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December 2007

Thought Crime Bill Ignorance

category_bug_politics.gif Although I’ve not done a thorough search on the thought crime bill – S.1959 (full text here) in the past couple of days, the closest thing so far to mainstream media coverage is Wednesday’s story in Slate by Dahlia Lithwick.

If this is what we can expect if/when the rest of them get around to it, we’re better off with spreading the word through blogs.

“…you'll be delighted to learn that the legislation has, at least, the virtue of fighting imaginary problems with pretend solutions. After seven long years of government solutions far worse than the problems they purport to cure, perhaps that's a step in the right direction.”

Ms. Lithwick continues her piece with a tour of online response to the bill (no blogs are included) in a lofty attitude of superior knowledge dismissing, in her conclusion, the concern of those who oppose S.1959 with a bit of faux self-deprecation and cavalier disregard for the bill’s potential outcome.

“Maybe I'm being shortsighted, but then the Democrats in Congress have taught me to keep my expectations very low. Today, therefore, I am profoundly grateful that instead of criminalizing protected speech outright, Democrats merely form a commission that will do a study, which will in turn christen a Drive-Thru Center for Excellence, where they will someday consider criminalizing protected free speech.”

Perhaps Ms. Lithwick doesn’t recall (or know?) that in the 1950s, Senator McCarthy and his HUAC counterparts didn’t need legislation to ruin thousands of lives and careers with nothing more than insinuations that had no basis in fact. Few recovered from those public attacks.

The tone throughout her story lulls readers into believing S.1959 is a piece of nonsense legislation that can be ignored and in that, she is as dangerous to our liberties as the bill itself.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Susan Gulliford is perplexed about what to do with Photographic Remains.]

Elders, Boomers, the Good and the Bad

category_bug_journal2.gif The Bad
If we didn’t know anything about rehab before, we have learned a lot in recent years from news video of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans working through the difficulties of learning to walk again with various kinds of prosthetics. They aren’t the only ones. People throughout the U.S., usually elders, go through similar training following hip and knee replacement.

This surgery has come a long way since it was introduced several decades ago and those replacements are highly successful, giving freedom of mobility to hundreds of thousands of people over the years who would otherwise be stuck in wheelchairs.

Nevertheless, it takes each patient time and effort working with rehab specialists to heal and to learn to function with those modern-miracle replacements. So I was shocked to read a story from Diane at Cab Drollery this week:

“…some private contractors for a Medicare audit [have] turned into bounty hunters eagerly savaging the bills of rehab hospitals providing services to Medicare beneficiaries. The audit was a trial run ordered by Congress and involved three states: California, Florida, and New York. In California, records show that the auditors routinely rejected bills (up to 90%) from those rehabilitation hospitals providing services to those who'd had total knee or total hip replacements. As a result, several of those hospitals have closed or are about to.” [emphasis added]

This is hard to fathom. Is the idea that after the surgeon has inserted your new knee or hip, you should pop out of bed the next morning and walk home? It gets worse. As Diane explains further, the private contractor hired for the audit, PRG-Schultz, receives a percentage of the money recouped from claim denials.

“Among the investors in PRG-Schultz is Blum Capital Partners,” writes Diane, “headed by Richard Blum of San Francisco. Blum is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.”

And if you believe that is a coincidence, you are naïve. Go read the rest of Diane’s post to see how you can help.

The Good
I’ve written in the past about my dissatisfaction with most boomer websites. A recent peek at the Eons home page found it featuring games, trivia and football. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but it’s nothing you can’t find anywhere else on the web and is demeaning in its assumption that elders/boomers are interested only in mild entertainment.

Boomer411 Now there is a new website, Boomer411 that, as its name suggests, aims to become the information center for people who are facing issues new to them in life’s later years. And I’m not saying that just because their blog is currently featuring Part 1 of an interview with me.

Boomer411 is a search portal that will collect from around the web and from contributors the best-of-the-best thinking that relates to boomers and elders. It will, as the founders state,

“…focus on today’s issues, challenges, and controversies in a way that provides less heat and more light.”


“Though the focus of this site is on Boomers, we speculate that some of the topics that will be discussed here (e.g., aging, retirement, finance, etc.) would be relevant and of interest to anyone older than 40 years, including the generation older than Boomers.”

In the interests of full disclosure, I learned of this project at the Gnomedex7 conference I attended last summer and I’m impressed with their approach to creating a site that will reflect the best thinking, discovery and reflection on matters pertinent to boomers and elders along with the practical information.

Having launched a few websites myself in the past, I know the work involved. Boomer411 is still in development, but the blog is up and running. Please do stop by, comment and bookmark it for further visits.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz explains the consequences of a hasty purchase in Mom Mom and the Rag Doll.]

Thought Crime Bill – It’s Worse Than It Seems

category_bug_politics.gif A few more mainstream publications are gradually picking up on S.1959, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (full text here). The more I read from others, along with related protests against our criminal administration, the more I am convinced that the moment is now. If we do not stand up and demand the return of our liberties, we will soon see the end of America. So…

There will be more posts here about S.1959 and other terribly troubling acts and events, and fewer about aging. But as Marian Van Eyk McCain of Elderwomanblog pointed out to me in an email, this IS elders’ job.

Who else, Marian asked, has the foresight, long memories and ability to see the big picture? Certainly not young folks who, in recent decades, have been deprived in our failing schools of the more in-depth teaching our elder generations received on how precious and fragile our freedoms are.

To maintain a democracy takes a lot more work than voting. It is our responsibility as citizens to be constantly vigilant and to oppose government’s drift toward fascism. Fighting this assault on our civil liberties is the most important thing we can do with our time now to preserve the American way of life for our children and grandchildren.

S.1959 is only the latest in the growing arsenal of unconstitutional legislative tools our government has granted itself that make it possible to shut down our open society. On Monday, 26 November, Phillip Giraldi, writing at Huffington Post on S.1959, succinctly laid out the build-up of these tools. Read it and be very afraid:

“…there has been the post 9/11 creation of a virtual avalanche of legislation and commissions designed to protect the country at the expense of the Bill of Rights. The two Patriot Acts of 2001 and 2006 and the Military Commission Act of 2006 have collectively limited constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of association, freedom from illegal search, the right to habeas corpus, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and freedom from the illegal seizure of private property.

“The First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments in the Bill of Rights have all been disregarded in the rush to make it easier to investigate people, put them in jail, and torture them if necessary.

“A recent executive order of July 17th, 2007 goes even farther, authorizing the President to seize the property of anyone who ‘Threatens Stabilization Efforts in Iraq.’ The government's own Justice Department decides what constitutes ‘threatening stabilization efforts’ and the order does not permit a challenge to the information that the seizure is based on.”

Mr. Giraldi is a more careful reader of legislative bills that I am, obviously more experienced (his HuffPost bio describes him as “a recognized authority on international security and counterterrorism issues”) and my new reading of the bill after a careful read of his piece reveals reasons to fear not just the potential legislation that may result from S.1959, but the new Commission itself which, writes Giraldi:

“…will be empowered to hold hearings, conduct investigations, and designate various groups as ‘homegrown terrorists.’ The commission will be tasked to propose new legislation that will enable the government to take punitive action against both the groups and the individuals who are affiliated with them.

“Like Joe McCarthy and HUAC in the past, the commission will travel round the United States and hold hearings to find the terrorists and root them out. Unlike inquiries in the past where the activity was carried out collectively, the act establishing the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Commission will empower all the members of the Commission to arrange hearings, obtain testimony, and even to administer oaths to witnesses, meaning that multiple hearings could be running simultaneously in various parts of the country.”

The HUAC hearings were my childhood political awakening. The committee's denunciations, based on not a whit of evidence, that I watched on my family’s first television were set against simultaneous civics classes at school each day about such past travesties to the Constitution as The Alien and Sedition Acts and how the Bill of Rights protects us.

I was getting whiplash from the discrepancies between school and current events, and it broke my naive, young heart to see on television and read in the newspapers - just as I was beginning to understand the amazing accomplishments of our founding fathers - that the government cannot be trusted to follow the law. The anger I felt back then in my early teens that government subversion of the Constitution was not just history, but happening again in front of my eyes has never left me.

