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Why Crabby Old Lady Spends Less Time Online

The internet has gone all to hell. It is so painful to try to read these days that Crabby Old Lady has cut her online time in half and will undoubtedly withdraw further. Here are some of the reasons:

• In the past two weeks or so, both the Washington Post and The New York Times require Crabby to sign in to read any story after clicking a headline even though she is already logged in to the website.

• In the upper left corner of the Washington Post home page is a photo that changes every four or five seconds. But the designers at WaPo are so incompetent that they don't bother to conform the size of the photos so when Crabby is reading something below, the text jumps up and down as the different sized photos load and Crabby loses her place. Not to mention that that her brain goes all wonky from the jerky movement.

• In the past, the close buttons on interstitial ads between pages of a story actually worked. Nowadays, when you click it, the ad remains for another eight to ten seconds and no amount of clicking “close” changes that. On ads and requests to take a survey that pop up on top of what Crabby is reading (itself one of the major annoyances), the close button is now hidden in varying parts of the design of the ad so it can hardly be found.

• The number of animated ads has increased so there is hardly any site on which Crabby isn't distracted by flickering off at the edge of her vision field as she is trying to read. It makes her brain go all squirrelly.

• Undated news stories are useless. Huffington Post is particularly guilty of this. Crabby never has figured out where to look for the date and some websites post no date at all so there is no way to know if the information is relevant. Many sites date their stories at the end rather than the top which is almost as useless as no date.

• And while Crabby is on the subject of HuffPo, they pump up their page views with fraudulent links. Click a headline and more often than not, Crabby is taken to a section front page with a dozen stories and she can't find the one she meant to read.

• Too many video advertisements start playing when the page opens often blaring loud enough to make Crabby deaf.

• Websites are filled with so much third-party crap that they almost never load. Crabby can see the name of ad servers and other sites at the bottom of her browser that take up to a full minute to load or, when they are down, hang indefinitely without the page loading. Crabby doesn't wait around anymore.

• And, Crabby finds it unnerving to see ads for Maine businesses or Maine politicking on most of the big-name sites she visits. She knows privacy is non-existent, but there has been a large uptick recently in personalized ads and Crabby dislikes being watched so closely – or, at least, knowing about it so blatantly.

• Even though she has a whiz-bang laptop that's only a year old with a couple of gigs of memory and a cable connection, Crabby's browsing has slowed to a relative crawl. She has no way to prove it, but her big-name ISP has been selling “turbo” for the past year and Crabby suspects it is slowing connection speeds to customers who don't spring for the additional $10 a month.

Crabby Old Lady was in on the beginning of commercial internet. She and her colleagues at her website and others who helped pioneer it worked hard to create ways to navigate, ease reading on a screen, incorporate images and video that would enhance, not detract, the user experience, establish default techniques so readers know what to expect and oh, by the way, keep them coming back which is the goal of any commercial site.

Now, website owners and producers appear to have forgotten the basics. They are so sloppy that Crabby runs into half a dozen links a day – on major websites - that don't go to the correct stories, go to a blank page or do nothing at all.

The web these days is like being in a state of constant tension; will it work this time? Will Crabby be able to read this story without interruption? She isn't sticking around to find out anymore.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Relationships

Obama Speaks to Congress Tonight on Health Care

category_bug_politics.gif It has been a long, hot summer of wingnut conspiracy theories from deathers to birthers and a fat, loud, radio pundit crazed over his belief that the president wants to snip off his foreskin.

It culminated this week in screechings from the same far-right fringe groups that Obama, in his speech yesterday, was seeking to “indoctrinate” school kids with his nefarious scheme to turn them into miniature socialists and fascists (all the same thing, you know) and then, if you believe Representative Michelle Bachman, send them off to AmeriCorps “re-education camps.”

Tonight, presumably with a voice of reason, President Obama speaks to Congress about health care reform.

It's about time.

Apparently spooked by the Clinton health care debacle 16 years ago, Obama has remained mostly silent during the summer freak show allowing those opposed to reform to gain advantage. He made a couple of preposterous, back-door deals with hospitals and big pharma to chip in what amounts to less than one percent of their profits over ten years to help with costs, an agreement that has no enforcement mechanism. And he backed off his 2008 campaign rhetoric for a public option.

Then on Labor Day, in what was said to be a preview of his speech tonight, Obama again committed to the public option – sort of:

"I continue to believe that a public option within that basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs," he said.

That's hardly a ringing endorsement or good use of the presidential bully pulpit.

Meanwhile, some Congress members are pushing for co-ops instead of a public option which would, essentially, leave reform to regions or individual states creating a mish-mash of bureaucracies each too small to have any leverage for lowering costs.

