Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Shopping

There are many duties we all face in our lives that in one degree or another we find distasteful. A trip to the Dentist, for most normal people, is not something looked forward too with happy anticipation. Unless of course you are a masochist, and enjoy having sharp metal picks piercing your gums, most do not like going, but go they must. For without the Dentist, painful as it is, we would all look like Austin Powers and his British Peers. So we endure the waiting, poking and form filling, to obtain the benefits of oral health and hygiene.

We suffer for gain, not for the sake of it. When the perceived benefit of a duty is not equal to, or greater than, the suffering and pain we face then most abstain from engaging in the duty or task.

Most people would rather enjoy a good book or movie than clean their house, but the advantage of a clean home i.e. the pleasure and pride derived from clean surroundings, outweighs the time and energy used to complete the chores. If one receives no satisfaction from said clean living space then the motivation to use ones time and energy to take care of the home is negated, and more than likely the task will not be done. This is applied to everything in life we do.

Now, I personally find the task of shopping very aggravating and distasteful. Going to the Grocery store is not only something I loathe and despise, but something I avoid at all costs until I have no choice but to go. I am forced every couple of weeks, by my empty cupboards, to push a rickety cart up and down aisles of products while listening to the most horrible canned music. I get jostled by other shoppers who are wandering about oblivious to their surroundings and my head aches from the screaming of children. I get assaulted at least once every trip by a rather strange odor, that wafts up, as I pass some unfortunate soul who is looking with longing and despair at the empty Ho-Ho rack.

Yet I push on, for I know that if I do not, then I will not eat; the scientific outcome of not eating is well known. So in this too, though hated, the benefit out weighs the discomfort.

However, the idea that advantage outweighs suffering, in the decisions we make is negated somewhat by the task I hate most of all, that being the act of Christmas shopping.

At Christmas each year the exchange of gifts becomes a very important aspect of the holiday. The exchange has become so important and commercialized that it dwarfs all other parts of Christmas itself. You know; those pesky and foolish notions like “Peace on earth” and “good will to all men”. Who needs good will when you can express your heartfelt adoration and gratitude towards a loved one with a Chia-Pet for $15.95? Or your undying thanks to the creator, as you purchase a Vegi-Matic for your dear aged aunt, who you haven’t seen all year?

As the Holiday has been hijacked by gift giving, so in turn has it become one of overspending, stress, and yes the ever feared, Christmas shopping task. For we all feel the need to purchase that special gift for our loved ones, and so we rush about searching store after store for the “One”. That “Uber gift” which will bring a moment of appreciation and joy to the recipient. We all want to believe; that by making the effort to obtain the proper material good or future possession for our target we are in turn rewarded with their happiness.

I, for one, say that the joy of the recipient is rarely, if ever, just compensation for the misery endured by the giver. A simple trip to any Shopping Mall in America during the Christmas season will give evidence to my argument. From start to end even the most wary and prepared of souls, are subjected to any number of cruelties, most of which can be attributed to their fellow man.

Let me elaborate a bit; after driving around the massive parking lot adjacent to the mall for 30 minutes looking for a space, you spy a car backing out. You pull up, wait and breathe a sigh of relief that your search is at its end. Just as the former resident pulls away and you begin to pull forward, a small Volkswagen Jetta whips around the corner and parks in what you thought was your spot. With nary a glance in your direction the driver of the offending vehicle gets out whilst chatting on a cell phone and walks towards the building as if you were not even there. The Driver in fact did see you, and they chose to ignore your existence. Primal rage bubbles up and you begin to swear curses at them as you pound the steering wheel, passers by shy away from your car whilst you rave. Short of chasing the spot thief down and beating their head against the curb, you are left with little recourse but to continue your search again.

Three more passes around the lot and two more stolen parking spaces you finally find yourself a half mile out in the back lot wedged between two vehicles that look as if they were used in a demolition derby. Braving the icy wind you set forth on your trek to the entrance wondering if you will freeze to death before the distance is covered.

Upon walking through the doors the welcome warmth of the structure hits you in the face. With a quick shiver as the cold begins to dissipate, you start to take in your surroundings. To the left are tall displays of women’s clothing, much of which you could never imagine seeing a living being wear. There is a knot of rotund “Weebles” pawing over the ugly dresses and sweaters chatting about the beauty of the items and you wonder from what planet the “weebles” are originally from? As one of the aliens holds up a rather hideous red polyester pantsuit with a distorted Santa print on the chest she screams in delight and you realize that you were staring. Quickly you avert your eyes so as not to catch their attention. A matter of safety really, as the Weeble’s girth belies their love of consumption and you wish not to become their possible next meal.

The warmth that embraced you upon arrival now becomes oppressive burning heat and you try to remove layers of clothing. Small beads of sweat form on your recently frozen brow and you curse the designers of the heating system along with the throngs of other shoppers who through their collective body heat have raised the temperature to roasting. The mass of humanity packed into the confines of the mall is staggering to behold. Persons from all walks of life intermingle as they make their ways down the corridors searching, searching for that prefabricated item that will win the heart of their loved ones.

