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Elder Sex at the Movies

At the BBC website last week, Emma Jones spent some time surveying what may be the last film taboo, sex scenes with old people.

As Jones relates, there has been in recent years an uptick in the number of romantic movies about people 60 and older but the sex is only hinted at:

”...there were crowd-pleasers like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet. However, though love might blossom among septuagenarians, the cameras never intruded on any consummation – the message seeming to be that none was possible.

"...comedy is often the way Hollywood deals with older lovers. 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give does actually include a sex scene between the protagonists, played by Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, but the joke is that Nicholson’s character, ordinarily only interested in younger women, has to use Viagra.

"Another comedy, It’s Complicated (2009) keeps the rejuvenated sex life a pair of ex-spouses, played Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, almost entirely off-screen."

What prompted Ms. Jones's rumination on film sex involving elders is a new British movie, 45 Years, which contains an explicit sex scene with the protagonists played by Charlotte Rampling, age 69, and Tom Courtenay, age 78.

”This scene 'is absolutely pivotal to the film,' says [director] Andrew Haigh. 'But it’s been funny watching it in awkward silence at screenings because audiences do think that when Charlotte’s character Kate shuts the bedroom door, that that is the end of it.

“'But no, we carry on. The concept that as we grow older we no longer have sexual feelings is to me, a man of 42 years old, a sad state of affairs.'”

In addition to the film admitting that old people do have sex is that it is not treated as funny or a joke. Jones quotes Wendy Mitchell, contributing editor to the trade daily Screen International on this point.

“'It’s important that the sex scene is realistic, it’s not fake and glossy, it’s Tom Courtenay’s ageing body in his underpants. But it’s not played for laughs, and that’s crucial, because older people having sex shouldn’t be a joke.'”

Hear, hear.

When the film opens, Kate Mercer (Rampling) is planning a party for their 45th wedding anniversary when a note arrives telling her husband Geoff (Courtenay) that the body of his first love has been discovered, reawakening long-buried memories. Here is a trailer for the film which was released last week but not available anywhere I can view it yet:

Apparently, European countries are slightly more open with sex scenes involving old people than the Brits or Hollywood but not by much and Jones supplies a couple of theories about that:

”Mitchell calls the idea of later-life sex on screen 'a taboo because it’s so rare' and Andrew Haigh has his own theory about why audiences can react with shock, and even disgust.

“'The warped view we have comes from when we are very young, I think, and our first relationships with older people are usually our grandparents. They just, for the most part, don’t ever talk about sex, so I think we just don’t understand the need or desire even existing.'”

I lean more toward Haigh's explanation than Mitchell's. I couldn't watch 45 Years but I did track down a German film that Jones mentions - Cloud 9 from 2009.

It is the story of a 67-year-old married woman, played by Ursula Werner, who rediscovers sexual passion when she falls in love with a 76-year old man, played by Horst Westphal.

Although Roger Ebert had some reservations about the movie in general, he made an important point in his review that I was floundering to identify:

”The director, Andreas Dresen, presents the sex scenes as if they involve two 20-year-olds, as she should.”

Exactly. Even so, I was as uncomfortable watching the bedroom scenes as I am when they are played by 20-somethings. But that's me with my possibly over-developed sensibility of what should be private which does not for a minute mean I think showing people enjoying sex at any age should be taboo in the movies. Quite the opposite.

Nor do I think that this quotation from a woman identified in the BBC story as Clare Binns, a programmer for a theater chain in Britain, has a iota of merit:

“But because seeing this confronts us all with getting older, my educated guess is that even older viewers prefer to watch a sex scene with younger people in it – it makes them forget that they’re not young anymore.”

Here is a German-language trailer that gives a small sense of one of the sex scenes in Cloud 9:

The English language trailer is much more modest. You can see it here.

I'm eager to read your reactions, dear readers.



ELDER MUSIC: Bob Covers

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.


Bob Dylan

Some say, and I include Norma, the Assistant Musicologist amongst these, that although Bob Dylan was the finest songwriter in the second half of the 20th century, they'd prefer other musicians performing his songs.

I don't go along with this thesis but I recognise that there are some fine covers of Bob's songs, and even two or three that are superior to his versions. In the interest of cordiality, today's column is devoted to other people performing his songs.

After his motor cycle accident in 1966, Bob retired to Woodstock, New York, to rest and recuperate. Probably not just from the accident but also from the grueling touring schedule on that first tour where he played rock & roll to stunned or delighted audiences (I was in the latter category).

Also, just down the road a bit, was the band that accompanied him on that tour, The Hawks. They later became better known as The Band.

A couple of the group rented a big pink house where they all got together to play music. As is his wont, Bob wrote a bunch of songs (he can't help himself) and they recorded them to distribute to other musicians he thought might like to play them.

This recording eventually became public as the first rock bootleg album, "The Great White Wonder.” It was later released as an official album called "The Basement Tapes.” One of the recipients of the song collection was PETER, PAUL AND MARY.

Peter, Paul and Mary

They had a bit of a hit at the time with the song Too Much of Nothing.

♫ Peter Paul & Mary - Too Much of Nothing

ROD STEWART goes right back to the early days, from Bob's breakthrough album, "The Freewheeling.”

Rod Stewart

Bob's version of Girl from the North Country was gentle and thoughtful. Rod's is pretty good as well, but it's a bit more rock & roll, or something.

♫ Rod Stewart - Girl from the North Country

JUDY COLLINS was an early champion of Bob's songs (along with PP&M and Joan Baez).

Judy Collins

The song of hers I've selected isn't quite so early. It's from her really interesting album "Whales and Nightingales,” easily her second best album. The song comes from the A.M.'s favorite Bob album "New Morning.” It is Time Passes Slowly.

♫ Judy Collins - Time Passes Slowly

I couldn't have a column on Bob covers without THE BYRDS being present. They were responsible for one of the two best Bob covers ever.

The Byrds

I'm not going with that one as I've used it before a couple of times. Instead, it's a song that Bob didn't ever release (until all those official "Bootleg" series of albums reared their heads).

The song is Lay Down Your Weary Tune.

♫ The Byrds - Lay Down Your Weary Tune

NINA SIMONE recorded quite a number of Bob's songs over the years.

Nina Simone

That's good for me as I have a choice of what to include (omitting some that others have performed). Actually, it isn't so good as I would have liked to include several so it was a tough choice deciding which one.

In the end I went for Just Like a Woman.

♫ Nina Simone - Just Like A Woman

TOM RUSSELL and BARRENCE WHITFIELD made a couple of really good albums together – "Cowboy Mambo" and "Hillbilly Voodoo.”

Tom Russell & Barrence Whitfield

These were about half covers and half songs that Tom had written. Tom is a fine songwriter and terrific singer and his albums are worth searching out (there are a lot of them).

From the second album I mentioned we have Blind Willie McTell, a song Bob only released on one of his "Bootleg" series of albums although it was originally supposed to be on "Infidels" until Bob decided to omit it.

♫ Tom Russell & Barrence Whitfield - Blind Willie McTell

MADELEINE PEYROUX is welcome in these columns, especially so if the A.M. has any say in the matter.

Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine is equally at home at singing songs of Bessie Smith, Patsy Cline, Édith Piaf, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Mercer and Bob Dylan. Of course, it's Bob in whom we're interested today.

This is her interpretation of You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.

♫ Madeleine Peyroux - You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

I Shall be Released is one of the most recorded of Bob's songs. I wasn't going to include it until I listened to the version by SARAH JANE MORRIS.

Sarah Jane Morris

I was quite tired of the song but hearing Sarah Jane really pricked up my ears. She is an English jazz, rock and R&B singer, and a songwriter herself. She also appears in plays, particularly of a musical bent, and usually quite challenging roles. Like me, listen with pricked up ears.

♫ Sarah Jane Morris - I Shall Be Released

MARIA MULDAUR recorded a whole album of Bob's Songs. She's not the only one who has done that.

Maria Muldaur

That album had the song Heart of Mine, also the name of the album, that I think is the best ever cover of one of Bob's songs. I'm not using though, as I've included it several times before. Instead here is On a Night Like This.

♫ Maria Muldaur - On A Night Like This

I'll end with the song that inspired today's column. Well, the version of the song that I'm including was the inspiration.

Way back in 1969, record producer Lou Adler had the idea of setting Bob's songs in a gospel milieu (as both he and gospel music were big at the time). Lou gathered together the cream of the backup singers and did just that. It goes to show that really fine music can emerge even when produced as a rather cynical exercise.

The album is called "Dylan's Gospel" and was released with The Brothers and Sisters as the performers. Incidentally, many of the singers on the album turned up in the film 20 Feet From Stardom.

In this case we have MERRY CLAYTON singing the lead on a song known variously as Quinn the Eskimo and The Mighty Quinn. Take your pick.

Merry Clayton

♫ Merry Clayton - The Mighty Quinn

Okay, that last track isn't the end. As a bonus and as this is all about BOB's songs, I thought I had to include the man himself.

Bob Dylan

Here from a recent album is a rather atypical song from him (if any of his could be called typical). The song is Duquesne Whistle.

♫ Bob Dylan - Duquesne Whistle



INTERESTING STUFF – 29 August 2015

NEW LIFE EXPECTANCY CALCULATOR

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has released what it says is a science-based online life expectancy calculator derived from research that followed 78,000 people

”... for up to 10 years. We basically looked at who died. Then we created predictive models based on whether they were a current, former or 'never' smoker, plus the amount they smoked, leisure time physical activity, alcohol (number of drinks per week) and diet.

