Thursday, December 27, 2007

Something to Think About

One of my favourite writers, David Macfarlane, had an article in the Dec.24th edition of the Globe and Mail. He is a former columnist with the paper,and I have never understood why they dropped him as a regular contributor. What follows is the kind of insightful and skilled writing that I used to savor on a regular basis:

How the rich spend at Christmas
From Monday's Globe and Mail

December 23, 2007 at 5:08 PM EST

It's always good to know what the wealthy are up to – particularly now that the holidays are upon us. And so, in the spirit of the season, here is a list of exclusive gift suggestions. Very exclusive, when you stop to think about it.

One thing the rich are bound to have this year is a roof over their heads. Untouched by bombs, hurricanes, fires and mudslides, intact roofs are capable of keeping the cold and wet out and the warmth in. Of course, roofs can't be for everyone. There aren't many refugees who know a good architect from a hole in the ground. And the homeless – they wouldn't know how to get hold of a decent contractor to save their lives. Roofs are particularly rare anywhere there has been an earthquake, a civil war or an intervention by the Bush administration. Probably anyone who had anything to do with a subprime mortgage also has a pretty good view of the stars this winter. But that is the great charm of roofs. It is its exclusivity that gives basic shelter such enormous cachet among the discerning.

Speaking of hot and cold, members of the world's economic elite have it coming out their taps. No walks with plastic jugs to the communal well for them. No worries about droughts or dried-up rivers. No mercury poisoning, no upstream chemical plants, no toxic run-off from intensive agri-factories in the watershed. And best of all, no beverage companies buying up the rights to the local source. In the households of the truly affluent, there is as much water as anyone could ever want. A flushing toilet! A hot shower! Often, there are baths. And for the man who has everything, how about this: Your favourite gardening enthusiast can run the sprinkler in the summer for as long as he wants, with water that is clean enough to drink!

And after a busy day of brushing your teeth, shampooing the dog, doing the laundry, quenching your thirst and cleaning the dishes, what would the holidays be without food? In the kitchens of the world's most well-to-do, there are refrigerators that are full of milk, cheese, eggs, hamburger, and, at the back of the shelves, um, other things. (I'm not sure. It looks like they've been there for a while. Maybe they're capers.) Also, the rich have cupboards with cornflakes and peanut butter in them, and they have breadboxes that contain bread. Often, there is orange juice in the freezer. And sometimes someone has left some ice cream.

But even the rich encounter people who are hard to buy for. You know the type. You ask what they want for Christmas, and they don't say anything very helpful in reply. Not if they're busy whisking flies away from their sleeping children, they don't. So here's a nifty suggestion. What about shoes? Everyone likes shoes. The rich have been wearing them since forever. Ands really, you can't go wrong with footwear. Shoes are especially good for crossing deserts in the Sudan (see water-related gift suggestions, above) and for running away from crazed, marauding janjaweed soldiers in Darfur.

And then, for the last-minute shopper, there's always penicillin. The upper crust has always known that it never goes amiss. There are lots of diseases and infections that can actually kill people when there is no access to antibiotics – and that is one of the many indications that, as F.Scott Fitzgerald once said, the rich are different. They sure are: They're alive. Some people – at least, the ones who don't have to ask pharmaceutical companies how much anything costs – are happy to spare no expense when it comes to not dying. And while on the subject of how good the rich have been at avoiding death, take a tip from the top 5 per cent of the Earth's wage-earners: Anti-retrovirals make a great stocking stuffer.

There are traditions that come with having an income, and one of them can solve the tricky business of giving a gift to a young person. It's always difficult, so here's a useful idea. The rich like to give their children educations. Preschool, primary, high school – the whole nine yards. Now that the economy's booming, postsecondary tuition is as common under the Christmas trees of the wealthy as Laura Secord chocolates, Tim Hortons gift certificates and sweaters from the Bay. The rich figured out years ago that giving kids the possibility of a future pretty much cut out gas-sniffing and suicides among their own teenaged offspring. And who among us is grinch enough to argue with that?

No comments: