Friday, June 09, 2006

Window Fans: An Energy Saving Alternative

In a previous post, I mentioned my fondness for keeping my house open to the fresh air on all but the hottest nights. I live in Bellevue, Nebraska, near Omaha. We have the hottest, muggiest, nastiest summers anywhere. I once attended a summer conference in San Antonio, and on the way to the hotel the cabdriver was waxing eloquent about their hot, humid weather. Well, maybe I hit Texas on an unusually comfortable week, but the weather during the conference was a relief compared to what I’m used to in Omaha.

While I do like to conserve both money and energy, I’m not a masochist; I like it cool and comfortable. But most mornings and evenings, it cools down enough to open the windows and let in a little breeze.

Friends and in-laws I’ve talked to about window fans smile and nod, and act like they know what I’m saying, but I’ve found they don’t really get it. What it takes for someone to understand how a window fan can cool an entire house is a demonstration. When they stand in front of a window on the opposite side of the house and feel the breeze being sucked through by what functions as an exhaust fan several rooms away, the lightbulb comes on and they get the oddest looks on their faces.

Window fans pull the hot air out, and draw cool air in. What if the air outside isn’t cool? To an extent, the air is cooled by the movement of the fan’s draw. In addition, there are methods to enhance this cooling effect depending on where you place the fan.

Now, our old window fan was an unwieldy monster. I paid $20.00 for it at a thrift store ten years ago, and if we’ve saved $100 a month during hot weather (a conservative estimate), that’s a savings of $4000. Pretty good thrift store find, huh?

In our old house, we kept the fan in the window of a spare room on the second floor. We couldn’t have tolerated it in a room where we slept, or watched TV or tried to conduct civil conversation, because it was about as loud as a single propeller airplane. We wedged it in the bottom half of the window, and filled in around it with towels, creating a seal of sorts. It was all metal, measured 36” by 36”, and weighed about 40 pounds. When we cranked it up to its highest speed, it was very hard to push the door of the room it was in closed; that’s how powerful it was. At night, we almost always had to either get up and turn it off, or put blankets on the bed.

I used to think that you could only use window fans in double-hung windows, while most apartments have sliding windows. When we moved from our large old house to a more modern apartment with sliding windows, I made up my mind that I was going to find a window fan that would work in our apartment’s windows.

I started my search locally, checking at all the usual places; you know, discount stores, big box home improvement stores, you name it. The only window fans I could find were the $20 variety made by Holmes, containing two small fans, each about 8” in diameter. I was doubtful that such small fans were going to provide serious air movement.

I decided it was time to do a little research, started searching online. I found a wonderful article at the University of Missouri’s Extension Service website. (Just in case you don’t know this, extension service websites are packed with practical information.) The article gave particulars on air exchange rates and fan sizes.

Next, I began searching the web for a source of quality fans, eventually finding a 16” Air King fan that I could make fit in one half of the sliding window by turning it sideways, and sliding the window back to make it snug. The expandable wings don’t work properly when the fan is turned on its side, so we've had a piece of plexi-glass cut to fit in the opening, giving the fan enough of a seal to allow it to draw air properly. I have to admit that this lighter-weight model is not as powerful as the old one, but you can sit in the same room with it and have a conversation. We use it at night, and still find ourselves needing more covers in the wee small hours of the morning.

Our apartment is on the top floor, and has 18’cathedral ceilings with a loft. At one end of the loft is a window that looks out over our neighbor’s air-conditioning unit, in sharp contrast to the rest of our windows, which have beautiful wooded views. In addition to aesthetics, this window is the best in practical terms as well. Being on the second floor, air circulation is naturally enhanced when the windows downstairs are open. Since hot air rises, this is the most efficient placement for an exhaust fan.

By mid-morning on hot days, we close the windows again, and turn on the air, rather than draw warm air in from outside. In addition to saving money and conserving energy, fresh air is much healthier, and with the windows open we can hear the crickets chirping, and the leaves on the trees rustling.

