So, this is what it’s like to live in a gerontocracy


This story about Diane Feinstein makes me sad. She’s exhibiting signs of severe cognitive decline, and is hindering progress by Democrats in the Senate with her inability to function.

In a hearing on November 17th, Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who, at eighty-seven, is the oldest member of the Senate, grilled a witness. Reading from a sheath of prepared papers, she asked Jack Dorsey, the C.E.O. of Twitter, whether his company was doing enough to stem the spread of disinformation. Elaborating, she read in full a tweet that President Trump had disseminated on November 7th, falsely claiming to have won the Presidential election. She then asked Dorsey if Twitter’s labelling of the tweet as disputed had adequately alerted readers that it was a bald lie.

It was a good question. Feinstein seemed sharp and focussed. For decades, she has been the epitome of a female trailblazer in Washington, always hyper-prepared. But this time, after Dorsey responded, Feinstein asked him the same question again, reading it word for word, along with the Trump tweet. Her inflection was eerily identical. Feinstein looked and sounded just as authoritative, seemingly registering no awareness that she was repeating herself verbatim. Dorsey graciously answered the question all over again.

She’s a symptom. The whole Senate is sclerotic with these ancient, decrepit geezer. It’s how we ended up with a 78 year old Democratic president, and a senate full of old people shaking their canes at each other.

Meanwhile, the Feinstein situation has triggered the latest round in a larger generational fight in the Democratic Senate caucus. Unlike the Republican leadership in the Senate, which rotates committee chairmanships, the Democrats have stuck with the seniority system. Some frustrated younger members argue that this has undermined the Democrats’ effectiveness by giving too much power to elderly and sometimes out-of-touch chairs, resulting in uncoördinated strategy and too little opportunity for members in their prime.

A glimpse of the discontent became visible last month, when Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island, who at sixty-five is considered a younger member, challenged the claim of Richard Durbin, the seventy-six-year-old senator from Illinois, a long-serving member of the Party’s leadership, to be next in line to fill Feinstein’s seat as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

That’s depressing. I’m 63 and I’d be a young babe in that place, and that just isn’t right.

I am not suffering any kind of cognitive decline (I think, but then I wouldn’t know, would I?) but I am suddenly thinking that I should be considering retirement. I’ve never seriously thought about it before, just assuming I’d keep going and going until I dropped dead in front of a class (also not something I think is imminent), and retirement was not something that would ever be an option for me. But now, I’m contemplating it, not just because Feinstein is setting a bad example, but because this stupid pandemic has been traumatic, and I wouldn’t want to keep teaching this way. It would probably serve the students better if I were replaced with a younger, more up-to-date person (not much hope of that, either, with university finances being hit hard recently, so if I left, I’d probably be replaced with nobody).

Anyway, I’m putting my retirement on the agenda. At some point. I should start squinting at the calendar. And my finances. All I’m saying is that if I’m still at UMM when I’m 70, you all have the job of yelling at me to stop being selfish.

Oh, and if I do take the option of dropping dead before retiring, yell at my corpse even harder that I was so selfish.

Comments

  1. naturalistguy says

    Work as long as you like and as long as they’ll have you. With vaccines coming soon things might get a bit better in the classroom by late spring.

  2. po8crg says

    I think that a sensible constitutional amendment would be that no-one can be elected to a federal office that they will still be in beyond their 76th birthday (so they can’t stand again for the Senate after their 70th birthday).

    I’d also require all federal judges to retire on their 76th birthday.

    It’s about 10 years after most normal people retire, which seems about right given the far better medical care that politicians and judges get.

    Also – because it would be the only way to get it to pass – exempt anyone who held federal elected office at the time that the amendment came into effect (or at any earlier time). It would take a while before it started making a big difference, because you’d be grandfathering in all the current old people in politics, but it would make a big difference – these are jobs that so many are tempted to stay in until they drop.

  3. PaulBC says

    I never liked Feinstein much to begin with. She should have resigned long ago. Also, in California there would be little risk of losing a Democratic senate seat as a result. I agree that we increasingly live in a gerontocracy. This issue should be addressed more directly.

