Friday, March 30, 2007

You're Fired

222 You’re Fired!

Move over Donald Trump, you don’t have a lock on the phrase “You’re Fired!”

But first, here’s a quiz for all you guys who used to work at Circuit City, the ones who make too much dough and can apply for your old jobs back – at a lower salary.

This is in lieu of an auction in which the 3500 lowest bidders got to keep working.

How do you know you’re overpaid? Easy. Just take this simple test:

1. When you walk into the house and flip the light switch, did the light turn on?

2. When you pick up the phone is there a dial tone?

3. Did you eat today?

4. Is there gas in the car?

5. Could you board the bus or subway without searching the ground for someone else’s spilled loose change?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re overpaid.

But maybe, you’re GROSLY overpaid. How do you know? Here’s another simple test:

1. Do you have medical insurance?

2. Is your car worth more than $3,000?

3. Have you taken a vacation trip in any of the last six years?

4. Do you have a big screen television, a DVD player or a computer that runs “Vista” and has more than one gig of memory?

5. Is there a bottle of single malt scotch in your house?

6. Have you ever bought angus or Kobe beef?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you are grossly overpaid.

But not like the guy who runs (or by now, ran) this outfit. He made something like two million and salary and bonus in 2005, the last year for which we could find solid figures not open to interpretation. So even if he took a 50% cut, he made more than the total of 60 or so of the headless.

This joint’s out of ideas and mostly parrot what their more successful cross-town competitor does. Granted there’s scarce little difference between the two, why is one better off than the other? Luck? Promotions? Locations?

There’s only one way to turn around a retail disaster-in-waiting: sell more stuff. Cost cutting works only to a point.

You can give away the store. But that, like cutbacks, is only a short term solution. You can pull the plug and let the patient die., but that often serves no one. Maybe you could start by making sense of the selling floor, which would mean –oh, say putting the vacuum cleaners somewhere other than next to the computer ink cartridges. They could improve (or create) “customer rewards,” restore commission sales, develop house brands, think up new promotions. That would improve things. Or not.

Interesting, but hardly unique: as soon as they announced the job cuts, the stock rose. Take that to its logical conclusion and fire everyone, so the stock goes through the roof.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Expansion Team

221 The Expansion Team

Why do in two or three steps what you can do in ten or more?

Calculated inefficiency seems to be the order of the day. Stuff you used to be able to do quickly now takes forever. And if you don't get overtime on the job, you're in trouble.

Even the simplest chores can be turned into the twisted, stretched and bent. Life as filled spaghetti bowl.

Can you answer the telephone by picking up the receiver? Not anymore. Now, you have to push at least one button. The only reason there aren't six buttons to push is that they haven't yet figured out to do it.

Write a letter: Take paper and pen in hand and write? Stick a piece of paper in the typewriter and type? Nah. Go to the start button, find the word processing program, put up a "new blank document," THEN type.

Office chores are the worst. Most of them not only force you to use complex technology, but to find and attract the attention of and then enlist the support of a superior officer, who probably does the same.

In the home, it’s much the same story. Sweep the floor. But first, move all the vases and plants and trinkets and what-all else you have lying there in a beautiful artistic arrangement.

Buy gas? Sure. Pull up to the pump, making sure the correct side of your car is facing the nozzle. Open the gas tank (usually from the inside – and whatever happened to gas tanks you opened up, twisted off the cap and started fueling or better yet had someone else start fueling FOR you?) Insert your credit card into the pump. Wait for approval. Get approval, select grade... pump gas, “do you want a receipt?” “yes,” “Printing receipt.” Thank you for choosing Chavez Oil, have a nice day and don’t forget to pick up that cup of coffee at our convenience store…”

Open a window: open a window. Or, figure out which way the dual window locks have to be turned to get the window open. THEN open the window.

This is sooooo Soviet. It’s kind of a make work plan, apparently started by middle managers fearing that it would be discovered that they have nothing to do, and would therefore lose their jobs.

