Friday, January 30, 2009

The Thriftiness of the Rich

I'm a fundraiser. One consistent pattern I've experienced is how cheap the rich are. They nitpick over charges to their hotel rooms at our events. Donors have me send them books and other swag for free even though they should pay. They make me (a young person working for a nonprofit) pick up the tab for meals. And then today...

This morning, I was excited to see we got an envelope from a particular millionaire we've been courting. I excitedly opened it only to find a few receipts along with a small handwritten note addressed to some company requesting a $25 refund. This was accidentally sent to us because he used a reply envelope we had sent him in our most recent solicitation - the post office failed to notice he crossed of our pre-printed name and hand wrote a new address. So here's a millionaire too cheap to use his own envelope, scrounging for a $25 rebate, and who didn't value his own time enough to bother a secretary with this cheap, mundane task. Fascinating!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


This post is primarily aimed at my Texan friends who will understand the novelty.

It finally snowed this morning! I woke up to the winter wonderland I always dreamed of as a child but was denied. Things that interest me/excite me about snow:
  • It's beautiful.
  • It's wetter than you think - perfect excuse for me to wear my pink galoshes
  • Everything is quieter when it snows. Everything is muffled, but there is this faint sound of snow settling on the earth that is just so peaceful.
  • I get to gaze out of my office window (see pic at right) and watch the circuitous path of the snowflakes through the air.
  • People seem happier - oh wait that's probably just me!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Our capitalist friends in Japan may turn on us...

...if they continue to learn English from Barack Obama's speeches.

Eating wild turtles...

In their oped railing against the decline in turtle population due to their commercial value, the NYTimes oped board inadvertently says it best, "but as long as the appetite for turtles — and traditional medicines derived from them — persists, we fear it will be hard to curtail such a profitable and disastrous trade."

Exactly, so why not embrace the market forces?! I have an unusual affinity for this topic because I recently wrote a fundraising letter about conservation through commerce. If you can assign property rights and reduce or eliminate the black market for endangered species goods, then you can actually increase the population of the animals in question.

Here's a slightly redacted excerpt of the solicitation letter I wrote:

[Our founder] was excited by the potential of farming sea turtles both for profit as well as for conservation.

It turns out that turtle steak has more protein, less fat, and fewer calories than either beef or chicken. Turtle hides are also a good source of leather and the shells can be used in commercial products like art and furniture. What an entrepreneurial opportunity!

Poaching, coupled with development encroachment on the turtle’s habitat (they nest on sandy beaches), however, threatened future generations of sea turtles. [Our founder] along with several other clever fellows realized they could relieve pressure on turtles in the wild if they find a way to raise them under farm conditions.

They studied the lifecycle of turtles to learn how to create optimal conditions to raise them. They became “turtle experts” in all aspects related to their growth and development. Their efforts led to the creation of Mariculture, Inc., a remarkable blend of conservation through commerce. Before it was even fashionable, [they were] good environmental stewards!

The same property rights and incentives ideas that [our organization] applies to public policy apply as well to turtle farming -- It’s in the best interest of turtle farmers to ensure the long-term existence and thriving of turtles or else they would go out of business.

Unfortunately, this message was lost on the environmental special interest groups who destroyed the market for turtles by banning turtle products from being sold in the U.S. and in so doing they condemned the wild turtle to a tenuous existence being hunted all and sundry in the commons.

[Our founder] was saddened at the many losses that ensued. The turtle farm relieved poaching because it offered a steady source of turtle products. (He required buyers to sign a contract, agreeing to refrain from poaching if they wanted access to his products.) Yet, environmental politics destroyed this opportunity to protect the wild turtle populations.

Friday, January 23, 2009


While it was a fun change of pace to go back and work my old job for a week, it made me very grateful for where I am today. I work with smart, motivated people with whom I share a clear philosophical commitment.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Whitney has been doing for inauguration...