“We included age, sex, body mass index and ethnicity, and neighbourhood for socioeconomic status – all things shown to be associated with increased risk. We also used our knowledge of epidemiology, of what’s been shown in past studies to cause increased mortality.”

The questionnaire takes only about five minutes. In my case, the report says my “health age” is 70.7 (I am 74.5 years old) and my life expectancy is 92.3 years. It also lists my risk factors comparing such indices as activity level, diet score, body mass index and more to their average.

You can check your own life expectancy here. Unfortunately, they say the upper age limit is 79. On the other hand, they don't require you to register or leave your email address so that saves a lot of annoyance.

The Foundation also has a heart and stroke risk calculator (upper age limit 90). In that one, my life expectancy is 94.5 years and my only risk factors are age and chronic conditions.

I don't understand the chronic conditions mention since I have none and there is no explanation for that. You can read more in the overview of the calculators here.

Remember folks, however much science is involved these are ONLINE calculators. They might be an indicator but are nowhere near a substitute for consultation with your physician.

ZION HARVEY UPDATE

Remember Zion Harvey, the amazingly cheery eight-yiear-old who underwent a dual hand transplant four weeks ago? Well, he went home from the hospital this week.

I was pleased to learn that the hands will grow with him – something I had wondered about but couldn't find in the first reports. Here are two videos. one to remind you of the background and a second, shorter one about his recovery from the surgery:

WHAT IF YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY ACCOUNT HAD BEEN ON WALL STREET THIS WEEK?

Ten years ago, then-President George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security. What if he had succeeded? What would have happened to your Social Security account this past week if it were invested with Wall Street bankers?

As the Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) noted this week:

”Take some solace in knowing that while your market savings have taken a hit, the good news is your estimated Social Security benefit today is the same it was on Wednesday.

“That’s why Social Security exists. That’s why it works. That’s why it’s beyond reason that so many in the GOP still support sending your Social Security to Wall Street and destroying the stable income protection (it’s not an investment) Social Security provides.”

Thank god we foiled dubya. Trading Social Security's benefit on Wall Street is scary, makes no sense and no one wins except the Wall Street investment advisers who take their fees out of your earnings.

EARLIEST DAGUERROTYPES

TGB's Sunday Music columnist, Peter Tibbles, sent a link to a fantastic page of 24 of the earliest photographs ever made. This is Portsmouth Square in San Francisco in 1851:

SFPortsmouthSq1851

Here is another astonishing photo, a self-portrait of a man named Robert Cornelius made in October or November of 1839. It may be the earliest portrait photo in the U.S.

RobertCornelius1839

Old, old photographs are fascinating peeks into long-ago life and you can see 22 more of them in much larger sizes at The Atlantic magazine.

BERNIE SANDERS FROM 30 YEARS AGO

As Nathan Heller wrote in the New Yorker this week about this 30-year-old video of Bernie Sanders, the senator

"...has held firm to his beliefs. The anachronism of his world view proves both his authenticity and his lack of hidden baggage as a candidate...The approach is striking in an era when even personal life is preconceived, polished, performed. Sanders is exceptional because he seems, demonstrably, the same guy who he was before the iPhone cameras first appeared.”

The footage is from a speech when Sanders was five years into his tenure as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. It's old and fuzzy and the audio is creaky at time, but stick with it. It's worth your time.

You can read more from Nathan Heller about Sanders at the New Yorker.

OXFORD DICTIONARY ANNUAL NEW WORDS

The Oxford dictionary people have announced their 1000 new words for 2015. These words are for the modern language oxforddictionaries.com and not necessarily the venerable Oxford English Dictionary.

My favorite new word is “hangry” – that feeling of irritability when you're hungry. “Pocket dial” is good - that accidental phone call from pressure on your cell phone when it's in your pocket.

Some seem quite old to me: I've known “beer o'clock” and “wine o'clock” for when it's time to start drinking, and I'm pretty sure I've been hearing or saying “brain fart” for 20 or 30 years. But here's a new one I had not heard before, Mx:

”...a title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.”

Good idea. You can read about the new words and learn about many more of them here and here and here.

GENE KELLY DANCING ON ROLLER SKATES

I'm pretty sure no one would put anything like this in a movie today. The style has long passed us by but you and I can remember musicals which always included something wonderful like this.

It's from the 1955 MGM movie, It's Always Fair Weather, starring Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey, Cyd Charisse, Michael Kidd, and Dolores Gray. The song is I Like Myself. Thank Darlene Costner for sending it.

TOKYO'S BOOKSTORE NEIGHBORHOOD

Like New York City (maybe it's all large cities), Tokyo has neighborhoods dedicated certain businesses. One is called Jimbocho, a sort of booktown. Recently, Colin Laird wrote at Abebooks about his visit to this district:

”...there are around 175 bookshops, including about 50 stores devoted to used and rare books. The variety of shops in Jimbocho is stunning - manga specialists, huge stores dedicated to new books, academic and scholarly booksellers, used and rare sellers, and even pop-up bookshops that appear overnight to fill a vacant retail space for a few days.”

Here are some photographs. First, Infinity Books:

Tokyo Infinity Books

A gorgeous and elaborate pop-up book:

Pop-up-book

A street stall bookshop:

Sodewalk book shop

Read more about Jimbocho and see more photos at Abebooks.

MONKEY THE CAT EARNS HIS MEAL

Ben Millam doesn't just feed his cat, he makes Monkey work for his supper. Here's how he explains it:

”This all started after I read an explanation of why cats go about repeatedly exploring the same areas: it’s partly to establish and survey their territory, but they’re also practicing ‘mobile’ hunting: moving about, being curious, and poking their noses around in the hopes of upsetting potential prey and finding a meal.

“So what if my cat, while out on patrol, actually found its prey? Surely this would bring him one step closer towards a more fulfilled and self-actualized indoor kitty existence.”

Take a look at how it works:

This all took a lot of training and building and Ben has a full explanation and instructions at his website. A bonus for visiting is a blooper reel from the Monkey the cat's training days at the end.

* * *

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 at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I 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 include the name of the blog and its URL.



Sleeping – or Not - While Old

After several years of trying to fight a hugely irritating sleep difficulty, I've given up and just go with it.

It's called ASPD or Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder which I've written about here in the past. The short version is that can't stay awake much past early evening and then I wake in the middle of the night.

In the past year or so, the malady has morphed into my not being able to sleep more than four hours straight. Then I wake, can't go back to sleep so now I get up for a couple of hours in the middle of night and mostly read until sleep returns.

Well, sometimes. Most often, although my mind and body get tired, I don't feel sleepy again until the evening.

One of the most common complaints I hear from old people is about sleep – or lack thereof. Sometimes it is less about sleep and more about the annoyance of waking frequently to pee but that amounts to the same thing.

Many others don't fall asleep easily and then wake during the night for no reason. Recently, some researchers in Switzerland described the problem they call sleep latency:

”Sleep latency, the length of time it takes you to fall asleep at night, is shown to increase with age, but only for women, with little difference in men's speed of getting to sleep.

“'However, sleep efficiency decreases with age in both genders,' with older people more restless during sleep and more likely to wake up than younger individuals.”

The research team at the University of Lausanne studied 6,733 healthy participants ranging in age from 35 to 75 randomly selected from the population of Lausanne, exluding people with known sleep disorders.

And here is what they learned as described in a paper published in Annals of Medicine in August 2015 and reported in ScienceDaily.

”The research resulted in a number of fascinating findings. It firstly revealed that 'Aging was associated with a gradual shift towards morningness, with the older population going to bed earlier and rising earlier than their younger counterparts.

“It was also observed that they slept for less time. Despite this reduced sleep-time, the paper informs us that 'Older subjects complain less about sleepiness, and pathological sleepiness is significantly lower than younger subjects,' suggesting that they actually require less sleep.”

Complained less? Not me. It's annoying as hell to be awake and full of energy when the rest of the world is sleeping. But there is no useful treatment for ASPD and I try hard to live with it.

What does seem to be true lately is that, as the study suggests, my sleep deficit doesn't bother me as much as when I didn't get enough sleep when I was younger.

So I'm wondering, does any of this study ring true for you? How has your sleep changed as you have grown older?



EVEN John Oliver Does It

UPDATE 2:30PM PDT: Sarah Wrightson says in the comments below, "someone edits Oliver's FB page: my comment is gone, as are many other people's on a range of topics."

If this is so - and I have no reason to doubt Sarah - I am even more disappointed in (and add disgusted with) John Oliver than I am at the original reason for this post. Please try Twitter instead of Facebook and especially the email to HBO.

And please come back here and let us know in the comments that you have done so. I wouldn't have followed up if there was no response to my post and your commentary but now I'm pissed off big time so it will help to know that you have complained.

* * *

Last Sunday on his HBO program, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver opened his feature essay with this:

”Progress,” he said. “It's the reason your grandparents' views are better not spoken in public. 'Why did I bring you to Straight Out of Compton, Papa?' This is partly on me.”

Apparently, neither Oliver nor any of his writers, researchers and producers, nor the 10 or 12 well-known websites I've read praising and promoting this video see the irony in exposing discrimination against the LGBT community while bashing old people.

Imagine if Oliver had opened the show with any one of these:

“Progress. It's the reason black people's views are better not spoken in public.”

Or

“Progress. It's the reason women's views are better not spoken in public.”

Or

“Progress. It's the reason Muslims' views are better not spoken in public.”

Shall I go on? You can imagine for yourself the backlash if Oliver had used any of those references instead of elders.

When a man who builds his television career on pointing out the large variety of inequities in American culture and brilliantly defending the rights of every oppressed group you can think of (and some you haven't) engages in this kind kneejerk ageism for a cheap laugh, it is indisputable that old people are the last acceptable prejudice.

