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New Years Eve at Home

category_bug_journal2.gif Even by age 30 when I was still young enough on other occasions to party all night, I had begun my New Year's Eve ritual which I have followed unerringly ever since: purchase something wonderful for dinner, a meal not frequently indulged in due to health or price considerations, a good book I've been looking forward to reading or finishing and sleep before midnight.

To be honest, I've broken my December 31 ritual a handful of times. Long ago, I held a few New Year's dinner parties with friends. One year, some young friends on their evening rounds dropped by unannounced, catching me in my newest, although definitely dowdy, flannel granny gown. But they didn't seem to mind and we had a fine ol' time until they moved on, a couple of hours later, to their next holiday destination.

The New Year's Eve that sealed the stay-home-alone deal for me happened 30 or 35 years ago. A friend whined enough that I agreed to accompany him to his cousin's annual party at her penthouse on the upper East Side of New York City. He had never attended before and, he said, she insisted he not come alone. It wasn't my usual style, but friends are friends and you do what you can to help out.

It was a formal-dress occasion requiring a tuxedo for my friend and a long dress for me. I demurred; no way would I purchase an expensive gown I'd never wear again and anyway, I had a sensational, new party dress that year, although only knee-length, and any number of fabulous, high-heeled shoes to choose from. My tiny (as in, hard to know they're there) diamond earrings would complete the costume.

We taxied to the party, my friend in his handsome cashmere overcoat and me in my dressy but light-weight velvet coat on that cold, winter's night. It was evident, when the cousin greeted us, that I was way out of my social class.

In her exquisite gown, ears, throat and wrists afire in diamonds and emeralds large enough to be museum pieces, she glanced at the the length of my skirt with – was it disdain? She covered her near-faux-pas quickly, but I was the only woman there with her legs hanging out.

There is no telling how many millions of dollars in designer duds and precious jewels swirled about those rooms high above Central Park. A table was laden in sterling silver and several pounds of mounded caviar – the really good stuff I had tasted maybe twice before. Many waiters circulated with champagne and sumptuous hors d'oeuvres.

It was a gender-segregated party by default if not design. The men gathered in the wood-paneled den smoking cigars and talking Wall Street. I didn't have much more in common with the women who mostly discussed clothes, dropping haute couture names like rose petals at a wedding and making arrangements for lunch at Le Cirque the following week. Peasant that I am, I was more interested in one waiter's odd, furry shoes. He said they were monkey hair, but maybe he was pulling my leg.

After a couple of hours, my friend suggested we taxi back downtown to the Village to a favorite old restaurant for a quiet supper. Good idea, but it didn't work out so well.

A light snow had begun falling. Every taxi that passed was in use so after ten minutes waiting on a windy corner in frigid temperatures, we trudged – me in my strappy little high heels not suitable for long walks in winter weather - toward a subway ten blocks away. We paused now and then to see if there was a free taxi. Nada. With nothing between my skin and the icy air but a satin dress and evening coat, my toes and ears were numb, and my butt too.

The only difference between the outdoors and the subway platform was relief from wind and snow – but not the cold - as we waited half an hour that felt like three days for a train. Now my fingers were numb too. A second cold, half-hour wait among the chaos of hundreds of drunken, noisy revelers when we changed trains at Times Square and my misery convinced me: all future New Year's Eves would be spent at home. No exceptions. Even for good friends. They are welcome to come by, but they must do the traveling.

And so it has been ever since.

Tonight, I will happily sit down to hot clam chowder and warm lobster with a glass of good wine. Then I'll snuggle up in bed with Ollie the cat to read some more of the book my brother sent, The Museum of Excellence Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. It's very good and I'm eager to get on with it.

What about you? What are your plans tonight?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: Hanes Black Magic

Elder Predictions for the Future of Books and Reading

AmazonKindle The Kindle and its kin are a revolution in the making. The current version can hold about 1500 non-illustrated books, about as many as I have in my home. If nothing else, it is a space-saver and, if many people adopt it as their reader of choice, an untold number of trees will be saved. On the whole, it appears to be a good idea.

LibraryShelves Still, I like my library of books in this room. It and the dozens of other books scattered on most flat surfaces of my home are friends and acquaintances who never let me down.

Some of their jackets evoke memories of times gone by – periods in my life when they were a new-found interest. A few are beloved, frequently re-read in whole or part because they lift my spirits and feed my soul. Others could certainly be dispensed with. I will never re-read P.D. James; John LeCarre is less compelling since the end of the Cold War. But Graham Greene remains a keeper.

When I was a child, books were my favorite gifts. With each one, a world previously unknown to me was revealed and I was (still am) eager for the next one that comes into my life. Books were still revered in those days as valuable possessions - so much so, that on the first day of school, in the fifth or sixth grade, as we sat at our desks with our shiny new texts, the teacher taught us the proper way to open a book for the first time so not to damage its spine. I still do that.

Undoubtedly, I will purchase a Kindle kind of reader one day, but I think I will wait until it can be folded up to fit into a pocket or handbag. But I wonder if a book, without heft or shape or taking up space, can become as beloved as - oh, say The Unquiet Grave by Cyril Connolly has been for me over many decades?

Will Magic Markers, which have yellowed so many lines of so many of my books, go the way of White Out? Will books (and their ideas) be less prized when they exist as nothing more than electronic blips on a screen? (Amazon announced that for the first time ever, electronic books outsold paper books on their website the day after Christmas.) Will others, like me, miss that an electronic book cannot fall open to a page you've read many times? Does it matter?

Perhaps, like me, you received a survey invitation yesterday from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. This one is looking for predictions about the future of the internet and how it will have changed life (or not) a decade hence. What I like about this survey is that the questions are purposely designed to not be easily answered. Such queries as:

Will Google make us stupid?
Will social relations get better?
Will our relationship to key institutions change?

With each question are two answer choices which, themselves, provoke more questions and best of all, unlike 99 percent of surveys, there is a text box in which participants are encouraged to write further about their chosen answer.

With books on my mind and the end of the year being nigh and therefore ripe for predictions, I have appropriated the Pew question about reading for today's blog post. Since most visitors to Time Goes By grew up in the same era of reading as I with no television, video games or internet to use up reading time), our predictions will probably be different (not necessarily better or worse) from those of younger people. Or maybe not. Here is the question with the two possible answers and additional query:

By 2020, will the state of reading and writing be improved?

Answer 1: By 2020, it will be clear that the internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge.

Answer 2: By 2020, it will be clear that the internet has diminished and endangered reading, writing, and the intelligent rendering of knowledge.

Further query: Please explain your choice and share your view of the internet's influence on the future of knowledge-sharing in 2020, especially when it comes to reading and writing and other displays of information - what is likely to stay the same and what will be different? What do you think is the future of books?

Let us know below in the comments.

(If you would like to participate in this Pew survey, you may do so here using the pin number 1000.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Christmas in the Past

GAY AND GRAY: Gay and Blessed with Holidays

JanAdams75x75Gay and Gray is a monthly column at Time Goes By written by Jan Adams (bio) in which she thinks out loud for us on issues of aging lesbians and gay men. Jan also writes on many topics at her own blog, Happening-Here, and you will find her past Gay and Gray columns here.]

category_bug_gayandgray.gif Ah - the holidays! That season that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Years (or for some, the college football "national championship" game a week later) is a time when it is almost mandatory for us to be enjoying fun and family. When this ideal crashes into our real lives, it can be painful. Holiday induced stress and depression is so common that the Mayo Clinic posts 10 tips for coping.

For people who find the holidays hard, being gay can make it harder. Most obviously, if we don't have children (and many of us do), it can be difficult to fit into family-centered celebrations. But holiday depression can have a lot of other features. Consider this story from an advice site called The Body:

”I'm a 55-year-old, recovering alcoholic, HIV-positive, single gay male. Over the last 20 years I've lost many close friends due to AIDS and I have not been able to regain the kind of social life I once had. I have no family; they rejected me due to my homosexual orientation. My romantic involvement with men has always been very limited and now, with my HIV status and my age, it is non-existent.

“In addition, I'm not a religious man; I have never found any comfort from or motivation to seek out religion due to punitive religious views on homosexuality. My point is that during the holiday season this all seems to hit me harder and I become seriously depressed.”

Summing up his story, if your circumstances leave you already lonely and outside the comforts that many of us find in our various communities, the holidays can be especially tough for gay folks.


On the other hand, as all online helping tip sheets will tell us, the holidays are what we make of them. Here's the story of how my partner of 30 years and I have learned to cope.

When we were first together, though none of our parents were outright rejecting of our homosexuality and our relationship, they also didn't take us seriously as an established couple. As women in our late 20s and early 30s, considered unmarried (as much by ourselves as everyone else), we were each expected to spend at least part of each holiday season with our families of origin.

This was complicated in the contemporary way as one set of parents had bifurcated. So for the first ten years or so, each of us would spend large parts of the holiday season traveling, separately, to be with family; we each sometimes felt deprived by not being able to be with each other on these festivals that epitomize "family.”

In the second decade of our relationship, parents and family had more or less gotten used to our being a couple. Now, when we did the holiday travel, we often did it together, visiting families in turn. Since our parents were aging and slowing down themselves, being together with them came to feel that much more urgent.

In the same time period, our women's support group - ten or so middle-class lesbians without children - became self-consciously aware of itself as an alternative family. Gathering every six weeks, we have stuck by each other through break-ups and recouplings, through physical and mental health traumas, through the deaths of parents and difficult job transitions.

Gradually we began to celebrate some holidays. The group had started out evenly divided between mostly secular persons of Jewish and Christian origin. As we aged, we adopted two Jewish celebrations, the Passover seder and Hanukkah, as our annual feasts.

In 1991, my father died. In the same year, my partner's increasingly less independent mother had moved near us to have more support. My mother became the one who traveled; she'd join us all in San Francisco for Christmas. Our holiday pattern was then that of a more conventional family, though one without young children.

