Previous month:
February 2010
Next month:
April 2010

When Your Home is on the Market

category_bug_journal2.gif It's not like this is a surprise; it was only a little less than five years ago that my New York home was on the market. But I am that much older now and I had forgotten how damned hard it is to have a for sale sign on your house.

No prospective buyers arrive unannounced and my real estate agent gives me at least 24 hours notice before showings. Still, it's a scramble to have the place in tip-top shape each time. I have become a full-time housekeeper dusting, vacuuming and polishing and then wondering what I've missed that will reduce the apartment's attractiveness.

Ollie the cat is, of course, no help. No sooner have I collected toys than he drags them out again. Cats are notorious for wanting to stay in the same place forever and it's as though he knows what is happening so is doing everything he can to undermine the endeavor, finding new places to snooze, scratch and wash that leave kitty fur behind.

He hasn't shown any interest in the sofa in a year or two; now it's favorite hang-out spot – the hardest fabric in the house from which to remove cat fur. So I vacuum. And vacuum. And vacuum.

I know from my own searches, online and in person, that it is much easier to evaluate a home when it is empty of other people's stuff, as anonymous as possible. Since I have nowhere else to live, that can't happen, but I do put away all the things I usually leave out - coffee maker, rice cooker, blender, dish soap and sponge, books I'm reading, notes to myself that I leave around the house, etc. Since they have no regular storage places, I hide them wherever I can fit them when a showing is due and then forget where they are.

Last week, I stuffed the French press and rice cooker in the oven. Later in the day, after the showing, I turned on the oven to broil a piece of fish. The only reason I didn't ruin the appliances and/or blow up the stove is that I opened the door to check the level of the rack. I won't be using the oven again for last-minute storage.

As to the notes usually left on counters, tables and wherever, there is no telling how many blog post ideas have been lost because I can't find the notes now.

I feel like a stranger in my own home, afraid to touch or do anything that will disturb the pristine condition in which I try to keep it or worried that I'll overlook something when readying it for a showing.

This will all be worth it in the end, right?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: Too Late Schmart


Cat Tales

category_bug_journal2.gif Blame Ollie the cat for today's lighter-than-air post. Once upon a time, back in 2004, he was a winsome baby kitten, still frightened in his new home far away from mom in Philadelphia, but oh so eager to please.

Ollie as a Kitten

Now, nearly six years later, he has grown into a not-so-tiny tyrant who tolerates no deviation from his personal schedule and desires. Simon's Cat has nothing on Ollie. (Yes, I know – I've posted this video before, maybe even twice, but it perfectly recreates the nightly event at our house that mere words could explain no better.)

There is a reason I keep no baseball bat on the premises. Ollie's substitute – grabbing a hunk of my hair and pulling – is equally compelling, as he proved earlier than ever before on Monday night at 2:30AM.

There was no going back to sleep then but by 7AM, I was so tired, I napped away the rest of Tuesday morning and then scrambled to complete various errands around town in the afternoon.

Now take a look at this more recent animation of Simon's Cat:

It makes me wonder if the video's creator, Simon Tofield, can peak at my life through my webcam. Every morning, after finishing his breakfast, Ollie positions himself for his morning nap under my lamp, having trained me now to keep all my papers and paraphernalia on the left side of my desk to leave room for him.

Ollie Under the Lamp

There you go – Ollie has completely subjugated me to his whims. What about your cat (or dog) - how much do they control you?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ernest Leichter: Alexander and Nouriel: Meet Your Ancestors


A Theory of Health Care Spending

category_bug_journal2.gif For a good while, I've had a half-baked and only half-joking theory that health care spending would not be so high if we were not constantly reminded of all the things that could be wrong with us.

I watch or listen to television news in short bursts of a few minutes each throughout the day. My general impression is that well over half – perhaps even three-quarters – of commercials are disease related. To see if that is anywhere near true, I grabbed a book yesterday morning and settled down to spend a random hour with television to make notes on the topics of the commercials.

