It was — 1933 — a very good year

Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Ruth Bader Ginsberg is too old? Perhaps she should consider stepping down from the Supreme Court?

These suggestions were floated more than once in the Q&A session after a recent Commonwealth Club talk by University of California Hastings Professor of Law Scott Dodson. Dodson is the editor of a newly released collection of essays, The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, whose writers suggest nothing of the kind. Contributors to the book, and Dodson himself, focus instead on the significant contributions made thus far by the 82-year-old justice, and the impact she continues to have on jurisprudence and on life in the U.S.

Dodson was drawn to write about Ginsberg because he “kept encountering her clear and consistent opinions” and wanted to create an objective view of her legacy – notably including gender discrimination, as in the case that ended Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admission policy, and racial discrimination, as in the voting rights case Shelby County v Holder. In the latter case, Ginsberg famously wrote that throwing out an anti-discriminatory measure as no longer needed “is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

As New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote several months ago: Ruth Bader Ginsberg has no interest in retiring.

Carol_Burnett_1958
Carol Burnett in 1958

Several days before the Dodson talk, David McCullough, 82, spoke at another San Francisco event in conjunction with his most recent book, The Wright Brothers. McCullough did not go into detail about his next project, but gives every indication that he is a writer with no interest in retiring.

Meanwhile in Texas, Willie Nelson, 82, has another concert coming up, and the next show planned by Carol Burnett, 82, is almost sold out.

This writer may not have anything else in common with Ruth, David, Carol and Willie, but we take what we can get. 1933 wasn’t a bad year to be born.

 

Does this sound exciting? New TV channel for the over-50s

As if there weren’t already about 500 more TV channels than anyone can possibly manage, news comes from Britain about Vintage TV’s plans to launch in a few months.

It is the generation that has had it all: five decades of peace and prosperity, technological and social revolution bringing longer and more fulfilled lives, followed by fat pensions. Now, when they are tired of roaring about on their new motorbikes, working out at the gym or renovating their Umbrian farmhouses, the baby-boomer generation will be able to relax with its own television channel.

Vintage TV, which is due to begin broadcasting in September, is aimed at the over-fifties. It will focus on culture and music from the post-war rock’n’roll years – from the Berlin airlift to the fall of Mrs. Thatcher. The presenters lined up for Vintage, which will be available to 10 million viewers via Sky and Freesat, include veteran broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, 61. The Who singer Roger Daltrey, 66, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, 64, Yes keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, 61, are also set to appear.

One of the innovations on the 24-hour channel will be newly commissioned videos for 500 hits that were in the charts before they became a compulsory accompaniment for the MTV generation in the 1980s. The creators of Vintage said the programming would provide a “destination” for the fifty-somethings who find their interests squeezed by broadcasters looking to attract younger viewers.

No amount of Googling produced an answer to the burning question of whether Vintage TV will be offered to U.S. viewers, but couch potatoes have to hope. And this space, which does advertise itself as focusing (more or less) on issues of concern to over-50 generations, felt you should hear it here first.

We thought they had it all – now baby boomers get own TV channel – TV & Radio, Media – The Independent.

Thank-you notes come due

E-mails are efficient, text messages — God help us — are here to stay, but the handwritten thank-you note is not dead yet. If Geoffrey Parker and I have anything to do with it, furthermore, the handwritten note will survive and prosper. Parker’s commitment to this disappearing art form was outlined in a Wall Street Journal report by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. If you want to make points with gift-givers, you might note his words of wisdom.

During the holidays, Geoffrey Parker, branding consultant for Parker Pen Co. and great-grandson of its founder, George S. Parker, is careful not to overlook what he calls a ‘critical’ aspect of the gift-giving season: thank-you notes.

‘It’s common courtesy,’ he says. ‘If someone does something for me, I need to acknowledge that.’ Mr. Parker sometimes thanks a gift-giver or party host with a phone call, email or text message. But he believes that these modes are ‘insufficient’ and always follows up with a handwritten message. ‘As these modern electronic devices become more common and overused, they become cheap,’ he says.

And more power to Mr. Parker. A phone call or an e-mail message might acknowledge your gratitude, but a handwritten note has soul. Quick: think of a piece of paper with words written on it, addressed to you, by someone of your acquaintance. Some little shred ties those words to that person, doesn’t it? Handwriting used to serve that purpose.

