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Bucket List Failure

category_bug_journal2.gif On a variety of posts here, readers sometimes leave a comment about their bucket list.

The phrase – made popular with the 2007 movie of that title about two terminally ill cancer patients who take off on a road trip to fulfill their wish lists before they kick the bucket - is one of those rare, felicitous expressions that defines itself; no explanation necessary.

(Alvin Toffler's 1970 book, Future Shock is another; you need only the title to understand what he's talking about and its significance.)

Bucket list references turn up here frequently enough that it set me wondering about my own. At nearly 70, I figure each day now is a gift, especially in that I am healthy, and my days should not be squandered unthinkingly.

Intent on creating this list, I opened a clean page on my laptop, typed BUCKET LIST at the top in bolded caps and expected to start hitting the keys at speed.

Nothing came to me.

I sat, fingers unmoving. I stared off into space. Minutes passed. Then more minutes. I got up and walked around. I sat down again. I went to the kitchen and made a cup of tea. I went back to the desk. Still nothing.

“Come on,” I said to myself. “Are you so bereft of desire you could die happy today?”

Well, uh, no. But, I deduced, that is more closely aligned with the primal, biological urge to live than with any unfulfilled dreams.

Looking for inspiration, I checked around the web for bucket lists. What commonly turns up are travel (world monuments), adventure (skydiving, swimming with dolphins), finding true love, becoming rich or famous or both, creating world peace and – god help me – being interviewed by Oprah.

I suspect these are lists of the young, people who do not yet know themselves well and for whom time still stretches into infinity. For me, anything on a bucket list needs to be, in addition to desirable, do-able - for what is the point of the list if the goals are not reasonably possible.

Sure, there are places I would like to visit, but travel is expensive and, these days, so irritating, cramped and tiring that it's worth the effort only occasionally. Unless I could travel first class or, better, in a private plane that leaves when I want it to, mostly I'd rather stay home.

The number one thing I most want? To live out my days in Greenwich Village - my natural, comfortable home. I can't afford it, so move on. I don't waste time on what cannot be.

What else?

With that blank page still in front of me, I changed the question: what gives me pleasure? Go ahead and laugh, but I was thrilled on Saturday – I even did a private, little happy dance in the kitchen - when, having experimented in the recent past creating a fresh-tomato soup recipe from scratch with only moderate results, I succeeded sensationally. Dee-lish. A keeper.

Fussing around inventing new dishes in the kitchen is one of my big pleasures.

As is this blog. It is the centerpiece of my days. It gives focus to everything I read, see, talk about with others and ponder alone. It forces me to think seriously and clearly about whatever is at hand. Like today's post. I know I wouldn't bother to confront my inability to create a bucket list if it were not fodder for a story.

My interest in the topic of Time Goes By, aging, has not waned in the 15 years since I first began studying it. When I launched TGB, no one cared much about old people. That's changed dramatically since 2003, although most of the public conversation falls into the limited and limiting category, oh-my-god-what-are-we-going-to-do-with-all-these-old-baby-boomers.

To a large degree – 14 million-plus web pages, according to Google – the answer is the limited and limiting category, anti-aging potions.

Even I can do better, much better than that on the topic of aging and I work on it here every day. Although it is becoming an old-fashioned medium, sometimes I think I would like to write a book about “what it's really like to get old” (see subtitle in the banner above).

I could put that on my bucket list. (Is having only one item okay, do you think?) But I know that as long as I write this blog, I'll never have the time. It has been a perpetual mystery to me through the years that many journalists write books while keeping up their day jobs.

That doesn't work for me and I'm not ready to quit this blog any time soon.

So I'm a failure at making a bucket list. Perhaps it's that I'm content. I have a comfortable place to live. I'm healthy. My financial resources are small, but I've learned how to make that work without feeling deprived. I have a “job” right here on this page that gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I have friends, activities and other interests.

I don't need a bucket list - but I didn't know that until I tried.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Aging, One Grey Hair at a Time

ELDER MUSIC: Some Classical Folks

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

category_bug_eldermusic Today's column is in response to my looking through my CDs and thinking, "Oh, I haven't played that for a while.” Upon listening I thought these are good, they'd be worth including in a column (or two or three, there are quite a few of them). This is it. Okay, sitting comfortably? Here we go.

Giovanni Battista Viotti was born in Sardinia (now Piedmont, Italy) in 1755.


His father gave him his first musical education. Dad was a blacksmith but apparently also an amateur horn player. Viotti then took lessons from Alfonso della Cisterna and Gaetano Pugnani. He played in the court in Turin for a bit and then took off when he was 25.

He went to Geneva, Dresden and Berlin. In Russia he played for Catherine II and in Paris for Marie Antoinette. His patron in Paris was King Louis' brother.

He left Paris in 1792, a very sensible thing to do, and landed in London. There he met Haydn, became friends with Lord Byron and Walter Scott, and created the London Philharmonic Society. Boy, you wouldn't want to play "name dropping" with him.

Unfortunately, he ended his life in poverty due to a bunch of failed ventures in which he invested. I've always liked Viotti since I discovered him about 30 years ago. He always makes me smile.

His 29 violin concertos are considered his masterworks. These were said to have influenced Beethoven (who only managed to write one of them, but what a one). Naturally, I'm going with one of those (Viotti's, that is), the third movement from his Violin Concerto No 23 in G maj.

♫ Viotti - Violin Concerto No 23 (3)

Franz Krommer (or František Vincenc Kramár) was from Moravia, these days in the Czech Republic. He was born in 1759.


He learned violin and organ from his uncle who was a notable player of those instruments and became co-organist with his uncle at the local organ place. He later went to Vienna as a violinist and later became Kapellmeister and court composer for the Imperial Court of Austria.

He was a prolific composer of symphonies, string quartets and quintets, various works for wind instruments and on and on. Although his style is more akin to Haydn and Mozart, in the early 19th century he was considered a major rival of Beethoven's. History's had something to say about who was really top dog.

This is the splendid first movement from his Concerto for Two Clarinets in E Flat Maj, Op 91.

♫ Krommer - Concerto for Two Clarinets, Op 91 (1)

Johann Friedrich Fasch was born in Buttelstedt, which I believe is in Germany, although it wasn't then as it was 1688 and there was no such country at the time.


He then traveled throughout Germany (although, of course, it didn't exist) and became a violinist in the orchestra at Bayreuth. Later he was appointed Kapellmeister at Zerbst, a post he held until his death.

He was a prolific composer of cantatas, concertos, symphonies and chamber music - however, none of these was published in his lifetime. He was held in great esteem by his contemporaries and none other than Johann Sebastian Bach made manuscript copies of a number of his pieces.

You could say that he had his head in the baroque and his feet in the classical as he spanned these periods.

His son, Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch, was a composer of some note. Alas, a large number of his (Jo's) works have been lost but some still remain. This is one of them, the Trio Sonata in G min.

♫ Fasch - Trio Sonata G min

Michael Haydn was papa Jo Haydn's little brother. He was born in 1713 in Rohrau, Austria.

Michael Haydn

There was no rivalry between the brothers and they both liked and supported each other throughout their lives. Michael, like his brother, sang in the choir at St Stephen's in Vienna. It was thought at the time he was the better singer. We'll never know.

He is most renowned for his religious works. Indeed, big brother Jo thought they were better than his. I can't tell as I haven't heard them – there's a lot of music out there and so little time.

His orchestral works are really good. Indeed, one of his symphonies was for a long time attributed to Mozart and was often played in concerts. Since it was found that Michael wrote it, it's seldom played. Hey folks, it's still the same piece of work and I'm going to play some of it for you. This is the first movement from Symphony No 26 in G maj.

♫ Michael Haydn - Symphony No 26 (1)

Ludwig August Lebrun was born in 1752 in Mannheim. Alas, we only have a silhouette of him.


He was a celebrated oboe virtuoso and something of a prodigy. He started playing with the orchestra at the age of 12 and became a full member at the age of 15. Oboing was in his blood as his dad played the instrument as well.

He married the soprano Franziska Danzi, the sister of Franz Danzi, a composer we've featured in these columns before, and they traveled extensively throughout Europe performing together. Besides his own compositions, other composers created works for them to perform. Ludwig died when he was only 38.

This is the second movement of his Oboe Concerto No 1 in D min.

♫ Lebrun - Oboe Concerto No 1 (2)

John Hebden was born in Yorkshire in 1712.


He was orphaned when young but was fortunate enough to receive an excellent education, including musical tuition. I can't tell you how this came about as little is known of his life.

His wife died at the birth of their second son (the first didn't survive) and he was left to bring up a small boy on his own. He moved to London and became principal cellist and bassoonist at an orchestra there (not at the same time, I imagine). He played in orchestras performing works conducted by Mr Handel.

He was also a member of a small professional orchestra called "All the best Hands in Town," a sort of early super group. Many of his works have been lost, but conversely, several have recently been discovered. This is one of his Concertos for Strings, Concerto No. 2 in C major.

♫ Hebden - Concerto No 2 in C major

INTERESTING STUFF: 29 January 2011

Category_bug_interestingstuff Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

Ya gotta love The New York Times. Whatever you think of their politics and reporting, their feature stories are often wild and wonderful. This one is about a pocket-sized book from 1870 titled, The Gentleman's Directory, listing 150 of the city's estimated 500 brothels at the time – including reviews:

”The establishment at No 84 W. Houston street is kept by Miss Emma Benedict. It is a first class house with eight lady boarders.

Everything is here arranged in the first style, while the bewitching smiles of the fairy-like creatures who devote themselves to the services of Cupid are unrivaled by any of the fine ladies who walk Broadway in silks and satins new.”

Another, not so fine, place:

The establishment at No 104 Wooster street, is kept by Madam Deil, it is a second class house.

My old neighborhood was overflowing with brothels in those days (and who knows about now) and the Times supplies a handy map with their locations. You can read the entire book in facsimile [pdf]. It's a hoot.