That much time was not needed. I was shocked to find that in the period of one, three-minute commercial break, remedies for the following diseases and conditions were advertised:

COPD
High blood pressure
High cholesterol
Dry skin
Headache
Insomnia
Allergies
Nasal congestion
Foot problems
Heart disease
Constipation
Depression

That's a lot of health problems to cram into three minutes and it is repeated all day on all channels except, possibly, MTV which undoubtedly highlights acne cures.

I don't remember so many health-related commercials when I was a kid. “The heartbreak of psoriasis” comes to mind, along with “Speedy Alkaseltzer” and Bayer aspirin, but certainly no prescription drugs back then. I still don't understand why that last is done; it must drive physicians nuts to have patients demanding drugs advertised on television that may or may not be relevant to the patients' ailments.

My theory is that it all adds up – that we are bombarded with so many pictures and words about what might be wrong with us that thousands of people who otherwise feel healthy, run to their doctor asking for prescription drugs they saw on television and/or start buying over-the-counter remedies. Certainly the advertising must have an effect similar to reading disease symptoms – too much of that and you believe you've contracted something terrible.

It's just a theory, but I wonder – and I wonder if there were less health-related advertising, how many fewer doctor visits, prescriptions and OTC drug purchases there would be.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Living Abroad


Deficit Reduction on the Backs of Elders - a Foregone Conclusion?

category_bug_politics.gif Last week, a friend at The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare alerted me to an interview with former Senator Alan Simpson by Maria Bartiromo of CNBC. Before I get to that, some background.

In February, President Obama appointed Simpson co-chair his budget deficit commission which will meet all though this year and issue recommendations on deficit reduction in December. The question is, as Saul Friedman pointed out in his Gray Matters column ten days ago, how can a man who throughout his career has vehemently opposed – and tried to kill - Social Security and Medicare possibly “be an honest broker?” as Saul put it.

“[A]s recently as 2005,” wrote Saul, “Simpson, a conservative from Wyoming who left the Senate in 1997, supported attempts by President George Bush to privatize Social Security by turning part of the pension and insurance program into millions of individual investment accounts, which by now would have lost 20 percent of their value.”

There is an ongoing concerted effort by conservatives to conflate the deficit with “entitlement” spending – Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid – when there is no connection as Saul and I have been pointing out for years: Saul again:

“Social Security's long term fiscal problem has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Social Security’s role in the deficit. For, as I have emphasized in my column for years, Social Security costs the budget not one cent – aside from the one percent it spends on its thousands of employees and field offices.

“Indeed, Social Security helps finance the deficit by loaning the treasury money, for which it earns interest (about $700 million a year.)”

One more thing for you to think about before I get to the shocking (on several levels) interview with Simpson. Back in 2005, when President Bush tried to privatize Social Security, why did 80 or 90 percent of elders oppose the move? After all, it would not have affected anyone older than 55.

Because elders have always understood the value and importance of keeping Social Security funds separate from the instability of the stock market (even before the 2008 crash), and want that security for their adult children and grandchildren. Now read what Simpson told Ms. Bartiromo about that:

“Those people are lying when everything that was proposed last year, year before, year before didn’t affect any over 55. Now, anything I’ve heard so far doesn’t affect anyone over 60. Where does the howling come from? These people don’t care a whit about their grandchildren…not a whit.”

As Saul explained in his story, Alan Simpson played a major role in an assault on two organizations – AARP and the National Council of Senior Citizens - that had supported President Clinton's failed effort at health care reform. As a result, AARP's director was forced to resign and the NCSC folded.

Simpson is now playing the same song. From his Bartiromo interview:

“You’ve got scrub out (of) the equation the AARP, the Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, the Gray Panthers, the Pink Panther, the whatever.”

Without those organizations, there is no one in Washington to speak for elders. Here is the seven-minute interview:

It is important to note in the interview that Fox News is not the only partisan game on television. The entire tone and tenor of Maria Bartiromo's interview supports, without question or proof, that cutting entitlements is the way to cut the deficit.

Medicare has big problems, some of which will be addressed with health care reform, should it pass Congress. Social Security, on the other hand, has minor problems that President Obama has correctly asserted can easily be fixed for decades to come by raising or eliminating the $106,000 cap on salaries subject to the tax.

