The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘shopping’ Category


As Jesus was writing in the sand, the Pharisees brought to him a woman, taken in the act of committing adultery.  They told him of her sin and asked, “Should we not follow the law given us by the prophets and stone her to death?” 

Without looking up, Jesus replied, “Let he who among you is without sin cast the first stone.”

At that point, a rock went flying over Jesus’ head and hit the woman squarely in the stomach, knocking her over backwards.

Jesus looked up and said, “Oh really, mother.”

Pardon the minor irreverence, but that joke if you are a follower of either the teachings of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches is theologically correct.  Mary, is unique in being conceived without sin (The Immaculate Conception) – but as for the rest of us, we’re all in the cesspool of sin and wickedness and moral turpitude – some of us more deeply, perhaps than others.

And now cometh Ms. Paula Deen – the press’ most currently in vogue whipping person (I was going to say girl but that would probably be construed as sexist).  A woman who is so low and venal that she can’t even see high enough to look at the scum of the earth.

Ms. Deen, as you’re probably aware, has had a successful career promoting her Southern style of cooking – which if it were Yiddish food could easily be mistaken for the kind of cuisine that killed more Jews than Hitler.  She’s had a good run promoting her artery clogging recipes (which have gotten  a bit more healthful in later years).  It was not for the bill of fare that she presented that I was not a frequent viewer of her program.  It was because of her very heavy twang that always reminded me of two cats on the back fence in heat.  Sorry, fingernails running across a blackboard sounds more melodious to me.

Well, at some time in Ms. Deen’s past, apparently she uttered the “N” (or is it the “n”) word?  She is, after all from the South where the term was frequently used – often in a descriptive rather than a disparaging way.  But there is no question that it was also used frequently in the latter context.  How Ms. Deen used it is probably only known to Ms. Deen.

And so, whether because of sincere remorse at having used the “n” word in the past or, perhaps for fear of losing her lucrative financial enterprise through backlash, she broadcast what appeared to me to be a very heartfelt apology.  It seemed genuine enough to this viewer – but even if it were not, I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Apparently, those at FNN, which hosted her television program and those at Target who carried her line of cookware and cookbooks had greater insight because they have both divorced themselves from any further dealings with this woman and have held themselves up as gleaming examples of “responsible corporate citizenship.”

I cannot help but think of their actions in the same light as I did of Captain Louis Renault in “Casablanca” who, as he is closing down Rick’s Café says, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that there’s gambling going on here,” as he receives his roulette winnings from the croupier.

Let’s make a leap and say that Ms. Deen and her video were staged and melodramatized simply to keep her business enterprise afloat and that Ms. Deen truly holds feelings of disdain for our darkly-complected citizens.  While I, and I am sure most of you who are reading this would find that unfortunate if not personally insulting, does she not have a right to harbor that attitude?  Isn’t difference of opinion – even if it is only one person’s view and no matter how noxious we personally might find it – permitted in what we have billed as an “inclusive society?”  Or is inclusion so narrowly interpreted that only those who hold the currently popular view may determine who is to be allowed membership and who excluded?

Perhaps you are familiar with the “comedy” of the late Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock.  Frankly, I find all of them to be extremely offensive because each employs the “n” word along with “ho” and “mo fo” and “b*tch” among other terms of endearment.  And they are restrained by comparison to today’s Rap “artists”.

So tomorrow I am going down to my neighborhood Target and browse through their CD’s to see if they have pulled all of the works containing these “lyrics” in accordance with their defined policy of corporate “responsibility.”  And if not, I am going to ask the Manager why not?

I’ll let you know what I find out.  But if I am not satisfied with their response, I will no longer choose to do business with Target and will explain to my neighbors why they shouldn’t either.

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”


If you read yesterday’s post, “Thoughts On This And That” and are reading this one, then you are obviously not one of those who was a victim of Black Friday bad behavior.

Last year I was able to report only one incident about a couple of people who were victims of pepper spraying as they were returning to their cars after grabbing bargains from the store shelves.  Although I never found the reason underlying this incident, I suspect that it was caused by a fellow shopper who had purchased the spray and wanted to check out the product’s efficacy before wrapping it as a gift for her six year old niece.

