Preying on older adults

provocative junk mail

There’s a whole swath of companies that sell “health products” and quasi-political organizations that spend a lot of money making more money by targeting older adults in the USA.

I know this because my 87-year-old father-in-law gets approximately a pound of mail from these groups every day.

With few exceptions, his junk mail has these characteristics:

  • Most of the text is all caps.
  • The graphic design is poor or nonexistent.
  • The copywriting is done by someone who hasn’t quite finished high school.
  • The political organizations strongly emphasize the urgency of their cause – over and over and over within each piece.
  • The political organizations fan the flames on any fear that may be lurking in the back of the recipients’ minds.
  • The political organizations ask for money.
  • The health products are not scientifically proven.
  • The health products are not approved by the FDA.
  • Most of the health products promise to reverse the effects of aging.

The worst part of this is that many older adults living on their own do not have the discrimination to identify a scam. So they give – or buy.

The best tip I can provide to combat this scourge is that when there’s a post-paid envelope in their mailing, return the part of the mailing with the addressee’s info on it in the post-paid envelope with this message: “TAKE ME OFF YOUR MAILING LIST.” That way, they will pay double to not get any business. (And they only understand text that’s in all caps.)

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Recycling fears

I’ve never visited a recycling plant. That would make a great school field trip, but at my age, I’d have to take time off of work to enjoy such an outing.

Anyhow, I fear that sometimes stuff I’ve put into the recycling bin ends up in landfills. That’s not just a fear on my part – it’s reality: here’s the link to a related story. In America, a lot of the difficulty comes from political gyrations on the part of our current government.

Another problem comes into play – how manufacturers create their products – many times, materials are mixed, so it’s impossible to properly recycle the package or product. If you look at the plastic bottle above that contained some cold brew coffee, you’ll see that the manufacturer of the coffee was kind enough to point that out.

But how many people would take the time to peel off the label? Maybe 2%, if we’re lucky!

I would love it if manufacturers would employ creative resources (and funds) to come up with easier-to-recycle packages and products. I know that some car manufacturers are moving in that direction (related story), but the rest of the product world has a long way to go.

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My water, not our water

Sign describing well water is used for irrigation

During my bicycle ride to work, I pass by a large cemetery with vast green expanses of lawn spread out among scattered memorial benches. (They have a rule against vertical tombstones.)

And they use their own well water to keep the grass a healthy and tranquil green.

But isn’t that water drawn from the same aquifer that surrounding neighborhoods use?

Apparently, when you use your own well water, you can water at the peak of sunshine exposure, when evaporation is at its highest. And you can water however many days a week you like.

Even worse, one neighborhood I ride through irrigates grass along the edges of their roads seven days a week.

The rest of us in suburbia are limited by Denver water authorities to three days a week and no watering between 10 am and 6 pm.

I’m not jealous of this extravagant use of water. But I find it interesting that these rules apply to only one set of users.

Life is always like that – one set of rules for one group and another set for another group – unlimited access to resources for one group and very limited access for another group.

You and I need to just accept this and ride on.

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Lawyer overkill

warning label from CD package

It all started with spilled coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through.*

Well, not really. Our American tendency to sue for everything probably started long before that.

How many people would buy a CD and give the thin plastic wrapper to their baby and say, “Play with this wrapper – it will do you no harm”?

Anyone who reads magazines today is used to flipping past pharmaceutical ads that use two full pages of fine print after the actual ad that could be summed up in one simple sentence: “Use of this drug is possibly dangerous, and you should consult with your doctor before using.” The television equivalent is 10 seconds at the end of an ad that are some of that fine print, read at 300 words a minute.

Please, please, America…

Just don’t be stupid.


* That incident happened in 1994. And she won the case.

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Police brutality and the National Anthem

No doubt by now you’ve read about football players not standing during the singing of the National Anthem. They are using their visibility to make a statement that they stand against our country allowing police to do bad and sometimes horrible things to African Americans.

I believe they could turn that important energy elsewhere. Yes, it’s a horrible problem. But malaria kills thousands of times more Africans than American police kill unarmed African Americans..

I lived in a malaria-prone country for five years. I love that country. Overall, people there seem happier than Americans, in spite of the significant challenges of daily life.

Malaria was not a problem for me there, as we were privileged to have been taught ways to prevent the disease. Many there aren’t – or simply don’t have the $10 for a mosquito net.

I know that no NFL football player will ever read this, but for the rest of you, Unicef is just one place you can give to help prevent deaths caused by malaria.

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Because I’m selfish

motorbike riders in Phnom PenhI love freedom. But when freedom costs me something that could be easily avoided, I pause.

For people living in the US, depending on your state, you can ride a motorcycle with out a helmet. It’s super enjoyable to zoom along with the wind in your hair.

