Old Geezers Out to Lunch

Old Geezers Out to Lunch
The Geezers Emeritus through history: The Mathematician™, Dr. Golf™, The Professor™, and Mercurious™

Monday, August 10, 2015

If Donald Trump is considered a serious candidate, then why not?

––Welcome back to these pages our most recent guest Geezer, "Since George Shaw".  The editors are not at all sure that George is not serious about the following suggestion. Stranger things have happened.  ––

Except for the haircut, as a presidential candidate, this is no more
preposterous than four or five of the current hopefuls. 
As the list of "serious" presidential candidates surpasses 20, I would like to be the first to formally endorse Tom Hanks as a third-party candidate for President. Yes, that Tom Hanks. His credentials? He is not a politician, and to my knowledge* is not associated with major parties or major political issues. 

People instinctively, and justifiably, hate politicians. Hilary and Jeb already have high, well-deserved, disapproval ratings, and by Nov 2016, every American with a TV, a radio, a newspaper or access to the internet will hate them both. A well-known and likable (sorry Donald Trump) non-politician running as a third-party candidate in all 50 states, could easily win.

And if you don't believe me, remember Jesse Ventura. Jesse did not get elected Governor of MN because people loved Jesse; we elected him because we hated Republicans and Democrats. And speaking of Jesse, he was a much under-rated Governor. Sure, he was a thin-skinned, blow-hard, but tri-partisan government actually worked better than bi-partisan government ever has. And besides cutting ribbons and touring tornado-sites, the Chief Executive's real role is to appoint a cabinet to run the government.

Playing a slightly different role, Hanks might well
be a better choice than the hacks offered by
either party. 
Mostly, Governors and Presidents appoint their unemployed cronies, and not only are these guys politicians, they are generally out of office because they aren't even good at that. Jesse, not having any friends, appointed a commission who hired cabinet officers based on actual merit. What a concept? So aside from being the butt of jokes, MN under Jesse was the best government we ever had. No reason Tom Hanks couldn't achieve the same success on a national level. He was a war hero, he understands the Chinese (from all that ping pong), piracy, the prison system - the list goes on.

But if I am mistaken about Hanks' political history, then somebody like Tom Hanks. Anybody with max name-recogniton and likability and no known political connections. Peyton Manning, maybe, or Garth Brooks. I've got no problem with a woman, but I don't think Lindsey Whalen is well-known outside of MN, and I don't think Katy Perry is old enough. Other suggestions?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Geezer History of the Internet

When I was starting out in the publishing business, the Internet did not exist. Literally. If you wanted to research something like 'residential electrical codes in Georgia' the process involved going to a big public library, finding a yellow-pages phone book from Atlanta, copying down the names of electrical contractors in the city, then making a series of cold calls until you found a talkative fellow willing to speak with you. Then you added his name to a Rolodex as a expert source you could call in the future when you needed information.

It was not until about 1989 that the Internet entered business usage for me. I remember installing the first 1200 baud modem in my computer—a IBM 286 PC with a whopping 40 megs of hard-drive space. This was the pre-Windows days where computers used a DOS-base interface. The modem would crackle, then beep, and then I could connect to university data-bases, where I could easily access technical information like span charts for wooden framing members in residential decks. It seemed quite magical at the time, and I knew then that this thing would have big potential.

But the sheer speed of that revolution surprised even the most forward-thinking people. Within a few years, Windows operating systems had become part-and-parcel of all PC's, and shortly thereafter a fairly usable graphic interface was added to basic Internet operating programs, and we were off to the races. "Internet" became "World-Wide-Web". And within barely 15 years, it became a primary method of most of the world's communication, and a main platform for commerce and entertainment.

If the speed with which the technology of information transmittal was prodigious, it was no more prodigious than the speed with with language itself changed. It was as though users, intoxicated with how fast e-mails could zip through cyberspace to one another, also felt compelled to compose those messages with increasing speed. A variety of written language shortcuts appeared. At first, it was simply the normalization of certain abbreviations of language. I remember an editor who worked for me who had gone through college with the graphic-based Internet already solidly in place, who did not realize that "thru" was a somewhat informal and, in most business usage, slightly improper shortening of "through."  This kind of thing was pretty common among young adults in the early time the Internet had become widespread. For awhile, I tolerated this among young editors, believing as I did that language should be allowed to evolve. I was savvy enough to understand that linguistic drift was a normal part of language evolution—we are still in process, for example, of seeing irregular verbs like "dive" and "leap" making their historical transition from the past-tense of "dove" and "leapt" to a more regular "dived" and "leaped." I began to put my foot down, though, when another editor in a position paper started a sentence with "U can B sure that investment in marketing, 2,  will translate to greater $ in gross book sales."