It’s a trend to ceremonialism. Of course, ceremonies themselves are longer than they ever were. A nice shabbot service at the local synagogue used to take an hour or so. A Catholic mass was the same length as an “hour” with the psychotherapist, only in Latin. A Sunday morning Protestant service was an hour, give or take.

No more. Everything’s longer, more complicated, expanded.

Is it any wonder almost nothing gets done, and what DOES get done takes ten times longer than it either used to or should?

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR


Monday, March 26, 2007

The Cold Case

220 The Cold Case

There’s nothing like the feeling you get when the patrol car behind you starts flashing its lights. Well, almost nothing. Here’s something that’s close: the phone rings and the guy on the line identifies himself as “Detective Freisinger of the Nautilus County Police.”

Quick self check: Are there any outstanding warrants? Did we pay the real estate tax on the house back there? Do we have any outstanding traffic tickets? Did we put some improper plastic or toxic chemical in the final recycle pickup? No to all. Pfew!

Detective Freisinger announces that the Case of the Missing Banjo has been reactivated, and wants some information. This is a cold case. Not the kind of cold case you see on TV where some skilled or lucky detective solves a 37 year old murder or a year-old mysterious disappearance.

The banjo vanished at some point during the move from Moote Pointe, NY to Moote Pointe, PA, but well before the actual moving truck pulled out of or into either location.

Nice little banjo. Custom made, more or less. One of a kind in any event. Vanished from the home office the same day the “haul-it-off” guys were taking stuff out of the house.

Descriptions circulated to the country’s leading used instrument makers, the pawn shops, that kind of thing.

So why are they opening this case again? It’s because, says Det. Freisinger, there are suddenly a lot of stolen musical instruments turning up in pawn shops in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.

A banjo in a Bronx pawn shop would stand out like an electric space heater in Las Vegas.

So tell the story for the umpteenth time and Det. F gives thanks, leaves his phone number “in case you think of anything else,” (how “Law & Order” is that!) and rings off.

This provokes a call to the maker of said instrument, a fella named Mike who used to work in Virginia but has since moved to North Carolina, and is famous in the (admittedly limited) world of modern banjo making as slow on delivery. To the point where his largest dealer posts pictures of the models with the provisos “available in very limited quantities” and “on order, expected arrival date unknown.”

Mike apologizes for not having sent the ordered (and half-paid-for) replacement yet. In return, he’s wished a happy one year anniversary of the order. It’ll be here “…by Christmas…” (year unspecified) he says once. Then “by February, 2007, for sure,” he says. It’s almost two months beyond that, and time for another call. Meantime, who remembers how to play the banjo?

Eventually, this thing will show up… the new one. Maybe Det. F. will turn up the old one, too. Then, there will be twins. Not likely though.

The appearance of one of them would be a fine way to get revenge on the guy next door who plays loud, thumping music at all hours of the day and night.

The guitars in hand are two quiet and polite to do that.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, March 23, 2007

Returning Calls

219 Returning Calls

People here in Moote Pointe seem not to return their phone calls. It must be much busier than it looks. Either that, or the speed of sound is far slower here than it is anywhere else on the planet.

You’d figure that people who were in the business of selling stuff would respond to customer inquiries. Wrong. At least not often.

You’d think that medical offices would return messages left from patients in need of care. Wrong again.

You’d think that acquaintances would return phone calls inviting them to dinner. Not so much.

And it’s not a generational thing. Recent non-returners have ranged in age from 17 to 84. That’s a pretty broad demographic range.

No one answers. No one returns messages.

And, admit it, you’ve seen this happen. You’ll be talking to someone and their cell phone will sound. (Notice, please, it’ll “sound,” not ring. Cell phones don’t ring. In fact, pretty much NO phone rings anymore.) Anyway, here comes the call and the guy pulls the cell off his belt and looks at the caller i.d. window and ignores the call.

A few minutes later, the phone sounds again to signal there’s a voicemail message. That, too, gets ignored. You know this guy’s not going to listen to that message. You know he’s not going to return the call.

This is opposite from what happens in New York and Los Angeles. (And London, Beijing, Moscow, and Frankfurt.) There, people return calls. Sometimes when they shouldn’t. Like when you’re in a meeting and about to sign papers for a five billion dollar stock swap? And the phone rings and the seller takes the call and the blah blah blah goes on forever. And when it’s finally over, the call taker says “oh, so sorry about that, but I HAD to take that one.” Immediately thereafter, the phone rings again. And guess what? Another emergency.

Which is among the reasons people are always in meetings. They don’t really meet. They simply gather in rooms and take telephone calls unrelated to the topic of the meeting.

Is there a middle ground here? No. Just two compatible extremes. Return your calls. Don’t make or take new ones when you are committed to something else.

In olden days, Avis Rent-a-Car had a policy: collect phone messages and return them at a specific time each day. At Bloomberg News, the original (but not the current) policy was to require any meeting that ran more than 45 minutes to be finished standing.

And then there’s the Wessays rule of meetings: If there are more than three people involved, nothing will get done because everyone will be busy either grandstanding or figuring out how to grandstand when the other grandstanders stopped.

It’s even worse if it’s a teleconference (although who has time to call into one of those,) and worse still if it’s a videoconference.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Back On The Air

218 Back on the Air

Small is beautiful. There are things you can do on the air in Moote Pointe that you can’t do in New York. They care that you show up, that you don’t commit slander, that you don’t diss the city of license. But other than that, they go away and leave you alone. At least so far.

One thousand watts of AM radio. Sixty one watts after sunset, at which time you cannot here the signal in the studio, about ten miles from the transmitter. They pull a 1.8 in the ratings, compared with something like 5 for their FM and 13 for the market leader.

Not a lot of risk of being listened to.

It’s okay. We had that in New York, too. And that show cost more to get on the air for 42 hours a week than this place probably bills in a year. So already, small is not only beautiful, but efficient, because this show costs next to nothing.

It’s in a little house on what passes for a busy street in these parts. It’s cold. It’s got a great view – mostly of a couple of similar houses across the road. It has a secret parking lot. That is, you have to be Columbus to find it. And some days you have to have a compass. And a snow shovel. In spring and summer you probably need a lawnmower as well.

But there’s plenty to be said for playing radio on these teapots. If you ignore the computerized, transistorized, disc-driven stuff, you could be back in 1958.

And there’s no safety net. No digital delay, no music if the calls don’t come in (and they don’t,) and no Associated Press wire.

At NBC, we had AP, UPI, Reuters, AFP “Daffy” from Germany, Tass, Xinhua, Kyoto, and others. Here, we have the internet. Unless we get caught stealing it, there’s Dow Jones, Bloomberg, NY Times, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, and the local paper. But the computer terminal and the microphone are so far apart you can’t use both at the same time.

There’s a huge clock. An “atomic” clock. It’s not only wrong, it’s never wrong by the same number of seconds. There is a computer clock, too. It’s also too far from the mic to see.

So at ten seconds to the hour, the station identification plays, not matter what else is going on, and then comes Fox News.

The only advantage of that is you can say it’s “…time for the liberal media…” just before the foxcast comes on, also bigfooting everything else.

This may be the only talk station in the country that plays both Rush Limbaugh and Alan Colmes. Of course, Colmes (an old friend,) is on during the 61 watt time of day and Rush is on in “prime time.” But ya gotta pay the rent, right?

And you gotta hand it to people who own this thing. They want to do local talk. That doesn’t happen a lot these days.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Face in the Crowd

217a A Face In The Crowd

We love movies about our own professions – or hate them. Here’s one of them that practically no one around today ever heard of. This is the 50th anniversary year of “A Face In The Crowd,” based on Budd Schulberg’s short story, “Your Arkansas Traveler,” written sometime after the mid 1940s.

The movie’s about a drunken rural ne’er do well, Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith) who becomes an overnight radio and then television star, based on his charm and good looks, and his refusal to be serious about the products and services of his sponsors.

Anyone who’s ever been on the air wanted to do some of the things the fictional Rhodes did. But Lonesome was a rat and eventually, the people find him out and refuse to watch his program.

