Redwood Age: My Generation Print E-mail
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Redwood Age: My Generation
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Tom Murphy,  June 1, 2011

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If you missed National Bicycle Month in May, don't worry. There's plenty of time to dust off your 10-speed and put some miles behind you before the first chill winds of winter come your way. And there's plenty of reasons to do it. First, it's good for your health. Why drive a mile or two to the store when you can feel the breeze in your hair and wave to your neighbors as you roll along on two wheels?  Second, it's good for the environment; bikes don't pollute like your family chariot does. Third, gas is expensive and pedaling is cheap. You want more? Get on your bike and ride. You'll find plenty.

Tom Murphy,  April 19, 2011

You've probably seen those billboards and TV commercials that suggest talking to your kids about alcohol before they get tempted to drive drunk. It's a good idea. We still have about 30,000 people who die each year as a result of drunk driving. But kids aren't the biggest problem. It's the adults, 51-65, who are responsible for recent increases in alcohol-related deaths. That's pretty shocking, given that this is a generation that used to complain about how their parents used alcohol to dull the harsh realities of life. Now they seem to be self-medicating themselves, raising a question of "why?"  More study is needed on this point. There already have been studies showing that people in that age range are the hardest hit by the recession, that many can't find jobs that use their skills and that the majority are very worried about their retirement - if they ever have one. Whatever the reasons, it needs to stop. But let's take a look at the causes as we try to suppress the symptoms.

Tom Murphy,  January 5, 2011

Like most people, I can't change the channel fast enough when I see an infomercial. So it was with some amazement that I found myself glued to the TV one morning as nonagenarian fitness guru Jack LaLanne and his wife cheerfully jammed veggies into a juicer. The image was compelling. In went celery stalks, whole carrots, apples with the pits and whole bunch of other green snacks. Out came fresh juice, which smilin' Jack used to toast his gospel of healthy food and good living. I told my wife about it and, in a real surprise to me, found a juicer under the Christmas tree. In case you've ever wondered, it's great. I'm not big on juice bars and smoothies, but I'm now a believer. It's one more way that I've been trying to practice what we preach here at RedwoodAge: living a whole life by balancing the physical, intellectual and spiritual sides of life. Whether you read a book, jog in the park or take a quiet moment to collect your thoughts, I can only urge you to act on that impulse. That simple act will make your life richer and, hopefully, a little longer. Cheers!

Tom Murphy,  December 2, 2010

When the holiday goodies start looking good, take a look at your belt buckle. Can't see it? Hmmm. That's probably because your waist is in the way. Some people think your waist is the beltline below your belly. Not so. That thick thing around your middle is your waist. Most Americans are overweight, and we hear a lot about obesity - how it can cause heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases. It's serious stuff. At the same time, we joke about carrying around a few extra pounds. But that's serious, too, according to a new study of 1.5 million Americans. It found that people who are even a few pounds over their "healthy" weight had a significantly higher chance of dying - a 13 percent higher chance, to be exact.  So the next time you see a desert that's to die for, think twice about whether you'd really rather have that or a little more time with your family and friends.

Tom Murphy,  November 10, 2010

I've been sensing for a while that the millennials are an awful lot like their grandparents - the boomers. Today's teens question the values of their parents, oppose war by large majorities, and have a strong sense of social justice when it comes to issues like the environment, health care, gay rights and education. They're not going to drive their dad's Oldsmobile (in part because GM stopped making them). So it doesn't surprise me much that a new study has linked texting to teens who are attracted to sex and drugs. The old hippie mantra of "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll" was all about enjoying life - losing the guilt about the things that please you. Then, music was a path to liberation, a way to state individuality and express one's self. Today, texting, tweeting and blogging often provide the same function. And, music hasn't exactly gone away. In fact, many of today's hits are covers of songs from the late '60s and early '70s.

