March 14th, 2011

_Never Say Die_, Susan Jacoby

Subtitled: The Myth and Marketing of The New Old Age

Just beneath the author's name in big red letters is "Author of The Age of American Unreason" in all caps, a sin I refuse to recapitulate. So to speak. Har de har har. That's probably the last laugh you'll get out of reading this post.

I bought this Pantheon (Random House/Bertelsmann) hardcover fully aware of many of its numerous, serious problems. It is debunkery. It is written by a boomer. It is about the "false" ideas and feelings and attitudes that people have about an ill-defined idea, with very little in the way of alternative "true" ideas and feelings and attitudes suggested to replace those railed against.

Think this might have useful, insightful policy ideas? Go elsewhere.

I knew this before I bought this book, and I bought it anyway.

What did I hope to get from this exercise? Well, I know that my ideas about managing health care issues in general (whether it's a cold or a baby or old age or whatever) are not representative of any readily identifiable segment of the population. I'm not so foolish or blind as to be unaware of that. I did not read this book thinking this author would share my ideas (quite the opposite) and expose everyone else as an idiot and us as the Chosen Few Who Know All. What I was hoping was that in the course of exposing what she thought were the errors of others, it would become clearer to me what everyone involved was thinking when they do the things they do that confuse me so thoroughly.

Did this work? Sort of.

Jacoby belongs to a cohort that included a lot of women who decided they weren't going to have babies and stay home, and instead went out into the Big World and Had Careers. Jacoby did not have children, which she mentions so it is not speculative or a violation on my part of her privacy, and she talks a little about women of her generation who were surprised to discover they had trouble having babies in the expected way when they decided to try to have a baby sometime after age 40. She does not develop this theme in particular, but rather glances off it as part of a more nebulous rant about being-in-denial-about-biological-realities.

Jacoby's husband predeceased (again, not me violating her privacy), and this experience shaped her perspective.

If Jacoby had written a book that went something like this, I would have very little to complain about:

(a) We're all going to die, and before that, most of us will require quite a lot of care. In fact, we're not going to be in a great position to be making decisions then (whether due to Alzheimer's or other), and neither will the people who love us, assuming there are any of them still around. Also, it will expensive and very unpleasant.

(b) We should probably be talking about this ahead of time, communicating what we want done to and for us, and figuring out how it will be paid for and overseen/advocated for. Since most of us aren't realistically going to be able to prepare for this financial and fiduciary burden, we should use political structures to come up with a group solution for those of us "lucky" enough to live for decades relying upon the assistance of paid non-kin.

(c) It would be wrong to expand all our society's resources on the demented aging, so we should also make sure we make collective provision for the health care of all ages in our society.

(d) Some of the better-off among us may have to give up disproportionately more in order to pay for all this. We'll probably all have to make some sacrifices, but that's better than really sticking it to a few people who are unlucky enough to be ill.

(e) But that's okay, because we've been spending a lot of our money in dumb ways. If we just got a lot less stupid, it would all work out pretty well.

I suspect, in fact, that's the book she was trying to write. Unfortunately, while the first third of the books shows a lot of evidence of very careful editing, it is mostly of the form of, hmmm, that generalization is obviously untrue; what adjectival phrases can make it technically true long enough to send the careful reader looking elsewhere for something to complain about while the less careful reader is led deeper into the rhetorical labyrinth.

The problems with this book do not lie in ridiculous generalities hedged about with careful qualifiers. They don't even lie in examples that elide not-enough-money-for-food-and-fuel-in-winter with not-enough-money-for-fashionable-clothing, or a story that asks us to sympathize with the 90 year old whose wife predeceased two years prior of Alzheimers and would now like to move back out of assisted living but his kids are in no hurry to help him. Oh, woe, the old ladies hit on him and the social director won't leave him alone.

Yes, I'm sure that's all true, but I'm just going to put worrying about that guy much, much lower on my priority list. Much, much lower.

The problems with this book lie in the nearly-300 pages that seem unaware that hospice can exist in a hospital (and barely mention hospice at all). That seem gleefully and enthusiastically unaware that our horrifying end-of-life bill and experience is a direct result of failing to see the consequences of "do everything if there's a reasonable hope".

I spent a long time reading this book (and I did, indeed, read the whole thing and I even refrained from detailing any, really, of the truly shocking errors that started showing up after the halfway point. I'm not sure if the careful editor got fired, reassigned, or they figured that anyone whose brain wasn't completely swiss cheesed had already given up and it was safe to let the party get well and truly started), and even longer thinking about it. This is an important topic, and there will be consequences if we don't, as a country, consider it carefully and make good decisions.

A moment of silence for that levenloos kind.

