The Laptop Culture of Starbucks

The next time you go into a Starbucks, take a look around. Can you find a place to sit? Or is space at a premium because the seating area has turned into an Internet cafe of sorts? Every morning in this location on Christopher Columbus Drive in Jersey City, NJ, patrons buy their five-dollar lattes and then jockey for position to snag a highly-coveted spot to settle in with their laptops and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi.

Fort Greene Boosts NYC Marathon Runners at Mile 9

The 2011 ING NYC Marathon entered Fort Greene, Brooklyn about two hours into the 26.2-mile race that hosts runners from all over the globe every year. As the runners pushed themselves down Lafayette Avenue toward the Mile 9 marker, the neighborhood welcomed them enthusiastically.

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Brenna Walton

Survey Says: Occupy Wall Street More or Less Legit

In a previous post about public perception of the Occupy Wall Street movement, we speculated on the factors contributing to the legitimacy of the protests. In an effort to acquire more concrete evidence, we conducted a survey for our readers to tell us about their opinions of Occupy Wall Street and what led them to those conclusions.

The majority of the responses showed that our readers supported the protests.

Among those supporters, however, it was split right down the middle as to whether or not they had felt that way from the beginning.

However, for the majority of those who claimed to have changed their minds since Occupy Wall Street began, it was more a case of the development of an opinion where there previously had not been one at all. More than twice as many people answered that their initial lack of an opinion became a positive one. The rest said they had changed their initially negative opinions for the better. Not one response indicated that the person had started off in support of the movement, but had since turned against it.

But when it came to which factors influenced any kind of change in opinion, we mostly missed the mark with our guesses in the original post. We suspected that the appearance of celebrities and unions, as well as the proliferation of the movement in other cities across the U.S., would affect public opinion as to the legitimacy of the efforts at Occupy Wall Street. Not one of our hypotheses was mentioned. Instead, respondents said it was the media coverage of the protests that mostly informed their opinions.

The few respondents who maintained that their opinion had either developed into a negative one or had been negative from the start said that the protesters’ lack of organization was a key reason.

The Occupy Wall Street movement aside, the majority of responses reflected support for protests in general – that they were an effective way to bring about change, mostly because of the attention they bring.

The personalization of an issue that protesters can bring was also referenced as a testament to the effectiveness of such demonstrations.

But would those people put their money where their mouth is and show up at a protest themselves? Most said they never had before, but would for the right cause. About half as many said they had been to protests before, including Occupy Wall Street. True to the American spirit, those who said they would never attend a protest because they thought it was a waste of time were in the minority.


William Comes Home

“William” is a life-size puppet soldier carved from foam rubber by artist/performer Kevin Augustine (kneeling below), who runs the Lone Wolf Theatre troupe, which performs avant-garde puppet theatre.  Augustine describes William as a piece of performance art and a symbol of the American soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  An alarming number of those veterans ultimately commit suicide, which has quickly become an epidemic among those soldiers.

Members of the troupe and The Fort Greene/Clinton Hill Peace + Justice Group (above), who collaborated on the street theatre piece, convene at South Oxford Space in Fort Greene, Brooklyn to prepare before taking their show on the road, in hopes of raising neighborhood awareness of this disturbing phenomenon.

Augustine must use his entire body to operate the puppet, and peace group member Will Keefer (above, left) helps him and William across Fulton Street in Fort Greene, as he might try to keep pace with the unsteady gait of a lost and frightened soldier.

As they continue down Fulton Street past a busy sidewalk cafe at the height of the weekend brunch rush, seated diners turn and gawk and one man dashes outside to snap a picture (above).

Reaching the corner of Fulton Street and Fort Greene Place, Augustine guides William into a collapse, falling with him on the sidewalk (above), his face fraught with emotion, channeling a damaged soldier in despair.

Once Augustine has laid William to rest, the rest of the group gather around them (above), writing facts about veteran PTSD on the sidewalk in chalk.

