Monday, July 28, 2014

1362 Spatial Relations: Russian Geckos in Orbit

Before I begin, let me ask you this:  Did you know that 15 minutes could save you up to 15% on your car insurance?  


How do I know that?  This guy told me:


But the Geico Gecko is just a computer animation.  This is what a real one looks like:


Pretty similar, right?  The real one doesn’t speak with a British accent.  In fact, he doesn’t speak at all.


Some time back, Russia put a few of these critters in a spaceship and sent them into orbit.


Scientists wanted to know the effect of weightlessness on Gecko mating.


Why? Who knows.  But they probably offer research grants in Russia the same way they do here in the US.


Now, comes a problem.  Moscow has lost contact with the Gecko-nauts.  Previously launched flights returned to earth bearing dead geckos, mice and fruit flies.


Chances are that will be the same result this time.


Oh, PETA, where art thou?


Geico has humanized these lizards.  So you can expect an uproar.  They’ve killed the poor little critters.  And here we were hoping to adopt a rescue gecko who speaks our language, albeit with a funny accent.


But this should give pause to those of us who wanted to don our Doc Martens boots then hunt and stomp every little pixel in the obnoxious little cartoon.


Why should all the fun go to the Russians?  They don’t have to suffer through those endless car insurance ads.


Do we really need to know the effect of limited gravity on the sex lives of these lizards?


Of COURSE we do.


Four females, one male.  And there’s still hope for them.  The spaceship was launched on July 19th.  They have 60 days worth of food and water.


So it won’t be until mid-September that the experiment will have failed.


Meantime, we can hope to hear the telemetry.


Male to female #1:  What’s your sign?


To female #2: Come here often?


To female #3: My wife doesn’t understand me.


To female #4: I promise I won’t put this tape on the internet.


Other pickup lines:  Want to come over and see my etchings?  Have you seen me on TV? I’m a wild and crazy guy.  Buy you a drink?  I’m friends with Vladimir and ex-KGB.  Are you with someone?


Or: I see we have a lot in common.  I, too, travel a lot.


Shrapnel:


--Not for the first time in recent years, Russia is experiencing a brain drain…  almost a quarter million smart people leaving have left.  Reuters reports these are the very people Russia needs most to build its economy. The reason: critics of Putin are getting that creepy, unwanted feeling and want to get out on their own terms while they still can.
--New Hampshire is a small state with big contradictions.  It’s among the most libertarian in outlook,  but there’s a government retail liquor monopoly. And technically, though this will change, that monopoly does not recognize i.d. from parts of America that are not states… like Washington D.C.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

1361 Help Wanted: Nerdiness a Plus

Any kid with half a brain and half an hour can put up a website.  But the government of the United States can’t seem to.

We all know about healthcare.gov. They’re still cleaning up the mess that made.

Now comes an Associated Press story that says Social Security has spent $300-million on a new improved computer system that is not ready for prime time.

Your grandchildren can do the job for 1/100th of that.

The problem it’s to solve: disability claim fraud.  

We’re all so busy fighting over non-existent voter fraud that we’ve ignored this problem which doesn’t have a Republican pot of voter gold at the end of a pale and shabby rainbow.

We’re so taken with the sophisticated systems that collect our phone calls and website visits and cell phone locations and stop octogenarian air travelers to make sure they don’t have C4 explosives hidden in their shoes or Depends that we’ve stumbled into a world of false claims that cost us actual money.

We spend endless hours of public worrying about kids from Nicaragua or El Salvador pouring over our borders.  We send our Secretary of State on Missions Impossible around the world.  But we can’t spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars over a period of six years to make a working system to plug a hole in the dike of fake disability claims?

Question: has the cost of the new Social Security computer system been greater or less than the amount of actual fraud?

Maybe it has, maybe not. A congressional report says spending totaled $400-billion over the last several years.  How much of that is fraudulent?  No one knows.  Could be none. All the claims were approved by administrative law judges who hear only claims that were rejected previously.

It’s a congressional report so this may be a balloon filled with congressional hot air.

That, however didn’t stop Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) from sending a letter demanding action from the acting Social Security chief, Carolyn Colvin.

Colvin has been in office for ten minutes.  The computer problem has been in office since 2008.  That’s okay, you can blame the Obama administration anyway.

The crisis in computing isn’t limited to the federal government, though.

How many times in the last while or while and a half have you heard someone tell you from behind a screen “My computer is acting up today…” or “...slow loading.”

Other examples:

Pennsylvania state employees have been assured the treasurer’s new 30 million dollar computer system really really WILL get their checks done on time this time.  Six thousand didn’t during the most recent pay period.

