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How Bureaucracies Mistreat Old People

category_bug_journal2.gif Last week, I found out up close and personal how hard ordinary life can be when you are old and infirm.

The New York City Department of Health held a free flu shot clinic for one morning at a neighborhood church. I arrived at the starting hour, waited in line to fill out a couple of forms, got my assigned number and then took a seat among the 50 or so early attendees in a large basement auditorium.

An hour passed and the public health nurses who would administer the shots had still not arrived. The auditorium was filling up. It was obvious from the start that I – at age 64 – was the youngest person there. Others were in their 70s, 80s and 90s, and about three-quarters of them needed help to walk – with canes, walkers with and without wheels, or with accompanying caregivers.

I could feel their pain with every halting or shuffling step they took. Nevertheless, each waited uncomplainingly to fill out their forms and then slowly made their way to an empty chair – farther and farther in the back of the auditorium as more people arrived.

Meanwhile, the dozen or so health department workers sat at tables in the front – unmoving and apparently unmoved at the difficulty the majority of people were having as they tried to navigate through the labyrinth of scattered tables and chairs.

When the nurses at last arrived and were set up – 90 minutes late – the health department workers began yelling numbers to the crowd now numbering about 300. “One. Where’s number one? No number one? Then number 2. No number 2? Okay, number three…”

A couple of very old people slowly, painfully made their way to the front of the auditorium where I was standing to one side. By the time numbers one and two arrived, the healthcare worker was already calling numbers eight and nine. “I called your number,” she said to one of them. “Where were you?” The old woman looked confused and the healthcare worker pointed her toward another table where there was more paperwork to be done.

As numbers were called, people got backed up at the paperwork table where they had to wait, leaning on their canes and walkers, uncertain they were in the right place. When the additional forms were finished, they were sent across the auditorium to a “holding pen” (without enough chairs) until it was their turn for the shot, when they had to walk, again, across half the auditorium to get to the nurses' stations.

And so it went with no consideration for the difficulty these people had in walking, nor for the fact that many couldn’t hear very well. In addition, no explanation had been given of the routine that would be followed and the tables of six and eight very old people were a continuing murmur of questions, confusion and discussions on whether someone’s number had been called or not, and which table they should go to at the front of the auditorium.

It is an excellent use of city tax dollars to make flu shots available to the old and very young for free, but it is unconscionable that they would make no accommodation for the age of the people attending. How hard could it be?

If I were arranging this program, I’d have the workers give each person a table number as they came in the door and accompany them to a seat at that numbered table where I would hand them their paperwork. Then, I’d have the nurses, using carts to carry their equipment and supplies, do the walking from table to table to administer the vaccines.

There is no doubt that by the time most of these people got home (after climbing two sets of stairs from the basement to the street) that they were done in for the day. It must have been exhausting for them. And those stairs! I counted 58 on my way out and wonder still how those old men and women, with their walkers and canes, got up them. It is unlikely that God would have minded if the clinic had been held in the church proper at street level.

What struck me hard was how uncomplaining and complacent the attendees were about the poor planning and execution of the program even though it cost them a great deal in pain and energy. Could it be that they, with decades of dealing with such bureaucracies as Medicare and Social Security, were conditioned to long waits and lack of consideration for their difficulties?

As the number of aged people increases rapidly in the coming years, the routines of bureaucracies cry out to be adjusted to suit the needs of the people being served.

Ollie Then and Now



[2004 and 2005] One year ago today Oliver, who was then not quite three months old, came to live with me. He was tiny then and scared. Today, he is almost grown up, more than 20 pounds of lively, demanding cat. He won't have anything to do with store-bought toys. His favorites are an old sock tied in a knot and a six-inch-square hunk of sheepskin I got him so he would stop stealing and hiding my sheepskin-lined clogs.

The game he likes best is hunting for toys I've hidden beneath a corner of a rug or under a blanket and I've learned the special meow that means "let's play hide-and-seek."

It's amazing how our furry little creatures worm their way into our hearts and minds, and the efforts we make to accomodate and understand them. When Ollie has left a dozen toys precisely placed where I cannot avoid tripping over them, I think of Frank Paynter's delicious explanation of his dog's arrangement of shoes:

“It seems to me like the chaotic distribution of my footwear across the house when I return after a day's absence may have certain algorithmic properties that only an Australian Shepherd is capable of getting its teeth into…

“Oddly, I am sure the dog doesn't think the distribution of shoes is messy, but rather that it has order and beauty best appreciated by creatures closer to the floor than the housemonkeys that provide the food and water.”

- Sandhill Trek


Ronni on Escalator



[December 2002] My co-worker Steve Hopkins took this photo when we were waiting for the Metro North train in Stamford, Connecticut. I like it personally because it makes me look so glamorous - which I hardly am. But more than that, it is a gorgeous photograph. If you've ever been at the Stamford train station, you would know what a favor Steve has done with this photo for that most unlovely place.


