Friday, March 28, 2008

Neatness a sign of godliness — or compulsion?

Neatness a sign of godliness — or compulsion?
Spectrum of tidiness runs from merely orderly to life-hampering disorder

By Melissa Schorr
MSNBC contributor
March. 12, 2008

She has color-coded folders to organize her take-out menus and bills. Clear containers to stash her toddler’s toys. A fridge with condiments neatly in a row.

Welcome to the world of a compulsive neat freak.

“I do drive myself crazy,” confides Donna Sullivan, a mother of two and a part-time accountant in Scituate, Mass. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t like this. But when I come in and everything is clean, I feel calmer. I think that’s why I do it.”

Call them neat freaks or clutter-phobes — the types who lament their house is a total mess if one coffee table book is slightly out of place. Experts say the desire for neatness runs along a spectrum, from finicky Felix Unger-types with a need for control to those with a truly life-hampering disorder, such as TV’s Adrian Monk, the obsessive-compulsive detective.

“It’s who I am,” says Perri Kersh, owner of Neat Freak Professional Organizing in Chapel Hill, N.C., who was dubbed “neatest” by her high school classmates and, at age 4, carried around an imaginary device for organizing ties. “I don’t think anyone who knew me would be surprised to know what I do for a living.”

Our attitude toward neatness is likely shaped during childhood, from parents who frown on messy rooms to picture books like “The Cat in the Hat,” with its implicit message against trashing the house.

Those who take it to the extreme as adults often have taken that message too far, associating neatness with a quality required to be a good person, says Amie Ragan, a clinical psychologist in Birmingham, Ala., who runs the blog Psychology of Clutter.

Clutter-phobia may also be programmed into certain people’s genes, since extreme cleanliness likely once conferred a survival advantage by warding off germs, disease and death.

"Anxiety has evolutionary value — it keeps us alert and vigilant,” says psychotherapist Tom Corboy, director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles. “The problem is people can develop this over-the-top anxiety to things that don’t deserve it, like knickknacks on a shelf.”

When it crosses the line into pathology, psychologists say, is when it begins to negatively affect your life. “It’s a problem when your need for constant order causes you extreme distress or problems in your relationship,” says Ragan.

Kersh says she hasn’t gone that far.

“I don’t think I’ve moved into the pathological side,” she laughs. “I’m not an obsessive hand-washer.” Instead, she sees hanging onto too many possessions as the true hang-up. “It’s just stuff, it’s not our memories, it’s not who we are. You’ve got to let go or you’ll be living in a storage unit.”

'It's not just putting up cool shelving'
In her quest for complete clutter control, Kersh and her family even underwent a “six-month experiment in buying nothing.” (Necessities excluded.) “We were so used to saying, `I want it, I’m going to go get it.’ Now, we’re very conscious of what we consume.” More news from MSN Health
Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Overview of OCD
Are You a Clean Freak?
Support Groups for Messiness

Kersh believes anyone can rid their lives of clutter, but it requires commitment. “It’s not just putting up cool shelving,” she says. “It takes work.”

Erin Doland, editor-in-chief of the blog Unclutterer and a contributor to, was once an amateur hoarder, saving everything from college T-shirts to ticket stubs, until her husband laid down the law. “I started purging, and it felt so good I kept going,” she recalls. “I went from one extreme to the other. Everything went.”

Today, she stacks her shoes in plastic tubs, has a firm re-gifting policy, and snaps digital pictures of sentimental items before tossing them in the trash.

Before her transformation, Doland says her clutter weighed on her. “I always felt like there was a cloud hanging over me,” she says. “Now, I can say, if something doesn’t have a purpose, why is it in my home? And I think that’s healthy.”

As she and her husband prepare to adopt a baby from China, they have already sat down the grandparents for a stern chat about limiting the influx of toys. “The kid’s not going to grow up in some minimalist bubble,” she says, “but we want to limit the insanity.”

After being on the receiving end of too many gifts that weren’t being used, Doland entered an agreement with her in-laws to re-gift any unwanted items with no hard feelings. “We started by talking about clothes that didn't fit and moved into other gifts that didn't necessarily ’fit’ either,” she says.

Kersh believes in taking a firm line against becoming a storage facility for your relatives’ castaways. That means not feeling obligated to inherit your grandmother’s set of china when you already have one. “You could host a dinner party for 60! Who’s going to do that?”

But when neat freaks and slobs must live under one roof, compromise is key. Kersh has inspired her once-messy husband to organize his dress shirts by color, while he has forced her to let the dirty dishes wait until after their Saturday morning stroll. “He’s helped me relax,” she admits.

Closer to God?
Still, conventional wisdom holds that neatness is the “morally superior” choice.

“Neat people are generally conscientious — they pay attention to order, think before they act. These are the people you want in the air traffic control tower,” explains Sam Gosling, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin and author of the upcoming book “Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You.”

But while most of us tend to think well of someone who is tidy, assuming that they are more considerate than their peers, that’s not necessarily the case. Gosling, who dubs this misperception the “Mr. Rogers factor,” did research that found neat people are no more likely to be kind or sympathetic than their messier counterparts.

David H. Freedman, co-author of the book, “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” argues that extreme neatness does have some drawbacks.

One, he says, is the loss of creativity.

“If you make your environment very neat, you’re making everything predictable,” he says. “You will lock out bad things — you’re less likely to be late, things are less likely to spill or break — but you’re also locking out luck.”

That messy desk or kitchen is more conducive to making the random connection that could lead to a scientific breakthrough or a new recipe.

Another, surprisingly, is time.
True, messy people waste time rummaging for their keys. But, Freedman says, neat people spend all their time constantly putting things away throughout the day, while those who let things pile up and tackle them in one chunk save precious minutes in the long run.

