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Archive for August, 2007

A new University of Chicago study released recently shows that people well into their seventies are still physically intimate. This has occasioned every reaction imaginable, from a resurgence of the “elderly sex” jokes to serious advice from medical professionals (and the predictable “ewww” from a teenager I know, but he’d react that way to the idea of anyone coupling over the age of twenty-five.) I decided to conduct my own highly unscientific survey of my female friends, most of whom belong to an increasingly large group of single women between forty and sixty. A minority of those who are currently enjoying intimate relations thought the news unsurprising. These liberated (and lucky) ladies are having the times of their lives, which may account for their unbridled optimism. The vast majority of my gal pals are not having intimate relations and I wondered whether this survey gave them reason to hope or despair. Actually, it gave them reason to laugh. Apparently the idea of having sex at seventy when you’re not having it at forty, fifty or sixty is funny. Still, senior Lotharios can take heart, that is, if they intend to date women in their age range. Most of my friends think the idea of getting it on in the twilight years sounds great in theory, providing they can (a) find a partner and (b) still remember how.

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Two of the bigger news items this week were the announcement that Medicare would no longer cover hospital errors and the National Intelligence Estimate‘s downbeat assessment of the current strategy in Iraq. Putting the stories side by side is a real eye-opener. Most people (hospital officials notwithstanding) have hailed the Medicare ruling as a first step in improving the quality of patient care. Hospitals will have to pro-actively find ways to reduce preventable occurrences. It makes both economic and moral sense. But no obvious first step presents itself in the NIE report. For every possible “solution” there seems to be a contra-indication. The troops are containing the violence but without the political will amongst the various Iraqi factions, there is no eliminating it. The abrupt withdrawal of American forces could precipitate a bloodbath yet there aren’t enough troops available to sustain the so-called surge. And in this case, we don’t seem to be able to find a way to stop paying for policy errors, and get some party or other to do what makes both economic and moral sense.

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Leona Helmsley, who died yesterday, was perfectly in sync with her times. So was her developer husband Harry Helmsley, who, as Gail Collins reports, once answered her question about whether he might devote his later life to good deeds by asking ““What the hell would I want to do that for?” For you kids out there, Leona and Harry ruled during the Eighties, which was the decade of “Dynasty,” “Dallas,” Michael Milken and Madonna in her incarnation as the Material Girl. One terrifically popular movie was “Wall Street”, in which Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko declared, “Greed is good.” During that time, I was a busy but financially struggling young musician. Everyone seemed to be more successful. I wrote a song about it, called “Downwardly Mobile”:

Some folks is on the fast track
I’m still tying my running shoes
Everybody’s got a piece of the good life
I just got the blues
I’m downwardly mobile…

© 1987 all rights reserved

Self-indulgent? Absolutely but then, so was the era, which begs the question: has anything changed? I mean, today we lust after excess even as we pretend to condemn it, whether it’s our obsession with minor talents masquerading as major celebrities, our quest for the next new must-have gadget, or our race to be or have the biggest, best, most winning whatever. Not only does it seem as if “everyone’s a critic” but also a pundit, a taste-maker, an analyst, a producer, a writer, a director, a star. This is, I suppose, the consequence of a truly democratic society. And given how worried Americans seem to be about nearly everything despite our relative good fortune, a little confidence is probably a helpful counterbalance. There does seem to be more interest in politics, in process, in the world at large and in some long-suffering places in particular. The rich are attracting attention to their causes, whether they concern the environment, abused animals or victims of starvation, genocide and natural disasters. Our candidates are more knowledgeable; this time around they seem to know not only the names of the world leaders with whom they interact but also the longitude and latitude of certain regions in the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of Iraq. In fact, even though we apparently still need to keep up with the Jones (or the Vinjays or the Ramirezs), we also seem to recognize that there’s an entire world out there. That’s a hopeful sign, as is the fact that shoulder pads have not made a comeback.

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There was a lot of hoopla about the CNN/YouTube presidential debates but really, it kind of looked like the same old thing to me. Apparently, the NY Times agreed, since the Op-Ed page editors asked new/old media players to weigh in on how the technology could be applied to maximum effect. One interesting response from the editor at Wired suggested that candidates could take a page from the original webcam geeks who record their daily lives and broadcast in real time. Usually, it’s a yawn (most of their lives are pretty boring) but the author goes on to suggest that if the candidates “embed themselves in the Internet 24/7…the hard questions that inevitably arise from daily interactions with staff members, reporters and the public would provoke ‘answers’ that could be…parsed…by citizen debaters.” Wait a minute. Does he mean for us to be exposed to the daily minutia of the candidates’ lives? I mean, do we really want to watch Rudy brush his teeth or Mitt and John work the gel into their respective coifs? Do we need to see Obama sneaking a cigarette or McCain slacking off on his pushups? Should we find out whether Biden wakes up talking or Huckabee cheats on his diet? And seriously, are we really interested in the Hill-Bill pillow talk? Hmm… on second thought, let’s get those webcams up and running.

