Wednesday, December 30, 2009

644 Profiling

644 Profiling

The guy on the plane to Detroit, the guy with the flaming underwear, has sparked anew a debate about profiling. The right wing is aghast that we don't. The left wing hasn't said much which is a leading indicator of ambivalence.

Here's a summary of what one radio talker said: We miss opportunities for safety when we fail to profile. He asks if you've ever seen a TV cop show about a serial killer. And he points out that while there are "eight million stories in the naked city," police don't haul in all eight million of them and question each one in succession. He says they gather the similarities in the crimes, the scenes, the circumstances and the backgrounds of the killer or victim and then pull in people they think fits -- um -- the profile.

Racial profiling in this country started when cops began stopping large numbers of Hispanic men, presuming they were illegals and/or had drugs under the back seat of the car. At about the same time, any black male driving a car worth more than, say, $40,000 was more likely to be stopped than a white guy with the same car. The cops were wrong an awful lot. And a lot of them got reprimanded or even demoted and rightly so. Thus grew the charge "driving while black."

So far, the profile of people who blow up buildings in the US, or fly airplanes into office towers killing thousands or wear shoe bombs or exploding underpants have been Muslim radicals. Does a Nigerian Muslim, like the underwear guy, look different from one who's native to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else in the middle east. Yes. So skin color ain't the way to go. Do we ask people questions like "excuse me, Mr. Muhammad, are you a Muslim?" Unseemly.

The airline that is probably in the dreams of every terrorist on the planet is El Al, and they've never had an incident. Why? One of the reasons is profiling. And they've been doing it for decades. Should America's carriers follow? There are reasons to do so. There also are reasons to not. El Al is a fairly small operation, with flights to and from 48 cities worldwide. It takes forever to get through the checking. Here, that would be chaos. Nothing would ever get off the ground.

As for the political correctness angle: open to debate.


Shrapnel:

--It will be interesting to see what happens to Janet Napolitano. It looks like she could become the Obama administration's Michael Brown, though "Brownie's" Katrina sins were tangible and Janet's were those of omission. Good Job, both of you, now go home.

--The Museum of Incompetence probably has more exhibits than we know of. There are the two above. But how many people who deserve spots there do we NOT know about?

--There are a lot of predictions of a down stock market in 2010, including this space. Let's hope we're wrong. But don't be shocked if the presently booming Dow drops a few thousand points by mid year.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

643 Studio 8H

643 Studio 8H

Studio 8 H is accessible only from the 9th floor of the GE building, formerly the RCA building. If you push the button to stop the elevator at "8," you still get to the ninth floor. The most famous event that takes place there is the broadcast of "Saturday Night Live," which is the second most important event to take place in that room. The MOST important happened before most of us were born. That's where the NBC Symphony used offer its weekly stuff. It's where Arturo Toscanini was king.

When you view SNL, you see what looks like a huge hall, with balconies for the audience and a few select seats on a ground floor. This is misleading. It's really small. Most TV studios are way tinier than you think. Fortunately, in the days of Arturo, no one noticed. There was no television and radio could create any nonsense it wanted.

Today's groupies think of 8H as the center of the universe. It isn't. But it was, in a way.

The early folk at NBC thought 8H had lousy acoustics. It does. In the radio days, no one paid much mind to that. Except the NBC audiophiles who didn't want to record the orchestra there, preferred Carnegie Hall and accepted a middling compromise in Manhattan's West 40s. Arturo didn't care. He was, after all, Arturo.

So a lot of this band's prime stuff was recorded in the RCA Victor studios. The records were crap. But the weekly radio shows came from either 8H or Carnegie Hall.

Toscanini had a suite of offices on the 11th floor of the RCA Building. He had two -- yes, two -- private elevators that got him there from the lobby. The shafts remain to this day. But the elevators are gone. They are sealed behind plaster board right near the elevator that brings you to 8H.

What would Toscanini think of today's NBC? Impossible to tell. Would he like what goes on in 8H these days? Impossible to tell. But the betting is he'd be fine with it. Toscanini was nothing if not practical.



Shrapnel:

--The standard note that defines modern music is "A440." That's 440 cycles per second. Older stuff used other frequencies and that's why the "early instrument" recordings don't sound exactly like you expect them, if you have perfect pitch, but work out fine if you don't -- and most of us don't.


--There have been far too many RIPs in this space lately, but, unfortunately, here's another. This time it's Percy Sutton, 89, political powerhouse, a guy who should have been mayor, a guy who understood broadcasting, a pioneer in African American radio, civil rights and Malcolm X's lawyer, son of a slave, brilliant, gentle, up from the bottom former postal clerk, war hero. Oh, and a good friend and confidante for decades, even though the political rival of another good friend and confidante, Ed Koch.

--First it was a fake Nigerian prince looking for our bank account numbers. Now, it's two Nigerians trying to cause trouble on flights from Lagos to Amsterdam to Detroit. You have to wonder about anyone from anywhere who actually WANTS to go to Michigan.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009




Friday, December 25, 2009

462 Poor Bernie

642 Poor Bernie

The question most often asked among prison fans these days is this: Did someone beat the crap out of Bernie Madoff? Probably, yes.

We know these things: Prison authorities never level with us. Lawyers for prison inmates never level with us, especially so with high profile cases. This leaves us with a quandary or maybe several.

We also know THESE things: The hospital at Butner NC is considered low security. It's pretty well known in the federal system for its cancer ward. One of the few things the prison WILL say about Bernie is that he doesn't have cancer. The Butner hospital is also known for its mental services, and it's kept pretty busy.

Now, is Bernie nuts? Technically nuts, that is. Or did someone bust him in the ribs and the face? And if so, are there some disgruntled Ponzi victims both in Bernie's jail and in his cell block? Did some corrections officer or inmate or combination of both decide a simple 150 year jail sentence was not nearly punishment enough for the damage Madoff has done?

