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ELDER MUSIC: 1950s – Pre-Heartbreak Hotel, Part 1

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

category_bug_eldermusic These tracks were chosen by Norma, the A.M. (Assistant Musicologist), with occasional comment from her. “I remember these when I was very young,” says Norma. “Now I’m not so young, but just call me Peter Pan anyway.”

There are people of a certain age (not quite so early baby-boomers) who seem to think that music started with Heartbreak Hotel. The A.M. is not one of those and she’s going to prove that.

There was an obvious way to start today’s music and although I usually eschew the obvious, I couldn’t resist it. To start the ball rolling this is Get Out Those Old Records by Mary Martin and her son Larry.

Mary Martin

Mary was a Broadway and film actress, starring mostly in musicals. Larry is Larry Hagman, star of I Dream of Jeannie and that other program.

Although Mary appeared in nine films in her career she was generally passed over for the filmed version of the musical plays in which she starred. She said she didn’t particularly like making films anyway – there was no audience to play to.

So, let’s get out those old records…

Mary Martin - Those Old Records

Originally the A.M. had The Stargazers performing I See the Moon at this point. I asked her if she had played it and she said she hadn’t and was relying on her memory. I played the track for her and she gave it the flick, as I expected she would, and has substituted Harry Belafonte.

Harry Belafonte

Harry’s a lot more to my liking. Perhaps we should throw in The Stargazers at the end to see what you think. No, I wouldn’t be that cruel.

Harry started his career in music as a club singer in New York. The first time he appeared in front of an audience, he was backed by a band that included Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis. Talk about starting with the best.

Once he began recording, his first big-selling single was Matilda which pretty much set the style for most of his big hits through the fifties, including this one: Jamaica Farewell.

Harry Belafonte - Jamaica Farewell

There is no way that you can’t sing along to Shrimp Boats. Well, I guess if you’re unfamiliar with it that wouldn’t be true, but I imagine anyone who regularly tunes in to TimeGoesBy would know the song. [Otherwise you’ll get the hang of it by the second chorus.] The singer is Jo Stafford.

Jo Stafford

Jo’s musical career began in a group with her two sisters imaginatively named The Stafford Sisters. After the other two got married, she joined the Pied Pipers who teamed up with the Tommy Dorsey band. They backed Frank Sinatra on some of his early recordings. Eventually, she went solo (or occasionally duetted with Frankie Laine) and was the first artist to sell 25 million records for Columbia Records.

Their sails are in sight, so let’s get those shrimp boats a’comin’.

Jo Stafford - Shrimp Boats

I bet I just have to mention Frankie Laine (I already have) and you would break into song. Maybe not today’s tune but it wouldn’t matter as he had so many, all of them good.

Frankie Laine

Frankie was born in Chicago of Italian immigrant parents. His father at one time was Al Capone’s personal barber. Hmmm, better watch the razor.

Frankie’s early singing influences were Enrico Caruso and Bessie Smith (see if you can hear them in this track). He was a lifelong friend of Nat King Cole who recorded some of Frankie’s compositions, and he appeared on Nat’s television show for nothing when it was unable to get a sponsor. He played a significant role in the civil rights movements of the fifties and sixties.

Frankie started out as a jazz singer, but his versatility meant he could perform in a variety of styles – gospel, rock, folk, country, jazz and blues were all covered.

Here he performs Moonlight Gambler.

Frankie Laine - Moonlight Gambler

While there is some dispute about which song of Patti Page’s to include, there is no argument about which one to leave out. Hint: doggie, window (in spite of the A.M.’s father buying the 78 rpm record for her – or possibly for himself?) I doubt if Patti’s too concerned though as I imagine it was a nice little earner for her.

Not just that one either; she sold more than 100 million records in her career, probably the largest number of any female singer. Not many males sell that many either.

Patti Page

I won’t bother mentioning all her hit songs as I’m sure some will be included in future blogs of this kind. The track the A.M. has chosen is Mister and Mississippi, sort of a companion piece to the Frankie Laine track.

Patti Page - Mister and Mississippi

Louis Armstrong needs no introduction from me.

Louis Armstrong

Louis was one of the most important and influential musicians of the twentieth century. He changed the way jazz was played and his singing style is still influencing singers to this day. This is A Kiss to Build a Dream On.

Louis Armstrong - A Kiss To Build A Dream On

Follow this link to 1950s – Pre-Heartbreak Hotel, Part 2.

GRAY MATTERS: Long Term Care

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.

Another piece of Ted Kennedy’s dream of universal health care may be lost in the compromise meat grinder that has produced a deformed, complicated, top heavy and unpopular pro-insurance company bill – his proposal to begin building, for the first time, a civilized policy for the long term care of millions of elderly and disabled Americans.

First, the apparent loss of a strong public Medicare-like choice among the insurance options, included in Kennedy’s bill, will likely mean that private insurers won’t offer younger workers and aging boomers long term care insurance at an affordable price. Only a few employers, including the federal government, offer such policies.

But more specifically, there is doubt that Kennedy’s measure, called the CLASS Act (for Community Living Assistance Services and Support) will survive in the health reform legislation strong enough to be any good.

The CLASS Act, though far from adequate, would provide for workers to voluntarily contribute to individual accounts that eventually would pay part (perhaps $100 a day) of the cost of their long term care. Some suggest this should be mandatory.

It would be the first, small step towards a public program to eventually provide long term care for every American who needs it. Naturally, it is opposed by long term care insurers and their allies among Republicans, and conservative Democrats who worry more about the bottom line than people’s well-being.

So far, the proposal does not have a high priority among advocates of health care reform, including the White House, for they’re concentrating their efforts on the 47 million middle and working class people, mostly young, who are without basic health coverage.

Yet AARP said years ago that the lack of a long term care policy was the nation’s “greatest unmet health care need.” And little has changed. Just as the young don’t plan for the infirmities of age, it’s easy for policy makers to ignore the needs of elderly American couples facing the terrible time when one or the other needs long term nursing care – at home or in an institutional setting.

It didn’t have to be that way. President Obama, mistakenly, I think, abandoned his own earlier views and refused, from the beginning, to consider the long-standing congressional proposals by the two most senior House members – Michigan Democrats John Dingell (1955) and John Conyers (1965) – to provide Medicare for All. It would have gradually eliminated the costs of health insurance, which, along with payroll taxes would have financed universal health care including long term care. See the text of the bill here

But Obama, who has since retreated on the public option, said the country was not ready for Medicare for All despite advice to the contrary from his own Chicago-area doctors. But I doubt he even read the Dingell or Conyers bills, nor did most interested Americans, for as I’ve written, most of the main stream press blacked out these single-payer proposals for months while the debate was taking shape.

The Washington Post ignored these bills. Even the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Commonwealth Fund and AARP declined to include the proposals in their discussions on the grounds that they did not have a chance to pass, thus guaranteeing that their self-fulfilling prophecy would be fulfilled.

But I have digressed, for I meant to emphasize that among the biggest gaps in Medicare coverage – which many older Americans don’t realize - is that it does not cover long term nursing care. After a three-day hospital stay, Medicare will cover – with high co-payments to be paid by the beneficiary or his/her supplemental insurance – up to 100 days in a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation, say for a hip replacement or to recover from an accident. And that’s all.

If your partner, spouse or loved one needs long term care, meaning help with what are called the “activities of daily living,” or ADLs, such as bathing and dressing, Medicare will only help pay for medical needs. I repeat, for nursing care, at home or in an institutional settling, there is no rational, national public program for the long term care of the elderly.

In this, America is alone among most of the countries of Europe; we say we venerate the aged, but our policy doesn’t reflect that.

There is long term care insurance, but the cost for a 65-year-old is hardly affordable at about $3,000 a year – if he or he has no illnesses and can qualify. The long term care insurance industry exhorts workers to buy when they are young and the cost is relatively inexpensive.

But chances are a person will pay the premiums for 25 years and never use the policy; less than one in three need long term care and nursing home stays are relatively short. A long term insurance policy usually has limits, in dollar amounts or the length of stay. And as an investment it sucks for unless you spend considerably more, there is no surrender value. If you don’t use it, you lose the thousands you’ve spent.

In addition, many insurers raise the premiums when the beneficiary is old and can least afford it. Not surprisingly, some drop their policies. Several insurers have changed hands, or they have sought to save money by challenging claims, when the beneficiary is at a disadvantage seeking to appeal. Most of the very old in nursing homes tend to be widows. And despite inflation riders in some policies (which cost more), many do not keep up with the cost of a nursing home, now averaging between $79,000 and $125,000 a year depending on where you live.

The Bush administration and Republican congresses, which rejected any public long term care program, have sought to encourage the purchase of long term care insurance by allowing people to deduct portions of the premiums as part of their medical costs. They’ve even encouraged people to take out reverse mortgages on their homes or sell their life insurance policies to finance long term care policies.

But more important, the last Republican-led congresses have sought to make it more difficult for the middle and working class elderly to use the only public program that has become a vehicle for long term care – Medicaid. It may be demeaning for families and couples to turn to welfare to get long term nursing care for a loved one, but it has been the only alternative for millions of the elderly.

Medicaid, passed around the same time as Medicare, is a federal program, administered by the states, that provides comprehensive medical care, including medicines, for the poor – people whose incomes are beneath or just above the official poverty line. But over the years, with the help of elder lawyers, families have found that with planning, they can “spend down” the savings of a loved one, impoverishing him or her, to get long term nursing care. That’s called “Medicaid planning” and it has become an elder law specialty.

A few years ago, at the behest of the long term care insurance industry, the Republican congress made Medicaid planning a crime, but the “granny goes to jail” attempt was unenforceable and dropped.

Nevertheless, Congress has since made it tougher to take advantage of Medicaid requiring, for example, that a beneficiary wait five years and exhaust his/her savings before becoming eligible for Medicaid in a nursing home.

