Saturday, October 11, 2008
I don't have very much time because I'm babysitting today and will be rooting on my brother in the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, so here's a special edition of Shame on America Sunday -- the Saturday Edition. I'll make it quick:
Be a grown up about taxes, will you?
That means just shut up and pay them. You don't have to like it. You don't have to pay more than your fair share. But, like getting up and going to work, like pretending to like green beans so the kids will eat them, like all the things adults do that they don't really want to do but if adults don't do them, who will, you have to pay taxes.
Here's why: You like the stuff the government gives you. It's that simple. You don't gripe when the book store makes you pay for your books. You don't try to weasel out of paying the tab when the bartender serves the mojitos. Nobody ever complains about the cost of an ice cream cone.
But everyone whines about taxes and tries to shift them off -- let the corporations pay them -- or avoid them by believing that politicians can hand you money and goodies for free.
Here is one thing you should know: Corporations don't pay taxes. Never have. Never will. Not the small corporation I work for, not Microsoft, not any. I know they file corporate tax returns and those show that they've paid taxes, but those taxes get passed directly on to the person that buys the goods or services the corporation is selling. Sometimes they do it overtly, like when a plumber charged me $30 per hour plus a "fuel surcharge." Sometimes they just charge you more for Windows Vista. So when you say tax the corporations you're saying charge me more money for my mojitos.
Here's another thing you should know: when the government gives you something, it has to pay for it with money from someone else. The government doesn't earn anything. It lives on handouts -- taxes you pay, or money from investors buying treasury bills. Those investors are increasingly foreign investors.
In 2007, according to this article which is easy to find and easier to want to ignore, foreigners owned 80% of the US Treasury notes payable in 3-to-10 years. That means that for the next few years, 80% of the money the US government pays back to investors goes to foreigners.
Is that more comforting than paying taxes? You're still paying them, after all -- the government gets the money to ship to foreign investors by taxing you (or by borrowing more money, but that's for another day.) But the taxes you pay today are increasingly going to pay the money the government borrowed when you didn't want to pay taxes 3 years ago or 7 years ago or 10 years ago.
Your attitude towards taxes, frankly, is this: I don't want to pay for the mojito, so I'm going to ask the bartender to make someone else pay for it. And the next one. And the one after that. And eventually, I hope to be dead before I pay the tab and my kids can pay it.
Well, that's a juvenile attitude. Expecting to get something for free, expecting to get things paid for by other people, postponing the day of reckoning, not dealing with issues, is a juvenile attitude and it is hurting the country. Americans have long passed the point where they could tolerate even the smallest discomfort for the good of the country. Americans don't want to pay taxes and will resoundingly vote down anyone who does not promise to cut taxes. Forget tax increases; forget promising, as the good President Bush did, no new taxes. Today's politicians have to promise to lower taxes -- lower lower lower or they won't get listened to at all.
That attitude: give me stuff for free, make someone else pay, postpone any trouble and don't make me think about bad stuff, is not the attitude that built a cross-country railroad, united the country after the Civil War, fought and won two world wars, and landed a man on the moon.
It is, though, the attitude that demanded that Congress bailout a bunch of companies that probably deserved to go under, the attitude that made Congress borrow another trillion dollars that our kids will have to pay back because America was worried that the price of mojitos might have to be paid in cash, the attitude that just made things immeasurably worse in the future because America didn't want things to be a little hard in the present.
A few weeks ago, Joe Biden pointed out that it's a patriotic thing to do to pay taxes:
What happened? Newsweek told him to "shut up about the taxes." Sarah You Betcha Palin said something in her debate pre-scripted lines about how she didn't want to pay any more taxes.
Biden was, first of all, suggesting that people making over $250,000 pay more taxes. That would exclude over half the country since if you make over $250,000 you make more than the median income in every single city in the country; put another way, it means that no matter where you live, half the people or more make less than $250,000.
Biden was, second of all, right. Paying taxes is patriotic. Paying taxes is right up there with voting and serving in the armed services and the other duties that our country asks of us from time to time.
But Biden was criticized for being right, because Americans don't have even the slightest tolerance for anything even remotely inconvenient or painful.
If we can't bear to pay taxes to pay for the services we want, if we can't bear to suffer through some economic downturns that are part of the natural cycle, if we can't tolerate anything difficult or inconvenient or unpleasant, how are we going to win the War on Terror? How are we going to bring democracy to the world? How are we going to land a man on Mars?
It's time to grow up, America. Adults pay their own bills.
