Category Archives: Uncategorized

On the Ice Bucket Challenge and Charity

A few weeks ago marked the second anniversary of the ALS Association’s “Ice Bucket Challenge,” a brilliant fundraising drive that’s success is without precedent and I have a feeling will probably never be repeated. To celebrate, the ALSA announced that they had discovered a gene that could be associated with the disease using the funds generated by the Challenge. Most people applauded, but a few pointed out (justifiably) that it was not the monumental breakthrough that everyone had hoped for. The disease has not been cured, but we do understand it a bit better, now.

Then there was this: “The ice bucket challenge’s scientific success restored my faith in fundraising.” I have been trying to keep my mouth shut about this article for a month now, but I can’t. To say it infuriates me puts it mildly.

While the author (Mary Valle) concludes that the Challenge was a clever and deserved success, she spends a lot of the article griping that “overblown, internet-BS game[s] parading as a fundraiser[s]” can make people “feel like money keeps getting shoveled in to the charity-industrial complex with very little in the way of progress coming out.”

What bothers me is that expecting organizations to deliver miracles because the world suddenly cared for a few moments about a relatively unknown disease is both preposterous and damaging. It ignores the great things that institutions like the ALS Association do every day that we, as a society, take for granted, and that are life-changing to those who need them.

The ALS Association doesn’t just fund research. They have chapters in every state that provide services to people with ALS and their families including support groups, service referral, advocacy, loans to buy equipment, and more. This is not sexy work, but it is absolutely necessary.

Taking this a bit further, nonprofits like ALSA provide services that address problems that fall through the cracks — the ones neither the public or private sectors deal with.

Take Code Savvy, for example. Their work has a pretty simple premise: coding is a necessary skill in today’s workforce and will only continue to grow in importance over the coming years. Schools are not teaching it (kids at some Minneapolis high schools are only allowed to use their computer lab twice a week because there are too many students and too few computers for crying out loud) for want of resources. No for-profit company could implement a mass-education program that would train a huge chunk of the population in this skill cost-effectively, let alone earn a buck in the end.

So, Code Savvy steps in to fix an never-ending problem. Most of what they and other nonprofits do is the day-to-day drudgery of the Necessary.

Nonprofits are perpetually in a quandary. The folks who work at nonprofits are there because they believe there is an unprofitable need that has to be addressed, but at the same time that their organization should not exist in the first place. It’s built into the nonprofit DNA in the form of the universal “Vision Statement” that says what the world should look like when their work is finally complete.

As a friend of mine put it, if you work at a nonprofit, you should always be trying to work yourself out of a job.

I have spent my (admittedly short) working life at nonprofits. It has rarely occurred to me that I could find a job in the for-profit sector that would appeal to me, though I have often considered pursuing work in local government. I do not want to earn a monthly pay check — I want to serve. I strive to live up to the ideal that I am not working for myself and my family alone, but for the betterment of others. A lot of that kind of work is both endless and thankless, but essential. Nonprofits will do it until we have policy solutions and government departments dedicated to solving the problem.

If you think a six million dollar, one-time infusion of cash into a disease that has been known about for decades will result in a cure you are delusional. If you decided to become a sustaining donor, on the other hand, that is commendable, because you understand that there are some things that do not go away easily or quickly. That is where I agree with folks who say you cannot throw money at a problem. You can, however, convince society that an issue is worthy of collective action and then to strategically invest time and resources into its solution.

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Filed under Nonprofiteers, Progressivism, Rant, Things That Happen, Uncategorized

Resolutions

Unlike everyone else she knows, Kendal loves resolutions.

She spends 364 days of the year composing them in her head and then writes them down on New Year’s Day. As a rule, they were impossible, things she is certain will never happen. Like buying her dream house on the corner of Summit Avenue, the one that cost more to build than she and her husband would earn in their lifetimes. Or becoming an Olympic Gold Medalist in the high jump, though she’d never been an athlete and there wouldn’t be summer or winter Olympics that year. Or resolving to write an epic trilogy following the exploits of an animate marionette with cut strings searching for the Great Puppeteer in the Sky. “Achieve world peace” had made its appearance on several lists, as had “Win the lottery” and “Become a year younger.”

