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Updated: 4 days ago

I haven’t written a blog for quite some time and was planning to stop writing them altogether, but I decided to write about something that’s been irritating me. Here goes:

No fair-minded person thinks it’s okay to disrespect people because of a disability, race, religion, or physical imperfection.

Why, then, is ageism okay? Why is it acceptable to devalue people because they are old? Is it because maybe they used their seatbelts and didn’t smoke? There is luck involved in living to a ripe old age, but what’s wrong with that? We don’t ridicule people for being lucky enough to win the lottery.

I’m not sensitive because (full disclosure) I’m older than thirty-five, but I’ve always felt it was nasty and short-sighted to make fun of people because of their age (teenagers and millennials aside). This tendency has really taken off recently, now that two elderly gentlemen are running for the US presidency (okay, one gentleman and one guy with many ungentlemanly attributes). Many people just don’t want an old president, seeming to feel that all people past a certain age are mentally deficient.

The longer you live, the likelihood you will have physical problems increases. The things that go wrong are often cumulative. A pain in a joint gets worse and may spread to other joints with time. Complications from diabetes accumulate. Ears and eyes don’t work as well. Heart disease tends to progress and may become debilitating. Emphysema marches on at its own pace. The risk of something that might strike suddenly, such as a stroke or cancer, increases with age. Thankfully, many of these things are treatable with medicine and/or surgery, often with miraculous results. There are some untreatable really scary, debilitating conditions, such as ALS and dementia, that increase in prevalence with age.

That said, there is no way to predict when or even if these things will afflict a particular person. Some people can be affected before age fifty, others past age ninety, but still others are fortunate enough to escape all of these problems and die peacefully in their sleep after a century of living. 

So why all the negative comments and jokes about old people? Okay, general strength and stamina decrease over time, but everyday functioning doesn’t require bench pressing a hundred pounds, or fifty, for that matter. How often do you need to run a mile in ten minutes to be productive at your job or clean your house? Why is it acceptable to make fun of someone suffering from a bad back?

Mental and physical limitations, for the most part, are not connected, so a person who has difficulty walking can be mentally as sharp as a tack. The bad news is that intelligence, as measured by IQ, decreases with age. If you’re over thirty-five, your intelligence is already declining, but should you be forced to retire? Aspects of intelligence that are especially hard hit early on are mental processing speed and what is termed fluid intelligence, the ability to figure things out with no prior knowledge (such as filling in a matrix). These begin their descent around the ripe old age of 25.

On the other hand, crystallized intelligence, including vocabulary, general knowledge, and “wisdom,” increases or holds steady for some time. On average, it begins to decline between ages sixty and seventy, but not by much. In one study, the typical ninety-five-year-old had a higher crystallized intelligence than thirty-five-year-olds. Remember, old people today have experienced a lot of what life has to offer. They have lived through several wars (some were alive during World War II), the Cuban Missile Crisis, the British Invasion (starting with the Beatles), interest rates much higher than they are now (with home mortgage rates over 18%), new disease outbreaks (polio, Legionnaire’s disease, AIDS), a presidential assassination, a presidential resignation, gas rationing, recessions, Jim Jones (who literally convinced people to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid), race riots, campus unrest, Patty Hearst’s kidnapping, the collapse of the Soviet Union—I could go on. All these experiences enable older people to have a perspective younger people don’t have.

While considering age, I’m more concerned about the mental health of young people than old ones. Depression is higher in young people than the elderly. Several well-publicized airplane disasters were caused by depressed middle-aged pilots, who took scores of people down with them. I don’t want a depressed forty- or fifty-year-old to have the nuclear codes.

Young people make worse drivers and are responsible for more traffic fatalities than people over age eighty. (Why do old drivers have to be tested more than young ones in some places?)

We should look at old people who are still enjoying life as lucky and hope to join that club someday. Plenty of them are smart and continue to add to their accomplishments. Warren Buffet is the 93-year-old  CEO of Berkshire Hathaway,  and many wanna-be rich people currently try to emulate his investments. Other CEOs of major companies you may not have heard of include Roger Penske (86 years old) of Penske Automotive (26% increase in stock price last year), Robert Greenberg (83 years old) of Sketchers USA (34% increase in stock price last year), and  Albert Nahmed (82 years old) of Watsco (45% increase in stock price last year).

What about scientists? Can they be productive in their later years? Freeman Dyson, a theoretical physicist and mathematician, continued to be productive at the Institute for Advanced Studies (Princeton) until he died at age 96. Leon Lederman, who received a Nobel Prize in physics, was an active researcher until his late 80s, and the well-known biologist E.O. Wilson continued his research and writing well into his 90s. Stephen Hawking couldn’t breathe on his own, yet had a brilliant career until he died. Although only 76 when he passed away, I imagine if he’d lived, he would have been productive for many more years. While he was alive, he traveled around the world, meeting with other important, brilliant people as well as world leaders, despite his significant physical limitations.

