Friday, December 30, 2016

Athletic Celibacy, Pt. 1

Sometimes, I am a statistics geek. You see, while frozen within the permafrost of our national health insurance bureaucracy (again), recovering from the death of a parent and in the midst of a significant surgical procedure, I resort to the comfort of statistics and the clarity and definition they provide. 

You, the dear reader of The Square Peg, are the happy beneficiary.

Now that the Chicago Cubs have relinquished their stranglehold on two of professional sport's most-undesirable records, who is most-likely to break them?

In the first list, we see the ten franchises most overdue to appear in their sport's championship series or game, be it the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup.

The first figure is the number of seasons since a franchise's last appearance in their respective sport's championship series or game. The number in parenthesis is the year of their last appearance.

Figures are current through each sport's most-recently completed season.

Sacramento Kings NBA 65 (1951)
Detroit Lions NFL 58 (1957)
Atlanta Hawks NBA 55 (1961)
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 49 (1967)
New York Jets NFL 47 (1968)
Kansas City Chiefs NFL 46 (1969)
St. Louis Blues NHL 46 (1970)
Milwaukee Bucks NBA 42 (1974)
Minnesota Vikings NFL 39 (1976)
Washington Wizards NBA 37 (1979)
Pittsburgh Pirates MLB 37 (1979)
Milwaukee Brewers MLB 34 (1982)

Honorable mentions:

Baltimore Orioles MLB 33 (1983)
New York Islanders NHL 32 (1984)
Miami Dolphins NFL 31 (1984)


And here are the ten teams most overdue to win a championship.

The first figure is the number of seasons since their last title, while the number in parenthesis is the year in which they won it.

Again, figures are current through each sport's most-recently completed season.

Cleveland Indians MLB 68 (1948)
Arizona Cardinals NFL 68 (1947)
Sacramento Kings NBA 65 (1951)
Detroit Lions NFL 58 (1957)
Atlanta Hawks NBA 58 (1958)
Philadelphia Eagles NFL 55 (1960)
Tennessee Titans NFL 54 (1961)
San Diego Chargers NFL 52 (1963)
Buffalo Bills NFL 50 (1965)
Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 49 (1967)
New York Jets NFL 47 (1968)
Kansas City Chiefs NFL 46 (1969)

Honorable mentions:

Milwaukee Bucks NBA 45 (1971)
New York Knicks NBA 43 (1973)
Miami Dolphins NFL 42 (1973)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Simple Post

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Paying the Bryce

Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has let it slip he's seeking a ten-year contract for 400 million-dollars.

In a coincidence that is beyond remarkable, so am I. Of course, rain that gets hurt while falling is more likely than yours truly ever seeing such a thing.

Bryce, on the other hand, is another story.

The precious millennial, known for wearing a hat with 'Let's make baseball fun again' embroidered across the front and for telling a grizzled sportswriter “That's a clown question, dude”, is a good-but-not-great player.Yet in our culture of microwave celebrity, he is considered a brilliant one.

He did stitch together a nice 2015, for which he was immediately awarded the National League's Most Valuable Player trophy. But aside from that single season, his play has yet to spark even a single rumor that Babe Ruth has returned from the dead and is inhabiting a Washington Nationals uniform.

Maybe Bryce is just having one on us. Using Harper-speak to get us to lighten up. And if so, good for him. Few things in life are reported with the grim severity as the unmet needs of a professional athlete with an expiring contract.

On the other hand, maybe Harper is outrageously-coddled. Maybe he is someone who's never held down an after-school job, much less a Monday through Friday one. Maybe he's been given a pass from the demands and expectations of the maturation curve because he could hit a baseball. 

Add to this equation that his agent is Scott Boras, one held in contempt by more than a few baseball GMs for his fuck-your-team-I-play-for-my-client mentality, and things take a decidedly darker turn.

Forty-million dollars per for a guy who's never driven in a-hundred runs, never lined two-hundred hits, never won a batting title, finished one season with a slugging percentage over five-hundred and can claim but a single post-season performance that wasn't a disappointment?

The guy who finished in the top ten in his league's WAR exactly once (there's that word again) should be highest-paid player in baseball? Based on what? All of this factors into the Nationals' failure to advance beyond the opening round of the playoffs even once in three tries.

At his peak in 1930, Babe Ruth earned 80,000 dollars a year. Adjusted for inflation, that equals 1.1 million bucks a year in 2016 dollars. Any idea—any idea at all—why someone named Bryce Harper is worth forty times that?

Me, neither.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Random Thoughts, Vol. 8


Do the vocal cords of people gifted with great voices look different from those of us with not-so-great voices?

How is it that no one questions the yawning chasm within the political platform that claims to espouse the sanctity of life, yet which refuses to ban assault weapons?

Never buy anything you aren't one day prepared to give or throw away.

Isn't it interesting that the coarser our culture gets, the gentler our language becomes?

How is it that globalization lowers American working-class wages but not executive ones?

Never accuse an American of having enjoyed a comfortable childhood.

So let me get this straight: a side-effect of Tamiflu is moderate to severe nausea and vomiting? Seriously?

Nothing like the guilt you feel when you realize you passed a freezer full of battered seafood at the supermarket and didn't even think of calling 911.

After witnessing the enormous sums spent on this year's elections, I now believe—with unshakeable certainty—that we have the best government money can buy.

Who introduced the bill that requires a Tae Kwon Do studio inhabit every strip mall in America?


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Getting My Fix

Let's be clear from the outset: this is not a post about narcotics. Or pizza. (Pizza actually is a narcotic, but that will be our little secret. OK? No need to bring the DEA into this.) This is a post about the fast-disappearing notion of having things fixed. Or repaired. 

