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Grandparent Names

[UPDATE on Yesterday's Comcast Problem: After speaking with seven people over several hours (including one who said she could not help me but someone who could would call in three to five business days!), I received a phone message Monday evening from an eighth person who told me a "glitch" within Comcast caused the problem. It is now resolved, she said, and my appointment on May 21 for installation has been restored. We'll see.]

A neglected area of aging on this blog is grandparents. That's because, having to no children, I am ignorant of the experience, knowing it through friends and fellow elderbloggers only at a distance. I am curious, however, about how names are chosen for grandparents.

These days, with divorces, remarriages, step-parents and blended families, a child is likely to have more than the natural number of four so naming can become a complex exercise in distinguishing among them, not to mention the grandparents' preferences and toddlers' often funny mangling of the language that becomes permanent.

I had only two grandparents, one from each parent – Grandpa Banta and Grandma Hazel. Grandpa Banta's wife, a late-life marriage, was referred to by her first name, Bertha. But from my limited experience, it appears rare that grandchildren use first names without Grandma or Grandpa or something similar appended at the beginning of the name.

In the large family of friends who are of Polish heritage, grandmothers (and some great aunts) are called Baba with their first name following. And in Jewish families, there is the Yiddish, bubbe.

If the number of feature stories about grandparent names (one here) is an indication, boomers are rejecting the traditional “grandma” and “grandpa.” This is, apparently, so widespread that there is even a book about what to name the grandparents, The New Grandparents Name Book:

“The book is a kind of public service...offering perky alternative names such as Bubbles and Sharky, Pebbles and Rocky, GoGo and Ammo, and - for wine lovers - Sonoma and Napa.”

Personally, I'd take Granny over Ammo any day.

There are a lot of grandparents among Time Goes By readers, so today, tell us what your grandkids call you, how the name come about and whether you like it.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia May: Bathing Beauty

A Glitch in an Otherwise Smooth Move

Over the years, Crabby Old Lady has listened to friends complain about their dealings with Comcast, the telecom that provides their internet and cable television connections. But Crabby is understating.

They don't just mutter about dim customer service reps or tardy technicians. Oh, no. Their tirades are of operatic proportions - they spit and screech and turn red in the face.

Now, it turns out, Crabby's friends have a lot of company. Last month, Comcast beat out runner-up Ticketmaster by a voting margin of 59 to 41 percent to win The Consumerist's annual Worst Company in America Award - The Golden Poo. (Imagine for yourself what the statuette is.)

According to the Washington Post, Comcast spokesperson, Jenni Moyer, upon being told of the award, issued this statement:

“We're working everyday to improve our customers' experiences with us, including offering a Customer Guarantee that's backed by significant operational changes...”

and blah, blah, blah - more corporate crap.

So Crabby Old Lady was wary last week when she telephoned Comcast to arrange cable and internet installation at her new home in Oregon and she was not disappointed. First, she could not have the discount package offered on their website, said the representative, because she had telephoned. When she tried a live chat online, a different rep said she could not have the discount and refused to give a reason, saying only that Crabby is ineligible.

Crabby gave up for the time being and moved on to the next item on her list.

She phoned PGE in Oregon to arrange for her electric service. The customer service guy was smart, efficient and friendly and the account was set up in five minutes. Then he asked if there was anything else he could do to help Crabby with her move. Laughing ruefully, she asked if perhaps he has an in with Comcast.

Crabby was blown away when he said that, as a matter of fact, he does. PGE partners with another company, Allconnect, to arrange other services. That representative – as smart, efficient and friendly as the PGE person - took Crabby's Comcast order, made the appointment for setup and gave Crabby an even bigger discount than the one offered online. Whoopee. Easy and less expensive. What more could a Crabby Old Lady ask for?

She checked both items – electric and cable - off her to-do list.

Until Saturday.

Returning a missed a call from Comcast, she got a recording and left her phone number. You already know this was not a “welcome to Comcast call,” right? Six hours later, a Comcast person returned the call and asked what she could do for Crabby.

Crabby explained she was returning Comcast's call and after some confusion (what else?), the woman said Crabby's appointment had been canceled because the current owners had not requested cancellation of their account. Crabby explained she would be moved in by her installation date, but the Comcast woman read her script and would not budge.

Crabby admits she got testy, noting colorfully that the electric company, bank, insurance agent and U.S. Postal Service have all set up Crabby's new accounts so that her services will not be delayed and what's wrong with Comcast that it can't?

Of course, Crabby got nowhere and there is now a big, gaping hole in her otherwise complete “Oregon Move Checklist.”

But wait. There's more. A flurry of emails between Crabby and her Oregon real estate agent revealed that the current owners have requested cancellation and a transfer of their account to their new address but they, too, have been caught in Comcast's ghastly limbo unable to get the worst company in America to move forward.

Sometime today, Crabby will talk to the wonderful people at Allconnect and see if they can pull off their magic again. Crabby is told that fiber optic will be available in her part of Oregon within six to 12 months. Guess who will be first in line.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Old Age


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 We were in the car, off to Prahran Market to do some huntin’ ‘n’ gatherin’, when Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, said that she’d heard a radio program the previous evening about songs that the BBC had banned over the years.

She mentioned some of them and we were suitably gobsmacked. One in particular was Paper Doll by the Mills Brothers. Why was that banned? I queried.

