Wednesday, May 9, 2012

MAD WOMEN by Jane Maas

"Was it really like that?"

As soon as people find out I actually worked at an advertising agency in the
Mad Men era, they pepper me with questions. "Was there really that much drinking?" "Were women really treated that badly?" And then they lean in and ask confidentially: "Was there really that much sex?"

The answer is yes. And no.
Mad Men gets a lot of things right, but it gets some things wrong, too. So I thought I'd give you a typical day in my life on Madison Avenue in 1967, three years after I began working at Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter.

--from Chapter 1, "A Day on Madison Avenue, 1967"

If you enjoy Mad Men, you really should read Mad Women

From a lifetime on Madison Avenue, Jane Maas knows advertising better than anyone, and she cheerfully dishes about the agencies and individuals she worked with. Her portrayal of boozing, tomcatting, money-obsessed ad men is pretty close to what you see on the TV show, and often funnier.

Having been a teenager in the 60s, I especially appreciated her deft evocations of how it felt to be a female in those days. Uncomfortable, actually, what with girdles and garters, nylon stockings with seams, pointy bras, hats, and little white gloves. And uncomfortable in a more serious way, as women were patronized or ignored, passed over for promotion, paid considerably less than their male counterparts, constantly and thoughtlessly harassed, and fired if they got pregnant. (My first full-time job, in 1968, had a three-tiered pay scale: highest for married men, middle for single people, lowest for married women.)

Maas is now about 80, and she's seen a lot of changes in her industry and in women's lives. Though many of the changes are for the better, she's not sure that today's working women have it any easier than their foremothers. Maybe she's right--balancing work and family is extremely difficult in any era. Still, I wouldn't want to turn the clock back 50 years. Reading or watching TV shows about the 60s is fun. But being an ambitious working woman back then--or a traditional housewife, for that matter--was often fun only on TV.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Uh oh. Will we be able to afford Medicare?

We'll be hearing a lot about Medicare between now and November. Obama wants to tweak it. Romney wants to reinvent it. Everyone who wants to get elected, however, agrees on one thing: nothing will change for the current crop of seniors and soon-to-be seniors.

Whew. Six months and Mr Neff will be home free! Less than a year and a half and we'll both have free health care! And then we can afford to retire, right?

Wrong.

Last week a friend and I - let's call her Dorothy - compared health-care costs. We have a lot in common. Both of us are married. In both couples, one spouse's medical expenses are low while the other spouse's are high. We both live in Wheaton, Illinois, and have access to the same hospitals and doctors and pharmacies. We both are compulsive record keepers. Here's the difference: Dorothy and her husband - let's call him Dale - are retired and on Medicare. My husband and I have a Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO through his employer.

Last year Dorothy and Dale paid $8,874.60 for health insurance. That included Medicare plans A, B, and D ($2988), plus a Medigap policy, plan F, to handle what Medicare doesn't cover ($5,886.60). In addition, they paid $1588 for dental care, vision care, and prescription co-pays. Add those expenses to their insurance costs, and Dorothy and Dale paid $10,462.60 for health care in 2011.

For comparison, last year my husband and I paid $3,185 for health insurance. In addition, we paid $4,447.51 for co-pays, deductibles, vision care, and the percentage that Blue Cross doesn't cover. Add these expenses to our insurance costs, and my husband and I paid $7,632.51 for health care in 2011.

That is, my retired friends on Medicare paid $871.88 a month on health care compared to our $636.04 - a difference of $235.84 a month. In fact, health care costs eat up about 30% of their Social Security income. Something to look forward to!

Still, I'm thankful for Medicare. Once my husband retires and the company contribution stops - another $12,740 beyond our own payments - there's no way we could pay for private insurance plus out-of-pocket expenses. Half a loaf is better than none. But do keep us geezers in mind when you go to the polls in November. Most retired folks have less income than they did when they were working. They also often have much higher medical expenses, even if their health status has not changed.

Yes, I know that health-care costs have spiraled out of control. Yes, I understand that the government will not be able to afford Medicare much longer, especially since the ratio of workers to retired people has dramatically shifted. Clearly something has to be done - but what?

A government website touts the Affordable Care Act's provisions to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare, and to slow cost growth - worthy goals all, but inadequate to the task of reforming senior health care. Mr. Romney offers a private-enterprise-based solution that could actually make the situation worse. Our current for-profit health-care system has made U.S. health care more expensive than health care in all other developed nations, twice as expensive as most. Allowing it to take over an even greater percentage of our health care system seems foolhardy at best.

The truth is that we won't solve Medicare until we solve health care for everybody.

Meanwhile, why do politicians of every persuasion promise not to touch Medicare for Boomers and seniors, even as they suggest overhauling the program? Because we don't know what we'd do without it, and they don't know what they'd do without our votes.

But if our lawmakers don't start ignoring their pet lobbyists and corporate sponsors pretty darn soon and come up with a really workable health-care plan for young and old alike, we're going to find out exactly what we'll do without Medicare: If we or our children can afford to pay several thousand dollars a month for health care, we'll live as long as our European friends. If not, well, too bad.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

QUIET: THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING by Susan Cain

I almost wish they hadn't added that "New York Times bestseller" strip across the top of the book jacket - it disturbs the cool, mineral quiet of the original cover. I fully understand why Susan Cain's Quiet is selling so well, though. Of all the books I've read so far this year - and last year too, for that matter - this is the one about which I've most often told my friends, "You've got to read it."

Here's the book's premise, from the Introduction:
We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal - the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual - the kind who's comfortable "putting himself out there." Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

Introversion - along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness - is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man's world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
Introverts, take heart - Cain is riding to your rescue (or perhaps just quietly sidling up beside you), providing more cures for your feelings of guilt, inadequacy, shame, or discomfort than you'd get from a year of therapy. Extroversion hasn't always been as highly valued as it is in contemporary America, she points out, giving a brief history of Dale Carnegie and others who helped make us a nation of self-marketers. And while extroversion is important, too much Groupthink can dampen creativity and impede progress. Introverts have gifts we ignore at our peril (Cain links the Wall Street crash, for example, to a shortage of introverted thinking).

Cain's observations range widely, from office space (down with the open plan!) to brain chemistry to education. She offers practical advice for the hypersensitive, for those panicked by public speaking, for parents of introverted children, for spouses of opposite personality types. Along the way she reports on research and tells fascinating stories. Though a lawyer by profession, Cain is an excellent journalist.

But much as I enjoyed Cain's writing style, the reason I've been telling everybody to read this book is because so many of my friends are introverts. If they're anything like me, they'll find Cain wonderfully affirming next time they find themselves at coffee hour in a strange church, or next time they have to navigate a giant get-acquainted reception at a convention, or next time the in-service education director brightly says, "OK, folks, let's break into small groups and share ..."

Oh, and it's OK if you blush when everyone turns to look at you. Embarrassment, says a researcher whose work Cain describes, "is a moral emotion. It shows humility, modesty, and a desire to avoid aggression and make peace. It's not about isolating the person who feels ashamed ..., but about bringing people together." A blush signifies concern for others.