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ELDER MUSIC: Walk Away Renée

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 I feel as if I’m trespassing on Citizen K’s territory today – taking a song and see where it’ll lead us.  The song is Walk Away Renée and if you don’t like that song you might as well do something else, like check out Pharyngula or go over to K’s and see what he’s doing so you can read something stimulating rather than my rabbiting on about an obscure pop song from the sixties.

In the beginning there was the Left Banke.

Left Banke

They have been compared with the Beach Boys and The Zombies and even The Beatles for heaven's sake. They were just pretenders. The reason was that they liked to throw the odd string quartet, harpsichord or flute into their songs so the critics said, “Oh, this is deep.”

The song was composed by Left Banke member Michael Brown, when he was 16, about the girl friend of fellow Banker Tom Finn. Michael had a bit of a thing for Renée, it seems. He apparently wrote several other songs about her as well – Pretty Ballerina and She May Call You Up Tonight.


Renée (above) was present for the recording of the song and it made Michael so nervous he could barely play; his hands were shaking so much. He returned later when she wasn’t around and redid his part in the song.

Renée became uncomfortable with all the attention paid to her and (I’m sorry for this, but I couldn’t resist it) walked away.

Here’s the Left Banke with Walk Away Renee.

♫ Left Banke - Walk Away Renee

And then came The Four Tops, maybe the best soul group ever.

Four Tops

They turned this creepy stalking song into a song of joy. As if Renée were saying, “Hang on, why aren’t you following me?” The Tops had so many great songs in the Sixties that it would be easy to overlook this one. I haven’t, of course, or we wouldn’t have this column today.

The Four Tops got together when they were in high school, in 1956, and the group sang together for decades without any personnel changes. Alas, only one of the original Tops is still alive.

♫ Four Tops - Walk Away Renee

Billy Bragg took the song and ran with it.

Billy Bragg

He seems to have a fascination with this tune and I’m featuring him twice. On the first track, Johnny Marr plays the song’s melody on acoustic guitar and Billy does a bit of a rap over it. This is an English folk song rap, what we’d call a talking blues if Woody Guthrie had done it.

This version is a self-deprecating account of first love and the follies and embarrassments it induces. This song is at odds with Billy’s reputation as Britain’s foremost left-wing, rabble-rousing rocker.

♫ Billy Bragg - Walk Away Renee

Billy Bragg

Billy’s next song, on the face of it, is totally unrelated. It’s called Levi Stubbs' Tears but listening to the melody, I can hear references to the song. Levi Stubbs was the lead singer for the Four Tops and he, and they, feature in the lyrics of this version. I see it as Billy’s homage to the tune, if I may be pretentious for a moment.

♫ Billy Bragg - Levi Stubbs' Tears

There have been many covers of the song by such as Frankie Valli, Southside Johnny, Rickie Lee Jones, Marshall Crenshaw and a bunch of others I won’t name and I wouldn’t want to listen to. So it’s back to basics with the most recent version I’ve encountered by Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy.

Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy

Ann is longtime friend of Linda’s and a musician and musical scholar. The album, “Adieu False Heart,” from which it is taken consists mainly of Cajun and early 20th century music. It didn’t sell well, but I don’t think Linda needs the royalties, although Ann might.

♫ Linda Ronstadt, Ann Savoy - Walk Away Renee

GRAY MATTERS: A Ray of Light for Health Insurance Consumers

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.

It’s nice to report, for a change, some good news for beleaguered consumers. The greedy health insurance industry, which has been lawyering up and lobbying to dodge the most important requirements of the Affordable Care Act has lost an important battle this month.

As Wendell Potter, former insurance company executive turned consumer advocate, put it at Huffington Post on October 21,

“This time our state insurance commissioners...did the right thing for consumers when they refused to cave in to intense pressure from the profit-obsessed insurance industry to gut an important provision of the health-care-reform law.”

Consumer Watchdog, covering the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) meeting in Orlando, said it more simply: The commissioners

“sent rules to the Department of Health and Human Services that will require insurers to spend more money on health care and less on administration and profits.”

Now it will be up to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to write regulations that are designed to enforce the rules, and that will be tough. The insurance companies have not cooperated with the health reforms as President Obama naively hoped. Indeed, several companies have sharply raised premiums by double digits in advance of the rules and announced they would not offer the coverage the law promises.

As a result, Consumer Watchdog and other advocates have called on the White House to freeze premiums until the industry complies with the pricing provisions of the new law which requires them to explain further increases before they take effect.

Sadly, all Sibelius and the administration can do is appeal to the industry for there is little in the law, aside from light civil penalties, that they can do to punish the companies and there is no legislative limit on premiums.

What there is in the law, as I’ve discussed in an earlier post, is the crucial requirement called the “medical-loss-ratio”(MLR) that companies must spend 80 to 85 percent on premiums on actual health care; the former number is for smaller insurers, the latter for the big ones. The rest, 15 and 20 percent, is supposed to be spent on administration and profits. If enforced, insurers that do not meet these requirements must issue rebates to beneficiaries.

Some critics say the MLR, which grants insurers the possibility of making profits of 15 or 20 percent on the premiums is too generous. The insurance lobby has protested that the requirements will hurt beneficiaries and encourage fraud and cheating.

The law gave the task to the NAIC to look at the books of the companies and figure what costs can legitimately make up the MLR. The commissioners have been meeting for nearly six months to come up with recommendations designed to satisfy consumers and the insurers. But the companies, as you’d expect, have sought to cripple the MLR with amendments.

Aside from raising premiums to evade the effects of the MLR, the insurers have sought during the past six months to convince the commissioners to agree that every dollar they spend on sales personnel, advertising, marketing, phony promotions and other extraneous expenses should be categorized as “health care,” rather than administration.

For example, they sought to include community-based “wellness” promotion campaigns, which help publicize the insurer’s offerings and is nothing more than public relations. The companies also wanted some of their federal and state income taxes counted as health care expenditures to which the NAIC agreed.

But the commissioners turned down the insurers request to include as health care costs the taxes they pay on investment income. Similarly, the NAIC turned down the industry’s proposals to deduct broker fees, average their medical spending nationwide rather than state by state and loosen rules for smaller companies that don’t quite meet the 80 percent requirement.

As Potter pointed out, the timing of UnitedHealth’s announcement of a 23 percent increase in profits for the third quarter two days before the NAIC meeting undercut the insurers’ appeal for more loopholes to dodge the requirements. As a result, the commissioners rejected most of the insurers’ proposed amendments. Potter said the regulations approved by the commissioners represents a compromise that will make it easier for the industry to comply with the MLR.

But we can expect American Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) to take their lobbying effort to Sibelius who has already issued 30 waivers to company insurance plans that claimed they were having difficulty complying.

Consumer Watchdog said that despite the victory in Orlando, “the rules still contain significant concessions made to insurers.”

They include allowing companies to subtract the federal and state income tax they pay on premium revenues before calculating medical expenses; allowing companies to classify as “health quality improvements” the costs and salaries of clerks who reject claims; the cost of phone hotlines to handle consumer questions and complaints; and the cost of penalties the insurer are supposed to pay for not meeting the law’s requirements.

“Making these rules work,” said Carmen Balber, Washington director of Consumer Watchdog, “will require tough scrutiny of insurance companies’ spending to make sure they don’t use pass off overhead costs as health care.”

Sibelius said the commissioners’ recommendations “are reasonable, achievable for insurers” and she promised to “work quickly to promulgate this regulation” using the commissioners’ recommendations. But does the administration have the stomach to wage a constant fight with insurers for whom the health reforms were tailored? And will HHS have the financial expertise to examine and interpret the books of the companies? Can the insurance industry be required to cut their own profits, as the law intends?

Karen Ignani, president of the insurers’ lobby, signaled its intentions to fight and dilute the MLR on the grounds that stock prices may decline and discourage investment in insurance stocks. She commented on the NAIC meting:

“Defining health care quality initiatives in a way that is too narrow or static will turn back the clock on progress and create new barriers to investment in the many activities that health plans have implemented.”

Potter replied: “If the health plans that take our money but give us lousy coverage in return are forced out of the marketplace, I say good riddance.”

He acknowledged, however, that if smaller companies fail, concentration in the industry will increase. And so will the power of the large insurers to tailor the final regulations to their liking.

A final note: Medicare for All would generally eliminate the need for most health care insurance.

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Substance-Free, Self-Indulgent Friday

category_bug_journal2.gif It's easy for me to get wound up, as I did yesterday on Social Security, about all the many things that seem to be wrong with our country; I do it every day. But mixed in with that is one of the growing pleasures I have discovered about retirement – the ebb and flow of quiet, ordinary life that I did not have the time to appreciate so much during my working years.

So, herewith, is a substance-free Friday.

Kindlesmall Let's start with my new Kindle. Uncertain as yet how I will use it in conjunction with “real” books, I was unwilling to buy anything yet, so I downloaded the Sherlock Holmes collection. It cost about 99 cents and it really is ALL of Conan Doyle's Holmes output – the four novels and numerous short stories - in date order of publication.

I like this little gizmo. It fits nicely in my hand. The pages turn with a satisfying click of the button and I'm slowly working my way through Watson's tales in the hour before sleep most nights. I'm impressed with how well they hold up as entertainment 120 years after their writing.

Fall has arrived in my town with a gorgeous vengeance and I need venture no farther than outside my door to be awed by nature's flamboyance.

Red Tree

New England, where I lived for more than 40 years, is rightly celebrated for its fall exuberance but the colors here in my part of Oregon seem brighter, richer and deeper than in the east. Maybe it is the contrast with the dark color of the ubiquitous evergreens.

Orange Tree

Each year, the New York City media give instructions on where to drive from Manhattan on weekends for the best leaf peeping. Nowadays, no driving necessary.

Green and Yellow Tree

It's raining as I write this on Thursday so the leaves won't last much longer. But for the moment...

Another Red Tree2

My young friend Stan James of wanderingstan has been living in Berlin for more than a year. Recently, he visited Paris and this postcard arrived from him yesterday reminding me that I really ought to get there again before I die.

