The “Other Operation” (crossposted at my blog)

by John Q on August 27, 2014

Like others, I’m mystified by the “ice bucket challenge” in which, as I understand it, people agree to have a bucket of ice water dumped over their heads, rather than giving money to charity. This is reminiscent of the famous Piranha Brothers’ “Other Operation”, in which they threatened not to beat their victims up if they did not pay them the so-called “protection money”.

Still, it seems as if there is some interest in variants on the standard fundraising challenge in which you pay money to charity to encourage friends, bloggers, C-list celebrities to do difficult, painful or humiliating things. It’s struck me that my upcoming participation in the Sunshine Coast 70.3 Triathlon provides a nice twist on the ice bucket challenge.

My target time is 7 hours, which would imply doing the run leg (21.1 k) around midday. As the name implies, the Sunshine coast weather is likely to be sunny and warm, even in early spring. So, when I’m finished I will be positively glad to have a bucket of ice water tipped over me. It will take a bit of effort to arrange this though, so here’s the challenge:

Donate as much or as little as you like to the charity or cause of your choice and record it in comments (honor system). If the total exceeds 1000[^1], I’ll do my best to organize the icebucket and a photo.

[^1]: I’m just going to add $A and $US, pounds and euros without conversion. If you want to give in other currencies a round $A equivalent would be helfpul.



Alan White 08.27.14 at 1:37 am

Good for you John. I really admire your taking on a Triathlon. And submitting to the ice bucket challenge as inspired by supporting victims of ALS means a lot to me personally, having lost two good friends to that horrifying disease. (I have a song on my phi/satire page (linked via my post) “Vegan” dedicated to one of them, a cherished colleague, which I once sang live in her honor on UW-Milwaukee’s public station. I apologize in advance for the quality of the recording; if you subject yourself to it think of being ice-bucketed metaphorically.)

$100 USD to ALS. I’ll disallow the additional $150 to Oxfam (if you wish) in mercy, unless you insist.

Thank you so much.


wolfy 08.27.14 at 1:40 am

I agree about the ice bucket meme. As it is, it makes no sense. Public entertainment
You could say. People are dumbed down and thus take it at face value.y


J— 08.27.14 at 2:00 am

Some of the Ice Bucket Challenge Fails are fun to watch.


Alan White 08.27.14 at 2:01 am


I agree that the prima facie th(meme)–do this or pay!–seems odd at least, but most participants (three colleagues tomorrow on my campus) not only participate but also contribute, thus making the “or” inclusive. ALS research has already increased contributions by several factors over what they usually expect for the time period covering the challenge. Consequentialism and all, I say, as my ALS former colleague Helene Dwyer certainly would have.


Mike Adamson 08.27.14 at 2:09 am

I believe the original format was to accept the challenge and donate $10 or decline the challenge and donate $100. I agree that it’s gotten pretty scrambled but people are talking about ALS and not inconsiderable funds are being raised.


MPAVictoria 08.27.14 at 2:36 am

Yeah I don’t get why everyone is being so negative about this.


bad Jim 08.27.14 at 3:21 am

I think you’re out of your mind to run a triathlon, but my brother does them too, and even looks forward to them. He thinks he’ll live a longer, healthier life as a result, but I’m worried about the wear and tear. What’s good for the heart and lungs may take its toll on knees and ankles.

As to the challenge, I’m obligated to donate at least $1k/yr to the local homeless shelter, which my late mother helped found, so feel free to treat yourself to an icy refreshment. I’d feel guilty if I didn’t write checks for a few thousand on New Year’s Eve, but, since this is an election year, needy Democratic candidates may be my charitable priority.


bad Jim 08.27.14 at 3:49 am

MPAVictoria, I’m pretty negative about the emphasis on private charity, because in most cases it’s a lousy way to fund what ought to be general obligations. Aside from the shelter, I give to the University of California, Doctors without Borders, Oxfam and Planned Parenthood, all of which deserve support from taxes, not the whims of the wealthy.

In a better world I’d be free to gratify my vanity by supporting the arts or other not strictly necessary pleasures (although I’d favor public funding for these as well). Unfortunately, in the U.S. private support is necessary for public education and public health. Funding has been declining for years, and since the sequester it’s been cut drastically. It’s my impression that the ice bucket challenge hasn’t been able to make up for cuts in Federal funding for ALS research.