What in the world was he thinking by appointing co-chair of his commission a man who is adamantly opposed to maintaining Social Security for future generations and sees cuts as a foregone conclusion?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Gail Title: Aging Groomers


ELDER MUSIC: Divas

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 This is a topic that’s sure to generate a lot of “What about...” I completely agree. When I finished it, I also said to myself, “What about Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Yvonne Kenny, Maria Callas, Cheryl Barker” and on I went to myself. I finally managed to shut myself up, no easy thing.

These are my first choices for inclusion in such a topic. The rest will come another time (if I get around to it).

Leading off, the earliest of these is Kathleen Ferrier.

Kathleen Ferrier

Kathleen was one of the best-loved and most admired singers in the world in her day. At 14 she was a telephone operator at her local exchange (Blackburn, England). I imagine people would ring just to hear her. I would have.

She took lessons in piano and was on track to become a concert pianist but got married. She entered a contest (as a pianist) and her husband bet her a shilling that she wouldn’t also enter as a singer (as she sang around the house a bit).

She took his bet and won both as a pianist and a singer. From then on she concentrated on singing. It’s easier than lugging a piano everywhere, I guess.

Her voice is due to the fact that it is a natural sound with no conservatory training. And what a voice it was. Kathleen sang all the great parts for contralto during the nineteen-forties and early fifties. She died at 41, in 1953, from breast cancer.

Kathleen singing “All is Fulfilled” from Bach’s St John’s Passion.

♫ Kathleen Ferrier - All is Fulfilled

Jessye Norman and I are twins. You only have to look at our photos to realise this.

Jessye Norman

I’ll give you that we had different parents and we were born on opposite sides of the world, but it’s true. Okay, her birth date is the 15th and mine the 16th but when you factor in that I was born on the east coast of Australia and she was born on the east coast of America, then do the maths with respect to the time difference you will find we popped out simultaneously. Don’t get much twinnier than that.

Jessye has the best voice of anyone around today – although Cecilia would give her a run for her money – she can sing anything, and does.

Jessye is known for the direct and emotionally expressive qualities of her singing and for her formidable intellectual understanding of the music and its style as well as first-rate musicianship. I’m going to stop now as there’s far too much of her life in music than will fit into this short space, and rather leave something out, I’ll leave everything out.

This is one of the songs from Les Nuits D'été by Berlioz, “Le spectre de la rose.”

♫ Jessye Norman - Le spectre de la rose

New Zealand sends their finest performers to Australia, the rock and pop musicians, the actors, comedians and so on. The best of these we’ll claim as our own, the others are “Kiwi-born”. It’s analogous to Canadians going to America really. One who didn’t do that, although she visits regularly, is Kiri Te Kanawa.

Kiri Te Kanawa

Kiri went to England instead, to Covent Garden. After considerable success there, it was on to the Met and, well, everywhere really. Her voice has been described as having a vibrant but mellow quality that is ample in size without being overly heavy or forced. Okay, that’ll do me.

Although Kiri last appeared in an opera on stage in 2004, she claims she hasn’t retired from opera and there are rumors she’ll perform one in 2010. We’ll see.

In the meantime, here she is with one of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne, “Baïlèro.”

♫ Kiri Te Kanawa - Baïlèro

Years ago, I was wandering through a record store, a not unusual occurrence, and they were playing an extraordinarily fine singer. I asked who it was and they produced Cecilia Bartoli’s first album. I bought it on the spot (also not an unusual occurrence). Since then, although I haven’t managed every one of them, there’ve been quite a few.

Cecilia Bartoli

Cecilia's parents were both professional singers and gave her her first music lessons. Start them young. It worked, as she came to prominence in her early twenties - quite unusual in her profession.

At just nineteen she caught the eye of Riccardo Muti who invited her to La Scala. There she was noticed by Herbert von Karajan and later Daniel Barenboim and Nikolaus Harnoncourt, all of whom helped along her career.

She doesn’t need any help these days. Anything she brings out will be snapped up. Anything she appears in will be booked out. I’d better stop now.

