28 February 2018

Guns

A word about guns.





See? You’re already pissed. After all, your ink-stained wretch may say something with which you disagree.  Or he will not say something strongly enough that you do believe.

Everyone is so entrenched in their position (and in the  cliches that go along with them) that scarcely anyone can even read any other point. Can’t “They” just see the moral righteousness of whatever they believe?  Period.  End of discussion.

Usually, I like to propose answers to public questions. Tonight, I just have some observations, take them as you will.

1.  Guns are fearsome some things. You see, that’s the idea behind guns, the fear factor.  Anyone who is not afraid of guns is an idiot.

People are afraid of the fearsome noise.   Robert A. Heinlein wrote a short story, “Gun Without a Bang.” The premise was that somebody had an ideal weapon which was absolutely silent. You pointed it and whatever you pointed it at disappeared. The problem was that it had no “bang,” so the other predators couldn’t learn to feel fear. The story ends with the owner using “the weapon” as a hammer.

People are afraid of the recoil.  According to Newton’s First Law, a force exerted also exerts an equal and opposite reaction. You shoot again, and the gun will press back against your hands and arms.  If the muzzle is much above the gun’s center of gravity – which it almost always is – the gun will rise. To accurately shoot it again, you have to re-center the sights. That bothers people.

People fear guns in others’ hands. They feel that they will be unable to protect themselves and their families. They fear that bad guys will be better armed.

Self defense is a legal right and a natural right. The “legal right” thing is shot with exceptions. The natural right can be seen as God-given or evolutionary, take it either way. The people least likely to be murdered will have more opportunities to reproduce than the other people 

We hear about “bad guys” and “good guys.” We can argue about bad guys and good  guys, but one thing is near certain: A bad guy with drawn gun will very likely come out on top of a good guy without a gun. 

There is a rough correlation between gun support and public safety response time. If you live in a place takes the police 30 minutes to get to you, you are more likely to accept guns. Places where there is a relatively low fear of guns are places like Texas, West Virginia, Colorado and Minnesota. If you go into Canada and have license tags from any of those states, you will be questioned very carefully about whether you have weapons.  Conversely, in places where there is reasonably quick access to safety response – New York City, Southern California – non-supporters probably out number gun supporters. 


Also there is a cultural thing. Some people grow up in a culture where the “rules” about cars, drinking, weapons, hairstyle, clothing, and so forth have a established norm.

Now I think – although I’m less certain about this – that the Florida school shooter, the Las Vegas shooter, and most other shooters also are based on fear. They see a world where the only choice they can see is to lash out. Maybe they are psychopaths. Maybe they are sociopaths.  But most of them are fearful. They may be afraid of non-existent things, but their fear is real nevertheless

(Not all of them are motivated by fear.   I have met very, very few sociopaths in my 40 years of practice.  Two of them had 10 bodies between them.

Can we at least acknowledge that we are afraid guns on some level? 

I am “cautiously comfortable” around firearms. I know how to use most of them, I know what they do and I realize the effect it has when I choose to fire them. But if you go around armed, you MUST accept that you now are bearing a lethal device. You must scrupulously avoid an confrontation that may lead to a drawn gun. Once a gun is introduced, things happen real fast.

Also, there something known as the “Body Alarm reaction,” the physical reactions of stress, loosely called the “flight or fight syndrome.” Everyone who experiences a sudden emergency will pass through a Body Alarm Reaction.  Think back to when you watch the unfolding 9-11 on TV.  You experienced at least a bit of the Body Alarm Reaction. If you had a friend in city, you felt it worse. All first responders throughout the world felt it.

The Body Alarm Reaction has purely physical effects..  You experience time dilation – time seems to stand still. It involves tunnel vision – you are focused on the threat and information that does not have anything to do with threat does not reach your mind. The body dumps adrenaline into your bloodstream. This enables your big muscles to exert maximum speed and force. It also severely diminishes your fine muscle control. Some say that the Body Alarm Reaction sets in in less than a quarter of a second.  The same people say that logical thought does not start for several seconds.