Here is Edward R. Murrow's famous statement against Senator Joseph McCarthy's tactics and HUAC as portrayed by David Straithorn in the movie, Good Night and Good Luck. It is as pertinent now as then.

Given how slowly things move in Congress, I have believed that we had a good amount of time to fight back against S.1959, but then Mr. Giraldi writes this:

“It is believed that approval by the committee will take place shortly, to be followed by passage by the entire Senate.”

It is our responsibility as citizens, each and every one of us as the first small step toward restoring the rule of law, to prevent passage of this bill. It won't be easy. It means each of us keeping up the pressure on our senators, again and again. We cannot afford to be, in Thomas Paine's words, "sunshine patriots."

Naomi Wolf’s book, The End of America, explains how easily democracies can be shut down by fascists who would destroy our liberties, and how close those people are to achieving it now. It is our job to educate ourselves, our friends and neighbors, and our blog readers to the danger our country faces. If you have not read this book yet, I believe you have a duty to do so and if I could afford it, I would buy one for every one of you.

Since I can't, here is an interview with Ms. Wolf that should scare the pants off you and push you to more urgent action. It will take 30 minutes out of your life to watch and would be worth ten times that much.

Pay heed at the end to her suggestion of one thing more we can and should all do.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today Susan Gulliford, inspired by Linda Jordan's Secret Love contribution here last week, gives us a story titled Thoughts on a Veteran.]

Elders as Teen Fashion Inspiration

Every now and then something so much fun turns up, you smile until your face hurts. In this case, it is an 18-month-old post from a 30-year-old Brooklynite who calls his blog Kaflickastan. Yes, I know, he uses a black background which makes it almost impossible to read, but he made the effort worthwhile for me and not just because he linked to Time Goes By.

The post was a confession of sorts about an experiment Flick conducted with a friend when they were in high school - to dress like old men:

“Not the typical teenager's act of rebellion, but the style of the American Old Man is not without its merits:
  1. An old man's first priority is comfort, as it should be for everyone.
  2. An old man doesn't give a rat's patoot what you think about his clothes. There's a lot of honor in that.
  3. Old men wear Member's Only jackets. Member's Only jackets are proof that God loves men and wants them to be happy."

Ya gotta respect this guy. He learned at age 15 or 16 what took me decades to figure out. And even though the experiment was short-lived, he obviously had some sentimentality for it:

“I remember getting a cardigan and even some plaid pants, but both remained largely un-worn. One thing we DID wear were old-man chic fishing hats we bought at Christmas Tree Shop (holla!).

“I wore mine with the brim flipped up in the back and down in the front, which I still think is the money way to wear a fishing hat...

“I kept my cardigan until the moth holes got to be too much to take. Other than that, the other mementos of my days of being a wannabe retiree were thrown away soon after high school.”

There’s plenty of time for Flick to dress like an old man again in about 30 or 40 years. Meanwhile, let’s give the kid a round of applause for his appreciation. Any thoughts on what fashions teenage girls might adopt from their elders?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jessie Landis writes of the strange occurrence that helps her overcome a common elder loss in An Old Woman's Peculiar Pleasure.]

Thought Crime Bill H.R.1955 is Now S.1959

category_bug_politics.gif H.R.1955, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act of 2007 (full text here), has been assigned a new number in the Senate: S.1959. Bookmark this page to track its progress in the coming weeks and months.

The bill was sponsored in the Senate by Susan Collins (R-ME), co-sponsored by Norm Coleman (R-MN) and now sits in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs where Senator Collins is the ranking member. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is also a member, and you can find out more about this Committee here.

A search of mainstream media websites yesterday, Sunday, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, CNN and others reveals not one story about the bill. According to Google, only 128 blogs have written about H.R.1955. One piece of good news is that yesterday davidinchi posted a good story at Daily Kos which might reach a larger audience than this blog.

As you know, most bills die in committee, never making it to the Senate floor. But that doesn’t mean we can let up. After all, the House version passed unnoticed with only six dissenting votes.

What makes this bill so terrifying is that it essentially rescinds the First Amendment without which no other civil liberties can exist because if citizens cannot speak their minds, all other rights and liberties become moot. Never in the history of mankind have 45 words been so precious. If you have never memorized the First Amendment, you should do so now and keep it close:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

When I attended the first Blogher conference in the summer of 2005, Jay Rosen, who runs the excellent media blog, PressThink, spoke to the 300 of us gathered for the final session. I don’t remember what else he said - only these six words:

“Blogs are little First Amendment machines.”

As soon as I got home, I posted a little badge linking to the Electronic Frontier Foundation with Jay’s quote. It’s been sitting at the bottom of the left sidebar, but I’ve promoted it today to the top and linked it to the Thought Crime Index page listing all posts on this topic. It will remain there until this bill is defeated. If you copy and save the image, you can post it on your blog too.

Jay's simple but crucial little mantra is pertinent to you and me because among the “Findings” in the House bill is this:

“(3) The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.”

The internet – not radio, television, newspapers, magazines or books - has been singled out for special mention in this bill. Among everything else on the internet, that means you and me and our blogs, our little First Amendment machines. Because of the mainstream media blackout on this bill, no one would know about H.R.1955/S.1959 without us and a few others around the web.

It has been three weeks since I first telephoned and emailed my representatives regarding this bill and I have received no response from anyone. I’m trying snailmail this week and you may want to do that too. Perhaps in an electronic age, postal mail stands out.

If you are still inclined to try the telephone, here are toll-free numbers to the Congressional switchboard which may work better than the direct lines to individual Congress members’ offices. However, the Senate is not in session again until Tuesday, 27 November and the House does not return until the afternoon of Tuesday, 4 December.


And here is this week’s idea to get word out about this bill to more people: the bloggers who show up here regularly and/or are listed on the Elderbloggers blogroll live in most of the states of the U.S. Let’s each contact the major newspaper in our city to ask why they have not covered this bill, why there has not been an editorial on its danger to our way of life. Many newspaper websites list phone numbers and email addresses for their editors and reporters. And there is always snailmail.

Include links to the text of the bill and to commentary in the blogosphere. If you get a response, let us know.

I want to thank all of you who have posted blog stories about The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act of 2007 and urge you to keep doing it. This is the most important thing the internet is for - exercising our First Amendment rights. Send me the links to those stories (and any others you have found that you like) and I will include them in the Thought Crime Bill Index page.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz recalls the thrill of everything new in her first year living in Istanbul in 1969.]

Holiday Gifts for Elders

Today is called, appropriately, “Black Friday” – the biggest shopping day of the year when crazed people wielding little rectangles of plastic get out of bed at 3AM to inaugurate the spending frenzy that is the holiday season.

If, like me, crowds are anathema to you, this is a good day to stay home and make your holiday shopping list. Many people think elders are hard to shop for. Don’t you believe it. Elders are just people with a few more wrinkles and, sometimes, a little more wisdom than younger people about accumulating stuff. So you may need to be more thoughtful in what you choose for them.

Also, elders in your life may have downsized – moved into smaller living quarters, apartments, retirement communities or assisted living facilities where there isn’t much room for large acquisitions.

So it is important in choosing gifts for elders to find something that is useful, needed, won’t unnecessarily complicate their lives and of course, is something they will enjoy. Unless an elder on your list is a passionate collector of, for example, ceramic frogs, tchotchkes are not good choices. They’re just one more thing that needs dusting.

Also, consider that many elders are on fixed incomes. Annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits are almost always offset (and more) by increases in Medicare, utilities and other costs which are not optional expenditures. So gifts that might seem too ordinary and mundane for a holiday can fill an important hole in an elder’s life.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

If an elder you know has had to give up driving, consider a voucher for a local car or taxi service. Even better, if you have the time, make up a certificate promising a weekly or bi-weekly trip to the supermarket or a monthly ride to the local mall.

