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Cat Culture

Joe, a Golden Retriever, arrives at the dog run. His pal Max, a German Shepherd, trots over to greet him. They sniff each other.

MAX: Hi Joe. How've you been?

JOE: Great. Glad to see you brought your ball. My person forgot my Frisbee.

MAX: Yeah, I know. They get distracted easily. Watch out for that teacup Chihuahua by the tree over there. She's been biting our ankles this morning.

JOE: Again? One of these days I'm gonna stomp that bitch. Grab the ball, Max, let's go play.

And whoosh – they race off together toward the far end of the fenced-in run.

During the many years I lived in Greenwich Village, one of my regular stops was the dog run in nearby Washington Square Park. Although I've never wanted to own a dog, I generally like them and I like to watch them in groups. It's fun to imagine what what they would say if they could speak.

Dogs, left to their own devices, are social animals usually eager to find common ground – unlike cats who generally spit and growl when they unexpectedly encounter another of their kind who is a stranger. But not in all circumstances.

For the year I've lived in this condominium compound of 12 two-story, eight-unit buildings scattered among winding paths with trees and shrubs and lawns in between, I've come to know, more intimately in retirement than I would if I went to work every day, the six or eight stray/feral cats who make their home here.

Although they tolerate one another, it is at a distance. Each seems to have staked out personal territory and regular pathways. When they use the same paths, it is at different times of the day. I have never seen any of them together.

I put out food for the cats, but only two visit my patio to eat – always at different times of day. Here is the stray I used to call Blackie but have changed his name to Grumpy – he always looks mildly pissed off.


And here is the little cutie I'm thinking of adopting (if she'll ever let me get close enough to touch her) hiding among the table and chairs.


Ollie the cat (my indoor pet) often sits in the dining room window sill to watch Cutie and Grumpy at their meals outside. Occasionally, each of the strays glances at Ollie, then gives the feline equivalent of a shrug and continues eating.

Ollie at the Window

All has been quiet and congenial among them for months – until three days ago.

In the afternoon, I was working on my laptop with my back to the window when all cat hell suddenly broke loose: paws banging on the window along with multiple screeches and yowls.

Turning to investigate, I found Ollie standing tall on his hind legs on the window sill having a conniption fit while outdoors, a gigantic, orange-and-white cat I'd never seen before was banging back, hissing and growling at Ollie. It was a monumental cat fight in which at least an ear would have been torn had not a pane of glass separated them.

As soon as they saw me walking toward the window, Ollie jumped down from the sill (all puffy, twice his usual size) and the other cat – let's call him or her Big Red – was nonchalantly trotting away without a backward glance.

The next afternoon about the same time, same circumstances, Ollie and Big Red suddenly went at it again. Screeching and yelling and growling and spitting as they pounded at each other on the window. And again, it stopped abruptly when they spied me walking toward them.

On both days and since then, Ollie has sat calmly in the window ignored by Cutie and Grumpy when they stop by for their morning and evening meals.

So, apparently, social rules are more complicated than I suspected among cats. Since my back was turned when both cat fights broke out, I don't know who started it, but I can't see a reason for Big Red to interrupt a free meal for a cat sitting quietly on the other side of the glass.

If I am correct, then Ollie is making a distinction between cats he recognizes and one he doesn't; two who belong in his world and one who doesn't. Which doesn't mean he approves of Grumpy and Cutie. Invariably, after I come in from filling the patio bowl, Ollie plops himself in front the door – looking eversomuch like a furry doorstop - as if to keep me from going out again.

It would be so much easier if cats behaved like Joe and Max.

[By the way, this is what passes for excitement these days Chez Bennett.]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B. Summerlin: Bathrooms

Memorial Day 2011

Memorial Day was created to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the U.S. Civil War. It was later extended to include World War I and now, in memory of the men and women who have died during all U.S. military conflicts.

Although there are parades throughout the country, many towns ended them decades ago and nowadays the three-day weekend is universally known as the unofficial beginning of summer marked more by retail sales, picnics, backyard barbecues than flags flown at half staff from front porches as when I was a kid.

But I'm not here to complain about that. Instead, I was intrigued on Saturday by a story in The New York Times about the Weber Grill. According to the company, the week leading up to Memorial Day weekend is the busiest of the year for its telephone hotline when

”...thousands of befuddled grillers (overwhelmingly male) are being rescued by a team of about 40 grilling experts (almost all of them women).”

Backyard grilling is traditionally the domain of the alpha male of the household and that causes some amusement at the hotline center. According to the Times story, it goes something like this:

”It is supposed to be a foolproof formula. But the guy at the grill is frantic. He has a yard full of hungry guests, and he is fumbling to get the gas flaming properly. It is a Memorial Day weekend nightmare that calls into question the very essence of his suburban manhood. Furtively, he dials the Weber Grill hot line for help, and Janet Olsen is on the line.

“'Quick, I need to talk to a man,' he says curtly.

“For Ms. Olsen, 67, it was yet another caller insisting that no woman could possibly grasp a grilling issue.

“With 14 years on the job, she calmly but firmly explains that she will be able to handle the problem. If the man is especially upset, she suggests, 'You might want to grab a beer — and just listen for a while.'”

It sounds to me like a variation on the asking-for-driving-directions dispute that divides the men from the women. And there's more:

”Most of the time, Ms. Olsen said, the answer is an easy one. People sometimes simply forget to turn up [the] heat. 'You’ll tell the man the answer, and in the background you can hear his wife say, “See, I told you so.”'

“If things go wrong, she encourages people to have some perspective. 'It’s not life-saving medicine,' Ms. Olsen tells them, 'it’s just grilling.'”

You can read the entire story here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Bob Brady: Twin Toddler Take No Prisoners

ELDER MUSIC: Marty Robbins

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.

Marty Robbins

I saw Marty Robbins only once, not too many years before he died. I have to say that, of all the concerts I've attended, and boy there's been a few of those over the years, Marty's was the most enjoyable.

Not only was he a fine singer, he was also a generous and dynamic performer who responded to audience requests with great good humor. The only mark against him was his pea-green jump suit. Well, it was the seventies.

Martin Robinson was born in Glendale, Arizona in 1925, one of ten kids. He had a difficult childhood as his father only did odd jobs and was more than fond of the booze.

Marty joined the navy at age 17 and served in the Pacific. To pass the time, he learned to play the guitar and started writing songs. After the war he played venues around Phoenix and moved into radio and television.

He originally appeared under the name Jack Robinson because his mother disapproved of this singing lark. That name would really fool her. However, it wasn't too long before he settled on the name we know now. He eventually secured a recording deal with Columbia records.

The first song of Marty's that impinged on my little brain was one that my sister bought on a 45. She tried to teach me to dance to this song in preparation for the school social. This is one you all know, A White Sport Coat.

We, in Australia, assumed that a sport coat is what we call a sports coat. Just another cultural difference. Not much of one, maybe, but a difference nonetheless even if it's only a single letter. Anyway, here's that song.

Marty Robbins

♫ Marty Robbins - A White Sport Coat (And a Pink Carnation)

Marty Robbins

In 1959, Marty recorded the classic album "Gunfighter Ballads". Not too long after that, he recorded "More Gunfighter Ballads" which was nearly as good but lacked the iconic songs you all know that were on the first of these.

Naturally, I'm going to include both of them. This is the first one and it was the first track on the album, Big Iron.

♫ Marty Robbins - Big Iron

Marty Robbins

Okay, you knew this song had to be here and I won't disappoint you. Easily his most famous song, El Paso, with the great Grady Martin on guitar.

♫ Marty Robbins - El Paso

Marty Robbins

Years later he recorded a sequel to this song. The words of this are very post-modern. Very self referential. I always have a chuckle when I hear it. Do people still chuckle anymore? Well, you might when you listen to El Paso City.

♫ Marty Robbins - El Paso City

Rose's Cantina

There's a third song in this saga called Feleena (From El Paso), actually the second to be released, which tells the story from Feleena's point of view, but I think we've had enough of this by now. Besides, that song is more than twice as long as El Paso, itself not what you'd call a short ditty.

Marty Robbins

Moving on - well, moving back to 1961, he had a huge hit with Don't Worry. This song is one of the very first to feature fuzz-tone guitar, certainly the first country song to do so.

Whether this was deliberate or someone kicked in the speaker or the cone got soaked with water, we'll never know. However it came about, the sound was influential on later guitarists. The guitarist as usual was Grady Martin. Floyd Cramer is also unmistakable on piano.

