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February 2007
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Universal Healthcare is in the Air

category_bug_journal2.gif Due to poverty and Medicaid bungling, on 28 February, a 12-year-old boy died when an untreated dental problem led to a severe brain infection. An $80 tooth extraction could have prevented his death.

This happened in the United States of America where the chief executive of one of the top two private health providers, UnitedHealth, was paid an annual total of $10 million in salary and bonuses until he was forced to resign last October over a stock-option backdating scheme that would have given him $1 billion more in paper gains.

Forty-seven million - more than one-six of Americans - are without health coverage. It has been a long haul getting Americans to take this issue seriously, but they have at last come out of the woodwork. According to a recent CBS News/New York Times poll [pdf], 64 percent of the population now believe the federal government should guarantee health insurance for every American. Here are some other findings of the survey:

  • 89% are very or somewhat concerned about their future healthcare costs
  • 60% of those without insurance report that someone in their household has gone without care because of the cost
  • 47% say a government-run system of universal healthcare would be better than the current private system with many uninsured (38%)
  • Almost 80% say universal health coverage is more important than extending the Bush tax cuts
  • 60% would be willing to pay more in taxes to ensure universal healthcare

President Bush's solution to the healthcare crisis is a tax deduction for people to buy private insurance. California Governor Arnold Schwarznegger would force employers to provide coverage or pay into a fund. And presidential contender, former North Carolina senator John Edwards has put forth a similar nationwide plan. All involve retaining for-profit insurers which would effectively expand their customer base creating more profits and, presumably, even higher salaries for executives.

Phil Mattera, in an informative and clear overview of America's health insurance industry at alternet.org, writes of the top-tier health insurers (UnitedHealth, Wellpoint Inc., Aetna, Humana, Cigna and Health Net):

"...the big carriers simply accumulate more power over healthcare providers and patients, using it to their own advantage.

"While millions remain uninsured or underinsured, the industry's profits swell. Last year, the top six health insurance companies had combined profits of more than $10 billion. What's amazing is that they netted so much after spending prodigious amounts on marketing and administration.

"In 2006 Wellpoint alone burned up nearly $9 billion in such costs - nearly one-quarter of what it paid out in actual benefits. By contrast, in Canada's government-run single-payer system, administration accounts for only about 3 percent of total costs."

Obviously, with a single-payer system (universal coverage), there is no need for either marketing or profits. It will cost us all more in taxes to cover everyone, but it won't be as much as people are spending now and no one will go without treatment or, if it is done right, without preventive care.

There is one other important point about the disgrace of America's for-profit health insurance system that Mr. Mattera makes in his alternet piece:

"...the fundamental conflict in the industry [is] the clash between maximizing gains for executives and shareholders, and the need of its customers for services that are often a matter of life and death. Public officials should abandon the mission of saving commercial insurance and devote themselves instead to creating a healthcare system that substitutes the public interest for private profit." [emphasis added]

Many years ago, I had a dentist with a mordant sense of humor who said, "Nobody ever died of teeth."€ Now we know differently. It will do everyone who has been wakened to the healthcare crisis good, as we follow the weeding out process of presidential contenders in the coming months, to keep in mind that 12-year-boy in Maryland who died needlessly of teeth.



Age Nullification

category_bug_ageism.gif Although this media story is about baby boomers, it should be about everyone who is older than 50. I like it because it introduces a new phrase to easily explain what is wrong with pigeonholing people by their ages.

Age nullification. [Boomers] aren't concerned about ageism being imposed upon us. I am REALLY annoyed by headlines that read '40 is the new 20' and '70 is the new 50'. What a bunch of hooey. I am my age. I don't want to be twenty years younger, thankyouverymuch, nor do I care if you think I am younger or older. Age is nullified by my generation. We are okay with acting in accordance to the way we feel, doing the things we like to do with no thought to what we should or shouldn't be doing at our age."
The Rearview Mirror, 1 March 2007

Would that that statement were true about boomers in general - the original age deniers. And the superior attitude it displays toward the generations older than boomers is annoying. But the writer, a boomer herself, is on the right track and the idea of age nullification will become important in fighting age discrimination and other forms of ageism because advertising, by its ubiquity (people on average see 5,000 advertising messages a day), sets and reinforces much of the culture's stereotypes about age.