  4. PaulBC says

    JoeBuddha@4 I think it’s great for people to keep their minds and bodies occupied as long as health permits, but I don’t think it’s great for them to hold power over the rest of us.

    Declining cognitive function isn’t even my main concern. Sometimes it keeps me up at night thinking what would happen if we achieved genuine, dramatic increases in longevity so that an 80 year old might go back to the real health of a 40 year old and continue that way for decades or a century.

    The problem would not be incapacity, but depriving opportunity to anyone new. (Anyone going for a tenure track position is already on a death watch at several levels of remove as faculty gaps appear and are gradually filled like the space in a 15 puzzle.)

    It is a recipe for stagnation. I don’t mean it’s good for life to be so short, but there’s a time to step off the stage and let someone else on.

  5. R. L. Foster says

    I retired from my job as a state environmental scientist at age 63. I worked in coal mine reclamation and permitting. The actual work wasn’t bad. I was using my degrees, so there was that. And the pay and benefits were good. But, oy vey, the frigging politics! Imagine being stuck between the industry, the environmentalists and the local landowners. Everyone hated you. Nobody trusted you to be impartial. I’m much calmer now. There are some battles that truly require younger minds and bodies.

  6. naturalistguy says

    The Democrats in the Senate could do something the Republicans have already done, namely discount seniority when selecting committee chairs. That would leave qualifications and ability as the criteria, rather than longevity.

  7. anat says

    At an institutional and societal level, it is good for people to retire and make room for new people with new ideas. On the other hand, at the personal level, people need to make a plan for what to do once they retire, because lack of stimulation is really bad for you. My personal plan (as it stands for now) is to volunteer with school kids, help with math and science.

  8. brucegee1962 says

    When my dad was in his 80s, he said he appreciated the need for younger politicians. He said “I don’t want the president waking up in the morning and feeling the way I do when I wake up in the morning.”

  9. npsimons says

    Maybe it’s because I’m feeling old in my early 40’s myself (especially in my chosen industry of software), but I feel ageism isn’t the answer.

    I would propose we try just having competence tests; that way you can avoid being ageist, and also catch the young cognitively-impaired, of which there appear to be more than enough of those in GOP circles.

    I do recognize, though, that this goes being just competence, and having more people with a different point of view would help, but again, that feels less like an age thing and more like a class warfare thing, where Feinstein’s biggest disconnect from those she represents isn’t her age, but rather her wealth.

  10. says

    This is why we need term limits. Letting these fossils hang out in congress for decade after decade and build their little kingdoms is quickly becoming an impediment to democracy.

  11. naturalistguy says

    @15: Throwing out the baby with the bathwater by tossing out all politicians regardless of how well they’re serving their constituents isn’t the answer.

  12. says

    @Naturalist:

    There’s a mandatory retirement age for commercial airline pilots.

    No, these policies aren’t perfect, but yes, I believe that they can be helpful. In the case of political term limits, yes. I believe that they’re often helpful (though whether it is or not would be dependent on the specifics of a given law).

    There are huge benefits to incumbency, and if you read law journals on election law you’ll find that there is, in fact, a tendency to represent your district/riding less well over time. More than that, there’s a tendency to support big money’s concerns more over time.

    So, sure, we might dump a few good politicians, but if we look to the evidence it’s my belief that we could easily draft a policy that does more good than harm – by a long way! – for both individual districts as well as for states/ provinces/ countries in their totalities.

  13. seachange says

    SI Hayakawa was a California US senator who died in office. He would pretend to be asleep/not paying attention to the boring shenanigans and stentorian posturing for consitutents on the Senate floor. Then he would ‘wake up’ and cast a deciding vote, or say the right bon mot. The media portrayed him as a doddering old fool who needed retirement and of course made fun of my home state too. But he was effective, wise, and nasty up to the very end.

    Maybe she has memory loss, maybe she doesn’t. I have seizures that make me have memory problems and I forget I said something. Seldom do I repeat things exactly. Someone who is doddering around isn’t capable of repeating the same thing over exactly. She is (possibly) playing to an audience of stupid little children by rubbing it in.