Pretty simple story. Maybe a bit of an exaggerated take on a big broadcasting star of the era, Arthur Godfrey, who’s generally credited with bringing the common touch to an industry that was more like opera in its presentation, than it was like a conversation with the guy next door.

When this came out in 1957 (and it was in black and white,) most of us hadn’t heard of some of its feature players. Besides Griffith, there was Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau , Tony Franciosa and Lee Remick. And there were cameos by John Cameron Swayze, Earl Wilson, Walter Winchell, Mike Wallace, Faye Emerson, Sam Levinson, Burl Ives, Rip Torn, and a bunch of other big names that only a guy like Elia Kazan could assemble, put on film and then not credit.

A real convergence of Broadway, Hollywood and newspapers, the kind you don’t find a lot of today. Especially the uncredited part.

We follow Lonesome through his meteoric rise and his meteoric fall. There could have been a sequel. There wasn’t. Today we’d be up to “Face In The Crowd Part X.”

But this is more than a funny little movie filled with future big names. It was a cautionary tale for people in the entertainment industry. And, of course, no one seems to have been cautioned.

So we get the big stars who are just waiting to take a fall. We don’t know who they are yet. But eventually, we probably will.

There are people running around who can accurately quote hours of dialogue from “Casablanca” or “Gone With the Wind.” There aren’t people who can quote 125 minutes of dialogue from “Face.”

Probably a good thing. People who can repeat movie scripts in common conversation are terrible bores. But this movie should be shown to everyone contemplating a career in film, theater, broadcasting, blogging, newspaper writing, and politics. If you’re a piece of piegon dropping, eventually the public which you revere on stage and behind the microphone and hold in contempt the rest of the time will find you out.

In the meantime, since the film is marking an important anniversary, it’s likely to be shown a few more times this year. And it would be a good idea to see it.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Talking To Your Meds

216 Talking to Your Meds

This is not “talking to Prozac,” which was a famous book back in the day. This is about talking to all your medicines, the group. In some cases, the chorus. In some cases the mob (as opposed to The Mob, which we all know doesn’t exist.)

Filling the box marked with letters representing days is a weekly chore. And there was some discussion the other day when a stray Lipitor fell into the sink. Fortunately it wasn’t drowned. But the pill was told “okay, all the boxes are filled and you get a week’s reprieve on your execution.”

Wait a minute. Execution? Well, sure. When you swallow the pill, you kill it, right? Or do you really free it to do its job, end its incarceration in the drug store bottle?

Just as that contemplation began to take form, an 81 mg aspirin bounced out of the grip and onto the countertop. “Ahah! Not only is your execution NOT postponed by a return trip to the container, but you’re going into ‘S’ for Saturday, which means you have to wait out the execution until the end of the week, knowing your number (or your letter) will soon be up and it’s all over for you, you little yellow bird dropping.”

Somehow, the laconic Zoloft never jumps. It’s probably so happy just being itself that it feels no need for medicinal athleticism.

Since it doesn’t, you have the opportunity of putting something back into the system. You can offer aid and comfort to your antidepressant. After all, the little pill is going to work itself to death for you. It will dissolve in your system and make you happy – or at least less unhappy. So you can be kind to it before it goes to its execution (or its liberation.)

You can’t do the same for your Alka Seltzer. After all, pills don’t have stomachs. But a kind word now and then wouldn’t hurt.

And what about your cough medicine. You overdose sufficiently and you can get high. Do you ever thank it? Probably not. Shame on you.

Talking to your medication (there’s a word that shouldn’t exist, medication. Along with “utilize.”) Talking to your medication is not as nutty as it seems.

People talk to themselves and don’t listen. They talk to their plants, which don’t respond (or if they do, the talker is in really big trouble.) They talk to other drivers who, thankfully, can’t hear them. They talk to mechanical and electronic devices that answer the telephone, so why not their medicine.

If you’re not ON any meds, you are the exception, not the rule these days. But you can still perform a public services for these unheralded guardians of other peoples’ health.

