Previous month:
June 2009
Next month:
August 2009

This Week in Elder News – 11 July 2009

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.

Avian Moonwalk This has nothing to do with aging, but it's cool. I found the video a couple of days after the death of Michael Jackson. It's a bird that does a pretty fair imitation of Jackson's moonwalk. [1:15 minutes]

Shape Up in Six Minutes a Week There is a fascinating, new study on how much exercise we need to be doing to improve and maintain fitness. How does six minutes a week strike you? But I don't believe it. Read more here.

Nepotism 1 Okay, he's an old friend going back about 30 years, so I'm prejudiced. But 70-something Lewis Grossberger's new blog, recently renamed Grossblogger, is a satirical look the daily news. It is consistently funny and frequently more spot on than the oh-so-serious newspaper and silly television pundits. Do have a look. Also, I had previously overlooked another section of Lew's blog, My Headline Grabs. Check that out too. It's much more fun than Reuter's Oddly Enough Report.

The Elder Storytelling Place, a Reading When Pat Tomlinson's story, I Yelled at You Today, was published at TGB's companion blog on 20 May, it received a huge response in the comments. Now you can listen to it in a reading at Quirky Nomads. It's the first time anyone has done that with an Elder Storytelling Place story.

Elder Medical Crisis As I've mentioned more than once in recent weeks, there are only 11 departments of geriatrics at the 145 medical schools in the U.S. A week or so ago, Roseann M. Leipzig, a professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine (which does have a department of geriatrics), contributed an important Op-Ed piece at The New York Times in which she writes:

”...there is no requirement for [for doctors to have] any clinical training in geriatrics, even though patients 65 and older account for 32 percent of the average doctor’s workload in surgical care and 43 percent in medical specialty care, and they make up 48 percent of all inpatient hospital days.”

She also explains why you should do everything possible to stay out of a hospital during summer. Read it here.

Nepotism 2 Another old friend, 65-year-old John Brandt, performed recently with his granddaughter's ballet teacher Brenda Froelich in a ballet they choreographed, The Letter. As he titled the email telling me about it, here is “Old Man in Tights.” [8:01 minutes]

In Search of Dignity As many commenters noted on an Op-Ed at The New York Times last week, I do not generally agree with columnist David Brooks. But this time, he zeroed in on a topic I feel strongly about but have not yet written about while I work out whether it just an old fogey's complaint.

”Americans still admire dignity,” he writes. “But the word has become unmoored from any larger set of rules or ethical system.”

And he gives some damned good reasons to support his claim. Read it here.

Old and Wise You gotta love a woman who is as straightforward as this:

“I don’t remember anything until high school. I grew up in the Bronx and Washington Heights. I watched the George Washington Bridge being built. I was a pretty wild kid, running around with a lot of guys.”

“Caregivers suffer more than patients. They were getting sick, getting stressed, feeling hopeless. You have to take care of yourself as well as the patient.”

“I smoked. Seventy-something years. I just quit three months ago. Cold turkey. I quit because I got a bronchial infection. I like red wine, a glass with dinner. I used to drink Scotch. I was a Scotch maniac.”

That's gerontologist, Emma Shulman. She did some of the first research on how to care for Alzheimer's patients and she lectures on memory retention. Currently, she is consultant at New York University's Langone Medical Center, is taking a second master's degree at Hunter College in cultural anthropology, is also studying acting and writing.

Oh, and she's 96 years old. Read more about her here.

Facebook Showing Its Age As reported in Business Journal, the number of high school and college users of the social networking website has dropped 17 and 22 percent respectively while the number of 55 and older users has jumped by 514 percent to 5.67 million. More here.

Nepotism No. 3 My brother, Paul, who is a newspaper editor, and his new wife live on a houseboat in Portland, Oregon, not far from Sauvie Island (for readers who know the area). There is room to keep his sailboat tied up next to their “back porch.”

Boatanddecksmall

He emailed this week to tell me about his recently-acquired Captain Cat (dog lovers may want to move on to another blog now) who has six toes.

“...despite the reputation of six-toed cats as sure-footed 'ships cats'," writes Paul, "Captain Cat has now fallen into the river twice. We have never seen her fall in. We only have noticed her walking through the living room, totally soaked, taking long slow steps and, at each step, stretching out a rear leg and shaking it off.

“She really is sure-footed, so it’s hard to imagine how she ends up in the river. She is fascinated by the birds here, of which there are many - blue herons, bald eagles, ospreys, geese, cormorants and many varieties of little birds like red-winged black birds.

"She is transfixed by them and pursues them relentlessly. We suspect she gets so fixated on them and trying to capture one that she forgets that the next step is wet.

“Captain Cat has not been sailing yet, but she likes the boat very much and spends a lot of time aboard exploring all the nooks and crannies. Here, she is concerned about the afternoon wind and the following sea.”

