Five at 8 – 12/15/09: Is it still cool to be frugal?

Starting today, the sun sets a minute later than it did yesterday. However, “daytime” is still 31 seconds shorter today than yesterday because the sun is still coming up later each morning. Try to work that into a conversation today.

1) Is frugality out of fashion already? Or has the economic meltdown led to a transforming attitude about consumption and spending by Americans? We’re tired of frugality, suggests an expert in Marty Moylan’s story this morning about how Target’s ads are tapping into our concern about spending money. In it, Akshay Rao, director of the Institute for Research in Marketing at the University of Minnesota, says some people are getting tired of not spending. Frugality fatigue, she calls it.

It’s hard to keep up with this topic. Why, it was just three days ago we were told that “frugality is back in fashion.” Some personal finance experts in Canada, on the other hand, have acknowledged they were wrong when they suggested frugal would be an acceptable way of life. We want to spend; we just want to. Is that so bad?

So maybe the new frugality was a media creation, but it was a prescriptive one. Because the problem of consumer debt hasn’t gone away, and in the final analysis, it’s not only a drag on the world economy, it’s like blocked arteries: If you ignore it, it may seem to go away. But then, just when you’re not thinking about it any more, it’ll kill you dead.

A year ago a Target TV add featured a breezy jingle touting a “brand new day” and smiling people riding their bike to work because they couldn’t afford the gas, and giving themselves haircuts, because they couldn’t afford a barber.

If what the “frugal fatigue” experts say, however, is true, then we’re ready to start running up debt again. And “fat cats” are ready to start lavishing each other with big bonuses again. Perhaps the economic meltdown provided us with a few lessons, but what is it we learned? Discuss.

2) Robert Harrison, a professor of Italian literature at Stanford University, laments that when students pass through the school’s visually stimulating campus, iPhones, BlackBerrys and all the evolving devices and apps draw them into their blinkered personal realms, the Washington Post reports today. It’s claimed that people spend an average of 8 1/2 hours a day interacting with a monitor of some sort. It’s suggested that Northwest Flight 188 is a symptom of the problem.

Speaking of Flight 188, The Atlantic’s James Fallows dissects the FAA’s use of the term “frolic,” to describe what the pilots were doing when they should have been landing their Northwest Airlines flight in Minneapolis.

3) A teachable moment for law students? In Oregon, law school students found a professor had — perhaps mistakenly, perhaps not — emailed the entire final exam on his Web site, days before students were supposed to take it. At his request, Above the Law reports, every student deleted it rather than use it to ace the test a week later.

The issue? If you come across something on the Web or in your e-mail, is it yours? The law blog says “yes.”

If you accidentally come across opposing counsel’s work-product, that is one thing. If a law professor accidentally publishes his exam to the entire class, that seems to me to be a different case entirely. Analogous? Sure. Similar? I guess there’s an argument there. But “the exact same thing and therefore subject to all the rules and regulations of professional ethics?” I think not.

4) Psst! The climate talks in Copenhagen have a big carbon footprint.

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Writing in Slate today, Anne Applebaum says the climate change movement does itself no favors by predicting doom:

For while it’s true that human beings are often greedy, stupid, and destructive, it’s also true that we got to where we are at least partly thanks to human creativity, ingenuity, and talent. Electricity is a miracle, an invention that has literally brought light and life to millions. Modern communication and transportation systems are no less extraordinary, helping create economic growth in places where poverty and misery were the norm for centuries.

Tangent time: In Duluth, a couple was concerned about all the energy being used to power the city’s Christmas lights. So they purchased energy credits.

5) Identity theft via Facebook is easy.

This week, Facebook was updated to include new privacy options. It opens up new opportunities to lose your personal information.

Bonus: The weathercaster just mentioned that wind chills today will be between -15 and -20. Question: Are there actually people who can tell the difference between -15 and -20?

It keeps the riff-raff out, of course.


The effort in Copenhagen to reach an agreement limiting carbon dioxide and other emissions may spark renewed interest in nuclear power. In the United States, a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators has embraced more nuclear plants as one part of a pending climate-change bill. Has climate change affected your view of nuclear power?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Is there any role for nuclear power in a climate-changed world?

Second hour: The new president of the National Council of Churches and the evangelical senior pastor of a fast-growing megachurch talk about the public role of religion. And how they plan to keep faith relevant to a public that increasingly shuns religious labels.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Long-time war correspondent Joseph Galloway, discussing the war in Afghanistan and the president’s speech at West Point.

Second hour: A new documentary from the America Abroad series about U.S. foreign aid. It’s titled “Arrested Development: Shortchanging Foreign Aid.”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: The five Muslim-Americans arrested in Pakistan — young men allegedly interested in training for jihad — may be just the latest of the so-called homegrown terrorists — now at the highest level since September 11th. Often young, they’re bored, angry, and susceptible to violent messages on the internet.

Second hour: After a sub-prime crisis put the housing market on life support, many

people wonder if the American dream is better leased than bought.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Dan Gunderson will have the second part in his series on North Dakota’s attempt to become the unmanned aircraft capital of the world. Here’s part one.

Patti Neighmond will have the latest on a story that’s got people concerned about CT scans. A new study says overuse of CT scans will lead to new cancer deaths.