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The Drums of War

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Funny how time flies by when you're not watching (or even when you are). Four months ago, Laurie Pawlik-Keinlin interviewed me, among others, for a story in Woman's Day about aging. You can see the slide show beginning here.]

category_bug_politics.gif This story has been sitting in my "maybe file" for several weeks. I probably would have ignored it as questionable political chatter except for a direct quote from a leader in a volatile region of the world and that the White House has been ominously silent about what appears to me to be more than the “hint” some reporters have labeled it.

When I took several hours on Sunday to see if there has been any additional reporting about it, the consequences – more dead soldiers and innocents, more billions of U.S. dollars unavailable for needs at home, possible nuclear disaster – became alarming.

I first read the quote in a story by Chris Hedges published at truthdig on 8 June. Ray McGovern repeated it in an AlterNet story on 20 June which was reprinted the same day at Information Clearing House. Apparently, it was first reported on 5 June, by Israel National News. Others, including al Jazeera, have reported it based on Hedges’ story, and Bill Ingram, in his blog on Senator Barack Obama’s official campaign site mentioned it without comment.

But I haven’t been able to locate the quote in any mainstream press including The New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN.

The quotation in question is a statement to reporters by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert following his 90-minute meeting at the White House with President Bush on 4 June. [Emphasis in all quotes below has been added]

“We reached agreement on the need to take care of the Iranian threat. I left with a lot less question marks [than I had entered with] regarding the means, the timetable restrictions, and American resoluteness to deal with the problem.

“George Bush understands the severity of the Iranian threat and the need to vanquish it, and intends to act on that matter before the end of his term in the White House.

What is alarming, in addition to Olmert's certainty, is that with fewer than seven months remaining in President Bush's term of office, there is not time for the complicated diplomatic negotiations necessary to resolve such an issue with countries as formidably and historically opposed to one another as Iran and Israel.

On the same day, following the meeting between the president and prime minister, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley fumphed his way through a question at a White House press briefing with familiar blather and no substance.

Q: Has the Prime Minister urged the President to take military action against Iran before leaving office?
MR. HADLEY: Obviously Iran is a subject that comes up all the time, and I think one of the things that you've seen over the last six months, or saw, and I think you saw it on the President's two trips to the Middle East, is increasing concern about Iran and the threat that a nuclear-armed Iran could pose to stability and - in the Middle East, and to the cause of, quite frankly, freedom, democracy, and fighting against terror.

It is a problem that people are increasingly concerned about. And I think the formula that we have all discussed is we need to increase pressure on Iran - and that can take various forms - and at the same time, offer Iran an opportunity, if it is willing, to suspend, come to a negotiation, and enter into and accept the offer that has been tendered to it that would result in a lot of benefits for the people of Iran. And that's where we are.

It is a diplomatic strategy. As the President has said many times, all options are on the table. But the focus of the efforts of the international community and the United States is on trying to achieve that diplomatic strategy.

Further information, published in the Israel National News story, but not in the U.S. publications mentioned above, is this:

“Olmert, in a speech earlier this week to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy forum, said that the Iranian threat ‘must be stopped by all possible means.’ He said sanctions are ‘only an initial step’ and that there is ‘no doubt as to the urgent need for more drastic and robust measures.’"

Then there was this report on 25 June in the Irish Independent (one must search far afield sometimes to find out what’s going on), headlined “Speculation Grows of Raid on Iran's Nuclear Sites”:

“The head of America's armed forces will make a hastily arranged visit to Israel this week, fuelling speculation about a possible Washington-sanctioned Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear programme.

“Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, will use a rest day during a tour of Europe to meet Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, his Israeli opposite number, with the Iranian nuclear question at the top of the agenda...

“Israel would require tacit US military approval for an attack on Iran, because America controls the Iraqi airspace through which Israeli jets would likely pass if they mounted an assault.”

And on Saturday, an Indymedia story headlined, “More Signs of Israeli-US Preparations for Attacking Iran”, added this information:

“The visit by US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen to Israel yesterday is one more indication that the two countries are actively discussing a military strike on Iran.

"Mullen’s trip followed news that the Israeli air force carried out a major exercise earlier this month involving 100 fighter jets, backed by midair fuel tankers and rescue helicopters, flying some 1,500 kilometres [932 miles] westward over the Mediterranean Sea, roughly the same distance as eastward from Israel to Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

It's hard to believe Mr. Hadley's "diplomatic strategy" is "on the table" when chief military officers are meeting in person in the wake of recent war games.

Last Friday, syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan offered this opinion:

“William Kristol of The Weekly Standard said Sunday [22 June] a U.S. attack on Iran after the election is more likely should Barack Obama win. Presumably, Bush would trust John McCain to keep Iran nuclear free.

“Yet, to start a third war in the Middle East against a nation three times as large as Iraq, and leave it to a new president to fight, would be a daylight hijacking of the congressional war power and a criminally irresponsible act. For Congress alone has the power to authorize war.

“Yet Israel is even today pushing Bush into a pre-emptive war with a naked threat to attack Iran itself should Bush refuse the cup.”

Does it bother anyone else that this information is found in independent U.S. and international media with hardly a word outside Pat Buchanan’s (!) column in the mainstream press and cable news that most Americans use. Shouldn't a president, at this stage in developments, be laying his case before Congress and the people? And shouldn't drums of a new war be front-page news everywhere?

As a reminder, here again is Prime Minister Olmert’s statement. It is doubtful Mr Olmert would have been made it without White House approval and it has not been denied by the White House:

“We reached agreement on the need to take care of the Iranian threat. I left with a lot less question marks [than I had entered with] regarding the means, the timetable restrictions, and American resoluteness to deal with the problem.

“George Bush understands the severity of the Iranian threat and the need to vanquish it, and intends to act on that matter before the end of his term in the White House.”

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Darlene Costner tells a funny tale of grandfatherly ineptitude in Grandpa Redux.]

This Week in Elder News: 28 June 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.

I've been a George Carlin fan since he began standup comedy decades ago. Of course, it helps that mostly he said things out loud that I'd been thinking privately and there's hardly any riff of his I disagree with. We lost a great truth-teller last week, and I'm not sure there's anyone to take his place. Here's a short Carlin piece on euphemisms for aging and death. (Hat tip to Nancy Leitz)

"Older" sounds a little better than "old," doesn't it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer. I'm getting old. And it's OK. Because thanks to our fear of death in this country I won't have to die - I'll "pass away." Or I'll "expire," like a magazine subscription.

If it happens in the hospital they'll call it a "terminal episode." The insurance company will refer to it as "negative patient care outcome." And if it's the result of malpractice, they'll say it was a "therapeutic misadventure."

You become 21, turn 30, push 40, reach 50 and make it to 60. You've built up so much speed that you hit 70! After that, it's a day-by-day thing: you hit Wednesday! You get into your 80s and every day is a complete cycle. You hit lunch; you turn 4:30; you reach bedtime.

And it doesn't end there. Into the 90s, you start going backwards: "I was just 92." Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. "I'm 100-and-a-half!" May you all make it to a healthy 100-and-a-half.

Let's not depart from George Carlin too quickly today. This recent piece, The American Dream, is Carlin at his politically angry best. [4:49 minutes] (Hat tip to Darlene Costner)

Following on Carlin's American Dream, on Thursday 39 Senate Republicans blocked a bill - H.R.6331, which had passed overwhelming in the House - that would have prevented a 10.6 percent cut in reimbursements to physicians who accept Medicare patients.

