A request for donations to help my brother’s family.

My older brother, Wes Jenkins, lost his wife of 26 years, Debra, on Monday to pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, my brother has been chronically underemployed for quite some time now. This last month she required round the clock hospice care that has racked up some serious bills for him and his family.

I don’t often ask for donations and I’m not entirely sure my brother would appreciate me doing so, but I’m putting this out there anyway because you guys have in the past been so very supportive of me when I hit a rough patch, and my rough patch doesn’t compare to what my brother is going through right now. If any of you can spare a few bucks there is a GoFundMe page that’s been set up to accept donations on the family’s behalf.

I am truly thankful for the past support you folks have shown me and I would like to preemptively thank you for any help you can lend my brother now. Thank you.


Amanda Palmer and the Art of Asking.

Musician Amanda Palmer did a TED talk a couple of weeks ago about asking her fans for help when touring:

I’ve been thinking about it ever since. She basically says that there is a power in connecting with her fans and asking them for help over the years. It’s allowed her to drop the label she and her band had signed on with and give their music away for free. Ultimately it led to the most successful Kickstarter project for music ever. They asked for $100,000 for a new album and they got $1.2 million from their fans. All because they took a chance and asked.

I’m terrible with asking for help when it comes to matters of money, but I’ve had some first-hand experience with this in my own past. Back when my contract with Ford Motor Company was suddenly terminated in 2005 quite a few SEB regulars encouraged me to put up a donation link in the sidebar so they could help out. I was resistant to the idea at first because it felt like begging — which is what it was — but I put one up with the idea that I’d use it to pay for maintaining the website hosting. I figured I’d be back to work in short order as I always had been when previous contracts ended and I delayed signing up for unemployment which, of course, ended up getting me into trouble. By the time April rolled around I was in a crunch and I finally broke down and asked my readers for help.

Boy, did you guys ever come through. There was enough donations to keep me and my family afloat until the unemployment checks started coming in. I had never been so grateful of the generosity of strangers than I was then. I was sure that a job was just around the corner and we had made it through the worst of it. In the coming months Anne would land a job (she had been a stay-at-home mom during my time with Ford) and combined with my unemployment it was enough for us to get by. Ultimately it would be 10 months before I found work again and the unemployment benefits ended well ahead of that happening by a couple of months. So in October I again put my hat out and asked for some help and again my readers kept us afloat long enough for that long sought after job to finally arrive. The next few years were a bit of a roller coaster job-wise, but I managed to not ask for help again until may of 2010 when I was once again unemployed after my contract at a BigDot.Com Company — that I’m still technically not allowed to name due to a 5 year NDA — came to an end.

So, yeah, I’ve got some first-hand experience with what Amanda Palmer is talking about. Needless to say, my hangup about asking for help when I’m in trouble has diminished somewhat, but my hangup about asking for help when things are going OK remains.

I struggled with school growing up because it was apparent I was very smart, but I couldn’t seem to apply myself. (Thanks undiagnosed ADD.) I had any number of authority figures tell me on more than one occasion that I was a failure in the making and that I’d probably spend the rest of my life on welfare being a leach on society. It left quite an impression on me and I ended up — outside of a small period in my early 20’s — living with my parents until I was 31 because, well, I was afraid of trying to live on my own. So when I did get out on my own I resolved to try to be as self-supporting as possible. I made it 7 years in Canton and that included having my daughter come to live with me and getting married. That’s why when we ended up having to move in with my in-laws in the fall of 2005 due to my ongoing unemployment it felt like all those predictions had come to pass.

I mention all of this because back when I first moved into that apartment in Canton I believed I’d be in it for six months to a year while I paid off debts and saved up for the down payment on a house. Then life happened and that year turned into 7 and then the eventual move in with my in-laws. That was also only supposed to be 6 months to a year and it turned into two and a half years. The job with BigDot.Com Company is what got us back out on our own. Next thing I know I’m 45 years old and no closer to being a home owner than I’ve ever been and it’s not looking likely anytime soon. The housing market is starting to recover which means I’m be missing out on the best possible time to buy a house which is the only real plus to the fact that I played by the rules and didn’t become one of those subprime borrowers that were part of the housing bubble.

I want my own home badly. The itch gets particularly bad around holidays when I could be putting up decorations. It’d be nice to have the room to be able to entertain more than a couple of guests at a time. I want a nice sized basement to host my own LAN parties in. Our rent is right around what a decent mortgage payment would be anyway. Anne and I tried looking at some homes last fall and were even pre-approved by a mortgage company so long as we could come up with the 3% down payment for whatever we were looking at. Yeah, that’s not going to happen any time soon. We’re doing OK, but it seems like whenever we manage to save some money life happens and we end up having to spend it.