Stan's Postcard

About ten days ago, a black-and-white cat turned up outside the dining room window. I might not have noticed if he or she had not set off a lot of conversation from Ollie. (Sorry about the crappy photo.)

Ollie and the Cat

Now the cat visits two or three times a day for 30 minutes or so, his/her arrival always announced to me by Ollie who is interested but also wary. At first I thought he/she might be a stray – a potential companion for Ollie? But a collar and chubbiness sank that idea.

Don't forget that tomorrow is Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity on the Mall in Washington, D.C. If I still lived in the east, I would attend, but it's way too far to go from here. Comedy Central will be broadcasting live tomorrow from the event so I'll be there in spirit via television.

On Wednesday, President Obama visited Stewart's television show. Did you see it? The interview ran long, so the producers ditched the opening Stewart had taped, but posted it for us at The Daily Show website. Here is that original opening titled Let's Keep the President Waiting:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Let's Keep the President Waiting
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

Mostly during the interview, the president was in campaign mode and I wish Stewart had asked some more-pointed questions. Nevertheless, he managed a couple of interesting zingers and the young audience was wildly enthusiastic throughout. If you missed it, you can watch the full interview here.

So that's how it's been in recent days at Chez Bennett. Nothing special. Kinda boring. Just life. And I like it that way.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mimi Torchia Boothby: The Story of Carmela Borelli

Social Security: Doing It All Over Again

category_bug_politics.gif In December 2004, soon after George W. Bush had been re-elected president, I began what became a year-long series of posts about Social Security – 23 in all – covering its beginnings, its success over many decades and refuting the lies Bush and his minions told as they traveled the 50 states through 2005, intent on fulfilling Bush's campaign promise to privatize Social Security.

During those many months, Time Goes By readers responded magnificently to my repeated appeals and exhortations to sign petitions, write or telephone their representatives in Congress, and to post Social Security stories on their own blogs.

In the end, Bush lost and we elderbloggers played a small but important role in the nation's overwhelming rejection of privatization. It seemed to be over and done with, so much so that a couple of years ago, I removed the link in the right sidebar to that long series of posts.

It turns out that I was premature in doing so and now we need to do it all over again.

In the wake of our disastrous (and ongoing) recession, bank bailouts, housing crash and record deficits caused by unending wars and tax cuts for the rich and corporations, hardly a Republican alive in this midterm election campaign has not called for cuts to Social Security and/or its privatization. Some want to eliminate it altogether.

And it is not only Republicans. Some blue dog Democrats have joined the Republicans, and President Obama, although he has said he opposes privatization, seems waffle-y. As James Ridgeway at Unsilent Generation pointed out recently:

“It was Obama who set in motion the Fiscal Commission, supposedly to study the deficit but in fact, as just about everyone in Washington knows, to pare entitlements, cutting Medicare and Social Security.

“Originally, this commission was thought ready to propose lifting the limit at which one could draw Social Security from 62 to 67. Now scuttlebutt is that the entry age should be 70.

“Our supposedly 'socialist' president has placed the country’s premier social program in the hands of Alan Simpson, a Republican crank who views old people as the new welfare queens.”

William Greider, writing at LaborNotes last August, puts an even finer point on President Obama's involvement in trashing Social Security:

“Barack Obama is actively collaborating with this conservative ploy. He created a presidential commission on deficit reduction, stacked with conservative deficit hawks from both parties. They will not reveal their recommendations until after this fall’s election — too late for voters to push back.

“Obama is playing coy himself, but his aides have made clear his intentions. Social Security is the sacrificial lamb. It will be offered up to Republicans to get them to make a deal on taxes. The tax cuts for the wealthy enacted in the Bush era are set to expire, but Republicans and many Democrats are loath to let that happen.”

First they took everyone's savings – 401(k)s, IRAs and other investments – in the great crash of 2008.

Then they took away the jobs – or cut salaries in half.

They followed up by confiscating homes.

And now they want the only thing of value anyone has left: Social Security.

No matter what happens in next Tuesday's election, whacking Social Security will be a high priority with the new Congress come January. We must oppose it.

No proposal (yet) dares speak of any changes to current Social Security benefits or for those older than 55. But our younger brethren deserve protection and who better than we elders, who know how important that program is to getting by in old age.

Privatizers and benefit cutters (the latter includes raising the retirement age) argue that workers can just save more for their retirement. Really? How? They've lost everything (see above list) and (personal opinion only) inflation is soon going to eat away at what little they have left.

So this is number 1 in a new series on Social Security at Time Goes By. I'm asking you to start now to educate yourself and those two articles from Ridgeway and Greider linked above are a good start. I will be posting details with plenty of links in the weeks and months to come to point you to the information you will need.

Meanwhile, some others are mounting a campaign against the war on Social Security. At Campaign for America's Future, there is a chart of Washington politicians, organized by state, who promise – or not - to oppose benefit cuts. Check out your state.

The Campaign for America's Future has also prepared a Promise to Protect Social Security letter [pdf] that is easy to print, sign and send to your representative either my snailmail or it can be scanned and attached to an email.

Raul Grijalva, a three-term Democratic congressman from Arizona's 7th District who is in a tight race to retain his seat, has sent a letter [pdf] to President Obama opposing cuts to Social Security. Follow that link to see the names of other congress members who have signed.

However much the Republican rank-and-file and tea partiers are inclined to vote against their own best interests, most of the country supports Social Security as is. Greider again:

“Whatever Washington claims to believe, the people have their own consensus about Social Security, shared by both young and old, left and right. Americans are overwhelmingly opposed (85 percent in an AARP poll) to reducing Social Security benefits to address the deficit. A strong majority (65 percent) thinks Social Security benefits should now be increased, given everything else that has happened to people.”

Will you join all those other people and me in keeping up the pressure on Washington until we win again?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Steve Kemp: Long Lost News: Woolly Clones Shepherd New Era

GAY AND GRAY: Elders Speak Out: "It gets better!"

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 The horror of the bullying some gay youth experience busted out of the closet for many folks in the past month with the story of Tyler Clementi's suicide. When fellow students covertly broadcast the young man's make-out session with another boy over the internet, the Rutgers student concluded it was better to be dead than gay and jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Suicide claims entirely too many gay teenagers, especially young boys. Clementi's death made The New York Times, but these unhappy events happen without much more than local notice much far too often.

In response, Seattle gay advice columnist Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better YouTube project, asking older folks to record messages to young people encouraging them to hold on through the difficult teenage years and to hang on to hope of a safe and free future as open gay people.

Savage challenged his readers:

“... gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay - or from ever coming out - by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

“Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids. So here's what you can do...Make a video. Tell them it gets better.”

The response has been huge; the site now includes more than 2000 clips.

Most of the videos, naturally, are from folks not so far in age from gay teenagers; many are from college students who are reveling in new freedoms, in meeting more diverse people, in living away from home.

But I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find a few by people we'd consider elders and near-elders to share. Here are some that I think you'll find interesting and moving.

Fashion designer Tim Gunn talks about his teenage attempt to kill himself and promotes a resource for kids who are thinking about suicide:

"Please don't's worth it. Stick around."

Deb Adler says, "You don't have to put up with someone else's crap." I can relate to that. This is a little longer than most of these, but adds a different dimension about some ways young people can push back.

Grace Rogers spoke out as a parent supporting gay children:

"Things happen to us's not always to us...we're all in this together."

The fellow from Lubbock who made the video above speaks about being abused by a priest as a boy and, later, finally finding a church he could be fully himself in.

Looking through these videos with older speakers, I was surprised by how many were made by religious people who had struggled through being raised to believe that God hated them and much later found peace in a church or belief system that reassured them that they were lovable and could be loved. It was a rejecting faith system that made them so desperate as young people - and often, it was an inclusive, affirming religious community that helped them become more whole.

For example, gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson made one such a video.

It was a nice surprise when working my way through hundreds of these to discover two acquaintances had filmed one that I think can best be described as utterly charming. They explain:

"Harry, a composer, and Wayne, an Episcopal priest, live a cholesterol-lowering life-style in mid-Michigan. Even as some of the body stuff does get a little harder to put up with, it still is getting better."

Enjoy - and remember there are still confused gay kids who need to be reminded, "it gets better!"

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: The Squirrel's Nest

The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Stay With the Strategy

category_bug_journal2.gif This, the final chapter of The Longevity Prescription by Dr. Robert N. Butler, is all about cheerleading. The lessons have been explained and goals set along with the steps and strategies to achieve them and now it's time make a habit of the changes we need for a healthy old age. I like the final paragraph of the book:

“I want you to live longer; to accomplish that I want you to do things that rouse the quiet stream of happiness that you know is there. More than anything else, that will enhance your longevity.”

In 2009, I spent a week at Dr. Butler's Age Boom Academy in New York City where for five-and-a-half days, experts in all fields of aging - the hard sciences and the soft – presented the 12 of us with their latest findings. Butler was there throughout and it was obvious every day that he lived, and had done so for many years, in that “quiet stream of happiness.”

The phrase resonates with me. Although I'm not there at the moment, I can recall how it feels – I have lived that way from time to time when my job, personal life, health, activities and relationships were working together in harmony.

That is not to say things didn't go wrong during those periods. But because my life was generally in balance, the rough spots – for example, the deaths of three of my closest friends within 14 months – didn't throw me off my rails.

This chapter reads more like the usual run of self-help books – which doesn't make it anywhere near a bad thing – with some Butlerish aphorisms: I will do this; I can do this; I will find the time; I will pace myself; I will challenge myself. Some of them address such specifics as seeing the doctor, exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, etc. that he discussed in detail in the earlier chapters.

I had a nice laugh at the beginning of this chapter where Butler invokes the grandfather of all self-improvement instruction, Emile Coue who was all the rage in the 1920s.

When he quotes Coue's signature line, “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better,” I heard my mother's voice. She was growing up during Coue's heyday and it must have made an impression because she often quoted that phrase, although less as an aphorism than as derision at its banality.

