Saturday, August 27, 2011

Charity Begins at Home; I Just Wish It Didn’t

Do you have people using the mail to beg for money?  I sure as hell do.  Almost every day I get a handful of letters wanting me to donate money for damn near everything.  I’m sure the causes are just: research for a cure for bedwetting, starving poets, retirement homes for the criminally stupid and perennially weird, and other such worthy causes.  On the same day, I got two letters--the first pleading for money to rescue homeless dogs, while the second letter asked for donations of food for a gospel mission.  I sent the dog request to the mission and the mission request to the animal people.  I figure if they get together they can solve both problems at once.  I even sent a note volunteering a recipe, but I haven’t heard back from them. 

I get a lot of charities sending me address labels.  I guess I’m supposed to feel guilty unless I send them money.  Obviously, they don’t read this blog, but I do appreciate the little labels.  A few of them even spell my name right.  Since these people are obviously enamored with the postal service, I humor them by taking the time to stuff their prepaid postage envelopes with as much junk mail as will fit.  Before I mail it back, I make sure to use one of the little return address labels.  Anything else would be impolite.
The local electric company has an interesting idea of charity.  I have a letter soliciting donations to help pay the bills of people who can’t pay their own bills.  This almost sounds like a good idea, until you realize that what they are really saying is: “We think you should give us the money we might lose if these people don’t pay their bills.  We believe that instead of us losing money, you should.  If we can convince you to give us some money, we will only lose half as much while appearing generous!  Now that’s a good cause.”

This is a good racket.  I bet every company would like to figure out a way to convince people to make good their losses.  Somehow, I doubt that the local bank can convince us to make half of someone else’s car payment no matter how sad the story.
I have a similar complaint about a local group of otherwise fine local business men who organize a circus every year.  These fez-wearing business men do many excellent civic minded activities—but I simply do not understand their annual attempt to convince me to donate money so they can take blind kids to the circus.  I’ve got nothing against blind kids, but if the fez guys want these kids to attend, why charge them at all?  Hell, it’s their circus. 

Actually, why go to all the fuss and bother?  Couldn’t you just take the blind kids someplace and sit them around a bucket of elephant shit while you played a recording of a circus?  The kids are blind--they can’t tell the difference.  One guy in a pickup could drive across the continent and take all the blind kids in the country to the circus.  In a pinch, I don’t suppose they could tell the difference between elephant shit and steer manure, either.
Everybody wants your money.  As soon as I reached my 50th birthday, the American Association of Retarded People (AARP), a group that evidently thinks senility is synonymous with retirement, started sending me…stuff.  Letters, flyers, and magazines--all with large and easy to read print promoting a fairly constant message: Send us money or evil Republicans will make you eat dog food!  Amazing Medical Discoveries!  Fiber is Your Friend!  Who knew that there was so much profit in pimping age?
I don’t think the AARP pays much attention to some of this--the literature is just an excuse to beg for more money.  This month’s magazine has a smiling picture of Michelle Obama on the cover.  Below that, and in what I sincerely hope is a separate story, it says:  “Scam Warning!  The New Face of Fraud!”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Congress Should Play Together

Our nation is broke.  Evidently, if it took a dollar to go around the world, Congress couldn’t get out of bed.  There was a story last week stating that Apple Computers had a cash reserve larger than the US Treasury.  That seemed alarming for a while, then I realized you could say the same thing about my cat.  While my cat is exactly broke, the US Treasury is $14 trillion in the red.  I’d run my cat for Congress, but he’s overqualified. 