The person who identified age nullification is J. Walker Smith, president of the Yankelovich, Inc., which recently identified the following false notions advertisers adhere to even though they are long outdated and untrue of all people older than 50:

  • older consumers are not likely to switch or try anything new
  • older people without children at home won't spend as much
  • older people are not worth the marketing expense
  • shopping interests of older consumer are focused mostly on products and services to fix the ills and ailments of old age

We see the results of these notions every day on television where old people appear only in commercials for products to relieve pain and suffering while music, movies, video games and theme parks are marketed only to younger people. These practices are folly for advertisers as the numbers Mr. Smith quotes show:

"Music buyers 45 and older comprise the biggest part of the market for CDs, double that of older teens, and music buyers over age 50 account for nearly one-quarter of online music sales. Moviegoers 50 and older were 23.9 percent of the total audience in 2005 compared with 21.3 percent in 2001.

"This is in contrast to flat or declining attendance among younger moviegoers. One-quarter of video game players are 50-plus, up from just 9 percent in 1999. Half of the visitors to Disney World are adults who come for their own enjoyment, with no children in tow."

Productivity - Think Attitude, Not Age, February 2007 [may require free registration]

Mr. Smith does all elders a disservice when he says "age is not a concept relevant to understanding baby boomers." His statement ignores elders, assuming people never change and that everyone maintains purchasing behaviors adopted in their twenties for the rest of their lives. But if it takes the huge number of boomers to force people like Mr. Smith and marketers who listen to him to back off practices that have helped perpetuate cultural ageism for decades, let's welcome it.

"Age nullification means a felt sense of permission to do anything one is interested in and capable of without worrying about age appropriateness," writes Mr. Smith. "Age is not a barrier that defines or restricts alternatives. Age is not a source of embarrassment. Age is simply not relevant. Boomers just take it for granted that age doesn't apply."

As the boomer billions spent on cosmetic surgery, Botox, anti-aging nostrums, etc. show, Mr. Smith's last sentence is off-base. But if he impresses advertisers with his age nullification idea, everyone older than the boomers will benefit too. I just don't like being ignored and dismissed as though we are already dead.



Helping Elders in Two Good Ways

[EDITORIAL NOTE: I've posted a new story at BlogHer.org this morning.]

category_bug_journal2.gif This post is slugged “health” not for medical reasons, but for your general well-being because doing good things makes anyone feel better.

You Can Change the Present
Stplogo Recently, I was made aware of changingthepresent.org, a website that is “changing the world one gift at a time.” There are many online services that make it easy to give to causes and charities of your choice, but this one lists “aging” as a category of gifts.

As applies to all their causes, possible gifts range from as low as US$10 to hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Some possibilities:

  • One senior action alert from the National Council on Aging: $25
  • One week in the lab for the American Federation For Aging Research: $1,200, or one hour: $30
  • One literacy kit for intergenerational tutoring by elders with children at risk from the OASIS Institute: $50
  • One month of health and wellness classes such as tai chi, speech therapy and adjusting-to-hearing-loss classes for an entire, low-income, senior community: $400

These are excellent choices that make a real difference in people’s everyday lives and there are many others to choose from whether in the aging category or one of the nearly three dozen other category choices. Each organization is thoroughly documented on the changethepresent website along with bios of specialist-advisors for each category of gifts.

The organization and website are run by ImportantGifts, Inc., a 501(c)(3) group which

“…deducts only a small transaction fee of three percent and thirty cents per donation item, primarily to cover its merchant expenses in processing the Website donation and certain other processing, overhead and administrative costs.”

This is a terrific choice for personal giving and for gifts in the names of others - worth a permanent bookmark in your browser.

I Want My RLTV
It’s no secret that I don’t think much of current television and online media targeting elders. But there is one place I recommend without reservation: Retirement Living TV. Yes, they invited me to appear on a couple of their programs, but that’s not why I like the channel.

Rltvlogo RLTV is doing an excellent job of covering issues of aging without treating elders like we’re mildly retarded or teenagers with gray hair. The people who work there share my belief that life doesn’t end at age 60 or 65, that elders are as fascinating as younger people and the channel does a terrific job of both informing elders on issues of importance and presenting them - celebrities and "real people" - in a positive light.

So far, RLTV produces three-and-a-half hours of programming a day that can be seen on DirecTV and on Comcast in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. But if, like me, you don’t subscribe to DirecTV, or Comcast is not available in your town, the only way to see RLTV is on the tiny screen at their website.

To continue producing new and better shows and increase their lineup, RLTV must expand its cable television reach - and you can help.

It is difficult for small, independent startups like RLTV to convince cable operators to carry their network if they are not affiliated with one of the big boys like Viacom or Fox. But viewer demand can make a difference.