A computer glitch in Osceola County, Florida posted the wrong grades on student report cards.

At the University of Central Florida in Orlando, incoming students assigned living space found that the computer had assigned them to stay in bathrooms and closets. (Some were hoping the closets were at least small and co-ed.)

The computer that prepares required car and truck stickers in Chicago went down long enough for the city to promise not to enforce the latest deadline to post them on your windshield.

A computer that runs the SkyTrain system shut the whole railroad down.

Shall I go on? Nah.

Oh, wait.  Breaking news. A computer glitch has shut down the US Passport and Visa operations.  

Grapeshot:  

-Back to Rep. Issa (R-CA) and a toast to those who remember when those initials, RCA, stood for an impressive corporation not a hang dog congressman.

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

© WJR 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

1360 Generic Headaches

An interesting piece of Big Pharma propaganda floated into the mailbox the other day.  It was a not-too-well-veiled pitch to buy name brand drugs instead of generics.

It comes from the bleeding heart altruists at GlaxoSmithKline. 

Nothing off about the message, delivered in brilliantly illustrated large-type format with attractive modernistic if somewhat abstract  cartoon figures representing doctor, patient and pharmacist. 

And it has proportionately huge pill bottles and a handy form to give to the druggist to make sure that you get the brand name drug when your doctor wants you to have it.

So far, a snow job, right?  "Buy our stuff even though it costs much more than the supposedly similar generics."

Guess what?

They're not completely wrong.

In order to sell generics, a company has to pass a test:  does the same amount of active ingredient reach the blood as fast and at the same speed and with the same power as the brand name.  That's it.  The tests are conducted on relatively small numbers of healthy patients.  At least that's what the propaganda cartoon figures say.

Other stuff in the generic pills may affect you differently from those of the brand name.  And there are an awful lot of inactive ingredients.

  Generic antidepressants are, well, depressing.  And in at least one documented case, ineffective. 

And it's not just antidepressants.

This also is true about some over the counter remedies.  Generic Ibuprofen does not work as well as Advil.  Again, an anecdote, not a set of statistics.

It's not fair when the drug store substitutes a generic and doesn't tell you.  And the generics usually look a lot like the real thing.

But with medicine costing what it costs these days, many of us are in a bind. Some states even require druggists to substitute generics for real.

If the generic doesn't work as well as the brand name, it's Lipitor for breakfast and Hyzaar for lunch and Kibbles 'N Bits for dinner.  Friskies Ocean Whitefish and Tuna Dinner for dinner on Sundays.

Shrapnel:

--Investor Bill Ackman made “the most important presentation of my life” in which he reaffirmed his zero target price for Herbalife and his belief that it’s a scam and preys on poor people with implied promises of easy, steady money.  The response:  the stock rose and Herbalife threatened to sue him.

--Israel says Ben Gurion International is perfectly safe and doesn’t understand the American and European airlines that have been banned from flying there.  After all, the Hamas missile landed more than a mile away.  Nothing here to worry about, travelers… they may have missiles, but they also have lousy aim.

Radio salute:  This is Wessay #1360.  When the post number coincides with an AM radio frequency, we do a shout out.  Today’s is to WWOW, Conneaut, Ohio… Boomer Tunes and NBC News.  It takes guts to do Oldies on AM in the 21st Century. And more should.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address hate mail to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

1359 A Tale of Two Restaurants

We wrote the other day about the great humanitarians at the Sarasota, Florida Cracker Barrel restaurant who fired a 70- something Viet vet for giving away a few packets of tartar sauce to an apparently homeless man who wanted a little something to dress up the fish he planned to cook over a fire.


Here’s a story about another restaurant -- also a chain outlet -- that handled things in a completely different way.


Mr. and Mrs. X of Columbia, Missouri were regulars at the local Red Lobster.  They loved the place.  It was their favorite.  They celebrated their first wedding anniversary there. And then their second.  And their third.  And their fourth.  In fact every anniversary up to 30.


Some time after their 30th, Mr. X passed away.  And when the anniversary date rolled around, their daughter thought she’d take mom to Red Lobster just to keep up the tradition.


And so they went.


Everyone at the place knew Mr. and Mrs. X.  And when their waitress suggested to the manager that they give Mrs. and daughter a dessert on the house he said “No.  Give them the whole meal, soup to nuts.”


Waitress sneaks into the back room, takes out one of those little plastic folders used to put the check on the table and instead of a check, writes a note.


The note says Red Lobster and your friends who work here and know and love you want to make you a gift of this meal.


