Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hold Hands and Stick Together

The Common Security Club blog posted an article today about the success of a resource sharing group in Maine.

...Connie...started a “Resource Sharing Group” in South Paris, ME. “I knew several people who were living with limited income either because of unemployment, under-employment, retirement or voluntary simplicity,” she says. “And I thought, if we put this group together, we could all benefit from it. It would make life easier for all of us.”

And she was right. But what she didn’t expect – and what surprised the librarian – was how much fun they would have...

In fact, the list of mutual aid projects they completed is remarkable. Instead of hoarding their possessions or knowledge during a time of vulnerability, the participants opened themselves up and discovered a new source of abundance in each other.

Sometimes, the abundance came from mundane places like bulk stores. “We would bulk shop together,” Connie says. “And we’d tell each other about sales.”

At each meeting, members of the group said what they needed, and what they could offer. “Usually by the time we got around the circle, the needs had been addressed, or at least ideas had been shared about how to address them,” says Connie.

Read the full article on Common Security Clubs.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Do These Crystal Goblets Make My Kitchen Cabinets Look Cheap?

So you decide to splurge and buy the new recliner you've had your eye on. You bring it home and suddenly your sofa looks like something that you picked up at the side of the curb. (Maybe because you picked it up at the side of the curb.)

Rather than improving the "look" of your room, the new piece creates disharmony. Everything looks wrong.

You could take the recliner back to the store and start scanning Goodwill shops for something that is more in line with your previous decor. You could do that. But you probably will not.

Instead, one purchase leads to another. Eurekalert reports:

...consumers who were surveyed said they would make more purchases in an effort to try to surround their designer purchase with other luxury items and restore aesthetic harmony, according to marketing professors Vanessa Patrick of the University of Houston and Henrik Hagtvedt of Boston College, whose study is forthcoming in the Journal of Marketing Research. In fact, this additional string of purchases may represent a far larger expenditure than the initial purchase...

"When we buy something with unique design elements and it doesn't fit, it frustrates us," says Hagtvedt. "This is because design has intrinsic value. So rather than returning the item, we actively seek ways to make the item fit, often by making complementary purchases. This has financial implications that may have been entirely unforeseen when the consumer made the initial purchase."

The Complete Teacher Interview

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

It is getting close to Christmas, and I'm thinking about one of my favorite carols: Do You Hear What I Hear. I find it to be one of the most touching of the Christmas songs with its plea for peace and compassion.

Imagine the King, the most powerful of powerful, pausing in his Kingly duties for the least among us-- a child who is vulnerable, without a roof over his head, nowhere to sleep but out in the barn with the cows. A humble child, a newborn, a bundle of needs from a family with no influence or power. The King, inspired by the needs of the boy, makes a plea to a warring people to put their differences aside in the name of the needy child.

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
"Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold."

Said the king to the people everywhere
"Listen to what I say
Pray for peace, people, everywhere
Listen to what I say
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light."

But something also bothers me about the song. Isn't this a message that the shepherd could bring to the king every night? Were there not children shivering in the cold each night in the kingdom? Was Jesus the only one? Was the king aware of any of the others? Are the shepherds and the King concerned for this shivering child because he is a shivering child-- or because he is a special child?

Tonight, this very night, a child shivers in the cold because there was no room at the shelter.

What will that child grow up to be? What inventions, scientific discoveries, works of art might he contribute to all of us? What goodness and light does he have inside?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Video of the Day: Advent Conspiracy

Surplus Wealth May Rob You of Your Ability to Savor Small Pleasures

New research by Jordi Quoidbach and colleagues in the journal Psychological Science add to the growing body of literature on money and subjective well being, which indicate that money cannot buy happiness.

The authors of this study conclude that having access to the best things money can buy actually reduces a person's ability to savor small pleasures.  Savoring an experience gives you double the pleasure.  There is the pleasure of the experience itself, and the experience of remembering it, recounting it, reliving it.

This study provides the first evidence that money impairs people’s ability to savor everyday positive emotions and experiences. In a sample of working adults, wealthier individuals reported lower savoring ability (the ability to enhance and prolong positive emotional experience). Moreover, the negative impact of wealth on individuals’ ability to savor undermined the positive effects of money on their happiness. We experimentally exposed participants to a reminder of wealth and produced the same deleterious effect on their ability to savor as that produced by actual individual differences in wealth, a result supporting the theory that money has a causal effect on savoring. Moving beyond self-reports, we found that participants exposed to a reminder of wealth spent less time savoring a piece of chocolate and exhibited reduced enjoyment of it compared with participants not exposed to wealth. This article presents evidence supporting the widely held but previously untested belief that having access to the best things in life may actually undercut people’s ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'll Trade You a Sonet for a Sonogram...

Via The Rumpus I learned about an innovative project that allowed artists without healthcare to barter their talents for medical services:

Organizers of a festival recently held in Kingston, N.Y.—the O+Festival of Art, Music + Wellness—brought together “about 40 doctors, dentists, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and others [who] donated 232 hours of service, valued at more than $38,000, to the bands and artists who played or created sculptures or paintings.” (via Business Week)

Your Recession Christmas Basket

Feeling the pinch this holiday season?  Here is a gift suggestion for or from the cash-strapped consumer who still has his sense of humor intact:  The Broke is Beautiful gift basket.

This easy to assemble kit has everything for the person who has nothing!  First: get a basket from Freecycle.  Decorate with a ribbon from one of last year's gifts. And fill with:

1. Autographed copy of Broke is Beautiful by Laura Lee.  The book that celebrates the resourcefulness and creativity that the cash-strapped develop in spades.  A welcome mat for the wealthless that reminds each reader that there are still lots of reasons to celebrate life and to feel like a proud, useful being no matter what your income level. 

2. Ramen noodles 20c per pack

3. Generic brand boxed macaroni and cheese 79c per box

4. Optional extra: for those of legal drinking age:  A king can of budget friendly beer.  (I got the one in the picture for $1.58)

The whole thing is just $16.58.  ($19.58 if you have the book shipped and need to add postage.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What You Learn on Park Benches

Sara Peters, writing in Happy in Hooverville, discusses what she learned as an unemployed New Yorker from the people she met on park benches.

Being that these new friends were people who were sitting on benches during the daylight hours, rather than sitting in an office, these people were actually quite a bit different than most other people I know. Different ages, different vocations, different backgrounds, different views on life, different views on work. Inexplicably, they had every confidence that I would find work again, and every confidence that I'd be good at it.

