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Raise the Medicare Eligibility Age?

category_bug_journal2.gif The current age at which Americans are eligible for Medicare is 65.

There are strong indications from the fiscal cliff negotiations in Washington that in exchange for a (low) two percent increase in the tax rate on high-income earners, the Republicans will ask for – and get from President Barack Obama - an increase in the Medicare eligibility age to 67.

Since people are living longer these days, you might ask, what's so wrong with raising the age for Medicare? Before we get to that, here's a short background on where the talks sit now.

I regularly disagree with Washington Post pundit Ezra Klein but I don't doubt his backdoor connections to the Obama administration. Last Friday, he wrote about the trade-offs we are likely to see in the fiscal cliff deal [emphasis added]:

”The harder question is what Republicans will get on the spending side of the deal. But even that’s not such a mystery.

“There will be a variety of nips and tucks to Medicare, including more cost-sharing and decreases in provider payments, and the headline Democratic concession is likely to be that the Medicare eligibility age rises from 65 to 67.

As firm as the president continues to stand on tax cuts for the wealthy, he has always been wobbly on what he calls “entitlements.” This is what he said last week (not for the first time) in a speech to the Business Roundtable [emphasis added]:

“We’ve seen some movement over the last several days among some Republicans. I think there’s a recognition that maybe they can accept some rate increases as long as it’s combined with serious entitlement reform and additional spending cuts.”

In other words, of all the things that could be cut from the U.S. budget, the Obama administration goes straight for old people first.

Now as to why not increase the Medicare eligibility age, here are a couple of thoughts:

Some say that because we live longer nowadays, it's no big deal to raise the Medicare eligibility age. The problem with that argument is that only the rich are living longer. Life expectancy is closely related to income and while it has increased dramatically for the highest earners, it has barely changed for the bottom half for many decades – the people who most need Medicare coverage.

Raising the age would also cost you and me and all Medicare beneficiaries higher Part B premiums. Removing the youngest - and, therefore, healthiest – eligibles, would create a higher average cost.

Adding 65- and 66-year olds to employers insurance rolls would create the need for across-the-board premium increases in workplace health coverage. And, of course, those elders who sought coverage at the new state and federal exchanges would raise premiums for the same reason.

As I have mentioned here in the past, big changes to Medicare (and Social Security) should never be done as hastily as these cliff talks are taking place. Economist Jared Bernstein agrees:

”But bigger, structural changes, like raising the Medicare eligibility age or switching to the chained CPI are more complex and deserve more discussion and debate.”

Bernstein offers some sound advice on what some sane savings in Medicare might look like:

”That doesn’t mean some changes, including cuts, shouldn’t be part of the cliff negotiations. The President’s team, I think, could bring to the table around $400 billion in Medicare cuts over 10 years that largely come out of more efficient drug purchasing, other delivery side savings (paying for quality over quantity), and increase premiums on higher income seniors. Those look to me like smart savings and important negotiating material.”

It always amazes me that the experts who seem to me to have the best, most logical solutions are never the ones Congress or the White House talk to.

And finally, here is Ezra Klein again when he subbed for Rachel Maddow last Friday and explained in under two minutes why increasing the Medicare eligibility age is nothing more that a wildly expensive cost shift:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A deal probably needs to be struck by the end of this week to go into effect in time to avoid the fiscal cliff so time is short.

Sixty-seven percent of Americans oppose such cuts as raising the Medicare eligibility age. You might want to reinforce that point with the White House. You can call them directly at 202.456.1111. Or email the White House here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, June Calendar: The Fourth Quarter

Literary Lamentations on Old Age

From Wayne Booth (1921-2005), a literary critic who spent most of his career as a professor in English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago:

“Readers will have noticed that through all of these powerful lamentations run that paradox with which I began: The better you express the losses, the less you've lost. To hold back the losses to capture the beauty that was is to turn the loss into something else: the triumph of imagination.”

Depending on how long you have been reading Time Goes By, you may have discerned that I (sort of) collect books about aging. I did not set out to do so, nor is there intention or orderliness to it - just an urge to learn more that compels me forward.

A recent addition is a 1992 collection of book excerpts, poems, letters and diaries: The Art of Growing Older: Writers on Living and Aging, “Selected,” as the title page notes, “and with Personal Reflections by Wayne Booth.”

The writers range from the ancients to those of the latter 20th century and many selections are familiar to me from general reading on old age and other compilations I own. What sets this book apart is Booth's thoughtful and informed commentary.

The first chapter, titled “Facing the Facts: Losses, Fears, Lamentations,” could as easily be called (in the youthful vernacular of my generation) Bummers. This doleful example is typical of others in the section, an eloquent piece of writing from As We Are Now by May Sarton:

”Days have gone by. It must be October, mid-October I think, because the leaves are flying fast. The great maples are skeletons against the sky.

“The beeches are still a marvelous greenish-yellow, a Chinese yellow, I have always thought. Pansy, now the nights are cold, sometimes comes to sleep with me, and slips out (clever cat) before anyone has stirred.

