Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Cost of "Saving" (Part 1)

Note: this is the first of 2 articles that I wrote for the Casey County News here in Kentucky. Although it - and the 2nd article which will be posted in a few days - were written specifically with the City of Liberty & Casey County in mind, the core concepts can just as easily be applied (with a little tweaking) to any community anywhere in the U.S., and probably to many in other countries as well.

For the past several decades, small businesses in America have been holding the short straw during a trend which has seen consumers consistently bypass their hometown stores to opt instead for shopping centers, outlet malls, and big-box retailers. The conventional wisdom has always been that this is perfectly acceptable, and is, in fact, the very allure that makes doing business in a free-market society so appealing in the first place.

Run your business well. Crush your competition. Get rich.

What’s not to like? Especially when we - as consumers - are the ones who benefit from the whole process by being able to save money and live better. It’s a valid argument; but is it true? Are we really saving money, or for that matter, living better?

To decide, it’s important to first understand the motivation of the large, publicly traded corporations that run the majority (if not all) of these big box retailers and savings superstores. Publicly owned corporations are, by design, intended to do one thing and one thing only: make money.

That’s it.

They are not designed to save people money, create good jobs, provide quality products, or save the environment; those things – if they happen at all – are merely side effects that were necessary in order to achieve the main goal. If they could do without them, they would.

Publicly traded corporations make money. That’s just what they do. And not only do they have to make money, but they have to make ever increasing amounts of it to satisfy Wall Street and the shareholders who own their stock. For smaller corporations, this isn’t at first very difficult to accomplish, but as they grow in size, the business model of perpetually increasing profits becomes harder and harder to achieve.

In order to maintain that momentum, something eventually has to “give”, and it does. That’s why we see things like massive layoffs, mergers, restructuring, jobs moving overseas, and lower quality of products due to cheaper & flimsier materials that require the same item to be purchased over and over again. (I can personally share many horror stories regarding vacuum cleaners, doorknobs, coffee makers, and can openers.)

In our lust for those “low, low prices”, we have essentially created a world where almost everything we buy is junk, while in the process we’ve given ourselves less money to spend and fewer options of where to spend it. I’ll ask again: Are we really saving any money or living any better? Is the short term fix we get from “saving” a few dollars upfront worth the long term economic damage that occurs both to our communities and ourselves?

Whether we intend it or not, every dollar that we spend outside of Casey County is gone forever. It will never be recycled within our community. It will never be spent at a local business, or contribute to a local charity, or be added to someone’s paycheck, or result in a new job. Most likely, it will wind up in the pocket of a nameless shareholder who has done nothing to earn it and couldn’t care less about the people living here.

That said, no one should hold any malice to large corporations in general. They are simply doing what they are supposed to do, and doing it well. And, without a doubt, there are some things that simply would not be available to us at all if they didn’t exist. The question arises, however, about how much of our money should be spent to make their world better as opposed to making ours better right here at home?

Click here for The Cost of "Saving" (Part 2)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Shut Up and Take Your Medicine

Excerpts from an AP news story yesterday:

As flu season approaches, many New Jersey parents are furious over a first-in-the-nation requirement that children get a flu shot in order to attend preschools and day-care centers. The decision should be the parents', not the state's, they contend.

State policy now allows for medical and religious exemptions to mandatory vaccinations, but Vandervalk said requests for medical exemptions often have been turned down by local health authorities. She said 19 other states allow conscientious exemptions like those envisioned in her bill.

New Jersey's health department has come out strongly against the legislation.

"Broad exemptions to mandatory vaccination weaken the entire compliance and enforcement structure," it said.

Entire Article: NJ flu-shot mandate for preschoolers draws outcry

Excerpts from "What So Proudly We Hailed":

The HMO’s, for instance, who ran the country’s healthcare system wanted to know how well you were taking care of your body. What did you buy at the grocery store? How much of it did you get, and how often did you go back for more? How many hours were you at the health club? Did you eat fast food? Did you smoke? Did you drink? Were you complying with your individual health mandate – making your scheduled doctor’s appointments, getting your vaccinations on time, and taking your prescribed meds?

