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The Shame of Getting Old

Over at Alternet, Barbara Ehrenreich has been writing about unemployment, specifically, that “Shame hangs heavy over the economic landscape:” says Ehrenreich,

“…the shame of the newly laid-off, the shame of the chronically poor…

“In case anyone fails to feel their full measure of shame over unemployment,” she continues, “there is an entire shame industry to whip them into shape: the career coaches, self-help books, motivational speakers, and business gurus who preach that whatever happens to you must be a result of your own attitude.

“Laid-off and coming up empty on your job search? You must be too negative, and hence attracting negative circumstances into your life. To paraphrase one career coach I encountered during my research for [the book] Bait and Switch: We're not here to talk about the economy or the market; we're here to talk about you.”, 27 October 2006

In other words, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of jobs have been eliminated in the U.S. or sent overseas in the past few years, but it’s your fault, you whining loser, if you’re not working.

As I read Ms. Ehrenreich’s excellent story, I realized that it could be applied equally to getting old. Why else are we assaulted 24/7 with advertisements for plastic surgery, cosmetic procedures, anti-aging potions, hair coloring products, extreme sports for “active adults” and books on hot sex after 60 than to shame us?

And there are tens of thousands of members of the youth and beauty police ready, like Ehrenreich’s employment shame industry, to “whip us into shape” – that is, turn us into grotesque facsimiles of 30-year-old shape.

Getting old is still the ultimate sin. The baby boomers, long predicted to change prevailing attitudes toward aging as they get older, haven’t even dented ageist behavior - hence, the phenomenal growth of plastic surgery at youngr and younger ages. Half the boomers are already older than 50, but the shaming persists, sometimes by boomers themselves who resist aging with all the shaming products and services at their disposal.

“Shame is a potent weapon,” notes Ms. Ehrenreich in regard to the unemployed, “but it should never be used against the already-injured and aggrieved. Instead, let's turn it against the aggrievers.”

I’d like to alter that slightly for elders who are shamed at every turn: It should never be used against normal human development - in this case, aging. To further paraphrase Ms. Ehrenreich:

Instead, let's turn it against the youth and beauty police:

  • Shame magazines for featuring only 20-something models, or older models who have been plastic surger-ied until their ears meet behind their heads.
  • Shame pharmaceutical companies for telling us in their commercials that their over-the-counter products, rather than relieving pain, will make us “feel ten years younger”.
  • Shame hair color manufacturers for advertising products to cover gray rather than creating products that remove, or cover with gray, the yellow that develops in gray hair.
  • Shame clothing designers for refusing to make attractive clothes to fit older bodies.
  • Shame the physicians who treat elders’ ailments less aggressively - and sometimes not at all - than those of younger people.

The rest of us can wear our age, including the natural wrinkles, sags, bags and slowing down that come naturally as the years accumulate, with dignity.

Fun With Internet Names

Crabby Old Lady has had a tiring week. As excellent as Elderblogger PhoneCon was on Tuesday, six hours on the phone pretty well wiped out Crabby, who didn’t get much else done the rest of the day.

On Wednesday evening, she joined a friend for dinner at a local restaurant and although she had the normal two glasses of wine with her meal, she forgot to take her aspirin and drink water at home, so she woke up with a mildly annoying hangover on Thursday.

That day brought the discovery that nearly four months of email at Crabby's secondary email address had not downloaded to her computer from the server. She is still plowing through hundreds of messages and again offers apologies to all the people she had not responded to yet.

Additionally, Crabby has been preparing for a new, regular writing assignment at another website which she will soon tell you about, and you may have noticed that after a hiatus of several weeks, Crabby’s had a lot to complain about on TGB in the past ten days or so - a lot of writing to do.

Plus, as Crabby follows the current election campaign, the behavior of candidates throughout the country (see yesterday's post for only two small examples) has so disheartened her that she is coming to believe there is hardly any hope of getting a Congress that is even slightly less than embarrassing. Dear god, do any of them think of anything beyond money-grubbing, sex and their own bloated egos?

Crabby Old Lady is one tired puppy, and she needs a little light fun. Maybe you do too.

Right on cue Estelle, who is a blog reader and not a blogger (yet), although she is a writer, sent the list below of – well, some unfortunate but funny internet domain names. Crabby understands how a hapless choice might be made without immediately realizing it. What she can’t figure out is why, once it is noticed, it isn’t changed. But that just makes more fun for us.

To add to your enjoyment, Crabby has replaced the URLs in the original list with links to the websites because if you don’t catch the error from the site name, the surprise is funnier. If you miss any, check the address bar at the top of your browser when you reach the website. [NOTE FOR DELICATE SENSIBILITIES: A couple of these are a little racier than what is usually published on TGB.]

Here, then, is the list from Estelle:

“Everyone knows that if you are going to operate a business in today's world you need a domain name. It is, however, advisable to look at the domain name selected as others will see it and not just as you think it looks.

"Failure to do this may result in situations such as the following (legitimate) companies who deal in everyday, humdrum products and services but clearly didn't give their domain names enough consideration.”

  1. A site called Who Represents where you can find the name of the agent that represents a celebrity
  2. Experts Exchange, a knowledge base where programmers can exchange advice and views
  3. Looking for a pen? Look no further than Pen Island
  4. Need a therapist? Try Therapist Finder
  5. Then of course, there's the Italian Power Generator company
  6. And now, we have the Mole Station Native Nursery, based in New South Wales. Well, the URL in this case is okay; read the name of the company carefully.
  7. If you're looking for computer software, there's always this company
  8. Welcome to the First Cumming Methodist Church
  9. Then, of course, there's these brainless art designers, and their Speed of Art
  10. Looking for a great vacation spot? Try Go Tahoe

Further Evidence of Our Corrupt Congress

category_bug_politics.gif What some current Congress people are doing during these final days of the 2006 election campaign in their home states is, if possible, more shameful that the nothing they’ve done in Washington for the past two years.

Melissa Hart, R - Pennyslvania
A week or so ago, 40 elders, members of the Alliance For Retired Americans, gathered in front of the office of Rep. Melissa Hart in Allyson Park, Pennsylvania, to protest the “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) which she had supported. To be certain that no one missed their point, these rabble-rousing voters wielded weapons so dangerous to the congresswoman that her staff called the police.

Here is the local news story from KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh:

Did you catch that lame excuse in the statement from Rep. Melissa Hart? This is only one reason incumbents must be defeated on 7 November.

Marilyn Musgrave, R - Colorado
At least one of the politicians who believes she had a right to interfere in the family tragedy of Michael and Terri Schiavo also has a fetish for police intervention where none is needed.

Last Tuesday Mr. Schiavo attended a debate between Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado’s 4th District and her challenger in this election, Angie Paccione. Here’s how Mr. Schiavo explained what happened in a story on Daily Kos:

“About twenty minutes before the debate started and after speaking to several reporters about how Musgrave had voted to transform her values into our laws, I took a seat in the front row. As it turned out, I was seated next to the timekeeper who held up yellow and red cards to signal time to the candidates.