The senses start to be overwhelmed as you join the sea of humanity for the bright lights, noise and yes smells assault your being from all directions. As you follow along behind a family of 10 who are in no particular hurry, you realize that not everyone in the 21st century washes every day. Quickly you try to skirt around the pack but each attempt is thwarted as every time you try there is another pack of aromatic wanderers coming in the other direction. You are stuck, moving at a snails pace as the wall before you is solid and unmovable. It is then that one of the most cruel tortures known to mankind is brought to your attention and you cringe visibly.

The sometimes subtle but usually not so subtle background noise of Christmas music is everywhere. The mind numbing tunes “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer” are repeated over and over until you are brain washed into memorizing the lyrics. A searing pain begins to form behind your right eye as you hear for the hundredth time “Winter Wonderland” belt out across the building. The pain magnifies quickly to cover your entire skull. Using your one good eye you espy a haze coming off the unwashed wall off humanity before you and you realize they are fumes of some sort which is magnifying the pain from the inane terrible music.

Why are you here again? Oh yeah that’s right, Christmas is the time of happiness and joy…..

After what seems like a lifetime part of the wall before you begins to break up, two of the soap deprived family are distracted and they start to wander off to the right. Here is your chance! You push through the slight opening with speed and brass, you will undoubtedly brush against one of your blockers, but it cannot be avoided, you must escape at all costs. Holding your breath you graze the greasy coat of what you believe to be the father as you burst through, and you make a mental note that your coat will now probably need to be burned. Free at last!!!! It’s a Christmas miracle.

The store you have been seeking finally comes to view and with a sigh you enter. Now unlike most persons, you know exactly what you are there for. No need to look at every item on every shelf in the hopes that some grand idea will strike you. No indeed, you are prepared and thankfully so, for if you had to look at everything and then wait in the 20 person line to cash out your short time on this planet would be at an end. You grab the gift you desire and queue up and hope the line moves in a swift manner. The pain in your head has become a dull ache as your body adjusts to the environment, and you regain the sight in your right eye. Without the fumes from the blockers burning a hole in your retina you begin to feel somewhat normal again, though your coat most definitely needs to be burned as your nose detects a sickly sweet smell from the exact spot where you brushed against one of them.

With nothing to do but wait you peruse the shop and its patrons. You have chosen wisely and the shop you are in is neat clean, and orderly. The infernal song “ Rockin around the Christmas tree” is playing and though it creates images of murder and mayhem in your overtaxed mind you resign yourself to the wait and refrain from lashing out. Another person behind you ques up and they bump you with all of their previously bought packages. You turn to look at them and they mumble “excuse me.”

The line, like everything else this day moves ever so slowly, and what little patience you had left begins to wax and wane. The moron behind you continues bump into you whilst muttering halfhearted apologies and the cashiers’ process each transaction like it was a corporate takeover being done through their registers. You clench and unclench your fist and catch a scowling reflection of yourself from a near by mirror. “Bump”.

The cashiers are both young but any youthful excitement and exuberance for the Holiday has long been ripped out of them. Mechanically they process the purchases with as few looks at the customers as possible. They never smile and the only sign that they are human at all is when they sigh with impatience or scowl at the customer before them. “Bump”.

The tormentor behind you is now talking on her cell phone about nothing so she no longer feels the need to apologize for invading your personal space and being rude.

Giving up you focus on the semi android clerks ahead and hope that you can leave this hell on earth soon. Of the two you hope that the young lady is the one who will have the pleasure of taking your money, for the young man looks as if his future holds a nice long prison sentence. Mentally naming him Butch, you note the dark eyeliner around his eyes and the steel post through his nose. The store must have been very desperate to hire people to offer this soon to be homicidal maniac a job.

You get Butch.

He takes your money like with all the others and growls “Happy Holidays”, as you walk away you somehow feel used but your relief at being free of Bumpy and Butch out weighs any misgivings and you leave the place promptly.

The screaming of distressed children scratches across your skull as you shoulder your way out of the building. With a dry mouth, pounding head and aching feet you push on as quickly as the mass of humanity before you will allow and as you depart the icy cold you feared earlier is welcome. The sweat on your face and neck freezes but you no longer care, as you march towards your car and freedom.

Lastly as you speed up the highway headed for the sanctum of your home and coherent thought begins to return…… you realize that you forgot that Chia-pet and half a dozen other gifts you were going to buy.

No my friends, the benefit most definitely does not justify the cost when it comes to Christmas, nor do I think it ever will. With that I will wish you a Merry Christmas and be on my way.

Nollaig Shona!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Carpet Bombing

Carpet Bombing.