Despite what many people think, it isn’t an exercise in disappointment or humility. No one actually keeps their resolutions, and so Kendal figures that if she is going to make promises that she can’t keep, they should at least be fabulous and imaginative.

Really, Kendal is a pragmatist. She never makes actual promises to others she can’t fulfill. She serves on committees and boards, coaches sports teams, never takes sick days, and is always on time. She had her life mapped out from the age of 12 and things have gone almost exactly according to plan. New Year’s Resolutions are a sacred breach of character, and one that delighted her.

But in 2014, something odd happened. Her oldest son, then 18, said that instead of living in the dorms he wanted to have a tiny house. He made a compelling economic case to Kendal and her husband and so they decided to help build the small 250 square foot unit over the summer.  Word spread among his friends and the idea caught on, which resulted in a clutch of tiny houses set up as a commune not far from campus. It had taken negotiations with the university and the city, but eventually both came around to the idea that a little village could be a good and educational learning community.

It wasn’t until October that Kendal’s husband pointed out that she had accomplished a resolution. In her long list of fanciful priorities, she’d said, “Build a village.” She found the revelation strangely unsettling. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It wasn’t part of her actual plan. Her resolutions were supposed to be pure abstractions, never to be fulfilled, purely speculative and unattainable. She resolved to be more careful making her list for 2015.

On Sunday, November 1, 2015, Kendal woke an hour before her alarm, seized by inspiration. She does not consider herself a writer, but she literally could not help but sit down at her computer and type furiously. It wasn’t a novel, essay, or play. Instead, it was a long series of rules, commandments, disjointed parables, epic and condensed narratives, and prophecies. She spent the next month unable to do anything else but write, during which time she lost her job and her family began to consider committing her.

Finally, the thing was done. She posted it as a note on Facebook and watched in horror as the comments and likes grew and a community began to form. There are now 2,170 members of a group claiming to belong to a new sect of which she is the prophet.

In 2014, Kendal had listened to a lot of Cake. It seemed harmless to plagiarize a lyric and add it to her resolutions: build a religion.

January 1st, 2016 is just around the corner. Kendal has resolved to have no resolutions this coming year, but the she can’t stop the ideas from forming. Gain two hundred pounds of muscle and two more limbs? Establish a successful anvil delivery service? Master 5D art? She is so used to dreaming up absurd promises that she can’t help herself.

She dreads the New Year. Because, now, everything is possible.

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Filed under Anxieties, Story, Uncategorized, Writing

End of Year Appeal

Dear Fiend,

Let’s get to the point, shall we? None of us have the time — especially if we get our way.

They say Evil doesn’t pay and they’re right. That’s why, if you make an end-of-year, tax deductible gift today, your donation will be tredecuple-matched and your name will be added to the Wall of Infamy in Perpetuity!

The year is coming to an end. And so is everything else, thanks to your resolve. We should take a moment to reflect on our accomplishments and Greatest Ambitions.

Despite the disappointing outcome of the 2012 Promise campaign, Antagonist United and its loyal members have worked hard to make these past three years a spectacular success.

Through creativity and malice, we’ve finally accomplished both the biological and supernatural zombie. Nano bots capable of bringing on the Grey Goo have gotten to work in Missouri. Our Bad Weathermen are producing tornadoes, hurricanes, and typhoons all across the world. General mania and disorder are rampant with no serious opposition from masked vigilantes. And (completely unrelated) a meteor is hurtling toward the planet, which looks like a promising extinction event.

Fiends, we are closing in on the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the Denouement.

That’s right. Antagonist United is proud to announce our dedication to ensuring that 2016 will be The End.

By this time next year, there will be no Time. There will be no Something. Just Nothing.

It’s not clear what that will look like or whether or not it will violate the laws of physics, but it will Be.

But only with your compulsory support.

At Antagonist United, we aren’t interested in generosity, just the End of all ends. Just like you. This world is a mess and we need to rule it. If you make a tax-deductible end of year gift today we’ll ensure that 2016 will be the last. This time, we promise.

One way or another.

That’s why, for a limited time only, if you donate your entire net worth to Antagonist United, you can have your loved ones back! By now, you must have noticed their absence. Let me assure you that they are safe (for now) and moderately comfortable and will remain so until the stroke of midnight January 1st, 2016. After that, well, it all depends on your loyalty to our cause.