Thus you are poor, but have worked most of your life, Medicaid long term care is a blessing, but it means spending your last days on welfare. And even those funds are being cut by many states hard-hit by the recession. Nursing homes by law may not discriminate between the paying and Medicaid patients, but they do. And fewer doctors will take Medicaid patients because compensation rates are low.

Among couples or families with modest nest eggs, their problem is how to avoid impoverishing the spouses (most are women) who remain at home when a loved one must be sent to a nursing home.

Under the arcane law, the spouse may keep half the couple’s assets up to around $109,000 (not counting the home, a car and the spouse’s personal IRAs, if any). In addition, the spouse is limited to a monthly allowance of up to $2,739 a month – not a lot to pay for food and other bills, taxes and upkeep on the home while looking after a husband in nursing care.

Some states allow the spouse to refuse to pay any bills for his/her loved one in nursing care and keep all their next egg, if any. That means that a wife must sign an affidavit abandoning financial responsibility for the father of her children. But even then, hard-up states can and do sue to get the Medicaid money back from women whose savings are diminishing.

I’ve gone at length into this thicket to demonstrate that middle-class families, as well as working couples who have been the backbone of American society, are obliged to scheme and, yes, cheat and give up their savings and dignity to get loved ones on welfare to obtain long term nursing care. That is how America treats millions of its older citizens.

A few year ago a woman, a former gym teacher in the New York public schools, told me that she had just put her husband in a nursing home because he was suffering from rapidly advancing Parkinson’s. A lawyer helped her impoverish him to get him on Medicaid. After years of hard work in the garment industry, he was on welfare and she hoped, with her teacher’s pension and their savings, she would have enough to live on for the rest of her days.

“Who knew we would live this long?” she lamented. Little has changed in the years since. And now, with all the talk of health reform, there will be no long term care and few seem to care.


SOTU: The Morning-After Let Down

category_bug_politics.gif In the end, Crabby Old Lady surrendered to the State of the Union address on Wednesday evening. It's difficult for a hardcore Washington watcher to ignore big political moments, and it's just easier to see it live than play catchup in the morning.

What's not to like about President Obama when he turns on the rhetorical charm. Plus, he shares with Vice President Biden an irresistible smile that makes Crabby Old Lady feel good. Most of all, behind his public face, there is evidence of actual thought which has been an ongoing relief for Crabby after the eight years of the previous administration.

It was a good speech – as far as it went. He touted his modest successes, scolded Congress and both political parties, said some of the right words about middle class hardship and jobs and, the best moment of the speech for Crabby, bit the ankles of the Supreme Court – six of whom were sitting directly in front of him - over their corporate personhood decision. Privately, Crabby gave him a B minus.

So why did she wake up Thursday morning feeling dejected about the state of our union?

. . .

Crabby wrote that sentence at about 10AM yesterday. This one is being written at 4PM. In between, she has wandered around the house doing a few mindless chores while trying to find the answer to that question. (Talk about writing yourself into a corner.)

Six hours later, Crabby may have found it:

None of the proposals in the president's speech are bold enough. Although he seemed to be trying to empathize with the hardships under which the country is struggling, it felt tepid. Crabby did not sense that he understands the rage and anxiety pretty much everyone has been living with every day for nearly two years.

That's the short version.

This is the harshest era of economic difficulty since the Great Depression. We all know unemployment is twice the official number. Millions have lost their homes to foreclosure. Newly minted graduates cannot find their first jobs. No one, including the president, mentions anymore that the collective savings of Americans were decimated by more than ten trillion dollars in the 2008 crash. (On that point, elders have been particularly hard hit because they have no hope of recouping their losses.)

Additionally, salaries have been flat for more than a decade while the cost of essentials has steadily increased. Out of curiosity, Crabby checked some current employment ads for the kind of work she was doing the last few years before she retired; salaries are about half what she was paid.

After nearly a year of work in Congress, health care reform is still not finished and what exists on paper has been so neutered, it can hardly be called reform. Millions of kids in the U.S. go to bed hungry at night. And untold numbers of adult children, having lost their jobs, would be living in the streets if mom and dad hadn't welcomed them home.

Anyone not living in the bubble of the Washington political scene can feel the anxiety in the air. On Wall Street, the numbers crunchers tell us the recession is over; on Main Street, we are waiting for the other shoe to drop, suspecting it will hurt even more than the first one. Is it any wonder seething rage at multi-million dollar bank salaries and bonuses is also everywhere?

Crabby is not telling you anything you don't know. Her concern is whether the president knows - he lives a long way from Main Street.

Or, maybe the problem is that for all his soaring rhetoric, Obama cannot connect, in the style of President Roosevelt's fireside chats, on a visceral level that Crabby, for one, wants to hear. She also believes that if he could make that leap, his proposals and actions would be the bolder, bigger and stronger ones the country needs.

But he can't do that by clinging to the fantasy of bipartisanship. The Republicans have no intention of working with the president; they prove with "no" every day in Congress. As to the Democrats, Obama is the leader of the party and it's time to take charge. It might be useful to read up on Lyndon Johnson.

Even if the president can find the outsized courage for the audacious moves our times call for, it will be years before there is equilibrium again - when there are enough jobs to go around, banks return to reasonable lending practices to keep the economy on an even keel and people can again plan for their futures. Whatever the president does or doesn't do, our patience is called for.

We elders know a lot about that. The oldest TGB readers grew up during the Great Depression. Those of us who are a bit younger heard the stories from our parents who did and we learned how to scrape by in hard times.

Our troubles are every bit as deep as during the Great Depression and need a much greater effort than Crabby Old Lady heard from the president Wednesday evening.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Quotes

GAY AND GRAY: Traveling While Gay

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 One of the things I like about aging is that it makes "traveling while gay" more comfortable. What's that mean? Happily, after a certain point in life, the fact that two women might prefer each other's company to that of men they encounter ceases to act as a slightly dangerous affront. Some of us may regret that gray hair can make us apparently invisible to young things, but I'm sure lesbians are not the only women who rather like not receiving unwanted attention.

No, I don't think this works quite the same way for gay men: perhaps more of them might like to be noticed by younger men. Certainly I know older gay men who bemoan their age-acquired invisibility.

In the present United States, it is somewhat unusual for more or less visible LGBT people to encounter trouble when we leave our usual haunts, but this has not always been true. All of us over a certain age instinctively watch our backs in new settings.

Nonetheless we've often wanted to travel; in consequence since the 1960s, there have been many gay travel guides that pointed to bars and other public venues where being gay was okay. In the early 1990s, I remember one aimed at lesbians called Are You Two Together? That title catches the flavor of the mild caution that still goes with traveling.

Since some gay travelers feel safer with their own kind, there is a good-sized market niche for gay travel agents, package tour providers, even a lesbian cruise line. These trips aren't my idea of a good time, but I have known people who loved them.

I've enjoyed some wonderful benefits of "traveling while gay." When you go someplace where being gay is harder, if you do manage to make contact with the local LGBT community, you can find yourself quickly admitted to aspects of the local life you would not have seen otherwise.

Sometimes people don't announce that they also are gay, but they take you under their wings. I've experienced this in South Africa, Lebanon, and Mexico among other places. Sometimes your welcome is very explicit.

In Cuba in 1988, when gays were just beginning to get out from under serious state repression, we spent a lovely afternoon hearing tales from two gay Havanans. Some years later we saw the Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate and realized the central gay character might well have been modeled on one of our Cuban acquaintances.

Traveling while gay leads to "the bed question." It's pretty normal in U.S. hotels for a single room to include two double beds but most of the world gets by with less excess. Recently in Patagonian Chile, my partner and I were asked, in a rural hosteria, did we want (single) beds or a "cama de matrimonio" (double bed)? The innkeeper didn't blink when we chose the latter.

One feature of traveling while gay that our straight friends might not be aware of is the high proportion of LGBT people who seem to work in the "hospitality industry" all over the world. I don't know why this is - maybe dealing with tourists is considered a little adventurous or perhaps sleazy in traditional societies, just the spot to park a weird uncle or aunt.

Anyway, the result is that occasionally, gay travelers get what we think of as "family" benefits. Last summer I was part of a gay group who enjoyed this kind of special welcome in Anaheim. But my partner and I have also encounter this in places as different from each other as El Calafate, Argentina and Amman, Jordan.

In the latter location, the sprightly young male hotel staff took one look at us, explained they wanted to offer us a choice of two different rooms, and successively showed us a dark one with single beds and a large, well-lighted one with a double bed. They also gave us exceptional service when we later herded a group of Americans around in that unfamiliar place, all with big, knowing smiles.

Historically, one of the more painful features of traveling while gay has been crossing borders. After all, my partner of thirty years and I are just "unrelated adults" when it comes to dealing with immigration and customs authorities. Sometimes, signs at borders advise us that "individuals" and "families" must present themselves separately. This seems to be easing. On a recent trip, we had no trouble approaching authorities together in either Chile or Argentina and were stunned to be told at U.S. Customs: "Same address? -- you only need one form."

This was new to us, and sensible, and the kind of thing that feels huge if you've never had it. I don't know if this is a policy change or just an individual agent's adaptation, but I expect it is policy. Bravo.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: A Priceless Gift

Dreaming the State of the Union Address

category_bug_politics.gif As you undoubtedly know, President Barack Obama will deliver his state of the union address to Congress and the American people tonight. Crabby Old Lady is trying to ignore it; she may not watch. (She recorded both flavors of NCIS and White Collar last night, so there is plenty of distraction available should she want it.)

And, watching in real time is no longer important. The speech will be online and the punditocracy will be picking it to pieces even before Obama finishes; the same old, same old from the same, tired old crowd. Anyway, Crabby thinks she knows what to expect:

A bit of the president's now-patented, soaring rhetoric; a recital of the progress made attacking our great recession (something noticeable only to the White House and Wall Streeters); and, apparently, announcement of a freeze on discretionary spending (except for the military and related agencies) which no legislator of any political stripe likes even before its official presentation.

And for comic relief that will have the pundits in a tizzy for a week, perhaps some Republican will shout a rude inanity.