The reason? Money for maintaining the pay level would have been taken from subsidies paid to insurance companies that sell Medicare Advantage (i.e. Medicare privatization) programs. Those subsidies cost taxpayers 13-plus percent more than it would cost traditional Medicare for the same beneficiaries.

Undoubtedly some of the 600,000 doctors who accept Medicare patients will stop doing so. Just what the country needs as the baby boomers soon begin reaching the age to qualify for Medicare. More here.

We all know that walking is excellent exercise for elders, but some places make it easier than others. Now you can find out how "walkable" your neighborhood is at WalkScore. On a scale of 0-100, my score here on Munjoy Hill in Portland, Maine, is 68. My previous address in New York City gets 100. How does your neighborhood rank?

I've been bothered for a long time that I use too many plastic bags. To cut down, I recently bought some re-usable grocery bags, but I accept plastic bags at some shops because they are good - even essential - for one chore: scooping out the cat litter box. I hadn't found a better solution - until now.

I discovered biodegradable dog waste bags made from corn starch. You can buy them at pet supply websites and stores (here's one brand; there are others). The manufacturers and retailers haven't yet twigged to the fact that they are good for litter box cleanup, so you need to look in the dog section. I've found all kinds of kitchen uses for them too.

No link associated with this item, just a question about which I'm genuinely puzzled. Senator Barack Obama held a fundraiser last week asking large-money donors to contribute to paying off Senator Hillary Clinton's $20 million primary campaign debt.

Even though the debt includes at least $11 million of Clinton's own money that she chose to spend on her campaign, political pundits mostly agree that paying Clinton's debt is the right thing for Obama and donors to do.

Am I nuts to think that Democratic dollars would be better spent on the Democratic presidential campaign and that if Senator Clinton owes more money than she raised, it is her personal debt? If I am nuts to think this, here's a deal for you: I overdid my credit card a bit last month and could use some help paying it off.

Many of the 47 million Americans without healthcare coverage are children, a condition few would deny needs to be rectified. On the other hand, maybe not. Here is a report from The Onion with new information you may not have considered. [1:35 minutes] (Hat tip to Lia of Yum Yum Cafe)

Adjusting to Changes

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

It's a strange and wonderful time to be gay. And it can seem a particularly strange time if you're an elder. Most of us who are over 60 lived at least some part of our lives in semi-voluntary invisibility or, if we chose to allow our sexual orientation to show, feared rejection and stigma.

Yes, there has been an LGBT civil rights movement since the 1950s, a movement that gained momentum in the 1960s and never looked back. Lots of us "came out." But it wasn't easy. As recently as 2004, eleven states voted to ban same sex marriages - and in 2006, seven more followed. Then this spring the California Supreme Court ruled that forbidding same sex marriages was illegal discrimination within that state.

And all of a sudden, popular opinion seems to have taken a discontinuous leap. A Gallup-USA Today poll published June 3 reports that nationally 63 percent of us believe that "government should not regulate whether gays and lesbians can marry the people they choose, a survey finds." As far as a majority is concerned, gay marriage (and presumably a responsible gay life) is on its way to being seen as a self-evident individual privacy right.

There are still holdouts of course - and for an elder, the Gallup-USA Today picture is uncomfortable: approval of same sex marriage wins "among all ages except 65 and older: among younger groups, the results are: 18 to 29 (79%), 30 to 49 (65%), 50 to 64% (62%) and 65 and older (44%)."

Our age peers are finding change harder than the younger set. The social attitudes of our generation are being pushed aside. Anna Quindlen writes in Newsweek:

"The opposition is aging out."

Is this really because, as a group, older people have a harder time dealing with the unfamiliar? Perhaps. But I am sure the answer is more nuanced than just that we are bunch of stick-in-the-muds.

Just for fun, I'd liked to suggest a little experiment. Play this YouTube version of an ad from the United Kingdom. It's short and completely work safe. (:28 seconds)

Then, if you are willing, share your reactions in the comments. Do you like it? Did you laugh? If it makes you uncomfortable, can you share why?

The British advertiser pulled the ad after less than a week, after receiving numerous complaints. I doubt U.S. networks would have run it at all. But maybe I'm wrong.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia tells a story of satisfying comeuppance we can all cheer in Collective Critical Censorship.]

The Frugal Elder

Wow! What a lot of good advice from many people on Tuesday’s post about how to get by in hard economic times. There is so much that I started organizing the comments into categories for myself and thought you might benefit from it too. Obviously, elders know what they’re talking about when it comes to frugality.

Not all suggestions are practical or possible for everyone and you, as I discovered of myself, have probably never stopped doing some of these. But I’ve generally applied it haphazardly and now, all these ideas together have reminded me to be more vigilant and purposeful. There is a lot of money to be saved by using as many of these ideas as possible, along with a different and crucial benefit you'll find at the end of this list.

Apologies for not crediting each of you for your ideas and suggestions. There are just too many, but you’ll find the names and their blog links in the comments section of the original post.

It is likely, reading this list, that you’ll be reminded of more money-saving tips. Please leave them in the comments. Everyone can use all the help we can get.


  • Keep a garden/grow fruits and vegetables

  • Freeze or can the herbs, vegetables and fruits you grow

  • Keep chickens for eggs and for food (unless you’ve named the chickens and can’t bring yourself to kill them)

  • Restore the idea of potluck dinners with friends and neighbors

  • Buy local, eat seasonally

  • Reserve one dinner a week for leftovers

  • Buy on sale or in bulk and freeze

  • Bake your own bread and make your own noodles

  • Cook in smaller amounts so you don’t waste food, and/or

  • Cook in big batches and freeze individual meals

  • Buy generics at the supermarket

Energy Usage

  • In some cases, a wood stove is a cheaper heating option than fuel oil or electricity

  • Keep a list and drive to the market and other errands only once every week or even two

  • Unplug such appliances as hair dryers, toasters, coffee makers, etc. when not in use to keep them from sucking electricity

  • Use CFL light bulbs (the twisty ones) instead of incandescent; they are more expensive at first, but use much less electricity and last many times longer

  • Use the microwave or toaster oven whenever possible instead of the stove oven

  • Run the dishwasher only when full or only once a week

  • Turn down the heat in winter and wear a sweater

  • Turn up the temperature in summer to use less electricity for the air conditioner

  • Buy a hybrid car

  • Install energy-efficient windows and appliances

  • Install a tankless water heater, or

  • Keep the water heater unplugged until an hour before you need hot water

  • Turn out the lights when you leave a room

  • Dry clothes on a line outdoors instead of using the dryer

  • Use public transportation whenever possible

  • Bicycle instead of driving


  • Ditch cable television, watch more PBS and use Netflix

  • Download television shows and movies directly to your computer and then use an S-cable to hook it up to your television

  • Check local listings for summertime free concerts, festivals and other performances

  • Buy books at second-hand shops

  • Buy books at second-hand online shops

  • Try

  • Use the library

  • Look for senior discounts at movie theaters

Clothing, Personal and Household Needs

  • Shop at Goodwill, The Salvation Army and other thrift shops

  • Let your hair go gray and save the cost of the hair salon

  • Use vinegar and baking soda instead of expensive cleaning products

  • Become acquainted with local dollar stores

  • Check out yard sales

  • Make your own soap and laundry detergent


  • Share your home and household expenses with relatives or friends

  • Sell unneeded and unwanted items

  • Cut back on restaurant eating

  • Cut back on cellphone use

  • When you must spend, buy high-quality so it lasts

  • Learn simple car maintenance like oil changing

  • If you can’t pay cash, don’t buy it

  • Save credit cards for travel and emergencies

  • Find a part-time job you can do at home

  • Pay bills online and save the postage

  • Don’t forget to smile

Contribute to local food banks when you can for others who have less than you do. Help out friends, relatives and neighbors who need it, and from Marian Van Eyk McCain of ElderWomanBlog, remember:

“…just as Gary White suggests in his comment, there's deeper and more lasting satisfaction to be gained from living simply and frugally than there is in being able to afford everything you want. And the bonus side-effect of everybody downshifting to a sustainable lifestyle is that we get to keep the planet.” [emphasis added]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek tells a small-world story in The Man Who Attended My Father's Bris.]

