Wednesday, April 30, 2008

#391 Hooray for Bureaucracy

#392 Hooray for Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy is the secret weapon of the productive. Oh, yes, it can be misused. But it also can be a valuable weapon in the arsenal of getting stuff done.

Take Klopnick from the paving contractor. He's in charge of buying raw materials and getting it to the job site.

It's pretty cut and dried stuff. You buy tar or concrete or whatever, according to the job specs. Then you get it loaded on your truck and send it to where the work is being done. Sounds simple enough. But you don't know Amalgamated Builders, where Klopnick has worked for the last 30 or 35 years.

Used to be he'd read the specs, call the supplier and supervise the receiving. No more. Now, they have an order department, a receiving department and a distribution office. And Kloppy. as they call him, reports to the Supervisor of Orders, the Supervisor of Receiving and the Supervisor of Distribution, three guys who don't get along. Well, it's not that they don't get along. They don't even talk to each other.

The whole plant stops for lunch each morning at 11:45. The three supervisors all eat in the company cafeteria. Each always picks a table that's at the greatest possible distance from the other two. Bonus points if all three backs are facing each other -- so no one even has to look.

Kloppy never can get a straight answer about anything from any of the supervisors because there's always what the shrinks call a "sub text."

When Kloppy goes to the Supervisor of Receiving, for example, and asks a simple question like "can you get in 40 metric tons of 'crete into the house if it arrives after 3PM tomorrow?" The supervisor doesn't hear that question. What he hears is "I've been ordered by the Supervisor of Orders to buy 40 metric tons of concrete and he expects delivery at 3 tomorrow afternoon. How can we screw him up? Close early? Get short-handed? What?"

Klopnick knows this, so he doesn't bother with the Supervisor of Receiving. He gets the order from the Engineer in Charge, fills it, and has it delivered. The Supervisor of Orders gets post-facto notice. The Supervisor of Receiving gets a receiving bay full of trucks, but no notice, and the Supervisor of distribution has to go question the other two supervisors about where the stuff is supposed to be distributed. He has to do this through an emissary because, as you know, he doesn't talk with the other two guys.

Eventually, one by one, they'll sidle up to Kloppy's desk and ask how the stuff got bought, came in or went out. Kloppy will smile and say he's only a clerk, that they'd better ask the other two supervisors because all he does is follow orders. And, of course, this they won't do.

The head guy at Amalgamated knows this is going on. And he knows two things about it. Thing one: Kloppy won't live forever, so these guys have to have at least some knowledge of how this all works and thing two: the job will get done, despite the supervisors of ordering, receiving and distribution.

If Kloppy had to work through the bureaucracy, no job would get done.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©2008 WJR

Monday, April 28, 2008

#391 The Stimulus Checks

#391 The Stimulus Checks

Jed Clampett, eat your heart out. You may have found oil on your rural slum and made a fortune, but that's chicken feed. We have stimulus checks from our Esteemed Leader and all is well in the land.

The government is giving back more than $100 billion to us peasants. And we are so grateful.

Now, maybe we'll make the June rent. Or we can top off the tank, buy a couple of potatoes. Even pay down part of the Master Card.

Six months ago, Our Fearless Leader was telling us the stimulus checks would put the economy back on track. It would cause investment and that would create jobs. Only one guy believed that, the President. And maybe he only pretended to.

No one believes that now, not even Dubya. Nope. Now he's saying we can fill up the tank a couple of times and maybe have steak once this quarter.

Stimulus, my nose.

The checks really were a double edge bribe. Edge 1: Remember this president fondly, because he gave you money. Edge 2: Since the president is a Republican and generous, you should vote for McCain. McCain means money in your pocket.

Buying votes is as old as democracy. Bribes are older yet. Won't work this time. We're too savvy and too cynical. Not that we won't take the money. It's just that we think of it as our due, a bribe we've earned tenfold for putting up with this guy and his cronies and his wacky ideas.

The Bush war, the Bush recession? The checks should be a lot bigger. But we'll sell out cheap. No one will turn his back. Well, no one but Giacomo "Jack" Muscatelli from Seaford. He's got the envelope ready. Stamp and all. And he's got the letter written. He's just waiting for the check, which he will endorse "pay to the order of George W. Bush."