Political maven she may be, but as Crabby Old Lady writes this, NCIS and White Collar are looking like a better choice.

Here are a few things the president could say but that Crabby expects to hear only in her dreams:

“I know I've harped on the success of the stimulus package in creating jobs. And some jobs were created - just not enough and too many were short-term make-work. So, taking a page from FDR, which I should have done a long time ago, tonight I announce the 2010 New Deal. Beginning immediately, we will create works agencies that will start with fixing the infrastructure of the United States.

"Remember that? A few years ago, there was a big to-do about our bridges, roads, dams, railroads, waterways and more that are crumbling, but except for the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis, no one did anything about it. Now we will fix all that while putting millions back to work – not just in the blue collar jobs for the heavy lifting, but all the necessary related jobs – accountants, attorneys, project managers, technologists, transportation, manufacturing, etc. along with support business that will spring up in local areas around these projects. We will also...”

The end of attempts at bipartisanship with Congress
“God knows I've tried for the past year, but there has been nothing but no from Republicans with not a single, credible alternative. Sometimes we Democrats are our own worst enemies, but I think if we ignore the Republicans, we can recapture the spirit of cooperation we found during the campaign and will be able to move ahead on our own to solve the many problems our country faces. We welcome any Republicans who want to join us, but only if they have something more to offer than a filibuster.”

Bringing home the troops
“No one knows why our forces are in Iraq and Afghanistan, least of all me, and there is not a single person in the United State (or elsewhere) who knows what victory would be. We have spent a treasury of trillions, lost thousands of young lives. It is time to stop and leave those countries to their agonies.”

Bank regulation
“I am ending the doctrine of too-big-to-fail and will work with Congress to bring back Glass-Steagall, among other efforts to ensure that banks no longer risk your money on casino-style, esoteric investments that got us into our economic mess.

"To help that along, I am backing down on my support of Ben Bernanke for another term as head of the Federal Reserve. In addition, I will appoint some new economic advisers who are not dizzy from too many turns through the Wall Street/Washington revolving door, people whose future employment, after my administration, does not depend on keeping Wall Street bankers happy.”

Health care reform
“I can see now that I was wrong to take single-payer off the table at the beginning of the health care initiative. The Senate bill has become so weakened that not even elimination of pre-existing conditions for adults remains. On the other hand, ninety-six percent of our elders like Medicare and are well taken care of under that system. It makes much more sense to extend Medicare to everyone and in expanding the risk pool to the entire population, health care costs will become affordable for all.”

Entitlement Commission
“On Tuesday, the Senate rejected the Conrad/Judd debt commission proposal - also called entitlement commission. Just a couple of days before that, I said I would create such a commission by executive order if Congress did not. However, since then, I have discovered a terrific blog called Time Goes By where a woman who calls herself Crabby Old Lady and a Pulitzer Prize-winning contributor to that blog, Saul Friedman, have written extensively about why this commission is a bad idea.

"They have convinced me that debt reduction should not come out of the hides of our elders. Social Security and Medicare did not cause the meltdown, so tonight, I withdraw my support of the commission and we will find other ways to attack the national debt.”

And so on. Crabby is pretty sure TGB readers can dream an even better State of Union Address than she has.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Gone For Good

ELDER GEEK: The Secrets of Blog Commenting

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.

Ronni recently posted Attention Email Subscribers - and Others Too here to explain the ins and outs of how to make a comment here. I thought I'd add a bit more to that with a few tips and tricks about commenting in general.

First, I want to emphasize again that the only way to comment on a blog is to actually visit the blog web site. You can't do it by email. You can't do it in an RSS reader. You have to visit the blog on the web.

Let's start by looking at the comment form from Time Goes By.

comment form from Time Goes By

Under the form field where you type your comment, you see this:

(You may use HTML tags like <b> <i> and <ul> to style your text. URLs automatically linked.)

You often see this on comment forms. It's telling you that you can use a few basic HTML tags in your comment. If you type in a URL it will automatically be clickable. Be warned, however, that most blog platforms flag a post with more than one URL because they think it's spam.

Often, HTML tags that aren't mentioned in a small blurb like this one can be used, too. I know for a fact that Ronni's blog comment form will accept a link written like this: <a href="">Some site</a>.

Since I've left comments on this blog several times, it recognizes me and fills in my information. If I decide I want a different link or email address here, I can edit it before I submit.

Time Goes By gives you a chance to preview your comment before you submit it. Some blogs don't do this.

Here's a different comment form from a Wordpress blog at 1 Woman's Vu.

comment form from 1 woman's vu

This form doesn't specifically tell you that you can use some HTML, but often it will work even when the form instructions don't tell you it will. This form has features you can select that will email you when other people contribute to the discussion. Sometimes blogs have this notification feature selected by default so if you don't want to follow the discussion you need to deselect it.

Blogs at are a particular gripe of mine. I don't like the comment form there and generally complain every time I try to comment on a blogspot blog. It's because I have so many blogs. Hopefully it doesn't drive you as crazy as it does me. Here's an example from Advanced Style.

comment form from Advanced Style

Blogspot is a Google property, so if you have a Google account, the default choice for identifying yourself in the comments is your Google information. For me, this means my comment would be linked to a blog that I created as an example for one of the books and not to any of the blogs I use with regularity. Not what I want.

Blogspot offers several options as to how I can identify myself. If I choose Open ID, I can select a Wordpress blog I do use regularly, but only if I'm logged into the blog at the time. The same is true if I choose the Name/URL option and add a Wordpress blog. I have to be signed in to the Wordpress blog.

The best advice I can give you about commenting on blogspot blogs if you are a Wordpress user is to log in to your Wordpress account before you even get started on the comment. If you don't, your comment disappears into the ether when you try to submit it and you must attempt to recreate it after you go log into Wordpress.

Blogspot lets you comment as Anonymous, not something many other blogs do. Blogspot also has the word verification form, which is an accessibility barrier for many people. While I love me some blogspot blogs, I often get frustrated with the blogspot commenting system.

Some comment forms use CommentLuv. Here's an example.

a comment form with commentluv

If you select the box next to the CommentLuv logo, the last post from your blog (as you entered it in the website field of the form) will show up as a link in your comment. This is a nice feature for commentors who are bloggers because it increases the incoming links leading to your blog.

Often, blog comment forms allow you to reply to someone else's comment published comment. Here's an example from BlogHer.

a comment with a reply option

If you click the "Reply" link, you are responding to the comment. You may comment on the entire post, but by using the Reply link, you can comment on what another commentor said. On BlogHer, as on many other large sites, you can also report comments as spam if you think they are simply linkbait. Some sites let you report comments as objectionable for whatever reason.

Another feature of published comments is that they often come with their own URL or permalink. Here's a comment that was published on my blog.

a blog comment with a permalink

By clicking the permalink link, you find a URL linking directly to a comment. You might want to write a post about something on your own blog, and mention your comment about the topic on another blog, including a link to your comment.

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At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: Ain't It Somethin


category_bug_journal2.gif Reducing the amount of salt Americans consume by one-half teaspoon (1200 milligrams) per day could reduce the annual number of deaths in the U.S. by 44,000 to 92,000. That is according to a new study published last week in The New England Journal of Medicine. (The report is behind a paid firewall, but an editorial in the same issue, which is available online, contains much of the data.)

A national campaign to cut salt intake, something on the order of the anti-smoking campaign, could

“...reduce the annual number of new cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) by 60,000 to 120,000, stroke by 32,000 to 66,000, and myocardial infarction by 54,000 to 99,000...This intervention could also save 194,000 to 392,000 quality-adjusted life-years and $10 billion to $24 billion in health care costs annually. Even if the intervention reduced salt intake by just 1 g (1,000 milligrams) per day, the benefits would still be substantial and would warrant implementation.”

Average salt intake in the U.S. is well above the upper recommended limit of 2300 milligrams of sodium per day. For adults older than 40, the upper recommended sodium limit is 1500 milligrams per day.

I hardly ever add salt to food on my plate and I have always used combinations of various herbs and spices, rather than salt, in cooking. The kinds of snacks I crave tend toward sweet rather than salt. You won't find potato chips or salted nuts in my cupboard, but I get a little nervous if there isn't something available for an unanticipated sugar attack.

Nevertheless, there is an astonishing amount of sodium even in what are considered healthy prepared foods. Campbell's soups commonly contain 800-900 grams of sodium per one-cup serving. I like having soups around for a quick-and-easy lunch or dinner, but store brands almost all contain high amounts of sodium.

A one-cup serving of Progresso lentil soup contains a whopping 980 milligrams of sodium. I tried an “organic” brand of vegetable soup that blared “no salt added” in red lettering on the can that has only 70 grams of sodium per serving. It was awful. It tasted like lumpy hot water. So, it's back to home-made soup which can be full-bodied and delicious without a single grain of added salt, but it is not a definition of quick-and-easy.

I've recently rediscovered the pleasures red beans and rice so I keep canned beans on hand for when I'm too lazy or don't remember to soak dried beans. But you must read labels. Here's an astonishing bit of information:

  • Goya Red Kidney Beans: 110 milligrams of sodium per half cup
  • Goya Dominican Red Beans: 350 milligrams of sodium per half cup

What's in the cans is similar enough and they taste the same as far as I can tell, so I choose the kidney beans.

According to the The New York Times, which reported on this new study, the Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies of Science will soon release recommendations on reducing salt intake, including actions the government and food manufacturers can take. One of the NEJM study's researchers,

”Dr. Bibbins-Domingo also said the Food and Drug Administration was considering whether to change the designation of salt from a food additive that is generally considered safe to a category that would require companies to give consumers more information alerting them to high levels of salt in food.”

