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Vintage TGB: 2 November 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.]

Vaccine Shortages and Drug Prices

In late August or early September, Crabby Old Lady saw a small item in the press somewhere that there might be a shortage of flu vaccine in the United States this year.

Crabby has taken a flu shot for the past 12 or 15 years except one year when, for reasons she no longer recalls, she didn’t get around to it. The flu got her that year and she was sick – sick in bed, fevered, aching, delirious and non-functional – for two entire weeks. It was an additional month before she felt fully healthy again. She has never missed another flu shot.

This year, with that tiny, little news item in mind, Crabby was at the door when it opened on the first morning the vaccine was available from the New York City Health Department. Others have not been so lucky as Crabby; the next day, the shortage was announced.

Since then, there have been continual reports of elders in long lines in the hot sun with nothing more useful than hope that the vaccine will not have run out when their turn comes. Hospitals do not have enough vaccine for their patients.

Several towns have held lotteries - think of it, lotteries for a proven medication that saves thousands of lives a year - for the few doses they have. And scalpers have been charging 10 and 20 times the going price. Crabby has one friend, HIV-positive, who cannot find a flu shot at any price after weeks of searching. He is terrified; if he gets the flu, he may die.

Now, according to a story by Gardiner Harris, it appears more than just flu vaccine is regularly in short supply:

“Each of these drugs, and dozens of others, are in shortage in the United States right now. On any given day, 50 to 80 drugs, many of them life-saving, may be difficult or impossible to find. Some patients die waiting for them, or because a frustrated doctor substituted another drug without having adequate training.

“The larger story behind the flu vaccine shortage is that drug supply disruptions in the United States have become routine.”
- The New York Times, 31 October 2004

In addition, drugs in general are so expensive in the United States that people – mostly older folks on fixed incomes – travel to Canada and, mentioned in the press to a lesser degree, Mexico to get their physician-prescribed medications.

“U.S. citizens regularly cross the border to buy discount prescription drugs at pharmacies in Mexican border towns, where they can save up to 60 percent on drugs ranging from antibiotics to Viagra.”
-, 22 October 2004

If that is not bad enough, officials repeatedly appear on network and cable news broadcasts to warn against buying drugs in other countries because, they say, those drugs might not be safe. Somehow, Crabby believes, if U.S. citizens were dropping dead in droves from “foreign” drugs, we would know about it.

It is unconscionable that these shortages and high prices can happen in a country that touts itself as having the finest healthcare system in the world - a dubious statement when the United States is listed at number 48 in life expectancy at birth by the 2003 CIA World Fact Book.

How can all this be, you may ask? Crabby will explain: it happens when the manufacture and distribution of medicines are left to the free market.

But drugs and vaccines are not automobiles. They are not television sets, computers, shoes nor any other kind of consumer product. They are life-giving, life-preserving miracles without which we would still have killer diseases such as polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, small pox and measles, the fear of which Crabby can remember from her childhood.

Other diseases that were deadly in her youth are now, if not yet preventable or curable, at least controllable - with drugs created by modern science. It is shameful than anyone in a country as rich as ours must go without needed medications or seek them in other countries.

Health is not a commodity and that is why, in other, more enlightened countries, governments do not allow the market to decide availability and price of medicines as though they were pork bellies.

Crabby Old Lady believes it would be an excellent legacy for future generations if older folks would make it a priority to lobby our representatives in the coming years for a saner, national health policy.

Letting Myself Off the Hook

For the past few days, I've been wrestling some computer problems to the ground. If you are waiting for an email response from me, I'll get to it as soon as everything is in working order again – before long.

Meanwhile, I decided to let myself off the hook to devote full time for a day to getting organized on this machine without feeling pressured. So – no new post for today. Instead, one from about three years ago.

As I am sure is true for other bloggers, posts come in about three flavors:

  1. Not so wonderful, but it will have to do
  2. Not bad, I kind of like this
  3. Wow. On rare occasions, I'm really good

This is a number 3 post, written in August of 2006. I rediscovered it yesterday when a reader left a snotty note telling me that the title is wrong: “mete not meet!!!” she wrote, “(if you want it right).” Oh, and with a little smiley at the end – to soften the tone of superiority, do you think?

Well, not so fast.

“It is meet and right so to do” is an ancient phrase, a beautiful phrase that trips off the tongue, an old favorite of mine. It is from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (revised, 1662), in the Holy Communion section; the congregation's answer to the priest's, “Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.” And in that ancient book, it is spelled “meet.”

In the first edition, 1549, it was spelled “mete”, but corrected in the revised version. So I stand by my spelling.

All that aside, it was a pleasant opportunity to revisit a post I am more pleased with than usually and by coincidence, it is nicely related to Wednesday's post. I wish I could turn out stuff like this every day.

It is Meet and Right So To Do

category_bug_ageism.gif QUESTION: What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening?

It is a riddle we all learned in childhood and although I can’t prove it, I think I recall that this particular riddle can be traced to the ancient Greeks. It is, of course, redolent of Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season…” and the ignorant ageists among us – those who do their best to keep elders out of the mainstream because they think we are stupid and boring – should be reminded that each era of life has its reasons to be.

A couple of mornings ago, Ollie the cat woke me again when it was still dark, 3:30AM. I could have gone back to sleep, but there was a lovely, cool breeze through the screen door which beckoned me outside to sit on the deck.

It was a surprise to discover there are stars in the sky here in Portland, Maine. I’d almost forgotten about them during 37 years in Manhattan where only Venus is visible and not often. The stars here are not as profuse as in the wilds of upstate New York, where I once had a weekend house, but enough to remind an old city girl that there’s more to nightlife than flashing neon.

I tracked what must have been a satellite – too high to be an airplane - as it raced across the black night. I’d never seen one before.

In the dark, there wasn’t much else to look at and I've forgotten the arrangement of the constellations and their locations, so I settled my mind on the breeze – its rustling in the trees, how it felt on my face and ruffled my hair. How it tugged lightly at the hem of my summer dressing gown tickling my ankles.

This deck attached to my new home is a revelation for me. Years ago, when I wanted a break from what I was doing, I smoked a cigarette. Now I sit on my deck for a short while half a dozen times a day or maybe more, and I find myself attending more closely than since earliest childhood to what is going on around me.

When, in adulthood, we are on career track, chasing success, raising children, accumulating stuff, filling every moment of the day with “doing” until we drop into bed exhausted, there isn’t time to smell the roses. That is as the second season of life should be. (I’ll leave arguments that we have taken midlife busy-ness to an extreme for another day.) With past gardens, I was too much in a hurry to pause; just get the watering done before leaving for work or rushing off to an evening soiree.

But slowing down comes naturally in elderhood. Forces internal and external nudge us to overcome the cultural pressure to be busy. Activities that no longer seem as important as they once did gradually fall away and a quietude settles upon us.

Now there is time for the breeze, the smell of the sea, the swaying of the tree branches, the call of the birds. To watch a bee flit from flower to flower. A spider diligently building her web. How prettily a fallen petal dances, like a ballerina, as the wind pushes it across the floor of the deck.

Plants, like cats and children, know deep inside how to be themselves. When I turn a pot, the leaves soon rearrange themselves to face the sun. When I water them, their whole being perks up; they almost smile and say “aaahhhh.”

The geraniums, the large, next-door, lilac bush whose top branches reach into my deck, the ivy stretching for a place to cling – each, I am seeing for the first time, is a universe unto itself: flowers and leaves, like their counterpart fauna, are born, live oh so gloriously and die as they must, to make room for more individuals. But the universe, the plant, continues and thrives through the generations of its green and gaudy progeny.

Although I have forgotten what it references, there is a sentence somewhere in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer I have always liked: “It is meet and right so to do.” It is meet and right that elders should have time to discover such things as I have written of today and I think that cannot be done without the stillness of body we are granted in old age which begets this new fullness of mind.

So next time you see an old man who seems bored and boring is his wheelchair, or an old woman who appears to have fallen asleep on a park bench, remember that it is their season of quietude and they are learning new things they had no time for when they were merely adults. Perhaps, if you ask politely, they will tell you what those things are.

[NOTE: On the off-chance there is someone reading this who does not know the riddle, the answer is mankind, who crawls in childhood, walks upright in adulthood, and uses a cane in elderhood.]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: The Last Prose of Summer

GAY AND GRAY: Dick Gephardt's Second Career

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.]

Recently The Nation magazine published a long exposé of what former Democratic Congressional leader Dick Gephardt is doing in his second career. In a nutshell, he is making bundles of "money representing every anti-labor, anti-environmental, anti-universal healthcare client he can find..."

During his long career representing a Missouri district, he was best known as a pro-labor populist who worked to achieve health care reform. In 2003 during a short run for the Democratic nomination for president, he proclaimed:

"I'm running for president because I've had enough of the oil barons, the status-quo apologists, the special-interest lobbyists running amok.”

It is disconcerting to say the least that Gephardt now lobbies for drug companies and Goldman Sachs. For The Nation, the Gephardt saga is a cautionary tale of how Democrats who now control Washington are on their way are becoming as corrupt as the Republicans were when they were in charge.

For me, this Gephardt story sets off some cognitive dissonance. You see, for a job I had a couple of years ago, I toured the country showing a film, For the Bible Tells Me So that makes the case for the full humanity of LGBT people.

It's an excellent presentation aimed at mainstream religious people introducing them to nonthreatening, warm, attractive people who are gay or related to gay people.

