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How House of Cards May be Helping to Undermine Social Security

Although I am a big fan of the first two seasons of House of Cards on Netflix, as I mentioned last week, I was bored silly with the third season and watched only the first two episodes.

That doesn't mean I didn't pay close attention to one terrible part.

The centerpiece of the second episode, in a public speech President Frank Underwood repeats his diatribe to his staff about a bill titled America Works that he wants to be his legacy. It contains a series of familiar falsehoods about Social Security.

Real-life conservatives and Congressional Republicans must be wetting their pants in joy as they realize that Underwood's purpose is exactly what theirs has been for decades – to kill off Social Security.

That it may be but apparently it is also much more. Before I go into that, take a look:

Perhaps you recognized the talking points of the rightwing attack on Social Security since its beginnings in 1935, such as using the word “entitlement” to make it seem that Social Security is a giveaway, a handout, a freebie.

Certainly you know that it is not. Everyone pays into Social Security all their working lives. It is an “earned benefit.” Remember that, repeat that, every time you hear someone say the word entitlement.

You might think that killing Social Security, along with Medicare and Medicaid, in a TV series is nothing more than a plot point for a delightfully diabolical character with whom millions of viewers have developed a love/hate relationship; it just proves how evil he is, right?

Reminiscent of President George W. Bush's failed attempt to privatize Social Security ten years ago, President Underwood says we cannot afford Social Security. As you well know, the truth is otherwise. There is 2.8 billion in the trust fund and it will take only a few minor tweaks ensure the program for decades to come.

So Underwood's fictional proposal is built on real-world lies we hear again and again from Republicans and there is no one in the cast to refute him. Is this deliberate, do you think?

Richard Eskow, a senior fellow with Campaign for America's Future, seems to have found a crucial connection between this fictional television program and real-life lobbyists for killing Social Socurity:

”Episode One’s credits list Jim Kessler as a consultant. Kessler is, as his IMDB biography notes, the co-founder of Third Way. That’s a Wall Street-funded, so-called 'centrist' Democratic organization with a mission: to promote neoliberal economics and make the world safe (at least financially) for its wealthy patrons.

“Third Way has consistently misrepresented the financial condition of Social Security, misdirected the public debate about Medicare, and generally promoted the socially liberal but fiscally conservative worldview of its patrons.

[Ronni here: I can confirm that: I've been watching Third Way closely since they hit me up for a donation when the organization was first founded.]

”Kessler and co-founder Jon Cowan,” continues Eskow, “carefully tiptoed their way through the minefield of public opinion for years, pretending to be technocrats rather than de facto lobbyists for powerful interests.

"They finally lost their balance last year. When confronted with the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the populist wing of the Democratic Party, they lashed out at Sen. Warren with an intemperate Wall Street Journal op-ed."

But they did get their agenda written into this wildly popular television drama.

You should read Eskow's piece in its entirety. It is enlightening.

Meanwhile, The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) will tomorrow, Thursday, deliver 2 million petition signatures “urging Congress to reject attempts to target Social Security and Medicare benefits for cuts” and instead strengthen it.

As NCPSSM president and CEO notes,

“The House GOP leadership targeted Social Security on day one of the new Congress. So-called fiscal hawks also propose cutting Social Security & Medicare to pay for even higher defense’s clear that workers’ hard earned benefits in Social Security continue to be the go-to political pawn for conservatives in Congress.

"Americans of all ages and political persuasions support common-sense proposals, like lifting the payroll tax cap and reversing income inequality, to improve benefits in Social Security. They will continue to deliver that message loudly and clearly to Congress in every way they can...”

The delivery of the petitions will take place tomorrow 12 March at 10:30AM EDT in Room 215 of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. In attendance, among others, will be Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The NCPSSM works hard all year round to educate voters and members of Congress about the success and importance of Social Security and Medicare.

I'm not asking or even suggesting but if you think you would like to help the NCPSSM continue its good work, you could do that here and here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Vicki E. Jones: Want Appa Duce

Dylan and Dench on Growing Old

[A TUESDAY EXTRA:: Before I get to today's story - remember when, in Saturday's Interesting Stuff, I told you that I would, on Saturday's, post John Oliver's weekly Last Week Tonight essay AND in a separate item I bitched about Daylight Savings Time?

They came together on Oliver's Sunday night HBO program with this little, three-minute rant about Daylight Savings time. I loved it; maybe you will too.]

There ya go. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

One of the unavoidable things about getting old is that our public contemporaries – the writers, actors, singers, songwriters, artists and other celebrities who help define our generation – grow old with us.