The hospitals were numerous and clean, the nurses would always smile as they herded you through from station to station, and the doctors would all nod their heads as you answered their questions. It seemed the same as before, and yet, there was a definite underlying current that everyone seemed to pick up on even though we were all afraid to say anything about it. A negativity that you could literally feel. Because even though the smiles were the same as before, there was now an unspoken message that was as plain and blunt and non-negotiable as it was taboo to even mention: Shut up and take your medicine.

So we did.

* * *

Some people think I'm a little paranoid. You tell me. What do the words "compliance and enforcement" mean to you?

Monday, October 13, 2008

50 Years On . . .

From an interview of Aldous Huxley by Mike Wallace on May 18th, 1958:

HUXLEY: Well, there are certainly devices which can be used [to diminish our freedoms]. I mean, let us er… take after all, a piece of very recent and very painful history is the propaganda used by Hitler, which was incredibly effective.

I mean, what were Hitler’s methods? Hitler used terror on the one kind, brute force on the one hand, but he also used a very efficient form of propaganda, which er… he was using every modern device at that time. He didn’t have TV., but he had the radio which he used to the fullest extent, and was able to impose his will on an immense mass of people. I mean, the Germans were a highly educated people.

WALLACE: Well, we’re aware of all this, but how do we equate Hitler’s use of propaganda with the way that propaganda, if you will, is used let us say here in the United States. Are you suggesting that there is a parallel?

HUXLEY: Needless to say it is not being used this way now, but, er… the point is, it seems to me, that there are methods at present available, methods superior in some respects to Hitler’s method, which could be used in a bad situation. I mean, what I feel very strongly is that we mustn’t be caught by surprise by our own advancing technology.

This has happened again and again in history with technology’s advance and this changes social condition, and suddenly people have found themselves in a situation which they didn’t foresee and doing all sorts of things they really didn’t want to do.

WALLACE: And well, what… what do you mean? Do you mean that we develop our television but we don’t know how to use it correctly, is that the point that you’re making?

HUXLEY: Well, at the present the television, I think, is being used quite harmlessly; it’s being used, I think, I would feel, it’s being used too much to distract everybody all the time. But, I mean, imagine which must be the situation in all communist countries where the television, where it exists, is always saying the same things the whole time; it’s always driving along.
It’s not creating a wide front of distraction it’s creating a one-pointed, er… drumming in of a single idea, all the time. It’s obviously an immensely powerful instrument.

WALLACE: Uh-huh. So you’re talking about the potential misuse of the instrument.

HUXLEY: Exactly.

* * *

I wonder, how many of us ever take the time to stop and think about what we & our children are watching on TV? And too, how many of us have ever deeply considered how what we watch may be - over time - permanently influencing what & how we think in the first place?

Maybe an even better question is, do we even have the ability to ask ourselves those questions anymore?

Watch the interview or read the entire transcript at: Wallace/Huxley Interview

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's a Good Time to be Poor

"Corrupt politicians, Washington bureaucrats, Wall Street fat cats, and clueless commentators have failed to realize that the jig is up. Our entire financial system has been built upon deception, lies and debt. The only thing keeping the system afloat was blind faith in our government and financial leaders to do the right thing. That trust has been shattered into a billion pieces." - James Quinn

This is the only article you really need to read regarding the current financial crisis. It's four pages long, but well worth the time. I hope it stays posted long enough for you to read it.

The Second Great Depression?

Regarding the title of this post, poor people - not having very much to begin with - will actually have an easier time adjusting to an economic downturn than others who have come to expect a certain higher standard of living.

After all, you can only fall so far, and when you're already near the bottom, the landing doesn't hurt nearly as bad.

Friday, October 3, 2008

He Said: The Trappings of Marriage

Marriage is full of many traps. In fact, some might say that marriage itself is a trap; I’ve heard rumors that there is a story circulating in some corners of the world regarding free milk and a cow, but of course I’m not familiar with that story myself, and I can assure you that under no circumstances would I ever subscribe to it’s agenda, nor would I issue a melancholy laugh if anyone ever related it to me.

No, marriage itself is a wonderful thing. But there are some parts of it that take some getting used to. Like talking to your wife.

I’ll be blunt: there’s no talking to Catherine. It just can’t be done. Every conversation is like walking through a minefield, tip-toeing along while you wait for the bomb to explode. Because you know it’s just a matter of time before it will. Women will tell you that they always want you to be honest with them, and yet, I’m still searching for the correct way to do that. The truth may very well set you free, but it also has the very real potential to blow your foot off.