In the latest issue of National Geographic there is a U.S. map of the distribution of surnames throughout the country. (Click on the map to enlarge and zoom.) This is a portion of the mid-Atlantic coast.

Surnames Map

The map was created at the University of Liverpool and at their website, PublicProfiler, you can type in your own surname and see where it appears in countries around the world.

We already know that insurance companies are as cold and heartless as a dead mackerel, but this should be a crime.

When the wife of Vietnam veteran and cancer patient, Ronald Flanagan, slipped a computer key by two cents when paying the couple's $328.69 monthly premium, Ceridian Cobra Service, without notice, canceled their policy just as Flanagan was being prepped for a bone biopsy prior to a transplant. Watch:

I wish I knew what to do about this besides weep.

...without eating them or making juice.

According to this list you can eradicate moths, treat dandruff, clean guitars, whiten tennis shoes and fingernails plus 50 more uses for lemons. Oh, and there is a link on the story to a list of 35 uses for toothpaste that don't involve teeth.

If revelations over the past couple of years of big banks' double-dealing their customers makes you nervous about trusting them, you might want to listen to the financial advice of 107-year-old Leonard McCracken.

According to the story from Bankrate, Inc., he never made more than $10,000 a year, has been retired for 41 years and is still paying the bills with his own resources. There are no complicated investment strategies, no formulas. Just commonsense thrift. Thank you to Dee Hayes for the link.

Not counting Golden Girls, and that was a long time ago, it's not often a 62-year-old stars in a network television show.

Several readers emailed about the always wonderful Kathy Bates now playing attorney Harriet Korn in NBC's comedy/drama, Harry's Law. The creator, David E. Kelley, has made a career of producing quirky legal dramas - L.A. Law, The Practice and Boston Legal among them – and from the first two episodes of this latest one, I haven't seen anything he hasn't done before, several times (not that you should take my word for its quality).

Nevertheless, I vote for more old people on television, particularly in lead performances, and the show is amusing in familiar ways. You can see clips and watch full episodes online here.

These are five of 130 baby bats rescued from the Queensland flood in Australia and being cared for at a Brisbane clinic:

Baby bats

The photo was snatched from the blog All Creatures [Great and Small].

Gerontologist Edward Ansello, director of the Virginia Center on Aging at Virginia Commonwealth University, has honored me in the past by publishing one of my TGB essays in his quarterly magazine, Aging in Action. In the latest Winter issue, online here [pdf], he has reprinted one of Saul Friedman's columns and there will be more in upcoming issues.

These e-magazines are packed with information on many issues we face in our later years and Dr. Ansello has offered free email subscriptions to TGB readers. Just write to him at and ask to be added to the distribution list.

Some researchers say that playing brain games can help maintain and even improve cognitive function in old age. Others dismiss it. I'm skeptical, but what do I know.

Chancy, who blogs at driftwoodinspiration, sent along a link to this amazing list of 100 online and offline brain games and other puzzles. If you think they will help your brain health or if you just like games and puzzles, check it out.

This edition of Interesting Stuff needs some video before we go. Watch as this cat, Iggy by name, masters the technology of the iPad - in a feline sort of way.

The State of the Union, Jobs and Social Security

category_bug_politics.gif President Barack Obama covered a lot of territory in his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday (transcript here). What was conspicuously missing, however, is the number one concern of the majority of Americans – jobs. The only reference he made - that the government would continue to fund infrastructure repair projects - contained no specifics.

Robert Reich, the former secretary of labor under President Clinton, had the most cogent response I read to this gaping hole in the speech:

”[T]he President’s failure to address the decoupling of American corporate profits from American jobs, and explain specifically what he’ll do to get jobs back...risks making his grand plans for reviving the nation’s 'competitiveness' seem somewhat beside the point...

“What the President should have done is talk frankly about the central structural flaw in the U.S. economy – the dwindling share of its gains going to the vast middle class, and the almost unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at top – in sharp contrast to the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.

“Importantly, it would give him a convincing counter-narrative to the Republican anti-government one. Government exists to protect and advance the interests of average working families. Without it, Americans have to rely mainly on big and increasingly global corporations, whose only interest is making money wherever it can be made.”

A large part of that "making money wherever" is making money from money instead of goods and services - Wall Street stock and bond fees, dividends, interest, etc. Taxes are much lower on those transactions than on income and there is no FICA tax on corporate revenue. Which brings me to this:

On the morning after the speech, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office announced that without legislative changes, Social Security will post a $45 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2011, meaning it will pay out that much more than it takes in. Shortfalls, said the CBO, are expected to continue until 2021.

Oh, my. Would that two percent payroll tax holiday enacted by Congress with the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy have anything to do with this shortfall? After all, it does amount to 15 percent of Social Security revenue - money that is lost forever.

And it's going to be a pitched battle with the Republicans later this year not to extend the payroll holiday when it expires because it is the first successful inroad made against the program since it was created in 1935.

I think we can take a bit of credit, along with many progressives throughout the land, thanks to our letters to the White House and petitions, that the president did not continue the attack on Social Security Tuesday by endorsing deeper cuts suggested by the cat food commission and other Republicans.

Here is what he did say, buried in a section about the deficit:

“To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.

“And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break. It’s not a matter of punishing their success. It’s about promoting America’s success.”

Notably missing is a reference to not raising the age at which people are eligible for full Social Security benefits. I'm a little concerned, too, with that adjective, “slashing,” in the first paragraph which could imply cutting at a rate that is not viewed as extreme.

And, there was no mention of the cost-of-living (COLA) formula which some Republicans want to change that would result in smaller increases for current and future Social Security beneficiaries.

It is probably a poor idea to parse as minutely as this what the president said about Social Security (or anything else). Life moves on, politicians renege on promises every day and most people are already forgetting the SOTU now, three days later.

What is so disappointing about the president ignoring the subject of jobs on Tuesday is that full employment increases all taxes reducing or eliminating the need to cut funding for schools, fire, police and other public services, and keeping Social Security strong.

The two biggest moves that will revive the middle class and get our nation back on a sound economic footing are jobs and a tax structure in which the wealthy pay as big a share of their income as everyone else. For Social Security, removing the salary cap is a start.

Our fight to preserve and strengthen Social Security is not done just because the president sounded support in one speech. He already signed legislation that cut Social Security revenue by 15 percent.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jim Kittelberger: A Gift of Louie

Breakthrough Test for Early Alzheimer's Diagnosis

category_bug_journal2.gif Except in autopsy, there has never been a way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease – until now. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave tentative approval to a new screening for early detection in living persons of the unique plaques that define Alzheimer's.

The test, involving a PET scan that uses a dye to make the plaques visible, is relatively inexpensive. The FDA approval is contingent on radiologists and physicians being trained in how to read the scans to help avoid false positives – something that can be done, according to the CEO of the company that developed the dye, in months not years.

A senior director at the Alzheimer's Association expects the test to be available before the end of this year.

In a New York Times story earlier this week, Dr. Norman Foster, a professor of neurology at the University of Utah, discussed a patient with a memory deficit who could have benefited from the test:

“I wish I had had the ability to do an amyloid PET scan to allow an earlier diagnosis,” Dr. Foster said. Approval of the scan, he said, “would be a historic advance in neurology and in the daily management of patients with memory complaints.”

Nothing this big comes along without new, difficult and disturbing questions. In an online video from The Picker Report, the TGB Geriatrician, Dr. Bill Thomas, and dementia expert Dr. Al Power, also a geriatrician, took a whack a some of them.

Long-term care insurance has always been unaffordable for many people and this test, as the doctors note, makes that worse, although it will be interesting to see how the new health care law, which no longer allows denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, will be applied in this case.

And, there are workplace issues; would people be denied employment if their Alzheimer's test were positive?

The biggest personal question the two doctors discuss briefly is, of course – would you want to know, when you are still cognitively healthy, that you have the plaques identified with Alzheimer's, particularly since there is no treatment.

Practically, it makes sense. People can plan ahead and they might use their time - which could be many years still - differently than if they didn't know. But it could also be detrimental leading to depression and other life difficulties.

I've given this a great deal of thought in the past few days. If the scan showed no plaques, I'm home free and I wouldn't wonder every time I forget someone's name if I'm entering the early stages of Alzheimer's.

If the test were positive, however, I know I would monitor myself for every minor bit of forgetfulness. How far gone am I? Is my memory loss serious yet? How do I know I'm forgetting things if I don't remember what I once knew?

Is this something I want to discuss with anyone beyond my physician? Do I tell relatives? Friends? If so, when? Who decides when I am no longer capable? My physician? My health care proxy?

Because I live in Oregon which has a Death with Dignity law, would I want to take advantage of that before my mind is an empty shell? But if my brain is heading south, how would I know when I've hit the tipping point, so to speak? Obviously, one can make an informed decision to choose to die only when one's mind is coherent, so there are legal questions too.

It is difficult to work out and there are no precedents yet, no guides from others' experience.

But at my age, nearly 70, I've tentatively come down on the side of wanting to know, although I won't be first in line when the test becomes available. I'm certain there are ramifications that haven't occurred to me yet.

(I think it is an even tougher question for people who are a good deal younger than I am. Would you want to know 20 or 30 or 40 years before the disease begins to be evident? I'm glad I'm too old to confront that.)

Most of the people reading this blog are, like me, older than 50. So the question today is: do you, at your age now, want to know if your brain shows the Alzheimer's plaques? And will you have the test when it becomes available?

This is not a question that can be tossed off easily like what to have for dessert and you may not have an answer today. But I think it is useful for all of us to begin the conversation.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: That White Stuff

At Last: Updated Elderblog List

EDITORIAL NOTE: My first instinct is to respond to the State of the Union address, but everyone's doing that today with headline opinion ranging from "bold" to "hogwash." Let's wait for a couple of days and do this instead.)