Okay, so what's really going to happen? Jacoby pretty much nailed it entirely inadvertently and in passing. We aren't going to do shit about this, because in order for anything to happen, boomers would need to lead. And they won't. If the parallel to the problem of infertility holds, we could reasonably expect the boomers to start taking the problems associated with being old in about 2025. Here's the calculation: boomers start in 1945. A boomer born in 1945 will turn 80 in 2025. Boomers don't believe that anything that happens to non-boomers will happen to them, so it will take other boomers being 80+ to convince them that this could happen to them. Boomers end in 1965. Those boomers will be 60 in 2025. Some of them will persist in the it-can't-happen-to-me, but it'll be an uphill battle. Also, a much more reality-based portion of the population will constitute a more significant component of the voting population (since by then, most if not all of the Greatest Generation will have stopped voting by then). I can't predict what -- if anything -- anyone will do at that point, but they'll probably at least be talking by then. Let's just say that's a lot of electoral cycles away.

Jacoby points out that the cohort in advance of the boomers is pretty chary about their own entitlements, much less extending benefits to anyone else. She does not (IIRC) note that that cohort votes reliably; that's a factor that shouldn't be ignored, but it's a classic boomer error to fail to do the math.

I would like to point out a couple of the benefits of Doing Nothing. Not because I think this is a good choice, but because it is going to be our choice for a long while yet and we'd better find some benefits there or we'll be so exhausted and sick of our own whining about it that we'll just off ourselves before we're eligible for Medicare. (1) When there is no collective solution, the territory of possibilities is often more thoroughly explored. Sometimes, this finds a better solution that can then be adopted. Sometimes. A lot of the time, even a bad solution implemented early would have been better. This is our hopeful moment. Dammit. (2) If we don't figure out a way to pay for all this care, some of this care will not happen, and people will die earlier than they might have with the kind of care currently being experienced by those in skilled nursing facilities right now. Your call as to whether this is a good or bad thing, but it definitely makes one view longevity statistics with even more skepticism. (3) People might start to take DNRs a lot more seriously. I think that's a good thing.

Don't waste your time reading this book. I don't have an alternative suggestion. Perhaps the next decade will present us with an entire genre on the topic. Whether that's a good thing or not remains to be seen.

I got a copy of Plett's Profile!

I've been trying to lay hands on one of these, on and off, for a while now (years, but probably not a decade). The book is Delbert Plett's _Profile of the Mennonite Kleine Gemeinde 1874_ and includes detailed information about a handful of my ancestors and a whole lot of relatives and a fair bit of what might be loosely interpreted as cultural context, which is to say, religious gossip of a high degree of accuracy and sourcing. It is often not possible to find even one copy available for sale, and when there is one, good luck being the first in line to actually order it.

I paid a little under $60, all in, to get what was listed as "very good" condition, but realistically is more like a reading copy. There is a _lot_ of ink underlining and circling. For a 1987 paperback, this ought to be a crime, but I am ecstatically grateful instead.


Short Reviews of Trashy Fiction

_Waking the Witch_ Kelley Armstrong

Savannah Levine stars in this eleventh entry in the Women of the Underworld series. She's all growed up now, well, at least she's 21, riding a motorcycle and still living with her guardian Paige who has gone to have a grownup vacation without the young'un in Hawaii. Jesse shows up with a case and after consulting with Adam, Savannah takes it. Off to Columbus, Washington (a fictional small town near Battle Ground, Washington, which is not fictional), to experience small town life with humans after the mill closed (and the hardware store and so forth).

The case involves a pair of young women who were shot in the basement of an abandoned building, and, later, a third young woman killed elsewhere and brought to that basement, with some indications that a supernatural ritual might have occurred.

The body count is ridiculous. Three murders in quick succession in a town that size? Armstrong suggests the sheriff's office looked into it and hit a dead end and handed it back to the local cops (and the local police force sounds too large for a town that size anyway). But once Michael Kennedy, half brother to the third victim and a Dallas cop dies while investigating alongside Savannah, this shouldn't have just involved the sheriff: I would expect to see the feds brought in. _FOUR_ suspicious deaths in rapid succession?

Ultimately, there _is_ a supernatural element, in fact, more than one. And the murders are not as connected as everyone initially assumes. The book ends on a massive cliffhanger involving Savannah's powers as a witch/sorceror/half-demon.

If you're really enjoying the series, I suppose I wouldn't necessarily recommend you avoid this one. But I'm seriously contemplating ending my commitment to this author.

_Frostbitten_ Kelley Armstrong

In this outing, Clay and Elena head to Alaska, chasing a werewolf who is being framed by a couple other werewolves for killing humans. He thinks they believe he did it, which is why he's running. When they get there, they discover all kinds of interesting things. They know two old Pack members are in Anchorage; they find pere dead and then learn that fils has a son of his own. (<--Yup, those would be huge spoilers.) They knew there were troublemaking werewolves in town; turns out there were more of them than they thought and they are much, much worse than expected.

