Thursday, December 31, 2009

Recycling for Weirdos

Why is it that so few of those "green living" tips on the nightly news suggest using empty water bottles for street performance art? Here's a primer on how to do it.

Recycled/Reborn with Glimpse from Green Thing on Vimeo.

Do As I Say...

New research published in the journal Psychological Science (I read about it in Science Daily) suggests something you may already have suspected. (Don't most psychological studies do that?)

The rich and powerful are more judgmental when it comes to the ethical choices of the less powerful than they are for themselves.

"According to our research, power and influence can cause a severe disconnect between public judgment and private behavior, and as a result, the powerful are stricter in their judgment of others while being more lenient toward their own actions," said Adam Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School.

Through a series of five experiments, the researchers examined the impact of power on moral hypocrisy...In all cases, those assigned to high-power roles showed significant moral hypocrisy by more strictly judging others for speeding, dodging taxes and keeping a stolen bike, while finding it more acceptable to engage in these behaviors themselves...

In contrast, a fifth experiment demonstrated that people who don't feel personally entitled to their power are actually harder on themselves than they are on others, which is a phenomenon the researchers dubbed "hypercrisy." The tendency to be harder on the self than on others also characterized the powerless in multiple studies.

"Ultimately, patterns of hypocrisy and hypercrisy perpetuate social inequality. The powerful impose rules and restraints on others while disregarding these restraints for themselves, whereas the powerless collaborate in reproducing social inequality because they don't feel the same entitlement," Galinsky concluded.
Photo credit: Steve Rhode / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Broke Music of the Day: Appetite for Consumption-Timbuktu and Chords

Another Ramen Noodle Recipe

Consumerism Soviet Style

Thanks to Bitter Wallet for sharing this clip of commercial breaks from the 1980s Soviet Union. While Ronald Reagan was talking about the Evil Empire, communist TVs were apparently using totally awesome synthesizer music to push high tech portable cassette players to be shared by two. (Great for jogging!)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Culinary Creations and the Resourcefulness of Poverty

Most of our favorite traditional dishes owe their existence to a combination of creativity and scant resources. The BBC today has a story on the origin of the humble and ubiquitous British food, fish and chips.

"Oddly enough," the article says, "the chip may have been invented as a substitute for fish, rather than an accompaniment. When the rivers froze over and nothing could be caught, resourceful housewives began cutting potatoes into fishy shapes and frying them as an alternative."

Read the entire article here.

Poorman's Feast

Another video from Great Depression Cooking with Clara

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Quote of the Day

"The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handker-
chief of her own sewing. . . . It is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy me something, which does not represent your life and talent."-RALPH WALDO EMERSON, ESSAYS, 1844

Friday, December 18, 2009

Is That Fair? Depends, How Much Are You Paying?

A new study, discussed in Science Daily, shows that:

...when it comes to distributing resources, people's ideas about what's fair change depending on what's being handed out. If it's something that has its own intrinsic value -- in-kind goods such as food or vacation days -- people are more likely to see equal distribution of such items as fair.

But if it's something that is only valuable when it's exchanged -- such as money or even credit card reward points -- ideas of fairness shift to a more market-based attitude. In that case, the thinking is that people should receive according to what they've contributed.

This study furthers a great deal of psychological research that suggests that when you bring money into the equation, it has a social distancing effect.

I discovered too many studies to mention all of them in a chapter that deals with the phenomenon in the book Broke is Beautiful, so I'm pleased to have the opportunity to share some of this material here.

The moment money enters into the equation everything changes. Researcher Kathleen Vohns conducted a series of experiments to gauge the influence of money on social obligations. In one experiment, she and her team invited subjects to take part in a "get acquainted" conversation. The experimenters met by a desk with a computer running a screen saver. One screensaver had fish swimming, the other was a blank screen and the third showed a shower of money. The people exposed to the money screensaver put a significantly greater distance between their own chair and that of the experimenter. Next they asked subjects whether they would want to work alone on a task, or with another person. Of those exposed to the money screensaver, 72% chose to work alone, compared to 16% of those who saw one of the other screensavers.

Sitting near a poster of money has a similar effect, another experiment showed. Those seated near the money poster chose solitary activities from a list of what they would most like to do. People sitting under a floral poster were more likely to choose social activities.

In yet another test, research subjects had to unscramble phrases, some of which involved money, and others not. On the way out of the lab, participants were told that the University student fund was requesting donations, and there was a box outside if they'd like to contribute. Those who had been subconsciously prompted to think about money donated less.

In a 2004 experiment, researchers James Heyman and Dan Ariely asked three different groups to perform a simple menial task, dragging as many circles across the computer screen as they could in five minutes. Each of the three groups was offered something different for performing this task. One group was told they were doing this as a favor to the researchers, the second was told they would get 50 cents, the third $5.00.

The group that performed the task as a favor dragged the most circles across the screen, more than the $5 group and significantly more than the 50c group. People seem to be willing to work as a volunteer, and to work for a fair wage, but when they believe they are being underpaid, performance really suffers.

"It seems that our brains activate this concept of 'money,' suddenly we look at the world around us and prioritize things differently," wrote psychologist John M. Grohol, "It appears to make a person more self-interested and more socially isolated."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Things You Can Do When You're Broke: Big Pictures with Small Budgets

I learned about this one through the blog of director Chris Jones who I interviewed for The Indiefest a while back (and whose own short film, Gone Fishing, is mentioned in the forthcoming Broke is Beautiful.)