Over the months my attitudes toward many things began to change. My bench, the people I met, the wind whooshing its way through the trees -- they all slowly unraveled the tightly woven, rock-hard snarls of foolish assumptions that had been twisting me up inside for longer than I could remember. They allowed me to release some of the sources of stress that had become a part of my very being.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blessed with the Opportunity to Give: Even When Broke

I have been thinking a lot about the joy of giving lately. The image of the poster by Debt Busters: "Debt Robs Your Ability to be Generous" has been in my mind. I've been thinking too about Open Collaboration's work with gift circles and trying to break down the division between the giver and the recipient. There was also my own pleasure at having the opportunity to support teachers with Donors Choose that at least temporarily relieved some of the psychic burden of being always broke.

Today I came across a November 1 article by Rob Kuban, the author of Dollars and Doctrine, a book about the Bible's take on all things financial.

Kuban seeks to answer the question "Should Poor People Give?" Here is some of what he had to say:
...It has been shown time and time again that poor people are more generous with their money (proportionally) than rich people:

For decades, surveys have shown that upper-income Americans don’t give away as much of their money as they might and are particularly undistinguished as givers when compared with the poor, who are strikingly generous. A number of other studies have shown that lower-income Americans give proportionally more of their incomes to charity than do upper-income Americans. (NY Times)

I think sometimes we don’t approach this question from the right perspective. We tend to be a little melodramatic. We discuss this issue painting a picture of a single mom with starving kids who can’t put food on the table because the manipulative pastor is ringing every last cent out of her budget. With A LOT of irony, as the rich and middle class sit around debating the financial ramifications of the Bible’s instructions for the less fortunate, the poor are out giving. Kind of funny if you stop to think about it. The rich and middle class sit around trying to “help” the single mom who in actuality might be giving a higher proportion of her income than them! Therefore, I think we should move forward keeping in mind that, statiscally speaking, maybe the poor should be the ones teaching the rich what to do with their money!

...If giving has nothing to do with amounts and everything to do with our hearts, then why is our call to give dependent on our tax bracket?

The Best Gift for the Minimalist on Your List

Do you have a minimalist or someone who is trying to declutter on your Christmas list? A charity gift card may be the way to go. The nice thing about a charity gift card, as opposed to a donation in someone's name, is that the recipient experiences the joy of giving by selecting what project to fund.

I received two gift cards for Donors Choose, an organization that allows public school teachers to post requests for funding of particular projects and gives people like you the opportunity to fund them with small donations. When you are cash strapped, it is a tremendous psychological lift to have a chance to give and to support a worthy project. It could also be a great learning experience for children. Give them a card and the power to choose who to help.

Because arts education is important to me, and I work with classical ballet artists, it was gratifying to be able to support an inner-city school that wanted a ballet barre to add classical dance to its performing arts program.

Two similar organizations (I have not tried them personally) Charity Choice and Network for Good.

If you have suggestions for others, please post in the comments.

Diversion of the Day: I Can't Give You Anything But Love

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Austerity v. Frugality

CNN today has an opinion piece titled "Frugal Living is the Road to New Prosperity." Here is an excerpt:

Austerity comes from the Greek verb "to dry." It is sour and astringent. Self-flagellation is the order of the day...Austerity is all about cutting back the public sector in an attempt to reinvigorate the private sector.

Frugality is about shifting our attention, and our income, away from restless consumption and toward long-term saving. Spending less, yes, but investing more -- both in the public and the private sphere. And in our rush to rebuild financial markets, we need to pause long enough to make them fit for the purpose...

Frugality comes from the Latin. It speaks of bearing fruit. Of our ability to flourish, not through relentless material profligacy, but through a due attention to season and cycle and the processes of maturation. Austerity presents us with an arid world, stripped bare of meaning, devoid of hope. Frugality offers us a way to re-enchant the future.

Read the full article at CNN.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Free At Last

"I sold 90% of my possessions leaving only some family heirlooms, art, and clothing in a small storage space. I sold my stuff off to my family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Even though I knew it was what I wanted to do, it wasn’t an easy or comfortable situation. As I handed over the items I worked so hard to acquire I tried to think of it as if my couch was really shackled to me and now when someone bought it, it was now shackled to them, keeping them weighted down and unable to move. I on the other hand became lighter and practically lifted off the ground as my bed and last pieces of furniture and kitchen gadgets left my apartment."

Read the full article at Miss Minimalist.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Local Living Economy

Debt Robs Your Ability to be Generous

Photo from a beating debt meetup.  Posted with a creative commons share alike license on the Keeping Pace Debt Prevention Group web site. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

In Defense of Humanities

“If, because of cutbacks and lack of support from the federal government, literature and the arts and other aspects of the humanities become just parlor musings of the wealthy, we would have made a huge mistake,’’ Dartmouth’s president, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, said in an interview. “Literature and the arts should not only be for kids who go to cotillion balls to make polite conversation at parties.’’

Read the full article at The Boston Globe

Monday, November 8, 2010

Newsflash: People Like Sex Better for Love than for Money

The blog Live Science is reporting on a study that finds that how satisfied people are with sex depends a lot on why they had sex.  (How much of a grant do you suppose they got for this study?)

The research, reported online Oct. 22 in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, finds that both men and women are more satisfied when having sex out of love and commitment, while mercenary types don't have much fun in bed — having sex to get material goods or to get ahead was associated with a less satisfying experience.
Here's another interesting tid bit for the Myth Buster types: The love/commitment connection seems to be stronger for men than women.

The researchers asked 544 college-aged men and women, most of them heterosexual, to take surveys on their sexual motivations and satisfaction. Men who had sex to raise their self-esteem were less satisfied, as were men who had sex to get goods, favors or other resources. Women had a broader range of associations, the researchers found. The connection between love/commitment and satisfaction was less strong for women than for men, though it was still present.
 You want more on love and money?  Here are a few things I learned while researching Broke is Beautiful:

Dartmouth College economist David Blachflower and University of Warwick (England) professor Andrew Oswald found that sex made people happier than money.  After evaluating the levels of sexual activity and happiness in sixteen thousand people, they found that sex so positively influenced happiness that they estimated increasing intercourse from once a month to once a week is equivalent to the happiness generated by getting a $50,000 raise.  And in case you were wondering, people who make more money do not have more sex.  Nor, as is sometimes assumed, do the poor have more sex.  There was no difference in the study between sexual frequency and income levels.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness: Overrated?

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."-Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning.

In Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl drew on the experiences of concentration camp prisoners. He found that those who survived were not the ones who pursued happiness as an end in itself, but the ones who had a goal in life. Meaning, not pleasure was the key. This can be a great comfort if you’re facing hard times. It is much easier to find “meaning” in hard times than “happiness.”

Jay McDaniel, a theologian and author of the book Living from the Center, calls happiness a “byproduct not a goal”: “…many people can live very meaningful lives,” he wrote, “pursuing quite worthy goals, without being particularly happy, if ‘happiness’ means pleasant states of consciousness. Consider the person who is deeply compassionate, sharing in the sorrows of others, and who, precisely through her sharing, cannot sleep well at night. In her empathy for others, she knows the happiness of communion with others, but not the happiness of pleasure.”

Would U.S. culture have been different if the authors of the Declaration of Independence had written, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Meaning?”

It is worth thinking about.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Life after Layoff: Cards of Change

Discovered the Cards of Change site today.  It is a cathartic celebration of life after layoffs in the form of re-designed business cards sent in by readers who have lost a job and found their way to something new.  Follow the link to see the current collection or upload your own.

Broke and Beautiful People of the Day: Allen and Violet Large who Gave Away Their Lottery Winnings

How large are Allen and Violet Large?

The retired couple gave away their $11 million lottery win to charity and families saying they'd never had that much, and don't need it.

"What you've never had, you never miss," Violet Large, 78, who is recovering from cancer, told the newspaper. "We have an old house, but we're comfortable and we're happy in it."

"The money that we won was nothing," said 75 year-old Allen, "We have each other."

"Harder Problems Lead to Better Inventions" Micro-Wind Generator

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Cost: $4 Billion. What Could $4 Billion Have Bought?

The entire spending on the 2010 campaign season was estimated at $4 Billion.  That's a lot of money spent on accusations of being "out of touch," and "bending to the special interests."

(You can see the best, the worst and the funniest of what that $4 Billion paid for on Politics Daily.)

What else could you buy with $4 billion?  I was told there would be no math on this quiz.  Ok, let me see what I can find...

The U.S. could have its own bullet train service

You could buy 50 Boeing 737s.

You could have bought Marvel Comics

You could provide all of the bags that retailers give away each year

You could fund the smart grid initiative.

You could provide 1/3 of total donations to the Global Fund which has helped reduce mortality rates associated with AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

You could rebuild Haiti after the earthquake.

The Dallas Morning News says you could "run the city of Pittsburgh for two years. Buy every resident of Topeka a nice used car. Or treat each and every American to a Big Mac and fries."

or you could pay the Navy's phone bill.

I was prepared to do some nifty calculations using my calculator and typical prices for things.  Unfortunately, my calculator will not let me punch in a number as large as 4,000,000,000.  Anyone who has a better calculator than I, maybe you can come up with some things and post in the comments.

Instead let me tell you this.  Just from outside groups the 2010 midterm election  attracted $300 Million.  Sounds like a petty sum compared to $4 billion.  But according to ABC, $300 Million could buy:
The state of Michigan currently has the highest rate of unemployment in the nation at 9.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment office gives $300 in weekly benefits. So the $300 million is enough to pay unemployment compensation for 250,000 jobless Michigan residents for a whole month.

With in-state undergraduate tuition at the University of Florida totaling an average of $3,790 annually, nearly 20,000 students could have all four years at the university paid for with $300 million. The same amount of money would provide books and supplies for 78,125 in-state students at the average of $960 per year each.

So for those who want to jet to Switzerland to check on (or check out) their stash, Swiss Air, the country's national carrier, will jet you to Berne from New York in business class for just $9,402 roundtrip – luggage is no extra charge. With $300 million, in fact, 31,908 people could make the trip in style.

The annual budget for books in the Los Angeles Public Library system averages at around $7.7 million. That means that $300 million would put new books on the shelves in L.A. for 38 years.

But seriously, why would you want any of that stuff when you could have this?

Even Gourmet Magazine is Highlighting Extreme Frugality

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vow of Poverty

The Daily Episcopalian printed a thoughtful sermon by Richard E. Helmer on the spiritual vow of poverty and its meaning. Here is an excerpt:
When I recently attended the life profession of a Franciscan brother in San Francisco, the preacher at the service made note of a critical aspect of Franciscan spirituality, rooted as it is so deeply in the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Poverty,” he said, “is not the absence of riches.” For Francis discovered a different kind of riches when he set aside the affluent lifestyle of his family and renounced his material inheritance. He discovered a charisma that built a movement capturing the attention of popes and prelates, politicians and peoples, and the imagination of a Christianity yearning to free itself of corruption. He discovered a wealth of inspiration that brought about the rebuilding of churches throughout Assisi and beyond, and radically challenged the indolence of overly wealthy monastic communities and the machinations of ecclesiastical officials.

“Poverty is not the absence of riches, but the absence of power.”

Francis gave up control over his own destiny, and made no pretense to take the helm of the movement his witness unleashed. While he was called upon to engage in high-level conversations with the rich and the powerful, he eschewed authority for simplicity and lived quietly and generously in a society of friars and sisters for many years. It was entirely the work of the Spirit moving among the people that re-formed Western Christianity subversively and from within at the height of the Middle Ages. When Francis embraced poverty, he gave up his personal power to control what God was doing in his midst and through him. And in an irony worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Francis became more powerful than he could have imagined, perhaps in the way our prayers in the Daily Office offer as a closing benediction: “Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

Baby, If You've Ever Wondered; I'm on WKRP in Colorado

Yes, yours truly, Laura Lee gets to fulfill one of my old dreams from when I worked in radio.  I get to be a cast member of WKRP.  Well, not exactly.  But I will be doing an interview on WKRPRadio.Com at 1:30 PM Mountain Time/3:30 PM Eastern.  Topic will be maintaining your joi de vivre while broke.  If you'd like to listen in, follow the link and click on the big "Listen Live" button. 

Great Pumpkin Thoughts

A few years ago I came across a delicious pumpkin soup recipe and made it from the giant decorative pumpkin that had been on the porch for Halloween.  (Not made into a jack o lantern.) 

This year we did not have a pumpkin on the porch, so I went to Freecycle to see if anyone had a spare.  Lots of people did, so I will be making my soup again.  (It's a lot of work, but the result is worth it.)

After being overwhelmed with pumpkin offers, near and far, and thinking about yesterday's post on the gift economy, (I had commented on the original article that inspired the post with some thoughts on The Guthrie Center's community lunch program) I got to thinking about the idea of having some kind of organized post Halloween pumpkin collection and soup dinner.  It would keep those pumpkins from going to waste, bring people together, and be a great community event.  A church or community center could do something like this fairly easily by letting members know to bring in their pumpkins on a certain date.   

