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Crabby Complains (Again)

Crabby Old Lady has two complaints (well, she has many more, but two will do for today) that relate to blogs and computer program designers. Here goes.

Crabby has whined before about scrapulous scraper websites that steal her stories and attach Google ads, but she never expected to find it from an elderblogger. Crabby was shocked to see an entire TGB post republished without citation or link, and presented as the blogger’s own.

On thinking it over, Crabby wondered if perhaps bloggers (of any age) who haven’t had the need in their pre-blogging lives to concern themselves with copyright might not understand that people (and corporations) own the rights to their original written and graphic work – in any medium including online – and it cannot be used without permission.

So, in the interest of education, Crabby will enlighten those who need it.

No one may reprint another’s work without permission, and presenting it as your own is plagiarism. Period. In general, that’s all you need to know. However: one of the exceptions to copyright law is called the fair use doctrine which allows snippets of copyrighted material to be used with citations to indicate those are not your words and in the case of blogs and the web, it is polite – and expected - that a link be provided to the original work.

Links are the life blood of blogs. Without them, blogs could not exist. They are both what hold us together and help us move out around the World Wide Web to find new and interesting things. Quotations are crucial for passing on the good stuff, but using another person’s words without acknowledging the source and linking to it is not acceptable.

You’ll find more than you ever wanted or need to know about fair use at Wikipedia.

Adobe Photoshop Elements
When Crabby suffered a big-time computer crash last year and needed to reinstall programs, the disc for Adobe Photoshop Elements, which she has happily used for many years to tweak photographs and create graphics, was lost.

There are other photo/graphics programs and some are free, but Crabby longed for Photoshop Elements. She knows it so well she could almost operate it blind – and now it appears that is how Adobe expects her to use it. The newest version she bought looks like this:


Don’t be fooled by the small image. Full-screen size is just as difficult to read. In previous versions, the program was designed with the normal dark text on white background. Now Crabby can’t read the links, labels and dropdown menus.

She emailed Adobe explaining why Photoshop Elements 6.0 is unusable and asked if there might be a version an old person could use. She received a terse, one-sentence reply saying they will not be redesigning the user interface.

No "sorry" from Adobe. No offer of an old version with reverse colors. Just “Screw you, Crabby Old Lady. We've already got your money.”

Most people older than 40 have trouble reading light text on a dark background and even people who are younger complain. Do you suppose it doesn’t matter to Adobe, supposedly a commercial enterprise with the goal of profit?

Having wasted her money on what she considers defective design, Crabby has been testing free photo programs for several months. They are each adequate in their way, but slower or missing features Crabby likes in Photoshop Elements. Grrrr, says Crabby Old Lady.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Just Nobody Now explains why (he's) Not Eliot Spitzer.]

This Week in Elder News: 29 March 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

In an astonishing presentation at the recent TED Conference, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor showed how the stroke she suffered eight years ago gave her new insight into her studies. Unfortunately, I can't get the video properly embedded here so you'll need to click over to the TED website. Believe me, it is worth the effort and every moment of the 18 minutes. (Hat tip to David Wolfe of Ageless Marketing)

Many of us become caregivers to our parents and other loved ones, and public radio station KQED in San Francisco is holding a live discussion about people’s personal experience with it on Monday, 31 March, which can also be heard online. They are asking for real-life stories and thoughts about caregiving that may be included in the program, and you can contribute here – I did. (Website registration required)

It is probably safe to say that to bloggers in general and elders in particular, words are of interest and matter a lot. A Way With Words is a regular PBS radio show on topics ranging from linguistic disputes to grammatical pet peeves and how about this for a topic: “Insegrevious Paratereseomaniacs”. You can listen to archived shows online and there are also written summaries of the programs.

Ruthe of Fat Old Artist recently pointed out that our politicians in Washington are proposing that new nuclear weapons be built. The Union of Concerned Scientists has set up a website for comment and protest of this action from the publifc.

TechCrunch calls it a “scourge on the web” – 33 percent of surfers who are still using the Internet Explorer 6 browser years after it was upgraded to IE7. It means web developers must waste time optimizing websites for non-standard features that plague IE6 and not newer browsers. If you are one of the laggards, you can help out the web developers by upgrading to IE7 or try one of the other browsers here.

Senior World Chronicle is exactly what its name says, a daily chronicle of stories from around the world that relate to elders. There is hardly a country not included, or a topic, and regular reading gives an excellent comparison of aging issues – similar and not-so-similar to one’s own country.

Early last week, The New York Times ran a story about how aging boomers are transforming neighborhood senior centers into more lively gathering places than the bridge-and-doughnuts clubs of the past, even attracting the younger set.

In case you missed it yesterday, TGB guest blogger, Linda Burnham, contributed an important and thought-provoking piece on feminism and racism in the primary campaign. I urge you to read The Tightrope and the Needle, think about it and leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Personal Commentary of the Week: Does Senator Hillary Clinton have any idea what social and political chaos she will create if she succeeds in her campaign to get duly elected and pledged delegates to defect from Senator Barack Obama to her? I predict outrage like we haven’t seen since the Vietnam War from every corner of the country.

Guest Blogger: Linda Burnham

category_bug_politics.gif The article below was sent to me by Jan Adams who is the Gay and Gray columnist for Time Goes By. I don’t know the author, Linda Burnham, but I sure would like to. Her story digs into a lot of ideas about this year’s primary campaign that I’ve been trying to think about, but could not articulate well to myself and so, certainly not to readers of this blog.

One reason is that I’m just not as smart as Linda Burnham. Another is that as a white woman, I cannot understand the black experience any more than young people can understand the elder experience.

Lindaburnham Linda Burnham (expanded bio) has long experience in racial and feminist politics. She is a co-founder and executive director of The Women of Color Resource Center and she edits Crossroads, “a magazine that promotes dialogue and debate on the left side of the political spectrum.” Which is exactly what this important article does - open up areas of conflict between racism and sexism in the Democratic primary campaign and expose them to the light.

Linda's article is longer than blog posts here usually are, but oh so thought-provoking. So grab a cup of coffee, settle down and take some time to read and think about The Tightrope and the Needle.

The Clinton campaign can do all the distancing it wants from Geraldine Ferraro's chronic foot-in-mouth syndrome, but this is not the first time Obama has been cast as the beneficiary of affirmative action. Here's Erica Jong, more than a month ago, on the same issue. After allowing that "Obama is smart and attractive. Maybe he'll be president some day," she goes on to say:

"Obama is also a token - of our incomplete progress toward an interracial society. I have nothing against him except his inexperience. Many black voters agree. They understand tokenism and condescension."

Right now, black female voter that I am, I'm most definitely understanding the condescension - and righteous indignation - of white liberal feminists who believe Obama skipped ahead of them in line. I'm also understanding the sheer frustration of women who were headed towards an easy coronation, but then got sideswiped and stalled by an upstart prince.

It appears that all the mainstream, high-profile feminists got the same talking-points memo from the Clinton campaign. Ferraro, pit bull that she is, was just a little more raw in her delivery. If you didn't get the memo, here are the talking points.

  • Though the Democrats are blessed with an embarrassment of riches, with a black man and a woman contending for the nomination, Clinton is unequivocally the only one prepared for the rigors of the presidency.
  • Obama is all fluff, no substance, glib and attractive, but also a cocksure, ageist upstart.
  • Given the depths of Obama's inexperience, his present popularity can only be explained by the reverse discrimination effect: he's unfairly benefiting from his status as a black man.
  • Older white women are supporting Clinton because they recognize bottom-line competence, know how to vote in their own best interests, grow more radical with age, and are ready to make history.
  • White men are supporting Obama because of their latent or blatant sexism. They're confused by the unfamiliar choices presented them, and more freaked out by the prospect of a woman in the White House than they are by the prospect of the first African American president.
  • Maybe Obama will be a candidate to consider once he's more politically seasoned, i.e., after eight years of Clinton.
  • Sexism is the most pervasive and persistent form of discrimination.
  • Racism is on the run, nearly vanquished save a few remnants.

