Charity Opposite Day

Recently, I got this letter in the mail:

y tho letter

“Return these coins and feed a child.” The coins enclosed, a penny and a nickel, are real money. The charity is sending me some of their money – and asking that I send it right back.


This particular letter came from a group called Food for the Poor, Inc. Putting aside the seemingly exploitative image on the back, let’s talk about the money-sending tactic.

I’ve seen this lots of times, from lots of different groups. Sometimes it’s a dime, sometimes it’s a postage stamp, but the idea is always the same. Here’s a little bit of money, so please send us back more of it.

Does anyone understand this? I’m really curious. It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Because let me tell you – and I’m speaking as a bona fide bleeding-heart liberal, here – I drop the coins in my coin jar, throw the letter away, and never feel the least twinge of guilt.

I’m a big believer in supporting charities, if they can reach their goals efficiently and effectively. I’m not one of those people who thinks that advertising, management, and other overhead expenses are “fluff” that should be as close to zero as possible. Just like for-profit businesses, nonprofits have a job to do, and they can’t afford to have any tool plucked from their toolkit.

But the tool has to make sense. And I haven’t yet found any sense in a charity sending money to me. Even at a superficial, emotional-appeal level, it doesn’t resonate. “These kids are desperate for food. Here we have the cost of a meal, and instead of buying food with it, we’ve sent it to you.” It isn’t just that I disagree with their argument – I don’t understand what it’s supposed to be in the first place.

Maybe I’m supposed to feel that they’re investing in me somehow, taking a risk on me, and I shouldn’t let them down. Is that it?

But an investment means that the recipient uses the money in some way. There’s a reason to send it. Here, they’re literally telling me to send it right back – at which point they will then take the money I sent back, and send it out to yet other potential donors, for reasons that are still not clear.

The thing is, this tactic is presumably working (or some marketing person is very misinformed), because I’ve been getting letters like this for years. So there must be people who do send the coins back. And, hey, it’s your money, do what you want.

I just don’t quite understand.

Friday Links

Aside from today’s big news, I was also interested to see this fact-checked version of Trump’s speech. Remarkably, he does say some things that are true, and they’re almost as fascinating as the lies.

Speaking of which, here’s a surreal and captivating Japanese ad for Donald Trump. Except it’s not Japanese, and it’s satire, not an ad.

How to handle it when your daughter says she likes girls.

Any fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Buffy in the house? I made a thing.

Enjoy your freakin’ weekend!

The Deep Allegorical Significance of Sharknado

sharknado 1

Last night, Paul and I were watching Sharknado for the first time. Partway through, I came up with an idea that became a running joke thoughtful analysis. I said, look, clearly the film is an allegory for FDR’s presidency and World War II. The sharks are the Axis Powers, right? It’s a commentary on post-Depression America.

The one guy’s legs getting attacked? Well, FDR was in a wheelchair. The huge flood? Americans felt they were “drowning” in the Depression. The flight at the end to drop a bomb that they hoped would solve everything? I don’t have to spell that one out.

Of course, you can make anything an allegory for anything if you’re creative enough. It’s kind of fun. We were getting a lot of mileage out of our ridiculous metaphor.

And then this happened:

sharknado 2

Paul and I were laughing so hard we couldn’t even take a breath to tell his wife why we were laughing.

My Television Pantheon


As with the movie list, the criteria here are not so much about “objective” quality (as far as that even exists), and more about what I’ve come to love deeply over the years.

  • Adventure Time
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • Azumanga Daioh
  • Babylon 5
  • Bob’s Burgers
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • The Daily Show
  • Freaks and Geeks
  • Friends
  • Jessica Jones
  • Seinfeld
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I Have Practically Zero Interest in Sports…

…but even I gotta say it: Go Cavs! That’s friggin’ amazing.

Friday Links

First off, this wonderful bit of news:

John Kasich is in agony over his decision last year to support the eventual Republican nominee and the current reality that Donald Trump is his party’s presumptive standard-bearer.

“You know, it’s painful. It’s painful. You know, people even get divorces, you know? I mean, sometimes, things come out that, look, I’m sorry that this has happened,” the Ohio governor said in an interview aired Thursday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “But we’ll see where it ends up. I’m not making any final decision yet, but at this point, I just can’t do it.

I love my governor more all the time. Disagree with him a lot, but still love ‘im.

On a different subject, here’s a short discussion about the reluctance of soldiers to kill:

The results were consistently the same: only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy. … The question is why. … [The answer] is the simple and demonstrable fact that there is within most men an intense resistance to killing their fellow man. A resistance so strong that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die before they can overcome it.

More on this is available from the wonderful Delanceyplace.

Finally, here’s one for the Buffy fans among my readers (all three of you):

Have a measurably superior weekend!

Call Bank of America, I Don’t Give a F***

A week ago, I got a paper bill from Bank of America. Included in the envelope were a couple of ads – because if you’re trying to get money, you might as well try to get money, too.

One of the ads caught my eye, and I’ve taken the liberty of scanning it for you:

llama bank of america

I can appreciate the wordplay (letterplay?) with “Llearn to llove your app.” Except – wait a minute –

That llama.

I know that llama.

I was sitting beside Betsy last night, seeing this thing for the first time, when I yelled: “That’s the ‘Call the cops, I don’t give a fuck’ llama!”

“Come on,” I said, “google it!”

Betsy was looking up baby stuff at the time (the nerve!) but dutifully opened a new browser tab and did an image search. Sure enough, here was the meme-style image I remembered:

llama cops


It’s the same llama.

same llama

I did some reading. It turns out that the llama photo gets lots of other captions, and the meme is less about the “Call the cops” phrase, and more about “Look, it’s a llama wearing a scarf.”

The precise origins of the llama image are tough to pin down (and Know Your Meme is no help), but supposedly it actually began as an old Banana Republic ad, of all things. (If anyone can find a convincing, authoritative source for this, please let me know.) The original image is allegedly:

llama original


So it makes sense that Bank of America, advertising an app with an ad that mentions “hashtags, selfies and emojis,” might use an Internet meme. But I’m still impressed with (1) the relatively obscure choice of meme, compared to, say, Grumpy Cat, and (2) the subtlety of it, with nothing in the ad mentioning that it’s an Internet culture reference.

Maybe the graphic designer didn’t tell the marketing people. That would be amazing.

Also, if the image really is a Banana Republic ad originally, then presumably it’s copyrighted. That, in turn, means that one of two things happened. Either Bank of America stole intellectual property so it could put a little-known Internet meme on a paper ad – or it paid money to Banana Republic so it could print images of a scarf-wearing llama.

I can’t decide which would be funnier.