My colleagues and I agreed that every time we saw it, we perceived new depths in it. Many times audiences cried. And Gephardt, a Roman Catholic who clearly loves his lesbian daughter, is one of the heroic figures in that film.

Being an advocate for gay rights frequently embroils one in contradictions. After all, Gephardt isn't alone as an unlikely advocate for my well being - Dick Cheney has a lesbian daughter who recently gave birth to his granddaughter and that seems to have touched even that flinty heart. Can it really be true that there is something about which I agree with Dick Cheney?

Unlike most issues in our society, gay acceptance can, sometimes, cut across left-right ideological boundaries. In general, Democrats are more friendly to us than Republicans - but even Republicans can have gay relatives and friends and learn from their own families about tolerance that can lead to inclusion. And some do. Apparently lobbyists who use their past reputations on behalf of sleazy causes can too.

As I get older, contradictions like this remind me that right and wrong are not simple categories for any of us to navigate. The ways we live our lives are inevitably complicated and compromised. I'm glad that working for gay rights reminds me of this.

And I'm also glad that I remain a fierce advocate, from the left side, for peace, economic and racial justice, and environmental sustainability. That's not going to change with age, but maybe I'll get wiser and kinder as I go along.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lois Cochran: How Big is Your World?

The Essence of Elders

One of the highest compliments there is, is this: “I've always known that; why didn't I know it before." It occurs when hearing or reading something that initially sounds obvious, but on further thought is so right and true that it adds depths of understanding and clarity you didn't have before.

That happened yesterday reading a new post at David Wolfe's blog, Ageless Marketing.

"[In] the second half of life, the libido expresses desires to recreate the self in less materialistic, more symbolic ways, such as in one’s good works or 'giving back' to others as part of one’s legacy. This is one way people know they can live on, even if it's only in the minds of others.”

David is contrasting this later life development to the first half of our lives when our libido urges us relentlessly to preen and prance and posture in answer to nature's imperative for continuation of our species. Then he gets to my “aha” moment:

”...the Holy Grail in human personality development. At long last [in age] we may find the answer to the biggest question that ever arises in our minds: "Who am I?"

So simply put. So true. Something I have spent tens of thousands of words on this blog trying to get to. He further explains:

”Getting the answer to that question is frighteningly difficult when we are in hot pursuit of careers, intimate partners and social status. A big hurdle is that we tend to see ourselves as we present our masked selves to the outside world. Affectations become an admixture in our self-images.

“Only when we begin to explore the gaps between our social self and our real self can we begin to get close to the answer to 'Who am I.' In this process authenticity comes to replace artifice in the long road to self-realization.”

David blogs about marketing, advertising and branding for professionals in those fields and in the case of this post, he is explaining the need for them to understand the different world view of older consumers they want to reach.

“The persona of youth is about style,” he writes; “the quest for the answer to the question, 'Who am I?' is about substance.”

All of which explains why advertising aimed at elders almost always feels irrelevant to me – they are trying to appeal to old people with the memes of youth. This also applies to just about every aspect of the culture in relation to elders: television, movies, clothing, technology, vacations, etc., soaked with sexual innuendo and status seeking.

It would go a long way toward improving the perception of elders as we really are, not to mention marketing's bottom line, if they hired a few elders as advisers.

Thank you, David, for the clarity.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Speeding Ticket


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 I don’t think I’ve told you that I nailed down my first real newspaper job by stealing. The story helps me make the point that journalism today is much straighter, reflective and responsible, but not as much fun or as personally rewarding.

I call what I learned participatory journalism, when my contemporaries and I took pleasure in righting wrongs.

I walked into the city room of The Houston Chronicle, the leading afternoon daily at 7:30 AM on Monday, March 6, 1953, and the city editor, Allison Sanders, a Victorian kind of gentleman in his fifties with a bushy white mustache, told me to sit. Mr. Sanders wore suspenders, smoked a corncob pipe and kept a Chinese back scratcher handy.

He had offered me a job a few days earlier and I didn’t know what to expect, so I sat. And waited. It was not quite nine when he gave me an assignment: “Find me a water pistol.”

Not certain that I heard him correctly I went out into the downtown morning rush, wondering (1) why does he want a water pistol? and (2) where can I find one as this hour? I had been living in Houston for only a few months.

Long story short: At the Woolworth’s on Main Street, the food counters were open for morning coffee, but the merchandise areas were closed and covered with sheets. I stayed low and peeked under the sheets until I came to the toy section.

I found a water pistol and tried to leave enough money to pay for it, but all I had was a five dollar bill my wife had given me for my lunch and not enough change. But I left what change I had, hid the pistol in my pocket and stole out of the store certain I’d be caught for shoplifting.

Back at the city room, still unsure that I had what Mr. Sanders wanted, I gave him the pistol. I later learned it was to be used as a prop for a pretty, busty woman to pose with. The purpose was to illustrate a hyped story about how women, with a water pistol filled with a lye solution, could defend themselves against some nut who was accosting them at bus stops, feeling their breasts and fleeing.

Anyway, when the first deadline had passed, Mr. Sanders asked me where I got the pistol. I told him the truth. He grunted something that sounded like approval and sent me to the police station as the number 3 police reporter at $50 a week.

The photo of my pistol made page one. I had begun my love affair with journalism, but I quickly learned that stealing that pistol was not as challenging as, say, getting a photo of an accident or murder victim for the paper. Didn’t you ever wonder how the papers and TV people get such pictures?

These days that task goes to some flunky, copy person or a very junior producer. In my early days it was the reporter’s responsibility to wheedle a photo from the bereaved family. The great Chicago reporter Ben Hecht (who co-wrote the classic, Front Page), told the hilarious story in Child of the Century of when he was assigned to get a photo of a murdered mobster.

He went to the wake and found the only picture of the deceased hanging on the wall over the casket, which was placed on a couple of sawhorses. As I recall, Hecht climbed on the saw horses and casket to get the photo and leave before any of the wake celebrants caught wise.

Well, when I was a junior police reporter, The Front Page came alive every day. One of my jobs was talking the sobbing, nearly hysterical or angry bereaved wife, mother or father into looking around the house to find a suitable photo.

On more than one occasion, I posed as one of the hearse drivers from the funeral home who had come to take the deceased away. I nearly dropped my end of the stretcher once going down a steep flight of stairs, but got the picture. But it forced me to spend time with and listen to suffering people.

I remember vividly the time I made conversation at the murder scene with a 90-year-old woman who had shot her 92-year-old  husband between the eyes with the ancient .45 Colt revolver during an argument over whose side of the family would get the pistol when they died. She gave me the picture of her once-handsome husband as the police took the body away. “I did love him, you know,” she told me.

“So why did you shoot him?” I asked.

“Because I loved him,” she said.

These were rough and tumble times in Texas newspapering, and we police and court reporters were aggressive; we had to be. Houston boasted three hotly competing newspapers, the afternoon Chronicle, which was locally owned and went head-to-head against the Scripps-Howard Houston Press as well as the morning Post, owned by the then Health and Welfare Secretary Oveta Culp Hobby, the daughter of a former governor.

There are few cities left with competing newspapers. But competition, however crazy and funny at times, served me and my contemporaries well. It taught us some values that have lasted.

Just about all of us on the police and courthouse beats went as strongly after the cops and courts, when they did wrong, as well as the thieves and killers. I learned to get into the heads of the bad guys while mourning for the victims. A couple of hours in the county hospital emergency room on a Saturday night can teach you a great deal about the human condition and it has no relationship to today’s television dramas.

When I learned that a man named Jasper Self, an old-fashioned, real Texas outlaw if there was one, had been shot by a Texas Ranger while trying to escape, I spent most of a weekend tracking down the story. I don’t know why it interested me. Years before,  Self had shot and killed a ranger for which he had spent time in prison. He was warned by the rangers, at the time he went to prison, that he would not live long in freedom. He was killed soon after he was released and it was clear to me it was a case of ranger revenge.

My wife was with  me that Saturday as we drove around the state from Houston to a little town near Austin to examine Self’s body at the funeral home. He had been shot in the back of the head while kneeling, the mortician showed me, with pencils in the bullet holes.

Then we drove to the Self family farm to interview and get a photo from his elderly father who greeted me with anger and a shotgun until we calmed him down. And he told me how a couple of rangers came and got his son.

Finally, after dark we drove to Wharton, about an hour out of Houston, where we got the ranger out of a house party to confront him with what I had found. My wife kept watch as he angrily denied murdering Self. But we had the goods on him and a fine story that raised a bit of hell. I don’t recall what happened to the ranger.

My competition covering the courts was a dynamo named Maggie Davis, of the Houston Press. She was near 60, a chain-smoker and so high strung she couldn’t sit still at times. She would relieve her tension sometimes by banging her head on a wall. But she beat the hell out of most reporters who tried to compete with her. I feared her, but found out how she knew so much.

She never had lunch in the courthouse cafeteria. She brought her sandwich to the chamber of the senior criminal court judge who lunched every day with the other jurists and exchanged juicy bits of courthouse gossip and real news. So I joined them.

Not only did it prevent some Maggie exclusives, I got an education in criminal law from the judges. And my stories had the meat of my new expertise. I didn’t need to quote a source; I was able to explain from my own knowledge. That’s something I’ve been doing ever since.

Maggie, who remained my friend, taught me how to dictate a clean story from notes while covering a trial, with fresh leads and inserts as the trial went on. That experience and the pressure of deadline and competition helped, in the days before computers, when I reported from India on its 1971 war with Pakistan and Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Indeed, from time to time, working stories like those or writing my column, I reflect on what she and those early days taught me. In a word, it was good, basic journalism.

Maggie never learned how I was able to scoop her at last on the jury verdict, which came in just before our deadlines in the trial of a poor, dumb kid from the wrong side of town who was convicted in the drive-by shooting of  a rich boy, the son of a prominent business man, in the affluent River Oaks section of Houston. The trial had been moved to the town of Halletsville, in south Texas.

When the inevitable verdict – “guilty with the punishment death” – was announced in mid-afternoon, Maggie had trouble getting her call through to her Houston office  from the small town. That’s because I had paid a couple of young men to tie up the few long distance lines but hold mine open until our deadlines were gone.

As I said, Maggie never found out, but she would have forgiven me.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Olga Hebert: To My Mom

The (Non)Public Option

category_bug_politics.gif On Sunday's political talk shows, journalists and others who purport to have the inside scoop on the progress of health care reform in Congress said the White House – that is, President Obama – prefers the “trigger” style of public option.

That's Senator Olympia Snowe's idea – to kick the can of the public option down the road leaving the status of health care in the U.S. pretty much quo, and guaranteeing that the market requirements (trigger) for a public option to go into effect will never be met.

That's what happened with the Medicare prescription drug plan, Part D. Not many people know that a trigger was included in that legislation. But the pharmaceutical industry wrote the Part D bill and set the bar for a prescription drug public option so high that it has never been met.

Never met, even though premiums for many of next year's Part D coverage plans have doubled (mine has), deductibles have been added (mine has) or increased and some insurance companies have switched to co-insurance (mine has) which is more expensive for insureds than co-pays and many co-pays have increased (mine have). All this even though there will be no COLA increase for Social Security beneficiaries in 2010.

And, as I reported last week, the premiums for two of the most popular Part D plans have increased dramatically since the prescription drug program went into effect in 2006: AARP has doubled; Humana PDP Enhanced has tripled – in only three years.

Medicare Part D, then, is a good template for health care reform with the trigger, certain to please the health care industry. Trust me, THERE WILL NEVER BE A PUBLIC OPTION if a trigger is included in the reform bill, and therefore no way to control the prices of coverage from private insurers.

But that is the intention of Congress, isn't it – to try to fool the public into believing they are doing something that will benefit voters, while further lining the pockets of the health industry and in the process, lining their own pockets.

After watching the Sunday shows, I wondered how much Congress members have collected so far from the health industry for their upcoming elections. Relying on, I checked donations to representatives and senators who have often been in the news during the health care debate of the past few months.

The amounts below are contributions from the industry in parentheses (which are OpenSecret's designations) and are as of 30 September 2009. The industry is the number 1 largest contributor to each legislator unless otherwise noted. An asterisk indicates the senator is up for re-election next year. All representatives are up for re-election.

Make what you will of this:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi *
$134.8K (health professionals)

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer *
$250.5K (health professionals #1, insurance #4 )

House Minority Leader John Boehner *
$272.9 (insurance #1, pharma #3)

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid *
(no health-related donations in top 5)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
$795.8 (health professionals #5 contributor)

Senator Charles Schumer *
$261.3 (insurance #4)

Senator Olympia Snowe *
$175K (health professionals #2)

Senator Susan Collins
$400K (health professionals #4)

Representative John Weiner *
(no health-related donors in top five)

Senator Jay Rockefeller *
$268.4K (health professionals #2)

Senator Max Baucus
$2.32million (health professionals #2, pharma #3, insurance #5)

Senator Chris Dodd
$1.4million (insurance #3)

[You can find contribution information for any member of Congress on this page at OpenSecrets.]

This is hard to say publicly, but I become more discouraged every day about there being a robust and meaningful health care reform bill. Between triggers and opt out for states, Congress seems to be doing everything possible to negate a public option and without it, there will be no reform. And without reform, health care costs will ruin the economy in less than a decade.

It could have been so simple. A single-payer system – Medicare for all - would fold everyone into the same risk pool spreading costs over all 300 million-plus citizens. There are examples and history of it working well in every industrialized democracy in the world. But President Obama took that option off the table before the debate even began.

What was he thinking? I'm afraid it wasn't the public.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek: How I Almost Became a Texas

ELDER MUSIC: Classical Again – Part 2 of 3

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.

Josquin des Prez, often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He is also known as Josquin Desprez, a French rendering of the Dutch "Josken van de Velde," diminutive of "Joseph van de Velde" and Latinized as Josquinus Pratensis, alternatively Jodocus Pratensis.

However, des Prez apparently was just a nickname. His real names was Lebloitte. With all those names he wouldn’t know who he was.

He was so admired in his time that many anonymous compositions were attributed to him by copyists. Hope he collected the royalties for those.

He composed music in various styles, including masses, motets and frottole. Yep, I wondered about that last one too. It seems that a frottola is a composition for three or four voices. There’s more to it than that but, as I won’t be including one of those, that will do.

This is called Pange Lingua, which old Jos thought of as a “fantasy on a plainsong.” It could be a frottola.

Josquin des Pres

des Pres - Pange Lingua

Franz Schubert was 31 when he died, probably due to complications from syphilis. He wrote more than 800 scores in his lifetime and more are being discovered now and then, so check your attics, folks. He was Austrian as were quite a number of composers I’ve featured. Must be something in the water (or the cakes).

He is most renowned for his lieder, his songs, but I don’t like them. I really like his chamber music and his orchestral pieces, particularly the “Great” symphony D944 (often referred to as the 9th but there’s a bit of contention about the numbering of his symphonies).

I’d like to play it all but it’d take about an hour to load this blog so I won’t. Instead, the third movement from his Piano Trio No. 2, Op100, D929.


Schubert - Piano Trio No. 2 Op100 D929

I have included a bit about Jean-Baptiste Lully because of the bizarre way he died. He croaked after stabbing himself with his baton while conducting.

Now, you may wonder what sort of contortions he’d have to perform to achieve that, however, it wasn’t a baton as we know it today. It was more like a staff that he banged on the floor to keep time.  He hit himself in the foot causing an abscess and it turned gangrenous and he refused to have it amputated and - well, there you go.

He was known as a bit of a libertine and caused many a scandal during his life. He was a good friend of King Louis XIV (lucky it wasn’t XVI) and sucked up to him by writing music dedicated to him. This is the first movement of O Lachrymae, one of his “Grands Motets.”

Jean-Baptiste Lully

Lully - O Lachrymae

Georg Philipp Telemann, one of my favorites, studied law at the University of Leipzig. He taught himself music in his spare time. He composed an opera at age 12 but his family didn’t approve of that sort of thing and, fearing he might fall in with other musicians, confiscated all his instruments and sent him away to school.

The head of the school recognized his talent and encouraged him. So that didn’t work out too well for mum and dad, but it did for us.

He was a lifelong friend of Handel and was considered Bach’s superior during their lifetime. I wouldn’t go that far but he’s pretty good. There are some claims that he was the most prolific composer in history. I couldn’t say; Haydn and Vivaldi could churn them out as well.

This is the second movement of his Quartet No. 6 (one of the “Paris Quartets”).


Telemann - Quartet No. 6

Vintage TGB: 28 October 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.]

A Question of Maturity

category_bug_journal2.gif A week or so ago, Clarence, at his Can You Hear Me Now? blog, posted an entry so provocative and intriguing I suggest you read it before continuing with this page. It’s short, titled Do You Ever Wonder? [UPDATE: The links are no longer valid, but keep reading – you'll get the point.]

Clarence’s rumination begins:

What I'm wondering is this: What road-map have you followed through your life? What drummer is playing the music you march to? Is there a guiding influence, a small, quiet voice you hear that "suggests" a course of action to take or which choice to make when several are available?

And it ends:

Is there a deeper purpose for your life? If so, what is it? Where are you going? How will you get there? Is it really up to you to decide? Who is it that determines what choices are set before you?

It is a valuable exercise, I believe, and an important step in maturing into our later years to take such questions seriously and to revisit them regularly. They cannot possibly be answered quickly and easily or maybe at all, and there are no right or wrong answers - only personal ones. I have pondered on this one many times: “Is it simply fate that has brought me to this place in life at this point in time? Or has my course has been set by something else?”

I suppose it is the old philosophical debate regarding free will.

So far, I go – well, both ways, doing what some say is impossible: holding two conflicting beliefs simultaneously. I am convinced I have made each choice that changed the direction of my life on my own with no help or signpost from the gods, the cosmos or my infinite being – if one believes in such things.

On the other hand, when I imagine alternative lives I might have lived had I chosen different paths when arriving at crossroads, there is a dim, gray, unreal feel to them compared to the vibrant colors of the life I have lived. This life I have, then, feels overwhelmingly inevitable, that it could not have been any other way. And it is then I become equally convinced there is book somewhere where each event in our lives is written down, predetermined, and we have never had anything to say about any of it.

That thought invariably reminds me a favorite and amusing John Hartford tune from the 1960s, Oh, I Would Not Be Here.

Oh I Would Not Be Here

Hartford’s lyrics don’t answer the question of cause and effect, but they do cheer me up when the mind gets too boggled by cosmic questions to continue – which should not deter anyone from trying again. And again.

NON-VINTAGE EXTRA: Marian Van Eyk McCain who blogs at elderwomanblog, sent this health care video by two elder women - a rapper and a drummer - titled, "Zap the Crap Out of Health Care Rap." It's too good to miss.

Medicare Physician Payments

category_bug_politics.gif On Monday, reporting on a conference call with aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I wrote that there would be a vote this week to eliminate the mandated 21.5 percent reduction in Medicare reimbursement to physicians that is scheduled to go into effect on 1 January 2010, along with the system that currently determines physician reimbursement levels.

The aides sounded confident that the bill, which needed 60 votes to succeed, would sail through and said a new system would be forthcoming in a health care reform bill.

That didn't happen. On Wednesday, the measure (S.1776) was defeated in a roll call vote 53 – 47. Twelve Democrats and one independent voted against the bill because its cost - $247 billion over 10 years – was not funded.

That got me wondering how much in dollar figures physicians are reimbursed by Medicare. Good luck finding it online. I couldn't – undoubtedly because there are thousands of code numbers for procedures and treatment by which doctors bill Medicare.

But what I do have in my personal possession are three years of records from my tenure so far as a Medicare beneficiary listing charges, reimbursement to the doctor through Medicare Part B and what was covered by my Medigap (supplemental) policy.

Here is an example of one charge from a visit at this time last year when I saw the physician's assistant.

“Medical Visit” was charged by the doctor at $104. The Medicare Approved amount for that service is $59.85 of which it paid 80 percent or $47.88. My Medigap policy paid the remaining 20 percent of the Medicare Approved amount or $11.97.

So the total paid for a $104 visit was $59.85 or about 57 percent of what was billed, and the physician eats the difference.

Physician's assistants are professionally licensed to practice medicine under a physician's supervision. They hold advanced degrees from accredited PA programs and can perform examinations and procedures, diagnose illnesses, order treatment, prescribe medications, refer patients to specialists and assist in surgery.

On the day of the example billing, my physician's assistant conducted a basic physical exam and, because I have had a basal cell carcinoma, checked my body for any new indications of skin cancer. She adjusted my one prescription drug, checked my breasts for lumps, drew blood for a couple of tests (which are billed separately by the diagnostic clinic) and administered my annual flu shot. She also answered a few questions I had with no sense of rushing me through the visit. We spent about 45 minutes together.

$104 is more than reasonable for what we accomplished in that time and although my doctor accepts what Medicare pays, $59.85 doesn't seem fair to me. Nevertheless, unless the Senate finds another way to stop the 21.5 percent reduction in Medicare reimbursements, next year my doctor's office will be paid only $47.28 for the same visit, give or take a few cents.

Medicare determines the amount of physician reimbursement (under Part B) with a system called Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) by which annual and cumulative spending targets are set. If spending exceeds the target, physician reimbursements for the next year are calculated downward. With the increasing costs of medical care, targets have been missed for the past several years so Congress, each year, has overridden the decrease and for 2009, allowed a 1.1 percent increase.

With the defeat on Wednesday of S.1776, the 21.5 percent reimbursement reduction is scheduled to go into effect on 1 January. After the failed vote, Senator Reid said he expects to go with another one-year override, but after this vote, can we be sure? And it doesn't solve the long-term problem.

An increasing number of physicians do not accept new Medicare patients. If messages from TGB readers are any indication, each year some doctors “fire” their Medicare patients leaving all of us – doctors in regard to their fees and patients in regard to continuing care – in uneasy anticipation of waiting for a shoe to drop.

These issues become more critical when you remember that those 78 million baby boomers start becoming eligible for Medicare in little more than a year, 2011.

S.1776 was defeated because enough senators balked at the $247 billion cost over 10 years. But let's put that number in some perspective. As of July, the bailouts, bank rescues and other corporate aid programs have cost taxpayers $2 trillion dollars – and that's only in one year, not 10. Some experts estimate that the cost will spiral to $23 trillion before it's done.

Currently, the Afghan war is costing roughly $4 billion a month. Now there's an idea: get us out of Afghanistan and the $247 billion cost of maintaining Medicare reimbursements to physicians could be paid for in a little more than five years – half the time covered by the projected $247 billion cost.

Okay, I know it's not that simple, but it could be done if Congress and the administration really believed they work for the people. Trillions of dollars for banks that brought the country to its knees and not a penny so far for the rest of us. That must change. I want my doctor to be paid fairly for her work and I don't think $59.85 is enough.

The PBS series Life (Part 2) hosted by Robert Lipsyte tackles ageism this week. Here is a short clip:

You can watch the entire episode here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follet: Followup to My Glasses are Missing (see also yesterday).

The Nature of Cats

[Where Elders Blog is a section of Time Goes By with a collection of photos showing where elderbloggers and readers spend their time online. Bev Sykes has sent in her photo. You can see it here.]

To me, cats and old women have always seemed to go together. Not that I didn't have cats as a girl and younger woman, but the companionship fits even more comfortably in old age. So it is nice, now and then, to wallow in the grace and beauty of cats, and to think about their unending mystery.

As far back as high school, I have collected quotations about cats, adding to the list over the years as I come across new ones in books and magazines and here and there. This selection speaks to the nature of cats.

“Some people say that cats are sneaky, evil and cruel. True, and they have many other fine qualities as well.”
- Missy Dizick
“The cat surveyed his new home and promptly drove all the rats and mice out of the cave. Once he had finished with them, he started on the food supply. This prompted the man to move all his things to a higher watermark and may have led to the development of the table which has come to be a bone of contention between cat and man ever since.”
- Eric Gurney
“Cats don't bark and act brave when they see something small in fur or feathers, they kill it. Dogs tend to bravado. They're braggarts. In the great evolutionary drama, the dog is Sergeant Bilko, the cat is Rambo.”
- James Gorman
“Cats, as a class, have never completely got over the snootiness caused by the fact that in ancient Egypt they were worshiped as gods. This makes them prone to set themselves up as critics and censors of the frail and erring human beings whose lot they share.”
- P.G. Wodehouse
“If cats were human, they'd watch Masterpiece Theater, drive a German import car, belong to a country club, melt brie before serving, read The New York Time Book Review every Sunday and think Harley-Davidson was a law firm.

“Dogs on the other hand, would watch Roseanne, belong to the Price Club, have a plastic liner in their pocket for their leaky pen and consider Pavarotti an Italian entree.”
- Erma Bombeck
“Cat are smarter than dogs. You cannot get eight cats to pull a sled through the snow.”
- Jeff Valdez
“The cat could very well be man's best friend, but he would never stoop to admit it.”
- Doug Larson
“Cats love one so much – more than they will allow. But they have so much wisdom they keep it to themselves.”
- Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
“The stray cat Oscar added many thing to our menage. Each evening I thought afresh that a nice cat washing his face by the hearth gives extra comfort to a room.”
- James Herriot
“The smallest feline is a masterpiece.”
- Leonardo da Vinci
“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.
- Albert Schweitzer


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follet: My Glasses are Missing

Naming the Recession What It Really Is

category_bug_politics.gif Media and government have been careful to name this extended economic downturn a recession. There is a formula by which to define recession involving gross domestic product, wholesale/retail sales and other indicators over a specified period of time. It has almost nothing to do with the misery a recession causes real people.

Since the Great Depression of the 1930s, there have been 13 official recessions including the one in which we are currently ensnared. Ten of them lasted for less than a year and the other three ended after 13 and 16 months.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is relied upon to identify recessions and this one, they say, began in December 2007, so we are now into our 22nd month of it with no end in sight.

The ten percent unemployment figure is a sham. Because those who have despaired of finding work and given up searching are not counted, nor are those who, for lack of work, have been forced into early Social Security at age 62, nor are independent contractors who have been laid off, the percentage of unemployed is closer to 20 percent. That is, closer to 30 million people than the official 15 million count. Add in the underemployed and who knows how high the figure might be.

Home foreclosures, happening at a record pace for the past two years, set a new record with 360,149 of them in July alone.

As of last Friday, there have been 99 bank failures in 2009. According to MarketWatch:

“This year is shaping up to be the first since 1992 to see the failure of at least 100 banks, and experts suggest we could be no more than 10% of the way through this cycle of bank collapses, which is sure to be the worst run of closures since the Great Depression.” [emphasis added]

The bank bailouts which were meant, we are told, to loosen up credit to get the wheels of commerce rolling again, is not working no matter what the pretty women in realtors' television commercials tell us about available mortgages. And tight lending is terrible for small businesses that rely on credit to meet payrolls, maintain inventory and grow their companies. (Read: hire workers)

Retail prices have dropped so much (although it's hard to believe with prescription drug costs, health insurance premiums and food prices heading north), there will be no cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits for 2010. That has never happened before in the history of Social Security.

Consumer spending is 70 percent of the U.S. economy. With great fanfare, it was announced that consumer spending was up 2.7 percent in July but according to Gallup this week, it is down 24 percent in the 12 months since October 2008.

Even with all this, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, quoted in the Wall Street Journal and everywhere else last month, says the recession is over.

I suppose it might look that way to someone who spends his days talking with Wall Street bankers, especially the ones at Goldman Sachs whose bonus piggy bank amounts to $770,000 per employee this year for a total of $16.7 billion, made possible by hundreds of billions of your and my tax dollars without which the bank would as dead as Lehman.

In a public relations ploy that is near-perfect in its Rousseau-like incomprehension of reality, Goldman chairman and CEO Lloyd C. Blankfein announced a $200 million donation to the charitable Goldman Foundation - a figure that amounts to 1.2 percent of the bonus total and which, on a good day, might fund a few soup kitchens for the winter.

And, according to the business press, Goldman and other trading banks are back to packaging and selling those empty derivatives that brought down the economy in the first place while howling at even the mildest proposed regulation from the Obama administration. This accounts for their astronomical profits this year and puts the country on track for another crash.

In a macabre twist on excessive greed, Wall Street is now working to package "death derivatives," more politely called life settlements, in which the life insurance policies of elders and sick people are bought, bundled into bonds, and sold in the same manner as the now-infamous mortgage derivatives. They collect on the policies when the insureds die.

In the past month, the number of economists' predictions of high unemployment as the new norm have been increasing. According to an AP story, many economists believe that will remain so for long into the future.

With all this, and I don't like saying it, if there has been any acknowledgment from President Obama or Congress that Americans are suffering – terribly – I've missed it. Obama recently said, “we need to grind out this recovery step by step.” The problem is, there has been no discernible step forward on any front and with it, no sense of urgency.

Bail out the banks. Extend unemployment insurance. Give elders a quick-fix $250. None of that creates jobs which is the only thing that will rebuild the economy.

On Tuesday, Bob Herbert at The New York Times made an important point in an Op-Ed piece headlined Safety Nets For the Rich:

“Two-thirds of all the income gains from the years 2002 to 2007 — two-thirds! — went to the top 1 percent of Americans.

“We cannot continue transferring the nation’s wealth to those at the apex of the economic pyramid — which is what we have been doing for the past three decades or so — while hoping that someday, maybe, the benefits of that transfer will trickle down in the form of steady employment and improved living standards for the many millions of families struggling to make it from day to day.

“That money is never going to trickle down. It’s a fairy tale. We’re crazy to continue believing it.”

He's right. That trickle down theory started with President Reagan and Mr. Herbert's figures show how well it's worked so far. Thirty years is enough experimentation with a failed policy.

By all discernible evidence, Ben Bernanke's optimistic proclamation that the recession is over applies only to the rich - Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan employees - and I think it is time to name the predicament the rest of us are in what it really is: a depression. Here's how Wikipedia defines it:

“[A] depression is characterized by its length, and by abnormal increases in unemployment, falls in the availability of credit, shrinking output and investment, numerous bankruptcies, reduced amounts of trade and commerce, as well as highly volatile relative currency value fluctuations, mostly devaluations. Price deflation, financial crisis and bank failures are also common elements of a depression.”

That's a close-enough match to the current state of affairs for me. If a few people who matter (not me) made regular use of that terrifying word – depression – it might shock the administration and the country into taking the bold steps necessary to get the economy moving again.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Suzanne: Sugar Molds and My Own Private Bamyian Budda

Has Crabby Old Lady Let Herself Go?

Last week, there was a lot of response to Crabby Old Lady's story about retirement sloth. Most readers seem have embraced sloth as a right of elderhood and Alan G., of the aptly named Cyberspace Dawdler, admitted (with some amount of tongue in cheek) to having sunk into slob status.

However, two or three commenters mentioned what sounded to Crabby like an exhausting list of daily tasks which put Crabby in mind of an old, related, accusation about “letting oneself go” which is sometimes lobbed at people after they marry or at those who are getting old.

Before Crabby gets to that, she would like to point out that sloth has not taken over at her house completely. Yet.

She makes the bed each morning without fail because she can't stand to walk into a messy bedroom at night. The dishes pile up all day, but Crabby's last chore each evening is to wash them because she dislikes waking up to a full sink. If nothing else, a full sink impedes filling the kettle and that is too much to navigate in the morning before being properly caffeinated.

And, like one of the busy commenters, Crabby abhors clutter. So if books and papers and other detritus are not stored away or recycled yet they are, at least, stacked neatly. It clears the mind to make room for Crabby's earth-shattering observations.

All of which applies to Crabby's home; but what about her person? Now she is wondering what constitutes “letting herself go” and if it applies to her.

As discussed here in the past ad nauseum, Crabby always disliked hair salons so it was a relief to stop the cuts and coloring and now she's gray and let's her hair grow. There's no telling how long it might get.

Is that letting herself go?

Style is a whole different matter for Crabby in Maine than it was in New York City. Basically, in Maine, there is no such thing as style, only comfort which for about eight months of the year means staying warm. That requires bulky sweaters that allow room for layers underneath, warm pants, thick-soled, shearling-lined boots and heavy coats. Not stylish, but necessary for survival.

Indoors, Crabby just dispenses with the outer layers. Again, not stylish, but comfortable and warm. And the three, beautiful, fur hats she owns have not been out of their boxes during Crabby's three winters in Maine. She misses wearing them, but they would be silly with her cold-season, Michelin Man appearance.

Does that mean she's let herself go?

For most of her adult life, Crabby joked that as long as she had on earrings and high-heeled shoes, she was dressed. All the rest was trimming. She (sadly) gave up high-heeled shoes several years ago and now, to her chagrin, she sometimes forgets to wear earrings. That makes her feel naked and well, slobby. (Hello there, Alan G.)

There are hardly any dress-up occasions in Crabby's retired life in Maine. She has a couple of evening outfits, simple though they are, just in case. But when she wore one to a Christmas party two years ago, she was vastly overdressed; everyone else was in flannel and wool. And so it was at the symphony too and Crabby, giving in to local custom, has put away her glittery evening shoes.

Is she letting herself go?

Crabby tries to maintain a schedule for her at-home (she despises gyms) regimen of stretches and exercises and aims to walk for an hour at least four days a week. Sometimes she meets her goal, sometimes she doesn't.

Has she let herself go?

For decades, Crabby fought fat. Her body has always wanted to weigh 10 to 15 pounds more than Crabby wants to weigh, so they fought it out – gain some, lose some – again and again. It was never hard to lose weight, just boring, but it did become more difficult after menopause. So Crabby gave it up, a decision she reached almost simultaneously with the realization that she has no more interest in having or showing off a cute figure.

Has Crabby Old Lady let herself go? And what does it mean, letting yourself go?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Olga Hebert: When I'm Old - Whoops

Health Care Reform Schedule and Medicare

category_bug_politics.gif If email messages I've been getting is an indication, some people are confused about the process of the health care reform in Congress. A couple of them seemed to think that the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee last week was the final bill. Not so, as many who read this blog know.

On Friday, several other elderbloggers and I had another telephone conference call with aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in which we discussed the schedule for a final Senate bill and some Medicare issues.

Senate Health Care Reform Bill
The next step is to combine the two Senate bills – the HELP bill from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Baucus bill from the Senate Finance Committee. Work on that merger begins this week and on an optimistic timetable, will be finished by Friday 23 October.

The biggest difference between the two bills is the much-argued public option provided for in the HELP bill but not in the Baucus bill.

Whether a combined bill emerges on Friday or later, the bill must then be scored (calculate the cost) by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a task that may take two weeks. Senator Reid's aides predict that it should be done by early November. Then it goes to the Senate floor for a vote.

Given the glacial speed at which Congress ordinarily moves, along with whatever monkey wrenches various senators may throw into the negotiations, my estimate is by Thanksgiving. When I suggested this to Senator Reid's aides, they said they believe that would be the latest date.

Meanwhile, the three reform bills in the House must go through the same merger, scoring and vote procedure.

Then, those two bills go to a conference committee of the two houses of Congress from which one final health care reform bill emerges. (CSPAN may broadcast the conference committee which should be fascinating to watch.)

Maybe I'm just a pessimist, but I don't see how there can be a bill on the president's desk, as Obama wants, by the new year. I think very early in 2010 is more likely but I could be wrong...

Medicare Physician Payments Over the years here at Time Goes By, I've heard from readers who are Medicare beneficiaries that they have been “fired” by their doctors or that they have had trouble finding a physician who will take new Medicare patients. A lot of this has to do with physicians' pay.

As the current law stands, beginning 1 January 2010, physicians will see a 21.5 percent pay cut for their Medicare patients. And according to a 2007 study, Medicare payments to doctors were then 20 percent below what private insurers pay. In another 2007 study, from the American Medical Association, 60 percent of physicians said they would limit the number of new Medicare patients with only a ten percent cut.

Faced with a growing elder population (the oldest boomers will become eligible for Medicare in 2011) and the need for more Medicare physicians, Congress intends to do away with the pending 1 January 2010 cut, which should happen this week. New and more reasonable payments for Medicare patients will be forthcoming in the final Senate version of the health care reform bill, according to Senator Reid's aides.

Contacting Your Senators
Although I mentioned this a week or two ago, it bears repeating. The senator's aides tell us that our phone calls, email and letters to our Senators count a great deal. They are tallied and tracked and discussed with senators' offices. And multiple contacts from us help.

So make your positions on health care reform known to your senators, and keep doing it. You can contact your senators here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone: Alzheimer's: Part 8 – The Final Day

ELDER MUSIC: Classical Again – Part 1 of 3

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.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Those who subscribe to TGB via email or rss need to click the title to go to the website to hear the music.]

I’ll start this off with someone who wasn’t a composer. It was just something he dabbled in now and then. Alexander Borodin.

Borodin was a trained as a doctor (although he fainted at the sight of blood and never practised that profession) and as a chemist. He became the professor of chemistry at the Academy of Physicians and started a School of Medicine for Women.

He was an all around good guy who performed serious research in chemistry and composed a bit in his spare time, of which he had very little, thus he produced only 21 works.

But he sure knew how to turn out a good tune. One of those was a variation on Chopsticks but you’ll be pleased to know I’m not featuring that one. He died young, just 53, quite suddenly at a party. If you gotta go, there could be worse ways.

Sharp-eared listeners may find this somewhat familiar. Second movement of String Quartet No.2.


Borodin - String Quartet No. 2

Luigi Boccherini pretty much paralleled Haydn. They were born around the same time and died within a few years of each other. Like Haydn, Luigi was fond of chamber music and wrote trios, quartets and quintets. He brought the cello to more prominence in these works. Well, he was a cellist, and apparently a fine one, so I guess he wrote them so he could have a bit of a jam with his friends.

He was employed for a time by King Charles III of Spain. One day the King expressed his disapproval at a passage in a new trio and ordered Boccherini to change it. Old Luigi was rather miffed at this and extended the passage instead, leading to his immediate dismissal. Rather reminiscent of “Too many notes, my dear Mozart” by Emperor Joseph II of Austria.

To demonstrate his facility on the cello here is the first movement on the Cello Sonata G13.


Boccherini-Cello Sonata G 13 (1)

Turning to opera, I amused myself by considering Alban Berg’s Lulu for inclusion but rejected that notion as it’s rather challenging. I have only managed to get through the complete work once. I dip into it now and them (pretty much the same way I listen to Captain Beefheart).

So, Georges Bizet is it (no, not that opera), and my favorite of his Les Pêcheurs de Perles. Bizet was only 37 when he died (of a heart attack) and didn’t live to see the enormous success of Carmen and The Pearl Fishers, both of which were failures when first presented.

This is the best duet in the history of music, even better than the Everly Brothers. Of course, I haven’t heard all the duets in the history of music, I just like making these sweeping statements. Au fond du temple saint. The singers are Nicolai Gedda and Ernest Blanc.


Bizet-Au fond du temple saint

Vivaldi, the “Red Priest.” It’s common knowledge that he was called that because of his red hair. I share that with Antonio. Okay, I don’t anymore as he’s dead and my hair is white these days. I’m also not a priest (great guffaws from those who know me).

For 36 years he was in charge of music at a conservatory for girls in Venice. There’s no evidence of any sort of hanky panky, thus not affording me a juicy bit of tittle tattle for you all. Just the music. First movement from the Bassoon Concerto RV 504.


Vivaldi - Bassoon Concerto

Margaret Sutherland was born in Adelaide but lived in Melbourne from the age of four. She lived to a decent age (87), and her work spans about fifty-five years. She championed a number of worthy causes, many music-related, particularly in Melbourne where she was prominent in ensuring a complex of art gallery, concert halls and theatres were built in the nineteen-sixties across the river from the city centre. We thank her for that.

Although she wrote an opera, a symphonic poem and such works, she is mostly remembered for her chamber music that constituted more than half of her output. Not just chamber music but works for solo piano: Chiaroscuro II.


Sutherland - Chiaroscuro II

Vintage TGB: 19 October 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.]

Younger Lovers

Millie Garfield, over at My Mom’s Blog, recently posted a story about a letter she read in the Boston Globe from a 70-year-old widow in a happy and satisfying relationship with a 40-year old man.

I was reminded that some years ago, there was a fad among the glitterati women in New York City of dating younger men. It got a lot of gossip ink wherein the young men were referred to as “boy toys,” suggesting that it was all just silliness and that perhaps the young men were “being kept” – gigolos.

Older men, however, when they accompany gorgeous women young enough to be their daughters, get approving winks and nudges of the good-for-you-old-man variety. They have always had the privilege of dating and marrying younger women without the snickers older women get when the relative ages are reversed.

This snobbery undoubtedly relates to the fact that our obsession with the appearance of youth applies almost entirely to women. Men are allowed to age – and considered attractive - without resorting to toxins and surgery, although a few more men are doing that now.

But because men tend to die younger than women and the ratio of men to women works out poorly in our later years, it would be useful for this tired prejudice to end. There are signs that this is becoming so.

One hot summer day when I was about 41 or 42, I was slowly climbing up the subway stairs at evening rush hour, crunched up against the hundreds of others heading for the streets. Suddenly, a voice in my ear: “Would you go to the movies with me?”

When I looked back, I was surprised to see a young man of no more than 18 or 19, smiling nicely. I was flattered, but found his offer hard to believe and blurted, “I’m old enough to be your mother.” Without missing a beat, he answered, “Yeah, but I loves my mama.”

Obviously, this was a kid with a quick wit – in addition to good taste.

Some writers cite such Hollywood December/May relationships as Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Madonna and Guy Ritchie as hopeful indicators of changing cultural views and such a shift, led by actors, is certainly welcome. It’s not encouraging, however, to the rest of us when even human sexuality expert, Helen Fisher notes, “These actresses aren't just beautiful - they have money! And power!" A far cry from me, if not thee.

Carolyn Heilbrun, in her book, Writing a Woman’s Life, acknowledges the well-known invisibility that envelops most women at middle age, but she goes on in a manner I find encouraging:

“We will move invisibly for a time, to relearn seeing and to forget being seen. As we grow slowly visible, we will be heard more and seen less. Our voices will ramify, our bodies will become a house for our new spirit.”

And there are younger men who find that spirit more attractive than mere youth.

Eleven years ago at age 52, on my first day of jury duty, I went to lunch with a young man who had been seated next to me during a voir dire and joined me when we were sent back to the jury room. He was smart, funny, charming, a delight to be with, and we hung out together for the duration of our public service.

When we were dismissed on the final day, he invited me to dinner and over the next weeks, one thing led to another until we found ourselves to be a couple. Although he was 27, he had fewer qualms than I did about our 24-year age difference and in the end, it made no difference at all. Yes, I knew things he didn’t, but he was curious when they came up, and he was expert in areas where I had little or no knowledge, so it was a fair trade and our relationship lasted for nearly a year. It ended amicably for reasons that any relationship can end, having nothing to do with our ages.

Though they did not note if the number of years between the spouses was few or many, the 2000 U.S. census discovered that 12 percent of marriages then involved older women and younger men. That seems a fair percentage of the whole and suggests that December/May relationships are not as remarkable as is supposed.

Love is rare enough and we should embrace it where we find it. Age should be the least of our considerations. And as Millie notes on her blog, younger men have an advantage for older women their contemporaries lack. Encouraging the letter writer to enjoy her relationship with her 40-year-old, Millie says: “…go for it. This guy drives! Men closer to her age, if they drive, they do not drive at night!”

Retirement Sloth

If you are still working, today's post probably won't resonate much. But if you have been retired for awhile, perhaps you will know whereof Crabby Old Lady speaks. Or not.

Crabby was laid off from what turned out to be her last job in June of 2004. In one respect, the layoff was a relief and may have saved her sanity. The round-trip commute had been four to four-and-a-half hours a day leaving Crabby, after three years, with a bone-deep weariness bred of all work and no play.

Her routine had been immutable: awake at 4:30AM, home by about 7PM (sometimes later), a quick meal and bed with no possible variation if Crabby wanted to keep her job. Weekends were a rush to accomplish all the chores and errands that with a more reasonable schedule can mostly be folded into the week: cleaning, shopping, bill paying, laundry, dry cleaning dropoff and pickup and catching up on sleep. No time, or energy, left for socializing.

The next year was easier without the commute, but increasingly discouraging when Crabby's new full-time job - looking for a job - went nowhere. By mid-2005, deeply in debt, she was forced to sell her Greenwich Village home and leave the city. That took another year, so Crabby can't say she retired for real until 2006.

Since then, her time has been her own to use as she chooses. Because she had not planned to retire, Crabby had never given any thought to how she wanted to spend her final years, what she might want to accomplish or how she would spend her days. Due to circumstances beyond her control, she backed into retirement and has winged it, with some unsettling results.

Mostly now, she turns out Time Goes By and The Elder Storytelling Place. Crabby is not required to do this, no one's paying her, nor is she required to spend the amount of time on it that she does – a lot. But aging in all its aspects still interests Crabby – you wouldn't be wrong to call it a passion – so she treats the blogs as a job she goes to each day.

The commute, about 50 feet and ten seconds from the bedroom, is an improvement over that final paying job of her 50-year career.

In the first year or two, after settling into her new home, Crabby ordered her life in much the same way as when she was a working person. She spread out the house cleaning over the week, did the grocery shopping on a given day, gave over one afternoon a week to an outside obligation and made time for social engagements whether with friends or, perhaps, a daytime movie or short driving trip to places around Maine.

Crabby has always gotten more done if she has a schedule; even a loose one will work. The problem in recent months is that it has become much looser, too loose, and she falls further behind every week.

Laundry has been extended to once every two weeks for no reason other than it's not at the top of Crabby's hit parade. But for god's sake, how hard is it. All she needs to do is shove it in a machine. Fortunately, Crabby owns enough clothing, linen, etc. to be clean in between and it does save some energy costs, but turns the job into more of a burden than she wants.

Three shirts she likes to wear have been hanging in the closet in need of ironing for more than a month.

There are enough dishes in the sink at the end of each day that you'd think six people lived here instead of one.

Crabby hadn't gotten around to rearranging the deck for winter until the first night it was going to freeze earlier this week and then she did it only so the plants that can survive winter were properly protected.

This morning, something crunched under her feet in the kitchen – stray cat food – and Crabby realized she hadn't swept the floor in a week. It was awful looking.

She has had everything she needs for touch-up painting on some windows and doors for one whole year right out on a counter where she can't miss seeing it. But now it just blends in with the décor rather than reminding her to do the work.

Crabby meant to buy some bulbs this fall to plant in a drab, little strip of dirt along the driveway and didn't do that either.

Even the blog suffers. Crabby's been meaning to update the Elderbloggers List for about two months; there are a bunch of new ones she would like you to know about and still she has not done it.

Last January, she determined to do a redesign of TGB – it's more than five years old – and here it is, almost January again still waiting with only a page of notes made.

The only item Crabby can be pleased about is that she has stuck to her promise to shower and dress within two hours of rising. For a long time it was not uncommon for her to be at the computer in her granny gown and fuzzy slippers until noon.

So what does Crabby have to show for the extra time she's gained from her sloth? Maybe half a dozen more books read, but she can't think of anything else.

Worse, Crabby resents herself every day for blowing off both normal upkeep and larger projects. Several times a week, she has a conversation with herself. So what, she says. You do get around to the important stuff before anything gets too icky and who cares if the painting project is put off for a year.

Well, says the other voice, because you become irritated with yourself and if you'd just do those chores, you wouldn't have to listen to yourself. It's like being your own mother AND daughter – nag, nag, nag.

And so on...

Crabby considered wrestling her tidy side into submission and living happily with her sloth until she asked herself what would happen if she lives to be as old as Millie Garfield or Darlene Costner or Mort Reichek – all in their eighties. Would she put off the painting for another 15 years?

That's scary. Now Crabby is wondering if sloth is inevitable in retirement or if she's going through a phase.

Another episode of Life (Part 2) has been posted. This one is about a subject that may be even more taboo than sex and religion: money. Here is a short clip.

You can watch the entire episode here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: Safe Haven


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.

One of my earlier TGB Elder Geek posts talked about a tool to make reading on the web easier. That article was Readability.

A lot of readers with Windows had problems getting it to work right. I found something better and I hope it will work for those of you using Windows. The developers promise that it works in Firefox 3.0, Safari 4.0, Chrome 1.0, Internet Explorer 7.0 and Opera 9.6.

The application I think is better has a similar name: Readable. You can customize the colors and sizes of what you see when you use it. Here's a before and after example using an article from

an article without Readable, and the same article with Readable

Start by setting up how you want it look at the Readable setup page.

choose font sizes, colors and other features of Readable

You can choose font, font size, width, margins, colors and something called full control which gives you even more choices about appearance. As you choose each option, you can preview how it looks in a preview window immediately under the setup options.

Once you like the way it looks, drag and drop the big button that says Readable into your bookmarks bar.

drag the bookmarklet into your bookmarks bar

If your browser's bookmarks toolbar is not visible, you can make it visible by going to View > Toolbars > Bookmarks Toolbar. To drag and drop the Readable bookmarklet, left-click on the big button that says Readable and hold the mouse button down. Move the mouse, dragging a ghost-like image of the button along, until your mouse is over the Bookmarks Toolbar. Then release the left mouse button.

You should see the word Readable appear where you dropped the button. It no longer looks like a button, it's just a word.

To use Readable when you are on a crowded page and want the article you're struggling to read to be a little easier to see, just click the word Readable in your Bookmarks Toolbar. Once you've read the article, click anywhere outside the text to go back to the regular page display. Those are the main usage features to know, but you can learn more in the Readable Tutorial.

I got quite excited when I found this tool. I hope it works better for those of you who tried my earlier suggestion and had a lot of problems with it.

TGB EXTRA: The New England regional TV channel, NECN, has featured Millie Garfield of My Mom's Blog in a story about elderbloggers. Her son, Steve Garfield, takes issue with the reporter about her stereotypical attitude toward old people. Don't miss it, and it would be nice to go thank Steve at his blog for being such a terrific advocate for elders.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mort Reichek: When Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas Rented My Old Apartment

Medicare Part D: Crapshoot Coverage

category_bug_journal2.gif In a month, on 15 November, the six-week enrollment period for 2010 Medicare Part D plans begins. The Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder is now available at the Medicare website. It is not too soon to investigate the details of plans available in your state particularly because most insurance companies have increased premiums for next year and some have added deductibles.

Remember too, that there will be no cost-of-living increase in Social Security next year, so keeping down costs is essential.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has issued a report on availability of plans for the new year and analyzed the changes. Among them for stand-alone (not Medicare Advantage) plans:

  • Monthly premiums average 11 percent above those for 2009

  • If you stay with the plan you have now, average monthly premiums will be $38.85, up from $35.09 this year

  • 80 percent of plans have no doughnut hole coverage

  • 61 percent of plans charge a deductible, up from 45 percent in 2009

The Kaiser report notes that premiums for some of the most popular plans have increased dramatically since Part D went into effect in 2006. The AARP Preferred plan premium has doubled since then; Humana PDP Enhanced premium has tripled.

If you take more than two or three prescription drugs, deciding whether to keep your current plan or find a new one can be difficult. It's a good idea to make a chart to compare drugs covered, their costs, monthly premiums and deductibles. The Medicare Part D website is well designed. You can plug in the drugs you use and the software will pop out the plans that cover them in your state and give you cost comparisons for the variables.

People generally believe the doughnut hole (during which there is no coverage for out-of-pocket costs between $2380 and $4550) is the worst aspect of Part D. I disagree. Although the doughnut hole is cumbersome, unfair and expensive, created only as a giveaway of billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies, there is another problem that is worse, a giant flaw in the logic of the system:

It is not possible to predict what new drugs one might need during the year of enrollment.

Different Part D plans cover different drugs. Might I suffer a stroke? Or be diagnosed with cancer? Perhaps I will develop heart disease. Even if I could predict the future, there are thousands of drugs physicians can choose from to treat health problems. Perhaps the one my physician believes is best for my condition is not available through my plan.

So choosing Part D coverage is no different from betting on a roll of the dice at a craps table.

When I realized this unconscionable flaw during last year's Part D enrollment period, I was paying a $29.90 monthly premium and $75 for a three-month supply of the single, brand-name drug I was taking. I was also facing a substantial increase in the premium for 2009.

In discussing this with my doctor, she suggested that I switch to a generic drug, purchase it for $4 per month at the local supermarket's pharmacy and buy the cheapest Part D plan. Smart woman. How much more of a crap shoot is it to HOPE my Part D plan will cover any new drugs I may need than trying to GUESS what terrible disease requiring additional drugs might occur?

Either way, hope and guess are dreadful, possibly life-threatening criteria on which to base health care. Every Part D plan should be required to cover all drugs.

The premium for that cheap drug plan I have now will double in price for 2010, and a deductible has been added. Checking the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder, I discovered that the monthly premium for the least expensive plan in my state for 2010 is $1.20 more than I'm paying now and includes a $175 deductible. But the premium for the least expensive plan without a deductible is so high that I save by enrolling in the first one if during the year, I need new brand-name drugs.

If that plan does not cover new drugs I may need, I will deal with it then. There is no way to know if even the most expensive plan ($87.20 monthly premium) would cover them. Meanwhile, if my drug needs remain the same, I will pay nearly $200 next year for nothing, for a just-in-case scenario that may not happen and if it does, may not meet my needs.

The best thing I can say about my Part D coverage is that due to taking only one drug, it is not complicated to work out the best (cheapest) plan for me. If your prescription needs are more complex, it's time to start working on your crapshoot coverage. You will find the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Claustrophobia


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 Much as I hate to, let me say it plain. As a reporter who has covered politics and Washington and six presidents over 50 years, the presidency of  Barack Obama has been a disappointment so far. I’ve hesitated before writing this, for I despair that my criticism might aid or abet his vicious, vindictive enemies.

I hesitate also because I cannot naysay his Nobel Prize, for fear I might seem to agree with his predictably stupid enemies who are intellectual midgets compared to Obama. They make themselves smaller with their every word.

But Obama himself wondered if the prize was premature when he said, “I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize.”

I have met several of those figures, including Nelson Mandela and Rev. Desmond Tutu. They praised Obama for his prize. I believe it was a prize reflective of the national and world view of Obama; we all hope he lives up to his prize and his ringing words that have echoed around the globe.

But for now, it’s fair to ask, does he realize the terrible irony of winning such a prize while planning an escalation of a war? Does he ponder the lives of soldiers and innocent civilians and money already lost and still to be spent in faraway places while too many of his countrymen are without jobs, homes and medical care?

History does not repeat itself. And I don’t expect a repeat of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 100 days of 1933 or Lyndon Johnson’s remarkable accomplishments of 1965. But to twist the advice of the philosopher George Santayana, if Barack Obama doesn’t pay closer attention to how those Democratic presidents governed, he (and we) may not get another chance at good, civilized government for a very long time.

In June, 1933, just three months after Roosevelt took office, the new  Congress, prodded by the president, with the help of two conservative Democrats, Senator Carter Glass of Virginia and Representative Henry Steagall of Alabama, passed the (Glass-Steagall) National Banking Act to tame the financial institutions that had caused the Great Depression. It lasted nearly 70 years, until another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, approved its demise.

Sure, President Obama was left with the results, which were compounded by modern-day Hoovers in Bush clothing. Obama acted with strength to get his stimulus passed. And to the relief of Wall Street, he spent hundreds of billions of dollars to save the banks that were responsible for this Great Recession.

But elsewhere in the crises confronting the cities and working Americans, there has been little to cheer about. And despite Obama’s pledges, promises and soaring rhetoric, the bailed out banks and investment houses are up to their insatiable greed again. And there is no regulation like Glass-Steagall in sight.

I wasn’t there during Roosevelt’s time, but I was around as a reporter for much of Johnson’s presidency when he and his Democratic congress gave the country Medicare, Medicaid and the unprecedented Civil Rights Act.

Less known, but of monumental importance was the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the educational centerpiece of Johnson’s Great Society, the War on Poverty which addressed inequality for blacks as well as poor whites in the public and parochial schools.

I bring this up as an example of political leadership because a few years after its passage, I heard from then Reresentative. Hugh Carey, who later became New York’s Governor, how Johnson got the bill passed. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some of the details, but I remember the essentials. It remains a lesson for today on the nitty-gritty of good politics.

Carey, then a top member of the House Education and Labor Committee, told the story to a few reporters including me. The president, impatient with congressional bickering over his bill, called all the leading players to the White House for a sumptuous dinner with drink. The sticking points in the bill, as I recall, included southern Democratic resistance to school desegregation, which would be enhanced by the legislation, and Catholic insistence that parochial schools get some federal support.

Johnson never forgot his teaching days in poverty-stricken rural Texas. And he had been one of history’s most effective Senate Majority Leaders. That evening he cajoled, pleaded and argued with the lawmakers around the table telling them, essentially, to “do the right thing by the children.”

Then, according to Carey, the president bid them good night told them they would not leave the White House that night until they agreed on a bill. Sometime during the night, Johnson appeared in his bathrobe to see how his guests were coming. And by morning a bill was agreed on that passed on April 9, without a single amendment, three months into Johnson’s tern and 87 days after it was introduced.

I suppose Johnson twisted arms, made promises and even threatened. But that’s called governing, asserting presidential powers of persuasion and leadership based on a firm belief in something and taking a stand. Only when he did not trust his political instinct did he and his presidency get in trouble in Vietnam.

Now, with a Democratic majority in Congress stronger than it has been in years, friends of Barack Obama are waiting for him to come down from his ubiquitous television appearances and turn his lofty rhetoric into governing. “Yes, we can,” should become, “This is how.”

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman, who is friendly towards Obama, wrote in the October 5 issue,

“Despite his many words and television appearances, our elegant and eloquent president remains more an emblem of change than an agent of it. He’s a man with an endless, worthy to-do list – health care, climate change, bank reform, global capital name it – but, as yet no boxes checked ‘done'...Members of Obama’s own party know who Obama is not; they still sometimes wonder who he really is.”

As Fineman notes, Obama admired Ronald Reagan’s presidency as “transformative.” And it was. Yet Reagan, who I covered, won his initial battles against a Democratic Congress with a firm, unwavering agenda – tax cuts, smaller domestic government, an unprecedented military buildup to challenge the crumbling Soviets. Obama has yet to show us how, specifically, he  will transform the nation. Surely it won’t be by watering down practically every pledge and proposal?

The comedian Bill Maher was less gentle in his new rules on September 26:

“If America can’t get its act together, it must lose the bald eagle as our symbol...I don’t care about the president’s birth certificate. I do want to know what happened to ‘Yes we can.’ Can we get out of Iraq? No. Afghanistan? No. Fix health care? No. Close Gitmo? No. Cap-and-trade carbon emissions? No. The Obamas have been in Washington for ten months and it seems like the only thing they’ve gotten is a dog.”

That certainly isn’t quite true. In many small, but significant ways, Obama has made government more of a friend for ordinary Americans. The minimum wage has been raised. Unemployment compensation has been extended. A silly Reagan Star Wars dream has been ended. Women are better protected from sexist bosses. Torture has been outlawed. But on the battlegrounds that Obama has chosen, he’s been long on rhetoric but very short on action.

At this writing, having backed away from single-payer Medicare for All, which he gave up on before the fight started, we still don’t know how firm his support is for the public option, which he says he favors. He praises Senator Max Baucus, as he votes “no” on the issue. He does not say a word to the Democrats who threaten to aid in a Republican filibuster against the public option.  He does not take Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (no LBJ) to task for his weaknesses and defeatism.

Does Obama get angry with anyone? Can he twist arms? Can he promise rewards or presidential punishment? A president who cannot wield political as well as persuasive power in Washington is seen as weak. He and his office doesn’t frighten recalcitrant Democrats let alone lying Republicans. Who is afraid of defying him? His popularity means power, if he’ll use it.

There is a larger issue and a more troubling criticism from the fine historian, Garry Wills in an essay, Entangled Obama, in the October 8 New York Review of Books. I read it against the background of these reports:

1. On September 30, Reuters reported that the Obama administration is appealing to the Supreme Court to retain the part of George W. Bush’s Patriot Act that makes criminals of persons who give support to foreign groups, even charities, if they associate with terrorists.

2. On the same day the White House press secretary said the administration may miss the hoped for date for closing Guantanamo.

3. And a top general said he may get the number of U.S. troops in Iraq down to 50,000, perhaps by next summer. On September 29, The New York Times noted that the administration will continue to use “the state secrets privilege” to prevent law suits alleging torture and unlawful wiretapping.

Wills also noted that CIA Chief Leon Panetta, with Obama’s approval, said the practice of  “extraordinary rendition” would continue, but the countries to which prisoners are sent would not torture them (sure).

Detainees (prisoners) would continue to be tried by military tribunals. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” continues to cost the military Arab speakers. But torturers of the recent past, and especially those who gave the orders, would not be prosecuted.

Thus the presidency, especially under Bush and Vice President Cheney, has accrued enormous executive power, Wills said. And

“ the empire created by National Security State,” he wrote, “a president is greatly pressured to keep all the empire’s secrets. He feels he must avoid embarrassing the hordes of agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments whose loyalty he must command. Keeping up morale in this vast, shady enterprise is something impressed on him by all manner of commitments. He becomes a prisoner of his own power.”

Perhaps that helps explain why Barack Obama, entangled by bankers, insurance and drug companies, who also own Congress, as well as the vast dark side of the National Security State, has yet to break free.

MILESTONE ALERT: Geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas, author of my favorite book on aging, What Are Old People For? and former contributor to Time Goes By, reaches one of those big, round-number birthdays today - 50. You can leave greetings and welcome him into the elderhood clan at his blog, Changing Aging. Happy birthday, Bill.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Under the Beechwood Trees


[WHERE ELDERS BLOG: Mary H. Warren has sent a photo of where she does her blogging. You can add yours to the collection too. Instructions are here.]

category_bug_journal2.gif If you have reached age 65, you have a 50 percent chance of having at least one cataract.

At 75 or older, you almost certainly have or have been treated for cataracts as nearly everyone, according to some sources, develops them by then. Age is the biggest predictor of cataracts and each year, three million people in the U.S. undergo surgery to replace the clouded lenses of their eyes.

The reason I know this is that I spent part of the weekend boning up on cataracts because on Friday, my new eye doctor told me that I have a cataract in each eye.

Damn and double damn. I have no patience with health problems.

So far, I have no symptoms. My vision is as good as it has always been with corrective contact lenses and the doctor says that the progression is gradual. I will need surgery, depending on the speed at which the cataracts develop, in two to seven years.

FUNNY ASIDE: You know how little kids hold up their fingers and tell you they are four years old. And they are particular about portions of a year saying, “I'm five-and-one-half years old.” Since this was a new doctor on Friday, he took a history of my vision health. When he asked how long I've worn contact lenses, I didn't say, “50 years” or “half a century.” Oh, no. Apparently having regressed to childhood, I heard myself say, “51 years,” adding that “one” as proudly as a little kid approaching her next birthday.

There are some myths about cataracts that are worth knowing:

• Aspirin does not prevent cataracts and can be dangerous in high doses.

• Vitamins C and E cannot prevent cataracts. They are being studied in this regard, but there is no proof yet and results will not be known for years.

• Cataracts cannot be treated with eye drops. Surgery is the only proven treatment.

• Nothing can be done to slow the progression of cataracts although if you are in the sun a lot, wearing UV-protective sunglasses will help a little.

In July 2009, the National Institutes of Health reported that researchers have discovered a gene, EphA2, associated with the formation of age-related cataracts. This could lead, eventually, to new and better treatments, but I'm not holding my breath for it to happen before I need surgery.

Among the known risk factors for cataracts are:
Long-term steroid use
Long-term nearsightedness
Long-term exposure to UV rays
Most of all, age

Because the surgery is 95 percent successful, cataracts appear to be relatively easy to deal with. Removing them and inserting new, clear lenses takes only 15 to 20 minutes and is done one eye at a time over three weeks on an outpatient basis. Recovery is quick and many people resume normal activity within a day or two.

Medicare covers the cost of cataract surgery and ordinary replacement lenses. There are premium lenses Medicare does not cover that can correct both near and far vision; they cost about $5,000 above what Medicare pays.

A bonus (if you can call it that) to having been diagnosed with cataracts, I discovered on Friday, is that Medicare will pay for my vision checkups now leaving only a $20 copay for me. Medicare does not otherwise cover vision.

The Mayo Clinic website has a thorough section on cataracts including cross-section drawings of the eye explaining cataracts, as does AllAboutVision and Wikipedia.

I'm guessing some of you reading this have experience with cataracts.

Having nothing to do with cataracts, here's a little something to make you feel good today. Dr. Bill Thomas of Changing Aging sent along a link to this video he describes as “two groovin' elders.” And so they are. Mark Penton and Harvey Berman singing and playing Sixteen Tons.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Alan Ginocchio: The Adventures of Snake Boy