What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Being right. A few months ago I told someone I was afraid if X happened that Y would be the result. Now I’m not an expert in game theory, but I’ve got some small experience with strategic and operational planning. I also have a good sense of consequences and second and third order effects. The problem is being able to see a move or two ahead can be a real mixed bag and sometimes. Being right has a funny way of tasting so much like ashes in your mouth.

2. Group Hugs. About once a quarter the workforce is summoned together to participate in our version of a “town hall meeting.” It’s the preferred method here for leaders to give the impression that communication has happened. It’s fine, though it usually contains no more actual information than could comfortably be put in an email message. We all have our part to play in the show. This week’s iteration, though, included a new feature – the back half of the hall was roped off in order to drive all comers towards the front of the venue where we then spend the better part of two hours sitting elbow to eyeball with our colleagues with space feeling like it was allocated by the same people who decide how much space is need for your average coach seat on an airliner. It’s not so much like being treated as a valued employee as it is being made into a human sardine. Just add oil. Perhaps the reason people so often spread out across all 750 seats is we don’t *want* to sit in each other’s lap. Then again your way looks better for the photo op so at least we know where the priorities lay.

3. Charitable overreach. There are several charities I give to year in and year out. There are some I give to once and then never again. The fastest way to get dropped from my list is to bombard my email and old fashioned mail box with supplications for more money less than two weeks after I sent you a respectably sized check. If I sent you money, I believe in your cause and keep an eye on both you and it during the course of the year… but honest to God, if you keep bombarding me with mailers, you will be dead to me forever.

Giving Tuesday…

I’ve led what, for most purposes, has been a charmed life. Maybe not Gates Foundation or Ford Foundation charmed, but well enough for a kid from down the crick.

Since today is Giving Tuesday, another internet created special purpose day, I’m giving back in the way most likely to avoid requiring interaction with people – Sending cash.

This year, I’m throwing my support to these good causes:

As per usual, I’m focused in, mainly, on organizations that exist for the benefit of animals. I’m sure there are many, many wonder charities that do wonderful things for people… but people as a group are just awful, so animals it is.

Whatever your passion is, though, I hope you’ve found some way to give back today.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Kars for Kids. I hear their two octaves too high jingle every morning at 5:45 AM. I know this because almost without fail it comes on the satellite radio station I’m listening to almost precisely when I’m starting to shave. Mercifully the throat it makes me want to slit is not my own. I have no idea what organization Kars fronts for nor do I know what portion of funds raised go to support their good cause of the day. It doesn’t really matter because with their deeply agitating icepick-in-the-ear method of early morning advertising if they were providing free food for life to every kid in America.

2. Getting wet. Spending two hours milling around a parking lot is bad enough by itself. Add a heavy does or rain and you to spend the rest of the day squishing around in sodden shoes. Here’s a pro tip for you – having a pair of dry socks is important, but dry socks don’t mean a damn think when you’re sticking them back into waterlogged boots. Lesson most definitely learned.

3. Thursday. Why on earth isn’t Thursday the day before the weekend starts. Instead, it’s mostly just Monday #4 and I hate it for that.

I’d just waste the rest…

So last week Mark Zuckerberg promised to divest himself of 99% of his fortune over his lifetime. About 13 seconds later, the chattering class filled the internet with complaints that he wasn’t giving it away fast enough, or to the right causes, or that he was just structuring the donations to be a tax deduction.

Without coordinating with the founder of Facebook on where he stands on the issue, my initial response was 1) Who the hell empowered anyone to decide how fast someone should give away their own money; 2) You go ahead and pick your causes and I’ll pick mine; and 3) If you are going to give away the better part of $49 billion, you’d be absolutely insane not to plan for the tax consequences of doing so.

The super-wealthy in America have a long and noble tradition of charitable giving. The barons of the industrial age built libraries, universities, and other public institutions that still dot the country. While even in my wildest, most avaricious dreams I’m not in the company of a Rockefeller, a Carnegie, or a Zuckerberg, I pretty much want to be left alone when it comes to what I give and the causes I choose to support. In my case the causes tend to be local and animal focused almost exclusively – figuring that sick kids and the disease of the moment are always going to find reasonably strong support.

No matter how worthy your cause, telling people that they’re wrong for not donating exactly the way you do (or would) is a pretty ludicrous proposition. If you don’t like what Zuck is putting is cash behind and how it’s being structured, go on out and raise $49 billion of your own and give it away any damned way you’d like… and then remember not to claim any of it at tax time. Unless you’re planning on doing that, I’m not sure I even know what you’re talking about.

It might be helpful in this circumstance to just be glad that people like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet are doing their bit. Under the same circumstances, I’m not at all sure I’d be able to restrain myself from spending half of it on gambling, alcohol, and wild women and then just plain wasting the rest.

With that in mind, my hat’s off to the lot of them.

Charity…

Every year, Uncle Sam sponsors the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), the government’s officially sanctioned one-stop-shop for its personnel to donate to the cause of their choice through direct payroll deduction. Every year from Thanksgiving to New Years you’re inundated with emails, meetings, kick off events, more emails, and unofficial peer pressure to give, give, give. I’m told that it’s better now than it was “in the olden days,” when signing up was damned near compulsory (unofficially, of course).

We got a bulk email this afternoon thanking everyone for participating this year, but noting ominously that we had only achieved 72% of the stated local goal and that as a result babies would go hungry, kittens would be drowned, and veterans of the Spanish-American War wouldn’t get the recognition they so richly deserved. OK, maybe that wasn’t exactly what the email said, but taking a bit of artistic license, that’s what I read. At any rate, I could have done without the reminder that there was still time to dig a little deeper.

I don’t generally give to CFC, preferring to do my donating directly with the groups I’m interested in supporting rather than through a 3rd party. This year, though, even that didn’t happen. After three long years without a raise, losing 5% of last year’s salary to furlough days, and spending a week sitting home because of how “non-essential” I am, I opted out almost completely, shepherding my limited funds available in case they needed to be deployed much closer to home. If that sounds at all bitter and jaded, well there’s a good reason for that.

There are a lot of worthy causes out there, but when push comes to shove, I’m my own favorite cause… and when the elected powers that be continually tell federal employees that they’re a drain on society and busy themselves dinking with our pay and benefits at every opportunity, it’s a good assumption that I’m just not feeling the spirit of generosity. There’s just something about being kicked in the stones repeatedly that seems to not set one afire with the joy of “giving back.” In fact, to me the only surprise in this whole story is the CFC didn’t miss their mark by way more than 28%. If nothing else, it’s an excellent example of actions having consequences.