Me — Then ’til Now

Recently I’ve decided to change doctors. I have decided to see a physician that has more knowledge about the specific needs of those of us who are aging. The medical history form for the UNC Geriatric Clinic requested that I tell them about myself. It is probably a bernieonstjohnlittle more lengthy than they required. Somehow it morphed into a blog post! So here goes.

I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on January 7, 1928 at 25 minutes to midnight at 4 lbs/10 oz. Arriving two months earlier than expected, I had to be fed with an eye dropper. I went down to 3 lbs/13oz. before my weight started to pick up. I was told that I was wrapped in absorbent cotton and put into a cigar box. (I must admit I don’t remember any of it, but I guess that’s because of my aging.)

The family moved to Queens in New York City when I was six months old, first to Jackson Heights and then, in 1936, to Flushing. My younger brother, Arnie, was born when I was three. Like most other Queens kids most of those early years were spent in public schools. Summers were spent at camp. At 12 I became a Boy Scout in Queens Troop 45. The next three summers were spent at Ten Mile River Scout Camp Keowa in the Adirondacks. In my second year I was chosen for the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s honor society. I became a Star Scout, but never made it to Life or Eagle Scout.

In June 1941, I completed the first half of the eighth grade. In September I was accepted by and went on to high school at Fieldston School in Riverdale. Fieldston is the educational arm of the Society for Ethical Culture. To avoid the long daily commute from Flushing to Fieldston, I boarded with a family in Riverdale during the week.

Continue reading “Me — Then ’til Now”

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I’m Sorry?

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Last Friday was a beautiful afternoon. I went over to check out the progress that had been made at the Farmer’s Market site. They have been working to improve existing structures and create new ones to make the farmer’s market more enjoyable, no matter what the weather is. I walked into the construction area and my foot got caught on a piece of plastic sheeting. I tripped and fell, hitting my head on the concrete floor. I was bleeding from the cuts on my head and nose and my right shoulder was painful. Phil, the manager of the site, gave me a hand and was very helpful. I called Erin to let her know what had happened. She did not pick up.

Erin called back later and said “I’m sorry.” As she explained, what she meant was “I’m sorry that you fell”. The unspoken portion of her reaction was ‘that you fell’. Knowing Erin has I do, that was her way of expressing deep concern. Moreover, I heard it in her voice.

Saying (or hearing) “I’m sorry!” in response to an accident or event that caused injury or harm makes no sense to me. That is especially true when the person saying it was in no way involved in what happened and is not apologizing for their role in it.
Continue reading “I’m Sorry?”

I’m Back!

Hi folks. It’s been a while. But I’m back! In the interim I turned 90. Things are fine. I’ve been busy, good busy, but busy. Since the last post my time has been taken up by a number of things. I’ve recently BK_headshotpublished a book entitled Making Space for Yourself that I co-authored with Erin Coyle. I provided the sayings and she created the images. It is the first of a series entitled “Drawing from the Well”. You can check it out on our website: drawingfromthewell.net. The book is available through Amazon. Looking forward to your comments. There’s more to come.
I’ve also just finished the manuscript for what I thought of as a paper entitled, “Making the Poor Richer: The Causes, Consequences and Suggested Remedies for the Greater Inequality in the Income Distribution”. The paper begins at the end of World War II,  just after I graduated from high school at Fieldston, and explains how the significant changes since then have brought us to where we are now. For those of you who are not aware, TVs had just come on the market and there were no computers, no Internet , no GPS and no Apps. Can you imagine? The book also provides some suggestions on how to correct the problems the changes brought about. At 150 pages long I have to admit that the paper morphed into a book. I’m trying to figure out what forms the book should take and how to reach the audience that might be interested in this day and age. Any suggestions?
In my time away I’ve come up with some more ideas for blog posts. They will be coming your way shortly. Thank you all for taking the time to tune in. I’m looking forward to another productive year.

Basketmaking on the Island of St. John (Video)

virgin_islands_national_park__virgin_islands_usIf you have been following my blog then you already know that I moved to St. John, USVI in the summer of 1987. As an economist, I was always fascinated by isolated small communities that were able to survive over generations, and even centuries, with very limited resources. I have also had a long-term interest in fine art and fine crafts partly in thanks to Prof. Clemens Sommer, professor of Art History at UNC Chapel Hill. He had a saying that always stuck with me: Art is a product of the culture.

When I got to St. John I realized how important basketry had been to this very small, 19½ square-mile isolated island. They were known for the fine quality baskets they produced for generations. I was fascinated by the baskets and their history. Not only were the baskets sold on the other Virgin Islands and throughout the Caribbean, they were exhibited and sold in the United States and Europe from the late 1890s and into the 20th century. That is quite an accomplishment when you realize that at the time the movement between islands was by boat under sail, and to the States and to Europe on steamboats.

