Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Everyone's Favorite Retailer

Walmart, the corporate behemoth that rules the United States and much of the world. Millions of customers visit its thousands of stores each and every day, while others despise the retailer. I count myself among this latter group of haters - it has been over four years since I entered a Walmart to purchase something for myself. I have often been asked what my reasons are for never going to the largest and cheapest store in the United States. Am I sad that Bob's hardware went bankrupt because they could not compete with the Bentonville, Arkansas juggernaut? Walmart's affect on small businesses is well documented, so let's explore a little bit deeper inside of their evil, worm-infested core. What possible negative could come out of a place that delivers better prices than any of its competitors while at the same time providing a greater array of products under one roof?

-You Get What You Pay For-

You have no doubt heard the six words listed above hundreds of times over the course of your life. What does this common bit of wisdom mean when applied to Walmart? Essentially, there are repercussions when a business is able to lower their costs to the point that they are able to undercut the competition to the extent Walmart has. Sure, you may say, they deal in such mass quantities of products that they can purchase them from the distributors for a cheaper bottom line. You are only partly correct if you have made this assumption. In truth, Walmart goes beyond this basic pretense and uses their size as a weapon against the companies from whom they purchase merchandise. Why do they have power over their suppliers? For many businesses, Walmart is their main source of profit. Some companies do well over 30% of their business with the giant retailer. Such a high percentage gives Walmart leverage. Say a company named Willy's Naughty Necrophiliac is delivering widgets for 69 cents per unit. One day Walmart decides that they want to purchase these widgets for 65 cents per widget. Willy can either choose to comply or lose 30% of his business. More than likely, he will comply for fear he cannot stay afloat otherwise. In the words of Star Trek, resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.
So what does Willy do to appease the Walmart beast? They lay off workers, move their factory out of the USA where labor is cheaper, streamline production methods, or cut down on the quality of the parts they purchase to make their product. You can see immediately why it might be bad for America to lose jobs and have products made from lower quality materials, but why is it bad for suppliers to streamline their production methods? Walmart often brags that they have led to more efficiency among the businesses they deal with regularly. Greater efficiency and lower costs should be beneficial to everyone. Unfortunately, it also means cutting corners. When Willy's Naughty Necrophiliac has to deliver a cheaper item to stay alive, Willy might skimp on worker safety and environmental standards in order to achieve his price target. What other choice does he have other than going out of business?
*If you would like to read more on this topic, pick up Charles Fishman's "The Walmart Effect," which explains in detail Walmart's affect on the American and even world economy.

- Twenty registers and two employees -

Walmart claims their stores employ so many people that it makes up for the jobs that are shipped overseas as a result of their actions. I have witnessed important evidence to the contrary on my past trips there. Every time I went into a Walmart, the place would be packed with customers, but when I reached the front to pay for my Chicken and Bacon Hot Pockets (always eat healthy, I do) two of the nearly eight million registers located there had someone working them. The registers stretch on forever. It reminds me of the scene at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when the man is putting the box up inside a huge warehouse. I feel so terribly alone amidst such vast empty space. The lines for the two registers, needless to say, were brutal beyond belief. I am an impatient person when I go shopping - I like to get my stuff and get the hell out of there. So where are these employees Walmart claims to have? They sure are not doing anything to facilitate my exit. I guess they must be needed to greet me at the door. "How are you doing today sir," they ask. Great, until I got to this shithole.


I said I wouldn't get into the small business thing, but I lied so deal with it. The trend in the United States over the past twenty years has been towards corporate behemoths at the expense of the small business. We operate under the presumption that our economy is based on the principals of the free market. Nothing could be further from the truth. Large corporations have tremendous advantages over there competitors not just because of economics of scale, but because of the tax breaks they are given in exchange for the promise of more jobs for our citizens. Whether Walmart brings more jobs or takes them away is a questionable proposition in and of itself, but there is little question that Wally jobs are likely to be of lower quality (pay, benefits). That is beside my main point, however, which is that as a result of the failure of so many small businesses across America (which admittedly Walmart is only one of the causes) there has been a decrease in the variety that we see in our stores as we cross our great country. Sometimes I feel as if I am in cheaply produced cartoon where the background repeats over and over. When I see such a monotonous landscape, I am forced to think of the line from Demolition Man - "All restaurants are Taco Bell."

- Caveat -

In conclusion, I must admit to purchasing a product from Walmart in the recent past. You may wonder how, since I claim to have never bought anything inside a store in several years. Did I lie? No sir. The product in question is gasoline, which they sell outside of their many of their stores. If they can find a way to fuck over the oil companies, than God bless them. Wally World is certainly the lesser of the two evils in that battle.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Dear Alabastard

As you know, many people look for advice from talented writers who have fallen on hard times. I can think of several examples, but I don't want to ruin the fun you might have figuring out names. Who has embraced life more than the practitioner of such a worthy profession? He or she has given up the pursuit of a career, money, success, or a hot boyfriend, in exchange for the moral clarity that comes with pretending to know everything. Oh, and I am occasionally given a bowl of soup at the shelter. So what pearl of wisdom do I have to enlighten your day, to bring sunshine into a life darkened by the blackest ignorance? Today, I will teach you how to avoid looking silly during an argument.
How did I discover the secrets that one must possess in order to attain the highly distinguished position I currently occupy? Amazingly, the process is quite simple. An advice columnist must go out amongst the people. Only there can one get a feel for what is right and wrong in the world. I feel at times like Dianne Fossey observing the silverbacked gorilla in its native habitat. Luckily for me, I have not yet been raped and murdered by savage Rwandans.
Viewing the flaws and foibles of the these pathetic humans allows me to attain knowledge of their behavior, which I can then dispense as advice. Let me tell you now of Sunday's expedition into human society, which was a particularly enlightening one. I promised knowledge and like the milkmen of an older era, I will deliver. Follow me, and we shall endeavour to get our learn on.
This particular day was a sun-splashed Sunday spent in Greenville, South Carolina. I was pretending to play tennis with my friend Lisa, but in reality I was observing the human interaction that was taking place in the park surrounding us. Suddenly, the staccato burst of pointlessness that accompanies the incoherent babbling of an angry bitch emerged from the picnic area in front the courts. The young lady's equal in mental incompetency, her presumed redneck boyfriend, answered with a shouted retort. Normally this kind of public brouhaha would bring a shiver to me pirate bones (the author is not actually in fact a buccaneer, unless by this you mean butt pirate - Editor's note) since I am not a big fan of loud, angry confrontations. Instead, the situation brought me and my friend near to tears with laughter. What was the fatal flaw that caused us to lose respect for the serious tone of their dispute? Both were wearing tiny conical hats, the kind you would wear during the birthday party of a three year old child.
You understand, of course, how this would diminish any respect one would have for anything these loonies said. Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. had given his famous speech on the Washington Mall while wearing a such a small hat. Obviously it would have set the Civil Rights movement back decades and his famous speech would be ridiculed as the ramblings of a lunatic. Abraham Lincoln made it big despite his stovepipe hat, but the 1860s are known in the fashion world as the 1970s of the 19th century, so one can forgive him his blunder, he was merely a man of his time. No one would have respected the much-feared Henry VIII (the guy from the Tudors show for you historically inept folks) if he had worn a Burger King crown instead of the crowned jewels. [Henry also wore the largest codpiece I have ever seen, which is exhibited at the Tower of London. A codpiece, for those who don't know, is kind of like a jockstrap for a knight, meant to give extra protection to the real jewels. Wearing one this size was comparable to a modern man driving a Hummer. You get the feeling he is trying to make up for shortcomings in other areas].
If you can manage to forgive the historical diatribe, I will return to the belabored point. Clearly, it is impossible to take anyone seriously when wearing a silly hat. The Jews of Israel proved to be a formidable military force, but the Arabs kept attacking them because of those funny-looking yarmulkes they wear. I could go on and on and probably already have, but I think my point is made. If you want respect - drop the inane headwear before beginning your argument - you will thank me for it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Piece of Shit Car