♫ Marty Robbins - Don't Worry

Marty Robbins

Before all of these songs, there were others. A couple involve a bit of tit for tat in covering other people's songs. The first is That's All Right, a song of Arthur Crudup's that Elvis released. Marty did a cover version and actually out-sold Elvis, but I'm not going to play that.

His next song, Singing the Blues, flew up the charts until Guy Mitchell recorded it and that version stopped Marty in his tracks. The versions were a bit different and I'm going to let you hear the original by Marty.

♫ Marty Robbins - Singing the Blues

I really have to include another from "Gunfighter Ballads" because it's such a fine album. This isn't one that Marty wrote and it's been performed by many singers over the years. I can't think of any version of Cool Water that was better than his though.

♫ Marty Robbins - Cool Water

Marty Robbins

Towards the end of his life, Marty recorded only one song (that I know about) by Gordon Lightfoot. I wish he'd done more as his voice was admirably suited to Gordie's compositions. The song is Ribbon of Darkness.

♫ Marty Robbins - Ribbon of Darkness

Marty Robbins

Marty was an avid race car driver, competing in 35 career NASCAR races with six top 10 finishes, including the 1973 Daytona 500. He appeared in several films, most notably Clint Eastwood's Honky Tonk Man where Clint played a character loosely based on Jimmie Rodgers. Hey, you've got Marty Robbins there and you let Clint sing. Oh well.

Unfortunately, Marty died of yet another of his several heart attacks before the film was released. I'll finish with a song that has absolutely no connection to that film. This was his next hit after Don't Worry - it's Devil Woman.

♫ Marty Robbins - Devil Woman

Marty's twin sister, Mamie Robinson Minotto, was part way writing a book about him when she died in 2004. This has been finished by Andrew Means and was published in 2007.


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.

This item comes to us via email from our own Peter Tibbles of Sunday's Elder Music column:

”It seems there’s a short sheep shortage (try saying that three times quickly) here. Now, you may wonder about that (as did I when it was mentioned on the ABC).

“It seems there’s a breed of sheep that only grows to 60cm (two feet) tall. Again, how’s that useful I wondered when I heard it.

“Apparently wine growers love them. They let them loose among the vines and they keep the weeds down but they’re not tall enough to reach the grapes. Even I didn’t know this and I have a keen interest in these things (well, mostly the wine).”

Here's a photo of a short sheep and you can read more about them from a vintner who, as in Peter's story, uses them to keep down the weeds.

Small sheep with dog

The Agenda Project, a liberal activist group, released a video this week in opposition to the Medicare privatization portion of Representative Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget proposal. The point of the video, Erika Payne who is founder of The Agenda Project told Fox News host Neil Cavuto is that it is meant to

"...highlight that we have got a lot of senior citizens who are going to be in a really bad spot if we don't make the right moral choices in this budget debate."

There is no doubt the man pushing the wheelchair is meant to represent Paul Ryan. Take a look:

Although I agree with Ms. Payne's point and I always like a good metaphor, I'm uncomfortable seeing the phrase, “throw grandma off a cliff,” portrayed with such violent reality. What do you think?

Over nearly 40 years, I must have racked up the equivalent of at least a couple of months at the main branch of the New York Public Library. It is a magnificent place both in its intended purpose and its architectural glory.

I wish I could be there now. The library is currently presenting an exhibit of some of its holdings including a Gutenberg Bible:

New York Library Gutenberg Bible

The New York Times reporter takes a dim view of the exhibit, but that's mostly from a curating point of view. At least he gives some sense of what's is displayed which you can read here. And you can see a slide show of a few items here.

During my last three-and-a-half working years, I commuted 90 minutes each way on a Metro North train. It was amazing how frequently some ill-bred cretin screamed into his or her cell phone for the entire trip.

Last week, a woman was ejected from a train and charged with disorderly conduct after talking loudly into a cell phone for 16 hours in a designated quiet car on an Amtrak train traveling from Oakland, California to Salem, Oregon.

Although I cheered when I ran across the news item, I still think her punishment is not enough. But the real question is how the Amtrak conductor allowed the disruption to go on for the entire trip. Couldn't he have thrown her out of the quiet car? Read more here.

At the risk of sounding like a Crabby Old Lady (where has she been lately?) who can't keep up with modern gizmos, this week Microsoft announced their new Windows Phone 7.1 Mango WITH 500 NEW FEATURES.

Notice that the noun is “phone” but MobileCrunch reported this event without once mentioning voice communication. Doesn't anyone developing these toys understand that too many choices is no choice at all? Grrrr. Read more here.

I have a lot of trouble thinking of an alligator as a mere nuisance as mentioned by the reporter but the story from the dog's owner of what happened is extraordinary:

Undoubtedly you have seen and read about the near-total destruction of Joplin, Missouri due to a killer tornado.

Now comes House Majority Leader and wannabe Speaker, Eric Cantor (R-Va), who said last week that federal emergency funds to help the destroyed community would not be released until spending cuts are made in other federal programs to pay for them.

Republican colleague, Representative Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri, disagrees:

“'...quibbling over how we’re going to offset it, and you look at the devastation and tragedy these people are facing? They just want help right now,'” she said.

Not just “want" help; they desperately need it.

Did you know the average income in Joplin is about $30,000 and many people who lost everything could not afford insurance on their homes. Certainly there must be one of those special rooms in hell reserved for any person as heartless as Cantor.

During the week, there is not much opportunity to post cute animal videos at TGB and somehow none appeared on my radar for today's Interesting Stuff. So instead, here is a photo of an adorable chipmunk I found somewhere online a while back.

Chipmunk with Flower

Impact of Recession on Elders

This week, the AARP Public Policy Institute released a preliminary study of a survey they conducted in October 2010 with 5,027 men and woman 50 and older.

ITEM: 24.7 percent of exhausted their savings

ITEM: 19.4 percent fell behind in credit card payments or accumulated more card debt

ITEM: 12.4 percent lost health insurance

ITEM: 49.5 percent put off medical or dental care or were not taking their medication on schedule

Here is the full graph related to hardships from the recession:

Hardship Graph

ITEM: 52.7 percent rated their family's financial well-being as only fair or poor

ITEM: 41.4 percent saw their their retirement savings balance decline and not recover; another 49.3 percent said their balances declined and are not back to pre-recession levels, but are moving in the right direction

ITEM: 13.5 percent began collecting Social Security to help make ends meet; of those, 67 percent began collecting the benefit earlier than they had planned

Although all the statistics are troubling, the last hits me hard because when a person takes early Social Security, the benefit is permanently lower than it would be at full retirement age and beyond.

After being forced to give up my fruitless, year-long search for work, frugal does not begin to describe how I lived for a year until I was eligible for the full benefit at age 65 and eight months. But I believed it was crucial to hang on for that full amount - Social Security is 85 percent of my income and I knew I would need every penny of it for the rest of my life.

Only people who had been in the labor force at some point during the previous three years were included in the survey and some questions asked for a personal assessment of well-being – this one regarding their financial situation:

Financia lWellbeing Assessment

Another asked what people were doing now to prepare for a more secure retirement:

Preparing For Retirement

In their overview of the report [available online here - pdf], AARP notes:

” said they expect to delay retirement. Yet many jobseekers were still unable to find employment.

“Recovery for persons most adversely affected by the recession (e.g., the long-term unemployed, those who filed for bankruptcy) will likely be long and slow, and some may never make it back to where they were before the recession.”

You work hard all your life, do everything right and then some rich banksters come along and destroy your plans. They will be fine, but you won't.

AARP will release the full report from the survey later this year and I hope there will be more in-depth coverage than in this first release of the people who will not recover their losses.

Meanwhile, how are you – retired or still working – making out? Feel free to comment anonymously if that is more comfortable for you.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today – Susan Gulliford: Music Lesson

Political Schadenfreude

category_bug_politics.gif New York's 26th Congressional District has been in the hands of Republicans for 40 years so when a special election was held to fill the seat of the member who resigned after posting a half-naked photograph of himself on Craigslist, the result seemed a foregone conclusion.

That is, until April when Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul began broadcasting a series of television ads pointing out her opponent's support for Paul Ryan's Medicare-killing budget proposal. On Tuesday, Hochul won the election 47 to 43 percent with 9 percent going to the independent candidate who had aligned himself with the tea party.

It was a load of fun Wednesday morning listening to Republican politicians and pundits tying themselves in knots to dismiss the election results. Some blamed Hochul's win on the third-party candidate. Others saw it as an anomaly. Ryan himself continued to defend his budget saying,

“...that the GOP proposal doesn’t subsidize the wealthy as much and keeps benefits steady for people over 55.”

