Tuesday, November 20, 2007

thanksgiving word search

SAN FRANCISCO � A week before Thanksgiving 32 years ago, my father showed up on the doorstep of our crowded apartment in San Francisco's Mission District. He was in civilian clothes carrying a small traveling bag in which he kept his South Vietnamese army uniform and just about everything he'd brought from his homeland. I barely recognized him; he was haggard and thin, but he was alive.

My mother, grandmother, sister and I had arrived at the apartment only a few months before, fresh from the Camp Pendleton refugee camp, having fled Vietnam two days before the Vietnam War ended. We joined my oldest brother and my mother's sister and her children. After we came, there were 11 people living in the apartment.

In my first few months in America I suffered a recurring nightmare: I have been left behind in Saigon. Our house is empty, except for me. I frantically search for my father when, suddenly, Viet Cong enter through the gate. I scream and run upstairs. They chase me, and one catches my ankle, and again I scream. I wake in a cold sweat and tears. I stare out onto a dimly lit parking lot through the San Francisco fog feeling confused and lost.

During that time, my mother, whose eyes seemed hollow with the absence of her husband, didn't say anything to us, but it was easy to read her mind. There had been no word of Father or his whereabouts. He was a South Vietnamese military official who opted to stay behind out of a penchant to be patriotic and to be loyal to his men. He would fight on regardless of the outcome. I had heard my mother whisper to my aunt, "Tu thu" � "defending to the death." Some nights I went to sleep, weeping, "Tu thu, tu thu." I'd hear the words echoing in my head. In Vietnam, Father was the center of our universe, and his absence left a horrible void.

Across the street from our apartment was a supermarket, and my cot was by the dining room windows. Every night I watched the fog drift by and the soda pop machines glow in their eerie lights, and I listened to the wind, while fearing sleep.

Then, one afternoon the phone rang at the restaurant downstairs. Mother picked up the phone. On the other end was my father. She gasped. She cried. She was speechless. Then she laughed. When she hung up, she and my aunt hugged each other and cried. I watched from the counter, feeling both fear and elation. Father had survived, and he would soon join us.

In school, a few weeks before Father arrived in San Francisco, I'd learned the word Thanksgiving. "Ssshthanks give in," I repeated after my teacher, but the word tumbled and hissed, turning my mouth into a wind tunnel. A funny word, "Ssshthanks give in," hard on my Vietnamese tongue, tough on my refugee ears.

But Mr. K., my seventh-grade English teacher, was full of encouragement. "Very good. Repeat after me. 'Thanksgiving.' "

As I helped him tape students' drawings of turkeys and pilgrims and Indians on the classroom windows, Mr. K. patiently explained to me the origins of the holiday: Newcomers to America struggling, surviving and finally thriving, thanks to the kindness of the natives.

I could barely speak a complete sentence in English, having spent less than three months here, but Mr. K.'s story wasn't difficult to grasp. However, at that time, I had no reason to be thankful.

But on Thanksgiving � my first in America � I understood what it meant to be thankful. After Father, another aunt and her children came to our new home, the apartment was filled beyond its limit. There were 17 of us living there.

That Thanksgiving we ate on the floor, with newspapers spread out as our table. We ate turkey donated by a religious charity. We talked and laughed and told stories of our escape from Vietnam.

After that, there would be heartbreaks, of course, disappointments and disillusions in our new homeland. There would be trips to Disneyland, to Europe. There would be marriages and divorces, births and deaths, and family quarrels.

These days, our Thanksgiving holidays are elaborate, celebrated in grand suburban homes. But the Thanksgiving I remember with great fondness is my first one, when my father was returned to me, and we ate on the floor, and I was just learning to pronounce the word.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I'm not really sure who will be reading this. On the one hand, those working with retail campaigns are too busy gearing up for the year's finale. Those in that camp are lucky if they get a turkey sandwich in front of their computer. On the other hand, those representing branders are probably leaving for vacation early as their campaigns are capped or perhaps even going completely dark until the holiday frenzy is over.

