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ELDER MUSIC: Köchel and the Others

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.


Today's column may come across as a lecture or, even worse, notes for a thesis.

Alternately, it could be a case of teaching your grandmother to suck duck eggs, as my dear old mum had a wont to say. That is, explaining the bleeding obvious to someone who already knows it (and that explanation could be another case of that granny-duck egg thing, and I'd better stop now before I get into a screaming loop, as we used to say in the computer biz. They probably still do.)

Anyway, it's all about those letters and numbers often attached to the end of titles of classical compositions. They are really just a way to catalogue the works of a particular composer.

If works were published during a composer's lifetime, they were assigned opus numbers. Several compositions could have the same opus number if they were related and published simultaneously.

Haydn would often have several string quartets on the go and, for example, they may be assigned opus 5, no. 1, opus 5, no. 2 and so on.

However, these can be a bit problematic these days as new works (okay, previously unknown works) get discovered now and then and they have to be slotted into the system somehow.

If nothing else, the topic affords me a chance to play some great music.

I'll start with the most famous of these, the gentleman after whom I named the column, LUDWIG VON KÖCHEL.

Ludwig was a scientist, both a botanist and mineralogist. He was shocked by the complete disorder of MOZART's works; he was a huge fan of Wolfie.

He studied the chronology of the compositions and helped in the publishing of the first complete edition and not so incidentally, assigned Köchel numbers (K 550 etc).

In some German and Austrian editions these are KV numbers. The V stands for Verzeichmis which just means list.

There have been a few modifications over time, most notably in 1937 by Alfred Einstein (no relation to the more famous person with the same surname). There was another in 1964 and others since. However, Köchel numbers are still the standard.

This is one of them, K 370 – the first movement of the Oboe Quintet in F major.

Mozart

♫ Mozart - Oboe Quintet F major K 370 (1)

After the Köchel catalogue, the next most famous would be the BWV numbers attached to works by JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH. BWV stands for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis or, in English, Bach Works Catalogue.

WOLFGANG SCHMEIDER assigned these numbers in 1950 in a catalogue called (deep breath) Thematisch-systematisches Verzeichnis der musikalischen Werke von Johann Sebastian Bach.

That really just means a catalogue of Bach's works. These weren't chronological; the music is arranged by themes – choral works, organ works, cantatas and so on. So, you can't tell when a particular piece was written just by checking the BWV number.

Here is what sounds like a mature work to me, BWV 1055 – the first movement of the Harpsichord Concerto in A major.

J.S. Bach

♫ J.S.Bach - Harpsichord Concerto in A major (1)

Daddy Bach's youngest son, JOHANN CHRISTIAN BACH was also a composer, as were several of his older brothers. To my mind, J.C. was the pick of the next generation. He's often called the London Bach as that's where he spent the last half of his life.

J.C.'s numbers are called Terry numbers (really), after CHARLES STANFORD TERRY who was an authority on dad's works as well but he missed out on being the numberer on those.

Having said that (because I really like the idea of Terry numbers), there's a later catalogue of his works by ERNEST WARBURTON who contributed W numbers. Ernie was not only a musicologist but also worked for the BBC where he was instrumental in reviving obscure operas by Puccini and Wagner.

His catalogue of J.C.'s works are split into categories such that keyboard works are WA plus a number, chamber pieces are WB plus a number and so on.

I've chosen WC41, otherwise known as the third movement from his Symphonie Concertante for flute, 2 clarinets, 2 horns & bassoon in E flat major.

J.C. Bach

♫ J.C. Bach - Symphonie Concertante in E flat major (3)

In case you're interested, J.C.'s brothers have the following numbering system:

• Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach has Wq for Alfred Wotquenne.
• Wilhelm Friedemann Bach has F for Martin Falck
• Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach has HW for Hannsdieter Wohlforth

There are a couple of other brothers as well whose music I'm unfamiliar with and I've not noticed any of their CDs about the place. They also don't figure on any lists I've seen, so they don't make it today.

FRANZ SCHUBERT's opus numbers are all over the place. He published a few things in his lifetime but even then the opus numbers are problematic.

The person who came along and fixed that is OTTO DEUTSCH. Otto was a lecturer at the University of Vienna in the early part of the 20th century but went to Cambridge when the Nazis took over his country.

He returned to Vienna after the war. He was the one who put together Schubert's works and Franz's compositions have Deutsch numbers, published in 1951. They are usually just abbreviated to D. Otto also produced fine works on Mozart and Handel.

Schubert's Deutsch number today is D 384, or to put into layman's terms, the first movement of the Sonata in D major, D 384 (Op.137, No.1) for piano and violin.

Schubert

♫ Schubert - Sonata in D major, D.384 (I)

There were a couple of Haydns of note, the main one being JOSEPH HAYDN. His cataloguing is due to ANTHONY VAN HOBOKEN and his works are generally given Hob numbers.

Incidentally, Tony has nothing to do with the city in New Jersey that bears his name. He was from Rotterdam in the Netherlands and his work was mostly in the first half of the 20th century. He was also an authority on J.S. Bach (yet another one) and Brahms.

Like J.C. Bach, the Hoboken numbers are a bit more complicated than the rest; it's not just a matter of 1, 2, 3… etc.

Because Jo wrote so many things, the numbers are split into categories signified by a Roman numeral. Symphonies get I; overtures, for some reason unknown to me, get Ia; divertimenti get II; string quartets get III and so on.

Then there's a number attached to the end. Got all that? No? Well, it doesn't really matter.

Here is Hob III-6, or the first movement of the Cassation in C, an interesting piece for lute, violin, viola and cello. Just about a string quartet under a different name and lumped in with them, a form of music about which Jo knew a hell of a lot.

A cassation is just a fancy word for a short or minor work.

Haydn

♫ Haydn - Cassation in C Hob III-6 (1)

Jo's brother Michael Haydn was also a composer and he has Perger numbers to identify his compositions.

This column was prompted a couple of days ago when I was lying in bed early one morning listening to the radio and a piece of music by DOMENICO SCARLATTI was introduced with a Kirkpatrick number.

"Hullo," I thought. "That's a new one."

I already knew about those above but this one prompted me to do a bit of research (and write this column). I found that this was RALPH KIRKPATRICK who was also a harpsichordist of some renown.

He studied at Harvard, in Paris, played in Berlin and Leipzig, taught in Salzburg and was a professor at Yale. He did a lot of other things as well. I can't imagine how he had the time.

His numberings are often referring to as K numbers but that's a bit confusing considering the vastly more famous Mozart K system. That's probably why the folks on the radio used Kirkpatrick instead.

There was a previous attempt on Domenico's works by Alessandro Longo (L numbers), but Ralph's catalogue won out in the end.

Although the track I've chosen was written for harpsichord, this is a piano interpretation. To my ears it rather sounds as if it could have been in the mix with Eric Satie or Claude Debussy. Of course, Dom did it two hundred years earlier.

Here is the Sonata in D Minor, Kirkpatrick 32.

Domenico Scarlatti

♫ Scarlatti, D - Sonata in D Minor, K 32

Domenico's father, Alessandro Scarlatti, also a composer, doesn't seem to have numbers attached to his works as far as I can tell, nor does his brother Pietro Scarlatti, yet another composer. They possibly do but I haven't found them on any of the lists I've checked.

One of the lesser, but still very interesting, composers of the eighteenth century is IGNACE PLEYEL. Some say his first name was Ignaz; I'll leave it up to you.

Iggy was born in Austria but overlapped with Papa Haydn quite a bit, even collaborating with him on some compositions. There was a good living to be made in France so he moved there.

Alas, come the revolution and the new powers that be banned music in churches and in concert halls so Iggy cut his losses and went to London.

He was also quite the business man and published a considerable number of Haydn's works amongst many others. Somehow he found time to write more than 40 symphonies, 70 string quartets and many other works.

RITA BENTON is the person responsible for cataloguing Iggy's works. They are referred to as B or Ben numbers.

The piece of music I decided to play didn't have a Benton number on the CD (nor did any of the others). So I went to the list for Iggy and it wasn't there either.

After considerable messing around, including contacting the fine folks in the music department at the University of Iowa who are the keepers of the Benton musical library (isn't email a wonderful thing?), we pretty much established that this is B 219, or in other words, the first movement of the Sextet in E flat major for 2 clarinets, 2 horns, and 2 bassoons.

Pleyel

♫ Pleyel - Sextet E flat maj (1)

Pretty much all of the famous compositions of BEETHOVEN have opus numbers as they were published during his lifetime.

There are some compositions, minor ones or those he tossed aside and a few that were discovered after his death that weren't so attributed. These have WoO numbers. That stands for Werke ohne Opuszahl or, more prosaically, works without opus numbers. These are from a German catalogue prepared in 1955 by HANS HALM and GEORG KINSKY.

Ludwig isn't the only composer who has had WoO numbers assigned. Brahms and Schumann also have them, as well as some other lesser known composers.

There are other catalogues for Ludwig; these were attempts at his complete output. They are by the aforementioned George Kinsky (K numbers - yet another K) and, considerably earlier, Giovanni Biamonti (Bia numbers).

I've chosen a WoO work, WoO 36. It is the second movement from the Piano Quartet in C major No. 3.

Beethoven

♫ Beethoven - Piano Quartet in C major WoO 36 No. 3 (2)

With ANTONIO VIVALDI things get a bit confusing (or a bit more confusing, perhaps). You can have his works by Ryom numbers, Rinaldi and Pincherle numbers, Fanna numbers, Ricordi numbers or by their original opus numbers.