This film, with a running time of less than five minutes and a budget of less than $300, earned its director a Hollywood contract to make a $30m film. Read more about it by following the link above or on the BBC News site.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Implications of being "Born in a Manger"

Another Broke and Beautiful Money Free Guy

The Sun today ran a story on Mark Boyle, another member of the "living money free club." Boyle lives rent free in a caravan at a farm commune washes in a stream and keeps himself warm with a stove that's held together by scrap metal and fuelled by wood from nearby trees.

He joins Heidemarie Schwermer and Daniel Suelo, previously featured here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

Broke Song of the Day

Mary's Moving Day from Gilt-Flake by Brad Jones.

Dubious Money Saving Ploy of the Day

I love the legal blog Lowering The Bar. Kevin Underhill has a great eye for irony and a gift for humor. When the headline "Fake Policeman Stolen" came across my radar, I had to stop and read.

So what do you do when you can't afford to employ a full contingent of police officers? You buy cardboard cutouts, of course. That, it seems, is what the county of Essex in the UK has done.

"So far, the fake policemen in Essex do not seem to be having the desired effect," Underhill writes, "or at least I infer that from the fact that one was recently stolen."

The whole article was good for a morning laugh. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

He Once Was Making Money...

-Health Magazine, 1904

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reasons to Be Glad You Never Bought a Yacht

The New York Times business page is getting into the Broke is Beautiful spirit with an article "How to Go Broke in Style."

Recounting the story of how a California man lost a fortune of $200 million, the article concludes:

"Aren’t you glad you never could have bought jets, wineries and a yacht?"

The Beggar's Club

"THE Beggars Club as the astute reader may have guessed without the reading of a line does not lay any particular stress on wealth among its conditions for membership but he may not have surmised that the club was founded for social purposes only by men of wit or to be more exact by men who live by their wits for while the two often go together they are more often found apart...

Here a mean man and a man of means are one and the same thing Here a penny has a use and a value of its own besides that of serving as the part of a dollar and an abstract unit of the monetary table The members agree with the rest of the world that poverty is no disgrace and unlike the rest of the world they honestly mean it The most worthless is welcomed here for his intrinsic worth and not for the extrinsic qualities of his pocket book...

Individually (beggars) gain the sympathy of the public, collectively they have no public sympathy whatsoever. He may not know it himself but your true beggar is a paradox...

I can offer you no other inducements but if these prove sufficiently enticing I stand ready to secure you an entree into THE BEGGARS CLUB."

Class Dismissed

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Graffito of the Day

Idea of the Day: Living on a Billboard

At The Tiny Life I discovered this idea for an unconventional living space: the billboard. The Tiny Life, in turn, got it from Dornob, a design web site which explains:

There are nearly 500,000 freestanding billboards in the United States alone. What if any number of these could be converted en mass into functional, modular prefab homes that could be shipped and installed in rural and urban areas around the country – eco-friendly, cheap new housing from recycled old billboards.

An Ad Man on Finding Intangible Value

This is a highly entertaining talk from TED by ad man Rory Sutherland. He explores the idea that what we need is not to make more new stuff, but a new way to find the value in what already exists.

Soviet Missiles Power Your Toaster

You learn something new every day. Did you know that much of our nation's electricity comes from decommissioned nuclear warheads including the Soviet made bombs that had 1950s kids practicing "duck and cover" in their classrooms?

The New York Times reports:

In the last two decades, nuclear disarmament has become an integral part of the electricity industry, little known to most Americans.

Salvaged bomb material now generates about 10 percent of electricity in the United States — by comparison, hydropower generates about 6 percent and solar, biomass, wind and geothermal together account for 3 percent.

Utilities have been loath to publicize the Russian bomb supply line for fear of spooking consumers: the fuel from missiles that may have once been aimed at your home may now be lighting it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Shocking Investigative Report! Poor People Buy More Lottery Tickets!

This newsflash comes from Investigative Reporters and Editors. The Oaklahoma Lottery Commission's data reveals that people from poor areas of Tulsa spend more on lottery tickets than people from wealthy areas.

Video of the Day: Work Life Balance

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Much Does it Cost Part 2

The New York Times has an article on how cell phone contracts are priced.

HERE’S a consolation prize to the millions who recoil in bafflement from cellphone companies’ labyrinthine price plans, with their ever more intricate arrays of minutes, messages and megabytes: Economists don’t understand them, either.

In many parts of the world, the pricing of cellphone calling is simple. But in the United States, carriers offer multitiered plans.

“The whole pricing thing is weird,” said Barry Nalebuff, an economics professor at the Yale School of Management. “You pay $60 to make your first phone call. Your next 1,000 minutes are free. Then the minute after that costs 35 cents.”

To economists, it simply doesn’t make sense to make chatterboxes pay that penalty. After all, most businesses tend to give discounts to customers who buy more.

Read the rest at The New York Times.

Here it is Your Moment of Zen

How Much Does it Cost?

Have hidden fees made it harder for you to plan your budget? That is because prices have been secretly going up for years. What do I mean secretly? Rather than risking sticker shock when costs go up, businesses now tack on hidden fees, obscuring the real price of their goods and services. Once one company uses this strategy, competitors will appear to price themselves out of the market by being honest with their consumers. Some of the greatest culprits are cell phone service contracts, bank accounts and credit cards.

Bob Sullivan, author of Gotcha Capitalism, argues that hidden fees on everything from your cable and cell phone bill to your Internet purchases may be messing up the national inflation rate. Companies often don’t supply surcharges and fee data to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so when it computes inflation rates, fees aren’t reflected. The result is that our national inflation rate is held artificially low.