(Maybe that's where I got my general dislike of self-help books which, to me, seem mostly self-help for the authors to gain riches based on the bleedingly obvious.) As we work on improving habits that will improve our health, Butler suggests a minor twist on Coue: Every day, in every way, I am aging better and better.

At the end of his three-page list of resolutions, Butler talks about the deeper questions, unrelated to what is measurable such as blood pressure, waistline and glucose levels. Questions that have no right or wrong answers but do, he says, have health consequences.

”All merit your consideration and,” he writes, “if you think about these matters honestly, you will learn something about yourself.”

Personally, I find these more valuable than Emile Coue:

“If life is a treasure beyond measure, then have you used yours in a way that honors that gift?

“If love is a measure of our humanity, have you given more than you received?

“If you have posessed power in your life, have you used it to better the lives of others?

“Has your capacity for forgivness grown over the years?

“Think about compassion, suffering, knowledge, the power of art, the energy of fear, the value of flexibility.”

The Longevity Prescription is the most useful self-help book I've ever run across. It doesn't promise miracles. It doesn't trade in psychological gobbledegook. It doesn't set up Dr. Butler as a guru. Instead, there are hard facts, practical strategies and a sense throughout that within the context of one's personal health challenges, a healthy old age is achievable.

What I've done – or, rather, rediscovered while reading this – is the diet that works for me. Not to lose weight, although that is a pleasant result, but a way of eating that makes me feel better - and more content with myself for doing the right thing. I haven't conquered my sweet tooth, but I'm controlling it. And after slacking off for too long, I'm back to walking for an hour three or four times a week.

What about you? What did you get out of this series and what changes are you making?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Ann Favreau: Heroines

The Great Elder Email Schlep

category_bug_politics.gif Elders are the largest voting bloc by age in the country. I suppose retired people have more time to get to the polls and we are likely to be more serious about taking part in this aspect of democracy.

Although much was made during the 2008 campaign about young voters' participation, particularly in support of Barack Obama, this year – well, not so much.

John Della Volpe, who is director of polling at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, reports that

“[M]ore than 70 percent of young voters tell us they are not sure that they will vote in the upcoming midterm elections. In fact, as the election has drawn nearer, our tracking numbers over the last year indicate that Millennials aged 18 to 29 are less - not more - likely to vote; less than one-in-five tell us that they are politically engaged.”

Another poll, reported by CBS News, tells us:

“Of those between the ages of 18 and 29 who voted for President Obama in 2008, 85 percent approve of the job he's doing. But only 44 percent say they definitely plan to vote in the midterm elections.”

The thing about voting is, you don't get to complain about what government is doing if you don't vote, and there is plenty to complain about these days in our ongoing post-recession recession that will not stop, whichever party controls the houses of Congress after 2 November.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, comedian Sarah Silverman created The Great Schlep, a video urging young people to travel to Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for Barack Obama. The video, still on YouTube, is profane and otherwise in questionable taste, but it has given me an idea for us:

How about The Great Elder Email Schlep?

You don't need to travel to Florida or anywhere else; email and the telephone will work just fine. The idea is to convince your grandchildren, nieces and nephews in that 18 to 29 age range to get out and vote.

Talk to them about the responsibility of citizens in a democracy to vote. Track down online information about contests in their states and send links. Find the polling places for their homes and send the addresses.

It's not wrong to be partisan about it. If your grandkid lives in Alaska, send some information about Lisa Murkowski and Scott McAdams because, if you only hear or see mainstream media, you wouldn't know they are the people running against Teabagger Joe Miller.

If your nieces and nephews live in Minnesota, Delaware, Nevada and other states with heavy Tea Party support, send those lunatic quotations from Michele Bachmann, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle and the rest of them – there are plenty to go around. And if you've got a blog, post your own story about The Great Elder Email Schlep, get your readers to do the same and pass it on to their readers.

Make a nuisance of yourself for the next week until the election with those young, potential voters. If you have Twitter and Facebook accounts, use them too. Pull out all the stops. Let them know how disappointed grandma or grandpa will be in them if they don't vote.

You might also send along the link to this video:

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Helen: Story Time

ELDER MUSIC: Kings of the Blues

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 Okay, this really is a cliché of a title but it does describe exactly what you're getting today. Besides, it was the idea of Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, so I can pass the buck.

She also chose all the tracks featured, however left me to write about them. One thing she did point out though, and I think that this is pretty cool, is that two of the Kings share birthdays with her and me.

B.B. King and I blow out the candles together and Albert King used to crack open the champagne on the same day as the A.M. That alone is a good enough reason for a column (there have been worse ones).

So, to the real undisputed king of the blues, B.B. King.

B.B. King

Riley King was born on my birthday (okay, some considerable number of years earlier than I) on a plantation near Indianola, Mississippi. When he was around 20, he went to Memphis and stayed with his cousin, Bukka White, and worked on a local radio program singing and as a disk jockey.

Around that time he heard T-Bone Walker and knew he really had to have an electric guitar to play ("short of stealing one" he said in an interview). Not too long after he acquired this guitar, it became known as Lucille. There is a famous story about this which I won't recount as everyone knows it. Every guitar of his since has had that name.

He performed for a time as the Beale Street Blues Boy which was too much of a mouthful and was shortened to B.B. He recorded a few tracks for Nashville Record Company in 1949, including this one, She's Dynamite.

♫ B.B. King - She’s Dynamite

B.B. gained a reputation around Tennessee and Arkansas and his music reached the ears of Sam Phillips who recorded him. These tracks came out on the RPM label before Sam created Sun Records. This is one of those, an appropriately slow blues considering the topic, Three O’clock Blues.

♫ B.B. King - Three O’Clock Blues

To bring us pretty much up to date this is Blues in G from B.B.'s recent "Blues on the Bayou" album. Well, I thought it was recent until I checked the CD and it said 1998, but that's recent for some of us.

♫ B.B. King - Blues in G

Albert King was also born on a cotton plantation near Indianola, Mississippi but is no relation to B.B. Well, his folks knew him as Albert Nelson so that probably explains it.

Albert King

Albert was a big man. Some reports say he was two metres tall (that's 6 foot 7 in American money) and was known as "The Velvet Bulldozer.”

Albert was left-handed, but rather than restringing the guitar that way, as Jimi Hendrix and others did, he just played a normal guitar upside down, bass strings at the bottom; Elizabeth Cotton did the same thing.

Perhaps that accounts for his distinctive playing style. He also generally played a distinctive guitar, the Gibson Flying V (in his case, he named it Lucy).

His early records made little impact until the early sixties when he made it big with Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong, a song Michael Bloomfield also often performed.

The tracks featured today were recorded at Stax Records and his backing band is the mighty Stax house band, Booker T. and the MGs - the Memphis Horns and Isaac Hayes playing the piano. It'd be hard to come up with a better backing group than that. The first track is Personal Manager which includes a blistering guitar solo by Albert.

♫ Albert King - Personal Manager

The next track veers into pop territory, but not completely. It's one of the few blues tracks I know that features a flute. It's I Almost Lost My Mind.

♫ Albert King - I Almost Lost My Mind

We wondered if we should include the next track, but thought "Why not?" This is completely into pop, The Very Thought of You.

♫ Albert King - The Very Thought Of You

Freddie King wasn't born near Indianola, indeed he wasn't from Mississippi at all. He hailed from Gilmer, Texas. He was taught to play the guitar by his mother and uncle and the family moved to Chicago when Freddie was in his teens.

Freddie King

He was inspired by the Chicago style of playing and also retained the Texas influence. There's some confusion over his birth name, his mother was Ella Mae King and his father J.T. Christian. His sister claims he used the name Christian until he started playing in Chicago and changed to his mother's name to emulate B.B. Freddie claims he always used King.

Also, his earliest records have his first name as Freddy. Whatever his name was, he sure could play, as could the other Kings.

This is Freddie with I Wonder Why with him playing one of his Gibsons making it sound like a Telecaster. I don't know what he named his guitars.

♫ Freddie King - I Wonder Why

We'll play another track, an instrumental that gets the full brass treatment with trumpets, saxes and the like. This is Stumble.

♫ Freddie King - Stumble

That's the usual three Kings of the blues, especially guitar-based blues. However, we thought we'd throw in Bobby King for good measure. Bobby is more of a soul singer than a straight blues singer, but we're not fussed by categories.

Bobby King

Bobby has often teamed with Terry Evans on record and in performance and so it is today. Bobby sings tenor on this track, You’re The One.

♫ Bobby King and Terry Evans - You're The One

I considered Ben E. King too, but thought he was a bit too far away from the initial premise, even given our reluctance to categorise.

GRAY MATTERS: Possibilities for Medicare For All?

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.

Who would have guessed that one of the most right-wing Republicans in the Senate would predict that the American people, sooner rather than later, will see the passage of single-payer, universal health care such as Medicare for All?

I hasten to add that this prediction from Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, would not be to his liking; indeed he’d probably fight to his last breath to prevent such a proposal from becoming law.

Coburn, a physician, is known as “Dr. No” because of all the nominations and legislation he has obstructed with his lone objection, the latest being the emergency aid to the earthquake victims in Haiti. He’s also the M.D. who suggested we pray that the late Senator Robert Byrd (D, WV), would be too ill to cast a crucial vote on health reform, which Coburn opposed. (Byrd voted and the health reforms passed.)

Now that the Affordable Care Act is law, Coburn predicted in a speech earlier this month to the Republican Women’s Club of Tulsa,

“There will be no insurance industry left in three years. That is by design. You’re going to make insurance unaffordable for everyone - which is what they want. Because if there’s no private insurance left, what’s left? Government-centered, government-run. Single-payer health care.”

The reforms, he said, will mean “the beginning of the end of America” unless they are killed by repeal, or the courts.

He didn’t explain who is the “they” who want insurance to be unaffordable. The Obama administration has criticized companies that have sharply raised premiums and asked them to desist. And the law’s requirement that individuals must buy insurance (the so-called individual mandate), subsidized by the government, is expected to add millions of new customers to the insurers’ rolls.

