Wishing a happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful moms out there.
Enjoy your special day!
Hello. My name is Leslie. I’m from America. I’m 37 years old and I’m employed as a part-time bookseller. I fancy myself as an amateur filmmaker, although I use a digital camera and probably shouldn’t refer to my end product as “film” since I don’t incorporate any into my “filmmaking.” In the bookstore in which I work, we also sell videos. One day while performing a stock count, I happened upon your film titled I Am Curious. After watching both the yellow and the blue film, I have decided to write you a letter.
I’d like to answer the questions which you asked of Swedish citizens within the film, starting with “Do we have a class system?” Yes, we most certainly do have a class system in America, just as is in existence in Sweden. We have our haves and have-nots, our aristocracy-bourgeoisie-proletariat, our plutocrats and democrats, our “Huxtables” and “Evanses.” You also asked: “Should a person be paid more, simply because their parents encouraged them to go to college, and become a doctor or a lawyer?” I would say no. Not all parents are education enthusiasts. Furthermore, not all parents have the means to send their children to colleges with annually escalating tuitions. However, I don’t think it’s wrong for a doctor or a lawyer to earn a higher salary than say, a bookseller, provided that a bookseller is paid a livable wage.
I was raised as a Pentecostal. Your brass yet banal encounter with a Pentecostal youth after a benediction hit close to home. I remember my futile attempt to practice abstinence until marriage. I recall my dogmatic allegiance to a system of perceived justice that would sentence all those who rejected Jesus Christ as savior to an eternal hell. Your commentary on that issue should serve as a lightning rod for all fundamentalist beliefs that would further derisively divide our already seemingly fatally fractured human family. So I would say yes, resoundingly, that church and state should be separated.
Back to futile attempts at abstinence. Should a woman wait until she is married before she has sex? I believe only if she chooses to do so, should she abstain. Whose responsibility is it to use contraceptives? I believe it is the responsibility of both parties to use protection when having sexual relations. If a man gets a woman pregnant, should he marry her? I don’t think a man should marry a woman just because he impregnates a woman. However, I do believe he has a duty to provide for his child.
Although I fancy myself as an amateur filmmaker, I’ve mostly had one foot perennially in corporate America. Common practice in the business world is to submit a resume of no more than one page when seeking a position. Well, I certainly hold you in higher esteem than any potential employer. Your business is that of ending business as usual as opposed to quickening the status quo. And despite your heartfelt apology to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in my humble opinion, you are the epitome of activism, and certainly a glorious cinematic realization of the slogan: “Make love, not war!” Warmongers may well have their apotheosis in the eyes of bloodthirsty imperialists. But you Lena, would be my reward. Your “fat” would be the fat of the land in which I would hope to live on, in that day when our world is occupied by the armies of hell, defying us to defend her.
I grew up in the Pentecostal religion, and have spent a lifetime contemplating faith. When I read this blog, I felt like I wanted to share it, because of how he honestly reflects on his spiritual experience.
Of all of the questions that I faced as a sheltered Christian entering the unknown Oz that was my secular university, I surprisingly did not anticipate what proved to be one of the most profound: What should I do with my Sunday mornings?
For the first 18 years of my life, this was never a question because there was only one possible answer. I went to church. Sunday School. Evening service. The total Sabbath experience. My father was a Baptist missionary to New York City, meaning we would go early to a rented space on Jamaica Avenue and stay late until all of the folding chairs, Dunkin’ Donuts, and second-hand hymnals were put away. Simply said, Sunday was the Lord’s day.
Like a good and faithful servant, I never missed a service. I never questioned why I would always miss watching the 1st quarters of New York Football Giants games. I…
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There is an art to selling items in a garage sale. I’m slowly learning this as I’m sitting in our family garage, waiting for the next customer to come walking up the driveway. Our neighborhood is having a community garage sale today and tomorrow. What better way to get rid of all the crap…I mean, unused stuff in the basement. Of course it’s not really crap. It’s just not useful to us anymore because we’ve either replaced the item up for sale, or outgrown it, or upgraded it, or broke it (yikes), or etcetera. This was my first attempt to pull off a successful garage sale. So I thought, why not offer all of you interested readers a narrative of how I helped to put it together.