This had its difficulties; the two mothers disliked each other on sight and didn't often make for good company; were we losing the great benefit of "chosen" alternative families which is that if you don't want to be with particular individuals, you have no obligation to them? Yes.

About ten years ago, as a couple, we also joined a friendly little Episcopal Church, a return to parts of our childhood spiritual roots for both of us, though my partner is also Jewish (she can explain; I'm not going to speak for her). That gay-friendly environment gave us yet another community in which to celebrate another set of religious holidays.

Though running back and forth between the secular, familial, Jewish and Christian observances can be strenuous, all of them involve loved communities that enrich our lives.

The last of our four parents, my partner's father, died two years ago and since then, we've realized we've acquired yet another set of family that draws us for holidays. My partner's father's unmarried (woman) partner of 43 years (can you untangle that? - you can do it) comes with five children and various younger relatives. We're now part of the core of this group that celebrates Thanksgiving with her. This is new. It's slightly astonishing this late in life to realize we're part of yet another family grouping - delightfully astonishing.

Is it perhaps the experience, as gay outsiders, of needing to choose affirmatively to nurture "family" and community that has enabled us find such a richness of connections? Or just luck?

And sometimes it is all too much. We have to get away with each other. This year, as you read this, we're spending Christmas literally at the end of the earth trekking in Patagonia. Greetings from the summer solstice!

[Editorial Note: While she is away in Patagonia, Jan prepared posts for her blog, Happening Here, so there is a new story every day.]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Santa Baby - 2009

Health Advantage to Short Term Memory Loss?

[Dick Klade, who blogs at Gabby Geezer, has added his photo to the Where Elders Blog feature. You can see it here.]

A month or so ago, curious about how much she moves around in a day, Crabby Old Lady attached her pedometer one morning and was surprised, at bedtime, to find she had walked just over two miles without leaving the house. Two miles! And it wasn't even a particularly busy day. Here are two of the reasons:

Wanting a cup of tea, Crabby got up from her desk in the front of her home meaning to pick up, on her way to the kitchen in the back of the house, a magazine she had left in the bedroom. As she set the water to boil, she realized she had forgotten the magazine, so she walked halfway back toward her office to the bedroom, got the magazine, returned to the kitchen, made the tea and walked back to her office where she remembered that she had left the magazine in the kitchen.

So it was back to the kitchen, the full length of Crabby's home, and then a return to the office having walked two-and-a-half times as far as she would have if her memory hadn't failed – twice in the space of ten minutes.

Later in the afternoon, Crabby went downstairs to pick up the day's mail. While on the porch, she heard her neighbor call out, so she crossed the street for a ten-minute chat, then climbed the stairs back home. Settled again at her desk, she realized she had forgotten the mail. Down the stairs she went again, and back up.

If you are as old as Crabby Old Lady is – even younger, perhaps, and older too – you know the drill: you find yourself standing in the bedroom or kitchen or elsewhere in the house wondering, as if just wakened from a dream, why. There must a reason you interrupted reading the novel that deeply engaged you or left the pile of laundry you were folding. But it won't come to mind. Similar memory glitches happen away from home too.

Last week, there were three last-minute grocery items Crabby needed. Only one could be purchased at the local deli a few blocks away, so she drove to the supermarket where she could get all three in one place. Of course, her memory being the sieve that it is, she could recall only two of the items and the third did not come to mind again until she had returned home and saw the baking equipment on the counter.

(It is a mysterious phenomenon that while Crabby can remember the number of items she needs at the store, when one or more disappear from her mind, she easily convinces herself that a forgotten item is not important – until she gets home.)

Fortunately that day, the missing item was the heavy cream she needed for the onion tarte which is available at the deli – a nice seven-block walk each way (even in cold weather when she bundles up) and, with a bit of wandering to see Christmas decorations in the neighborhood, she put a mile-and-a-half on her pedometer.

Short-term memory problems are an annoying accompaniment to getting old. No matter how much Crabby tells herself that she has always had such incidents as forgetting the reason she walked into a room, she knows it happens more frequently now. She likes to blame it on her life-long, daily to-do lists thereby depriving her memory of regular workouts, but that's just an excuse. Old is old and things go wrong (although Crabby is grateful that she, so far, is mostly free of age-related conditions).

Nevertheless, it makes Crabby crabbier than usual to spend increasing amounts of time repeating herself to make up for her forgetfulness and contrary to what you might think, Crabby doesn't enjoy being crabby – at least, not on personal matters.

Then Crabby had a moment of insight: perhaps the at-home pedometer experiment had revealed an opportunity.

What if, Crabby mused, she turned her annoyance on its head and viewed the repeated walking around her home and neighborhood as a chance for a little more exercise? With a slight attitude shift, her memory malfunctions would become useful, a health benefit, and she would be relieved of serial irritation with herself too.

These thoughts led to the fanciful notion that if Crabby were not indoctrinated by a youth-centric culture to see the vicissitudes of age as a bummer, she would find advantage in them - when one door closes, another opens, as business gurus like to preach.

So now when Crabby's memory seizes up, she welcomes the chance to get off her butt for awhile, and she is busily exploring what other age-related lemons she can turn into lemonade.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: An Original Christmas Song

ELDER MUSIC: Toes Up 2009

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.

Farewell to these musicians who died in 2009. The world is a poorer place without them.

In spite of his music that suggested a New Orleans origin, Willy DeVille was born in Connecticut. He said he was “A little of this and a little of that, a real street dog,” having Basque, Irish and Pequot among his ancestors.

He wrote songs with Doc Pomus and some of Willy’s music sounded as if came from the fifties but mostly his soulful singing mixed Latin rhythms with New Orleans R&B style. He was one of a kind. This is Across the Borderline.


Willy DeVille - Across The Borderline

Mary Travers. Peter Paul and Mary were the biggest selling of the folk performers of the early sixties. They showcased songs by then unknown performers such as Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver. She (and they) was (were) also active in civil rights and anti-war causes.

Huey Long. It surprised me that one of the Ink Spots was still alive in 2009, but he was. He was 105 when he died. He wrote songs and played guitar in the group. He had a long and interesting musical journey later as well. Huey is the second singer in the clip.

Les Paul invented the solid body electric guitar and had many hits in the early fifties with his then wife Mary Ford. He was one of the most respected guitar players of the last fifty years and continued performing until his death.

Gordon Waller was the “Gordon” half of the sixties duo Peter and Gordon. Following in The Beatles’ wake, they had several hits at the time helped by songs written by Paul McCartney who was a friend of Peter Asher (the “Peter” half).

Gordon had a not too successful solo career afterwards and was particularly fond of the trappings of success – those that usually bring about their demise. It looks as if Peter and Gordon, especially Gordon, hadn’t learned to lip-sync in this clip (or they just didn’t care).

Mike Seeger could play any instrument that had strings - autoharp, banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, guitar, mandolin, dobro and harmonica. Okay, not too many strings on that last one. He came from a musical family: his mother, Ruth, was a classical composer, his sister, Peggy, a folk musician as was his half-brother, Pete.

He co-founded the New Lost City Ramblers, an old-time string band in the late fifties, and unlike most others, retained his love of traditional playing styles he heard on old 78rpm records of musicians recorded during the 1920s and 1930s. That’s Mike on the right in the clip.

John Martyn was an extraordinarily gifted guitar player and an interesting singer. He also was fond of a drink or two and other substances.

Barry Beckett was a session piano player in Muscle Shoals and also a respected producer involved in the albums of artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Dire Straits, Bob Seger, Joan Baez, Etta James, Hank Williams Jr., Jerry Jeff Walker and Wilson Pickett to name just a few.

Estelle Bennett along with her sister Ronnie Bennett (no, a different one) and cousin Nedra Talley formed The Ronettes, the most interesting of the “girl groups” of the early sixties.

Eddie Bo was yet another in the long line of great pianists from New Orleans.

Liam Clancy was the youngest and last surviving member of the Clancy Brothers.

Chris Connor was one of the last big band jazz singers, with the Stan Kenton band, to become a solo artist in her own right.

Jesse Fortune was a Chicago blues singer since the fifties who recorded with Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy, Walter Horton and others. He collapsed and died on stage while performing.

Vern Gosdin had one of the finest singing voices in country music, ranking with George Jones and Jim Reeves as a singer. He started with his brothers as The Gosdin Brothers and later had a solo career.

Ellie Greenwich wrote some of the best pop songs of the early sixties with her then husband Jeff Barry. They include Da Doo Ron Ron; And Then He Kissed Me; Be My Baby; Baby, I Love You; River Deep, Mountain High"; Chapel Of Love; I Can Hear Music; You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling; Do Wah Diddy Diddy; Leader Of The Pack.

Maurice Jarre was a French composer and writer of numerous film scores.

Larry Knechtel. Classically trained pianist who played with Elvis, Simon and Garfunkel, The Doors and was one of Phil Spector’s studio musicians (the “Wrecking Crew”).

Marie Knight was a gospel singer best remembered for her work with Rosetta Tharpe during the forties and fifties.

Hank Locklin was a country singer who had some cross-over pop hits in the fifties and early sixties with songs such as Please Help Me, I’m Falling and Send Me the Pillow that You Dream On.

Dewey Martin was the drummer for the band Buffalo Springfield, noted for its excellent musicianship and extreme dysfunction. During the 1970s, he retired from the music industry and became a car mechanic.

Al Martino was a popular crooner my mum liked a lot and a boyhood friend of Mario Lanza.

Richard Meale was one of Australia’s most important classical musicians and composers who dabbed briefly with atonal music but, fortunately, returned to tonality. His best-known work is the opera Voss.

Billy Powell was a piano player in the band Lynyrd Skynyrd who survived the plane crash in 1977 that killed several others in the band.

