Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Uncle Yoda...

Howard Benatar Germain (born June 13, 1924) died peacefully on July 19, 2012 at the age of 88 in Santa Barbara, California. His daughter, Amy Germain and niece, Ellen Germain,  were with him. In addition to Amy and Ellen, Howard is survived by his son, Neal, his grandsons, Daniel, and Schuyler, granddaughters, Alexis and Nicole and daughters- in-law, Elisa Germain and Irene Simonian, nephew Steven Germain and his wife, Laura Impert, grand niece, Nina Germain,  grand nephew, Will Germain  and by his first wife, Rhoda Rossmoore. Howard was pre-deceased by his wife, Roseanne, his son Andrew, his son, David, his brother, Lawrence and sister-in-law, Gloria Germain.

Howard was born in Newark, Newark Jersey and was raised in Brooklyn, New York where he attended high school at Brooklyn Poly Prep. He graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire and served in the U.S. Army as a meteorologist during WW II. After the war, Howard worked at Germain's Department Store at 5th Ave and 15th Street in Brooklyn, a family business started in 1898 by his grandparents, Louis and Ida. He left the retail business and worked in sales in the garment industry eventually becoming national sales manager for the Flexnit Corporation.

He retired from Flexnit at age 50 to persue his interest in something he (seriously) considered much more significant and meaningful than commerce - golf. He moved with his wife, Roseanne, to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina to pursue that interest. On Hilton Head Howard worked as a part time mailman, gave  Bat and Bar Mitzvah lessons and became a USTA linesman officiating on the tennis tour including the U.S. Open. During one John McEnroe match that Howard officiated, McEnroe thought Howard missed hearing a net ball and McEnroe glared at Howard. Two weeks later at another McEnroe match Howard did not call a ball out that McEnroe thought had just missed the line leading McEnroe to exclaim at Howard,   "Not only are you deaf, you are blind too."  Howard said that McEnroe was right, he had missed both calls.

 Howard and Roseanne tooled around Hilton Head on a BMW motorcycle complete with sidecar.   After 20 years on Hilton Head, Howard and Roseanne moved to Santa Barbara, California which Howard described as "paradise" adding that from there "to talk to God was just a local call".

 The poet, W.B. Yeats wrote:

 "That is no country for old men;
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
a tattered coat upon a stick,
Soul clap its hands and sing."

 Howard,  your soul clapped its hands and sung to us for 88 years. Long after you're gone it still will... everyday.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Alexithymia is a term coined by psychotherapist Peter Sifneos in 1973 to describe a state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions. The word comes from the  Ancient Greek literally meaning "without words for emotions".
Alexithymia is defined by:
  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.

The alexithymia construct is strongly inversely related to the concepts of psychological mindedness and emotional intelligence.

Here's a video with lyrics to the song "Alexithymia" by the band Anberlin.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sincerity and Common Sense...

So let's say you just got out of a ten day detox and are back at home with your 6 year old kid. Life isn't so good - you have a cocaine habit and a shitty attitude and you get pissed off easily but you love the kid and want it to work out with the good guy husband even though he is a bit mamby pamby and your favorite response to "how do you like your coffee?' is "black, same as I like my men." but he puts up with your massive amounts of bullshit so you really mean it this time - no more coke, no more self indulgent out bursts - just stay clean and live sober. 

A week later -  who the fuck knows what happened, maybe you took a double dose of your meds and got confused  but you wake up and who knows what time it is but you need some food and there is an all night joint on the corner and hubby and the kid are asleep so you head out and order up some eggs but it turns out that the double dose of meds or whatever confused you and it it is not 1:00 AM it is like 5:00 AM and the kid woke up and the husband who works the night shift is not home so you rush back to your building and there are the sirens and the cops have your kid who had woken up and wandered in the building until a neighbor called the cops and they haul you into jail and now it is serious freak out time because the Judge doesn't care what your court appointed lawyer is saying about why you were not home and Judge probably figures you are a lying junkie anyway so boom, court order of protection - you cannot see or talk to your kid for at least 30 days and Child Protective Services is called. So fuck it, you get released from jail, go home grab a few items, some tools and jewelery and you sell like $2,000 worth of stuff for $200 of crack and you get high and the next day, strung out, you call the rehab and say - can I come back I really fucked up again.