Eszter Hargittai 08.27.14 at 4:13 am

I don’t know how you do it, John, but more power to you! Your exercise regime is very impressive (and motivating).

I’ve been meaning to donate to Magen David Adom so you finally pushed me to pull up their site. I gave $100 so add that to the sum please.

bad Jim – I think the idea is to donate above and beyond what you would already be donating anyway. :)


bad Jim 08.27.14 at 4:59 am

Eszter, I’m not sure that’s a meaningful distinction. Every year it’s a matter of weighing how much I’ve already given away, mostly to exigent family members who are in almost every respect less deserving than the deductible recipients.

It’s a good point, though, so I dug through my pile and picked the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, my city’s sea lion sanctuary, for $100, because I am a pinnipedophile.


Tabasco 08.27.14 at 5:11 am

“As the name implies, the Sunshine coast weather is likely to be sunny and warm”

This is a fine example of litotes.


John Quiggin 08.27.14 at 5:31 am

In this context, there was a court case in Australia a few years back where a local government was sued by a swimmer for not posting adequate warning of the danger of shark attacks. The location … Shark Bay.


bad Jim 08.27.14 at 6:53 am

Just watched the beginning of the Daily Show. A gray bearded John Stewart enduring the Ferguson Challenge: pepper spray to the eyes followed by tear gas.

Amazing performance. The shaven Stewart performed with aplomb, impeccably gutting and filleting his usual ingredients, delivering the necessary laughs, utterly furious the whole time, as angry as anyone could be and still maintain control.


Eszter Hargittai 08.27.14 at 1:19 pm

bad Jim, I didn’t mean to pressure you and I certainly appreciate that you have given elsewhere and that there is often only so much one can make in charitable donations. I was just commenting on what I thought the intent of the post was. It’s nice of you to have added an organization to your list. That one looks very interesting. I myself have been increasingly interested in donating to causes that benefit animals (my personal preference just happens to be sea turtles).

And ZOMG, thank you for sharing that note about the Jon Stewart Ferguson Challenge, brilliant!


Sisyphus 08.27.14 at 1:23 pm

Most of the people who “accept” the challenge both contribute and do the ice bucket thing. It’s not dissimilar to St. Baldrick’s, which is a charity where participants shave their heads and raise donations for research into treatments and cures for childhood cancer. The basic idea is to both raise awareness and to raise money. ALS has the unfortunate distinction of being considered by most drug companies as not economically worthwhile to cure (or really, to treat). Therefore, research into a cure or treatments is almost entirely funded through charity. Awareness is almost as valuable for that cause as the money itself. And you can’t argue with results – they’ve raised multiple times what they normally would have raised by this time in the year.


MPAVictoria 08.27.14 at 1:51 pm

“MPAVictoria, I’m pretty negative about the emphasis on private charity, because in most cases it’s a lousy way to fund what ought to be general obligations”

I completely agree with you that most of these things should be funded through the tax system but since we live in an imperfect world I am okay with organizations coming up with novel ways to raise awareness and funds for their cause.

/Would be much happier just to pay more in taxes so that these things could be properly funded.


Lyle 08.27.14 at 5:50 pm

“Some of the Ice Bucket Challenge Fails are fun to watch.”

Some of the successes are fun too. My favorite so far:


Igor Belanov 08.27.14 at 6:24 pm

I think the problem some of us have with this is that there is nothing stopping people donating money to charity, but increasingly charity seems to be linked to various types of egotism or ‘competitive conformism’. I’m not sure how many people have really developed a much greater awareness of the cause, and I think it is a bit worrying for society as a whole if charity fundraising has reached such levels of competitiveness that they need to spend all their time thinking of such novel ways to get attention and raise money.


TM 08.27.14 at 7:49 pm

Be mindful that exposure to icy cold after overheating may sound fun but is quite a strain on your system and might cause collapse or heart failure.


TM 08.27.14 at 7:52 pm

Re ice bucket challenge and ALS awareness, I actually do not know what ALS is and didn’t find it mentioned in any ice bucket reports I read.


Lyle 08.27.14 at 8:07 pm


You may know it instead as Lou Gehrig Disease.