On Monday I wrote about ageist language in No Cute Old People and normally I would not repeat a topic so soon. But I saw this video, as I usually do with Oliver, first thing in the morning and nearly spit out my coffee.

It's not like Oliver's words are new to me. Ageist attitudes and speech have so thoroughly permeated our culture for so long that people who would blanch at being accused of racism or sexism see nothing wrong with stereotyping old people.

And Oliver, like his mentor, Jon Stewart, is not new to this. They both, when a reference to old age is called for in their performance, always go straight to derogatory, demeaning and dismissive.

Don't think this stuff doesn't matter. Every time such as statement as Oliver's is made, (thousands of times a day), it helps make it okay to fire a perfectly competent old person, allows certain kinds of politicians to believe they can eliminate Social Security and Medicare and as Yale professor Becca Levy discovered in her research, can negatively affect longevity by up to seven-and-a-half years. And that is just for starters.

One reason elder bashing continues and continues to be acceptable is that old people don't complain enough. Mostly we mutter among ourselves, whether it is as public as Oliver's offhand disrespect on television or one-on-one in our daily lives (“and how are you today, young lady”).

Let's change that this time and I'll make it easy for you. Link to this post or repost it on your blog or Facebook page. I don't care. And take it a step further.

Below are a variety of web addresses for Oliver's program, Last Week Tonight, for John Oliver himself, for one of the show's executive producers and for HBO.

Pick one or two or more and send a note letting them know that it's hard to take Oliver seriously about LGBT discrimination while in the same breath he dismisses elders with an offensive stereotype.

Be polite – trolling gets everyone less than nothing. But be clear, be firm and if you think it's helpful, include the URL to this post: http://www.timegoesby.net/weblog/2015/08/even-john-oliver-does-it.html

Here are the addresses:

LAST WEEK TONIGHT
Facebook page
Twitter: @LastWeekTonight

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER TIM CARVELL
Twitter: @timcarvell

JOHN OLIVER
Facebook page
Twitter: @iamjohnoliver

HBO
Facebook page
HBO online message form

What makes this lapse worse coming from John Oliver than it might from some people is that he is otherwise a force for good in the world, an agent of change that Time magazine earlier this year named among the 100 most influential people.

What a good thing it would be for him to influence others by taking a patented Oliver look at the widespread gratuitous ageism in the culture.

Except for that dismissive lead paragraph, Oliver's Sunday essay on LGBT discrimination is as funny, spot on and important as all his weekly videos are. Here it is the full segment:

Don't forget to follow up on letting HBO, John Oliver and his executive producer know what you think about elder bashing while defending LGBT people from discrimination.


“No Cute Old People”

That headline is the theme of a speech given a couple of years ago by Kirsten Jacobs, the education manager for LeadingAge, a highly respected association of more than 6,000 not-for-profit, member organizations in the United States that provide care and services for elders.

These are such places as hospice, assisted living, legal services, senior centers, meals programs, nursing homes, transportation, even Villages and more.

A critical purpose of all these agencies and organizations is to improve and expand services for elders so more of us can remain in our homes as we get older because there are not nearly enough residential care settings of all kinds now – nor will there be any time soon - to house our growing numbers.

What Kirsten was referring to with “no cute old people” is, of course, ageist language, something regular readers of this blog recognize as one of my signature rants.

As I have written here many times, we are bombarded from the cradle with negative stereotypes about old people and hardly anyone notices, let alone objects - even many old people.

But besides being rude and irritating, negative images and ageist language have serious consequences. Yale professor, Becca Levy, has found that one's personal perception of old age affects longevity more than even such factors as gender, loneliness, health and socio-economic status.

Having a positive perception of aging, Levy's studies show, can extend life expectancy by more than seven-and-a-half years. (Read more about that here.)

However, that is background and I digress. I'm really here today to tell you about spending a couple of hours with Kirsten Jacobs last week discussing all these issues and more.

It was such a pleasure being with a like-minded person as ardent as I am about language, especially one who spends her working life thinking about these issues as she develops educational materials and resources for the members of LeadingAge.

Maybe you could say elders are a family business. Kirsten lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Jake Kirsch, who works with Network for Oregon Affordable Housing (NOAH). They are also the new-ish parents of an 11-month-old.

It always thrills me to meet young people who make elders their life work. We old folks need them in our lives.

Kirsten cares deeply about old people, she dislikes euphemism and ageist language as much as I do and she wants to change how our culture thinks about aging.

Here is that “No Cute Old People” speech she gave at the annual meeting of LeadingAge members in 2013. I'm pretty sure you're going to like her as much as do.


ELDER MUSIC: Book Songs

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.


Bookshelf

I'm a dedicated book reader (that's part of my book shelves above). I know that Ronni and Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, are similarly inclined. I imagine most readers of this column are the same. So, here are some songs about books.

The first two sprang into my tiny brain immediately upon contemplating this topic. I knew they had to be present. The first of these is by THE MONOTONES.

Monotones

The Book of Love was inspired by the old Pepsodent toothpaste commercial (you know, all about wondering, and yes, we had it Australia too). It was the only song by the group that troubled the chart makers.

♫ The Monotones - Book of Love

Here is the second one I thought of. NILS LOFGREN has had an interesting career without having a big hit or becoming a household name.

Nils Lofgren

He started by forming the band Grin who had several albums released almost certainly due to Nils playing guitar and piano on some of Neil Young's early albums and touring with Neil.

After Grin folded, he joined Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and has been with them for more than 30 years. In parallel, he has had his own solo career as well as performing with or backing many other artists. He's a good singer and a great guitarist as you'll hear on Black Books.

♫ Nils Lofgren - Black Books

Tom Rush did an excellent cover of the song You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover, possibly even better than the original. That will probably sound sacrilegious when I say that that original was by BO DIDDLEY.

Bo Diddley

As big a fan as I am of Tom's, I will go with the man who wrote the song and performed it first.

♫ Bo Diddley - You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover

There are quite a few versions of the next song I could have chosen and all would be more than acceptable. However, I really like TONY BENNETT so he's the one I'm going with.

Tony Bennett

Tony says: I Could Write a Book. A lot of people say that but few accomplish it.

♫ Tony Bennett - I Could Write A Book

JOE TEX takes a couple of elders to task in his song, but they put him in his place.

Joe Tex

His song is Buying a Book.

♫ Joe Tex - Buying A Book

When I say I'm playing My Coloring Book, I bet I can imagine who you think will be singing it. I'm sorry, that's wrong, I've gone for SANDY STEWART.

Sandy Stewart

Kitty Kallen was the first to record the song, George Chakiris had a crack at it as well, but the most famous version was by Barbra Streisand, all recorded the same year as Sandy's. Indeed the same month, November 1962.

It's far from my favorite song, but I thought it had to be present.

♫ Sandy Stewart - My Coloring Book

There's a really good album with DUKE ELLINGTON and JOHN COLTRANE playing together with only a rhythm section of bass and drums accompanying them.

Duke Ellington &John Coltrane

I wish they had done more in this vein as the results were outstanding. From that album comes My Little Brown Book.

♫ John Coltrane & Duke Ellington - My Little Brown Book

CARL DOBKINS JR had more than one hit but I imagine that you're like me and couldn't name any but his most famous one.

Carl Dobkins Jr

It doesn't really matter as that was a really good one, My Heart is an Open Book.

♫ Carl Dobkins Jr - My Heart Is An Open Book

THE KINKS are the Village Green Preservation Society says the title of the album from which the next song is taken.

Kinks

Unlike most of the other British groups from the sixties, The Kinks were interested in chronicling English life past and present rather than just playing rock and roll and blues. They really hit their mark with this album, one of the finest from that decade. From it comes the song Picture Book.

♫ The Kinks - Picture Book

GREG BROWN flies under the radar which is a bit of a shame as he should be far more widely known.

Greg Brown

In spite of that he's made a couple of dozen or more albums, a number of which are superb and should be in any music buff's catalogue. Probably the best of them is "The Poet Game" and from that comes the song My New Book.

♫ Greg Brown - My New Book



INTERESTING STUFF – 22 August 2015

A SINGLE LIFE

There is an itch in the back of my head that keeps saying I have posted this video but I can't find it and even if it's here already, it's worth a rerun. Thank TGB reader Alan G for this go-round with it.

As the YouTube page explains, in this Oscar-nominated, animated short, a young woman receives a mysterious package that contains a vinyl record. She soon realizes that she can go forward or backward in time by simply adjusting the position of the needle as the record plays on her stereo.

Each time I've watched this I've wondered if really young people, under 20, even know what the machine is.

AIN'T THE WAY TO DIE

At his day job, Dr. Zubin Damania is a hospitalist. In his offtime, he transforms himself into rapper ZdoggMD and this video, about end-of-life care, is set to the tune of Love the Way You Lie, the Eminem and Rohanna hit the doctor reworked as Ain't the Way to Die.

As Emily Rappleye reports:

“Dr. Damania said he got a sense that the subject needed to be taken seriously after testing the waters on social media.

"'We feel healthcare providers need to be reminded constantly about having this conversation in the outpatient space,' said Dr. Damania. 'They need to see the torture — it's not glamorous at all if you ignore these conversations.'"

This is hardly Dr. Damania's first foray into rap and music videos. He's done more than 100 of them though not usually with as serious a purpose as this one. You can thank TGB reader Janis Blauer-Chima for sending this item and read more about Dr. Damania here.

