November 30, 2009
'Tis the Season (for charitable junk mail)
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Over Thanksgiving, my Mom told me that she gets, on average, 15 pieces of mail a day asking her for charitable donations. My Mom gives a lot to charity, so on one hand I understand her appeal to marketers, on the other hand, I wonder how much of the money she gives just goes to solicitations.
This time of the year, I get tons of requests for donations too. I try not to get too bent out of shape about it, but then today I got this in the mail:
So, my question is, is this a donation or a threat? I think it's a threat. Basically, Smile Train is threatening to send me more and more mail until I donate. Great. I think the folks at Smile Train know damn well how annoying unsolicited mail is and I'm sure they think this is a brilliant tact. I don't see it that way. All I can think about are the people that genuinely believe in and support Smile Train. Their financial support is now apparently going to harass people who don't donate after the first unsolicited letter. How exactly does that help children with cleft lips and palates?
But really, it's not just charities like Smile Train that are wasting money. I've done some charity walks, paddles and the like this year. So have a lot of my friends and when they're doing something for a cause, I'll generally chip in a few bucks. To be honest, I don't usually have a deep affinity for whatever organization they're involved in, but I do believe in supporting my friends. Unfortunately, I'm now convinced that just about all of every $25 or $50 donation has been spent trying to get me to donate more. Sure, people who've donated in the past are more likely to donate again. But the fact that I donated once isn't the only information these charities have about me. They know I made my donation in support of someone else and they know how much it was for. Is it really worth it to send letter after letter to someone who donated $25 to a bike ride? Who's in charge of designing their mail plans?
Going forward, I think the next time someone is doing some run, I'm not going to donate in their name, I'm just going to give them money. They can give it to the charity and I can rest easy knowing that that charity won't waste time, space & money on me again.
Is it wrong to be such a bitch about charity?
November 16, 2009
Seven semi-petty reasons to dislike Sarah Palin
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With the upcoming release of her book, Sarah Palin is back in the news. All I can say is "ugh". Actually, that's not true. I can say more. Here are seven semi-petty reasons I dislike Sarah Palin.
1. She talks like a hick, but not because she’s a hick, but rather because she thinks she’s talking like “middle America”. So basically, she thinks we’re hicks. It’s just as demeaning as when John Kerry walked around in jeans and a gun waving ears of corn. I’m not your stereotype.
2. My brother’s girlfriend is a former Alaska resident with some connections in high places. She hates Palin. I like her and she loves my brother, so I’ve gotta give her opinion some weight.
3. She not only opposes gay marriage, but supports a constitutional amendment to ban it. The Constitution, as we should have learned from prohibition, is not a vehicle through which to impose a specific morality on the rest of us.
4. As governor of Alaska, she paid a bounty on wolves. The wolves were killed so that hunters could get more caribou and moose. I like wolves and I personally think that if hunters can’t outsmart the wolves, they don’t deserve the meat.
5. Her kids have stupid names. Trig isn’t a name, it’s a branch of mathematics. And really, if you’re going to name your kid after math, how could you not go with “Pythagorea”?
6. She supports teaching “creationism” in schools as a second option, but no word on whether she supports teaching other second options like Pi=3.15.
7. She said this: “If the legislature passed a death penalty law, I would sign it. We have a right to know that someone who rapes and murders a child or kills an innocent person in a drive-by shooting will never be able to do that again.” Except for treason, I don’t support the death penalty, and I certainly don’t support punishments based on who the victim is. Why should the murderer of a child or an “innocent person” (determined by who?) get a tougher sentence than someone who kills me, for example? It’s thinking like this that leads to inanities like “hate crimes”. Crime is crime.
Options in health care
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While I appreciate the GOP's opposition to Obama Care, I do wish there was more specific talk about what health care reform should look like. Looking for alternatives, I found this review of McCain's health care plan. Basically, McCain's plan was to put health care choices in the hands of the consumer through tax rebates, elimination of employer-provided insurance and interstate insurance markets.
What's ironic about the McCain plan is that the very plans the reviewer predicts that many Americans would flock to (high deductibles combined with health savings accounts) are the plans that wouldn't be available under Obama Care. Of course, what's also ironic about the McCain plan is that it assumes employers would give their employees the equivalent of their insurance as a salary increase. Fat chance with this kind of unemployment, but still, at least this kind of plan lets people pay for what they want and doesn't put all the decisions about what's covered, etc. in the government's hands and subject to various political winds and follies.
Critics also bemoaned the fate of the old and those in poor health under McCain's plan, but wouldn't certain insurers start to specialize in offering care to these folks the way car insurers provide coverage to bad drivers? Sure, it'd be more expensive for them, but it is more expensive. Maybe health savings accounts could be treated more like health IRAs that people could save for a lifetime of health care or you could specifically buy some kind of catastrophic care insurance or infertility coverage or whatever.
