Old Geezers Out to Lunch

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

Citizens of 4F, 9/28/15

In recent days I've found myself studying my fellow passengers on the 4F commuter bus even more closely. I'm a short-timer now, and my pattern of daily commutes into downtown Minneapolis will be done in a mere 12 weeks now. My view of my fellow commuters has become fond to a degree bordering on the sentimental, now that my time is finite. Of course, that time always was finite, but over the past few years I forgot that some of the time.

Taylor is a new passenger—or at least is one that I'm not familiar with. It's possible that she normally rides a later 4F bus; her jittery, nervous demeanor suggests that perhaps she's riding an earlier bus today because of some important work deadline. Taylor is in her late 20s, perhaps early 30s, and like most of her demographic she spends most of the bus trip twitting on her smart phone. But she's not fully engaged with her electronic security blanket today, because she frequently glances up to the sky or out the window, and has a clearly worried expression on her face.

She is dressed in a long white garment, kind of a shirt-dress, worn over black leggings, and has very high platform-shoes with thick heels. She wears a short tunic-like jacket made from patches of colorful, ragged cloth of different types; it's  jacket made entirely for style, not practical comfort or warmth, and I'm reminded of the costume jackets Michael Jackson once wore back in those videos.  Taylor's hair is oiled; deliberately and carefully tousled to look unkempt,  and the presentation as a whole was, I'm sure, very time-consuming to achieve.

Once upon a time, the look Taylor presents would have been judged haphazard and disheveled, but now, of course, this is a very stylish and sought-after look in some businesses, and I peg her as probably belonging to one of the downtown ad agencies or perhaps some kind of .com business, though these are much less common than ad agencies in our region.  In these businesses, such a personal style is just as much "uniform" as pin stripes and Oxford shoes are on Wall Street. Failing to look a little eccentric would earn these young professionals criticism in these environments. Young adults in these modern businesses don't have it easy. It must be very hard for them to all look completely unique in exactly the same way.

Taylor gets off at my stop at Hennepin and 5th St. in downtown, and walks just ahead of me on the same route I take to the office. She walks frantically fast, but her tall shoes dictate very short little steps, so the result is that she barely outpaces me at all, and loses all advantage when hitting the "don't walk" sign at the intersections. Waiting for the light to change, she fidgets nervously, moving her feet the way a pro quarterback does in the pocket when fearing defensive linemen about to smash into them.

For just a moment, I'm infected by her nervousness, beginning to feel agitated myself over what the work-day will bring in the form of contentious, pressure-filled meetings and phone calls and frantic emails asking me to decide things. Then I relax, remembering that in just a few weeks now, the stress of being a VP, albeit in a relatively small company, will be over. At the end of the year, I am voluntarily stepping down into a different role that will put me back in more immediate contact with book editing itself, a role that will allow me to work from home and avoid most of the tension and stress that in recent years has lifted my blood pressure and made for many nights where 3 or 4 hours of sleep were the norm.

Taylor anticipates the "walk" light and darts across the street ahead of me, again sacrificing speed and efficiency of movement to the style of her shoe wear. She walk with humming-bird frenzy up the street ahead of me, only barely gaining on my own now-leisurely pace. She darts into my own building, and I now have a pretty good idea of where she works.

 I reflect now on how work stress that I felt in months and years past, that Taylor clearly feels now, was always of self-created origin. The work world is one in which we're encouraged, even mandated, to take ourselves and our job duties with far more self-importance than they deserve. That's relatively easy to see now, in what is quickly becoming hind-sight for me. But I feel sorry for Taylor, as it's likely she faces decades of work at the same pace and level of stress she's showing now, barring some revelation on her part.

I turn the corner in the hallway of my building, and there's Taylor with the shuffling, dancing feet, impatiently waiting for the elevator to take her to the ad agency on the 6th and 7th floors of my building. I join her, punch the button for floor # 4, and upon leaving the elevator reflect on the irony that frantic living does not, in the final measure, put you any further ahead than a calm, reflective life.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Punk is a Punk is a Punk

Today's multiple choice news quiz question:

Who is this guy?