Make your Last donation today. To a future none of us will ever know, just like everyone else.

Yours with Conviction,

SF

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Filed under Nonprofiteers, Parody, Uncategorized, Writing

Room

You wake up in an empty white room.

You immediately recognize the cliche, but are powerless to do anything about it.

Many stories written for Introduction to Creative Writing classes start with something white (a room, a wall, the sky, a face, etc.) because the writer sits there staring at a blank piece of paper or computer screen and eventually grabs for the dominant sensory inspiration. You know this because many writing teachers have warned you not to start a story exactly like this.

Come to think of it, though, you can’t remember a story that actually begins in a blank white room. Probably because the creative writing teachers have been passing this piece of wisdom on for a while. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are now presumably in a story (a dangerous place to be under the best of circumstances) that starts with a featureless room, without furniture or door.

There’s only one thing to do in a situation like this. “Appeal to the narrator?” you ask out loud.

Talking to yourself won’t help.

“Make me a door,” you say and stamp your foot. Nothing happens and so you stand there and huff. Because of the even light coming from nowhere in particular and no visible seam where walls meet the ceiling or floor, the dimensions of the room could be anything at all. It might not even be a room. It could be that you’re standing in a vast plain that stretches into infinity.

“That isn’t helpful!” you shout. “I refuse to participate in this story!”

Alright, fine! You may go now. There’s a door.

And with that, you (or You) leave. We’re alone, now.

This is the first blog post I’ve written in a while and I chose the worst trope I could think of because writing anything lately has been difficult. Rough drafts in particular. It’s been months since I’ve been able to crank out a story that I find palatable. I find myself sitting and staring at the page or the screen wondering what to write and immediately vetoing any idea that comes to mind.

It seems like most of my writer friends are having this problem. lately. It seems like we’ve collectively reached a point where we know more about what not to do than how to get started. Instead of writing, I just make lists of all the things I shouldn’t write. So, whenever I do manage to get a few words out, I can’t get over how awful they are. But without more material, without actually going through the motions and committing something to the page, I’m left with little. That isn’t very good anyway.

Writer’s block has never been this bad before. But I’ve resolved to finish this and publish it. I need habits, not excuses.

… To be honest, I’ve always wanted to start a story in a empty white room. Have you ever read Harold and the Purple Crayon? It begins in a void and from it the protagonist makes a universe. The same as pretty much everything anyone has ever made, really.

 

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Republican, Democratic Parties: “Whoa! Let’s not do anything hasty!”

Holding out a calming, but visibly shaking hand, the Republican party addressed the nation saying, “You don’t want to do this. You don’t have to do this!” Less animated, but equally emphatic, the Democratic party added, “Think of all the great times we’ve had together.”

Following the unexpected popularity of self-described democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) and arch-conservative real estate mogul Donald Trump, both the Democratic and Republican parties are concerned that America might do something reckless. For years, both parties worried that America’s erratic behavior might portend something far more serious, but neither predicted this dramatic turn of events.

“Hindsight is 20/20, I guess,” said the Republican party, glancing nervously over its shoulder and addressing the nation, “Look, America, we can get revenge for the New Deal and the Great Society together! Honest!”

With an imploring look from the Republican party, the Democratic party reluctantly added, “I mean, the minimum wage may not be what it was in 1970, the ACA is a joke compared to what it was supposed to be, key parts of the VRA have been gutted, racial disparities are still appalling fifty years after the Civil Rights Act, respecting women’s basic health and livelihood are still considered politically contentious… but we can change! Think about all the great times we’ve had.”

“Just, walk away from Bernie Sanders,” the Democratic party said. “We’ll get through this together, you and me.”

Noticing America’s enthusiasm beginning to wane, the Republican party shouted, “Put down the Trump! Put the Trump down!”

At press time, the American electorate remained undecided, but swaying against conventional wisdom. The Democratic party, meanwhile, was trying to reason with the nation while the Republican party wordlessly motioned at Congress to disenfranchise a third of the country.