Apparently, Ryan still believes that people older than 55 are willing to sell out younger Americans' future access to Medicare. That, I'm guessing, is as bad a bet as assuming a win for Hochul's opponent was. Here are a couple of District 26 voter responses:

“'I have almost always voted the party line, said Gloria Bolender, a Republican from Clarence who is caring for her 80-year-old mother. 'This is the second time in my life I’ve voted against my party.

“Pat Gillick, a Republican from East Amherst, who also cast a ballot for Ms. Hochul, said, 'The privatization of Medicare scares me.'”

Republican House members who are more pragmatic than Ryan – particularly the 234 others who voted for his deeply unpopular budget - are undoubtedly in the midst of panicked phone calls to their campaign advisers trying to figure out how to undo that vote in the eyes of the public.

Too late. It's done. And there is not a Democratic candidate in the land who will let anyone forget it. As of Tuesday, advantage Democrats.

Not that they won't do everything in their power to botch it. God knows the Democrats have never met a winning position they couldn't turn into a loss.

Plus, it is a long, long time until the November 2012 election. Over the next 17 months anything unexpected can – and will – happen to throw obstacles in the way of both Democrats and Republicans. (I wonder if we should start a pool on how many political sex scandals there will be before the election.)

Nevertheless, Hochul's win on Tuesday was another strong signal that voters have little stomach for the Republican slash-and-burn budget game. But that doesn't mean something doesn't need to be done to fix Medicare.

As discussed here many times, some form of Medicare for All is the only sane solution that should include negotiation with pharmaceutical companies on drug prices. It would expand the revenue and risk pools and cut administrative costs dramatically – a difference of 2 percent with Medicare versus more than 20 percent with private insurers.

And I am certain every large and small employer in the U.S. would be ecstatic to get out of the insurance providing business. At the same time, there is no reason not to retain private coverage for those willing to foot an overpriced bill along with the haggling over payment of claims.

Of course, any possibility of Medicare for All depends on political candidates' willingness to forgo health industry campaign contributions – probably the biggest obstacle. But “socialized” medicine works well in other western democracies which have a lot of experience on which the the U.S. could draw.

No one has yet come up with a better solution unless you believe the Republicans who, against all the evidence of history, insist that the "free market" can provide better health coverage than the government.

Meanwhile – schadenfreude or not - I'm enjoying the Republicans' predicament, particularly after all their crowing over their supposed 2010 election “mandate.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: Clapping - Old People's Answer to Gettin' Down

Elders on Television

Young people are watching less and less television or, perhaps, watching it more on computer screens and the average age of viewers these days for the major broadcast and cable channels ranges from mid-50s to mid-60s.

Maybe that has something to do with what I'm writing today - or not. I don't know.

I've complained here in the past about the negative portrayal of elders on television. If the critique is confined to commercials, there are a lot of old folks, they all suffer from some icky bodily malady and they are remarkably happy about it - well, happy about whatever nostrum is being touted.

But I have noticed lately, that older characters in dramas are quite nicely done. It's not that I've made a thorough survey. This is just some anecdotal observation in a handful of police procedurals that I indulge in when I want to veg out.

Dann Florek, now 61, has been playing Captain Don Cragen on Law & Order during the early 1990s and on Law & Order SVU since 1999. He rides herd on his detectives who tend to skirt the law in apprehending the bad guys, and is the voice of reason, as grownups should be.

Sharon Gless, who will be 68 at the end of this month, plays Madeline Weston, the mother of the former spy Michael on Burn Notice. She's a chain-smoking retiree living in Miami who, while always worried for her son's safety, helps him out with his cases when needed and wheedles him into chores and errands she needs done.

She's a bit flaky, but strong on family and keeps her son grounded. It's a nice portrayal of the ambivalence there often is between a parent and adult child.

In a new series, Harry's Law, 62-year-old Kathy Bates plays a former patent attorney who opens an office in a dilapidated shoe store in a ghetto area of Cincinnati and now handles mostly criminal cases of which she has no prior experience.

Without precisely making a reference to it, the show follows Harry as late in life, she makes a dramatic change in her career – something lots of old people know about these days. The “kids” in the cast help her understand her new surroundings and she passes on some useful life lessons in return.

Mark Harmon, 60, plays Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the no-nonsense boss of a criminal investigative unit on NCIS. I like how age-appropriate Gibbs is. As many elders do, he's had some trouble adjusting to new crime-fighting technology (it took several seasons for him to master a cell phone) but he eventually learns and learns its value while refusing to give up old ways – particularly gut instinct - that still work.

My latest favorite is Linda Hunt, age 66, who plays operations manager Hetty Lange in NCIS LA. A former agent with a mysterious background - sort of like Q from the James Bond series - she is fluent in many languages, holds multiple false identities, may have had a romantic past with the likes of Frank Sinatra and George Hamilton and is accomplished in many fields.

Hetty is fiercely protective of her young agents who find her intimidating but their respect for her is unbounded, as hers is for them. I like how she is certain of her skills and lives as she chooses.

Never, in any of these series, is there a hint that the old characters are less than competent. At the same time, there is a lot of assertion that years of experience are both valuable and pay off in ways that even intelligent youth cannot yet do.

All in all, these shows – all quite popular - do a terrific job of representing elders. Week after week, old people show up and do their jobs successfully proving that age is no hindrance and can often be an advantage. This is good for our reputation.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Susan Gulliford: The Twice Pink Kitchen

Let's Chat About Social Security

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category_bug_politics.gif Not that we didn't know this, but a new survey conducted by Public Policy Polling demonstrates overwhelming public support for leaving Social Security as it is. As reported at TPM,

“The polls were conducted in the home states of Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Claire McCaskill (MO), John Tester (MT), and Amy Klobuchar (MN), all of whom are up for reelection in 2012.

In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Social Security, which is the retirement program for the elderly?

• Ohio: 16% support, 80% oppose
• Missouri: 17% support, 76% oppose
• Montana: 20% support, 76% oppose
• Minnesota: 23% support, 72% oppose

“Each poll surveyed more than a thousand people [and] has a margin of error of about 3 percent."

The same question substituting Medicare spending for Social Security received similar results in the four states and all national polls are in line with these. The Republicans, who want to balance the budget on the backs of elders, are so out of touch with the public on this issue that you'd think they had recently arrived from Alpha Centauri.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, using 2008 census data, without Social Security

“...19.8 million more Americans would be poor. Although most of those kept out of poverty by Social Security are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1.1 million children.”

Due to the Great Recession, Social Security has become even more critical to living a modest old age. Consider these points:

• Trillions of dollars in personal life savings disappeared – poof – in the crash of 2008. Many retirees and those near retirement age have not recouped those losses and some never will.

• Millions have lost their homes to foreclosure – some due to bank fraud. Those who hung on have seen the value of their homes drop dramatically and prices are still sinking. Elders who intended to sell to downsize in retirement no longer have that choice.

• Unemployment is officially at 9 percent but twice that when you count those who are so discouraged they have stopped seeking work and others who are underemployed or working part time. A large percentage of those will never return to their chosen careers and will never again reach the salaries they were earning when they were laid off.

(For a devastating story on trying to find work, especially if you are older than even 35, read this.)

• Add to all this – something that is forgotten in the public political discourse – that salaries have been stagnant for more than a dozen years. Many have dropped.

According to salary surveys, if I tried to find a job now in the internet field where I was working at the end of my career, I could expect to make no more than half what I was earning then in 2004.

• That means that beginning long before the Great Recession, average workers were already set up to receive a lower Social Security benefit than workers of my generation who enjoyed a healthy, growing economy for most of our adult lives.

So never has Social Security, modest as it is, been as important to the well being of elder Americans than it is now - “elder Americans” being, in addition to you and me, everyone who will become an elder one day.

And I don't want to hear from the Alan Simpsons and Paul Ryans of our political class that people can save more money for their old age. With the median income at $46,326 and given the prices of housing, gas, food, health coverage, kids' shoes, etc., there is nothing left at the end of each month to save.

But there are places to cut the federal budget – you know them as well as I do. It is long past time to get out of those wars that are at an impasse. (By the way, weren't we supposed to be out of Libya within a few days?)

We can tax the wealthy who pay a lower rate than average workers because their dividends are taxed at a lower rate than wages. No matter how many times rich politicians say it, rich people do not create jobs. They never have.

If corporations want to be treated as persons (as they are, by law), they can damned well pay taxes as real people. We can get rid of those loopholes that leave GE and others paying no tax on billions of net revenue. And outlaw tax havens too.

Paul Ryan's budget is now dead (including Medicare vouchers) and what those surveys tell us is that unless all the Republican representatives and senators up for re-election next year are planning to join their former colleagues as corporate executives and lobbyists, cuts to Social Security and Medicare will not be resurrected as budget balancers until after the 2012 election.

