Monday, November 24, 2014

1413 To Change a Light Bulb

How many lawmakers does it take to change a light bulb?  The answer: 329.

On Thursday, January 18, 2007, the House passed the Energy Act that eliminated the 100 watt bulb.  Two hundred sixty four yea votes.  About six months later, on Thursday, June 21st, the act drew 65 “yeas” in the Senate.

The Senate could have dragged things out a bit.  The final tally was announced at about 11:30 PM that day.  But Senators and Congress Creatures don’t “work” on Fridays.  That’s a day to return home to attend weekend ribbon cuttings, photo ops and other campaign events in their districts.

A smashing victory for bipartisan cooperation.

This law changed the light bulb.  And it changed us.

Beneath the flag of energy conservation and saving money, they threw us into dimness.

The effects of the law have just recently started to show their full effect.  Energy saving light bulbs do not work as well as what they’re replacing.

Sharp operators were out the door in the cold of January, ‘07.  They were stocking up on 100 watt bulbs.  Hoarding them.  Hiding them.  Selling them at prices Thomas Edison never dreamed of. Prices that even General Electric never dreamed of.

On a recent morning, we found almost 400 offers on eBay and about 100 more on Amazon.  You will find zero offers on the store shelves.

What you will find is a jumble of substitutes.  Or supposed substitutes.

Warm, bright, natural light…
Deciding on which is a terrible fright.

There are those corkscrew things that poison you if they break and you don’t call the hazmat team to clean up your mercury spill.

There are the LED bulbs that claim to match the old 100 watters.

There are incandescent bulbs of about 72 watts that make the same claim.

There are some you can dim, others you can’t and still others that do it by themselves.  The corkscrews lie when they say “instant on.” They achieve full brightness faster than earlier versions.  But they still fade up.  Slowly. Sometimes they barely light at all until they feel like it.  (Yes, light bulbs have feelings, too!)

And you have to learn a new skill: interpreting “lumens.” Lumen is a measure of emitted light.  A 100 watt bulb usually is rated at about 1500 lumens. It can be a bit more or a bit less depending on whether it’s warm or cool or something in between.

The 72 watt bulbs that scream “same light as a 100 watt bulb” usually throw off about 1000-1100 lumens.  So not only do they turn down the lights (for atmosphere?) but they should also turn down the scream.

A 1500 lumen LED -- light emitting diode -- bulb costs about $20 and that’s way below earlier prices.  But a 100 watt incandescent bulb (when you could get one) cost about a dollar.

It’s kind of hard to justify buying a light bulb for 20 bucks.  It feels funny.

“But, but, but … it lasts for twelve million years.”  No it doesn’t.  Read the fine print.  If there’s enough light and a magnifying glass handy.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

1412 Cosby

Even in his mega-star years there was one thing Bill Cosby never had to worry about.  He need never have feared he’d awaken, open his bedroom door and be overrun by a stampede of women eager to push him back onto the bed.

If true, all the dirt that has surfaced about him -- sometimes resurfaced --  makes you wonder what goes on in his head.

But a mega star he was.  Rich, famous and beloved.  Now, it turns out, rich, famous, beloved family man, Cliff Huxtable -- Dr. Huxtable -- was prescribing and dosing patients with more than “two aspirins and call me in the morning.”

Nothing like a couple of roofies to knock a doc off the pedestal.  If he actually did it.

If it was one woman one time and the case was settled and everyone is keeping silent, it still would be terrible. But it still would be one thing.  Now,  there are too many charges to just ignore.

Yes, innocent until proven guilty.  But.

Cosby is 77, and his career is still in high gear.  Or at least it was getting back there until recently.

Netflix was planning a comedy special for him.  NBC was developing a series.  Those have been scrapped.  TV Land has stopped showing reruns of “The Cosby Show.” He backed out of a booking on Letterman.  Circling the wagons.

What he didn’t back out of was an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon.  When Simon questioned him about the allegations, Cosby clammed up.