Tom Murphy,  October 22, 2010

The French are revolting - over the retirement age, that is. The conservative-led government wants to raise the retirement age to 62 from 60. (Full retirement would remain at 65.)  This has led to massive strikes across the country and even some violence. The president calls the protesters thugs, but I'm guessing most French workers disagree.  In Britain, the conservative-led government is slashing public programs in the biggest change for that country since the days of Maggie Thatcher. You may recall Mrs. Thatcher's moves led to a decade of decline for the British Empire. Workers there expect similar things now. In the US, conservatives are hoping for big gains in the November election to that they can extend tax cuts to the wealthy and cut benefits to the poor. Well, at least we know where they stand. As the president says, it's time for American's to make a choice.

Tom Murphy,  August 10, 2010

When the stock market goes higher than what can be rationalized through careful analysis, stocks tend to go through a "correction" that brings them down to a more realistic level. Perhaps we're all going through a social correction today. In recent years, many of us used credit to buy big ticket items we really couldn't afford. Houses. SUVs. Vacations. Those things made us happy and raised the standard of living. They created jobs by stimulating demand for goods and services. But now we've collectively realized we can't do that any more. Not on an individual level, or even on a government level. Demand has fallen. Millions of jobs have vanished, and more will. Now we're trying to separate what we really need from what we really want. Internet service? A daily cappuccino? College education? Yearly vacations? These are personal choices, and they're hard ones for many people right now. But living the whole life well has never changed. My generation has always preached it, even if we haven't always lived it. It's about balancing your intellectual, physical and spiritual needs in a way that leads to happiness. For many people, it's not easy in good times or bad, but it doesn't cost a dime and is more likely to lead to a satisfaction than having a satellite dish on your roof.

Pamela A. MacLean,  June 14, 2010

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For those of us at that middling spot, reaching an age too young to retire and too old to recover from a lay-off, the common fear among many experienced colleagues and friends who have lost jobs is age discrimination. We don't like to think it. We've worked for years at a profession, gotten good at it and even mentored a new generation. But then the recession hit. For many the first ones pushed out were the "expensive" older workers among us. While it may  be tough for new workers, fresh out of school, to find jobs, the axe has fallen hard on many of my colleagues who report finding work in their 50s just as challenging as when they first began as inexperienced newbies. The federal Civil Rights Commission is investigating whether the recession has had a disproportional impact on workers over 40.  I can tell them already - it has. Plenty of workers over 40 now cobble together temporary jobs and contract work in their fields hoping for the economy to turn around, but every tick of the clock puts them farther away from marketable commodities. When hiring, employers need to consider the average span the typical worker spends in their company. If employees routinely leave in less than 10 years, then employers would do well to consider experienced workers in their 50s, who is likely to stay with the company until retirement, providing high quality work at the current bargain market rate.

Pamela A. MacLean,  May 28, 2010

It is hard to comprehend 10 million people near starvation.  That is the entire population of New York City with another million from the San Francisco Bay Area thrown in. Yet that is just what is happening in the area at the edge of the Sahara Desert in Africa. Nomadic tribes in the Sahel stretching across sub-Saharan Africa from Chad to Niger who face famine by the millions due to a drought. Decades ago, President Kennedy reached out to rescue people starving in Kenya with donations of corn. When I visited more than two decades later, Kenyans still remembered and were grateful to Kennedy and to America. The wealthy countries of the world, despite our current economic turmoil, have an opportunity not only to save millions of lives but also create a lasting notion of Americans and Europeans who care for a community of people when they are in trouble. It is often in this period of desperation that starving people turn to despots or violence to survive. Now is a time to prevent that outcome by providing food and the small development projects that help villages store water against future drought.