And you go back to rehab and your roommate is nothing like the one you had last time - the accountant wife of a lawyer who was over doing the red wine at dinner but who you got along with like a sister - this new roommate is some sort of psycho who the other patients tell you is crazy. And when you wake up half your clothes are in her closet and the $31 in cash you had in your pocket is gone and you tell that bitch that if she does not give you your money back you are going to kill her. Now you are in rounds and being told that threatening violence is an automatic discharge but since they found $31 in the bitch roommate's pocket you can stay but your grounds privileges are revoked and you say- "What the fuck, she stole from me and I get punished? I was set up  - this is bullshit - if you make me eat lunch on the unit I am outta here."

And so here's the sincerity and common sense part of the story. There is this guy who volunteers on the unit. Bit of a nerd,  likes his coffee light, extra sweet. A nice guy, sort of bland but weirdly sincere and long on common sense no matter how crazy. And the common sense nerd  says "jeepers, in the scheme of things, isn't it like not really that big a deal that you have to eat on the unit instead of going to the cafeteria? I mean even if it is totally unfair and unjust, it somehow seems like not such a hardship, especially compared to some of the hardships you have endured and by the way, if you leave before you complete treatment you can pretty much forget about getting the order of protection revoked anytime soon. This self righteous thing you have going on, that is your disease, it is genius, it knows you did not do anything wrong, it knows the psycho bitch stole from you and it knows all you did was defend yourself.  so it gives you this irrefutable argument, it says you are right, it says fuck them, but that is because it knows you think being right matters, defending yourself matters, not being taken advantage of matters" ... but then the nerdy guy adds,  "wait a minute, does it matter? restricted to the unit vs. getting custody of your kid back, vs getting treatment, getting your $31 back vs. leaving here early and going out and using and getting busted again?" 

And she smiles (great smile, a million bucks right there)  and she says, "You are right, you know what, all I need is a cup of hot coffee and then I will be fine, I will have lunch on the unit". And nerd says, "Great I will get you a cup of coffee, how do you take it?"  and she says, "large and black, like my men."  You bring her coffee, she says thanks. Nerd says, "See you tomorrow".

Nerd goes home. Wonders if she will beat up the roommate tonight and get kicked out and not be there tomorrow when he comes back.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Quote of the week - Franzen on Wallace...

Jonathan Franzen eulogized author David Foster Wallace after his suicide at age 46 in 2008 saying that "Wallace challenged apathy with Molotov cocktails of bottomless empathy born out of the heart's revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are".

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This I Know For A Fact...

I recently met a young woman who is 31 years old, a mother of 8 year old twin boys one of whom died four months ago due to an accident. Since the accident the woman has been taking ever increasing, excessive amounts of anti anxiety meds and drinking alcohol heavily. Got to the point of a psychotic depression, voices telling her about friends that are evil and God assuring her she did nothing wrong.  Amazingly sad and, as is the case with a despairingly high percentage of addicts and mentally ill, not likely to end easily or well. Sometimes there is justice, sometimes there is mercy, sometimes there is neither.  As an aside, I want to add that she has a noticeably dignified countenance, a kind of sparkle and smile that would be described in anyone else as attractive but under her circumstances seems regal.

Here is an observation: There are lots of reasons people use drugs but all those reasons can be put into two categories -  to increase pleasure or to avoid pain. And pain and pleasure can be sub divided into three categories: physical, emotional and spiritual.

Substances can enhance pleasure and diminish pain and the vast majority of humans use chemicals (like alcohol) in moderation and are able to control their use and for them moderate ingestion helps them relax, take the edge off,  make them a little looser socially, feel more creative and connected, lessen pain etc.  - all with no negative consequences. But there are a percentage of humans who, for whatever reason, cannot control their use. (By the way, while pleasure is a common reason to use chemicals it seems to me that most addicts use chemicals primarily to lessen pain (whether because addicts'  pain is greater than most people can bear (as is the case of the woman I mentioned above who lost her son, or because addicts are more sensitive to or have some sort of diminished capacity to tolerate pain, I do not know). Those people become hooked and after a while use not to get high but just not to feel sick.  Their  lives are taken over by a compulsion that will, unless stopped, eventually kill them and before they die will make them and everyone who loves them suffer horribly.  They can be helped. (I know this for a fact). And if they get sober I believe they (and those who love them) often appreciate their sobriety and are grateful for the everyday in ways that are, not for nothing, described as miraculous (I know this for a fact as well).  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

4/20 (National Boredom Day)

Since yesterday was 4/20 which is National Marijuana Day, a (in my opinion) misguided and naive celebration of escape disguised as some sort of libertarian statement about choice, I thought I would use the occasion to suggest that 4/20 be renamed National Boredom Day. I am not going to get into a discussion of controlled use of pot, or alcohol or other drugs or whether pot is a gateway drug that can lead to addiction. But I am going to think about hard core addiction...

