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Why Aren’t There More A-List Women Bloggers

Yesterday, I received an email from M. Pamela Bumsted with a link to a story titled Women Bloggers: How Many and Why Aren’t There Enough? posted by Lorelle on WordPress.

The story resurrects the on-again, off-again debate in the blogosphere about the lack of women bloggers in the top 100 blogs lists.

It is speculated that blog rankings are top-heavy with men because it was mostly men who created blogging software and they were the early adopters. Also, men spend a lot more time networking at conferences than women do. And, men are more likely to toot their own horns.

All that undoubtedly contributes to the near stranglehold men appear to have on that coveted A-list, but there is another reason that almost makes the discussion moot: the tools we have for ranking blog traffic are so inaccurate as to be useless.

Technorati, the top arbiter of blog popularity, ranks blogs by counting incoming links. But I can’t be the only blogger who has dozens of regular readers who don’t keep blogs and therefore don’t link to Time Goes By. None of those readers are counted by Technorati in calculating TGB's ranking. There is something peculiar about a measurement system that gives full value to readers who blog and zero to those who don't blog - a parochial point of view completely out of whack with the professed principles of blogging.

But, until someone invents a better ranking system, we are stuck (like Rumsfeld and his Army) with the one we've got - if you choose to take it seriously, which I don't. It's hard to get my knickers in too much of a twist over what inaccurate measurement tools can't possibly prove or not prove.

For these reasons and others, I believe there are more A-list women bloggers than we know, but that won't become evident until the measurement tools improve. Meanwhile, Blogher is raising the profile of women bloggers who are, if the research is accurate, the majority in the blogosphere and they are helping too, to increase the visibility of women at tech and blog conferences.

Although I enjoy many kinds of blogs, I care mostly about elderblogs and what blogging adds to the lives of elders. None are A-listers, but in this little subcategory of blogging, by a most unscientific measurement, gender distribution appears equal: a quick perusal of the ElderBloggers blogroll on TGB shows about a 50/50 split between men and women. I didn’t plan it that way and I can't draw much of a conclusion from the fact because ElderBlogs are listed as interesting or useful sites come into my view regardless of gender.

Women are well represented here and they appear, from anecdotal memory, to be the majority of commenters on TGB. Perhaps that reflects nothing more than the larger percentage of women among the elder population and if younger women who complain of not making the blogging A-lists would just be patient for a few years, you'll eventually have the upper hand by numbers alone. (Kidding! Just kidding!)

With all this, however, is a question that hasn’t been asked: do you care if your blog isn’t in the top 100? Does it matter?

Most of us are not without ego and would like to have hundreds of thousands of readers. Most of us are also realistic. Unless we are willing to give over the majority of our waking hours to our blogs, do the homework, research and reporting necessary to add new information to the conversation, and regularly pursue mentions in mainstream media and on widely-read blogs to draw new readers (highly time-consuming activities), our readership will remain small.

Is that so bad? Humans being what we are, people will not stop finding ways to compare themselves and figure out who's the current top dog. But there are other pleasures in blogging. For elderbloggers - my personal concern - there are the non-competitive values of new social networks, cognitive maintenance and improvement, and ease of communication of all kinds.

And here's something else worth pondering: no one needs to be number one to make a difference. A small example: I dislike the term "seniors," which has become pejorative with overuse, and prefer "elders" even though it's hardly been used for decades except in history books about Native Americans.

When I was interviewed for a New York Times story about older bloggers, I made it a point to use the terms elder and elderbloggers and I discussed the language issue with the Times writer. As a result, the story was titled, "Elderbloggers Stake Their Claim."

That's real and positive social change instigated by a woman blogger nowhere near the A-list. So perhaps we're all asking the wrong question.

Medicare Then and Now

category_bug_journal2.gif Saul Friedman, in his Newsday column last week, quotes a 1966 New York Times story about the day the then-new Medicare program went into effect during the Lyndon Johnson administration:

"The Medicare program affecting Americans over 65, got off to a smooth start today. Some 160,000 patients already in hospitals from Guam to the East Coast and Puerto Rico automatically became Medicare eligible...Others were admitted during the day."
- Newsday, 26 May 2006

Mr. Friedman then recounts the problems - from glitches to serious screw-ups - in launching Part D of Medicare, the prescription drug program, asking why it’s gone so badly this time:

“One reason, said Robert Hayes, president of the New York-based Medicare Rights Center, is that Medicare coverage was identical and universal, regardless of income, and administered by Medicare…

“And author Nancy Altman (The Battle for Social Security) said that while Johnson and the Congress relied on professionals in government to design Medicare, President George W. Bush and the Republican leadership disdained government and Part D was written in secret by drug and insurance industry lobbyists, then narrowly passed under cover of darkness.”

Which, it appears, is pretty much how all legislation is created and made law these days. Never have the "good old days" of government looked quite as good as now.

There is more from Friedman about what’s gone wrong with Part D and how it happened, and I could paraphrase it, but better to read it in its entirety. And note the ending:

“…every Medicare advocate (except AARP) told the committee to quit trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear and simply add a uniform drug benefit to Medicare and let Medicare run it. But that would be too easy.”

Oh, the Stories We Can Tell

Last week, Cecile Christiansen left a comment on the little tour I posted of the Greenwich Village neighborhood I’m leaving for my new home in Portland, Maine:

“I appreciate your looks backwards because they prompt me to look back myself. I've seen things again that I hadn't even remembered that I knew.”

It is gratifying when readers take blog posts as they are intended. In telling some of my stories, in daily entries or the Timeline, the goal (in addition to my just liking to tell stories) is to provoke your own memories, and my hope is that you will tell some of those stories - whether in comments here, on your own blogs or privately within your family.

Humans have been hardwired for storytelling since the days of cavemen. In telling our stories, we pass on our lore, teach our children and preserve our heritage. It also helps bind us together through recognition our commonalities, contributes to the continuity of generations and reminds us that however the daily details of life change, through technology and other means as time passes, our essential humanity and therefore, our connection to one another through the years persists.

More than a year ago, I published a story titled “(Extra)ordinary Lives” prompted by an email from a reader who said she had no stories to tell because her life had been so ordinary.

It is worth repeating, 15 months later, that no lives are ordinary. Everyone of us has hundreds of stories to tell, stories that can teach others, change minds or - simply amuse. Nothin’ wrong with that last one too.

So tell your stories. Make us laugh and make us cry. Let us know what happened, how it was then – 50 years ago and yesterday. Happy, sad, serious and funny. Every story is valuable. Sing of your lives…

Why Language Matters

category_bug_ageism.gif Even a minor technology poll can’t be reported without demeaning elders.

In preparation for the upcoming release of its new Windows Live service, Microsoft recently commissioned a survey from Harris Interactive to see how many adults understand some current IT buzzwords.

Fewer than 50 percent, according to Harris, can explain such terms as VoIP, RSS and tagging. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents know what blogs are, but only 17 percent read them. But that's not what's important about this.

In reporting the survey, an InformationWeek writer, Paula Rooney, supplies a cute, little kicker to the story, quoting Ken Winell, CEO of Expert Collab, described as “a new Microsoft solution provider in Florham Park, New Jersey.” Mr. Winell notes that whether the general public understands the buzzwords or not, they are using the technology:

“’Blogs and MySpace/social networking is the modern day community bulletin board,’ he said. ‘I expect to see kiosks for blogs at the senior centers that talk about shuffleboard and bad dinner theater any day now!’”
InformationWeek, 26 May 2006

Are you chuckling yet about those doddering old geezers who haven't the wit any longer to know good theater from bad?

More than once in the recent past, readers have chastised me for making too much of too little in such jibes as this one aimed at old people. I refuse to believe that some offensive remarks are okay. If that is so, where would you draw the line? Are there certain words that would be acceptable - maybe geezer, but others that cross the line - like biddy and coot? How do you choose?

Or perhaps the dividing line between okay bigotry and not-okay bigotry should be the size of the audience which hears or reads the slur. We could make it unacceptable on American Idol, but okay on infomercials for shady real estate deals in Florida. Do you believe that would be all right?

In remarks like that above, elders are stereotyped and demeaned every day on television, in movies, in newspapers and magazines, commercials and other advertising. The stereotyping, repeated day in and day out, in ways that some people and publications apparently find amusing, reinforces the culture’s acceptance of ageism. Again, as always, this one doesn’t pass the Time Goes By Bias Test: substitute “women’s” or “blacks’” for “senior” in that quote and the bigotry is obvious.

Bigotry will never end by being ignored. It must be repeatedly pointed out and retractions demanded. If we let such speech pass, it becomes entrenched. In the case of elders, we know it results in marginalization of elders from the mainstream of life, acceptance of age discrimination in the workplace and in elders receiving less aggressive health care than younger people. On the off chance that last isn't clear, people who otherwise wouldn't, die as a result of ageism.

Although generally unacknowledged as such, ageism is no less destructive than racism and sexism, and it won’t stop until we point out every "unimportant", cutesy dig at elders and demand that such language stop.

You can reach Paula Rooney at Her editor-in-chief at InformationWeek, is Rob Preston; he can be emailed at Ken Winell keeps an intermittent blog at Ken Winell’s Space where comments are accepted.

The Patriot Act You Don't Know About

category_bug_politics.gif Who knew how deeply the Patriot Act intrudes into our lives.

The time between the closing, next week, on my New York sale and the closing on my Maine purchase is tight. At first, I intended to have my New York bank wire the proceeds of the sale to my Maine bank. That is, until the New York bank informed me they hold the money for three days – without paying interest - before wiring it, even though they will receive it in the form of a cashier’s check which is universally understood to be cash.

I was furious, assuming they arbitrarily keep the money to benefit from the float for three days.

And then I was told that the Maine bank will hold the money for additional three days before it’s available to me, again with no interest. That’s eight days total, with the weekend, before I can have my own money - without interest.

A few days’ interest may not seem like much until you know that the value of my apartment increased 750 percent while I owned it and the interest, until I buy the new apartment and pay off some bills, is substantial from a middle-class point of view.

It took turning a few cartwheels, but my financial adviser eventually worked out an arrangement so I’ll get the money in time for the Maine closing and all is well. But the reason for the bank hold on the funds stunned me: it’s not so the bank can cash in on the float at customers’ expense; it is a provision of the Patriot Act.

All bank transactions of more than a certain amount must now be vetted to assure that it is not terrorist money being moved around and banks are granted three days to do whatever investigation they or the government do. During those three days – at each stop of the way wherever money is being moved, the money sits in limbo with no one making interest on it.

Although the proceeds from the house sale is a lot of money to me, it is a small transaction compared to commercial money transfers. How many millions of dollars in interest – whether to banks, individuals or corporations – must have been lost so far due to this Patriot Act provision – which is certainly passed on to you and me in increased prices. And I haven’t heard of any terrorists being caught in this manner.

Many years ago, I was privy to an extended telephone conversation between a wealthy, big-name, Hollywood producer and a bank. The producer, oblivious to or uncaring of my presence, was loudly threatening the banker with hideous personal consequences if he was not paid interest on a transfer of funds over a weekend, which the banker was refusing.

What I was thinking as I listened to this colorful invective was, “Oh, for god’s sake, it’s two days. Let it go,” until the amount was mentioned: $25 million. And this was back in the late 1970s when interest rates were hovering somewhere around 18 percent.

Suddenly, I had a great deal of sympathy for the producer, as I do for everyone now, who comes up against this little-known provision of the Patriot Act. I wonder how many others there are hidden in the small print waiting to screw up our lives.

Cat Travel Stories

category_bug_journal2.gif While Ollie and I are staying with Alex for another ten days or so until the trip to Maine, I’m without many of my notes, books, clippings and odd jottings for blog posts about what it’s really like to get older and my mind is more on moving and the details involved in the sale and purchase of these two homes. It seems a good time for some random storytelling that doesn’t necessarily relate to aging.

A day or two ago, Naomi Dagen Bloom of A Little Red Hen left a comment about cats and travel which reminded me of some past trips with cats.

Background: When I was married a long time ago, Alex and I had two Siamese cats. When they were tiny kittens, I stuffed them in my pockets when we drove somewhere and they became as comfortable with car travel as they were at home. When they grew up, we never needed cat carriers. The two of them made the backseat their own, with a litter box on the floor, food and water in covered containers.

Story No. 1: We often drove from Houston to Austin, Texas to visit clubs there for the great local music the town is justifiably famous for. About halfway to Austin one weekend, Shabbas (the big male – named for having been acquired on Friday) started screaming and pacing.

It wasn’t the normal talkativeness common to the breed. This was insistent and non-stop yelling at the top of his lungs. Really irritating. It went on for many miles until it became more than irritating. Alex and I were ready to strangle the beast.

Eventually, at the edge of sanity, we decided to skip the whole trip and return home. As soon as we had turned around, heading east toward Houston, Shabbas curled up and went to sleep.

Later that evening, the local news reported the story of a horrendous highway disaster, a pile-up of twenty or more cars that afternoon in which several people died. It happened on the highway to Austin a few miles ahead of where we had turned off the road to return to Houston.

Psychic cat? Alex and I have believed ever since that Shabbas saved our lives.

Story No. 2: When we moved from Houston to Minneapolis, Shabbas and Yontev (we got her on Rosh Hoshanah), as always, had the backseat to themselves. Yontev was in heat with the intermittent yowling that attends that regular cycle although nothing as mind-shattering as Shabbas’ warning on the trip to Austin.

Somewhere in Oklahoma or maybe Nebraska, driving in the slow lane, we noticed that people in passing cars were pointing and laughing at us. We appeared to be normal looking to one another and surmised that someone had written a dirty word or two in the travel dust on the car. Then I turned around to check on the cats…

Shabbas and Yontev, at ease as always in the car, were going at it, happily humping on the shelf in the back window.

Story No. 3: We were moving again, this time from Chicago to New York. Alex had gone ahead and I was driving the car and cats to our new home. Yontev, as you might imagine from the previous story, was pregnant again. (Yes, we were irresponsible cat parents, but that was then and this now.)

It was night and very dark when heavy rain changed to a giant hailstorm. Visibility was down to the taillights of the car in front of us. Bumper-to-bumper traffic slowed to five miles an hour. Hail rattled on the roof. And Yontev screamed. She screamed and screamed. “Oh, my babies. We’ll all die. You’re going to kill my babies,” she seemed to be saying and she wouldn’t let up even after we’d passed the hailstorm.

