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The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Live the Active Life

category_bug_journal2.gif Did you know the human body contains 68 joints?

That is not particularly germane to the sixth chapter of Dr. Robert Butler's book we are reading together; I mention it because it surprised me. I mean, after ankle, knee, hip and the corresponding arm joints, I'm at a loss to name any. I suppose it's all the little ones in feet and hands that add up.

This is the longest and most tutorial of the chapters in Dr. Robert Butler's The Longevity Prescription, packed with specific information on how to maintain physical functionality throughout our late years of life.

You've heard it before and the need for regular, continuing exercise in old age is obvious, as the doctor explains:

”Our muscles diminish with age, losing not only strength but actually getting smaller, with the result that our ability to do physical work decreases...

“Your maximum heart rate also declines over time...Lung capacity decreases with age, meaning less blood flow and oxygen delivery to the cells of the brain and other organs.

“As we age, our sense of balance becomes more precarious.”

The good news, says Butler is that we can, to a large degree, counteract those normal losses and significant benefit can be the result of modest exercise.

The minimum Butler prescribes for the aerobic health we need is three, 30-minute, vigorous walks per week. But for maximum benefit we should also include exercises to enhance balance, strength and flexibility.

The remarkable thing about this prescription is that the exercises are not hard, not time-consuming and don't cost money. Here are some of his recommendations:

Aerobic – for heart and lungs: In addition to walking, says Butler, you could choose jogging if you are up to it, swimming, water aerobics which is especially good for people with joint problems, bicycle riding, bowling, rowing and canoeing. Or mix them up to avoid boredom.

Strength Training – for bones and muscles: Butler says the results of these exercises are surprisingly immediate. You could try weight machines at a local gym or buy your own dumbbells or resistance bands.

Although you cannot go wrong with aerobic training, strength training is more complex, should not be done on consecutive days and as with all exercise at late age and particularly if you have been sedentary, consult your physician before beginning.

There are many good and simple instructions in this section, but proceed with caution and instruction.

Balance Training: About one-third of people 65 and older are injured in falls each year – often for no apparent medical reason. They are the leading cause of death in this age group. Our ability to balance ourselves declines with age, says Dr. Butler, due to slower processing of signals in the brain. But there are simple exercises that can help.

There is not the space in a blog post to quote the assessment test for balance, which can be done at home, but suggestions for exercises include heel-to-toe walking, one-leg stands (do it while brushing your teeth, washing dishes, waiting for the bus or subway), most kinds of dancing and tai chi.

Staying Flexible: There are many reasons our flexibility declines with age. Tendons become stiffer over the years, ligaments lose elasticity, cartilage in our joints breaks down but,

”Many studies,” writes Butler, “have shown that a sedentary lifestyle is the biggest single factor in lost flexibility.”

Aerobic, strength and balance training all help maintain flexibility, but stretching only a few minutes each day will also help to preserve range of motion, help keep joints supple and reduce the risk of injury. Several suggestions:

• Before getting out of bed, stretch every muscle from your toes upwards tensing and relaxing those muscles to get blood flowing.

• During the day, gently rotate your limbs and joints. Stay within their allotted range of motion. Pain means that's enough.

• Before a walk or other exercise, do some stretches holding a full extension for 10 or 15 seconds. No bouncing; it's an unnecessary strain.

• Yoga or Pilates is good.

• Practice good posture – it helps with back pain.

There is way too much in this chapter to cover it all in a blog post. There are good, long sections on osteoporosis, arthritis with explanations of various kinds of treatment.

Like all the literature on the importance of exercise, Dr. Butler repeats the oft-heard, “It's never too late,” and reminds us that exercise is essential to keep our minds and bodies healthy as we get older.

“Exercise plays a role in enabling our bodies to handle everyday stress. Exercise has been found to be as effective as selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (a class of prescription antidepressants) in treating depression.

“Exercise can lower cholesterol levels and, in some people, eliminate the need for cholesterol-lowering drugs. People who raise their heart rate and get the blood pumping vigorously through their bodies – and brains – have been cognitive function, too.”

Next week is all about food.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: Mama's Last Cat

Stupid, Venal, Crackpot Politics

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Ronni here. This is Crabby Old Lady's post today, but I want to direct you to a story in EasyReader by Robb Fulcher who interviewed me for it last week. It's titled Fab at 50 and a nice job he did of representing my point of view.]

Crabby Old Lady is appalled, frightened and snarling mad. You should be too.

The United States is on a crazy train to doom and no one with a bigger platform than Crabby will say so. There is only one thing that matters right now. Only one. JOBS. But you wouldn't know that from the news nor from elected officials who are the only people who have the power to effect change on the large scale the country needs.

Instead, they are dealing in stupid, venal, crackpot politics that is harming our country and destroying the lives of the people.

To those same politicians and candidates who want to replace them: stop telling the country that rich people's tax cuts create jobs. It is a lie. They've had those tax cuts for eight years and look where it got us – millions of permanently lost jobs and 10 percent “official” unemployment that is actually much higher.

To rich people and their sycophant politicians: stop attacking Social Security. No cutting benefits. No privatization. No raising the age of eligibility without an exclusion for people who do heavy labor. And Joe Miller in Alaska? Social Security is not unconstitutional. It is a lie to say that.

To politicians, candidates and rich people: stop attacking Medicare. Expand it to everyone in the U.S. which Congress and President Obama should have done the first time around. A smart 11-year-old can see that would make health care affordable for everyone.

Politicians and corporations: stop sending jobs overseas. It started long before the recession and has not stopped. Just yesterday, the Senate GOP shot down a bill that would end tax credits to corporations that outsource jobs to other countries. Huh? Why did they have tax credits for that in the first place?

To rich people and political parties: stop funding sleazy, nutter candidates. The country does not need a man who repeatedly emails pornography. It doesn't need a senator who is ignorant of evolution voting on science-related legislation. It doesn't need anyone at all in office who believes the president is a Muslim or not born in the U.S.

To cable news media: stop filling 90 percent of your air time with fact-free talking heads flapping their gums in total ignorance of everything. Crabby Old Lady has never learned one useful thing from them. Pay some trained reporters, instead, to do some real journalism. A whole lot of them are out of work and they'll do the job for less money than your “star” bloviators.

To the American public, you're not off the hook either: stop wearing tricorn hats; you look like idiots in them. Stop listening to Sarah Palin; she's an opportunistic quitter who can't speak in intelligible sentences. Turn off Glenn Beck; he's an ignorant, raving lunatic.

And to rank-and-file tea partiers: you are batshit crazy to believe you are not being manipulated by the Koch brothers and other rich tyrants who want to steal your Social Security, cancel your Medicare and leave you to eat cat food until you die from lack of medical care.

If Crabby can slow down enough for a moment to take a breath, here is what mystifies her: all the existing and proposed policies of right wingers, their candidates and followers lead inexorably to impoverishment of 95 percent of the population. When fewer and fewer people are employed at subsistence wages, no one will be left to buy the widgets companies make. And if they can't sell their merchandise, their companies will go under and they will become poorer.

Even Henry Ford, hardly a paragon of political virtue, knew that. A hundred years ago, he took a lot of grief from other rich corporatists for paying his auto workers the then-magnificent salary of $5 a day. He did so, he said, because he wanted to sell more Model Ts and to do that, more people had to be able to afford them.

It worked so well, his naysayers followed his lead. What has happened to their sense of self-preservation since then?

Crabby is letting fly because she is deeply frightened for her country. Politicians have always been corrupt, but in the past – even in Crabby's lifetime – many also cared about the well-being of their constituents and their country, were well educated enough to discuss the Constitution and the ideals of liberty with intelligence, and managed to cooperate with one another to get important legislation done to improve the country.

There was a time when most Republicans and Democrats identified with the middle of the political spectrum, left or right a bit from the center point, because they knew that extremism is dangerous. Now, the few existent centrists are all pretty much behind in the polls for this election.

Our country is in serious trouble on all fronts, but nothing will begin to improve until the people can get back to work.

Never in Crabby Old Lady's memory have we needed intelligent leadership more. But what do we have? Candidates who are porn distributors, tax cheats, barely concealed racists, panderers, religious zealots, liars, nihilists and handmaidens to corporations.

No good will come of this.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: My Life as a Shepherdess

GAY AND GRAY: Notes From a Political Punching Bag

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

category_bug_gayandgray.gif I'm sick of having my rights treated as something to kick around for political gain. It just keeps happening.

Last week, a Republican filibuster, supported and initiated by such "moderates" as John McCain and the two Republican senators from Maine, prevented addition of language to the defense appropriation bill that would have ended the military's ban on gay soldiers 60 days after a study of troop attitudes was concluded and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and the President approved the change.

This is not a hasty or ill-considered process! There are easily more than 50 votes in the Senate for the provision (already passed by the House), but not the 60 needed to get things moving.

In February, polls showed that 75 percent of the country want to end the ban -- but Republicans think they get an advantage by gumming up the Senate so nothing gets done. The issue of gays serving openly in the military provided a pretext. I've never had any desire to join the army; I have opposed most of our wars. But this is just cheap political grandstanding and I am sick of it.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled the "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" (Do Persecute) policy unconstitutional. There will be years of appeals unless the Senate somehow manages to act.

In August, a different federal judge ruled that California's Prop. 8, a state constitutional amendment that bars gay marriage, is unconstitutional because it denies gays equal protection of the law for no compelling reason.

That decision is awaiting appeal, a tortuous process since neither California's Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown, who is running for governor, nor termed-out Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will file the papers.

Republican candidate for governor Meg Whitman has no such scruples. To prove her allegiance to right wing prejudices, she promises to stick up for Prop. 8 in the courts if her megabuck campaign succeeds in November.

Away from the political heat, opposition to same sex marriage seems to be dying down. There have even been national polls that showed majority support for gay marriage.

Though the Tea Baggers don't usually focus their wacky wrath on gays, getting a hate on about us is often just under the surface. For example, on learning of an ACLU lawsuit to try to win some domestic partnership benefits for gays, Montana Tea Party leader Tim Ravndal wrote on FaceBook:

"Marriage is between a man and a woman period! By giving rights to those otherwise would be a violation of the constitution and my rights."