There are CE numbers as well. The CE numbers are just Fanna numbers in disguise and they stand for Complete Edition. These numbers displaced the previous standard of Pincherle numbers as many previously unknown works were later discovered.

About the same time as Marc Pincherle was doing his thing in Paris, Mario Rinaldi was attempting the same exercise in Rome. Neither of these became the standard for Tony's works. The Ricordi mentioned above was a publishing house where Gian Malipiero was also trying to catalogue these compositions.

However, Vivaldi's works these days are identified today by RV numbers, the numbers assigned by Danish musicologist PETER RYOM who did his thing in the 1970s, and RV stands for Ryom-Verzeichnis or Ryom Catalogue.

Here is RV 85, the first movement of the Trio Sonata in G Minor for Violin, Lute and Bass Continuo.

Vivaldi

♫ Vivaldi - Trio Sonata in G Minor (1)

Although known to us as ANTONIO ROSETTI, he was born Anton Rösler in Bohemia where it seems he may have received some musical training by the Jesuits.

Tony took up the Italian version of his name in his early twenties. Several of his compositions were greatly admired by Mozart, particularly his horn concertos which were a model for Wolfie's compositions for the same instrument.

Rosetti's works are usually given with catalogue numbers by STERLING MURRAY so they get an M (or RWV, and I don't know what that refers to).

They can also appear in a catalogue by OSKAR KAUL and to save us from yet another K numbering system, they receive his full name, well, his surname.

The track I've decided to use is numbered Murray C73. I have no idea what the C is doing there but it may refer to the type of composition as several others have. Anyway, this is the first movement of his Bassoon Concerto in B Flat.

Rosetti

♫ Rosetti - Bassoon Concerto In B Flat, MC 73 (1)


INTERESTING STUFF – 29 June 2013


1981 EXPERIMENT WITH ONLINE NEWS

Now, in 2013, we take it for granted – we can read pretty much any newspaper we want on our computers along with TV shows, other video and blogs and Facebook and Twitter and more.

But it wasn't always that way. Take a look at this little documentary from 1981 about the early trials with home delivery of news via computer.


JON STEWART ON EGYPTIAN TV

As you know, Jon Stewart is on hiatus from The Daily Show while he directs a movie in the middle east. Last week, he appeared on Al Bernameg (The Program) a satirical television program hosted by “the Egyptian Jon Stewart,” Bassem Youssef.

Youssef stirs up as much political truth and humor in Egypt as Stewart does in the U.S. and in March, he was detained by police for questioning for allegedly insulting Islam and Egyptian President Mhoamed Morsi but was released on bail.

Stewart welcomed Youssef to The Daily Show as a friend and brother and this visit by Stewart to Youssef's program was a reunion of two accomplished satirists in peak form.


THE LAST GLASS EYE MAKER IN BRITAIN

Jost Haas is a German immigrant who to the U.K. who manufactures glass eyes using the same techniques, unchanged for over two hundred years. I was fascinated.


72-YEAR-OLD ARRESTED AT TEXAS FILIBUSTER

Last week, 72-year-old Martha Northington, in the gallery of the Texas state legislature in support of Representative Wendy Davis's filibuster, was arrested by state police.

Elizabeth Willman caught the event in a cellphone video:

"You're hurting me!" shouts Northington as the crowd erupts in protest while she is handcuffed. "Stop pushing me, I will walk," she pleads.

On her Youtube page, Elizabeth Willman notes, "This woman was doing nothing but sitting until this state trooper who had already manhandled other women decided to grab her and arrest her."

Ms. Northington was booked at the Travis County jail and charged with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest. Burntorangereport notes that one of those charges may have been dropped.


MENTAL HEALTH HOTLINE

You can thank Darlene Costner for this Mental Health Hotline video. That's all I'm going to say. Have fun.


SLEEPY BABY OSTRICH

Too cute. He (she?) just cannot keep his/her eyes open.


FREE QUIT SMOKING HELP

I lost track of how many times I tried to quit over the years, how many times I succeeded and then lapsed before it finally “took.” Earlier this week when we were discussing hygiene, several commenters mentioned that they still smoke cigarettes and I worry.

Some say quitting tobacco is harder even than heroin. I don't know about that but I do know it was agony for me. So here's a webpage with several suggestions for free help.


COLD WAR FALLOUT SHELTER FOUND

Remember the fallout shelter craze in the 1950s and '60s? Back in the days when our teachers told us that in case of an air raid we were to hide under our desks to avoid harm from an atom bomb. Yeah, right.

Some people where I lived built underground living spaces for their families stocked with food and water. A few months ago, one of those shelters was discovered in Wisconsin.

You can read more here and at this page there are more photos.


THE CARETAKER

This short documentary explores the tender relationship between a caretaker who is an undocumented immigrant from Fiji and an old Japanese woman, interned during World War II, during the last months of her life.

You can read more about this film here.


Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.


A Big Week in Civil Rights – The Good and Not So Good

EDITORIAL NOTE 2: Well, John (see directly below) advises me that he did not notice that this is an ebook and he is strictly a paper kind of guy. (Please, folks, try to read these things more carefully.) So, the random number generator did is little magic trick again and the new winner from yesterday's drawing is classof65. Congratulation, class.

EDITORIAL NOTE: Yesterday, there was a contest to win an ebook titled Inspire Your Fitness Behavior. The random number generator did its magic and the winner is - ta da - John who posted his "Me, me, me" in the comments last evening. Congratulations, John.


Now and then so many events come together in so short a period of time that there is hardly a moment to digest one before another happens – and another and another. This has been one of those weeks.

And if you are old enough to recall that at least two of these events pertain to issues that we thought were generally settled decades ago, you wonder (well, I do) how many times a society must reinvent the wheel.

RACISM

One of those is Paula Deen's use of the N word and even more extraordinary in 2013, her fantasy of holding a slave-themed wedding with, apparently, no inkling of how offensively racist her sentiments are.

Deen, born in 1947, was a teenager during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. After that terrible time when so many brave demonstrators were beaten and too many killed, I thought this was settled. That if racists cannot find it in their hearts to change, they at least should understand now that their kind of speech is no longer publicly acceptable.

Paula Deen, like all people caught out making racist statements tearfully tried to apologize by saying she didn't mean it negatively. Here is what I believe about that: offensive epithets cannot slip out of the mouths of people who are free of racial prejudice. It cannot happen.

If, when a person is angry or in an emotionally charged state, the first place he or she goes is to a derogatory term for another person's skin color, sexual orientation, religion or age, that person is a bigot. Period. And deserves to be shunned by the rest of society.

ABORTION RIGHTS

Although Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case affirming the right to abortion, was decided 40 years ago, the effort by some to overturn it has never stopped.

This week, in yet another mostly male attack on women, there was a wonderfully uplifting few hours in the Texas state house – a filibuster by Representative Wendy Davis against a draconian abortion bill.

But I don't need to tell you about this because John Oliver on The Daily Show Wednesday night did a magnificent job of it. Do stick around for the end of the video:

VOTING RIGHTS

The conservative majority of the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision hacked out the heart of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) which for nearly 50 years has been the driving force behind improved access to the vote for minorities.

Another justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, explained the stupidity of their votes this way in her written dissent:

”Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA..." she wrote. “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

As if to prove Ginsberg's point, in under two hours after the decision was announced, the Texas was the first of several other states that followed immediately after to reintroduce a controversial voter ID and redistricting bill that was denied last year by the Justice Department under the VRA. On Wednesday, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed it into law.

It's as though those five assenting justices, Rip Van Winkle style, slept through the leadup to the 2012 election with the numerous attempts by Republicans all around the U.S. to make sure certain citizens were now allowed to vote. God help our republic in next year's election and the next and next.

DOMA AND PROPOSITION 8

As discouraging – not to mention frightening – as the VRA decision is, somehow The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repealed and in a second decision the Court allowed a lower court ruling that struck down California's Proposition 8 initiative (which defined marriage as between one man and one woman) to stand.

It was a joyous day for marriage equality, for civil rights in general and no one of importance paid any attention to the right wing troglodytes in Congress and the Twitterverse who flapped around predicting that planet Earth will now explode.

Among the real-life results of the decisions is that married gay and lesbian couples are now entitled to the same federal benefits as everyone else – more than 1,000 of them including Social Security spousal benefits, filing federal income tax jointly and the same inheritance rights straight people have always enjoyed. What a concept.

In addition, whatever happens to the immigration bills Congress is currently playing football with, legally married same-sex couples now have the same immigration rights as straight couples.

These federal changes apply only to the states – 12 of them and the District of Columbia – where same sex marriage is legal and there are many other questions yet to be decided such as what happens to those federal benefits if a couple moves to a state where same sex marriage is not legal.

But it's a giant step forward and all polling indicates that a majority of Americans support marriage equality. Momentum is on the right side of the law and it's only a matter of time now until the other 38 states join the 21st century.

THE OTHER STUFF THAT HAPPENED

With all this going on, President Barack Obama's important speech on climate change got short shrift but it was a good thing he said this out loud about the deniers:

"We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society! Sticking your head in the sand may make you feel safer, but it won't keep you safe from the coming storm."

No kidding. It's about time to say that and I'm sorry it mostly got buried among all the other events.