Go to the drug store. Go to the head or stomach ache aisle and mutter a few words of encouragement to any box or bottle or tube that’s on the shelf. Your fellow shoppers may think you’re nuts. But you know deep in your heart, you will be recognizing the efforts of individual vitamins, minerals, decongestants, pain remedies and cold symptom relievers that their work is not for naught.

It’s the least you can do.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Haliburton And Other Mid East Tales

215 In The Middle East

A couple of stories of note out of the Middle East in recent days.

First and most important is that Haliburton is moving its CEO to where its heart is – Dubai. It’s much easier to kiss emirate ass when you’re near to it and Houston is much too far.

So, the oil and water and engineering conglomerate, kind of a CIA inside the CIA, once piloted by that well known corporate genius, Dick Cheney, can now set up shop near the source of its real money. Congrats, Haliburton.

Of course, your main office in Texas will remain in Texas and your Delaware incorporation will remain in Delaware. For now, anyway.

It’s not a terrible idea. They ought to move all CEOs to the countries where they can do the most good. GM could move to Beijing or Seoul. (So could half of America, actually.) You want to solve the immigration problem? Move Home Despot and 7-11 to Mexico.

Move ExxonMobil to Pakistan.

Move Disney to Saudi Arabia.

Underage Porn dot com’s already in Lithuania or Albania, and the best Chryslers come from Mexico and Canada.

Move Lukoil to Russia. Oh, wait. They ARE in Russia. Sort of.

--

The other big story out of the Middle East is Osama Bin Laden’s 50th birthday. We know he has been solicited for membership in the AARP, but we’re not sure whether he’s accepted. There’s been a lot of “chatter” as the security people like to call discussions carried on the internet and on short wave radio. But we don’t actually know whether he’ll join the Senior Citizens’ Lobby.

But it would make sense. After all, discounts on insurance (who needs life insurance more than this guy?) And there’s Tent and Cave-owner’s insurance. You never know when a sandstorm is going to come along and wreck your mobile encampment. And why pay retail?

Plus he can get all those AARP discounts on the Mantovani and David Rose records, and that “Best of Anita Kerr Singers” and “Best of Lawrence Welk” albums are hard to resist. (Bet you didn’t know Old Osama is a big fan of Champagne Music. Of course, they don’t CALL it that in Afghanistan. There, it’s Sparkling Grape Juice Music. A little awkward in English, but it has a nice ring in Arabic.

When Verizon plunks its CEO in Tripoli, Osama can be closer to the source of his satellite telephone network. Always nice, especially if you have service problems.

Got phone trouble? Send a guy with explosives strapped to his middle into Sony headquarters. That’ll get their attention. None of this “your call his very important to us. Please wait for the next available service representative…” for Osama, baby. “Fix my phone now, or get to meet Allah and some extraneous virgins.”

Joining the AARP is one thing. But we’ve done some research and discovered that the AAA doesn’t want him. Something about not wanting to tow spitting camels out of sand dunes.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Political Musical Chairs

214 Musical Chairs

What’s going on here? Spitzer is the new D’Amato, D’Amato is the new Javits. Giuliani is the new Pat Robertson. Gingrich is the new Clinton. Clinton is the new Carter. Carter is the new Nasser.

The governor of New York is busy bashing his enemies in a way that would have made the Al D’Amato of the first Senate campaign proud and envious. Meantime, D’Amato, arch conservative and hail fellow well met sounds more like Javits of that same campaign when he speaks of the 2008 presidential election and most other public issues, and in private is even mellower, and more of a hail fellow well met. This is what happens when you step out of the frying pan and into the money.

Some of us think Al would like to be president, but doesn’t want to take the pay cut.

Pat would like to be President, too. But Giuliani is upstaging him, trying to be more of a conservative Christian than anyone who still at least nominally is a member of the Church of Rome.

Gingrich was busy leading the charge against Bill Clinton while at the same time “slipping around” as the country people say on his wife, which ever of his wives that was. Now, he says there’s a difference. He is saying “Oh, I misled God,” or somesuch thing, but “...I didn’t perjure myself.” Oh.

