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Beautiful Baby Beau Brummel Bennett of Bedford Street

HAIKU CONTEST NOTICE: The winner of the haiku contest for a year's free blog at Typepad was planned to be announced today. It is being delayed due to vote cheating that will be addressed here on Monday 5 October.

category_bug_journal2.gif Thirty-three years ago, while on my usual rounds in my Greenwich Village neighborhood, I stopped at the window of a pet shop. There was a pile of sleeping gray kittens and one different-looking kitten who was a bit older bouncing off the window and walls apparently so overjoyed with life that he could not contain himself.

I walked in. The clerk handed me that kitten. He – the kitten - attached himself to my chest as though we were born for each other and, nuzzling my neck as he purred loudly enough to be heard in Hoboken, wouldn't let go. It was love at first sight for him and for me. Then I asked his price.

It broke my heart to unhook his baby claws from my sweater and replace him in the window. But I was unemployed at the time and he was expensive - an Abyssinian back in the days before they had become overbred.

During the month, as I passed the shop (I'll admit, more frequently than before), the pile of gray kittens grew smaller, the Abyssinian grew larger and his joy in life did not diminish an iota. Or – could it be so? - it was his pleasure at seeing me again that had him bounding around the enclosure.

After four weeks of almost daily visits to the pet store window, I said to hell with the checkbook – I would somehow figure out how to feed us. We went home together that day.

Thus began 20 years of a remarkable friendship. He knew he was a beauty and within a day or so, he made it known that his human name was Beau Brummel – because he wore such fancy clothes. In a moment of whimsy, I added “beautiful baby,” “Bennett” and to complete the alliteration, “of Bedford Street,” where we lived.

In those early days, we had some disagreements on the arrangements of daily life. I learned to awaken earlier – dawn was a good time for that according to Beau – and to reinforce his edict, if I tried to sleep in, he soon discovered that grabbing a mouthful of my hair and pulling produced his intended result.

On the other hand, he never objected when I had an overnight guest and shut him out of the bedroom.

After several weeks of what must have seemed an almost futile attempt, Beau taught me to play fetch (humans are hard to train; they learn so slowly). And he was an intrepid stalker of flies; I would return home from work to find several in one little pile where he collected the carcasses for me. But I drew the line when he brought me dead birds and expectantly plopped them on the counter in front of the microwave. That far I would not go.

Beau adapted immediately when I taught him to use the toilet so I could do away with the litter box. It was disconcerting, however, to come rushing home with an immediate need to pee only to find Beau perched on the throne being very serious about what he was doing. When I mentioned this talent to an acquaintance who was a producer at the television show, Those Amazing Animals, she scoffed. “Oh, Ronni, we already featured a cat who uses the toilet and that one flushes when he's finished.”

Beau thought all humans were invented for his enjoyment. He loved them all, including the robbers who broke into our home on several occasions. He was equally happy to see friends, greeting them at the door and curiously inspected their clothes, picking up clues with his nose to where they had come from and what they had been doing.

But he was particular about bedtime. If guests had not left by 11PM, he sat down in the middle of the group and yelled. Repeatedly. Even those who were visiting for the first time understood he was telling them to leave. Now. When they gathered up their belongings, he politely escorted them to the door for a cordial, “Good evening, thank you for coming” and a sigh of relief, when the door was closed, that we were alone, just the two of us, again.

Beau loved books; an open one was irresistible and he pawed at the pages for many long minutes. He came “this close” to being the next Morris the Cat on television when a friend, who was directing a series of pet food commercials, saw Beau with a book and said he could easily edit it took look like Beau was turning the pages.

Unfortunately, the cat food company's advertising people, although they liked the idea, wanted an unrecognizable breed. Too bad; Beau might otherwise have made us rich.

After two decades together, Beau was slowing down, gray fur multiplying on his face and head. The doctor said he was wasn't sick, he was just old.

One day his hind legs stopped working and he didn't want to eat anymore. When I left for work each morning, I placed him on a thickness of towels to soak up urine, with a bowl of water he could reach with just a turn of his head.

On the fourth morning, when I left him on his towel on the bed to go shower, he yelled. I returned and he stopped. I tried again, he yelled. Okay, okay, Beau, I told him. I'll stay home today. And this time, as I left the room to shower, he did not yell.

I arranged Beau on a fresh towel with his water bowl on a low table next to my desk and we were quietly happy together that day. He was weak, but he lifted his head to lick my hand when I petted him. Early that evening, I moved us onto the bed to watch the evening news together, as was our habit.

A few minutes later, a low, guttural moan erupted from Beau. It went on and on and on while his legs stiffened, each pointing in a different direction. The moan got louder. I didn't know what to do. I was crying and holding him and the moan continued, on and on.

Until it stopped. And Beau was dead. That was 13 years ago yesterday.

I was reminded of Beau, our life together and his death this weekend when friends visited and Ollie, my current cat, objected to Rufus the dog and refused to come out from under the bed until they left on Sunday. Even without a dog, other people don't interest Ollie. He would prefer they didn't come 'round at all.

Ollie has other charms, when we are alone together, and we love each other. He makes me laugh and we have long chats back and forth and he has taught me several games. My friend Steve, who was here with Kathy last weekend, said he believes that although all our pets are important to us, many people have had one that is the most special of all.


Beautiful Baby Beau Brummel Bennett of Bedford Street was my bestest best friend for 20 years. I will never stop missing him.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Oldest Blogger - Not

Senator Kohl is Taking Your Health Care Reform Questions Right Now

category_bug_politics.gif Last week, several other elderbloggers and I were given the opportunity to speak by telephone with aides to Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid about the health care reform bill that is now in mark up with the Senate Finance Committee before it moves to the Senate floor.

Now it's your turn.

Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin has agreed to answer some questions about health care reform exclusively from Time Goes By readers.

Kohl, a Democrat, has served in the Senate since 1988, and what is important to us (who don't live in Wisconsin) is that he is chairman of the permanent Senate Special Committee on Aging, making him strongly familiar with elder issues. His Senate website is here and there is more about his background at Wikipedia.

Leave your questions in the comments below. They can be about aspects of the bill, Senate and Congressional procedure in regard to the bill or Senator Kohl's points of view on it.

The questions will be sent to the senator's office early tomorrow morning and he will answer as many as possible in a video that will be posted here on Friday.

Be sure to include your first name with your question along with your city and state. And if someone has already asked your question, go ahead and repeat it. It will help the senator know what is uppermost in our minds.

To get your juices flowing, here's a White House video of Vice President Joe Biden passionately defending against the “malarkey” that is being promulgated about health care reform and Medicare. “Fight like hell for the things you believe in,” he says. “Fight for what's right.” [5:04 minutes]

Now, get crackin' with your questions. This is a terrific opportunity to let the Senate know what elders care about on this contentious and critical issue.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Quiet Meandering Stream

Vote Today For the Free Elderblog Winner

The good people at Typepad, the company that hosts this blog and The Elder Storytelling Place, gave me one, year-long blogging account to give away and last Monday I asked those who are interested to tell us, in the form of a haiku, why they want to start a blog.

The poems poured in by email and I had a great time reading them all. If it were up to me, everyone who entered the contest would win but alas, there can be only one. So...

The three finalists have been selected and today, readers, you get to vote for the winner.

The haikus are below. Please vote in the form where the choices are listed by the first line of each haiku. Voting is open until 6PM eastern U.S. time tomorrow – Tuesday 29 September. The winner will be announced on Wednesday.

Memory bottle
crammed inside my too-small brain
Time to uncork it

Blogging is a way
for me to bridge the chasm
between the races

Here's a deal for you:
If I become the winner
I'll blog in haiku


IMPORTANT HEALTH CARE REFORM NOTICE: Tomorrow, Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee will debate the private public option for inclusion or not in the Baucus Bill. Some of us think this is a crucial component for any reform to succeed. If you think so too, write your senators today.

It doesn't matter if you've done this before. Remind them again that you support a public option and include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid your list of contacts. Here is how to find your Congress members and Harry Reid.

Harry Reid
Email form
Phone 202.224.3542

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson: Big Dog Little Dog


PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic Edward “Kid” Ory may have been the most influential artist in early jazz inasmuch as he hired many of the great musicians of New Orleans, including King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds, amongst others.

He lived a long life, unlike many of his contemporaries, retired from music in 1966 and spent his last years in Hawaii. He died in 1973 (he was born in 1886).  So, not all of them went the “live fast, die young” route.

This is Ory’s Creole Trombone (1927).  It’s played by a decent little band consisting of Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin and Johnny St. Cyr. These folks could rock.


In contrast, Leon Bix Beiderbecke became a legend by playing the cornet brilliantly and drinking too much resulting in his death at 28 (hmm, not 27 like the rock 'n' rollers. I guess the jazz guys had just a bit more stamina). Besides the cornet, he was a skilled classical and jazz pianist.

Bix had suffered health problems from an early age and his health declined further in his adult years. He toured relentlessly, consumed alcohol excessively, much of it low quality, and often somewhat poisonous, prohibition era stuff. His performances began to suffer to such an extent that during his time in a band, another player famously wrote the reminder "Wake up Bix" on a sheet music transcript shortly before Beiderbecke's solo.

This is Singing the Blues (1927) (not the Guy Mitchell song of the same name). Louis Armstrong once remarked that he never played this tune because he thought Bix's recording could not be touched.

Bix Beiderbecke

Jelly Roll Morton was born with the wonderful name, Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe. I don’t know why he changed it. Okay, I do. He’d have got “Ferdie the Moth” no doubt.

He was one of the highly regarded pianists in the early days of jazz. At the age of fourteen, he began working as a piano player in a “sporting house.” While working there, he was living with his very religious great-grandmother and had her convinced that he worked in a barrel factory. His granny eventually found out that he was playing jazz in a local brothel and kicked him out of her house.