No, I’m not about to ask you folks to help me with a down payment. Like Palmer says, it doesn’t feel like I have the right. It would be especially hypocritical considering what I wrote about Save Karyn back in 2002. She’s the young woman who had racked up $20,000 in credit card dept on shit she didn’t need and then begged on the Internet for help in paying it off. It worked. In just 4 months using a combination of selling some of her stuff on eBay and accepting donations she had it completely paid off. Then she wrote a book about it.

The reason I don’t have a problem with Amanda Palmer’s crowd sourcing is because she’s giving something back to her fans. They’re getting something for their money in supporting her. Alas, I don’t have any particular talents that I could use for a Kickstarter campaign. I can’t sing, dance, or play an instrument. No skill at drawing or painting. Writing is about the only creative thing I do regularly, but every attempt I’ve made at a book (fiction or not) has never gotten far before it collapsed under its own mediocrity.  Even if I were to consider my blogging to be enough (I don’t) I’m not active enough anymore to justify the request. I see interesting and unique ideas from other folks out there all the time that I could have done had I thought of it, but I don’t want to just be a pale imitation of someone else. For supposedly being a creative person I don’t appear to be all that imaginative or good at anything in particular. Which just kills me because I’m just extroverted enough that I’d enjoy the hell out of entertaining folks for some of their spare change.

I’ve experienced the power of asking first hand and it’s as amazing as Amanda Palmer says it is. Hopefully I’ll come up with something I can do to make it possible to experience it again. I’ll keep scratching my head and trying to think of something. There’s gotta be something I’m good at.

Adventures in charity fund raising in the IT department.

Here at “The Automotive Supplier™” where I work there are several charity events put on by various departments throughout the year. The next one takes place on February 29th and is being set up and run by the IT department in my building (a whole whopping three people including myself). My pseudo-boss — in that he’s technically not my boss but he keeps an eye on me — is a golfer and he’s leading the charge on the event so he went with what he knows. Thus we are doing a mini-golf event with “holes” laid out throughout the cubicals and hallways of the building to raise funds for the Michigan Humane Society.

Of course we can’t dig actual holes into the floor for this event so we had to come up with some clever way of providing a target that would determine a successful putt. Being IT we of course had to come up with the most overtly geeky targets we could manage. Thus I give to you The Mouse Holes:

The paw flags read: Help us help them.

Yes, 18 crappy old mice have sacrificed their tails in order to provide a suitable way to determine a successful putt. They’ll be sitting on a sheet of paper with a circle on it so that if the ball hits the “hole” hard enough to knock it out of the circle it’ll be considered to have “popped” out of the hole putting a bit of finesse back into the game.

Now I’m a pretty big geek, but it would never have occurred to me to turn old mice into “holes” for a mini-golf game. Looking at the end result I feel a little more normal than usual. That’s some damned geeky shit.

Non-Believers Giving Aid – Support for the Haiti Tragedy and Beyond

Non-Believers Giving Aid: a religion-free way to help disaster victims

Aid Been Given Spurred by the horrific suffering in Haiti, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) has joined forces with 13 other freethought groups or associates, to collect donations to non-religious relief organizations. Those participating are Atheist Alliance International, Atheists Helping the Homeless, Atheists United, The British Humanist Association, James Randi Educational Foundation, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, New Humanist magazine, Pharyngula, Rationalist Association, Reasonable New York, The Reason Project, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, The Skeptics Society and Unreasonable Faith.

We have set up a new dedicated bank account and PayPal facility in the new name of Non-Believers Giving Aid. All of the money donated will be distributed to disaster relief.

Clearly the immediate need is for the suffering people of Haiti, and all the money raised by this current appeal will go to that cause, but the new account will remain available for future emergencies too. There are, of course, many ways for you to donate to relief organizations already, but doing it through Non-Believers Giving Aid offers some advantages:

1. 100% of your donation will be go to these charities: not even the PayPal fees will be deducted from your donation, since Richard will personally donate a sum to cover the cost of these (capped at $10,000). This means that more of your money will reach the people in need.

2. When donating via Non-Believers Giving Aid, you are helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow-humans.

It goes without saying that your donations will only be passed on to aid organizations that do not have religious affiliations. In the case of Haiti, the two organizations we have chosen are:

You may stipulate using the drop down menu which of these two organizations you want your donation to go to; otherwise, it will be divided equally between them.