Soon we began to see emoticons give way to other such linguistic shortcuts. Very quickly there appeared emoticons—the usage of combined letters and punctuation to represent emotional states.  :) as a smiley face; :( as a frowning face, etc.

Then came the use of emoji language—all those little variations of yellow smiley faces and other graphic symbols to represent emotional statements. One editor, after bemoaning that doing good work in publishing proved to harder than she expected, decided to pursue instead a career in selling cosmetics. In her written resignation letter, she ended with a frowning yellow face with a tear running down its cheek.

Recently, as the NY Times reported yesterday, the coming wave of shorcuts in on-line communication is GIF.  Those old timers among us will remember a day when GIF (the acronym stands for Graphic Interchange Format) was the principle format for transmitting and viewing static, still photos and other images on the internet. If you found that an editor, especially a young male, had a stash of GIF files on his computer directory, you could be pretty sure he was downloading nude girlie pictures on company time.

Today, though, GIF  is used for small looping video action clips, which are pasted into web postings and even emails to serve as ultra-emoji's.  They are often small funny segments of movie or tv clips, and are again used to convey various emotional messages from the composer of the message.

There is a tendency among some Geezers to bemoan this rapid change in the sanctity of written language, to wail and gnash their teeth at what feels like corruption of a noble art form. These Geezers aren't all that difference from the 7th grade grammar teacher who wailed about the fact that infinitives were being routinely split before her very eyes.  Such complaints are utterly useless. The language, culture, the human species itself will change as it will change. You can't fight evolution. A good deal more peace of mind will be yours if you simply practice observation and description rather than try to prescribe adherence to some kind of quality status quo, or seek to return to some kind of golden, classic era. It ain't gonna happen.

Besides, change being what it is, all things come around again.  In a center for linguistic study at Oxford University in England, researchers are discovering that a certain group among the precocious young adults is beginning to uncover, and probably will eventually popularize, a concept they find revolutionary. They are learning that there is another means of communication that sacrifices speed of dialogue for a precision and level of artistic expression that is achievable no other way.

They are called words.

One young man interviewed put it thusly:  "Me and my mates, we started finding that if you spell out words fully, and learn lots of new words, you can put them together in really interesting ways that are quite stylistic. There's almost no limit to what you can say if you know a lot of words, and experiment with how to put them together in sentences.

"And even more than that," he says excitedly in the filmed interview. "You can also put those sentence together in different ways to form incredible paragraphs, and even whole books.

Another young woman from Liverpool said "My last few boyfriends used to end letters with little red hearts.  That was very nice, and I loved it.   But my new boyfriend ended his last letter by saying he woke up thinking about me, fell asleep thinking about me, and that he was constantly seeing my face whenever he saw a pretty girl on the streets.

"It must have taken him many seconds to put that idea together and write it. Bu who knew that actual words were so great? she said with a sigh. "

Friday, July 31, 2015

Here We Go Again

I almost always read two newspapers a day, and sometimes as many as four. Among them are the NY Times and WS Journal. Both are very excellent newspapers, renowned for their degree of objectivity—though of course being who they are, the selections of stories does seem sometimes to support their relative political stances—NYT a more  liberal view, the WSJ, a more fiscally conservative stance. But I regularly read them both feeling that somewhere in the middle I'll get a sense of the real story on a particular world or domestic event.

In today's Wall Street Journal, though was a story that appalled me, both for what it said about a major international corporation, as well as for the fact that a respected newspaper dodged meaningful discussion of ethical problems inherent in the story.

Diageo PLC, the world's largest manufacturer of spirit liquors, in an effort to expand their business, has now created and is offering for sale dirt-cheap variations of whiskey and other spirits aimed specifically at making money from the poorest citizens of Africa. Small shops have been set up in neighborhood African slums that offer liquor that costs roughly $.10 a shot, entire bottles for $2.00. These products are held back from stores in the more affluent neighborhoods, where educated and well employed citizens can afford more expensive liquor. It is only the poor that get the gut-rot.

The article is a profile piece presented as an example of corporate ingenuity in seeking expansion in the third world, and runs almost 80 column inches. Yet the ethical problems with such business practice is confined to two small paragraphs, barely 60 words in an article that runs at least 2,500. One paragraph merely acknowledges that there are detractors to the strategy of fostering excessive drinking in poor neighborhoods.  The impact of the piece is primarily a celebration of the cleverness of Diageo and other liquor manufacturers as they find ways to expand business in the African continent.

