Monday, September 29, 2014

Coins in Direct Mail Letters


On Friday I was asked by a friend what I thought of direct mail letters from a nonprofit with a penny or two included. He explained that he recently received such a letter. I noted that I’d received such letters, and some have included a nickel, not just a penny or two.

 

There is evidence that including pennies and nickels will increase response rate, and thereby the number of gifts. My friend confirmed that he was not a particular supporter of the cause but had been thinking of donating to the group because of the two pennies sitting on his desk. The strategy plays to the dynamics being experienced by my fried. The appeal rests more upon appealing to the recipients’ sense of guilt more than a person’s commitment to the cause and a willingness to do something to support the cause.  Many donors will give a small gift, just large enough to satisfy their sense of guilt.  I noted that appealing to guilt is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of such letters for the organization for whom I work.  My organization should appeal to the rightness of the cause, to the need to help people in need rather than play on a person’s sense guilt. It may be a technique that fits with some organizations and their ethos, but I think it is not appropriate for my organization which is faith based and should be above appealing to guilt in such a manner.

 

I noted to him that while the technique does bring in more new donors and gifts, there is a substantial increase in the number of small gifts in the $5 to $20 range. The costs of “servicing” these small donors (costs of thank you letters, data storage, sending subsequent letters, etc.) over the subsequent year will often consume much of the funds received from these small donors. Additionally, as they have given out of guilt more than support for the cause, a very high number of these donors will not give again without another appeal the includes a coin or some other appeal to their guilt, and rarely do they increase the level of the giving.

 

I’m not a fan of this type of technique as it can readily give the impression that the organization has money to waist. My organization is a poverty faith-based organization which prides itself with being efficient with its use of resources, and often speaks to cost efficiency in various newsletters and fundraising documents. It is my opinion that including a coin in a fundraising letter undermines that the organization is careful with how it spends funds. I noted to my friend that I would be unlikely to give to a cause that is not careful with its use of resources.

 

I hope that any direct mail vendor my organization utilizes understands about fiscal efficiency and organizational nature and thereby would not propose the use of such a strategy even if there is evidence that it works for some organizations.

 

Friday, when I got home, what did I have in the mail that day? A prospecting letter with a nickel enclosed. While noting not to give to the organization, and without a second thought or feeling of guilt, the nickel went into my pocket. 
   

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Prime Case for Capital Punishment Becomes a Prime Example Against the Death Penalty


Advocates for capital punishment commonly point to horrendous murders as justification for the citizens to terminate a life of the person convicted of first degree murder. More often than not such cases involve murder of children and/or where gruesome suffering was been involved. One such case used to validate the need for capital punishment was the conviction of Henry Lee McCollum of Sabrina Buie who was raped and murdered in September 1983. 


The rationale and need to execute McCollum was sited by US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia as a prime example as a case that unquestionably supported the value of capital punishment. In addressing another Justice's questioning of the value and appropriateness of capital punishment, Justice Scalia responded that the McCollum case is one preeminent case “cries out for punishment”, and that punishment being capital punishment.

 

Henry Lee “Buddy” McCollum, 19 at the time Buie was murdered, along with his younger half brother (age 15) were arrested and convicted of murdering eleven year old Buie. The police were so certain that McCollum and Brown committed the crime that while McCollum and Brown were in jail, another rape and murder that took place in the same area less than a month later, and with marked similarity as the earlier murder, were never viewed as connected to the Buie murder. The man who lived near where the Buie murder occurred was arrested for the second murder, and later convicted, yet even with similar MOs neither the police nor the District Attorney ever considered that the two murders could be connected. The police and the District Attorney never reconsidered that Buie could be murdered by anyone other than Buddy McCollum and his half brother because they had confessions from the two men.

 

Though the DA and police had confessions from the two teens, other than them knowing the girl and being seen with her, and having no alibi as to their whereabouts at the time of the crime, there was no direct evidence that the teens committed the crime.