When it was time to stop for the night at Youngstown, Ohio, the neon sign at the motel flashed “No Pets.” Way too tired to look for a friendlier bed, I signed in at the office, drove around to park near our room and then had a chat with the cats: “Now listen, guys, you’ve gotta be quiet. You can’t say a word or they’ll throw us out before we’ve had a night’s sleep. Have you got that? No talking – and certainly no yelling, Yontev - until we’re back in the car tomorrow.”

And, by God, they didn’t say a word.

No one can tell me cats don’t understand everything we say…

Moving Van Day

category_bug_journal2.gif One of the reasons Ollie and I moved in with my former husband two days ago is that I don’t relish the idea of Ollie becoming a temporary media celebrity by being trapped in a moving van, lost somewhere on I-95 between New York City and Portland, Maine. If he’s not in the apartment while the movers are working, we can avoid a scary 15 minutes of fame.

So while Ollie lounges around watching soap operas across town, I'll be overseeing the emptying of our home, counting boxes as they go onto the truck and saying goodbye to the good neighbors who have helped make my life on Bedford Street the pleasure it has been for 23 years.

As Chinatown has expanded northward during the past two decades and SoHo has creeped south, Little Italy has been squeezed between, reduced now to only two or three blocks identified mostly by Ferrara’s Bakery. There was a time, however, half a century ago, when my neighborhood was still part of a much larger Little Italy.

When I moved to Bedford Street in 1983, the Italian social club was still here, three doors down from my house. Young toughs, who became my friends and looked out for me when I came home late at night alone, manned the door to the club and it was rumored that private, big-money poker games took place there on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

Limousines often lined the curb in those days and on three or four occasions I spied John Gotti visiting the club.

There were still a number of Italian widows here when I moved to this block. Mary, then in her eighties, lived next door. She had moved into that apartment when she arrived from Italy as a teenager in about 1915 – the bride, in an arranged marriage, of a young man who had immigrated a few years earlier.

Mary told me about the five children she raised in her top floor apartment and the wood-fired, community oven, in the basement of what is now a high-end restaurant half a block away, where the women took their bread for baking and chickens for roasting in the days when they had only a cooktop in their kitchens.

Like my building, most of the others here have been gentrified now and there aren’t many Italian families remaining. Mary’s children and most of the others have left the neighborhood for Long Island, New Jersey and parts west.

One once-large family still here runs the local laundry which was, until sometime in the 1970s, a funeral parlor. The stained glass windows are still there in the back near the dryers.

The owner, Jerry – by consensus, the “mayor of Bedford Street” – is an affable, streetwise Noo Yawka, now about 60, who grew up on the block and will happily tell you - once you're friends - about the scams and such that have been known to be run here (and likely still are). His wife, who also grew up in the neighborhood, died of cancer about 15 years ago, and now two of her sisters, Dee and Roe, keep the laundry humming.

The laundry is the local gossip rag, better than any neighborhood newspaper could be. Anything that happens here – births, deaths, marriages, divorces, who just got a job, was laid off or retired, new arrivals and departures, where they're from, where they're going, what prices have been paid for apartments – it's all reported at the laundry, sometimes in unnerving detail.

During my first year here, Jerry's teenage children and others who still lived here scared the bejesus out of me on the Fourth of July. Long a tradition on the block, it was an all-day sidewalk barbecue, firecracker and cherry bomb extravanza that began at noon and didn’t stop until midnight. They must have bought literally a ton of fireworks - it sounded like World War III for a nerve-shattering 12 hours and the next morning I was literally ankle deep, outside my door, in shreds of firecracker paper. I learned to leave on that holiday for next few years until the kids grew up and left.

When I moved in, what is now the corner deli was a flower shop and for a short while after that, it became chi-chi restaurant catering to celebrities. When I tried to make a reservation, a week or two after it opened, I was told nothing was available for three months. Yeah, right.

I’ve never understood why that sort of snotty restauranteur hasn’t noticed that the beautiful people always move on within six months or so to a newer chic hangout and that if you’ve not cultivated a local clientele, the restaurant is doomed – as this one was in less than a year.

For the past 20 years, it’s been a deli run by an Arab family of many brothers. It’s a small space, but somehow they cram in all the necessities of daily life from morning croissants to kitty litter. And they are the kind of people who will always spot you a few dollars when you run short.

I miss Isla which was a Cuban restaurant in the style of Havana in the Fifties before the revolution. I met the members of the Buena Vista Social Club band there on two occasions and I’ve never found another mojito worth drinking like the one the bartenders at Isla concocted – so smooth, so clear, so sparkly you could easily believe you were relaxing on a beach in Cuba. But Isla, sadly, couldn’t survive the city-wide restaurant downturn following 9/11.

Marinella, however, did survive as it has for the 35 or 40 years of its existence. I made it my personal dining room and hardly a week has gone by since 1983, that I haven’t eaten at least one meal there. I’ll go back one more time before I leave for the best grilled calamari in all of New York City – and believe me, I’ve tried that dish in at least 50 restaurants.

Things are changing here. Jerry speaks of selling the laundry and moving to Florida, and it feels like more than idle talk these days; he recently bought a condo on the beach there. Just three weeks ago, a new restaurant opened down the block. It’s a good place for breakfast or lunch, but already it’s become a singles meat market at night - five deep at the bar and too raucous to be able to have a conversation over dinner.

At my building, my buyer also purchased two of the other three apartments that make up the condo which he intends to renovate into one big space - almost returning it to the single-family home it was built as 200 years ago. The fourth apartment, a duplex with a roof garden, was bought last year by a famous, young movie star who lives there with her rock-musician boyfriend.

In 1983, this was a lower-class neighborhood in the early stages of gentrification. Today, it’s mostly rich people and there is no way I could afford to buy in if I were doing it now. But I don’t think it will be as colorful a block with the active street life I've known during my stay.

What I appear to have done in Portland, Maine – without realizing it at first – is to purchase my new home in another lower-class neighborhood in the early stages of gentrification. I’ve been lucky during my life to have sometimes been in the right place at the most interesting time: Sausalito and San Francisco during the beatnik era, Chicago for the 1968 Democratic convention, New York for Woodstock, working in radio during the most innovative and creative period in popular music, and switching to a career on the web in its earliest commercial incarnation a decade ago when we were still inventing it.

And now I think I’ve chosen a new place that, in its own way, will be as interesting as my past choices. I sense a feeling of community in my new neighborhood, Munjoy Hill, and that it won’t be long until I know my neighbors.

And now it’s time to get over to Bedford Street to be there when the van arrives at 6AM. It’s been an entire year bringing the decision to leave New York to its fruition and I’m eager to get this show on the road.

Fool the Future Archaeologists

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Yesterday's political quiz resulted in 41 percent liberal readers, 39 percent centrist and 20 percent Libertarian. I have no idea what, if anything, that means.]

The moving van will arrive tomorrow morning, Thursday, and like yesterday there are too many must-do items on the list to put much thought to Time Goes By. Instead, here’s a little game to amuse ourselves with today.