As far as I know, no one in the Obama White House is plotting to extend the health reforms into Medicare for All, which is too bad. But Coburn may be right without knowing why; the greed and stupidity of the insurance and drug industries could kill the reforms and bring on true universal health care if they continue their rapacious conduct.

That’s a strong possibility, according to a more rational and traditional conservative, Professor Paul J. Feldstein, of the University of California and an expert in Health Care Management in the school of business who has written text books on health economics. He was interviewed for the journal, Nursing Economics, by Peter I. Buerhaus, on the faculty of Vanderbilt University.

As Buerhaus wrote, he conducted the interview (may need free registration) because, while the health reforms

“did not include language to transition toward a single-payer system, this does not preclude that over time, and depending on how the legislation is implemented, a single-payer system might eventually be adopted as many people and advocacy groups desire.”

The description “single-payer” can be confusing, and Feldstein defined it:

“When a government is the only payer of health services. It does not mean that the government owns the health provider, like the U.S. owns VA hospitals. An example is Canada, where the government is the only payer for all the basic medical services provided to its citizens.”

Feldstein is not necessarily a fan of such systems; he’s a believer in the market, but he favors some regulation and restraints. When he was asked if the health reforms could lead to the adoption of a single-payer system, Feldstein said,

“I can see a scenario where there is very little cost containment and little pressure to keep insurance premiums from rising substantially. And if there is a weak mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance, then the resulting adverse selection [enrolling too many sick people] is likely to cause insurers to increase their premiums. People will become dissatisfied...and may become more supportive of a government funded public insurance option...

“Eventually, if many individuals purchase public insurance we could end up with a single-payer system or something close to one. We already pay the health care for tens of millions of people with the Medicaid and Medicare programs, and you can just pretty much put a public insurance option together with these programs into one system.”

He acknowledged that a single-payer system would cover more Americans, spend less money per patient and save on the vast administrative costs now spent on the fragmented private health insurance establishment. But Feldstein said a single-payer system would include budget restraints that could retard advances in technology and lead to rationing, inefficiencies and a reduction in preventive care because of the greater demands for acute and urgent care.

Dr. Don McCanne, of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), praised Feldstein for “a more intellectual” and “sincere” discourse on the singe-payer issue. But

“it is distorted by exaggerated potential adverse consequences of single-payers,” he said, “by his failure to include certain inescapable benefits.”

Dr. Quentin Young, Barack Obama’s physician in Chicago before he became president, agrees that the new health reforms could lead to a single-payer system, if it is undermined by its critics, challenges in the courts and “destabilizing pressures” from the insurance industry. Indeed, he adds, “the law may unravel sooner than many suspect.”

Young, a founding member of PHNP, warned that if the Affordable Care Act collapses, “Single-payer Medicare for all needs to be ready to fill the gap...”

And in the meantime, he hoped Obama would reject cuts in Medicare that may be suggested by his deficit commission. “Medicare should be strengthened by improving it and extending it to everyone,” he said.

There are two bills calling for Medicare for All, one (HR 676) that has been introduced by Representative John Conyers (D. Mich), the second longest serving member of the House. Information on his bill may be found at the healthcarenow website.

The second bill, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders, (I, Vt.), is the American Health Act, S. 703, which calls for state based single-payer systems that combine all current programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. You can study this proposal at govtrack.

When Young was Obama’s doctor, Obama favored Medicare For All, as do many Democratic lawmakers who have co-sponsored the Conyers and Sanders bills. Obama now says he would favor Medicare for All, “if we were starting from scratch.”

Well, why not start? Maybe in the second term, if there is one.

Write to


Category_bug_interestingstuff Interesting Stuff is an occasional column of short takes and links to web items that have recently caught my attention – some related to aging and some not.

All readers are welcome to submit items for inclusion. Just click Contact in the upper left corner of any TGB page to email them. There is no guarantee of publication and I won't have time to acknowledge receipt.

I cannot recall a midterm election that has so dominated the country's and my own attention. So engrossed am I in the day-to-day campaigning that I'm barely keeping up with any news or information related to aging.

Perhaps it is my astonishment at the painfully high number of obviously unqualified candidates that keeps me glued to my computer and television screens. In keeping with that, lets begin today with a video from titled, Elect the Willfully Ignorant:

Yes, I know I've told you that I recently bought a Kindle, but that is a supplement – it does not supplant my interest in paper books and apparently I am not alone. Even college kids, a generation weaned on electronics are, according to The New York Times, recognizing advantages:

”In two recent studies — one by the [National Association of College Stores] and another by the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a national advocacy network — three-quarters of the students surveyed said they still preferred a bound book to a digital version.

“Many students are reluctant to give up the ability to flip quickly between chapters, write in the margins and highlight passages, although new software applications are beginning to allow students to use e-textbooks that way.”

That “flipping quickly between chapters” is a difficulty I've already discovered with the Kindle along with a lack of page numbering I can understand.

You can read more here.

Someday I'll tell you why I have a soft spot in my heart for Hell's Angels. For now, here is another set of bikers who are doing something that endears them to me.

Certainly you know about members of the Westboro Baptist Church who appear at military funerals, where families are burying their sons and daughters killed in our wars, carrying signs and shouting such slogans as “Thank god for IEDs” and “Thank god for dead soldiers.”

Recently, members of the Patriot Guard Riders placed themselves between the shouting Westboro contingent and a family funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

“The riders — many of whom are veterans — revved their motorcycles to drown the protesters out.

"'There's very few things on Earth louder than a V-Twin Harley Davidson,' said Dylan Waite, an Army first lieutenant and Patriot Guard volunteer who used his car alarm to contribute to the noise.”

Good for them, I say. Westboro may have a right to free speech (the Supreme Court is reviewing Westboro's activities), but so do the bikers and they have put it to compassionate use. Read more here.

WALK FOR BRAIN HEALTH Researchers at the University of Illinois say that in adults age 59 to 80, moderate walking for 30 minutes three times a week can do more for keeping brain circuitry working than an equivalent amount of toning and stretching.

“At the end of the year, DMN connectivity was significantly improved in the brains of the older walkers, but not in the stretching and toning group, the researchers report.

“The walkers also had increased connectivity in parts of another brain circuit (the fronto-executive network, which aids in the performance of complex tasks) and they did significantly better on cognitive tests than their toning and stretching peers.”

This does not mean toning and stretching aren't good for people too; but it does give us another reason to get out and move around. Read the complete story here.

Pharmaceutical companies often pay physicians to deliver talks about their drugs to other physicians, and hundreds of those doctors have questionable backgrounds as ProPublica has discovered.

“Drug companies say they hire the most-respected doctors in their fields for the critical task of teaching about the benefits and risks of their drugs.

“But an investigation by ProPublica uncovered hundreds of doctors on company payrolls who had been accused of professional misconduct, were disciplined by state boards or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists.”

Propublica has put together a database of more than 17,000 doctors who have received payments from seven of the largest pharmaceutical companies. Read the whole story here and you can check for your own physicians in the database here.

Darlene Costner of Darlene's Hodgepodge sent along this video that's sure to make you smile and maybe even produce a bit of envy. That's all I'll say – just watch this.

Mary Jamison sent along this poem she found at The Writer's Almanac. It is by David Budbill.

When I was young, I cut the bigger, older trees for firewood, the ones
with heart rot, dead and broken branches, the crippled and deformed

ones, because, I reasoned, they were going to fall soon anyway, and
therefore, I should give the younger trees more light and room to grow.

Now I'm older and I cut the younger, strong and sturdy, solid
and beautiful trees, and I let the older ones have a few more years

of light and water and leaf in the forest they have known so long.
Soon enough they will be prostrate on the ground.

We started with politics today and let's end with it too. My friend John Brandt forwarded this astonishingly well-done spoof about President Obama set to a song from The Pirates of Penzance.

No Social Security COLA for 2011

category_bug_politics.gif By now, you probably know that for the second year in a row, there will be no Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2011. At first, I shrugged in resignation (“what else is new these days?”) because it doesn't affect me much.

I may nearly pass out at the price of blueberries at the grocery ($4.99 for six ounces last week) but it is well offset by the amazingly low price of red bell peppers (89 cents each) at one of the stores I frequent. I take only one prescription drug, a generic I get for $5 a month and I doubt heating during the upcoming season could possibly cost as much in my new home in Oregon as fuel oil did in Maine's longer, frigid winters. So no COLA doesn't affect me much, assuming I remain healthy.

Then I looked into it further.

Although it is true that inflation in the past year has been generally flat, that isn't so for elders who spend a larger portion of their income on health care than younger people. Health care costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are up 3.4 percent from a year ago.

The premium for my supplemental coverage increased three percent for 2010, and I don't know yet how much it will go up for next year. There is also a question of prescription drug coverage premiums for 2011. Last year, mine doubled and added a deductible. Then there are, of course, co-pays.

I'm sure you have stories of your own to tell about your health care costs.

Some good news for people whose drug costs are high enough to fall into the doughnut hole, there are no changes scheduled for 2011 except that a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs is now in effect during the doughnut hole period.

According to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), beneficiaries now spend an average of nearly 30 percent of their Social Security income on Medicare Part B, Part D and out-of-pocket costs. Consider that the average Social Security benefit is $1172 per month which would leave $703.20 for everything else.

In that case, a 3.4 percent increase in health care costs, which doesn't sound like much, is devastating.

In addition, a study [pdf] by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College reports that for people 65 and older in the lower third of income distribution, Social Security benefits account for 84 percent of their income which has an “enormous impact on whether households fall above or below the poverty line.”

Don't ever forget that no one ever got rich on Social Security. It is intended to provide for basic needs and for 75 years it has helped keep millions of beneficiaries from poverty.

Last year, Social Security beneficiaries received a one-time $250 additional payment. Among all the controversy about the federal stimulus package, the Economic Policy Institute reported in September that although its share of the Recovery Act was very small,

"...this lump-sum payment was one of the quickest-acting components of the overall package - the majority of payments were received just months after the Act was passed (by the end of May 2009).

