The Charity of Strangers — A blast from the past post from June 2007

*What, you’re going to b*tch it’s a blast from the past?  Sorry, but everything hurts.  And no, the appointment wasn’t medical, it was related to trying to get the house ready for sale, and that’s why I’m so tired everything hurts. So, now I’m going to clean my closet.*

I should be working on my overdue novel or writing my overdue short story. I’m not. The reason I’m not is because I’ve been turning an ethical problem in my mind.

And this is going to lead me to break one of my longstanding rules, which is not discussing religion or politics in public.

Not that what I’m about to discuss is religion – exactly – or politics – exactly. But it touches on both.

The fact is, I’m aware that some of you are going to be very angry at me. I’m aware some of you will be angry enough never to read me again. I’m also aware that I’ll be violating one of Heinlein’s rules – to wit – “Only a fool or a sadist tells the unvarnished truth in social situations.”

Perhaps I’m going menopausal. Or perhaps I simply don’t care anymore. Or perhaps sometimes – SOMETIMES – the truth needs to be told.

I know I will get a very strong reaction to this because I’ve discussed this topic before, years ago, in a women’s writing group. The group consensus was that I was “mean” or perhaps “evil” and there was nothing I could do to change it.

And yet – and yet – I see evil in what is going on. And I think it should be stopped.

So I’ll begin at the beginning. Let’s talk about charity.

I grew up, like any normal kid in a fairly “nice” family learning to share and to give to those who had less than I. This was so emphasized that until I was twenty eight I thought I had killed my cousin Dulce by refusing to share my bread and butter with her. (She died in the last small pox epidemic to sweep through Europe. As I had it too, I’m sure some reference was made to the fact we were playing together a week or so before. That my mind attributed this to my refusing to share just goes to show how I was brought up.)

Beyond that, I always had a sense of empathy. Like most of your nerdy writers, as a child I was excluded from enough games and clubs to give me a sympathy for the underdog. So far so good.

And then when I was eleven, I joined a youth group. This was the seventies. We were for social action and justice. Which was our parents’ charity and poor relief dressed up and nice and with a new hairdo.

We spent six months – SIX months holding fund raisers and collecting money. One of the girls in the group had come up with this idea that we should help this family that lived next to her. Six kids in a shotgun apartment, no decent clothes, no toys and most of the time no food on the table.

We worked our behinds off. We were that kind of earnest young people. And I was so proud, so incredibly proud, when we collected the equivalent of about six months’ salary and delivered it to these people. I could imagine what a difference it would make in their lives. I could JUST see it.

I felt very virtuous. This lasted until I told my mom what we’d done. Mom was horrified. Turns out the parents were both alcoholics. Not only wouldn’t the kids get any of the money, but the parents would use it to get stinking drunk, which in turn would result in more aggression towards the kids… you get the point.

Turned out mom was right – bummer – and I’ve never felt that virtuous since.

This is apropos what?

Well, bear with me.

Thirteen years ago when we moved to town – an apartment near downtown – I loved this city. One of the things I loved was how SAFE it was. There were exactly four “homeless” people identifiable as living downtown. I’m sure there were more served by the various shelters, which demanded sobriety or a modicum thereof before you used their services. But downtown, we saw four. And, really, downtown was a safe, friendly place, with a lot of small businesses in place. I could, without driving, buy most things I needed, from groceries to office supplies. The kids could sit out on the front porch, when they were toddlers. It was just nice.

And then it changed.

Because I don’t follow such things it took me time to figure out why – all of a sudden – every corner had people pushing shopping carts. Aggressive people; people mumbling to themselves. It took me time to figure out why the little park in the middle of town was now infested by people sleeping on the grass, threatening (and mugging passerbies.) Why the little businesses were fleeing downtown. Why my friend who worked downtown had issues with people coming into the bookstore and urinating on the carpet.

The city hadn’t grown that much. It might have doubled in size, but I don’t think so.

And the local economy was not worse. On the contrary. We’ve been ranked as one of the more affluent towns in the US. So… how come this problem suddenly.

And then the city forbid panhandling – this is not related, except where it got me to understand the situation a little better – and all of a sudden the newspapers were full of interviews with the people affected…

Do you know, with a few exceptions – families fallen on hard times and the like, though they’re not the kind that haunts parks – the “homeless” population could be divided in two: Young kids – teens to twenties – who’d run away from home. And people who had been living a rootless, boundary-less life since the sixties or seventies.