He claimed to have invented jazz in 1902, and a good case could be made for that. Of course, there are others who could make the same claim, Buddy Bolden for one.

Morton moved around a bit, recording in Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. It was in his Washington club where he was seriously injured in a knife fight. The nearby whites-only hospital refused to treat him. He was left hanging around at another hospital and didn’t ever fully recover.

Jelly Roll Morton playing and singing Dr Jazz (1926).


Joe “King” Oliver is the link between the rather nebulous prehistory of jazz and its later flowering. He started as trombonist and from about 1907, he played in brass bands, dance bands and in various small groups in New Orleans bars and cabarets. He switched to the cornet (maybe it was easier to carry?) and in that time, took another cornet player, Louis Armstrong, under his wing. He left New Orleans for California and, later, Chicago and New York.

Unfortunately, a succession of managers stole money from him and he lost his life savings during the Depression when his bank collapsed.

He pioneered the use of the mute using various objects – hats, plumber’s friends, bottles, cups - anything that came to hand really.

Many jazz greats (even Miles Davis, not noted for praising many musicians) pay him great respect. Someday Sweetheart (1926). Bert Cobb doing some nice tuba work.


Of course, the one we all want to hear is Buddy Bolden. Unfortunately, not even I can conjure up something for you to listen to for, as far as we know, he left no recordings. Bolden often closed his shows with the tune Get Out of Here and Go Home. You’ve gotta love that.

He suffered an episode of acute psychosis in 1907, at the age of 30 and was admitted to a mental institution where he spent the rest of his life. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia (although it wasn’t called that then) and died in 1931.


I won’t bother saying anything about Louis Armstrong. There’s really no need. This is Muskrat Ramble from 1926. It’s the Hot Five, same personal as the Kid Ory tune.


Those with memories of Woodstock (the film, the record, or even being there) were probably singing along to that one:

One, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam

Vintage TGB: 28 September 2004

[Each Saturday, a vintage story from the Time Goes By archive is published here. They correspond to a date of approximately five years ago – sometimes updated, sometimes not.]

The Numerous Number of Numbers

Back in 1956, when Crabby Old Lady was a teenager, she lived (before it was chic and rich and oh-so-overly-cute) in the small town of Sausalito, California - one of the last places in the U.S. to get dial telephones.

Answering machines and cell phones were not dreamed of yet, and when Crabby wanted to speak with her best friend, the telephone conversation sometimes went like this:

MILDRED: Operator…

CRABBY: Hi, Mildred. Would you connect me to Judy, please.

MILDRED: She’s not home, Crabby. She waved at me when she walked by the telephone office a few minutes ago. You’ll probably find her at the Tides.

CRABBY: Thanks, Mildred.

Mildred knew everyone in town by voice, appearance and habit, and she was better than any answering machine. Crabby would stroll along the seawall from her house to the Tides Book Shop and that’s where she’d find Judy. Or maybe around the corner in the coffee shop. Or perhaps over at the boat dock. If Mildred was off by 50 or 100 yards, she was usually correct about the general vicinity.

Some of you may be old enough, as Crabby Old Lady is, to remember the good ol’ days when there were only about three personal numbers to memorize: street address, telephone and Social Security. And, possibly, the car license plate. Since then, the number of numbers - and the number of digits in each number - required to navigate modern life has exploded, and they are stretching Crabby’s old brain to its limit.

Telephone Numbers
Crabby’s telephone number back in the 1950s was Sausalito 113. Judy’s was Sausalito 1819. Nowadays, to call even a neighbor takes 11 digits, and Crabby can no longer assume that anyone in town has the same area code. She has lost count, but believes there are about nine or ten different area codes in New York City, randomly assigned and no longer attached to neighborhoods as they once were when the prefixes had charming names like BUtterfield and ALgonquin.

Every working person, in addition to home and cell phone numbers, now has an additional individual telephone number at their office along with, sometimes, a work cell phone number. That’s four telephone numbers per friend. What’s a Crabby Old Lady to do? And don’t tell her to program the numbers into her telephone. With two phones – home and cell – to program, Crabby isn’t ever going to commit to that tedious chore more than once.

There was a time, no more than ten years ago, when Crabby knew most of her frequently-called telephone numbers by heart. Now, she’s still struggling to memorize all the numbers for just the two people she calls most often. Maybe this is why we do so much by email and lament that we don’t talk “in person” as much as we once did.

[UPDATE 26 September 2009: Crabby has reduced her personal phones to one, a cell, added Skype, and her cell provider allows new numbers to be added at their website using a full-size keyboard rather than teeny buttons. They can then be downloaded to her phone. A vast improvement since this post was written.]

Cable Channel Numbers
Crabby has lately become frustrated, too, with cable television channel numbers. There are hundreds of channels now, most of which Crabby has never seen (who watches all this stuff?), and it is impossible to recall the numbers that go with the channel names. SpikeTV? TRIO? Times Discovery? Crabby can’t find them.

Sometimes Crabby reads of a program she would like to see on one of these channels, but they are listed in the little brochure the cable provider sends out not sensibly in alphabetical order, but in numerical order, in six-point, orange, unreadable type. The weekly, newspaper television guide lists channel numbers, but no names. By the time Crabby finds the channel, the show’s half over.

Then, about twice a year, in what must be an altruistic effort to help improve the mental capacities of its subscribers, Time Warner switches channels around and favorites suddenly have new numbers. Crabby is beginning to suspect that falling TV ratings have less to do with the internet leeching viewers’ time as the impossibility of finding the right channel before the show ends.

Crabby has only scratched the surface of the too many numbers she is expected to know. There are Zip Codes and radio station frequencies, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, pin codes, passwords, driver’s license numbers, the pizza delivery number, the doctor, the dentist, the candlestick maker.

What Crabby wants, before her brain locks up, is her own personal Mildred to track all her numbers.


WIN A FREE ELDERBLOG Today is the deadline for entering the haiku contest to win a year-long Typepad blog membership. It closes at 6PM eastern U.S. time. Check last Monday's post for the details. Semi-finalists will be announced in next Monday's post where readers will be able to vote for the winner.

category_bug_journal2.gif We all have those momentary slips of the mind. You know, like why did I walk into the bedroom? Where are my reading glasses? Or, as recently happened, telling myself that when I'm done feeding the cat I'll sew a button on that jacket only to find, when I wanted to wear it the next day, I had forgotten to do so.

On Wednesday, my weekly morning for the farmers' market and the supermarket, I left the house armed with a list. Not the usual list of generalities – fruit, veggies, fish; a detailed list with what I need for a weekend dinner party. On the drive, I remembered that I had not noted the cooking chocolate I need for a dessert. No problem. It's in the same aisle with the walnuts that are on the list.

Ninety minutes later, as I set down packages in the kitchen, the thought appeared crystal clear in my brain: Damn, I forgot the chocolate. Why couldn't I have remembered when I still at the store? Only one @#$%^& item that wasn't written down and I blow it. Again. It happens all the time.

So far, the commonmplace ailments of age haven't bothered me much. I can live with the occasional unexplained ache or pain. I am resigned to falling asleep at an hour when I used to be eating dinner. I've learned how to deal with a leaky pipe when I sneeze or laugh. But this short term memory issue is the most annoying side effect of getting old. It's more than annoying; it's infuriating, a waste of precious time.

It's not that I ever had a great memory for short-term needs. Until I bought a key and letter holder to hang next to the door many years ago, it could take half an hour to get out of the house while I searched for keys. From the time I was a kid, I've found myself wondering why I've walked into a room. It is common for me stare into a kitchen drawer with a completely blank mind when the unpeeled potatoes are right there staring back at me.

But it all seems more frequent now – one of these things happens almost every day. Maybe more and I've forgotten. How would I know?

I blame it on the fact that I started making daily lists when I was in high school and I've never stopped. Work or personal, if it's not written down it doesn't happen. I make such a fetish of my daily lists that I use a special kind of notebook and am out of sorts when I've forgotten to purchase a new supply before the current one runs out.

Daily lists are in addition to computer reminders I've set to ding at me before birthdays, anniversaries, doctor appointments, scheduled meetings and the like. Half a century of lists have left me with no practice at holding anything in mind. Mostly it is temporary information that slips away so easily. Long term and newly acquired knowledge I need to have available at a future time seem to be intact. But again, how would I know?

Then there is my up/down, left/right, yes/no problem. Whichever is the answer doesn't stick with me unless I write it down to refer to later. If you have given me driving directions with only two turns, I will undoubtedly screw up one of them.

On my last job before retiring, there was a big project on the boards. It was expensive and needed a well-considered decision about going forward or not. Five or six of us spent a week researching our individual areas of expertise, then we reported back to one another in a hour-long meeting, weighed the possibilities, probabilities, etc. and a decision was reached.

Back at my desk, I had no memory of if we had made it a go. I tried to recall the conversation and I checked my notes; there was nothing that helped me recall. Only a couple of minutes had passed but I couldn't resurrect the decision. It took some careful stealth maneuvering with my colleagues for me to determine what we had decided without admitting my lapse.

Incipient Alzheimer's or other kind of dementia doesn't worry me. My complaints seem to be relatively common among healthy old people – and some young ones. I'm just really annoyed at the wasted time and that nagging feeling, too often, that something important has been left undone.

I've recently created a new procedure that is beginning to help with some kinds of forgetfulness. When I think, perhaps in the middle of writing a blog post, that the deck needs sweeping, I attach the thought, “I wonder if I'll remember to do this.” It is working more often than not - unless I've forgotten when it doesn't.