“The only time I weep is when she is there purring beside me. I, who longed for touch, can hardly bear the sweetness of that little rough tongue licking my hand.

“There is nothing to say any longer. And I am writing only because Lisa is to bring Eva today. Harriet doesn't want them to see me as I was – dirty hair I hardly bothered to comb, an old woman, a grotesque miserable animal.

“She washed my hair and it is drying now. This time she was gentle, thank God. I suppose she can be because I am just a passive bundle. She brought me a clean and, for once, properly ironed nightgown. I do not dress very often any more. I feel safer in bed.

“It must be mid-November. The leaves are all gone. Harriet found Pansy on my bed and now locks her out every night. The walls close in on every side. I do not remember things very my brother John still alive? Where has Anna gone?”

In that list of discontents, Sarton captures the enormity of the ebbing of life - the weakness, both disinterest in and disgust with her appearance, hostility, loneliness, fear, confusion and, too, appreciation of the small pleasures left to her.

All that in beautifully wrought prose that belies her statement that her mind is not working so well anymore.

What I like about this new addition to my library of aging is that Booth, far more than simply curating quotations, listens closely to what the writers are saying and gives his readers those “personal reflections” he mentions on the title page.

In Chapter II, as throughout the book, he disputes Sarton's and the other writers' lamentations of dreadful decline on evidence, he explains, of their literary skill.

”When Chateaubriand said, 'Old age is a shipwreck,' he was not just complaining, writes Booth, “he was celebrating the pleasures of metaphor, still available to him in his old age...

“Indeed, most of the laments in Part I were created – I must underline again – with a force that refutes their surface message: 'I am old, feeble, miserable, dying.' Well, yes, I believe you since you insist. But how, then, do you manage to pull yourself together and offer me a poem, or even just a metaphor, about it...

“When you put your whole soul into it like that, I cannot quite believe in your total helpless and hopeless gloom – not in the same way I believe flat statements like, 'I am utterly miserable' or 'I am going to commit suicide.'

“In a way, of course, I believe you more: you have made me feel your misery more actively, and so have drawn me into it.

“On the other hand, even when your poem is not your very best work, it shows you obviously alive, wonderfully alive, more alive than some of the ostensibly more cheerful folks we turn to now.”

(After which Booth takes on age deniers about whom we are not concerned – at least, not today.)

The deeper I delve into the literature of aging, the richer it becomes.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: Day of Infamy


PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair. Shining, gleaming (and so on – sorry, I can’t take any more of that song).

I don’t understand the current fashion of shaving one’s head and otherwise removing hair from, well, pretty much everywhere. It seems ridiculous to me. I guess if I didn’t still have much of my hair and a beard I might think otherwise, but I doubt it.

Of course, my hair has faded over the years; it’s no longer the nice red color it used to be, now it’s white. I have also cut back on the length somewhat as you can tell from this photo from around 1971.

Peter Tibbles

Hmm, I was also a lot slimmer then too. Very serious as well.

Today’s column came about when I discovered an album by a group called The Beards who are from Adelaide. The album is called “Having a Beard Is the New Not Having a Beard” and every song is about the joys of beardness.

After playing it, I knew I had to feature something from the album. I searched for songs about beards and found enough for a column. Unfortunately, they were all from that record. Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, suggested I extend the hairnet further.

I found only two songs about moustaches, only one of which will be featured today as I’ve recently used the other in another column. I’ve filled the rest with songs about the tonsorial majesty that graces the top of our noggins.

It’s appropriate that I start with another redhead, and that is WILLIE NELSON.

Willie Nelson

Willie’s song, Red Headed Stranger, is from a record of that name. That album is one of the greatest from the last 50 years; that means it’s one of the finest albums ever and should be in any serious music person’s collection.

♫ Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger

The moustache song is by JIMMY BUFFETT although he spelt it differently.

Jimmy Buffett

I’ve chosen an early photo of Jimmy, when he had hair, to fit in with the column today.

Although not up with the major artists like The Beatles, Bob or Elvis, Jimmy has been very successful indeed. Besides his considerable number of albums, several of which are really very good, he has written several best-selling books, owns two chains of restaurants and is a pilot for his own corporate jet.

Of all the rockers from the sixties and seventies, he’s the one who seems to have had the most fun. Have you ever seen a photo of him when he wasn’t smiling?

This is Pencil Thin Mustache.

♫ Jimmy Buffett - Pencil Thin Mustache

Here is my guilty pleasure, the STATLER BROTHERS.

Statler Brothers

It’s not something you say out loud to the cooler than thou types, that you actually like the Statlers, but I will – I like the Statler Brothers, their harmony singing is wonderful.

Okay, they can get a bit problematic when they get all religious but even those songs are okay if you don’t listen to the words. This is a straight country song, You Comb Her Hair every Morning. I wouldn’t listen to these words too closely either, they sound a little creepy.