This story was first told on the website of NBC’s Today Show. It did not identify the couple by name.  Privacy in a world without privacy.


It doesn’t much matter that you don’t know the names as long as you know the idea.


The corporation that owns Lobster chain is selling it.  They figure it’s worth a couple of billion. They’re in a bit of a financial jam -- aren’t we all? -- and Lobster is their crown jewel.


We don’t know if they have a policy about giving away food.  And we don’t know for sure whether the staff paid the bill out of their own pockets.


But as of now, no four legged lobsters have been boiled alive.  And it’s highly unlikely that anyone’s going to get anything but praise for this act.


The contrast between Barrel and Lobster is indirect.  But for one, it comes down to “let no good deed go unpunished.”  For the other, it shows there remains in this world people with heart.


Shrapnel:


--Of course there’s also plenty of room for the opposite, too.  For example, Vladimir. How is he going to explain shooting down that Malaysian plane?


--How long before Obama drops the charade and starts openly siding with Hamas?  The inhumanity of the moment inflicted by Israel is little compared to the decades of inhumanity inflicted on it.  We have a short attention span.


Grapeshot:


-Nice tribute to James Garner on YouTube.


I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

1358 Rupert? Call Him Lola

Why?  Because as we learned in the 1955 Broadway musical Damn Yankees “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”  Adler and Ross knew a little about Rupert Murdoch, even if they’d probably never heard of him… likely because he was only 24 when “Yankees” opened at the 46th Street Theater.

Murdoch is the last Great Media Baron Standing.  Oh, yeah, there are other big tycoons of media: Barry Diller, Sumner Redstone, the current Hearst, the current Newhouse, Mike Bloomberg.

But there’s none who can swashbuckle like Rupert.  It’s hard to think of an absurd major deal he’s made in the last 30 years that has failed to turn to gold… if you discount a few websites for which he overpaid.

The Times of London, Dow Jones, Fox, and on and on.  And now the king of fake conservative sleaze, Page 6 gossip and Page Three nakedness has his little heart set on Time Warner.

Time Warner has separated itself from one of its two biggest losers, Time Inc.  It’s trying to separate itself from the other one, Time Warner Cable.

That leaves it with nothing but the cream of its media properties. Like CNN and Warner Bros. Pictures. And that sets Murdoch- the- cat’s whiskers twitching.  

Here’s the Murdoch acquisition technique:

--Make the bid which is usually rejected.
--Divide the owners or stockholders and buy in.
--Remake the offer, while promising he’ll keep his hands off of the acquisition.
--Stir up the waters until enough stockholders and stakeholders agree to his terms.
--Shed some conflicting divisions.
--Renege on all the other promises.

It worked with the London Times.  It worked with the Wall Street Journal.  And it’ll work this time.

In many ways, Murdoch improves what he buys.  The Journal, America’s greatest trade paper, was in the doldrums and is better as a part of NewsCorp.

The New York Post, always a make believe newspaper, is at least fun to read even if it does look like they made it up a week in advance.

Fox’s non- news, non- commentary channels have become a major contender in TV land because they’ve made bold moves:  “The Simpsons,” “House,” “American Idol,” “Cops,” “Family Guy.”

Murdoch may be a bad guy.  He’s a pirate.  He’s an ideologue. His media properties have a better CIA than the CIA.  He’s a terrible influence. He’s a right wing whacko.  You wouldn’t allow your daughter to date him, even if he is a doddering octogenarian and she wears a chastity belt.

But don’t count him out.  Don’t EVER count him out.  This may be his last hurrah.  But if he continues knocking on the door, someone’s going to open it at let him in.

Whatever Lola wants.

Shrapnel:

--Comic book shockers: Archie Andrews -- no longer a high schooler -- is killed defending his best friend who is gay.  The new Captain America of Marvel Comics is black. About time for both.

Grapeshot:

-Is any veteran LIRR rider surprised the “inevitable” strike won’t happen after last minute down to the wire breathless negotiations starring the lovely and talented Andrew Cuomo?

-Flying Malaysia Air is risky business these days no matter where you’re headed, no?

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

1357 The Sporting News

Okay, everyone, you can go back to your seats and relax now.  Germany has won the World Cup and LeBron has returned to the Cavs.


A world at last at rest.


Soccer fans -- known everywhere in the world but here in the US as football fans -- are nuttier and more volatile than American football fans.


There hasn’t been a knock-down-the-stands riot at an NFL game in this country since Columbus.


Unlike baseball’s World Series, the World Cup really is an international affair.  It’s also a big bucks operation.


The host country this time, Brazil, proved that it could hide reality long enough for most of us to forget how terrible conditions are for some there.  High crime.  Street urchins. Poverty. Disease.