The funny thing, you know, is that I’d always thought kids who ran away from home did so because they were being abused or there was another huge problem. And some of them did mention that. However, the vast majority of the young indigent said a paraphrase of “I left home because my parents had all these rules. And now, man, if I can’t panhandle, I’ll have to go back.”

The adults, otoh had various expressions of confusion as to why we were doing this to them and how – with no provocation – we were taking away their means of livelihood.

Since that time I’ve been a little skeptical about the type of charity that just gives “services” to the homeless.

My skepticism increased when I realized a) the reason downtown was now full of homeless was a “no questions asked” soup kitchen run by Catholic Charities right smack downtown. b) Homeless were taking the bus from the largest city nearby. (This is not a conjecture. I overheard them talking and on one signal occasion was approached by one demanding to know where the soup kitchen was because he’d just taken the bus to our town. They’d told him there was this great place…)

Okay – hear me out – I’m neither mean nor stupid, nor have I arrived at this opinion without a lot of thought.

Look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t feed the hungry. Yeah, we should if we can. I assure you that for a long part of my teen years I needed – and received – both food and clothing from the charity of strangers. One of the reasons the Red Cross will always get a check from me was the clothes I wouldn’t otherwise have had after that growth spurt at fourteen.

That’s not the point. The point is that the first rule of charity should always be: First Do No Harm.

I still live downtown. I walk by the park a lot. And you know what? I’m sorry for these people. Really and truly sorry. Most of them not only lack the skills to integrate in society – they lack an understanding of WHY they should.

They get food. They get clothes. They get a place to sleep. WHY should they change anything about how they live? Why shouldn’t they do drugs and have promiscuous sex? Those of them who are mentally unstable not only have no reason to seek treatment or to take their medications – they don’t KNOW they SHOULD.

Oh, I’m sure people who volunteer at the soup kitchen – and other places – tell them they should. But… the thing is, they are human right? Humans work mostly on inertia. If you don’t make it difficult to just drift on, why should they try?

Now and then you hear of people who clean up, who move on and up. But these are the exceptions. Like people who lose 100 lbs, they are the exception and display immense willpower.

Our society is so affluent we can afford to give these people a life that’s downright luxurious compared to the peasants of most societies in history. Food everyday. Enough clothes to cover themselves. Clean places to sleep at night.

And we demand nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I realize part of this is a reaction to Victorian times, when it was assumed that people were poor because they’d done something wrong. I know many people are poor through no fault of their own – or at least no fault of their own that they can easily remedy. Lack of skills, lack of will power, just a lack of ambition, are enough to keep someone born outside the right conditions “down.”

But most of the time, none of those are enough to make the person outright “homeless.” That requires worse. A stroke of bad luck might do it, if bad enough. A mental condition. Or… a drug addiction. Alcohol abuse.

The stroke of bad luck usually leads to people living in their cars or crashing with friends. It leads to people who are TECHNICALLY homeless, but not the visibly so. Not the ones who haunt the park and mug passersbye. These people – the homeless with cause or, to use an old-fashioned term, the deserving poor – are undoubtedly there through no fault of their own. And there are already several organizations that assist them. If they need anything, they need an explanation of how to get there from here – how to apply for help; whom to ask.

And then there are the others – the VAST majority of others – which are the ones who patronize this “no questions” soup kitchen. The ones who don’t know why they should change. The ones we are ENABLING in their dysfunction.

Yes, yes, I can hear the shouts now. I’m mean. I don’t care about poor people. I am made uncomfortable by the presence of the needy.

Except… That these “needy” are shutting down businesses and driving other people into poverty. Except that I do donate money/time/service to various causes helping those less fortunate than I. Except that I think what these “needy” need is help of a different sort. Help seeing the way out. Support on their way up. NOT “no guilt” help that keeps them trapped.

HOW can it possibly be that allowing them to self destruct helps them? Or society? Or the communities blighted by their presence?

Look – we’re back to that family and how GOOD I felt “helping” them. Except that I didn’t.

There was a way to help them – oh, sure there was – or at least a way that would have done no harm. We could have bought groceries for them for six months. This might still have led to more drinking as the parents might have sold the groceries – but it would have been more difficult.