My first step was to enter, what I like to call, “The Enchanted Forrest.” It’s otherwise known as the crawl space in the basement. I call it “The Enchanted Forrest” because it is home to all sorts of fascinating things, some of which can be found in an actual forest; things like insects, spiders, spider webs (huge ones), trees (mostly the kind you put up around Christmas time) and wood (possibly left-over 2×4’s from abandoned projects). But also in “The Enchanted Forrest” you’ll find treasures; the keepsakes you hid away, money (usually coins but we’ll get back to that in a moment), documents you couldn’t find but desperately needed years ago, and all of the wonderful items that will enthrall your neighbors, as they search through your garage for that one special thing they’ll specifically be looking for. So don’t throw anything away that you find in your crawl space, because as the old saying goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.
After I sorted all of the items from the crawl space that I thought were worthy of consideration for our garage sale, my next step was to check with everyone in the house to see: a) whom the item belonged to, and b) if they were okay with selling it. The last thing you want to do is sell a painting that belongs to your mother which was given to her by a dear friend, who was a dear friend of the artist. (Trust me!) Next I lugged the soon to be merchandise up the stairs and into the garage. Then I lugged the soon to be merchandise back out of the garage and into the kitchen. Why? Because I forgot to sweep the garage first. So remember to sweep the garage first before you bring out the merchandise! Your back will thank you.
Okay, so back to the money that you will find in your enchanted forest of a crawl space. That’s important because you’ll need change for all of your customers. They’ll be carrying cash but not necessarily one dollar bills, let alone pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. Again, make sure it’s your money that you found and not one of your family members’. The last thing you want to do is cash in your brother’s stash of pennies that he’s been saving over the course of the last 10 years. It’s down right selfish and he might have been waiting for the right moment to take all of those pennies, roll them up, and buy a pizza. By the time I rolled up all of the pennies I had saved up, it amounted to $16. Not bad huh? As they say, a penny saved is a penny earned. So I took all my pennies to the bank and exchanged them for one dollar bills-enough to give change to customers who wanted to pay with $5, $10 or $20 bills.
Next, together with my family, we created an itemized list of all of the garage sale merchandise so that we could agree on a selling price. We contacted my Aunt Theresa, who is an expert with garage sales, for advice on how much to charge for each item. Here’s a list to give you an idea of what we came up with:
Microwave – $20 Dishes – 50₵ Glasses – 25₵ TV’s – $10 TV Stand – $7 VHS Tapes – $1 Lamps – $2.50 Steamer – $10
Vase – $1 (large)/50₵ (small) Iron – $2 Ironing Board – $2 Typewriter – $10 T-Shirts – 50₵ Dresses – $2 Hats – $2
Jeans – $2 Hangers – 50₵ Mirror – $5 Electric Skillet – $2
There were more items, but you get the idea. In our case, our neighbors will be doing us a favor by taking these belongings off our hands. We’re never going to use them anymore. They can go and buy this stuff cheap at Walmart or Kmart, or wherever. But we are giving them a real bargain. And they are saving us the trouble of having to store it in our basement for more years to come. It’s good for the environment too, because this stuff won’t end up in a landfill. It will end up in the home of someone who can actually use it. It’s a win-win situation. And the best part is that when they buy it, they’ll thank you and be happy that they found such a great deal!
Okay, not much time before the garage sale starts, and we have a few more important things to do. Next, I plugged in all of the electrical appliances and entertainment items to make sure they worked. Check√ Then I made 2 signs that said “Garage Sale” and placed them on both sides of our mailbox so that our neighbors could see it, no matter what direction they were driving past our house. (I had to learn this the hard way after a man walked up to us in the garage and said “you should have a sign out so that we know you’re having a garage sale”-oops!) Check√ Fortunately our neighborhood organization publicized the community garage sale on craigslist, and put out signs by the main road so that anyone passing by could see it.
Now, I’ve been told that having refreshments to offer your customers is a good idea. My cousin P.J. who also has experience in garage sales says that water, sodas, hot dogs and chips can go a long way to boosting your profits. Ours was a rush job, but in the future, I think that would be an excellent idea, and a nice touch to add in making your garage sale stand out from all of the others. But I’ve also found out that a good conversation can go a long way in making a sale. I’ve engaged several customers about their family, sports and other interests so far today. More than not, the conversation has ended in a sale.
Whatever we don’t sale today, we plan to donate to the Salvation Army and the Kidney Foundation. However much money we make from our garage sale, our family plans to split evenly. A neighbor told us she once made $250 from a garage sale. We don’t have quite enough items to sell in order to hit that mark. But so far, on this first day of the community garage sale, we’ve made $28. Not bad for our house being on one of the side streets of the residential community. All of the houses on the main road get people’s attention first. Then, if they’re still hunting for deals, they venture down the side roads. That’s that old rule of where to place a business if you want to be successful-location, location, location. We still have tomorrow to go. In fact, tomorrow is Saturday and is being advertised as the “main day of the community garage sale.”