My great aunt Edith, who lived to be 89, told me how she, in her early 80s then, had scrubbed the kitchen floor one day and then couldn’t push herself up off her hands and knees. She laughed when I suggested to her that there is now this newfangled invention – a mop with a long pole attached – but she said they didn’t get the floor as clean as she wanted.

Thereafter, a cleaning service was hired. Elders often won’t admit they can no longer do common, everyday chores because they don’t want to be a burden to others. So you could promise a weekly cleaning or hire a biweekly service to come in – and maybe do the laundry too.

Most elders are unlikely to take up text messaging in their old age and those tiny buttons on cell phones are hard to wield if you have arthritis or fading eye sight. A Jitterbug cell phone with large buttons and no other electronic functions would make a fine gift together a year’s subscription. (And don’t forget to renew it next year.)

Did you know that 80 percent of elders live independently until they die? One way to help them do that, especially if they live alone, are medical alert devices, available from several companies, that notify an emergency service with one touch of a button – a practical gift that may save a loved one’s life.

Eyesight often dims with age. For readers, consider a large-print version of a book they would enjoy. Or a pre-paid card for the nearest book shop. Or a year’s subscription to the large-print edition, if there is one, of the local newspaper.

Even without large-print available, subscriptions to favorite magazines could be welcome.

Movie buffs might like a year’s prepaid membership to Netflix. Or a small collection of DVDs starring a favorite actor or built around a theme or genre they like. Or a dozen pre-paid tickets to the local movie theater.

I realize it’s a big-ticket item, but if you can afford it, the Wii entertainment system is becoming a favorite with elders at retirement communities and at home. With it, elders can go bowling in their own homes, play tennis and a lot of other games. Besides the fun, it gets them on their feet and moving around – exercise without the boredom.

For a woman, a monthly prepaid visit at a salon for haircut and manicure. It’s good to include a pedicure too for elders who have trouble bending over to trim their toenails.

Find out if your elder likes a particular kind of clothing that needs regular renewing. I have a fondness for a specific brand of flannel nightgown made in Europe that is hard to find. Two friends know this and starting long before I entered the realm of elderhood, have kept me supplied over the years.

Perfume and cologne fall into this category too. It doesn’t appear to be so common now, but people of my age (66) and older, often settled on a particular scent when we were young and have used it all our lives. The price of mine is now so high that I often feel it is an unwarranted extravagance, so it is always a welcome gift.

A lifelong gardener who no longer has a yard would appreciate a Plant- or Flower-of-the-Month membership. There’s no upkeep, and there is a continuous supply of nature’s color in the house.

Get your child or children to do a special drawing for grandma or grandpa and present it already framed for hanging on the wall.

For cooks and bakers among the elders in your life, there are new, silicon pans, cookie sheets, muffin tins, etc. that don’t need greasing and can be cleaned easily without scrubbing.

A supply of a favorite beverage could be welcome. Over the years, I developed a taste for good port – not the cheap stuff, the real thing from the best vintners in Portugal - that even when I was still working was a luxury. A glass in the evening now and then while reading with the cat on my lap is one of my small pleasures and two bottles go a long way. Perhaps your elder has a taste for a similar indulgence.

If an elder in your life uses a computer and the internet, check to see if they might need a large-key keyboard. Such ailments as arthritis and the natural decline of motor skills and feeling in fingers can make normal-sized keyboards difficult for elders to use. You could also pay for a year’s broadband connection.

iPods and digital cameras are marketed so relentlessly to younger people that it is easy to forget elders can enjoy them too. A camera can give an elder a reason for a daily walk they might not otherwise take. You could give an iPod already filled with music you know your elder likes.

Unless your elders are sufficiently geeky on their own, be sure to make time soon after Christmas to help them learn how to use electronic gifts.

When I ran this story last year, several commenters mentioned the gift of time. When we stop working, there is not the daily interaction and camaraderie with co-workers and some people can’t get out and about as easily as in the past, so regular visits are a precious gift.

You could make some of the visits into events: dinner at your elder’s home – you bring all the fixings and do the cooking; bring the grandkids on a Saturday with all the ingredients to spend the day baking and decorating cookies with grandma. Be sure you do the clean up afterwards. In the fall, how about a daytrip for leaf peeping with a stop for lunch or dinner at a wonderful country inn.

These ideas don’t begin to cover all the possibilities, but I think they should give you a place to start. And when giving such things as subscriptions to magazines, monthly flower clubs, a cleaning service, or promises of time, etc. that are only a piece of paper, be sure to include a token gift – a box of candy, a bottle of wine, a scented candle. Even after 65, 70 and more years, it’s still fun to tear open packages with the family.

[Now, after all that, Linda Davis has given us an appropriate story at The Elder Storytelling Place today titled A Text Message to Grandma.]

Elders as Children – A Trend?

During a television newscast yesterday morning, Crabby Old Lady saw a commercial for the Jitterbug phone – you know, the one with big, easy-to-use numbers that actually makes calls without all the texting, photographing, web surfing and mowing the lawn??

Good idea, the Jitterbug, for elders or anyone who wants just a telephone without all the electronic doodads. But Crabby wasn’t much pleased with the commercial which showed several 40-to-50ish adults talking about buying the phone for a parent.

Crabby detected a distinct whiff of condescension from the actors in the commercial, as though the parents of these mid-aged people either wouldn't get the message from the ad on their own or wouldn’t have the wit to buy one of the phones for themselves. “Grrrr,” said Crabby to herself as she switched off the TV and forgot about it a minute later.

Then last evening – the same day - the actor Hector Elizondo turned up in a “CBS Cares” public service announcement saying something close to:

“HIV is a growing problem in retirement communities. I’ll bet you never thought you’d need to talk to your parents about safe sex.”

Hey, CBS - it's not cute and it's not funny that switcheroo on parents' birds-and-bees conversation. You may speak to Crabby Old Lady directly, if you please, about her sexual habits. And she will be able to understand - she's been doing it since before you were born and she pretty well has a handle on the procedure now, including STDs.

When did the media begin talking to elders through their adult children, as though Crabby and other old people are too senile to buy either a phone or condoms on their own? Crabby never noticed this particular twist on ageist behavior before. Is it a new media trend, this infantilizing of elders? If so, Crabby wants it to stop it right now before it goes even one step further…

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lynda Jordan lets us in on the story of a lifelong Secret Love she has never forgotten.]

And So It Goes...

category_bug_journal2.gif The great novelist, essayist, satirist and humanist, Kurt Vonnegut, tried to commit suicide in 1984. He said at least once that smoking Pall Mall cigarettes was just “a classy way of committing suicide.” His mother committed suicide.

In August of 2006, Mr. Vonnegut told a reporter he had stalled on the writing of a new novel titled If God Were Alive Today:

"I've given up on it…It won't happen...” he said. “The Army kept me on because I could type, so I was typing other people's discharges and stuff. And my feeling was, 'Please, I've done everything I was supposed to do. Can I go home now?' That's what I feel right now. I've written books. Lots of them. Please, I've done everything I'm supposed to do. Can I go home now?"
- Rolling Stone, 13 August 2006

Last night, having been wakened by horrible dreams, I spent an hour or two re-reading Mr. Vonnegut’s final book, A Man Without a Country. Here are some passages I marked:

On Art

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a ay to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

On Life

“I turned eighty-two on November 11, 2004. What’s it like to be this old? I can’t parallel park worth a damn anymore, so please don’t watch while I try to do it. And gravity has become a lot less friendly and manageable than it used to be.

“When you get to my age, if you get to my age, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, ‘What is life all about?’ I have seven kids, three of them orphaned nephews.

“I put my big question about life to my son the pediatrician. Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: ‘Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’”

On Current Affairs

“I was once asked if I had any ideas for a really scary reality TV show. I have one reality show that would really make your hair stand on end: ‘C-Students from Yale.’”

“George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart personable people who have no consciences…

“…What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin’ day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don’t give a fuck what happens next. Simply can’t. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody’s telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-collar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

Kurt Vonnegut is gone now…

And so it goes…

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz tells us what has happened to the Sultan Ahmet mosque in Istanbul since the first time she visited The Blue Mosque in 1969.]

