Friday, February 12, 2016

1603 The End of an Era

How many times have you seen that tired old phrase?  It’s usually reserved for things that matter at least to some people.

GM stops making Pontiacs.  Traditional TV channels are swapped for digital frequencies.  Legal segregation is abolished.  Unity among Republicans is abolished.  A black man is elected President and a woman may soon be.

But this one is one for the ages.  Literally.  Britain’s House of Lords, the only legislative body stuffier than the US Senate, is going to stop keeping its records on vellum.

Vellum is calfskin.  Most of us gave up killing young bovines for their skin ages ago.  You rarely see a banjo or drum head made from a dead animal.

But when musicians opted out of vellum, it was because various man-made substitutes sound better, last longer and aren’t subject to variations in temperature and humidity.

So while the animal rights folks may be happy with the Lords, it’s not animal rights they had in mind when they decided to go high tech, it was money.

Let’s not delude ourselves.  This choice is not exactly a leap into the 21st century where everything is preserved in flash memory and hard drive.

The Brits are going to use paper.  And you can bet it’s going to be fancy paper, not just some recycled junk from Staples.

The Lords have been keeping their records on vellum since the 1400s.  The skin is said to last 5,000 years, compared with maybe a couple of hundred for paper.

And therein lies another era and its probable end.  Does anyone think anyone will still be here 5,000 years from now?  And if they are will they have ever even heard of the House of Lords?  And if they have, will they care what it did in 1066 or 1966 or 2066?

Sometimes the English confuse history with self importance.

Since the Lords keep records of the House of Commons, the commoners who really run Britain have chimed in. They are what we now call “stakeholders.” And they think a lot is at stake.

So a debate is likely before the actual change.  Anyone ask Liz what she thinks?  Anyone have her email address?

Quote of the day:

“If early civilizations hadn’t used vellum, our understanding of history would be diddly squat.”
-- Paul Wright, general manager of the only British company that still sells vellum, quoted in the New York Times.


Shrapnel:

--California is considering letting 16 year olds vote in school board and community policy elections.  Probably the best idea in public education since the invention of the chalkboard. But fraud- preventing voter ID would be a must because you never know when a mature looking 15 year old will try to pull a fast one.

--The self-styled “sane” and “compassionate” Republican in pursuit of the presidency, Governor John Kasich of Ohio, says he will sign a bill defunding Planned Parenthood in his state.  Is Kasich moving to the right?  Or has he just been lying to us all along?

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

1602 Water, Water Everywhere

1602  Water, Water Everywhere

Let’s do something different this time.  Let’s start with the quote of the day:

“...Water, water, everywhere/Nor any drop to drink.” --Samuel Taylor Coleridge in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1778.)


The ancient mariner faced problems unlike those of Flint, Michigan.  But you can’t drink seawater and you can’t drink Flintwater.  So the problems share a root.

In Flint, the problem is lead.  Lead in new brains can turn young children into hospital cases of abdominal pain and mental cases of the kind that damage for life.

Flint has become the poster city for lead in the water, but it’s not alone.

Flint has become the poster city for pennywise, pound foolish.  But it’s not alone on that one, either.

The city stopped buying water from Detroit… which is not exactly chemical free, and started draining the Flint River which is a swamp passed through lead pipes.  The stuff is yellow-orange when it enters the system and still yellow-orange when you turn on the tap.

“Oh, it’s perfectly safe” said Mayor George Orwell as he took a healthy slug from his bottle of Poland Spring. “Don’t worry about the color” said Public Works Director Giuseppe Pinocchio as he nursed his glass of Miller Lite. “It’s saving us a bundle” said Treasurer Kenneth Lay as he poured a glass of Perrier.

We have safe water laws in this country, right?  Well, sort of right.  There are thousands of systems and a good lot of them are not covered.  Loopholes abound for those that are covered.

Hard pressed municipalities skirt, ignore or disobey the laws.  If the water tests “okay,” or even looks and smells okay, who is going to notice?

Get away on the cheap.  Pumping contaminated water is a lot easier than, say, reducing costs by firing unnecessary political appointees in no-show jobs.

Priorities, folks.

It takes a situation like Flint’s to draw our attention.  But what about the other poisons in other systems?

We’ll leave out the fluoride debate because it’s too similar to the anti-vaxxer movement.  

But what happens when they dump too much chlorine at the pumping station and your water smells like a swimming pool? What happens in fracking country when you can set the water on fire?

The skinflints of Flint will have to fix this.  Of course, a lot of the damage has already been done and can’t be fixed.  Eight thousand kids with lead-addled brains.

And those are just the ones we know about.



