Monday, September 28, 2015

Point-of-Sale Philanthropy

There was once a time when debit card users could rightfully turn up their noses at the nostalgic luddites who insisted upon writing a check at the grocery. After all, check writing took so much more time and the rest of us had places to be. Now, I fear that those days might be at an end. I cannot remember the last time I only had to interact with the card pad less than three times and it has slowly been getting worse.

First you have to input your double-secret pin number, then you have refuse cash-back, and finally you would have to confirm the amount before finalizing the transaction. Now, many major retailers have added yet another step: point-of-sale philanthropy. The idea is that after you answer all of the aforementioned questions, you are asked if you would like to “round-up” or “donate” to a charity. According to an article in the Tampa Bay Times, it raises hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
If you are at a Dollar General, this would be a donation to fight illiteracy. If you are at Pet Smart, this would be a donation to help homeless pets. Even my local utility company automatically rounds up all its customer’s utility bills to the next even dollar amount unless you specifically opt-out of the program. At least in these cases, your decision regarding whether or not to donate remains relativity private. Walgreens has taken it a step further.

Last week I was suffering from a rather persistent cold and I stopped at my neighborhood Walgreens to pick up some sinus medication. For those of you unfamiliar with this blog, I believe that diligent research should be undertaken before one gives to a charity. Too often we purchase an over-priced item because we are promised that a “portion of the proceeds” go to charity. Sometimes this a significant amount and sometimes the fine print will inform you that only 1% of the profit will be transferred to an inefficiently-run foundation with a grossly-overpaid staff. So please perform your due diligence.

That being said, I had been standing in line for several minutes while the woman in front of me attempted to game the system by exploiting loop-holes in the Walgreens reward points loyalty system. There were two women behind me who, by the time my turn arrived, had already made a few comments about being in a hurry so when the cashier looked at me and asked “Would you like to round-up for cancer?” I am sure they were hoping for an expeditious answer.

Reminding myself that this poor cashier had no influence over corporate policy, I very calmly asked, “Which kind of cancer?” if only to highlight the ambiguity of the phrasing. Was it the American Cancer Society? Was it the Susan G. Komen Foundation? And, as unlikely as it might be, there was a chance it was a pro-cancer group. After all, I was being asked by someone standing in front of a wall of tobacco products. Her question was just slightly more informative than asking if I would “Like to give to charity and stuff.”

It was immediately apparent that she had never been asked for clarification and she sputtered, “I’m….not…..sure exactly…..let….me…check” The women in line behind me exhaled loudly with displeasure as the cashier shuffled through some paperwork before uncertainly responding “leukemia.” Now until I had looked into this further, I had no intention of donating that day. However, my nasal congestion and general mental fogginess caused an exaggerated delay between her response and my answer that must have appeared to be deep thought.

This undoubtedly gave the impression that I had really mulled over the pros and cons of leukemia when I shook my head more emphatically than necessary and said, “No, I’m good” as if only specific malignancies merited a 46 cent donation. In hindsight, the only thing that could have made me look worse is if I had added, “Now if it was for testicular cancer we might could have worked something out.”

By this time, the ladies behind me were probably wondering if my behavior was the result of being born without a human soul. Before I left, I thought about explaining that the type of cancer didn’t matter I just wanted some clarification so I could research it further but I feared such an explanation would ring hollow with the long-suffering patrons behind me in the checkout line. According to the Cause Marketing Forum, Walgreens alone raises between $8-10 Million each year through such programs.

I have nothing against charity, but in cases where I am audibly asked if I would like to “fight cancer” or “help children” while checking out I feel like I am being put on the spot since I know my response will be heard and judged by those behind me. It almost feels like corporate panhandling. At least if the request is made on the screen of the transaction pad I am not required to publicly acknowledge either my generosity or lack thereof.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Danger in the Home

Thanks to unused diaper points, my wife has as subscription to Parents magazine. Like most issues, this one featured a special section on seasonal gatherings and an ambitious article concerning 30 ways to "love your kids better." However, the article that caught my eye was titled 10 Home Hazards Hiding in Plain Sight

Anxious to unmask the deathtrap we call a house, I quickly thumbed to the section started reading. It turns out that my children may have been safer being raised inside a Russian smelting factory. One of the most egregious offenders are those adorable canvas clothes hampers. They are a fun and stylish way to hide your soiled linens….that is until the structural metal wire tears away and rips open Suzy’s defenseless cornea leaving her with permanent vision loss. But the imminent danger to my children didn’t stop there:

Decided those detergent pods were an economical way to operate your dishwasher? Well I hope your little one enjoys being monitored for intestinal bleeding.

Excited to utilize that new immersion blender to make the potato soup recipe you found online? I am sure your toddler will compliment your culinary skills once they are adept enough at manipulating their new bionic hand to actually taste it.