From Gloria Steinem to Robin Morgan to Geraldine Ferraro to Erica Jong, they're all playing the same tune. Now we can't blame the women for fighting hard for their candidate, but it is disappointing, to say the very least, that in heralding Clinton as the proper choice for every feminist and all women, they have also managed to dredge up some of the least attractive features of liberal feminism.

For nearly forty years feminists have wrangled over how to integrate issues of race, class, sexual orientation and other markers of inequality into a coherent, powerful gender analysis.

Women of color insist on the complex relationship between racism and sexism and the central significance of racism in the lives of people of color.

White feminists nod their heads, "Yes, of course, we understand, we're with you on that." Then comes the crunch, when the content of your feminism actually matters - as it does in this campaign - and they revert to the primacy of sexism over all other forms of discrimination and oppression. All the tendencies that got feminism tagged as a white, middle- class women's thing are, brutally, back in play.

There's a lot of twisting and turning going on in the effort to explain Obama's viability. If he's so completely inexperienced, why are people coming out to vote for him in record numbers? Must be that racism is dead but sexism isn't. Must be that he's an affirmative action baby. Must be that people are mesmerized, charmed and bewitched by his silver tongue. Must be that people are voting with their hearts for hope instead of with their heads for hard-headed competence.

In fact, it must be anything except that he's knit together a coalition the existence of which most political actors could not have predicted, much less activated.

Except that his politics and presentation of self have motivated millions of new voters and re- energized previously disaffected millions more in ways that her politics and presentation of self have not.

Except that voters have weighed his experience and hers and concluded that she's not bringing appreciably more to the table than he is.

Except that she's pegged her vaunted experience to her White House years and a fair share of voters (raise your hands, y'all) were not enthralled with the policies of the Clinton presidency.

It's just not such a terribly long walk from the Clinton campaign's insistence on Obama's lack of experience and complete unreadiness to lead to the notion that he's gotten as far as he has not on his own merits, but as a result of the workings of some pro- brother bias. That is, to put it baldly, the playing field is tilted in favor of the minority candidate who, despite his thin resume, has managed to leapfrog over the more qualified white candidate.

There's a reason this reminds you of every reverse discrimination complainant from Allan Bakke forward. It undermines the legitimacy of affirmative remedies for identifiable, quantifiable discriminatory practices while simultaneously denigrating the qualifications of people of color in high places, whether they got there by means of affirmative action or not.

Then there's the basic categorical confusion. Let's go back to that historic juncture, wherein a black man and a woman are close contenders for their party's nomination. If his race is noteworthy, Obama the black man (regardless of how many ways his blackness has been interpreted), then so too is hers. [For those of you who believe we're living in a post-racialist society, if you haven't tuned out already, you'll probably want to skip the rest of this piece.]

This is a contest between a black man and a white woman. Voters orient themselves toward Obama along a broad spectrum of racial attitudes ranging from, "Of course I'm voting for the brother" to "I'd never in a million years cast my vote for an African American." And everything in between.

The point is, most sane people recognize that Obama's race matters. Well then, how is it that Clinton's doesn't? If Obama's blackness is a positive incentive for some voters, a liability for others and a source of confusion and ambivalence for still others, how is it that Clinton's whiteness is a big fat neutral. Is it not at least theoretically possible that some voters are positively inclined toward Clinton because she is white?

There is a brand of feminism, amply critiqued but still very much alive, that focuses on gender bias while consistently downplaying the salience of race. And the easiest way to avoid acknowledging that whiteness comes with its privileges is to avoid acknowledging it at all.

Whiteness as default, normative, unworthy of note. Clinton the woman; Obama the black man. In fact, Obama as doubly favored, as a man and, with reverse discrimination and tokenism in play, as an African American. Clinton, meanwhile, is hobbled by her gender and, since her whiteness is unacknowledged, neither advantaged nor disadvantaged by her race. This is the topsy-turvy world we're being asked to accept as reality.

I, for one, am going to take a pass on delusion. In Mississippi, though Obama took the state, 70 percent of white Democatic voters chose Clinton over Obama. In South Carolina, Obama took over 75 percent of the black vote but only 15 percent of the over-60 white vote, with similar results in Alabama.

Isn't is possible that at least some of those white voters would prefer to see a white person in the White House, regardless of gender, than an African American? And isn't it possible that whiteness is an element of Clinton's appeal in Ohio, Texas and, potentially, Pennsylvania, states in which Reagan Democrats (and Nixon Democrats before them) were won over to the Republican Party, at least in part, on the basis of frankly racist appeals?

As long as Clinton's whiteness is unacknowledged, so too are the dynamics that work to her advantage in this campaign.

The deep disappointment in the voting behavior of Obama-supporting men (read white men; see above) while officially chalked up to misogyny, has, in the argument of some feminists, crept uncomfortably close to a howl of anger at racial betrayal. In a Chicago Tribune article entitled "Sexism, not Racism, Thriving," a clearly frustrated Frida Ghitis claims.

"We may be winning the war against racism, but sexism is putting up quite a fight…Women are voting for Clinton and blacks are voting for Obama…If we look for someone who looks like us, for whom should a white man vote?...White men are giving their vote to Obama over Clinton." *

Let us grant without argument that many men, and a good number of women as well, would prefer to see a man in the White House than a woman. Is this evidence that sexism is alive and well? Indeed it is. But, as our own political processes constantly remind us, voting behavior is more than a little complex. Perhaps white men should be excoriated for their persistent sexism; perhaps we should be celebrating their transcendence of a centuries-long resistance to placing African Americans, men or women, in positions of power.

Would it be better, and for whom, if white men were to line up with white women and, as the saying goes, "vote their race?" Could this be what liberal feminists are advocating? Is Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the house?

It ought to be possible to point to the prevalence of sexism and misogyny, and their impact on Clinton's campaign, without downplaying the longstanding, ongoing, pervasive impact of racism in the U.S. But this is not the path they have chosen. In order to bolster their case for Clinton's relative disadvantage in the primary campaign, explain the white male vote in places like Iowa, Virginia, and Utah, and encourage white women to seize the historic moment, they impose a ranking order between racism and sexism, with sexism at the top, and insist on the declining significance of race.

Gloria Steinem:

"Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life…Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women." **

Those of us who witnessed the response to Hurricane Katrina; who check in occasionally on the racial demographics of the incarcerated; who are aware of the racial divide in income and, more significantly, wealth; who recognize that the public schools grow ever more segregated while the push-out rate for Black and Latino students rises ever higher; who track the relative scarcity of African Americans in professional schools, as well as in a whole range of professions; who know that the infant mortality rate for black babies outstrips the rate for white babies by two to one; who watch the dynamics of gentrification, dislocation and homelessness - we are not convinced that racism is an insignificant remnant.

And we're hard pressed to understand why this argument should be any more tolerated when it comes from liberal feminists than when it comes from the more frankly racist right wing. Since I'm not running for president I can be blunt. The denial of the significance of racism is a deep and abiding form of the thing itself.

Much has been made of the gender tightrope Clinton must walk. She can't seem too soft or too hard. She has to look attractive and expect that her hairdo, pantsuits, cleavage and ankles are all fair game for commentary. Tears will be relentlessly analyzed. She will be judged in ways that men never are. All of this is true, and an indication of how very far we have to go.But, interestingly, Clinton can and does directly associate her campaign with a potential blow against gender discrimination.