Shrapnel:

--So what’s the message from the Bernie and Donald wins in New Hampshire?  Probably that Americans are fed up with the status quo, the phonies, panderers, incompetent morons we usually elect.  Or maybe it was just one state with a lot of enthusiasm for guys off the beaten path.

--The relatively sane Kasich came in a distant second in New Hampshire’s Republican primary.  Don’t expect that to happen again. If Crubioz combined their votes, Trump still would have won by a decent figure.

Coverage Note: MSNBC’s Brian Williams was a mere drone in Rachel Maddow’s bagpipe, and looked and acted like the kid who’s just learned he flunked algebra and had to take it for a third time in summer school.


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

© WJR 2016

Monday, February 08, 2016

1601 Blue Cross Bribe

1601 Blue Cross Bribe

Something we all know:  the main job of insurance companies is denying claims while raising rates. They will deny this.  But you know it’s true.

So when an out of the blue gift comes from one, who can blame you if you have suspicions of nefarious intent?

The health insurance company has recently given us two cases of possible nafariosity.

It
  1. Reduced its premium by about ⅓ compared with 2015 and
  2. Sent a $25 gift card from Target as a “reward for healthy living.”

In #1, there’s probably some “change” in coverage.  When corporations use the word “change” in the fine print it usually means either a rate increase or a coverage reduction which you will find out about in detail when the next “explanation of benefits” monthly notice arrives.

#2 is a little harder to figure.  First, they announce the promotion, which goes only to those who have met the demands of the Affordable Care Act, including some preventive exams, being up to date on our rabies shots… things like that.

Since they lowered rates, “change” is a synonym for coverage reduction.

So naturally, there must be some kind of catch.  Some fine print on the card.

And there is.  But it’s just the usual stuff about not exchangeable for cash, notice that they’ll sell your name to everyone who doesn’t yet have it from their getting hacked… too bad if you lose it… and made of 43% recycled materials.

So, an outright gift.  From an insurance company? It appears so.

But the insurer is a non-profit. Non-profits are taxed differently from public companies.  So they’ll lump the cost into some kind of legal sales promotional campaign which will get no scrutiny from the IRS.

On receiving this manna from Blue Cross, the first instinct was to rush over to Target and spend it on something before the size reduction clock starts ticking in ten days.  But there is no size reduction or user fees or any of that.

Okay, this is on the level.  We’re surprised… shocked, even.  But we still have questions:

  1. Did the insurance company get a quantity discount on the $25 dollar cards?
  2. If they didn’t, did Target agree to place all its health insured with this company?
  3. If #2 happened was the agreement (a) formal and in writing or (b) a wink and a nod?

Since emails are immortal, no matter how you try to stab, shoot, bludgeon, poison or burn them, there are a lot more winks and nods these days.

Quote of the day:

“...if you try to manipulate or damage it in any way it snaps a picture of you.” --Det. Kevin Bretts of Batavia, Illinois, explaining how he found a mug shot of someone they think broke into a photo booth.
Shrapnel:

--Happy Asian New Year.  It is the Chinese year of the monkey.  If you were born in a previous year of the Monkey, you’re said to be quick witted and enthusiastic. Typically, people make little of the year number because they’ve been around so long they’ve lost count.

Grapeshot:

-Of course Hillary never changed a vote in return for a speaking fee if only because the votes come only after the fee is in the bank.

-There was plenty on Mrs. Clinton’s private server, maybe even messages disclosing the nuclear missile launch codes forwarded to Kim Jong Un’s housekeeper, but what WASN’T there were the texts to those speeches.

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

© WJR 2015

Friday, February 05, 2016

1600 WWRL and the Death of AM Radio

(Note to readers: this being the 1600th in this series of posts, time to reflect on the station whose frequency shares the number.)

The radio station you could receive with a crystal set and a “cat’s whisker” may be a living symbol of AM radio’s ninth and final life.

1600 once was the highest legal frequency on the AM radio dial.  It was the most local of local stations in New York City’s borough of Queens and in the 1940s, represented the then burgeoning diversity of what now is the city’s most diverse chunk of geography.

The programs were in English, German, Polish, French and every other Euro language that came out of any Euro mouth.

All this originated from the area called Woodside, and specifically from a cute little house on a block of other cute little houses. Except this one had a cute little transmitting tower in the back yard and the block could hear WWRL not only on its radios but on its telephones, its toasters and the fillings in its teeth.

Pretty good if you spoke Czech or Lithuanian.  A lot of people spoke Czech or Lithuanian.

But the station gained little traction until 1964 when its founder and the resident of the cute little white house, William Reuman sold it -- house and all -- to Egmont Sonderling, who turned it into a powerhouse of African American music and real local news.