When I was a boy I watched on the CBS evening news, with Walter Cronkite, the carpet bombing campaigns in Cambodia. The color footage from the bomber’s aerial perspective was not just amazing but frightening. Huge swaths of jungle were torn asunder with trees being thrown high from the blast. Blooming fireballs appeared with each explosion as the aircraft made its way over the landscape, leaving only craters and death in its wake. I was mesmerized by the sheer power of this act and as the bombs walked along through the jungle in perfect two step form, the subdued “Thud” sound from impact beat their way into my mind along with the images of havoc. To this day I see it still, and though I have become more callous and cold with age, the thought of those images still brings me a mixture of both fascination and dread like fear.

For even as a young lad, I understood that far below the plane, on the earth’s surface, life was being destroyed. In an effort to reach as many targets as possible, the military decided to blanket areas with bombs in the hopes of weakening and destroying the enemy. This indiscriminate strategy, though terrible in its execution does have its merits, as proved by the bombing campaigns of the Allies of WWII.

So, why the History lesson and recollections of a young boy?
Well, the term Carpet Bombing came up today while I was researching what someone called “Political Marketing”.

As I am sure all of you are aware the Big Three automakers are asking for a financial bailout from the federal government. It seems that through mismanagement, poor planning and lack of ingenuity, the automobile makers are in a bit of a fix. Not that this situation is new or novel. They have been losing millions of dollars in revenue for months, but I suppose now that the precedent has been set by our government through the bailout packages for Wall Street, the time was right to ask. The entire bailout affair is, in the most simple of terms, an “act of villainy of the greatest of proportions”. However, be that as it may, what really caught my attention was not the audacity of this attempt to foist the bill upon the American taxpayer for the automakers failures; no it is the Carpet Bombing campaign of ads and news.

As the decision rests with Congress whether or not to approve thirty four billion dollars in taxpayer funds to help the automobile companies, the matter of public opinion is important. For, though our Representatives like to forget the fact, the Congressmen and women in Washington are hired and fired by the public. The constituents, of their respective states, have been quite vocal in their negative opinion of a bail out plan for Detroit. Thousands of calls and e-mails have flooded the offices of Representatives from across the nation and all those messages cannot be ignored. So to combat the shortsightedness of the foolish uneducated plebeians who dare to stand up and say no, the Political Carpet Bombing campaign is begun.

Using radio, television and the news media, the Big Three have started to inundate us with their message, a message not of inspiration or logic, but one of fear. We are told that millions of people will become unemployed and that the burden on unemployment insurance will destroy the nation. “Thud”, we are informed that one in ten of America’s work force depends on the auto industry (i.e. your neighbor). “Thud”, and we are now fully aware that the next great depression will be upon us by Christmas if the Government doesn’t come through, “Thud”. So, please call your Senators and give us your money.

The fascinating fact about political marketing Carpet Bombing is that in no way does the information need to reflect fact, truth, or reality. Its purpose is to reach as many targets as possible in as short a time as possible, and much like their actual military predecessors, they are quite effective. We as a society have become accustomed to getting what we want very quickly. We demand faster service from already fast food, we microwave hot dogs, use E-Zpass on the highway and download movies from the net.

This proclivity for fast everything, has a definite bearing on the effectiveness of marketing campaigns whether political or not. For, if we are attuned to quick, easy solutions or explanations of every problem, then he who proposes the easiest will garner the most popular support. Regardless as to whether the solution or explanation is correct or factual. A fine example of how this is rings true can be found in the TABOR (Tax Payer Bill of Rights) proposition a couple of years back here in Maine.

When TABOR was on the ballot, the bombs were falling thick and heavy from the opponents of the measure. There were signs up all over the State that read “Save our Schools” and “People will die.” Television ads blasted the populace with horror stories of houses burning down because the fire departments would have no funding, and people wouldn’t be safe in their homes because the police had no money to patrol. Schools would shut down, and bridges would collapse. You would think Armageddon was going to come about if the measure passed. All this came from asking for the State Legislature to be fiscally responsible. When faced with the logical argument that no sane city or town council would sacrifice the three most important needs of the community i.e. schools, safety, and infrastructure, the Bombers had no response and no defense, yet they continued their campaign and were successful. Inundated with messages of fear, many voters made decisions based upon the inflammatory ads placed before them for months. I am sure some really believed that the horrible events portrayed on television would be in their future if they had not voted against the measure. The problem is, the voters who cast their ballots against the measure because of that fear opted for a quick and easy answer, rather than try to work out the logic. I am not saying all did thus, for many folks actually do try to research the facts and merits of the issues they are voting on, this is but a good example of how Carpet Bomb Marketing can be successful.

I believe that, if we as citizens are so easily manipulated by marketing strategies and media campaigns that are designed to influence our opinions, ideas and yes our COUNTRY, then we are soon to fall.

The Bombs of the Big Three campaign will have a much greater impact upon our society than those of TABOR. The message they send is one of fear, of destruction, and chaos. It is a false message designed not for the benefit of you the taxpayer, or the millions of “Workers” who will be affected by the inept handling of the companies; nay it is for their own.

I am asking you as a citizen to “Think” then act, not the other way around.