It didn’t take long before I met and became friends with the Island’s premier basketmaker-teacher, Mr. Herman Prince. When I told him of my interest in writing about St. John basketry, he said, “You can’t write about them without learning how to make them.” I took him up on his suggestion and took his course. Boy, was he right. Not only did I learn how to make the baskets, I learned about the skills required and the culture that gave rise to them.

During my 18 year stay there, I met and worked with many other basketmakers. I helped them showcase and market their baskets and acquired a collection of 25 St. John baskets and related items. One of Mr. Prince’s baskets entitled, “St. John Market Basket” is at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum as part of The Cole-Ware Collection. It is virtually identical to one of his baskets in my collection. I also wrote about “Basketmaking on the Island of St. John” for The Clarion, America’s Folk Art Magazine.

To honor the St. John basketmakers, their baskets and the culture that gave rise to them, I have documented my experience with the St. John basketmakers in this video, entitled, “Baskets from the Island of St. John.” I invite you to take a look at it.

I hope you enjoy it. And I certainly look forward to hearing your response.

Thanks to Grace Camblos Media for video production and editing of this project.

A Memo to Pro-Lifers

Rather than take an adversarial position, those who are Pro-Life could adopt a more proactive approach, one that would advance their cause. Their understanding is that life begins at conception. Consequently, from their perspective any induced abortion constitutes murder and is illegal.

It follows that the first thing to do, is to do everything possible to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, the first step in the Pro-Life agenda would be to promote the use of contraceptives. Make all forms of them available to those women who at this stage in their lives do not want to have a child.

One important way for Pro-Life advocates to accomplish that would be to set up and fund clinics to help women (and men) who do not want to have a child to get whatever form of contraceptive they prefer and to provide the funds necessary to accomplish that objective. In that way, Pro-Lifers would significantly help. Fewer women would be placed in a position where they would choose abortion as their best option.

Since that would not prevent all unwanted pregnancies, the next step would be to provide counseling at the clinics. It would inform pregnant woman about the costs and benefits of various procedures, including one which the clinic provides: to assist her through all stages of the pregnancy and the birth and to make arrangements for the infant’s adoption once it has been successful delivered. All costs, including the support of the woman during the pregnancy, would be covered by the Pro-Life group.

The group’s objective would have been met. Once the child is born it would be placed in a family that wanted it. An induced abortion would not have happened. This Pro-Life approach would have prevented that from happening. Moreover, the pregnant woman would be less likely to be placed in a position where she would consider an abortion as her best option and she would be fully supported during her pregnancy. Along with that she would know that the child would be well taken care of. It has the additional advantage that a family that wanted and would otherwise not have a child, has one. In addition, the Pro-Life advocates were instrumental in making that happen.

It will lead to fewer women who consider abortion as their best option. Moreover, whatever time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) that the anti-abortion advocates commit to the program will further their primary objective. Furthermore, they are less likely to cause resentment and hostility and to alienate others in the process.

Civilians and Assault Rifles: An Economist’s Perspective

Why don’t those who insist on, and benefit from the policies they propose pay for the damage those policies cause?

Let’s begin with assault rifles. Saturday’s devastating attack at an Orlando night club is a classic example: 49 people were killed and some 50 more wounded in attack by a single shooter with an assault rifle — an AR-15 — and a five shot pistol.

It is hard for me to understand the value of anyone having an assault rifle in a civilian setting. I am not challenging the value of owning a pistol for self-protection or a rifle for hunting game or for target and sport shooting. An assault rifle is something else entirely. Yet there are those who are against prohibiting anyone from having one, or placing any restrictions on those who do.

What we saw Saturday, and in the numerous incidents that preceded it, is a civilian using an assault rifle to kill and injure a large number of individuals. The loss is painful to victim’s families, loved ones, friends, the community of which they are a part, and to all of us. Moreover, the community, including those of us who are opposed to allowing anyone outside a military setting to have an assault rifle, must bear the cost of the damage caused to the victims and the injured.

It seems reasonable to me that those who benefit from such policies such as: the manufacturers of the assault rifles, clips and ammunition; the wholesalers and retailers who supply them to the public; the Gun Lobby that promotes that position; and all those in favor of it, should be the ones to pay for any damages.

Those damages include reimbursement for

• The death, pain and suffering of the victims and those, who by their very presence at the time, were affected by the incident

• The first responders; the police, including the costs for the subsequent investigation and prosecution; and any personnel and facilities that provided assistance after the incident

• The hospitals and the medical and support personnel who treated the victims, including those who require follow-up psychological support

• Those who donated blood, including reimbursement for their time

• Any other costs that are the direct result of the shooting incident

None of those costs would have been incurred if the incident had not happened. And it would not have happened in the way it did if the assault rifle and the ammunition were not in the perpetrator’s hands.

Therefore, those who promoted a policy that made the incident possible should take responsibility for it and cover the costs that their position made possible.  The rest of us who are opposed to allowing civilians to have assault rifles should not have to bear those costs.