“But just minutes after taking my seat, I noticed a flurry of activity around my seat including about four uniformed police officers who were - I would learn later - called in by Musgrave staffers and asked to remove me from the building.

“At this point, I had made no speeches, I had no signs, had made no attempt to disrupt or cause any commotion. I only came into the auditorium, spoke to a dozen or so reporters and took a seat.

“To their credit, the police refused the Musgrave campaign's appeal to have me removed.

“If you need to re-read that again, it's okay. A member of Congress who took to the floor of our Congress to speak about my wife, my family and my values made the debate timekeeper move so she wouldn't have to look at me.” [emphasis added]

- Daily Kos, 26 October 2006

There is even more to the story and you should read the whole thing.

Both of these elected officials, in the same week in different parts of the nation, called out the police to remove citizens who were peacefully expressing their constitutionally-protected right to take part in public debate. Fortunately, the police in Pennsylvania and Colorado have a better understanding of those rights than the officials elected to represent the people they wanted arrested.

And by the way, anyone who believes women politicians are any more honorable and principled than men, please note the gender of these two representatives.

[A big hat tip to downwithtyranny]

Elder Absentee Voting

category_bug_politics.gif One of the topics during the six-hour Elderblogger PhoneCon on Tuesday was making our votes count. In some states, it is possible to vote an absentee ballot which is done manually, thereby creating a paper trail if a recount is necessary. It is a way to ensure that if the new electronic machines fail or are fiddled with, at least some votes are accounted for.

On PhoneCon, Naomi Dagen Bloom of A Little Red Hen suggested rather strongly that each of us on the telephone conference report Friday, today, with instructions for absentee voting in each of our states. But first…

Two years ago, preceding the 2004 presidential election, a group of eleven powerful women including former Colorado congresswoman Pat Shroeder, former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, columnist Ellen Goodman and anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, created the GrannyVoters. The goal, according to their website, was

“…to inform, inspire, and engage grandparents so that they vote for sustainable policies protecting the quality of their grandchildren's lives decades into the future and the stability of the America they will inhabit.”

It was a fine way to think about choosing which candidates to vote for but, apparently, all they ever did was send out one press release and pose for one photo on the Mall in Washington while sitting in rocking chairs. Cute, sort of. But they have been absent from this year’s campaign and their website has fallen into disuse.

But that does not make their original inspiration any less pertinent and even noble. So I urge you grandmothers – and grandfathers too – to think carefully, when you vote on 7 November, about the future you want for your grandchildren. Do you think any of your incumbents – Democratic or Republican – care about the next generations? Have they done anything while in office to ensure a better place for your grandchildren?

Elders vote in much larger numbers than any other age group. We can make those votes count even more by voting first, against those in Congress who can’t see beyond their next free vacation trip from a lobbyist (which is all of them) and second, for new candidates who will then be on notice that if they don’t work in the next two years with the common good in mind, we can vote them out too.

Maine appears to have one of the most progressive voting systems in the country. All balloting – absentee and direct on voting day – is done on paper. Ballots are then tallied by machine and the paper ballots are preserved for any possible recount needs.

Anyone may vote absentee up to and including election day, 7 November. An absentee ballot is available online [pdf] and may be mailed in as long as it arrives by 8PM on election day. Absentee ballots can be dropped off at City Hall in Portland (and in other cities) until 8PM on election day.

There are also allowances for delivery of absentee ballots by a second party representing a voter who cannot get to the polling place due to illness, mobility or other issues that prevent them from traveling.

Anyone who has information about absentee voting in your state, please write about it on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below.

Old Ladies and Boniva

[HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: I have just discovered that hundreds emails going back to August never made it to my computer from the host server. Among the plethora of spam, I am discovering many kind notes, requests, questions, etc. from blog friends and others who must be wondering why I have ignored you. Big time apologies to every one of you. I am slowly wading through it all now and will respond as quickly as I can.]

Crabby Old Lady has had enough of hearing about the joys of a monthly Boniva pill and whoever produces their television commercials.

First, a year or so ago, Boniva showed us a gaggle of early morning walkers who behaved as though the one who discovered Boniva had found the Holy Grail. In the next episode, a bunch of ladies who lunch nearly had orgasms over it. And now actor Sally Field is, apparently, as excited about a once-a-month dosage of Boniva as if she’d won the MegaMillions lottery.

What kind of idiots, Crabby wants to know, do these folks think old ladies are?

This kind of excitement over the frequency of a dosage is embarrassing and most of all makes no sense. It’s much harder to remember to do something every 30 days than daily. Even once a week is reasonable to remember, but every 30 days is hard - and Crabby has never seen a pill dispenser with 30 daily compartments.

Every time Sally Field shows up with that terrible grimace on her face, Crabby Old Lady cringes, and she's not even talking about the questionable ethics of advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers. Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars a year targeting consumers who have no training or expertise in choosing drugs and, Crabby asks you, what does all that useless advertising do the retail price we pay.

But as regards Boniva commercials specifically, please – someone - give Ms. Field a movie to do so she doesn’t need to embarrass herself in a dumb and insulting television commercial.

Elderblogger PhoneCon Success

When the idea for Elderblogger PhoneCon came to me during Jeneane Sessum’s first PhoneCon several weeks ago, I didn’t have a well-identified goal in mind for it. I just thought elderbloggers and their readers would enjoy connecting through another medium – voice – in addition to the written word.

It succeeded even without a defined goal and the general consensus after six hours was that future Elderblogger PhoneCons will be a welcome diversion. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

According to the report emailed to me when PhoneCon ended, there were, over the six hours, 25 individual participants. Virginia DeBolt from Albuquerque who blogs at First Fifty Words was (appropriately perhaps, given the name of her blog) the first to arrive. The United States was well represented with people from many different states and Claude of Blogging in Paris took the entire European continent upon her shoulders for the day. Her report of PhoneCon of course includes a couple of lovely representative photographs.

Here is the list more or less in order of appearance though some called in several times as their schedules permitted. If I've missed anyone, please let me know:

  • Ruth of Fat Old Artist in Pittsburgh
  • David St. Lawrence of Ripples in Floyd County, Virginia
  • Susan Harris of Takoma Gardener in Maryland (and movie reviewer par excellance)
  • Marti who reads but does not herself blog, from Round Rock, Texas
  • Mary Louise another non-blogging reader in Omaha
  • Always Question who called in from his car on the way to work in Roland Heights, California
  • The inimitable Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles who called in from the ladies room

The next person to call in had a surprise and welcome announcement. The prolific commenter we all know as joared finally started her own blog on the very day of PhoneCon - Along the Way. It would be nice for everyone to stop by and welcome her to the elderblogging clan.