“I’ve had hundreds of people tell me about neat freak habits, and not a single one has denied suspecting there is something a little wrong with them,” Freedman says. “People who are neat are helpless to be otherwise — they’re prisoners of it.”

Even the clutter-phobes admit their strategy can backfire. “I have one regret,” Kersh says. “Getting rid of this awesome pair of brown elk skin cowgirl boots.”

Melissa Schorr is a Boston-based freelancer who has written for the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe Magazine, Reuters Health, Working Mother, Self, GQ and People. She is the author of the young adult novel "Goy Crazy."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why children are falling through the cracks

Lots of children are failing, not just special ed kids. Most teachers can not handle teaching more than one level at the same time. They need to learn. I figured out how to do it, and it was fun, with kids of all levels working together and repecting each other. I would like to see the best teachers get paid more, and the worst teachers should be working under the supervision of good teachers.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

GreatSchools, Inc message board v. free speech

GreatSchools, Inc. has threatened me with legal action, saying that no one may quote content from their parent to parent message board without their permission.

I suspect that Katherine Kornas of GreatSchools, Inc. made her threat because attorney Dan Shinoff requested that she do so.

Why weren't Katherine Kornas and GreatSchools, Inc. concerned about education lawyers posing as parents in order to undermine parents who are trying to use the legal system to help their children?

Why can't people change their thinking?

Wall Street Culture Not Likely to Change
Posted: 2008-03-22 05:09:53
NEW YORK (AP) - Wall Street investment bankers got another lesson about the dangers of risk-taking this past week with the downfall of Bear Stearns Cos. The question now obviously is, how long will it last?

Those bankers, many of whom lived through market debacles like the dot-com bust at the start of this decade, turned out to have very short memories. And so analysts believe the sale of Bear Stearns to JPMorgan Chase & Co. for a stunning $2 per share ultimately won't have that much of an impact on how Wall Street conducts business.

In fact, bankers and traders are under even more pressure to reap big returns because of the ongoing credit crisis, and risk is just part of the game.

"There's an old saying on Wall Street that, for traders and bankers, you'd have to take a normal 30 year career and distill it to 15 years," said Quincy Krosby, chief investment strategist for The Hartford. "This whole episode might change Wall Street for a little while."

Krosby believes that Bear Stearns' near-collapse, which followed the company's investing too heavily in risky mortgage-backed securities, might force some bankers to change their ways in the short term. But it won't be enough to temper the financial industry's relentless pursuit of money.

Indeed, the past decade has seen a number of investing fiascoes that Wall Street doesn't appear to have learned much from. Krosby noted the go-go Internet days - when untested high-tech companies reaped piles of cash in public offerings. The lesson then was, don't put a lot of money into a venture that isn't on fairly solid ground - but mortgages granted to people with poor credit are quite akin to high-tech firms that had never turned a profit. In both cases, investors gleefully looked past the risk.

Now investors are smarting from what happened to Bear Stearns. And traders are somewhat chastened, for now.

Erin Callan, the chief financial officer for Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., said her firm has certainly become more wary about the risks it takes amid the credit crisis. However, the market's gyrations also offer Lehman's army of traders an opportunity to make money.

"We just try to come in, and run the business the best way we can," she said. "But, you can't survive if you take no risks at all. All we can do is plan in this environment, making sure we do all the things to optimize running the firm."

It seems there's little that will change an industry and a lifestyle attached to Wall Street, which is thought of by Americans as more than just the center of free-market capitalism. Its culture attracts men and women with a swashbuckling mentality - smart, aggressive risk takers with the potential to become very rich.

And, their skills in trading and investment banking were proven this past week - even after news of Bear Stearns' buyout.

Chief executives at Morgan Stanley , Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Lehman Brothers pointed out that trading desks played a big part in offsetting massive mortgage-backed asset write-downs, which have ticked past $156 billion for global banks since last year.

As the three companies released first-quarter earnings data, Morgan Stanley said equity trading revenue surged 51 percent to $3.3 billion. Revenue at its fixed-income sales and trading group dropped 15 percent to $2.9 billion, but it was still the firm's second-highest performance ever despite having to write down $2.3 billion linked to subprime mortgages and leveraged loans.

And that pleased investors. Morgan Stanley had its largest gain in more than a decade on Wednesday, climbing 18.8 percent to $42.86. Rival investment banks also had their best week since 2001.

But, investors shouldn't get too comfortable - the investment banking industry, and Wall Street in general, still have a long way to go before they can be called healthy. It's not just the credit market problems that are an issue, it's also the struggling U.S. economy and its potential to hurt other countries.

"Until we feel more certain about the worldwide economies, we don't see things picking up dramatically," said Goldman Sachs CFO David Viniar. "We just need to keep plugging away."

Monday, March 03, 2008

Going to church and being homeschooled doesn't mean a kid is on the right track

Yesterday, in the small town of Alba, Texas a 16-year-old girl killed her mother and two brothers, and tried to kill her father, because her family ordered her to break up with her boyfriend. The boyfriend and two other boys assisted in the murders.

Could this crime have been prevented?

Almost certainly.

The family clearly believed that evil comes from outside, and they were half-right in this case. Outsiders were definitely involved.

But there was also something destructive inside this girl that most likely came from her family, which provided both her environment and her heredity.

I suspect that the girl wasn't given the help she needed to deal with her anger, which may have been justified to some extent. It's quite possible she was abused by her family in some way.

People with rigid beliefs about right and wrong, who believe that they are very different from lesser mortals, often also believe in punishment as opposed to positive reinforcement to shape their children's behavior. They often think it is appropriate to use verbal abuse on a child, shaming her and frequently pointing out her spiritual unworthiness.

It probably would have been better to coach the girl on how to deal with the evil in the world, rather than merely trying to isolate her from the world.