Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Story

Christmas in the Spa City culminates Tuesday after more than a month of hype. What started with the mad dash to Wal-Mart on Black Friday, officially launched with the balmy Victorian Stroll in late November and has continued without respite in the form of oppressively tacky holiday music piping over intercoms in every department store or supermarket in the region will finally come to fruition in less than 24 hours.

And it’s been one hell of a haul, folks, especially for members of the Capital Region’s media, which has had a devil of a time keeping up with the go-go times of the Christmas season. At first blush, it might seem like a tall order covering all this holiday cheer, especially seeing as though the official season now spans more than a month. But they manage to do without fail every year.

In fact, some news agencies have more or less given up reporting news of any substance whatsoever. Take for example the hard news flow pouring from the studios of Capital News 9. Among the hard-hitting Christmas-themed stories this week, the “your news now” network aired a piece posing the real question about the holidays: Why do people string billions of Christmas lights on their homes? The answer to this and more coming up after this month’s news break.

However, News 9 is hardly alone in their nearly month-long break in reporting real news. In fact, there’s been a veritable cavalcade of media sources throwing out some of the quintessential non-stories this holiday season, as they did the previous year and the year before; the same stories, the same sources, the same everything except for the last digit in the year and perhaps where they were featured in broadcast or paper.

These stories include “the holiday mailing crunch” story out of a U.S. Post Office near you. Ever wonder what happens when several million people mail Christmas cards to 100 of their closest friends and relatives? Well look no further than the reports brimming from this year’s paper; ones that look oddly homogeneous when compared to those of previous years.

Then there’s the travel report, the most futile of Christmas stories. See, people tend to travel when they have a few days off strung together around the holidays; visit the in-laws, snowbird down to the Florida peninsula, fire back home for a few days of free living in mom’s nest.
Yet, there’s always a sense of amazement over this mass migration in the next day’s news; published a day later than it would be useful to anyone traveling. It’s almost as if there’s an all-seeing editor or producer that has been living in a locked newsroom vault for the last half century and might not be privy to the holiday gridlock that strikes modern transportation.

But never was there a more hackneyed account of the Christmas fervor than during the holiday spend-a-thon. From the Black Friday blow-by-blow accounts to the mid-season reports to the last-minute shopper stories, the local media obsesses with the greediest element of a holiday many proffer as a time of giving and caring.

As the clock ticks down to 6 p.m., television cameras and reporters are there to chronicle every last minute of shopping; where they’re spending, what they’re buying and how many packages they’re carrying. These reports tend to give up-to-date milquetoast reports about how holiday shopping might be affecting local business, using terms such as “business appears to be good” or that holiday shopping “might be the slowest” in five years. Of course, there is no barometer for this until all the receipts are counted sometime in late January. Yep, nothing like adding speculation to an article already suffering from an utter dearth of real news.

Meanwhile, the real story just seems to float over the talking heads and mindless publishers nestled in their news hovels around the Capital Region. In a time when the sub-prime mortgage crisis is threatening many with the loss of thousands of dollars –even homelessness in more dire cases –residents are still lighting up suburbia with expensive Christmas lights and going on unprecedented spending sprees with their credit cards.

The warning sirens are indeed sounding for a public that has become obsessed with outspending one another in the run up to Christmas, though few want to hear them while their loading up a financed SUV with a hodge-podge of over-priced consumer electronics purchased with a maxed out Visa. In a study that spanned from October 2006 until October 2007, The Associated Press reported credit card debt and delinquency has sky-rocketed among Americans.

The most telling are figures provided by the Bank of America, which is owed $5 billion from its delinquent card holders. The defaults represent a 200 percent increase over the previous year’s figures, and that’s without figuring in the shopping bonanza now taking place in the run up to C-Day. Merry fucking Christmas, America; grab a mug full of eggnog and worry about it in the New Year.

But why bother asking shoppers how they plan on affording a veritable treasure trove of presents? Why bother asking them about their angst or why they feel the need to purchase their way through a holiday that once represented peace and harmony among mankind, rather than the abject consumerism? Isn’t it better to just ask them if they still believe in Santa Claus?