Pamela A. MacLean,  March 25, 2010

Diamonds and dust. That's how jobs look these days, and nothing on the horizon looks good for out-of-work boomers. Why diamonds and dust? Well the rich appear to be spending more.  Tiffany reported in March its fourth quarter profits quadrupled, up $140 million, a rise of 17 percent. Meanwhile, rural workers continue to lose their jobs as farmers switch from cotton to corn and soy beans as demands shift. Most of these workers are low income people who produce the goods post-production in the cotton industry.  These may not affect the majority of urban, middle class boomers but it certainly provides bookends to the stagnant economic straights we find ourselves. Now that the health reform has moved off  center stage, it is time to shift the political focus to jobs, jobs, jobs.

Tom Murphy, January 26, 2009

If the American dream has been about a three-bedroom, two-bath house with a two-car garage, that's about to change. The 78 million boomers who bought into suburbia as the perfect place to raise the kids are getting ready to move downtown now that John and Jane have families of their own. A new survey says boomers want homes that have technological advantages and low-maintenance features. They also want transportation, which they'll need to get around as they cut back on trips in the old family minivan. You can expect to see some new trends, like cohousing, pop up as the generation that changes everything it touches redefines the way we age in America. All this could have a depressing effect on the value of those homes in suburbia if demand falls, and that could hurt the net worth of the boomers heading into their retirement years. A butterfly flaps its wings in the suburbs and the poverty index rises?

Tom Murphy, December 26, 2009

In the final month of Obama's first year, it's time to start taking score of how it measured up with the goals of the generation that wanted to change the world. America's global reputation was at an all-time low when he took office. Now it's headed up and he won the Nobel Peace Prize. The economy was on life support at the end of the Bush era; now it appears to be recovering nicely. The focus was on Iraq a year ago, but not it's on Afghanistan, with an end-date in sight. Health costs were soaring; they still are, but Congress has undertaken a sweeping health reform program. There's a lot more like this, but you get the point. If you think things are bad now, you have a short memory of how they got that way.

Tom Murphy, November 20, 2009

The craziest holiday visit I ever made came in 1974, when I drove cross country with a couple of college buddies in 47 hours. DO NOT TRY THAT! I had a nice visit with my brother and his wife, but I nearly died, several times. Instead, try to ease the stress and maximize the good feelings as you get together with parents and children this year. Visits represent a good chance to see how everyone is doing, particularly as the economy squeezes budgets for food, housing and clothes. Think about that when planning gifts. And what about your folks?  Are they eating right? Are there any subtle symptoms showing up regarding their sight, balance or acuity? Are they having any problems driving? Is the budget in good shape - you'd be the last one they'd tell. The holidays are meant to bring us together so that we can focus on the truly important parts of life. So don't try to race through them.

Tom Murphy, November 11, 2009

Since the 1960s, the boomer generation has made progress on a number of fronts, including women's rights, civil rights and the environment. But no subject has been as stubborn or frustrating as gun control. The tragedy in Fort Hood - the largest US military installation - wasn't perpetrated by drug-fueled criminals or foreigners. It was conducted by a mentally disturbed Army doctor who was able to easily purchase the semiautomatic pistol from which he fired more than 100 rounds. He also had a back-up pistol, but didn't need it. How many times must this tragic situation play out before handguns like that are banned from the market. The Constitution gives American's the right to bear arms in a militia, not to gun down each other with weapons designed only for that purpose. This was not a hunting weapon. It was not sport. It was murder, plain and simple, and by allowing the easy access to handguns, we allowed it to happen.

Robin Evans, August 15, 2009

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They're familiar and horrifying headlines, perhaps about to get more familiar: "Man loses job, kills co-workers." "Man loses job and girlfriend, kills girlfriend." "Man loses job and wife, kills family." Often the men end up killing themselves as well. Or they're killed by police fire in a "Suicide by Cop." What's also horrifying is that calls to suicide crisis lines are rising, and economic distress is a big factor. So the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is throwing an additional $1 million at crisis centers. That's good. But if more value had been placed on preventive mental health services - services stripped or scaled to a few crisis intervention chats in most plans - perhaps we'd have a population more able to weather such emotional trauma. So, the obfuscation and grandstanding being used to derail health care reform is to me - horrifying. Some now doubt anything will get passed this year. How many suicides, and their collateral damage, will it take before we truly believe an overhaul of our health system is a life-and-death matter.

