Archive for December, 2010

One of my grandmothers was a physician. We called her “Grandma Doc” which was altogether cooler than Meemaw or Grans or some of the other nicknames people give to distinguish one grandparent from the other.

Her life would make an interesting book; she was the child of Armenian immigrants who fled to the United States to escape the Armenian Genocide. She became a doctor at a time when female physicians were almost unheard of. She practiced a country charity sort of medicine, working herself to the bone without getting much money at all. (My parents tell a story about her, a medical doctor of at least fifty calling them to brag that she was a “thousandaire”. She finally had a thousand dollars in the bank.) Her home was a symphony of charity and squalor. Stray animals lived there along side dogs she named Shirley, Goodness and Mercy. (Because they would follow her all the days of their lives.) She adopted four children to supplement the red-haired giant of a man she gave birth to. One of those adopted children was my father, who grew up alongside her menagerie, well-fed and encouraged in his appetite for knowledge. Thanks to her he had a stable religious home and was able to go to college.

She was an amazing woman.

I say this to let you know that the fact she seldom remembered my birthday isn’t as big a deal as you’d think. We were all predisposed to cut her some slack, seeing as she was–unlike most people’s grandmothers–busy healing the sick and changing the world. I just learned to accept early on that Grandma Doc wasn’t a great one for sending birthday cards. Since my Grandma Graffis seemed to have that angle covered–complete with the dollar bills every kid looks forward to–it wasn’t a big deal.

So when Doc remembered my tenth birthday it was a memorable occasion. For one reason or another she was actually at our house. (Which, now that I think about it, is probably why she remembered in the first place.) She handed me a five dollar bill and a little paper booklet printed in black with orange highlights.

Oh. Yeah. Now is probably the time I should mention that when the Charismatic movement swept through Protestantism in the sixties and seventies Doc enthusiastically surfed the wave. She spoke in tongues and went in for the boisterously demonstrative worship that went along with that style of belief. She was very much, to the core of her being, devoted to Christianity in its most outlandish forms. Including, it seems, the reading of strange tracts from odd prophets. The one she chose to service as my tenth birthday card (in 1980) was all about how the world was going to end in 1982. So one of the few fivers I ever got from her came with the dire pronouncements about the Last Days.

I spent the money right away, since such a tract is really a disincentive for saving. I also spent the better part of the next two years just absolutely certain that I shouldn’t look forward to anything scheduled later than March of 1982. The fellow’s argument was very persuasive to my ten year old mind. I had loved the book “Heidi” and when I heard they were making a new movie about it I was ecstatic. Then I heard the movie was going to be released in the summer of 1982. So I mentally crossed it off my calendar.

Of course we all know how it turned out in the long run, Earth still being here and all. But I did take several lessons away from that, the first being that Christianity isn’t meant to scare people into believing it. That’s cruel and contrary to the central message.

The other lesson I took from it was that gifts are tempered by the way they are delivered. The most treasured and generous of gifts (such as $5 in 1980–$12 in today’s money) can be rendered useless if it is accompanied by threats and terror. Good gestures don’t exist in a vacuum. They are always, always, always shaped by the style of giving. I think that may be one of the best reasons for not bragging about your good deeds. Yes, it looks tacky. But it also mars the purity of the deed itself and can backfire badly.

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Bloody Hell

Whoops. A little bird informs me that Sam Davidson’s company Cool People Care is actually a For Profit business. Not sure how I feel about that. A for profit masquerading as a Not For Profit masquerading as a For Profit…it’s like a Matryushka doll of shifting possibilities.

I can’t give blood. The medication I take means that I’m not allowed to taint the donor pool with my poisoned blood cells. I envy the people who can give blood, I really do. Because it’s such an easy way to make a very huge difference in someone else’s life.

So when I read Sam Davidson’s post about how (and why) he isn’t giving blood to the Red Cross anymore I was irate. Granted, I’m predisposed to be irritated with Sam Davidson. The few internet encounters we’ve had over the years have generally been adversarial because he and I tend to see the world from very different points of view. So I admit that I didn’t go into it thinking that I’d agree with much of anything he said.

I was still shocked off my rocker.