Or shall I say, attempting to have things fixed and repaired. Things like cars. Garage doors. And telephones. The theoretically simple act of getting things done before your to-do list stretches to the moon and back.

Let me start with my car. Like me, it's an older model with considerable mileage.

I can't afford a new car, and the used ones which fit my slender budget are older models with considerable mileage—and like I said, I already have one of those. So I keep it and fix things. It's a slow-motion restoration that neither my insurance company or Pebble Beach will ever recognize.

But over the past year, the fix part has become remarkably difficult. Routine things like repairing a parasitic amp draw, replacing a serpentine belt, a timing belt and redoing the brakes seemingly present local repair shops with the mechanical equivalent of solving the unrest in Syria. Or developing a plan for affordable health care.

It's like owing a Ferrari in Afghanistan. I imagine the mechanics whispering and pointing as they gather 'round to eyeball the wonder that is my made in Japan exotic (which is incidentally one of the best-selling cars in the United States and has been for decades).

Last winter, a parasitic amp draw cost me a job interview, two unscheduled days off and the howling derision of my employer. The shop I brought it to failed to diagnose the problem not once, but twice. I suppose you could say what they lacked in ability they made up for in consistency.

As a bonus, I not only received two repair bills (which doubtlessly covered the two “free” tows), a door panel the mechanic had confused with a boot wipe but an unrepaired car which continued to threaten not to start at the most inopportune times.

Thankfully, the remainder of the winter was as mild as Minnesota salsa.

Like thousands of Americans, I celebrate the arrival of spring by replacing my serpentine belt. After settling the bill and bringing the car home, I noticed a strange clicking sound. I called the shop and was advised it would disappear as the belt “loosened up”.

A day later, they were proven correct.

The clicking noise disappeared as the belt loosened up sufficiently to remove itself from the network of wheels and pulleys on which it was deigned to travel. The shop paid for the subsequent tow and belt replacement, so it wasn't the exercise in abject hopelessness the twin visits to the previous garage had been.

Weeks later, I became aware that whenever I had to brake my car was bathed in the grinding, metallic music that is worn brake pads. Armed with a coupon, I brought my car to a third facility for still-more maintenance. All four brakes required attention, but many hundreds of dollars later the car at least stopped quietly and with certainty.

I especially liked the quiet part.

After several unsatisfying, late-summer flirtations with several used cars in the area, I decided to renew my vows with my long-term vehicular spouse. As a renew-your-wedding-vows gift, I decided to have my beloved's timing belt replaced.

As it happened, the shop that had erred with the serpentine belt was offering a special, and since a passenger-side power window regulator, struts and the second serpentine belt had been installed to perfection, I decided to forgive and forget.

Which is the biggest reason I'm currently stockpiling Aricept.

After paying yet-another robust bill and bringing my four-wheeled wife home, I was crestfallen when the now-familiar sounds of mechanical angst hit my ears. Too fearful of incurring a murder one charge to return to the shop, I instead visited the local dealership.

They confirmed my suspicions that the belt was too tight, and for one-hundred-twenty dollars and change corrected the error. (And if you're wondering—no, I'm not buying the guilty garage a box of belt-tension gauges for Christmas.)

I admit to not calling the Illinois Attorney General's office or scouring the walls of these facilities for ASE certification prior to my visits. But all are established shops with good reputations.

In all fairness, I can imagine what it's like working on older cars. The maddening array of connectors and fasteners, brittle plastic and rusted-on bolts alone would be enough to make me certifiable. Not to mention the ocean of proprietary designs and procedures each manufacturer unwittingly builds into their cars. 

I'm sure it is tougher than a two-dollar steak. 

But since these businesses advertise and market themselves as repair shops, is it not entirely reasonable of me to expect a repair in exchange for my hard-earned dollars?

Of course it is.

Alas, in a town like mine there a finite number of garages. And screaming at the mechanic reminds me of the guy who complained to the chef about his last meal. Unless you're in the kitchen supervising the preparation, there are just too many avenues for retaliation.

It's best to just blog about it. That and save for a new car as you beseech an uncaring god that the intermittent noise from the driver's side front wheel exists only in your imagination.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Wait. Who Won?

I'm angry, too.

As angry as the factory workers in Ohio or Wisconsin or Michigan who have been reduced to stocking shelves at Jerry's Food Mart. Yours aren't the only lives which resemble a wool sweater after a turn in the dryer.

The difference between us is that I know where to have a hissy fit—and where not to. And that you don't ever have a hissy fit in a voting booth. Despite our rampant cynicism, elections are far too important to reduce to reality TV-styled entertainment.

Granted, there is a great deal wrong with the United States of America. For instance, there are far too many people struggling in the nation called the wealthiest in human history. 

But that isn't an accident. It's on purpose.

I want you, dear Trump supporter, to tell me what side Republicans took. Did Republicans fight that or enable it? Please tell me why you believe a self-absorbed, narcissistic billionaire like Donald Trump has the slightest interest in you and what remains of your life.

Donald Trump is a businessman. He represents the privileged class which exported your job to Mexico and China and Pakistan and then got a Republican-sponsored tax break for doing so.

What do you have to offer Donald Trump? Your rusted-out Corolla? Your socks? Your employee discount? You voted yesterday. This is today. He got your vote. That is the extent of his interest in you, bro.

You see, our first ADHD president gets bored quickly. Once, he wanted money. He got that. Then he wanted celebrity. He got that. Now, in the immortal words of Huey Lewis & the News, he wants a new drug: power.

And thanks to the peculiarities of the electoral college, he has that.

Donald Trump got that by pushing your buttons. He's the driver who cut you off not once, but three times on the way to work. And by the time you got there, you were so angry you couldn't think straight. Sound familiar?

Granted, Hillary Clinton wasn't an inspiring alternative.