A commenter thought this confused thought hadn't gone far enough. Someone named Dennis Scranton responded:

"I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions."

The comment recalls exactly what happened to Matthew Shepard, left to die strung up on a barbed wire fence outside Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Scranton could have been dismissed as a loony commenter if Ravndal hadn't replied, "Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?"

Perhaps no one should be too surprised that the news media have recently noticed that the Montana Republican Party platform calls for making homosexuality "illegal." Some Montana Republicans seem a little embarrassed by the discovery. Good, they should be.

I feel relatively safe as an old, comfortably off, white woman - but this sort of vicious bigotry is still dangerous to young gays who don't conform to conventional stereotypes.

It's a strange time to be gay - on the one hand, there's a lot of both real hate and politically motivated bigotry that can slap one in the face when least expected. On the other hand, positive changes are coming faster than I ever imagined possible. I am reminded of this saying, attributed (possibly erroneously) to Gandhi:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Revivalist Rant

The Future of Today's Elder Workers

Unoubtedly you saw the news last Monday that the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) – the group of economists who read the tea leaves to determine the state of our economy – announced that our great recession officially ended more than a year ago, in June 2009.

Snark Alert: that must have been a relief to 57-year-old Patricia Reid, a college-educated business analyst unemployed for the past four years.

On the same day as the NEBR announcement, she was profiled by The New York Times in a story about middle- and late-aged workers who fear they may never work again.

That's not hyperbole; I learned how real it is even before the economy imploded. Back in 2004-05, I spent a year fruitlessly banging my head against a wall of age discrimination. From my shortened resume and a telephone interviews, 20-something hiring managers thought I was hot stuff, but they quickly backtracked when they saw me in person.

There were still plenty of jobs back then – my young colleagues who were caught in the same layoff I was found jobs in six or eight or ten weeks but not me. I cannot imagine how awful it must be for 50- and 60-somethings looking for work now.

I had no idea then how lucky the timing was when what turned out to be my last job ended. When I gave up looking for work after a year, I was 64, only one year from being eligible for Medicare and two years from full Social Security.

Although I had spent three years with no income during two bouts of unemployment over the previous seven years, had cashed in most of my 401(k) and was tens of thousands of dollars in debt, what I did have was my home in Manhattan which by then was worth about six or seven times what I had paid for it 23 year earlier. And houses were still selling.

Today, most of the middle- and late-aged unemployed don't have the options I had. Many, like Patricia Reid, are years from Medicare and Social Security. They have lost their homes to foreclosure or the value has plummeted, often below what they owe. If they had any savings left after the 2008 crash, they have decimated it to pay living costs. As has been widely reported, those who can find a job are working at salaries far below what they were previously paid.

But those are just words you've read in the news a zillion times. Here is what it means for real life old age:

When they do reach full Social Security age, their benefits will be substantially lower than if they had been able to continue the usual trajectory of their careers.

Those with no choice but to take early Social Security at 62, will see even smaller monthly checks.

Having lost all or a great deal of their savings in the crash or to pay the bills during their unemployment, they will have little or no income in addition to Social Security.

If they lost their home to foreclosure, they will need to rent for the rest of their lives and that won't be easy. Due to so many forced from their homes, rents are returning to premium levels in many cities.

If their mortgage is under water, not only will they see no equity after years of payments, they will owe a substantial amount even if they can sell in today's marketplace.

So, many who did all the right things to prepare for their old age will be living hand to mouth, scrambling to pay for the basics of life every day for the rest of their lives, which can be 25 or 30 years. Is it any wonder across-the-political-spectrum rage at Wall Street salaries and bonuses does not subside?

News stories lament the predicament of recent graduates who cannot find a first job. I feel their pain, but they do have 40 or 50 years to build a nest egg that older workers do not. And aside from that New York Times piece last week, there is nary a word about the impoverished old age millions of older people are now stuck with, without recourse. Even if they found a reasonably well-paying job today, there are not the years left in their work lives to repay their debt and recoup their losses.

Nevertheless, most Republicans, tea partiers and some Democrats want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

What brought on my imagining the future of these soon-to-be elders was Saul Friedman's Gray Matters column on Saturday.

He wrote of Ohio Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur's bill, HR 4318, which would authorize the president to re-establish the CCC, a program that put millions of young men to work during the Great Depression. Those young men were doing mostly physical labor. Kaptur's bill eliminates the age and gender limits, and keep in mind that for every project involving manual labor, there are related support jobs that older people can do.

To me, this a no brainer. We are in desperate times. Young kids just out school can delay their career dreams a few years (as they did in the Depression) to earn some money while helping rebuild the nation's infrastructure, and it would be a lifeline for older workers who otherwise have few options.

I can't think of a better way to spend the next “stimulus” now that the federal government has so munificently helped out Wall Street workers.

Maybe your congressperson doesn't know about Marcy Kaptur's bill. You might want to inform him or her which you can do here in the right column under the header, GetInvolved.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: The “Good Old Days?

ELDER MUSIC: Sunday Jazz

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 The side men on this Sonny Rollins track reads like a Miles Davis quintet reunion party – Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones. Coltrane is on the album from which this track is taken too but missing from this particular tune.

Sonny Rollins

Sonny was born in New York with the name Theodore and had a nickname of Newk (not to be confused with the Australian tennis player). He started playing jazz quite young, he was eleven when he played with Thelonious Monk. Talk about starting at the top.

Sonny’s name started being known in the early fifties when he recorded with Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Monk and others.

He has always been less than confident about his prodigious talent and over the years he has taken extended sabbaticals to practise and improve (as if he needed to). Most famously he’d take his horn out to the middle of the Williamsburg Bridge in New York and play for the passing cars, the fish and anyone who may have been wandering by.

Sonny is still playing as well as ever. This is My Reverie.

♫ Rollins - My Reverie

Marian McPartland is an unlikely jazz musician - after all, she's English, white and a woman. This is how Leonard Feather described her in a column in Downbeat magazine in 1951 (actually he said "girl,” - well, it was 1951).

He was suggesting that because of these strikes against her, the French jazz fans, where she was appearing at a jazz festival, wouldn't accept her. I think he was rather dismissive of those fans as the French, and other European countries' fans, are generally more appreciative of jazz and blues than their American counterparts. (Not those reading this column of course, sez he trying to suck up to his readers).

Marian McPartland

In spite of that initial faint praise, Marian appeared many times in the pages of that magazine, not only in articles, but as a columnist herself.

Margaret Marian Turner was a musical prodigy and studied classical music from the age of three, piano and violin. However, later, when she studied at a school of music in London, she discovered jazz, much to the dismay of her folks.

She started touring in small jazz groups and, during the war on a USO tour in Belgium, she met and soon married American cornet player Jimmy McPartland. After the war was over they moved to America – Chicago and New York particularly - where Marian played in nightclubs. She has had regular radio programs and all sorts of things that would take too long to relate.

Here she is playing Maria from "West Side Story.”

♫ Marian McPartland - Maria

Gerry Mulligan was a classically trained pianist who took up the baritone saxophone as his main instrument. He was not only a jazz player, he was a notable composer and arranger. In later years he also composed classical pieces.

Gerry Mulligan

He was an important member of the nonet Miles Davis put together to record Birth of the Cool. Gerry not only played on that, he composed and/or arranged a number of the tunes.

He was mostly based in California where he worked as a quartet without a piano, unusual at the time (or any time). His early quartet featured Chet Baker. This relationship continued for some time until Gerry was busted for drug possession and sentenced to some months in the slammer where he quit his habit.

Chet was also a heavy drug user but continued this practice. They didn't resume their musical partnership after Gerry was released. Here's the quartet playing All The Things You Are.

♫ Gerry Mulligan - All The Things You Are

You’ve already heard some Chet Baker on the previous track. That was him playing the trumpet.

Chet Baker

As mentioned, Chet was an integral part of that incarnation of Gerry’s quartet, indeed he pretty much received equal billing at the time. Chet not only played the trumpet, he was a fine singer as well. He was also pretty handsome as a young fellah until the drugs did their thing which also put paid to his career for some time.

Later in life, like a lot of jazz players, he settled in Europe and remained there until his death. Here he is playing and singing Let's Get Lost.

♫ Chet Baker - Let's Get Lost

Even Roland Kirk could play only one flute at a time.

Roland Kirk

Roland was born Ronald Kirk in Columbus, Ohio. He was motivated by a dream to switch the letters in his given name to become Roland. Years later he added Rahsaan to the front of his name after hearing it in a dream. You really should give up those pizzas with extra anchovies before bed, Roland. He became blind at a young age as a result of poor medical treatment.

He dabbled with jump blues and R&B early in his career but soon switched to bebop where he remained. He has played with everyone of note in that genre of music (and others as well). Roland was known for shoving two or three saxophones in his gob and playing them simultaneously - either those or such instruments as the manzello or stritch, which to my untrained eye, both look like saxophones anyway. Only the flute today though.

This is Serenade to a Cuckoo.

♫ Roland Kirk - Serenade To A Cuckoo

Someone who’s often rather airily dismissed by the jazzier than thou types is Dave Brubeck. I suspect it’s because of his huge popularity. They can’t claim him as their own if half the world knows about him.

Dave Brubeck

I remember years ago, decades ago really, when the Dave Brubeck Quartet was touring Australia there was the then-ubiquitous airport interview/press conference. I've forgotten where it was, probably Sydney. This wouldn't happen in Melbourne.

One of the tabloid journalists asked, "How many are there in your quartet, Mr Brubeck?" Of course, if he'd asked "How many musicians in your quartet?" Dave could have answered, "Three and a drummer. (Sorry any drummers reading this.)

Here are all the members of the quartet playing It's a Raggy Waltz.

♫ Dave Brubeck Quartet - It's a Raggy Waltz

While we're talking about popular pianists, Nat King Cole started out in a jazz quartet that became a trio when the drummer left (probably got sick of the jokes).