Addicts who relapse frequently sometimes seem superficially better than the last relapse but their motivation for trying to get clean again is often more for a break from the mess of their lives rather than to lose the habit. Rarely does a relapsing addict have a sober network and the answer is a common one: "same friends but they support me" which I take to mean "same old drinking and drugging crowd who I need a break from every once in a while and then when I feel like getting high again welcome me back with open arms". In contrast are those in recovery who have lost the old friends and connected with new sober friends. They may still have  a reservation to use in the future but they have the tools to avoid picking up again.

So this got me thinking. How about:  "Banish the Boredom - I love getting high so why am I trying to get clean and what in the world am I going to devote my life to instead?"  Addicts like getting high, addiction and the life is their entire world, their primary relationship is with their drink or drug - they love Mr. or Mrs. Smirnoff (or whatever their drug is) more than anyone. (Addicts, like any parent, love their kids and they (just like non-addict parents say and sincerely believe) that they would take a bullet for their kids but the active addict parent, sadly, is the bullet. But the parent in recovery gives their child the incredible gift of real pride). So to just take the drugs and the life style away without some other sense of purpose or meaning is not likely to work. On the other hand, each day clean brings gratitude and a sense of accomplishment and a discovery that (and this may be a spiritual idea) being ordinary is extraordinary. (Not sure about any of that but it seems right). 

I think, at least initially, recovery often begins by filling the newly created void with a commitment to sobriety, a new -  selfish -  full time job (maintaining sobriety)  - the hub of the bicycle wheel, the center of a sober network. (I use the word selfish intentionally because it is one of the skills addicts bring to the table. Getting high is about as selfish an activity as there is. Also about as self destructive. So channelling that selfishness towards putting sobriety first even if that means not doing what family, friends, job, etc. want or expect (rebelliousness is another common trait so not doing what is expected can also come in handy if channelled) seems like a positive redirection of inherent abilities. 

I am often struck by how bored addicts seem in between highs. Here they are fighting for their lives and yet they seem like they could care less, just get through the down time until they can get high again. I think that goes to a big issue - life is boring  - especially to selfish, stimulation craving, self centered humans who are in physical and/or emotional pain (i.e., most people - which is, in part, why I think drugs and drinking are so prevalent). Maybe Nancy Reagan was not entirely wrong when she said "Just Say No" but that seems like a result not a solution. Maybe it's more about "Banish the Boredom". 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wild, a memoir...

Starting back in 2010 I have posted a number of times about "Dear Sugar" an anonymous  internet advice columnist whose posts I stumbled upon and thought were terrific. (Type dear sugar into the RF search box if you want to see them.) Sugar retained her anonymity until the publication of her first book/memoir last month entitled "Wild, a walkabout of reinvention".  Sugar is Cheryl Strayed.  Here is a review of her book from the NY Times.

The Tracks of an Author’s, and a Reader’s, Tears
‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed, a Walkabout of Reinvention

Published: March 27, 2012

It’s not very manly, the topic of weeping while reading. Yet for a book critic tears are an occupational hazard. Luckily, perhaps, books don’t make me cry very often — I’m a thrice-a-year man, at best. Turning pages, I’m practically Steve McQueen.

Cheryl Strayed’s new memoir, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail,” however, pretty much obliterated me. I was reduced, during her book’s final third, to puddle-eyed cretinism. I like to read in coffee shops, and I began to receive concerned glances from matronly women, the kind of looks that said, “Oh, honey.” It was a humiliation.

To mention all this does Ms. Strayed a bit of a disservice, because there’s nothing cloying about “Wild.” It’s uplifting, but not in the way of many memoirs, where the uplift makes you feel that you’re committing mental suicide. This book is as loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got a punk spirit and makes an earthy and American sound.

“Wild” recounts the months Ms. Strayed spent, during the summer of 1995, when she was 26, hiking alone on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State. There were very frightening moments, but nothing particularly extraordinary happened to her.