Famous or soon to be famous disc jockeys made their way to Woodside… Jocko, Frankie Crocker, Gary Byrd, and more. Many ears followed. Even those not near enough to receive ‘RL on their teeth.  

In those days AM radio was king of the dial.   And with far less free floating interference than we have now, you could hear it far and wide.

But as FM gained traction, most AMs lost listeners. Evolution. ‘RL devolved, appealing to smaller and smaller niches within African American and Caribbean communities.  Air America occupied a lot of its airspace for much of its mercifully short life.

And now, it’s focusing on programs that appeal to people from the Indian subcontinent.  There’s plenty of audience for that.  But not nearly as much as there was for Frankie and Jocko.

AM stations are going dark all over the country, usually the ones that try to stay “local.”  

AM is running out of steam.  And no one seems to have a solution.  Infomercials, plug-in talk shows, maybe a local weather report.

Have these facilities outlived their usefulness?  Here’s hoping the answer is no.  And if the answer is no, this is the time to buy because there’s a lot available at fire sale prices.

Grapeshot:

-The Democratic debate last night sounded like a leashed Yorkshire Terrier snarling and barking threateningly at a distant bear who doesn’t notice.

-Will Sick Rantorum apply for unemployment comp?

-Fiorina has been dropped from an upcoming Republican debate and must now return to her first love, destroying reputable corporations.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them.  ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2016

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

1599 What's Not in Your Wallet

1599 What’s Not in Your Wallet

The love- hate relationship with Capital One continues.  This time, comes an email, an ominous email.

It says, in effect and in much more complex legalese, “we think you may have been hacked so watch your statements closely and we’re sending you a new card with a new number and a built in chip.”

Uh oh.

Check the statement.  Just the usual stuff.  The card’s been active for decades.  Good interest rate back then.  Since doubled because (1) the credit score dropped below 800, (2) Everyone else is doing it and (3) “we can do it and there’s nothing you can do about it except pay off the whole thing.”

That’s impossible.

So we wait. Days pass. Then weeks. Then what comes in the snail mail? The new card?  No. Just a letter saying “we think you may have been hacked so watch your statements closely and we’re sending you a new card with a new number and a built in chip.”

More days. More weeks. Finally, (fanfare, please) “here’s your new card.”

Sure is pretty. But where’s my autographed picture of Samuel L. Jackson?  (There was a picture of Alec Baldwin with the previous renewal. But he got fired in the interim.)

Activate.  And now the real fun begins.

This card is mainly used for buying stuff on the internet and the shopping channels.  Also for the exterminator and the mail order pharmacy.  But changing the account number means going to a zillion different accounts, some of them with long- forgotten passwords.

A new tangle of paperwork.  A new waste of valuable computer time.

That means dealing with customer service at HSN, QVC, Evine, Jewelry TV, Liquidation Channel, Amazon, Highmark Blue Cross, Zap-a-Pest exterminators, Consumer Cellular, the New York Times, Elderly Instruments, Sweetwater Music, Just-Strings, Dish, Comcast and http//:whathaveiforgotten.com.

It’s going to be a long day.


Shrapnel:

--Living proof the financial gurus do not understand broadcasting following the NFL’s 450 million dollar agreement with NBC and CBS to carry Thursday Night football.  Yes, as they’ve scolded,  the networks are going to pay more than they recover for the broadcasts.  But the profit will come in other ways… follow up shows, good publicity and eyes, eyes, eyes.

--This really deserves a full 500 words.  But the lesson of Iowa is we need a national primary. Get the whole shebang over with at once and be done with it.  And no more winner-takes-all.

Quote of the Day: “We believe strongly that we won tonight.” Clinton spokesman on her 50- 50ish tie with Bernie Sanders in the Iowa voting and announcement that Clinton gets one more delegate than Sanders.

Grapeshot:
-Technically, if the figures are correct, Clinton won the Iowa thing by three tenths of one per cent.

-In most contact sports, this kind of a tie goes into extra innings or periods of overtime.

-Note to Ted Cruz: congratulations, but remember Santorum once won Iowa’s republicans and look what happened to him.

-Note to the electorate:  None of this matters, and chances are neither does your vote.

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

© WJR 2016
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Monday, February 01, 2016

1598 The Aufbau

1598 The Aufbau

It was a New York newspaper, once. Its job was to teach refugees from Nazi Germany how to assimilate into life in America.
There’s nothing on this earth like a German with a rule book.  So when the huge wave of immigrants swept ashore here, the Aufbau took it upon itself to offer a reading of the rules.

Things like
--learn English.
--don’t brag about how great Germany is or was.
--don’t brag about how high ranking you were or give the impression you’re doing America a favor by being here. (no one cares and no one will believe you.)
--learn English.
--don’t expect a hearty welcome.
--DO expect suspicion (We know you’re not a spy, but what do we know?)
--Get a job and show up for it every day you’re scheduled.
--As in Germany, promptness is a virtue here.
--Don’t make blunt overtures to people of the opposite sex immediately on meeting them.  (And that goes for you, too, frauleins.)
--Oh, in case we failed to mention it earlier…
--Learn English.

Fast forward to today.  Germany is experiencing a mass influx of immigrants of its own.  And as a public service, some groups have dusted off the “how to act” rule book.

This time, it’s in Arabic.

This, after more than a thousand newbies started robbing and sexually assaulting residents in Cologne. Germany has put out the willkommen mat, but only half heartedly… like the kind of welcome they got here in the 1930s.

Like the Germans in America, the Middle Easterners are bringing an established culture with them.  There’s a wider gap between German and Arab than there was between German and American.
They were right to circulate the customs via the Aufbau back then.  And they’re right to be circulating them now in Cologne, Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Nuremberg.

No country that accepts refugees is immune to culture clashes.  Most can be handled reasonably and sanely.

The Germans have to get used to the pop up mosques that will no doubt pop up.  

The incomers will have to learn that Europeans in general will react unkindly to women in facemasks, to killings, robbery, street rampages and Islamic quirks like “trial by husband/daddy/brother,”  beheadings, male supremacy and female circumcision.

But what they will react kindly to is the idea that the refugees will want to be there and try to fit in.   

Quote of the day:

“We received a letter from the police saying she was caught trying to steal condoms.” -- Honor killer Assadulah Kahn under questioning by police in Darmstadt, Germany when asked why he strangled his 19 year old daughter.

Shrapnel:

--Okay, Iowa, here come the last five minutes of your 15 minutes of fame. Once the caucus results are in and all the jabbering about them ends, you can get back to normal.  And so can the rest of us.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com
© WJR 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

1597 The Quandary of the Nuns

The old timer sisters would have known how to handle this.  They would have torched thy neighbor.  Or picketed. Or both.

Now, everything’s a federal case.  Well, not necessarily an actual federal case, but at least a court case.

So it was when the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo took the owners of neighboring Club Allure to Cook County Court.  A strip club.

Cook County is Chicago and lots of small adjacent places.  These neighbors are in neighboring Stone Park. They are next door to each other.

The nuns filed suit.  In it, they allege, there is lewd behavior and “paid sexual contact for arousal purposes.”  There’s a phrase for you.

But okay, it’s a strip club and it’s next to a convent and chances are pretty good the convent was there first, since the club was erected in 2012.

Cook County is home to about two million members of the Roman Catholic Church. That’s down a bit from past years.  Yet it’s still hard to imagine a judge named Peter Flynn ruling against the nuns.

But that’s what he did. Sort of.  He says if there’s prostitution and violations of the liquor law they must be documented.  And so he told the ladies to get some evidence and bring it on.

Thus, a quandary.  How are they going to do that?  Doff their habits dress provocatively then apply for work?  Sister Mary Elizabeth does a mean pole dance? Guys stuff currency into her g-string? Father Paul snaps proof with his iPhone?

C’mon.

Meantime, the club is trying to take the high road… about as easy to do as a nun on a stripper pole.  “We’re legal.”  That’s what their lawyers say. “We run a clean establishment” say they.

Joey from Chicago goes regularly.  You’d have to capture Joey on some pretext and ask him under oath “Joey, one of those girls take you into a back room for a little this and that?”  “No your honor. No such thing ever happened” he likely would say.

Perjury.

They could get Trixi on the witness stand and she’d say the same thing if asked if she took Joey to a back room.  

Perjury again.

Father Paul with the iPhone won’t go in as a decoy.  And neither will an aging altar boy with a fake ID who tries to buy a drink.

It’s awkward.

But the nuns are nothing if not persistent, so they’re going to figure something out. The deadline is April Fourth.



Shrapnel:

--Winner of last night’s Republican debate was Megyn Kelly because they coiffed and dressed her up as Debutante Barbie instead of TV Reporter Barbie. In second place: Trump who made the best showing of the night by simply not showing up. If you’re thinking of voting for any of these candidates, first have your psychiatrist reevaluate your meds.

Quote of the day “...we may have been given a gift from the lord…” Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE) assessing the Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination.

Grapeshot:

-Right on, Joe… now stand up and take a bow.

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

© WJR 2016