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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
December 10, 2015

First appeared in print in The Rhino Times, Greensboro, NC.


Kiddo, Charitable Giving, Sunday Delivery

One way that writing this column has changed my life is that sometimes I buy things for no other purpose than to review them here. For instance, Harris Teeter had a floor display selling Boulder Canyon kettle chips in special holiday flavors.

I like Boulder Canyon as a brand, but really, is there anyone who, between Thanksgiving and New Year's, needs to ingest their "turkey and gravy" and "pumpkin pie" flavors in the form of potato chips?

Yet those were the flavors on offer and, in order to provide you with the most complete selection of reviews offered in any newspaper anywhere (a goal we aspire to, not one we claim to have achieved), I bought one bag of each.

Joined by a few trusty sidekicks in flavor exploration, I sampled them, and reached this conclusion: The turkey and gravy flavored chips reminded me somewhat of turkey and gravy, and were edible for a while until the powdery, salty coating began to cloy. I threw half a bag away.

The pumpkin pie chips were sickeningly sweet. This usually implies that they had a taste test. Whenever American consumers are offered a choice among several similar flavors, the taste test will invariably prefer the sweetest choice. But in actual sales, this will not be the favorite.

A textbook example was "New Coke." Perhaps Coca-Cola noticed that in blind taste tests, people kept preferring supersweet Pepsi to somewhat-bitter Coke. In actual sales, Coca-Cola still won the cola wars year in and year out. But apparently the Coca-Cola executives thought that the taste-test results indicated that at some future date, consumers would start to prefer Pepsi.

Wrong. By making "New Coke" taste a lot more like Pepsi, they hoped to hold on to the Coca-Cola market share while encroaching on the Pepsi market share. Instead, they met with outrage and rebellion from Coca-Cola consumers without denting Pepsi's loyal consumer base.

They quickly returned the old bitter Coca-Cola to the grocery store shelves as "Coke Classic" and, within a few years, "New Coke" disappeared entirely.

I remember when, as a kid, I tried Coca-Cola for the first time. The bitterness turned me off at the first sip, but not so much that I didn't take a second. By the end of that first cup, I found that I appreciated the bitterness and rather liked the drink.

That's the problem with taste tests. They rely on first impressions. Sweetness is like a cheery greeting and a firm handshake. Welcome! it says. Let's be friends! But if you actually spend time with the product, that very same sweetness becomes a bore, and then an annoyance. It keeps saying Welcome! Let's be friends! And you answer: Can't this conversation move on from there?

I'm sure that the folks at Boulder Creek went through many different attempts at holiday flavors, and "Turkey and Gravy" and "Pumpkin Pie" were the results. But Pumpkin Pie was inedible to all of us who tasted it, while even those who found Turkey and Gravy edible at first soon wearied of it.

I don't expect to see Boulder Creek holiday flavors repeated. There just aren't enough people who would say, "These chips are so realistic and delicious that we're not even going to roast a turkey this year, or make pies. We'll just buy a cartload of these marvelous chips and snack on them all through the parade and the football games on Thanksgiving!"

*

What's up with the word "kiddo"? When I was young, "kiddo" was used only in direct address -- and it carried strong overtones of sarcasm. "Welcome to planet Earth, kiddo," is the way it was used. In this is resembled "daddy-o."

But in the past year, I've noticed that many perfectly normal people, posting something about their children on Facebook, refer to them as "kiddos." This usage seems to treat "kiddo" as a more affectionate rather than sarcastic version of "kid." Which is the reverse of how it used to be.

It used to be that if you liked somebody, you'd say, "Here's lookin' at you, kid," and if you wanted to be mildly derisive, you'd say, "Hope you get a dictionary for Christmas, kiddo."

So it really jarred me to read a post by parents talking about how much they loved their "kiddos." It just feels completely wrong, the opposite of what they obviously intend.

In fact, in the original usage, "kiddo" didn't have a plural form. It was used only in direct address to a single individual. Now the plural is common, and it's used only in third person.

When did this happen? Why did it happen?

It's just the way that language behaves, I guess. A term falls into disuse, but people remember that it exists. No longer reminded of its previous usage, they forget its overtones or shades of meaning, and use it again with a new meaning.