TM 08.27.14 at 9:34 pm

It’s nice of you to explain that but it’s not really the point… which is that the ice bucket thing apparently caught on for its entertainment value but I don’t see it promoting awareness of … whatever it is that we are expected to become aware of.


Lyle 08.27.14 at 9:57 pm

But is the point simply to raise awareness, or to raise money? I think it’s the latter, and that in those terms, it’s been massively successful.


JimV 08.27.14 at 11:10 pm

The ice bucket challenges I’ve seen have been on sports shows (ESPN) and have mentioned Lou Gehrig’s Disease and have included donations and been fun to watch. The last I checked, ALS research has received seven times the amount of donations this year as it did last year.

After a bit of search I’ve found a new (to me) charity, Smile Train, which provides free surgery and treatment for children with cleft palates and hair lips. I’ll donate $75 USD.

Like Doctors Without Borders, it is an international organization. I agree that some charitable services, such as homeless shelters, should be done by national governments and paid for by tax revenue, but I think there will always be worthwhile private charities as well.


Tabasco 08.28.14 at 3:34 am

Money is money. It doesn’t matter if people give to worthy causes for egocentric reasons.


bad Jim 08.28.14 at 4:25 am

Thanks for the kind words, Eszter and MPAVictoria. Not to worry about the pressure; I think I need excuses to spend money these days. There’s also the taco or beer challenge, which would have been my choice had there been a Planned Parenthood letter in my stack.

See also the ice bucket challenges of Benelux Cumberlandgap.

Since I brought up my brother earlier, I ought to mention that Southern California has been battered for the last few days by giant waves, thanks to a hurricane to the south. So of course said brother was surfing said giant waves, and somehow got hit by his board, and probably has a cracked rib, and is worried that he might have to miss his next race.


James Haughton 08.28.14 at 5:49 am

I’m sure it’s inadvertent, but the linked site for the Piranha Brothers skit is full of violent anti-Muslim bigotry.


bad Jim 08.28.14 at 5:58 am

Healthcare is something that everyone needs. Education is something that everyone needs. Children are unable to take care of themselves; young adults frequently require assistance; some are unable to take care of themselves, and after a certain point everyone needs help. Traditionally, this sort of care has been left to family and charity, although in the twentieth century some communities have from time to time made efforts to socialize responsibility for the inescapable realities of human life: childhood, growth, illness, and age.

It’s so predictable that we could simply plan for it. We used to; I went to a world-class college for free. California is no longer so generous; Berkeley graduates now get a hefty debt with their diploma.

We have intercontinental ballistic missiles with thermonuclear warheads whose effectiveness is entirely speculative. We also have several generations of jet-powered aircraft whose mission was to deliver the same sort of fever dreams of universal destruction. But wait: there’s more! We have enormous submarines prowling the seabeds wielding the same catastrophic cargo.

Sometimes you can solve a health problem by throwing money at it. The March of Dimes gave us a polio vaccine. Margaret Sanger cajoled a generation of scientists into developing the Pill. We’re much better at treating many forms of cancer than we used to be.

Juxtaposing our expenditures for health and extermination suggests that a modest shift in priorities would entirely obviate private charity for health and welfare.


The Modesto Kid 08.28.14 at 5:18 pm

The “Rice bucket challenge” seems worthwhile —

It’s creator’s statement that “I personally think the [Ice Bucket Challenge] is ideal for the American demographic” is troubling.


Shatterface 08.28.14 at 5:40 pm

I think the problem some of us have with this is that there is nothing stopping people donating money to charity, but increasingly charity seems to be linked to various types of egotism or ‘competitive conformism’.

There’s also the egotism of those who look down on people doing silly things for charity. The difference is that one form of ‘egotism’ raises money, the other form is unproductive, posturing twattery.

I’m not sure how many people have really developed a much greater awareness of the cause, and I think it is a bit worrying for society as a whole if charity fundraising has reached such levels of competitiveness that they need to spend all their time thinking of such novel ways to get attention and raise money.

In an ideal world the state would fund research. It’s not happening and it isn’t going to happen.