The Fix, and What You Can Do Until The Fix Arrives: The next time you see a politician, tell him or her its okay not to promise cutting taxes. Ask him or her how they're going to pay for the programs they promise. And tell Sarah Palin to shut the heck up.
Friday, October 10, 2008
I'm a little confused as to how I watch someone compete in a 26 mile race, since I don't intend to run along with him. But I'll figure that out when I get there, I assume, and I'll be ready to holler at him as he goes by mile 13.6. I'm also not sure if I'm supposed to have some official duties here; he mentioned, in June, that people who watch sometimes give the runners encouragement AND refreshments, like Gatorade or beef jerky or something. I don't know -- I was having trouble paying attention at the time because I hadn't slept in four days.
Anyway, to celebrate that, I'll post song 18, the song I listen to most often when I go running, because it provides that jolt of adrenaline that's necessary for me to start running, or keep running, or, most days, just to think about putting down the Cheetos and putting on my shoes.
Plus, it's a good song to start your weekend, so here goes song 18 of 9,105: Common People, by William Shatner:
Common People has a bunch of eleven spots in it -- and if you want to know what an "Eleven Spot" is, then click here.
Matt the Runner first showed up in this blog when our family went to Florida over the summer.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Unfortunately, I'm NOT listening to that, because I'm at home working on my laptop, and The Boy is doing the cleanup after a dinner of macaroni and cheese, butterscotch pancakes, and toast (I cooked, and it's grocery-shopping day, which explains that dinner), and since The Boy is doing the chores he gets to choose the music and so as a result of that, I am NOT listening to Velvet Underground and I AM listening to a bunch of Pink Floyd.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I was listening all day to the Regina Spektor album I finally broke down and went and bought after listening to her songs all day yesterday, when A Guy At Work came in and we began talking about music and it ended up with me telling him that Graceland by Paul Simon was the only album that I'd ever listened to on which I'd liked every single song. Not a weak song on that album.
So in honor of that, here's the best one off Graceland, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.
A Guy At Work was incredulous, though, and mentioned The Beatles. I fended him off by pointing out that on Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the song Within You Without You ain't that great. But then I stopped to consider Abbey Road and I think maybe Abbey Road is the other album on which there is no bad track and I like every song on it. So here's song 16, the best song off of that album, Oh Darling:
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Is because I have been listening to a lot of Regina Spektor lately on Youtube, as I ponder buying one of her albums; I began listening to her on Youtube because I have the song Fidelity on my iPod (it's number 14 of 9,105) and I like that song, so I went and listened to other songs by Regina Spektor on Youtube, and then I found this song,
Which is That Time, by Regina Spektor, and which I've now listened to about five times in a row, and each time I've listened, I've laughed when she got to the part where she says "So cheap and JUICY!" so I decided that I had to post this video, here, because that's the line in the song that pushes the song from good to great, but I don't have That Time on my iPod, and I do have Fidelity on my iPod.
So I posted Fidelity as a pretext to posting That Time.
But, Fidelity also has some meaning today, because I had to interview someone by phone the other day, and that someone then was reported to have said that I sounded cute on the phone, and was said to have asked if I was single. I mentioned that to Sweetie, and Sweetie asked me whether I was wearing my wedding ring.
"Yes," I said, and added "And I was on the phone."
"Did you sound single?" Sweetie demanded.
We left it with her telling me to sound more married when I talk to people, and less sexy.
Like this? Read more, like:
Gooshing is a word -- right? It is when that's what's going on, in Gooshing My Way Through A Problem.
40 foot tall robots, carpet shopping, Mother's Day cards... all in a week's work.
Monday, October 06, 2008
We went to an apple orchard on Saturday, which was fun but I couldn't really relax because a portion of my mind was occupied with the Library Problem.
The Library Problem is this, in a nutshell: how long can I keep an overdue book before it becomes more cost effective to either go buy it myself or claim I lost it and pay the Library for it?
The Library Problem arises a lot, these days, because I'm making more and more use of the Library since I discovered that I can make them do all the work for me by going online and requesting books. At our library, you can set up an account and then go online and click on books and CDs and videos and they'll set them aside and email you when they're ready for pickup, so I can get all that stuff without having to go wander around the library myself and look for them; that's important because, to be honest, libraries have a way of sucking the fun out of things, even relatively cool libraries like the one I go to, with its open layout and computer stations and kid's area with beanbag chairs and puzzles -- a kid's area where I tried to have the boys play, only to see Mr Bunches take off like he was shot from a cannon, while Mr F tried to pull the books out and eat them.