Apparently, it was during the war (that’s the big one, WWII, for any young folks who have stumbled on to this site) and they thought that it gave the wrong message, that the story of faithless women might imperil the morale of the troops.

So, the A.M. suggested on this flimsy pretext that I could do a column on dolls. That was because of the song title, not the banning. I was a bit doubtful, but we came up with all but one of the songs included today before we reached the market. Could work, I thought, and here is the market.

Prahra nMarket

I’ll start with that very song. The Mills Brothers’ dad owned a barbershop and surprise, surprise, started a barbershop quartet called the "Four Kings of Harmony". With that as a background, how could the sons not be great harmonizers? After the early death of one of the brothers, dad joined the group.

The Mills Brothers

Paper Doll was slapped together in fifteen minutes to serve as a B-side of another recording. It sold six million copies at the time. Here’s the song the BBC banned.

♫ Mills Brothers - Paper Doll

The next track would have been banned by the BBC for the same reason as Paper Doll. It’s pretty much the same song with a different type of doll, this one being a bit more permanent than paper.

However, it was released in 1954 so I guess it was hunky dory by then as morale imperilment was out of the picture. Slim Whitman always looked to me to be a Mississippi riverboat gambler.

Slim Whitman

He was born Ottis Whitman to parents who obviously couldn’t spell very well. Slim's first big break came when Colonel Tom Parker (well, well, well) heard him singing on the radio and offered to represent him. He was signed to RCA, just like Elvis, and they dubbed him Slim.

Slim liked a bit of a yodel and most songs feature him doing just that. Here is China Doll.

♫ Slim Whitman - China Doll

The other Buddy from the fifties has the next doll song. This is Buddy Knox who had a number of good songs back then.

Buddy Knox

Buddy was born in Happy, Texas. How could he not write happy songs coming from there (except, of course his song, I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself, although that actually sounded happy)?

Early in Buddy’s career, Roy Orbison suggested he see record producer, Norman Petty, in New Mexico thus becoming the second Buddy to record for him. The first song he recorded, Party Doll, went to number one and it’s easily the most cheerful of the songs featured today.

♫ Buddy Knox - Party Doll

Cliff Richard has a painting of himself that he keeps locked in an upstairs room that he never shows to anyone. At least, that’s the way it seems to me. Take a look at this photo. Cliff turns 70 this year.

Cliff Richard

Cliff, known to his mum and dad as Harry Webb, was Britain’s biggest pop star in the fifties and sixties until a certain group from Liverpool changed everything. Here’s Cliff with Living Doll.

♫ Cliff Richard - Living Doll

Donnie Brooks, or John Dee Abohosh to his mum, was from Dallas, Texas but moved to California in his teens.

Donnie Brooks

I knew there was a song about a doll’s house and I spent a day or so in brain-wracking until it came to me. Donnie had a big hit in 1960 called Mission Bell. He followed that with Doll House, which wasn’t quite as successful and then the hits dried up for him.

He later toured in oldies revival shows. As we’re dealing with dolls, Doll House is it.

♫ Donnie Brooks - Doll House

You all know The Four Seasons, particularly now that the musical play Jersey Boys about them has been such a success.

Although there have been many more than four “Seasons” throughout their career, original members Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio have remained a constant in the group with each owning half of the entity. Nice little earner for them, I imagine.

The FourSeasons

They have a distinct sound, thanks to Frankie ‘s falsetto and had bunches of successful songs during the sixties. This is one of them, Rag Doll.

♫ Four Seasons - Rag Doll

GRAY MATTERS: Hunger and Shame

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.

My mother, may she rest in peace, would have called this a shanda, the Yiddish word for a shame, something you’re not proud of and that you’d rather your neighbor doesn’t find out.

So shame is what I thought about and felt when I read the latest survey by academic researchers for the Meals on Wheels Association of America. It found that in 2008, at the beginning of this Great Recession, nearly six percent of Americans over the age of 60 - more than 2.7 million - suffered from hunger. Not just the lack of enough food, but hunger. In the United States of America in the 21st Century.

But the deeper shame was in the 2009 survey which found that the trend upward was especially discernible between 2001 and 2007 - the years of tax cuts for the wealthy and a couple of pointless wars - when the number of older people (especially women) experiencing hunger rose by 700,000 to upwards of 3 million.

Now, as a result of the recession, when many programs for the aged and poor were reduced, partly to pay for those tax cuts, that figure has reached to over 3 million and with unemployment more than 10 percent, the figure is still climbing.

The highest concentration of hunger risk among older people are in those states with low or no income taxes and fewer social insurance programs: Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina and Oklahoma. These states, most of them conservative, also have higher concentration people with only a high school education, plus a higher number of blacks and Hispanics and older people living in poverty. The south remains the most ignorant and badly-led part of the country.

More definitive studies of hunger in the U.S. are published yearly by the Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture. But these studies refer to the problem as “food insecurity,” a phrase begun during the Reagan administration which named “ketchup” as a food and denied there was hunger in the U.S.

Nevertheless food insecurity means not knowing where or when you’re getting your next meal.

In its latest study, noted on an inside page of The New York Times last November, the number of Americans who lived in households that lacked access to adequate food rose to nearly 50 million, the highest level since the government began tracking food insecurity 14 years ago.

Thus at some time during the year, 50 million Americans, including 17 million infants and children and more than 5 million older people went hungry.

