December 3, 2009

Pondering the idea of debt as moral failing

Posted in Consumer info, Musings at 5:17 pm by The Lizard Queen

This is one of those irregular verbs isn’t it? I am down on my luck, you are feckless, they are fraudulent money-grubbers.

—Katherine, from the comments thread for this post at Feministe

This SF Gate article, which I found via Crooks and Liars, gave me pause, less because the idea of deliberately defaulting on one’s mortgage payments came as a surprise (though it certainly did) than because of the candid way it discusses feelings of guilt, shame, and obligation that often come with financial distress:

The main point, he says, is that too often people’s “emotions” get in the way of clear financial thinking about mortgages, turning them into what he calls “woodheads” – “individuals who choose not to act in their own self-interest.” Most owners are too worried about feelings of shame and embarrassment following a foreclosure, and ignore the powerful financial reasons for doing so.

Buttressing these emotions is a system that White labels “the social control of the housing crisis” – pressures and messages continually sent to consumers by the “social control agents,” namely banks, government and the media. The mantra these agents – all the way up to President Obama – pound into owners’ heads, says White, is that “voluntarily defaulting on a mortgage is immoral.”

On a basic level, I think I understand how (uncontrolled/uncontrollable) debt and shame came to be intertwined.  When you borrow a book from the library, or a blouse from your sister, or cab fare from a buddy, you’re meant to return whatever it was you borrowed, otherwise you are, at best, kind of a jerk, and at worst, a thief.  That idea then gets transferred to more large-scale financial issues: if you borrow the money for a house from the bank, then you’re meant to pay it back, and if you don’t, again, you’re somewhere between a jerk and a thief, only many thousands of times over, given how much more a house is worth than a book or a blouse or a cab ride.

Except, of course, that such a basic blueprint for morality when it comes to material things tends to ignore people’s lived realities.  I know people who have had banks foreclose on their houses, people who’ve had to declare bankruptcy.  They’re not immoral, nor feckless, nor fraudulent money-grubbers.  Indeed, you might even say they’re simply down on their luck.

Furthermore, borrowing a book or a blouse or cab fare doesn’t usually come with exorbitant strings attached.  You give the book back when you’re done reading it, and if you lose it or ruin it you pay for a replacement.  You give the blouse back when you’re done wearing it, and if you lose it or ruin it you purchase or pay for a replacement.  And so on.  Yes, there are generally late fees associated with library books, but they’re not the kind that people go into real debt over.  (Usually.  There are always the folks who can’t go back to, say, Blockbuster because they accrued ridiculous late fees, but it seems like that’s a model companies are moving away from these days.)  Mortgages are a completely different ball game.  (“I’m going to end up paying HOW MUCH in interest??”)

In the end, I’m not really sure what to say about this whole idea aside from, “Huh.  That’s an interesting notion.”  Anyone else want to weigh in?

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August 1, 2008

Following the money

Posted in Activism, Consumer info at 4:31 pm by The Lizard Queen

Via Pet Connection I came across this L.A. Times database that lists how much of each dollar donated to certain charities (many of those that appear are Los Angeles or Southern California oriented, but many others are national) actually goes toward that charity (as opposed to, say, toward more fundraising).  You can sort by charity type, search by name, or look at the “efficiency matrix,” where you can examine, for example, which charities fall into the unfortunate category of High Revenue/Low Return (PETA is on that list?  I’m shocked!  Shocked, I tell you!)  Well worth checking out if you intend to send money to a big-name charity in the near future.

June 12, 2008

Read-ems for June thus far

Posted in Animals, Consumer info, Feminism, Medicine, News, Racial issues, Reproduction, Sex at 3:13 pm by The Lizard Queen

Hello my lovelies!  Here are some links for you, since I haven’t been writing.  I started a new job on the 2nd, and it’s currently sapping nearly all of my energy.  Here’s hoping that changes once I adjust to the new schedule.

Happy reading!

April 9, 2008

Wearing one’s penchant for raping on one’s sleeve

Posted in Censorship, Consumer info, Feminism, Rape culture at 11:06 pm by The Lizard Queen

Or, to be more accurate, across one’s chest.

Via Cara I came across this horrifying t-shirt, which reads, for anyone who’s wary of clicking through, “serial rapist.” The author of that post refers to other shirts, which confused me at first because whoever was selling the t-shirt pictured only has one other design available, one that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with rape.  But then I saw that there’s a whole category of CafePress shirts relating to rape.  Many of them are inspirational in nature, stating that the person wearing the shirt is a survivor, or that one should speak out against sexual violence.  Some reference Darfur; others refer to rape as part of a larger point, such as in the statement, “Spreading democracy through war is like spreading virginity through rape.”  Others, though…

Browsing through the t-shirts available, I found such gems as “I put the sensual back in nonconsensual,” “No means Yes,” and a picture of the chemical makeup of rohypnol (”roofies”—a rape drug). I don’t even know what to say.  (from the SAFER blog, linked above)

And there’s worse.  Oh, is there worse.  I’m horrified that these shirts are available, and horrified further that there is apparently a market for them.  And frankly, I’m a little stunned that there are companies, or at least one company, that’s willing to sell merchandise as blatantly offensive as some of the things found under the rape category.  I poked around some and came across CafePress’s Content Disclaimer:

CafePress provides users complete e-commerce tools needed to create and sell a wide variety of products featuring their ideas, designs and art. All merchandise content is created by users of the CafePress Service and does not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of CafePress.com.