Others are pressing for subsidies for the poor and middle class to pay for private coverage. That changes nothing except that the government would pay unaffordable premiums further enriching private insurance companies. And my own Republican Senator, Olympia Snowe of Maine, has met with the president about what has been labeled the “trigger.”

In this latest scheme to maintain the status quo, a public option would be written into a reform bill, but it would go into effect – be triggered – only if, in five years or so, the insurance companies have not met certain goals in cutting costs and insuring a larger number of people.

If you believe you would ever hear of the public option again if the trigger idea is adopted, I know of a birther group you can join.

Every one of these proposals has only one purpose: to ensure continued excessive profits to insurance companies. What else can we expect when there are six health care industry lobbyists in Washington for each member of Congress whose election campaign coffers have been vastly enriched by the same corporations who hire the lobbyists.

Amidst all this, there is a real national health emergency in America. Forty-seven million of us have no coverage at all. The Census Bureau is set to release the newest uninsured number tomorrow, Thursday, and it is expected to have jumped by three or four million. Between 18,000 and 22,000 people die every year for lack of money for treatment. Medicare will run out of funds in eight years. Health care costs will double or, possibly, triple in ten years along with the costs of the private insurance people buy now.

This is our last chance at reform. It's not just about the public option – we need to cut the annual billions in Medicare fraud, the billions in overpayment to medical device manufacturers and retailers, and contain costs in other reasonable ways. There has, as yet, been no discussion about how we will accomplish this as we have wasted the summer on death panels, accusations of presidential racism, birth certificates and other bizarre attacks such as tea bag parties comparing the president to Dr. Mengele.

In a sane, responsible America, we would be debating the fine points of a single-payer system. With a single-payer system, every one of the 300 million-odd Americans would pay, enlarging the risk pool. This is why Medicare is in financial trouble; it covers only old people who have more health care needs than younger people. When everyone is covered, the 80/20 rule goes into effect – 20 percent of the people use 80 percent of the system - so the system is not strained as with Medicare.

But President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a single-payer system off the table from day one. (It is not possible for me to tell you here in polite company how I feel about that.) So the public option is the best we can hope for.

What the president must do tonight is use all those persuasive powers that got him elected last year over what at first appeared to be insurmountable odds. He must explain in clear, simple language that is an emergency; if we don't get health care reform now, we never will. He must draw a line in the sand tonight that there cannot be reform without a public option.

I will be glued to the screen this evening and I hope to hell the president heard what Bill Moyers said on his PBS program last week. [5:18 minutes]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Mother's Wish

The Media's Take on Elders

In the five years I've been doing this blog, the amount of attention paid to elders from all media has exploded. That's because the baby boomers started turning 60 and our consumer society is ever-ready to exploit a market.

It is exhausting to sift through the email PR that arrives daily by the box load, the magazines and websites targeting elders (and who I've come to think of now as “pre-elders”) along with the as-yet unread books about aging stacked around my desk.

It's not that there is too much of it, although that's true. It that they all want me to be doing, doing, doing.

It's not too late to earn a degree, they say. Play these brain games or lose your mind. Start a home-based business. Find a husband (or wife). Join a gym. Write a book. It's time for your dream job. Organize your finances. Redecorate your home. Be a zoomer. Whew. I wasn't that busy when I was 30.

Then there are the self-improvement instructions: How not to act your age (Hint: never, ever reference anything in conversation that took place more than ten years ago.) Update your hairstyle. The best anti-aging products. Bikinis for the 40-plus woman. Sexier feet in seconds. What Botox and Resveritrol can do for you. And most popular of all, Doing IT after 60, as though I don't have half a century of practice.

Most of this stuff reads like it has been repurposed from Seventeen or Cosmopolitan magazine. It's all about the pretense of youth, remaining a midlife adult forever, denying age and its differences from earlier years. There is more than a whiff of parental supervision in the attitude of these stories – that the writers know what is best for elders (not that they would go near that word), and how we should live, which is mostly just like 35-year-olds.

I worked hard for 50 years usually at jobs that involved eight days a week. I was luckier than many people; most of my jobs were interesting, fun and gave me an opportunity to learn a lot. Keeping up my appearance for those jobs (and, I admit, for men) took a lot of time, money and energy. That was kind of fun too, then. Friends, entertaining, cooking, travel, community organizations and other personal interests filled the time I wasn't catching up on sleep and there weren't many empty days.

My needs and desires are different now and often slower. I like to linger with the hanging moment between sunset and dark. To watch the seagulls soar. To re-read favorite old books that have been patiently waiting for me since I placed them on the shelf long ago. To sit quietly listening to the music instead of merely hearing it on the fly. More often than in the past, I turn inward these days. I am more interested in being than in doing quite so much, and particularly not the things I've done before.

Those magazines and websites push activities on me that are more suited to youth and midlife and suggest that I'm not living up to someone's idea of elderhood if I don't keep repeating them. I can't be alone in wishing the marketers and magazines had a better handle on old age, can I? I would like to read some other people's thoughts on how old age is different from earlier stages of life, how our viewpoints change, what getting old is really like - or could be if we were not always being urged to conform to what younger editors think we should be.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone again: Alzheimer's Part 6 – A Rude Awakening

Labor Day 2009

There is hardly anything for working people to celebrate this Labor Day.

It has been a year since the financial crash of 2008. Although layoffs have been going on for a decade, they accelerated beginning in 2007 and in the past 12 months, the unemployment rate, which is undercounted, has increased from 6.2 percent to 9.7 percent. Some say the real number is somewhere around 16 percent, give or take.

According to official numbers, about 15 million Americans are unemployed and that doesn't count the underemployed and the discouraged workers who have stopped looking for jobs.

Have you ever been unemployed for an extended period of time? It's awful. No money coming in, but the bills are still due every month. If you happen to have a home equity line of credit, you dip into that. When it's used up, you start cashing out 401(k)s at a terrible tax bite. Soon you're robbing one credit card to pay another.

You cancel every service you can – magazines, newspaper, cable TV, online subscriptions, club dues. The only good news is that the dry cleaning bill goes down when you're not going to work every day.

You cut living to the bone. You stop seeing friends for dinner or movies because you dare not spend the money. Before long, they stop asking. You become more isolated. In time, you can't afford COBRA premiums any longer, so you can't see a doctor without paying cash, which you no longer have.

It's discouraging every day. Almost no companies acknowledge receipt of resumes anymore. They might as well be going into a black hole. You're told to network, but your colleagues are out of work too and those who aren't, stop taking your calls; they can't help and feel guilty about it.

That was the good news about unemployment until a year ago. Now, home foreclosure is common, cars are repossessed and if you have anything to sell, there is no one to buy.

After discouragement comes despair and if you are in your fifties or older, there is soon the realization that you are unlikely to ever have a job again that pays as well as before.

It is the American corporatocracy that is to blame for all this. Long before they destroyed the economy by giving away, often fraudulently, mortgages buyers could not afford and by buying and selling worthless swaps and derivatives, they cut pension plans and health coverage, refused to give raises and offshored millions of jobs. In the decade preceding last year's collapse, salaries lost ground, not even keeping up with inflation which was relatively low during that period. Longer ago than that, they destroyed the unions in the U.S. which had been the little leverage labor had with management.

So here we are on this Labor Day with 15 million unemployed, many of the employed forced to take pay cuts or enforced, unpaid furloughs while Wall Street executives, with the consent of government that bailed them out with hundreds of billions of workers' money, continue collecting their million-dollar salaries, awarding themselves ever larger bonuses and the health care arm of the corporatocracy spends more millions to make sure there is no meaningful health care reform.

Happy holiday, everyone.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone: Alzheimer's: Part 5 – In Response to Comments Here

ELDER MUSIC: Route 66 - Songs from the Mother Road

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.

Bobby Troup, the gentleman who wrote that song. That’s what today’s piece is all about.

If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way,
Take the highway that is best.
Get your kicks on Route 66.

It winds from Chicago to LA,
More than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route 66.


The song about Chicago is Sweet Home Chicago by Robert Johnson.

Now you go through Saint Looey, Joplin, Missouri


St. Louis Blues is the obvious choice and I couldn’t go past the great Bessie Smith’s version.

There’s a distinct lack of songs about Joplin. However, it gives me an excuse to play another of the Andre Previn/Itzhak Perlman Scott Joplin tracks. I’m stretching it a bit I know, but these have been rather popular. Let’s do The Entertainer.

Oklahoma is a state noted for tall corn and short elephants. It has a bunch of songs. None seems specifically about Oklahoma City but that’s not going to stop me. With all the Oklahoma songs at my disposal, I wondered which you’d like to hear.

Then I thought, maybe one you probably haven’t heard before. So here is Willis Alan Ramsey with Boy From Oklahoma. This is a song about Woody Guthrie. It’s from Willis’s first album from 1972. I’m still waiting for his second.


You see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico,


There’s an obvious (to me) song about Amarillo. It’s called Amarillo and it’s by the lovely Emmylou Harris.


No songs about Gallup though.

Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.


There are a couple of songs for Flagstaff but I don’t have any so it misses out. The only Winona songs I know are about Winona Ryder which isn’t quite what we’re looking for (in spite of my playing fast and loose with Joplin). As for Kingman and Barstow, forget it. There are some for San Bernardino, but these are sappy pop songs that aren’t worth bothering about.

Route66-Mojave Desert1943

Okay, that photo was taken in 1943; the road has probably improved a little since then. And here it is in San Bernardino.


Won't you get hip to this timely tip:
When you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route sixty six

Now, if I can just get off this L.A. freeway without getting killed or caught…

Guy Clark, L.A. Freeway.

There is a second verse to the song that’s seldom played. If there are enough interesting places named it could be the basis of another week’s tunes.

Vintage TGB: 7 September 2004

[ANNOUNCEMENT: Due to apparent lack of interest, This Week in Elder News, which has been published here on Saturdays since January 2008, is being discontinued. Until further notice, this space will be filled each week with past stories corresponding to a date of approximately five years ago – sometimes updated, sometimes not.]

I Am Julia Roberts

An American girl learns, as early as her pre-teen years, that if she is not a natural beauty – as defined by the producers of movies, television and Seventeen magazine - she is required by the youth-and-beauty police to do everything possible to enhance her best features and play down her worst. Not too much later than age 12 or 13 these days, that involves cosmetic surgery. Yes, even teens undergo the knife to “improve” their appearance.

In my youth, such procedures were unavailable to women who were not wealthy and it was shocking to hear of the rare child who had her ears “pinned back” or nose reshaped. With or without those extreme measures, our ordinary method of enhancement involves the diligent application of cosmetics. It is astonishing how proficient we women become at creating, for example, the illusion of cheekbones Mother Nature denied us, and I was an enthusiastic participant.

I wanted to be pretty, and I wasn’t. Or, at least, I wasn’t by the standards of Hollywood which establishes our criteria for beauty. I was particularly disturbed by my freckles which were considered merely cute – never beautiful – and I didn’t think my eyes were shaped the way they “should” be. When I was about ten and was experimenting one day with makeup with some school friends, an “older” girl, who was probably about 12 (named Olive; I never forgot that or what she said), told me my lips were too small.

And so I became expert at applying cosmetics to push my appearance as close to the prevailing definition of beautiful as possible – and that is a time-consuming task each morning. But so brainwashed was I that beginning in high school and ever after, I would not leave the house – not even for a quick trip to the deli – unless I was in full war paint.

I have envied women who can walk out into the world barefaced and fully confident. Who can skip the 20-minute preparation routine. Who can just be – and be happy about it. In my extreme youth, I admired Loretta Young for that kind of look. Later, it was Katharine Hepburn. And for the past decade or so, it has been Julia Roberts.

Peel away the movie makeup and she is still gorgeous. She has never looked at a beautiful woman across a room and thought, “I should just put a bag over my head.” If Ms. Roberts is inclined to go to the corner for the newspaper, she has never said to herself, “Oh, damn. Gotta put on my makeup first.”

Many times I have asked myself what it could be like to be Julia Roberts, to be free always of the constant concern, every day, for my appearance.

There comes a time in getting older when a woman gradually spends less time hanging out at cosmetic counters hoping to find the one new product that will turn her into Julia Roberts. After a while, the cosmetics shelf in the bathroom isn’t quite as crowded as it once was. And it soon follows that applying makeup every morning comes to feel tedious. Then one day, as I did a couple of years ago, you meet a friend for coffee – without any makeup at all.

And nothing happened. No one pointed fingers. The waiter didn’t refuse to take my order. I was not shunned in the street. And since then, I have reserved makeup - pared down to the minimum needed to smooth out blotchiness and add a small amount of color - for business and dress-up social occasions.

It has taken 50 years but at last I can leave the house without thinking about my appearance. Woohoo - I have achieved my goal: I am Julia Roberts.

Seven Mini Blog Posts

category_bug_journal2.gif Health care reform. Trusts. Medicare. Age discrimination. It's been a heavy week at Time Goes By and I think we should lighten up for a day. Here are some unrelated thoughts and events that are not enough individually for full posts but have been rolling around my mind.

Autumn Although the leaves haven't begun to turn yet in my part of Maine, fall has arrived. For the past week, nighttime temperatures have been down to the low 50s and in the daytime they have struggled to reach 70F. I wish it were possible to photograph the light, fresh breeze tinged with the fragrance of the sea that has been wafting through my windows all week. This is a fine time of year.

Nature's Bounty I overbought at the farmers' market this week, but look at the luscious food I brought home.


Juicy peaches; big, fat tomatoes ripened on the vine; the sweetest raspberries I've eaten in years; miniature, multicolored sweet peppers; extra pungent scallions; arugula picked just the day before. I forgot to include the plums, figs, grapes and corn in the photo and, from the supermarket, a gorgeous salmon steak and the freshest dates I've eaten since I picked them off a tree in Israel some years ago. This all makes me extremely happy.

Overstuffed Refrigerator My refrigerator is satisfying full of good things to eat, but nothing like my mother-in-law, back when I was married. She kept her refrigerator so stuffed you needed to hold out a hand to catch anything that fell out when you opened the door - even when we arrived on a surprise visit.

No matter what you wanted, you could find it – lox, a piece of fried chicken, some meatloaf, an apple, home-made gefilte fish, two or three cheeses, the complete makings of a Dagwood sandwich - and none of it growing green fuzz. I have never known how she did that with only two people in the house.

My Hero If you don't count firemen, heroes are hard to come by these days in our era of greed and (deliberate?) mismanagement in high places. But Wendell Potter has leaped to the top of my list.

He is the reformed insurance company executive who quit his well-paying job to go public, testifying before Congress as a whistleblower against corrupt insurance company practices and, with appearances on television programs with Bill Moyers, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, among others, revealing how the big insurers work to avoid paying claims. He is now a fellow at the Center for Media and Democracy where he keeps a blog.

TGB Subscriptions For those of you who read Time Goes By via an email subscription, please note: when you hit reply, your message comes to me, and only me, by email. But if you click the title of the post, you will be taken to the online site of this blog where you can click “comments” at the bottom of the story and have your say so everyone can read your perceptive contributions to the discussions.

Skype Friends have been urging me to use Skype to phone them for a long time. I've taken the plunge now and can't imagine why I didn't do it before. The software is easy to download, install and use, calls within the United States are clear and they are free. Plus, they cost only a small amount between countries. Marion Vermazen recorded our interview (which you can listen to here) this week via Skype. I'm a convert and I think you will be too. If you haven't done so, give it a try. I need some more people to Skype with.

Elders For Health Care Reform Given the large number of elders who oppose health care reform, it is encouraging to see Jan Adams' photographs taken at a demonstration in San Francisco this week. Here is one of them and you can see more at her blog. They will make you feel good.


Well, okay, it turned out to be a not entirely substance-free day, but at least Crabby Old Lady isn't haranguing you. And now I'm going to up it to eight mini-posts because after I finished writing, this arrived from Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepoodge: The Raging Grannies of Santa Cruz, California, singing about health care reform and a few other little problems that need addressing.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Friko: The Kindness of Strangers

The Threat to Medicare and the Truth Squad

category_bug_politics.gif Hear Me Well:

Without health care reform, slashing Medicare benefits will be Congress’s next step.

The reason Time Goes By is able to publish Saul Friedman's excellent Reflections column twice a month is that he and I met last year as recipients of the Media Excellence Award from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

The NCPSSM is an advocacy organization and, yes, a lobby group that seeks to “protect, preserve, promote, and ensure the financial security, health, and the well being of current and future generations of maturing Americans” and to develop better-informed citizens and voters through educational services about the two vitally important federal programs in their name.

By nature, I am suspicious of all political and advocacy organizations; I scrutinize them carefully. While I was writing the 20-odd part series on Social Security in 2004 and 2005, when President Bush was trying to privatize it, I found myself relying heavily on NCPSSM and they never failed me, providing facts, hard information and well-reasoned opinion.

So my support today of their newest project is based on long familiarity with the important work they do and not just because they were smart kind enough to give me an award. These are people you can trust.

Their new project is called the Truth Squad. and similar organizations do good work ferreting out lies, dis- and misinformation, but they are necessarily diffuse. The NCPSSM Truth Squad specifically targets the health care debate in setting the record straight.

This is crucial because one of the critical points missing in all the shrill town hall meetings - and more civilized commentary too - is that if system-wide health care costs are not reigned in, Medicare cannot continue.

What many elders opposed to health care reform (and some who support it) do not understand is that Medicare has a big, fat target on its back. With public concern over trillion-dollar deficits, Medicare is the first choice of Republicans, right-wingers and others for spending cuts. An added incentive is that these are the same people who have been trying to kill Medicare (and Social Security) since the inception of these programs.

And even without such attacks, rising health care costs are a dire threat to the government’s ability to continue Medicare. So again:

Without reform, slashing Medicare benefits will be Congress’s next step.

In all our discussions here and elsewhere about reform, we keep asking what we can do. Individually, not much. But collectively, we can be heard and the NCPSSM Truth Squad has created a bunch of tools for us to make it as easy as possible to speak up and to continue to speak up to Congress.

First there is the badge. You will notice that I have replaced our Elderbloggers for Health Care Reform bad in the right sidebar with the Truth Squad badge linking to their project page on the NCPSSM website.


To add it to your blog, right click on the image, save it to your hard drive, place it on your blog and link it to this URL:

Here is what you get at Truth Squad:

A Legislative Action Center where letters will be automatically emailed to your representative and senators. There is a pre-written message you can use, edit or replace with your own. Use it today and keep using it. Flood Congress with your messages, thoughts and opinions.

The Truth Squad Tool Kit with links to NCPSSM policy documents (facts) and blog posts on aspects of health care reform, and outside links to other vetted, truthful information. You can also subscribe to email updates on the project from this page.