Says Charles Ireland, chief executive of the East Africa branch of London-based Diageo:  "It's our turf, and we fight hard to protect it."

The whole thing smacks a little of the immorality that caused Nestle corporation to sell substandard infant formulas in Africa in the 1970's, until the World Health Organization called them on it.  Or the same twisted logic by which drug manufacturers dispose of drugs banned in the West  to third world nations. Or that causes Dupont to erect unsafe chemical processing plants in India, proclaiming their benevolence to the local labor force.  The concept of white man's burden and privilege seems to be alive and well in the international corporate landscape.  It's not like Dupont ever built a death-trap chemical factory in Ontario.

By the way, within its arsenal, Diageo produces Guinness, Johnny Walker scotch, Smirnoff, and Captain Bailey's.

I may think twice about buying these in the future.  It also means I'll likely have to give up a favorite smokey Scotch, Craggenmore, as it is a prime component of the JW blends. I haven't yet decided on the Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Meet "Since George Shaw." Intimately.

Today I'm pleased to introduce a new guest Geezer, who will be writing here under the cryptic name "Since George Shaw."  The only hint I can give you is to say that it is not a reference to the author of Pygmalion, and that our new Geezer has been an obsessed Minnesota sports fan since...well, practically since football helmets were made of leather. 

Mr. Shaw, a longtime acquaintance of your editor, is an astute, amateur movie critic as well as a a writer of his own screenplays. He is a former rabble-rouser who came of age in the late 1960's, back when rabble activity was truly rousing. He retains a good measure of the contentiousness of that long-ago period, though is now notably softened by grandfatherhood. 

When asked to provide a profile, Mr. Shaw chose to describe himself with a bullet list that harkens back to the format in which centerfolds in Playboy magazine once described themselves: 

• Favorite Author: John Updike
• Favorite Poet: Bob Dylan
• Favorite Contemporary Musical Group: Old Crow Medical Show
• Favorite Musical Group from Back-in-the Day: The Amazing Rhythm Aces
• Favorite Movie: The Big Lebowski
• Dream Date (if I wasn't married): Penelope Cruz
• Favorite Activity (when not dating Penelope Cruz): Playing in the lake with the grandkids.

Please welcome "Since George Shaw" for what we hope is the first of many essays on these pages—the editor. 

A couple of years ago, I turned 65 and went on Medicare. I chose Medica as my supplement plan, and shortly after, in the mail, I received a lengthy questionnaire (6 -8 pages regarding my health status (not sure if this was from Medicare or Medica). Among the 60 questions were roughly 8 different questions related to whether or not I was depressed —not an unreasonable line of inquiry for a 65 year-old man. But there was not one question even remotely related to my sex-life. I am not an expert here, but I think there might be a relationship between the health of one's sex-life, and depression, especially for an old man.

Last fall, I had a pinched nerve which eventually led to surgery and lots of physical therapy at Park Nicollet clinic in Minneapolis.  At every PT appointment, I was required to fill out a form. One of the sections on this form asks questions related to difficulty, from "severe" to "not a problem," with about a dozen "basic life activities." None of these activities involve sex. 

I asked my PT why not. He explained that the list focuses on the "most common" activities. The list includes opening a jar of pickles and tying a necktie. I gave up ties when I retired, and I like pickles as much as the next guy, but....seriously?

"Attractive young woman" is in the eye of the beholder.
Meet Eva Braun, all-star of proctology. 
At my annual physical, my primary-care doc, an attractive young woman who carefully examines my scrotum and anus, asks me all kinds of questions about alcohol, drugs, and whether I "feel safe at home," but none about my sex-life. One time I asked her if she was at all curious about my sex-life (which, by the way, is perfectly "normal" for a guy who has been married 45 years man, i.e., a couple times a week when my wife isn't pissed off at me for not taking out the garbage or something). My doc didn't answer yes or no, but was clearly uncomfortable with my question and quickly changed the subject.

I doubt that my experience, with Medica & Park Nicollet is uncommon. But given the close relationship between sexual health and overall health I think it is indicative of a huge gap in our health care system. It amazes me that my health care professionals are so squeamish about a basic life function. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mad Marvin, Episode 3

After his last essay, Mad Marvin fell silent for quite awhile, and I had hope that he'd perhaps gone back to his deep woods cabin to work on his manifesto once again. But late last week this piece arrived, which we now present to you in edited form—the editor

I'm Mad Marvin, dammit.