Obama cannot do the same with regard to race. Clinton regularly posits winning the presidency, breaking through that highest and hardest glass ceiling, as she puts it, as an historic win for women, more than 50 percent of the population. Obama, meanwhile, does not have the latitude to explicitly associate his campaign with the interests of African Americans or an anti- racist agenda. Part of this is simply about the numbers. But there's much more at work here.

While Clinton has been walking her tightrope, Obama has been busy threading the very narrowest of needles. There may be dozens of ways for a white man to campaign for the presidency and if our common history, both recent and remote, is any guide, just about any kind of white man can become president, as long as he has the cash and the connections.

Not so for the black man. At issue are not only his politics and his campaign craft, but also, crucially, how he inhabits his black manhood. (Now, up until a few months ago I couldn't have imagined that there was any way for a Black man to become a serious contender - to thread the needle - so we're all learning as we go here.)

White folks, in general, don't want to see any chips on the shoulders or any psychic scars on the soul. There isn't a black male in America over the age of 10 who doesn't have a few chips and scars, but letting them show is a major deal breaker in the halls of power. So props to Obama for a fine acting job.

There's a bargain that white voters have struck with Obama, and here, in brief, is what it is:

"You can be black, and we're happy to congratulate ourselves on voting for a black man, as long as you're black in a way that doesn't upset us, scare us, make us feel guilty, or make us feel too white."

Obama is holding up his side of the bargain, either because he's temperamentally inclined to do so or because he's carefully calculated what it takes to win over white voters, or some combination of the two. But the quality of his blackness is nonetheless an issue.

This is the meaning of the insistence that Obama distance himself from his pastor, Reverend Wright, and from Minister Farrakhan. Way too many chips and scars. Way too little regard for what white folks think. And way too much attachment to the African American community.

So, if Obama himself can't be tagged as too black for prime time, maybe he's too black by association. Further, while Obama has assiduously courted the black vote, he hasn't done so with an explicitly anti-racist message and he certainly hasn't posited the African-American community as the core of his coalition. Why? Because to do so would sink his campaign like a hundred weight stone.

This, in part, is the difference between the Jackson campaign, which built a disruptive, progressive coalition with Black voters and anti-racist politics at its core, and Obama's liberal coalition that is inclusive of and reliant upon black voters without centralizing their concerns in a way that would scare off white voters. Jackson ran as a direct challenge to the status quo, implementing an inside-outside strategy without the burden of expecting a win. Obama's first principle is viability, and he threads his needle accordingly.

It's more than a little interesting that liberal feminists, so highly attuned to the ways in which gender frames how Clinton can run, are blissfully (willfully?) ignorant of how race and racism shape the Obama campaign. Black racial solidarity still reads as a threat in a way that gender solidarity does not.

One last talking point before we close: the voting behavior of white women. Every national election cycle we're treated to lots of commentary about the gender gap and its meaning. More eligible women vote than do eligible men and women are somewhat more likely to cast their votes for Democrats than for Republicans.

Clinton is undeniably running strongly among white women Democrats, especially those over the age of 50. Should we be reading this as further evidence that the older women voters get, the more radical they become, as Morgan and Steinem contend? [Steinem: "Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age." Robin Morgan: "Older women are the one group that doesn't grow more conservative with age."]

The two party lockdown ensures that there's no real way to register radicalism in presidential primaries or national elections. So let's assume that those voting Democratic are somewhat more radical than those voting Republican. In the 2004 presidential election, 55 percent of white women gave their votes to George W. Bush; 62 percent of white men did the same. A significant gender gap.

Meanwhile, 90 percent of African American women and a slightly smaller proportion of African American men voted for John Kerry. In the 2000 presidential election, an astounding 94 percent of African American women voted Democratic. I can't do the math, but I suspect that if you were to subtract the overwhelmingly Democratic votes of African American women the gender gap would narrow considerably.

Younger voters from 18-29 years old cast 54 percent of their votes for the Democratic candidate in 2004. Exactly the same percentage of voters 60 and over cast them for Bush.

I just don't see the evidence that older white women constitute a hotbed of radicalism, or even consistent liberalism. Had they followed the lead of African American women in 2000 and 2004 we all would have been spared a whole lot of grief.

Liberal feminists have every right to spend down their political capital on behalf of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Hard choices have to made; political debts have to be paid. But it will not count as progress if a Clinton win is purchased at the cost of deepening the racial divide. It is inexcusable to support a candidate in the name of feminism while deploying racist argumentation, minimizing the existence and impact of racism, and denying the advantages of inhabiting the racial space called "white." It will not be excused. Nor will it be forgotten.

* A whole nother article could be written about the disappearance of Black women in this rumble. And we have the title already at hand, the 1982 classic All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.

** And yet another article on the black folks who died trying to exercise the right to vote, right up into the 1960s, and ongoing black disfranchisement, down to today. The struggle for women's suffrage was a valiant and protracted one, as is the struggle for black political enfranchisement. The distinction in the character (and timing) of those struggles speaks to distinctions in the character and quality of racism and sexism, not to the primacy of one over the other.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rabon Saip takes us into a long-ago club to share an extraordinary musical evening in Trio.]

The Delegate Debate

The continuing debacle over the Democratic primary votes in Florida and Michigan have left Crabby Old Lady bemused, befuddled and finally, disgusted. The basic facts of the primary rules in the two states are straight-forward:

  • The Democratic Party sets the schedule for when each of the 50 states holds its primary

  • Florida and Michigan Democratic Party officials, coveting the media attention an early primary would give them, moved up their primary dates

  • The national party warned that in doing so their delegates would not be counted

  • Florida and Michigan Democratic officials changed the dates anyway

  • Senator Obama removed his name from the Michigan ballot (as did Joe Biden, Bill Richardson and John Edwards) and did not campaign there

  • Senator Clinton left her name on the ballot and did campaign in Michigan

  • Both senators’ names were on the ballot in Florida, but neither campaigned in person there

As Crabby said, until the primary days were finished in Michigan and Florida, it was simple. Since then, the American electorate has been treated to extended political maneuvering as each candidate and their surrogates offered various solutions for getting as many of those delegates as possible for themselves:

Give them all to me, said one.

No, that’s not fair, said the other.

Let’s hold do-overs, said a multitude of voices.

Can’t afford it, said the states.

We’ll pay for it, said rich Clinton supporters.

No, no, not fair, said Obama supporters.

We could split the delegates 50/50, said someone.

What’s the point of that, said Crabby Old Lady.

Amidst all this, there was hand-wringing over disenfranchising Florida and Michigan voters together with suggestions that if their delegates are not seated, Democratic voters in the two states will opt for Senator John McCain in the general election just for spite.

Could that possibly be true? Would Democrats – and left-leaning Independents – vote against their own interests like thwarted school children?

The idea of a do-over is dead now and for the moment, the Florida/Michigan delegate debate is taking a back seat to the toxic sniping between the two Democrats. Senator Clinton and her surrogates resurrected the Reverend Wright ruckus this week while Senator Obama’s side is harping on Clinton’s Tuzla fairy tale. (Crabby Old Lady doesn’t believe for a nano-second that no matter how many public appearances a first lady makes, she could mistake, even years later, a little girl’s poem for sniper fire.)

As poisonous as these episodes may be, they are only sideshows and a short respite to the delegate dispute.

The past eight years of the Bush administration notwithstanding, the United States is a still nation of laws and in Crabby’s view, rules are rules. The time for the voters to argue for their enfranchisement was when Florida and Michigan Democratic leaders defied the national party rules by moving up their primaries. It was made clear then that if they did so, the delegates would not be seated or allowed to vote. End of story.