The Democratic National Committee, in their preening obsession to nominate not only the first African-American president but the first female one as well, kicked the better candidate for this race to the curb. Despite the polls which showed he could not only compete head to head with Trump more effectively, but beat him.

And that's on the Dems, one-hundred percent.

But you voted for Trump. Not the DNC. And now we have him.

I know thinking is largely discouraged in twenty-first century America because it takes so long and robs us of our social media time. But have you ever questioned exactly how immigrants 'take' our jobs?

This is the phrase repeated ad infinitum by Donald Trump and other conservatives, and yet as so many of the posts on this blog bear out, I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to 'take' anyone's job. Ditto the immigrants (illegal or not) Trump loves to disparage.

That's because jobs aren't taken—they're given. And immigrants were given their jobs. Given their jobs by businessmen engorged by the promise of larger and fatter profits. 

Let's be very, very clear about something—businessmen respect and are loyal to just one thing: money. Profit is their morality. Expanding markets and boosting shareholder value their Ten Commandments. 

Money doesn't have borders. Money doesn't have morals. There is no right or wrong, with the possible exception of profit and loss.

It is the nature of the beast.

Despite this, we believe that businessmen in government are a good idea. And wealthy, celebrity businessmen are an even better idea.

Businessmen know how to tell people what to do and when it should be on their desk. Businessmen know how to issue edicts. Businessmen know how to dispense ultimatums. Businessmen know how to point their gaudy ring-encrusted fingers and sneer “you're fired!”

But a government with three well-defined branches doesn't work that way—at least not yet.

Spotting business opportunities and making money does not a great president make. It makes a successful businessman. If you even need the refresher, the ability to lead is not measured in dollars.

Case in point. Illinois has its own billionaire president. He has succeeded mostly in deepening the already-massive rift between Democrats and Republicans, and is about two-dozen zip codes removed from a clue of how to mend it.

Worse, he probably doesn't care.

As wealthy businessmen do, he will attempt to buy control, not earn it. He will spend and spend until he has a Republican majority, the better to enact his toxic agenda until Illinois is a living facsimile of feudalism. 

That is Donald Trump's business plan for the United States.

And you voted for him.

To all you angry, pissed-off male Trumpers, tell me how you justify to your daughters voting for a man who advocates grabbing women by their pus, er, crotches?

(And if you're a female Trumper, you have just earned a one-way ticket to the feminist-hell of the nineteenth-century and no longer have a say in political conversations.)

Tell me how you explain the actions of the Seattle Seahawks fan who repeatedly screamed at Kathryn Smith, the NFL's first female assistant coach “Hey waitress! Get me a Pepsi!”

You know who he voted for, right?

Let me hazard a guess: that treatment is okay for female Democrats, but if someone were to say that to your wife (I'm probably being generous here) or your daughter, you'd run them over with your F150.

Can you say schizophrenia? How about mental illness?

All I can say is you voted for him. 

I don't know whether to laugh at or pity you.

You actually believe Donald Trump knows more about ISIS than our military? You've taken to heart the claim the Trump can end the gun violence in Chicago in a week? That he's going to build a wall along our southern border and hand Mexico the bill? 

If so, I'm guessing you're composing your annual letter to Santa right about now.

I laugh that you actually believe Trump is going to make America great again, a pathetic slogan steeped in dewy-eyed nostalgia. It reflects the sad notion that the nineteen-fifties were the apex of human civilization.

Good luck with that. 

And by the way, can we return corporate tax rates to what they were in the nineteen-fifties, too?

I laugh at the farmer on the NBC network news, who arrived at the conclusion he wants big government out of his life. Um, does that include agricultural subsidies and price supports, too?

I didn't think so.

Finally, I laugh at Trump himself. Still think it's rigged, Donnie? Still think the so-called liberal media and the political establishment are out to get you? Even after a billion-dollars' worth of free publicity and a perfectly-timed political bombshell?

Naturally, the Clinton majority have questions. Will Donald Trump be good for the country? For me? 

This is akin to asking if Wal-Mart is good for America. 

Wal-Mart is good for Wal-Mart. And rest assured, Donald Trump will be good for Donald Trump. He will use the office as his personal ATM, just like his BFF Vladimir Putin. 

To paraphrase Annette Bening in 1990's The Grifters “Donald Trump is so crooked he could eat soup with a corkscrew.”

Worse, he has lifted the lid of decorum off the United States, and it's mighty hard to see it ever going back on.

And you voted for him.

Myself? I'm just waiting for the 'Don't Blame Me—I Voted for Hillary' bumper stickers.

That and the 2018 mid-terms.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Greetings from Brigadoon

If this were a nineteen-forties movie instead of a blog, it'd open with a black and white shot of a printing press, furiously running off newspapers. Crisp, buoyant music would accompany the scene.

Papers at every stage of their creation would be shown, right up to the point where they're bundled up and tossed on delivery trucks by thickly-muscled guys chewing cigar butts and wearing ivy caps.

From the center of the frame a tiny front page emerges. It is spinning. It stops only when it dominates the screen. Cubs Win Series! Fans Dancing in the Streets!

Alas, this is a blog. Not a movie.

Cue to a sleepy older guy in a worn Cubs t-shirt and sweat pants bathed in the bluish white light of a computer monitor. There are no printing presses or delivery trucks. Only a hasty mea culpa being banged out on a fifteen-year-old keyboard.

Remember that scene in Moonstruck when Cher tells her mom she's going to get married? Freshly wakened, mom asks “Do you love him?”

Cher: “No.”

Mom: “Good. When you love them, they drive you crazy.”

See, that's how it is with the Cubs and me. I love them. And in the aftermath of their game 4 loss, I was crazy. Convinced it was over. Kaput. Fini. If they didn't feel confident and comfortable in Wrigley Field, where would they?

