Whence Consumerism

On so-called Black Friday, a part-time worker in Valley Stream on Long Island was trampled to death when a horde or perhaps mob of discount seekers stormed the doors of a Wal-Mart during a 5 am “door buster” promotion.

This promotion lived up to its name.  The workers proved a little tardy in opening the doors and the amped up consumers, some of whom had been waiting outside in the cold since 9 pm the evening before, busted the door and in so doing knocked down the worker who was then trampled to death as approximately 2000 people stormed the building like cows down a chute.

Now people are trying to fix blame.  Some hold the mob responsible.  Other shoppers described their fellow shoppers as “barbaric animals.”  Many kept on flowing in apparently walking around the body of the downed worker and impeding police when they tried to help the young man.

Others—including individuals and the Union representing the slain worker—hold Wal-Mart responsible.  According to the union leader, this would not and could not have happened had Wal-Mart had sufficient guards on hand to control the movement of the crowd.

Meanwhile police are looking through surveillance tapes to see if they can spot and identify consumers who might have been directly involved in the trampling.

I don’t know who might be to blame.  I have never attended a “Black Friday” door buster.  I made fun of the practice when discussing how Black Friday got its name in class but one student objected saying she had attended such pre-dawn events with her mother and that it had been fun and a bonding experience.  I expect this is possible.  And others said they had fun experiences shopping.  I expect this is possible too though I have never experienced it.  Finally, I can’t stand crowds.  I assiduously avoid places where people gather in large number.  I consider a crowd anything more than five people.

So in light of my personal experience as arising from personal inclination, I don’t know how to assess the situation.  As far as I am concerned anybody who gets up before dawn to make a purchase is nuts.  But I am also concerned about 5 am "sales events" advertised as “door-busters.”


Movie of the Week

During the coverage of the disaster in Mumbai, one of the channels played a two minute tape of a man talking about his experience of having been trapped in one of the hotels for 40 hours.  The speaker, a Brit I think, spoke clearly and analytically.  He had mapped out his little story before hand in his head.  Every detail was to the point.

Perhaps because some students in my research paper class on consumerism are writing reports on the communications revolution, roughly, the Web 2.0 as some are calling it, I paid close attention when the man mentioned his Blackberry.  He had decided, rather than to try to make a break for it, to hole up in his room for the duration.  And while he was trapped he began somehow to communicate with other people trapped through out the hotel through his Blackberry and they through theirs.

He was a tech person, he said, and had helped to set up (I don’t know what he meant or how he had done it) a method (who knows, perhaps a message board) by which the people in the hotel were more able easily to communicate with each other.  He had no food for 40 hours, and he said that while it might be possible to go a week without food or three days without water, it would not have been possible to endure those 40 hours without—and I had expected him to say communication with other people—“information.”  Information, he continued, had been absolutely necessary to his ability to control his situation.

Honestly, I couldn’t follow him on that.  I don’t see how information coming to him, say from the other side of the hotel, helped him control his situation.  I think rather than having the information that, say, police were visible from one angle of the building might have helped him feel in control that this information did not put him at all in control of it.  I think he might better have said that without the information he might have gone crazy not knowing what was up—what with smoke coming under the door and the sounds of people outside running up and down the corridor. But of course too he was perhaps able to tap into the internet and get reports from outside the building on the course of events. 

I wonder if the police and other officials were aware of the Blackberry communications going on in the hotel.  They might have tapped into those to gather information themselves and to supply it.

I see the potential for a movie of the week in this—along the lines of a film like “The Poseidon Adventure.”  Different kinds and sorts of people (nice people and of course bad people) trapped in a hotel with gunfire outside and inside.  And the usual suspense of such films—who will survive and who won’t.  I suppose a plot with people trapped in their rooms might be pretty dull; but then it might be told in a somewhat different way, through text messaging, message boards, and images captured by cell phones.

I will have to ask my students how a messaging system of this sort could be set up so quickly.

I think maybe I should buy a Blackberry.

Out of Business!

If you are thinking of buying gift cards for friends and relatives, you might want to think again.  Stores going out of business can sell these gift cards quite legally up till the day they go out of business.  And then what?  You have a gift card worth nothing.  And you might not want either to buy a gift card for a nearby store that is part of a chain; for while the chain may continue to exist, the local store may disappear and you might end up driving quite a ways to redeem the card.


The list is sort scary long.


