Saturday, November 29, 2014

It's not greed, it's not racist, get over yourself and save a buck

I may not be the single most objective person to speak on this topic, since I'm likely the biggest capitalist to anyone that would even read this, but I'm going to do it anyway. I'm really up to my eyeballs in Black Friday hatred and my disdain for those people rivals theirs for the day itself. I was about to keep quiet until an acquaintance went over a line I wasn't sure I had. I heard it called National Greed and Consumption Day. I thought it was a clever, tongue-in-cheek way to reference our gluttonous American nature... until I realized she wasn't being tongue-in-cheek at all. Then I heard that Whoopi Goldberg, in her infinite wisdom, decided to challenge the use of the word "black" in Black Friday. So here we are.

Let's talk about some fundamentals of the day. First and foremost, the word black (in Black Friday) has never been, isn't now, and never will be associated with African Americans. Not everything black is about people with darker skin colors. If people want equality, stop drawing lines in the sand that have nothing to do with race. I think nighttime is racist because the night sky looks black too. Get over it. It has to do with the financial crisis of 1869. That's the origin of the term. Let's move on...

Retail workers. This one gets deep. People complain that they have to work. No they don't. You always have a choice, your choices have repercussions. I had to work on Black Friday in 2006. I was deployed to the Middle East. That was absolutely not a choice. Do you think that serving in the military is more noble than a retail worker? Then you're slighting the very people you're trying to defend in the first place. I've seen more attacks in the aisles of Best Buy than in my time in uniform, for starters, but all joking aside, retail and commerce make this world go 'round. Don't take away from that. Next, many retail workers volunteer. In 2002, I worked Black Friday at Best Buy and made over $400 in one single day - ONE. SINGLE. DAY. And I was in my early 20s, when that was a big bump. It was a long, grueling day, but we don't go to work for the rainbows and unicorn farts, do we? We go for the money. Because of Black Friday, and all holiday shopping, stores hire seasonal help - that puts people to work. But let's leverage the power of greed to counter lowering the unemployment rate, even if temporarily.

As for them even being open Thanksgiving night, let me just ask you one question. Have you ever run out of an ingredient Thanksgiving morning and run to the grocery store to grab it before company arrived? Did you complain on behalf of the plight of shelf stockers everywhere? If you did go to a store and not complain, then you don't get to complain about Black Friday sale shopping. It can't be ok for them to be open on the morning of Thanksgiving because it works for you and you bitch later in the night because you just don't happen to need a TV this year,

It's time for the meat. Black Friday by the numbers. I find that many of the people complaining are those who are anti-capitalist and little more left leaning on the political spectrum (I'm not leveling a blanket charge, just saying that by and large that is my observation). These are the same people that tend to complain about how anyone even a hair's width below the 1% are getting screwed by the system on any given day. So, my lefty friends, let's talk about why Black Friday is fiscally important, since the only thing in the world that's not an opinion is how 1 plus 1 equals 2.

In 2013, Black Friday shoppers numbered 141 million individuals. The total receipt was $57.4 billion, plus an additional $1.2 billion online. I'd round, but for the sake of being accurate, we'll call it $58.6 billion. That's equivalent to the GDP of Afghanistan. Before you think I'm fueling your fire, consider what that means. We spend more on that day than the average of any other Friday in the holiday season and way more than the average of all other Fridays throughout the calendar year. And that number of sales goes up as does the amount of shoppers.

More people are doing more shopping, but getting more things for their money. That is higher revenue for stores, more inventory throughput which requires higher manufacturing. Any inflation in prices beyond reasonable profit margins gets diminished so people's dollars are even closer to buying the actual value, not the inflated perceived value based on MSRP gouging. Simply put, more things are made, transported and displayed which ramps up operations for manufacturers, delivery systems and shelf stockers. Point of sale manufacturers often provide additional terminals for stores temporarily (at a fee so they make more), and everyone from the cashier to the store manager pulls more hours and they make more. This is fueled by consumer habits that you call greed.

Greed, according to the Oxford Dictionary is "intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food." Considering that many people spend for Christmas/Holiday gifts, it's less greed than you may imagine. Sure, I've been known to buy for myself on Black Friday so I won't pretend it's all selfless, of course. But let's call a spade a spade here, people are buying when it's cheaper. Is this to get more? Maybe in the 1990s when we were all riding high. In 2014, many people use Black Friday, not to get more things, but to finally get the things they weren't able to get otherwise. Stores have even marketed based on that principle.

So since everyone feels this day is based on greed, you'd rather ignore all points of economic stimulus, shut down the spending so we can be gluttonous on food instead and make your fellow American pay full price later or not get it at all. You'd rather see retail workers at home, earning nothing instead of out in the world making money. You'd rather see people work harder on other days and use credit to get the things they want instead of getting it at 40% off at 4am on Black Friday.