Or – and far preferable – we could have given OF OURSELVES. We could have befriended those kids. Eventually taken them home to our comfortable houses for meals/playtime/interaction. This would have helped far more.

BUT that wasn’t easy. And besides, it wasn’t what it was all about. It was about social action. And justice. It was about collecting money and handing over a check. It was about the charity of strangers. And it was about a bunch of pre-teens feeling good and virtuous.

I think this soup kitchen – which is now undergoing a massive fundraising to expand – is about exactly those things. I’m sorry, but I believe it is about people who volunteer there and people who donate to it feeling good about themselves. D*mn good.

And who am I to grudge people a bit of self-satisfaction?

Well… perhaps I’m an evil bitch, because I feel that self-satisfaction arrived at the expense of other people’s lives is bad. Perhaps I’m an evil bitch because I care not only about the small businesses being driven from downtown and the families that can no longer work in the park but these people who are being “helped” to remain lost in a moral no-man’s land. With no way out.

I’m not against charity. I’m against charity to faceless strangers. I think most of the time it ends up doing evil.

There are ways to help – but those demand that you actually get close and personal. That you find out what’s holding these people down. That you CARE. For more than feeling virtuous. And that, let’s face it, it’s more than most people have the time or patience for.

Recently, reading St. Dale by Sharyn McCrumb (excellent book, btw) I came across a joke she quotes. A man is struggling in the water. “Help, help, I can’t swim.” Another man is standing by and says, “I can’t swim either. Will $20 help?”

This is what this “no strings” soup kitchen reminds me of. This is what catering to people’s physical needs and not their mental/spiritual ones reminds me of.

The charity of strangers. Well intentioned, perhaps. But mostly about the giver.

And in the end, I think in more than fifty percent of the cases it violates the dictate to “First, do no harm.”


83 responses to “The Charity of Strangers — A blast from the past post from June 2007

  1. In the New Advent Bolg there was a recent article to the effect that giving to strangers is sinful because it allows you to ignore the poor in the community. I would not quite go that far. I wish I could find it to link to it and let everyone decide it’s soundness for themselves. I feel that it is lot more complicated than that. And I do avoid judging things as sinful, although there are some very clear cut examples.

  2. This is from when you were still a closeted conservative/libertarian?

  3. A sentiment I have seen attributed to Benjamin Franklin is that one wants to do good for the poor bit that the way to do good is not to make them easy in poverty.

    Over the years I have, from time to time, attempted to take folk up on their “will work for food” signs, offering say $20, a meal, and access to laundry and shower if they wanted it in return for a couple of hours labor. I have yet to have one accept the offer.

    That’s why I tend to be skeptical of such claims.

    • Not to say that your observations are incorrect, but I do want to note that I have had a guy come up and help me load my pickup because he needed money. I gave him the $10 I had on me at the time.

      Exception that proves the rule, I suppose.

    • ” I wish they were benefited by this generous provision in any degree equal to the good intention with which it was made, and is continued: But I fear the giving mankind a dependance on any thing for support in age or sickness, besides industry and frugality during youth and health, tends to flatter our natural indolence, to encourage idleness and prodigality, and thereby to promote and increase poverty, the very evil it was intended to cure; thus multiplying beggars, instead of diminishing them.”

      full text here:

  4. “In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness. And tenderness leads to the gas chamber.” — Flannery O’Connor

    I see something that hurts my soul.

    I compassionately salve the thing that’s causing me discomfort.

    It removes the pain.

    Not hard to see how that ends up with that “speech which makes me uncomfortable should be punished” woman from a few days ago, is it?

  5. OK, this has officially wigged me out.

    I KNOW I read this post not long ago (as in, within the past few weeks), I even remember the first comment above with the misspelling of “blog” in it, and thinking at first that it was referring to one of Dave Freer’s books. Yet I went through the archives back to October, and it hasn’t been posted since then.


  6. Charity can be a very good thing. Like most human endeavors it can also be bad thing. One of the worst parts about the Leftist movement in this country is that they can’t get this simple fact through their heads. Nothing created by humanity is EVER good 100% of the time.

