Saturday, November 24, 2012

Too Sweet To Fail

Forget the fiscal cliff. Forget immigration reform. Forget sex scandals which compromise the CIA, closing loopholes in the tax code and Iranian centrifuges spinning their way to a nuclear weapon. All important stuff, to be sure, but we have a real crisis on our hands. When a company, and by extension an industry, is so compromised, so jeopardized, that its failure could cause a domino effect that could threaten our very way of life, the government must use its awesome power to step in and prop it up. Consider Bank of America and Wall Street, General Motors and Detroit. The precedent has been clearly established, and whether you like it or not, all signs point to the simple fact that it works. So tell me why, oh why, is that same government not going to act, and allow us to live in a world without Twinkies?

In case you had your head under a Snoball for the last week, Hostess Brands has thrown in the towel. After going into bankruptcy in January, the baker's union and management have continued their ongoing tussle to find an acceptable solution. Unfortunately, there was simply too much take and not enough give, and so the unthinkable happened. "We simply do not have the financial resources to survive an ongoing national strike," Hostess CEO Greg Rayburn said in a statement. And so effective last week it is shuttering its plants and liquidating the 82-year-old business.

In these tough times, the real human tragedy can't be overlooked. Rayburn, a restructuring professional who became the company's head after its former leader abruptly resigned earlier this year, said that the company will "promptly" lay off most of its 18,500 employees and focus on "selling its assets to the highest bidders," a process that he expects will take about a year. He blamed a host of factors, from years of mismanagement to a lack of capital investment to legacy labor costs for the demise of the company, founded in 1927 as Schulze Baking Company.

But let's be very clear here: we're talking about Twinkies! Devil Dogs! Ding Dongs! And how are we going to build strong and healthy bodies 12 ways without Wonder Bread, that always white, always pillow-soft home for a katrillion peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that making the same on whole wheat or seven-grain or oat and barley is like smearing paste on wallboard, with a similar taste and consistency.

And what's this going to mean for the rest? If we let Hostess go, what's going to happen to the others in our all-important national snack cake industry? If Ho Hos and Suzy Q's can't be saved, what are the prospects for Little Debbie Devil Cremes, or Entenmann's All Butter Pound Cake? My wife, when she goes to the store, will occasionally surprise me with a box of Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes, a treat I grew up on near Philadelphia, one for which I would gladly commit a low ranking felony. What about them, huh? I ask you: is a world in which there are no Butterscotch Krimpets a world worth inhabiting? I think not.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. Sure, today you can go to your local Stop&Shop and get a 10-pack of Twinkies for $4.29. But for how much longer? There will be only so many and then, no more. No “we expect a fresh delivery tomorrow morning.” According to Bloomberg, the smart recognize this: on EBay that same 10-pack was fetching $24.99 and four 10-packs are listed for $99.99. And the prices will only go up, you just watch.

And so I implore the government to step in. If necessary, purchase the license to the products and make them a ward of the state. No, I confess I don't relish the idea of some government bureaucrat meddling with the recipe, or subjecting the bakery to a low bidder contest, or having Food and Drug investigate exactly how it is that Drake's Cakes never go stale. But just as people were horrified when the Mitsubishi Estate Company of Japan bought Rockefeller Center, I am losing sleep that Bimbo, the giant Mexican baking conglomerate, might snap up some of Hostess' iconic brands at auction. Would a Yankee Doodle taste the same if made in Guadalajara? Are we willing to take that chance? I, for one, think we have to take action, if not for us, then for our children.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves junk food. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, November 17, 2012

There's an App for That??

If you have a smartphone, be it an "i" or an Android, you've probably come to rely on it for far more than you ever thought possible. Sure, you got it to make calls. But you also check your email, text your friends and surf the web. OK, OK, you also play a little Angry Birds when you have a moment. And you try and keep sharp via Words with Friends. And if you're killing time, perhaps a little Paper Toss. But that's it. It's really for staying in touch. Really. That, and Fruit Ninjas.

But odds are you have stretched the envelope even further. Besides popular programs like Facebook, Yelp and YouTube, there are many special apps that fill a particular need. Using myself as an example, not only do I access the obvious ones like the calculator, the notepad and the camera, but many more. There's Right Track that shows me the next train home. There's Tape-a-Talk, which enables me to quickly make a recording of an idea. And there's My Tracks, which keeps track of my runs, my walks and my bike rides.