Captain cat small



Health Care Reform Noise

category_bug_politics.gif You can be forgiven if this week's noise on health care reform in Washington has left you confused, confounded and befuddled. It's gotten messy and little is getting done.

I have given up tracking the different proposals being issued from various committees and subcommittees of both the House and the Senate, and more are threatened to be forthcoming from individual and groups of legislators. Everybody in Congress has a plan that everyone else opposes and the din is ear-splitting.

The Public Option
The public option, a government insurance plan to compete with private plans, was almost shot down by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week:

"The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest," he said. "The goal is non-negotiable; the path is negotiable.”

“The path,” also referred to as the trigger, in the public plan

“would kick in,” explained the WSJ, “under certain circumstances when competition was judged to be lacking. Exactly what circumstances would trigger the option would have to be worked out.”

Emanuel's apparent back pedaling from one of the president's central goals for health care reform was so off the mark that Obama felt obliged to take time from the G8 summit in Moscow to slap down his aide even though his statement, quoted in The New York Times, was tepidly less than specific:

“...one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest. I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals.”

The public option is supported by 72 percent of Americans in a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, and by 69 percent in a Quinnipiac survey. The biggest landslide in a presidential election history was the 61.1 percent of the popular vote given to Lyndon Johnson in 1964. By that standard, support for the public option is tsunami. It's time for Congress to put it writing and move on to the next reform issue.

Health Industry “Agreements”
On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden trumpeted an agreement between the White House and the country's hospitals for the industry to contribute $155 billion in health care savings over the next ten years. “Historic,” said Biden, echoing President Obama's description of big pharma's similar pledge a couple of weeks ago to cut drug costs by $80 billion over ten years.

The hospital contribution would reduce federal payments to hospitals, but one catch is that several legislators have said they have no obligation to include these White House agreements in health care legislation. Another, specific to the hospital agreement, was pointed out on NPR by Richard Kirsch of Health Care for America Now, a consumer group working for a health overhaul bill.

Because a significant part of the money being pledged currently goes to help pay for care of uninsured patients, he explained, hospitals would need less money anyway once health care reform kicks in and most people are insured.

So the pledges, which are minuscule compared to the estimated cost of one to two trillion dollars over ten years that Congress is wrestling with, are mostly PR - an appearance of sacrifice by the health professions in hopes of "purchasing" as weak a reform bill as possible.

Tax Surcharges and Taxing Health Care Benefits
Another reform issue is the proposal to tax employer-provided coverage and separately, to enact a tax surcharge on salaries of $250,000 and more to help pay for health care reform. These are contentious issues and there is not much clarity yet. We'll have to wait and see.

Personally, I would rather see the cap on the Social Security deduction eliminated and there won't be much chance for that if there is already a benefit tax and surcharge.

Rationed Care and Bureaucratic Health Decisions
Meanwhile, there are dueling commercials on television and radio over what conservatives call rationed care and over their warning that government bureaucrats will be making people's health care decisions if a public option is included. These are red herrings meant to scare and distract people.

We already have rationed care in the United States – rationed by money rather than need: if you are rich, you have coverage; if you are poor, you don't. I like Michael Kinsley's take on rationed care:

"Here is a handy-dandy way to determine whether the failure to order some exam or treatment constitutes rationing: If the patient were the president, would he get it? If he'd get it and you wouldn't, it's rationing."

And, we already have bureaucrats making our health care decisions – corporate bureaucrats whose jobs are to deny every claim possible and cancel coverage if you dare use your coverage. After three years of experience with Medicare, I'll take government bureaucrats over corporate ones in a heartbeat.

Paying for health care reform to cover all Americans is a complex and valid issue that our lawmakers need to figure out. I don't envy them. But all the rest of the noise – all of it – is driven by the largest insurers, medical groups, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals attempting to retain as much of the current system as possible to maintain their profits and control.

They have hired 350 lobbyists and are spending $1.4 million per day to sway our representatives (many of whom got elected through the same corporations' large political donations) to their cause. It is not cynical, in these circumstances, to wonder who speaks for the American people.

Well, no one except for a few underfunded consumer groups who cannot compete with the Midas-rich health corporations.

But this is our only chance for meaningful health care reform. If it fails now, it will be another 15 years, as it has been since the Clinton health care initiative, before it comes up again. In our current, dismal economic circumstance, which will not end soon, that would be a disaster for additional millions of people piled on top of the already-uninsured 47 million. There is no overstating how crucial this legislation is.

So it is up to each of us individually to speak out, to flood Washington with the people's point of view. Write and phone your senators and representative. But don't stop there. Contact the majority and minority leaders in each house of Congress. The committee chairs and members. And don't stop. Keep doing it. Again and again. Here's the link to reach all of them.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton “Sandy” Dickson: Two Memories.



Dr. Butler and the Longevity Revolution

Since returning from the week-long Age Boom Academy conference in New York last month, I have been wrestling with how to share with you the extraordinary range and depth of learning we were exposed to about aging.