  14. billseymour says

    When I was growing up (some may wish to suggest that I haven’t quite finished that, which I won’t deny), most folks retired around age 65. Well, I’m 74 now and still gainfully employed…as a computer programmer, so the job isn’t physically strenuous.

    I’ve been thinking of retiring when I hit 75 in August, but now I’m thinking about the end of January.  I’ll have 30 years with the U. S. Postal Service, so my pension plus Social Security will provide a decent income.

    And in addition to, and unconnected with, my day job, I serve on the ISO standards committee for the C++ programming language.  Paying my dues gives me license to hang around with people who are smarter than I am, so I’d definitely keep doing that and so keep my brain active.

    I’m not sure what I think of term limits or mandatory retirement ages.  It seems like there would be cases when we’d be getting rid of lots of good folks along with the bad.  OTOH, I could go for mandatory retirement ages, I guess, just to give those whippersnappers a fair shot.

  15. says

    In Canada Supreme Court judges and members of the (unelected) Senate retire at 75. There is no age limit on how old a Member of Parliament can be. Hedy Fry is currently the oldest MP at 79.

  16. billseymour says

    timgueguen @20:  I hadn’t thought of appointed positions in government.  Yes, I could definitely go for mandatory retirement in those cases.

  17. tacitus says

    The average age of the House is hardly any better — only four years younger than the Senate. Contrast that with the British House of Commons (the only house that counts over there) which has average around 50 since 1979, though it too is rising slowly. Germany is 49, Australia 51, Canada 52, France 48, Spain 47, and Italy 45, though again these are the average ages of the lower houses, where the power lies in most parliamentary democracies.

    So, the atrophy of the US Congress is real in more ways than one. Other legislative bodies are younger and thus more likely to be in touch with their citizens.

  18. whheydt says

    Re: PaulBC @ #5…
    Yeah…DiFi has been past her “sell by date” for quite a while. Much of her survival in office was having the Republicans run nut cases against here before we got the “jungle primary”. Also bear in mind what gave her the leg up to become mayor of SF…

  19. whheydt says

    There are SF stories around the idea that extreme life extension becomes possible, but is very expensive, leading a Senate composed people of extreme age because they’re rich enough to keep on living, and collectively rigging elections so that they can never be voted out of office.

  20. robert79 says

    “this stupid pandemic has been traumatic, and I wouldn’t want to keep teaching this way. It would probably serve the students better if I were replaced with a younger, more up-to-date person”

    I feel the same, and being in my 40s, I’m the younger, more up-to-date person.

  21. kome says

    We have minimum age requirements for serving in many elected offices, including Senator. We should have age limits, too. Something like 65 or 70.

  22. PaulBC says

    seachange@18 I had to look up Senator Hayakawa. I live in CA now but didn’t grow up here.

    He was born in 1906 and elected senator in 1977, so he wasn’t even that old by today’s standards. I think it says a lot about perceptions. Admitted, that’s pretty old to be first elected to the Senate. He didn’t die in office either. He lost to Pete Wilson in the next election and died in 1992. He was also an academic with impressive credentials.

  23. says

    I really don’t think it’s about age, other than in the most general sense that advanced age increases the probability of cognitive problems. Feinstein has what have seemed for a while like some major issues. She needs to retire. (There are, of course, a number of Republican legislators who are entirely unfit for office, and many of them are young.) Tony Fauci turns 80 in two weeks, and he’s sharp as a tack, has incomparable knowledge accumulated over decades, and maintains a schedule that would put most of us to shame. There are several people in the legislature who should be pushed to retire, and those around them who aren’t being honest with them aren’t helping them or anyone, but age itself shouldn’t be a factor in deciding on leadership positions.

  24. Allison says

    Although this is just anecdata, I’ve heard some stories which suggest that Feinstein doesn’t have much respect for the views of constituents who disagree with her. Sort of a sense that she knows best (presumably because she’s been in office so long) and her constituents have no right to object to anything she does.

    I’m glad that at least in my Congressional district, we got rid of Rep. Nita Lowey, who also felt that she owned her seat by right (sort of a “divine right of elected officials”) and had no need to consider what her constituents thought. And, like Feinstein, the Republicans consistently ran really awful candidates against her, to the point that sometimes the party had to repudiate its own nominee.

