Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inconspicuous Consumption

What can be said when we need a magazine with the name REAL SIMPLE to help us to have at least the illusion that we can manage just fine with a lot less? Real Simple was started in 2001, in a period when people seemed engulfed in buying more and more stuff. About a decade before that, there had been a mini-backlash against conspicuous consumption, but there was no heart in it. Now the push to Less is More not only has heart, it has teeth.

And there the magazine is now, staring at you, simply; mocking you as you wait on the checkout line, because if you need a magazine to tell you how to live simply, you’re too far gone.

It is not just a Gift to be Simple. It is now a necessity.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spend or Save................again

Once again, we are being told we should spend money to help the economy. Will this really help the U.S. economy --long-term--or will saving lead to a recovery on firmer footing? Consumer spending is what drives the economy but saving somehow feels safer. And should we be spending what we don't really have? (Imagine if we all had huge budget deficits.)But where is the incentive to save when interest rates for savers are so low as to be practically zero?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mad Men and Women

The second season of Mad Men is upon us. And unlike most sophomore efforts, this season is off to a pretty respectable start.Here we have people who say they are "selling happiness" and yet none of the characters or anyone in their orbit of relationships is really happy. There is a serious and yet stylish disconnect among the inhabitants of this series. And it only makes them more challenging and appealing, not in a likeable way---more like in a fascinating, examining way. It has been said elsewhere how good the cast is-and they are. But I'd also like to add that is well-researched. Birth control pills were unreliable in 1960. And opportunities for women at that time paled compared to today. So, the roles for the women are mainly tangential to the men, except for restrained, persistent and seriously competitive and now junior copywriter Peggy Olson, wonderfully played by Elisabeth Moss. (Interesting that account executive Pete Campbell only finds Peggy attractive when she is a secretary and therefore under his control. As soon as she is bit freer-writing copy and trying to lure him to dance the Twist with her he can't handle it.

Actually, he can't handle a lot below the surface.) For women, the ceiling then wasn't glass for women-it was concrete and only a few could break through. [Some did break through, though, in real life, most notably perhaps Mary Wells Lawrence. She was the first international advertising superstar and highest paid female executive. Take a look at her bio in Ad Age and another article in USA Today (The Alka-Seltzer mention in Mad-Men--she is the one who came up with the slogan for it.) ] You can see the nascent emergence of the late beatnik/early hippie movements and their avant-garde ideas. But it is clear that the advertising world, like the real planet, had to start changing, and the series reflects that. The Volkswagen ad was one of the first, if not the first, ironic ads. The ad business started to evolve --some shops more slowly than others---with the changing attitudes. There probably will be some soap tricks in the second season, like Campbell wanting to finding the son he had with Peggy-and doesn't know about yet-because let's see, he and his wife will find they either cannot have children or they will lose a baby. Or something. And odds are that Joan gets her consciouness raised.

In any case, the series manages to entertain while giving a glossy glimpse into 1960's business attitudes and habits.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

UnHealthly Care

What exactly is not clear about making health care accessible to people who need it? The system definitely is broken and most assuredly needs to be fixed. Sure, anything government gets its hands on often comes out looking like it was designed by a committee of seagulls in the middle of a hurricane. But we need a start. We really do.

Let’s hope Congress remembers long term care for the disabled—remember them? They are among us and usually end up getting pushed out of the health care roulette wheel just when more time and care might help them improve their lives. And it’s one thing to have the system; it is another to get doctors, etc, to accept it.

We think that one of the reasons that health care reform is being pressed so urgently at this time is that some of us can see the pandemic H1N1 flu barreling right for us in the fall. Doesn’t matter that it has started slowly and without too much drama. This virus is an unknown for the most part and a lot of people are going to be affected in some way. Having a comprehensive health care system in place is going to be a necessity.

Make sure your representatives know how you feel. And Make sure you know how you feel and why.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran—The Whole World is ………………..


It does seem that way. Certainly no one wants to make the mistakes of a previous administration, from uttering the cringing C word to meddling in another country’s politics. But when does a religiously political (politically religious?) decree become a human rights violation? Even with news coverage blackouts, how different this is from 1979, when the pendulum swung the other way. Even tough it is hard to really know what is going on images are getting through.

Waiting to comment early on was the smart thing to do. But now, not commenting might appear to be condoning. It really is time to step up.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

TV Reality doesn't bite. It stifles and smothers

Reality television shows. Whose reality? Sure, producers and networks love 'em because they are cheaper than creations that use writers and actors and an actual thought process (usually).

Be obnoxiously inconsiderate of your circle of humanity and you are rewarded with 15 minutes of speculation about having your own reality show. And often, with a show.

There is something unreal about Reality T.V. . It is a type of pornography.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Have You Noticed...

...that people are getting heavier while products are getting lighter? Televisons, computers, phones...have become lighter and more compact. Do people think more of their gadgets than they do of themselves?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Speed, III

It seems that these days, as far as our economy is concerned, bad news can be good and good news can be perceived as bad, and we don’t have time to really assimilate it, let alone to do anything with or about it. One company’s earnings are bad but they are not as bad as analysts had predicted so the negative earnings become good news and the stock price rises. Another firm’s good news is perceived as negative since the good news is not as positive as analysts had calculated. So that firm’s stock falls.
The Internet, of course, is what makes this recession (if that’s what this depressing state of affairs is) different from the others. We learn about possibilities, scenarios—worst-case, best-case, disaster, etc—as soon as the theories leap from someone’s keyboard or mouth. There is a race to see who can get what information that has even a remote possibility of being something new—out there the quickest. Then wait a nanosecond for a reaction and then go on to the next exclusive. Now, this is how news gets publicized, and that’s the way it works, of course. But when it comes to markets and investors, each nuance can have an echo effect, or even an aftershock, that can actually cause what has been predicted. At least, that’s what we heard the past few months. And it is a bit unsettling.
Internet use has, obviously, been growing. Leading up to and during the 1990-1992 recession, the Internet didn’t play an important a role in the dissemination of information, misinformation and rumor, as it does today. According to Pew Internet and American Life, in mid 1995 about 14% of people in the U.S. were online. During the recession of 2001-2003, which was the result of the dotcom bubble burst, about 60% of people in the U.S. used the Internet. That 60% pretty much was a plateau of sorts during the period from Aug-Sept 2001 thru Feb 2004, with only a slight increase, followed by a small dip and then a rise to around 75% by the end of 2007.) And here we are today drenched in as much information we can get.
And how to know if we really are a recession? It used to be that we had to wait for the official word from the National Bureau of Economic Research to tell us. They are still the official arbiters but now, we have almost as much information as they do. Whether that is good or bad, depends on what we do with it, I guess.

[Thank you to Aaron Smith, Research Specialist with the Pew Internet and American Life Project based in Washington, D.C. for providing us with the Internet use data.]

Monday, February 9, 2009

Slightly Less Taxing

Tax preparation time is here and if you sold any securities in 2008, you will need the basis—the price you paid for them, to determine if you made or lost money on the sale. This may be easy to locate if you purchased them fairly recently, but what if you bought them years ago? Decades ago? How can you find out what you paid for a stock, fund, etc back in, say, 1982?

An effortless way to find out what the closing price was for a security on any given day is to go to or . There you can enter the symbol for the security, the day it was purchased and then find the closing price on that date.

This is helpful information you’ll need when it comes to filling out those Schedule D forms.