RE Williams is where I finally found a high quality 16” Air King (owned by the same company as Lasko, the best known window fans) for about $100, including shipping. I was unable to find this model locally or online through any national retailer. They shipped the fan within a week, and their customer service was excellent.

It's Not Home Without...

Recently, my husband and I moved to an apartment from a large old fixer-upper that we, well, didn't fix up. It's been a great move, and we love our new space. We moved to an unusal apartment complex built in the 1970s. Nothing unusual was ever built in the 1970s, you say? Here's what is special about this place, and why it couldn't be built today. It is located in a forest. Lots of trees were left standing, the buildings were nestled into the landscape, and you reach many of them by wooden walkways. None of this could be done today due to housing laws that require handicap accessibility in multi-unit buildings. The top left photo is the view from the balcony of our third floor apartment. The trees literally touch the railing.

Even though I am absolutely delighted with our new digs, I found that I still need the same basic things I've always needed in order to really feel at home. What are they? Here's my absolute must-haves for feeling at home:
  • A separate room for watching television, so that the living room remains free of this intrusion from the outside world
  • A clothesline - we put a small retractable clothesline on our balcony. I never feel so virtuous or industrious as when I manage to get my sheets hung out on Saturday morning
  • A window fan - I grew up in house with such a fan; even after we got air conditioning, on any night that it cooled off just a little, we opened the windows and turned on the fan. (Yes, I really am so old that I can remember a time when most people didn't have a/c; when I was a kid theaters had icy looking signs that boasted "Air Conditioned.") Because window fans create their breeze by drawing air through the house rather than blowing air in, they can efficiently cool an entire house. Ours worked so well that sometime in the middle of the night, even in the middle of the summer, we were reaching for a blanket. Best sleep ever, with fresh air instead of the stale, refrigerated air you get with air conditioning. I'm planning an article on the ins and outs of cooling without air conditioning; I've converted my husband, maybe I'll convert you. (Don't get me wrong; when it's humid and miserable, I turn on the air like everyone else; I just can do it less often, which saves energy and $$$.)
  • A rag bag - An avid dumpster diver, a few years ago I found an old cotton bedspread in the trash, the kind with nubby loops in a pattern. It had a few good sized holes and was clearly beyond use as a bedspread. I'd recently discovered The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn, and was enjoying the process of learning to find practical uses for found items. I was also battling to keep a huge old house clean, and had succumbed to temptation and bought a Swiffer, even though the environmental impact of using disposable cleaning supplies nagged at my conscience. Well, I soon discovered that by cutting the worn out bedspread into rectangular pieces the size of the swiffer refills, I could have the convenience of a Swiffer without adding to the landfill. I even kept a bedspread out of said landfill. The nubby loops that created the design on the bedspread made great texture for stubborn sticky spots on the floor. I filled a spray bottle with some cleaning solution, which cut down on the amount of water used as well. The same bedspread remnants are still in use today, along with other "repurposed" rags. I keep a separate dirty laundry receptacle for cleaning rags, and launder about once a month when I have a good sized load, once again feeling virtuous way beyond what is warranted for such a small accomplishment in my environmental crusade.
  • A window over the kitchen sink - now, this I don't have, so my point is this is so basic I can't understand why builders wouldn't put the kitchen sink in a spot where you can have a window to look out while doing dishes and chopping onions. I do have a patio door just to the side of the kitchen that overlooks a hillside where deer and wild turkey frequently roam, so I can't complain too loudly.
  • A water filter on the kitchen sink - self explanatory
  • A large dutch oven - in all my years of keeping house, I have used two heavy dutch ovens to create wonderful soups and stews that fill the house with heavenly smells and are the core of what says "home" to me. The first one was my grandmother's, and was left behind in a traumatic move across country to escape an abusive relationship. To this day, I search every thrift store and antique mall I visit for one like it, because it was an unusual Swedish modern design from the 60s, white enamel. Just last month, I found a coffee maker in the same design (see photo), which I'm using to hold kitchen utensils. If anyone out there knows where I can find a square dutch oven of the same pattern, let me know. I bought my second dutch oven at an estate sale, evidence of my theory that right before people die, their grown children buy them expensive cookware and kitchen items, creating a secondary market and eliminating all need to fork out the big bucks at the big box stores. Just one of my many ways of Stickin' It To The Man.
  • A basket of mismatched place mats and napkins - to those of you who buy special placemats, napkins and runners for every holiday, need to get over yourselves, and deserve a Tired Butt Society rant. I've lived off the fat of the land my entire life, scooping up table linens in thrift stores and at estate sales, never paying more than .25. I like 100% cotton, mostly white; no muss, no fuss. If one gets stained, no tears. Kids (or grandkids, as the case may be) can set the table with any combination they like. Laundering? Same principle as the rag bag - a separate receptacle, wash 'em about every two weeks. I've never in my entire life bought paper napkins, now where the hell's my Nobel?
  • A shady spot for eating/sitting outdoors – I love the lost art of porchsitting

