Last week, high winds in the vicinity of the Suez Canal caused a huge ship (“as long as the Empire State Building is tall”) to turn sideways in the canal and jam it, blocking all other shipping traffic.
Thus reminding me at once how old I am. I was seven years old in 1956 when Egypt’s Prime Minister Gamal Abdel Nasser surprised the world by nationalizing the Suez Canal. It was very hard to figure out what was going on from just watching the nightly news. It was a bit like walking into the movie “The Return of the King” an hour and a half in having not read any of the books.
After a long while, I figured out that, while the canal had been of strategic military importance in the past, at that time what mattered was oil. Oil from the Middle East made its way through the canal by freighters to Europe. Nasser wanted to control the flow of oil.
Britain, France and Israel took exception to Nasser’s move and invaded Egypt in October 1956, which led to Egypt blocking the canal for about five months. Oil freighters had to all go around Africa the whole time.
Nowadays, the Suez Canal is still important as a route for oil, but, as you can gather from the fact that the ship blocking the canal was hauling a huge number of cargo containers, there’s a lot of other trade at stake. CNN reports that the canal handles 12% of all global trade and specifically mentions that there have been delays in shipments of exercise bikes and cheese. The kinds of cheese aren’t specified.
I’m pretty sure the ship blocking the canal is not going to be doing so for five months. Even if workers can’t free it up, if worse comes to worst, they can just dismantle it, right? How long could that take? Oh, I forgot it’s as long as the Empire State Building is tall. Well, I’m trying to be an optimist — really, I am.
I wonder how many armchair engineers are writing to the canal authorities in Egypt offering advice on how to free up the ship. “Hey, here’s what you do. I’m telling you this free of charge, but if it works and you want to send a few bucks my way out of gratitude, I wouldn’t sneeze at it. Unload the cargo. It’ll lighten the ship, and it will rise up and float off. Crisis over. You’re welcome.”
Speaking of shipments of goods, closer to home, Amazon has reportedly removed wage-earning warehouse workers and contractors from its company phone directory. This is a blatant dirty trick aimed at interfering with union organizing. Half a million warehouse employees are affected. Besides making it difficult for employees to communicate with each other, it also cuts ties with management, which could lead to slowdowns in service.
Last week, I went shopping in person at a Target store for the first time since March last year. I was surprised that the department I shopped at has now only one register instead of the three or four they had a year ago, and it reminded me how odd it is now for anyone to shop in person. Just by being there, I might as well have been wearing a big sign that read, “OLD MAN.”
It’s not that I have never ordered anything online. It’s not that I don’t know how. It’s that, if I think I know a store where I can go and get what I’m looking for, that’s all I ever think of doing. I’ve been that way ever since Sears and Roebucks stopped sending out its mail catalog.
But as I browse physical stores and see how few other shoppers there are around me compared to a year ago, I realize that I’m just about the only one who hasn’t been trained to switch to mostly online buying.
So, in particular, Amazon has got you all buying from them. What better time to mess with their warehouse workers and risk delays? Now you rely on Amazon as your source for everything, you can wait an extra week for shipping; right? You aren’t going anywhere.
It’s not like you have shopping to do.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more of the Mar. 31 - Apr. 6, 2021 issue.