Wednesday, April 26, 2017

1788 Amtrak's Terminal Disease

Ugly Dead Logo photos
New York’s Penn Station has one of those names that resonates in the hearts of railroad buffs and travelers all over.  But most don’t catch the irony in the name. The troubles of Amtrak in New York and elsewhere were born in a board room in Philadelphia, former headquarters of the formerly mighty Pennsylvania railroad.

And those troubles can be traced back to the 1950s when the “Pensy” started merger talks with the New York Central Railroad.

The Central needed a partner. But there was no Zoosk or OK Cupid or Farmer’s Only or even Our Time or Christian Mingle. So they had to court and be courted the old fashioned way.

Like most, the “merger” wasn’t a merger. The PRR took over the Central and turned it into a wreck that persists today.  A fine case of drag ‘em in and drag ‘em down.

And down they went.  Ask anyone what life on Philadelphia’s Paoli Local was like in the merger years. Or the poor beleaguered Long Island Railroad, a subsidiary.

And the New Haven?  It was almost “you can’t get there from here.”

Eventually, Conrail and Amtrak were created.  Eventually Central Green and Pennsylvania Red got to work together.  Sort of. They stopped losing track of freight cars and the financial losses thus spawned as perishables sat on tracks long enough to rot.

Bankruptcy became the only out after culture clashes, palace intrigues, passenger and freight customer rebellions and deteriorating track systems became standard.

The problems created 40 or 50 years ago remain with us today.  Amtrak has terminal cancer, has outlived its life expectancy by decades and needs hospice care.

Let’s stop for a moment and ask a question.  Have you taken a commercial flight lately?  If you have you know that until something saves the railroads or the Star Trek Transporter Room becomes a reality, we no longer have a national passenger system of worth in this country. (Thank you Bob Crandall, father of the modern hub and spoke system aka the off center center and the broken spokes.)

Will congress fund Amtrak adequately?  Of course not. It’s just those east coast librulz wanting their fancy dining cars.  Other than the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, Amtrak is a total mess and the Trump administration wants more cuts.

Amtrak’s new chief, Charles Moorman, a veteran rail freight guy, “takes responsibility” for the mess that today is Penn Station. A gallant gesture, also meaningless.  Accidents. Bad signals. Bad tracks. And that’s just what’s below ground.  

And this morning, Amtrak announced it’s considering long term track closings for repairs to avoid the recent accidents.

Oh, fine. Twelve hundred trains a day now squeezed into 21 tracks and they want to reduce the number of “movements?”

The station itself, relatively recently renovated, is a foot traffic nightmare and -- again -- a shelter for those homeless clever enough to find space that the cops don’t patrol.

It wasn’t enough that they’d awaken passengers sleeping in the waiting rooms, now they’ve removed the seats.

It’ll all be better in the new building… or so they say.

The Moynihan Station, slated to occupy the site of the main post office on the west side of 8th avenue will not be ready until Mario Cuomo’s great great great grandchildren are elected governor.  Or until someone comes up with that Star Trek transporter system.

The intercity buses are death traps, turning over on their backs like obedient cocker spaniels. The intercity planes are hell on wings.  And Amtrak has a terminal illness.

But the problem goes back to the corporate shenanigans that destroyed the railroads during the “courting” all those years ago.

Meantime, Grand Central Terminal is a museum, used by Westchester and Connecticut commuters of Metro North now that some genius has routed all the intercity traffic to Penn Station.  That’s resulted in  67 mostly unused tracks on the East Side and 21 overused tracks that serve the LIRR, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit on the west side.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

  1. Which has a deeper basement, Penn Station or Grand Central?
  2. Which terminal sees the most foot traffic each day and why?
  3. Who is Danny Simmons?
  4. Where is Paoli?
  5. What does Acela mean?
Bonus Questions:
  1. What does the late original Penn Station have in common with the late original Jimmy Hoffa?
  2. What was the real purpose of forming the MTA?
Questions 1-5 are worth 20 points each. Six and seven are worth ten points each.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

1787 Gopher Gardens and the Freeway to Nowhere

Golf Digest Photo

First they built a big bunch of houses. Now, thousands of people live there.  Single family houses. Condos. Apartment buildings. Every kind of house.