So do yourself and all elders a favor while helping out a fledgling channel that is as good for you and me as Nickelodeon is for kids: stop by this page at rl.tv and fill in the “I Want My RLTV” form. All that’s required is your Zip Code and your current type of TV provider, but it’s good leave a message in the Comment box too. Your email address is optional and will not be sold to third-party advertisers.

If RLTV is successful, others will create programming by and about elders too and we will have even more elder-friendly news, information and entertainment to choose from.



Media Consumption Diet Meme

Generally, I don’t like blog memes, but this one caught my fancy. Web Teacher Virginia Debolt called my attention to the Media Consumption Diet Meme which she found at Web Strategy by Jeremiah (Owyang). He describes it thusly:

“I’m hoping to start this meme, that others will join in and share their media consumption diet, in hopes, that we’ll start to learn how they get information or be entertained. I’ve sort of mixed up mediums, and media types, but after some thought, that’s the best way to organize it.”

Since I was a kid – long before the internet, before television and even before the term “media” was in use – I was a news junkie. It’s not just information about what goes on the world I’m after, but a sense of the zeitgeist, of what the culture concerns itself with.

Web:
I often wonder now how I got through life before the web. I have a couple dozen Google News Alerts that drop into my mailbox each day covering many topics related to aging to keep up with what’s new for this blog, and some personal interests. Those take me to a wide variety of news sources, websites and blogs every day.

I also subscribe to a few major newspapers’ email headline services: The New York Times, the Washington Post, the GuardianUK, al-Jazeera, BBC, Sydney Morning Herald and some others. These are important because they are what political leaders around the world read.

Additional email feeds come from alternet, truthdig, tompaine, mediasavvy, several Pew Research feeds, Poynter, Buzzflash, my local paper in Portland, Maine and about a dozen other news and aging sources. Norm Jenson’s onegoodmove is essential to keep me up on the best leftie political stories from varieties of sources along with video clips of Jon Stewart, Colbert, Bill Maher, etc. so I don’t need to remember to watch their TV shows.

There was a time I visited every blog on the Elder Blogroll every day. The list is too long for that now, so I visit a few a day, work my way to the bottom and then start over again.

When I have time, one of my favorite news “games” is to follow a story in a dozen or so newspapers around the world for different perspectives.

Music:
I have long transferred all my music to my computer – about 8,000 tunes and albums. I’ve worked with many young web jockies who are plugged into their iPods all day, but I can’t concentrate when music is playing. Most often, I listen in the evenings with headphones so I can pump up the volume without bothering the neighbors. My excellent computer speakers take over to keep me moving when the house needs cleaning. I also listen to NPR and other radio stations on my computer.

TV:
I check the headlines on CNN or CNN Headline News several times a day for ten minutes or so as I wander through the kitchen, have lunch or dinner, feed the cat, etc. I subscribe to Time-Warner’s version of Tivo to record shows I want to see at my leisure. When all this media has turned my brain to mush, my default veg-out-to-TV shows are CSI, Without a Trace and any flavor of Law and Order.

Communications:
I access email through Mozilla Thunderbird, use Sunrocket VoIP for my home telephone and was able to keep my New York telephone number (which I’ve had since 1975) by transferring it to my cell phone when I moved to Maine. Like this meme’s originator, Jeremiah, I’ve eliminated IM from life; it makes me twitchy.

Movies:
I haven’t visited to a movie theater since I moved to Portland last year. I had come to dislike it in New York where patrons believe it is acceptable to use cell phones, talk to one another and/or comment on the film at street volume. I’ve joined Netflix now and sometimes use Time-Warner’s On Demand service.

Magazines:
This needs to be trimmed way down when renewals next come 'round. I subscribe to Time, Newsweek, U.S. News, and the Economist to know what the rest of the world is concerned with and they update me on stories of general interest that I’ve missed during the previous week. I also get The New York Review of Books, National Geographic, Down East (gotta learn more about my new home state), Business Week, Vanity Fair, The Nation, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones and the New Yorker.

I also own on CDs the entire archive of the New Yorker, which I have found to be an essential research tool.

Newspapers:
See Web above. I sometimes buy the Sunday New York Times, especially on a bad weather weekend when I won’t be going out. And as much as I think, long term, The New York Times is cutting their economic throat, I subscribe to their Select service which gives me access to the Op-Ed columnists and the entire historical archive of the paper.

Books:
Sometimes I think online booksellers would all shut down without me. Books are my biggest expenditure. For the past five or six years, about half my book buying relates to aging. The rest are about history, contemporary politics, social science and a handful of fiction writers I follow, plus the books that publishers send for review. There are usually about 10 to 15 books in the need-to-read pile.