Cecilia is known for her Mozart and Rossini interpretations, but I’ll go with one of Gluck’s Italian arias, “Di questa cetra in seno” from Il Parnaso Confuso.

Cecilia Bartoli - Di questa cetra in seno

I saw Julia Migenes playing Carmen on TV. Phew, I had to have a cold shower after that. I can see why Don José and Escamillo were so smitten.

Julia Migenes

Julia started out pretty well, having been picked, as a child, by Leonard Bernstein to play in Madama Butterfly for his Young People's Concerts. After growing up a bit, she hit Broadway in West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof and other musicals. In the 1970s, she moved to Germany and returned to opera where she’s been ever since.

This is Julia singing “Depuis Le Jour” from Charpentier’s Louise.

♫ Julia Migenes - Depuis Le Jour

Wilhelmenia FernandezDiva from some years ago. She has also recorded only slightly more albums than that character (who refused to record any).

Wilhemenia Fernandez

I’ve seen her only once since (thanks again to TV) and it confirmed my opinion of her I gained from the film (that’s she’s a terrific singer).

I’ll pass on what little I know: Wilhemenia was born in Philadelphia and obtained a scholarship to Juilliard. Her first role was Bess in Porgy and Bess. Her début in Paris was as Musetta in La Bohème with Plácido and Kiri. Starting at the top.

Since then she has sung in operas and recitals all over the world. That’s about it. Here she sings the aria, “La Wally” from Catalani’s La Wally.

♫ Wilhelmenia Fernandez - La Wally


GRAY MATTERS

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.


[NOTE FROM RONNI] Saul is under the weather – hence, no Gray Matters column today. He is taking some time to recuperate and refresh, and will return to these pages as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, you can read his always excellent and thoughtful past Gray Matters columns here or his other Time Goes By column, Reflections. Also, you may want to know that Saul celebrated his birthday on Thursday 4 March. We wish him a speedy recovery and many more birthdays. We need his important voice.


How are We Feeling Today, Dearie?

category_bug_ageism.gif There comes a time for everyone when, in the eyes of the people around us, we have passed an invisible barrier into old age. If we have not yet realized this transition ourselves, there are plenty of younger people willing to set us straight.

A nurse may address us in the infantile plural: “And how are we today?

If shopping with a young person, the sales clerk may speak to him or her, rather than you: “Does she want the red or the blue?”

Or as happened to me during one of my final job searches before retiring, a 20-something interviewer says, “Tell me about your life goals, dearie.

Time Goes By reader, Gladys Cohn, emailed about one of the most annoying and common of these demeaning occurrences:

“While taking my order, our waiter insisted on referring to me as 'young lady' and then asked me if I was old enough to have a glass of wine. (I am 70.) I have been faced with this patronizing attitude fairly often.”

All these examples are, as Gladys notes, patronizing. You can add disrespectful and humiliating too; they rob us of the simple dignity that is automatically accorded everyone who is not old.

Nothing ever changes unless someone speaks up, so I'm wondering if we can invent some snappy repostes today, comebacks we can all file away to use in these circumstances to let the speakers know we will not silently allow them to treat us as though we have regressed to infancy just because we got old.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: The Shiny Maroon Radio


Mean, Nasty, Hateful and Corrupt

category_bug_politics.gif You could say that my mind is elsewhere right now what with selling my home and trying to survive the huge amount dental work that will go on throughout this month. You could say that I'm not paying my usual amount of attention to doings in Washington. But I don't think so.

I think the bit of distance my personal busy-ness gives me has created a new clarity uncluttered by the daily minutiae and maneuvering of Congress and the administration – a chance to see the big picture better.

And here's what I think: they are all hateful and corrupt.

There is so much rotten business going on with all federal elected (and not a few appointed) officials that it is impossible to keep track of it all (which may be what they're counting on.)

Two events (among others) this week illustrate my point:

One: Jim Bunning – one senator out of a hundred – prevented a vote that stopped unemployment checks to millions of people, furloughed 2,000 Department of Transportation employees without pay, shut down millions of dollars in highway payments to states and triggered an immediate cut of 21 percent in Medicare payments to physicians.