Oh, and a golf course, topped as the biggest misuse of open space only by a football stadium.

Welcome to Gopher Gardens.

In typical developer forethought, they didn’t build an adequate way to enter and exit or get around within it. The narrow former cow paths and foot trails are not wide enough for two pickup trucks to pass going in opposite directions.  

Today’s smaller cars, golf carts and Hoverounds have no trouble.  

Ever see a family of six traveling in a golf cart?  It’s not pretty. Ever see a Hoveround trying to make it up a 9% grade?  Not if anyone’s sitting on it.

Viewranger photo
How’d they get up there to roll down?

A pair of F-150s can roll one set of wheels on the shoulder.  At least in those places where there is a shoulder.

Some shoulders double as runoff and drainage ditches. Nasty surprise for your fresh-off-the-lot Silverado.

Decades after building the thing, the municipal geniuses decided they’d make a real street from the outside world, a direct route to Gopher Gardens.   And that’s what they’re doing now.

They’re building an actual road. It costs $1.1 million which is kind of pricey since it’s only five or six blocks long. But if you calculate the cost by the hours of construction, it’s a bargain.  The cost per minute of work is way less than the cost per completed inches.

This project began in 2010.  Now, seven years later it’s only a couple of years shy of finished.

It’s also tough to drive through the construction zone. And while walking there used to be difficult, it now is impossible.

-“Write the car number down and tell your boss.” -- NYC subway conductor to passengers needing a late note because a power failure at 7th and 53rd snowballed into big delays on 12 of the city’s 22 subway lines and made thousands late for work last Friday.

--The President is going to hold a rally to compete with the White House Correspondents Dinner.  It’ll be the biggest rally ever and if you don’t believe that, just ask him.  Too bad there’ll be no White House correspondents around to cover it.

--For however long it lasts, American Airlines learned a lesson when United dragged a passenger off a plane. When a male flight attendant got nasty with a woman passenger and nearly came to blows with others on board, the company suspended the guy. Sure, taking a baby stroller into a cabin is a no no, but there are better ways to store it that don’t start with tearing the thing out of a young woman’s hands and coming within inches of clobbering the baby.

--Lesson learned? Maybe not, since soon after this incident, American asked a well known and physically disabled African American minister, Grover Barber, to leave a commuter flight in Washington DC when another passenger made racist remarks about him.  In a stunning example of a victim accepting blame, Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP Conference of Branches, left the plane as directed and flew home later.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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Friday, April 21, 2017

1786 Rupert and BillO

Kangaroo Korner Images New York State Dept. of Labor Unemployment foto

Rupert Murdoch’s growing soft in his dotage. Especially when his sons and heirs gang up on him.  It wasn’t bad enough that he threw Roger Ailes under the Greyhound.  Now it’s BillO the clown’s turn. (Thanks to Keith Olbermann who when still in his prime came up with the name.)

Yes, the impossible happened.  Again. Fox has shown its number one television drawing card the door and nudged him out.

And why?  Not because of his great humanitarian work. Not for his legendary ability to stage a lucrative nightly comedy show.  But just because he has been accused of a performance that recently brought the new President of the United States such adulation.

“C’mon up to my room.  I’ll show you my… uh… etchings.”

Here is the text of the “statement” Fox’s PR machine generated.  It’s short and to the point:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE STATEMENT FROM 21ST CENTURY FOX REGARDING BILL O’REILLY New York, NY – April 19 2017 – 21st Century Fox today issued the following statement: “After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.”

So, Bill-O, once worth millions to his employer, now is worth 55 words. Oh, and an estimated $25 million in under the bus fare.

O’Reilly is just another Long Island blowhard with a boys’ high education (Chaminade in Mineola does not admit girls.) Then he worked or wormed his way through degrees up to and including a masters in either bullying or journalism.  No. Wait.  Bullying was what he taught during his short career as a private school school teacher in Florida.

Pompous, paternalism may have been his minor in grad school.

When Fox got going as a news channel, they had nothing to lose and O’Reilly apparently talked Ailes and Murdoch into taking a chance.