I think the problem with libraries is the books. Library books are, in theory, the same as the books you buy at Barnes & Noble or Waldenbooks or the local bookstore down on the funky part of town, the kind of bookstore people go to when they're snobs who don't believe that book "superstores" are a good thing. Those are the same kind of people who claim they don't watch TV, and I don't like them.
Library books, though, differ from real books that can be bought in a store. The words are the same, the titles are the same, but the book itself lacks a certain amount of fun. It might be the covers. Library books have those plastic covers on them that remind me of the plastic mats my grandparents always had leading into their house, mats we had to stop and take off our shoes on before we went any further into their house and messed it up. Not that we minded taking off our shoes; most of the time when we went to Grandma and Grandpa's house it was for a special occasion, so we had "nice" shoes on and our "nice" shoes were both uncomfortably stiff and always a little too big or too small; as a kid, you get shoes bought for you only periodically and you have to grow into them, so for 90% of the shoe's life, it's too big and you clonk around at Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve and then some dumb party with too-big shoes, only to find, next year, when Thanksgiving comes around again and you have to get the shoes out, that they're a little too small, but it's Thanksgiving Day and there's no time to get new shoes, so you ride to Grandma and Grandpa's house holding the pumpkin pie carefully on your lap and fighting the urge to just poke your thumb into the topping because that feels really really cool, the way it squishes, and trying to distract yourself from how much your feet hurt because the shoes are a little too small.
Plus, taking off your shoes at Grandma and Grandpa's house was welcome because it meant that you'd get that much more relief from the incredible heat of their house. Fuel oil for furnaces must have been cheaper than air when I was a kid, because even stingy grandparents who grew up in the Depression and whose idea of a great Christmas present was a plaid shirt from Sears and an NFL pencil set with a pencil for each of the teams, even those type of grandparents kept the furnace blazing away at 115 degrees. As I look back now, I suspect they kept it that hot to slowly calm down the grandkids -- us-- by baking them ever so slightly as the day went on, so that while when we first arrived we had more than enough energy to get into fights about whether a shot counted on the pool table if you didn't intend to make that shot (the single dumbest rule we ever created for that pool table, which slanted slightly to the left and which meant that you were always better off calling most of your shots for the corner pocket) -- while we had that level of energy at the start, by the end of the day it was all we could do to hold our heads up in the den and mumble arguments about who was hogging the reclining rocker chair that spun in an entire circle.
That's why library book covers suck some of the fun out of books - -they keep you from really touching the book. Then there's the illustrations that are on the covers of the books. When a book is sitting on the shelf in the store, it's got some cool illustration and it's shiny and appears three-dimensional and begs you to pick it up. But that same exact book in the library has a flatly two-dimensional illustration that appears to have been the third runner up in Miss Bergum's "Illustrate This Book" Contest at my old elementary school.
Here's an example. Here's the book "The Subtle Knife" as it appears on the bookshelf in the store:
That cover is excellent, isn't it? It really tells you that something magical and wondrous and fascinating is going to happen. Compare it with this cover, which was the cover of the book The Subtle Knife that I took out of the library:
Now, what is that? This is exactly what I thought when I looked that cover: Pleh. Then, I thought this: Who is that forty-year-old woman on the left? Then I thought this Is that cat all right?
So you can see the problem; see that second cover in a library, and you'll just keep on walking past the book -- especially if you're trying to find Mr Bunches. I imagine that there's a really, really, third-rate art school somewhere where people go to learn to do library-book-cover-illustrations, with a teacher walking around behind them going No, no, make sure the perspective is a little more off. Here, make one eye larger than the other and suggesting color palates that remind you of the creamed corn your grandmother used to serve at Thanksgiving.
Discovering that the library would get the books I requested ready for me, so I could just go in and get them and not have the fun sucked out of me and/or lose the twins was a godsend to me; I could browse for books online, find them, request them, and pick them up.
The Library Problem arises from the fact that others can do that, too -- and when they do, the library puts a hold on your book and won't let you renew it online. (The library also puts a limit on the total number of renewals, even if nobody else in the world is requesting the book; I don't know why they do that. If nobody else wants the book, what does it matter if I want to keep it longer? They know where it is, after all.)
I discovered that I could get around the hold, online, by asking the computer to renew my book twice -- a glitch I imagine the library never knew existed until I found it, and which I discovered only accidentally, by insisting, to the computer, that I wanted to renew my book. I went online, and tried to renew it, but got a message that I couldn't because someone else had requested the book. I stubbornly clicked the "renew" box again and saw, to my surprise, that it worked! I had outsmarted the library and renewed my book and to the guy or girl who was waiting for it... well, I'm sorry, but possession is 9/10 of the law, and stubbornly clicking the box again is the other 1/10th, so I've got the whole of the law on my side.