Kenny Rankin was a singer/songwriter in the James Taylor mold. He also played guitar on Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home.

Billy Lee Riley was a Sun rockabilly singer around the time Jerry Lee Lewis made it big. He made some fine records including Red Hot and Flying Saucers Rock 'n' Roll. He later worked as a session musician playing guitar.

Dan Seals was “England Dan” in the soft rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. He was also the brother of singer, Troy Seals.

Bud Shank was a jazz alto sax player, first with Charlie Barnet, then Stan Kenton. Later he had a strong interest in “World Music,” playing with Ravi Shankar and others.

Gale Storm starred in a couple of fifties’ sitcoms and had some hits at that time, notably Dark Moon.

Koko Taylor was a Chicago blues singer who had several R&B hits in the sixties. She was a great influence on musicians such as Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Susan Tedeschi and others.

Zola Taylor was the female singer in The Platters when they had all those hits in the fifties.

Geoffrey Tozer was an extraordinarily gifted Australian classical pianist who brought great insight as well as energy to everything he played.


SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's 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, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

This is a good time, before the year is out, to catch up on some things financial that older Americans need to know. Much can be left to your adviser or accountant, but these days it’s better if you understand and have a hand in your finances and what’s going on with your Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Social Security
As you’ve probably heard, there will be no cost of living adjustment (COLA) or increase beginning in January for Social Security beneficiaries. This is a first, but it’s difficult to complain; the COLA in 2009 was a healthy 5.8 percent, the highest since 1982, and many Americans who worked (if they did) did not see that sort of increase in their wages, if any.

I know that the actual cost of living – housing, food, medical care and drugs - grew faster for older people than the official Consumer Price Index, which has been flat during this recession. The same inequity is involved in calculating poverty levels, which cheats some people out of benefits. Several members of Congress have promised legislation to change the CPI for the benefit of older consumers, but it won’t happen anytime soon.

President Obama has said he’s considering a flat payment of $250 for every beneficiary in lieu of the COLA and Congress may stir to act on this. For most beneficiaries, the lack of a COLA increase means that the present Medicare Part B monthly premium of $96.40 cannot be raised because of what are called the “hold harmless” provisions in the law which say your Social Security benefits cannot be reduced.

However, for newcomers to Medicare, the standard Part B premium next year will be $110.50. And because of the Medicare Part D law of 2003, the program now provides means testing for the first time whereby more affluent beneficiaries will pay still higher premiums.

Thus, the premium for individuals with yearly incomes between $85,000 and $107,00 will be $154.70; between $107,000 and $160,000: $221; between $260,000 and $214,000: $287.30; greater than $214,000: $353.60. For couples filing joint returns, double all these income numbers to find your premium.

There are other Medicare numbers for next year: The Part B yearly deductible (now at $110) is going up to $155. While Medicare pays 100 percent of the first 20 days of skilled nursing care (usually after a hospital stay of at least three days), the co-insurance for days 21 to 100 will be a hefty $137.50 a day, which is why Medicare cannot be considered long term nursing care.

The Part A hospital deductible is going up to $1,100 per spell of illness. Hospital stays for the first 60 days are fully covered, but co-insurance is $275 a day for days 61 to 90 and $550 for days 91 to 150.

The 2010 resource limits, recently announced, for the full Low Income Subsidy to pay for Part D premiums and other costs are $8,100 for an individual and $12,910 per couple. And for the partial subsidy, $12,510 for an individual and $25,010 if married.

While Medicare does not cover long term nursing care, it does cover most of the costs of medical care for nursing home residents or during home care. Medicaid, the federal program administered by states, will cover nursing care and in a future column, we’ll explore planning for Medicaid when a loved one needs nursing care and while the spouse remains at home.

There’s been some talk on Capitol Hill that the health care reforms now before the Congress may eliminate some higher Part B premiums which, I believe, were approved by the Republican Congress in 2003 to encourage more affluent people to desert Medicare for private insurance.

One more Medicare note: Under the law, Part B premiums must pay for one-quarter the cost of Medicare services for doctors and other outpatient services. Because the Congress is expected to cancel scheduled cuts and raise fees for doctors, the Associated Press and critics of health reform have reported that this would result in higher Part B premiums during the next ten years.

The one-quarter rule and rising doctor fees have been responsible for past premium increases, but David Certner of AARP told me that the increase in the fees for doctors will be offset by other savings in the Medicare program and premium raises will be held down. We’ll see.

Mandated IRA Withdrawals
On another money issue, my sources in Congress tell me that the IRS will NOT suspend for another year, the requirement that persons over 70-1/2 must, during the year, withdraw from their IRAs and other tax-deferred savings plans a certain amount of money, based on one’s age. It’s called the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD). Your financial adviser or plan administrator, who usually arranges for the distribution, has the IRS uniform table which tells you how to figure what you need to withdraw. But if you want to know how much of a distribution to make, I have the table and I can e-mail to you if you ask.

For the uninitiated, the first RMD must be taken by April 1 in the year after you reach 70-1/2, and subsequent distributions are taken each year by December 31. If 2009 is the year in which you turned 70-1/2, you may delay the withdrawal until 2010 because of the suspension. But if there is no suspension for 2010, it would be best to make the withdrawal during the year rather than waiting until April 1, 2011.

The withdrawal amount next year will be a percentage based on the total value of all your IRAs (or 401(k)s), as of this coming December 31, when the market is expected to be relatively high. That means the withdrawal will be high and while you may save or reinvest it, you must add it to your income and pay taxes on the amount.

Roth IRAs are exempt from required withdrawals. You should ask your accountant, administrator or financial adviser early next year to begin planning to set aside the funds for the distribution. And let’s hope that the congress or the IRS does us a favor and suspends RMDs for another year.

Income Tax Deductions
If you itemize on your tax returns, I assume you know that all the Medicare (and Medigap) premiums, deductibles and co-pays are tax deductible provided that they, along with other unreimbursed medical expenses exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.

But many taxpayers don’t realize that part of those hefty long term insurance premiums are deductible. Here are the allowed deductions for this year and 2010:

  • Age 40 to 50: $600, $620

  • 50 to 60: $1,190, $1,230

  • 60 to 70: $3,180, $3,290

  • Over 70: $3,980 and $4,110

The self employed may deduct the entire premium regardless of the 7.5 percent threshold.

Entitlement Commission
A warning: As Time Goes By has told us, be very afraid of proposals by Senate conservatives (Democrats and Republicans) to create a bi-partisan commission to deal with the deficit in general and Social Security and Medicare in particular. One reason: that would take the future of these programs out of the hands of Congress.

More important, when will these idiot lawmakers learn that Social Security is not in crisis and the benefits do not contribute one penny to the deficit.

Don’t agree? Need help? Write to

Christmas Day 2009


A couple of weeks ago, Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge sent this video of the most amazing private Christmas light display ever. Enjoy.

And a few days after that, Darlene sent this one – high school students. Darlene is the gift that keeps on giving – in the best possible way. Enjoy the holiday.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Judy Watten: 1940's Michigan Christmas Story

REFLECTIONS: On a Holy Night

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

I’m not of the Christian faith, but I do have a Christmas story to tell. It takes place in the Holy Land. But like too many stories there these days, it does not have a happy ending – not yet. And the recollection gives me a reason to write about one of the saddest stories I’ve covered.

In December of 1971, what was then Knight Newspapers sent me on my first overseas assignment –which I asked for – covering the splendid little war between India and Pakistan that ended with the birth and independence of a new nation – Bangladesh.

I had interviewed the victorious Indian leader, Indira Gandhi after which, my editors sent me to Israel to interview then-Prime Minister Golda Meir who, before she assumed that office, had played a significant role in the government during the Israeli’s smashing victory in the Six-Day War of June, 1967. These two powerful women, who personified their countries, made quite a story.

I landed in Israel just before Christmas and ran into snow when I took a taxi to Jerusalem to make arrangements to see Mrs. Meir. Because of the holidays, the American embassy could find no space for me at any of the hotels. I settled for a room in a former Scotch Presbyterian mission which had been converted (no joke intended) into a motel called “The Scotch House” near Joppa, just south of Tel Aviv.

My room was sparse, more like a monk’s cell, with a cot, a dresser, one dim lamp and no telephone.

I had lost track of time, but among the guests was a group of a dozen nuns from Guinea, a former French colony that became independent only in 1958. They were on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem for it was Christmas Eve, and the bells in the town where Christ is said to have been born would toll at midnight in Manger Square.

They invited me to share the bus ride across Israel through Judaea and what was the occupied West Bank of the Jordan River, part of the lands conquered by the Israelis four years earlier.

It was cold but dry and Bethlehem was crowded with pilgrims and tourists and armed Israeli soldiers. I spent some time browsing in the Arab curio shops in the narrow streets off Manger Square.

Sometime after midnight, I boarded the bus with the nuns for the return ride to Joppa through the desert-like country that had been trod by the ancients. Everyone was tired, but the bus was not one of these modern behemoths and the nuns had to stop for nature’s call.

The Palestinian driver and I smoked as the women disappeared into the brush. Suddenly, on that very clear and starry night, one of them began to sing, and they all joined, in French with a lilting West African accent, for Silent Night which Google reminds me, is “Sainte nuit, Belle nuit, Nuit de Paix...”

It was an unforgettable a moment, a night of perfect peace in that place.

As it is with so many things in that part of the world, the peace was as illusory as a desert mirage. Israel had won a great victory over the combined forces of the most powerful Arab nations, Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Israel had conquered 42,000 square miles and now controlled an area three-and-a-half times its size, including all of Jerusalem and the holiest of places for Jews, Christians and Muslims.

As former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami writes in Scars of War, Wounds of Peace, “A new empire was born in the Middle East with flag of the Star of David being hoisted” from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal and the new border with Syria and Lebanon.