My previous post, Blind Until I See, was my inner Cub fan doing what all Cubs fans do. 

Dialing up the defense mechanisms and steeling myself for yet another dose of soul-shredding agony. How was I to know that freed of the pressure cooker Wrigley Field had become, they would spread their wings and play like the 2016 Cubs?

I have never been more delighted to be wrong.

Being a bad prognosticator means never having to go hungry, because when all else fails you'll always have your words to eat.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Blind Until I See

At least one more game remains to be played. But it is over. Over in the same sense that a body has expired by the time it is interred.

They have surrendered in everything but fact.

All the right words were said. This was a generation either ignorant or immune to history.

But like a diver descending to uncharted depths, the further it goes the greater the pressure. It is paralyzing. It crushes interlopers.

What team could shoulder the weight of generational expectations? Could ignore the foreboding and all-too-familiar signs of imminent collapse? Could resist facts as insistent as they are abundant that this cannot happen?

Must not happen.

Will not happen.

The cult lives on. Baseball's take on Deadheads have been hardened by another layer of failure. Rain will not douse the candle of their faith. Contrary to popular belief, hope is not a poison.

Cub fans celebrate New Year's Day in Autumn.

Have a happy 2017.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

This Just In

At 9:46 PM CDT on October 22, 2016 Yasiel Puig hit an Aroldis Chapman pitch to Cub shortstop Addison Russell. Russell fielded the ball, threw it to second baseman Javier Baez who then stepped on second and subsequently fired to first baseman Anthony Rizzo for a game-ending double play.

This means the Chicago Cubs have won the 2016 National League Championship Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers 4 games to 2, and are headed to their first World Series since 1945.

In other news, an unidentified male with reddish skin and horns and carrying a pitchfork has been admitted to a local hospital with what appears to be frostbite.

More details as they become available.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

I Am a Health Care Sisyphus

Last March, I wrote about the struggle to initiate my health insurance with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.

Despite receiving (and paying) two bills, I remained without coverage. I was told several times that while the bills correctly listed my chosen plan and ID number, I didn't exist in any database that would lead to actual coverage.

I had to wait—even if the bills didn't.

In that post, I concluded that Blue Cross' billing department seemed to be the only one able to accomplish anything, and as such ought to be running the whole show.

That was premature. It turns out they just needed a little time to catch-up to the rest of the company.

From January through July, I was able to pay my bill via telephone, ensuring next month's coverage was, well, covered. It was the only aspect of my plan that was simple, consistent and trouble-free.

But simple, consistent and trouble-free don't jibe with the BCBSIL business model. Complicated, labyrinthine and convoluted do. Which are the reasons I presume OrbiPay was disconnected.

In place of OrbiPay on the August bill was a phone number which didn't contain the promised functionality (at least if the prompts on the menu can be believed). Who knows, maybe if I had recited the Magna Carta in Latin, farted three times and screamed “Death to ObamaCare! Let a free and unregulated marketplace decide our health care choices!” it might have relented.

After several excruciating attempts, I resorted to calling OrbiPay, where lo and behold I was able to make my payment.

September and October have presented larger challenges.

The number listed on the bill again refused to reveal its check-by-phone option in September, and despite being listed on the BCBSIL web site, OrbiPay was no longer in service. I at last reached a human being by dialing a third number and overriding its computerized voice recognition software.

Things didn't go so smoothly this month.

OrbiPay is still dead—and still listed on the BCBSIL web site. (What does it cost to update a web site, anyway? Fifty-million? A hundred-million? A couple hundred bucks?) The number listed on the bill, which again promises to accept payments by phone, won't accept mine. Ditto the number I used in September.

I finally reached a human being after launching a stream of invectives into the receiver and at the voice recognition software.

The operator who answered was not able to tell me why my payment had been refused, nor why OrbiPay's number is still listed on the BCBSIL web site. She was able to offer a one-time telephone payment that is somehow different from other telephone payments so that my account might be brought up to date.

Remarkably, the story doesn't end there.

Yesterday I received a customer service questionnaire from BCBSIL, which is certainly laudable. It wanted to know how they did.

I clicked away at the 'Take Our Survey' button, eager to respond.

The little round icon in the upper left-hand corner that tells me the browser is searching for the page went 'round and 'round. Then it went 'round and 'round some more. It stopped about the time I began to think I was watching the introduction to Vertigo.

The result? Server Not Found.

I realize now fault lies with me. I expected something. And that is where I consistently go wrong with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.

If I wasn't so exhausted by the struggle to deliver money to a multi-billion-dollar health care behemoth, I'd accuse them of wanting to be a non-profit. Or some other kind of dirty, filthy Obama-styled socialist.

But we all know what a joke that would be, don't we? This is a company that eliminated credit cards as a method of payment. Guess those swipe fees were killing them.

I can hardly wait for the inflated premiums and astronomical deductibles I am told lie in wait for Illinois customers in November.

I'm sure they will be difficult to pay as well.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Suffering from the DTs

Life is stressful.

Galavant isn't returning for a third season. I can't write about my favorite baseball team for fear of jinxing them. Wells-Fargo (the robber-bank) is still in business. And I have to wear long polyester pants and a polyester shirt in 89 degree heat as I digest the news that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are taking a ring off it.

If that isn't enough—and it is—Donald Trump continues his battle with Tourette's in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Sigh.

Can I confess something to you? I have the DTs.

Historically, DT Is shorthand for delirium tremens, a condition brought about by the sudden absence of alcohol in the human body after an extended period of abuse. In 2016, it refers to exposure to presidential candidate Donald Trump.

On the rare occasion when Mr. Fact-free does take his medicine and announces that Barrack Obama was born in the United States after all, the media goes ape shit. 

If only Barrack and Hillary had responded to their requests for comment with “Donald who?” or “So?”

Alas, they took the media as seriously as an Edward Albee (R.I.P.) play.

Is it too late to nominate Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize? The 2016 deadline has long since passed, but 2017's Nobel slate is as empty as Donald's yawning maw. For those of you congenitally immune to irony, you can submit Donald's name here:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee
Henrik Ibsen Gate 51
Oslo, Norway 0255

Who knows, maybe it will all be better in November. The team that cannot be named will be champions, the president-elect won't have a y chromosome and Brad and Angie will have reconsidered.

In the meantime, anyone got a drink?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Trumped

That seems just about right. The man responsible for the most toxic and divisive political movement of the last hundred years (with the possible exception of Joseph McCarthy), is walking away with forty-million dollars.

And that's after the sexual harassment charges and twenty-million dollars worth of hush money his boss shelled out to silence accusers.

The truth behind all of this is that Roger Ailes made his boss, Rupert Murdoch, a whole lot of money. Fox News corrupted the truth and distorted perception. It put 'facts' on the endangered species list. It helped polarize a population into left and right while the wealthy ran up the middle for trillion-dollar touchdowns.

This is the twenty-first century ethos that allows Donald Trump to be considered as a legitimate candidate for the office of President of the United States of America. Lies over leadership. Demagogues, not democracy. And worst of all, entertainment over experience. 

Have Trump supporters even considered what Donald will be if he wins this thing? 

A politician!

After watching the farce-slash-forum last night on NBC, and imagining the mouth-breathing minions awe-struck by Trump's celebrity and single-cell political platforms, it is difficult not to imagine him winning this election.

Donald has perfected the verbal and body language snark of the reality TV crowd. Of the monster truck crowd. And of the professional wrestling crowd. To them, Trump's comical ego passes for confidence. And his put-downs for wit.

Clinton's fatal flaw is to credit Americans with a.) an attention span, and b.) a brain.

Like scores of Republicans before him, Trump successfully plays to the lowest common denominator: white, stupid and angry. He pushes their buttons like the teen-aged king of an eighties video game arcade. 

He is also a masterful manipulator of media. Even as his campaign threatens to curtail their freedoms, they cannot stay away. Every utterance of Donald's is front page news. Every new slander, every new libel, every new outrage is the lead story on that night's network news.

See what I mean?

The great irony, of course, is that the LCD folk who are his core supporters won't even exist after a Republican victory. They won't even be beneath the radar. They'll remain marooned in their small towns, mired in the hopelessness of their opioid abuse and abortion/LGBT/racially-fueled hatred.

Oh they'll bellow on Rush Limbaugh and fly Confederate flags from their pick-up trucks, but they'll be among the first thrown under the bus when the TPP is enacted and the wealthy are further enriched, their power even more firmly entrenched.

If nothing else, a Trump victory will certainly prove that a people gets the government it deserves.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

More Spin Than a Legion of Vinyl-era DJs

I enjoy jabbing my finger into the carefully-coiffed and studied figure of big business. In a perfect world, I'd be the tiny stone in their shoe they could never find.

It was with this in mind that I wrote Dannon Yogurt after discovering they had shrunk their cartons of Light & Fit yogurt by seven tenths of an ounce while maintaining the price of the previous configuration.

You should know that Dannon isn't the only manufacturer attempting this sleight of hand. Not by a long shot. 

Snack foods, toothpaste, toilet paper, soup—you name it. If the lead bean-counter thinks shaving an ounce or two from the serving or a couple of dozen sheets from the roll is likely to go unnoticed by most consumers, it is as good as done.

It's a beneath the radar price-hike, which is why I delight in telling these folks "I see you!"

I half expected a response informing me of a yogurt shortage, or that the Chinese had developed a sudden craving for the stuff. 

I should be grateful Dannon didn't shrink the serving and raise the price, which incidentally, is the reason for 'New and Improved'. (Displaying their shrewd marketing prowess, you'll notice manufacturers make no attempt to say for whom products are new and improved.)

Without further delay, here is my missive:


Dear Dannon,

I was very excited to see that your new tubs of Light & Fit yogurt have been reduced by .7 of an ounce.

You see, I am recovering from hernia surgery, and the new, lighter packs are so much easier to remove from the refrigerator. It's an older model—you know, the kind with the freezer on top? And when I'd stoop to drag the old tubs out, it put a big strain on my abdomen. So I am very grateful!

Plus, my doctor is also after me to drop a few pounds, so these smaller servings will definitely help me accomplish that. Of course, lifting the older, heavier tubs burned more calories. So I guess we should call it a draw.

I also noticed there was no change in the price. Considering that I'm getting less yogurt, doesn't this amount to a price hike? Trust me, doc is doing a great job of lightening my wallet. He doesn't need the help of a multi-national conglomerate!

I think that in between all this marketing and strategizing you guys are working too hard. Take it from me, that is how I got my hernia in the first place! Instead of lightening my servings and my wallet, you should do one or the other. It's just too damn hot.You know?


Sincerely,

La Piazza Gancio

Their response:

August 16, 2016


Dear La Piazza Gancio,

Thank you for taking the time to contact The Dannon Company. Comments from consumers are very important to us and we certainly appreciate yours.

At Dannon, we take great care to ensure that the highest standards are met in everything we do. In our products, packaging, marketing and advertising, we strive for excellence. When a valued consumer like you takes the time to contact us, we take it seriously. Please be assured your comments will be shared with the appropriate individuals. I know they will find your remarks interesting, and will consider them carefully as we work toward continuous improvement in all areas.

As always, we appreciate your interest in our products and are always available to answer any questions or concerns that you have. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to call our toll-free number 1-877-DANNON-US (1-877-326-6668), Monday through Friday, 9 A.M. to 6 P.M. Eastern Time.
 
Sincerely,

(name removed)
Consumer Response Representative

Again, like so many of their peers, Dannon completely ignored my question. You have to love how corporations like these reduce consumer inquiries to an occasion for PR. 

Way to stay classy, guys!

I'm trying to imagine the fun I could have at such a place. For instance, when a superior asked me a question I could respond with a verbal resume, informing them only of my latest and greatest accomplishments.

One needs to applaud the (ahem) vigorous work ethic. The unswerving commitment to R&D.

I can hear the executive board now:

Gentlemen. What's the best way to fatten the profit margin? Do we develop an irresistible new product?”

No!”

Work up a compelling new marketing campaign?”

No!”

Explore new markets?”

No!”

"Shrink the serving?"

"Yes!"

I am left to wonder if they expect as little from their employees.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Wildlife-Imposed Time Out

There aren't many times I enjoy coming to a stop while driving. Possessing a full-blown case of driving fatigue (the result of the miles I pile up as a professional driver), each stop is yet-another speed bump which endangers a schedule perpetually short in time and rich in distance.

Traffic lights, farm equipment, construction, accidents (which no longer seem very accidental for a population bent on texting and phoning)–all conspire to prevent me from the timely completion of my appointed rounds.

Which is why I drive like you—aside from the texting and the lane departure stuff.

But every condition, every circumstance, every rule has its exception. And this is no, well, exception. Yes, you heard that right. There are times I actually like to stop. Or at least, don't fucking hate it.

You are pregnant with anticipation. Swollen by a single-minded curiosity to discover under what conditions I could possibly be willing to apply my size thirteen foot to a brake pedal.

Let your water break. Let the contractions begin. Wonder no more.

You see, I frequent a roadway which winds around a retention pond favored by Canadian geese. An expansive green lawn sits on the opposite side. This, too, is enjoyed by the small flock.

But a problem exists. At some point each day, the flock wish to go for a swim. And for reasons known only to them, desire to cross the two-lane road on foot. And so they begin their march.

Inevitably, traffic appears. And to my eternal wonderment, it stops. Even dudes with shaved heads and goatees driving obnoxious pick-ups trucks that scream “I am badass! Fear me!” do.

It is remarkable.

And this isn't an isolated incident. Twenty-years ago and much nearer the sturm und drang of Chicago, four lanes of rush hour traffic came to a halt because a mother duck needed to lead her eight charges across the street to another portion of the wetlands bisected by our noisy concrete.

Even as we routinely treat our fellow motorists like obstacles and endeavor to sweep each other aside like so much roadside trash, we willingly indulge these creatures as they haltingly make their way across the street.

Instead of provoking stress, this inversion of mankind's hierarchy has the opposite effect. There is no anxiety. No impatient sighs. Fingers don't tap steering wheels. This wildlife-imposed time out quite literally forces us to remove our feet from the gas pedal. I smile.

Thoreau, wherever he is, couldn't be happier.

Eventually, their crossing is complete and we resume the rat race. We fight each other and our self-imposed barriers; the signs and stoplights which impede us.

One explanation for the rise of religion is that mankind needed to believe in something greater than himself, presumably to lift the curatorial burden of the world from his narrow shoulders.

And while I see a distinct lack of Christianity from behind the wheel of my bus, these geese, in some small way, give us pause and put us in touch with something apart from our schedules and our texts and our angst.

Bless them.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Tomato Love, Interrupted

This is a post about consuming food. Not eating it mind you, but consuming it. There's a difference. Stay with me.

In the early-eighties, I read an article in Harper's (or was it Atlantic?) about the evolution of American agriculture as it specifically related to the tomato.

The article detailed how tomatoes had become big business, and as such were too important to be left to the vagaries of nature. Management was required. And as a result, modern tomatoes bore only a faint resemblance to their previously unmanaged selves.

They shipped better. Lasted longer on store shelves. Were uniform in their appearance. More disease-resistant. And most importantly, matured faster.

Now, that is wonderful stuff. Seriously. I mean, who wants a tomato that can't hack a week in a produce bin? Or whose delicate sensibilities are offended by seventy-two hours in the back of a truck?

Not me.

But unless you're a businessman, you may notice one glaring flaw. One big, giant omission: taste. As in, how did they?

Oh. Yeah. That. Well...we're working on it.

So. We were left with tomatoes that resisted disease and lasted longer on store shelves and were uniform in appearance, but really didn't taste that great. The juicy tomatoes which practically demanded to be eaten in a bath tub appeared to be a relic of my long-ago youth.

Which is why an article in the Chicago Tribune on a Rockford-based tomato-grower named Mighty Vine aroused such interest. They were dedicated to growing tomatoes that possessed, in addition to the many fine qualities imbued by corporate farms, taste.

Could the notion of a functioning congress be more radical?

All was well for several weeks. They were available at the local chain grocery store and I willingly coughed-up a little more than normal for these blood-red beauties. I had forgotten what it was like to slice a tomato and leave a small puddle of juice behind.

They immediately made salads more vibrant. On hamburgers, their undiluted tomatoness paired perfectly with a slice of raw onion, thankfully rendering ketchup irrelevant. Hell, they made everything better.

And then they were gone.

I'm guessing you know this game. It's hide and seek turned inside-out. You search for a product, enjoy it and then the manufacturer/distributor/wholesaler or retailer hides it.

Be it Iguana Foods chile rellenos, the Moroccan marinade I used on pork chops, Pepper Jack Doritos, Whole Foods garlic and Parmesan bread, Mars Bars or Palermo's far too briefly available frozen flatbread pizza topped with pesto and mozzarella, if there's something manufacturers suspect I (and perhaps you) enjoy it will be made unavailable before you've stuffed the grocery receipt in your pocket.