If any of this sounds familiar to you – aside from similar experiences of your own - here's a laugh: I just discovered that this is a reasonable facsimile of a story I published here only seven months ago. But I have finished writing this post now and there are other things on my list today, so you're stuck with it. I'm counting on your memory being as poor as mine to indulge me in this repetition.

EDITORIAL NOTE: The second episode of Life (Part 2) has been published at the PBS website, this one on generation gaps. Here is a clip:

You can watch the full episode here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran: Living with Animals

GAY AND GRAY: Caster and Me - Musings About Gender

WIN A FREE ELDERBLOG: If you don't have a blog and wish you did, see Monday's post on how to win a free Typepad account for a year. The deadline for the contest is Friday 25 September.

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) 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, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]

Last month, after a summer out of town, I visited the gym where I've been a member for a couple of years. I pulled out my bar-coded membership card and ran it under the reader at the front desk. "Beep-beep" went the reader.

A new employee was looking at the computer screen from her perch at the desk; she looked up at me and blurted: "But you can't be Ja..."

Then she stopped abruptly. And looked embarrassed. I get this all the time. I smiled at her. "But I am."

Janinsanfran_today Years of this have taught me that, to a casual glance, I don't always "read" female. The most common occasion when I get this response is on entering a public "Ladies Room." Women have been known to gasp at my entrance. I just smile these days; when I was younger, I sometimes got angry.

But I'm lucky; I had parents who always told me I was a "handsome girl" and I believed them. I am loved by a wonderful, discerning woman - she knows I'm a woman. Mostly I'm comfortable with the confidence that it is the folks who can't see my gender who have the problem.

Sometimes it's the clothes that mislead, I think. In this instance, I had on baggy, knee length shorts, like those basketball players of both genders wear. Good for the gym.

Sometime I think it's about size. I'm 5 foot 10 inches and I have broad shoulders, like a construction worker. (I was a construction worker for some years, 20 years ago.) At one campaign where I was coaching young organizers, they gave me the nickname "LumberJan,” I didn't mind.

At the moment I'm a pretty reasonable weight for my height and looking pretty fit; sometimes I'm larger and not so fit. These variables don't seem to make much difference to these encounters. Nor does hair length, which nowadays varies from frumpy short to really short.

But for goodness sake, I'm a 62-year-old with wrinkles and white hair and more or less the ordinary shape of a woman. When I was younger, I thought I'd probably leave these encounters behind with age. There is some cultural expectation that our superficial gender appearance - the gender people assign us at a glance - becomes less definite as we age. That has not yet been the case with me. I still cause mild (harmless) confusion.

I know I'm a woman. I think (and have always thought) I look like a woman - what's wrong with how people see?


Caster A young rural South African, Caster Semenya, is currently having to live out having her "sex" questioned with the whole world watching. She unexpectedly ran the fastest 800 meter race of this season - athletic authorities have made her submit to "gender testing."

Her father - and much of the media in her country - reacted with incredulity and more than a little rage.

”The 18-year-old runner's father, Jacob, told the Sowetan newspaper: 'She is my little girl. ... I raised her and I have never doubted her gender. She is a woman and I can repeat that a million times.'"
- Associated Press, 20 August 2009

Caster herself is saying all the right things:

"'I see it all as a joke, it doesn't upset me. God made me the way I am and I accept myself,' she told You magazine, South Africa's biggest-selling English-language magazine. 'I am who I am and I'm proud of myself.'"
- Agence France Press, 9 September 2009

As it happens, the one of world's foremost students of the physiology of running performance is a South African, Dr. Timothy Noakes of the University of Cape Town. He points out what actually matters in deciding whether Semenya should be allowed to run in women's races:

”... the issue of 'unfair advantage' which is the only thing that should be at play here, as it is in the case of drug use, is simple to establish...the issue that needs to be clarified here is whether the person concerned is a man masquerading as a woman or not. This could be established by a simple physical examination 'handled within the usual constraints of the doctor/patient domain -- not in the public domain."
- Black Looks

Dr. Myron Genel, an endocrinologist at Yale University, explains further:

"The current clothing used in athletic competition, as well as the requirement that urine for doping control is voided under direct supervision, [have] made it virtually certain that male imposters could not escape detection."
- The New Scientist, 21 August 2009

Sensationalist tabloids are leaking that the "tests" will show her to be intersex. They may be right. Something like one in 1500 people is born with a more complex chromosomal configuration than the orthodox XX or XY. Most of these people present normal looking bodies - but some don't. And even people with the usual complement of sex chromosomes don’t always have the corresponding genital plumbing.

All women normally produce some amount of testosterone, the characteristic "male hormone"; there is no hard and fast standard level. And on top of these physiological realities are layered social expectations about what women look like and how we present ourselves. (And none of these variables dictate the perceived gender that individuals may be sexually attracted to.)

What looks so simple turns out to be a muddle. Good discussion here.

Women especially get chewed up in these gender conundrums. One of my local sports columnists expressed his amazement at the bodies of women athletes - women whom no one is questioning about their sex or gender:

In women's tennis, we've got Venus Williams, listed 6-1 and 160, but maybe bigger; Serena Williams, 5-9 and listed at 150, but maybe closer to 185; Maria Sharapova, 6-2 or taller. Those three would overpower the biggest men from 20 years ago. John McEnroe, built like a poet, couldn't string their racquets.

What's broken in the case of Caster (and me to a much lesser extent) are the social norms that don't expect a woman to be a non-standard size (though Semenya is only 5'7"), or have unusual speed and strength (she proved it), or have the focus and discipline of an extraordinary athlete (darned few of any gender have that).

I think Semenya is beautiful - I think the folks who can't see her as a woman are the ones with the problem. But I'm not some teen at the vortex of an international hullabaloo. That kid deserves congratulations for her accomplishments, not poking and prodding.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Beauty

The Baucus Health Care Reform Bill

WIN A FREE ELDERBLOG: If you don't have a blog and wish you did, see Monday's post on how to win a free Typepad account for a year. The deadline for the contest is Friday 25 September.

UPDATE AT 12 NOON Senator Reid's office just contacted me with this link to a new document from the White House outlining how health care reform will affect Medicare and elders. It is laid out well, clearly written and easy to read.

category_bug_politics.gif A few days ago, aides to Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid reached out to me to discuss the health reform bill from the Senate Finance Committee headed by Senator Max Baucus. On Monday, I had an enlightening telephone conversation with the aides and yesterday, there was a conference call with Reid's office including several other elderbloggers.

We got some good explanations, particularly on how the bill would affect Medicare beneficiaries, and the aides got an earful from us about our concerns.

The Finance Committee bill (which you can read here pdf) creates NO Medicare benefit cuts for elders. It includes a 50 percent discount on generic drugs for people who fall into the donut hole of Part D (the prescription drug coverage), a free annual physical is added to benefits along with such preventive screenings as mammograms and colonoscopies.

During the conference call, Nancy Belle, who blogs at The Tempered Optimist, made an impassioned plea to Senator Reid's aides to include bone density screenings for Medicare beneficiaries. About four hours later, an email arrived from Reid's office announcing that Senator Blanche Lincoln had added an amendment to the Baucus bill to improve access to bone density tests. You would almost think she had been listening in on our call.

The bill also eliminates the currently mandated 21 percent decrease in physician payments scheduled to take effect in 2010.

One of the nitpicky items that has been confusing me is the discussion of co-ops, which substitute in the Baucus bill for a public option. I couldn't work out what they are in relation to “exchanges” that are also talked about.

In case you're confused too, co-ops are a type of coverage available in exchanges that would be set up by states and regions - one among other choices from private insurers. I still don't like co-ops and support a public option which is included in the HELP bill from the House, and Senator Jay Rockefeller has submitted an amendment to the Baucus bill for a public option to replace co-ops.

Actually, there are nearly 600 amendments from the 99 senators. Many that have been accepted to include in the bill for debate are posted online here [pdf] as modifications.

The Baucus bill is, as Jan Adams of Happening Here noted, a cheapskate bill and I don't like most of it. But there some good points and do keep in mind that there is a long way to go before a final bill reaches all of Congress and it will change dramatically during that time – for better or worse.

What I most appreciate from the aides we spoke with is an explanation of how health care reform will move through Congress. With this information it will be easier to follow the news of the bill since the media is not often clear about what's going on.

The Baucus bill is now in what's called “mark up” in the Senate. All the items in the bill and all the amendments are being considered and the aides say the final, full bill will be ready by Friday or Monday. (Changes, additions, subtractions)

The bill then goes to the Senate floor. It will take about two weeks for that debate (more changes, additions, subtractions) and then the final vote. Meanwhile, the same process is going on in the House to combine those three reform bills for a final vote.

When each house of Congress has passed a bill, those two must somehow be combined and we can expect all kinds of floor speeches and media appearances from Congress members denouncing one another.

When there is a single bill, Congress votes up or down. There are more complexities than what I've explained, but that's the general idea. There is an good graphic at The New York Times showing the process of the health reform bills.

As has been widely publicized, there are six insurance industry and big pharma lobbyists for every Congress member, all working hard to convince Congress (along with contributions to election campaign funds) to retain and even increase their profit margins. I asked Senator Reid's aides what we the people could possibly do, against that multi-million dollar force, to make ourselves heard, to get Congress to consider our needs and opinions over those of big business.

Their answer is to keep contacting our representatives by phone, email and postal mail. Our messages are read and they are tracked. One of the aides said she had just spoken with a member of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobucher's staff who had received more than 18,000 letters so far about the Senate health care reform bill.

To help make it easier for all those aides counting up the letters from us, I suggest that when you email, you include in the subject line the topic and your position. Something like “No co-ops – we must have a public option."