Like branders, teachers need to get creative if they want a good ROI this time of year. A quick tour of Google Trends "Hot Trends" list on Monday morning includes searches for "Thanksgiving worksheets," "Thanksgiving word search," Thanksgiving printables," "Thanksgiving reading comprehension" and "Thanksgiving math." My guess is that by midweek, these frazzled teachers will be searching for a very different set of terms, like "headache." (Just in case you are interested, Google Trends suggests that the all-time peak for "headache" in the United States occurred this fall.) Later this week, searches for "turkey," including all the derivatives for roasting, ruining, burning, saving and so on, will most likely peak. (If you ever want to prove to someone that search is seasonal, just print the results for "turkey" on Google Trends for the past four years.)

And while all of this consumer research is fun, let's return to the poor souls munching on their holiday sandwich at their desk this weekend. According to Bill Tancer of Hitwise, searches for "Black Friday," the biggest shopping day of the year were on the rise as early as July of this year. For the online set, "Cyber Monday," the first working day after Thanksgiving, is the day to shop. And according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch for shop.org, 54.5 percent of people with Internet access at work will shop for the holidays at work, as compared to just 44.7 percent in 2005.

And it looks like CMOs are finally taking notice, allocating dollars where consumers are actually spending most of their time researching products (that would be, ahem, online). In a separate shop.org study, dubbed the eHoliday survey, 72.2 percent of online retailers will offer a special promotion to incite shoppers this year, including e-mail campaigns, specific deals, one-day sales and perhaps even free shipping. Just two years ago only 42.7 did.

Like all such news, this is bittersweet. While advertisers are finally responding to the consumer pull, this shift in spending will mean an increasing number of turkey sandwiches at the desk.
Thanksgiving is the time of year when Americans eat turkey, mash and pumpkin pie, and give thanks 'with grateful hearts' for 'the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness', as George Washington put it in his General Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.


advertise on spikedBut whatever Americans might be thinking about and thanking their nation for this holiday season, the rest of the world is feeling a bit more downbeat about the US of A. Whether it is harsh criticism of President George W Bush and his foreign policy, the handwringing over Hollywood's dominance of our cinema screens, the US-born burgers and fries that are apparently making us all obese, or the fact that Americans just seem to speak too loudly… it often seems that the word 'America' is uttered with a bit of a sneer these days.

We at the Manifesto Club are not particularly interested in giving thanks to God, and certainly not to the current Bush administration. But as an organisation dedicated to celebrating the human potential, and working out how best to organise society so that everyone's potential for creativity and knowledge can be realised, we actually think there is a lot to celebrate about the American way of life.

America is the 'Land of the Free', the first great modern republic, the inspirer of revolutions across the modern world. America is a nation built on the dreams and aspirations of immigrants from around the globe - and however hard recent American governments have tried formally to restrict the free flow of people across their borders, the US economy continues to be powered by 'foreigners' seeking greater freedom and prosperity than they could find in their place of birth. And America still dominates world culture, turning out some brilliant films, TV shows, popular music and art.

The Manifesto Club is hosting an event - Thanksgiving: thanks for what? - to generate a more critical debate about the meaning of America today. We have invited a wide range of cultural commentators, journalists, politicos and Manifesto Club members to take part in a 'balloon debate'. America, we say, is a great balloon that is slowly sinking to Earth - so which of its principles, rights, politics and culture should we hold on to, and which should we throw overboard so that America can carry on its upward trajectory in the twenty-first century?

Speakers will champion such contested American ideals as the right to bear arms, consumer choice and mass production, spreading democracy around the world, the First Amendment, Microsoft, popular culture, the separation of church and state and, of course, fast food. The audience will then get the chance to interrogate their arguments before voting on what stays and what goes.

To give you a taste of what's in store, speakers Chris Atkins, Daniel Ben-Ami, Kevin Yuill, Rob Lyons and Theresa Clifford give a taster of their arguments below.