This Senate rule, allowing one member to halt forward movement, is the dumbest thing I've ever heard in a democratic republic. The Senate could change it, but they each want to retain the power for single-handed tyranny, at the expense of every citizen, so they won't change it.

Two: An administration official quit to become a lobbyist. He had signed an agreement when he hired on agreeing to not lobby the administration for two years after leaving his post. So, he says, he will lobby Congress instead. This is the essence of following the letter of a contract and not the spirit. It is as wrong as anything can be.

And it's like that every day in Washington on every issue: individual advantage to the powerful over the good of the nation.

What also stands out – someone, finally, needs to say this – is how deeply mean and nasty Republicans are. Undoubtedly there are Democrats who match them, but as a group over a long period of time, Republicans win the mean-and-nasty award – it is embedded in their political soul.

They don't want bank regulation that would ease the burden on citizens and help prevent future meltdowns because it would likely reduce Wall Street executives' obscene paychecks - and donations to their perpetual campaigns.

They don't want health care for everyone. Let's say what that really means: they believe it is fine for hundreds of thousands of people to die every year for lack of care as long as the health industry continues to rake in astronomical profits.

They want to kill Social Security and Medicare. That means they don't care that millions of future elders will become homeless and die in the streets for lack of income and health care.

They don't want climate change regulation. That means that even if Earth's rising temperature were not man-made, they believe it is fine to keep adding toxic waste to the air, land and water which will continue to sicken and kill millions of citizens, animals, plants and, eventually, humanity itself.

They want to lower (already low) taxes on corporations and the top one percent of earners who together control more than 70 percent of the wealth in the U.S. That means they are actively interested in turning 99 percent of American workers and families into serfs.

(On that last point, they like to tout “trickle-down economics” - the idea that if you give the wealthy and corporations more money through lower taxes, they will spend more on business development providing more jobs and money for we peons. That started under President Reagan and has failed; the rich keep their extra money and this is the direct cause of the current gap – the widest in history - between the haves and the have-nots.)

And they lie. Every day they lie. And some number of uninformed Americans believe their lies which helps perpetuate the hateful and corrupt status quo. The most common and pervasive lie during this 111th Congress is that government-run social programs are, by definition, inefficient and will bankrupt the country. In fact, Social Security and Medicare are the most efficiently run of all big enterprises - government and private.

If there were Medicare for All, a single payer system, the price and risk would be spread across all 309 million Americans making it affordable, as it is in all advanced countries worldwide. But don't blame just the Republicans for denying this obvious solution: President Obama and a good number of Democrats are equally to blame.

Why are our leaders so mean and nasty? Because they are one and the same with the corporate elite bent on hoarding all of the planet's wealth for themselves. Our government is wholly owned by corporations and now that globalization is all but complete, they don't even need to worry about who among impoverished Americans will buy their expensive widgets to maintain their lavish lifestyles; the entire world is their customer base.

To remedy the people's agony, some say vote them all out. But no one wins an election without corporate money. (Something like 90 percent of elections are won by the candidate who spends the most money.) So we would just get the next generation of hateful legislators. This is the reason election reform will never happen, nor will the single private company that owns all electronic voting machines be divested of its no-paper-trail control over elections.

I have no answers. I just know that while I withdraw a bit from daily politics to concentrate on my tiny, little, personal world of home selling and teeth for awhile, the big picture looks nastier and meaner than when I get bogged down in the daily details.

For more information with a lot of the facts and details I have not bothered to track down for today's emotional diatribe, I urge you to read The Economic Elite vs. The People of the United States by David DeGraw published at AmpedStatus.

In six parts, it is long and it is worth your time to understand clearly how screwed we are. DeGraw does offer solutions at the end, but I wonder if they are too many and too complex to create a substantive movement.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Madonna Dries Christensen: Lightning Strikes Twice


Denture

category_bug_journal2.gif Did you know that dentures were made by the Etruscans way back in 700 B.C.? Human and animal teeth were used and (George Washington's wooden choppers notwithstanding) continued to be so-fashioned until the mid-19th century. At least, that's what a quick check of Wikipedia tells me.