Let me add something else to this. Five years ago my company hired a woman who came to us straight from what she braggadocially referred to as “a Non-Profit Sector Career”. She referred to it constantly, holding forth as though she’d been employed at the right hand of Christ, both controlling destinies and shining brightly underneath her self-designed halo. She ended up stealing and lying and backstabbing her way through a year and a half of working there before she moved on to wreck someone else’s life. So I’m not in love with professional non-profit employees in general either. There are a few notable exceptions to this as I’ve got a couple of good friends who work for NPCs. But even though I do love them they’ll still hold forth from time to time about their work in the smug way people used to talk about wearing hemp clothes.

I have a huge distaste for this last decade’s decision to run NPCs just like For Profit corporations. Granted, there’s a lot about a For Profit that is good to learn. Such as how they manage to make money and keep their doors open. But there’s just been too much Corporation grafted onto the charitable sector, to the point of turning most charities into a grotesque mummery of modern business. The problem as I see it then becomes that these new trappings have little effect on the bottom line but are generally there to keep the new generations of employees employed. In other words a charity may be making three times as much as it did ten years ago, but the bulk of that increase goes not to the needy but to the hipsters who work for the charity. It’s a self-perpetuating machine. I worked in Graphic design for years and every time I get a brochure I know pretty much how much it cost to put it together and print it and mail it out and I can’t help but think they wouldn’t need so many donations if they didn’t keep generating all that junk mail.

Anyway, here is the full text of my comment as it reads over at Sam Davidson’s.


This post highlights a lot of what is wrong with the current state of Non Profit Organisations.

I don’t mean the Red Cross, Sam.

I mean YOU.

Fifteen years ago the Non Profit sector wasn’t the fertile career ground that has become in the last decade. It was mainly staffed with housewives, self-funded philanthropists and harried social-worker types putting in time after their already-full days. A few changes in the laws and tax code and a new generation later and here we are. A lot of hip new Gen Yers who are smugly self-satisfied with their Careers in Being Cool. Non Profits have become the new rock-star career. It’s a great way to put forth yourself as a sort of “I care about the world” kind of person while still earning a salary comparable to what one would find in a For Profit corporation.

I have had it past my eyebrows with the number of acquaintances I know who flaunt their NPC careers as a sort of badge of honour while at the same time looking down their noses at those of us who have jobs in the private sector at companies who donate enough to keep their NPCs in the black.

I thank the good God in heaven for the volunteers I encounter at the various NPCs I patronise. I’d rather deal with a dozen “incompetent” volunteers who seem clueless and disoriented than with one puffed up pompous professional do-gooder who has Gant-Charted his or her personal charity to the point of being yet another slickly printed four-colour brochure lining the bottom of my trash.

Why? Because most of the volunteers are in it because they genuinely want to help. Resumes be damned.

You referred to yourself as the “customer” in this experience. Think again, buddy. The CUSTOMER is the fellow on the gurney who was just pulled from the twisted wreckage that was left of his car after it was t-boned by a drunk driver. The CUSTOMER is the poor woman in the charity hospital who has placenta previa and is going through blood the way a fish goes through water. The CUSTOMER is the little girl whose head was split open after she took a tumble from the monkey bars and is consequently four litres of blood away from being brain dead.

YOU are not the customer. YOU are the CROP. You are the ear of corn. The Sea bass. The loaf of bread.

And as irritating as it may be to not always be the center of someone else’s attention, the fact of the matter is that when you refuse to give blood to the Red Cross PEOPLE DIE.

They do.not.live. Their lives are over. And they’ll never grow up to donate to your charity.

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Useless Candy

If this “one entry a week” keeps up, I can change my title from “blogger” to “syndicated columnist”. Hah.

Now that I’m done cracking myself up, I’ve got to figure out a way to type out what’s on my mind even though my fingers are freezing. My little black dog can’t decide which side of the door he wants to be on. I’ve jumped up about 14 times in the last five minutes to close it. Why am I allowing myself to be controlled by 12 pounds of unruly insanity?

This is a week where I’ve got nine blog topics and no way to write them out so they’ve stayed in my brain and kind of merged into one sort of strange being. The blog entry they’ve become in my head is sort of like a Dr. Moreau combicreature that makes an eerie sort of grotesque sense even as it frightens you with its twisted limbs and honeycombed eyes.