For awhile, we can relax a little.

One further point: Absent a jobs program from the federal government, Social Security is the best economic stimulus we have. Nearly every cent is immediately spent in support of local communities through the costs of housing, food, taxes, health care and all the other necessities of life.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ann Berger: Quilt of Silk

The New Home One Year Later

category_bug_journal2.gif Tomorrow, Tuesday, will be the first anniversary of move-in day at this new home of mine in Lake Oswego, Oregon. You would be amazed at how much I have not done yet to settle in.

Few pictures are hung. There are still 30-odd unopened boxes of books because I haven't bought shelves yet. I was waiting to paint and having done that, finally, a few weeks ago, was struck by a series of money setbacks. I'm sure you've been there.

I forgot that annual premiums for both homeowners and auto insurance were coming due. The vacuum cleaner died as did the electric tea kettle, both needing to be replaced right away. Ollie the cat cost a small fortune getting a checkup and yearly vaccines at the veterinarian.

There were a couple of other surprises that, of course, cost more money. It often goes that way, doesn't it, although I'm not much perturbed by not having finished the house set-up. Oddly, the older I get – closer to the end of my days - the less I feel the urgency to get things done quickly as I did when I was younger.

A year ago, I was focused on getting comfortable inside so that I paid little attention to what was going on outdoors. Now I'm becoming attuned to the rhythms of life beyond my windows. Spring here is wildly colorful and varied.

Look at these interesting, little blossoms on a young tree next to my patio. They dangle beneath the large leaves rather than above where they could bask in the sun.

Dangling blossoms

Next to the tree is a good-sized bush exploding with pink somethings. The name doesn't matter to me; I just like its exuberance.

Pink bush

Azaleas abound (Or are they rhododendrons? I don't know the difference). Here's a pink one.

Pink azalea

Another nearby bush of them produces huge white flowers.

White azalea

Any day, this bush in front of my apartment will burst forth with something even larger, I suspect, than the other flowers.

Something new

One perfect purple pansy grows from a pot along a neighbor's walkway.

Lone pansy

The birds won't hold still long enough for me to get photos, but there are many kinds. In the first glimmer of morning light each day, a flock of geese flies over honking as if they are the local avian alarm clock.

Soon, tiny little birds with a high-pitched tweet come by in threes and fours dressed like miniature penguins – black and white but so small, three or four could sit in the palm of my hand.

Crows (or blackbirds or ravens – I've never known the difference) lend their raucous call to the growing morning chorus.

Before long, a screaming bluejay swoops in scaring off the little penguin birds.

Owls hoot in their mysterious-sounding way (I thought they sleep in the daytime) and a pair of taupe-colored, medium-sized birds with faint orange spots peck leisurely at the ground leaving me to wonder how they survive the resident stray cat population. I call this one Blackie.


He and the cute little brown cat I may or may not adopt both visit each morning and evening for a free meal, and several others wander by now and then but never stop to eat.

There's a squirrel who scolds the cats as well as some of the birds and me too when he spies me on the patio. Mostly, everyone quiets down by midday until evening when, apparently, they have more to say before going to sleep in their hidden-away places.

During the past few days, pine cones have been falling from the trees keeping up an irregular plonk, plonk, plonk as they land on the ground and sidewalks.

Take a look at this on a pine tree nearby that is covered with them. Do you think it's what a pine cone looks like before it becomes a pine cone?

Pine cone

This fir tree – there are many like it around the area – is my favorite.

Fir tree

Its lazily draped branches put me in mind of Victorian-era bordellos – the kind with flocked wallpaper where scantily but modestly- (by today's standards) dressed women lounged on velvet sofas waiting for the next customer.

The year, as they do at our ages, has flown by. There is an astonishing amount of constantly changing life outside my windows and now that we know predictions of the apocalypse (or whatever it was supposed to be) were false, life is good.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Susan Gulliford: Our Historic Household??


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.

This is an on-going series featuring the music of a particular year. These aren't the Top 10, Top 40 or Top anything, they're just tunes I selected from the year with no apparent logic behind it.

What happened in 1955?

  • Well, I was in 5th grade
  • Marian Anderson performed at the Metropolitan Opera
  • Eisenhower sent "advisors" to Vietnam
  • Gunsmoke debuted on TV
  • Mickey Mouse Club debuted on TV
  • Alfred Hitchcock Presents debuted on TV
  • Australia won the Davis Cup (again)
  • Albert Einstein died

The song Unchained Melody has been really well served by the singers who tackled it. AL HIBBLER was the best version but only a thin sheet of paper separates that version from the Righteous Brothers.

Marty Robbins did a good job of it as well and there are other fine versions. We're in 1955 though, so that means Al's version.

Al Hibbler

He wasn't alone recording it even in that year as it was the custom back then for several people to record the same song. However, I'm not going to mention any others besides those above as his version is so good you don't need to know about them.

When you think about it, Unchained Melody is a bit of an odd title for the song. There is an explanation. It was the theme for a real pot-boiler of a film - calling it B-grade would flatter it - named Unchained. Later they added words to it and instant classic (unlike the film). Here's Al.

♫ Al Hibbler - Unchained Melody

RUSTY DRAPER, or Farrell to his folks, was originally from Mississippi.

Rusty Draper

Farrell gained his nickname because of his red hair. If he'd been born in Australia he'd have been called Blue, but that's neither here nor there.

He began his career at his uncle's radio station in Tulsa. Later he did the same sort of thing at various stations in Des Moines, often filling in for the sports announcer "Dutch" Reagan (or Ronald to aficionados of bad films and bad politics).

Rusty went to California and was signed by a record company and released a number of disks. This is one of them, The Shifting Whispering Sands.

♫ Rusty Draper - Shifting Whispering Sands

THE PLATTERS were a favorite of mine. I had a few of their 45s. Not many, I couldn't afford to buy a lot.

The Platters

This is one of those records I bought. I'm not playing the original, although I still have it, but I have nice pristine copies of this song on CDs these days.

There have been many versions of The Platters over the years as singers came and went in the group. So much so that there were often three or four groups at a time claiming to be The Platters. That was later. This is the real deal, The Great Pretender.

♫ The Platters - The Great Pretender

THE FOUR LADS were a Canadian group who got together in Toronto.

The Four Lads

They originally called themselves The Otnorots (yeah, that'd work – check the name of their home town), then The Jordinaires (whoops, there's already one of those and a quite well known group at that).

Let's try The Four Dukes (sorry, that one's taken as well) so in desperation they became The Four Lads. There is a George Washington's axe of a group called The Four Lads still around but of course none of the originals are in it.

The originals were Corrado "Connie" Codarini, John "Bernie" Toorish, James "Jimmy" Arnold and Frank Busser. I guess Frank didn't rate a nickname.

There were a number of versions of this song at the time, not unusual really, the other notable was from another "four" group, The Four Aces. This is The Four Lads' version of Moments To Remember.

♫ The Four Lads - Moments to Remember

TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD was born in Tennessee, and what a surprise that is.

Tennessee Ernie Ford1

When I played this track, which I hadn't heard for years, I thought that old Ernie had a great voice. He must have had training and that is the case. He was taking lessons for a classical career at the Cincinnati Conservatory when the second great unpleasantness intervened.

After the tumult had died down he got a job as a radio announcer in southern California. He was assigned duties on a country music program and well, that stuck. He made records in this genre and was rather successful until he released this song and it went gangbusters.

This is Sixteen Tons which has an unusual backing, if you listen to it. When was the last time a clarinet was prominent on a country music track?

♫ Tennessee Ernie Ford - Sixteen Tons

What a waste, JOHNNY ACE.

Johnny Ace

Born John Alexander in Memphis, he served time in the Army during the Korean unpleasantness and joined B.B. King's band as a pianist. After B.B. left for Los Angeles, Johnny took over his spot on the radio. It was then he started singing and calling himself Johnny Ace.

He toured with Big Mama Thornton after having recorded some tracks. The story is that he shot himself playing Russian roulette. The real story is even sillier.

Johnny had been drinking and he waved a gun around. He was warned to be careful and he said, "Don't worry, the gun's not loaded." Okay, you know what's coming.

"See," he said as he put the gun to his head and BLAM. This was Christmas 1954. In the way of these things his record shot up the charts (sorry about that) in early 1955. The song is Pledging My Love.

♫ Johnny Ace - Pledging My Love

LAVERN BAKER certainly had the musical genes. She was a niece of Merline Johnson and was also related to Memphis Minnie.