Dentures have come a long way since then; in most cases, it's hard to tell them from natural teeth. Even so, they continue to be fodder for ageist cartoons, one-liners and late-night comedians - as they have been for as long as I can remember.

Now it is my turn for a denture. Bad teeth run in the family. Both my parents had dentures before age 40, and I don't think my childhood dentist helped me much. He didn't believe in novacaine, so I learned early to fear visits to Dr. Rosenthal. If you were a good little patient and didn't scream too much, he gave you a package of Jujubes on your way out; intentionally ensuring future income, do you think?

In a recurring nightmare going back to childhood – usually just before and after dentist visits – all my teeth fall out of my mouth into my hand. No pain is involved, nor blood; just all those teeth, to my horror, loosely piled in my cupped hand.

The dream has been prophetic. I already have a partial bridge and for the past few months, my upper teeth have been wandering around leaving a gap or two where there shouldn't be any. Now, there is no saving them and this week, molds were made for the temporary denture. All remaining teeth will be extracted in a week or ten days.

I'm a practical sort who doesn't spend a lot of time lamenting what can't be changed (although I'm damned sure not happy about the thousands of dollars this is costing). But there are questions that tick at the mind during the process of preparing for the dentures: Will they fit well? Will I be able to eat everything I like? Will they look natural? Not to mention that dentures are generally a strong signal that time is getting short, and I do feel a frisson of the eternal attached to this new implement I'll be wearing for the rest of my life - whatever length it will be.

There is also an annoyance factor. I've always believed one's body ought to toot along on it own through the years until it wears out and you die. I am grateful that, with few and short-lived exceptions, that has been true for me, but it has not left me with a lot of tolerance for excess maintenance. There's not much to do with natural teeth except regular brushings and checkups. Dentures will undoubtedly require more attention and things will go wrong and...

Oh well.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean: What I Didn't Know


REFLECTIONS: On Being Too Nice

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.


Category_bug_reflections Watching this Democratic Congress wasting our time reminds me of when I first became aware that what often ails American liberalism are liberals.

I was sitting in the Senate Press Gallery some years ago watching the floor action on a minor issue now obscured in my memory. I do remember that the protagonists were a liberal senator from Maryland, Joseph Tydings, from a distinguished political family, and Louisiana’s Russell Long, from a more infamous political heritage; he looked exactly like his father, Huey.

All I can recall is that Long, a conservative Democrat who called himself the “oil senator” (‘hell, I even use Vaseline in my hair”) and who had been in the Senate since 1948, out-maneuvered whatever it was that Tydings was trying to do and sent him from the floor frustrated. One of my colleagues had it right when he said, “Tydings is just too nice.”

That didn’t much matter back then; politics then was mostly civil. But recalling that now got me wondering if too many liberals are too nice for today’s highly partisan, ideological political wars.

Liberals, by nature, rarely have been as aggressive as committed conservatives who are passionate defenders of our brand of capitalism. And Marx criticized liberals because they were part of system but sought to save it by ameliorating its worst excesses.

Nevertheless, many liberal-voting Democrats today are timid about being called liberal while Republicans clamor to be labeled conservative, which was a pejorative not too many years ago. Those Democrats who are proudly liberal, like Representatives Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Alan Grayson of Florida and Freshman Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, are considered by colleagues to be too far out or too outspoken.

And if a liberal Democrat shows some toughness, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has been disappointed with Obama’s endless search for the mirage of bipartisanship, she’s criticized as being imperious or worse (rhymes with witch).

A senator friend a few years ago analyzed for me why liberals may indeed be considered too nice or soft: Almost by definition, he said, a liberal tends to be more introspective than a conservative, questioning his or her positions, giving weight to the possibility that he or she may be wrong and that the opposing position may have merit.

Thus, liberals seek to reach out to conservatives, even when they get their hands bitten off to a stump. Sound like a president you know? But liberal leaders in Congresses past weren’t always such pushovers.