It is also important to contact House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid. They are shepherding the bills through their respective houses and should hear from us too.

Senator Reid's aides, who are in frequent contact with aides to other senators, believe it is a reasonable goal to have a reform bill passed by the end of the year. We all know it won't be perfect, but if something is passed, it is a start and we will have broken a 50-year stalemate during which everyone talked about health care reform and nothing ever happened.

Contact your senators and representative here.

Nancy Pelosi
Email form
Phone 202.225.0100

Harry Reid
Email form
Phone 202.224.3542

You might also check out the blogs of other elders who were on the conference call with Senator Reid's aides:

George Phenix of Blog of Ages

Nancy Belle of The Tempered Optimist

Paula of Birds on a Wire

Jan Adams of Happening Here

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: The Loves of My Life

THE TGB ELDER GEEK: You and Your Files - Part 2

[WIN A FREE ELDERBLOG: If you don't have a blog and wish you did, see Monday's post on how to win a free Typepad account for a year. The deadline for the contest is Friday 25 September.]

VirginiaDeBolt75x75Virginia 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. You will find links to Virginia's previous Time Goes By Elder Geek columns here.

In You and Your Files, Part 1, I talked about ways to find files on your computer. Part 2 will explain more about smart strategies for saving and naming files.

Save vs. Save As

decide whether to use Save or Save As

When do you use Save? When do you use Save As? Some people think they must always use Save As, which is not the case.

Use Save when you create a new document and want to save it. Use Save when you receive an email attachment that you want to save on your computer. Use Save when you open an existing document on your computer, work on it a while and then want to save your work.

Use Save As when you open a file that has already been saved on your computer and you want to save it with a different name. If you save it with a different name, you will have the original version and a different version.

Suppose you are writing an essay about the way the light hits the leaves of the cottonwood tree across the street at different seasons of the year. You save it as cottonwood_light.doc. You work on it for a few days, each time making additions and changes to improve it. Each time you work on it you save it again using Save. You have one copy of the document that reflects only the latest version.

On the other hand, supposed you make some changes to cottonwood_light.doc and you are not sure you like the new version better than the original. Maybe you want both versions saved until you decide. Use Save As. Give the document a new name, perhaps cottonwood_light_v2.doc. Now you have the first version, and the second version for comparison.

Organize Files in Folders
Files tend to add up. It helps to stick them into appropriately named folders. (On Windows, these are often called directories.) If you have several files about different topics, each topic should have a folder.

Folders are easy to create. When you are in the My Documents folder on Windows, or in the Finder on Mac, look for a menu command that says New Folder. On a Mac, New Folder is in the File menu. Find it and select it.

find the New Folder command

A new folder will appear in your My Documents window or Finder window. The new folder will be unnamed and will look something like this.

the folder is ready to name

Notice that the words "untitled folder" are highlighted in blue. (It may not be blue on your computer, but the words should be highlighted.) When a folder name is highlighted, it means you can type something new. Type a name for the folder, ­one that will tell you instantly what the folder contains.

You can use more than one word and you can use spaces. So, "Letters to the Insurance Company" might be a good name for a folder.

Saving a File For the First Time
Think carefully when you save a file for the first time. You need to pay attention during this part of the process or you'll lose track of the file. Think about where to put it and what to name it. This will save you a lot of wasted time later on. Here's a demo.

Rename a File
There are a number of ways to rename a file. It depends on whether or not you want to keep the original and create a new one with a different name, or simply change the name of the file without keeping any other copies.

If you still want to keep the original file, plus a new file with a new name, then use the Save As technique I described above. I do this with invoices. Each month, I open an old invoice, choose Save As, give the file a new name, and use the invoice form over with new information for the new month. That way I have a copy of all the old invoices, and make a new one each month with a minimum of work.

If you don't want a previous version, but want to change the filename to something better, you can rename a file in a number of ways. I like to do it right in the Finder or My Documents window because it's fast. Here's a demo.

If the two clicks are a little hard for you to control, you can open the file and use Save As to rename the file. If you no longer want the version with the old filename, then delete it.

I hope I didn't overlook any of your questions about files and file systems. I think this addressed all the points that were raised when I asked about what you'd like to know. Next time I'll move on to another topic.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Penn Packing and The Joe Jones Affair

Win a Free Elderblog

blogging bug image As I am prone to mentioning with regularity, I consider blogging to be an almost perfect pastime for elders. It keeps our minds active and exercised, promotes both critical and intuitive thinking, and it is a good combination of solitary reflection and social interaction.

On that last point, we make blog friends who become as close and important as “real world” friends and sometimes in our travels, we get to meet one another in person. After more than five years of blogging, about half the people who are most important to me have been met through blogging.

Now, have I got a deal for you.

Typepad, which is the blog platform and host for Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place, has given me a one-year, free membership to give away. It is a “Plus” account which sells for $8.95 per month or $89.50 per year. Click here to see the features that are included.

The Plus account offers a wide variety of designs and ease of use even for beginners. The email support has been excellent over the six years I have been a member, and the Knowledge Base is written in clear, concise language anyone can understand. You can find out more about Typepad blogs here.

It's been a struggle to decide how to give this away and none of the ideas I devised charm me as much as one of Typepad's – a haiku. In this case, about why you want to start a blog. You need to comply with the three-line haiku format of five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables, but beyond that we'll ignore the classic haiku requirements.

Here is a blog post from, of all places, the Wall Street Journal, with some non-traditional haiku to help you out. Scroll down to the comments for many examples.

I will select (yes, it's subjective) the three semi-finalists and next Monday 28 September, Time Goes By readers will vote for the winner. Here are the rules:

  1. You must be 50 or older

  2. You must NOT be a current member of Typepad

  3. Your haiku must be about why you want a blog

  4. Submit your haiku by using the “Contact” link in the upper left corner of this page

  5. The deadline for submission of your haiku is Friday 25 September 2009 at 6PM eastern U.S. time.

As an added incentive, I will throw in two, hour-long telephone chats with me if you need some in-person help getting started. We can do it by phone or Skype.

Since I can't very well ask you to write a haiku without doing it myself, here is my not-so-great attempt:

a new blog springs forth
a contest to get started
elder hearts are warmed

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mark Sherman: The Worst Date I Ever Had


PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic I know that train songs are a cliché and Ronni has already done a piece on them, but I haven’t written about them yet, so that’s what it is this week.


This is the Spirit of Progress. Way back, every day one of these trains left Melbourne for Sydney. An equivalent train left Sydney for Melbourne. I can imagine that the time they took between cities was faster than it is today. We don’t have a French or Japanese style bullet train (and there’s none on the drawing boards. Okay, they are probably on the drawing boards but that’s as far as they’ve traveled).

I didn’t ever ride on the Spirit. I did, however, travel quite often on the equivalent train between Melbourne and Adelaide. This was called The Overland.


We kids thought this was a wussy name compared with the Spirit of Progress. By the time I could have ridden on the Spirit independently of parents, it had been replaced by an ordinary looking train resembling the Overland.

In the early sixties, another train began on the Melbourne-Sydney route called the Southern Aurora. This was an express between the two cities and first class all the way. It didn’t last long and turned up its toes (or its wheels, I guess) in 1986. I assume everyone was flying. More fool them.

One day in 1969, the Aurora left Melbourne and on its way north it met a goods train that really should have been somewhere else. This is a picture of the Aurora not long after.


To the best of my knowledge there were no tunes written about the Spirit or the Overland. There was certainly one written for the Southern ‘rora by the Joy Boys.

In the interest of (semi-)completeness, there’s the Indian-Pacific that runs from Sydney to Perth which is a hell of a long way. It has a song, but I’m not playing it. There’s the Ghan that runs from Adelaide to Darwin, desert all the way. There are others (this is huge country), but that will do.

There was a train that ran between Chicago and New Orleans that had no name, or maybe it was called “The train that ran between Chicago and New Orleans.” In 1911, in honor of the anticipated opening of the Panama Canal, this train was named the Panama Limited.


By a nice coincidence, my favorite train song is Panama Limited as performed by Tom Rush.

In 1974, this train had a name change to the City of New Orleans. Actually, there was already a train of that name that ran during the day on the route. After Arlo Guthrie had a big hit with the song the Panama Limited’s days were numbered (well, the name was). Every man and his dog has recorded this song so it may have been forgotten that it was written by Steve Goodman. Here’s Steve’s version from the “Easter Tapes.”


How many songs have been written about Casey Jones? If you want to know the exact number I can give it to you – lots. Although there really was a person called Casey Jones most of the songs play fast and loose with the truth. This is one of those. The Grateful Dead, Casey Jones.


Guy Clark has written some fine train songs, two of which appeared on his terrific first album called “Old No. 1” (which sounds like a train itself).  The more famous one was Desperadoes Waiting for a Train. I’m not going with that one. This is Texas 1947, but not from that album, instead from “Keepers.”  Guy introduces the song.


For the final track I wondered which of the 30 or 40 songs I had thought of (and that’s without googling). My initial instinct was to go with the singing brakeman, but I changed my mind and decided on a song about him. This is The Train Carrying Jimmie Rodgers Home by Greg Brown.


With so much left over, there’s sure to be another.


Vintage TGB: 17 September 2004

[Each Saturday, a past story from the Time Goes By archive is published here. They correspond to a date of approximately five years ago – sometimes updated, sometimes not. Updates are noted with strikethroughs.]

Think on These

The great thing about a good quote is that it is larger than the sum of its parts; it leaves much room for personal interpretation and long rumination leading who knows where – an adventure of the mind.

These and many more have been collected, a few at a time, in a file on my computer for years. I have hundreds of them, some better than others and vice versa. Although favorites change now and again, here are a few, for your weekend rumination, that currently speak to me. What about you?

“The hardest years of life are those between ten and seventy.”
      - Helen Hayes (at age 73)

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”
      - Satchel Paige

“Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young.”
      - Fred Astaire

“One of the many things nobody ever tells you about middle age is that it’s such a nice change from being young.”
      - Dorothy Canfield Fisher

“Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art.”
      - Garson Kanin

“Old age is an excellent time for outrage. My goal is to say or do at least one outrageous thing every week.”
      - Maggie Kuhn

“When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”
      - Eleanor Roosevelt

“If you associate enough with older people who do enjoy their lives, who are not stored away in any golden ghettos, you will gain a sense of continuity and of the possibility for a full life.”
      - Margaret Mead

“If you take all the experience and judgment of men over 50 out of the world, there wouldn’t be enough left to run it.”
      - Henry Ford

“No wise man ever wished to be younger.”
      - Jonathan Swift

“Being seventy is not a sin.”
      - Golda Meir

“It spite of illness, in spite even of the arch-enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in a small way.”
      - Edith Wharton

REFLECTIONS: On Racism in America

SaulFriedman75x75 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.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: With former President Jimmy Carter's declaration on Tuesday that racism was behind Congressman Joe Wilson's shouted disruption during President Obama's health care address last week, racism is moving to the front of public discussion. Today, Saul Friedman supplies some personal and historical perspective.]

Category_bug_reflections According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, racism, a noun, is defined as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

I was a young man working in an Indiana steel mill many, many years ago when I learned from my black roommate the subtleties of the disease of racism, and that it was (and is) not simply about prejudice and discrimination. That disease, which we hoped had abated in the last elections, has not left our bodies.

What President Barack Obama is facing from his mostly Republican opponents and other federal government hating right-wingers, many from the Old Confederacy, is nothing but dictionary definition racism. Congressman Addison Graves (Joe) Wilson’s outburst was not just boorish; it came from deep down in his South Carolina heritage. But all of us who are white need to understand that none of us is immune to the tinge of the racism that remains as the greatest national sin.

My roommate had some annoying habits, which I now forget. But one day, when I was biting my tongue about his latest annoyance, he said, “Why don’t you express your anger at me? C’mon, get angry! You can get angry with me and not be a racist.”

He was right. Was I indulging him because he was black and I thought that’s the annoying way black people act? Or was I afraid my own prejudices were showing? After all,  this was years before the civil rights movement and whites did not socialize with blacks in that part of the country. In fact, one night when we went to Chicago for dinner, we were confronted by three racist white guys. No one was hurt, but I was ashamed that I failed to come to my friend’s defense.

Fast forward a decade, after serving in the army with blacks as well as whites, when I had my first journalism job covering the police beat for a Houston paper. I was from New York, and encountered unadulterated, entrenched, southern racism, the historic belief that blacks were inferior beings.

Every public facility and most shops was segregated or barred black people. The bus I rode to work had a color line, which I broke when I could. Blacks did not get their pictures in any of the three papers. Black defendants were beaten for confessions, but I couldn’t get that in the paper because who would take the word of a n------r over a police officer? I need not repeat the dehumanizing epithets that referred to black people.  And black-on-black murders were not covered because they were considered “misdemeanor murders.”

Only later, when Dr. Martin Luther King’s Montgomery bus boycott became national news did the paper send me to see what was going on, mostly out of fear that it would spread to segregated Houston.

But I got relief from what I considered the stifling, backward south when I was selected  as a Nieman Fellow in 1962, to spend a year at Harvard, studying race, among other things. My teachers included two of the finest minds on the psychology, social science and origins of racism in America – the late Gordon Allport and Thomas F. Pettigrew.

I say “racism in America,” for I learned from them, among other insights, that American racism was unique. Unlike other nations that brought in slaves (Brazil and Argentina) who became integrated in and enriched their societies, American blacks remained slaves or outsiders, unlike white indentured immigrants. For the slaves were deemed not human, but some inferior beings. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution considered each slave three-fifths of a man. And by considering blacks as lesser beings, the founders got around the promise that “all men were created equal.”

Eighty-one years later, the United States Supreme Court, with a 7-2 majority, held in the infamous Dred Scott decision that Scott, an escaped slave, and all other African-Americans brought to the country as slaves, were not entitled to citizenship or the right to sue because they were chattel, property, less than human.

During the Civil War, South Carolina being the first state to secede and fire on United States forces, the issue, plain and simple, was whether the states of the confederacy could continue to enslave black people. If the issue was “states’ rights,” it was the states’ right to own other human beings.

Dred Scott was never overturned by the court, but was rendered moot by the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, and the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing citizenship to former slaves. But these “reconstruction amendments”  were imposed on the defeated, but defiant south, which replied with Ku Klux Klan terror, the Black Codes and Jim Crow to nullify the Constitution and force blacks back into semi-slavery.

And as late as 1898, the Supreme Court, in Plessy, legalized segregation and the separation of the races, putting into law that Negroes were not fit to be in the same place – schools, theaters, stores - as whites. Not until 1954, when I was a reporter in Houston, was that overturned by Brown vs. Board of Education.

That decision met with massive resistance in much of the south and is still honored more in the breech. And, as Lyndon Johnson warned, the campaigns of Martin Luther King, Jr. along with the passage of the various civil rights laws in the Sixties sent many a racist Democrat into the arms of the racist Republicans who have ruled most of the Confederate South, with cries against big federal government and for states’ rights. Sound familiar?

They are very thin disguises for old fashioned racism, the belief that a black man could not possibly become our president, Dr. Pettigrew told me in a recent conversation.

“The perfect example is the birthers’ myth that he (Obama) was born in Kenya despite all evidence. The reality of a black president is simply more than the far right can accept. Hence the birthing myth and similar movements that require Freud to explain.”

Pettigrew noted with approval New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd’s assertion that the “unspoken word” in Joe Wilson’s outburst was, “You lie, boy!” Said Pettigrew, “That was straight out of South Carolina racism.” South Carolina’s racist legacy includes “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, South Carolina’s late 19th century governor and senator who attacked and killed black federal troops to build a white supremacy movement.

South Carolina has also given us Strom Thurmond, who was Wilson’s mentor; Senator Jim DeMint who boasted he wants to “break” Obama’s presidency, and Governor Mark Sanford who declared the right of his state to refuse federal funds. Wilson is a longtime member of Sons of Confederate Veterans, which (according the Southern Poverty Law Center) has been taken over by radical neo-Confederates who favor secession and call slavery a “benign institution.”

Indeed, said Pettigrew, the unprecedentedly vitriolic personal assault on Obama by right-wing commentators and  white crowds whose protests are mostly vague nonsense, is a racist campaign. Its aim, said Representative Jim Clymer, a veteran black Democrat from South Carolina, “has a lot to do with delegitimizing him as president.”

Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammed began their piece on black poverty in the September 13 New York Times by observing that the economic downturn and the first black president have provoked “a surge of white racial resentment, loosely disguised as populism.” But is it “resentment” rather than racism, the failure to believe that a black person can be president? Isn’t Glenn Beck projecting when he says Obama is a “racist” who hates white people.

Unfortunately, aside from Dowd, much of the press – including several blacks – seem to dance around the obvious racism of the mobs of so-called teabaggers who didn’t protest or show disrespect towards George Bush’s many lies when he tricked the nation into a war with Iraq, or when he spent hundreds of billions on the war. They are out to get Obama, one way or another,  because he’s black as well as liberal.

I listened to endless commentaries about Wilson’s shout-out; they called it insulting and the like, but no one mentioned racism. Washington Post Columnist Colbert King, a black man and a friend, rightly condemned the assaults on Obama as dangerous, but he barely mentioned race. Democratic official Donna Brazile, who is black, declined to “put all the president’s opponents in a box.”

Pettigrew told me, “many will think it a stretch to call Wilson’s outburst racism, but that overlooks that no one has done that to a white president even when they were lying...” Pettigrew, whose paper on Obama and the 2008 election will soon be published, saw hope in the number of young southerners who voted for Obama in some border states. Indeed, he and Allport pioneered in work that showed racism can be overcome in interpersonal relationships.

But in the deep, old south, older white men, he said, have not lost the racism of their fathers and grandfathers. He rejected the optimism of some commentators that we were in a “post-racist” time and he predicted “some of this racist backlash. Racism has remained strong in the USA.”

Note to reporters, commentators and analysts. This vicious, unrelenting criticism is not about conservatism or liberalism, bigger or smaller government or states’ rights. This is about racism directed towards the duly elected president. And it’s dangerous.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran: The Goodbye Day

The TGB Interview: Robert Lipsyte

Category_bug_interview Back in 2007, I appeared on three episodes of a PBS series titled, Life (Part 2). It was a load of fun and among the people I had the pleasure of meeting was Robert Lipsyte. Now, the second season of Life (Part 2) is being broadcast on the web in addition to PBS channels around the U.S. and Bob is the host this season.

Lipsyte175wYou have probably heard of him. He is a long-time city and sports columnist for The New York Times, the author of 16 books including In the Country of Illness: Comfort and Advice for the Journey (I highly recommend it) and such young adult novels as The Contender, One Fat Summer and Raiders Night. In 1966 and in 1996, he won Columbia University’s Meyer Berger Award for distinguished reporting.

In 1992, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in commentary. In June 2001, he won the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards award for lifetime achievement in young adult literature. A former network correspondent at CBS and NBC, Lipsyte won an Emmy in 1990 for on-camera achievement as host of the nightly WNET public affairs broadcast, “The Eleventh Hour.”

Bob graciously agreed to put up with a few questions from me about the new series and about what it's like for him to get older.