Perhaps these are bleak questions to ask for a time when cheer is almost a societal mandate. Eventually, however, the public will need to awaken to the notion that Christmas spending continues to spiral out control. And maybe for once, the local media might consider focusing on something of substance, rather than gleefully heading out to the mall for a report on how much debt these jolly revelers will sink themselves into for an ounce of holiday cheer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

After that post, I know exactly who stole Christmas.

9:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

H.O. Don't stress out; it happens every year! Take yourself downtown and have some Jameson on ice.
And have a
Merry Christmas!

Love your commentary, too bad we don't have a newspaper here in town but there are a couple of good blogs that keep us informed. Keep up the good work.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said, indeed. And bah humbug to you.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consumption for consumption sake.
It's weird; it's bizarre.
Watching people, day in and day out, buying stupid things they can't afford and probably don't need.

It has made many young kids obese and unhealthy.

I think the day of reckoning is fast approaching and I am not talking in any religious sense.

We went to the Racino for the first time. We went for the food; we don’t gamble. The buffet is $15 a head. It's a cheap night out and food was okay. Walking past all of the people who were sitting in front of those gambling machines was surreal. Reminded me of my acid days.

I next day I read in the Saratogain about the former Racino employee who was sentenced to 10 years for robbing the Adirondack Trust Company because he pissed his paycheck away gambling on those machines.
How much is that going to cost us to keep him locked up for the next 10 years?

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is the first time I've ever agreed with you, about even one part of your posts.

You're exactly right about the general uselessness of writing or filming the same holiday-themed stories every year.

However, I think you're overlooking some of the better stories that have gotten out, despite the holiday season. For instance, there has been some good reporting about NYRA's deepening crisis in some of our local papers, and just today, the TU had a great story on Bruno severing ties to his business, following an FBI investigation.

Your argument would be far stronger if it didn't rely so heavily on teleology.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your assessment of the commercial holiday scene and have not gone near the mall nor "boxes" for weeks. I throw away all the ads which clutter our (otherwise cluttered) newpapers. But let's stress the positive when we look at what we have as a community. The Christmas spirit downtown is great! Store and restaurant owners are spreading the spirit. So, Merry Christmas to all, and I hope to see ya on Broadway!

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most media, from rural weeklies to national newspapers and TV news shows, incessantly and positively report on the Christmas buying binge for one reason -- their advertisers essentially control their coverage of this matter.

And, therefore, negative stories, that might point out the obvious credit-card problems that many people face after Christmas, rarely make it into print or broadcast.

Journal Register rags like the Saratogian are, naturally, more likely to suck up to their advertisers, since the Journal Register business model of eviscerating newsrooms has made it clear that they do not care about providing readers with basic, honest news about their communities.

So there's even more "happy" news about anything that affects Saratogian advertisers than one would find in a real newspaper.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheer Up H.O.!
There is more to come starting today;

1-the news crews wiil be at the Mall for the returns and sales

2-we will hear about partying and DWI, and who is offering the free rides

3-next we hit the Northway and Thruway interchange for those returning home

4-then the Biggee, Saratoga First Night

Over, it's not over. Was it over when Valarie bombed Pearl Harbor?

Whose with me Hooooooo!

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that the individual who robbed the Ad Trust was actually a racino employee. Articles did say he cashed a check there, and then gambled it away- but that doesn't mean he was an employee.

It is unfortunate though, that instead of seeking some form of help he decided to rob a bank and now faces some serious jailtime.

The racino has brought limited social "evil" to our community. Saratoga has not turned into Atlantic City as originally feared, and although many crack jokes and bash the "catatonic" individuals who throw away their money there, it has truly revived the one-time equine sports center eyesore.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're overlooking one important reason for the season's apparent dearth of hard news: Many public and private officials are on vacation at this time of year, and interested in spending time with friends and family, and not talking to news media.

This makes it exceedingly difficult to work on harder-hitting news. I myself have three stories that I would have loved to have put out this week and last, but people who usually call me back in a timely manner are away or attending to other matters at this time of year.

I suppose most media consumers wouldn't know this, but since you purport yourself as a "professional hack," I thought you would. Guess not.