The Economic War Against the Have-Nots

Even as the White House and Congress are up to their ears in scandal, they are still waging economic war on the poor and middle class of America and shamefully using the hurricane tragedies as their excuse. Corporate America is doing its part, too, to erode low-income workers’ benefits.

Corporate America
Let’s start with Wal-Mart. In an internal memo anonymously leaked to Wal*MartWatch, a not-profit group associated with labor unions, the retailer’s executive vice president for benefits, M. Susan Chambers, recommended that the company hire more part-time workers (so as not to pay them benefits) and discourage unhealthy job applicants by arranging to have every position include some physical labor – a move that would, of course, affect older workers more than younger ones.

And although she stopped short of advocating the dismissal of long-term workers, Ms. Chambers also noted that those who stay on the job over time cost the company more in wages – and wait until you hear her rationale for why this is not good for workers:

“…because we pay an associate more in salary and benefits as his or her tenure increases, we are pricing that associate out of the labor market.”
- The New York Times, 26 October 2005

So is the new idea of corporate America that whatever salary a worker is hired at is their salary for their entire tenure at the company? Keep in mind that so goes Wal-Mart, so goes the American workforce.

Health coverage changes Ms. Chambers advocates for full-time Wal-Mart employees would require $2,500 a year in out-of-pocket expenses in a company where the average worker earns $17,500. The poverty line for a family of three is currently at $16,030.

Only 45 percent of Wal-Mart employees are covered for health insurance and five percent are on Medicaid – these are people with full-time jobs. It was never a good idea for the United States to tie health insurance to employment, but it’s the only (failing) system we’ve got right now and until corporations with the lobbying clout of Wal-Mart convince the federal government that we must have a national health care plan, they should be held to their responsibilities to their employees.

The Federal Government
On the federal front, the Senate on Wednesday voted down an amendment that would have authorized $3.1 billion in emergency funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP]. As one of the amendment’s sponsors, Senator Susan Collins (Rep. ME) said that people may well now have to

“…choose between keeping the heat on, putting food on the table or buying much-needed prescription drugs. No family should need to make such terrible choices.”
- The Washington Post, 27 October 2005 [no link]

In addition, the Senate Budget Committee approved a package of spending cuts that will go to the floor for a vote next week. Among the cuts are a $10 billion reduction in Medicare and Medicaid while approving – are you ready? – a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

And the House Agriculture Committee’s has a plan to reduce food stamp spending by more than $1 billion while also pushing their own plan for drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

Who goes hungry and who goes without medical care with these plans? It won’t be senators and congress people. Senator Kent Conrad (Dem. N.D.), who is a member of the Budget Committee, may have been too low key for my taste, but at least he spoke up:

“I have never felt that a budget going through the Congress of the United States is more disconnected from reality than this budget.”
- The New York Times, 27 October 2005

Doesn’t anyone in that town have the guts to rescind those tax cuts to corporations and the rich?

A Tiny Bit of Good News
The one and only one piece of good news for ordinary folks is that due to heavy pressure from around the country, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced Wednesday that the Davis-Bacon Act will be reinstated for the Gulf Coast as of 8 November. In the week following Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration suspended the Act which requires federal contractors to pay workers the local prevailing wage. AFL-CIO president, John J. Sweeney, stated well the case for reinstatement when he said that it was

“…fundamentally wrong for the Bush administration to hit workers when they were down by slashing wages, exacerbating the very poverty that the hurricanes exposed.”
- The New York Times, 27 October 2005

Hear! Hear! Now if some people of equal power and persuasion would please stand up to the administration on their unconscionable tax cuts to the rich, and to corporate America for their rape of the working man and woman…

Living to a Healthy Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif A new poll from USA Today/ABC News reveals that most respondents believe age 87 is about the right life span. More than two-thirds in the survey worry about losing their health, losing the ability care for themselves and losing their mental capabilities as they get older. But more of us are leading longer, healthier lives than ever before in history.

In 1900, average life expectancy was 47. Today it is about 75 and the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 71,000 Americans are 100 years or older. In just five years, the Bureau projects, 114,000 Americans will reach their centenary and by 2020, 241,000 of us will be 100 or older.

As fearful as most people are of decline in health as they get older, aging does not always translate into disease and debility. Many centenarians are living active, healthful lives. Some are capable of driving safely, caring for themselves at home and working full- or part-time.

Much of our increased longevity and health in old age is due to antibiotics and advances in treating the diseases and conditions of aging, but why some people age well and others don’t is still a mystery, and is the topic of a great deal of scientific study. Some researchers are working on genetics. Others are looking into human growth hormone and there is a fringe element that believes drastic reduction in calorie intake – down to near-starvation level – can increase life span by a third or more.

