Monday, November 6, 2017

Keeping Things On the Up-and-Up

Once the front edge of the Boomer cohort began to reach its senior years, lifestyle and healthcare advertisers seized the opportunity to re-brand age 70 as the new fifty. I’m one of these ‘new’ septuagenarians and, to help you plan ahead if you haven’t joined us yet, let me give you some details on how I achieve the miracle of age stasis through the technical and chemical wizardry of modern medicine.

Let’s start at wake-up where, groggily, I open my eyes to find them full of goo. I lurch out of bed, careful to have my feet hit the floor evenly, and totter over to the can to round off my night with another hard-to-direct trickly pee. I grope through the drawer that holds my extensive store of pharmaceuticals to find an eyelid cleanser. I apply its special hi-tech froth to each lid. I’m in luck if I don’t scratch an eye as my far sight makes this mirror-based manoeuvre quite tricky. I have clinical dry eye – an itchy condition that provides a bragging advantage during chitchats between seniors.
As each eye in turn is to be kept shut for several minutes, I thank the elder gods that I practiced hard in childhood at winking. The process though sorely tries my still Type A personality, which attempts to kill time by grabbing one-eyed for the blinds to let in the day while fumbling for the remote in an attempt to get cable TV’s take on the weather.

Once I’ve washed off my lids, I head for the shower. My still-recovering vision and weak sense of balance make for uncertain progress once inside the glass. If I don’t scald myself or crack the frame stumbling I consider my day to be starting out well. After drying off, I grab a Q-tip and the rubbing alcohol bottle and bend down to dry between my toes. If I haven’t put my back out straightening up afterwards, that’s another victory.

Back in the bedroom I prise my hearing aids out of their overnight cleaning device. My trifocal eyeglasses really do need a clean before wearing but I need them right away to locate and push back in the tiny batteries that power up the aids. After some fiddling, my regular nighttime chorus of tinnitus dims enough for the reassuring sounds of a household already in action to penetrate to my attention.

If it hasn’t already slipped off to plug the shower’s floor drain, after wiping my specs, I peel off the medicated Band Aid that’s been softening a persistently painful corn. I paste anti-fungal onto the other big toe’s nail and wear Birkenstocks sockless over breakfast until the lotion is dry.
To my bowl of muesli and fresh fruit I add psyllium seed, glucosamine and plain yoghurt (for calcium), and count out my tablets and capsules, about a dozen in all shapes and sizes. I try not to think about how many ailments they are meant to solve. They go down best via a restorative mug of strong tea, without which I may stumble when eventually getting down off the kitchen bar stool. To finish off I delve into a tray on the counter for asthma inhalers, after which I gargle vigorously. Oh, and I mustn’t forget a morning squeeze of an Rx anti-inflammatory into my eyes.
Back upstairs to some sensible shoes – I threw out my fashionable footwear; they were an inessential conceit. If my day is to include any serious leg action, I’ll have to strap on a plastic-and-metal leg brace to stop one damaged knee from wobbling alarmingly (not to worry – I’m next on a knee surgeon’s wait list).

Folk have learnt not to expect me before mid-morning and, as I travel through my shortened day, an evening round of pill popping isn’t too far away. I recall this takes care of a half dozen more infirmities though I can’t always remember what. The tablets go down over supper with a glass of virtually taste-free near-beer (for weight control). Before I leave the table, in goes another round of sore eyes relief. It’s now appropriate to seek out my cardio-chair to spend ten minutes with a microwave-zapped flax bag covering my eyes. After, I’m allowed to read a little or watch TV provided I don’t overdo it.

An approaching bedtime calls for yet another routine – there’s that toe painting again, then reapplying the plaster and, after brushing my deteriorating dentition with a special restorative paste, slipping a ‘nightguard’ against tooth grinding over my top set. Next comes Velcro-ing onto my wrist a carpal-tunnel-syndrome prevention brace. Then I must smear a protective strip of ointment over each bottom eyelid. This causes a visual blurring that has me hoping like hell that the dogs have settled out of the way as I turn out the room light and lurch across to our bed. Any day soon a crash-landing is in the cards. I just hope someone outside hears the noise; WW III won’t wake my spouse.

I must admit there’s one component I haven’t yet figured out – I’m still pondering where I might fit in the full fruit of this lifestyle improvement regime, the leisurely fornications that it promised would keep me on the up-and-up.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Still Making a Good Living at 70?

From the Toronto Globe&Mail newspaper money guru -

'The new retirement age is 70: U.S. personal finance guru Suze Orman says that if you stop working in your 60s, you might need to support yourself for another 30 years. How can you afford to live well into your 90s? One way is by working until age 70.