Congress seems to be addicted to spending.  It is amazing to think that if you raised every tax bracket by 50%, and somehow did not crash the economy, we would still have a trillion dollar deficit for this year alone.  By comparison, the simple needs of crack whores seem relatively mild and normal.  And as a whole, the American people don’t seem to be overly concerned.  Now that television news comes in assorted flavors, each of us can find a presstitute who will reassure us that it is someone else’s fault. 
Since Congress couldn’t agree on budget cuts, a special committee of twelve highly partisan politicians, (most of whom are infamous for accepting large donations from various interest groups) have been selected to do the job that Congress as a whole could not.  Naturally, this will never work.  The committee will not agree on any budget cuts, and even if it did, Congress as whole will not accept its recommendations.  This is probably just as well--Congress would probably end up voting to spend more money.
I have a small suggestion.  When my brother and I were growing up, my father got tired of our constant bickering and fighting over absolutely nothing.  Like all fathers, ours didn’t want justice, he wanted quiet.  Eventually, he invented a game for us to play that would settle our differences without anyone actually losing body parts or breaking furniture.  While not exactly quiet, the spectacle was entertaining.
The game was called “Are You There, McCarthy?” in honor (more or less) of the late Senator McCarthy.  It is a relatively simple game to set up.  Each boy, blindfolded, is seated on the floor with his legs straight in front of him, with his left ankle tied to the left ankle of the boy facing him.  Each boy is armed with a rolled up newspaper.  If there is an age difference between the boys (as was the case with my brother and me) the size and thickness of the rolled up newspapers could be adjusted to level the playing field.
I say “boy” instead of “player,” not out of any overt sexism, but just because I think your reasoning needs to be somewhat influenced by testosterone to play this game effectively.
The playing rules are equally simple.  When it is your turn, you may ask a single question, “Are you there, McCarthy?”  If your opponent answers, you know, more or less, where he is by the sound of his voice, and you get one swing of the newspaper to clobber him.  If your opponent remains silent, you get two swings: one to find him and the next to brain him.  Then it is the other players turn.  Repeat as necessary.
This is a game that needs a referee, as it is relatively easy to cheat--blindfolds slip, and it is very tempting to take more swings than the rules allow.  The persistent family story that I once rolled up my newspaper around a short section of broom handle is a vicious lie perpetually perpetrated by my brother.  (It was a broken hoe handle.)
Congress needs to play this game.  The benefits would be enormous.  It would relieve an amazing amount of tension between the politicians; it is also even possible that it might beat a little common sense into a few of them, hoe handles not withstanding.  Most of our politicians could use a little cardiovascular workout, and quite a few need to have some spectacularly bad hairpieces removed.  If Congress televised the event, it would definitely raise the ratings for C-SPAN.  Better yet, make it Pay-Per-View and use the income to balance the budget.  I’d pay $25 to watch a match between Charlie Rangel and Michele Bachmann.   (And before you email me, yes, I know Michele Bachmann is not a boy.  I figure if she gives Rangel a testicle, they will each have two and the game will be fair.)
Even the newspapers would benefit.  It’s not like anyone is actually reading them anymore.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sciurus Non Carborundum

It is a hectic week here at Enema U.  Students are due back in just a few days, so in keeping with tradition, there are several sweeping changes and campus alterations being announced at the last possible moment.  It is a well-known concept in education that nothing can be truly improved until it is totally destroyed.

So it follows that quite a few streets, parking lots, bicycle lanes, and walkways have recently been closed for renovation and repair by the MOB (Maintenance Of Buildings) office.  As explained by Vinny Giaconno, the Associate Assistant Executive Vice President of Renovations, “These repairs will be completed by the end of June, long before the students come back to class.  Besides, we’ve been busy negotiating a new waste removal contract.”
The Personnel Department has been equally busy.  All married employees have been asked to produce copies of their marriage licenses to prove they are not defrauding the health insurance program.  Evidently employees are guilty, and single, until proven wedded.
I figure this is probably a mistake, at least in my case; they probably meant to ask for a copy of my parents’ marriage certificate.  I think I can save them the trouble: I will readily admit to being a bastard, but it had nothing to do with my parents’ marital status.  I am proud to admit that I am a self-made man.  Prior to coming to work for the university, I was only a self-made son-of-a-bitch, but I’ve been eddicated.
Perhaps the biggest change, at least for the faculty at Enema U, is the new digital measures program.  For years, the administration has striven to perfect a process whereby they could evaluate the performance of faculty.  Consider the problem: all the administration could rely on were arbitrary concepts like enrollment, class popularity, student evaluations, peer assessments, publications, or service work for the university and the community.  Wouldn’t it be much more efficient if the administration could figure out a simple digital, and statistically manageable, measurement system to tell them who were the truly productive faculty?
You can imagine the excitement here at Enema U when the new evaluation process, the Numerical Uniform Teaching Scoring System (NUTSS), was announced.  Developed by the Head Rodent in the Office of Moose and Squirrel, the faculty was sent a memo this week announcing that (at a full dress convocation in the coming week), she will proudly show off her NUTSS.  And while she acknowledges that her NUTSS are modestly small at present, before long her NUTSS will be found in every departmental office on campus. 
The pilot program has been extremely promising.  It was tested by the Department of Creative and Interactive Social Justice Education, and while the faculty was originally justifiably afraid of the administration’s NUTSS, before the trial period was over, many faculty members were publicly saying they were ready to give up the old system and kiss the administration’s NUTSS.
Said Professor Ken Holland, “I had never handled NUTSS before, but after a while I got used to it.”
Initially, there was some concern that a computer virus might contaminate NUTSS, but this problem was quickly licked.  The Administration urges that only routine protection should be used while using NUTSS.  Or as one member of the administration said, “No matter what you heard, our NUTSS are safe to use.”
Regular use of NUTSS, essentially a large database, will soon insure that everyone in Administration will be able to access complex reports relatively easily.  The goal is to have NUTSS exposed to every faculy member by the end of the semester.  Within a very short time, even department heads will be able to produce sophisticated reports by manipulating the Administration’s NUTSS.
Proudly, Enema U developed NUTSS and nothing like it can be found at other universities.  This situation may soon change, as several universities have expressed an interest in seeing our NUTSS.  One administration official is reportedly emailing photos of our NUTSS worldwide.  In the years to come, there is no telling where you could find Enema U’s NUTSS.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Yet Another Blog About Books

When I first met my wife, she said she wanted to go to medical school.  I nodded and smiled at this and just ignored what she had said.  I’d already met lots of people who said they were going to med school and if half of them had actually gone, the country would have had to import patients.  So, it was something of a shock when she actually got accepted to med school.