I've known many people who crave salty food, so much so that I usually warn dinner guests that they may want to salt the food - and they usually do. Some people I've worked with never considered lunch to be a complete meal without potato chips on the side. My personal food bete noire is sugar, which has its own health implications. But controlling salt intake has always been easy for me:

• Don't eat packaged or processed foods

• Don't add salt to food

• Use lots of herbs and spices to flavor dishes

• Small amounts of such flavorings as mustards, horseradish, ginger, citrus, etc. can make a dull dish tasty without salt

No one is saying cutting out salt or cutting down alone will prevent stroke or heart disease, but it is well known that large amounts of salt can be damaging to health, especially in old age. What about you? Do you work at controlling salt intake?

[ADDENDUM: There is a marvelous book by Mark Kurlinsky titled (don't laugh) Salt: A World History that is definitely worth its salt, a substance that in various eras and places, has been used as currency. Kurlinsky has written equally fascinating histories of cod and of the oyster.]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Colleen Redman: After the Golden Globes and in Honor of Valentine's Day

ELDER MUSIC: George Frideric Handel

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

category_bug_eldermusic Pick your own spelling of his name - English, German or somewhere in between.


Handel was born at Halle in Lower Saxony in 1685, the same year that both Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti were born. I don’t know if that’s significant or it just means 1685 was a good year for music.

His dad (a barber-surgeon and valet) was opposed to his son's wish to pursue a musical career and wanted George to study law at the local university, but his mum encouraged his musical aspirations. Bit of dissension in the Handel household by the look of it. Dad eventually was persuaded to let him study music with the local church organist.

Handel (Boy)

That’s Handel as a boy.

He acquired a good foundation in counterpoint and organ playing and he was away. Here is some of his organ work, the second movement of the Organ Concerto No 1 in G Min Op 4.

Organ Concerto No 1 G Min (2)

After leaving Halle, he traveled to Hamburg where he became Kapellmeister to George, Elector of Hanover, who would soon be King George I of Great Britain.


That’s Handel, not George One.

After his sojourn in Hamburg, Handel went to Italy. During his stay there, in spite of his reputation, he didn’t seem to have secured any commissions from the Medicis (the local bigwigs). There were rumors that he had a fling with the soprano Vittoria Tarquini, a favorite (and lover) of Prince Ferdinando de' Medici. That would explain a few things; I’m surprised he got out of Italy intact.

While there he wrote the Dixit Dominus. This is Viram virtutis tuae from that, Charles Brett is the counter-tenor.

Viram virtutis tuae

He then went to England and settled there in 1712, possibly at the behest of his old mate George One, and became a naturalized British subject thus allowing me to say that he was the best British composer ever (pipping Henry Purcell, who died young but was a real contender until then).


That’s Handel, not Purcell.

And this is the Flute Sonata in E Min “Halle” No 2.

Flute Sonata E Min Halle No 2

The first George (too many Georges in this tale) died and Handel was commissioned to write some anthems for the coronation of George Two who took over his father’s kinging business. One of these anthems, Zadok the Priest, has been played at every British coronation ceremony since. In spite of that, and in spite of it being an over-performed piece, I like it, and here it is.

Zadok the Priest

Handel did extremely well for himself and was not only good with a tune, he was also a canny investor, withdrawing his stake in the market just before the South Seas Bubble burst, only to re-invest again when the market was buoyed by the Bank of England’s rescue package. Hmm, now where have we heard something like that recently?


He was rolling in it when he died. Among other legacies, he left £20,000 (an enormous amount for the day) to a niece. That’s about a gazillion dollars today. He also left gifts to his other relations, servants, friends and to favorite charities (including the wonderfully named Fund for Decay'd Musicians). This is his Concerto Grosso No 3 in G Maj Op 3.

Concerto Grosso No 3 G Maj Op 3

It was probably his wealth that did him in. He was known to indulge in the finer things, the best food and wine and these, almost certainly, caused lead poisoning as wine, beer, gin and various foods were seriously contaminated by lead in those days. Given his excessive intake, he was more exposed than most.


I’ll leave you with the Oboe Concerto No 1 in B flat Maj, Op 3.

Oboe Concerto No 1 in B flat Maj, Op 3

GRAY MATTERS: Pete Peterson

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.

Pete Peterson is still at it, and he’s still wrong. He’s the billionaire financier who, along with his Wall Street buddies watched the economy burn, let dozens of old companies go bankrupt, a couple of hundred banks close and millions of people get thrown out of work.

Yet here he is again, as I remember him more than a decade ago, crusading with his billions to cut the Social Security benefits, disability and survivor insurance payments for millions of Americans because he believes that the $120 or so a month that they get will break the United States.

But this time, alas, his hopes to slash and burn the social insurance contracts with America, are getting some sympathy in the Congress and even the White House, more on which in a moment.

I do not exaggerate; I am merely carrying to their logical conclusion his efforts, now before the Congress, to sharply change, replace and certainly cut the nation’s twin social Insurance entitlement programs for older and disabled Americans. Peterson, a former cabinet officer in the Nixon administration, supported George W. Bush’s 2005 failed effort to turn Social Security into millions of Wall Street accounts.

He profited from Bush’s tax cuts for high-end earners and he remained silent in the face of billions in off-the-budget war spending. Yet, as Ronald Reagan once did, Peterson and his right-wing allies are deliberately using the growth of federal deficits they helped create to argue for reining in spending on Medicare and Social Security, neither of which he will ever need.

Peterson gets a good and respectful press as a fiscal conservative. So it would be instructive to look back on his crusade, for according to historian and Guggenheim Fellow Theodore Roszak, in his 1998 book, America the Wise, Peterson is one of the first to call attention to “The Gray Peril.”

Instead of celebrating the great strides in achieving longevity, says Roszak, Peterson invoked fear that the fast growing population of layabout older Americans and aging boomers will overwhelm America’s economy and its social, medical and cultural structures.

Roszak recalls that in 1996, Peterson, who made billions as CEO of now-defunct Lehman Brothers then as co-founder of the private investment firm, the Blackstone Group, wrote in The Atlantic that senior entitlements are unsustainable, undeserved, unprincipled, and unfair. Said Peterson,

“We now face public budgets strained to the breaking point by demographic aging which will crowd out all forms of capital accumulation, private and public, material and human.” He saw (the horror of it all) “a nation of Floridas” as part of “a gray wave of senior citizens that fills the state’s streets, beaches, parks, hotels, shopping malls, hospitals, Social Security offices and senior centers.”

Peterson’s money created the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, run by former comptroller David Walker, the Concord Coalition, headed by Peterson and most recently, The Fiscal Times for which he hired out-of-work journalists - all of which has been aimed to reduce the budget deficit by slashing entitlements, especially the largest and most lucrative for Wall Street - Social Security, which provides benefits of more than $620 billion a year and has nearly $3 trillion in reserves, much of which is in special, interest-bearing Treasury bonds.

It’s more than strange that the press should take his age-mongering seriously for despite the economy’s meltdown, Social Security was able to give its beneficiaries raises of nearly six percent last year and, according to its (mostly Republican) trustees, is safe and solvent for at least another 30 years, which is more than many banks, blue chip companies and the late Lehman Brothers could say.

Social Security, celebrating 70 years of helping millions avoid poverty, may become the last defined benefit program standing, as private companies end their traditional pension systems for those iffy, market-oriented defined contribution 401(k)s that Peterson and friends favor.

Defined contribution plans are not good for retirement, say the experts, but they’re a good way for business to shift responsibilities to employees.

But even the fiscal uber-conservative Alan Greenspan, has said Social Security’s projected shortfall in 2037 is “not a big problem” and could be solved without slashing benefits. His 1983-4 commission, appointed by Reagan, which so many seem to have forgotten, fixed Social Security for 75 years with various actions, including raising payroll taxes in order to provide benefits for the 76 million aging boomers who, Peterson says, will overwhelm the system. The boomers are aging, but Social Security and the nation have not been shaken.

It is true that Social Security has run into temporary trouble because high unemployment has diminished its current receipts in payroll taxes, but it ruled out a cost-of-living raise for the next year or two to save billions and the system has ridden out other recessions without missing a benefit payment and is expected to do so again.

In 2009, Social Security took in $180 billion more than it paid out and the Congressional Budget Office said full benefits can be paid through 2043.

Another point seemingly ignored by these deficit crazies is that Social Security, while paying out retirement, disability and survivor insurance benefits, does not cost the federal budget a single penny aside from its administrative costs. I repeat, Social Security is not a drag on the budget; indeed it earns $700 million a year in interest.

Specifically, because of the extra work and thousands of new personnel required by new programs and the recession, Social Security has asked for $11.6 billion in 2010 for its more than 71,000 employees and 1,400 offices throughout the country. That’s less than one percent of the total benefits it pays and it is the only budget expenditure for Social Security.

So why this “entitlement hysteria,” as the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait called it a year ago? Social Security is no longer the problem it has been, said Chait,

“but among Washington’s establishment types who remember those days, the issue retains its totemic significance. Entitlement hysteria becomes less a response to a crisis than an expression of statesmanship.”

Thus Peterson, with the help of the hack media, has persuaded members of Congress, like Senators. Kent Conrad (D. N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R. N.H.), to propose a deficit reduction commission to focus on controlling entitlements – Social Security and Medicare – and to come up with cost savings solutions that Congress must either approve or disapprove without amendment.

And while that is not expected to pass, President Obama, who has pledged not to weaken Social Security or Medicare, is about to cave in to Peterson’s allies and sign off on a similar type commission to cut the deficit in general but entitlements in particular.

AARP, which strongly opposes such a commission, along with virtually every aging organization, labor unions, advocacy groups and most Democrats, has noted in a paper on “Entitlement Growth and the Economy” that entitlement spending has actually been stable as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product for the past two decades and by 2016 “it will still consume about the same share of the economy as it did when Reagan was elected.”

The great exception is the alarming growth of health care spending, including Medicare and Medicaid. And that’s one reason Peterson and company should be supporting rather than opposing Democratic efforts to pass proposed health reforms, including the $500 billion in Medicare savings over ten years, much of it in subsidy payments for private insurance companies, which Peterson’s fellow Republicans and Wall Streeters are trying to torpedo.

If Peterson and others were truly worried about the deficits, they would be in the front ranks of those fighting for universal health care and an end to the trillions that are being spent on war.

