Friday, May 01, 2015

1480 Con-Cast

When Cablevision was our TV service company, we made the checks out to CableVermin or CabalVision. They cashed the checks and raised the rates every time you turned around.

When Comcast was our TV service company, we made the checks out to Con-Cast.  They cashed the checks and raised the rates every time you turned around.

Stop turning around?  Not a solution.  They assumed you were turning.

We switched to a satellite company which also is no bargain.  But it’s fun to form a betting pool on when service will return after thunderstorms or snowstorms.

Comcast recently has become the garbage disposal of corporations.  You put your garbage in the sink, flip a switch and your castoffs become a gelled substance that easily flushes away.

They are the biggest of the big cable companies. They’ve bought NBC which they are fast turning into compost.  And they wanted to buy Time Warner cable.

Con-cast is the largest cable TV operator in the country.  Time Warner is number two.  Had the acquisition gone through, a techie having a bad day in Philadelphia would have been able to black out TV service for 20% of the American population or 60-million people.

Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission says -- reluctantly -- no way. And thus ended the proposed acquisition.

Comcast is doing enough damage without becoming big enough to force you into total submission. Partial will have to do.

This “setback” is not going to change the way either of these companies does business.  Neither will stop using their customer service departments to pitch additional and often overpriced new “services.”

Neither will lower their rates.  Neither is likely to offer you a service menu where you can choose to pay for only those channels you’re apt to watch.

And neither will fail to feel the whiplashes of Netflix or Hulu.

They won’t meet the same horrible fate as the neighborhood video rental store.  But neither will they be able to burn money as an alternative heating fuel.

There’s a little schadenfreude in each of us, though. We can’t wait to see these giant pipeline companies humbled.  It’s not that we want to have their money or their already-near-monopoly power, we just don’t want them to have it.   

One of the smaller TV providers, FIOS, is considering at least sticking its toe in the water of viewer choice.  But even though FIOS is a part of the bloated Verizon Empire, it doesn’t have the clout to force the rest of the industry to follow.

And it’s hard to imagine a phone company that can’t bigfoot everything except Lockheed, ExxonMobil and the Pentagon.

Shrapnel:

--Readers of a normally reliable consumer magazine rated our local supermarket of choice first in the nation on all counts.  One thing they sell is irradiated beef, which they mark fairly clearly.  The half life is about ten years and the shelf life is 286 years... longer if frozen.

--What is this health faddist world coming to?  Pepsi is removing the sweetener Aspartame from its cola and Chipotle is stopping sales of GMO foods. So you can search and search and still not find a potato chip or a loaf of bread baked with lard.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

1479 Baltimore: Letter to a Young Old Friend

Across time, I’ve rarely found cause to disagree with your views, but today is different.  You’ve posted much on social media about the conditions in Baltimore, condemning racism and I salute you for that.  But please hear me out on rioting.

I’ve covered disturbances since the 1960s. I’ve seen the aftermaths and they are ugly.  Baltimore is no different from Harlem or Newark or Los Angeles.

When streets are washed in blood, then dried by fire, what is accomplished?  Usually it’s the very people and property of the afflicted who suffer the most.

You posted an article “Black People Riot for Justice, White People Riot for Pumpkins and Football.”  The white part can be true and stupid.  But we can write those riots off as the work of addled college kids with too much time, too much money and too few uncontaminated brain cells.

A “riot for justice” is not a riot for justice. It is a riot for rage.  And often -- nearly always -- the rage is justified. But not the destruction. What’s destroyed in hours and minutes takes decades to rebuild.  And the cost is not just money and property and lives.  It’s trust and a willingness to heal.

Yes, we have a race problem in this country. Part of it is learned, some of it may be tribal.  Part of it is because violence prone police don’t read the papers or the internet and learn from the mistakes of their counterparts or think they can get away with mistreating people.

Rioting has a non-physical component.  It’s a threat: “Do this or I’ll come for you and put you into the hell in which I live.”  Think about how you respond to threats.  You don’t cower in a corner or pack up and leave.  You say “Oh, yeah? Bring it on!”

Well, newsflash. That’s what many people do.  You mention the racist comments from the readers of the articles you posted.  What were you expecting?

Riots don’t change hearts and minds.  Sometimes, demonstrations do.  But not riots.

And look at this: when people who are wronged riot, they’re destroying the part of the city in which they live and work, not the part where the people with the power and will to make changes ever go. They ignored the area yesterday, they’ll stay out of it today. They’ll stay out of it tomorrow.

