Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday

Shop til you drop takes on new meaning. Hearing about the deaths and injuries sustained during the mass movement to the malls in the post-Thanksgiving Day shopping Bacchanalia is appalling. A WalMart employee trampled to death? A pregnant woman thrown to the floor? A shoot out in of all places -- Toys R Us? It almost makes the terrorist attack in India seem sensible by comparison.

What has it come to that 'shopping' will improve our economy? And the ones doing the shopping are the very people who will be turned out on the street the moment the rent comes do and they don't have a job, don't have income to make the payments?

Why are people rushing to stores to buy 'things' that are mass produced with little regard for quality or even safety? Didn't we learn from the China toy syndrome that invaded the U.S. last year? Toxic paint and killer toys seemed to be the item on everyone's Christmas list. Now we want technology that will cost us several months of rent money for something 90 percent of us will never figure out how to use. Like houses and cars, bigger televisions must be better! Which reminds me -- what is it about mcmansions on itty bitty slivers of land? Used to be clapboard houses on acres and acres and ACRES of land that had been in families for generations. I miss that. Now the only one with acres and acres of land are developers who have no love and even less regard for what they own. It isn't anything more than dollars and profits.

A writer wrote of a character in a short story, a little boy who had been abused. No one protected him. Consumers face the same situation. Advertisers lie. Openly, straight faced, and without regret. Buyers must constantly be wary, knowing that a bargain is never truly a bargain. Our government's oversight departments are a joke. Corporations run rampant, treat us like indentured servants whether we work for them or are buying from them and yet we bail them out.

My husband recently bought a new Ford van. Yes, right in the middle of skyrocketing gas prices because he needed a way to transport his wheelchair. This was the only recourse. Seems that Ford was the only company whose vehicle could be converted to accommodate the lift and his wheelchair. We purchased it. Now every time something goes wrong --and it has -- we have three companies denying responsibility. Ford, who we understand knows this is a problem in this van model, says, "Oh no, the company installing the hydraulic lift for your wheelchair, screwed it up. Not our problem."

And the lift company declares it's Ford and possibly the company who lowered the floor and converted the van in preparation for the lift and other equipment. In the meantime, the passenger seat belt doesn't work. Minor I suppose with all of the things that seem to be working. Oh, right, there was the time last week when the lift would neither go up or down and held my husband captive on it until he was able to slither out of it and get help. And the driver's chair that was to be installed and hasn't been ordered yet. But hey, we had to have the money in their hands, the papers signed, the debt shouldered before they'd even screw, I mean work with us.

It is only by luck that what I bring home actually lives up to expectations. Even the underwear I buy is made to self destruct after so many washings. Research went into making a product fall apart on schedule. Breast cancer can wait, the important research devotes to finding how to make fabric fail after fifty washings. NASA has been doing some fine research. Did you hear -- soon the astronauts on the space station can drink their own urine? I can't wait to see the first urine fountain here on earth. Actually, it may be a great idea -- the concept definitely needs some PR work. I guess us Americans prefer to be lied to. Don't tell me its urine, call it enriched?

Other products are mere illusions. The grill we used to roast the Thanksgiving turkey was advertised as having a 'rotisserie' and we paid extra for that. A contraption made, not to perform the job, but to give the illusion of such a possibility. The prongs, made too short to adequately hold the bird. The motor not strong enough to turn it. The near impossibility of maintaining the proper temperature. Did the salesman know how inferior the product was? How much of an out-and-out lie he was telling when he guaranteed us that it could handle a 12-pound turkey?
We won't even mention the stainless steel sales feature as I watch it rust away on my back porch.

I hate to shop. It feels like I'm asking someone to kick me. Lie to me. Oh please abuse me again. The adage of buying U.S. products hasn't even been heard this year -- do we actually make anything in the U.S. any more?

When I lived in Ohio, there was a little company in Ada, Ohio, where they made footballs. Little Ada, Ohio populated mostly by farmers, factory workers and college professors, the home of The Ohio Northern University. The whole town, the whole region, took pride in this little company whose footballs were used in the pro games on television. Wilson. Every kid had a Wilson football or basketball. The company, headquartered in Chicago, made us proud to be contributing a quality product. Working in a factory took on new respect. "I work for Wilson...."