At that point they didn’t much care who was on the air as long as the needle moved.  O’Reilly and a parade of such leggy luminaries as Laurie “Duh” Dhue and Linda Vester and later Megyn Kelly and a host of other soft core news stars made Fox into a money printing machine.

So what if O’Reilly and Ailes went on leer patrol through the newsroom?  Issued invitations to “come up and see us some time” and gave fatherly pats of reassurance to the Fox Rockettes.

(Hmmm. Not really a good comparison. The Rockettes know how to kick butt and probably wouldn’t have stood for the kind of behavior that ultimately cut into Fox’s profits while keeping their mouths shut.)

Murdoch has always belittled political correctness which sometimes includes treating women like fellow humyns of at least potentially equal stature.  Except when cornered.

Now, he’s cornered.  By his own sons.  And at this writing we don’t know what BillO is getting in the way of goodbye money or how long he’ll have to agree to stay off the air to get it.  But the reports all say it’ll be (or has been) $25 million.

If Ailes’ settlement -- $40 million -- is any indication of the way things are done when the Fox is cornered in the henhouse, it’s unlikely that O’Reilly will be living in a minivan down by the river.

-“Everything that we said in our statement is all you need to know.”  -- James Murdoch when asked for more information on O’Reilly’s separation from Fox News.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

1785 Gorsuch

Bobbs Merrill      Denver Post

The new supreme court justice already has drawn some tough assignments.

They haze new pledges at that fraternity.  Example: the newest member is forced to hold the door while the other justices parade solemnly in and out of the courtroom.  So, newbie as doorman and they don’t even give him a uniform other than a plain black robe.

Everyone knows “real” doormen wear costumes garish enough to put a banana republic tin pot dictator to shame.

And if you think working for the Supreme Court is just dressing up like an undergrad and pontificating from bench and back office, think again.

Gorsuch has been named to the court’s prestigious Cafeteria Committee.  And for a guy like Neil, this is going to mean a lot of research, leaving him barely enough time to help his fellow frat brothers and sorority sisters to freeze stranded truck drivers or ban aborting a fetus over 20 minutes old.

Why?  Because it is the job of the Cafeteria Committee to choose the menu.  Yes, a guy with no training is in charge of the workday nutrition.  Not to worry.  Gorsuch is a quick study. Plus there aren’t all that many work days in his trade.

Here’s the problem.  As a literalist, Gorsuch will feel compelled to make sure the menu items are made exactly as written in the cookbook.

He’ll carry “The Joy of Cooking,” the thousand page encyclopedic recipe collection with him wherever he goes, at least while he’s in the building.

Now these justices are scholarly people.  Many of them over time have toted tomes.  Scalia kept a copy of the constitution in his suit jacket.  But the Joy book weighs five pounds.  And being a snazzy dresser, the new Associate Justice does not have enough seniority to have a clerk do the heavy lifting.  So when he puts it in a pocket, his jacket will sag.

This is tough work.  You can hear him now telling the executive chef in the lunchroom that he cannot substitute whipped butter for regular in the interest of saving calories in some dish.

After all, if it’s in the cookbook, that’s what matters, not what some celebrity chef does in interpreting the recipes. The Joy of Cooking is not something for interpretation.  It’s not a “living document” like the constitution.  It is Black Letter Recipe.

Gorsuch is a Joy of Cooking Fundamentalist.  If it’s not in the book exactly as written, it doesn’t make it to the SCOTUS-teria.

Tip to Chief Justice Roberts:  Brown bag it from home, we don’t want you to faint from some mysterious dish on page 1,234, Ch. 24, Paragraph 2, Subparagraph H.

A word from the Huckabee Ministries and Chemical Company.

Rev. Mike says “Always use protection.”
Our founder, Rev. Mike Huckabee, is concerned about conditions in Arkansas, a state he once served as governor.  He is deeply saddened and disappointed by wrongheaded decisions from bribe-prone liberal judges who don’t want the state to execute eight residents of death row in an eleven day period.

So fresh from its triumph -- the cure for diabetes -- he has directed those at the business division … the chemical factory to develop an execution drug that will do the job at minimal cost using common household ingredients.

