Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Porter Wagoner/Robert Goulet

#314 Porter Wagoner/Robert Goulet

No one seemed to see the irony in this. In Nashville, they were busy inducting the latest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Guys like Vince Gil and Mel Tillis and Shotgun Red.

Down the road apiece, as they are thought to say down there, another member of the Hall, Porter Wagoner was taking his last breath. Cancered lungs’ll do that after 80 years.

You’ve never heard of him, right? Chances are you haven’t because he never got into the pop music scene. And he hadn’t had a hit in more than 20 years, although that didn’t stop him from touring and playing before pretty good crowds. (The country audience’ll do that.)

There are a lot of reasons to remember this guy fondly. First was his music. Second was his pioneering use of television. The videotaped shows from the 1960s were in black and white (more about which in a moment,) and they were not exactly lessons in how to present or edit music on television. They were radio shows in which the pictures didn’t really matter.

But his was the first of the syndicated, videotaped country music shows, and it ran for 20 years or so before they killed it.

Third was Dolly Parton, who may or may not have gotten where she is on her own, but who got a big boost from Wagoner, who was a mega star back then, made her his partner and expanded her repertoire (no Dolly jokes, please.)

Some of today’s country music types are called “hat acts.” That’s because they wear hats.

Wagoner was a “suit act.” He came from an era where performers wore those Liberace-like rhinestone jackets and pants. This is where black and white TV was useless. Those costumes were elaborate and expensive and colorful. Turquoise. Purple. Yellow. Stuff you could see from the back row, lest you not recognize the pompadour at the microphone.

Hank Snow, Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson, Hank Garland (almost everyone was named “Hank” in those days.) Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash (before the man-in-black thing started.) Elvis. They were all suit acts. Kept the crummy rhinestone makers in business practically single handedly.

Today’s guys don’t know what to do with a rhinestone.

Porter was, late in his career, a nostalgia act. He could have stayed on top. But he didn’t know how to sing through his nose.

That was his professional downfall.

His personal downfall probably was cigarettes.

Today, 80 isn’t old.

Neither is 73, which is how far Robert Goulet got before cashing it in a few days later. Goulet rocketed to stardom around the same time as Wagoner, the late 1950s, after he was cast opposite Hepburn in “Camelot.”

What a voice. What an actor. And commercial comic, in just these last few months.

Goulet had pulmonary fibrosis. Two stars. Two lung deaths. Too bad for the rest of us.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, October 29, 2007

Year Three

#313 Year Three

This is the second anniversary of this blog, although similar material has been running out of the fingers and sometimes the brain for far decades longer. The blog and its immediate predecessor, the weekly Bloomberg essay/column/commentary had a few rules. Amazingly, none have been violated.

1. Nothing over 600 words except the annual WestraDamus Retrodictions. Five hundred is ideal.

2. No consecutive serious pieces.

3. No first person singular.

4. No phone, no pool, no pets. (Oops. That’s from “King of the Road” by Roger Miller.)

5. Resist pressure to name drop.

6. No subject is taboo.

7. Reality is funnier than fiction.

Not easy for a career contrarian to follow.

Readership spiked when there was a link here from The Kingsland Report, which no longer exists (Jim Kingsland decided to kill that when he got a real job.)

Everyone who’s been a reporter for awhile decries that state of the art, wonders why people don’t like us and then keeps doing what we get paid to do. It’s a living. Most places, it’s not a GOOD living. But it’s a living.

MYTH #1: “The Liberal Media.” Are you kidding? This phrase was originally coined by a large Midwestern newspaper. It referred to the New York Times, NBC and CBS. What those three things had in common was they were run or owned by Jewish men.

Today’s New York Times doesn’t know what it is. CBS is in the hands of a guy who basically runs movie houses and has no politics. ABC is owned by Disney (and is there anything less liberal than that? Yes, the great social activists and fellow travelers at General Electric, which owns NBC.

CNN? Ted Turner is a liberal billionaire. But he wasn’t when he started the network.

News Corp? That’s pretty liberal. They own Fox, the New York Post, the Weekly Standard, Sky News and countless other left wing propaganda machines.

Plus, if no one’s paying any attention to these outlets, who cares what side they’re on.

Work in a major television news room for ten minutes and you’ll see that they’re lucky to get ANYTHING on, let alone something with a slant in any direction.

MYTH 2: Just that facts, ma’am.

Try to get information out of a “news source” and chances are you end up with gibberish that resemble facts in form, but not content.