There is more to report this year …

Walmart is again in the limelight.  As the world’s largest retailer I suppose it is only natural that they are more likely to be the scene of incidents – just by the weight of the number of stores they own and operate.

One would think that with all the people (including a few Walmart employees) who are picketing the company for its “bad wages and benefits package”, that the more liberal of our friends who otherwise might shop there would avoid Walmart like the plague.  On the contrary, Walmart has released preliminary information that this was the best Black Friday in their history.

Was it Aesop who said, “Never let snagging a good bargain stand in the way of your principles?”

At a Covington, WA Walmart, two shoppers were run down by a 71 year-old female driver who is suspected of being intoxicated.  The driver had obviously gotten into the Holiday spirit and the Egg Nog.  The female victim is in serious condition and the male victim in good condition.  (No report has been issued regarding the condition of the offender – but by now she is probably sober).

In Tallahassee, FL at another Walmart, two people were shot (but fortunately not seriously wounded) as a scuffle ensued over a parking space.  I’m here to tell you that malls are the most dangerous place you can drive your vehicle.  Apparently the shooter decided that getting bargain electronics wasn’t worth the risk of apprehension by the police and escaped the scene of the crime.

So what can we take away from all of this?

As I’ve never held a handgun let alone fired one, it would be difficult to allege that I am speaking here for the NRA.  However, I respect their Constitutional position on the subject of firearms.  My friends who believe that guns are at the root of our problem of violence will, of course, disagree.

Unfortunately, they never consider the statistics that in cities with the most restrictive handgun laws like Chicago and New York, the number of deaths due to them is among the highest per capita in the nation.  It defies logic – but that is not an exercise in which a lot of people engage very often anyway.

Actually, the root of these problems is something far more basic.  All of it stems from self-centered behavior exhibited by people who believe that society is there to serve them.  They act in ways which they view as in their own best self-interest – while ignoring the rights of others if it is inconvenient to them in obtaining their goals.

In the end, it all comes down either to embracing the concept of taking responsibility for one’s actions – or finding an excuse why the rules we expect others to observe don’t apply to us because we’re a special case.  There is a lot of the latter going around.

Fortunately, using the illogic of “exception” I have found the real cause of the two incidents at the Walmart stores yesterday.  It is President Obama.

You may remember back a few short weeks when, during the debates, the President took credit for “saving the American auto industry.”  Now I’m going to ask you to really “suck it up” and believe that he was telling the truth (or at least thinks he is).

Well, if he hadn’t saved the auto industry, we wouldn’t be producing cars.  If we hadn’t been producing cars we would have had to rely on our old junkers for transportation and a lot of those would have broken down by now, removing them from the road and the Black Friday malls.  With fewer cars, there would have been more parking spaces available – not to mention considerably fewer greenhouse gas emissions.  Did I also mention that gas prices would be considerably less expensive since the fewer cars on the road would be using less of it?

Perhaps in his efforts to save the auto industry, the President didn’t consider the implications of his actions.  But then, I doubt that he and the missus shop at Walmart.


For most Americans, our national day of Thanksgiving is wrapped up in family, over-eating, football and a general euphoric sense of joy.  The same may not be said for the turkeys involved in this whole thing – although I consulted with the yams and cranberries and they seem to be okay with it all.

Oh, and let me not forget.  This begins the kickoff to that most important part of the Holidays – shopping.

Our insatiable lust for more “things” has compelled our retailers to begin pulling back the onslaught of prospective buyers from the Friday after Thanksgiving to the night of the holiday itself.  Perhaps they have conducted studies that prove that a person who has consumed vast quantities of l-tryptophan is more likely to part with his money if he can only stay awake long enough to get in the store’s welcoming doors.   Inside can be found the keys to happiness wrapped up neatly in packages made in China.

There is no recession here – unless it is one of the spirit and of values.

It was a bitterly cold day in Chicago that December 23rd.  I had nearly finished checking every one off my Christmas list – but there were still two holdouts.