So for the time being, I’ve got a garage full of great stuff to sell, and I’m surrounded by loving family members and fond memories. Not a bad way to spend the weekend. Have you ever had a garage sale? If so, how did it go and what did you do to make it successful?
Chrystia Freeland’s book titled Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else is a perfect primer for anyone who is interested in learning about how today’s billionaires have put themselves in the positions of influencing financial and government systems. The book begins with a crash course on how the Industrial Revolution produced an economic windfall for Western civilization and contributed to the incessant gap of wealth inequality that persists to this day. Freeland also chronicles the emergence of the robber barons, the Long Depression which began in 1873, and how the poverty of those who lost out when the machines replaced their usefulness became a commonplace occurrence to label as “survival of the fittest.”
Plutocrats also makes mention of the wave of populism which has materialized in an attempt to check government spending and Wall Street corruption. The Tea Party and the Occupy movement chiefly are cited as direct examples of this. As the cries about the 99% and 1% rang out from protests across the country, the bigger issue, according to Freeland, was the battle between those in the top 10% to distance themselves from each other. As Freeland explains, “The social gap isn’t just between the rich and the poor; it is between the super-rich and the merely wealthy (who may not feel quite so wealthy when they compare themselves with their super-successful peers).”
How did this happen? Essentially, it happened the way it did when the Industrial Revolution started. Only this time, it’s the Technology Revolution, coupled with the rise of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) markets that are experiencing their own Industrial Revolution and Technology Revolution at the same time. All this amounts to business being done on a global level, American CEO’s just as likely to have been born out of the United States as within, American corporations shipping operations and jobs to other countries where the costs are lower, and the presence of a new global middle class with the money to buy American products (thus creating less pressure for American companies to operate domestically). In short, the American middle class is being hallowed out to make room for a new global middle class.
This of course is encouraging news if you are one of the hundreds of million Chinese citizens who reportedly have been lifted out of poverty because of these two gilded ages occurring within the U.S. and China. However, this news is less than encouraging if you live in Detroit, Michigan.
The personal stories of Tech entrepreneurs written about in Plutocrats help to give the reader an inside look at what it takes to compete in today’s global market and the socializing that underpins the world of the super-rich. How they got the money, how they keep the money, what they do with the money and with whom they associate with are all of the fascinating questions answered in Freeland’s book. The one unanswered question left up to all of us to resolve, is whether or not we can find a way to balance the capitalist dreams we all have to strike it rich with the reality of our deteriorating city skylines now drab with dire poverty.
I recently read the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, written by Stephen Greenblatt. In this book, the story of a 15th century Italian scribe named Poggio Bracciolini, who recovers the work of a 1st century Roman poet named Lucretius, is described in fascinating detail. Lucretius’ poem is called On the Nature of Things, and is based on the teachings of a Greek philosopher named Epicurus who lived between 341 BCE – 270 BCE. Epicurus believed that once fear and superstition were removed from a person’s mind, they could then experience the freedom to pursue pleasure.
I think it’s safe to assume that children live by the following aphorism: Pleasure is the highest good. Children are driven by a perennial search for fun, whether it’s through the velocity of coasters, swings and slides at amusement parks, or the vibration of Dualshock3 controllers on their Playstations. A child’s eyes can become overwhelmed with wonder at the site of a rotating ceiling fan or a blinking light; their ears flooded with rhythmic beats and melodious chords from an MP3 player, prompting them to experiment by dancing. Children are often astonished by these common stimuli that adults take for granted.
So what happened to us adults? When did we stop being stupefied by what we now call ordinary? I guess the answer can be found at the precise time when we stopped paying attention to what once amazed us. And we stopped paying attention when other things became more important. Things like exams, work, bills and all of the other tedious things that come with growing up. Yet that inner child, like the building blocks of life that philosophers like Epicurus called “atoms” and proclaimed to be indestructible, never goes away. It lies dormant, waiting for us to finish verifying the balance of our checking account, complete our online bill pay registration, log in and log out, clock in and clock out, and all the other mundane duties of the day. In some cases, our inner child may also be waiting for us to tune out all of the negative forces preventing us from doing what we might really want to do. The fear of peer pressure and groupthink can stagnate our ability to return to the pure pursuit of pleasure that we once embarked on as children. Yet, it’s important that we do occasionally return to that pursuit.