Even that little maneuver had a limit, though -- eventually, the library just won't let you renew the book anymore, under any circumstances, and that's the point I reached this past Saturday morning -- I couldn't renew the two books that were overdue, marked in red on my library account home page.
Let me take this moment to note that I routinely go and check my library account page for updates and make sure that my books are not overdue and see what new books and videos and the like I can request; meanwhile, my first payment on my new credit account was overdue by 45 days because I forgot about it. Sweetie has now taken over making those payments for me; I continue to monitor my library account myself.
To make matters worse, not only could I not renew the two books, which I am not done with because these days I only read about 1-2 pages before falling asleep or getting distracted by Invader Zim, but there was a new CD in that I really really wanted to listen to, only I worried that if I went to pick it up, the library would refuse to give me the CD because I had no intention of returning the books yet, and then the librarian would have to give me that frown, the same frown they gave me when I finally paid the $10 overdue fee for having almost lost the Paul Simon "Old" CD; I didn't lose it, but it was missing for a long time and then I returned it when I found it, and they insisted that I pay a late fee that was equal to the cost of the CD in the first place, which seems unfair to me, and which seemed more unfair when I realized that for the $10 bucks, I could have just kept the CD in the first place, and now they had the CD and they wanted ten dollars, which I very reluctantly paid because I was in the library to pick up a book and needed to use my own library card as I'd forgotten to bring Sweetie's with me -- I'd been using Sweetie's library card for over a year at that point because I didn't want to pay what I viewed as an unjust fine, but then I forgot to grab Sweetie's card and I was at the library getting my new books and a DVD and I only had my card, so I paid the fine but I vowed, too, that I'd get back at the library, and I will but I don't know how yet.
That's what was really occupying my mind when we went to the apple orchard on Saturday: trying to calculate how long it would take me to finish the books, how much of a late fee I'd pay for keeping them, and whether I would be better off just returning the books and going to buy them at the store, which I knew, too, that I wasn't going to do. I can't simply return the book and then go back to it someday; if I take a book out of the library and then return it, it's over for me. I can't read that book again, whether it's from the library or the store. I don't even know why. It's like wires get crossed in my mind, wires from the part of my mind that think I really like this book and want to finish it getting accidentally routed over to this book sure stinks, and so I never can return a book and go back to get it and start it again.
All of that was weighing heavily on my mind as we got to the apple orchard, which, surprisingly, was about a minute or two from the mall. Our city is slowly carving into the farmland around us and spreading at an alarming or pleasing rate, depending on your perspective; it's pleasing for me, because whenever I see it spreading, I get to say things like Remember when this was all farmland? Look how built up it is, which gives me something to say in the car to fill up gaps in the conversation and cover up those embarrassing pauses when Sweetie might otherwise start to suspect that I'm not listening.
Even with that buildup, I was surprised at how close the apple orchard was to the city and its strip malls and pizza places, and also at how little it looked like I'd pictured an apple orchard looking like, and also at the gang of thug-like teenagers sitting menacingly by the duck pond, which disappointed me because I like duck ponds. There were five or six of them, all teenagers, and they did not appear overtly menacing, they weren't all dressed in black or carrying switchblades or dancing and snapping their fingers and claiming to be a Jet all the way or anything, but something about the way they sat there, flicking rocks into the pond and slouching, made them seem untoward to me, made them seem like any second they'd pull out the Marlboros they's swiped from Dad and start making fun of me. So we couldn't take Mr F and Mr Bunches by the duck pond, but Sweetie probably wouldn't have allowed it anyway, because Mr F and Mr Bunches were likely to try to get into the duck pond and fishing Babies! out of a pond isn't considered a relaxing Sunday morning in anyone's book.
I'd always pictured apple orchards being filled with row upon row of trees, in neat long stretches, with wide spaces between them where people would walk down below the trees, looking up at the apple trees and occasionally stopping to pick some low-hanging fruit, while sipping their apple cider and breathing the crisp fall air and pondering how long they have to pretend to be enjoying this before everyone can turn around, go home, and watch TV. But this orchard didn't look anything like that. Instead, after the duck pond and teenagers, there was a motley assortment of pumpkins spread out near a bunch of wheelbarrows, then a mowed-down cornfield, and off to the left were some small, stunted-looking twisty trees that spread out but which were too low to walk underneath, and too close together to walk between.