After two previous articles, each time you guys who read this site have implied, sort of, that I'm an out-of-control (rectum). And I have to tell you I've been hurt by that. Throwing hot coffee on a right-wing, Christian fundamentalist, gay-hating, stinky douche-bag? What's the big deal?  One or two occasional outbursts—which were really goddamn warranted, if you ask me—and you get labeled as some kind of psychotic anarchist. (Excrement).

It hurts for you guys think of me like that. Am I not human?  Do I not bleed? (Actually, because of the blood-thinners my dork-of-a-doctor makes me take, I bleed MORE than the rest of you). Yeah, I'm a little impulsive at times. And I bet you're jealous.

But I'm not the  out-of-control fellow, full of Tourettes-barking episodes, that you all think I am. (I now have a drug that helps that.)  To prove to you that I have much more self-control than you give me credit for, I'm going to tell you a bunch of things that I DID NOT say and do over the last few weeks.

• When some jerk waiting at the stop light threw his cigarette butt out of the window of his car, rather than into his car's ashtray, I DID NOT:   get out of my car, pick up the smoldering cigarette butt, and toss through his open car window, into his lap, with the words "Cigarette butts are not biodegradable, you stupid (euphemism for penis). What gives you the (fornicating) right to litter our streets with the trash from your filthy (fornicating) habit?"

• When a big blubbery man walking ahead of me out at Tractor Supply hit the automatic door-opener at the exit door—the one REAL disabled people are supposed to use— I DID NOT SAY "Hey lard-ass. Too hard to open the door yourself? If you did things for yourself rather than taking the easy way out, you maybe wouldn't be so (fornicating) fat.

• When a  woman passed by me on the street wearing skin-tight black spandex pants and apparently no underwear, I DID NOT SAY: "Christ lady, do you want me to take up a collection to buy you a mirror so you can see what you look like before you leave the house? Nobody in the this world wants to see your goodies."

• When my 75-year old neighbor mows the lawn in his bright red Speedo and wearing nothing else but a gold chain around his sweaty, wrinkled neck, I DO NOT SAY: "It's time to die, Fred."

• When trying to eat my Magnificent Seven breakfast at the Perkins restaurant off of highway 36 last month,  and the couple next to me began to change the shitty diaper on their slack-jawed two year old—on the table. I DID NOT: get up, open my fly and begin urinating in their orange juice. And I DID NOT SAY to the father:  "Christ almighty, you in-bred barbarians. Why the (fornication) don't you and your sister/wife pack up your 1993 mini-van and go the (fornication) back that Podunk in Arkansas where baby shit on the dining room table is normal?

See, I am perfectly capable of restraint.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pygmies Take Over the Amazon

My feeling toward Amazon.com is decidedly bi-polar.

Like most customers, I'm somewhat in awe of Amazon's business model. Their ability to ship me the stuff I want, very quickly, at very attractive prices is almost supernatural. Purely from a consumer's point of view, I flat out adore Amazon.

But like any employee who works for a company manufacturing products sold through Amazon, I have a very healthy level of fear, loathing and distrust of the online retail giant. There is no retailer on earth more predatory, more cutthroat, more venal than Amazon.com. And that includes that corporate Son of Satan, Walmart.

So I've watched Amazon's  buildup to Prime Tuesday over the past two weeks with a good deal of interest as well as skepticism, pretty sure I knew what was coming. As you undoubtedly know,  Amazon's Prime Tuesday event was promising a whole boat-load of exceptionally good purchase deals exclusively to it's prime members—those folks, like me, who have paid $99 per year for what is an admittedly great membership that gives you a free book a month, free shipping on most products, and a whole lot of free video streaming from a library that is considerably larger and better stocked than Netflix. I have no problem with my Prime membership; it's one of the great bargains to be had.

I also was pretty sure I understood the business motivation to this highly publicized PR venture, and the evidence, as it unfolded, did not disappoint. In anticipation of these positively sinful good deals that were coming, hundreds of thousands of people coughed up 99 bucks to join the program, and Amazon stock has also soared on the stock market in recent days due to the frenzy of excitement over this scheme.