John Quiggin 08.28.14 at 6:40 pm

James @27 Ugh! Fixed now, I hope


Igor Belanov 08.29.14 at 9:43 am


Interestingly you regard the posturing ones as the people who aren’t splashing videos of themselves over the internet.

I suppose it is unproductive just to give money to charity and not let everyone else know you are doing it.


TM 08.29.14 at 3:56 pm

Wow 30, you gave s sh*t!

Btw Cartoon: Buckets of awareness


Dogen 08.29.14 at 4:41 pm

$200 to BORP.


SykesFive 08.29.14 at 5:52 pm

8, 16, etc.: Until the current fiscal year, ALS provided a great example of the federal government directing tax revenue to medical research and treating it as a general responsibility. The government had a ten-year record of allocating some $40-45 million annually to ALS research, which is extraordinary for a disease that strikes only 5-6,000 Americans per year and which no one has a clue how to cure. If anything, expenditures on ALS research were irrationally high. Charitable fundraising for ALS, by contrast, was lackluster, and much of the money so raised was used for lobbying–“public education,” as charities euphmestically call it–because of the multiplier effect.


CaptFamous 08.29.14 at 8:59 pm

@30 – There is egotism, and there is also the method of dismissing your guilt by rationalizing that the cause is not “worthy”. I had a coworker who, whenever our company had a blood drive, would bring up that we were really “selling” our blood instead of donating because there was a free gift for donors (typically useless), in order to avoid explaining that he was too afraid of needles to do it.

However, the non-trivial criticism of the strategy that I’ve seen revolves more around two factors: That people focus their donations towards charities that have effective marketing campaigns, regardless of their efficiency or efficacy, and that people will only donate money when given a platform to brag about it, instead of donating consistently.

You could make a convincing counterargument around the idea that charities have to do what works, but it’s also important to remind people to really think about it to prevent more unscrupulous “non-profits” from taking advantage of the strategy.


bad Jim 08.30.14 at 6:08 am

Okay, I just wrote a $100 for Oxfam. I’m not sure I’m due credit for it; I tend to write them checks annually.

Because my mother was a founder of the local homeless shelter, I attended numerous events during which we wealthy benefactors were thanked by those we’d helped, who were not the sort of people you see on the street. Most of the homeless are invisible: they’re crashing with friends and family or living out of their cars. Too many people’s lives are so precarious that one or two adverse events will put them on the street.

During one of these events, an acquaintance made the observation that few rich people (like us) were willing to shell out for social causes, preferring status-enhancing charities like the arts. I’ve sipped my share of champagne at such glittering occasions, so I thought the observation apt, and patted myself on my shoulder for being less shallow.

Then, after Katrina devastated New Orleans, Bush announced that his Dad and Bill Clinton would tour the country raising funds to take care of that mess. Private charity for a natural calamity? That’s not just inadequate, it’s wrong.


mike 08.31.14 at 2:08 am

Expenses for year ending January 31, 2014 indicate 28% is directed toward research:
This ice bucket challenge has been so successful that maybe ALSA will increase research funding to 30% this year.

Be sure to view page 8 of the “IRS Form 990” to view executive salaries of this non-profit (hey, non-profit executives aren’t cheap, ya know).


Billikin 09.02.14 at 4:26 am

Sorry for a negative note, but . . . .

A distant relative (19th century), a 16 year old girl, poured a bucket of well water over her head on a hot day, and dropped dead. It is a shock to the system. I scared myself when I was around 30, was in the desert, and thought it would be a good idea to douse my T-shirt with water. It wasn’t even cold water. It more than took my breath away.

So doing a triathlon on a warm day and then getting a bucket of ice water dumped over you might not be a great idea. Consult your physician, please.


Harold 09.02.14 at 5:07 am

Bad Jim @ 37

Yes, very wrong. Criminal, even.


Harold 09.02.14 at 5:08 am

It is still vanity charity.


John Quiggin 09.02.14 at 5:36 am

@Billikin. Thanks, I’ll check this out before doing anything silly, or at least anything sillier than a triathlon.


Billikin 09.02.14 at 1:16 pm

I wondered if I was being unduly alarmist, when I remembered that swimming is part of a triathlon. Triathletes may be used to plunging into cold water after vigorous exercise. So I checked it out on Wikipedia. Seems like swimming comes first. Probably a reason for that.

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