RONNI BENNETT: What is the goal of the Life Part 2 series?
Comfort and advice and moral support for the rest of the journey. You're not alone. Kind of what you're doing, Ronni, but with moving pictures.

RB: What one or two things did you learn from hosting Life Part 2, that surprised you?
How many active, smart, beautiful people - people called elderly or old - are out there leading meaningful lives.

RB: Episode one has been released online this week. Give us a brief overview...
I loved that discussion but was chilled by the one-on-one with Cathie Black, president of Hearst Magazines, who talked about dealing with younger bosses. Learn their language and culture, she said, keep up with technology, dress cooler and never, ever say things like “The way we used to do this...” What about experience? What about the life we've lived so far? Makes me want to eat the young.

RB: Let's get personal for a bit. When you were young, what did you think getting old would be like?
Who thought about it? Did you, Ronni? I looked at my cranky, creaky grandparents and swore I would never be like them and if I started getting that way I'd swim out to sea. Actually, I thought my parents were always pretty old and didn't realize how full of life they really were until they were in their eighties and I was in my fifties.

RB: How is it different from what you thought?
I'm only aware of my “oldiness” as a reflection from those younger people who find me either invisible or in the way (sometimes both, crash!) and contemporaries who feel decrepit and complain incessantly about their health and/or being on a scrap heap. It's like years after an illness when people ask "How are you?" in that sepulchral tone that you suddenly remember that you had been sick.

RB: How are you most different from your youthful self?
I'm simply less sure of what I absolutely know. More than anything, compassion and the ability to see both sides really slows you down. I'm writing my memoirs, An Accidental Sportswriter: Lessons from the Locker-Room, and on every page I come up against my younger self and I often cringe at his righteousness and certainty. I've been interviewing people who were subjects and colleagues from those days and their memories reinforce that sense of change. Positive change, I think.

RB: What, if anything, do you miss about being young?
Time. That endless horizon of time to swing and miss and try again. I feel more pressure to get it right, right now, finish the new book, nail the next show, not so much before I die but before something else in life pops up and gets in the way, illness, a complication. Maybe it's not just time, but the sense that the time isn't empty, that tomorrow isn't promised and if it comes, there will be a list of chores.

RB: It is a cliché that people mellow as they get older. I haven't found that to be true for me. What about you?
You talkin' ta me?

RB: What is the biggest surprise to you – positive or negative – about getting old?
I think I've copped to getting older, Ronni, not to getting old. I don't know what being "old" means. Is it a condition? Of what? When my Dad died a few months shy of 101, I was 67. He was still sharper, more skeptical and yet more empathic than I was, but I could certainly move faster.

He lived alone and had only recently quit driving. We talked about being older a lot. Mostly agreed on things (finally!). We felt sorry for younger people who were unable to open themselves to take advantage of our experience without feeling threatened.

We enjoyed not having to be au courant (he was mostly reading ancient history at this point and re-reading the 19th Century novels of his early education). My kids, his grandkids, felt pressure to see the new movies and read the new novels so they could talk with their peers. We didn't (take that, Cathie Black!)

RB: What do you like best about getting old? Least?
Same answer to both questions - not dealing with the anxiety of being young. Yet there was an excitement and energy in that anxiety.

RB: People are fond of saying – joke or not - “If I'd only known then what I know now.” What do you wish you'd known when you were young?
That most everyone is as scared as I am. Especially in high school and college, I was intimidated by people, alot of them girl people and fellow writer people, who seemed so confident. They obviously knew what they were doing while I sure didn't. I was middle-aged before I figured out that they were just better actors. I would have avoided a lot of angst had I known that. I try to tell this to young people. The frankly scared ones don't believe me and the confident actors scurry away.

RB: How have your pleasures changed over the years?
Only in degree. I eat and drink more, bicycle more, read more, talk more with friends and family, and think about sex more.

RB: Ageism is a serious problem that diminishes old people in the eyes of everyone. What personal encounters have you had with ageism?
At the moment I'm very lucky to be the geezer host of a boomer show with Gen X staffers. But certainly as a sportswriter and an author of young adult fiction, I see the genre gatekeepers lust for the next new.

Far more importantly, I see the culture's readiness to discard, warehouse, disappear older people and MOST IMPORTANTLY I see, with growing bewilderment and some anger, the passivity of so many older people, the seeming willingness to let it happen. Take to the streets!

I think ageism is as important as racism and sexism and should make common cause. I think of the chorus of walkers in The Producers. Can you imagine that power unleashed? I hate the selfishness of some older people - Medicare for me but you're on your own - and yearn for a new version of Gray Panthers. Should we start something, Ronni?

RB: Much of the media about or directed at old people references boomers almost exclusively as though I (born in 1941) and you (born a bit earlier) and the rest of the 35 million or so pre-boomers are no longer of consequence. Is this a new kind of ageism, do you think, separating the boomers from the – well, ancients, I guess?
I call us the Classic Generation. I also remember as a young reporter in the Sixties wishing all that deadwood, the reporters in their forties and fifties and beyond, would get out of my way. I think every generation has to push through the crowd ahead. Watch the boomers get busted.

RB: What does this series have to say about age discrimination in the workplace?
We only deal with it frontally in one show but it pervades all the shows in the sense that we hope we offer the kind of support and advice that gives people the confidence of knowing they are not alone and can push back.

RB: Whom do you admire in terms of how they have aged? Do you have a role model for getting older?
That's easy. Dad. There were sags in his spirit - especially after he retired in his late sixties and when Mom died (she was 90, he was 94) but he bounced back. He was resilient. He came through the traumas of the Titanic sinking (heard it on his crystal set), WWI and II, the Great Depression, the wave of American murders of our best leaders and our foreign misadventures, and he got psychic scar tissue just from surviving. He taught me that nothing is as good or bad as your imagination can make it.

RB: After all the time you've spent over the past months concentrating on aging for this series, what words of wisdom about getting old do you have?
Not so wise and not always easy, but keep your old friends and make some new ones. Of all ages. Remember what gave you pleasure once - music, reading, gem-polishing, watching baseball - and reconnect with it. Practice portion control, shake your butt and don't give up until they zip the bag. Also - watch LIFE(Part2) and read Time Goes By. We're a community as long as we last.

This is a clip from Life (Part 2) episode one in which therapist Terrence Real discusses boomer marriage. It runs 1:44 minutes. You can watch the entire episode here at the Life (Part 2) website.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, sltmas: Winds of Summer

An Elder News Extra: 16 September 2009

Due to dropping Saturday's This Week in Elder News and Peter Tibbles' assumption of Sunday Elder Music duties, I've been able to reclaim some time for myself and for pursuits other than Time Goes By. I'm feeling almost human again after years of seven-day-a-week blogging and its associated requirements.

But, damn, I like the Elder News feature, collecting items that don't need an entire post, but that I think will interest you as much as they interest me. Here are a few that have turned up just since Monday with no effort on my part.

Debtor's Revolt: Ann Minch, who lives in Red Bluff, California, has said No More to credit card companies' usurious interest rates. Minch is no deadbeat and she is not behind in her monthly payments, yet Bank of America raised her rate to 30 percent. So she is refusing to pay until they reduce her interest rate or offer her a reasonable buyout. Watch her challenge [4:28 minutes]:

I would join her, but I use my credit cards only for convenience and pay them off each month except when I pay only half now and then in hopes of forestalling a cancellation. You can read more about Ann Minch's campaign at Huffington Post.

Late Life Happiness: This is National Assisted Living Week and The International Longevity Center, where I spent an enlightening week in June at their annual Age Boom Academy, has issued a report on senior living facilities as related to late life happiness. Based on input from experts including physicians, geriatric and gerontological specialists, public health scholars, nurses, social workers, senior living officials and others, it concludes that senior living communities may be the best choice for maintaining independence and life satisfaction.

“'Combatting the negative societal images that falsely link senior living communities with losing independence is productive and necessary for all of us in our rapidly aging society,' said ILC-CEO Dr. Robert Butler.”

You can purchase the report at the International Longevity Center website or download a free copy here [pdf].

Doctors Support Public Option: According to a new study from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation published this week in The New England Journal of Medicine, 63 percent of physicians support a public option to be included in any health reform bill. I suspect they have a better idea of what is needed and would work than the nay-saying Republicans and blue dog Democrats.


You can read the entire survey results here and here.

Keeping Up With Reform Bills: Among the four or five reform bill drafts floating around Congress, only two have been submitted to Congress as bills so far – one in the Senate and one in the House. ProPublica has created a search page for both of these bills and they promise to keep them updated as changes are made.

Search the Senate bill here.

Search the House bill here.

These are definitely worth bookmarking to keep up with claims of what is or is not included along with any accusations of lying shouted in Congress or elsewhere.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine – St. Anna's: My Final Resting Place

Deja Vu: Past Political Debate

category_bug_politics.gif On radio, television, in books, film documentaries and the internet, Danny Schechter has been fighting the good, progressive fight since his college days. We first met in 1969 or 1970, when he hosted a radio show in Boston and I produced my then-husband's radio show in New York. Later, we both worked as producers at 20/20 on ABC-TV. (Danny's Wikipedia entry is here)

For several years, in connection with Globalvision, of which is he is co-founder, Danny has been writing the News Dissector blog – a never-miss stop on my morning news rounds. Yesterday, he published a remarkable story about the opposition surrounding the debate about the creation of the income tax, Social Security, the TVA and Medicare. The arguments being made against today's health care reform are astonishingly similar.

The fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright law allows only limited reproduction of copyrighted material so I shouldn't publish Danny's blog post in its entirety. But I'm going to because it is so enlightening and hope that Danny won't mind. Perhaps some of you, in response, will visit Danny's blog, subscribe to it and maybe buy a book. You won't be wasting your time or money.

[From Danny Schechter the New Dissector – 14 September 2009]

My brother Bill, a historian and history teacher researched OPPOSITION TO HEALTH CARE REFORM IN (AMERICAN) HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE:

“As to the general policy of an income tax, I am utterly opposed to it. I believe with Gladstone that it tends to make a nation of liars. I believe it is the most easily concealed of any tax that can be laid, the most difficult of enforcement, and the hardest to collect; that it is, in a word, a tax upon the income of honest men and an exemption, to a greater or lesser extent, of the income of rascals; and so I am opposed to any income tax in time of peace…I hope that if the Constitution is amended in this way the time will not come when the American people will ever want to enact an income tax except in time of war.”

- Republican Congressman Sereno E. Payne of New York, 1912

Built government dams that generated “public power: to help electrify rural America and provide a “yardstick” for fair energy prices.

“[We] are willing to be put out of business if it can be done in a plain straightforward business like manner, but we do object to our Government putting us out of business.”

- John D. Battle, Executive Secretary of the National Coal Association

“A cruel hoax [and part of an] unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted, and wastefully-financed” program.

- Alf Landon, Republican presidential nominee , 1936

Report of House Way & Means Republican members on proposed Social Security Bill, 1935 (Excerpts)
• The Federal Government has no power to impose this system upon private industry;

• We also oppose these two titles because they would not in any way contribute to the relief of present economic conditions, and might in fact retard economic recovery;

• The original bill contained a title providing for voluntary annuities;

• This was another attempt to place the Government in competition with private business.

• These titles impose a crushing burden upon industry and upon labor. They establish a bureaucracy in the field of insurance in competition with private business;

• They destroy old age retirement systems set up by private industries, which in most instances provide more liberal benefits than are contemplated under title II.

4. MEDICARE (1965)
The AMA placed advertisements in major newspapers and funded radio and television spots, all deploying the usual red-brush of “socialism,” and even the specter of jack-booted federal bureaucrats violating “the privacy of the examination room.”

From the narration from an anti-Medicare AMA recording:
“Now this is the choice we’re faced with: on the one hand, we can help those who need help while preserving the right of the self-reliant to finance their own care. Or we can legislate a compulsory national health scheme for the aged, regardless of whether they need it or not...Americans are being asked to choose between a system of medicine practiced in freedom and a system of socialized medicine for the elderly which will be expanded into socialized medicine for every man, woman, and child in the United States.”

The voice of Ronald Reagan: “Write those letters now. Call your friends, and tell them to write them. If you don’t, this program I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day...we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don’t do this, and if I don’t do it, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”


As you know, Social Security and Medicare are the two most popular public programs ever created by the federal government. I will not repeat all the reasons we have discussed here about why the public option is crucial. But now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who strongly supported it until this past weekend, and Senate leader Harry Reid have backed off support and Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, a member of the “gang of six,” on one of the Sunday political talk fests, called for no public option at all.

A majority of Americans (although not a majority of elders) support a public option. Without it, a health reform bill will continue and perpetuate corporate domination of health care. There is no reason for any member of Congress not to support a public option other than the millions of dollars the health industry has poured into their election campaigns.

Many of us have been regularly writing our Congressional representatives. Please don't stop and it is now critical to include Pelosi, Reid and Snowe. Here is how to contact them:

Nancy Pelosi
Email form
Phone 202.225.0100

Harry Reid
Email form
Phone 202.224.3542

Olympia Snowe
Email form
Phone 202.224.5344

You will also find postal addresses at the above links.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Judy Vaughn – Tabu


As everyone knows by now, when President Obama stated last Wednesday during his health care speech that the Democratic plan would not cover illegal immigrants, Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, shouted, “You lie.”

It was a shocking moment, at least to me, on a par with Dick Cheney, then vice-president, telling Senator Patrick Leahy, on the Senate floor, to eff himself and President George W. Bush flipping the bird to the press at the White House. As rancorous as politics often is, in the august halls of Congress where much great history has been enacted (and may be again one day), respect is not too much to ask.

There were disruptions from other Republicans during Obama's speech such as “Ha!” and “Read the bill,” and Republican Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia was caught on camera texting or emailing or twittering on his Blackberry. Nothing as extreme as from Representative Wilson, but unseemly nonetheless.

This incident, when taken with the extreme name-calling of the far right, I think, is a serious matter. Although it has become apparent after the fact that the media overplayed the vulgar shouting matches and most town hall meetings were well-behaved discussions with people who had genuine questions and concerns, there is growing pattern of vicious rhetoric that is disturbing.

Last weekend, some tea bag organizations labeled President Obama a latter-day Dr. Mengele for his health care reform initiative. Over the summer, it became commonplace to see demonstrators carrying signs depicting the president as Adolph Hitler, displaying the Nazi swastika while shouting “fascist” and “socialist” as they did again in Washington, D.C. on Saturday

The political ignorance of these protestors does not absolve them of disgustingly bad taste. None of the health care reform proposals nor the president bear the remotest resemblance to the actions of Nazi Germany, one of the worst terror regimes in the history of the world that should never be trivialized in this manner.

I don't mean to lump repellent protesters with Representative Wilson who “merely” disrupted the decorum of Congress with his shouted disrespect during the president's speech. But I believe there is a correlation.

When we do not condemn actions – and words – that are rude, deceitful or false, they become increasingly acceptable; silence gives consent. For impact, they escalate and we become accustomed to them until there is no room for reasoned debate. Then there is nothing left but the shouting and when that fails to draw censure, there is nowhere to go but toward violence.

Our legislators need to be the grownups in the room, to set the tone. It is long past time for moderate Republicans to reign in their hate brigade, to shame them and get on with the serious business of governing.

Or maybe I'm just an aging fussbudget with an antiquated sense of decorum.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone – Alzheimer's: Part 7 – A Day in the Life


PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic When I first pondered this topic, it was suggested that I include other musicians besides Miles Davis. In spite of this gross generalization about my jazz listening, my favorite in this category is actually Thelonious Monk, not Miles.

Now, everyone knows Miles’ “Kind of Blue." What, you don’t? Quick, run out and buy it now. I’ll wait for you. Go on. I’m still here. Grab the car keys. They’re over there by the window where you left them. Go.

They’ve gone, the non-Kind of Blue people. Good. I can play a bit of Monk until they return. This one will separate the men from the boys. Funny thing, we never seem to separate the women from the girls. I wonder why that is.

Monk’s take on Just a Gigolo.


Okay, you’re back. What took you so long? Couldn’t find a parking spot? Oh, well. Gracious, how many disks did you buy? Never mind. Put them over there, you can play them later. I’m not featuring anything from “Kind of Blue” because you can do that yourself now. You probably bought “Sketches of Spain” as well, so that’s out.

So, heads up for Miles Davis playing Some Day My Prince Will Come.


It’s a bit hard to find a suitable John Coltrane track to play. Not because there aren’t any - to the contrary they’re in abundance, but it comes down to what Miles said in his autobiography about his playing: “John, not every track you play has to be two hours long.”

Here he is with the Red Garland trio with a lovely tune called Slow Dance.


Bill Evans. Davis said, "I've sure learned a lot from Bill Evans. He plays the piano the way it should be played". I don’t really know what that means. With the fingers, perhaps?

He played with Miles for a short time, but most notably for, yep, you’re right, the “Kind of Blue” sessions.

After leaving Miles he formed his own trio (bass and drums), an instrumental form I particularly like. Unfortunately, he had a serious drug problem for much of his career that didn’t seem to affect his music, but it certainly affected his life. His body gave up the ghost in 1980. This is Very Early.


Duke Ellington is usually thought of as a composer and bandleader. However, he did appear in small groups now and then. There’s a particularly fine album he made with John Coltrane called, not particularly originally, “Duke Ellington & John Coltrane”. The track’s called In a Sentimental Mood.


There’s so much more. There will, no doubt, be another jazz post.

Vintage TGB: 14 September 2004

[Each Saturday, a past story from the Time Goes By archive is published here. They correspond to a date of approximately five years ago – sometimes updated, sometimes not. Updates are noted with strikethroughs. Now and then, as time allows, there will be, instead, an edition of This Week in Elder News.]

A Remarkable Transformation

category_bug_ageism.gif The idea for this blog, “what it’s really like to get older,” came about several years ago. Time and tide being what they are, its birth was postponed until sometime in March 2004. The number of entries picked up in April and May, and by June, it had become a functional, five-day-a-week publishing venture fully committed to by me and my cohort alter ego, Crabby Old Lady.

We two old women brought to this project a lot of ideas and enthusiasm with a soupcon of controlled rage and years of research into aging and ageism. The stacks of books around our house and piles of paper overfloweth.

What was not clear, in the beginning, was our own freedom from belief in the stereotypical myths about age perpetrated by the youth-and-beauty police, those oppressive imperatives so deeply embedded in the culture that even Crabby and I might be unaware of their insinuation into our subconscious and behavior.

In writing about getting older five days a week for the past few months, Crabby and I have made a conscious effort from day one to use the words old and older (no matter how much we might desire a few more synonyms), rather than such cutesy euphemisms as golden ager, third ager or oldster and certainly not the downright offensive such as , coot and biddy.

And now a remarkable thing has happened: we have lost the internal association with disparagement the words old and older invoke in the culture at large. By the relentless use of these words, we have removed from our consciousness their power to devalue, and we have discovered for ourselves what all marketers and advertisers know: repetition works.

Language is powerfully symbolic and the repeated use of verbal memes over decades hardens perception – for good or ill. When I have had reason, on occasion, to answer a question with “Because I’m old,” the knee-jerk reaction from the other person – of any age – is “Oh, you’re not old.” It never fails; it never varies. Sometimes, nowadays, I use that answer when I don’t really need it just to test how deeply planted the culture’s fear of aging is. It is so great that everyone feels the need to reassure me, as though their own eyes deceive them.