I imagine that in five years, "kiddos" will be in common usage as an endearing diminutive, while written passages using the old "kiddo" will sound weirdly affectionate to modern readers, who don't receive it as sarcastic.

*

I was talking to a friend the other day, and she mentioned the "Eight Levels of Charity" of the great rabbi Maimonides. I had never heard of this classification of charitable giving, so she sent me a link.

"Charitable giving" is not just translated into English, it is also translated into Christian terminology. In Hebrew, the term is tzedakah, and it comes from the root tzedek, which is translated as "justice." Deuteronomy 16:20 says, "Justice, justice you shall pursue" (KJV: "That which is altogether just shalt thou follow.")

I think it's interesting that where Christians use a word for giving to the needy that is rooted in "love," to Jews the root of such giving is justice. To Christians, declining to help others shows a lack of love for one's fellow man; to Jews, it is an unjust act. It seems to me that Judaism places a greater sense of obligation on those who have plenty to share with those who are in need.

Notice, though, that we're not talking about gift-giving among friends, the way we bring a house-gift to our host at dinner, or exchange gifts for Christmas, or give birthday gifts. Such gifts do not imply any kind of neediness on the part of the recipient, though we often seek to come up with gifts that might be useful.

What Maimonides is classifying is sharing from our plenty with those whose need is greater than our own. And to him, this is an act of justice -- because it is wrong to have plenty and fail to share it with those who do not have enough.

The eight levels of charity, in ascending order of virtue, are:

8. When donations are given grudgingly. [In this case, even if we feel resentful, it is still our duty to give, and it is more virtuous to do it than not.]

7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully. [And how much "should" we give? It seems that this is a matter between the giver and God, and not to be judged by outsiders.]

6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.

5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked. [Giving to those who have not asked for help can, however, sometimes cause offense, as anyone can attest who has offered help and had it rejected with, "I don't need your charity!"]

4. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor still doesn't know the specific identity of the recipient. [This is like a king or noble scattering coins among the crowd.]

3. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given, but the recipient is unaware of the source. [Here, you know whose need you are helping to meet, but you arrange things so that the recipient does not know who provided the help; this is what St. Nicholas was trying to do, when, according to legend, he tossed purse of money through the open window of the house of the family whose daughters had no dowries.]

2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds, administered by responsible people are also in this category.

[One might argue that this would make tax-supported public welfare systems nobler than individual giving. But in the case of government welfare, the "giving" is not voluntary. The rules for distributing goods to the needy may be determined democratically, but the giving of the money itself is compulsory. If you fail to "give," the government seizes your property. So tax-based welfare is not a kind of charitable giving, though it is also well-meant and may represent a sort of generalized justice.]

1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.

On what basis did Maimonides make this the highest form of charity? I think that instead of thinking only of what requires the highest virtue in the individual doing the giving, he also considered what had the best results for society at large.

In practical terms, it is better to help prevent people from falling into poverty than to bail them out after they have become pauperized.

However, this "highest form of charity" requires that you be aware of other people's lives to such a degree that you can see that poverty is imminent -- it requires, not that you be charitable to "the poor," but that you have great love and concern for other people so that you know when they have suffered loss, or are about to.

It also requires that the recipient be willing to accept help before the need becomes desperate. So the giver must live a life of concern and regard for others, and the recipient must be humble enough to recognize and accept a helping hand in time to prevent financial disaster.

It also requires that potential recipients not conceal their financial situations from others. In our society, many regard money matters as absolutely private, so that inquiries into finances are considered rude. Yet how can anyone help you out of a jam if you maintain the outward illusion of prosperity until it is already too late to prevent your finances from collapsing?

Maimonides' highest level of charitable giving, then, can only take place among a community where people don't conceal either their prosperity or their financial woe. They don't value other people according to their wealth (Christians should look at James 2:2-4.)

In this case, the community respects private property -- what belongs to each person is his to control. Yet the community also values the principle of justice that says that until everyone in that community has enough to sustain life, in health and safety, the community is not right with God, nor are the individuals who have, in the name of private property, withheld from the poor what could easily be given.