Thus, in my travels in Israel during those few days talking with politicians and academics, I found the Israelis insufferable, full of themselves, celebrating what they believed was their country’s final victory, confirmation of their national existence and an end to the Arab threat.

The Israelis were drunk on hubris, Ben-Ami wrote,

“...for which Israel was to pay dearly. Her orgy of political drunkenness and military triumphalism blinded the eyes of their leaders from seeing the real, not the messianic opportunities that her lightning military exploits opened for her.”

But, he added, the Israelis ignored the people they had conquered and the possibilities of dealing with the defeated Arab nations and making a real peace out of the war.

As Ben-Ami wrote,

“The opportunity was missed to turn the tactical victory in war into a major strategic victory for Zionism that could have made the Six Day War into the last major war of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and an avenue for settlement with at least part of the Arab world.”

But what Ben-Ami called Israel’s understandable “siege mentality,” and her dreams of using and acquiring land for “total security” prevented her from seeing what a few people warned me about. For years the Palestinians had been relatively quiet. Now they were an occupied people in lands they lived on for generations. And they would not remain quiet much longer.

The occupiers, whatever their intentions, became the oppressors, for that’s the nature of occupation. It leads to increasing measures of repression, reaction and repression. And the world, including the U.N. and the U.S., have until now refused to recognize any of the territories as part of Israel.

In 1970, the Palestinians exploded into the Black September movement which was expelled from Jordan by King Hussein. That made the Palestinians in exile Israel’s major problem. And the new Palestine Liberation Organization’s guerrilla violence culminated in the massacre of the Israeli Olympians in Munich in 1972.

I came to Israel next in 1973, for as Ben-Ami points out, it was only a matter of time that the Arab nations sought to avenge the humiliation of 1967. I was vacationing in Britain when the inevitable happened: Israel was attacked on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year among Jews – by Egypt to the south, and Syria in the north.

And when I landed in Israel (I caught a ride on an El-Al plane bringing Israelis home from Europe and the U.S. to fight in the war), all that insufferable confidence was gone. Egyptian forces had crossed the Suez Canal and, for the first time, Israel had lost some territory. And Syria threatened to sweep down from the Golan Heights to Galilee.

As it turned out, Israeli forces flanked and virtually trapped the Egyptian army on their side of the canal before a truce was arranged by the U.S. And the Syrian threat on the Golan Heights was turned back; Israel even gained ground. But, as Ben-Ami pointed out, the limited Arab success, Israel’s days of panic and pressure from the U.S., led eventually to an Israeli acceptance of the need to give up land for peace.

Anwar Sadat’s magnanimous visit to Israel produced the Camp David accords and the return to Egypt of the Sinai. I witnessed that peace treaty, negotiated with President Carter and signed at the White House. And I watched another one signed between Israel and King Hussein of Jordan in a gulley between the two countries, with President Clinton presiding.

These treaties are still in force. But there was no peace with the Palestinians whose stones of the Intifada, like those tossed by the biblical David, gave the Goliath played by Israel great pain. It was the only way the weaponless Palestinians could protest the Israeli settlements that were taking away their lands, homes and olive trees.

I spent time in Israel during the years leading to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, at the end of the first Gulf War. Events, in my mind even now, fall over each other – it was the first time that Israel sat at a table with virtually all her Arab enemies. And under great pressure from the U.S., Israel signed an agreement on the White House lawn to make peace with Yassir Arafat, whose P.L.O. had ended its terrorism.

Alas, the peacemakers, Sadat and Yitsak Rabin, were murdered. Arafat is dead and the Palestinian leaders who have followed seem to have lost their way. Hamas, whose organization had been encouraged by Israel as a religious counterweight to the secular P.L.O., is now Israel’s mortal enemy.

Israel continues to expand its settlements, while seeking its version of peace. Hamas and the Palestinian authority don’t really know the kind of peace they want. This is the story of the Middle East and the seemingly endless and mindless Arab-Israeli conflict: Today’s adversary is tomorrow’s ally. There is no end in sight.

There is a famous story of the frog and the scorpion who make a deal to cross the Jordon River safely. The scorpion will ride on the frog’s back and promises not to sting. But halfway across, the scorpion’s tail stings the frog. And as they both sink, the frog asks, “Why did you do that?.”

“Because it’s my nature,” says the scorpion. “And this is the Middle East.”

But if everything about the conflict is predictably unpredictable, the Holy Land of that Christmas Eve is essentially changeless. Rachel’s tomb is still there, outside Bethlehem. The Cave of the Patriarchs (including Abraham and Isaac) in Hebron is intact, seen after by Muslims.

Bethlehem, a good size city, is a capital of the Palestinian National Authority, such as it is. But Israeli Jews rarely go to there, for they are unwelcome and it could be dangerous. And most of the Palestinian lands are walled off from Israel. The Israelis call it what it is, apartheid.

When my wife Evelyn and I were there last, we could crawl into the place in Bethlehem where it is thought the manger had been. We could visit the Church of the Nativity. And we could browse in the shop I had visited years before. But the peace I had felt there once was nowhere to be found. Not then. Not now.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: Santa's Helper

Reasons to Support the Senate Health Care Bill

category_bug_politics.gif I was surprised at the anger and bitterness in the some of the comments on Monday's post about the Senate Health Care bill. Is it far less than it should or could have been? You bet.

Am I disappointed that President Obama held himself above the fray during the debate and didn't get his hands dirty twisting arms and horse-trading? Absolutely.

Am I furious with the entire Republican contingent who would rather see people die than give an inch to President Obama on any issue? Without a doubt.

However, in the larger picture, something crucial and good has happened: the idea that health care is a commodity to be mined for the profit of a few has lost ground. The idea that health care can be rationed by the ability to pay is no longer acceptable.

Yes, it is true, for the time-being, that private insurers will gain 30 million customers, but they will be severely restricted now from gouging those customers. So let us look at the broad gains contained in the Senate bill.

Within a few broad categories, everyone will pay the same amount for health coverage.

Medicaid will be significantly expanded.

Subsidies for low- and middle-income workers will keep premiums to under 10 percent of their income.

There are caps on out-of-pocket expenses.

There will be no life-time caps on benefits and annual caps will be restricted.

There are limits on emergency room charges for low-income, uninsured patients.

There are new tax credits to help small businesses purchase coverage.

Insurers must take all comers. No longer can benefits be cut off when people get sick, nor can coverage be denied for age, gender and pre-existing conditions.

That last item deserves a bit of explanation – it involves two issues: denial of coverage and denial of care for pre-existing conditions. Both are banned for children and adults as of 2014 when the exchanges, where people will purchase insurance, go into effect.

A dispensation has been carved out for children who, as soon as a bill is signed into law, cannot be denied CARE for pre-existing conditions. That means if you already have insurance covering a child, a company cannot deny a claim for anything they might now label a pre-existing condition.

Not good enough? True. But better than what we have now.

There is another immediate gain for Medicare beneficiaries. The size of the doughnut hole in prescription drug coverage (Part D) is reduced by $500 for 2010. Additionally, beginning on 1 July 2010, low- and middle-income elders enrolled in Part D programs who fall into the doughnut hole will receive a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs and biologics.

Not good enough? Yes. But better than 2009.

For a century, during seven different presidential administrations before this one, health care reform has been attempted and failed every time. Given that history, we have made remarkable progress this year. The bill is far from perfect and it will take many years, perhaps a couple of decades, for it to become comprehensive, fair to all and for the private profit system to be deemed unacceptable.

But we have a beginning. Listen to Eugene Robinson writing in the Washington Post yesterday:

“[L]et's consider the measure's one great virtue: For the first time, we will enshrine the principle that all Americans deserve access to medical care regardless of their ability to pay. No longer will it be the policy and practice of our nation to ration health care according to wealth...

“For anyone who believes it is shameful that the richest, most powerful nation in the world cares so little about the health and welfare of its citizens, this is the moment. It should be seized, not squandered.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Winter's Blush

ELDER GEEK: Playing With Boxes

VirginiaDeBolt75x75Virginia DeBolt (bio) writes the bi-weekly Elder Geek column for Time Goes By in which she takes the mystery out of techie things all bloggers and internet users need to know to simplify computer use. She has written several books on technology and keeps two blogs herself, Web Teacher and First 50 Words. You will find links to Virginia's previous Time Goes By Elder Geek columns here.

One of the questions from back in August when I asked what readers wanted to know was how to put a quotation from a news source in a box on a blog. I'm going to answer that question today, even though some of the bloggers among you may not be able to get to the file that controls this.

Today's post is the geekiest one I've written for Time Goes By. If it makes your eyes cross, please tell me I'm getting too geeky. If you get excited by the geek factor and try it out, please let me know that, too.

CSS means Cascading Style Sheet. CSS is what you use to determine how things look on a blog. If you use Wordpress for your blog, and it is hosted free with a URL like, you may not be able to get to the files that control the CSS. If you are on Blogspot, you can make changes to the template CSS.

If your blog is like Time Goes By, which Ronni hosts on her own domain and controls herself, you should be able to get to the CSS file with no problem.

So, for the bloggers who can work on their CSS, here's how to make a box around a quote.

This image shows a bit of CSS from a Blogspot blog. This is in the template area of the blog. In Wordpress, the CSS is in a separate file called styles.css. Let's use the image to get a bit of education on CSS.


In the image, you see this:

<style type="text/css">

That's where the CSS starts. On Wordpress, or any other place where the CSS is in a separate style sheet away from the blog template, you see only styles with no <style> at the beginning.


That is a comment, an explanation to help you understand the style rule. It does nothing to the blog's appearance.

Finally you see a style rule:

body {
    font-family:"Trebuchet MS",Trebuchet,Verdana,Sans-Serif;

Here's what that rule means. It's a rule that styles the body. It sets a size for the body margin and the body padding. It sets a background color for the body. It sets a color (meaning the color of the words) for the body. It sets a font for the body. All the colons and semi-colons and curly braces mean something important. If you copy what I tell you exactly, you don't need to worry about what they mean.