Some of you may remember that when I last updated the Elderblog List – after many months if not more than a year (how embarrassing) – it got lost in the ether of cyberspace.

At last, I've tackled it again, it is up to date and, being very c.a.r.e.f.u.l this time, I didn't lose it before posting.

Some notes: I was ruthless in pruning blogs from the list so that wherever you visit as of now, there is fresh material. If there had been no posts in more than a month or so, the blog is gone. A few people have died, some have moved themselves behind passworded firewalls. A few announced they were ending their blog and some have disappeared with no explanation. Those are all removed.

If you renamed and/or moved your blog to a new address, I changed those items. And I de-listed one blog by a tea partier who supports you know who - my bloglist; my prerogative.

If your blog has been removed and you feel it should be restored, let me know – we'll talk. If you catch any errors, do let me know that too. And, of course, you are always welcome to send an email suggesting your own or someone else's blog for the list.

Here are the criteria:

  • The blogger must be 50 or older
  • The blog should publish at least once a week
  • The blog must be designed well enough to be easily navigable
  • The blog must be reasonably well-written and follow the generally accepted rules of spelling and grammar
  • No light-colored text on a dark background
  • It must be a personal, not commercial or business blog
  • The blog must have been regularly published for at least three months
  • The blog should be a compelling read

Well, that last item is subjective, isn’t it. In the interests of full disclosure, some other subjective criteria are these:

Group-written blogs are not usually included nor are blogs that promote a specific religion although blogs that discuss religion (or lack thereof) and spirituality in general are welcome. And it goes without saying, I assume, that no blogs are included that express bigotry of any sort. Even once. In the past, I have removed two blogs that used unacceptable words for certain ethnic/religious groups in a derogatory manner.

Also, I do not include blogs promoting far right-wing politics. I've taken flak for this in the past, but the rule stands.

Each Monday, five elderblogs from the list are featured in the left sidebar under the headline Featured Elderblogs. They remain there for a week when the next five are posted. Despite a red flag on my calendar, sometimes I forget to update it, so let me know if that happens.

The full list of Elderblogs is here and there is always a link to it in the left sidebar.

By no means does the Elderbloggers List contain all the blogs written by old people. They are just the ones I know about. Here are the newly added blogs. Do visit some of them – there is a wide variety of terrific writing, photography, art, poetry and more, and you may find a new friend too.

Age of Reason
Almost Australian
Animal Beat
As Our Parents Age
Baby Boomer's View
The Burrow
calendar pages
Confessions of a Grandma
The Dassler Diaries
Gericon Designs
Each Little World
The Family Plot Blog
Folkways Notebook
Gabby Geezer
hot coffee and cool jazz
Hugging Aspens
Jan Heigh Abstract Art
Joe's Place
Joneser Journal
Just My Life
Late Fruit
Len Edgerly
Life at Willow Manor
Mad, Mad World
Maggie Turner: Page by Page
My Muse Mutters
Of Quilts, Cats and Books
One Kentucky Writer
paint, poems and ponderings
Plants and Stones
Pressing Pause
The Public Reader
The Rant
Recollections of a Vagabonde
Roy's World
Russ' Filtered News
A Slower Pace
The Slow Lane
Snappy Repartee
Southern. Country. Elegant.
Style Crone
Tea and Wheaten Bread
TechnoBabe's Adventures
Two Crumblies and a Cat
The Unscripted Self
Well Aged With Some Marbling
Whole Note Whimsey
Writing to Myself

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Driving Tales

GAY AND GRAY: Assassination Scars

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 first sentence of James Carroll's January 17 Boston Globe column almost leaped off the screen at me:

All citizens share the shock of violence aimed at public figures, but Americans of a certain age hear such news with a particular shudder, having youthful experience of assassination as nothing less than the interruption of history.

I suspect that sentiment might be widely shared here. Those of us for whom the murders of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy are not historical events but part of our lives, are likely to have felt the news of the Tucson shootings differently from our younger friends. (And that even before we knew that one of this blog's community was among the injured.)

Carroll goes on to point to what he says is a common pattern in the wake of such political violence. First people pull together in solidarity against the wound to the body politic but then, often soon, societies experience a "destruction of solidarity."

”A shocking public discord can quickly follow after the first rush of collective feeling fades, and that, too, has been seen in America these days. The broader history of assassinations is a terrible warning of what can follow in their wake, as societies have again and again been thrust into new levels of conflict with themselves.

“That, more than anything, may explain the shudder of those who came of age in 1960s America when political murder plunged the country into a self-contradiction that still poisons politics.”

He insists that we must remember that some political killings "succeed" in derailing hopeful possibilities, instancing how post-Civil War Reconstruction carried out without Lincoln's wisdom left white Southerners embittered and blacks re-subjugated. He believes the assassination of Israeli prime minster Yitzhak Rabin was destructive of that country's good hopes.

I feel for the citizens of Tucson. Yes, the rest of us are going to be suspicious of your city for a long time. Been there; seen that. Political murder scarred my city in the 1970s.

I've written, probably too lightly, about free-floating madness and political violence in San Francisco in mid-decade. Then, in 1978, our mayor and a member of the board of supervisors (city council) were shot in their city offices by another office holder. The murderer could be thought of as just a lone, disturbed Vietnam vet - except that he was at political odds with the men he killed.

Mayor George Moscone was a progressive in the Roman Catholic social justice tradition who had worked in the state senate for legislation benefiting poor and working people. (Yes, there is a progressive Roman Catholic social justice tradition; California's excellent Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi comes out of the same intellectual stream.)

I think it fair to say, following Carroll, that the mayor's murder derailed the trajectory of politics in San Francisco. We've had only one genuinely progressive mayor since and he lasted only one term amidst our contentious politics.

(By progressive I mean a mayor who prioritized the concerns of workers and renters who are two-thirds of the population, and transit users over those of the downtown financial powers. These mayors were all Democrats - we don't do Republicans here.)

The other San Francisco office holder murdered in 1978 was Supervisor Harvey Milk, at that time probably the most visible gay politician in the country. He was a hopeful visionary among a population who were accustomed to hiding their lives from their fellow citizens, to feeling themselves permanent outsiders. The 2008 film about his life, Milk is worth renting; it rang true to this gay San Franciscan.

Thinking about this history, I am left to wonder why Milk's assassination had so little effect on the trajectory of the gay movement. In my lifetime, despite setbacks and injustices, we've made steady progress toward full equality without regard to sexual orientation.

While other political killings too often seem to have derailed history, this one did not. I guess the answer is that Harvey was more a symbol of a rising wave of social changes than a practical leader. He wasn't going to write the legislation or even conceive of the strategies that would win gay liberation. He was, as he said himself, about giving people hope.

Effectual assassinations remove from the scene people who carry both the dream and the practical instruments of power.

In the wake of the Giffords shooting, I hope we don't see real damage to our democracy. Political violence is an attack on democracy itself. It creates fear among office holders of putting themselves in the open, of meeting constituents.

I hope people interested in running for office won't take the lesson that they are endangering themselves and their families. It's hard to believe that the massacre will not have those consequences.

I hope Congresswoman Giffords, and the elder blogosphere's own "Ashleigh Burrows" and all the other survivors of the Tucson shootings recover well. And I hope we all recover well, refusing, in whatever ways we can imagine, to let violence win.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: Where's Harry?

Jobs and President Obama's SOTU Preview

Tomorrow, Tuesday, President Obama will deliver the annual State of the Union address in which he will outline his goals for the nation for the coming year and beyond. Over the weekend, he posted an online preview video. It's only four minutes:

Did you get all the way to the end? Crabby Old Lady sympathizes; she forced herself to do it for this post. Here is the short version:

  • Increase competition
  • Grow the economy
  • Create jobs
  • More innovation
  • Better education
  • Decrease deficit
  • Reform government
  • Yada yada yada

All that is as unhelpfully abstract as it has been for the past two years and long before that too. To the degree any of it has meaning, here is what it has given us:

  • Corporate profits higher than they have ever been
  • 23 percent of income going to the top one percent of earners; up from nine percent to that group in the late 1970s
  • Continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy
  • The largest number of unemployed for the longest period of time since the Great Depression
  • Continued stagnant, even falling, wages for those who are working
  • Record number of home foreclosures in 2010 with predictions for a larger number in 2011
  • Public school closings throughout the states
  • Cutbacks to fire and police departments throughout the land
  • Increased state and city taxes
  • Rising food and gasoline prices

There is more, but you get the idea: everything that has been done in Washington for the past two years benefits corporations and the wealthy with barely discernible crumbs for everyone else.

Crabby dislikes one of those crumbs – the payroll tax holiday. Giving back two percent to workers from their FICA contribution sounds good, but it amounts to about $10 per paycheck for most people and deprives Social Security of tens of millions of dollars at a time when the oldest baby boomers are signing up for the program with more of them in the pipeline.

Plus, it is unlikely to expire after a year – Congress will call that a tax increase – which will further endanger Social Security at a time when it needs to be strengthened.

According to a couple of New York Times reporters on Sunday discussing probable points Obama will make in the speech, he is

” embrace the recommendations of a bipartisan majority on the debt-reduction commission [aka the cat food commission] he created, which proposed slashing projected annual deficits through 2020 with deep cuts in domestic and military spending, changes to Social Security and Medicare...”

Unlikely? Crabby Old Lady will be listening closely on the subject of those two elder programs Tuesday evening. Many politicians and economists have called for raising the retirement age but one respected economist, James K. Galbraith, has made a strong argument for lowering it.

Not that President Obama will consider it. Much has been made, since Obama's “shellacking” in the November election, that he is making the right choice by moving more to the political center. Center? If he were any more to the right, he'd be Eric Cantor.

Okay, Crabby exaggerates, but not by much. The past two years were spent giving zillions of dollars to banks and since that, apparently, is not business-friendly enough for rich, whiny bankers and corporate leaders, a couple of weeks ago Obama appointed Gene Sperling as his new Chief White House Economic Adviser.