Whew. That's a lot of stuff for four days and I haven't even mentioned the affirmative action decision of the Court or the cable news, wall-to-wall coverage of the George Zimmerman trial in Florida. You know, the one that began with the defense attorney telling horrible knock, knock joke that wasn't even funny?

Almost entirely on this blog, I stick with the single topic, aging. But the momentous events all crammed into one week seem to me to demand acknowledgment.

And it isn't necessarily a stretch because we too – we old people – have as much stake in the outcomes as people of every other age group and I wanted to make an opportunity for us to talk about all this.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon Ostrow: Moth Messenger


Inspire Your Fit Behavior

As noted in a post earlier this month about hanging on to our health in old age, the reason I have been able to keep up my six-day-a-week exercise routine for nearly a year now – or, at least, the reason I tell myself – is fear. Fear, if I don't, of what diseases and conditions might befall me as the years continue to speed by.

Of course, there are no guarantees; healthy old people get sick every day. But it seems to me there is no point in inviting disaster by ignoring the best health advice among which is to keep moving, to choose some kind of exercise routine and keep at it.

Even though I understand the importance of this, because I have no long-term history in regular exercise, I don't count on the motivation of fear to compel me to keep going every day. I treat my exercise program as 12-step programs do – one day at a time – and look for additional kinds of inspiration.

Fit book coverRecently, I found one in an ebook titled, Inspire Your Fit Behavior – Real People. Real Results. Real Motivation. Or, for short: Fit After Fifty.

Through first-person text and videos, the book tells the stories of nine real-life old people who have turned their lives and health around by finding the inspiration and motivation – each in his or her own way – to try something new.

One of my favorites is the story of Bill Center who had been a career U.S. Navy officer:

”So much of my motivation,” he writes in the book, “has come from simply realizing it was possible to reverse my decline.

“I lost five pounds. And then another five pounds. And then another. Every pound lost boosted my confidence. Every physical ability recovered added to my resolve to keep getting better.”

Here, from the book, is a short video of the retired rear admiral who notes it's not just weight loss that's important, but fitness. Take a look:

Among the other real-life fitness stories are a competition ping pong player, marathon runners, a swimmer, a biker, a track and field competitor, a woman weight lifter, a woman who climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro in her late 60s and a 99-year-old golfer who, on each birthday, plays the number of holes as there are candles on his cake.

Most of the people in these first person accounts have been working at their chosen fitness fields for many years now and are quite accomplished. But what I found compelling – and motivating - about reading their stories is that none of them started out as athletic or as physical fitness buffs. It came to them late in life.

At the end of each person's chapter, there is a recap of the key takeaways and lessons from their individual fitness journeys. The author of the ebook, Tony Whatley, has distilled those lessons into ten “principles of fitness” that seem smart to me:

  1. The best time to start is now
  2. Compete only with yourself
  3. Maintain perspective and positivity
  4. Write everything down
  5. Shop around for a sport you enjoy
  6. Socialize your experience for support and enjoyment
  7. Break down big picture goals into manageable chunks
  8. Acknowledge victories great and small
  9. Seek opportunities to renew your interest
  10. Remember to play and have fun

In regard to Number 2, the track and field athlete, Bruce, made an important observation:

”I once asked a young person who had just watched a Masters track and field meet what they thought of the event. His response? It was 'depressing' watching 'old' people trying to do things — like the shot put or discus throw — that young people could obviously do much better.

“This reaction demonstrates that our perspective on what it means to be an athlete in your fifties, sixties, seventies and beyond, needs to change.

“Older athletes shouldn’t be seen for their inability to equal the accomplishments of younger athletes; they should be recognized for their abilities as athletes, period.

“Older athletes are competing against other older athletes and, more importantly, themselves — not LeBron James or Usain Bolt. The goal is to push yourself to be better than you are now — at any age.”

There is also some excellent advice and information from these nine elder athletes about turning failure into motivation and I'm going to keep Inspire Your Fit Behavior around to dip into regularly – particularly when I think I want to skip my daily workout.

For me, these are powerfully inspiring stories from ordinary people not so different from me who decided to get healthier and did.

Here is a short montage of several of them:

You can download a free chapter [pdf] here. This file is approximately 50MB and with a DSL/cable connection it may require up to five minutes to download. On a 56k dial-up, it will take 2.5 hours.

The publisher has offered to give away one ebook to a TGB reader. This file is is even larger, approximately 300MB. With a DSL/cable connection it may require 20-30 minutes to download. Unfortunately for dial-up, this may mean 15 hours to keep that in mind before you sign up for the drawing.

To be eligible for the ebook, just say so in the comments below. “Enter me in the contest” is good enough or “I want to win the free ebook” or even “me, me, me” will do.

The contest will remain open until midnight tonight (12:00AM), 27 June 2013 Pacific Time and the winner, selected by random electronic drawing, will be announced at the top of tomorrow's – Friday's - Time Goes By post.

You can purchase Inspire Your Fit Behavior ebook for $12.99 by following this link where you will find out how to get 10 percent discount.

As with so many other aspects of life, it is probably our individual psychological makeup that determines what kinds of motivation and inspiration work for each of us. I was surprised at how strongly I responded to these stories. Maybe you will too.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: On the Annual Checkup


Elders and Personal Hygiene

As explained in yesterday's post about whether there is such a thing as old people smell (there is), it is not connected to personal hygiene.

Our personal cleanliness is the basic bargain we make with one another as members of society. Thou shalt not smell up the room which means bathing regularly, brushing our teeth and making ourselves publicly presentable with grooming and clean clothes.

Maybe my non-working nose (see this recent post) is fooling me but I can't recall running into offensive body odor from anyone except a few street people in the distant past so good hygiene doesn't appear to be a problem for most people.

Indeed, all my checking around the web on the topic of elders and hygiene turns up only information for caregivers about uncleanliness in other people – old parents and other elder relatives who stop bathing or changing clothes – but not about ourselves.

However, the information for those others can be made useful individually, I think, because changes in how we care for ourselves can alert us, as the years go by, to when we might not be able to care for ourselves alone anymore.

One example of that is my great Aunt Edith. In her later years, she could no longer bend over far enough to trim her toenails so she kept a standing appointment for a pedicure to have it done for her.

Several websites explain some of what causes elders who have been clean and fastidious all their lives to become smelly. They all make sense:

Depression, common among elders, can lead to loss of interest in appearance and, therefore, bathing, shaving, grooming. (Seek thee a physician.)

Memory lapses can leave elders believing they just showered when it might have been several days since the last one. (I can relate since although I shower almost every day, I like to wash my hair only every other day. Sometimes, however, I stand there first thing in the morning working hard to figure out if today is hair washing day.)

Eyesight dims and sometimes clothing stains are not noticed. At first, I didn't believe it could be possible to forget to throw clothes in the washer but with further thought, I'm not so sure.

Recently, I noticed a paper clip on the floor near my desk and meant to pick it up; I wouldn't want Ollie the cat to swallow it. The next day it was there and I remembered I had intended to pick it up and didn't know why I hadn't. The next day it was still there and I did, finally, pick up the damned thing. But I cannot explain why it took so long.

So, could the same thing happen with dirty clothes? According to what I've been reading, yes.

Continuing the list:

As mentioned, the sense of smell diminishes and people can't smell themselves and I think that is often so even with a working nose.

Mobility issues and balance difficulties along with a variety of disabilities can make people fearful of falling in the shower or tub. (Use a rubber mat and a stool to sit on if needed and have grab bars installed.)

Arthritis and other conditions of aging can make it painful to get in and out of the shower or tub and prevent elders of bathing. (The person may need caregiver help or, if affordable, can install a walk-in shower/tub.)

Some medications can leave people weak, sleepy or feeling too unwell to shower or bathe. (Sponge baths do wonders temporarily; otherwise, probably outside help is needed.)

Certainly we all know that lack of personal hygiene leads not just to social isolation but to skin and hair infections that can also spread internally with serious medical consequences. It's much more than smelliness that makes keeping clean important.

Hygiene is not manifested only on the body. I recall that toward the end of great Aunt Edith's life (she died just a couple of months short of 90), the dishes in her cupboard often were not well washed, with food stuck on plates and around the edges of water glasses and coffee cups.

When discovering this on my visits, I quietly washed them before use and didn't say anything. I was probably wrong about that. Unclean dishes and utensils can, in some cases, cause infections and food poisoning.

In the 30 or so years since that happened, I have been fairly fanatic about carefully clean dishes and cutlery even though I hardly ever use the dishwasher. With any luck that habit, now long entrenched, will carry me through.

I don't think hygiene is a problem for most people but at the ages we are now, we live in a new country. No one can predict how getting old will affect us and not everyone has someone around regularly to help out.

So it's important to understand the potential hard realities we face as we grow older and do what we can to mitigate the problems we may face. Now, I'm eager to read what you have to say.


At The Elder Storytelling Place toay, Florence Millo: Hurricane Carla


Do Old People Smell Funny?

It was a failed attempt at humor when, last week, I headlined a post about loss of the sense of smell, How Well Do You Smell? But a few of you were kind enough to acknowledge the effort anyway:

”At first reading, I thought today's post was addressing personal hygiene!” wrote Lauren.

Then Dianne said, “I agree a post on personal hygiene would be great.”

Lynne Spreen followed up with this: ”Every time I see the title of this post chuckle to think you're suggesting we might need a shower.”

The three comments brought to mind the idea of “old people smell” which I had not thought of in many years nor do I recall why I ever knew about it. As far as I know, my nose worked as it should when I was young but if any of the old people I knew then smelled funny, I didn't notice.