LaVern Baker

LaVern signed to Atlantic Records in the early Fifties and her first record was Tweedle Dee. This was rather successful until, as was the custom, a white-bread version by Georgia Gibbs was released and LaVern's sales stopped dead in their tracks.

It seems that when LaVern was flying to Australia for a concert tour, she took out flight insurance at the airport and sent it to Georgia with a note: "You need this more than I do because if anything happens to me, you're out of business."

Go LaVern. Here she is with Tweedle Dee.

♫ LaVern Baker - Tweedle Dee

FATS DOMINO began performing and recording in the Forties and was a continuing presence throughout the Fifties and still is to this day.

Fats Domino

Indeed, there has not been a time in my lifetime when Fats wasn't around playing music, and he'd better keep on doing it. I imagine he will as he's still a young man, just 83, so keep tinkling those ivories, Fats.

I know this may sound like a cracked record (remember them?) but once again there was a tame cover version of this song and once again, it was that tame-coverer, Pat Boone, who did the deed.

Naturally, I'm playing Fats with Ain't That a Shame.

♫ Fats Domino - Ain't That a Shame

DEAN MARTIN's early life was as gritty as any hip hop artist. He delivered bootleg liquor, was a croupier and blackjack dealer in an illegal casino, worked in a steel mill and was a boxer who earned little besides a broken nose.

Dean Martin

I don't know if it was this background that made him the man he was, but I guess everything anyone does shapes them (sorry for the cliches). Perhaps it was all this that made him a man apart, almost separate from life, observing it all with a wry smile.

Whether it was an act or for real, he was certainly good at it. As he was at singing. Here he performs Memories Are Made Of This.

♫ Dean Martin - Memories Are Made of This

JULIE LONDON, or Gayle Peck to those who knew her as a kiddliewink, was from Santa Rosa, California. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was a teenager.

Julie London

She was married to actor Jack Webb and later, until he died, to the musician and songwriter, Bobby Troup. Her most famous song, Cry Me a River, was written by Arthur Hamilton especially for Ella Fitzgerald. Ella's recording didn't appear until after Julie's.

Julie performed it in the Jayne Mansfield film The Girl Can't Help It. Little Richard tore up the stage in that flick as well. Here's Julie.

♫ Julie London - Cry Me a River

In past columns, I have already used some of the songs from this year. If you'd like to hear more you can find them here. (Nat King Cole – A Blossom Fell)

1956 will appear in two weeks' time.


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.

SKYPE 1940
We think we live in such modern times with miracles of technology and communication that were not even glimmers in the eyes of developers until the past couple of decades. But here's a forerunner of Skype from 1940:

1940 Skype

The photo is from a short news story about it at The New York Times.

This chart has been posted all over the web since it was released by the Center on Budget and Policies Priorities a couple of weeks ago. Take a good look and keep it close during the deficit arguments in Washington so you know who's lying and who isn't.

Deficit Chart

You can read more about it here.

Many are the ways our cats control us but few are as direct as this one.

Researchers at the University of California are considering creating a website containing tested geriatric calculators that can predict, they say, the odds of elders dying within the next six months or four years or nine years. The website would be restricted to physicians.

Paula Span of The New York Times's New Old Age blog asked her readers what they thought about this idea. She reports

”...they were fairly vehement about having access to such information. Not one thought the site should be restricted to people with medical initials after their names.”

You can read the story here. What do you think?

Several companies are now selling blood tests that purport to assess customers' longevity and tell them how healthy they will remain. The test measures telomeres. They shorten with age so, apparently, the shorter your telomeres, the shorter your lifespan.

”Various studies have shown,” reports The New York Times, “that people with shorter telomeres in their white blood cells are more likely to develop illnesses like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease, or even to die earlier. Studies in mice have suggested that extending telomeres lengthens lives.”

Unlike the tests at the proposed website from the University of California, this one does not give a specific time frame. You can read more here.

Still, it's fun to watch.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute created the Full Civic Literacy Exam testing knowledge of how government works. The average score for all 2,508 Americans who took the exam was 49 percent. College educators scored 55 percent.

They say it is not an easy test, but I got 84.85 percent correct (she said, bragging). It's those international monetary matters I'm no good at. You can try it out for yourself here. It's free. Hat tip to Darlene Costner.

Remember when live webcams mostly monitored traffic and ocean sunsets? Now, it seems, every wild animal on the planet has his or her own.

This one comes to us via Tamar Orvell who blogs at Only Connect. A camera keeping watch on a mama hawk and her hatchlings on a window ledge in New York City.

Watch live streaming video from nytnestcam at

As a bonus, click here to see a whole bunch of still photos of cats watching the HawkCam on computer screens.


Memory Lapse at the End of the World

category_bug_journal2.gif For nearly 50 years, five days each week, I rose from bed, showered, dressed and headed off to work.

In the years since I retired, I have treated workdays no differently except I commute only 15 or 20 feet from my bedroom to the desk to turn out Time Goes By for the next day. If you count school, I've kept this schedule for 65 years and so tuned am I to it, you could wake me from a sound sleep and I'd tell you which day of the week it is.

Until yesterday, Thursday.

Following this lifelong routine, I sat down at the laptop and spent most of the day sorting, readying and writing items for Saturday's Interesting Stuff post and prepping Peter Tibbles' Elder Music for Sunday. There were the usual interruptions for some news reading, email, stretches of idle time during the first really gorgeous day of spring, cat play sessions, a phone call or two and a short shopping trip.

One by one, I checked off the items on my to-do list. That would be the one with the word “Thursday” clearly penned at the top. At about 4PM, I noted that I had an hour-and-a-half until I was due to meet my brother for dinner at the sushi joint.

Then I did a classic double-take. Meet my brother?! That means it can't be Friday because he always travels to Astoria that evening. Followed by:

Oh, dear. All day you thought it was Friday and now it's 4PM on Thursday, you idiot, and you have nothing for Friday's TGB. How did this happen? Damn.

Hence, this non-post I'm scrambling to finish before leaving the house for dinner.

True to every elder's worst nightmare, there was a frisson of worry that this lapse is an early sign of Alzheimer's. I don't recall that I've ever done it before although once, many years ago, I dressed and went to work on Sunday and wondered for an hour why no one else was there.

I decided it's probably not Alzheimer's or, if it is, there's not much I can do about it. So here is the one item of possible interest I can offer you in the workday left to me:

Tomorrow, 21 May, is judgment day. The rapture. The beginning of the end times. Or something like that.

At least, that's what an 89-year-old California preacher named Harold Camping says who also predicts the end of the world will arrive on 21 October. According to Wikipedia,

”Followers of Camping claim that around 200 million people (approximately 3% of the world's population) will be raptured. As for the remainder of the human population, Camping himself believes in annihilationism, which is the view that those who are not saved will simply cease to be conscious rather than spend eternity in Hell.”

I haven't looked into this beyond a couple of news stories and Wikipedia, so I don't know if only Christians will be saved or if some other religionists and atheists are to be included too.

Anyway, you've been warned. I'll see you back here tomorrow. Or not. For now, I'm off to dinner - my last one?

Oh, dear. No Elder Story today. The file is empty.

Elder-Friendly Stores

Thank you all for your lovely comments on yesterday's post about Time Goes By's poor reputation rating. It surely was not meant as a fishing expedition and I was surprised. You make me feel all warm and fuzzy. You're all just wonderful.

Aside from that, I thought I was playing blog hooky yesterday, but I did get to the grocery store and, as on every visit, was annoyed at the miserable lighting.

It's already bad enough that the nutritional information is printed so small you need a magnifying glass even if the lights were bright enough. But all three of the closest supermarkets are so dimly lit that it's hard to tell they're not nightclubs. I'm thinking of bringing a flashlight from now on.

That reminded me of a video I saw a long time ago about a German supermarket chain that, anticipating the burgeoning elder population, redesigned its stores with elders in mind. I tracked it down at YouTube and it's filled with good ideas. Take a look – it's from 2007:

As noted in the video, the redesign has paid off for the chain in the bottom line but I'd throw in that they are wrong about their new emphasis being more for elders than young people. All elder-friendly design is invariably useful for younger adults too.

According to an NPR story last week, a few retail outlets in the U.S. have adopted some ideas similar to those of the German grocery and it identified some additional issues that need addressing for elders such as slippery floors, heavy doors that can't be opened and blasting music.

Another useful idea are motorized carts. I've seen them in California and Maine, but so far not in my area here in Oregon. These are all good ideas, and maybe you've got some more.

It was disappointing to read at the end of the NPR story that the elder “expert” they interviewed said she would never use newly introduced senior discount cards:

"Well, I'm 55 years old,” [said Georganne Bender], “and there's no way that I'm a senior and I'm the kind of person that, I don't even want your discount if I have to have the senior citizen card."