“This Social Security and SSI payment by itself likely boosted GDP by roughly 0.5% in the second quarter of 2009, which would roughly translate to about 125,000 jobs created or saved due to these payments."

So what is good for elders is also good for the economy.

There is legislation in Congress that would grant another one-time Social Security benefit of $250 in 2011. Both House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Harry Reid have pledged to bring this to a vote after the November election, and President Obama has said he will press Congress for this stimulus.

Noting that “seniors are paying more for utilities and food, experiencing longer periods of unemployment, and spending more on health care and prescription drugs,” AARP has posted a form on their website you can use to urge your congress members to provide elders with “immediate relief.” You can use the letter as is, edit it or delete it and write your own.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mimi Torchia Boothby: Zio Matteo

The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Practice Prevention

category_bug_journal2.gif Throughout this book, Dr. Butler does not waste words. Every chapter is packed with helpful information. Even when the admonitions are not new, they are a powerful reminder about how much we can control about our health and how to do it. Most of it is common sense, but we don't always practice that.

As Dr. Butler notes, we each are our physician's partner in prevention of diseases and conditions and it is important to educate ourselves not only about healthy living, but about the medical procedures that can help.

Sophisticated screening tests, many developed during our lifetimes, can detect problems before they are life-threatening. Your doctor should be your guide, but these are the basic tests:

Cholesterol – at least every five years; more frequently if it is elevated

Fasting Blood Glucose – every three years, more frequently if there is a family history of diabetes or if glucose levels are elevated

Blood Pressure – with every visit to your physician. Hypertension is “virtually undetectable” in daily life, say Dr. Butler, but easy to diagnose.

Colorectal – to help detect cancer, at your physician's recommendation

Eye Exam – every year or two to check for glaucoma, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and vision loss

Dental – at least once a year

For men, there is an additional annual test for prostate-specific antigen that can detect cancer and other conditions.

Women need several more screenings: an annual breast exam by a physician, annual mammogram, pap smear and bone density test at intervals recommended by a physician. (Yes, there is controversy about how often mammograms should be done; consult your physician.)

When I was a kid, my grandfather's wife, for reasons of vanity, refused to wear a hearing aid and it was impossible to carry on a coversation when everything said by anyone in the room was followed by, “What did you say?” or “Speak up” from her.

Butler points out that hearing loss, in addition to being frustrating, reducing employment opportunities, causing isolation, depression and diminished participation in life, is also a safety issue.

“Not being able to hear such warning noises as honking horns, machinery, or other cues puts the person with a hearing deficit at greater risk for everyday accidents.”

Because it was mostly new information to me, I was most interested in Butler's section on immunizations. He recommends annual flu shots, which I do, and pneumonia (PPV) every five years beginning at age 65. But I was unfamiliar with several others.

Shingles, caused by a reactivation of the virus that causes chicken pox, is a painful skin eruption that occurs mostly in adults and can lead to chronic, debilitating pain and, sometimes, vision loss. A single innoculation after age 60 is advised.

Childhood vaccines protect most of us from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis during adult years. But tetanus and diphtheria should, says Dr. Butler, be given again to people older than 65 and thereafter at ten-year intervals, especially for people who have close contact with children under one year of age.

If you Google HGH (human growth hormone), you'll get more than five million returns mostly selling it as an anti-aging drug – or selling something the seller says is HGH. Listen to Dr. Butler:

“...there is no anti-aging drug...There is no evidence that HGH enhances longevity (there is evidence, in fact, to the contrary in animal studies).

“...the only thing for certain is that its marketers profit from its sale.”

Butler also mentions testosterone supplementation – that for mid-aged men with damaged testes testosterone can strengthen muscles and bones and enhance sexual function, but there is no evidence that is so with elder men. In fact, says Butler, it may put men at greater risk for prostate cancer and perhaps stroke.

Other anti-aging supplements Butler mentions – carnosine, coenzyme Q10 and ginseng need much more study before anything definitive can be said about their effectiveness for the specific qualities their proponents claim.

There are good sections in this chapter on prevention of diabetes, heart disease and cancer and an excellent section on questions to consider if faced with a potentially terminal disease. Among those questions:

What are the chances I can be cured?

What will my quality of life be as a consequence of treatment?

What is my likely life expectancy?

Do I wish a do-not-resuscitate order in place?

With whom do I need to share news of illness?

How will I spend my remaining time?

What has my life meant to me and others?

This is a section I'm marking with a red Post-it to find easily should I ever need it. There is also an example of a Health Care Proxy, something we should all execute while we are healthy so that if we become incapable of making decisions for ourselves, there is someone we trust to do so. Requirements for this document vary by state, so seek consultation where you live.

You may be familiar with Norman Cousins' book, Anatomy of an Illness which recounts his battle with a life-threatening disease using humor – well, belly laughs actually, induced by watching Marx Brothers movies.

In a section titled “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” Dr. Butler recounts a study in which healthy patients watched portions of two movies – one violent and stressful, the other light and funny.

“...the study found that average blood flow increased 22 percent during laughter and decreased 35 percent during mental stress.”

It's good for us to laugh, so maybe today some of you will leave something in the comments that will give the rest of us a chuckle.

Next week, the final chapter of The Longevity Prescription with tips, tricks and strategies for staying with a new healthy living regimen.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Steve Kemp: Long Lost News: Cuban Death Ray Threat


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 Most of us have been taught to stay away from discussing politics and religion so as not to disturb the dinner guests. Well, as most of you know, I’ve been covering politics for so long I can barely discuss anything else.

And the freedom TGB gives me in writing these little essays compels me to confess that I do not recall when it was that I came out of the closet. That’s when I acknowledged that I’m an atheist, that I do not believe there is a God.

In fact, I don’t know why I capitalized the “G.” Although it may be blasphemous, I have had a bumper sticker that says, “I believe in Dog.” That’s because I have a love affair with my two Corgies and I generally have a higher regard for animals than many of the humans I’ve covered in high positions. I have wondered if the Bibles got it wrong and meant to spell it “Dog.”

Seriously, coming out of the closet happened slowly. At first I suppose I was an agnostic, telling myself and others that there may be a higher power, that I could not define, for all things alive have in common a compulsion to live, survive and grow.

Where does that come from? I didn’t know. I studied philosophy in university and read Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of god and understood Aristotle’s idea of the “prime” or “unmoved mover.”

I did not know whether or not I believed in the god that hung around guiding our lives. But I could not bring myself to believe in a personal being who played magic tricks like George Burns. If man was made in his image, what must he look like? Or she?

I am told by friends that something or some one must have caused the “big bang” and that somebody or some thing or power had to be there to start things off in evolution. But I can’t even imagine that possibility. Some giant hand cranking the universe into motion?

I remember arguing in a philosophy class that if the universe was infinite, why did it have to have a beginning? I did not know, and neither does anyone else. But that was an agnostic copout. Now I know. As Stephen Hawking now asserts, if there was a beginning, there is an explanation that did not need a god.

But isn’t the spirituality that we all feel evidence of god? Experiencing the sublime is spiritual, but it’s no proof of a god. All of us have experienced spiritual moments when we wonder what moves us to think, probe and overcome. Music moves me. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is spiritual and beautiful. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy can make me cry.

All men are brothers came from the Judaic concept that there is but one god. I am a Jew who takes pride in that heritage. But I cannot believe that god, looking like Charlton Heston’s Moses, exists.

It is true that there is some sort of order in our universe; we can predict the movements in the solar system. But there is also chaos (see Haiti). Our bodies, the results of millions of years of evolution, are indeed wondrous, but they tend to get sick and even die from little bugs and terrible afflictions.

The believers’ god works in strange and mysterious ways, but what sort of omnipotent, omniscient god tolerates a child with terminal leukemia or the holocaust of six million “chosen people” or the genocides in Bosnia and the Congo and the Sudan?

Believers praise god for sparing them from the tornado’s wrath (as if the tornado was anthropomorphic), but do they blame god for the deaths of those who were not spared?

But I have digressed. I have been comforted in coming out as an atheist by the September 28 Pew Research Center’s survey of religious knowledge in the U.S. It turns out that atheists or agnostics scored highest on a test consisting of questions about various religions. I should note here that 95 percent of Americans believe in god; just five percent of us are nonbelievers.

Jews and Mormons came in a close second or third. Indeed, the most observant or fundamentalist among us tended to know the least.

Half the respondents did not know that Martin Luther inspired the Protestant reformation or that the Golden Rule (“Do unto others...”) is not one of the Ten Commandments. Atheists/agnostics knew most about religion, the survey concluded, because they tend to have more education.

I would add that atheists are unencumbered by dogma. Atheists generally are more free to think of things that no one had thought of.

Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin and Einstein broke free from god and religion and some suffered for it. Only recently has the Catholic Church recognized that the earth revolves around the sun; and Judaism forgave the philosopher Spinoza, who was excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam because he believed that god was everywhere in nature; indeed god was nature and vice versa.

I should point out here that I draw a distinction – a sharp one at that – between those who worship and hope there is a god, and organized religion. That’s because the average believer in god stands in awe of the possibility there is a supreme being that he or she cannot know or fathom. But most organized religions have the temerity to define, limit and tell us what god thinks, and which country he/she will bless in war.

Organized religions, on a personal level, use books written eons ago by uneducated (by our standards), mostly superstitious and primitive minds to tell us how to behave. And as we know, some people believe these are literal truths.

I can’t quarrel with the Ten Commandments, but they are honored in the breach - that is, they are broken so often by god-fearing men and women, they are not to be taken seriously.

If they were truly observed as the bibles and koran admonish, The New York Times' Nicholas Kristoff told us in his own test of religious knowledge that the Old Testament stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death. Kristoff notes that Jesus made no comment on homosexuality, but the Old Testament says, “if a man also lies with mankind as he lieth with a woman” both shall be put to death.

All this is silly and outdated for most of us, even those who believe in god. But about 20-25 percent who are fundamentalist Christians and ultra-orthodox Jews and Muslims believe their scriptures are literally true and the word of god. But, alas, they also believe literally that non-believers are infidels and therefore a threat. And if there is no wall of separation between the religion and the state, then a threat against the religion becomes a threat against the state.