This is the guy who, during the Clinton administration, had a big hand in repealing the Glass-Steagall Act which many believe helped cause the subprime mortgage crisis.

Then on Friday, Obama appointed the CEO of GE, Jeffrey Immelt, to head his new White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. According to one of GE's websites, the number of U.S. jobs at GE has dropped by 27,000 since 2005, while overseas jobs increased by 16,000 although in the past year, the company shed 17,000 foreign jobs. Can you hear the sound of off-shoring?

In the biennial White House game of musical chairs, the same people with different names get seats.

The real reason for these appointments (and other pro-business ones), according to some, is that the Obama re-election campaign needs to raise a billion dollars (!) and they're not going to get that from 10- and 20-dollar donations from voters – especially since so many former supporters are disappointed and feel disenfranchised after these past two years.

So as far as Crabby can see, the idea seems to be to give rich business leaders powerful positions where they can further enrich corporations and themselves through more deregulation and tax breaks.

Then they'll get all their wealthy friends at other corporations (remember, there is no longer any limit on corporate support for candidates) to donate the funds to keep Obama in office for another four years during which time the status quo will continue.

The single biggest thing desperately needed by the economy and the American people are big, bold, new ideas for good-paying jobs, jobs, jobs. People in large numbers back at work and paying taxes again are the answer to a large part of the nation's woes.

Crabby suspects that if there were going to be anything big and bold and new from this president, we would have seen it already and she doesn't expect much of that tomorrow night. She fervently hopes she is wrong.

SPECIAL NOTE: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration appears poised to approve a new brain scan test that can show the plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease in a living brain. Although there is no known treatment for this terrible disease, it might help physicians and patients plan for the future.

Tomorrow, the TGB Geriatrician, Dr. Bill Thomas, and dementia expert, Dr. Al Power, will discuss the ethics of early diagnosis of Alzheimers in a live internet presentation. You can watch it here at 11:30AM eastern U.S. time.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Alan Stewart: An Encounter with a Big and Bobbing Adam's Apple

ELDER MUSIC: Pianists I Like

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.

I've already done a couple of columns on guitarists I like, you can find them here and here, so it's time to get out the old johanna and tinkle the ivories.

Before I began this column I would have thought that guitarists were more different from each other and it was easier to tell them apart than it is with pianists. After listening to the tracks for this I'm not so sure any more. These are quite distinctive.

The obvious place to start is with the one I like to listen to a lot, Thelonious Monk.

Thelonious Monk

Monk's style of playing is very recognisable. He was not afraid of dissonance and his approach to the piano was percussive with abrupt changes, hesitations and he used silence as well.

It takes a bit of getting used to but patience is rewarded. Monk was highly regarded by his fellow musicians and was often asked to play on their records. He returned the compliments when he became famous. Here he is with his quartet playing Hackensack.

♫ Thelonious Monk - Hackensack

I first encountered Bill Evans as a member of the Miles Davis Quintet around the time Miles did Kind of Blue.

Bill Evans

Bill was another jazz muso who started out classically trained - not just the piano but violin and flute as well. He was playing jazz while he was learning the classics and decided to stay with it.

He was in demand as a sideman throughout the Fifties. His stay with Miles was brief, just eight months, but that was an extremely fruitful time. Miles, never one to give praise needlessly, said of him:

"Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got, was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall. I've sure learned a lot from him. He plays the piano the way it should be played."

This is the Bill Evans Trio, recorded at the Village Vanguard, with Some Other Time.

♫ Bill Evans - Some Other Time

Dave Brubeck is pretty much mandatory in a column such as this.

Dave Brubeck

Dave wanted to be a cattle rancher and, indeed, studied zoology at university for a time until his lecturer suggested he switch to music as that was where his heart and mind was.

His two older brothers were musicians which was why Dave originally thought he'd do something different. Not too different. as his dad was a rancher. He served in the army during the second great unpleasantness where he met Paul Desmond. After the war (eventually) they started a group together that became pretty successful.

This is a track called Marian McPartland by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. However, this isn't the classic quartet from the Sixties with Paul; it's a completely new one. Well, not completely new, Dave's still in it.

If you'd like to hear some Marian herself and some more Dave you can find them here.

♫ Dave Brubeck Quartet - Marian McPartland

Now to rock & roll and the first pianist in that style, Fats Domino.

Fats Domino

Antoine Domino was born and bred in New Orleans and has lived his life in that city. Indeed, he decided in the Eighties not to leave town as he could perform there and live comfortably off his royalties. There was a glitch when Katrina hit and his house was flooded but he's back again.

He had dozens of hits from 1949 onwards, so it's almost impossible to pick out a single track for Fats but I'll do my best. This is The Fat Man from the beginning of his career.

♫ Fats Domino - The Fat Man

Little Richard may not be the best pianist ever, but don't tell him that. However, no one performs like he does.

Little Richard

The Georgia Peach was born Richard Penniman in Macon. He blew the lid off the staid Fifties with his explosive music and his charisma. Few could match him and he is one of only two or three people who laid the ground work for rock & roll.

He often gave up rock & roll as he considered it sinful (or something). He just as often returned to it, and for that, I thank him. Indeed, the first time he did that was in Sydney where, rumor has it, he threw his diamond ring and other jewelery off the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

This was in response to the launching of the first Sputnik; he thought that the end of the world was nigh. Can't see the connection myself. People still search for these (no doubt imaginary) trinkets.

This is Richard with one of his famous songs, Good Golly Miss Molly.

♫ Little Richard - Good Golly Miss Molly

The other wild piano player of early rock & roll is Jerry Lee Lewis.

Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee started playing piano as a kid with his two cousins, Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart. Now there's a threesome.

His style owes much to the black artists who performed around about in Louisiana where he lived. His mum enrolled him in the Southwest Bible Institute figuring he'd only be playing religious songs. He certainly did some of those, but rocked them up. He was asked to leave (that's being polite about the whole event).

His recording career, like that of several early rockers, started at Sun Records. It was there he recorded the songs for which he is most famous, and this is one of them – Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On.

♫ Jerry Lee Lewis - Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

You don't usually associate the piano with country music, but there have been a number of fine pianists in this genre. In my opinion the pick of them was Floyd Cramer.

Floyd Cramer

His style was so distinctive that I can listen to a country track and say, "That's Floyd.” I haven't been wrong yet. Besides playing on every country record in the Fifties and the Sixties, Floyd also had several hits of his own at that time. One that stands out is Last Date.

In the way of these things back then, someone wrote some words to this tune and had another hit with it. Indeed, somewhat later Emmylou Harris performed it and named one of her albums after it. This is Floyd's original version.

♫ Floyd Cramer - Last Date

The pianist I probably listen to the most is Glenn Gould.

Glenn Gould

Glenn's mum always intended her son to be a classical musician. Even before he was born she played classical music to him (well, probably for herself, I imagine). That seemed to work as that's what he became.

He entered the Toronto Conservatory of Music at age 12 and gave his first public performance the following year. From then on there was no holding him. Unfortunately, he suffered a severe stroke and died at age 50.

Glenn is most noted for his interpretations of Bach's keyboard works, but he does a good job with Haydn as well. I'm going with some Bach. This is from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2. It's No. 4 in C sharp minor, BWV873. This is the prelude.

♫ Glenn Gould - Bach, JS - BWV873 (Prelude)

And this is the fugue.

♫ Glenn Gould - Bach, JS - BWV873 (Fugue)

Daniel Barenboim has released many terrific sets of CDs. At the top of the pile are his complete Mozart piano concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra. Also in the mix, again with Mozart, are the sonatas for violin and piano with Itzhak Perlman. Anything from these would be worth including and that's what I'm doing - choosing something is the tough bit.

Daniel Barenboim

Although born in Argentina, Daniel now lives in Berlin. He's a bit greedy inasmuch as he has four different passports – Argentina, Spain, Israel and one from the Palestinian Authority. Those should get him to most places.

He is one of the greatest pianists in both the 20th and 21st centuries. This is the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 11 in F Maj, K413.

Daniel Barenboim - Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 11 in F Maj, K413

Missed the cut, maybe next time: Keith Jarrett, Gerard Willems, Otis Spann, Professor Longhair, Herbie Nichols, Dr John, Johnnie Johnson, Duke Ellington, Rowlf the Dog and Liberace (just kidding).

INTERESTING STUFF: 22 January 2011

Category_bug_interestingstuff Interesting Stuff is a weekly listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

Wonderful comedy sketch for computer users from a show on BBC One. Thanks to reader Jane Oestreich for this.

Elders regularly take a beating from the young about their lack of computer skills. But before I get to that, take a look at this cartoon video about an accomplished user watching a novice:

As you might expect, when this video was posted to BoingBoing, a lot of readers related stories about their how parents and grandparents drive them nuts doing things the hard way. What was more interesting, however, were the number of comments like this:

“It's not generational, either - my twin sister consults me for advice just as often as our 73-year-old father or 47-year-old roommate.”

And this:

“I'm 53 and most people that I know rely on me to be the computer whiz. It's a bit disturbing when twenty-somethings don't know the basics.”

And this:

“Actually, I've learned that even "teh young" can be awfully ignorant when it comes to computers. I'm constantly surprised by the number of teens who can't figure out how to use Skype...or how to post a photo to a Facebook album.”

In observation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, The Daily Beast published a ranking of all 50 U.S. states by tolerance. Hey, Frank Paynter: Wisconsin came in as the most tolerant state in the nation.

Wyoming came in dead last, the most intolerant state. And mine, Oregon, is ranked number 26. You can read the criteria for how states were judged and find your own state here.

This is so cute you'll go weak in the knees. She's explaining Winnie the Pooh, but adds her own wonderful set of embellishments.

If Bank of America holds your mortgage, you need to know this:

“Consumers who use the bank's online payment tool, Mortgage Pay, will risk a $6 fee if they fund payments using another bank's checking account and the payment falls during the final six days of the traditional 15-day grace period. Consumers who make payments from Bank of America accounts are not subject to the fee.”