  • Naomi Dagen Bloom of A Little Red Hen stopped by from New York City. Like Claude, she has written her take on PhoneCon
  • Elaine of Kalilily Time, a long-time blogger, from upstate New York
  • Pete Lustig from Late Life Crisis. I forgot to ask his geographic location
  • Tamarika of Mining Nuggets was on the road and couldn't stay long, but she made the effort to phone in from an airport
  • Ken Camp from Digital Common Sense in Olympia, Washington
  • Buffy from Arrrgh!!! in - Buffy help me out, Illinois? Kansas?
  • Elizabeth, another reader but not blogger, from Westchester County, New York
  • Stella, yet another reader, from Detroit
  • Joy from Joy of Six came by from Illinois
  • and Melinda, a blog reader from California

Lucy of Golden Lucy's Spiral Journal blew in from Colorado and had us ROFL. She's 84 and I think if she's looking for a new late-life career, she could be a big success as a standup comic.

And then Colleen of Santiago Dreaming stopped in from Kansas, the final visitor of the day.

We talked of blogging and technology and blog friends and touched on politics of the upcoming U.S. and French elections. We laughed about aging and aches and pains, and told stories and oh, my - how we laughed. The conferencing service has what appears to be an easy way to record conferences for individual playback, but your host, moi, forgot to turn it on. How dumb of me. It was a terrific experience to put voices with names and words.

There were a few minor technical difficulties. Mostly it went so smoothly and we had such a good time that we will make PhoneCon a regular event. Marti made the excellent suggestion that we do it quarterly, so look for Elderblogger PhoneCon2.0 in January 2007.

It was an excellent experiment and thank you all for coming to the party.

Today – Join us at Elderblogger PhoneCon

UPDATE AT 2:30PM: The first Elderblogger PhoneCon has ended. Watch this space for a "review" tomorrow.

UPDATE at 8:30AM: Elderblogger PhoneCon is now live. Join in by following the instructions below.

It’s here! At last. After weeks of anticipation, hype and expensive promotion, today is Elderblogger PhoneCon - the event of the elderblogger year.


Even if it is not quite all that, do please join us any time or many times from 8:30AM until 2:30PM eastern U.S. time. It easy and it will cost you only a long-distance call within your country.

Austria: 0820.4000.1556
Belgium: 070.359978
France: 0826.100.260
Germany: 01805.00.76.13
Ireland: 0818.270.025
Italy: 848.560.160
Netherlands: 9006.454.545
Spain: 902.886029
Switzerland: 0848.560.183
U.K.: 0870.35.204.78
U.S.: 605.990.0150

Just dial the number above assigned to your country. At the prompt, enter the ACCESS NUMBER: 405966#

Don’t forget the hash mark (#) at the end of the Access Number.

If you're uncertain what Elderblogger PhoneCon is, you can read more here and here.

Looking forward to meeting you “in voice" today...

Elder Life Coaches

Crabby Old Lady might, on a good day, accept the idea of a Career Coach. Life Coach, however, fairly screams SCAM! And when she discovered recently that some of these unregulated counselors, who most frequently ply their trade by telephone, promote themselves as Elder or Retirement Coaches, she had such a snit that Ollie the cat ran for cover under the bed.

One guy offers to explore issues and problems around retirement and aging “by telephone from anywhere in the world. 50 percent off for seniors.” Another offers email coaching for those who can’t afford telephone coaching. A third “elder coach” apparently believes there is nothing left for old people except illness and dying. There is no mention of living.

It’s a dead giveaway that something is amiss when a web search for “life coach” turns up more listings for “how to become a life coach” than coaching itself, and the paid Google ad at the top of the search page is also for life coach training. It looks like a Ponzi scheme to Crabby.

As she waded through websites of coaches who include elders among their targeted dupes, Crabby began having a strong sense of déjà vu – and for good reason. She eventually realized she was reading the same material again and again. At least half a dozen sites she visited used this marketing spiel, word-for-word, whether they were touting life or elder coaching:

“Have you asked yourself these questions:

  • “I need to feel more alive and passionate in my daily life. What’s my soul purpose?
  • “Something’s missing but I don’t know what. Can I find my creativity and imagination again?
  • “My life must mean more than this. How do I integrate my daily life into a sacred, soulful, and cohesive experience?
  • “My life is so disjointed, not quite together. Will I consciously claim the tension of opposites in my life: light and dark; fire and ice; joy and sorrow?
  • “I sometimes feel alone and somewhat lost. Do I know how to honor nature and do I trust my connection to the cosmos?
  • “I don’t know who I am anymore. Will I claim my intuition and my ability to tune in to universal truth?
  • "I want to do something new. Where do I begin?"

Aside from the fact that the new age-y, pseudo-spiritual language makes Crabby twitch, if you’ve gotten to be 55 or 60 or older and haven’t dealt with these issues, well, maybe you do need an elder life coach - even one with no discernible qualifications.

For the rest of us – and Crabby believes that means all sentient elders – it’s obvious that these flimflam artists are practicing psychotherapy without a degree and doing it long distance. Anyone can set themselves up as a career, life or elder coach with or without certification from one of any number of phony coaching institutions which have no standard requirements and promise to turn anyone into a coach for $946 – or thereabouts.

One of the sad realities of getting old is that many elders are alone and lonely - people who can easily fall prey to an imposter with a warm voice and sympathetic ear while fleecing their trusting marks of food money. And make no mistake, these are predators.

If you doubt that, consider this: Tim Dowling, writing recently in the, recounted his experience investigating life coaching:

“If I complete the course, I will receive a short sentence that gives my reason for being on Earth, something like ‘I show the way’ or ‘I explore in wonder.’”

Undoubtedly there are people - even some elders - who can find meaning in such blather from an stranger across a telephone line - or even in person. For the rest of us, the journey is in the personal seeking to understand what life is about, and if there are any answers they will be found in private moments in our own hearts and minds, and not from an internet purveyor of instant wisdom suitable for framing.

Without fail, Crabby Old Lady reads Chris Locke’s missives on the research he’s doing for Mystique Bourgeoisie, a book subtitled, “Numinous Lunacy & the Sanctimonious Narcissism of the New Age++” which he also describes as:

“The unlikely story of how America slipped the surly bonds of earth & came to believe in signs & portents that would make the middle ages blush.”

If Chris has not already considered it, life coaching or, of particular interest to Crabby, elder life coaching, could easily fill a chapter among his collection of charlatans, fakes and dangerous rogues.

So Old Now, the Joke’s on Me

[NEWS OF A BLOG FRIEND: Amber, who is the granddaughter of Milt of Milt's Muse, left the following note on another post:

Heya Ronni and everyone else, I feel completely stupid but I have lost (husband erased) all the emails those of you sent to send on to my Grandpa, and since this is the only way I know how to contact everyone I came here! I really want to say thanks to Lucy, Jehnet and Joann and of course Ronni, I also believe there was a Claude in there too, your kind words and showing of support never fail to surprise me.