Nat King Cole Trio

This track, Syncopated Lullaby, features some fine playing from each member of the trio. The other two are Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on bass.

♫ King Cole Trio - Syncopated Lullaby

GRAY MATTERS: A 21st Century New Deal

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.

I first met Marcy Kaptur in 1982 when she was a long-shot Democrat running for a House seat in northern Ohio. As I recall, my story bet that she would win. Now Kaptur, who is from Toledo, is the longest serving woman in the House and named by her colleagues as one of the most valuable. She is also tilting at another windmill.

Because she’s a quintessential liberal Democrat with a moderate touch (she’s opposed to abortion) and 26 years of successful politics, you’d think that President Obama, who just got finished campaigning in depressed Ohio, would pay attention to her. But she’s among the progressive Democrats cursed by Rahm Emanuel as “f***ing retarded” and ignored by the rest of the White House honchos because they challenged Obama’s vain reach for the center and the mirage of Republican support.

Kaptur, who has been a Democratic activist since age 14, has deep roots in blue-collar America, which is where this administration needs help. She is the daughter of Polish-American grocers and still lives in her family home.

As a member of the Budget Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, she helped lead the grilling of the financial geniuses including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who helped topple the economy then rewarded the banks for their generosity.

She is also on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. Among her accomplishments was the success of legislation, after a 17-year battle with too many bureaucracies, for the creation of the vast World War II memorial on the Washington Mall which she helped dedicate in 2004. The idea for the memorial, which is a top tourist attraction, came from a constituent, Roger Durbin, a letter carrier who wondered why there were Korean and Vietnam memorials but none for America’s greatest conflict.

A bit of a throwback to the New Deal, she has pressed the White House and Congress to resurrect the very effective Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banking from investment banking. But it was repealed in 1999 by some of the same people who are now top White House economic advisers.

And, she says, the new financial services regulations they helped craft are so full of White House compromises, few Americans understand it. Although the bankers seem to like it.

Now, once again, Kaptur finds herself backing a legislative long shot that makes sense to many economists, but not the president’s economic advisers who are stuck fast in the mud of a jobless recession and have no ideas about how to escape.

She may be whistling in the dark, but she introduced last December, HR 4318, which would

“authorize the president to reestablish the Civilian Conservation Corps as a means of providing gainful employment to the unemployed and underemployed citizens...through the performance of useful public work...”

She calls it the “21st Century” version of the CCC, one of the New Deal’s most politically popular jobs programs.

One of Kaptur’s aides called my attention to her bill which echoes the legislation proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his first month as president in March 1933. As the Great Depression wore on, the CCC put three million young men to work planting trees, improving the national parks, building state parks, erecting fire towers, improving roads and dams.

The CCC’ genius is that it concentrated on jobless young men, 18 to 16, thousands of whom wandered the land as hobos. And much of their modest earnings was sent home. Kaptur’s bill, of course, would include women and there are no age limitations.

With more than 15 million Americans, including more than 10 percent of Ohioans out of work, the legislation says it is designed

“to relieve the acute condition of widespread distress and unemployment existing in the U.S. and to provide for the restoration of depleted natural resources...and the advancement of an orderly program of useful public works.”

The work to be done includes forestation of public lands, the prevention of forest fires, floods and soil erosion, pest control, construction, maintenance and repair of roads and trails, overseen by the Interior Department.

President Obama’s first stimulus proposal, which was watered down, and another just announced is running into the Republican “no.” But although they were meant to create public works jobs, the money did not go directly to hire workers, but to cities, counties and contractors and have made scarcely a dent in the jobless rate.

The CCC, like the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, would hire and pay workers directly for their work as employees of the federal government.

Kaptur’s legislation asks for $16 billion for each of the next four years to finance the CCC. In a letter appealing to colleagues to co-sponsor her legislation (so far seven house members have signed on), Kaptur suggested that the National Guard and other federal and state agencies could help manage the corps. “We again have the opportunity to make as grand a contribution as President Roosevelt,” she said.

There is little doubt Republicans will resist the legislation but Obama could, like Roosevelt, put his power behind it, using labor unions and progressive groups to embarrass Republicans who claim they want to see progress on job creation. But I doubt the White House knows about the legislation or cares.

Obama claims he admires the New Deal, but so far he has not come close to employing its solutions despite appeals from the best economic minds in the country – including Nobelists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman.

In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled, How To End The Great Recession, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted that

“the Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery – through more widely shared prosperity...New Deal measures, Social Security..unemployment insurance...the minimum wage...the GI Bill...created rapid growth and more jobs.”

Even more conservative economists have called for New Deal style job creation measures. But if Obama, mired in conventional, no-win proposals, does not respond, it would not be the first time Kaptur has been disappointed in her president. In an interview with Guernica Magazine, she blasted Obama’s economic advisers, specifically Lawrence Summers, who helped kill Glass-Steagall, and Geithner:

“Anyone who’s had their fingers on any of the financial damage that’s been done should not be allowed to serve in the federal government...That revolving door should be slammed shut How can you have the architects of the disaster in charge of the remediation?”

Asked about Obama’s record on the economy, she said,

“It’s not GDP, it’s JOB. That means we need jobs. “ She was asked, “What grade you would give him?” She replied, “The largest room is room for improvement. In my region, he wouldn’t be passing. He’s got the wrong economic advisers. But they seem to take care of Wall Street just fine.”

Perhaps that’s why he’s facing midterm losses; Roosevelt gained House and Senate seats in 1934.

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The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Connect with Community

category_bug_journal2.gif As Dr. Robert N. Butler points out in Chapter 5 of his book, The Longevity Prescription, many studies from a variety of disciplines over many years prove again and again that strong social relationships lead to good health. And in reverse,

[T]he link between isolation and suicide was firmly established long ago, suggesting that at the most elemental level, other people give us reason to live.”

The spectrum of human social needs stretches from hermit or anchorite to the gadfly who can't be alone (I've known a few; they exhaust me).

Here, however, Dr. Butler is addressing the majority of us who fall somewhere between those extremes and in old age, when we no longer have the daily social interaction of the workplace, when old friends die or move far away, and we sometimes become less physically able to get around easily, there can be a demonstrable threat to our health if we allow ourselves to become isolated.

Dr. Butler had already discussed the importance of nurturing close personal ties in an earlier chapter. This one discusses those that are more distant but equally important, and it is a Chinese menu of good advice and ideas on how to connect with others in retirement.

From ordinary people to Maggie Kuhn who created the Gray Panthers to the actor Kirk Douglas, there are real-life, inspiring stories about elders who found ways, when paid employment was no longer an option, to remain engaged and productive.

You religious congregation is one sort of community. You might use your professional experience and skills to mentor younger workers. There are dozens of affiity groups to become engaged with: clubs for specific activities, reading groups, yoga classes, adult education, volunteering and other charity work, tutoring children, political organizations, starting a small business, many ways to make a difference in other people's lives and – well you get the idea.

Importantly, however, Dr. Butler gives equal standing to the purely social with John's story. As he has for more than ten years every weekday morning, John stops for coffee at the the same shop in his town with ten or so other regulars.

”The conversation generally isn't especially profound,” writes Butler, “covering the weather, the fortunes of the baseball Giants, local politics, the day's headlines, and health issues.

"But this network of people, none of whom are best friends, providdes these men and women with an everyday sense of contact with a world beyond the walls of their homes.”

For some elders, that is all that is needed or desired of outside contact. There is no requirement to be doing all the time and you can't flunk retirement.

Dr. Butler gives over a couple of pages in this chapter to cyberspace where, he says, “nourishing contact can be made.” That gives me an opportunity to plug elderblogging – writing or reading and commenting – as a important part of one's personal social community.

For me, having left the workplace five years ago and having changed cities twice since then, I would be bereft without my online friends. That wasn't my goal or even a glimmer in the back of mind when I started Time Goes By, but – surprise! - now, well more than half the people I hold most dear I have come to know due to this blog.

I have met maybe two dozen in person and every time, we fell into conversation and camaraderie as easily as if we were old friends who hadn't seen one another in awhile – and in sense that is so since we keep in regular touch online.

Alone does not necessarily mean lonely and the degree to which we need others varies widely. But I do not doubt Dr. Butler's prescription in this chapter:

“Having caring people around you – or even just making meaningful contact witih them by phone, via the internet or by other means – amount to a special kind of health insurance.”

Next week, Chapter 6: Live the Active Life.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: The Wedding Gown

It's Not Easy Running a Blog

blogging bug image At their whim, blog readers come and blog readers go – that's the nature of all media. You can gauge how many visit your blog from whatever statistics package you use, together with the number of email and RSS subscriptions there are.

An email arrives to report when a reader unsubscribes. Here at TGB, there are usually one or two a week. I hardly notice them because over time readership increases. Sometimes subscribers tell you why they are unsubscribing by ticking an item on a list, but almost all choose “prefer not to say.”

That was true on Tuesday and Wednesday when a slew of unsubscribe notices arrived for Time Goes By and its companion blog, The Elder Storytelling Place. This time, however, some sent a separate email to tell me personally how offended they were to read a specific story on ESP, that they never knew I could be so inhumane and that they would never read ESP or TGB again. The word “cruel” came up a lot.

The story at issue, which you can read here, is by Johna Ferguson who has contributed many good stories to that blog. I especially like her dispatches from living in China for half of each year, but I was shocked when I first received this one, particularly that she expressed no sadness or remorse and appeared more concerned that her husband's wallet got soaked than about drowning puppies.

Over several days, I spent a lot of time weighing whether I should publish it. In the three-plus years ESP has existed, I have refused only two or three stories – for racism and misogyny, if I recall correctly. I asked a good friend for advice. I also wrote to Johna explaining that many would find the story objectionable and asked if she wanted to change or withdraw it. No, she said. She was willing to take the heat.

I tried writing an editorial warning note to place at the top of the story, but couldn't figure out what to say without convincing myself that I should not publish it.

That should have been the deciding clue, but even with my indecision and reservations, I scheduled the story for this past Tuesday partly because it was a Part 2 and many readers had expressed eagerness, on Part 1, to read it.