As noted in this report, the new fee structure comes when big banks are increasing fees for checking accounts. Of course, you can avoid the possibility of a fee by paying through your own bank's online bill-paying service.

Aside from Senator Bernie Sanders (see Thursday's post), elders' best friend in Congress is Harry Reid and as leader of the Senate, he's got the power. We're going to need him in the coming months:


Lori Nix - TheCity

Looks like a library in an old house, doesn't it? Maybe as old as Leonardo DaVinci's. But it's not.

It is a diorama built to scale and photographed by artist Lori Nix - one of 18 in a still-growing series she calls, The City, which concerns itself with apocalyptic images.

”With The City series I have moved indoors, creating architectural interiors,” she writes. “This has proven most difficult yet most rewarding. Currently it takes about seven months to build a scene and two to three weeks to shoot the final image.

“I build these in my Brooklyn living room. I have miniature power tools throughout the apartment, a chop saw under the kitchen table, a miniature table saw on top. The computer room doubles as a model mock-up room.”

The images are as beautiful as they are disturbing, and astonishing in their detail. You can see the photos at Ms. Nix's website where there are several other photo series.

My birthplace and home once again after 55 years away, Portland, Oregon, has a reputation for being weird and residents like it that way. Mainly, “weird” means retro-hippie - sometimes in some places, it can feel like you've slipped into a time warp and landed in 1971.

Last night on the IFC channel, a six-part drama/comedy show titled Portlandia premiered. Conceived by and starring Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen, it satirizes Portland's eccentricities and will feature such guest stars Kyle MacLachlan, Steve Buscemi and Gus Van Sant along with, in one episode, Portland's real-life mayor, Sam Adams.

Here is the first, 30-minute episode titled, “Farm,” which is as weird as Portland itself can sometimes be. Oops. This episode is no longer available online. You can read about the show and view some clips here.


The TGB Geriatrician is Dr. Bill Thomas (bio), a world-renowned geriatrician, author, blogger (ChangingAging) and creator of the Eden Alternative.

Most recently, he has partnered with the Picker Institute, a leading foundation for health care reform that places a person's needs, interests and desires at the center of their care. Dr. Thomas and Picker operate an advocacy program called RealCareNow to promote patient-centered care – of which this series on Time Goes By is a part.

A couple of weeks ago here at TGB, we had a lively conversation about the common aches and pains that seem to accompanying getting older for most of us. I decided it would be a good discussion to have with Bill Thomas.

Special Note: Next Tuesday, 25 January, Dr. Bill Thomas will host a live internet discussion with another geriatrician, dementia expert Dr. Al Power, to talk about the ethics surrounding early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. You can join the live discussion at 11:30AM eastern U.S. time next Tuesday here.

Yesterday, I asked you to write President Obama to urge him to refuse to cut Social Security. If you haven't done that, please do. Our messages are read.

Now Nancy Leitz, who is a long time contributor to The Elder Storytelling Place, has forwarded a link to which is hosting a petition to President Obama to oppose cuts to Social Security. You can sign it here. It doesn't hurt to do both – write and sign the petition.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Linda Carmi: Together Our Journey

The State of the Union and Social Security

category_bug_politics.gif On Thursday 27 January Tuesday 25 January, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address when, it is widely believed among people who are supposed to know these things, he will discuss the future of Social Security.

This is distressing because announcements in this annual speech carry particular weight and in recent months the president has made statements indicating he is willing to consider some form of cuts to the program.

For the past week, I've been struggling to write a story about why this is a disaster for elders – current and future - but without much success. The problem is, mainly, that I have too much information I can't seem to distill well.

Enter Bernie Sanders. You remember the independent senator from Vermont, don't you? The guy who for nearly nine hours in December filibustered the bill that would (and unfortunately, did) extend the tax cuts for the rich?

Now Senator Sanders has delivered a two-page letter to the president strongly urging him to resist cuts to Social Security. The letter is so good and so thorough that I'm going to let the senator do the talking for me by reproducing that letter, dated 11 January 2011.

Dear Mr. President:

There have been worrisome reports that you are considering supporting tax cuts in Social Security. I hope that information is wrong, and that you will stand bby your campaign promises to strengthen Social Security, making sure that it remains strong and vibrant and able to pay out full benefits for our children and grandchildren.

As you well know, despite rhetoric from Republicans and those on Wall Street, Social Security is not in financial crisis. The Social Security Trust Fund today has a $2.6 trillion surplus that is projected to grow to over $4 trillion by the year 2023.

Social Security can pay out every nickel owed to every eligible American for at least the next 26 years. After that, if Congress does not act (which I strongly believe it must), Social Security will be able to pay out at last 75 percent of eligible benefits.

Further, Social Security has not contributed anything to our national debt. Social Security is 100 percent funded through payroll tax contributions coming from workers and employers and, up until last year, it has received no funding from the federal Treasury.

Mr. President, although the American people now take Social Security for granted, we should never underestimate the incredibly positive impact that Social Security has had on our country.

Since it's inception over 75 years ago, through good economic times and bad, Social Security has paid out every penny owed to every eligible beneficiary with minimal administrative costs. What an extraordinary accomplishment!

During that period Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of senior citizens, widows, orphans, and persons with disabilities out of poverty. Before Social Security existed, about half of America's senior citizens lived in poverty. Today, less than 10 percent live in poverty.

More than 52 million Americans now receive Social Security benefits. I would contracts that record to the situation we recently saw on Wall Street when millions of Americans lost significant amounts of their retirement savings because of the collapse of the stock market.

But, I do not have to tell you all this, Mr. President, because that is very much the same message you conveyed to the American people during your presidential campaign of 2008. Here are some of the excellent statements you made during the campaign:

• “Social Security is not in crisis; it is a fundamentally sound system, but it does have a problem long term...The best idea is to lift the cap on the payroll tax, potentially exempting middle-class folks, but making sure that the wealthy are paying more of their fair share.” - Senator Barack Obama, October 30, 2007

• “The alternatives, like raising the retirement age, or cutting benefits, or raising the payroll tax on everybody, including people making less than $97,000 a year [now $106,800 a year] – those are not good policy options.” - Senator Barack Obama, April 16, 2008

• “I believe that cutting [Social Security] benefits is not the right answer; and that raising the retirement age is not the best option.” - Senator Barack Obama, November 11, 2007

And even more recently, as president, you made a very strong statement on this issue, according to an October 14, 2010 Reuters article: “President Barack Obama said...he favored raising more revenue for Social Security to prolong the solvency of the U.S. retirement fund, rather than just cutting benefits or making people work longer...

“'I do think that the best way to do it would be to look at the fact that right now, you only pay Social Security taxes to about $106,800, and after that you don't pay any Social Security tax,' President Obama said. 'That could be modified or changed in a way that would help extend the solvency of Social Security.'”

Mr. President, as I'm sure you are aware, our Republican colleagues have long opposed Social Security not because it hasn't worked, but because of ideological reasons.

Despite its extraordinary success, they simply believe that government should not be involved in providing retirement benefits to seniors, or supporting the disabled, or widows and orphans. They would prefer Wall Street and the private sector do that.

But that has not been your position and that is not the promise you made to the American people. That is not why you were elected president. Further, that is not what the vast majority of the American people want to see happen.

All of us want to work in a bi-partisan manner when we can, but needlessly cutting Social Security benefits when that has nothing to do with our deficit situation, is not good public policy or what is good for our country.

I urge you to once again make it clear to the American people that under your watch we will not cut Social Security benefits, raise the retirement age or privatize this critical program.

Social Security is a promise that we cannot and must not break.

Bernard Sanders
United States Senator

I would add only that it's not just that Republicans prefer Wall Street and the private sector to be involved in “providing retirement benefits to seniors, or supporting the disabled, or widows and orphans.”

They want to get their grubby hands on those billions of dollars workers pay every year, collect millions in fees annually and if they lose it all in another financial meltdown – as will happen again one day – so what. They will survive magnificently as they have this time.

There are five days until the State of the Union address. The speech is still being written and here is what I ask you to please do: Email the president. You can do that here.

Urge him to lay off cuts to Social Security (well, you could word it more politely than that) and point him to Senator Sanders' letter using this URL:

Get your husband or wife to write the president too. And your friends and relatives. Your blog readers. You might mention, as I did, that without Social Security, you'd be living in a refrigerator box under a bridge – or whatever your version of that is.

Say whatever it takes to bring home the point that you don't want your children and grandchildren to be eating cat food when they get old.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmerman: Stranger Danger

The House Votes on Health Care Repeal Today

category_bug_politics.gif The vote on Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Act, HR 2 (full text here) takes place in the House of Representatives today.

According to most pundits and some members of the House themselves, the bill will fail. Even if it succeeds in the House, they say, the Senate will defeat it and if somehow it squeaks through the upper chamber, President Barack Obama will veto it.

I have no reason to doubt this is so and I'm not going to ask you to email or call your Congress person because I'll be doing a lot of that in the future and it wouldn't affect the vote of most Republicans and those 80-odd, newly-elected tea partiers. Hating Obamacare is a bedrock belief of theirs even if they know the vote is only symbolic. This time.

Instead, I want to remind us all that although Obamacare is a disappointment in many respects, the improvements that are contained in it are important to many Americans of all ages. Among the new provisions:

• No lifetime cap on essential medical benefits

• Annual spending caps are now restricted and will be eliminated in 2014

• Insurers may no longer drop policyholders when they get sick

• Children can remain on their parents' policies until age 26

• Except in some grandfathered categories, children under age 19 may no longer be excluded for pre-existing conditions. Adults will be added to this provision in 2014.

• No copays or deductibles may be applied to Level A and B preventive care and medical screenings in new policies

Really now, what can account for anyone wanting to repeal these rules? First, they are the moral and right thing to do. Second, they ought always to have been part of the bargain we make with insurance companies.

