Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Pension Theft

IMPORTANT PROGRAMMING NOTE: Back in 2008, I made a presentation about web design for elders at the Gnomedex Conference in Seattle. I met a lot of young, interesting and engaged tech workers there and one of the them was Dave Delaney.

Dave is an expert on digital marketing, social media strategy and business networking, and he hosts a regular podcast, New Business Networking. Yesterday, we recorded an interview about age, blogging and networking online and off.

Dave is smart, knowledgeable and loads of fun to talk with. You can listen to the podcast here at Dave's website. I'm sure you will enjoy it.

Pensions are disappearing from American business. Each year, fewer companies offer them but if that's the case when you take a job, at least you can make other plans for your old age.

But there is something awful happening to people already retired: benefits are being cut and even lost.

That happens in different ways – some legal, some questionable. Pension plans can be underfunded and so run out of enough money to pay all of what's owed to retirees. Bankruptcy can end pensions altogether. The Enron scandal is a famous example - employees have never seen a penny.

Think about that: you planned reasonably well and with a combination of personal savings, Social Security and a pension plan you paid into during your working years, you get by. That combined income might be modest, maybe it doesn't allow luxuries, but you can afford your home, your car and other necessities.

Until one day, you get an announcement that your pension is being cut by – oh, maybe 50 percent. Or perhaps it won't be paid at all anymore.

Now what? Will you lose your home? Will you still be able to afford co-pays for prescription drugs you and your partner need? You scramble to figure out your new financial reality.

This is no small or occasional screwup. It is so common that a couple of years ago, Ellen E. Schultz wrote a highly acclaimed and frightening book about it titled, Retirement Heist, subtitled How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers.

Consider what is happening today to state employee pensions in Kansas.

You will recall that the state's governor, Sam Brownbeck, slashed taxes for businesses and high income earners so that now, two years later, tax revenues have plummeted by a quarter of a billion (with a B) dollars leaving gigantic bills that need to be paid and not enough money to do so. Brownback's solution:

”Slash the state’s required pension contribution by $40 million to balance the state budget. But Kansas already has one of the worst-funded pension systems in the nation. The state was also recently sanctioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission for not accurately disclosing the shortfalls,” reports International Business Times.

“Brownback, an icon of tea party economics who was re-elected in 2014, defended his proposal to divert money from the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS), telling the Wichita Eagle: 'It’s kind of, uh, well where are you going to go for the funds?'”

Oh, of course. Why didn't I think of that: those old people don't need the pensions they paid into. Who cares if they can't afford to eat.

Just when you think nothing else can go wrong, it does. Remember all that noise last weekend about Congress staying in session overtime to pass the $1.1 trillion spending bill so the government wouldn't shut down this week? The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) explains what else is in that bill that is now law.

"[It] reversed 40 years of federal law protecting retirees’ pensions. The change will allow benefit cuts for up to 10 million workers, many of them part of a shrinking middle-class workforce in businesses such as construction and trucking. There wasn’t a single Congressional hearing on the plan before it was slipped into the spending bill...”

Bad enough, right? Now read the interpretation of that change from the Wall Street Journal. The emphasis is mine:

”Lawmakers and experts, while divided over the merits of the change, largely agreed that it could well be the first of many.

"The measure 'would set a terrible precedent,' said Karen Friedman, executive vice president of the Pension Rights Center, a group that advocates for wider pension coverage and opposes benefit cuts. The bill could encourage similar cutbacks in troubled state and local pension plans, and possibly even Social Security and Medicare, she said.”

It sometimes happens that way with legislation; a limited exception (as bad as it is) is used to grease the skids for expansion to areas where it was not intended.

I'm sure you'll feel much better about about that possibility when you read this, from the same Wall Street Journal story:

“'Facing up to the insolvency is healthy,' said Alex Pollock, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. While it is difficult to consider cutting retiree benefits, it is often better than taking the money from other people, such as taxpayers, he said.”

It is a foregone conclusion that the next Congress, which convenes in January and is entirely controlled by the Republicans, will try to cut Social Security and Medicare one way or another. We cannot trust President Barack Obama not to go along. I hope you will be with me, ready to fight back as hard as we can.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Memories of a German Childhood

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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Hanukkah 5775

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Usually, on big holidays, I post a photo or video, something short as a celebration and let us otherwise have a day off from the blog. This year, a contributor to The Elder Storytelling Place sent a Hanukkah story for that blog but it seems a good fit here today. Happy Hanukkah, everyone.]