Now Congress is taking a look at airline pricing. Hidden costs on airline tickets can sometimes exceed the “price” of the ticket, as I discovered last year. I tried to book a “$426” international flight and found that the additional “taxes and fees” were $528. That was not even including baggage handling fees and charges for in flight blankets, booking on line, booking in person, booking ahead, booking at the last minute, choosing an exit row seat, or trying to fly around the holidays and so on that the domestic carriers now charge. A la carte pricing doesn’t really make your flight cheaper, it just makes it seem cheaper, which is the airline’s goal.

The New York Times quoted John Tague, president of United Airlines saying, "We have been aggressive and creative." United collects about $13 in fees per passenger, or 30 percent more than the industry average.

The reason Congress is getting concerned is that calling a charge a "fee" results in lower "fares," which means the airlines pay lower taxes. The Consumerist reports that so far this year, U.S. airlines have taken in more than $3 billion in fees. If all those fees were subject to the same 7.5 percent excise taxes as fares, then the government would have at least $225 million more to distribute to airports for improvements and expansions.

How to Turn Cheap Vodka into the Good Stuff

The New York Times reports that thanks to the recession, Grey Goose is sitting there on the top shelf but sales of bottom shelf vodka brand Popov have been soaring. The good news is that you can improve the quality of your cheap vodka by filtering it at home. The more you filter it, the smoother it tastes. If you mix your vodka into cocktails it may not make much difference, but if you drink it straight it might be worth a try.

The catch? Figuring in the value of your time and the cost of water filters, it may not be much cheaper to filter it at home than to spend and extra $5 or 10 to begin with.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Epicurus on Happiness

Friday, November 13, 2009

Epilogues of Rare Suppers

Revisiting The Frugal Life: A Paradox:

Apparently back in the 1500s, as translated in the 1600s and reprinted in 1899, people were already harkening back to the simpler times when people were not as gluttunous and wasteful as they are today. (Today in this case being 1534 and 1899).

Overwhelmed with Clutter?

Are you overwhelmed with clutter? This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but have you considered that you may have too much stuff?

The Happiness Project’s Gretchen Rubin, writing for Slate, argues organization isn’t your problem; it’s a problem of excess attachment.

For a theme song to this post I recommend Who's Whose by John Flynn. ("Do you own the stuff you own/or does the stuff you own own you?")

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Please Don't Feed the People

A church in Phoenix has lost a court battle to run a charity pancake breakfast for the city's homeless. The court set a precedent for all churches zoned in residential areas of Phoenix by ordering that they are not to provide services for vagrants.

Idea of the Day: Fuel from Dirty Diapers

Beginning in May, a British company called Knowaste will be recycling poopie nappies into green energy and plastic pellets for things like shoe insoles and roofing tiles.

Read about it at triplepundit.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Stay of Flukes, Freedom from Dishonest Belchings and The Clearing and Draining of Ill Humours

The historic quotation in praise of thrift for the day comes from an 1899 reprinting of a 1634 translation of a 1534 writing (they "modernized" the spelling)entitled "Hygiasticon," a treatise on dietetics: "A discourse translated out of Italian that a spare diet is better than a splendid and sumptuous."

"And to speak freely it would seem to me very uncouth that any man that makes a profession of more understanding than a beast should open his mouth to the contrary or make any scruple at all of readily subscribing to the truth and evidence of this position that a frugal and simple diet is much better than a full and dainty. Tell me you that seem to demur on the business whether a sober and austere diet serves not without further help to chase away that racking humour of the gout which by all other helps that can be used scarce receives any mitigation at all but do what can be done lies tormenting the body till it have spent itself. Tell me whether this holy medicine serve not to the driving away of headache to the cure of dizziness to the stopping of rheums to the stay of flukes to the getting away of loathsome diseases to the freedom from dishonest belchings to the prevention of agues and in a word to the clearing and draining of all ill humours whatsoever in the body Nor do the benefits thereof stay only in the body but ascend likewise to the perfecting of the soul itself for how manifest is it that through a sober and strict diet the mind and all the faculties thereof become waking quick and cheerful how is the wit sharpened the understanding solidated the affections tempered and in a word the whole soul and spirit of a man freed from encumbrances and made apt and expedite for the apprehension of wisdom and the embracement of virtue?"

You can read the entire book at Google Books.

Does Being Broke Make You Fat?

A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests it does:

Growing consumption of increasingly less expensive food, and especially “fast food”, has been cited as a potential cause of increasing rate of obesity in the United States over the past several decades. Because the real minimum wage in the United States has declined by as much as half over 1968-2007 and because minimum wage labor is a major contributor to the cost of food away from home we hypothesized that changes in the minimum wage would be associated with changes in bodyweight over this period.

To examine this, we use data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from 1984-2006 to test whether variation in the real minimum wage was associated with changes in body mass index (BMI). We also examine whether this association varied by gender, education and income, and used quantile regression to test whether the association varied over the BMI distribution. We also estimate the fraction of the increase in BMI since 1970 attributable to minimum wage declines.

We find that a $1 decrease in the real minimum wage was associated with a 0.06 increase in BMI. This relationship was significant across gender and income groups and largest among the highest percentiles of the BMI distribution. Real minimum wage decreases can explain 10% of the change in BMI since 1970. We conclude that the declining real minimum wage rates has contributed to the increasing rate of overweight and obesity in the United States. Studies to clarify the mechanism by which minimum wages may affect obesity might help determine appropriate policy responses.