I appreciate that CafePress’s business model is essentially “we’ll put whatever you want on a t-shirt.”  And I further appreciate that when that’s your business, your customers’ right to freedom of expression is essential, and censorship would be problematic, to say the least.  Furthermore, I know that “offensive” is subjective; I know there are plenty of people who would take offense at the “Rebellious Jezebel” shirt I’ve been coveting.  But — and this is that age-old question when it comes to the issue of censorship — is there ever a point at which a line must be drawn?  Disclaimers aside, to what extent is selling a shirt that says “calm down — don’t make this rape into a murder case” promoting criminal activity?

What say you?

February 10, 2008

What the hell, JCPenney?

Posted in Consumer info, Feminism, Television at 9:42 pm by The Lizard Queen

I don’t mind admitting that I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. It’s a holiday that’s centered around generic ideas of romance, of courtly love, of The Way Your Romantic Life Is Supposed To Be, and so it bothers me on a number of levels. Still, I’ll be happy come February 14th, because the arrival of the day itself means that the aggressive marketing for flowers, candy, and jewelry that comes with the holiday will cease, and we will — in theory, anyway — get a bit of a break before the aggressive marketing for flowers, candy, and jewelry for Mother’s Day begins.

Today, however, I came across the worst TV commercial for Valentine’s Day jewelry I’ve ever seen. It was comparable to the Family Guy diamonds commercial, and was perhaps worse because it was longer, and it was actually a serious commercial, put out by JCPenney. (I couldn’t find the ad on YouTube, but for the time being, anyway, you can see it on their website; it’s linked in the right-hand column.) It shows two or three men holding up heart-shaped pendants, then swinging them back and forth in the style of a hypnotist. In soothing voices, they give the recipients of the necklaces what are at least meant to seem like post-hypnotic suggestions: “You love how it looks. You think I’m the perfect man,” and “You are very happy with me right now.”

And then it ends with the line “Today’s the day everyone gets what they want” written on the screen.

The implications of this commercial made me exceptionally uncomfortable. On the one hand we have the idea of men hypnotizing their significant others to make the latter appreciate the former more. On the other hand we have men buying jewelry (a bribe, anyone?) for their significant others for the same purpose. Either idea would bother me, but together, they’re so much worse. And I wonder, who thought this was a good idea for a commercial? It doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of people who enjoy Valentine’s Day and celebrate it in traditional ways.  “Everyone gets what they want”: women get a piece of inexpensive jewelry, and men get women whose esteem can be bought with a piece of inexpensive jewelry.  So, ultimately: what the hell, JCPenney?

January 20, 2008

How many Americans can actually afford The American Dream?

Posted in Consumer info at 12:59 am by The Lizard Queen

In this LendingTree.com commercial, we the viewers are introduced to Stanley Johnson. He’s living the American dream, with a nice family living in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. He has a nice new car. He plays golf. Stanley’s life seems pretty sweet. “How do I do it?” he says, then answers: “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs!” He goes on to confess, his smile never slipping, that he can barely pay his finance charges.

The commercial is a few years old now, I think. Its message, essentially, is that if you shuffle your debt around — get a bigger loan with which you can pay off other, smaller loans, credit cards, etc. — you’ll be better off. As one of millions of Americans currently carrying more debt than I’m comfortable with, though, I can’t help but wonder how we got into this mess in the first place. I think Ed at Gin and Tacos (which I keep wanting to call Gin and JuiceI got my mind on my money and my money on my mind) gets it spot-on in his post entitled “What is terrorism?”:

Unfortunately I think this [i.e. predatory lending practices] is just the first step in A) an ugly economic downturn and B) a reckoning for 30 years of attempting to maintain the “American dream” of home ownership in the face of falling real wages and disappearing middle-class jobs. Remember when Carter gave his infamous “We must lower our standard of living” speech and was practically drawn and quartered? Well, 30 years later “we” don’t have to do anything – it has been done for us. When real wages don’t increase and when good jobs are replaced by Wal-Mart style employment ($7/hr, no benefits, no pension) the only way to keep the dirty common folk from….well, getting pissed….is to create the illusion of wealth through credit. Sure, your wages are shrinking, but here’s a couple of credit cards! That’ll make up the difference. We know you’ll charge more than you can pay back, but it’s alright. Just make minimum payments for 30 years. At 20%.

Indeed. The whole post is a worthwhile, if depressing, read.

[hat tip to Blue Gal at Crooks and Liars]

December 6, 2007

Thursday YouTubein’ — ROBOTS!

Posted in Apropos of nothing, Consumer info, Humor at 8:05 pm by The Lizard Queen

The following video is a re-post here at the Realm, but worry not — there is a method to my madness:

Here’s why I thought of the above video, aside from the fact that it never fails to amuse me: Saturday night Evil Bender and I headed out to Kansas City to see No Country for Old Men (we’re fans of the Coen brothers, and it wasn’t showing here, or even in Lawrence). As we were driving back we passed a billboard for some sort of AM radio commentator, and the most prominent phrase on it was the quote/title/wev “Act Your Wage.”

“‘Act Your Wage’?” I said. “What the hell does that even mean? I’m unemployed; what does that say about how I’m supposed to act?”

“Indeed,” Evil Bender replied, “but did you see the American flag up there? I’m betting he’s one of the wingnuttiest of wingnuts.” He then proceeded to tune the station in. On it a man with a British accent was giving some statistics about how many women own vibrators, and went on to say that the numbers suggested that many women might even own TWO vibrators!

I expected him to go on to say that such things are damaging marriage in America or some such fundy nonsense. Instead, we soon discovered we had found the motherlode of craziness: he explained that it wouldn’t be long before women were turning to robots — yes, robots — to satisfy their needs. That way they’d be able to get all the pleasure they currently get from their vibrators, but it would be able to hold them and whisper “I love you, my darling” into their ears. (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried, folks.) He went on, and on, and then it turned out he was a guest on a show, and the host asked him clarifying questions, and I got the impression — even as I was, by that point, laughing so hard my eyes were watering — that a big part of why the host was taking him so seriously was his accent, because we all know that everything sounds smarter if you say it with a British accent.

So, for all you ladies out there who feel like your vibrators just aren’t doting on you the way you’d like them to, fear not! The necessary technology may well be available sooner than any of us dared hope.

(WARNING: Persons denying the existence of Robots may be Robots themselves.)

August 27, 2007

*Swoon!*

Posted in Consumer info, Environment at 2:48 pm by The Lizard Queen

I just discovered, via Gristmill, that a company I love, Working Assets, has recently started offering a wireless plan. My contract with my current company doesn’t run out until June ’08, but methinks there will be some serious discussion about switching once that time comes around. Here are the deets:

  • Free LG 150 phone with Bluetooth® — a $179 value
  • We’ll purchase 10 tons of carbon emission offsets from CarbonFund.org on your behalf
  • 1% of charges to progressive non-profits including Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists and Vote Solar
  • Excellent coverage via the nationwide, all-digital Sprint® network service* [Though they’re careful to note that “Sprint is the network provider only; your service is handled exclusively by Working Assets.” Good, ’cause I’ve not heard good things about Sprint’s customer service. Just sayin’.]
  • Keep your current phone number
  • Dedicated customer service that connects you to real help from real people
  • Many individual and family plans to choose from
  • Unlimited night and weekend minutes
  • Free mobile-to-mobile calls to Working Assets Wireless members
  • 30-day trial*

Why do I love Working Assets, you ask? Well, there’s lots to love, but my specific reason is that my mom and stepdad had Working Assets long distance when I was an undergrad, and in their bill there was included fairly frequently, if not every month, a coupon for a free pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I often became the recipient of said coupons. Need I say more? 🙂

August 6, 2007

Oh, so that’s where my contact lens solution went

Posted in Consumer info, Medicine, Personal at 11:12 am by The Lizard Queen

I consider myself fairly in-the-know. I’m a blogger, after all. I read lots of other blogs. I watch the news. I read magazines. I even read the newspaper from time to time (though my one purchase of the local paper left me underwhelmed, to say the least).

As a result, I can’t help but wonder why this is the first I’ve heard about the fact that my usual brand of contact lens solution, the one I’ve used for over five years now, has been recalled. (For those of you who might also be contact lens-wearers, it’s Advanced Medical Optics’ Complete MoisturePlus.) It wasn’t on the shelf the last two times I went to buy more, but that happens from time to time, and I’m not so set in my ways that I can’t buy another brand when I can’t find the one I habitually buy. I guess in this case that’s kind of a drawback, because I might have learned about the recall sooner had I been desperate to get a hold of that one particular brand. But really, would a sign on the shelf have been so much to ask for?

Statistics suggest that I have nothing to worry about. Furthermore, I suspect I’d be showing symptoms by now if I had the infection in question, though of course just reading the words acanthamoeba keratitis makes me want to go scrub my eyes until they’re raw. So, ultimately, no harm, no foul, I guess. Still, I can’t help being annoyed.