A Childhood Memory Found

category_bug_journal2.gif As long-time readers of this blog know, it broke my heart when, two years ago, I was forced to leave New York City for a less expensive place to live. Portland, Maine, has good things to recommend it – I especially like the quiet - but there is much I miss about New York.

Most of all, I miss walking - walking long distances, miles every day to do all the normal errands of life. Here in Portland, I drive to do everything and I must make appointments with myself to walk. I’m not good at walking without a goal and a destination.

Instead of going ten blocks out of my way and back, as in New York, because I suddenly wanted to see what’s going on in Washington Square Park or if there was a street fair on Christopher Street, I ask myself if I’ve walked enough yet and can I (puh-leeze) go home now.

I grew up in Oregon, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to live in Manhattan - an odd desire for a five-year-old living on the west coast in a family that had no connection with nor had ever visited New York. I’ve attributed it to a record album my parents had titled, Manhattan Tower, which I wrote about here several years ago.

But there is another childhood artifact that must have had some influence, a photo book titled, Peg and Pete See New York about a boy and girl who visit the sights of the big city. The text is in rhyme and at some point, I knew it all by heart. Regarding the main branch of the library:

Two great big lions sit at the door
They never move, they never roar

Over the years, I’ve occasionally looked for the book – even the New York Public Library didn’t have it – and found it at last online a couple of weeks ago. I was astonished, when the book arrived, at how familiar the photos were, even after 60 years or so. I must have pored over them a zillion times as a kid.

There was nothing as exotic as double-decker buses in Portland, Oregon, and I remember wanting so much to know what it was like to ride so high above the streets on the top level. By the time I got to New York as an adult in 1969, I was disappointed that the double-deckers were gone.


There’s an old one-liner about New York City: “It will be a great place if they ever get it finished,” and indeed, it is hard to keep up. For example, you can discover a great restaurant you hadn’t known before and when you extravagantly brag about your find and take a friend there two weeks later, it’s gone with a shoe shop or tattoo parlor in its place.

But some things don’t change. Prometheus at Rockefeller Center was a destination for Peg and Pete and he’s still there today in all his gilded glory.


I don’t remember that the subway photo impressed me much as a kid, but the subway itself was my friend in New York, zipping me to and fro around town without the hassle of street traffic. And it looks almost the same now as it did in 1939, when the book was published.


I do remember closely studying this photo of Peg and Pete in Chinatown and wishing it showed more of the neighborhood. Later, it became one of my favorite walks, from Greenwich Village, where I lived, through SoHo and Little Italy to Chinatown. I did a lot of grocery shopping there because the same fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry are about half of uptown prices, and a friend told me just a couple of weeks ago that he does all his shopping there now because of the good prices.


The final photo in the book is Peg waving goodbye. The accompanying rhyme says:

Peg’s sorry she must leave today;
She wishes she could stay - and – stay.


Me too. I wish I could have stayed in New York. But these days I think I’m remembering “my city” in the 1970s and 80s when it hadn’t yet become a town only for the rich. By the time I left, even ordinary necessities and small pleasures had become unaffordable for most people.

Still, I miss my daily walks there.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Leah Aronoff explains a language glitch in her poem, Japan in a Word or Two.]

Surviving Hard Times

As of yesterday, according to Gallup, only five percent of Americans hold a positive view of the economy. (They’re probably all hedge fund managers.) Fifteen percent of us have a mixed view and 79 percent think the economy has gone to hell.

That’s not exactly how Gallup words it. “Negative” is their mild take, and mine is more polite than I feel. But however you say it, there are few of us who aren’t hurting financially.

Gas prices get the headlines, but have you been to the market lately? A good bread is nearly $4.00. My favorite morning coffee blend is up 20 percent. A head of romaine lettuce set me back $2.99 last week. And it’s a damned good thing I don’t care much for beef, pork or veal. Even my staple protein, chicken, is so expensive that I buy two or three and freeze them when there is the occasional 99 cents-a-pound sale.

My favorite summer fruits, blackberries and raspberries, are $3.99 a half pint - I won’t be gorging on those this season. The first apricots were in the store yesterday. I can’t remember what the price was, but it was so shocking, I passed them by.

I have only myself to feed - well, the cat too (don’t ask what’s happened to the price of his food), but I approach grocery shopping these days with a heavy heart and a too-light pocketbook.

And it’s not just food. Or, perhaps, it’s because of food and gas prices that I have come to carefully consider every potential purchase, no matter how small. I am particularly skittish right now, waiting to hear from the oil company what my heating fuel will cost next winter. There is a certain pair of summer silk pants I want, but I’ve put off buying them.

All this has led me to try to recall how people got through hard times in the past.

Although I never felt deprived as kid and certainly never hungry, I realize now how my parents stretched their short supply of dollars in a hundred small ways. They kept the heat turned low and when I said I was cold, my mother told me to put on a sweater. One way she bulked up meals was with bread – cubed in soft-boiled eggs and a stewed-tomato side dish; slices under the beef stew.

We had a lot of side dishes that my mother and neighbors had canned themselves: tomatoes, beans, relishes, jams and jellies, pickles. I don’t know if it was planned, but apparently neighbors grew different fruits and vegetables, then shared their canning with one another. So my mother might say at a meal, “These are Judy’s carrots” or “This is Carol’s strawberry jam.”

But I don’t suppose most of us grow much food these days, let alone can anything. I have no space to grow large items like peppers, cucumbers, carrots and not enough direct sun for tomatoes. But I am growing all my herbs this year: basil, chives, parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary and two kinds of mint – enough to dry or freeze some for winter. At the market, fresh herbs cost $2 for half an ounce, double from last year.

It's not necessary to dive too deeply into the internet to find dire warnings that hard economic times are going to be with us for awhile and I’m looking to cut every corner possible. The price of gas doesn't affect me much; I need to drive so little that I fill up the car about once a month. But I’m not renewing a lot of print subscriptions and I’m going cold turkey on my most expensive indulgence - buying books.

There are several repair projects around the house I'll do myself rather than hire someone. Although I don’t want to, I can live without those silk pants and I hadn’t planned a vacation this year anyway.

Most TGB readers are old enough to have weathered several economic downturns and a few remember growing up in the Great Depression. That ought to be good for some suggestions. Who among us are cutting back and how are you doing it? What are your best tips and secrets for surviving hard times?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clair Zarges gives us a lesson about survival in the desert southwest in Mr. Zee Goes Up.]

Quarterstaff Revolution

category_bug_geriatrician.gif [EDITORIAL NOTE: The TGB Geriatrician is a semi-monthly column written by Dr. Bill Thomas (bio) for Time Goes By to give us the information we need to help us navigate the health issues of aging. Dr. Thomas also writes his own blog at Changing Aging.]