The author was not chewed on by bears, plucked dangling from the edge of a pit, buried by an avalanche or made witness to the rapture. No dingo ate anyone’s baby. Yet everything happened. The clarity of Ms. Strayed’s prose, and thus of her person, makes her story, in its quiet way, nearly as riveting an adventure narrative as Jon Krakauer’s two “Into” books: those matey fraternal twins, “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air.”

Ms. Strayed began her hike because her life was in meltdown. “I was living alone in a studio apartment in Minneapolis, separated from my husband and working as a waitress, as low and mixed-up as I’d ever been,” she writes. Her mother had recently died, effectively rendering her an orphan. (Her father had vanished when she was 6.) She was using heroin; she had, she says, slept with too many men.

Her grief, early in this book, is as palpable as her confusion. Her portrait of her mother, who died of cancer at 45, is raw and bitter and reverent all at once.

“She dated men with names like Killer and Doobie and Motorcycle Dan,” Ms. Strayed writes about the woman who sometimes had to feed the author and her two siblings on food stamps, government cheese and powdered milk.

Yet when Ms. Strayed went away to college, her mom came along and enrolled too. She got straight A’s. “Her love was full-throated and all-encompassing and unadorned,” Ms. Strayed writes. “Every day she blew through her entire reserve.” When her mother became ill, the author says, “I folded my life down” to care for her.

“Wild” is thus the story of an unfolding. Ms. Strayed went walking in search of what she calls “radical aloneness.” She had no cellphone and no credit card; often she had only a few coins in her pocket to last a week. What felt profound, she says, “was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay.”

Physically, she was unprepared for this adventure, and she recounts a great deal of physical pain: that of setting off with a ridiculously overstuffed backpack she comes to refer to as Monster; losing most of her blackened toenails to ill-fitting boots; having her feet become “a throbbing mass of pulp.” After a few weeks on the trail, she writes, “my stench was magnificent.”

In a comical scene, a reporter for a journal called The Hobo Times mistakes her for one of his tribe and attempts to interview her. “I did not so much look like a woman who had spent the past three weeks backpacking in the wilderness,” she admits, “as I did like a woman who had been the victim of a violent and bizarre crime.”

Ms. Strayed got tougher, mentally as well as physically. She tells good, scary stories about nearly running out of water, encountering leering men and dangerous animals. About bears and other carnivorous woodland beasties, she asks, “Why did they always have to run in the direction I was going?”

An aspiring writer, she keeps a running tally of the books she reads (Faulkner, Drabble, Coetzee) and recounts how, to lighten her load, she burned each morning the pages she had read the night before.

Eating cheap, dehydrated meals on the trail, and sleeping in a tiny tent, she is absurdly vivid about the comforts she misses. Bottles of cold Snapple lemonade become talismanic in their import. About a cheeseburger and fries she cannot afford, she declares, “I was devastated by the sight of them.”

She is even better on her own lust. Parts of this frank and witty book belong in “Best American Sex Writing 2013.” There’s a moment when a stern and upright fellow is helping her lighten her backpack and finds a dozen ultrafine condoms in their crinkly packaging. He holds them up and asks, “Do you really need these?”

Ms. Strayed doesn’t — at least not a dozen. At one point she meets a young man on the trail, begins talking to him and says to us, as if she were a randy Doonesbury character in hiking boots, “There was no way I was going to keep my pants on with a man who’d seen Michelle Shocked three times.”

Two things almost kept me from picking up this book. Why did Ms. Strayed wait 17 years before committing this story to paper? As in any memoir, some of the interior life here has to have been reconstructed. She never explains the delay, but the aging of her notebooks and memories seems to have, as with casked whiskey, only strengthened her book’s complicated flavors.

There’s also the matter of her made-up surname, Strayed, which sounds like the punch line from an old joke. (Mae West: “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”) The author doesn’t reveal her original name, but “Strayed” strikes me as a deft stab at self-reinvention. (She changed her name from Nyland in 1995, according to her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.)

“Growing up poor had come in handy,” the author says near the close of her book. “I probably wouldn’t have been fearless enough to go on such a trip with so little money if I hadn’t grown up without it.”

The lack of ease in her life made her fierce and funny; she hammers home her hard-won sentences like a box of nails. The cumulative welling up I experienced during “Wild” was partly a response to that too infrequent sight: that of a writer finding her voice, and sustaining it, right in front of your eyes.

"What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah? Would you see the miracle in that?"