A North Carolina TV station says Bernie was admitted to Duke University Hospital earlier this month (12/09.) That's where the busted face story emerged. Duke's in Durham about 15 miles from the prison, so not much of an ambulance hop.

Then, there's the hypertension story, reported both by Bloomberg News and the Associated Press. Hypertension and dizziness. Most news sources are going with that. In fact, the BBC reports that the attack and assault story is a fake. Probably the AP story is accepted because it's the "official" word. And we newsies love "official," even though as often as not it's baloney that wouldn't withstand an FDA inspection.

Bernie is 71, a few months from being 72. There is, of course, no way he'll out live his sentence. Could be that he's looking for early release. Maybe cut the time down to, oh, 75 years.

There are those who think the jail sentence shouldn't have been meted out at all. They want to see this scenario.

March him up to the altar where they ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Then, let him ring the opening bell. Then, escort him outside the building and abandon him at the corner of Wall and Broad.

The free market will thus correct itself.



Shrapnel:

-- It's Christmas 2009 and you can tell because every radio station is playing wall to wall Christmas music, to the point you hate the name "Rudolph." Nevertheless, a merry one to you. And a usury free New Year.

--We get a second consecutive weekend of lousy weather. But there IS an upside. It makes the excuse they give you when your plane is late or grounded something close to legitimate.

--RIP George Michael. He was a top notch top 40 disc jockey. And later, he was an even topper notch sports broadcaster.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

641 Public Radio Commercials

641 Public Radio Commercials

If you listen to public radio, you hear an awful lot of commercials for foundations. And many of these foundations are not supporting much. The foundation is left. The building is gone.

First, let's clear up something in the first sentence with which you may disagree. You might say "There are no commercials on public radio, just announcements of who contributed the money for the particular program." And you'd be wrong. The networks and the individual stations often have full scale sales departments, with people who go out to businesses and foundations and sell time. Except they don't call it the sales department. They call it development. Development is academy speak for begging and selling.

Now, as for those foundations. Notice that many of them were started by or for people whose companies were sunk. Take the "William T. Grant Foundation," a frequent contributor to NPR. W.T. Grant was kind of an upscale Woolworth's with delusions of Wal-Mart. It went belly up in 1976, and was at the time, one of the biggest bankruptcies in US history. The foundation, started the same year as the first Grant store, 1906, goes on. It has money. The former stockholders have, well, souvenir stock certificates. The foundations investors did better than investors in the business. There's nothing wrong with the remaining foundation, and nothing unusual about a foundation outliving its founders. But it just seems kind of funny to see in the imagination a Grant store with a huge "CLOSED" sign in the window, while the surviving entity has a spiffy website and offers some decent opportunities.

Then, there's the John S. and James L. Knight foundation. The Knights had lost control of their newspaper empire long before the company was sold to McClatchy in 2006. Which is what often happens when institutional investors are "guiding" (some might say manipulating) a business about which they know nothing. To the foundation's credit, there is only one Knight left on its board of trustees. And she probably knows her stuff, as most in that family did -- or at least seemed to.

Knight also is a big sponsor on NPR.


This posting was made possible by a grant from the Wessays Foundation, bringing nonsense into homes since um.. well, for a few years now, anyway. On the web at wessays.blogspot.com



Shrapnel:

--Rudy "For Life" Giuliani won't run for senate and won't run for governor. With friends like Kerick, he should run for cover. Plus he doesn't want the pay cut.

--Mike "For Life" Bloomberg gets the "Golden Mic Award" from the Broadcasters foundation of America. He owns lots of media, most of it electronic. But "broadcaster" Mike would never go near a microphone he owned despite the entreaties of dozens of his employees for more than a dozen years.

--Speaking of guys who run around on their wives, Tiger Woods is getting offers from every TV talk show under the sun, and probably will reject them all for the time being. So who eventually gets the guy? Not NBC's Today, which interviewed some of his conquests and the betting is on Saturday Night Live, Oprah or ESPN.



I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

640 Charge!

640 Charge!

The charger always outlives the chargee. You know you have a drawer full of them. We all do. Ten, 15 years of cell phones, palm pilots, laptop computers, electric shavers, cordless screwdrivers, cordless drills, cordless floor sweepers, cordless hand vacs, wireless home phones, cordless carving knives, portable clocks,iPods, Walkmans, portable guitar amps, GPS systems, Tasers and who knows what-all else.

Everything that can be recharged comes with its own charger. And no two are alike. The voltage of these things varies by teeny tiny amounts. But every plug is different. And each comes with a stern warning in the style of "DO NOT USE ANY BUT THE SUPPLIED CHARGER OR YOU WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY AND DAMAGE YOUR DEVICE."

They can fix an election, a race, a game, a commodity price, but they can't fix a voltage or a plug and socket?

Why don't the guys from, say, Motorola and Samsung play a round of golf together and over cocktails at the 19th hole find a way to make all their telephones work on the same voltage and require the same plugs.

An equally important question: why do many of us keep all these stupid charging things when we know there's no other device on earth that can use them? The device may wear out, but the charger never does. And who can throw out a perfectly good (and often expensive) piece of equipment that is good as new?

Here's a widely known fact that should be a universally known fact: When you get a new cell phone, your number is transferred to it and you cannot make most calls on the older one anymore. Note, most, not all calls. A "dead" cell phone still can reach 911, even if there's no phone number associated with it. So you can donate the phone and someone who might need to contact emergency services can still use it -- and at no cost. Calls to 911 are airtime free.

You not only do some good, but you get rid of an unneeded charger in the process. That's gotta be worth something to you.

That doesn't help with the palm pilots, laptop computers, electric shavers, portable guitar amps, GPS systems, Tasersn and who knows what-all else. But it's a start.


Shrapnel:

--This past weekend, there was a terrible snowstorm hit the east coast. It dumped two feet of snow on places like New York, Long Island and New Jersey. And coming on the last Saturday before Christmas, it struck a blow to the poor retailers still trying to make ends meet in the face of the Bush depression.

