Thursday, December 31, 2015

Random Thoughts, Vol. 7

It has been a hideous year. A wretched, stinking, hideous year. It was the kind of year that immerses you in hopelessness. The kind of year where even a raise was turned on its head and became a liability.

Not surprisingly, the thoughts that collect in your brain resemble the pus that pools in an open wound. They are yellowish and opaque and resemble congealed gravy.

Most of them are sour. A few are jocular. Some aspire to profundity. Of course, there is a difference between aspire and success. Consider this your warning.

This is the caustic send-off 2015 deserves. You will be exultant to see it pass. And if it doesn't, you will cut it out with a knife—with or without anesthesia.



Is there a more-perfectly named basketball player than Tim Duncan?

The tragedy of the eighties was that Hinckley missed and Chapman didn't.

If the Koch brothers earned a combined $910,000 per hour in 2015, can't we make $15?

The FBI processed more background checks in 2015 than in any other year on record, meaning more fire arms were purchased than ever before. Are we safe yet?

Does former Bears coach Lovie Smith deserve early consideration for the Hall of Fame because he reached the Super Bowl with a team quarterbacked by Rex Grossman?

If not for wrapping your brain around the myriad of exclusions, exceptions and conditions that affect your coverage, predicting your needs for the coming year and dealing with the reams of paperwork that arrive (none of which contains the bill—at least until three days before it's due)—all under the threat of a government-imposed fine—we wouldn't need health insurance.

Is there a more-appropriately named street in America than Wall Street?

Do black lives matter only when they're taken by white hands?

Anyone who votes for Donald Trump deserves Donald Trump. But leave those of us with IQs out of it, OK?

And speaking of America, wasn't it a great idea?

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Potpourri of Peevishness

What a month. And that's not even counting the personal drama.

First off, Martin Shkreli has been arrested. Is it really a surprise that a bag of shit from Wall Street would turn a pharmaceutical business into an extortion racket? Or that the hedge fund he once managed wasn't exactly above board?

No wonder Bernie Sanders has an audience.

A year and-a-half after her conviction, the execrable Heather Mack has suddenly remembered why she had her boyfriend whack her mom in the head with a blunt object and stuff her body in a suitcase: mom was stealing her inheritance.

In an attempt to prove she has a particle of humanity left, Mack expressed the wish that in spite of mom's sticky fingers, she hopes the deceased is resting in peace.

Only because of you, Heather. Only because of you.

Then there's the once-honorable college football bowl game.

In the everybody-gets-a-trophy fashion that is, well, fashionable right now, the NCAA seems unable to resist adding a few more every year, even past the point of relevance. (Not that football fans would know the difference.)

Unless you're journeying to one because it's being played in a locale where wind chill is defined as what happens when the air conditioning hits you after you step out of the shower, I pity you.

Finally, is anyone disturbed by the sight of our electronic media further corrupting our electoral process by relentlessly airing the latest episode of What Did Donald Say Today?, as opposed to kinda-sorta discourse on actual issues?

Or coverage of those other candidates from that other party?

The Republican party has willingly turned its nominating process into a circus side show, and I say fine. Great. Whatever. But by breathlessly broadcasting every syllable Trump spews into a TV camera, the media are aiding and abetting his cheapening of the process.

What's that? The ratings and the advertising revenue are off the charts?

Oh, okay.

Leave it to us to put a price on what was once priceless.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Warning!

We at The Square Peg wish to refute a terrible and misleading rumor.

To wit, tonight's Republican debate is not—repeat not—going to be carried on the Cartoon Network.

It will be broadcast, as originally scheduled, on CNN.

This rumor not only undermines the solemnity of the political electoral process, but of the candidates themselves. And as we hasten to point out, that is our job.

Thank you and have a pleasant evening.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

300 Million Guns Can't Be Wrong—Can They?

The French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr is credited with coining the phrase “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

After a century, a decade and a year of unrivaled carnage, we in America are still debating why gun violence happens so often here and so seldom in the rest of the first world.

Mine is admittedly an uninformed, off-the-cuff, left field guesstimate, but I kind of think it might be the guns.

The security experts in the NRA keep telling us America's problem isn't the three-hundred million guns coursing through our national bloodstream, it's the billions of guns that aren't. 

Yes, despite what you see on the network news and on the Internet, America suffers from a gun deficiency.

Despite being oh-so-close to the one-gun-per-person ideal advocated by the NRA, America remains the most dangerous first world country on Earth. 

How can this be?

The experts need a re-think.

Allow them a sabbatical and some time to do some serious woodshedding, and they will emerge to inform us that no, the optimal ratio which will ensure America's safety is actually two to one.

Given still-more time, a mounting pile of bullet-riddled corpses and stubborn, unanswered questions and they will again retreat and again emerge.

This time they will explain that their critical error was in leaving one hand unarmed; that it is the one gun per hand model which will finally keep America safe and secure.

And despite the evidence all around us to the contrary, we will believe them.

Even past the point of there being anything to protect.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Waiting Room

I was in a waiting room when I first heard the news. Yet another mass slaying had occurred. This time, fourteen were dead.

As the wall-mounted TV relayed the details, the faces of the half-dozen people within remained unconcerned as they sat absorbed by their smart phones.

Wait, this isn't about me? OK.”

There was a disconnect from the people in Southern California, because they were in one place and we in another and it had happened to them and not to us.

Is this what the insularity of technology and social media hath wrought?

As the electronic media rehashed their facts over and over and over, I wondered what role they played in our emotional distancing. Like Aesop's boy who cried wolf, our media has certainly confirmed how quickly we can become calloused.

And me?

I become enraged when confronted with the specter of innocent people being pierced by metal projectiles fired by a stranger dozens or even hundreds of feet away. Especially when they are guilty only of existing.