Driving down the street with the top down, pulling into fourth gear, I zoom around the corner in my candy-red sports car checking out the hapless dopes as I effortlessly pass their comparably motionless vehicles. As I hit the strip, everyone looks up to admire my sleek ride, envying the ease with which I rolled by them in an aura of automotive ecstasy. Then I awake from my dream.
Besides the fact that I can't even drive a manual, my car is in reality a complete piece of shit, a turd colored brown 1992 Camry with so many things wrong with it that the mere fact that it runs has to be listed as one of the greatest miracles since Moses parted his superglued dentures (check out that amazing story in Exodus: The Revised Version). Where should I even begin to enumerate the rolodex of maladies from which the vehicle suffers? I could, on the other hand, go positive, and mention that the car does still have one of its hubcaps or that the heating system still works. That would be a much shorter form of documentation. Let us instead go down the road of negativity and examine the numerous flaws that make my Camry the loveable steaming pile that it has become. The picture located above is an artist's rendering of what my car might look like.
1. No air conditioner. That shit hasn't worked at all in several years. On the plus side, on a hot summer's day I can use the interior to cook my breakfast during my commute to work.
2. Missing three hubcaps. Shortly, when the last of the four falls off, I will have gone through two complete sets. The first was lost when my roommate Steve thought it might be funny to paint my hubcaps gold. In fact, it was not funny and his ass had to buy me another set. I should buy some new ones you say? Hubcaps are merely cosmetic and the Camry is one turd I am no longer trying to polish.
3. No cruise control. The lack of this system would bother me more if I thought the car could make the kind of lengthy road trip that having cruise control could make easier. I am just happy if I can make it out of the driveway. Californians are in no danger of spotting my vehicle on their home turf. Hell, Georgia is a long shot.
4. The computer system. According to my dashboard, the parking brake is constantly set. The old computer also claims that I am missing one of my taillights. Neither of these things are true, leading me to believe that my car's computer has significant brain damage.
5. The clock. My Toyota's timepiece works only when it wants to, which is very rarely. It is old and tired, so you can understand its feelings.
6. The passenger side. Good luck getting in, since the passenger door does not open. Don't make any plans for a Dukes of Hazzard entrance either, because the window does not go down on that side either.
7. Dent in the grill. I ran into a deer once during a rainstorm. The animal dented my grill and the Camry dented him in return. We will call it a tie.
8. Rear view mirror. I have one, but it is currently sitting on the backseat, where it frankly doesn't seem to be doing me much good. I guess I could hold it in my right hand and point it around, but they might prove difficult. Have to get back to you on the results of that experiment.
9. Tape player. Yes i have a tape player. No it doesn't work. Unless you like to listen to albums backwards to find out if they have a hidden meaning. I recommend rocking out "Stairway to Heaven."
10. Dried blood in the backseat. I have been stabbed. Feel free to ask me about the experience. I should note that it was not the car's fault.
11. Crack in the windshield. It is just a small, round crack. If I lean my head to the right, I can look right around it while driving. No worries.

All that being said, I do indeed love my Camry regardless of its assorted faults. Look on the bright side - at least I don't have to use a bungee cord to keep it from falling apart. The engine has passed well over the 200,000 mile plateau and is still humming along nicely. Who knows, maybe the old girl will give me another year of fun and excitement. It could always be worse - I could have an American car. Or my brother's - for a look at his entry in the world's crappiest car contest, read the comments below.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Party - Sabotage Edition

Author's Note: This post continues and earlier set of posts, but can be understood without reading them if you are too lazy to go back into the archives.

I imagine most of you think that I have given up on my mission to create a political juggernaut that can challenge the status quo and create a better America. You are wrong. I never give up, I just forget about things for awhile. Sometimes even really important things. That is why, as soon as a respectable choice to head the Happy Bunny Patriot Bacon Unicorn Freedom Party is found, I will immediately give up the reins. Obviously we are going to need someone with a good speaking voice, leadership skills, and an attention span of over thirty seconds. I have to reread what I just typed just to remember what the hell I was talking about. While the search for a Happy Bunny JFK goes on, I figure that we should spend some time destroying the other worthless candidates. That way, when our candidate appears, he, she, or it will be able to waltz to an easier victory than Tango and Cash in their eponymous movie, while I do the lambada with a Korean exotic dancer and MC Hammer breaks it down in the backround. So here is the skinny on our opponents - once you see how little these bozos have to offer, there is no doubt you will be voting HBPBUFP.

1. John McCain, Republican
Positive: The Arizona Senator does have experience.
Negative: He has so much experience that he can tell you first hand how the battle of Gettysburg was won (if you are wondering he blames JEB Stuart). Do you want a president who could turn to dust at any moment?
Issues: According to the media, McCain is a "maverick", willing to think on his own and challenge Republican dogma. He was one of the main forces behind campaign finance reforms and has strived to limit the impact of lobbyists in Washington. Promises to stay the course in Iraq and not run away like a cowardly Democrat.
Get Real: Since catching "Presidential Fever" McCain has turned his back on all these admittedly great ideas. He has violated his own campaign finance rules and has lobbyists working on his campaign. Rather than going against parts of the platform of the head of the party and current president, he seems intent on finding spots on Dubya's anatomy to kiss that even Laura hasn't found yet. When will we leave Iraq? 100 years sound good? What are we trying to accomplish there again? Has also claimed to know nothing about the economy, which I have heard, is something important. Points for honesty there I guess, but eight years of a moron heading the country leads me to believe that the apocalypse could be the result of another four.
Pastor: McCain's Pastor friend John Hagee thinks Catholics are not Christian and that gays caused Hurricane Katrina. Apparently God is annoyed by the thumping noise or something. Add to that a sprinkling of anti-Semitism for your perfect recipe of hate. Here is a good money quote from the holy man himself dealing with the Jews, " “Jews brought the persecution that they experienced on themselves and “their own rebellion had birthed the seed of anti-Semitism.” Delicious! Tastes just like that strudel Himmler's mother used to bake back in the good old days of the master race.