Research has begun. Count on Huckabee Ministries and Chemical Company to make life easier for everyone.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

1784 The Name Game

Photo: Oldsmobile-Pontiac-Saturn of Moote Pointe, NY

“Inspired” by our look at the Hep-C drug Harvoni, our thoughts now turn inward, somehow typical of almost anyone in the second decade of the 21st century, though gauche in earlier times.

To put it bluntly, I don’t like my name.  Never have.  In the 1940s, in Queens, every other kid was named Jim or Joe or John or Tom or Charlie.  But “Wesley?” Yuk! People then named Wesley (I know of only one) got beaten up a bit but grew up tough.

When Johnny Cash recorded A Boy Named Sue I found my anthem.

Plus what’s a Nice Jewish Boy from New York doing being named for the founder of the Methodist Church?

In those days we shopped at Macy’s which is named for… R.H. Macy.  Or at Penney’s which is named for James Cash Penney. Or at Bloomingdale’s, Alexander’s or Klein’s, all named for their founders.

Now we shop at Target. Named for… ? A Target.

We drove Pontiac Chieftains or Dodge Coronets or Chrysler Windsors or Ford Victorias.  But then came the Oldsmobile Toronado.  The what? GM admitted the name was meaningless. Thus began the entry of nonsense syllables into the big time.

But nothing beats the names of today’s pharmaceuticals.   What does Harvoni mean? Or Latuda or Lunesta or Entresto or Crestor or Xiidra Pradaxa or even over the counter stuff like Zantac or Tylenol?

Why do they call it Aspercreme when it doesn’t contain aspirin?  And for that matter, why do they call it aspirin?

What is the source of these bizarre names?  We’ve found it. It’s a think tank based in Xenia, Ohio. And it is called The Jargonian Institute.  Scholars sit around conference tables from morning until night, sipping high test sherry from etched crystal and come up with new names only after they’re one notch away from unconscious.

Smuggled copies of the institute’s internal newsletter, “Jargonia Today” explain the way these geniuses work.

The original process was letter substitution.  Take a common word and change a vowel for another one. The pioneering Olds Toronado was originally Coronado. Harvoni can easily be constructed from Harmony. The pain reliever and hangover remedy Tylenol could have built from tie-one-on. The Toyota Camry is close enough a relative to comely.

Another way to pick names is to throw darts at a map. The Kia Sorento.  The Beach Boys. Lyme disease.  Ebola. Bikini.

Or you can do both: Newarktorine.

Some names are just plain made from nothing. The student loan company Navient couldn’t possibly occur in nature.  And there’s always Exxon.

The names need not represent anything so it’s possible the Jargonians are stockpiling candidates for future use.

And with the output of new drugs likely to skyrocket when the White House shuts down the FDA, there’s plenty of potential market.

-“CBS used to stand for the Columbia Broadcasting system. Now it stands for nothing.” - Andy Rooney.

-So far, Bannon hasn’t lost his job but he is considered as under (White) House arrest.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

1783 Price Check

Photo from Gilead Sciences

There’s been a lot of advertising lately for a drug that is said to fix you up if you have hepatitis C, which is no fun, we’re told.

Some of the ads simply say if you’re a baby boomer you have a decent chance of having this affliction, so get tested. OK.  Common sense.

Some of the ads are designed to scare the daylights out of you, but these normally have the good sense to ease your tensions by offering you a treatment … maybe even a cure.

The website WEBMD is among the jeer-leaders for newer drugs.  They warn against the possible results.  So does the ad for the widely advertised Harvoni.

As they often are, this is a splendidly produced commercial.  What they don’t tell you… never tell you is what these things cost.

Sometimes they suggest there are available discounts.  

But here at the Wessays™ Secret Mountain Laboratory, the research department comes up with a cost figure at your local pharmacy.

FDA Warning: the rest of this post contains bone rattling, mind blowing information. Reading while standing is not recommended.

A 12 week supply, purchased without a coupon is Ninety-four thousand 500 dollars. That’s written out so you don’t think the figure $94,500. Is a typo.  