In thinking about this whole phenomenon, I asked my mother to share the ways that she likes to recover her own inner child. She stated that in her childhood, she always loved having playmates. And so now as an adult, she has adult playmates to hang out and enjoy activities with. She also commented that dancing is another way she successfully channels her inner child. When she dances she feels free and uninhibited, like she did when she was a kid. I like to watch Science Fiction movies to tap into my inner child. Every time I watch Star Wars I feel the same awe of the vastness of the universe that I did when I was a child. I also find that riding a bike brings back the spirit of exploration that I had in my youth. My first bicycle was the harbinger of my independence. I could go anywhere I wanted to (within a few miles of my neighborhood of course). And my favorite place to explore was the park’s nature trails teeming with inexhaustible life.
How do you recover your inner child?
I like to think of myself as a beer connoisseur, in a loose sense of the word. Over the years I’ve tried some really delicious draughts at microbrew festivals, pubs and restaurants. I’ve enjoyed IPAs, cranberry ciders; even an alcoholic root beer draught that tasted just like, yep you guessed it, actual root beer! (A second glass from that tap was impossible to turn down). So last weekend, when I was given a couple of beers to try for the first time, I made up my mind that I would devote an article to them both. So here goes. Cheers beer lovers!
The first beer is a Scottish ale from the Belhaven Brewery. A dense texture and amber color crowded my glass as I settled in for the first sip. But before I could indulge, in fact, to be correct, before I could pour it in my glass, I had to follow the instructions on the back of the can. Usually I’m a staunch opponent of beers in a can, but every now and then you have to break your rules to try something new. The instructions begin by informing you that the container is supplied with a “floating widget” designed to enable you to enjoy its “smooth full bodied flavour.” The idea of the widget was nothing new to me because I distinctly remember the Guinness company using a similar widget in one of their brewed bottles. Next, there are five specific instructions: 1. Chill for three hours, 2. Carefully open can, 3. Wait for the head to rise, 4. Pour into a glass, 5. Relax, savour and enjoy. It’s probably best to make this beer your first of the evening if you plan on “beer-hopping” (my own term for drinking multiple beers with different labels), since you’ll have to read instructions. But the 5.2% malty and nutty flavoured taste is well worth the aluminum printed protocol.
The second beer is a Belgium family brewed ale called Delirium tremens. Whether the name is intended to warn about the necessity for moderation and the delirium that can occur from the withdrawal of alcohol, or simply distinguish itself from ordinary sounding beers; I guess both reasons would make sense. The bottle’s label is eclectic, jam packed with sly pink elephants, haughty prancing crocodiles, foolish copper dragons balancing themselves on balls and golden swooping doves, against a black and blue boarder and gray body speckled with black dots. I told you it was eclectic. A rich amber colored 8.5% ale with a very thick, creamy texture; this family brewed beer is a great compliment to any Saturday afternoon ballgame on TV.
Have you tried any new beers lately?
Recently, I learned about the sudden death of a fellow Occupy Palm Beach (Wall Street) protestor named Richard Starr. I met Richard a couple of months ago when I became involved in the Occupy movement and even traveled to Washington, D.C. with him in December to participate in an event called Take Back the Capitol. There we marched with thousands of other protestors and engaged in a week’s worth of activism, all with the purpose of standing up for social justice. In addition to this event, I also spent time with Richard at the Occupy Palm Beach site, attending meetings and making/holding up signs, attempting to rally others to our cause and raise awareness.
What I will remember about Richard was his tireless dedication and enthusiasm; and of course, his signature Court Jester hat he would wear during our demonstrations. The hat he wore was appropriate, because Richard had a great sense of humor, and often had something funny and insightful to say regarding life, society, his experience as a veteran or whatever was going on at the Occupy site. But more than a witty jester and a determined activist, he was a son, brother, husband, father, uncle and grandfather for a family that we all send our sympathies and best wishes to. It was a great pleasure to have worked along side Richard over the last few months, and his presence will definitely be missed in the West Palm Beach community.
When I was a boy, my parents would take me and my brother to Washington, D.C. to visit our grandmother on our summer break. It was always an exciting trip because the nation’s capitol was full of new sites to see and interesting people to interact with. My father was a history teacher and for him, visiting D.C. was equally fulfilling. Together as a family, we would all go to the Smithsonian museums and enjoy everything from dinosaur to space exhibits. Next we would venture out onto the National Mall and view the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, The United States Capitol building and other attractions.
I remember what a great impression those structures made upon me back then; the awesome height of the Washington Monument obelisk stretching upward into the heavens, the gigantic statue of President Abraham Lincoln looking downward on swarms of tourists, the magnetic glow of the Capitol building in the quiet of the night. We even took a boat ride across the Potomac River to Mount Vernon to visit the home where President George Washington lived. I remember feeling an eerie, cold shutter when the tour guide explained how President George Washington was a slave owner; knowing that I was stepping on the same ground that slaves once walked, lived, toiled from sun up to sun down, and died on.
When I became a teenager, the family trips to D.C. became bitter-sweet. I still enjoyed visiting my grandma and feeling the rush of adrenaline that came with being in a city with so much historical tradition. Yet gone were the over optimistic days of my colorblind youth; days when I truly believed that I could be anything I wanted to be, including President of the United States, if only I worked hard and applied myself. The truth, as it seemed to me at the time of my adolescence, was that the White House belonged to a fraternity of White men, reflected by all the monuments and memorials along the National Mall. There were no statues dedicated to African-Americans on the National Mall, and the thought of an African-American becoming President of the United States at that time was preposterous. My heroes at 15 years old were Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), Dr. Huey P. Newton and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If this was truly a land where we believed that all men were created equal, where were the monuments dedicated to those men who died for the very equality they were supposedly granted in the Declaration of Independence?
So when I returned to Washington D.C. last week, this time as a 34 year old man, I regained some of the fondness I once held for the majesty that our nation’s capitol projects. Chiefly, this is true because in addition to revisiting the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol building, and the Smithsonian art museums, I was also able to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. Besides its obvious artistic appeal, I found the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to be overwhelmingly a powerful statement professing; Yes, we as African-Americans, sons and daughters of slaves, sons and daughters of great African civilizations before slavery, belong. We have contributed to the success of this great nation and we continue to add value beyond measure to the further development of this country. Knowing that I was looking at this awe-inspiring sculpture at a time when President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African-American President, was serving in his first term in the White House, made the experience even more significant. I also left with renewed hope, that one day the National Mall will be even more reflective and inclusive of the diversity which has distinguished us from other countries in the world; perhaps with memorials for Native-Americans, Latino-Americans and other groups who have made lasting contributions to the United States of America.
On Saturday, October 22, 2011, I helped to start an occupation of Flagler Park located in downtown West Palm Beach, FL, after several weeks of General Assemblies. Together, along with 6 other occupiers, and with the support of hundreds more who were in attendance earlier that day, I slept on the grass underneath the Autumn sky, in a park directly across from a harbor of million dollar docked yachts, multi-million dollar mansions, and flanked on one side by the Trump Plaza and on the other side by Bank of America, all in the shadows of the Merrill Lynch Building. The Police advised us that anyone in the park after 11:00 pm would be arrested, but after further review of the city ordinance, and thanks to the many dedicated members of Occupy Palm Beach who stayed up late and made phone calls to the Mayor of West Palm Beach, it was decided that there were no legal grounds to remove us from the public park. We stood our ground and remained in the park all night.
We, community members made up of students, graduates, retirees, parents of children concerned about their futures, unemployed, underemployed (part-time and full-time), poor, middle class, upper class, Democrats, Republicans, non-party members, Liberals, Conservatives, environmentalists, activists, professionals, from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds have assembled to occupy and volunteer our time, money and efforts for many reasons. I, like many others, joined the Occupy movement because I am 34 years old, have foreclosed on a home, surrendered a vehicle due to not being able to keep up with the payments, am drowning in student loan debt and taxes, experienced multiple periods of unemployment due to either refusing to comply with unethical business practices (including those harmful to the environment) or experiencing various forms of disparity with respect to the corporate hiring process, have family members who are incarcerated by a prison system with disproportionate sentencing for the African-American, Latino and immigrant populations, am unable to afford health care and am left with no retirement plan. We have assembled and occupied in order to seek solutions to these problems and more. We are thankful for all of the food, supplies, legal aid and support we have received from those generous members of our community who stand with us in solidarity. We are the 99%, using our right to peacefully assemble, in search of a more inclusive system of democracy and socially responsible economics, which will unite us with the 1%, in order to “form a more perfect union…”