Think of this in terms of firearms. Suddenly, you are presented with a set of circumstances which are threatening. (Cue adrenaline dump.) Do you run or hide or fight? If you fight, how will you fight? Will you draw a gun and introduce lethality into the mix? If you have never seen somebody dead of a gunshot wound, I may be talking Greek to you. Only in these circumstances, you have a short period time to decide.

NOBODY WHO HAS NOT BEEN THROUGH A FULL BODY ALARM REACTION CAN UNDERSTAND IT.

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND IT.

I have never fired a weapon at a person. I understand the Body Alarm Reaction up to pulling a gun on a person. I don’t want to find the rest out. But I cannot control that possibility.

I read a comment or post that says armed people should be exposed to a “shoot out house,” where they are surprised and taught by instructors. Who knows, maybe that will give some little bit of experience, but nothing resembling experience of the military or the police departments. Even THEY know that practice is make-believe. All you can do get as close to real as possible, which is not too close.

2. The gun show loophole. This is easy and ridiculous. At a gun show, people go to sell guns and accessories.  If you go to a gun show, you should expect to be backgrounded. No background, no gun. That part is simple.
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3. The Second Amendment ws written in 1789 and has not been rewritten.  Then, the weapons available were muzzleloader’s. A good marksman could fire 2 to 3 shots a minute. The only way to fire more was to carry more guns.  Edward “Blackbeard” Teach carried six pistols in his sash.  (That’s called a New York reload.)  (He also carried burning slow matches - the cords which set off cannons - stuck in his beard.)

4. We have 300 million guns in America. Those are already there. And they last a long time.  A gun will not go and fire a few times, and rust away or just get tuckered out. My favorite long gun is an ‘03 Springfield, made 90 years ago in 1928. This weapon will be around a lot longer than I will.

5. Suppose we have a law that says turn in your guns or at least part of your guns, like semi-automatics – How do you imagine that would work? I don’t think we would see drug dealers, mafioso, gangbangers, robbers or even really, really serious “gun people” lining up at police stations to turn in their guns. What if we put some teeth into the law? How much teeth would it take? And how many guns would be reported stolen or lost?

It would be interesting to monitor the sale of cosmolene (or whatever they use now to prepare guns for a long storage), big PVC pipe and ends and glue that makes a water proof container. Oh, and shovels. I wonder if anybody’s monitored that?

Other fixes have been suggested. (Actually, one third the people think they are too much, one third of the people think they are too little, and one third don’t care.) 

6. Ban assault weapons. An “assault weapon” is a semi-automatic long gun which uses a detectable magazine. They are also black, look vicious, may have such features such as a bipod, pistol grip, laser, or an absolutely useless bayonet stud. However, the lower receiver – what makes it a firearm – can be attached to lots of less “evil” looking weapons. After all, “evil” is a human imposed subjective judgment. What traditionally makes an “assault weapon” really doesn’t count.  It’s the detachable magazine. The detachable magazine is what makes a supposedly accurate gun into what you can use for the “spray and pray” approach. The Las Vegas shooter was not shooting at individuals. He was shooting at a crowd, knowing that he would hit somebody. (He was also using what is called a “bump stock” which led officers on the radio to conclude that they were under machine gun fire.)

7.  A suggestion is to limit what a magazine will hold. I have little trouble with that. I’ve always said these 30 round magazines make gun people look silly. Connecticutt and California have a 10 round limit for magazines. And to be fair, if you can’t do the job in 10 rounds, you’re in big trouble.

8.  Let’s raise the age to buy a gun.  This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  We accept 18-year-olds into the military and they get guns. On the other hand, some 30-year-olds are not smart enough to pour piss out of a boot with the instructions written on the bottom, but we’ll sell them guns.

