Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Reflecting on the bad guy

So I'm feeling like I'm a bit more on an even keel today and was thinking about my post from the other day.

First off, I realized that there is actually an exception to my No Money For Phone-Callers Rule: students raising money for school programs, specifically, my high school and college, the college fencing team in particular. I remember the days we had to do an annual "Phonathon" for the fencing team. I hated it, but it was something we had to do (along with other unpleasant activities like getting up at 8am to clean up parking lots after football games) to raise funds, presumably because we didn't have that much funding -- I think the phonathon and gruntwork was actually built into the budget. I never stopped to wonder whether the football or hockey players ever had to do that kind of thing. For some reason, I doubt it (at least the early morning cleanup crew business), but you never know. Anyway, I always remember how awkward it was for me to call up random alumni asking for money so I try to make the process and simple and painless as possible.

The other thing I was thinking about was the whole checkout fundraising thing. I have come to realize that when it comes to people asking me for money, I really would prefer to be left alone altogether. I don't like phone calls, I bitch about spam and I complain about junk snail mail. I guess I find the least obtrusive of them to be the snail mail, but I can understand how that's not a good option for underfunded local organizations. And really, the number of trees that die for junk mail is just absurd and depressing.

So how do these organizations raise money? Certainly my preference would be that they be publicly funded, but I recognize that it's reasonable to be concerned about a government that grows too comfortable spending other people's money, but what often seems lacking in that debate is properly making the distinction between charity and the investment in infrastructure and projects that benefit society at large and as a whole. But the question remains, how does an organization reach the right people who are interested and able to give to the cause?

I was thinking about this when I was checking out at the local Hannaford's where they had little coupons that you could use to donate money for breast cancer research. (apparently it's for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation which supports research and community outreach.) Frankly, scientific (and specifically medical) research does seem to be a perfectly appropriate place for the government to be spending money (seeing as the drug companies seem perfectly happy spending their own resources developing meds to help you keep your hard-on), but that's neither here nor there. The main point is that maybe supermarkets (and other businesses) are the right place to reach people. Certainly, it's a good place to provide information and help develop awareness of causes that are in need of funding. My personal preference would be that they just provide information that I could take with me so I could decide whether or not I wanted to write out a check once I got home rather than hit me up for a buck at the register, but perhaps I'm just not your average bear.

But in the meantime, I may need to rethink my default phone response.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Making myself out to be the bad guy

I have a thing about unsolicited phone calls.

If someone calls me up and asks for money, the answer will always be no. Period.

I don't care how good the cause is. I don't care if they just want me to "pledge" some figure that they suggest. I figure giving in just encourages bad behavior. I'll usually try to be nice, but the longer they persist, the more inclined I become to just hanging up on them.

So, just as I was starting to eat dinner tonight, the phone rang. I was hoping it was the SOOTTAD, but ended up picking up to the voice of a gruff voice asking for a Mr. or Mrs. SOOTTAD. At this point, my brain has already identified that somebody is calling the house off of some mailing list and is preparing to make this person go away:

There's no SOOTTAD here. (this has actually been an effective tool for other unsolicited calls since she moved away.)
"Is this [my address]?"
Yes, but there's no SOOTTAD here.
"What's the address there?"
(ok, so now I'm getting a little annoyed) Can I ask who's calling?
"Waltham Fire Department"
He says something about raising money for this and that and then actually goes off on how he can't read the writing on the sheet to properly pronounce the name (the SOOTTAD's last name) and how he can read his own writing but not this writing on the piece of paper he's looking at and then finally asks who I am.

The conversation takes a serious nosedive at this point, but he does get my name and I learn that the Waltham Fire Department (or rather, what sounds like the local union or lodge) is raising money for Waltham youth sports and some equipment (I think for both the aforementioned youths and the fire department themselves.)

I'm sorry. Youth sports? You mean for the kids I don't have? Like the youth sports that don't let me get permits to use the athletic fields in my town? Those youth sports? [To be fair, I'm actually okay with my taxes going towards schools and generally supporting education and after-school activities. I'll probably have kids of my own someday, but I also believe that it benefits society as a whole as an investment in the future. But that's neither here nor there. Just don't call the house and ask for money. Especially on a Sunday night when I'm eating dinner.]

And if the money is for equipment for the fire department, it begs the question, why doesn't the fire department already have the equipment it needs? Isn't that what my taxes are for? I mean, is this like the whole body armor thing?

And I hate to bring it up, but it really bothers me when public services ask for money. I've had the same feelings when police organizations have called. I'm sure it's a bad thing for me to even mention it, but in the back of my mind, I always wonder whether they keep tabs on these sorts of things and it might somehow affect the response time in the case of an emergency. Crazy, I know, but well... there it is: my brain going off and doing its own thing.

And fire department aside, what is up with all the businesses that are soliciting their customers to make donations for this charity, cause or what-have-you? There are a bunch of little orange cards (presumably shaped like pumpkins and bought for some nominal donation) taped to the inside window of the Staples down the street; the local Shawr's routinely asks me if I want to buy a [name seasonal paper icon here] for a dollar for [insert another good cause here]. Crickey, they even asked me for a donation in the Wendy's drive-thru for some education or children's charity fund. I think once upon a time, when a corporation pledged that they would give a certain amount of money towards a good cause, they'd actually DONATE THE MONEY THEMSELVES, not hit up their customers. Apparently these days you can get street cred by simply getting other people to give money for you. Bah.

But regardless, I hope there are no fires here any time soon.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Powerful choices

Some changes can be life-changing. Others, not so much.

Yesterday, I got an offer in the mail to change power suppliers. Dominion (a name that doesn't exactly give me warm fuzzies) is offering to provide electricity to Massachusetts residential customers at an 20% discount to NSTAR's residential basic service rate.

Hey, that actually sounds pretty good.

I guess that deregulation legislation is finally paying off. Almost 10 years later, but let's not pick nits here, some things just take time. It seems like we may actually have real competition here.

...except, that's not their regular rate, it's a special offer; you have to sign up by October 31st. And if that doesn't give you the sense that they want you to hurry up and act now! you might want to take note that they're only offering the rate to the first 25,000 customers who respond. Oh, and the rate only lasts through December 2006. (That's two months for those of you keeping track at home.)

Oh, and supposedly it owns one of the dirtiest power generation stations in the state. Company representatives have suggested that they've made efforts cleaned the place up, (kicking and screaming the whole way, but again, let's not pick nits) and switching to them will support "a company that is working to clean up the local environment through air quality improvements."

There's something to their argument -- it costs money to make those improvements, after all -- but at the moment, given the other issues I have with their offer, I think I'll let my inertia move me, and stay with being disgruntled about NSTAR.

It's too bad identifying another supplier wasn't more straightforward. I mean, the easy choice for me if I had it would be the green alternative from Mass Energy (who I use to purchase my heating oil), but they don't offer it to NSTAR customers.

Oh well.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lightness against mounting darkness

My only hope right now is that the badness of the recent legislation (can you say arbitrary, unbounded detention and torture?) can be undone, either by the courts or perhaps a more rational legislature. (I hope I'm not being uncharacteristically optimistic or characteristically naive.)

But until then... Free Hugs.