Last week in Memories and Memory, I mentioned that I once located a set of misplaced keys in the refrigerator. The mental cog-slip involved in such an incongruous pairing makes me giggle and I giggled again when amba of Ambivablog confessed that she’d once done the same thing.

It reminds me of a game friends and I played back in my beatnik days hanging out at the Old Town Coffee House in Sausalito, California. Undoubtedly fueled by smoking funny cigarettes, the idea was to invent preposterous juxtapositions of two everyday items that would misrepresent daily life to anyone unfamiliar with 20th century culture. We called it “Fool the Future Archaeologists.”

I remember only two of them which are, unfortunately, far from the best (or maybe what we were smoking made them funnier than they were):

  • Place a goldfish bowl in a television set
  • Weld a trumpet to a car bumper

Surely you can do better than these two examples…

Politics and Homelessness

category_bug_politics.gif Ollie the cat and I are not leaving New York City for two more weeks, but we awoke this morning for the last time in our Greenwich Village home and today we are moving to my former husband’s apartment.

We’re not officially homeless (I still own this place until next Wednesday), but it feels that way, dependent as we are now on the kindnesses not of a stranger, but of a man about whom I once had few good things to say.

It’s a busy day hauling ourselves across town with our personal items and stuff we will need for the car trip to Maine, and there’s no time to write anything of even minor consequence or interest. A reasonably good fallback for days when bloggers are too busy or brain-dead to write a real post is a quiz.

Although it’s conventional wisdom with mainstream media that old people are politically conservative, who knows for certain. I think it’s difficult to pigeonhole elders who have been known to be more thoughtful about individual political issues than some young people may be yet.

Still, I doubt we’re all centrists. So, it might be fun to see if we can identify a general political leaning among TGB readers.

The World’s Smallest Political Quiz purports to quickly discern whether you are liberal, libertarian, conservative, etc. Follow that link, answer just ten, easy multiple-choice questions, then come back here and let us know your result. You can leave a fake name if a public, political label bothers you.

And don’t go getting all quibbly about whether it’s accurate or not – it’s just a stupid internet quiz. To get us started, here are my results - Left/Liberal:

Political Issues Score

Flip-flopping or Thoughtful?

category_bug_politics.gif In these final days of packing and cleanup, there’s not much left around here that isn’t in a sealed carton. For audio accompaniment, I’m down to a small, battery-powered radio so ancient that the FM dial is dead and only three stations come in clearly on the AM side.

So, I found myself on Sunday in the unfamiliar position of listening to a call-in show, right wing variety. Most of the program was taken up with a long diatribe against Senator John Kerry and, interestingly, President Bush, along with a few other politicians for the sin of changing their minds.

You would think that two years after the last election campaign, Kerry’s so-called flip-flopping would be an issue as dead as my radio, but the show doggedly ragged on for two or three hours about how untrustworthy elected officials are who change their positions on issues.

Well, wait just a minute. Isn’t it a goal of a politically involved citizenry to change politicians’ minds to their way of thinking? Lots of voters write letters and email to Congress with the intention of persuading their representatives one way or another on issues. Wouldn’t a conservative voter want to convince a liberal official of his point of view and be pleased to have made a convert? Wouldn't a liberal voter want to do the same?

The point of view of the radio show, in which host and callers repeated their agreement with one another for two or three hours, appeared to be that whatever a politician said ten or 15 years ago had better remain his stand in perpetuity or come the next election, they’ll send him into permanent political exile.

Aside from the fact that there are plenty of other reasons to vote out every current member of Congress, what sense does this make? Anyone who is even marginally sentient changes his mind when new facts are learned or an idea is persuasively presented. If we didn’t, smokers would still be lighting up in restaurants, there would still be a military draft and women still would not have the vote.

Now I’ll grant that many, if not most, politicians do appear to have set their positions in stone and only political expediency will sway them. Hillary Clinton switches sides on issues weekly depending on what group she’s speaking to or who just gave her campaign committee $50,000. She’s not alone. Having recognized public disgust with their do-nothing Congress, all representatives – and the third of the Senate who are up for re-election this year - spend most of their time adjusting their stands to fit shifting opinion polls. This is pandering. No serious governing is involved and no serious voter believes a word of it.

For the handful of national politicians with some small amount of integrity intact, I’d rather they change their minds when they’re convinced than stick with outdated positions because they campaigned on them. That’s not flip-flopping, it’s thoughtfulness and with serious issues of scarifying magnitude we are currently confronted with, the United States needs many more thoughtful politicians (oxymoron though that phrase may be) than we’ve got.

After listening to Sunday’s call-in show host and his sycophants, however, it will take some fairly fancy persuasion skills to convince me there are enough other voters who believe in thoughtfulness to make a difference any time soon.

New York City Can Stuff It

If Crabby Old Lady had any doubts left about her decision to leave New York City (not that she had a choice), they are gone.

Friday is the night on which recycling can be placed at the curb on Crabby’s block for pickup the following morning. The rules are complex. Paper in its own transparent bag; plastic, glass and metal together in another. Certain kinds of plastic are not recyclable although which ones has long been one of the mysteries of the New York Sanitation Department.

Milk and juice cartons, which appear to Crabby to be plastic-coated paper, are included with the plastic, glass and metal, but not deli containers which contain no paper. Other trash is bagged together and cardboard boxes are to be broken down and tied or taped together. No one is ever certain they’ve done it all correctly and there are hefty fines for getting it wrong.

While packing all last week and ridding herself of old items she no longer needs, Crabby carefully separated her trash into their proper bags – or so she thought – and stacked them in a corner to await Friday evening. There were many bags, 15 or 20 of them, in addition to a small sofa, a couple of small tables, unmatched dinner plates she no longer wants and other assorted trash plus regular kitchen garbage.

Come Saturday morning, Crabby was off early to purchase various cleaning supplies, bathroom tissue, extra cat food and other necessities she’ll want immediately upon arrival in Maine (thank you Tabor of One Day at a Time for the reminder). She overbought in general, and how was Crabby to know how much laundry soap weighs – she’s dropped off her washing at the local laundromat for nearly 40 years.

As she trudged up her block lugging what felt as heavy and unwieldly as three nine-year-old boys, she spied a sanitation cop writing a ticket for some of the recycling bags still at the curb. At first, Crabby tried to be jokey about it: “Aw, come on,” she said with a grin. “Gimme a break. These are my last three days here. Can't you let it slide just once for old times' sake?”

The officer didn’t look up, didn’t smile. Intent on his grubby, little task, he kept writing in his book pad as he officiously informed Crabby that she had “broken the law. You can’t mix ceramic plates with glass and plastic".

“How was I to know that,” said Crabby. “I never threw out dishes before.” “It’s the law,” said the nasty twit as he thrust the ticket toward her. Crabby, whose hands were obviously full of shopping bags, ignored it as she stalked off toward her door. “You are required to take the ticket,” he called after her.

Full-tilt, New York street attitude kicked in as Crabby stuck her key in the lock. “Stuff it where the sun don’t shine,” she spit at him over her shoulder and slammed the door behind her.

For a literal lifetime – since she was a little girl in Portland, Oregon - Crabby Old Lady has carried on a love affair with New York City. Moving here in 1969, was a long-time dream come true. Through all the inconveniences, expense, five home robberies and one mugging, her affection for the city never faltered. And now, an odious, little garbage Nazi has ruined Crabby's final days in her beloved Greenwich Village neighborhood.