A quick check with several teacher friends turned up no one who could recall the time when cursive was routinely taught throughout the fourth grade year (though you can now learn to write online.) By fourth grade today every student on the planet knows how to text in abbreviated expletives. But nothing conveys a message — expletive or smiley face — like a handwritten note. You will be forgiven if you use a ball point pen, though Parker prefers a fountain pen with a broad nib and fountain pens can emote better than anything else. The flourish that such an implement can create — think John Hancock before he got commercialized — used to be able to paint eloquent pictures in words. My father (broad nib, dark blue ink) favored x’s at the end of his sentences, but when he left off with a dash you knew you had done something fine.

Today, a thank-you note is also an investment. But go ahead, spend the 44 cents, drop a line. Your appreciation will be appreciated.

On learning at 30… or 40… or…

True/Slant contributor Gina Welch, on turning 30 just now, posted a fine list of 20 things she learned in her twenties, at the precise moment when I’d been musing about the passage of time myself. A somewhat more elderly muse, that is, since mine was prompted by the realization that day before yesterday marked the 85th anniversary of my parents’ marriage. In case that doesn’t sound elderly enough, my parents were both born in 1897, whew.

So in response to Gina’s wisdom here are six things I learned in my sixties (which are way past, at that.) It was terribly hard not to plagiarize, especially Gina’s Listen to your mother, even if it’s only to her long-departed voice in your head, or Wallow not, advice that improves exponentially with age.

1 – Get up early in the morning. It’s way more fun when you aren’t doing it because the baby’s crying, the school bus is waiting or the boss is calling… but just because the To-Do list actually contains stuff you want to do. Plus, days have fewer hours in them.

2 – Go back to school. Classmates a generation or two younger can be wise beyond your years. After a lifetime of writing for newspapers and magazines (you remember print journalism?) I joined the Class of ’00 at the University of San Francisco to pick up an MFA in short fiction. Who knew? If you run into anyone ready to publish my short story collection, let me know. A few of them have actually seen the light of publication, but I’m going to publish The Marshallville Stories in full if I live long enough… or perhaps if I learn enough in my 70s.

3 – Medicare is good. Imagine not having to freak out at every bodily suggestion that fatal expenses could be right around the corner. Imagine everybody having that unfreakable experience. How about we pass health reform?

4 – Listen to your daughter. She can probably teach you a LOT about changing mores, gender identities, adventure travel and how to see the world. Not to mention low fashion, hair styling, organic food and living well.

5 – Listen to your granddaughter. She can definitely teach you about computer programs, digital photography, what 18-year-old college art students are doing, and teenage music. You can close your ears when the teenage music part comes.

6 – Count your blessings. Seriously. If you’re still able to get up in the morning and remember how to count, this is good exercise. And if you count forwards and then repeat the same numbers backward you have exercised your brain, which is increasingly important. At a certain point in life it is tempting to reflect on the world when nobody locked their doors and you dashed onto airplanes just as they were pulling up the steps. And people apologized if they inadvertently used the D-word in front of your mother (there’s her voice again in my head…) So it’s okay to count nostalgic blessings, too; just don’t forget about par courses or contemporary chamber music or sunsets over the Pacific or that grandson who speaks Mandarin and Spanish at 17…

Thanks, Gina. Happy Birthday.

Finances after 50: Have we learned anything from the Great Recession?

Too soon poor, too late smart? A story by WSJ staff reporter Glenn Ruffenach in the November 14/15 Wall Street Journal “Encore” section  asks if we’ve learned any lessons from the financial crisis. And just in case you’re feeling smug about having done so, a quiz inside may shine a sober light of reality. It also contains a lot of data you will find useful, interesting and possibly surprising.

Amid the tumult of the past year, financial advisers are telling us that the Great Recession has produced one invaluable benefit: an education.

We now know, for instance, that our nest eggs can lose almost half their value in a matter of months; that “diversifying” our holdings doesn’t necessarily safeguard those holdings; and that our homes—our one investment for later life that was supposed to be foolproof—can make us look like, well, fools.

How much have you taken away from the events of the past year? Try our quiz and find out.

OK, so it isn’t much of a silver lining. But even worse is that we’ve supposedly learned these lessons before—after each recession, sell-off and market bubble since the 1960s. And yet, we continue to make the same mistakes.

How much have you learned about retirement finances in the past year? And has it sunk in this time? Our quiz will offer you a chance to see if you know where you stand—and provide some guidance for the future.