And as soon as the story is off the front page and out of the 6:30 news, they’ll forget what happened.  But not completely.

What they’ll remember summarizes thus: “I can’t trust ‘those people.’”  There’s that concept again.  Trust. Yes, it works both ways.  But the only side over which you have any control is your own.

Send an army of cops out to control an uncontrollable crowd and you build hatred.  Send an uncontrollable crowd to put the cops in their place?  Same thing.

I can understand that you’re looking for a fast fix. We all did.  But there IS no fast fix.  It’s a slow process.  And every thrown brick makes it slower.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Monday, April 27, 2015

1478 A Kiss from the Electric Company

Oh, goodie, it’s time for the monthly energy report from GougeElectric!  The envelope please.

Oh, goodie.  We get “below average.”  Big time. Almost as below as our “most economical” neighbors.  And down from “superuser” status of only a few months ago.

The lower the use figure, the better the grade.  Like golf.  Low score wins.

Time was, we were higher than the highest spendthrift users on our block.  You know the type:  they never turn the lights off.  Their electric stove is on for three meals a day.  They have an old washing machine and an industrial capacity clothes dryer into which they feed the weekly laundry of two adults, three teens and a newborn.

They hoarded 100 watt bulbs when you still could get them and they burn them by the dozen in 3,000 square feet of interior space.  They have sunlamps and soldering irons.  They have an electric grill on the deck.  They have a 150 gallon hot water heater that leaks.  They have central air conditioning that keeps their house at a steady 68 degrees all summer and electric heat that keeps the temperature at 78 degrees all winter.

We’re better than that.

We have a gas-fired furnace and a gas fired tankless water heater.  We are soooo eco-friendly.

The furnace came with the house.  But the water heater was an add on. It cost a couple of grand.  But we’re walking sandwich signs for Earth Day.  The add- on will start paying for itself in 2035 at which time the median age in the house will be 107.

And then there’s the gas bill.  Used to be pennies. Now it’s dollars.  Combine the two, and we still save a bit. Not anything that would buy us a Kia let alone a Lexus.

Okay, but our carbon footprint is so low!

And the electric company is swooning at our miserly use.

Another year or two and there will be so many of us Earth Day poster children that GougeElectric’s stockholders will start complaining about decreased earnings.  The company will ask for a 23 trillion dollar rate increase and settle for an average of 30 bucks a month from each of us.

Meantime, taxes will rise for the gas companies.  So the price of natural gas will go up and our net savings will be… um… negligible.

These sandwich signs are heavy.

Shrapnel:

--Speaking of things electrical, have you noticed that washing machines that are supposed to be able to tell time can’t?  With the exception of coin laundries, new machines say they’ll be done in an hour and then stay up all night.  Speculation: the washer and dryer are more than “just friends.”

--There also may be something going on between the stove and the microwave.  They’re always texting each other.  And they’re always on the phone at the same time.
And for the Formality Police: Fragment count: 6.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2015

Friday, April 24, 2015

1476 If it Ducks Like a Quack

Alas, poor Dr. Oz.  Some colleagues are trying to get him thrown off the faculty at Columbia University.  And the good doctor is ducking as the brickbats keep coming.

It’s not that he’s a bad teacher on those few days he gets around to teaching.  And it’s certainly not because he’s a bad doctor.  If we’re to believe the words of patients and peer reviewers, he may be one of the best cardiothoracic surgeons now practicing.

But there’s a little matter of his TV show.  Five hours a week he appears before the cameras dispensing advice to young and old, lean and fat.  “But,” he said in taking the witness stand and cross examining himself on his program a day ago, “it’s not a medical show.”

Oh?

This is where he gets in trouble with other professors who think he should be removed from the faculty.

In words kinder than these, they believe he’s dispensing quack remedies to the unwitting swarms of (mostly) middle aged women who consider his every word the last word on whatever is the program’s subject of the day.

He’s showy. He’s self promoting. He has the oozy charming personality and leading man good looks right out of movies like “Topkapi” or “Istanbul Beneath my Wings.”

Thing of it is, part of his bedside manner -- or tubeside manner -- is 1950s used car salesman.  The Columbians object.  Bad remedies, bad science they say. And a bad reflection on the school.

Academics, especially disheveled ones, always say that about the better looking and more successful. And this crew has ties to grants from places pushing Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs.

