Sunday, December 31, 2006

Keillor on Nostalgia

In 1996, Garrison Keillor wrote an essay, "The Future of Nostalgia." Subtitle: "Yesterday never looked better than it will tomorrow." He conjectured about how people of the future might look back at "today." His essay appeared about 5 years before September 11; we are currently about 5 years past that date. A few excerpts:

People will "miss handwritten messages. E-greetings will have dancing graphics and sound effects and be incredibly creative and multilayered and dense, but it was nice when people used to put a pen to the paper and scribble something."

"People will look back fondly on the day when you could race to the airport, check your baggage at the curb and get on a plane, before security required that bags be shipped ahead as freight and every carry-on be unpacked..."

"People will feel nostalgia for celebrities, real ones, like there used to be back when there were three networks and Americans watched the same shows at the same time and talked about them the next day at work."

"Old American institutions fade away, like the family doctor. Patients wending their way through the labyrinths of factory health care will think back fondly on that legendary man with the stethoscope who knew who you were and knew your family."

"People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern."

"I think that people will be powerfully nostalgic for the mid-century...the era of Middle America, when the earnings of skilled workers and the earnings of executives were within view of each other, not in two different worlds...and everybody believed in a kind of social progress and achieving peace through better understanding and working together to make a better world."

He concludes his essay with the advice not to wallow in nostalgia: "Just get over it. There's the future out there. Go live it."

With that last sentiment, I concur. The world is different; it will become even more different from what it was in the past. The pace of change during this century will perhaps be faster than at any time in the past. The demographics we've discussed before, the aging of the Baby Boom, the emergence of regions as social and economic entities typically more important than cities, the diversification of our communities, changes in the type and supply of energy resources available to us - we could go on and on with a listing of significant trends that currently shape our lives and offer new issues and new opportunities that we have not encountered before.

As we conclude 2006, let's all commit ourselves to move ahead and "go live it" - together with our local brothers and sisters and with our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Peace - Different Words, Common Goal

At this time of year, when so many people throughout the world celebrate many different holidays, and all of us hope for peace among nations and among individuals, I searched the web for translations of the word, "peace". The number of online translators is amazing (although I could not find a translator for Malinke, a language I learned to speak at a very basic level while visiting residents of Mali). A few of the translations that I discovered appear below. Searching for these, and for others which I did not find, taught me something not only about linguistics, but about different cultural worldviews.

Paix (French)
Paz (Spanish)
Frieden (German)
ειρήνη (Greek)
和平 (Chinese)
Vrede (Dutch)
Vrede (Afrikaans)
Pace (Italian)
平和 (Japanese)
평화 (Korean)
Paz (Portuguese)
мир (Russian)
أمان (طمأنينة) (Arabic)
Mir (Croatian)
ukuthula (Zulu)
àlàáfíà (Yoruba)
kev sib haum xeeb (Hmong)

I had hoped to find a Somali translation; but the online translator that I consulted did not enable me to find the Somali word for peace.

An Ojibwe translator increased my understanding of the importance of context. It would not translate individual words; it only translated sentences. It emphasized that words derive meaning with reference to relationships and the larger setting in which they are spoken.

In looking for an English to Hmong translator, the directory of online translators directed me to a web page developed by the Saint Paul Schools - with dictionaries for translating back and forth between the two languages. That web site also includes special educational resources. Congratulations to the Saint Paul School District!

If you have the opportunity to surf the web and explore different languages and cultures, I hope you find it enjoyable and rewarding. Although the existence of multiple languages might seem to create barriers among people, our efforts to understand one another's languages can bring us closer together.

So, as the year comes to a conclusion, I wish you "peace"!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Troubled Children - Therapies

Good article on first page of today's New York Times: "Parenting as Therapy for Child's Mental Disorders". It reflects the fact that the causes of mental disorders in children differ from child to child. Both biology and social factors have effects. Therapies, therefore, should tailor themselves to the needs and preferences of individual children, their parents, and family situations.

In recent decades, the article contends that psychiatry moved from blaming parents and family factors for children's mental disorders toward seeing such disorders as rooted in biology. This led to more use of drugs for treatment. However, the article notes that the science behind nondrug treatments is getting stronger. In fact, it stated that: "In a comprehensive review, the American Psychological Association urged in August that for childhood mental disorders, 'in most cases,' nondrug treatment 'be considered first,' including techniques that focus on parents' skills, as well as enlisting teachers' help."

Studies increasingly suggest that "a combination of medication and talk therapy is significantly more effective, and safer, than either alone." At the Hamm Clinic, where I serve on the Board, we adopted, many years ago, a similar perspective regarding mental health treatment for adults: Let's not over-rely on medications; let's use drugs along with psychosocial interventions only as necessary.

The article pointedly illustrates how science continually evolves. Nothing is static. The "evidence-base" for a therapy changes over time. Our pre-conceptions influence how we look for evidence and what evidence we accept. We must remain as open-minded as possible. New research on how to treat attention deficit problems, for example, helps us to understand how drugs and behavior therapy can both be helpful in different ways and in different phases of the treatment process. Research on cognitive behavior therapy will help us to understand its effectiveness in treating depression. If we rigidly limit ourselves to one way of thinking about effective treatment, we will eliminate opportunities to improve the ways we can help troubled children, and we will reduce the number of children whom we help.

