Category Archives: Brooklyn

If it’s capitalism, why not teach financial literacy?

Even though I am the president of this pr firm, I will admit that, before opening this business, I had little practical knowledge about the business side of running a business.

And, although I know how to balance a checkbook and have enough money in accounts to keep things “in the black,” no elementary or high school course ever taught me “financial literacy.”

Oh sure, there were courses on things like making a budget or shopping for the best food bargains, but no one actually explained the nuts and bolts of capitalism and how it works.

And I know I am hardly alone.

As a result, the ins and outs of capitalism are left to the “experts” whose job, in part, is to “tell” us what to do. No one ever explained, for example, that this “credit rating” thing could actually ruin a business or someone’s chances of getting a loan, or a mortgage, or an apartment. People marry and have families, and no one explains that the way you deal with your finances can seriously affect your ability to have the home and the life you want.

We have to deal with capitalism every day, but, for most people, it’s a high concept that’s really fuzzy and seems unrelated to what we do.

Of course, there are some courses in college that can be taken, and sometimes, local government provides courses too.

I’m bringing this up now because we worked with the BrooklynSpeaks community groups a few years ago on the new deal that will bring the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing online ten years earlier. People will be able to apply for the housing through a lottery system. (More on that here.)

What many people don’t know is that simply showing that you need the housing and can prove it – through providing tax returns, etc. – is not enough. You have to be able to show that your household is financially capable of paying the rent in a timely manner every month. And that requires that your household’s finances are in tip top shape. Of course, ironically, a large percentage of the people who really need this kind of housing won’t qualify because they are unaware of this requirement and, since they are often scrambling just to make ends meet, they simply haven’t focused on their own financial fitness as calculated by the “outside” world.

Some non-profits, like Brown Community Development Corporation, are trying to address this problem by holding sessions about the lottery, and these sessions include advice on getting finances in shape.

But it shouldn’t have to come to this. Why don’t we include financial literacy from elementary school through high school? Perhaps it’s because if people really understood capitalism, those in power would have to face an educated voter base who’d be less likely to stand for some of the financial shenanigans we’ve seen.

It still comes down to this: If we have to live in this world of capitalism, we need to understand it. That goes for everyone.

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness

Climate Change Scientists Take Nantucket Sleighride

Take Your Own Nantucket Sleighride: How Old Whaling Ships Are Helping in the Fight to Stop Climate Change

In the wake of the recent UN climate change conference in Paris, there’s lots of discussion about the subject. Some argue that the accord that was reached is historic and a huge step in the right direction, while others argue that the accord doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Meanwhile, there are scientists and others who get up every day and fight the battle against climate change as best they can, accord or not.

And so, one on-the-ground tidbit that got very little attention in all the hubbub about the Paris conference was this, as reported by the Associated Press: “Maritime historians, climate scientists and ordinary citizens are coming together on a project to study the logbooks of 19th-century whaling ships to better understand modern-day climate change and Arctic weather patterns.”

This fascinating project called Old Weather: Whaling will comb through approximately 2600 whaling logbooks, dating from 1756 – 1965, because they can yield valuable information about longitude and latitude measurements, weather conditions, the presence of icebergs and the edge of the ice shelf. This can help climate scientists compare weather and ice conditions, then and now, and can also help create advanced computer models that, based on the information from the logs, might be able to predict future conditions.

According to the AP story, Kevin Wood, a climate scientist with NOAA’s Joint Institute for the Study of the Ocean and Atmosphere at the University of Washington and a lead researcher on the project calls this a “virtual time-traveling weather satellite.”

“We can build an enormously detailed reconstruction of the conditions at the time … and we can we can understand how the climate has been changing over a longer period of time,” Wood said.

The Old Weather: Whaling project is led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The New Bedford Whaling Museum (Massachusetts) is, “transcribing and digitizing its own logbooks, as well as original data sources from the Nantucket Historical Association, Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, and the New Bedford Free Public Library.”

The digitized logbooks are being placed online and the public is asked to help sift through the thousands and thousands of pages of material. There are already 20 whalers’ logbooks online.

So here’s something you can “do” about climate change. You can actually participate in a project that will advance climate research. Check out Old Weather: Whaling to learn more. Meanwhile, have yourself a good Nantucket sleighride! (While you’re at it, go ahead and listen to Mountain’s “Nantucket Sleighride.”)