To some extent, this is a U.S. perspective driven by higher health care costs than we face in Canada. But Ms. Orman is definitely onto something in terms of how longer lifespans are affecting personal finance. If we live longer, working past 65 can make sense from both an emotional and financial point of view. “Every dollar you don’t spend in your 60s is a dollar that can keep growing for your 70s and beyond,” she says.'


The trouble with nominating 70 as the new standard end-of-work date is that these days during and after our 50s much more effort than in the past is spent on living healthier and sustaining body functionality, with the result that most of us take increasingly longer to die. Often we now get a late life of long-tail decline rather than an abrupt and dramatic end. Vigour decreases and many more 'parts' need attention. Modern medicine and nutrition helps keep us functioning to a degree but not with the focus and endurance needed for today's working world.

I doubt I'm any more capable in my early 70s of the effort required to have anyone pay me a wage that my dad was at that age. I just spend way more personal time with health care providers (now an old guy's 'best friends' and his main source of Xmas cards) than he could.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

We Think As We Speak

"There was no sense of the US being one country on a planet of many countries"

Reading American journalist Suzy Hansen's piece in The Guardian (courtesy of Narratively of August 20th) titled 'Unlearning the myth of American innocence', in which she details her personal experience of what is often described as American Exceptionalism, brings back memories from my post-WWII childhood in the UK. We were living then during the rapid dismantling of Empire while still being taught it was the greatest in history, the only one on which "the sun never set". Folk from a modest island on the outskirts of civilization had sailed out to dominate and settle throughout the globe to a hitherto unprecedented degree. We had brought with us democracy, justice, literacy and fairness - the exceptionalism of Classical Greece delivered up to modern barbarians. 

Our ruling class still studied the Classics at university and spoke with a special accent inculcated during a schooling bottled up as boarders inside privileged and expensive teaching centres oddly known as 'public schools'. Despite the political triumph of socialism after peace came in 1945 and the post-Third Reich embarrassment of still 'owning' colonies, the behaviours and beliefs of centuries of imperial thinking remained implicit in much of what we were taught and heard. Many of those who recently voted for Brexit are old enough to have absorbed the feeling that our way of life was somehow special, and superior to that of other European nations. Watching the current film epic 'Dunkirk' we are reminded how that glorious episode (and the subsequent Battle of Britain in the air) saved that Europe for the Light of democracy.

A conceit of formerly successful imperial nations is that their contribution to history greatly exceeds that of lesser peoples, and this applies to their speech. Just as Latin lived on as a language of religion and scholarship many, many centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, so we can expect to see English survive the mid-C20th demise of British imperialism and the already underway decline in the American global hegemony. In the continued use of such imperial speech beyond its founding political support network's disappearance, we witness the perpetuation of the ideas inherent in its phraseology and locus. The thought patterns of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism are likely to remain with us for many years into the future. English is the lingua franca ('the language of the Franks' - the common language of Christian rulers during the Middle Ages) of today's mechanistic and secular Modern Age, and may well remain so right up that civilization comes to end.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Zeitgeist of Zen

Robert Pirsig has died at 88:

I read Bob Pirsig's unique book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" at a time in my mid-life when New Age thinking still held sway and self-realization was my goal. It still stays with me as an extraordinarily memorable read, yet what this book of ruminations on changing times surfacing while biking with his 14 year old boy and an adult friend through the heart of America actually means I still cannot be sure. Years later a Canadian writer from Toronto travelled Pirsig's whole route, also on a motorcycle. His trip reminiscences, inter-weaved with his views on Pirsig's philosophizing, reinforce for me the one-of-a-kind weirdness of Pirsig's take on life seen through the lens of motorcycle care while riding among strange places with difficult companions.

Perhaps one reason I retain after so much time surprisingly strong recollections of Robert Pirsig's ramblings lies within this quote from the NY Times obituary linked to at the beginning: "Mr. Pirsig’s plunge into the grand philosophical questions of Western culture remained near the top of the best-seller lists for a decade and helped define the post-hippie 1970s landscape as resoundingly, some critics have said, as Carlos Castaneda’s 'The Teachings of Don Juan' helped define the 1960s". This 'post-hippie 1970s landscape' was what I encountered when I arrived in North America in 1971. A displaced* person's first few years in a strange new land are usually well-remembered.