More stable scientists disagree. Leonard Haylick, a researcher on aging at the University of California, San Francisco says

“…there is a limit to the rise in life expectancy. Humans, he says, simply aren’t built to live for 150 or 200 years. ‘Our body parts, like the parts in an automobile engine, can’t work forever.’”
- Yahoo News, 24 October 2005

“Anti-aging” is a huge topic on the internet. Google that phrase and you’ll get two-and-a-half million returns most of which are touting expensive creams, potions and pills promising to extend your life by decades or, at minimum, keep you looking age 20 until you’re 100. Better to save your money and heed these men:

“Nothing discovered yet has been shown to stop or slow down aging,” says Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center-USA.

“’There’s nothing you can take now that will make you live longer,’ says David Finkelstein at the National Institute on Aging’s Biology of Aging program.”

- Yahoo News, 24 October 2005

As the USA Today/ABC News poll shows, most people are more concerned with health than living forever.

“Younger people fear old age because of a misconception that getting older means a rapid decline in health,” says researcher JaeMi Pennington of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University.

“'That’s not necessarily so', he says. ‘More people today are living longer and healthier lives, and we can attribute that to advances in medical science and better nutrition.’”

- USA Today, 23 October 2005

Dr. Andrew Weil knows a lot about nutrition. I’d have more respect for him if he didn’t spend so much time touting his own brand of expensive supplements, but his general advice is good and you can find detailed information on health in aging at his and other medical websites. And if you believe you need extra vitamins and other supplements, you can find them more cheaply at your local drug and nutrition stores.

Whether we live to the current average life expectancy of 75 or the survey respondents’ ideal of 87 or reach 100 or more, we can control, to a degree, our health for whatever number of years we have left, and we’ve known how to do that since we were children - because our mothers knew what they were talking about:

  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Eat your vegetables
  • Get enough rest
  • Don’t smoke
  • Avoid excess alcohol

[Hat tip to Chancy for this story.]

The Joy of Six

Some people have names that perfectly suit them and although I’ve never met Joy of the Joy of six blog, I suspect said emotion is something she has in abundance. You can feel the good cheer popping off every page of her blog.


As to the “of six” part of her blog name, she explains that it is:

“…the number I seem to ‘do things in.’ You know - eat M & M’s in sixes, buy things in sixes, dole things out in sixes. It’s a shame the number one wasn’t my obsession, especially when it comes to the M & M’s and buying things. Why six? Here’s the simple part - it represents the six people in my immediate family…”

Which includes her four children, one of whom is Jory Des Jardins of Pause, a founder and organizer of Blogher. It tends to get confusing when you get email from both mother and daughter: more than once I’ve read a note from Joy thinking it was Jory and vice versa.

Joy is a prolific poet who reminds me a little (for those who are old enough to remember) of Ogden Nash, and even when Joy isn’t so joyful about something, she finds a way to make it fun.

Checking out some jobs today
Sending them my resume
All the stuff that I dread
All wrapped up inside my head

Nice to have the extra dough
Is it worth it? I don’t know
Unemployment is a mess
Don’t like feeling all the stress

Just got started on my blog
Don’t want to think about a job
Wish I could work from my house
Don’t like to be a lousy spouse

You’re not always in control
Some may think that I’m too old
Cannot worry what they say
Count my blessings every day

See what I mean? You just can’t keep Joy down. She and I also share a love of storms, which you can read about here.

It’s hard to know how she finds the time, but Joy is a prolific blog commenter with always a good word for everyone.

Joy’s stories are terrific, but most of all I like her poems in which she turns the small episodes of life and family into rhymes of well - joy. Here’s part of one:

The Money Tree
The money tree, the money tree;
Hello, it’s me….apparently.
A dollar here, five dollars there;
It vanishes into the air…

And part of another:

Voila, It's Poetry!
I sat down;
I think to write some words.
I felt the flow begin.
That feeling of creation
That blocks out every whim.

And, sitting back in final glance,
I’m sure of what I see.
A single word that knows its place…
Voila, it’s poetry!

And there is one without a title I have copied out in its entirety. It just seems to belong here on Time Goes By:

They say that growing older
is just an attitude.
I choose to laugh right in its face…
no time to sit and brood.
It happens to us all you know,
and though it isn’t fair;
It slowly creeps into our lives
with Aarp and Medicare.

I’ve heard, “with age comes wisdom;”
how nice to be so wise.
I’d like to be the “codger” who
invents cellulite-less thighs.
And grey-less hair, and painless backs,
and that “old-age albatross”…
My favorite…what was that again?...
oh yeah, no more memory loss.
And what great mind made “age spots;”
now what are they about?
I freely embrace “laugh lines,”
but leave those “wrinkles” out.

Though the eyes, they may be failing,
and the legs don’t have the give;
It’s a sure-fire bet it’s better
than life’s alternative.
So everyday I’m thankful for
how good life’s really been.
Is that my phone?...I’m coming…(gasp)…
Get out the oxygen!!