  25. John Morales says

    SC @30, that argument relies on the exceptions.
    And you know what’s said: “Hard cases make bad law”.

    On-topic, I remember how, back in the day, the USSR was derided as a gerontocracy.

  26. PaulBC says

    Also, do I really have to be the first here to point out that “senator” and “senile” come from the same Latin root “senex”, meaning old man?

    “Old” may have meant something different to the Romans, and we are clearly taking it a bit too literally.

  27. PaulBC says

    On-topic, I remember how, back in the day, the USSR was derided as a gerontocracy.

    Right. And Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko though seemingly decrepit were all 75 or under.

  28. raven says

    For a true example of a gerontacracy, look at the Mormon church.
    They have a long ladder of positions and you get to be the Mormon Pope by outliving everyone else.
    According to Wikipedia, the current prophet, seer, and revelator is Russell Nelson, who was elected in 2018 at age 94 and is now 96.
    The previous guy died at 90 and the one before him at 97.

    They don’t last long in office for obvious reasons.
    And, quite a few of the recent prophets have ended up with severe age related cognitive impairment i.e. dementia, including the last one.

  29. says

    John Morales:

    SC @30, that argument relies on the exceptions.

    No. Don’t be dense. It relies on the understanding that while aging has a general relation to cognitive decline, that in no way should be used as a basis for age discrimination, especially given that age also has a general relation to accumulated knowledge (and, I’d suggest, self-assurance). Think about the qualities and abilities needed for a given role, and then determine who has them. If someone has them, their age is irrelevant.

  30. hillaryrettig says

    No pity for her at all. She is one of many elite Dems who claim to be serving their country, but are merely serving their egos, their lust for power, and their wallets. They are harming the nation and our citizens, and they all need to go.

    The real question is why do Californians, who surely know she’s impaired and corrupt and not doing her job, keep voting for her (and Pelosi).

    To remind everyone, here’s Feinstein talking crap to young climate activists: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2019/feb/23/dianne-feinstein-rebuffs-young-climate-activists-calls-for-green-new-deal-video

    As impaired as she is, she still knows what side her bread is buttered on.

  31. consciousness razor says

    Here is the Social Security Administration’s 2017 actuarial table:
    Feinstein is female, age 87.
    Chance of dying within one year: 0.093123
    Average life expectancy: 6.01 years

    Going back 10 years, to age 77….
    Chance of dying within one year: 0.030855
    Average life expectancy: 11.57 years

    Back another 10 years, to age 67….
    Chance of dying within one year: 0.011660
    Average life expectancy: 18.86 years

  32. John Morales says

    SC,

    It relies on the understanding that while aging has a general relation to cognitive decline, that in no way should be used as a basis for age discrimination, especially given that age also has a general relation to accumulated knowledge (and, I’d suggest, self-assurance).

    Well, IMO, it should at the very least be seen as a factor that merits scrutiny.

    Also, it’s not mere loss of faculties at hand, it’s more ossified patterns of thinking.
    That’s where the true exceptions lie.

    Not saying it’s a dispositive factor, but it’s not an inconsequential consideration, either.

  33. John Morales says

    Oh, yeah. PS SC @37, nothing sinister in the distinction.

    First bit was about your comment, the other about the post itself.

  34. consciousness razor says

    The real question is why do Californians, who surely know she’s impaired and corrupt and not doing her job, keep voting for her (and Pelosi).

    It boggles the mind that she’s been a US Senator since 1992. It’s not like California has had a shortage of people, so what’s the deal?

  35. John Morales says

    CR:

    … so what’s the deal?

    “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

  36. says

    John Morales:

    Well, IMO, it should at the very least be seen as a factor that merits scrutiny.

    Also, it’s not mere loss of faculties at hand, it’s more ossified patterns of thinking.
    That’s where the true exceptions lie.

    Not saying it’s a dispositive factor, but it’s not an inconsequential consideration, either.

    And my contention is that age shouldn’t be a basis per se for discrimination.