Given our culture's abhorrence of age, almost without exception celebrities do everything they can to maintain as youthful an appearance as possible for as long as possible. But as with everyone, eventually it catches up with them.

They are as different in response as all the rest of us.

Just this month while flogging their latest professional ventures, two of my favorites answered some questions about getting old.

Eighty-year-old Judi Dench stars in the current film release, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which I expect to be (I haven't seen it yet) as much a fun romp as the original.

Millie Garifield's son, Steve, sent me a link to Ms. Dench's interview with People magazine. I don't subscribe so I'm stuck with the short excerpt on the People website in which she makes her position clear:

"There's nothing good about being my age, she says with a smile. “Someone said to me, 'You have such a wealth of knowledge,' and I just said 'I'd rather be young and know nothing, actually.' Bugger the wealth of knowledge."

She modifies that slightly with this, that many people can agree with:

"I don't think about slowing down," says Dench, whose husband, actor Michael Williams, passed away in 2001. "So celebrate the things that you can do and also try and do new things. I believe in that tremendously.”

Over at AARP The Magazine, 73-year-old Bob Dylan is holding forth. He has just released a new album, Shadows of the Night - 10 songs from The Great American Songbook, each one once recorded by Frank Sinatra.

”When you start doing these songs,” says Dylan, “Frank's got to be on your mind. Because he is the mountain...

“To be mentioned in the same breath as him must be some sort of high compliment,” he continues. “As far as touching him goes, nobody touches him. Not me, not anyone else.”

Although Dylan does not appear to be slowing down – in addition to the new album, he has been touring and performing on a relentless schedule for years – he sounds pragmatic about growing old:

”Look, you get older. Passion is a young man's game. Young people can be passionate. Older people gotta be more wise. I mean, you're around awhile, you leave certain things to the young. Don't try to act like you're young. You could really hurt yourself.”

And he sounds like he feels a lot like I do about happiness:

”OK, a lot of people say there is no happiness in this life and certainly there's no permanent happiness. But self-sufficiency creates happiness.

“Just because you're satisfied one moment – saying yes, it's a good meal, makes me happy – well, that's not going to necessarily be true the next hour.

“Life has its ups and downs, and time has to be our partner, you know? Really, time is your soul mate. I'm not exactly sure what happiness even means, to tell the truth. I don't know if I could personally define it.”

Dylan's new album contains such standards as Autumn Leaves, That Lucky Old Sun and this one, The Night We Called It a Day, for which he made this amazing noir video:

Dylan is only five or six weeks younger than I am and like me, he had to have grown up with these songs. As Ms. Dench advises, he's doing new things with them in his old age.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Old Age: The Last Stage

Disliking Our Mothers

My mention last week that I did not particularly like my mother caused a bit of a stir, enough so that Katie called it out in her own comment:

”What really strikes me though, throughout today's conversation, is how many people don't seem to like their mothers very much (and dread looking like them). I'm wondering why that is?”

She then asked if we could have a discussion about this phenomenon. Jackie followed on:

”I was always envious of people who did like their mothers. Mine was not a bad looking person, but a small source of pleasure that I favored my father's side of the family in both looks and temprament.”

Pat Horridge said that although she didn't mind looking like her mother who was an attractive woman,

” independent self continuously looked for the ways that we were different. As you can well imagine, that often caused considerable friction between us.”

Like many of us, Celia left a lot unsaid when she wrote that she had a difficult relationship with her mother:

”She was a pretty girl, had a difficult young life, but in some old pictures she looked happy. I try to remember her that way when I get those old negative feelings.”

Ann Shaw says she sees bits of her mother when she look in a mirror and finds it “creepy.”

If I am not reading her wrong, Charlotte Dahl implies that mother-daughter relationships are inherently difficult: “At least it's been so in my family,” she writes.

There were enough such comments that a check-in with dr. google for “disliking your mother” seemed prudent. It is a fairly big topic on the web and there appear to be even more returns for the much tougher, “hating your mother.”

Many were from teenagers and 20-somethings who are likely to outgrow the feeling but there is enough from people 50 and older to know we are on to something.

In my case, I didn't actively dislike my mother so much as having nothing to talk with her about. When we finished discussing our cats and exchanging a recipe or two, we were done so it is disinterest, I think, more than dislike.

The bigger problem, the reason I seldom visited her in California and then for no more than three days is that she was a drunk. A functional drunk – she succeeded at responsible office jobs until she retired at age 70 – but a drunk nonetheless.