Okay, that's my list. I'm sure there are as many ways of making ourselves feel at home as there are homes. We nurture ourselves by creating our own rituals and traditions, borrowing from our parents and grandparents, adding and adapting as societal changes and our own circumstances demand. What’s your list?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Mid-Century Modern Lamp

Under the heading of they either get it or they don’t…

I was showing my 33-year-old daughter my fabulous new turquoise and gold mid-century modern lamp complete with matching 2-tier shade in mint condition. Her reaction? “Some of us just suspend all judgment when thrift store shopping .” Whatcha gonna do?

Recent empty nesters, my husband and I moved from our huge old fixer-upper, which we avoided fixing up for 10 years, to an interesting apartment complex built in the 1970s. (Yes, there really is such a thing, but that’s another post.) The rest of the apartment is great; an eclectic mix of antiques, thrift store finds and funky art, but our bedroom was boring, boring, boring! Unlike the rest of the place, it was beige box architecture, which I had creatively enhanced with a white bedspread, white painted furniture, no artwork. It worked in our old place – our bedroom was an enclosed sun porch, with 10 windows, so it didn’t need a lot of help in the character department; just add plants.

Well, one day I was indulging in one the finer things in life, a leisurely browse through my favorite thrift store, when I spotted this little gem. That was all she wrote. For reasons I am having a hard time articulating to my husband, you just can’t mix 1950s style with much else, so I am now in the process of slowly decorating our bedroom in mid-century modern, with the following rules:

  • Unless we absolutely love it, we don’t buy it – nothing that’s just making due. We’ll just keep our $10 dollar painted dresser and other thrift store finds instead of settling.
  • It has to be a great find. We’re shopping thrift stores and estate sales, and don’t expect this to happen overnight. It might be a work-in-progress for several months or even a couple of years. That’s okay; true thrift store shoppers will recognize this mode of living and know it’s much more satisfying than running out to the big-box store and buying a matching set.
  • The only opinions that count are our own.
  • We each have veto power; my husband doesn’t get the thrill I do out of a brilliantly executed decorating idea, but nevertheless has a great eye of his own. I can only remember once in our marriage that I loved something that he couldn’t stand, and I left it in the store. I think no one should have to live with something they hate, and have managed to extract that concession from him.

Of course, right off the bat, I hit a snag…we have a king-size bed, and there are no king-size headboards out there in blond 50s modern. Well, we both have bad backs, and are not giving up our dual king bed, so another rule was invented:

  • Get over it! We found a dark walnut 60s Danish modern king headboard that works. Did I say you just can’t mix 50s modern with any other style? I meant other than 60s Danish modern, of course.

Okay fans of mid-century modern, let’s see your great finds! We showed you a couple of ours, now let’s see yours. We need some thrift store love!