What to Style, What to Style?
When you quote a source, you should put the quoted material in a blockquote on your blog. On both Wordpress and Blogger, the icon used to create a blockquote in the text looks like an opening quotation mark. When you select some text in your blog post and click the quotation mark icon, the text is indented. That's a blockquote.

You want to style a blockquote. You need a rule in your CSS for blockquotes. Look carefully at the CSS to see if there already is a rule for blockquote there. Sometimes the word "blockquote" is mixed up among a bunch of other words, so watch closely. Here's the rule on my Wordpress blog, Web Teacher. This rule styles blockquotes that are in my content and blockquotes that are in my comments. The things the rule does to my blockquotes are inside the curly braces.

div.entry-content blockquote, div.comments ol.commentlist blockquote {
    background:url(images/blockquote.png) no-repeat top left;
    padding:0 0 0 2em;

When I put a blockquote on my blog, here's how it looks.


The quotation mark image shows up beside the blockquote because of the rule for background. The blockquote rule styles background and margin and padding. What this blockquote does not have is a box around it.

Get to Boxes Around Quoted Stuff Already
To make a box in CSS, you use "border." Border can be added to one, two, three, or all four sides of a box. Borders can come in various widths (1px, 10px, 50px, whatever), in various styles (solid, dotted, dashed, groove, inset) and in various colors (black, gray, blue, or color values like #746f70).

If I added some new CSS about border to my rule for blockquote, here's what I might add:

div.entry-content blockquote, div.comments ol.commentlist blockquote {
    background:url(images/blockquote.png) no-repeat top left;
    padding:0 0 0 2em;
    border-width: 1px;
    border-style: solid;
    border-color: black;

I added a 1px wide, solid border in a black color to my blockquotes. Here's how it looks now.


The background image of the quotation marks doesn't show up now, which I would fix if I really wanted to do this on my blog.

To play around with borders on your blog, try copying my rules. Make sure you get them inside the last curly brace at the end of the blockquote rule, and make sure you include the colons and semi-colons just as shown here.

Then you can change the width or style or color to suit yourself. Don't be afraid to experiment. Save what you change and refresh your blog page to see how it looks. If you don't like what you see, take it back out of the style rules and go back to the original appearance.

If your blog doesn't already have a CSS rule for blockquotes that you can add border to, make one like this.

blockquote {
    border-width: 1px;
    border-style: solid;
    border-color: black;

Advanced Boxes
Each side of the box can have its own border rule. The sides start from the top and go around clockwise. So you can have a rule for border-top-width, border-top-style, border-top-color that is different in appearance from border-right-width, border-right-style and border-right-color. The other two sides of the box are border-bottom and border-left.

You can have a border on only the border-right part of the box and nothing on the other three sides. Or only on the border-bottom and nowhere else. Or a thick border on the right and bottom, with thinner ones on the top and left so it looks like a drop shadow.

Here's a tutorial on borders from w3schools. If you really get interested in boxes and borders, you can learn more there.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Sleuthing the Shelves

Supporting the Senate Health Care Bill

category_bug_politics.gif So the Senate voted early this morning to end debate on their version of a health care bill. Why it was done in the middle of the night is a mystery. After eight months of raucous debate, it wasn't going to slip by unnoticed like those secret pay raises Congress gives itself.

Remember, this doesn't mean the bill has passed the Senate. There will be another few votes on procedural issues this week and then the final vote for passage on - another mystery - Christmas Eve. It's a done deal, they say, but given the obstructionism of the Republicans and the wavering of some Democrats, I don't trust passage until I see it.

Senate Republicans voted en masse against the bill. It is difficult to believe that there is not a single elected Republican who believes we don't need better health care. But many, if not most, hate this bill. Senator John McCain said in no uncertain terms on Fox News Sunday,

"We will fight until the last vote. We owe that to our constituents, because...we must do everything. We must look back and say, 'We did everything we can to prevent this terrible mistake from taking place.'"

A lot was lost from health care in the Senate negotiations – a public option; Medicare buy-in for uninsured people age 55-64; millions of federal dollars for Medicaid that should be shared by all states going to just Nebraska, the last of which Senate Leader Harry Reid called “compromise.” Phooey.

Some of the compromises are stunning in their stupidity. For example, a tax on cosmetic surgery has been replaced with a tax on tanning beds. Those cosmetic surgeons must have a better lobby than tanning bed enterprises since no sane person can make the case for cosmetic surgery over tanning.

Although most of the health care bill will not go into effect for three or four years (another outrage; Medicare went into effect 11 months after the bill was signed), insurers will be prohibited immediately from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Adults are not included until 2014. (How many will die between now and then for lack of coverage?)

On the up side, according to Vice President Joe Biden's Sunday Op-Ed in The New York Times:

”Insurance companies will no longer be able to...drop coverage when people get sick. Charging exorbitant premiums based on sex, age or health status will be outlawed. Annual and lifetime caps on benefits will be history. Those who already have insurance will be able to keep it...”

The bill includes a mandate for coverage and Americans who fail to purchase it would pay a penalty of $750 or two percent of their household income, whichever is higher. This would be fine if there were a guarantee of affordable coverage which there is not. Health care under this bill has been left in the hands of private insurers with no one to compete with but themselves - as it is now.

An additional 30 million people, it is said, would be insured under this plan leaving about 21 million still uninsured.

The bill is so far from what every developed country in the world has that it seems almost useless. It could have been so simple: expand Medicare to everyone. The needed bureaucracy is already in place, most of the kinks have long-since been worked out and it would create a risk pool of the entire population decreasing costs across the board. But our elected officials are venal and weak – that is the only explanation for their intransigence and heartlessness.

Nevertheless, I support the bill and do so because it – along with the House bill with which it must be merged – is a framework, a starting place, a beginning toward healthcare for everyone. It will be many years before that can be fully achieved, but with the legislation in place, health care cannot, as it was in the Clinton administration and seven times before that, be dropped into a black hole for another generation.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mark Sherman: What Were They Saying?

ELDER MUSIC: Christmas in Oz

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.

Christmas in Australia is different from Christmas in the northern hemisphere, particularly the United States. Australia is a considerably more secular country than the U.S. so Christmas is generally treated here as a cultural or historic holiday rather than a religious one. Really, just a good excuse to have some time off work, eat and drink too much.

Another difference is that it falls in the middle of summer so there are no sleigh bells jingling, jing, jing, jingling or chestnuts roasting by an open fire. Okay, there are those things, thanks to the ubiquity of those songs and others at this time of year in shops and on TV and the radio.

We are amused by sights of people building snow-persons, throwing snowballs and the like on TV as we sit watching in our shorts and T-shirts, cold drink in hand.


The times I’ve spent Christmas in America I was struck by how odd it was having to rug up, no crayfish (that’s lobster to you), prawns (shrimps), oysters for Christmas lunch. And as for thinking of going to the beach in the afternoon…


So, a couple of Australian Christmas songs for you.

The first is by this country’s best and most famous singer/songwriter, Paul Kelly. The song seems to have two titles, it’s either Making Gravy or How to Make Gravy. Just the one song, though.

The next is not an Australian song, it’s Fairy Tale of New York. It was written by Shane MacGowan and performed originally by The Pogues. There is an Oz version by Tex Perkins and Clare Bowditch that I prefer not just because they are Australian, but I can understand the words. Besides, I have it on good authority that Tex is much better looking than Shane MacGowan. Doesn’t really mean a thing, even I’m better looking (sorry Shane).

Here are Tex and Clare with the help of Joe Camilleri playing the sax.

If you’d like to do your own comparison, here are The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl performing the song. Surprisingly, Shane was vertical for this song.

To find out what Christmas is like in my neck of the woods, Broderick Smith will give you the unvarnished truth with Christmas in Melbourne.


Christmas in Melbourne

There is a song, not Australian, that I remember from my youth quite fondly. I searched for this one and found that it’s still around, so I have to share it with you. This isn’t the version I remember from back then, but it’s the same song. This is a gentleman named Paddy Roberts (about whom I know nothing).

Okay, one song we all know, and the best version by far of White Christmas is by Otis Redding.


White Christmas

Finally, to bring a bit of couth to proceedings, here’s a Gregorian Chant for Christmas by the Choir of the Vienna Hofburgkapelle.

Indroit for the third Christmas Mass

Now we can get back to our eggnog (in your part of town) or our crisp riesling or chardonnay (where I am).


Gray Matters: Ted

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's 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, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

Despite the sounds and seeming fury of the health care reform debate in the U.S. Senate, it seems to me that it has been missing real passion and commitment from the nebbish Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the too cool and aloof President of the United States, Barack Obama. But what the Senate and the debate has been missing, most of all, is Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

I covered Ted Kennedy for a number of years, including his early days in the Senate as he fought for a place in the leadership, his re-election campaign after the blight of Chappaquiddick and his 1980 run for the presidency. And I’ve talked with other reporters who knew him well. And Teddy’s passion, his personality, his personal and political appeal would have made a difference.

As Senator Tom Harkin, (D, Iowa) has said, “He would lend gravitas to the issue that we’re kind of missing right now.”

Ted Kennedy, who was a young and vibrant 77 until brain cancer killed him on August 25, electrified the Democratic National Convention exactly a year earlier with one of his greatest speeches supporting the election of Obama: ”The work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on,” he said, and he looked forward to the health care reform struggle now before the Congress which he said, is “the cause of my life.”

He came to the Senate infrequently during his long illness, once in 2008 to override George Bush’s veto of child health care legislation. And last year he helped break a Republican filibuster which threatened Obama’s first stimulus which Obama should remember.

Last July, Kennedy’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) passed and sent to the Senate floor its proposal for health care reform, The Affordable Health Choices Act.