Anti-ThoughtCrime Bill Campaign

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Opposition to H.R. 1955 is so important that I have created an index for it titled Thought Crime Bill which is linked on the right sidebar under TGB Features. That link goes to a page where all stories on H.R.1955 are listed and will continue to be collected in one place. There is also a link to the index at the end of each Thought Crime Bill story.]

category_bug_politics.gif Several readers left comments on my original post about the Thought Crime Bill – The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 – taking issue with the alarm bells the proposed legislation raises for many of us:

“Er, did anyone actually read this bill? It doesn't criminalize anything. It forms a commission to study a very real problem,” writes Zara.

“These comments are absurd. Until I got to Zara's I thought maybe I was taking crazy pills. The bill creates a commission. That's it. Doesn't create any new crimes, doesn't deprive anyone of anything, doesn't really do anything. It's a blue-ribbon panel, folks, which is easily observable to anyone who bothers to read the bill. Settle down,” writes Arejay.

Er, did Zara and Arejay actually read the post above the comments? Or the two subsequent posts? They make it abundantly clear that we all understand this legislation “only” creates a commission, why this is alarming and the reasons it should be stopped now – not later.

Another commenter, Brian Little, noted the clause in the legislation stating that any measure taken to prevent homegrown terrorism, etc. “should” not violate Constitutional rights, etc. (always beware of “should”)

“Perhaps folks are overreacting a bit,” wrote Brian.

I’m not going to rehash all the reasons these readers are mistaken (perhaps tragically so in the future) to be complacent about a bill that creates a thoughtcrime commission. But in regard to the supposedly protective clause on not violating guaranteed rights while preventing homegrown terrorism, here is just one example of many of how our government and the people sworn to uphold the law and the Constitution blatantly ignore that oath. From a New York Times editorial last week:

“White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, showed their utter disregard for Congress, the Constitution and the American people when they defied Congressional subpoenas in the United States attorneys scandal…”

“Invoking executive privilege, Ms. Miers refused to appear and Mr. Bolten refused to turn over critical documents.

“They had no right to refuse. Congress has the legal power to call witnesses to testify, and presidential advisers are not exempt. Conservative lawyers like Bruce Fein agree that the administration’s claims of executive privilege are baseless.”

If two of the highest officials in the land can ignore a legal subpoena from the highest branch of the people’s government without penalty, there is little hope for four lines of boilerplate to secure your or my civil rights if the government chooses to ignore them.

Another important point we haven’t made strongly enough here is that there is no need for this thoughtcrime commission or any future legislation based on it. As Cosmo Garvin writes at

“The U.S. already has extensive laws on the books related to criminal conspiracy, which the Justice Department has been applying pretty broadly, many say far too broadly, in the so-called war on terror. But these definitions [in H.R.1955] swerve into Thoughtcrime territory. "Smash the state" bumper sticker? You're a homegrown terrorist. Self-proclaimed anarchist? Maoist poseur? Che Guevara T-shirt? Homegrown terrorist.”

Or maybe nothing more than “Impeach Cheney” or “Bring Home the Troops” on your car bumper…

Thank you to everyone who wrote about the thoughtcrime bill on your blogs, forwarded it to friends and called and wrote your elected representatives. Another thank you to my friend, Chris Nolan, who runs Spot On, an independent website on current events and politics, for listing the story in her “Hot Spots” section and linking to one of the thoughtcrime posts here.

Mainstream media still has not touched the story, but the number of blogs on top of it is growing and a handful of small-town newspapers have mentioned it. You can track who is writing about H.R.1955, if it appears online, at

Thoughtcrime Bill Opposition
To keep the story in front of people’s noses and to pressure the Senate, I’ll post a new idea here each week, something we can all participate in – until I run out of ideas and then we start at the beginning again.

Ongoing: Update the story on your own blog once a week. It doesn’t need to be lengthy, but new readers come along all the time. Feel free to use anything about H.R.1955 from Time Goes By with or without attribution.

This week’s project: Let’s ask the six Congress people who voted against H.R. 1955 in the House for their advice on stopping this bill in the Senate. Here’s how:

  1. Choose one or more of the six to write, email or phone

  2. In your message, explain why you are alarmed about what this bill could mean for the future of our civil rights and the First Amendment

  3. Acknowledge that they must feel the same way to have voted against it

  4. Express your astonishment that there has been no reporting on this bill in any mainstream media

  5. Ask for their advice on how to fight this bill in the Senate

In this way, we are not just venting. We are keeping the six Congress people engaged in the issue, asking them for a real exchange of information with us - the people for whom they work. Plus, they might have some good instructions or ideas on making the Senate aware of our issues.

I could write a form letter for us all to use, but it would be better to come from a lot of people each in his or her own words. Below are links to the contact pages for the six House Patriots who voted against H.R. 1955.

Be aware that all our representatives are heavily shielded against contact with constituents or anyone else. Snailmail does not reach individual representatives in Congress for up to two weeks after mailing and is opened by security officials before being forwarded. Phone calls almost always go to an answering machine where you are required to leave a message. Email goes to a general inbox for each representative with no notice on whether they are read or answered.

It may be more productive to snailmail district offices or to fax all communications. Here are links to each Representative's contact page:

Rep. Jeff Flake [Rep-AR]

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher [Rep-CA]

Rep. Neil Abercrombie [Dem-HI]

Rep. Jerry Costello [Dem-IL]

Rep. Dennis Kucinich [Dem-OH]

Rep. John Duncan [Rep-TN]

Thought Crime Bill Story List

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia's recipe for enduring a cousin's wedding to an ill-matched spouse includes the family "Auntie Mame" - in Wishing Someone Better.]

What I Don’t Know at Age 66 About Brussels Sprouts and Other Things

category_bug_journal2.gif Would you look at this. I bought these Brussels sprouts at the farmers market on Wednesday just because they were still on the stalk. They are weird-looking, like something that might grow on Mars or Qo'noS.


I never had any idea, until I spied them on a table among the beets, turnips, parsnips and carrots, how Brussels sprouts grow, and I don’t suppose I ever thought about it.

If asked, I might have said they grow like tiny, little cabbages out of the ground, but wouldn’t that be silly and way too backbreaking to harvest to be worth the effort for a farmer. So the question I have now is how did I get to be this old without knowing something as common as how Brussels sprouts grow?

And of course that leads me to wonder how many other odd and remarkable things I’ve never learned in six-and-a-half decades. I’m not talking something as intricate as – oh, say, organ transplants. Just ordinary stuff like Brussels sprouts that one ought to know, or would be cool to know.

[At The Elder Storytellng Place today and tomorrow, Parts XXI and XXII of the serial fairy tale, Chandra and Her Georg.]

Achingly Tired of Youth

A couple of days ago, Crabby Old Lady ran across the one-zillionth news story about how boomers, the oldest of whom are entering their early 60s now, expect to buck the heretofore inevitable trend of the human body to age and die by living (while remaining young, of course) forever. This one, from the Hartford Courant, is about the uptick in sales of books with instructions on how to do that.

"'...[boomers are] starting to panic as they see those unmistakable signs of aging,' says Sarah Bedell, owner of the Bookworm bookstore in West Hartford. 'They've controlled every part of their lives up to now and they want to be able to control, or even avoid, old age as well. So they're seeking out as much information as they can find to try to hold off the inevitable…'

“…Boomers are looking for a loophole. To assist the over-50 crowd on that quest, publishers are filling store shelves with new guides on healthy aging, avoiding memory loss, retirement, downsizing and other aging-related topics."

Good God, if you haven’t figured out how to live a healthy life by age 50 or 60, a book probably won’t help. The rules are few and simple:

  • Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains

  • Avoid too much fat, red meat and sweets

  • Take some regular physical exercise – every day

  • Exercise your mind too

  • Get enough sleep

  • Don’t smoke tobacco

  • Get a physical checkup once a year

There is little more to know. Whatever you do, you will get old. Unless you don’t. The day of our individual death is up to Mother Nature (or God, if that is your belief). It’s not your call.