Chris Atkins on the First Amendment:

The USA entrenches freedom of speech in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which rightly elevates it as the most important of our basic rights. It is therefore a sad irony that the 'war against terror', which is being waged by the USA and Britain, has resulted in the steady erosion of free speech all over the world, including right here in the UK.

In Britain, the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act bans political demonstrations outside the Houses of Parliament without special authorisation from the police; Section 44 stop and search is routinely used to hassle peaceful protesters; and as is being seen in a recent case that is going before the courts, the police are openly assaulting journalists on political demonstrations, and then hiding behind the excuse of 'security'.

Elsewhere in the world, despots are borrowing the rhetoric of 'fighting terrorism' to excuse the stifling of dissent on a grander scale. Mugabe has banned protests in Zimbabwe, and Musharraf - who is backed by the USA - is engaging in a brutal crackdown on his political opponents by branding them all 'terrorists'.

The real tragedy comes whenever free speech and human rights organisations try to call these odious regimes to account; they can simply laugh at these British and American-based NGOs and say: 'Tu coque!' - 'You do it too.' It is time to put the case once more for the First Amendment, and for free speech more broadly.

Chris Atkins is director of Taking Liberties.

Kevin Yuill on the Second Amendment:

Each time the news of an American shooting, especially a school shooting, reaches across the Atlantic, the British media emit a collective high-pitched hysterical scream. The guilty parties always seem to be America's gun culture and the Second Amendment, which allows Americans access to weapons, 'the right to bear arms'. 'It's barmy', the media sagely conclude.

Rationality is urgently needed to combat this clearly emotional outburst. First, cut out the fetishisation. Firearms, like any other tool, are not in and of themselves dangerous. Handled responsibly, they are no more dangerous than many other household items, and are far less dangerous than cars. Let's get guns in perspective. According to the Centers for Disease Control in the US, 11,624 homicides were committed using firearms in 2004. Compare this to deaths by unintentional poisoning (20,590), unintentional falls (18,807), or death by unintentional suffocation, drowning and fire (12,531). A Million Mom March against oysters or ladders? Not likely.

Second, let us put to bed the myth that the number of available guns bears a direct relationship with homicide rates. Yes, the United States does have higher gun ownership and a higher homicide rate than the UK, but strict gun controls operate in the Philippines and Mexico and both of those countries have higher homicide rates than America. Meanwhile, Israel and Switzerland have higher adult gun ownership rates than America, and far lower homicide rates. Nationally, Washington DC, which banned handguns, has a murder rate of 80 per 100,000. In Arlington, Virginia - just across the Potomac and with almost no controls on guns - the rate is 1.6 per 100,000. In Glasgow, the rate is 5.6 per 100,000.

Third, there is a direct relationship between gun rights and democracy. A democratic, egalitarian society allows its citizens to own guns. A fearful society takes guns away from those it most fears. In Britain, real controls over firearms came only with a scare about Bolshevism. The 1920 Firearms Act introduced a registration system and allowed local police forces to deny a licence to anyone who was 'unfitted to be trusted with a firearm'. The 1968 Gun Control Act in the United States reflected fears about groups like the Black Panthers, who had formed militias and marched through the streets. First, they feared the working class, later they feared racial minorities, now there is a fear of just about everyone. These are the real reasons for gun controls. It is really about who is behind the gun, not the gun itself.

Kevin Yuill is lecturer in American studies at the University of Sunderland. He is the author of Richard Nixon and the Rise of Affirmative Action, published by Rowman & Littlefield.

Daniel Ben-Ami on mass production and consumption:

Stuff is good, but choices are even better. America has led the world in the creation of a mass consumer society. Many of the goods that we now take for granted - the washing machine, the fridge, the vacuum cleaner and, most importantly, the car - became mass consumer items in America in the 1920s. Europe did not begin to catch up until after the Second World War.

Such items, and many others of more recent origin, have played a key role in improving the quality of our lives. Where would we be without them? Imagine if we had to clean all our clothes by hand or travel everywhere on foot or by public transport. And what about more recent consumer items such as the personal computer and the mobile phone? And where would we be without the internet? We could still live and function without such things, but our lives would be impoverished.