2. Barack Obama, Democrat
We at the Happy Bunny Freedom Patriot Unicorn Bacon Party want you to know that we are not here only to destroy Republicans, but all those who would dare oppose us. Time to trash the Dems!
Positive: He is an impressive speaker, able to convince voters that black is white, white is black, and that he is both of them.
Negative: Fancy speechifyin' ain't what is gonna take our country to the promised land. We need coherent policies and a real vision that cannot be described by high fallutin' multi-syllabic words and such. Obama has spent only one term in government as an elected representative. How can that prepare him to lead? The only other president who could boast of such lackluster experience was Abraham Lincoln and he had us in a war for five years and then died before even finishing his term, so obviously he sucked.
Issues: Obama is running on a platform which consists of the audacity of hope, unparalleled vision, and a bunch of other stuff that sounds really good in theory. Plus he wants to get out of Iraq.
Get Real: No one really knows what this Socialist pig dog will do if he is elected. We don't even know who this man is. Is he black? White? Christian? Muslim? I keep getting e-mails telling me that he is something nefarious, mysterious, and not to be trusted. You should not trust him either. He might even be a liberal. He has to be - he wants to cut and run away from Iraq before we accomplish whatever it is that we are planning to accomplish (trick al Qaeda into sending all their operatives into Iraq and then nuke it?). The HBFPBUP believes that we should not run from our commitments like cowardly liberal Obama followers want, but rather back away slowly and carefully.
Pastor: Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, is black and it seems that he hates America. I personally am insulted that any black man could be upset at the USA after all our country has done for their race. Okay so the first couple hundred years were rough, but get over it already you have the NBA and NFL now.
3. Hillary Clinton, Democrat
Positive: She would be the first president since Millard Fillmore to have a vagina and Bill would be the original first dude since everyone knows Fillmore was a closet lesbian.
Negative: See above. Chicks can be completely nutso. Have you ever tried to argue logically with a woman? You might as well expect to win a game of tennis against a wall (The late comedian Mitch Hedberg tells me walls are fucking relentless). Also, unless we want to be some sort of odd alternating monarchy, we need to get out of this crazy Bush/Clinton/Bush pattern. If we want to avoid a Jeb in the White House, we need to act now, not later.
Issues: Hillary is running on her experience as someone who lived in the White House for four years. She feels prepared to take that three in the morning phone call when the world is in danger and the Superfriends have taken a vacation to visit Aquaman in his underwater cave. As evidence of her experience in this area, Hillary claims to have run through machine gun fire like Chuck Norris in order to save the Bosnian people from Lex Luthor or something.
Get real: If spending time in the President's domicile supposedly gives you the tools to become president than by that logic the White House janitor is next in line for the proverbial throne. Or maybe the head chef can get on the horn and deal with the next terrorist bombing. Oh and that machine gun fire in Bosnia turns out to have been a little girl with flowers. You have to hand it to Hillary as a politician - if you are going to lie why not make it a whopper of which Pinocchio could be proud. Oh and remember, Pinocchio will not be the only one in the White House with a wood-sprouting problem - and we are not even talking about truthfulness issues yet.
Pastor: According to Rush Limbaugh, Hillary and her feminazis are unable to go inside a church for fear that their demon-flesh would spontaneously combust. So far that fact has proved a plus for her campaign when compared to the pastor-related controversies of her opponents.
4. Ron Paul, Libertarian
Positive: He has the guts to tell the truth about issues like the deficit that most politicians are scared to confront.
Negative: Eight people are listening to him and I seem to know half of them.
Issues: Get out of Iraq, end NAFTA, protect personal freedoms.
Get Real: There is a question as to whether he is even still in the race. Rumor is he is going to storm the Republican convention with calvary.
Pastor: Who knows? I think Libertarians may be atheists.
5. Ralph Nader, Constitution Party
Positive: He did a bunch of stuff to make us safer from Corporate greedheads in the seventies.
Negative: For some unknown reason he has since made it his mission in life to destroy Al Gore. Like Paul, has no chance in hell. Currently trailing Mickey Mouse in the polls.
Issues: Bring back the Communist threat by being the Communist threat. Take away Al Gore's Nobel Prize.
Get real: Elderly Jews won't be fooled by your crazy ballots this time, you fiend. Also, Nader may drop out when he realizes Gore really isn't running this time.
Pastor: Commies are definitely atheists, I am sure of that goddamn those red bastards - they don't like unicorns, freedom, or bacon.
6. Jesse Jackson, Crazy People's Party. He's not running, but I really loved the picture, so I thought we could fit him in there.
So now that you have seen the assembled field we have deal with, you will surely jump into the waiting arms of the Happy Bunny Unicorn Patriot Bacon Freedom Party. Maybe you would even like to be our presidential candidate. Feel free to peruse our platform, which is laid out in an earlier post. That is all for now. God bless America and all her beautiful unicorns!