Now it’s your turn. There’s no tagging specific people with this meme. Pick it up if you wish and we can all follow it with the Technorati tag, “Media Consumption Diet”. Or, if you’re not a blogger, let us know your media diet in the comments below.



Half Century of Crossing Generations

How many people have the same job for 50 years, serve generations of the same "clients" and still love their jobs? Not many, we suspect.

But it is true for 83-year-old Julia Morrison who has been employed by the police department as a crossing guard in Arlington, Massachusets since 1957.

“[Officer David McKenna] said he first met Morrison when he was 12 years old at a house party his parents were throwing. While he was downstairs listening to records with a group of teenagers – including Morrison’s daughter – a very cool Mrs. Morrison stroke downstairs to introduce herself.

“’She shook my hand and said, ‘You’re such a good boy, David, and then whispered in my ear, Stay away from my daughter.’ Said McKenna, laughing at the memory. ‘She’s a unique lady all right. Gets right to the point.’”

Boston Globe, 28 February 2007

McKenna grew up to become Julia Morrison’s boss who, has been seeing kids safely across the street at since 1957. She crossed Lynne Toomey when she was a little girl and today she crosses Mrs. Toomey’s two daughters.

“When I was a kid, Mrs. Morrison always had candy in her pockets and handed it out to kids who stayed on the white lines,” said Toomey. “And it’s something she still does today.”

Crossguard

Another parent, whose three grown children attended Brackett, says Morrison is much more than a crossing guard: "She's an integral part of the community. She knows every kid's name, every one. It's so much more than just a job to her."

You can read the rest of the story here and don't miss the slide show that accompanies it, narrated by Julia Morrison.



Help for Elder Job Seekers

category_bug_ageism.gif Back in January, I told you about my appearance on an employment radio show out of Texas, Everything Employment. It is hosted by my friend, Rick Gillis, and you can listen to that broadcast as a podcast here.

Ricksbook Rick’s recently published book, Really Useful Job Search Tactics, is packed with – well, really useful information for all age groups seeking work while trying to navigate the 21st century job market which is a dramatically different place from even five years ago.

Because of the success of the internet, writes Rick,

“It does not matter if a position is posted on one of the national job sites or a local job board, the result is the same: overwhelming response to job offerings due to the worldwide nature of the web resulting in hundred, even thousands of resumes…”

To deal with the onslaught of job candidates, computer programs known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have been written to categorize and track resumes and applicants through the entire process of hiring within a company or agency. Rick demystifies the ATS and teaches you how to create a resume that will leap to the top of the electronic pile.

No one like the job search ordeal, but Rick walks readers through every step of the way together with advice and sample resumes for difficult situations like entry level applicants, mothers returning to workforce and, of course, the “mature job seeker.”

Rick and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on tactics for older workers. I don’t believe we elders should be required to “handle” younger managers, hide our age on our resumes or be told to show up neatly dressed, but Rick has been in the employment business for two decades and is undoubtedly more of a realist than I am.

Where we agree, however, is on what to do if, during a job interview, you realize there is some age discrimination going on. We have discussed that moment in the past here at TGB as “a veil” coming down over the interviewer’s eyes. Here is how Rick puts it in his book:

“The recruiter is superficially polite and usually careful not to cross the line into illegality, but may rush through the interview or not engage in seriously conversation…

“I call this instant the ‘moment the window drops’. You can still see what is on the other side but you know that ‘something’ has come between you and your interviewer and you know you haven’t a chance of being hired because of your age.”

It is wrong. It is illegal. It happens more than employers, recruiters and employment experts are willing to admit. And it is almost impossible to prove in a court of law.

So when it happens to you, you’ve got nothing to lose and may as well use a technique I suggested to Rick. It gives you control of the interchange and can help make you feel better about yourself. From Rick’s book again:

“…when you know all chance of getting the job is gone and it’s all about your age…Look your interviewer straight in the eye, don’t blink and in your most pleasant, professional voice, ask:
  • Does this company maintain a mixed-age workplace?
  • How do you weight the skills of younger and older workers in deciding whom to hire?
  • How do you train young managers in dealing with subordinates who are old enough to be their parents and grandparents?
  • Is my age an impediment to being hired at this company?”

These are reasonable questions and using any or all of them in the situation Rick describes puts the interviewer and the company on notice that judging your experience and skills by your age is an unacceptable practice. There is even a slight chance the hiring manager will rethink ignoring such a straight-forward person as you.