Although I have and will continue to use this new knowledge in posts on a variety of topics, it is generally not possible to report on the 25 or so individual presentations. They were sometimes detailed, complex and my notes are woefully inadequate.

Dr. Robert N. Butler, the president and CEO of the International Longevity Center, which runs the Academy conference each year, was the first and last to speak with us. As I have mentioned to you before, Dr. Butler is a physician, geriatrician, Pulitzer Prize-winner, founder of the first geriatrics department at a U.S. medical school, general expert on all aspects of aging and the author of The Longevity Revolution, published last year.

By “longevity revolution,” Dr. Butler means the profound effects that an aging population (elders will grow from the current 12 percent of the population to 20 percent by 2050) will have on just about everything. A few of the facts he gave us:

• Since 1960, we have achieved a 60 percent reduction in heart disease.

• In terms of human rights, old women are the most abused group on earth.

• There are only 11 departments of geriatrics in the 145 U.S. medical schools.

• People 65 and older commit suicide at a larger rate than any other age group.

• Social Security provides more life insurance benefits than all private life insurance combined.

• Twenty-five percent of elders live on $39 or less per day – just $14,234 per year - at the high end.

• There are somewhere between 48,000 and 96,000 hospital deaths per year due to human error – in other words, preventable deaths. An additional 100,000 die from drug incompatibilities, many because drugs are not tested on old people who metabolize drugs differently than younger people do.

• Ninety percent of nursing homes do not meet federally-mandated staffing requirements.

• Eighty percent of all U.S. deaths occur after the age of 60.

These items do not begin to convey the breadth and depth of information, none of the consequences or the solutions about which Dr. Butler spoke with us.

But hurray – I have found at FORA.tv, the video of a speech Dr. Butler gave in May 2008 at the Commonwealth Club of California. It contains a good amount of the knowledge he passed on at the Academy.

The video runs 58:50 minutes. Dr. Butler speaks for 40 minutes followed by an audience Q&A covering additional age-related topics including employment, long-term care insurance, physician-assisted suicide, end-of-life legal and medical issues, wellness programs and the kinds of health care policy changes that are needed.

I know the video is long, but I hope you will find time to view it. At the least, it will give you an idea of how extraordinary the conference was and better, you will have a new and deeper understanding of the issues we and our leaders must deal with to accommodate this permanent population increase of elders. And, you will gain a grounding in many of the issues that must be considered now and in the near future, and certainly as we grapple with health care reform this summer.

NOTE: The video below runs for only ten minutes. When it quits, click "Watch Full Program" in the lower right of the video screen. You will be taken to the FORA.tv website where you can view the remainder of the speech and the back-and-forth with the audience.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: The Lost Chord.



THE TGB ELDER GEEK: Browsing with Tabs

EDITORIAL NOTE: Virginia DeBolt (bio) writes the bi-weekly Elder Geek column for Time Goes By in which she takes the mystery out of techie things all bloggers and internet users need to know to simplify computer use. She has written several books on technology and keeps two blogs herself, Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

Tabs make browsing easier. Tabs are a way of having more than one site open in your browser without having more than one window open. Several tabs can be opened in a single browser window at one time. Keeping track of the sites you are using is much easier when you have them all as tabs and can click from tab to tab instead of searching for individual open windows.

Here's my Firefox browser with four pages open in tabs. (My tabs are colored, yours probably won't be.)

Tabs

The page title is shown on the tab label, which makes it easy to click from tab to tab to find the page you want.

My examples are with the Firefox browser. Internet Explorer or Safari or Opera or other browsers can use tabs. If you aren't using Firefox, look through the menus in your browser. You'll find a way to use tabs. The menu item may not be exactly the same wording, but you should find the same idea.

In Firefox, you can set your Preferences to always open new windows in a tab. In Preferences, select the radio button for 'a new tab' under "New pages should be opened in:"

Preferences

When clicking a link, you can open a page in a new tab, even if your Preferences aren't set that way. Right clicking (Ctrl-click on a Mac) on the link and select 'open link in new tab' from the contextual menu that pops up.

What if you have a page open and you want to open another page in a tab, but you don't have a link to click? You open a new blank page in a tab in preparation for navigating to a new site by choosing File > New Tab. Once the new blank page is open, type the URL in the address bar. (I wrote about how to use your address bar in Love Your Address Bar.)

Do you visit the same set of pages every day? Maybe you open your Google Reader, your own blog, a news site, and a weather site every single day when you start browsing. With Firefox, you can bookmark all of those sites into a folder and open the whole bunch all at once in tabs.

First get them all open in tabs. Then choose Bookmarks > Bookmark All Tabs.

Bookmarktabs

You'll be asked to name a folder to hold this set of bookmarks. Create a name and save.