"This guy needs it more than me," says Jack. "Poor sonofagun's got the whole world mad at him, and I don't need it. I got tomatoes in the yard, I don't drive and I can manage the Visa bill. This guy's gonna be out of work in a few months. Let him have my share."

Jack may not be the only one. Lots of people are getting ready to sign their checks over to the President.

Most of us will take and use the money. And we'll be grateful for it. We will fill the gas tank, pay the electric bill, maybe take the kids out to dinner (Denny's? burger King?,) maybe stash a few bucks extra in the checking account.

But no one's going to hire anyone based on a one-time "gift" of a few hundred dollars. No one's going to buy any shares of GE or Citicorp.

It's all very stimulating. Jed, you've got company.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

#390 Privatized Rationing

#390 Privatized Rationing

Corn crisis, rice crisis, fuel crisis, food crisis. We sure have a lot of crises these days.

The discount "club" stores are starting to ration rice. Four bags to a customer.

Is there a rice shortage? No. There's plenty of rice, and most of it's grown in the U.S. So what's with the rationing?

The so-called "clubs" don't make any money from the stuff they sell. I'll say that again. They don't make two nickels on all that stuff in the aisles. Not usually. They make money selling "memberships."

The price of rice has doubled. That puts it somewhere near 50 cents a pound. Sam's Club the others don't want to raise the price. They want to preserve the illusion of cheap stuff. So rather than buy more rice to sell, they're relying on the stock on hand and parceling it out. They don't want you to think that stuff is getting expensive. Even more so, they don't want you to think that THEY are getting expensive.

The best of all worlds. They hold the price down and start privatized rationing. It's more American than, oh, say, welfare and get-rich-quick seminars, phony wars and intentional depressions.

We're talking pennies, here, folks.

Sam's Club holds the price on rice and looks like a hero. Plus they sell the stuff in trillion-pound bags, not the little boxes you find on the supermarket shelves. So everyone gets enough, and some enterprising merchant takes a new step toward self-regulation, or as some folks call it, anarchy.

Rice is pretty important to the diet. Half the world survives on little else. Sometimes that's a choice, sometimes it's the only answer. But there IS no "rice crisis."

But why stop at rice? Privatized rationing is the wave of the future.

Start with something subtle, like information.

The 24-hour news networks could cut back to 12 hours.

The daily paper could cut back to publishing three times a week.

The library could hide half its books.

How about air? Ration air. Of course, first you'd have to sell the air industry to private owners. Then, they could control how often you inhale and exhale.

The phone companies could ration talk time. (Oh, wait, don't they do that already?)

And we kind of have that with gasoline, now. Oh, Exxon will sell you as much as you want. But they're working toward intense conservation by keeping the prices artificially high. They're big, but they're chicken. They don't want to CALL it rationing.

Sam's Club should be congratulated for naming and starting this new trend. And you can help support their patriotic effort by forking over forty bucks and joining.

You get to learn the secret handshake, and get a free Sam's De-coder ring as a bonus for joining.

Of course, you join as a low ranking neophyte member. But if you are ambitious, you soon will rise through the ranks. They have degrees, like the Masons, the Boy Scouts and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©2008 WJR

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Artie The Hustler

#389 Artie The Hustler

Artie the Hustler is sitting at the window in
suite 2301 on the 22nd floor of the Hotel Especial and he's looking out at Central Park and wondering if there's a way he can call Kylie of the DeLuxe Escort Service and put the thing on his expense account.

Artie checks his wallet and he's got a coupla hundred cash, which is more than enough to have dinner even at The Especial Chalet, which is the main floor dining room.

Okay, so he can pay for his own food, and still voucher it. But a couple of hundred for dinner is going to raise an eyebrow or two and that's still not enough for Kyie. But maybe he can hustle something. Looks in his luggage. Good stuff in there. Calls Kylie. She's not there, but everyone who answers at DeLuxe knows Artie.

"How about sending Kylie over? I got maybe 200 dollars."

"Aw, Artie, you know we can't do that."

"Well, how about 200 and I'll throw in a Dualite CD player, complete with batteries, charger and special advanced digital headphones?"