That was the orchard, as I found out when I loaded Mr Bunches and Mr F into a wheelbarrow and carried them over there while Sweetie went to the gift shop. Mr Bunches and Mr F and I got over to the cluster of trees and I realized it was the orchard not because I'm great at recognizing apple trees -- my only previous experience with an apple tree was with the one that grew in the field just behind our house when we were kids, a tree my parents always warned us not to eat the apples off of. They never said why we shouldn't eat them; I always assumed it was because the ground was laced with some kind of poison that was swept up into the apples, so I always tried to avoid even touching the tree or the apples.
Instead, I knew it was the orchard because the ground was covered with apples that had dropped off the trees in the thousands, creating a carpet of apples that were slowly rotting and which were perfect for the twins to pick up and begin throwing at anything that moved including each other, and perfect for the twins to goosh into in their shoes, too, and then sit down on rotten-apple-mush.
That's how we killed the time, them gooshing apples and me trying to keep them from running into the cornfield or throwing apples at the people who walked by, carrying bags and little maps of the kinds of apple trees, going off to pick their own apples in an effort to enjoy this trip until they, too, could get home and watch TV.
I had to let Mr F and Mr Bunches goosh apples as much as possible, though, because they had to let out steam; before going to the orchard, we'd taken them to try to watch The Boy's football game that morning, a less-than-successful outing. It was less-than-successful because it took so long to get the Babies! ready that we missed the first quarter; then I didn't see any of the second quarter because I was chasing Mr F and Mr Bunches around the stands while they picked up Skittles off the ground and tried to eat them. Once they realized that trying to eat the dirty Skittles made Daddy crazy, it became their favorite game: Pick up a Skittle off the ground, and take off running, holding it over your head while you tried to get far enough away to stick it in your mouth. I kept fighting them on it; I may let the boys eat McGriddles off the O'Hare Airport floor, but even I have standards.
And questions. I have standards, and I have questions. My standards include No eating Skittles off the bleacher floors at football games. My questions include Why are there so many freaking Skittles on the ground here? Did a Skittle truck explode?
In between Skittle Running, the Boys also took their balls and dropped them off the bleachers onto the warning track around the field and tried to escape into the parking lot. I finally settled them down, and missed the third quarter, by sitting them at a picnic table with a healthy snack of Cheetos, chocolate chip cookies, and orange soda. At 10 a.m. To make it a little more responsible-seeming, I kept referring to the orange soda as "orange juice."
Eventually, the Boys slowed down a little and took to mostly sitting on the apples, and just as eventually, Sweetie came out of the gift shop carrying an apple pie and a bag of apples that had been pre-picked before we arrived there, and she mentioned to me that they were the kind she liked. When I stared blankly at her, she said "Macintoshes." When I continued to stare blankly, she described what a Macintosh apple was and why she liked it. I mostly just wondered if that was the kind of information I'm expected to retain, that she likes "Macintosh" apples, or even just the information that there are different kinds of apples; to me, apples come in "red" and "green" varieties. That makes me the odd man out in my family, because everyone else appears to have a background in apple genetics; when we went home, for example, Sweetie had this exchange with The Boy:
Sweetie: We got apples there.
The Boy: Are they Macintosh apples?
How does a 16-year-old who can't remember whether it's legal to make a right-turn on red, who claims that the teacher didn't tell them about the 15 page essay on the book they've been reading all quarter until today, the day before it's due, how can that 16-year-old know the various kinds of apples?
I didn't successfully store that information away, though; I only recall, as I'm sitting here two days later, that Macintosh apples exist, and beyond that and the fact that the apples in the decorative bowl on our counter are, apparently, Macintosh apples, I retained nothing about them. I probably don't need to, I guess, since everyone else in my family can spot a Macintosh apple from three miles away and probably tell you the history of the Macintosh apple while they're at it. And I have better things to do. Like working on the Library Problem.
Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe, by Okkervil River.
And because I always want to know, I checked and there is really an Okkervil River -- it's outside of St. Petersburg, and there's also a story by that name. The story, according to NPR:
"follows the plight of a middle-aged bureaucrat and his obsession with an obscure singer. When the vocalist turns out to be a timeworn shell of her former self, the story becomes a meditation on how art stands apart from those who create it."
Which means that not only is this a good song, but it's also a song that fits in nicely with October Is Book Month on The Best Of Everything -- which you're keeping up with, right?
So what I'm saying is, if the whole All These Things That I've Done trick doesn't work, put on this song and try pretending that your life is a movie or maybe.