    And so we differ. And you’re wrong. :)

    Oh, yeah. PS SC @37, nothing sinister in the distinction.

    First bit was about your comment, the other about the post itself.

    Nothing sinister implied.

    First bit was on topic, the other was on topic as well.

  37. says

    Kropotkin’s letters to Lenin. Kropotkin was 80; Lenin was 50. (Bernie Sanders is 79.)

    It would seem that the soviets should have served precisely this function of creating an organisation from below. But Russia has already become a Soviet Republic only in name. The influx and taking over of the people by the ‘party’, that’s is, predominantly the newcomers (the ideological communists are more in the urban centres), has already destroyed the influences and constructive energy of this promising institution – the soviets. At present, it is the party committees, not the soviets, who rule in Russia. And their organization suffers from the defects of bureaucratic organisation.

    To move away from the current disorder, Russia must return to the creative genius of local forces which, as I see it, can be a factor in the creation of a new life. And the sooner that the necessity of this is understood, the better. People will then be all the more likely to accept [new] social forms of life. If the present situation continues, the very word ‘socialism’ will turn into a curse. This is what happened to the conception of ‘equality’ in France for forty years after the rule of the Jacobins.

  38. John Morales says

    SC, glad we’re clear.

    In passing, I think signs of decrepitude of the ancient Noam Chomsky are there.
    Not just physical. Alas.

    Bertrand Russell is another exceptional example.

    (The British monarch is more opaque)

  39. John Morales says

    SC, nah. We concur that “that age shouldn’t be a basis per se for discrimination”; where we differ is that I assert it should be of significance.

  40. robro says

    I’m well past normal retirement age and still working. I like working. The money is good. The health insurance even better. I’m in no hurry to leave. So, I’m skeptical of arbitrary age limits. It equates age with incapacity or being unwilling to change, which isn’t valid. At heart, it’s ageist.

    If we had some reliable way to measure a persons cognitive and physical capacity, then that might be a way to keep healthy older people contributing. For example, in California, after 70 or so you are required to take a test to renew your driver’s license to verify you can still drive safely. Of course, we would need to prevent that from becoming a nefarious tool for special interests to kick out perfectly capable, older opponents.

  41. says

    John Morales @ #50, no. Age shouldn’t be a basis for discrimination. (Your basis-for-discrimination vs. of-significance-for-discrimination is noted and rejected. Just let it go.)

  42. whheydt says

    For those wondering how DiFi stays in the Senate… There are a bunch of reasons. First, she’s an excellent campaigner. That is, she convinces people to turn out and vote for her. (And, I would note, that in spite of what I think of hum, Trump is pretty good at that as well…this last election shouldn’t have been anywhere near as close as it was, given his character flaws and persistent ill behavior.) Prior to the institution of the “jungle primary”, Republicans ran real nut cases and losers against her. Even if one doesn’t (or didn’t) like her, the choices were stark, and she was a very clear “lesser of two evils”.

    There is also the persistent power of incumbency. Once in, politicians tend to stay in. There is synergy with “the devil you know…” here.

    I can think of some ways to get her out of the Senate. She might “die in harness”. A financial scandal (probably involving her husband) might bring her down. But the best way would be a primary that leads to a general election in which she has to run against another Democrat. A big primary field of Republicans plus only one to three other strong Democrats could do it.

    For those who have forgotten–or never knew–what got DiFi her start up the political ladder was being the Preisdent of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when Dan White killed George Moscone (then mayor) and Harvey Milk.

  43. Thomas Scott says

    Hey PZ,
    RE: Academic retirements
    When I was a graduate student at the UW School of Fisheries (way back when), I happened to be on campus on a damp Saturday morning. I noticed that Dr. “Doc” Donaldson was in rain gear mucking out a raceway at the fish hatchery. Doc was in his 80’s and a founder of The School. He accepted emeritus status the year I was accepted as an undergraduate.
    I called out to him and said, “Doc, that’s work for undergads!” His reply was, “It’s okay, I talked to the dean (one of his former students) and he’s going to double by salary!”
    It took me a moment, …then I laughed realized what that meant.