Why does Peterson concentrate his efforts on Social Security? He gave his motive away in 1996 when he complained that the growth of Social Security among other entitlements “will crowd out all forms of capital accumulation.”

Give Peterson his due; he’s smart enough to know that Social Security is not in serious difficulty, that it’s not a big drag on the federal budget and that it’s not a “Ponzi scheme,” as some ignorant right-wingers charge.

But Social Security’s nearly $800 billion a year in income and its growing trust fund are tempting for a shrewd financier and the Wall Street crowd; they demonstrated that in 2005. What a prize it would be for the wonderful world of finance if, as Peterson now proposes, at least part of Social Security’s revenues and its trust fund could be available for investment or government programs to his liking.

Fellow Wall Streeter and present Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a co-conspirator in the financial disaster, testified last month before the Senate Finance Committee and called for cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare to lower the deficit. He aimed not at higher taxes, but the entitlements to balance the budget which would make more capital available for investment.

He explained, “Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money is. The money in this case is in entitlements.”

Pete Peterson must have applauded. Will Obama become an accomplice?

Questions? Write to

The Supreme Court's Awful Decision

category_bug_politics.gif In a week of rotten political news, it got worse yesterday. The Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-to-4 decision, rolled back almost all restrictions on corporate spending in federal election campaigns. And get this: Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the (conservative) majority, said:

"Because speech is an essential mechanism of democracy - it is the means to hold officials accountable to the people - political speech must prevail against laws that would suppress it by design or inadvertence."

I'm no legal scholar and those who are, if they read this little blog, would surely dismiss me as an ignorant simpleton, but it looks to me that in that one sentence Justice Kennedy massively contradicts himself. In the Court's unleashing of corporate election spending with no limits, he cites holding officials accountable to the people.

Ahem. Corporations are not people.

Okay, that's not strictly true or, rather, it has been an ongoing debate in legal circles since 1886, with – you guessed it - the doctrine of “corporate personhood” winning most of the time, as it did yesterday. If you are interested in the history and arguments pro and con, Wikipedia has an overview that will get you started on this esoteric, but important concept.

For many years, I have kept a miniature copy of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution on my desk.


I use the little book when various clauses and amendments come up for discussion in politics and the news, like yesterday. I frequently dip into it at random and not infrequently, I read it all the way through. Of all the cultural uber texts, these two documents are my favorites. The Declaration and Constitution are overflowing with references to people.

We the people... becomes necessary for one people...

...all men are created equal... is the right of the people...

...retained by the people... the people.

...elected by the people...

And so on. These are thrilling documents - and nowhere within them does the word corporation appear. Nevertheless, the personhood doctrine is not just being upheld with this decision, it has been expanded.

Reaction to the decision yesterday was swift and, aside from the usual suspects, negative. Senator Russ Feingold (D. Wisc.) took an historic view in his statement:

“It is important to note that the decision does not affect McCain-Feingold's soft money ban, which will continue to prevent corporate contributions to the political parties from corrupting the political process. But this decision was a terrible mistake.

“Presented with a relatively narrow legal issue, the Supreme Court chose to roll back laws that have limited the role of corporate money in federal elections since Teddy Roosevelt was president. Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns.

“Just six years ago, the Court said that the prohibition on corporations and unions dipping into their treasuries to influence campaigns was 'firmly embedded in our law.' Yet this Court has just upended that prohibition, and a century's worth of campaign finance law designed to stem corruption in government.

“The American people will pay dearly for this decision when, more than ever, their voices are drowned out by corporate spending in our federal elections. In the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to pass legislation restoring as many of the critical restraints on corporate control of our elections as possible.”

Given the nihilism of Congressional Republicans, I don't hold out much hope for Feingold's legislative initiative.

Now that corporations and labor unions can spend as much of their collective trillions as they want not only on issue advertising, but in support or opposition of individual candidates for Congress or president, what possible chance do “we the people” have. This year's mid-term Congressional election will be like no other we have ever seen.

It is bad enough that corporations have bought most of our elected representatives with their campaign contributions. Now they can buy the people's votes. I am heartsick for my country today.

The Washington Post has an ongoing page linking to reactions to the decision from all over the web. And SCOTUSblog has more.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Grandma Ida

A Beautiful Archaic Skill

category_bug_journal2.gif How can a blogger, especially one who blogs every day, forget to blog? That's what happened to me yesterday.

The painter was here to put the finishing touches on the kitchen and dining room, and then Jerry with the snow blower arrived and when the painting was done, I was eager to get the rooms back to their normal condition, pictures hung, furniture replaced, etc. It all took longer than I would have imagined and well - next thing I knew it was nearly dinner time and I had no story written.

Life just gets in the way of the blog sometimes, so here's a quick take on something we elders may be the last generation to know about.

When was the last time you wrote or received a personal, hand-written letter? Not just a birthday card. Nor an invitation with a note appended. A real letter chatting about life. In my case, it has been decades. Perhaps not since my great Aunt Edith died in about 1985.

So imagine my delight when I found this in my mailbox yesterday.

Stan's Envelope

And it's not just any scribbled address – look at the gorgeous calligraphy. It is a letter from a young friend whom I met when we both attended Chris Pirillo's Gnomedex conference in Seattle in the summer of 2007. Stan, who blogs at wanderingstan, has visited me twice here in Maine and he is currently living for a year in Berlin.

Stan has a number of esoteric interests, such as calligraphy, and he didn't stop with the envelope. The entire letter is written in his beautiful hand.


He was kind enough to mention that he isn't, as he put it, “trying to shift our discussion to a new medium,” and I'm grateful for that. Since I took to computers full time in the mid-1980s, my handwriting has greatly deteriorated, so much so that sometimes even I can't translate what I've written. When it must be readable, I print.

In fact, I think I've lost the fine motor skills needed for reasonably clear longhand and when I have occasionally tried to write more than grocery list, I'm annoyed that my writing can't keep up with the speed of my mind as it can on a keyboard.

I'm sure most of you remember the hours we spent in grammar school practicing script – aiming for perfect Os and Ls and Qs – all those flourishes on capital letters. When we were kids, beautiful handwriting was still an admired skill.

There isn't much use for it these days. Kids learn to type pretty much while they're learning to read and who knows how far that will be carried as voice recognition software improves. I wonder if schools will stop teaching handwriting.

It was a delight to receive Stan's letter yesterday. It's almost worth framing as an example of an archaic art.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: My Favorite Job

REFLECTIONS: Press Conferences

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.

There is a reason reporters, especially on television, let guests whom they interview get away with lies – as when CNN’s John King failed to contradict Mary Matalin Carville when she said there had been no terrorist attacks during George Bush’s presidency. And ABC’s George Stephanopoulus was silent (and later apologized) when New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani told the same lie.

I think that’s because television has made entertainers out of too many of us.

During my time reporting on presidents, from Lyndon Johnson through Bill Clinton, I came to dislike those televised East Room press conferences at the White House. For over the years, they came to epitomize the news business as entertainment with the supporting roles willingly played by the press.

For one thing, they rarely produced real news unless it was inadvertent, as when Richard Nixon answered a question in November 1973, during the height of the Watergate scandal with the assertion, “I’m not a crook.”

That actually took place during a lengthy question-and-answer session, mostly on Watergate, at an editors’ meeting, not at the White House. I remember that Dan Rather was the aggressive questioner.

For the most part, the stories out of the White House news conferences merely reported and reflected the message the president wanted his audience to hear. And most of the coverage was straight stenography. In my bureau, to its credit, at least one of us would be assigned to critique the conference and analyze, on the basis of reporting, what lay behind what the president said and what it meant. But that practice died at many newspapers for lack of space or reportorial know-how.

I also had little use for these (and most other ) presidential news conferences because if I was working on an exclusive story, I didn’t want to share my information with others; instead I probed knowledgeable sources on Capitol Hill, or inside the White House, or I asked the press secretary to put my question to the president.

Besides, it was difficult at a televised press conference to prod and poke the president with challenging, argumentative questions which was my style. It would have been frowned on, even by colleagues, as disrespectful.

During a Ronald Reagan press conference, a radio reporter who is now a prominent television personality, asked the president, why, if he was interested in peace as he had said, did he send several warships to patrol the waters of a Latin American nation that was defying the U.S.? Later, one of her bosses who had watched the press conference called to tell her: “Your job is to find out how many ships he’s sending, rather than questioning his policy.”

When President Nixon called a press conference amid nationwide student protests at news that he had widened the Vietnam War into Cambodia, a colleague waiting for the president in the East Room whispered to me, “I’m going to ask him what the hell do you think you’re doing?” I told her I’d back her up with a similar question, but we both chickened out. He was the president, after all.

Presidents have not always been treated kindly by televised press conferences. Johnson, who was personable, strong and persuasive in one-on-one encounters with reporters, came across as uncomfortable and insincere in press conferences. Nixon was under siege and acted like it as he grappled with the expanding Vietnam War and mass protests during his first term and a series of scandals ending in Watergate.

In those days, before the television networks became dominant, the news conference began with the president recognizing the two major wire services, the Associated Press and United Press International, for the first questions. (Helen Thomas of UPI could always be counted on to ask the most pertinent question). Then reporters leaped to their feet, shouting, “Mr. President,” and pleading for recognition. It was a chaotic scene.

That changed with Reagan because he was so taken aback by the shouting, he didn’t know whom to choose. So his press handlers, mostly David Gergen, laid down a new rule. Reporters were asked to stay silent in their seats and raise their hands for recognition. Reagan, we learned, seemed to be partial to the color in red so many of the women in the press corps wore red to his news conferences and it worked.

Later, Gergen gave Reagan a chart showing where reporters were sitting so he could call on those whom the White House preferred. Gergen also changed the location of the podium in the East Room so that the president could stroll directly to it down the red carpet and not have to mix with shouting reporters on his way in or out. It was much more civilized, but it was a step towards turning the press conference into a scripted performance. (Reagan was easily flustered as when he admitted the truth of the charge that his administration had traded arms for hostages held in Iran.)