What was not considered was that both young men are intellectually handicapped…McCollum’s IQ was between 60 and 69, and that as both were intellectually handicapped, they could easily be led and misled by others. They were likely terrified in being arrested and jailed. Clearly they lacked the capacity to understand their Miranda Rights or the nature of the crime they were being accused of committing. If people with IQs of 125 common police interrogation tactics that can confusing and challenging, what does this say about these two men and their “confessions” that took place without legal representation present both before or during confession. The claim by the police that the confessions were true must be considered with a high level of askance, but the DA's office didn't hold such a view. They had the confessions that would give them the needed conviction and increase their batting rate for convictions.  

 

Despite the other murder, lack of direct evidence and questionable confession, the case moved forward resulting in McCollum and Brown being convicted and with McCollum receiving the death penalty. This case was the first time North Carolina jurors had ever recommended the death penalty for anyone who evidenced mental retardation, let alone with an IQ as low as McCollum. Also this was the first time that capital punishment was recommended for anyone under the age of twenty at the time of the crime. Though the trial judge acknowledged that McCollum lacked the capacity to understand the crime and the proceedings, he supported the jurors recommendation of death. 


The prosecutor and the jury noted that there were two compelling reasons for the citizens of North Carolina to remove Mr. McCollum from breathing on this earth...one, that he killed Buie to keep her going to the police (a conjectured conclusion), and two, the especially heinous nature of the murder and suffering Buie experienced. Since, concurring with the jury and judge, the advocates of capital punishment have sited the McCollum case as a prime example as a just conviction and penalty. They have argued that McCollum confessed to the crime, that the court carefully examined the evidence which definitively points to McCollum and Brown as the murders, and that it is a case where the State and the people of North Carolina justly convicted them and McCollum deserves to be expunged from the earth.  

 

While there were many who questioned whether the ultimate punishment was warranted given McCollum’s intellectual capacity, and questioned the validity of the confession, for the most part their arguments were dismissed as being of little consequence. Even US Supreme Court Justice Scalia in his unabashed certainty and rightness of his views held firmly that the system had got the case correct and that capital punishment of McCollum was more than justified.     

 

To the frustration of many death penalty advocates, McCollum was not been executed as scheduled for since 2006 a series of lawsuits in North Carolina have blocked any capital punishment executions from being carried out in the state. But for those successful lawsuits, Buddy McCollum would have been executed years ago. Advocates for capital punishment were working to remove those blocks with Mr. McCollum being one of the first on the list to be executed. At least his name would have been on that list until September 2014.

 

Thirty years after being arrested, McCollum and his half-brother are free men, thanks to DNA evidence on a piece of preserved evidence. The DNA evidence points to the man arrested for other murder as being Buie's murderer too. Suddenly, the case which was viewed with absolute certainty as being gotten right and execution justified. We now know that if McCollum had been executed that the people of this nation would have executed an innocent man...in other words we the people through our appointed officials would have committed willful murder.


Any human judicial system is highly flawed. The judicial system of the United States is a highly flawed system. Our system is fraught by politics, inequities, and inappropriate economic and racial prejudices. It is filled with snap conclusions by police and the DAs, flawed theories, police investigations that ignore evidence and twisting of evidence to fit a theory. It is a system that too often places value upon conviction and vindictive punishment than upon the seeking of truth and restorative justice. The failings of such a system are so evident that even men and women like Justice Scalia who possess such vast knowledge of the law, exude such confident dogmatic reasoning and judgment can be so wrong. 


Capital punishment has a finality to it that should give us pause. For me, Justice Scalia's citing the McCollum case as substantiating the value of capital punishment now serves as an argument against. This is not a case where the system eventually got it right for if the system had continued as it should have continued, today McCollum would be dead. The system on so many levels got it wrong.  But for factors outside this case McCollum would not be alive today for us to acknowledge the injustice he experienced. The system is flawed and it failed in this case. 

 

A nation's views on capital punishment is one of the clarion declarations of nation’s values, not "the nation" in a general sense, but the values of its citizens like you and I, and with those who walk our streets, work beside us and with whom we recreate. The time to rethink the utilization of capital punishment dawned long ago.   
 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

They Don’t Make Things Like They Use To…Thank Goodness They Don’t - Part Two


While many complain that “they don’t make things like they use to,” I’m one person who is most grateful that that is not the case. I will not measure today’s average quality by the best of the best which survives today as examples of the supreme quality of past skills and achievements. The best of past workmanship should be measured against the best of the today's workmanship. 