I settled on those particular variations after trying similar apps in each category. And while it's true there are fewer possibles for my Android-based phone, it's not like the choices aren't adequate. Yes, iPhone users can choose from over 700,000 options. But those with my eco-system can select from a universe numbering north of 450,000. All in, that's well over a million programs available to smartphone users, a number that climbs by the hour.

However, like many things... actors, companies, items on McDonald's menu... a small percentage of the total attracts most of the attention. And that means there're a lot of apps that don't usually get noticed. In some cases, there's nothing wrong with them, and they might even be superior to the ones to which most people gravitate. In other examples they aren't very good, or they cost more than other alternatives. And then there are those that are, well, strange.

Take iVoodoo. These days if you want to slam someone you are likely to tweet something negative about them, or maybe post something snarky on your Facebook page. But with this app you can revive a lost art. It enables you to paste a pic of the offending party on a voodoo doll, and start sticking pins in it. Good news: the app supports up to five dolls at one time so you can work your magic on a variety of people. And it includes 7 different pins (Positive, Negative, Wealth, Power, Success, Love and Spirituality) to cover the full range of spells.

Or if Paper Toss is too intellectual for you, maybe you'll take a shine to Hold On. The opening screen is a big red button. Press it, a timer starts. And, well, that's it. The object is to see how long you can hold down the button. The best (or should that be worst) thing about it is that you can compete with your friends over Bluetooth.

Or how about Hello Cow. Fire it up, and you get a picture of a cow. Touch her, and she goes "Moo." That's it. Moo. Should you have a 2 year old on your back who won't leave you alone, this might come in handy. Otherwise, not.

Then there's the fact that many folks take the opportunity to check their phone when they are sitting on the can. One developer saw this as a unique community that was underserved. And so they created iPoo. There you can write or draw on the wall of a virtual stall, read random facts to keep you occupied ("The average human eats 8 spiders in their lifetime at night"), get stats on how many others are currently in your, er, situation, even earn points and badges as a Super Pooer. I wish I was kidding; I am not.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella hears a voice that tells him, "If you build it, he will come." App makers hope for the same thing. If they build it, they hope you will download. But there is a limit: if Shoeless Joe Jackson had walked out onto the field and found iPoo, I bet there's a pretty good chance he would have shaken his head, turned around and gone right back into the corn.


Marc Wollin of Bedford deletes apps almost as fast as he downloads them. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ending and Beginning

Even though I write this without knowing the outcome of the election, hopefully I speak the truth when I quote Gerald Ford: our long national nightmare is over.

If you are a strong partisan on either side, it's tempting to disagree and say it is either continuing or just starting. But for a large swath of people, myself included, regardless of your personal preference you are happy that the fisticuffs have finally come to a close, at least for this cycle. Or as one Japanese American answered when asked whom he favored in World War II, "You don't care who wins, you just want it to be over."

Now, lest you think otherwise, I'm not naive enough to think that it doesn't make a difference as to who wins. Of course it does, in areas almost too numerous to mention. Taxes. Women's rights. Health Care. Education. The economy. And that's just the stuff above the fold. There's farm policy, gun control, immigration and more. In most of those there are indeed real differences between the sides, differences which will result in policies that will have specific effects on life in these United States.

But (and here's the qualifier) running the country is different from running for the job of running the country. Mario Cuomo famously said you campaign in poetry, govern in prose. That's a polite spin on what we've seen. From both sides, the reality has been that you campaign in distortions, misrepresentations, fear, pandering, disavowal, cowardice and subterfuge. You can argue that your side is pure of heart, that left alone they would have taken the high road, that they were reduced to those approaches just to respond in kind, the "he did it first" defense favored by eight-year olds. And you might even have a point.

However, most of us grew to nine and some even beyond. We understand that the world isn't made up of us and them, that every issue isn't black and white, that even if we disagree with someone their point may have merit, and that they aren't the devil incarnate. We're not even talking simple bipartisanship, because that implies a very binary view. The fact is that there are far more than fifty shades of gray, and many of them are legal and even accepted in places other than just Nevada.

Yes, there are certain visceral issues where you might take a this or that stand. Beyond that, however, while you may not agree with something, you can find instances where it worked a certain way and others where it didn't.  For sure you can shade the results to bolster your position, but it's hard to say with absolute certainty that taxes should be higher or lower, health care should be private or public, access to guns should be severely restricted or readily accessible. For many years, compromise in these and other areas wasn't a sin, but the way to govern. We lurched one way or another, and if it worked, based on the view of the majority, we kept going; if not, we did a course correction.