Or perhaps you have a choice of accepting the cash tax rebate for health care and shopping for the insurance you want, or not getting the rebate, accepting a higher tax rate and entering the public option.
The point is we really don't know what won't work, but I'm pretty sure that an incredibly bloated government program isn't our only option.
November 11, 2009
It's a mad world
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After the Fort Hood attack, I've heard people everywhere say the same line about how the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people. I've always believed that too. I desperately want to believe that. But the more I think about it, the more I think that it's not really true. And not just about Muslims. Maybe we're all one crazy movement away from terrorism, murder & mayhem.
Back in college, I took at great class called Contemporary Political Thought. Since I was blessed to be a Political Science major in the heady days of the end of history - Marxism didn't even merit a nod. How refreshing, right? Anyway, the final paper challenged us to come up with our political philosophy and the rationale behind it.
My philosophy was centered around the fact that people wouldn't just act in self-interest - they were capable of more benevolent action - sometimes they would even harm themselves to help others - and that therefore a government wasn't just a force binding people to the social contract. Government should be an arm of the people who could act not only beyond their self interest but also beyond their passions and make rational, pragmatic decisions. I talked about how soldiers would sacrifice for their platoons and how so often when people talk about how when terminally ill patients are stripped down to their essentially humanity what's left isn't some kind of cold calculus. What's left is love. Because people were essentially good, they didn't need a strong government to hold them back or philosopher kings to make the decisions they wouldn't. Basically, we could be trusted and therefore my political philosophy was grounded in limited government and participatory politics.
I still believe in limited government, but as I've gotten older I've had to put the kibosh on participatory politics because, quite frankly, people are dumb.
Anyway, in recent years I could draw on examples like the outpouring of generosity after the Boxing Day tsunami, 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina or any number of smaller heroic stories to point out that yes, people are essentially good.
But, at the same time, how can that be if hundreds of thousands of Rwandans can literally hack their neighbors to death with machetes? How can that be in the wake of the Holocaust and genocides in Sudan and Bosnia that couldn't have happened without both the active participation and passive acceptance of millions? And how can that be when 3,000 people are murdered because they showed up at work and people around the world cheer and party?
What's wrong with them? I know that the generally accepted explanations are that they hate us because a) we've stuck our noses in their business for too long and support Israel and it's kind of our own fault or b) they hate us because most of us aren't Muslims and therefore we suck. But is that an excuse to dance in the streets? I mean, I hate Brett Favre, but I wouldn't throw a party if something horrible happened to him. Really.
I still think maybe that yes, people are generally good, but they're also generally weak and easily led. Most of us are herd animals, not lone wolves (except for guys wearing this, obviously). We want to belong. It's why we laugh louder & longer at a movie in a theater than we do if we're watching it at home. It's why the Slow Clap happens. It's why the Three Wolves T-Shirt I linked to above is now one of Amazon's most popular items. Movements can start with a single person. Sometimes it's whoever started Rickrolling and sometimes it's a reactionary Iman.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't think we're sheep. We don't need a shepherd. We're more like a herd of mustangs that could, potentially, be rounded up and broken. Or, alternatively, we could live out our lives happily on the range. I think the problem right now in the Muslim world, generally speaking, is that they don't have limited government - they've never been mustangs. In an authoritarian state it only takes a few wackos to start a movement that can trickle down by force and that need to belong. When in Rome...
So, I don't think it's entirely accurate anymore to talk about how awesome and peaceful the world's Muslims are. You can't change the facts by complaining about them. I guess I'm just sick of the silent majority of Muslims being so, uh, silent.
November 10, 2009
In praise of Mark Neumann
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Now, first things first - I'm probably not going to vote for Mark Neumann for Governor of Wisconsin. Honestly, it's mostly because I've always thought he looks a little creepy. He's got the crazy eyes.
However, I have to give Neumann some credit. I think his campaign read my Dos and Don'ts of Online Political Marketing and has taken them to heart. I got a press release from the Neumann campaign today. Now, I never opted in to receive press releases, which is BS, but, the campaign did two smart things. First, they didn't attach a pdf or Word document of their release, but rather included the release in the body of the email. Second, they included an opt out link. According to CAN-SPAM, Neumann didn't have to do this, so I'm a little impressed that his campaign realized that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Would that other politicians and political gadabouts did the same (I'm talking to you Tom Freeman of the American Majority in Wisconsin. Please stop emailing me. Now.)
November 08, 2009
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Ive written before about how horse racing is the hardest sport to love and about how its lows are the lowest of the low. But the flip side is a day like yesterday. Zenyatta came into the Breeders Cup Classic with a perfect 13-0 record, but she had never faced males and a filly has never won the Classic. It didn't matter.