LONDON SKYPOOL

It doesn't exist yet but this transparent swimming pool between buildings is scheduled to go up in London before long:

"The 'Sky Pool' is set to straddle two apartment buildings in the Embassy Gardens development, located in the Nine Elms district of London. The pool will be 25 meters (82 feet) long, 3 meters (10 feet) deep, and completely transparent. And it will be 10 floors up, connecting two apartment buildings.”

LondonSkypool

If you get a chance to try it someday, let me know how it goes because I would probably die of my acrophobia. You can read more here and here.

JOHN OLIVER TAKES ON TELEVANGELISTS

Oh my, this is good. Oliver creates his own church. Yes. For real. You won't stop laughing during this video while you simultaneously get his very serious points.

That URL on the screen at 17:25 minutes is real – check it out. So is the phone number.

SILLY INTERNET FUN – SNAKE PEOPLE / MILLENNIALS

This turned up, as so many things do on the internet, during some mindless surfing I was doing one day this week. Here's what I read:

”For the thousands of Internet users who have downloaded a browser extension called 'Snake People to Snake People,' any online use of the word snake person, a common term for people born in the 1980s and 1990s, is automatically changed to 'snake person.'

"An extension is a small software program that modifies an Internet browser such as Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox. Related terms are also altered: 'Great recession' becomes 'time of shedding and cold rocks,' and 'Great Ape-Snake War' turns into 'Great Ape-Snake War.'”

To get that quotation for you, I had to disable the extension because OF COURSE I downloaded one of the funniest online time wasters I've seen in a long time.

There are a bunch of imitators including one from the Metropolitan Museum of Art that substitutes images of cats from their collection when you open a new tab, another that removes all stories about the 2016 election and one that replaces every image with one of actor Nicolas Cage.

There's a whole lot more to read about this at the Wall Street Journal.

* * *

EDITOR'S MESSAGE You would be surprised at how many “angry” emails I get when there is not a cat video in this Saturday post. Okay, not really angry but readers being clear that a cat video is expected each week.

So here are a bunch I hadn't gotten around to posting that have been collecting in the “running list” I keep for this Interesting Stuff feature, plus an extra special, non-cat animal kicker at the end. Careful. You may overdose on cute.

* * *

ISTANBUL'S CATS

I love the headline on the story accompanying this video: “Why Istanbul Should be Called Catstantinople.”

You can read more at the Wall Street Journal.

COPY KITTEN

The YouTube page tells us that Neo, “was sitting with his mom, when she began bathing herself and bless his heart, the little guy tried to copy his mom - and failed.”

HERDING CATS IN THE MOST ADORABLE WAY

Here's another “little guy” - this one human named Ryder Richter. As Huffington Post reports:

“Ryder's mom, Lisa Richter...[said] that the original video is much longer and her son actually broke a sweat trying to get all the kittens in one place. It's OK, Ryder. We really admire your perseverance!”

Richter also told HuffPost that Ryder won't have his hands quite so full for long. The kittens, who belong to a friend, are currently under the family's care and Richter says they've decided to adopt two of them. The other three, however, are still looking for homes.” (as of 16 August)

BACKYARD BEARS

A mama bear. Five cubs. A backyard kiddie pool with water toys, slides, a swing and loads of fun.

The video is long but halfway through I turned off the family commentary and it became a kind of Zen experience watching baby bears being baby bears – not so different from baby humans.

* * *

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 at the top of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I 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 include the name of the blog and its URL.


Useful Health Related Websites for Elders

On television few nights ago, someone made reference to the flying Dutchman and I wondered where the legend had originated.

In pre-internet days, if I didn't have an encyclopedia around the house, I would have been forced to wait until I could get to a library.

This time, however, I switched on the Kindle Fire I keep next to the bed (it's useless for reading books as it weighs about as much as the half the Encyclopedia Britannica) and satisfied my curiosity at Wikipedia in under a minute.

Sometimes I wonder how we got through life before the internet and in particular, how many of those stray questions that float through our minds did we ignore because it was too inconvenient to track down the answers.

The internet is a bonanza of information – easy to find and (often but not always) easy to use.

So today, I have a list of good websites that are particularly useful to old people. All but one or two are related to health but in future, I'll list some other kinds that are worth keeping bookmarked.

All these have been selected and checked for quality and reliability following these criteria:

Authoritative in their field
Easy to use
Elder specific or highly useful to elders
Free of charge

No services are perfect but these should provide or point you toward good information you can use.

IDENTITY THEFT HELP
Even though identity theft has been commonplace for more than a decade, repairing your credit is still a horrendous procedure that can take years. I say “still” because even though the crime is a growth industry, banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions make it as difficult as possible to correct.

There are many precautions you can take to help prevent ID theft - this is one I was surprised to find that many people do not know about.

In the U.S., each of the three major credit bureaus - Transunion, Equifax and Experian - are required to give everybody ONE FREE credit report a year. So here is how to track credit activity you might not otherwise learn about until too late:

  1. Order a free credit report from Transunion
  2. Four months later, order one from Equifax
  3. Four months later, order one from Experian
  4. That way, three times a year you can check to see if there is any activity that you did not authorize or initiate such as a credit or loan application

Mark your calendar for the year anniversary of each one and order your annual free report.

It's not foolproof and it doesn't prevent ID theft but it does give you a big leg up to know early if someone has been trying to use your identity.

MY SOCIAL SECURITY
At the Social Security website, you can sign up for My Social Security. This is a permanent, secure account where you can, among other services, get replacement Social Security and Medicare cards, change address and phone number, sign up for or change direct deposit and a host of other services.

Even if you do not yet receive Social Security benefits, you can create a My Social Security account to track your annual deposits, get estimates of future benefits, follow your application when the time comes.

You can read about My Social Security and sign up for it at this web address.

MY MEDICARE
At the Medicare website, you can create a My Medicare account – a free, secure service for accessing personalized information about your Medicare benefits and services.

It is particularly helpful each year during the open enrollment period so that you can compare your current coverage with what new is being offered, withdrawn or changed for the new year.

You can learn more about My Medicare and sign up at this web address.

HELP WITH MEDICARE
Medicare is a horrendously complex program with more rules and regulations than any one elder can keep track of. I've been surprised at how good the Medicare help line can be, but I have also been led astray a few times.

There is another way to get help both in general and with answers to specific questions. It is called the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) which provides free, in-depth, one-on-one counseling and assistance to Medicare beneficiaries, families, friends and caregivers.

The volunteers are carefully trained and must attend ongoing education programs and meetings. SHIPs operate in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

You can find the phone number and website address for the SHIP in your state here.

HOSPITAL SAFETY SCORE
Since 2001, the Leapfrog Group has conducted a semi-annual survey of 2500 U.S. hospitals, grading each one for safety from A to F. Here is the most recent distribution of letter grades.

HospitalGrades

You can search for your area hospitals' grades by city/state or Zip Code. There is a lot of good explanation of how the grades are determined, what hospital safety involves and what you can do to stay safe when you or a loved one face a hospital stay.

You will find all that here.

As, in recent years, patients have been encouraged to take a more hands-on approach to their healthcare, the number of sources for good information are growing. One of the best is Pro Publica which, so far, has four projects of searchable health data to help inform patients about their care providers.

PRO PUBLICA PRESCRIBER CHECKUP
There are serious safety concerns with prescribing certain tranquilizers to elders and until 2011, Medicare did not pay for such drugs as Valium, Xanax, Ativan and others. Now they are among the most prescribed medications Part D pays for.

CMS released Part D prescribing data for the 2013 and Pro Publica turned it into a database where you can find and compare physicians and other prescribers of a variety of drugs. Plus a lot of good explanation. You will find it all here.

PRO PUBLICA DOLLARS FOR DOCTORS
If you follow that kind of news, you know that some physicians have become notorious for taking thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical and medical device companies in exchange for dubious consultation.

These companies are now required by law to release details of their payments to a variety of doctors and U.S. teaching hospitals for promotional talks, research and consulting, among other categories.

You can now find this information in an easy-to-use tool at Pro Publica to search for general payments (excluding research and ownership interests) made from August 2013 to December 2014.

You will find that here.

PRO PUBLICA NURSING HOME INSPECTION DATABASE
As Pro Publica explains, you an use this tool to compare nursing homes in a state based on the deficiencies cited by regulators and the penalties imposed in the past three years.

You can also search over 60,000 nursing home inspection reports to look for trends or patterns.

As with all the Pro Publica health databases, there is ample explanation of how to use the tools and what the data means. You will find the Nursing Home Inspection information here.

PRO PUBLICA DIALYSIS FACILITIES TRACKER
This database will help you assess the quality of care at dialysis clinics. You can learn how often patients have been hospitalized or have reported certain kinds of infections or been placed on a transplant list.

You will find that and further explanation here.

In time, I will put together others lists of good informational websites, not always related to health. You are welcome to make suggestions and can do that using the “Contact” link at the top of each blog page. Publication is at my discretion.


Do You Learn Something New Every Day?

UPDATE: Thank you Peter Tibbles for correcting the count of years among us on Millie Garfield's 90th birthday post. Inevitably things go wrong - not important when it was only meant to be fun but still you want to be as accurate as possible. Just because.

So I did some more accounting this morning and the total number of years of the readers celebrating Millie's online birthday is 6576 plus or minus a few other errors.

Thank you all - that was fun.

* * *

Nearly every week – or frequently enough to call it that – there is a new study announcing that old people, to stave off dementia, should exercise and keep our minds active.

I'm not sure there is yet any solid proof about the dementia prevention part but there is no doubt that active bodies and minds are healthier bodies and minds and that has been known for a long time.

Back in February, Jeffrey J. Salingo wrote in the Washington Post, that once upon a time, the purpose of college was to “explore courses and majors before settling on a job and career...”