Insurance of any kind, by definition, is a gamble. I have never liked that I'm betting against myself but better to pay than lose my home, car or my health care with no recourse.

And the gamble on the insurance companies' part is only fair. Sometimes they win and make a lot of money (so far in life, I've paid out many times over what I've collected), and sometimes they lose.

What is not fair, as we have lived with for decades, is stacking the deck against insureds with, I might add, the consent of government. Obamacare just levels the odds, if only a little, and prevents some of what can only be called cheating by the insurance industry.

• Copays and deductibles for preventive services and some screenings are eliminated

• A free, annual health examination has been added

• Some relief for people who fall into the “donut hole” in Part D, prescription drug coverage reducing costs to individuals up to $1800 a year

• Certain primary care physicians will receive a 10 percent increase in payment for services to Medicare patients

There are more detailed explanations of these changes at this post.

Here's what bothers me about this bill being voted on in the House today: it's just nasty. What kind of person wants children (or anyone) to be denied health care because they can't afford it? At least two people in Arizona have died recently because that state eliminated payment for organ transplants to Medicaid beneficiaries. Two people who, likely, would otherwise still be living.

What kind of person would have a physician say to a patient, “Well, we're halfway through your cancer treatment, but we are stopping now because your insurance company will not pay anymore”?

What kind of person thinks it is a good idea – or even legal (let alone moral) - to allow an insurance company to not pay its gambling debt by canceling a policy when an insured gets sick? That's not allowed even in a Las Vegas casino.

Are these really the kind of people we want representing us in Washington? Apparently so for a lot voters.

As measured by standard medical benchmarks, somehow all other developed countries provide better health care to all their citizens for approximately half the cost per person as the U.S. spends.

That “somehow” is simple to explain: in those countries, everyone – from birth to death – is covered in the same risk pool. Some people make it from cradle to grave with hardly any health care costs. Others use a lot of the system. It balances out.

There is a reason Medicare costs are soaring; the risk pool contains only the oldest and, therefore, more of the sickest people in the country. Medicare for All would solve this problem.

There is a reason we don't have Medicare for All; the government is controlled by big business, in this case the entire medical community of insurance, pharmaceutical and medical device companies who take home astronomical profits each year.

We don't have a health care problem in the U.S. We have a business/government problem. Until the billions of business money is removed from elections, reasonable health care hasn't a chance in our nation.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: Grizzly: The Making of a Champion Show Dog

Our Plastic Brains – Even in Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif Surely you know of Oliver Sacks, the Columbia University professor of neurology and psychiatry. You may have read one or more of his books recounting case studies of people he has treated with, usually, rare brain disorders. Books such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Seeing Voices and The Island of the Color Blind.

Or perhaps you saw the movie, Awakenings, based on his book of that title.

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an essay from Dr. Sacks about how our brains are almost miraculous in their ability to stretch, adapt, overcome injury, retrain themselves and perform feats we could not imagine before.

He relates the story of a woman who, due to sudden and complete paralysis caused by a spinal cord infection, particularly missed small pleasures like the daily crossword puzzle. She asked for a newspaper so she could at least read the clues.

”When she did this, something extraordinary happened,” says Sacks. “As she looked at the clues, the answers seemed to write themselves in their spaces.

“Her visual memory strengthened over the next few weeks, until she found that she was able to hold the entire crossword and its clues in her mind after a single, intense inspection — and then solve it mentally. She had had no idea, she later told me, that such powers were available to her.”

I'm making a leap here, but perhaps it is because of his own age, 77, that much of this essay addresses the remarkable plasticity of elder brains:

”[N]euroscientists now know that the brain does not stop growing, even in our later years,” writes Sacks. “Every time we practice an old skill or learn a new one, existing neural connections are strengthened and, over time, neurons create more connections to other neurons. Even new nerve cells can be generated.”

We have discussed here in the past the irritation of deteriorating short-term memory as we get older. Mine has become so close to non-existent that I can forget a thought or intention within a second or two and have it return only when it's too late.

Simple example: I went to the bathroom to collect towels to wash, decided to empty the waste basket first (so I wouldn't forget) and didn't remember the towels until I was folding the laundry. Grrr. I could relate dozens of variations on this theme.

A while ago (I forget how long), I wondered if it is possible to regain at least some short-term memory function with brain rewiring. Obviously, something different needed to be tried, so to that end, when I make a mental note now I ask myself, “Are you going to remember this?”

Oddly, I recall that intention most of the time; it's become habit to follow any mental note with the question. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't – but I am most successful when I ask the question aloud and my short-term memory seems to be improving a bit.

Now I've added saying the intention aloud too so if you were a fly on the wall around my place, you would hear, “Get the towels for the laundry. Are you going to remember this?” or something similar several times a day.

(New thought just now: Could something like this be the genesis of the stereotype that old people talk to themselves?)

Compared to serious brain disorders Dr. Sacks treats, this is a small experiment with a common elder difficulty. But it's not small to me; it is the single most irritating thing about being old.

Dr. Sacks writes that some areas of the brain,

...especially in the cerebral cortex, which is central to higher cognitive powers like language and thought, as well as sensory and motor functions — can be, to a remarkable extent, rewired as we grow older.

I'm giving it a try to see if I can improve my short-term memory even if I have to keep talking to myself. I've also cut down distractions. I no longer allow television news to play in the background and I turn off my email program so it doesn't ding at me when I'm writing for TGB. I think that helps too.

Dr. Sacks again:

”Whether it is by learning a new language, traveling to a new place, developing a passion for beekeeping or simply thinking about an old problem in a new way, all of us can find ways to stimulate our brains to grow, in the coming year and those to follow." [emphasis added]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ian Rudick: The Future of Healthcare

When Does Old Age Begin?

Last week, on a post titled, A Day in an Elder's Life, reader Flora Davis posted this comment:

“You know, I was shocked to hear that you're 69. I'm 76, and to me 69 seems like a kid. I'm still waiting to feel 'old,' whatever that means.

“Seriously, when would you say old age begins? Are we simply as old as we feel? And what would that mean since it changes from day to day?”

That oft-repeated adage we've heard all our lives - you're only as old as you feel – is nonsensical. Since no one has before been the age they are, that's how that age feels. How could it be otherwise?

Further, is it possible for anyone to feel the same at 75 as they did at 60, 50, 40 or 30? I hope not. That would imply no change, no learning, no new knowledge over all those years. Events, experience, joys, tragedies, successes and failures (taking into account individual degrees of self-awareness) should and do change us, teach us and, sometimes, make us a little wiser. It happens only with the passage of time.

Now and then throughout most people's lives, someone, on being told our age, is bound to say, “Oh, you don't look that old,” and it is invariably taken as a compliment because to look old is the ultimate sin in American culture.

The pressure to look young surrounds us every day of our lives in newspaper and magazine advertisements, television commercials and such shows as Nip/Tuck, comedians' jokes and job-seeking advice. Oprah Winfrey has made the pursuit of youthful appearance a fetish for 20 years.

A lot of the cultural abhorrence of old age is the word “old” itself. Here is a list of synonyms for “old” from one online thesaurus:

aged, along in years, ancient, broken down, debilitated, decrepit, elderly, enfeebled, exhausted, experienced, fossil, geriatric, getting on, gray, gray-haired, grizzled, hoary, impaired, inactive, infirm, mature, matured, not young, olden, oldish, over the hill, past one's prime, seasoned, senile, senior, skilled, superannuated, tired, venerable, versed, veteran, wasted

Although some old people are debilitated, decrepit, enfeebled, impaired, infirm, senile, etc., most are not – at least 80 percent - and these words should not define old age.

When I was planning Time Goes By in 2003, one of the first decisions I made was to never use cutesy euphemisms for “old.” On this blog, if nowhere else, old age would be dealt with directly or, in the parlance of the Sixties, I would tell it like it is. Old is old. Say so and perhaps, in some small way, it would become a less negative description.

Flora asked, when does old age begin? Millie Garfield of My Mom's Blog (who at 85 and like Flora, has been referring to me as a kid for many years), in a comment on the same post, noted the medical definitions, young-old and old-old. In general, physicians and researchers divide old age thusly:

  • Young-old: 55 to 74
  • Mid-old: 75 to 84
  • Old-old: 85 and up

Some in the medical community skip the middle category and classify everyone 75 and up as old-old. This makes sense.

When I attended a week-long seminar in 2009 (The Age Boom Academy where a dozen journalists and I were allowed to study face-to-face with about 35 experts, including two Nobel laureates, from many individual fields of aging presenting their latest findings), the consensus was that old-old begins at 75, the age at which, on average, the diseases of age begin appearing in the population in large numbers.

Seven years ago or so, when I created the parameters for a blog to be included on the Elderbloggers List, I chose age 50 as the low end to qualify. I didn't know as much about aging and generations then as I do now and if I were beginning that list today, I would set the age at 60. There are several reasons – mainly, that the decade between those two ages makes a large difference in one's worldview.

At 50, many people are still raising children or getting them through college. By 60, that is largely finished and most are beginning to consider winding down careers and retiring (if they haven't already been dispatched from the workplace due to age discrimination).

Given the overwhelming cultural inclination to demonize old age, there will always be deniers, people who claim at 60, 70 and even 80 to still be young. How foolish that is just on mathematical grounds. Average life expectancy in developed countries ranges from about 77 to 81, so if you have hit 60, you have entered the realm of the old.

Be proud of it. You have lived, loved and learned. In most cases, you still have a long way to go and much to give back from your years of experience. But it is damned hard to claim knowledge – and respect for it - if you insist on a pretense of youth.

Old age is not an iota less valuable than youth which is, as Dr. Bill Thomas has written, not the gold standard of life, whatever anyone says. On this blog, the old are celebrated not over youth, which has its own virtues, but equally, beside it.

Nevertheless, it is hard in a youth-saturated culture for anyone to remain entirely immune to the omnipresent pressures of anti-aging nostrums and Botox injections. So I want to add a small personal warning to readers.

When I was a kid, there was a catchphrase grownups used to claim they were not getting old: life begins at 40. It was, of course, taken by everyone in reverse – at 40, you were old - not something anyone wanted, then or now, to be.

Like most people, after I became an adult I believed 40 was the divide between young and old and when that birthday was approaching, I spent my 39th year too frequently bemoaning this belief to my friends. (To their credit, they did not abandon me.)

Then, when 2011 was about to arrive a few weeks ago, I remembered that in this new year, I will hit another of those big round birthdays, 70, and was surprised – even after all these years at Time Goes By lobbying for a positive view of age – that I feel a bit of vapors about it, a gulp, an oh-my-god moment or two.

I suspect that one way I will deal with this trepidation, mild as it is compared to 40, is to write about it here. I don't know how yet, but related posts will no doubt appear. Unlike my 40-era friends, at least you have been warned.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary Follett: Things You Do Not Prepare For

ELDER MUSIC: Gordon Lightfoot

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 Besides being a fine singer and terrific songwriter, Tom Russell writes a wonderful blog. He wrote a piece called Lightfoot's Guitar and I can’t improve on his words so I hope he won’t mind if I steal some of them for you.

”There's a book by David Gahr. Out of print. Inside is a photo of Gordon Lightfoot's song list, taped to the top of his Gibson 12 string guitar at Newport in 1965. The songs are written in ink, smeared from sweat or rain; or maybe they're late-night motel bourbon stains.

“This was back when people sang and swapped songs in rooms full of cigarette smoke; dawn light seeping through the yellow window shades. There's almost 80 songs listed on this paper scrap, scotch-taped to the antique guitar wood: his own classics: Early Morning Rain, The Way I Feel, Ribbon of Darkness, and For Lovin' Me.

“And Dylan covers: Girl From the North Country, Hollis Brown,
Blowin' in the Wind, Don't Think Twice.

“Country-western gems: El Paso, The Auctioneer and Six Days on the Road.

“Folk covers like Ian Tyson's Four Strong Winds and Red Velvet, and folk standards like Old Blue. A few rockabilly numbers.

“That mix! Folk, Blues, Country, Gospel, Rockabilly and Rock and Roll. If there is any mystery where great songwriters come from, this tear-stained list is a black and white document of the homework. Lightfoot sang and wrote from a deeply rooted knowledge of roots music. Then he rolled and wrote his own songs. Still does.”

Guitar Song List

There’s no better way than that to introduce one Gordie’s early songs, one mentioned above, Early Morning Rain.

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - Early Morning Rain

Gordon Lightfoot

I first encountered Gordon Lightfoot’s songs through the versions by Peter, Paul and Mary, particularly the previous song and For Loving Me. I imagine that most readers who know Gordie discovered him the same way.

Okay, I can hear the Canadians going, "I saw him in a coffee shop down on Yonge Street back in ‘65," or some such, and that’s okay too.

A song that wasn't covered by anyone at the time is Did She Mention My Name?

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - Did She Mention My Name

Gordon Lightfoot

His big breakthrough came with the album "Sit Down Young Stranger" that included the hit, If You Could Read My Mind. Later editions of this album had its name changed to the latter song.

I'm not going to include anything from that and I'm skipping over a couple to get to the song, ’m Not Supposed to Care from "Summertime Dream.”

What a terrific song this is.

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - I'm Not Supposed to Care

Back to Tom Russell:

”But let's move forward 35 years to a folk festival in Ontario, where they're in the midst of a Gordon Lightfoot tribute. Lightfoot had been in hospital for two months recovering from an aneurism. The prognosis ain't good.

“Suddenly the crowd parts, like the Red Sea, and people are shrieking and applauding, and here's Lightfoot himself, walking through the crowd with a guitar case. Damn, it's Jesus coming to town on a mule, armed with an antique wooden machine gun.

“Then he's on stage, singing an old song. People are weeping. Quite a moment. I had the chills.”

Gordon Lightfoot

This is an appropriate song for an Elders' website but that's not the reason I'm including it. Like all the rest, it's a fine song and that's reason enough. This is Old Dan’s Records.

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - Old Dan's Records

Gordon Lightfoot

The next track may resonate with some readers. Personally, I couldn't possibly comment. The song is Talking in Your Sleep.

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - Talking in Your Sleep

Tom again:

”I thought back to that old stained set list on his 12 string at Newport in 65. And all the motel rooms and miles and the dignity of the man. A songwriter. It was like running into Homer, and he hands you his lute.

A few troubadors still walk among us, with stained set lists taped to the top of their road battered axes. Old guitars soak up every room and song and situation they've been involved with…and oh, the stories they can tell.”

Gordon Lightfoot

Many songwriters have written about a musician's life on the road but few have done it better than Gordie with the song 10 Degrees and Getting Colder. This one is not autobiographical as it describes someone whose success, if you can call it that, is marginal at best.

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - 10 Degrees & Getting Colder

Gordon Lightfoot

I had originally three times the number of songs selected as are included today. It was almost like trying to select among your kiddies and throwing out the others. Okay, probably not, but I don't have any kids and I haven't had to throw any away, so I wouldn't know.

It was a tossup between this song and Never Too Close for the final berth. That Same Old Obsession won the toss.

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - That Same Old Obsession

Gordon Lightfoot

I'll finish with a song a little out of character as it almost seems to be a Lennon/McCartney song - one of those that they wrote separately and put together into a single whole. A bit like A Day in the Life.

This is Gordie's Day in the Life without that contrived ending, Cabaret.

♫ Gordon Lightfoot - Cabaret

And as Tom ended his column:

”For a moment, in Lightfoot’s dressing room, I knew I was at the center of my universe. I knew why I was a songwriter.

Gordon Lightfoot

INTERESTING STUFF: 15 January 2011

Category_bug_interestingstuff Since November 2009, this Saturday space had been reserved for Saul Friedman's graceful, informative Gray Matters column and he filled it – I know not at what personal difficulty in his final months – through the Saturday before he died on 24 December. In fact, he had told me the column for Christmas weekend would be about his beloved Beethoven. Sadly, it was not to be.

Saul can never be replaced and I will not try. Instead, for the foreseeable future, I will post Interesting Stuff – what has until now been an occasional listing of short takes and links to web items that have caught my attention; some related to aging and some not, some useful and others just for fun.

You are all encouraged to submit items for inclusion. Just click “Contact” in the upper left corner of any Time Goes By page to send them. I'm sorry that I probably won't have time to acknowledge receipt and there is no guarantee of publication. But when I do include them, you will be credited and I will link to your blog if you have one.

Tosh McIntosh published an anonymous elders' wonderful diatribe against modern-day gadgets. An excerpt:

When I bought my Blackberry, I thought about the 30-year business I ran with 1800 employees, all without a cell phone that plays music, takes videos, pictures and communicates with Facebook and Twitter...

That was before one of my grandkids hooked me up for Tweeter, Tweetree, Twhirl, Twitterfon, Tweetie, Twittererific, Tweetdeck, Twitpix, and something that sends every message to my cell phone and every other program within the texting world...

My phone was beeping every three minutes with the details of everything except the bowel movements of the entire next generation. I am not ready to live like this, so I now keep my cell phone in the garage in my golf bag.

There is plenty more and you can read it here.

TGB reader Karen sent along a link to The Atlantic magazine's graphic of how the recession has altered our lives – by the numbers. From unemployment to books to savings rates, political approval ratings and a whole lot more. You'll find it here.

Marion Dent sent along this video of public health expert Hans Rosling graphically showing how health and wealth has changed among 200 countries over 200 years. It's amazing to watch.

I don't recall how I found this website, but I've been enjoying it for the past couple of months. It is a large collection of histories ranging from ancient times until now, written by people who were present.

This is from an eyewitness to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, Pierre de Bourdeille, who was not above a little editorializing in his report:

The executioner, or rather the minister of Satan, strove to kill not only her body but also her soul, and kept interrupting her prayers. The Queen repeated in Latin the Psalm beginning In te, Damine, speravi; nan canfundar in aeternum.

When she was through she laid her head on the block, and as she repeated the prayer, the executioner struck her a great blow upon the neck...

It is almost like being there, isn't it. New accounts continue to be added to Eyewitness to History, an extraordinary website.

Women's Day magazine has posted a funny collection of what ought to be unnecessary product warning labels. Here's one:


You wonder how dumb you have to be to need such a warning, but I suppose it wouldn't exist if the company hadn't tired of questions about how to use the product. There are ten more of these here.

It's an old, old game, that other kitty in the mirror, but it's still fun.

In my favorite news story from Friday, a man in Belarus is recuperating from a gunshot wound to his leg and the fox he was hunting is the perp.

"The animal fiercely resisted and in the struggle accidentally pulled the trigger with its paw," one prosecutor was quoted as saying.

This surely gives new meaning to the phrase, sly as a fox. Read more here.

Reader Bill Griffiths sent along the link to a useful list of recommendations to avoid being scammed in 2011. Here's one:

I will not sign up for “free trials” of products like acai berry diet pills or colonic cleansers. They aren’t free if the company has my credit card number and will charge me for a subscription each month.

Although some apply only to businesses, I'm sure you'll find others to be useful reminders here.

Personally, I abhor malls. They are way too big and invariably, the next store I want is as far as possible from where I am standing. Not to mention that the closest mall to me nowadays is an outdoor mall – not wildly useful in rainy Oregon.

Nevertheless, sometimes you can find a store you want only at a mall. Enter: mall maps apps for smart phones to help you plan your visit and find your way around. There are many of these apps, some for a fee and some free. Rather than list them here, try this recent story from The New York Times with links. (Hat tip to Nikki of From Where I Sit.)