Example: the people who make Tasers just came out with a decorator model stun gun for civilians. There are places you know you can buy ‘em legally. Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona, probably Utah.

How about here in the wilds of Pennsylvania? Don’t know. Can’t get a straight answer out of the DA’s office or the cops.

MYTH THREE: Names make news. Nah. Not usually. Except if you’re Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, O.J. Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, Jennifer Lopez or a professional athlete on steroids.

So, we preserver into year three.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Spies

#312b The Spies

This was back during World War II. Maxie got a few bucks, working as a Fuller Brush Man in places like Maspeth and Ozone Park. So we went and got this radio.

Gorgeous Radio. From the Lafayette Radio guys. A record changer on the top. A huge loudspeaker, and a receiver that got both regular radio and shortwave.

Gorgeous radio. Deep red-brown mahogany cabinet. Automatic tuning. The works!

One day Fat Chickie comes to the door. He’s the repair guy from Lafayette. Says he has to make a “slight adjustment” to the radio. Maxie says there’s nothing wrong. Gets everything just fine. Plays the records just fine. Fat Chickie says “no, office says I gotta make some adjustments.”

Okay. In he comes with his tool box and his bald head and his gut. Squats down behind the radio, fiddles with a few things and then says “okay, all fixed.” Maxie says “let me try it.”

Now, the shortwave, which worked fine this morning, isn’t working so well. In fact it’s not working at all.

“What did you do to my fancy radio?” he asks.

“I disabled the shortwave. Orders. Sorry.”

“Orders? That’s what I left in Germany.”

“If you’re still here after the war, we’ll come put it back,” says Fat Chickie on his way out.

Maxie the German Spy. A US citizen, a Jew, a refugee, and a Holocaust escapee. Pretty likely guy to be getting secret messages from the Third Reich, right?

The war ended. Maxie was never arrested. Fat Chickie never came back to fix the shortwave.

Was Maxie a spy? Bombs in the Fuller Brush sample case?

Don’t know. He didn’t talk much – at least not about that stuff. But probably not.

No Department of Homeland Security then, either. Just good citizens like the guys at Lafayette Radio doing their best to protect the US of A against Nazi terrorists. So what if a few innocents were inconvenienced!

Now, it’s 2007. And in the condo across the street, a lovely and happy couple. Can’t tell you their names. National security, you know, He’s “H” and she’s “F.” That’ll have to be enough. And guess where they’re from. Iran!

And they’re obviously spies. Here’s how you can tell. He’s friendly with everyone. And she doesn’t “cover.” Plus, they keep their lights on very very late at night. Probably sending secret messages back to the Ayatollah.

He’s handsome. She’s hot. Obviously a distraction. We know what they’re up to. Gathering data and tracking the movements of the rest of us. Waiting for the day the nukes come sailing in from Tehran.

Chertoff and those guys aren’t as smart as Fat Chickie and the Lafayette Radio Company crowd. They knew when they faced the enemy, and they knew what to do. They didn’t wait for the U-Boats to come ashore in Sag Harbor. They went out there and cut off enemy lines of communication before there was any damage.

But we vigilant neighbors are at the ready. We have our eye on you, Persian devils! (Especially you, Lady Short Shorts.)

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Organization Woman

#311 The Organization Woman

Organized. Gotta get organized. Gotta straighten up this mess. Put things in order. Make it easier to use.

Many of us used to think that “organized” meant having your stuff around so you could easily get to the things you needed when you needed them.

Unpaid bills on this corner of the desk top. Pens over here. Telephone over there. That kind of thing.

But there’s a new definition. It says organization is having everything look neat. The notion of “use” doesn’t arise. If it looks good, it’s organized. If it’s neat, it’s organized. If it is uncluttered, it’s organized.

Since joining forces with the Organization Woman, the office never looked so good. Books are in size places (used to use author or subject classification,) and there are far fewer of them.

There’s almost nothing on the desk. No pens. No papers. Just the computer and the phone and one of those big box office supply store “organizer” thingies in which you can store a checkbook and maybe a couple of envelopes.

In order to get at anything necessary, you have to move ten other things. And it’s not just the desk. It’s the rooms. And there are a lot of rooms.

Want paper towels? Why they’re in the paper towel holder. And where is that? One’s in plain sight in the kitchen. (that’ll soon be “corrected.” The other is under the bathroom sink.