Photo by Christian Cable, creative commons license

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Difference Between Yeggs, Hobos, Tramps and Bums

From the article Housing the Hobo, Edison Magazine, 1915.

Ritchie Rich Goes to Washington

Mother Jones today that a minority group is consistently overrepresented in Congress. That group? Millionaires. While only one percent of Americans are millionaires, Congress is more than 44% millionaire.

The Center for Responsive Politics released its latest survey of congressional financial disclosure forms and found that of the 535 voting members of Congress, 237 are millionaires. Fifty members have net worths of at least $10 million, and seven are worth more than $100 million. California Rebpulican Rep. Darrell Issa is the wealthiest of the lot.

There is no other minority group that is as overrepresented in Congress as millionaires are. For black people to be similarly overrepresented compared to their percentage of the population, the entire Congress would have to be black. (Actually, even that wouldn't be enough.) If Mormons were similarly overrepresented, there would be 75 of them in Congress (there are 16 right now).

To the Poorest People, The Most Beautiful Buildings

The Utne Reader has a story about the transformation of the Columbian city of Medellin.

...It flowered in 2004 under new Medellín Mayor Sergio Fajardo’s simple philosophy: Immediately supplement every reduction in violence with a concrete community improvement. The son of an architect, mathematician-turned-politician Fajardo “grasped how important good design can be in creating a more optimistic, sustainable, socially just city,” the publication, produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, reports. “In keeping with the mantra ‘to the poorest people, the most beautiful buildings,’ some of the city’s most impoverished and brutalized neighborhoods became homes to top-notch new schools and housing (as well as new police stations).”

The city also built “library parks,” hybrid spaces complete with public computer stations. Biblioteca Parque España sits atop a hillside in Santo Domingo Savio, formerly one of the region’s most dangerous neighborhoods. It serves as both a beacon of civic pride and a functional space for community activities.

Read the full article here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Paradoxical Power

In the current issue of UU World (The Us stand for Unitarian Universalist) Wendy Fitting discusses how the story of Jesus inspires her as a Unitarian. I understand from her article that she does not believe in Jesus as a personal savior, but she is nevertheless inspired by the powerful story of the resurrection. Jesus, she writes, is a symbol of the "paradoxical power" found in the people the world deems powerless.

The resurrection represents the living presence of Jesus, an ongoing and unsealed revelation of God’s compelling love. He is risen indeed, not to a sedentary throne in heaven, but into my life and alive everywhere that evil is persistently resisted and everywhere that a revolution for goodness is thoughtfully engaged. According to biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan, Jesus was a peasant, a revolutionary whose message was one of radical inclusiveness....

The explicit sense of accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and savior does not apply to me. But I am compelled by his paradoxical power. Paradoxical because that power is revealed, now as in the first century, in people the world despises, in people the world deems weak. It is revealed to confound the wise. It is revealed in the possibility of loving people the world has taught us to fear. In that power exclusiveness is revealed as impoverishment. As a Unitarian Universalist I respond wholeheartedly to Jesus’ stated mission:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to preach release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. (Luke 4:18)

Idea of the Day: Yard Sharing

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Slow Food

-Health Magazine, 1904

4646 Kilometers and a Timelapse Beard

The Longest Way 1.0 - one year walk/beard grow time lapse from Christoph Rehage on Vimeo.

From November 9th, 2007 to November 13th, 2008 - Christoph Rehage walked 4646 kilometers on foot through China. Here's the timelapse version of that journey.

Junk Gypsies

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Civility Crisis

James Leach, the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, believes that America is facing a "civility crisis." The former Republican congressman from Iowa supports greater funding of the humanities as a way to move the nation beyond bitter partisan rancor. Perhaps if people knew their history better, the Omaha World Herald reports, they would not be so quick to compare modern legislators to Stalin or Hitler. Humanities education, Leach says, is an "investment in democracy."

Some participants in last summer's health care town meetings talked of “secession,” and used words like “fascist” to describe their opponents.

“We fought a Civil War that cost 600,000 lives over the issue of secession, and fought a world war to defeat fascism,” Leach said. “History teaches us that those issues are settled.”

Leach also cited history in his call for increased financial support for the NEH.

He noted that during the country's darkest strategic hour during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln invested in education, signing the land-grant colleges act.

And during the nation's darkest economic crisis of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt spent money on the arts and humanities through various public works projects.

“That was all an investment in democracy,” Leach said.

The NEH's current budget, appropriated by Congress, is $155 million, up from $110 million a decade ago. Still, Leach noted that when adjusted for inflation, NEH funding is down a third from 1979.

Leach would like to see more support for the humanities to promote, among other things, more study of comparative religions, cultures and histories.

“We live in perilous times,” Leach said. “But nothing can be more costly than shortchanging the humanities.”

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.-John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address

Recycled Housing

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is it Red or White with Pork Rinds?

Ok, so we talked about the Box O Wine and the Tube O Wine. How about the Big Wine Gulp?

Following the news that Wal Mart is getting into the casket business, comes the story that 7-Eleven is going to start selling its own brand of wine.

Yosemite Road is quite the bargain: Says the press release, both the Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon will sell for $3.99 a bottle. 7-Eleven is hoping, some how, some way, you will not come to the conclusion that the convenience store is peddling "cheap wine."

"We prefer to think of it as value," 7-Eleven spokesperson Carole Davidson, told the Dallas Observer.

Bad Predictions: Russian Style

Taking a break from the broke briefly to revisit the topic of the 2001 book Bad Predictions.