--The man who really put broadcasting consultants on the map, Frank Magid, has not fully vanished as many in the news business had hoped and believed. Quite the contrary, Mr. Happy Talk/Dumb It Down not only thrives, but has expanded his "services" to include theinternet and mobile communication devices. How did we ever get along without this guy and his minions?

--A number of people have inquired about the impending publication of WestraDamus' retrodictions for 2009. Rest easy, troops. They will be here either 1/1/2010 or 1/4/2010 depending upon how deeply in the bag the Non Prophet gets on 1/31/2009.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009


Friday, December 18, 2009

639 Socialize THIS!

639 Socialize THIS!

Everything in politics centers on the next election. No one in Gov Biz cares about anything but job security. Do you think Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) gives a fig about abortion? Who knows. Maybe he does. But maybe he's just posturing for the voters. Nelson holds up the health care reform bill because it "might" direct federal money to the evil, satanic, baby-killing left wing extremist Marxist communist "minority" that populates the big cities of America, doomsday atheists that they be. This is a re-election ploy.

Get this guy a couple of Coors Lights and you might find out that his anti-abortion stance is nothing more than posturing for the folks back home. Who knows. It doesn't matter. Ben and everyone else in the Senate is interested in only one thing: job security. Go pander to the crowd. After all, Nebraska's unwed mothers have no power and besides, they don't vote. And neither do the women who have had abortions or think they might some day.

But Ben's not a bad guy. He's doing what comes naturally. Sucking up for votes. He's a puppet of the far right, despite his membership in the Democratic Party. Benny's hanging on by his talons. He won the nomination for governor in his state in 1990 by only two votes. That's the kind of thing a vote whore remembers even when he gets popular.

Then, there's Howard Dean, a world class nut job. But even a world class nut job can be right. Dean wants the whole senate health care bill scrapped. Back to the drawing board. And he's right. The crap they're considering these days means absolutely nothing. By the time both legislative houses finish with health care, there will be nothing left for anyone.

What we need is a "single payer" health plan. This is heresy. But it also is THE American solution to THE American problem. Are patients of what the right wing calls "socialized medicine" suffering in Europe and Canada? Are doctors there starving? No and no.

Will they starve here? No.

The younger docs are still paying off college and med school debt. If we can help Citi and Wells-Fargo, we can help them, too.

It would be a crime not to. And it would be a crime not to provide our most productive citizens the care they need and deserve.



Shrapnel:


--The lawyer for one of the mattress companies cited in Wessay 637 as a possible new endorser for Tiger has been in touch. Fortunately, he's an acquaintance, so no worries about lawsuits for dragging their name through the woods. Just a friendly warning... but no thanks for the free publicity.

--Citi is giving its deadbeats a holiday present. No Scroogy foreclosures for 30 days. So, who put the deadbeats in the deadbeat position in the first place?

--How is it the Blackberry communication system conks out so often? You'd think by now they could upgrade things without sending consumers wanting to consume the gizmo in flames. If you crush a blackberry, you get juice and pulp but if you crush a Blackberry, you may get electrocuted.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

638 Athlete of the Decade

638 Athlete of the Decade

You have to think there are two Tiger Woodses. The Good Tiger and the Bad Tiger.

The Good Tiger just got a splendid, if meaningless award from the sports writers who serve and who are served by the Associated Press. He is "Athlete of the Decade." The Bad Tiger probably is due for the same award in a different sport. But there probably is no voting for that one.

There's no question Woods is the greatest golfer of our time, and close to the greatest of all time. His stats on the course are incomparable, his performance filled with grace, good humor, and big bucks. Some say he yells at the on-course entourage when in his way. But any golf pro and most amateurs do that, too. Not yelling at a guy whose shadow is in your path getting out of a sand trap is like an NFL tackle not tackling someone. It's part of the game.

The other sport is costing him. Two endorsements have been withdrawn and more may be. His wife is livid and ready to leave. His kids probably keep away from him. The sport of greens and cups and slices and woods and irons and sand traps and fairways may translate to ...um... the sport of bottle blonds and, um, cups and slices and sand traps. But the entourage is smaller, the screaming louder and the endorsement deals lacking. So far.

But this is, after all, America. Careers can be saved, new endorsements gained.

Tiger's agents may already be working on new deals. Contacting people like Simmons or Sealy or some hotel chain or condom maker. Or he can write a book, "My Life as Athlete of the Decade in Two Sports."

Or we can look at Tiger as we look at Bill Clinton. Energy and skill is energy and skill. An attractive, rich, famous guy in any field is likely to continue being attractive, rich, famous and energetic off the course -- or the presidency -- off the field as much as on the field.


Shrapnel

--The Boeing 787 is made out of stuff that no plane has previously made of. They call it carbon fiber. That's sort of plastic and sort of not, but the thing got off the ground, eventually and had a successful test, now -- does anyone really want to buy it and does anyone really want to fly in it?

--"Law & Order SVU" went after the right wing hate mongers this week. And the right wing hate mongers' replies ranged from non-existent to "producer Dick Wolf is evil and the writers want to put their own words in the mouths of the characters." So, the question is do people who watch the show listen to the hate mongers and vice versa?"

--"SVU" proves conclusively that Ice T can act, which is good because it means he'll continue to make a decent living, if only from re-runs. But his pioneering efforts in Gangsta rap are so 1980s and probably are a thing of the past.



I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009


Monday, December 14, 2009

637 Expiration Dates

637 Expiration Dates

Some expiration dates are absolutely clear. Take this one from "Mission Impossible:" "This tape will self destruct in five seconds."

Five seconds later, poof, the tape is gone in a small flame and Jim Phelps tosses the tape player in a wastebasket in the park or a dumpster in an ally, and that's that.

Most everything else, it gets vague.