When on occasion it was suggested that she might want to cut back, she insisted she wasn't an alcoholic because she, unlike “real” drunks, remembered to eat. Yeah. Right.

And, she was a belligerant drunk. Of the politically right-wing variety. If such an interest can be genetic, I come by my passion for politics honestly. I suppose it is the one thing beyond cats and cooking my mother and I shared except I landed at the opposite end of the political spectrum.

That made it an impossible connection because there was nothing to say, both of us stuck in our positions. Further, I do not like to be around drunk people; I don't know what to do with them. Undoubtedly, it started with my mother.

There is more that made my mother unlikable but that's none of your business. NWD left a comment last week in reference to my stories about caring for my mother when she was dying:

”...your goodness came through and the grit it took to see it through,” she wrote. “You may not have loved her but what you did belies that. Maybe in the long run it is better to be counted upon than to love someone.”

There was never any question that I would care for my mother when the time came. It's not like she was abusive and not liking her cannot be, for me, a reason to abandon a mother (or any other family member) when whatever extremity arises.

As to the none-of-your-business part above, my mother kept herself to herself – she was of that generation - and just because she's dead doesn't seem to be a good enough reason for me to overshare as too often happens on the internet.

I respect my mother a great deal for how she handled the slings and arrows life threw her way. I just didn't like her much.

There is that age-old truth about choosing our friends and being stuck with our families. It sounds unkind, ungrateful to admit to disliking our mothers but I don't believe it is anything to be ashamed of.

Christianity notwithstanding, the act of giving birth does not confer sainthood – nor love, nor likability. And that's okay.

Every comment last week about this was from a woman. I wonder if some men feel the same ambivalence about their mothers. Or, for that matter, if any of us do about fathers. (There were just as many google returns for “disliking your father.”)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Winter Woes

ELDER MUSIC: Franz Schubert

Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.


FRANZ SCHUBERT, born in 1797 in Vienna, was a child prodigy. He probably had to be as he died at only 31. In spite of that he wrote an astonishing amount of music in numerous genres.

His father was a teacher and a bit of an amateur musician who taught young Franz the basics. He later had a bit of formal tuition, but not much.

Franz played several instruments, most notably piano and viola. He'd play this latter instrument in his family's string quartet – brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on violin and dad on cello. This was before he was a teenager and he was already writing string quartets for the family to perform.

This is one of those, the second movement of the String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, D. 18.

♫ String Quartet No. 1 (2)

Franz's compositions really weren't known to the general public in his lifetime, only to a small circle of friends and admirers. After he died he was discovered by the next generation of composers – Mendelssohn, Liszt, Schumann and Brahms in particular and they championed his work.

A bit late for Franz but that's the way it goes. His music has remained in the concert repertoire ever since.


Franz wrote a whole bunch of German dances – he liked to keep his friends entertained. The one I've selected is the German Dance No 1 in C major.

It sounds like a minuet to me in parts and gets a bit frantic in other parts. They must have been good dancers to keep up.

♫ German Dance No 1 in C major


It wasn't just string quartets that Franz was interested in; he wrote quartets for other instruments too, as well as quintets (most famously the Trout) and other works for small groups.

In this case it's a Quartet for Flute, Guitar, Viola and Cello in G Major, D96. The first movement. The flute's a bit dominant for my taste, but that's probably just me.

♫ Quartet for Flute, Guitar, Viola and Cello in G Major, D96 (1)


Franz wrote a bunch of Valses Sentimentales - sentimental waltzes. These are works for solo piano and I've included two of them because they are quite short, each less than a minute long.

They are both played by Paolo Bordoni and they come from D779. The first is No. 24 in B-flat Major.

♫ Valses Sentimentales, D779 - No. 24 in B-flat Major

The second is No. 32 in C Major.

♫ Valses Sentimentales, D779 - No. 32 in C Major


Franz really wanted to be an opera composer – he attempted 18 but finished only about half of them. However, if I were not sitting here at the keyboard with the intertube to hand, I wouldn't have been able to name one of them. None has entered the regularly performed repertoire.

Die Verschworenen (or The Conspirators) isn't an opera as we know it, more a song cycle or mini-opera. This is one that was successful for him, unfortunately, that success was posthumous.

The censors didn't like it possibly due to its title, they insisted on changing it. These days it's reverted to its original title. Here is the overture. It's in the catalogue as D787.

♫ Die Verschworenen (Overture), D. 787

Franz is renowned for his songs (or lieder, to those who wish to feel superior to the rest of us). More often than not these are sung by men but I prefer women singing them.