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Alabama to vote to succeed

Citing its courts’ staunch opposition to same-sex marriage, history of racism, the third worst quality of life, 40th place among state economies, high rate of diabetes, 45 worst ranking in terms of wealth inequality, the Alabama legislature has decided to consider a bill that would allow it to succeed in the union. Speaker Mike Hubbard admitted that the bill was “mostly ceremonial” and “a statement,” but that, “For too long the people of Alabama have suffered under the policies of this government and it’s time that we declare our intention to succeed in the United States.” The bill faces stiff opposition in both parties, with conservatives citing history and heritage and liberals doing the same. “Just look at the past!” exclaimed both Speaker Hubbard and Minority Leader Craig Ford in unison. The White House has not commented on the vote to succeed yet, but a source close to the Vice President Biden said, “Let them go ahead and try.”

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Review: “Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free,” by Cory Doctorow

The title is misleading. Cory Doctorow’s full observation is, “Information doesn’t want to be free. People want to be free.” Though the book is sold as a guide for creative types to make a living off their work in the digital age, Doctorow’s real purpose is political. That’s not meant as a criticism. It’s a rich book with a lot of useful insight into the rapidly changing way we create and consume media. But calling it a “how-to” book is selling it short.

The gist of it is that we are at a crossroads in history. We can either embrace the possibilities of new media or let powerful existing interests dictate them for us. The pessimistic view is that you’ll be at the mercy of Amazon and Apple, buying products and thinking you own them only to have them deleted from your hardware because you didn’t read the fine print. Or, worse, get fined or thrown in prison by bringing the wrath of Disney down on you.

On the other hand, Doctorow argues that creators could instead trust their audiences and fight for relaxed copyright laws. It’s kind of a utopian view, but not necessarily wrong. Now that instantaneous copying and dissemination is a fact of life, we are faced with the choice of creators (actually, the distributors) having absolute control over their work, which is technically impossible without destroying personal privacy, or just trusting people to be honest.

Doctorow isn’t saying everyone needs to be honest, just enough people. And this happens all the time without anyone realizing it.

Growing up I developed an enduring hatred of NPR’s membership drive season. My parents, since before I was born, have been dedicated listeners and the radios in their kitchen and car have always been set to NPR. I’ve inherited the addiction. About a year ago, I realized that I finally had a disposable income and could do things like financially support the news, art, and institutions I’d been freeloading on for 27 years. And it feels good. I don’t get anything extra out of most of my monthly donations, but it does give me gratification to know that I’m giving back to mainstays of my intellectual and personal life. And, as any development professional will tell you, arts and culture nonprofits can’t exist without contributing audiences.

Point being, this model already exists and it works. People want to support the content creators they like, preferably without going through five middlemen.

Anyway, I agree with all that Doctorow writes, to a point. He’s Cory Doctorow — of course if he publishes a book and puts it up for a free on the internet with a “donate” button he’ll earn bank. He is talented and has worked hard to develop an audience over the years and so his generous terms don’t really prove anything.

On the other hand, he is talented and has worked hard to develop an audience over the years. That really isn’t any different than the traditional way of becoming an artist, except that instead of going to a publisher or label, you go right to the audience instead.

So, I look at myself and wonder, “Could I follow his advice and become a successful, professional writer?” Maybe. But I write professionally already, churning out grants and copy for an organization I like, so I don’t feel compelled to make a lifestyle change. But I am optimistic and I think Doctorow has a good point. I do know artists who make a living (not a glamorous one, but neither is mine) off of their work because there are enough people out there who like their work enough to support them.

That was a review, I guess. Read it and come up with your own opinions.

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Filed under Reading Recommendations, Review, Uncategorized, Writing

White liberals courageously listening

Author’s Note: If it is in any way unclear, I’m writing this in disgust at my own silence up until now.

#

In the wake of the Charleston, SC, massacre which left nine dead at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, white liberals all across the country are paying close, silent attention to activists of color.

This Wednesday, Dylann Roof sat with church goers for an hour before drawing a gun, making racial threats, and then killing nine people of color in cold blood inspiring impotent disgust among most of America’s white liberals.

“I’ve been reading material from Rev. Denise AndersonBlack Girl Dangerous, the NAACP, and Black Lives Matter nonstop these past couple days,” said Bloomington, MN, resident Audra Johnson. “It’s the least I can do, of course.”