By Trudi Kappel

More than half a century ago, my mother received a birthday present of a Hanukkah menorah from her father. It is sterling silver, of a modern design and, unusual, burns oil not candles. When my Mother died, 23 years ago, I inherited it.


I identify as an ethnic but not a religious Jew. The times I have visited a synagogue can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Yet, each December I polish my menorah, re-wick it and light it. The first night two lights, the following night three until on the last night all nine glow. It is very beautiful and the tradition continues.

I wonder who will light this menorah when I am gone.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Trudi Kappel: 500 Words

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Monday, 15 December 2014

And the Winner of How To Be Old Is...

Last week, I told you about a new book I like a lot, How To Be Old, a modern-language update of Marcus Tullius Cicero's 2000-year-old masterpiece, De Senectute, by Richard Gerberding and Lance Rossi.

A random number drawing was held for an extra copy I have and the winner is – ta-dum - the reader who signs her comments "annie" but her real name is Harriet. I'll let her explain:

"My first name is Harriet. But my middle name is Ann. To family and dear friends, I am annie. After forty years in Colorado, I'm back home in So. Cal and loving it. No snow or ice!

"P.P.S. I meant to add that I've just begun working again at age 68. I do want to know all I can about being an old woman!"

In that case, since at TGB she is among friends, she must be annie when she's here, right? Congratulations, annie. The book is on its way as you read this.

Three Additional Winners
But wait, there's more. When the Quid Pro Books publisher saw how many of you responded for the drawing, he offered to supply three more books. Because the drawing was already in progress, we decided to give the books to commenters who said they would share their copy if they won.

(Just to be clear, I completely understand those who said they would keep the book for themselves to read and re-read. Me too, and there's nothing wrong with either point of view.)

Those share-the-wealth-style winners are Bruce Cooper, Sue C. Jones and Joan Callaway, and their books will soon be on their way via the U.S. Postal Service.

Congratulations to all three of you.

But Wait – Five More
Now, as if that were not enough good cheer, an email arrived from a veteran TimeGoesBy reader who wants to remain anonymous. She offered to donate five copies of How To Be Old to the giveaway. Can I get some applause please for this big-hearted benefactor.

So, another five random number drawings were conducted to select five more winners from those who made their interest known in the comments on Thursday's post. Here now – drum roll – are those five winners: Cathy Feiler, Dee Hayes, Judy in Charlotte, Marcia and Mary Warren.

So thanks to the largesse of the publisher and of our anonymous donor, instead of just one, there are nine winners of this excellent new book.

One More Thing
'Tis the season, as they say, for newspapers and magazines of both the print and online variety to list their 10 or 50 or 100 best books of the year 2014. I keep a list of Best Books on Aging you can always access from the link in the upper right sidebar on every page of this blog.

But I am much less lavish in my praise than all those more well-known publications and this year I have added just two books to the TimeGoesBy list:

  1. The one we are discussing here today, How To Be Old
  2. Atul Gawande's equally excellent Being Mortal subtitled, Medicine and What Matters in the End, which I wrote about here earlier this year

Again, congratulations the winners today and my great appreciation to Quid Pro Books publisher and the TGB anonymous donor.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: After the Fall

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Sunday, 14 December 2014

ELDER MUSIC: 1966 Again

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 1966?

  • Lee Ann Womack was born
  • Bob Dylan was injured in a motor cycle accident.  He vanished for over a year.
  • The Hovercraft made its maiden voyage across the English Channel. It wasn't full of eels
  • The Doors' first album was released
  • How to Steal a Million was released
  • St Kilda were premiers

Dooby dooby doo, I'm starting with FRANK SINATRA and Strangers in the Night.

Frank Sinatra

This was a bit of a comeback for Frank, it was his first number one for more than a decade. He hated the song.

♫ Frank Sinatra - Strangers in the Night

ROBERT PARKER was a really good saxophone player, so good in fact, that Professor Longhair employed him in his band for six or seven years.

Robert Parker

He later also played for Fats Domino, Irma Thomas and others. As a singer, he's perhaps known only for one song, Barefootin'. A pretty good song though.

♫ Robert Parker - Barefootin'

THE HOLLIES, like many English groups from that time, attached themselves to the coattails of The Beatles and made a pretty good living.

The Hollies

Bus Stop was written by Graham Gouldman when he was only 16. He was later a member of 10CC.

