Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Clare K. Levison: Frugal Isn't Cheap

Unless you're serving a lengthy prison term or living in extreme poverty, Clare K. Levison's Frugal Isn't Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live BETTER (Career Press, 2013) will have something for you, some idea or angle that will deliver. 

I've gotten to the point where I enjoy these kinds of books, and this one is part of the new wave. In addition to pragmatic advice specific to living in the USA, some ideas are of international pertinence. And then there are the vignettes: little examples drawn from the financial lives of such characters as Rembrandt, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, M.C. Hammer and Mike Tyson, plus financial lessons learned directly by Levison (such as raising chickens in Virginia). 

Philosophy-for-living crops up from time to time, too, with little statements to live by that are sort of like Kong Fuzi (Confucius) aphorisms. All of these elements work together.

Levison's biggest challenge for most readers is savings. She wants people to aim for a savings rate of 20%. However, she has plenty of ideas for how to move in that direction, even when starting from 0. Keep in mind, she notes, that Americans on average save about 4% between paychecks, so anything above 4% is better than average, and a lot better than being in the red. Starting from scratch, the first thing to do is to accumulate $1,000 in savings. Next, aim for a regular 5% savings rate, and so on, until you can boost it to the full Monty.

Levison has a little game idea: each day, divert one typical expenditure into a savings jar or piggy bank, and eventually dump that all into savings (page 89). Also, "pay yourself" at the beginning of the month, not at the end of the month. "Pay yourself" really means: dump a percentage of money into savings immediately and then don't touch it.

A couple of other points. Emergencies: "if you can plan for an event, it's not an emergency" (page 93). Windfalls: divert 80% of such events as tax refunds into savings and spend the rest.

Easy savings: don't order soda or other junk drinks when eating out. (I concur: drink water for free and spend only on good stuff like coffee and booze).  Don't overdo coupons or you'll be buying too much crap just because it's "discounted." Avoid malls if you can. 

Online banking: do it, and check it regularly. Same for any credit cards or other financial type accounts. 

Decline overdraft protection (this is especially important for students and anyone else living from paycheck to paycheck). 

In the philosophy of life department, Levison encourages people to write letters, notes and cards. I concur. She also has a lot of ideas for charity giving (a mixed approach).  Also: network, use social media, have a business card, and so on. No one is an island!

By the way, from Levison's point of view, automobiles are basically worthless except for function: "a car is not an investment . . . a car is an expense . . ." (page 126).

And here are some good existential zingers: "You are your greatest asset. You are your greatest liability" (page 147). "The thing holding you back is you" (page 149). And finally: "The money isn't the variable; the person controlling the money is. . ." (page 174).

Oh, there's a whole lot more to be found in Frugal Isn't Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live BETTER  - these are just some of the things that I found particularly interesting. No matter what you think, "if you have the cash, you have the power."

Today's Rune:  Breakthrough. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Howard Thurman (1899-1981): With Head and Heart ~ Take II

Yeah! I finished a first read-through of With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (originally published in 1981). There's so much in this book that another round of reading it will be necessary.

One interesting facet: how Howard Thurman traveled around, extensively, despite the obstacles of segregation in the USA, and cultural-political barriers globally. It hearkens to the adage: If there's a will, there's a way; if there's no will, there's no way - a truth that applies to so much in the way of human activity.

Thurman traveled by foot, by rail, by ship, by plane and by automobile. Incidental details of these modes of travel are woven throughout With Head and Heart. And then there's always the matter of where to stay, and how to stay alive and thrive during each journey.
Howard Thurman (Boston University
While reading With Head and Heart, it came upon me that I have become significantly more attuned to things over the years (or possibly I've become more self-aware of this attunement). In Texas, for example, I've become more immediately attuned to shifts in air quality  -- not only from day to day but also from space to space. Likewise, I've become more attuned to what other people are attuned to, interested in, driven by, fascinated with. 

Besides travel, I'm attuned to Howard Thurman's interweaving of fiscal matters, funding, the costs of moving around, taking up new responsibilities while holding personal space as sacred. Thurman was always attuned to how one must pay for things along the way -- and he took none of it for granted. In fact, he was very imaginative and resourceful.

