Old Geezers Out to Lunch

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

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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mad Marvin, Episode 2

It's with some trepidation that I allow another short piece by Mad Marvin to see the light of day. He was mightily impressed by the fact that his earlier piece got a fair number of responses, and I fear his submissions to will become increasingly insistent and vile and threatening unless every so often we vent the steam cooker that is his brain. This piece is one of the less inflammatory among the two dozen or so he's submitted to date.  And we now feel obliged to begin running the following disclaimer:  "the views expressed here are those of the contributor, and do not reflect the beliefs, policies or recommendations of the management."   —the editor

I'm Mad Marvin, dammit.

The problem with this country is that we're too (censored) nice.

No, that's not it.  The problem is that we're phonies about being nice. As a society, we really ought to say what we think more often, and stand up and say so when the people around us full of horse (manure). As it is, too many people are living a lie, trying to act like saints when they secretly are entirely mean SOB's. This isn't fair to the genuine nice people (there are some, and I ain't one of 'em). How can we know who's really nice if everybody is pretending to be that way?

But my thoughts wander.

Last month I was down in Denver visiting my brother, and one day after the ballgame it was still really nice out so we planned to walk all the way down to the park by the capital. My brother has an old friend who hangs there.  On the way we stopped at the Yard House for a beer, and when we came out, across the street on the corner in front of the Barnes and Noble store, a nutcase was standing on a little suitcase yelling out a bunch of stuff about how God hated us all. God especially hates gay people and he also hates everybody who allows gay people to live.

Now, Denver is not Boulder, but it's still a decent enough place, and I was pretty sure that 9 out of ten people who passed by this creep must have felt a little sick about him. Yet (censored) nobody told him he was a (censored) (rectum). They all pretty much ignored him. (Feces). Since when is it a good thing to tolerate evil? Anyway, we went into Barnes & Noble to use the bathroom and buy coffee at the Starbucks inside, and when we came out, the old (rectum) was still standing on his stupid suitcase, still ranting.

We watch him for 20 minutes or so, and in all that time, the only person to throw a cup of hot coffee at him was me. Don't you think that if this dumb bastard was dowsed in scalding coffee by 30 or 40 people an hour, he'd get the message that his dumb (feces) wasn't acceptable? I really don't think tolerance is the great thing everybody thinks it is.

Like I said. We're too (censored) nice when it comes to ignoring and tolerating dumb-ass stupid (feces). If somebody is full of bull (feces) we should tell them so. And if they're truly evil, then we should scald them with hot coffee.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Rainy Night in Manhattan, June 2

Manhattan, NY is not an easy city to get lost in, since the streets are numbered in an orderly fashion, and with rare exception they run north-south and east-west.  But any city on a rainy or snowy night can pose challenges, and the last three days in Manhattan have been rainy indeed. Tonight after dinner with sales colleagues, I roamed the streets alone for a short time, and soon found myself just slightly lost, a little confused whether my destination was to the east or west side of Fifth Avenue. It was strangely interesting and rewarding to first be slightly misplaced among the drizzle and fog clouding the street signs and familiar landmarks, and to then to find myself back to the Hotel Indigo on 28th St, where a glass of Scotch in the bar with friendly colleagues awaited. There is nothing that leaves a person with such a feeling of basic human competence in the world as to independently discover one's way to any destination—geographical, metaphorical, mental, spiritual.

I read somewhere that some psychological study determined that the reason men refuse to ask directions is because they can't bear to look uncertain and indecisive in front of others. It is a hallmark of leaders, apparently (or maybe insecure leaders) that they never ask for directions.

Maybe so (who am I do argue with USA Today psychologists), but frankly I think there are different reasons I behave this way.  I kind of groove to the low-level excitement of being lost and then finding my way.  The feeling of uncertainty followed by discovery is  pleasing and much more rewarding than if some body tells you how to get there.  And I don't think it has much to do with impressing anyone else, since I'm much more likely to deliberately lose myself when I'm all alone. It's a habit born our of purely private, selfish reasons. When I'm with people, I'm much more likely to ask directions or reach for the I-phone app, because other people sometimes are unnerved by feeling lost.

As a kid growing up in the countryside, I sometimes deliberately headed off into ravines and deep woods, walking for a couple of hours until I had no idea where I was, then try to find my way back home. Mind you, this was rural countryside in southern Minnesota rather than the Pacific Northwest wilderness,  and it was not all that dangerous really, especially if you've grown up in such an environment. I do remember my parents, though, getting a  little freaked out by this behavior.

When traveling on business with a free afternoon with a rental car these days, it's great recreation to simply drive aimlessly, not worrying where I am,  just to see the neighborhoods and businesses and lifestyles in Virginia or North Carolina or Irvine California, or Boston. With enough time before a flight home, there's not much chance getting so hopelessly lost that you can't come back. There is also another profound advantage: you often find things you didn't know existed at all. New restaurants not in any guidebook, hiking trails, public gardens.

There was a time during the early adult years where I was quite lost in ways that weren't geographic at all, but that were phenomenological, philosophical, spiritual—maybe even neurological. Or maybe all those things.  Lost in such a way that for awhile it wasn't even clear that coming back was possible. Oddly, finding a way through that period required that I first embrace being totally, utterly lost.  In any case, in retrospect I'm glad for that experience so long ago. It was as though the universe was offering me a chance to see how lost a person could get and still find a way.

So sometimes the benefit of getting lost is the satisfaction of competently finding your way back to the world you left.  But there are also times when you need to lose yourself in order to push on through to the other side. Which is probably a good thing to remember for Geezers who will become Really Old Geezers, in a future that's not all that distant anymore.