  44. John Morales says

    SC:

    Age shouldn’t be a basis for discrimination.

    Do you mean advanced age, or just any age?

    (11-year-old for president!)

    Just let it go.

    Puppies with chewtoys. You minimise, I criticise.

  45. Ishikiri says

    @Consciousness Razor, #43:

    “It boggles the mind that she’s been a US Senator since 1992. It’s not like California has had a shortage of people, so what’s the deal?”

    Name recognition, as best as I can tell. Due to the state’s top-two primary system, her last general election was not against a Republican but an insurgent Democrat: Kevin de León (then State Senate President pro tem, now on the LA City Council). Most of the voters looked at him as an unknown or a neophyte and voted DiFi back in. On the plus side, that indicates the sorry state of the California GOP.

    As for the topic at hand, I can’t be too ageist because I backed Bernie Sanders, but advanced age is only part of the problem with DiFi. She’s one of the wealthiest members of Congress, and has been cloistered in the upper levels of the San Francisco Democratic Party organization for decades. She’s way out of touch with the general public.

  46. says

    @#38, hillaryrettig

    The real question is why do Californians, who surely know she’s impaired and corrupt and not doing her job, keep voting for her (and Pelosi).

    Honestly at this point, the most likely answer is: because the Democratic Party systematically sabotages anybody in the primaries who looks like they might actually challenge the existing power structure. Do you not remember in the last election somebody actually recorded a representative saying that the primaries are rigged and the party decides who’s going to win? Feinstein and Pelosi are absolutely bang alongside the status quo, death by climate change and economic collapse included, and anybody who challenges them will automatically be outspent by a factor of a hundred and no matter what the polls say, they will lose — it’s why there was never any talk from the Democrats in office of fixing voter suppression or rigged polling machines or gerrymandering when they actually controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. They’re using many of the same tactics as the Republicans, but they’ve somehow managed to convince their supporters that they aren’t.

    The real question is: why do Democratic voters still believe they’re smarter than Republicans after the fiascos of 2004, 2014, 2016, and 2020?

  47. birgerjohansson says

    I went off on a tangent there…..here is some hopeful news for PZ and others who begin to approach retirement age:

    “Blocking protein restores strength, endurance in old mice, study finds”
    Blocking 15-PGDH restores level of prostaglandin E2
    https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-blocking-protein-strength-mice.html
    .
    Melatonin: finally, a supplement that actually boosts memory https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-12-melatonin-supplement-boosts-memory.html

  48. evansquilt says

    What may be happening to Feinstein is awful, but it’s quite ironic that someone who’s literally spent years supporting 79 year cardiac patient Bernie Sanders is both decrying the number of elderly people in the Senate and taking a swipe at Joe Biden.

  49. anat says

    birgerjohansson @17:

    More fun Democrats looking out for you. ”Democrat Kills Attempt To End Surprise Medical Billing”

    This can still be done at the state level in some states. Kudos to Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler who took care of this issue here.

  50. anat says

    birgerjohansson @61, 63:

    We are learning a lot about slowing down and even reversing mental decline, especially in ‘early’ stages (‘early’ is very broadly defined, some things help even when decline is very obvious). Improving insulin response is a big one – even people who are not defined clinically as pre-diabetic (let alone diabetic) can improve their memory by reducing fasting glucose, fasting insulin, and protein glycation as measured by HbA1c. Regular moderate aerobic exercise improves memory. Resolving sleep apnea improves memory. (And yes, melatonin – which improves restorative sleep, as opposed to most sleep medications that just knock you out for some hours but don’t promote the restorative function of sleep – helps too.) Resolving high heavy metal levels improves memory. etc etc. And being mentally and socially active on a regular basis is a big factor.

  51. bodach says

    “Unlike the Republican leadership in the Senate, which rotates committee chairmanships, the Democrats have stuck with the seniority system.”
    Wait a minute: the Republicans are doing something smarter than the Democrats?
    Approaching the End Times…

  52. seachange says

    @paulbc
    You say you didn’t start out as a Californian.