All I remember about old people smell from the dim past is that it is not related to hygiene (or lack thereof) but there were (are?) unkind jokes anyway. It was, supposedly, just the way old people smell – maybe analogous, at the other end of life, to baby smell. But I don't think I really believed it existed.

Now, thanks to the good ol' interwebs, I can tell you there is a study that appears to have proved there is such a thing as old people smell.

”Older people 'do have a characteristic odor, but it's not a negative odor,' says Johan Lundstrom, PhD, a sensory neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a research institute in Philadelphia.

"'The negative association with old people's body odor seems to come from our negative association with old age,' he tells WebMD.”

In Lundstrom's study, released a year ago, body odor was collected from participants divided into three age groups – young (20 to 30), middled aged (45 to 55) and old (75 to 95). Then, young evaluators age 20 to 30

”...were asked to identify which came from which age donor. They also asked how intense they found the odor on the pads and how unpleasant.”

A majority of the evaluators could correctly identify the body odor samples of the oldest age group but they did not find it unpleasant. Instead, the worst smellers, they reported, were middle-aged men who, says Lundstrom, "lagged way behind other categories.”

Here is the list of how the ages and genders lined up from best- to worst-smelling:

  1. Middle-aged women
  2. Old men
  3. Young women
  4. Old women
  5. Young men
  6. Middle-aged men

If you read around internet about old people smell, you'll find a lot of comments insisting that the odor is actually stale urine. The researcher, Lundstrom, disagrees:

”'For people getting older and fearing 'old person's smell,' Lundstrom says don't worry. 'As long as one showers when one should shower and you air out your abode [where body odors can accumulate], you are good to go,' he says.”

It's nice to get that heads up from Lundstrom since, from the comments on the sense of smell post last week, I'm not the only one whose nose doesn't work well anymore.

The original research paper was published at PlosOne where it is openly available without a fee or subscription.

Tomorrow, we'll continue this theme with some information about old age and personal hygiene.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Sentinel


Important Blog Comment Problem

As they say, shit happens and for the past month or so, many of your comments at this blog and, to a lesser degree at The Elder Storytelling Place, have been relegated to the spam folder instead of being published.

I dislike taking up an entire post to discuss this kind of blog housekeeping but it has been going on for so long now I think you need an explanation.

Since it began on 23 May, I have been working with the Typepad (my blogging service) help desk to fix the comment system. The problem is that some comments, including my own and those of readers who have been publishing comments for years in some cases, are tagged as spam.

I can go into that folder and post the wrongly-categorized spam comments but I cannot spend all day checking for them and sometimes I forget to do it for two or three days.

The help desk at Typepad tells me they are working on this and I spend a great deal of time publishing the “spam” comments and then sending the URLs of those comments to Typepad so they have something to work with. So far, no solution.

A special note to Colette, Linda Skupien, Ann Shaw, Madeleine Kolb, Pamela (Lady Luz) and Lynne Spreen:

Over the weekend, the six of you left excellent comments on our terrific conversation last week about elders and the need to be touched that ended up in the spam folder.

When I tried to publish them on Sunday morning, they disappeared. My apologies but, as this note explains, I can't do anything about it; I must wait for Typepad to find a fix.

UPDATE: Reader Lyn Burnstine just let me know that Colette's, Linda's, Ann's, Madeleine's, Pamela's and Lynne's comments ARE posted on that story. They weren't there on Sunday morning after I published so something got better since then.

That was an important conversation about something that is almost never spoken of in public (anyone who missed it should definitely read it and all comments).

So if the six of you whose comments got lost would like to try to rewrite and republish them for the record, I'll keep watch to be certain they are published. I'm sure I'll return to this subject in time and your thoughts will be important to have.

For everyone, I'll try to remember to check the spam folder at least twice a day and publish any missed comments.

My apologies for this but undoubtedly you have personal experience too with how technology just screws up sometimes for no good reason and how terribly frustrating it is when it's not within your ability to fix.

In addition to the comment problem, I lost six or seven hours (!) over the weekend trying to figure out why my printer suddenly tried to fax everything I wanted only to print. It's finally fixed but I had different plans for those hours. Grrrrrrr.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jan Adams: Do You See Rabbits?


ELDER MUSIC: Almost Angels

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.


Bogie-etc

I've already done Angels but Norma the Assistant Musicologist just came in and suggested I should do Almost Angels. Those that didn't quite make the grade in the Angels category I suppose.

Her thought processes are rather strange at times but it didn't matter as we came up with some fine songs – she already had several in mind. It was probably prompted by my playing Joan Baez singing Farewell Angelina at the time. That song, naturally, will be present.

Indeed, I'll start with it. This was written by Bob Dylan and it's one he didn't release on any of his official albums although it did turn up on one of his "Bootleg" series, the official ones that is, that his record company released.

However, in this case I think JOAN BAEZ did a better version than Bob, and here it is.

Joan Baez

♫ Joan Baez - Farewell Angelina

The song I first thought of when she mentioned this category is one by THE BAND and EMMYLOU HARRIS.

The Band

Emmylou Harris

The song is from the film (and CD) of The Last Waltz, although Emmy didn't appear at the concert she and The Band recorded it to appear as a sort of appendix to the film. It is Evangeline.

♫ The Band - Evangeline

The A.M. pretty much insisted that HOYT AXTON had to be present.

Hoyt Axton

His was the first of the songs she suggested. Hoyt had one the finest singing voices in pop/folk/country music but he really wasn't very popular. He was a decent songwriter and a number of his songs have been covered by others so he made quite a good living from them.

He was also an actor in various TV programs. Here he sings Evangelina.

♫ Hoyt Axton - Evangelina

Another of the A.M.'s immediate suggestions was VAN MORRISON.

Van Morrison

That's not so unusual, if you know her, as Van is a particular favorite of hers. Mine too, if it comes to that. Van sings Angeliou.

♫ Van Morrison - Angeliou

A little bit of change of pace here and some cool jazz. I give you GERRY MULLIGAN.

Gerry Mulligan

I also give you Chet Baker playing the trumpet. Although they were co-leads for the group, the album is under Gerry's name so he gets prominence today.

They usually performed in a quartet but in this track they have a bunch of extra players along for the ride. The tune is Angelica.

♫ Gerry Mulligan - Angelica

TOM RUSSELL is another fine singer and is also a particularly good songwriter, one who deserves to be much better known.

Tom Russell

His song is a little different from the others today. Most of the rest are about women but this one isn't. Well, it is but the title refers to something else entirely. The Evangeline Hotel.

♫ Tom Russell - The Evangeline Hotel

JO-EL SONNIER adds a touch of Cajun to proceedings with his song.

Jo-El Sonnier

Jo-El is at home in country music as he is in Cajun. He's pretty good at rock & roll as well but today it's Cajun. Whatever he sings is worth a listen and this is no different, Evangeline Special.

♫ Jo-El Sonnier - Evangeline Special

Naturally, if there is an excuse to include NAT KING COLE, I'll take it.

Nat King Cole

Here he is with the original trio and a tune called Naughty Angeline.

♫ Nat King Cole Trio - Naughty Angeline

LOS LOBOS claim to be just another band from East L.A.

Los Lobos

Well, they may think that but music lovers know different. Here is another song with Evangeline in the title - indeed, that is the title. This column could almost have been called The Evangeline Special (but it isn't).

♫ Los Lobos - Evangeline

We started with one of BOB DYLAN's songs and we'll end the same way - the man himself with a different one.

Bob Dylan

This is another from the Bootleg series of albums of tunes that didn't make it on to official albums. The song is just called Angelina. It's quite a long song. What a surprise that is.

♫ Bob Dylan - Angelina


INTERESTING STUFF – 22 June 2013


HOW TO SING THE PUPPIES TO SLEEP

This has been all over Reddit and Huffpo so you may have seen it already. But even if you have, it's too wonderful to watch this adorable group of puppies settle down and nod off the moment they hear The Spaniels song, Good Night, Sweetheart, Good Night.

You can read more here.


JOHN OLIVER ON CONGRESSIONAL IMMIGRATION MESS

Gallup this week posted a new survey showing that 87 percent of U.S. population supports immigration reform but that isn't stopping Congress from refusing to do the right or sensible thing.

John Oliver continues to do a masterful job of filling in for his boss, Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show. Here is his take on Congressional immigration idiocy.


THE WORLD IS GOING TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET

I have been known, on occasion, to lament the good old days and I know you have too. (Oh, come on. Of course you have.)

We can take solace in the fact that it is nothing new. Our great, great grandparents had similar complaints. Two examples from back in their day:

Good old days 1871

Good old days 1906

Sound familiar? I think these make it apparent, too, that our children and grandchildren will be saying the same kinds of things in their old age. There are more quotations like these at the xkcd website.


MAKING BAGELS IN BROOKLYN

As long as we're going back in time, here is a terrific, little documentary video from the archives of the Brooklyn Public Library on the making of proper bagels.

Let it be known that if you are eating those fluffy, cake-y things they call bagels these days, you're not eating bagels. These, in the video, are the real thing. (Hat tip to my friend, Jim Stone)

You can read more here.


PRISON IN NORWAY

Undoubtedly you know that the United States is the world's leader in number of prison inmates, and our treatment of those convicts leaves a lot to be desired.