But then that driver doesn’t see you, he turns into your lane – and your dreams of motorcycling disappear into years of surgeries, physical therapy and pain.

This is not theoretical – a good friend of mine experienced that. And he was wearing a helmet.

So here’s the selfish part of the equation… when the helmet-less rider ends up in the hospital with years of medical appointments ahead, it costs me. My insurance premiums rise.

The same holds true for bicycle riding.

I have to admit that I am not super rigid on that – sometimes when I go for a quick ride to the corner store on my (slow) mountain bike, I don’t put on a helmet. And yes, I know that most accidents happen closest to home.

So I leave it up to you where you draw the line between your freedom and your responsibility to society.

The photo is Creative Commons licensed by Sara y Tzunki (Cecilia e Francesco) and was taken in Phnom Penh.

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The problem of where they should live

aspen-airportPlaces like Aspen and Breckenridge have a problem: people who work there can’t live anywhere close.

Jonathan Thompson wrote an article about this in The Denver Post (link). He outlines the problem far better than I can – and backs it up with good research.

But Jonathan did not propose any solutions. I will.

Part-time residents in such places should pay a tax to build affordable housing in close proximity. That tax should be based on the amount of time they don’t live there. In other words, if someone lives in their vacation home just three weekends a year, their tax would be higher than someone who lives there year-round. Or than someone who rents out their vacation home during the time they’re not there.


I know this is the kind of post that many read and take issue with. I’m turning off comments for this post only, as it’s one of those things where if you believe differently, I can’t convince you of my point – and vice-versa.

p.s. I love Aspen. And Breckenridge. And their competition. I took the photo above during a brief visit in 2007. That’s the airport just outside Aspen, which has a greater density of Learjets than any other airport in the USA. (That is not a statistic I can back up.)

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Buy a pen now, to help others

writing with a Schneider penI love Schneider pens – the very best in the world. They’re made in Germany.

Stride is the company that distributes Schneider pens in the USA. Stride employs people with intellectual and physical challenges – allowing these individuals to learn and grow in a working environment that is full of love and acceptance.

You can read the stories of Peter, Victor and Vaden to see what a difference Stride has made in each of their lives.

Stride distributes pens and doesn’t sell them directly to consumers. But you can buy them at Office Depot. When you buy some of these amazing pens, you will help the team at Stride.

If you prefer porous-tip pens (what used to be called “felt-tip”) or gel pens, Schneider has those also. And they’re excellent.

Ask the Office Depot sales staff to help you find them – the Schneider pens may be tucked away in a back corner.

And then go back home to write a real letter, by hand, to someone who could use a little extra love and acceptance.

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Making Strides

Life’s challenges can push some to despair and others to greatness.

I was recently inspired by the story of Barbara Brennan. The challenge of a son born with hydrocephalus pushed her to greatness. She began her company, Stride, Inc., as an avenue to employ people with developmental challenges.

One example of how Stride has made a difference is Victor. When he began working for Stride, he didn’t speak much, due to a communication disorder. He proved himself by succeeding at several different jobs and now manages their shipping and receiving department. Victor has been with Stride for thirty years!

Writing with a Schneider penMy connection with this amazing company came through enjoying the excellent products they distribute in the USA, Schneider pens. Kerry Bertam, Stride’s CEO, found my review of their Slider XB pens. He very kindly sent me several Schneider pens – and they all are beyond perfect. As I highlighted in the review, these are the smoothest ballpoint pens on the planet and yet amazingly produce no blobs of ink. Knowing that Schneider pens are distributed by such a great company makes writing with these pens even more pleasurable!

I’d urge you to try Schneider pens through Office Depot. If your local store doesn’t have any, you can go to Office Depot’s website to order them. (Many are available for in-store pickup through their site.)

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$550 or $15?

My oldest son is spending his summer working with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. He’s working on hiking trails in national parks in Colorado. A typical day involves using a large cross-cut saw to remove giant trees from many paths. (You can check out his adventures at their WordPress site.)

gore-tex jacket (detail)I’m not telling you this to brag about Jay, but rather to talk about breathable rain jackets. In the June 7, 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal, an article about outdoor adventure gear features a jacket – the Arc’teryx Beta AR. I am sure that it is a totally amazing garment. However, H&M had a similar breathable waterproof jacket for $70. I went to my local H&M and bought it on an end-of-season closeout for $15.

I ask you – which is the better deal?

Jay will be using that $15 jacket all summer – far more than the average Arc’teryx Beta AR buyer will wear their finery during their whole lifetime.

There is an American tendency to buy far more than you need. I also fall prey to this thinking. Let’s fight it.

Footnote: I understand that it is more righteous to buy used clothing than to sponsor companies like H&M that use far-too-underpaid labor. Alas, I couldn’t find a good waterproof breathable jacket at any of our local used clothing outlets.

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