Did you know a short horror story of mine, Don't Eat My Face, will appear in the upcoming anthology "Harvest Hill," available next fall from Graveside Tales? Go to their site to find out more and order your copy! And don't forget to read my other horror stories on AfterDark.
Whenever you think that what you're doing is not that important or will not matter all that much in the long run, try this: Cue up the song "All These Things That I've Done," by The Killers, and then try to synchronize your movements to the beat of the song.
I did that, this morning, getting out of Vuey and walking into work to begin a dreary day of "working." I synched my closing the door, my putting my briefcase strap over my shoulder, my walking up the stairs, to the beat of the song, and... Voila! instant significance.
Try it now, and see:
And, just for the fun of it, I've found and included an acoustic version, too -- to make your life not only significant and important -- but sensitive and touching...
Do you like sports? Do you like Gisele Bundchen? Do you hate sports blogs, though? Then read Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! -- the sports blog for people who love sports but hate sports blogs.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
America didn't celebrate Paul Newman much in recent years, because Paul Newman was not doing anything America felt like celebrating. He wasn't flashing his private parts, he wasn't walking down the red carpet, he wasn't even acting that much.
In his past few years, Paul Newman, who acted less and less as he grew older, spent more and more of his time, and more and more of his money, on charity work. Charity was so important to him that his daughter Melissa Newman said philanthropy, and not acting, should be what Newman was remembered for. It may well be what Newman ultimately is remembered for, but it's a guarantee that it's not what he was known for, because as good as he was at acting and as good as he was at philanthropy, Newman suffered from a notable lack of skill at self-promotion.
Paul Newman's charitable giving was prodigious. Everyone knows, by now at least, that Newman's salad dressing donated all of its profits -- all of its profits, from the moment it was created, to charity. How much did that total? Over $250 million since its inception in 1982, when Paul Newman founded the company just for the heck of it.
But his drawing attention to that giving was in inverse proportion to how much he gave, and there is a lot that people don't know about how much Paul Newman gave away.
What else should everyone know about Paul Newman? Well, how about this: in 2006, on top of the money his salad dressing company was already giving away, Paul Newman gave away $8,746,500 to various groups -- children's groups, Gulf Coast hurricane relief, and other causes. I like to break things down to give an idea of what's really going on. So, in 2006, Paul Newman gave away, out of his own pocket, $23,936 per day to charities. He gave away $998 per hour in 2006. He gave away $16 per minute to charities, in 2006 alone.
Picture Paul Newman walking down the street, handing out $16 per minute to people who need it, every minute of every day from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2006. Why didn't that make the news? Why wasn't Paul Newman on the cover of any magazines, in 2006?
Do you remember who was on the cover of a magazine in 2006? I didn't, but I checked. The Magazine Publishers of America picked the 10 best covers of that year. They included Bono, two Scarlett Johannsen photos, Julianne Moore, and Busta Rhymes. Those were the people who we paid attention to in 2006. Did they deserve it? Probably not.
I tried to be fair; I picked out the celebrity most likely to be deserving of notice in 2006 for something other than being famous, flashing his private parts, or otherwise demanding attention. I've heard Bono does a lot of good work and charitable stuff; I think he was in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize, so I chose him to compare with the 2006 Paul Newman.
I googled "Bono Charitable Donations 2006," and didn't find any articles showing how much Bono gave to charity that year. I did find an article claiming that U2, a famously Irish band, shifted its music publishing headquarters to the Netherlands to avoid paying taxes to Ireland. They did that in 2006, the year Bono was featured on a magazine cover but Paul Newman was not. The article also pointed out that Bono will not discuss whether he personally gives money to charities; he may, he may not. I'm not saying whether he does or does not; I know, though, that there are plenty of reasons suggesting Bono talks a lot about charity, and benefits a lot from charity, while not being a terribly charitable person himself.
That highlights celebrity "charitable efforts." Celebrities love raising money for charities -- that is, they love being on TV for Hurricane Katrina telethons, and they love taking private jets to Al Gore's Inevitable Truth Concerts, or whatever they're called, because they love getting their name and faces on TV, their music played around the world live, and they love the resulting increase in music sales, offers to star in TV shows or movies, and the other results.
And we -- well, not "we," but "America," because I don't idolize people who are famous for being selfish -- love them for it; we idolize celebrities like Bono, who are all about promoting charitable causes but still own three houses, and we ignore celebrities like Paul Newman, who just quietly go around giving away $16 a minute for an entire year (it's actually more, but I'll get to that in a bit.)