Unlike you, us journalists who are paid to produce our stories, and required to maintain a certain level of integrity, can't just going throwing around rumors when we don't get timely confirmations.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear shot-caller,

Like I said, I just went for the buffet. But to get to the buffet area from were I was parked I had to walk past about 2500 of the machines. (Only an educated guess)

Those people sitting alone in front of those machines didn't seem real worldly or affluent, if you know what I mean.

My apologies. I did go back and reread the article in the Saratogain and do admit to making an error is stating he had been working at the Racino. The article states that he only cashed his paycheck there.

When I was a young man and bookies were prevalent this situation would probably not have occurred. Had that man done the same thing back then, his wife would have only had to the call the bookie and complain. The bookie would have returned the money to the family and no longer accepted any gambling action from him.

Life was much simpler back

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your words:

"It is unfortunate though, that instead of seeking some form of help he decided to rob a bank and now faces some serious jailtime."

Yes, this has always been the $64,000 question, hasn't it?

At what point does someone who has a gambling addiction ask for help?

When they have lost their first $100?

When they have lost their first $5000?

When they have lost their first $20,000?

When they have lost their house?

When they have lost their friends?

When they have lost their family?

When they have lost all hope?

What is your suggestion?

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like where this blog could be heading.
It would be an interesting slant on reporting if the Holiday season was perceived as more than simply the usual report on the crush of its accompanying commercial activity. Most Holidays are indeed mythical interpretations and stereotypes associated with fantasies created by historical characters and those found in literature and in the cinema. Just what are the realities associated with those images surrounding our cultural celebrations and what do they reveal about ourselves, our values and our self-identities -- compelling us to continue those traditions (those holidays and our seasonal tourist celebrations) throughout our lives? Are we truly ready to walk out of the cave and proclaim, "Bah, Humbug!"

4:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good Congresswoman has gotten a gift for the police department that has everything....

Grant to buy spying tool for police

“We’re pretty excited about getting it,” said Assistant Chief Chris Cole, "It’s almost like a doctor that’s doing an operation, like a colonoscopy,”

Not to be outdone - the Village of Stillwater FD got $30k for a chemical detection kit - which identifies unknown solids, liquids and gases, including drugs, explosives and toxic chemicals. Better watch out Damn Good Jerkie... the FD will know your secret recipe...

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, and so did another man.” From the December 1997 Seinfeld episode #166 where Frank Costanza tells Kramer that he dreamed up the holiday as he remembers, "I realized there had to be a better way." Before Frank could utter "Festivus for the rest of us!" the holiday, occurring on December 23, was born.

Perhaps “Festivus for the rest of us” can take place in Congress Park in front of the Casino every December 23 complete with an aluminum pole, a tinsel ban, an exhibition of feats of strength highlighted by an un-anonymous grievance airing. No gifts required, except the mailing of the festivus fruitcake.

Let’s hope that there are more than two or three anonymous bloggers celebrating and wrestling on the grounds.
For the History of Festivus:

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon 4:39am
Your words:

"Are we truly ready to walk out of the cave and proclaim, "Bah, Humbug!"

My family made the leap to sanity this year. No gift giving. No wasting valuable time trying to buy meaningless gifts.

We put the tree and decorations up.
It was a little weird, at first, not having any wrapped presents under the tree. But damn it, we had a great time.

Eat, drink, watch movies, listen to tunes, play board games, and of course be merry.

I must say it was the best Christmas ever.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very true sir- what is the threshold for when someone should get help?

The trouble is, just like every other vice in our society (drug addiction, alcoholic, "sex addict"), the person who has the problem is the one who really needs to recognize it themself.

But I digress, it seems like numerous blogs (heck even this one) wish to attack in one form or another what is going on at the Raceway. But is this actually maybe the second or third serious event that has occured at that location in the 4 years of its time here? Compare that to the amount of crime that occurs because of all the people who come for the flats, or the fighting and vandalization that occurs because of our wonderfully condense Caroline St.

I would rather have something which is bringing some form of revenue to our community, including jobs and year round tourists, instead of the crumbling racetrash that existed there before.

We judge the racino-goers as catatonic zombies because of what a VLT is, but how are they really different then the degenerate foul mouthed alcoholics who sit at the picnic tables cursing about how they coulda hit the pick 6?

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon12:58 "We put the tree and decorations up. It was a little weird, at first, not having any wrapped presents under the tree. But damn it, we had a great time."

