Friday, February 13, 2009

Sunflower Schemes

I am not normally a suspicious person but these are troubled times what with Bernie Madoff's billion-dollar investment scheme, Nigerian e-mail scams, and deteriorating personal financial solvencies -- so you can't be too careful.

Which is why I spent a sleepless night pondering the possible dangers associated with the seemingly innocent gift we received recently from B & M, our neighbors across the street.

They, along with several other friends, were over at our house for an annual Sunday Brunch party we have hosted for the past several years. And, along with several other friends, they brought a hostess gift -- in their case a five-pound bag of "Squirrel & Critter Mix - Specially formulated for backyard animals."

Because of the configuration of our property we basically have no yard behind our house so all of our outdoor action takes place out in front of most of the neighborhood, including B & M. This time of year the vast majority of that action is provided by the various birds that visit our four tree-hung feeders, and the squirrels that reside on our property and frequent the same food stations as well as a corn holder designed specially for them.

We ensure that the feeding stations are well stocked every day and as a result both our feathered and our furry regular customers have developed quite "healthy" (i.e. unhealthy) body contours. The birds seem to be expanding right before our eyes as they scarf the black, oily sunflowers down their tiny, little gullets. Then they fly away and burn it all off within minutes.

The squirrels on the other hand just keep growing, and growing, and growing -- kind of like the Energizer Glutton. This detracts not at all from their entertainment value -- but does seem to slow them down a bit and makes their movements less ballet-like and more akin to those of a Japanese Sumo wrestler.

B & M have a cat. It was originally a walk-on but has now endeared itself to the family it adopted by instituting a reign of terror -- and death and destruction -- on the chipmunks and other rodents that caused crop damage and other turmoil on their property. But not any more. There is a new sheriff in town!

Perhaps however this law officer has been just a little too efficient.

Hence the "Trojan Critter Mix."

According to the packaging this combination of corn, sunflowers and nuts "Attracts squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons and other small animals." "Critters", or as a foraging feline would call it, "a four course meal with a surprise for dessert."

I have not priced the five-pound bag of the Squirrel & Critter Mix -- although I am certain I will have to buy another, and another... But I will bet it is less than one would have to pay for a top-quality, high-protein, free-range food for a free-range feline.

It's a classic "Inverted Ponzi" scheme.

Unlike the more widely known investment scam that pays returns to investors from their own money, or money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from profits, the more sophisticated transposed variation involves spreading the wealth to the shareholders upfront. This initial distribution is in the form of consumable goods and is of such a nature as to generate a sense of obligation on the part of the recipients to continue replacing that commodity as it is used up.

The benefit to the con artist is however not in the increased demand generated for the used up materials, but in the effect these items have on others not initially involved in the scheme. These third parties are the consumers of the disposable item and the actual target of the duplicitous conspiracy. The goal of the scheme is to induce these end users into a state of self-satisfaction and laziness that renders them helplessly susceptible to the predatory practices of the Inverted Ponzi-ist.

For example, the end game here is to reduce the squirrels that live on my property to such a state of torpor, indolence, sloth and (most importantly) obesity that they become foolproof, top-quality, high-protein, free-range targets for the always-hungry free-range cat that resides across the street.

And, since Mars and I really have no idea exactly how many tree-rodents we are responsible for, we will just keep buying more food and feeding them.

But this whole subterfuge is not really B & M's fault -- or even their idea. After all we do call those powerful and successful operators at the top "fat cats" for a reason.

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