Or, at least, that’s what Crabby Old Lady believes and it wearies her that there is more to come while the economy collapses, the war in Iraq picks up deadly speed and Vice President Cheney rattles his saber against Iran.

It is not hard to sense that the American electorate is desperate for leadership, for new ideas, for someone to right the train wreck trajectory the United States is on. It is too bad that Michigan and Florida voters wasted their time going to the polls, but they knew then the votes wouldn’t count – something Crabby suggests they keep in mind the next time the state party leaders come up for election.

But right now, we – the people – need to put that behind us and somehow convince the two candidates to give us their best thoughts on getting the country back on track.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Peggy Race tells us how her grandfather turned the local garbage dump into a special childhood memory in Feeding the Wildlife.]

Aging Together: So Like Their Peers, But Different Too

category_bug_gayandgray.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams in which she reports on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here.

Stuartgarypensive Nine years ago two single people met. They were both in their fifties and without partners after long previous relationships ended by illness and separation. Their friendship grew. Like many elders, they realized that continuing to live in San Francisco would not be affordable or even pleasant when they retired. They visited central Ohio where one had grown up and the other had had relatives living in the past, and decided to buy a house in a small town. Shortly thereafter, they decided it was time to tie the knot. Their relationship was blessed by their church on December 30, 2007. This summer, they'll move to Ohio for good.

This happy story would be quite unremarkable, except that Gary and Stuart are gay men. They were kind enough to talk with me about their partnership and their planned move.

On retirement: Gary was almost thrust into involuntary retirement a couple of years ago when the family-owned wholesale supply company for which he had worked for 32 years ("minus two weeks," he emphasizes) was bought out. The new corporate owners wanted younger workers. He was lucky enough to catch on at a similar job running data systems for a storage company. But the abrupt lay off turned his attention to making a future without employment.

Stuart's work, on the other hand, will remain similar as long as he is with us; he's a Vietnam vet on long-term disability whose "work" has been getting the Veterans' Administration to care for his needs. He was part of a groundbreaking study of PTSD in the 90s that set the pattern for care of his generation of vets and he generally applauds the system.

On choosing to move: there's more to this move than economic necessity. The city they've enjoyed for decades has begun to feel inhospitable. Gary says that these days San Francisco seems to him "crowded, congested, uncivil, thoughtless." And so they looked to the country, choosing a town in Gary's state of origin that has a nearby VA hospital. And they were able to find a big house they could buy outright. Both have family back East. And there's an historic Episcopal church to consider joining.

On family: Gary and Stuart are of a gay generation in which relationships to our families of birth are often conflicted. Gay people a little older than these two usually had clearer, if unsatisfactory, paths: they were either thrown out by family for perversity or their "peculiar" relationships simply went unacknowledged. Young gay people today, though their orientation may cause their families great distress, nonetheless belong to a recognized type. But gay people currently becoming elders live in an in-between world.

So when the guys went east to look for a retirement location, the visit involved introducing their new partners to their surviving parents and siblings. There was nothing easy about this. Both of them express a shy wonder that they received what younger people might consider a tiny measure of acceptance.

Stuart's brother and sister-in-law are Pentecostal Christians and Republicans. Gary's father is an Ohio Republican bigwig and a "rock-ribbed Presbyterian."

Gary and his father had had always had an unspoken "don't ask, don't tell" agreement about his orientation, even all the way through his losing his previous partner of 22 years to cancer. But Gary took Stuart "home" to meet his father. As they were leaving, he was overjoyed to hear his father say to Stuart, "welcome to the family."

When they decided to have a church commitment ceremony, they felt they were being a little bold because they invited their families. They were delighted when a nephew wrote, asking for a picture -- "we want to see him." And Gary's sister even traveled to San Francisco to be part of their big day.

Stuart and Gary’s story is so like that of many of their heterosexual age peers. But being gay men of their generation carries additional worries – and occasional surprising joys.


Stuart, Gary's sister Jeney and Gary at the ceremony blessing their union. Photos thanks to Patrick Lane and Michael Reardon.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon McKinney ponders the question of elder wisdom in Graceful Aging.]

The Enormous Value of Elderblogs

I am always on the lookout for good, new elderblogs (new to me, anyway), but every two or three months, I spend a few days checking websites to see what’s new and useful or interesting for elders.

It is necessary to search for “seniors,” “baby boomers” and “matures” because “elders” is hardly ever used as a description for old people, although it is encouraging to discover that the State of Massachusetts calls its department on aging The Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

Mostly, all this surfing is a discouraging effort. A large number of the top search results are sites containing nothing more than links to government, non-profit and agency sites that deal with the nuts-and-bolts or negative aspects of aging: health, caregiving, Social Security, health, Medicare, elderlaw, health, elder abuse, Alzheimer’s, telephone scams, health, investments, health…

Linking to websites ranging from helpful to useless with the same generic, gray-haired couple serenely smiling above what turns out, in more than half the cases, to be another list of links (often broken) interspersed with GoogleAds.

I do not mean to imply that these issues are not important when you need them. Of course, then they are vital and the legitimate websites are essential. But there are millions of them on the web, mostly repetitive, and what I look for in vain is the real, everyday, personal, experience of getting old.

If anyone depended on websites created for and about elders to find out what it’s really like to get old, the only conclusion to be had is that it is fraught with decline, debility and disease, interspersed with financial travails. No wonder everyone is afraid of getting old.

But the real story is that aging is as rich and compelling as every other time in life. What all those websites don’t see is that our interests are as wide and varied as they have been all our lives. If an elder was an expert on nuclear energy or butterflies at 40, he or she still is and more so at 70 and 80. And many (most?) of us take up new interests when the kids are grown and careers are done.

Among elders, we are interested in everything Wikipedia has got in its millions of pages. We learn new languages, new skills and take up new passions. We discover depths of understanding that were not possible without the decades of experience we have amassed. And when the normal – and not so normal – extremities of aging occur, we are remarkably adaptive.

You can’t find any of that on “senior” websites, so this is the last time I will look for any that might be of interest to elders. Aside from those with the hard information we need now and then, they aren’t any better than when I first searched for them five years ago.

Then, I subtitled this blog “what it’s really like to get old” because there was nothing anywhere that explained it. I didn’t have answers yet, but I knew getting old was a whole lot different - and better - than what was being written and said.

Now, in the years since, the people who visit this blog and contribute as commenters and as storytellers at The Elder Storytelling Place, and as guest bloggers when I’m away have all helped pull back the curtain on the mystery of aging here and on their own blogs, along with the thousands I have not discovered.

The only places where the real story of what it’s like to get old is being told are elderblogs. Most of them are not about aging itself - they are about as many different things as blogs by people of any other age. But in telling readers of the joys, sadness, memories, activities, ailments, thoughts, ideas and passions they live every day, elders are creating a rich and growing compendium of old age.

Elderblogs are an unrecognized goldmine on aging that exists nowhere else.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chuck Nyren explains how he found himself in a Country Quandery.]

Who Speaks For Elders?

category_bug_ageism.gif Here is how ageist beliefs are maintained and reinforced. All three of these incidents turned up, one after the other, in under an hour of random surfing with television news on in the background.

  • In a tech blog post explaining how to teach a newbie to use a computer: “Be calm and talk slow…Talking slow and loudly (for seniors) will make this process much easier for them and less stressful for you. Be prepared to explain the same thing multiple times. This will mostly apply to seniors because they often have problems hearing. So always talk VERY slow.”
  • On a blog reviewing a hair coloring product: “Getting older can be less obvious thanks to [product name] hair color…Now that I am freshly coiffed and colored, I am headed over to Starbucks to hang out with the younger crowd!”
  • On a cable news program: when a guest economist made an historical reference to a middling past he had lived through, the anchorette conducting the interview told him with a smirk that of course, unlike him, she is not old enough to remember those days (nudge, nudge, tee hee).