If any of the book authors’ extravagant promises of eternal youth really worked, there would be a lot of 200-hundred-year-olds hanging around running marathons. Crabby Old Lady hasn’t seen any, so if you have, please do let her know so she can retract this rant and buy a bunch of those books.

None of this would interest Crabby if it didn’t affect smarter old people. Why should she care if aging boomers, who admit in surveys they haven’t saved enough money for retirement, make millionaires of book-author, snake-oil salesmen?

Let Crabby tell you: because every time (thousands a day throughout the U.S.) the media, in advertising, books, magazines, newspapers, radio, television programs, blogs and websites, promote youth as the gold standard of life, aging is reinforced as a character flaw, a weakness, a deformity against which every effort must be made to correct it.

That leads to disrespect, age discrimination in the workplace and reinforces the many myths about elders as lesser beings.

Oprah Winfrey, who at 53 is old enough to know better, is among the worst offenders in promoting youth as the ideal stage of life. As she has for years, she continues to promote Dr. Michael Roizen whose “Real Age” program promises to make people “live and feel up to 26 years younger” – a claim so weird in its specificity that it leads Crabby to question anything he says.

Oprah’s newest medical darling is Dr. Roizen’s recent co-author, Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, who has shamefully allowed his advice to be promoted on Oprah’s television show website in the following manner:

  • How to add years to life and turn back the clock
  • Dr. Oz’s Guide to Staying Young
  • Ready to commit to staying young?
  • Dr. Oz says he's uncovered the fountain of youth that will add years to your life
  • Fight back and stay young.

Behind the hype, Dr. Roizen’s and Dr. Oz’s advice is mostly that long-proven, standard-issue stuff listed above that any good physician will tell you. Crabby Old Lady would have no objection if it were not positioned as youth worship and the word “healthy” were substituted for “young” in those odious promotional blurbs.

That Oprah incessantly harps on youth and beauty is even more unforgivable in light of her enormous cultural clout. Imagine how elders’ lives could be changed, how age discrimination could be reduced or even eliminated, how elders would gain in respect of society if Oprah would get over her obsession with youth and accept aging as the normal and remarkable stage of life it is.

It is not good enough to let her audience in on Maya Angelou's wisdom when almost every other day she is complicit in keeping ageism alive.

Crabby Old Lady started this blog to help herself (and maybe some readers) understand what getting old is really like. That is, what’s good about it, what isn’t so good, how beliefs and attitudes might change with the years, what it feels like physically and emotionally, what is takes to live the last years as fully as the earlier years.

That’s what Crabby wants to pursue and she is deeply, achingly tired of finding no one willing to think publicly about aging in any way other than staying young forever.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rabon Saip tells the story of a man with real Machismo - not the bullying swagger of those who only wish they had it.]

2008 Medicare Part D Enrollment Period

category_bug_journal2.gif Even if you’re not old enough for Medicare yet, you might read today’s post anyway. It’s a little lesson in what is, essentially, universal healthcare – a single-payer system (sort of) for elders.

Medicare Parts A and B function most like a single-payer system. Part A is free; you pay Medicare for Part B. The 2008 premium increase will be 3.1 percent, raising the cost to $96.40. There is no alternative; this is the basic Medicare coverage and although Part B is optional, you cannot purchase a Medigap policy without it.

The six-week enrollment period for Part D, the prescription drug coverage, begins today and lasts through 31 December. Most companies that supply coverage are increasing premiums for next year, but there may be bargains; I found one. If you want to investigate changing carriers, the Medicare website has a good Part D tool to help you figure out which ones cover your drugs in their formularies and what the premiums are. There is a full explanation here.

As long as I was doing the research for Part D, I thought I'd check out my Medigap policy, the optional supplemental coverage most people buy to fill the gaps in Medicare A and B. My premium increase for 2008 is 11.6 percent. Maybe I can do better.

The Medicare website has a simple tool for finding carriers that offer Medigap coverage in your state, but it is a lot less useful than the Part D tool. It lists only the companies, with their phone numbers and links to their websites. To find coverage details and premiums, you must telephone each company and in my case, for the Plan I want as a resident of the state of Maine, there are 19 to choose from.

I haven’t phoned yet because first I wanted to know the rules under which one is allowed to switch Medigap carriers and if there is an enrollment period as with Part D.

Unfortunately, this is information is not available on the Medicare website, a poor state of affairs that took me more than an hour of clicking around to realize. Then I waited on the 1.800.MEDICARE line for 40 minutes and spent another 20 minutes with a representative to learn the following:

  1. You may switch carriers any time if you have been enrolled in a Medigap plan for at least six months

  2. The new carrier you choose must agree to cover any pre-existing conditions covered by your current carrier; some may not

  3. You have 30 days to change your mind about new coverage after agreeing to it

  4. You will be asked by your original carrier to sign a document stating you want to cancel the coverage

  5. If you do not purchase the new coverage within the 30-day period, you cannot return to your original carrier; you will need to find a new one

I asked the Medicare representative if I had somehow missed finding this information on the Medicare website. She says it is available only by telephone, so you might want to print out that list for future reference. [TIP: The 1.800.MEDICARE line is open 24/7, so it would be smarter than I was to telephone, when you need information, at off-hours.]

And now, a word about the alternative Medicare Advantage plans: These are private, comprehensive policies approved by Medicare that replace all Medicare parts. They are sometimes called Part C and many cost less than A, B and D combined.

However, a number of Advantage carriers have recently been caught in deceptive and/or fraudulent sales practices that led some beneficiaries to lose all their coverage for several months. In addition, co-pays are often shockingly higher than with regular Medicare and many physicians do not accept Advantage plans. So beware if you are considering this type of coverage and investigate thoroughly.

There is another reason to think carefully about purchasing one of these comprehensive plans. In reality, Advantage plans are a sneaky attempt by the federal government to privatize Medicare. To promote this backdoor approach to privatization, Medicare pays lavish subsidies to the private carriers, as this New York Times editorial explained last April:

“The authoritative Medicare Payment Advisory Commission estimates that the government pays private plans 12 percent more, on average, than the same services would cost in the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program. The private plans use some of this money to make themselves more attractive to beneficiaries - by reducing premiums or adding benefits not covered by basic Medicare - and siphon off the rest to add to profits and help cover the plans’ high administrative costs.”

In other words, the one-fifth of elders who purchase Advantage plans with lower premiums are subsidized by the rest of us who buy traditional Medicare plans (and other taxpayers).

So ask yourself this: in a time of soaring medical costs with one-sixth of Americans unable to afford any kind of medical coverage, do you want to support a system that gives billions of dollars in additional, undeserved profits to private insurance corporations while charging off those profits to traditional Medicare recipients?

It’s an important, ethical question related to the greater good.

In case you lost track of the original purpose of this post (I did while writing it), today begins the enrollment period for Part D, the Medicare prescription drug plan, which runs until 31 December. If you want to keep your current plan, do nothing. If you want to see if you can get a comparable plan at a lower cost, use the form at the Medicare website.

And if you want to see if you can lower the cost of your Medigap supplemental plan, it’s a lot more work than choosing a Plan D, but may save you money on premiums.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia recalls the remarkable differences there can be in parenting a story titled Adrian Pascal and Jellybeans.]

Lake Oswego House



With the help of the G.I. Bill, my parents built this house in Lake Oswego, Oregon in 1946, after Dad returned from World War II.

There were two bedrooms upstairs, one for me and one for my great Aunt Edith who lived with us then. There was a large backyard where Mom grew vegetables and in the summers we set up a badminton game. Beyond the yard was a dense woods for me to play in.

I remember the day my Dad planted the hedge in front, telling me that someday the individual shrubs would grow together and look like one big plant. And so it does today.

When the house was built, Lake Oswego (then named Lake Grove), was a modest suburb of Portland populated by ordinary, middle-class people, many who were newcomers like my family, with young children and infants – the first of the baby boomers. When I visited Portland in the summer of 2007, my brother and I drove past the house. It was shocking.