"Artie... cash or credit card. No CD player. Just cash or credit card."

"Well, how about the 200 and the CD player and two tickets to Bela Fleck at South Street Seaport. You can scalp those for at least another couple of hundred."

"Artie, no one in
New York will pay more than face for Bela Fleck."

"Alright. My final offer. 200 bucks, the CD player, the accessories, the Bela Flek tickets AND a year's subscription to my website."


"Ferchrissakes, Artie, okay, but don't keep her more than half an hour. And that Player better work."


Kylie is as good a hustler as Artie and when she shows up an hour later, she gets the cash, the player, the tickets, the web subscription, plus Artie's suitcase, his credit card, three bath towels a couple of water tumblers and a portable iron from the closet.

(This is a previously unpublished excerpt from "Tiny Tales." ©1996, 1997, 2008 WJR It's a couple of hundred words shorter than usual, but #385 was a double, so we're even.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

#388 She's a Grand Old Pin

#388 She's a Grand Old Pin

Picture this. George Washington comes back to life and the first thing he does is get one of those flag pins and sticks it in his lapel.

Don't hold your breath for that one. George didn't need one. He was a walking symbol of patriotism, and try to imagine ABC's Charlie Gibson trying to make George look small by asking him about one.

The flag pin has been around a long time, but it was Richard Nixon who made the thing popular. Great Patriot Nixon, who brought us Watergate, was the first guy to make a fashion statement out of the American flag.

Nixon was the least secure individual in American politics in the lifetime of anyone reading or hearing this. And the people who wear them are cut from almost the same cloth.

Digression: do you know why the 9/11 attacks failed? It's because the nutcase terrorists confuse symbolism with reality. the brought down two of the ugliest structures ever built. They killed a lot of people. They killed the symbol. They did not kill the spirit behind it.

We Americans know the difference between symbol and spirit.

The Trade Center towers were a symbol of America. They were a government sponsored monument to American Capitalism. They were destroyed. American capitalism lives.

The Trade Center collapsed. What it represented did not. We're still Americans, we're still capitalists. We mourn our human losses and rebuild our destroyed buildings. the symbol matters only to the extent that we were attacked and lives were lost.

The attackers didn't understand this about us then, and they don't now.

The ultra-conservative US Supreme Court has said burning the flag is protected communication. It's reprehensible, but legal. That's because we don't need the symbols.
The symbols and what they symbolize are two different things, and even this court understands that.

So what of the flag pin?

They're hammering Barak Obama for not wearing a pin. And what does that mean? That he's unpatriotic? No. It means he understands the differemce between a pin-on button and real patriotism.

You want to wear a flag pin? Fine, wear it. You're in good company, symbolically: Osama Bin Laden and Richard Nixon.

It's not your flag pin that makes you a patriot. It's your thinking.

Does any sane American question Obama's patriotism? Does any sane American believe that jsut because you wear a flag pin you're a patriot?

Wearing a flag pin is like driving a Hummer and keeping an Uzi under your bed.

It shows you're a Real Man and a Real American. And it also shows you have a "size" problem.

I'm Wes Richardws. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

Regional Vices

#387 Regional Vices

There aren't many left. Walking down Eighth Avenue in the 1980s, there was a hand lettered sign in a grocery store window, "Coors Beer." Wow! The great flavor of the Rockies, right here in Midtown. Previously, Coors was available only in Denver and a few other mountain western cities. Who, then could resist, especially since it was illegally transported across state lines? Guess what? Coors is no better than Bud, and, back then, a lot more expensive. Now, you can get it at any gas station, supermarket or beer hall within 10-thousand miles of the Rockies.

It tasted better when it was contraband.

Lone Star Beer is following in Coors' footsteps and it was no big deal to begin with, except to a few thousand Texans with a sense of local pride.

In New York, we had our own regional beers. Knickerbocker, Rheingold, Piels, Schaeffer. No more. Those brands that still are made are made nowhere near the original breweries. And if you ask the supermarket for Schaeffer today, they'll look at you funny.

Cigarettes? Same story. Try to find Wings or Picayunes anywhere these days. They've been bought out and destroyed. (Picayune was regional to Louisiana. It was kind of a cross between Camel and Gauloise. Gauloise itself is no longer made in France. Production has been moved to Spain.)