In this case, it doesn't get any better than JESSYE NORMAN.

Jessye Norman

Jessye sings for us An die Natur, D372 ("To Nature"), one of several songs he wrote about this topic. He wrote songs about just about every topic.

♫ Jessye Norman - An die Natur, D.372

Franz started 13 or 14 or 15 symphonies (depends on what you count), many of them unfinished. The one we know as The Unfinished Symphony is just the most finished of the unfinished ones.

However, today I'm considering the ones he completed. He has at least one symphony that I include in my short list of the world's greatest symphonies, and that is number 9, "The Great.” In this case the nickname is well deserved.

Having said that, I'm not going to use anything from that one, as "great" not only describes the quality of the work, it also tells us about the length of it as well.

So, on to another not quite as good as that one but really worthy of inclusion, his Symphony number 5 in B flat major, D 485. The first movement of that one.

♫ Symphony No. 5 (1)


The Fantasy in C major, D934 has six movements. Okay, a couple of those are quite short, barely a minute long. However, it was too long for many Viennese when it was first performed and many walked out before it was finished (including the reviewer for the newspaper).

It's really only about 24 minutes long. I have included the second movement, not one of the really short ones. It's a work for violin and piano.

♫ Fantasy for Violin and Piano in C Major, D934 (2)


As I mentioned above, Franz started a bunch of symphonies, many of which he didn't finish. We have the scores of some of those and they are interesting in their own right, as well as a pointer to what might have been.

This is part of D936A, a bunch of Symphonic Fragments obviously destined to be a symphony in the key of D. It was probably going to be the second movement.

♫ Symphonic Fragments in D, D. 708A (2)

If one song is good, two are even better. This time it's MARIAN ANDERSON's turn.

Marian Anderson

This song is from an album called "Rare & Unpublished Recordings 1936-1952" which has her singing when her voice was at its peak (at the time when the appalling D.A.R. people refused to let her sing in any venue in Washington D.C.)

The song is Der Erlkonig, the words of which were written by Goethe, and several people put it to music. Franz was the most famous and best of those. He included it in his Opus 1, D328.

♫ Marian Anderson - Der Erlkonig



A short reminder that when you send email suggesting an item for this Saturday list, you must include the web address of your blog if you want me to link to it.

This is necessary even if I have linked to your blog in the past. Please don't make me go hunting for the name and URL.


I was 23 in 1964 and have no memory of a dance called The Nitty Gritty. But that doesn't mean much (see Friday's post). This is a clip of the dance from The Judy Garland Show of that year.

That's actor Peter Lawford with Judy introducing the dance. The song is by soul singer, Shirley Ellis. And the dancers look fantastic. Enjoy.


If I were into counting, I'm pretty sure I could come up with hundreds of newly published how-to-retire stories each day of the week. A lot of people can make a lot of money off elders and they're are working hard at it.

This couple, Michael and Debbie Campbell of Seattle, Washington, figured out their own way. They sold their sailboat, put their belongings in storage, rented their townhouse and took off to see the world via Airbnb where they live

”...for a week or more in one rental home before moving on to another,” reports The New York Times.

“They’ve stayed in a grand formal apartment in Florence, a graphic designer’s funky place in Paris and a farmhouse in Wexford, Ireland. Their home in Luxembourg had beautiful exposed beams and a loft; their apartment in Tallinn, Estonia, had a sauna.

“And when they arrived in Rome, they found themselves in the unusual position of not knowing which street door their home was behind.

“'We’re not on vacation,' Mr. Campbell said. 'We’re not retiring in the traditional sense. We’re out seeing the world in Airbnb apartments because that’s how we can afford to do it.'”

Here they are in France:


It is a grand, continuing adventure for the Collinses. You can read more here and you can follow their travels via their blog, Senior Nomads.


As the weeks go by, I keep expecting John Oliver to stumble on his Sunday night HBO show, Last Week Tonight, but so far not – even on a topic that puts a lot of people to sleep.

As Oliver says in this video essay, infrastructure isn't sexy but it should be and he has made it compelling. You must stick with it to the end for the excellent surprise.

If you don't subscribe to HBO, and most of us do not, you can watch Oliver's program on YouTube. Nevertheless, what he is doing is so uniquely important to everyone in the United States (and sometimes beyond) that I'm going to post each week's main video essay here.

And how about a big shout-out to HBO for not putting Last Week Tonight behind a paid firewall. No “official” news organization is producing anything remotely as important as Oliver and his team are doing and as many people as possible need to see these.