9.  How about an alcohol or drug test before you buy? Seriously, I wonder how many of the people who purchase guns at the pawn shop down the street would have a clean test. Do we really want somebody zonked on ethanol or drugs carrying a firearm?

10. Restrict or ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons. Semi-automatic actions have been around 110+ years. Some are virtually unchanged. Also, a lot of the 300 million guns (not all of which will get turned in) are similarly-semi-automatic. Something about restricting a 110-year-old technology because it has become trendy bothers me. On the other hand, we tried banning alcohol. But we clearly understood the lethality of weapons after about the third one was built.

11.  How about private background check? You want to sell a gun, get a background check.  This leads to gun registration, the big bad boogie man the NRA fears.  Um, maybe it is equal to vehicle registration. Anyway, if we outlaw cars, you’ll find as many of them stolen or hidden as you will firearms.

12. Guns do not shoot themselves. If we do not address the human element, we lose. Guns are fired by human actions, sometime intentionally and sometimes through stupidity. Pakistan recently approved arming teachers.  A teacher was cleaning his gun at school and had an accidental discharge. It killed a student. Those don’t happen often, but they do. My deceased brother was a master competitive pistol shooter.  He carried around a casing that came from his own cleaning accident. (Nickle knowledge: In the great move to the American frontier, a lot more people were killed in firearms accidents than were killed by Indians.)

The Florida school shooter, the Las Vegas shooter, the hundred plus people who chose to shoot at somebody today all made a decision. Some were mentally ill; some had uncontrollable anger; some had misplaced fear; and some had rational and proper fear. But in each case the physical result was the same. A piece of metal was accelerated to transonic or supersonic speed to go straight (actually on a ballistic course) until it hit something or someone. So if we don’t address the human factor, we have nothing

A final thought. Americans are compliant. Look how much we pay attention to private security, ushers, flight attendants, etc. here. But if it offends some fundamental belief – rational or irrational – we react badly.  If you try to restrict guns, some people, a lot of people, are going to react badly.  What we need is something we never sought: consensus. Compromise.  And right now, Americans are stubborn to thing about consensus or compromise.

Mizpah!



25 February 2018

When We Run Out of Grandparents . . .

I work mostly with child abuse and neglect cases. The public knows little about them.  They are confidential. They are so confidential that nobody can talk about any particular case at all.  This is primarily to protect the children, but also to protect parents, who may or may not have big enough problems for the State to remove their children. 

Of course you read on Facebook about the State taking children.  Every time that happens in one of my cases, I’ll send a friendly little subpoena to the person who published the information and invite him or her down to the Courthouse for a hearing on contempt of Court.  The judge usually does not put the person in jail for the first time.

One thing that I can tell you is how many we file. We have a two County Circuit, with two prosecutors’ offices and a total population of 40,000.   In 2017, we filed more than 220 child abuse and neglect cases.  If the 2018 rate keeps the way it’s going in the first two months, we’re going to file over 300 in 2018.

In more than half the cases, drug use by the parents forms the basis of the problem of parenting.  Basically, with a kid, you need to be on your “A” game. If you are zonked out, you won’t make it past the minor leagues.

In West Virginia, opiates and  methamphetamine appeared to be the major problems. Nationally, those are also problems, with a little more heroin and cocaine drawn into the mixer.  Drug use varies year by year, and certain drugs wax and wane in popularity. But there is an alarming and even growth in the number of zonked out parents. That never goes down, only up and up.

In West Virginia, we have a Department of Health and Human Resources which is charged with child protection. We have specialized CPS workers to respond and manage situations.  We have a moderately efficient centralized intake hotline. [See note 1]

When the State has to take custody of a child, the DH HR will try to find a place for the child with a relative.  Understand that when you move a kid suddenly, it’s a shocking act, even when you are moving them from an abusive home. Some kids think that child abuse and neglect are normal behaviors and that every kid had the same experience. They’re kids. Give them a break. Moving a child to a relative at least moderates the damages.