Carter, probably the worst Pre-Bush II President since Hoover, became a shining example of statesmanship and accomplishment as an ex president. Democrat Clinton, who was the best Republican president since Theodore Roosevelt, has taken on Carter’s stature in his own ex-presidency.

And Carter himself has become Egypt’s Nasser and blames all the troubles in the Middle East on the Jews.

First of all, let’s give a nice yiddisher welcome to Jimmy, who joins the ranks of some of history’s notorious do-badders But Mr. Carter, whom we know does not drink his brother’s beer, is only an amateur. Jimmy: don’t forget about the Jews drinking the blood of Christian children on whatever holiday that’s supposed to happen on. And don’t forget about the world financial crisis, global warming, homelessness, and the liberal media, the oil crisis, bird flu and the crack epidemic, political correctness, all the fault of (“some of my best friends are…) Jewish conspirators.

Meantime, Mayor Bloomberg (well known for being a Jewish Conspirator) is gunning for a seat on this commission. He went to Florida on a private jet and cracked jokes with the mayor of Miami, while the paper shufflers he left behind tried to figure out what caused a fire in the Bronx that killed almost a dozen people. On his return to New York a day or so later, he met with relatives of the victims. Still, Mike is not the new Fiorello.

Well, it’s nice to know that not EVERYONE’s playing musical chairs.

But where is the New Nixon when you really need him?

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, March 09, 2007

Stepmaster

213 Stepmaster

Why do something in one or two steps when you can do it in ten or twelve? It’s the new American Way. Get with it. Forget all that Yankee Ingenuity, that Teutonic efficiency, that crisp performance.

It’s hard for those of a particular bent to learn this skill. But it IS a skill, and you SHOULD learn it.

Corporations and government have mastered it. The last four generations have mastered it. Why not you?

Need an example? Okay. Let’s start with something simple. This is being typed around tax time in 2007. So let’s use that.

OLD WAY: gather pertinent data, fill out tax form (or have a tax service do it,) submit to the IRS.

NEW WAY: Throw any arriving paperwork in a box or folder. Weeks later, search for the folder, open up all the paperwork, re-file.

-hunt for last year’s return and fail to find it.

-search the yellow pages for a tax preparer. Don’t find one. Call or write around and ask friends and associates. Ignore what they tell you.

-search for paperwork file. Find it. Make sure you remember, this time, where you put it.

-hunt for last year’s return in the same places you didn’t find it last time. Fail again to find it.

-re-find tax documents file. Put it in briefcase.

-hunt a third time for last year’s return, also in the same places you failed to find it last time and two times ago. This time, FIND it.

-put in same briefcase as folder.

-hunt for check register with all the expenses highlighted.

See? Before you know it, you can turn a step or two or three into a full month’s activity.

There are a large number of Grand Master Stepmasters. GM, Ford, Chrysler, Bloomberg LP, AOL, any HMO, Verizon, Microsoft, your bank.

“Hello and welcome to Stepmaster National Bank. Our menu has changed, so please listen to the following nine options.” Naturally, option nine is “hear more options.”

Ford took 60 years to re-introduce the Lincoln Zephyr (but only one to kill it. Well, not really kill it, just give it another name.)

“You’ve Got Mail!” Go to AOL mail. Click on open. Wait for the log in page to appear (this can take hours.) Enter your log in name and password. Click “enter” and wait and wait and wait.

Push “close” and the electric garage door starts to descend, stops in mid passage and re-rises. Check the batteries in the remote control. Clean off the electric safety eye. Press “close” again and it closes. Maybe.

Instructions for cleaning furnace filter: (1) turn off furnace. (2) remove the cosmetic cover. (3) unscrew the safety door over the fan. (two screws.) remove the safety door. (4) wiggle the filter around until it comes out. (5) put in a new filter (which you have to wiggle around to get to fit. (6) replace safety door (two screws, making sure the door fits securely in the clips below or the furnace won’t re-start. (7) make sure the screws are tight (but not too tight, whatever that means.) (8) replace the cosmetic door, making sure it sits properly in the safety clips or the furnace won’t re-start. (9) turn on the furnace. (10) wait. Re-starting isn’t instantaneous. The machine has to believe you really mean it. (11) discard old filter in a safe and prudent manor.