Think about it. Why do you use paper towels? Because something wet has to be dried. Like, say, the washable electric shaver. Gotta remember to open the cabinet door, remove the makeup carrier, get the paper towel holder out, close the door, use, clean and wipe the shaver, then restore the paper towel holder beneath the cabinet, reposition the the make up caddy (which side is “out?) and most of all, CLOSE THE CABINET DOOR.

The water glasses are in a kitchen cabinet. We use them at three meals a day. They look great in the cabinet. See ‘em? Right there, behind the never used tea cups. And when you’re finished removing the tea cups, getting out the glasses, replacing the teacups, don’t forget to CLOSE THE CABINET DOOR.

Dishtowels, dishes, laundry products, all in a row. Perfect. On view. If Queen Elizabeth should make an unannounced visit, she’d be pleased.

Good thing Liz doesn’t have to get her own glass or paper towel.

It’s all perfectly organized. Until it isn’t.

The Organization Woman is also the Handy Mover. Points are given if you can spot which items she has moved from one perfectly good location to another.

Even the flowers are organized. (I HATE fresh flowers. They’re way too much work. Let’s get artificial flowers. Followed by: Those artificial flowers never change. They have no life. Let’s get rid of them and get some real ones…. Followed by…..)

Those of us who are slobs at heart have found a solution, or at least a partial one. Put stuff in drawers in a way that they remain accessible and useful and useable.

But to keep the secret secret, don’t forget to CLOSE THE DRAWERS and hope no one looks.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, October 22, 2007

On The Reservation

#310 On The Reservation

The Texas style steak house don’t take reservations. But you can get on the “call ahead” list. Except not if you call too early.

If you want dinner at, say, 6:30 PM, they won’t take your call until five. And before you learn that you have to listen to a lot of “howdy pardner” kind of gibberish, delivered in a distinctly southwest Brooklyn regionalism.

Eventually a chirpy, presumably live body answers and gives you the bad news.

So let’s see what happens at 5PM:

“Well, Howdy, you’ve reached da Tessas Style Steak house. If youse is familiar wid’ the call ahead system heah, jes press wun. If not, hole on an we’s give you all thanstrukshuns.”

The live body answers.

“What time did you want to come in?”

“If I say 6:30, how long will I have to wait?”

“Oh, 30 to 40 minutes.”

“Do I have to show up and wait there for 40 minutes or can I just come in at 7:10 or so for my 6:30?”

“Yes, you can do that. Come in at 7:10.”

”What happens if I want a 5:30?”

”Wait’ll be about an hour.”

“Okay, so put me down for 5:30 and we’ll come in at 6:30.”

At 6:30 we walked through the door with our secret Texas-style code number, issued by the phone person and were seated immediately, while dozens of people waited on line.

Sometimes, things work out. Of course this cut the bill down by ten, maybe 15 maybe 20 bucks.

No, there were no discounts. But when you have to hang out waiting for a table, where do you wait?

The bar, of course.

And what do you do at the bar?

You drink, of course.

And that adds a bunch of money to your bill. Plus you have to tip the bartender separately.

Plus they’re fast.

Or at least the start out that way.

“You wanna pick out your own steak, sir?”

“How will I know when you cook it that it’s the same steak?”

“…um…. Well, we cook the one you pick.”

“So I have to take your word for it?”

“Well, yes, you do. But our word’s good. A cowboy’s word is his bond.”

“But you’re not a cowboy. In fact, if appearance is any indication, you’re not any kind of a boy.”

“I promise you, sir, you’ll get the steak you choose.”

“You work in a steak house. I don’t. You deal with steaks every day. I don’t. You know what a good steak is before it’s cooked., I don’t. Why don’t you pick.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Then you go through the adjective lesion, a careful explanation of what the terms “rare,” “Medium rare,” “medium,” “medium well” and “well done” mean in this particular place.

“How accurate are your cooking thermometers?”

“Okay, I guess.”

Annie Oakley takes the rest of the orders and wanders off toward what we expect must be the kitchen.

They don’t hustle us out, afterward. But they don’t encourage us to stay, either.”

Stayers also do that bar thing.

So these guys aren’t too smart.

But then, what do you expect from a Brooklyn cowboy?

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rollover Minutes

#309 Rollover Minutes

It works for cell phones, why not for life? One of the major carriers gives you rollover minutes. If you don’t use up your monthly allotment, you get to add what’s left to next month’s, or use for any time within a year.