You have the option, you can just stay home. You don't have to rail against every idea that's unpopular for your personal situation. Just sleep in. Problem solved. You talk about it being the day after Thanksgiving. Maybe people are giving thanks that they can get their kid the laptop for his school work because it's so cheap. Maybe people are thankful for the extra hours or time-and-a-half pay. Maybe people are thankful for the seasonal job. These are examples and theoretical, but they aren't covered under your "one size fits all" statement that Black Friday is the devil.

There are place where capitalism is ruled out and a sharing economic of socialism or communism is employed and the only place that works, is on paper. In the real world, people want choices. You have the choice to shop or not shop. American wants to shop, as evidenced by $60b in a 24 hours period.

So next year, I'm going to shop. I'm going to capitalize on the deals because I'm a capitalist. And I'm going to make sure I exercise my right to freely participate in a free market and use my freedom of speech to tell you about it. The only time I didn't have the right do it, I was defending everyone else's right to bitch about it. So, I'm going to put those rights to good use.

You're welcome to join me, ignore me, or unfriend me. You're not permitted to call me names or attack me. Your freedoms extend to the point they impinge on mine. What will you do?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The uniform within

The impact of Veteran's Day for me changes every year. For my whole life, I understood its purpose but never really felt it. Once I was in the military that all changed, although from my cushy desk job in South Carolina, it's hard to accept being lumped in with those who really change things every day. After the first deployment, that all changed. In 2012, Veteran's Day was also 4 months and 2 days from my last day in uniform. It was close enough to being over that I really looked backwards on my time. 2013, of course, was the first in 10 years where I wasn't wearing the uniform. I wrote a post called "On being just a veteran" and promptly got put in my place by my old mentors who never stop keeping watch.

Now, it's been 508 days since Staff Sergeant Viglione officially became Mr. Viglione and 612 days since I watched Keesler Air Force Base disappear behind me for the last time. I've been slowly moving, notch-by-notch on the sliding scale. I learned that I can't be all SSgt Viglione in the civilian world. People just don't understand that rigidity, and often don't appreciate it. I worked to return to the civilian version of me.

Today I got a message from someone I do some work with. It said, "Thank you Jason, for all you've done for our country! The discipline and education you learned while ensuring our safety and freedom, has proven invaluable for our team. Thank you for what you did then and thank you for what you do now! #MomentOfAppreciation"

Two days ago I was at MetLife Stadium for the New York Jets game. The MetLife sign was camouflaged. Military members from cadets to Colonels were all over the place. There was a flyover. The announcers mentioned it several times. I was full of emotion, some of which bubbled over more than once. It wasn't sadness, it wasn't happiness. It wasn't anything any particular. It was just a lot of whatever it was.

Linda sees me work my company's accounts, my business development, graduate school, my freelance work and make time for her and my family and friends. A few weeks ago, I was speaking with my mother about packing my grandmother's house for her move and I said that we'll get it done, whatever it takes. If I gotta stay up late into the night, that's what we do. She commented about that no quit, keep working attitude. I've heard that a lot since starting my company.

I feel like the pendulum has finally come to rest in the middle for me. I went from young, corporate bonehead that was a hot shot (in my mind) to USAF reality check. It was all about me and my bank account and then it became about everyone except me. My personal good to the greater good. My transition just about covered the range of human endeavor. And now I'm a civilian again, but not the same one.

I'm different at my core. My values have changed, at my core. Not surprisingly, they've changed in concert with the core values of the Air Force. Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do. Those 3 things are in me through and through. 10 years of service instilled them in me, not as doctrine, but as actual values. What I mean to say is that I found value in them and adopted them.

I guess I always thought that Mr. Viglione and Sergeant Viglione were like Jekyll and Hyde (or Hyde and Jekyll, as the case may be). I thought they were mutually exclusive. I buried the old me in favor of the military me, the disciplined me, the focused me. And I took the uniform off and left Sgt Viglione at Keesler and became a bearded entrepreneur. But none of that is true. Sure there are parts of corporate me that are gone forever and some of the most extremely "blue" parts of the Staff Sergeant have subsided. But they both live in me. As an aside, my little brown book of AFI 36-2618 is still never far away.

I wear that uniform every day in the person I am. You don't see my stripes on my arm, but they are in my thoughts, in my decisions, and in my treatment of others. Staff Sergeant Viglione isn't gone; he's just part of Mr. Viglione.

None of that would have been possible without the guidance of people above me on both parts of life. People who truly taught and mentored me. It was these folks that helped me learn, appreciate and live these values rather than just memorizing and regurgitating them. I've been truly blessed with so many people to look up to.

So as I get thanked for my service today, I want everyone who has had a hand in my successes over the years (as a person) to take your part of the credit for making who I am.

As for my still uniformed brothers and sisters, I'm a phone call, email, text message away if you ever need SSgt Viglione.