I remember that even under the multiple layers of clothing my body was telling me to go someplace warm.  My fingers were numb even through my faux fur-lined gloves.  I would have put my hands in my coat pocket but I was carrying two bags of gifts which I needed to go home and wrap.

Home.  That sounded cozy and welcoming and I wanted to be there.  But first I had to find those two last presents.

I remember walking into a little store in the neighborhood which had merchandise that was made in Scandinavia.  All sorts of little pieces of glass, blown into the most wonderful and imaginative forms.  Frankly, I didn’t think these were things that my last two giftees would care about – but that didn’t matter to me.  The store was warm and I was beginning to return to room temperature.  That was my greatest reason for deciding to linger, taking my time in deciding which present each of them would receive – whether they wanted it or not.

I would probably have stayed longer as the blood in my feet was only just beginning to re-circulate but one of the sales people explained that they were getting ready to close.  So I made my decision, paid for my two purchases and added them to the others in my shopping bags. With some discomfort at the thought of what lay ahead in the mile walk home, I bundled up and opened the door to be greeted by a blast of wind that was so shrill and so sharp it made my eyes tear.

When I got home, I set down my parcels, took off my gloves and immediately went into the kitchen to start the kettle so I could make myself a cup of Russian Caravan tea.  I remember turning on the warm water in the sink and running my hands under it to speed up the process of getting the blood flowing through them.

And as I sat at my little kitchen table waiting for the water to come to a boil, I began thinking about my day and about all this shopping.  And I began pondering how I had, like so many of us, bought into this “bill of goods” that our sense of self-worth could be measured by the amount of money that we spent on presents.

That was the last Holiday season that I went out buying people gifts.  I turned my focus in later years to doing things that were more meaningful to me and, I hope to them.  I made things and those were my presents to my friends.

One year I taught myself to crochet and my friends all got scarves.  Another year I ventured into the world of yeast and people got  a variety of breads.  And then I taught myself to make jams and jellies and preserves and helped boost the sales of the Mason Jar Company.

I hope that those who got these gifts enjoyed receiving them as much as I did in creating them.  I know they are simple things, probably not as exciting as the latest electronic gadget.  But they were made and given with love right here in America – a land of abundance.

And that we are fortunate to live in such a place, we should all be grateful this Thanksgiving.


I would like to say that I am indebted to one of my readers, grandfathersky for mentioning the video which I have posted below.  If you enjoy wonderful poetry you should visit his blog

The video is one of the most excellent and understandable explanations of how all the things we buy come into being, serve their purpose and are then discarded.  I know that many of my readers are concerned about the way we treat each other and the way we treat our planet.  If so, you will most certainly enjoy this presentation.

Please let me know what you think of it.


 If you’ve followed along for awhile you realize that most of the important things I know I learned from my family. Grandma was in the forefront in that educational process.

I remember that one Saturday, having done the laundry earlier in the week, grandma decided that dad needed to get some new shirts. Several of the ones she had just washed were beginning to look a little frayed.

They would soon be included in her rag bag after she had dutifully removed all the buttons to add to the button box. She asked me to go with her to Bloomingdale’s where she would buy dad some new oxford cotton button downs.

I had been doing the “Jumble” and the crossword in the morning paper and thought that I had seen an ad for button down shirts. I went back to the paper and started leafing through it. Sure enough – there they were on sale at a store on 14th Street called Alexander’s.

I brought the paper into the kitchen and said, “Grandma, Alexander’s is having a sale on shirts for dad. They’re two for $5.99. How much do they cost at Bloomingdale’s?”

Grandma, responded, “They’re $5.00 each.”

So, being the math wiz that I was, I said, “Well, then we should go to Alexander’s to buy them. We’ll save almost half the cost.”

Grandma just smiled at me and said, “No, we’re going to go to Bloomingdale’s and I’ll explain why.”

I want to get your father six shirts. If we were to go to Alexander’s, you and I would have to take the subway – which would cost us $.60. We can walk to Bloomingdale’s and save the carfare. But here’s the main reason we are going to get these at Bloomingdale’s.”

