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Friday, August 30, 2013

On the Current State of Things

I am made rich by making my wants few.

Thus the wisdom of the great thinker Henry David Thoreau. That simple phrase got me to thinking about the state of our economy, and how we live in it.

I have a couple of younger friends who are recently graduated from college or graduate school. They are both extremely bright and able guys who walked out of school and into very good paying first jobs. They also need every penny of that good salary to pay back the mountain of debt that they incurred in student loans. They both have nice cars, nice apartments, good clothes and an active social life. And a load of worry about how they are going to repay loan debt that hovers dangerously near to six figures. Not to mention save for retirement, eventually buy a home and all of those other things that make for a 'successful' life.

In my youth I was really materialistic. I had to have all the latest gizmos and gadgets, a decked out apartment, a new car and a wardrobe full of clothes that were expensive for expensive's sake.

Myriad mistakes, a prolonged legal battle and a descent into alcoholism took away all of my fancy toys. In fact it nearly took away everything that I had. And while I am not looking to join a monastery and don a monk's habit, I have through the grace of God and the twelve step group that saved my life, come to look at material possessions and what they do for my inner happiness in a new light.

First I have come to realize that we as a society need desperately to address the high cost of college education and the gross disparity between the cost of living and the typical wage. Not to mention the disparity of income between the haves and the have-nots in our country. But these are huge political issues that I have neither the education or the political power to attack on a grand scale.

Therefore I have put some serious thought into how I can live my life in a way that provides for my needs while at the same time preserving out planet's resources and making the modest income that I am able to earn go the furthest and be used to its most economical extent. Here are some things that I have put into practice that have not only brought me a great deal of peace where money is concerned, but have also given me a great deal of inner peace.

Let us start by repeating Thoreau's wisdom: I make myself rich by making my wants few.

Notice first that he said wants, not needs. What can we do to want less and in so doing actually have more? I have started at home by turning my little villa into what I call my gallery of recycled chic. With few exceptions, all of the furnishings in my home were obtained second hand. Some were family heirlooms, some were hand-me-downs from friends and others were bought from a local thrift shop that benefits a local women's shelter.

The result is a fashionably bohemian apartment that is comfortable, pleasant to look at and furnished at a minimal cost and a lowered impact on the environment. I buy most of my clothing second hand at the same thrift shop as well as many of my accessories and kitchen ware. Yes, there are times when you have to buy new things. I understand that. But so often, we don't.

When I am finished with something, I try to give it to someone else who might need it, or I sell it on Craigslist instead of just throwing it away. I often donate unwanted things to the same thrift shop where I buy so much. This whole practice saves me tons of money and in turns helps others in need.

Money is becoming more and more scarce for many people. The recent protests by fast food workers bears this out. It is my hope that retailers will begin to take notice that a barter and recycled economy is on the rise if for no other reason that people can't afford anything new. It simply isn't necessary for certain products to cost as much as they do. Of course, an argument like this begs the questions of outsourcing, cheap foreign labor and all of its inherent evils. These are problems that also need addressing, and I hope that my readers will join in the debate for solutions to these dreadful societal diseases.

In the meantime, here are some things that you can do to conserve resources, save yourself some money and come to find the joy in the simple things in life. Yes, I know that in this world there are things that we simply need to buy. We need computers and we need cell phones and we need transportation. But let's think about some of these ideas.


One of the problems we single people face is wasted food. It is very hard to cook for one person and processed, packaged food is no where near as good for us as freshly prepared meals made with good and healthful foods. I have a group of single friends who rather frequently meets up at my villa to share a meal. Each of us provides one or two of the ingredient and everyone gets to eat well for a tenth of the cost of the same meal in a restaurant and nothing goes to waste. The added benefit of fellowship and conversation makes the enterprise all the more appealing.


Do you really need  a brand new $1200 sofa? How about checking out used furniture stores or thrift shops. My little bargain center is located very close to one of Dallas' more affluent neighborhoods and daily gets in beautiful furniture items for less than half the cost of a new piece. Once it lands in my living room, no one knows that I bought the thing used. (except when I brag about how much money I saved!)

Everyday dishes, household accessories (candle holders, picture frames, lamps etc.) can be found used and in beautiful condition for a fraction of the cost of a new item.


If you live in an urban neighborhood like mine, most of your daily needs will be in walking distance. I never drive to the post office, the grocery store (unless I am stocking up for the month), the dry cleaner, the coffee shop and to most restaurants in my area. It's good for the body and it's good for the earth. I know that this doesn't work for everyone, but it does for many.


Netflix and Hulu are just lovely and I am a fan of all bookstores, but face it, the public library has thousands of books, DVDs, audio recordings,and  books on tape and CD. Now many libraries offer downloadable books for your e-reader. Take advantage of the fact that all of this stuff is FREE for you to use. If you do buy books, go through them from time to time and donate those that have been sitting on your shelf unopened for months to the library for others to use and enjoy.

This also leads me to another point. READ MORE! Books are the best entertainment around. Learn something. Get engrossed in a good story. Make yourself more interesting at parties by actually having more stuff in your head to share.

These suggestions are but a start, but I hope that you will think about what you've just read and try to put some of these ideas into practice. They have made me a happier and more contented person and I think they will have the same effect on you. Happy reading everyone.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Stoli Boycott

Much has been made in the press about the recent draconian anti-gay laws passed in Russia. And, true to form, the gay community has reacted in a rather knee jerk way by boycotting Russian Vodka brands, particularly Stolichnaya, or "Stoli" vodka.

In the 1990s, the gay community successfully staged a boycott against the Philip Morris company by refusing to consume Miller Beer and Marlboro cigarettes. That boycott is considered by many to be one of the most successful and effective actions of its kind in history. PM caved and now they slap a rainbow on damned near everything that comes out of their warehouses.

How effective, however, will a boycott be on a vodka brand that is for the most part made in Latvia and not Russia? I contend, not very.

First of all, why is it we always eschew products that contribute to the belief that gays spend most of our time drunk and high and in a cloud of smoke? Why does most of our consumer activism originate in a bar?

The truth is, boycotting Stoli isn't going to affect the financial security of a single Russian, and certainly not  Russian lawmakers headed by their gulag commandant Vladimir Putin. If we are to make an effective protest, we need to attack something that will hit the Russian government in the pocketbook and in their international reputation.

The obvious answer lies not in a barroom but in an athletic stadium. There should be a world wide demand on the International Olympic Committee to immediately cancel the Winter Olympics in Solchi and move them to another location. Calgary, Lillehammer, Tokyo....there are bound to be former Olympic sites that still have all of the infrastructure in place. To yank the games from Russia would hit their government where it hurts and show a rogue like Putin that this isn't Nazi Germany and you can't sew pink triangles on gays and leave them open to discrimination and potential physical harm.

Let's use a little common sense for once and attack a problem at its source instead of just switching vodka brands.