Thanks, New York City, for such a pleasant send-off. Goodbye and good riddance.

Easing On Down the Road of Life

category_bug_journal2.gif Among the things I’ve learned during the past six or eight weeks that I’ve been preparing to move from New York City to Portland, Maine, is that the United States is not as homogenous as it appears to be from the news, entertainment, advertising and political messages we are bombarded with that speak to us as if we are alike.

It’s easy to think we are when our daily experiences appear to be similar. MacDonald’s is everywhere. We all shop at Costco or Home Depot or The Gap. The same movies open in cities across the country on the same days. And we all suffer similar rage trying to work out our problems with the robotic customer service representatives of mega-corporations whether we live in Oregon or West Virginia.

I’m not speaking of the obvious differences - that Colorado is mountainous while Kansas is flat; Florida is warm and Minnesota is cold; Texas is a red state and Massachusetts is blue.

I mean that people in different parts of the country behave in dramatically different ways.

In selling one home and buying another in a distant state, there are more services to change than I remembered: power companies, insurance, banking, telephones, cable TV, internet access along with the specialized services of the real estate business – agents, attorneys, title companies, appraisers, inspectors.

And here’s what I’ve found: in New York, the initial attitude from the person involved with each of those transactions is “no.” In Maine, the approach is “yes.”

With one or two exceptions in New York, everyone made it difficult even within the same company. Canceling Time-Warner cable TV and Roadrunner was a negotiation worthy of international diplomacy. In setting it up in Maine, the local Time-Warner representative nearly offered to personally transport my television set and computer across four states.

When, a couple of months ago, I thought I might need a short-term loan to cover some expenses until I get the proceeds from the sale of the apartment, the New York bank I’ve used for decades brushed me off in less than 30 seconds. The head of a division at a big Maine bank spent 90 minutes with me, recommending, in the end, a solution that would save me money and didn’t involve her bank. She didn’t make a dime from me.

Again and again, New York made it hard; Maine made it easy.

Many decades ago – about 1960 – Herb Caen, who was a popular writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, visited New York City contrasting, in his daily column, life in the two cities. His conclusion, at the end of a month, was that it is so difficult and irritating to take care of the simplest chores and errands that his admiration for New Yorkers’ psychic stamina and endurance knew no bounds.

I can attest to that. When dealing with New York service people, I gird myself for an argument and I’ve rarely, in 37 years, been disappointed. In Maine, I’ve learned that I can consistently expect friendly service from people eager to help solve my problem.

But perhaps Maine is more like every other place in the United States and New York may as well be a different country. It would certainly account for the sharp-edge personalities New Yorkers – native or adopted – acquire.

It could be just an artifact of getting older but it will be a relief, living in Maine, to ease on down the road with less drama in daily life.

Memories and Memory

category_bug_journal2.gif The packing for my move is nearly finished and my entire life is stowed now in boxes. Funny how when you think you’re done with a room, there is always one more thing to pack. Some stuff is so familiar in its place, it’s easy to forget that it’s not part of the apartment.

I also forgot that eating is a daily activity. Early this week I stupidly packed every piece of china, flatware, silver and cooking equipment. Take-out is now my life.

When you pack up your entire house, you find out some peculiar things about yourself. In a cupboard, amid boxes of such detritus as old computer cables, leftover Christmas cards, gift wrap, ribbons and half-used stationery, there were 13 boxes of light bulbs, each with one missing. For years, apparently, I have bought a new box of light bulbs every time I needed only one.

In the pantry, there were seven bottles of commercial salad dressing - all, certainly, past their use-by dates. I always make dressing from scratch. What could I have been thinking when I bought them?

Under the bathroom sink, way in the back, was a set of about 30 heat rollers. Remember those? I haven’t curled my hair in 12 or 15 years which tells you something about my housecleaning habits.

And I finally found the three-foot-long fish platter that matches my grandmother’s china set. I’ve been looking for that since at least 2002.

Are you sensing a pattern in this?

Losing one’s memory is one of the biggest fears elders have and I’m not immune. With every misplaced pair of scissors or set of keys (I once found the latter in the refrigerator) I wonder, for a fleeting moment, if it’s the first sign of Alzheimer’s. But I’m not too concerned; I’ve had a crappy memory for as long as I can remember. (Is that a joke? I’m not sure.)

I firmly believe my lifelong habit of daily lists hasn’t helped my memory, but if I don’t do the lists, I don’t remember and I can't remember if I don't do the lists and – well, you see the circular problem.

I had thought that while packing I would be awash in memories of the past 23 years in this apartment, perhaps shed a tear or two at leaving. But that didn’t happen. Not that it hasn’t been a happy home. There have been more good times here with good friends than I can count.

Instead, however, I found myself thinking that this picture would look good on that wall in the new place; that I’ll need a larger rug for the living room; and I wonder if a lilac bush can be grown in a container. It would be so pretty on the deck.

It’s one of the things I like best about myself: however much I may wail in the beginning when things go wrong, I’m good at “inevitables,” at getting on with living in new or revised circumstances.

Having once had every intention of being carried out of this apartment feet first, I’m ready now, after 37 years in New York City to leave, eager to create new memories in my new home in Portland, Maine.

I doubt, however, they will involve anything like the memory invoked by one delightful, sexy surprise I found buried and forgotten under a lot of other clothes in a dresser drawer: a red satin and black lace bustier sized to fit the figure I haven’t had for a decade. I remember why I kept it – but that’s not a story I’m willing to tell on a family blog.

Acceptance of Life Mistakes

category_bug_journal2.gif I don’t often respond to comments here; if I did, I’d never get the next day’s post written. But I read all of them and I’m impressed every day with how smart and thoughtful the readers of Time Goes By are. Equally impressive are the conversations that follow as commenters respond not just to the story of the day, but to one another.

Kate of KateThoughts recently posted this on Becoming Who We Are:

“The only thing wrong with this blog and its comments is that I suspect not many thirty-somethings are reading it. I wonder, occasionally, what these years might be for me, if I had understood more about really 'growing up' back then.”

A few days later, des quoted Kate and had this to say:

“I am here! Except I am no longer in my thirties; just recently blew past forty so fast that it made my head spin.

“Aside from the weirdness of discovering that there really does seem to be a cloak of invisibility that descends upon women over 40, it's been something of a relief to move past the (admittedly imaginary) threshold.

“If anyone here would like to share, I am sure there are many like me, lurking in the background, who are hoping to understand more about 'really growing up' during this part. It feels like I screwed up the last part, and certainly don't want to do that again.. I know I'm not the only one who wants to soak up as much as I can about how to make the most of it. [emphasis added]

“Do tell, do share.”

des’s, and other people's list of past screw-ups will be different from mine, but sometimes, when I take a look back at my earlier years, particularly my 30s and 40s, I'm most bothered by the astonishing amount of superficiality.

One example only, among many: men. I don’t mean that an entire gender, half the world, is superficial, but that my involvement was. There were hours and hours – undoubtedly adding up to weeks or more probably, months over the years – spent with women friends talking over difficulties with men. And what did it get us? I can’t speak for my friends, but it got me nothing. Not a whit more understanding of how things work between men and women.