The web site English Russia today is featuring clips of visions of the year 2010 published in the Soviet press 50 years ago. I'm sure it is funniest if you can read Russian, but each clip is followed by a little explanation in English.

Tiny House Means Easy Housekeeping

Women Breadwinners

According to the recently released Shriver Report, women comprise 50% of today's workforce. Is it time to strike up a chorus of "Sisters are Doin' it For Themselves?"

Well, maybe not. Women are making up more of the workforce because three-quarters of those laid off in the economic crisis have been men. Women continue to earn less for the same work as men. So perhaps companies are retaining their women instead of their men as a cost-saving measure, the way a corporation might move its operations to Mexico where wages are lower.

Canadian journalist Leah McLaren at the Globe and Mail writes:

Despite working harder and in greater numbers than ever before, women are still earning less than men in the same jobs over all and taking most of the responsibility for housework and child care.

In essence, the plight of women is like that old morale-boosting management trick: the no-compensation promotion (also known as the non-raise raise). It's all very flattering until you realize that you have just taken on twice as much work and responsibility for no extra pay or respect...

I'm not saying that men don't work hard – just that, when they do, they are much better at reaping the benefits of success. While men work toward outward status – the double brass ring of power and success – women tend to be driven by intrinsic reasons: duty, loyalty, the need to be “good.”

Joanne Lipman, the former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and editor-in-chief of Portfolio magazine, recently wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times responding to the Shriver Report. In it, she revealed that, during her years as an editor, “many, many men have come through my door asking for a raise or demanding a promotion. Guess how many women have ever asked me for a promotion? I'll tell you. Exactly… zero.”

The Joys of Less

Household Hints from 1904

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Broke Song of the Day

Making a Living, Not a Killing

The late Utah Phillips on "Making a Living, Not a Killing."

The Most Reckless Spenders

The Book of Thrift, T.D. MacGregor, 1915

And Now in Sports...

Yes, I am writing about sports. What do you know?

On The Commons has an article about tax incentives that move sports franchises away from their home towns, and their fans. It suggests that public ownership would be a better solution all around:

Over the long term, it’s not the stadiums that have economic value. It’s the team. Most cities that enter into bidding wars to lure franchises are not getting the best deal. It’s the owners who profit handsomely from these enticements.

Now that I’ve convinced you that private ownership of sports teams has its downside, you should know that public ownership of a sports franchise is illegal under the bylaws and franchise agreements in all of the major professional sports leagues. The restrictions are in effect because of the spectacular success of the Green Bay Packers, who are located in a small market and are hardly failing. The idea that the Packers would move elsewhere is unthinkable because a non-profit municipal corporation run by a board of directors owns the team. The same is true in Europe, where most of the soccer teams are publicly owned.

If public ownership were allowed, owners would be barred from moving teams from small markets where they were profitable – like Green Bay – into larger markets. The value of the franchises would be affected to the detriment of the owners, but it would be a good thing for everyone else...

I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that any major league sports franchise be involuntarily turned over to public ownership via eminent domain or otherwise. What I am suggesting is that the home team we live and die for should be seen as part of the local commons, something that belongs to all of us – in much the same way we view parks, schools, sidewalks, city plazas, and libraries. We should recognize it as the quasi-public institution it is.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Painfully Honest and Epic Mobile Home Commercial

Community Bill of Rights

Yes! Magazine reports on a proposition on the ballot in Spokane. Although it didn't win, it garnered approximately 25 percent of the vote—despite the fact that opponents of the proposal (developers, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the Spokane Homebuilders) outspent supporters by more than four to one.

The proposition was unique in that it would have changed the city constitution to give neighborhoods the ability to make legally binding decisions about development.

...despite intense opposition from business interests, a coalition of residents succeeded in bringing an innovative “Community Bill of Rights” to the ballot. Proposition 4 would have amended the city’s Home Rule Charter (akin to a local constitution) to recognize nine basic rights, ranging from the right of the environment to exist and flourish to the rights of residents to have a locally based economy and to determine the future of their neighborhoods.

You can read the entire article at Yes! Magazine.

NPR Features Gourmet Ramen

National Public Radio's All Things Considered recently ran a feature on David Chang, a New York chef whose signature dish is a hearty ramen stew. A few days before he was featured on Weekend Edition.

Chang's broth recipe requires pounds of meat and takes hours to prepare- the recipe, which appears in his new cookbook runs about 20 pages.

You can listen to both segments, even download them if you're so inclined, by following the links above.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Always A Bridesmaid?

Always a bridesmaid and never a bride? Being part of a wedding party can be tough on the wallet. The worst part is shelling out for an expensive gown you'll never wear again. Let's face it, even the most flattering bridesmaid gown is still a bridesmaid gown. Who dresses that formally any more?

Well, Recycle My Dress has come to the rescue. Pennsylvania designer Nicole Kulp has found a great niche for herself recrafting and reinventing those wedding dresses.

“Every one of my recycled dresses is original, sustainable and has a story behind it," she writes on her web page. This page has before and after photos.

How to Sell a Dollar for More Than a Dollar

Broke Song of the Day

*La Trobe University Library Photo by Peter Halasz, Creative Commons License.

Lunch Money- I Love My Library.

(Click on the link to listen to it at LastFm)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Stranger Exchange

On the web site Latitude, Life Connected, I learned about The Stranger Exchange, described as a cross between Freecycle and Post Secret.

This former newspaper box has been painted with instructions. If you have something you don't want, put it in the box. If you look in and find something you would like, take it. It is a way to dispose of your extra stuff, or find a treasure with a little bit of extra intrigue.