We each have 1440 minutes a day. But look what we do with them. Sleeping, eating, watching TV, writing blogs, doing radio shows fighting with kids and spouses. This really isn’t USING these minutes. It’s just kind of HAVING them.

We should be able to roll our life minutes over into tomorrow, or any other time during the coming 12 months. If it’s good enough for AT&T or at&t as it now prefers to be known, it should be good enough for the rest of us.

Sound unreasonable? Nah. The phone companies – all of them – play fast and loose with the minutes, anyway. As they carefully note in teeeeeny tiiiiiny type in the bottom of your contract, you have to pay for incoming calls as well as outgoing calls and you have to pay for “toll-free” calls because you’re not really paying for calls, you’re paying for air time. So it doesn’t matter whether you call Timbuktu or next door – as soon as you push “send,” or “receive,” you’re on the air and the meter is running.

If your call lasts for 56 minutes and 12 seconds, you’re billed for 57 minutes. That’s called rounding. You’d think they’d round both ways, so a call of 56:29 would be charged at 56 minutes, and a call of 56:31 would be billed as 57. But, no.

When the call lasts 1:01, you’re billed for two minutes.

So, the idea of a “minute” and the idea of a “call” and the idea of “rounding” all get very flexible. If it’s good for them, why not for us?

Then, there’s when you use your minutes. Many calling plans give you “free” nights and weekends. Great. That was a move to reduce business hour phone traffic, reduce dropped calls and shifting social calling to the evening and overnight hours.

And, of course, that’s what most of us do. At some point, it will no longer be to the telcoms’ advantage to do that and they’ll (a) start charging and (b) try to make you think they’re improving your calling plan. (Notice, they can change the terms whenever it suits them, but if you cancel early, they hit you with a close to $200 “early cancellation fee.”)

It’s no wonder the cell phone carriers are at the bottom of every customer satisfaction survey conducted by anyone, for anyone and at any time since the dawn of the cell age.

So if they can play with minutes that way, we should, too.

If you’re waiting on the phone for customer “service,” you’re not using your personal, in-life minutes. If you’re waiting in traffic, at the supermarket, for the woman of your dreams to finish “putting her face on….” you’re not using your personal, in-life minutes.

You should have the right and the ability to roll them over into tomorrow.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Imus & Andy

#308 Imus and Andy or Life Imitates Art

The old lizard, Imus is among us again. “God’s Chosen Disc Jockey,” as he once called himself resurrected by the new owners of ABC Radio.

All of us in the radio biz owe this guy a debt of gratitude. He had the nerve to say stuff we all were thinking, but lacked the nerve to say. But he hasn’t been funny in 30 years. And his return to the airwaves lets us hear a guy who never could have gotten where he is by being the way he is.

Years of racist, sexist, mindless self involvement caught up with him, and he got fired from a job that paid 40 million dollars a year.

Apparently, he never saw “A Face In The Crowd,” the 1957 movie that starred a bunch of household names that were all but unknown at the time. Andy Griffith, Patricia Neal, Tony Franciosa, Walter Matthau and Lee Remick.

There were cameos from Benett Cerf, Faye Emerson, Virginia Graham, Sam Levinson, Brownie McGee, Charles Nelson Riley, John Cameron Swayze, Rip Torn, Mike Wallace, Walter Winchell and others.

The story, originally “Your Arkansas Traveler” was by Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan directed. A power cast if ever there was one.

The movie’s about a guy who rises from a night in a drunk tank to become a national radio, then television, then political superstar.

But he knocks himself out of the box with the 1957 version of “Nappy headed ‘hos that got Imus the boot.

The Matthau character assures the Patricia Neal character that the Andy Griffith character will eventually make a comeback, but in a chastened way.

In some ways, this was a story about Arthur Godfrey, a popular broadcast personality of the day who also shot himself in the foot, though not as badly as either Griffith’s “Lonesome Rhodes,” or Imus.

And so, life imitates art.

Imus is back. All but a handful will have forgotten that he was gone and made a comeback. An even smaller number will try to get him fired just for being what he is or was.

It wasn’t the one remark that got him canned in the first place. It was years of dancing in the duck blind, but too fast for any of the hunters to take aim.

Do we celebrate the comeback? Do we castigate ABC/Citadel for dragging this guy back into the public eye? Or do we just figure it’s part of a cycle in which entertainers come and go, getting so full of themselves along the way that they are thought of as dangerous.

Probably, most of us will pay no attention at all. At least not after the first few days of the new show.