According to the Times, about a third of 506,000 households in which children and older adults faced hunger, they skipped meals, cut portions or tried to make do with food stamps. Now 36 million people have applied for food stamps, a 40 percent increase over two years ago. But the benefit is only $133 a month, not very generous for the richest debtor nation on earth.

More than 6.7 million Americans who are described as having “low food security” regularly lack sufficient food to eat. Nearly all reported that the food did not last a month.

These dismal facts have not made much of a dent in the news, for hunger in the U.S. - a huge story 50 years ago when the nation began a war on poverty – has now become a silent epidemic. But the foreign press, representing nations where hunger is unknown, has made much of America’s troubles.

The British Guardian’s headline on November 17 was, “Record Numbers Go Hungry in The U.S.” Another Agriculture Department global study of food security found that percentage of households in Canada classified as “food insecure” was 7 percent compared to 12.6 percent in the U.S., and that was before the recession.

As you might expect, Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation told the Times:

“Very few of these people are hungry. When they lose jobs, they constrain the kind of food they buy. This is regrettable, but it’s a far cry from a hunger crisis.”

James Weill, whose department did the study, replied,

“Many people are outright hungry, skipping meals. Others say they have enough to eat but only because they’re going to food pantries or using food stamps. We describe it as ‘households struggling with hunger.’”

Perhaps we should take comfort in the Agriculture Department’s overview of food security assessment which found that while there is no such hunger problem in most other industrialized nations with strong social welfare programs, the problem of food insecurity is far worse in the developing world than in America.

Sliding onto a related subject, the recession and the holes it has torn in retirement savings mean the percentage of people who expect that Social Security will be their major source of income has risen from 27 percent to 34 percent. That’s the highest percentage since 2001, according to a Gallup survey. That translates to 54 percent of retirees who said in 2008 that they expected Social Security to be their major source of income.

This comes at a time when older Americans were frightened by what seemed scary news – that for the first time, this year and next and maybe a couple more years, Social Security will be paying out more money that it will take in in payroll taxes. The reason is obvious: high unemployment means millions of jobless workers are not paying payroll taxes. But despite that frightening news, as economist Dean Baker points out, what SS will pay out will be a minuscule portion of the $2.5 trillion it holds in government bonds.

Some skeptical readers insist these bonds (in a vault in West Virginia ) are just so many IOUs. Well, so are your personal checks and the treasury bonds you hold. But the SS bonds, which produce about $700 million a year in interest for the Social Security trust fund, are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. It would help SS if the law permitted the agency to get a higher rate of interest, or if Social Security could remove the current cap ($106,000) on taxable earnings.

But Social Security, with its huge trust fund, is a tempting target for people like billionaire Pete Peterson and other deficit hawks who would love to privatize the system and make all that money available to Wall Street. And the shortfalls for the next years has given them an excuse to focus on Social Security, which is self-sustaining and contributes nothing to the deficit.

For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Social Security trust fund would show a deficit in 2010. “This is not true,” said Baker, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

“The Social Security trust fund is projected to show a surplus of close to $100 billion in 2010...The Journal likely forgot to include interest on the bonds held by the trust fund.”

I doubt that the Journal forgot. The Journal did not see the Wall Street crash coming but would now take advantage of this temporary problem to turn the social insurance on which millions depend over to those who caused the problem. Shame.

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Unwritten TGB Blog Rules Revealed

Some housekeeping today.

Time Goes By is, by deliberate choice, an ad-free blog. Years ago, Crabby Old Lady did accept advertising, but TGB gets nowhere near the traffic that would allow ad rates such as Huffington Post, TPM and other mega-blogs can charge, and administering the ads took more effort and time than the small amount of income was worth.

Additionally, Time Goes By does not review, promote or write about commercial products and services. This also is deliberate. Because a blog, expressing the opinions of the blog owner and contributors, is a more personal medium than most others, promoting commercial products could easily be interpreted (or misinterpreted) as recommendations.

Therefore, Crabby turns down all requests from owners, their employees and public relations firms to write about for-profit services and products, hold contests, giveaways and any other form of free advertising. Similarly, Crabby refuses all requests to publish guest posts because they always exist to promote the writer's book, product or service.

Crabby Old Lady brings this up because the number of these requests clogging her inbox has reached an average of a dozen or more a day. She answers most of them with a polite, one-sentence note explaining her position, but some PR people have gotten aggressive with return emails arguing how much their product or service would benefit Time Goes By readers.

Ignoring the requests only increases the email. When Crabby is too busy to answer and deletes a message, invariably a second and even third arrives asking if she received the original. So now that Crabby has written this, she can just paste the URL into a reply and move on.

Everyone else, you can be certain when you see commercial products mentioned here, it is not the result of a press release - it is always Crabby Old Lady's personal choice and can be taken as a recommendation, something she likes and believes some of you may enjoy too. If that ever changes, Crabby will tell you.

There is one other practice that needs explaining. Some readers, usually new ones and often drop-bys who are not really engaged in the subject matter, post a short comment and then add a self-serving blurb with the name and URL of their for-profit website. Crabby always removes that second paragraph. (For those who complain that your website is “free,” it is still for-profit if you sell products or services.)

Commenting is designed so that if you enter a URL in the form, your name becomes a link to that blog or website. You don't get to “double dip” by including the name and URL of that site within the comment.

To be clear, some commenters operate commercial websites or blogs that are extensions of their businesses, and their names link to those sites. That is fine as long as the comment is not a disguise for an advertisement. (By the way, that is always obvious and the comment is removed.)