Anyone want to track the steps THAT would take?

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Washing the Water

212 Washing the Water

The Queen of Clean has run out of things to make sparkling and is searching for new things that need her attention. Water is one of them.

You think it’s impossible to wash water? Think again. It’s not easy. And the answer is not obvious. You’d think if you wanted to clean the tap water, all you’d have to do is run it through a filter. Nah. Who knows where those filters have been? And do “…you know what they put in those things? Charcoal! And what is charcoal? It’s black dirt!”

So charcoal filters are out, and so are the filthy plastic doodads in which they’re housed.

You can freeze the water and scrub it, then put it in the teapot on the stove and melt it back down. But that only gets the OUTSIDE of the water clean. What about the INSIDE?

You can take the frozen water and turn it into ice chips and then use a Scotchbrite sponge on each side. That method’s pretty good, but it’s not perfect.

The best way (so far) is to clean the tap water with bottled water. This is tricky because the two mix together in ways that make identifying them difficult. If not impossible. But it can be done.

Here’s how: take one part bottled water and one part tap water. Put the tap water in a clean (read sterile) container. Then, mix in an equal measure of bottled water. They do combine, of course. But on the way to combining, the bottled water rinses off the tap water.

This leads to another problem: how do you separate the newly dirtied bottled water from the now clean tap water? There is no really good answer, and the Secret Mountain Lab is working on that. But for now, it’s a two-step process.

1. Pour the washed water and the washING water into a container, then seal the container.

2. Let it sit for 72 hours, then carefully and gently pour off the top, leaving the sediment (both the sediment you can see and the sediment you CAN’T see) on the bottom of the container.

Presto! There’s you washed water.

Of course, how can you be really, truly, certain that there isn’t extraneous dirt in the spring water? Oh, sure they seal the bottles and all that. But you never really know, do you?

Of course, you can get distilling equipment from your local moonshiner, and just purify the water by adding nothing to the machinery but the water.

Either of these last two methods works well with small quantities of drinking water. But washing clothing or taking show calls for the need to make this all work in much larger quantities.

So far, there’s no way to make enough of this stuff to take a full shower.

Unless, of course, you like showering or bathing in scrubbed ice chips.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, March 05, 2007

Today's Music

211 Today’s Music

It’s partly generational. But today’s music sounds more like howling and whining and screaming and crying than it does like anything resembling music. (We’re not talking about rap or hiphop here. Those genres have been covered – and defended – here before.

It’s pop. Can you understand any of the words to any of the current hits? If so, you’re at a distinct disadvantage. Because if you can, you realize what’s missing today, beside artistry, musicality, and message.

Singers of yore sang TO you. The current crop sings AT you. (Sing is a relative term. It never used to be, but modern times demand the change.)

Those of us who believe that Sinatra was the most overrated performer in the history of performance, but he still knew – or faked – singing to and for the people who were out there listening. Even the worst of that kind of crooner (that would be Jerry Vale) had a grasp of that.

Some magazine or television show recently took a one question survey, and evidently has either not finished counting or has decided it doesn’t like the result and decided against disclosing it. The question was “Who did more for music, Elvis Presley or James Brown?”

The proper question probably should have been “who did less damage to music?” The answer to that would have been Elvis. In his prime, you could still understand the words, hum the melodies and understand the thought. Not the case with Brown.

Before you hurl accusations that we’re being the Ann Coulter of music, please understand that the position here is “James Brown was not worth listening to,” as opposed to “Black men can’t do music,” which is utterly ridiculous. Let’s add to that that the Beatles were in the same boat after their first US-released album, “Meet the Beatles.” Okay. We met ‘em. Following which they turned from a British imitation rockabilly band into four mouths filled with sponges. Would that they could sing some of their songs as well as they wrote them.