Oh, and then there are the Neanderthal bear/wolf/wtf people. (<-- If that is a joke, it isn't _my_ joke.)

Lots of people from earlier entries in the series (forgot to mention: this is book 10 in Women of the Underworld). Clay and Elena's twins are growing up. Elena poses as Hope's assistant in support of her investigation. Jaime brings the kids to Alaska at the end. Etc. Probably not enough to prevent this being read as a standalone.

What bothered me was the rape theme. Not scene. Lots of rape attempts. It really is a theme. Armstrong rallies a lot of interesting material to this theme. Clay and Elena have been through it in a variety of books and they now have a well-developed DS relationship that they play with in a very fun way; in this entry, Elena-as-narrator explains how this relationship has helped heal her of earlier sexual molestation as a child. There's a letter from one of the perpetrators when she was in foster care at the beginning of the book which brings up a lot of what she is still suppressing. And one of the Bad Guy werewolves has a thing for raping and killing human women.

All that is potentially really great material for a really great, empowering book. But while Elena (duh) obviously ultimately mastered her fears and killed the bad guys (personally), there were screens and screens (in the paper version it would be pages and pages and pages) of quite lovingly described degradation. Not cool. Not what I read this stuff for. At all. I'll be thinking really hard before reading more Armstrong.

_This Side of the Grave_ Jeaniene Frost

Cat's uncle dies. Cat gets new powers (by drinking Marie's blood. Because Marie forced her to, of course.). Cat learns that Joan of Arc was a born-vamp like her and that I've-already-forgotten-his-name-already the Ghoul picked on her, too. Cat and Company utterly destroy the evil ghoul and the rest of the ghouls decide to go back to a (sort of) stable peace under Marie Laveau.

This is a really dumb series. It was dumb at the start. It has not appreciably changed. If you like it, it shows no obvious indication of changing any time soon. I'll continue to participate.

_Pale Demon_ Kim Harrison

Rachel Morgan goes on a road trip from Cincinnati to San Francisco with her vampire partner Ivy, her pixie partner Jenks and Trent the elf. Along the way, they pick up a coven witch. But that's not until after Trent releases Ku'Sox and knocks down the arch in St. Louis. Upon arriving in San Francisco, Rachel convinces Al to deliver Trent and Jenks to Seattle for whatever it was that Trent needed to get to Seattle for (which turns out to be kidnapping his baby daughter from Ellasbeth, the baby's mother). (Did I remember to include the part where Ku'Sox tries to kill Al, Pierce then tries to finish Al off but Rachel stops him? Anyway.) After the climatic trial which restores Pierce to his position in the coven and gets him permission to use black magic, Rachel is still condemned and thus goes to the Ever-After, thinking that's forever.

However. Once in the Ever-After, Ku'Sox accuses her of not _really_ being a demon, so she has to prove she is to stay safe there by creating a new room for the holodeck, er, tulpa for Dalliance, whatever. Al nurses her back to health, at which point she is summoned by the Coven because while she was out cold, Ku'Sox destroyed (most of) San Francisco. She fixes him good, and then Trent has to rescue her because she has totally shredded her aura (again) in the process. Al thinks she is dead and takes Pierce back to the Ever-After as payment. Trent successfully hides Rachel from, um, the collective to give her the "choice" of what kind of life she will lead. The book ends with her deciding to stay hidden for a while, which Trent is, predictably, not overjoyed with.

I have to hand it to Harrison. This probably qualifies as a genuinely new take on The Road Trip. Also, Harrison does a bang-up job of matching the new powers her heroine gets with even bigger challenges. The real trick seems to be keeping her compatriots strong enough to survive the collateral damage.

I'm still interested in finding out what happens next.

While all of the above was a real improvement in entertainment terms over Jacoby, it was less satisfying than these series once were for me. I'm not convinced the problem lies with the authors; I think it might lie with me. Possibly I need to track down a new type of reading material. I may actually be getting a little bored with the graphic violence.

Jan and Annetje

Jan and Annetje really stood out of the crowd when I first encountered them in genlias a week or more ago. You see, they had the same last name. Before they got married. Yup. You can have really plain, ordinary names like John and Annie, but if you have the same last name before you get married, I might actually remember.

So when I ran across them _again_ in another part of my tree, I was very, very cautious about filling in fields. I knew how annoying it was to get that wrong, because does not support merging individuals.

Anyway. I entered it all very nicely, and no, I could not possibly tell you the implications, because I can't demonstrate that it's anything simple like a first cousin marriage (for one thing, I haven't been able to dig back to grandparents on all the relevant people) -- it might be, but I can't prove it -- but worse, whatever that was, their offspring married someone else in my tree.

It does not display well. Seriously. Does not display well at all.