After all, he’s just an old lizard, a reformed coke-head and booze hound, like Lonesome Rhodes.

Griffith, possibly the most underrated actor of the last century, is largely confined to a wheelchair these days, but still gets around.

You can bet Hollywood, Broadway and ASCAP will turn out for a deserved final goodbye when he finally goes.

Imus, on the other hand, will go quietly. But not now.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, October 15, 2007

Levittown

#307 Levittown

Happy 60th Birthday, Levittown, NY. You are and always have been the pits. And the worst single thing to happen to American cities.

That’s pretty politically incorrect. We’re supposed to celebrate, after all. Celebrate great, cheap housing for GIs who returned to the boroughs after World War II and wanted a “better” place to live and raise families. Nice sentiment.

So, Bill Levitt took a pretty big former potato farm and he and his pals at a bank with some unsavory history got together to build a six thousand dollar, four room cape. And then they duplicated it 73-trillion times.

We’re supposed to celebrate. And get all teary and sentimental.

The houses in their present conditions are worth close to half a mil each, unless, of course you try to sell one. Then, depending on how elaborately it’s been re-done (and just about every one of them has been,) you get to bargain and barter and maybe you can get a better price.

The original deeds said “Whites Only.” There’s a good start.

So, where are all those white people going to work? Many, if not most of the original buyers in New York City. But there were no good roads and no railroad connection. They went anyway. They’re still going. Check out the LIRR parking lots in Westbury, Merrick and Bellmore. Check out the Meadowbrook and Northern State Parkways.

All those lots have been expanded and are full. All those roads have been expanded and are full.

The place is a dump.

But that’s not the worst thing about it.

Levitt had the chance to build his horizontal housing project within the five boroughs. But that “whites only” thing got in the way.

What Levittown did was yank a good chunk of the white middle class population out of New York, a population that would have stayed and built a diversified city that would be as vibrant now as it was when all this started.

So much for diversity in New York.

So much for retaining an economic base in New York that would have come to include people of every stripe.

But even THAT is not the worst of it. The worst of it was that this “success” was replicated on the outskirts of practically every other major city in America.

Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, St. Louis, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles.

Bill Levitt turned America into a giant suburb, with people focused on Little Boxes and little patches of green (you can grow grass in Urbia, too. Did you know that?) and people focused on their cars and their electric ranges and themselves, but not each other.

There’s an accomplishment.

The lauded Mister Levitt died as scandal swirled about him. And his pals at the Franklin National Bank.

A fitting end to a master builder and a master banker and the shady characters who managed to remain mostly in darkness or in jail or in various Town Halls.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore

#306 Gore

So, the Nobel Peace Prize goes to Al Gore. And the inconvenient truth is he has to share it with a bunch of panelists from the UN. The Nobel Peace Prize goes to a committee? Only fair, since it’s chosen by a committee and they finally decided to honor one of their own.

At least this one won’t send Alfred Nobel blowing up in his grave, like some of them have. Think Yasser Arafat

But this has been a prize winning year for Gore. First the Oscar, now this.

It’s a good thing he won the Nobel THIS year. In the nick of time. There’s talk about downsizing the prize or maybe combining it with another.

Dubai made a bid to buy 20 percent of the Nobel Committee. It was rejected, but members still may be looking for a white knight. Maybe the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Oscar Peace Prize. Has a nice ring to it.

Or, to keep things global, the Miss Universe Peace Prize.

But that’s another story for another day. For now, we have to salute President Gore (yeah, he really DID win, but he’s been very subtle about using the office,) because everyone knew he was going to win and therefore, no one expected him to.

So what’s he going to do with the money? Make another movie? “An Inconvenient Sequel.” “Son of Inconvenience?”

Could add another room or two to the Gore Mansion or maybe a Humvee or two to put in that big driveway.

Now, granted, all these prizes are still not as big as the Publishers’ Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. And you have to actually go to Europe to claim the prize. Ed McMahon doesn’t deliver the check to your door. But, still, it’s quite an honor.

And it’s going to get all the conservative talk show people a-twitter. They cheapen the thing just by talking about it. They mock it by nominating themselves. And they write it off as irrelevant.

But it ISN’T irrelevant. It does several things. It reminds us that we’re fighting an undeclared war. It reminds us that the present President of the United States won his first election by five black-robed votes. It reminds us that if this year’s winner hadn’t been barred from the White House door, we wouldn’t be in the Iraq-mire we’re in now.