You can hardly find a TV show that's regional, anymore. Anyone heard from Ugly George lately? Nah.

Regional magazines still abound. But they're not vices. Nothing that lame is a vice.

Even the lowly burger. Long Island had a chain of fast food stands called Wetsons. Greasy, high-calorie, high-sodium and delicious. One day, the closed and soon after, magically become Dunkin' Donuts, just like the Dunkin' Donuts on your corner, no matter where you live.

We have no regional vices anymore.

Even the massage parlors are franchised.

Record stores? Out of business unless you think of Barnes & Noble as "regional."

Radio? It's the same junk no matter where you go.

It's surprising that no one has tried to franchise white lightnin' -- unless you count Fleischmann's. And even that's not the vice it used to be since they reduced the proof to 80.

Our vices have become as institutionalized as our virtues.

The United States has become one monotonous thing from sea to shining sea.

Political corruption is no different in Georgia than it is in Maine. The same people are fixing horse races, boxing matches and basketball games in the same way, regardless of venue.

Maybe we can blame this on the original anti-regionalists, the dairy industry. That's who put the term "homogenized" into our vocabulary. They meant milk, not beer, cigarettes or fixed sporting events. But they're the ones started this whole thing.

Regional differences are a throwback to an earlier time.

It's no wonder everyone has to undergo diversity training. Else, there'd be no diversity at all.

Now, pass me a Picayune and a Coors, please.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©2008 WJR

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

#386 Burn These Pants

#386 Burn These Pants

They came up with this great idea a few years ago. Pants that don't wrinkle and rarely stain. Wear 'em. Put 'em in the washing machine, put 'em in the dryer and presto! you have new-looking pants, pants that look like a tailor just pressed them. Marvelous. Perfect creases. Factory new.

Sounds like a dream for guys who want to dress well and can't iron.

Not exactly.

That "throw it into the washing machine part?" Baloney. You have to make sure the wash is warm and the rinse is either warm or cool, but not cold. You can't add softener. You have to put them in the dryer right away and you have to take them out the millisecond they're dry or they look like you slept in them for a week.

Nothing else gets washed like that. So you have to make a special wash day for your EZ care slacks.

Doesn't sound like much of a big deal, but it is. Especially when you have one of those new computerized washing machines. Used to be, you threw the stuff in, you threw in the detergent, you turned the thing on and walked away.

Now, you need to be a computer programmer to change your "default" washer settings.

Oh, and the dryer? Make sure it's on medium. If you have a new, computerized dryer, you have to program it. Not extra-dry or mostly dry or normal dry or sort of dry or damp dry, but medium. If your computerized dryer doesn't have a "medium," you have to call customer service for the appropriate setting equivalent. And then, you have to program it. (For the record, Sears has started putting "medium" on its computerized dryers, but hasn't yet been able to figure out what trouble code F45 means or how to fix it.)

After awhile, this chemical magic seems to wear off. Not all at once. But after 40 or 50 precisely calculated, warm, medium, softener and bleach-free washes, they start to look less perfect. Eventually, they start to look like rags, but without the fraying.

Try to iron these. They won't take it.

So what do you do? They're no longer good enough to donate to the Salvation Army or Good Will. Throwing them away requires a hazmat permit (they may no longer be wrinkle free and stain resistant, but they still have enough of whatever the manufacturer uses to make them to poison an entire landfill for 100,000 years.

So, there's only one reasonable solution: burn them.

To do this, of course, you have to follow the "care label." And it's almost as specific about burning as it is about washing and drying.

1. Set the furnace or barbecue to 375 degrees F.

2. Once the temperature has been reached, throw the pants in the fire for no longer than 30 seconds. If using a barbecue, have a fire extinguisher handy.

3. Remove the ashes promptly.

4. Do not use a kitchen stove without proper ventilation.

5. Manufacturer takes no responsibility for damage to your home or porch.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2008

Monday, April 14, 2008

#385 Bleating Heart Conservatives

#385 Bleating Heart Conservatives

They want to turn you into a farm animal, and that's the entirety of what's behind their bleating and whining about small government, low taxes, and freedom, freedom, freedom. The arch-conservative right wingnuts want you to spend all of your waking hours on the mechanics of survival, because if they have their way (to coin a phrase,) that's what you're going to be doing, and it's ALL you're going to be doing.

