Godless Money Fundraiser

How cool is this? A member of Minnesota Atheists has donated some of her early-1950s US paper money to use as a fundraiser for the Atheists Talk radio show that I co-host with Stephanie Zvan and other members of Minnesota Atheists. The bill is free from God – the “In God We Trust” motto didn’t appear on paper money until 1957, although it has been stamped on some US coins since 1864. This particular bill is a circulated 1950 B series $20 bill.

The eBay auction started last night and ends on Friday. Because we were accepted into the eBay Giving Works program, the purchase is tax-deductible. 100% of the proceeds are able to go toward keeping Atheists Talk on the airwaves and available as a podcast around the world. So all of you godless radio supporters, take a look at the auction, read more about our radio program, and consider placing a bid!

Godless20

As a side note, I was looking up information about the “In God We Trust” watermark and found a 2011 article by Freethought Blog’s Ashley F. Miller over at Open Salon called Why “In God We Trust” is a Problem.

6 O’Clock BS: The Purpose of Money

On the drive back from Omaha, Nebraska I was listening to the Skeptically Speaking podcast episode #163 “Newton and the Counterfeiter“. The discussion turned at one point toward the purpose and meaning of money, and what money is supposed to do for us and for a society. I came up with a thought. Okay, a couple of thoughts. I’m not sure that I agree with them, but I had ‘em:

The purpose of money is to keep human greed in check –>

Humans often seem to want more than what we have (exceptions: those who eschew money – vows of poverty, e.g.). Money is a way to balance what we want with what we can have.

If everybody wants everything but there’s nothing to create at least an illusion of fairness about who gets what, we have problems.

I will define fairness in this case as meaning that people get things proportional to what they earn. I will go further to suggest that one can only earn fairly if the contributions somehow – however indirectly – benefit the larger society.

I swear upon Sagan that I wasn’t high or drunk when I was thinking about this.

It’s probably obvious that I haven’t studied economics or financial systems; I have a feeling the questions I’m toying with are very basic concepts. And I understand that because I’m a prosocial person, that colors my thoughts about ideas of fairness, equality and equity.

So I thought I’d ask you folks if you’ve given this topic of the purpose of money any thought. Let’s hash it out, puzzle out how greed, money, motivation all fits together, and then get our asses off this rock and out amongst the stars.* Which reminds me – how did they do away with money in Star Trek? What drives innovation and motivation in that universe?

*************************

*Or you could leave me babbling to myself in the corner here. That happens sometimes. Don’t pity me. I’m awesome. You don’t know me!

Magic Lube

Chris Pederson over at the Minnesota Skeptics Facebook group posted about Yoni’s Bliss, a “revolutionary homeopathic lubricating gel”.

Hoo-boy. Let’s do this.

According to the website, Yoni’s Bliss is a water-based lubricant. It also contains aloe, which they describe as “the base on which Yoni’s Bliss was created”. Aloe gel is mostly water, so that fits, but I can’t tell what percentage aloe is in the final formulation. Aloe is not an uncommon ingredient in vaginal lubricants, especially those marketed as “natural” – in this case, that seems to usually mean without glycerin, paraben and with a minimal amount of additives. I found a ton of personal anecdotes about the use of raw aloe from fresh plants as lubricant.

The Mayo Clinic describes aloe allergy in some people, but the Yoni website claims that chance of you being allergic to their product (even if you have a history of allergy!) is “minimal to non-existent”. That strikes me as pretty dismissive, but without knowing the concentration of aloe in the formulation or the incidence of aloe allergy in their target audience it’s hard to evaluate this claim.

[Read more…]

My Coke Rewards Math

I drink Diet Coke. I like the way it tastes and I like the carbonation. Recently I started drinking Diet Caffeine-Free Coke because I’m trying to cut back on the caffeine. And I’ll drink Pepsi, especially if it’s on sale. But the point is, I drink soda and when I do it’s usually Coke products.

A few years ago I took notice of this whole Coke Rewards program. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, inside the cap of every bottle of Coke, and inside the cardboard or plastic packaging of every case of Coke, there is a long alphanumeric code. If you sign up for a free account at mycokerewards.com you can enter these codes and get anywhere from 3-25 points per code. The codes add up and you can use them to buy things from the mycokerewards catalog, enter drawings for really big prizes, or donate the points to charity groups for their use.

I decided to start playing, and I became one of those crazy coworkers or friends who sees you drinking your soda and asks, “Can I have your cap when you’re done with your Coke?” I’ve also been known to troll the workplace birthday/ anniversary/ shower/ retirement parties for the empty Coke cases so I can get points there.

The way the entry system works is this: You can enter up to 120 points per week; the count resets every Monday. When you see something on the website that you want to buy, you simply click on it, mycokerewards.com deducts the points from  your account, and the prize is shipped to your address in 6-8 weeks. Items range in price from 3-2000 points.

 

Screen capture from mycokerewards.com – click image to follow to source.

Recently I purchased two 2-packs of AMC tickets plus popcorn and drinks. These cost me 1100 points each. I got to thinking about the math behind this, and was tickled by the numbers so I thought I’d share.

  • 12-pack of Coke costs ~$3.50 (more expensive some weeks, less expensive others).
  • 12-pack of Coke = 10 points
  • 120 points added per week
  • 1 prize of 2 AMC movie tickets ($20) plus 1 large popcorn and 2 large Cokes ($16.75) = 1100 points

So:

  • 1100 points / 10 points per 12-pack = 110 12-packs
  • $3.50 per 12-pack x110 12-packs = $385
  • And it takes me 1100 points / 120 points per week = 10 weeks to build up that many points if I have collected 120 points in a week, which I often don’t.

That’s a lot of Coke!

Coke gets their marketing – They know that I’m interested in their product over long periods of time because I continue to enter codes, they get to bombard me with advertisements when I visit the rewards website, and they get to track the kind of things I buy so they can better market to me in the future. In turn, I receive a free night at the movies with a friend. Like I said in the first paragraph, I drink the stuff anyway. I’m not buying Coke in order to collect points. I don’t buy more Coke than I would if there wasn’t a rewards program in place, and we still buy Pepsi if it’s cheaper than Coke on any given week. 

I participate in several loyalty programs besides the Coke Rewards. I’ve got a handful of those little keyfob cards on my keyring: Sally Beauty Club, SuperAmerica Speedy Rewards, PetCo P.A.L.S, PetSmart PetPerks, AMC Stubs. I feel like I get free stuff for using these cards at places that I go anyway, but is the cost of me giving these companies so much information and ways to sell me more stuff worth it in the long run?

How do you feel about perk/loyalty/reward programs?

Hot Head, Cool Landlord

Ugh.

I’ve had an icky cold for the past couple of days.  I thought I had gone through the worst of it by last Friday, but it came back with a vengeance on Sunday.  Or maybe it’s a new cold; I don’t know.  So I haven’t been real motivated to put a lot of thought into blogging.  I mean really, what’s to tell?  On Friday I hacked up a lung, on Saturday I went to Walgreens for more NyQuil.  There, that pretty much sums up the last couple of days.

Sketch by Lillyarts.com

I did get to see some friends at a couple of holiday fundraisers this weekend.  The Saturday fundraiser was fun, but by Sunday evening my head felt like a big, empty balloon. I had to preface every conversation with “I’m getting over a cold, don’t get too near to me!”

That’s always a popular phrase at parties.

But they had medicinal whiskey for me, so I made it through.  I’m a trooper.

~~~~~

I actually made it to work on Monday, but only for half a day. Between the hacking and the nose-blowing and the resulting disgusted looks from my coworkers, I finally slinked out of the office around 1pm.  I went home and slept for a while, and my one big contribution to the human race was taking the trash out later that evening.

~~~~~

To end my fabulous day I discovered that my apartment’s towing company had kidnapped my car from the six-spot parking lot sometime during the evening.  Apparently they didn’t see my parking pass AND didn’t recognize my car, so they towed me.  I mean, I’ve only been parking there for 5+ years, and to be fair, my car is fairly non-descript:

You wouldn’t remember seeing that bumper every day for however long you’ve been patrolling the lot, right?  Criminy, it’s only a six-car lot!  It’s not like you have to memorize the Blue Book to remember who parks here!

It was around 9:30pm when I called them to confirm that they had indeed towed my car.  I wanted to come in and get it right away, but they made me schedule an after-hours appointment to pick up my car at 11pm. Seriously, doesn’t that sound like “Gee, I’m right in the middle of this basketball game, doll.  Can you wait?”  I hung out with some nice night-owl friends for a while and then made my way over to the impound lot.  The owner was there when I arrived at 10:55pm, and after producing copies of my title, insurance and valid driver’s license, he brought my car around.  When I opened my car, my parking pass – which I had placed in the passenger-side dash – was on the floor of the passenger side.  I maintain that it slide off during the tow, the driver swore it wasn’t on the dash when he doubleANDtriple checked for it.  I ended up paying $275 to get my car back.

