25 May 2012
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Cashews and Rubber Bands

Newly precious Kirkland Cashews, perhaps among the last to make it out of Guinea-Bissau

I'm Cashew Rich!

Guinea-Bissau has a problem.  Guinea-Bissau is an African country, so I suppose "has a problem" doesn't need to be stated, but I repeat the name and mention Africa because, most likely, you've never heard of the country.  And even if you have, you probably didn't know that there's a good chance that Guinea-Bissau is where your cashews come from.

Well, used to come from.

DAKAR, Senegal—A military revolt in the tiny African nation of Guinea-Bissau is unsettling the market for prized cashew nuts.

Some of the world's tastiest cashews are rotting in roadside piles on rural byways leading to and from the capital of the wetland nation, where a recent military uprising has left farmers stranded with no way to ship their nuts to the Indian factories that steam the cashew out of its poisonous shell.

On April 13, soldiers kidnapped Prime Minister Carlos Gomes, Jr.—for the second time in two years—weeks before he was set to be elected president of Africa's fifth-biggest cashew grower...  The yearly April to June cashew harvest accounts for 98% of the country's export revenue and employs, according to the World Bank, nearly nine out of every 10 people, including children.

This article, the full version of which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 24 May, goes on to quote an EcobankPLC official to say "There is no constitution, there is no government, and there is no president."  And, it would seem, no cashews.  They can't leave the country by road as the military has decreed that they must use the port, or by sea, since the port hasn't been dredged since 1974, "and the mud is thickening to a viscosity that could beach container vessels." 

Articles about the stunning breadth of African government/military dysfunction have become so routine that they've almost lost their capacity to surprise.  Oh?  The prime minister was kidnapped?  What else is new?  And yet... Look at the photo above.  Three containers of cashews, providentially acquired before the impending shortage became newspaper fodder.  Mine, all mine!  I hope they give the prime minister back before they're all consumed.

Congratulations, Elon Musk

I mentioned almost six years ago that he has his own space program.  His space ship just docked with the International Space Station.  Good work, Elon & SpaceX!  My original blogitem was an exhortation to all the other billionaires to think like an Elon.  Perhaps a few more will take heed given such a spectacular example.

The Lure of Loyalty

I am a loyal customer of Staples, the office supply vendor.  My loyalty is occasioned largely by the ubiquity of their palaces of purveyance.  As does almost every large retail vendor nowadays, they have a rebate program, "Staples Rewards."  While I occasionally long for the distant past, whenin one could go into a store, buy something (often for a nickel), pay for it, and walk out, times have changed.  If one spends significant sums, he gets significant sums back after providing personal information.  Staples, for example, often gives away packages of batteries by offering their full price as a rebate in their rewards program.  Bypassing the process by offering to just take the batteries without the inconvenience to all parties of paying for them never seems to work, so I've played the game.

After a number of transactions, I was granted a sum of "money" from Staples.  But this money wasn't quite like currency, which slowly loses its value to inflation.  Rather, it was like concert tickets, which lose all their value after the concert is over.  If I didn't use them by a date certain, my loyalty reward would become worthless.  So, I stopped into a Staples store.  I looked around.  I asked the clerk "Do you have anything I need for $15"?  While the clerk was trying to read my mind, I had an inspiration.  I asked to be directed to the rubber band aisle.  (I never have enough rubber bands.  I suspect that you don't, either.)  After rooting around a bit, I emerged triumphantly with two bags, for a total price of $14.98.  I was willing to leave the $.02 on the table, but it got consumed in sales tax.  I felt fulfilled, my duty as a consumer lured by loyalty fully acquitted. 

As the days passed, I slowly forgot about this transaction.  My dreams of reveling in my rubber bands much as Scrooge McDuck does in his money bin faded, and I progressed with what we used to call "life."  But Staples added a fillip. 

An invitation from Staples:  Please review our Size 16 Rubber Bands!

Does Staples somehow know about my RIKL Reviews?  Are they petitioning me to perform a battery of scientific tests on individual rubber bands?  Temperature sensitivity?  Elasticity?  Durability?  Lot uniformity?  Energy recovery?  Flight duration in an ensemble?  Albedo?  Aroma?  I had a full pound of size 16 economy rubber bands, according to the heading of their email. (I don't recall if there were also deluxe rubber bands that I might have chosen.  Were they trying to subtly remind me of my lost opportunity for a tenuous sort of luxury?)  On reading further, where it was suggested that I might "help others just like" me, I decided it was none of the above.  Others "just like me" are as capable as I of selecting their own rubber bands.  They neither need my advice, nor would they seek out my review for a pre-purchase briefing.  In fact, if they were truly just like me, they would have already bought two pounds of rubber bands and have no further interest in the subject.  They would also have no more interest in being reminded of their purchase a month or two later than I had when Staples sent their email.

Staples, I decided, has a computer attached to their rewards program.  It is merciless yet imbecilic, attentive yet uncomprehending.  That is my RIKL Review of the "please write a review" portion of the Staples Rewards program.  As for the rubber bands, I think I have quant. suff.

The Beau Brummels




The Grateful Dead "Steal Your Face" album cover T-shirt.  If you have a copy of the actual album, check out the credits.

Grateful Dead "Steal Your Face" T-shirt
© 2012
Richard Factor

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