Friday, December 23, 2005

Nice? Or Just Tired?

You Were Nice This Year!

You're an uber-perfect person who is on the top of Santa's list.
You probably didn't even *think* any naughty thoughts this year.
Unless you're a Mormon, you've probably been a little too good.
Is that extra candy cane worth being a sweetheart for 365 days straight?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Tradition! It Lives!

For the second year running, I share with you a traditional holiday song of my people.

Happy Whatever!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Quiz! Test Your Skills!

Do you speak Passive-Aggressive? Can you decode secret covert messages? Try this! Below are excerpts from an e-mail I got from my sister, J. See if you can tell what she really means.

1. Just wanted to remind you that K was in Phoenix for her radiation this past week. A full five days of it.

2. F [J's partner] has started his stint with the part-time job again. The guy who took his place left, so they recruited him back. The new-new guy will be there mid-January. So it's a nice break -- for both of us!

3. I'm having ham for Christmas. We can do a turkey breast for New Year's if we want. K [her daughter, who will be visiting from out of town] requested ham.

4. I need to go to the UPS store to mail the children's Christmas gifts. I tried to go in yesterday but their computers were down so they couldn't retrieve the address and I didn't know the zip code. I'm sure they have a zip code book, but then again, they are just kids in there and I don't trust that they would get it right.

5. Mommy has a dr appt next week but it's just a routine thing. We finally got the pills that you called about while you were here. I had to call the dr three more times before they got it right. Mommy had to go about 3 days without it, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Okay! What's she really saying? Feel free to use the comments feature! Answers are below, but NO FAIR PEEKING! I mean it!


1. I know you haven't bothered to call her, you lazy girl. I called her. I'm the oldest and most responsible. I have to do everything.

2. Having this guy underfoot every damned day is going to drive me insane, I swear to god. I thought I wanted him to retire but I was wrong! I admit it! WRONG!

3. I always give my kids what they ask for and I resent it. But she asked for ham, I'll fix ham, and maybe one day *sigh* I'll get that turkey I dream of.

4. Nobody but me can get things right. I don't trust anybody but myself.

5. See #4. Nice try, calling the doctor for a prescription refill, but you blew it and it took me three more calls to set it right. She went without her meds for three days! Luckily she's still alive! Thanks for nothing!

Give yourself one point for each correct answer.

If you scored... Then you...

0 Came from a healthy family. Congratulations!
1-2 Might be a mental health professional
3-4 Might be related to me
5 Are me! How long have you been in therapy?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Together at Last: Aging and Death Penalty

I don't blog here about criminal justice or the death penalty, though they are issues with which I'm deeply involved. It's hard to tie them to what I see as the focus of this blog: Aging, particularly of my own mother, and my family's varied and crazy reactions to it. And oh yeah, my bitter war against Mormons.

But today's headlines provide a chance to bring the death penalty into the mix:

Stay of Execution Denied for Ailing Man
Judge says decisions affecting clemency bid up to governor
Cicero Estrella, Chronicle Staff Writer
December 17, 2005

A federal judge in San Francisco rejected a stay of execution Friday for a 75-year-old man who is scheduled to be executed next month at San Quentin State Prison.

Clarence Ray Allen had asked for the stay so he could be treated for a number of ailments, which would help him prepare for a clemency petition with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said his attorney Michael Satris.

In his federal lawsuit, Allen said laser eye surgery would allow him to participate in tests that would determine if he suffers from organic brain damage. His lawyers say Allen is legally blind.

In addition, Satris said, Allen needs more time to consult with his lawyers on his clemency petition. Allen has been unavailable because he's been moved from prison to prison since suffering a heart attack Sept. 2, Satris said.

In his decision, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said Schwarzenegger should be the one to decide if Allen's ill health could be a factor in his bid for clemency.

"There is no question that plaintiff is old and infirm," White wrote. "These factors may be factors to be considered in a bid for clemency. But it is not for this federal court to intrude on the prerogatives of the state executive to determine what information he requires in deciding whether to have mercy on a condemned prisoner."

Satris said, "We're disappointed with the decision, but we're still exploring our options and figuring out the best way to proceed."

Allen, who suffers from coronary artery disease and diabetes, was sentenced to death for hiring a hit man to kill three people in Fresno in 1980 while he was in prison for another murder.

He is scheduled to die by lethal injection Jan. 17, the day after his 76th birthday.

I recently left an online community of feminists I've been a part of (in one form or another) for over six years. I did this after yet another death penalty discussion became an attempt to help death penalty supporters feel better about themselves. This offended me. Deeply.

I oppose the death penalty in all circumstances. The state should not be in the business of killing, period. It has (I believe) an obligation -- a social contract -- to provide for the safety of its citizens. Executing them violates this contract.