I've watched a number of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's videos about they they do everyday things like brush their teeth in space but somehow I missed this one:

”In space, your nose doesn't run and you can't cry. Tears will still form, but they don't fall. Instead, they congeal into sticky balls, Hadfield said.”

There is a whole lot more interesting information about hardships of daily life in the international space station at Business Insider.


This may turn out to be your best laugh of the day if not the weekend and you have Darlene Costner to thank. That's all I'm going to say – just watch.


I can't believe it's rolled around already. Here's a nifty little video reminder of Daylight Savings Time in the U.S.

I counted – we are now down to only four months of standard time. It makes no sense to me to continue with two times. I don't care which, just somebody pick one and stop making me change clocks twice a year.


Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson is the kind of teacher I wish I'd had for every class when I was in school and this video helps tell you why. Stick it out to the end or you'll miss the best part.


According to Raw Story, some researchers at the University of Wisconsin

“...incorporated tempos that we thought cats would find interesting — the tempo of purring in one piece and the tempo of suckling in another — and since cats use lots of sliding frequencies in their calls, the cat music had many more sliding notes than the human music,” said Charles Snowdon, the lead author of the study, which was accepted for publication by the journal Applied Animal Behavioral Science.

“The researchers found that cats approached the speaker, and often rubbed up against it, when their music was on.”

Here is a sample:

Ollie looked up from his nap in mild interest the first time I played it. After that, he behaved as though he's deaf.

You can read more about the cat music here and you can listen to addition tracks at

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 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 include the name of the blog and its URL.

Old and Forgetful

Old people are widely accused of many things that aren't true, among them that we can't adapt to change, that we all suffer from depression, and we don't like sex anymore. All are wrong.

But the one almost universal true thing “outsiders” - those who are still young – don't malign us for is our forgetfulness, the everyday kind that is unrelated to dementia. Yet for me it is, so far, the most annoying manifestation of old age.

My short term memory started going to hell long before I began this blog ten years ago and I've been writing about it from the beginning. The subject came up again on Wednesday at lunch with a friend.

I told her that I went to the store the other day for one, just one item, apples, and came home with four others but no apples. In the past, I have failed with three or more items I didn't write down; now all it takes is one.

And those hoary old stories we all have about not recalling why we've walked into the bedroom or kitchen, I said to her? It is no longer two or three or four times a week; now it's that many times a day.

We rolled our eyes a bit to acknowledge our mutual irritation and moved on.

Whether it's old age forgetfulness or pretty much any affliction, it feels good to know we are not alone. In this case, we have an esteemed poet to speak eloquently and humorously for us.

Billy Collins is an American-born poet who has been honored as U.S. Poet Laureate, New York State Poet Laureate and in 2005, with the Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry.

In addition, many of you may know him from his frequent appearances over the years on Garrison Keillor's radio program, A Prairie Home Companion.

This is Collins's poetic take on Forgetfulness or you can skip to below the text to watch the video animation of his reading.

But wait: whichever you do (or don't), be sure to read the last two paragraphs of this post.

Foregetfulness by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

This is the poet himself reading the poem:

Good god, I can't escape it. After I had written most of this post, I strolled over to YouTube to see if there was a reading of it. Watching it is what reminded me that I had already posted this poem and video back in 2012.

Interesting that neither the idea to post this, nor reading the text reminded me that it is a repeat. It was the visual that triggered the memory. (And I thought I was irritated before discovering this lapse. Hmmph.)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson Phillips: When the Price of Beauty is Too Steep to Pay

Elder High Achievers: Inspiration or Reverse Ageism?

The media keep us well supplied with tales of derring-do by high achieving elders. Former President George H.W. Bush skydives every five years, most recently on his 90th birthday. An 80-year-old Japanese man becomes the oldest to climb Mt. Everest.

Other elders are hailed for bungee jumping, finishing marathons, deep sea diving, snow boarding, weight lifting and so on, all at great ages.

Occasionally, some are extolled for writing a book or earning a degree or recording a music album but nothing gets media attention like old people taking on the physical challenges usually reserved for 20- or 30-somethings.

This week's chapter comes to us from Australia, a country that is a lot like the United States except they have a much better sense of humor about themselves than Americans who actually have zero sense of humor about themselves. But that's a story for another day.

In reporting about 100-year-old dancer, choreographer and costumer, Eileen Kramer, the Australian Ageing Agenda begins by pointing out the false stereotypes of age while noting the apparent irony that one of the most common responses to Ms. Kramer's story is surprise at what she can do at her age: “Wow if that’s what growing old is about, I can look forward to it.”