When I visited Israel as a journalist with U.S. secretaries of state who were there for the first time, Israeli officials took us on a tour of Yad Vashem, the somber and heart-wrenching memorial to the holocaust that cost the lives of six million Jews, not to mention Gypsies, Russians, Poles and anti-Nazi Germans.

In Damascus, we were taken to the Mosque where Saladin is buried and there we learned that the crusaders who came from England were not the heroes of Christendom who we studied in school or saw in romantic movies, but bloodthirsty rapists and conquerors wielding the cross as a reason to slaughter Muslims and Jews.

Saladin, a moderate and even chivalrous ruler who treated his captives well, at last defeated the Third Crusade in the 12th century. But the memory of the crusades among Muslims lingers and has been seen in the reaction to American aggression in the Middle East.

Indeed, as I think on it, much of my reporting has been about religious-based conflicts:

Between Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan

The semi-secular state of Afghanistan and the Taliban, which would resurrect the 10th century

The Shiites of Iran and the Sunnis of Iraq

Israel and its Muslim neighbors, some of them secular like the Palestinians, some deeply religious like Hamas

The Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland

The Serbian war against Bosnia pitted Catholics against Muslims

Hitler was Catholic, raised in an anti-Semitic environment

Stalin was raised in the Russian Orthodox tradition and he attended seminary, from which he was expelled, in backward Georgia.

It seems the more devout the religion, the more violent its actions against its perceived enemies. Kristoff points out that using suicide vests and women for terror bombings began not with the Jihadists, but with the Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka.

I think it can be said that more people have been killed or subjugated in the name of an organized religion than in the name of atheism.

When the state religion or church has been attacked, the motives of the opposition were generally political as when Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth replaced the Catholic Church with the Church of England, and when the Bolsheviks, who overthrew the Czar and all but outlawed the Russian Orthodox Church that supported the monarchy.

Similarly, the reactionary and corrupt Catholic Church in Latin America became a target of revolutionaries. Wasn’t the attack on the World Trade Center and the deaths of thousands a religion-based initiative?

I do not believe, however, that any nation has gone to war or committed atrocities in the name of atheism.

Yet even now, in this country, the legal wall of separation between church and state is hacked at by religionists who hold atheism almost a crime. We are told by the rabid right that liberals and other nonbelievers are trying to kill Christmas, as if the merchandisers have no responsibility.

These Christian fundamentalists, the American Taliban, would figuratively stone the homosexual or the kill the doctor who performs abortions. One Pew poll in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of Americans don’t believe in evolution and that included prominent Republicans running for president two years ago.

These fundamentalists, according to the poll, deny the science that tells us the earth is millions of years old. In lockstep with the Republican Party, they deny climate change and man’s role in global warming. I suppose god has decided to kill the polar bears.

So it was a comfort to see that I had admirable company when I came out as an atheist: Woody Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Dawkins, Katharine Hepburn, Warren Buffett, Salman Rushdie, Diane Keaton, Bill Gates, Gene Roddenberry, among dozens of celebrities whom you can find at Celebrity Atheist List.

Finally, there are many quotes from prominent writers artists and statesmen proclaiming their atheism, but my favorite came recently from the great novelist Philip Roth during an interview on CBS’s Sunday Morning. Roth, who grew up in New Jersey, said, “I don’t have a religious bone in my body.”

“So do you feel like there’s a god out there?” he was asked.

“I’m afraid there isn’t, no...When the whole world doesn’t believe in god, it’ll be a great place.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: Munjoy Hill

Fitting Punishment For the Housing Debacle

(Today's post has nothing to do with elders or aging except insofar as the housing crisis affects people of all ages. Over the weekend, I got hung up thinking about this stuff, so you're stuck with it.)

In the face of revelations about robo-signing, foreclosure moratoriums and possible mortgage document fraud, all you need to know about how corrupt, dishonest and, especially, smug high-paid Wall Streeters are is contained in a story last week in The New York Observer. Listen to this from an anonymous “veteran member of a bank restructuring and advisory team”:

"'You had people putting zero down to get massive houses they couldn't afford to be in, but now they want to stay. And the government wants to let them stay, because they're voters...

"'A consumer borrows money to buy a house, doesn't make the mortgage payments and then loses the house in foreclosure - only to learn that the wrong guy at the bank signed the foreclosure paperwork. Can you imagine?

"'The problem is they don't deserve to be in that place. They probably deserve to be there less than they used to,' the source continued, referring to incomes [being] lower now than they'd been when the loans were made in the first place.“

Of course, none of that is new – bankers have been blaming borrowers for the housing crisis since it began, as though it is not they who approved the loans. All they had to do was say no to prospective borrowers who were overreaching.

What mystifies me is that no financial writers in the media nor economists nor legislators in all their Congressional hearings have confronted the bankers with the obvious, which is this:

No one is – or should not be – given a loan just because they want one. However, anyone is free to apply for a loan be it to buy a car, a house or anything else. Then, by definition, it is the bank's job to check employment records, credit ratings, assets and other financial obligations of the prospective borrower to determine his or her ability to pay back the loan so that it – the bank – doesn't lose its money.

The banks owe that due diligence to their stockholders and, with the invention of CBOs, credit default swaps and other derivatives, to the investors to whom they intend to sell their loans in bulk.

Included in that due diligence is the bank's obligation (again, to stockholders and investors) to refuse loans to people who cannot afford to repay them.

None of this is rocket science; it is arithmetic. It is so simple to determine a loan applicant's ability to pay that at my first, full-time job, at a large mortgage loan company, it was up to me – age 17 with a high school diploma - to accept or reject applications when the loan officers delivered all the papers and reports to my desk.

Adding machine It was the quintessential “paper pusher” job. I had a checklist of all the required documents – slightly different for FHA, VA and conventional loans - and was given a formula for determining eligibility which I did in those days – the late 1950s – with a hand-operated adding machine. When an occasional borderline case turned up (there was an established window within which a loan might go either way), my supervisor took over that loan application.

I'm pretty sure mine was the lowest paid job in the office; that's how easy it is. And boring. I kept my sanity, for the year I stayed with that company, by inventing stories for myself about the loan applicants. It's amazing what you can glean about how people live from the information in those papers.

In all the economic pain and horror that has ensued since 2008, let's not forget that all but one or two economists along with just about every bank CEO and other so-called financial expert said no one could have foreseen the housing market collapse.

Oh yeah? Little old me with my high school education knew, when the market value of my apartment fell during the 1990/91 recession to below what I had paid for it in 1983, that the housing market goes up and the housing market goes down – over and over again.

That's why I was worried when I listed my New York City apartment for sale in 2005. People who are supposed to know such things were saying real estate prices would increase indefinitely, but in doing my own due diligence to determine an asking price, it was obvious that prices on comparables in my neighborhood had declined by about five or six percent during the preceding year.

So my conclusion about our current housing/mortgage/foreclosure debacle is that all those Wall Streeters with their MBAs from the finest colleges in the land are either monumentally unqualified for their jobs or they knew exactly what they were doing and didn't mind sinking the economy to rake in their millions before the roof caved in.

Even though financial types anthropomorphize "the market" all the time as if it has a human-like will of its own, our housing predicament did not just happen by some mysterious force. Someone, a real, live person in a position of authority at each bank, had to decide to hand out bad loans. No borrowers broke into the banks to steal mortgages at gunpoint and our financial records are secret from no one.

It cannot be argued otherwise: it is the bankers who created no-down-payment loans and willingly gave them to those “people putting zero down to get massive houses they couldn't afford to be in.” It is the bankers who gave million-dollar loans to people earning $50,000 a year with shaky or no credit records.

And, it is the bankers again - through that negligence and their subsequent refusal to renegotiate underwater mortgages - who must shoulder the blame for other kinds of borrowers now in foreclosure, the ones who bought homes within their means and then got caught in long-term unemployment and couldn't keep up payments due only to the wrecked economy.

Also, let's not hear any more about how difficult all those mortgage CDOs, derivatives and swaps are to understand; at this point in the unraveling, it is not necessary.

What is necessary is to find the mortgage notes and their assignments to other financial institutions to decipher who owns what and owes what to whom.

Undoubtedly, in all the bundling and moving around from bank to bank, notes and assignments got lost, trashed or were never executed properly to begin with, and that's the only complicated part now - finding them – because if they are not found, no foreclosed property in the U.S. can sell because there will be no clear title.

(According to The New York Times, 4.2 million home loans are now in or near foreclosure, a number that is in addition to 6.2 million homes lost to foreclosure already.)

The cause is simple to anyone who isn't as blind and self-serving as a rich Wall Street banker. The banks started the ball rolling downhill catastrophically when they abdicated their fiduciary responsibility to lend money only to borrowers who can afford to pay it back.

(By the way, just in passing, all you banking regulators: an easy way to prevent anything like this debacle in the future is to require banks to hold on to the residential mortgages they write. No selling to other banks. No bundling into arcane financial instruments. Christmas is coming up and I'm not being sentimental to say that a good way for you and Wall Streeters to remind yourselves of this is to watch the annual television screening of It's a Wonderful Life.)

It is stupendously dumb to lend money to unqualified borrowers and someone needs to be held accountable for bringing down the economy. Since it has become apparent that no one in authority will or can do that, I have a suggestion: a fitting punishment - well, the only fitting one I have that is mentionable in public - would be to require the bankers involved, from the CEOs to the entire executive suite, to help sort out the mess by personally mucking about in the zillions of pieces of paper to find the mortgage notes.

And because the basics of mortgage lending are so simple even a caveman – oops, I mean a 17-year-old - can do it, fitting payment for this work would be whatever salary is today's equivalent of what I was paid in 1958: $55 a week with no year-end bonus.

Granting mortgages to qualified borrowers is not worth any more than that.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: It's Happened

ELDER MUSIC: 1950s – Pre-Heartbreak Hotel, Part 3

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 Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, selected the music for a couple of these columns on this topic previously here and here and now it’s my turn. This is music of the Fifties before Heartbreak Hotel changed everything forever.