A great racehorse like Zenyatta is perfect in a way that nothing else is. She's beautiful, fast, noble, tough & courageous. I have a copy of an article about Secretariat's Belmont that puts it into more eloquent words:
He makes sense of all the mystical pageant rites of blood through which he has evolved as distillate, a climactic act in a triumph of the breed, one horse combining all the noblest qualities of his species and his ancestry.
There have been undefeated horses and great champions, but I can't think of another that combines Zenyatta's dramatic flair, endearing quirks and the love that flows between her and the crowd.
Watch that video again. There's a point in the stretch where the yells from the crowd turn from being the same as at any horse race to being cheers for Zenyatta and screams for her when it's suddenly clear she's going to win. Sometimes, it doesn't matter who you bet on. You don't begrudge greatness because she's messing up your exacta box.
There have been times where racing's tragedies made me want to quit the sport, but all throughout this summer and fall I'd come back to Zenyatta. I would never want to give up the thrill of watching her run. This was probably her last race, but I'll be back. Thanks, Zenyatta.
November 06, 2009
Breeders Cup Picks - Part One
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Day one of the Breeders Cup starts today at 3:35 PM EST from Santa Anita. You can catch the races today on ESPN and tomorrow on a combo of ESPN and ABC. You'll see hundreds of the world's best horses, but you won't see racing's biggest star, Rachel Alexandra, because her petty owners are protesting Santa Anita's artificial surface. "Dirt" races at Santa Anita are run on the Pro-Ride surface, which has proven to be something of a great equalizer and turf horses have been able to compete with traditional dirt horses, which means that this year's Breeders Cup dirt races are filled with turf horses and Europeans.
Here's some quick picks for today's races. I'm planning on doing some actual wagering tomorrow and should have a slightly more detailed analysis for that.
Breeders Cup Marathon: At 1 3/4 miles, this really is a long race. I don't know much about these horses, but a hunch leads me to Eldaafer, a nicely bred son of A.P. Indy who won the 1 1/2 Brooklyn Handicap earlier this year.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf: The favorites in this race will be Lillie Langtry, House of Grace and Smart Seattle, but I'm going to go with the lightly raced and well bred Hatheer who finished just behind House of Grace and Smart Seattle in her last start.
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies: I wish I could bet this race, because I'll all over Connie And Michael here. She's only raced once, but won by over 7 lengths and comes from a great Claiborne Farm female family. She's just the perfect type of up and coming runner that can win a Breeders Cup race at a nice price.
Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf: In this small, but classy, field, I really like last year's Juvenile Filly Turf winner Maram. She faltered a bit in her last start, but that doesn't bother me as I'd rather she be at her peak now than a month ago.
Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint: I think Ventura will be tough, but I really the John Sadler-trained Evita Argentina. She's beaten colts and older mares already and has won over the course.
Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic: Without the great Zenyatta, who will be racing tomorrow in the Classic, this race comes down to Careless Jewel, Life Is Sweet and Music Note. Life Is Sweet is proven over Pro Ride, but my loyalty to A.P. Indy requires me to pick his daughter Music Note for the win.
November 03, 2009
Real Wisconsin Souvenirs for Obama
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With President Obama in Madison tomorrow, The Onion's AV Club has some suggestions for a Wisconsin-themed Presidential gift basket. With all due respect to The Onion, I can do better than that. Here's what I'd like the President to take home from Wisconsin.
1. A 12-pack of assorted Wisconsin beers. Wisconsin has a low beer tax, (not) coincidentally, Wisconsin also has a thriving brewing industry that employs over 34,000 people. You see that, Mr. President? Jobs that weren't created by government, except in the fact that government stayed the hell out of the way.
2. Soil from the Driftless Area to remind the President that natural weather trends are something that last for thousands of years, not something that can be extrapolated from a few sketchy points on a graph.
3. The Green Bay Packers offensive line. First, because if they stay Aaron Rodgers might literally die and second, as a living reminder that the best defense is a good offense.
4. Cranberries, for a couple of reasons. They're one of the few commercially grown fruits native to North America and I think that the President needs to be reminded that while many interesting ideas have come from the European chattering classes, there's a lot to be said for something home grown. Also, when life gave Americans cranberries, we made cranberry sauce, muffins, bread, juice, etc. We didn't whine about the Bush administration.
5. Finally, I'd put a DVD of "Tommy Boy", starring Wisconsin's own Chris Farley, in his basket. Now, this isn't just a snotty homage to Obama's gift to Gordon Brown, it's also a message that Americans like funny, fat men and stupid comedies. With this President's popularity falling by the minute, it'd be kind to remind him that sometimes you've got to give the people what they want, not what you think they should want.