No, the Brazil we all saw was pretty women, intense athletes, nice, sparkling playing venues (don’t lean against those walls, please. They’re scenery, not structure.)


So after nine-thousand rounds, there’s a winner… this time, Germany. Makes college basketball’s March Madness seem like a cameo instead of the endless betting parlor it really is.


Speaking of Basketball: LeBron James is a really really good basketball player.  And he’s a native of Ohio.  And he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers for a long time.  He was a first draft pick back in the day.  And they picked him.


After seven seasons, he went to the Miami Heat.  Now, after weeks of intense guessing about his future, he shocked the world by going home.


The Cavs can use his help.


The Heat was getting cold.


And this is no knuckle dragging dummy.  His new 19 million dollar contract has an escape clause after a year.  And lots of other bells and whistles.


Plus at the age of 29, James has to think about his future.


Many a burned out or retired professional athlete has found himself adrift after the games are over.


Some stay in the public eye.  Shaq has commercials for Gold Bond, Icy Hot and Buick.


Michael Jordan is everywhere.  So is Magic Johnson.


So James has to keep an eye on the ball -- where it is and where he thinks it will be.


And based on the Hamlet-like public pondering about where to go after the Heat, we see James has a good eye for the public eye.


More power to him.  And more money.


Shrapnel:


--While we’re on the sports page, a question.  Why does the American League “always” win the all-star game, as it did last night?  As they used to say in Brooklyn, “wait ‘til next year…” when there’s no more Jeeter.


--Newspaper columnist Maureen Dowd recently wrote a piece skewering Chelsea Clinton for receiving 75-thousand dollars per speaking appearance. In it, Dowd didn’t mention that she charges only 30-thousand a pop, according to the watchdog group Media Matters. Maybe the Texas red head is just green with envy.


--New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is heading to Italy and a vacation later this week.  Hardly the time to blast off, Mr. DeBlastoff.  With a commuter rail strike looming the only place you should be is City Hall.


I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

1356 Bottom of the Cracker Barrel

If this doesn’t make your blood boil, there’s something wrong with you.

Cracker Barrel is in trouble again.  This time it’s because it fired a Viet vet in his 70s who gave a homeless guy in Sarasota a muffin and some packets of tartar sauce.

The old fashioned southern themed restaurant chain has a worthy rap sheet.

Back in the early 1990s it circulated a staff memo which said in not so many words “if you appear to be gay, you go away.”  People lost jobs.

Founder Dan Evins said that was a mistake.

Really, now?

Fast forward to 2004 when the Justice Department said the chain segregated customers by race, providing worse and slower service to non- white customers and seating them last.

In 2008 Cracker Barrel distinguished itself yet anew by coming in with the lowest score in the Human Rights Campaign’s measure of LGBT treatment in chain restaurants.

And now, it’s after Joe Koblenzer.  He’s white and as far as we know straight.  So what was his sin?

A homeless guy with a fish walked in, said he was going to cook it over an outdoor fire and asked Joe for some condiments so he could dress up his “dinner.”  Joe knuckled under to this highly unreasonable request and gave him not only the tartar sauce but one of those small stomach-sinker muffins the restaurant sells.

Not only that, but Joe once took a coke and didn’t pay for it. And he stands accused of giving another customer down on her luck a free cup of coffee… although he denies that.

Grand larceny fish sauce.  Get this guy off the streets.  Book him, Danno.

A cup of coffee there costs … what, a buck? Two? Condiment packets go for about $50 a ton, even less when you use auto-delivery.

And muffins?  Doesn’t matter what they cost.  After sitting in the tray for an hour, they sell them to concrete companies at a good profit.

And then the corporation puts out this memo with a straight face:


“Mr. Koblenzer has worked as a host at Cracker Barrel’s Sarasota store since April 2011. During the time he was employed, he violated the Company’s policies regarding consuming food without paying or giving away free food, on five separate occasions. Mr. Koblenzer received multiple counselings and written warnings reminding him about the company’s policies and the consequences associated with violating them. On the fifth occasion, again per Company policy, Mr. Koblenzer was terminated.
Cracker Barrel is grateful for and honors Mr. Koblenzer’s service to our country as we honor all service men and women and their families.”
We’re especially impressed with the punchline about honoring his military service.

Counseling?  Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall when that was going on.

Joe told the local ABC TV affiliate that they certainly had the right to fire him, and of the negative publicity “I wouldn’t wish that...” on them.

And he’s looking for a new job to help bolster his meager Social Security check.  But probably not in a restaurant.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2014