Category Archives: Culture

How Much Food is Wasted Each Year?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAmerica is the land of plenty, particularly when it comes to food. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spends $7,023 per year on food. That can be broken down into groceries ($4,015) and dining out ($3,008). Now let’s do the math. Since there are about 125.82 million households in the U.S., the total amount that the Americans spend on food is a staggering $883.6 billion per year. That’s a lot of food. In fact, it is so much food that 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is not eaten. An average of $162 billion worth of food is wasted each year — that’s right: a billion with a “B.”

Food waste is a huge problem in America. Consider these sobering statistics presented by the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI): broken down by household, the average American family throws out about 25% of the beverages and food that they buy each year. A family of four, for example, wastes about $1,350 to $2,275 worth of food each year — which means that all the labor, water, and fuel that went into growing and shipping that food is also wasted: a loss of over $162 billion per year. To combat food waste, the AFFI is encouraging consumers to buying frozen food and frozen prepared meals, as well as freezing leftovers, meals, and ingredients.

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Write Your Obituary And Live Your Life Inspired by It

alex atkins bookshelf educationIf you are fortunate, you will have at least one high school or college professor who contributed immeasurably to your life. I can recall one college professor, Fr. P., a brilliant, witty Jesuit who taught one of the most popular classes on campus: Moral Philosophy. In all my years in the academe, he was the only professor to receive warm applause on the first day of class and a heartfelt and resounding standing ovation at the end of the semester — bringing him and eventually us to tears.

Although he was advanced in his age, his gray hair notwithstanding, he was a youthful as any undergraduate student. He was lively, engaged, and walked with a bounce in his step; and he was always smiling. He began the course with a dramatic moment: he placed on oversized off-white safari hat with a leather band on his head. The sight of this diminutive priest with a large hat, making him appear like some humanoid lamp, elicited hearty chuckles from the students. Despite his comical appearance, Fr. P. addressed us in a serious tone: “For the rest of the semester I will be your guide through the vast jungle of life. Although I have traveled through it many times, there are still many parts that are unknown. The paths we will walk on are generally narrow ones, carved out by the footsteps of many students that have preceded you. Yet, there are many paths that have not been thoroughly explored; moreover, there are many paths awaiting to be made…” Fr. P. explained that his role as a guide was not to know the answer to every question we asked, but to lead us the foundational knowledge and values that would help us ask the right questions and learn where and how to seek the right answers. He took off his hat, and our fascinating journey of discovery began.

One day, after a engaging discussion on mortality, he turned to the class and captivated us with this lesson: “I want each of you to write your obituary — and live your life inspired by it; if you do this correctly, you will never get lost.” Unfortunately, back then we were sophomores, wise fools, and not having enough wisdom and life experience, we thought that this was a routine homework assignment to be completed in an hour, crossed it off the day’s to-do list, and then promptly forgotten. But the truth is, that homework assignment has pleasantly haunted me throughout my life because it underscores one of life’s great truisms: you are your choices. It is that obituary that I wrote as a young man that has remained mostly unchanged decades later. Like a reliable compass, it has guided my life, through calm and tempest-tossed seas, to bring me to the steady shores that I now walk on. Now with the wisdom of age, I can appreciate the tremendous gift that Fr. P. gave each of us. Perhaps, this was the source of his warm smile: I am giving you something so precious, but it will take you years to find out how important it is, as you discover yourself and the world around you.

I suppose if Fr. P. were still teaching now, given that education has been transformed by the digital revolution, he might approach this exercise a little differently. Perhaps, today, he would say, “Write your word cloud, and live your life inspired by it. ” But no matter how you write it, as obituary or word cloud, it will be your guide through the jungle. And as Fr. P. promised, you will never get lost.

Class dismissed.

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The Wisdom of Yoda
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Looking Back at 2017: The Best and Worst of Times

alex atkins bookshelf cultureWhen looking back at 2017, one cannot help but be reminded of the famous opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities published in 1859. Although the novel is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution more than 150 years ago, it perfectly captures the schizophrenic nature of 2017: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Perhaps we can update Dickens’ brilliant prose a bit: 2017 — it was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of stupidity; it was the epoch of truth and facts, it was the epoch of lies and alternative facts or fake news; it was the age of democracy and the age of tyranny; it was the time of speaking out against injustice and sexual harassment, it was the time of silence and complicity; it was the epoch of unity, it was the epoch of discord; it was the age of neglecting the common good, it was the age of rewarding the wealthy; it was the epoch of rejecting immigrants, it was the epoch of welcoming white supremacy; it was a time of understanding and empathy, it was a time of intolerance and hatred; it was the period of sincerity, it was the period of hypocrisy; it was the age of accountability and transparency, it was the age of finger-pointing and obfuscation; it was the epoch of achievement, it was the epoch of failure; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going to be rewarded, or we were all getting royally f**ked.