It's wonderful just to celebrate a family's (or friends) ability to get together -- inside or outside the cave.


5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

shot-caller said..
your words:.

"The racino has brought limited social "evil" to our community."

You say limit social "evil".

How much does that cost us?

Just this ONE incident is going to cost between 800k to 1 mil to taxpayers. (Just an educated guess)

If you give a statistical number, percentage of gamblers, to your phrase of "limited" and multiply the monetary burden put to the taxpayers the amount is staggering.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just an Observer said...

"The good Congresswoman has gotten a gift for the police department that has everything...."

Yes, I also see where Lady G wasted 200k of taxpayer's money for mailings to her adoring electorate.

McNulty spent about 15K in the same period of time.

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

shot-caller said..
your words:

"The trouble is, just like every other vice in our society (drug addiction, alcoholic, "sex addict"), the person who has the problem is the one who really needs to recognize it themself."

Two wrongs don't make a right.
Just because all of these other vices have been allowed to flourish doesn't make it right for the state and local governments to encourage another insidious addiction to further wreck havoc on society.

Gambling addicts, unlike druggies or alcoholics, generally don't show physical or visual warning signs of their problem.

Don't get me wrong I am not a Mr. Goodie Two Shoes type of person. I understand human nature.

Some forms of gambling such as horse racing do seem to have social benefits that outweigh the negative impact. However, these lottery games and racino machines are going to be a big problem.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without question the financial burden of a jail sentence is astronomical and unrealistic, but that's a seperate issue entirely. We as a society have decided that we "serve" prisoners, and sometimes even give them incentive to stay in jail for their treatment. I wonder how many low income families struggle to afford a monthly cable bill, while our criminals get it for "free."

You give an estimate of 800k to 1mil. Ok and that will be over an 8-10 year span. In comparison, the State cut a 3 million dollar check to the city and county last year.

Ill extend that thought, there might be 200 employees there who are earning salaries and wages that are not incredible but it's better than nothing and it benefits our communities.

To summarize, 1 million for a negative event and 3 million or so a year with an added couple hundred jobs... OR... about 30 jobs and a falling apart building contributing nothing to our community?

Do you truly feel that the negative outweighs the positive that much my man?

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

shot my man
"Gambling addicts, unlike druggies or alcoholics, generally don't show physical or visual warning signs of their problem."

are you sure about that? a gambler has no visual implication to his addiction? the family of this individual has no idea of his addiction? Im pretty sure when the checks dissapear or money mysteriously happens to no longer be on the table that someone figures out that something is up.

Horse racing has a benefit compared to other forms of gambling? C'mon already, the lottery and scratch offs (which by the way is exactly what a vlt is) are entirely more prevelant than vlts.

Im sorry friend, vlts have brought limited and in fact no real problem to saratoga springs. As is the case with many ofhter vlt operations (yonkers, tioga, vernon etc.).

Where there's smoke, there's fire. Well there's neither here in Saratoga Springs. So where is the " big problem?"

Ok so the number of people in gamblers annonymous doubled- from 2 to 4. Oh shit it must be because of the dirty VLTS!!!

1:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shot-Caller said...

"Do you truly feel that the negative outweighs the positive that much my man?"

I am not sure. I have misgivings. I think it is too soon to be giving our blessings to this new revenue source.

When I am waiting in line at Stewarts for all of these people who are totally engrossed in placing their orders for various scratch offs, I don't get a good feeling.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know a pair of school teachers in saratoga whose son (underage) goes gambling all the time at Turning Stone. These teachers know that he does and even drop him off with friends there to gamble. This is sad to think that teachers in our schools condone this behavior and even encourage it. This is truely a sickness by parent and child that needs to be stopped!

7:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This is truely a sickness by parent and child that needs to be stopped!'

Many people consider gambling an innocent pasttime and you often see adults buying lottery tickets for their kids to scratch off.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fun to see shot in the dark has found someone else to harass. good luck to you shot caller.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see where that lady who ran the payroll company that ripped off 400k from many of these local businesses was sentenced from 4 to 12 years in the state prison.
If all that money wasn't going up her nose, it's a safe bet that the racino or some other gambling outlet has got the money.
When these people get out of control the monetary damage is always huge,

12:41 PM  

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