Take a look at this little documentary about a prison in Norway. You'll be amazed at the difference. (Another hat tip to Jim Stone)


A KITSCHY STREET ARTIST

There is nothing much I can tell you about this street artist but he's sure fun to watch.


JACK LEW'S NEW SIGNATURE

Remember the grief Jack Lew took about his signature when he was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in February? Take a look:

Jack Lew Signature Old

As you know, the secretary's signature appears on all U.S. paper money and apparently, Lew has been practicing to improve his loopy scrawl. Here's how it will look on U.S. greenbacks:

Jack Lew New Signature


BOOK CHAIN

Domino chains are one of the mainstays of YouTube (you can see one here).

Now, Peter Tibbles, who writes Sunday's Elder Music column here, has found another one for us – same idea, different items. Here's the blurb about it:

”The Seattle Public Library launched the 2013 Summer Reading Program by setting a new world record for the longest book domino chain!

“The books used to make this domino chain were either donated or are out of date and no longer in the library's collection. They are now being sold by the Friends of Seattle Public Library to help raise money for library programs and services.”

Take a look – you're gonna love it.


THE SECRET LIFE OF CATS

Jan Adams of Can It Happen Here sent me a link to a terrific interactive webpage about research into the wanderings of the local house cats in a neighborhood of Surrey, England.

Here is a partial screenshot that shows some of the cats who were tracked via gps and small collar cameras. The red squiggles are the travels of one of them named Hermie over a 24-hour period.

Cat Travels

You can fool around with the page and see the movement of ten of the cats at the BBC website.

All this research was turned into an hour-long documentary recently broadcast on the BBC. Here is the two-minute introduction to the program:

I don't know how long it will be available online but for now, you can watch the entire documentary here.


Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.


Elders and the Need to be Touched

A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a massage. Even though many friends through the years have extolled its virtues and powers, it is not something I have done much in my life – probably no more than half a dozen times.

I don't know why I booked the hour-long session – the idea just came into my head one day – and I've lost enough weight now (20 pounds, with 20 still to go) that I don't mind (too much) being naked in someone's presence.

It was a good thing to do and although it is not something I can often afford, it was worth the expense. Except for one thing: I'm pretty sure I didn't get all the benefit I could or should have.

Certainly you will agree when I tell you that beginning 15 or 20 minutes into the massage, instead of letting go and drifting off into the calm, it took all my concentration not to weep. When you're fighting against a powerful urge to curl up into the fetal position and sob, complete relaxation isn't going to happen.

(Yes, I know tears are a normal if not everyday response to massage but I am who I am or, at least, who I was that day.)

Back at home a short while later, the feel of the masseuse's hands was still with me, particularly on my back, and then I did cry.

I wept for the exquisite pleasure of the touch of human hands. Even a stranger's. For the fulfillment of a hunger I had not known I had and the emotional release, the joy I experienced was almost too much to bear.

To touch and be touched. We have forgotten, I think, the importance, the need of every human for the touch of another.

It is well known that babies who are not held and touched do not thrive. There is a reason for such a (now old-fashioned) phrase as “healing touch” and even though touch has long been proven to reduce stress, relieve pain and fatigue, and aid the body's natural healing abilities, it is not much considered these days.

One of the terrible things about growing old is that for many of us there is little opportunity to touch and be touched. Partners become widowed, others are alone for different reasons and our modern, scientific medical practices don't much credit touch.

Plus, there are strict taboos in American culture about who may touch whom, when they may do it, where it is allowed and for how long. You don't need me to tell you that generally the mandate is “don't.”

I've been fussing around with writing this post for a week or ten days and I found a reasonable amount of information online about the physical, psychological and spiritual rewards of touch along with acknowledgment that elders moreso than other age groups are deprived of this boon:

”As tactile sensitivity decreases, the need to receive expressive touch may increase. Nature can be cruel however, and the elderly person often may have no one to provide this increased touch...

“One elderly woman put it this way, 'Sometimes I hunger to be held. But he is the one who would have held me. He is the one who would have stroked my head. Now there is no one. No comfort.'”

But I don't want to turn this subject into a research project with a whole lot of quotations. I think we all intuitively understand the need for touch and it is enough, today, to recognize that and talk about it among ourselves.


At The Elder Storytelling Place toay, Warren Lieberman: A Random Meeting


Things I Wish I Had Known

Old people sometimes mention lessons they wish they had learned long before they did. Many of us have similar lists so I suspect these things are universal - stuff individuals of every generation must learn for themselves and then moan that it took so long.

Just for fun, let's play around with this silly old trope today. I don't mean it to be nostalgic or about regret – two unfortunate states of mind.

Instead, think of it as a little parlor game for elders that could wind up with a bunch of platitudes or, perhaps, reveal a small truth or two.

I'll go first with what likely are only the most obvious and one or two that pertain only to me, although you might have some that are akin:

That worrying about what other people think is a waste of time. They’re all too busy worrying about their own impression on others to pay attention to me.

That nothing stays the same. Change is a definition of life.

That getting old would be so interesting. I would have asked old people more questions.

How much I like to write and that I'm pretty good at it. I might have made it a career.

How to integrate physical activity into my daily life so it wouldn’t feel like such a chore.

That age discrimination would cut short my gainful employment years; I would have saved more money.

That marriage never suited me. I wouldn’t have bothered with a lot of the dating I did.

As a corollary to that one: that I would never again love as wholly and deeply as I did (and still do) a certain man I met when I was 36 - half a lifetime ago.

Most of all - that time is the only thing of value we own.

This isn't near a complete list but given that it took my entire life to learn most of them, it's all I'm willing to admit to today. Here's what I suspect about life lessons: by the time I get a really good handle on how live, it will be time to go.

Now it's your turn.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Orlando Fenner: A Compromising Position


How Well Do You Smell?

My nose has been nearly useless for at least a decade – probably longer. It just doesn't work anymore.

Obviously, there can be dangers in having a smell deficit – being unaware of a gas leak, for example, or something burning. In the case of the latter, that's what smoke detectors are for but today, I'm more interested in the benign, although disappointing, ways my loss is manifested.

I can smell cantaloupe from half a block away but if I were not looking, I would have no idea half a dozen cloves of minced garlic are sauteeing in a pan. Onions too.

As much as I like the taste of coffee and can't imagine mornings without it, I haven't been able to smell it for many years – and it used to be such a good welcome-to-the-new-day aroma.

Toast is in that yum category too along with a freshly peeled orange. I would include bacon in what has turned into an unintentional breakfast list except that I haven't cooked it in many years so I don't know if I can still smell it.

For all my life, I have loved the fragrance of lilacs. In New York City, come that moment in spring when they were available at every corner flower stand, I would load up with about $100 dollars worth and for a week, the eight or 10 bouquets scattered about the apartment left me drunk with aromatic joy – my own personal aromatherapy.

Sometimes I would step outside the door for a couple of minutes even when I wasn't going anywhere just to be hit in the face anew with lilac fragrance when I went back inside.

Nowadays, alas, I need to stick my nose deep into the flowers to get a minor whiff of them. I miss that annual week of “scent-ual” bliss.

However, I have discovered that the very different fragrance of star lilies is almost as intoxicating to me and I can smell those more than lilacs although not as strongly as in the past.

For awhile I thought the upside of a broken nose was that it saved me from the stench of garbage under the sink or the litter box. It didn't take long to figure out other people's noses function perfectly well so now I'm fairly fanatical about keeping those containers pristine.

A long time ago, back in the days when my nose worked just fine, a terrible stink arose in my home. Not the garbage. Not the litter box and it was nothing anyone like those. It was much worse.

I tried to track down the source with my then well-functioning nose but could only locate it in the general vicinity of living room/office but no specific corner or space; it had permeated the entire room. I looked and looked, sniffing all the way. Nothing.

At last, I moved the sofa and under it was the fetid corpse of what was once a bird, too far decomposed to know what kind. Ick.

Undoubtedly, Beau Bennett of Bedford Street - my feline roommate then who, in the empty lot behind our tiny, Manhattan back yard, regularly hunted as fiercely as any African lion - had lost his catch.

Even with that, I miss having a working nose. Lately, it seems to be making a comeback in a small way but it would not be hard to convince me that it's only wishful thinking.

According to what I recall having read here and there over the years, olfactory decline can be attributed to years of cigarette smoking. Interestingly, there is no mention of that cause in a recent Medical News article about loss of sense of smell among elders.

”[A]bout 24 percent of Americans 55 years or older have a measurable problem with their sense of smell, according to data from the National Institute on Aging. That rises to about 30 percent for those ages 70 to 80, and to more than 60 percent for those over age 80.”

How about you?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Herchel Newman: Let's Play Marbles


Volunteering Linked to Reduced Risk of Hypertension

”New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that older adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours per year decrease their risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, by 40 percent.

Hypertension is estimated to affect 65 million Americans. It leads to cardiovascular disease which is the number one killer in the United States. So this is fascinating news for elders who are physically able to contribute.

As reported at ScienceDaily, 1,164 adults age 51 to 91 from across the United States were interviewed in 2006 and 2010. All participants registered normal blood pressure levels in the first interview and each time, volunteering along with social and psychological factors were measured. (Emphasis is mine)

”...showed that those who reported at least 200 hours [per year] of volunteer work during the initial interview were 40 percent less likely to develop hypertension than those who did not volunteer when evaluated four years later.

The specific type of volunteer activity was not a factor - only the amount of time spent volunteering led to increased protection from hypertension."