Aging is Isolating

If These Old Hands Could SpeakAging is isolating. Friends move away, effectively disappear, or die off. Others drift out of the relationship. We spend less time together. The younger ones appropriately have their own agenda. It is their time to take care of themselves. Furthermore, they may have already learned what we have to offer. It’s time for them to move on and build their own life experience. Moreover, things have changed since you and I were their age, in some ways drastically. Consequently, some of the things we have to offer them are less relevant.

So what can we do? How can we address aging? One thing is certain, our time here on Mother Earth is limited. Since that is part of our reality, one thing each of us can do is do our best to take care of ourselves. By doing that we will be less of a burden on others and less of a drain on society’s resources. Another is to pay attention to our limitations. We can’t do everything and certainly not as much as we used to. I can certainly vouch for that.

We can start by admitting to ourselves that we have a finite time left here on earth. Each of us has skills and experience. We can use them to the best of our ability to take care of ourselves and to continue to make a contribution. It is a good time to decide what is important, to figure out what we really want to accomplish in the relatively brief time we have left, and what we would like to be remembered for.

Think seriously about your relationships with others. Do you have any issues with those who are still alive, where by doing or saying something now could make a difference? We can all start by acknowledging our errors. And perhaps saying, “I’m sorry. What I did was inappropriate. I certainly didn’t intend to cause you any pain or harm.” Those are some of the things each of us might consider doing while we are still alive. This is not just good advice for the old, really none of us knows how long we will live.

In that way, when we leave, and trust me we will, our departure will make things easier for those who we leave behind. 8033522652_97090eabda_oAging is part of a larger process called life. If we go through it, we are the lucky ones.

Aging brings along with it some other things. We are less mobile, feebler, more likely to forget and less able to take care of ourselves. That makes us more of a drain on others, on their time and energy. It also makes it harder for us to take care of ourselves. If others choose to devote some of their time and energy to support us, the least we can do is say, “Thank you.” It is important to remember that the care provided in our declining years also places a greater drain on society’s limited resources. For example, it leads to fewer resources being available for children’s education, for developing new ideas, or for anything else. Hopefully, each of us has put enough funds aside to reimburse those for the services they provide.

I find myself sleeping longer, taking more time to do things, and making more errors. How about you? All that takes time away from our limited time — the 24 hours in a day. That includes the time involved in maintaining contact and communicating with others, in maintaining relationships. I realize there may be a time when I can no longer drive. In order to get together, friends must come to see me. That will further limit contact and contributes to the isolation.

It is harder to make new friends. There are simply fewer people around with common experiences. My friend Jeanne is five years older than I. In our phone conversations we treasure the fact we can discuss the “good old times,” including the songs we share. Younger folk often have no recollection of them.

Often us older folks are not familiar with today’s ways of doing things — including the new ways of staying in touch, of communicating. When we grew up we did not have computers, cell phones, iPhones or smartphones. They simply did not exist. When you called someone, either the phone rang and rang; or you got a busy signal; or they answered and you spoke to them saying who you are. You talked to a real person. Today, more than likely, you are talking to a computer. It pretends to be listening and has its own preprogrammed way of doing things. How frustrating and time-consuming that is. It takes away from your limited time and energy, often without successfully accomplishing what you intended, leaving the problem unresolved. Boy, is that frustrating.

Here’s another example. You decide you want to give someone a call. You can’t remember their phone number. The old way of looking it up in the phone book doesn’t work anymore. They’ve moved and kept the old number. The area code tells you they are living in Richmond and you know they live around the corner. Oh, you forgot, they now carry their phone with them. Unlike the old days. Now you know who I am without my saying anything. You know where I am, but I have no idea where you are. Or, the only way some people communicate is by e-mail. That’s no help. You don’t have, or can’t use a computer, an iPhone or a smartphone. Perhaps you call and all you get is their answering service. Apparently they never check it. In any case they never get back to you. Even if you’ve heard about texting, you don’t have the equipment or the know how. It’s all so complicated, so frustrating. From your perspective it is a waste of your time, draining and unproductive. It contributes to the feeling of isolation.alone

Those are just some of the hassles of being an older person living in today’s world. They create obstacles even when you have no infirmities or disabilities. As we get older, as with any other complex machine, the system is likely to breakdown. The longer we hang around, the more likely that becomes. Add that to the mix, and things become even more complicated. It is harder to achieve our objectives or even to take care of one’s self. In fact, that may even become impossible.

All that, as well as the realization of it, leads to one conclusion, “Aging is isolating.”

Stepping back, however, there is a bigger picture. The fewer relationships we have — that is what isolation is all about — the less of an impact our dying will have on others. By pulling back in the relationship with us now, others are effectively going through part of their grieving process. That is only true, however, when they have already dealt with any “issues” that they have in their relation with us older folks who are still around.