I would love to hear your thoughts on this idea.

Photo credit:  Mike McCune issued with Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 1, 2010

On Creating a Gift Economy

Open Collaboration has a nice article today on the things the author's learned in creating a local gift economy.  The article focuses on the benefits of giving as well as receiving and the breaking down of the barriers between giver and receiver.  Here is an excerpt:

One of the key insights to birthing a culture of generosity is to create a social system where people can meet each other’s needs without partitioning the group into a segment that only receives and a segment that only gives, in contrast to the model of a soup kitchen or homeless shelter where there is a dualistic divide between giver and receiver. So the first design principal to create such a social system is for it to take the shape of a circle. By forming a circle people can become both receivers and givers. The second design principal is that people is to create a platform where people express their needs. This way people can discover what gifts they have to offer that they may not have realized. This also allows for the deepening of relationships as people make themselves vulnerable by saying what they need, because people’s needs often reflect their overall life situation and expose the troubles they’re going through.

Does Weather Influence Elections?

On election eve, I will pause in my "Broke is Beautiful" musings and revisit a topic from one of my previous books Blame it on the Rain (Harper Collins).

Does weather impact voting?

It is one of the most famous photographs from American political history.  The new president elect Harry Truman grins triumphantly as he holds up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the blazing headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”  Collectors of historic newspapers pay as much as $900 for this gem of failed forecasting.

Thomas Dewey, of course, did not defeat Harry Truman for the presidency.  The Chicago Tribune made the mistake of believing polling data.  If the polls were correct, there was little chance Truman could win.  The day before the election, Gallup predicted Dewey would get 49.5 percent of the vote and Truman 44.5 percent.  The Crossley poll came up with almost the same result.  The Elmo Roper poll showed an even more impressive 52.2 percent for Dewey and 37.1 percent for Truman.

How did the pollsters get it so wrong?  There were, of course, many factors which historians have discussed and debated for decades.  One of these was the weather in Illinois.

Weather and politics have a long history going back to the days when political office was won on the tip of a sword rather than at the ballot box.  The word “campaign” itself derives from a military term that can be traced back to the days when armies stood down during the freezing cold and ventured out into “the field” only when weather permitted.  The word for an open field in Latin is “campania” and this passed into 14th century English as champaign.  (The French wine, champagne was named for a region of open fields that derives its name from the same Latin root.)  Champaign evolved into campaign.  The word for the field was metaphorically used for the military taking of the field.  Eventually the military sense was expanded to include any attempt to mobilize a large number of people.

When people began to select their leaders through elections, the effect of the weather became less direct.  Yet inclement weather continued to play its role by keeping the less motivated people from the polls and by hindering campaign efforts.  When the race is very close, as it was in the case of Dewey vs. Truman  in 1948, a few people deciding not to venture into the elements, is enough to swing the election.

In 1948, splits within the Democratic party made a victory by Truman at the polls seem like a long shot.   Two spin-off parties were created, one on the left, and one on the right.  On the left was the Progressive Party, led by Henry Wallace.  Wallace and his followers were unhappy with Turman’s foreign policy.  They held him responsible for the Cold War with Russia.  Wallace favored negotiations to lessen those tensions.  The Progressive slogan was “one, two, three, four, we don’t want another war.”

On the right was South Carolina governor J. Strom Thurmond and the States’ Rights Democratic Party.  This party was created after Truman proposed a series of measures that would guarantee equal rights to African-Americans.  These proposals were controversial among the so-called “Dixiecrats,” the Democrats of the South.  When Truman announced his plan, thirty-five delegates walked out of the Democratic convention to form their own party.  The states rights delegation did not expect to win, but they hoped to get enough votes to throw the election to the House of Representatives where they could swing the ballot to a candidate who opposed civil rights legislation.

All this Democratic infighting was a boon to Republican Thomas Dewey.  The New York Post wrote:  “The party might as well immediately concede the election to Dewey and save the wear and tear of campaigning.”  Dewey was so confident in his assured win that he mounted a very subdued campaign.  Harry Truman, on the other hand, embarked on a 31,000-mile train trip across the nation and delivered hundreds of speeches.

Democrats have often said that the rain favors them because it presents more of a challenge to rural voters than to the urban voters who are most likely to pick a Democratic candidate.  On election day 1948 this was borne out.  A storm system in the lower Mississippi Valley spread rain across Illinois with especially heavy downpours in the South.   Not only was the rain more likely to muck up dirt roads than urban transport, the rain itself was concentrated over the rural section of the state, and it mostly spared Chicago and the industrial north.  Meanwhile, a Pacific storm brought heavy rain to California.  It fell in the predominantly Republican northern part of the state, while the Democratic southern part had sunshine.

A difference of 29,294 votes, or .28 of one percent of the electorate, in Illinois, California and Ohio could have changed the outcome.  The rain in Illinois and California may well have tipped the scales.  In the end Harry Truman captured 303 electoral votes, Thomas Dewey, 189 and Strom Thurmond, 39.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Broke and Beautiful Person of the Day: Jorge Munoz

CNN today featured a man who finds more wealth in giving than in lining his pocket:

Jorge Munoz is a bus driver in New York City who started feeding the hungry in Queens five years ago, using food that would otherwise have been thrown away. And that's how he discovered a secret -- the power of sharing.

"People are telling me, 'Jorge, you have no money, you do all this and get nothing back.' And I say I have a checking account full of smiles."

Read the full story at CNN.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meaning of Economics

Alternet today featured an interview with Mark Boyle, a former economist who just published a book about his year living without money and who plans to use his royalties to start a money free community.

"I think it's wrong to think of economics as money," Boyle said. "The actual word itself actually revolves around meeting one's needs. Money is one way of meeting our needs, but it's only one way. I think I couldn't do what I do today without studying economics, because you need to understand the system first—how it currently works—in order to change it."

Yes, You Too Can Be A Millionaire by Age 25

"You.. can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes! You say.. Steve.. how can I be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes? First.. get a million dollars. Now..."-Steve Martin

Kiplinger's today has an article with the title "How to Be a Millionaire by Age 25."  Sounds good, although I'm a little late.