You will spend every hour of every day foraging for food, fuel, a roof and walls. Gender neutral barefoot and pregnant.

The Bleaters are forever talking about "returning to the values..." of the country's founders. Well, those founders disagreed on an awful lot of things, but managed to compromise. There's a value. No question about returning to that one. The couldn't agree on the definition of a human being or an American (they settled on white males for the sake of getting past that sticky issue.) They COULD agree - at least implicitly - that said human being or American was essentially irrational when left to his own devices, and needed reigning in. After all, if they didn't, no government of any kind would be necessary.

The founders weren't called upon to define "country," either. It was axiomatic, they thought. But it isn't. They couldn't have foreseen the way America grew and changed and the complex ways that was to happen. So while some of their construction remains valid and universal, some of it.

So, adhering to the ideas of the founders is relatively reasonable policy, but adhering to all of the specifics and nothing else, is not.

If you want to freeze America in the 1700s, you get an America that's in the 1700s. This was an era without global trade, modern science, electricity, central heating and indoor plumbing. It was an era when you grew your own food and traded with your immediate neighbors for whatever else you needed. And it was an era when the ideas of modern medicine, insurance, and communication were unthought of.

Return to those times and you will be a plow horse or a seamstress.

The Bleaters are forever talking about small government. Small government's a great idea. Only problem is it doesn't prevent the kind of conflict in which large commerce can take place. It doesn't prevent poisoned dolls from killing your kids, it doesn't protect you against airplanes that fall out of the sky. It doesn't prevent you from the plague or aids or some guy coming over and shooting you for your unsafe SUV. Sure, there's waste. So?

Shrink the government and you're back plowing the back 40 -- unless your neighbors don't like the color of your skin, or that you don't go to church or they just decide they need more land and who cares about you?

Ah, you will argue, the founders wanted to protect property rights? Yeah. They did. But there were other rights they wanted to protect. Freedom of the press, freedom of and from religion, freedom of assembly. If you take those away, you take away the concept of all rights -- and property rights will fall to the greediest.

"Oh," the Bleaters will bleat, "we don't want to take away those rights, we want to preserve them."

No. That's just window dressing. They don't care about your rights. That's why we have government. Does it grow? Sure, that's the American way. Grow profits, grow wheat, grow space, grow opportunities. Just don't grow government?

We're growth obsessed. But if you grow one thing, everything grows. Including government.

No growth? You're pulling that plow from sunrise to sunset.

The Bleaters are forever bleating about opportunities. There ARE no opportunities when you're busy pulling that plow seven days a week. All you can do is plow and rest. And it better be on Sunday, not Saturday.

Lower taxes, grow the economy? Nonsense. Supply side only works when you create demand for supplies and when you price supplies reasonably. It was a one-shot and maybe an accident in the two years it seemed to work. Even the people who invented the concept backed away from it, and pretty quickly at that. Check out the post-Reagan history of David Stockman if you want more grist.

Lower taxes to promote investment? What really happens when you lower taxes? Do people invest? Some do. Not enough, not widely enough, not often enough. People sit on the money. Buying a Lexus is not an investment.

The Bleaters are predatory closet anarchists. They want to eliminate your protection against them. They know more about you than you know about yourself.

They know you're not going to start a company or a farm or an airline. No. What they want is to incarcerate you. Not in a formal prison, but in the prison of having to use all of your physical and mental stamina just to get through the day. They want you tethered to the plow.

The White House, starting with Jimmy Carter, but not coming full flower until now, has been opposing regulation -- even regulation that's already in place, funded and staffed. This has brought us to chaos in airlines, media ownership, meat processing, grain, forrestroy.

What's the point of chaos? Turning you into a plow horse. Keeping you off balance, worried, a prisoner and paralyzed.

They want to dictate your every move. They want you as a wage slave. They want to make you beg for their largess, which includes your medicine, your electricity, your transportation, your communication your fuel and your food.