Then there were the private hours/weeks/months of ennui and longing to find someone to marry again. I felt these times as both loneliness and failure, and they were marked mostly by doing nothing, lying on the sofa wallowing in my misery. Plus, the uncounted evenings on dates – even short-term relationships - with men who were inappropriate for me.

I've often wished I had used all that time more productively. At minimum, I could have taught myself something practical like fixing the plumbing or building a bookshelf. Or read more of the books on that long list I’ll never finish before I die. Or just gone for a walk or bike ride, which would have improved my mood.

Then there were the uncountable hours spent under the sway of a culture that tells women they must do everything possible to make themselves as beautiful as movie stars - the shopping for just the right clothing, the cosmetics, the hair salons. The denial of good meals for the sake of five measly pounds.

It was all so meaningless. I could have married again if I’d said yes instead of no a couple of times. I made that choice. There must have been a reason, though I can’t remember it now, and I’ve finally come to know myself well enough to understand something I perhaps knew then and couldn't yet articulate to myself: that I’m too selfish with my time, too much a loner who needs too much time by myself to be a reasonable day-to-day companion. It’s a relief to have settled into that knowledge about myself now.

How our beliefs change as we get older is fascinating to watch if we can step back from ourselves now and again. During its time, all that folderol over men and over my appearance was important to me. Later, I was angry at myself for its superficiality. Like des, I saw it as a major life screw-up – so much time I stole from myself that could have been better used.

But these days, I see it differently. Married the wrong person and went through a painful divorce? Took a job for the wrong reasons that turned out badly? Wasted a lot of time on fripperies? Sure. And do those decisions later feel like failures and even foolish? Yes. But most of us, at various points in our lives, do the best we are capable of then. The trick, I think, is to be as understanding and forgiving of our youthful selves as we are of other people.

It has been fruitful to realize, in recent years, that few mistakes are irrevocable. What in youth felt devastating can, in elderhood, be corrected or just shrugged off. And I’ve noticed too that acceptance – of ourselves, our idiosyncrasies and of events over which we have no control - arrives as an unbidden blessing with age.

One of the best things about getting older is finally learning from at least some of our past mistakes and taking advantage of the experience and judgment we’ve gained from them so that we don’t repeat ourselves – or not as frequently, anyway.

Responsible Elder Driving

When I wrote about elder transportation in January, it was out of interest and concern for elders who have places to go and things to do but may, in the normal course of getting older, need to turn in their car keys one day.

Now that I am moving to a town that, unlike New York City, requires a car to get around, and now that I’ve bought this fine new car, the issue has become personal.

It’s human nature to think that others may not be okay, but I’m just fine. The time might be now for you to give up driving, but not me. The fact is that drivers older than 70 have a higher fatality rate per mile driven than any other age group except drivers 25 and younger.

It is predicted that by 2030, one-fifth of all drivers will be 65 and older, but already, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,

“…elderly drivers also have surpassed teenagers as the age group with the highest number of traffic accidents per mile.”
- Paramus Post, 15 May 2006

That word “elderly” – which means frail - is, as is usual in mainstream media, misused to mean old or elder, but otherwise this is a well-done piece about elder drivers which is more informed than many others:

“Old age isn't a barrier to driving, but age-related medical and personal problems might be. When does a senior's independence take a back seat to safety?

“’There is no certain age when a senior is too old to drive,’ said Dr. Robert Frost of Peoria, a volunteer instructor for AARP's driver safety program for seniors. ‘When physical and mental conditions prevent them from being a safe driver, that's when it is time to stop driving. But everyone is different. In my class, I have had drivers who were 93.

"’Some people should stop driving at 65. There are others who are still good drivers at 93.’"

- Paramus Post, 15 May 2006

That’s true. We age at different rates depending on health, genes and simple luck. In coming years, as the elder population explodes in number, it will become a nightmare for state motor vehicles departments to determine and enforce who should or should not be allowed to drive. No one wants to admit it’s time to stop driving and give over their lives to the dependency and inconvenience of relying on others.

But, we elders can help keep the streets and highways safer and reduce the burden on motor vehicle departments by being responsible about ourselves. Using the experience and judgment we have gained in our many decades of life, we must not let our understandable desire for independence keep us from turning in those car keys when our faculties – eyesight, hearing, reaction time – make us a menace on the road.

Let’s make a pact among ourselves to monitor our own driving. We can note when it starts to become difficult to read signs; when waning depth perception makes parking and backing up questionable; when we brake just a little slower than we should have. We can enlist the aid of friends and family who ride with us by asking them to be honest (and make sure they know we mean it) if and when they notice we’re not the drivers we once were.

And years before that happens, we can decide what we will do when we can no longer drive. We can find out now what services are available in our communities to transport non-drivers. We can note stores that are in within walking distance and keep a list of those which deliver. We can discuss our future transportation needs with younger friends who may be willing to pitch in. We can plan now for changing our living arrangements, if necessary, to help make daily life without a car easier.

Time Goes By lobbies hard for the respect our culture is lax in giving elders. One way we can do our part in improving that is by acknowledging our waning capabilities when they appear and acting on that information responsibly. It’s the right thing to do, and it could save our lives and the lives of others.

Ageism Takes to the Air Waves

category_bug_ageism.gif When Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion came on the radio, his brand of good-natured humor seemed aptly named for what I needed on Sunday morning: a "home companion" for another session of sorting and packing belongings for transport to the city I’m ready adopt as my new home.

The show was a repeat, Keillor announced at the start, a compilation of some past programs, but it was the usual mix of storytelling, light music, poignant monologues, amusing faux commercials and a bit of radio drama guaranteed to lull listeners into believing for 90 minutes that our world is a simpler, gentler place than it really is. Nothing to raise the blood pressure the way the news of the latest iniquity from Washington would do on some other radio station.

Then Keillor told the story of a small-town choir that gives up classical song for fame and fortune as a rock-and-roll choral group. They follow the trajectory expected in a cautionary tale - too much money, sex and drugs following by trashed hotel rooms, divorce, rehab and slow decline until their albums don’t sell anymore and they’re playing, in the end, to a handful of their earliest fans at old folks’ homes.

Tired of buses and suppers of take-out pizza in ratty motel rooms, they return to the small town where they began. The choir master welcomes the group with open arms and they live happily ever after singing the choral music of their roots.

The uplifting moral of the story, according to Keillor, is that classical music never changes. You can come back to it after years of disinterest and it is the same as when you were young – “and that makes you feel young again.”

My blood pressure would have been better served listening to the news. Let’s give Keillor the benefit of the doubt on that notion of his that the ultimate definition of a failed show biz career is an elder audience - a nursing home, after all, isn’t Madison Square Garden.

But when an American icon, a man no one dare dispute without being considered an unpatriotic churl, is confident that feeling "young again" is a universal ambition of elders, the battle against cultural ageism hasn’t even begun.

Mr. Keillor’s assumption fails the Time Goes By bias test: substitute the word white for young and its prejudicial nature becomes obvious. Undoubtedly that never crossed Keillor’s mind when he wrote the story. That’s the trouble with ageism - no one takes it as seriously as racism and sexism, but the consequences are the same: a group of people is stereotyped by attributes over which they have no control and they are discriminated against then with impunity.