There was no comment, not even a throw away “no comment.”  Just silence.  Long silences are capital crimes in radio.  But Simon -- a decent and professional interviewer -- couldn’t even force a grunt out of Cosby, let alone an answer or defense.

The comment not heard around the world.

Back to that lack of a lineup outside the bedroom door:  If Bill Cosby felt he needed sex from a stranger, it couldn’t have been all that difficult to come by.  After all, star, rich, famous.

But to impose himself -- if that’s what he did -- on unconscious women in his hotel rooms or rental cottages is a career ender.  Maybe even if he didn’t.

Silent screen star Fatty Arbuckle was tried three times for rape and manslaughter after a woman died following a party he threw in 1921.

The first two juries hung.  The third acquitted.  Arbuckle was a pioneer comic, one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.  He coached Charlie Chaplin, discovered Bob Hope and Buster Keaton.  But after the acquittal, his star died.

Cosby is heading in the same direction no matter what happens in a courtroom or behind the locked doors of a settlement conference in the carpeted mahogany paneled office of a Hollywood lawyer.

And whatever he did or didn’t do, his actions now show contempt for his audience, the same audience who made him rich, famous and beloved.  In show business, no court ruling is necessary and no recovery is possible.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

1411 Reach for the Floor

Here it is, people, the self help advice that can get you ahead in today’s complicated, lopsided world.

They’ve told us all along “reach for the stars.”  Bah-Loney! Reach for the floor.

The only way to get by these days is to become filthy rich or to become filthy poor.  Since the former is out of the question for most of us, consider the latter.

The first thing to do is get rid of that job if you have one.  Get fired. Collect unemployment comp.  Since you’ll be jobless, you’ll have only one real asset to squander: time.

And that’s good.  You can sit in the waiting area at the emergency room all day, because what else are you going to do with your time, wash your BMW?  Presto: free medical care.  It just takes awhile.  They can’t turn you away.

Food stamps!  Not poor enough? Shed assets. Reach for the floor.  There’s nothing stopping you but your own fear.

Remember what Reagan taught us: Ketchup is a vegetable.

Remember what Napoleon Hill taught us:  If you can conceive and believe, you can achieve.  In this case, it doesn’t even take hard work and dedication.

Need help with your heating this winter?  If you’re working for Mickey D 15 hours a week, you’re not quite poor enough to qualify.  So ditch that unwanted job and get your fuel oil on the cheap.

Don’t work hard, work smart!  Drain that bank account.  Break that CD before deadline.  You’ll lose some interest.  But these days the only interest that’s paid is chump change. Certificates of deposit have become like savings accounts:  just take out what you need.  

(In a savings account, you not only withdraw at will, you can deposit.  But you won’t have anything to deposit, so that’s an irrelevant consequence.)

Reach for the floor.  Obey the law of gravity!  Things go down for a reason. Don’t try climbing up. It’s not worth the effort.
Think about it.  All this striving to get to wherever it is you got?  What has it really gotten you besides not being rich enough or poor enough to live decently?

At root, having others pay for your benefits is the most important characteristic the rich and the poor share.  

So forget this “reach for the stars” stuff.  Reach for the floor:  it’s right there for the taking.  It’s right under your feet.  It’s like … falling down.


--So the Democrats got together and managed to kill the Keystone Pipeline, at least for now.  Good work, boys and girls.  But it’ll be back, so what’s your “plan B and where were you when we needed you for really important stuff?

--And where were you when we first learned that killer airbags were our undeclared and uninvited passengers?  Now, they want a national recall. Fasten your seatbelts, and buy a helmet.

--Arms dealers in Ferguson, Missouri report a sales boomlet.  Everyone’s breath- holding,  awaiting a grand jury decision on whether to charge the cop who shot and killed the kid.  Talk about damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

1410 Johnny Chips in Gangland Amusement Park

(Moote Point NY) -- Johnny Chips from South Moote Pointe had a lot of Big Ideas, and none of them worked except one which really really worked and for a long time kept him so busy he didn’t have time to come up with anything new and failure- prone.