Grandpa is still doing as best as can be expected. He is on some heavy pain meds and uses a wheelchair when he needs to get around. Otherwise he pretty much stays in bed. He doesn't get on his computer anymore, but talks with my Dad quite often. Next time I talk to him I will ask for a weather update for you all and hopefully Ronni can get it posted were everyone can see.

Again, I am sorry that I lost everyones personel email and I would love it if you all emailed me again so we could write!

Thanks again everyone. Milt's grand daughter, AMBER

You can write to Amber at adamnambernestATmsnDOTcom.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Every now and then, on the way to the grave, something happens to make you think life – or at least, aging - just might be, as some suggest, nothing more than an elaborate cosmic joke. Remember this ancient one-liner:

I’m so old that when I bend over to tie my shoes, I look around to see what else I can do while I’m down there.

Well, it’s not funny anymore.

Just recently, very recently – it never happened before I moved to Maine in June – that very thought has crossed my mind several times. Once, I really was tying my shoes and wondered “while I was down there” if that rubber band I’d seen on the floor was nearby.

On another occasion, I was on my hands and knees retrieving cat toys from under a table and saw that the cat had thrown up again. What crossed my mind was, “damn, I wish I’d brought a fistful of paper towels with me.”

I don’t mind declining capability so much as discovering that all those old folks’ jokes I don’t like are turning out to be true. It won’t be long now before I’m wearing fuzzy slippers and flannel nighties – well, actually, I always have; I just don’t let people see me in them.

As Elaine at Kalilily Time recently pointed out, what makes the jokes funny (yes, even some of the demeaning ones) is the grain of truth they contain:

Life begins at 50. That may be so, but everything else begins to wear out, spread out or fall out.

You know you’re old when…

  • your joints are a better predictor of the weather than the guy with the Doppler Radar on television
  • you no longer think of the speed limit as a challenge
  • a 30-year mortgage sounds like a pretty good scam
  • you haven’t heard of a single band on the Billboard Hot 100 chart
  • a band you once thought was on the cutting edge of cool is inducted into the rock-and-roll hall of fame

Every one of those has occurred to me without being in the form of a joke.

There was a time in my life when an early dinner was considered the height of fogeydom, and I wouldn’t be caught dead arriving at a restaurant before 8:30 or 9PM. But I just made a date with a new friend to have dinner next week and we arranged to meet at 5:30PM. Next thing you know I’ll be reporting to you on the Early Bird Special at the local Denny’s.

My younger self is pointing a finger at me and laughing her ass off.

More Medicare Part D Woes

category_bug_journal2.gif Remember all the confusion surrounding the Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D) enrollment for 2006? The 2007 enrollment period, which begins on 15 November, appears to have new problems of its own:

“The cheapest drug insurance policies under Medicare will cost elderly and disabled Americans 44 percent more next year, based on rate quotes published by the government health program,” writes Kerry Young at

When the Department of Health and Human Services and Medicare released next year’s prices on 29 September, they said the average premium would remain unchanged at about $24.00 per month. An analysis by the office of California Rep. Henry Waxman says otherwise:

“’The department’s numbers appear to be wrong, and they disguise significant increase in premiums for Medicare drug plans,’ Waxman said in a letter to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt. ‘The release of erroneous information about the cost of premiums – whether deliberate or not – is a disservice to millions of seniors.’”, 13 October 2006

Mark McLellan, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services disagrees, saying the congressman’s analysis is “incomplete and misleading.”

But according to the story,

“The minimum prices will more than double in 13 states. People in seven more states and the District of Columbia also will pay more than double next year if they stick with their current plans.”

Obviously, confusion reigns. When I checked the price of my plan for next year at, there were three different plans from the insurer I am currently enrolled with. None of the premiums match what I am currently paying, and nowhere on the papers I have from the insurer is there the number designation of my plan. So without a telephone call to the insurer, I have no way to know what my premium will be next year.

According to this report from the California Health Advocates and Medicare Rights Center, the quality of information consumers receive from telephone call centers ranges from good to baffling to wrong.

It is a good idea to start early to review your Part D coverage and probably plan to spend some good amount of time on hold if you have questions. Even then, it may be difficult to asses if the information you are given is correct.

This is no way to run a medical plan. The next Congress must address a single-payer (universal coverage) health plan for the United States. Keep that in mind when you vote on 7 November.

A Rite of Elderpassage

category_bug_journal2.gif We humans have numerous rituals to celebrate important events. Some are one-time, special occasions like baptisms for babies, confirmations and bar or bat mitzvahs at around puberty, marriage (well, not too many in a lifetime) and funerals. Others come ‘round regularly – birthdays and anniversaries, for example.

Many of our celebrations involve special foods and music, recitations of text and clothing just for the occasion. Our rituals give context to and mark our passage through life. They strengthen social bonds, renew commitments, are demonstrations of respect or faith and, sometimes, are conducted for the pleasure of the observance itself.

There is one U.S. ritual, however, that is not remarked upon and as far as I have noticed, not widely recognized as a rite of passage: signing up for Social Security. I did that yesterday.

For all my life, 65 was the “official” U.S. retirement age, the birthday on which all workers and some others become eligible for Social Security. In the past few years, the government has been raising the age at which full benefits are given and for me, having been born in 1941, it is 65 and eight months – December 2006.

During the past two or three weeks, I checked the Social Security website and knew I needed a certified copy of my birth certificate, my tax return for 2005 and my checking account number to arrange direct deposit of my benefit. I had those, but when I tried to sign up on line – twice – the link to that page was broken.

That didn’t give me a lot of confidence that the enrollment, if I could catch the webpage on a day it was working, would happen without a glitch, and as time went by, I began thinking that becoming a Social Security beneficiary is too important an event to toss off with an online form.

Nothing else we do marks our passage into old age. Oh, some have retirement parties when they leave their last full-time job, but with fewer people working at the same company for many years as in the past, retirement celebrations are less common and, anyway, it doesn’t rank up there with birthdays and bar mitzvahs. When was the last time anyone got a gold watch?

We have written and argued here for almost three years about the age at which someone becomes old. Obviously, it is a fluid designation - a different time for different people - and some refuse to be categorized as such at all.

But the whole reason Time Goes By exists is to exercise my curiosity about what being old is really like and receiving a monthly retirement benefit from the Social Security Administration is a pretty good signal that one is no longer young – or even middle-aged.

So I decided to make a private ritual of it, to mark the day when I became an official old person.

I could have called the SSA 800 number, but that's no better a ritual than a webpage form. So at about 8:45AM yesterday, I packed up my papers and drove to the local Social Security office – a dank little building down the street a short way from a strip mall where, inside, a police officer moonlighting as a guard sat reading a war novel. I was there at 9AM, early enough to be fifth in line.

After a 30-minute wait, I was called to the counter. “Social Security number?” the woman asked. Then, instead of “what is your name,” she asked “who are you?” Since I am more than my name, I liked that and decided on the spot that it was an auspicious beginning for my little ritual.

Another wait of 15 minutes and then a different woman, Mrs. Ortiz, called me into her cubicle. Like me, she is from New York City – Brooklyn, to be precise. Moved to Portland, Maine three years ago with her husband and two small children. We had a fine old time talking about what we like about Portland and what we miss and don’t miss about New York.

It was nearly an hour we spent together looking at my papers and leisurely filling out forms while I swore to the facts that I’m not a felon or a fugitive, am not lying about anything and understand my rights.

Except that the Social Security office is as drab and dull and gray as all government agencies and, oddly, neither Mrs. Ortiz nor any other employee I could see had a single personal item in their cubes – not even a box of Kleenex – it was the best experience I’ve ever had with a bureaucracy. Pleasantries were exchanged as if we might have been seatmates who had never met before at a wedding dinner. Questions were asked and answered. Computer keys clacked in response and a printer whirred.

As the final step in our ceremony, we shook hands to affirm that my new status had been ritually achieved. I was now a Social Security beneficiary and, in the lights of the U.S. government, I had become an official old person.

Aside from whatever number of additional birthdays the gods grant me and unless I marry again, this was the final rite of passage before my funeral. Mrs. Ortiz may or may not have realized it, but she made it feel like the ritual I wanted. And to celebrate my "coming of age", I had a glass of wine with dinner. Whooeee!

Elderblogger PhoneCon Update 3

One week from today, 24 October, at 8:30AM eastern U.S. time, Elderblogger PhoneCon will begin. It runs until 2:30PM eastern U.S. time. Earlier that morning, instructions will be posted here on how to call into the conference, and I’m posting them today too:

Austria: 0820.4000.1556
Belgium: 070.359978
France: 0826.100.260
Germany: 01805.00.76.13
Ireland: 0818.270.025
Italy: 848.560.160
Netherlands: 9006.454.545
Spain: 902.886029
Switzerland: 0848.560.183
U.K.: 0870.35.204.78
U.S.: 605.990.0150

I’m not sure there is anyone who stops by Time Goes By from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands or Switzerland. But there are readers from the other countries listed and perhaps this will be a truly international party.



  1. Dial the telephone number listed above for your country

  2. When prompted, enter the Conference Access Code. Be sure to include the hash mark (#) at the end of the number

You will then be in the conference room, able to hear and participate in the conversation. Katrina Espinoza of tells me that it helps to tap in the numbers of the Access Code slowly and firmly. If something goes wrong and you don’t reach the conference, hang up and dial again.

You may join and leave the conference during the six-hour duration as many times as you want. To leave the conference, just hang up.

RECORDING provides a recording service and the conference will be recorded – or at least, I will attempt to record it. Jeneane Sessum of Allied couldn’t get that service to work during her PhoneCon a few weeks ago, but we’ll give it a whirl and see what happens.

Anyone. It’s called “elderblogger” PhoneCon because that’s what we do at Time Goes By, but bloggers, non-bloggers and people of any age are welcome. You can read more here and here.

Think of it as a telephone party line (that's a joke for those of you old enough to remember party lines). Maybe you just want to laugh at Cowtown Pattie's Texas Trifles twang. Or you have a story to tell, or a song to sing. Or a joke. Or maybe you want to say hi to all the bloggers you've been reading. We might even discuss something serious too. So pull up a chair, pour a cuppa and let's invent Elderbloggr PhoneCon together.

Below is a badge you can add to your blog if you’d like to be sure others know about Elderblogger PhoneCon. You can link it to this page.

Vote Out the Entire Congress

Crabby Old Lady hasn’t been around much lately, but never fear - she hasn’t mellowed. She’s just been taking a break and saving up some complaints for a big, fat go at it all at once.

Politics has been on Crabby’s mind. National politics. Washington politics. It’s hard to avoid these days. Crabby has been in a serious snit about the current U.S. regime ever since, as one of his first acts after the 2000 inauguration, the president backed off the Kyoto Protocol. There is hardly a move Mr. Bush has made in the ensuing six years that has not been downhill for American citizens who are not wealthy – which is 99 percent of the population.

So it’s difficult for Crabby to understand why, when she read last Friday of Mr. Bush’s lavish praise, the previous evening, for House speaker Dennis Hastert, that it felt like a final straw. After all, it’s not like the president had sent another 2700 young people to die in Iraq (yet).

Perhaps it was one too many emperor’s-new-clothes moments; one time too many of stating that black is white. Here is what is known about Hastert’s involvement in the Foley affair:

  1. When it was revealed that Florida Rep. Mark Foley, for several years, had sent sexually provocative emails and instant messages to young Congressional pages, he resigned his House seat.
  2. Former Foley aide Kirk Fordham says that between 2001 and 2003, he discussed Foley’s sexually explicit emails with Mr. Hastert’s chief of staff, Scott Palmer.
  3. Mr. Palmer has denied Fordham’s claim.
  4. Mr. Hastert has publicly asserted that his aides did not learn of Foley’s behavior until the fall of 2005.

In a press conference last week, Mr. Hastert cagily deflected any finger pointing in his direction by stating that “the buck stops here.” He would deal, he said, with any of his aides found to be involved in a cover-up of Foley’s predator activities. And the press, as is its habit with cagey politicians, thereafter has given Rep. Hastert a pass in questioning his personal knowledge of Foley’s behavior.

Given the high visibility of sexual abuse and predator crimes in the U.S., Crabby Old Lady finds it less than credible that Hastert’s aides did not immediately tell him of the page’s accusations against Rep. Foley – sometime between 2001 and 2003. And even if his aides did not learn of the accusations until the fall of 2005, what the hell, Crabby wants to know, has been going on in the intervening year if not a cover-up?

These days, 16 and 17-year-olds are not sexual naifs and none were sexually harmed. So although Rep. Foley was grotesquely out of line, it is not so much his emails that spark Crabby’s ire (which, in any case, were reported by a boy who received Foley’s email, a boy who understood their inappropriate nature). It is the lying and the protection of their own, by top leaders of our country.

But that is just business as usual for this Congress and the two previous Republican-controlled Congresses under the Bush regime.

These are the men and women who cravenly gave us a prescription drug bill written by the pharmaceutical companies themselves that has enriched those corporations in obscene measure. The same Congress that rubber-stamped a pre-emptive war against a country that never harmed ours. Elected leaders who have allowed Halliburton et al (with no-bid contracts) in that war to “lose” billions of dollars into their own pockets. All without a peep from those officials ostensibly elected to represent Crabby and you.

While all that has been happening, the rich have been given tax cuts that would shame King Midas as the number of ordinary Americans unable to afford health coverage has increased to more than 15 percent of the population. Most of those are children who, it appears, Congress believes are more in danger from the sexy emails of one representative than from not having to access to healthcare.

And just within the past month, this Congress passed new legislation that makes it possible for the president of the United States, on no more than personal whim, to declare anyone – foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike - an enemy non-combatant, have him or her tortured and “disappeared” without recourse.

In Crabby’s living memory – and she’s been a political junkie for all her 65 years - there has never been a more craven, corrupt and dishonorable, do-nothing Congress. The Foley scandal - as disgusting as he and his Congressional ass-covering cohorts are - is no more than a pimple on its foggy bottom compared to the rest of their transgressions.

But, there is a possible remedy, just three weeks away. The bi-annual Congressional elections are at hand and every one of the 435 representative seats and about a third of the Senate are up for grabs. As Crabby suggested last January, if voters work in concert, we can jettison the entire Congress – or enough to send a message.

Elders vote in far larger numbers than other age groups and if we can tear ourselves away from our computers on 7 November, Crabby Old Lady believes we can go a long way toward swinging the election in a better direction than it might otherwise go. Here’s what Crabby has in mind:

  1. Ignore all television commercials and print ads. They don’t say anything informative or useful about candidates and the issues anyway.
  2. Find out who the incumbent running in your district is and vote against him or her. It doesn’t matter if the other candidate is a Republican or a Democrat. They are all the same these days. (Remember the corruption voters rebelled against when they took the Congressional majority away from the Democrats in 1994.)
  3. If no incumbent is running in your district, do your best to choose the candidate who comes closest to speaking with honesty, will be accountable for his/her actions and has an idea or two that can move the country forward.

That last won’t be easy, as campaigns are deliberately designed to say as little as possible about what the candidates stand for – although Crabby has come to believe that all politicians stand for nothing but preservation of their own power and money-grubbing. But do the best you can.

What a powerful statement this could be: even if it can be accomplished in only a few states, the media will notice and they will report it – that voters are so fed up with the Washington regime they are willing to vote for anyone other than incumbents.

Crabby believes that if enough incumbents are defeated, the new members of Congress will have little choice but to do at least something that is not a rubber stamp of President Bush's inept and irresponsible regime and that should at least slow the decline we are experiencing on every important issue the country faces.

Plus, the newly elected will be on notice that if they do not do something serious about health coverage for everyone, the war in Iraq, taxes, the deficit, immigration policy, foreign policy, the middle-class economy and all the rest of the serious issues our country faces, they’ll be voted out next time, in 2008.

How Much Does America Hate Old People?

Earlier this week, ML at Full Fathom Five took Parade magazine to task for equating anti-aging procedures such as microdermabrasion, Botox injections and chemical peels with health, and she alerted Crabby Old Lady to the story when they had lunch with Claude of Blogging in Paris on Wednesday.

Crabby is spitting mad. It (unfortunately) is to be expected that such magazines as Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Glamour, controlled as they are by the youth and beauty police, might promote unnecessary medical procedures as life goals for the terminally vain. Those magazines have dedicated themselves for decades to maintaining youth as the only acceptable stage of life.

But as ML points out in her story, Parade is a general interest, if fluffy, third-grade-reading-level magazine inserted into about a gazillion Sunday newspapers throughout the U.S. and Canada. It is not the sort of publication that goes out on a limb; its sole purpose is to reflect America back on itself, repeating and reinforcing conventional wisdom.

So it is a received cultural orthodoxy when Parade's story in question, titled “The Best Beauty Breakthroughs”, is included in a large section slugged WOMEN’S HEALTH SPECIAL, [the emphasis is Crabby's] as this scanned headline shows.


Crabby Old Lady is furious that wrinkles and sags are equated with the serious health issues of physical energy, breast cancer, heart disease, organ donation and exercise. These could not in any sane society be compared. Even more infuriating is the unstated assumption of the story that every living person wants to avoid the signs of aging as much as they wish to avoid cancer.

This story is the worst example Crabby has seen in a long time of how hateful American culture finds old people. If they can’t get rid of us by denying us jobs through age discrimination in the workplace or by isolating us in retirement village ghettos where no one younger than 55 is allowed to live or by treating our (real) health problems less aggressively than those of younger people – then they’ll force us to become grotesque simulacra of youth to not offend their delicate sensibilities of what is attractive.

This story is no different than if they were promoting as a health benefit (or vanity; it doesn’t matter which) poisonous chemicals and injections to lighten the skin of people of color. Outrageous, you say? Offensive? Loathsome? You betcha. And so is this magazine story.

If Crabby were a less polite old lady, she would be using the F word about Parade, its editors and the horse they rode in on. Anyone who thinks Crabby and ML are making too much of Parade's odious "health" story, go read this.

Paris Comes to Portland

category_bug_journal2.gif One of the pleasures of blogging, unexpected - even unimagined when one begins - is new friends. People who live miles away, on the other side of oceans, halfway around the world can become as friends who live only around the corner.

Can you guess who this is doing what she does best, this time on Casco Bay instead of the City of Lights…


Why it’s Claude, of course, of Blogging in Paris and it’s been my extraordinary pleasure, these past two days, to finally meet in person a blogger with whom I felt a simpatico from the first time we exchanged some email more than two years ago.


Yesterday, under deeply gray skies but no rain, we walked the Old Port area of Portland, Maine, while Claude took literally hundreds of photos. Then ML of Full Fathom Five, who lives in a nearby town, joined us for lunch at Walters – three elder women laughing and talking, words tumbling on top of one another for more than two hours. It doesn’t get better than that.

But I left out Claude’s arrival on Tuesday evening. She had let slip in a telephone conversation that lobster is a favorite food. Well, she came to the right place for that and I took it as an excuse for a feast of what is one of my favorites too.


Be sure to read more at Claude’s place

Elder Media

With the oldest baby boomers turning 60 this year and the rest of those 78 million coming right up behind them, elder media is taking off. Some new television shows this year are featuring such 50-something actors as James Woods, John Lithgow and Ted Danson, and Judd Hirsch continues on Numbers. This is a good start, but I’ll be impressed when 55- and 60-year old women star in programs.

There are a few new elder media projects that are trying to reach beyond – or say they are trying to reach beyond – the limited themes of money and appearance.

Founded by the former CEO of, Jeff Taylor, Eons aims to be “50 plus everything,” as its tagline says, “inspiring people" says Mr. Taylor, "to live the biggest life possible.”

To help elders do that, Eons give them space to list their top ten Life Dreams, create a LifeMap, play a whole lot of games (most of which are downloads for a price), join a discussion group (which aren’t very active yet) and create a blog. But I’ll be damned if I can find anyone’s blog on the site. And that’s a big drawback; the site is incredibly difficult to navigate.

The stories are disappointing too. In the career section, there is just a simplified job search form from (where else?), along with a story about enrolling in benefit plans. The sections on love, money and body feel empty – just recitations of information that can be found on dozens, even hundreds, of other websites with more informative detail. There is nothing here that inspires a “big life” - whatever that means.