It was relatively clean – 615 pages – and it included a strong public plan called the Community Health Insurance Option with reimbursement rates patterned after Medicare. It would have given workers and their families another choice besides private insurance.

And the Congressional Budget Office blessed it as money-saving. Some liberals complained it did not go far enough, but it was a strong bill with premiums no greater than 12.5 percent of a worker’s income, and with government subsidies for low-income men and women (compared with 17 to 22 percent in the current bill).

Unfortunately, it was overtaken by the more right-wing, insurance industry friendly bill of the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D, Montana), who has no record fighting for health care. The ranking Republican member, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, said during Kennedy’s absence: ”If Kennedy were here, it would make melding the Finance Committee bill and the HELP Committee bill much easier.”

Of course, Grassley tried to kill any bill and had no intention of supporting real reform. But he had a point. A Washington veteran who used to be a bureau chief told me that Kennedy would not have dismissed the Baucus bill, as Reid did, but would have found a way to work with Baucus and others on his committee including Democrats and Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, a fellow New Englander.

Kennedy’s powers of persuasion were formidable, especially when he thundered his commitment on the Senate floor.

The former bureau chief added that Republican Senators Orin Hatch of Utah and John McCain of Arizona, both of whom were close to Kennedy “would never have opened their mouths if he were still here.” Without Kennedy on the offensive, he added, “the Republicans have absolutely framed the debate in a way that could kill the whole thing.”

The Kennedy I knew and watched rarely played defense on the Senate floor. Thus I doubt that he would have permitted the Democrats to remain on the defensive with Reid wondering how far he has to retreat and seeming to care little for what’s in the bill as long as he has the votes to break a filibuster.

Watching Senator Joe Lieberman and other Democrats gum up any chance that at least some parts of the HELP Committee bill would make it to a vote, a Boston editor who became a Kennedy watcher said, “It does make me think that Kennedy could have made a difference. By all accounts his ability to cajole colleagues into line, in some cases by securing their commitments in advance was peerless. It might have worked with Lieberman. You have to believe he would have made a difference.”

A Boston friend who covered Kennedy and is still an active reporter said, “If Teddy had still been in the Senate, I think he would have been able to put down any mini-rebellions and figured how to keep Lieberman in the tent.” It would have been difficult for Lieberman or any Senate Democrat to withstand the kind of buttonholing, cajoling and impassioned appeals Kennedy could make.

Some Republicans who won’t vote for any compromise suggest, hypocritically, that Kennedy would have moved to the right to get a bill. Perhaps, but it’s also likely that Kennedy, because of who he is, could successfully resist deal-breakers like cracking down on abortion rights.

Finally, and most important, Barack Obama owes Ted Kennedy a great deal–including the presidency. And my Boston friend says, “I also think Kennedy would have goosed Obama to expend more political capital on this issue early on, when it would have mattered.”

As it has turned out, virtually everything that smacked of real reform has disappeared in favor of the health insurance companies. They can even get away with raising premiums on account of age or preexisting conditions. Or capping benefits.

Obama said all the right things after Kennedy died. But then he always says all the right things. But neither he nor Reid nor any of Kennedy’s colleagues on the HELP Committee have moved to pass the cause of his life.

Some Needed Relief From the Troubles of the World

category_bug_journal2.gif I don't know if I'm slowing down in my old age or if life is busier than usual, but I have fallen hopelessly behind on the to-do list, which has spilled over to two pages for the first time in months. To lower my stress level, I'm taking a mental health day to catch up.

Meanwhile, perhaps you have been following the climate change follies in Copenhagen. Here is a photo with an interesting perspective on the issue emailed by Jeanne Waite Follett who is a regular contributor to The Elder Storytelling Place. You need to know the headline to appreciate it:



At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: Friends

When Television is Really Good

It is fashionable, in certain circles, to claim that television is a lowbrow form of entertainment not worthy of time and attention. I beg to differ.

There are execrable shows, for sure, but I have been impressed in recent years at writers' and producers' willingness to integrate commentary on social issues as subtext to the main plot without making it feel like a lecture or public service announcement.

Back in January, I wrote about an episode of Law and Order that dealt with the difficult issue of age-related memory decline and possible dementia when a judge is caught deciding issues from the bench by reading messages on a laptop written by an aide seated elsewhere. Also, in a nice, little scene at the end, DA Jack McCoy – who is getting up there in years - complains of having difficulty reading in his office ever since the City replaced incandescent bulbs with CFLs. I've had the same problem.

Earlier, a couple of years ago, I recounted this scene from The Closer between Commander Taylor and Chief Johnson (played by Kyra Sedgwick) about an old man named Baxter who is trying to report a murder:

TAYLOR: Gordon found Baxter uncooperative. In fact, the old guy was more interested in asking questions than answering them. So Detective Gordon dumped his complaint in the round file. You know, Chief, we get this kind of stuff all the time. It’s hard enough staying on top of the crimes we find much less the ones people make up.

JOHNSON: (perusing file) I know exactly what happened. Mr. Baxter is old and difficult and because of that he was just dismissed out of hand. [I know] that’s what happened because that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do to him myself.

The scene isn't much longer than 30 seconds, but it is moments like this, repeated in popular media, that help change attitudes.

Another good one turned up this week, again on The Closer, in an episode titled “Make Over.” When the conviction in a past murder case is thrown out due to tainted evidence, Chief Johnson's unit must try to discover new evidence to keep the criminal in prison. One of the detectives, Lt. Provenza (played by G.W. Bailey) – the oldest member of the unit - had closed that case seven years earlier with his then-partner, Detective George Andrews (played by Beau Bridges) who is called out of retirement to help.

Surprise! When former Detective Andrews arrives at the train station he is, to Provenza's shock, now Georgette, having undergone transgender surgery.

Neither Provenza nor the rest of the men on the squad can get comfortable with Georgette's transformation and one bursts forth with a question about what happened to her penis. She answers, clinically, that it has been inverted which is almost too much for Provenza. Georgette further disturbs Provenza by calling him by his first name, Louis, which Provenza apparently dislikes and when she reveals that she still prefers women, it nearly sends Provenza around the bend.

As the investigation proceeds, Georgette proves to be the accomplished detective she had been when still on the police force and by the time they have solved the case, Provenza comes to accept “the best partner I ever had” as she is now.

I have a friend, a man who once worked for me, who has undergone transgender surgery. I flatter myself that I am more accepting of what and who people are than Provenza was at the beginning of the episode but it wasn't easy, when we visited for a long weekend, changing my definition of my friend to woman.

What I discovered is that we unconsciously ascribe different attributes to people depending on whether they are men or women, and we behave differently with each in subtle, nuanced, almost subliminal ways I had never seriously thought about until this experience. Assumptions I had about my friend, based solely on gender, no longer applied and I felt off kilter for awhile.

Having, like Provenza, been there and done that, I believe the show rang true.

After seeing off Georgette in a congenial farewell at the train station bar with Provenza, his current partner Flynn asks, “Are you ready to go, Louis?”

“Call me that once more,” says Provenza, “and Georgette won't be my only ex-partner without a penis.”

Good exit line (for about three or four reasons), and the entire script is well done.

Gays and lesbians have, in the past decade or so, become almost staples on television where they were once invisible. Transgender people not so much, so this program was an important step toward understanding among us all. That it was accomplished without taking anything away from a compelling police procedural is even better.

Television at its best is not only entertaining, it can help nudge attitudes toward more enlightened positions, and we shouldn't be snooty about it.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, pokadot22: The SPCA and Me

The Health Care Reform Sell Out

category_bug_politics.gif The elderblogger giveth and she taketh away. No sooner had I posted what I believed - with reservations - is a compelling reason to be generally hopeful about the Senate health care reform bill than Senate Leader Harry Reid caved to the perennial flip-flopper, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut who demanded removal of the Medicare buy-in for uninsured people age 55 to 64.

After leaving a meeting in Reid's office, Lieberman told reporters Monday evening:

“Harry said, ‘We will do what we can do to secure this.' “He said, ‘I have got some work to do with other members of the caucus.’ But he said, ‘My own feeling is we need you to get to 60 and so I am going to do my best.’”

I'm disgusted with them all, but am particularly incensed today at Senator Lieberman who has never had a political philosophy to call his own, only whatever will allow him to maintain his power along with the spotlight he so nakedly craves. Listen to him in an interview from September this year claiming credit for devising the Medicare buy-in idea:

What changed since then? Lieberman represents the third wealthiest state in the nation, measured by median income, which is also home to a large portion of the insurance industry. Who do we suppose got to Lieberman in the past three months??? As The New York Times notes:

”During his 2006 re-election campaign, Mr. Lieberman ranked second in the Senate in insurance industry contributions. Connecticut is a hub of the insurance business, with about 22,000 jobs specifically in health insurance, according to an industry trade group.”

To make Lieberman's reversal on the Medicare buy-in provision taste even worse, White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is said to have personally urged Reid to cut a deal with Lieberman and “get it done. Just get it done.” Later, a White House spokesperson denied the report although two sources confirm it.

Even good guy senators have caved.

"'How could I not vote for the bill?' [West Virginia Senator Jay] Rockefeller said. 'I have to consider who is looking to me for results and what can I give to them. This makes it easy for me to vote for it.'

“Sen. Paul Kirk, D-Mass., also seemed ready to accept the compromise. In the closed-door meeting, he called for everyone else to go along too, invoking the name of his predecessor, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, and his desire to pass health care reform.”

This is not compromise, it is capitulation to the corporate forces that desperately want to maintain the health care status quo. The White House has been so weak on promoting reform that would make a real difference in the lives of citizens that it is apparent they just want a bill, any bill, by the end of the year and they will crow about reform whether it is or not.

Without a public option and without the Medicare buy-in, there will be, just like now, no choice but private coverage. And get this: No one knows who, but someone snuck a nasty little surprise into the Senate bill that hasn't got nearly the news coverage it should:

”As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not 'unreasonable.' The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials.

“Adding to the puzzle, the new language was quietly tucked away in a clause in the bill still captioned 'No lifetime or annual limits'...

"'We don't know who put it in, or why it was put in,'" said Stephen Finan, a policy expert with the [American Cancer Society's] advocacy affiliate...

“Finan said the change in the Senate bill essentially invalidates the legislation's ban on lifetime limits. 'If you can have annual limits, saying there's no lifetime limits becomes meaningless,' he said. A patient battling aggressive disease in its later stages could conceivably exhaust insurance benefits in the course of a year.”

So now, without a public option or Medicare buy-in, there is no reason to believe insurance will be any less expensive under the reform package, patients will still face a cutoff of coverage in the middle of treatment for catastrophic illnesses and any American who refuses to buy corporate coverage will be fined by the IRS. I'm taking bets on how soon the clause eliminating pre-existing conditions as a reason to refuse coverage will be gone from the bill.

But, hey, that's okay. As President Bush pointed out, there is no health care problem in the United States; people can just go to emergency rooms.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton “Sandy” Dickson: Searching For Answers

A Grammar Rant

It's been a long time since Crabby Old Lady got her knickers in a twist over grammar but last week, Gnomedex founder and all-round technology guru, Chris Pirillo, posted a rant on the subject and Crabby has been muttering to herself ever since.

“It drives me batshit,” wrote Chris, “to see someone use your and you’re interchangeably. Hello! They are not the same word! Are people seriously not learning these things in school, or are they too lazy to type/spell the words correctly?! It makes me want to tear my hair out.”

Crabby's with you, Chris. She has always assumed the grammar police were mostly old people, but Chris is barely past 30, so Crabby is pleased to know there will be at least one person to take up the slack for her when she shuffles off this mortal coil. Someone has to uphold standards.

One expects a publication as esteemed as The New York Times to be on their grammatical toes, but there are increasing numbers of errors in the old gray lady of late. A few weeks ago, a reporter made Crabby's teeth ache, writing: “... with he and his wife, Juliet, expecting their first child.”

Crabby's teachers passed on a number of clever tricks to help students mind their grammar p's and q's. One of them addressed the Times' writer's mistake. When you are unsure whether to use he or him, or you or I in a pair, read the sentence while dropping the other name and you'll hear which is correct.

For example, if you omit “and his wife” in the quotation above, it is obvious you can't say “with he expecting their first child.” Too often, people write or say, “She went to the store with him and I” or “...with he and I.” Drop either one of the pronouns in each phrase and you can easily tell that me is correct, not I, and him is correct, not he - and you don't even need to know that it's a rule about which kind of pronoun follows a preposition.

Another teacher trick involves the choice between amount and number which are commonly misused. If it is a collective noun being referenced, amount is correct as in “an amount of money.” If you can count the items – 1,2,3 – then number is correct as in “the number of dollars.” Crabby hears amount used incorrectly almost every day on television business reports when it should be number. She thinks people who use the two words more frequently that most should know the difference.

A remarkable number (!) of people don't know the difference between then and than, as in “then we went to the beach” versus “it's bigger than a breadbox.” These can't be typos; a and e are on different rows using different fingers on a keyboard. So it must be ignorance.

Crabby reserves her greatest disdain for those who use less when they mean few or fewer. Less calories is nearly universal in television commercials for products related to weight loss and it drives Crabby – to borrow a term from Chris – batshit. Do you know how many people are involved in producing those commercials?

At the ad agency and the production studio, there are the writers, producers, graphic artists, a project manager, art director, account executive, audio and video technicians, a director, the actors or a voice-over artist and a variety of assistants. Does not one of them ever say, “Hey wait a minute, this is wrong”??? How can that be?

A similar number of people are involved in designing food packaging. Next time you're in the supermarket, take a stroll down the diet aisle. Every package that promises to help with weight loss boasts in big letters, LESS CALORIES.


The principle is the same as with amount and number: when the noun is collective, the word is less; when you can count the items in the noun, the word is few or fewer. Example: You will gain less weight if you eat fewer calories.

Whew. That should hold Crabby's ire for a little while. Given the high level of grammatical skill among Time Goes By readers who comment, Crabby Old Lady is pretty sure you will have your own pet peeves to add to this short collection.

The latest episode of Life (Part 2) takes on the physical aspects of aging. A number of people and organizations have created ways for younger people to understand elders' limitations. In this clip, a young man visits one researcher who helps him into an “empathy suit” to simulate some of the problems of an aging body.

You can view the entire episode – The Mechanics of Aging – here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: A Bowlers Lament

A Health Care Reform Revelation

UPDATE: Ashleigh Burroughs, who blogs at The Burrow, has added her photo to the Where Elders Blog feature. You can see it here, and you can add yours too. Instructions are here.

category_bug_politics.gif Through many years, I have maintained a minor fetish for physician/essayists. Since about 1970, the number of books on my shelves from these men (they happen to all be men) who maintain two demanding careers, has expanded to scores.

It began, I think, with Richard Selzer, a Yale surgeon, who has written with clarity, compassion and humor through a dozen books about the body, its parts and the destruction various forces inflict on it.

Lewis Thomas, who died in 1993, held so many important medical positions it is hard to imagine how he also had time to write. The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher is imaginative, bursting with information and like Selzer, witty too. In Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony, Lewis, as usual, covered an eclectic range of topics – alchemy, speech, the Pentagon, the brain and more.

The most well known of medical/science essayists is, of course Stephen Jay Gould who was a biologist, geologist and historian, not a physician. He entertained and educated millions of us from The Panda's Thumb to The Flamingo's Smile and many others before he died in 2002.

[You don't really need to know all that, but I like thinking about these writers who have enlightened and entertained me for so many years in ways that would not have happened without them.]

A new generation of physician/essayists has emerged and my favorite is Atul Gawande, a general surgeon in Boston (which does not begin to explain his accomplishments and credentials) who began writing medical essays at the instigation of his friend and Slate editor, Jacob Weisberg.

So far, there are two collections, Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science and Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance. For the past decade, Gawande has also been a staff writer at The New Yorker where he often writes about our health care system and when I see his name in the table of contents, I usually drop whatever I'm doing to read him.

Last week, in a remarkable essay in that magazine, he took on the Senate health care reform bill, comparing it favorably to the solution to America's agricultural crisis at the beginning of the 20th century.

”Only by improving the productivity of farming could we raise our standard of living and emerge as an industrial power,” he writes...

“The agricultural system was fragmented and disorganized, and ignored evidence showing how things could be done better...laissez faire had not worked...

“Government was enlisted to help millions of farmers change the way they worked. The approach succeeded almost shockingly well. [emphasis added]

Gawande uses the example of Seaman Knapp, an extension agent for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) who began the government's experiment in modernizing farming with just one farmer. Knapp gave the farmer, Walter C. Porter, a list of changes and techniques to improve his crop: better soil preparation and plowing, better seed, fertilizer and cultivation which Porter had never done before.

“ the end of the season, Porter reported a substantial increase in profit, clearing an extra seven hundred dollars.”

The next year, the USDA dispatched 33 more agents to set up similar pilot farms throughout the country. Word of the success of these experiments grew among farmers and by 1920, there were 7,000 federal extension agents throughout the then-48 states.

The USDA created other initiatives: comparative-effectiveness research, tracking the origin of various blights, created hybrid varieties, new kinds of fertilizers and mechanization, a weather forecasting system, a food-grading system to discourage substandard quality and more as, through the years, these innovations arrived. And, importantly, by way of radio stations and print reports, the agency created an effective method of providing all this information to farmers in a timely manner.

“What seemed like a hodgepodge (of programs) eventually cohered into a whole,” writes Gawande. “The government never took over agriculture, but the government didn't leave it alone either. It shaped a feedback loop of experiment and learning and encouragement for farmers across the country.

“The results were beyond what anyone could have imagined. Productivity went way up, outpacing that of other Western countries. Prices fell by half...

“This could not happen by fiat. There was no one-time fix. The same goes for reforming the health-care system so that it serves the country's needs.

Gawande then explains how health care in the U.S. is as inefficient, diffuse and disconnected as farming was a hundred years ago. In our current system, he says, the country's thousands of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, drug companies, device manufacturers, home-health agencies and individual physicians each pursues its individual interests with, overall, terrible outcomes.

“ rewards doing more over doing right, it increases paperwork and the duplication of efforts, and it discourages clinicians from working together for the best possible results. Knowledge diffuses too slowly. Our information systems are primitive. The malpractice system is wasteful and counterproductive. And the best way to fix all this is – well, plenty of people have plenty of ideas. It's just that nobody knows for sure.”

As with farming, trial and error are what will improve the system, says Gawande, and that is what the Senate reform bill provides - dozens of programs that “would test various ways to curb costs and increase quality.”

“...hundreds of pages of these programs, almost all of which appear in the House bill as well, but the Senate reform package goes a few USDA-like steps further. It creates a center to generate innovations in paying for and organizing the end, it contains a test of almost every approach that leading health care experts have suggested.”

In addition to mounds of commentary, I have actually read – well, skimmed a good deal – the 2,000-plus pages of the Senate reform bill. (By the way, those 2,000 pages are not really all that much reading; there are only about 15 to 20 lines per page.) What I didn't appreciate, before reading this essay, is what a vast undertaking it is and how good the bill might actually be – if understood with Dr. Gawande's comparison.

I, like virtually everyone, including all the media and the 100 senators who are for and against the bill, have concentrated only on the most simplistic aspects - cost, competition, public option and the sideshows of abortion and socialism attacks – rather than the complex whole.