Isn't that the most terrific thing? Just helping others goes a long way to reducing the risk of high blood pressure. And the amount of time isn't much. There are approximately 250 business days per year which is equal to 2,000 hours. So only one-tenth of the time we spent employed, on average, is effective.

Certainly, regular TGB readers know how I bash on from time to time about how blogging – writing or reading – helps reduce isolation and loneliness at a time in life when we no longer have the camaraderie of the workplace and some other means of social interaction. That appears to also be true for volunteering.

The lead author of this research, Rodlescia S. Sneed, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology in [Carnegie Mellon's] Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Science suggests that this is what is at work in the reduced hypertension risk with volunteering:

"As people get older, social transitions like retirement, bereavement and the departure of children from the home often leave older adults with fewer natural opportunities for social interaction. Participating in volunteer activities may provide older adults with social connections that they might not have otherwise.”

Exercise is good for reducing blood pressure. So is maintaining a reasonable body weight, they tell us, along with eating a healthy diet and cutting back on sodium intake.

Now we know that something as fulfilling as helping out others can give a big boost to our health. It's something anyone can do - even if you cannot get out and about easily, there is plenty of need for people who can contribute via telephone and computer.

In reporting on this research WebMD warns to keep in mind that the study "found an association between time spent volunteering and blood pressure levels, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.”

Okay. But there is at least one other study that seems to agree. Earlier this year, EverydayHealth reported on similar results with volunteer adolescents:

”After ten weeks, researchers found that the students who volunteered had decreased cholesterol, BMI, and inflammation when compared to those who did not get the opportunity to volunteer.

"'The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behaviour and mental health were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health,' study author Hannah Schreier, PhD, said in a press release.”

This news – for young and old - seems to me to be the sort that if you'd ever given it serious thought, you might have deduced it for yourself. It feels intuitively right, don't you think, that doing things that make you feel good, especially while helping others, would be a health-giving activity?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: My Writing History


18th Century Guide to Old Men's Health

”Of all passions let the old man avoid a foolish fondness for women. This never will solicit him, for nature knows her own time...and he will be only making himself the ridicule of those who seem to favour his vain and ineffectual desires."

That is polite 18th century-speak advising old men to refrain from sex as it will shorten their lives, not to mention that they probably can't get it up anyway. It is contained in a fascinating little book originally published in 1790, that has been amusing me over the weekend.

The Old Mans Guide Cover The Old Man's Guide to Health & Longer Life was written by John Hill, described as a physician and actor in England “who published prolifically on the natural sciences.” The subtitle is lengthy: ”with Rules for Diet, Exercise & Physick for Preserving and Preventing Disorders in a Bad One.”

Hill writes about the health of old men with occasional references to “people” but there is nothing specific addressing women which may or may not reflect their status in relation to men 220-odd years ago.

But it is never fair or good to judge an older society by current standards so we will not do that today.

Medicine in the 18th (and most of the 19th) century still operated on the four humours theory of health handed down from ancient Greece and Rome (or, some say, Egypt). Like Hippocrates and Galen long before him, Dr. Hill sought health for his patients in the balance of the four bodily fluids: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm.

So throughout his little book (this cute, new British Library edition IS small, measuring about four inches by six-and-a-half), Hill prescribes behavior, attitudes and practices that will lead a man to healthy and long life.

He covers the same issues a modern-day physician would do: diet, exercise, rest, sleep along with what we would call stress and Hill refers to as the regulation of temper including passions (see first quotation above).

Hill's goal is not to cure but to maintain the health of “the hale and hearty old man.” Undoubtedly a good choice for such a book in 1790 as there wasn't much help in those days for disease.

What is amazing is that among the humours theory, bleeding and an apparent belief that even mild physical exertion was dangerous, Hill's advice wasn't that far off from today's.

He prescribed mostly light meals – sometimes only two a day - with less meat than when men were young but more milk, especially ass's milk which, says Hill, is lighter and therefore easier on the stomach than cow's milk.

There were many foods “hurtful to persons of advanced age” especially butter (“nothing worse”) along with heavy cheese and some vegetables, especially carrots, raw “sallads,” cucumbers, cabbage and all fruits but especially pears and

”The pine-apple, the most pleasant of all fruit, is the most dangerous. Its sharpness flays the mouth” writes Hill, “and 'tis easy to know what effect such a thing must have upon the stomach and bowels of persons weakened by age. I have known it bring on bloody fluxes, which have been fatal.”

In our time in recent years, nutritionists have extolled the virtues of green tea and look at this from Dr. Hill:

””Let him use the plain green tea of sixteen shillings a pound, and make it well: taking care the water boils, and allowing so much tea that it may be of sufficient strength without standing too long upon the leaves.

“This way we have the spirit, flavour, and virtue of the plant; whereas weak, half cold, bad tea has just the contrary qualities.

“Let the old man drink three moderate cups of this tea, with a little sugar and good deal of milk; and swallow it neither too hot, nor mawkishly cool. Let him eat with it a thin slice or two of good bread, with a little butter; and he will find it nourishing and excellent.”

Sounds like good advice to me.

Dr. Hill believed that nothing contributes more to health and long life than being out in “pure and good air” but then notes

”It is strange that many live to a great age in London, where the air has neither of these characters: where we breathe smoak, and the mixt stench of a thousand putrifying substances...”

The more things change, etc. Nevertheless, wrote Hill,

”The air of early morning and of late evening is cold and unwholesome: but some hours at the first part of the day passed constantly on such a walk will add many years to life and what is much better it will give health with them.”

For men who were not weak or frail, Hill also approved of gardening for exercise but with nothing more strenuous that bowling even for the healthiest of old men.

For those old men too weak for any exercise at all, writes Hill,

”...the best relief is a flesh-brush; and its effect are more than can be imagined."

Flesh brush

"We know what we expect from exercise; and in old men, the greatest of advantages is the assisting circulation. The flesh-brush does this nearly in as great a degree...but to have the full benefit, it must be constantly and frequently repeated.”

Dr. Hill's guide to health and longevity is a fascinating look into life in the late 18th century but I'm certainly happy to be old in the early 21st century. The remedy in 1790 for pain was bleeding.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: The Paper Boy


ELDER MUSIC: Banned by the BBC

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.


This column was inspired by a program on (Australia’s) ABC about songs that have been banned by the BBC over the years. They only played a few songs so I thought I'd investigate further.

Now the BBC isn't alone in banning songs but as it's one of the most respected broadcasters, it's interesting to see what they did in this regard. Some of the reasons may be understandable (although I'd disagree with them) but others you just shake your head and say "What the....?" (I'll let you finish that sentence).

Today we'll lean towards the "What the" end of the spectrum.

I'll start with BING CROSBY.

Bing Crosby

Yep, Der Bingle was banned by the BBC during World War II. The particular song was Deep in the Heart of Texas.

Now, like me, you may be going "Huh?" That might be your reaction quite often today.

Well, the reason is (and I'm not making this up) that because it had such an infectious melody, the song might cause wartime factory hands to bang their tools in time with the song instead of working. Get your tools ready, here it is.

♫ Bing Crosby - Deep In The Heart Of Texas

THE KINKS make the grade because of probably their most famous song, Lola.

The Kinks

Okay, if you listen to the words you can sort of understand it as it's about a love affair with a transgender person way back in 1970. But that's not the reason. Oh no.

It was because Coca Cola was mentioned in the song. Can’t have advertising on the BBC. When they rerecorded the song with cherry cola instead, the Beeb allowed it to go to air. Here is that naughty original version.

♫ The Kinks - Lola

Another interesting reason to ban tunes was if they happened to pinch the melody from a classical music piece. Thus the entire score of “Kismet” got the chop as the whole thing was pretty much stolen from various works by Borodin.

PERRY COMO was another who was banned with his song I'm Always Chasing Rainbows.

Perry Como

It seems they thought that this was a rendition of Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu in C sharp minor. The memo snarled, "This is a bad perversion of a Chopin melody and should be barred from broadcast.”

Anyone who can get Chopin out of this song is a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

♫ Perry Como - I'm Always Chasing Rainbows

Now this is where it gets really silly (well, even sillier). We're harking back to “Kismet” (and Borodin). It seems that the Beeb had no trouble with Tony Bennett singing Stranger in Paradise in spite of the previous proclamation, because they considered it tasteful.

However, THE FOUR ACES had a version of the song as well and it was forbidden. I guess it wasn't tasteful enough for them. Just goes to show how screwy censorship can be.

I would like to have played Tony as it really is a better version but as he was allowed on the radio, I'm going with the Aces, who weren't.

The Four Aces

♫ The Four Aces - Stranger In Paradise

FRANKIE LAINE managed to inspire their wrath even though his song made number 1 on the charts. Maybe because of that.

Frankie Laine

The song is Answer Me. The reason is because it was considered a "sentimental mockery of Christian prayer.” Hmm.

♫ Frankie Laine - Answer Me

Another song that made number 1, and indeed the banning probably helped it get there, was one by JOHNNIE RAY. The reason is because of its apparent naughtiness.

Johnnie Ray

A letter to the editor of some newspaper at the time said, “It is a well-known fact that the public rushed to buy Such a Night on hearing of its ban. I know several people who bought it for that reason alone!”

The BBC was unmoved. Here is Such a Night.

♫ Johnnie Ray - Such A Night

Religion rears its ugly head again for an excuse for banning one of the finest songs ever written. This time it was the great BILLIE HOLIDAY and God Bless The Child, a song that Billie wrote with Arthur Herzog.