The cottage cheese container says "Sell by February 10, 2010." Implicit here is that the stuff will self destruct pretty quickly thereafter and let's make sure the customer is stuck with the rancid, green cheese or milk or what have you. So, this is a warning for the merchant rather than the shopper. And even for the merchant it's vague. What TIME on 2/10/10? If the store is open 24 hours, do they send people scurrying around at 11:45 pm on the 9th, hunting for things to remove 15 minutes later?

Vaguest of all is "Best if used by June 23, 2011." What does that mean? Does it mean the can or box or package won't explode on the 24th? Or does it mean the stuff will gradually deteriorate until, when you open it on, say June 23, 2012 whatever's inside will have shrunk or shriveled or begun to turn to powder, but won't kill you outright?

A side note on a new version of "Sale ends December 28th." Instead of saying that, they say "Prices good until December 28th." What happens on the 29th? Do the prices turn "bad?" Or maybe they turn "excellent." Probably, they rise. But that's not what the sentence says.

Of course, there are "sell by" and "use by" and "best by" dates that are a bit more significant than those for cheese or milk or the big holiday sale. If you're in doubt about a can of soup's viability, you can throw it out.

But you can't throw out a war. The Korean war started in 1950 and an armistice was declared in 1953. Fifty six years later, American troops remain on the Korean peninsular. Not only that, but North Korea just withdrew from the armistice, so the war goes on. At least technically. So July 27, 1953 was the armistice's "best if used by" date. But not an expiration.

Now, what's kind of date have we attached in Afghanistan and does anyone believe it?

Shrapnel:

--The charities that used to send sheets of labels with your name and address seem to have stopped doing that, or at least cut back. They were, of course, expecting donations in return -- and may not have gotten many. So you probably are down to your last 5,000 stickers.

--That's not the only thing that's disappearing. What ever happened to contests where you could win something by giving the best answer in 25 words or less? No one can say anything in 25 words any more, including this piece of shrapnel which runs 46 words.

--The above word count is accurate only under certain circumstances, though it is certified both manually and by Google Documents' word count feature. The rub comes thus: Is "--" a word and are 25 and 46 one word each, or two? The actual count could be as high as 49.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©2009 WJR

Friday, December 11, 2009

636 Dr. Bob and the Clam

636 Dr. Bob and the Clam

Dr. Bob is one of those guys you can't always figure. He's bright, warm, learned, an expert in several fields and sometimes so subtle it takes awhile before you know what he's saying.

The other day he's a couple of steps up the staircase and says "You know, try as I will, I can't find an online review of the movie 'The Clam that Ate Pittsburgh.'"

I'm thinking this is one of my favorite films. One small problem. It doesn't exist. But it's hard to remember, sometimes, what's real and what isn't.

I'm saying lies like "oh... one of my favorite films, right up there with "Godfather" and "A Face in the Crowd."

Then, I'm thinking "wait a minute. I know my ex and I found reference to this thing in the Newsday TV Book on April Fool's Day in maybe early 1970s.. And I tell him "wait a minute, I don't think that's a real film. I think someone at one of the syndicated TV books made that up as an April Fool joke."

But later, it turns out to be less. First there's mention of the fake film in a blog, it's a quote from the little Newsday mini "review:"

"An immense bivalve mollusk goes berserk after drinking the Monongahela River and criminally assaults Three Rivers Stadium before being turned into stone by Mr. Rogers, who has a magic horseradish. Interesting, if you check the calendar. Dubbed. Sonny Tufts, Martin Koslek, George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, Wild Bill Elliot, Sabu, Mark Damon, Iron Eyes Cody, Zasu Pitts and the entire Pirates bullpen. (2 hrs.) "

Uh... it was a joke. Was it perpetrated on Long Island or did it really get national coverage. An internet search shows only two results, the one above and the second from my own Blogspot profile:

Interests: Everything. Absolutely everything.

Favorite Movies: "The Clam That Ate Pittsburgh."

Is it possible he read that and was teasing? Or had he really heard of it earlier. Well, he did mention that there were "...parts of Pittsburgh that should be eaten..." whether by a clam or something else.


Shrapnel:

--Hail and farewell to H. Paul Jeffers (1934-2009) a fine author of both fiction and non-fiction, an estimable radio news director and producer, wearer of Sherlock Holmes garb, conservative activist and expert on Theodore Roosevelt. Paul and I had our differences, but rather than the Limbaugh approach to liberals, he took the Bill Buckley approach, only with humility and courtesy. Cause of death, apparent heart failure, proving to his foes that he actually had a heart to fail.

--You can't do anything about the weather, but you can do something about the forecast. Bad weather systems always arrive later than the prediction. You have to wonder if storm systems don't have EZ Pass and have to wait on line at the toll booths.

--What's happened to Toyota is what happened to all the majors when they forgot they built cars and strove to be the biggest in the world. On the way to number one, or to anything unrelated to making stuff and making it better, guess what happens. You get to recall defective stuff by the millions.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

635 It's All White

635 It's All White

What's all white? Every pill in the medicine cabinet and every pill in the SMTWTFS little dose box that helps us feeble minded and poor sighted and demented seniors remember which day of meds we missed.

Up until recently, one pill was blue, one was bright yellow, one was dark yellow and one was white. Now, some genius in drug store land has figured out they can save two cents per million pills by not using the various colors.

Next step: they're going to make them all the same shape, probably round, because every manufacturer has a machine to make them round. What they'll do with the machines that make them oblong or elliptical is anybody's guess.

The cholesterol pill is elliptical. The antidepressant is oblong. The blood pressure thing, formerly teardrop shape and yellow first became round and yellow and now is round and white. Only the low-dose aspirin remains unchanged. Plus it's tiny, so even if they do make it white, those of us with a sense of touch remaining will be able to identify it.

This is part of the vast right wing conspiracy to kill everyone who is (a) older than 65, (b) can't afford name brand drugs and (c) is forced to buy generic stuff from the mail order house in which the health insurance company has some kind of interest or arrangement.