    How many times do we have to see videos of welfare mothers talking about “Somebody has to pay for these kids” to get this to sink in? How many families do we have to support for generations before we realize what we’re doing? How many whiny SJWs do I have to put up with crying about how horrible it is when a family “has their welfare taken away” because they got a job and started making before they start to realize that this should always be the goal?

    Seriously, I used to work with a guy named Max. Max was, outside of being an SJW, a pretty decent guy. Worked hard, made as much as any of us (we were waiters together) and more than most and didn’t complain anymore than the rest of us. (Look people, if you don’t think that the person serving your food is talking about you behind your back you’re either delusional or the best customer ever. Frankly, I know which way I’d bet in most cases.) Max, though, was angry. He wasn’t just a little angry. He was spitting nails angry. Why?

    Well, when he was just a little Max, his mommy had been on welfare. And see, thanks to this whole “work requirement” thing, she had been forced to go back to work. After awhile, she had to hold down *GASP* two part-time jobs. Then, brace yourselves, she got one full time job and lost her welfare and had to support herself BY HERSELF with just her earnings and her child support. And, to top it all off, Max looked up at the end of his story and said, “That’s why I’m here. If I’m going to have to work, I might as well start now. When I was a kid, I never thought I’d have to.”

    Yup. Never thought he’d have to work.

    Look, I know some people can’t help it. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Don’t tell me that they’re all like that though. I’ve seen too much evidence in the opposite direction.

  7. Mean? No. Realistic? Yes. The problem is an old one: How do you help without enabling? Charity older than Christianity itself, yet Paul, who had collected for the needy, wrote if one is unwilling to work, let him not eat.

    Some of it is a quick “Look at me: I did social work” sort of thing, but a great deal of it is utter cluelessness. It simply never occurs to some that cash could be used for purposes other than intended.

    In my youth churches would give money directly to assist the needy; now we have learned the hard way what happens to that cash and provide items that are difficult to resell and pay directly on utility bills. Even then, there have been cases of those who approached the utilities asking for the amount to be refunded, in hopes of getting their hands on the cash.

    Things like soup kitchens fall into a gray area. Yes, they can and are abused, but yes, there are those who really need it. Perhaps the solution is to follow the example of the early church and directly distribute meals to those known to be hungry and unable to work.

    If you want to really find those who are looking to feel good and get a pat on the back, you have to go to those who think it should be the job of government rather than individuals. It is far easier to give the hungry directions to the government office than to personally see to their needs.

    • WinCo is pretty awesome– here’s a quote from their gift card page:
      Whether you give $10 or $100, you can rest assured knowing that at WinCo Foods they will be able to stretch your hard-earned dollars on the things they need. Want even more peace of mind? WinCo Foods gift cards cannot be used towards the purchase of alcohol or tobacco, which means your gift will only be used on necessities.

      I have… a big beef with Catholic Charities, the group, but the more local groups like St. Vincent d’Paul (yes, I always talk about them) are great. A lot of effort goes into making it so people can’t game the system, at least not in enough bulk to make a living from it.

    • “It is far easier to give the hungry directions to the government office than to personally see to their needs.”

      I have a friend whose life last year was one issue after another. First they lost a lot of money dealing with a realtor and sale that was not on the up and up—yes, they reported her, but they’re still out things like inspection fees and moving costs (twice.) Then her secure job with benefits evaporated entirely and she and her family had to move in with her in-laws. And then she was told that more than ten years of unemployment benefits earning no longer applied because she quit a job that she took after a couple of days (given that she had to move to another state because she had no place to live) and quitting meant she also had to repay the unemployment she’d already received. And for some reason, her family isn’t eligible for WIC even though they have no income. We won’t even talk of the health care debacle.

      Her saga of dealing with government “assistance” is illuminating. Each step of the way, she’s met with people who treat her like an idiot (she’s most certainly not) and with conflicting information that always seems to cost *her* money. It’s crazy.

      Anyway. What she and her husband have been doing is taking the opportunity for hard labor, building the “earth berm shelter” home they’ve been saving up for years to build. (Think “hobbit hole” thematically and go from there.) It’s taking longer than they’ve hoped, but perhaps at the end they’ll have a home to be proud of and something to bring out of the wreck of last year. And various small business things they can do to become self-reliant. (They live in Montana, so “self reliant” is actually a possibility.)