In the last example, which gets much wider distribution than the blog items, the moment was fleeting – two or three seconds. And gratuitous. It had nothing to do with the news item, which was about inflation.

The message pounded home through repetitions as brief as these doesn’t require overtly offensive statements, such as many that are lobbed at Senator John McCain about his age. As every advertiser and President Bush’s speech writers know, any idea repeated frequently enough becomes conventional wisdom.

In just these ways - in print, on television, in movies, books, advertising and the internet - hundreds, maybe thousands of times every day, elders are maligned, demeaned and ageism in made acceptable, even encouraged. The more time you spend in these venues – and who does not? - the more frequently you will run into them, as do millions of people every day.

I am not infrequently taken to task for harping on these so-called minor indiscretions against elders and accused of having a victim mentality. Let me be clear. They are not minor and they cannot be dismissed as indiscretions. They are bigotry against a particular segment of society. And, when you speak up to defend yourself, you are no longer a victim.

If as many statements as offensive, gratuitous and repetitive as these were as widely and frequently made about women or people of color, there would be headlines, speeches and Congressional hearings. But one difficulty with combating ageism is that the offenders don’t even know they are being offensive due to the ubiquity and tolerance of what they are saying.

So as with the women’s and civil rights movements of the 1960s, it is up to the abused and maligned to fight for the respect and dignity all people must be granted to create and maintain a civil society.

The late Claude Pepper, Democrat of Florida who served in the U.S. House and Senate from 1936 until his death in 1989, was American elders’ best friend in the political arena, using his public profile to raise awareness of the needs of old people. For many years he chaired the House Committee on Aging. That committee no longer exists.

“Old age will only be respected when it fights for itself, maintains its rights, avoids dependence on anyone, and asserts control over its own last breath.”
- Marcus Tullius Cicero

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones recalls her Nevada wedding during college in A Gamble on White Lace and Promises.]

This Week in Elder News: 22 March 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the precedng week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

This week’s items are short on elder and long on politics. It’s been that kind of week and it’s not a pretty picture.

If you’re wondering why prices at the grocery store have skyrocketed in recent weeks, a British economics reporter says it more directly than many American reporters: America was conned.

“Now it's payback time and the mood could get very ugly. Americans, to put it bluntly, have been conned. They have been duped by a bunch of serpent-tongued hucksters who packed up the wagon and made it across the county line before a lynch mob could be formed.

“The debate now is not about whether the US is in recession but how deep and long that recession will be.”

While economists and officials continue to play numbers games about whether the country has entered a recession, the people know for sure. According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, only 17 percent of Americans rate the economy good or excellent.

Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the best political and social commentators we have. Her beat is exposing the excesses of power and supporting the underdog. This week, she wrote about a shadowy political organization referred to as “the family” with which many conservative elected officials are associated - as is Senator Hillary Clinton.

About once every month or two, Vice President Dick Cheney climbs out of his bunker and reveals again his disdain for the American people. This week he blew off public opinion with a schoolyard taunt. (:28 seconds) [See also this from today's Washington Post.]

As is being noted more frequently among the chattering classes, the Democrats appear to be hell bent on destroying their party and losing the November election as a result. This is former president Bill Clinton’s latest attack on his wife’s opponent:

"I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country…And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics."

The revelation on Friday that the passport records of Senators Clinton and McCain, like those of Senator Obama, were illegally snooped takes some of the air out of this "PassportGate" video, but maybe not. Time and investigation will tell. (Hat tip to Darlene Costner - 1:19 minutes)

Quote of the week:

“We live in a unique society in which we have free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.”
- Gore Vidal

Quotable Age

category_bug_journal2.gif When I run across a quotation that grabs my attention, I add it to the file of others that accumulate through reading this and that.

The keepers have become fewer over the years perhaps because after living for many decades, it is harder to find new ones that are engaging. Too many fall into the category of affirmations which I find cloying, and as much as I enjoy puns and other forms of wordplay, few offer insight into the mysteries of life.

A good quotation is more than the sum of its parts, a thought worthy of pondering for at least the length of time it takes to brew a pot of coffee, and the best have the power to deepen understanding or, minimally, provide fodder for a blog post when an elder is having a slow brain day.

“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
- Edith Wharton
“The hardest years in life are those between ten and seventy.”
- Helen Hayes
“The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy.”
- Alfred North Whitehead
“You'll find as you grow older that you weren't born such a great while ago after all. The time shortens up.”
- William Dean Howells
“With age comes the inner, the higher life. Who would be forever young, to dwell always in externals?”
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”
- Henry David Thoreau

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sue West gives us an meditation on lives we have lived in There's an Old Woman in My Mirror.]

A Remarkable Student/Elder Program

For the past eight years, the College of Pharmacy at the University of Texas at Austin has operated an outstanding learning program. In CARE (Care And Respect for the Elderly), each first-year student is matched with an elder resident from one of several, nearby assisted living homes to help provide companionship, learn how to care for elders and develop the kind of communication skills they will need to work with elder customers in their future careers. And, it benefits the elders now.

“The student visits give the resident chance to meet someone new,” [says Brandon Erickson, executive director of one of the participating assisted living homes] – someone young and energetic who is making a novel career choice. They are flattered that a college student would take the time to get to know them. The resident may be 60 or 70 years older, but there is always a connection that can even lead to a lasting friendship.”
-, 18 March 2008

Steven_mrb Seventy? Try 81 years. That’s the age difference between 21-year-old student Steven and 102-year-old retired geologist, Mr. B, who lived as a child in the “Indian Territory” – what is today Oklahoma. Because his grandparents either live far away or have died, Steven has never had a relationship with an elder before. The two men spend their time together indulging in Mr. B’s passion, dominoes, while Steven is encouraged to help track his new friend’s medications.

“All of the students can look at medical charts and observe how residents take their medications as they learn about the different medicines and the importance of medication adherence.”

Sarah_erica According to one of the instructors, the students are amazed that even with numerous health problems, most of the elders maintain positive attitudes about life. Erica is paired with 89-year-old Sarah, who has participated in the program for four years. “I’m around older people most of the time,” says Sarah, “so it’s nice to have a young person come see me. We enjoy our girl talk.” For her part, Erica wants to be just like Sarah when she is old.

Heather, a third-year student who was Mr. B’s companion when he was 100 years old, says sometimes new students are apprehensive about how to talk with elders:

“Initially, you may not know what to say to the elderly person, perhaps thinking you will not have anything in common. We have this fear they will be fragile or not be able to understand us, but there is a lot more common ground than you think. The program helps you get over these sometimes preconceived communications barriers.”

I would prefer the program be named Care and Respect for Elders rather than the Elderly, a word that suggests frailty and insufficiency, but that is a quibble compared to the knowledge and understanding these students gain and will use throughout their careers. The medical school community could use a dose of what the CARE program is teaching.

According to Dr. Robert N. Butler in his new book, The Longevity Revolution, the first geriatrics department in the nation was not founded until 1982 and today, 26 years later, there are only 11 departments of geriatrics among the 145 schools of medicine in the U.S., which certainly accounts for the declining number of geriatricians. In Britain, every medical school has a geriatrics department and geriatrics is the second-largest specialty.

[Hat tip to Claudia Snowden of Fried Okra Productions]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Peggy Race has a real-life Scottish Ghost Story for us.]

Obama’s More Perfect Union Speech

category_bug_politics.gif Personally, the part about Barack Obama’s former minister was the least important part of the senator’s speech yesterday (full text here). Having already said most of it over the preceding few days as he was harassed and harangued out of all proportion to this miniscule issue, it was also the most boring section. Boring because I don’t care about the minister.