It was as if someone had started a discussion on the merits of molesting children in certain, special circumstances. Or how certain forms of genocide are okay if genocide's used carefully. For me, the death penalty is morally wrong and utterly indefensible. This is a position it took years to form -- I grew up a few miles from my home state's death row and have friends who are survivors of violent crime. Now it's as if, having had the veil of misinformation and the retributive rhetoric of the Right stripped away, I cannot go back to the not-seeing. Ever.

So my state, having just killed Stanley Tookie Williams, is gearing up to kill a 75 year-old man who can neither see nor walk unassisted. He is no longer a threat to anyone and is not, it could be argued, the same man who went to prison all those years ago. Killing him will serve no purpose in public safety terms. The only possible explanation for this act is that it makes us "feel better." We feel "justice" has been served. "Victims" will have "closure." Hogwash. Another person will die. At the hands of my state. This time, he's old and feeble and not a celebrity like Tookie was. I doubt Jessie Jackson or Joan Baez will show up the night of his execution. He'll be just as dead as Tookie when it's over though.

And let's be careful about justifications that start with Allen's age or disability (as in, "What does it matter? He's almost dead anyway."). That's a slippery slope no one with a commitment to fairness for the elderly and people with disabilities wants to set foot on. Placing a higher value on the lives of younger, more "able-bodied" than the lives of the older and those with disabilities? We really don't want to go there. Do we?

If you want to hear from some victims who believe killing more people doesn't bring "closure," you should visit Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation. From their website:

Since the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976, over 40 countries have abolished it. In December 1998, the European Parliament called for immediate and global abolition of the death penalty, with special notice to the U.S. to abandon it. Abolition is a condition for acceptance into the Council of Europe, leading countries such as Russia and Turkey to abolish the death penalty. Recently, South Africa, Canada, France and Germany have all ruled against extraditing prisoners to the U.S. if death sentences would be sought. The World Court, in a unanimous decision reached on February 5, 2003, ruled that the U.S. must delay the execution of three Mexican citizens while it investigates the cases of all 51 Mexicans on death row in the U.S. The Mexican government asserts that the U.S. has violated the Vienna Convention by not informing its citizens that they have the right to contact their consulate when arrested. The death penalty has long been a source of tension between the U.S. and countries that oppose capital punishment.

I live in a country and a state that consider killing effective social policy. Soon an elderly man with multiple disabilities will be put to death in an effort to reduce violent crime. It's enough to drive a person crazy. Or out of the country.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Don't You Dare Call Her "Feisty"

I've found a new role model:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Flora "Grandma" Green, national spokeswoman for the Seniors Coalition, led a band of freezing senior citizens, furious over the recent spike in natural gas prices attributable to manipulation of the natural gas futures markets, on an information picket of the Goldman, Sachs and Company -- one of the largest investment and trading firms in the country.

"We're here to protest the billions -- Oh, yes, I said BILLIONS -- of dollars they are doling out to their employees, while seniors across America are not going to be able to afford to heat their homes thanks to the manipulation of the natural gas futures trading markets by companies like Goldman Sachs," Green said. "We are all outraged that seniors are literally freezing to death this winter while Goldman Sachs and others are pocketing billions directly attributable to profits they garnered from their Scrooge-like manipulation of the natural gas futures markets."


"I don't think this is a lot to ask," Green said, "particularly when the likes of Goldman Sachs are literally breaking our backs by driving up the costs of natural gas in order to rake in the big bucks. You tell me, is it fair to tell our nation's most vulnerable seniors on fixed incomes to freeze this winter so a bunch of high-profile traders can buy their Christmas trinkets from Neiman-Marcus instead of Target? I don't think so."

I don't think so either, Grandma. Read more about it here. And also here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Closed" Sign on Limbo's Door

How can this be? Nicholas von Hoffman writes in The Nation that "...some thirty Roman Catholic theologians from around the world ... have been meeting in secret and have, if the report is correct, decided to put the kibosh on the place."

No more limbo! Apparently the current pope is made uncomfortable by the thought of all those unbaptized babies hanging around up there. It's unclear what will officially happen to them but von Hoffman has an idea!

This is where the Mormons come in and save the Pope's bacon. Mormons can baptize dead people. They do it all the time. They have vast databases groaning with the names of the departed, whom the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints usher out of limbo and into heaven by what is called "proxy baptism." Some Jews have objected to having the Mormons pull sneak baptisms on their ancestors, and the Mormons, displaying a sensitivity they are not known for, have said they won't do it any more.

So the only remaining question is, Are there enough Mormons ready, willing and able to proxy-baptize all those millions of Roman Catholic babies?

Nick, there are. There really are. And there's a good chance most of those Catholic babies have already been baptized into the One True Church. Relax. We're all Mormons when we die.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Keep Working! For Free!