Kill us? Sure. Take a few too many of one and a few too few of another, and baby you'll be toes-up in no time.

There are some possible solutions. First would be to put magnifying lenses on the SMTWTFS boxes. (By the way, why are some of them SMTWTFS and others MTWTFSS?) Another would be forgetting the little daily dose boxes and using a felt tip marker to write the name of the drug in big letters on the bottles, which also are all white these days. Writing on the caps is not a solution. Every cap fits every bottle and you can easily mix them up.


Shrapnel:

--The "Monk" series finale wrapped up all the loose ends from years and years of episodes. They'll be hard put to revive this show "by popular demand" or otherwise. Most of us have had enough, but probably will take an occasional peek at the inevitable re-runs.

--A second thought on the NBComast thing. Comcast hasn't (yet) taken possession and already is telling us what they will and will not sell and what they will or will not try to "improve." These poor naive takeover folk have no idea what they're in for and it's hard not to feel sorry for them as they learn -- the long way, and the hard way.

--Six weeks and the clothes dryer remains broken and limping. They absolutely promise promise promise that it'll be fine by next Monday. Note to Eddie Lampert: this is not how Richard Sears and Alvah Roebuck got big as they got.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

634 Things That Go Clunk on the Floor

634 Things That Go Clunk on the Floor

These are the times to remember Chet Currier, a friend from 1972 until his ridiculously early death in 2007. He's been a featured attraction in this space for years, primarily, though for his Obituary. Chet was the Ultimate Financial Guru, conservative but thoughtful, a guy who looked at mutual funds and said "Marx was right. This is how the workers gained control of the means of production."

How would he have looked at the present economy? We had a running disagreement for 35 years: Chet believed the ultimate answer to economic success was a movement of upwardly mobile stocks, hedged with other solid investments. But he disagreed when he heard "invest in companies which manufacture things that are generally too heavy to lift and which make a terrific noise when dropped."

Maybe now, he would agree, but maybe not.

Impossible to tell.

But here are the facts: The United States manufacturing base has grown markedly since Currier's death in '07, but it's making little crap. Where is the recession for countries that DO make things that go clunk on the floor? Japan, China, the Czech Republic, Taiwan, Malaysia, Viet Nam, India and half a dozen countries you never heard of on the African continent.

We have to make heavy stuff. It's the only path to an economic recovery.


Shrapnel:

--Al D'Amato's first wife is or was a professor at Nassau Community College and his present wife has a job with the Town of Hempstead and both are well qualified for the positions, but likely wouldn't have landed them without that last name. So why all the fuss about Sen. Baucus and Melonee Hanes' name in the hat for a federal prosecutor's job -- which she never got? If you want to slam Maxie, there's plenty worse than that in his resume, most of all the Senate Finance Committee's ridiculous health insurance "reform" bill.

--I won't dump on CEO Jeff Zucker like everyone else is. And I won't count him out when Comcast takes the majority interest in NBC Universal. Things may be bad in the ratings and revenues department at the moment. But anyone who underestimates Jeff does so at his peril.

--Obama is starting to show Nixonian features. No one knows what the hell he's talking about when he talks, though the words are nearly poetry. And the Broom Squad always seems to be following the elephant with shovels and clarifications.

===
Book Look: Amusing Ourselves to Death -- Viking Press 1985

NYU Professor Postman speculates here that Aldous Huxley was right in Brave New World, compared with George Orwell's 1984.

He postulates that we are so focused on entertainment that we allow ourselves to become serfs and distracted while the biggies of Wall Street and Washington screw us over. In 1985, Postman did not see the tech revolution coming, and he was wrong. We not only have an Entertainment Culture, but we have a Techo-dictatorship to go along with it.

Postman was amusing in describing a culture of amusement. But he was dead serious when he warned against it. It was a warning we should have heeded and so far have not.

Richards Redometer Rating: 1


Readometer Key:
1 - Buy it.
2 - Wait for the paperback.
3 - Take it out of the Library.
2. Flip through it at the book store.
1. Forget it.
Note to Readers and Listeners: Hereafter, thee Book Look feature will appear only sporadically in this space, rather than weekly.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

633 NBComcast

633 NBComcast

David Sarnoff is whirling in his grave. Again.

The first time was in 1986 when the company he helped build and later headed was re-acquired by General Electric, which was one of the four original components that formed RCA. (The other three were AT&T, Westinghouse and United Fruit, but GE called the shots starting in 1919.) Sarnoff didn't live to see '86. But you can be sure there was some churning beneath the ground at Kensico Cemetery up in Westchester.

That whirling probably stopped after a time (explanation to come.) Now it has resumed as GE prepares to sell NBC to the cable TV upstart, Comcast.

When one venerable company takes over another, there's always gnashing of teeth, but GE and RCA/NBC had a shared heritage. When GE Chairman Jack Welch tapped lawyer and financial services chief Bob Wright to head the newly acquired NBC, the NBC staff gasped as one. The big question was "what the hell does a bean counting lawyer like this know about 'our art?'"

Turned out the answer was not much, at least not in the beginning. But Wright, middle aged dog at the time of his appointment, learned new tricks. And he eventually turned NBC from a creaky old broadcasting company into a global media monolith. He was probably more successful at NBC than anyone had been previously, though not the pioneer that Sarnoff was.

GE came into something resembling its present existence through some mergers and acquisitions before and during 1892. And in more than a century of existence learned to deal fairly reasonably with more labor unions than there are ants at a picnic.

Now, comes Comcast, which has been around since 1963 and currently is the largest cable system operator in the country. It has a market capitalization of 45 billion or so, which is real money until you compare it to GE's market cap of more than 170 billion dollars. Granted NBC accounts for only part of that. But at 14 billion for a 51% interest in the network and all its holdings, including a gazillion cable channels, half a gazillion owned and operated TV stations, the Spanish speaking Telemundo Network and who knows what-all else, this is a minnow swallowing a whale and at a Dollar Menu price.

