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The X in Xmas
I am not a Scrooge. I like Christmas well enough as a part of the end-of-year holiday season of feasting and thanking and getting crazy paralytic drunk. I like the presents thing (to a point), and I have nothing but empathy for the people who bite, bludgeon, and tase their fellow shoppers on Black Friday. Plus, Jesus seems to have been a very nice guy. That’s all good.

What I don’t like are my Christmas tree lights. I plug them in, anticipating my own little Festival of Lights, but no. There is always one string that fails. I just bought that string last year, yet it will not illuminate no matter how imaginative my curses are. Those lights were supposed to be there for me at this time of year, along with comfort and joy, but all I get is another last minute trip to Kmart.

Hold on now, you may interject, are you going to let a silly little thing like malfunctioning mini-lights spoil the whole season? My answer is yes — but not just because I got ripped off. Those defective holiday bulb systems are a symptom of a much larger problem, one that undermines not just Christmas, but our entire retail-based civilization.

Allow me to illustrate. I also own a set of Christmas tree lights that were passed on to me by my parents. After seventy years, the color has worn off some of the bulbs, and the ratty wiring threatens to burn down my house every December. Even so, they work. When one does fail, it can be unscrewed, tossed, and replaced with a new bulb. If a socket is so corroded that it can no longer accept a new bulb, the rest of the string goes on shining in spite of it. I won’t call it an elegant design, but it has lasted.

Lasted without, it should be noted, any teeny, tiny fuses in the plug itself. Fuses! My failed string of mini-lights comes with fuses! They are included to keep the system from failing, I guess, but it seems the fuses have also failed. The mini-lights even come with a pair of back-up fuses. Do I really need to tell you that they, too, have failed? Layer upon layer of failure, violation upon violation of the implied warranty of merchantability. I’d sue, but I only paid $4.39 for that string of tree lights (on sale, which only heightens my anguish).

This is what’s wrong with Christmas; this is what’s wrong with the world. My ant poison doesn’t kill ants. My fluorescent lights don’t last a year, much less ten. My collapsible umbrellas disintegrate after one usage. Yet I (and lots of other people, it appears) continue to buy these cheap-ass products. I fear that the engine of our great economy will soon be fueled only by the continued re-purchase of products that don’t work.

As I have said, Christ was a nice feller. He never bought a Christmas present for anyone, but if he had, it probably would have been something of the loaves and fishes variety rather than a useless piece of crap. The holiday that was named for him, however, has taken a different path. For whatever reason, its success has come to depend on the purchase of large quantities of crap. The American economy, in turn, relies on Christmas to stay afloat, and the rest of the world relies on America.

This is the dangerous state of affairs that has soured my enjoyment of the holiday season (not my own Scroogic —or Grinchly— nature). I sense that we, and the entire world, are living in a fool’s paradise. One day, the crappiness quotient of manufactured goods will become so low that our entire retail network will crumble, and civilization will be left holding the empty gift bag that Christmas came in.

What’s worse, we’ll have only ourselves to blame for our own humbuggering.
Free (hah!) Will
I didn’t think much about free will until I got to college. Then came Philosophy 1 and my introduction to the theory of Determinism. If this is your first encounter with this numbing concept, I apologize. Your comfy world view is about to be upended and spilled out onto the Parcheesi board of your life. As you will soon see, however, there was nothing I could have done to prevent this from happening. No offense; it was simply meant to be.

Determinism asserts that everything that happens must happen because it has been caused by all that has gone before, all the way back to the First Cause (if there was such a thing). That fabric of causality can only unfold in one way, and every event within it is predetermined from here to the end of time (if there is to be such an event). The universe is fully determined and immutable forever. Within such a framework, I am sad to say, there is no place for free will.

The first time I heard this line of reasoning, I immediately accepted it as true. Of course every event is an outgrowth of previous events. That’s obvious, it seemed to me. Furthermore, the mesh of causality could certainly be fine enough to include the most complex human motivations, genetic structure, and ways of being. Not only is our behavior predetermined, then, we are predetermined.

This realization is a double-edged sword. Cosmically, we’re off the hook for anything we do (and that’s a relief), but at the same time our lives are rendered utterly meaningless. That’s kind of a tough sword to swallow, philosophically. Ever since that first collision with Determinism, I’ve been trying to square my acceptance of a universe that is already written in stone with my conviction that what I do makes a difference. It’s proven to be a difficult task. Until now.

Though it is not widely known, I am something of an amateur theoretical physicist. Furthermore, I am happy to report that my research in this field has brought my decades-long struggle with the free will/determinism conundrum to an end. I call my discovery the Negligible Differentiation Effect, or NDE. I won’t get into all the technical stuff about event eruptions along intertwining chains of causality projected within a four-dimensional field of space/time. Most of you would be bored by the math. Suffice it to say that free will does exist after all — but not quite in the way we have imagined.

Here’s how it works. Within the parameters the NDE, we have a narrow range of control over the events we experience. We can make real choices which are not predetermined. We can choose to have granola for breakfast, for example, or we can choose Dinosaur Eggs Benedict, and that choice would be wholly our own and utterly unaffected by events that have preceded it. So yes, there is free will — but there is a catch, as well. Our choices, no matter how consequential they may seem, will have no effect on subsequent events. The egg dish might well cause us to experience an episode of indigestion that we would not have had with the cereal, but that slight variation in events will bring about a negligible differentiation among succeeding events. Such choices disappear into a kind of causal vortex within the NDE and hence count for nothing in the grand scheme of things. I could show you the calcs, but you are fated neither to understand nor to care, so why bother?

Perhaps it would be helpful if you imagined the entire universe of events, from the beginning to the end of time, as a giant tree sloth covered with a thin layer of slime. That slime is the NDE. It has an interesting sheen to it, especially when the sloth is moving, but it will wash right off in the first rain.

Again, I should apologize… for that sloth metaphor and for what I’ve done to your peace of mind. The only thing my years of work have accomplished is to replace one double-edged sword with a smaller, tarnished one. I should apologize, but I won’t. It is what it is, as they say, and it couldn’t have been anything else. It was set in stone, you see, and covered with slime.
Retail Retold
I am not a member of the merchant class, so I am no expert on the intricate mysteries of the retail marketplace. It doesn’t take a genius, however, to see that this whole elaborate system cannot possibly work.

When I walk into a Macy’s, for instance, I can’t for the life of me see how they keep such an expensive operation afloat. I see all the clothes and appliances and home décor, and all I can think of is what a huge pile of money it represents. And then there’s the payroll: salespeople, maintenance personnel, rent-a-cops, bosses, and mid-level management, whatever that is. When you add to that the rent (or mortgage payments, or however they handle that stuff), the light bill, the advertising, and the shipping, the numbers must be astronomical. To me, the whole mess just doesn’t add up.

Admittedly, I haven’t gone to the trouble of actually adding it up, but I don’t have to. Selling the occasional sleeveless cardigan or Proctor Silex Waffle Baker cannot possibly be paying for all this. I go into these stores, take a quick look to see if the boxers are on sale, then I walk out empty-handed. I assume that the handful of other people in the store with me do pretty much the same thing. So who is buying this stuff? Something is definitely fishy here. There has to be some inexhaustible fund of support for this complex, yet utterly transparent fraud.

I am not prepared, however, to say that all efforts at free enterprise are a complete hoax. When I see some dude selling oranges out of a paper bag by the side of the road, I have no trouble grasping the economics of his situation. He could have picked them, or grown them, or stolen them, and now he is trying to turn his labor into a profit. That makes sense. Restaurants and bars make sense, too, since everyone has to eat and everyone needs to get hammered. But old-fashioned retail? I don’t think so. In fact, the booming success of internet sales has now clearly exposed these sham “businesses.” Everything is cheaper now, and it’s delivered directly to your home, and you don’t even have to get dressed.

And yet the fiction is maintained. You would think that retail operations, now that the absurdity of their existence has been stripped naked by the very free markets they pretend to thrive in, would have the grace and good sense to fold up and quietly disappear. But no; they persist and even expand!

I do not know what forces are behind this, but it is clear that they have very deep pockets indeed. For them to have continued funding these losing ventures down through the centuries only proves that the process of losing money is somehow immensely profitable to them. As I have said, I am not an expert. I don’t know what economic advantage there might be to erecting huge buildings and employing millions while not taking in enough to pay the Muzak bill. What I do know is that it smells like a global conspiracy of some kind. The fact that I can’t put my finger on the exact nature of this monstrous scheme only makes it that much more frightening.

Normally, I would suspect the Bilderburg Group or the Free Masons or the Illuminati, but there is only one major conspiracy that matches up with the size and scope of this massive charade: the Lizard People. I figure they will let it go on until we reach a tipping point, then pull the plug on the whole thing and watch human civilization go down the drain like a giant dead spider in a sink of its own making. If you follow me.

If that doesn’t frighten you, then we are truly lost. The only way to battle this implacable foe and turn back their plan to take over Earth is to attack their plan at its heart — the bricks-and-mortar retail outlets. If you want to save the human race, go there now and shop until the money runs out, then keep shopping. With any luck, our efforts will send their finances into the black … and undermine the Lizard Peoples’ plan to destroy us all. And remember, no sale items. Only paying full price will do the job.
Walk On By
I see this total stranger walking directly toward me. He’s looking me straight in the eye and all the while he’s talking in this creepily calm voice. I feel unnerved and threatened. Who wouldn’t be?

I suppose the fact that the stranger is on TV and is not actually singling me out of a crowd should make a difference, but it doesn’t. When I am in the sanctum of my own living room, I want to be free from such affronts. I don’t care that the person is my favorite politician or a friendly salesman or a journalist trying to fill in the blanks of my massive ignorance. They do not need to be walking toward me, and they should stop it immediately.

I don’t know how this style of message delivery came to be. I imagine some producer someplace got the bright idea that walking straight at your audience is visually interesting or is a way of commanding attention. Well, it isn’t, and it doesn’t, and it’s pissing me off.

You might suggest that I simply turn off my television, and that idea does appeal to the libertarian in me. But you’re forgetting one very simple fact: we can’t live without television. And since I have to watch it, I don’t want to spend my precious time bobbing and weaving among my 600+ channels just to dodge these overly aggressive talkers. I want to be left in peace and free to absorb my usual assortment of non-threatening pap.

Or am I being too inflexible? I guess if that old dude from eHarmony kind of sidled toward me, sideways-like, I wouldn’t mind it so much. If Michelle Kosinski wants to give me the latest poop from the streets of Zagreb while hopping forward on one foot, I could live with that, too. And if Elizabeth Warren wants to talk to me while walking on her hands, well, that would be perfectly okay.

You see? I can be reasonable. I’m willing to meet people halfway… as long as they’re on all fours.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon