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Gifts for Elders on Your List...

...and if not for other elders, perhaps as hints for family members who might not know what you would like to have.

If you hit the stores on black Friday, you're a braver person than I am. For me, one of the perks of not working any longer is that I can shop when most other people can't. Of course, the internet makes shopping easy too, but there are some things I want to see and touch before I purchase them.

Elders on your list often need more careful thought than younger people. They may have downsized into a smaller home and not have as much room as they once did. Some may be in elder care homes with an even smaller space. We become less acquisitive too. So gift choices should be useful, needed and be something won't complicate their lives.

Here are some suggestions and maybe they will spark more ideas you can leave in the comments below.

For Those in Elder Care Homes
When I have contemplated the possibility of someday needing to live somewhere with full-time care, I panic slightly at the idea of not having favorite foods available. Maybe others miss some favorites too. A subscription to a fruit-of-the-month club would be a fine gift. A supply of a favorite candy. A basket of a variety of knoshes – candies, cookies, dried fruit, nuts, flavored popcorn, crackers, peanut butter, etc. The kind of stuff a group home is unlikely to provide.

For Those with a Money Shortage
Almost every retired person lives on less money than when they were working and elders, who were hit particularly hard in the crash of October 2008, have little opportunity to recoup their losses. So some practical gifts could be in order.

For computer users, a supply of printer ink – it's particularly expensive when you're on a tight budget. If arthritis and/or eyesight is a problem, a large-key keyboard can help. An iPod filled with the music of some favorite performers. A collection of DVDs of favorite stars or film genres, or a year's subscription to Netflix which now includes instant movies to watch on a computer.

It's hard to buy clothing for others, but slippers, a new robe or a sweaters for chilly days can become welcome luxuries for people with limited income. Real luxuries are good too. Because it has become so expensive, I've given up the fragrance I had worn for 40 years. I miss it. And I don't often allow myself a bottle of port that I like to have around – the really good, expensive stuff. Other people's luxuries will be different, but they will be welcomed with joy.

Practicalities shouldn't be overlooked. Can you afford to pay the electric bill for a year for a loved one? Or the ISP bill? A cleaning person twice a month?

The Gift of Time
As necessary as it sometimes becomes, giving up driving is a horrendous loss of freedom. But that is an opportunity for many kinds of gifts of time. You can create gift certificates for a monthly restaurant meal together. Or regular trips to the mall or grocery store or the movies or theater. You could plan a vacation to include your elder for next summer.

Perhaps there are old friends nearby that he or she hasn't seen in person in a long time. What a terrific visit that would be. And sometimes people surprise you with what would please them. Although my mother still drove to the store and around her neighborhood, she got to the point where she wouldn't drive on highways.

When I was visiting once, she mentioned that she had always wanted to see the show at Sea World. I would not have guessed that in a hundred years. So I drove her there and she had a fine day (so did I).

How about bringing the family and all the fixings to cook dinner with an elder loved one once a month. Be sure to make enough for leftovers.

Elders have a lifetime of stories to tell, but many don't think they can write them. Offer to help write their life story. Pull out the photo albums to spark memories. Or you could interview your grandmother and write the story yourself. She would enjoy telling the stories and then you would have them for the grandchildren.

These should get you thinking and I have one more suggestion. Spend the coming year listening carefully to your elder relatives. What they mention, sometimes only in passing, are excellent hints for future gifts.

Most recently Life (Part 2), the PBS program hosted by Robert Lipsyte, investigated the scourge of old age, Alzheimer's Disease. Here is a clip from the show of Mary Ann Becklenberg who has early stage Alzheimer's:

You can watch the entire episode here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Plastic

ELDER MUSIC: The Neville Brothers

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.

It's not common knowledge that the Neville Brothers saved the world. Let me tell you how.

As Ronni has mentioned in my bio, I was a DJ for a time on a small community radio station. When I was on, I did everything - work the board, cue the records or CDs, did the chatting (bring my own music in the first place).

I'd also have to answer the phone if it rang (only when a track was playing, otherwise they'd miss out). Fortunately, this didn't happen very often. I imagine that was because hardly anyone listened.

Well, one day it did and as music was playing, I answered. The caller said that she had heard that the world was coming to an end that very day. Indeed, at 3PM. Well, I was rather taken aback by this news and I neglected to enquire as to how this was going to occur, but thought, okay, not too bad, I wouldn't have to complete the shift that day.

As three o'clock approached, I decided there was one way to avert this catastrophe. I put on a long Neville Brothers track that would go past the fatal hour. I figured that God wouldn't want to end the world while the Nevs were playing. I was right. As you can see, we're all still here.

The Neville Brothers are Art, Charles, Aaron and Cyril. Art is a keyboard player, Charles plays sax and has made some fine jazz albums. Aaron has the voice of an angel and Cyril is a James Brown-style vocalist who brings a modern music perspective to the group.


TheHawketts2 From the fifties onwards starting with Art, they all made music in various bands and as soloists. Art started out in a band called The Hawketts. They recorded a tune that's still played to this day around Mardi Gras (and other times) - Mardi Gras Mambo.

The Hawketts - Mardi Gras Mambo

The Hawketts evolved into the notable group, The Meters. This is Art's group along with several fine New Orleans musicians (Leo Nocentelli, George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste). This group reforms every now and then and a related group, The Funky Meters, with Brian Stoltz replacing Leo, still plays to this day.

This will set your toes a-tappin’ - The Meters with Look-Ka Pi Pi.


The Meters - Look-Ka Pi Pi

Aaron had a solo career as a singer in the Sixties. He had a number of hits at that time starting with Tell It Like It Is. He toured with Art supporting that record, as his record company went broke and didn't pay any royalties. Where have we heard that story before?

AaronNeville When asked when he first knew that his voice was something special, Aaron said, "It was the day I was born. The doctor slapped me and I said, ‘Ah-aaaah!’" Bob Dylan said of him: "His singing could bring sanity back in a world of madness." Here he is singing Hercules from back then.

Aaron Neville - Hercules

The Wild Tchoupitoulas were originally a group of "Mardi Gras Indians" formed in the early Seventies by George Landry ("Big Chief Jolly"). With the help of The Meters and Landry's nephews - surprise! The Neville Brothers - they recorded an eponymous album. This didn't sell very well, but it marked the first appearance of all four of the Nevilles on the one record. Meet de Boys on the Battlefront.


Wild Tchoupitoulas - Meet de Boys on the Battlefront

They then started recording using their own name. The second record under the Neville Brothers name was “Fiyo on the Bayou.” This is a fine album, but didn't sell heaps. On one track, Aaron pretty much channeled Nat King Cole with Mona Lisa.


Neville Brothers - Mona Lisa

The album that put them on the map to the general public is "Yellow Moon". This was produced by Daniel Lanois - and a fine job he did, too.

In an interview, Cyril said, "Daniel came to New Orleans and turned a house on St. Charles into a studio. Art brought in a stuffed bobcat, some big ol' rubber snakes and thickets of moss to hang from the ceiling. Lanois had the voodoo vibe going strong." Well, whatever gets you going.

The song from this album is about Rosa Parks, and you don't need me to tell you about her, called Sister Rosa.


Neville Brothers - Sister Rosa

These days, several second-generation Nevilles appear in the band.

Gray Matters: AARP

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. His Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, appears here at Time Goes By twice each month.

I think it’s time to call a truce in the long feud that many of us and I have been waging against AARP.

Why now? Well, AARP must be doing something right when Senator John McCain (R. Arizona), who would deny Americans the tax-payer supported health insurance coverage that he has enjoyed all his life, vowed to “fight with every fiber of my being” the proposed health reforms now before the Senate and he asked members to tear up their AARP membership cards.

Also, a group of House Republicans who have been hostile to Medicare and had no intention of supporting any real reform, sent letters to AARP accusing it of “putting political self-interests ahead of seniors” in supporting the reform bill passed by the House.

AARP rejected the complaint and, I would add, better “political self-interests” than financial. For these Republicans had no problem with AARP in 2003 when to the dismay of many members, it helped the Bush administration pass in a midnight session, over the objection of nearly every Democrat, the misnamed Medicare Part D drug bill, which among other things, hobbled Medicare, gave billions in subsidies to insurers and enriched the drug and insurance companies – and AARP.

About 40,000 of AARP’s 40 million members quit in an unprecedented protest. But AARP has made as much as $5 billion in insurance company royalties since then. Now, after some temporizing, AARP has joined President Obama, the American Medical Association, leading trade unions and most respected advocacy groups in backing health reform bills that would roll back some of the troubling aspects of the drug legislation.

And AARP lobbyists, who usually make no commitments, have uncharacteristically supported a public option and cuts in subsidies to insurance companies that now pay the organization millions a year in royalties. The question now is whether they will fight for their positions.

There were reasons to distrust AARP before 2003. When the Republicans captured the Congress in 1995, their leaders and a well-financed right-wing network launched an assault on AARP for its lobbying on behalf of Medicare, Social Security and long-term care. Congressional conservatives threatened to withhold the few dollars AARP got from Washington for running some employment programs. About the same time, the IRS forced AARP to split its money-making enterprises from its advocacy.

Partly in reaction to this conservative onslaught, the organization in 2000 turned to a bona fide Republican, advertising executive William Novelli, as the new CEO to replace the mild-mannered Horace Deets, an AARP professional.

Almost immediately it became clear that the huckster Novelli, who had worked for Richard Nixon, would seek to expand AARP by going after boomers as members. The name of the organization was changed from the American Association of Retired Persons to AARP to eliminate the word “retired.” Age eligibility was reduced to 50. The slick magazine became slicker, and was targeted to age groups. They were all needed changes. But in 2001, I discovered and so wrote that Novelli had more ominous plans.

At a convention breakfast I attended, Novelli’s guest was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had predicted that Medicare’s agency would “wither on the vine.” They meant to privatize Medicare. So Gingrich and his allies threatened drastic cuts in Medicare to force President Clinton to allow private HMOs to insure Medicare beneficiaries for the first time.

It was a move that Novelli welcomed for his top officials told me then that he believed Medicare ought to provide beneficiaries with more (private) choices. Although Novelli was no longer with the firm he founded, Porter, Novelli, it created the infamous “Harry and Louise” ads that helped kill the Clinton attempt at health care reform and made way for private insurers and today’s Medicare Advantage plans.

Novelli later wrote a glowing preface to Gingrich’s book, Saving Lives, Saving Money, which called for technology and private enterprise to transform the nation’s health care system.

Gingrich’s thesis has sunk from sight and he now opposes health reform efforts. The Novelli denouement came in November 2003 when AARP suddenly deserted the Democrats and its long held position that the drug benefit should be administered by Medicare. Novelli pleaded that it was important to get a deal, even if it was imperfect. Indeed, Novelli’s personal prestige was at stake for he had promised to get a drug benefit passed, no matter the terms.

Thus, AARP supplied critical support for the Republicans’ a more expensive (its cost was kept from lawmakers), complex, fully private benefit that prohibited Medicare from even negotiating cheaper prices from drug companies.

The bill also created the infamous coverage gap, or donut hole, designed to discourage seniors from using too much of their basic benefit. Dozens of drug and insurance companies rushed for the bonanza giving beneficiaries a confusing array of choices. But the bill also limited Medicare’s growth, established a means test to raise premiums for higher income beneficiaries and awarded billions in subsidies for private insurers like United Health, which has paid AARP close to $700 million a year in royalties.

[A personal note. My criticisms of Novelli’s actions in earlier Gray Matters columns and my reporting that AARP’s Bulletins on Part D were misleading, provoked Novelli’s wrath. He canceled a feature piece that AARP was to run on my column and me.]

But the furor among members and within the AARP staff had a positive effect. After some hesitation, AARP used its power, prestige, and research and lobbying resources when it played a major role in 2005 in stopping George Bush from following up his Part D victory with his scheme to turn Social Security into millions of 401(k)s.

Novelli deserves some credit, but he had little choice for it’s uncertain that AARP could have survived in its present form if America lost the twin pillars of social insurance. Nevertheless, in Novelli’s zeal to provide private insurance for the boomers – persons under 65 – to wean them from traditional Medicare, a Senate committee concluded the insurance was worthless and the policies were canceled.

True, AARP is still too much of a seller of insurance, auto and health, which in my view undermines the goal of universal public coverage. But Novelli left in April and was replaced by a corporate , A. Barry Rand.

More important, without Novelli, the board seems to be running things and AARP, in the current drive for health reform, is not playing all sides against the middle. Officials like John Rother, the chief strategist, and David Certner, the chief lobbyist, committed early in the health care debate to support cutting billions from private insurance subsidies and a strong public option.

Let’s watch closely to see if AARP keeps its word this time and helps strengthen the reforms as the legislation moves through the Senate and the conference. Keep an eye on

Need help? Write to saulfriedmaATcomcastDOTnet

Thanksgiving 1981

category_bug_journal2.gif Most of the time, we celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. And most of the time, we have the same meal – turkey, cranberry sauce, dressing, potatoes sweet and/or white along with whatever are the side dish traditions in our individual families. If you live long enough, the dinners all blend together; you can't remember one from another.

Except on occasions when something different happens.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan was in the first year of his presidency, and he agreed to an hour-long interview for The Barbara Walters Specials that year to be broadcast on Thanksgiving night. Perhaps you saw it.

We taped the interview at his ranch near Santa Barbara, California, on Tuesday morning, then hightailed it back to Los Angeles where we spent the next two days, without a break, editing the show for Thursday night. We finished in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning and I dropped into bed at the hotel at around 4AM.

In the very late morning, as I ordered up coffee and a newspaper, I remembered it was Thanksgiving. Damn. I had plenty of friends in L.A., but in the race to have the show ready for broadcast, I had forgotten to make arrangements for dinner. Now I felt foolish calling anyone to beg for a place at their table. So I didn't. And anyway, I was still tired.

It's commonplace nowadays for television stations to run marathons of popular programs on holidays, but that wasn't so yet in 1981. So I was delighted when I noticed in the paper that a local channel was broadcasting back-to-back Twilight Zone episodes and that, I decided, was a fine way to spend Thanksgiving away from home.

I ordered a fruit and cheese platter with a bottle of wine from room service and hunkered down for day of private indulgence.

Late in the afternoon, Barbara's assistant, M, phoned. She too had not made plans and asked if I was free to join her for dinner in the restaurant downstairs. Since I was still tired and now a bit drunk, it seemed like a fine idea that involved no more travel than an elevator ride and we could be back to our rooms in time to watch the broadcast.

I wasn't surprised, when we stepped into the dining room, to see that it was half empty. I was surprised, however, to see half a dozen movie and television stars scattered at tables around the room. Thanksgiving is a family holiday and I wouldn't expect celebrities to be eating in a hotel dining room even if it was one of the most elegant in the world.

Although there were plenty available tables, M and I were seated in the back near the door to the rest rooms. I was too tired to object, so we ordered a bottle wine and contemplated dinner. Before the menus had been delivered, I noticed Barbara at the front of the room apparently looking for someone.

We waved and she joined us. Her car wasn't due to arrive for another 30 minutes, she said, so she wanted to have a celebratory drink with us.

The maitre 'd and some other employees created a minor frenzy. We three were conducted to what was, obviously, the premier table in the center of the room, and then these men hovered solicitously making sure everything was to our – well, Barbara's – liking.

Half an hour later, Barbara excused herself to go to her dinner at the home of friends and we could see the disappointment on the faces of our waiter and the maitre 'd. But there was nothing they could do; they were stuck with two nobodies center stage, as it were.

M and I laughed throughout dinner thoroughly enjoying the restaurant staff's chagrin. And we've continued to laugh every now and then when we recall that Thanksgiving nearly 30 years ago when we were stuck in Los Angeles far away from home.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: The Honeymooners

What Not to be Thankful For

category_bug_journal2.gif There is not much to be thankful for this season; it's been a horrible, painful year. Millions of people unemployed, millions thrown out of their homes, trillions of dollars in savings lost to the bank crash.

Oh, wait. Not everyone is hurting. Goldman Sachs is doing so well the company has set aside $16.7 billion (so far) for executive bonuses this year. And that's just the one bank that is the poster child for wretched Wall Street excess. Some predict that the total bonus amount this year for the top six banks will exceed the $162 billion paid in 2007.

Did you see Goldman chairman Lloyd Blankfein's apology last week? “We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret," he said. "We apologize.”

Regret? Apologize? He and his banker brethren brought down the financial system of the entire world and he apologizes? Apologies are for when you accidentally drop the F bomb in front of your grandmother, not when you've destroyed the lives of millions of people and lined your own pockets while doing so.

And Goldman Sachs' commitment of $500 million over five years to help small businesses is nothing more than shabby attempt at image rehabilitation - an embarrassing pittance, not quite three percent of the company's bonus fund. Why isn't Mr. Blankfein (and the rest of the self-anointed "masters of the universe") embarrassed? Never mind - don't answer that.

What gets overlooked as the frightening numbers of lost jobs, homes and wiped-out savings continue to pile up astronomically while Nero Blankfein fiddles, are the stories of real people.

Picture these people. Think about them. Make them real:

Parents who have not worked in months. Or a year. Or more. Some are crammed in with relatives – too many kids to a bed. Some are in shelters – hundreds packed into a room filled with cots and not enough bathrooms. Some live in their cars – if they still have one. Others are homeless. Some are cold. There are sick people with no money for a doctor. Mothers and fathers and children who are hungry. A lot of them had a traditional Thanksgiving last year. Imagine their holiday tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Blankfein.

If I appear to picking on him alone – well, he asked for it with that fatuous apology. But he is only the most obvious of modern-day robber barons who will celebrate in elaborate comfort on Thursday with linen napkins, expensive china and fine wine. May they all choke on their turkey.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brian McGovern: Making Magic


SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the twice-monthlyReflections 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. His other column, Gray Matters, formerly published in Newsday, appears each Saturday.

Category_bug_reflections The quiet passing of a date and something an interviewer told me stirred these reflections like leaves fluttering from the trees in an autumn breeze. The date was November 22, the 47th anniversary of the murder of John F. Kennedy; when the nation lost what was left of its post World War II innocence.

And the interviewer, listening to my argument that the best of newspapers will survive this recession and the internet as it has other downturns and television, noted my age (80) and told me I had the “long view,” which I took as a compliment.

Kennedy’s murder was not widely observed because journalism tends to mark the first, the fifth or the tenth of an event, but not the mundane 47th. But I do have a view that stretches back over those years.

Some years ago on a November 22, I asked the news room at large at New York Newsday who knew the significance of that day. Only my legendary colleague, Murray Kempton, then in his seventies, raised his hand. He had the long view.

Because we persons of age have a “long view,” i.e., looking backwards, does not mean we don’t look forward. I suppose, that we are not attentive to predictions 50 years hence. And neither are we such cockeyed optimists that we would buy an annuity that doesn’t pay for ten years. But we do look forward for the short view; we care that the nation should expand health coverage and Medicare now to those who don’t have what we have.

We care that young men and women are dying in pointless wars. And we know that because our longer view recalls the idiocy of Vietnam and the war against Nazism that had a point. We are interested in the short run, which is why we read newspapers more thoroughly than most, write letters to editors, hassle legislators, go to concerts and plays and vote in greater numbers than younger people.

Let me say again, we care about and can make judgments about the present and the near future because we have the long view, which supplies perspective that my interviewer and most contemporary reporters and those breathless, rapid-reading TV types don’t seem to have. An editor has called newspaper journalism “instant history.” But there is history preceding that “instant.”

I have been very fortunate to have lived through and reported on some of the most extraordinary events and movements of the latter half of the 20th century. I covered John F. Kennedy’s last formal speech, at a Houston dinner, the night before he was killed. I had written a piece for The Nation warning that the right-wing nuts in Dallas, including the local congressman, were making his visit dangerous. A wanted leaflet with Kennedy as the target was circulated. Little did I realize that the killer would be an ersatz left-wing nut.

A few days later, covering a meeting of oil and business executives in Houston, I stepped out of my reporter’s role and protested loudly and unprofessionally when one of those oilmen expressed satisfaction that Texan Lyndon Johnson was in the White House and that “bushy-haired bastard from Boston” was no longer president. I learned, as the nation has not yet learned, that ideological nuts come in all sizes and flourish like viruses in the sour ferment of hatred and ignorance.

I covered much of the great civil rights movement, from Houston in the Fifties to Washington in the Sixties, from Montgomery to Jackson and Selma to the Poor People’s March and Memphis. I got to know Dr. Martin Luther King and when he died, I likened it to a crucifixion. Within a few months of each other, in 1968, he and Sen. Robert Kennedy, were murdered by nuts of vague ideologies and inchoate hatreds.

As the cliche goes, we have come a long way in righting civil wrongs since then. But the war in Vietnam that they opposed is being fought again in different places, and the poverty they decried has not subsided.

Black people and Hispanics still suffer disproportionately. Immigrants (there are no such things as illegal humans) have become targets for the bigots. And the nuts persist, in the Congress and the old Confederacy, still fighting the Civil War, who would cripple the federal government and reverse all that King and Kennedy stood for.

And too many journalists and political leaders are without the long view, or the sense of outrage, to call out the nuts and their twisted religious, Taliban fundamentalism for the dangers they represent.

I also covered the birth of what became the consumer movement in 1966 when I was a reporter for the Detroit Free Press (a Knight-Ridder newspaper) and a young lawyer, Ralph Nader, challenged the auto industry in general and General Motors in particular, calling their new rear-engine compact, the Corvair, “Unsafe at Any Speed.”

Nader challenged the conventional wisdom (of the National Safety Council, among others) that the driver was at fault in accidents. Nader demonstrated that Detroit’s autos were death traps. His efforts created the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency and autos became more crash worthy with safety belts, collapsible steering wheels and air bags.

But more than that, Nader began a new kind of Washington journalism where news was made by citizen consumers and activists – anti-war, environment - and not just political officials.

That sort of activism continues, with blogs, demonstrations and good journalism and much of it to strengthen regulation and use government for the sake of people who need its help. This citizen activism that began more than 40 years ago, has given us the possibility of improved health care or dealing with climate change. These activists have sought to enhance and increase responsiveness in government.

But activism also has been perverted lately by ignorant nuts, even those in government who seek not only to tear down the nation’s institutions from which they take salaries, perks and health care, but to deny the science of global warming as well as human evolution. They are the new “know nothings.”

During my reporting days I covered to one extent or another, every president from Johnson through George H.W. Bush, with whom I had become friendly in Houston, when he was the Republican County chairman and later a congressman. Despite the flaws in every one, for they were all human, most of them cared for government and its institutions.

Johnson, as you know, gave us Medicare, Medicaid and the basic Civil Rights laws; Richard Nixon gave us the Environmental Protection Agency and the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment; Jimmy Carter brought peace between Egypt and Israel and Jerry Ford gave us calm after Watergate.

Let me digress a bit by pointing out that lawmakers of both parties, such as Senators Sam Ervin [D., North Carolina], and Howard Baker [R., Tennessee], chose to end Nixon’s travesties demonstrating a kind of responsible, statesmen-like politics that is long gone.

Ronald Reagan, a decent, inclusive man who would have been appalled at the right-wing haters today, fixed Social Security for 75 years and all but ended the cold war by dealing with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and setting the stage for unprecedented arms reduction treaties that are still in force. I was there, incidentally, when Reagan, at the Brandenburg Gate in June 1987, implored Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall, knowing it would happen.

Finally, because the elder Bush was a friend, I transferred from the White House to report on the State Department and the more exciting Secretary James Baker, who I also knew from Houston. My first assignment in late September 1989, was covering Baker’s meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with the then-Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. It turned out to be momentous, for as the two men flew to Wyoming from Washington, Shevardnadze acknowledged to Baker that the Soviet state was collapsing from within, as Reagan had predicted.

Shevardnadze not only agreed to sweeping arms reductions, he made it clear at Jackson Hole that the Soviets were ready to set the nations of Eastern Europe free of the Warsaw Pact. Within six weeks, on November 9, the Berlin wall came down and the State Department press corps began a wild ride with Baker through the newly freed countries of the east, the former Soviet republics and a visit to one of Russia's most secret missile testing facilities. The world was turning right side up.

Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The press traveled with Baker to Moscow, where his friendship with Shevardnadze gave the U.S. Russia as an ally in the effort that took us to dozens of counties in Europe and the Middle East to fashion a coalition of nations – including Syria – to wage war and throw Saddam Hussein and Iraq out of Kuwait.

Bush succeeded and he and Baker wisely avoided sending American forces to Baghdad to get bogged down in an endless Middle East war. Theirs was the long view. But their successes and Baker’s frequent visits with the Arab world, gave him credibility to press Israel as it had not been pressed since making peace with Egypt, to stop building settlements, and meet with the Arab world in Madrid.

Baker told a stunned congressional hearing that if Israel wants peace, “when you’re serious, give us a call.” Baker, with his persuasive powers born of years serving presidents, convinced even Syria and the Palestinians to talk peace with Israel. That helped set the stage during Bill Clinton’s presidency for a White House meeting between PLO leader Yassir Arafat and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin, and a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan. A right-wing nut ended Rabin’s life and that flickering hope for peace.

I saw and wrote about these events. And I can tell you that all these men, whatever their parties or flaws, were public servants of substance using government to form a more perfect union.

In 1995, however, a brash band of right-wing, Republican zealots wrested control of Congress and have taken the short view, along with the triangulating Bill Clinton, to end comity in government. They demeaned government except for their own purposes, abolishing the regulation of banks, Wall Street and the drug industry, retreating from the works of more pragmatic White House predecessors.

That set the political stage for the Bush family bad seed and a gang of very near-sighted outlaws who could not protect the nation from a well-telegraphed attack. They made up for their malfeasance by taking over the Constitution and unleashing the mad dogs of endless middle east wars. And they encouraged their ragtag army of fundamentalist nuts carrying crusader crosses, screaming their hateful nonsense at a president who is seeking to restore government as a friend.

I doubt these wackos know or care or even mourn what happened on November 22. Nor do they know what happened on November 9, 1989. That takes a long view.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: A Mind Gone Astray

Aging into Sentimentality

category_bug_journal2.gif While clearing out my mother's home after she died, I marveled at how many videos she had of the cutesy variety of animal movies. Born Free, Harry and Tonto, Lady and the Tramp, Charlotte's Web, The Incredible Journey and some others I've forgotten.

My mother had a cat but she had never shown an interest – to me, anyway - in animals beyond her own. So I was further surprised, in sorting out her finances, to find regular contributions to a number of animal charities. Not once a year, but every couple of months over many years. Apparently, my mother never met an animal appeal she could resist.

We share that to a degree. I don't have as much disposable income as my mother had, but I make an annual donation to the local, no-kill cat shelter and would give to others if I could.

Mom and I also share at least one other trait – stoicism. She had no patience with me, as a child, when I lamented something too loudly that could not be changed. Shit happens in life; make note and move on was her attitude. No moaning allowed. And so it has been: whatever goes wrong, I deal with it and if I must whine, I do it privately. She trained me well and so did my father.

When he and I were driving in slow, heavy traffic one time, we passed two puppies playing at the edge of the road. One of us mentioned that it was dangerous for them to be there. We hadn't moved on more than a few car lengths when we heard one of the puppies squealing in pain. When I reacted with an “oh, no” and my eyes filled with tears, my dad gruffly told me to “stop it.” There was nothing we could do, he said.

I have long forgotten the conversation that caused it but many years ago, a coworker said to me, “Ronni, you are one tough broad.” It made me want to cry. I'm mush inside and was hurt that I appear otherwise to the world although with time, I've come to see how much effort I put into hiding that mush.

So here is how these threads – mothers, fathers, animals and stoicism – come together.

For several years now, I have been incapable of reading or watching news stories about injured or abused animals. Remember that sports star who organized dog fights? That's all I know about it; just that it happened, no details because I couldn't get past the headline without weeping.

Sometimes, when I'm cooking and can't shut off the television when an abused animal story comes on, I hum to myself or sing or turn on the water full force in the sink while I look away so I won't have to know.

I can't even watch stories about rescue efforts of birds and seals after oil spills. Or whales who beach themselves. I didn't want to know about that race horse who broke his leg and had to be killed.

In the past year or two, this phobia, this lost stoicism, has expanded. Aside from the banking debacle and health care reform, the big stories in Congress have been about cap-and-trade, global warming, climate change, etc. You won't read about them here because I cannot read or think about the consequences of our profligacy - the denuded mountains, poisoned rivers and streams, declining fish populations, dying bees and frogs...

If I keep writing this, I'll be weeping again – for the terrible things we humans do to our earth and its inhabitants, the ones who can't fight back be they alive or inanimate.

And what bloody good does all this maudlin sappiness do? Not that I can save the world or even a small part of it, but I should be at least tough enough to bear witness. I wasn't always like this. What could have happened?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Herchel Newman: Tommy's Timber


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.



I completely forgot about Ian Tyson when I was compiling the Elder Musicians. I think I still see him as the young folkie I discovered way back.

If you want to be a songwriter you could a lot worse than studying Ian’s songs. There are few to match him - maybe Jesse Winchester, Bob Dylan and Gordon Lightfoot.

That’s interesting, I’ve just surprised myself. Ian’s a Canadian as are Gordie and Jesse (Jesse by naturalization). Bob’s from northern Minnesota which is really Canada, so I guess that means you should also be a Canadian. It must be the cold.


In his youth, Ian was a rodeo rider and when the inevitable happened, he learned the guitar while recovering in hospital. His early songs include the great Four Strong Winds and Some Day Soon. If you took notice of music during the Sixties you will remember him as half of Ian and Sylvia.


Here are Ian and Sylvia performing Four Strong Winds.

Four Strong Winds

Oh, what the hell, let’s do another. I originally had a fine YouTube clip of them singing this song with Emmylou Harris and Albert Lee, but some rotter has removed it, so here’s audio only of Ian and Sylvia with Summer Wages (without Emmy and Albert).

Summer Wages

Back to the early days of Ian and Sylvia, this is Salmon in the Sea.

Salmon in the Sea

Yodelling Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t featured any yodeling yet in any of these blog posts. I can hear your cries, “Oh, for a song with some yodeling." Fear not for I’m about to rectify that.

One of the few songs Ian performs that he didn’t write, Night Rider's Lament. For those who don’t yearn for a bit of a yodel, it’s right at the end after the song is pretty much finished.

Night Rider's Lament

This is a real elders song, it’s called Fifty Years Ago. It’s a nostalgic look back, but not with too many regrets - more wry than anything. On a personal note, I’ve just realised that the very first short story I contributed to The Elder Storytelling Place was set (at least the last part of it) exactly fifty years ago.

That’s how long I’ve lived in this big smoke (except for times when I haven’t). It’s how long Buddy Holly’s been dead.

This is from Ian's “Cowboyography” album, mandatory for anyone who likes his music (or music in general, really).


Fifty Years Ago

To continue on the elders theme and to double that last song, we’re up to a hundred years with Irving Berlin (is 100 years old today).


That’s Ian in the photo, not Irving. Ian turns 76 this year, more than three quarters of the way to Irving, so he’s a definite elder musician.

Irving Berlin (Is 100 Yrs Old Today)

Gray Matters: Health Insurance Companies

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. His Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, appears here at Time Goes By twice each month.

Now that we’ve heard all the horror stories of coverage denials and soaring profits, I propose that we stop beating up on the health insurance companies and consider a more fundamental issue: Do we need health insurance companies at all?

This is a rhetorical question, of course, to which you can guess my reply, but bear with me.

The United States is unique in that we have a for-profit health insurance industry which has not done very well in providing health care. In France and Switzerland, such insurance companies are non-profit and tightly regulated. But almost everywhere else where there is a form of national health insurance, there are no such things as companies that make profits based on a person’s health – and no one is without access to health care.

I am not opposed to profit-making insurance. But the insurance we take for granted suggests what’s wrong with health insurance. Homeowners’ insurance works well because people tend to take care of their homes and the risk for the insurer is reasonable. But some companies won’t cover a house a few miles from the shore because of hurricane possibilities. They won’t insure homes that really need protection.

Similarly, most states mandate auto insurance coverage and even subsidize it with “no fault” coverage for people who can’t pay. But the prices of policies generally reflect risk factors that protect most careful drivers as well as the companies from excessive losses.

Life insurance may no longer be a good investment, but the companies' actuaries are pretty good at figuring life spans and take a modest risk that not every policy holder will die at the same time.

Here is my point: Life span is generally predictable; cars and homes may be replaced, and not everyone is in an accident or suffers a home fire or burglary. But everyone one gets sick, many seriously, even catastrophically. And our health and that of our families is unpredictable, out of anyone’s control, and may be a matter of life or death.

But health insurers can stay in business (without the present government subsidies) only if

  1. we don’t get sick, or

  2. if we do, they can avoid and minimize coverage, or

  3. we die quickly

Perhaps that’s harsh. But health insurance is an absurd conflict of interests, the patient’s versus the insurance company’s bottom line; this is a market system, after all. This essential problem with private health insurance was first pointed out to me by one of my heroes in the health reform battles – Dr. Marcia Angell, a pathologist who ten years ago became the first woman editor-in-chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

In that position, she guided the journal towards critically examining the American health care system along with its papers and studies on medical advances. She analyzed the inherent conflicts in employer-based health insurance in which one’s health coverage is dependent on the employer’s financial health. And she was among the first to suggest gradually opening Medicare to persons of all ages – a belief she still holds.

In 2003, after she became a senior lecturer at Harvard’s medical school, Angell co-authored a paper which was a breakthrough for the staid and conservative Journal of the American Medical Association. The paper, endorsed by 7,800 doctors and medical students, was entitled a “Proposal of the Physicians’ Working Group for Single-Payer National Health Insurance.” The other writers were Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, both of Harvard’s Cambridge Hospital, and Dr. Quentin Young, a founder of Physicians for a National Health Program.

Critics of the current health reform proposals say health care is best left to the market system, but that’s where it has been for decades. Here’s how Angell characterized private health insurance:

“The United States alone treats health care as a commodity distributed according to ability to pay, rather than as a social service to be distributed according to medical need. In this market driven system, insurers and providers compete not so much by increasing quality or lowering costs, but by avoiding unprofitable patients and shifting costs back to patients or other payers.

“This creates the paradox of a health care system based on avoiding the sick. It generates huge administrative costs that along with profits, divert resources from clinical care to the demands of business. In addition, burgeoning satellite businesses such as consulting firms and marketing companies, consume an increasing fraction of the health care dollar.”

Each of these satellite businesses, with their telephone answering bureaucrats to explain health coverage denials, add not one pill to a patient’s well-being. And by the very nature of our market system, insurance companies, which pay their executives multi-million dollar salaries, are beholden less to patients than to shareholders and Wall Street analysts who demand higher profits for each quarter. (Humana just reported a 65 percent rise in profits in the third quarter of this year on top of a 37 percent increase in the second quarter.)

Angell said on another occasion,

“We are the only nation in the world with a health care system based on dodging sick people. These practices add greatly to overhead costs because they require a mountain of paperwork...Private insurers regularly skim off the top a substantial fraction of the premium – from 10 to 25 percent – for their administrative costs, marketing and profits.

The remainder is then passed along a veritable gauntlet of satellite businesses that feed off the health industry, including brokers...disease management companies, drug-management companies, legal services, marketing companies, billing agencies...”

Congressional analysts estimate the five largest health insurers spend 73 to 84 percent of premiums on health care claims. The rest, as Angell says, goes to marketing, administration and profits.

According to The New York Times, a Commonwealth Fund survey found, not surprisingly, that

“73 percent of adults who tried to buy insurance on the open market over three-year period never bought a plan because they could not afford it, could not find a plan that met their needs, or were turned down.”

Angell was asked recently in a New York Times interview what would happen to the insurance companies and their employees and satellites if a single-payer, Medicare-for-All program was adopted. She was frank:

“It would lead to job losses in this sector, which constitutes 17 percent of the economy,” she said. “But what about the other 83 percent of the economy? They’re being bled to death.”

She is skeptical of the current health reform proposals because they depend on private health insurance and drug companies which, she maintains, will not change their behavior.

“These are investor-owned companies. Their fiduciary responsibility is to maximize profits...If you keep health coverage in the hands of for-profit companies, you can do one or the other – increase coverage by putting more money into the system or control costs by decreasing coverage. You cannot do both unless you change the basic structure of the system.”

That’s not about to happen. Lawmakers are still fighting about costs and how many Americans can be covered and when. The conflicts of interest will go on. But Marcia Angell is worth listening to and one day we’ll turn to her rather straightforward solution – Medicare for Everyone.

Write to saulfriedmanATcomcastDOTnet

How Well Do You Sleep?

category_bug_journal2.gif As I have undoubtedly mentioned here from time to time, I don't sleep worth a damn. If it's not that I need to pee, it's waking at ungodly early hours - like 2:30AM - without a chance of going back to sleep. On nights when that doesn't happen, the cat's circadian rhythm has him poking me by 4AM or 4:30AM with breakfast in mind. He is the personification of persistence.

In just the past two weeks, however, I've regularly been sleeping for seven or eight hours without interruption. Even the cat has slept past 4:30AM on a few occasions. I can't say what changed, but I'm grateful for it.

Even so, since there is no telling how long my new-found full-night's sleep will last, I was eager when I was invited by the International Longevity Center to take part in a teleconference earlier this week with four of the authors - all medical doctors and all experts in sleep and aging - of new report published this year in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (paid subscription required) outlining new recommendations for treating sleep disorders.

Many people believe that sleep disturbances are a normal part of getting old. Not so, say the authors. Nevertheless, 30 to 50 percent of elders report problems with insomnia – that is, difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Other sleep disorders that effect smaller numbers of people include

• sleep apnea
• restless leg syndrome
• circadian rhythm disorders
• parasomnias
• hypersomnias
• disorders associated with nursing homes

Lack of a good night's sleep has a strong impact on elders' quality of life contributing to balance difficulties leading to falls, an inability to concentrate, frailty and decreased cognitive function. The causes are many – among them, hypertension, stress, depression, some illnesses, any medications that affect neurotransmitters, use of nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, some herbal and over-the-counter medicines.

Certain changes in our bodies as we get older also affect sleep. Circadian rhythms appear to change so that old people tend to fall asleep earlier and wake earlier than when they were younger. The amount of light sleep increases and the amount of deep sleep decreases.

I asked about the effect of the last item. It is known, the doctors told us, that growth hormone which is needed for a body to repair itself, is secreted primarily during deep sleep. It is not yet known what causes the decrease or its effect on old people.

As Dr. Robert N. Butler, the president and CEO of the International Longevity Center, noted during the teleconference, sleep is a profound piece of the human condition. It deserves more attention than we or our physicians often give it. Few doctors ask about sleep problems; I know I have never, when young or old, been asked how I sleep.

Elders need to be more pro-active and let our physicians know if we have trouble sleeping and discuss possible treatments. Be wary of hypnotic drugs such as Ambien and Lunestra which, say the researchers, are often prescribed because it is easiest thing to do rather than search out causes.

Depending on the type of sleep disorder, treatment can include changing medications, light therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, among others.

Here are the researchers' tips for a better night's sleep. We all sort of know these things, but don't necessarily follow them. I often read and watch television in bed.

• Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
• Develop a sleep ritual
• If you cannot fall asleep in 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy
• Avoid exercising within two hours of bedtime
• If you must nap during the day, limit it to 30 minutes and try to nap before 3:00PM
• Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex; do not watch television or work in bed
• Get regular exercise and exposure to outdoor light

The PBS series, Life (Part 2) continues. This week's episode deals with what makes us happy. Here is a short clip of a whole lot of people answering that question.

You can watch the whole episode here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clarence Bowles: A Pet Peeve

The Cult of Manhattan Tower

6a00d8341c85cd53ef00e54f5c5cfe8834-640wi Two or three times over the life of this blog, I have written about a 1945 recording titled Manhattan Tower. I was a little girl of no more than five or six when my parents obtained it when it was first released, and I adopted it as my own. I played those two 78s hundreds of times and I am convinced it is what began my love affair with New York City – nothing else explains my yearning to live there from earliest childhood.

The album is a love story to New York City, a suite composed and conducted by Gordon Jenkins with the lead performances sung by Eliot Lewis and Beverly Mahr. Never heard of them? Me neither – except on this album.

For the longest time, decades, I believed Manhattan Tower was a private obsession. But ever since I blogged about it in 2005, people regularly stop by having, I assume, googled the title. Some leave comments about how happy they are to rediscover an old favorite, and many others turn up in the blog stats having visited the page, but not left a comment. There is, apparently, a cult surrounding Manhattan Tower.

Having long lost the album, I found it a few years ago on a CD of old, old New York songs, some much older than these. A check yesterday at Amazon turned up a newer CD titled Manhattan Tower, but because it references the 1956 release, I can't tell if it is the version made in that decade with a different cast, or the original 1945 release. The one I bought is still available at Amazon, but only from outside vendors at a horrendously high price: $63.66 and $39.69.

Jenkins' arrangement is, by today's standards, overblown, grandiose and almost-but-not-quite sticky sweet. But that doesn't matter to me and other members of the Manhattan Tower cult. And the story, in a way, matches my own New York story, a city a still miss every day.

Now that audio is possible on this blog, I've posted the entire suite below. There are four movements, each about four minutes long. For those of you who don't find it too treacly – enjoy.

Magical Tower


New York's My Home

Love in a Tower

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: What's Up, Doc?

The Secret War on Social Security and Medicare

category_bug_politics.gif Certainly you recall that back in 2004 and 2005, then-President Bush put all the substantial muscle of his office into Social Security “reform.” He and his surrogates spent more than year flitting about the nation spreading lies that Social Security was in “crisis,” that it was “broke.”

The solution to this non-problem, he said, was to privatize Social Security. Younger workers would be allowed to divert a portion of their Social Security contribution into private accounts and invest it as they chose.

Ignoring Wall Street history that includes a decade-long, ruinous Depression and several painful recessions, the president blithely suggested that everyone would be millionaires by the time they retired.

Sensibly, the people of the United States overwhelmingly rejected President Bush's privatization scheme, and if anyone had any doubts about its dangers, they were washed away in the crash of October 2008.

That should have been the end of attacks on the most successful social program in the history of the world. But no.

There is a growing drumbeat, mostly under the media radar, to cut not just Social Security benefits, but Medicare and Medicaid too. Several previous attempts at what is being called “entitlement reform” have faded away, but the pressure for it continues and is increasing.

Now, there is a proposal from Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (Dem. N.D.) and Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire to create an “entitlement commission” and to do it soon.

The idea this time, as in similar past efforts, is to force major changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (read: benefit cuts) by tasking the commission of appointed members to create legislation to cut costs and then force an up or down vote in Congress without scheduling time for debate or an allowance for amendments.

Last week, the Senate Budget Committee heard testimony on the Conrad/Gregg commission proposal. All ten witnesses support the creation of this commission; none who oppose it were invited. Among the supporters who spoke was David M. Walker, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation who, like most proponents of the commission, seeks to conflate the current recession with the cost of entitlement programs:

“...we must recognize the reality that key factors that contributed to the recent mortgage-related sub-prime crisis also exist in connection with the federal government's own finances,” said Walker. “These factors are: first, a disconnect between the parties who benefit from prevailing policies and practices and those who will pay the price and and bear the burden for today's fiscal irresponsibility.”

Barbara B. Kennelly, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, translated that (intentionally?) murky testimony into English in a letter to Congress [pdf]:

“[W]e are surprised to see the federal deficit and the federal debt cited as the reason a commission needs to be established to make cuts in Social Security.”

That the head of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation testified in favor of the commission should raise a bright red warning flag to all of us. For years, Peterson has used his influence and his money – he endowed the Foundation with $1 billion from his personal fortune – to crusade for the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare. Earlier this year, William Greider further deconstructed Peterson's message:

“It is a frightful message,” wrote Greider. “Peterson describes a '$53 trillion hole' in America's fiscal condition - but the claim assumes numerous artful fallacies. His most blatant distortion is lumping Social Security, which is self-funded and sound, with other entitlements like Medicare and Medicaid.

“Those programs do face financial crisis - not because the elderly and poor are greedily gaming the system but because the medical-industrial complex has the profit incentive to drive healthcare costs higher and higher. Healthcare reform can solve the financing problem only if it imposes cost controls on private players like the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.”

So what we have is a well-connected, billionaire activist who has no need for Social Security and Medicare using his fortune and influence (he was Secretary of Commerce under President Nixon, founder of the Blackstone Group and former chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations) to set up a 15-person commission within Congress that would remove control from and the responsibility of ALL of Congress to make decisions about Social Security, Medicare and much of the entire tax system.

A substantial number of Congress members appear to believe this is a good idea, and it is more dangerous than President Bush's privatization scheme because it is moving forward without attention from major media. If the plan succeeds, decisions about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs will be made by a cabal of legislators and unelected appointees behind closed doors rather than in open Congress.

Not only would Congress at large have no say beyond a yes/no vote on commission-created legislation, there would be no opportunity for we the people to let our representatives know where we stand. I won't stand for that and neither should you.

There are, of course, more details than there is room to explain here. If you are as interested and alarmed as I am, here are some links – in addition to the ones above - to help you understand what's going on.

Passing the Buck to an Entitlement Commission
17 November 2009

Lawmakers, White House Consider Bipartisan Route To Bend Health 'Cost Curve'
13 November 2009

Senators Discuss Creation of Panel to Control Health Costs
11 November 2009

Fast-tracking Cuts to Social Security and Medicare
10 November 2009

Senator Gregg's Comments in Congress [pdf]
13 May 2009

Checking America's Balance Sheets
12 February 2009

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: The Scullery Maid

Social Media Jabberwocky

There is hardly a moment in Crabby Old Lady's online life when she is not being exhorted to tweet, Digg, Facebook, Yahoo Buzz, etc. everything she reads, hears, eats, believes and thinks.

It's not just blogs anymore, it's newspapers big and small, political sites, health sites, commercial sites - pretty much any website: They all post a bunch of little links at the bottom of their stories begging people to spread the word of their brilliant prose or to “follow me on Twitter.”

Crabby joined Facebook and Twitter a couple of years ago to see what they are and how they work. She wasn't impressed then and still is not impressed. As to Twitter, there isn't much that can be conveyed in 140 characters and there is not a person on earth about whose moment-to-moment lunch and travel arrangements or emotional temperature Crabby cares to know.

Mavens of social media extol the virtues of Twitter and boast that when news happens, it's reported on Twitter first. The obvious problem for Crabby is that short of a missile pointed at her neighborhood, there isn't any news she needs to know immediately. Among her 25 daily news alerts and two or three dozen email subscriptions from varied news sources, RSS subscriptions and her paper subscriptions, she manages to keep up despite the fact that social media denizens think she is hopelessly behind the times.

Businesses, they tell us, can no longer succeed without Twitter so every corporation in the U.S. is now tweeting. Crabby doesn't care what Ajax cleanser workers have to say, nor Sony or FedEx, etc. She just wants their products to work properly and if she needs to know more, they all have websites that are likely to answer her question, especially when that answer requires more than 140 characters, which most do.

As soon as Crabby had determined that Facebook held no interest for her – it took about 30 minutes - people started “friending” her. She still doesn't know what that is supposed to mean to her life but because it seems churlish to not accept a friend invitation, she says yes to everyone - about of third of whom she has never heard of.

On the theory that some of those 100-plus “friends” Crabby as accepted use only Facebook, a few weeks ago, Crabby set up this blog to publish automatically to Facebook. Typepad makes it easy – about two clicks – so it's no skin off Crabby's nose, but there is no way to know whether or not it benefits anyone.

There is more to social media than Twitter and Facebook. For example, The New York Times, in one of the many kinds of attempts traditional newspapers are making to join the social media bandwagon, started a online “Conversation” on health care. There are 20-odd subtopics each with comments numbering in the hundreds, and one with more than 1700 comments.

That's not news or even social media and it is certainly not “conversation.” It's jabberwocky. Who is going read 1700 comments from people they never heard of who may or may not write anything worth knowing? Crabby believes it is a newspaper's job to edit the news. If they're not going to do that, Crabby may as well read the unfiltered wire services herself.

In addition to their journalistic responsibilities, the Times now forces their reporters to write blogs, as does CNN. Paul Krugman, for example, writes two well-thought out, op-ed columns a week. Given the intricacies of economics and the current state of the world's economies, that should be more than enough to earn his salary. But no. Now the poor man also writes blog posts two or three or more times a day.

Wolf Blitzer, of CNN, hosts three hours of live television a day, sometimes more. For years, Crabby produced daily, live television back in the days when individual stories lasted five to eight minutes. It was hard work keeping up then and nowadays, when stories rarely last more than two to three minutes, there is that much more to know. Say what you will about Blitzer, his job is not easy. But now CNN requires him to tweet all day and record podcasts too.

With all this output, the quality of all of it suffers.

The people who count such things say that use of social media is growing and while email is still growing, the rate has slowed. That may have something to do with the fact that 299 million Americans already use email, which pretty much accounts for everyone but infants (and makes the figure questionable).

Those same people say that social media is used mostly by young people, up to about age 44, and they imply that old people are somehow deficient in knowledge of technology or slow to adopt new trends. Crabby Old Lady doesn't think so.

Crabby thinks elders are long accustomed to thinking and writing in complete sentences and paragraphs and are able to carry on conversations for longer than 140 characters. That's an advantage when discussing anything more complex than the lunch menu or responding with the ubiquitous, “What she said.”

But most of all, keeping up Twitter, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc. accounts is way too much like work, too time-consuming and anyway, Crabby doesn't have that much to say. She can turn out a blog post and wrangle the 150-200 emails that arrive each day, but that's her limit. And anyway, all that social media is mostly just noise.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: TAHW?

Medicare Sign Up Starts Now, and More on Elderblogs

The annual enrollment in Medicare Part B (Medigap, also called supplemental) and Part D (prescription drug) is open now and until 31 December.

As noted in a post here a month ago, almost all premiums are increasing and some policies are increasing or adding co-pays. Others are adding deductibles and some coverage is being discontinued. So it behooves us all to check our current coverage, see what else is available and decide if we want to make changes.

The Part D Prescription Drug Plan Finder is here, and the Part B Medigap Finder is here. If you missed it on Saturday, Saul Friedman's Gray Matters column has a lot more information about Medicare sign up.

And, serendipitously, Mage Bailey's story at The Elder Storytelling Place today is also about signing up for Medicare (link is at the bottom of this post).

With all the above, you should be well prepared to make your annual decisions about Medicare. You have six weeks to fit this chore into the busy-ness the holidays.

Following Friday's post about the update to the Elderbloggers List, several people suggested their blogs or mentioned disappointment that they were not included. How right the latter are. I had planned to add each of them and I can't say what happened. Perhaps some of my notes got lost during my hard drive failure three weeks ago.

I am most chagrined to have omitted them, so they have now been added along with a couple of the new ones. Also, I forgot to mention in the list of criteria (is this memory thing of mine getting serious, do you think?) that the topic of an elderblog is not a consideration. All are welcome – stamps, cooking, movies, grandchildren, politics, health, bicycling, knitting – anything at all, including no specific topic. And finally, blogs are added at my discretion.

My apologies for the omissions. Here are the newly added elderblogs:

Family Finance

Letters For George

Mature Landscaping

Photoblogging in Paris


Retirement Daze

Self-Sufficient Steward

If other readers want their blogs included on the list or wish to suggest other elderblogs, email me (use the Contact link in the upper left corner of this page). If they meet the criteria, I will include them on the next update sometime early next year.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mage Bailey: Naivety

ELDER MUSIC: Some Early Blues Women

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

category_bug_eldermusic Norma’s Choice: These tracks were chosen by the A.M. (The Assistant Musicologist).

Rosetta3B I think of Rosetta Tharpe as a gospel singer rather than a blues singer, however, she was versatile and quite willing to swing either way, so to speak, and perform in concert halls and nightclubs. She toured extensively both in the gospel circuit and on blues tours. Rosetta suffered a stroke in 1970 and lost the use of her legs. She died in 1973.

She has been acknowledged as a major influence by such performers as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis (I’m surprised he acknowledges anyone), Little Richard, Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes.

She was a strong guitarist, but on her secular tunes she was usually accompanied by a band and later in her career, backed by what would now be called a rock 'n' roll band.

On this track, I Want a Tall Skinny Papa, the backing is more in the big band, jump blues mould.

Tharpe - I Want A Tall Skinny Papa

LilGreen1B Although born in Mississippi, Lil Green moved to Chicago early in her life and recorded and performed there predominantly. She was notable for her excellent timing and a sinuous voice. Lil regularly performed with Big Bill Broonzy.

Unfortunately, she was often in poor health and died of pneumonia, at the age of 34.

The song Why Don’t You Do Right? has been covered by a number of artists, most notably by Peggy Lee (who did a couple of versions of it) but also Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Mark Murphy, Johnny Otis, Mel Torme and Kiri Te Kanawa (Kiri?). It was also featured in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? by the character Jessica Rabbit sung by Amy Irving. After seeing Amy in Honeysuckle Rose, I didn’t realise she was a singer.

This is Lil Green performing the song backed on guitar by Bill Broonzy.

Lil Green - Why Don't You Do Right

AdaBrown1B Ada Brown was a singer and an actor and her early career was spent primarily on stage in musical theatre and vaudeville. She was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America in 1936, and worked at the London Palladium and on Broadway in the late 1930s.

Ada appeared with Fats Waller in the film Stormy Weather in 1943, and here sings with Fats, That Ain’t Right.

Ada Brown, Fats Waller - That Ain't Right

Minnie2B Memphis Minnie has often been cited as the best blues singer of them all [but Bessie still gets my vote – A.M.]. She was born in Louisiana and learned to play guitar as a child. She ran away from home at 13 to perform on the streets and in nightclubs in Memphis and after that, joined Ringling Brothers Circus. She started recording in 1929 and recorded for the next 40 years.

In the forties Minnie formed a touring vaudeville company. It is generally considered that her best work is from this period. She pioneered the use of electric guitar and she took country blues into electric urban blues, paving the way for Muddy Waters and others.

This song is In My Girlish Days from the forties.

In the last few years, there have been a couple of excellent cover versions of this song by Mollie O’Brien and Maria Muldaur, but we’re going with Minnie’s version.

Memphis Minnie - In My Girlish Days

Bessie1B Bessie Smith was born in Chattanooga and her father died when she was very young. Her mother followed when Bessie was nine. To earn money for their family, Bessie and her brother Andrew began busking on the streets of Chattanooga as a duo: she singing and dancing, he accompanying her on guitar.

Her oldest brother joined a traveling troupe of musicians. Some years later, he returned and Bessie joined him as a dancer rather than a singer. This soon changed. By the twenties, Bessie was acting and singing on Broadway and became the biggest draw (and highest paid) black entertainer of her day.

A combination of the Depression and the advent of talking pictures pretty much spelled the end of vaudeville, Bessie’s natural stomping ground.

She was rediscovered in the thirties by John Hammond and he recorded her and these records are the ones that survive today.

Bessie was killed in a car accident in 1937. After her death, a popular story emerged that she died as a result of having been refused admission to a "Whites Only" hospital in Clarksdale. This has now been discredited.

The song is I Ain’t Gonna Play No Second Fiddle.

I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle

GRAY MATTERS: Medicare 2010

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. His Reflections column, in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation, appears here at Time Goes By twice each month.

If you are of a certain age and participate in Medicare, you should have received your copy of Medicare And You 2010. And if you are like me, you’ve put it aside without reading it. My wife says that’s “a man thing,” not reading the instructions for the new gadget or stopping to ask for directions.

Medicare2010Manual2 Well, this year it would be a mistake not to look at the manual a bit more closely than usual. For things are changing – for the better, I think – and there are signs of that change in the free 127-page booklet. (If you haven’t received it, call 1-800-MEDICARE or download it here [pdf].

On page 11 in my edition is something new and unusual for a manual devoted to Medicare and us older types: the gift of health insurance from the Democratic Congress and Obama administration to our children and grandchildren. That’s explained briefly on page 84, in which we’re told that if we know of children under 18 who are uninsured in families (of four) earning less than $44,500, they are eligible for free or low-cost medical and dental care, prescription drugs and more.

This expanded ($30 billion) Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), to serve four million more youngsters, became law last February just after Obama’s inauguration. President Bush had vetoed the bill in 2008 because, he said, it would put us on the road to socialized medicine.

If you or your grandchildren aren’t afraid of that road and need more information, they can call 1-877-KIDS-NOW (1-877-543-7669).

There’s also new or better coverage for outpatient mental health and preventive services such as smoking cessation counseling and an EKG as part of a “Welcome to Medicare” physical exams for newcomers to the program. (You will have to pay the 20 percent co-insurance.) And each of the health insurance reform proposals include more benefits for Medicare, partly paid for by ending insurance industry subsidies for private coverage.

Thus, on the eve of the annual open season (November 15 through December 31), when you can choose, change or renew your current Medicare-based insurance, I’m here to make a pitch to newcomers or those of you with private Medicare Advantage plans to strongly consider returning to or staying with original Medicare Part B, which covers most outpatient services.

Among the reasons: Private coverage premiums are rising by 12 percent, more doctors and hospitals are quitting some insurers because they pay too slowly, second-guess medical decisions, argue about coverage or limit coverage choices to providers and hospitals in the insurer’s network. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report that companies covering seven percent of Medicare Advantage beneficiaries are getting out of the business (each contract lasts only a year). You’re supposed to be notified of this.

In addition, I’ve learned not to trust these plans when they are really needed. I’ve had to threaten to publicize an insurer’s refusal to cover a surgery because it was to be done by a surgeon out of the network who happened to be the best person for the procedure that had been recommended by a referring neurologist. Private insurers may use the least expensive surgeons, not necessarily the best.

But the most essential reason for sticking with traditional Medicare is simple and not abstract: Let’s strengthen one of the two most important American social insurance programs while we have a friendly administration. The primary reasons Medicare is facing financial troubles may be traced to efforts by hostile lawmakers and the so-called Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, that gave us the private Part D drug program and its doughnut hole.

The Act also raised Part B premiums for more affluent beneficiaries, which imposed the first ever means test and undermined the principle of universality, and it set limits on the growth of the Part B budget (which Democrats have stopped).

But most destructive of all are the billions spent from Medicare to provide private Medicare Advantage coverage to one-fifth (10 million) of Medicare’s 46 million subscribers. It was the hope and purpose of the insurance companies and their congressional allies that they could raise that number to at least half. That’s why Obama and the committees working on health reforms would, over time, end the nearly $30 billion a year subsidy paid to insurance companies and reverse the trend towards privatization.

One of my favorite groups, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, explained in a recent newsletter:

“The fact is that a large proportion of Medicare spending goes directly to private insurance plans under the completely private portions of Medicare – the Medicare Advantage and Medicare Prescription Drug programs...Thirty-four percent of Medicare payments are made to private insurance companies for the private portions of Medicare.

“Moreover, 77 percent of the costs of the private Medicare Prescription Drug program are paid out of general government revenues...The first year after private Medicare Advantage was introduced with subsidies way over [14 percent] and above the actual cost to traditional Medicare to treat a Medicare beneficiary, the solvency projection of Medicare dropped by eight years...

“Meanwhile, private health insurance companies’ profits, paid in large part by taxpayers, are increasing astronomically.”

Here is a short video from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare about the wasteful Medicare Advantage subsidies to private insurers"

As you might expect, the insurance companies and Republicans, showing sudden concern about the future of Medicare, are fighting Democratic efforts to end the subsidies for Medicare Advantage. To its credit, even AARP, which earns $500 million in royalties for selling these plans, has joined in efforts to force the private companies to compete on a “level playing field” with Medicare and a public option, if there is one, in the health reforms.

(My hope is that AARP would also help end the private Part D drug program it gave us and place it under Medicare).

Unfortunately, many of those 10 million Medicare beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage plans will be reluctant to give them up, although they may have no choice if the subsidies are cut. What’s the alternative? Here’s where this open season and the Medicare manual may help.

Medicare Advantage plans, which include drug coverage, are convenient because only one policy is needed. But, as I said, they require you use providers in their network, you need referrals, they tend to desert you if you have catastrophic health problems and those co-payments each time you visit a provider can mount up.

Take a look, then, at the section on the eight or ten Medigap plans. They are uniform throughout the country and range from the most basic, which pays the 20 percent co-insurance for Part B plus the deductibles, to more expensive that cover much more.

A Medigap plan, which would provide coverage for any participating doctor, lab or hospital anywhere in the country, plus an inexpensive Part D drugs-only plan, may not cost you much more than a Medicare Advantage plan. But it would be safer for you – and for Medicare.

Need help? Write me at saulfriedmanATcomcastDOTnet

Elderblog List Update – November 2009

blogging bug image With hundreds of blogs on the Elderbloggers List, I don't often visit all of them so I'm deeply grateful to Deejay, who blogs these days at The Chinese Mirror about Chinese-language film. He took the time to click through every elderblog and send me a list of those that have apparently been abandoned along with others that have disappeared, gone behind passworded firewalls, moved to new locations or changed their names.

The updated list has been posted with fewer new blogs than I thought there would be. In keeping with my advancing age, I seem to have updated it in June, not removed those new additions from my to-do list and then completely forgot I had done it.

I keep reading that blogging is old hat, that Facebook, Twitter and other social media are the cool, new thing. Maybe that is true for young people for whom anything new is the gold standard of life (although if counted in internet time, Facebook and Twitter are already decrepit), but I think not so much for elders.

Blogging does so many good things for old people. Researching our stories, organizing our thoughts and writing them in a compelling manner keeps our minds active and nimble in a variety of ways, and that may help stave off dementia.

As I've mentioned in the past, at a time in our lives when many of us no longer have the daily interactions with colleagues, clients and coworkers that we took for granted during our careers, there is less opportunity for new friendships. Old friends die, family sometimes moves far away and for some, getting out and about becomes difficult. The blogosphere gives us an opportunity to make new friends and they grow to be as important, close and caring as any “real world” friends.

And since, as elders, few of us care any longer about what is cool and au courant, I think for us blogging is here to stay. For readers who have blogs that are not yet on the Elderbloggers List, here are the criteria for inclusion:

  • You must be at least 50 years old

  • Your blog must be a personal blog. Corporate blogs, blogs that primarily promote and/or sell products or services, blogs for which you are paid to write are not included.

  • The blog must be easy to navigate

  • The blog must be designed with old eyes in mind – no tiny text; no light text on a dark background; no flashing images

  • The blog must publish new material at least once a week

  • The blog must be at least three months old. More than half of new blogs are abandoned within that period of time so this rule saves additional cleanup work on my part

If your blog meets those requirements, send me the link in an email (use the “contact” link in the upper left corner of the page) and I'll put it on the list for the next update.

Below is the list of newly added elderblogs. Because the full list is now so long, each week five blogs are randomly selected for the “Featured Elderblogs” in the left sidebar to help readers find blogs they might not come across otherwise.

Here are the latest blogs to be added:

Age and Disability in America

Berkeley Blog

Boomers and Beyond

The Cataract Club

Desert's Child

Five String Guitar

The Future of Aging Blog

Humorless Bitch

Joe Bageant

Lucy Volume II

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: The Treachery of Threads and Clay

Health Care Reform and Women's Rights

category_bug_politics.gif When the House of Representatives passed their version of a health care reform bill last Saturday, the shocker for me was the Stupak amendment (full text here) which would bar anyone using the new tax credits from purchasing policies that include coverage for abortion procedures.

This amendment accomplishes exactly what many in the right wing say they fear from reform legislation: government coming between doctors and their patients. Further, since the tax credits – subsidies – are available only to those whose employers do not provide health coverage, the limitation falls primarily on the shoulders of poor women. And, obviously, it singles out women for discrimination.

There are exemptions in the Stupak amendment for pregnancy as a result of rape or incest and for “physical disorder, physical injury or physical illness that the woman in danger of death unless an abortion is performed.” Note well that placing a woman's health in danger is not among the exemptions.

But why are we even discussing this? Abortion is legal. There is no place in any legislation for any restriction on it.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Roman Catholic Church in America has forcefully injected itself into the health care debate.

"'The Catholic bishops came in at the last minute and drew a line in the sand,' said Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy at the abortion-rights advocacy group Planned Parenthood. 'It's very hard to compete with that,'" she told the Journal.

Lest we forget, the Journal also reminds us:

“The bishops have a history of political activism. In the 2004 presidential race, some bishops said they would refuse to grant communion to Democratic nominee John Kerry, a Catholic who favored abortion rights. In 2005, the bishops' conference backed efforts by then-President George W. Bush and Republican lawmakers to intervene in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case. But rarely has the church entered the fray with such decisive force [as now].”

Whether the Catholic Church withholds sacraments is not a public issue, nor was the Terri Shiavo case – until the government and the Church made it one.

With all that in mind, here are some questions I've been thinking about:

Since Roe v. Wade is still in force and abortion is a legal medical procedure, how can Congress pass legislation that forbids federal funding of it? In doing so, are they not violating their oath of office? Would not such a law be automatically null?

Given the admitted lobbying efforts of the Catholic Bishops in support of the Stupak amendment, doesn't the amendment – the government – force non-Catholics into living by the edicts of the Catholic Church and therefore violate the doctrine of separation of church and state?

How is the Stupak amendment different from, for example, disallowing food stamps to be used for the purchase of pork in keeping with Jewish and Muslim law?

Has anyone else noticed that the Stupak amendment sponsors and the Catholic Bishops are all men deciding what women can do with their bodies?

Is Congress really going to allow the rest of the health care reform debate to revolve around an issue that has no place in government?

There is a petition addressed to President Obama, House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid requesting that the Stupak amendment be removed from health care reform legislation. You can make your voice heard here:

The newest episode of Life (Part 2) is available online – about age and spirituality this time. Here is host Bob Lipsyte's monologue from the program:

You can watch the entire episode here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Chocolate Love

ELDER NEWS: 11 November 2009

Several items of interest to elders today, and let's start with the holiday – it is Veterans' Day, the time we set aside to honor the men and women who put their lives at risk in combat for the rest of us. Given the frightful nature of what they do, one day doesn't seem enough and there are some people in Bangor, Maine, who have been making every day Veterans Day since the Iraq War began.

Tonight, the PBS documentary series, POV, broadcasts the story of these elder men and women in an episode titled, “The Way We Get By,” about the volunteers who greet every soldier traveling through Bangor on their way to and from the United States. As the program's website notes, the film

“...takes a look behind the hearty smiles, handshakes, heartfelt thanks and free cookies and cell phones the greeters bring to the airport, and discovers a world in which the seniors are engaged in their own struggles with aging, disease, loneliness, memories of war and personal loss.

“The film discovers a remarkable symbiosis between the soldiers' fighting mission and the greeters' fight to overcome pain, fatigue and depression in making sure no soldier departs or returns without thanks.”

”The Way We Get By” concentrates on three of the “troop greeters” - 87-year-old Bill Knight who served in World War II; 76-year-old Joan Gaudet who has a grandson and granddaughter readying to serve in Iraq; and 74-year-old Jerry Mundy who lost a son at an early age. Here is the trailer:

Find out more about the elder troop greeters and the film here, and you can check here for broadcast times on your PBS station. Beginning tomorrow, 12 November, the program will available for viewing online for one month.

* * *

As we have discussed here in the past, more than a third of people 65 and older take a fall each year and one in ten of those breaks a bone. Twenty percent of elders who suffer a hip fracture die within a year.

To some degree, we can “fall-proof” our homes through such means as removing throw rugs, installing grab bars in the bathroom, keeping clutter off the floors, improving lighting, etc. and now science is coming to the rescue with some inexpensive digital tools to monitor elders at home and provide personally-tailored fall prevention measures.

According to a story in the Sunday New York Times,

“For an older person, a fall is often a byproduct of some other health problem: cardiovascular weakness, changes in medication, the beginnings of dementia, gradual muscle degeneration. Motion analysis aided by inexpensive sensors and computing, researchers say, may well become a new 'vital sign,' like a blood pressure reading, that can yield all sorts of clues about health.”

One study using these methods has reduced falls by 30 percent and researchers believe that can be increased to 50 or 60 percent. There is much more to this and it's fascinating. Read more here.

* * *

Yesterday, in his Reflections column, Saul Friedman mentioned what fun it is to watch Jon Stewart on The Daily Show take down members of Congress for their idiocies.

Stewart and his team often succeed magnificently and sometimes they are only mediocre. That's forgivable; no one can turn out that much comedy and satire four days a week and hit the jackpot every time although Stewart and company come close. And occasionally, they turn out something that deserves to be enshrined in a comedy hall of fame (if there isn't such a thing, there ought to be).

There was such a moment last week. In a solo impression of the Republicans' latest superstar crazed buffoon, Stewart is so dead-on and so funny that, as someone noted online, he should win an Emmy for this single performance alone. I've watched it every day since it was broadcast and am still blown away each time.

Savor this Jon Stewart take on Glenn Beck. It is one of the most brilliant impressions ever created.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: Remembering