I am happy to report that I behaved in a fairly calm, rational manner during the whole “How about I tow your car far, far away, then you give me lots of money to give it back to you” game.  The only time I was…brusque…was when I gave the guy $280 for the $275 fee, he looked through his wallet and then pronounced that he didn’t have change.  He gave me the single that he had with him and told me, “It is what it is.  We don’t keep change on hand after-hours.”  Srsly?  I turned my back on him and walked away at that point.  He did offer to give me the last $4 if I wanted to drive back to the impound lot on the next day.  Did I mention that the garage is in Bumbledink, Nowhere?  Jackass.  I would have to spend $4 in gas just to get out there and back.

So today I called my SuperHero LandLord, Dan.  Dan really is awesome.  All of his renters have direct access to his cell phone – how cool is that?  Dan has been known to replace carpeting and appliances within days of a request.  When renters move out he contracts to have the unit sparkle-cleaned from top-to-bottom, and before you move in he’ll paint the walls whatever color you like.  He recently put wood flooring in at a new renter’s request!  Last summer he ripped up all the old asphalt in the crumbling parking lot and replaced it with concrete.  I mean, this is just a run-of-the-mill nine-unit apartment building located in an okay part of south Minneapolis.  I’d guess most of us make low-middle to middle class incomes.  It ain’t the Ritz, is what I’m saying, but he treats his renters and the building really well.

So I called Dan about the towing sitch.  Dan employs the company to make sure non-renters aren’t using the parking lot, but after I laid out the events of the night he must have felt that I had a case.  I did tell him that I would no longer feel safe parking in the lot if the company was going to be towing cars with properly displayed passes with only a “I didn’t see one when I look so I towed it” mentality.

So he fixed it.  He MORE than fixed it.  My SuperHero LandLord Dan is crediting me the $275 on next month’s rent AND he negotiated a procedural change to with the towing company: They are going to register all renters’ cars so the driver’s don’t have to rely solely on visual verification of a properly displayed pass.  Hooray SuperHero LandLord Dan!  I have a feeling Santa is going to be very good to him this season.

I would like to give My SuperHero LandLord Dan a huge ticker tape parade like this one that John Glenn received for his historic space flight in the Mercury-Atlas 6 space mission, but I’ll probably just send him a really nice Christmas card and a kick-ass box of Godiva chocolates or something.

This election term, what’s in your wallet?

These statistics predict….more money than last election term.

This graph came out of the Washington Post.  It is called a Bartels Chart (Larry Bartels is a political scientist and author of several books), and it was shown on the Rachel Maddow Show.

Income percentile – This is roughly how much money you make compared to the rest of Americans.  If you’re in the 95th percentile, you make a LOT.  If you’re in the lower 20th, you don’t make as much.

Income Growth Rate – This is how much more or less money you make over some time or event.

Another way to look at this data is this:

I found this chart on Dani Rodrik’s weblog American political economics in one picture.  In his article he explains the chart and its implications.

When a Republican president is in power, people at the top of the income distribution experience much larger real income gains than those at the bottom–a difference of 1.5 percent per year going from the bottom to the top quintile in the income distribution. The situation is reversed when a Democrat is in power: those who benefit the most are the lower income groups.

And then I found this graph on the Rachel Maddow Show Blog.  It goes a few steps further than the first two Bartel’s charts because it breaks the data down into President and Congressional majorities.

This graph shows the average income growth rate on the y-axis and the income percentile on the x-axis.  Each bar of the graph describes growth under either a Republican majority

  1. Senate
  2. House
  3. Senate AND House
  4. President
  5. Senate AND House AND President.

Under a Republican majority of ANY of these groups, the income percentile on the right (i.e., the richest Americans) usually experienced the largest growth rate over all other brackets.  The exception appears to be when a Republican President is governing with a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate.

The second graph (blue) shows that when there’s a Democrat President plus a Democrat majority in the House and/or Senate, the income percentile on the left (i.e., the poorest Americans) experience the largest growth rate over all other brackets.  ALSO, when ANY Democrat majority holds sway in the House or Senate or White House, EVERYONE has at least a 0.5 positive growth rate over any Republican majority.


Food for thought as we go into the next election in less than two months.