Even more important than mass consumption is our ability to mass produce - indeed, the former depends on the latter. The fact that Europe, following America's lead, has become so productive gives us many more real choices in our lives. The time we have to spend doing gruelling physical work or mundane domestic chores has been dramatically reduced. This leaves us with more free time and more energy to do more rewarding things, such as engaging in art or culture, participating in sport, or taking part in debates.

If only the rest of the world, especially still under-developed parts of the Third World, was more like America.

Daniel Ben-Ami is a financial journalist and author based in London. Visit his website here.

Rob Lyons on fast food:

We can thank Thanksgiving for the TV Dinner. The 'TV Dinner' was a brand of frozen ready meal invented in 1953 by CA Swanson, a major American food company. The story goes that they had massively overestimated how many turkeys they would need to meet Thanksgiving demand. How to get rid of the excess?

The company realised that packaging the whole Thanksgiving meal on one, compartmentalised aluminium tray that you could pop in the oven, then tuck into in front of the television, might be popular with customers. They reckoned they would sell 5,000 in the first year. They sold 10million. As one wag wrote in the Christian Science Monitor a couple of years ago: they came, they thawed, they conquered.

Then there's the man who invented mass production of frozen food in 1923 - Clarence Birdseye. (Unfortunately, Birdseye wasn't a ship's captain with a gnarly voice and a crew of child pirates who ate fish fingers all the time, but an American inventor.) By being able to store food until it is required, we've been able to get away from the drudgery of the daily shop.

The king of fast food was Ray Kroc, who realised that the restaurant set up by the McDonald brothers in California in the Fifties would fit in with the American desire to eat out, but without the formality that Europeans were used to. He worked with, then bought out, the brothers and through a ruthless approach to sales and a thoroughly efficient operation, McDonald's gave people quick, cheap, tasty food and revolutionised the food business.

For all the snootiness of food critics, and the panics about obesity, fast food has freed people - and that pretty much means women - from the need to spend hours in the kitchen. It means we have affordable, hot food anywhere, anytime. For every evening I've needed a snack while rolling home merry, for every TV show I'd have missed if I'd had to cook instead of waiting for the microwave to go 'ping', I'd like to salute these great American pioneers.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.

Theresa Clifford on Microsoft:

A lot of prejudice is projected against Microsoft these days. This is despite the fact that Microsoft has revolutionised the computer world by bringing desktop software into millions of offices and homes across the globe. At the same time, Microsoft has productised and standardised software development, making the adoption of software much easier and cheaper for everyone.

But rather than Microsoft's contribution to society being seen as a positive thing, there are widespread demands for legislation against its supposed stranglehold over the IT industry. Microsoft even faces accusations of 'Digital Imperialism'. Some critics liken Microsoft to a drug pusher, giving out free software to less-developed countries in order to get them hooked for life.

What all of this ignores is that there is nothing forcing people to choose Microsoft products. People do have a choice, and they are going for Microsoft. Microsoft does not have a stranglehold over technology - it is simply the dominant player in the market.

In the past, capitalism was seen as a dog-eat-dog, competitive world. Now it seems if your competitors are doing better than you, you can just go running to the courts and shout 'It's all so unfair!' We should not demonise Microsoft just because it is successful; as a result of Microsoft's success, we have been able to change our everyday lives for the better. We should be arguing for more companies like Microsoft. With this kind of success comes economic prosperity - and with such prosperity comes social, scientific and technological progress that bring benefits for
economic news could bring good buys for holiday shoppers this year.

High gasoline and food prices have retailers so worried you won't spend generously this holiday season that they're rolling out some of their deals well before the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving kickoff. And while those Friday deals typically offer some of the best discounts of the year, there are ways you can find good buys throughout the shopping season.

If you are willing to do a little shopping homework, you should be able to snare some of the best deals and perhaps avoid long lines or the unending search for a parking spot.

Related links
Dan Thanh Dang: Holiday pain eased when seller does right thing
Andrew Ratner: Store wars: Spying on Black Friday
"Consumers have to cast a wide net," said James E. Fisher, a marketing professor at St. Louis University who has studied holiday shopping trends. "They have to read the newspaper advertisements, look at direct mail, use the Internet. There are so many ways to find deals now."

Start looking for bargains early because some stores have scaled back their merchandise this year in anticipation of less-than-stellar sales. But if you're a gambler willing to wait until the days right before Christmas, you could find even better buys. Just remember that the most sought-after merchandise will be long gone.

Many of the door-buster deals made available Friday morning at stores are offered online on Thanksgiving Day. Even so, many merchants already have started lowering prices in anticipation of a lackluster spending season. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, is expected to reveal some of its day-after-Thanksgiving deals in an online circular tomorrow. On Thanksgiving Day, it will reveal more.

There also are plenty of Web sites that track Black Friday deals. Some of them include: bfads.net and blackfriday.gottadeal.com. (The day after Thanksgiving is often referred to as Black Friday because it was when merchants expected to see their accounting ledgers go from red to black for the year, given the sales they posted that day.)

Although some are watching to see if the day after Thanksgiving will be as lucrative for retailers as it has been in the past, it is still counted as one of the best days to find a bargain. In particular, stores are known to offer good prices on electronics during the earliest hours.

But most of the steeply discounted digital televisions are limited to just a few to each store. If you're not in line by 8 p.m. or so Thanksgiving evening and willing to spend the night in a Circuit City parking lot, you're not likely to score those deals. But there typically are plenty of good buys on things such as DVDs and other merchandise that are offered for just a few hours Friday morning or throughout the weekend.

Don't take the merchants' word about the deals, though. Use online sites to comparison shop throughout the season. If you know just what you want, compare prices at different retailers by using sites such as pricegrabber.com, shopping.com, shopping.yahoo.com and shopzilla.com.

Alan Hoffman, a sales manager from Owings Mills, said he scours newspaper advertisements and compares prices at different stores before making a purchase. He also uses coupons.

"I like to do like a vulture," Hoffman said.

Some stores also are offering free shipping to their stores for customers who shop for items online. Those moves are designed to help you get in and out of a store quickly, rewarding you for shopping at home and knowing what you want.

If you have some time Thanksgiving Day, consider shopping online when some stores offer cheap prices on electronics, toys and clothing. But look early and buy when you find it - the deals are limited online just as they are in the stores. Most stores will offer sales weekly to keep luring customers in for deals.

Hoping to snare an item that goes on sale tomorrow? You might arrive before a store closes the day before a sale begins and try buying the item you want. Many stores enter those deals into the computer system the night before. The better price often is offered to the consumer who asks for it.

Ellen Kraemer, an Owings Mills stay-at-home mom who sells goods on eBay on the side, said she buys just about everything at bargain prices. She'll only pay full price on popular items she knows will go quickly.

Kraemer has many tactics: She visits discount stores such as Marshall's, Gabriel Brothers and C-Mart several times a week. She's on the mailing and e-mail lists of at least a dozen retailers for special discount coupons. She only shops department stores with a coupon or when there's a sale.

"I'm constantly looking for the deals," she said.

The good news for consumers is that merchants already know they need you this year.

Retail forecasts call for the slowest holiday shopping season since 2002 as economic woes - including a weak housing market and higher energy costs - are causing consumers to be more conservative with their spending.

The National Retail Federation expects sales to rise 4 percent this holiday season, which includes November and December. But sales rose 4.6 percent to $456 billion during last year's holiday season. With stores depending on holiday shopping for up to 40 percent of their annual sales, retailers are working more aggressively than ever to woo shoppers and to reach them early.

Wal-Mart set the tone weeks ago, slashing prices as early as Oct. 1 on toys and other merchandise. It also launched its door-buster deals late last month instead of waiting until the day after Thanksgiving as it did in past years. Toys "R" Us already is offering similar discounts. And Kohl's has cut prices, too.

"The deals," said Jay McIntosh, director of retail and consumer products at Ernst & Young, "are definitely already out there."



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