Bah! She calls herself a “retail consultant,” is apparently advising on elder store issues and makes an ageist statement like that? Shame on her and shame on NPR for promoting such an attitude.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mary B Summerlin: Cemeteries, Southern Style

Time Goes By Reputation Rating: “Very Poor”

blogging bug image Do you believe it when websites tell you they do not sell or share the personal information we are required to hand over when we register?

I don't. I mean, how would I know? How would anyone without subpoena power know unless they have dozens of email addresses and meticulously track which ones spawn spam?

But that's only one small and, probably, least important part of the issue in this post today.

In the past couple of months, there has been an increasing number of unsubscribes from Time Goes By. People unsubscribe for all kinds of reasons and certainly it can be that some don't like TGB, find me boring or have other things to do with their time. That's legitimate.

But with the uptick, several recent unsubscribers have emailed to tell me that a “reputation website” called MyWOT (Web of Trust) has given TGB its lowest rating, “very poor,” and they don't feel safe visiting my blog anymore. Here's a screen grab. (Click here to see a larger image.)


Investigating this site, I discovered that “they” didn't rate my blog at all; one or more anonymous people rated it. Who and how many did so is impossible to know without registering which I don't want to do because I don't trust them. More about that later.

MyWOT rating is in four categories:

Trustworthiness: I suppose that's subjective based on what someone thinks of my honesty and integrity.

Vendor Reliability: I don't sell anything so there is nothing to rate and it's hard to know why TGB would be given a poor rating for that unless someone just hates me.

Privacy: The only privacy issue at TGB are the email addresses of commenters. Those are never disclosed to readers and I don't share them with anyone. You can believe me or not, but I dare anyone to show that I have ever given an email address to another person.

Child Safety: There is no nudity, no pornography, no violence. Okay, once in a blue moon, I or a commenter uses the F or S word. So I guess they've got me there.

I poked around on the web to see what other people think of WOT. Firefox and other browsers supply an add-on toolbar that makes it easy to add a WOT rating for any site you visit. At Firefox, there are pages and pages and pages of complaints about WOT ratings, as there are at other places around the web. Some examples:

“I'm a developer myself and after deinstallation and something weird I noticed as I revisited the MyWot website, I discovered that the Addon 'seemed' to be uninstalled, but in fact the functionality to talk to the MyWot website was still in effect!“
“WoT is used to 'blackball' many political, special interest, cultural, and religious websites with false accusations of malware distribution, spamming, child porn, etc. in the service of opposing religious and political beliefs.“
“This seems to be a dangerous program allowing anyone to anonymously 'rate' any website they dislike or may wish to harm for whatever reason by clicking on one star, since it is not even required to give any reason for one's negative opinion.“
“Ratings are so inaccurate as to be worthless. If you use this as a sole guide as to whether or not a site is safe to view you are bound to get virus/trojan infections.“

Many others give MyWOT five stars but they are almost universally of the “this is awesome” type with no explanation or reason.

I believe I run a nice, little shop here so I was confused - and disturbed - enough to write the CEO of MyWOT to complain and got (in part) this reply, identical to what many other low-rated website owners have quoted around the web (this email arrived on the same miserable morning of which I wrote yesterday):

“Write your own comment on the scorecard and be sure to rate the site. If you own the site or work for it please state that in your comment

“Ask your friends and customers to rate the site.

“You may also want to consider opening a WOT forum thread and ask our active members to rate the site and give feedback about it. If you are an employee of the site or own it please state this in your post.”

So all those critics are correct – it's a popularity contest that is designed to be gamed, where you are encouraged to do so, and anyone who doesn't like you can malign your site or blog.

Hmmmm. I wonder if my "very poor" rating has anything to do with the fact that in the past couple of months I've blocked three or four readers from commenting for violating TGB rules of conduct.

And now, suspiciously, one day after that CEO replied to my complaint, the rating for Time Goes By has been upgraded from “very poor” to “unsatisfactory” which you can see here unless it has changed again.

It's bad enough that this little blog, where mostly elders chat about what it's like to get old, is rated so low it will scare away people who may not be web savvy enough to figure out MyWOT is a scam.

Site owners like me are left open to the libel of others without any recourse but to register to post self-serving ratings and to continue visiting to monitor changes in the site's reputation, thereby jacking up MyWOT's membership base and boosting their page view stats.

Except that I won't do that and neither should you.

While not trivial, reputation and readership of a personal blog are not life threatening. What's deeply disturbing and much more insidious about MyWOT, especially in these economic times, is that people who supplement their income or make their living from small, legitimate websites can lose a great deal of revenue when unscrupulous competitors trash their businesses on MyWOT.

And they might never know the reason.

PLEASE NOTE: This post is NOT, NOT, NOT asking you to vote up Time Goes By at MyWOT. There are enough complaints of sticky installations and other violations of best practices plus the possibility of using MyWOT ratings to land on a site with malware, spyware or worse that I don't want to be responsible for that happening to you.

However, do be warned that if you use MyWOT to choose websites to visit, the ratings can be false, misleading and useless at best, and they may or may not sell your personal information if you register. There is no way to know, but why take a chance on more spam from a website whose value is so questionable.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ralph Lymburner: The Training Program

A Little Levity to Lighten the Load

category_bug_journal2.gif There are days when it's not worth getting out of bed. We all know this to be a truth but the problem is that it is impossible to know until you're already out of bed. Yesterday was one of those days.

• First thing: I set my feet on the floor – one of them into a pile of cat puke.

I hop to the bathroom, sit on the side of tub, wash my foot. (Oh, god, I have to pee so bad.) Dry my foot, pee, fetch paper towels from kitchen, bottle of carpet spot cleaner from laundry room, get down on hands and knees. Clean cat puke.

Knowing that Ollie the cat never pukes only once, I check the house for more. Yep, there's a pile in the hall, another in the office.

Meanwhile, as I clean, Ollie the cat is yelling for breakfast. I haven't even started the coffee yet.

• Load up the electric tea kettle with water, flip the switch on the handle: nothin'. Zero. Fiddle with switch up and down. Nothin'. Check the electrical outlet. It's fine, the kettle is broken. And it's only two weeks old. Find saucepan to heat water. Feed the cat.

• Checking the morning news, I click on a link in email and nothing happens. Try again; maybe my clicker finger is weak from cleaning up puke as my first act of the day and trying to get a broken switch to work. Still nothing.

Spend ONE HOUR determining the problem. Spend ONE MORE HOUR finding and executing the fix which involves errors deep in the code bowels of Firefox, Thunderbird AND Windows.

• Finally get back to the morning news. Robert Samuelson at WaPo thinks old people have too much money and all our budget woes can be alleviated if we take it away from them.

Good ol' reliable Dean Baker calls out Samuelson for his stupidity and Paul Krugman notes his doublethink neither of which, unfortunately, will do any more good than my asking Ollie the cat to puke on the kitchen floor where it's easier to clean up.

• The big headline everywhere is that the leader of the International Monetary Fund – you know, one of about five people the entire world relies upon for good judgment - is accused of a sexual attack on a housekeeper in a $3,000-a-night room in a Manhattan hotel. What? He can afford the hotel but not a high-priced, discreet hooker?

• I decide the day has started so badly that I should treat myself to a swell breakfast at the lovely little French bakery. I get there and every seat is taken. Every damned one. And there is a line of about 10 people waiting.

The rest of the day wasn't much better.

Because everything – in my little world and the world at large - is so universally awful, some levity is in order.

For many years, I have subscribed to a newsletter called Direct – A Weekly Ezine for Democrats wherein Bob Jellison sends out a collection of political gaffes, outrages and humor of the past seven days for lefties.

It has been a long time now since I could stay awake for the late-night talk shows so I particularly look forward to the one-liners from Letterman, Leno, Fallon, O'Brien and the others. Here are some of the best from Jellison's most recent missive.

David Letterman:
“50 percent of Americans polled said they thought Donald Trump would make a lousy President. Wow! Half said he'd make a lousy President. Well, that never stopped us before."
David Letterman:
"Apparently, Osama bin Laden was living in a mansion with no phone and no cable for six years. He'd been waiting for six years for the Time-Warner guy to show up."
Seth Meyers:
"In the wake of President Obama's decision to not release pictures of Osama bin Laden's body, a number of new conspiracy theories are surfacing claiming that bin Laden is not really dead.

