Beware the ability of marketing to cast a beguiling spell
Exaggeration of the proximity of Christmas is a striking feature of today's commercial world. We become easy victims of the magic of marketing and the seduction of sales strategies with their relentless repetition of the message to 'shop 'til we drop'.
The marketing surrounding Harry Potter memorabilia, in my opinion, takes the stimulation of a desire to possess trinkets to a new level. The Potter magic is weaving spells of acquisitiveness that appeal to the innocent gullibility of children. Be warned! Your little loved ones will not forgive you if you refuse to empty your purse into the coffers of a fairly ruthless business peddling these toys.
Vance Packard, in his book 'The Hidden Persuaders', was one of the first to raise awareness of the way advertisers manipulate our expectations by subliminally inducing desire for products. The world of advertising plays fast and loose with the truth in its determination to stimulate sales.
The morality of marketing techniques is rarely questioned. Just consider the power of 'buy one get one free' marketing, which has resulted in over-filled fridges and subsequent food waste. But then, moral imagination has no place in the world of conspicuous and extravagant consumption.
Advertisers claim that they are in the business of making it easier for people to get what they want by providing relevant information. A more accurate characterisation of their work may be that it fuels our insatiable drive towards having far more than enough, whilst so many are struggling to feed their families.
The modern supermarket replaces the cathedral, particularly in relation to Sunday attendance. No longer do we pray for what we want, but reach for it on the well-stocked shelves. Should we be unable to pay for what we purchase, the contemporary good Samaritan, the pay-day lender, comes to the rescue.
True Seanad reform needed
It is a year on from the Seanad abolition referendum and there is no sign of the sort of possible reform that was invoked by action groups such as 'Democracy Matters' as the primary justification for its retention.
If anything, the recent Cultural and Educational Panel by-election only served to highlight the inherently dysfunctional nature of the Seanad panel structure.
Obviously, there is a notorious sense of awareness regarding the unfulfilled, perennial nature of Seanad reform debates. There have been so many alternative proposals put forward that a bottleneck of ideas has itself influenced the constitutional inertia. Who is going to do something about it?
The answer to this dilemma is to give the electorate the opportunity to decide which is the best reform. To do so, however, there is a need for constitutional reform to allow 'preferendums' to be held. Only permitting 'Yes' or 'No' answers in referendums has an anachronistic, stifling effect on our democracy. A preferendum would allow for many constitutional questions (not just on the Seanad) to be answered by the people more inclusively and conclusively.
Goatstown, Dublin 14
Bonus points for right answers
When is a "performance-related bonus" not a bonus?
Only when it is "water-tight"!
Now that is "gas"!
The Curragh, Co Kildare
Means testing and child benefit
Tanaiste Joan Burton has stoutly defended her decision to continue paying the Child Allowance without any reference to means. In a recently reported case of the disposal of two luxury homes on Dublin's Shrewsbury Road, an estate agent confirmed that one of the properties was rented to an "Irish family" for €15,000 a month - that is €500 a day.
Someone should ask Ms Burton to repeat her justifications in light of the fact that there are families in Ireland with hungry children while, on the other hand, there are wealthy families which are automatically entitled to receive the same State payment that is clearly meant only to be a support where needed.
Rathedmond, Co Sligo
A dying man's plea to Catholics
By way of introduction, I left Ireland in 1959, just after my 23rd birthday. After a short stay in France I moved to England in 1960 and Canada in 1966.
While my mental faculties are still functioning 100pc I am writing this letter from the intensive care unit of the hospital. My condition is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, for which there is no cure. It has taken a bad turn, so the future is unknown.
The amazing initial outcome is that I have been able to accept it with complete resignation. This is, I believe, because when I received the news in January last that I had six months to a year to live it enabled me to plan so that all necessary details of my affairs are in order, including funeral, etc. This will greatly help my wife and family.
This strength just did not come from the foretelling of my death. It came from the spiritual training I received growing up in Ireland. I have always drawn strength from this throughout my life, especially from a very special teacher at the national school I attended.
The bad apples in the clergy barrel of recent history don't have the power to take away this inner strength given to me by God through the Catholic Church in Ireland.
My prayer is that Irish Catholics will take advantage of the fantastic spiritual assistance still available from the many loyal priests who are so deserving of their support and trust.
Looking from afar I thank God for Archbishop Diarmuid Martin who, despite humbly taking such public abuse, has done so much in regaining respectability for the church.
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Suffering not confined to Africa
Bob Geldof states that people in Africa are dying because they are poor, not because there is no medical care or food. This is true to some extent, but death, unbound bereavement, the feeling of loss and helplessness are not confined to the African continent.
They can also plague rich Western nations where there is abundance of medical care, medicines and food and where there are the best healthcare centres to care for patients and staunch the spread of infectious diseases such as Ebola.
The mega rich in wealthy nations can also succumb to death through different vistas: drug addiction, mental health illnesses, terrible depressiveness and suicide. Death is inevitable. It intrudes itself unexpectedly into the lives of all without taking notice of their backgrounds, religions, beliefs, races and cultures. In this sense, it embodies God's justice itself. It is therefore lamentable that people vie for power and resources.
In our shrinking world, the quest for hegemony and natural resources has led to authoritarianism, corruption, wars and viruses and there is no end in sight for our descent into chaos. This is an unholy war. This is where people declare themselves God's chosen people on Earth to do God's will.
What is needed is the will and bravery to confront ourselves and choose whether we want to live in our God's image or do his will on Earth.
Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob
Response: 'And also with flu'
I got the impression from a medical person that one of the most likely ways of spreading cold, flu, etc is by shaking hands indiscriminately. In the context of Church services, as they say in the exam papers, please discuss.