And a third facet in With Head and Heart that I'm attuned to is Thurman's awareness of both differences and unities. From an early age, he witnessed doctrinal differences between Baptists and Methodists in his home town in Florida (Daytona Beach and thereabouts) -- silly distinctions that often came down to such matters as sprinkle baptism or full immersion baptism. And worse, Howard had to contend with the social damnation by narrow-minded Christians of people like his father, who chose not to participate in Christian rites. Thurman came to think of these differences and prejudices as absurd, and really he developed a spirit similar to that of today's Pope Francis and Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama.

And so, a real mentor for us now, Thurman was able to come to a meeting of the minds and spirits among a diverse group of people, whether Cree and Chippewa in Canada, or Muslims in Nigeria, or Jews and Buddhists in California, or Hindus, Buddhists and Christians in India, or secular people, agnostics and atheists anywhere -- he could meet them all, and did. The unities of people are real: we are mortals, we think and feel, eat and sleep, have a limited time here -- and so on. Good stuff.

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Howard Thurman (1899-1981): With Head and Heart ~ Take I

Just about finished reading With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (originally published in 1981). What a life! What an arc!  

He's looking up and seeing Halley's Comet in the year 1910. Around the same time, a traveling salesman is peddling "comet pills" to save you from comet-crashing-infernos. . .

Hungry, resourceful and often on the move, Howard makes friends with librarians wherever he goes -- and reads as many books as he can at all times when not writing his own. Like Frederick Douglass, he is propelled by the initial ability to read, and thereby to ponder, and thereby to kick out the jams, and thereby to bust another move way on down the line. . .

He outflanks segregation time and again, raising consciousness -- his own and that of those he encounters -- along the way.

Thanks to one act of kindness by a good Samaritan, he's able to take a train with luggage and some food . . . on to Morehouse College in Atlanta; later to Rochester, New York and Roanoke, Virginia; King's Mountain, North Carolina; Oberlin, Ohio; Howard University, District of Columbia; to India and meetings with poets, writers and Gandhi (in 1936, mind you); to San Francisco and the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples in the very midst of the Second World War; to Boston University; to the Middle East and Africa; and back to San Francisco . . . almost all this time during the segregated/American Apartheid/Jim Crow years . . .

Thurman's thinking-journeying is advanced and inspiring for any age or time -- including the 21st century. 

"In my mind, religion had become so identified with sectarianism, and its essence so distorted by it, that I felt a need to bring to bear all the resources of mind and spirit on the oneness of the human quest. . . the human situation, the human predicament, the human plight" (1st edition, pages 199-200).

You read this, you want to do things, and communicate them.

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund: Cidade de Deus / City of God (2002)

Cidade de Deus / City of God (2002), Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund's film based on Paulo Lins' novel -- both grounded in historical and contemporary reality -- causes chills (and evokes empathy) in its observations of life and death in the vortex of drug-and weapons-fueled urban street warfare. Set in the favela of Cidade de Deus that straddles Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it's an excellent, if often horrifying, film, spanning the latter 1960s to the early 1980s.    
Cidade de Deus / City of God (2002) is like a combination of Lord of the Flies (the 1954 novel and subsequent movies) and A Clockwork Orange (the 1962 novel and later film) - only with heavier weaponry and more widespread violence. Above all, it has the feel and texture (albeit in full color) of a Luis Buñuel masterwork released in 1950 - Los Olvidados [The Forgotten Ones]. 
Age is no barrier to becoming a trigger-happy monster like Li'l Dice here. As Li'l Zé Pequeno, he grows up to become an Al Capone of the favela.

I saw, too, Notícias de uma Guerra Particular / News of a Private War (1999) -- the accompanying documentary by Kátia Lund -- which is also excellent. It brings us up to date to the end of the 20th century. 

Both films remind me of comments made by Frederick Douglass in 1886:  

"Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe." 