(While not entirely edible, I'm wondering how the Suzuki Kizashi departed these shores without me ever buying one.)

MBAs with too little to do have identified a certain personality type prone to this experience. What they haven't figured out is how not to sell to us. Which in turn raises another question: how will they know when to discontinue it?

So while I am driven to the edges of starvation, the shelves at my favorite grocer remain stuffed with far too many varieties of chicken sausage, gluten-free tea, turkey bacon, wasabi-flavored corn nuts, coconut water and the always-execrable mayonnaise.

Worse is the understanding that by not buying them, I am perpetuating their availability. Must this be so difficult? So horribly and sickeningly twisted?

I remind myself this is about unavailable tomatoes—not a lifetime of grocery store angst. I need to focus. I fight-off memories of Home Run Inn's Plum Tomato pizza and contact Mighty Vine, determined that these won't slip through my fingers also.

The good news is that they haven't ceased production. They are merely rebooting and should be back in my favorite chain grocery store shortly.

My jaundiced skepticism of business-speak and public relations propaganda magically falls away as I begin to understand that these juicy red orbs will again re-enter my life.

Such is the power of the liberated tomato.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A Reasonable Crime

I don't often relate to criminal activity, which is probably one of the reasons I have been able to remain blissfully ignorant of all things prison. But the actions of Dany Y. Ortiz are different.

Like you and me, Mr. Ortiz loves pizza. And again like you and me, he wasn't able to have it as often as he would like. Being the motivated individual that he is, Dany discovered the path to more pizza lay in removing spare change from parked cars.

Before you rise up in righteous indignation, know that Dany didn't take your lap-top. Or your tablet. Or your cell phone. No. Dany just wanted your tollway change—for pizza.

Who among us can't find it in our hearts to understand these powerful gastronomical longings? The incessant urges that would drive a man to pilfer loose coinage from a stilled automobile?

I do. I have felt the power of this lust myself ladies and gentlemen. Stood naked and helpless in its attraction. 

And I am not ashamed.

I know only too well the feel of a warm slice of pizza on my fingertips. The gorgeous, diabolical promise being offered as I bring it to my mouth. The comforting crunch that accompanies the first bite. 

The riotous symphony of warm, gooey cheese, fresh-baked crust, herb-laden tomato sauce and smokey pepperoni my overwhelmed taste buds struggle to take in.

I chew again, pressing the luminous and erotic mix of flavors into my sensory organs. Take! Eat! For thine art pizza! Behold thy glory! Know thy power! Remember the pizza and keep it holy!

"Take a chill pill" my dining companions sometimes suggest. 

But there is no chill pill for pizza. Ask Mr. Ortiz.

Those schooled in the fine art of geometry have attempted to instill in me the belief that a circle has no beginning and no end. That it is, in a sense, infinite.

And yet, as someone schooled in the fine art of pizza, I can assert with some authority that a pizza is not infinite. It has a beginning, a middle and sadly, an end. The emotional devastation that accompanies a pizza pan suddenly bereft of its reason for being is the proof.

As any mathematician worth his or her mozzarella should be able to tell you, the end is, well, the end. Despite its shape, pizza is finite.

This is the lurid and unspeakable truth behind Dany Y. Ortiz's depravity.

Let me be the first to petition the court for leniency. It was not the dark force of evil that propelled Dany to perform these acts, but a mere longing for the multi-faceted deliciousness that is pizza. Is this not entirely and easily understood?

We need to advocate for this young man, not punish him. If punitive action is called for, if only to satisfy the victims of these insignificant thefts, let us create a charge as benign as their motivation.

Does the justifiable pilfering of unsecured coins work?

And if the court finds that incarceration is indeed required, I beg of you: let it be a facility within the delivery zone of a four-star pizzeria.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Huh?

When it's not baseball season, the Chicago Bulls are my favorite team. I have lived and died with them repeatedly. The way all fans do.

Dating back to the days of Walker, Boerwinkle, Love, Van Lier and Sloan, I have relished their traditional emphasis on defense, and was thrilled to see it resurrected twenty years later, headed by some kid from North Carolina whose name escapes me at present.

Another twenty years later, hope again spiraled out of control when a young nucleus of Luol Deng, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah produced the NBA's best record over the course of the 2010/11 season. 

It was hard to believe the glory days weren't back.

Of course, the season's first three and four-game losing streaks in the midst of the Eastern Conference Finals put an end to that. Add a career-altering knee injury to Rose one year later, and the glory days were something for other people to enjoy.

In other words, the ephemeral and capricious nature of championships had become startlingly and painfully clear.

With that team now scattered to the four winds, the rebuilding has begun anew—kind of.

With a stated goal of becoming younger and more athletic, the Bulls used this year's first-round draft pick on Denzel Valentine, a talented and promising guard from Michigan State.

Check.

Then free-agency opened. You should know the Bulls have done notoriously poorly for a team of their renown, with just Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol to show for their extracurricular wooing.

Until this year.

The Bulls have evidently changed course, and decided they're a team on the cusp of a championship. In one week, they have successfully pursued (and signed) thirty-year-old Rajon Rondo and thirty-four year-old Dwyane Wade.

Now, Mr. Wade is a player as talented as his name is misspelled. A sure-fire Hall of Famer. The winner of three NBA championships. The lineage is faultless.

Mr. Rondo is also highly regarded, named to numerous all-star teams and the winner of an NBA championship with the vaunted Boston Celtics. He is a triple-double waiting to happen.

Either could be the tipping point that pushes a team on the verge into serious contention.

But the Bulls aren't. In the words of GM Gar Forman, they're retooling. Getting younger. More athletic. Aren't they? 