Some of us here are old enough to remember that icon of female independence and power, Rosie the Riveter, whose image appeared on patriotic posters all over the U.S. during World War II.


What I didn't know (nor did she for a long time) is that the inspiration for the woman in that poster was a 17-year-old factory worker named Geraldine Doyle.

There was even a song about Rosie the Riveter:

Geraldine Doyle died on the day after Christmas at age 86. You can read about her and about how the poster came to be at the Washington Post.

THE TGB GERIATRICIAN: Balance and Avoiding Falls

The TGB Geriatrician is Dr. Bill Thomas (bio), a world-renowned geriatrician, author, blogger (ChangingAging) and creator of the Eden Alternative.

Most recently, he has partnered with the Picker Institute, a leading foundation for health care reform that places a person's needs, interests and desires at the center of their care. Dr. Thomas and Picker operate an advocacy program called RealCareNow to promote patient-centered care – of which this series on Time Goes By is a part.

After our last conversation with Bill about Elder Energy Budgets, several of you left questions about difficulties with balance and how we can help avoid falling. So today's video tackles just that.

We haven't yet sorted out how to get transcripts made, so for people who have hearing deficits, here are Bill's bullet points:

  • Number 1: You do not lose your ability to balance just because you age.

  • Balance is a set of skills and abilities. Tai chi provides some of the best balance work Bill knows of.

  • Yoga is wonderful way to increase balance skills.

  • Get a prescription from your physician for physical therapy to do balance training.

  • Some health care providers have developed a sort of balance boot camp that can give you common-sense tricks to help maintain balance and avoid falling.

  • Wii is a fantastic, safe way to increase balance skills and also provides measurements to show you how you're doing.

[Is there an elder health issue you'd like Dr. Thomas to discuss? Leave your suggestions in the comments below and they may turn up in a future video. Remember, Dr. Thomas cannot advise on specific personal health problems.]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Rita Kenefic: What More Could One Ask?

A Day in an Elder's Life

category_bug_journal2.gif It's been a dispiriting week. Pretty much everyone in print, on the internets (including me) and on the teevee has had entirely too much to say about the Tucson massacre without arriving at a consensus or even anything constructive.

I think we could all use some calm and ordinariness. So today, I'm going to talk about what else is going on at Chez Bennett – the daily life of an old woman who, nearly six years ago, was forced into retirement against her will.

Since I had never much considered retiring, it was fortunate that this blog was already well under way by then so I wasn't suddenly thrown into inactivity without a plan. It is the centerpiece of my days, as work had been for the 50 previous years.

Apples are a big crop here in Oregon. Markets are filled with a wide variety of them and I've rediscovered apple crisp, something I don't suppose I've made in two or three decades. It's easy to do and it's an almost healthy treat. I'm baking a batch about once a week.

You probably know how to do this, but since last time I mentioned cooking someone ask for the recipe, here is this one. I'm guessing at amounts because – well, that's how I do it. It's hard to get it wrong.

5-6 apples, peeled and sliced
½ C brown sugar
½ C all-purpose flour
½ C uncooked oats
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground nutmeg
5 T butter or margarine, room temperature

Mix together sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until all ingredients are moist. Slice apples into a 9-inch by 9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle topping mixture over apples. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.

Except for Tuesday afternoon when small pieces of actual ice were pouring down from the sky, I walk for 30 minutes or so most days. It's not nearly as interesting as walking the streets of Greenwich Village, but the scientific evidence is overwhelming that even such mild exercise as this, done regularly, helps keep elders healthy in mind and body. So I make myself do it even when I'd rather not.

Some of you have asked about Ollie the cat. Here's a photo:

Ollie Under Covers

Hah! Gotcha! You were expecting a kitty photo, weren't you? But that lump IS Ollie under the covers where he spends some afternoons - his life isn't any more interesting than mine. Here he is in one of his other sleeping places:

Ollie in Chair

Did anyone else receive the new Mark Twain autobiography for Christmas? At nearly three inches thick, it's quite a doorstop and the print is so tiny, I need to buy some magnifying reading glasses before I tackle it.

Meanwhile, I'm having a fine old time reading Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, by Jane Brox. It's a survey of human lighting from the first stone lamps to the latest CFLs and upcoming LEDs.

I doubt that book is a best-seller, but it's a long-time interest of mine – the history of ordinary things. I have also enjoyed Salt: A World History and Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, all from Mark Kurlansky.

These are of a piece with one of my favorite documentaries, Concrete, which I discovered on television a few years ago when I couldn't sleep one night.

Did you know concrete was invented by the ancient Romans and that the formula for the modern version hardly differs from theirs? Also, the concrete in Hoover Dam is still curing.

Mostly, of course, I work on TGB. In times like this week, that can be difficult. Like so many others must be, I'm disturbed and distracted. Dinner with my brother a couple of nights ago was a nice way to take the edge off. We didn't mention Tucson once.

Good grief; your life couldn't possibly be as boring as mine. But I like it this way at this age. I used to jump on planes at a moment's notice, travel the world for my job, I worked on the earliest incarnations of the world wide web. I had a terrific career and now I am equally happy with this life.

Be sure to tune in here tomorrow for the next video conversation with The TGB Geriatrician, Bill Thomas, that we recorded on Tuesday.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmerman: Seeds

<​​p>I am on an overnight trip to Astoria and although there is a list of posts I want to write, most require research or reporting. It's a question of time.

<​​p>Writing yesterday's post, I reminded of this TGB golden oldie from 2007, slightly updated, that some of you may remember, but it could be fun to reprise.<​​/p>

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmerman: Seeds

Thoughts on Tucson

Since there really isn't much else to think about this week, let's keep going on the Arizona massacre. Some random thoughts:

That awful church, Westboro Baptist, that demonstrates with vile signs and slogans at military funerals announced they will picket the funeral tomorrow of nine-year-old Christine Taylor Green who was murdered on Saturday.

But Tucson has pulled together and volunteers will hold an “angel action.” They are sewing 8 x 10 foot angel wings to shield the family and friends of Christine from the Westboro picketers. In the past, Hell's Angels have organized to prevent the church from disrupting funerals. These strange bedfellows give me hope and should be an inspiration to Congressional adversaries.

Way back on Saturday – doesn't that feel like a long time ago now? - before emergency medical workers had finished their grisly tasks at the Safeway store, Sarah Palin, in an apparent belief that the country required her immediate response, issued this statement even before the president had spoken:

“My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona,” she wrote. “On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.”

She has been embarrassing herself for too long now. She lost an election, quit her public job, cashed in on her notoriety and now, with this self-important gaucherie, it is time for her to go. Please. Please. Go.

In a quickie CBS News poll conducted on Sunday and Monday, 57 percent said harsh political rhetoric had nothing to do with the shooting in Tucson. Predictably, more Republicans believe this than Democrats and independents.

I'm not so sure.

As I said yesterday, I don't believe Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the pundit loudmouths are responsible for the Arizona shootings. But they do make an outsized contribution to an increasing acceptance of violent death images in public conversation.

At the least, hateful rhetoric decreases the possibility of rational debate on the important issues our nation faces. At the most, it increases the possibility that an unhinged someone will take it as permission. (That is not to say that I think this necessarily applies to Arizona suspect, Jared Loughner. No one knows.)

Political partisans have expended a great deal of effort trying to enumerate who – the left or the right – is to blame. Even a cursory search of the web reveals far more, and more over-the-top, rhetoric from the right, but I don't think we should dwell on that. Everyone needs to take it down a few notches – permanently.

This debate over who is more culpable prompted Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to issue a press release yesterday titled, “treat incitement seriously or expect more Gabrielle Gifford (sic) killing sprees.”

Assange and the Wikileaks staff have a good deal of personal experience with vicious hate speech. Some examples:

Rush Limbaugh:
"Back in the old days when men were men and countries were countries, this guy would die of lead poisoning from a bullet in the brain."

Bob Beckel (Fox):
"A dead man can't leak stuff...This guy's a traitor, he's treasonous, and he has broken every law of the United States. And I'm not for the death penalty, so...there's only one way to do it: illegally shoot the son of a bitch."

(Aside: If this were not so deadly, it would be funny that someone with a paid-for soapbox doesn't know that an Australian, by definition, cannot be a traitor to the U.S.)

Sarah Palin:
"Julian Assange should be targeted like the Taliban."

Jonah Goldberg (National Review)
"I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead? ...Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago? It’s a serious question."

You can argue with me about repeating this stuff here, but just look at the monstrousness of it – and that's only a small portion of calls for the murder of Assange.

Are you not shocked silly? I am. Aside from internet clips, I have never watched Fox News; I don't listen to talk radio of any political stripe; and I only occasionally dip into the National Review so I didn't know people urge murder to their listeners and readers. I don't mean to sound naïve, but aren't those statements the media equivalent of shouting fire in a theater?

I have some experience in my past – in the 1960s and '70s – producing talk radio programs and I have not a twinge of doubt that had anything close to statements quoted above happened then, the host and producer would be immediately canned - probably yanked off the air within five minutes.

More, the radio station would have been flooded with complaints from listeners. Boycotts would have been mounted. But I can find no reports of public protest against the radio hosts of today. Their sulfuric invective lives on after the broadcasts in print, on YouTube and on publications' websites without a word of condemnation.

Have we all become inured to brutal rhetoric?

There seems, even in the aftermath of Tucson, to be no shame. I haven't checked, but many sources report that the bulls eye graphic remains on Sarah Palin's Facebook page. And this, since removed, appeared on Glenn Beck's website until yesterday:

Beck Gun Image

Why was that gun image on Beck's website in the first place? What was his intention in publishing it? What did he expect his website readers to know from seeing it?

Well, I'm rambling now. If nothing else comes from the killings in Tucson, it has created a moment to reflect, to think and talk among ourselves about the nation's culture of violence and perhaps develop a consensus. We can do some of that here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Steve Kemp - LONG LOST NEWS: Rumsfeld: Democracy Doesn't Work