But today, Johnny’s going to Atlantic City to scout out the turf and see if maybe the one he had the other day can work, and make him even richer.

Of course, given the state of Atlantic City these days, Johnny may not get as far as he’d like, though you’d never know.

One of the Big Ideas that didn’t work was about Cholesterol.  He noticed that there were maybe five or six fast food joints on his street, all in a row, and every day the trucks from United Cholesterol and Cholesterol Partners and FatAmerica came along and delivered liquid cholesterol to each of the joints on the block. (Bet you didn’t know they added the stuff fresh to every bite!)

Johnny Chips figured he could centralize the operation, so he built a great big vat down the street, and strung a polyvinyl chloride pipe from one fast food joint to the next.  Then he offered all the places his pipe passed a discount if they would have their cholesterol piped in instead of trucked.

But there were a couple of things he didn’t count on.  First, everyone had contracts.  Second, the trucks were run by guys who carried .38s as part of their sales kits.

The worst of it was one morning when the polyvinyl chloride pipe sprung a leak all over Burger King’s newly- cut sod lawn, killed all the grass and spilled the cholesterol all over the place.  It was a terrible mess and Johnny was a long time cleaning it up.  Went through thousands of pounds of old newspapers and thousands of rolls of Quicker Picker Upper towels.

And he got really mad at the Home Depot guy who sold him the pipe and told him it would never leak.

So after it’s all cleaned up, Johnny brings the leaky part back to the guy at The Home Depot and says “Thought this stuff never leaked.”
And the Home Depot guy takes a look at the hole and says “This was made by a .38.”
The Next Big Idea was the one that worked.  Johnny rents a big empty lot in the neighborhood and he puts up an amusement park and he calls it “Gangland.”

The people come from all over to visit Gangland, where there’s free admission every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 3PM to closing.

You go to the Gangland Social Club, and that’s where you buy your tickets.  For five bucks, you get into a bumper car and try to elude the cops as you tool around the lot, passing stop signs, disobeying the speed limit, making left turns from right lanes, that sort of thing.

For ten, you get a stocking mask, a water pistol and the right to go stick up the fake 7-11.  That’s a popular one.  Everyone wants to stick up a 7-11.

Fifteen bucks gets you a marked deck at the Gangland Casino.  For $20 they bust you for prostitution or counterfeiting, your choice.

But the best one of all Murder Alley, where you can actually fake a murder, be brought to trial and get sentenced to the chair.  This one has a waiting list.

Gangland is so popular, and Johnny Chips gets so rich that he’s got to find another Big Idea, because he just can’t sit still.

So now he’s going to try to convince the gaming commission to let him set up the Big Board Casino in Atlantic City.

No regular games.  No roulette, no slots, no blackjack or craps or any of that stuff.  No. This joint will look like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, except no real stocks.  You buy into fake companies and sell them, and just like in the real world, they go up and down.  Sometimes it’s fixed, sometimes not.

Customer could walk away with a bundle, get the thrill of the trade and still not really lose his shirt.

The Gaming Commission and the Governor probably won’t like it.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

1409 Hunting With Scotus

The Justices of the US Supreme Court have cancelled their planned hunting trip.  It’s not that Scalia doesn’t want to be seen with Cheney in public again.  It’s not even that Thomas can’t get a hunting license without a photo i.d.  It’s just that they’ve had a better idea.

First some background. Last year, the justices decided there were too many people, especially wrong minded people.  People who, say, didn’t believe that money equals speech.  People who think Arizona went overboard with its proposition 100 which bars holding people here illegally without bail.  And people who are still whining about putting G.W. Bush in office in 2000.

So here’s what they did:  they ordered catalogs for themselves and their clerks and other staff members.  Eddie Bauer, LL Bean… you know… outdoorsy kinds of things.  Some got subscriptions to Guns & Ammo.

