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.