This fact (above) was the one that seemed to grab the most attention.

Augustine outlines William’s body with chalk (above), echoing a crime scene, as an artistic statement of the “crime” of the lack of support from the federal government for veterans dealing with PTSD.

Rolling Stone ran a story in 2009 about three soldiers stationed at Fort Carson near Colorado Springs who went on a murder spree there.  The army base has become notorious for the high incidence of violent crimes committed by soldiers stationed there, many of which were kept on duty when they should have been discharged after being diagnosed with PTSD.

Augustine hands an enthusiastic bystander (above) a piece of chalk to add her own message.

Ed Goldman (above, right), a leader in the Fort Greene peace group, follows Augustine and Keefer through the streets, beating a bongo drum in a military-style cadence.  A police officer shows up to warn Goldman that they could be arrested for “graffiti-ing” the sidewalk.  It’s time to move on.

Continuing down Fort Greene Place, Augustine and William resume their performance at the next corner.  One man who comes along is so moved by the scene that he involves himself in the performance, reaching out (above) to Augustine to help him up.

Keefer (above) tucks the folded American flag that had been clutched in William’s hand into his sweater as he takes in the scene.  Then, he thinks better of it and places it under William’s head (below).

A hush falls over the sidewalk as passersby (above) take William in and reflect on the cold, hard facts surrounding his demise.

What has contributed to the evolution of Occupy Wall Street?

When it began on Sept. 17 in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street was a disorganized, unfocused group that was the subject of ridicule on both sides of the economic debate. Now, exactly two weeks later, it has become a legitimate national movement. What changed and how?

At its inception, the protest had a vague theme of opposition to tax rates favoring the wealthiest people in the nation, an issue that was thrust into the national spotlight when billionaire Warren Buffett wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times, in which he railed against the fact that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary. This led to President Obama’s proposal of the “Buffett rule,” requiring those with an annual income of $1 million or more to pay a higher tax rate than those with middle-class incomes.

As Occupy Wall Street has progressed, a series of events surrounding the protests has occurred, appearing to result in the “legitimization” of the movement.

Among those instances:

– It’s not just the neo-hippies anymore. Multiple unions have joined the Occupy Wall Street protesters in the past week, including transit workers and airline pilots worried about their pensions, bringing with them an element of organization to the event.

First responders to 9/11 also joined the fight, angry over the lack of government support in paying medical expenses for illnesses developed from working in the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

– A rumor that rock band Radiohead would play at the protests this week turned out to be just that, nonetheless drawing people that might not otherwise have gone. The group did post a message of support for the protesters on its Facebook page.


– High-profile supporters like actress Susan Sarandon and documentary filmmaker Michael Moore showed up in an effort to help the protesters find their way, encouraging them to stay strong and make their message clear.

– “Occupy” protests have started in cities across the U.S. in solidarity with the original.

– Allegations of NYPD brutality against Wall Street protesters have become impossible to ignore, culminating in this weekend’s march to the Brooklyn Bridge, during which protesters are claiming that police misled and trapped them in order to make over 700 arrests.

#occupywallstreet NYTimes is reporting right now that NYPD purposefully mislead protesters for arrests.
Mark Ruffalo
If the NYPD was looking to strengthen this movement, they just did it. #OccupyWallStreet
“@: Don't let media misinform u Protesters were REROUTED 2 Bklyn Bridge by the NYPD then entrapped by orange netting #Illegal
Occupy The Hood

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that Occupy Wall Street has developed into a major operation and will not dissipate until there is some form of acknowledgement from the government.

Have you changed your opinion about Occupy Wall Street?



Anthems of the U.S. Economy: Then and Now

Music and history buffs have long considered “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” to be the undisputed anthem of the Great Depression.  Written in 1931 by lyricist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and composer Jay Gorney, it was a song featured in the 1932 musical “New Americana” that became best known for versions recorded by Al Jolson and Bing Crosby.