Although there are usually more comments on ESP stories, there were only two this time, resoundingly negative ones expressing what I was feeling. Then the deluge of unsubscribe notices began arriving along with those emails berating me for publishing it.

The best I can do to explain (to myself as well as you) why I published that story is that aside from bigotry of any kind or unnecessary foul language, I have published stories as they are written fixing only obvious typos, some punctuation and I often re-paragraph for ease of reading online. In thinking this over, I had tried comparing it to my television interview-producing years.

If there had ever been a reason to interview someone about drowning puppies (I can't imagine one, but this is an intellectual exercise so bear with me), an on-camera interviewer or I would have been there to ask the pertinent questions. That's not possible in a blog format, so the story just sits there in its cruelty and disturbing remorselessness without any public probing of the author.

And that is why I now believe I should have rejected the story as it was written and I will not hesitate in the future to wield a heavier editorial hand when I believe it is the right thing to do.

What do you think?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Sermon on Your “Mount”

INTERESTING STUFF: 22 September 2010

Category_bug_interestingstuff I spent a lot of time last week bitching about elders, the twitchy internet and bogus anti-aging products. The number of things to be pissed off about gets longer by the minute, but this week I seem to need a break from all the dispiriting news that afflicts our days.

So, this edition of Interesting Stuff, although short, is just for fun – things I've found that make me laugh, smile or just say awww and not a one of them about being old.

The Geico gekko has been entertaining us for more than a decade - I love that little guy and I've thought they have missed an opportunity in not producing a full-length feature with him.

Geico mixes up the gekko series of commercials with other, shorter-lived ad campaigns - some better than others - and the current "rhetorical questions" is one of their best efforts. My favorite for now is "Piggy."

It would be just irritating if it were not for the mother driving the car. In her place, I'd have smacked Piggy, but Mrs. A's restrained exasperation is perfect.

Last week, working our way through Dr. Robert Butler's book, The Longevity Prescription, we discussed stress reduction. I think this would be a fine way to do that – giant soap bubbles at the beach.

Recently, The New York Times published a slide show of ugly animals. This is a blobfish. Yeech.


You can read the accompanying story here and see photos of more ugly animals here.

It's only nine seconds and worth every one of them.

Names of most phobias read like tongue twisters. There are hundreds of them, most that you've never heard of. My friend, Kent McKamy sent this short list with some commentary:

OULROPHOBIA: fear of clowns. (Stephen Sondheim faced this one down in A Little Night Music)

PTERONOPHOBIA: fear of being tickled by feathers. (Uh-oh - there go pillow fights)

SCIAPHOBIA: fear of shadows. (M. Night Shyamalan makes a fortune exploiting this one)

AGYROPHOBIA: fear of crossing the road. (Think of those brave chickens out there)

Kent says his special phobia is cyanophobia - fear of the color blue, as in the computer blue screen of death. What about you? Here's an amazingly comprehensive list to check out.

That's all you need to know...

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Laundry

REFLECTIONS: On A Devil and a Saint

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 My years in daily journalism enabled me to meet the best and the worst: A quiet, unassuming young woman in my Cape Town writing class had her own story to tell; she had been imprisoned and tortured by the South African regime she fought and now she wanted to be a political reporter in her newly freed country.

Some years earlier, a Houston detective who was a friend, lectured school kids (including mine) on the evils of drugs, then killed himself a few yards from my office at police headquarters because he too turned out to be a drug dealer.

No wonder reporters become cynics; the evil that men do lives after them the good is too often buried with them. Recently I was reminded of a couple of memorable encounters in one of my last years in daily reporting, 1995, when I met, interviewed and wrote about a devil and a true saint.

Satan, in this case, was personified by Newton Leroy (Newt) Gingrich, who was then the new speaker of the House of Representatives. The saint was (and is) Dr. Frances Kathleen Oldham Kelsey, a senior pharmacologist for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who was still working at age 80 when I met her.

As far as I know, Gingrich and Dr. Kelsey have never met. But in a manner of speaking, their paths crossed in early 1995, which is how I came to meet them both that year.

Gingrich’s blustering and boisterous Republicans had taken over the Congress and were shaking up Washington with their notorious “Contract for America.” Dr. Kelsey, who had been given a medal by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, still came to work daily at her cluttered desk in Washington’s suburbs, reviewing applications for new prescription drugs, protecting the safety of the millions who use medicines. Indeed, because of people like Dr. Kelsey, the U.S. brands approved by the FDA are the most trusted.

For those who don’t know or have forgotten who she is, Dr. Kelsey, a Canadian born M.D., had gotten her training in the Thirties as a researcher in pharmacology at the University of Chicago. Her boss, E.M.K. Geiling, had hired her thinking Frances was a man. She accepted the job without telling him the truth.

She distinguished herself assisting him in discovering, on contract with the FDA, that a popular drug, Elixir Sulfanilamide, had caused 107 deaths because of an ingredient, diethylene glycol, a solvent now used as anti-freeze. Two years later, in 1938, the Congress passed the landmark Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. It would not be the last time that Kelsey would have a profound effect on our food and drug laws. Kelsey won her PhD as a result of her work and had developed an interest in drugs that caused congenital malformations.

Fast forward to 1960 after she obtained her M.D. and married a colleague, Dr. Fremont Ellis Kelsey, (they have two daughters). That year Frances came to work at the FDA as one of a few physicians reviewing drugs and one of her first assignments was to consider the application of a drug maker William S. Merrill to license a drug called Kevadon, whose generic name was thalidomide.

The drug, developed in Germany, was a popular and best-selling sedative or tranquilizer, depending on the dosage, because it relieved nausea and other discomforts of pregnancy during the first trimester.

It was widely used in Canada, 20 European countries and Africa, but not in the largest market, the U.S. You can imagine the pressure she was under from Merrill, which had millions of dollars at stake. Some of her bosses pressed Kelsey for a decision. But she persisted in seeking additional information to explain a curious British study that documented nervous system side effects and possible birth defects.

By the spring of 1962, she was reading reports from Europe, in the technical literature not widely circulated in the States, that many of the thousands of mothers who had taken thalidomide were reporting horribly deformed babies – born with flippers, but no arms or legs. The impatient drug maker, William S. Merrill, mimimized these reports and gave away some thalidomide pills as a promotion, which added pressure on Kelsey (and resulted in ten deformed children).

Enter a Washington Post reporter, Morton Mintz, who by way of another reporter got a tip from an aide to the late Senator Estes Kefauver (D, Tenn.) that Kelsey had been fighting a battle to keep the drug off the American market. Kefauver had been trying to strengthen the FDA and thalidomide seemed a perfect example of the law’s weakness.

In July 1962, after interviewing Kelsey and pinning down what was happening to thousands of children outside the U.S., Mintz broke his story, a lengthy piece that began

“This is the story of how the skepticism and stubbornness of a government physician prevented what could have been an appalling American tragedy, the birth of hundreds or indeed thousands of armless and legless children.”

Dr. Kelsey, he wrote, “saw her duty in sternly simple terms and she carried it out, living the while with insinuations that she was a bureaucratic nitpicker, unreasonable and even...stupid.”

As a result of the story, Kelsey’s work and the ghastly photographs of deformed children (there were relatively few in the U.S.), the Congress passed a series of amendments to the Food and Drug and Cosmetics Act in 1962 requiring that drugs must be effective as well as safe, which meant extensive testing.

Kelsey, as I mentioned, was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal in August, 1963, become a legend at the FDA and one of the most honored civil servants.

But as you would expect, the drug manufacturers, now called the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Research Association, were unhappy with those Kefauver amendments, charging that prolonged testing was too costly and kept needed, if risky, drugs from the market for too long.

During the deregulation campaigns of the Reagan and first Bush administrations, the size and budgets of the FDA suffered by as much as 30 percent. Reagan claimed that delays in drug approvals were “needlessly killing Americans.” But the agency persisted and Democratic congresses resisted attempts to dilute the laws.

But after Republicans took control of the Congress in 1994, Newt Gingrich declared war on the agency calling it the “number one job killer in the U.S.” And, with his customary hyperbole, he called the agency’s head, Dr. David Kessler “a bully and a thug.”

Kessler’s crime? Trying to label tobacco a substance to be regulated. As Mother Jones magazine reported, “a powerful bloc of critics in the drug industry has joined hands with the Republican overhaul the FDA.”

Indeed, Gingrich formed an organization headed by a crony, the Progress & Freedom Foundation, which proposed placing the responsibility for the testing and review of drugs in the hands of private firms, including the drug companies. FDA spokesman Jim O’Hara charged that what

“...this proposes is the dismantling of many of the safeguards that protect the public from drugs and devices that are unsafe or just don’t work. This is a proposal that says public health and safety are commodities for the market place.”

The Progress & Freedom Foundation, supported by contributions of drug manufacturers, also sought to limit the liability for drug companies if their products killed patients.

As a Newsday reporter assigned to cover the new Congress and Gingrich, I remembered the work of Dr. Kelsey on thalidomide and, to my surprise, she was still on the job. O’Hara arranged an interview so I could ask her about the latest attacks on her agency and the drug industry’s attempt to take over what she’s been doing for 57 years – carefully, with occasional nitpicking, reviewing the efficacy and safety of the drugs we give to ourselves and our children.

Kelsey, then the director of the FDA Office of Scientific Investigations, was publicity shy. But when I saw her, she was moved to speak out.

“The drugs today are not castor oil,” she said. “I’ve lived through days when we didn’t have the advantage of today’s regulations and look what happened. Now drugs have gotten far more complex and, yes, dangerous. There is margin of safety. Let’s not go backwards. We’ve seen enough tragedy.”

An industry lobbyist told me at the time that many drug manufacturers don’t want the responsibility for reviewing and approving drugs for that meant giving up the safety seal of approval they get from an FDA license. Other industry lobbyists sought to repeal the Kefauver amendments and leave the question of efficacy to the doctor and the patient. Kelsey told me,

“In a perfect world, that might work if doctors knew what they were doing and patients knew what they were getting. But drugs and genetic engineering compounds are becoming increasingly complex.”