But public (or, at least, media) attention was so unrelenting that Senator Obama was forced to explain himself. As he began, I feared he would fumble this crucial speech - until about halfway through the 40 minutes when he said:

“I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork.”

Of course, he was right. That is what the body politic wanted. Having cornered the black man into atoning for words that are not his, the media, the public, those who oppose his candidacy wanted him to pay for the right to continue the campaign on an equal footing with the woman candidate by abasing himself at the feet of their accusations. Only then would they put the campaign’s racial under- and overtones back into a drawer.

For awhile.

Until next time.


But instead of setting aside the race issue, Senator Obama called on all the people of the United States to face it head on and really mean it this time:

“But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now," he said. "We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

“The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect.

"And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.”

Senator Obama should never have been required to make this speech. But without it, due to the insinuations, innuendo and those video clips of Reverend Wright, the issue would have festered for months preventing any possibility of debate on our deadly serious problems.

He delivered one of the most sophisticated speeches politics has seen in years. Also one of the most personal and most decent - one that asks all of us to become our better selves:

“Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many.

“And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

“This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

“But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.”

Not quite John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you…” Not quite Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” Or his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” But approaching them and certainly a speech that will not be forgotten for a long time. Bear with me, read a bit more and tell me you’re not inspired – whomever your candidate is:

“…in this election, we can come together and say, ‘Not this time.’ This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children.

"This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

“This time we want to talk about how the lines in the emergency room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

“This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.”

Senator Obama spoke yesterday with eloquence, dignity and vision about the future of the United States. Is it too much to hope that Reverend Jeremiah Wright can be put to bed now and the campaign get on with the conversation the senator is trying to start?

Here is the video of Senator Obama's entire speech (37:02 minutes):

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mage Bailey follows up on some previous culinary-related stories with Failure to Cook.]

You’re Never Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll

Remember back in 1977, when Saturday Night Fever opened in theaters and Wow! John Travolta as Tony Manero burst onto the screen, bopping down the boulevard in Brooklyn to the awesome BeeGee’s theme of Stayin’ Alive. It is still the best movie set up ever. By the end of the opening, you know everything you need to know about Tony and he hasn’t spoken a word yet.

This version of Stayin’ Alive is, in its way, just as awesome. Here’s what you need to do right now: pump up the volume on your computer, stand up, get ready to dance in place and then hit the Start arrow (3:59 minutes):

These old folks call themselves the Young@Heart Chorus and the group (with different performers over the years) has been making all kinds of music together since 1982. Although they have performed around the world, they are poised now to become an overnight sensation - a documentary about them, Young@Heart will be released in theaters on 9 April. It won the audience award for Best International Feature at the Los Angeles Film Festival and was a hit at last week’s SXSW conference in Austin.

The current group ranges in age from 72 to 88, many with professional and semi-professional performing credits in their pasts. Their website contains a short bio of each member along with other background information. Over the years, they have performed many kinds of music; the documentary is all rock ‘n’ roll.

Here’s an interview with some of the Chorus members (3:01 minutes):

YouTube has the movie trailer and a whole lot more music video clips. These will get you up and moving, and reminded that you’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Celia Jones recalls her introduction to college at one of the most politically active school in the U.S., in Initiation to UC Berkeley Circa 1966.]

Online Electronic Health Records

category_bug_journal2.gif Medical errors could be reduced, efficiency could be enhanced and costs reduced if physicians and hospitals stored patient health records electronically. Nevertheless, medical and health facilities have been slow adopters and so far, there hasn’t been much forward motion to standardize the technologies and software that do exist.

Even though the health industry, the federal government and EHR (Electronic Health Records) proponents have discussed electronic storage for years, most of what can be found on the web are mind-numbing papers and reports that could interest only a policy wonk. And little has been done.

Into this breach have leapt corporate technology behemoths Microsoft and Google. Microsoft’s HealthVault is online now and GoogleHealth is expected to launch at mid-year.

In an effort to see for myself what these websites look like and how they operate, I intended to create an account at HealthVault. I was thwarted by the requirement to use only Microsoft’s proprietary Windows Live ID. I once signed up for it, so I tried to log in but had forgotten my password. Following the instructions twice to recover it by email (this was on Saturday), I am still waiting this morning for Microsoft’s message to arrive.

I’m all for tight security, particularly on a health records website, but this is going too far, and Microsoft doesn’t give a lot of information about HealthVault without an account. Generally, it appears, you can upload health records and use certain health monitoring devices to upload readings. And, you can give access to physicians, family and others you select.

From what I can tell without an account, Microsoft’s HealthVault is a free service. Google, which is currently running a beta test with the Cleveland Clinic, has announced that some features will require a paid subscription.

Online health records services are controversial, particularly in regard to security. It is not encouraging to read that when Google announced GoogleHealth and was questioned about the possibility of an employer firing a worker after finding health records online, Google advisor and CEO of non-profit HealthTech, Dr. Molly Coye, replied,

"But those are human actions. They have nothing to do with the technology."
- USA Today, 26 February 2008

Perhaps Dr. Coye should stick to medicine; the whole idea is that technology be secure enough to prevent unauthorized access and adverse “human actions.”

With a bit of searching, I discovered WorldMedCard, another health records service that is free, HIPAA compliant (which neither Microsoft nor Google mention, that I can find) and is owned by VR Surgeon, Inc. about which I can find no information.

But it is helpful, if you don’t have a Microsoft Live ID, to get an idea of what the online record storage system might look like. The site has a good set of screenshots from a link on the home page which you can view without an account.

For convenience, safety, cost containment and efficiency, EHR is an idea whose time is long past due but as much as I'd like to have all my scattered records in one place, nothing I’ve read convinces me that online storage is secure enough yet for me to participate.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean tells of learning a new skill at age 50 in Esther Williams Revered.]

This Week in Elder News: 15 March 2008

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the precedng week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

Further on my Ism Campaign post of a couple of days ago, the Boston Globe published an op-ed on the same issue. According to an instructor the writer quotes, it is “age” [more than race, gender or class] “that most defines both a person's own sense of identity and the way others view them.” It’s a thoughtful piece, worth your time to read.

Pursuant to our frequent discussions on TGB about elders, technology and lifelong learning, Nathan Lowell of Phaedrus blog, recently posted a YouTube video about being a 21st century learner. Take a look.

Are you keeping up with national news? The Pew Research Center has a quick, little quiz with which you can compare your score with the averages of various demographics.

A new British study suggests that a good time to quit smoking is upon retirement. 42.5 per cent of those who had recently retired had quit smoking, compared with 29.3 per cent of those still employed and 30.2 per cent for those who were already retired.

Harris Interactive polls is surprised that 56 percent of Americans never read political blogs. I’m not surprised, if the implication is that 44 percent do, although that’s not clear. Elders are the largest consumers of political blogs, with 26 percent of those 63 and older reading them. (Hat tip to Mary Jamison)

In the greater scheme of things and trillion dollar budgets, it’s not a big deal except that it illustrates the administration’s love affair with the rich on the backs of everyone else. A proposal to cut estate taxes on the .03 richest percentage of Americans will cost taxpayers $200 billion over ten years.

More than 12 million people have watched Yes We Can, a video by of The Black Eyed Peas. With lyrics taken directly from Senator Barack Obama’s New Hampshire concession speech, it is beautifully produced, good music and an inspiring message we can all buy into whomever we choose to vote for.