    That wikipedia article is totally wrong, and anyone who is was a California resident at the time and paid attention to politics would know this. Pete Wilson was never a United States Senator.

    One possible proof: If you go to the federal government sources of who was senator when you will see that Senator Feinstein succeeded Senator Hayakawa. You won’t find Wilson’s name there anywhere.

  53. seachange says

    It’s true that the death-cult thing she said to the youth was pretty fucked up. I voted for León. The fact that she said this is not a sign of cognitive decline, it’s a sign of perfectly well functioning asshole.

    FWIW about folks thinking Feinstein doesn’t care about constitiuents. I write and call my representatives. She always writes back personally. She has never seemed disrespectful or contemptuous to me until she made that speech.

    The California Republican Party has always been as loony tunes as the national party is now. Ideological purity has always been more important to them than winning. They can repudiate their candidates against her all they like, but those candidates are not atypical.

  54. PaulBC says

    Also this on Hayakawa: https://www.britannica.com/biography/S-I-Hayakawa

    Vancouver, B.C., Can.—died Feb. 27, 1992, Greenbrae, Calif., U.S.), scholar, university president, and U.S. senator from California (1977–83). He is best known for his popular writings on semantics and for his career as president of San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University).

  55. says

    @#62, evansquilt:

    What may be happening to Feinstein is awful, but it’s quite ironic that someone who’s literally spent years supporting 79 year cardiac patient Bernie Sanders is both decrying the number of elderly people in the Senate and taking a swipe at Joe Biden.

    I can’t speak for PZ, but: Democratic loyalists like you really can’t understand politics as anything but a series of personality cults, can you? That was the only reason to back Hillary Clinton, and you did it, and you really, really don’t get why Sanders’ supporters backed him.

    Sanders the person isn’t particularly great. The only reason to back him is that he’s the only nominee who was even remotely decent; the Democrats keep actually choosing people who ought to be undergoing war crimes trials or, at best, booted out of politics for life for their unbelievably bad judgement. If Sanders had stopped basically being a decent person, 90% of his supporters would have abandoned him overnight and most of the rest would have left soon enough. I would be thrilled if there was somebody younger than Sanders, who wasn’t obviously insincere and terrible (like Harris) who would take up the mantle and start organizing things and actually running for President. But the party sabotages anybody who tries — that’s why Sanders remains an independent; the Democratic Party has become a cancer on society just like the Republicans.

    @#68, bodach

    Wait a minute: the Republicans are doing something smarter than the Democrats?

    They also got rid of “superdelegates” a long time ago and organize their primaries as a direct mirror of the Electoral College, with a standardized voting mechanism applied across all states, which is a thousand times smarter than the Democratic “we have votes in some states, caucuses in others, and we absolutely refuse to let go of the idea that the party leadership should be able to override the voters”. And they did that decades ago, not just recently.

  56. npsimons says

    @billseymore re: @19: Yes, you nailed it, especially for me as a code monkey; I dread the day I’m barred from doing that, even if it’s just futzing around on personal projects at home. I’m even a C++ nerd like you, although I’ve gotten more into Python recently, and am even picking up Lisp in it’s renaissance.

    The ageism in the software industry frightens me, and is emblematic of a problem with putting an upper limit on things merely based on the number of times someone has been around the Sun. Having other tests for competency seems more apropos, or even arguing against people who are out of touch as being incapable of representing their constituency, but as I’ve stated before I feel that has much more to do with classism than age.

  57. PaulBC says

    npsimons@73 I have heard complaints about age discrimination for many years, but I have been able to stay employed as a software engineer. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s not inevitable. I have wondered sometimes where my cohort has disappeared to. Maybe some are happily retired. Maybe some moved to find a bigger house outside the Bay Area. I suspect few are begging. I’m 55. Could I keep it up till 70? At this point it’s a question of whether I really want to.

    You do have to keep up to date on “technologies” though a lot of that means learning the new name for something you already knew about (again exceptions exist). I still know more computer science than most people I interview. I am not even sure what they teach in CS departments anymore.

  58. John Morales says

    PaulBC:

    I’m 55. Could I keep it up till 70? At this point it’s a question of whether I really want to.