Here is the problem I have with this kind of article.  It assumes that by following the example of someone whose magical mix of the right idea at the right time with the right set of circumstances will bring you the same result. We tell the stories of 25-year-old millionaires not because they are commonplace, but because they are rare.  Yet in the telling, we make it sound as though there is a simple formula to follow in their footsteps.  You may learn something from their stories that you can apply to your life, but in a complicated world you will face many different challenges that will determine your likelihood of striking it rich, having just enough, or having your business fold.

You can read all about Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook invention, but does that mean that you too will find yourself with just the right idea at the right moment with the right set of skills to implement it, the right amount of buy in, not to mention the blind luck factor?

As Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, wrote, “One of my students, who wasn’t more than 22, noted during a class presentation that ‘there are lots of people our age who are CEOs of their own companies.’  He probably read a profile or two of one of these rare beasts in a magazine and, fueled by the ‘you can be anything’ mythos, decided that this was commonplace.”

And why wouldn't he if the headline itself told him outright that he could do it too?

In 1999, college freshmen predicted they would be earning, on average, $75,000 a year by the time they were 30. This was at a time when the average salary of a 30 year old was $27,000.

This cheerful generation ran up its credit cards in anticipation of their inflated salary expectations, bless their hearts. In 2008, 84% of college undergrads had at least one credit card. The average balance of undergraduate credit cards was $3,173 and the average senior now graduates with $4,100 in debt.

The self-esteem generation’s expectations are so sky high that, in Twenge’s words, “we will probably get less of what we want than any previous generation.”

It occurs to me that financial success is the most likely area to receive this kind of aspirational treatment.  We don't, as a rule, print a biography of the President of the United States detailing his climb to the top with the headline "How You Can Be the President of the United States."  We do not see lots of articles on Oprah Winfrey and how she became one of the wealthiest and most powerful broadcasters with the headline, "How You Can Found a Media Empire by Age 40."  We don't see lots of stories about Oscar winners with the headline: "How You Can win the Oscar" or sport stars with the headline, "How You Can Win an Olympic Gold Medal."

These are pinnacles of success, human beings do reach them, and they have interesting stories of how they got there, and yet we are not constantly asked to imagine that we can easily do the same by following a few simple steps.

I'm interested to know what you think-- because I don't have the answer myself-- why do we treat business success and financial wealth in a different way than other kinds of success?  Does it, in some way, diminish the achievement of the 25-year-old millionaire to imply that anybody with an idea and a garage can reach the same level of success?

Glen Beck on the Broke Bandwagon

So Glen Beck has a new book out called "Broke."

It is apparently full of "chalkboard-style teachable moments."

I bet his "broke" book is somewhat less positive than mine.

Might be funnier.

Do you think Beck will get richer with "Broke"?

Maybe I need to get a chalkboard.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Greed as a Lack of Selfishness??

An interesting article in Psychology Today turns the concept of "greed" on its head by arguing that it stems from too little selfishness. What do you think?

Greed is about never being satisfied with what one has, always wanting and expecting more. It is an insatiable hunger. A profound form of gluttony. Where does greed breed? Paradoxically, greed really arises from too little inner selfishness. That's right. Greed grows from ignorance (unconsciousness) of one's self...

Selfishness that centers around, attunes to, acknowledges and honors the needs of the self is what is required. Not the selfish, neurotic, childish demands of the ego. That would still be mundane greed or narcissism. But the needs of what C.G. Jung termed the Self: the complete person, the whole enchilada, of which ego is only part. The Self represents both the center and totality of the personality. Honoring the Self is not simple. It requires persistence, patience, humility, courage and commitment. But this long-term investment in one's Self can provide a powerful antidote to greed, gluttony, avarice and addiction.

*Photo courtesy

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Great Pumpkin as Anti-Consumer Propaganda

The blog Postconsumers has gotten into the holiday spirit with a review of the Halloween children's classic It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.   Here is their take from the article How Linus Van Pelt Found the Satisfaction of Enough.

... we realized that it’s also a statement about how little Linus Van Pelt and his security blanket find the satisfaction of enough among a sea of consumerism...

Is there any message that could be more apt to the postconsumer movement? Sure, at the end of the night, Linus hasn’t seen the great pumpkin, but he’s made a choice. What’s that choice? That simply collecting things (or in this case huge bags of candy) won’t lead to true satisfaction or happiness. He chooses instead to find another activity that may eventually lead him to happiness. In this instance, it doesn’t pan out exactly as he hoped, but at least he recognized that it wasn’t “more, more, more” that would make him happy. And we like to believe that, some day, Linus Van Pelt really would find his great pumpkin!

Style is Back in Style: High Fashion on a Low Budget

"I believe in shopping on a budget. I know firsthand from working with people that more fashion mistakes happen when people have an unlimited amount of money. They just pick things up willy-nilly, versus someone who's on a budget and thinking, 'Will this work in my wardrobe?'"-Tim Gunn 

Sure that Coach or Prada purse is appealing.  It may not look any better than the one you got at the Salvation Army, but it does scream out “Look, I’m Rich.”

Would it help you to know that a lot of those luxury clothing brands are made in the same Chinese and Cambodian factories as your Wal-Mart duds?  It used to be that those high ticket items were lovingly crafted by hand, but that is simply not so any more.  You can get the same luxury results by buying the stuff at discount prices and shouting “Look, I’m Rich” verbally.

Marc Jacobs, creative director of Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury goods company, defines luxury this way: “For me, luxury is about pleasing yourself, not dressing for other people.” 

Who is more likely to dress with little regard for trends than a broke person?    Now is the time to develop a quirky fashion sense.  Unique is chic.  Aren’t  you just a little too cool to dress up in cookie-cutter mass produced fashions anyway?  The Goodwill Store has its half-price sale on Wednesday.  Go for it.

Psychology Today agrees with me.  In the article "The Style Imperative" published in September, they wrote:

There is a vast gap between fashion and style. Fashion is about clothes and their relationship to the moment. Style is about you and your relationship to yourself. Fashion is in the clothes. Style is in the wearer. The distinction could not be more revealing.  Despite the proliferation of fashion, style has been out of style for decades. As the economy expanded, America embarked on a collective shopping spree. In place of style we have honored Merchandise. Clothes. Style, on the other hand, doesn't demand a credit card. It prospers on courage and creativity...Lastly, style is one part fashion. It's possible to have lots of clothes and not an ounce of style. But it's also possible to have very few clothes and lots of style.
 There are some brilliantly creative folks out there demonstrating style without flashing their Platinum Master Cards around.  I previously featured Marissa, the blogger behind New Dress A Day.  She shows her clever conversions of cheap thrift store cast-offs into wearable new designs, a review of the book Junky Styling: A Manual for Thrift Shop Clothes Remixers, and The Uniform Project, in which a woman wore the same black dress for a year but changed its appearance with accessories.