Robin Evans, August 6, 2009

There was a time when women thought getting married was the safest way to secure their future. It turned out to be hit or miss. With two earners needed just to keep a family's head above water, it's now mostly miss. Women have to get jobs, and yes, two incomes helps. But with men having earlier expiration dates than women and many more women opting for singledom, their future is still not secure. In the suburbs, they worry about being able to afford and manage alone in their homes. In the cities, they hang on to apartments. Rent-controlled if they're lucky. As some 78 million baby boomers are heading into retirement, the women of this generation have a unique opportunity to redefine the way elderly people live. There are many options that don't require the construction of whole new facilities for cooperative housing. I have a friend in her 50s who needs a roommate. She's looking for someone older who might need a bit of help, that she could provide. Women or men who live alone in homes once filled by their families could take in roommates. Many costs could be shared, including elderly assistance. Household tasks could be doled out according to ability. But more importantly, there's the opportunity to create an entirely new kind of family, giving seniors the sense of dignity, inclusiveness and respect that seems so lacking in this society of "family values."

Robin Evans, June 26, 2009

Few US presidents have tried to push through the number of major reforms as Barack Obama. Some will work. Many will need tinkering and time to evolve. But almost as important as the changes to regulations is the message this president is sending through his ongoing public dialogue with the American public. He’s asking us to be better stewards of our country – and ourselves. He just tripled the size of the AmeriCorps national service program and asked Americans and their children to find a way to help their communities – on a weekly basis! And, though research show prevention efforts can't save the health care system money, he’s putting the spotlight on health and eating habits we can do something about right now. Some will have immediate payoffs for some people. Over time, if enough people adopt the message, it could have a dramatic impact on health costs and the country’s general well-being. Conservatives have complained for years about declining moral values, but done little more than make people feel bad. Finally, we have a leader who is appealing to the best in us, showing us what family and community mean – and helping us take responsibility.

Tom Murphy, June 5, 2009

In the days after 9/11, there was a lot of talk about how to fight a new type of enemy. We wondered how to strike back at terror, how to respond to attacks that came from somewhere in the Arab world. Perhaps out of frustration, we made terrible mistakes, and now's the time to admit what the Arab world already knows: that in our eagerness to strike back at a small number of enemies, we killed many of our friends. Most people - Americans, Arabs or Israelis - don't want war. By reaching out to the Arab world, President Obama has taken the first sure-footed steps towards recognizing that. It can't make up for the damage done by years of misguided American military intrusions, not can it preclude further military strikes in contested areas like Afghanistan or Pakistan. But Obama did the best he could: to say we're seeking peace, to acknowledge our mistakes and to invite open discussions on how to move forward. Hopefully, we can all join together to strike at common enemies - the terrorists who we sought to punish in the first place.

Robin Evans, May 18, 2009

If you can't take a vacation, go out to dinner or a show, upgrade your cell phone or computer, buy those cute new shoes everyone is wearing, what's left to make you happy? A lot of people are finding out these day as their incomes and savings shrink. For some it's less stress in a lower paying but less demanding job. For others, it's comfort foods and cooking at home. Many who grew up in the boom days after World War II are discovering that NOT spending money can be exhilirating in its own way - a goal achieved with each dollar saved. Many Americans were fortunate to grow up in the comfortable middle class. Money was not necessarily abundant but enough that it wasn't the backdrop to every consideration. The '60s and '70s brought a brief respite from a growing trend to keep up with the Joneses. But the '90s rolled over that like a herd of buffalo. Soon enough, we were hooked on big box home goods' and electronics' stores. "It's such a deal, I can't afford NOT to buy it." Roaming the aisles of a department store, I wonder how many sets of dishes does one household need? So, now we're in a situation in which 70 percent of our economy depends on us to keep spending. I think we will, but with more discretion and a sense of its impact: something our grandparents' generation perfected. Even after my grandparents began earning a more than healthy income, my grandmother never failed to turn the leftover mashed potatoes into potato pancakes - that I declined. Maybe today, we'll do without a new set of dishes so we can continue donating to our favorite charity.