William Schultz, then the FDA’s deputy commissioner added,

“All drugs carry some degree of risk. We are prepared to take the risks, as we do with the horrible side effects of chemotherapy, if the drugs are also effective. But if the risks outweigh the effectiveness and the FDA cannot require efficacy, then there can only be confusion about what drugs to take. And a very vulnerable population will be open to fraud.”

As things turned out, the FDA stepped up its approval process and gave industry some responsibility for reviewing some if its products. But the Kefauver amendments, the direct result of Kelsey’s work on thalidomide, survived while Gingrich’s Contract for American mostly fell flat. In fact Gingrich, has flashed like a ragged meteor trailing a dust cloud in the firmament, but if you examine his careers, his real accomplishments are rather minor. For Gingrich is a destroyer, not a builder.

Just four years into his tenure, Gingrich lost the speakership and his House seat after he forced a shutdown of the government ostensibly in a budget clash with then President Clinton. But according to a close ally, Gingrich was angry that he had been given a back seat on Clinton’s Air Force One.

In any event, the shutdown helped Democrats win seats in the House and contributed to Clinton’s re-election in 1996. Gingrich was fined for repeated ethics violations, the first speaker so punished, and in 1998 he resigned and his revolution went with him.

Now, with Barack Obama in the White House, Newt Gingrich has done little that might be called constructive. He has made a career out of saying almost anything to destroy the presidency and the federal government, which pays him a pension. In 1995 after the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed, I confronted Gingrich in Atlanta with a question: Might his constant anti-federal government rhetoric have contributed to the mindset of the bombers. I don’t remember his outraged denials, but he protested too much.

Personally, Gingrich has what might be called a checkered past and present. He boasted to me one day that he was a Vietnam War draft dodger. He divorced his first wife, while she was ill with cancer. And left his second wife, Marianne, for a blonde aide. Callista, his third wife.

Despite his obvious personality flaws, he is given an audience if not credibility. Some friends say this one-time history professor has gone too far, off the deep end. His trademark is speaking for the sake of shock and awe, saying almost anything no matter how foul and far out to get attention.

It’s the advice he gave Republicans long ago. Use incendiary language, he urged. And in the past months he has followed and often led the right-wing nuts lower and lower into the political depths, the underworld. And why not? That’s where Satan lives.

As for the saint, I’m pleased to report that Dr. Kelsey, who retired six years ago at age 90, has just received the first “Kelsey award” for outstanding service to her agency and the American people.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Part 2 First and Last Boat Ride

Cool Things About Being Retired

I didn't ask to be retired and if it had been up to me, I would still be working - I liked what I was doing.

At first, I choked on the word “retired,” but I'm accustomed to it now and don't mind ticking that box when asked. Even better, after five years I've discovered that there are a whole bunch of terrific things about being retired.

I don't need nearly as many clothes and I don't need to spend as much as I once did on what I do buy. No more dry cleaning either.

Although the cat makes it difficult, theoretically I can sleep in as late I want.

There is as much time as I want to cook, so I save a lot of money on food.

If I fade at midday, I can have a nap.

I can avoid crowds at markets and stores by shopping when everyone else is at work.

For the same reason, I can avoid traffic jams.

I can go to the movies during the day and avoid those crowds.

No more pantihose torture!

If the book is that good, I can stay up all night reading.

No more rushing through house cleaning on weekends; I can spread it out all week (or even over two weeks if visitors aren't expected).

There is time for quiet contemplation without feeling guilty that something else isn't getting done.

No more deadlines.

Oops – did I say that? I have a 5:30AM deadline on this blog every day and I had multiple deadlines for so many years, I suspect I'd be uncomfortable without them. But the difference, now, is that my deadline is self-imposed and as tight as it is, I meet it on my schedule.

Plus, on days when I don't feel like doing a “real post” involving actual work that might take all day or even several days, I can knock off something like this in about ten minutes.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Jamison: Tales From the Nursing Home: Dan

ELDER MUSIC: Sibling Duos

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 Recently, I watched my DVD of the Everly Brothers’ reunion concert and I thought this would make a good column. Not the Everly Brothers, although that’s certainly an option to keep up my sleeve. No. Duets.

Then I thought, that’s too easy, there are so many of them. Okay, siblings then. To make it more difficult, sibling duos. That means there are no Andrew Sisters, Mills Brothers, Neville Brothers and the like.

As I have already mentioned them, the obvious place to start is with the Everly Brothers.

Everly Brothers

Trying to pick a single track of theirs to play is difficult. Very difficult indeed. However, I’ll need something, so of the 30 or 40 I could have chosen I’ve settled for one that’s not obvious. Not one of their huge hits, That’s Old Fashioned.

♫ Everly Brothers - That’s Old Fashioned

A duo who may have been a template for the Everlys is the Louvin Brothers.

Louvin Brothers

They were certainly a major influence on Gram Parsons who covered several of their songs. I could be really cynical and go for the yuck factor and play such songs as Satan Is Real or The Great Atomic Power, but these folks did some good stuff so I’m going for one of those.

Ira and Charlie Louvin were born with the surname Loudermilk and that brings to my mind the fine songwriter and singer, John D. Loudermilk, who was their cousin.

Ira was the more interesting brother. He liked the ladies, had several marriages and his third wife shot him fives time on one occasion. He survived. He liked a drink or two, to put it mildly. Also, he threw tantrums on stage that eventually led to their splitting and going solo.

Ira didn’t last long; he was killed in a car crash in 1965 with yet another wife. Charlie is a devoted family man and still performs to this day well into his eighties.

The Louvin Brothers with Hoping That You’re Hoping.

♫ Louvin Brothers - Hoping That You’re Hoping

The McGarrigle Sisters, Kate and Annie, were born in Montreal, but lived their childhood in Saint-Sauveur-des-Monts, to the northwest of that city.

McGarrigle Sisters

The nuns at their school taught them piano and they picked up various other instruments around the house. Their father, Frank, taught them many traditional songs and these held them in good stead for their own songwriting.

Kate especially wrote terrific songs: The Work Song done so wonderfully by Maria Muldaur on her first album, “Talk to Me of Mendocino” covered really well by Linda Ronstadt, Go Leave and I Eat Dinner.

They belong to an extended musical family that includes Martha and Rufus Wainwright (Kate’s kiddies). Alas, Kate died earlier this year.

Here they are performing one of their versions of Talk to Me of Mendocino.

♫ The McGarrigle Sisters - Talk to Me of Mendocino

Back in the Fifties, the Kalin Twins hit it big. They were going to be the next big thing but after their hit they disappeared without a trace. At least, there was no trace of them around where I was at the time, a small town in western Victoria, at what the northern-hemispherists (to coin a word) among us would call the bottom of the world. Actually, they usually say “down under” but I tend to blip out that phrase whenever I hear it (except for the Men At Work song).

So, the Kalin Twins.

Kalin Twins

The Kalin Twins were Hal and Herbie Kalin from New York. They had a few recording flops until their manager came across the song, When. They recorded that song and it was a huge hit.

The Twins were actually one-and-a-half hit wonders as I recall the song Forget Me Not. However, that song wasn’t as big as When. After no more songs that troubled the scorer, they returned to their day jobs.

They occasionally reformed for the oldies’ circuit sometimes with their brother Jack. Hal died in 2005, Herb in 2006. This is When.

♫ The Kalin Twins - When

Unlike others who play this style of music, The Stanley Brothers were from Appalachia. Carter and Ralph Stanley were born in the hills in south-west Virginia.

Stanley Brothers

They started playing music together in 1946, in the style of Bill Monroe, in a band called the Clinch Mountain Boys. Later they went out on their own and recorded for a local record company. An A&R man for Columbia records discovered them and signed them up so they started playing a lot further afield, including stints with Monroe.

The Stanleys wrote most of their own songs and Carter had a knack for traditional-sounding songs. Carter died in 1966 but Ralph continues performing to this day.

This is It’s Never Too Late To Start Over.

♫ The Stanley Brothers - It’s Never Too Late To Start Over

We come to our first brother/sister act, Nino Tempo and April Stevens, or Antonino and Carol LoTempio to their mum and dad. I could have included the Carpenters, but only one of them actually sang and I’m going for duet singing. Well, mostly duet singing.

Nino Tempo and April Stevens

April started as a solo act and had some hits at both ends of the Fifties. She joined her brother as a duo in 1963 and they have recorded together since. They had a few hits in the early Sixties but there’s one that stands out. Okay, it stands out in my memory and that’s what counts in this column. That song is Deep Purple.

Nino Tempo and April Stevens - Deep Purple

Vika and Linda Bull are Australia’s foremost gospel/rock/folk duo. Whenever anyone need some female backing vocal they’re first to get a call.

Vika and Linda

They started their public singing career as part of The Black Sorrows, one of Joe Camilleri’s many bands. They went solo after six years with the Sorrows. Some months after gigging around town (and the rest of the country) they released their first album. This went platinum.

They have recorded several successful albums since and these days they record and promote themselves, as their record company is more interested in promoting young folks' music.

Here they perform Love is Mighty Close.

♫ Vika and Linda - Love is Mighty Close

And just because I can, I’m going to include another Everly Brothers track. Here they perform a Mark Knopfler song. Mark started with his brother in Dire Straits, which is appropriate for this column. The song is Why Worry, and has the great Albert Lee on lead guitar.

Everly Brothers

♫ Everly Brothers - Why Worry

GRAY MATTERS: How Socialism Really Works

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.

There is at least one organization that won’t label President Obama a “marxist” or “socialist,” and it ought to know. I speak of the Democratic Socialists of America, a tiny group of less than 6,000 members that is rather benign and wholly within the American mainstream compared, say, to the extreme radicalism of the raucous anti-government Tea Parties.

The DSA was founded in 1982 by the late Michael Harrington who won fame in the Sixties for his book The Other America,” a passionate expose of rural and urban poverty that shocked the nation and brought about Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty.

