows were squinting in the sun...

GayPride3

...while this gentleman had taken a seat.

GayPride4

Lots of spectators flock to enjoy the sights. "We come every year!"

GayPride5

These women were staffing a booth for a scuba club.

GayPride6

I expect that The Sequoias, a "life care" community, got a lot of attention when this man was in their booth.

GayPride7

A determined marcher.

GayPride8

And here a multi-generational family group.

GayPride9

A grand time was had by some 500,000 folks - and we, LGBT elders and friends, were very much among the crowd.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones: Elinor and Her Dog Stud.


Ollie the Cat and My Time Deficit

REMINDER: Don't forget the new FEATURED ELDERBLOGS in the left sidebar. Each Monday five blogs, selected from the complete list, are called out for the week to help us find new gems we hadn't known about or remind us others we might have lost track of.

category_bug_journal2.gif In the Elder News post on Saturday, I mentioned a recent research study (a rather silly one) that purports to explain how cats control us by means of a special meow. My feline housemate Ollie – although a talkative sort in general – has no need for vocal urging. He commands my behavior quite easily with a variety of insistent nudges, pokes, prods, winsome appeals and the occasional evil eye followed by a whack to my ankle - each one an effective motivator.

We rise early partly due to my faulty, internal clock, but reinforced by Ollie's belief that 4 - 4:30AM is exactly the right time for breakfast, and that I exist to serve his demands.

What this means at the other end of the day is that by 6PM only the reptile portion of my brain remains functional and my body wants to be horizontal. If the next day's blog post is unfinished, it will remain so until 4AM when muscles and frontal cortex, sufficiently rested, kick in again.

Evening reading is limited to nothing more demanding than detective novels and when, sometimes, even that feels like a mental stretch, there is an endless supply of cop shows on television to which I can veg out until sleep arrives.

I hate this. It means losing three or four hours out of 24 that could be used more productively and there are other things I would rather do – listen to music (I'm not a background music kind of person), read books that require more concentration than light novels and so much to learn and know, things I put off during my working years expecting (not having counted on Ollie the cat) to have more time in this third age of life.

For several months, I have been trying to free up time (within the limitations of Ollie's schedule and my late-day weariness) for these pursuits and have now devised two solutions.

Last week, I gave in and bought an iPod (am I the last in America?) - a small one called the Shuffle which I can fill up with MP3s from my computer to use in the bedroom, the only place in the house where at 7PM, Ollie (and there is no denying him - see paragraph one above) requires 30 to 40 minutes of communal playtime, emphasis on communal. For me, it is mindless and now he doesn't have any idea that my attention is elsewhere. What does a cat know of earbuds.

The second innovation is a new use for my little Eee PC. Remember that? I discovered at the aging conference in New York last month that it is too small for serious writing or note-taking, but for functions not involving speedy or precision typing, it is excellent.

First, you must understand that my bedroom television time is repeatedly taken up with removing Ollie from in front of my face. He does not (to his credit, but my irritation) approve of television. But audio does not offend his sense of where my attention ought to be directed.

So what I do now, some evenings, is use my Eee PC to listen to the expanding number of lectures, talks and presentations available on the web from experts worldwide on just about any subject you care about, want to know more about and didn't even know you cared about until your interest was piqued.

For whatever reason, I can concentrate on these even when I'm tired and since many are audio-only and video talking heads don't require watching, Ollie is mollified while I am learning a great deal.

Now that you have indulged my cat fancy, here is the part of today's post you might actually care about.

Most of us know about TED Talks, FORA TV and BigThink – websites with an astonishing array of smart, accomplished people eager to share their knowledge. Thousands of them talking about everything from the history of hip-hop to minor poets of the Renaissance to current events and politics to aspects of physics (even in language a lay person can understand) and, here and there, some useful takes on aging.

There is so much available that I'm pretty sure if you organized your listening and followed up with some well-chosen reading, you could gain the equivalent of a master's degree in anything you want. And all for free from some of the best-known people in their individual fields doing the teaching – people you would be unlikely to encounter if not for the internet.

Remember when television was in its infancy how they told us this is how it would be used? It didn't work out that way, but the internet, unlike television, has no boundaries of space and time and now this worthy goal is being realized.

While experimenting with ways to carve out more time while accommodating the whims of the cat and my aging rest requirements, I have discovered many more such websites than the big three listed above.

Here are links to some of them, in no particular order, where you are certain to find some fascinating people and information. Talk about lifelong learning...

Academic Earth

Project Tuva

YouTube EDU Channel

PBS Video

WGBH Forum Network

Best Online Documentaries

Annenberg Media

Open Culture

Edge Video

One World TV

Link TV – Television Without Borders

MIT World – Distributed Intelligence

Babelgum

That should get you started.

Plus, the iPod has a further good use now to guarantee sufficient daily exercise. I just tie on my sneakers, download an hour-long lecture and don't allow myself to return home from walking until it's finished.

It is not fair to have blamed my time deficit entirely on Ollie the cat, but he does contribute and by doing so has now contributed to the solutions. He is redeemed.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones: Elinor and Her Dog Stud.


ELDER MUSIC: Musicians You Should Know About - Part 1

Peter Tibbles of Melbourne, Australia has, by virtue of his astonishingly wide and deep knowledge, become Time Goes By's resident musicologist and he will soon be formalized as one of this blog's permanent contributors. Aside from his enthusiasm for just about all forms of music, his writing sounds like the best deejay you ever listened to.


I have this life-long thing of wanting to introduce people to new music. Back when I was in grade five or six, I’d drag other kids in and say you’ve gotta listen to this. It was probably Little Richard who was very exotic to folks who lived in a small town in Australia.

I haven’t changed since then, except my pile of “gotta listen to” has increased considerably. Just ask Ronni.

This may be a case of teaching granny to suck duck eggs, as my dear old mum had a wont to say when I’d say something that was glaringly obvious, but if I have inspired someone to check out just one of these artists my job will have been done.

I received my first Tom Rush album for my 21st birthday. Do they still celebrate 21st birthdays? I have no idea as I have no kids, so it’s never come up. After all, 18 seems to be the age these days, at least it is here. You can vote, drink, drive, all at the same age (but we hope, not at the same time).

That album of Tom’s is called “Take a Little Walk With Me” and it’s still a favorite after all these years. I could pick half a dozen tracks to play but I’ve settled on yet another song called, On the Road Again. This is one of Tom’s compositions and was written before several other songs of the same name came into being.

TomRush

Fred Neil was one of the earliest musicians around the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early sixties. Indeed, I think he allowed Bob Dylan to support him now and then. He wrote a very famous song that few people realise was his (if they know him at all). That song is Everybody’s Talking and his version is far superior to Harry Nilsson’s. I’m not playing that though.

This is Please Send Me Someone to Love from his “Sessions” album. There are whales out in Bass Strait who say, “Pete’s playing Fred Neil again,” whenever I put this track on.

FredNeil

Here’s a case where someone turning the tables on me.

My good friend Lois from Albuquerque sent me this album years ago. I played it and thought, “Ho hum. What are you on about, Lois?” and put it away. About six months later, I got it out and played it again and thought, “Hmmm” and put it away. A couple of months later I played it (“Mmm?”) and put it back in the shelf.

About a month after that I played it and, yep, back again. A couple of weeks later out it came. Then a week after that. A couple of days. The next day. Then I played it a couple of times that day. And the day after. And the day after that. And so on.

This album is like that. This song is like that. That’s the way of fine albums - they sneak up on you while you’re not looking.

It is Iris DeMent, Easy’s Getting’ Harder Every Day from “My Life”, her first album.

IrisDement

Iris is married to Greg Brown. I remember the first song of his I heard, it was called Mose Allison Played Here. I thought, “I have to have that,” and I did not wait too long after.

Since then, whenever a new Greg (or an old one I don’t have) appears - snap, into the shopping bag. I won’t play “Mose,” instead here is The Poet Game.

GregBrown

Delbert McClinton is the best white soul singer alive today. He might also be the best country singer as well. Not to mention rock 'n' roll. I first encountered Delbert in the seventies with his album “Genuine Cowhide” (Joe-Bob sez, “Check it out”).

There are too many good songs in his canon to decide on a single one without some sort of lottery to choose one. Spin the wheel, up comes You Were Never Mine from the album, “One of the Fortunate Few.”

DelbertMcClinton

[Part 2 of two next Sunday]

This Week in Elder News – 18 July 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.

You Can't Say They Didn't Warn Us: Long before such giant financial institutions as AIG, Countrywide and Washington Mutual, among others, helped sink the economy, they were boasting in television commercials about how they were doing it. In light of what we have suffered in the past year, this Countrywide commercial makes me feel a bit queasy.

More of such revealing commercials at Huffington Post.

Twitter is for Old People: Or so says a 15-year-old British kid. Bankers worldwide are hanging on every word of a report Matthew Robson wrote for Morgan Stanley in London about how young people use media. Among his observations - Twitter is for old people and:

“No teenager that I know of regularly reads a newspaper, as most do not have the time and cannot be bothered to read pages and pages of text while they could watch the news summarised on the internet or on TV.”

It's an eye-opening report. Don't miss it here.

Elder Computer: There is a “Go” computer being marketed to seniors that is easy to use, web safe and includes a large-key keyboard, 19-inch screen, trackball mouse and proprietary software that is easy to understand if the person is new to computers. It seems a pricey to me at $799 and a required $19.95 per month subscription, but maybe some people will find it useful. More here. (Hat tip to Sandra Mosley)

Consumer Beware: It has always been fashionable to deride the public education efforts of government agencies, but often there is useful information presented in an easy-to-understand manner. The Federal Trade Commission produces some excellent consumer videos. This latest one is on fraudulent business opportunities which flourish during economic hard times.

Find other Federal Trade Commission videos here.

Being Green and Safe: Alternet posted a story about "ten dangerous household products you should never use again":

“Air fresheners, disinfectants, and cleaners found under your sink are more dangerous than you think. Mix bleach with ammonia, for example, and you’ve got a toxic fume cloud used by the military in WW I.”

Alternatives are offered for the ten items (from chemical fertilizers to plastic bags). More here.

Generous Grandparents: According to a MetLife Quick Poll, nearly two-thirds of U.S. grandparents provided an estimated $370 billion in financial assistance and gifts to their grandchildren over the past five years. Some of the purposes:

GrandparentsFinancialAssistance

There is a lot more information about this poll here [pdf].

Cats Rule! A researcher at the University of Sussex in England has concluded that house cats are able to control their humans through the use of “urgent-sounding, high-pitched meows” that are similar to a baby's cry.

“[Karen] McComb suggests that the purr-cry may subtly take advantage of humans' sensitivity to cries they associate with nurturing offspring. Also, including the cry within the purr could make the sound 'less harmonic and thus more difficult to habituate to,' she said.”

I don't mean to be a grinch, but money is being allocated for this research? More here.

Elderbloggers Rule! It's always fun to see what elderbloggers are doing away from their computers. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a photo of Pete Sampson (who blogs at As I Was Saying) with his singing group, The Grateful Dads, when they recently sang the national anthem during a Red Sox game at Fenway Park in Boston. Now, here's the video. Pete is the second man from the left.

Another Sign the World is Ending: A large blob of mystery goo is floating in the Chuchki Sea in Alaska and no one knows what it is.

"'It's certainly biological,' [Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Terry] Hasenauer said. 'It's definitely not an oil product of any kind. It has no characteristics of an oil, or a hazardous substance, for that matter.

"'It's definitely, by the smell and the makeup of it, it's some sort of naturally occurring organic or otherwise marine organism.'

"Something else: No one in Barrow or Wainwright can remember seeing anything like this before, Brower said."

Read more in the Anchorage Daily News. (Hat tip to Grossblogger)


Health Care Reform: “Doing Nothing is Unacceptable”

category_bug_politics.gif Senate Hearings with Judge Sonia Sotomayor notwithstanding, it was a big week in health care reform.

On Tuesday, House Democrats released a bill and on Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), led by Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, voted along party lines 13 to 10 to approve legislation they have spent many weeks creating.

“It stops insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions,” [said Senator Dodd. “It guarantees that you’ll be able to find an insurance plan that works for you, including a public health insurance option if you want it.”

Both plans contain a public insurance option. The House version includes a wealth redistribution surtax on the richest Americans to help pay for it. Here is a graph from The New York Times explaining the rates:

Health_graph2

Wealth redistribution is anathema to Republicans and even Democrat Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor for four years under President Clinton, told The New York Times in 2008:

"I don’t believe in redistribution of wealth for the sake of redistributing wealth. But I am concerned about how we can afford to pay for what we as a nation need to do."

Reich clearly believes that the nation needs health care reform badly enough that he has endorsed the surtax idea in the House bill. Writing on his blog, he said

It's the most blatant form of Robin-Hood economics ever proposed. The universal health care bill reported by the House yesterday pays for the health insurance of the 20 percent of Americans who need help affording it with a surtax on the richest 1 percent...

“...to say out loud, as the House has just done, that those in our society who can most readily afford it should pay for the health insurance of those who cannot is, well, audacious.

“There's another word for it: fair. According to the most recent data (for 2007), the best-off 1 percent of American households take home about 20 percent of total income - the highest percentage since 1928...

“A surtax is easy to administer. And the whole idea is easy to understand. Tax the wealthy to keep everyone healthy. Not even a bad bumper sticker.”

Republicans and big business, of course, are howling at the surtax – and at the public option itself.

I still believe a single payer system – expanding Medicare to everyone or creating a new system that folds in Medicare – is the best way to go, but no one, from the president on down, has the courage (or political cojones) to go up against the various health care lobbies to even discuss it.

At the aging conference I attended at The International Longevity Center in New York City, several presenters who work closely with Congress on elder issues said that health care reform “will happen,” probably this year. I sense that is so, although Republicans won't make it easy and there is a danger of the legislation being watered down by the health care industry that is spending $1.4 million per day to lobby against it.

We can help keep up the pressure for reform on Congress. As I posted last week, you can continue to let them know where you stand through this link.

It is the Department of Health and Human Services that will administer new health care legislation. On Wednesday, that agency's secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, was the guest on The Daily Show. As she noted, “Doing nothing is unacceptable.”

Host Jon Stewart was at his best that night, asking good questions that “real” news people don't often do. Here is Part 1 [5:30 minutes]

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Kathleen Sebelius Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Here is Part 2 of Stewart's Sebelius interview [4:51 minutes]

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Kathleen Sebelius Pt. 2
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mark Sherman: When Relief Trumps Grief


Elder Driver Testing

category_bug_ageism.gif Drivers age 65 and older have been increasingly maligned for poor driving. A couple of weeks ago, columnist Ellen Goodman ticked off recent auto accidents involving elders in an essay about dependence:

“...here in Massachusetts we've had five serious car accidents involving elders in the past month. An 86-year-old struck an elderly man in a crosswalk. A 93-year-old drove through the window of a Wal-Mart, injuring six people. An 89-year-old killed a 4-year-old.”

Sounds awful, doesn't it? Those old drivers are a menace and now Massachusetts is considering regular testing of all drivers 85 and older.

That's not a bad idea, if you ignore the implied ageism which makes it sound like elders are the only people who cause auto accidents. Here are the facts according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

  • In 2007, 41,059 people died in fatal auto crashes in the U.S.
  • In 2007, 5,932 people 65 and older were involved in fatal crashes
  • In 2007, 11,890 people up to age 25 were involved in fatal crashes

However, the number of fatal crashes per 100,000 people increases dramatically beginning at age 70-74, as this graph shows, although it does not reach the number of teenage fatal crashes:

2007_olderpeople_2crashpercapita

I have no data, but my general impression is that news stories about auto accidents involving elder drivers has jumped dramatically in the past few years while there is hardly any mention of teen and young adult accidents. This is important when considering measures, such as regular testing, to help curb auto accidents. According to the same Insurance Institute for Highway Safety noted above, as quoted in the Washington Post:

“Teenagers are four times as likely as older drivers to be involved in a crash and three times as likely to die in one...”

Young drivers involved in crashes are more likely to be impaired by alcohol too. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration [pdf]:

“Of all adult drivers, older drivers involves in fatal crashes had the lowest proportion of total drivers with blood alcohol concentration of .08 grams per deciliter or higher.” (.08g/dL is the level at which a person is considered alcohol-impaired.)

None of these facts absolves anyone of bad driving behavior and what statistics clearly show is that the youngest and oldest drivers are the most dangerous to themselves and everyone else.

In the United States, the automobile is a symbol of our individual freedom. Let no man put asunder our birthright to jump in the car and take off for parts unknown. Or, just to the mall. It was the post-World War II economic boom that put a car in every garage. The concurrent growth of suburbia - with no sidewalks, no corner groceries, no restaurants or movies within walking distance – made it a necessity.

So when the times comes in late life to give up the car keys, we lose two kinds of independence – real and symbolic. It is a devastating blow and for many, a hardship, but a decision that must be taken by elders or forced upon us when we become incapable of safe driving.

The catch, however, is that we age at dramatically different rates. Some 60-year-olds should not be driving. Some 90-year-olds are still capable. So there can be no arbitrary age at which driving is cut off.

Regular testing is a good idea. But to single out elders, as a Massachusetts state senator's bill does, is not only ageist, statistics show it doesn't even make sense.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Florence J. Anrud: Edelweiss.


Blog Comments and the Internet

blogging bug image A bonus today: two posts in one. The first is a bit of nuts-and-bolts information on commenting.

Email and RSS Subscriptions
Many more people read Time Goes By via email and RSS subscriptions than visit this website. As a result, I field 10 to 15 emails each week asking why they cannot comment. So this is a self-serving explanation intended to reduce the number of those messages I have been answering individually. Let me explain.

When a day's post arrives in your email inbox or RSS reader, it contains the entire story. Many bloggers send only the first paragraph or so which requires you to click “Read More” to see the rest of the story at the website. That does wonders for visitor statistics, but I figure you subscribe for convenience – we all have too much to read – so if you subscribe to TGB, you get the whole thing.

Then, if you want to read comments or leave your own, all you need to do is click the title at the top of the email or RSS feed. Your browser will open on that story at the Time Goes By website. To comment, scroll down to the bottom of the post, click the word “Comments” to read comments and/or leave your own. (It works identically at The Elder Storytelling Place.)

This is not unique to my blogs. All email and RSS subscriptions work this way. You can always tell what words are links; they stand out by being a different color from the rest of the text and usually become underlined when you roll your cursor over those words. Sometime, if the site is designed that way, the words change color too when you mouse over them.

One person who emailed this week asked why there are no instructions explaining this. Except for the story, I don't control what the email and RSS service includes in the mailing, but linking is the lifeblood, the essence of the internet whether it comes to you by browser or email, so I suppose they assume everyone knows how linking works. And if you didn't before, now you do.

Isn't the Internet Wonderful
The graphical browser, which is what made the internet easy for anyone to use, has been around now for 15 years. The web is commonplace enough today that I think we forget how wonderful it is. I remember decades of going to the library for research, plowing through Readers' Guides and other listings, writing down names and dates of publications I wanted, then waiting for the librarian to deliver microfiche rolls. When I was lucky, I didn't have to wait further for a machine to be free to view them.

Dozens of reference books that once lined my shelves are gone now (although I still use my favorite print thesaurus because the online versions are limited in scope and number of synonyms). If I can't remember what year a film was released or who starred in it, for example, or when Frank Sinatra died, it takes less than 30 seconds to find out. A few keystrokes bring up hundreds or thousands of stories about anything I want to know.

There is no way to count what I have learned by following links. Often it is information I didn't know I wanted, but it expanded my knowledge. When I don't understand something – toxic derivatives come to mind – there are hundreds of explanations. And if I need instructions for a do-it-yourself project, it is on the web.

And then there are the services unique to the web, that didn't exist before. Turn-by-turn driving directions; detailed descriptions of products I might want to buy with reviews from real users; email; blogs and Skype are just a few examples.

And now we are in the middle of a transition to all internet all the time. If you missed an episode of a favorite television program, it's online. If you can't attend a lecture because it is in another city or halfway around the world, it is likely to turn up on FORA, YouTube or TED. More and more news events, such as the Senate hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court this week, are broadcast in real time on the web.

It would take a book (or, these days, a book-length blog post) to list all the terrific things the internet has done for us and when I stop to think about it, I'm thrilled. Among the best is how it gives elders, who might otherwise become isolated and lonely, a worldwide social life.

I was wondering recently if I could I identify a single thing the internet has taught me that I would value above all others. After a good deal of thought, I have come to this: that no one is unique. If I am thinking about it, believe it, question it, wonder about it, love it, hate it, want it or care about it – so do others.

What that means is that no one is alone. No one needs to worry that he or she is weird or a freak. No one needs to be afraid to speak up. Somewhere online someone else is already writing about it, someone who can answer questions, console, help you understand or simply share a rare interest.

Isn't that wonderful?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, polkadot22: Parts of a Man


REFLECTIONS: The First Amendment

[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.

Having been in the news business for most of my life, I am a First Amendment absolutist. I believe that the framers of the First Amendment intended it to be the first addition to the new Constitution because they thought it was that important. Read in its entirety, it is the heart and soul of the unique American right of revolution. It separates thought from theocracy and guarantees the right to express those thoughts, and rally others to peaceful action.

Thus, I believe the First Amendment means exactly what it says - "Congress shall make NO law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." And that has been taken to mean that no jurisdiction, state or local, may shut us up without real and just cause, like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater when there is no fire.

But my fundamentalist support of the First Amendment has been a bit shaken, to say the least, when I hear the speech of Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and the other political mouths who call themselves journalists.

I can hear you saying, why are you picking on right-wingers? Well, the left-wingers, like Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow are critical of conservatives, Republicans and the right-wing talkers but they are not vicious or haters and they do not make their living by deliberately inciting people to play out their anger, often in a dangerous ways.

Nor am I criticizing conservative pundits and anchors working for outfits like Fox News, any more than I am supporting more liberal commentators for MSNBC; neither are fair and balanced, although the Fox News people pretend to be.

They are part of the news business and throughout American history, the nation has enjoyed a vigorous, and sometimes infuriating give and take between right and left. Our greatest presidents, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, were ridiculed by the contemporary press even during wartime.

I wish reporters were better at their jobs; they are too often uninformed and without purpose. As a veteran and experienced reporter who learned my craft through formal education and practiced it from the ground (the police beat) up (the White House), I was trained and subjected to editing that insisted on fairness and accuracy. So I could criticize the talkers as not real journalists.

But the First Amendment protects the rights of any citizen, not just those of us with press credentials. The speeches of entertainers passing as journalists is "protected speech," whether we like it or not. Indeed, with the internet and the proliferation of blogging, who is to say what or who is a journalist?

But "free" speech does not mean the same as "license." There are limits to what I can write, such as laws against libel and civil statutes protecting against slander. And there may be consequences, even when taking advantage of the First Amendment.

For example, while the amendment also guarantees "the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances," Dr. Martin Luther King was jailed for violating local laws limiting that right; he was, indeed, disturbing the peace. Dr. King understood that was the price one paid for an act of civil disobedience. So there may be a price for taking the First Amendment as a license to say anything about anyone.

Should there be a price, some consequences for Bill O'Reilly's repetitious rant against Kansas abortionist, Dr. George Tiller? At least two-dozen times on his Fox television talk show, O'Reilly, attacked Tiller with incendiary language, accusing him of being a "baby killer," who "will execute babies for $5,000," and "has killed thousands of babies...without explanation."

It might have been an act of journalism to find out if there was an explanation, but O'Reilly did nothing of the kind. Without "the other side of the story," someone may have taken O'Reilly at his word: "If we allow Dr. George Tiller...to continue..." I don't know if O'Reilly's words caused action. Tiller's killer hasn't said. But incendiary language with implied calls for illegal action, some of it based on lies or half-truths, is not always protected speech, as we shall see.

Glenn Beck predicted without reason that President Obama is building "concentration camps," and that "we might be heading toward a totalitarian state." I don't know if Glenn Beck's baseless ranting that President Obama was going to "take away your guns," led Richard Poplawski to kill three Pittsburgh police officers who, he believed, were trying to confiscate his weapons. Poplawski, a white supremacist, had come to believe Obama was planning to crack down on gun ownership.

I think it ominously important that these recent killings, including the one at the United States Holocaust Museum that was perpetrated by an admittedly disturbed individual, James von Brunn, who was an obsessed, white racist who hated Obama and Jews. And racism, which still infects this nation, has played a major role in the unusually vituperative and personal attacks on Obama that the talkers have encouraged.

In South Carolina, a prominent Republican figure suggested Michelle Obama is the daughter of a gorilla. Another Republican joked that Obama will tax aspirin tablets "because it's white and works." Such incidents, along with the usual non-apologies, have become too numerous to list.

It's true such speech, however stupid and nasty, is protected by the First Amendment. But it is intended to provoke more racism and hatred toward government and the law. So at the very least, one would think that these strict constructionist conservatives, like George Will, David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer, would condemn such racism, such incendiary and dangerous lies.

Do they believe that Obama is at once a socialist, communist and fascist? Or that he was not born in the United States? When Fox News commentator Shepard Smith, alone among conservatives, ventured some doubts about the "amped up" people who are "getting their guns out," he was inundated with vicious insults, many racially charged. Rather, there were howls of protest from the paranoid right when a Department of Homeland Security report accurately predicted an increase in far right extremism.

Did you hear any conservative object when Limbaugh joked that men in uniform, given only two bullets, would use them on Nancy Pelosi? If the worst happens, where will the blame lie?

One of the most prominent Supreme Court decisions supporting the First Amendment right of free speech, in 1969, involved one Clarence Brandenburg, an Ohio Ku Klux Klan leader who was convicted in 1966, of advocating violence in violation of the state law against "criminal syndicalism," a catch-all, anti-communist statute.

He had denounced "niggers," "Jews," and called for "revegeance," and a march on Washington. The liberal Supreme Court of Chief Justice Earl Warren overturned his conviction on the grounds that the criminal syndicalism law "violated the First Amendment...because it broadly prohibited the mere advocacy of violence rather than the constitutionally unprotected incitement to imminent lawless action." [Emphasis added].

Let me repeat, as the case was summed up in the law books. "...government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action." O'Reilly, Beck and others would deny they intended such things. But I'll bet the Law and Order DAs could find a way to prosecute.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Tree House


Of Bailouts, Bonuses and a Desperate Librarian

category_bug_politics.gif According to every newspaper in the land last week AIG, the insurance giant whose toxic derivatives went a long way toward causing our economic crash, has requested consent from the federal government to pay out $250 million in more bonuses to their executives over the coming nine months.

That's the same company our tax dollars bailed out to the tune of from $160 to $180 billion (depending on who you read, but what's $20 billion one way or the other) because someone said they are “too big to fail.”