Thought that a bowl of Werther’s Originals made your home more inviting? I am sure the paramedics will feel right at home once they finish reviving Timmy after one blocks his fragile windpipe.
Death Lozanges

Figured that replacing that old tube television with an ultra-thin HD model would enhance the den? I hope your den also needed a hint of parental guilt, because it turns out that the reduced weight just makes it easier for your offspring to bring it down on their yet-to-be-fully-calcified cranium.

Finally taken your doctor’s advice and begun to seriously treat your hypertension with pharmaceuticals? I hope that your newly-reduced blood pressure readings survive the DCS inquiry.

I have no problem with taking steps to reduce childhood injury, but sometimes I worry that these lists are generating statistically-unwarranted fear. You know what we should be afraid of? Type 2 diabetes and improperly installed car-seats. Unattended firearms and congenital abnormalities. These all cause more injury and death among children under five than fabric hampers, but they would not sell many magazines and are not as easily addressed.

Not to single out magazines, teasers for television news programs have been using this strategy for decades. We can all remember the seeing the grave look on the anchor’s face when he stares into the camera and says, “Your child is in immediate physical danger from a common item in your home….. details at 10!”

In the spirit of public safety, I have decided to pen my own list of 10 Obvious Hazards:

1.      Sheet metal slip-n-slides
2.      Do-it-yourself KGB double-agent interrogation kit
3.      Indoor radium darts
4.      Laparoscopic hide and seek game
5.      Bubble-gum flavored table saw blades
6.      Anti-freeze popsicles
7.      Salmonella roulette
8.      Open-face push mowers
9.      Smallpox
10.  Musket freeze-tag

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Kim Davis & Religious Freedom

I wade into the Kim Davis debate reluctantly, but allow me to offer a hypothetical parallel. Let us suppose that Mrs. Davis developed a religious objection to the heterosexual marriage of a Christian and an agnostic. She could certainly find scriptural precedent for such an opinion penned by the very same authors cited by those who object to homosexual unions:

2 Corinthians 6:14: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?

Deuteronomy 7:3-4: “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.”

Now, as with homosexual marriage, there is no legal grounds on which to deny two such people a marriage license and any proposed laws to the contrary would be similarly struck down by the United States Supreme Court as unconstitutional. So when this hypothetical Baptist man and Agnostic woman show up at the courthouse and are refused a license based on the clerk’s religious objections would anyone rally to support her? Would presidential candidates rush to her defense? Would there be calls to implement religious freedom laws?
Davis with presidential candidate Mike Hukabee
Perhaps we should consider the 1976 Supreme Court ruling that forced all states to allow interracial marriage. At the time, there were over a dozen states who had passed laws preventing the issuing of a marriage license to couples of different races. Unsurprisingly, when Alabama residents Sgt. Louis Voyer (white) and Phyllis Bett (black) attempted to get married following the Supreme Court ruling a Probate Judge named C. Clyde Brittain refused. The result was United States v. Brittain which ruled that the judge had no legal grounds to refuse the marriage.

At the time, the Alabama constitution prevented lawmakers from ever legalizing marriage between “any white person and a Negro, or descendant of a Negro” and interracial couples could be charged with a felony just for having sex or living together. The most frightening aspect of the case would be section 361 of title 14 of the 1940 Code of Alabama which made “it a misdemeanor for a Probate Judge to issue a marriage license knowingly to such persons (or for a justice of the peace or priest to solemnize the rites of matrimony between such persons).”

This meant that a Christian minister could be criminally charged for performing an interracial marriage in their own church. For all of the modern hand-wringing concerning religious freedom, I have yet to hear this law mentioned and yet it is a concrete example of the state blatantly encroaching upon the church. Would Mrs. Davis’s supporters uphold a law that allowed a minister to be jailed or fined for performing a homosexual union? In the aforementioned hypothetical, would the aggrieved masses condone a criminal record for a minister who married a Baptist and a Mormon?

Mrs. Davis fancies herself a resident of the moral high-ground, and had she resigned her post upon being asked to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples perhaps she could sustain that argument. However, continuing to draw a salary while blatantly refusing to perform your job merits termination not martyrdom. Would we rally around a restaurant server who refused to deliver alcoholic beverages based on Christian principles but still demanded to remain on payroll? Would we call for public prayer and fasting if a state employee cited Christ’s pacifism as grounds to stop issuing handgun carry permits? Of course not. We would demand they resign their posts immediately so that the position could be filled by someone willing and able to perform the responsibilities asked of them.

If your conscience no longer allows you to uphold the responsibilities asked of you by your employer, then seek employment elsewhere. Giving up a well-salaried position to preserve your integrity is admirable. Keeping the salary while refusing the position isn’t.