A:  The student teacher for your granddaughter's high-school English literature class. In his comments on her written papers, he misspelled the words "foreshadow" and "ensure."

B. The guy who just registered in your neighborhood as a level-one sex offender, who now works at the Starbucks four blocks from your house. The fact that he memorized your name the very first time you ordered an iced coffee with skim, and now greets you by name every morning, is exceedingly disconcerting.

C. Martin Shkreli, hedge fund shark and CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals. After raising the price of the drug Daraprim (used to treat certain infections) from $13.00 to $750.00 per tablet, Shkreli backed away under criticism, then peevishly said his company would no longer be doing critical research into new medications. So there. Immediately afterwards, he grabbed his soccer ball and announced he wasn't playing with the other kids anymore.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Weekly News for Cynics

It's been rough couple of weeks for cynical greed in this country. Not that you can be shocked by this, ever—not if you're a citizen with even minimal consciousness—but the prominent stories in the last fortnight are enough to sober even the most hardened realist.

• A quiet side-bar story in the NYT observed that Nestle corporation, among others, has been flagged as a company that maintains a fishing fleet in Pacific waters in which slaves—SLAVES!—man the nets on many of the boats that produce sardines and other food fish for canning. Some of these people have apparently landed on these fishing fleets through purchase from human traffickers, and have been enslaved for years, while Nestle looked the other way. Nestle, for those of you who don't recall, cooly weathered a scandal some years back in which they sold off defective infant-feeding formula to third world countries, arguing that although the formula was a health risk to American infants, it was just fine for the third world, where the predominant standard of living was already so bad that they'd barely be affected by their awful product. The corporation continues to thrive.

• The corporate cynicism was not just American. VW corporation, it turns out, has created automobiles which lie about their emissions output. Initially when this story broke, I thought it might be one of those things where test results during product development were overlooked or slightly doctored—the kind of thing that happens so often now that you can barely blink an eye when it occurs.  But it turns out to be much, much more conniving than that. VW installed software in their automobiles that correctly identifies when an emission test is underway, as is still often conducted in places like California, and for that moment alone changes the fuel burning procedure so as to give low emissions results that will become 40 times larger the moment the car drives out of the test bay and into the real world.  It is almost impossible to imagine the greedy duplicity that goes into a corporate decision to do something like this—until you remember Ford Motor company's handling of the Exploding Pinto era.

• Europe is in the throes of what can be argued to be the worst human refugee disaster since WW2. By most estimates, at least 8 million, and perhaps as many as 10 million, Syrians have been displaced from their homeland and are desperately seeking a place to live. Virtually half the entire population. The vast majority are still in camps in the nations immediately adjoining Syria. There are some people in Turkish refugee camps that have already been living in squalor for 2 years or more, with no end in sight. Other nations are attempting to help in lukewarm ways, but with efforts that are in no way commensurate with the size of the horror. The UK, it's estimated, will take as many as 20,000 by end of year; France, 24,000; Sweden, 50,000; Germany, 100,000 (though to be accurate this is because they admit to needing the cheap labor). Any way you look at it, these are paltry numbers from wealthy counties, akin to emptying a bathtub with spoonfuls of water.

From the Western hemisphere, Venezuela will accept 20,000 refugees by the end of the year. Mexico has agreed to accept 10,000.

The US?  Thus far,  fewer than 1500 Syrian refugees have landed in our open arms, though the Obama administration, in the face of heated opposition from the fear-mongering faction, wants next year to allow as many as a whopping 10,000 victims of the Syrian civil war into what was once the land of opportunity. That means that the most affluent nation on earth, which has built its wealth upon the efforts of those taking us up on  "give us your homeless" offer, will help about 1/10 of 1% of the Syrian homeless. By way of comparison, remember that more than 1 million Irish refugees landed in America around the turn of the century. Following WW2, we accepted 95,000 Germans. It's estimated that we have 1.2 million Vietnamese immigrants living here quite successfully. In Minnesota alone, we have 30,000 African refugees already.

I am just slightly ashamed. 10,000 Syrian refugees? Surely we could do better than this.