These are a few of the suggestions for items to leave, as posted on the box’s front window.

Books, movies, old pictures, new pictures, report cards, post cards, love letters, rumors, business cards, questions, answers, origami, keys to nowhere, coupons, dirty looks, self-portraits, surprises, etc.

What will be in the box? What kind of life story can you imagine for the person who left the item there?

Bankers Are Always Busily Engaged Preaching the Homely Virtue of Thrift

This segment of an essay by economist Alvin H. Hansen from the 1920 book The New American Thrift, reminds us that there was a time when bankers were in the business of promoting savings, not pushing credit cards and other consumer debt.

This one was from 1915.

In 1913, Bankers Magazine ran a long article on the "Nationwide Thrift Movement."

On every side we see signs of a great awakening Editors in their newspapers are pointing out the necessity for conservation and clergymen in their pulpits are preaching the folly and criminality of waste The idea that greater thrift is essential in private life in business life in the home the school and the workshop is slowly but surely taking root In order to foster and encourage this great work the American Bankers Association has invited GY Clement originator of the idea of observing February 3 of each year as National Thrift Day and Chief of Staff of the Collins Publicity Service of Philadelphia to cooperate in the Nation Wide Thrift Movement With this end in view Mr Clement has recently perfected a textbook for use in the inauguration and operation of a community thrift campaign This text book or Plan A as it is called is at once a most unique and original plan As far as a thrift campaign is concerned it can have no serious rival inevitably it must make and maintain a position of its own.

The article goes on to describe a coordinated marketing campaign designed to promote thrift.

Plan A provides a scientific publicity movement initiated by bankers and then permanently continued by public spirited citizens in every walk of life It points the way by which may be secured the necessary co operation of the local newspapers the clergy employers of labor principals of schools, scoutmasters of boy scouts etc. These co operating in turn with the local business association board of trade the YMCA and women's club represent a force that cannot fail to exert a mighty influence for good on behalf of any community.

It included posters:

And even sermon topic ideas to pass along to local preachers:

It has been recommended by the American Bankers Association and will commend itself to every banker who gives it his consideration The text book demonstrates how easily a group of public spirited citizens may be banded together in a productive thrift campaign and how with a little effort and a small expenditure of money the seed of a bountiful harvest for the community at large may be sown Plan A puts the banker shoulder to shoulder with the people and bridges the gulf that too often exists between him and them As a result of its campaign of education it creates greater confidence in both the bank and the banker and clears the track for great results.

Schadenfreude Headline of the Day

A Halloween reveler dressed up as a Breathalyzer machine was arrested early Sunday for drunk driving.

A Post-Halloween Soup Recipe

I made this spicy pumpkin soup recipe last year with a post-Halloween carving pumpkin. It was excellent.

Most cooking sites will point out that cooking pumpkins (sugar pumpkins) are different from carving pumpkins, but I made this with the kind of giant pumpkin sold to make into a jack-o-lantern (one pumpkin made several batches), and it tasted great. The hardest part is breaking down the pumpkin. It's a bit of work, but worth it. Yum.

Jack O Lantern image by Mansour de Toth, Creative Commons license.

Stop, Look and Listen

-The Nation's Call for Thrift, Frank L. McVey, President of the University of Kentucky, 1920

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Want to Save Some Money? Shop Without Touching - TIME

...According to a new study to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, consumers who touch products in the aisles will pay more money for them than those who keep their hands off the merchandise. So in the 21 years Procter & Gamble ran the iconic television advertisements for its Charmin toilet-paper brand, Mr. Whipple, the uptight grocer with a secret squeezing fetish, should have encouraged his bubbly shoppers to fondle away.

Why does touching an item increase the likelihood of purchase? The motivation traces back to what behavioral economists have labeled the "endowment effect." This phenomenon posits that consumers value a product more once they own it. And simply touching that Charmin may increase a shopper's sense of ownership and compel the consumer to buy the product...

Read the rest:
Want to Save Some Money? Shop Without Touching - TIME

Less is More

Paul Wachtel's 1989 book The Poverty of Affluence questions our assumption that growth is, by definition, good.

We rarely even notice much the idea of "more" permeates our thinking. When we think about our lives, and whether or not we are successful, we do not look at what we have. We look at what we have compared to what we had ten years ago. We try to determine if we've made "progress."

"So immersed are we in the assumptions of growth, so inured to what we actually have and preoccupied only with whether it is more than we had before, that...not having more has become equivalent to having less... Much of what we spend our money on doesn't really get us ahead; it merely keeps us from falling behind."

If that strikes a chord with you and you're looking for inspiration to embrace the concept of "enough" I recommend Less is More Balanced, a stylish web site dedicated to living a less consumer driven, more sustainable lifestyle. It features book reviews, ideas for recycling and repurposing the stuff you've got and information on green products and creative crafts.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Than Two Sides: A (belated) Review of Capitalism: A Love Story

A number of critics have described Michael Moore’s film Capitalism: A Love Story as his best work yet. This probably says more about the times we live in than the film itself. For many years Moore has been doing his thing, championing labor and criticizing corporate excess with a great eye for irony, theatricality, humor and human stories. His veneration of unions and labor strikes seemed out of step and a bit fringe and quixotic in the post-Reagan era.

With Capitalism, the zeitgeist has caught up to him. In the wake of the economic crisis, with the Soviet Union a distant memory (our current crop of young adults are not old enough to remember the Soviet Union and many were not born yet when our Cold War nemesis ceased to be), Capitalism: A Love Story strikes a chord with those who have begun to question their free market zeal.