The Hollies' manager knew the Gouldman family and took the group along to meet Graham. When he played the song they were gobsmacked and asked if he had any more.

He had No Milk Today as well but Herman's Hermits got that one.

♫ The Hollies - Bus Stop

THE WALKER BROTHERS were not brothers and none of them was named Walker.

The Walker Brothers

I suppose you could say something similar about the Righteous Brothers but it's pretty obvious that that isn't an actual name.

Anyway, the Walkers were Gary Leeds, Scott Engel and John Maus (who performs that terrific lead vocal). Rather surprisingly for the time, they had more success in Britain than their native America, particularly with The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore.

♫ The Walker Brothers - The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore

I just have to say BOB LIND and pretty much all of you will know what song I have lined up.

Bob Lind

Elusive Butterfly was the B-side of a record that had Cheryl's Going Home on the front. That song was covered really well by the Blues Project.

However, as happened now and then, a DJ flipped over the record and people loved it. It became a big seller all over the place. It turned out to be the only one Bob had.

♫ Bob Lind - Elusive Butterfly

Here's another troubadour from the time, CRISPIAN ST. PETERS.

Crispian St Peters

That's such a splendid name you know it has to be a fake, and it is. Old Crisp was born Robin Smith. Before going solo he was a member of half a dozen or so bands.

Record execs plucked him out of one of these and got him to record TThe Pied Piper. He didn't ever match the success of that one.

♫ Crispian St. Peters - The Pied Piper

Yet another number one song for THE SUPREMES.

The Supremes

Berry Gordy wouldn't allow anything else. This one is You Keep Me Hangin' On, covered rather memorably later by Vanilla Fudge.

♫ The Supremes - You Keep Me Hangin On

DONOVAN Leitch started out as a Bob Dylan wannabe.


Fortunately, he soon stopped that sort of thing and came up with his own, occasionally fey, songs. There were some gems in amongst the dross of his output. I'd say that this is one of those.

Jimmy Page played guitar on this track. Jimmy later was the axe-man for Led Zeppelin. This is Sunshine Superman.

♫ Donovan - Sunshine Superman

Here's the LOVIN' SPOONFUL's second single.

Lovin' Spoonful

The song Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind was the soundtrack for my final year at university, in more ways than one.

♫ Lovin' Spoonful - Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind

By the time he was 15, the powers that be at Motown records (Berry Gordy especially) had pretty much decided that STEVIE WONDER was already over the hill.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie recorded Uptight (Everything's Alright) and proved them wrong. He went on to record some really fine albums (and a couple of clunkers) in the seventies.

♫ Stevie Wonder - Uptight (Everything's Alright)

You can find more music from 1966 here. 1967 will appear in three weeks' time.

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Saturday, 13 December 2014

INTERESTING STUFF – 13 December 2014


The much awaited trailer for the newest Star Wars movie was released and a week ago. Saturday Night Live responded by reimagining the video with elder versions of the original characters – Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and even Chewbacca.

It seems to me to be the worst kind of stereotypes of old people. Or is it funny? See what you think.

If you're a Star Wars fan (in which case, you've undoubtedly seen this but what the hell) here is the real movie trailer on which the spoof is built.


I didn't know there is such a thing as a National Gingerbread House competiton, but the 22nd annual contest was held in November in Asheville, North Carolina.

This competition is as far as you can get from traditional gingerbread houses. This chessboard took first place.


This cute little house took first in the teen division:


The 150 entries were evaluated on overall appearance, originality/creativity, difficulty, precision and consistency of theme. Me? I prefer the old-fashioned kind of gingerbread houses. You can read more here.


Yes, it is a Russian television commercial for Pantene but who cares. You'll be rooting for the little girl and you might even get a bit weepy at the end.


From TGB reader Cop Car, this is integrative biologist Joao Pedro de Magalhaes explaining how aging happens while speculating on how human life span might be extended.


Did you ever wonder what happens if you blow soap bubbles in below freezing weather? Me neither. But Peter Tibbles, who writes the Sunday Elder Music column here, found someone who did. Look at this:


Here's another.


Gorgeous. I'm glad someone was curious enough to do this. You can see more photos of frozen bubbles here.


I'm 73 years old and I still cannot fold a fitted sheet. But never fear – you can learn almost anything on the internet.

I knew that. I've even tried it. I still can't do it. My solution is to just ball us the sheet and put it on the linen closet shelf. Who cares if it's wrinkly.