Need inspiration? I’ve found some really fun links showcasing the best of mid-century modern furniture and accessories; check ‘em out! I especially love The Good Eye.

A Soldier In The War On Poverty

I read with sadness this morning that musician Billy Preston, known as the Fifth Beatle, died Tuesday of kidney failure after a long illness due to hypertension. I am sure he that penned the only song lyrics about the war on poverty, in Nothing From Nothing Leaves Nothing: “Don’t you remember I told ya, I’m a soldier, in the war on poverty ..."

I am a fat 50 year old white chick who grew up in the inner-city neighborhood, and grew up believing in a future where everyone, black and white, would come together in brotherhood, and no one would look at me strangely when the spirit moved me to get down to funky tunes. For me, no one exemplified this attitude of unity better than the positive, loving, talented Brother Preston. So a couple hours later when my cd shuffle came up with “Outaspace,” probably his best known song, I was up out of my chair, and gettin’ down in my living room. My kids had to put up with this kind of behavior daily when they were growing up; oh well, they needed something to talk to their therapists about. I’m only sorry I stopped in my 40s and let all this excess weight creep up on me.

It hurts to live in a world full of stereotype and racial division, and this was brought home with full force as I relived the joy of dancing alone, tears streaming. And it reminded me that I need to put together my article on LBJ’s War on Poverty forty-some years later, as a follow-up to my article on low wage workers.

I’ve also included a link to the Official Billy Preston Website at right.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Thrift Store MoJo

We all know what thrift store mojo is, right? It's that zen state of existence in which one knows exactly which thrift store will have the best of whatever it is we're looking for. We all know it is an abundant universe, and the Great Mother bestows her best gifts on her followers who keep their minds open and are willing to accept what she offers with grateful hearts, trusting that it is indeed unique and wonderful.

But what good is finding it if you can't show it off? And sometimes your friends are just too uptight to appreciate the brilliance of your find, or to understand the artfully subtle way in which you blend periods and styles, creating an eclectic look, be it in your home or in your style of dress. And if they just don't get it, what can you do?

Well, you can send photos of your best finds to Thought Provocateur. Share your best overall thrift store find, the best nook or cranny of your house done in your own inimitable style, your best thrift store outfit, you name it. If someone is reading this blog, chances are they'll truly get it, and truly appreciate it. It may inspire them to new heights of self expression through thrifting.

I've started the ball rolling with a beautiful original oil painting I found at the local Salvation Army store several years ago. I paid $4 for it, and it is one of my greatest treasures. I've had several people tell me the artist, Carol Singer, has something of a reputation locally.

Be sure to spend some time at the incredible thrift store art sites Museum Of Fred and Huge Magazine's Thrift Store Art Gallery.

Coming Soon: Thought Provocateur's Ugly Lamp Festival

In My Own Case...

Making ends meet on low wages, the subject of my first major post here on Thought Provocateur (see below) is near and dear to my heart. I raised three children alone, on low paying jobs. I dropped out of high school at the end of my sophomore year, and by the time I was 27 I was twice divorced with three children, the oldest only 10. This was in 1982, and I found a job working in the office of a small manufacturing plant, the only place willing to give a bright and eager worker with no experience a chance.

During the year I worked there, things went fairly well. I was eligible for subsidized day care, and was just barely able to make ends meet, but because we were healthy and lucky, there were no disasters. After six months on the job, I was offered a .25 raise, which I declined, because I would have lost my childcare subsidy.

After a year on the job, thanks to a kind-hearted, more experienced co-worker who patiently taught me a thing or two of office work, I landed a better job with better pay ($6.00 an hour). This wage increase eliminated all possibility of any assistance of any kind. In addition, I had to find parking downtown and dress more professionally. My older two children, 10 and 11, stopped going to daycare. I began measuring everything by how long it was until my youngest would be in school, eliminating the majority of my daycare costs.