Some of justice Thomas’ staff approached him and asked why they were getting this mail. Justice Thomas said nothing.  So they did the next best thing, they went to justice Antonin “Tony Ducks” Scalia who informed them they’d be going hunting.  Thinning the population. Performing a great service for their country.  And they’d be joined by at least four and possibly five or six of the judges.

Justice Sotomayor declined. Because she’s relatively new, she said she didn’t have enough accumulated vacation time.  Justice Ginsburg declined and said her arthritis acts up in the cold and damp.  And with Tony Ducks on board there were bound to be accidents.

So the hunting trip is off, the subscriptions have been cancelled and the catalogs un-subscribed from.

But overpopulation remains a problem high on the court’s agenda.  So they figured out a new plan.

There is a grammatical oversight in the Affordable Care Act that could end some federal subsidies to the holders of health insurance.

“We can use that,” said one justice speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to announce a decision before it’s published, “to get more of those useless poor people dead and in pauper’s graves early.  They’ll stop burdening our health care systems. They’ll stop moaning about income inequality. And best of all, they won’t be able to vote.”

He continued:  “...those who can’t get that socialist insurance will be forced more deeply into poverty and have to spend so much time working their three part- time minimum wage jobs they won’t have the energy to pester us with their frivolous complaints.”

Another justice was unhappy with the pre-decision and even more unhappy that the Guns & Ammo subscription was cancelled.  “My nephews liked to read it when they came over to visit.  I try to encourage them to read.”


--Got another “free gift” offer.  No thanks.  Some of us would rather pay for stuff people want to give us.

--As newspapers are cutting back, the Boston Globe announced it would soon start printing a stand alone business section.  One more well- edited voice is welcome in an era when most get their financial news from radio flakes and wobbly- thinking websites.

--One radio voice that is not trying to sell you books, advice or get rich schemes is closing down.  The Wall Street Journal report, heard on many stations, will be shutting of the mic at the end of the year.  You can only think “yeah, right” when the Journal says radio no longer fits its core business.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

1408 Mayo is a Four Letter Word

Leave it to giant Unilever.   The Goliath- size food conglomerate is on the attack.  The David in this story is a company in San Francisco called Hampton Creek, which makes a vegan spread called “Just Mayo.”

Vegan means no animal anything.   Lever says ahah! False advertising!  Regulations say Mayonnaise must contain egg yolks.  Egg yolks are made by CHICKENS!

Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick says that’s why they don’t call their stuff mayonnaise, just “Just Mayo.”  Everyone knows what that means.  In fact, one major manufacturer, Kraft, calls its actual egg-containing mayonnaise “mayo” on the label.

Probably, Tetrick will be forced to call his sandwich spread something else.  And that is hitting him the wrong way.   

Butter substitutes aren’t allowed to call themselves butter.  So they’re called “buttery” or prominently display “Tastes like butter, half the calories” on their labels.

Artificially flavored chocolate calls its taste chocolatey.  

Mayonnaise -- the word -- is harder to fiddle with. Mayonnaisely?  Awkward.  Hard on the ears. Hard on the tongue. Too many letters for a label.

So what’s in “Just Mayo?”  Canola oil, water, lemon, a little vinegar, pea protein, beta carotene and dribs and drabs of other natural stuff. Plus there’s a version available with preservatives for those in search of the longer life it’s known to bring.  (Preservatives may preserve you as well as it preserves Wonder Bread.)

Backer Bill Gates and founder Tetrick probably would like you to scurry off to whole foods in hopes that you will pay sticker price.  But Wal-mart and Target carry it too, maybe for less… maybe not.

Unilever makes Hellmann’s.  Good stuff.  There are other big brands, too.  Do they really feel threatened by some little David?

The “get the other guy” brand of competition brings out the worst in us.  Competition is fine when you’re competing to be better or for the affection or loyalty of your customers -- or someone else’s.  But that’s not what we have here.   And in the real world, a bet on Goliath usually pays off.