As noted a couple of weeks ago, New Yorker magazine cartoon editor Bob Mankoff is now doing a weekly video about all things cartoon-y.

In this one, he shared the best cartoon captions of the year. Keep your finger on pause button because some go by too fast to see the caption.


No photos of this, no video, just a nice idea to help out some aging animals in India. In the state of Kerala, Travancore Devaswom Board (administers temples in the state) is setting up old age homes for elephants:

“Temple elephants, suffering from various age-related ailments, will be shifted to the geriatric care centre and given special care and treatment under trained mahouts and veterinarians.”

Nice. You can read more here:


I know that many of us who hang out at this blog enjoyed last year's film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

It was stuffed with a great roster of aging actors - Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton along with the young, eternally optimistic, hotel manager played by Dev Patel.

Now there is a new edition, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with the regulars from last time plus David Straithairn and Richard Gere. Here's a trailer:

The film opens in the United States on 6 March 2015. I'll remind you of it in three months.

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 include the name of the blog and its URL.

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Friday, 12 December 2014

Maybe It's Not Worth the Effort at My Age

[CONTEST NOTE: The contest posted yesterday to win a copy of the book, How To Be Old, is still open. You may add your name for the drawing in the comments ON THAT PAGE ONLY until midnight tonight Pacific Standard Time, 12 December 2014. The winner will be announced here on Monday 15 December.

George Francis, an 82-year-old TGB reader who lives in Wyoming, emailed this week with a interesting question:

”I sometimes put off, or totally ignore, doing things,” he wrote, “because I don't think I'm going to be around long enough for the effort to be worth the bother.”

He mentioned delaying purchase of a new pickup truck and I thought of the three or four years that have passed without my buying a certain kind of comfy reading chair for my bedroom or the living room - I'm not sure which. I periodically look online for inspiration but I haven't done anything serious about it.

I don't have an explanation for this lapse although I do know it's not that I think I might die soon. But I certainly didn't postpone such purchases when I was younger.

Magazine subscriptions, however, are exactly to George's point. Several of them come due this time of year and a week or so ago, as I worked my way through renewals, I checked off the one year box on each form.

I could save a few dollars if I subscribed for two or three years as I did when I was younger but I've stopped doing that for what I will evermore think of as the George Francis reason: I might not live long enough to use up that many years of a subscription and I can do something else with the money while I'm still alive.

I suspect there will be more than magazines and a chair on my "oh-don't-bother" list in the future.

In his note, George wondered if any other TGB readers have done anything similar? Have you decided you're probably too close to the end to be bothered?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Elaine Frankonis: The Gravity of Gardens

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Thursday, 11 December 2014

How to be Old

De Senectute - in English, On Old Age - was written by Marcus Tullius Cicero more than 2,000 years ago.

Not many books are consistently read through the ages and this is one of the few. Widely read in its day in ancient Rome and ever since in most parts of the world, it has been translated from Latin into every modern language.

One reason for the book's never-ending popularity is that the thoughts and ideas are timeless and timelessly important. Another reason is that it feels like it could have been written yesterday. Listen to this – the emphasis is mine:

”...old people are often said to be peevish, finicky, easily provoked, difficult, even greedy. But these are shortcomings of character, not old age.

“On the other hand, peevishness and the others I just mentioned do have something of an excuse, not altogether just, but understandable. Old people think that they are dismissed, ignored, and made fun of. Furthermore, in a fragile body every irritation becomes painful.

“Nonetheless, even these things are made easier by a sound character and worthwhile accomplishments.”

See what mean? Nothing much has changed since Cicero's day.

Cicero front ebk Cover hires size125 That quotation is an excerpt from a new edition of On Old Age, titled How To Be Old, translated by Richard Gerberding with the purpose of making this great work more relevant to contemporary readers than previous translations have been. As he explains in the Preface:

”...I have attempted not simply to translate the Latin (something which I did do) but to transpose and adapt [Cicero's] work to American surroundings.

“His ideas are so provocative, so wonderful, so helpful, so natural, and so reassuring that I found it a tragedy that they could be lost in translations whose purposes were linguistic accuracy rather than pertinence.”

For many years, I have kept Cicero's On Old Age in the Loeb Classical Library edition nearby and I can report that the English is - well, turgid although Cicero shines through if you stick with it. Thanks now to Gerberding, it is easier to understand, more pleasurable and funny too.