But every president since has adopted the Reagan setting, which was done strictly for the camera – as well as for the protection of the president from the press whose howling questions were stilled.

Thus has evolved the increasing importance and presence of television, first with the three major networks and then cable. And many local stations sent their crews to the White House, adding to the pack in the press room and the news conferences with equipment and reporters, most of whom sought to be stars.

In such an atmosphere, the White House press was tamed at the news conferences and I don’t remember a time when the president was challenged or provoked with questions on policies. That docility seems to have been carried over even outside the press conferences partly because, as I learned, there are consequences.

When I was younger and didn’t know any better, I got into an argument at a press conference with Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, a staunch segregationist who threatened the “Freedom Riders” who were on the way to the state in 1961, after they encountered violence in Alabama. Barnett ended the conference and I was blamed.

In 1995, I was in Atlanta doing a piece on then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich when the Oklahoma City bombing of the federal building was the big news. I confronted Gingrich, after he had denounced the bombing, and asked him pointedly if his constant anti-government rhetoric created a climate for the bombing. He pounced on me and so did the local press.

In 2004, Irish television reporter Carole Coleman nearly created an international incident with her 12-minute interview with President George W. Bush when she dared to interrupt him when he dodged her sharp and repeated questions about his justifications for the Iraq war. The White House protested and canceled her scheduled interview with Mrs. Bush.

But now, more than ever – at a time when the press is losing its newspapers and its way – reporters need to ask pointed, impertinent questions: “Mr. President, why do you seem to back away from every fight and retreat on the public option, the closing of Guantanamo, rendition, don’t ask don’t tell? Did you make a deal with the drug industry, which just raised prices?”

For the liberal darlings Representative Barney Frank, and Senator Chris Dodd: How come you have not been able to move to restore Glass-Steagall? Why have you allowed the banks to make billions going back to their old ways?”

For right-wingers like Representative James DeMint, who said the president has never used the word terror in the face of evidence that he had: “Why do you and your allies lie about this president? Do you have no respect for the office? If so, how have you shown it?”

And to the press: “Why do you take seriously and without challenge the most outrageous assertions about this administration?”

It is true that commentators like Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow ask good and argumentative questions of guests. But they are mostly aimed at people who expect to play their straw man roles.

As Matthews and Maddow point out, no reporter has confronted former Vice President Cheney with his record of being dangerously wrong. Fox News interviewers have yet to challenge any of Cheney’s assertions. On the contrary, when the reporters from the online Politico interviewed Cheney, they simply listened. When George Bush’s spokeswoman Dana Perino said, on television, that there had been no terrorist attacks on Bush’s watch, she wasn’t challenged.

That, of course, is not journalism. But it’s not entertainment either.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Charlotte Alexander: Teaneck and Tadpoles

The Annual Big-Deal Snowstorm Photos

REMINDER: Today is Call-In-Day to let our senators know that S.2853, on which there will be a vote this week, is a terrible idea. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please, please read yesterday's post. You can reach your senators at 1.800.998.0180 or you can find their direct telephone numbers at this website.

category_bug_journal2.gif It started on Sunday when weather forecasters predicted an overnight snowstorm. This is my fourth Maine winter and I thought I had learned to estimate the amount of accumulation when the weather people get dodgy about it, as they did on Sunday. I figured five or six inches which, by Maine standards, is almost a spring day.

Instead, this was the first really big snowfall of the season. Here is what my car looked like on Monday morning, and the storm still had three or four hours to go. By the time it was finished, there was about a foot of snow but a lot of larger drifts from the wind.

Snow Covered Car

I was lucky. A city snow plow came through my block but only pushed snow to the other side of the street. Look at this poor guy's car:

Another Snow Covered Car

One of the things I've learned about clearing cars and sidewalks and driveways is that there seems to be an unwritten rule that whoever gets there first with the shovel or snow blower gets to push the snow onto someone else's car or sidewalk. Of course, your neighbor who waits until later might return the favor and then you're back to square one. What a mess the block was.

Snowy Street Scene

It's important to get the driveway cleared on big-time snow days because the city calls a parking ban to be able to plow the streets. No street parking between 10PM and 6AM. At my apartment house, we cram three cars into our driveway. Here is my best winter friend, Jerry, with his snow blower in the back of our driveway.

Jerry with the snowblower

I brushed the snow off my car and Jerry dug out more than a foot of it all around so that I could get past the first obstacle – opening the door; snow had been piled above the door handle. Jerry, as always, did a terrific job with the snow blower so driving into the parking area was easy.

Clean Car

If you think you detect a tone of annoyance in this post, you're not wrong. In three-and-a-half winters (there will undoubtedly be more white stuff this year), whatever enchantment I once felt when Mother Nature transforms the landscape in this way has left me.

There was a time – all the 40 years I spent in New York City – when huge snow storms delighted me. I liked to be outside before anyone else - even in the dark - so I could make the first footprints. The last winter I lived there, the city had the biggest snowstorm in its entire history of record-keeping. Greenwich Village was a wonderland.

This was my backyard during the storm.


It was a glorious winter storm. Here is my story about it. I doubt I'll ever enjoy a snow storm again as much as the Blizzard of '06.

Don't forget to call your senators today. See yesterday's post.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: The Best Advice I Ever Had and Followed

Call-In-Day to Oppose the Conrad/Gregg Commission

category_bug_politics.gif If you have been reading here regularly, you know there is a Senate bill (S.2853 – full text) that would create a fast-track commission to make decisions about Social Security and Medicare.

Introduced by Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) in December 2009, it goes by this disingenuous title:

A bill to establish a Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action, to assure the long-term fiscal stability and economic security of the Federal Government of the United States, and to expand future prosperity and growth for all Americans

That sounds innocuous enough except that it hides the bill's real purpose: it is the fulfillment of more than 20 years of lobbying by billionaire Peter. G. Peterson whose goal is to drastically cut, if not kill these programs that benefit millions people who, by the way, paid into the programs during all their working lives.

This week, during the debate on extending our country's debt limit, the Senate will vote on this bill, so we urgently need to make our voices heard.

Beginning today, The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare will run a campaign of radio and print ads in Washington to persuade senators that this bill is a bad idea. Here is the NCPSSM's YouTube video:

Tomorrow, 19 January, is Call-In-Day. The NCPSSM is joining with these other elder advocacy groups to flood the Senate with telephone calls against this bill. The other organizations participating are: OWL, AFSCME Retirees, Alliance for Retired Americans, American Association of University Women, Generations United, National Senior Citizens Law Center, NOW, Pension Right Center and Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW).

There is more information at the NCPSSM website. And you can read previous Time Goes By posts on this bill here, here, here and here.

Please join tomorrow in letting your senators know that this bill must not pass. Write down this telephone number: 800-998-0180. After a short message explaining the urgency of contacting our senators, the service will ask you to enter your Zip Code after which it will connect you with the offices of your senators.

Or, you can find individual senators' direct telephone numbers here.

In addition to Senator Kent Conrad who introduced the bill, 34 other senators are co-sponsors – one-third(!) of the Senate. You can check here to see if yours is among them.

Mark your calendar for tomorrow – and I'll remind you on tomorrow's blog post. Please join Call-In-Day. Already, many young adults believe Social Security will not be there for them. They are wrong, but they may not be if this bill is passed.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Judy Watten: A Tulip Story

ELDER MUSIC: The Byrds Family Tree

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

category_bug_eldermusic Today I thought I’d start with a rock band and see where its members take me. I know this isn’t an original idea, the rock n roll “family tree” concept has been around for years, but they were really obsessive about it and I’m rather slap-dash and just put in the bits I like.

I’m starting with one of my all time favorites: The Byrds. I’m talking here about the original and the best (although the group containing Gram Parsons who did the album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo,” comes very close). The five original members went on to do some interesting things.

The Byrds

Okay four of them did. I’ll start with the group performing a not very well known Bob Dylan song, Lay Down Your Weary Tune.

The Byrds-Lay Down Your Weary Tune

First off, there’s Gene Clark. He was probably the best of those in the first incarnation – wrote a lot of their songs, sang a lot (except for their most famous track). However, he did rather like the booze and drugs. This may come as a shock to you all that a rock star did that sort of thing, but there you go.

Gene Clark

He was the first to leave the group (and the first to return. And leave). When The Byrds finally called it a day, he cleaned up his act for a time and toured with Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman in the seventies. I saw them a couple of times here in Melbourne which is rather odd as one of the reasons he gave for leaving in the first place was that he didn’t like to fly. To get to Australia you sure have to fly for a long time. A very long time, no matter where you’re coming from.

Gene teamed up with Doug Dillard who started life as part of The Dillards with his brother Rodney and some others. Gene and Doug produced two albums, the first of which, and the better one, is called “The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark.” This is Train Leaves Here This Morning.


Dillard+Clark-Train Leaves Here This Morning

Leading us down the track a ways, Doug teamed up with Rodney and John Hartford for a series of albums using the name Dillard Hartford Dillard. I wonder how they came with that moniker. This is Don't Lead Me On.

Don't Lead Me On

John Hartford did a bunch of usually quirky, but always interesting, albums. He could afford to do anything he wanted to do thanks to the royalties he collected from writing Gentle on My Mind. He became a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi and played music when he felt like it. Not a bad gig. Here is Hartford's In Tall Buildings.

John Hartford

In Tall Buildings

Getting back to The Byrds, next to consider is Chris Hillman. He and Gram Parsons started the Flying Burrito Brothers, a fine ensemble in its early incarnation. Later he made some good solo albums and teamed up with Herb Pedersen to make a bunch of even better duo albums. He has also teamed with Herb in the Desert Rose Band.


Chris and Herb’s harmony singing reminds me of the Everly Brothers, which is no bad thing in my book. This is It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad).

It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)

Now, in the way of these things, Herb Pedersen had started out as a member of The Dillards. He was on their classic album “Wheatstraw Suite” which should be in any serious music collector’s library (if you can find it these days).

The Dillards

Although Gram Parsons and/or The Byrds get most of the kudos (or blame) for inventing country rock, The Dillards could have an equal claim. You may have seen them in your younger days as the resident band on The Andy Griffith Show. Here's their Hey Boys.

Dillards-Hey Boys

Herb recorded a couple of solo albums that are pretty good but are even harder to come by. I’m hanging on to my black vinyl copies until I can find the CD versions. I think that may take some time.

Next from The Byrds is Roger McGuinn. I still think of him as Jim McGuinn as that’s what he went by on the first couple of albums. Funny sort of name change.

Roger McGuinn

Anyway, he was the main voice and sound of most of their songs with that distinctive, electric 12-string guitar. His solo albums really just sound like Byrds albums. Here he gives a synopsis of how the group and their most famous song came about. Mr. Tambourine Man.

McGuinn-Mr Tambourine Man

That’s all very well but I miss the bass from the original version. That was pretty much the lead instrument for much of the song. The fourth one to consider is David Crosby.

David Crosby

After leaving The Byrds, he formed a group with a couple of his friends and they did okay for themselves. I won’t play any of theirs as I have none of their records (nor any of David’s solo albums). However, never fear, we can do something.

Steve Stills (a member of that group) recorded an album called “Super Session” with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.

Steve Stills

This is a terrific album and I recommend it highly. Mike and Al both played on Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. Thus we get to the writer of Mr. Tambourine Man, so we’re back where we started.

Al Kooper sings on Season of the Witch and Steve plays guitar. Harvey Brooks was on bass (that’s the three of them in the photo). Mike went walkabout when this was recorded.

Season Of The Witch

Also in that group with David Crosby is Graham Nash who came from The Hollies. They were pretty successful themselves. The Hollies named themselves after Buddy Holly and that gives me a gratuitous reason to play one of his songs, Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues.

Buddy Holly

Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues

The fifth member of The Byrds was Michael Clarke, the drummer. The story is that McGuinn and Crosby saw him in the street and recruited him because he looked like Brian Jones.

Michael Clarke

I don’t know if he made any records after leaving the group, but I’ve not seen one in my decades of perusing record shops. So to end this let’s get back to (nearly) the beginning and play some more Byrds, Goin' Back.

The Byrds-Goin' Back

GRAY MATTERS: Esophageal Cancer

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 how bad things got when the economy and Wall Street tanked: Sales of antacids topped $10 billion for the year. And the people who figure such things say that 100 million Americans suffered from heartburn once a month and 15 million battle it at least once a day.

That could strike you as amusing, but it’s not. For as a longtime chewer of Tums or Rolaids, I can tell you that what we call “heartburn,” or “acid indigestion” is not only a literal pain. It is also potentially dangerous, especially when the discomfort is relieved repeatedly with one of the many over-the-counter antacids that are heavily advertised — without including a warning.

Anyone remember that Alka-Seltzer commercial? “You ate the whole thing? I ate the whole thing!” The Alka-Seltzer provided relief from the indigestion, but the guy we laughed at may have been killing himself with each heavy meal and a burp.

One large reason for my concern right now is the approaching fifth anniversary next month of the thunderous, life-changing discovery – through a routine endoscopy – that I had cancer of the esophagus. The fifth anniversary means I have survived. Not cured, mind you, survived, as in so far, so good. For whether you know it or not, cancer can be arrested but there is no cure yet.

The other reason is a new website which caught my attention with this: “I want you to know that heartburn can cause cancer.” Based in Maryland, the website belongs to the new Esophageal Cancer Action Network founded by Mindy Mintz Mordecai who lost her husband, Monte, to the disease two years ago. And she has enlisted her two daughters to appeal to those of you who may be in danger without knowing it.

I understood their appeal, for I have two daughters and narrowly escaped this damned disease because of sheer luck. As Mindy Mordecai wrote, she discovered during her husband’s struggle, as I did during my ordeal, that

“...the cancer that was consuming my husband was caused by acid reflux, something we often call persistent heartburn. And I was angry that I had never been told that heartburn could cause cancer. Angry that, because we didn’t know, we never took any steps to try to catch my husband’s disease.”

When I began my research on the disease following that diagnosis – on St. Valentine’s Day, 2005 – what I learned was not encouraging. The incidence of esophageal cancer was rising faster than any other cancer, and the survival rate was (and is) only 15 percent.

It’s three or for times more common in men, especially if they smoke cigarettes, are overweight and eat too much or irregularly, all of which describe the lifestyles of busy men with stressful jobs. And that was me. Eating too much, chewing an antacid, getting relief and forgetting about until the next time – a potentially deadly cycle.

The incidence of esophageal cancer increases with age; eight of ten people diagnosed with this cancer are between 55 and 85. About 17,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. And most victims die because the cancer is usually caught at the too-late stage. Why? In large part because antacids mask what’s going on when your body is trying to warn you with heartburn or acid reflux.

The medical name for this condition is “gastroesophageal reflux disease,” or GERD. Heartburn, or acid reflux, occurs when digestive acids - that may accompany certain foods, over-eating, along with smoking – splash up from the stomach into the esophagus, the muscular tube that sends food to the stomach.

The cells in the walls of the stomach are tough and acid resistant. But the acid battering of the esophagus changes its cells into the type found in the stomach. That condition is called Barrett’s Esophagus which affects about ten percent of people with GERD and which increases the chance of developing a cancer by 30 to 125 times.

It’s good news when the cancer is spotted very early, when it’s confined to the esophagus. Even so, as it was with me and two friends, treatment involved weeks of chemotherapy, radiation and radical surgery in which most of the esophagus is removed and what remains is attached to the stomach.

Depending on the stage at which the cancer is discovered, there are other, less invasive treatments which can be found at the American Cancer Society site. Unfortunately there are few warning symptoms beyond persistent heartburn. By the time you have difficulty swallowing, as Mindy Mordecai’s husband’s learned, the cancer had spread beyond the esophagus. Even now, I’m subject to periodic checkups.

Despite the rapid growth in the incidence of esophageal cancer, it gets about only $23 million in research funds from the National Cancer Institute. That’s about ten percent or, $1,500 per death, compared to $14,000 per breast cancer death. Indeed, lung and esophageal cancers are shortchanged on research funds, I believe, because there are not too many survivors to lobby for more money and they are considered diseases in which the lifestyle of the victims – smoking and obesity – are blamed.

And it’s true that the increase in cancers of the esophagus seems to have coincided with the increase in obesity.

That suggests some obvious ways to prevent this cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, including cutting down on over-eating, especially spicy or fatty fast foods before bed time or before plunking yourself down on the couch, which increases the chance of acid reflux. If you tend to have acid reflux after meals, don’t lie down. Prop yourself up in bed. I shouldn’t need to tell you that smoking is also strongly linked to esophageal cancer as well as other nasty illnesses.

Beyond this, instead of chewing or swallowing those too-well advertised, over-the-counter remedies to relive the discomfort from GERD, which may mask the development of Barrett’s esophagus, take the antacid before the onset of reflux. Or better, ask your physician for the several prescription drugs available to prevent or control reflux.

And whether or not they work, if you have a history of heartburn, you should ask for an upper endoscopy – a probe of the esophagus and the upper stomach to determine if you’re one of an estimated 3 million Americans with Barrett’s Esophagus – which should be watched closely. Medicare and most insurance companies will cover an endoscopy if it’s prescribed by your primary care physician.

The Esophageal Cancer Action Network has on its board several distinguished physicians including the surgeon who operated on me. And Mindy Mordecai is selling for $2.50 blue wristbands, one of which says, “Heartburn can cause cancer.”

Need more information? Write

Those Amazing Elders

Check this out – the first former President Bush skydiving on his 85th birthday last year.

Mr. Bush made his first skydive on his 75th birthday and has now promised to do it again on his 90th in 2014.

Last week, The New York Times published a feature story about old age as a never-ending adventure – “adventure” defined as extreme sports or rather, extreme for elders. They cited a 74-year-old who made it to within 1,000 feet of the top of the Mt. Everest before turning back; an 89-year-old on a visit to the South Pole; and another 89-year-old, Tom Lackey, who

“...took up wing-walking. Last summer, he strapped his feet to the top of a single-engine biplane, like the daredevils of aviation’s early days, and flew across the English Channel at 160 miles per hour — with nothing between him and the wild blue yonder but goggles and layers of clothing to fight the wind-chill.”

Hardly a week goes by without a human interest story about another "amazing elder.” 80- and 90-year-old marathoners turn up every two or three months. A 75-year-old salsa dancer becomes a YouTube hit. Three 60-somethings make it to the very tip-top of Mt. Everest prompting this assessment from a climbing blogger:

“Good for these three oldsters. Instead of sitting around playing cards, hanging at the shuffleboard court, or taking a brisk walk around the local mall, they're getting out there and breathing thin air and suffering and having a great time redefining old age in the mountains.”

“Redefining old age.” No report about elders engaging in extreme sports avoids this cliché.

Before I go any further, let me assure you: I believe anyone who wants to take up parasailing, free climbing, bungee jumping or any uncommon sport should do it no matter what their age - that is, as long as their possible need for extra help or attention does not unduly burden or endanger other people who are with them.

Nevertheless, the more elders who are proclaimed to be “redefining old age” by participating in what are usually young people's activities, the more ambivalent I become about it.

Sometimes, as with the 75-year-old salsa dancer, the video feels to me more like exploitation than celebration. “Look at that old granny trying to be sexy at her age – ho, ho,” it seems to say.

Other times, there is a whiff of condescension in reporting on the pluckiness of old people who try operating out of expected range. When 90-year-old Ilse Telesmanich sprained her ankle hiking in South Africa, the Times story noted that “she tried to keep going on the three-week trip...hobbled as she was.”

And when 11 elder overachievers are pulled together in one place – a 92-year-old barefoot water skier, a 70-year-old snowboarder, an 80-year-old surfer, etc. - as on this website, it feels like any elder not "defying their age" by risking life and limb is failing to uphold the cultural exhortation to maintain a pretense of youth until the day we die.