Starting at 2pm on Saturday, I started working a one week program for my old nonprofit the Close Up Foundation. Basically, I'm in charge of 240 kids and ten instructors. Some highlights:
  • A false fire alarm at 2am on Sunday morning which forced my kids to evacuate the hotel.
  • Helping herd 3,000 kids amongst 500,000 people during the Sunday inauguration concert using only...glow sticks.
  • Seeing Sheryl Crow jog along the National Mall.
  • Navigating five charter buses around the city when they closed the bridges 12 hours earlier than they said they would!
  • Metroing a student back to the hotel due to "female problems"
  • A former Close Up coworker coming up to me and SCREAMING, "IN YOUR FACE!" (rubbing in Obama's win).
But what makes it all worth it are moments like last night. We conduct a mock election activity for the students to elect a president. The winner was an intelligent, but socially awkward kid who you could tell really cared. He won by one vote. Everyone was shocked. The person who came in second seemed to have been a shoe-in. Who did the runner up vote for? The socially awkward kid! How heart-warming is that!?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Most amazing political game ever.

The Bailout Game

If someone has a chance to play it all the way through - please let me know what the moral is! There's an option to "Ask Alan Greenspan" so hopefully it's not too biased!

I'm really jealous...

of all the D.C. residents I saw on the metro with their suitcases this morning. I wanna get the heck out of Dodge, too!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Welfare vs. Entitlement

Attended a D.C. phenomona last night - a panel discussion - only in D.C. would people go to these on a regular basis and call them "fun." I'm one of those people, of course the alcohol helps.

The speakers were Megan McArdle and Ross Douthat (The Atlantic Monthly), Jon Henke (Republican Communications Office--U.S. Senate), and Kristin Soltsis (Director of Policy Research at the Winston Group). The topic? The future of the conservative and libertarian movements.

Before you laugh, I think there is hope. Whether or not party leadership acts on these reasonable ideas however is a whole 'nother can of worms. n this post, I'll focus on what I think was the best idea of the night.

The Republican Party should coopt welfare from the left. Instead of railing against the evils of welfare, we should should advocate for generous welfare benefits, retraining programs, relocation programs - things that would make the economy more flexible. As the laws are written, we can ensure that they are thoroughly means-tested programs with clear limitations on time, income, and circumstances. Instead of being the party of NO, we could be the party to offer a hand in a tough time. We can still stay true to our limited government principles by making sure we clearly define these programs so they aren't an ever-expanding dole. Railing against evil unwed welfare mothers is so last century.

Next, we focus on entitlements. I think Meghan was the one to say we should lobby for everyone to have an invioable right to their social security. Take the entitlement program litterally. The left would be forced to admit that that wouldn't work which expose the unfortunate hilarity of the program's structure. When they admit that, the right could then provide a path for opting out or privitizing the whole kit and caboodle. Social Security starts drawing down in 2012 and Medicare THIS year. These can finally be urgent issues that might provide us with some political traction

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why read fiction?

Being in graduate school and working for a "classical liberal" organization, I read a lot of nonfiction. To balance this, I try to always have some fiction on hand. Right now, I'm in the middle of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. It's certainly a doozy with all the Russian names to keep up with and subtle social cues from the era. What makes Anna a classic? I'm not done yet so maybe I'm speaking too soon, but I think a large part of it is the novelty of a unlikeable main character. The book also speaks to long standing traditions of propriety, family relations, society, and to a lesser extent politics. There are moral and social consequences to the character's actions and many of these lessons still ring true today.

Aside - I also dig the fact that I think my favorite character, Levin, tries to devise a stockholding scheme to better incentivize the peasants on his land. This is a very tiny part of the story but it got me all excited.

"The Point of the Story" at that new conservative Big Hollywood site talks about the social foundations of story-telling and how a story serves to make sense of the senselessness of our existance. A big problem with modern art, movies, and books are that there is often no point. It's called postmodernism and it often turns my stomach.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Atlas Shrugged influence lives on...