Not always.  Early on, no one really expected Fox Television to become a big player.  Everyone expected Sony to win the videotape format wars.  At one point, Apple begged a loan from Microsoft, then much larger, just to stay in business.

But usually, bet on Goliath.

Tide outsells Wisk laundry detergent by the millions.  Procter and Gamble would unlikely be heartbroken if Sun Products went belly up.  But by all accounts, there’s no active effort underway.

Bloomberg would likely be happier if Reuters vanished from the face of the earth, but it’s not accusing it of false advertising.

And Microsoft probably regrets saving Apple, but isn’t taking the issue to court.

So let’s hear it for “Just Mayo.”  Even if they’re forced to call the stuff “the un-mayonnaise” or “tart white spread for your sandwich.”

Meantime, hold the mayo.


--Tip to mayor de Blastoff:  cut down those Fidel Castro- length speeches, Bill.  We were all happy to see Dr. Craig Spencer freed from Bellevue after serving 21 days as a suspected Ebola patient. But we didn’t need an hour long presentation about how great we all are, and he is and you are... plus they preempted “Maury” to carry your endless ramble.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

1407 Auto Bottom Feeders and the Naked Hitchhiker

Suggestion: Merge Fiat and Renault and make one gigantic, monopolistic global manufacturer of clunker cars.

Call it Reniat or Finault.  

This space predicted in 1999 that the “alliance” between Nissan and Renault would drag Nissan down and it has.  Everyone knew what to expect when Fiat bought Chrysler out of bankruptcy:  Your Dodge Dart would suddenly become a Fix It Again Tony special and it has.

“Shipping crap” as Lee Iacocca called it once was the territory dominated if not outright owned by the American manufacturers, although the Brits held a minority stake in bad and still do.

But Detroit’s once lofty position at the bottom of the heap has become a worldwide phenomenon.  In fact these days you’re probably in better shape with a Buick than an Infiniti.

America’s auto industry: Teacher to the World.  A triumph of bad build.

Granted every maker has benefitted from two outside sources as they race down the toilet.

First is the major supplier of air bags, Takata.  The bags can melt.  They can explode.  They can fail to deploy.  And almost everyone gets their bags from Takata.  Even the good guys like Honda and Toyota.

Second is the infotainment technology, developed by the same kind of brilliant minds that gave us things like Windows 8.  Most of these are more distracting than cell phones, CB radios and naked hitchhikers combined.  Not only are they distracting, but largely serve no useful purpose.

When your computer crashes, it’s a glitch. When your infotainment center crashes, it’s a real crash … or can be.

Back to Finault.

The Fiat 500 is generally at the bottom of the reliability ratings.  They’ve now infected the “all new” Chrysler 200 with the same bottom feeder ranking.  It’s like they sat around at the boardroom in Turin to answer the question “We’re pretty bad.  How can we make things worse?”

The Renault-Nissan arrangement is too complicated to unravel, with more moving parts and joint or overlapping and unbalanced percentages than can be untangled.

And this shows that even a supposedly great man can fall victim to the Peter Principle (managers rise to their level of incompetence.)

Carlos Ghosn (pronounced goan; rhymes with phone) is probably the best car guy still employed.  But he’s running the whole Renault Nissan show, flitting from France to Japan so often he may be the world champion Frequent Flyer.  And in his spare time, he’s also chairman of the Russian company AvtoVaz, which makes cars that pretty much look like Renaults instead of the 1929 Packard clones they made until 2008.

Over in Turin, is Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne, no slouch of a car guy either.  But Marchionne doesn’t have those frequent flyer miles.  And he’s running one company, unlike Ghosn who is running something more like the United Nations.

Sweden is down to one brand, Volvo, owned by a company in China.  It started its deterioration under ownership by Ford and continues down the same path today.

Germany has problems of its own. Look at some of the reliability figures for Daimler, Audi, Volkswagen and BMW.  Germans with quality and engineering problems?  

Look out, y’all.  GM is creeping ahead you.  And that company, back from the dead, is driven by (shudder) a girl!

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2014