Really Useful Job Search Tactics is the best of the plethora of such books that I’ve ever seen. It is innovative, up to the minute, down to earth, short, easy to read and really, really useful. You can buy it here and find out more about Rick here.



When is Someone Old? - Part 1: Language

Quite a while ago, Elisa Camahort – a BlogHer founder and keeper of Elisa Camahort’s Personal Blog among the many others she maintains - asked me the definition of old: when is someone old?

There are many answers which differ depending on the angle of approach such as: medical, emotional, mental, cognitive, social, cultural, even consumerist. All of them, however, are hard to know without addressing the nature of the word “old” which in the western world, unless antiques are being discussed, is always pejorative.

Even physicians, social workers, psychologists and others who specialize in studying or caring for elders often use the word negatively by assuming that anyone who is older than about 60 and not behaving in the culturally prescribed manner of a mid-life adult is deficient and therefore no longer requires respect. This sentence, from an organization dedicated to "conscious aging" illustrates the most commonly used cultural definition of old:

“…we have known people younger than 60 who are ‘old’ in their attitudes toward life. They have grown rigid in their preferences and opinions, they are not open to new experiences, they are stuck in their habitual patterns, and they have no appetite for life.”
- Conscious Aging (undated)

That is the general belief about not only everyone whose appearance places them in the elder category, but also anyone younger who exhibits those characteristics. The problem is that instead of saying those people have lost interest in life or are hidebound or close-minded - which happens at any age - people say they are “old”. Here is the first group of synonyms for “old” from an online thesaurus:

aged, ancient, broken down, debilitated, decrepit, deficient, doddering, elderly, enfeebled, exhausted, experienced, fossil, geriatric, getting on, gray, gray-haired, grizzled, hoary, impaired, inactive, infirm, mature, matured, not young, olden, oldish, patriarchal, seasoned, senile, senior, skilled, superannuated, tired, venerable, versed, veteran, wasted

Not a pretty picture. And further groups of synonyms on that page get worse. No wonder younger people hate old people; no one wants to become doddering, enfeebled, hoary, impaired and infirm nor do they want to be reminded that they too will join the ranks of those descriptions one day.

These definitions of old are so entrenched that even many old people believe them. TGB reader Cindy makes an interesting point in a recent comment:

“…after reading your post, the thought came to mind of how people within one societal group will discriminate against its own. Like when women don’t think women professionals are as knowledgeable/skilled as a man in the same profession. It’s extremely subtle, nearly imperceptible, but there. The old discriminating against the old. The ‘young old’ discriminating against the ‘old old.’”

Language is is a powerful tool. The repeated use of verbal memes over time hardens perception and the near-universal negative regard of old people goes back at least as far as Shakespeare who had a particularly harsh view of old age:

“The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

- As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7

One way to know how terrible aging is perceived is by the frequency with which people (who believe they are being polite) tell others, “You don’t look that old.” And it is as common as dirt for people, when mentioning the number of their years on earth, to say, “I don’t feel that old.”

Well, that’s just horsepucky. Since not one of us has any experience of a given age before we get there, we can’t know how it feels until the birthday arrives. Therefore, however you feel at any age is what that age feels like.

What people really mean when they say, “I don’t feel that old” is they don’t feel as awful as they (wrongly) believed people feel at that age. Thank you, Mr. Shakespeare, for nearly half a millennium of misunderstanding.

When Time Goes By was being designed, other decisions about how it would operate were being made, among them that the word “old” would be used as the word “young” is used: as a straightforward descriptor. At the same time, cutesy euphemisms such as golden-ager, third-ager, oldster were banned along with the offensive words, geezer, coot and biddy.

At Time Goes By, it was decided elders would be treated as grownups who don’t need their information sugar-coated with denial as it is by many self-appointed gurus on aging, by the billion-dollar industry of anti-aging hucksters and by elders who cannot or will not admit they are getting old.

It is a small voice in the wilderness of widespread denial exacerbated by a media who have a fetish for youth, but on this blog, old is old.

Everything is interesting if you pay attention and being old, if you will ignore the conventional wisdom of its horror, is a fascinating, new experience. But the language of aging, if we do not improve it, will deprive every one of us, as we get older, of our ability to savor the last third of life.

As you read the future installments of When is Someone Old? over the next week or two, remember that the word “old” does not mean frail, decrepit or feeble. Not deficient, doddering or impaired. It just means old: having lived many years.

When is Someone Old? - Part 2: Medical