Free Market System

As I was opening a box of bobo cereal this morning, I found myself waxing philosophical. “Bobo” is the term that Robin and I have borrowed from Amy and Neil for those products in the grocery store that are less expensive clones of a brand name. You know … Kroger Crispy Rice instead of Kellogg Rice Krispies, for instance. Often what is in the box is just as tasty as in the more expensive package, but that’s where the comparisons stop. At the package level, that is.

We have noticed that getting at the product is sometimes more awkward and difficult in the case of the clone than the brand name. The tear-strips don’t work, the re-sealing feature is impossible, the inner package tears from top to bottom spilling the contents all over the place, etc. It’s as if the manufacturer regretted putting out the cheaper stuff and so made getting at it the very essence of hell. “We’ll allow you to purchase this food, but while you may have paid less money at the checkout counter, you will now pay abundantly in coins of frustration and annoyance.”


So I called up the head of marketing at the company manufacturing the clone in question, and this is how that went:

Hi There, this is Bob Glitterpants, how can I help you?

Hi There yourself, my name is Jon, and I have some questions for you.

Well, ask away, we are always ecstatic to get feedback from our customer base.

Okay, here’s the first one. Is “Super Flakes” the exact same thing as Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, but sold under a different name?

I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?


Jon, that information is classified. We can’t talk about company marketing practices. I am so sorry. What is your next question?

Let’s say that the two are the same, just for the sake of argument. Why is the package so damned difficult to open properly in the case of the clone?

I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?

I’ve now told you twice – it is Jon

Of course. I must tell you that we absolutely deny that our package is inappropriately difficult to open. It was created by our design department to reflect long-held company values of service to the purchaser. But, as you say, for the sake of argument, if it were more difficult, wouldn’t that be okay somehow?

What do you mean?

Wouldn’t is be immoral to give the bobo customer the exact same food and container as those who buy the premium version? Those who select the brand name should get a little something extra for their money, don’t you think?

Well, perhaps.

And where else could a company make that difference appear? After all, in this case there are only two things involved – the flakes and the box. So might a hypothetical company be perfectly reasonable in making a devilish box that required tools to get into to make those cheap b*****ds suffer just a bit? They still get the food for less money.

I don’t know …

I’m sure that if you think deeply about it, you will come to the same conclusion that this hypothetical company would. Do you have any more questions?

How do I get this particular box open, could you tell me that?

Do you have a pruning shears or an axe handy, Jon?


From The New Yorker


I’m going to say something about the elites here. Elite what, you ask? Well, those who are mentioned almost daily in the news, and who are scolded from every speaking platform that any populist worth their salt ever stood on. The elites are therein denounced as responsible for everything bad that ever happened going back to well before language was developed. When we still had visible tails and all.

Even thought the definition of elite is a little nebulous, we all know who they are, don’t we? Of course we do. That’s because we each make up our own definition in our heads whenever the subject comes up. So I can rail against them as the authors of everything I dislike about modern life, and you can nod your head vigorously as I vent my spleen and cover everything within ten feet of me with spittle. Afterward you and I can take up our war clubs and go off together to break something. It doesn’t matter so much what we break … if it looks nice or shiny or expensive, it probably belongs to an elite person and can be broken without guilt or remorse.

My own definition of elite goes like this: those persons who are more wealthy, attractive, humorous, better dressed, smarter, wiser, or more articulate than I am. Oh, I almost forgot the kicker. My definition also includes the deep desire on my part to eventually become part of one or all of those groups. Hypocrisy, you say? Careful … that’s just the sort of word than the elites would use.


A Dick Guindon cartoon


Here at the beginning of the non-bicycling season I found myself planning for the upcoming year. I went so far as to actually get up and go out to our cold and drafty garage to retrieve the batteries from our cycles and bring them in for charging. There are hardier souls than I who are still riding theirs but good on them, for me it’s all about the wind chill. Take a nice thirty-degree day and then go off pedaling at 20 mph … you’re into some shivery territory there.

I did have an experience with hypothermia that stuck in my mind. Once when living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan I decided to attend a conference in Marquette MI, about an hour and a half drive from my home. It was beautiful fall weather, the daytime temps were in the low 60s and I decided to take my motorcycle as transportation. Off I went and ninety minutes later I got off my bike in the motel parking lot and noticed that I was even stiffer and more uncoordinated than was my usual state.

I strode up to the desk in the motel and in response to the clerk’s cheery “Hi, welcome to the Country Inn, can I help you?” I said: “Bwetouhhbafbnkjg.”

I could not speak. The muscles that were needed to form words were not working. I had to push my ID across the desk and respond to further questions with nods or pointing. Puzzled, I took the key and went to my room and that was when the shivering began. Not your garden variety “Is it drafty in here or is it just me?” sort of shivering, but a very uncomfortable core-deep shaking that could not be stopped. Any sort of movements were awkward, but I managed to get into a swimsuit and dunk myself into the warm water of the motel pool. It took the better part of the next hour before I was warmed and back to normal.

Of course I recognized what had happened to me, but what was instructive was that I was never sensed it while riding, even though I had reached a point where I shouldn’t have been operating that vehicle at all. If anything urgent had come up on the highway I would not have been able to react quickly enough to avoid an accident.

Now, none of this has anything to do with riding a bicycle two miles to the store and back on a sunny December day. It’s just part of my excuse to take the car. Don’t want to get the shivering started again, you know. Nasty business, that.


Each winter gives me the opportunity to reflect upon the choices that I have in garments. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I have a fondness for the traditional in colder weather gear, a fact that I may have mentioned before somewhere. For most of my life wools and flannels were the way to deal with the cold, and despite their deficiencies they worked pretty well. My body welcomed their weight because I knew that it was part of the deal. Heavy meant warm.

The exception to this was down clothing, which was lightweight and we all acknowledged its superiority, while accepting the unfortunate tendency of those tiny feathers to turn into a useless lump the size of your thumb if they ever got wet. When the synthetic fleece barrage began it seemed that we were finally into an era of perfection. Warm even when wet, nearly indestructible, capable of being laundered at home … what was not to like?

But I still have several chamois shirts, a couple of Pendletons, and a loden wool parka that weighs about forty pounds and would probably crush a lesser man. On the first really unpleasant day of each year I put it on just like a medieval knight would don his heavy armor.

Out the door I go, confident that those lovely itchy scratchy fibers will protect me at least as well as they did the sheep they came from.


About the header photograph. I took this on an idyllic vacation with Robin. At the time, the ranch was no longer a working one, but the original buildings and bunkhouses were where you threw your gear if you wanted to stay and do some amazing Nordic skiing. While we were there we were daily visited by the most beautiful gentle and heavy snowfalls you can imagine, and at night we read books in our tiny cabin still smelling of leather worn and used by cowboys long gone.

Don’t go looking for it now, however. A few years ago some developers gentrified it beyond belief, bulldozing away every structure visible in the photograph and all others present on the ranch as well. It is now just one more shiny, soulless playground for people who already have enough of them.

I suspect that when it snows, however, the magic might still be there if you can get far enough away from the gigantic lodge (in the pic above) that you can’t see the damned thing. Nature goes about her business not caring what crimes we humans commit here on earth.

(And yes, this is a rant certified by the Complete Waste of Time Ranting Services of America)


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