Turns out that using your creativity rather than your pocketbook makes you happier.  Another Psychology Today article interviewed Tim Kasser, associate professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, and author of The High Price of Materialism.

"Buying stuff doesn't seem to make even materialistic people happy," Kasser says. A materialistic lifestyle is associated with an inadequate sense of security, competence, relatedness, and autonomy, he's found. In addition to perpetual feelings of ennui, the materialist runs the risk of burgeoning into a full-blown shopaholic, a person so obsessed with buying that they fall into debt and suffer dire personal consequences. A recent Stanford University study found that about 5.5 percent of men and 6 percent of women fit the criteria.

Here are three sites aimed at the frugal fashionista that have "broke" right in their names.  Broke and Beautiful, Flat Broke and Fabulous and Broke Livin.

And for more inspiration check out Lookbook, a collaborative showcase of the best in global street fashion.  People upload their own pictures of their style choices.  Many of the looks are made up of homemade and vintage pieces, like this ensemble by Lady B, made entirely of thrift store finds.

I'd like to hear about more resources for budget style that relies more on brain power than shopping.  Post suggestions in the comments.

*Image of Ariel Grimm issued under a Creative Commons Share Alike license

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Take Some Time to Do the Things You Never Have Ooh Ooh

A couple of weeks ago, I posed a question about ways to avoid one of the main pitfalls of the broke life: retreating from social activity.  It is such a central question that I dealt with it in the first chapter of my book.

So you have to be proactive and do the inviting.  Come up with cheery free stuff to do and you suggest the activity.  Have a potluck.  Plan a scavenger hunt. Go mushroom hunting in the woods and cook up your crop.  If you do it early and often, your friends will think of you as a creative person who suggests out of the ordinary activities, and they’ll actually feel positively about you.

Social activities do not have to be extravagant; they just need to be done together.  Philip Simmons author of Learning to Fall gets nostalgic when he’s around garbage.  “When I was spending summers [in New Hampshire] as a child, about the only time I got to spend with my father was while we were working together on something, and so I have fond memories of our trips to the dump.  The work was tedious and smelly, and I don’t suppose we talked a whole lot, but it was good simply to be in my father’s presence…”

 For some reason, my millions of readers did not jump in with their amazing ideas and suggestions.  So I will add one here.  Join a choir.

As I noted in The Elvis Impersonation Kit: "For inexpensive musical instruction, try auditioning for your church choir and practice, practice, practice.  Elvis Presley got his start this way.  He sang in the choir at the First Assembly of God Church in Tupelo, MS, and it was here that he gave his first public performances as a singer.  In fact, his earliest musical influences may have been the pastors who played guitar along with church services."

Minnesota Public Radio concurs.  Their article "Singing in a Choir is Good for You" reports on the findings of a new study by Chorus America:

Americans like to think of themselves as folks involved in their communities, who give back and are good sports about it. A new study out by Chorus America shows that these attributes are particularly pronounced in American choral singers.

Choral singers are more likely to vote, give money to philanthropies, and also to volunteer; they're the kind of people you want on your team. These civic-minded, socially adept folks are in enormous numbers in the U.S. Some 32.5 million adults sing in 270,000 choruses.

What draws people to singing -- beyond the sheer artistic experience and communal expression -- is partly the accessibility of singing. There are few economic or educational barriers. And a singer need not possess the level of skill of an instrumentalist to still feel like a contributor to the creation of art.

What a singer gets in return is an intangible mix of pride and joy. But this particular study has found that singers in choruses also develop positive attributes that can be measured. 
Greater civic involvement, discipline, teamwork, increased social skills, volunteerism, philanthropy, and support of other art forms are some of the very tangible qualities that increase when a person sings in a chorus.
I mean, don't these guys look like they're having fun?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What's Your Favorite Toy?

Designed for kids, but relevant to grown ups.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

I was taken with a review of Steve Job's commencement speech with the above title on the blog The Friendly Anarchist.

The thing is, old-fashioned rationalism and playing it safe is still cutting edge when it comes to making decisions. Intuition is neither taught nor listened to, even if people like Jobs talk about it. Many of the Stanford graduates can certainly relate to this: Law School instead of Art School, MBA instead of NGO, McKinsey instead of building a start-up in your garage. That’s where the money is, just look at the numbers! Keep in mind the statistics! Make a career, dominate, never look back! It’s only “rational”! Thoughts like this not only govern the economic and political spheres, but also our personal lives. “Stay hungry, stay foolish” is replaced by “Better safe than sorry” – not just for the graduates Jobs spoke to, but for most of us...

Stay hungry, stay foolish? It certainly doesn’t look like it! We can see all the motivational speeches in the world and still live life below our human potential. We can turn these presentations into just another commodity to consume...

If we compare our opportunities – being literate, having access to a computer, living in a hopefully stable democracy (or living voluntarily abroad) – to those of billions of other people in the world, I think we should do a little more than that. In some sense, we have an obligation to do it, because we are part of the priviledged few. An obligation to change, because we can change...

We can consciously accept the limitations of our actions, the possibility of failure, and still listen to our hearts, listen to our intuition, and do the shit that has to be done. Stay foolish, even if this means leaving rhetorics aside, and staying hungry from time to time. Even if it means to risk being sorry rather than safe.

 Read more at The Friendly Anarchist.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Frugal Tip for Ladies: Stay Away from Stores at "That Time of the Month"

Gold will buy ’most anything b... Digital ID: 1255653. New York Public Library

It appears, according to an article in Miller-McClune, that the likelihood a woman will engage in a bit of over the top impulse spending depends a lot on the rhythms of her monthly "visitor."

The researchers, who are with the University of Hertfordshire, conducted a study of 443 women between the ages of 18 and 50, who were recruited through “an editorial piece in a popular monthly women’s magazine.” After providing information on the length of their menstrual cycle and their last menses, the women filled out a survey regarding their buying habits over the previous week.

Specifically, they rated on a 1-to-5 scale (from strongly agree to strongly disagree) such statements as “In the last seven days, my spending has been out of control,” and “I have bought something I am unlikely to wear or use.”

These reports were matched with where they were on their cycle during the week in question. (Forty-eight percent were premenstrual, 34 percent were menstrual or post-menstrual and 18 percent were mid-cycle).