”An interesting remark,” the story continues, “because so many of us are fearful about ageing and there are good reasons for this.

“In 2015 we treasure our children and venerate beauty but have scant regard for elders. Research into negative stereotypes has shown that society’s poor opinions about ageing has (sic) negative impacts, not just on elders but on society itself.

“The answer to these problems lies in shifting our attitudes and it’s so easy to do.”

Well, maybe the answer is “easy” if you promote the fantasy that being old is exactly like being 35. But the actual result is that you are simultaneously shaming the majority of old people.

Yes, shaming less accomplished elders is what is really going on with the glorification of the few high achievers of advanced age who are lucky enough to remain unusually healthy or capable. And it IS luck.

Anyone who is 70 or 80 or 90 or more and wants to jump out of airplanes, climb mountains, run marathons or, like Eileen Kramer, continue to perform at 100, go for it. Everyone should follow his or her personal bliss whatever their age.

The problem is not with those ultra-active elders, it is with stories like this one that pay lip service to the widespread disrespect of worn-out stereotypes but hold up extreme elders as supposed inspiration, implying that the rest of us are slackers for not keeping up.

When that happens, they are employing reverse ageism. Old is a wonderful time, they are telling us, as long as you can (still) dance and run and ski and pretend to be young.

This repeated trope is not doing old people any favors.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Sulima Malzin: Ready or Not

Looking Like Your Mother (or Your Father)

A friend – a male friend – once told me that the older he gets the stronger his physical resemblance to his mother becomes and he's not pleased with that. Their relationship was uncomfortable at best.

I had never thought I looked like anyone in my family until a short while after my mother died in 1992. Walking along 59th Street in Manhattan one day, I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in a display window of Bergdorf Goodman.

“What's my mother doing here?” I thought as I did a double take.

Almost immediately, of course, I realized my error and laughed. But it wasn't something I was able to dismiss or, over the years, ignore.

Staring into a mirror did no good; I looked like me and no one else. Even so, the image I had seen in Bergdorf's window stayed with me.

Then one day, I caught a glancing peek at myself as I passed a mirror – much more clear than the reflection in window glass had been – and saw that it was the lower half of my face, mouth, jaw and chin mostly, that I recognized as my mother's. Or close enough.

It was in motion rather than stillness that the likeness between us became apparent to me and still does. I can catch it momentarily if I face away from a mirror and then turn my head toward it. For the millisecond or two it takes for the movement to stop, I see my mother.

Like my friend above, I am not comforted. It's not that I disliked my mother but I didn't particularly like her either. I respected her for certain choices she made, admired her for some others and I suppose I loved her. But if not related, we would not have bothered with one another; we had hardly anything in common.

None of that explains why I am disturbed, although only mildly so, to bear a resemblance to her and it surely doesn't matter. Except that in some small way it does.

This is my mother on her 70th birthday and me a week ago, about a month shy of my 74th birthday. What do you think – do we look like mother and daughter?

Mom and Me

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: Just Call Me Old

How Often Should Elders Bathe?

In the kitchen one morning not long ago, I heard an exchange on television about how often people bathe, how often they ought to bathe, etc. I couldn't see the screen but I heard a lot “eew” responses from the women hosts when someone said he skips showering now and then.

For the entire 48 years or so I went to work every weekday morning, my routine hardly varied: shower, shampoo, dress and makeup, feed the cat, breakfast and out of the house. Weekends too – the shower, shampoo and cat parts, anyway.

The daily shower and shampoo wasn't a deliberate choice; it was just something I had done while growing up without giving it a thought. Sleep, eat, shower are requirements. Everything else is optional.

The only times I didn't shower were when I was too sick, from time to time, to get out of bed.

After I retired – I don't know how long but likely two or three or maybe four years – I decided not to shower one morning. I don't recall why but I do remember that throughout the day, a frisson of guilt wafted through my mind now and then.

More time passed - months? years? - during which I occasionally gave the need for a daily shower some thought. Most days at my age I don't do anything that makes me sweaty or dirty or smelly - or so I think. Do I really need to wash my body every day, 365 days a year?

A couple of years ago, I reported here on a study finding that people of different ages have distinctive body odors and most participants could identify the odor of old people but said it was not unpleasant.

The researcher was reassuring about it:

”'For people getting older and fearing 'old person's smell,' Lundstrom says don't worry. 'As long as one showers when one should shower and you air out your abode [where body odors can accumulate], you are good to go,' he says.”

But therein is the question: how often should one shower?

