Walking by Woods on a Summer Evening

In 2008, while walking around with my dog on the Mendocino coast, I came upon a school of fine woodworking, an annex of College of the Redwoods, a community college in Fort Bragg. The school originated as a private workshop founded by James Krenov, a Danish immigrant master craftsman, who died during the year I was in Fort Bragg. Every Friday evening, the students and teachers drank beer around a bonfire in which they burned the week’s collection of mistakes, mockups and trims and occasionally, I’d be walking by and drink a beer with them. Students come to this school from many places in the world to master the crafts of shaping and joining fine, wooden furniture. All of their work must meet the highest standards of perfect manufacture and fine finish. To the students and their teachers, I was just an interesting local guy out walking his dog, taking pictures of everything. Looking at my pictures, I saw that the “mistakes” they were burning were often beautifully figured wood from exotic and domestic species. One Friday, I came by earlier in the day to salvage some wood from their scrap bin to make a guitar stand. Everything I’d seen for the purpose seemed uninspired. Within a month, I’d made four exquisite pieces from castaways that I’d saved from the fire: two guitar stands, a footrest and a small piece of display art, not exactly a sculpture. When I showed it to them, my work had an effect on students and teachers…it has been lasting. They became more respectful of the material they are privileged to work and better about wasting it. They also began to see value in nature, things that they had previously taken for granted. They were also emboldened to explore the potential of whimsy in their own designs. Then, one day, Krenov and I were gone.

Welcome to the 21st Century – Would You Like to Pay Now or Later?

With medical breakthroughs and healthier lifestyles, health issues of older people are less of a problem, hence we see an increase in life expectancy, but even though many have valuable experience (not only in their field of employment, but also, raising children, community service, etc.), they are not able to compete with younger people. And the discriminatory hiring practices they face are effectively just like racism and chauvinism. Unlike discrimination by race, sexual orientation or ethnicity agism is accepted and legal.

Youth is regarded as more energetic, healthy creative, cooperative and flexible. Would you rather work with attractive, energetic, enthusiastic, optimistic playmates or cynical, moody people, who have no future and have obviously failed or wouldn’t need to still be working? But what is the difference between this attitude and race-based preferences?

Since every old person was once young and since, when they were young, they learned to view aging as a pejorative, as they get older, they view themselves in this way. We’d be amazed to hear Jews apologizing for the Holocaust, yet this kind of thinking is implicit in media images of older people and in ads for retirement plans, drugs, medical care and notably, Internet ads for sexual enhancements and dating. Young people also learn to expect that they may be living one day in that unique form of cohabitation we call, “residential care”; places where people are expected to be useless and dependent

AARP, the organization that proposes to advocate regarding issues of aging, is committed to an agenda that is analogous to improving conditions of child labor or slavery as opposed to ending slavery and exploitation. AARP and associates like Cornell and Stein institutes on aging, etc., are funded and supported by drug companies, health insurers and residential care real estate development firms but there are also tax-supported public agencies that have made a business of the age-related paradigm of dependence.

This dependency syndrome is now stumbling over issues related not only to the general economic malaise, but also, to the way Social Security and Medicare funds are effected by inflation resulting from financing warfare during the last half century and the way public sector employees funded their own exclusive retirement program by neglecting investment in economically sustaining infrastructure and programs. With the failed economy competing in a global labor market, this idea backfired with the result that millions of them are out of work, too, and no one is able to retire. The median age of the workforce is increasing but there fewer employment opportunities for older citizens.

One effect is that older people are returning to school to obtain credentials for new job opportunities but the number of young and foreign-born students in colleges is also increasing. Some opportunities for employment are opening in higher education but 30% of Americans currently hold bachelor degrees and with life expectancy increasing the ratio of educated workers in the workforce to available jobs means things must get worse for people regardless of their level of education. Historically, government projects that create private employment have mitigated high unemployment but the additional burden of failed retirement programs coupled with lower death rates multiplies the burden.