“The shirts from Bloomingdale’s are made of a better material and they will last your father for at least two, maybe even three years. The shirts from Alexander’s won’t last for six months. So in the long run, it is less expensive to buy a better quality shirt than the cheap ones you saw advertised in the paper.”

Rack up another life lesson for grandma. And they just kept coming and coming and coming.



 Most of us have one or more of these little miracles of our modern age in our purse or wallet. But there was a time not so long ago that having a credit card was actually a sort of status symbol – one that few people could claim. The typical American consumer would be a lot better off today if that were still the case.

 In earlier posts I referred to grandma’s view of finance. Sure she was an uneducated immigrant – but if we all had adopted her philosophy there would be no commercials on television offering to help negotiate the terms and payments of the excessive debt that many of us have accrued.

 For those of you who missed those posts let me bring you up to speed on her way of looking at money. If you didn’t have the money to buy something you didn’t buy it – or you waited until you saved up enough to make your purchase. That was it – plain and simple.

 Her view of money and spending was hardly unique. If you have never seen the movie, “I Remember Mama,” released in 1948, I urge you to do so at your earliest opportunity. Starring Irene Dunne, Oscar Homolka and Barbara Bel Geddes (of “Dallas” fame), it is the heart-warming story of a family of Norwegian immigrants living in San Francisco and of their struggle to make it in this new land of opportunity.

 As I have previously mentioned, dad traveled extensively. While he was away, he had to make sure that he had enough cash with him to pay for his meals, his hotel and anything else he would need. Then Diners Club was invented. It was the first credit card to receive wide-spread distribution and acceptance. I remember our family dinner the night his arrived in the mail.

 He had pulled this new-fangled thing out of its envelope before we sat down to eat and brought it to the table with him. As we sat over our starter – a bowl of ox-tail soup – he showed it to mom who passed it on to grandma. She asked what it was.

 Dad explained that instead of having to have cash with him, he could simply present the card and then at the end of the month he would receive a bill for his purchases. Somehow the concept of not having to carry cash translated to grandma as not having enough money to pay for things. She was horrified. This piece of plastic was an invention of the “evil one.”

 I knew that she was disturbed because she began speaking with my mother in Czech. This didn’t happen often – but when it did it was never a good sign. Something serious was afoot. Mom was finally able to explain the concept to her and she cleared our soup bowls and brought our salads out. She was calmer – but I don’t think totally convinced that either her daughter or son-in-law understood the way the world really worked.

 A friend of mine and his wife asked me to dinner one night and had requested my help in assisting them prepare a budget. They both held good jobs and had a substantial income – but they were always “running short.” So after dinner I took a look at their income and the list of monthly expenditures that they incurred.

 The source of their problem jumped off the page at me. They were spending twenty-five percent of their take home income to make only the minimum payments on the massive amount of debt the two had accrued on their credit cards. They had become typical credit card junkies.

 As we were sitting at their kitchen table, I asked them to show me their credit cards. I also asked for a tall glass of water. I took the credit cards and put them in the glass of water which I then placed in their freezer. I explained that they were on their way to becoming debt-free. In a couple of hours, their credit would be frozen in a small block of ice and that they would, at the least, have to defrost it before making another credit purchase.

 I think the idea hit home because a few years later Sam, the husband called me to let me know that he and his wife Laura were paying off the last of their credit cards. They had learned to live within their means.

 Grandma may have had a naïve and simple way of looking at money and spending. But if both the American consumer and Federal Government had followed her lead, we would all be in a better place.


 Out of the many tasks grandma undertook on behalf of our family, I know she loved cooking the most. But another job that she enjoyed was buying clothes for me. She was in charge of making selections for my wardrobe – and updating my school uniform as I outgrew those clothes was no exception.

 The concept of a school uniform might seem strange or antiquated to you. When I see children going to the school just outside my little homeowners’ community, it’s apparent that there are no standards for attire. Sadly, this leads to unfortunate rivalry among children – who has the most expensive pair of athletic shoes – that sort of thing.