Just forwarded an article by Stephen Moore about Atlas Shrugged to a couple people and WSJ informed me of the following:
View the most EMAILED links for today from
1. - Opinion: 'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years
2. - Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs
3. - Opinion: 'Alternative' Medicine Is Mainstream
4. - Opinion: Six Lessons for Investors
5. - Opinion: President Bush Tried to Rein In Fan and Fred
6. - Opinion: Hospital Scrubs Are a Germy, Deadly Mess
7. - Belgians Take Lots of Sick Leave, And Why Not, They're Depressed
8. - Opinion: The Jews Face a Double Standard
9. - Opinion: Yes, Israel Can Win in Gaza
Of course there's a selection bias here with WSJ readers who are more inclined toward free market thoughts, but I like to think that each one emailed a friend or two that had yet to read the book. And just maybe it will make a difference!

Hat tip: Ilya

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Below the belt Obama

My mother called me and excitedly shrieked something audible only to dogs. Finally I got her to calm down - apparently she was all jazzed about Obama giving his big speech on the economy at George Mason University. I'm about the opposite of jazzed. Not that many people outside my incestuous group of DC friends know, but GMU is the stronghold of free market economics. So it's a little 'bit below the belt that he gave his big "spend like there's no tomorrow" speech there.

Since I'm not the most tech-savvy as you can tell from my jarbled quotes in previous posts, I'll refer you to Reason's post to get the highlights and full text of Obama's speech here.

Setting intentions in lieu of goals

Over the last year, I've gotten really into Iyengar yoga. For an over-acheiver like me, it's been great for cultivating patience and peace of mind. As this article about setting intentions instead of goals reminded me today, there is a lot to learn from the yogi way of life. Here's the gist:
What would it be like if you didn't measure the success of your life just by what you get and don't get, but gave equal or greater priority to how aligned you are with your deepest values? Goals are rooted in maya (illusion)—the illusionary world where what you want seems fixed and unchanging but in truth is forever changing. It is in this world that mara, the inner voice of temptation and discouragement, flourishes. Goals never fulfill you in an ongoing way; they either beget another goal or else collapse. They provide excitement—the ups and downs of life—but intention is what provides you with self-respect and peace of mind.
There's a lot more in the article about living more in the present than in an intransigent future. Good stuff. My friend, Allegra, has me testing out Bikram (hot) yoga this week. I've been twice so far and it certainly tests you in a whole new way. If your goal is just to get through the session without puking or running out for fresh air (the room is well over 100 degrees), you miss out on a big part of the experience. Luckily, I've done enough yoga that I have been able to pace myself, focus on my alignment and heartrate, and manage the 90 minute Bikram session without much discomfort. It's all about living in the moment and setting a positive intention (or attitude). Now if I could just do that in all areas of my life...

Hat tip: Amanda, fellow yogi

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"Fine line between infrastructure and pork"

"[T]here is a fine line between infrastructure and pork -- the line between
building a bridge, which might promote economic growth, and painting a bridge,
which merely provides a few jobs for a few weeks. And Congress is not
particularly known for its navigation of fine lines." -Michael Gerson

I've said before that Obama's infrastructure programs and spending are really broad. How many of these programs will actually effect people at the margin? Will these programs just cause another seismic labor shift once they are completed? How many roads to nowhere will be built?

And let's not forget that infrastructure spending is sexist too.

I <3 Sanjay

Hold the phone - Dr. Sanjay Gupta may be our next Surgeon General?! In college, he was the only reason I watched CNN in the mornings. I might have to youtube all the Surgeon General press conferences/hearings.
p.s. is he qualified?