You’ll have to pick up the Weekend Journal for the quiz, but here’s one freebie in advance:

Q – In retirement, Social Security will likely replace what percentage of your pre-retirement income: (a) 23%; (b) 33%; (c) 43%; (d) 53%.

A – Well, don’t guess high.

Or:

Q – The single best cure for a battered nest egg is: (a) invest more aggressively; (b) save more money; (c) Work longer; (d) Plan to withdraw less money from retirement savings

A – And just when that pile of books to read is so inviting… sorry. (c)

The quiz is full of useful data and interesting insight (fully 40% of men and 41% of women ages 40-50 are considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, for instance; you knew?) One overall message seems to be, in fact: If you have one, don’t quit your day job.

Kerouac & friends on the road again

Friends and fans of Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Tom Waits, Michael McClure — plus all the rest of you Beat Generation buffs — will be glad to know they are alive and well again (still) thanks to a new documentary now out on DVD, after a round of screenings across the country. One Fast Move or I’m Gone is a fascinating road trip back into Kerouac’s Big Sur.

Co-producers Curt Worden, Gloria Bailen and Jim Sampas (Kerouac’s nephew) have put together an intriguing mix of old and new footage tracing the gifted 60s icon along his journey through San Francisco and retreat to Ferlinghetti’s Big Sur cabin. Everybody’s talking about the choice of new music by Jay Farrar and Ben Gibbard, rather than the jazz with which Kerouac is automatically identified, for the film.

I caught the show in New York a couple of weeks ago at the Clearview-Chelsea Theaters on W. 23rd, one of those 10 PM events at which, if you’re old enough to remember the 60s you are forgiven for falling asleep. Didn’t happen. The oldies — Carolyn Cassady still quite beautiful, Ferlinghetti still his charming and articulate self — are vibrant enough to explain their fascination to earlier generations, and the newbies who are still drawn to the scene acquitted themselves OK for this oldie.

It didn’t help that the E line wasn’t running and no one had told HopStop, which led to my getting back to the Upper East Side around 3 AM. One Fast Move will convince you that Kerouac isn’t gone at all, and explain why it was even worth staying up late to check him out a half-century later.

Bluegrass for World Peace

A million or so music fans and sun seekers found themselves in Golden Gate Park this weekend listening to the likes of Emmylou Harris, Steve Martin, Hazel Dickens, Earl Scruggs, Boz Skaggs & the Blue Velvet Band, and a long list of other music makers you will recognize if your bluegrass credentials are up to date. There were about 75 bands in all, on six stages scattered around several meadows. I missed The Brothers Comatose, and Booker T & the Drive-by Truckers, and I worried a little about The Flatlanders tooling around these San Francisco hills, but for sheer exuberant free entertainment, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 9 could hardly have been beat.

The free part is thanks to local billionaire Warren Hellman, a banjo-picker, bluegrass enthusiast extraordinaire and one-man stimulus package — he does a little investment banking on the side — who has thrown this party for the past nine years and has now endowed it so it will be around in perpetuity. The fact that much of the music sung by these musicians is pure anti-billionaire dampens no spirits, Hellman’s least of all.

(The top ticket, of course, was our weekend houseguest Don Betts, faithfully YouTube’d by his wife Annie as he performed that great American classic “I just don’t look good naked any more.” Betts was introduced by Hellman, whose  group The Wronglers kicked off Saturday on Porch Stage. In addition to making money and playing banjo, Hellman is an an avid champion of the sport of Ride & Tie, and Betts is current R&T Association president… but that’s probably another blog. )

A little bluegrass celebration has never been needed more. What with the world having pretty much gone to hell, there is something immensely comforting in hanging out with a few thousand fellow sufferers grooving to songs about bad whiskey and love gone wrong — problems you can identify with and get your mind around. Not to mention damning corporate greed and evil rich guys, pausing every now and then for a standing ovation for one of Them who just dropped a few million in household change on your glorious weekend out. It all somehow fits right in with a tanked job market and universal political comedy.

A few decades back this music — or what sounded exactly like this music — was called Country. It was rousing and redneck and not cool. Bluegrass is cool. Hellman’s buddies came in every race, creed, color and national origin, ranged from in utero to way-80s, recycled everything and smiled whiled jostling for dancing space. I submit bluegrass as palliative care for the world.