* I left home to escape the labour disruption and social turmoil that marched Britain inexorably towards its Winter of Discontent in 1974 (the year of Pirsig's book)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I Can’t Go Back To Work Anymore

Budgets Are Sexy logo

From '10 Things I Didn’t Expect in Early Retirement', an April 7th posting in this personal finance blog

'I’m Learning and Growing More than Ever' -  

For Example: "I’m reading more than ever. The library and I are on a first-name basis. I’m there several times a week. I’m reading on personal growth, fitness, blogging, and a whole host of non-fiction topics. I also have time to read fiction and am catching up on John Grisham’s stuff, as well as a Batman graphic novel here and there. 

I’m learning from YouTube. You can find videos on how to do anything these days. Now that I have time, I’m learning how to cook (especially grill), how to do simple repairs around the house (I’m not 'handy' yet, but I’m getting there), how to travel hack (still a neophyte but learning), and on and on...

...The big difference (from employment) is that life is so much more exciting."


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Foreign Policy, Courtesy of the New America

A scary prognosis if one is not an American (and maybe if one is?) ---

Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence at a campaign event last summer, when health care reform was but a twinkle in their eyes. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

From the NYTimes Interpreter Newsletter of March 29th ---
"What The Health Care Fight Tells Us About How Trump Would Handle a Foreign Policy Crisis:

Two months (yes, only two months!) into the Trump presidency, the administration’s foreign policy remains largely untested. But we can infer several things about how Mr. Trump might approach a foreign policy crisis from how his administration handled the effort to replace the Affordable Care Act with the American Health Care Act:-

Coercion over Consensus-Building: Mr. Trump sought to pass the bill not by searching for a set of terms acceptable to key stakeholders, but rather by using sticks and carrots to try inducing individual lawmakers into voting yes. But no set of inducements could solve the underlying political problem, which was that no known version of the bill would meet the minimum basic needs of major Republican factions.
In, say, a crisis over North Korea, this strategy would carry similar risks. Should Mr. Trump seek to pressure China by threatening sticks or promising carrots — rather than look for a policy that is mutually acceptable to China and the United States — he risks only alienating Beijing.

Going it Alone: Mr. Trump saved his sharpest sticks for allies, threatening and pressuring Republican lawmakers, particularly House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. After the vote, he punished those allies with tweets blaming them for its failure.
That could be even riskier in foreign policy. Republican lawmakers aren’t likely to switch parties, so they are inextricably tied to Mr. Trump. But foreign allies can always hedge against the United States.
For example, imagine if China provoked a crisis in the South China Sea. If Mr. Trump responded by telling allies he would punish them if they didn’t join a common front against Beijing, then those allies might calculate they are better off accommodating China and forgoing American support.

Bluffing: Mr. Trump warned Republicans that if they failed to support the health care bill, he would humiliate them by forcing a public vote, but later backed down.
In foreign policy, this could work once, or maybe twice, with each country. Research suggests that individual countries do not judge the United States’ credibility based on how it treats other countries; if Mr. Trump gets caught bluffing against Iran, that doesn’t undermine his threats against North Korea.
However, each called bluff does substantially harm the United States’ ability to influence that particular country. A bluff against Iran would leave the United States less able to constrain Iranian behaviour or deter a conflict. It would also weaken American influence with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that oppose Iran and would feel burned by the bluff.

Grandiose Campaign Promises: Mr.Trump, during the campaign, pledged to deliver universal health coverage while reducing costs. When it became clear this was not in the cards, health care became politically lose-lose for Mr. Trump, leaving him with little incentive to seek a more realistic solution.
Similarly sweeping foreign policy promises could also cause problems. Mr. Trump promised to impose American will on the world while withdrawing from overseas commitments; to dominate adversaries while eschewing allies; and to defeat the Islamic State as well as seize oil from the Middle East.
Almost any outcome in any foreign policy crisis is likely to fall short of Mr. Trump’s promises and disappoint his base That could leave him, as with health care, uninterested in eking out the modest foreign policy successes that are typically the best any administration can hope for.

Falsehoods: The administration’s tendency toward falsehoods included, for example, misrepresenting how the Congressional Budget Office had scored the health care bill.
This could be the riskiest habit to carry into foreign policy. In a major crisis, states avoid a slide into war by carefully telegraphing their actions, goals and red lines. The fog of war would be made denser by administration falsehoods, making an unintended escalation likelier.
This would also undermine the United States’ ability to spur global action against an imminent threat. Consider, for example, the Obama administration’s step, in 2009, to reveal Iran’s clandestine nuclear development, which spurred even Russia and China to support sanctions. If Mr. Trump claimed to have proof of Iranian nuclear cheating, would the world listen?

Impatience: Though the Obama administration spent roughly a year on building support for health reform, including national tours and countless speeches, the Trump administration gave it less than three weeks.
At the end of the process, during which Mr. Trump made few public comments and spent his weekends golfing at Trump properties, he explained his decision to call for pulling the bill: 'It’s enough already.'
This lack of patience could make it difficult to address long-running foreign policy problems such as Iran. The Iran nuclear deal took several years of painstaking diplomacy to achieve. A similar effort seems, at the moment, unlikely from Mr. Trump."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Markers of the Seasons

 Source Wikipedia
Wrenboys on St. Stephen's Day in Dingle, Ireland.

Beginning the late 1960s traditional melodies began finding their way into popular music as part of a transatlantic folk revival which shifted those of us whose origins lay in the British Isles away from the musical products of black America towards an appreciation of our native Anglo-Celtic heritage. In Britain bands like Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Steeleye Span utilized new instrumentation and recording techniques to revive and reinvent material from our rich island tradition of balladry.  

Flutist Ian Anderson (namesake only) has long been a leading songwriter in this genre. Back in the winter of 1974 Anderson moved house into the English countryside to record an LP titled ‘Songs from the Wood’.  Here, and in his follow-up album ‘Heavy Horses’, he left behind the American world of little red roosters, cotton fields, sugar shacks and bayous to take us to the world of our birthright - the greenwood, uplands, farmland and the shore - to celebrate our own history and traditions.

I am particularly fond of his composition, ‘Ring out, Solstice Bells’, an upbeat celebration of a time, the midwinter solstice, when Nature is at her gloomiest. Despite rain, sleet, snow and mist, throughout the ages this has been a period for rejoicing.In Roman England and Wales, Saturnalia, the festival of light, heralded the renewal of light in the coming of another year. Candles were lit to symbolize knowledge and truth. Named after Saturn, the god of renewal, Saturnalia’s pagan traditions morphed into Christmas festivities once the Empire became Christian.

Throughout the Celtic lands the arrival of the winter solstice constituted an important marker between the great festivals of Samhain (the Celtic New Year about the time of Hallowe’en) and Imbolc (now Saint Brigid’s Day at the start of February). There is a solstice tradition among the Celts, probably dating from pagan times, of the Wren Boys. In its earliest days they killed a wren but later they created a giant animated lantern to resemble that bird, this to be hounded on all sides by the band of masked Wren Boys as they processed through their village. On St Stephen’s (or Boxing) Day, as their antics symbolized giving chase to the old year to make way for the new, the Boys would regale each house they pass with musical laments for the unfortunate bird, accompanied by pleas for money for its funeral.

Today much of humanity lives cheek-by-jowl in dense urban settings where it is easy to lose sight of ourselves as a part of the living Earth. Continuing to celebrate those days like May Day, Midsummer's Eve and All Hallows Eve that act as markers of the seasons reinforces that we humans are a creature of Nature that needs honour the life-giving passage of our planet around its sun. Reviving and reinterpreting the ceremonial and musical lore of our forbears can play a key role in anchoring us to our origins and fostering a sense of community in a fast-changing world.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

When Personal Tech Means Trouble - Crossing a Border

Ideally these days when travelling to the USA we leave our tablet/laptop at home and have with us only a simple old-fashioned cellphone with no data storage capabilities.

Sadly border crossing traveller harassment is not new and not restricted to entering the USA. Years ago I was returning by plane to Canada from a mixed business and pleasure trip to Palm Springs California dressed in a tee shirt and shorts and with desert boots on my feet.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Local Really Is OK

Click on this  VIDEO  to  appreciate why Donald Trump became America's leader

Image result for Pictures of uncle samThe 'ordinary' American, to whom Donald Trump appeals (despite his great wealth), has traditionally learned from information sources that have been locally-focused. The average US citizen one meets out in the US heartland has little interest in foreign parts. Some years ago (in G.W. Bush's time as President) a poll found that 60% of the US Senate did not own a passport!  I once knew a bright innovative chemistry professor at a US college just across the Niagara River from Ontario who also did not have one.

 Here in the Ontario countryside older local folk usually got their education at a one-room school. Their daily lives are civilized and satisfy them, but their knowledge beyond what they need to know for day-to-day functioning is often unimpressive. Over the many decades from their foundation, once-remote former colonial societies like Canada and the USA have benefited from well-educated immigrants; indeed these have been essential to the development of the sense of the wider world needed to compete in it.  But intellectuals and experts, whether incomer or local-born, often make the ‘ordinary’ citizen feel insecure. A politician demagogue telling them LOCAL REALLY IS OK helps many to feel better about their place in the world.

Sadly the great liberal experiment of the late C19 and C20th to educate the masses did not account for the intellectual laziness and low curiosity of much of our populations.