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At Large: Yes, Virginia there is a sanity clause

At Large: Yes, Virginia there is a sanity clause

On the 33rd day of Christmas, Matthew JC. Powell gives 800 words a-wailing to anyone who'll listen . . .

Raise your right arm if you did any of your Christmas shopping this past season over the Internet. Now raise your left arm if any of the items you ordered did not arrive in time to give to loved ones on the 25th.

Now flap your arms and we'll all make it rain in New York, or something like that. Just kidding. In 1997 I made my first tentative moves towards Christmas shopping on the Internet. Mostly, I was motivated by time constraints (ARN's tight schedules didn't allow me much time for browsing through real malls), but part of it was curiosity. I'd been pretty happy with things I'd bought online, but I'd never really tested it against a deadline, since almost everything I'd bought had been a thing for me, not a gift. Selfish person that I am.

1997's experiment was fairly successful: everything arrived on time, and the only problems were from hidden costs I hadn't taken into account, such as vendors insisting upon insuring packages even if I asked them not to (adding nearly $100 to the cost of one present). Or one person who refused to accept a credit card order to "protect" me from fraud, but made me pay for the goods and the shipping with two separate money orders - at $6 a pop.

Hoping that these hiccups would be overcome a year later, I launched in during early November and did all of my Christmas shopping online. By the middle of the month I was feeling pretty proud of myself: having selected and paid for everything, I could sit back and gloat over my friends and family fighting the crowds.

By early December nothing had arrived and I was beginning to feel a little edgy. E-mails were not answered, and the few vendors who provided phone numbers on their Web sites insisted that they were for "mail order" customers only, and electronic orders had to be tracked via the Internet.

In the middle of December my resolve gave way and I hit the physical stores so that I would have "fall-back" presents on the off chance that the virtual malls didn't come through. I think you can see how this is going to come out. Not a single one of the presents I selected and paid for in early November had arrived by the 25th of December. Everyone got second-best, only-if-absolutely-necessary gifts. And my friends got to gloat at me fighting crowds three days before Christmas.

As I'm writing this, it's the 27th of January. Australia Day, recognised the world over as the last day of summer, has passed. My throat is hoarse from arguing over whether or not Muttiah Muralitharan is or is not a "chucker", and my tongue is numb from trying to pronounce his name. My parents, notorious for leaving their Christmas tree standing well past any reasonable time for taking it down, have begun to remove decorations. And still not one of my presents has arrived.

Surely there is some kind of unwritten but silently understood pact between shopper and shop that if you order something within a couple of months of Christmas, you want it before Christmas. Surely one of the big promises of online shopping is that you won't have to fight the crowds and have people gloat at you diving like a magpie at the last "water t-ball" set in Toys R Us.

By forcing me to begin my Christmas shopping so late in the game, the online shopping community subjected me to cruel and unusual torture and embarrassment that must be forbidden by some convention someplace. And what of the emotional distress? The kid I took the t-ball set from was heartbroken!

Raise your arm anyone who thinks I can cancel any of those pre-Christmas orders. Oh, sorry, I should have told you to put your arms back down before. Anyway, you won't need an extra arm because you know as well as I do that it's no dice. I did all my Christmas shopping and paid for it twice, and now there's diddly I can do about it.

I can offer neither solutions nor suggestions.I just feel hard done by and want it known. On the bright side, I won't have to buy birthday presents through the year, if anything ever arrives.

Hmm. I've reached the end of my rant with forty something words to go. I promised 800. What to say?

Has anyone else noticed that Thomas Penfield Jackson (the name of the judge in the DoJ/Microsoft antitrust trial) sounds kind of like a brand of cigarettes? Do you think it might be significant? Neither do I.


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