Tom Murphy, April 26, 2009

Like almost everyone else in my generation, I'm worried about the economy in the short term and about global warming in the long term. I try to learn from the lessons of history and one thing that occurs to me when I think about unemployment and the environment together is how the great dust bowl of the 1930s added to the pain of suffering of the Depression. This got me thinking about what would happen if in the middle of our current economic pain, the nation suddenly faced a great natural disaster, like drought or a massive earthquake. Now we hear the swine flu has killed dozens in Mexico City, and isolated cases are being reported in places like San Diego and Portland, Ore.  What would happen if we had a flu pandemic on the scale of the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918? The answer is to horrid to imagine. Fortunately, this is one case where we truly can think globally and act locally. The very best way to stop transmission of the flu is to wash your hands with soap and water. Beyond that, stay rested, eat right and exercise to keep your body strong. If only it was that simple to halt global warming or fix the economy.

Tom Murphy, April 22, 2009

I first noticed it when I was editor in chief at a major business web site: the younger workers liked to communicate by instant messages, even when they sat next to each other. I could live with that - chaque a son gout, n'est-ce pas? Then I noticed that when I asked them to call a source, they'd send an email instead. And when I asked for the result of that contact, they'd say, "I haven't heard back from them yet."  That was harder to deal with, because it was affecting the reporting of news to the public - and that is job no. 1. It's not that I'm some sort of luddite; I love technology, most of which has been created by my generation. But since that time, which was a few years ago now, I've heard similar reports from other editors in other newsrooms. They say their younger workers don't like to go out on stories; they send emails instead. And they don't like to use the phone to dig up stories; they prefer to troll for ideas on the Internet.  Now I read that law firms are seeing the same thing, and it's causing friction in those high-stress work places as young associates tap on laptops during meetings, or fiddle with Blackberries while the boss is talking. This is bothersome because it affects the quality of work and because, well, it's rather rude. But it is also a reflection of something that is inevitable: different generations have different ways of dealing with things, and they will have to live with the consequences.

Tom Murphy, March 29, 2009

Given the current condition of the world we live in - raging wars, rampant disease, ubiquitous poverty, blatant corruption, sinking economy - I think it's fair to say we could use all the wisdom we can find. Clearly, there's a shortage. I'd like to tell you what my great grandfather had to say about that... but I can't. He died a long time before I was born, and nobody took the time to record his thoughts. Nor can I tell you what any of my grandparents would have said. I have no idea. So when I heard about a group recording the thoughts and memories of our elders, my first thought was: Gee, I wish I could understand the circumstances under which my great-grandfather risked a voyage to America to escape the blight in Ireland. And I wish I knew why my grandmother turned into a political activist after the Russians stormed into Poland. These insights might give me a clue about how their choices worked out for them, and how similar actions might help change the world today. Imagine if we all had access to the collective wisdom of our ancestors. Perhaps the problems we face today wouldn't seem so frightening.

Tom Murphy, March 9, 2009

Boomers schooled on tales of the Great Depression have a sense of deja vu as they watch the economy unwind today. We all know people who've lost their jobs or their homes; more than 14 percent of the US is underemployed or just plain jobless. Families and friends are doubling-up in homes. Once-mighty banks and industrial giants have been humbled in financial markets. Homes in troubled places like Detroit are selling by the dozen at a tenth of what they cost two years ago. How does a Depression work? At the risk of over-simplifying, prices rise to a point where things are unaffordable. Then demand plummets but most people are so poor by that point, that they can't afford more than the very basics - if that. It's cruel and it's hard. But it also raises the value of a few things - like friends you can depend on, the importance of staying healthy and appreciating the simple goodness of home-cooked meals. Our generation will get through this, together. Just like our parents got through the Great Depression.