If Dr. Gawande is correct in his comparison to agriculture in the early 20th century, the members of the Senate Finance Committee, who wrote this extensive bill (and let's not forget the scores of anonymous Senate aides who do much of the research and work) are to be congratulated in giving us a comprehensive starting point of “pilot programs” as Gawande calls them.

How could I have thought, as expressed in all the previous stories on reform here, that we could get a bill that would need only a few tweaks down the line. The problem is so much bigger than that.

I urge you to read this essay. It transformed my thinking on health care reform and gives me the first real hope for success, as lengthy and, sometimes, unfair it will be until we get it right.

”...if we're willing to accept an arduous, messy, and continuous process we can come to grips with a problem even of this immensity,” writes Gawande at the end. “We've done it before.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: Breakfast at Tiff... I Mean, Pablo's

ELDER MUSIC: Singing about Jazz Musicians

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.

Dizzy, he was screaming
Next to O.P. who was beaming
Monk was thumping
Suddenly in walked Bud and then they got into somethin'

That’s the start of a tune called In Walked Bud written by Thelonious Monk and Jon Hendricks.


Jon Hendricks had an ability to write coherent lyrics to the most complex recorded improvisations. This tune demonstrates this, along with his extraordinary singing. He may have been the best jazz vocalist ever. Well, best male one anyway. Here are Jon and Monk performing In Walked Bud.

Monk and Hendricks - In Walked Bud

The tune was written about the still-teenaged Bud Powell when he used to hang around Minton's Playhouse in Harlem - pretty much where bebop was invented - in the early forties. It wasn’t long before he was sitting in with the house band of which Monk was a regular member and Dizzy Gillespie would also often join to jam. Here are Bud and Monk.


Bud Powell, like a surprising number of jazz musicians, was classically trained. Not so surprising on second thought; there was little chance of a classical career for black musicians at the time. Bud was adept at fast runs on the piano that Charlie Parker and Dizzy were playing on their horns. No one had done that before.

BudPowell2sm Alas, by the fifties Bud was in and out of mental hospitals and his performing and recording career was erratic but the quality of his playing was still apparent until about 1953, when the ravages of alcoholism, an earlier beating administered by police and electric shock treatments began to take a toll on his technique.

In 1959, Bud got himself together and went to Paris where other American jazz artists had found a comfortable environment along with a willing and discerning audience.

He returned to New York in 1964, and made a triumphant return to Birdland, but his success was short-lived as he quickly descended back into alcoholism. He died in obscurity and neglect at the age of 41 in 1966.

The film, Round Midnight, is a fictional account of Bud’s time in Paris with a fine piece of acting by Dexter Gordon playing him (as a sax man).

This is the Bud Powell Trio with Reets and I.

Bud Powell - Reets and I

Dizzy Gillespie is the obvious next choice as he was also mentioned in the song.

He was a member of Cab Calloway’s band for a couple of years but Cab fired him as he didn’t like the way Diz played his music calling it “Chinese Music,” nor did he like his sense of humor. Diz then joined Billy Eckstine’s band where he met Charlie Parker.

After he left Billy’s band he played in small groups and invented bebop along with Bird and Monk and a couple of others. There’s a lot more to Diz’s musical career, too much to describe here.

In 1964, Diz decided to run for president. He promised that if he were elected, the White House would be renamed The Blues House with a cabinet composed of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, Thelonious Monk and Malcolm X. He said his running mate would be Phyllis Diller.

I think he did about as well as Goldwater that year. Here’s Dizzy before he bent his trumpet.


There are several theories about why he had a bent trumpet and I won’t bore you with them all. I don’t know why nobody asked him while he was still alive. Of course, perhaps they did and Diz is the source of all the different stories. He was known as a bit of a jokester (thus his nickname).

This is Wee with a rather handy band consisting of Diz, Stan Getz, Sonny Stit, John Lewis, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Stan Levy.

Dizzy Gillespie - Wee

Mark Murphy sang jazz in the seventies and eighties  Actually, he’s still around singing jazz. Like most jazz singers, he sang the songs of his contemporaries - in Mark’s case his contemporaries were people like Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder. That’s okay with me. He also wrote songs.

This is called Parker’s Mood. In the second part of the song, you will hear Jack Kerouac reading from his book, The Subterraneans, extolling Charlie Parker. It demonstrates that Kerouac reading his own prose is another form of jazz.


Mark Murphy - Parker's Mood

Kerouac1sm Incidentally, Kerouac made an album of his prose backed by Steve Allen playing the piano. I don’t have it but I’ve heard several tracks and it’s mighty fine.

After Parker’s Mood, I could only play some Charlie Parker himself.

So much has been written about Bird that I really can’t add anything (how’s that for a copout?) except to say that when the authorities checked his body when he died, they wrote that he was a male about 65 years old. He was 35 when he died.

Coincidentally, I turn 65 next year and I have the body of a 35-year-old (I included that to entertain my friends who are rolling around on the floor laughing right now). But seriously folks, here is Parker playing KC Blues with Miles Davis on trumpet.


KC Blues - Parker with Miles

GRAY MATTERS: Access to Physicians

SaulFriedman75x75 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the weekly Gray Matters column which appears here each Saturday. Links to past Gray Matters columns can be found here. Saul's 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, also appears at Time Goes By twice each month.

None of the proposed health reforms will fix one of the most troublesome problems for patients and their families – reaching a doctor after hours or on a weekend. That’s a major reason emergency rooms are packed at night and on weekends with sick and feverish people in great distress and getting sicker.

And that’s not going to get better anytime soon. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there is a shortage of primary care physicians and it’s likely to get worse in large part, ironically, because the health insurance reforms will increase access to care when there will be fewer family doctors to provide basic and timely care.

Even now if you really need your doctor, after, say 4PM, it’s likely you will get this message: “If it’s an emergency, hang up and dial 911...or call 555-4444 and ask for the doctor on call.” In that case, while you’re waiting anxiously, if or when he or she calls back, you will be told to go to the emergency room anyway.

It used to be that you could get your doctor on the phone to ask his or her advice. Or there was a time when your physician, who you assumed was primarily responsible for your care, would meet you in the emergency room to see to your needs, or at least call ahead (as one of my doctors did a few years ago) to clear the way through triage.

No more. Now you’re passed, like a buck, to the emergency room physician on duty or to a “hospitalist,” your doctor’s designated hospital representative, neither of whom ever laid eyes on you.

It’s difficult to get through to your doctor even during office hours (“Your call is important to us”). And it used to be that you did not take a crying child running a high fever out in the cold. Now you have no choice. It’s either a walk-in clinic, where you may have to pay cash, or the emergency room.

I’m not blaming doctors or the medical profession. We all have our doctor stories but today, beleaguered physicians as well as patients have become the prisoners, or victims, of corporate for-profit medicine and the demands of insurance companies (including Medicare and its regulations).

Doctors work under great pressure, accepting too many patients, often in large practices owned by a corporate entity, trying to keep up with the latest drugs and developments, and dealing too quickly with each patient no matter their needs. Many abandon individual practices that they can’t afford for multi-physician specialties that operate like factories. And although they have lives in their care, most don’t get rich. Last time I looked, doctors earned on average about $200,000 a year, nowhere near what a Wall Street trader makes for producing nothing.

No wonder thousands of doctors, including most of my own, favor single-payer national health insurance. Not surprisingly, a survey last year by the University of Indiana School of Medicine found that support for such a system was particularly strong among emergency physicians (69 percent), pediatricians (65), and family doctors (60).

“Across the board,” said Dr. Ronald Ackerman, who helped direct the survey, “more physicians feel that our fragmented and for-profit insurance system is obstructing good patient care.”

I’d go further; under these circumstances, present patient care can be downright dangerous or frightening especially or if you are really in trouble or you’re older, like me. I don’t ordinarily become personally involved in these columns, but permit me to cite a couple of my recent experiences, because they are not untypical and relevant.

On a Friday evening, a usually routine urological procedure which many older men undergo, went awry with bleeding. Stuff happens. But the doctor’s office was closed and the emergency room –where the wait was less than an hour – was the only recourse. Further complications, included blood clots in the catheter and great pain, which mean a night in the hospital attended by strange doctors. And there were two more night time trips to the emergency room that week.

The surprised urologist was dismayed by my problems and shocked that I had to wait hours in the emergency room for help, but he did not come to the hospital to see to my care. One of his nurse-practitioners told me later, “We can’t be on call 24 hours for every patient.”

Actually, I’m told by a doctor friend, they are responsible for my care – for 24 hours or however long it takes. The total bills, for Medicare and my secondary insurer will come to more than $8,000.

One more story about the same time: As some of you may know, I am a survivor (nearly five years) of esophageal cancer. But during my last checkup, my oncologist suggested a new endoscopy to find the cause of some internal problems. That was done in early November by the gastroenterologist who had discovered my cancer in 2005, and he reported finding “causes for concern.”

He ordered biopsies, the results of which, he said, would not be available for nearly two weeks. Why so long? There were others ahead of me, he said. The doctor’s report would be available via phone recording, but not for two weeks.

You can imagine my anxiety, especially because the oncologist reading the initial report sent me an email suggesting one possibility was a recurrence of the cancer. But he too was puzzled by the long wait for the biopsy results. And in response to my pleas, late on a Friday afternoon, he reached the gastroenterologist. The biopses were available – and negative; apparently I had had a mild stomach inflammation.

Why hadn’t he let me know sooner? When I complained, he told me he had been busy with other patients. “The ideal is not always achievable,” he wrote. “I got no call of alarm from the pathologist about you.” So it was not necessary to call. He had 100 patients and could not notify all of them, he said.

National health insurance, if it ever comes, will not solve all such problems in modern medicine. But perhaps it may relieve the pressure of having to make enough money to support large factory-like practices so a urologist and gastroenterologist could pay closer attention to their patients. When you are too busy to do that, you are too busy.

A similar experience to ask about? Write