Pianist and composer Rob Kapilow told NPR that the song’s title itself was a symbol of the epic financial struggles Americans faced during that era and that people today can relate to it.  Not to mention, when “The Simpsons” have referenced a song, it must have cultural meaning.

But the Great Recession has some ready to borrow “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” for the current anthem of the economy.  The song’s major theme is its description of the abandonment American citizens felt from the government during the Depression, particularly veterans of World War I.  Considering the number of veterans coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to find themselves unemployed, the parallel is obvious.

But maybe Americans don’t need to pick a song from the past as an anthem for today. Aloe Blacc’s “I Need A Dollar” was released just over a year ago in September 2010, but has only garnered mainstream popularity in the last few months. This may be largely due to its selection as the theme song for the new HBO series, “How to Make it in America,” another example of entertainment inspired by money trouble. The song was also featured in a commercial for Boost Mobile starring a guy working multiple jobs in order to pay his cell phone bill.

So when commenters on a site devoted to interpreting the meaning of song lyrics declared “I Need A Dollar” the current economy’s theme song, the distinction seemed to fit. With lyrics like, “I said, please mister boss man, I need this job more than you know, but he gave me my last paycheck and he sent me on out the door,” it’s hard not to see the similarity in theme and tone to “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Five Reasons to Get A “Survival Job”

When the going gets tough, the tough lower their standards. That’s the case for Americans taking “survival jobs” solely out of financial need in an economy in the worst shape it’s been since the Great Depression.

A survival job is one that is taken for the express purpose of income when all other options have run out. A person who takes a survival job is what economists consider “underemployed.” The underemployed accept jobs for which they are overqualified, sometimes extremely so, for a salary that amounts to a fraction of their previous position’s earnings.

But these circumstances may still trouble many career-minded job seekers forced to revise their resumes. Here are five reasons why it shouldn’t.

  1. Respect – Employers know just as well as you do that the job market is extremely tough right now. A survival job on a resume proves to an employer that a candidate is motivated. Being ready and willing to do whatever it takes to manage the task at hand is a desirable trait for an applicant in any field.
  2. Opportunity – The saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Even in the dire straits the current economy finds itself, being underemployed can be a blessing in disguise for some. When the nine-to-five routine suddenly grinds to a halt, it can leave room for goals left on the back burner for years to finally come to fruition.
  3. Lack of stigma – Those struggling to make ends meet say pride is one of the first obstacles to go. The more people doing it, the less embarrassing it seems. Some might consider it far more shameful to refuse a job out of pride than to be seen working as a cashier anyway.
  4. Flexibility – The non-traditional hours that often come with these types of jobs affords a schedule that tends to be less rigid, which is ideal for the underemployed who may have to take an interview on very short notice in order to be considered.
  5. Income – Sometimes the best reason is the most obvious one. Something is always better than nothing. Even executives previously accustomed to six-figure salaries find themselves happy to live paycheck to paycheck as long as they’re getting one.










The “Generation Limbo” of the U.S. Workforce

Many of this year's college grads are less than enthusiastic about the future. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

Why do most Americans go to college? Besides their insatiable thirst for knowledge, of course.

They go to college so they can get a good job and make a good living upon their graduation. They don’t go so they can get a job for which they were qualified when they graduated high school, just to make ends meet.

But many recent college grads, who some economists are calling the “Generation Limbo” of the American workforce, are doing just that as a result of the current state of the U.S. economy. Throw in the added bonus of starting with a low salary trajectory that may haunt them for the rest of their working lives and it’s hard not to see why they’re not smiling in the photo above.

These people are the “underemployed,” or the “underutilized,” in economist-speak. They find themselves in reception and behind the bar, waiting for the tides to turn. Hey, it’s better than just giving up.

But as increasingly desperate times call for increasingly desperate measures, Generation Limbo may have to come up with more creative ways to ease their financial woes. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to this.