Harrington’s DSA co-founder was Barbara Ehrenreich, a prolific journalist whose books, Nickeled and Dimed and Bait And Switch, chronicled the business practices that have victimized low-paid workers and consumers. Unlike the far right Republicans and Tea Baggers, Harrington and Ehrenreich were (and are) people of talent and accomplishment and, as far as I know, they have not sought the overthrow of the government or the destruction of a president.

In fact, if you visit their web site, you will see how close to the American ideals these socialists are. They call themselves the Democratic Left and they have nothing in common with the centralized communist regimes of the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, North Korea and China.

It is true that Harrington embraced the theories of Karl Marx who held that unfettered capitalism would fail because the rich would get richer and the rest would be exploited by corporate excess. But those were also the views of Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes, both of whom were in favor of government intervention to tame capitalism.

True to our Democratic values, the DSA does not call not for government ownership of private business, but for tempering the excesses of the unregulated, free-wheeling market economies with Social Democratic reforms such as health care, social insurance and public education like those in most of Europe, Japan and other enlightened countries.

As the DSA web site says,

“In the short term we can’t eliminate private corporations, but we can bring them under greater democratic control. The government could use regulations and tax incentives to encourage companies to act in the public interest and outlaw destructive activities such as exporting jobs to low-wage countries and our environment.”

These could have been the goals of Republican presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, creator of our national parks, trust buster William Howard Taft, Dwight Eisenhower, who sponsored the Interstate Highway system, or Democrats like Harry Truman who confronted Soviet communism, or John Kennedy, who championed civil rights.

Only the very far right, which is what Republicans have become, could disagree with those sentiments. But they seem so ignorant of the consequences of their hard shell, laissez faire views that they would destroy in government what is in their own best interests. Their targets include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Education, public education itself (Thomas Jefferson’s idea), the civil rights laws, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

What’s next? The VA medical system? The Tennessee Valley Authority? Government owned military hospitals? The Post Office? Public highways? Public utilities? Surely many tea baggers use these services. Were millions of us un-American when we used the GI Bill?

My quarrel is not with these know-nothings who pop up now and again in American politics; they won’t succeed. My aim is to give lie to their fears and fear mongering of Democratic-based socialism. That happens to be as American as the pioneers who came west in communal wagon trains or the railroads, built with the help of government on public lands.

Even at its birth and in war, the government acts of 1787 and 1862, which opened the northwest territories, created land grant colleges and enabled farmers to stake their 40 acres. Jefferson’s Louisiana purchase was not specifically permitted by the Constitution, nor was the purchase of Alaska in 1867. Should we give them back?

When I wrote a few weeks ago that the VA health system, among other American enterprises, was socialist, most of my replies via the internet were positive and supportive. Many Americans, if truth be told to them, would welcome some democratic socialism - in health care and other public services like good roads and strong bridges and street lights, which are disappearing.

One of my readers, unsigned, wrote,

“The only thing better than Medicare or the VA is having both...I was on my way to the Minneapolis VA hospital for a 2PM MRI on a Sunday...when I had chest pains and shortness of breath. So I went to the VA emergency room...I had three doctors, three nurses and three technicians treat me before sending me on to my MRI (where the technician waited for me until 4PM.) Anyone who claims the government can’t do health care should walk a mile in my orthopaedic shoes.”

On the other hand, Marcelo M. writes,

“If anything, the VA system is the poster child as to why we shouldn’t have socialized Medicine...Mandates that require you buy health care violates the Constitution...”

(That is questionable, but the issue is before the courts.)

And Jerry L. says “medical care can’t be a free lunch,” and he suggests competition could hold down costs if patients and insurance companies can choose among doctors and hospitals.

But “kerewin21" asks,

“How does the VA system violate the Constitution? And he adds, “It’s really hard to make medicine into a truly competitive marketplace...Do you choose the doctor who costs half as much for your knee surgery? Do you call around to emergency rooms to find out who charges the least for a CT-scan?”

Americans who have not traveled abroad tend to belittle the experiences of Europeans like David Jordan, who is a British PhD, in geophysics and leader of a university research team. He was in business for many years and now lives in Germany’s social democracy.

“Politically,” he writes, “I’m a caring capitalist but my only affiliation is to Whatever Works. Ideologies give me the creeps.”

He’s a fan of Britain’s National Health Service even though the waiting room at a doctor’s office may include unwashed working stiffs. But he praised his emergency room treatment of a bad chest infection, and the NHS was there to help his wife give birth at home (his choice) to two children. “For free,” Jordan said. “It was wonderful. Can’t do that in the U.S....Isn’t socialism a bitch?”

The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, back in New York after a year in Germany, observed in a September 2 essay entitled, It’s Better Over There, that

“not once in my time in Berlin, which is a relatively poor city,” did she see “the kind of destitution we take for granted in the United States...The strong German safety net keeps people from plunging into the abyss.”

She cited a new book by Chicago labor lawyer and writer, Tom Geoghegan, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?.

As Pollitt writes, Geoghegan contrasts the Western European social democracies with laissez faire America which victimizes not only the poor, but the middle class, which has meager economic protection compared to their counterparts in Europe. He argues,

“contrary to U.S. popular opinion, life is better for almost everyone in a social democratic system like those in Western Europe, especially Germany. ”Even with high taxes that support the system and its benefits for workers, the unemployed, students and new mothers, Germany’s economy is in better shape than ours.”

Also missing in Europe’s social democracies is the kind of irrational hostility towards government that has led Republicans to advocate deep cuts in taxes and government services. There are consequences: In wealthy San Diego, a two-year-old boy, Bentley Do, choked to death on a gum ball last July when help was delayed for a precious nine minutes because budget cuts had closed the nearest firehouse.

The next day, Bentley’s Vietnamese mother, six months pregnant, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen and collapsed from exhaustion and grief. I saw mention of the tragedy only in the New York Times, which reported that San Diego is still reluctant to consider a tax increase to restore public services.

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Twitching Through the News

One of the things that is generally misunderstood is that dissatisfaction is not a personality flaw nor does it make you an unhappy person. But if you criticize the status quo or point out an inequity or declaim against corruption or whatever else is bothering you, a lot of people will dismiss what you say on the grounds that you are being negative.

I disagree. To be critical is to want things to be better and these days more than ever, I'll stick with this: if you're not angry, you're not paying attention.

Right or wrong in that, apparently, this week, I'm paying a lot of attention or, depending on your point of view, am having a bad week: Elder Tea Partiers piss me off one day, the anti-aging industry the next and today, it's the internet or more specifically, news websites and as a result, ironically, I'm paying less attention.

It has become impossible to read news online without developing something like attention deficit disorder or worse, stopping your brain from functioning altogether. Some examples:

Just try reading the headlines on the home page of the Washington Post. Suddenly the text jerks up or down and you've lost your place. The reason is that at the top of the left column, the paper rotates a series of photos with captions. Because the the captions are of different length, the switch pushes the column up and down, up and down twisting your brain like a pretzel.

Increasingly, at The New York Times and other media sites, the story suddenly fades to dark gray behind a full-screen ad that requires the reader to click the close button to return to the story. By then, you've forgotten where you were and, sometimes, even what the story is about.

On just about every media website, there are animated ads or videos on the right that keep jumping around at the edge of your field of vision making you feel twitchy as you lose your concentration on the story you're trying to understand.

Lately, there has been a large increase in boxes that crawl onto the screen from the left to cover exactly the paragraph you are currently reading. Most often, they are third-party pleas to take a survey (which is an ad in disguise) and because they hide the close button in different places each time and style it in such faintly-colored text, you can't possibly remember what you were reading by the time you find it.

Huffington Post is not alone, but they are the worst offender. They traffic in all of the above distractions and two others that are the most egregious on the web.

Just as you place your mouse on the headline of the story you want to click on, the page suddenly jerks up or down by four or five inches when they insert or delete a gigantic photo and headline at the top of the page. You've lost your place forever.

In addition, Huffpost republishes their home and section-front pages so frequently – sometimes several times per minute - reordering the stories so that it is impossible to find again what you were looking at. Often, the story is removed from the page altogether.

There is no excuse for these two practices except either disrespect for readers or technological incompetence. Standard practice elsewhere, as it should be, is to republish in the background and not change anything in the browser until the reader reloads the page. I've taken Huffpost off my handy quicklink list and no longer read it. It has become too stressful even before I get to the news.

There are more examples, but I'm sure you've become familiar with them too. They fry my brain so I am reading less and therefore knowing less, particularly those telling details that increasingly poor writing buries deep inside a story. (But that's a different rant.)

In the past couple of years, I've cut my print subscriptions to two. Much of what I read is published only on the internet anyway. A few days ago, The New York Times announced that at some point in the future it will end print publication and certainly all newspapers will follow along leaving us no recourse for information except the internet.

I'm no brain scientist, but these constant jerky interruptions cannot be good for our health. What does it do to our thought processes, to our understanding, our learning, our critical faculties, our concentration, our memory, our nervous system, our blood pressure?

And, as hard as it is on this old woman, what could it be doing to children's developing brains?

This is one of those issues that doesn't require an expert to confirm that it is unhealthy – to our minds, our bodies and ultimately, our participation in the public sphere - if we don't know what's going on, we can't make informed decisions.

I don't object to advertising; I just want it to stop making me twitchy.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, D. Sugar: Technivision

Elders Should Not Be the Enemy

category_bug_ageism.gif In the matter of wrinkles, fair-skinned people like me have the advantage; wrinkles don't show as much as on those with darker skin tones. That is, until we smile. Then they pop out all around our eyes, our mouths and cheeks.

That's okay with me for a couple of reasons: mostly I don't care, which is good because I have no patience with skin care beyond clean; and I am curious, as the years roll by, to watch how my appearance changes.

For example, until a year ago I had no permanent smile lines – those parentheses that frame most old people's mouths. Then, washing my face one evening, I saw a faint, curved line left of my mouth and in the months since then, I've watched it deepen into permanency even when my expression is in neutral. The right side is gradually catching up now and soon they will match.