 By contrast, children who are in their school’s uniform have none of that competitive consumerism. We all dressed and looked the same. The uniform engendered a sense of camaraderie – we all belonged to the same family. Instead of focusing on what we were wearing we could focus on what we were learning.

 The components for my school uniform could only be obtained at one store – Rogers Peet. They and they alone had the required charcoal grey slacks that I would wear during the next school year.

 Rogers Peet was an upscale clothier. They catered to an upper income clientele (we were not part of that group) – and to a number of New York’s private schools in providing the uniforms those school’s required their pupils to wear.

 As there was already a little nip in the air and it was gusty that day, grandma put on her usual black cloth coat, having arranged her white hair with two bobby pins and her hair net. She grabbed her purse and we were off on the bus to get me attired.

 As we walked in the store, it was painfully obvious to me that the sales staff looked at grandma and thought she must be “the help” for one of their wealthy clients. Although she asked several of the sales people for assistance, each of them was “busy.”

 So unassisted we made our way to the pants department to begin looking at their selection. Grandma pulled out a pair of pants and held them to my waist to see how close a fit they would be. After a few tries we found the right size and waited patiently for one of the store’s sales people to assist us with our purchase.

 Three more of the store’s employees came by but they too were “busy.” I couldn’t understand what all the sales people could be doing with so few customers in the store. But we waited patiently for someone to finish with their present customer so they could assist us. We waited over twenty minutes but no one came by.

 Finally, grandma began removing stacks of pants from their rows on the shelves, piling them neatly on the floor. She was working on her fourth stack when a man came rushing towards us.

 “Madam,” he said. “What are you doing?”

 Grandma asked him who he was. He said he was the store manager.

 She said, “We have been in your store for half an hour and none of your sales people would help us. But now that you’re here, you’ll do. I would like to purchase this pair of pants.”

 By the look on his face, you might have thought that grandma had landed a strong left hook to this man’s midsection. But he wrote up our purchase and we left the store with my new pants which grandma would spend the afternoon altering at home.

 I remember being embarrassed about this incident while we were in the store – embarrassed for my grandmother who was obviously snubbed by the store’s sales staff. And embarrassed for the sales people who made the assumption that this little lady who looked like “the help” couldn’t possibly afford to buy anything at their exclusive store.

 Grandma was always considerate, kind and caring. But when she had to be – she could be one tough lady.



I try to minimize the amount of time and gas that I use during my weekly grocery shopping trips. As it happened, because I had taken advantage of sale items in previous weeks, the pantry and freezer were pretty well stocked. I just needed to get two items for the laundry room.

I went to my local supermarket, quickly found them and headed to the checkout. I normally prefer using the self-checkout aisles as I find it faster, but yesterday all of the machines were in use and there was a long line behind the customers who were waving their purchases over the scanners.

 I happened to notice there was a cashier who was open and no one was in her line. Quickly I dashed over and set my two items on the conveyor.

When I picked up my purchases I noted that they totaled $9.99. I quickly computed an additional $.81 based on our lofty sales tax rate and had put the total purchase price of $10.80 in my jacket so that I could feed it into the machine and make my getaway as quickly as possible. Now I would just hand it to this young lady instead.

She greeted me in a very friendly manner, scanned my two items and announced that I owed the store $10.80. I reached in my jacket, pulled out the money and said, “There you are – $10.80 on the nose.”

She really looked surprised and said, “Wow, you’re good. How did you know that was the amount you owed?”

I explained that I had added the prices of the two items as I was walking to the checkout and then computed the sales tax based on our 8.1% rate, added that to the sub-total and bingo – that’s how I knew what my total was going to be.

I really expected her to say something like, “Boy, I wish I were good at math like that” or, “You must be a math whiz.”

Instead she said, “Oh, 8.1%. Is that what our sales tax rate is?”

I politely asked, “Didn’t you know that?”

No”, she said, “the machine figures that out. All I do is push the button.”

Perhaps one day the definitive book on the legacy of our technological age will be written. It will be brief – which is as well as there will be few who will still be able to read. I suspect that it will be entitled,


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