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The Most Common Christmas Phobias

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEveryone knows at least one person who is obsessed with Christmas — and judging by all the internet radio stations that play Christmas music year round, there’s plenty of them around the world. Surprisingly, no print or online dictionary contains an established word for obsession with Christmas. Several online forum or crowdsourced dictionaries (i.e., Urban Dictionary, Uncyclopedia) have suggested the following words: yulephile, yuletidephile, Christmasphile, and Christougenniatikophile. There is, however, an official word for fear of Christmas, Christougenniatikophobia. Unofficial words for the fear of Christmas include: yuletidephobia and Christmasphobia. And what do you call someone who hates Christmas? That’s an easy one: Ebenezer Scrooge.

There are many Christmas-related phobias which might explain why so many people have to resort to spiking the egg-nog and drinking to get through the holidays. Here are the most common Christmas phobias:

cherophobia: fear of having fun
chionophobia: fear of snow
Christougenniatiko dentrophobia: fear of Christmas trees
decidophonia: the fear of making decisions
doronphonia: fear of opening gifts
heortophobia: fear of holidays
hodophonia: fear of traveling
katagelophobia: the fear of ridicule or being embarrassed
macrophobia: fear of long waits
nogophobia: fear of egg nog
ocholophonia: fear of crowds or long lines
pognophobia: fear of beards
santaphobia: fear of Santa Claus
simbosiophobia: fear of parties
syngenesophobia: fear of relatives
tarandophobia: fear of reindeer

Psychologists note that there is a form of anxiety, which they simply call gift-giving anxiety, that is a real problem during the holidays. Gift-giving anxiety is a form of social anxiety where the individual feels a level of anxiety based on the need for approval and the fear of being negatively judged (the recipient doesn’t like the gift, or the gift is not expensive enough, or they already have the item, etc.).

Another fear, particularly among naughty children, is the fear of not getting a Christmas present (or perhaps getting a lump of coal). One could argue that athazagoraphobia (fear of being forgotten or ignored) is the appropriate word, but it is not specific enough. Therefore, I invite the Bookshelf community to suggest a word for this. 

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Best Quotes from A Christmas Story
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”

For further reading:

The Science Behind Giving Good Gifts

alex atkins bookshelf cultureA big part of what causes stress during the holidays is finding the perfect gift for that special someone in your life. It’s an annual rite of passage after Thanksgiving, spending hours finding parking, walking across miles of crowded malls, rummaging through piles of merchandise inside under-staffed department stores, learning that the one item you need is not the right size or is out of stock. Finally, out of desperation, you resort to strategies that have worked for you in the past — but wait! Not so fast. There is research that provides shoppers with guidance of what makes a good or bad gift. Let’s start off on what not to do.

Research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology indicated that it is the item — not the cost — that counts. Researchers found no correlation between gift recipient satisfaction and cost of present.

A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decisions found that making a charitable gift on behalf of a close friend or family member is appreciated; however, that type of gift offends casual acquaintances because they feel the gift giver did not really focus on them.

Research from the Yale’s Association for Consumer Research discovered that the fancy, beautiful wrapping of a gift slightly enhanced the satisfaction of the present when the recipient liked the gift; however, that nice wrapping worsened the recipients perception of a gift that was not liked. The fancy wrapping sets up cognitive dissonance, since the gift does not meet the recipient’s expectations.

A study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that gift-giver tend to overestimate the recipient’s satisfaction of a surprise gift. At bottom, people appreciate receiving what they asked for rather than some random surprise gift.

OK. So now we know what not to do. Let’s see what research tells us about what we should do with respect with gift giving.

A survey by the National Retail Federation found that people prefer gift certificates, followed by cash, as holiday gifts.

A series of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology confirmed what commonsense tells us: people prefer receiving holiday gifts that reflect their hobbies and interests. Researchers also learned that “givers and receivers report greater feelings of closeness to their gift partner when the gift reflects the giver.”

Finally, a study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science found that people like the gift that keeps giving, in other words, gifts that they can use for months and years, as opposed to something that is used or consumed quickly after unwrapping.

So the lesson here is this: whatever you do, do not wrap up a really expensive Christmas fruitcake in fancy, beautiful paper with a card stating that you are also donating one to a nonprofit organization — and spring it on the recipient as a big holiday surprise. Research clearly tells us that the reaction will be: WTF?