Today, falsetto is king. (Johnny Mathis could make it work, to a point.)

Clogged noses replace open mouths as the exit wound for the song. Contortions and gyrations replace stage presence. (After you SEE Celine Dion, you can’t stand to listen to her anymore. Plus, she doesn’t need an audience. She’s plain-old singing to herself.

Make no mistake about it, there were plenty of lousy singers before the current American Idol wannabes. It’s just that they weren’t chart toppers.

Can you imagine Peggy Lee or Nat Cole singing anything that was written today? And can you imagine any of today’s “singers” trying to sound as they did?

Country music is almost an exception. It’s still corny, you can still understand the words. You can still hum the tunes. But the presentations are getting more elaborate than opera with a full symphony orchestra. And it’s only a matter of time before these guys catch the infection that pop music is spreading.

Could Hank Williams or Hank Snow or Hank Thompson make it to the top today? Not likely. What about Kitty Welles or Rose Maddox or Maybelle Carter?

If you find yourself agreeing with all these, you can try foam earplugs with a noise rating reduction of 29 decibels or more. (The house brand is usually made by Flents. Same as the name brand, but a bit cheaper.)

Meanwhile, at the secret mountain laboratory, we’re working on a reverse hearing aid.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Weightless Anchors

210 Weightless Anchors

They’re fussing around at NBC News because their Nightly News program looks like it’s about to get a drubbing from ABC, which hasn’t happened in awhile. Like years. Before Hurricane Charlie (Gibson) strikes land, they’re battening down the hatches and wondering what, beside a new executive producer they can fiddle with in order to avoid storm damage.

Here’s the answer: make Brian Williams older.

People expect to get their PM news from old men. They’re used to it. That’s what they want. Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Hugh Downs, Harry Reasoner, Douglas Edwards.

When Dan Rather was resigned from the CBS Evening News, they put in this guy Bob Schieffer , and he immediately raised the ratings just by being old and calm. Katie Couric’s numbers have dropped like a feather into a fire. (When Charles Kurault filled in during one of Rather’s tantrums or vacations, the ratings went up. Charlie wasn’t old, but he was fat and talked slow. That’s almost as good. Plus he had a really low voice and a southern rhythm, if not a full blown accent.)

Peter Jennings ups and dies and they stick in a couple of young nobodies and Jennings’ respectable ratings dropped like the Rock of Katie, only earlier. Finally they figured it out. Old guys. Enter Charlie Gibson, an amiable type who spent much of his career at ABC being shafted at “Good Morning America,” which was crushed like what was left of the feather by the “Today Show” on NBC. Ted Koppel would have been just as good a choice.

Then, there’s Williams. He’s still the top dog. He succeeded Brokaw who was a one man ratings machine. Probably that had a lot to do with his warmth, charm, slightly impared man-of-the-people speech, his slightly imapred man-of-the-people aw shucks Dakotas approach and the simple fact that he got OLD.

When Brokaw was young and on “Today” he was a geek. When he started at Nightly News, he was a middle aged near-geek. By the time his hair turned grey, he was The Voice of Authority.

He’s still doing some pretty good TV stuff, unlike some major leaguers who semi-retire and get office space and no assignments. And his presence at NBC lends credibility to the whole outfit.

But Williams is young, or at least young-ish. And he has just a touch of that Peter Jennings “I Am The News” attitude/disease, though a much, MUCH milder case. To his credit, he has learned to talk in a straight line, which makes him the easiest of the aforementioned (except Shieffer) to understand.

He also has the flashiest graphics, the best set and the best staff.

But we’re talking TELEVISION, here. So that’s not so important.

Everyone “knows” the PM newscasts are losing audience. But there still are almost 30 million of us who don’t want the mind-numbing “nothing’s happening but we have to fill the screen” incrementia we get from CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

If Brian wants to keep the top spot, he’s got to put a little grey in his hair and talk slower. And gaining 20 or 30 pounds wouldn’t hurt, either.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR