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Sure Ways to Age Well

Hardly a day passes that some media person – a television reporter, perhaps, a local newspaper columnist or a self-appointed aging guru – gives us a list of things to do to “age well.” There is never anything new on these lists; the items are almost always culled from quick visits to such websites as WebMD and the Mayo Clinic.

In fact, on some occasions when Crabby Old Lady has had a few minutes on her hands and is particularly irritated by a list presented as though it were a revelation from heaven, she has checked those websites to find that the writer or reporter has lifted the advice word-for-word without attribution.

Now Crabby could go on with this minor rant and bore you to death. But she has an old friend, a funny old friend, named Lewis Grossberger who blogs at True/Slant and is much more clever than Crabby. He begins:

“...thanks to the quickly developing discipline of seniorific ancientology, we know more than ever about how to remain vigorous, alert and sexually active at an age when most people don’t really feel like being any of those things.”

Here are a few of the lessons Lew has culled from those annoying, repetitive advice-givers:

”Eat fresh, wholesome and nutritious meals three times a day. This is a drastic change from the previous recommendations, which were to eat sweet, fattening, stale foods washed down with malt liquor.

“Make sure you have a lot of money. Surprising as it may seem, money has been found to shield people from many harsh realities that can afflict the aged, such as homelessness, poverty, starvation and nakedness. How much money do you need? A good formula is to take your age and add five zeros to it.

“Take lots of pills. It’s perfectly legal! You get pills from doctors, so make sure you visit plenty of them. They will all prescribe pills for you. You don’t even have to ask. Remembering which pills to take at what time will give you a purpose in life, without which you will grow listless and die.”

There is more of this good advice at Lew's blog.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Chaput: The Flour Shaker


Goldman Sachs: Criminal or Incompetent?

Did you watch any of the Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday with Goldman Sachs executives? I was packing for my move to Oregon most of the day while it played in the background and I highly recommend it as an energy boost for getting through a tedious job.

I accomplished more than usual while working off the rage those slick Wall Street hustlers produced in me as they droned on with their self-serving, arrogant twaddle. To hear them tell it, they, their motives and their convoluted mortgage instruments (described in their own internal emails as “shitty”) were as pure as a newborn baby.

Goldman Sachs, they said in unison, had nothing to do with the financial crisis that caused trillions of dollars in lost savings, lost jobs, lost pensions and lost homes for the rest of us while they raked in collective billions in bonuses.

But there was a telling moment during the hearing that should convict them all of incompetence if not criminal wrong-doing. Some background before I get to it:

Although I have learned a lot in the past two years while following the news on short and long selling, CDOs, tranches and other obscure phrases, I am a Wall Street idiot - even more so five years ago. At the time, in mid-2005, my back was against a wall after a year of unemployment that had caused a huge, personal financial deficit.

My one substantial asset was my apartment in Greenwich Village which had appreciated during the real estate bubble to seven or eight times what I had paid for it. The only “out” for me that I could see was to sell the place.

At the time, Wall Street “experts” were saying that there was no end to the run-up in housing prices; values would increase indefinitely. I knew they were wrong. I remembered clearly that during the 1990/91 recession, the unsolicited offers I regularly received for my apartment had dropped to below the price I'd paid in 1983. So, of course, it could happen again and given that 15 years had passed, I guessed it would be soon.

As I prepared to sell my home, my research into sales of comparable properties over the previous two to three years revealed a small, but gradual and steady decline in prices of between five and ten percent. That told me I should sell as quickly as possible because the trend was unmistakably downward.

It took nine months on the market before I got a sale. During that time, I chewed my nails down to nubbins as I watched prices slide further in small but discernible increments and worried that housing prices would suddenly collapse as they had in 1990/91

But I was alone in my concern. All the while, those experts continued to proclaim that the good times were here to stay. As it turned out, I made the sale at an excellent price just under the wire in 2006.

Now, back to that telling moment at the Tuesday hearing.

It was evening when Goldman's chief, Lloyd Blankfein, settled in to testify before the subcommittee. In his opening statement, he repeated his colleagues' defense of the firm's practices and was then asked if he had known the housing market would crash.

“I think we’re not that smart...” said Mr. Blankfein. “The unfortunate thing is that the housing market went south very quickly.”

No, Mr. Blankfein, it did not. Little old, ignorant me saw it coming way back in 2005, and all it took was a few hours of online research into recent prices. Any bank doing proper due diligence to protect its clients could have seen it too.

The conclusions to be drawn from Mr. Blankfein's statement are that:

1. Executives of the largest, most powerful firm on Wall Street, so-called masters of the universe, conduct their business without factual information any smart 12-year-old could easily find and are, therefore, criminally incompetent.

Or

2. Mr. Blankfein is lying in an effort to convince Congress that his company did not deliberately create toxic financial instruments to cash in on a collapse they knew was imminent.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burstine: Joy


Reasons For Retirement

In response to a story published here last week (The Courage to Get Old), Elaine Magalis asked on her blog, Late Fruit, Why Would Anyone Want to “Retire”?

“Ronni and several of her respondents were discussing what retirement means to them - 'growing, learning, individuating, becoming all that we can be' – sounds good! – except that for some people it doesn’t seem all that wonderful,” writes Elaine.

“There are the physical problems of old age that are so much worse for some of us than for others and, of course, money problems and, as Ronni puts it, “a culture that does everything possible to marginalize old people.” Including, I might add, chuck them into the aforementioned category of “retirement.”

“I realized what was bothering me about the column: the word “retirement.” As if we were no longer involved in life, no longer active, no longer contributing, as if we were finished. That certainly isn’t true of the artists I’ve described in my posts.”

I don't need to repeat today my difficulties with the word “retirement” - for the reasons Elaine enumerates and others. It took me a long time not to choke on it. But I would like to point out that the word has its uses.

To the Social Security Administration and pension plans, it refers to those who are collecting benefits they have paid into all their working lives.

To the Internal Revenue Service, retired is an important classification that carries with it different rules and regulations in regard to what taxes are to be paid, or not, and which deductions apply.

To workers themselves, it refers to the time, usually at 60-something, when they bow out of full time employment. There are companies, some law firms for one, that require partners to retire at a specific age. For others, like myself, it was not a choice; we were forced out of paid employment due to our age and age discrimination. Some people who have done heavy physical labor simply cannot go on after several decades – their bodies wear out.

And as Elaine points out, disease or debility cuts short careers some might otherwise have wanted to continue beyond the usual retirement age. Finally, there are those who are glad to leave the world of work behind whether because they disliked their jobs or are just tired of the rat race. That, to me, is as valid a reason to opt out after four or five decades as any other.

So retirement is a useful word whatever negative undertone is attached to it by the culture.

The word itself bothers Elaine, but what bothers me about her post is the implication that artists (by which she seems to mean only famous musicians, painters, actors and writers) have a superior creative vision and dedication than everyone else.

“As I read Ronni Bennett’s column in Wednesday’s Time Goes By, I began to wonder if artists are in a privileged position. They don’t retire, unless they’ve always had a day job and retirement means they can finally do their real work full-time.”

“...not one the people I described there ever stopped working for what mattered to her or to him. Not one of them 'retired'.”

Most retirees, whatever artistic aspirations they may have had, found that the need to house, feed and clothe their families came first and whatever those jobs were, it was “real work” - not to be dismissed as a “day job.” It could easily be that the guy who, for example, operated a concrete mixer – which might seem tedious and mundane to others - found as much personal satisfaction with his part in building useful structures as someone who writes a great novel.

I recently listened to a man who worked on a fishing trawler for many years describe the details of his job. He grinned and his eyes danced as he spoke and he dismissed what I considered terrible conditions of wind, water, cold and high seas. He chose this work and relished the danger as he and his mates battled the elements each day to retrieve their catch.

Too old now for such labor, he is “retired” from fishing. He likes to “sit a spell” and tell fish tales from his career and when he feels like it, he sometimes designs and builds fine furniture which he had dabbled in throughout his life. But he doesn't think it is any more “real work” than fishing was and would resent anyone who said so.

The woman who writes the Cop Car's Beat blog comes to mind. Retired from her career as an engineer, she is now a trained Red Cross volunteer who travels the United States to disaster zones to apply different skills. She “retired” from one profession to take up another to which she is equally dedicated.

I don't mean to pick on Elaine and it could be that she is grappling with the pejorative nature of the word “retirement,” as I did for a long time. Once that it reconciled, it is easier to see that few people are lucky enough to be allowed to continue the work they love until they die.

Those who retire from their lifelong jobs do so for many reasons and are not any less dedicated to what matters to them than famous writers, musicians and painters. It just becomes something different.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Gail Title: On Making Myself Really Sick


GAY AND GRAY: Obama Orders Hospital Visitation Rights For "Unrelated" Partners

JanAdams75x75Gay 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, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]


category_bug_gayandgray.gif Lots of people in the gay community find President Obama a frustrating figure. Most of us voted for him in 2008 (or at least his percentages of the vote in heavily gay urban enclaves topped 80 percent.) Yet, as in most other controversial areas, he sometime seems to talk a better game about supporting our rights than he delivers.

For example, he promised in this year's State of the Union speech that his administration would move to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy under which gay service people can be interrogated about their orientation and discharged if they won't lie.

Seventy-five percent of citizens think this law should go. But nothing much has happened and military gays are still being kicked out.

Democratic leaders are now saying this issue will have to wait until next year. Just today, several gay veterans chained themselves to the fence outside the White House to protest the DADT policy and administration inaction on its pledge.

With this background, it was extremely heartening to see the president move on an issue that is probably one of the most important to aging gays. On April 15, he ordered that nearly all hospitals must extend visitation rights to the partners of gay men and lesbians and respect patients' choices about who may make critical health-care decisions for them.

According to the Washington Post, this was "perhaps the most significant step so far in his efforts to expand the rights of gay Americans."

The Secretary of Health and Human Services has been ordered to write regulations to enforce this policy at any hospital that gets federal money (most all hospitals get some federal money.)

The new rules will not apply only to gays. They also will affect widows and widowers who have been unable to receive visits from a friend or companion. And they would allow members of some religious orders to designate someone other than a family member to make medical decisions.

This new policy really matters. Gay and lesbian people, especially older ones, often have formed alternative family networks not based on blood relationships. And, although gay couples can make legal arrangements in some states that create some recognition for their relationships, they never know if in a crisis a strange hospital or bureaucracy will honor their connections. (For many of us, this is why we want access to legal marriage in the vast majority of locales where this is not currently possible.)

Lately a rash of horror stories have come out about couples being separated when one got sick. We think these things don't happen anymore, but they do.

ITEM: Lisa Pond collapsed on a cruise ship and was taken to the ER in Florida. Her partner and their three adopted kids followed the ambulance. They were denied access to see Lisa for hours in spite of the fact that all the appropriate medical and legal forms were faxed to the hospital within 30 minutes. Lisa Pond died alone. President Obama was said to be moved by this case.

ITEM: Sharon Reed says she was denied access to her dying partner of 17 years, Jo Ann Ritchie, in Washington state in 2005. A "temporary night nurse" screamed at her, "you don't belong here," despite Reed and Ritchie having been previously recognized as a couple by the hospital and having the proper legal papers. The Pond and Ritchie cases were both widely reported including in The New York Times.

ITEM: Here in California, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights a legal outfit that has filed a lawsuit for these men:

"Clay and Harold made diligent efforts to protect their legal rights, and had their legal paperwork in place--wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives, all naming each other. Harold was 88 years old and in frail medical condition, but still living at home with Clay, 77, who was in good health.

"One evening, Harold fell down the front steps of their home and was taken to the hospital. Based on their medical directives alone, Clay should have been consulted in Harold’s care from the first moment. Tragically, county and health care workers instead refused to allow Clay to see Harold in the hospital. The county then ultimately went one step further by isolating the couple from each other, placing the men in separate nursing homes.

"...without authority, without determining the value of Clay and Harold’s possessions accumulated over the course of their 20 years together or making any effort to determine which items belonged to whom, the county took everything Harold and Clay owned and auctioned off all of their belongings. Adding further insult to grave injury, the county removed Clay from his home and confined him to a nursing home against his will. The county workers then terminated Clay and Harold's lease and surrendered the home they had shared for many years to the landlord.

"Three months after he was hospitalized, Harold died in the nursing home. Because of the county’s actions, Clay missed the final months he should have had with his partner of 20 years. Compounding this tragedy, Clay has literally nothing left of the home he had shared with Harold or the life he was living up until the day that Harold fell, because he has been unable to recover any of his property. The only memento Clay has is a photo album that Harold painstakingly put together for Clay during the last three months of his life."

So cheers for President Obama for ordering hospital visitation rights for "unrelated" people - and gay people will keep on demanding that he come through on all his other promises!


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep


Moving is a Lot More Than Packing

category_bug_journal2.gif The moving van is due here on 12 May and packing is coming along fine, a few boxes each day. I'm being ruthless about what to keep. No one needs 38 coffee mugs many of which were Secret Santa gifts at work over many years (nothing ever breaks in my kitchen), so I whittled them down to eight. I'm also getting rid of half my clothes and a whole lot of shoes along with the general detritus that accumulates in four years.

But downsizing and packing are the easiest part of preparing to move – nothing to it but time and energy. The harder part is untangling life in one city and re-establishing it in another. Look at the list:

Banking
Safe Deposit Box
Insurance
Electric company
Internet ISP
Cable TV
Email
Water/Sewer/Trash
Heating fuel
Social Security Direct Deposit
Medicare
Medicare Supplemental
Medicare Part D
Doctor
Dentist
Prescription
Veterinarian
Travel arrangements
Postal change of address
Snailmail subscriptions changes
Telephone

It's not that it is particularly difficult, but it is a horrendous time sink with the large number of phone calls to make and return, many of them in two cities with a lot of wait time on hold or tracking down the right person to speak with.

But some of it almost took care of itself. I had opened a checking account in Lake Oswego when I was there a few weeks ago. It's a small, local bank where I can call the vice president I met when I have questions or needs.

Water/sewer/trash is covered in the homeowners association dues at my new home. The electric companies in Maine and Oregon handled the change with a minimum of conversation. Telephone is not an issue; I dumped the VoIP a couple of years ago for cell only.

I become more impressed with government bureaucracy every time I deal with Social Security. It took less than five minutes on the telephone to find out what to do about SSA direct deposit.

The day of the last deposit I want to go into my Maine account, I just phone and give them the information about my bank account in Oregon and they assure me the change will be made in time for the next month's deposit. And, they take care of notifying Medicare of the change of address. I haven't checked yet, but I think this can be accomplished online if I choose to do it that way. I need to contact my Medicare Parts B and D providers separately.

Cable TV and internet here in Maine are more complicated. The two people I've spoken with so far at the provider had difficulty understanding the concept of “cancel” and gave me conflicting instructions on returning their equipment. I'm still working on that. I'll be in a hotel here in Maine for five days after the moving van leaves until the closing. The hotel has free WiFi, but I need to work out how to reconfigure my email for that period of time.

My Maine insurance agent easily handled ending my homeowner's policy here (auto insurance remains in effect until I purchase new coverage in Oregon - within 30 days), so there is the necessity of finding an agent there. I've got a line on that.

I had notified my doctor, dentist and the veterinarian that I am leaving and they prepared copies of medical records which I picked up last week. None have recommendations for me in Oregon, but I'm making inquiries and it should not be difficult.

The prescription switch is much easier than I thought it would be. I picked up a 90-day supply last week and the pharmacist tells me that all I need do in Oregon is have the new pharmacist call him and the remaining refills will be honored.

Travel to Oregon took some time to work out because Ollie the cat is going with me on the plane. It costs an extra $100 for him and the airline is picky about the size of his carrier. Fortunately, Ollie's meets the requirements.

I can't take a carry-on bag for me because – well, Ollie is the carry-on bag. And I don't check bags when there is a plane change because they never arrive with you. Instead, the day before we leave, I'll pack up all my things in a box and ship it by overnight delivery service to my brother. That way, my toothbrush and clothes, etc. will already be there when our plane lands in the evening.

Meanwhile, the veterinarian has given me a sedative for Ollie so he'll doze during the long flight – almost 12 hours with the need to be at the airport two hours before departure and the plane change. The doctor suggested I do a trial run to see how he reacts to the drug and determine if he needs a larger or smaller dosage. Haven't done that yet.

So although the list is long, most of it is relatively easy. The important part, I realized, is having the list with columns for each city to check off as the tasks are accomplished. Thank god I don't have young kids; imagine what the list would look like then.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Tibetan Quake Victims


ELDER MUSIC: Sam Cooke

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic “Sam Cook was a golden child around whom a family mythology was constructed, long before he achieved fame” is the way Peter Guralnick begins his very detailed book Dream Boogie, The Triumph of Sam Cooke.

Sam Cooke

Sam was born in 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, a town that has given the world more musical talent than any other except New Orleans. He was the fifth of eight kids. His daddy was a preacher man and he eventually preached all the way to Chicago, this time taking his family with him.

The Cook kiddies were all musical and they all sang in daddy’s church. Eventually, Sam joined a group of like-minded teenagers called the Teenage Highway Que Cees, generally just known as the QCs. They were a gospel “quartet”. Quartet is in quotes as these gospel groups were all called that no matter how many members they had.

Initially, the QCs toured locally around the various churches, but in time they made it to the gospel circuit with other groups like the Pilgrim Travelers, the Soul Stirrers, the two Blind Boys groups (Mississippi and Alabama) and many others.

The QCs attracted the young girls to see their lead singer. These concerts were more akin to pop concerts than gospel outings.

After a while R.H. Harris of the Soul Stirrers left to form his own group and, as they were familiar with Sam’s work, they asked him to join. The Soul Stirrers became an even bigger draw card on the circuit and their performances were even more like pop concerts.

The most famous song of the Soul Stirrers is Touch the Hem of his Garment.

♫ Touch the Hem of His Garment

The Soul Stirrers

Towards the end of his stay with the Stirrers some of Sam’s songs, as he was writing as well as singing them, seem rather indistinguishable from pop songs. This is I’ll Come Running Back To You minus the overdubs and the like that were on the released version.

♫ I'll Come Running Back To You

When Sam found out what his friends Clyde McPhatter, Jackie Wilson and others who had started as gospel singers were making after they became pop singers, he looked at his bank balance and thought maybe I could do that too. So he did.

It was then that his manager thought that it’d be classier if Sam added an e to his name. I don’t think that “Same Cook” is all that classy and apparently that wasn’t what his manager had in mind.

Thus we now have Sam Cooke.

Sam Cooke

The first pop song of Sam’s sold several million and topped the charts. That song is You Send Me.

♫ You Send Me

From then on, the hits just kept on a-comin’. I’d like to play all of them - well, most of them. There are a couple that I skip when I play the CDs. However, there are too many, but here’s one: Another Saturday Night. A touch of tongue in cheek with this song, “Another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody…..” Yeah, right Sam.

♫ Another Saturday Night

A song that would fit fair square in the middle of soul if this genre had been invented at the time is Bring It on Home To Me. Otis could have done this, he probably did. Wilson could have, any of the great soul singers. I imagine they couldn’t have bettered Sam’s version though.

♫ Bring It on Home to Me

Sam Cooke

Besides pretty much single-handedly inventing soul music (okay, double-handedly, Ray Charles is on the other hand), Sam liked to record standards as well. Like a lot of singers of his time, he wanted to be “an all-round entertainer” to quote Peter Sellers in an entirely different context. Here he does a pretty good version of Cry Me a River.

♫ Cry Me a River


Sam Cooke

Sam wrote one of the great civil rights anthems that Otis and others did record, called A Change is Gonna Come.

♫ A Change Is Gonna Come

Sam’s death is a rather sordid affair. He’d had far too much to drink and had taken a young woman to a motel where he got rather rough with her. She ran off with his clothes and money while Sam was in the bathroom.

Sam, clad only in a jacket and shoes, went to the receptionist’s office and forced his way inside. When he wouldn’t believe that the woman wasn't there he started attacking the receptionist. She had a gun (it wasn’t a very salubrious area) and shot him several times. He was 33.

Sam Cooke


GRAY MATTERS: Taxes

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said it elegantly: “Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” I’d put it less nobly: “You get what you pay for.”

Picking up from last week, despite the bitching and moaning from all of us from time to time, Americans pay fewer taxes than the citizens of most advanced and civilized countries, which may explain why we get bubkas – next to nothing - in social, human benefits. Rather, we get bailouts for the biggest thieves, assaults on what social insurance we have and endless, pointless wars.

The trouble with the duped crazies of the so-called tea party, they don’t recognize their real enemy. I wish one of them would tell me which rights and freedoms have been taken away. They like Medicare, Social Security and their public services. Even Ronald Reagan came to understand when he saved Social Security, raised taxes and made peace with the Soviet Union that the problem is not government, but the lack of it.

As I mentioned last time, in most of the civilized world, the 30 advanced nations of the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD), people enjoy the benefits of universal (and mostly free) health care, inexpensive public transportation, cheap and sufficient inter-city rail travel, public education, paid vacations and leave for new mothers and fathers, strong unions, unemployment insurance, pensions and long term care for the elderly.

The most important reason? They pay for it. Despite the recession and financial troubles in most of these countries, their governments can afford these benefits and it will be more affordable as the recession fades because their taxes collected from individuals and corporations are relatively high.

The United States has the fourth lowest tax collection rate after Japan (which has not yet emerged from its depression), Korea, Turkey and Mexico.

The OECD has a uniform measure for each nation’s taxes: “total tax revenues as a share of the economy,” the Gross Domestic Product. The United States, the richest of all the nations, is 26th out of 30 with the lowest share of its GDP, except for Japan (which is still struggling with recession, in part because of its low spending), Korea, Turkey and Mexico.

The average of total tax revenues among all the nations is 36.6 percent of GDP. For the U.S. it’s at 28.3 percent. And that low figure reflects the deep tax cuts in 2001 for the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

During most of the years from 1996 through 2007, the U.S. cut the rate of spending on social benefits while reducing taxes and fighting two wars. You might say an exception was the Medicare Part D drug benefit, but it privatized a public program and was not paid for.

While the U.S. was seeking ways to cut public programs and taxes, the richest and most beneficent of the OECD reported their tax revenues were more than 40 percent of their GDPs: Denmark (48.7), Sweden (48.3), Belgium (43.9), Norway (43.6) and, France (43.5) and thus were able to offer their people generous public benefits – which we don’t get, or pay for out of pocket one way or the other.

Now, as a result of the Obama administration’s cuts in the taxes of 95 percent of mostly working and middle class Americans, William Gale, co-director of the Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, says that federal taxes are at the lowest level in 60 years. A middle income family will pay only 4.6 percent of its income in federal taxes. (They pay more than that in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, both of which are in danger from the deficit hawks.)

Perhaps a few of you will remember when the marginal tax rate for top incomes, now at about 30 percent was 90 percent during the years of the New Deal and World War II. Indeed, according to Moshe Adler writing for Truthdig, between 1913, when the income tax was instituted with the passage of the 16th Amendment, and 1981, the highest marginal tax rate averaged 68 percent. Yet it was during those years, when the wealthy paid their way in a progressive tax system, that the U.S. experienced its greatest prosperity and growth in social benefits and public works while fighting four wars.

Despite the average tax cut this year of $1,158 for nearly all American families and individuals, many are not aware of money they don’t have to pay partly because they’ve been dribbled out in reduced withholding from wages. Yet, we Americans are so attuned to those who cry “tax cut” that a CBS News/New York Times poll earlier this month found that 53 percent said Obama had kept taxes the same, 24 percent believed he had raised taxes and only 12 percent believed he had cut taxes.

Some polls have found that Americans may be willing to pay higher taxes for more and better public services and benefits, but the poll didn’t ask about raising taxes as if it were a sin to even think of that.

So consider the American dilemma: We are in love with low taxes but we fight two wars, spend more than any nation on the military and now with a Democratic administration that has increased social insurance benefits, we have record-high and unsustainable deficits.

And still the tea party goers, big business, Republicans and assorted deficit hawks would further slash benefits and taxes. No one dares to seek the tax increases we need for civilized society.

Combine this uninform no-new taxes attitude with an ignorant, unthinking antipathy towards the federal government that does not exist in most of the OECD counties and no wonder that our screwy priorities give us a deeper poverty and homeless rates than exist elsewhere in the civilized world. No wonder the U.S. has more people without health insurance and more children living in poverty than virtually any OECD country.

Social Security provides $13,300 a year for a single elderly woman in New York City. Medicare provides some basic health care. But out-of-pocket medical costs, housing and other expenses for basic daily living have put thousands of older persons in the country’s richest city living on the edge.

Cities throughout the nation are cutting Medicaid, firing thousands of teachers, closing schools and slashing the services of government. That prompted Matt Ryan, the mayor of Binghamton to advertise with an electronic sign at city hall demonstrating the costs of wars to cities like his:

“I wonder if we’re ever going to get our priorities straight...I can see so clearly what increased federal spending could do for the people of my city.”

We’re about to hit the $300 billion mark in the cost of Afghanistan according to the National Priorities Project. That would pay for health care for 131,780,734 children for a year. The total cost of two wars since 2001 is $980,000,000,000 – or $7,334 for each American taxpayer. You can see what your low taxes are not getting at the National Priorities Project.

It’s not something for a great nation to be proud of.

Write saulfriedman@comcast.net


Lighter than Air Friday Blog

category_bug_journal2.gif There is a whole lot I want to say about Wall Street reform and the president's so-called “entitlement commission” among a few other things, but I've been too busy packing and shuffling an extraordinary amount of paper involved in the house sale and purchase to do any productive thinking. I warned you this would happen during my move from Maine to Oregon and today's post is so light that it may as well be helium filled.

Amazing 1940s Acrobatics
My friend Kent McKamy sent me the video below. It is from the 1944 film, Broadway Rhythm featuring the Ross Sisters singing Solid Potato Salad. But that's the smallest part of what they do in this clip. Mostly, they show what astonishing acrobats they are.

The three sisters - Aggie, Elmira and Maggie - were born in the late 1920s in west Texas. When I was growing up in the 1940s and early 1950s, a lot of girls my age practiced the Ross Sisters kind of acrobatics. I think today they probably would have become gymnasts.

Anyway – the amazing part begins about one minute into the clip.

More 1940s – in Lake Oswego
A few days ago, I was poking around the internet to find out more about my new (original) home town of Lake Oswego, Oregon. And look what I found at the Lake Oswego Library website: my class photo from 1947, with our teacher Mrs. Hargreaves, taken just a week after my sixth birthday.

Can you tell which one is me?

Lake Grove School 1947

Leave your guesses in the comments and I'll post the correct answer at 6PM eastern U.S. time today along with a story about the only other kid in the photo I remember.

UPDATE 6:00PM: Apparently most of you know me better than I do. The only reason I recognized myself (in the red circle) is that I vaguely remember seeing the photo in the past. It's probably sitting in a box of loose old photos I'll be packing soon.

LakeGroveSchool1947withCircles

Interesting that some of you think the girl in the middle of center row might have been a bully. I don't remember her. But Brenda, the girl in the blue circle? Definitely mean, nasty and horrible. She caused me no end of grief in first grade.

She was much bigger than I was and was out to get me. Every day of my life she teased me, poked me, shoved me, called me names and once slugged me in the face with her fist. I hope her life has been as miserable as she made mine that school year.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: My Radio Friends


ELDER GEEK: How to Use Facebook

VirginiaDeBolt75x75Virginia 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 will find links to Virginia's previous Time Goes By Elder Geek columns here.


I thought I wouldn't like Facebook. I thought it would be just another time waster social media tool that I didn't need. But I discovered that I really do like it. Here's why:

  • I can keep up with local event announcements such as meetings, gatherings, and class schedules from my Tai Chi Kuan.

  • I get reports from friends on matters that I care about such as reports from the hospital, news about new grandchildren, and travel experiences.

  • I can keep up with members of my family.

  • I can keep in touch with a community of people who share my interests.

There are other things to do on Facebook. A lot of people play games. I can't tell you anything about the games, because I don't play them. You can upload photos. You can chat. You can schedule events and take RSVPs. You can create a fan page for a business or celebrity or TV show or cause or even a website.

GETTING STARTED
Go to facebook.com and start an account. It's free. The first thing you do is give Facebook the information you want to make public: your name, and information about you. You decide what you want to share. Do you want to mention your high school? Tell where you live? Describe your interests? All this type of information goes into the settings and info for your account. Watch for the setting marked Privacy under the Settings tab.

manage your privacy settings in this section

Click the "manage" link and set up the rules for what you want to be public and what will be kept private. Facebook may assume you want everything to be public unless you tell it otherwise, so spend some time telling it otherwise.

Another tab in your account that you want to pay attention to is called "Notifications."

the notifications tab

In the Notifications area, you decide what you want Facebook to send you a notice about. Do you want to get a notice when someone asks to be your friend or sends you a message? Here's where you set that up.

USING THE SITE
When you are logged in to Facebook, you see a menu at the upper right. It says "Home Profile Account."

Facebook global menu

When you first log in, you are on your home page. Here's a bit of my home page.

Virginia's Facebook home page

On the left of my home page, I can choose to see my news feed (the news feed is what my friends are posting on Facebook), my messages, any events I'm invited to attend, my photos, and more. I can also see which of my friends are online at the time in case I want to chat.

If I click "Profile" in the menu at the upper right, I see my profile information on the left (which I can edit at any time) and on the right is my Wall where I post things I want to share. Other tabs next to the tab for my Wall include Info‹where I tell more about myself and can link to my blog. There's a tab here for Photos, which is where you start when you want to add photos.

If you want to write something to post on Facebook, go to your profile and look at your Wall. There's a blank box there you type in. You are not limited to 140 characters on Facebook the way you are on Twitter. You can type quite a lot in this box.

post things to Facebook using this form

Under the input box, there are a few icons that trigger actions like including a photo, video, event, or link in your post. Post what you want in that box and click Share. Anyone who is your friend on Facebook will then see what you posted on their Home page as part of their News Feed.

MAKE FRIENDS
There's a search box at the top of the page in Facebook. You can search for people you know. Type their name and see if they are on Facebook. If they are, you "friend them" which means you ask to be added to their list of contacts. The other person has to agree to this. If you don't agree to let someone be a friend, they cannot see what you post. When you agree to be friends with another Facebook user, they see what you post and you see what they post. You can chat with them. You can invite them to events or send them personal messages.

You can comment on things that your friends post, and they can comment on things you post. This can get a discussion going.

an Facebook post with comments

This example shows a Facebook post with comments. I'm a Facebook fan of "In Plain Sight" a TV show filmed in Albuquerque. This is what they put on Facebook the day after the episode with Rita Moreno (isn't she fabulous?). Several hundred people said they "liked" the post, which means they like the photos, and over a hundred more left a comment about the post.

When you're a fan of a Facebook page, it's a little like being a friend. You get information on your home page from whatever you're a fan of­it could be a cause, a website, an entertainer, or something else.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
There is more to Facebook, but learning how to sign in, post something, and check in with what your friends are doing are the main Facebook skills. Once you get good at these things, you can explore and branch out.

Some warnings might be in order as part of the "more" you may find on Facebook. There are applications that run inside Facebook that do things like play games, help you find your relatives, and hundreds of other things. Be careful with these. Before you agree to let an application into your Facebook account be sure you know what they want, what they will do with your information, and that they are not just wanting to sell you something.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Chaput: The Voice


The Courage to Get Old

Last week, a post titled Old Age: Reinvention vs. Reflection drew a lot of good conversation. I came down on the side of reflection and a couple of people disagreed, wanting to continue to reinvent themselves. From their comments, I think that is more a question of semantics than disagreement. Many agreed that, so far, this is the best time of their lives.

As often happens around here, it was Marian Van Eyk McCain, a woman wise in the ways of aging and life itself, who eloquently summed up the question:

“I suspect that when people talk about 'reinventing' themselves they are in fact describing the continuation of [Jung's] individuation process. It is a misnomer of course. We are not re-inventing. Reinvention implies replacement. We are not replacing. We are adding.

“Until we die, we are all growing, learning, individuating, becoming all that we can be. Not in the striving, goal-oriented way of youth, but in the same slow, natural way that a flower unfolds to its fullest extent and, as the petals fall, the fruit quietly swells and ripens.

“Even in its last day on the tree, the fruit is still absorbing sunshine. Not reinventing itself, just continuing to deepen its flavour.”

Kathi, who blogs at My Sister was a St. Bernard and is five years into retirement, doesn't think old age is as rosy as Marian and many others of us claim:

“I find it often hard to just relax and enjoy and validate myself in retired activities. A chronic illness which has cropped up mostly post-retirement adds to the challenge. I exercise 3x a week, volunteer 5 days a week at the Humane Society, and read and watch good Netflicks a lot. But I still worry if I'm doing "enough" with my energies.

“My question to those who've retired a decade or more is, Does it get easier to define yourself in internal, retired-type endeavors as the years go on?

“Even as I write that I think of the external influences of lack of finances, poorer health, etc. which no doubt affect many folks. The mostly cheerful and positive comments to this essay make me a tiny bit suspect. How come we don't hear from more readers who are really struggling with elderhood?”

A number of answers to Kathi's question come to mind. In terms of this particular blog, elders who have not made peace with getting old are unlikely to stick around for long. I regularly receive notes from those who unsubscribe from TGB telling me they will fight aging to the day they die with Botox, face lifts and whatever else it takes to “remain young,” and they will never, ever refer to themselves as “old” because they are not.

TGB readers who do stick around, however, live in the reality-based world where aging is a fact of life and who see it as another adventure, another learning experience, as Marian Van Eyk McCain wrote, in “becoming all that we can be” even while dealing with inevitable difficulties of health, money, and a culture that does everything possible to marginalize old people.

It is not that we don't struggle (see Okay, Now I'm Pissed Off About Being Old). About defining ourselves when we no longer have a career, I was lucky to learn when I was still quite young that we are not our job titles.

It may have changed in recent years (or not), but on trips to England during the 1970s and 1980s, I found that it was considered rude to ask what new acquaintances “do.” In the U.S., it is one of the first questions exchanged on meeting people. In London, I got through uncounted numbers of dinner parties having had a wonderful time without ever knowing how the other guests made their living. It was an important lesson in learning to define myself.

That is not to say it was easy to make the transition from working woman to retiree. For the longest time, when asked what I do, I choked on the word retired. But repetition works – the more I wrote about retirement here and forced myself to say the word when asked, the more I accepted my new status. Nowadays, I look old enough that few ask.

Another reason some struggle with approaching elderhood, I think, is that from the cradle we are bombarded with only negative images and words about getting old. Language matters and when everything we hear sounds like “over the hill,” “decrepit,” “out to pasture,” “geezer,” “fogey,” “past one's prime,” “out of date” and it is rare to hear such positive descriptions as “wise,” “sage” or “learned,” we arrive at old age primed to dislike ourselves.

That was the genesis of Time Goes By. Everything I had read about getting old was about decline, debility and disease, and I did not believe then, nor do I now, that those three Ds could possibly be all old age is about, although they can be part of it.

I am coming to believe that courage is an overlooked attribute that elders share. In the face of the three Ds, along with often reduced financial circumstances (I doubt there is a TGB reader among us who did not lose a large chunk of life savings in the 2008 crash) and a culture that would like us to disappear from view to not remind them that they too will get old, we persevere.

It is hard, sometimes, to make the transition from midlife to elderhood. Most of us do it in fits and starts as we struggle toward acceptance in our individual ways. The biggest help for me during the past six years of this blog, is reading and paying attention to the many wise elders who participate here.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, P.J. Davis: Turtle Story


REFLECTIONS: My Companion, Cancer

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthly 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. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.


Category_bug_reflections My wife and I were sitting in the very crowded oncologist’s office when I had this ugly thought. Everyone had come to check up on the treatment of their cancers. And I wondered - if there were a cure for cancer, the dozen doctors in the practice, their nurses, technicians, aides and receptionists would be out of work. Could it be possible that the cancer treating establishment is impeding a cure?

I am not a conspiracy nut, but it would not be the first time during my reporting and writing career that I have encountered money and cynicism in the cancer-fighting business.

Research to find treatments and a cure for breast cancer get twice as much money as prostate cancer, which kills as many men as breast cancer kills women. Lung cancer, the biggest killer, gets less. Why?

I’ve called the battle of the glands. The breast cancer lobby is more powerful and attractive than the prostate cancer lobby. There are too few lung cancer survivors to constitute a lobby and besides most lung cancers are blamed on the victims; they should not have been smoking.

On another occasion, when I was supervising a journalism seminar, one of my students learned that a North Carolina chapter of the American Cancer Society declined to take part in action against the tobacco industry and one of its largest companies because it was a mainstay of the local economy and had contributed to the chapter.

The American Cancer Society, one of the nation’s richest volunteer organizations, has been criticized for placing more emphasis on treatment than prevention and the possibility that the environment and chemicals are responsible for many cancers. But that begs the question, why can’t a cancer, even with a known cause, be eradicated, cured?

Having survived one cancer (esophageal) five years ago, I’m now dealing with another in my stomach as a kind of constant companion. And I find that nothing much seems to have changed. As science writer Curtis Brainard wrote in the April 12 Columbia Journalism Review,

“There’s a trope in medicine that doctors have only three ways of dealing with cancer-cutting (surgery), burning (radiation) and poisoning (chemotherapy).”

It’s true, as I’ve discovered, that surgical techniques have improved, but not everywhere; much depends on the surgeon. Radiation has its limits (I am no longer a candidate because I’ve had my full dose of radiation and doctors don’t want me to light up.) And chemo is, after all, poison that we hope will kill the cancer but not me.

In a sense, then, I feel that I’m being treated with primitive medicine in the 21st Century.

So it’s natural for a trained reporter – with or without cancer - to wonder why, 40 years after the U.S. put a man on the moon and 39 years after President Nixon called for a “war on cancer” and $200 billion spent on the war, a cure continues to elude us.

That expenditure, from government and private resources is a pittance compared to what we spend on bottomless, meaningless wars that kill but do not heal. Indeed, in too many cases and in too many places, cancer is the top killer, responsible for 7.4 million annual deaths world-wide. And 500,000 in the U.S.

To be sure, treatments have been successful in arresting the growth of cancers. Eighty percent of children stricken with leukemia used to die; now 80 percent survive. Similarly, 95 percent of testicular cancers were fatal; now the same percentage survives. Overall, the current five-year survival rate for all cancers is 65 percent compared to 50 percent 40 years ago.

That’s an important advance, but it’s not much of a leap (one percent per year). More important, the treatment may arrest cancer, but it cannot claim a cure. I survived a cancer for five years, but I wasn’t cured. We can claim survival and remission, but never a cure. A woman I know survived leukemia when she was a child, but she still has yearly checkups lest some stray cancer cells cause trouble.

How come there is no cure? Christopher Wanjek, writing last year in LiveScience explained that

“Part of the reason for having no cure is semantics. There will never be a single cancer cure because cancer refers to a family of more than 100 different diseases characterized by abnormal cell growth. These diseases arise from numerous causes, such as radiation, chemicals, or even viruses.”

But despite the knowledge, for example, that smoking causes cancer, we don’t yet know how. And even if we know the cause, we can treat, but not cure.“Most of the success,” said Wanjek, “is not from miracle cures but rather simple screening procedures such as pap smears and colonoscopies.”

But they don’t always work (my cancer was missed the first time) and at best, they find cancers at an early stage, when they can be cut, burned or poisoned but not cured.

According to the experts, there are some promising paths towards solving the mysteries of cancer: stem cell research, genetic research and even vaccines to treat and to prevent. Mark Roth, writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette April 7, reported that commercial vaccines to treat as well as prevent cancers may be in the offing.

He cited the present use of a vaccine, Gardasil, to prevent cervical cancer which can be caused by a virus. Soon, he wrote, the FDA is expected to approve a vaccine, Provenge, to treat prostate cancer that has spread.

And Roth quotes researchers as saying cancer vaccines may be on the verge of wider use. Columbia Journalism Review’s Brainard trashed Roth’s optimism, partly because Roth is not a science writer, but Brainard did little to report on possible advances toward a cure, including vaccines.

The literature I’ve read and the doctors I’ve talked to during my five years of dealing with cancer tells me this: Despite the presence of and substantial funding support for the National Cancer Institute, in Washington’s suburbs, there is no central coordination of effort to find a cure for cancer, or even learn if a cure or cures are possible.

The moon landing, accomplished in eight years, the Manhattan Project, successful in less than ten years, the eradication of malaria in the U.S., cures for tuberculosis and polio, were American accomplishments in the 20th century. I see no such effort focused on the most vicious killer, cancer.

You might say I have a vested interest in this. That would be wrong. Unless someone comes up with a magic bullet tomorrow, I will have to live with my constant companion and take my chemo and hope. But too many people, and some of whom you know, are suffering and dying around us.

I remember what it was like before and after Salk. I’d like my kids to experience that feeling, when the fear of a disease is lifted.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Transcience


Oregon Move Update

category_bug_journal2.gif When I moved to Maine from New York City four years ago, there were 60-plus boxes of books. Because the upcoming move to Oregon is a lot farther and I'm on a tight budget, I sold about half my books which are the weightiest items. Here's what was accomplished on Friday – 15 boxes of books with only about six or eight more still to be filled from other rooms.

Book Boxes

I'm quite pleased with myself and those empty shelves make me feel like a lot of progress was made. That's not really true, but having that much cleared space has energized me to keep at it, a few boxes each day for the next three weeks.

On Friday, I hired an excellent helper, Waring Cutler, who had been one of the painters when I was preparing the apartment for sale. Here he is hard at work packing those books.

Waring

I cleared out the drawers and lower cupboards of the sideboard of an amazing amount of junk (among it, 40-odd VHS cassettes; I don't even own a VHS player anymore). Waring hauled it all to the dump, including a lot of other stuff from around the apartment. More empty space - which is the overall goal.

Sideboard

I'll hire Waring again a couple of days before the moving van arrives to haul away everything else I've identified as drek. I did this before I left New York; it's amazing how much crap I have collected in four years.

But it's not all junk. Look at this elegant pair of dress-up, evening slippers I found buried under a lot of other stuff on a closet shelf.

Shoes

I remember buying them, but they have never been worn, sitting forgotten all this time on that shelf. Sometimes, packing is like Christmas morning. Near those shoes, I also discovered the head scarves I spent months trying to find and finally presumed had been tossed in one of my rare fits of closet tidiness.

Waring helped me pull out the china from the highest shelves. These are mostly heavy, serving pieces and a lot of extra teacups that would have taken me about 25 trips up and down a ladder to retrieve on my own.

China

I haven't used most of it in the four years I've lived here, so I'm washing them all before packing. I don't want grungy dishes to wash at the other end of the trip.

Normally, Ollie the cat hides under a bed when anyone visits our home, but Waring is one of the few people he likes and as the boxes piled up during the day, Ollie made careful inspections to be sure Waring's packing skills were up to snuff.

Ollie the Cat

Packing isn't hard if you give yourself plenty of time; two or three boxes a day is not a burden. But as a concession to my age (and on the good advice of you, TGB readers, on previous posts), I hired Waring for the heaviest work.

It took him about eight or ten trips up and down the stairs to get the trash, some of it quite heavy, into his truck for the drive to the dump. It would have taken me well more than an hour carrying smaller loads and resting between trips. Waring did it in 15 minutes.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Walt Grant: Tomboy Hero


ELDER MUSIC: Fish Heads

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic Today’s column may seem a bit silly to some. It’s a little bit sensible too. It started out as a joke.

We were wondering how to get the song Fish Heads into a column. This was just after finishing a meal (of fish, surprise). “How about one on food,” posited Norma, the Assistant Musicologist. That sounded good to me. Naturally, we had to come up with some other food songs.

The songs came fast and furious, some of which are included, many got the flick. So here they are, our post-prandial (and post-wine) songs – some sensible and one or two silly.

The first song we came up with after Fish Heads is Home Grown Tomatoes. That is certainly food. It’s also a great song by Guy Clark. Well, that goes without saying.

Guy Clark

Guy Clark is one of the finest songwriters of our time so he could certainly do a decent food song. I could have used Texas Cooking but the tomatoes it is.

♫ Guy Clark - Homegrown Tomatoes

“How about the okra song?” suggested the A.M. That’s not what it’s actually called, but that’s what we know it as. Chris Smither performs this and we saw and heard him play it about a week ago.

Chris Smither

The song is actually called No Love Today which doesn’t sound very foodie but trust me, it is. It’s a good song too and not very silly at all.

♫ Chris Smither - No Love Today

It was at this point, after a couple of sensible suggestions, that the A.M. Said, “We have to include Hot Bananas. Couldn’t do this without Hot Bananas.”

“Of course, Hot Bananas it is. Ah, but will the readers know Hot Bananas?”

“Sure they will. It’s one of the most famous songs of the Fifties.”

So, Hot Bananas is next.

Elvis Presley

♫ Elvis - Hot Bananas

“And then there’s strawberries, cherries and whatever all those other things were in the song. Lee and Nancy.” That was my suggestion. I think the A.M. came up with better ones.

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood

Those fruits were good enough for us anyway. Anything was good enough for us at this stage. The song is Summer Wine. It’s autumn here as I write this, but Summer Wine seems apt. This is one you’ll remember, perhaps - Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra.

♫ Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood - Summer Wine

“How about Cherry Pie?” asked the A.M.

Cherry Pie?” was my reply.

The Beatles, Cherry Pie.”

“Oh, you mean Honey Pie. From the 'White Album'.”

“Yeah, probably. I’m not expected to know about The Beatles,” she said, “They’re just fey pretenders as far as I’m concerned.”

Raised eyebrows. That should get the comments going, I thought. Fey or not, it’s in and the song doesn’t sound very modern, so that should be enough for the A.M. and that’s a good enough reason to include it. Another reason is that I actually haven’t had anything by The Beatles in any column to date, so here’s a first.

The Beatles

♫ The Beatles - Honey Pie

Polk Salad Annie came into the conversation as well, whatever the hell polk salad is. Tony Joe White does explain it in the song but I must admit that I have never actually eaten a mess of polk salad. It doesn’t matter though, this is a music column not a food one.

Tony Joe White

Tony Joe must be about the coolest dude on the planet. If you’ve ever been to one of his concerts I’m sure you’d agree.

♫ Tony Joe White - Polk Salad Annie

Okay, the song that prompted this column, Fish Heads. This was recorded by Barnes & Barnes.

Barnes & Barnes

Barnes & Barnes are twin brothers, Art Et Barnes and Artie Et Bet Barnes. Well, actually, they are Bill Mumy and Robert Haimer. If the name Bill Mumy seems familiar, think Lost in Space.

You may not remember this song but we do. It’s one of those tunes that lodges in the brain and refuses to move out of there. We figured why should we be the only ones who know this one? Let’s inflict it on the world. Here it comes, world.

♫ Barnes & Barnes - Fish Heads


GRAY MATTERS: Socialized Medicine?

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.


I am not now, nor have I ever been a Marxist. But I studied Marxism in a philosophy class in college. I have visited communist countries (China and the old Soviet Union) and lived in semi-socialist counties (much of Europe) and have taken advantage of their socialized, government health plans when I got sick.

Obviously, I survived. But it has occurred to me that these experiences qualify me to recognize Marxism or socialism when I see it in the health insurance reforms that are about to become law.

Socialism means every provider in the health care system works for the government agency that runs the system. So let’s examine the reforms and see which ones, if any, are Marxist, socialist or in danger of destroying America.

ITEM: Within six months this year, young adults – like your kids in school – may stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26. The provision applies to all health plans and includes children under 26 who are married. Socialist? No, but it’s obviously paternalistic; critics could argue that children that age should be able to work and buy their own insurance.

ITEM: Also within six months this year, insurers will be barred from excluding coverage for children with pre-existing conditions. I don’t see anything socialist in this provision, but the administration did extend government power to insist that the insurance companies sell such policies at fair prices.

Later this prohibition will include adults but at least one Republican, Missouri Representative Roy Blount, opposes this on the grounds that adults should take better care of themselves. That may be government interference with the free market. But it’s not socialism.

ITEM: Another regulation that goes into effect in six months would prohibit group health plans and insurers of individual policies from rescinding or canceling a policy except in cases of fraud. It means once you sign up in good faith and pay the premiums, the insurer cannot cancel your policy even if you get very sick. Not socialistic, but another case of government telling a company it must assume the risk that some policy holders will get real sick, which may cost the insurer and stock holders a bundle.

ITEM: Under present law, the government just ordered Aetna, one of the largest insurers, to stop selling Part D drug and Medicare Advantage policies because it suddenly changed the drugs offered current beneficiaries. That’s a no-no. Aetna’s stock prices declined after the order.

ITEM: Similarly, the government is telling companies this year that it cannot set lifetime limits on benefits and in 2014, they will be prohibited from setting yearly limits on benefits. You might argue that that’s getting close to the government dictating and hurting business. Why should a company go on paying and paying even if the patient has some kind of incurable disease. What good would the medical help do? That’s not good for businesses, but it stops short of socialism.

ITEM: In what critics might call another government effort to bribe small businesses, many will be eligible this year for new tax credits to help them pay for their employees’ health insurance which they’ll be required to offer. The full credit will cover 35 percent of the cost of premiums this year and 50 percent in 2014.

This isn’t socialistic or a government takeover of the business but it is interference with an employer’s right not to offer health insurance. A tax break on 50 percent of the cost means the employer must pay the other 50 percent, which he may not be able to afford and besides, what if business is bad?

ITEM: Some critics believe workers should be able to take some responsibility and buy their own insurance or take their kids to an emergency room when they run a high fever. Again, not socialistic, and it’s far from Marxist for here the capitalists and workers help each other with the help of government.

ITEM: Another provision that supporters say is especially good for seniors would gradually close the so-called “doughnut hole.” There was a reason for the coverage gap which was deliberately created by the Republicans in their great Part D drug law in 2003 to help drug companies’ profits. When in that gap, beneficiaries must pay the full cost of the drugs, which will be going up if the companies are practicing the American way of business.

Did you know that the reason the gap was created is called “moral hazard?” Republicans wanted to be sure seniors didn’t overuse their benefit and buy drugs they didn’t need. So because some critics argue that closing the doughnut hole may encourage drug use, it’s probably good for the drug business that the hole won’t close until 2020.

ITEM: I see no ideological objection to another benefit this year touted by Obama - the elimination of cost-sharing (deductibles and co-insurance) for preventive medical screening exams such as colonoscopies, mammograms and prostate examinations and annual checkups. Maybe some people will take advantage of this too often and it can end up frightening people. But I do not think this benefit will bring America down.

ITEM: The primary health reforms come in 2014 with the establishment of state health insurance “exchanges” monitored by the federal government. Contrary to the belief that the government is taking over our health care system, these exchanges are supposed to offer a variety of competing private health plans with various benefits at various prices.

But there are to be standard benefits. And low income people will receive subsidies much the way Medicare helps people pay their premiums. All the companies will be private and so will most of the providers, hospitals, labs and doctors, so no socialism here.

In fact, the VA health care system will not participate in the exchanges because it is thoroughly socialist in that all providers work for the VA and it seems to work well, especially for lawmakers like Senator John McCain.

Sarcasm aside, why do people who do not know anything about Marxism or socialism toss those epithets at reforms that can only help them and millions of others? Perhaps the reforms may help the U.S. catch up to the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes most of capitalist Europe where they have been able to live comfortably with government-run health care. They are social democracies, with social (public) ownership of health care and other vital public services.

Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor and a director of the Center for Constitutional Rights has compiled some of the differences between the U.S. and counties that have adopted a modicum of socialism.

Their citizens pay higher taxes, but they get their money’s worth in health care and other benefits including education, transportation and paid leave for new mothers. Infant mortality in the U.S. is fourth worse among the OECD counties, better only than Mexico, Turkey and the Slovak Republic. Child poverty in the U.S. affects one out of five kids; that’s double the average in the 30 OECD countries. See for yourself at oecd.org.

“The facts say the U.S. is not on the path towards socialism,” says Quigley. And surely we are not close to Marxism which holds, among other things, that the rich get richer and the great corporations prevent the rest of the population from enjoying the fruits of their labor. (See, for example, the recent Massey mine disaster).

Write to saulfriedman@comcast.net


Old Age: Reinvention vs. Reflection

Ever since the oldest baby boomer turned 60 in 2006, just about every media story about aging tells us that boomers are “reinventing retirement.” Without any evidence to back up the statement, reporters rely on the singular example of a 70-plus marathon runner, bungee jumper or skydiver as their ideal, reinvented old person.

A subset of these writers - those who stake out advice-giving as their territory – urges boomers to reinvent not just retirement, but their entire selves. (Reporters now refer to all old people as boomers as though everyone born before 1946 is already dead.)

I've spent more than half a century – and you probably have too – growing into who I am today. It seems to me that one of the great, grand purposes of life is to understand ourselves and reinvention, a word with a strong whiff of posturing and false representation, is antithetical to that goal.

This came to mind recently during an email exchange with 70-year-old TGB reader, Anne Pitkin:

“[T]he celebration of old people jumping out of planes, climbing mountains, etc.,” wrote Anne, “it just makes me tired. One of the things I really enjoy about this age is the realization that I don't have to strive. I can do the things I love for the sake of doing them. I can follow my own natural rhythms - as long, of course, as I don't lapse into inertia!”

“...we should all do what gets our juices flowing, but between us chickens, I don't want to reinvent myself. I want to sit on the porch and watch the birds.”

Which is my “singular example” that old age hasn't changed much whatever reporters who cover aging believe.

Striving and reinventing oneself are activities of the young as they build careers and try on various personas. In a series about Carl Jung's seven tasks of aging three years ago, David Wolfe, who blogs at Ageless Marketing, described two of those tasks that are pertinent to this discussion:

Finding a New Rooting in the Self
“The worldviews of people in the first half of life are generally rooted in the external world,” wrote David. “In contrast, the worldviews of people in the second half of life tend to be rooted less in the physical or mundane and increasingly in the nonphysical or metaphysical (or spiritual).”

Determining the Meaning of One’s Life
“Life meaning among the young is framed by styles of appearance, language, material acquisitions, and social affiliations in the quest for a solid footing in the external world...

“However, the search for life meaning undergoes a major shift in the second half of life. Whatever people’s material success, many find less and less meaning from “things.” So, they begin to look inward rather than to the outer world in their search for life meaning.”

I'm not sure any of us can determine the meaning of our lives, but it is in the seeking that magic lies.

Young people, on encountering an elder “sitting on the porch watching the birds,” as Anne Pitkin does, see idleness. In reality, important work is taking place, work for which solitude and quiet are necessary.

Without a whit of proof, I'm betting that most of the media folks who are so certain they know what the best thing is for elders aren't much past 40. They are not old enough yet to know that reinvention is a contrivance. Old age is a time for honest reflection.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Chaput: The Blacksmith Down the Lane


Medicare Website Update

category_bug_journal2.gif Way back in 1996 or '97, when the public internet was just getting started, I was among the “pioneers,” working at the first CBS News website. No one knew, then, how to create good websites and we were all inventing it day by day.

Part of that process was monitoring other new websites to see – and steal – their best ideas, as they did with ours. I remember being awed by the federal government's Internal Revenue Service site. It was beautifully designed, easy to navigate and hard to screw up finding whatever it was you wanted to know or do.

This was equally true for the postal service, and both websites have been regularly updated since then with better tools, clearer navigation and improved interfaces. The federal government has been ahead of the curve from the beginning in creating attractive, user-friendly consumer websites.

A painful exception was the Medicare site. I didn't know that until I became eligible in 2006, and it has been a challenge ever since to work through its clunky, unintuitive navigation that was both dreary-looking and difficult to use.

Until this week.

On Monday, Medicare released a nifty redesign that now matches the postal service and IRS in usability.

Medicare Home Page

The interface is bright, clean and easily readable. All of the most frequently used services link from the home page, and I particularly like the top navigation – just five drop down menus that lead to pretty much anything you need to know from Medicare, all clearly labeled and unambiguous.

You can easily register for “My Medicare” which pulls all your personal information related to claims, providers, preventive services, health and drug plans, health management and more together in one place in the secure portion of the site.

All the non-personal services are available whether you are registered or not. Now that I'm moving to a new state and need a new primary care physician, the Physician and Other Health Care Providers database, searchable by state and city, will be helpful. You can also compare hospitals and nursing homes, and find suppliers of medical equipment among many other kinds of health information.

It has always been fashionable to mock government bureaucracies, but in the case of their most important consumer websites, our government leaves just about every large, commercial website (with the possible exception of The New York Times) in the dust.

Congratulations to the U.S. Health and Human Services Department for this upgrade. It is fantastic and will make dealing with Medicare much easier for elders.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: And What Would You Like?


Okay, Now I'm Pissed Off About Being Old

category_bug_journal2.gif It was in about 1996, when I was 55 years old that I first realized I wasn't the youngest kid in the crowd anymore. That was based on nothing more than looking around the room I shared with 25 or 30 colleagues all of whom, I noticed for the first time, were young enough to be my children and even my grandchildren.

That visual incident sparked my interest in what getting old would really be like in the coming years but as much as I mentally poked around my body, I couldn't find any other manifestations of age. I could work a full day – even seven days a week for a couple of months while we created a new website – with no more recovery time than in my 20s and 30s.

I could still clean the apartment top to bottom on Saturday morning then, have energy left to prepare a dinner for several friends that night and enjoy the party into the wee hours. My body was thickening a bit in the middle, but I had it under reasonable control and if I looked my age – hard to tell in mid-years – I looked fine to me. (That hasn't changed.)

Age gradually caught up with me in the ensuing 15 years. Energy flagged along with stamina. Too many stairs and steep hills became problematic. I particularly noticed, before I left New York in 2006, that I couldn't carry as much weight walking home from shopping without stopping a couple of times to rest.

Other common evidence of age crept into my life here and there, like falling asleep early and waking hours before dawn; less appetite (not so much that it improved my weight); hair loss on my head; hair gain on my chin and upper lip; age spots on my hands; crepe-y looking skin near my inner elbows; and a general slowing down – particularly, I lack the reserves I once had to push through fatigue when things need to get done.

I have always been good at accepting reality, so I try, for example, to adjust my daytime schedule to fall asleep later. I no longer carry all the groceries up the stairs to my second-floor apartment at once; I make two trips, sometimes three. For those things that can't be accommodated – age spots, for one - I have accepted them and moved on. Nothing is gained by lamenting them.

But now I'm pissed off.

On Monday, the moving company delivered the packing boxes. I have four weeks to pack up my entire apartment and I started on Monday by cleaning out junk drawers. Most people have a junk drawer in the kitchen. I have four of those plus two in my desk and four or five more in various end tables and filing cabinets. A lot of junk.

I had not spent more than ten minutes bent over a low cabinet sorting out the keepers from the drek when there was a twinge in my back. Well, more like real pain when I straightened up and then an ache as I carried the trash bag into another room.

What the...?

It was morning. I hadn't been awake for more than three hours; still had plenty of energy. But I had to rest in a chair for 15 minutes before the ache retreated.

I take relatively good care of my body; I eat a healthy diet, I get out and walk most days and I have a daily stretching and exercise routine. I don't abuse my body and I expect some return for my effort. But, apparently, we are not in synch, my body and me.

Packing takes a lot of bending, reaching, stretching and this work will never get done if it means 10 minutes on, 15 minutes off.

I've put a lot of thought to this since Monday and devised some ways to get the job finished over the next four weeks without damaging myself and still meet the deadline. But I'm not happy about the need to be extra careful and it doesn't seem fair. I'm “only” 69 and I'm betting Darlene Costner and Millie Garfield, who both have about 15 years on me, have something pithy to say about this.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Caroline Romberg: Call Me Coach


No Room at the Inn for a Cat

Although the Maine house closing is not until 17 May, the moving company will be loading Crabby's household goods on 12 May so that they will be delivered to Lake Oswego within a few days of her arrival on 18 May for her Oregon house closing the next day. That means a hotel in Maine for Crabby and Ollie the cat until their airplane flight on the 18th and at least two days in need of shelter in Oregon.

So Crabby spent many more hours than she expected over last weekend trying to book these hotel dates.

Cats, she has learned, are second-class pets in the hotel business. Many will take a dog, but hardly any will accommodate a cat.

Because the Maine hotel had not been a problem - just a $10/day additional charge for Ollie – Crabby expected an equally easy booking in Oregon. She checked for a pet policy at the website of the hotel where she wanted to stay. “Dog Friendly” was listed. When she telephoned, the reservation clerk said, in a tone of voice just a smidgen shy of snooty distaste, “Oh, no, we wouldn't allow cats here.”

What a short-sighted, stupid rule. Cats are much cleaner than dogs. They don't go for walks, so they won't track dirt on the carpet. They are fastidious about their bathroom habits. Most are so scared in a new place, they hide under the bed for the duration and they never, ever bark.

Crabby worked her way through six or seven more hotel websites, big names all. None announce a pet policy, but every one of them promises her stay will be so spiritually enlightening that Crabby would expect immediate attainment of satori. “Thrive in the hotel's luxurious environment,” says one headline. You can “experience,” “grow,” “explore,” and “enhance your spirit” in their hotel assure others and even, in one case, save the rainforest while you're there.

Not one would accept a cat.

Crabby Old Lady is pretty sure that any enlightenment she gains in life won't be for the price of two nights in a hotel room. And anyway, all she wants to do is cuddle up in bed with her cat and ease his fear. Hotels, apparently, are not as spiritually enlightened as their marketing divisions want customers to believe.

In the end, Crabby, her brother and his wife, against their initial judgment, decided they could survive a couple of days with three wary cats and dog. Crabby will let you know how it goes.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: A Knock on the Door


The Elder Storytelling Place and Facebook

All right, I admit it – Facebook has nothing to do with The Elder Storytelling Place and vice versa. Just think of this as a double post.

The Elder Storytelling Place
As I do on most Saturday or Sunday mornings, on Saturday I was preparing the five Elder Storytelling Place contributions for publication this week.

I read every story that arrives word-for-word at least three times – once for the story, again to fix any spelling, grammar and punctuation errors, capitalize or un-capitalize words as needed, pull up areas where there are too many spaces, separate words that are run together, do some re-paragraphing for ease of online reading and generally tidy them up to match the Time Goes By/Elder Storytelling style book.

After I've added the html code, any images, byline, the addendum inviting new authors and loaded them in to the publishing tool, I read them again in preview, word-for-word, to be sure no errors have slipped in.

And it struck me on Saturday, as it often does, how extraordinarily good these stories are – every one of them. There are a handful of professional writers among the regular contributors, but the majority, more than 95 percent, are written by ordinary people who, in their professional lives, did or still do as many different kinds of work as any other segment of the population. They haven't spent their lives writing, yet they are immensely accomplished.

I know I've mentioned this before and am boring those of you who have heard it or are regular readers of ESP, but for the rest of you, I cannot recommend these stories enough.

Some are funny anecdotes, others are sad or poignant, many teach us through the writers' vast stores of knowledge and lessons learned over long lifetimes and still others speak to us about personal experience with cultures and ways of living we would not know without them.

The hour or two it takes to prep the five stories has become a blog task I look forward to every week. (Oh, goody, what will find this time.) So if you're not clicking that link to The Elder Storytelling Place at the end of each day's Time Goes By story, do yourself a favor and try it. I have never been disappointed and neither will you.

Facebook
Here are only ten of the dozens of complex things the culture now expects – nay, demands – that I master:

  1. What anti-oxidents are and what to do about them, if anything

  2. The arcane rules of Congress

  3. How to invest

  4. Can I still take aspirin and if not, which of five different kinds of over-the-counter pain medications works for a headache

  5. What to do when a CFL bulb breaks

  6. Which celebrity named Chelsea/Jennifer/Brittney is which

  7. How to book the cheapest airline flight and brag about it too

  8. How to identify the seven different kinds of container plastic when the number is printed in a transparent triangle this size Plastic-recycling2 and my recycling collector doesn't take all of them

  9. How to clean a glass-top cook stove

  10. The intricacies of Facebook

I don't know how to do any of these things – at least, not well - and guess which one I'm giving up on first.

It's not that I don't appreciate the many messages from Facebook users in the days surrounding my birthday last week, but am I supposed to answer on my page, your page and where the hell is my wall?

Wait. Don't answer. There are only 24 hours in a day and with the above list to tackle (among others I have omitted), Facebook seems the least of my ignorance. So don't be insulted that I've given up even attempting to respond. (I do answer email.)

Chelsea/Jennifer/Brittney doesn't make the cut either – so now my learning list is down to eight.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: The Quest of a Widower and the Humane Society


ELDER MUSIC: More Money for You and Me

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.


category_bug_eldermusic The Four Preps had a number of hits in the Fifties. I especially remember 26 Miles and Big Man with fondness.

The Four Preps

The four were students at Hollywood High School and were signed to a recording contract by Capitol Records after one of Capitol's executives saw them at a talent show at that school in 1956. Boy, if that’s not the basis of a film I don’t know what is.

Besides being particularly fine ballad singers, they were also fine mimics and had a couple of hits imitating other groups. This is one of them: More Money For You and Me.

♫ Four Preps - More Money for You and Me

Naturally, I’m going to feature the songs they send up in that song.

The Fleetwoods started out with two female lead singers, Gretchen Christopher and Barbara Ellis, with a male backup singer, Gary Troxel.

Fleetwoods

When they were signed to a record company and ready to record, a record exec said, “Can’t have that sort of thing.” Over The Fleetwoods’ strenuous objections, the exec prevailed. They did record some songs in their original format but these were relegated to albums. The singles featured Gary as lead.

In spite of that they released a number of fine songs – Come Softly To Me, The Great Imposter, Graduation’s Here and the song featured here today, Mr Blue.

♫ The Fleetwoods - Mr Blue

The Hollywood Argyles were typical one-hit wonders, at least around my neck of the woods. It seems they needed a name for their group, so as the recording studio was on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle Street, that was it. I suppose it could have been worse, they might have chosen the name “Boulevard Street.”

The Hollywood Argyles

Alley Oop seemed to us to be a typical senseless novelty song because we didn’t have the cartoon strip in our papers. It was probably a novelty song even for those who did have it.

It’s not even a very entertaining novelty song, unlike Purple People Eater, Witch Doctor and quite a few others. However, it was in the Preps’ song, so here it is.

♫ Hollywood Argyles - Alley Oop

Ah, now we have a fine group, The Platters.

The Platters

The Platters were unusual for the time as they set themselves up as a legal entity with each member having an equal share. However, whenever a member left, their manager, Buck Ram, bought out that share and eventually it meant that he had complete control of the group and, especially, its name. For a long time he would have several different groups touring as The Platters, often at the same time.

Back in the fifties though, for a while they had a stable group that gave us a string of hits that were among the best of the era: Only You, The Great Pretender, My Prayer, Twilight Time and lots more. It also included the track the Preps sang, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

♫ The Platters - Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The only track I didn’t have in my collection is In This Whole Wide World by The Four Freshmen.

The Four Freshmen

The Four Freshmen started singing together in 1948, and they are still singing today. Not the originals, though. By my count there have been 22 of them. I may have missed some. That sure beats George Washington’s axe. They have always been more jazz oriented than anything else, but they could sing pop with the best of them.

Here is a live version of the song I found courtesy of Doctor Google. I don’t know which of the 22 are in the group.

♫ Four Freshmen - In This Whole Wide World

The Kingston Trio get two songs mentioned but we’re running a bit short so I’ll only use one of them.

Kingston Trio

The original line up of the Kingston Trio was Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds. However, when they first started, the group was rather fluid and as many as seven or eight could be on stage together. The others eventually fell by the wayside leaving the trio.

They probably were more instrumental in instigating the folk boom of the late Fifties, early Sixties than any other group. Folkier-than-thou types castigated them for not being pure folk singers but they claimed that wasn’t what they were doing.

The Preps songs were A Worried Man and Tom Dooley, The Kinston Trio's most famous song. That’s the one you’ll be hearing today.

♫ Kingston Trio - Tom Dooley

While checking the photos for Dion and the Belmonts, I noticed that there seems to be somewhere between two and five Belmonts. Maybe it was who was around at the time or who was out of jail (just kidding, Belmonts, I’m going on what the Preps sang).

Dion and the Belmonts

Once they were sort of successful, they went on various tours around your country, as most of the early rock 'n' rollers did. One of these was the "Winter Dance Party" tour with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. Dion took the clapped-out bus rather than flying that night in February 1959, because he could not afford the $36 for the flight. The promoters couldn’t have paid him much, but in this case, that probably worked out okay for him.

The group’s next song was A Teenager in Love.

♫ Dion & the Belmonts - A Teenager in Love