In 1992, The New York Times took a look at the research AARP was doing on walking canes:

”Many people who use canes injure themselves because they don't do the necessary research before buying one. That is an early conclusion of a continuing study on canes sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons.

“According to Dr. Margaret Wylde, vice president of the Institute for Technology Development in Oxford, Miss., which is conducting the study, the conclusion is based on a review of recent medical and rehabilitation literature and on more than 1,000 letters solicited from A.A.R.P. members who are regular cane users.

“Some of the most serious damage, Dr. Wylde said, can result from the cane's grip. Carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful ailment, can result from any repetitive motion like typing or using a cane.”

There are two reasons people use walking canes.

  1. To improve balance by providing a third contact point with the ground
  2. To redistribute weight away from an injured or arthritic lower limb

As a physician, I have never really liked walking canes. Here is one patient's experience:

”I noticed several problems within the first five minutes. My triceps were quickly fatigued as they worked to hold my weight up.

“As a result, my scapula elevated to relieve the triceps, putting strain on my rotator cuff. This "shrugging" effect could be somewhat offset by lowering the height of the handle below my waist, which served to extend the arm and reduce the amount of elevation in the shoulder.

“The handle of the cane was designed in such a way that the grip increased in broadness from the neck of the handle to the end, providing a wider, flatter surface where the palm would rest.

“Unfortunately, the result was not a more comfortable feel, but rather a terrible dorsiflexion combined with ulnar deviation in the wrist and a bruised hamate bone where the weight was concentrated. I felt tweaks of pain all day long in my wrist and shoulder which continued into the night, long after I had ended my experiment.

“Aside from design problems, there were several functional problems as well. For instance, each step was accompanied by a jarring vibration which was transferred up the entire length of the arm every time the rubber cane tip struck the concrete. The swing of the cane often had to be initiated by a flick of the wrist, resulting in a constant repetitive oscillation between ulnar and radial deviations.

“Furthermore, adjusting the cane to the correct height was difficult due to a simultaneous push of a button and pull of the shaft requiring relatively dexterous fingers; arthritic hands would be pitifully ineffective.”

PREDICTION! Elders of today and tomorrow are going to give up on the cane, abandoning it in favor of the quarterstaff.


"Gandalf the Grey carried about with him a spike brown staff which served partly as an agency of his power, as can be seen when he faced the Balrog in Moria. Besides functioning as a useful walking stick, it was also thought to symbolize what he was and his position in the Istari."

There are three reasons I think elders can and will retire the old-time walking cane and embrace the quarterstaff:

  1. The cane places the greatest strain on the smallest muscles and joints (the wrist and forearm). Repetitive use can easily lead to wrist and forearm injury.
  2. The quarterstaff transfers the weight into the shoulder girdle itself. The shoulder joint and its surrounding muscles are much better prepared to handle the load than are the wrist and forearm.
  3. Imagine a scene: an older woman using a bent-top walking cane crosses a building lobby, trying to reach the elevator before the doors roll closed. Now imagine the same scene with the older woman striding across the lobby with the aid of a seven-foot, oak quarterstaff. People hold the door open not because of chivalry, not out of a desire to help little old ladies, but rather because she just looks so damned cool.

Elders are obligated to give younger people clues about how deep and mysterious elderhood can be.

I would like any elders or elders-to-be who read this post to go out and get hold of a walking staff (it does not matter if you NEED one). Go out in public with it and follow your normal routine and have somebody take a picture of you using it. Send the photo to Ronni.

I'll close my appeal with a quote from one of America's greatest walkers...

"Although the vast majority of walkers never even think of using a walking staff, I unhesitatingly include it among the foundations of the house that travels on my back. I still take my staff along almost as automatically as I take my pack. It is a third leg to me - and much more besides.

“On smooth surfaces, the staff helps maintain an easy rhythm to my walking and gives me something to lean on when I stop to stand and stare. Over rough going of any kind, from tussocky grass to pockety rock, and also in a high wind, it converts me when I am heavily laded from an insecure biped to a confident triped…

“It may well be, too, that the staff also gives me a false but subconsciously comforting feeling that I am not after all completely defenseless against attack by such enemies as snakes, bears and men."

- Colin Fletcher, The Complete Walker III, 1984 (page 78)

[AFTERWORD from Ronni: For about the last six or seven years of her life, until she died in 1978, Margaret Mead and I lived across the street from one another in Greenwich Village. I didn't get to spend as much time with her as I would have liked, but we sometimes walked several blocks together on our errands around the neighborhood.

She always used a quarterstaff, although I didn't know it was called that. She looked magnificent and powerful striding down the block, especially in the colder months when she wore a full-length cape. I've known since then that when the time came, I would use a staff and not a cane. Now, with Dr. Thomas's permission for us to do so even if we don't require one yet and the Colin Fletcher quote, I may start sooner.]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior explains why she left the Country Life.]

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This Week in Elder News: 21 June 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.

Our own Claude Covo-Farchi of Blogging in Paris has opened her ElderExercise blog to anyone interested in joining. The emphasis is on supporting one another in maintaining their exercise programs and not on dieting, but weight loss is a fortunate side effect. Since February, Claude has lost 8 kilos (17.6 pounds).

Peter Tibbles alerted me to a terrific Australian chat show called Enough Rope hosted by Andrew Denton. He recently did a series with older women that is funny and true and real. Don’t miss this excerpt with Miriam Margolyes and Germaine Greer talking about sex (3:46 minutes). And do poke around to watch some other excellent interviews. Unfortunately, embedded video isn’t offered so you must visit the website.

Scientists have had to the rare opportunity to study the brain of the then oldest living woman who died of stomach cancer in 2005, at the age of 115. There were few signs of disease commonly associated with mental decline, and when she was tested at age of 112 and 113 by researchers, “she was alert and performing better than the average 60- to 75-year-old.” More here. (Hat tip to Kate Winner of Kate Thoughts.)

As Scott Fitzgerald wrote, the rich are different from you and me and often, in our new gilded age, contemptibly so. But this renovation of a New York City apartment is magical and I think, if the rich must overdo, this is a charming way to go.

Alarming bankruptcy data in regard to elders has been released from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project. Although bankruptcies were down overall between 1991 and 2007, among those aged 65 to 74, they are up 125 percent, and jumped a whopping 433.3 percent among those 75 to 84. More here.

There is a short QandA with a marvelously cantankerous Gore Vidal at Time magazine.

It amused me to learn that in Japan there is a popular porn star who is 74 years old. “The market for elder porn has doubled over the past decade,” reports film director Ryuichi Kadowaki in Time magazine. "In view of [Japan's] aging society," he adds, "I think that in the future, we will see a steady increase in demand." (Hat tip to Donna Woodka of Changing Places)

In an op-ed piece in the Buffalo News, an anonymous elder writes of the joys in her younger years of listening to the stories of an elder friend.

The NCPSSM – the National Association to Preserve Social Security and Medicare - has released video of the acceptance speeches from the two recipients of their 2008 Excellence in Media awards – Saul Friedman of Newsday (5:23 minutes) and moi (5:26 minutes), posted below.

Old and Happy

category_bug_journal2.gif From the University of Queensland School of Psychology in Australia, comes a new study reporting that old people are generally happier than younger ones. This confirms previous research and adds some new explanation:

"One possible reason is that they are a lot more positive in general than younger adults," [Professor Bill von Hippel] said.

"Or the gradual shrinking of the amygdala, an organ in the brain which controls negative emotions such as fear and anger, may be slowly releasing older people from life's daily stresses."

- Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June 2008

Although amygdala shrinkage sounds a bit ominous (and my internal Crabby Old Lady notwithstanding), this has been so for me for quite a while. As we liked to say a few decades ago, I don't sweat the small stuff" much - particularly personal small stuff - in my old age, and I sometimes wonder how I got so wound up over trivia in the past.

Young people, reports von Hippel, have on average twice as many social engagements as elders, but both groups are satisfied, although:

"Those under 30 were more likely to recall socialising's down side. After a cinema outing, for example, 'the young say it was such a hassle finding parking or that 'I didn't like the ending', the professor said. Older adults were just happy to be out with friends. 'When asked about having friends over for dinner, younger adults say it's more of a hassle than the older ones, who say it is uplifting.'"

Professor von Hippel has not yet reached elder status and this is a telling comment in regard to judgments the young make about the old:

"Older people seem better at taking life as it comes. We forget that older people are good at this. We look at our grandparents and say, 'They are not getting out much, they must be dissatisfied with life."' [emphasis added]

von Hippel's apparent surprise at the satisfaction elders have with their social lives is an example of the common assumption that youth is the gold standard of life and if old people aren't behaving like the young, they must be miserable.

I suppose it's important to collect data through controlled experiments to confirm or disprove theories, but sometimes I wonder how the results would differ if approached from the direction that old people's experience is the norm.

(Hat tip to Peter Tibbles and to Susan of Suzzwords)

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marvin Waldman weaves an adult tale of damaged lives in Fast and Furious.]

On Concentration (Again) and Handwriting

category_bug_journal2.gif I’m intrigued by some comments on yesterday’s post about the possible causes of waning concentration. (And no, this isn’t a test today.)

Darlene wrote:

“It is not only in reading that I find myself getting antsy, but in nearly everything I do. Dusting is done in short bursts because I get bored quickly now and have to quit for awhile.”

Chancy of driftwoodinspiration agrees:

"Where I get distracted is in doing housework or straightening up my home. I find myself flitting from one task to another without finishing one completely. I might get distracted and wander out on my porch or sit and read something in a magazine or make a phone call or whatever."

Me too. Even if I discount the inherently mind-numbing nature of house cleaning, which I can easily abandon in mid-task, I’m less capable these days of making the concentrated effort to finish.

But it’s not just the boring chores. Especially in warm weather, dinner is often what a friend and I years ago named “gorilla salad.” Some of anything hanging around in the refrigerator gets thrown in and it’s not uncommon for there to be 15 or 20 ingredients: vegetables, fruit, a left-over piece of chicken or fish, some crumbled cheese, and so on.

I enjoy preparing food in all its aspects, weighing the combination of flavors, textures and colors as I go and, in the case of gorilla salad, contemplating what dressing I might concoct this time. However, a couple of evenings ago, part way through the preparation, it seemed more boring than I could endure to wash, dry and cut up the radishes, so I put them back in the refrigerator. But really, what's so onerous about prepping a radish or two?

Other times, on shopping trips, I’ve skipped the final stop or two, even for what I need, because there is suddenly something I’d rather do at home. And it’s not unlikely, when I get there, that I become otherwise distracted and never get to it.

This boredom with ordinary tasks feels similar to the attention deficit we discussed yesterday, but I don’t know for certain that it is.

Pamela left a note about preferring a handwritten journal:

“I thought about this topic recently in the context of keeping handwritten v. electronic journals. It's occurred to me now that the reason I prefer the former is the lack of distraction and time to contemplate, unlike sitting in front of a screen and agitating about other things to do on the PC.”

I had kept handwritten journals until I got my first computer in about 1988, when I happily switched to electronic because, for me, handwriting is too slow. My mind often moved faster than my hand and I’d lose the thought. Typing, I can keep up with my mind, but Pamela reminded me of a related issue:

Now that there is so little that requires pen and paper (I don’t even need to write checks anymore), I’ve discovered that I can barely write at all. I’ve lost the motor skills needed to make handwriting readable and I sometimes struggle to translate my own notes.

Elderbloggers may be the last generation that was taught to have a “beautiful hand.” Remember the loops we practiced in school above and below the line, large ones and small, round and oval? I recall that it took a long time for me to create a capital T that satisfied the teacher.

Good handwriting, in my youth and young adulthood, was a point of pride. People commented on it – admiringly or otherwise. Before the advent of ballpoint pens, care was taken to select the proper fountain pen and nibs for different purposes. Ink color mattered and engraved, personal stationery was a social asset.

No more, at least as far as I can tell. Condolence notes may be the last kind of message that is gauche to send by email.

It feels like we may have lost something in ditching handwriting for a keyboard. But, the world turns, technology advances and things change. All-in-all, it probably doesn’t matter.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Granny Annie recalls the miracle of Little Owen.]

My Distracted Brain

category_bug_journal2.gif When I was a kid, I liked to read lying on my back on the bed with my legs stretched out and propped up against the wall. I was happy like that for hours at a time lost in the Land of Oz or whatever book(s) piqued my interest, and I especially enjoyed it on rainy afternoons when my mother couldn’t nag me about going outside to play.

My posture and location changed as I got older, but my ability to lose myself in stories – fiction, newspapers, research materials, etc. – never waned. Until recently.

In the past few years, I am regularly and easily distracted from what I’m reading. No matter how compelling the topic, I get twitchy by the third or fourth page of a long, magazine story. Books I ripped through in the past, sometimes staying up most of the night because I knew I wouldn’t sleep wondering what happens next, get set aside now long enough to be difficult to find when it occurs to me to pick them up again.

Even the books I once lingered over because the prose, poetry or ideas intrigued me are hard to stay with these days. I lose focus as my mind rat-a-tat-tats off the page to play in other fields.

I’ve been disturbed enough by this development to spend a good deal of time thinking about what the reasons might be – that is, when I don’t get distracted because extended contemplation, too, has become more difficult, although not as much as reading.

Poking around the internet and my library of books on aging has led me to dismiss the thought that getting old is a cause. And it’s not that my eyes tire or my contact lens prescription needs changing. They are regularly checked.

The phenomenon is definitely an attention deficit, but from what I’ve read (in short bursts), I’m not suffering old age ADHD, if there is such a thing. Instead, I have come to suspect that mind-flitting is connected with the staccato nature of media today.

As with other ills for which it takes the blame, the internet certainly contributes to this shortened attention span, and I’ll get to that. But I think its origins may be found as far back as the development of commercial radio in the early 20th century, continuing with television beginning in the late 1940s and accelerating ever since.

The nature of broadcast media requires the regular interruption of commercials. A TV viewer becomes immersed in a movie, drama, the latest news, an interview or following the ball down a field when he or she is jerked out of their concentration for a sales pitch or two or three.

Until the show returns, viewers are required to hold the plot in suspension while being distracted by a flurry of unrelated ideas. Continuity is lost and, sometimes, depth of interest.

When I first started working in television in 1971, there were about eight minutes of commercials per hour of programming. Each commercial, in those days, lasted at least 30 seconds and many were a minute long. Today, there are about 21 or 22 minutes of commercials in each hour, some as short as 10 seconds thereby cramming six or seven or more - each telling a different story - into a commercial break.

So the mind, in a space of a three-minute break – some are four minutes - is required not only to hold the plotline in abeyance, but to take in up to eight or ten different mini-stories until the program returns.

Nowadays, even if you record programs on a DVR and zap the commercials, you cannot avoid the animated promos for upcoming shows at the bottom of the screen which distract the eye, and they often cover up to half the screen including, sometimes, visual information important to understanding the story. Recently, I’ve seen product commercials inserted with these promos including audio that fights with the program dialogue. You can be sure this new practice will increase.