      • When you’re middle class, used to being middle class, and have to turn to the government for help- it’s a nightmare. Because you’re too used to being honest in your life. I’ve got personal stories about single mothers and WIC and AFDC- that I’m not going to bother telling, but honesty isn’t involved.

        Welfare recipients, especially those multi-generation recipients born into the system whose kids are now in it, know how to work it. You don’t. She should actually be pleased that she doesn’t have the lifeskills needed to finagle government assistance. And you should be happy for her for that.

      • Your last paragraph explains why she can’t get much assistance: she’s got some savings. That’s one of the more pernicious evils of government assistance: you cannot have any sort of savings and receive it. So someone trying to get off can’t save up an emergency fund until after they’re off. They even count the savings accounts of children into that. It’d be a whole lot easier if folks were allowed to have enough savings for a car repair.

  8. Colorado Alex

    A few months ago there were a flurry of articles about cities banning giving food to homeless. A lot of libertarians and conservatives were upset because it was supposedly infringing on their freedoms and was uncharitable. Of course, the reason for this was the very obvious truth that if you start handing out food to homeless in the park, you attract more homeless. If you open a soup kitchen you’re going to attract the homeless. This was creating other social problems in turn, such as bystanders being harassed on the street, bathing in public ponds and fountains, and urination/defecation in bushes and alleyways.

  9. I have, at various times in my life, struck up the acquaintence of one begger or another. They have always been old. They have always been consistent about their “spot”. I never let myself worry about what they were going to spemd the money on. I tended, in fact, to assume booze. But these guys were OLD. If they weren’t over 60, lofe had worn on them enough so they looked it. They weren’t going to “turn their life around”, absent the touch of God (which I count as always possible). What harm if I gave them money enough to buy something better than sterno? It made them happy, it made me happy to see them happy.

    Young guys, sad eyed bedragled girls, “Can you spare a moment to hear The Word”? No.

    Old guys who have a story to tell, and the kind of voice you only get from smoking too much and drinking too much?

    Want a sawbuck for a fifth?

  10. My Church picks people up and brings them to the Church once a month for breakfast. Others come in by themselves. Mostly it’s a changing group, but there are a couple families (of the one parent and kids variety) that are regulars. They get stuck eating with the Church folks, which is probably a good thing. I think there’s a significant difference between “Let us give you food” and “Come eat with us.”
    My Youth Group is uncomfortable enough with the idea of free loaders that they want to direct their efforts to things like emergency kit packing and Habitat for Humanity.

    • I think there’s a significant difference between “Let us give you food” and “Come eat with us.”

      I know that a lot of the more solid church groups do this– have an after-service lunch for donations once a month during the warm months. No requirement that you be a member, but it only keeps going in the healthy parishes because you need a population of Buff Young Guys to deal with possible issues.

      • We do it year around, and well, our population of buff young guys is rather limited. (Our supply of folks with concealed carry permits is not so limited, but are not particularly noticeable.) So far we haven’t had any issues–maybe it’s our winters.

        • More good luck to you, then.

          (Seattle has mild winters and is rather famous for being one of the magnet cities for those looking to live off the fat of the land.)

          • Yeah, you do. I’ve got brothers-in-law thereabouts. You just have to put up with the endless rain. We hit -20ish this winter already. (But it’s a dry cold.)

            • *shudder* I’m steeling myself to go for a walk because it finally stopped raining, and I need the exercise. It’s warmer now than some summer nights where I was raised– but everything is so soggy, it goes right to your bones.

      • My parents’ church has the weekly food kitchen, which is a source of pride to the parish. You don’t actually need the Buff Young Guys—what you need is the Older Voice of Authority Guy. My dad was the parking lot “traffic director” for years and years, and having someone with authority who isn’t particularly threatening is best for de-escalating the situation.

        Note that this has been operating for over thirty years with only one short-term shutdown, and it’s unfortunately popular, though it hasn’t changed the character of the neighborhood. The neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods has always been lower middle class, though it’s the section of town with the steepest income change—go one mile, you’ve got literal country club living. Go a mile further, you’ve got what used to be prostitution central (now it’s car dealerships, which is appropriate as that section faces a freeway.) There are families and singles folk, and always more at the end of the month.