I rage at the shooter, I rage at the NRA, I rage at the politicians who endorse this in exchange for campaign financing, and out of cowardice.

Instead of endlessly reciting stale facts, why doesn't our media contact Wayne LaPierre for his thoughts on the carnage?

Mr. LaPierre, as CEO and Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, a special interest group which has tirelessly and unswervingly dedicated itself to the saturation of our country with all manner of guns and assault weapons, what—if any—do you feel your connection to the events of this afternoon is?”

Contrast for our viewers how much money the NRA spends promoting gun safety, which is ostensibly the NRA's reason for being, versus what it spends combating gun control legislation and the closing of big, fat loopholes which enable gun ownership?”

Is this evidence of a country with far too many guns far too easily accessed, or as you have remarked in the past, a security problem? Which we hasten to point out in your definition means too many people with not enough guns.”

Finally Mr. LaPierre, what would you tell the families of today's shooting victims? Their parents? Their spouses? Their children? Their siblings?”

Of course, this is fantasy. LaPierre would no more agree to appear than our corporate media would think of calling him.

I dream of handing out Thank You NRA! t-shirts in the wake of such events, if only to provoke new conversation. A different stream of thought.

Again I fantasize.

I ponder the inveterate sadness of our mass shooting statistics, and look at the confines of the waiting room. I wonder if it isn't a whole lot larger than I'm aware of.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Beware the Free

As a boy, I enjoyed puzzles. The process of taking something apart and putting it back together was great fun, and nourished my still-developing brain.

Puzzles also encouraged deductive reasoning. Developing a way to sort through hundreds of pieces and plan the puzzle's reconstruction. Finding the road to make order out of chaos.

But as an adult? I hate them.

OK. Let me clarify. I hate puzzles when they're not labeled as such. Windows 10 makes a great example.

First off, I don't have a touch screen computer. I don't even have a touch screen phone, which, judging from the horrified reactions it generates in my fellow human beings, is probably something I should apologize in public for.

This guaranteed I would be mystified by Windows 8.1.

Swiping with a corded mouse ranks just below my ability to lip read on the hopelessness scale. Especially when my mate and I are at parties and she wants to tell me something from across the room. It is awkward. 

Instead of yielding effortless navigation, it produces violent mouse-shaking and unmuted profanity.

Adding to its impenetrability is the fact that when I bought a new computer, I thoughtlessly denied the industry an opportunity to sell me a new monitor, since the old one worked just fine.

So the aspect ratio Microsoft anticipates in its consumers is lacking, leaving me with sawed-off images that are equally frustrating, especially when x-ing out becomes a blind game of pin the cursor on the icon.

The heart of eight's failure is that its smart phone-inspired navigation is designed for people who mostly aren't using computers. It is designed for people who use smart phones and tablets. It doesn't transfer to a PC.

I feel as if I have been found guilty in the court of consumerism for failing to keep up with the latest and greatest technology.

Sentencing is set at Windows 10.

It's a measure of Microsoft's desperation to bury Windows 8.1 that Windows 10 was rush released and offered as a free download.

It is a measure of my desperation that I bit.

Windows 10 couldn't be worse than 8.1, could it?

The good news is that Windows 10 doesn't require users to swipe. The bad news is that significant portions of it frequently don't work.

In my estimation, e-mail is a basic and fundamental component of a personal computer. A company like Microsoft should have it down cold—but they don't. It is the IT equivalent of a car-marker struggling to produce a reliable cupholder.

Outlook comes and goes, syncs and un-syncs. Messages disappear and re-appear (even the deleted ones). Eventually the envelope icon at the base of the screen vanished altogether, leaving me scrambling to access my e-mail.

If e-mail is a struggle, you can imagine what happens to something like Cortana, a multi-lingual interactive personal assistant also available on X-box, Android and iOS.

Nothing brightens my day like the dozen or so times I have received this message: CRITICAL ERROR Start Menu and CORTANA aren't working. We'll try to fix it the next time you log on. SIGN OUT NOW.

While I appreciate Microsoft trying, the message doesn't inspire a great deal of confidence. You'll try to have it fixed? Because I need it now. Which is kind of why I attempted to log on in the first place.

Cortana can spend the rest of the year in Ibiza for all I care, but I confess to being rather fond of my start menu. Computing is really tough without it.

(I did finally locate a fix, which was to repeatedly strike the F8 key. To date, neither the message nor the problem has reappeared.)

Feel like a movie? Flip a coin and pray that Windows 10 isn't having artistic differences with Power DVD. I'll never forget the night I spent half an hour fighting to hear the poignant dialog and Quincy Jones' score to The Pawnbroker.

I'm trying to remember how many times I struggled to watch (and hear) a DVD with Windows XP, but I can't. Which is mostly because it never happened.

Then there's the disabled news function, the disabled maps function, the disabled photo function and, for a time, the inexplicable disabling of Windows Media Player. Not to mention the creeping sense that anything could go at any time.

It doesn't lead one to believe that one's computer is especially reliable.

I could always remove Windows 10. But yanking out the second floor of the John Hancock Building would be easier. The removal of Windows 10 guts your computer, leaving you to reinstall several vital components yourself.

This succinctly answers the question how much time can I devote to fixing/repairing/maintaining my complimentary upgrade?

A long time ago, I was told that we get what we pay for. And lest we forget, Windows 10 is free.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Buy Now, Don't Win and Don't Get Paid

The biggest question Illinois Lottery players used to have was will I win? 

Today, it's will I be paid?

In the titanic budget standoff between business-friendly governor Bruce Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, much has been sacrificed. 

While essential services have mostly remained intact, the cash drought has already eliminated child care services (since restored), senior programs and emergency housing while threatening much, much more.