Far from bothering me, I think it's interesting. Most of the time we don't notice changes in our bodies until after they have happened. When did my waist get this thick? How come I didn't see those little jowls coming?

If you've been hanging around TGB for awhile, you'll have read an occasional rant about anti-aging products and services. It's a several billion dollar industry that is almost entirely bogus, barely regulated, full with lies and sometimes harmful.

About six weeks ago, planning an experiment for a story here, I bought a small bottle of one of the most popular and well-known anti-aging skin creams. I wanted to see for myself if it softens the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as the hype maintains, and if my skin would appear “significantly firmer after just five days.”

Five days later, my face was no firmer, but it and my neck were as splotchy and red as I might look if I'd been a heavy drinker for many years. I gave up the experiment, tossed the bottle of cream and three days later my face was clear again.

Two of the customer reviews on the company's website mentioned red, blotchy skin as a result of using the cream but, astonishingy, went on to rave about the product's firming results. It's amazing what people will endure in the name of false youth.

A Google search for “anti-aging” returns more than 17 million results. Among the claims on just the first page of the search (all emphasis is mine):

• anti aging tips, treatments and techniques to help you look younger and feel fantastic - whatever your age.

• Russian scientist discovers anti-aging wonder drug

antiaging programs, natural bioidentical hormonal replacement therapy (BHRT) and human growth hormone (hGH) programs. (Ronni here: using human growth hormone for anti-aging treatment is illegal)

• anti-aging and skincare treatments that can help rejuvenate and restore your youthful appearance

Restore Your Skin's Natural Beauty Today With Regenerist Skincare

• Resveratrol Review. Read about probably the best anti-aging product nowadays

All lies or, at best, gross exaggerations. Just as bad is that word used to describe all these products – anti-aging – is hateful. It makes aging and by extension, elders themselves, the adversary, an enemy to be defeated. You can figure out for yourselves the many ways constant repetition of this word harms old people.

People who buy anti-aging products are not only wasting their money, they are supporting discrimination. Old people are not the enemy.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Lazinsky: Autographs

Fed Up with Elders Today

For seven years on this blog, I have worked my ass off to defend elders against ageism and discrimination, to lobby for our inclusion in the mainstream and stand up against those who would deny us those rights. But it's becoming harder every day to feel good about what I do.

I am deeply embarrassed when I repeatedly see the oceans of gray hair at the love Glenn Beck/hate President Obama and Tea Party rallies.

When the signs they carry aren't spouting ignorance of the definitions of socialism and Communism, they are filled with blind hatred, comparing the president to Hitler. If not that, they say stupendously stupid things like, “Take your government hands off my Medicare.” And some of them wear teeshirts warning they are prepared for armed revolution.

Then there are the signs supporting repeal of what they call Obamacare, the modest reform package that, in time, will help millions (if not all) younger people who cannot otherwise afford it to buy health coverage. How dumb – or mean – do you have to be to not want to extend the kind of care you have to everyone in the United States?

Does it really come down to, “I've got mine and screw you, my child”?

At this point in writing today's post, news of a new poll dropped in my inbox showing that 58 percent of Americans, including 42 percent of those 65 and older, support proposals to allow “younger workers to invest some of their Social Security tax dollars in private retirement accounts, including stocks and mutual funds.”

Does that mean nearly half of Social Security recipients can't remember 2008 when elders collectively lost an estimated $2 trillion of our savings – mostly from stocks and mutual funds? And that they would inflict that on their adult children and grandchildren?

It is (almost) understandable that 70 percent of 20-somethings in the poll support privatization of Social Security (although you have to wonder if they know anything at all about how their grandparents live). But those 42 percent of elders don't have the excuse of youthful stupidity which the kids, at least, have time to outgrow.

Here are some examples from the 9/12 rally last Sunday that set me off on this rant. All three are copyright by ninetwelvephotos at Flickr.

Obama the Terrorist

Mickey Mouse Rude Gesture

Obama Treason

I said above I am embarrassed by these elders, but it is worse than that: I am ashamed. And I am in a very bad mood.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jerry Rasmussen: Proud Poppa

The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Set Stress Aside


“[A]n estimated 60 percent of doctor visits are for stress-related complaints.”

I was shocked to read that statement halfway through Chapter 4, Set Stress Aside, of Dr. Robert N. Butler's book, The Longevity Prescription, that we are reading together. Further, he writes,

“[Stress] is a health hazard that can reduce the body's ability to maintain normal physiologic and congnitive function, undermining mental concentration and the ability to solve problems. The impact of such stress on various bodily systems can be large and, over time, even life-threatening.”

Butler explains the two kinds of stress:

  1. acute stress - the good kind - sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight response” that prepares us for immediate action such a leaping out of the way of speeding car
  2. chronic stress – the bad kind – which is repeated and prolonged anxiety and tension in response to the pressures of day-to-day events

Both kinds of stress begin in the brain and Butler explains the physiological mechanisms that are triggered with stress that anyone can understand would be a dangerous way to live. Most of the chapter is devoted to strategies and tactics for reducing stress in our lives.

Having life-long experience at being a bit tightly wound (somewhat less so as I've gotten older), I've tried many of Butler's suggestions through the years and continue to use the ones that work for me, adding and subtracting them depending on current circumstances.

Not surprisingly, exercise is at the top of Butler's list. (I am sensing a theme we undoubtedly will see throughout the book.) Motion keeps us healthy in many ways including stress reduction. Conversely, quietude is recommended too – deep breathing, which takes only a minute of time, and meditation.

For those who have never tried it, meditation is not mysterious or esoteric. I have used it on a daily basis for years to keep me grounded and steady. Butler gives a simple how-to of the basics of transcendental meditation (TM) and you can Google the phrase for more extensive explanations. The more you use this tool, the more effective it becomes.

Between the extremes of movement and quietude, Butler lists nearly two dozen other practices to help reduce stress. A few:

  • Set limits on work and commitments; keep time for yourself
  • Don't insist on perfection – in yourself or others
  • Listen to music
  • Reduce multitasking
  • Get enough sleep (see Chapter 3)
  • Keep flowers around
  • Simplify
  • Laugh more

I well know the calming effect of having flowers around and always try to have some in the house.

Music is excellent. My suggestion is to not use it as background filler, but to really listen and let it take you away (although I find good, old rock'n'roll helps keep me moving through house cleaning).

The latest research shows that all those people who like to boast about their multitasking skills are fooling themselves. They are much less productive than people who do one thing at a time.

And what a good idea Butler has for simplifying:

” our consumer society, objects accumulate around us: unanswered mail, yesterday's newspaper, gifts, collections, clothes, leftover bits of this and that.

“Begin by identifying everything on your kitchen counters, desk, entry hall, coffee table, and sideboard that you have not used in the last, say six months. Sell, give, and trash at least half the items. Move the items you cannot part with to another place (a closet or a cupboard).

“Go through the ritual again every month. Friends will appreciate your kindness. You may get a few tax deductions. Your house will look less cluttered.

“And you will feel less stressed and more in control of your life.”

As to laughter, it's obvious that we feel better after a good guffaw, but Butler explains what happens in our brains as we laugh:

“Unlike most emotional reactions, laughter engages multiple setions of the brain, including the frontal lobe (where emotions are processed), the cerebral cortex (which helps process information), and the occipital lobe (which controls the physical responses...

“Translation? More laughter, less stress.”

There are many more good suggestions in this chapter. What stress-reduction techniques have worked for you?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Loss of Maidenhood Part 1

Being 90-Something

category_bug_ageism.gif Human nature being what it is, we all have our prejudices. I don't mean the nakedly open hatred of those who would burn sacred books of others' religion. Or circulate a caricature of the president as a witch doctor. Or even public servants who want to eliminate programs that benefit elders and the disabled. Those people are easily exposed for what they are.

Today, I am talking about the rest of us and the much more subtle value judgments we make about people we don't even know, silently discounting them based, perhaps, on their taste in clothing, their accent or their weight.

Without enormous evidence of positive value in other respects, most of us prefer the well-dressed, the well-spoken and the skinny over others and that sometimes makes a difference in how we choose friends, for example, or how we vote. What is interesting about this is that all else being equal, we can be unaware that we make these distinctions.

(Although a negative can't be proved, I am convinced that if Sarah Palin looked like – oh, say, me – she would have disappeared from the national media on November 5, 2008.)

I have been reading, studying, thinking, writing and speaking out about aging and ageism for so long now that I had flattered myself into believing that this is one area of life where I am free of unconscious prejudice. As often happens, however, just when I'm feeling full of myself, something happens to knock me off my pins.

Let me tell you a story.

Last Friday, I stood on line at the supermarket pharmacy waiting to get my annual flu shot. The woman in front of me and I exchanged some polite words about the weather and I felt a little envy that she, who appeared to be five or ten years older than I (I'm 69), had a much thicker head of hair.

When she reached the counter, the pharmacist read through the form she handed over and then said, “Congratulations on your 98th birthday.”

NINETY-EIGHT!? Suddenly, I was unabashedly listening closely. There followed an informed discussion on her part, in as strong a voice as the 40-ish pharmacist, that this year's vaccine formula includes protection against the N1H1 virus.

After receiving her shot, the woman left the counter pushing a cart with as steady and firm a step as my own. Later, I saw her walking out of the parking lot carrying two bags of groceries.

Over the weekend, I gave a lot of thought to that small encounter and particularly to how shocked I was that a woman who is 29 years older than I, a person identified in medical literature as the oldest old, is as agile and mentally sharp as others who are a couple of generations younger.

Now it is true, as we have discussed here through the years, that the rate at which we age – that is, become less physically and, sometimes, less mentally able - is highly individual. Factors generally include health, genetics and plain, old dumb luck.

Nevertheless, as I thought about that woman, I became uncomfortable with how surprised I had been to see a straight-spined, 98-year-old jauntily walking off toward home with her groceries.

That discomfort arises, of course, from recognizing my prejudice – that upon hearing someone is 98, I expect them to be weak and frail, living in a nursing home or, at least, being waited on hand and foot by a relative.