Brigham Young once called a prosperous Salt Lake City businessman, George Goddard, to set aside his business and spend several years traveling throughout the Mormon settlements collecting rags to make paper for the printing of the LDS Church's newspaper, the Deseret News.

Goddard's expenses were not paid for, either by him or by the Church. Instead, he lived from the charity of the church members. When he returned from his mission, he reported to Brigham Young that he was worried about the condition of the rich members of the Church, because they rarely had any place in their large houses for him to sleep, or room at their tables for him to eat.

But the poor were doing very well, Goddard reported, because even in tiny houses there seemed to be room for a stranger to sleep, and there was a place at their tables for him to sit and eat with the family.

In a time when the richest nation on Earth is filled with people clamoring that we have no room for refugees at our table, merely because a tiny percentage of them might be wolves in sheep's clothing, I can only hope that the people who let fear drive out charity in public matters might nevertheless have their eyes and hearts open to the people around them who are in need.

Better yet, however, would be for us to act charitably with our private finances and advocate charitable behavior in our public lives. Tax-supported welfare and relief programs may not be on Maimonides' list, but Maimonides was writing to a community that rarely had any influence over the actions of governments.

We are in a nation whose public actions usually respond to the will of the people. If the uncharitable are allowed to determine our national actions, then isn't the shame of their injustice and lack of love borne by us all?

Meanwhile, as we give gifts -- sometimes extravagantly -- to each other, to our children, it might be good to consider that our children might receive more benefit from taking part in giving charitably to others than in receiving for themselves more things than they need.

*

I understand why delivery services have started delivering packages on Sunday. Especially at Christmas, when the sheer volume of shipping increases exponentially, it makes financial sense to spread the delivery across all seven days of the week.

Financial sense, yes. But I find it troubling to have packages pile up on our porch on Sunday. It means that because I ordered something from Amazon.com, someone else is required, as a condition of employment, to labor on a day that I consider holy, a day when ordinary work should be set aside.

The seven-day week has spread throughout the world -- arguably the single most pervasive attribute of Jewish culture. And along with the seven-day week came the Jewish concept of setting aside the seventh day as a sacred day of rest and worship.

Now we live in a society that, more and more, worships money above all.

But why should we track the seven-day week at all, if for more and more members of our society, there is no difference between the days?

Even for people who observe no religion and need no day of worship, we all benefit from having a day that is different from other days. We accept the idea of holidays, when employees expect, and are given, days off -- even if the day itself has no particular meaning to those employees. What we forget is that, traditionally, Sunday has been a weekly holiday.

Christians changed their holy day from the seventh to the first day of the week, and in countries founded in the Judeo-Christian tradition, it was considered as wrong to require others to do non-essential work on the Sabbath day as to do any work oneself.

Oddly, Amazon.com charges a special fee if you require them to deliver packages on Saturday. But they offer no option to forbid them to deliver packages on Sunday! So my order might cause someone else to have to work on Sunday without my knowledge or consent.

It makes me feel as if I had gone shopping on Sunday, something that I try never to do.

We are already losing many of the benefits to society from sharing, as much as possible, a day that is different, a day in which commerce is not the primary occupation of our citizenry. I wish Amazon.com would offer an option as we check out and pay, specifying that we refuse Sunday delivery. Even if it costs as much extra as requiring Saturday delivery.

*

Please take note that there is a serious movement to bar anyone who does not affirm their faith in "Climate Change" (i.e., human-caused global warming) from the Paris conference on climate.

In other words, before deciding what actions should be taken by governments around the world, anybody who challenges the scientific basis of climate change activism must be shut out of the conversation. So the decisions are to be made before the process of decision-making begins.

This is, on its face, a complete confession that there is no science supporting the climate-change radicals. Science never seeks to shut out questioning or contrary voices.

And since there is no evidence whatsoever supporting the claim that changes in global temperature are causally linked with humans' carbon emissions, and not one prediction made by the climate-change radicals has ever come true, it is the climate-change lobby that needs to prove that they represent science in any way, while the skeptics about climate change are the only people in the conversation who are acting like scientists.


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