Yet the struggle continues: whether to abolish unions and their collective bargaining power and rebuild Illinois on the backs of the poor, the elderly and children, or continue the extravagant spending necessary to fulfill promises made to public-sector unions while preserving the state's monopolistic Democratic infrastructure.

Oh, the tyranny of choice.

Not so difficult is recognizing the tawdry conduct of the state's lottery board.

Namely, that the board continues to solicit the purchase of lottery tickets, knowing no payment will be forthcoming until the state's budget impasse is settled. It's not too far removed from a drug dealer supplying his clients even though they can't pay, for fear they'll sober up and cease consuming his product.

Would it be unseemly to suggest that a ticket out of town might be the best lottery prize of all?

Even if a budget is decided on, it's tough to see settling with lottery winners ranking very high on the state's to-do list. Compared to bridge repair and medicaid payments and keeping gas in state trooper's cars, it just doesn't rate.

And maybe it shouldn't.

But don't take out full-page ads in major metropolitan newspapers asking the citizens of Illinois to continue buying out of some vague and misplaced notion of loyalty. Couldn't you at least buy us dinner before you, well...you know.

Assuming the budget stalemate continues into spring (which doesn't exactly require the imagination of Leonardo da Vinci or Walt Disney), it might be interesting if Illinoisans adopted a similar tact.

Go ahead and continue taxing us. When we make it. When we spend it. When we save it. While we're alive and when we die. Tax, tax, tax, all day long.

But come that special day in April, don't expect us to pay. Because we're broke, too.

Would an IOU suffice?

Some of us are confused about what it is we're paying for, which from here mostly appears as sustaining a power struggle between two very well-off and very powerful politicians with two distinctly unappealing agendas.

Illinois' birthday is December 3rd. Anyone for a party?


Thursday, November 12, 2015

The 140 Carat Diamond

I'm not a fan of Twitter. Never have been.

Pandering to America's collective ADHD mentality seems just a step or two removed from Wall Street traders dabbling in prescription drugs. As destructive to our brittle literacy as mobile texting devices are to vehicular safety.

A one-hundred and forty character limit? Really?

Why not demand that oil paintings be done on 5” x 5” canvases? Or that symphonies be no more than two minutes long? How about limiting writers to just one-third of their native tongue's vocabulary?

Ceilings on expression just never appealed to me. Especially when they concern the written word. It's censorship made seductive because it carries the new car smell of freshly-hatched technology.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself fist-pumping the air after reading a tweet shared by Eric Zorn, he of the Chicago Tribune and the highly worthwhile Change of Subject column. Zorn uncovered a gentleman by the name of Andrew Bradley, who tweets as Betty Bowers.

With a concision and articulation that rivals great poetry, Bradley crystallized the Republican dichotomy found in their confusing and contradictory stands on religion, abortion and gay marriage with the following:

Religious freedom means no American can be forced to deliver a wedding cake—just a rapist's baby.”

Okay. So maybe I was wrong. Some folks can say a lot with a few words. 

But not me. I need a picture. Or a thousand words.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wa Wa Wa

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus is having a hissy fit. 

CNBC (the cable network televising the Republican debates) has been accused of not being Fox. Moderators have been called disrespectful. Furthermore, it has been alleged they are asking challenging questions instead of acting as a public relations advance team for Republican campaigns.

And if this doesn't constitute an all-out war on Republicans, venue thermostats are set too high. 

It's enough to make a candidate throw in their monogrammed Ralph Lauren towels.

We at The Square Peg would like to offer a solution, as well as a few questions we feel will pave the way to a kinder, gentler debate experience for our overwhelmed Republican friends.

First, sunburn-inducing TV lights and reckless thermostat settings hold hidden advantages for Republican candidates in that the reptilian nature of many Republican candidates can be minimized at higher temperatures when they can blink and actually turn their heads.

Secondly, through our extensive global network and the miracle of cryogenics, The Square Peg has been able to locate several eighteenth-century geishas fluent in English to serve as future debate moderators. Compliance has no greater emissary than these kimono-clad icons of man-pleasing servility.

Lastly, here are our suggestions for Republican-friendly debate questions. We are confident no one (with the possible exception of Ben Carson) will find fault with them. 

After all, we at The Square Peg only want Republicans to be happy. And comfortable.


1. My name is ____________.

2. Concord, New Hampshire is the capital of which state?

3. Water is: a.) a liquid b.) a solid c.) a gas.

4. Show me your right hand.

5. Inhale is to exhale as inhale is to ___________.

6. If Ted has two balls and Marco has two balls and Donald swipes four balls, how many balls will Ted and Marco have left?

7. Complete this sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ___.

8. My birthday is _____________.

9. February is: a.) cold b.) the second month of the year c.) a and b

10. Who's buried in Grant's tomb?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mixed Messages

I am a consumer of bumper stickers. The vox populi fascinates me. (The all-weather, car wash safe, guaranteed not to fade edition, anyway.)

If there is an upside to being in a traffic jam, it's the opportunity to read dozens, if not hundreds of them. Of course, if your zip code skews more to Bentleys than ten-year-old Subarus, this might not be the case.

They can be poignant: Practice Random Acts of Kindness. And Senseless Acts of Beauty.

And they can be funny: Watch Out for the Idiot Behind Me. My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma.

So little is mirthful about the act of driving that I cherish any and all opportunities for behind the wheel belly laughs.

Of course, in twenty-first century America, not all is gaiety and light. Bumper stickers often take a darker and far-uglier turn than the examples cited above.

The prize for general, one-size-fits-all hostility probably goes to the pick-up truck with Fuck You Dickhead plastered in its rear window.

On multi-stickered vehicles, there is usually a line of continuity indicating interests, opinions and so on. Sports team affiliations, bands, politics and social causes are some of the most popular.