His criticisms of TARP and the behavior of post-bailout banks would no doubt be applauded by many people across the political spectrum-- if they could stand Michael Moore. In fact, I was struck by how many of Moore’s complaints in the bank bailout section of the film—and his overall sense of indignation and outrage-- were in line with those of the tea party protesters. (This is probably a comparison that both Moore fans and tea party protesters would hate.)

Capitalism’s timeliness is why it subjectively appears to be his best film to many reviewers.

I have always been impressed with Moore’s ability to shine a light on under reported issues and events and to stir up a discussion. Capitalism, for example, has brought “dead peasant” insurance policies and corruption in for-profit prisons into our consciousness.

The shortcoming of the film, however, lies in the central question it seeks to answer. Is capitalism good or evil? (In case you had any doubt, Moore comes down on the latter side.) This is a clear example of what I will call “two-sides-to-every-argument-itis”—the idea that a concept has one argument in its favor, and one against it. And only one position can be right.

In reality, there are very few situations that are so binary. Capitalism is simply a tool. It is one way of running an economy. A hammer can be used to build a Habitat for Humanity home or to bash someone over the head. Capitalism can also be used to build and it can be used to destroy. A more informative and useful framing question for Moore’s exploration might have been not “is capitalism good or bad” but “when does capitalism work well and when doesn’t it? What makes it so useful in some cases and what are its weaknesses?”

(Of course, this is not nearly as entertaining as seeing him wrap Wall Street in crime scene tape.)

Zachary Shore, author of the book Blunder, describes this way of looking at things as a “flatview.”

“A flatview is any rigid perspective that constricts our imagination to just one dimension. It’s thinking in a binary mode. We see people as either good or evil. We understand events as either positive or negative. We categorize others as either with us or against us. Since most complex problems typically contain shades of gray, the flatview trap limits our understanding of what we see, and therefore leads us to simplistic solutions. A flatview is an almost foolproof prescription for blunders.”

A related cognitive trap is something Shore dubs “cure-allism.” This is a belief that if a theory works in some cases, it will work in all cases. Going back to my hammer analogy—cure-allism has a hammer and sees every problem as a nail.

As his strongest example of cure-allism at work Shore cites the idealization of privatization:

“The privatization form of cure-allism begins… with a theory that works well in many cases, but then it tries to apply that successful theory to areas where it doesn’t belong. Governments do tend to be less efficient than private enterprise when it comes to management. As a result, governments have increasingly moved to privatize a wide range of their services. But this theory, as with all forms of cure-allism, becomes a victim of its own success when it morphs into a dogma.”

Capitalism: A Love Story illustrates the limits of seeing privatization as the right tool for every problem. It tells a harrowing tale of a corrupt judge who accepted bribes to sentence teens to a for-profit juvenile detention center, sending them off in handcuffs for such minor offenses as talking back to their parents, and pocketing a finder’s fee for derailing their young lives. While Moore correctly shines a light on a form of cure-allism (privatization is always the answer) he replaces it with his own cure-all ideology (capitalism causes evil.)

Judicial corruption, for the record, is not created by capitalism. In fact, if you were to tell this story to a Russian, his reaction would no doubt be, “Yes, and what is your point?” In many countries of the world, this story would be seen as the rule not the exception, and our assumption that a bribe-taking-judge should never exist would be viewed as charming, quaint and lovely. But the fact that corruption exists in all economic systems does not dismiss the larger question of whether or not privatization of prisons is a good idea.

Like Moore, Shore sees in prison privatization “a clear conflict of interest with the larger society.”

He notes that “a government’s primary responsibility is to its citizens. A corporation’s primary responsibility is to its shareholders. Often the interests of share holders are not compatible with those of the citizens… A society should want to see its prison population fall, assuming that criminals are rehabilitated, taught new skills, and assisted with finding jobs until they are released. A private prison, in contrast, has a vested interest in seeing the prison population rise… Private prisons have few meaningful incentives to rehabilitate their inmates. On the contrary, they have an incentive to lobby politicians to pass ever tougher laws that will incarcerate ever more people.”

Unlike Moore, Shore does not ask “is privatization good or evil?” He asks, “Is privatization the best practice in this particular situation to achieve the outcome we want?”

We now live in an information environment that encourages black and white thinking and ideological cure-allism. In our O’Reiley v. Olberman world, we have become so accustomed to seeing complex questions framed as debates between two opposing ideological camps that we often find it difficult to even recognize other options. Which side are you on? Are you a liberal socialist or a free market libertarian? (Are you for Michael Moore or against him?)

We live in a three dimensional world. There are more than two sides. Yet the language with which we discuss problems tends to push us into a two side mindset. For example, I read a review of Michael Moore’s film on a libertarian blog that suggested that Capitalism only told “half the story.” While the reviewer may have meant “a limited perspective,” those are not the words he used. The expression, “half the story” implies that his is one of two parts of a tale and that if the other “half” were told everything would be in balance.

I would like to deputize you, my millions of readers, into the “more than two sides” movement. I would like you to set an internal alarm that goes off whenever you hear a newscaster or pundit talk about how “the other side” views the issue, and to keep your ear honed for language that urges you to view any complex issue as good or bad, left or right. If you’re so inclined, call your news sources and pundits out when they use such language or framing.

As for my final verdict on Capitalism: A Love Story; it is a piece of well-crafted and entertaining story telling that raises important questions about some of our social ills. Moore’s almost childlike insistence in seeing a world of good guys and bad guys often works to his advantage as a filmmaker because it allows him to go straight for the emotions. (Hollywood likes good guys and bad guys too.) As material for a fully informed debate it falls a bit short.