♫ Statler Brothers - You Comb Her Hair Every Morning

JACK CLEMENT’s song is seriously derivative of Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins. It doesn’t matter though; it works well and it definitely fitted into a certain genre of songs at the time.

Jack Clement

Jack is mostly known as a song writer and producer, and indeed, he wrote and produced this one. I’ve heard a few others of his and I think he should have sung more as he had a pleasant tenor voice. Perhaps his other skills were more lucrative.

This is another from Sun records, from 1956, the time and place where rock and roll (or at least rockabilly) was invented, sort of. Black Haired Man.

♫ Jack Clement - Black Haired Man

More black hair. I originally had Joan Baez penciled in for this one. Then I heard NINA SIMONE perform it and decided to go for her version instead.

Nina Simone

Nothing against Joan but when Nina tackles a song it always turns out to be very interesting indeed. Joan performed it as if it were a Child Ballad; Nina takes it to places Joan wouldn’t have thought of at the time. Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair.

♫ Nina Simone - Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair

This one really has to be present, even the A.M. concurred and she generally is quite averse to this kind of thing. It was a toss-up between WILF CARTER and Gene Autry which version to use. I finally decided on Wilf, as the recording quality was superior.

Wilf Carter

Wilf was from Nova Scotia, Canada and was a huge success in that country as well as America, Australia and other places. He often also recorded under the name Montana Slim.

Here he performs That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine.

♫ Wilf Carter - That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine

Any excuse to play some NAT KING COLE.

Nat King Cole Trio

With all his tunes you know there had to be a hair song somewhere in there and so it is. This is the Nat King Cole Trio, the way I like Nat best, with A Little Yellow Ribbon (In Her Hair). Nothing to do with another dreadful song about a yellow ribbon.

♫ Nat King Cole Trio - A Little Yellow Ribbon (In Her Hair)

Now to a song suggested, nay insisted upon, by the A.M. These dudes are the SENSITIVE NEW AGE COWPERSONS.

Sensitive New Age Cow Persons

They play music “the way God intended – blue-grass style.” Well, that’s what they tell us whenever we’ve seen them live which isn’t often as they live in Fremantle and that’s a hell of a long way from Melbourne.

Their contribution today is a sensitive little ditty called Daddy Wore a Mullet.

♫ Sensitive New Age Cowpersons - Daddy Wore a Mullet

Something a little different from the predominantly country music today, something from a musical, something I do very seldom. However, it’s appropriate.

The musical is “South Pacific” and the singer is MARY MARTIN (and company) from the original stage version.

Mary Martin

The musical was first performed in 1949, and the film appeared in 1958. Took them a while  It’s far from my favorite song from the musical but it’s the only hair song so I’m stuck with it.

Mary Martin played the role on Broadway and Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the song at her request because she said that she "had never washed her hair on stage" and said she wanted to give it a try.

Works for me. Here she is with I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out-a My Hair.

♫ Mary Martin & Chorus - I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair

I’ll finish with a song from the group that inspired this column, THE BEARDS.

The Beards

The Beards started out originally to play a one-off show that was a bit of a laugh. However, they were so successful they are now touring constantly and, as mentioned, they’ve released an album as well.

The album contains such songs as You Should Consider Having Sex with a Bearded Man. (I couldn’t possibly comment on that one.) The track I’ve chosen is There’s Just Nothing Better Than a Beard. You’ll hear how they solve all the problems of mankind.

♫ The Beards - There’s Just Nothing Better Than a Beard

INTERESTING STUFF: 8 December 2012

It happened eight days ago right here at the Portland, Oregon zoo. After a 21-month pregnancy and five days of labor, Asian elephant Rose-Tu gave birth to a 300-pound daughter.

This video was shot on 30 November, the day the adorable baby was born. Isn't she the cutest thing. (There is no audio on the clip)

In Last week's Interesting Stuff, I told you about the origin of the emoticon dating to 1982. But then, TGB reader John Gear emailed with some additional information – antecedents to modern-day smilies and frownies:


These were published in Puck magazine in 1881. There is a lot more information about pre-emoticon emoticons at Wikipedia.

An age-old question worth pondering. This answer is from philosopher Alan Watts via South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. (Hat tip to Pam Gallagher of Costa de la Luz Gardening)

A bigger question by magnitudes than the item just above. An answer and animation from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:


”Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has been taking his daughter hunting for years, but this Thanksgiving she took a successful shot of her own.

“Ryan’s 10-year-old daughter, Liza, brought her own weapon for the first time, and matched her Dad by bagging her own deer in the woods of Oklahoma.

"'Congressman Ryan was grateful to spend time with his family over the Thanksgiving holiday. He was able to hunt with his daughter Liza,' said Kevin Seifert, Ryan’s spokesman. "'Both of them had successful and safe outings, each shooting a buck.'"

If you really want to know more, you'll find it here.

Residents of the Erickson Living Maris Grove retirement community in Delaware County, Pennsylvania obviously had a lot of fun producing this video. They took all the acting parts too. Nice.