Billie Holiday

It was thought to be unsuitable for broadcast because of its title – prayers in popular music were not allowed.

♫ Billie Holiday - God Bless The Child

Another to get the chop during World War II was the song Paper Doll by THE MILLS BROTHERS.

The Mills Brothers

The powers that be at the Beeb thought that the song gave the wrong message - that the story of faithless women might imperil the morale of the troops. See what you think.

♫ Mills Brothers - Paper Doll

Mathematician and songwriter TOM LEHRER did really well having 10 of the 12 songs on his "Songs by Tom Lehrer" album banned. He was probably really proud of that.

Tom Lehrer

I might as well go all the way with this one and include The Old Dope Peddler, a song definitely beyond the pale.

♫ Tom Lehrer - The Old Dope Peddler

THE BYRDS are represented by their song Eight Miles High.

The Byrds

Ah, drug references was the reason - there was plenty of that going on around that time. They didn't take any notice of Gene Clark, who wrote the song, saying it was about his fear of flying and he wrote it on the plane between Britain and America in an attempt to overcome that.

The BBC weren't the only ones who banned this song.

♫ The Byrds - Eight Miles High


INTERESTING STUFF – 15 June 2013


JOHN OLIVER'S DOING GREAT -

- on The Daily Show while Jon Stewart is off for the summer directing a movie in the Middle East. I watched all four shows this week and was not disappointed in the least.

Of course, Oliver has all the same writers Stewart has plus, he's one of the writers himself so the difference is performance and personality. Oliver is just as funny in his own way and I'm so happy not to give up The Daily Show until Stewart returns.

Here is the opening segment to Oliver's first show as host:


AMERICAN DIALECT MAPS

Depending on where you grew up or currently live in the U.S., a can of flavored fizzy water is called soda, pop or, sometimes, coke even when it's not Coca Cola. There are regional differences in the use of icing or frosting and between lightning bug and firefly.

Here is the geographical distribution on whether you stand IN line or stand ON line.

On line In line

Hmmph. I guess I lived in New York too long; IN line sounds just wrong to me. There are 121 more dialect maps to explore here.


REMEMBER BIOSPHERE 2?

When, in a two-year experiment, eight men and women sealed themselves in a supposedly self-sustaining closed environment called Biosphere 22 years ago, there was a lot of controversy and suspicion surrounding it.

Last week, The New York Times reported on what happened back then and what has happened to complex of buildings since that time. Take a look:

You can read the related story here.


GOSHAWK

Like all hawks, goshawks are birds of prey and it is crucial to successful hunting that they be able to squeeze through tight spaces among trees and branches in the forest while in flight.

This amazing slow motion BBC2 video shows how they do that and how excellent they are at it.


GOOGLE'S REMEMBRANCE OF MAURICE SENDAK

Certainly you are familiar with Google Doodles – how the search engine dresses up its logo to celebrate holidays. For what would have been the 85th birthday of the late children's book author, Maurice Sendak, they got more elaborate than usual with an entire video.

It's gorgeous and we can thank Jan Adams of Can It Happen Here? for being sure we see it.


PANDORA'S PROMISE

After Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima, it would seem nuclear power's days are numbered. But what if we've got that wrong?

A new documentary titled Pandora's Promise first screened at the Sundance Film Festival this year posits that nuclear power could be the savior for our planet in the face of climate catastrophe. Here is the trailer:

You can read more about the film and its point of view here and find screening dates in your area.


TO LIGHT A FIRE

That headline is taken from a Victor Hugo quotation:

To learn to read is to light a fire;
every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.

“To light a fire” is also the headline of a post at Steve McCurry's blog – a simple idea that becomes powerful in its execution: a string of photos of people from around the world all doing the same thing: reading. One from Burma:

Burma: old man reading

Another from Italy:

Italy-skeleton

There are many more photos and quotations about reading at McCurry's blog, and let's thank John Starbuck who blogs at For a Dancer for alerting us.


HOW CAN THIS BE TRUE?

Last week, a part-time officer with the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shot and killed five feral kittens.

“'He informed [the homeowner] that shelters were full and that these cats would be going to kitty heaven,' [SPCA director Teresa] Landon said of Accorti. 'She assumed he would be trapping them or something and taking them to a shelter and they would be humanely euthanized if they were not adopted.

“'Instead, he went to his truck and got a gun, which she thought was a tranquilizer gun, and walked around to the back of the house and approximately 15 feet from her back door shot and killed the 8- to 10-week-old kittens...

“'She was very distraught when this happened. He started shooting them right in front of her. Her children were upstairs in view of the windows. They started screaming and crying because they heard the gunshots. They started screaming, ‘Mommy, he’s killing the kittens,’ Landon said.”

The police chief cleared the humane officer of wrong doing. You can read more here and here.


MUCH NEEDED ANTIDOTE TO THE KITTEN STORY

After such a terrible story as the one directly preceding this one, here is a beautiful relief – picked up by the The New York Times Dot Earth blog from the Facebook page of Jen Waldron:

”I just saved a very little baby deer!

“Our neighbors dog (very Big Black wolf) was off his leash, I could hear him being called.

“I ran outside, yelling at the dog (I thought that he was going after the chickens again) and I was so surprised. The dog was going after the baby deer. I yelled to the dog to go away! then to my surprise, the baby deer ran to me!!! The dog ran off.

“I scooped her up, she was saying, 'MaaaMaaa.' I wish I could have taken a photo and video.

“I ran to my house and got Finn. We both got to hold the baby! She was sooo sweet. We checked her out, the dog did not bite her!

“We walked to the back yard to see if MaaMaa was still around.

“She was, they ran to each other, then took off into the woods.”

A TEENY TINY MONKEY EATING MACARONI

It's a pygmy marmoset, native to the rain forests of the Amazon basin and one of the world's smallest primates. It measures about 4.6 to 6 inches not including its tail. That's quite a hair style he's (she?) got, too. (Hat tip to Laura Gordon Giannozzi)

If you're curious, you can read about pygmy marmosets at Wikipedia.


Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.


World Elder Abuse Day

Sponsored annually by the United Nations, World Elder Abuse Day is tomorrow, 15 June, which probably explains why there has been a noticeable uptick this week in media stories about elder abuse, most particularly this time, money scams.

We have discussed this at length before, most recently in March but I am bringing it up again due to an investigative story earlier this week in The New York Times showing how banks – reputable banks, big names and small - aid and abet financial swindles aimed at elders while raking in a fortune.

An elder “mark” explained to The Times what happened to him:

”Mr. Koch, a retired teacher, said that he was usually skeptical of telemarketers. But when his phone rang one afternoon in November 2007, he recalled, he listened as the caller identified himself as a Medicare official and suggested that Mr. Koch update his health insurance card. Mr. Koch, as requested, supplied his bank information.

“But instead of a new insurance card he received notice that he had been enrolled in National Health Net Online’s discount health plan. The company had withdrawn $299.95 from his bank account as payment, according to records reviewed by The Times.”

The quote that follows is rather lengthy but it explains clearly how banks are complicit in ripping off their own customers:

”Zions [one of the banks discussed in the story] did not interact directly with the company that called Mr. Koch, National Health Net Online. What the bank did was establish a banking relationship with an intermediary, Modern Payments, that handled payments for National Health.

“Mr. Koch’s account at a small Virginia bank was debited by National Health, which in turn paid Modern Payments for processing the transaction. Modern Payments gave its bank, Zions, a cut of its fee.

“In all, Zions in effect let roughly $39 million be withdrawn from hundreds of thousands of accounts from 2007 to 2009. Much of that money was ultimately transferred to bank accounts in Canada, India and the Caribbean, according to a Times review of court records.

“Many of the Internet merchants’ customers were older people and others on shaky financial footing. But that, too, worked in banks’ favor: the withdrawals set off a cascade of insufficient fund fees — more than $20 million in all, court records show.”

Now here is the is the part that makes you sick to to your stomach. The banks knew something was terribly amiss because the number of returns for insufficient funds was, as a bank employee characterized it, “staggering.” But they allowed it continue.

”Reviewing complaints about one Internet merchant, a Zions vice president wrote, 'Every red flag possible went off in my head.'

“And yet the bank kept handling the transactions, court records show. Why? One payment processor executive suggested an answer: the business was a gold mine.”

Given what we have learned about U.S. banks and bankers since 2008, none of this information is surprising which doesn't make it any less awful.

By the time I was writing this post on Thursday, the comments had reached nearly 400. Quite a few blamed elders for being stupid and dense until a lot of other, better informed, people explained all the things that can contribute to some old people being less vigilant and more trusting than they should be.

There are a number of horror stories from adult children about criminal fraud and, sometimes, friends and neighbors taking advantage of their parents.

In addition, there is plenty of advice – most of it good – about never giving out financial or personal information of any kind on the telephone or via the internet. True. Definitely important advice. But I think all this is also a bit too much like blaming the victim.

The Times Story reports that the Department of Justice is “taking aim” at banks who cooperate in such scams and is “considering civil and criminal actions against a number of banks...”?

CONSIDERING? Do they mean like this, also reported in The Times story?

”Last November, First Delaware [Bank] reached a $15 million settlement with the Department of Justice after the bank was accused of allowing merchants to illegally debit accounts more than two million times and siphon more than $100 million.”

Huh? So when the DOJ catches a bank scamming old people out of $100 million, they impose what amounts to a 15 percent “tax” and oh, by the way, no need to bother with restitution for the victims? At that price, why wouldn't the banks just keep doing it?