The house, which in my childhood matched others in the neighborhood in general style and size, is the smallest on the street now, and shabby. The paint is peeling, the plantings are untrimmed and the lawn is overgrown with weeds. It almost looks abandoned.

It is surrounded these days by large McMansions that sell in the millions of dollars. I neglected to take a photo, but the house across the street - a small bungalow in the late 1940s where a playmate lived - has been replaced by a sprawling behemoth that is magnificent enough for a movie star.

No doubt my family’s little home, 60 years old now, will soon be replaced by something more grand.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson tells of an nearly forgotten catchphrase surprising resurrected in an elevator, in Good Night, Agnes.]

More on the Thought Crime Bill

category_bug_politics.gif The New York Times, the so-called “paper of record”, has still not written about H.R. 1955, The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act of 2007 (the thought crime bill) which I reported on last week.

The bill passed in the House on 23 October 2007, and was sent to the Senate where, sponsored by Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, it has been referred to Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs where Ms. Collins in the ranking member.

It is interesting that even though H.R.1955 was sent to the Senate more than three weeks ago, on the page at showing Collins-sponsored legislation, this bill is not listed.

Last Sunday, Frank Rich titled his New York Times Op-Ed column, The Coup at Home. Without mentioning H.R. 1955, he laid out the six-year, incremental subversion of the rule of law taken by the Bush administration that is resulting, says Rich, in a “quiet coup.” Some highlights from his piece:

“…our democracy has so steadily been defined down that it now can resemble the supposedly aspiring democracies we’ve propped up in places like Islamabad. Time has taken its toll. We’ve become inured to democracy-lite.”
“More Machiavellian still, Mr. Bush has constantly told the world he’s championing democracy even as he strangles it.”
“Rather than set a democratic example, our president has instead served as a model of unconstitutional behavior, eagerly emulated by his Pakistani acolyte.”
“To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal.

“This is most apparent in the Republican presidential race, where most of the candidates seem to be running for dictator and make no apologies for it. They’re falling all over each other to expand Gitmo, see who can promise the most torture and abridge the largest number of constitutional rights.”

“…only 24 percent of Americans believe their country is on the right track…Americans know the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see restoration anytime soon.”

Without mentioning Naomi Wolf and her book, The End of America, which I have been re-re-re-reading for the past several weeks, Frank Rich is on the same page although Ms. Wolf’s argument is more urgent and sharply etched. If you haven’t read her book, please do. If that’s too much for you or you want to get started right away, try the following.

Most of the book – ten of the 11 chapters – recounts, with historical and present-day examples, the ten steps Ms. Wolf has identified from her research that are taken by incipient dictators to turn democracies into fascist states. She wrote a short version of the ten steps on her blog at Huffington Post titled Ten Steps to Close Down an Open Society. It is a Must Read.

In addition, Ms. Wolf has made available the Preface and Introduction to her book in two parts at HuffPost: Part 1 here and Part 2 here. These too are required reading for the 76 percent of us who know something is terribly wrong in the United States.

In the final chapter of her book, “Conclusion: The Patriot’s Task”, Ms. Wolf writes:

“So it turns out we really are at war – a long war, a global war, a war for our civilization.

“It is a war to save our democracy.

“Each one of us needs to enlist. We have no one to spare.”

Equally pertinent for you and me is the following passage from Chapter 9 which is on freedom of the press:

“At a time such as this, it is up to U.S. citizens who are not part of the formal media world to publish online, research aggressively, check facts assiduously, expose abuses, file Freedom of Information Act requests, publish ‘zines, write op-eds, and take ownership of producing as much of the news and information stream as they can…

“Blogging has to lead the way, because this is the access point for citizen journalism. But bloggers must take their impact far more seriously, becoming warriors for truth and accountability: Citizens have to start to produce reliable samizdat. Opinion is important, but opinion alone is totally inadequate when the ground of truth itself is under assault.

“Bloggers must become rigorous and fearless documentarians and reporters – not just to critique the news, but also to generate the news. Citizens in every venue must now apply to their work the accuracy and accountability that news editors have traditionally expected of their writers and researchers.

“The locus of the power of truth must be identified not in major news outlets but in you. You – not “they” – must take responsibility for educating your fellow citizens.”

H.R. 1955 “only” establishes a commission to study violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism and their prevention. It’s that “study” part that chills me; do they mean to find out how dictators, past and present, accomplished the closing of open societies to better apply the tactics to the U.S.? It is a reasonable question.

With no media attention, this frightening bill is so far under the public radar that it could become law and our blogs shut down before we realize what's happened. If we lose the freedom to speak freely, we lose everything else for it is the only way to protest other wrongs.

I telephoned the offices of the Senate bill’s sponsor, Susan Collins, to ask what her rationale is in supporting H.R. 1955. There was no answer, not even a message machine in her Bangor, Maine office.

There was a recording at the senator's Washington, D.C. office stating only that I, as a constituent, should leave a message with my “exact street address” so that Ms. Collins could answer. Given past experience in contacting congressional representatives, I'm not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, please do the above reading. Although it is long, it is crucial for the future of our nation to understand what has been happening to our democracy while the administration and the media has diverted our attention elsewhere. And watch this space. I’ll have more to say each week.

Thought Crime Bill Story List

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, janinsanfran tells how 30 years of fear were finally lifted in Long Story, Good Ending.]

Getting to Know More of the Elderbloggers List

There was an enthusiastic response, a couple of weeks ago, when I posted a story asking readers to “review” the Elderbloggers List on the left sidebar. Lilalia of Yum Yum Café made the excellent suggestion that I give readers an opportunity do this once a month or so. But there was a problem…

…the reviews get lost on an old post never to be found again. Since then, I’ve puttered around looking for a solution and came up with one.

There is now a tilde (~) in front of the name of each blog on the Elderbloggers List that has been reviewed. The tilde is a link to the review in the comments section of the post where it resides. (The name of the blog still links to the blog itself.)

This is not an ideal solution in that the link is tiny, but if you have trouble clicking it, you can increase the text size in your browser which will make it easier and I'll keep working on a better idea.

Meanwhile, even though a month hasn’t gone by, I’m inviting you again today to review additional elderblogs. With more than 250 on the list, I can't read them all every week, let alone every day, and it is terrific to have some pointed out to me that I hadn't seen in a long time. Other people seem to feel the same, so this will give us all some good reasons to get to know more elderbloggers. Here, again, are the instructions:

  • Choose a blog from the list that you have never visited or have not visited in a long time and that has not been reviewed

  • Take a look around the blog, read some new and some old posts, check out the features, get a feel for it

  • Then come back here and in the comments section, tell us about the blog you chose

  • Keep your “review” to about 250 words or fewer so the rest of us can be sure to have time to read them all

  • And be nice. These should not be critiques so much a kind of report to give us a sense of what the blog and blogger are like

To give it some form and ease of reading, we’ll create a format. Start your review with a header that is the name of the blog in bold and is also a link to it. Here is the html to do that:

<strong><a href="URL goes here">Blog name here</a></strong>

Copy and paste the html into the top of the comment form and fill in the two blanks. Be sure to not lose any of the carets, slashes and quotation marks – they are necessary. Then hit the “enter” key twice for some space and start your review.

I will add the tilde links to the blogs that are newly reviewed as soon as I can after they are posted.

Blog Housekeeping Notes

  • In order to link directly to specific comment reviews, I had to figure out how to link to individual comments which has not been possible before at Time Goes By.

    After much gnashing of teeth and a few unmentionable words, I worked it out and now you can link to specific comments anywhere on Time Goes By either from your blog or in a comment. Just click on the date and time at the bottom of the comment and copy the URL that appears in the browser address bar.

  • If you haven’t checked it lately, the Where Elders Blog feature has some new photos. And if you haven’t sent yours, we voyeurs eagerly await a chance to see where you read and write your blog. Instructions are here.

  • A few more blogs have been added to the Elderbloggers List. They are indicated by an asterisk which, unlike the review tildes, do not link – they just help you find the newest additions.