* Circuit City (filed Chapter 11)

* Mervyns (filed Chapter 7)

*Ann Taylor- 117 stores nationwide closing

* Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherine’s to close 150 stores nationwide

* Eddie Bauer to close stores 27 stores and more after January

* Cache will close all stores

* Talbots closing down specialty stores

* J. Jill closing all stores (owned by Talbots)

* Pacific Sunwear (also owned by Talbots)

* GAP closing 85 stores

* Footlocker closing 140 stores, more to close after January

* Wickes Furniture closing down

* Levitz closing down remaining stores

* Bombay closing remaining stores

* Zales closing down 82 stores and 105 after January

* Whitehall closing all stores

* Piercing Pagoda closing all stores

* Disney closing 98 stores and will close more after January.

* Home Depot closing 15 stores 1 in NJ ( New Brunswick )

* Macys to close 9 stores after January

* Linens and Things closing all stores

* Movie Galley closing all stores

* Pep Boys Closing 33 stores

* Sprint/Nextel closing 133 stores

* JC Penney closing a number of stores after January

* Ethan Allen closing down 12 stores.

* Wilson Leather closing down all stores

* Sharper Image closing down all stores

* K B Toys closing 356 stores

* Loews to close down some stores

* Dillard’s to close some stores

This Mess

Perhaps looking back is too much like crying over split milk. Still sometimes looking back serves to remind that “what is” frequently isn’t what was.  And if that is the case, perhaps too what “will be” doesn’t have to be “what is.”

What was in 1980 was that the credit card “industry” was going in the toilet.  Usury laws prohibited the “industry” from taking more than 12% interest on its unsecured credit card loans; but inflation was running at 20%.

At the same time, agriculture in South Dakota was going in the toilet.  Farmers needed credit and could get it only from local banks that were charging 30 to 35% on a business loan.  So Citibank contacted the officials of South Dakota and said if you remove your usury laws and allow us to charge the interest we think the market will bear we will move our credit card operation to South Dakota.

So that’s what happened.  No more usury laws.  The credit card companies were freed up—along with an assist from a law that said the credit card companies could “export” the interest rate they were charging in South Dakota to the whole nation.

So that’s how the floodgates opened.  De-regulation and legal chicanery and suddenly unsecured loads were available to every American.  This propelled the growth of what I call the consumer society.

And now we see the results—28 years later….

And the government could, if the government wished, once again enforce limits on the usurious interest rates now charged by the credit card “industry.”

Fire Again (later)

Driving home from campus a few minutes ago, I was stuck at a long light. Soot and smoke debris came in through my open windows. Looking east out the passenger side of the car, I could see smoke clouding the downtown air and smoke clearly rising from hotspots.

Brother Dan and his family live down that way under that cloud of smoke. I expect though that he and his family are safe.

Brother Dan sent a URL for a google map of the fire.  Click here

The thing is not contained. It’s 81 degrees right now at 3:30 pm on Friday, November 14, 2008.

Predictions are the winds will kick up again at sundown, though they are not expected to be as fierce as last night.

Once again my car is covered with ash. Over the last 16 months my car has been covered with ash too many times. Summer of 2007 the Zaca fire went on burning in the back country—with smoke and soot getting to the Coast—for three months. At the beginning of this summer came the Gap Fire right next to us, and now this. By far the most destructive in terms of property lost and panic and fear spread. I expect very few people in the downtown area are not anxious about the possibility of high winds this evening.

Officials speak now as if this “event,” as they have taken to calling it, was “inevitable.” Perhaps like people who build too close to rivers we should not be living here at all.

Fire Again!

If you are driving from LA into the Santa Barbara area, you first hit Montecito, then you hit Santa Barbara proper, and then you hit Goleta where Carol and I live.  We are about ten miles from the center of SB.  So we are in no danger from the currently burning Tea Fire.

Still, Carol and I both know people living in the area affected by the fire and at present the fire is moving alarmingly close to the city.  The temperatures are expected to be high but the winds not as high.

Yester evening was strange.  The temp went up as the evening wore on.  Just after sunset it was about 68 but the rose to 75 by the time we were getting ready to hit the hay.

So whether this fire continues its destructive path will be determined largely by the weather.

Every time I drive up in the area affected by the fire I think, Jesus, what if they have a fire.  Huge homes mark the hills and they are surrounded by brush and trees, trees, trees.  And everywhere those damn eucalyptuses that go up like matches.