The core of the problem is that women do this thing they call “reading between the lines”. I’ve tried to do this myself, but all I ever see is blank space. I personally don’t think they see anything either, but it gives them a good excuse to “read” something into everything and twist it around to mean something completely different.

Take, for instance, the subject of cooking. On this topic I have to say – truthfully – that Catherine does a pretty good job overall. But not always. And on those occasions when the meal that she has prepared is, shall we say, something that I would not order twice at a restaurant (and in some cases, something that would result in harsh words and possible fisticuffs with the chef), I am presented with a dilemma for which there is no way out; a true “marriage trap”.

Try to tell her the truth – that you didn’t like it – and KABOOM!, she melts under a cascade of tears and suddenly you’re doing some serious time on the couch (the number of nights in direct proportion to how long it took her to prepare the offending meal). As bad as that is, however, the alternative, while not as immediately painful, has long term consequences that are just as devastating.

Because while she may be pleased when she sees you choke down the meal with a smile on your face and then tell her how much you liked it (while she remains blissfully ignorant the whole time to the beads of sweat running down your face), the problem is that she will think that you actually did like it. And so, completely oblivious to the fact that you normally don’t drink 8 glasses of water with your dinner, she will “make a note of it”. Which means that she will cook it for you again.


For the rest of your life.

And may the good Lord help you if she ever finds out some years down the line (after cooking this tripe for you dozens & dozens of times) that you don’t like it and never did. We’re not talking “couch time” anymore, gentlemen; we’re talking Motel-6.**

Then there is the infamous “hairdo” trap. In the early years of our marriage, I naively thought I could lick this trap by simply checking Catherine’s calendar to find out when she had a hair appointment, because - apt pupil that I am - I learned early on that when she comes home from the hairdresser, you sure as heck better notice something. But I learned just as quickly that it doesn’t matter what you say; you’re a dead man either way.

If you make a big deal about how much you love her new hairdo, what you are in effect doing (and this is where her ability to “read between the lines” kicks in) is telling her that you never really liked her previous hairdo, and in fact, had been lying when you told her that you had really loved it and had perpetuated that lie daily in all the weeks or months since.

The only other alternatives are to tell her that you don’t like it (duuuude, I really hope you like that couch), or, reverting back to your natural primal instincts, just don’t notice it at all, which, as previously stated, is just plain ignorant.

Such a perplexing puzzle is this “hairdo” dilemma, that I have even sought Biblical guidance in my efforts to try and solve it. Knowing that Solomon was the wisest man in history, I recently opened my Bible to “Song of Solomon” and pored over his words carefully - looking for anything that might help me - and found what I thought was the answer in Chapter 4, verse 2.

And so, the next time Catherine came home from the beauty parlor, I rushed up to her and - feeling more confident than I had in years - excitedly blurted out, “Hi honey, your hair looks like a flock of goats!”.

I’m not sure how well that line worked for good ole’ Solomon, but I’ll give you 3 guesses as to how well it worked for me. And I just don’t understand it either; I mean, this guy had like a thousand wives. How could that line not work? Unless the chicks just didn’t care what he said because he was the richest man on the face of the planet. Hmmmm. Maybe if I could get my hands on a whole lot of money . . .

In the meantime though, as far as my wife is concerned, well, there’s no talking to her.

It just can’t be done.

** There is actually one way out of this particular trap, and while I should charge money for sharing this intellectual property that took me years to attain myself, since it is my sincere wish that the bloodletting would stop in marriages everywhere, I will give it to you for free. The trick is to tell your wife that you love the meal, but within the hour become violently sick to your stomach “from something else.” (Anything will do here; bad wine, moldy Twinkies, etc.,). The next time she intends to cook the same thing, feign a nauseas reaction and tell her that you can’t eat it because your body has mentally linked that particular meal with your previous “sickness” (she’ll believe this because women are into that whole “mental” thing). And be sure to make a really big deal about what a shame it is that you’ll never be able to eat it again since it will always have the stigma of that involuntary reaction attached to it. Genius, I know. And while I still haven’t figured out the whole “hairdo” thing, take heart in the fact that I am working on it.