Take some time to stop by the Joy of six. You'll enJOY it.

The Fate of Katrina’s Elderly

Thanks to Tim Blair in Australia, some new information on the older victims of Hurricane Katrina has been brought to our attention: at least 60 percent of the dead identified so-far were age 61 and older.

"’You had a combination of devastating flood waters and elderly and infirm populations with fewer resources. That equals fatalities,’ said Dr. Jullette Saussy, director of Emergency Medical Services for the city of New Orleans and one of those who fielded desperate cell phone calls from New Orleanians trapped by water.”
The Times-Picayune, 23 October 2005

Many drowned, said Dr. Saussy, but others of heat, dehydration or lack of attention to chronic medical conditions. She related a heartbreaking story, that must have been one too many like it, regarding:

“…frantic call from an eastern New Orleans woman who asked for instructions replacing an oxygen tank an elderly relative needed to stay alive. The coaching didn't work, and Saussy doesn't know if rescuers made it to the home in time.

"’She couldn't get it,’ Saussy said. ‘I couldn't talk her through it.’"

The Times-Picayune, 23 October 2005

And, according to the coroner, the vast majority of victims in St. Bernard Parish were people in their late 60s and 70s. Only one child’s body has been found there so far.

I don’t mean to be an I-told-you-so, but as Tim Blair kindly pointed out, I predicted this in the immediate aftermath of Katrina:

“Although Louisiana nursing homes are required by law to have a detailed evacuation plans and signed contracts with private transportation companies, 70 percent of them were not evacuated. Thirty-two people died in one flooded home in Chalmette, Louisiana, when the staff ran off abandoning the residents in their beds.

“In Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, people in their 70s, 80s and 90s were dumped and left alone on the auditorium floor of a local high school without food, water or their medications.”

And, as we now know, the majority of victims of all ages were the poor. Those without cars, without money, without means, without good health were the ones left to die.

It is unconscionable that the authorities – local, state and federal – were so derelict in preparation for this disaster, but already public discussion of the poor in our country has subsided while their numbers grow each year. As The New York Times reported on 30 August [no link]:

  • Household income has failed to increase for five straight years
  • Median pre-tax income for 2004, accounting for inflation, was at its lowest point since 1997
  • The poverty rate increased in 2004 to 12.7 percent, from 12.5 percent in 2003
  • 16 percent of Americans are without health insurance

“’It looks like the gains from the [economic] recovery haven’t filtered down,’ said Phillip L. Swagel, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. ‘The gains have gone to owners of capital and not to workers.’”
The New York Times, 30 August 2005

As special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald announces indictments (or not) later this week in the CIA leak case, and as the 2006 mid-term election campaigns for Congress heat up in the next few months, let us not forget the dead and the poor of the Gulf Coast and the rest of the Americans slowing sinking below the poverty line.

And let us not forget either who is responsible: it is every member of Congress who lacked the backbone to stand up to the imperial presidency and its Republican support – the ones who squandered President Clinton’s budget surplus on an unwarranted war, on tax cuts for the rich and reductions in social programs while increasing their pet pork projects into the billions of dollars.

To again quote George Lakeoff: “The central role of government is to use the common wealth for the common good to better all our lives.”

Blogging For Older Readers

When Crabby Old Lady first started Time Goes By, she read the people on her blogroll every day. It was easy then with only about ten links and the list grew slowly as she gradually found good, strong blogs by people older than 50.

There are more than 60 links now along with a stored list of new ones Crabby hasn’t had time to post yet - not to mention the 30 or so on the Honorary Older Bloggers list – and she has another, unpublished “favorites” list of bloggers that she likes to visit regularly too.

And there are always more blogs to read as Crabby follows interesting links. Well, you know how it goes; keep clicking and soon you're in new territory, lost among all manner of interesting stuff.

She’s reading as fast as she can, but Crabby lately finds herself skipping some blogs because they are too hard to read. Old eyes are different from young ones - they tire more easily and don’t function as critically as young eyes. But there are easy adjustments bloggers can make to their sites so that older people can enjoy them too:

Entry Date: Unless there is a photograph or other image at the top of a post, all blog entries look alike when the page loads – words, words, words - and Crabby feels cheated when she gets to sentence three or four and realizes she’s already read and maybe even commented on the post.

So those dates at the bottom of an entry aren’t much help. Better to have them at the top since Crabby usually knows about how long it’s been since she last visited.

Short Paragraphs: Crabby is sure you know that screens flicker and eyes, even young ones, tire faster reading on a screen than on a paper page. It is impossible to read paragraphs that go on and on without breaks.

Crabby first realized this when she was managing editor at in 1996 and early on, she made a New Rule: no paragraphs longer than six or seven lines for ease of reading. She would be a less crabby blog reader if she could as easily enforce this rule for the entire blogosphere.