Getting back to the presidential race, you should ask yourself which candidate has the most wisdom. I don’t intend to have a beer with my president, nor am I interested in seeing him ride a bike, jog, or lift weights. If he can’t walk, he can use a wheelchair like 66-year-old Governor Abbot of Texas.

Don’t be fooled by hair dye and skin bronzer—the two candidates are not significantly different in age. Also, don’t drink the Kool-Aid (figuratively) and believe the falsehoods repeated over and over by one side (a technique used by the thought police in 1984). Neither candidate is senile. Vote for the one you trust to make thoughtful, wise decisions.

The oldest current world leader, President Paul Biya, is 91 years old. His supporters are urging him to run for re-election in 2025. He has yet to decide whether to throw his hat back in the ring.

The next time you’re out and about and see an elderly person (someone thirty or more years older than you), don’t make a disparaging remark or push past them impatiently if they’re a little slow. Instead, think if I take really good care of myself, someday, that could be me.

Updated: Jul 14

You’ve probably never heard of the Writers’ Police Academy (WPA), but that’s about to change. The WPA has been an annual event where authors or aspiring authors converge to learn about a variety of law enforcement-related proceedings so writers of crime fiction can be accurate. It was started by a police detective who was frustrated by all the mistakes he came across in the novels he read.

When signing up for the WPA, attendees ranked their preferences for courses. It was tough to decide, as so many were interesting, but we were limited to six. The event was centered in Appleton, Wisconsin, although day classes were held in nearby Green Bay.

The first afternoon was the “Touch a Truck” event, where a large room containing public service vehicles was open to registrants. There was a firetruck, hazmat truck, swat vehicle, and ambulance we could photograph and look over to our heart’s content. Firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and other personnel stood by to answer all our questions and demonstrate how some of their high-tech gadgets work, including drones, police robots, and Tasers. I learned that the way the wires from a Taser accordion after being fired can be used to determine how far away the police officer was from the suspect at the time of discharge. Other equipment was displayed, including a door ram which happened to be used in the latest novel I had written. I learned door rams are applied differently than I had imagined, necessitating a minor change just before I sent the novel to my publisher.

That evening we all gathered for a talk by a photojournalist who had covered the trial of Darrell Brooks, a man who intentionally ran over spectators at a parade in Waukesha, WI, killing six and injuring many. We learned interesting facts about the trial and gained knowledge about how photojournalists work. Getting a great shot can take a lot of time and planning.

The next day started early. We all piled into buses and were driven to a venue in Green Bay for our classes. Before we entered the classrooms, we were entertained by a demonstration showing a SWAT team take-down of a suspect, culminating in a police dog attack (the officer playing the bad guy was wearing protective padding).

Then it was time for school. I attended A coroner's Life, Crime Scene Investigation, and Firearms. I took lots of notes which will come in handy later in my writing. Other classes offered at that time, but which I couldn’t attend, were Forced Entry: The Search for, and Capture, of Armed Suspect; TI Training: Interactive Use of Force Simulator; and K9 Emergency Aid.

We returned to our hotel in Appleton on our buses, had dinner on our own, and spent the evening with Steven Spingola, who can be seen on Cold Justice, a true crime program on the Oxygen channel. He spoke of his time on the team that investigated Jeffrey Dahmer. He had lots—and I mean lots—of photos of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims (parts of them, anyway). I doubt there is anyone reading this who doesn’t already know who Jeffrey Dahmer was and what he did. I think Mr. Spingola overdid it with the photos. How many pictures of bones, heads, and other body parts are needed to get the point across? I don’t know exactly, but in my opinion, he far exceeded it. Maybe I've seen too many photographs by forensic pathologists to have found it interesting.

The following day again started early, with a bus ride to a different Green Bay facility. I took classes titled Cold Cases (where I learned cases are never closed until they are solved, as demonstrated by the recent arrest of a man suspected of the Gilgo Beach murders over ten years ago), Homicide 101, and Vehicle Contacts. The other classes offered at that time were Death by Powders and Pills (I would really have loved to attend that one), Emergency Vehicle Operations (where participants got hands-on experience driving around training grounds), Handcuffing, and Virtual Reality Police Training Simulator.

Once finished with classes, we again boarded buses and were taken to a lecture hall to hear Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a noted forensic psychologist who now teaches at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Ramsland has appeared in numerous crime documentaries, been a consultant for several TV shows, and written numerous articles and books in her field. She spoke about the young, malleable men who were manipulated into aiding Dean Corll, the "Candy Man," who raped, tortured, and murdered at least 27 young men and boys in the 1970s.