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The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
Twas the Night Before Christmas
A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life
Best Quotes from A Christmas Carol
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
The Story Behind Scrooge
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
The Story Behind “The Night Before Christmas”

For further reading:

Bizarre Things That People Collect

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAlthough television shows about hoarding are fascinating and horrifying at the same time, they do open the door to the intriguing world of collecting. Of course, hoarders give collectors a bad name. Whereas the hoarder literally creates a rubbish pile, the collector carefully acquires, organizes, classifies, catalogs, maintains, and shows off his or her orderly prized acquisitions. And why do people collect things? Psychologists believe that collecting helps healthy people (i.e., people without brain trauma) ease their insecurity or anxiety about life or perhaps more specifically, losing their identity (or part of their identity). Collecting allows them to either relive their childhood or make a connection to a happier period in their life (nostalgia). At bottom, collecting allows the collector to keep the past forever in the present.

Just as fascinating about why people collect is what they collect. Just visit Ebay and browse the extensive website: if you can think of it, there is a seller somewhere in the world that is selling that item — proof of the age-old adage that states that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Another way to get a glimpse of the things that people collect, is to take a look at a book catalog. You will find some common collectibles, like postcards and vinyl records, as well as some bizarre ones, like condoms and oyster cans. Here is a sampling of books for sale — running eight pages long — in a recent catalog for Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller, a discount bookstore based in Connecticut:

Record Album Price Guide: 8th Edition

A Very Vintage Christmas

Antique Pocket Mirrors

Candy Containers for Collectors

Antique Mining Equipment and Collectibles

Rag Darlings: Dolls from the Feedsack Era

Collecting Black Memorabilia: A Picture Price Guide

Paris Postcards: The Golden Age

Peep-Machine Pin-Ups: 1940-1950s Mutoscope Art

Remember Your Rubbers: Collecting Condom Containers

Collectible Rabbit [Figures]

Catholic Collectibles

The Art of the Decal

Door to Door Collectibles: Salves, Lotions, Pills & Potions from W. R. Rawleigh

Purrrrfection: The Cat [Art Objects Depicting Cats]

Sea Glass Seeker

Barbie All Dolled Up: Celebrating 50 Years of Barbie

Doll Kitchens: 1800-1980

Pepsi Memorabilia: Then and Now

Hopalong Cassidy: King of the Cowboy Merchandise

An Unauthorized Guide to Pillsbury Doughboy Collectibibles

The Pocket Guide to Coin-op Vending Machines

Everything Elephants: A Collector’s Pictorial Encyclopedia

Antique Advertising: Country Store Signs and Products

Collectible California Raisins

Oyster Cans

Collectible Aunt Jemim Handbook & Value Guide

Canes from the 17th to 20th Century

McDonald’s Pre-Happy Meal Toys from the 50s, 60s and 70s

The Encyclopedia of Coca-Cola Trays

Star Trek Collectibles: Classic Series, Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager

Photographica: The Fascination with Classic Cameras

Complete Price Guide to Watches 2017

Elsie the Cow and Borden’s Collectibles

The Collector’s World of M&M’s

Cracker Jack: The Unauthorized Guide to Advertising Collectibles

Raggedy Ann & Andy Collectibles

Pez Collectibles

The Shirley Temple Collector’s Guide

Peanuts Gang Collectibles

The Official Casino Chip Price Guide, 3rd Edition

Glass Bells From Around the World

Christmas Revisited [Christmas Collectibles]

Read related post: Why Do People Collect Things?
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For further reading:
This Day in Collecting History: A Year of Art, Memorabilia & Other Treasures Sold by Michael and Marla McLeod
The World’s Most Expensive Watches by Ariel Adams
Foundations of Coin Collecting by Alan Herbert
The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World by James Barron
Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places by Rebecca Barry



The Most Expensive Movie Poster in the World

alex atkins bookshelf triviaA few months ago, if you had asked what is the most expensive movie poster in the world, the answer would probably not be a surprise: the poster from the legendary romantic film Casablanca (1946) directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. The Casablanca poster fetched a record $478,000 at auction in July 2017. However, on November 18, 2017, Casablanca’s world record was um… defanged by the movie poster for Dracula (1931), the classic horror film directed by Tod Browning and starring Bela Lugosi. The poster sold for $523,800 — frame and glass not included. The color poster features an illustration of Bela Lugosi centered on a blue field, and the word Dracula in large yellow caps across the bottom. This rare poster, maintained in excellent condition, was owned by George Mitchell, an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers, who acquired the poster in the early 1950s. There were four versions from the original 1931 release of the film, and Mitchell’s is one of them, known as Style A; the others are titled Style B, Style C, and Style F. There are also four versions that were produced for the film’s re-release in 1938, 1947, 1951, and 1962. Naturally, all eight of these are extremely valuable. Here’s looking at you, Dracula.

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For further reading: We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg

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