What good is the Justice Department if this if this is their idea of justice? What good is World Elder Abuse Day with its bland resolution about how the "issue deserves attention?"

I'll tell you what good it is: No good. No good at all until bankers are sentenced to prison.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon Ostrow: Invisible Scare, Broken Lives, No Turning Back


A TGB Classic: Recurring Pleasures

EDITORIAL NOTE: For no good reason than whim, I took a day off yesterday from blogging. This then is a TGB Classic - a post from exactly five years ago, 13 June 2008, when I was living in Maine. The Elder Storytelling link at the end, however, goes to a new 2013 story.


Sitting at my computer yesterday morning, some movement in the sky drew my attention and I had a revelation: I have always stopped what I’m doing to watch seagulls when they appear.

Yes, I know they are scavengers, rats with wings. But they are also, like eggs, among nature’s more perfect shapes. Particularly when they are soaring, the proportion of canted wings to their body is as esthetically pleasing as a fine piece of music.

For as long as I can remember, for most of my 67 years, seagulls have evoked in me a deep, personal satisfaction, and I wondered what else I may have enjoyed all my life, perhaps without appreciating the regular, reliable pleasure they supply even or, perhaps particularly, when life is not going well.

Don’t laugh, but peanut butter sandwiches come immediately to mind. Slathered on bread that is about halfway between Wonderbread and heavy, seven-grain organic, with (this part disgusts some people) mayonnaise – always Hellman’s (Best Foods to those of you on the west coast), it may be my favorite food. Sometimes, slices of cucumber cold from the refrigerator are a nice, crunchy addition, a counterpoint to the peanut butter’s sticky-sweet smoothness.

What else?

Silk undies. There was a rumor, back in 1987, that Robert DeNiro, in preparing for his role as Al Capone in The Untouchables, wore the same silk underwear the real-life Capone had specially made for himself. I understood.

My first pair were a gift when I was about 20 years old, and I swore after the first wearing that I would forevermore own only silk panties. Well, that was never in my budget; they are wildly expensive. But there is usually one pair in the drawer awaiting my pleasure on the next wearing.

Here’s another “don’t laugh”: the monthly satisfaction after having just paid all the bills. Twelve times a year, I get to feel renewed, up to date and balanced with the world. Even when it cleans out the bank account, there is nothing hanging over my head for awhile, and I feel unburdened.

And the cat. All cats. Big ones, little ones, wild ones and tame – if any cat can be called tame. Like seagulls and eggs, they are near perfect, not so much in shape, perhaps, as in their utter self-assurance, certain of their importance and place in the world, oblivious to others’ judgment or even interest. That they are soft and cuddly (when they are in the mood) doesn’t hurt.

It is easy to take pleasure in the bigger events – marriage, a new job, an award maybe, a birthday party, a grandchild. But it felt good to make a list of the less exciting but recurring satisfactions that I never tire of and provide a continuity through the decades. What about you?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Mail Call


Living the Early Bird Specials Time Table

EDITORIAL NOTE: On yesterday's post, the link to The Elder Storytelling Place was coded wrong (my bad) and brought up a blank page. Here's a link to Marc Leavitt's poem, On Money, that does work.


Lately I have been facing dealing with an impediment to relationships with friends and neighbors that I had not imagined when I was younger - in fact, not even five years ago. The problem is lack of energy or, more precisely, energy at the wrong times of day.

(Before any of you go diagnosing me – and I am pretty sure none of you are Dr. House - I am a healthy 72-year-old with nothing more to plague me than a few of the usual minor ailments of age. Most of mine are of the chin whiskers variety.)

My energy problem is that mine no longer fits with how the rest of the world operates.

Most people function optimally from about 9AM to 5PM with a winding down toward relaxation in the evening. I, however, run out of steam before midday. Here is the reason:

Back in February, I told you about a new-ish affliction called ASPD or advanced sleep phase disorder.

Although I object to the medical establishment assigning the status of disorder or syndrome to difficulties almost as minor as chin whiskers (and this IS one of them), their description of ASPD precisely fits me:

”...a condition in which patients feel very sleepy and go to bed early in the evening (e.g. 6:00–8:00PM) and wake up very early in the morning (e.g. around 3:00AM).”

Close enough: I wake most days between 3:30AM and 4AM and sleep overtakes me with little or no recourse by 7:30PM or 8PM. On rare occasions I can resist the call to the arms of Morpheus if I have plans for dinner with friends. But I cannot do that two evenings in a row and I usually turn down last-minute evening invitations knowing that I cannot prepare both mentally and physically for them.

It's no fun falling asleep in the soup but in my wake/sleep cycle, your 9PM or 10PM is my 6PM or 7PM.

Morning meetings can be a problem too because if I don't finish writing the next day's blog post by about 1PM, it is agony to get my brain well enough in gear later in the afternoon to finish (as is happening at this moment because two meetings used up my Tuesday morning).

Further, when I am forced to stay at a meeting past 2:30PM or so it is soon apparent that although I understand individual words other people are saying, I'm not absorbing much of the meaning and my notes consist of one word here, another there without anything to help me make sense of the point later on.

This is as it was when I was still employed on the occasions when work ran into the evenings – I was just as stupid at 7PM or 8PM and later in those days as I am now by 3PM.

The only reason I can volunteer on my city's 50+ Advisory Board is that it meets at 8:30AM instead of in the evening as all other advisory boards do. On the rare occasions I have attended city council meetings that begin at 7PM, it's a waste of time – I spend the two hours trying to fight off sleep and so learn nothing.

For some reason, I've been shy to explain to people the reason I need to leave whatever we're doing by 2:30PM. I suppose I'll get to it soon enough.

I wouldn't mind the time differential if it were not so hard to live with the pressure to cram everything I need to do each day into the tiny time frame of five hours. I lose a lot of time because I doubt the neighbors would appreciate the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner or picture hanging at 5AM and stores don't open until 8AM or 9AM.

So this ASPD stuff is a pain in the ass but I have gained one small thing from it: an understanding of those ancient jokes about old people who are regulars at Denny's early bird special.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Karen Swift: Begging for Mercy


Crabby Old Lady on a Dumb Medical “Fact” of the Day

In a vague sort of way, Crabby Old Lady keeps her eye on commercial websites aimed at her age group hoping to see something that marshals a whole lot more resources than Crabby – only one person – can bring to the subject of “what it's really like to get old.”

About a year ago, Twin Cities Public Television in Minneapolis-St. Paul launched a website for people 50 and older called Next Avenue. The subtitle of Next Avenue is “where grownups keep growing” and in an interview with The New York Times, vice president and editorial director, Donna Sapolin, said the site would

“...'bring a PBS sensibility,' to the online venture. 'It’s a certain level of gravitas and erudition and mission focus,' she said.”

Crabby supposes what that means is dependent upon PBS's definitions of gravitas and erudition because Next Avenue's stories are so consistently light and airy they are in danger of floating off the screen.

When they are not insulting a reader's intelligence with vague platitudes (on unemployment: “observe strict daily grooming habits”), they indulge in the kind of pop-psychology and generic advice articles more suited to Cosmopolitan. Except, that well may be an insult to Cosmo.

Although most are too superficial to be useful, there are the usual (and totally unoriginal) nuts-and-bolts stories on health, finance, living, etc. that are more interesting and thorough almost anywhere else online. Here is a sampling of some current headlines:

Can Bubbly Boost Brain Power?

How to Beat 'Tip of the Tongue' Syndrome

Nutrition Facts: Reading the Label

6 Money-Saving Travel Secrets

The biggest puzzle for Crabby is why, at a website that purports to be for people who are 50 and older, the only old people mentioned are readers' parents.

The reason Crabby Old Lady bothers with Next Avenue at all anymore is she keeps hoping it will get better. But this week, they have moved from dumb and irrelevant to fake and irresponsible:

“Beware Your Cell Phone!” blares the headline. “It Causes Wrinkles, Cosmetic Surgeons Say.”

John Stark, the “articles editor” at Next Avenue, writes:

”According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery [ASAPS], smartphones can make you look prematurely old. There’s no medical name for this condition, at least not yet. Until there is I’m calling it 'smartphone face.'”

Then he quotes the ASAPS website where he says he discovered this “condition:”

“Lines and creases may develop if you spend an excessive amount of time texting and checking your email on your smartphone. The constant downward gaze caused by smartphone use may be causing some individuals to experience more lines and creases on their neck than would appear naturally.”

Wha? How stupid does Mr. Stark think Crabby Old Lady is? This screams FAKE and CHARLATAN and SNAKEOIL and anyway, people have been reading books - which also involved a "downward gaze" - for centuries without developing "bookface." This, apparently, what passes for gravitas and erudition at PBS these days and although Crabby has always held a healthy skepticism of the organization's pretensions, this is a new low.

For some inexplicable reason, Time magazine bothered to look into this “smartphone face” claim a few days ago, asking British cosmetician, Dr. Mervyn Patterson to weigh in on the validity of it:

”According to Patterson, more and more people are noticing what they look like while they’re Skyping or video-conferencing. And they’re not happy with what they see. But is there any truth to it?

“Short answer: probably not. There’s no real science to prove that smartphone face even remotely exists...”

In other words, this Next Avenue story is more suited to Weekly World News or pretty much any supermarket tabloid than a website for elders that promises "gravitas and erudition."


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: On Money