It was definitely a shock to the budget--her tuition and books were almost exactly what I grossed.  Obviously, I needed a new and better paying job.  My plan was simple: I applied for every job in the newspaper that paid enough money for us to survive, regardless of the qualifications needed.  I remember submitting resumes for jobs requiring degrees in fields I had never heard of.  Eventually, I actually got hired.  I worked for a very large publishing company in New York and my job was very simple.  I read books, drove around Texas in a company car and explained to bookstores what the company was publishing the next month.  It is hard to imagine how a job could be better than this (unless it involved free scotch and a lot of nudity).
Even the few problems with this job were minor and laughable.  I remember being asked by accounting why my expense account reports were so much less expensive than those of the sales reps from New York or Chicago.  It seems that they honestly expected me to spend $50 on lunch.  God knows, I tried.  This was in the 1970’s, and it was pretty hard to spend that much money for lunch.  In Beeville, I took the owner of the town’s only bookstore (and all the customers in or anywhere near the store) across the street to the diner for lunch, and still couldn’t get the tab over $40.
There are very few tourists in Corpus Christi during January.  The beach is as cold and wet as a well diggers’ feet.  At any hotel in town I could rent the honeymoon suite for $14 a night.  The home office in New York was expecting lodging bills of roughly $75 a night.  I’m pretty sure they thought I was sleeping in my car.  
New York never understood the Texas book market either.  I sold too many Louis L’Amour westerns and too few romance novels than their market plan allowed for.  And I distinctly remember being asked why I had only sold 4 copies of “A Shiksa’s Guide to Married Life” in the entire hill country of Texas.  I tried to explain that this was 134% of market penetration (some woman must have lost and replaced her copy) but they never really understood.
Nor did I ever understand what was happening in New York.  I would get pre-release copies of books for review.  If I thought they were horrible, each would invariably become best sellers.  Books I thought were wonderful usually disappeared from the market faster than donuts at a faculty meeting.   Let’s see--among the books  I told New York would never amount to anything were “Jaws”, “Amityville Horror”, “Saturday Night Fever”, and anything by Clive Cussler.  The only book that I raved about that ever actually amounted to anything was “Ecotopia”.  That book has become a staple on college campuses, and is still in print.
I spent a lot of time in campus bookstores: this was back when publishing companies kept extensive back stocks of books.  Our catalog of books was bigger than the phone books of many of the Texas towns I traveled through.  One of the campus bookstores on southern border had a new manager, and she had developed quite a problem.  When she was hired from a large eastern urban college, she expected that a college bookstore on the Mexican border would be fairly similar to what she had seen back east.
Wrong!  Sadly, in those days the literacy rate in the valley of Texas was horrible, and books just didn’t sell there, even on a college campus.  Most of my competition didn’t even bother trying to cover the area.  Not aware of this problem, the poor bookstore manager noticed the store lacked almost any reading material outside of class textbooks and decided to correct the situation.  She bought thousands of used books from a jobber back east.
And books sat in that store like lumps.  No sales!  The manager marked them down to half price.  No sales!  Her last desperate attempt was a grocery bag sale.  For $5, you could fill a paper grocery bag with books.  No sales!  No matter what she did, those books sat there like a basketball player in a math class.  By the time I arrived in her store, she was frantic to move the books; their very presence was starting to be a campus joke.  Did I know of anyone who would buy them in bulk?
I still have no idea why, but I heard my mouth offer her four cents a book for the entire collection.  As soon as I said it, I was horrified--this woman was going to be horribly insulted and call my boss and… She accepted my offer.  I had just bought a bookstore.
I knew a guy with a truck, (everyone in Texas either has a truck or knows a guy with a truck, but this guy had an 18-wheeler).  He picked up just over 12,000 books and brought them to my three-bedroom house.  The books, once we began sorting them into piles by category, filled the house.  Thankfully, the Doc and I did not yet have children, for there would not have been enough room left over for them.    These were mostly what are termed “Quality Paper-Backs”, with a few hundred coffee-table books thrown in.
Almost immediately, I began to sell books at a garage sale, at flea markets, and even a few to a book store in Beeville that remembered me kindly.  After about two months, I had broken even financially, but still had roughly 10,000 books left in my home (not counting the original 1000 or so the Doc and I owned before the deluge).  Even by our standards, we thought we had a few too many books in the house.  The problem was that the market was saturated.  I couldn’t imagine selling another used book to anyone, ever.
So that is how the Milliorn family came to donate 10,000 books to the Texas prison system.  The tax deduction for the donation wiped out both my father’s and my income taxes for three years.  We declined the offer by the prison to put up a plaque in our name, not from modesty--we just didn’t want to make any new friends in the prison system.
Enema U just opened a new bookstore.  If it doesn’t work out, they can call me.