There were about 25 Elderblog reviews last time we did this, but with about 250 on the list, we have a way to go to include everyone. If you reviewed two weeks ago, you are welcome to do another, and another…

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Pat Temiz shows how much a chance decision, even a small one, can change the course of our lives in How I First Came to Turkey.]

Thought Crime Bill Video

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The story below was originally posted last Tuesday, but it is important that as many people as possible know about the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act of 2007, so I am reposting it today with something new.

As of late yesterday, Friday, still no mainstream media has reported on this bill. It was bad enough to find out my congressman voted for this bill in the House; now I am appalled to learn that one of my Maine senators, Susan Collins, has sponsored the bill in the Senate. You can find out how your representative voted here.

And here is a new YouTube video that needs to be as widely distributed as possible, and there are several more anti-H.R.1955 videos at YouTube.]

category_bug_politics.gif While the media were pretending all other news was on hold during the California wildfires, a dangerous bill made it through the House of Representatives and has now been sent to the Senate where it has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Should a majority in the Senate approve the bill, all it requires to become law is the president’s signature and since it does not deprive children of healthcare, there is no reason to think he would veto it.

Designated H.R.1955 and titled the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act of 2007, it is an amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jane Harmon [Dem-CA] and overwhelming approved by the House on 23 October by a 404 to 6 vote.

Some people have called this the “thought crime bill”, and they are not exaggerating – which is why I am straying from the topic of aging today to bring this to your attention.

This is the first terrorism-related legislation that specifically targets U.S. citizens and the vagueness of the wording is a dangerous threat to the First Amendment and to each of us in ways that have not been attempted before in the United States. The definitions in the bill hold the frightening keys to the undermining of our most basic liberty - to speak freely [bolding is mine]:

“VIOLENT RADICALIZATION - The term ‘violent radicalization' means process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change."

The difficulties here are that “extremist belief system” means anything the government wants it to mean as does the word “facilitating.”

“HOMEGROWN TERRORISM - The term 'homegrown terrorism' means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

Again, this refers not just to violence, but to thought and speech for any undefined “political or social objectives”. In other words, it could mean universal healthcare, equal rights, abortion or anything at all about which you or I might want to make our views known that the government objects to. And, it establishes U.S. citizens as the targets of this legislation.

“IDEOLOGICALLY BASED VIOLENCE- The term ‘ideologically based violence' means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious, or social beliefs.”

This repeats legislative intolerance of speech and thought.

The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act does not establish penalties for these thought crimes; it “only” establishes a commission to study them. But it tells us where the thinking in Washington is heading.

The Commission is required to send a report about its findings to the Congress and president every six months for a year and a half. As disturbing as the bill itself is, so is the additional requirement that there be a “a public version” of the reports – that is, something different from what Congress sees.

Even with only a commission at this point, there is no way to understand the bill except as a warning of what is to come and mainstream media has not mentioned it – not The New York Times nor the Washington Post nor the Los Angeles Times, USA Today or CNN.

Please read the entire bill. It is not lengthy and there is more in it to be concerned about than I have reported in this post.

It is not extreme to say that unless you want to find out what it was like to live in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union under Stalin or Italy under Mussolini where any "wrong" thought and word could make a citizen subject to arrest and worse, this bill must be stopped. Write, email, telephone your senators and get everyone you know to do so too. You can easily do that here. It might be prudent too to ask the senators who are running for president how they will vote on this bill.

It won’t be easy to convince our senators. Any legislation that goes through Congress with the word “terrorism” in it, gets kneejerk passage. And there is no reason the Senate won't pass it, as the House did, while the country's attention is elsewhere.

The six brave representatives who stood up against the majority in voting against H.R.1955 are: Jeff Flake [Rep-AR], Dana Rohrabacher [Rep-CA], Neil Abercrombie [Dem-HI], Jerry Costello {Dem-IL], Dennis Kucinich [Dem-OH] and John Duncan {Rep-TN].

Thought Crime Bill Story List

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, the serial fairy tale, Chandra and Her Georg is up to Episode XIX.]

Repost: (Extra)Ordinary Lives

[EDITORIAL NOTE: A few days ago, I had an email discussion with amba of ambivablog about how elders may be the population that blogging is most made for - "a way" as amba wrote, "to tell our stories and unload our accumulated wisdom and puzzlement at life, and give it all 'to the tribe' as we used to do in extended families and stable communities."

It is an idea I've written about in the past and speak about at conferences I attend, and our conversation triggered a memory of this post. I'm surprised at how old it is, originally published on 12 April 2005, and I would write it differently today. But I think it is worth repeating for elders who may be new to reading blogs or contemplating a blog of their own, and as reminder to the rest of us who do blog of the importance of what we do here in the blogosphere. We all have so many stories to tell.]

In response to last week’s Stories For the Infinite Future, an email arrived from a reader, who is not a blogger, saying that she can’t imagine what stories she could tell because her life has been so ordinary.

Let's say this all together now: No lives are ordinary.

Even if you “only” got married, raised children and tended the backyard garden, you have stories to tell. You especially have stories your children, grandchildren and beyond will care about. Everyone wants to know who and where they came from and what those people were like, how they lived, what they did. That’s why so many adoptees seek out their birth parents and why genealogy is popular: We all struggle to know ourselves and a large part of doing that is in knowing our family pasts.

Consider celebrities. The public can’t get enough of Biography on the A&E channel, profiles on the E! channel, mini-biographies such as the “Person of the Week” on ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and the celebrity biographies in book form that are published each year.

Before they were celebrities, all these people were “ordinary” too, and every book, profile and interview begins with a rendition of birthplace, family and education with attendant personal anecdotes and stories. In fact, I would argue that what we want to know most about celebrities is their ordinariness; how they are like us.

When I was producing interviews for The Barbara Walters Specials, the most frequent question I got from people I knew about the stars we worked with was, “What is Sean Connery (or Katharine Hepburn or Cher, etc.) really like?”

What those people wanted to know was what a big-time movie star does with herself when she’s not making movies. That’s what the best entertainment profiles deliver - a peek into the celebrity’s private life...

...and it is also what your descendants will want to know about you. You are part of them; your blood flows in their veins; your genes will inform their appearance, behavior, perhaps even their interests and passions.

The smallest things can make interesting stories. There is a photo of my grandmother from about a hundred years ago, and I surely wish I knew how she did her hair like that because I’d like to do that with mine. And how did she and other women, I wonder, survive hot summer days in corsets and long, heavy dresses up to their necks with a petticoat or two underneath and no air conditioning while cooking on a wood stove? If she'd written down her stories (or kept a blog), I might know.

Your stories also become a record of life in general – modern to us now – that will, a generation or two hence, contain curiosities and puzzlements. Do you have a photo of your grandchild on Christmas day plugged into his new iPod, ignoring the festivities around him? Believe me, his grandchild, who will listen to music in some way we can’t imagine, will want to know what an iPod was as he sifts through the family photos.

My father told a story of when he was a boy, being sent to his room on the second floor of the house for some infraction of the rules. Bored, he dropped notes out the window on a fishing line to his cousin who waited below. His grandmother leaned out a first-floor window to halt the game and my dad, in a panic, reeled in the line and caught the fish hook on his grandmother’s wig, snatching her bald in front of the entire neighborhood. Obviously, he was in even worse trouble then, but it’s funny years later and now it’s part of the family lore.

Everyone has dozens of stories, large and small, happy and sad, funny and painful, that shouldn’t be lost because you think your life is ordinary. It is not. Your stories will bring alive times past for your descendants and enrich their lives by knowing the family stories of their ancestors (that’s you someday).

So let’s say it together one more time: No lives are ordinary.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rabon Saip reminds us of a cultural experience you probably haven't thought about it decades in Follow the Bouncing Ball.]

On Employment and Retirement Fears

category_bug_journal2.gif Yesterday, I followed up on one theme (fear of aging and dying) that turned up in the comments on Monday’s post. Today, the second theme – employment and retirement fears.