And all the while, when they're feeding you their poisonous ideas, you are pulling the plow and over your shoulder telling them you love it and "please, sir, may I have some more?"

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

Friday, April 11, 2008

#384 Don't Ask Don't Tell

#384 Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Wow, why didn't we think of this? Deregulate everything by regulating everything and then ignoring the regulations! Brilliant. Beautiful. And the greatest accomplishment of the outgoing White House.

Probably, they didn't want us to know about it. But we found out. Especially if we were potential passengers on American Airlines, which cancelled more than 2,000 flights to hold safety inspections -- inspections to discover whether their aircraft were airworthy. The Federal Aviation Administration cracked down after some unpatriotic whistleblowers blew their unpatriotic whistles.

Southwest Air has one of the best on-time records in the industry. One of the reasons for that is they never bothered inspecting their planes. A couple of FAA types figured this out, and started -- legally -- to demand the inspections. Southwest complained and tried to get the inspectors thrown off the job. It didn't work.

Then, and only then, did the FAA brass nose around to see who else wasn't getting inspected. And they only did that because the Southwest story got told. If no one had told the story, then no one would have been the wiser -- except, of course, if the landing gear fell off an incoming Southwest plane.

American Air is much bigger. Much MUCH bigger. And once the story was out, the inspectors had to ground a good chunk of the fleet and make sure all the wires were connected and un-frayed and didn't pass through places -- like fuel tanks -- where a spark can mean instant death to all aboard.

The problem, of course, is the media big mouths. If we only had just shut up and let Adam Smith's Invisible Hand take care of things, we'd all be better off.

If no one had reported the story, no one would be the wiser. They could carry on with existing inspection policies (i.e. don't ask, don't tell,) and everyone would be happy.

But what happened was everyone got stuck at the airport, waiting for American flight 2306 to East Nowhere.

The administration finds the perfect way to deregulate without the fuss, muss and bother of getting a law passed, thus avoiding gridlock and allowing the market to decide not only who got to what destination, but who lived and who died.

There's strong reason to believe such policy is active in the remaining few government regulatory agencies, like the Consumer Product Safety Commission (we don't need more inspectors, it would make things too complicated,) the Federal Communications Commission (who cares if you're broadcasting at 50% above licensed power,) the Federal Elections Commission (hanging chads be damned,) The Federal Highway Administration (Ralph Nader, where are you when we REALLY need you?)

Pass regulations for every industry, every profession, for education, for health care, for anything you like. Then ignore the regulations. Give the inspectors credit cards and tell them to spend their time spending budget excesses on iPods and internet dating sites.

The best of both worlds. Brilliant.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©2008 WJR

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Romance of AM Radio

#383 The Romance of AM Radio

Old radio hounds really like AM, which is a semi-dead medium unless you're a right wingnut talk show person. There's little or no music. There's static, and every time there's a thunderstorm, you get more snap, crackle and pop than a truckload of Rice Krispies. You get pops and scratches that are offend ears raised on digital recording. You get fade-ins and fade-outs and sometimes you get nothing at all if the radio's turned in the wrong direction.

But in a country that's becoming more homogenized by the minute -- a McDonald's and a Star Bucks on every corner, and every newspaper looks like USA Today or the New York Post -- there's something you get with AM radio that you get nowhere else. Distance.

Yes, because of peculiarities of transmission, reception and atmospheric conditions, sometimes you can bring in programs from a zillion miles away. And while satellite radio gives you the same mileage, it doesn't give you the same romance, because the signal is the same from Los Angeles to Bangor to Miami.

One morning, years ago, the manager of WOR, New York, walked into the newsroom and said "I heard the 4am newscast. Why ever do you give the weather from Newfoundland?" Good question. WOR, Jersey-centric as it was at that time, served New York and vicinity. Newfoundland is not in its orbit.

Here's the answer: "The Newfies called a few months ago. They said ours is the only signal they can get at that time of day and they'd like to know what the weather will be like."

And it was true. The station's big signal reached Newfoundland at that hour of the day. So, why not serve the audience.

In that same newsroom, we regularly fielded listener calls from places like St. Louis and Kansas City. Oh, and Nicaragua.

Roaming around the hills of Central Pennsylvania, it's easy to hear WCBS, New York at night. The traffic report is no longer of any big interest. But the local news IS.