When you want to open all your pages in tabs, find the folder you created in your bookmarks. Click the folder name, then click the last item in the list of bookmarks list: Open all in tabs. Everything in your folder will open in tabs.

Openall

Tabs are as easy to close as they are to open. There is a small X on each tab. Just click the X and the tab will close. The rest of the pages/tabs you have open will be unaffected. If you accidentally close a tab, you can reopen it using the Recently Closed Tabs option in the History menu.

If you've never used tabs in your browser, I urge you to give them a try. They make browsing a lot easier.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, George J. Measer: A Very Historical Dinner Party.



Age and Leaky Old Pipes

category_bug_journal2.gif The big-time diseases of age such as cancer, stroke, various heart problems, dementia, diabetes, etc. focus the mind. To the degree they are treatable, the intervention of a physician (or, several physicians) is necessary and in acute stages, they consume large amounts of time and attention. One becomes, for the duration, a professional patient.

Then there are the less life-threatening afflictions of growing old, among them arthritis, sleep difficulties, hearing loss, vision problems, osteoporosis and others. Some are treatable; others we accommodate each in our way.

There is another age-related ailment no one speaks of. It is considered too embarrassing to admit or discuss, so, of course, I will do so anyway: incontinence.

I have some experience with that, having cared for my mother during the final months of her life. Although she and I got through it with relative ease, trust me, telling your mother you are going to put her in diapers is not the most fun conversation you will ever have.

And now I have gained some up-close-and-personal acquaintanceship with it: lately, when I laugh, sneeze or cough with too much force, I leak. Or, more bluntly, I pee in my pants. Not a lot, a few drops, and it happens not just when I need to visit the bathroom; it can happen even when I have just peed.

A trip around medical sites on the web reveals that this is called stress incontinence. It affects about 35 percent of older women and you get an idea of the pervasiveness of the condition by googling the phrase, which turns up 370,000 results. So I assume I am not the only one in the TGB community with this problem.

In women, stress incontinence is usually due to weakened muscles in our plumbing brought on by pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. About half as many men are affected which, in them, can be a result of prostate surgery.

In addition to laughing, sneezing and coughing, leakage can occur when running, jogging, lifting heavy objects and during sex. According to several websites, embarrassment leads some people to limit their social lives, but there are solutions.

Kegel exercises are recommended. There are also drugs and several kinds of surgery although the latter seems extreme for a relatively minor problem. Me? I just buy special, thin pantiliners now that do the trick when I leak. I've tucked a couple into every handbag so I don't I forget to have them with me when I'm away from home.

There is excellent medical information about stress incontinence at this National Institutes of Health website and at this Mayo Clinic site. And, surprisingly, some useful advice at this corporate site for one brand of pantiliner.

Getting old isn't easy and the little things seem to pile up: sleep problems, trying to read small print, fighting off weight gain - and now a leaky pipe. We shouldn't be any more embarrassed to talk about it than any of the others.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henrich von Bunau: The Right Book at the Right Time.



Health Care Reform Gets Personal

REMINDER: Don't forget the new FEATURED ELDERBLOGS in the left sidebar. Each Monday five blogs are selected from the complete list to be featured for the week.

category_bug_politics.gif Having misplaced the link and having no luck with Google, I must ask you to trust me: somewhere a week or two ago, there was a news story about elders being the biggest threat to a single-payer system or public option in whatever health care reform bill emerges from Congress.

The thinking of the writer was that since elders have their own single-payer system, Medicare, they don't give a damn about the rest of the country and therefore won't support reform for everyone.

And this morning in The New York Times, a Maine small-business owner echoed that sentiment. People on public programs like Medicaid and Medicare

"...are less likely to speak up [about health care reform]," he said. "'It does not affect them the way it affects us.'"

What hogwash. Elders have children, grandchildren and in some cases great grandchildren and they are acutely aware of their progeny's struggle to pay for health care with and without coverage. Many elders are helping out their families every way they can. Of course (depending on party affiliation and political ideology), they would support affordable health care for their children.

The underlying implication that elders have no interest in the well-being of anyone but themselves is repulsive. In fact, elderhood is the time of life when people generally become less self-centered and more concerned with the greater good. So let's have no more of that sort of ageist scare tactic – especially among so-called progressives.

That's personal enough, but then along comes my own Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican who sits on the Senate Finance Committee that is working on a health care reform bill expected to be released in August. Last week in an interview with AP, Senator Snowe said:

“...it would be unfair to include a government-run health insurance option that would take effect immediately.”

How would it be unfair, you ask? Wait for it...

"If you establish a public option at the forefront that goes head-to-head and competes with the private health insurance market...” she explained, “the public option will have significant price advantages.”

I don't mean to be rude about it, but well - duh, Senator. That is the point. It is not like the private sector has a track record of offering affordable coverage even while cherry picking insureds, misrepresenting coverage and rejecting claims.

In a minuscule gesture to the real world, Senator Snowe also said the private sector has not delivered, but then went on to state, according to AP, that she believes it is important to “preserve what is good about the health care system.”

And just what is it that is good about the private sector? Forty-five million uninsured? Thirty million underinsured? Even large employers struggling to pay private insurers for company-provided coverage? How is any of this good?

The 80/20 rule applies to health care as it does with so many other things: 20 percent of the people overall use 80 percent of health care. This is one of the reasons Medicare is in financial trouble. Elders as an age group have more health care needs than younger age groups, so a program that covers only elders is bound to come up short.

On the other hand, if everyone were insured under one big tent, the risk is spread out evenly and health care becomes more affordable.

Which is why the smartest thing to do to repair health care in the U.S. is a single-payer system that would fold Medicare into it (or expand Medicare to everyone). Failing that, a public option will go a long way toward improving the system and could, in time, lead to a true single-payer system.

Recently, the battle for health care reform has taken to the television airwaves mostly with commercials using crude scare tactics to convince viewers that with a public health plan, government bureaucrats will make health care decisions. Here's one of them [31 seconds]:

This is almost too easy to refute: Medicare is a government-run health care program. Its administrative costs are about two percent compared to 15-20 percent with private insurers which is passed on to customers in high premiums. Like any large system, Medicare has its flaws, but for the most part it works quite well for elders and there is no reason it or a similar system won't work for everyone.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Emilie Babcox: My First Rock Concert.



ELDER MUSIC: Classical Part 2

Last week, our Australian musicologist, Peter Tibbles gave us Part One of a three-part Classical series for Sunday Elder Music. Today, Part Two.


Mahler wrote one of my favorite symphonies. This is his number 4. This one doesn’t go on for about three days as some of his others do. It’s quiet and melodic and just beautiful. This is the fourth movement, Kiri Te Kanawa is singing.

Gustav-Mahler

Carlo Gesualdo is an interesting fellow. He murdered his wife and her lover when he caught them at it (so to speak). He left their mutilated bodies in front of the palace for all to see (Eeeuuuu yuck).

As he was a nobleman he was immune from prosecution. He did, however, flee to his castle in southern Italy to avoid revenge attacks. He pretty much spent the rest of his life cooped up writing music. He also hired servants to beat him each day.

Oh, he did marry again. This wife accused him of abuse and her family tried to obtain a divorce for her. It is reported that she must have been a virtuous wife though, as he didn’t attempt to murder her. Perhaps not as virtuous as he thought as there were rumors that she may have done him in.

Being a murderous nut-case doesn’t preclude one from producing fine music. Illumina faciem tuam for five voices.

Gesualdo

There’s nothing I can add to the many libraries’ worth of stuff written about Mozart so I won’t. I’ll just play a movement from one of his sonatas for piano and violin. I played them all this weekend (when I wrote this), three CDs with Daniel Barenboim and Itzhak Perlman. I wanted to include them all, they are all so marvelous. It was an almost arbitrary decision on what to play. I chose the second movement from K296.

Mozart

I’m a bit picky about the operas I like, and they tend to veer towards the famous and popular. I don’t want to hear them in English. The stories of most operas are so ridiculous they make Days of Our Lives seem like cutting edge drama. I’m not fond of German ones either, so bye-bye Wagner.

So it’s the Italians, particularly Verdi (Otello, Don Carlos), Puccini (Bohème, Butterfly) and Bellini (Norma). Also the French: Bizet, particularly The Pearl Fishers.

However, for this I’m going earlier. It was a toss up between Monteverdi and Handel. After listening to both of these I couldn’t decide between them so I’m including both. Monteverdi L’Orfeo, Emma Kirky singing.

Monteverdi

EDITOR'S NOTE: Classical mp3 files are so large that only a few at a time can be posted. Next week's third Classical Elder Music will begin with Handel's Athalia.



Happy Fourth of July, Everyone

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This Week in Elder News is taking off the holiday. It will return next Saturday. And, in a housekeeping announcement, due to a fire at a server farm in Seattle, I have been without email since Thursday evening. The outage continues, so if you have sent a note expecting an answer, I have no knowledge of it and so far, no estimate of when email service will be restored.]

For the past eight years, America's independence Day celebration has felt tarnished by the many assaults from the Bush administration on our Constitution. Now, however, even with our current difficulties – recession, greedy Wall Streeters, millions of foreclosures, unemployment, two continuing wars, a Congress as out of touch with its constituency as if they are on Mars, etc. - there is reason, to borrow President Obama's word, to hope for better days ahead as we celebrate today.

I looked at a lot of poorly shot and way-too-long videos of fireworks displays before finding this beautiful one from New York City. The background music, to which the fireworks are gorgeously edited, is the national anthem recorded many years ago by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. Remember them? [1:55 minutes]

As Thomas Jefferson (and many others) counseled, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” In case you missed it yesterday, here is a repeat of Saul Friedman's Reflections column recounting the year President Nixon tried to cancel the Fourth of July.