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gabriele Oettingen: Rethinking Positive Thinking (2014)

Gabriele Oettingen's Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation (New York: Current, 2014) alchemizes New Thought into New Science. Using the scientific method, Oettingen examines and refines ideas that have been around for quite a while, albeit in more mystical terms. Consider Florence Scovel Shinn (1871-1940), for example: "As one door shuts another door opens" -  in both "Intuition or Guidance," The Game of Life and How to Play It (1925) and "Success," Your Word is Your Wand (1928). 

Oettingen (with various assistants and collaborators) has conducted numerous studies that consider how effectively -- or ineffectively -- positive thinking works.

One of her conclusions seems to suggest a continuum spectrum, with positive thinking not-followed-up-by-action (dreaming only/"indulging") at one end, and negative thinking (nightmaring only/"dwelling") at the other. Indulging results in inaction, while dwelling results in paralysis. With indulging, one imagines great accomplishments to the point of not wanting to actually work toward the reality of such accomplishments; with dwelling, one is paralyzed with inaction because of perceived obstacles or excessive worries that may block one from achieving anything.

Oettingen brings up psychological contexts and possible origins (name checking William James and Sigmund Freud, for example) for our personal outlook and action styles, but that's not necessary to understand (or agree with) in order to deploy her suggested plan of action. Her suggestion? Utilize positive thinking but energize it with a technique she calls WOOP: 

Wish (what is your wish?) + Outcome (a good outcome if your wish were to become reality) - Obstacle (what's blocking your wish fulfillment?) = Plan (Outflank obstacle: If/then . . .). 

Using WOOP helps you focus on just about anything, for it is, as Oettingen states, "content neutral." 

Simple example. Suzy wishes to meet Sarah for brunch downtown. Ideal Outcome: they rendezvous, enjoy brunch and conversation and it's not too expensive. Obstacle: possible traffic issues, parking, eatery could be crowded, it's too pricey. Plan: do some research ahead of time about all of the above. If Highway 5 is closed, go via Route 23; if parking is full or the eatery is too crowded, go to a pre-considered backup place. In other words, have some kind of pragmatic plan, with alternative backup plans in reserve. 

WOOP can help one refine more grandiose wishes, too. Buddy may wish to make a billion dollars in one year, but there's a major obstacle to this wish's fulfillment: reality. Once he sees reality as a serious obstacle, he may determine on a more realistic wish: maybe save $1,000 in "x" amount of time. A personal obstacle Bobby has toward saving any $ is, perhaps, "impulse control." So, Bobby works with a partner on an if/then plan that will result in his actually saving $ toward his goal.

I've tried the WOOP technique now for a couple of weeks. So far, it's simple, direct, and works for just about anything.  I've already tweaked several either/or if/then decisions -- big and small -- simply by mind-mapping with WOOP. It's fun, it works, and it even lets you play "the game of life" with a little more cohesion.

Today's Rune: Possessions.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Berlin: Artefakte / Artifacts (Je me souviens)

Berlin: nach dem 9. November 1989.
Berlin: Die Mauer. 
Berlin: Pausenloser Einsatz. Die Mauer am Brandenburger.
Berlin: Die Mauer am Checkpoint Charlie. 
DDR East German street art with cosmonauts and spaceships: "friendship of CCCP and DDR." Early 1980s. 

It occurs to me that I don’t believe in states or nation states or tribes. Oh, I know the laws and customs and I pay taxes and all that, but I don’t believe in the ethos of states or nation states or tribes. Maybe I'm a human being, a person first, a mortal being, one man, a global citizen, a Catholic, a libertarian socialist, a professional of sorts, an inhabitant of the 20th and 21st centuries, an environmentalist, a feminist, a thinking denizen who happens to know American English as a first language ~ and maybe I'm a little more than that.  Maybe I'm a refugee, an exile. Or so it feels as I write on this Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, Poppy Day, Ljour du Souvenir, El Día del Recuerdo. Above all, as they say in Emilia-RomagnaAmarcord; and in Quebec: Je me souviens ~ I remember.

How about you?

Today's Rune: Protection.    

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Berlin Detroit

The Wall: Berlin, eight years before it came down. (Click for larger image -- if you wish).
Detroit, twelve years after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. Intersection: Hastings Street and Harper Avenue. (Click for larger image -- if you wish).

Today's Rune:  Breakthrough.