-- Sugar from one of her columns.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Steve's Last Lecture...

First one caveat, if I offend anyone, I apologize. I mean no offense but I have to say some truths and, cliche as it is, sometimes the truth does hurt. 

So here is the first truth, a lot of you, maybe all of you, have a lot of really good reasons to drink and drug and you also have a lot of really good excuses not to get sober. All really good reasons and good, compelling excuses, maybe even good explanations for why you use BUT, good as those reasons are none of them are valid. They are all just reasons to get high and to keep getting high.  So if you want one take away from this lecture remember two words - no excuses. Say it to yourself often and when you least believe it. No excuses. 

What you came to rehab to learn and what we spend days and sometimes weeks doing with you here and then you can spend months or years more when you leave is not about how to find the courage to beat your addiction. Courage you all already have, way beyond anything non-addicted civilians can ever understand – because you have the kind of  courage and fuck you-ness it takes to be an addict.  But as brave as each of you are, your disease will kill you and before you die it will make you suffer and along the way you will hurt everyone who ever loved you.

There is this thing that is standing in your way. And I am not alone in knowing this, every counselor, case worker, doctor, nurse and mental health worker here sees it –  right now your disease, even as you sit here, is standing behind you clamping two giant hands on your shoulders whispering to your neck “it does not matter what he says, you only listen to me”.
And that whisper is too often louder than what we tell you in rehab – that is why we do not tell you as simply, directly and as pared to the bone as what I am telling you now. Instead we  run about 7 groups a day and give you assignments and spend a lot of time trying to give you important tools to help you stay sober when you leave here.  Kind of trying to get around your disease because we don’t usually get through if we just go straight up the middle. Those tools are important, you need them and with repetition and practice those tools will work for some of you. But some of you will sit around and chain smoke cigarettes (or think about chain smoking cigarettes)  and drive yourselves crazy trying to figure out why you use drugs, or you will focus on your complaints, cravings, resentments and terrors and you will spend a lot of time here thinking about how you both want to get sober and at the same time don't and about how you love the very thing that is killing you.
If you are honest, you already know that you can no longer live a life with drugs and, at the same time, you cannot imagine a life without drugs.  
But none of that matters nearly as much as simply not putting chemicals into your body.
And please do not think I am giving you moral advice or that I am telling you what to do or that I even expect that you can do it because it is not easy to do. It is hard, it takes real effort and some days you will not be able to do it. That is part of the process. But there will come a day when, as cold or as disappointed as you may be, even hungry, or when you drop the grocery bag on the sidewalk, or the coffee spills on your sweater at 7:00 AM on your way to look for yet another job that you probably will not get or you want to hit someone, that -  if you do not pick up and put a chemical in your body -you will be gripped by a cherishing so deep for the fact that you are a grateful recovering addict that it will leave you speechless.
Of course this is not likely to happen from your having listened to me today. That is why you will keep attending more groups, and do all that is expected of you here. And that is what you should do. But I also want you to know that it is not impossible that when you are discharged you can walk out of here knowing that you have another option.
Staying clean requires daily attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, in myriad petty, little, boring, unsexy ways. It means going to a program of some kind, be it out patient or a l2-Step program. You have to work your program every day, get a home group, get a sponsor or a therapist  and tell him or her the truth, pray for help whether you believe in God or not, get phone numbers of sober people and call them, make sober friends and develop a sober network and lose the old friends.   That is how you will get sober and stay sober.
What you need to know is that your life is not only important, it is sacred. You are on fire with the same force that lights the stars. Not that I have any idea what actually lights the stars but it does not matter because there is only one true thing that matters here and now – and that is that if the day you leave here you do not use chemicals, the next day will look better. It will not be paradise, it will be hard, it will be scary but the fact is that if you do not use drugs or alcohol, tomorrow will look very different than today.
I know that this may just sound like some sort of total bullshit and you can think of it that way if you want. But as far as I can tell it is the truth. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death or whether God exists or not. This is about life BEFORE death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, it is about not  ending up in jail or in an institution.  It is about  the simple truth of what is so real and essential and so hidden in plain sight for you to see that you have to keep reminding yourself of it over and over one day at a time.