It’s cheaper in Canada.  $80,000. Wow, what a bargain.
It’s cheaper in England. £39,000 about 48,700 USD.
It’s cheaper in Egypt.  $1,200 US
And the winner is?
India: $900.

So, the good news is if you lived in India, you’d pay less than 10% of the US price. The bad news: You’d live in India.

Chances are your health plan -- if you still have one -- doesn’t cover much of this.  There’s a steep co-pay and there are coupons to cover that.

But if you were born in the earliest years of the boomer era, you get medicare.  And your Part D coverage makes you ineligible for the factory co pay rebate.

Is the cost of this stuff extreme?  Well, if you ask the company of course not. But to most of us, it is.

Let’s say you take it for 12 weeks by raiding your IRA or selling your house and moving into an extra large mailbox at the UPS Store.  And let’s say 12 weeks doesn’t do it for you.  How many 12 week periods in a year? Four and change.

Maybe move to India.

-(It was) “a very, very successful mission,” -- D. Trump speaking after the US exploded the most powerful non-nuclear bomb ever over a tunnel system controlled by ISIS in Afghanistan and before there were any reports of death, wounding or damage.

-Is “very, very” a double positive and therefore self cancelling?

--All that infighting among various Murdochs about whether to fire Bilious O’Reilly is the kind of drama corporations like to keep out of the public eye. Too late.   Advertisers bailed like rats deserting the ship.

Note to readers:  Monday, inspired by Harvoni, we’ll explore some of the strange names we’ve given people places and things.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

1782 Once a Hero, Now He's on Trial

(LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS) -- 5Pointz is an art museum.  But not the kind that raises jillions from the city’s genteel giving class.  And not the kind whose curatorial infighting makes it to the gossip column in the Times Arts & Leisure section.
Queens Blvd Underground photo
It’s a quarter million square foot factory on Davis Street in Long Island City’s inner core where the map looks like a med school chart of the digestive system. You can see it from the elevated 7 train, the Flushing IRT as most still call it.

5Pointz it the self proclaimed graffiti capital of the western world, though the movers and sprayers would rather you didn’t think of it as “graffiti.” Smacks of west coast street gangs.  The art is completely legal, done with the advice, consent and permission of both the building’s owner and the city.

Landlord Jerry Wolkoff told the artists it was fine with him if they did their Aerosol act on his walls.  It made the building famous.

Meantime, Wolkoff also rented space to artists and charged them next to nothing.  But somewhere along the line, the hero landlord decided 40 years of more or less vacant space was enough and he’d sell to developers.

In darkness came the white washers and white washed over the art on the building. Stunned the next morning, the artists threatened court action, saying he could have/should have let them know ahead of time so they could remove such that could be harmlessly taken off the building.

It didn’t help that the city had gotten on Wolkoff’s case because he put up partitions for artists’ spaces on some of the inside floors and did it -- Heavens! -- without permits.

Unheard of.

No one’s ever done that before.  Make changes inside a 125 year old former water meter factory and not bring in the building inspectors?  Never!

But the artists wanted more than just the retro-right, probably meaningless, to whup him in a courtroom surrounded only by two teams of lawyers, one in which no one wore a suit you can buy for under two grand.

No. They want a jury trial.  And now, a federal judge says yes, there will be one.

-“I have made mistakes but I never had a sexual relationship with her.” -- Recently resigned former Governor Robert Bentley (R-AL) shown here with Rebecca Mason at the Intercontinental Hotel in Washington where they were “attending a conference” in February, 2014.

A word from Uber-Air.  If you’re tired of airport hassles, patdowns, delays, fees for baggage and legroom, and cabins that smell like locker rooms and sound like nursery school, get our app and summon your own UberPilot.  Individually owned aircraft will take you non-stop to your destination.

There’s no TSA, no complicated hub and spoke routes, no weight restrictions. Bring along your piano if you like. Your UberPilot will greet you with a smile and a ramp to the freight hold.*  And no one will drag you kicking and screaming off the plane. Get the app free at Google Play or iTunes.
*Piano moving service available in select locations, subject to availability.  Some restrictions apply.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2017