        I really can’t find fault with feeding people, no questions asked. The food is good but nothing better than, say, a Hometown Buffet would serve as the less premium items (lots of mashed potato dishes, chicken and gravy, steamed vegetables, that sort of thing.) I can’t imagine people going out of their way to eat there if they don’t need to…

  11. This post made me think of this article about the minimum wage. After reading it, I couldn’t decide if the author was obliviously pushing for me to feel compassion for these people or subtly pointing out how wrong the idea was. The Left is all about feeling good about yourself. Actual results are irrelevant. That theme comes out over and over when you engage them. That is when they’re not cursing and yelling at you.

    • Be easier for those folks to get more hours if it weren’t for the ACA and. That’s one reason why my husband has two jobs: neither one wants to give him enough hours to have to offer benefits.

      • A lot of PT jobs also have “flexible scheduling”, by which they mean they can change it the day before or even the day of if demand for workers isn’t there. More efficient? Yes… but if you’re a worker, it’s something that can keep you from ever having anything else, like a second job, time to look for a better position, or a family. The later retail job that I had (Borders, oh how I miss you) had the same schedule week-to-week, which meant that if your shift was 5-11PM on Tuesday, it was *always* Tuesday 5-11PM. It was nice having a consistent schedule.

        I also note, in the article, that if I were in San Diego, I’d be making minimum wage in a year or two instead of being above the minimum wage (for my on-call job with a small family company). They very rarely address what happens to the wage demographic just above minimum wage when the minimum wage goes up. And believe me, I *know* that my employers don’t have a lot of payroll to sling around.

    • Hmmm.. I read the story. My sympathy meter didn’t go above zero. Lot’s of bad life choices. Dropped out of HS in 11th grade? Check. 4 kids before age 25? Check. Married an illegal alien? Worth way more then one check.

      If you’re starting a job at minimum wage at age 25, you’ve made some mistakes in life. If you’re any age in a job making minimum wage after 90 days of employment, you need to hunt for another job now that you’ve got a work history.

      Story from a nearby Walmart about minimum wage. Several workers who had worked their way up to above minimum wage suddenly found themselves minimum wage workers thanks to the new minimum wage hike. They thought they deserved more then newbies just coming in, and told management so. Walmart told them no. They quit.

      • It depends on the area. My post-college employment, once I moved away from the college town, was absolutely wretched for some time. It took me four months to get a minimum wage job, in part because I *had* a college degree and a lot of places flat-out told me that they wouldn’t hire me because I’d “want too much money.” (Never mind that I’d also stated that I was looking for a job because I needed a job and wanted the standard compensation for the position.) Even a temp agency turned me down because I didn’t know Excel. It really hurts to get turned down by a temp agency. I knew of highly intelligent and driven people who worked janitorial jobs because there wasn’t anything available.

        It took swallowing some pride and moving in with my in-laws, and then my husband literally drove 1200 miles to apply for a job that disappeared while he was en route. He slept on friends’ floors while he looked for work, and ended up with two jobs—one of which blossomed into the career he now has, and which he got because he had warehouse experience. (He’s now working in logistics and process design, which fits.) But the area we’d started out in was not a good employment area, and it wasn’t the best choice for us. Except for getting our cats. That was good.

        • Yep. YOU did what was necessary. Got up and moved. Where I live now, I know lots of people with job skills that could net them more money IF they got up and moved. I am being deadly serious when I say that some of these people have never been more then 100 miles from where they were born. Not on vacation, not ever. On the flip side, a lot of them don’t need much to live on, because they’re living in inherited houses.

          In retail, in particular, if you want to stay on the lowest levels- stay in the job you have. If you want to move up, you have to switch positions within the store you are in, and if you want to really move up- you have to move to another store, and to move up further, another city or state. It’s the way it is.

          I’m where I am now becasue I moved for a higher paying job.

        • Even a temp agency turned me down because I didn’t know Excel.

          Boy, were they stupid. Anyone with half a brain can learn enough Excel in an hour to get by in most jobs using it, and someone who is reasonably smart simply doesn’t need training for most uses.

          • (Shudders remembering trying to fix the situation where they used Excel as a database… sort of. More of a table formatting program…. with some product descriptions split across multiple cells in a column…. eeesh. Then the secretary they hired who spaced in her first line indent, and spaced again until the word wrap went to the next line.)