The company in Ada, I believe, is closed now. No products produced there. It seems that, like the stock market, manufacturing has hit a new low and both are driven by greed and profits.

For some reason this weekend I've watched two movies and both hearkened back to the Great Depression. Seabiscuit and Cinderella Man. Both tell of a down and out, loser if you will, who makes a comeback. We all seem to be pinning our hopes onto someone else when maybe we just need to have more self respect, make wiser choices, and stop buying inferior products.

After all, where are the majority of last year's presents now?

Three ways to help the economy and your own bottom line:

  1. Do not go into debt, only spend what you can afford on the holidays. Go to church, not to WalMart to find the spirit of the holidays.
  2. Write to your congressman and senator and the new president about your concerns, about your suggestions for a better future. Perhaps a way to help small businesses grow new products or a consumer product oversight agency that doesn't seem to be looking the other way. Maybe give Ralph Nader a pat on the back! Hold someone accountable for the junk being poured into the consumer's market.
  3. Get creative. Recycle some gifts from last year. Make something. Get crafty. Get sentimental. Give the gift of family heirlooms or history -- scrapbooks or albums, framed photos of ancestors, something that will promote your own family instead of funding the CEO's next trip to Costa Rica.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Veteran's Day revisited

What did you do to celebrate Veteran's Day? If you're like me -- not much. Most continued the work week uninterrupted -- I work a government job so I sat at home and got paid for it. I can only imagine what someone in the military felt. I've never been there. Maybe they felt a reverence for those brave brothers and sisters who died or sustained wounds for their country; may be they felt the heart breaking pain of rejection, their contributions unappreciated.

I'm often reminded that I have a Polyanna perspective of war. Or perhaps it is more a one-dimensional, read-it-in-a-book kind of feeling about it. I tick off the cost of the war with a counter on this website. That doesn't begin to count the cost.

Now and then something crosses my path that makes me sit up and stop taking for granted that people will continually be there to put themselves in harms way to preserve my freedom, my country. Today it was the realization that volunteers continue to devote their lives to the care and maintenance of strangers' graves. All of these years after the end of World War II, people maintain graves for soldiers -- American, English, Australian.... Men who died and were buried on foreign soil. One web site "In Honored Glory" drives that message home and provides a few stories behind 'he gave his life for his country.' The photo below shows the well kept Margraten Cemetery in the Netherlands.

A dear friend is compiling information in a book -- the stories behind the names that grace military installations around the world. Fort Hood. Ramstein Air Force Base. Camp Lejuene.... The men and one woman who performed beyond all expectations and are honored with their name linked to a military installation -- yet we have forgotten who they are and what they did. I hope she soon gets the book out in stores so we can read it and never forget.

Looking through the 85 stories on In Honored Glory, I met Carl Genthner. He was probably the first man shot at a picturesque Belgium town, Malmedy. Carl Genthner was a medic, an ambulance driver, one of the few people out there bent on saving lives, not taking them. Malmedy will aways be associated with Carl's death and those of more than a hundred American prisoners of war.

"By about 1400, 113 Americans had been assembled in the field by the Café. They included 90 members of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion (all except three from Battery B), 10 men from the five ambulances, the military policeman who had been on traffic duty at Five Points, the 86th Battalion engineer and 11 men who had been captured by KGr. Peiper before reaching Baugnez–eight from the 32nd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, two from the 200th Field Artillery Battalion and a sergeant from the 23rd Infantry Regiment." -- History Net

These men were herded into the center of a field and German soldiers began shooting them, one by one, like target practice. They were infected with the blood sport and took more and more pleasure in their shooting prowess. A convoy of German soldiers drove by during the massacre.

There were five who lived to tell the story.

It may be painful to read, yet there's something powerful and even hopeful in knowing that we are part of a country that includes such people who can rise to the occasion even unto the point of giving their lives. The men who were senselessly used as targets and those who gave their lives to save innocents or their fellow soldiers. Each war has too many of these stories. Each person who died had lived and left a footprint on this earth and their contributions to protecting freedom should mean more to us than a date on a calendar.

Another website, The Red Cross Holiday Mail for Heroes offers the opportunity to send Christmas cards to our soldiers. If anyone missed celebrating our heroes during Veteran's Day, here's a second chance to let them know, if not how much we appreciate them, at least let them know they are not forgotten.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Americans What Have We Been Thinking?

Do you ever wonder what the companies who inundate the airwaves with their commercials really think about the very consumers they hope to attract? And how do those commercials make you feel, especially if you are a member of the target audience?

This morning the Capitol One credit card commercial, in the wake of the events last night and McCain's and Obama's words of unity and working together and sacrifice and making a change, seemed to reflect America consumers who need to rethink their priorities.

We have laughed at Captain Armadillo who retreats inside his shell when confronted unexpectedly with his wife. My husband says I over think these things for hidden messages. But it looks to me like we have a man who puts the needs of the universe on hold so that he can design a credit card. A card that is made simply to feed the greed for luxury and living beyond our means and purchasing things that polluted our environment in the making, cluttered our lives, pushing out what is truly important, and then ends up in landfills -- a whole 'nother problem.

In addition, he puts a photo of his family on the card and is proud of this 'image' of the perfect family. Yet, when confronted with a real flesh and blood wife offering him avocados (not sure what they represent) he, faster than a speeding bullet, insulates himself inside his protective shell and by the end of the commercial has not re-entered the world nor faced his wife.

Another Capital One commercial features a Captain Nemo type sea captain. He is more concerned with putting his darling Captain Barkey pet's photo on his card than rescuing his first mate who is in the clutches of a giant squid. Yes, I see the humor. But when you put the commercial in the context of a corporate giant seeking consumers -- I don't feel the love or respect. Is that how we are seen? Self-serving, selfish, blind to the needs of our fellow man, more devoted to our pets than to our fellow workers? Obsessed with more credit? Buying? Spending?

Perhaps now that we Americans are hearing a message from our leaders other than 'go out and shop', our behavior and priorities seem so shallow and well, embarrassing.

Would we be in the situation we are, economically, if we had more self-respect and civic pride? I wonder what our world would be like if we actually all gave 10 percent (or more) to improve our world, rather than improve our image of wealth.

Talk about a house of cards. Americans buying larger houses, adding technology that costs hundreds of dollars just because it is new and wearing clothes that copy the style of the rich and famous -- all purchased with plastic bringing us payments we can't afford. We work two and three jobs to maintain a fake lifestyle. When do we get real?

Maybe the change starts with a make over of each American in the image of our forefathers and mothers who knew what the priorities were and didn't spend their days worrying because the neighbor had a better lawn or designer dress or the latest appliance or technology. Yes, we must be consumers and grow the economy, but perhaps we need to make our purchase choices with a more discerning eye and look toward tomorrow, not just instant gratification.

And maybe we need to take another look at the commercials and determine just what those companies think of us? We have been gullible. We have fallen for the snake oil sales pitches. We have spent money we didn't have and never will. We have been childish in our choices saying "I want," rather than "How can I help." And we have taught our children these behaviors.

We all feel the need of change. I hope it will start with us.

Do I think Capitol One is the only corporation who has led us down the garden path to in the name of profit? No. Do I think the commercials will stop? No. It is up to us to make informed and responsible choices. We've made a good first step with choosing to elect a president out of hope, rather than fear.

Brainy Quotes offers several 'definitions' of Hope:


A desire of some good, accompanied with an expectation of obtaining it, or a belief that it is obtainable; an expectation of something which is thought to be desirable; confidence; pleasing expectancy.

One who, or that which, gives hope, furnishes ground of expectation, or promises desired good.

To entertain or indulge hope; to cherish a desire of good, or of something welcome, with expectation of obtaining it or belief that it is obtainable; to expect; -- usually followed by for.

To place confidence; to trust with confident expectation of good.

To desire with expectation or with belief in the possibility or prospect of obtaining; to look forward to as a thing desirable, with the expectation of obtaining it; to cherish hopes of.

And one step forward from hope -- faith: "...the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Let's put our faith to work and see what happens! Change, it happens one step at a time. One decision. One effort from every one of us.