Sometimes, TGB readers who operate their own blogs have written a post that relates to the day's TGB story and leave a comment with a link to it. That, of course, is fair and welcome. One of the purposes of Time Goes By is to promote elderblogging.

Sorry to bore everyone else with this post. The past week has seen a gigantic batch of these emails and Crabby Old Lady is out of patience.

For the majority of you, don't you think it is nice to have one place in the world where no one is trying to sell you something – if you don't count a few opinions.

At the Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Mother's Day

Moving Into Limbo

category_bug_journal2.gif My cross-country move from Portland East to Portland West is – well, moving right along. The van will be here next Wednesday, just six days now, and boxes are being packed in good time.

Years ago, before smokers became pariahs, there was a joke – I don't remember if it was family or cultural – something about selling a car when the ashtray got full. A similar thought applies to moving – it is the best way I know of ridding oneself of junk.

My biggest difficulty is that in a couple of cases, zealous eagerness to finish a room left me without a kitchen tool, a certain sweater or, in one instance, a tape measure I needed. Not a big deal.

Nor is my part in the move. I have mentioned that I've done this many times and the distance makes no difference. Across the country or across town, every item owned must be touched, appraised for its worth to keep or not, then wrapped, placed in a box and sealed so that the contents won't rattle, shift or break. Tedious, but not hard.

My thoughts run in two directions: on the one hand, I wonder how, even with more than 30 big, black bags of trash and other detritus gone, I came to own so much. On the other, I ask if this – these plain brown packing boxes - is all there is to my life.

As the drawers, cupboards and closets are emptied and my personal stamp on this living space disappears, I am in a kind of limbo, feeling less attached to one place but not yet to another. On the day the van leaves next week, Ollie the cat and I will move into a hotel – by definition, anonymous and temporary.

In addition, I saw my new home in Lake Oswego only twice so aside from the obvious – beds, sofa, dining table, desk - I can't envision well where everything will go because I have forgotten the details of the rooms. I don't know how I will fit and move around in that space.

None of this is new; I have felt it in past moves. It is just disconcerting for a short while.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, polkadot22: Units of Time


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 Nothing gets me more angry than the looney know-nothings who toss epithets like fascist and communist at our president - Democrats and liberals, among others.

Never mind that the two are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, these numb nuts are so criminally ignorant of history they don’t seem to realize that these ideologies – fascism and communism – are not just words on a placard. Many millions have suffered, died and fought over these ideas, which ruled much of the world in the last century. Their legacy, which still lingers, is not to be taken lightly.

Besides, those who hurl these loaded words like curses, are diminishing their value much like the overuse of the F-word diminishes its worth. But I am reminded of my Uncle Sam, of whom I’ve written, for although he never used such a word, one of his favorite epithets was “fascist” which he used freely and for good reason.

A non-card carrying socialist, Sam spat the word fascist, like an expletive, at radio commentators in the 1940s like Gabriel Heatter and H.V. Kaltenborn, when he thought they were not sufficiently anti-Nazi or pro-FDR. But that was a time when fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan threatened to engulf the rest of the civilized world.

Do the loonies know that our allies in the struggle against fascism included the communist Soviet Union?

The U.S. came late to the fight because of the American tradition of isolationism, the influence of right-wing commentators who wanted no part of a Roosevelt war, ugly memories of World War I and the rise of the German-American Bund and its allies. Ironically, the earliest and most ardent anti-fascists in Spain, Italy and Germany were socialists, social democrats and communists.

In those days fascism had a toehold in the U.S. partly because it was virulently anti-communist. And communism seemed the greater threat after World War I when the then-attorney general, Mitchell Palmer rounded up suspected “reds” who supported the aggressive new labor movement and sympathized with the new socialist Soviet state before it fell to Stalin.

Socialists and unions gained strength through the Thirties when the U.S. seethed with discontent during the worst of the great depression. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which helped save American capitalism, was nevertheless seen by Republicans and big business as socialist and communist. They seemed to be justified in their fear of the left for many New Deal programs, like the Federal Writers Project, made communists and socialists welcome. And films like Grapes of Wrath were sympathetic toward the left.

The backlash from the right was inevitable as strikes and the militancy of labor unions, like the International Workers of the World, the I.W.W., or “Wobblies,” the United Mine Workers and the United Auto Workers which engaged in sit-down strikes that took over factories, erupted in bloodshed and clashes between workers and the law or goons hired by companies.

All this coincided with ominous events abroad - Francisco Franco’s right-wing overthrown of the infant Spanish Republic, Benito Mussolini’s takeover of the disheveled Italian government and, of course, Adolph Hitler’s unimpeded German expansion, seen by many as a bulwark against the Soviets. Some Americans volunteered to fight Franco and Picasso depicted the horror of the unprecedented fascist air attacks on civilians Spain with “Guernica.”

Classical fascism, according to dictionary definitions, is a “radical and authoritarian national political ideology. Fascists seek to organize a nation on corporatist perspectives, values and systems.”

In Germany, Italy and Spain, dictatorships were established with the help and power of the military and the dominant corporations. All were one-party military dictatorships which promised to bring order to end the chaos, unemployment and runaway inflation of the struggling democracies that were snuffed out.

But none matched the Nazis’ brand of fascism in their brutality towards Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and other minorities, with their ideology of racial purity and Hitler’s single-minded ambition to dominate all of Europe.