One way Mr. Gerberding has made Cicero more relevant to you and me is by replacing the names of the Roman “celebrities” non-classicists like me have little knowledge of with suitable names from our era. I laughed at his updated choice in Cicero's admonition on loss of physical strength in old age. First the Loeb edition followed by Gerberding's:

LOEB: ”Such strength as a man has he should use, and whatever he does should be done in proportion to his strength. For what utterance can be more pitiable than that of Milo of Crotona?

“After he was already an old man and was watching the young athletes training in the race-course, it is related that, as he looked upon his shrunken muscles, he wept and said: 'Yes, but they now are dead.' But not as dead as you, you babbler!”
GERBERDING: “You use what you have and gauge your activities accordingly. I remember that awful comment by the body-builder, Charles Atlas, when watching the young athletes warming up on the field.

“He then looked at his own old body and said, 'You know, when I look at those guys down there I realize that these muscles of mine are already dead.' Well, it was not so much his muscles that were dead as the old fool himself...”

Surely you remember those “98-pound weakling” ads from Charles Atlas in the comic books we read when we were kids. Neither ol' Milo nor most of the other Romans in Cicero's book had come to life for me so vividly as they do now.

The ancient philosophers wrote their books in dialogue format – a questioner or two, usually young, and an older, wiser character to present the writer's ideas. In On Old Age, they are, respectively, Laelius and Scipio – whoever they were – with Cato sitting in for wise Cicero.

Now, however, the dialogue comes to life for us in the 21st century when Gerberging replaces those three with modern-day counterparts David Eisenhower, his wife Julie Nixon and the great, mid-20th-century senator, J. William Fulbright.

Here then is Cicero – er, Cato er, Fulbright – on the different pleasures of old age:

”...the fact that old age is less subject to the passions for pleasure is not an indictment of this stage of life, but actually one of its greatest advantages. If it lacks all-night parties, or tables heaped high with rich food and powerful drink, it also lacks drunkenness, indigestion, insomnia, and 'the morning after.' It is not that old age lacks pleasure, it is that they change.”

I've been trying to say that on this blog in dozens of ways for the past ten years.

Some of the most powerful sections of On Old Age are Cicero's attitudes and beliefs about death. This observation suffers not an iota for coming to us from 20 centuries ago:

”Look at it this way. Either death extinguishes the spirit completely, in which case you can disregard it completely, or it leads the spirit somewhere better, and in this case death is actually something to be desired. These are the only two alternatives, there isn't a third one.”

Cicero believed, as do I (did he teach me this over the years of reading him? I do not recall) that death should not be feared:

”...learning not to fear death is something which must be continually practiced from youth onwards. Without this ability, no one can really have a tranquil spirit.

“I mean, death is certain, and it is also certain that it may happen at any moment, even today. So how can you live a tranquil life if you constantly fear an impending death?”

And this, one of Cicero's most hauntingly beautiful thoughts to keep close, whatever your beliefs:

”Little children learn difficult tasks and pick up so many talents so fast that they seem not to be learning them for the first time but to somehow be remembering them. This is more or less my understanding from Plato.”

Enough. I've had so much fun with Gerberding's translation and adaptation, I want to keep quoting but these snippets are not the way to read this wonderful, ancient/modern text. You need to read the entire book. It's short on pages but contains a lifetime of delight and contemplation.

Also, throughout the book are many charming black-and-white illustrations by Lance Rossi – a small example.


How To Be Old (subtitled “The thinking person's guide to retirement”) is available at all the usual online bookshops in hardback, paperback and various electronic formats. You will find links to many of them on this page at the publisher's website.

Now, have I got a deal for you. I have one copy of How To Be Old to give away. It is a paperback proof that may not be perfect but it's close enough – the publisher tells me there are, perhaps, a mis-spelling or two, nothing that makes the book unreadable.

All you need to do to be eligible for the drawing is to leave a note in the comments below saying you are interested. You could write, “Count me in.” Or, “Me, me, me.” Or, “Yes, please, include me.”

IMPORTANT NOTE: Your interest MUST BE LEFT IN THE COMMENTS. Email notice will not be accepted.

The contest closes tomorrow, Friday 12 December 2014, at midnight Pacific Standard Time. The winner will be chosen in a random, electronic drawing and announced on this blog on Monday 15 December 2014.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Benedict: My Reply to Fritzy's Brunch

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