* * *

Does anyone remember when a president and his cronies tried to take our Independence Day from us? It happened on July 4, 1970 and I was there.

That was the year when the era, the values and the spirit known as the Sixties reached its climax – for good and for ill. The Beatles broke up, but protest, the stuff of freedom and democracy, was in the air. So was caring, for lives, for the future, for peace and for the earth.

On April 21, with the sainted Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin leading the way, the nation celebrated its first Earth Day and the environmental movement came of age. But less than a month later, on May 4, four students were killed and others wounded at Kent State University, by the jittery members of the Ohio National Guard sent by Republican governor, James A. Rhodes, to quell a campus protest with loaded rifles. What happened was inevitable.

You must remember the photo of a young woman, Mary Vecchio, screaming over the body of a fallen student, Jeffrey Miller.

KentState1970

The kids at Kent State, as well as students on other campuses, were protesting Richard Nixon’s decision to widen the Vietnam conflict with the unauthorized bombing of Cambodia and an invasion of Laos, which revealed that U.S. forces had been secretly fighting – and dying – in Laos in violation of the law.

Following the Kent State massacre, campuses everywhere exploded with angry, shocked protest; even the kids at my daughter’s middle school walked out. And thousands descended on Washington in some of the largest protests ever seen in the capital. Richard Nixon, who couldn’t sleep came out of the White House in the early morning to talk to students camping near the Reflecting Pool.

The students reported that the president seemed high on drugs and spoke to several of the protesters not about why they were there, but about the surfing near the western White House in California.

Anyway, as July 4 neared, there was fear in the White House and among supporters of the war that Americans might mark Independence Day by protest or by petitioning their government to hear and pay mind to their grievances. Imagine! Free speech, dissent, on the day the nation celebrates a revolution? That could not be.

And so, the Rev. Billy Graham and comedian Bob Hope, two of the nation’s most eminent cheerleaders for the war and for Richard Nixon and his “silent majority,” agreed to co-sponsor their substitute for Independence Day. It was called “Honor America Day, ” as if it dishonored America to honor the First Amendment.

The same White House cabal that was already at work against the anti-war movement in an illegal effort that became Watergate, helped organize Honor America Day to give aid and comfort to Nixon, his thieving vice-president, Spiro Agnew, and to charge that the millions opposed to the war were subversive and un-American.

Veterans organizations, Republican groups, religious types, the Boy Scouts and other professional patriots called thousands to the Washington Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. I doubt if they knew much about the union Lincoln saved. Only a few visited the nearby memorial to Thomas Jefferson who gave us the right of revolution and whose words are inscribed above his statue: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Billy Graham gave the keynote address and noted that Nixon, from his White House window could see the crowd. “That’s the one nice thing about America, “ Graham said. ”You can get a crowd like this together without a football game and what a gathering.”

July 4 that year fell on a Saturday and I was pulling the weekend duty at the Knight Newspapers Washington bureau. It fell to me to do a story on the gathering, but I needed a fresh angle.

What I did was circulate a phony petition seeking signatures from people in the crowd. I told people I represented a group called The Sons of Liberty, and I showed them the petition which read something like this:

PETITION

“As the Declaration of Independence says, the people have certain unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. We believe that whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and form a new government that will provide these rights. Please join in our appeal.”

I left spaces for people to sign, but couldn’t get more than two or three signatures. Most of the dozens of people I approached were suspicious that I was some kind of anti-war activist. I assured them that was not my purpose and still most refused on the grounds that, “it sounds subversive. I’m not for overthrowing the government.”

When I told them that the petition simply echoed the words of the Declaration of Independence, some were embarrassed, others just shrugged but still declined to sign; “I don’t sign petitions,”they said. On this Independence Day, people were afraid to sign a petition.

But I remember most clearly an encounter with a young civics teacher from the Midwest who had brought with him a number of his students. They were gathered about us when I asked the teacher if he would sign my petition. He read it carefully and refused, telling me, “I can’t agree with that.” I told him and his students, “The words and ideas come from the Declaration of Independence.”

I showed him the relevant passage from a copy of the Declaration. “You tricked me,” he said. His students laughed at his discomfort. But I think he learned something. And I had a story.

Fortunately, Honor America Day died with that day. From then on, Washington got back its Independence Day with all the bells, whistles, music and fireworks on the Mall, as John Adams intended. Unfortunately, the killing in southeast Asia went on for five more years.



REFLECTIONS: 1970

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Does anyone remember when a president and his cronies tried to take our Independence Day from us? It happened on July 4, 1970 and I was there.

That was the year when the era, the values and the spirit known as the Sixties reached its climax – for good and for ill. The Beatles broke up, but protest, the stuff of freedom and democracy, was in the air. So was caring, for lives, for the future, for peace and for the earth.

On April 21, with the sainted Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin leading the way, the nation celebrated its first Earth Day and the environmental movement came of age. But less than a month later, on May 4, four students were killed and others wounded at Kent State University, by the jittery members of the Ohio National Guard sent by Republican governor, James A. Rhodes, to quell a campus protest with loaded rifles. What happened was inevitable.

You must remember the photo of a young woman, Mary Vecchio, screaming over the body of a fallen student, Jeffrey Miller.

KentState1970

The kids at Kent State, as well as students on other campuses, were protesting Richard Nixon’s decision to widen the Vietnam conflict with the unauthorized bombing of Cambodia and an invasion of Laos, which revealed that U.S. forces had been secretly fighting – and dying – in Laos in violation of the law.

Following the Kent State massacre, campuses everywhere exploded with angry, shocked protest; even the kids at my daughter’s middle school walked out. And thousands descended on Washington in some of the largest protests ever seen in the capital. Richard Nixon, who couldn’t sleep came out of the White House in the early morning to talk to students camping near the Reflecting Pool.

The students reported that the president seemed high on drugs and spoke to several of the protesters not about why they were there, but about the surfing near the western White House in California.

Anyway, as July 4 neared, there was fear in the White House and among supporters of the war that Americans might mark Independence Day by protest or by petitioning their government to hear and pay mind to their grievances. Imagine! Free speech, dissent, on the day the nation celebrates a revolution? That could not be.

And so, the Rev. Billy Graham and comedian Bob Hope, two of the nation’s most eminent cheerleaders for the war and for Richard Nixon and his “silent majority,” agreed to co-sponsor their substitute for Independence Day. It was called “Honor America Day, ” as if it dishonored America to honor the First Amendment.

The same White House cabal that was already at work against the anti-war movement in an illegal effort that became Watergate, helped organize Honor America Day to give aid and comfort to Nixon, his thieving vice-president, Spiro Agnew, and to charge that the millions opposed to the war were subversive and un-American.

Veterans organizations, Republican groups, religious types, the Boy Scouts and other professional patriots called thousands to the Washington Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. I doubt if they knew much about the union Lincoln saved. Only a few visited the nearby memorial to Thomas Jefferson who gave us the right of revolution and whose words are inscribed above his statue: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Billy Graham gave the keynote address and noted that Nixon, from his White House window could see the crowd. “That’s the one nice thing about America, “ Graham said. ”You can get a crowd like this together without a football game and what a gathering.”

July 4 that year fell on a Saturday and I was pulling the weekend duty at the Knight Newspapers Washington bureau. It fell to me to do a story on the gathering, but I needed a fresh angle.

What I did was circulate a phony petition seeking signatures from people in the crowd. I told people I represented a group called The Sons of Liberty, and I showed them the petition which read something like this:

PETITION

“As the Declaration of Independence says, the people have certain unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. We believe that whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and form a new government that will provide these rights. Please join in our appeal.”

I left spaces for people to sign, but couldn’t get more than two or three signatures. Most of the dozens of people I approached were suspicious that I was some kind of anti-war activist. I assured them that was not my purpose and still most refused on the grounds that, “it sounds subversive. I’m not for overthrowing the government.”

When I told them that the petition simply echoed the words of the Declaration of Independence, some were embarrassed, others just shrugged but still declined to sign; “I don’t sign petitions,”they said. On this Independence Day, people were afraid to sign a petition.

But I remember most clearly an encounter with a young civics teacher from the Midwest who had brought with him a number of his students. They were gathered about us when I asked the teacher if he would sign my petition. He read it carefully and refused, telling me, “I can’t agree with that.” I told him and his students, “The words and ideas come from the Declaration of Independence.”

I showed him the relevant passage from a copy of the Declaration. “You tricked me,” he said. His students laughed at his discomfort. But I think he learned something. And I had a story.

Fortunately, Honor America Day died with that day. From then on, Washington got back its Independence Day with all the bells, whistles, music and fireworks on the Mall, as John Adams intended. Unfortunately, the killing in southeast Asia went on for five more years.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Nancy Leitz: The Ring.



Chez Bennett Deck Farm is Soaked

category_bug_journal2.gif While the rest of the United States has apparently been wilting in excessive heat with its own kind of consequences, here in Portland, Maine, it has been persistently dark, dank, foggy and rainy. In the three weeks and two days I have been home from New York City, the sun has appeared just twice and then, only for parts of those two days.

Dampness pervades everything. Even the mail arrives soggy and the weather people say this will continue at least through the holiday weekend.

The farmers at the Wednesday farmer's market tell me their crops are suffering from too much rain and no sun. Indeed, so is my deck farm. My first foray this year into growing some of my own food is probably going to fail.

It is so wet on my roof-protected deck that the cushions on the chaise longue and wicker chair, placed in the back of the deck next to the exterior wall of the apartment, have become soaked. That never happened in three previous summers no matter how heavy and windy the occasional thunderstorm.

This tree, which grows in a neighbor's yard next to my building, has for the three years of my residency been upright with its branches spilling attractively into the side of my deck. Now it is bent halfway over - away from my deck, fortunately - presumably from so much rain loosening its roots.

Tree

Some mold or fungus in three colors – green, orange and dark red – has invaded part of the fence surrounding the deck. Should there ever be dry weather again, it will need scrubbing off.

Fungus_Mold

Remember the hanging strawberry experiment I showed you a few weeks ago? Forget it. More than half were dead when I returned from New York so I transplanted the few remaining into a normal pot. They are so leggy now without a blossom anywhere that I doubt there will be any fruit.

Strawberry

This hanging fan flower plant (which took the place of the hanging strawberry bags) was once big, round, lush and full. It droops now, with broken stems and many of its flowers gone.

FanFlower

Generally, nothing grows. The plants just sit there in their pots being wet. The blueberry bush hasn't gained an inch in a month and what buds were present have fallen off.

Blueberry

Equally so, this poor little nasturtium, a special type with dark red flowers I was looking forward to, only sways to and fro in the rain. It does not grow.

Nasturtium

The two pots of arugula sit side-by-side. The one in the back of this photo is shows some growth, trying its best considering the weather. The other is turning yellow. It is dying before it has had a chance to live.

Arugula

The lettuce you see behind the arugula grows, but it is limp and tasteless.

Only the anise hyssop, which I grow for the aroma, not food although the leaves are edible, is thriving and there are even buds at the top of the stalks now. Perhaps it was originally a rain forest plant. (I doubt that's true.)

Hyssop

The best thing I can say about the deck farm is that the spiders are amazing to watch. They are tiny, little red things, their bodies no more than about an eighth of an inch in diameter, so their brains must be the size of a molecule. Nevertheless, they are clever at finding places for their webs that are protected from the rain.

SpiderWeb

I am not generally a sun person. I cross the street to walk on the shady side. I have never lain in the sun to tan, ever. And I am miserable in hot weather – humid or dry – so I'm better off with this anomaly than the heat the rest of you have. Still – it's enough now. Enough. Does anyone know what the opposite of a rain dance is?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Judy Vaughn: Envisioning Cancer.



Sleep and Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif Sloppy language or not, I can't sleep for shit. I struggle to stay awake past 8PM; sometimes I win but more often the sandman prevails. When he has the upper hand, I awaken at 3AM ready for bear and unless you count more time on the computer as a good thing, there's not much to do in those wee hours.

Plus, since all my energy - physical and mental - is concentrated in the first half of my day, getting out of bed at 3AM doesn't leave much time to accomplish anything. By noon, I'm worn out and am sometimes sleepy enough at mid-afternoon for a nap – not that having one affects the sandman's arrival time.

Nor do I sleep soundly. On average, I wake once to pee and two or three more times for no good reason.

All this led me to grab two of the many pamphlets available to attendees at the recent Age Boom Academy – one a report on what researchers have learned about sleep and age, the other a how-to on improving quality of sleep. A few facts:

• More than half of all people aged 65 and older experience sleep problems

• Daytime sleepiness and napping increase with age

• Obesity, alcohol, smoking, nasal congestion and estrogen depletion in menopause increase the risk for sleeplessness

• Insomnia and disturbed sleep have a negative impact on mood, attention, cognitive function, memory and can cause balance problems leading to falls

Researchers have come late to studying sleep, particularly in elders, and it is not well understood. Geriatrician, Robert N. Butler, writes in the preface to one of the pamphlets:

”Quality of sleep is tied to quality of life and, indeed, to the genesis of disease. Sleep may play a salient role in increasing vulnerability to illness and disability. For example, sleep deprivation produces a prediabetic state, and evidence suggests that sleep is important in maintenance of immune function...

“While we do not fully understand its myriad functions, we know that sleep is both restorative and protective.”

Certain medications, diseases, breathing disorders, mental illness and hypnotics prescribed for sleeplessness can cause insomnia and sleep interruption, and should be handled with the help of a physician. Short-term sleep problems such as due to grieving, will take care of themselves in time.

Having none of those indications, I'm personally concerned with not being able to sleep well for no reason. I already follow most of the researchers' suggestions for a better night's sleep, but now I'm going to add these:

• Change my daily hour-long walk to the late afternoon (rather than the morning) but at least three hours before bed

• Eat my largest meal at midday rather than in the evening

• Use the bed only for sleep and sex; no more television or reading in bed (this will be the hard one to follow)

If the statistics are correct, half of you reading this have sleep problems. Here are links to three useful pamphlets about sleep from the International Longevity Center – USA which you can download in PDF format for free.

Sleep, Health and Aging
Getting Your Zzzzzzzz's
The Role of Sleep in Healthy Aging

At The Elder Storytelling Place today: liloldme: Autumn Adventure