A place to share your Medicare story with NCPSSM. It is ammunition for the organization when they speak with members of Congress, testify at congressional hearings and talk to the media. The more stories they have, the better for the campaign for reform.

And there is this video, the first of more to come [1:22 minutes]:

NCPSSM does not sell insurance, products or offer senior discounts. Founded by James Roosevelt, the son of FDR, it is non-partisan non-profit with a 26-year history of protecting Medicare and Social Security from those whose goal is to chip away at them and ultimately to destroy them.

This is one organization elders can support with confidence. The more of us who do, the more clout the NPCSSM has. So post your badge today, start using those links and tell your blog readers. If you can afford a donation, you can do so at this page.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, George Baker: I Am a Leader

Placing Responsibility for Age Discrimination

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Marion Vermazen of Marion's Blog also runs the Marion Vermazen Podcast in which she has "conversations with interesting people." Apparently she thinks I am one of them and yesterday, she interviewed me. When we recorded it via Skype, Crabby Old Lady was still writing today's post, so there is some crossover between the interview and her her topic today. You can listen to it here.]

category_bug_ageism.gif Synchronicity stepped into Crabby Old Lady's life yesterday. Just as she was having a private snit over what must be the ten thousandth article she has read with execrable advice for older job seekers, an email arrived from a friend who, at age almost 64, was laid off on Monday.

Crabby's heart sank. She has been there. At the same age. But, unlike her friend, in a still booming economy. Even then, she learned to recognize that look on the faces of 20- and 30-something hiring managers - the look that means for god's sake, I can't be expected to hire grandma, now can I, so let's get this over with as fast as possible, you old bat.

Crabby is painfully helpless in regard to her friend's predicament, but she can rant, and that she will.

Without exception, every story purporting to advise elders on overcoming age discrimination when looking for work contains the same directives:

  • Prove you are tech savvy

  • Update your wardrobe

  • Be energetic

  • Have a positive attitude

  • Get a modern haircut and stylish pair of glasses

Some years ago, Crabby bumped into one online job search “expert” who recommended facelifts for older job seekers. That odious suggestion aside, how do these patronizing advice givers think old people have survived in the workplace for the past 30 or 40 years without sharp skills and appropriate demeanor. Technology? Fifty- and 60-something job seekers haven't been on Mars for the past two decades and computers have been commonplace in the work environment for just about that long. Older workers know how to use them and in fact, they invented at least half the technologies young people use.

As to personal style, if Crabby is expected to accept kids wearing flips-flops to work (See The New York Times), she thinks young workers' tender, cultural sensibilities can be adjusted to accommodate an older worker wearing aviator frames.

But the most infuriating stroke is the advice givers' reversal of responsibility in hiring. Nowhere do they (or much of anyone else) acknowledge or discuss the contemptible behavior of employers in giving the bum's rush to older applicants. Instead, they tacitly accept age discrimination as the norm to which older workers must meekly submit while turning cartwheels to pretend it isn't in play.

Although there are some letter-of-the-law websites for companies in regard to hiring, they are often about not getting caught at age discrimination than fairness or ethical behavior. And it is easy to find detailed instructions for hiring young workers. Here's an excerpt from one Crabby Old Lady located in fewer than ten seconds that doesn't even nod at the legal requirement to not discriminate:

“What can an organization do to find more qualified young workers and then identify them effectively and quickly?

“Simplify the application process. To first attract and then actually hire young talent, making the entire application process as convenient as possible is critical.”

This screams for a dive into the archives to retrieve The TGB Bias Test in which ageist references are replaced with words related to sexism and racism. As in:

“What can an organization do to find more qualified white workers...”


“To first attract and then actually hire male talent...”

Ridiculous, right? No one would write those sentences. But it IS acceptable when it is about old people. There is no uproar, no calling out. No one cares. Yet the weird perversity of age discrimination is that it works against young people too. As we live longer, healthier lives, it is the young who, through increased taxes, will be required to support competent, experienced elders who could be supporting themselves and paying taxes but have been locked out of the workforce by age discrimination. How dumb is that?

Has Crabby mentioned that age discrimination is illegal? She won't bore you with the details of the U.S. Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). You can find a short overview of the Act at Wikipedia. Aside from a few stated exceptions, it prohibits discriminatory preference for the young. But it is not effective.

The ADEA provides little protection for older workers. Employers are adept at circumventing the requirements of the statute and should someone who believes he or she has been discriminated against sue, corporations have staff attorneys who get paid no matter what they do and can soon bankrupt a plaintiff paying a private attorney $500 or more an hour.

Usually, however, lawsuits are not pursued because it is nearly impossible to prove age discrimination in hiring. No one ever tells an applicant outright that he or she is too old, although “overqualified” is a well-known euphemism for the same thing.

Mostly you know you will be rejected for being too old through the subtleties of body language, a disinterested attitude or, as happened once to Crabby Old Lady, a young interviewer who pats your forearm and says, “Tell me about your life goals, dearie.” None of it is provable in court as discrimination, but you know it when it happens to you.

Crabby Old Lady saw enough of it that before she gave up looking for work four years ago, she developed a tactic for such moments in interviews when she knew she had nothing left to lose. Crabby's friend, Rick Gillis, liked it well enough to include it in his new book, The Real Secret to Finding a Job:

Look your interviewer straight in the eye, don't blink and in your most pleasant, professional voice, ask:

  • Does this company maintain a mixed-age workplace?

  • How do you weigh the skills of younger and older workers in deciding whom to hire?

  • How do you train young managers in dealing with subordinates who are old enough to be their parents and grandparents?

  • Is my age an impediment to being hired at this company?

Rick maintains that asking these direct questions in the right circumstances may turn around the interview, that you may be seen as a no-nonsense person they could use. Crabby never got another interview after she developed this exchange, but it sure made her feel better to have it in her back pocket should the need arise.

We are living in tough employment times that probably won't get better soon, but that doesn't mean age discrimination should not be challenged. Let Crabby be clear: it is not the job applicant's responsibility to fool employers into thinking he or she is young – none of that idiotic, cosmetic advice works anyway. But it is the employer's responsibility to hire fairly.

Crabby Old Lady fears for her friend's job prospects. Isn't it time the blame for age discrimination is placed where it belongs and something is done about it?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: The Shock of a Lifetime


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 When I see allegedly adult people raising hell with government-sponsored health care on behalf of the health insurance companies, I wonder what ever became of the healthy American tradition of distrusting trusts.

Equally troubling is the benign mainstream press, which seems quick to criticize and probe big government while looking the other way at the predatory conduct of  big business. It was not always that way.

Throughout much of American history, there has been a give and take between those who wanted more government and those who wanted less. But in almost every era, there was a uniform distrust of big business, big banks, cartels and great corporations and trusts.

As a young reporter, I (and many in my generation) sought to follow in the footsteps of the great journalists who took on the titans of the Gilded Age in the early 20th century: Upton Sinclair, whose expose of the meat packing industry, The Jungle, helped give us the FDA; Lincoln Steffens, who exposed the political corruption of the Tweed Ring; and Ida Tarbell, whose probe of John D. Rockefeller’s huge trust, the Standard Oil Company, led to its breakup.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt called these reporters “muckrakers,” but while he criticized them he also said, “I hail as a benefactor...every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform or in book, magazine or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in turn remembers that that attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful.”

Roosevelt and his successor, William Howard Taft, both Republicans, became trust busters using some of these exposes to take on the great oligarchies like U.S. Steel and Standard Oil that were violating the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which prohibited monopolies in restraint of trade. And the muckraking as well as the trust busting led to the stronger, Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1914 which is still on the books but no longer enforced. Franklin Roosevelt limited the power of those he called “economic royalists,” with tight regulation.

I came into the Washington scene in 1966 as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press (part of the Knight chain) during a more recent era of muckraking that exposed the behavior of corporations that quite literally were killing people and the environment. One of my early friends, Morton Mintz, then of the Washington Post, challenged the drug company that was about to get FDA approval to sell in the U.S. a drug named thalidomide, an anti-nausea drug for pregnant women.

It had been widely used in Europe. But Mintz learned from a valiant FDA researcher, Frances Kelsey, who was at odds with her agency, that the drug seemed to be causing horribly deformed children in Europe. The U.S. escaped that scourge thanks to Kelsey and Mintz’s reporting.

At about the same time, on Capitol Hill, with encouragement from the activist press, Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee used his Judiciary Anti-trust and Monopoly subcommittee, created as a result of the Sherman Act, to investigate and expose the price-fixing and monopolistic practices of the steel, auto and drug industries.

Also in the Senate, Senator Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut brought Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, before his committee to testify in the spring of 1963, a year before her death, and recognized her as the founding mother of the environmental movement. Her books and Ribicoff’s hearings into the chemical industry’s use of pesticides to poison fish and wildlife set the stage for the Endangered Species Act.

I remember going to a press conference to challenge the experts paid by the American Chemical Society who insisted that DDT did not, as Carson proved, threaten the extinction of birds. Eventually, the use of DDT was outlawed.

But Ribicoff’s committee became more famous when muckraker Ralph Nader came before it to challenge the biggest corporation of them all, General Motors, whose car, the rear-engine Corvair, was, as Nader’s book put, Unsafe at Any Speed. When it was learned that GM hired private detectives to tail Nader, the company was taken to the woodshed by Ribicoff. That hearing, and Nader, helped launch what became the consumer movement.

I was in an awkward position, for Nader was anathema in Detroit. But to my paper’s credit, my editors reluctantly agreed that if I were to cover the auto industry from Washington, Nader was part of that story. Besides, I had a great resource for covering the auto industry and the environmental and consumer movements - Senator Philip A. Hart of Michigan who had taken over the Anti-trust and Monopoly Subcommittee when Kefauver died.

Hart was less flamboyant than the tall Tennessean and more gentle, but his style helped him overcome Southern opposition to pass one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation, the Voting Rights Act.

Hart had married into great auto industry wealth but his committee, after a slow start, eventually surpassed Kefauver in investigating the growing concentration of monopoly power in many industries, including autos. One of his investigators, for example, exposed the conspiracy in which GM, Firestone and what is now Exxon combined to kill the electric street cars in many cities to sell more gas-guzzling, tire-using GM buses.

With the help of muckraker Jessica Mitford (The American Way of Death), Hart exposed the fraud, cheating and corruption in the funeral industry. And he sponsored and succeeded in passing the Truth In Packaging Act which today guards consumers against fraudulent claims on packages.

In 1968, after four years of hearings on economic concentration, Hart, a believer in free enterprise, told Mintz, “We tend to forget what antitrust is all about. It is about power - political, social and economic power....What our corporate executives want is not competition...but the anarchy of unrestrained pricing...”

These were times of sixties activism and goaded by congressional investigating committees, Nader and his followers and aggressive consumer reporting, the Justice Department anti-trust division, during the Lyndon Johnson administration, had become more active. Under Attorney General Robert Kennedy and his successors, the division filed complaints against corporations like ITT. But the Nixon presidency and his Attorney General John Mitchell ended that suit under suspicious circumstances. And the Vietnam War took center stage.

Since then, Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and Republicans Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, made big government rather than big business the problem. And the great trusts, in energy, the media, banking, insurance, drugs, health care and technology have become more powerful, more wealthy and more domineering than at any time during the Gilded Age.

When is the last time anyone seriously challenged the concentration of monopoly power in newspapers, television or, for that matter, Microsoft? Who has pursued, with the same vigor as a sex scandal, the role of the insurance and drug companies and their paid-for political allies in corrupting the campaign for true health care reform? Who has challenged the possibility that health care may be better without the powerful insurance companies?

One answer is that the rest of the press merely shrugs when, for example, Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin, a Democrat turned Republican, who became CEO of the drug industry lobby, at $2.5 million, after pushing through the Medicare drug legislation that further enriched the drug companies. Time was that such conflicts of interest were frowned on and even illegal.

One has to go to the blogs or commentators like Rachel Maddow, to learn how the industry millions distorted such issues as health care and climate change. What has happened to the press and most of the television reporters when they fail to get angry or even report and probe, for example, the profits of the five leading health insurance companies last year that ranged from $292 million to nearly $3 billion, and that the salaries of the CEOs ranged from $3 million to $24 million? Surely some of that could have gone to actual health care.

I have seen only one mainstream story on the power of the insurance industry, a lengthy investigative piece by Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein, in the Auust 6 Business Week, which concluded that “the health insurers have already won,” that is, they “have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics....the insurance industry will emerge more profitable.”

How did they do it? With millions of dollars in campaign contributions, more millions in lobbying, including personal visits with key Democrats and the president, by UnitedHealth’s multimillion dollar a year CEO, Stephen J. Hemsley. And slick television advertising which claims the insurance and drug companies are all for reform.

All of this under the noses of most of the sleepwalking media. I tried for weeks to get the Washington Post’s lead health care reporter, Ceci Connolly, to write an explainer about single-payer; she promised but didn’t keep her word. She was the first to agree to meet with industry leaders at the salons planned by the Post’s publisher but which were scrubbed when other reporters leaked the plan to bloggers.

Perhaps one reason that the mainstream press no longer cares about the power of big corporations, is they are a part of the problem. They make more than decent salaries; their savings plans probably include health insurance and drug company stocks, which were up sharply at word (from Ceci Connolly, among others) that the public option may be off the health care table. And, of course, most of the owners of mainstream media are conservative and one does not bite the hand.

The press (especially television) loves finding and exacerbating conflicts within the political parties without probing the issues themselves. Or reporters will faithfully record lies as simply one side of the story, without saying that the claims are lies. (That’s left to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and liberal blogs.)

Sometimes, as I’ve written here, there is only one side of a story when the source is clearly a nut. And some nuts should be ignored or labeled as kooks. The press coverage confuses the issue, then reports that the issue is confusing.

No wonder, then, that the screamers at health care forums get the coverage. No wonder that the press takes polls that suggest the support for the public option is declining, as if the press coverage wasn’t responsible. Is it any wonder that so many Americans are suckered into believing that the big insurance and drug companies will look after their health coverage better than government?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran: Life is Good