There are some ancillary charitable or faith-based programs to help these kids.  The Disciples of Christ church in West Virginia periodically collects stuff for backpacks to give to children who are taking from the home.  I very well remember a kid last year who got a backpack. In it, he found his own new tooth brush. He was all excited – he had never had his own tooth brush before.

Jesus wept.

Grandparents are a wonderful resource in raising children.   I’m not sure if it “takes a village to raise a child,” but it is a lot easier if you have a stable extended family.

So abused and neglected children often in end up being placed at grandma’s and grandpa’s. That’s not the only way they get there – sometimes the parents are so drug-addicted or so disinterested that they will consciously decide to put their children with their grandparents. And that is a loving act by those parents.

God loves grandparents.

But there is a fly in this ointment.

More and more parents are drug-addicted.  Some of these folks will quit using drugs. The drugs popular now are largely more addictive, so people have a harder time beating them. In 20 years, these people are going to be grandparents. Many of them will still be drug-addicted.  Drug use and abuse and neglect are both increasing, and I don’t see me any short-term slowing of the rate. So, in a year, we’ll have a few more; in five years, much more; and in 10 years, it will be overwhelming.  And year by year, we’ll have fewer family members to participate in care.

The “orphanage” scarcely exists these days. Part of the reason is that people live longer, so they have more opportunity to be grandparents and be available for care. That is unlikely to continue. So the question is:  How are we going to care for these kids in the absence of families.

I really don’t care whether it is government care, private care, faith-based care, or whatever.  Private/faith-based care  may be preferable because there is less financial incentive and most do it simply for love alone.

That’s not to say that foster homes are not unloving.  I consider foster parents to do an amazing job for relatively little money.  They clearly are motivated by love of children.  I consider human beings to be decent people who deal with children from the standpoint of love.  Oh, in my job, I do see a lot of exceptions, but then I don’t hang around normal people.   

Policy makers should think ahead to what’s on the horizon, but they seldom do. What the public focuses on is the current problem. Policy makers right now are focused gun control, because a new set of potential voters are getting active. We are continually focus on taxes because that affects our pocketbooks.  Social security will continue because the largest, most-likely-to-vote block of voters is directly affected.

But it shouldn’t be a winner-take-all society.  Every problem, left unchecked, with have to be dealt with.  Dealing with them later requires harder choices than dealing with them sooner. These children are coming, ready or not.

Mizpah?


Note 1 – I understand the centralixe intake online. I didn’t used to.  Maybe it helps keep cases from falling through the cracks.. However, I have bit of an unfortunate history with the hotline as a prosecutor. When I call the hotline, I don’t call it just for shits and giggles. I am presented with something that I’m not qualified to make a judgment about, and I want a CPS worker get out of bed and go see what’s going on.  Usually, I’ve already gotten out of bed, often gone to the Courthouse, and that’s just the duty that we all signed up for.  So when the person receiving the call says “I’ll have to run this by a supervisor,” as they did last weekend,  I am like liable to react somewhat poorly.  Like I did last weekend.  Some workers conclude that I am a code 18. I can live with that.  Just take care of the children.

19 February 2018

A Free Bookstore; Government Works; And My 100 (or so) best books

Books are too expensive.  That being said, the small bookseller is being frozen out by the Barnes and Noble's, Cole's, Books-A-Million, and so forth.  Well, a small bookstore just opened for the right price:  The Prosecutor's Office Totally Free Bookstore.


The terms are simple - No LImit - No Returns - Pass It On.

We're not going to break the big boys.  But it's a modest start.  Located in front of the Assistant Prosector's desk at the Barbour County Courthouse.


Governement works:

Today was "President's Day," a legal holiday.  The following were taken at 2:00 PM:







The 100 Books:

For some strange reason - probably in reaction to something on Facebook - I was looking at a "100 Books to Read" list.  Then I googled "100 books" and it turns out that EVERYBODY has issue the 100 Best Books.  So what the heck? I read a lot, so this is the first installment of MY 100 books.