It's hard to see how the additions of two guards in their thirties constitutes a youth movement, unless we're competing in an over-fifty league at the YMCA.

The glut at guard is unfathomable. Do the Bulls have a secret? Are they going to trade Jimmy Butler? Move him to small forward?

Who knows.

It's hard to admit The Man matters. But he does. Look at the Cubs under the custody of Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein. I can only hope the Bulls' brain trust of John Paxson and Gar Forman knows what the hell they're doing.

Jerry Reinsdorf obviously does.

But as the folk who let Deng, Gasol and Noah walk away virtually scot-free, and who replaced one of the league's premier coaches with an untested—but servile—lapcat, you have ample reason to wonder.

And I do.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

This Is What a Cunt Looks Like


What’s similar to tuning into a soap opera after a long absence? | GroundUp


(Incidentally, it rhymes with 'stunt'. Which is certainly appropriate.)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Give It Up for Cleveland

As a Bulls fan, the 2016 NBA Finals presented me with several potentially troubling scenarios. 

A Golden State win would anoint the Warriors as the greatest team of all-time, displacing the 1995/96 Bulls in the process.

Ouch.

And a Cleveland win would add weight to the argument that LeBron James is the most singular player of all-time, kicking Michael Jordan to the curb in the process. 

Yikes.

So you see? Not easy.

My lifelong predilection of rooting for the underdog eventually won out, aided by a nifty bounce pass from geography.

Tasked with the titanic challenge of defeating a team with a 73-9 regular-season record, even a 57-win team like the Cavaliers were decided underdogs. Plus, Cleveland is a tad closer to the Midwest than San Francisco, so the geography component is, if you'll excuse me, a slam dunk. 

Check.

So what happened? The Cavs promptly fell behind three games to one. When you consistently root for the underdog, you expect this. It is part and parcel of the whole rooting-for-the-underdog dynamic.

But then things took a hard left turn.

Draymond Green, Golden State's remarkable power forward, had his Achilles heel exposed: he has a penchant for letting opponents get under his skin. And as it is in the NBA, the player who retaliates is not only the one who gets caught, but who pays the price.

And after grabbing LeBron James' crotch near the end of game 4, Green sat out game 5.That is the price for amassing four flagrant fouls in the post-season. It was a break, pure and simple. And the Cavs were smart-enough and good-enough to take advantage of it. That is what champions do.

They won game 5. They won game 6. And with momentum on their side and Golden State clearly rattled, they won a tightly-contested game 7.

And as luck would have it, James not only made a critical block late in the game, swooping in from nowhere to deny a sure-fire lay-up, he effectively put the game out of reach via a free-throw with just seconds left.

The Browns, Indians and previous editions of the Cavaliers all gave the city ample reason to reach for Prilosec. And this year's Cavs had two great excuses for providing Cleveland another. 

The visitors had compiled a sparkling 3-15 record in NBA Finals game sevens, in addition to the fact no one had ever come back from a three-games-to-one deficit to win the Finals.

But the Cavaliers did.

With the elusive championship finally arrived, Cleveland can celebrate a hands-in-the-air doozy. It will be an unusually happy Monday morning in Ohio, methinks. 



Sunday, June 12, 2016

Finding the Silver Lining

For those of you too dim to suss it out on your own, what follows is parody. Satire. Adopting the voice of people you despise and making fun of them and their perceptions. If you are in doubt, click any of the tags beneath this post for proof of how I really feel. 

   
C'mon guys.

So 50 faggots are dead. Is that really a big deal? They probably would have died of AIDS, anyway. You're missing the big picture here.

And the big picture is this: Omar Mateen was able to go into a gun shop, buy an assault weapon and use it wherever and however he deemed appropriate.

In other words, in contrast to all those dead gay boys and the horror and grief suffered by their survivors and the cost of the law enforcement response and treating the dozens of dead and wounded, the Second Amendment is alive and well.

We still have the right to keep and bear arms in case we need to organize a militia, even though we already have an extravagantly well-funded one.

Is that a win-win or what?


Friday, June 10, 2016

I'd Rather Die Than...

What an election. Passions continue to roil out of all proportion to the difference either of the two nominated candidates would attempt to make in our lives.

On the Democratic side, we have the polished, corporate-approved candidate Hillary Clinton, who is sure not to upset the apple cart. Granted, her campaign swung left, but only because Bernie Sanders was nipping at her heels.

However bitter and cynical my posts make me appear, there is absolutely no way I could ever vote for Donald Trump and continue to sleep at night. Hillary's staff is likely aware of this, which is reason to wonder how far left she will continue to lean freed of Sanders' influence.

On the Republican side, we have Donald Trump, the reality TV star and billionaire real estate developer. Donald is in love with two things: power and Donald Trump.

His calculations led him to the Republican party, where he has proven all that is required to be that party's nominee is to be the most obnoxious drunk in the bar. Pushing white America's buttons is a time-tested strategy that a sizeable segment of the population will fall for over and over again.

With a platform as devoid of ideas as reality TV is of Proust, his campaign is an agonizing exercise whose sole success is peeling the scabs off America's wounds. I have never been darker nor more cynical than when I say Donald Trump would be the perfect President for twenty-first century America.

In a full-body embrace of the neutral-to-nuclear dynamic, we are collectively shrugging our shoulders at these two when we aren't slinging the verbal equivalent of rotten produce at them. No presidential election has ever featured two more widely-despised (or apathy-inducing) candidates.

Which is why the following was such a breath of fresh air. It is the obituary of a Virginia woman who passed in the middle of last month.

Enjoy.

Faced with the prospect of voting for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, Mary Anne Noland of Richmond chose, instead, to pass into the eternal love of God on Sunday, May 15, 2016 at the age of 68.