Quote of the week:

"The tragedy of the United States, thus far in this century, is not the crack-up of an empire, which we never knew what to do with in the first place, but the collapse of the idea of the citizen as someone autonomous whose private life is not subject to orders from above."
- Gore Vidal

Elder Technology Use

According to a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

  • 75 percent of all Americans own a cell phone or personal data assistant (PDA)
  • 58 percent of adults have used a cell phone or PDA for at least one of ten non-voice activities

Those non-voice, wireless activities include email, texting, photos, web-surfing, playing music, playing a game, watching a video, getting directions or a map, instant messaging and recording a video.

The numbers, 75 percent and 58 percent, show how deeply wireless communication has penetrated the population, but they drop dramatically for older demographics. While 85 percent of 18-29 year olds have sent or received text messages, only 11 percent of people 65 and older have. And although 34 percent of the youngest group have recorded a video on a wireless device, only 3 percent of elders have. You can see graphic representations of all the stats in the Pew report [pdf].

Still, it is heartening to know that 29 percent of online users 65 and older have logged on away from work or home using a wireless laptop.

While elders lag behind young folks in adoption of technology, the numbers are remarkable when you remember that people older than 65 did not grow up with technology as the 20-somethings have and often, too, they retired before computers, cell phones, etc. were ubiquitous at work. They’ve had to teach themselves, sometimes with help from their adult children or grandchildren, but often not.

The most fun part of the survey asked which technologies would be very hard to give up. Among the 18-29 set, cell phones came in first at 62 percent; only 37 percent of those 65 and older agreed. The device hardest for elders to give up would be a landline telephone, 60 percnt, while only 25 percent of the youngest group cared about that.


I ditched my landline telephone several years ago and live with VoIP and a cell phone now. If I had to choose one, I’d take the cell phone. I like television for news and for entertainment when I’m tired, although I could easily turn it off permanently. But email and the internet are like heat and hot water; I could get by without them in extreme circumstances for short periods of time, but they are now essential to my daily life. What about you?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek will undoubtedly get a lot of clicks on My Sex Life in the Army.]

The Ism Campaign

category_bug_ageism.gif Many people deny that ageism is as serious as sexism and racism, even some elders. And so, in a primary campaign that has given us one candidate for each ism, there is an opportunity to see how sensitivities play out.

Racism has been the most volatile. This week, Clinton supporter and 1984 vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Farraro, told a reporter that Senator Barack Obama would not be where he is today if he were not black. Then she repeated it several times.

When Obama’s campaign objected to Ferraro’s statement, Senator Clinton’s campaign manager, Maggie Williams (who is black) turned the tables, insinuating that it is Senator Obama, in his campaign’s response to Ferraro, and not Senator Clinton who is playing the race card by reneging on his word not to play the race card in the campaign. (Are you following this?)

Now Ferraro, standing her ground on her statement, has resigned from the Clinton campaign and Senator Clinton said yesterday that she "regrets, rejects and repudiates" Ferraro's words (although she didn't mention Williams' statement).

Of course, this is not the first instance of the race issue in the campaign. We have seen open and sly racial references from the beginning, including the release of a photo of Senator Obama wearing native garb in Africa even though it is hard to understand why this photo should have a negative impact. The Clinton campaign is widely believed to have leaked the photo, but it is good to keep in mind that no one knows that for certain. And there is a flourishing email crusade meant to scare off voters claiming that Senator Obama is a secret Muslim - another, more acceptable kind of racism.

A stroll around the web via the search engines reveals a lot of conversation about the gender issue. Senator Clinton is too tough, not tough enough, too shrill, is polarizing, power hungry and - she wears pantsuits. Senator Obama has been accused of demeaning Senator Clinton by holding her chair at debates.

Many feminist leaders have been insisting that this is an historic moment and a woman’s vote for anyone but Clinton is heresy. The negative response has been equally vehement and erupts about every two weeks.

A couple of days ago Germaine Greer, who has a long-term record of disagreeing with other feminist leaders, lashed out at Senator Clinton, saying she wouldn’t be where she is if not for her husband.

Senator John McCain has taken just as many hits for his age as the other two candidates have on race and gender issues. He’ll fall asleep in meetings, they say, or in one particularly vicious attack, that he’s so old he can’t even raise his arms high enough to comb his own hair. Well, no, he can’t comb his hair. But that infirmity is due to injuries when he was tortured in Vietnam, something that could happen at any age.

So it is clear that in political circles, people and campaigns are willing to appeal to voters’ basest prejudices in all three isms to win an election.

However, there is one area of the culture that has succeeded in banning bigotry – humor - but only for two-thirds of the isms. Race and gender jokes are taboo, but McCain is regularly ridiculed for his age:

“Mr. Leno and his counterparts have been merciless with Mr. McCain, peppering their monologues with digs about dementia, pills, prostates and Miracle Ears. In a nightly schtick, David Letterman compares Mr. McCain to ‘the old guy in the barbershop,’ ‘a mall-walker,’ ‘a Wal-Mart greeter’ and more. Conan O’Brien said recently, ‘After John McCain swept yesterday’s primaries, he purposely stole a line Barack Obama’s been using: I’m fired up and ready to go. When Obama heard this, he stole a line McCain’s been using: I’m old and not sure where I am.’”
- The New York Times, 9 March 2008

Where comedians dare not go in regard to Senator Obama’s race or Senator Clinton’s gender, Senator McCain’s age is fair game.

The Times story seems to be of two minds. On one hand, the writer appears to be scolding comedians for using McCain's age as joke fodder and on the other, quotes several people who defend ageist jokes on the hoary grounds that everyone gets old and that McCain has asked for it by publicly stating he is “old as dirt.”

There was a time a few decades ago when racist and dumb blonde jokes were commonplace. The civil rights and women’s movements made demeaning people’s color and gender unacceptable. And the world is a better place for it (notwithstanding the Democrats' campaign misbehavior).

But here we are, 40 years later and David Letterman feels free to let go with something similar to this every night:

"John McCain seems reinvigorated. He has a new campaign slogan, 'He'll lead you into the 21st century.' I like it better than the old slogan, which was 'He'll lead you into assisted living.'"

Jay Leno summed it up on one show I happened to see:

“You can’t criticize Hillary. Ooh, that’s sexism. You can’t criticize Barack. Ooh, that’s racism. And you can’t go after McCain because that’s elder abuse.”

As though that's a problem for him. And the audience laughed.

[Hat tip to Chancy of driftwood inspiration]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon McKinney gives us a remarkable rendition of her day in Wednesday Concerto.]

Exploiting Retired Elders

category_bug_ageism.gif Now here’s an employment idea whose time, apparently, has come: recruit retired company employees, put them back to work and don’t pay them.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that one of the oldest technology companies, HP, is trying to lure up to 40,000 of their retirees to work voluntarily as marketers, “good-will ambassadors,” and as sales people in such stores as Circuit City extolling the virtues of HP products. And, they are succeeding.

“The company said participation is the reward. ‘It’s about being part of the HP community and its rich heritage,’ said [chief marketing officer, Michael] Mendenhall. ‘That’s what they get.’”

“Rich heritage”, that is, for HP executives. According to the company’s 2008 proxy statement [pdf] (page 46), the CEO’s current, annual pay package including stocks, options and other benefits is $25,254,000. Executive vice presidents’ annual salaries-plus-benefits range from $3,742,000 to $15,676,000.

Recruiting a 40,000-person freebie workforce compensates nicely for the 30,000 paid employees who have been laid off from HP in the past five years, leaving one to wonder how much the board will increase executive pay for the next fiscal year, in gratitude for finding a way to maintain the company's employee base while eliminating those pesky salaries that plague the bottom line.

Incredibly, retired employees are going along with giving away their knowledge and experience.

