It’s always about the bottom line

Despite record government handouts, ostensibly to keep jobs from leaving the state, Chicago-based Boeing company cares more about profit than labor wellbeing. Its recent decision to jettison staggered work shifts is one more case in point. In a brief memo, the company said:

“This change supports the factory vision of standard work, continuous flow and scheduled job times; and is anticipated to support our competitive advantage in the market.”

There is nothing unusual about Boeing’s behavior. It will seize every opportunity to reduce costs and increase revenues. Avoiding taxes in the form of government subsidies is certainly one way to achieve the former. Exploiting federal programs like the Export-Import Bank helps boost revenues by transferring a portion of the sticker price to taxpayers from foreign businesses and countries seeking to purchase airplanes.

What happened to “think different”?

I long ago pushed beyond the threshold of “curmudgeon.” This is not entirely my doing, though approaching 70 accounts for something. I have not been “hip” for years. Nor, really, do I have any desire to be an enthusiastic passenger on the Zeitgeist. I do not get excited about “new and improved.” I prefer that things just work.

I’ll pick on Apple for this occasion, though any number of companies would suffice.

Apple, we will recall, made much about “think different,” offering us images of iconoclastic cultural heroes, from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi, to Einstein and, well, Steve Jobs himself. The marketing, always impeccable, would have us believe that buying Apple’s products was an act of self-expression, setting us apart from the ordinary.

And Apple also proclaimed that its products “just work,” unlike the competition’s offerings, which were often a confusing bundle of components from dozens of vendors. Consumers of those products spent many a frustrating hour trying to get devices to “talk with one another.”

But it is in the nature of technology that nothing shall remain the same. There are constant revisions of software, design, and features. Any self-respecting consumer with means must have these, even if what they replace works perfectly fine.

Early on in its journey, Apple embraced music. It was said to be in the company’s “DNA.” The iPod made this so, allowing customers to listen to their music “on the go.” Over the years, especially after the introduction of the iPhone (which combined an iPod with a phone with mobile access to the Internet), Apple expanded its presence in music. Now Apple offers millions of “songs” with iTunes and Apple Music.

Here is where the curmudgeon truly shines, though not in a good way. Apple now tells me what is “trending.” But curmudgeons don’t give a shit about trends, especially music. A trend, is seems to me, is merely an aggregation of consumer preferences and any given time. There is near-zero chance that I will be interested in any one or any thing that is “tending.” Yet, when I open Apple Music, I presented with lists of trends.

Come on, Apple. “Think different” is the antithesis of “trend.” Sorry, Ghandi. Sorry, Einstein. Give way to Taylor Swift and Tech N9ne and J. Cole, the names that appear right now under Apple’s “new music.”

There. I feel a bit better.

Eat ice cream and watch football

My son mentions a book written by a New Yorker writer and medical doctor, Atul Gawande, about the failure of his profession to adequately address and treat the needs of the elderly. One anecdote, in particular, stood out in my son’s description. It concerned a patient who had just been informed that he has terminal cancer. He is asked by his oncologist what he desires most in his remaining days. The patient says, and I paraphrase, “I just want to eat ice cream and watch football games on TV.”

All too often we hear of heroic battles to fight cancer, as if we patients were armed, ready, and able to vanquish the dreaded foe. This being America, we worship those who “win” their contests. Look at him. He survived. As for the “losers,” defeat can be reduced to the absence of will. He or she lacked “the right stuff,” the requisite disposition to effect “victory” over “defeat.”

Cancer, of course, has its own agenda. It begins with its very essence: a mutation, a variation on the norm. A few cells become rogue agents. But the “body” treats them as parts of the whole, and therefore unable or unwilling to eliminate them.

In my case, the cancer had spread significantly by the time it was detected. Besides, as my doctors advised, whether or not you cancer is the product of one huge “crap shoot.” When routine tests found it, it was already too late to do anything about it.

Now what?

Though looks now deceive, I was an athlete, by most accounts. I excelled at baseball, being selected number 666 in the first major league draft our of high school in 1965. The Mets took a chance, though not a very large one. I decided to attend Berkeley instead. I also played basketball. Indeed, the joke in my family was that I would die on the court. That was before arthritic knees cut short my playing days.

I am no stranger to competition, then. I have tasted victory and endured defeat. But winning on the diamond or the court strikes me as vastly different than in matters of life and death. I always believed that I could get the batter out. I knew that better shot selection or a well-timed pass could win basketball games.

But cancer does not behave like a batter or a basketball opponent. If it is to be defeated, it will have little to do with me or my “will to live” and everything to do with the medical profession, its techniques, and its chemistry.