It would have prevented the wholesale destruction of the social institutions that made America America.

The global warming problems that the Nobel Committee frets about are not the same as the global warming problems that the Save The Polar Bears crowd worries about. To the committee and to the UN winners there’s an economic component. Population shifts due to climate and a squeezing of resources that can result.

A serious concern whether climate change is caused by natural phenomena or by all the SUVs in America and all the lead paint factories in China belching toxins into the air in unison.

They should, however, to keep things balanced, add a Nobel War Prize. After all, what did Al Nobel do for a living? And there are plenty of good candidates. G.W. Putch and his legion of merry pirates, a bunch of theocratic crazies in the middle east, Mel Gibson, OPEC and the banking industry.

Again, back to Gore. If you’re going to be in the Miss Universe contest, please skip the swimsuit part.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dueling Diva Deja Vu

#305 Dueling Diva Déjà vu

It was kind of like old home week. There were Ann Curry and Katie Couric on the same screen at the same time. Just not on the same network.

Brought back memories of working on the “Today” show and the early newscast, called “Sunrise,” which actually had news in it.

But here it is 2007. And these two women have gone their separate ways. Well, not exactly. Curry didn’t go anywhere.

But now, beside “Today News” she’s doing “Nightly News.” And they really shouldn’t let her. She makes everyone else who does it look worse than they are. And she makes Couric, now with CBS, look like a lightweight.

Two things about Curry that have always come out of this corner: (1) She has the best voice in broadcasting, period. (2) The camera loves her. Even if the staff doesn’t always. And that hasn’t changed.

Difficult as she could be on deadline, she was a completely different person after the program ended for the day.

Flipping back and forth between channels to watch both networks’ news is no easy trick. Not only do they do the same stories in close to the same order, but their commercial breaks seem to come at about the same time.

And if the stories have slight variation, the ads sure don’t. Stuff to use if you have: erectile dysfunction, nasal congestion, elimination problems, heart burn, headache, arthritis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleeplessness.

Are these programs watched exclusively in nursing homes?

It’s been that way for years. The ads keep up with the graying audience for the Nightly News, or the Evening News or the News Tonight. But the news doesn’t.

All the interview subjects are either young or old, but so well known that you can’t not interview them when their area of expertise is in the news.

If they could find someone with Colin Powell’s credentials, but no grey hair, you’d better believe they would.

So, even if listening to Curry is like a lullaby, and listening to Couric makes you think of her previous job as the Perky One (she hates the term,) what did you learn from the news?

Well, the government spends (wastes) a lot of money on broadcasts that are supposed to be viewed and heard in Cuba, but aren’t. And traffic is awful, everywhere. And Kangaroos sometimes get on auto race tracks in Australia. And, oh, by the way, a lot more dead guys in Iraq, including two people who died in the Ultimate Traffic Stop. That’s where some mercenaries working for a company based in Dubai tried to pull over a car, and the car wouldn’t pull, so they shot it up and left two dead and no one to call 9-1-1.

Also, if you take Levitra and it works for four hours in a row, see your doctor.

It’s a shame to waste Curry’s talent on such cotton candy.

As for Couric? As we’ve said before, makes you long for them to bring back Dan Rather.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Monday, October 08, 2007

Electronic Antiques

#304 Electronic Antiques

It had to happen. Your Commodore or early Apple computer now is worth serious bucks. Especially if it still works. Likewise your original Palm Pilot (still the best model they made) or your Sharp Wizard.

REAL electronic antiques? There’s no market for them. Try to sell a 1920s Atwater Kent radio or a TravLer radio phonograph combination. No takers. Same with the Victor Talking Machines from the 1920s and 1930s. Antique electronics of an age that make them real antiques even if not electronics don’t matter.

Timex computers matter. So do Osbornes. And car alarms. Car alarms? Yes. If you had one on your 1980 Datson and thought to remove it, it is now worth something, even though it only works on 1980 Datsons, and you can count the number of those remaining on the toes of one foot.

Transistor radios from the 1950s and 1960s are on the fence. The market for them is small, but appears to be growing. This only counts if the radio has a single band. After the FCC mandated that all radios have at least an AM and FM band, the earlier ones became valuable. Even more so, now that the AM band has been extended past 1600. But this is baby stuff compared with the traffic in unusable pagers, early cell phones (the brick-like devices that built strong bodies 12 ways,) and the Palm Pilots.

The pattern emerging here has a demographic counterpart.

Today’s collectors believe “elderly” means someone around 40 or 45 and they respect their elders. Any antique human beings (those born before, say, 1970 ) are right up there with steamer trunks and padded vinyl seat kitchen chairs and empty cans of Knickerbocker Beer (for display and amusement purposes, only.)

The only 25 year old electronic knick-knack that seems to have escaped the upward value spiral is the video game. Pac Man is sooooooooooooo yesterday.

If a pieces of stuff can become a collectible antique in under 25 years, what do we call the older stuff, archeological finds?

Most old stuff is like young kids, puppies and kittens. Wonderful to look at and play with, as long as they’re not your own.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Debt That Isn't

#303 The Debt that Isn’t

A caller to the radio program suggested that the national debt is drastically understated and citied an web page endorsed by some influential supply siders, called Grandfather’s Economic report by Michael Hodges.

It’s a long piece that essentially says we spend too much on social programs and not enough on debt reduction. This is fairly typical of the University of Chicago school of economics which is basically the libertarian monetary headquarters.

With all due respect to Milton Friedman and his followers at Chicago, with all due respect to the Nobel committee, to Alan Greenspan, Newt Gingrich and that whole bunch: Nah. With the world economy grown into the complex being that it has become, there is no viable way to retreat from this debt, which is largely a paper debt, and too deeply entrenched to retrench.

Friedman worked fine in the age of the gold standard. And it worked fine when money didn’t circulate at the speed of light through electronic trading terminals. And it worked fine as long as money was used as a placeholder or shorthand for real value, which it hasn’t for decades.

With the instruments of currency trade, derivatives, futures, and so on, and with the psychological component that has become central to trading, we have a system that no one understands.

To reduce the national debt to a level that would satisfy the people like our Mr. Hodges, you would have to eliminate many of the vehicles that make it circulate. To do that would destroy tens of trillions of dollars in real and imagined wealth.

If you don’t like the numbers, the only thing you can do is forgive the debt and start over… the mechanism for which is too difficult to contemplate and carries with it unintended consequences that we cannot even begin to imagine.

Or you can print more money, which would be inflationary, and then try to control the ensuing inflation with interest rates.

The Hodges observations are probably well intentioned. But today, value is less important than the means, speed and complexity of its circulation.

The caller also mentioned under-funded or un-funded pension obligations as a major cause of this debt. Perhaps so. And part of the answer may lie in the recent creation of defined contribution retirement packages, the so-called 401Ks. (Which by the way tax recipients at a potentially higher rate than do old fashioned “regular” pensions.)

He’s right when he says that as an employer, he cannot touch the money once it goes in. But by the same token, he doesn’t account for the underpinnings of this system in which we employees make the investment decisions, usually limited and always based on advice from sources we assume – whether correctly or incorrectly – know more than we do.

Saves a bundle for the employer, even with the relatively generous 50 percent matching that our caller says he provides.

Defined benefit pension plans work as well or better if they’re handled correctly, and if companies don’t try to weasel out of the promises they make… or make promises they can’t possibly keep. And the taxes are much lower, in many cases.

But overall, the economy is its own universe, with its own gravitational fields, its own magnetic forces. The matter and anti-matter are only a part of a system that’s become so complex and reliant on motion that to uproot any single part or group of parts could be universally fatal.

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

(c) 2007 WJR

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rush To Judgment

#302 Rush To Judgment

Quick! What do Rush Limbaugh, Don Imus and Dan rather have in common?

Aside from one syllable first names… the wheels have come off or are coming off.

Rather was fired from CBS radio for telling a story, essentially true, but based on bad documentation – Bush was a slacker in the military.

Imus was fired from his syndicated radio show for making a racist comment about the Rutgers Women's Basketball team.

Now, Rush has a problem.

He talked about phony soldiers.

Rather wasn't fired for inaccuracy. Imus wasn't fired for the basketball comment.

Rush hasn't been fired. Yet. But his phony soldiers remark about anti war people in the military have the makings of a final straw on the camel's back.

They'd been gunning for Rather for years and needed a peg to hang it on. Same with Imus. Same with Limbaugh.

That combined with Limbaugh's past defaming of everyone who disagrees with him on anything, his bombastic, fog-horn delivery and his constant lieing about what democrats stand for and what causes every problem from acne to global warming, to medical care problems – the people who call themselves liberals is what will be his undoing.

If you heard some of the more recent Rush programs, you've heard a man on the verge of hysteria.