Soon, I found it necessary to work a second job. My youngest child went to visit his father on the weekend, so I worked Friday and Saturday nights at a bar, which provided walking around change. This is the only way we managed not to go hungry between paydays. The father of the older two was missing in action, never to be found.

My 10- and 11- year olds watched themselves, and my luck continued to hold out; there were never any serious injuries or accidents. But I wanted more for myself and my family. I wanted an education and a more rewarding line of work.

When my two older children were babies, I had worked as a telephone operator, Directory Assistance. The pay was pretty good, thanks to the union. The office was open twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, and low seniority workers had to work a variety of shifts, most ending after 11:00 p.m. Because of the decent pay, turnover was low, and it was a slow and torturous process working your way to the day shift. I never got there, and was forced to leave when my oldest went to school. Now, with two school-age children and one pre-schooler, I decided to give it another go. I needed the higher pay (about twice what I made in an office), and the company offered tuition assistance.

Once again, I was trapped at the bottom of the seniority list, and changes in technology resulted in a hiring freeze that kept me there for several years. The best hours I could manage were split shifts, which allowed me to pick my kids up from school, fix dinner, and leave again.

Taking one class at a time, I began creeping my way toward a degree. I didn’t graduate until I was 43. If I had known how long it would take, I don’t think I could have persevered. When I finally graduated, I faced age-based discrimination in the job market. I was able to find an entry-level position in my chosen field, but was well behind the curve in accruing the experience needed for a promotion. Therefore, I was always frustrated, and the sacrifice expended to earn my degree greatly outweighed the benefits.

After I graduated, I worked as an investigator for my state’s Equal Opportunity Commission, and later for a non-profit that investigated housing discrimination. My clients were mostly women struggling to survive much like I had done. Only by then, it was even worse, with housing costs skyrocketing.

I was frequently stung when clients would lash out at me, saying, "You have no idea what it's like in my shoes." I wanted to tell them that I did know, but professional ethics demanded that I not insert myself into the investigative process.

My Summer Reading

A Study In Contrasts
My reading so far this summer juxtaposes the light, frothiness of “What Would Jackie Do?” against a gritty expose of lifestyles of the working poor “Nickel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America.”

“You Can’t Help But Want To Be Like Her…”
I picked up the Jackie book expecting a parody of the ubiquitous “What Would Jesus Do” franchise, but it soon became painfully obvious that authors Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway take their subject way too seriously. In the introduction they coo, “You can’t help but want to be like her,” promising to teach readers to be “steely yet soignée.”

Has Hillary Heard About This?
Branch and Callaway include an account by singer/songwriter Carly Simon of getting through a meal next to a woman “who’d been fooling with my man” by asking herself “what would Jackie do?” Simon recalls that immediately her spine lengthened and she assumed a position of great dignity. Has anyone told Hillary about this method?

Helpful Updates…
In answer to the query contained in the liner notes, “But how would Jackie have handled the 21st century?” we are informed that even though she preferred handwritten notes to typewritten or word-processed, she would surely be inclined to reach out by e-mail as well.

Hard To Find Good Help…
When hosting a party, they advise, put a platform atop your pool or erect a series of tents on the lawn. Don’t trust all the flourishes to the household help; figure out for yourself how long the Brie needs to stand at room temperature.

Cultivating The Right Friends…
Friends with access to property on South Beach or in the south of France are definitely worth cultivating. Always be sure to send a note to the actual owner of such a house, who grants you tacit hospitality by allowing their actual invitee to tow you along.

Sorting Out Your Men…
Recognize the difference between a suitable date and a suitable mate; sort men by type the same way you sort summer frocks. Ideally, a husband should open up a second world of opportunities for you (a “platform” from which you can acquire what you deserve).

Getting Your Money’s Worth…
Why not have your hired help multitask? Jackie’s maid not only cared for her extensive wardrobe, but also pinch-hit as hairstylist when the occasion demanded. Her nanny was also a fantastic cook. Surely today she would have a technology-savvy helper on staff for when her wireless connection gave out, no?