“It makes [the retirees] feel good, makes them feel part of it, makes them feel wanted,” said [62-year-old] Mr. [John] Toppel, who spent 31 years at Hewlett-Packard and now is a professor of management at the business school at Santa Clara University.”

At the other end of the age scale, unpaid corporate internships were mostly eliminated a decade or more ago. If high school and college kids with no work experience are entitled to a salary, why is it okay to mine decades of expertise from elders without pay? Dare one call this the ultimate ageism?

The Times story doesn’t say if other companies have jumped on HP’s exploit-the-elders move. If they haven’t, they undoubtedly soon will now that HP had successfully taken the lead. How is it right for a publicly-traded corporation to increase profits with the unpaid labor of old people, and what are those go-along elders thinking?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Grannie Annie relates a scary tale in Gypsy Cab Ride.]

The Britney Lohan Campaign

The overblown dramatics by the Democratic presidential candidates and their spokespersons in the day-to-day primary season have no meaning. One gotcha blends into another within the period of a single news cycle as Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama try to turn flea bites into body-blows. Unless a smoking gun turns up (doubtful), none of it will ultimately matter if for no other reason than voters can’t remember all the trash talk.

The best idea is to ignore the ritual invective, but as a life-long, card-carrying political junkie, Crabby Old Lady is loath to enter rehab. So, while marveling at the pettiness of the peevish affronts and faux indignation from both candidates, she reads and listens for patterns, consistencies and contradictions in the candidates' overall behavior and rhetoric.

So far, Obama has a slight edge for his inclusive “we” to Clinton’s egotistical “I” (Crabby counted 46 in one Clinton speech), but neither candidate has said anything yet that impresses Crabby.

Clinton’s wonky policy proposals are beginning to force Obama into some of his own, but any candidate who gives us a detailed prescription for solving any of the nation’s frightening problems is being disingenuous. Events move quickly in our 21st century world, circumstances can change overnight and no one can predict what they will be in January 2009, or that they won’t be different in February 2009.

Crabby Old Lady is looking for leadership that is skillful, persuasive and flexible, someone who speaks to the terrible troubles we face as a country, and tells us what it will take to fix them which means - yes it’s going to hurt, none of it will be easy and it will involve each citizen as well as government.

Crabby wants to hear those words from candidates – then she will know they have something more to them than personal ambition - a quality necessary to win an election, but which must be left outside the White House door to accomplish anything good.

Candidates can be specific in laying out their goals for the United States without producing 80-page, footnoted position papers that will be outdated by inauguration day. It’s not hard.

Crabby would be heartened to hear Clinton and Obama (and McCain) say:

  • the Constitution has been trashed and must be restored

  • the U.S. has supported and committed torture and it must end

  • the economy has been wrecked by the power elite in both government and corporate America and that greed will stop, regulations will be enforced

  • the Iraq War has been a disaster and we need a way out while acknowledging that we bear responsibility for bombing that country back to Ur

  • universal healthcare is a human right and we’ll find a way to provide it

  • our infrastructure - bridges, roads, water, sewer systems - will be fixed

  • No Child Left Behind will be canceled and we’ll figure out how to improve our schools

  • unwarranted searches and surveillance of citizens will stop

  • there will be no more fooling around about the environment

  • a fair solution will be found for immigration

  • government ethics legislation will have real teeth

  • separation of church and state will be restored

  • every last political hack (thousands of them) appointed by the Bush administration to government agencies will be fired, replaced with non-partisan competents

  • earmarks will disappear entirely from legislation – let them be properly legislated

  • the wealthy elite have had it their way long enough, reaping collective trillions of dollars on the backs of the middle and lower classes and now it is their turn to pay it back

There is so much the candidates could talk about instead of giving exact dates for a pullout from Iraq, bickering over who said what about NAFTA to Canada along with declarations of who is best qualified to take a 3AM phone call. Crabby knows and you know that no one is.

The United States is overflowing with talent and expertise in all the fields of knowledge required to deal with the problems above and the others Crabby didn’t name. Few, when called to serve their government by a president, refuse. These are the people who can craft and implement solutions, and Crabby doesn’t need detailed roadmaps now. She needs to know that the candidates are aware of the problems and intend to do their best to find answers that are fair for the majority of the population regardless of money or position.

Further, it is the candidates who control what the media report. If Clinton, Obama and their spokespersons would consistently speak to the issues above, the media would have no option but to follow along.

Oh, sure, they’d continue polling and reporting the horserace, but far less if the candidates refused those questions, talked about real issues and gave the voters not specific solutions (no one person is smart enough to have all the answers) but a sense of the direction in which they are thinking.

Crabby Old Lady is starving to death on the political equivalent of Britney Lohan news.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia turns an Afternoon Stroll into a charming story.]

Elderbloggers List Additions

[EGO NOTE: Tonight, beginning at 11PM ET (8PM PT), Miki Davis will interview me on her Mountain Mama Radio show (don't you love the name). Miki is one of us, a 71-year-old elder, and you can listen at her website or at the internet radio station's site by clicking the "Listen Live" button on either home page. An archive of the show will be available in a day or two.]

Part of the rainy weekend (thank God it wasn't snow again) was spent adding 27 new links to the Elderbloggers List. There are now 274 blogs over there in the left sidebar, an increase with this update of about eleven percent.

The newly listed are identified with a bullet ( • ) in front of the blog name and well worth your time.

As an educated guess, there are hundreds of thousands of elderblogs and many additional elders who read and comment but do not keep blogs themselves. Obviously, this list does not come close, nor will it ever, to being representative, but each is carefully selected for quality and I recommend them all. They are as different in design, style and topics addressed as people are different; what they have in common is excellence in presentation and thought.

Blogging is an ideal pastime for elders, even more, I think, than for people of younger ages. It keeps our minds sharp, allows us to share our stories - of yesteryear and today - and expands our social networks at a time in life when it's not so easy to meet new people. After five years of blogging, about half the friends I hold most dear have been met through blogging, and physical distance does not make them less so.

In the past couple of years, the word "elderbloggers" has become almost mainstream, used to reference us in media stories and as much an identifier as mommybloggers, political bloggers, food bloggers and tech bloggers. You can help spread the word by posting an elderblogger badge like the one in the right sidebar on your blog. Badges and instructions are here.

This seems a good time to remind everyone of the Where Elders Blog feature where you will find photos of many elderbloggers’ workspaces. It’s a load of fun to click through and see where people you read and comment with create their posts, and the photos add a little to our knowledge and understanding of one another.

It would be terrific to have some more photos and I'm sure your blog friends would like to see your computer area. Here are instructions on how to to add yours. It's easy - you email the photo; I do the rest. Commenters without blogs are welcome too.

Frank Paynter of listics felt a bit embarrassed about how messy his desk was in the original photo he sent. Since then, he’s cleaned up and recently forwarded a new photo so we can see the before-and-after effect.

You can always find a link to the Where Elders Blog section on the right sidebar under TGB Features.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sharon McKinney explains how she endured an airport delay in It's All About Attitude.]

The Elder Storytelling Place

The vault of new stories at The Elder Storytelling Place is again running low. If you have contributed in the past, surely you have more to tell us. If you have not yet contributed, many readers await your tales of love and life and pain and sorrow, of what you have learned and how you have laughed. Here, perhaps, is some inspiration:

"I think that instinct, that storytelling instinct, rescued me most of my life."
- Armistead Maupin
"There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."
- Ursula K. LeGuin
"Story is far older than the art of science and psychology, and will always be the elder in the equation no matter how much time passes."
- Clarissa Pinkola Estes
"People are hungry for stories. It's part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another."
- Studs Terkel
"Their story, yours and mine - it's what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them."
- William Carlos Williams
"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you."
- Maya Angelou