I began to feel dubious about the site reading a story from a contributor about buying a second-home with an accompanying photo of his “cottage” which looks like a castle. And I became downright alarmed reading a story about a chemist who is serving three months in jail for supplying a performance-enhancing drug who intends to target older people with his products when he’s free again so “athletes will turn to the antiaging world because it will be easier to get the drugs they want there than from the bodybuilding world.”

Eons is only two or three months old and perhaps, with time, it will find its footing. But it certainly has a way to go.

Another new elder media venture is Retirement Living TV – a television project which is the brainchild of John Erickson, the founder, chairman and CEO of Erickson Retirement Communities which are described as full-service, continuing care retirement communities.

The goal, according to their website, is this:

“We believe television is a promising source for generating positive images of older individuals. Our programming will provide positive models for older viewers enhancing individuals' sense of control over their lives and their ability to overcome challenges. By achieving this, we will begin to reverse the stigma associated with aging.”

I’ll buy that for a good start. The network was launched just a few weeks ago with, so far, four hours of programming a day titled:

The Art of Living
The Voice
The Informed Citizen
The Prudent Advisor
The Daily Apple

The shows cover health, everyday wellness, interviews with elders, politics, social issues and getting the most from your money – a good lineup. They’ve even covered age discrimination already, and their hosts are actually older people.

So far, RLTV is available only to Comcast subscribers in Mid-Atlantic and New England states, but you can view recent episodes of each program on their website. They are well-done, compelling and useful while treating the audience like the grownups we are.

I have just one quibble: I hope they will mix up the extraordinary elders they feature, like the 70- and 80-year-old hockey players on a recent show, with ordinary people too. Everyone is interesting if you pay attention.

Boomers TV, which has trademarked its tagline, “redefining life after 50,” has been around for about a year and is broadcast on some PBS stations in about 22 states. It is slickly produced by a husband-and-wife team who are boomers themselves, and the program is relentlessly boomer-oriented - how to be an older boomer with every latest trend including Oprah guru, Dr. Michael Roizen.

There’s nothing wrong with the program except that there is nothing new, compelling or “redefining” about it either. You know, eat your veggies, exercise, take a road trip, spice up your sex life. You can find out more about redefining old age by reading any one of the Elderbloggers on the list in the left column.

There are short clips from the show on their website or you can buy the first 13 episodes on four DVDs for about $50.

New ventures often stumble in their early days and all of these should be given a chance to improve. But of the three, only Retirement Living TV is, so far, intriguing. They’re taking a chance that elders are interested in serious social issues, in politics and want useful information on money, health and living that informs, educates and isn’t recycled from other media.

By not pandering to the pretense of youth that many elder-targeted media projects do, Retirement Living TV is reaching for something original in elder media and I’m hoping they succeed. They have made a good beginning.

Elderblogger PhoneCon Update 2

Most everything you need to know about Elderblogger PhoneCon on Tuesday, 24 October (two weeks from today) is here. Read that over and if you have any questions, let me know by email or comment.

Further Information
TIME: The event begins at 8:30AM eastern U.S. time. That’s 1:30PM in London, 2:30PM in Paris and 5:30AM in California. PhoneCon will be live for six hours, until 2:30PM eastern U.S. time so people in a lot of time zones who want to participate can join in when it is convenient to them.

HOSTS: Elaine of Kalilily Time has graciously agreed to spell me for an hour or so during PhoneCon because six hours is a long time to sit.

I will rely on whoever is on the phone at other times to take up any slack when I disappear. I use a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) telephone service, which, unfortunately, is not yet a mature technology: sometimes the phone just goes dead and it takes ten or 15 minutes for the electronics to recycle.

If anyone besides Elaine would like to volunteer to host for an hour or even 30 minutes, send me an email. There’s not much to do but play traffic cop if it gets busy.

TELEPHONE NUMBERS: On 17 October, a week from today, I will post the telephone numbers for the conference – one for the U.S., one each for ten countries in Europe. There will also be a conference ID number which you will be asked to key in to join the conversation.

The numbers and conference ID will also be posted at the top of the Time Goes By home page on the day of the conference.

ENTERTAINMENT: As mentioned before, Frank Paynter of listics will lead us in a rendition of Old and in the Way. Kate of Katethoughts has promised to bring mimosas and Joe’s Screaming Stuffed Jalapena Poppers.

Anyone else got something to bring to the party? Food, drink, song or story they would like to schedule? Perhaps Jeneane Sessum of Allied (who started all this PhoneCon stuff) will fold laundry for us again.

More updates next week. Once again, here’s the badge for your blog that can link to this page.

Frailty and Stereotypes

category_bug_ageism.gif We are careful about language here at Time Goes By. We don’t allow such words as coot, geezer, biddy, fogey and fossil to be used because they perpetuate negative stereotypes that are all too prevalent anyway. We don’t much like golden-ager, third-ager or even senior either because they are euphemisms invented to hide the actuality of growing old.

We prefer the substance and truth in the word “old” and we have adopted “elder” not in the old definition of wise advisor (although it can be applied in that sense to those who have earned it), but as a general descriptor of people of age.

Governments know how important language is; they use it to obscure. “Collateral damage” doesn’t conjure the mental image of bloody, mangled bodies that “dead civilians” does, thereby making war more acceptable. And a biddy is just a crazy old woman whose needs – even existence - can be ignored.

Until recently, medical studies of elders focused on disease and debility. Now, more researchers are working to determine what keeps many elders healthy into their 80s and 90s. New York Times reporter Gina Kolata has been writing an excellent series on aging and how people grow old. The latest installment concerns frailty and language.

“Frailty, Dr. [Tamara] Harris [chief of the geriatric epidemiology section at the National Institute on aging] explains, involves exhaustion, weakness, weight loss and a loss of muscle mass and strength. It is, she says, a grim prognosis whose causes were little understood…

“Now, though, scientists are surprised to find that, in many cases, a single factor – undetected cardiovascular disease – is often a major reason people become frail…

“Dr. Anne Newman, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Pittsburgh…thought of undetected cardiovascular disease [as a cause of frailty]. The idea was that blood flow to the heart or muscle or brain could be impeded even if a person had had no overt signs of cardiovascular disease…

“If they are right about frailty, Dr. Newman and others say, then the condition may be prevented or delayed by not smoking and keepiing cholesterol and blood pressure levels low and by staying active.”

- The New York Times, 5 October 2006

Another finding, writes Ms. Kolata, is surprising to scientists (although I can’t imagine why):

“…Rigorous studies are now showing that seeing, or hearing, gloomy nostrums about what it is like to be old can make people walk more slowly, hear and remember less well, and even affect their cardiovascular systems. Positive images of aging have the opposite effect. The constant message that old people are expected to be slow and weak and forgetful is not a reason for the full-blown frailty syndrome. But it may help push people along that path…

“’I am changing my initially skeptical view,’ says Richard Suzman, who is director of the office of behavioral and social research programs at the National Institute on Aging. ‘There is growing evidence that these subjective experiences might be more important than we thought.’”