My name is Steve and I am a Rehab volunteer. Thank you for letting me share.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


The video below describes Kickstarter. It is about 30 mins long but the second 15 minutes is Q & A so you can learn a lot by watching just the first half (although the second half is very informative). Kickstarter was founded by Yancey Strickler, the guy in the video who I find very appealing, sort of like Ferris Bueller made good. He seems so unassuming and natural and his ideas so easily presented and organized. Like - oh yeah - this makes total sense even though in some ways it seems completely implausible. The fact that it works and is as successful as it is says something. Maybe about the culture. I do not know why I say this but to me Kickstarter has an Occupy Wall Street feel to it -  a sort of adamant innocence about holding onto something before the world takes it from you (Footnote 1) - the idea that you can do what you want to do (even if what you want to do is just figure out what you want to do).  Anyway, I think Kickstarter is neat.

Footnote 1: Holding onto something before the world takes it from you is a big issue.  About 20 percent of five year old children given a choice to eat one marshmallow now or wait ten minutes and have two, eat the one now. Those same children who eat the one now go on to have a 50% higher rate of substance abuse, lower educational success, more legal issues and generally are less successful than the five year olds who choose to wait in order to get two marshmallows later. Bad habits seem to involve the notion of harm being a long way off - suicide on the installment plan. Good habits seem to be motivated by a belief that the pay off is within reaching distance.  If you ask people,  I think most will say that 20 years is a long time. Some will say it feels like it will be here tomorrow. I think that a "it will be here tomorrow" perspective would ward off tobacco cravings (no one would smoke if they thought they would get lung cancer in a month) while also stemming motivation to practice piano (everyone would practice piano if they thought they could learn to play well in a month).

What that has to do with Occupy Wall Street or Kickstarter, I do not know. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Herzog Observation Of The Week...

Werner Herzog seems to have an unlimted (and hilarious) attention span...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Song of the Week - Wait For The Sun - by Ollabelle

Ollabelle is a NYC band (named after Appalachian songwriter Ola Bella Reed) formed at the bar 9C on 9th street and Avenue C about 15 years ago. I think this is a beautiful song. Here are the lyrics and the video is below that...

Don’t fade away
Don’t turn out the light of the day
When even the shadows are claimed by the dark

I won’t let you down
I won’t let them turn you around
Just hold on for now
The dawn isn’t far away
So just keep your stay

And wait for the sun
Wait for the sun

Tracks in the sand
And cracks in the clay where you stand
The wind sweeps away all that was lost and found
So go underground
And wait for the sun
Wait for the sun
Wait for the sun

Wait, wait for the sun
Wait, wait for the sun
Wait, wait for the sun
Wait, wait for the sun

Monday, February 6, 2012

Occupy Campaign Finance Reform

Imagine a political systems that allows anyone to run for election who can generate sufficient signatures to get on a ballot who are then each given the same amount of public money to spend on their election. Imagine being elected and not then spending 50% of your time fundraising. Imagine not  dialing for dollars, imagine no fundraisers, imagine no moneyed special interests, imagine no moneyed lobbying. Imagine not contributing to political parties or to political campaigns. Imagine if  the amount of money it takes to get elected was not obscene and corrosive.  Just a thought.

Here is an article that suggests that while there is some correlation and elasticity between charitable giving and political donations there is a zero sum point at which one negatively impacts the other. In other words,  at some point,  the millions given to political campaigns may come from the (picked) pockets of the needy.  Or, put another way:


"It's hard to pass the plate for super PAC money while Democratic leaders have been preaching about the sins of it. But the reality is, it is essential in 2012."
ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, a New York-based fund-raiser for President Obama.

Do charitable subsidies crowd out political giving? The missing link between charitable and political contributions.

by Barış K. Yörük*


This paper investigates the spillover effects of charitable subsidies on political giving using five independent surveys of charitable and political giving in the United States conducted from 1990 to 2001. The results show that charitable and political giving are complements. Compared with non-donors, charitable donors are more likely to donate and give more to political organizations. Increasing the price of charitable giving decreases not only charitable giving but also the probability of giving and the amount of donations to political organizations. The implied elasticity of the amount of political contributions with respect to the tax price of charitable giving is as much as -0.88. This effect is robust under different specifications and with different sets of instrumental variables. These results highlight the positive externalities created by charitable subsidies and have important implications for economic models of political and charitable giving.

Keywords: charitable giving, political giving, tax price of giving JEL classification: H24, H31, L38

* Department of Economics, University at Albany, SUNY, 1400 Washington Ave., Albany, NY 12222. Tel: (518) 442-3175. Fax: (518) 442-4736. E-mail:

Sunday, February 5, 2012

School District Resource Sharing

I did a quick read of some studies on school district consolidation and the informed consensus seems to come down against school district mergers (especially in poor districts). Based on the evidence, proposals to share school superintendents and/or merge school districts should be looked at sceptically because the data suggests that any economic savings are illusory and that there are no improvements in educational outcomes. This is especially true in times of economic pressures to cut school funding. There are some exceptions. Here's one example in California of two districts that have  shared a superintendent for the last 6 years with a seemingly positive local response. It does seem, however,  that this experience is the exception to the rule that school consolidation does not improve the educational experience or produce any significant cost savings.

(The article below is from a local newspaper, The Mountain Democrat, February 24, 2011)

Two school districts share superintendent

SUPERINTENDENT for both Gold Oak and Pioneer school districts, Dick Williams sits at his desk at the Gold Oak district office. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum
SUPERINTENDENT for both Gold Oak and Pioneer school districts, Dick Williams sits at his desk at the Gold Oak district office. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum
Predating all the talk about school district consolidation, two districts in El Dorado County have been pooling one of their resources for years. Dick Williams, superintendent of Pioneer Union School District since 1997, has also been the superintendent of  Gold Oak Union School District for the past six years.
“When the Gold Oak superintendent retired, the district was looking at ways to save money and get an experienced superintendent,” said Williams, 59. ” Vicki Barber, El Dorado County Office of Education superintendent, suggested a shared superintendency and she approached Gold Oak’s board.”
The innovative idea gave each of the small school districts an experienced superintendent and a savings in expense.
“It’s a shared position,” said Williams, “not a half-time position at each district. The superintendent is responsible for everything, 24/7. There’s no half-time about it. That responsibility carries quite a weight, but it’s worked very well.”
Gold Oak subcontracts for Williams’ services through Pioneer and each January, the Gold Oak Board of Trustees reviews the contract and chooses whether to renew it. This year, for the first time in six years, both districts have stated their intent to leave their option to renew the contract open for the moment.
“Taking on a second job didn’t double my salary, ” joked Williams, “but both boards have been very positive about the superintendency. It’s not the only shared superintendency in the state, but there aren’t many of them.”
Gold Oak Union School District Board of Trustees President Susanne Holtrichter said, “We’ve benefited from it greatly. I think he does a full-time job in half the time and we’re hopeful that we can continue sharing a superintendent.”
“It works extremely well and it’s great for both districts,” said  John D’Agostini, a seven-year Pioneer Union Board of Trustees member.
“With the uncertainty of the state budget, we’re not sure where all the pieces are going to fall,” said Holtrichter, “so we’re leaving our options open — not because we don’t want to continue sharing a superintendent, but because we just don’t know what we’re going to need to do.”
The Pioneer district also wanted to keep their options open, said D’Agostini. “We are weighing our options, depending on the state budget. This sharing has saved us a lot of money and allowed us to continue the educational programs we have despite the changes in the budget, but we may have to look at restructuring some things.”
“Things like funding and  what’s best for kids change all the time,” said Pioneer board member Mel Kelley. “We’ve got to be prepared to move with the changes.”
Williams understands completely.
“In February the districts really focus on making personnel budget decisions for the upcoming year. Pioneer has a declining enrollment. With a greater level of uncertainty due to  the state fiscal deficit. They make have to look at a reduction in administrative personnel or a restructuring of personnel, so both districts need to keep things open. A decision to renew the contract now would lock them in.”
Williams’ typical day puts him in both districts. “I try to start the day in one district and end in the other,” said Williams, “and I stagger the days so each district gets equal  a.m. and p.m. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s my goal.”
“The biggest difference between the districts is the wrestling,” said Williams. “In Gold Oak, wrestling is incredibly popular and they have teams at both the elementary and middle schools. At Pioneer, it’s a struggle to get a team together, yet the districts are right next door to each other. We try to give the kids who want to participate in wrestling an opportunity if there isn’t a team in their district.”
Both districts have three schools, but Williams said the culture of each district is different.
“The history of each district, the level of parent involvement and the culture of the community is unique. I had to learn the Gold Oak culture so I could make this work for them and not change it. That’s been one of the most fascinating things about the job.”
His dual roles have been challenging and a boost to  professional growth.
“I don’t know if it will last forever and it’s not always easy, but it’s been great.”


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