            • OUCH!

              Did you have a trim function?

            • The bane of my helpdesk time was pivot tables. Had to learn them one day so that I could figure out what was wrong with someone else’s.

              That was right up there with diagnosing a piece of software I had never seen, by having the user read off the menu selections to me.

          • The job market in that area was so over saturated that they could afford to let people go who weren’t a perfect fit—that fit being highly skilled but unambitious enough to accept the wages offered. It’s a *bit* better now, but most of Oregon is a horrible labor market.

      • If you’re starting a job at minimum wage at age 25, you’ve made some mistakes in life. If you’re any age in a job making minimum wage after 90 days of employment, you need to hunt for another job now that you’ve got a work history.

        I wasn’t much younger than that and pulled minimum wage, IIRC, for a short-term construction job. It was only a week from start to finish but it was work, and I took that job because I couldn’t find anything else and wanted to work.

        That was the last time I had to work for minimum wage. And yes, I’ve never had to work for minimum wage long.

      • I have read with my own eyes the daughter of a high school dropout who had three kids — fathers go unmentioned in her story — who lived on welfare her entire childhood, and who was grousing that it was based on a basket of goods from the 1950s.

        Odd, usually they praise the 1950s.

        (She also was fiery about the welfare trap. That her mother had leapt into the trap was beneath notice.)

  12. Both the column and the ensuing discussion have put me in mind of one of my favorite non-Hun bloggers. I’m sure I’ve linked this a few times before (possibly the first time this column ran), but you should all take a few minutes today and read Robb Allen’s You’re not voting your way out of this, people. Equal parts optimism and call to repentance, and well worth your time.

    • We MIGHT be able to vote our way out IF we could maintain the necessary concentration to vote, and vote, and vote, and always vote the same way. It would have an even better chance if we oitched in on the local level and worked fr candidates we believed in.

      RAH covered this in TAKE BACK YOUR GOVERNMENT (thanks, Mr. Baen).

      We didn’t get into this mess with one vote, or ten votes, and we won’t get out any more quickly. But if voting did nothing, we wouldn’t be seeing the turn around on “gun control”. We have to push for reforms, and vote for them where possible, and go after the weasels where we can.

  13. Somehwere I read once that a goal of Communism was to get people to give money to groups to help people SOMEWHERE ELSE, not locally. And to get people to buy into letting the government take care of the needy, not local charities and churches. It is part of the necessary transformation of society to bring about the perfect Communist world.

    And sending money to others far away allows a great deal of the money to be siphoned off for other purposes. A local charity you’re going to keep your eye on. 1,000 miles away? Obviously government auditors will keep them on teh straight and narrow, right?

    • Ideally, nowhere else.

      The point was not to get the government taking care of them. The point was to make them miserable in order to hasten the day of the revolution.

      I dare say some have revised the notion in light of reality. (After all, Marcuse, in order to save Marx, inverted him; it’s not that capitalism denies the workers a fair share of the fruit of their labors, it’s that it brainwashes them into thinking they need more than they actually do, to exploit them.)

  14. Doubting Rich

    I can see nothing to disagree with.

  15. One of the things for which I am eternally indebted to Charlie Martin is for introducing me to the concept of idiot compassion. True compassion is doing something for someone else to make their life better. Idiot compassion is doing something to someone else to make you feel better. The entire Progressive agenda is centered around conflating compassion and idiot compassion.

  16. Guh. This reminds me irresistibly of the year that my military unit took part on one of those Christmas Tree local charity things. Can’t recall all the ins and outs and the specific charity involved, but it was one of those where the individual or organization selected a family from a sort of local Christmas tree. So, our unit picked one; a family with three sons of varying ages from elementary to high school age. They had needs OMG had they needs! For warm winter coats (this in Utah) and for warm clothes generally, for an electric typewriter for one of the sons to do homework on, one of the other sons wanted a camera … the wish list for this family was pretty comprehensive. We considered it … did some fund-raising activities and only raised about $300. So – how to meet all those needs? With only $300 – we did what we ourselves did, as mostly low-ranking military members on a budget. The Thrift Shop!
    Yeah, got three warm winter coats, a typewriter, a camera — and groceries for a nice Christmas dinner, plus a few little extra gifts for the mama of that family… we had the coats professionally dry-cleaned, washed and pressed the warm clothing items, wrapped them all. They were all good-quality stuff and we took every care with prepping and wrapping them …
    But it seemed that our Christmas Tree family wanted New and Special, and Out of the Box. They actually relayed a really nasty complaint about what they had been given … I had to go to the 1st Sgt. of the unit and explain about it all. That we only had $300 to work with. The takeaway from this experience was – the recipients of this charity just wanted new and high-end stuff.
    The supremely ironic thing was that any of us relatively lowly enlisted personnel would have been quite content with the stuff that we organized for this supposedly desperately-needy family. They only wanted new stuff.