”[as opposed to]...today’s view that it’s all about getting a job...

“Freshmen now list getting a better job as the most important reason to go to college in an annual UCLA survey of first-year students. Previously, the top reason was learning about things that interest them.

“The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in traditional arts and sciences fields (English, math, and biology, for example) has tumbled from almost half of the undergraduate credentials...The most popular undergraduate major [today] is business."

In another kind of learning inquiry, last year the Gallup organization set out to test the mission statement of nearly every American college which is, to promote lifelong learning as a core value in life.

From decades of their own research, the company believed being “engaged in your work and thriving in your overall well-being” is an excellent demonstration of lifelong learning and that it can be measured with a simple question: "Do you learn something new or interesting every day?"

So here is what they did [emphasis mine]:

”Gallup asked this question of a representative sample of more than 170,000 adults across the U.S. in 2014, and we cut the data by varying levels of educational attainment,” [they explained].

“What we learned is there's no difference whatsoever in the likelihood that college graduates agree with this question compared with those with any lower level of education - even those without a high school diploma!

“What an unbelievable disappointment. So much for the promise of a bachelor's degree leading to lifelong learning.”

Even though I too lament the debasement of the purpose of higher education, if, as Jeffrey Salingo tells us, high-minded intellectual goals have given way to hardcore job skills in college, then disappointment that a bachelor's degree confers no more advantage than high school or less can hardly be a surprise.

But I read the Gallup study differently. I think it's great news for elders – well, for anyone of any age but at this blog I speak about and for old people.

What I believe their study confirms is that a curious mindset and the eagerness to follow it is all anyone needs to continue learning and maintain an active mind throughout life.

The study also reveals that we should not necessarily put as much value on the importance of undergraduate degrees or, at the very least, should not assume that people without one are any less educated or less informed.

One of my pet peeves are the surveys on huge varieties of topics that measure results by educational attainment. They regularly imply that respondents with less education are dumber or, at least, less well informed. It's just not so.

I'm a pretty smart cookie and although I have a high school diploma, I got that in 10 years rather than the standard 12 and didn't spend a moment anywhere near a college.

As I repeat here occasionally – one the things I've LEARNED in life – is that if it is true for me, it is true for thousands and thousands of other people.

If there is something highly particular you want to master – a language, a musical instrument, the history of eastern Europe between world wars, trigonometry or anything else where an expert can point the way, then those lifelong learning classes at colleges and senior centers can be invaluable.

But I am wary of the too-common belief that the phrase lifelong learning almost always is applied to formal teaching. All it really takes to continue learning is to have a curious mindset and follow your interests whether it's a simple question that needs a yes-or-no answer or a long-term project.

For many people I know, the bigger problem about learning is how to keep it to a manageable volume. But old age is fine time for learning however you do it.

What new or interesting thing have you learned today? Do you take formal classes or do you follow your interests on your own?


Happy Birthday, Millie

Millie90Image2

This is a day early – it is tomorrow that Millie Garfield will be 90 years old but since I don't post on Tuesdays anymore, we can all celebrate with her for two whole days.

I've known Millie longer than anyone else I've met through blogging. In fact, she started doing this before I did.

Back in October 2003, Millie's wonderful son, Steve, set her up with a blog he called My Mom's Blog. You can see her first month of posts here.

Early on, with Steve as producer, cameraman and editor, Millie did a series of videos for her blog called “I Can't Open It.” Here's a sample episode and it shows one of the most important things to know about Millie – she loves to laugh, she does a lot of it and it's hard not to laugh with her:

She did another video series, a Yiddish class, and since she moved from her condo to Brooksby Village three years ago, she's been holding Yiddish classes in person for some of her fellow residents. Here's the video Steve and Millie made when she first considered the move to Brooksby:

There is a wonderful cookie and cake bakery here in Oregon called Faustine's and whenever there's an occasion – a birthday, for example – I have special cookies sent to friends. In a fabulous surprise for my 2014 birthday, Millie contacted Faustine's and had these special New York City cookies made for me:

CookiesBigApple

Isn't that great? I Love New York teeshirts, high-heeled shoes, big apples and all. Thank you again, Millie. That was fantastic.

And now, Millie's birthday has rolled around again (of course, I sent some tasty Faustine's) and it is a big damned deal being 90 years old.

Such a big deal that as Millie related on her blog a few days ago, Steve started celebrating back in July and part of that included a cake with the inscription, "A freilekhn geburtstog Matel" which is "Happy Birthday Millie" in Yiddish.

YiddishBirthdayCake

There are more celebrations to come this week.

It's hard to have a virtual party online. No Pin the Tail on the Donkey, no party hats, no cake and ice cream, no way to sing Happy Birthday together. I've been wracking my brain for something special everyone can do on Millie's big NINE OH and this is the best I can come up with:

At this blog, we celebrate age. So in honor of Millie's 90th birthday, let's see how many years we add up to, all of us together. Undoubtedly, it will go off the rails as more than one person at a time participates but what the hell – parties should get kind of silly.

Here's how it goes: I'll start with Millie and me. Take her 90 years, add my 74 and we're already up to 164.

Now, the next one of you should add your age to that number and leave it in the comments for the next person to add onto and so on and so forth. Let's see how high we can get that number.

But before we get started, we must have a big bouquet of Millie favorite flower. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MILLIE. I am pleased and privileged to be your friend.

4185268-cool-sunflowers

You can leave a birthday greeting at Millie's blog too.



ELDER MUSIC: Linda Ronstadt (The A.M.'s Choice)

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.


Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, and I both love Linda Ronstadt's music such that when I decided to write a column about her, the A.M. insisted on her choice of songs as well.

Fortunately, our selections were quite different so that means we could manage two columns. You heard mine last week and today it's the A.M.'s turn. Of course, she had all the fun of choosing the songs and left me to write the column.

Different Drum had to be present. It was written by Mike Nesmith, pre-Monkees, and the STONE PONEYS recorded it to great acclaim.

Stone Poneys

It was probably the first time most of us were aware of Linda.

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Different Drum

Willin’ was written by Lowell George when he was still a member of The Mothers of Invention. Frank Zappa didn't like the song at all as he was very anti-drugs. This prompted Lowell and a couple of other members to leave and form their own band, Little Feat.

They recorded the song twice and one of those versions is a classic. Here's LINDA's take on the song.

Linda Ronstadt

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Willin'

Heat Wave was originally recorded by Martha and the Vandellas. It was written by that prolific team, Holland, Dozier and Holland. This was not only on one of Linda's albums but released as a single as well and it made a serious dent on the charts.

Linda Ronstadt

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Heat Wave

Now for a change of pace. This time Linda doesn't rely on a recent songwriter (who were mostly her friends) but we have a song that's attributed to "Traditional.” I always wonder what the difference is between this writer and "Anonymous".” Not much I suspect.

Anyway, here is Morning Blues.

Linda Ronstadt

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Morning Blues

Speaking of her good friends, Jackson Browne was responsible for Rock Me on the Water. He did a fine version on his first album (that goes without saying, but I said it nonetheless). Linda's version wasn't far behind.

Linda Ronstadt

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Rock Me on the Water

For something completely different, here is Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, a song written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. Its first outing was by Jane Withers, however, it was most memorably featured by Frank Sinatra on his great album "Only the Lonely.”

Naturally, Linda does a fine version as well. It was on her "What's New" album.

Linda Ronstadt

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry

Of the duets Linda has recorded over the years, about the best of them (except for Emmylou, of course) was a song she recorded with HOYT AXTON on his "Southbound" album.

Linda Ronstadt & Hoyt Axton

The song they sang together is Lion in Winter, one of Hoyt's compositions.

♫ Hoyt Axton & Linda Rondstadt - Lion In Winter

Ry Cooder wrote and recorded a song called Tattler. Linda also recorded it but she called it The Tattler.

Linda Ronstadt

♫ Linda Ronstadt - The Tattler

One of my all time favorite soul songs was actually written by Jimmy Webb. It was sung originally (or at least the first time I heard it) by Al Wilson whose version marked it as one of the outstanding interpretations of the sixties.

Although I prefer Al's version, Linda does a good job too, and the A.M. prefers hers, so here it is. Do What You Gotta Do.

Linda Ronstadt

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Do What You Gotta Do

I'll end with the one common song to both our choices. I don't know what it says about us, but the song is Faithless Love, written by J.D. Souther.

Linda Ronstadt

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Faithless Love



INTERESTING STUFF – 15 August 2015

RETIREMENT HOME FOR ELDER PETS

Undoubtedly this is not a unique idea; there are probably other similar projects all around the U.S., maybe the world. But it is such a good idea, such a selfless one, so worth supporting, replicating and perpetuating.

You can find out more about House with a Heart at the website.

TOO OLD FOR THIS

There appeared last week in The New York Times, what the newspaper calls a “first person” article. Doctafil of Jive Chalkin' alerted me to it.

It is titled “I'm Too Old for This” written by a woman named Dominique Browning, the senior director of Moms Clean Air Force. It is a compelling column that starts out like this:

”There is a lot that is annoying, and even terrible, about aging. The creakiness of the body; the drifting of the memory; the reprising of personal history ad nauseam, with only yourself to listen.

“But there is also something profoundly liberating about aging: an attitude, one that comes hard won. Only when you hit 60 can you begin to say, with great aplomb: 'I’m too old for this.'”

In the middle, there is much you can relate to and Browning ends asking for a website

”...called 2old4this. A signature kiss-off to all that was once vexatious. A goodbye to all that has done nothing but hold us back. That would be an app worth having. But, thankfully, I’m too old to need such a thing.”

It's worth your time to click over there to read the entire column.

