Looking for some outdoor summer fun but hate the crowds of Yellowstone, the remoteness of Dry Tortugas, the heat of Death Valley, and the obviousness of the Grand Canyon? Maybe you’d instead enjoy picnicking in James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park in Georgia. Or swimming at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Kentucky. Or walking your leashed pet through Harry “Babe” Woodyard State Natural Area in Illinois.

 

If so, you should get on that now. This is not a good time for state parks. With economic conditions making employment and education seem like privileges, recreation is hardly thought a right. Which is why the state parks make easy targets for the nation’s 50 governors and 7,382 state legislators looking to cut costs. Which is why the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in turn, has placed state parks and… More…

Christmas curmudgeonry has grown as monotonous as the music a Salvation Army kettle-clanger makes. First, the ACLU spoils Baby Jesus’ City Hall camp-out by filing a lawsuit somewhere. Then, the Christian greetings police refuse to turn the other cheek at sales clerks who don’t sufficiently reciprocate their faith-based merriment. Then, secular spendthrifts denounce the excessive commercialism that undermines a day ostensibly devoted to peace, joy, and football. So at least give economist Joel Waldfogel credit for coming up with a new way to tell us how much Christmas sucks. In his new book Scroogenomics, the University of Pennsylvania economics professor argues that our holiday spending binges aren’t efficient enough. For example, say I buy you a toaster for $50, and you buy me a waffle iron for $50. If neither of us really wanted the gifts we received, and would only pay $25 for them if we had to buy… More…

 

The hundreds of billions of dollars the U.S. government has earmarked for infrastructure repair may not start truly flowing until 2010, but look around the high-end clothing boutiques and upscale department stores of America, and you can see we’re plenty ready for the challenges that lay ahead. Head to toe, from their Engineered Garments railroad conductor caps to their APC leather work boots, our hardest-dressing clotheshorses are tightening their hand-oiled Billy Kirk No. 109 skinny belts and preparing to rebuild America’s rusty bridges, its flimsy levees, its technologically obsolete sewer systems.

Of course, anyone who is willing and able to plunk down half a grand on work boots with meticulously top-stitched vamps — anyone, in fact, who knows what a top-stitched vamp is — isn’t likely to be messing up his manicure any time soon. Metaphorically, however,… More…

If you’ve ever shopped at Best Buy, Office Depot, or any other retailer where the sales associates all wear polo shirts in the same color, then you know what an Extended Service Contract is — it’s that piece of paper covered with tiny print that you agree to buy for $69.99 because you’re so happy you’re saving $40 the price of your new digital camera. According to WarrantyWeek.com, American consumers spend approximately $15 billion on Extended Service Contracts, or ESCs, each year.

In theory, you’re not just buying an expensive piece of paper, of course. You’re protecting your investment. Buying peace of mind, as you’re doing the prudent thing now to avoid headaches and unexpected expenses in the future.

In practice, well….let’s say you don’t buy an ESC. Two weeks after your manufacturer’s warranty expires, your camera contracts a Stage IV case of LCD touch display… More…

 

Amongst true connoisseurs of female beauty, it has long been a well-known fact that the otherwise stunning Brooke Shields had been cursed with one striking flaw: puny, stick-thin eyelashes that resembled the legs of a sickly spider. But no more: The disease of “inadequate” lashes now has a cure, and as Shields explains in a recent TV commercial, that cure is called Latisse. Although Latisse sounds like either an upscale brand of French mascara or a Sunset Strip hooker, it is in fact a prescription drug that you brush on your scrawny lashes, like extremely specialized Rogaine. In her commercial for the product, Shields testifies that Latisse has made her lashes longer, thicker, and darker. If the accompanying visuals are any indication, it has also given her the confidence to boogie with prim, cautious abandon at… More…

 

Investors have lost faith in the economy. Employers and consumers, too. In contrast, the nation’s infomercial hucksters still believe in the American Dream. In the darkest hours of the night, they offer hope. Get rich fast? Well, no, that was a 1990s thing. But get debt free fast? That they can deliver.

Remember Don LaPre and his secret wealth-creation techniques that could generate thousands of dollars in profits every week? How about Carleton Sheets and his strategies for buying income-producing properties with no money down? While most of us were content to slave away at dot-com time bombs, a few moonlighting mail carriers and barely numerate stay-at-home moms took the lessons of LaPre and Vu to heart and promptly became millionaires. Then they retired to lives of sun-soaked luxury on private island paradises and… More…

 

Call it a perk of the recession. Or maybe just another example of how our quality of life is diminishing in these troubled times. A topless cafe has opened in the town of Vassalboro, Maine. It’s called, appropriately enough, the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop. Customers can purchase $3 cups of java and $2 donuts from servers of either gender, hold the shirt.

The idea of sexing up utilitarian businesses is not without precedent, of course. Coffee shops employing lingerie-clad waitresses in Seattle and Las Vegas have been operating since 2007. Sexy maid services are as common as foreclosures these days. But the topless coffee shop is a new phenomenon, and a timely one: Apparently the economy has gotten so bad that simply selling boiling caffeine in one of the country’s coldest, sleepiest states is no longer a… More…

Every once in a while some woman gets fed up with the constant news of war, poverty, greed, environmental degradation, and corruption, and publicly growls, “You know, if women ran the world, it would be a better place.” Detractors immediately howl back, reminding us of the plague that was Thatcherism, but it turns out that we don’t need a matriarchy to improve the world. Just improving the lives of women, guaranteeing their rights, and allowing them to decide their own fates independent of religious or societal control would help piece our world back together.

The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World by Michelle Goldberg. Penguin Press. 272 pages. $25.95

Muhammad Yunus started the Grameen Bank to offer microloans to the rural poor, allowing them to start small businesses and work their way out of poverty. He… More…

 

The average American is soft as a cashmere Snuggie™. He can’t even bag a Big Mac and fries without the assistance of a large identifying photograph and an easy-to-use numeric ordering system. When the stock market finally collapses, when Domino’s stops delivering and our global Snickers supply dwindles to the double digits, how many of us will able to fend for ourselves? It’s not as if potential food sources won’t be available. Deer are nearly as abundant as Big Macs now; squirrels are as common as chalupas; pigeons and coyotes are on the menu, too.

But how many of us — especially us city slickers who think roughing it means take-out instead of delivery — are confident in our ability to turn game into dinner? If we’re going to survive, we’re going to need meat. It takes a… More…

 

You’ve got to admire a man who regularly wore a cape. This goes doubly if that man is an economist. But Joseph Schumpeter was no ordinary economist. Ending up at Harvard in the early 1930s, Schumpeter was an exile from the tumult of Central Europe, an orphan of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He lost his mother, wife, and infant son all within a few months of each other. It was not difficult for Schumpeter to see the world as tragic, arbitrary, capricious.

Like Marx, Schumpeter didn’t think that capitalism would last. But unlike Marx, the inevitable demise of capitalism made him sad. Schumpeter didn’t think that capitalism would create a revolutionary class that would rise up to destroy it. He instead thought that capitalism was so inherently insane that the elites of society would simply get tired of the… More…