Tom Murphy, February 21, 2009

This used to be a nicer place. My generation used to assume that a promise was a promise, and a contract offered by a big US company was something you could count on. If something went wrong, you could count on the courts to set it right. We used to think that when someone worked hard their whole life for a company, that the company would follow through on a pledge of a good pension with health benefits. But things have changed. Now companies think they can yank health benefits away from retirees who accepted lower wages for years along with a promise of lifetime health plans. Now some judges think a company's right to change its mind trumps its contract with workers if the fine print says their health plans are subject to change. Now some people think we should cut back the Social Security system after boomers poured withholding taxes into it for three or four decades. This is ugly, nasty stuff in a country where one in four seniors is already categorized as poor by the federal government. It is unthinkable what will happen as the number of seniors double over the next 20 years. This is not right. This is not nice. And this has got to change.

Tom Murphy, February 5, 2009

A study from England suggests the sexual liberation of the '60s led to millions of cases of HPV that, in turn, triggered cancers.  But it's a little too easy to leap to the conclusion that we would have been better off without the free love era. No doubt that STDs started spreading more quickly after the pill and changes in Western mores led more people to engage in casual sex. But what, exactly, was the alternative - clinging to the hypocritical philosophies of the 1950s? Obviously, the majority of the society rejected those ways, which not only repressed people sexually, but led to other serious health consequences, like unwanted pregnancies and unlicensed abortions. The sexual liberation movement was closely tied to women's lib for a good reason: it gave women control over their bodies in a way the patriarchal society could not, and in that control, was both power and pleasure. HPV is dangerous, and thankfully there are now highly effective efforts to control it. The "safe sex" movement has also helped cut down on AIDS, HPV and other potentially fatal STDs. So would we be better off without the sexually liberating themes of the '60s?  Feel free to try.

Jennifer Meacham, January 27, 2009

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I was recycling some old periodicals - The Economist, Forbes along with the satire of The Onion - when I was struck by a 2005 Onion headline: "Bush to Appoint Someone To Be In Charge of Country."  The front-page "report" detailed Bush's plans to appoint "a bold, resolute ... strong, compassionate leader" to in a Cabinet-level Secretary of the Nation post. It names two likely candidates: Baby Boomer Barrack Obama and John McCain. Three years later, the report came closer to the truth that most Onion stories as Obama and McCain battled for "Secretary of the Nation" power. Does Obama's election mean the end of the boomer era, as a recent AP story said? In truth, Obama personifies everything boomers have fought for over the past four decades: gender and racial equality, environmentalism, social justice, an end to the divisions of war and giving back. The new administration is introducing plans for university-level students to invest 100 hours of volunteer time in exchange for $4,000 in direct tax credit. For a financial incentive, a new generation will be introduced to the volunteerism and encore service careers boomers have been doing for years. That doesn't sound like the end of the boomer era to me.

Jennifer Meacham, January 17, 2009

A report from NationalService.gov has found an possible connection between volunteering and health: "Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer," found the study. Indeed, "comparisons of the health benefits of volunteering for different age groups have also shown that older volunteers are the most likely to receive greater benefits from volunteering...." And, as we all know, a healthier person is a far less expensive person when it comes to health coverage. To that end, Congress drafted the GIVE Act (Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education), which would mandate coordinated volunteer programs run by each state. The bill still has a long way to go before becoming law, but it's a step in a healthy direction. As for the Martin Luther King Day of Service, I'm still mulling over potential projects and there are lots of choices. Witness this list of organized volunteer events in the Portland area, where I live through USAService.org's online events wizard.



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