“Which means Barack Obama will go down in history as the first black person ever to have to prove that he killed someone."
Bill Maher:
"Who might be Bin Laden's successor? If they're looking for someone with a large following who's a religious zealot and hates the Jews - Mel Gibson?"
Jimmy Fallon:
"Hillary Clinton said that watching the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound was '38 of the most intense minutes.' Which can only mean one thing: she's never had to assemble a chair from Ikea."

You can subscribe to this newsletter by sending an email to with “subscribe” in the subject line.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: What Counts

2011 Trustees' Report on Social Security and Medicare


The annual Trustees' Report on the Status of Social Security and Medicare was released on Friday. Due to the weakened economy, slower economic recovery than was assumed in last year's report, lower estimates for death rates and increasing number of baby boom beneficiaries, the year in which the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted has been moved up by one year to 2036.

“Thereafter, tax income would be sufficient to pay only about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through 2085,” states the Trustees' Summary.

Although the Trustees, by tradition, do not make recommendations for solving the problems they report, the Summary does state:

”The long-run financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare should be addressed soon. If action is taken sooner rather than later, more options and more time will be available to phase in changes so that those affected have adequate time to prepare.

“Earlier action will also afford elected officials with a greater opportunity to minimize adverse impacts on vulnerable populations, including lower-income workers and those who are already substantially dependent on program benefits.”

No kidding. At least as far back as 2005, when President George W. Bush tried unsuccessfully to privatize Social Security, there were a lot of good ideas for keeping Social Security solvent. They are still there. Two I think make the most sense:

• Raise or eliminate the salary cap

• Increase FICA contribution by 1.1 percent to 8.3 percent

We don't get anywhere with fixing Social Security because Democrats in Congress are afraid they will lose elections if they advocate workable fixes and Republicans want to eliminate the program they have hated since its inception. The longer we wait to make adjustments, the more expensive it will be.

The full Trustees' Report on Social Security is here.

Medicare is in greater peril although it is in somewhat better shape now due to the Affordable Care Act (health care reform bill) passed last year. As Maggie Mahar reported Friday in her highly respected Health Beat blog,

”Before Congress passed the ACA, Medicare’s trustees had predicted that the Health Insurance Fund would begin running out of money in 2016 — just five years from now.

“After President Obama signed the legislation in March of 2010, the Trustees announced that thanks to cost savings and new money raised by the Affordable Care Act, the HI fund wouldn’t begin to run short until 2029.

“Today Medicare's Trustees reported that a “slower than assumed economic recovery” has taken a toll on revenues, and they moved the turning point up to 2024.”

Maggie Mahar is optimistic that Congress will “eventually” create a public option to compete private insurers that would save money with lower administrative costs than the private insurers.

The full Medicare Trustees' Report for 2011 is here [pdf].

What is absurd about all the cacophony in Washington about Medicare being unaffordable is that it is obvious to anyone not beholden to corporations and Wall Street that Medicare for All, single payer health care, universal health care – whatever you want to call it – is the answer.

But with the exception of a handful of Congress members, no one will consider anything but taking the costs out of the hides of elders.

When it's bad news, it's always the old folks first. To wit: Today, the federal government officially runs out of money - it hits the debt ceiling and Congress is no closer to raising the borrowing limit than I am to fitting into a bikini.

So Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will now begin borrowing from the federal workers' retirement fund. I wonder why it doesn't make me feel any better to know that the Treasury Department is legally required to reimburse the fund?

Oh, I remember now: that's the pension a bunch of Republicans in Congress thinks is too generous to postal workers, security guards, administrative assistants and all the workers who answer the phone so patiently when we call with questions about Social Security or Medicare.

[EDITORIAL UPDATE] In previous posts, I have lamented that the 2 percent FICA tax holiday for 2011, cuts Social Security revenue by 15 percent. I was wrong. The shortfall is being made good from general revenues.]

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: To All the Cows I've Milked Before

ELDER MUSIC: New Blues-ish Women

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.

This is another column whose music has been selected by Norma, the Assistant Musicologist. The A.M. says: “There used to be a blues program on radio here in Melbourne some years ago, where the two presenters described themselves as 'he plays the dead ones and I play the live ones'” - i.e. pre-war and post-war blues.

Since my/our earlier column on blues women was the dead ones, today we are doing some live ones. Well, live though not necessarily known as blues singers. But we will hear their recordings of some old blues classics. And blues itself is a flexible category.

MARIA MULDAUR is a favorite of both of us so naturally she's going to appear here.

Maria Muldaur

Maria has made, if not a career, at least a point of recording some old, mostly blues tunes. Right from her very first solo album, she included such material as will be demonstrated again later in this column.

The first of hers is from a much later album than that first one, a song written and performed by Mississippi John Hurt. It's Richland Woman Blues.

♫ Maria Muldaur - Richland Woman Blues

MOLLIE O'BRIEN sings everything from Memphis Minnie to Chuck Berry, Lennon and McCartney to Percy Mayfield. She sings jazz and R&B, gospel and country and everything in between.

Mollie O'Brien

She grew up in West Virginia and started her public career as a duo with her brother Tim. They made some fine albums together. For the last 25 years, she's been making music with her husband Rich Moore as well as producing solo albums.

One of those albums is "Big Red Sun" from which the song, In My Girlish Days is taken. This is a Memphis Minnie song.

♫ Mollie O'Brien - In My Girlish Days

MADELEINE PEYROUX was born in Georgia but grew up in New York and California.

Madeleine Peyroux

When her parents divorced in her teenage years, she moved to Paris to live with her mother where she discovered street musicians. She learned her craft in the Latin Quarter as a busker. This experience provided fodder for her first album. Even after its release she would still perform on the streets of Paris.

She likes to keep a low profile and generally eschews publicity. Here Madeleine sings the old jazz/blues standard written by W.C. Handy, Careless Love.

♫ Madeleine Peyroux - Careless Love

RUTHIE FOSTER is from Gause, Texas and she was born into a family of gospel singers.

Ruthie Foster

Ruthie studied music in college and started performing while in the Navy, although she had sung in her uncle's choir as a teenager. She said that she joined the Navy because she was curious about the rest of the world. She must still have that curiosity as she regularly tours Europe and Australia as well as her own country.

She brings elements of R&B, jazz and gospel into her singing and melds these into her own singular style. This is Ruthie with Rosetta Tharpe's gospel song, Up Above My Head.

♫ Ruthie Foster - Up Above My Head

I was rather surprised when the A.M. chose SUZANNAH ESPIE in this category.

Suzannah Espie

I've always considered her a country or maybe a folk singer, however, the A.M. assures me she will fit in here. Well, as said above, we're flexible. I remember her from her days as a member of the Australian all-female group, Git, who were a country/roots sort of band. I have several of their CDs and pretty good they were too.

The A.M. insists this track has blues sentiment even if not a classic, 12-bar structure – these are Hank Williams blues so it sounds a bit country to me, but that's all right. This is Lonesome Whistle, but not the way that Hank did it.

♫ Suzannah Espie - Lonesome Whistle


Maria Muldaur

This is taken from her fantastic first solo album and is Don't You Feel My Leg. The earliest version I know is by Merline Johnson, often billed "The Yas-Yas Girl.”

Her version was called Don't You Make Me High, but it's the same song. If you're interested, you can find that one on a CD called "The Copulatin' Blues" which contains blues songs from the Twenties about, well, what its title suggests.

♫ Maria Muldaur - Don't You Feel My Leg

BONNIE RAITT is the mistress of the slide guitar. Hmmm, that doesn't sound right. Mistress may be the female equivalent of master but something goes wrong when that switch is made. She has been recording splendid blues-based albums since the seventies.

Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie learned to play guitar early and when she went to college she fell in with some like-minded people and started playing in clubs around Boston. It was there she met such luminaries as Howlin' Wolf, Sippie Wallace and Fred McDowell.

Fred coached Bonnie on her slide guitar technique and here she performs one of his songs, Write Me a Few of Your Lines.

♫ Bonnie Raitt - Write Me a Few of Your Lines

As it says in the liner notes for their first album: One is African-American, one Jewish, one part Cherokee; one comes from a jazz and R&B background, another from classical music, roadhouse, blues and swing, the next from country and bluegrass.

Hang on. I thought there were only three of them. I looked at the cover again. Yep, three. Okay, all those people (Gaye Adegbalola, Ann Rabson and Earlene Lewis) are crammed into three of SAFFIRE.


This track is from their first CD called “Saffire the Uppity Blues Women.”  The song is Wild Women Don't Have The Blues, a song Ida Cox wrote in 1924. Bessie Smith also performed it often.

♫ Saffire - Wild Women Don't Have The Blues


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.

Music teachers Richard Adrian Dorr and John Mace are eager to get married. But they live in New York City where that is still not legal.