What concerns me, as the number of stories of elders in extreme sports proliferate, is that old people who are content to play cards, read a book or teach a grandkid how to ride a bike will come to be seen as slackers, that if they are not biking the equivalent of the Tour de France, it must be their fault if they suffer a stroke, cancer or heart disease.

It is interesting that among all these stories there are no reports of failure for age-related reasons – a 90-year-old who collapses halfway through the marathon, perhaps, or a 75-year-old motorcycle racer who causes a crash, a ski jumper who is paralyzed in an accident. I don't believe it doesn't happen.

On the other hand, I might be persuaded that these elder adventurers are an inspiration to couch potatoes to at least take a walk. They might even be an inspiration to young people.

But I'm not sure. I just know I'm increasingly uncomfortable about what the message is becoming with each new story about an elder's extraordinary physical feat.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: The Silly Cheese Wars

Don't Trust What They Tell You

About a hundred years ago when Crabby Old Lady was a young woman – girl, actually, no more than a teenager – first living on her own, she overspent on her first credit card. The debt was so large that for the better part of a year, young Crabby lived on cottage cheese and crackers and gave up everything that was not essential until the bill was paid off.

Even though she told no one about her trouble, Crabby was deeply embarrassed at her stupidity. In fact, you are the first people who know of this.

That period was so painful, both financially and emotionally, Crabby swore never to allow it to happen again. Since then, she has used credit cards only as a convenience and except for a few emergencies through the years (when credit saved her ass), she has never owed more than she can pay in full each month. Her credit rating is so good that when she needed a short-term bridge loan three years ago to cover the time gap between purchasing a home here in Maine and the closing on her apartment in New York, the banker said, “You have an awesome credit score, Crabby.”

It doesn't take much these days to harm a credit rating, and it's not like Crabby has a rich family or a sugar daddy to call on when things go wrong or there is an emergency. So she guards that score closely. With it, she knows when there is need, as with the bridge loan, she can get the money easily and quickly.

When Crabby switched to a new Medicare Part D (prescription drug) provider in December, she elected to have the premium deducted from her Social Security benefit which is deposited electronically to her bank account each month. On Wednesday, when the January deposit was made, there was no deduction. Crabby Old Lady's personal financial alarm bell went ding, ding, ding.

When she explained her concern to the provider's customer service representative, she told Crabby that it would take up to four months (!) for Medicare and, separately, Social Security to approve the premium deduction. And meanwhile? Crabby asked. Would the provider, having received no payment, cancel her coverage and report nonpayment to the credit agencies?

To forestall that, the representative said, it would be necessary for Crabby to pay the insurance company herself until the deductions begin.

More alarm bells went off. In a flash, the following went through Crabby's mind:

  • She was not told, when she enrolled in the Part D program, that she would be required to make the payments by check for several months.

  • Because Crabby opted for the deduction, she did not receive premium coupons.

  • She doesn't trust the provider to give her the correct mailing address for the premium payment and it could easily be routed to the wrong place. The provider might cancel her coverage for non-payment.

  • Even with correct payment, it was likely, four months hence, that Social Security would deduct premiums for all of the four months.

  • It would take months, if not years, of hassle to get either Social Security or the insurance company to return the double payments.

  • Crabby's pristine credit score could be trashed.

When she expressed all this, the representative told her she works for a third-party service and could help Crabby no further. Crabby waited the standard 15 minutes after she was transferred to the insurance company.

New representative, same questions, different answers: It takes only two months for approval from Social Security and Medicare. No, she should not make payments herself. Her coverage “should” not be canceled during the wait for approval.

“Should” not be canceled? Is that certain? Crabby asked.

Probably reading from a script, the representative again said, “Your coverage should not be canceled.”

“Find me a supervisor,” said Crabby.

Standard 15-minute wait.

New representative, same questions, some different answers: It takes 90 days for approval from Social Security and Medicare. Do not make payments. Coverage will not be canceled and non-payment will not be reported to credit agencies.

Which of all these answers, Crabby wonders, is correct?

Taking Murphy's Law into consideration, Crabby made careful notes of these three conversations so she will have the (conflicting) information if trouble ensues. And there would be trouble for sure if Crabby had listened to the first representative and mailed payments - the first of which, this month, is already overdue and would be subject to a late fee.

You might think, as does Crabby, that this is an old story – screw ups from large companies that are liable to cost you money and if not that, certainly waste time. (In Crabby's case, she used up about an hour of her monthly cell phone minutes allotment.) But it becomes more serious when it concerns the health of old people.

Sometimes third-parties – spouses, adult children, friends, etc. - handle personal business matters for elders. Some elders have cognitive difficulties. Some may not have a firm grasp of English. In any of these circumstances, misunderstandings are bound to happen and undoubtedly some number of people lose coverage along with their prescriptions, incur additional costs or spend months sorting out problems only because the company is not clear about its policies.

All it would have taken to prevent confusion, Crabby's irritation and lost time was a short paragraph in the insurance provider's form letter of acceptance explaining the delay in the premium deduction and how it should be handled. That three representatives each had different answers is unacceptable. Isn't there a minimum standard of competence to be expected?

Certain members of Congress, teaparty members and assorted anti-government types have warned, during the debate on health care reform, that government-run health care would be rife with bureaucratic red tape. Crabby understands this is anecdotal evidence but in every dealing she has had with Medicare and Social Security representatives, the issues have been thoroughly and completely explained and nothing has ever gone wrong. The kind of minor mess Crabby experienced yesterday (and worse sometimes) is common with every private insurance provider she has dealt with.

Some old-time movie fun - Ruby Keeler and Lee Dixon dancing to Too Marvelous For Words from the 1937 film, Ready, Willing and Able. The chorus line keys are sensational.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Shirley Karnes: Trees in December

Attention Email Subscribers – and Others Too

Comments, conversation and community are the life blood of blogs. Many of us have become good friends having first “met” one another in the comments sections of our blogs. Plus, the comments provide a lot of additional information, ideas and thoughts without which this, and any blog, would be just another column of one-way communication.

Recently, there has been a large uptick in the number of email messages I receive in response to the stories published here – more than I have time to respond to individually. They are obviously intended to be part of the conversation, but they never appear in the comments section of the post because they show up only in my email inbox.

Here is how that happens: You receive Time Goes By via email. When you want to respond, you click “Reply,” write your message and click “Send.” What happens then is the same as when you reply to a personal email from anyone; your message is routed to my email inbox.

To appear on the blog, your comment must be entered on the website. As Virginia DeBolt's Elder Geek column made clear yesterday, it can be difficult to learn all the different things we need to know about our computers, the programs we use and websites. So here are instructions to get your messages into the comments section of the blog where everyone can read them:


  2. Instead, click the title of the story at the top of the email

  3. Your browser will open the page of blog where that story resides, the same story you just read in the email feed

  4. Scroll down to the bottom of the story

  5. You will see comments from other readers (if there are any yet)

  6. Below the story or other comments is a box labeled “Post a Comment”

  7. Write your comment in that box

  8. Fill in your name (any name you want)

  9. Fill in your email address (it will not be published)

  10. Add the URL of your blog; if you don't have one, leave the space blank

  11. Click “Post” and your comment will appear

There is also a “Preview” button which allows you to check your comment and make any changes or corrections you desire before publishing.

Many bloggers send only the first two or three paragraphs of a story in their email feeds which requires you to click “Read more” to finish the story at the website. This inflates page views, which bloggers like to have, of course, but I personally find it annoying to be interrupted part way through a story, so not wanting to inflict that on subscribers, I send the entire story in the feed.

But my inbox is so full of “reply” comments these days, that I may switch to partial feeds. If you would like to help prevent that move, re-read the above instructions for commenting. Most importantly, bloggers love to read what people say about their efforts and I know that many readers check comments throughout the day and often respond to one another.

I also field a lot of messages from email subscribers telling me I've forgotten to include the video, audio or photos that are referenced in the story. It is not that I have forgotten; audio and video are not embedded in the email so, like commenting, it is necessary to visit the website to see or hear these elements. Just click the title of the story and the blog will open in your browser where you can see the video or hear the audio.

Photos included in a blog post may or may not appear in your email feed. That is controlled entirely by you. If you do not see photos that are referenced in the text, it means you have set your email program to not load images “inline”. You can change that under “Tools” or “Options”.

I hope this helps you understand blog commenting and that you will now be able to join the conversation with other readers who have made me laugh and cry and taught me so much over the years. If you have any questions, just post them in the Comments below and I will respond there.

This story has been cross-posted at The Elder Storytelling Place.

ELDER GEEK: The Big Mystery

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.

Remember when you first got that computer and were determined to learn to email so you could see photos of your grandkids? You'd heard about how great it was to get your boarding pass online and thought you might like to use the Internet? Remember that?

I do, too. One of the things I remember realizing when I was a newbie was that if I clicked a column title (see image) in my list of computer files, I could re-sort everything based on title or type or date modified or kind.


I learned this by clicking the column heads unknowingly and then wondering why in h-e-double-toothpicks things that had just been in alphabetical order were all jumbled up. Suddenly, I couldn't find what I wanted.

Of course, once I figured it out, it seemed wonderfully obvious (intuitive is the word they foist on us to make it sound easy). I could use that knowledge in many ways, and did. But until I knew it, finding things on my computer was often frustrating.

More recently I was thrilled to discover that if I type something in the location bar (not the search bar; the bar where you type the URL), the browser would search for it. So if I could remember that Joared's blog is called Along the Way, I could type that in the location bar and I would get search results, one of them being the URL that I was looking for.

We're supposed to learn these things without anyone ever telling us about them. Osmosis or something. Failed experiments, perhaps. Accidental enlightment.

Do you remember some of the discoveries you made as a newbie? If you told us about them, I'll bet they would be wonderful tips for other new computer users. What's your best newbie tip?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Fog