In my case, with this particularly vile cancer and all its many complication, including diabetes and blood clots, all of medicines’ kings and horses may have no answer. Indeed, the odds are not in my favor, regardless of my own disposition.

Yet, even to talk this way invites scorn and disappointment. Don’t you care? Don’t you want to lick this thing?

Trust me. I’d love to have a do-over. However, that’s not how life—or death—works. I have no choice now but to consider a very narrow set of options, none of them promising. That bowl of ice cream and a few more football, basketball, and baseball games look enticing.

Personal revenge

It has occurred to me that Donald Trump’s successful bid for the White House has everything to do with revenge. How dare anyone, including Barack Obama, humiliate him. There would be payback using the biggest show on earth— the presidency of the United States.

Trump with his tweets and appointments has demonstrated that the entire Obama record will be erased, from the environment and health care to labor protections and international cooperation.

And who is to stop him? Surely not the Democrats, who are busy chasing their collective tail. Republicans fell in line as soon as they realized that their conservative agenda could quickly and easily become reality, with no threat of a presidential veto.

In the 1980s I foolishly believed that a Reagan presidency would force people to see what a mistake they had made in choosing the former Hollywood celebrity. Has it happened, the people couldn’t get enough of the former actor. To so they re-elected him in a landslide.

I fear that we’re in for a repeat, albeit far worse.

“Real” not “fake” doomed Hillary

So argues Matthew Yglesias. The mainstream media’s obsessive focus on what Yglesias terms a “bullshit” story on Clinton’s email server had a far more devastating impact on the election than the crazy wingnuts of the alt-right. He includes this graphic:



 A team of researchers working for Gallup found that what Americans heard about Clinton during the campaign was overwhelmingly information related to emails. By contrast, they found, “Americans’ reports of what they have read, seen or heard about Donald Trump over this same period have been more varied and related to his campaign activities and statements.”

The media, we should keep in mind, are profit-seeking corporation. Money is more important than informing readers.

The month from hell

Yes, of course I’m talking about the improbable election of Donald Trump. Who isn’t? But I have more personal matters with which to attend.

On the day before the election I visited my doctor with complaints of persistent abdominal pains. As doctors do, mine wanted to rule out gall bladder disease. So he ordered an ultrasound. Good news. Nothing wrong with the gall bladder. However, the radiologist noted “spots” on my liver. Next up: a CT scan. Several days went by before I got the results. The doctor called me to schedule a visit for the next morning, and “you should bring your wife.” That last visit was the one we all dread. The tests revealed stage-four pancreatic cancer.

Before I had time to process this diagnosis, if I ever will, I wake up on  Sunday morning after Thanksgiving unable to remember my iPhone pass code. I then tried and failed to make sense out of the newspaper texts. When I tried to communicate with my wife, the mind saw the words, but my mouth could not articulate them. We better go to the hospital.

I was admitted. As it happens, I had suffered a stroke resulting in “expressive aphasia.” I spent the next few days and nights in the hospital. Oh, and by the way, you have diabetes, another consequence of the cancer.

I am now about a month into this, having to wrestle with new challenges. I have managed to keep my blood sugar levels in check, after some trial and error to figure out the right doses of insulin, which I administer twice a day. Pancreatic cancer, which is a particularly “aggressive” variety, continually announces itself with abdominal pain. The same pain that brought me to the doctor in the first place, although much worse these days. So I take medicines trying to stay ahead of the symptoms.

My oncologist gave me a few options, none of them good. Really, the best I can hope for is to “stabilize” the cancer to tack on a few months of my personal life span. That will mean “palliative chemotherapy” about once a week.

But we can’t start on the treatment until we can begin the blood thinners. And we can’t administer those until we have a clear CT brain scan following the stroke. My last one, yesterday, showed little residual effects of the clot. So, I will begin this morning to inject myself with a saline solution manufactured from a pig. One syringe in the morning; another in the evening. (Perhaps it is a ghoulish kind of blessing that I have accumulated an ample spare tire around my equator, giving me acres of mushy surface area for my daily injections of insulin and, now, pig fluid.)

To cover more bases, I have requested a “second opinion” from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. (Seattle is, after all, the center of cancer research.)  That opinion will not change the diagnosis. It may suggest an alternative treatment regimen.

I’ve had a good life. Nothing spectacular. I did not compromise my principles, such as they are. I have a wonderful family, with two beautiful grandchildren who are much too young to make sense out of what’s going on with their grandpa.

I will try to make the best of it in the weeks and months ahead. That will include, with your indulgence, offering my proverbial two cents on the world around us. I think it will help distract me from this ton of shit that was dumped on my personal doorstep.