Then there are the mixed messages.

Like the late-model Nissan Sentra I sat behind at a traffic signal. On the driver's side was a bumper sticker which read Gas Grass or Ass Nobody Rides for Free. On the passenger side sat one informing me in bright pink letters there was a Baby on Board.

I pondered the disparity.

Was this parent really picking up hitch-hikers and demanding herbal intoxicants and physical intimacies from them? Did one sticker represent a husband/boyfriend and the other a wife/girlfriend? And were they still a couple?

As I continued to try and reconcile the adhesive anomaly in front of me, I wondered whether taking gas money from a stranger in the presence of an infant really represented sound parenting.

Then revelation struck.This was a work in progress! 

The bumper stickers had captured this driver in mid-transition, in between the feckless, cocksure arrogance of youth and the onset of caring, nurturing parenthood.

Yeah, that was it. 

The light turned green and I continued on my way. As did the Nissan Sentra. 

I hoped I had it right.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Inevitable Post

Included in a flier I received earlier this week was an electric wine chiller, able to cool a bottle of wine to an ideal fifty-five degrees in just minutes. A remarkable—if not particularly versatile—device.

I checked its dimensions, and was disappointed to discover that it was not much larger than a standard wine bottle.

Disappointed because I thought that perhaps one of the area's professional baseball teams had fallen into, or become otherwise enmeshed in such a device, such was the rapidity and thoroughness of their cooling-off.

Sadly, this was not the case.

My hometown heroes did it all by themselves, as they have so many, many times before. 

While this team was often described as being youthfully ignorant of their employer's grim post-season history, the series against the New York Mets represented a compact, thirty-six inning history lesson.

The look on Kyle Schwarber's face after a botched fly ball in the seventh inning of game three indicated instant enlightenment.

But they are young, these Cubs, and have the balance of their professional lives ahead of them. Yet the annals of professional sports are full of careers that encountered such success early on, never to be repeated.

Existence is ephemeral. You never know when you've done something for the last time. 

When possible, win now.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pathos on Ice

I am trying to measure pathos. The pathos involved in the president of a very large and very powerful nation hosting a birthday party slash hockey game with former NHL all-stars. One concocted to feature the five-foot-seven, sixty-three year-old birthday boy presumably fighting his way through more-talented (and much-younger) opposition to *cough* score seven goals. 

All on national TV, of course.

It's tough. I mean, do rulers come in extra large?

If Vladimir Putin riding a stallion shirtless through the Russian countryside wasn't sad enough, attempting to hoodwink us into believing he's a geriatric Wayne Gretzky is beyond the pale. I think we can all agree Putin is no Gretzky. 

Never mind Fabio.

What's next for Russia's most-famous case of small man syndrome? A figure-skating routine at the 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang? A leading role in an upcoming Bolshoi production of Swan Lake?

If the Los Angeles Lakers haven't turned things around by then, could Putin take a turn at point guard next year? Would Jerry Jones step aside and allow Putin to be Dallas Cowboy GM for a day? Is center-fielder for the Yankees too far-fetched?

Using the late, great George Plimpton as a template, why doesn't one of Hollywood's production studios create a reality TV show based on the exploits of the ubiquitous Vladimir?

Call it Vladimir Putin: Extreme Temp. Or Vladimir Putin Eats Your Job.

And if that's a hit, how about a movie based on Forrest Gump which inserts Putin into important events throughout time? We can watch Putin re-write history as he “inVlades” (copyright pending) nations the world over and bombs, bombs, bombs.

Anyone hear a hit single there? A profitable ring tone?

However fetching President Putin might look in a leotard and ballet flats, what I find truly fascinating is his bottomless need for adoration. 

What happens when he can't get enough?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Sky Jewelry

So there you are. It's Saturday morning, and after unconsciously setting up a pot of coffee you stumble into the garage and hit the wall-mounted button for the garage door opener.

The noisy clatter of the door, the harsh light of the naked bulb and the unseemly clutter do not prepare you for what awaits as you step outside to fetch the paper from the driveway.

There, against a sky suitable for a Maxfield Parrish print, hangs a crescent moon, Venus and Mars, arrayed like an astral earring

The contrast to the mindless mundanity of your morning routine could not be more pronounced. The colors, the simplicity and the resonant, silent beauty of it all renders you mute.

You stare.

Paper in hand, you reflect on nature's repeated ability to inspire and surprise you. To fill you with a very rare commodity called wonder.

Then you recall Pope Francis' half-heard cry to protect this jewel called Earth, and the willful, short-sighted greed and selfishness which will destroy it.

You close the door behind you. But only literally.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Noises Off!

When did noise become an accepted component of dining out? Or attending a wedding? Or enjoying a couple of Marzan Lagers at the local brew pub? 

Why has the murmur of conversation morphed into the agitated shout-speak of college kids at a frat party?

One reason is the prevailing fashions in architecture and interior design. The acres of glass, cement and corrugated metal we encounter everywhere doesn't absorb sound—they bounce it back to us like a letter with insufficient postage.

Add blaring juke boxes, oversized Jenga games and public address systems set on 'stun' and we are writing a blank check for generations of future audiologists.

But the rest of it? Not so simple.

Okay—I'll admit it. I'm old. But tell me why going out to dinner—even where the house band isn't named the Who or Deep Purple—requires ear plugs.

You know noise and digestion go together like beets and milk, right?

Eating dinner at a wedding reception demands that we withstand a barrage of DJ announcements—at least when he or she isn't overwhelming the room with music played twice as loud as it needs to be.

Why?

Even attending a low-key event like an outdoor car show requires protecting oneself from a public address system capable not only of overcoming the rustle of leaves in a soft breeze but of delivering inane announcements into the next zip code.

I'm not fucking deaf, alright? 