    More fundamentally, why would you want to, unless you had to?

    (Or: vocation, or avocation?)

  59. PaulBC says

    John Morales@77 I will keep writing computer programs as long as I can (unless they’re writing themselves and even then, I would be coming up with some sort of specification). The question is whether it’s what I’m interested in or what I’m paid to write. Both would be fine, though, as long as I don’t have to do it on a regular schedule.

    What amuses me is the way the conventional “career ladder” moves software developers further and further away from writing any actual software towards higher level design and planning. I got into the field because I enjoy it. Why would doing less of it be a measure of success? Do instrumentalists “graduate” to being conductors? Maybe some, but many want to keep doing what they’re good at. So do I.

    Getting back to the subject of politics, one thing struck me thinking about presidential debates between septuagenarians. Who the hell has that kind of ambition? I am already at a stage where I’m pretty content and I’ve circumscribed my potential within realistic bounds. What kind of maniac is over 75 and up there on a debate stage hectoring some other old person in front of an audience? I mean, it would have been bad enough when I was young and full of myself, but I’m past it now. What kind of life would it be to be struggling for the next big career step when I should be doing what I please. (And yeah, maybe that’s what people think of it as, but it seems like a lot of work and possible humiliation to me.)

  60. consciousness razor says

    Do instrumentalists “graduate” to being conductors? Maybe some, but many want to keep doing what they’re good at.

    Yeah, pretty much. Conducting is what some people are good at. And I doubt there are any musicians who didn’t start out as performers, because that’s the first stuff we teach kids.

    As an aside, I think composing/arranging is more analogous to programming than performing is. It’s a design/planning sort of role, but not usually such a managerial/administrative thing like conducting is. Performing is what the computer and software do.

    Some do it all, of course. Mahler, for example, was primarily known during his life as a great conductor, although he had studied composition at the Vienna Conservatory (in addition to performing, obviously). Not that he couldn’t do it or hadn’t matured into it yet — his first symphony is still one of his best, if you ask me. It’s just that writing wasn’t really his focus for most of his career, even though his works were pretty well received, until the Nazis came along…. Anyway, I wouldn’t be the first to point out that his conducting experience was very useful when it came to writing, since that helps with understanding how to orchestrate for the massive ensembles that he liked to use, as well as maintaining interest throughout the fairly long and intricate passages he liked to write.

  61. PaulBC says

    CR@79 Well, I admit it’s a flawed analogy. The point is just that I want to keep doing what I’m good at, whatever that is–and this is harder to nail down than I’d like. I usually know it when it’s happening and I still haven’t figured out how to set up the conditions or even predict it ahead of time.

    The music analogy comes up because I’m sick of hearing about software companies looking for “rock star” developers. I keep thinking, are you sure you don’t really want a good session musician? You really want some asshole who demands you remove all the green M&Ms, trashes the place, and maybe makes up for it in value until they finally crash and burn? Why not just get somebody who is really good at something and isn’t an asshole about it? That is not a “rock star” (which is not to say there are no rock stars who fit; it’s just the wrong analogy).

  62. jrkrideau says

    Actually PZ you would fit right in.
    Mean age for Democratic senators == 64.6 , median age ==64.2

    Mean age for Republican senators == 64.2 , median age ==66.6

    If this table comes through here is a bit more data.

    Party N mean_age sd_age median_age min_age max_age
    Democratic 46 64.6 9.39 64.2 44.4 87.5
    Independent 2 78.0 1.81 78.0 76.7 79.3
    Republican 52 64.2 11.2 65.6 41.0 87.2

    The Independents are Bernie and Angus King from Maine

    There seems to be only 5 Rs and 2 Ds over the age of 80.

  63. evansquilt says

    Vicar? I supported Martin O’Malley in 2016, and I supported Kamala Harris and then Liz Warren this time. I never even mentioned Hillary Clinton. All I did was point out that it’s plenty ironic that someone who’s a stone Berniac is suddenly talking about the “sclerotic” Senate even though his favorite candidate has a bad heart and should have dropped out of the presidential race in favor of Elizabeth Warren last fall.

Leave a Reply