I was in Texas when I began covering Congress, when it was run by a pair of Texans, Sam Rayburn, the House Speaker for 17 years and his political son and protege, Lyndon Johnson, the Senate Majority

Leader. Both were yellow-dog Democrats, loyal to the New Deal and Harry Truman’s Fair Deal. Here’s an example of their tough-minded liberalism. In 1956, despite panicky pleas from colleagues, they refused to sign the so-called Southern Manifesto denouncing the Supreme Court’s school desegregation ruling.

Rayburn’s mantra for members was said to be, “go along to get along,” and in those days the speaker had more powers than today. But Rayburn’s personal integrity became obvious when he died of cancer in 1961. His estate amounted to $15,000 plus his ranch in Bonham, Texas, where he was born. But his power also derived from his commitment to his party, his politics and his personal style.

At Rayburn’s “Board of Education,” the after-session meetings in one of his rooms in the Capitol where there were drinks, poker and politics, members and the leadership laid out strategy and dealt with the problems of members, promising help on tough votes or threatening punishment if a member strayed unnecessarily. It was considered an honor to be invited to a “board” meeting. Here was utilitarianism in real time: “Self interest rightly understood.”

Lyndon Johnson, a member of the House and an ardent New Dealer since he came to the House in 1937, became a senator in 1949 (with Truman’s upset victory) and in his second term, in 1954, he became Senate Majority Leader, probably the most powerful and influential in history.

He and Rayburn helped President Eisenhower pass his domestic agenda, including the 1957 Civil Rights Act, and the building of the interstate highway system with money from gasoline taxes. Johnson helped keep Eisenhower out of Vietnam. But the two Texans laid the political foundation for the Democratic victories of 1958 and 1960.

Johnson was said to be the greatest gatherer of intelligence on every member of the Senate, understanding their states, their political and personal needs. His Senate allies included a powerhouse of liberal legislators including John F. Kennedy, Paul Douglas, Albert Gore, Sr., Stuart Symington, Mike Mansfield, J. William Fulbright, Henry (Scoop) Jackson, William Proxmire, who had replaced Joe McCarthy, and Hubert Humphrey who was ostracized by southerners for his civil rights stands but adopted as a Johnson protege.

Johnson’s power and the liberal Democrats’ clout were further enhanced when the elections of 1958 brought in a post-war wave of more than a dozen feisty liberals who gave lie to those who believe today’s dithering, dishwater Democrats are representative of liberalism. Among them: Ernest Gruening and Bob Bartlett, the first senators from Alaska; Thomas Dodd, Connecticut; Philip Hart, Michigan; Ed Muskie of Maine; Jennings Randolph of West Virginia; and Gale McGee of Wyoming.

These Democrats, for 30 years, into the presidencies of John Kennedy and Johnson, gave the nation the most liberal legislative accomplishments since the New Deal, much of which the current crop of Democrats don’t seem able to defend even from a minority of Republican crackpots. Starting with their leader, the president, they seem to run for cover at the slightest rustle of dissent.

Democrats and liberals should get real: Sarah Palin is an empty, ignorant demagogue; Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are clowns who can be challenged but aren’t. I can understand why Republicans fear them, but when will the Democrats and liberals really take on these liars who are so far to the right of either Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan that they would be appalled?

Tom Dodd’s son, Chris, has virtually been run out of office and still runs from the bank lobbyists and Republicans rather than drive financial regulation through his committee.

New York’s Charles Schumer was quick to desert Attorney General Eric Holder’s constitutionally correct decisions to try terrorists in civilian courts.

In Indiana, Evan Bayh, the son of John Kennedy’s close pal, Birch Bayh, quivers at the possibility that health reforms may include a public option that would hurt his wife’s finances, then quits because the going is too tough in the center and endangers the party that has given him sustenance.

And the man who holds Johnson’s post, among this group of tough-minded liberals, many of whom had been in the war, Harry Reid, does not seem to know how to wield the power he has. I heard a commentator say, “He’s too nice.” Maybe.

A truly nice, professorial guy, Mike Mansfield, replaced Johnson but he was effective because the liberal cadre of Democrats in the Senate supported him. Reid is the “majority leader” but he complains that a majority of 59 is not enough - but even 60 did not seem enough either to keep the Republicans from running over him.