This is the last in a series of New York Times articles about "troubled children." Previous articles appear at:

The articles are worth a look, both for better understanding the needs and treatment issues related to troubled children, as well as for understanding how "evidence-based practice" evolves over time.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Housing, Transportation, and Regional Success

On Wednesday morning, seven of us (from the Itasca Project, foundations, and other organizations) started the day with Douglas Foy, former head of the Office for Commonwealth Development - a position created by Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts to attempt to promote "smart growth". Romney sought to consolidate a number of state government "silos" and develop more rational, integrated plans for housing, transportation, environment, community development. Foy spent time this week with public officials, business leaders, and others, to discuss new approaches we might take in Minnesota regarding housing, energy, and transporation policies.

A few of the interesting facts and opinions that Mr. Foy presented:

a. About half of Americans do not drive a car; they depend on other means of transportation. These people include children too young to drive, people with certain disabilities, people who cannot afford to drive or who do not own a car, etc. Foy asserted that the notion of the automobile as a "democratizer", enabling people to get where they want to go independently, is an erroneous notion. Policies that we enact related to automobiles will directly affect only half of the population; those policies will only indirectly relate to the transportation needs of the other half of the population.

b. Car costs are part of housing costs. That is, where you live determines whether you routinely need a car to get around for work, social activities, shopping, and so on. So, if you pay $5,000 - $10,000 in expenses for your car each year, that costs you as much as adding another $100,000 or so to your home mortgage. Therefore, someone could purchase a more expensive house, in a more convenient location, and could get by with one less car. (As energy pricess increase, this principle becomes even more important.)

c. Cities can have much higher energy efficiencies than other places. In fact, New York City, by any objective standards, may be the "greenest" (that is, most energy efficient) city in the country. Cities can also efficiently nurture social networks that provide care. Foy suggested that "senior care" best occurs in an urban area, where neighbors can look out for one another and services are close by. He criticized arrangements that "cluster" older people in remote locations.

d. Preservation of open space requires "smart growth" urban policies. He suggests that, if we want to save open space in northern Minnesota, the answer lies in increasing the density of land use in the municipalities within the Minneapolis/St. Paul region.

As we move ahead, regardless of whether we agree with all of Mr. Foy's perspective, a key message for us is the importance of regional interdependence. To solve the issues of this century, and to maintain a vibrant, competitive, prosperous Twin Cities region, we need to understand our common social and economic interdependence. We need to build this understanding among both leaders and the general population, so that we wisely use our resources to provide housing, transportation and other necessities to all the residents of the Twin Cities, as well as the state. At Wilder, we are working on that. I'll keep you posted; and I hope you'll partner with us.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Who Really Cares? (An Economist Asks)

In a new book, an economist takes a scholarly look at charitable giving - perhaps a topic of interest during this season when many people make end-of-year contributions to charities and exchange gifts with one another. He’s begun to stir up some controversy about both his conclusions and his methods.

Arthur C. Brooks wrote: Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism. A long article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (11/23/06) discusses the key points of the book, and it offers opinions from experts - some who agree with, and others who disagree with, Brooks' conclusions. (So far, I have only read the Chronicle's article, not the book itself.)

Professor Brooks sought to discover whether differences exist in the charitable giving patterns of liberals and conservatives. In the course of his research, he discovered that one’s liberal/conservative orientation does relate to giving, but being religious or non-religious has an even stronger effect. Overall, he asserts that religious people tend to donate more money, and to donate more of their time to community organizations, than do non-religious people. (Again, I have not read the book and have not seen his original findings. However, it appears that, even after accounting for the fact that most personal charity goes to religious institutions, religious people still tend to give more to secular organizations than do non-religious people.)

The article in the Chronicle emphasizes some key conclusions that Brooks made concerning “religiousness” and “liberalism/conservatism”, based on his analysis of 15 sets of data: "Religious conservatives are far more charitable than secular liberals." "Those that support the idea that government should redistribute income are among the least likely to dig into their own wallets to help others." "Religious people gave three and a half times as much as secular people." "Giving makes one happier and healthier." He sounds like a person with some opinions!

What fascinates me, as a researcher, is the statement from Mr. Brooks concerning how the data transformed his pre-conceived notions: "When I started doing research, I expected to find that political liberals - who I believed genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did - would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views..."

Professor Brooks' book includes maps of the United States. One map shows states that voted to elect George Bush in 2004; another shows states where charitable giving was above the national average in 2001. The two sets of states are almost identical.

I do NOT yet have an opinion about this. Brooks' study examines charitable giving in a creative way. Some conclusions of his study will likely be validated by other research; other conclusions will likely not. A single study is rarely definitive; and even if it is, circumstances can change over time. I agree with Alan Abramson, of the Aspen Institute, that we need to examine the data more closely. Apparently, some of his critics accuse him of writing a book that uses the disguise of scholarly, dispassionate economics research to cover an attack on liberals. One way we get around this issue of "credibility" at Wilder Research is to design studies of sensitive topics with the involvement of people who hold different perspectives.