“Spending was less controlled, more impulsive and more excessive for women … the further on they were in their cycle,” the researchers report. Strikingly, almost two-thirds of the premenstrual women reported they had bought something on impulse.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Does it Mean to be "Poor?"

One of the main reasons I wrote Broke is Beautiful was to talk about the things that really bother a person suffering financial reverses. Most of the articles and news features on dealing with a tough economy talk about money. But it is not really the lack of money that keeps people awake at night.

I came across an interesting article in a Christian social justice blog called The Just Life that supports this premise. Even though politicians measure poverty in terms of money, the actual poor describe their situation in terms of power and social status:

A survey conducted in Niger in 2002 by the Office of the Prime Minister asked the poor of that country to describe poverty. Their answers provided the following:

* Dependence was mentioned by 40 percent of the respondents, with some noting that a poor person always had to “seek out others” or to “work for somebody else.”

* Marginalization was noted by 37 percent, who defined a poor person as one who was “alone,” had “no support,” did “not feel involved in anything,” or was “never consulted.”

* Scarcity was included in the poverty definitions of 36 percent, who used statements such as having “nothing to eat,” a “lack of means to meet clothing and financial needs,” a “lack of food, livestock and money,” and “having nothing to sell.”

* Restrictions on rights and freedoms were associated with poverty by 26 percent of the respondents, who stated that “a poor person is someone who does not have the right to speak out” or “someone who will never win a case or litigation against someone else.”

* Incapacity was mentioned in connection with poverty by 21 percent, including the incapacity to make decision, to feed or clothe oneself, or to act on one’s own initiative.

Only 36 percent of the poor in this survey described poverty in terms of material lack [scarcity]. Here, the poor described the experience of poverty primarily in terms of suffering relationships and lack of belonging, dignity and freedom. Similar descriptions were found in a major World Bank study published in 2000, Voices of the poor: Can anyone hear us?

The poor describe poverty in terms of suffering relationships. Relationships are central to a person’s belonging, identity, affirmation and other socio-emotional needs.

(See also my post from two days ago on the social aspects of being broke.)

The Vow of Wealth

Jean-Francois Noubel has given me kind permission to post his "Vow of Wealth" here. "I made the choice to live in the gift economy," he writes. "I have nothing to sell but everything to share. I see myself as a tree offering its best fruits. If fruits are good then people will enjoy them and will provide care for the tree. This is an ecology of relationship built on mutual offering rather than dependency and fear. This creates abundance and joy.

By taking the Vow of Wealth,

I decide to welcome and embrace all the Wealth that is given to us, be it in material or immaterial form.

I welcome Wealth as what brings us closer to what is True, Good and Beautiful.

I welcome Wealth as life giving life, and life evolving life, for the great alliance between matter and light.

I commit to build meaningful, generative agreements that lead to harmonious and joyful relationships with my human brothers and sisters and with other living beings.

I commit to offer others what they need for the fulfillment of their life.

I commit to welcome what others offer me for the fulfillment of my life.

I commit to be naked and vulnerable, and to welcome my incompleteness, so I can open myself to receiving from others.

I commit to welcome others’ nakedness and vulnerability, and to welcome their incompleteness. There I find the joy of proposing my gifts.

I will not support whatever keeps living beings separated from Wealth.

I will not support ideologies and acts that degrade abundance into artificial scarcity, for that triggers greed and war.

But rather than fighting against these ideologies and acts, I will tap into the infinite creativity that is given to us at birth. I will be an artist, I will co-create with my fellow brothers and sisters, and new paths will be revealed. The future will not come from my reaction, future will come from my creation. Future is pure art, it springs up from my presence to the present.

I will invent and master every tool, technology and practice that allow the strict application of this Vow, in the context of our epoch and culture.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Consumerism vs. Creativity

The premise of Broke is Beautiful is that the cash strapped life is the creative life. Further support for this concept comes from the blog 99% which has an article Is Consumerism Killing Our Creativity. The article argues that we're using up our creative impulses in the pursuit of bargains and stuff.

The consumerist search capitalizes on the same “seeking” part of the brain that fuels the creative rush. Of course, while consumerism can serve as an addictive substitute for the stimulation of creative activity, it offers nowhere near the same reward in the long term.

...No external thing can prompt creativity, and there’s no substitute for just getting down to doing the work. In fact, it’s been proven that hardship – being deprived of things – stimulates creativity more than being well-off. A recent Newsweek article on America's declining creativity reported:

“Highly creative adults frequently grew up with hardship. Hardship by itself doesn’t lead to creativity, but it does force kids to become more flexible—and flexibility helps with creativity.”

For more on the subject of creation and consumerism, see my article from last week: Is Art What You Do or What You Consume.

Question of the Day: Social Aspects of Being Broke

Studies show that people who feel financially strapped are much less socially engaged than those who feel more secure. Adjusting for income and education, the most financially stressed attend two-thirds fewer meetings of clubs and organizations than the least economically anxious. The broke not only go to movies and stuff that costs money less frequently but they also spend less time on things that don’t cost a cent like having friends over, going to visit friends, attending church, volunteering and participating in politics. The only thing financial stress seems to make us do more of is watch TV. Such social isolation can easily lead to clinical depression, which further isolates, and makes it harder to engage in the kind of productive, creative thought that can lead to novel solutions to your problems.

Have you had this situation? A friend says "Can I take you to lunch?" "Take you" implies he's paying, but you're not sure, and you have $3.23 in your bank account. Rather than risk an embarrassing conversation or an even more embarrassing moment when the separate check is placed in front of you, you find an excuse not to go.

Your neighbor has invited you over for dinner two times. You'd like to invite the neighbor to your place, but you only have ramen and boxed macaroni and cheese. The next time the friend invites you, sensing the growing disparity in the feeding-to-fed ratio you make up an excuse not to go.

Or this one-- you've been asked to be part of a committee at your church. The idea of "giving back" appeals to you tremendously, but on the day the first meeting is scheduled your gas tank is on fumes and you don't think you can make it to the church and to work the next day, so you don't go and don't join the committee.

I'm interested to hear your strategies for avoiding social isolation when broke. Post in the comments.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Look at You and I do not Feel So Broke

I love We Feel Fine. If you are not familiar with it, it is a site that scans the internet-- mostly personal blogs-- and pulls out "I feel" and "I am feeling" statements. The feelings float around as colored balls, click on one, and experience a random emotion from a person somewhere in the world. (Try it and you'll understand what I am talking about.)