I've been reading Sherlock Holmes for half a century. Maybe a decade or more goes by for me between stories, but I always return to them. Now, an interview with Holmes's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, has turned up.

According to a commenter at YouTube, this was shot in October 1928 for Movietone News. The location is Doyle's garden at his Windlesham estate in Surrey, England, with his Irish terrier, Paddy.

Gallup recently took the temperature of American's attitude toward Congress. As you might guess, in honesty and ethical standards, the only job the nation rates lower than Congress is car sales.

Click here to see the Gallup chart and what job ranks number one.

This White House sure knows how to charm us. Take a look at the first dog checking out the eye-popping Christmas décor.

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.

Hannukah 5773

Yes, I'm a day early for this but there is Interesting Stuff scheduled for tomorrow plus Elder Music for Sunday and I don't believe anyone will mind.

My good friend, Yaakov Kirschen, has been writing and drawing his Dry Bones cartoon for 40 years. (You can follow him at The Dry Bones Blog.) This is his entry for Hannukah 2011. I like the gentleness of the reminder.

Yaakov Hannukah

Happy Hannukah, Everyone.

There is no story at The Elder Storytelling Place today.

Elder Scams – Social Security Edition

Yes, I realize there has been a lot of Social Security talk at this blog lately but it is the majority of retirement income for most of us and therefore of crucial importance.

Today's story, however, is different from politicians trying to hijack Social Security for their rich friends on Wall Street. This is about a more ordinary kind of crook stealing people's monthly benefit. This recent news report from the ABC affiliate in Baltimore succinctly explains how the scam works.

If for some reason you can't view this video, here's a good print explanation from CNN:

”In a new scam targeting seniors and the disabled, identity thieves are fraudulently rerouting Social Security benefits to their own bank accounts and prepaid debit cards.

“It's pretty straightforward: Identity thieves get their hands on the personal information they need, like a full name and bank account number. Then they contact the Social Security Administration and request that payments be rerouted to their own accounts.”

How do scammers get that information to reroute Social Security checks? In September, Patrick J. O'Carroll Jr., the inspector general of the Social Security Administration (SSA), explained during a Congressional hearing:

”Many of these fraud schemes begin with a phone call or email announcing that you have won a lottery, but you must first send money or provide your bank account information so the company can deposit your winnings.

“The truth is, no legitimate company will make an unsolicited call asking for money upfront in exchange for additional winnings; or for personal information like a Social Security number or bank account number.”

Mr. O'Carroll made an additional warning in a recent fraud advisory issued from his office:

”In the most recent scam, identity thieves pose as government officials in an attempt to convince you to provide personal and financial information. They may claim to be SSA employees - or FEMA employees, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy - and ask for Social Security numbers and bank information to 'make sure' that you can receive your benefits.”

Now, you may think you would not fall for these scams but the fact is the majority of fraud victims (maybe 80 percent) are people age 65 and older.

Just as I was beginning to write this post yesterday, an email arrived from Cop Car of Cop Car's Beat with a link to a story explaining why old people so often fall for this stuff:

”One explanation may lie in a brain region that serves as a built-in crook detector. Called the anterior insula, this structure - which fires up in response to the face of an unsavory character - is less active in older people, possibly making them less cagey than younger folks, a new study finds.”

I'm not sure I buy the idea of a crook detector built into our brains, let alone that it works less well in elders, but you can read about it here if you want to know more about the study. I'm waiting for additional research.

Back to this growing scam to re-route Social Security check deposits.

Amazingly, it takes only a single phone call to the Social Security Administration to change the account to which your check is deposited. In the past couple of months there have been Congressional hearings about this and how to fix it. New York Senator Charles Schumer issued this statement:

"It shouldn't take just one phone call and a scrap of information for a thief to reroute Social Security payments to a fake bank account. Social Security is a lifeline to seniors, and a thief shouldn't be able to sever that line with a snap of their finger."

He's right but it is still going on. So while we wait for Congress and/or the Social Security Administration to implement a solution, here's my advice:

  1. Never respond to people you don't know who ask for financial information by telephone. Your answer to such requests should be an automatic no and an immediate hang up

  2. In the case of email, delete the message without responding

And here is something you can do now – block electronic access to your Social Security account. As that SSA webpage notes – this is important:

”When you do this, no one, including you, will be able to see or change your personal information on the Internet or through our automated telephone service.”

There may be good reasons you do not want to do that, but the option is there.

There is no story at The Elder Storytelling Place today.

National Call In Day – Right Now

category_bug_politics.gif Last week, I asked you to write the White House and Congress about no cuts to Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid in the fiscal cliff budget talks. Today I am asking you to telephone your senators and Congress person with the same message: no cuts to Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.

National Call In Day 2012

President Obama offered Congress a budget free of cuts to these programs. On Monday, House Majority Leader John Boehner made a counteroffer which includes:

Increase eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. There are good reasons not to do this. Just one of them is that healthcare coverage after retirement and before Medicare would be made prohibitively expensive by private insurance companies.