Crabby and I dislike it when people tell us we are not old. We are well into our seventh decade and we’ve never been this old before. We find it fascinating, perhaps because old people, in a society that makes a fetish of denying age, are mysterious. We are determined to lift the veil.

Many people in my age group tell me, “I don’t feel old.” But that, Crabby and I believe, is a habitual reaction to a lifelong bombardment of the use of the word old as a pejorative. Of course, they feel old, particularly physically. There are aches and pains they didn’t have ten years ago. They can’t run for the bus as fast as they once did. They tire more easily.

What they really mean when they say they don’t feel old is that they still become excited about something new in ways that feel similar to childhood. They still fall in love – and out of it, sometimes – as they did in their youth. They feel the pull of their passions as fully and strongly as they always have.

But until they admit to themselves that they are old, until they free themselves from the cultural stigma of the language, they can’t rejoice in what getting older is really like. It is a time when a splendid, new sensibility creeps in, after about age 50, and continues to grow as the years pass by: Crabby and I have never felt more vibrantly alive, more assured of our self-worth, of our ability to contribute. Ideas are more exciting than they have ever been. We have a newly-found sense that this time of our life really is better than it’s ever been.

And isn’t that how life should progress – if our culture didn’t fall victim to viewing age as only a period of debility and senility?

Being old is an exhilarating, new experience. But the language of aging, if we do not improve it, will deprive every one of us, as we get older, of our ability to recognize and savor it.

Part of the solution is to strip our language of the negative association we attach to words that describe aging and older people. We can each be responsible for that in our lives and the lives of those around us. As the marketers know, if you say it often enough, it becomes true.

It is working for Crabby and me and it’s fun to watch now, as I throw around the word old as easily and un-self consciously as the word young, the surprised look on the faces of people who haven’t made the remarkable transformation yet.

Crabby Old Lady and I would like to leave you today with a statement [PDF] Dr. Robert M. Butler made to Congress two years ago this month. Dr. Butler is a professor of geriatrics at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, the man who in 1968, coined the term “ageism.” After an impassioned plea to the senators at the hearing on changing the image of aging in America, he ended his statement thusly:

“…our nation must alter our deep-seated fear, our shunned responsibility, and harmful avoidance and denial of age. Our conscience should be burdened by our obligations to those who have gone before us.

“Strict legislation and enforcement against age discrimination and elder abuse are essential but insufficient. We must change how we think, feel and behave about late life. We must help people deal with their fears of aging, dependency and death. We must have a sense of the life course as a whole.

“Our family life, our educational system and our media must help transform our sensibility, and moral values held by each of us must drive this transformation of the culture and experience of aging in America, and beyond.

“We are in the midst of a wonderful new world of longevity. It is in our power to make it a celebration.”


SaulFriedman75x75 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.

Category_bug_reflections In the kind of journalism I have practiced these 50 years, after my by-line, I have mostly stayed out of the story. I don’t much care for celebrity journalists who make themselves the story; they tend to become entertainers who don’t entertain.

But I will make an exception here, not to entertain, but to talk about my own health problems and care. And because I am 80, I think my experiences give me some credibility. I’ll get to that later, but along with my years of expertise gathered from writing my column on issues affecting older people, perhaps I can dispel some of the idiotic notions about the health care debate, most of which come from younger people who are grinding axes for the insurance or drug companies, or who are just plain ignorant and believe they will never get sick or old. What is outrageous is that supposedly responsible Republicans remain silent amid the insanity of the kooks.

I don’t think most older people fell for those “death panel” lies. That came from right-wing nuts who are as young as they are ignorant and Republican members of Congress who would just as soon kill Medicare and Social Security, which would kill more of the old. Most older people are not afraid of talking about and planning for their incapacity or death or that of a loved one.

It’s common for hospitals and doctors to ask for and demand to have in their files, a patient’s living will and/or an advance directive. In my late sister-in-law’s community for older people, most of the residents had “DNRs” (Do Not Resuscitate) tacked to their refrigerators in the event they could not speak for themselves.

Most older people I know also have designated friends or children as health care proxies. Most forms for these documents are available online or for little cost. My living will and most others tells doctors and relatives when to pull the plug. Unfortunately, many doctors and relatives are reluctant to have such a responsibility.

Many older people have consulted with and paid good money to lawyers for these end-of-life documents. In one of the health care bills, they could instead consult their physician. Who but ignorant trouble-makers would object and make a death conspiracy out of a section in one of the health care proposals that would authorize Medicare to pay a doctor $75 once every five years to give some advice on these documents and the possible choices? Is the doctor going to order your death for $75?

Who but some ignorant fool would deny a person the information that if he/she or a loved one is suffering from a painful, perhaps terminal illness that hospice or palliative care would be available to deal with pain and suffering?

Did you know that Medicare pioneered in paying for the help of hospice and palliative care for the terminally ill, forcing most insurers to offer the same benefit? Did you know that if you defeat the terminal illness and live, you can get off hospice care without having to give the money back?

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Time magazine, among others, report that older people are surprisingly hostile to what has been wrongfully called “Obamacare.” And many have split with AARP because of its seeming support for the reforms. But I believe that’s because President Obama and the AARP went too long before making it clear what precisely they are for in health reform.

The president’s speech to a joint session of the Congress was typically superb, in setting out his proposals for reforming health insurance. But it’s not simply the health insurance industry that needs reforming; I doubt that’s possible. It’s health care that needs a radical overhaul.

On the morning after his speech, I heard a Michigan woman calling in on a Washington, D.C. radio show. Her insurance premium from Blue Cross/Blue Shield for her family of three was going up 33 percent from $1,000 a month because, she said, “the insurance company was going to be forced to cover pre-existing conditions.” Does anyone believe the insurance industry will agree to lower profits and executive salaries?

What remains on the table, despite Obama’s words, are cumbersome, top-heavy confusing sausages called health care reform ground out by five different committees. Obama made a strong case for liberal, activist government, but a weaker case for a non-profit activist government plan among the insurance choices.

I still don’t know what the president will fight for. Obama has already made unseemly deals with drug companies that will allow them continued profits and power. And the president rarely mentions that what he calls reforms won’t go in effect until 2013 or as late as 2023. Medicare went into effect 11 months after its passage.

As this site has said many times, Medicare for All, which gradually covered all Americans would have been the simplest, most straightforward health care reform. But Obama has said he feared the consequences for the insurance industry and charges of a government take over of health care. But everything I’ve read indicates that most people (and businesses) would give up paying through the nose for their shaky insurance if they had a chance to sign up for Medicare.

I will wager that if Americans were told that health care reform would give them the deal I have - original Medicare plus a private plan – things would be less confusing all around. Ronald Reagan was smart enough to leave Medicare alone, years after denouncing it as socialistic. Even the rabid right would have a more difficult time attacking Medicare as government control of health care. It is. And too many older people and their kids know it and like it.

I always thought it was a mistake to call the reform I favor “single-payer.” Why not call it after one of the most popular health insurance programs we have – “Medicare For All?” I was calling it that in my column as early as a dozen years ago. And Dr. Marcia Angell, then editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, has for years called for the gradual inclusion of all Americans into Medicare.

As I wrote, Medicare’s finances would be enhanced by enlarging and strengthening the risk pool with younger, healthier people (paying taxes and premiums). Otherwise Medicare could die of old age. And that would be a tragedy.

That possibility (if the wingnuts get their chance) and my hope for Medicare For All, brings me to my personal history with health care and Medicare, for I was fortunate to be struck with serious, life-threatening problems after I became eligible for Medicare, which meant I never had to check first to see if I was covered.

On the eve of April Fool’s Day, 2003, just as I had finished a column and was playing solitaire, my right hand suddenly lost control of the mouse. A call to 911, a trip to the emergency room and by morning I had had a partly paralyzing stroke affecting my right side and my speech. Fortunately it was not worse.

I had eight weeks of intensive rehabilitation at a top hospital and was permitted to stay another several weeks because my wife, during one of her frequent trips to and from the hospital, had a serious auto accident and was herself hospitalized.

To sum up: Medicare paid for all our medical bills, supplemented by my wife’s secondary insurance, similar to what is available to all federal employees including members of Congress. Indeed, a range of choices similar to the Federal Employees Health Benefits are what would be offered in one of the bills pending in Congress.

On Valentine’s Day, 2005, came another blow: I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in its early, curable stage. But here was my initial fear: Would the best surgeon at Johns Hopkins Medical Center take on a Medicare patient in his seventies who was partly paralyzed by a stroke?

I learned, to my relief, that the young surgeon, Dr. Stephen Yang, specialized in cases involving older people. There was no question that Medicare would cover the radiation, the chemotherapy, the 12 hours of surgery, the follow-up surgery and every checkup since.

Contrast that with the private Medicare Advantage policies that can nickel and dime you to death even though they make great profits and get $10 billion a year in subsidies from you and me. I reported on a recent position paper by UnitedHealth, recommending that Medicare could save money if patients shop for less expensive care, or consider alternatives to surgery for certain cancers at certain ages.

Rationing, of course, is what helps private insurers earn profits and pay high salaries for their CEOs. Never has Medicare told me, “You’re too old.”

One of the several health care proposals before the Congress comes closest to Medicare for All. It was approved by the Democratic majority on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) without a single Republican vote. It was Senator Edward Kennedy’s bill.

Why didn’t Barack Obama put his actions where his fine words were and tell the Democratic Congress to pass the Kennedy bill?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Helen: Coattails of Time