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Vacation

I’m gazing over my coffee cup across the sun-dappled bay towards the Golden Gate Bridge, which remains stubbornly encased in fog. The morning is otherwise crisp and clear. From my vantage point high up the hills of Belvedere Island, I have a panoramic view of San Francisco and its bridges. I’ve already finished my yoga exercises and am now dressed in layers as we’re traveling 1/2 hour to the north, where it will be 20 degrees warmer. Northern California packs a lot of weather into a relatively compact area. The online news that inadvertently crossed my sights this morning holds my interest momentarily: Merv Griffin has passed away, Tiger Woods has scored another victory, it doesn’t appear that the mortage industry crisis will affect most of us. Perhaps Karl Rove’s departure will, but it’s too soon to tell. At any rate, all this news seems far away – another coast, another time. Maybe this is what a true vacation is supposed to do, free you from stress and worry and even, to a certain extent, the past and the future. Or maybe it’s just the Zen vibe of northern California. Whatever. I take another sip of coffee and a deep cleansing breath. I’m in the moment and it’s all good.

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Air Sick

I’m flying to San Francisco tomorrow and I should be thrilled; escaping the heat and humidity is high on my list of priorities and it’s a real vacation with limited responsibilities. Instead I feel something akin to dread, owing to the fact that travel has been insanely difficult this summer. According to figures cited in the Wall Street Journal by the Department of Transportation, June was the second worst month ever for delays and cancellations.  We’ve all heard the stories of the flights delayed for five hours or more but all flights are delayed more than 25% of the time and if you’re flying on Delta, Jet Blue or American Airlines, your chances of taking off on time are about 50/50.  There seem to be three explanations for the problems: We’ve got an aging air traffic system,  more passengers and an unusually high incidence of adverse weather conditions. Patience is counseled.  Hey, I understand.  More of us are traveling for work and for play and flying is the best way – sometimes the only way – of covering vast distances in a reasonable amount of time.  Those late day thundershowers can be tough on flying. Not sure why we can’t get the system updated but all in good time, right? Hmm.  But then I think: it’s not like the airline industry started flying people yesterday; they’ve been in business long enough to get better at what they do. It seems the industry has been willing to spend vast sums of money to lobby for government subsidies while lobbying against potentially costly safety measures.  Seats today are smaller, airplanes are older and flying coach in this country has become a truly second-class way of traveling, like flying on one of the discounted no-frills airlines except without the discount.  So with reports suggesting it will get better before it gets worse, it’s no wonder passengers are getting a bit short-tempered with all the explanations which, after awhile, just don’t fly.

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Some people yell at the television, especially during sports events. I yell at the newspaper. This kind of venting is supposed to be good for you, although I’m not so sure. The stories in today’s paper, which I was reading at breakfast, gave me ample opportunity to release my frustrations. For instance, when I read that millionaires in Silicon Valley still felt poor and struggled to “get by,” I said very loudly, “More? You want MORE?” (from the musical “Oliver”), which I thought was clever. I mean, come on people. Anyway, I felt momentarily better but then I read that new rules designed to reduce the practice of earmarking money for pet projects in Congress has instead increased it because our representatives are competing for our tax dollars for their districts and even bragging about snagging the extra dough buried in some appropriations bill or other. “Everybody over to the trough, free pork!” I shouted at the newspaper and shook it a little for good measure. When I got to the piece about about the changed domestic surveillance bill passing despite serious misgivings, I found myself yelling, “Then why pass it?”. By the time I had perused the other headlines (forclosures up, stock prices down, healthcare still insufficient or out of reach for most, elite child athletes are seeing sports psychologists for heaven’s sake!), I was inflicting serious damage to the paper and I hadn’t even finished my first cup of coffee. That’s no way to begin the day so I balled up the front section, along with business and sports sections (I’m cranky about Barry Bonds’ pursuit of my beloved Hank Aarons’ home run record), took a deep breath and with a sigh, picked up the arts page where, by avoiding any references to pop culture celebrities without talent, I was able to sooth my troubled soul and finish breakfast.

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