It’s the unconscious acceptance of this stereotyping by so many – even on a long-established radio show popular enough to now have its own feature film - that makes ageism so insidious and difficult to change.

I have no need to feel young again – been there, done that. But I’ve never been this old before and that alone makes it more interesting.

First Amendment Alert

When I was 11 or 12 years old, there was a best-selling novel titled What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg about sex and greed in Hollywood. This was the 1950s, so there were no explicit sex scenes but it was notorious, in its day, as a racy read.

One rainy, weekend afternoon, I was curled up on the sofa, deeply into the book. A friend of my Dad’s, Les, stopped by, peered at the title and said to my Dad, “You’re not letting her read that, are you?” “Why not?” said my Dad. “If I don’t, she’ll read it in secret.” (No books were off-limits in our house.)

Thence ensued a discussion between Dad and Les about appropriate reading, book banning, free speech, the meaning of the First Amendment, etc. and I, pretending to read but listening closely, soaked up every word. I’ve been a rabid First Amendment absolutist ever since.

Cut to 2005. When I was a panel speaker at the first Blogher conference last summer, Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University who is also a media blogger at PressThink, said something so succinct, so smart and so true that I, caught up in its stunning simplicity, missed whatever came next.

I liked it so much that as soon as I returned to New York, I gave it a permanent home on TGB down there at the bottom of the left rail with a link to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This is what Jay said:

“Blogs are little First Amendment machines.”

Think about that. You and I, each one of us sitting at our computers at home, maybe in our pajamas, have as much access to publish our words, thoughts and ideas as the richest person or corporation in the world. And, remarkably, our blogs are as easily and openly accessible to anyone, anywhere as the biggest websites online.

Type in or – each will arrive in your browser at the same speed. Type in the address of a sex website and, assuming parental controls have not been invoked, it too drops onto your screen. And so does any other website of any kind.

Equal access to the internet makes that possible. No one, any longer, need own a printing press or a television network, or be anointed a big-time reporter or pundit to be heard. This has never happened before in the history of the world, and without a doubt, the Founding Fathers would approve.

Amid the plethora of new technologies thrown at us over the past two or three decades, we tend forget how revolutionary some are. Open, equal access to the internet is one of those few.

But danger looms. There is, currently, a crucial First Amendment issue on the table. How it is resolved in Washington will affect every one of us - personally and politically. It is an issue we must win - otherwise, we can kiss the First Amendment goodbye. It’s complicated, but here is the essence of it:

AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, BellSouth and others - the giant communications companies who donate big bucks to congressional election campaigns - are lobbying Congress for control of the internet. They want to decide which websites go fast, which go slow and which are not available at all by charging content providers to guarantee delivery.

“They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors.

“These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services — or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls — and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.”


There has been, since nearly the beginning of the internet, the concept of “net neutrality.” It’s a technical concept, but don’t be put off by that. It just means anyone who publishes a website has equal access to connection no matter who they are. Every nation operating a portion of the internet has adopted some form of the net neutrality principle.

Now, mega-corporations want to gut that principle, and don’t think the reasons behind their move don’t have a political motivation in addition to billions of dollars in revenue.

Last week, Edward J. Markey, a Democratic representative from Massachusetts, introduced legislation, the Network Neutrality Act of 2006. It seeks to define net neutrality to keep the internet, says Markey, from becoming a discriminatory toll road.

Sounds good, except that the internet has always operated, and continues to operate, freely without legislation and those who oppose the bill argue that the

“…phenomenal growth over the past decade stems from the ability of entrepreneurs to expand consumer choices and opportunities without worrying about government regulation.”

To muddy the issue almost beyond comprehension, these two organizations (savetheinternet and handsofftheinternet, among others) appear to have the same goal – to defeat the big telcos’ move to control internet access - although by different means: legislation and no legislation. But they’re so busy accusing one another of secretly being on the side of corporate America that they’ve forgotten to clearly explain their points of view.

Generally, I tend to a government hands-off position, but I haven’t had time to sort out this issue for myself yet. Nevertheless, it is crucial for the internet to remain access neutral, so jump in here with any thoughts you have.

If we lose net neutrality, we will lose our “little First Amendment machines” which are just about all we have these days to fight the erosion of all our other Constitutional rights and liberties that are being chipped away at by venal politicians and their corporate controllers.

Crabby Old Cat

category_bug_oliver [EDITORIAL NOTE: Today, in honor of his mother and mothers everywhere, Limerick Savant has published the Limerick of All Mothers Marathon with some excellent contributions from other grown blogging children and of course, his own limerick ode to mom. Do stop by.]

Hi, there, blog readers. Oliver here. Claude of Blogging in Paris and Chancy of driftwoodinpsiration asked what I think about the upcoming move from the only home I’ve ever known. You might guess that it's not the best fun I've ever had.

Ollierestingw2006_05_13 In case you’ve wondered why I haven’t blogged for so long – well, you try living with this much work and this mess and still keep your head about you well enough to write. I’m so exhausted at the end of each day, I can’t even do my middle-of-the-night wandering and web surfing.

See, it’s Ronni’s job to tape up the boxes, then I have to inspect every one of them. Every single one. It's a big job, checking each corner and seam to make sure she’s done it right so our stuff won’t fall out on its way to Maine. If she had her way, she’d just slap on the tape and fill up a box. I keep telling her, you need be careful about these things.


It’s hard now too to get in a good run anywhere. There’s always a box blocking the course. They’re everywhere. And my toys keep getting lost behind stacks of boxes. I have my own way of organizing my things, but Ronni doesn’t give that much respect now. And the other day, she moved my litter box to another room. Now I ask you – how would she feel if I moved her toilet…

Even with all this disruption, I’m getting excited now. Ronni says our new home has a much longer stretch for me to run and there are more rooms than we have now. Yeah! More places for me to hide - heh, heh, heh - when she wants to stuff me in that carrier bag to go somewhere.

In case you were wondering, here’s the moving schedule I worked out for Ronni:

24 May: I go to stay with Uncle Alex. It won’t be as bad as it was when I’ve stayed with him in the past because Ronni will be there too. (Here’s a little secret; Uncle Alex is Ronni’s former husband, but they stopped being married in 1971, and they get along pretty well now.)

25 May: The moving van picks up all our stuff. They better not lose it. Some of my best toys will be on that truck.

31 May: The closing on the New York apartment. I think that means someone gives us a lot of money but it also means I’ll never see my first home again and that makes me sad.

2 June: Ronni goes to pick up our new car in Pennsylvania and drives it to New York on 4 June. That's two nights she'll be away and she said I can't go with her. But at least it's not nine whole days like last November.

6 June: We drive (together this time!) in the new car to Maine. Ronni says she’s going to “trank” me so I’ll be snoozy during the whole trip. She promised this won’t be a bad thing.

8 June: Ronni goes to another closing to buy our new house. I think that means she spends a lot of the money that other guy gave us.

9 June: We move into our new house.

Whew! All this busy-ness won’t be done too soon for me. Claude, Ronni told me that you’re planning a trip all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to visit the United States. My ancestors crossed that ocean too, although they’re from Africa, not Europe.

Ronni also said you’ll be coming to Maine to visit us there. It will be nice to meet you, and thank you - and Chancy too - very much for asking how I’m doing through all this mess. It's been so long since I wrote anything here I thought everyone might have forgotten me.