Whistle While You Work? Did you Pay your Royalties?

There was a time when the only way to hear music was to be there when it was performed. If you wanted music in your life, you had to make music. Music was a community endeavor. Over time, we stopped thinking of music as something to do, and started thinking of it as an entertainment product to consume.

The idea of music as a possession and money-making product can lead on occasion to ridiculous extremes. The BBC is reporting today on a woman threatened for infringing on songwriter's intellectual property by singing while stocking shelves at work. Sandra Burt, a 56 year old store clerk was called out by the Performing Right Society (PRS), which collects royalties on behalf of the music industry.

The village store where Mrs Burt works was contacted by the PRS earlier this year to warn them that a licence was needed to play a radio within earshot of customers.

When the shop owner decided to get rid of the radio as a result, Mrs Burt said she began singing as she worked.

She told the BBC news website: "I would start to sing to myself when I was stacking the shelves just to keep me happy because it was very quiet without the radio.

"When I heard that the PRS said I would be prosecuted for not having a performance licence, I thought it was a joke and started laughing.

"I was then told I could be fined thousands of pounds. But I couldn't stop myself singing."

Public outcry over the strong-arm tactics caused PRS to reverse its stand. Read the rest here:

BBC NEWS | UK | Scotland | Tayside and Central | Apology for singing shop worker.

Fear Itself

I'm going to take a break from Broke is Beautiful for the moment to revisit the topic of one of my earlier books, The 100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life and What You Can Do About Them, the premise of which is that we worry ourselves over the wrong things.

Lenore Skenazy author of Free Range Kids would like parents to relax about Halloween dangers. She writes in the Huffington Post:

It's not that I'm cavalier about safety. I'm just a sucker -- so to speak -- for the facts. And the fact is: No child has been poisoned by a stranger's goodies on Halloween, ever, as far as we can determine. Joel Best, a sociology professor at the University of Delaware, studied November newspapers from 1958 to the present, scouring them for any accounts of kids felled by felonious candy. And...he didn't find any. He did find one account of a boy poisoned by a Pixie Stix his father gave him. Dad did it for the insurance money and, Best says, he probably figured that so many kids are poisoned on Halloween, no one would notice one more.

Well, they did and dad was executed. That's Texas for you. Another boy died after he got into his uncle's heroin stash and relatives tried to make it look like he'd been killed by candy. And that's it...

It's not just the fact that churches and community centers are throwing parties so that kids don't go out on their own. It's not just the fact that Bobtown, Pennsylvania has gone so far as to "cancel" Halloween altogether -- for the sake of "safety." (The authorities there were surprised to find this decision unpopular.)...

No, the truly spooky thing is that Halloween has become a riot of warnings that are way scarier than the holiday itself...

Our fears are so overblown they'd be laughable if they didn't sound so much like the fears that are haunting us the rest of the year. Fears that have lead to parents to wait with their kids at the school bus stop, and keep them inside on sunny afternoons. Fears that make parents forbid their kids from skipping down the street to invite a friend out to play. That's the everyday version of Halloween fear: The fear that we cannot trust our children amongst our neighbors for one single second because, who knows, they might be pedophiles just waiting to pounce.

If you want to see what childhood is becoming, look how at what Halloween has already become: A parent-planned, climate-controlled, child-coddled, corporate-sponsored "event," where kids are considered too delicate to even survive the sight of a scary costume...

Enjoy some Free Spooky Music from the Free Music Archive

Friday, October 30, 2009

Another Reason Broke is Beautiful

Higher pay equals worse performance.

At least that it the result of one study as reported in

Economist Dan Ariely, who just presented at Pop!Tech, created a series of experiments for which he promised people money for performing well.

One group was promised a day’s wages for doing well at these tasks. Another group was offered more. A third group was offered a full five months’ salary.

As the chart here shows, the group with the largest monetary incentive performed the most poorly. How come? Ariely concludes that when stakes are really high, people get more anxious about doing well, and that anxiety actually hurts their performance.

How to Be Happy with Less

Thursday, October 29, 2009

"Living Can Be Easy"

This clip is from a German documentary about a woman named Heidemarie Schwermer who has been living without money for 13 years.

Fight For your Right to Dr-y-y

Remember the humble wooden clothes pin? They were invented by Shakers. The clothes pin is becoming an endangered species writes The New Scientist. National Clothespin of Montpelier, Vermont, the last U.S. manufacturer of wooden clothespins ceased its manufacturing operations and now imports clips from China to make novelty refrigerator magnets.

Most Americans would rather watch their wet clothes tumble around in a dryer. Even if they wanted to dry their undies the old fashioned way, many home owners associations forbid it.

Why? "Clothes lines evoke a negative emotional reaction from many Americans, who view them as flags of poverty. Property owners often fear that a clothes line in their neighbourhood will lower the value of their house."

Project Laundry List, a pro-line drying organization, estimates that most of us could save about 10 per cent on energy costs if we did our laundry the green way - cold water, line dry, no bleaching or ironing.

Photo by Michael Jastremski

Luxury or Necessity?

From the kitchen to the laundry room to the home entertainment center, Americans are paring down the list of familiar household appliances they say they can't live without, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends project...

These recession-era reevaluations are all the more striking because the public's luxury-versus-necessity perceptual boundaries had been moving in the other direction for the previous decade.

Source: Luxury or Necessity? The Public Makes a U-Turn - Pew Social & Demographic Trends