Change the method of calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases (COLA) to the chained CPI which would immediately reduce benefits to current recipients.

Extend the Bush tax cuts. That is, more billions for billionaires.

That's right. The Boehner proposal is to avoid the fiscal cliff by cutting elders' earned benefits while further enriching billionaires.

The Republican Congress is simply not a serious body and the White House rightly rejected the entire counteroffer.

Social Security is sound for many years to come. It needs only minor tweaks (NOT chained CPI) to ensure it will be there for the next 75 years.

Medicare/Medicaid are an entirely different matter - more fraught and more complex - which is exactly the reason changes should not be rushed in a hastily built budget done with no thought to consequences.

What I want to see before we change a penny of those programs is some solid research, study, review and hearings with experts the country can trust. But that's for later.

Today, we must tell Congress not to cut Social Security and Medicare. Don't whine to me that your Congress people won't listen. It is number of us, number of phone calls that count and all members of Congress absolutely do keep a list of the incoming calls and what they say.

This makes it hard for members of Congress to claim they are representing their constituency by voting to slash benefits when the messages delivered to their offices run exactly the opposite. So make your voice heard today in Washington.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) has a dedicated legislative hotline for you: 800.998.0180.

I've done it and it's easy. Just follow the voice instructions and you can't go wrong leaving a short, to-the-point message with your senators, representative and the White House. I got a “busy circuits” message the first time I phoned but two minutes later it went right through.

Please take the time to telephone today. Do your part to ensure that Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid are not destroyed by Republicans and their rich benefactors.

National Call In Day 2012

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Rules

Youthiness in Old Age

category_bug_journal2.gif Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert had truthiness – his term for something that kinda, sorta seems to be true but is not. Time Goes By has youthiness.

For the near decade I've been writing Time Goes By, I've been looking for a better way to explain why cosmetic surgery, Botox and other means people of age use to try to appear younger seem stupid to me. The youthiness aspect helps clarify it.

I don't much like such phrases as “young at heart” either. What's wrong with an old heart? I would argue that an old one is superior because it is experienced: it has loved more, been broken more often and despite that awful sense of betrayal, has found its way to recovery usually with a gain in the special kind of wisdom of the heart.

All around us, without let up, old people are admonished to keep striving. Go back to work, start a business, run a marathon, join a club, learn a language, write a book, take up a new hobby, meet new people. Everywhere we turn are people – always much younger – telling us that it is important to stay young and how to do it. Hint: keep busy, busy, busy because if you don't, you will be – horror of horrors - old.

The idea is that if you try really hard to behave like a young person and spend lots of money trying to look like one (never mind that your appearance becomes a grotesque facsimile of a human being), you will regain your youth.

Or, youthiness – as much a pretense of youth as truthiness is of truth.

But what if old age is its own time of life, as important and interesting and fruitful and different from previous years as adolescence is from infancy, and adulthood from adolescence? I believe it is.

Time now is becoming short for me. Yes, I can hear certain TGB readers (rarely the ones as old as the 80-somethings) saying, “Oh, Ronni, you're not old; you're only 71.”

Well, you are wrong. According to standard actuarial tables, a woman my age is into her final quintile of life with an average of 14 or 15 years to go. That's old and it would be dishonest to deny it.

More importantly, I am eager to find a good way to live this final part of life. I don't want to waste it trying to be something I am not or pretending I can or like to do things that are not so easy anymore or as interesting.

A small example: a few years ago, I was walking down a street in Greenwich Village with a 30-year-old friend. Everybody walks fast in New York and during my years there I was no exception. But on this day, I was about 63 or 64 then, I was breathing hard (while trying to hide it) and having trouble keeping up with my young friend.

What did I do? I stopped to look in the window of a shoe store. She and I both love shoes so it was not out of character for me or a reason for my friend to question my pause on our way to wherever we were heading.

But what was really happening, I realize now, is that I still bought the idea of youthiness then and was loath to admit that I couldn't keep up that speed for as long as my friend could.

Youthiness. Pretense. Maybe it could bring on an early death.

What I want from this stage of my life is to fully live it, be in it, wallow in it. I want to understand its uniqueness, discover how it is different from what came before, experience the changes – whatever they may be - and come to know what it is to be old.

I believe that our cultural youthiness is antithetical to that goal. That if I follow the widespread dishonesty of pretending to be young, I will miss something significant in life. What a terrible shame that would be.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: A Home for Christmas

Holiday Gifts for Elders 2012

Since most TGB readers are older than 50 or 60, it struck me for the first time today, after many years of preparing this annual shopping list, that maybe we're buying for ourselves – that is, a few of us may have relatives in their eighties and nineties and friends too - but it must be that often we are buying for our elder contemporaries.

That brings me to one of the truest true things about getting old: we age at dramatically different rates so that sometimes 50- and 60-somethings have conditions and debilities that cause them to need a lot of help while some 80-somethings and older are, for example, caregivers to people much younger.