So for the present Carol and I watch TV (though we must get on with our days) to see what’s happening (so far 100 homes destroyed) and watch the sky get thicker with smoke.

Strange Vibes

Yesterday, around 9 am Carol called—I was at my office getting ready for class—to say she was stuck in traffic.  Utterly gridlocked, and was now trying to make her way home having had to cancel the classes she was trying to get to. 


Seems a young man had chained himself to an overpass crossing 101, Santa Barbara’s primary traffic artery.  The young man was wearing a ski mask, fatigues, and waving a US flag along with a handgun.  So the authorities shut everything down.

He chained himself to the overpass around 7:10; so all the go to work traffic got jammed up.  Some people were so stuck and the wait so long, they got out of their cars and were talking and doing exercises on the freeway.

Some of his friends called the local TV station and radio stations saying the young man was a veteran of the Iraq war and was going through a really bad time, and, please, the police should not kill him.  And, thank goodness, they didn’t.

I was at school teaching but Carol got back home and was watching events unfold on TV. The police finally had encircled the young man and were about to take him in when—bingo—the local TV station went off the air.  Apparently, as Carol later found out, when she called Santa Barbara City College to say she would not be in—well, that it would make no difference if she came in or not because the juice was out all over that area of town.

Meanwhile, on campus, I go to get a cup of coffee around 9.  Usually the line is 6 to 10 people deep.  Yesterday—zip, nobody.  Maybe students are stuck on the freeway, but mostly I expect they are still in bed recovering from the Isla Vista Halloween drunckoholic event.

45,000 students, from all over the state, showed up this year to jam the streets of tiny IV.  236 were tossed in the tank.   560 were ticketed.  55 needed medical attention, for such things as alcohol poisoning, and two people fell off the bluffs by the ocean.  Both survived but one was seriously injured.

Carol and I live about two miles from IV.  We tossed and turned trying to get to sleep as the night was punctuated by the screams and howls of drunken “revelers.”  Also this helicopter kept circling and circling the area.

Pretty strange…..

Odds and Ends Again

Sometime in the spring, I took the Verilux, “Sunlight in a Box,” light bulbs out of my closet office and replaced them with those energy saving florescent ones.  The Verilux bulbs just burned too hot for summer and used up way too much energy.  But just now I took out the energy saving ones and put the Verilux back because they have gone and screwed with the clocks again.  I remember last fall being bothered by the lack of light.  That’s when I bought the Verilux, I think.

I am not the only one screwed up by the clock change.  Right now the cat downstairs is meowing its head off because she thinks it’s time for me to give her kitty-kat treats.  I don’t know when we started giving the cat those treats, little brown chewy things, about the size of a mouse turd.  But we started and she is in the habit now of getting them and let’s you know when exactly it is time for her to get them.

She is supposed to get them around 5:30.  If she doesn’t get them at five thirty, she meows and then stares at you. But she is meowing now at 4:30 because they went and changed the clocks.

I give her six treats each time.  I count them out—not letting her eat them, till I am done counting—one, two, three, four, five, six.  I make a rectangle out of them, three on each side.  I am trying to teach the cat how to count and something about geometry.  But so far I have noticed no increase in her mathematical abilities, though she does apparently know how to tell time…as long as they don’t change the clocks.

I know it’s fall when they go and screw with the clocks, and in the couple of weeks before that I get to thinking, it’s time for my flu shot.  I get all panicky thinking I will not get my flu shot.  I know the Brothers do not entirely favor the flu shots, and other people I have met swear they will never get one because they think they might die if they get a shot.  So far I have not died, though I have been getting a flu shot, once a year for about maybe 30 years.  Honestly, I don’t know if these flu shots work or not; but if I don’t get one I am sure I will get sick and die.  So I got one at the University…that’s one reason I have gotten so many flu shots.  At the University you usually don’t have to wait in line too long.

The only time I got sick from a flu shot was back with Gerald Ford and the swine flu.  They were like advertising, get your shot, get your shot, because it’s the swine flu and if you catch it you are getting to get as sick as a swine.  Isn’t a swine, a pig?

Why didn’t they call it the pig flu?  I supposed swine sounded more elegant.  I think a guy who herds swine is called a swineherd and not a pig herder.

But I got sick from that swine flu for about 12 hours and then it went away just like that.  But some people did die from that flu shot for sure.

That was in 1976.