The next day I followed up with more about elders and personal hygiene noting at length the reasons some formerly fastidious old people become smelly.

Me? I kept coming back to the idea that I don't do anything much to get dirty and when I do, I shower and there is this too: aren't we (humanity) wasting a lot of water washing ourselves more frequently that is really necessary?

Some experts suggest that showering too much can damage skin:

”Anytime you take a shower -- especially a hot one -- with soap and a scrubbing device like a washcloth or a loofah, you're undermining the integrity of your skin's horny layer,” reports Josh Clark at HowStuffWorks.

“The soap and the hot water dissolve the lipids in the skin and scrubbing only hastens the process. The more showers you take, the more frequently this damage takes place and the less time your skin has to repair itself through natural oil production.”

Well, okay, but I showered every day for well over half a century and my skin is doing fine. Clark says skipping a shower now and then couldn't hurt.

A short report at the Today show website (related to the conversation I heard from the kitchen?) says showering every day is fine but that we use too much soap. You can read about that here. But I was most interested in this:

”The American Academy of Dermatology says that small children and the elderly need to shower less often (unless, of course, your child has been building the Panama Canal in the backyard, or if they’ve been swimming in a lake, pool, or ocean.) The skin of small children is more delicate and elderly skin is naturally drier.”

Here's a little video from Buzzfeed about frequency of cleaning ourselves:

Those same dermatologists tell Buzzfeed:

”While your activity level and climate will affect how often you’ll want to shower, you can probably skip the daily shower and take one every two to three days.”

There is additional information here.

All these quotes I'm giving you are, for me, after the fact. A year or more ago, I decided to follow my conservation inclinations and shower every other day. It works just fine for shampooing my hair too and I wonder how much water could be saved if we all washed less frequently.

How often do you shower? If it's every day, would you consider cutting back or is that just too "eew" to think about?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Fritzy Dean: Praying for Patience

Stirring Up Daily Life

It is not clear that “binge watching” began when Netflix released all 13 episodes of the first season of House of Cards on the same day two years ago but it is, certainly, when it became a popular pastime.

And why not. When everyone admits to being a couch potato (but only for certain shows with a high “cool” quotient), there is no shame. Plus, it's fun to be decadently indulgent when there's no consequence; we're not talking about 13 hours of TV every day, right? Just once or twice a year.

Whether that's so or not, perhaps you recall, when I reminded you last week of the imminent release of the third season ofHouse of Cards, I said there might not be a post today because I would be too tired from binge-watching the series to write something.

Didn't happen. Not going to happen.

On Friday evening, I fell asleep partway into episode 2, woke an hour later, tried to watch it again from the top and didn't quite make it to the end. Episode 1 had dragged but I have always been willing to give old favorites some slack. This time, that was too painful.

Frank Underwood has become banal, small-time, petty. He lacks the cunning I thought he had and should be a requirement for a man who murders his way into the most powerful political office on Earth.

But he doesn't come close.

The entire production (well, 1.8 or so episodes, anyway) is colorless, lifeless, utterly ordinary, lacking the malevolent glee necessary for this kind of political parody. Even the color palette is an underlit grayish beige.

It is such a letdown, don't you think, when an old favorite doesn't live up to expectations. It's happened to me sometimes upon re-reading a beloved book after many years, and especially re-watching an old TV show I once enjoyed.

What's hard to know in these instances is whether my taste has improved over the years or if I misjudged the show (or book or TV show) the first time around.

Or, maybe I've changed in some fundamental way that prevents the connection a story requires for a reader/watcher to become absorbed.

You would not be off base to think of today's post as a follow-up to last Friday's that was about how my forced change in viewing habits led to a new, more negative view of favorite shows. I am not sorry to leave behind the cop/drama/doctor shows that are mostly rote chase and/or gory blood scenes but I am disappointed to lose House of Cards.

But it's not all bad.

One of the knocks on elders that we are stuck in our ways and don't like change. To the extent that is true, I have argued – and still do – that trial and error over many years have provided each of us with our best individual choices and since they serve us well, there is no point to redoing them.

Isn't that one of the things great age is good for? We have found solutions for issues great and small that are then put to bed so we can move on to different ones that want attention?

Now, in a period of less than a month, I have come to question the ways I have watched television for a long time and somehow that led to re-assessing the books I choose – that's changed too.

Those two apparently small things mean my personal schedule – when I work on the blog, when I read or turn on the TV or exercise or go out or cook, etc. – that I hardly gave thought to for, possibly, years is in a jumble. And that changes even more items in my daily life.

So I've been surprising myself with hardly any predicable routine lately. (This bothers Ollie the cat a lot.)

It has been my experience that even small, out of the ordinary events engender more of them that together give a new spark to living; I have had several episodes of such clusters of change throughout my life but it has been so long since the last one that I'm pretty sure I had come to believe they don't happen to old people.

I was wrong.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Chuck Nyren: Have You Ever Fainted? All About Mine


Tibbles1SM100x130This 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.

What happened in 1971?

  • Julian Assange was born
  • The pocket calculator was invented
  • The Ed Sullivan Show ended its run
  • Five Easy Pieces was released
  • Greenpeace was founded
  • Louis Armstrong died
  • Harold and Maude was released
  • Hawthorn were premiers

Question: How many times does BILL WITHERS sing "I know" in that first lot of I knowing in the song. Ain't No Sunshine?*

Bill Withers

Apparently those "I Knows" were just fillers for a verse that Bill hadn't written yet but the musicians who backed him liked them and suggested it remain as it was. The musicians being three quarters of Booker T and the MGs. Booker T arranged and conducted the strings.

♫ Bill Withers - Ain't No Sunshine

ELTON JOHN was just starting to make a name for himself in 1971.

Elton John

Your Song was the first of Elton's to hit the charts (but far from the last). It was also one of the first he wrote with Bernie Taupin, some years earlier before they were even performing.

It was supposed to be the B-side but as often happens, it became more important than the one on the other side.

♫ Elton John - Your Song

KEVIN JOHNSON wrote and recorded the song, Rock and Roll I Gave You All the Best Years of my Life.

Kevin Johnson

He said that that song bought him a home on Sydney's north shore and a BMW. I imagine it's still supplying him with goodies as people are still recording it.

I'm not using that song though; here is another from the same album which was also a hit here in Oz, Bonnie Please Don't Go.

♫ Kevin Johnson - Bonnie Please Don't Go

These "Years" columns have a whole bunch of firsts – people or bands I haven't featured previously. Here's another, AL GREEN.

Al Green

Tired of Being Alone was Al's breakthrough song. Before this one, he was recording in the mold of some of his heroes, Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett, James Brown and Sam Cooke. With this, he found his own voice and hasn't looked back.

♫ Al Green - Tired Of Being Alone

We've already had one rain song from CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL last year and here's another.

Creedence Clearwater Revival

Around this time Creedence was touring with Booker T and the Mgs, John Fogerty was so impressed by the sound of Booker T's Hammond organ he decided to have it in a song (or several).

This is the first where he employed the instrument - Have You Ever Seen the Rain.

♫ Creedence Clearwater Revival - Have You Ever Seen The Rain

Now listen. Here is DADDY COOL.

Daddy Cool

Daddy Cool were at their peak around this time. Indeed, there wasn't an Australian band that could come close. There were probably few from anywhere who could match their live performance. The song Eagle Rock has been voted the second best Australian song ever. Second Best? Hunh.

♫ Daddy Cool - Eagle Rock

Speaking of cool, THE CARPENTERS were never cool.

The Carpenters

Given that though, Karen sure could sing. They chose songs well too, and even wrote a few. Their song today is Rainy Days and Mondays written by Paul Williams.

♫ The Carpenters - Rainy Days And Mondays

Looking at the songs for this year, I was struck by their quality. What a great year for music. Here's an adornment to the list by ROD STEWART.

Rod Stewart

The record company didn't want Maggie May to be on the album but they'd run out of songs or time to record any more so they grudgingly included it. Then they released it as a B-side of a single figuring no one would want to turn it over and play it.

That, of course, is exactly what happened and it's gone on to become an icon of the period.

♫ Rod Stewart - Maggie May

ISAAC HAYES agreed to write the theme for the film Shaft on the condition that he got to play the lead role.

Isaac Hayes

Well, Isaac kept his side of the bargain but the producers of the film didn't. Isaac didn't even get an audition but he not only wrote this song; he wrote the complete sound track which was released as a double album.

It won all sorts of awards and sold really well, so I guess Isaac got a revenge of sorts.

♫ Isaac Hayes - Shaft

Riders on the Storm was the last hit for THE DOORS.

The Doors

It was also the very last song that Jim Morrison recorded. What a way to go out. The tune arose as The Doors were just jamming in the studio, initially to the old song, Ghost Riders in the Sky. This is what came of all that.

♫ The Doors - Riders on the Storm

Music from 1972 will appear in two weeks' time.

* I was somewhat surprised to count 26 times. I didn't think there were that many.