The first thing I must get out there on record before I explode is to say that candy canes are the most pointless relic of the Christmas holiday. I’ve literally received thousands of these in my lifetime; I’ve only ever eaten about three. They taste gross. Even the “new” flavours from Spangler like Wild Cherry and Root Beer are just nasty. When you suck on the ends for too long they become lethally pointy. If you make it to the hook part there’s no way to keep eating without getting your hands all sticky with peppermint slobber. Why do we put up with these nasty things? Can’t they be banned?

I’ve seen several people try to bring about a renaissance of the Candy Cane. There’s this story going around about how many ways they represent Jesus and how the original candy cane is some lengthily symbolic message for salvation. The idea being that we’re supposed to give candy canes as a form of witness. Because you just know that most people think “Jesus” and not “nasty-flavoured bent barber’s pole” when they get their 63rd candy cane of the season. Yeah. Right.

Speaking of candy*, I was just over at Tiny Cat Pants and saw that Aunt B. has a troll who calls itself Candy. Said troll was going on and on about Christ hating gay people (insert the other f word here) and talking about how we’re all going to hell for wondering why on earth Belmont appears to be firing homosexual people.

Here’s the thing. As a libertarian I think every business should be able to hire whomever it chooses. You don’t want to hire a gay person or black person or a woman? Fine. It’s your problem. Just don’t come crying to me when you can’t succeed in the modern world because you haven’t got the brainpower and you don’t fit in with your customer base. Oh, and don’t ask for any public funds either. Because if you won’t value half the public enough to let them work for you, don’t expect them to pay for you either. Therein lies the rub. As long as Belmont is receiving public funds I think they’ve got to realise they’ve made a deal with society in general and can’t carry on like the Baptist Boys’ Club they aren’t supposed to be anymore. Speaking of which, what’s with this eating the cake thing? I thought when they dissociated from the Southern Baptist Convention it was because they wanted to be more open to ‘diversity’. So now they’ve got their land and independence and are STILL being anti-gay? That’s as pointless as a candycane. But nice work if you can get it.

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You know you’ve been away from your blog too long when people start asking if you’re alright in the comments. A couple more days and this blog would have had the neighbours calling the police because a funny smell was emanating from it and a hungry feline was caterwauling behind the lines.

The less said about my reasons for absence the better. Suffice to say the usual excuses apply. (Hands too sore to type, preoccupied with novel writing, engrossed in John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series)

During my absence a few things came to my attention. Namely, instances where I have been proven utterly, unquestionably right and one instance where I shamefacedly must eat crow.

First the crowpie portion. A little over a year ago I gave up on The Office in a fit of pique, sick of Steve Carell and the endless replay of observer discomfort passing for humour. I announced loudly that I was sick of the show and it wasn’t funny anymore. Through a roundabout set of circumstances I ended up watching a newer episode (“Viewing Party”) on Hulu Plus and realised that I was wrong. It’s still funny. So I spent the day where I was too sick to do anything else just getting caught up on episodes I missed. It was a real treat. Granted, they’ve still got a lot of Michael and at times it can be too much. But they seemed to have stopped building whole episodes around his cringe-making antics and started to refocus on the show’s real strength–the ensemble.

Now that I’ve admitted to being an utter eejit when it comes to some things I stand firm on my ground that society is admitting my utter rightness about something else.

For about 30 years now (I developed early, okay) I have been insisting loudly and longly that Abraham Lincoln is sexy. When people hear that they either look at me like I should be put away or gamely try to play along by saying something like “I can kind of see that” (i.e. I can’t really, but I don’t want to set you off and if I play along maybe you’ll stop talking about it, you freak.) But now it seems that Steven Spielberg is making a movie about Lincoln and has cast the societally-approved sexiness of Daniel Day-Lewis. I give it about nine months before Entertainment Weekly has an article called “The He-Mancipation Proclaimation: How Hollywood’s most successful filmmaker teamed with the thinking woman’s sex symbol to bring sexy back to the White House.” Another three months after that and coffee-house hipsters will be sporting that mustacheless C. Everett Koop beard and smoking pipes. And I will have to resist the temptation to call old classmates and coworkers to say “see! I was right! Lincoln is hot. And that’s a more interesting topic than your mother in law fighting with your husband over your dead father-in-law’s fishing rod collection right after the funeral.”

Because it is.

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