Speaking as one individual, I don't believe that Obama is a Socialist, nor Romney a Fascist. I don't think Obama agrees with the Reverend Wright, nor that Romney thinks 47% of the country are leeches. I think each leans a certain way, but leans is the key: I think both will hew relatively close to the center, shading their actions to favor their point of view. And that's OK with me. I may not always agree with them, but I don't think they act with malice. And while I have my own preferences, if 50.000001% of my fellow citizens think that one can do better than the other, I owe it to them to let him try. That's the way the system is meant to work. And if it doesn't pan out, there's always next time.

So at least for now, can we holster the knives, and give the winner a chance? Turn off Fox News and MSNBC. Let whomever wins put their plans into action; they've earned the chance. If it works, good for all of us. If it doesn't, there will be an opportunity to choose a different course. But let's wait until Labor Day of 2016 to go through this nonsense again. We owe at least that much not to them, but to ourselves.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes Red and Blue people. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

Saturday, November 03, 2012

In Other News...

No matter who you listen to, no matter where you surf or what you watch, it’s impossible to escape the predictions or feelings of doom, of our lives being ruined. Through an almost unimaginable confluence of events, forces have merged to challenge the very nature of our existence. And if we don't take immediate action, there's no telling if not only we, but our children and our children's children, will ever be able to claw our way back from the dark ages into which we might be thrust.

Now, depending on who you believe, whether you were affected by the storm or feel bad for those folks over there, the name of that force is either Sandy, Barack or Mitt. But while all that is going on, hard as it is to believe, life continues to muddle forward off the front pages. And so, as a public service to those of you who have tired of hearing about how your little piece of heaven will be ruined by the most destructive force imaginable, be it Democratic, Republican or Natural, here are a few other stories from around the country that might have made the grade at other times, but are most decidedly flying below the radar this week.

Nebraska Third Grader Dresses "In Character" Every Day For School. In Omaha, 8-year-old Stella Ehrhart starts every day by looking in her closet and thinking about who she's going to be. According to her mother, it's not about "dressing in costume," but "dressing in character." As described by in the article, "All it takes is a black dress and a red-tissue paper flower in her hair and she's jazz singer Billie Holiday. Or, she's Jane Goodall with a flannel shirt and stuffed chimp tucked under her arm. With a khaki shirt emblazoned with a police badge she's her Aunt Pam, a police officer." And what's her plan for Halloween? "I'm not sure yet," Stella said. "I haven't really thought about it yet as a special day, so probably whatever I had planned."

Traverse City, MI Listed as the 6th Best City for Book Lovers. According to the website, TC was named partly because it has three bookstores, "including downtown's large Horizon Books, which includes the Rise and Shine Cafe." It joins other accolades the town has collected, included being listed as having America's best ice cream in Moomer's, one of America's best foodie towns as picked by Bon Appetit magazine and the 2011 Good Morning America viewer poll recognition of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as one of most beautiful places in America.

Local Girl Scout earns Gold Award. Krisha Desai of New Territory, TX (Rainbow Stars Service Unit-Troop 721) got the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn, symbolizing outstanding accomplishments in the areas of leadership, community service and advocacy. Her signature project was a Healthy Living Clinic for Refugees in conjunction with the Refugee Week Health Fair held by her church. It's quite an accomplishment: only 5.4% of Girl Scouts nationally complete the award.

Residents Object to Site Picked for Animal Shelter. According to the Macon, GA Telegraph, neighbors living near a site chosen for Bibb County's new animal shelter are voicing strong opposition. At an evening hearing, they raised concerns from noise to unpleasant odors, all of which might lead to reduced property values. According to Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, the chairman of the site selection committee, a number of sites were considered but disqualified because of cost and environmental concerns. The center is expected to handle 3,600 to 4,000 animals each year.

Lame Duck Taos County Commissioner pockets $550 for Jail Training. It turns out that while Taos County NM Commissioner Nicklos Jaramillo's term is up at the end of the year, he recently spent five days attending a training class designed for jail employees, collecting $554 in per diem and travel expenses for the trip (that's $85 per day, plus $129 for driving to and from Albuquerque). While there's no question of legality, since he's only in office for another few months, the question is whether or not it was a good use of funds. But County Attorney Barbara Martínez said that "The commissioners don't ask for the county manager's approval on travel expenses," so nothing was technically illegal.

And there's more: did you know that there was a 3.9 magnitude earthquake in Arkansas on Monday? It was centered just southwest of Parkin in Cross County and happened around 7:39 a.m. local time. Thankfully there was no damage, just some alarms set off. Even so. Move over Sandy, sit down Mitt and stand aside Barack:  the world continues to turn.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is tired of hearing about politics and storms. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at