I played the tracks I’ve chosen today for the A.M. and she said, “What a bunch of maudlin songs. Even the happy sounding ones are maudlin.” Well, that’s what you’re getting today folks.

The first song I can remember hearing is The Roving Kind by Guy Mitchell.

Guy Mitchell

I don’t know why it stuck in the brain but it has. I was next door, in the Harrington’s kitchen when it came on the radio. Perhaps it was the rhythm that made it stick. I imagine the words wouldn’t have meant much to my six (or whatever) year old brain. It may have been the pirate reference; that would have worked for a young tacker.

♫ Guy Mitchell - The Roving Kind

Quite a lot of my early musical knowledge is down to my sister, Pam. She is older than I and was listening to the radio and playing records and I would listen along. One of her early favorites was Johnnie Ray.

Johnnie Ray

Johnnie’s style gave us a hint of what was to come in rock & roll. Of course, there were already rock & roll records around: Fats Domino, Joe Turner, Ike Turner and so on, but they weren’t called that then.

Pam had a record of Yes Tonight Josephine (among others of his). We had few records so I’d flip them over to hear what song was on the other side. In this case it was No Wedding Today. The A.M. accuses me, with some justification, of liking some the trashiest songs from that era. This is one of those.

♫ Johnnie Ray - No Wedding Today

Another of Pam’s 45s - and this is turning into my sister’s music rather than mine but what the hell - was one by Tony Bennett.

Tony Bennett

Not the great crooner Tony Bennett, nor the jazz singer. The same Tony, of course, but in pop mode. He had a single back then called In The Middle Of An Island, with Hawaiian guitars and all.

This is it. I really mean this is it. This is the original 45 we owned (and still do, or I do) so there may be some surface noise and the like, but it adds to the charm.

♫ Tony Bennett - Middle of an Island

Even The A.M. chose one of Patti Page’s songs, and I’m going to as well.

Patti Page

Patti has featured a bit in my columns so it’s one I haven’t played here before.

As I’ve already established an unhappy wedding (or no wedding for Johnnie Ray), I’ll continue with this theme (if that’s not too grand a word) with I Went to Your Wedding.

♫ Patti Page - I Went to Your Wedding

There couldn’t be a column on this topic without the great Nat King Cole.

Nat King Cole

As with everyone featured today, any number of songs could be included, but I’ve chosen A Blossom Fell. I used to go around singing this at the time. Imitating Nat. Thought I was pretty good. No one else did though.

♫ Nat King Cole - A Blossom Fell

Teresa Brewer had a bunch of hits in the early fifties including several novelty songs that she didn’t like doing but they paid the rent. There were also covers of R&B and country songs.

She wasn’t alone there. There were originals, of course, and this is one of them, Till I Waltz Again With You. This came out in 1953. Teresa later had a career as a jazz singer performing with the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bobby Hackett.

Teresa Brewer

♫ Teresa Brewer - Till I Waltz Again With You

I’ll end as I began, with Guy Mitchell.

Guy Mitchell

And I’ll go back to Pam. This was one she’d play – well, quite often - to be polite about it (something I wasn’t back then). In spite of that I still like it. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

♫ Guy Mitchell - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

GRAY MATTERS: Medicare for All

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.

When I read that so many Americans don’t understand, don’t like or worse, don’t care about the health insurance reforms that were so hard to come by, I can’t help thinking of that wonderful, climactic scene in On The Waterfront in which Marlo Brando recalls a prize-fight he deliberately lost and tells his brother Charlie that he could have won that bout. “I coulda been a contender,” he says.

I believe people could have been more enthusiastic about the reforms, such as they are, if Barack Obama had not been so quick to compromise with big drug and insurance companies. He could have fought to give us, the American people, the change he promised - a universal health care bill they could understand, like the one he was for before he became president.

Why do today’s Democratic presidents (e.g., Bill Clinton) believe they must move to the middle to govern? Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, whom Obama praised as transitional presidents, didn’t do that.

We could have had a less complicated, more easily understood bill without all the ifs, ands, buts and loopholes that the insurance and drug industries are wiggling through as we speak. It’s downright sad that so many good Democrats in Congress are running away from the reforms in the coming election.

Or, they’re having a hard time explaining and defending their votes for the thousand page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), most of which won’t take effect for three more years by which time these lawmakers and the president will have had to run again.

In September, six months after the reforms became law and despite the administration’s efforts to publicize its accomplishments, the Pew Research Center reported that only 38 percent of the public approves of the law, while 45 percent disapproves and rather than wait to see if it works, 32 percent favor repeal.

The same poll, however, found large majorities of older Americans (69 percent) adamantly opposed to a Republican proposal to replace Medicare with vouchers for beneficiaries to use to pay for their care.

The popularity of Medicare, even among younger people, should have told the Obama White House which way to go with health insurance reform. An Associated Press poll in late September reported that 61 percent of respondents believe Obama should have gone further to change the system. A Kaiser survey found only a slight increase in support for the reforms.

I can understand why so many people are lukewarm towards the health reforms. They watched as the president, in order to get some cooperation from PhaRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association, and America’s Health Insurance Plans, AHIP, the insurers, steadily gave in on key issues and then gave away the possibility of a public option, like Medicare.

A public option, as the president himself said, would have given consumers more choices and some leverage over the big insurers to bargain on premiums and hold them to the new regulations. Obama would have earned more support from the people who voted for him.

But now we know from former Senator Tom Daschle, among others, that Obama was ready to cave in on that issue early when PhaRMA and AHIP demanded that in exchange for their support. Daschle admitted as much in his account of the health reform battle in his new book. He later partially retracted his admission in an interview, but others knew the truth.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) has said that there was no public option in the final bill because the White House never pushed for it unambiguously. Thus, the health care we’ll get is almost completely privatized, dependent on the insurance and drug companies, all of which can look forward to record profits because the reforms mandate that millions must buy insurance with premiums subsidized by Washington.

Despite the criticism from the right, the government is not taking over health care as much as it is trying (vainly) to regulate insurance companies in return for guaranteeing them tens of millions more customers.

To be fair those regulations, if enforced, will eventually help get coverage for most of the 50.7 million Americans who are uninsured, an increase of 4.3 million over last year. For when the reforms took effect on September 23, its supporters were able to point to some positive effects of the health insurance reforms:

• Covering young adults until age 26
• Helping people with chronic conditions by ending lifetime limits on new policies
• Covering children with pre-existing health problems
• Expanding preventive care such as free flu shots, mammograms and colon exams for persons not on Medicare

But as Daschle wrote for Kaiser Health News, the top-heavy complexity of the law and the resistance to it by insurers and several states have made it necessary for Kathleen Sibelius, the Health and Human Services Secretary to issue additional regulations, guidance and clarifications to keep up with puzzled inquiries from consumer groups and lawyers for providers who read the fine print, looking for ways to dodge the letter of the law.

As a result, she has sought to set up temporary “high risk pools” run by the states and the federal government to cover adults with pre-existing conditions who have been unable to get insurance. She has appealed to insurers who have sharply raised premiums or refused to cover children; six companies, including Anthem, Aetna, Cigna and Humana say they’ll stop writing policies for children not also covered by their parents’ policies.

A reader informs me that insurers are denying coverage for neurological testing of children, thus preventing diagnoses.

And insurers have lobbied furiously with state insurance commissioners to avoid the requirement that they spent 80 to 85 percent of premiums on health care. As a result, USA Today reports, Sibelius has had to issue 30 waivers to companies and their insurers, including Cigna, who say they can’t meet those requirements. The White House said it was the best way to keep people insured until the law fully takes effect in 2014.

Medicare went into effect a year after its passage in 1965. And even now, with four parts (A, for hospitalizations; B, for outpatient services; C, for Medicare Advantage - comprehensive, partly private coverage; and D, prescription drugs), it is not as complex as the Affordable Care Act. I’m attaching here a handy list of Medicare health and drug plans [pdf] for every state.

By 2019, when the ACA is to be fully implemented - if it is not whittled away by Republican enemies who don’t believe government should play a role in health care - there will still be 23 million uninsured, and there will have been 500,000 deaths among them. So says Dr. Henry Abrons, of the Physicians for a National Health Program in California.

Those figures, derived from the Census report, he added,

“underscores the urgency of going beyond the Obama administration and swiftly implementing a more fundamental reform – a single payer national health insurance program, improved Medicare-for-All.”

Right-wing critics charge that the Affordable Care Act is a foot in the door to get Medicare For All. Let’s hope they’re right.

Elders and Loneliness

category_bug_journal2.gif Recently, AARP released a survey titled Loneliness among Older Adults [pdf] which was conducted during the summer.

The age group included, beginning at 45, is problematic for me. I believe loneliness among people in the middle of their career years have different sources of loneliness from those approaching retirement or who are already there. But that's what we are stuck with and there are some interesting findings.

The survey included 4,610 U.S. residents who participated online. Those who needed it were provided with hardware and internet access. Overall, 35 percent (1,614) reported feeling lonely to various degrees which is an increase from 20 percent, says AARP, over a similar survey 10 years ago.

(The charts below are stolen from the AARP report available here.)

• Loneliness decreased significantly with age. 43 percent of the youngest age group (45-49) reported loneliness compared to 25 percent of the oldest group (70-plus)


Retired respondents - 37 percent - were less likely to feel lonely that those still working - 30 percent. (no graph)

Relocation makes a difference. 45 percent of those who relocated within the past year felt lonely compared to 31 percent who had been in their home for at least 20 years.


Marital status makes a difference. 29 percent of married people felt lonely compared to the highest incidence of loneliness – 51 percent among the never married.


Religious participation made a big difference. 44 percent of those who never attend religious service reported loneliness compared to 30 percent of those who attend once a month or more.


• 30 percent of those who report 11 or more hours a week spent on hobbies report loneliness compared with 51 percent who have no hobby.


• Overall health is a strong predictor. 25 percent of those who described their health as excellent and 24 percent of those with very good health reported loneliness versus 55 percent of those whose health was poor.