On cable news channels, there is the constant motion of the news crawl, the stock ticker and sometimes so many split screens that it’s hard to know which is meant to be the main source of information.

When the news ticker was an innovation, I heard tell of some people who hated the distraction so much they taped over the bottom of their screens. Those complaints have faded, so I suspect we have become inured to the constant movement.

Distractions are increased by magnitudes on the internet, and not by just the blinking ads we all despise and rocket ships blasting off from the middle of a page timed to cover the precise words I’m reading, or the pop-ups insisting I click to another page for a survey that won’t go away until I find the nearly-hidden close button.

In addition, an email notification often pops up while I’m reading, or a bell dings if I’ve set a reminder or two. And some pages, particularly on news websites, reload themselves unasked when the site is updated and a producer republishes causing me to lose my place in the copy I’m reading.

The most recent evil gimmick to mess with our minds online is a program used by a growing number of websites and blogs that pops up small advertisements related to any word the mouse pointer strays across. Some sites have so many of these embedded in a single story that moving the mouse away just causes more – and more – and more of them to pop up.

But the largest distraction is the nature and essence of the web itself as Nicholas Carr describes well in a remarkable story, Is Google Making Us Stupid? in the July/August issue of The Atlantic, which arrived just in time to help me think about all this:

“When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is recreated in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed…The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our attention.”

Mr. Carr is concerned that all these web distractions (along with, I would argue, the similar impediments to concentration on television) are reprogramming our brains, “remapping the neural circuitry” and changing the way we think.

“[Developmental psychologist Maryanne] Wolf", writes Carr, "worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts ‘efficiency’ and ‘immediacy’ above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace.

“When we read online, she says, we tend to become ‘mere decoders of information.’ Our ability to interpret text, to make rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.”

Nicholas Carr and I aren’t the only ones worrying in our individual ways about what the distractions of modern life are doing to our brains and our ability to concentrate. The New York Times reported last week that “Some of the biggest technology firms, including Microsoft, Intel, Google and I.B.M., are banding together to fight information overload.”

“A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to one measure…[and] on average the worker also stops at 40 Web sites over the course of the day.

“The fractured attention comes at a cost. In the United States, more than $650 billion a year in productivity is lost because of unnecessary interruptions, predominately mundane matters, according to Basex. The firm says that a big chunk of that cost comes from the time it takes people to recover from an interruption and get back to work.” [emphasis added]

These reports and others confirm that I’m not alone in my concern about what electronic distractions may be doing to our brains and our minds. As Nicholas Carr concludes in the Atlantic:

“The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds.

“In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.

“If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with ‘content,’ we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture…

“That’s the essence of [Stanley] Kubrick’s dark prophecy [in 2001: A Space Odyssey]: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

This blog post was designed as a small and unscientific test of your, the reader's, attention span. It is purposely much longer than what even I usually write and I wonder how many of you made it this far. Or did you get twitchy part way through, skim over paragraphs, check out what else is on the page or click away to another site?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Camille Koepnick Shaffer worries about what her husband's newest acquisition will mean to their lives in The Omen.]

Maya’s Granny: Joycelyn Ward

There was a different post planned for today. It can wait because now we must instead celebrate the life of Maya’s Granny, also known as Joycelyn Ward.

Note the spelling of her first name. She gently admonished me – as well she should - a couple of years ago when I addressed an email to her as Jocelyn.

On Sunday, Joycelyn died of a heart attack. She had undergone quintuple bypass surgery in February and moved from Alaska to California to retire. But she never fully recovered from the surgery and a couple of subsequent falls that injured her.

Joycelyn was one of the best storytellers in the elder blogosphere. There are so many terrific tales on her blog that you can choose at random from her archive and find something you will enjoy. As she posted on her banner:

“This is where I share the wisdom that a granny, as an elder of the tribe, accumulates in her journey through life. The reach of my mind is wide, sometimes even a little deep. Sometimes, like Whitman, I contradict myself. Sometimes I wax eloquent. Sometimes I fall on my face. Why not do it in public?”

She certainly didn’t fall on her face when she appeared here as a guest blogger when I was out of town for a week in 2007, contributing Waking Up Sixty, which attracted a ton of comments.

Her daughter has a left a note at Maya’s Granny and her son-in-law has posted a charming remembrance on his blog.

Here is the photo from her banner - Joycelyn with young Maya of her blog’s name.


[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia shows us how easily, sometimes, a secret can be revealed in Sparks.]


category_bug_journal2.gif Coming so soon after the announcement on Saturday of my first story in the Wall Street Journal, this seems an overkill of self-promotion, but I am immensely proud of an honor that occurred nearly simultaneously.

First, however, some background. In his 2005 State of the Union address, President Bush formally announced his intention to privatize Social Security. Such a momentous and dramatic change in a program that, across 70 years, has kept millions of people from poverty in their old age (including me) seemed a serious undertaking worthy of careful scrutiny.

And so I embarked on a research project to understand the underpinnings of Social Security along with the details and ramifications of privatization. As I did so over the following year while the president tried to cram his proposal down the nation’s collective throat, I (well, Crabby Old Lady, but you all know she and I are the same person, right?), wrote a long series of posts about what I learned.

(If you didn’t think privatization was a bad idea back then, consider where your personal Social Security fund would be now had it been invested in the stock market.)

It wasn’t easy untangling all the suggested versions of privatization and commentary pro and con. One of my best sources during that period of education (and since) on all things Social Security and Medicare was the website of the NCPSSM – The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. They cleared up a lot of questions for me and led me to other resources that helped too.

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago, when I received an email from the NCPSSM telling me I had been selected

“ receive an award in the electronic press category in recognition of your outstanding blog, Time Goes By”.

To mark its 25 years of advocacy, the NCPSSM held a celebration last Thursday, 12 June, at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. I was enormously disappointed that other obligations prevented me from attending, but I sent a video acceptance speech that I hope adequately expressed my pride in the award.

I’m sorry too that I didn’t get to meet my fellow awardee, Newsday’s Saul Friedman. His Gray Matters column has been a regular on my reading list for years and is a standard on the subject of aging that all newspapers should aspire to in this era of an aging population.

Here is the Committee CEO and president, and former Member of Congress, Barbara Kennelly, at the celebration last week to tell you a little about the organization. (5:40 minutes]

Medicare was enacted as an extension to Social Security in 1983, during the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson. His daughter, Lynda Johnson Robb also spoke at the National Press Club gathering on Thursday. (1:26 minutes)

James Roosevelt, Jr., the grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who created Social Security during the Depression, spoke too. (2:21 minutes)

The NCPSSM website is crammed with useful information to help you understand Social Security and Medicare, including a column on the intricacies of Social Security, Ask Mary Jane, to which you can send your personal inquiries.

There is also the Committee blog, Entitled to Know, which is smart, clear and cuts through the political hype on these two programs. Senator John McCain has announced his intention, if elected president, to resurrect the Social Security privatization proposal. I think you’ll find the NCPSSM website and the blog worthwhile in the coming campaign months.

So this is a public thank you the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare for this award. I’m very proud to have been selected.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Davis tells of a recent experience with her son that any mother - and father - will understand in Tread Softly, Heroes: On Meeting Seth Godin.]

This Week in Elder News: 14 June 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.

