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Mondelez cites outdated facilities and the cost to modernize them as the reason for the relocation, but I suspect the lack of additional union concessions and the City of Chicago's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 attemptsd 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 finish on the body and wheel covers faded and peeled well before they should have. 

Yet in the face of such mechanical 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


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?


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 that 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.