Then Prime Tuesday arrived in the wee hours this morning. Periodically through the day I checked to see what new offerings were on the table each hour.  I can now kick myself for not ordering in time for these juicy bargains:

• A 14" long plastic shoe horn, which  could have been mine for a mere $6.99.
• An airline seat belt extender, of the type which flight attendants loan people for free whenever asked. Owning your own, though, I guess saves you the embarrassment of having to ask for it in front of other passengers.
• A whole bunch of flash-drive memory sticks could have been mine, at many cents cheaper than I could buy them at Target.
• I just missed on a very expensive Husqvarna lawn mower, discounted from yesterday's regular 35% off to a full 40% today.
• Also missed on a pretty good deal on last year's Samsung 50" HD television, selling for $1000. Not a lot different from the closeout I saw at Best Buy last week, but still.
• A Rubbermaid 42-piece food storage container collection, guaranteed not to outgas too many dangerous chemical fumes into your leftover spaghetti.
• An extra $30 off a black & white Kindle e-reader, which is utterly necessary if you'd like, as I do, to cough up $2000 to $3000 a year to Amazon to lease ebooks from them.
• A four-pack of No Pinch No Problem Panties

No shit. This was the special merchandise being offered by Amazon today in this once-in-a-lifetime event. Jesus Christ, these people are really smart. Who else manages to parlay a simple stock reduction sale into millions of dollars in new membership fees while simultaneously increasing the value of their stock options by 25% or so.

Pardon me now. In a few minutes the Surat Tex Cream Color Georgett Semi-Stictched Anarkali goes on sale. This time, I'll not miss out.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Citizens of 4F, June 22, 2015

It was one of those humid, hot weekends in early summer in the upper Midwest, and after a night of the atmosphere percolating, this Monday morning saw a number of thundershowers popping up. As a result, the morning 4F metro-transit bus into downtown Minneapolis was more full than usual, with some folks who normally walk or bicycle choosing to ride the buses instead.

I was struck once again this morning by the peculiarly Minnesotan politeness and grace you witness on the mass transit system around here. I have traveled a great deal for work over the last 20 years, and whenever possible I ride the mass transit systems rather than taxis or rental cars. After all, the people-watching opportunities are far better in places like the NYC subway system than they can possibly be in a cab ride from JFK to midtown.

When people use the term "Minnesota Nice," they clearly must have had exposure to how people behave on the light rail lines or public bus system. On this morning's crowded 4F, I see people right and left graciously sacrificing their seats to provide for the comfort of others. One man helps a woman who is struggling to get her umbrella closed.  An elderly woman points out to a young man that his backpack is unzipped, and mentions that its contents may get wet unless he closes it.  These are  standard acts that you see all the time, here. Not too long ago, a mid 20s young woman tried to give up her seat so that I could sit (talk about making you feel old), and this morning, each time a woman boarded the bus, at least three men leaped to their feet to offer up their seats. At each discharge stop in down-town, each passenger politely thanks the driver as they disembark, to which the driver offers each one, individually, good wishes for the day.

I can't say that I've seen this kind of behavior routinely in any other city in America. In the NYC subway, you could be on fire before anybody tries to help you, and then only if the flames pose a problem for other passengers. Usually, an act like this is the exception that proves the rule of generally self-centered boorishness, but in the upper Midwest, this is the standard behavior.

You get something close in the southern states, where there is a friendliness and helpfulness that is somewhat unique. Clerks and counter-help in places like Atlanta and Charlotte are notably friendly, and I've had waitresses in southern states frequently address me as "Hon," or "Sweetie." I wonder, maybe, if there's something about extreme climates, south and north, that fosters this kind of behavior; you don't see it in places like Chicago, LA, Boston or St. Louis.

Strangely, though, such politeness and consideration is not seen in solo drivers of cars on the streets
and freeways in Minnesota.  In Minneapolis, car drivers treat pedestrians like passenger pigeons to be hunted, and I can count on one hand the instances where a competing driver slowed to assist my entry onto a freeway.  Typical driving speed is at least 10 mph above posted speeds, and God help you if you block some speed demon's free path in the fast lane on the freeway. I've wondered a little bit about why this highway behavior contrasts so starkly with the behavior of people on the mass transit, or, for that matter, among pedestrians walking the streets, where holding the door for one another is common etiquette. The socialist in me has suspected that this is evidence of some kind of class difference—more working class mass transit users are inherently nicer to one another, while the wealthier management classes with their automobiles are inherently more selfish.

But my GOP friends would accuse me of Commie bullshit nonsense for that interpretation, and I think they'd be right.  The difference, I think, is in the anonymity that comes with driving alone and isolated in an automobile, where it is much easier to let your inner asshole see the light of day. In situations where you are rubbing elbows with your fellow citizens and looking them in the eye, as is the case on a public bus, a certain degree of sympathy and compassion is fostered.

I do know that arrive at work calmer and in a better mood when I ride the bus than when I fight traffic by driving myself. So whenever possible, it will be the 4F bus for me.