That's just to remind us that it is important to consider the physical condition of the people for whom we are finding gifts and doing so can make it easier to choose things they will like and use.

Each year when I do this, readers leave many additional suggestions in the comments and you are urged to do that again. Today, I have incorporated some of your good ideas from last year.

KEEP IN MIND (repeated from 2011)
I worry a lot about elders with small, fixed incomes so gifts of practical, everyday items that seem too mundane to be classified as gifts can be more welcome that you might think. They free up money for food, clothing and medical needs.

How about a basket – a big one – stuffed with a year's supply each of hand soap, bathroom tissue, Kleenex, sink and tub cleaner, batteries in several sizes, paper towels, trash bags, kitchen sponges, half a dozen new dish towels, etc. If there is a cat or two, include a year's supply of kitty litter or for dogs, a similar amount of pickup bags. Anyone on a tight budget resents how much these necessities cost.

“Stuff” becomes less important as we get older so be careful to find gifts, whether useful or entertaining, that will not complicate anyone's life. This is particularly true of elders who have downsized.

If you ask what they want, many elders will tell you, “Don't bother with me. I don't need anything.” Although that may be true sometimes, it's no fun. You might have to do some investigating, but there is always something another person will enjoy.

Before I get into category suggestions, there is one item I want to recommend for people you think will enjoy having it (maybe, like me, for yourself): A poster of An Elders Pledge. It is brand new and I just got mine back from the framer's on Saturday:

Elders Pledge

You may recall, as I mentioned earlier this year, the Pledge was written by the TGB Elderlaw Attorney, Orrin Onken. The poster is 12 inches by 36 inches and can be ordered from the Syracuse Cultural Workers website for $15 unframed plus shipping.

A word of caution: the website is slow to load so be patient and when I ordered mine, I did not get an emailed receipt. Nevertheless, it arrived in about week and I'm thrilled to have it on the wall next to my desk.

Mobility is an issue for many elders. Some have given up driving and some can't walk as easily as they once did. So consider vouchers with the local taxi company.

Prepare a certificate for a certain number of trips with you doing the driving during the year to the supermarket and other shops your loved one likes. Throw in lunch or dinner when you do it and then help with toting everything into the house and storing it all.

Tickets to the local movie theater or maybe the local theater group with of course, the taxi vouchers to match. Better, include tickets for yourself and go together.

How about a promise of three or four dinners cooked at your loved one's home during the year. For people with mobility difficulties, having company on certain evenings is a wonderful event to look forward to especially when someone else is cooking and cleaning up.

If you are handy around the house, check to see what fixes are needed and commit to getting them done. Often there are little things that cost a fortune to hire a handyman, electrician, plumber, etc. to do so if you have the expertise it is a good thing for your elder.

Showing up regularly to do the laundry throughout the year can be a big help and it creates an opportunity for a regular visit and chat.

Getting and decorating a tree can be impossible for some elders. If you know that someone on your list would love to have a tree of his or her own, buy one and spend an evening helping to decorate it – or maybe put up some outdoor lights if they would be welcome.

Of course, you must help take it all down after the holidays.

Does someone you love need the lawn cut regularly? That's a good gift for spring and summer along with other gardening help in the season and washing windows after winter is done.

If someone who loves gardenng has downsized and no longer has a yard, consider some indoor gardening – flowers for color or, perhaps, an herb kit for the kitchen. Another reader suggestion from last year is bird seed and replacement bird feeders.

You get the idea. There are a lot of things in this category.

E-readers have become a popular item with people older than 40 or 50 so if your friend or relative doesn't have one, this can be a good idea. They must, of course, have a computer to download books and magazines and you must be prepared to show them how to do that.

Certainly throw in a couple of books with it that you know will be enjoyed and do point out the hundreds of free books on most download sites. I think this is a sensational idea for readers who have downsized and don't have the room anymore for bookshelves.

For other reading, you might consider a high-end magnifying glass. I realize it's kind of low tech, but it is an enormous help with small print that, unlike on computers, cannot be enlarged. I have one next to the bed where I read a lot and another on my desk which frequently gets carried to the kitchen for the small print on food packages.

I could go on with a long list but instead I'm going to send you over to Laurie Orlov's excellent overview of 2012 Tech Gifts for Seniors. Since 2008, Ms. Orlov as been running the website Aging in Place Technology Watch and I don't believe there is anything she doesn't know about elders and technology.

Oh wait – another technology gift – batteries, lots and lots of batteries for all the things we have nowadays that need them.

Last year, a reader suggested a basket of personal items:

”How about a basket of favorite skin products, lotions, hand creams, foot creams, sunscreen,” wrote Celia. “Look about when you visit and see what they use, men too, my Dad had the driest skin.”

Kathi Williams suggested flashlights which is a terrific suggestion for people who live in areas where the power is known to go out. Several flashlights for various rooms is a good idea.