At least not yet.

Even libraries have fallen prey to this pitiable trend.

I get it that to a younger generation requiring constant external stimuli to feel alive or even awake, noise is life. And this has been duly reinforced by our media. (One more variation of 'live out loud' and I'm going to scream.)

But ultimately, noise is a distraction. And I don't want to be distracted.

Not when I'm engaging in conversation over dinner with a friend. Not when I'm celebrating the union of a young couple. And not when I'm drinking in the splendor of a cream-colored 1952 Jaguar X-120.

Silence is resonant. Silence is reflection. Silence is a space pregnant with possibilities.

iPhones weren't invented at a wedding reception in between blasts of Kanye West and Taylor Swift. The Magna Carta wasn't conceived at Texas Roadhouse, with its shrieking toddlers and way-too-loud doses of Miranda Lambert and Lady Antebellum.

And I surely didn't write this shielding my ears from the over-caffeinated moron yelping over a PA powerful-enough to make Metallica smile.

Technology is a distraction, one which isolates us from the very world it purports to connect us with.

In our embrace of it, I only wonder what it is we are so desperately trying to distract ourselves from.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Falling Through the Cracks

There's just something about September.

The last month you didn't post was September of 2012. Excepting the month of your father's death, the last one prior to that which found you equally torpid was—surprise—September of 2011. 

You have struggled this September to post even three pieces, and one of those was a quote. Creativity and the approach of winter do not go hand in hand. 

Autumn is a pretty word for dying of the light, which itself is a pretty metaphor for the looming calendric cancer that neither William Shakespeare nor James M. Cain could improve upon.

There are, of course, other contributors to this Super PAC of sloth.

After three months of pestering HFS (the state agency that administers medicaid) to learn the status of your re-determination, they are finally able to inform you that you are above their income limit and are no longer eligible.

You didn't know you were capable of making too much money.

You review your lifestyle and smile ruefully at the tank of gas you paid cash for just last weekend. At the groceries you purchased yesterday. At the needless extravagance of your subscription to Car & Driver.

You wonder when Forbes begins compiling their annual list of the five-hundred wealthiest people in the world.

The cold, unblinking reality is that this is the result of a raise you received at work; a raise which will barely cover the cost of the insurance you are now required by the state to purchase.

Before the indignity of it hits you, you laugh.

It is, in a twenty-first century America kind of way, quite funny. It is the answer to the seemingly improbable question when is a raise not a raise?

Being possessed of a blinding genius, you inquire of your employer whether you fulfill their hazy and nebulous definition of full-time, since you have picked-up hours and now regularly work over thirty owing to their perpetual shortage of employees.

You do, on an hours-worked basis. But it isn't that simple.

In our business-friendly culture, your employer has been allowed to declare that since your route has not been designated a full-time one, you don't.

In other words, you could work forty hours a week until the Florida state legislature acknowledges climate change and you still wouldn't be considered a full-time employee. 

This is a manifestation of your worst fears; that your life is seemingly incapable of moving forward. 

You have maintained for years that employment is an alternate universe.

You, for better or worse, are the starship Enterprise.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sober Advice from a Brewmaster

“Getting rich is life’s big booby prize. If you have to choose between do you want to be happy or do you want to be rich and you pick rich, you’re a sociopath.”

Jim Koch, Samuel Adams Beer founder

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Choosing Targets

I'm no fan of hunting. Especially by guys with fat wallets and full stomachs. And yet, the case of Walter Palmer, the lion-killing dentist, bothers me.

Walter Palmer isn't a poacher. He's not Kim Davis. He paid lots of money and went through all the proper channels to arrange his safari. He did everything he could to ensure his trip fell within the boundaries of Zimbabwean law.

Not being a local, he couldn't have known his guides were something less than conscientious, and would stoop to luring the lion known as Cecil from a nature reserve with food, setting it (and Palmer) up for assassination.

Palmer isn't the first person to go to an exotic land and shoot an animal. He isn't the first to look at a magnificent creature and see only a trophy for the wall of his den, confirming to all the unquestionable masculinity of the inhabitant.

Which is why I feel the avalanche of protest generated by this event is all out of proportion to the event itself. It's like ostracizing someone because they received a speeding ticket.

However you—or I—feel about hunting, it's legal. The worst thing Palmer did was hire some guides with a very casual relationship with the law. Singling him out and making him the poster boy for centuries of reckless and destructive big game hunting is wrong.

As our mothers told us, two wrongs don't make a right. Morality is not algebra.

Yes, I am disturbed by the wholesale habitat destruction and plunder wrought by China's newly wealthy population, a population which is roughly four times that of our own habitat-destroying and plundering one.

I can't look at a tiger, knowing its singular majesty is consigning it to extinction in the wild. I can't forget Tatiana, a tiger at the San Francisco Zoo who died a death as grotesque and unfair as Cecil's.

I am not unsympathetic to animals or the people who love them.

But in the wake of Palmer's prolonged vilification, I am tempted to say he is as big a victim as Cecil.

If it is the laws we hate, then we should change the laws. If it is the attitudes we hate, then we should change the attitudes. Let's redirect this avalanche of energy towards making hunting—if not illegal—a little less-attractive.

Let's spearhead a you're-not-what-you-kill movement. Make sure the only shooting we do of wildlife is with cameras.

If we want fair, we must first exhibit fairness.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Keeping a Lid on It

If you're a bona fide Cub fan, look before you leap was tattooed on your chest at birth. Scarred by years of championshiplessness and near-misses, buoyant emotions like joy escape from you with the frequency that inmates do from a Federal supermax prison.

You aren't given to throwing caution to the wind and cavalierly expressing elation merely because it's May and your team is in first place. No, you have learned to conserve your feelings the way a miser does their money.

Between opening day and the All-Star break, you raise taciturn to a level that is the envy of every Scandinavian nation on earth. You have a stiff upper lip that makes Viagra jealous. If you were any more reserved you'd be a table in a popular restaurant.

You—of all people—know the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, and that premature displays of emotion only worsen the fall when the inevitable occurs in the latter stages of it.

No sir.

Talk to me in September.

Fast-forward to September. The Chicago Cubs are playing at a 92-win clip and are steaming towards a post-season appearance. And after months of silence, you're ready to blog about it from the rooftops.

There's no chance of overtaking the mighty St. Louis Cardinals for the division title, but the Pittsburgh Pirates' hold on the lead wild-card slot appears vulnerable. And after the arid, desert-like desolation of the past several seasons, any cup of water is a good cup of water.

Even if it's only to play the role of speed bump for the eventual National League pennant winner.

The pitching is still a little thin, but the hitting is stellar and more importantly, timely. The defense is improving, and if they could just get a decent pitcher in exchange for the habitually inattentive Starlin Castro, they could really be something.

Of course, as evidenced by your predictions for last season's Bulls (who died a coward's death against the injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semis), prognosticating isn't really your ken.

With the numeric certainty promised by the calender that 2015 is not 2003, anything could happen. And with the Chicago Cubs, anything usually does. The horrors of 1969 and 1984 and 2003 are not as far away as our calculators would have us believe.

October is a portal to failure. A razor-lined pothole set to deflate whatever sort of roll the earnest and wide-eyed Cubs happen to be on. October is a film noir-inspired femme fatale, luring the feckless Cubs to their doom.

But if a half-century of Cub fandom has taught you anything, it's to enjoy the moment. Free of expectation.

The Cubs won yesterday. Life is beautiful.

You hope.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Waiting for the Drop

I'm not staking out space in Times Square so I can see (among other things) Ryan Seacrest and Selena Gomez really close up this New Year's Eve. 

Nor am I commenting on the recent fluctuations in the stock market, which suffers from a bad case of TMI if you ask me.

No, I'm waiting for something else to drop. I'm waiting for the seventy-five cent package of Oreos to appear.

Let me explain.

You might not know this, but the Oreo you just deconstructed to get at the icing or dunked in a glass of Mountain Dew was made in Chicago. But not any more.

Mondelez, the sprawling snack food giant spun-off from Kraft Foods, is packing up its chocolate wafers, gooey cream centers and six-hundred jobs and moving production of its best-selling Oreo cookies to Mexico.

It should be noted this is not the result of Mondelez's desire to develop a truly authentic lime and beer-flavored Oreo. Nope. This is just another cash grab by another big American corporation.

Mondelez cites outdated facilities and the cost to modernize them as the reason for the relocation, but I suspect the lack of additional union concessions and the City of Chicago's refusal to subsidize the improvements are the real cause.

That and the irresistible opportunity to exponentially increase their profit margin, thrill their shareholders, pump up Mondelez's share price and boost CEO Irene Rosenfeld's annual income.

And isn't that what it's all about?

I don't really expect the price of Oreos to go down, even if Mondelez is saving a bundle on labor. (On average, Mexican factory workers earn eighteen percent of what their counterparts in the U.S. do.)

Still, couldn't the consumers who have sustained Oreos throughout their hundred-year lifespan reasonably expect an attendant drop in price? Especially considering that as taxpayers, they will be the ones subsidizing the workers Mondelez left behind?

In the great shell game that is business, I expect a PR release saying the relocation merely fends-off an inevitable fifty-percent price increase had the plant remained in the United States. That the move actually stabilizes the cost of Oreos.

Yeah. That's it. This is about keeping Oreos affordable.

So put those thoughts of seventy-five cents-a-pack Oreos out of your head you greedy, selfish consumer you.

Where do you suppose that came from?


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Car-Man Love

My first Honda found its way to me on the advice of a co-worker; a man with a well-earned reputation for being hard to please. When I overheard him expressing vehicular contentment one afternoon, I paid attention.

This because my previous car had been totaled in an accident. An accident which occurred the very same weekend I lost a job on Friday and attended the most miserly, god-awful wedding of my life on Saturday. 

(And no, dear readers, it wasn't mine.)

I forget what's never supposed to happen on Sunday, but it didn't include being cut-off by an inattentive motorist who impulsively attempts a left turn from the center lane of a multi-lane street.

The result of my valiant attempt to avoid the guilty party was that I skidded across the intersection (did I mention it hadn't rained for weeks and the pavement was unusually slick?) and came to rest on the opposite side against a high, carriage-era curb.

You might be amused to know that as a young man with an undeveloped sense of mortality, I was un-belted and thus struck my head against the windshield. In addition to answering questions you may have about the opinions and views expressed here at the Square Peg, this event also decided when I would commence the wearing of seat belts.

But I digress.

I was quickly tiring of the Chevrolet Cavalier supplied to me by the perpetrator's insurance company, and needed to know more about what had provoked my co-worker's highly irregular satisfaction.

In need of an affordable, reliable and durable car able to fit the constraints of my newly-reduced income and meet the demands of my primary job as a publisher's rep (which had me crisscrossing Chicago like a mayoral candidate on the eve of an election), he made it clear a Honda was required.

The red Civic hatchback I bought that January was a joy. Well-built, efficient and comfortable, it was small enough to maneuver into tiny urban parking spaces and big enough to haul a seven-foot bookcase. 

It was the first car I ever owned that did what the brochure said it would do. 

It was bulletproof. It's high-revving, four-cylinder engine was a wonder on the expressways, and was augmented by a nifty five-speed manual transmission. That drive train was the automotive equivalent of Cal Ripken—it never missed a game.