Nonetheless, his work can educate all of us about the questions that we need to raise if we want to understand what motivates people to donate money, to become engaged in civic initiatives and community organizations, and to strive to improve the future for everyone. What better things to ponder as we enter a new year!

If you have an interest in research on charitable giving (even if filled with nuances and ambiguities), you might want to take a look at the article in the Chronicle, and/or take a look at the book itself.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Aging: Past; Present; Future (Part 2)

Some facts appear below for our consideration. The last fact has implications that perhaps deserve most attention.

1. Life expectancy has increased, and will continue to do so, under present conditions. "60 is the new 30", according to our State Demographer. As I mentioned previously, this will result in "more of everything" - more people who can participate longer in community and family life, more people who will need assistance later in their lives. Elderly people living alone and "empty nesters" will be the most rapidly growing households in Ramsey (one of Minnesota's most urbanized counties). We can plan for this change, or we can let it happen to us.

2. A small percentage of Baby Boomers possess a large amount of the wealth held by that generation. In the United States, the top 25% of Boomers have 86% of the wealth. What implications does this have for those Boomers who are not among the wealthy? What does it mean in terms of the need/demand for services as the Boomer cohorts age?

3. Younger age groups are diverse racially; older age groups are almost entirely white.

4. The Baby Boom - people who are now roughly in their forties and fifties - is a huge generation. Being huge is not necessarily noteworthy, according to the State Demographer. What is unique is that the Baby Boom generation is preceded and followed by much smaller generations.

Item 4 should concern us: Who will fill the vacancies when Baby Boomers leave their current employment in business, nonprofit organizations, and government? Business of all types will look long and hard to find replacements; in some cases, they might not find them. A recent article on the trucking industry indicated that trucking companies predict a shortage of literally thousands of drivers. One of their creative responses is to encourage more couples, including retirees, to consider truck driving together as a new lifestyle.

What will we do in the nonprofit sector, and specifically the caregiving sector, to creatively develop the capacity to provide care to large numbers of aged folks? Who will be available to care for the aging Boomers, given the substantial decline that will occur in the number of people in the generation following the Boomers? Projections indicate that, in the next 10 years, Minnesota will need 46% more healthcare practitioners and technicians to cover growth in demand and replacements. From where will they come, and at what expense?

Can we expect to handle the challenge of caring the for an increasing elderly population by tinkering in small ways with the current system of formal and informal care, or by hoping that some new source of funds will make everything work? I don't think so. We will need new approaches to bring in the personnel needed for caregiving; we will need to use technology in highly productive ways.

More thoughts on this in a future blog.

If you have an interest in the study presented at the mini-conference, or in the presentation by the State Demographer, please have a look!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Aging: Past; Present; Future (Part 1)

"Aging ain't what it used to be." Not a complicated statement, but its simplicity belies its importance.

Speaking yesterday at a Wilder Research "mini-conference" on aging, I offered welcoming remarks to the audience. As a member of the Baby-Boom generation and as a research professional, I added in a few observations related to aging, services for people who are aging, and the funding of those services. I would like to share them.

"Aging ain't what is used to be." Getting old in the 21st century will differ from the process of getting old at any time in the past. Compare yourself to your grandparents or great-grandparents. When I do that, I see that my brothers, sisters, cousins - the descendents of my four grandparents - have far more formal education, along with a much longer life expectancy, than did those four people who lived just two generations ago. Greater longevity is not just a characteristic of my extended family; it's something that all groups are experiencing.

"For many societies worldwide, aging will bring more of everything." A significant implication of the changing demographics is that we will see more of everything, good and bad, among older generations.

On the positive side, more people will live longer, healthier lives. Some may want to remain in the workforce until a later age, which in certain markets will be beneficial because not enough younger talent exists to take over their jobs. Many will have the wealth to assist the economy as consumers; many will have wealth they will share through charitable contributions. The potential supply of volunteers will increase - people in good health, with time and skills.

On the negative side, we will see more people who live longer with disabilities; we'll see more in their 80s, 90s, and 100s who need care and assistance. There will be more poor elderly, more living alone, more isolated older people.

One thing is clear: We will need new, creative ways of working together as communities to address the needs of the aging population of the 21st century. I encouraged the group not just to think about how we provide services now, but about how new service arrangments might be created to meet new needs. I also encouraged them not to think in the categories of current funding. Those funding sources could change or disappear in an instant. Rather, we must identify what our population will look like in the future, along with how we want people to live and how we want our communities to function. Then, we can work to identify the best means for assembling the resources to achieve our vision. Trying to move ahead while force-fitting the generations of the future into the categories of the past will absolutely not work for us.

Within the next few days, I'll continue on this issue, in parts 2 and 3 - discussing challenges and options. I'll also mention how you can access some of the information from the mini-conference. If you have thoughts, please let me know.