A lot of the bonus money is scheduled to go to employees of AIG's financial products division – you know, the same guys who wrote those toxic derivatives. They must be paid these bonuses, the argument goes, because otherwise they would all resign and there is no one else – nobody in the whole wide world - who understands how to “unwind” the mess at AIG and get the company back on a sound footing.

Another argument contends that AIG is contractually obligated to pay these bonuses and – by god – we are a country of laws and blah, blah, blah. Come on. High-priced lawyers find ways to break contracts every day; these contracts are no more binding than any other.

None of the people who destroyed America's and good part of the world's financial systems are being held personally responsible but they certainly are being personally enriched with taxpayer dollars while everyone else falls further behind.

Case in point: this arrived from Alexandra Grabbe whom I visited at her bed and breakfast, Chez Sven, last fall. She found it on Craigslist:

“Retired librarian needs small furnished room from now til January (possibly longer if mutually agreeable); do not drive, so must be close to public transportation; am currently living at the Berkeley Residence, but the rent has gone up and my pension has gone down (tied to stock market), so I need a cheaper place to live until I can start collecting [Social Security] in January.”

The desperation in that Dickensian public notice rips at your gut and the librarian is not alone. It has been estimated that the market crash last fall wiped out $3 trillion in personal wealth with elders taking the brunt of the hit in a triple whammy:

  1. Lost life savings
  2. Forced early retirement due to the unemployment increase
  3. Lost value of homes

I don't mean to dismiss the hardship on young and mid-age people but unlike elders, they have time to recoup and recover - as we did in previous recessions when we were younger. At our age now, elders have no choice but to tighten belts and live out our remaining years in reduced – in some cases, hugely reduced - circumstances. There will be no recovery for old people.

Which brings me back to bailouts and bonuses. Consent of the federal government is not needed for AIG to pay the bonuses. According to reports, they have requested discussions on the issue with federal compensation czar Kenneth Feinberg only for “political cover” so to avoid the public rage that ensued following their last bonus round in March. If my gut reaction is any indication, it won't work – not that public rage will change anything.

The federal government has shown no inclination, so far, to regulate the financial industry (such as reconstituting the Glass-Steagal Act that served so well to protect us from the excesses of Wall Street after the Great Depression until Congress killed it). The new AIG bonuses are just a small, public glimpse into Wall Street's continuing business as usual, unchanged from before the crash.

Eighty percent of AIG and various percentages of other corporations may be owned by the federal government now, but that doesn't mean those companies are beholden to the public. In truth, the government is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the financial giants.

For a terrifying look at how the Washington/Wall Street axis works, don't miss this from The Atlantic. It will scare the pants off you as it has haunted me each time I have re-read it since its publication in May. Here is the introductory blurb:

“The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises.

“If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we’re running out of time.”

So as the economy circles the drain, an old librarian seeks a furnished room in which to eke out a life while swindlers are awarded their ill-gotten gains. It is amazing how little has changed in 33 years and we are still as impotent as we were in Howard Beale's day:


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone – Alzheimer's: Part 1.


ELDER MUSIC: Classical Part 3

Peter Tibbles, TGB's own Australian musicologist, left off last week, in Part 2 of Classical, with Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. Today, he begins the third and final chapter with another aria.


Handel's Athalia, Emma Kirky again (singing in English. So much for my initial premise).

Handel

As with Mozart, there’s nothing I can add to what’s been said about Beethoven.

His Triple Concerto (for piano, violin, viola) is generally considered a minor work. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying it and I hope you do as well.

Oh, do you like the picture of Beethoven at thirteen? I thought it’d be a change from the usual shots we see of him.

Beethoven

I thought I might include the John Cage work called 4’33” but decided not to as I imagine you’re all talented enough to be able to perform this yourselves.

JohnCage

I’ll end as I began in Part 1 - with Bach. I’ve always enjoyed Glenn Gould’s take on Bach’s keyboard works mainly because I like the piano more than the harpsichord. Some people are distracted by his humming along but it’s okay with me. This is the Toccata BWV 910.

Bach