At the other end of the spectrum is “Nickel and Dimed,” which grew out of a 1998 conversation between author and freelance writer Barbara Ehrenreich and Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper’s magazine. How, they wondered, were the roughly 4 million women about to be booted off welfare by “welfare reform” going to survive on jobs paying $6 or $7 an hour? In “Nickel and Dimed” Ehrenreich attempts to earn enough to pay a month’s rent in three different cities in America on her earnings from similar jobs.

The Groundrules:
Presenting herself as a recently divorced displaced homemaker in Key West, Portland (Maine), and Minneapolis, she enters the ranks of the working poor, if only temporarily. Ehrenreich sets rules for herself: she can’t fall back on her higher education; she has to accept the highest paying job she is offered; she must take the cheapest accommodations she can find that afford reasonable safety and privacy. She also sets limits to what she is willing to do in the name of journalistic research: she will always have a car, paid for out of funds separate from her earnings; she will not be homeless, and she will not go hungry. The goal is simply to set herself up as described above, and attempt to earn enough to pay the second month’s rent in each of the three locales.

One Is Not Enough…
In each instance, Ehrenreich finds she cannot make it without a second job, even though she has only herself to feed and clothe, and does not have to contend with making childcare arrangements. She also has the considerable advantage of having reliable transportation.

Not Getting By…
Working as a waitress and hotel housekeeper in Key West, as a maid and part-time dietary aide at a nursing home in Portland, and as a clerk at Wal Mart in Minneapolis, she finds the jobs demeaning and physically demanding. She notes that her co-workers work when sick, grow faint from hunger because they don’t have money for decent lunches, and have no access to medical care. Most share living arrangements with others for purely economic reasons, some living in their cars. Pay-by-the-week motels cost far more than a modest apartment would, but low-wage workers often find it impossible to save the required first month’s rent and deposit. Still, they stay in their low paying jobs and it never occurs to them to organize for better wages and benefits.

If You’re Willing To Work 7 Days A Week To Afford A One-Room Place…
The only place Ehrenreich found herself able to balance income and expenses comfortably enough to assume she could have survived financially was in Portland, but she points out she had to work seven days a week at two different jobs to accomplish that and doubts that she could have maintained that pace indefinitely.

Market Forces…
In Minneapolis, even though the job market was booming, and $7 and $8 an hour jobs were plentiful, she found herself in such a tight housing market that there was no way to make ends meet; there simply was no affordable housing available. An added problem for low-income workers is that any remaining affordable housing in such cities is likely to be in the inner city, while low wage job growth is in the outer suburbs. Most cities have inadequate public transportation, and reliable transportation is a constant struggle.

Elaborating The Obvious…
Both Republicans and Democrats tout work as the ticket out of poverty. Ehrenreich notes that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing as far as making it on low wages; simply put, wages are too low and rents are too high.

How Much Is Enough?
Every year the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) publishes Out Of Reach, a detailed report on wages and rents in every state, using the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment as the yardstick. The housing wage is the wage a worker needs to afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit working a full-time (40 hour) job. Traditionally, housing is considered affordable if it accounts for no more than one third of a family’s budget, with utilities included. In 2005, the National Housing Wage for a two-bedroom apartment was $15.78.

What Does Minimum Wage Buy?
The federal minimum wage remains at $5.15, where it has stood since 1998. In 2004, more than two million U.S. employees were paid at or below minimum wage. There is nowhere in the U.S. that this would pay for a one-bedroom apartment; very few places where it would pay for an efficiency.

The Poverty Line…
According to US Census Bureau figures, the poverty threshold for a family of four (two adults, two children) is $19,484, considerably lower that the figure poverty advocates estimate is needed just to get by. The poverty threshold is based on a method developed in the early 1960s which established a family budget based on food costs times three. The food cost used was based on the “Economy Food Plan,” a minimal diet developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, designed to provide adequate nutrition for temporary, emergency situations.