UPDATE: In regard to my piece in the Wall Street Journal today (first item below), I picked up a copy of the paper a few minutes ago and wow! what a terrific graphic, by Shane Harrison, accompanies the story. I'm sorry non-subscribers can't see the piece and I can't reprint it, but here is that terrific graphic:


Announcement: Today marks the beginning of my association with the Wall Street Journal where I will be writing occasional personal essays about aging and retirement.

The topic today, in the Saturday edition, is elderblogging titled Put It in Writing. Several elderbloggers on the list in the left sidebar are mentioned further down in the piece. I'm excited about this new venture and eager to see what the response (if any) will be.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy in the U.S. has hit an all-time high: 80.7 years for women and 75.4 years for men. And here’s some good news for men, the expectancy gap between men and women has been closing. There is more detail here.

Make of this what you will: even though personal computers have been around since the late 1970s, Senator John McCain says he doesn’t know how to use one.

Former 2008 presidential candidate and Representative, Dennis Kucinich, read out a 35-item articles of impeachment in the House this week only have fellow Democrats send it the Judiciary Committee – certain death. Kucinich said Thursday that he will continue to introduce impeachment resolutions every 30 days until lawmakers vote on it.

In Alzheimer’s patients, short-term memory goes first and it is common for some to try to travel to a long-ago home. A German nursing home found a novel solution for those residents who wander off the grounds looking for a bus station. They built a fake one in front of the home so it’s easier to find their patients. (Hat tip to Lia of Yum Yum Café)

In addition to the 47 million Americans who have no health coverage, another 25 million are underinsured and go untreated because they can’t afford the cost. We really do need Medicare for all. It’s called universal coverage and should be one of the issues for all Americans to consider when we vote in November.

There is a relatively new career specialty that may be an important tool for elders and those who are responsible for their elder parents: geriatric care managers who help families navigate the labyrinth of the many different kinds of care and choices there are from fitness to living options to home help and more. There are websites to locate care managers by state. This is a good starting place.

Don’t you get tired of the lack of government oversight of corporate America? It seems Tyson has been pumping a human antibiotic into their chickens while labeling them antibiotic-free. So the U.S. Department of Agriculture, instead of stopping the use of the drug, forced Tyson to change the label.

Last weekend, Bill Moyers (a hero of mine) gave the keynote address at The 2008 National Conference For Media Reform (NCMR) about the failure of mainstream media and our individual need “to fight for the freedom that makes all other freedoms possible” – responsible journalism.

The speech is long, but every moment is compelling. You will be outraged and, more important, you will be inspired. I urge you to find the time to watch. [39:58 minutes]

Recurring Pleasures

category_bug_journal2.gif Sitting at my computer yesterday morning, some movement in the sky drew my attention and I had a revelation: I have always stopped what I’m doing to watch seagulls when they appear.

Yes, I know they are scavengers, rats with wings. But they are also, like eggs, among nature’s more perfect shapes. Particularly when they are soaring, the proportion of canted wings to their body is as esthetically pleasing as a fine piece of music.

For as long as I can remember, for most of my 67 years, seagulls have evoked in me a deep, personal satisfaction, and I wondered what else I may have enjoyed all my life, perhaps without appreciating the regular, reliable pleasure they supply even or, perhaps particularly, when life is not going well.

Don’t laugh, but peanut butter sandwiches come immediately to mind. Slathered on bread that is about halfway between Wonderbread and heavy, seven-grain organic, with (this part disgusts some people) mayonnaise – always Hellman’s (Best Foods to those of you on the west coast), it may be my favorite food. Sometimes, slices of cucumber cold from the refrigerator are a nice, crunchy addition, a counterpoint to the peanut butter’s sticky-sweet smoothness.

What else?

Silk undies. There was a rumor, back in 1987, that Robert DeNiro, in preparing for his role as Al Capone in The Untouchables, wore the same silk underwear the real-life Capone had specially made for himself. I understood.

My first pair were a gift when I was about 20 years old, and I swore after the first wearing that I would forevermore own only silk panties. Well, that was never in my budget; they are wildly expensive. But there is usually one pair in the drawer awaiting my pleasure on the next wearing.

Here’s another “don’t laugh”: the monthly satisfaction after having just paid all the bills. Twelve times a year, I get to feel renewed, up to date and balanced with the world. Even when it cleans out the bank account, there is nothing hanging over my head for awhile, and I feel unburdened.

And the cat. All cats. Big ones, little ones, wild ones and tame – if any cat can be called tame. Like seagulls and eggs, they are near perfect, not so much in shape, perhaps, as in their utter self-assurance, certain of their importance and place in the world, oblivious to others’ judgment or even interest. That they are soft and cuddly (when they are in the mood) doesn’t hurt.

It is easy to take pleasure in the bigger events – marriage, a new job, an award maybe, a birthday party, a grandchild. But it felt good to make a list of the less exciting but recurring satisfactions that I never tire of and provide a continuity through the decades. What about you?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rabon Saip continues with Just the Three of Us - Part 2. You can find Part 1 here.]

Workplace Age Ambivalence

category_bug_ageism.gif As Daniel Gross points out in a commentary in this week’s issue of Newsweek:

“…in the corporate world, 80 is the new 50. The exploits of these Sunshine Boys and advances in medicine make the retirement age of 65 seem like a relic.

Mr. Gross sketches the ongoing accomplishments of several aged corporate chiefs: Sumner Redstone (85), Rupert Murdoch (77), Carl Icahn (72), T. Boone Pickens (80), George Soros (77), Kirk Kirkorian (91), and notes that a big benefit of keeping these people in power over such younger folks as the Wall Street managers who have recently led their banks and financial institutions into bankruptcy, is that they

“…have experience managing through the last serious oil shock and prolonged period of financial pain in the 1970s.”

But as Gross also points out, working into one’s 70s, 80s and beyond is reserved for executive suite denizens - as though low- and mid-level workers have not also learned from their years on the job:

“…for non-rock stars – i.e., people who don’t own their own companies or don’t have enough cash to start a hedge fund – barriers to staying active late in life remain. ‘There is still enormous resistance and unwillingness to consider older people for job hires,’ says AgeWave’s [Ken] Dychtwald. As one executive recruiter told me, boards frequently look askance at older candidates because ‘somebody in their mid-60s isn’t going to take an 18-hour-a-day job.’”

Nor should an employee of any age. People fought hard in the early 20th century for the 40-hour work week, and 90 hours a week is both exploitive and inhuman, leaving no time for rest or family. On the other hand, what these ageist recruiters are missing is that older employees who are willing to work long days no longer have young children at home who require and need their presence.

Although there is some indication that a few employers are beginning to see the light in terms of the need to retain older workers because the generation coming up behind the boomers totals only 54 million compared to the boomer 78 million, little progress is being made.

“For leadership guru Warren Bennis, who at 83 teaches full time at the University of Southern California’s business school, such ambivalence is a key issue facing the economy,” writes Gross. “‘Organizations have to learn how to manage the people who keep growing and learning even as they get older,’ he says. Bennis still detects plenty of signs of ageism in corporate America.”

Perhaps such as this one: if you’re an older IT worker and think you might qualify for a job at Facebook, think again. The choices in the field for graduation date go back only to 1980, ignoring everyone older than 50.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rabon Saip begins a two-part story of long-ago friendship in Just the Three of Us – Part 1.]

An Exotic New Home in Midlife

One of the terrific things about the internet is that friends – old and new – are only a keystroke away. Now and then, someone you haven’t seen in a long time turns up - as happened to me a week or so ago.

Not that I haven’t kept track of Joyce Wadler. She is a reporter for The New York Times, is well-known for the “Bold-Faced Names” column she wrote for several years and she now covers a range of eclectic topics such as in this recent piece titled, Peter Rabbit Must Die, which is funny and not-so-funny all at once – a Joyce Wadler specialty.

When we were catching up by telephone, Joyce said that she had been to China last year to visit her friend, Emily Prager, a magazine writer and author of several books who was one of the screenwriters back in 1979, with my old friend, the late Michael O’Donoghue, on Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video.

It’s a small world – more like two, not six, degrees of separation. But none of this is what I’m here to tell you about today which is, instead, a gem of a story filled with fascinating and colorful detail about life in a strange, new place.

Two years ago, Emily moved herself and her daughter from New York City to Shanghai.

“I was annoyed at spending $20 for a hamburger,” she writes, “depressed by designer boutiques on Bleecker Street, weary of the hovering specter of Al Qaeda, and still grieving over the demise of [classics movie theater], the Thalia. I was getting old waiting for the real estate bubble to burst and the city to regain its vibrancy.”

A year ago, Emily wrote about settling into a “lane house” in an area she describes as the Greenwich Village of Shanghai:

19shanghai600 “Each lane is a perfect little ecosystem," Emily explains. "There is a lanekeeper who watches over the lane and a lane sweeper who comes morning and evening to clean it up, to whom I contribute about $5 a month. At the end of each lane is a little house with square windows, which covers garbage bins on one side of a wall and a communal sink on the other.” (Photo: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Emily isn’t entirely new to China. She lived there for awhile as a child and has visited several times since. She adopted her daughter, Lulu, in China and wrote a book, Wuhu Diary, about their visit to Lulu’s home town in southern China when Lulu was five years old.

Nevertheless, it is brave to move halfway around the world into a culture so different from what has been familiar for a lifetime.

Some retirees move to new places when their careers are done, but I think probably not as dramatic a change as Emily has made, and while still raising a child. A good-sized part of me wishes I’d been more adventurous when I left New York City two years ago.

Whether you’re up for something as entirely unlike your life as Emily has done or more an armchair traveler, Settling Down in a City in Motion is fascinating read, and don’t miss the slide show of Emily’s Shanghai lane house.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz recalls a childhood trauma she calls The War of the Roses.]

New Survey of Boomer Online Activity

There is a new survey from JWT Boom and ThirdAge of 1800 baby boomers. One question asked which online activities respondents have “little or no interest in”:


67% - Writing blogs
63% - Participating in general social networking
62% - Playing games with others
55% - Listening to podcasts/prerecorded audio
44% - Downloading music

I would have reported these in reverse. For example, I think it’s noteworthy that 33 percent have, presumably, some interest in writing blogs. To me, since I am a strong proponent of blogging particularly for people 50 and older, it is a large and encouraging number.

A difficulty in interpreting surveys of boomers is that the age range – currently 44-62 – covers distinctly different stages of life. The youngest are still raising children and building careers while 55 is the age at which people begin to retire in numbers large enough to count.

Such surveys as this are meant to help marketers determine where to spend their advertising and promotion dollars, but it makes no sense to me to lump 45-year-olds with the 55-plus group. And I would like to know which boomer group – younger or older – has little or no interest in blogging. I’m betting it is the younger ones; they’re too busy.

Another question asked whether boomers visit such social networking sites as “Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc.” or might in the future.


53% - Said no
22% - Said yes
26% - said they did not, but might

Given that many social networking sites still appeal mostly to teens and 20-somethings, I’m surprised that 48 percent said yes or they might, but I think it’s unfair to mix Facebook and MySpace with LinkedIn which is primarily a business and career networking site. If a respondent ignores Facebook and MySpace, but participates in LinkedIn, what is he or she to answer?

You can find more results at MarketingVox.

[Hat tip to Mary Anderson of ExpansionPlus]

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone is back with another tale from the open road, Truckers: Then and Now.]

A Normal Annoyance of Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif Last Friday, Dr. Bill Thomas, The TGB Geriatrician, wrote about age-related changes in sleep patterns, dividing them into medical disorders, which can be treated, and normal changes that are merely annoying.

Merely annoying?!?

Who knew there is a name for what I’m tired of living with - "Phase Advance" which, according to Dr. Thomas, is the

“…fancy medical term for the experience of going to bed earlier in the evening and waking up earlier in the morning. The sleep phase advances as we age. Many older people fall asleep early in the evening, yet awaken much earlier than desired in the morning and cannot fall back to sleep easily.”

It doesn’t matter what I’m doing in the evening after about 6PM; if I’m not on my feet moving around, I fall asleep. Where once I woke at 4:30-5:30AM – an excellent time of day to awaken - it’s been backing up in the past few months to 3AM and on some occasions, 2AM-2:30AM without a chance of going back to sleep. It’s not often yet, but it’s creeping in that direction and of course, the earlier I fall asleep, the earlier I wake.

If this continues, before long I’ll be “phase advancing” to awake in the dark and asleep in the day and I’ll never see the sun again.

The only upside I can see to this is that I can exchange “live” email with Claude of Blogging in Paris, Nikki of Nikki’s Place and Lia of Yum Yum Cafe who live in France, Sweden and Germany respectively and for whom it is normal morning hours when I first sit down at the computer. Forgive me, ladies, but I’d forgo that for more regular hours.

Am I alone in this? Has anyone got a solution?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean recalls the pleasure of times past at the beach in The Jersey Shore.]

This Week in Elder News: 7 June 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.

Giggle of the Week (Via Gordon.Coale):

I heard that if you locked William Shakespeare in a room with a typewriter for long enough, he'd eventually write all the songs by the Monkees.

New York State’s Attorney General is suing an insurance agent who sold elders duplicate home health services policies costing them thousands of dollars while he collected hundreds of thousands in commissions.

In a separate move, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has begun a campaign to alert elders and people of all ages to the nuances used by scammers in telemarketing fraud. One thing everyone should do is sign up with the Do Not Call Registry.

My personal tactic for anyone, including charities and political campaigns, who asks for money by phone is to tell them I accept solicitations only through snailmail which usually gets rid of them. Here is the FTC’s new video on phone fraud and you can find out more here.

Certainly some of the 30-year gain in longevity made during the 20th century and better health in old age are due to modern drugs. But they can be dangerous, particularly in combination and when too many are prescribed at once. This story contains some good links to information about drug interactions worth keeping in your permanent bookmarks.

Until someone explains to me how we will feed and house all the people who would live to be 150 or 200, I’m skeptical of longevity research and drugs; I think the money could be better spent on finding cures for cancer and other diseases. Still, you might find this story about red wine and longevity of interest.

The number of stories about water shortages throughout the world are growing and last week, Governor Schwarznegger declared an official drought in California - which this photo aptly demonstrates. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)


Two boomer women from Minnesota have created a website to help you design your own, personalized funeral and leave instructions for your loved ones including music, photographs, writings and practical information that will be needed upon your demise. It’s amusing that they seem to believe no one’s done this before; I haven’t been to a funeral in decades that could be called traditional. But the site is filled with a lot useful reminders.

Except perhaps for the built-in camera, most surveys find that elders are not much interested in cell phone services beyond actual voice calls. But there are some free services worth knowing about: 800.GOOG.411, 800.FREE411 and 800.2CHACHA.

Here’s a little Facebook vignette. I can’t figure out if it’s ageist or funny.

Quote of the week:

“If you aspire to the highest place, it is no disgrace to stop at the second, or even the third, place.”
- Marcus Tullius Cicero