Preachers and televangelists, mullahs and imams, often seem almost to gloat over natural disasters – presenting them as payback for human transgressions, or for ‘making a pact with the devil’. Earthquakes and tsunamis are caused not by ‘sin’ but by tectonic plate movements, and tectonic plates, like everything else in the physical world, are supremely indifferent to human affairs and sadly indifferent to human suffering. Those of us who understand this reality are sometimes accused of being indifferent to that suffering ourselves. Of course the very opposite is the truth: we do not hide behind the notion that earthly suffering will be rewarded in a heavenly paradise, nor do we expect a heavenly reward for our generosity: the understanding that this is the only life any of us have makes the need to alleviate suffering even more urgent. The myth that it is only the religious who truly care is sustained largely by the fact that they tend to donate not as individuals, but through their churches. Non-believers, by contrast, give as individuals: we have no church through which to give collectively, no church to rack up statistics of competitive generosity. Non-Believers Giving Aid is not a church (that’s putting it mildly) but it does provide an easy conduit for the non-religious to help those in desperate need, whilst simultaneously giving the lie to the canard that you need God to be good.

Whether you do it by clicking the PayPal button, or by cheque or by direct wire transfer (see below), please help us to help the suffering people of Haiti.

Donate Now

Pomplamoose performs “Always in the Season.”

Yes, I know I’ve been posting a lot of videos lately and that’s because there’s been a lot I’ve wanted to share. Like this one by the fine folks of Pomplamoose Music. I could have sworn I’ve written about them before as well as posted another music video they did, but I can’t seem to locate it. Perhaps it got lost in the move.

Anyway, it’s a secular Christmas carol called Always in the Season that I can’t get out of my head. The best part is you can get this song and another, as of yet unreleased, song by them for free in exchange for a little charity on your part. They’ll explain it after the song:

I love how energetic Jack Conte gets when the percussion kicks in. It’s hard not to get caught up in that kind of energy.

So the deal is you give someone in need a goat and they’ll give you a couple of MPfrees! Good music and a worthwhile cause. Just the sort of things this season should be all about. If you want to give a goat this holiday, or anytime really, you can do so over at World Vision Online.

Found over at Boing Boing.

I’ll be staying up late for this year’s Blogathon!

After several emails and more than a few Tweets, I’ve decided that I will participate in this year’s Blogathon. Taking my inspiration from ***Dave’s choice of charity I’ve decided that I will be blogging for the Humane Society of Huron Valley which is the shelter we adopted Beanie from. They’ve been around for 110 years and are the only shelter in Washtenaw Country that takes in all types of unwanted, injured, lost, stray, abandoned and abused animals helping over 10,000 yearly. They are in the middle of building a new shelter as the old one dates from the 1950’s and as such is woefully inadequate in this day and age. Given the rise in abandoned animals in this economic climate it seems like they could use all the help they can get. Plus they have a number of different ways to donate which allows some flexibility on the part of folks who want to help out.

Here’s what this is all about: A whole bunch of us bloggers will be getting up early on Saturday July 25, 2009 and staying up for the next 24 hours blogging a new entry every 30 minutes or so. Some of us, like ***Dave and his comic books, will have a specific topic they’ll be focusing on and others, like me, will court disaster by relying on our ADD afflicted attention spans to find topics to blog about. ***Dave’s approach is more practical, but mine is more exciting. OK, not really, but there is a certain level of drama involved. The Blogathon will start at 0600 PDT/1300 UTC which translates roughly to 9AM local time for me. That is a bit later than in year’s past, but I’m not complaining. At that time I’ll sit down at my computer and try to be entertaining and/or informative for the next 24 hours straight.

What I’m hoping you will do is to sponsor my attempt at marathon blogging. To do that you just need to click here and register an account with the Blogathon folks and tell them how much you’re sponsoring me for. This registration is strictly so they can keep track of who’s sponsoring me and to be able to send out a reminder to donate after the event is over. While you’re there you can also sponsor other bloggers if you wish. There are a number of them already blogging for many worthwhile charities. If you’re a blogger yourself you can also sign up to participate for your favorite charity as well. Keep in mind that no money is sent to me or to the Blogathon folks! You’ll be donating directly to the Humane Society of Huron Valley. They are a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization and as such donations to HSHV are tax-deductible.