Want country music? It's no trick to pull in WSM most nights. Nashville's not exactly around the corner. We have a fine country radio station in town. But it's not the same.

It's tough to find any other music on the AM band. That's a shame. These old ears don't care about digital high fidelity. Wasn't there when the listening started, never cared one way or the other when they invented the thing.

Not in the mood for country? There's a fine station on 740 in Toronto and they play nice music and talk softly. And you can hear them from sundown to sunrise, and sometimes earlier and sometimes later.

It's better than having to listen to Rush and Savage and O'Reilly hour after hour. And it's WAY better than listening to the local rockers that all play the same incomprehensible noise.

they've written the obituary for radio since the widespread use of television in 1947. Fifty one years later, the patient is still on a death bed, to stupid or stubborn to die.

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

©WJR 2008


Monday, April 07, 2008

The Mid Town Toll

#382 The Midtown Toll

Mayor Bloomberg of New York has come a step closer to charging you a few bucks for the privilege of driving into midtown, more than a few if you're in a truck. The City Council has okayed the plan, and the rest is up to the state legislature.

Eight bucks to get to Times Square? With gasoline at nearly four dollars a gallon? With parking garages charging the kind of money you used to pay for a medium size diamond or a studio apartment?

This is not going to reduce traffic. It's going to make traffic ten times worse during the pre dawn hours. After six or seven or whenever the tolls kick in, there will be four fewer cars and three fewer trucks. Going to raise a whole lot of money for road improvements. Maybe they'll even fix an extra pot hole, although that's unlikely, because the traffic control people, con ed, phone and sewer crews get so many laughs over people breaking axles and dropping drive shafts, and we want to keep those guys happy, after all.

So, a modest proposal. Toll the pedestrians instead. It's much easier, there are many more of them than drivers and they're far easier to push around.

Make it a reasonable toll -- less than a bus or subway fare. That way, no one will be tempted to go around the toll collector in a bus. Charge 'em maybe a buck or two. Put homeless people on collection duty. Let 'em earn commission. No salary, no benefits, no health insurance, plenty of money for everyone.

We're pretty used to the request for "spare change." So why not institutionalize it? And you don't even have to bother with badges and uniforms. Just give each collector a day-glow orange vest with an official looking sign on it.

If you run out of homeless (you won't,) you can always get those welfare kings and queens as a backup. It's well known that every other New Yorker's on the dole. And if you need backup for your backup, go to any playground and round up half a dozen hooky players on any given school day. Hold the basketball for ransom. Offer them leniency on the drug charges. Offer them "social promotions" or better grades in school. Solves a whole lot of problems.

Ah, you're saying, can't trust those shiftless homeless, welfare cheats and hooky playing middle-schoolers. They'll skim the pot.

Nonsense. You have the cameras up, use 'em.

And offer bonuses for specially able collectors.

Booze, pot, extra money, whatever. There's plenty to go around. You'll raise all the money you need for filling any but the recreational potholes and you might even be able to give the 59th St. Bridge the paint it's been needing for the past 15 years.

Tolling cars doesn't make any sense. Cars don't pay tolls, people do.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2008

Friday, April 04, 2008

Privatize This

#381 Privatize This

The Jersey Turnpike, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the coal industry, the steel industry. In the US and Britain, they're still looking to shove unprofitable or costly municipal or federal assets to private enterprise. These are the kinds of deals that make money for middlemen and brokers and analysts and consultants, a whole category of people brought into existence to bring down the criminal population, un-clog the courts and slow the overcrowding of prisons.

But when it comes to privatizing something that it makes SENSE to privatize, the Great Capitalists are unready to move.

Here's a fine example: The surge is working. Not the surge in Iraq, the surge in fuel prices. Gasoline, oil, corn, wheat, and anything else that can be burned in an internal combustion engine is approaching the edge between the earth's atmosphere and the beginnings of outer space.