In Johnson’s day, one needed 67 votes to end a filibuster but it was rarely used except to bar civil rights legislation. Still, LBJ would not have put up with obstructionism, especially from Democrats. Democrats like Reid and Lincoln complain they’re in tough races; maybe if they showed some spine, their voters would respond. I can’t blame voters who don’t know what their Senators believe. There was no mistaking what LBJ stood for.

Perhaps I’ve gone on too long criticizing today’s “pathetic liberals,” as my favorite commentator, Chris Hedges, calls them. Maybe that shoe belongs on the presidential foot, but I hesitate to call Barack Obama a liberal; he seems proud that he’s not ideological.

Those of us who have sense know he’s not a socialist, which is too bad. But is he a liberal? I don’t think he knows, although he sounded like one in the campaign. But if so, he acts like the softie, dithering liberal LBJ would not have liked.

How else to explain it when he praises right-wing Republican Representative Paul Ryan for being as person with “ideas” when they include privatizing Social Security and ending Medicare? Or when Obama says the obscene salaries of the bankers who screwed us were okay because it was part of our free enterprise system. As Paul Krugman remarked, “Oh God...we’re doomed.”

Said Hedges, in a December 7, 2009 essay posted on Alternet:

“The gravest danger we face as a nation is not from the far right, although it may well inherit power but from a bankrupt liberal class that has lost the will to fight and the moral courage to stand up for what it espouses.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jeanne Waite Follett: Leaving Windows Open


Officially on the Market - Almost

category_bug_journal2.gif Remember when we recently discussed how time flies as we get older? After the past week, I have definitely settled on the “novel experience theory” to explain the phenomenon.

For months on end, especially during winter, my days are pretty much the same: work on the blog, play with the cat, get out for a walk, clean the house a bit, read a book, do some research, maybe try a cooking experiment.

Instead, for the past two weeks, my home has been filled with workmen who have made repairs, painted, fixed this and that. They finished on time early last Tuesday morning. Photos of the apartment were scheduled for Friday, so I spent the remainder of the week cleaning this place from top to bottom, winnowing out dirt from all the nooks and crannies, scrubbing, polishing, washing every window including 90 PANES - when you count both sides - of French door windows. (I'll bet French doors were invented by someone with servants!)

Through it all, I kept thinking, “Isn't Friday ever going to get here?” I haven't felt like that about an upcoming day since – oh, maybe high school years.

Before I decided to sell this apartment and move to Oregon, there had been a leak in my bedroom. Ned Merrick, founder and owner of Harraseeket Woodwrights, who is the talented young man who built the bookshelves throughout my home, tried just about everything to find the leak before we gave in and tore out the wall. It was painful to see.

MessyBedroom

The leak wasn't fixed until I had decided to sell, so rebuilding that wall took place while other, minor, repairs and painting were being done too. Here is one of Ned's colleagues, Ed, working on the new bedroom wall.

EdinBedroom

Other of Ned's colleagues painted the laundry room and living room. You can't improve anything in a house without making a horrible mess.

MessyLivingRoom

The two weeks of repairs, painting and cleaning felt like two months when at last, the apartment was ready. I finished the final spit-and-polish touch-up Friday morning without any power (so much for a final vacuuming) following an outage resulting from our Thursday night storm. Here's a shot I took myself just before the agent arrived Friday afternoon for the photo session.

FinishedLivingRoom

I'll post an update with a link to the MLS page with more photos as soon as it goes live online. Listing is here.

A neighbor introduced me to a local second-hand bookseller. She will be here on Wednesday morning when we will begin going through the shelves to see what she wants to buy and what I can stand to sell without too much agony. I would like to leave with about half the books that are here now; that will save some moving costs.

One of the hardest parts of selling is the need to continue living day-to-day while keeping the apartment neat, clean and tidy for showings over a period of weeks or (god forbid) months. But there is nothing to do but work at it. No matter how much I try, I cannot convince Ollie the cat to put his toys away when he's done playing.

Speaking of Ollie, here he is on the day after the bedroom was finished, happy to reclaim a favorite snoozing place after camping out with me in the guest room during repairs.

OllieontheBed


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Brenton “Sandy” Dickson: Anna