Faulty Assumptions…
The only subsequent change to this admittedly low measure of poverty has been annual adjustments for inflation. This does not take into account huge changes in American family life over the last four decades, such as the cost of childcare due to the numbers of working mothers, and the sharp increases in the costs of health care, health insurance, housing and transportation compared to food. Food can no longer be assumed to account for one third of a family’s budget, and hasn’t for a long time; 15 % to 20% is a more accurate estimate.

Not Very Likely…
So, in order to earn the needed amount to nominally pull a family of 4 out of poverty ($19,484), a full-time worker would need to earn $9.37 an hour. How likely is this for a former welfare recipient? The National Coalition For The Homeless estimates the likelihood to be 97 to 1. A 2003 study of Michigan women who left welfare found that in 2001 only one quarter had found “good jobs,” defined as either paying $7.00 with health benefits or $8.50 an hour without health benefits. Those who lost assistance due to the 60-month time limit imposed by welfare reform were even more likely to remain poor than those who left for other reasons. A Minnesota study indicates that once off welfare, women were three times as likely to face hardships such as homelessness, eviction and hunger than those remaining on welfare.

In the final chapter of “Nickel and Dimed” Ehrenreich pokes gaping holes in our traditional view of lazy welfare mothers who refuse to “work their way out of poverty,” pointing out that when we depend on the underpaid labor of others to support our affluent lifestyles we force them to work for less pay than they can reasonably live on, and to go hungry so that we can eat more cheaply than we should. The working poor are forced to neglect their own children so that they can work for low wages caring for others’ children, making them unwitting donors and benefactors to society.

Proposed solutions such as establishing a living wage similar to the National Housing Wage raises protests from employers who say there’s no way they can afford to pay such wages; even proposals for modest increases to the $5.15 federal minimum wage are met with predictions of dire results for the business climate. Other solutions, based on subsidizing goods and services to the poor, are viewed as socialistic even though we are one of the few developed nations that forces it poor to compete with the wealthy for basic necessities like food, housing, and healthcare. In upcoming posts, we’ll examine the validity of these arguments, and look at other possible causes and solutions.

Welcome To Thought Provocateur

Welcome to Thought Provocateur – a blog devoted to provoking independence of thought in matters both profound and trivial, home of the Tired Butt Society. While we intend to provoke thought and lively discussion, we do not dwell entirely in the realm of the Serious With A Capital “S”.

The world is a complex place, getting more complex all the time. Experts, however, tend to add layers of complication to things that, while complex, are not beyond a well-informed layperson’s ability to understand. When experts seek to mystify rather than make clear, they become part of the problem rather than part of the solution. At the other end of the spectrum, when pundits oversimplify, they ask you to accept their version of reality, to passively agree with their point of view, because they do not trust that you can deal with complexity and think for yourself.

In her book Writing To Change The World, author Mary Pipher notes that totalitarian governments achieve their ends by preventing honest public discussion of important matters. “Good writing enlarges readers’ knowledge of the world,” she says. “Writers help readers construct larger, more expansive frames of reference so that more of the world can be more accurately perceived.” The goal is not to persuade readers to adopt a particular set of ideas, but to foster the ability to examine their world and come to their own conclusions.

So, what is the invisible thread that links ugly lamp contests, window fans, urban renewal, and thrift store art? It’s the conviction that originality and independence of thought are parent and child, chicken and egg. Only by disconnecting from the mind-numbing uniformity and conformity of mall and big-box chain store can we discover what we really value. Only by training ourselves to think independently in the thousand little choices we make everyday can we take back a measure of the control over our lives that we have given to experts and pundits simply because it all seems too complicated to think about.

So this eclectic mix of the odd and the practical, the whimsical and the useful is designed not only to arm you with tools to sort things out for yourself, but to connect you with a community of likeminded folks who have developed their own unique take on the world around them.