For love of the arts

Having spent much of my childhood taking dancing, acting, and music classes, I can appreciate the arts. That being said, I don't feel so bad for all the struggling museums and dance companies right now. I subscribe to a lot of nonprofit and fundraising newsletters - it's my job after all - and right now there's a lot of doomsday talk from the cultural sector of the nonprofit world. It's not like we will lose culture if a few of these have to shut their doors due to the recession. You can still enjoy great symphonies and compositions - albeit in a digital recording instead of live. Museums will sell their collections to other museums or to private collectors. It may be unfortunate that the public loses access to some of these things during the recession, but let's face it there's less demand!
Given the new distribution of wealth, arguably we need more culture for lower-income people and less culture for the rich. I don't think the old distribution of wealth is coming back anytime soon.
Technology has also made culture more accessible (and virtually free) than ever before so more people have access. Culture will not die. Basically, we need wealthy people to spend their money on more productive things and given their shrinking portfolios, it will probably happen. I take comfort in the fact that the less efficiently run theatres, museums, etc. will probably close first.

This is kind of a funny thing for me to point out because I'm a fundraiser and because I give to the arts (granted a tiny pittance). I should be more sympathetic except I know that most museum/symphony fundraisers actually make about 20% more than elsewhere in the nonprofit world. Whether this is because they have to be able to afford to hobnob with the wealthy or because their job is actually harder is beyond me, but I think it's just the market at work. It's time for the arts to prove their market value and it's in their long-term best interest to figure this out anyways.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Buzzkill of the day

It's no secret that my mother is depressed, but at what point is it necessary to get her supervision? I call her (nearly) everyday. I've researched psychiatrists and she's finally going to a new one in two weeks. I write Christmas and thank you cards to obscure family friends in hopes that they will reconnect with my mother. I'm convinced that even if I lived with her she would be no better. I can't force her out of bed or to stick to a schedule. And still she vacillates between calling me her "angel" and claiming I don't love her.

Anyone else dealt with a depressed loved one - any advice?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

My pennies aren't good enough?!

Scene: outside the American History Museum on a sunny winter day. A saxophone player is jamming on the sidewalk.

Me: "Oh, I love street musicians" I reach into my purse to empty my change into the man's saxophone case.

Musician: "Finally! Someone figures it out." As I empty all of the change from my wallet.

Musician: "Nevermind - I don't want your damn pennies!"

Since when are my coins not good enough!? Is it really that insulting to dump a couple dollars worth of change into a musician's case? I was flabbergasted and tempted to pick my coins back up, but just walked away with my righteous indignation instead.

Friday, January 2, 2009

What will we learn from this recession?

Today's pondering thanks to this article...
What lessons, I wonder, will the great downturn of 2008 teach our children? Obviously, the answer depends on how bad things get. This is a global cataclysm that's more vivid in the headlines than in most people's pocketbooks. Unemployment remains below 7 percent, and gas prices and mortgage rates are down. The crisis is still more like a dark thundercloud than a pelting hurricane.
I hope we don't "learn" that the government is our insurance plan. Unfortunately, if Washington has its way, that will be the short term lesson. Let's hope it's a very short-lived lesson that is discredited by some blatant government incompetency or even bigger financial meltdown (but only if it knocks people back to their senses).

Already I hear people on the street and in the metro saying things like, "I can't wait until Obama is in office - he gonna pay my mortgage!" That's the trickle down effect of headlines like the Fed printing an endless supply of money and Congress passing trillion dollar bailout plans. The defining moment for my generation (so far) has been 9/11, but we were largely sheltered from both that tragedy and the aftermath. We continued to live our lives.

My dear grandmother still talks about the year during the Great Depression her family ate nothing but onions, potatoes, and squirrel. I have a quilt on my bed that was stitched by my great great grandmother out of scraps of dresses women in my family wore during the Great Depression. When my grandmother passed it on to me, she pointed at one patch, "I wore that dress when I was 12." And another patch, "I got that dress for my 16th birthday." Why does she remember? Because she got so few new dresses each year! It's a humbling artifact that makes me feel better about my shrinking clothes budget.

Here's to feeling the pinch a little bit more.