But as my guess of her age, when we spoke, placed her at 20-odd years younger than she is, I further realized two other things:

• I have no ability to estimate age in the old, and

• There is no telling how many 90-somethings there are among us who are just taking care of business - buying groceries, using the ATM and standing on line for a flu shot like everyone else.

We are well indoctrinated to believe that the most aged are decrepit. But now I wonder, barring disease, ill health and, perhaps, self-fulfilling prophecy caused by that indoctrination, how many stealth oldest old we see every day.

Oh, how I wish I'd gone after that woman, introduced myself and gotten to know her.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Richard J. Klade: Ya Gotta Know When to Play 'Em


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 One source I read says that Mozart’s name at birth was Joannes Chrisostomos Wolfgang Gotlieb Mozart. Another thinks it was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Whichever it was, or even something different, in adult life he generally called himself Wolfgang Amadé Mozart, or just Mozart.

I’ll call him Wolfie just to annoy any Mozart scholars who may be reading this. He was the seventh child of Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart and only the second who survived childhood. The other was his big sister Maria Anna, called Nannerl by those who knew her well.

Mozart when a Child

That’s the Mozart family - except for mum who must have been taking the snaps that day.

Leopold taught both his kids to play the piano (or what passed for a piano back then). He also taught them academic subjects including several languages – they were quite useful later on.


When Wolfie was six years old, Leopold took both the kids on what became a three-and-a-half-year tour of Europe playing anywhere that would have them (which was pretty much everywhere). People were taken by their precocious music talents, especially young Wolfie’s.

He had already started composing music and this is his first composition, the Andante in C for Keyboard K1a with a couple of other works he composed around the same time. He composed this when he was five. What were you doing at five? Pretty much the same as me, I’ll bet.

♫ Andante in C for Keyboard


Skipping over a lot of years - Wolfie is now 18 - we get to what is probably the first of the great works, the Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat K271 where he turned things in the piano concerto game on their head and didn’t wait for the orchestra to fiddle around for some time, but came in with the piano almost immediately as if to say, “Hey, what about me? I want to play too.”

Then, when the piano comes in for real, it trills away for quite a bit as if wondering what to do next. This may seem normal now but was unheard of at the time. This is the first movement.

♫ Piano Concerto No 9


For some reason Wolfie decided not to write any more violin concertos after the first five. This is a bit odd as he was an accomplished violinist himself and he could have shown them off as he did with his piano works.

A couple of sketches of more violin concertos were found after his death but these are of very dubious provenance. Sounds like someone was trying to cash in.

However, there is a similar work he wrote later and this is one of his greatest masterpieces, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola & Orchestra K364. It sounds to me like a concerto for violin and viola but that’s not the name he chose. Whatever it’s called this is the sublime second movement from that work.

♫ Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra


When Wolfie went out on his own, much to Leopold’s chagrin probably because he was losing his cash cow, he stayed for a while with the Weber family. There, he was rather taken by the oldest daughter but she was not interested in an out of work musician. So he checked out the other daughters and spotted Constanze.

Eventually they were married, much against Leopold’s wishes (he was turning into a grumpy old man by this time). The only people at the wedding were Constanze’s mother and a younger sister. Her father had died some years earlier. I’m telescoping these events considerably – they took place over several years.

By the record of the letters they wrote to each other, of which there are many still in existence, they had a loving and happy marriage. Old Leo eventually gave his grudging consent.


Constanze had a decent soprano voice and when Wolfie was commissioned to write a mass he wrote the soprano parts with her in mind. This is the Laudamus te from the Gloria from the Mass in C minor K427. Hmm, sounds like something a Victorian lady would take for a touch of the vapors. This isn’t Constanze singing. I couldn’t find any of her records.

♫ Gloria - Laudamus te


Wolfie was in Paris in 1778, when he heard that his first son had died. The Piano Sonata No 13 K333 was the first piece he wrote after receiving this news. The second movement in particular shows a deep melancholy and a brooding, even menacing, tension that keeps hanging over the piece until the end.

The third movement relieves this mood but I’m going with the second movement. It’s a wonderful piece of work.

♫ Piano Sonata No 13


The Clarinet Concerto in A K622 was one of the very last of Wolfie’s compositions. It was the last concerto of any kind that he wrote. Some say they can hear that he had premonitions of his death in this work. That’s only because of the slow, sad second movement. The third movement is so optimistic and joyful it puts paid to that notion.

However, I’m going with the second movement because it is so lovely.

♫ Clarinet Concerto in A

GRAY MATTERS: Wiggling Out of Health Care Reform

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.

Surprise! Surprise! The nation’s health insurance companies, while paying their executives handsomely, are trying every trick in their lobbyists’ books to wiggle out of some of the most important cost-savings and patient care provisions of the health care reforms.

One obvious reason can be found in the compensation paid in the last year to the CEOs of some of the top insurance companies as reported by Modern Health Care:

• Stephen Hemsley, UnitedHealth Group, $106.6 million

• H. Edward Hanway, Cigna, a retirement package worth $110.9 million

• His successor, David Cordani, $26 million for his first year

• Michael McCallister, Humana, $14 million

• Ronald Williams, Aetna, $13.6 million

• Allen Wise, Coventry, $10.2 million

• Angela Braly, Wellpoint, $10.1 million

All have sought steep increases in their premiums while enjoying healthier profits thanks to the health reforms which, among other things, requires that people obtain health insurance much of which will be subsidized by government.

Aside from satisfying our prurient interest about these outrageous salaries, there is a reason these compensation amounts are important; they may be counted as contributing to the quality of care, which helps the companies make a mockery of the new health reforms and the amount and quality of patient care they are supposed to deliver.

Their multi-million dollar salaries, bonuses, retirement packages and stock option dollars, in other words, come out of the premium money a large portion of which they are supposed to devote to patient care.

But here’s the ultimate in chutzpah: A spokesman for Wellpoint told the Los Angeles Times that the compensation reflects their effort to improve care and hit corporate goals, including profits. Yet the record of the insurance companies reflects their chiseling on patient care, not only through premium increases, but by arbitrarily droppng or refusing coverage for potentially expensive patients - a practice that eventually is supposed to be banned.

At issue are the requirements of Section 2718 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - that is, smaller insurance companies must spend 80 percent of the premiums on patient care; the larger companies, like those cited above, must spend 85 percent.

This is known as the Medical Loss Ratio (MLR). Some advocates say that a 15 to 20 percent margin is too generous, especially given the salaries of company executives. Yet the companies are trying to chip away at the MLR requirement, deducting more and more from the 80-85 percent, by labeling even more than the salaries as “medical expenses.”

The battle by the insurance companies over Section 2718 and the MLR took place recently at a meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which has been charged by the law with reviewing and developing regulations that will be proposed by Kathleen Sibelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who is supposed to oversee the implementation of the law.

Senator Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, who helped write the MLR into the law, said,

“I hope as the NAIC continues to meet...they will remember that the purpose of this law was to make sure Americans’ health insurance premiums are spent on actual care – not obscene CEO salaries and industry profits.”

Some of the best work monitoring the NAIC proceedings in Seattle was done by Ellen R. Shaffer, co-director of the California based EQUAL Health Network. In August she told Sibelius, in a detailed letter, that

“we are concerned that the standards” under consideration by the NAIC “include an edit that would allow the insurance industry to count marketing conjunction with state and local public health departments [including sales and brokers’ commission] as medical expenses.”

Thus, a company’s self-serving publicity advertising for “health awareness” campaigns would count as “activities that improve health care quality,” she wrote, “rather than the administrative expenses they are.

“The insurance industry has stated its intention to game the system by raising premiums to make up for any constraints imposed by the new law,” she added. And she noted that Rockefeller’ Senate Commerce Committee had “documented that Wellpoint has already ‘reclassified’ more than $500 million dollars of administrative expenses as medical expenses.”

The health reforms give the insurance companies exemptions for certain insurance company taxes in calculating the MLR, which lowers their income. But Shaffer asked the NAIC and Sibelius to “discourage efforts by insurance companies to create and benefit from insubstantial programs that masquerade as clinical treatments.”

Judy Dugan, of Consumer Watchdog, reported from the NAIC meeting that despite the intent of Congress to limit the taxes the insurance companies may claim as part of patient care, lobbyists and lawyers argued to allow industry to deduct “every tax on every part of their business when they’re calculating how much they spend on actual health care.”

The companies even argued to deduct taxes on investments from their premium revenues.

The NAIC came to a unanimous agreement, which some advocates hailed as a victory for consumers. But Don McCanne, of Physicians for a National health Program said,

“We are still stuck with a middleman industry that has been granted the right to keep 15 to 20 percent of our premium dollars to use for their own purpose.”

Now, we await Sibelius and the regulations and more lobbying from the insurance companies, which, according to Bloomberg News, are shifting their financial support to help Republicans who voted against the reforms.

In the meantime, there’s some good news from the health care reforms – “Promoting Prevention Through the Affordable Care Act” – which is the subject of a paper written for a recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine by Sibelius and public health physician Dr. Howard K. Koh, assistant secretary for health. I know, everyone talks about prevention, but few have taken it seriously, until now.

As the paper says,

“The Act provides individuals with improved access to prevention services...For example new private health plans and insurance policies beginning on or after September 23, are required to cover a range of recommended prevention services at no cost.”

These may include vaccinations, screening for colon, breast and cervical cancer and for men, prostate cancer. These are the same prevention services available to Medicare beneficiaries, except as of January 1, there will be no cost for Medicare patients and for the privately insured.

As you may have read, the new health care reforms include, as of September 23, coverage with no cost sharing of tobacco-use counseling and evidence-based tobacco-cessation interventions as well as risk, alcohol-misuse counseling, depression screening and immunizations, along with obesity screening for adults and children.

In 2014, states will be forbidden from excusing from Medicaid coverage, drugs to help people quit smoking.

Alas, 45 million Americans still smoke, including 5.5 million on Medicare. They are high risk for the lung cancer that is killing a good friend. She quit, but too late.

For more information on preventive health and the Affordable Care Act, see the Health and Policy Reform section of The New England Journal of Medicine.

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