Carol from CO suggested gift certificates for massages. A great idea; just be sure travel to and from is arranged if necessary.

See if your friend or relative has a particular kind of clothing that needs renewing – a favorite style of robe, slippers, sweaters, etc.

For women, a favorite cologne or perfume – an item that may seem to expensive an indulgence on a small income.

Last year, a reader mentioned night lights. Take a look around next time you visit and see if they may be needed. There are simple ones and playful, fantastical ones that are fun.

If an elder lives alone, consider a personal medical emergency service. Anyone, no matter how active and vital, can find themselves in need of emergency help with no telephone in reach.

A purchase of one of these alert gizmos with the service contract paid for each year can be a good peace-of-mind gift. A large number of companies provide this service and you should check them out thoroughly and get recommendations before subscribing.

Also, installing grab bars in the bathroom is a good safety idea that is likely to be appreciated.

Last year, a couple of people mentioned a collection of greeting cards for a variety of occasions and don't forget the postage stamps to go with them.

If you can afford it, you could hire a cleaning service for once a month or if that's too expensive, maybe one big cleaning event for spring.

If you are giving practical gifts or home-made certificates for trips to stores or the movies or taxi vouchers, be sure to include a token physical gift, something to unwrap. It doesn't need to cost much: a scented candle, a favorite candy, a pretty scarf, a bottle of wine.

Somehow, choosing gifts for elders has gotten a reputation for being difficult. It doesn't need to be and these should give you a good starting place.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chuck Nyren: A Friend Passed Away

ELDER MUSIC: Songs About Cities - New York

PeterTibbles75x75This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.

New York City

This is the start of some columns consisting of the songs about various cities. These will be rather intermittent, nothing like the “years” series where they came regularly every second week. No, these will appear when I write them. As a nod to Ronni, the Web Mistress, I’m starting with New York.

For this category I found a bunch of different songs that had the same name. I’ll start with two of them with the name New York, New York - so good they named it twice.

The first is by GERARD KENNY.

Gerard Kenny

Gerard was born in New York and did the club circuits in that town with a little success. In the seventies, he decided to go to England where he found considerable success not just with the song we have today, but he also wrote and sang themes for TV programs there.The one that most springs to my mind is that from Minder.

Anyway, here he is with New York New York.

♫ Gerard Kenny - New York New York

Now, a little known singer from the thirties (and other decades as well, I believe). After much searching, I could find out very little about him so I'll just play his track. His name is FRANK SINATRA and his song is also called New York, New York.

Frank Sinatra

♫ Frank Sinatra - New York New York

The INSECT TRUST is one of those bands who have gained legendary status, almost mythical as if they didn’t exist. However, they were real.

Insect Trust

Back in 1970 when I was living in Berkeley, I went to one of my local record shops and spied this album called “Hoboken Saturday Night.”

“That looks interesting,” I thought, and bought it. It turned out to be entertaining but over the years it got relegated to the back stalls. Years later, decades probably, I saw that this album was one of the rarest around and was worth megabucks. I should have done something about it at the time because these days with releases of everything on CD and mp3, it’s out there somewhere if you care to search.

I liked it enough to buy my own CD copy as well. Here is a track from that album written by the great writer Thomas Pynchon, a song he included in that seminal work of his, V.  The song is The Eyes of a New York Woman.

♫ Insect Trust - The Eyes of a New York Woman

I’ve always found GARLAND JEFFREYS a particularly interesting artist. Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, is at one with me in that regard. Indeed, I was playing this track and she came in and said that I had to include it.

I was going to anyway, but it was good to get some confirmation.

Garland Jeffreys

Garland was born in Brooklyn and majored in art history at Syracuse University where he met and became good friends with Lou Reed. He played all the usual places in New York and managed to get a record deal. His records are really interesting but they don’t sell very well.

His most famous song until now is Wild in the Streets. This has been covered by many artists. Garland’s song today is New York Skyline.

♫ Garland Jeffreys - New York Skyline

HARRY NILSSON’s biggest hit was a cover of a Fred Neil song. That must have miffed him as he was essentially a songwriter.

Harry Nilsson

Anyway, that’s not what we’re about today. Harry was a drinking and general carousing buddy of John Lennon’s (and Ringo Starr’s as well). It probably contributed to his relatively early demise. However, this is his New York song, I Guess the Lord Must be in New York City.

♫ Harry Nilsson - I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City

BUD POWELL was born and raised in Harlem, so he’s a real New Yorker.

Bud Powell

His styling was influenced by the great Thelonious Monk who became a close friend of his. Along with Monk, he was one of the developers of bebop jazz (together with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, of course).

Bud’s father was a pianist and he taught the young Bud the rudiments of the instrument. Dad then went and hired a teacher so Bud could learn classical piano. As so often happens, he couldn’t get a gig in the classical field so he turned to jazz.

He led a really interesting, if short, life that I’ll delve into at another time. Here Bud plays Autumn in New York.

♫ Bud Powell - Autumn in New York

MEL TORMÉ has recorded a whole album (and probably more) of songs about New York. It’s really a matter of choosing which to include.

Mel Torme

Mel probably needs no introduction for most readers of this column so I’ll just play Sunday In New York.

♫ Mel Torme - Sunday In New York

Here’s one from BOB DYLAN’s very first album, recorded way back in 1962.

Bob Dylan

That album had only two of Bob’s songs; the rest were covers of mostly blues tunes, a number of which he pinched from Dave Van Ronk. It was his second album where he made his breakthrough.

However, from that first album, one of his own, Talkin' New York, when he was still trying to be Woody Gurhrie.

♫ Bob Dylan - Talkin' New York

JENNIFER WARNES is another of those artists whom I’ll include in a column if at all possible.

Jennifer Warnes

Jennifer is probably best known to most people, if they know her at all, for the songs she’s done for various films with such artists as Bill Medley and Joe Cocker. I came by her from her albums, which are terrific. Her song is from “The Hunter” and it’s called Big Noise, New York.

♫ Jennifer Warnes - Big Noise, New York

JIM CROCE was more associated with Chicago than New York; that’s probably the reason for the title of his contribution today.

Jim Croce

Jim’s song is New York's Not My Home and I have to agree with his sentiment. Sorry Ronni, but I’m more a San Francisco person. Oh, Melbourne too.

♫ Jim Croce - New York's Not My Home

INTERESTING STUFF: 1 December 2012

Improv Everywhere is a New York City prank collective that likes to cause a little chaos now and then. On Black Friday, they staged a rush on a 99 cent store. Take a look – the reporter is an actress in on the joke. (Hat tip to Nikki Lindquist of From Where I Sit)



We all use them, variations on the smilie or frownie, and it feels like emoticons have been around forever. Not so and The New York Times has tracked down the inventor:

“'The first line of my obituary is going to mention the smiley face,' says Scott Fahlman, who would rather be remembered for his research into artificial intelligence.”

It was 1982 when Mr. Fahlman was a young professor at Carnegie Mellon and he decided the infant internet could use a “'joke marker' to take the sting out of mocking statements or pranks."

A tiny little piece of history. Go read more about it here.

For all the nearly 40 years I lived in New York City, the top of the Empire State Building was lit up in special colors for holidays: red, white and blue on the Fourth of July; red and green and Christmas; green for St. Patrick's Day, etc.

This past week, the venerable building got a color facelift, new LED lighting that can produce millions of shades of color. Take a look:

For a number of years, someone who calls him/herself the Freeway Blogger, based in the Los Angeles area, has been hanging notices – often about global warming and climate change – where drivers can't miss them.

”Here's how it works,” says the website. “When you put a sign on the freeway people will read it until someone takes it down. Depending on its size, content and placement, it can be seen by hundreds of thousands of people.”

Here is one of the Freeway Blogger's Thanksgiving signs:


Climate stuff frightens me more than anything else I can think of – so much so that to think about it at all paralyzes me so mostly I don't. For people with more integrity about this, Jan Adams keeps up with climate news in her Warming Wednesdays series at her blog.

You can see a bunch of additional signs the Freeway Bloggler posted on Thanksgiving here along with many past signs.

British researchers have used 4D scans to determine that babies yawn in the womb.

”Researchers...said they think yawning is a developmental process which could potentially give doctors a new way to check on a baby's health.”

Take a look:

You can read more about fetus yawning here.

In our recent election, the states of Colorado and Washington approved measures to remove restrictions on marijuana use by adults.

In preparation for the new law's inception in Washington state on 6 December, the police department in their largest city posted online an intentionally funny but also useful instruction page titled, Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle, in a Q&A format. A couple of examples:

Q: Can I legally carry around an ounce of marijuana?

A: According to the recently passed initiative, beginning December 6th, adults over the age of 21 will be able to carry up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use...

Q: Well, where can I legally buy pot, then?

A: The Washington State Liquor Control Board is working to establish guidelines for the sale and distribution of marijuana. The WSLCB has until December 1, 2013 to finalize those rules. In the meantime, production and distribution of non-medical marijuana remains illegal.

Q: SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?

A: No.

You can read the entire Marijwhatnow? A Guide to Legal Marijuana Use In Seattle here.

Wow, did this dog get lucky. It happened in Mason County, Washington when, due to heavy rains, rivers burst their banks and salmon wound up swimming across roads.

"...that's just fine with at least one local dog. The pooch, who must be thinking that Christmas came early, wanders into the road, snags a salmon like he's at a lunch buffet and trots off down the road. No work necessary."

From my favorite historical image website, Retronaut, comes images from 1870s that closely resemble today's LOLCAT internet meme. Here's one:


And here's another:


You can see a whole lot more 130-year-old cat photos at Retronaut.

Here at Interesting Stuff, we have been following Henri the depressed black cat as each of his videos turns up on the web. You may be up to date, but I had missed this one:

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.