There are about 140,000,000 different books that have been published.  Unsurprisingly, picking the best hundred or even the favorite hundred is at least HIGHLY subjective.  

In fact, my 100 Best List may be  more or less than 100.  It will certainly take time to write a little about each book.  I feel cheated every time I read a 100 Best list that doesn't say WHY the book is good.  And my list is not in order of best to less best, or anything at all other than my unfettered whims.  Feel free to publish your own list.  I'll look at it, particularly if you say "why".

Number 1 - 

The Frontierman's, by Allen W. Eckert.  

This is a favorite book primarily because it introduced me to the "fellowship of readers," that group which will approach strangers and recommend a book.

  I was about 20 and was at the Mall in a small bookstore.  Oh, at that time, there was only one mall in these counties, and there was only one bookstore in it.  At that time, I was all about mass market paperbacks - Hardbacks were too expensive.

An old guy walked up to me, somebody I didn’t know.

Now, at that point, “an old guy” had the meaning of somebody over, say, 60.  Now, the definition is different, and I would consider him a young man in the prime of health.  But, then, he was an old guy.

He was carrying a book, The Frontiersman.  He told me, hey, son, you might like this book.  It’s an accurate history of the late 18th century from the Blue Ridge going west.  It’s written with dialogue by an historian who backs up the dialoge with historial letters (“He and I talked about thus-and-so.”) And he told me, again, I’d really enjoy it.

That was an important place in my “reading life.”  From that old guy, I learns that people are supposed to share what they have read that they like.  It showed me that there IS a community of book lovers.  And then, I felt a part of that community. 

Later, when chat rooms were all the rage, there was a book group on AOL.  While its vanished on line, a group of us who met 20+ years ago still interact - about books and life in general - on Facebook.  I’ve not personally met but a couple of these people, but they still are some of my dearest friends.  We’ve shared life’s ups and downs, and mourned some folks who’ve passed away.  

And a lot of the credit goes to that old guy.

OK, The Frontiersman.  This is the life of Simon Kenton, who was prominent in the westward push past the Blue Ridge.  He walked places I have walked.  He spent a winter where I have spend a night, at the confluence of the Elk River and the Kanawha River.  (When I spent the night there, it was in a Holiday Inn located right on his campsite.

Eckert talks neutrally about the American Indian. [See note 1] Some were noble; some savage; some both..  Some were smart.  Others, not so smart.  Like everyone.  It is, to quote Rumpole, "A whacking good read."



Note 1 - “American Indian” is what Russell Means called native Americans when he founded the American Indian Movement.  

07 February 2018

Lenten Meditation from WV Prayerscapes

Thursday, Feb. 22 
Read Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 

From Roger Curry, Diaconal Minister, WV Region 

The text is about God’s call to Abraham to found the new nations of Israel. God doesn’t say please. He doesn’t say it will be difficult. God doesn't even supply details. He says do it, and Abraham does it. And from the “begats” thereafter, Abraham satisfied the full measure of the Lord’s command. The Father’s Son also was not real subtle. To Simon, later to be called Peter, he said come and I will make you - and 11 others - fishers of men. He didn’t mention that only one of the 12 would die in bed, one would suicide and the rest would be martyred because they believed in Him. God’s commands to us are fairly subtle, but He expects us to be equal to whatever task we are given. Johnny Cash sung a song about “talking to the Man from Galilee,” and his deep feeing “when He says John, go do my will!” 

How do we simple humans tell if we are ordered to do God’s will? I’m not smart enough to tell you definitely, but I have some clues. If God’s will is expressed with the words “hurt, hate, or take,” it’s doubtful that God is talking. But if it starts with “help, love, give,” more than likely, that’s the Voice of God calling. See, our God is a loving God. 

