Thursday, November 11, 2010

Around Town: Think long

Our mother ship, the Los Angeles Times, broke the story first. The Huffington Post picked it up. "An eccentric, globetrotting multibillionaire who doesn't own a home in California — or anywhere, for that matter; he says he has little use for owning things — is about to breathe life into efforts to shake up Sacramento. Nicolas Berggruen will give at least $20 million to a group of Californians who long to restructure state government so it is more responsive to voters, more responsible with public funds and ready to reposition the state to meet the challenges of today's economy."

Given the utter nastiness of this year's mid-term elections, one wonders why the Huffington Post characterized Nicolas Berggruen as "eccentric."

Look at it this way. If you were a 49-year-old, highly-intelligent bachelor, with a degree in finance and international business from New York University, with no children or spouse, would you need to purchase real estate? If you earned your billions by founding your own private investment company, would you need to purchase lots of cars instead of founding your own private think tank?

Berggruen is quoted as saying, "Living in a grand environment to show myself and others that I have wealth has zero appeal. Whatever I own is temporary, since we're only here for a short period of time. It's…our actions that will last forever."

Berggruen has given up most material possessions, with the exception of an art collection and a private jet. He lives out of hotels.

Berggruen's philosophy is reminiscent of Dave Bruno's "100 Thing Challenge."The 100 Thing Challenge proposes that people limit their material possessions "in order to free up physical and mental and spiritual space." The idea is to downsize your possession to 100 things.

Bruno is not a billionaire. Not yet. Unlike Berggruen, Bruno has a wife and kids. It would be easier to own a private jet and live in hotels than to totally downsize to 100 items when you have little kids. Could I live with one mascara instead of ten? Of course. Four St. John's knits and one little black dress? Probably.

But what about the kids? From the moment our Andrew was born, our friends were so ecstatic that he immediately acquired 30 stuffed animals, a football and a toy truck. They all had names, like "Owly," "Football" and "Dave the Truck." It's hard to downsize when your stuff has a name.

Did our friends' largesse set the wrong tone for our family? If a baby took the 100 Thing Challenge, the baby would say, dump the diapers, but let me keep my toys, but since we adults are in charge, our homes soon fill with plastic bottles, car seats, strollers and silver-plated cereal bowls.

When I was a kid, growing up in an apartment, we had four non-matching bath towels. Were my children less well-adjusted because our linens matched?

Perhaps Berggruen is not as "eccentric" as the Huff Post proclaims. The dream team Berggruen selected to save California ("The Think Long Committee") is highly skilled and diverse. Rumor has it that the committee will include former governor Gray Davis, former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, California Fund CEO Antonia Hernandez and philanthropist Eli Broad.

The mission is idealistic. "Unlike any other reform efforts, this fund will not support a single candidacy or a single issue but only those structural and constitutional changes that will break the present gridlock, make government more responsive and efficient while at the same time putting in place the incentives and Institutions vital for California's long-term" future.

I hope it works.

The Tower of Tuna at the Valley Sun office continues to grow. So far, 32 cans of tuna and four cans of soup have been donated by readers. The effort will continue until December, when the collected goods will be donated to a food pantry that serves people in need. Please drop off donations to The La Cañada Valley Sun, 727 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. E-mail her at

Around Town: Think long - La Canada

Chicago Tribune Online

L.A. Times online

1 comment:

Kathy H said...

I believe that one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to be able to live simply. It's tough to do when you're living in America, but if you can teach them to live simply, they'll have less pressure and more joy in what's important.