Dr. Robert Butler who, at age 79, is president and chief executive of the International Longevity Center in New York and a professor of geriatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, coined the term “ageism” decades ago. Ms. Kolata spoke with him for her story:

“Dr. Butler noticed the [pervasive stereotypes of old age] when he was a medical student. He recalls the private names doctors had for the elderly like crock and old biddy. In the decades since, he says, attitudes among doctors and the general public have not really changed. And, he adds, the stereotypes have an effect. ‘My experience with older people is that they certainly do get cowed by this,’ he said.

“But how much, and to what extent people get cowed surprised even researchers. It is hard to avoid seeing or hearing demeaning depictions of the elderly. There are greeting cards that make old people the butt of jokes. There are phrases like ‘senior moment’ to describe memory lapse. There are the ways older people are treated. For example, researchers find that people use ‘elderspeak,’ speaking louder and using simpler words and sentences when talking to old people.”

Dr. Becca Levy of Yale University has been studying the effects of stereotypes on elders for years.

“It turned out that people who had more positive views about aging were healthier over time. They lived an average of 7.6 years longer than those of a similar age who did not hold such views, and even had less hearing loss when their hearing was tested three years after the study began…

“Still, Dr. Levy and others say it can be difficult to resist the pervasive stereotypes of aging. Many people may accept them without realizing it.

“’Then they become a self-fulfilling prophecy,’ Dr. Levy said."

In other words, prejudice against elders and negative stereotypes can making people sick and even kill them before their time. And that is why, at Time Goes By, we speak up about prejudicial language whenever it turns up no matter how small the transgression seems.

I’ve been reading about Dr. Levy’s and others’ studies for ten years and writing about them here for nearly three, but only recently are they being disseminated in the mainstream media which reaches a far larger audience than this little blog. The New York Times and reporter Gina Kolata are to be commended for this ongoing series about aging and for making it permanently available online without a subscription.

Twinkle Redux

[WEATHER REPORT FROM MILT'S GRANDDAUGHTER: While I was sleeping, Amber left an update (scroll down) on the condition of her grandfather, Milt Rebman of Milt's Muse. You can send her a note by clicking on her name at the end of her comment.]

Not long ago, I published two alternative versions of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star resulting in some wonderful reminiscences in the comments section of rhymes and stories from our childhoods.

My brother Paul caught up on reading his sister’s blog a few days ago and emailed this additional variation on Twinkle which he learned as a kid and is, by today’s standards, a mite politically incorrect. But it will also make you giggle. If you are offended, please tell someone else and not me.

Paul calls this the “Cocktail Napkin Version” of the rhyme:

Starkle starkle little twink,
Who the hell are you I think,
I'm not under what you call,
the alcofluence of incohol.
I'm just a little slort of sheep,
I'm not drunk like thinkle peep.
I don't know who is me yet,
but the drunker I stay the longer I get.
So one more drink to fill up my cup,
I got all day sober to Sunday up.

It is, of course, an elaborate spoonerism – a form of pun named for Dr. William Archibald Spooner, an Anglican priest who lived from 1844 to 1930 and was prone to these tips of the slung which, at their funniest, are inadvertent.

It is said that from the pulpit, the Rev. Spooner referred to “our Lord, a shoving leopard” and once told a groom at the end of the wedding ceremony that “It is kisstomary to cuss the bride.” On another occasion, he described a naval array as the “vast display of cattleships and bruisers.”

From an unknown source, there is the famous Dickens novel, “A Sale of Two Titties”. And let us not forget our president’s reference in a public speech to “terriers and barrifs.”

It’s never easy to know if spoonerisms were spontaneous or just a lack of pies. I like to believe this elegant putdown, even though deliberate, really happened: a member of Parliament referred to another as a “shining wit” - and then apologized for making a spoonerism.

But my all-time favorites – two spoonerisms that still reduce me to a helpless mass of giggling Jello 50 years after I first heard them - are attributed to mid-20th century radio and TV announcer Harry Von Zell, and appear to be genuine. They occurred on separate occasions:

“…ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, Hoobert Heever,” and

“...the duck and doochess of Windsor.”

Prescription Drugs – The Good News and the Bad

category_bug_politics.gif If, in the past, you ordered prescription drugs from Canada and have had trouble receiving them since November 2005, your life is about to get easier and your drugs cheaper again.

“The federal government will stop seizing small amounts of lower-priced prescription medications mailed from Canada.”
- The New York Times, 4 October 2006

“Small amounts” is roughly a 90-day supply that Americans may now import beginning Monday, 9 October.

The change in policy came about, according to Customs and Border Protection agency spokeswoman, Lynn Hollinger, due to political pressure from Congress and complaints from citizens who have not been receiving drugs they purchased since the seizure policy went into effect on 17 November 2005.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will now resume oversight of the importation of prescription drugs which had been transferred to the Customs agency when the crackdown began.

Of course, there are objections and you can guess from whom:

“Ken Johnson, a senior vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the trade group remains ‘adamantly opposed to any attempts that would relax importation of drugs into this country outside the FDA safety system.

“’We shouldn’t be playing Russian roulette with people’s health,’ Johnson said. ‘We know that counterfeit drugs are pouring into Canada from countries like Thailand, China and Pakistan.’”

- Washington Post, 5 October 2006

You can believe Mr. Johnson or not, but somehow I think we would have heard if people are dying or getting sick from counterfeit drugs. The only real reason to ban importation of less expensive drugs from Canada is to preserve the pharmaceutical companies' higher profits in the U.S. Canada’s national health system, unlike the U.S. Medicare program, negotiates with the big pharmas which keeps prices low enough that even with shipping costs, American consumers can better afford their drugs.

Importing prescription drugs from other countries remains illegal and the new policy of non-enforcement of the law could be reversed at any time on a whim of Congress, as is being done now. The timing of the switch in policy is noteworthy: just as millions of Medicare beneficiaries are hitting the “doughnut hole” during which they pay one hundred percent of their drug costs and when the congressional elections are a month away. You do the math.

But that’s just politics. There is another question of larger moral significance. The U.S. Congress, in lifting the drug seizure policy, is giving Americans permission to wink at the law. Yes, we know it’s illegal, say our lawmakers, but instead of rescinding the law, we are allowing you to break it without penalty.

It doesn’t take any imagination to know what Randy Cohen, “The Ethicist” columnist in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, would say: Breaking the law is wrong. We are a country founded on the rule of law, not of individuals, and even if the law doesn’t work as perfectly as we would like it to all the time, it is respect for the law that safeguards us from tyranny.

If purchasing drugs from Canada makes a difference between having food, heat and medications or having to choose among them, breaking a law that was conceived by a corrupt Congress to benefit already obscenely rich corporations would appear to be the only available solution.

It is important morally, however, to not fool ourselves about what we are doing, and also to remember - especially on election day, 7 November - who put us in the position of being forced to break the law.