Father, please give me a hint when you’re calling on me to do something. And then I’ll do my level best to to it. Amen. 

Mizpah!

06 February 2018

Cute Hints in Crime; A Kind of Cyber-bullying

I have always been loathe to criticize unduly the police or prosecutors - even before I became a prosecutor.  Everyone in the criminal justice system sincerely is trying to do a hard job and end up with something that resembles justice at the end of the day.  And all sides - police, prosecutors, defenders, judges, juries - do a pretty decent job of it.

But I don’t have a clue what in the hell the LA County Sheriff’s Department is up to in the Robert Wagner/Natalie Wood case.

In 1981, actress Natalie Wood was on a boat with her husband Robert Wagner.  That’s 37 years ago.  The LASD just have a news conference where they declared that “things don’t add up” and identified Wagner as a “person of interest” in Wood’s death.

What are we to conclude?  Well, that Wagner murdered Wood.  Mind you, they haven’t charged him in 37 years, but this idiotic press conference tries him in the Court of Public Opinion.

You wonder why most Police and Prosecutors are a closed-mouthed bunch.  That’s because they - we - work up a case, make a charging decision and either charge a person or don’t charge a person.  There’s nothing magical about that.  

We may be convinced that there is not enough evidence to charge someone or even that s/he didn’t do the deed.  In that case, you never hear of the case from us.  

We may decide that the case needs further investigation, in which case we take our time to build a good case.  And until we do and charge someone, you STILL never hear anything from us.  

The rules of Court also require that when we do charge someone, we include in any press release the fact that this is only a charge and the defendant is presumed innocent until we prove that s/he did the deed.  And then we shut up.

I wasn’t on the Pacific 37 years ago.  Beats me if Wagner murdered Wood.  He may be guilty as Haman, but I don’t know. Since they have yet to charge him, I pretty sure it beats the LASD and prosecutors, too.

Make a decision.  And then move onto the next case.  

Cuteness is not an endearing quality for prosecuting a criminal case.

Mizpah!

29 October 2017

Puerto Rico: John Hancock, Phone Home

In 1776, 2.5 million people lived in the 13 colonies of what is now the eastern United States.  On 4 July, the colonies “in Congress assembled,” told King George III that they were “dissolving the political bands” which bound them to Great Britain.  

The declaration cited grounds for abuse and neglect by Great Britain.  The Americans had enough with being treated like a child in an adult conversation.

Great Britain resisted.  Americans were then and are now convinced that Great Britain was wrong, arrogant and selfish.

Puerto Rico has long had a separatist movement.  When we bother to think of Puerto Rico, Americans are convinced that they are wrong, arrogant and selfish.  Otherwise, we ignore separatists as extremist nuts.

But I wonder - Could we blame a Puerto Rican Congress from declaring their own independence?  

Puerto Ricans are American citizens - sort of.  They can get American passports.  There are no immigration regulations from them traveling to and living in the continental U.S.  They can participate in the Social Security system.

On the other hand, they cannot vote for president and have no congressional representation.  Certain other federal benefits (e.g., Supplemental Security Income from the Social Security Administration) are not available to Puerto Ricans.

Under current conditions, statehood for Puerto Rico is unlikely.  A majority of both houses of Congress would have to pass a joint resolution, and the President would have to sign it.  Were this to occur, Puerto Rico would send two senators and about five representatives to Congress.  The odds are that all would be either Democrats or aligned with the Puerto Rican Progressive Party and vote in the Democratic caucus.  Puerto Rico hasn’t seen statehood when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency, and so they are unlikely to get statehood now.  Fair?  Unfair?  Beats me.  But it's reality.

If PR were granted statehood, it would rank around 30th in population.  So it’s not as if we’re talking admitting Guam or American Samoa.

Lots of Puerto Rico citizens probably curse the rest of us, the 50-state Americans, because of how the country has handled the Hurricanes of 2017.