JOHN OLIVER CRITIQUES SEX EDUCATION

And does he ever with some of the most excruciating lies and misrepresentations you've ever heard. To help correct all these errors, at the end he gathers some friends to create their own sex ed video. As always, marvelous and worth every minute.

SHADE BALLS

Temperatures have been uncommonly high this summer in the part of Oregon where I live and there has been hardly a drop of rain for the past couple of months.

Some rivers are so warm and shallow that salmon have been dying as they try to get upstream to spawn. Many communities have enacted water restrictions.

As bad as it is here, it is nothing compared to California's drought. This week, the state finished a unique project to keep water from evaporating from reservoirs. It's clever, involves “shade balls” and apparently works quite well. Take a look.

THE PAST-PRESENT PROJECT

Three years ago, Christian Carollo found a collection of his grandfather's travel photographs. As he explains on his website:

”...one shot displayed a building in the small coastal town of Winchester Bay. I wondered, what if I could replicate my grandfather’s photograph 30 years later? I did just that and my new mission was born.

Carollo has been traveling and replicating ever since. Here is a sampling. First, Chinese Camp, California:

Chinese Camp Carollo

New Orleans:

New Orleans Carollo

Breckenridge, Colorado:

Breckenridge Colorado Carollo

You can see a lot more of these at Mr. Carollo's website and even more at his Instagram page.

MEDICARE STOPS COVERING PENIS PUMPS

And Viagra and Cialis and Levitra too. It seems counterintuitive but some men with ED prefer penis pumps. As The New York Times reports:

”On the advice of his urologist, [77-year-old Mr. J, married since 1959] uses a vacuum erection device, less formally known as a penis pump. It’s cheaper, over time, than erectile dysfunction drugs, and Mr. J believes it’s safer, too.

“He discreetly leaves the bedroom to use it — 'it can be embarrassing at times' — but the pump performs, drawing blood into the penis to enable intercourse.

“'It’s a little awkward and inconvenient, and it’s not very romantic,' Dr. Ira D. Sharlip, a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said of the pump. 'But it can be effective'”

So why did Medicare Part D stop paying for this product on 1 July? It is

”...the result of legislation Congress passed in December. Since 2006, Congress has banned Medicare Part D coverage of medications for erectile dysfunction, too, after Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, scoffed at 'lifestyle drugs' and said taxpayers wouldn’t foot the tab for 'Grandpa’s Viagra.'”

(Do keep in mind that King (R-Iowa) is the lawmaker who says immigrants have calves the size of cantaloupes from carrying drugs across the Mexican border, believes that girls cannot get pregnant from rape or incest and has said that Senator Joe McCarthy is “a great American hero.”)

If you are wondering, Medicare does cover hormonal creams, rings and suppositories for such female afflictions in old age as vaginal atrophy but often requires, says The Times, higher co-pays than for other medications.

There certainly seems to me to be both ageist and sexist elements to the ban. You can read the story at The New York Times to see what you think.

SIMPLE, EXCELLENT SOLUTION FOR DRIVING SAFETY

Darlene Costner sent this video saying that she thinks it is the best idea she has seen in years. I agree. So simple it makes you wonder why no one had thought of it before.

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S LETTER TO THE EDITOR

A week ago, I spent an evening reading reporter Jim Rutenberg's stunningly good history of how the 1965 Voting Rights Act has been systematically dismantled. It is titled, “A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act” and I highly recommend it.

Apparently, President Barack Obama agrees with me and he followed up with a Letter to the Editor at The New York Times. He wrote, in part,

”...as Rutenberg chronicles, from the moment the ink was dry on the Voting Rights Act, there has been a concentrated effort to undermine this historic law and turn back the clock on its progress.

“His article puts the recent push to restrict Americans’ voting rights in its proper context. These efforts are not a sign that we have moved past the shameful history that led to the Voting Rights Act. Too often, they are rooted in that history. They remind us that progress does not come easy, but that it must be vigorously defended and built upon for ourselves and future generations.”

You can read the president's full comment here (it's short). You can read Rutenberg's entire story here (it's long; don't let that deter you).

A FAWN AND A BUNNY HAVING A ROMP

Or, as the Youtube site names them – Bambi and Thumper.

Their game lasted for 30 minutes or so and according to the people who have been watching them, the two have returned every day to play together.


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 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 include the name of the blog and its URL.


There's a New Octogenarian on the Block

Yes, I'm talking about Social Security and before I get going, let me tell you a secret about this crucial program as it relates to Time Goes By readers: every time I write about it, traffic drops that day by at least a third and sometimes by half.

Too boring to read about. You won't think so when the Republicans cut benefits and start trying to privatize it again. More about the 2016 candidates below. But first, did you know Social Security provides more than half of all income for two-thirds of elders?

As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reminded their readers this week:

”For 65 percent of elderly beneficiaries, Social Security provides the majority of their cash income. For 36 percent of them, it provides 90 percent or more of their income. For 24 percent of them, it is the sole source of retirement income.”

How would it be for you if your Social Security benefit were cut by 10 percent? Or 20 or 30 percent? Here are a couple more facts about Social Security which is NOT, as Republicans like to say, an "entitlement." It is an earned benefit you have paid into all your working life:

”Without Social Security benefits, more than 40 percent of Americans aged 65 and older would have incomes below the poverty line, all else being equal. With Social Security benefits, less than 10 percent do. The program lifts 14.7 million elderly Americans out of poverty.”

SSPovertyElders

Today is the 80th – that is EIGHT-OH – anniversary of the day, 14 August 1935, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. This is a big deal – that this important, highly successful program has lasted for eight decades while being under assault from conservatives all that time.

FDR1935_08_14

As FDR signed that legislation on 14 August 1935, he said,

"We can never insure one-hundred percent of the population against one-hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against…poverty-ridden old age.”

Let me tell you, without Social Security, I would be living in deep poverty and I suspect many TGB readers would be too. So just as we celebrate the days of our birth, we must take time today to celebrate the birth of this most successful social program of all time and dedicate ourselves to protecting it.

Eleven years ago in 2004, then-President George W. Bush announced his intention to privatize Social Security. If you have any doubt that it was a terrible idea, recall what happened to investments in 2008. I lost a lot I've never recouped. How much did you lose? Imagine if that had been your Social Security account.

It is crucial to remember that they will tell you something different but the real reason Republicans want to privatize Social Security is to award Wall Street the billions of dollars in fees that would be created to manage Social Security investment accounts.

It took a year of hard work but Americans fought back against Bush's privatization initiative and defeated it. Will we be able to do that next time?

A week ago at Huffington Post, Nancy Altman, founding co-director of Social Security Works and the co-author of the best book ever written on Social Security, Social Security Works! subtitled, Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All, posted the known policy positions on Social Security of all the candidates who participated in the Republican debate:

JEB BUSH: Privatize Social Security, Raise the Retirement Age As High as 70, End Medicare

BEN CARSON: Views unknown

CHRIS CHRISTIE: Make Social Security a means-tested welfare program and raise eligibility age to 69

TED CRUZ: Privatize Social Security, Raise the Retirement Age, Cut Benefits

CARLY FIORINA: May Raise Retirement Age

JIM GILMORE: Views unknown

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Cut Social Security Benefits for People who are unmarried and have no children

MIKE HUCKABEE: Against cuts but erroneously believes trust fund has been stolen

BOBBY JINDAL: Privatize Social Security

JOHN KASICH: Privatize Social Security, Cut benefits

GEORGE PATAKI: Raise Retirement Age, Shift More Medicare Cost to Seniors and People With Disabilities

RAND PAUL: Raise the Retirement Age to 70, Means-Test Social Security

RICK PERRY: Social Security is a "Ponzi Scheme," "Monstrous Lie"

MARCO RUBIO: Raise the Retirement Age, May Cut Benefits, Privatize Medicare

RICK SANTORUM: Raise Retirement Age, Means Test Social Security, May cut cost of living adjustments for current and future beneficiaries

SCOTT WALKER: Raise the Retirement Age

There seems to be a consensus, or close enough to call it that: all Republican candidates want to damage Social Security and therefore harm old people.

See anyone missing from that list? Yes, Donald Trump who, Altman quotes him as saying:

"'Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security, they want to do it on Medicare, they want to do it on Medicaid. And it's not fair to the people that have been paying in for years and now all of the sudden they want to be cut.' He made clear, 'I'm not gonna do that!'"

Democratic frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders both advocate expansion of Social Security.

(You will find links for each candidate's statement at Altman's Huffington Post story.)

I could write all day about the good that Social Security does and why maintaining and expanding it are an important reason not to vote for a Republican candidate in 2016.

Here are a few good links about Social Security:

Did you know that Thomas Paine may have been the first person to think up Social Security. If you are historically minded, Nancy Altman explains.

ABC News lists the modest changes that would ensure Social Security for everyone for the next 75 years.

The National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) lists the top ten facts about the program everyone should know.

AARP has a page of facts about Social Security for each state of the union.

The CPBB link I gave you at the top has a lot of charts worth checking out that explain all the great, good things Social Security does for so many millions of Americans.

So let's hear a Hip Hip Hooray for Social Security. Let's also congratulate, in absentia, all the wonderful, unnamed people who for 80 years have fought so hard to preserve Social Security against its powerful adversaries - and let's all pledge to be one of them during this endless presidential election season.

Happy 80th SS



For a One-Day Blog Interruption

As I may have mentioned a year or so ago, I have been on a long journey toward dental implants that will eventually alleviate me of this #$%^& denture I've been wearing for five years. Actually, it won't be long now.

However, I thought my 8AM appointment yesterday was to check again on the progress of the titanium posts to bond with the bone but alas, it was more, forcing me to cancel a dinner appointment I had been looking forward to.

Instead, since the posts were done cooking, I spent 90 minutes having my entire upper gum cut open to reveal the posts in preparation for finishing the job.

That leaves me here at home, as I write this on Tuesday, with anesthetic wearing off in a swollen, sore mouth, tired from the surgery and in no mood to write a blog post. An unexpected development but a good one – I will soon be able to taste food as it should be again.

So to give you something to chew on (sorry about that) requiring no effort on my part, here a prose poem sent by TGB reader Tom Delmore, himself a poet.

When I Turned a Hundred is by Mark Strand from his “Collected Poems” published in 2014. It first appeared online at Writers Almanac.


I wanted to go on an immense journey, to travel night and day into
the unknown until, forgetting my old self, I came into possession
of a new self, one that I might have missed on my previous travels.
But the first step was beyond me. I lay in bed, unable to move,
pondering, as one does at my age, the ways of melancholy - how it
seeps into the spirit, how it disincarnates the will, how it banishes
the senses to the chill of twilight, how even the best and worst
intentions wither in its keep. I kept staring at the ceiling, then suddenly
felt a blast of cold air, and I was gone.



Born on Prince Edward Island (1934), Mark Strand‘s family moved around and lived in Latin America for much of his adolescence. The former poet laureate and Nobel Prize winner went to Yale to study painting, but while there developed an obsession for poetry.

I'll see you back here on Friday. Don't miss it - it's an important day.


Hollywood's Many Biases Including Elders

Last week, the Harnisch Foundation and USC Annenberg released the latest annual study titled Inequality in 700 Popular Films. One of the report’s researchers, Stacy L. Smith, describes the lack of diversity in movies as an “epidemic.”

”Across 700 films and over 30,000 speaking characters from 2007 to present,” the report concludes, “movies continue to distort the demographic reality of their audience. Film characters are overwhelming White and male despite both population statistics and viewing patterns.”

Handily, to save me some work, The New York Times story about the study contains a succinct list of findings:

”The movies are white: 73.1 percent of all the speaking or named characters in the top 100 movies were white.

“The movies are straight: Only 19 total characters were lesbian, gay or bisexual — none were transgender.

“The movies are young: Only 19.9 percent of female characters were 40 to 64 years old.

“The movies are male: Only 1.9 percent of the movies were directed by women.”

You might have noticed the lack of reference to characters 65 and older – that is the study, not The New York Times.

Although the report carefully documents the lack of roles for women, varieties of ethnic groups and, new this year, LGBT, there is little attention to elder characters. But we can winkle out a bit of information about our age group.

In 2014, not a single title in the top-grossing 100 fictional films starred a woman over 45,” states the report. One reason is that Meryl Streep, the hardest-working woman in cinema, had only supporting roles, including in the Disney musical Into the Woods...

“In the 100 top grossing films of 2014, there were more children's characters, male and female, than those age 65 and older.”

Here is the report's chart showing the breakdown of the ages of characters by gender:

film character age

And that pretty well covers what the 29-page report has to say about elder characters in the movies and it's hard to see how a research project about film roles can claim to be concerned with diversity when people aged 65 and older are dismissed with one or two sentences.

If it is important for women, race, ethnicity and LGBT to be well represented in movies, certainly old people are entitled to the same.

Even so, the report does give us an opportunity to speculate a bit about what movies appear to have become in the first quarter of the 21st century.

The astonishingly high number of films that are nothing more than a succession of explosions, destruction, and general nihilism strung together with grunts from the primarily male characters could rot the brain. And it seems to me that the dominance of white, young and midlife males as both actors and directors might account for it.

What movie drama can do, and used to do much more of whether via comedy, tragedy, farce, melodrama, is take us out of our everyday lives, enchant us, inspire us, help us understand other people's experience, teach us to recognize truth from falsehood, good from evil and generally illuminate the human condition.

That's what storytelling in any medium, at its best, does. Repeated fireballs and car crashes cannot and I think more women and elders in front of and behind the camera could.

You can read the entire Inequality in 700 Popular Films here.


ELDER MUSIC: Linda Ronstadt (My Selection)

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.


Linda Ronstadt

When I decided to write this column on Linda, Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, said “Me too.” So, as we did with Elvis, we both wrote down the songs that should be included.

The parallels are interesting because again, there was only one song that was common to both lists. I cheated slightly, as I knew the A.M. would choose Different Drum so I left it off my list but that’s the only fudge. I’d have put it in mine if she hadn’t included it but I knew there was no chance of that.

So, today is my selection and next week you can hear the A.M.’s choices.

Today's column also is a good excuse for me to include many photos of Linda. Like this one.

Linda Ronstadt

We are both going to start with a track from before Linda was a solo artist, back in her time as a member of the STONE PONEYS.

Stone Poneys

The A.M. has the famous track in her selections; I’m going with one that was nearly as good, Up to My Neck in High Muddy Water.

♫ Stone Poneys - Up to My Neck in High Muddy Water

Linda Ronstadt

All of these songs are favorites of mine, otherwise they wouldn't be included. However, if I had to pick just one, I think it would be this song, Love Has No Pride.

It was written by Eric Kaz and Libby Titus. Eric has recorded a fine version as well (as a member of the group American Flyer), and Libby's wasn't bad either but LINDA's is the definitive version.

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Love Has No Pride

Stone Poneys

Michael Nesmith wrote the most famous of the Stone Poneys' songs, Different Drum. He was also responsible for another of Linda's hits (and for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band too). That song is Some of Shelly’s Blues.

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Some of Shelly's Blues

Linda Ronstadt

For some reason I Ain’t Always Been Faithful has always brought a smile to my face. Don't try to read anything into that statement. It was written by the seriously underrated singer/songwriter, Eric Andersen.

♫ Linda Ronstadt - I Ain't Always Been Faithful

Linda Ronstadt

Linda sure knows how to pick the songwriters. This time it's David Olney's turn. His song is Women Cross the River.

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Women Cross the River

Linda Ronstadt

There seems to be a theme here about faithless love (but you'll have to wait for that one). In this case the song is In My Reply, a song written by Livingston Taylor, James's brother.

♫ Linda Ronstadt - In My Reply

Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

There are few better songwriters than Jackson Browne, and Linda has covered quite a few of his songs. That's not really a great surprise. The problem was selecting which to include. In the end I decided on For a Dancer, a (sort of) duet with EMMYLOU HARRIS.

♫ Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris - For a Dancer

Linda Ronstadt

Ry Cooder has recorded a really terrific version of the song Teardrops Will Fall. Now it's Linda's turn. A song written by E.V. Deane.

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Teardrops Will Fall

Linda Ronstadt

In case you’re interested, the song that was common to both our lists is Faithless Love. We actually both came up with more than required and several of those on the bench were common as well, but they didn’t make the cut.

I remember when I saw Linda here in Melbourne. She introduced this song saying that it was written by J. D. Souther, who really knows what he's talking about. Make of that what you will.

♫ Linda Ronstadt - Faithless Love

Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

There's only one way I could end this column and that's with the wonderful duet Linda performed with Emmylou on their terrific album "Western Wall.” The song is Across the Border, written by Bruce Springsteen.

♫ Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris - Across the Border

You can hear the A.M.'s selections next week.



INTERESTING STUFF – 8 August 2015

TO LIVE FOREVER?

In my rambling reading about ageing, I often run into those cranks who spend time and money trying to “cure” death so we can all live forever. What a waste. It only takes a second or two to realize the planet cannot support all the people who ever lived and ever will.

So I was happy to run across this video from a guy, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who has a lot more gravitas than I do on the science and philosophies of life. Here's what he says about living forever and I agree with every word.

THREATENED WITH EVICTION FOR A KITTEN

Tom Delmore was the first of many readers who sent in this item from Calgary, Canada. Last year, Louise Slade's dog died and she, quite wisely, wanted another pet even though the independent living community where she resides has since changed the pet rules:

“'I’ve had a pet almost my whole life, and they’ve gotten me through so much,” Slade said...'It gives me something to come home to, it gives me something to get up in the morning for.'”

And so, even knowing about the new no pets rules, Ms. Slade got a kitten she named Samantha.

Slade with Samantha

The administrators won't budge. They say the kitten goes or Ms. Slade will be evicted, and they have all kinds of reasons, they say, to prohibit pets. Ms. Slade is having none of it:

”...she’s searching another subsidized place to live — one that allows cats, of course — before October 1.”

Many research studies confirm the benefits pets provide old people. I understand how it might be difficult for some elder housing communities but certainly something could be figured out.

You can read more of the story here.

JON STEWART'S LAST BROADCAST

Thursday night was Jon Stewart's final go as host of The Daily Show. Of course, I've known it was coming for several months but after 15 years watching regularly, tears dribbled down my cheeks several times.

I will miss his take on all the crazy, mad stuff that goes on in our world so much. Jon got weepy too during Stephen Colbert's tribute to him:

A few days earlier, The New York Times ran an “obit” for the program in which a quote from Daily Show correspondent, Lewis Black, seems to me to be a perfect explanation for why it was so good and so important:

“'[Stewart] would turn out every day and do something that would provide people a certain amount of insulation from the madness we’re bombarded 'with from the moment we wake up,” [Black] continued.

“'Whether someone is bombing this place or someone is shooting someone, or some senator said something so profoundly beyond human comprehension that one would consider it fictional if one didn’t know this was a real person.

“'But laughter? Laughter allows you to say, “Ah! I am not a part of this,” and you disengage for a moment.'”

Amen.

PLAYGROUND LIABIITY

On my story a week ago about the new elder playground in my town, several commenters worried about liability, about someone who injured him- or herself suing the city.

Of course, if that were a problem, there would be no children's playgrounds, no municipal swimming pools, no public skate parks, tennis courts or golf courses, etc. and so forth anywhere in the United States.

I knew that, but I didn't know where to link so that the worriers could relax. Fortunately, a better informed friend sent me this note explaining the concept of “recreational immunity.”

”Essentially land owners are not responsible for injury/accident involving folks using the property for recreation, unless there is an exchange of money for the privilege. Same thing would apply to kids' [and adult] playgrounds.”

The most recent Oregon case law is Stewart v. Kralman :: 2011 :: Oregon Court of Appeals Decisions :: Oregon Case Law :: Oregon Law :: U.S. Law :: Justia which you will find here.

CAVE DIGGING ARTIST

Ra Paulette is a cave digger. He's been doing it all his life and what he has produced is almost unbelievable but also beautiful and fascinating. Here's a video Darlene Costner alerted me to:

You can find out more about Ra Paulette and see more photos of his caves here and here.

JOHN OLIVER ON STATEHOOD FOR WASHINGTON D.C.

There are about 660,000 residents of Washington, D.C. Aside from voting for president, they have nothing to say about how they are governed. Here is John Oliver on HBO's Last Week Tonight doing his usual excellent take on this inequity.

SEEING JESUS IN A PIECE OF TOAST

We've been reading about them, seeing the photos and the videos all our lives – Jesus in a piece of toast, an orange rind or tree bark. There is even a word for the phenomenon: pareidolia. Here's what science says about it:

You can read some more about it here.

SAND CATS

Have you ever heard of sand cats? Not me until Peter Tibbles sent me a link to some photos. They are wild cats of Africa, the adults so small and cute they can be mistaken for kittens and some people call them the Peter Pan of cats.

Sand-cats-kittens-forever-1__880

They are terribly endangered. Here is a video about them.

JON STEWART'S FINAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR US

Most of Thursday's Daily Show finale was taken up with the return of the dozens of correspondents who have graced the skits over the years and backstage scenes of all the unseen people who have pulled the show together each week for all these years.

But Stewart interrupted the farewell for one last traditionally funny/serious segment instructing us, this time, in how to recognize the "Three Kinds of Bullshit" and what to do about them now that he won't be around to point the way.

You can watch the entire 52-minute show at Comedy Central including Stewart's final words leading into Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band playing him off-stage for the last time with (at Stewart's request, I read somewhere) Land of Hopes and Dreams and the end of Born To Run.


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 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 include the name of the blog and its URL.


Who is Older than I Am? It Depends...

...for me, anyway.

When I was in high school, my girl friends and I could pinpoint other students' ages within six months. I don't recall how we did that or why it was important but it was a common speculation and we were rarely wrong.

Nowadays, I can't tell an old person's age within a decade, even more sometimes which, I guess, just proves the adage that if you've seen one old person, you've seen one old person; we age a remarkably different rates of change.

Not long ago, as I was reading about the death of random shooting victim, I caught myself thinking of him, at age 53, as older than I am. “Hold on, hold on, hold on,” I told myself. “What's that about? I'm 74.”

Further, after more than 20 years of reading, studying and writing about pretty much every kind of thing related to old age, I have come to think of our fifties as the high end of middle age. No spring chicken but still firmly in the adult world that controls most of American culture.

I am fully aware that I have definitely passed out of that era of my life so how did I, for a millisecond or two, think of the dead guy in the news as older than I am?

And it's not the first time it's happened – in fact, it's fairly frequent. For example, because Helen Mirren is an actor I enjoy and respect, I usually stop to read when I see a report about her.

Her age is always given and as has been so for all the decades I've followed her career - it hasn't changed - she is four years younger than I am. That's not new information but I still catch myself, for a second or two when I read about her, thinking she is older.

These two examples are not isolated instances. I read a lot, online and off, and without noticing until I caught myself at it recently, I have always – apparently since high school - compared other people's ages to my own, sometimes making that mistake about which of us is older.

Not that it matters. Even I admit this post is so lightweight it's in danger of floating off the screen. Nevertheless, it is a minor revelation about a fundamental assumption I hold about age that requires at least one serious question.

After all these years making old age a primary interest of my life, it's nice to expect that I have overcome any latent ageism hanging around. That's probably no more true than it is that anyone, in our culture, is completely free of racism. Still, I would like to think I've advanced a bit.

Or, could it be that we are (I am?) so culturally averse to growing old we unconsciously refuse to acknowledge our own age compared to younger others?

Or, maybe I am reacting as I did when most people were without question older than I was, still now using my adolescent reptile brain.

Or, none of the above. Maybe you should think of this bunch of silliness as an antidote to Wednesday's dead serious discussion of assisted suicide.



Healthy 75-Year-Old Chooses to End Her Life

Although it had no part in my decision to move to Oregon five years ago, the state is one of four in the U.S. that has a physician-assisted suicide law, a “death with dignity” act if you will, and I have found it comforting to know the choice is there if, one day, my dying becomes too painful or difficult in some other way that I no longer want to endure.

I wrote about assisted suicide earlier this year and it has come up again in the news this week when it was widely reported that in July a British citizen, Gill Pharaoh, took her life at a suicide clinic in Switzerland where, unlike England, it is legal.

The shocker in this story is that the 75-year-old was healthy.

Pharoah, who had been a nurse specializing in palliative care for much of her career said in an interview before her death that she

”...was in decline as she was no longer enthusiastic about gardening, did not enjoy late dinner parties, and she had issues with tinnitus,” reports the Daily Mail.

“While acknowledging that these were ‘comparatively trivial’ complaints, she said...

“‘I have looked after people who are old, on and off, all my life. I have always said, “I am not getting old. I do not think old age is fun.” I know that I have just gone over the hill now. It is not going to start to get better.’”

Ms. Pharoah also wrote a lengthy blog post about her choice that was published in the Sunday Times [paid firewall] and has now been republished in the Daily Mail. Here are some more complaints that led to her decision:

”I can no longer walk the distances I used to enjoy so the happy hours spent exploring the streets of London are just a memory now...

“My tinnitus is a big distraction. My hearing loss is helped by using hearing aids, but the tinnitus seems to enjoy competition...I do not enjoy the carnivals like Notting Hill or Gay Pride which I once so loved.

“I do not have any desire to travel any more – there is nowhere I want to visit enough to spend hours in an aeroplane or airport...

“Not to mention the hundred and one other minor irritations like being unable to stand for long, carry a heavy shopping bag, run for a bus, remember the names of books I have read, or am reading, or their authors.

“And I have a number of aches and pains which restrict my pleasure in life generally although none are totally incapacitating.”

I am just a year younger than Ms. Pharoah was when she died and I am personally familiar with most of her “reasons” that sound more like excuses to me:

I cannot explore the streets of New York City anymore. I miss it terribly. Every day.

Crowds drain my energy so quickly that I avoid parades now, and I've sworn off airplanes for the reasons we all know too well.

Right now, I can tell you the name of the author of the book I'm reading – Alan Furst – but not the title. Happens all the time – no big deal.

I haven't run for bus or subway in at least a decade not because I can't; I probably could but I don't want to risk a fall at my age.

Tinnitus? Mine is awful, screechingly loud, and there is no escape except in the shower but that's no help. It is silence I crave to “hear” again - not the sound of falling water – and I never will. There is no treatment.

And so on. But these erosions are not the only - and certainly not the most - important (well, except for New York) pleasures of a lifetime. The upside list is three or four or more times the length of the downside.

The BBC reported briefly on one group in England that is opposed to assisted suicide:
”Care Not Killing, a group which campaigns against assisted dying, condemned Ms Pharaoh's case as 'deeply troubling.'

“A spokesman said: 'It sends out a chilling message about how society values and looks after elderly people in the UK.

"'It seeks the introduction of death on demand for those who fear becoming a burden, even if they are otherwise fit and healthy.'”

My thoughts on Ms. Pharoah's suicide are mixed. On one hand, I believe our lives are our own to live or end as we choose, particularly in old age or in the extremity of ailment. My support for those choices makes it difficult to doubt Ms. Pharoah's decision but questions nag.

First, I recall a couple of times in my life when I seriously considered suicide. I was much younger and my distress then, in retrospect, seems to me now to have been childish. My problems were painful but tolerable – or would be now. So I am grateful to have weathered those storms and lived to carry on.

Would I have if there had been “death on demand” as Care Not Killing expresses it? No way to know.

Also, we live in a time of an increasing elder population, a fact that politicians use to pressure governments to cut pensions, social security programs, healthcare and other services for old people on the grounds that they are no longer affordable.

Would support for that kind of thinking along with greater acceptance of assisted suicide translate into pressure on elders to do themselves in? Might some mistakenly see their death as an ultimate vote for the greater good?

I don't know the answers but as additional states and countries contemplate more liberal death with dignity laws, the questions must be considered. As much as I support the laws, a person's death by their choice should not become less than a disquieting event.

One person, writing in the Guardian in response to Ms. Pharoah's act, wrote this is support of legalizing assisted suicide in England:

”The system conspires to deprive older people of their dignity, while at the same time making them feel like burdens to those they love. These prospects hardly encourage people to look forward to old age.

“We need a care system that treats people with kindness and respect, without gutting the savings they have made for their children’s future. People should not be punished for growing old; instead, we should help them to celebrate each passing milestone.

“Choosing to die should always be an option in a liberal society that honours people’s right to live as they wish. If someone does not want to be alive, it is perhaps one of the biggest cruelties to force them to carry on. Assisted dying should be legal.”

What do you think?