Line spaces: It’s not enough to just start a new indented line for a new paragraph. It is necessary to leave a line space between each paragraph. Puh-leeze do this; it takes only one additional tap on the “enter” key. It hurts way too much to read long blocks of unbroken text.

No Horizontal Scrolling: You’ve been to those blogs where you need to scroll left and right to read each line. Crabby doesn’t do it anymore and she knows she’s missing some good stuff, but it’s too much to ask readers to do this. Text columns should be no more than 500 pixels wide, max. 400 is better.

Background Colors: For old eyes, reading light-colored text on a dark background is like trying to read without a lamp at dusk. [Younger readers who don’t know what Crabby is talking about, give it a few years and trust her for now.] And anyway, dark backgrounds stopped being “kewl” in about 1998.

Color Combinations: As eyes age, they have trouble distinguishing between red and orange, between blue and green, and between certain shades of gray and black, particularly when they are near one another. So it is not a good idea, if you value older readers, to use those combinations for background and text.

Few older people, for example, can easily distinguish green text on a light blue background. Too much squinting involved.

Unidentified Links: In the past few months, a new link style has erupted that is growing like fungus. It is the practice of posting unidentified links. It usually appears thusly:

“Great story here. Also, don’t miss this and this.”

Oh, yeah? If it’s so great, tell Crabby what it is and why it’s so great. At best, this practice is lazy blogging. At worst, you waste a reader’s time following a link she’s already seen or is not interested in. Trust in otherwise friendly bloggers goes only so far with Crabby and doesn’t include lazy linking.

Crabby would be most grateful to any bloggers who would, if needed, make a course correction with any of the above suggestions. It could be that you don’t care about older readers and that’s fine, but these web best practices work just as well for younger readers too.

Crabby Old Lady thanks you for your attention.

Neil's Sideboard



[2003] There is in my living room an odd-sized cubby, a setback in the wall that is 14 inches deep at one end and 22 inches deep at the other. For years, I had wanted to have a sideboard made to would exactly fit, and on a not-entirely-sober, music-listening evening a few years ago, Heather and I measured the space - every possible length, width and depth - and sketched out a design.

We gave it to her father, Neil, who is a master woodworker and a few months later, he showed up at my door with this.

We held our collective breath while sliding the sideboard into the cubby hoping against hope that Heather and I had not been too far gone that night when we measured. As you can see, we did just fine and Neil did even better in creating this.

But the best part of the story is this: Neil also restores old cars. His pride and joy is an old Chevy pickup truck which was manufactured with a wooden bed. He replaced the warped and worn wood during the restoration, but set it aside – you never know when you might need some scraps of wood.

After some planning and finishing, he used the old wood to make the backing and some of the dividers in my sideboard and so…

Parts of my sideboard and I were born in the same year as Neil antique pickup – 1941.


Elsbeth's Christmas Wall



[1999] Remember how angry your mother got when you drew pictures on the living room wall with your crayons? Or, conversely at our ages, what a mess it was to clean up when the kids wrote on the walls?

A bunch of friends joined Elsbeth at her new home in Utah for Christmas and, filled with an abundance of, uh, holiday cheer one evening, it seemed a reasonable idea to write our favorite quotes and sayings on the dining room wall with Magic Markers. Even though long past childhood, we kept thinking our respective Moms would show up any minute to send us all to our rooms - which, of course, was part of the thrill.

Not to worry. In January Elsbeth knocked down the wall to expand her kitchen.


Blog Friends

There are many pleasures to blogging and near the very top of the list must be meeting people in person that we would be unlikely to know in any way but blogging.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with Frank Paynter, of Sandhill Trek, and his wife Beth who have been spending this week in New York City. We had lunch at a favorite neighborhood restaurant and I gave them a mini-tour of my part of Greenwich Village. Among the stops is the house where the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay once lived. I'm running late this morning for an early appointment - no time to chat - so instead, this well-known Millay poem, First Fig:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light!

Frank and Beth both give a very lovely light - as though I'd always known them.

Help For Skyrocketing Heating Costs

category_bug_journal2.gif In the winter of 1984, my grandmother – my father’s mother – froze to death at age 92 in her Minneapolis home. Her furnace had broken and although she was friendly with her neighbors and spoke to her sister on the telephone once or twice a week, she told no one. Did she lack the money for repairs? Was it pride that kept her silent? Shame?

The U.S. Department of Energy expects a 30 to 48 percent increase in heating bills this winter over last year which will cost the average family $1,099. For many and depending on type of heating, it will be much higher. The Mortgage Bankers Association predicts that these increased heating costs will lead to missed mortgage payments and eventual loss of their homes for some people.

Older people on fixed incomes are particularly at risk. Some already juggle the price of prescription drugs against food and other needs. Increased heating costs of this magnitude could easily break their budgets.

Anticipating this, Senator Jack Reed [Dem. RI] and Senator Susan Collins [Rep. ME] have attached an amendment to H.R. 3058 requesting $3.1 billion in emergency funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP].