Oz wants foods with GMOs labeled.  But it’s easy to infer that he opposes them and wants you to, too.  Fair enough. There isn’t really enough evidence of their effects yet.  You should have a choice.

But the lotions and potions Oz promotes on TV often don’t have a whole lot of scientific heft either.

So is this academic politics and jealousy?  Or an effort to protect the public? Or both? Or neither.

In truth, Ozzy is stretched pretty thin.  Five hours of TV a week, probably recorded in two or three days, doesn’t leave him a lot of time for thinking, for surgery, for teaching or for running the various “public service” programs he is head of or nominal head of.

Oh, and in making personal appearances before congress… invitations that are tough to decline.

At one hearing, he admitted that he used “flowery language” about some weight loss stuff he was hawking.  He says he “passionately” studied them. Believes in them.  Passion?  Perhaps a dispassionate study would serve us all better.

When does he exercise his passionate studying?  On the limo ride to the studio?  Or perhaps during a moment’s pause while operating on someone’s heart or lungs?  Maybe on the shuttle from New York to Washington for more fun with congress?

So is he God’s gift to medicine, or is he a quack ducking?

(For more on this subject, please see Wessay 1437 from June, 2014.)

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

1476 Your Visit to Slovakia

Hope you enjoyed your trip.

While You Were Out:

-One of your Facebook friends enjoyed all those pictures you posted from Bratislava and then burglarized your house.

-The cat carved a road map on your $3,000 leather couch.

-Your mother left two dozen phone messages because she doesn’t use Facebook and didn’t know you were away, then called the cops to say you were missing.

-The police made a “wellness visit” to your house and discovered the burglary.

-They found drawers open and the contents scattered.

-They found a large rectangular outline over your fireplace where apparently a painting once hung.  Your mother said it was an authenticated William Larkin from 1610, while your insurance company says it was a forgery from 1938.

-Your Ming vase somehow got smashed and the fragments were on the living room floor.

-The burglars apparently took your computer but left the monitor and keyboard.

-There is evidence they tried to remove your piano but couldn’t get it out the side door.

-Someone used your chef’s knife to put a 12” slit in your Sleep Number Bed and most of the air has escaped… but you liked a hard number anyway, right?

-They also failed to find the cat which probably is hiding in the attic.

-Police discovered your car in the long term parking lot at JFK and broke open the trunk expecting to find your body.  Then they ticketed your car for an expired inspection.

-Your body wasn’t there so they assumed you were kidnapped and posted a national BOLO alert.

-Reports of sightings came pouring in from five states three of which you’ve never visited.

-Your neighbors say they last saw you two weeks ago and you looked fine.

-Except one who reported a strange smell coming from the back yard.

-CSU dug up the yard and found nothing suspicious.

-The owners of the house behind yours called animal control to remove the body of a dead skunk.

-Russia recalled all Tupolev aircraft for use in the war of Ukrainian Aggression, leaving you no immediate way to return to the US.

-You have realized there is a heating gas shortage in Slovakia and at the same time found that the Tourist’s Guide to Spoken Slovak does not have the phrase “Why did they turn the heat in my hotel off?” But you can show this to the desk clerk: Prečo má môj hotel otočil teplo off?

-I’m going to slip this note into a baggy and nail it to your front door, um, what’s left of it.

Shrapnel:

Pop corn pops. So does the weasel and a pimple. But “pop” has become the latest instance of financial and fashion word abuse.  Someone should pop the next guy who overuses it.

This is an “all new” Wessay, as are almost all of them. But what’s with “all new” on TV?  Are there somewhat new or partly new episodes of CSI Miami or Dateline?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Monday, April 20, 2015

1474 Getting to Know Carly

If you want a woman president just because “it’s about time,” but you hate Hillary, you’ll love Carly.

Carly “the destroyer” Fiorina turned two of the world’s most important tech companies into unintentional non- profits then ran for Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat in California and lost.  Her main asset?  Well, aside from wrecking a couple of major corporations, she doesn’t often bother to vote.  A real political scientist. Study the subject to death, but don’t DO anything.

We first came to know Fiorina when she was running Lucent, the successor to the fabled Bell Labs, founded by Alexander Graham Bell. Its scientists won eight Nobel Prizes, produced the first transistor and the optical router among other things.  Many other things.

On her watch, Lucent stock lost half its value and later was acquired by Alcatel for chump change.