    • Every year, they put up a Christmas Tree display at work, where they put cards on the tree with wanted Christmas presents written in them. I don’t participate, because all the stuff that I ever see written in them is for things I would be embarrassed to ask for if I was needy. And yes, the requirement is for brand new items, not second hand.


    • But it seemed that our Christmas Tree family wanted New and Special, and Out of the Box. They actually relayed a really nasty complaint about what they had been given …

      Fortunately, I’ve only seen something like that once. We had surplus in the garden and offered peas to a needy family. They were able to pick it, but asked if they were already picked. They didn’t get the peas.

    • Hehe, sounds like the news stories they were doing a while ago (Thanksgiving before last?) about how horrible people who donate food are, and how they need to just give money, then cut to a woman who has two kids and was upset because the food from the food pantry that people donated was close to expiring, or off-brands.

      …I grew up on off-brands. My kids eat off-brands. When I take off-brands to the donation place, it’s because I’m rotating out my emergency food supply and everything less than six months before “best by” is going away. The food doesn’t go bad at the best by date, lady….

      • (Nods) I did some volunteer work at a food bank a few years back. We were told that if it wasn’t more than five years after the expiration date, we kept it.

  17. Josh Kruschke


  18. Just checked the numbers, and NY raised the minimum from $7.25 to $8.75 in one step this year. I can see Walmart looking at some of its smaller 24 hour stores and making them 18 hour stores. Fallout from the hike hasn’t even begun to hit.

    • Or just not have as many cashiers– service is one of the areas that it’s possible to cut, since you can’t reduce ‘put stuff on shelves’.

      At which point the same people who are already hit by having their hours cut will have to spend longer in line to buy the stuff they can afford.

      • Only one cashier on the midnight shift. It’s a frequent stop on my way home from the 4-midnight shift. Cutting the cashiers on that shift means closing the store.

        • Ugh.

          I’ve noticed the “nice” Walmart we go to (there’s the one that has a lot of rough people– only grocery store still open in that area– and then the one we go to) has had to switch their greeters to people who can move really fast and turn their heads easily, so they can focus more on checking receipts on the way out.

          Not a good sign.

    • Has anyone ever considered just indexing the minimum wage to inflation?

  19. C4C

  20. Hi, Springs resident here. Moved from downtown a couple years ago and have to concur with what you say. It’s sad, but I almost never take my kids to the downtown library anymore even though I love the librarians in the children’s section. Between having to worry about a parking meter and passing by the foul-mouthed, smelly and/or smoking idlers who congregate in front before/after visits to Catholic Charities, it’s just easier to go to East. For all the talk about bringing life back to the downtown area, the city officials are ignoring the obvious; we can’t bring our kids to play at Acacia, Monument, or America the Beautiful parks without worrying about society dropouts/substance abusers/mentally-challenged-hence-unpredictable folk. We took the bike path along Monument Creek once to Walmart and when we reached a dark, isolated tunnel, we had to carefully lead our children around a sleeping fellow there, praying he was neither dead nor aggressive.

  21. You differentiate between the worthy needy (that is the ones who will use the money for food and necessities) and the ones who have fundamental issues that make charity a moral hazard. Mental illness doesn’t entirely distinguish between the two groups as some will always make bad choices with the help they are given and you can never control for the person who trades food for alcohol.

    Charity remains a fundamental religious obligation even with these facts on the ground and even with a government that attempts to usurp individual charity in the name of dignity and evenhandedness.

    The best one can do, I find, is to find specific places that are doing good works: food banks for the working poor, school-based organizations that help the kids of migrant workers, disaster relief that’s focused on specific disasters rather than on fundraising or depending on federal grants.