The four-wheel double wishbone suspension kept rubber pressed against asphalt, assuring maximum grip at all four corners no matter what the conditions. At speed, the lightweight Civic was a ball, hunkering down and carving up turns in a way no car with its price tag had any business doing.

That light curb weight also meant power steering wasn't necessary, and the unassisted steering imparted information even as it remained thankfully light in parking lots and parallel parking situations.

In a little over eight years I accumulated nearly 200,000 miles on it, proof not only of its durability but of its inviting driving character. I just loved being in the thing. With the addition of an aftermarket Alpine cassette deck which fed a pair of two-way Concord speakers, life could seem damn near care-free.

Alas, the Civic wasn't perfect. Low-end torque was in short supply. The brakes were so-so. The windshield glass was soft and prone to scratches and chips. And despite regular waxing, the finishes on the body and wheel covers faded and peeled well before they should have. 

Yet in the face of such mechancial excellence, these were trifles. Mere trifles. 

The inevitable arrived in 1999. In need of a new car, and after having considered a modest restoration (nixed when I discovered insurance companies wouldn't recognize it), it was time to let go. Even with two-hundred thousand miles on the clock and a worn exterior I was shocked at what the dealer offered me. 

Honda's resale value is no myth.

The Japanese revere age because it reveals the essence of things. And insofar as my Civic is concerned, I couldn't disagree. My Civic remained a loyal and willing companion to the very end. Leaving it on the dealer's lot as I drove away in its shiny, new replacement felt like an unforgivable act of betrayal. 

Every now and then, it still does.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Amused

Is it not ironic and entirely appropriate that in 2015, where the one-percent exponentially increase the scope of their wealth and privilege on an almost hourly basis, that the presidential candidate receiving the greatest amount of free publicity is a billionaire?

LOL

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Wrong Men

No one enjoys a good, old-fashioned protest more than I. People not only getting angry, but getting involved and organizing and devoting time to the expression of that discontent is at the very heart of my definition of democracy.

We the people countering a war, Wall Street greed or police brutality forcefully but peacefully is such a powerful thing. I mean, Twitter rants are wonderful, but they're just not the same.

But protests can be misdirected and ill-informed just as often as they're consciousness-raising, life-changing events. 

Case in point would be the Seattle chapter of Black Lives Matter interrupting a small public get-together celebrating Social Security and Medicare.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders unwittingly became the target of these passionate—but misguided—protesters when they took the stage and demanded those in attendance hold Sanders accountable for police brutality and gentrification and the disparity of Seattle's public schools.

Perhaps they had confused Sanders with Baltimore police chief Anthony Batts or some generic law and order, right-wing Republican. But publicly harassing Sanders on the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown's death and demanding that he be held accountable?

Wow. Just wow. Guess all us white folk look alike.

If I was only mildly supportive of Black Lives Matter before this event, you can imagine my enthusiasm afterwards. Sorry, but I am not convinced that each and every police shooting of a black person is unjustified or the act of a runaway law enforcement agency drunk on its own authority.

Yes, there is a great deal wrong with the relationship between law enforcement and African-Americans, and only a moron would say otherwise. Yes, it definitely needs an infusion of understanding and mutual respect.

But I would like to see the folk who constitute Black Lives Matter march through the ghetto with their message and confront the gang-bangers, drug dealers and garden variety thugs who kill young black men at a rate that dwarfs those of the police.

Just for starters, I would like to see a gun-toting gang-banger informed that black lives matter. Then we can move on to law enforcement.

People, let's be clear: Michael Brown is not a martyr. And Bernie Sanders is not your enemy.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Forced Busing

There is a critical personnel shortage where I work. Hence the paucity of posts. Twelve-hour days spent behind the wheel are not conductive to creativity.

Only those of us too old or too far down the road of long-term unemployment remain; the younger and more employable of us having taken advantage of the rebounding economy and ditched the high-stress squalor of public transportation for greener pastures.

There is a dream-like quality to logging nearly three-hundred miles in urban traffic. Details and individual stops blur and become part of a larger, impressionistic canvas of repeated motions with no specific time or place.

Only the next address on your computerized manifest exists.

Then come the jarring intrusions of reality.

Dispatch, equally-stressed by a shortage of operators, is flooded with angry calls. Responding to outraged patrons, they insert themselves in your manifest and alter your course.

On a good day, this presents an opportunity to play hero as you swoop down out of the sky like the proud bus-eagle you are and rescue a rider from the social embarrassment of tardiness.

On a bad day, this saddles you with still-more stops you can't possibly perform in a timely manner without breaching the time-space continuum or altering the laws of physics. (Like any other bus driver-slash-physicist, I regularly search for wormholes.)

It is a frustrating little drama which finds the aggrieved customer playing the squeaky wheel and you an insufficient dollop of grease. This is likely the reason I am unusually fond of individually packaged moist towelettes.

Then the noisy thrum of the diesel engine and the mechanical whir of the transmission as it slogs through its gears yet again distances you from the evolving crises coming over the radio and the incessant stream of road construction.

You are once again a single, anonymous cell in the vast bloodstream of humanity. You set about delivering your passenger to their desired destination, not unlike the bit of oxygen headed to a muscle which ensures its continued function.

There is a brief sense of purpose.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Driving Lessons

I hate it when people can't do whatever they went. Especially when they're behind the wheel. Whether I'm responsible or not, I feel like the grinch who stole Christmas. 

Take, for example, the young woman who was attempting a right turn in a residential neighborhood I frequent. Palming the steering wheel as she attempted her turn, the vehicle swung wide as she was unable to sufficiently corral the heavy tires and 19” wheels of her SUV with a single hand.

This because her remaining hand was tasked with keeping the all-important cell phone pressed against her ear.