As the misnamed National Socialists – the Nazis – gained power while the U.S. and Congressional witch hunters worried more about communists, prominent writers like Sinclair Lewis, in his 1935 book, It Can’t Happen Here (also a movie), parodied how fascism could come to America. The prominent Louisiana politician, then-Senator Huey Long, was quoted as saying that fascism would come to America wrapped in the American flag.

But that idea really came in a 1938 sermon a prominent Professor of Divinity at Yale, Halford E. Luccock, who according The New York Times, told his audience,

“When and if fascism comes to America it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called ‘Americanism.’

“The high-sounding phrase ‘the American way’ will be used by interested groups intent on profit...For never, probably, has there been a time when there was a more vigorous effort to surround social and international questions with such a fog of distortion and prejudice and hysterical appeal to fear.

“We have reached a new low in a congressional whip up fear and prejudice against many causes of human welfare, such as a concern for peace and the rights of labor to bargain collectively.”

More recently, in the 2008 presidential campaign, when fundamentalist candidate Mike Huckabee emphasized his Christianity, libertarian Representative Ron Paul recalled Lewis’ line that fascism would come to America wrapped in a flag and “carrying a cross.”

Paul opposed the war in Iraq and the sharp increase in executive power and internal spying, the jailing without cause of people deemed as enemies. It is worth remembering here President Eisenhower’s farewell message to the nation in 1960, in which he warned

“against the unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Despite the end of the cold war, the American military, with the largest budget than the next 15 military powers combined, remains with corporate America, formidable - more powerful and dominant than they were 50 years ago and their “unwarranted influence” has never been seriously challenged. A fearful Congress has rarely challenged that “complex,” and I doubt that any president would survive such a challenge.

Finally, one of America’s leading thinkers, Noam Chomsky, who has been more right about America’s role in the world than most experts, told an audience of 1,000 in Madison, Wisconsin on April 12, that he recalls the rise of Hitler, who promised to restore order and prosperity in Germany. “I have the dread sense of the dark clouds of fascism gathering” here. “The level of anger and fear is like nothing I can compare in my lifetime.”

He sympathized with the frustrations of some the tea baggers who have seen their incomes decline while the recession deepened.

“The colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism,” he said, “is what is fueling the indignation and rage of those cast aside. They want answers. They are hearing answers from only one place, Fox, talk radio and Sarah Palin.”

But based on recent polls, the tea baggers, nearly all white, include mostly Republicans who, along with the blue collar, secessionist and openly racist lumpen proletariat, hate Obama for his color as well as is liberal programs.

They do not blame the corporate thievery and the policies of the last eight years for the recession and America’s debt. They do not challenge the military budget or the imprisonment of people in places like Guantanamo.

Rather, the tea parties are supported by corporate and Republican interests; many are fundamentalist Christians who carry their crusader shields against abortion, Darwin, gays, lesbians, and immigrants; they advocate carrying guns; they oppose as socialist or communist, government programs such as health care; and ardently support laws like one just passed in Arizona that permits - indeed, requires - police to stop anyone they deem suspicious to demand they produce papers proving that they are legal residents.

They don’t seem to realize or care that this is incipient fascism.

I’m reminded of those World War II melodramas in which the man from the Gestapo asks our hero, “Your papers please.” As Pogo warned many years ago, those who cry fascist these days have met the enemy and he is them.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Estelle Davidson: The Runaway Collector

Recession Living

Two years ago, when our great recession was getting underway, there was an excellent discussion here about Surviving Hard Times. Many elderbloggers and readers left their tips and tricks and memories from the Depression about cutting expenses for all of us to choose from.

We didn't even know yet that in just four months we would be hit with the Wall Street crash that decimated elders' life savings (others too, but I'm concerned with old people on this blog) by as much 30, 40 and even 50 percent.

My biggest loss was a too-large, so-called “safe” Lehman investment and I read over last weekend that I'll be lucky to get 14 cents on the dollar when the bankruptcy is settled – probably years from now and diminished by collective billions the settlement lawyers are being paid.

Overall in October 2008, my one-day loss was a bit more than 30 percent. I immediately pulled all my investments and put the proceeds into a cash account. It doesn't make any money worth speaking of, but I'm unwilling to re-enter the investment world yet. Even if others are making money, I'm too stupid about investing to feel comfortable with it right now and I don't believe the economy is anywhere near stable.

So belt-tightening continues. Some of my attempts didn't work out well. The ten ceiling lights I replaced with CFLs (far more expensive than incandescents) all burned out within a couple of weeks. I learned the hard way that CFLs cannot be used in sockets that are on dimmer switches. (Why don't they tell us these things up front?)

Moreover, normal incandescent replacements did not work due to heat build-up that triggered flickering, so I had to purchase the special little spotlights that cost almost as much as CFLs and burn out just as quickly as normal incandescents.

Last year, during the entire months of May and June, it rained in Portland, Maine every day but three - the longest period for continuous rainy weather in the history of record-keeping in the city. The result for me was that every pot of herbs, vegetables and berries, which I had doubled in amount from 2008, was killed. Lost investment and increased food costs.

There is better news in my Oregon digs. When I was searching for a new home, monthly expenses were at the top of my considerations. I wanted low condo homeowners association dues, lower property taxes (I pay more here in Maine than I did in Manhattan) and reasonable heating costs.