Some of the thoughts are combined with images, and here is one I discovered this evening:

Modest Needs: Help Getting Through Those Rough Patches

I have just learned of the organization Modest Needs. Their mission:

Modest Needs makes Self-Sufficiency Grants by remitting payment to a creditor for an expense on behalf of an otherwise self-sufficient individual or family for a relatively small, emergency expense which the individual or family could not have anticipated or prepared for.

In making a Self-Sufficiency Grant, our goal is to prevent an otherwise self-sufficient individual or family from entering the cycle of poverty as a result of the financial burden posed by a relatively small emergency expense.

For example, we might make a Self-Sufficiency Grant to cover the cost of an emergency auto repair that must be made if an individual is to continue working.

If an unexpected expense might derail your budget for months or years, Modest Needs might be just the resource you need.

They also have an excellent list of other emergency resources on their web page.

Tiny House Living

Thursday, October 7, 2010

How to Feel Sexy When You're Broke

So I came across an article today on Ehow called "How to Feel Sexy When You're Broke."

Tip number two was "Skip the Starbucks and eat more mangoes. A healthy diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and Omega 3s will boost your energy and increase alertness."

This suggestion made me wonder: Why do all of the people who write articles on saving money assume "broke" people are sitting around sipping Starbucks?

Seriously! If I had a dime for every article on saving money, supposedly addressed to "broke" people, that mentioned skipping Starbucks I could afford to go to Starbucks!

Do they really think America is cash strapped because we're all sitting around with our Venti lattes saying, "I wonder where my money is going?"

Clearly the people who write articles on being "frugal" have a different "level of broke" than I have.

Anyway, if you're in the Los Angeles area and you want to feel sexy when you're broke, check out for suggestions on fun, romantic things to do with a partner that cost little or nothing. If you know of any other great "cheap date" resources, please send your suggestions, but don't say to "lay off the Starbucks" or I may have to deck you!

Defining A Meaningful Sense of Prosperity

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hold Hands and Stick Together

Robert Fulghum, in his book, Everything I Need to know I learned in Kindergarten, famously pointed out the first thing we learned as children:

"Hold hands and stick together."

Have you heard of "common security clubs?" Here's how Yes! Magazine describes them:

Common security clubs are typically founded by people concerned about their economic security. These small groups of 10-25 adults are consciously breaking down the isolation and fear triggered by the 2008 economic meltdown. Clubs have strengthened communities and enabled participants to learn together, engage in mutual aid, and take social action.

Read Yes's article.

You Are Not Your Financial Situation


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Is Art What You Do, or What You Consume?

For most of human history artistic production consisted of telling stories or dancing or singing songs within a community, around the fire, at church gatherings. Anyone who wished to participate could, and stories evolved in the telling, music gained verses as it moved from community to community. Tales took on a collective richness and who they "belonged to" and exactly who had "created" them was fluid and a bit vague.

As I wrote in Broke is Beautiful:
These days we’ve become accustomed to the idea that entertainment is something you consume, not something you make. We buy records, we rent DVDs and generally leave imagination to the professionals. Much of modern life, in fact, seems to be a rebellion against daydreaming. We listen radio on the way to and from work; we switch on the TV the minute we get home. There are now even screens to entertain us in restaurants and at the gas pump, as if we would become so bored in the five minutes it takes to pump gas that we would just give up and go home. They should know that’s never going to happen. That’s what iPods are for.

How are we ever to find a moment for quality daydreaming with the CNN airport network and the CNN grocery store check-out line network and CNN monitors at the post office? Recent surveys show that children everywhere now spend up to 80 percent of their free time outside of school watching television. Not surprisingly kids who are heavy TV viewers are less imaginative than children who watch only one hour a day. We no longer value our own fantasies; we pay other people to show us theirs.

I came across another example of this in a fascinating article in The New Republic, Ellen Handler Spitz reviews a new collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales called "The Grimm Reader." She points out that the movement from stories as oral tradition to written form made them static.

Fairy tales were originally recited aloud, and that format gave the listeners considerable power. They were able to exercise a direct and partially controlling effect on each recounting. If attention waned, stories were modified. They could be spiced, embellished, or curtailed. But contemporary American adults rarely tell fairy tales to children anymore. We read, slavishly adhering to a text. Such reliance denotes a diminished narrative inventiveness among us, even a dereliction in regards to the sacred task of passing on our cultural heritage.

We have internalized the idea that art is a product created by talented professionals, and forgotten about the community tradition in art so thoroughly that we think of Internet media that allow broad amateur participation and two way and collective communication as new and novel.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Wii

Brand loyalty fills the same role and religious symbolism according to an article in Fast Company:

Or so goes the thinking in a new study from Duke University, which concludes: "The brand name logo on a laptop or a shirt pocket may do the same thing for some people that a pendant of a crucifix or Star of David does for others." In fact, the more religious a person is, the less brand expression appears to matter...
Similar to Duke's report, brand expert Martin Lindstrom conducted a 3 year, 7 million dollar study comparing brain scans of the religious to those with high brand loyalty. Lindstrom discovered that the scans of people loyal to Apple matched the scans of devoted Christians.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Psychology Today on Income Inequality and its Effects

Ray B. Williams, writing for Psychology Today, poses the question "Will Income Inequality Cause Class Warfare."

The article presents some fascinating stats:

Dan Ariely of Duke University and Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School, showed that across ideological, economic and gender groups, Americans thought the richest 20% of American society controlled about 59% of the country's wealth, while the real number is actually 84%. At the same time, the survey respondents believed that the top 20% should own only 32% of the wealth. In contrast, in Sweden, a country with significantly greater economic equality, 20% of the richest people there control only 36% of the wealth of the country. In the American survey, 92% of the respondents said they'd rather live in a country with Sweden's wealth distribution...

The United States is the most economically stratified society in the western world. As The Wall Street Journal reported, a recent study found that the top .01% or 14,000 American families hold 22.2% of wealth, and the bottom 90%, or over 133 million families, just 4% of the nation's wealth. The U.S. Census Bureau and the World Wealth Report 2010 both report increases for the top 5% of households even during the current recession. Based on Internal Revenue Service figures, the richest 1% have tripled their cut of America's income pie in one generation.

The gap between the wealthiest Americans and middle- and working-class Americans has more than tripled in the past three decades, according to a June 25, 2010 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. New data shows that the gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest parts of the population in 2007 was the highest it's been in 80 years, while the share of income going to the middle one-fifth of Americans shrank to its lowest level ever.

So will we experience a "class war" over these inequalities? Read the original article for the author's conclusion.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010