How much do we love people who are famous and selfish, and how little do we care about people who are famous but not selfish? Look at the Forbes 100 list of "most powerful" celebrities. Forget, for a moment, about the money they make; lets look instead at the part of that list that gets very little attention, the Web, Press, and TV Rank. Those ranks are developed by looking at how often people are googled, how often they are mentioned on TV, and how many magazine covers they appear on.
In 2008, the highest web ranked celebrities were Angelina Jolie (1), Oprah Winfrey (2) and Beyonce Knowles (3). They were the most-searched celebrities on the web, the people America wanted to know most about.
In 2008, the highest press-ranked celebrities were all athletes: Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and David Beckham; they were talked about the most in the press and appeared on the most magazine covers.
In 2008, the celebrities you heard about most on TV were Oprah, "Dr." Phil, and Tiger Woods again.
Let's check the number 1 on each of those -- let's check out what kind of charitable giving those number 1s engaged in.
This information is courtesy of Parade Magazine's "Giving Back 30," a listing of the top 30 celebrity contributors. Topping that list is Oprah Winfrey, who gave $50,000,000 of her money away; not an insignificant number by any means, but not that noteworthy (I'll get to that in a minute, too.) Angelina Jolie checks in at 6, with the "Jolie-Pitt Foundation giving away $8.4 million in 2007. Tiger Woods is 18th, giving away $1,350,000. "Dr." Phil doesn't appear on the charitable top 30 list at all.
So America demanded to know about, and fawned all over, the 1st, 6th, and 18th best charitable givers in 2007. America loved those people for having boobs, or television shows, or hitting tee shots -- but didn't factor in how much they gave away.
In 2007 alone, Paul Newman is fourth on the list for 2007, at $11,000,000. But how much did you hear about him that year? You didn't hear about him as much as you did about Angelina Jolie, "Dr." Phil, or the others; I know you didn't, because Paul Newman did not make the Forbes Celebrity 100 in 2008; he was not among the top 100 celebrities you heard about in 2008. Instead, you heard about and saw and Googled such celebrities as Lauren Conrad (100), Gwen Stefani (69) the Spice Girls (37) and Shame On America's old friend, Jay Leno and his 160 cars and a fire engine. (36).
Jay Leno, by the way, was not in the top 30 celebrity charitable givers in 2007. Not even in the top 30, which bottomed out around $1,000,000 in giving; Jay Leno, if he gave anything to charity in 2007, gave away less than $1,000,000. Maybe he was too busy playing with his 160 cars and a fire engine to take time to write a check to charity.
Paul Newman did not make the 2008 Forbes 100 most powerful celebrities, even though he gave away all his company's profits that year, even though he gave away $10 million of his own money that year (on top of the $8,000,000 he gave away the year before). Paul Newman didn't make that list even though he gave away, in addition to all of that, an additional $120 million, $120 million in additional charitable giving that wasn't even included in the other categories of giving-- $120 million in additional giving he accomplished by donating his ownership of the Newman's Own company to charities in 2005 and 2006.
That's right: Paul Newman did two things in the past couple of years: he gave away more than $130 million over a couple of years, and he died. Only one of them landed him on magazine covers; the $120 million donation, which he did for himself as a celebration of his 80th birthday, wasn't even discovered until 2008. He kept that quiet, and nobody bothered to ask. We might have known if Paul Newman had been a spoiled rich kid living in California and making out with Brody Jenner, but as it is, we didn't know anything about that $120 million he gave away over two years.
Speaking of making out with Brody Jenner, I wonder how much Lauren Conrad gave to charity in 2008? Let's google the girl who made number 100 in 2008 on the Forbes Most Powerful Celebrity list.
It turns out that in 2008, Lauren Conrad also "gave" to charity, attending a "Paws for Style" fundraiser, a fundraiser for which she stayed in a hotel room (the cost of the room was donated by the hotel) and for which the charity paid her airfare to attend (she said she made a contribution to the charity that was larger than the airfare, so there would be no expense to the charity.) And Lauren Conrad heroically donated her time and image to a magazine cover and heroically donated the clothing she wore for the photo shoot -- clothing which likely was given to her in the first place -- all of which generated Lauren Conrad plenty of attention, enough to help boost her over Paul Newman on the Forbes 100 list.
Celebrities get all sorts of press coverage and attention for all sorts of "good causes," good causes they mostly attend simply to generate press coverage for themselves and further their career. Lauren Conrad used -- used -- charitable funds when she used a donated hotel room (instead of paying for it herself and asking the hotel to donate cash to the charity) and had the charity fly her out -- reimbursing the charity later. Whatever funds she helped generate with her photo shoot, she also generated an equal amount of publicity for herself, and did not disclose how much of her incredibly-unearned wealth was given to that charity -- or how much of the charitable contributions people made were used up in photographer's fees, a refreshment table, security or other fundraising costs.