The sad part about it is what he said about the real phonies is true. But it's not what you say, it's how you say it. And who you are.

What is he? A drug addicted, draft dodging tool of the people who don't want you to have medical coverage, who don't want you to enjoy the fruits of your own labor when you retire, the people who don't care about American workers, who don't understand the underlying principles of this country include compromise, who don't want your children to have a tax supported public education, who want to turn you into a farm animal completely at the mercy of someone else. He is someone who hides behind God while he pops hillbilly heroin… who travels with prescription drugs that are not his own… who pays off his household help to silence his addiction, who uses valuable hospital bed space because his addictions made him deaf.

He blindly supports the incompetent, unthinking polices and actions of the president of the United States is just shy of worship, while occasionally lodging minor criticism just for credibility’s sake.

He's a guy who takes advantage of people's inborn patriotism by accusing denying that anyone who disagrees with him with treason.

He belittles civil rights. He belittles women. He belittles anything his whim directs, hides behind the flag, the bible, the Republican Party and the myth of eroding freedom. He uses Goebbels’ "Big Lie" technique, perfected in World War II Germany and which dictates repeating the same lie over and over and do it with great conviction and passion. Eventually, people believe it’s the truth.

He calls the rest of us the "drive by media," and his own program "alternative media," and yet it's that very "drive by medium," a.m. radio that gives him his channels of distribution.

Sewers have channels of distribution, too. And sewers serve a purpose. They get rid of what comes out of your plumbing.

It pays to know how those things work.

You have to know in order not to step into it when it overflows.

And you have to know about it when it threatens to engulf you.

Move over, Dan and Don. You're about to get some company on the bench.

(Note: As this is written, Don Imus is reported close to a deal with the radio syndication company, Citadel, for a return to the pipes of distribution. Portions of this Wessay were broadcast on my WBLF radio program, for which Rush Limbaugh is the opening act.)

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

(c) 2007 WJR


Monday, October 01, 2007

Ned On The Bench

#301 Ned On The Bench

(ALTOONA, PA) -- Those of us who live in the Party And Football Capital of the Known Universe, try to escape on Saturdays. You can’t get a seat in a restaurant, the supermarkets are out of anything edible, the liquor stores and beer “distributors,” as they call them here are out of everything worthy to drink. So it’s Escape To Altoona, a storied small town that calls itself a city.

The nicest thing about it is there’s almost no one there. That means you can get around easily, even though there isn’t much to get around to. Altoona is a city abandoned by its only claim to fame, the railroads. The Horseshoe Curve is here, yet. It’s kind of like a museum of nothing.

But they have stores, unlike the Party And Football Capital of the Known Universe.

So here it is, late afternoon. Sitting on a stone bench outside a department store that’s kind of a cross between Macy’s (overpriced, but lots of sales,) and S. Klein on Union Square (crowded aisles and “brands” you’ve never heard of and will never hear of again.)

Just taking in the sun and the view of some nice mountains, which although they are not in Altoona, can be seen from Altoona. Maybe this place is the mountain observatory.

Up comes Ned. Probably not his name. It’s probably Michael. Everyone here is Michael. But this guy is a Ned, if ever there was one. And he says “Room for another loafter on that bench?” Sure.

He puts down his cane and sits. Two old guys. Two canes. Lots of sun. He says “you know I don’t have to use this cane all the time, but I did some work around the place yesterday and my artificial hip’s acting up.”

Before long, we’re into hip history. His first shot at it was in 1981. That, he says, was lousy from the start but he tolerated it until 1984, then had it re-done. About ten years later something went wrong with one of the pieces and he had that replaced, but not the whole thing.

Before long, Ned’s offering instructions on how to buy generic extra-strength Excedrin at Wal-Mart.

We compare notes on the effectiveness of plain aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, Aleve, Anacin (yes, they still make that,) and Motrin, and we cannot come to a consensus, which is fine.

Two old men, sitting on a mountain-view stone bench outside a department store. It’s SOOOO Norman Rockwell.

Better than arguing religion and politics. Ned looks like a Republican who goes to church most Sundays. His audience varies between doubtful and hostile to both memberships, depending on how vociferously they are exposited.

When Mrs. Ned appears, shopping bags in hand, Ned excuses himself, expresses wishes for a nice day and they drift off toward their car. Well, she drifts, but he hobbles.

He does not offer to help her with the packages.

Probably no good for his triple hip bypass.

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

(c) 2007 WJR