Yesterday, AARP had the good sense to send out an email Action Alert asking recipients to urge their senators to support this important amendment, and they have made it incredibly easy to do. Follow that link and enter your Zip Code. Fill in your personal information and use either the optional, pre-written text message or write your own.

After you hit the Send button, another page will come up asking you to select a topic. Choose “Energy” from the dropdown menu and hit Send again. That’s all there is to it - it will take less than a minute.

Please do this and pass on the link to your friends. And if you have elderly neighbors, remember to check on them this winter to be sure they have heat. Their families may live far away and like my grandmother, they may not tell anyone when heating bills overwhelm their budgets.

Two summers ago, thousands of elderly in France died in a prolonged heat wave because the government dragged its heels in sending aid. Let’s not let anyone in the U.S. freeze to death this winter because they can’t afford to heat their homes. We can all help.

The Enemies of Aging

category_bug_ageism.gif Just in case anyone thinks Time Goes By might have made any inroads against ageism in its 20 months of existence, take a look at these:

“Once consumed with bell bottoms, paisley shirts and page boy haircuts, many boomers now find themselves preoccupied with bifocals, cholesterol counts and fallen arches…

“[Baby Boomer/Senior Expo] will provide information on senior health care, leisure time activities, retirement communities, financial planning, legal representation, home improvement…”

- North County News, 17 October 2005
“So we’re getting older, no big whoop. Old is another story. Old has stories of cheap gas and walking to a school on a hill. Old smells of mothballs and gives stupid reindeer sweaters for Christmas…

“I just never want to be old. The only thing after old is navigating a huge Oldsmobile, washing down a Centrum Silver with the morning can of Ensure, and a subscription to Reader’s Digest. None of the above things can be considered good…”

- The Vanguard, 17 October 2005

So, the picture painted of old people is that we are sick, lazy, litigious and boring, and these are not isolated attitudes; they are commonly held beliefs repeated in the media hundreds of times every day.

The first excerpt above is from a press release masquerading as a news story about an upcoming Boomer/Senior Expo in Baltimore. The second is from an Alabama college newspaper, so the writer is probably about 20. What is discouraging about both is that neither writer, nor the organizers of the Expo, suspects their ageism.

Both excerpts are representative of the Medicalization of Elderhood brought on by the Doctrine of Youth’s Perfection which states that everyone over 50, if they do not have the grace to die, becomes obsessed with health and related personal pursuits to the exclusion of all else.

It was a plan from the inception of Time Goes By to build of page of links to the best websites about aging and/or catering to people older than 50. It has never materialized because aside from such nuts-and-bolts information sites as Social Security and Medicare, there are none that go beyond health, retirement communities, leisure activities, financial planning, legal assistance and home improvement – the list in the “press release” above which, in the narrowness of its topics, is ageist to its core.

There is nothing wrong with these topics except that they are ALL that is offered to older people as though after age 50 or so, we lose interest in anything but the cost of pills - an attitude that reinforces the pervasive bias against old people and passes it on to the next generation, like the kid from the Alabama college.

The organizers of the Boomer/Senior Expo and the people behind the abundance of social service organizations for old people, with their meager range of offerings, haven't caught up with 21st century aging. They mean well, but with friends like these...

Still Under the Weather

category_bug_journal2.gif Aren't all of you nice to leave get well messages. I posted that note yesterday so no one would think I'd died (though I sure feels like I have) and didn't expect any comments.

Actually, I'm feeling much better today, but this is really annoying. I rarely get sick and I have no patience with it. None. Nada. Zero. The crud, which I suspect is just a very bad cold, lays me flat - weak, stupid and crabby. Three days have gone by and I can't account for any of the time.

Nothing about getting older, so far, bothers me much and I've easily adjusted to the few physical changes. I can't stay up all night anymore, but I don't want to anyway. I can't carry as much weight home from shopping, so I make more trips - the better to check out what's going on in the neighborhood. I can't eat a normal-sized meal anymore, but I eat more for flavor and texture than hunger, so it's hardly a difficult adjustment.

But colds? When I got a cold as a kid, my mother handed me a couple of extra packs of Kleenex and sent me to school. I don't remember feeling bad except for an excessively runny nose. Now, colds hit three or four times as hard and last twice as long. It might as well be the flu except for no temperature.

When somethiing like this hits me, I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about getting older as I usually am.

Painting from Sali’s horse period



In the years since my friend Sali immigrated to Israel more than 30 years ago, she has become a well-known artist there and beyond. Although she had invited me for decades, I didn’t get around to visiting Sali and her second husband until 1999, and now I cannot imagine why I waited so long.

Roaming the same ancient streets in the old city of Jerusalem, where people not so different from you and me have walked for five thousand years connects me, in a more direct, real way that reading history can, to the continuity of mankind – to the thread that runs backward among us, generation to generation.