“'This couple has lived and loved for 61 years — haven’t they waited long enough?' said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. 'They made a commitment and lived life’s ups and downs together. They can’t wait forever — they deserve the freedom to marry.'”

The reason “they can't wait forever” is that Richard is 86 and John is 91. Watch their video: (Hat tip to Jan Adams)

Anti-gay marriage laws are ridiculously stupid. You can read more about John and Richard here.

Scott Weaver has spent 35 years building “Rolling Through the Bay,” a kinetic sculpture of 100,000 toothpicks (I would have guessed more) depicting public and private landmarks of San Francisco.

Multiple ball runs allow you to go on “tours” of different parts of the city. Watch:

Weaver says he has spent more than 3,000 hours on the project and he continues to expand and modify it. There are more videos of Rolling Through the Bay here. (Hat tip to JoAnn Goldberg)

For the past two seasons, the BBC has run an animal sketch comedy show titled, Walk on the Wild Side. It is, simply, clips of animals filmed in the wild dubbed with funny conversation and music added. Here's a promo for one of the episodes:

It seems to me that this is a marvelously amusing way to use up leftover footage from all those National Geographic nature programs. There are a whole lot more promos from the programs here.

I suppose I had heard of Mt. Athos – the name sounds familiar – but I had no idea, nor had I wondered, what it is. As it turns out, it's not just any old mountain in Greece, it is a collection of 20 Catholic Eastern Orthodox monasteries that have been in continuous existence for more than 1,000 years.

Hardly anything has changed in all that time. Recently, 60 Minutes broadcast a program about it – the first time cameras have been allowed in 30 years and the story is fascinating. Women might want to pay close attention: although male pilgrims visit throughout the year, no women have ever been allowed. (It amuses me that the included commercial is for Viagra.)

Mt. Athos Part One:

Mt. Athos Part Two:

There is more information here.

What a smart inspiration of someone to pair stuffed animals with their live counterparts. Here is one:

Animals and stuffed animals

There are a lot more here.

Unlike dogs, most cats are way too snooty to deign to learn tricks or, if they will, to do them on cue. But Darlene Costner found this video of a trained cat performance in, no less, a French night club. Enjoy.

Here's a nice, too-cute video for you. Somehow, a mama duck lost her babies in a storm drain. A TV reporter went to the rescue.

My friend John Brandt sent this along. It's been around for a good while, but I'd not seen it and it is fabulous. Dances from 40 movies and many more dancers. It is brilliant and no one knows who edited it.

Earliest Memories

My brother and I lived together as children for only about nine years. I was five-and-a-half when he was born and moved to California when I was 15 and he was nine.

In the year since I moved to Oregon where he has lived all his life, we have sometimes played the “Do you remember game. Most of the time, when he recalls something from our shared childhood, I respond, “Really?!? I don't remember that.”

That's probably not unusual. Memory is a slippery thing, which is why eye witness accounts in crimes are suspect, and individual interest, emotion and attention probably have some affect on how well we recall events.

Carole Peterson, a psychology professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, has been studying early childhood memory. Although it has been widely believed that children under the age of three or four do not have the cognitive or language skills to form, the professor now thinks otherwise.

Peterson and her team enlisted 140 children age four to 13. The kids were asked to recall their three earliest memories. Parents confirmed the memories. Then, two years later, the children were asked the same question.

”Kids ages 4 to 7 at the study's start tended to recall different memories at the first interview compared with two years later, suggesting these very early memories are fragile and can easily fade away. However, a third of the children ages 10 to 13 described the same earliest memories at both time points...

“In addition, for kids who didn't describe one of the previously mentioned memories at the two-year mark, the researchers described the kid's own summary of that memory. For the older kids, that was enough to jog their memory and they immediately recalled the event.

“But in the 4- to 7-year-old age group, the children said that had never happened in their lives.”

Nothing in this study, says Professor Peterson, suggests that content or emotional impact affect whether an early memory is retained or lost and next, she will tackle the question of what makes some memories stick and not others.

The whole reason for telling you about that study is ask what your earliest memory is.

In my case, it is body memory. I can close my eyes and recall how it felt to hold myself upright by the side of my crib and the taste of the varnish on the top of the railing. So maybe I chewed on it when I was teething. Not having raised children, I don't know at what age a kid moves from a crib to a bed, so it's hard to know my age at that memory but, probably, before I was three.

Now it's your turn.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: A Love Story – Part Two

Health Care and the Department of Lost Causes

category_bug_journal2.gif No one of any political stripe can argue that health care is not a problem that must be addressed. The divide occurs when solutions for reform are discussed.

The first big disappointment came in 2009 when, with the health care debate barely begun, President Barack Obama took the entire idea of “single payer” off the table. Then the public option was stripped from consideration too.

The insurance industry had won again. Their multi-billion-dollar profit is the reason any form of single payer, or Medicare or All, is repeatedly rejected by Congress so that members ensure continued campaign support from the industry.

Last month, Congressional Republicans took a big enough beating from constituents at town hall meetings over the Medicare privatization “voucher” proposal in Representative Paul Ryan's (R-WI) Path to Prosperity budget for 2012, that he and many other legislators of his party have backed away from it.

But don't think for a moment privatization of Medicare or cuts to the program are dead in Washington. This is just a lull while new strategies for moving elders into the for-profit health care system are developed.

If Congress actually represented the people rather than big business and if there were any budget sanity in Washington, we would have had a single payer system for everyone long ago.

It is the only sensible, fair and moral way to go and there are a dozen or more examples in developed nations from which our country could fashion a system wherein everyone receives basic health care at an affordable price.

In fact, Medicare is an excellent example that would work quite well if it didn't cover only the oldest and therefore sickest people in the U.S. Mitt Romney, when he was governor of Massachusetts, put one type of single payer system in place in his state and it is a success (although it is causing him grief with Republican powers-that-be in his potential bid for the presidency), covering about 97 percent of the state's population now.

Additionally, both houses of the Vermont legislature have passed a bill that will move their state toward a single-payer system and Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to sign it. That's two states that have or will soon implement a smart health care system for their citizens.

Speaking of Vermont, independent Senator Bernie Sanders this week introduced the American Health Security Act of 2011 (S.915) while his colleague, James McDermott (D-WA) simultaneously introduced an identical bill in the House (H.R.1200). The full text is here and you can read Senator Sanders' press release about the bill here.

As Sam Baker at The Hill's Healthwatch blog explains:

”The bill would establish state-based programs to administer coverage and set payment rates for providers. A federal board would set criteria for those offices.

“The new system would replace Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and insurance exchanges established under the Obama administration's healthcare reform law.

“It would be funded through a series of tax increases on businesses and individuals, as well as money that otherwise would have been set aside for subsidies and tax credits under healthcare reform.”

Dr. Garrett Adams, president of Physicians for a National Health Program gave some more detail:

“Sanders’ legislation would cover nearly all 51 million people who currently lack coverage and improve benefits for everyone by eliminating co-pays and deductibles and restoring free choice of physician,” Adams said.

“By slashing private insurance overhead and bureaucracy in doctors’ offices and hospitals, S. 915 would recapture about $400 billion annually that is currently wasted on unnecessary paperwork. That money, in turn, would be channeled back into high-quality clinical care.

“Further, by using a single-payer system’s bargaining power, we would be able to negotiate lower prices for pharmaceuticals and other goods and services, allowing us to rein in rising health care costs,” he said.

The two bills were introduced in their respective houses of Congress on Tuesday. The Senate version has been referred to the Committee on Finance.

I can hear every one of you saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. One more rational idea that won't go anywhere in Washington. Something else good that will wind up in the Department of Lost Causes.”

Maybe you're right. Maybe it won't happen this time with this bill, but if we shrug off Senators Sanders' and McDermott's righteous attempt, failure is guaranteed.

We got Medicare in 1965, because President Lyndon Johnson believed in it, wanted it and was the best president in history at arm-twisting Congress. Our current president is pretty good at knocking off pirates and a terrorist leader, but no match for Johnson's executive prowess.

That leaves Sanders, McDermott and you and me to do our best this time and the next and the next – however long it takes because not to act is to act; not to speak is to speak.

Write about these bills on your blogs – copy any or all of what I've written if that makes it easier and don't bother with crediting me. It would also be good to write your senators and suggest they co-sponsor Senator Sanders' bill. Write your representative and suggest the same thing for the House bill.

One of the places you can easily do that is here. Fill in your Zip Code in the right sidebar for email links to your Congressional reps. The numbers and title of the bills are above.

Let's not let this be a lost cause – however long it takes.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: A Love Story – Part One