On the whole the quality of today’s average products are superior to the average products made a century ago, or five decades ago, or even two decades ago. Following is a sampling list for your consideration:

  • How many of us would accept today from our primary car the gas mileage of the equivalent car made twenty years ago? Today's large cars far outperform the mileage of the thrifty cars of the 1980s, let alone the thriftiest from the 1960s.
  • Forty yeas ago, in the 1970s when a car reached 80,000 it was quickly approaching the end of its life. Rarely did a car from that era hit 100,000 miles. For today’s car is a car, a car hitting 80,000 is only entering its later mid-life state. Cars manufactured today are expected go at least 140,000 miles.
  • When was the last time you changed a tire by the side of road? When was the last time you saw someone changing a tire by the side of the road. Fifty years ago changing tires by the side of the road was a common happening. I wouldn’t exchange the average modern tires for the best tires made in the 1960s.
  • Would I accept a new television made even twenty years ago. No. I’m certainly pleased to have today’s higher quality televisions with their crisper picture and full sound than the fuzzier picture quality of the televisions from years ago which in themselves were great improvements over the televisions from the mid 70s.
  • The modern stoves certainly outperform, outlast and have more features than those made many years ago.
  • How many of us would exchange today’s refrigerator for any of the ones made in the 1980s, or the ice chest refrigerators from the 1940s? How many families would like to return to the days of the wringer washing machine? Today's new washers and dryers are more efficient and perform better than those made decades ago. 
  • Though today’s average new home may not have solid wood floors which were more common in the new homes of the 1960s and earlier, today's average new home is superior with those from the past. past, which in large measure explains why many people prefer to buy a new home. Today's new home are far more insulated and built to a higher quality than those built in the 1930s, 1950s or even in the 1970s. The windows and doors today seal out the cold/hot air far better than in the past. The wiring and plumbing are of a higher quality and the lighting more efficient. Just look at the improvements in the bathrooms. Our toilets and showers are more efficient than those of yesteryear. How many families would exchange their whirlpool/jet tubs for even the upper end tubs of the 1970s? Today’s homes are for the most part roomier are equipped with more storage.
  • Though paint still receives a tough time from the elements, the paints of today do stand up longer than those in the past.
  • I’m certainly pleased that the modern train engines do their work (an pulling far greater loads) without spewing black smoke from the coal used to fuel the great engines of the past.
  • I would certainly not swap my iPod the early Walkmans. I much prefer the compact iPod with its weeks of stored music stored to the bulkier Walkmans.
  • Today we have far more medical devices, equipment and drugs than in the past that enable people to live longer, and remain more mobile and independent than in the past. I would certainly not want to return to the quality of medicine from the past days.
  • How many of us are able to do our banking and get cash out of our accounts while thousands of miles from home? Little of what we do today could be done four decades ago without going to the local branch…and in some places your bank was limited to doing business in your state, and in some cases only in your county.  When you went on a trip, you had to use credit cards and make sure you had enough cash with you.
  • Whenever I’m sitting behind a transit bus I’m pleased it is not an old model. I never did enjoy the smell of diesel fumes.
  • I certainly don’t miss the old diesel trucks with their black exhaust trailing behind them, or the noise created by the old engines.

I hope you too are thankful that they don’t make things like they use to do so.

 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

They Don’t Make Things Like They Use To…Thank Goodness They Don’t - Part One


“They don’t make things like they use to” is frequently used as a putdown of modern workmanship. We have around us of homes, buildings, clocks, furniture, jewelry, etc. that are superior when compared to most modern examples  of similar items. When we gravitate to using the phrase in question, I argue that we are uncritically buying into hagiography, the over glorification of the past events/things/people.

Yes, we have examples of fine high quality design and workmanship from a hundred or more years ago that survive today as examples of the quality of their craft. But “fine high quality design and workmanship” is the operative phrase.  The fruits of this high quality workman ship survive because they were crafted with care using high quality materials, and of sufficient skill and quality to endure beyond the common products produced by their peers that haven't lasted. Today, we too have high quality design and workmanship which will continue to stand as signposts to their craftsman's skills for many generations to come.