That evening we attended a banquet where author Hank Phillippi Ryan was honored. She started off as a TV journalist and is now a bestselling psychological thriller author. She gave an engaging, fast-paced run-down of her journey from reporter to writer. Afterwards, presenters sold books and signed them. I bought several books, including one by Katherine Ramsland in which she detailed her numerous interviews with Dennis Rader, the BTK killer. When she signed my book, I asked her about Bryan Kohberger, accused of murdering the four Idaho University students. I had read that she had taught him previously while he studied criminology. She told me she was Mr. Kohberger's advisor and thinks he is a wonderful young man, intelligent and hard-working. She has interviewed numerous horrific murderers, but is convinced her previous student is innocent. Time will tell.

On the final day, we all got to sleep in before a two-hour question & answer session with many of the presenters. All good things come to an end, and, sadly, noon marked our “End of Duty.” Afterwards I rode the hotel shuttle to Appleton Airport, where it took less than a minute to get through security. Waiting for my flight at the small, midwestern airport with little security, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the people waiting with me for their flight were murderers who hadn’t been caught.

Updated: Jul 14

First, an update about what’s new in my world of writing.

All three of my Erica Rosen MD Trilogy titles are now available on Audible. I think those of you who enjoy audiobooks will find the narrator, Onyx Volcan, to be quite entertaining. Each book is between nine and ten hours.

Another short story of mine, Secrets, is serialized on Kindle Vella. Kindle Vella stories can be read directly on the Amazon site. One chapter will be released each Monday until all twelve chapters are published. The first three chapters are free. After that, there is a nominal charge. Most of the proceeds will go to provide Jeff Bezos with more funding for his outer space ventures or perhaps another yacht.

Links to short stories and novels are on my website, under “short stories” and “novels”, respectively.

Now for a little follow-up on He Jiankui. You may not know who he (or should I write “He”) is. It’s confusing as He’s last name is spelled the same as the pronoun “he.” I surely do know who he is, and I recently learned that He’s back in the public eye.

As many of you know, the first novel in my Erica Rosen MD Trilogy, Unnatural, was about children who were genetically engineered in a secret Chinese government program. Note that this is a novel, i.e. fiction. When I wrote it, I thought that while possible, no one had dared to do such a thing— perform human embryonic stem cell genetic engineering— but it would make a good story. Certainly no one would actually do such a thing for years to come because of the risks involved as well as the world-wide moratorium on such a practice.

Boy, was I wrong. As I was editing the completed first draft of the book, the news of He Jiankui’s announcement spread quickly. A Chinese scientist, he proudly claimed to have performed human genetic engineering on three embryos, implanted all of them in women, and the resulting infants were about to be born. Needless to say, this changed the nature of my book’s plot from something original, that had never been done, to something that had already been performed. I swore a lot, thinking this made my story less compelling. A few days later, I had a change of attitude. My story was still interesting, but I would need to insert something about He's work. I did that, and in the end didn’t feel like his work detracted from my novel. It only reinforced the reason I picked China to be the site of the first embryonic stem cell gene editing—a country with an authoritarian government, but with advanced scientific capabilities.

While He didn’t edit the same genes targeted in my novel, there were some similarities between what he did and what happened in Unnatural. The gene He targeted was not life-saving. He claimed he wanted to make the children resistant to HIV, but the real reason was probably different—mutations in the gene he altered are thought by some to improve intelligence and/or memory (in rats it has been shown to improve cognition and memory after strokes and traumatic brain injury). A mutation of this gene occurs naturally in some people of European descent, and when they have two copies of this gene, they are resistant to many (but not all) viruses that cause HIV. On the other hand, they appear to be more susceptible to death from West Nile Virus, and, possibly, influenza.

He received world-wide condemnation. While the health and well-being of the children is kept secret, scientists analyzing the data supplied have concluded that mistakes were made. The changes in the targeted gene do not result in the same change found naturally in Europeans, and it is unknown what effect this “new” protein will have. In addition, there is great concern that off-target changes were made in the DNA of the embryos.

Very recently, He Jiankui has reappeared in the news. He supposedly served a three-year sentence in China, with some sort of confinement. I’m not sure if this is true, or just a public relations ploy carried out by the Chinese government. While at first, those in charge professed outrage and promised severe punishment, possibly a death penalty, the sentence was much less severe. It later came out that there is evidence the Chinese government funded He’s experiments. Perhaps, due to the world-wide reaction, He became the scapegoat.

He now admits that mistakes were made—he performed the procedure without considering the downside. His lack of caution may have been due to the fact that he is not a physician. Like the children in my novel, the victims of his gene editing scheme will need to be monitored for life, as they are at risk for unintended consequences. For all we know, they may already be showing signs of something that went awry, possibly suffering from the consequences of He’s recklessness. Only time will tell if the world will ever learn the truth about the condition of these three children. One thing is for sure—we haven’t heard the last of efforts to edit human embryos.

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