Corporation for National and Community Service to Launch Multi-Year Volunteer Recruitment Campaign at White House Conference on Aging

From the news release:

This January the first of America's 77 million baby boomers will turn 60. As they reach retirement age and have more free time, this generation will have a unique opportunity to change the world, much like they did in their formative years. But how do you convince 77 million Americans to get involved?

At the White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA), the Corporation for National and Community Service will unveil a multi-year public service advertising campaign aimed at recruiting America's baby boomers to volunteer. PSAs will begin running in January 2006 and feature a series of English and Spanish version television, radio, and print ads profiling baby boomers of different backgrounds. Boomers share their stories of how community service changed their lives and invite their peers to join them in making a difference.

Boomer experts will join White House Conference on Aging and Corporation officials to unveil the new campaign. New research about boomers and volunteering and the health benefits of volunteering will be released.

Great! If only those retirees would get up off their tired old asses and do some free work! Because lord knows they're not worth anything otherwise!

Don't get me wrong -- I'm pro-volunteerism. I volunteer. I've been volunteering since I was a "Blue Striper" (like a Candy Striper, but with more flattering uniforms) when I was in junior high school. I believe in the social value of volunteerism and believe it can transform the lives of the volunteers. That said, this "campaign" seems to miss an important point: Seniors already volunteer. A lot.

According to Independent Sector:

[A]lmost 44 percent of all people 55 and over volunteer at least once a year; over 36 percent reported that they had volunteered within the past month. These older volunteers give on average 4.4 hours per week to the causes they support. The 26.4 million senior volunteers gave approximately 5.6 billion hours of their time — a value of $77.2 billion to nonprofit organizations and other causes in this country.

Billions! Over 77 of them! Nearly half of people over 55 are already volunteering! So what's the campaign about, really?

With ongoing cutbacks in the nonprofit world, there is clearly a need for volunteers. Jobs that once were held by paid staff are now increasingly done by unpaid volunteers. These jobs include caring for the disabled, reading to children, holding babies in hospital neo-natal units. Important stuff. And without a major shift in cultural priorities, it's unlikely government money will again start flowing freely toward charities.

The Corporation for National and Community Service has four programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, Learn and Serve America and the Citizen Corps (analyzed here in 2002 by Bill Berkowitz). From their website:

Grants administered through Senior Corps provide funding for three special programs:

Foster Grandparents connects volunteers age 60 and over with children and young people with exceptional needs.

The Senior Companion Program brings together volunteers age 60 and over with adults in their community who have difficulty with the simple tasks of day-to-day living.

RSVP offers "one stop shopping" for all volunteers 55 and over who want to find challenging, rewarding, and significant service opportunities in their local communities.

Okay. Grants? So these programs don't pay the senior volunteers but they're getting grants? Oh and by the way, the Corporation receives substantial federal funding. (And coincidentally was voted by U.S. News and World Report a "Best Place to Work in the Federal Government 2005"!) So let me see if I get this. The Federal government pays nonprofits to administer programs that hire seniors as volunteers to work for nothing. I love America! Don't you? And how am I not a full-blown Libertarian by now?

(The nice folks at Americorps, by the way, are "partners" in the Bush administration's initiative, the USA Freedom Corps. So much to say about the Freedom Corps, so little time...)

Okay. So where was I? Right. The Feds are paying for a big fat, very expensive ad campaign to get retired seniors to volunteer when they're already volunteering at rates that far outshine any other demographic. What's next? The Initiative to Get Seniors to Vote?

In case you're wondering what other issues will be explored at the conference, here's a list of resolutions. If that list looks to you as if it was put together by CEOs of our nation's largest banks, then you are possibly as cynical as I am.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Long-Term Care

The Motley Fool had some good information yesterday on long-term care. Ignore their advice at your peril! It amazes me how much denial Americans indulge in regarding their inevitable decline. Then I remember I denied my ass off, when I was younger. It's what we do.

From the article:

Only about 4% (or 1 in 25) of the elderly reside in a nursing home at any point in time. Nevertheless ... one out of five people aged 65 and older has self-care or mobility limitations, while one out of nine has cognitive/mental limitations. ...

83% of people who need long-term help live in the community, and more than three-fourths who do so rely on unpaid assistance from family, friends, or volunteers. Only 8% rely solely on paid help. Even two out of three of those who require assistance with three or more activities of daily living (ADLs) rely exclusively on unpaid help. Family, friends, and volunteers, then, provide the bulk of assistance to those who receive long-term care outside of nursing homes, and they do so largely at no charge.

The author goes on to say that long-term care insurance may provide a cushion for those of us unlucky enough to need assistance and not have the free care family or friends can provide.