That's the nature of celebrity charity: Use it to generate publicity, and give a small amount of your own personal fortune while reaping the extra sales and money generated by the publicity. This happens all the time at "charity concerts," and only one time in my memory has a band not benefitted from the charity -- that band being Pink Floyd, which saw a 1,343% increase in album sales after playing at AlGorePalooza -- and which promptly donated each and every cent of the extra money they earned. (The only other band I was able to find that donated its profits was "Keane," a band I've never heard of -- charity doesn't get you on magazine covers, remember.) (To make up for that, all the videos in this post are from Keane, and you can visit their site here.)
And America loves celebrities for it; America idolizes celebrities in general, and loves them even more when they "give" to "charity," without questioning whether the celebrity is living up to their espoused ideals (how much do you really give, Bono?) or whether the celebrity is not profiting more from the charity than vice versa (Lauren Conrad, Julia Roberts) or whether the celebrity gave a tiny percentage of their wealth (Oprah.)
That latter will make people mad. People will tell me how can you fault her for giving away $50 million? But I can. Oprah gave away $50 million, and I said that's a not insubstantial sum. But Forbes estimated that Oprah is worth $1.5 billion. So Oprah is worth this: $1,500,000,000. And she gave away this: $50,000,000.
She gave away 3% of her money. That's all. 3%. She left herself with this much: $1,450,000,000. Or, put another way, she left herself with enough money that if she lived to be 100 she could spend $1,500 per hour, every hour for a hundred years, and not run out of money. Oprah's $50 million giveaway amounts to pocket change for her. She should get the same amount of credit, for giving her $50 million away, that I get for putting my pocket change into the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas. Nice? Yes. Praiseworthy? Only a little.
Paul Newman, on the other hand, was not worth $1,500,000,000. And yet, he gave, out of his own pocket in that same year, 1/5 as much as Oprah-- and even more, when you consider his company's giving away all that money, and even more when you consider that Paul Newman got zero publicity for all that giving. Paul Newman did not get all sorts of publicity for giving away that money; he didn't generate even more money for himself through his charity.
Every time Oprah opens a school, every time Lauren Conrad gets flown to New York for charity, every time Coldplay takes a private jet to AlGoreAThon, they do a good thing for charity and a better thing for themselves; they donate a miniscule amount of their time and money to charity and reap rewards far greater than they give up.
But we pay attention to them, and we put them on magazine covers, and we watch their TV shows and buy magazines to find out what kids they're adopting this week, and we reward them for their "kindness" in throwing some pocket change into the red kettle while enriching themselves. Shame on America for that.
And we ignore the truly charitable, truly newsworthy, truly good people, like an old man who gave away nearly everything he had -- doing it quietly and without generating anything for himself but the good feelings that come from giving away $16 a minute. Doing it so quietly that we don't notice or comment on it, and pay him no attention until he's dead. Shame on America for that, too.
The world will miss Paul Newman. We won't miss his acting -- we'll be able to enjoy that on DVD. But we will miss his goodness, goodness we didn't even know much about until after he was dead.
The Fix: Instead of buying magazines, watching shows, and googling people for the wrong reasons, why not try paying attention to those people who actually give, without demanding attention for it, without using their giving to generate publicity for themselves, and without much notice, at all? Why not go buy a Pink Floyd album, or a Keane album? Paul Newman's daughter said people should remember him by engaging in philanthropy -- so you can help truly good celebrities, and maybe give a little yourself, too.
Here are 5 people who gave away money without you hearing about it and without generating publicity for themselves; the links are to a site where you can find out more and/or buy stuff from them:
Herb Alpert -- gave away $13,000,000 in 2007.
Barbra Streisand-- gave away $11,000,000 in 2007.
Eric Lindros -- gave $5,000,000 in 2007 to the hospital where he was treated. (The link is to his biography on Amazon.) (By comparison, "Brangelina" promised $400,000 to the country where Shiloh was born.)
Tracy McGrady -- gave $1,000,000 to "Stand Up For Darfur."
Mike & Jennifer Miller -- gave $1,000,000 to support The Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Mike Miller, a player on the Grizzlies, earned $8,000,000 in 2008, so his $1,000,000 gift constituted 12.5% of his salary. If Oprah gave away just 12.5% of her net worth, she would give away $187,000,000 -- leaving her, still, the ability to spend $1,400 per hour every hour for 100 years and still have money left over.)