And it's a regulatory and labor relations nightmare. One labor publication says Comcast is trying to squeeze out its labor unions, something GE probably also would like to do, but won't.

Will there be an anti-trust investigation? Probably. Will the Federal Communications Commission look into this? Certainly. Will consumer groups agitate against the acquisition? Without a doubt. Will the acquisition go through? In some form, undoubtedly yes.

Would that General Sarnoff could arise from the dead and call for a strategic retreat.


Shrapnel:

--Hofstra University on Long Island canceled its football program, largely because few knew they had one and those who knew paid it no attention. That leaves them with a pretty nice, pretty new stadium. They'll probably raze it and put up something more academically useful -- like a much needed building for the ever expanding basket weaving department.

--Every time you turn around, you find a new tax as your income falls. The city of Pittsburgh PA is the latest. They want to tax tuition. Probably figure college costs are too low.

--Who do you believe when you have two atomic clocks next to each other and they disagree on what time it is? If you think customer service is bad at computer factories, wait until you have to reach someone like that at a clock works. "Your expected wait time is 23.45 minutes. No, wait, it's 23.56 minutes. No, wait it's 22.94 minutes."




I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

632 A Huntin' We Will Go

632 A Huntin' We Will Go

(Mount Tantamount, PA.) -- Deer season has begun in these parts. It's a two week slug war that puts close to three quarters of a million gunsels into the woods loaded for bear... no, that's over. Loaded for deer. Sometimes they shoot each other. That already happened on the first day. But it's a huge deal around here. Kind of like the fourth of July, only noisier.

People take this stuff very seriously. You see bright orange clothing and camos everywhere. Even on the streets. You never know when you'll be mistaken for a deer. Especially in a tanked up place like this.

The men who pick up the garbage and trash and recycling get the day off. It's a paid holiday. They don't get VETERANS day off. This, they get.

And the money? Tons of it. A number of these people can't pay the mortgage, but they've got a gazillion dollars worth of gear and guns and ammo. Priorities. Everyone needs a hobby.

Some guys and gals gather in churches the night before the season starts. The newspaper says they're there to swap stories and sing and pray ... and clean their weapons. As good a place as any to do that. Kind of reminiscent of the old joke:

"Father may I smoke while I pray?"

"Certainly not. That would be wrong."

"Well then, may I pray while I smoke?"

"Of course, of course!"

So Father, may I pray while I oil my Remington?

Of course many people look at the deer season as "turnaround's fair play."

Deer here are always hunting cars and trucks. Sometimes (like the hunter who gets shot by another hunter) they pay with their lives. But often, they just damage the cars and trucks out in front of which they prance. Nasty creatures. We humans need to send them a message. And this is the two weeks to do it.

We can't just have these murderous animals on the loose.

Here's one way to speed up the process.

We need a surge. With 750-thousand hunters in the field, perhaps another 30-thousand more would do the trick. We have to discuss this with our allies in New Jersey, West Virginia and Ohio first. But the coalition will prevail!


--Shrapnel:

--A quote from Spike Jones: "The polar bear sleeps in his little bear skin and sleeps very well I am told. Last night I slept in my little bare skin and I've got a hell of a cold."

--The Russian Czar established quality standards for vodka in the 1800s. So why is it that the US and Poland and (even) France can follow them and the Russians can't? Oh well, who cares after the second one, anyway.

--Did December come early this year or are we just imagining it. The calendar's no help. It appears to be lying when it says there were 30 days in this past November.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

631 Dubai-Bye

631 Dubai-bye

There are almost seven thousand stories about Rachel and Tiger on line as this is written (see Shrapnel below.) There are fewer than half that number about Dubai World and its troubles. So we know where our priorities are, of course.

The phrase "Dubai Bubble" is starting to catch on, largely because that was exactly what it was. And now it's either burst or leaking depending on which account you prefer.

Incomplete skyscrapers, unfinished shopping areas, unfinished housing developments, unfinished roads... and the list goes on.

The quick story is very similar to every other financial story of the time: no money. No one was watching the bank accounts, and no one expected the boom to end -- ever. Now Dubai World is for all purposes, broke. No worries. The national bank of the United Arab Emirates has guaranteed its debt, which is about 60 or 80 billion dollars in US dollars. No worries. A mere bag of shells compared to some broke businesses here, and nowhere near the amount the American government has poured into the domestic economy, starting with Bush and continuing with Obama.

That 60 or 80 billion? Is it real or is it Memorex? Is this in actual dollars or is it something bigger that can be hidden in the backwaters and footnotes of a financial statement?

The Dubai World website, modestly named "The World," can show you pictures of beautiful buildings and concrete spreading faster than any known pandemic. Nothing's for sale. Yet.

How did it happen? Maybe a lot of people suddenly decided they didn't want to play golf in 130 degree sun?

The debt problems seem isolated in one corner of one company. But Dubai World is a government controlled outfit. And that can mean dominoes falling.

Not many remember that Dubai Inc. needed a bailout earlier this year, going off to Abu Dhabi earlier this year, like a neighbor asking to borrow a cup of sugar. The Sheik in charge of "World" had been telling people not to worry, assuring them for nearly a year that everything was just ducky, thank you. He went as far as telling critics to "shut up." But he hasn't been saying much in the last week or two.

There were reverberations throughout world markets in the aftermath of "World's" announcement saying it needed a payment holiday of at least six months. Try that with your Visa card, your auto loan or your mortgage.


Shrapnel:

--Former colleague Rachel Uchitel has become the second most famous Alaskan on the planet after a tabloid named her as the reason Tiger Woods and his wife were fighting just before his car accident, an accusation everyone involved so far denies. No one could blame Woods or any other awake straight guy for seeking her, um, company. But please know Rachel is a smart, hard working, funny, compassionate and warm hearted human being -- and that should count for something in the court of public opinion.