These are a sampling; many other life conditions were surveyed which you can see here [pdf]. (Don't be daunted by the 102 pages; everything after page 25 is appendices.)

It has been well known for many years that loneliness is a health hazard. Varieties of other studies strongly suggest that loneliness in elders is associated with a compromised immune system, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, sleep disorders, dementia, depression and more.

What surprised me in this survey is that loneliness apparently decreases with age and that retired people were somewhat less likely to be lonely that those still working. This survey reported only data, not reasons, but I wonder if, as we gain age and experience, we become more adept at managing loneliness and taking steps to alleviate it.

The most painfully lonely period in my life was childhood. I was terribly shy, didn't how to start conversations with classmates and was teased unmercifully at school for being smart. Books became my friends.

Since then, periods of loneliness have been fleeting and, if I recall correctly, took care of themselves without much effort on my part. An example: when I left my husband, all but one or two of our friends took sides with him, probably because he was a well-known radio star. But when I got back to work (I had been his producer), it wasn't long before I had a robust social life and soon, real friends.

The section of the report on internet usage (begins on page 19) doesn't reveal much difference in the incidence of loneliness and frequency of use of social media, and doesn't mention blogging at all.

But I know for myself, with my two moves to new cities in recent years, this blog with the online friends I've made as a result of it, is a formidable tool for social interaction.

I am curious about your experience with loneliness through the years.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Friko: Kaffedlatsch

We've Come So Far in Our Lifetime

In the gender wage ratio, women have been stuck earning about 77 percent of men's salaries for several years, but in other kinds of employment measurement, women are catching up remarkably well – at least at the upper end of the economic scale.

The number of women earning more that $100,000 a year jumped by 18 percent in 2009 over 2007 while the number of men in that wage bracket increased by only four percent. During our recession, the share of men earning $50,000 was flat, but rose by five percent for women.

Men still hold 97 percent of the CEO positions but if academia, in a working world that requires more and more education, is any indication, women will soon be gaining on them.

They hold nearly 60 percent of student positions nationwide in undergraduate and graduate schools and in the 2008/09 academic year, for the first time, women surpassed men in winning doctoral degrees – 28,962 to 28,469.

According to the Washington Post, “Women now earn 70 percent of doctorates in [health sciences]. They represent 67 percent of doctoral degrees in education, and 60 percent in social and behavioral sciences.“

And nowadays, according to another Washington Post story, “Most law school students are women, as are almost half of all medical students.”

Which got me thinking how much women's lives have changed in just our – old people's - lifetimes.

When I graduated from high school in 1958, hardly any girls (that's what all adult women were all called then) went to college. The only real careers open to women who did were teaching and nursing, and it was only partly a joke back then that women in college were mostly pursuing their MRS degree.

About two dozen of my high school classmates had been planning their weddings throughout most of senior year. The rest of us who did not attend college had few job choices beyond waitress and secretary. The most we could aspire to was to work our way up to secretary to the big boss.

There can be no argument that the beginning of the change was Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique published in 1963, and surely many TGB readers, like me, recall attending “consciousness raising” groups with women friends to discuss what we were reading in that book.

So commonplace was it then for wives to be completely subservient to their husbands that they hid the book from their spouses and lied to them about what they were doing at those get-togethers. My husband at the time didn't care, but every one of the woman in my group cautioned one another never to mention it in front of each others' husbands.

While reading those two Washington Post stories, when I stopped to savor all the changes women have experienced, I was thrilled. “We've come a long way, baby” - and that's not just a cigarette slogan anymore.

Today, young women know from the cradle that they can become doctors, lawyers and it is no longer a question if they can become president - Republicans have their eye on a woman for that office in 2012, even though she is not qualified.

And that is the disappointment, isn't it. Look at who some of the most well-known women vying for powerful elected positions are in this election: Michele Bachmann, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Jan Brewer, Linda McMahon – each one an embarrassment – and I'm not much pleased with Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman either.

We had such better dreams for ourselves back when I was reading The Feminine Mystique 45 years ago.

Away from the political arena, however, women are on par with men in every field and we did that – you and me and our friends and movement leaders - and the men who stood with us. What a great, grand legacy for our generation. And sorry political candidates aside, I found myself feeling proud of us today.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Aunt Clara

The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Eat Your Way to Health

category_bug_journal2.gif With preparations for last weekend's Elderblogger Meetup, the next chapter of Dr. Butler's book got sidelined. Now I'm back on track.

What could be more fun than talking about food, glorious food? Flavor, texture, aroma, beauty, conviviality, family and friends. Oh, and nutrition, which is what Dr. Butler is talking about in Chapter 7 of The Longevity Revolution.

“I don't think for a moment that life is supposed to be about deprivation, and certainly this book is not,” writes Dr. Butler. “Our pleasures help make life worth living...

“On the other hand, a long life depends in part on good decisions about how we live our lives, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to our dining pleasures.”

“Decisions” is the theme of this chapter – deciding to make healthy decisions in what we choose to eat.

“Make it a habit to think – even for a nanosecond – about every eating decision you make, individually and collectively,” he says, because “for many people, moderate dietary adaptations can reduce insulin level, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and triglycerides, as well as overweight, all of what are significant factors in the aging process.

That means you can eat your way into feeling and looking younger.”

While noting that no single nutritional approach works for everyone, Dr. Butler packs this chapter with with good information and simple rules:

• A good average intake of calories per day for women is 1600; for men, 2000.

• Saturated fats pose a significant health hazard because they put us at greater risk for stroke and heart attack.

• Our bodies require no processed sugar.

• Limit alcohol consumption to less than one drink per day for women, less than two drinks per day for men because aging bodies metabolize alcohol more slowly than when we were young.

• Drink a minimum of 1-1/2 to 2 quarts of water a day. We need to remind ourselves because aging bodies don't send enough thirst signals and with age, our kidneys function less efficiently which together can put us at risk of dehydration.

When Dr. Butler gets to the actual food we eat, he emphasizes the rules we all know – or ought to know by our age. You can decide to eat

Less salt – no more than 1500mg per day

More legumes and leafy, dark green and orange vegetables

Less fat – especially saturated fats in butter and meat

More fresh fruits – 2 or more cups per day

Whole grains should make up at least half of the 6 ounces of grains recommended daily

Less – or no - added sugar.

And, in general, eat less.

Butler recommends a daily multivitamin to be sure we're getting all the nutrients our bodies need.

Interestingly, among the many choices Butler gives of foods that are good for us (think a wide variety of colors), he highly recommends the potato.

“An amazing food is the potato. It is rich in potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. A whole potato, with skin, constitutes only about 125 calories when eaten plain.

"Beware high-fat toppings like gravy, butter, and sour cream; try yogurt, salsa, beans, cucumbers, onions, low-fat cheeses, cottage cheese, fruits, or lean meats.”

For years, a baked potato has been a favorite wintertime dinner of mine. I've tried most of his topping suggestions, but my favorite is a homemade duxelles which I cook up in a large batch that keeps in the refrigerator for a about 10 days for two or three meals in that time period.

Butler considers spinach a “wonder food,” high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidents. Too bad that agribusiness has bred out the wrinkles and with them, the flavor. I hardly ever eat spinach now that it is so tasteless.

On the other hand, I use a lot of ginger – especially in fruit smoothies I have for breakfast three or four times a week. Butler makes a good case for ginger's health properties, as he does for garlic too.

He also emphasizes nuts and fish, but warns against shark, swordfish, king mackerel, albacore tuna and tilefish due to high mercury levels.

There is so much to learn – or be reminded of – in this chapter that once again, I can't go through it all for you, but one story Dr. Butler tells is illuminating.

A woman was told by her physician that her cholesterol reading was 255, way above the healthy high end of 200. Reluctant to take a cholesterol-lowering drug, the woman made every recommended dietary change possible. Sixty days later, her blood cholesterol had fallen to 200.

The lesson, says Dr. Butler, is that you can take control of your diet – and your health.

“The single best way to improve your eating habits is to think before you eat anything, since every bite of food you take represents a choice.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Doctor Visit

It's Not Over Until You're Dead

Definitely, I am not the kid I used to be. I had such a good time with everyone at the Saturday meetup of elderbloggers and readers, and it was no big deal to clean up on Sunday – it took maybe 40 minutes. But come noon or so, I collapsed into a three hour nap and still slept through the night.

That should have been enough extra rest – or so I thought. But by late morning on Monday, I was off to the land of Nod for another three hours. Nobody warns us - or, at least, not me - that after a certain age, activity out of the ordinary, even without overdoing physically, will be tiring.

I'm surprised I've needed so much rest but it is, apparently, one more adaptation in deference to our changing bodies that we must learn to make in our old age – plan for recuperative time.

But that's not what I came here to say today.

In an email exchange on Sunday with Rain of Rainy Day Thoughts, she wrote this:

“It's one of the pleasant surprises in aging that decisions aren't over and if we had had a transcript of what people talked about at your home, one commonality was changes that they either had made, like you, or were going to make. How wonderful and what a surprise that would be to youth!”

Now admit it to yourself – I have – that when you were young, you believed anything significantly new and interesting was over and done with for the old people in your life. Once retired, their lives settled into a routine of the ordinary and uneventful.

In fact, that is still the prevailing attitude of the culture in general – so much so that it is probably as much a surprise to ourselves as it would be to youth, if they knew, that we continue to make life-changing decisions.

Making an unplanned move across the country. Discovering you have a talent for poetry you never knew about in youth. Publishing a book, like an old friend of mine is doing next year. Finding someone to love and marrying again in old age. And so many others.

Life at any age, of course, is always about change and forward movement. But in later years, I think it comes faster and more frequently – and maybe more naturally - than in our midyears when lives are restricted by the needs of career and family. When the children are grown and we are retired, there is more freedom to imagine and dream and, importantly, to take action - to experiment and see where it leads.

Old age is not a slow slide into oblivion. There are many and many kinds of adventures still to have and that certainly was evident, as Rain notes, with everyone at the meetup on Saturday.

As noted above, I lost a good part of Monday to resting up. The Elder Storytelling Place will resume tomorrow.