Thousands of white liberals read in reserved, unexpressed revulsion as news broke that Roof wanted to start a race war.  Many quietly bristled as mainstream news sources called Roof “mentally ill” and “a lone wolf” instead of a terrorist motivated by racial hatred endemic in American culture.  Some even considered contacting the media and demanding better, more honest reporting, but felt it wasn’t their place.

“It really disgusts me to hear that the NRA is already blaming the victims, saying that this could have been prevented if they had guns,” Niel Clerks of Aurora, MA, considered telling a coworker he knows to be a proud NRA member, but then thought better of it. “That’s another political issue.  I mean, I could bring up Sandy Hook or Columbine, but that might make things too complicated. I should educate myself more,” Clerks thought to himself with resolve.

Both Pew Research and the Public Religion Research Institute have both found that since the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner, more white liberal Americans than ever before are silently listening in righteous rage to activists and community leaders pleading for action.

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Trump Plan for Helping Working Americans: $50 per vote

Stating that he has already instituted his policies to help lower and middle class Americans and combat income inequality, Donald Trump paid average citizens to cheer him on as he announced his bid for the presidency.

“For every red-blooded, white American born in these United States, I promise to give you $50 for your support in the 2016 election,” Trump said conspiratorially, adding loudly, “And I will make this nation great again!”

Critics point out that Trump could not pay $50 to every registered voter, but his spokesman said that he does not expect every voter to support him. “We just need enough desperate people for him to be president,” said a member of the campaign team. “Besides, if every registered voter threw in for him, the difference would be negligible. Can you imagine what you would do with $42?”

Walmart has come out in support of Trump’s campaign. “Many of our products are more attainable with Trump’s stimulus plan,” they said in a press release.

Trump closed his announcement speech by saying, “We need to re-brand American. And if you want to know my plan for defeating ISIS, I’ll let you in for a limited-time offer of $25.”

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Republicans criticize “alarmist” report that 97% of astronomers agree asteroid will kill most life on Earth

A new report released by NASA has re-ignited the political debate over the Extinction-Event Asteroid.

While the study finds that 97% of actively publishing astronomers agree that the oncoming asteroid will kill the majority of plant and animal life on Earth, Republicans criticized it as “alarmist rhetoric” created by the liberal media. One of Congress’ most vocal Asteroid skeptics, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), took to the floor today holding a fist-sized rock, saying, “In case you have forgotten, these are all over the place,” before tossing it at the Chairman’s desk.

“Just look up, people!” says Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX). “Do you see a fiery ball of interstellar matter hurtling toward us? I didn’t think so.”

Asteroid activists across the country and world, however, have praised the new study. “If we don’t take action soon, we may miss our two-year deadline before Earth’s next extinction event,” said an exhausted and exasperated Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” his trademark bow-tie hanging limply from his neck. “Twenty years ago, we had options. Now… maybe Hollywood has some ideas.”

Astronomers say the Asteroid fits the hypothesized description of the asteroid that allegedly caused the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event during which three-quarters of the planet’s species went extinct. Numerous solutions to address the Asteroid problem have been presented, most notably using a gravity tractor, focused solar energy, a mass driver, and even launching a nuclear explosive device at the near-Earth object. Skeptics say all these proposals are “economically infeasible.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released a response shortly after NASA’s announcement, stating, “Asteroid activists would have Americans (and indeed all of earth’s citizens) catastrophically reorganize our world economy and way of life to appease science fiction conspiracy theorists. NASA itself acknowledges these plans will directly lead to increased taxes, job losses in the disaster recovery sector, and decreased household disposable income.”

All the declared and expected Republican presidential candidates quickly condemned the NASA report. “Meteors have hit the Earth before,” said Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). “Experts even say that we get hit by a meteorite five to ten times a year.”

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the favored candidate of the Koch brothers, has gone even further, suggesting, “If there’s actually a giant asteroid hurtling toward earth, it may even be a good thing,” In a time of limited resources, population reduction will lead to greater prosperity for the survivors, Walker said.

After being contacted for this article, writer and activist Naomi Klein refused to answer interview questions, saying only, “I told all of you assholes. Do you really think this changes anything? We’re all fucked.”

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