Sometimes in Jerusalem, touching an ancient wall or running a finger along the outlines of a dice game scratched in the tile floor of a church by Roman soldiers, I have almost been able to imagine living in such a place thousands of years ago.

You can see some more of Sali’s paintings here and at her blog, Horsefeathers.





[1999] This was snapped in Israel where Sali has lived for more than 30 years. We first met in New York City in 1969 or 1970 when we and our then-husbands were anti-Vietnam War activists.

Her husband was also Bob Dylan’s Hebrew language teacher and sometimes when the class was finished, the four of us would play round-robin backgammon. I spent a lot of afternoons with Sali and her husband in 1971, in the early weeks after my husband and I separated. It was at their apartment that a mutual friend tracked me down to offer me my first television job.

Sometimes years go by between in-person visits, but Sali and I aways pick up the conversation as though we'd just left off yesterday.


FOLLOWUP: Ageism at The Reagan Library

category_bug_ageism.gif Kirby Hanson, director of business development for The Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, responded on Wednesday to my previous telephone calls about ageism at the Library.

In a lengthy PR email, she repeated statements made to the press that age was not at issue in dismissing the 27 docents, who were mostly older than 70. But she did not address the questions contained in my original post.

In a subsequent telephone conversation, Ms. Hanson reiterated the PR points in her email, but I was able to pin her down on some of the questions I posed in my original post.

The docents were not fired, says Ms. Hanson; they were “reassigned” to duties other than conducting tours which include assisting archivists, helping with administrative work and guiding visitors to the museum store.

As to the specific questions:

1. In regard to the “physical and intellectual rigours”, what is it the fired docents were incapable of doing? How do you know they are?
The 27 docents were “no longer physically or intellectually capable” of conducting tours, says Ms. Hanson. There is a Volunteer Council at The Reagan Presidential Library that is made up of 12 volunteers who work with all the other volunteers “all the time.” These 12 evaluated the docents who were relieved of tour-conducting duty and determined “unanimously” that they were “better suited to other work.”

The decision was made among the council in private. None of the 27 docents were interviewed or given a personal review of their work. The first they knew of being fired, dismissed or reassigned (depending on point of view), was a letter sent to each in July which also informed them they were being recognized with “emeritus” status, giving them free, lifetime access to all activities of the Library.

Ms. Hanson also pointed out that some of the 27 did not object and were pleased with the change in status.

2. Who replaced the 27 docents and how old are they?
The entire community of volunteers/docents ranges in age from 18 to 90 and most, according to Ms. Hanson, are in their 60s, 70s and 80s although, she says, the Library is not allowed to ask their ages.

3. How has the volunteer program been improved without the 27 fired volunteers?
The program is improved, according to Ms. Hanson, because the docents are now being trained for tasks for which they “are more suited.”

Ms. Hanson declined to offer more detailed answers.

It is curious to me that none of the “Reagan Library 27”, before being relieved of tour-conducting duties, a procedure I believe is de rigueur in the business world, although I could be wrong. Still, in a nearly 50-year career in the private sector workforce, I have never been promoted (nor has anyone I know of been demoted) without a personal, private conversation with a supervisor or boss, and I wonder why volunteers would be treated with less respect.

Another curiosity is that the Library is “not allowed” to ask ages. Undoubtedly, volunteers – just like paid employees – fill out formal applications. Although it is illegal to hire or fire paid employees based on age, it is not illegal to ask about age, and date of birth is a standard question on hiring forms.

And I’m still curious about the disappearance of the story in the Ventura County Star. I've emailed the news editor and await an response.

Comments, anyone?

The Crabby Old (Grammar) Lady

Back at the dawn of the personal computer era accompanied by the advent of word processors that check spelling and grammar, there was quite a bit of hand-wringing over the future of writing. It seems nonsense now, but it was supposed then that people would never learn to spell for themselves, grammar rules would be forgotten and the ability to write well would just go to hell.

Surprise, surprise. On millions of blogs, ordinary folks who are not English teachers or professional writers are, in general, writing quite well with or without the spellcheckers turned on. It is a fact of the blogosphere that when posts are laden with typos, misspelled words and poor grammar, the thoughts therein become suspect and the blogger is ignored. So the pressure toward language competence, in Crabby Old Lady's reading experience, has been effective and those early naysayers proved wrong.

Nevertheless, Crabby has become increasingly annoyed of late with five grammar errors that commonly turn up in otherwise well-written stories. Yes, she knows – picky, picky, picky. But really now - what would all the backsliders do without Crabby to show them the light and the way?

Duck tape. No, no, no, quacked Crabby. It is not duck tape. There is no such thing. It is DUCT tape. [UPDATE: See Comments below.]

Cite/site. We do a lot of CITING on our blogs – that is, we quote and link to other sources or examples. A site, for those who are definition-challenged, is a physical place or location. And on the off-chance anyone is further confused, Crabby reminds them that the homonym sight refers to vision.