So what fuel is cheap and plentiful? The engineers and utility companies insist it's atomic energy. And to a certain extent, they're right. While Three Mile Island and Chernobyl pretty much vaccinated us against the widespread use of nuclear fuel, technical advances have overcome the kinds of problems that caused the two most famous nuclear failures in history. The problem with atomic energy is two-fold. First, they build the plants on the cheap. Billions may not seem cheap, but it is. The main problem with nuclear plants today is plumbing. Plumbers are expensive, so they often bring in temps, Hells Angels, vagabonds, odd jobbers and workfare victims. And they tend to do a lousy job. Doing a lousy plumbing job is an inconvenience in your bathroom or kitchen and a disruption in your basement. In a nuke plant, it's a disaster.

So, bring in certified construction plumbing foremen and plumbers, people who've had to deal with real plumbing in real buildings in real places where you can't bribe the city inspector to look the other way while you put in a solder joint where four are specified and six makes more sense. Problem solved.

But then, there's nuclear waste. When atomic fuel is "spent" in a reactor, it's still radioactive and therefore dangerous.

One plan is to rocket the stuff into outer space, where another few trillion Curie of radiation won't make much of a difference.

It's a pretty good idea, but NASA appears to busy to do it. So here's a suggestion.

Let's get FedEx, UPS and DHL to build unmanned rockets, and ship the stuff off into the wild blue yonder.

Look at it this way: the FedEx driver pulls up to the nuke plant, dons his hazmat suit, loads up the truck, and the next thing you know, the stuff's on a rocket heading for Andromeda III or the Siamese Squid Nebula.

It would take some doing. Maybe even a tax break or two. But once on board and out of the atmosphere, no worries.

The package people do a pretty good job when it absolutely positively has to get there on time, so why not when there's no particular hurry?


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2008



Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Star Wars

#380 Star Wars

Glossary:
AFTRA: American Federation of Radio & Television Artists. A union representing radio and television performers, news men and women, some producers, some editors. Has jurisdiction over taped and live programs.

SAG: The Screen Actors Guild. A union representing television and motion picture leading and supporting performers. Has jurisdiction over filmed TV programs.

PUTZ: Producers United To Zcrewus, representing management and ownership.

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PUTZ doesn't really exist, at least not officially or formally. I made that up. The rest of this is real. Many of us who are members of one of the legit organizations are members of both. But SAG's population is about twice that of AFTRA's. So, it's logical that since they represent about the same types of workers (a loose term, admittedly,) it's kind of natural that they negotiate agreements jointly.

In fact, there's been a move afoot for 30 years or so to merge the two unions into one. But what keeps happening is that SAG members approve merger and AFTRA members reject it. Thirty years ago, when the most recent wave of merger talks began to get teeth, your correspondent served on a minor committee exploring the mechanics and was a vigorous supporter of getting together. After all, went the reasoning, more members means more clout. Plus SAG is harder to join, those of us already in AFTRA would have an easy time of it (easy to the point of automatic,) and would thus benefit from increased work opportunities.

But over time, it seemed like the SAG folks were not trying to merge, but to acquire. And that made no sense, especially since AFTRA's Health and Welfare operation as it was then called, was solvent and SAG's wasn't.

Elected and hired leadership of both unions continued to favor and recommend approval. Hasn't yet happened. But all along, the two groups have negotiated their network contracts as one. Until now.

AFTRA withdrew from the coalition and is negotiating with PUTZ on its own. SAG is ballistic about that. And the net result could be that AFTRA negotiates a contract before the expiration and SAG doesn't, plunging TV back into the same morass as when the Writers Guild struck for something like 100 days.

This makes for difficulty.

Actors mostly based on the west coast are battling with actors mostly based on the east coast. Star Wars.

So, why should you, probably not a member of any of the three groups, care?

Because you remain glued to the tube.

And if this thing plays out wrong, you're going to be in for yet another seasons of useless and boring "reality" shows, fewer pilots, fewer scripted dramas, and endless re-runs and "Dateline" extras.

If PUTZ doesn't come up with a decent contract for both groups, it's going to take another big blow and heads will roll right off the corporate Gulfstreams. The writers will be back on the street. So will many of the stage hands, electricians, digital editors, catering truck operators and manufacturers of film.

You might be so bored with the "Law & Order" re-runs you might be tempted to vote for Fred Thompson if he should run for anything again.

And you might even have to (perish forbid!) read and converse.


I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2008