Although the homeowners dues are about 30 percent greater than what I pay now, the amount is locked in for three years and it covers trash which I have been paying here. Other savings on cable, internet and property tax will lower my total monthly expenses by about 15 percent. Nothing to sneeze at.

A big savings is going to be food. It is always hard to cook for one, but cleaning out the pantry last week taught me an embarrassing lesson about myself.

In the back of the cupboards were about two dozen cans of beans, soup, etc. older than their use-by dates. What happened is that new purchases filled up the front of the shelves hiding older tins I forgot about along with enough bags of split peas for at least 20 gallons of soup, too many boxes and bags of rice, four unopened bottles of soy sauce, two of nutmeg (who uses that much nutmeg?), and similar collections of other condiments.

In Lake Oswego, I will be able to walk to nearby stores and shop more as I did in New York – every day or two as I need stuff. It will reduce over-buying and I'll get more exercise without any effort. I love food shopping and it's even more fun when you don't need to drive. Plus, I will be confined to purchasing only what I can easily carry.

So here's what I'm getting at today. After two years of recession living, what new ideas have you found for saving money that have worked? What didn't work out well or where have you screwed up? And what's your best advice for more savings and squeezing more value out of the money we spend?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Walt Grant: Willie John Pays

Ice Cream, Guilt and Aging Well

category_bug_journal2.gif Among my favorite foods are lobster; Dungeness crab; big, fat, ripe blackberries; a blue cheese from Spain called Cabrales; maple-infused, grilled salmon; and gorilla salad, my own dinner invention involving 10 to 15 vegetables and fruits held together with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and a touch of Dijon mustard.

Standing above them all, however – by magnitudes of pleasure – is ice cream. Occasionally, I indulge in chocolate chip or peanut butter cup but 95 percent of the time, I want plain vanilla with no accoutrements and Haagen Dazs, which must have been invented by a god, is the only one worth having. Its flavor, texture and creaminess surpass all other brands.

For reasons we all know, ice cream should be an occasional indulgence; it's not really good for you. According to the label of that Haagen Dazs vanilla, a pint contains 3.5 servings. Who are they trying to kid? A pint is a serving, all 875 calories of which 525 – 60 percent - are fat calories and half of those are saturated fat.

In my continuing dental saga, for two days last week I was without upper teeth while the new denture was being relined at a lab. In addition to arranging for the avoidance of all human contact during that 48 hour period, I loaded up on food that does not require chewing. There is not much to choose from but soup except – hurray! - ice cream.

I considered two-days of toothlessness a legitimate reason to purchase three pints of Haagen Dazs vanilla – half the number of meals I would eat in those two days - and health be damned. On the first day, I ate a pint for breakfast.

Then guilt set in, as it does every time I eat ice cream, which is probably more often than you do. As I had nothing more intellectually challenging to do that day than pack for my upcoming move to Oregon, I spent some time cogitating on that guilt.

Due to this blog, I read a lot about old age. Most of what is popularly written is about elder health and “aging well,” and I always fall short. According to the writers:

  1. My body and mind will fall apart because I sleep too little - only five, sometimes six hours a night.

  2. Both body and brain will further deteriorate because I get too little exercise, won't join a gym and don't play any sports.

  3. I am in danger of depression because I don't meet the requirement for the “proper” amount of socializing.

  4. My brain will atrophy because I don't stretch it by learning certain recommended new things, a language for example.

  5. I'll develop heart disease because I EAT A LOT OF ICE CREAM.

I feel guilty about one or more these things every day. I feel this guilt so frequently that it is as much a part of my being as loving Ollie the cat. Not that I take any of the recommended steps that would alleviate it.

So I decided, while sorting through clothing, kitchen equipment and other household goods, that I must find a way to rid myself of these uncomfortable daily thoughts, fleeting though they are. And since it is unlikely, as evidenced by all of the above, that I will suddenly (or even gradually) change my health habits, there isn't much else to do but make peace with them. It wasn't difficult to work out; a little logic and common sense help.

  1. I feel fine on five or six hours of sleep a night. My father never slept more than four hours a night and it never occurred to him to worry about it. That seven- or eight-hour recommendation is an average. I need less, so I can forget about that.

  2. I've been getting by without a gym or a sport all my life. I'm just less physically active than some people. I walk for an hour most days and when I wore a pedometer for awhile, I racked up a minimum of two miles a day in my normal routine around the house. I think the “experts” forget to take into account all the usual moving around we do.

  3. If I'm content with the amount of social life I have and don't feel lonely, I doubt depression will descend on me. If it does, I'm pretty sure I will seek out more companionship.

  4. I may not have any interest in learning another language and playing brain games, but as number 2 attests, I live primarily in my mind. It gets plenty of exercise even if I'm not formally involved in soduko.

  5. Since I otherwise easily maintain a well-balanced, healthy diet, undoubtedly ice cream accounts for the unwanted 15 pounds I haul around. So be it. Ice cream is way too large a pleasure to live without and I'll risk the heart problems.

I suspect I'm not alone in the guilt that invades my days. Egged on by a health industry and media that mostly scare the bejesus out of us, I think we spend way too much time thinking about our health and not enjoying what gives us pleasure. Guilt and worry can't be good for us either.

Most of us are probably doing just fine even with our indulgences. And with that in mind, I'm adding ice cream to my shopping list today. Pleasure is important to aging well too.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Chaput: The White Stag of the Mountains

ELDER MUSIC: Some Baroque Composers

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 Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi was born in 1567 and was an Italian composer, gambist, and singer. I suppose a gambist is someone who plays a gamb. What? A viola de gamba. Oh, okay.


Claudio started the baroque ball rolling and his work marked the transition from the renaissance style of music to that of the baroque period and he was the major figure in developing the baroque style. He wrote one of the earliest operas, L'Orfeo, which is still regularly performed.

He learned music initially by being a member of the choir in his local cathedral and also being taught by the local maestro di cappella. That was probably more important. He later studied music at the University of Cremona.

Claudio worked for the court of Mantua first as a singer and violist, then as music director. He wrote madrigals. Boy, did he write madrigals. I have so many of them I still haven’t played them all. One of these days. He also wrote a bunch of operas.

He was married for about eight years until his wife died. His three children died in infancy. It was a dangerous time back then. In his final years he lived in Venice and became a priest (but still created fine pieces of music).

I have to go with one of his madrigals, this is Lamento della Ninfa.

♫ Monteverdi - Lamento della Ninfa

Attilio Malachia Ariosti was an Italian composer from Bologna. He was born in 1666 and became a monk at age 22, but he soon tired of monking and left the order to become a composer for the Duke of Mantua and Monferrato. I assume that’s one greedy duke rather than two of them.


After a few years, Attilio went to Berlin at the behest of the queen of Prussia (Sophia of Hanover) who was particularly keen on music and obviously had the moolah to indulge this whim. He stayed there for about six years. Sometime later, he went to Paris and also London where he competed with Handel putting on operas. He lost. He pretty much vanished from sight after this.

About the only works of his that are around are called collectively the “Stockholm Sonatas” for viola d’amour (an instrument of which he was particularly fond). They are called that because the sole surviving source for most of them is in the Statens Musikbibliotek in Stockholm.

This is one of them, the Sonata No. 13 in C maj (viola d’amour, lute and cello).

♫ Ariosti - Sonata No 13

Henry Purcell was the greatest English composer until Handel went over to visit his old friend George One and decided to stay. He may have become as good as Handel but he died young and we’ll never know what he may have produced – bit like Buddy Holly really.


Henry’s father and brothers were all musicians and composers and little brother Daniel finished off much of the final act of The Indian Queen after Henry kicked the bucket.

Henry is said to have been composing at nine years old, but the earliest work that can be certainly identified as his is an ode written when he was eleven. A late starter.

After his father died his uncle, who was well connected, got him a position as a chorister in the Chapel Royal until his voice broke (Henry’s not the uncle’s). He then got a job as an assistant to the musical instrument keeper for the King. Later he was appointed organist at Westminster Abbey and he started writing music in earnest, sacred music at this time.

After about six years, he started producing secular works including his opera Dido and Aeneas, often considered the first genuine English opera (although some give the gold medal to John Blow's Venus and Adonis).

Later he wrote anthems for the coronation of King James II (he knew on which side his bread was buttered). He continued writing many pieces for the theatre and operas as well as sacred music (he still held the Westminster Abbey post).

He died in his mid-thirties of an unknown cause. Some say it was tuberculosis, others that it was from a chill contracted after his wife locked him out after he returned late from the theatre.

His works are still in the musical repertoire today. Here is the Overture to the Ode for the birthday of Queen Mary.

♫ Purcell - Overture

Marc-Antoine Charpentier was a French composer born in 1643.


Marc-Antoine received a good education - Jesuits may have been involved - and then went to law school in Paris. However, he dropped out after one semester and tootled off to Rome for two or three years. He didn’t just sit around there drinking vino and eating pasta; he studied music with Giacomo Carissimi.

Upon returning to France, he began working as house composer to Marie de Lorraine, duchesse de Guise, Louis XIV's first cousin. He knew a good thing when he tripped over it and remained there for 17 years until old Marie died. In his time there, he composed chamber works, trios and the like, as well as major pieces, operas and pastorals and so on.

Soon after, he got a job composing for Louis's son. He was quite successful, was awarded a royal pension and was commissioned to write for various court events. He spent his last few years as maître de musique to the Jesuits.

This is his take on psalm 110, called Confitebor tibi.

♫ Charpentier - Confitebor tibi

Francesco Saverio Geminiani was born in 1687 in Lucca (Italy, well it wasn’t called Italy back then, but you know what I mean).


He received music lessons from Alessandro Scarlatti (that’s the daddy Scarlatti), and studied the violin under Arcangelo Corelli.

He became leader of the opera orchestra in Naples, thanks to Scarlatti putting a good word for him. A little bit of nepotism doesn’t hurt.

Three years later, with a reputation of a virtuoso violinist preceding him, he went to London where he remained for the rest of his life (excluding visits to Paris and Dublin). At one stage he played several of his violin concerti with Handel at the keyboard, for the court of George I. Boy, would he be good at name-dropping.

He wrote books on violin playing that are an invaluable source of baroque performance practice. His works include concerti grossi, violin concerti, violin trios and pieces for harpsichord and guitar.

He learned the concerto grosso style of playing from Corelli who pretty much invented it. Here is one of them, Corcerto Grosso in D maj, Op 2, No 4.

♫ Geminiani-Corcerto Grosso Op 2, No 4

GRAY MATTERS: Safest Reverse Mortgage

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.

Welcome to Older Americans Month, the theme of which, according to President Obama, is “Age Strong, Live Long.” I’ll buy that. And he pledged again that his administration is committed to strengthening Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

So why is he scaring the hell out of older Americans by appointing a commission filled with deficit hawks who threaten to cut benefits from these programs, including Social Security which adds nothing to the deficit but helps finance it?