What I take from this is that I need to start being a lot more charming if I expect to cultivate friendships with younger (healthier, stronger) people who might be inclined to drop in once in a while to take out my trash or shovel my walk. I will start working on hilarious and heartwarming stories of The Old Days right away.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Only those who are fortunate enough to find their life slipping away, have any hope of finding it.

Reginald A. Ray

Monday, December 05, 2005

Our Bodies, Our Mothers' Bodies

While we were visiting Mom over Thanksgiving my sister J (the one who, with the assisted living home staff, looks after her) was out of town visiting her son. Before she left I asked J if there were any chores she wanted me to do for Mom. She asked me to help Mom with her shower. Mom's had a few tumbles in the bathroom so J now hangs out and helps her on shower days, just to be safe.

Seeing my mother naked and vulnerable changed me in ways I still haven't fully integrated. Helping her step into her Depends, putting on her powder and lotion, helping her pick out clothes, seeing the way her body has changed since the last time I saw her nude 15 years ago or so -- I've relived the experience every day since. I feel a new softness toward her and also sadness. This woman who was once so harsh and angry -- who has caused me to feel such fear in my life -- is now frail and weak. And she trusts me to help her shower and dress. In her most vulnerable state, she let me help her. And I did help her. Not without strong feelings and some serious internal conflict, but I helped.

It's miraculous, really.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Giving Thanks, Asking for More

I spent Thanksgiving with Mom at the assisted living facility. We (my husband and I) had taken her out to dinner the night before and she seemed to want to stay in for the big day. She said dinner was delicious last Thanksgiving.

It wasn't delicious this year, but it was okay. Watching Mom eat is extremely difficult. She has struggled since she first started having symptoms of MS over 20 years ago. She had to learn to eat with her left hand, though she was right-handed all her life. She still tends to be a little clumsy. Now macular degeneration makes it hard for her to see very well. It means if she's eating light-colored food on a white plate, she can't see it. So she basically moves her fork around the plate until it comes into contact with something and then she tries to get it to her mouth. Eating food that needs to be cut with a knife is a major ordeal. It's a wholly inefficient system of eating and her impeccable table manners are getting in her way. Her favorite food now is sandwiches. I didn't understand why until a senior friend laid it out for me: "It's acceptable to pick sandwiches UP and eat them with your hands. You can't do that with a pork chop!" So, sandwiches. Lunch and dinner, sandwiches. Until we took her out to a restaurant. And until Thanksgiving.

Saying she's shy about asking for help would be a huge understatement. She's always been an independent woman, even after MS slowed her down. After my dad died, she barely missed a beat -- she started driving herself and/or flying alone all over the country to visit her kids and other relatives. She maintained her house until a year and a half ago. She raised four strong daughters. Tough old girl, that one. Can you imagine her at this point in her life having to ask someone to cut her meat for her? Unthinkable. My sisters and I do it without being asked. We just bulldoze our way through: "Mom, I'm going to cut this up for you because it looks like it needs it." She doesn't like it but goes along. When we're not there? She either eats a sandwich or chases food around on her plate. Rarely does she ask the staff of the facility to help her out by cutting her food.

The facility dining room has a procedure for ordering meals that wins no awards for accessibility: Residents each get a menu (12-point font) on which they're required to circle the items they want and fill out their name and room number. MY MOTHER CAN'T SEE. Fortunately, one of her table-mates usually helps her out. I met this woman at lunch the day after Thanksgiving. She's about ten years older than my mother and, you'll pardon the expression, "a pistol." Thank goodness for her.

On Thanksgiving, there was a buffet set out with all the traditional dishes. I saw a lot of residents using walkers and I know Mother isn't the only one who can't see well. I asked her what those people are supposed to do with a buffet. "Oh, they [the staff] will help you if you ask them." Then I saw a woman walk by balancing her plate in one hand while trying to use her walker with the other.

See, these people aren't used to asking for help. They're of a generation (and a culture) that says asking for help is a sign of weakness. Self-sufficiency! That's the ticket! They're not likely to ask for help, even under the most dire circumstances. (My mother once fell on the bathroom floor and still did not use her buzzer to alert staff. It just didn't occur to her.)

I understand the staff is busy, and tired, and so underpaid it makes me ashamed to look them in the eye sometimes (because COME ON, they're taking care of our elders!!). Just a little bit more attention, a little more in the way of resources, could do so much to allow these old folks to live more comfortably and keep their dignity intact. Just a little.

Those of us who are younger than my mother need to learn to ask for what we want. We need to put all our years of activism and complaining about our government to good use when our time comes to depend upon others for care. Speak up! If you can't ask for help now, start practicing. Just once a week, ask somebody to get something for you even if you could get it yourself. Ask a younger person to help you. Practice until you're comfortable. You will need these skills later, I promise you. If you already have these skills, teach others -- especially women -- how to do it. Tell them I told you to. Tell them you're preparing them for old age.