Weekly Book Look:

Ayn Rand and the World She Created by Anne C. Heller.


Anne Heller suffers from Gay Talise Syndrome. Talise wrote books about The Mob, the New York Times and sex. All three turn exciting and interesting subjects into mind numbing baloney. Heller does the same with Rand, one of the most influential novelists and one of the oddest characters of the 20th Century.

Fascination turns to stultifying by the time you get to the second page.

Rand was a Russian Jewish babushka, a troll who lived in a world of her own and manufactured trolls by the millions in the 1950s and 1960s.

(Note: there are two important definitions for "babushka." One is a headscarf. The other is a elderly woman, often a crone.)

But talk about influential! Millions of books sold, and all of them in print to this day, although her magnum opus was first published in 1957 and her other novels or novellas or plays way earlier. She is generally credited, and rightly so, with being the Grandmother and Goddess of the current arch conservative onslaught.

Yet, there's nothing much new in this book, at least not for people who knew her or followed her advice or peeked beneath the surface of the public Rand in her prime.

She was a bitch on wheels. She was brilliant. She was perceptive. She was screwed up. She threw temper tantrums. She treated many of her closest friends as enemies and drove many of them away either by turning against them or formally "excommunicating" them. She had a long running affair with her much younger Mentee-in-Chief, Nathaniel Branden. She treated her husband, Frank O'Connor, like crap and drove him to drink -- and to an early death.

We knew all this. But now we know it in dreary, colorless terms.

The Legend lives on. She's still widely read. Her "institute" founded by another sycophant, Leonard Peikoff, remains active and continues spreading The Word.

Part of that proselytizing is done by the right wing talk show crowd, which carefully avoids mentioning her atheism to their religious listeners and viewers.

As for Ms. Heller, her "About the Author" segment says she was managing editor of the Antioch Review. Most of us who graduated from Antioch are considered raging liberals today, some correctly. If she's part of the "some," it doesn't get in the way of her assessments.

The publisher, it turns out, is Gay Talese's wife, Nan A. Talese. Which explains a lot.

Richards Readometer Rating: 2 if you're a Rand fan or foe, otherwise 3.
===
Readometer Key:

1 - Buy it.

2 - Wait for the paperback.

3 - Take it out of the Library.

2. Flip through it at the book store.

1. Forget it.

Next week: Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009


Friday, November 27, 2009

630 The WRFM Christmas Festival

630 The WRFM Christmas Festival

It's early December and WRFM has started filtering Christmas songs into the rotation. This'll all come to a climax on Christmas eve when we begin the annual Christmas Festival of Music, 36 hours of continuous holiday stuff ranging from the very heaviest of symphonic hymns to the lightest of pop and country crossover songs.

It was heavily promoted, widely heard and, because it was New York and we so-called "personalities" were easily accessible on the telephone and subject to complaint.

One afternoon, the phone rings and it's Morris the Fireman, a regular caller and a big fan. Mo, the Jewish Fireman. Gravel voiced, bedridden, bad heart and out on permanent disability. So Mo says "Why you aren't playing Hanukkah songs, too? You got something against Jews?"

In New York? Don't be ridiculous.

I tell Mo "Hey, I'm as Jewish as you are and if you give me a list of Hanukkah songs, I'll play 'em."

Silence.

There aren't any that mean anything.

I give Mo my usual rap about the holiday: "Mo, you and I both know that Hanukkah is a minor holiday and that it gets big play around here because a bunch of whiny kids want presents like their Christian friends get in December, and we parents comply. This is one of the Big Two Christian observances and the songs are mostly wonderful."

This shuts him up, which wasn't easy to do.

Back to the festival. At that time, the late 1970s, Channel Eleven television was still showing its Yule Log video and playing similar music in the background. You'd watch the long burning at Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor. It was a short loop repeated over and over. They got a lot of viewers.

But according to our mail and phone calls, our music was better. So there were an awful lot of people watching the long with the CH 11 sound turned down and the radio tuned to "Stereo-105," us.

Their really was no comparison. WRFM's lone stockholder, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had an incomparable treasure trove of Christmas music. There was so much there that we could have gone the whole 36 hours without repeating any one particular version of any song. But, of course, we didn't.

By the time the thing ended, those of us on shift left with what can only be described as a Christmas music hangover. Enough, already.

Thing is, by the time next October of November rolled around, most of us were eager for the return of the Festival.

How I wish I had stolen some of those tapes when the station changed format in 1985.

Shrapnel:

--There was a crow invasion here Thanksgiving morning. Thousands of them swooping in, perching in the trees, pecking on the back and side lawns. Then, they vanished, every last one of them, probably the holiday worm feast wasn't as feastful they expected.

--How did November get so short? It seems like only yesterday, it was October. Time flies when you're (not) having fun?

--Decide now what diet you're going on come New Year's Day. It'll save you time in the long run. Not that any of us will stick to it for more than a week.



I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

629 Are You Reagan Enough?

629 Are You Reagan Enough?

From the folks who brought you loyalty oaths, here comes the "Purity Test."

Taking (yet another) page out of the playbook used by dictators from Julius Caesar to Hitler, Stalin and Mao, the Republican Party is considering a "checklist" for candidates and wannabes. The Republican National Committee wants to make sure its candidates are Reagan enough.

It's planning to assure itself that the people with endorsements are sufficiently anti-abortion, anti-bailouts and anti-Obama.

In fairness, this is not the work of the party's hapless chairman, Michael Steel, who has been (a) fabulously lousy at getting people elected and (b) is trying to keep this listing ship balanced. It is the work of ten guys who want to make it Party Law at the annual meeting in January. The Gang of Ten.

You can imagine the midnight storm troopers wearing Brooks Bros. suits and Ronnie masks coming around to the homes of candidates. The pounding on the door. "Alright, Rudy, assume the position!" One says "he's clean. Siddown, Rudy, we have some questions for you.

"You still a closet baby killer, or is all this anti abortion talk the New Rudy?"