But I digress from my purpose this time, which is to tell you that there’s a way, not used often enough, to protect yourself against too many medical bills, high property taxes and the downers in your retirement savings plans. I am referring to the federal government’s reverse mortgages which too many beleaguered older Americans have ignored. Some don’t want to mortgage a home that’s free and clear; some are discouraged from tapping the equity in their homes by children who are waiting for their inheritance.

So here’s some welcome news for older Americans who own their homes and can use some extra income and cash. The up-front costs for many FHA-guaranteed reverse mortgages have gone down, which means the possible proceeds will go up by as much as $10,000.

I’m referring to the most popular and safest reverse mortgage, the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage, fondly known as the HECM. It is the safest for the lender as well as the homeowner-borrower because it is backed, insured by the Federal Housing Administration which has never defaulted on a mortgage that it has guaranteed.

Indeed, of all the mortgages that have fallen on hard times, or have been the subject of scandalous behavior by bankers and investors, the HECM has been largely untouched by these troubles. Last year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development raised to $625,000 the value of a home that could qualify for a HECM.

But because of falling home values, the recession and its budget problems, HUD cut by ten percent the amount one could borrow on a reverse mortgage. As a result, HECMs have experienced a slump.

As The New York Times pointed out last month, “Consumers were becoming increasingly reluctant to sign up for reverse mortgages – homeowners could not pull out as much equity as they once could because of the drop in home values.”

As a consequence, the largest HECM lenders – Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Metlife Bank and my lender, Financial Freedom, have waived their origination and servicing fees on certain HECMs. The origination fee is usually two percent of the first $200,000 of the home value plus one percent of the value over that, with a maximum of $6,000. Normally those fees are deducted from the proceeds and tacked onto the end of the loan.

But as a result of the waiver, Metlife said, “homeowners could receive additional loan proceeds ranging from $3,500 to $10,000 or more.” The single condition is that borrowers must take the proceeds in a lumps sum rather than in periodic payments or a line of credit, which costs the lender more to service. If they choose payments or a line of credit, the fees are not waived.

Craig Corn, Metlife’s vice-president in charge of its reverse mortgager business, explained that the option to take a lump sum in exchange for a waiver of the fees can give home owners “additional proceeds to help them pay off existing debts, meet basic needs, cover unexpected expenses...or whatever else they feel is appropriate.”

Let me add that the proceeds of a reverse mortgage are tax free and you may wish to invest the cash or turn it into an annuity. As of last year, you may use the proceeds to buy a second, vacation home, as long as you sell the first home and pay off the loan.

I should add that if and when the mortgage is paid off by the borrower or his/her heirs, the fees and interest are tax deductible. In the meantime, of course, the home is yours to live in as long as you wish. Only if he home is vacated, does the loan come due.

Even with the downturn in home values and the proceeds for reverse mortgages, HECMs have become safer for lenders as well as home owners because FHA limits the proceeds of most HECMs to about 50 percent of the appraised home value, which means that there is a huge cushion to prevent default in case of declining home values. That also means that despite the accrued interest and fees on the tail end of the mortgager, chances are there will be sufficient equity remaining at the end of the loan, if heirs wish to take over the debt and sell the property.

There are a couple of dark clouds that could further depress the demand for HECMs. David Stevens, the FHA commissioner is seeking $250 million from HUD to offset defaults and costs to the program because of declining home values. This would be the first time in the 25 year history of the program that it needed possible help from the treasury. In addition, Stevens is seeking an increase in insurance premiums, which are built into the costs of a HECM. And Stevens asked for cuts in proceeds for younger borrowers.

Borrowers must be at least 62, but the older the borrower the higher the proceeds he/she would receive. Unless such changes are made to offset possible added costs of the HECM program, Stevens warned that HUD may have to cut proceeds by 21 percent next year. With such a reduction in proceeds – $23,000 to $27,000 — the program could become moribund.

Critics of the HECM program, most prominently, Senator Claire McCaskill (D - Mo.), has charged that lenders fail to tell borrowers of the downside of reverse mortgages, but most of those she cited were private loans. HECMs have been free of such problems and the National Association of Reverse Mortgage lenders have taken steps to keep HECMs clean of scams.

In addition she has worried that reverse mortgages could fall prey to “securitization,” investors who slice and dice mortgages as they have done with conventional mortgages. But reverse mortgages are safer – for investors as well as borrowers because they are insured by FHA.

All in all, then, HECMs are a good deal if you intend to remain in your home for at least five years; otherwise you’ll be saddled with the closing costs that will eat up the proceeds you get.

To sum up HUD’s guide to HECMs:
  • You must occupy your home (condo, or co-op) as your principal residence
  • There are no income, credit or health requirements
  • Social Security and Medicare benefits are not affected
  • You keep title and may sell it at any time
  • You may use HECM proceeds to buy a second, vacation home as long as the loan on the first home is paid
  • And of course, no repayments as long as you occupy the home.

Still it would be wise to shop for a provider who may be able to arrange the loan and lead you through the process. HUD requires that each borrower undergo counseling by an approved agency (cost is $125). The counseling of the National Council on Aging, is even better and free. Call 800-510-0301.

And you can calculate the proceeds you may expect at the HUD website or call 1-800-530-6434.

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