“…having no retirement ‘plan’ and figure I'll probably have to work until I die. I just hope I don't end up trying to scramble for a job when I'm 66…that pays minimum wage. I'm OK now, but the future looks scary to me.”
- Sally

“Sally: I agree with all you said. I don't recall reading many posts here from older women who are struggling to hang on in the (youth-oriented) work world in order to support themselves, with no foreseeable ‘retirement’ in sight.

“It is very scary and it's also exhausting at times, both mentally and physically. I agree that I think it would be easier to handle this ‘aging gracefully’ business if I were not so consumed with the basics of paying the mortgage and maintaining health insurance.”

- Pamela

There haven’t been a lot of posts or comments here about financial struggles because it feels unseemly to speak publicly about money problems and there is a taboo (at least among older generations) to do so. But just because you haven’t read it here, doesn’t mean that there aren’t Time Goes By readers who are living on a knife edge.

One, married and in her early fifties, goes without health coverage for her husband, whose employer does not provide it, because it would cost several hundred dollars they don’t have to add him to coverage from her employer. And save anything for their retirement? Not in today's economy. These are not people prone to extravagance; there isn’t wiggle room in their budget even for an overnight weekend trip by car.

Changes in ordinary people's financial fortunes in our lifetimes ARE “scary” as both Sally and Pamela said. When I began working in 1958, jobs were plentiful at all levels of experience and expertise. Employees could work their way up the ladder and were paid well enough to live comfortably, save for a down payment on a house and still expect to pay for childrens’ college without too much stress.

You probably wouldn’t get rich, but you knew you could live without being frightened about losing everything. All that changed over the past 25 years or so.

The related issue of employment in our later years is just as scary. In addition to the millions of job cuts during the past decade and overseas outsourcing, age discrimination is real, and a real danger for older workers. I’ve written about my and others’ experience with it in the past at some length.

I had every intention of working indefinitely until I was laid off in a RIF in 2004. My young colleagues found jobs easily. After a year of searching and going deeply into debt, I sold my home in New York and moved to a less expensive city. It broke my heart. I loved my apartment in Greenwich Village; I loved the city I’d lived in for nearly 40 years; and I resent being shoved out of the workforce for age alone (I liked my work a lot), not to mention the money I could have saved working for another five or ten or more years.

Ten years earlier I had been unemployed for 15 months during which I’d cashed in my 401(k), at a horrific tax penalty, to get by. It’s hard to prove (a subject for another day), but age had a lot to do with that bout of unemployment in my mid-fifties too.

My estimate is that due to those two long periods of unemployment (particularly later in life when one's salary is higher than in younger years), the tax bite and gut-wrenching debt that had to be paid off, I lost about $250,000 I had counted on for my old age.

I’m not alone and in fact, better off than many for having sold my New York apartment at the top of housing bubble. But I live on Social Security and hope now – hope that nothing expensive will happen which is, of course, a hopeless daydream. Undoubtedly, something untoward will happen. All I can figure to do about it is to live like Scarlett O’Hara – I’ll think about it tomorrow.

I have no answers for these fears we, millions of us, legitimately have whether we are still working or retired. The source of the problem is easy – economic policies beginning with President Reagan that have inexorably transferred the wealth of the nation from the middle class to the top one percent.

Through unconscionable practices of corporations toward employees and tax policies that favor the rich, the transfer of wealth continues while 46 million, including 11 million children, in the U.S. live without health coverage, while some elders go without their prescription drugs or take only half dosages to save money, while two million home foreclosures are predicted and those still working live in fear every day of losing their jobs.

Here's the question that puzzles me most: if politics and corporate greed continue to erode middle class income, there will be no one to buy the nation's widgets and corporations will fail. How does that benefit the rich and powerful who control the economic policies of the country? Can't they see their own demise in what they are doing?

Any answers out there?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Georgie Bright Kunkel shows us how even the indignities of late life illness cannot dim the love grown over nearly 60 years of marriage in A Second Chance at Life.]

On Fear of Aging and Death

category_bug_journal2.gif It is astonishing and gratifying that readers take the words I write and run with them in new directions in the comments. It has been particularly compelling in the past few days. Monday’s post evolved from comments on Friday’s post and today, I am following on from some comments on Monday’s post.

There are two themes that caught my attention Monday. Let’s start today with fear of aging and death, and continue tomorrow with employment and retirement fears. From the comments:

“I just cannot accept my own mortality with anything less than a nagging fear right now.
- Cowtown Pattie of Texas Trifles

“I for one am having a dreadful time with this whole aging thing - the process is not a smooth as I'd like it to be.”

- Dee

Although no one can predict when, I think it is normal for each of us, as the years go by, to make peace with these fears. Time moves forward relentlessly and with it the inevitable realizations that we too will not stay young until the end of our days, nor be anointed the single immortal. But it takes some work getting there, along with just letting it happen.

A lot of people (boomers?) seem to be convinced that if they lift one more weight or run one more mile, they will never get old. Even if you don’t succumb to cosmetic surgery or spend too much money on expensive anti-aging creams that don’t work, there comes a day, I think, when it’s too much effort any longer to keep up the pretense.

You realize that you do get tired more easily than your younger friends or something inside compels you to skip the daily workout in favor of a good book or those sexy high-heeled shoes hurt too much to wear today. That, my friends, is the beginning of accepting your age.

But in an ageist culture such as ours, there is still a lot – maybe years – of negotiation with yourself; the days you have the energy to prance around in those fabulous Jimmy Choos versus the mornings the mirror tells you that your makeup or hair color is beginning to look weird – it needs toning down.

For a long time, particularly through our fifties, we live with a foot in each world – not young anymore, but not old either. It’s not a comfortable place to be. The discomfort will pass – when it becomes all right to be old - each in our own time. But our profoundly youth-centric culture doesn't help.

When I first understood that I would die someday – was I eight or nine or ten then? – I was horrified. The thought kept me awake at night lying in bed while my heart pounded so hard it thumped the sheet above my chest as I tried to wrap my mind around the idea that I would not be here anymore.

At 21, having lived many of those fearful, dark nights of the soul, I gave myself permission to believe that I was the one immortal (too bad for the rest of you) and even knowing I was lying to myself, it carried me for many years. It didn’t stop the truth from suddenly clutching at my throat now and then when some incident brought the magnitude of not-being home to me. But I got by for a long time with that pretense.

[Whoever said it is not possible to hold two conflicting beliefs in your mind at once is full of it.]

Decades later, sometime after I started studying aging in earnest in 1996, I began to relax into my age and with it came an acceptance of my death. I didn’t do anything to make that happen so I can’t take credit for it. I just noticed that my heart didn’t race with fear anymore in contemplating my death. I don’t know what changed, but a need to stop being afraid contributed.

Darlene, who does not keep a blog but comments regularly around the blogosphere and is 82 years old, said this on Monday’s post:

“I wonder if a declining attitude about worldly things is a way of withdrawing from them in preparation for the inevitable. I'm not there yet, but I sense a feeling of ennui at times.”

Although she has more than 15 years of living on me, I think I know a little of what Darlene means about the “ennui”, for when I am tired or when too many picky little things the outside world constantly requires of us pile up, I feel myself reach into the future for the time when I will be relieved of worldly concerns.

None of this is to say that should a future medical test doom me to a death sentence within weeks or months, as happened to my mother, that the paralyzing fear of those childhood nights will not return. There is no way to know until then if in all this blather I’m not whistling past the graveyard (as it were).

In a column about fake news on Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, Jonah Goldberg had this to say about the people who watch different kinds of news programs:

“Indeed, while the network news broadcasts are sustained by the consumers of denture cream, adult diapers and pharmacological marital aides, it’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report that have a grip on the hip, iPhone crowd.”

Wouldn’t “old consumers” or “elder consumers” or even "senior consumers" have done the job? One wonders why Mr. Goldberg needs to gratuitously bash elders and if an equivalent slur against blacks or women would have made it past LA Times editors.

If you’re inclined to express your opinion about this ageist bigotry to Mr. Goldberg, his email address is The standards and practices department at the paper can be contacted at

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, kenju wishes she had been old enough to take on a bully at Summer Camp.]