Who/that. Crabby knows this is hard to believe, but more often than President Bush says "trust me," sentences like this one turn up: Neil Armstrong is the first man that stepped foot on the moon. Wrong. Good grammar requires that it be, Neil Armstrong is the first man WHO stepped foot on the moon. When referring to a person, the pronoun is who. Inanimate objects get that. And animals? Take your pick; Crabby has no opinion although her cat Oliver and all his feline blogging friends, definitely fall into the who category.

One of the only. Some grammarians defend this phrase as being idiomatic and it is so common, Crabby may be one of the only people alive who cares. That second clause is incorrect. It's nonsense. Only refers to one or sole and has no meaning. It references a plural noun so the correct phrase is, “…Crabby may be one of the FEW people alive who cares.”

Reason why. Unless you count the confusion between of few and less (which she discussed in a previous grammar lesson), nothing gets Crabby Old Lady’s knickers in a twist more than reason why. It is so nearly universal that many web grammarians use the phrase to explain some other point of grammar: “The reason why,” they say, “ the pluperfect tense is needed...”

When the experts don’t know the rules, it’s enough to make a Crabby Old Lady weep in frustratioin. The reason (without why) is that the phrase, reason why is redundant. You can say, “I’ll tell you the REASON” or “I’ll tell you WHY,” but not “I’ll tell you the reason why.”

Crabby has a theory about the ubiquity of "reason why". It may be out of fashion by now, but every mother in her youth used this particular redundancy as a threat: "You'll clean your room right now, buster, or I'll know the reason why."

Crabby will now return to her cave wherein, as a distraction from the disturbing political news and rumors dished out daily, she ponders the minutiae of life.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Tomorrow, Crabby's friend Ronni will follow up on the Reagan Library story.]

Ageism at The Reagan Library

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The story in the Ventura County Star quoted below has disappeared from the newspaper's website since yesterday evening.]

category_bug_ageism.gif It’s bad enough that age discrimination keeps many older workers out of the job market – now they’re going after volunteers.

Ronald Reagan was our oldest president – age 69 when he was elected. So it is somewhat of an irony, as NPR reported yesterday, that 27 docents, most of them in their 70s, have been fired from The Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. They

“…received letters, dated July 19, saying they've reached docent emeritus status, which, aside from exempting them from annual membership dues, also releases them from the most coveted work for a docent: conducting tours.”
- Ventura County Star, 13 August 2005

The Library held an awards ceremony for the sacked docents in August where plaques signed by Nancy Reagan were distributed to them, but many did not attend:

"’It's strictly age, you see,’ said Dee Rickards, in her 70s, who attended but said it was the saddest awards ceremony she's ever seen. She's been a docent since the library's opening in 1991. ‘The way they got rid of us was humiliating. It was degrading.’ “Rickards and many others considered the emeritus status a euphemism for ‘you're too old.’
- Ventura County Star, 13 August 2005
"’It was just 'goodbye and don't come back'," said Norma Stafford, 75. ‘Basically all they said was that we were not needed anymore. But as we went along we figured out that all of us were over 70 or had grey hair, some of us both.

"’I guess they thought we wouldn't be able to bounce around and were looking for younger people. But believe it or not, you can walk and talk in your 70s - as Mr. Reagan did."

- news.telegraph, 10 October 2005

The Library denies age was a consideration. Kirby Hanson, director of business development for the Library who is also responsible for improving the volunteer program, said in August:

"It has absolutely nothing to do with age. It's our responsibility to improve the volunteer program. The eyes of the world are on the Reagan Library. We could have dismissed them, but we didn't want to dismiss them."
- Ventura County Star, 13 August 2005

It is hard to understand how relieving the docents of their tour-conducting duties and giving them plaques is not dismissing them. And in another story about the docents two months later, Ms. Hanson, still insisting “age absolutely was not a factor,” had adjusted her statement a bit, saying

"...that the decision to remove touring duties from some of the volunteers was based on the ‘physical and intellectual’ rigours of the job following the doubling in size of the campus.”
- news.telegraph, 10 October 2005

I was curious about several unanswered questions in the news reports:

  1. In regard to the “physical and intellectual rigours”, what is it the fired docents were incapable of doing? How do you know they are?
  2. Who replaced the 27 docents and how old are they?
  3. How has the volunteer program been improved without the 27 fired volunteers?

Two telephone calls to Ms. Hanson at the Reagan Library on Tuesday were not returned.

Ronald Reagan was 77 when he left the presidency and in the political climate of the times in 1989, he could probably have been re-elected if not for constitutional term limits. It is shameful that docents in his age group are deemed too old to help commemorate his presidency.

Age discrimination lives at the Reagan Library and there is not even the excuse corporate America uses that older workers cost too much.

[Hat tip to both Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles and Chancy for this story.]