I don't know if she was giving consent to have her mother taken off of life support or making an appointment at her favorite nail salon, but the call was clearly a critical one and demanded completion—whatever the cost.

It was fortunate that as a technology-bereft ancient, I was only driving and thus was able to brake, giving her the entire width of the roadway to complete a turn which should have required half that space.

None of this is especially unusual, given the six-hundred or so miles I put on every week in the course of my job. It is practically routine.

What was unusual was the reaction of Iona Apple.

Curious to see the face of my latest bout with motor vehicular negligence, I glanced at Ms. Apple as we passed and discovered that she was glaring at me

Dismissing the possibility that she was a scam artist upset that her plan for engaging a metropolitan bus in a head-on collision had failed, I realized I had exhibited the unforgivable gall of being there.

Yes, I had compromised her awesomeness. Her inalienable right to drive however poorly she needed to when it infringed upon her use of technology. She wasn't guilty of distracted driving; I was guilty of seeing it.

OK. Got it.

But despite the injured feelings, I admire this woman. Her addled priorities and twisted sense of causality are flawless. They are perfectly representative of twenty-first century America. 

Her phone call completed, civilization may now continue for another day. Or at least until the next incoming call.



Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Brutal Truth

In childhood, nightmares end when you wake up.

In adulthood, this is when they begin.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sometimes, a Democrat's Best Friend Is a Republican

It's hard to believe Donald Trump once stood with Bill and Hillary Clinton as an avowed New York City Democrat. But times change, don't they? 

Utilizing the m.o. that built his real-estate empire, Trump is seeking the easiest path forward which will yield the great-possible reward. Which in this case is being President of the United States of America.

But the Donald knows better than to run as a Democrat. It's too tough. Too much is expected of you. You have to formulate policies and programs. Ideas are expected.

No, it's easier to run as a Republican where, thanks to the Tea Party, all you have to do is shoot your mouth off like you're the most obnoxious drunk in the bar and the very people Republicans manipulate best will crawl out from beneath their rock and praise you for being “real”.

Yes, rip your opponent(s) a new one for failing to be conservative enough and voila! The nomination is yours.

Fearing being left behind, the other candidates will then ramp up their rhetoric in the hopes that they, too, will compete. That they, too, will be seen as “real”.

So after appeasing the noisy minority who applauds this kind of politicking, the front-runner then find themselves confronted with a much larger and very different type of race.

It's as if after proving they can play "Chopsticks" better than anyone on the block, they then have to prove they're the leading particle physics researcher in the nation.

Thanks to the distorting influences of their right-wing, Republican presidential candidates find themselves ill-equipped to compete in a race which (still) demands so much more than put-downs and half-witted accusations and half-assed smears.

It's like quality control in reverse. Their own nominating process ensures the least-competitive Republican candidate will compete.

Not that I'm complaining.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Now Hiring

Hello. I'm La Piazza Gancio, President and founder of Total Business Solutions.

We understand that businesses large and small can get overwhelmed when it's time to make a critical hire. Many companies report receiving thousands of responses for a single opening, meaning their HR staffs are stuck wading through applications when they could be managing executive-level perks.

Fortunately, TBS has a solution.

Our software engineers have turned what were once profit-draining headaches into revenue streams. With FourChoice business software, job-seekers control their futures at the same time you rake in the cash!

It's true! Our clients have turned employment openings into profit centers, and they couldn't be happier!

So. How did they do it?

By embedding Total Business Solutions' FourChoice software into their job listings, businesses offer each and every candidate four options which lets them decide just how far their application goes. 

This means you can say goodbye to annoying and time-consuming calls from frustrated or even angry candidates wondering what's become of their resumes.

Here's how it works.

When a job-seeker has finished the application process, they are asked to choose from one of the following. (If finances don't permit, applicants can opt out and apply another time.)

Accepted—Our first level doesn't guarantee a submission will be considered, or even read. But it does guarantee his or her resume will pass through vocabulary scanners unmolested, even if they contain words and phrases such as 'union', 'organize' or 'state ownership'.

Only you know the Great Pyramid of Giza will be dust before it's looked at.

Cost: $10,000

Read—At this level, the job-seeker's resume will be looked at, but for no more than thirty seconds. Submissions of this type do occasionally catch the eye of decision-makers and receive consideration, but only with the frequency that fifth-round draft picks wind up in the Hall of Fame.

That will be our little secret. And who doesn't love a secret?

Cost: $25,000

Considered—This price point guarantees the job-seeker consideration from the appropriate department head. If it is determined that the candidate is worthy of further review, references will be required. This requires vetting (available for an additional fee) based on a per-reference basis.

Cost: $50,000

Sold!—For the candidate's first year's salary or one-hundred thousand dollars (whichever is greater), the job is theirs.

Cost: $100,000 (minimum)

Applicants will then be directed on how to make their non-refundable payment based on your businesses preferences. 

All you need to do from this point forward is sit back with your favorite administrative assistant and count the cash!

Yes, FourChoice protects you from inappropriate applicants in ways that screens, filters and personality profiles just can't. Our proprietary algorithms guarantee that only the most-talented, most-deserving and wealthiest candidates get the pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.

Furthermore, Total Business Solutions research shows that multiplied by the typical number of applications per opening, FourChoice can turn every vacancy into a revenue stream washing between one and two-million dollars your way!

And don't forget our newest option—The Veil of Obfuscation. The Veil (as we like to call it) allows you to accept up to twenty applicants at the Sold! level and then withdrawal the position—without any exposure to liability whatsoever!

The small print in our user agreement states openings are based solely on needs of the business and aren't guaranteed in the event of a downturn, slow-down or recession. It's completely legal and litigation-proof!

FourChoice is the business software that turns problems into profits. Give us a call and find out what we can do for you

Total Business Solutions. Anything else is total b.s.