Now you may be asking yourself why should you go through all that trouble if you’re just going to donate directly to the HSHV anyway. Why not just donate to them directly and eliminate the middle man? Sure you could do that and if you’re more comfortable that way then please do so, but by doing this through the Blogathon you motivate me to try and blog coherently at 3 o’clock in the morning. Plus I’ll be on Twitter and Facebook this year and I’m looking at ways to stream a live feed from my webcam while I’m at it. No doubt I’ll be looking forward to hearing from you guys as I blog and I’ll be encouraging you to participate by sending me Burning Questions or topics you’d like to hear from me on. In short I’ll become a virtual puppet dancing for your entertainment all in hopes you’ll toss a few bucks towards a very worthy cause. You can check out past performances from 2003 and 2006 to get an idea of what’s in store. In 2003 I raised $193.25 for the Association for International Cancer Research and in 2006 it was $474.00 for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It would be really cool if we could break the $500 mark this year.

We’ve got three weeks before the main event, but don’t let that stop you getting an early start. Go sign up and make your pledge and I’ll dig out my dancing shoes.

It’s almost time for this year’s Blogathon.

The semi-annual charity event for bloggers is almost upon us again. Yes, the Blogathon is back and scheduled to take place on July 25th. For those of you who are uninitiated, the blogathon is just like a bowlathon except instead of getting people to sponsor you to wear loud shoes and throw heavy balls at little pins you get people to sponsor you to stay awake for 24 hours writing an entry every half-hour. That may not sound all that hard, but as someone who has participated in the project twice previously I can honestly say that it’s tougher than you might think. Around about 3 or 4 in the morning your entries are often barely coherent.

As I said I’ve done it twice before, have sat out a couple of times, and a couple of years they didn’t do one. So I’m thinking about doing it again this year, but the problem is that I don’t know if I can come up with enough things to blog about. You’ve probably noticed that my daily blogging has been sporadic and short as of late and that’s largely to do with the writer’s block I’ve been suffering from. If I can’t manage a couple of posts in a day at the point then how the hell am I going to do a couple of posts an hour? With the time limit in effect it’s difficult enough to put up anything of substance and it’s even more difficult when you haven’t had anything of substance to say for awhile.

So I’m wavering on it. I’d like to do it, but I don’t know if I’m in intellectual shape to do it. What do you guys think? Would you be willing to sponsor me if I decide to do 24 hours of semi-intelligent blathering? Let me know in the comments.

Update: It just occurred to me that it might be fun to see if I could do it as either a partial or full video blog or maybe multiple short podcasts where I talk about whatever topics folks send my way. That could be fun. Hmmmmm…..

In honor of “National Pancake Day” IHOP is giving away free pancakes.

I love IHOP. I’m old enough to remember when it was The International House of Pancakes. I also love pancakes and free stuff is always nice too. So I may have to make some time today to visit the local IHOP and get me a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. IHOP is giving away the pancakes in hopes that you will consider making a donation to the Children’s Miracle Network charity. Yes it’s a bit of self-promotion in support of a good cause. You can read up on the details here, but it’s free pancakes! What could be better than that?

OK, free money would be better, but you take your freebies where you can get them.

Almost a third of donations by Americans went to religion last year.

When people find out I’m an atheist it often results in a small discussion about religion in general and my beliefs in particular that at one point or another inevitably gets around to a common question: “Even if it turns out there are no Gods what harm is there in believing?” One of the answers I give to that question is the simple fact that religious belief results in massive amounts of hours and money being wasted on a pointless pursuit.

Take for example the fact that religious organizations swallowed up almost a third of all charitable donations last year:

According to Giving USA Foundation Americans donated $295 billion in charitable contributions in 2006. About $97 billion went to religious organizations—that is just a shade under one third of all charitable gifts. Last year, Americans gave $93 billion to religion.

Education was a distant second, receiving $41 billion (13.9 percent). Human Services received $29.6 billion (roughly 10 percent). Public-society benefit received $21.41 billion (7.3 percent) and health received $20.22 billion (6.9 percent). Arts, culture and humanities received $12.5 billion (4.2 percent) of the total, while the environment and animals received a total of $6.6 billion (2.2 percent).

Presumably the vast majority, if not all, of that $97 billion was tax free. Sure some of it goes to support programs set up and run by various religious organizations that are designed to help out the poor and disadvantaged, but a good chunk of it went to supporting the organizations and churches themselves. Not to mention more than a few lavish lifestyles led by some of religion’s biggest church leaders. That’s a lot of money spent on the pursuit of a comforting delusion. Imagine how much benefit could be derived if that money was given to programs that aren’t out to deliver a heaping of Jesus with their helping hand. For that matter, imagine how much better off some folks with limited incomes would be if they weren’t ponying up to some Evangelical preacher in hopes of winning Jesus’ favor.