Today’s fine craftsmanship is not common. We must remember that such high quality craftsmanship was also not common in the every past generation. Many arts of work, music, crafted furniture of past generations have not survived because they were not of superior quality to be cherished, maintained well and passed down. For each item that has survived, hundreds more, whether they be furniture, machines, art, public or private buildings or homes homes have perished because they lacked quality design and workmanship. I’ve seen many old homes that go back a to the early 1900s or earlier that are dilapidated, and which by today’s workmanship and standard are substandard.


Let’s not be premature in dismissing the quality work and labor around us today. We do have poor quality workmanship today, that cannot be denied but the same existed in the past generations since the beginning of time. Just as the common and poor quality work of the past has more or less perished, so too will most of the common and poor quality of our generation’s workmanship.  We can take comfort that our best too will join the collection of the best from the past generations we have inherited.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

VA Scandel - pox on both houses and then some.


For the fifteen to twenty years anyone who has followed veterans affairs issues, particularly with regard to medical care would not surprised by the recent scandal involving the American VA. In the early 90’s funding going into the VA system shrank. WWII vets were becoming fewer and the VA was deemed to be a place to help balance the budget  or free funds for Congress’s pet projects. Yes, the was an aging pool of Korean and Vietnam vets that as they aged would need more support, but they were still years away from needing more intensive support and by when they did need such support the rapidly declining pool of WWII would soon be minimal.

Hence, over the 90s instead of facilities being updated, they were allowed to age, and not always gracefully either. In the mid to late 90s facilities were closing resulting in vets having travel two to three hours further to VA hospitals for treatment and care. Some vets in the areas of the country by 2000 were traveling a half a day or more to reach their nearest VA hospital. The overall strength of the medical staff not only decreased because of the closures of hospitals but also from decreases in medical staff at existing hospitals with aging and sometimes equipment that was not current.

The dedicated medical staff worked hard to care for those who came under their care in the same or greater numbers while having less and less resources to manage their care. And when this country went to war and its youth came home wounded in body and spirit, increasing the annual budget was not a priority of either Congress or the White House. In the 2000s to the present there were some budgetary increases, but they were not nearly enough to make up for the cuts, to modernize facilities, to open new facilities and clinics, to increase staff. The VA continued to serve more and more with inadequate resources.

With fewer and fewer resources, and with more demand, what is the logical result? What happens at a remote busy gas station and half the pumps are turned off? Lines and with longer wait times. And yet we are shocked by longer wait times at underfunded, underequipped and understaffed hospitals?

Earlier this year Congress refused to take up and pass a bill that would have given the VA an extra $2.1 million a year for the next ten years. This has been going on for decades. Congress by its action continued then and still does underfund the VA. Yet many of those who have underfunded the VA have been the first to cry out in scorn at the VA and the President for breaking faith with our veterans as if Congress and they themselves by their votes are blameless. Political commentators cry out in alarm, but the story has been there for decades and they did not cry.

Who has broken faith with our vets? It is not just this President with our veterans! It is the prior President too! It is not just past Congresses who bear a good part of the blame, but the current one as well. And on a personal level, personal blame goes to each Congress member and Senator  who has by their deliberate votes and willfully turned a blind eye to VA underfunding. Add to the mix the political commentators, politicians for their false horror, who push the story for political attack purposes.

Each member of Congress who is pointing fingers elsewhere, who is not accepting a portion of the blame and not saying, “I’m going to join others to do something about the underfunding” are not only perpetuating the problem, they are at the heart of the problem. They are breaking faith with our vets. Shame on them!

The story has been there for years. From time to time over the last decade there have been stories about the VA’s underfunding and growing wait times. Often this is not a new story has been marginalized and yawned at. Now it has finally has gained traction. And finally, I too am part of the problem for not writing my Congressman and Senators more often about the VA’s underfunding.

Dismissals are not the answer. The answer is simple, give the VA the resources that they need to do the job that they are not only charged to do, but want to do.  

The citizens of the United States, including myself, and our leaders who have broken faith with their veterans!!