Then, Fiorina fell up and was named CEO of Hewlett Packard.  Fortunately for him, co founder, David Packard was dead by that time. The other founder, Bill Hewlett, followed his friend to the grave a few years later.  We’re unsure whether there’s a connection. But he lived long enough to know that the masterstroke hiring of Fiorina was something he couldn’t live with.

(In the event that you think this is an anti-woman diatribe, note that the present head of HP, Meg Whitman, is doing a fine job… as she did at eBay.)

Fiorina is the anti- Hillary.  She says as Secretary of State Clinton accomplished nothing. Fine person to disparage non- accomplishment.

Fiorina is not running “on (my) sex.”  Oh?
Actually, she’s not running at all.  Yet.  But she did spend the weekend in New England, and it wasn’t because she’s a Barry Manilow fan.  She’s also visited Iowa, that bastion of political Me First excellence and its southern soul mate, South Carolina.

Figure she’ll declare this spring.  And figure she’ll be doing what she’s been doing in the campaign so far, bashing Clinton and not much else.  

She figures she’ll neutralize the lone woman angle if both she and Clinton are nominated. Please remove your blinders, ladies.

Voters in both parties deserve better than they have been offered so far.  On the Republican side: A couple of inexperienced unseasoned senators, two huckster governors, two huckster ex- governors.

On the Democratic side a former first lady nobody likes, an aging “independent” Senator with good ideas and no way to make any one of them real, a couple of present or former state officials of such low wattage they should be packaged as energy saving light bulbs.

Makes you long for the good old days of political giants like Walter Mondale, Ross Perot, Bob Dole, Ralph Nader, John Anderson and George Wallace.

But of Carly we can only say it wasn’t enough she killed two companies that didn’t need to die and now she wants to be President? In hockey, they call three goals by one player in one game a “hat trick.”  

Laurence Peter would be proud.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

1473 Are We There Yet?

Each report on air travel is worse than the one before.  If flying ever was worth the effort, it certainly hasn’t been lately.

Jimmy Carter’s deregulation did what deregulation always does, it turned order into chaos.  What was supposed to spur competition has all but eliminated it.

We locked the horse out of the barn after 9/11, and that’s more or less understandable.  But the way passengers are treated?  That’s neither understandable nor is it worth the sucker’s price you paid for your “seat.”

And speaking of airplane seats, you know where they get those new anorexia chairs? From companies that recall infant car seats because they’re too big or otherwise compromised.  Anyone wider than a fishing pole or taller than a yardstick gets to ride in the world’s greatest source of self inflicted physical discomfort.

You pay extra for:

--checked baggage.
--four extra inches of legroom (when available)
--WiFi (when available)
--Some form of taxation you never heard of (and usually don’t notice.)
--Some form of taxation you have heard of. (always available.)
--Peanuts.
--Food service consisting of microscopic leftovers from soup kitchens.
--Beverage service with its patented warm coke, warm orange juice, warm bottled water, milk on the edge of sour and booze they get the same place they get their food.

If you have a metal knee or hip, you’d better bring a notarized letter from your doctor on your way through the metal detector.  If you’re wearing a sari, a dashiki or hijab, you’re sure to be seated next to an undercover TSA cop.

If you live in flyover country, there are no nonstop flights to anywhere.  If you live in a major city, yours will be number seven in a line of eight flights awaiting assignment to a runway.

When, eventually, you reach your destination, your plane will be late. Your suitcase will be lost.  You’ll be hungry, tired, dehydrated and a carrier of whatever disease the coughing guy in the next row is spreading.

But it’s not just planes.  It’s also trains.  You’ll ask yourself “will we hit a freight train with 150 cars heading for a toxic waste dump or an oil storage farm?

Or “How late will we be?” Even if you leave on time.

And then there are buses:  you know, those large vehicles with drivers who can’t read maximum height signs on the bridges they try to cross under?  Who can turn a two hour road trip into a five hour road trip and still break the speed limit by half?

And a car isn’t always the best bet, either.  Even though every state is crying poverty, every highway has single lane traffic at a crawl through construction zones.  And bad lighting. And blind intersections. And blind curves.

The days of the great ocean liners is well past. Instead we have floating cities called cruise ships.  You take your chances of contracting some evil affliction, being banned from your toilet and one of the six Versailles-like dining rooms, or being pushed overboard in your wheelchair.

So the answer to “are we there yet?” is “only if we’re not going anywhere.”

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2015