They don't need to question people like Dede Scozzafava. They could just march her out into the woods and fire away.

Put the names of the "traitors" on Facebook. Burn the "traitors" in effigy. Hold "Tea Parties" at which they're marched blindfolded through the crowds.

Better yet, stone em!

Nixon wouldn't pass, today. Certainly not Javits or Nelson Rockefeller. What would they say about Eisenhower? Or Lincoln, that dirty closet socialist!

And when there's one "Purity Test" out there, what's to stop additions?

Get ready for the midnight raids and the Reagan masks.

Oh, wait. Didn't Reagan once head a UNION?

Maybe forget the masks. After all, the King of Purity wasn't always pure, himself.


Shrapnel:

--Former colleague and early morning phone buddy Charles Sabine, who for twenty something years covered Iraq and other sewers-of-fire for NBC News, has left the beat to tell the story of his life -- and probable death. Sabine recently learned he has the gene for Huntington's Disease and has started campaigning for more research and fundraising, though he has yet to present symptoms. A cure won't likely come in time for him, but typically, he's thinking longer term than his own remaining years.

--Among the latest guys to "welcome" his day in court or reasonable facsimile is South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who just can't wait for ethics investigators to hear his side of the "I went hiking.. um.. no, I went to Argentina to get laid" story and to justify his expense vouchers. The only thing missing from his latest statement is the traditional -- almost universal cry, "I'm not a bad person!"

--Another turkey story as we near Thanksgiving: Jerry, the pet turkey of a Massachusetts family has cataracts and needs surgery. So they've put an ad on Craig's List asking for donations and hope that'll cover the full bill, which could run almost three grand.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

Monday, November 23, 2009

628a The Suitcase Dilemma

628a The Suitcase Dilemma

Planning a trip to Asia gets us into the Suitcase Dilemma. A trip that lasts a month or six weeks will require new luggage. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong.

Do you get a really good set that'll take the pounding that a 20-thousand mile round trip will no doubt administer? Or do you buy cheap stuff that you can throw away on returning home? The inclination is to get something "good," that'll stand up. But these days, people are coming to the airports and swiping luggage from the carousel before the passenger gets through customs. Good may be what the insurance people call an "attractive nuisance."

On the other hand, something really inexpensive may fall apart halfway through the journey.

So the best answer is to get no luggage at all, and FedEx your stuff to the first stop, pick up a duffel bag or two there and send the bags back home FedEx before returning. No danger of theft. Scarce little danger of loss. Pricey, but not as pricey as buying good stuff and having the bags lost or stolen.

Sounds like a brilliant plan. But there's a downside. And the downside is the Homeland Security folks. "You're going from New York to Hong Kong or Shanghai or Taipei and you don't have luggage?" It's a legitimate question, but one that will get you shunted off the check-in line and into a small windowless room with a one way mirror, and metal chairs and a table bolted to the floor.

"But officer, we were worried that our stuff would get lost or stolen so we shipped it ahead."

"You have a receipt?"

"Sure, right here."

"This says you shipped two boxes to someone named 'Uncle K.' in Taipei. But it doesn't say what was in them. And who is this 'Uncle K,' anyway?"

Uncle is an upright, accomplished retired official of the Taiwan government. He is old, smart, well spoken, dignified, respected and a pillar of his community (and his mosque.)

"Mosque, you say?" You can see where this is going.

Maybe FedEx ain't such a hot idea.

Oh. How about this variation: ship the stuff by carrier and take two small suitcases filled with nothing in particular, to check in at the airport counter.

All bases covered. Who cares if the suitcases are stolen at the airport -- either here or there. No hassle about having no luggage. If it gets lost or stolen, who cares.

Phone rings. "Hello."

"This is China Air. We have some lost luggage here that apparently belongs to you."

"Oh, okay."

"May I ask why you never reported it missing?"

Re-enter Homeland Security.

All this over a couple of suitcases.

"Umm. We never reported it missing because we didn't realize it was missing?"

That's not going to fly. Maybe we should take a boat. The trip's way longer, but a whole lot less trouble.

Shrapnel:

--Talk about "wiggle room." Guy coming in from Australia tries to get through customs at LAX by strapping 15 lizards to his chest. The charge: transporting lizards without a license -- really.

The Weekly Book Look

Today we resume a regular feature of Bloomberg On The Weekend, the weekly Book Look, which will talk about various volumes, many of which will be available at the "Books For A Buck" bin at your local store, some of which will not. Rather than starting with a specific work, today -- some advice on a particular form of reading: self help and business books.


Here's how to read both categories.

Please remember that anyone publishing any of these has an ax to grind. It doesn't matter whether it's "How to Dream Your Way to a Billion..." or "How to play the Gold Market" or "How to Win the Heart of a Reluctant Lover, there's an ax -- even if there doesn't seem to be.

Most of this advice comes from one of the most prolific of self help writers, Napoleon Hill, author of "Think and Grow Rich" and any number of sequels. Hill suggested that before you buy one of these books, you open it and read the table of contents. This, he says, will show you the direction in which the author is going and the topics he or she covers.

You can learn a lot from "Contents." And you usually can tell from it (or the index) what you'll be finding in the pages and of what use it will be to you.

Most self-help books are a combination of irrelevance and common sense. One of the most famous, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie can be summarized in a few words. In this case, the single most important line between the covers is "bait the hook to suit the fish." You don't need to read "Friends" to get this. All you have to do is think about the idea and act accordingly.

"See You At the Top" by Zig Ziglar is another mainstay in the self help world. If you examine the contents, you'll quickly realize that this is not only about money, but also is about Christianity. Interested? Fine. But not for everyone.

Hill's advice on business and self help books is worth more than anything he has to say in any of his own books.

A lot of what we talk about in this section will be about cheap novels -- stuff to read for fun. But some will be serious.

Next time: "Ayn Rand and the World She Made" by Anne C. Heller.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009