First, Hurricane Irma hit.  About 12 people were killed and a quarter of the population had a moderately long-term loss of electricity.  (The death toll isn’t very much - but tell that to the families of the people killed.)

Then, Hurricane Maria plastered the island.  The “official” death toll is 51, but the island found 900 bodies to cremate.   

Puerto Rico is an island.  Therefore, it doesn’t have access to the mainland electrical grid, rickety though it is.  All electric used on the island has to be made on the island and transmitted through wires on the island.  The square pasting dealt by Hurricane Maria dealt minimal damage to power generation stations, but wiped out the island’s transmission grid.  The hurricane also wiped out a lot of those businesses which would have been able to fix the grid.

It’s now four weeks after Maria.  3+ million people are still without power.  This affects not just electronic toys, but the water supply, the food supply and health care.  In short, Maria transformed Puerto Rico temporarily back a hundred years.  

Puerto Rico has roughly the same population as Chicago, Iowa, Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas and Kansas.  

Please don't tell me that they need to suck it up and wait.  If Chicago were without power, Raum Emanuel would be going crazy and we’d be listening to him.  If the Heartland of America - Iowa or Kansas - were turned off, do you really think we’d leave them mostly alone?  Very few of us are prepared to endure four weeks without power.

In a time of increased hyphenated-Americans, I still believe in this one-nation-indivisible thing.  Were Kansas turned off, were they drinking dirty water, had sewage problems, had food shortages or had limited access to healthcare, what would we be doing?  Pigs would fly before we’d screw Kansas.  

When is the last time you thought about Puerto Rico?  

Folks around here are used to the idea of secession.  Barbour County was split evenly between Union support and Confederate support, so there was ample underpining for both seceding from the U.S. and then from seceding back from Virginia.  All it took was a good reason.

If I were a Puerto Rican today, I’d be thinking about this whole American thing.  

If we’re going to kiss them off, at least let’s be honest about it.

Mizpah!



15 October 2017

Admiring Ebenezer Scrooge

There’s something we can admire about Ebenezer Scrooge.  No, not the post-third ghost Scrooge, but the original Scrooge, the miserly Scrooge.  He’s had lots of faults, but one thing is sure:   He didn’t let people push him around to donate.

Somewhere, there is a law of human behavior that says Everybody thinks whatever they can wheedle out of you, by hook or by crook, they can do much better things with it than you can.  That’s not even a criticism (much).  You’re working for a good cause, you need money, you don’t have it, so you wheedle for it.

Hurricane relief?  Gimme.  Stocking a new school library?  Gimme.  Coffee for the troops?  Gimme.  The Children’s Hospital?  Gimme.  That’s the story for every charitable organization.  Well, maybe not American Pedophiles Support, until they change there name to “Love the Children Society,” at which time a few ignorant morons will donate.  [1]

I’ve been pitched for the first four recently.  In one, I happily forked over some money.  In the first two, I admit I acted like a bit of a jerk.

Each of these were variations on a point-of-sale donation, in other words, getting hit up at the cash register.  

The way the scam - let’s be honest about this - works is that you go to the cash register.  The clerk scans your items.  Then comes the pitch.  Speaking in a normal tone of voice, the clerk asks you to donate to XYZ.  So there, you can publically show a pre-Ghost Scrooge or a post-Ghost Scrooge.  Either let them die and decrease the surplus population or pay the doctor to fix Tiny Tim’s legs.  Surprise!  And that’s the whole idea.

My worst experiences with point-of-sale donating has come at Books-A-Million®. [2]     I prefer Waldenbooks®, but there are some things I can get a Books-A-Million a little cheaper and it’s also on the way to places I go frequently.   

So the last two times at Books-A-Million:

1 - “We’re trying to stock the library at the new Cheat Lake Elemetary.  Will you donate a book?”

2 - “Would you like to donate Coffee for the Troops?”

There are several choices.

One is to grimace, say “Oh, my, yes,” and get out of there. [Hint: That ain’t me.]

Another - the one which is seldom used - is to ask logical questions.  For the library: How much do you want?  Are we talking Dr. Seuss or a first edition Dickens?  Is this at your cost or at retail?  Have you already made the donation?  If I donate, does that REALLY add one more book to the library?  Tell me those things and I’ll consider it.  Coffee for the Troops - Huh?  What the hell are you talking about?  Do you plan to give the money to the Department of Defense and tell them to put it down on coffee?  Do you plan to prepare something piping hot and send it in a Thermos® in a real fast plane?  Are you bearing any of the cost of this?  Is this a gimmick to obtain future good will from educated people who may become future customers?  Or are you just taking advantage of the public’s patriotism and the fact that we pay troops poorly?

Understand, I don’t act like a jerk with the clerks.  They may hate to ask as much as I hate to hear them ask.  But they’ve been ordered to.  Managers?  That’s a different subject.  Sure, they were told to do it, but part of their duties is to report customers’ reactions and complaints.  When I ask for the manager, I’ll politely tell him or her that this approach really ticks some customers off and that I’m one of them.  

Sorry, school kids and troops.  Nada from me today.

Walmart does it differently, which is decidedly less intrusive and less likely to annoy me.  At the self-check-out-stations, you scan your items and before the payment screen comes up, you see a “Will you donate to the Children’s Hospital?,” with a yes/no option.  I don’t feel particularly bad about hitting no, because owning a hospital is the nearest thing to being able to print money.  But even I’ve been known to bite on that one.

Then there was my experience today at Sheetz.  Sheetz is a regional company that operated convenience stores - you know, gas, groceries, coffee, food, a bathroom.  This morning, I pulled into Sheetz to top up the Batmobile.  I did not intend to go inside.  Sheetz has music and ads playing inside the store and on speakers at the gas pumps.  Today, I heard “We’re collecting for relief from Hurricane Harvey.”  Well, OK.  And then, “We’ll match your donation.”  I went in the store, got coffee and a paper, and chipped a 5 into the box.  You see, they had answered the question of whether this hurt them a little.  A problem shared is a problem halved, so I was in.

There are others who do point-of-sale donation with a little dignity.  Every McDonald’s has a slot beneath the drive-up for donations for the “Ronald McDonald House,” which are places for families to stay near children’s hospitals.  We know that they actually operate them and that they are expensive, so change goes in the box.  A Morgantown restaurant just advertised a “Scout night,” where 30% of the gross goes to the Boy Scout council.  It’s good for the council. [3] It’s good for the restaurant, because some people who haven’t been there will come and hopefully come back in the future.

Charitable donations are good.  I like to make them, but who I make them to and how much they are are none of your business.  Years and years ago, at a particularly tough time in my life, I swore I would NEVER walk by a Salvation Army kettle without putting in a donation that hurt a little bit.  And I’ve kept my promise.  I don’t supposed I’d mind walking by the bell-ringers if I didn’t believe in them.  Lots of people do, but they don’t annoy the non-givers.  But that was MY decision and not forced on me.

I have to wonder.  We have vague assurances that the Post-Ghost Scrooge became generous and showed the spirit of Christmas 24/365.  But I wonder whether even the Post-Ghost Scrooge would be hornswoggled by surprise point-of-sale donation tactics.  He became pleasant, considerate and reasonable, according to Dickens.  But, so far as we know, he didn’t become stupid.



[1] That promises a blog post about misleading names for organizations.

[2] This is not a good time for bricks-and-mortar bookstores.  Amazon is the unkillable giant.  There are about 250,000 people who live within 30 miles of here.  10% of them may go into a bookstore once a year.  The bookstores really depend on the 1 - 2% of people who are READERS.  So my access to convenient bookstores is quite limited.

[3] A post on girls-in-Scouting will follow anon.