And now, I'm outta here. I need another nap - although it's hard to find a comfy spot with all the boxes taking up so much space.


Britain's New Age Discrimination Law

category_bug_ageism.gif To comply with a directive of the European Union, age discrimination in the workplace will become illegal in Great Britain for the first time in October. From the public dithering of recruiters, employers and media there for the past two or three years, you would think they are being required to kill their first-born children.

“Some offices have an old or young culture and companies might seek to recruit people of the same type whom they think would fit in. But unsuccessful applicants may have a case for discrimination.”
- Financial Times, 11 May 2006

And in Great Britain, that will become a serious violation; there is no limit on the damages that can be awarded.

I’ve been keeping tabs on the public discussion surrounding the approach of these new regulations because, unlike the United States where such laws have been on the books for decades, the British are unaccustomed to keeping their age bias under wraps. It’s been amusing to watch the resistance to changing times.

“A survey by the law firm Thomas Eggar found that 74 percent of HR professionals admitted their organization discriminated, consciously or unconsciously, on grounds of age.”
- Financial Times, 11 May 2006

With no case law yet on the books as a guide or test of the feasibility of the new law as it is written, speculation tends toward extreme circumstances:

“Andrea Nicholls, head of employment at Howard Kennedy, a City law firm, says she has come across a couple of incidents in recent weeks that would probably be considered discriminatory after October 1.

“One was a staff handbook that said only staff aged over 25 would be entitled to company cars. The other was a fashion house that wanted to recruit sales staff in an age range equated to that of their customers.”

- Financial Times, 11 May 2006

These two are not unthorny issues. The cost of auto insurance premiums, based on actuarial tables of rates of accidents which are high for young drivers, could be prohibitive for some employers. And I doubt 20-something fashionistas would be thrilled to find me, at 65, suggesting just the right belly-baring breast cover for their next club outing.

The trick, in all anti-discriminatory law, is to find a balance but the law, for all its intricate detail, isn’t designed for common sense. A person’s gender, skin color or religion is obviously inconsequential to cost control and job performance. But as just these two examples show, that isn’t always so with age.

Still, some employment practices are blatantly age discriminatory.

“…specifying ideal candidates’ ages in job advertisements, or even using age-loaded words such as ‘youthful’, ‘dynamic’ or ‘mature’ could land an employer in trouble.”
- Financial Times, 11 May 2006

As well it should, but even here in the U.S., with laws in force, those words regularly show up in job listings.

One difficulty with mandating anti-discrimination in age is that people age at dramatically different rates and times in their lives. In some cases, a 50-year-old may already be in cognitive decline while in others, an 80-year-old can be as mentally sharp as ever. It is not as predictable as adolescent maturation. That makes it difficult to measure and hard to enforce, but it must not be an excuse for continued age discrimination.

The larger issue, however – in the United States and Great Britain – is that ageism is not taken as seriously as other discriminatory practices. As the Financial Times story notes, “…age tends to be a jokey subject in the office.” And, I would add, just about everywhere else too.

The reasonably questionable situations of the two examples above notwithstanding, age discrimination in the workplace is insupportable, but it will remain at issue until the cultural bias against elders in general becomes as unacceptable as racism. New laws can help change those attitudes as the civil rights laws of 1964 and 1965 have done, over time, in the U.S., but they are not the entire solution.

What is important about the October directive in Great Britain is that it shines a bright light on a shameful practice and the media discussion cannot help but begin to change attitudes.

Who is Crabby Old Lady?

category_bug_journal2.gif As I was writing the post about “Becoming Who We Are” a few days ago, I inserted in an early paragraph this notation: “…Crabby Old Lady, who is looking over my shoulder as I write...”

Since then, I’ve been wondering about self-consciousness, our sense of “I” and “me.” Normally, I could pull Freud and Jung and some others off the shelves for a refresher on what’s known or been speculated about human consciousness, but all the books are packed for moving now and I’ve no time for online research. So this is an uninformed rumination.

Who Crabby is has come to mind because that phrase, the other day, kind of wrote itself without my volition; I could feel Crabby wanting to take off on a tirade about self-help gurus. The temptation was strong, but it was not the topic of the day’s post and I mentally shoved Crabby aside in a manner similar to physically removing the cat from the desk when he’s in the way.

And it was Crabby Old Lady, not me, trying to force herself into the story. She and I, over the two years of the existence of Time Goes By, have become distinct entities – in my mind, if not yours.

Crabby was born soon after Time Goes By was launched when I was trying to write this piece about noisy troglodytes who hang out on the stoop of my house at night and due to a quirk of acoustics, sound as loud as if they’re sitting on the end of my bed.

The story was gaining a nastier edge than I had intended when I discovered that writing it in the third person tempered the anger, giving it the lighter tone I wanted for something that is, after all, only a minor irritation of life in the big city. But who was that third person? How would I identify her?

When the phrase “crabby old lady” came to mind, it was a Eureka! moment. It’s a good description of one of my less endearing qualities and by assigning that grumpy demeanor to Crabby, I – that is, Ronni – would be free to write as the good-natured, although somewhat earnest being I otherwise tend to believe I am.

In her first few blog posts, Crabby – or, rather, I – floundered around until she settled into herself. And I do mean herself because at sometime when I – Ronni – wasn’t paying attention over these past many months, Crabby became more than a literary device; she took on her own character.

Crabby would never wear pants as I do every day. Only dresses and skirts for her, long ones. She would take more time with her hair in the morning instead of hastily pulling it back in ponytail. She has a more formal nature.

She’s more old-fashioned than I am too, more at ease with what she retains of the attitudes and interests of her youth even though they are no longer culturally au courant. Although I care much less, these days, about what other people think of me, Crabby arrived at that point long, long ago.

And Crabby is better disciplined. She’d never procrastinate as I do (if she had her way, the packing would long be finished). And most of all, Crabby has not a compunction in the world about telling it as she sees it. She never pulls her punches no matter who is involved and wouldn’t think of sugar-coating a negative opinion for propriety’s sake.

What Crabby and I share – strongly – is an enduring curiosity about what getting older is really like and an unshakable belief that the culture must allow elders back into the mainstream of American society.

That said, Crabby is not as distinct as, for example, some of Sybil’s multiple personalities (remember Sybil?), so I think my sanity is intact.

But I wonder how I’ve come to create Crabby Old Lady as a separate part of my consciousness. When she hasn’t written a blog post in awhile, she nags me about it, as though she has an ego independent of mine. Sometimes, when I'm writing for TGB, I hear her admonish me: “Oh, come on, that’s way too tame. Let me write it.” Yet I can’t remember ever chiding or even speaking directly to Crabby as she does to me. When she’s hanging around, Crabby appears to be the stronger personality.

I’ve never tried fiction writing, creating characters and giving them distinctive personalities and behavior. Many writers have spoken of their characters' takeover of the story, moving it in directions the author hadn't planned. Perhaps Crabby Old Lady is a similar kind of invention. Or, maybe Crabby is my more idealized self, what I would like to be if I could remove some internal restraints. Or...

Crabby Old Lady is dying to get a word in here. What that word is, is “Balderdash. What a bunch of twaddle. Let’s just get on with the blog.”